It was Mayberry transformed into a Kurosawa movie.
Smiling Japanese grannies in smocks sold fruits and vegetables out of wooden boxes along a mountain path, while unmanned kiosks had merely change bowls and signs saying "100 yen for anything." Scarecrows in tidy rice fields wore doll costumes and name tags. Dogs and cats strolled from tile-roofed, wood-beamed homes and sidled up to strangers for a pat on the head.
This was my welcome to the farmlands of central Japan. The scene was a world away from the crowd-filled steel-and-concrete metropolises such as Tokyo or Osaka, and the reason why I joined a hiking trip through these quiet hills. I wanted to get a different view of the country, a more traditional perspective devoid of Hello Kitty and bullet trains.
And the key to it all was "SPAM."
This acronym is a quick way students remember the hierarchy of medieval Japanese society: samurai, peasant, artisan, merchant. On my tour, I followed their paths, literally, and discovered how the modern world has reinvented this SPAM sandwich of vocations.
US President Barack Obama has left the United States for his first trip to Japan in about 3-and-a-half years. Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a summit meeting on Thursday. (NHK )
The education ministry conducted national academic achievement tests on Tuesday for all final-year students at primary and middle schools across the country. About 2.24 million students at about 30,000 schools took Japanese and mathematics exams. (The Japan News )
Japan and the United States are now seen deferring a broad trade agreement until after a summit meeting set for Thursday due to differences over key issues, informed sources said Tuesday. (Jiji Press )
The virus strain that caused bird flu at a poultry farm in southwestern Japan has been confirmed to be genetically identical to the one found in South Korea, the National Institute of Animal Health said Tuesday. (Jiji Press )
Airport authorities in Tokyo launched a frantic scramble to change security pass codes, an official said Tuesday, the day before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives, after an airline employee dropped a memo containing the details. (Japan Today )
The Imperial Household Agency announced this week that it has received over 100,000 applications from individuals seeking to participate in the first ever public opening of parts of the Imperial Palace. (Japan Today )
A former judge from the Ministry of Justice is alleged to have installed a camera inside a women's toilet inside a ministry building in Kasumigaseki, people with knowledge of the matter announced on Monday, reports Sports Nippon (Apr. 22). (Tokyo Reporter )
Police in Fuso, Aichi Prefecture, said Sunday they have arrested an unemployed 38-year-old man for attempted murder after he broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend and stabbed her and her parents. (Japan Today )
Feeding black-tailed gulls has been a popular activity on the sightseeing boats that cruise around the Matsushima islets, considered to be one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan, but local authorities banned the practice this month in a bid to protect the islets' famous pine trees from withering as a result of nitrogen in the droppings of the gulls, who have bred in large numbers in the area. (The Japan News )