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What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
21 May
たぶん おそらく



osoraku is a Japanese adverb that means something like "maybe" or "probably" and is used often in Japanese: a language whose speakers often almost delight in its "vagueness."

Learners of Japanese are generally more familiar with tabun, another word that expresses possibility or probability. tabun is  much more likely to appear in textbooks for Japanese language learners than is osoraku.

However, if you want to add an extra level of sophistication to your Japanese, it pays to know how to use tabun and osoraku because, while there is overlap between them, many situations will call for tabun and not osoraku.

The first thing we'll look at when differentiating these two words is the kanji that forms them. tabun is made up of 多 (ta) meaning "a lot, many, a great number/quantity" and 分 (bun) which means "part(s)." If you take "parts" as meaning parts per hundred, or the familiar idea of percentage, then tabun means "a high percentage," i.e., a good chance, a high probability, a better than average likelihood. In other words, tabun expresses a purely mathematical concept.

osoraku on the other hand is a completely different animal in terms of the kanji character it's based on. If tabun is your bespectacled math teacher, osoraku is a monster, the kanji 恐 (onyomi: kyo) standing for fear, dread and awe, usually expressed in the kunyomi adjective osorashii (terrible, dreadful, terrifying, frightening). However, in solving the puzzle of how and why this scary word is used to express something as everyday as probability, an English analogy readily comes to the rescue: the way we sometimes use "fear" in English, as in "I fear we'll never see him again."

"We'll probably never see him again" (たぶん再開することがないでしょう。 Tabun saikai suru koto ga nai desho)is a flat statement of probability, whereas "I fear we'll never see him again" (おそらく再開することがないでしょう。 Osoraku saikai suru koto ga nai desho)carries a clear emotional message of regret at probably never meeting again.

osoraku should therefore be used only in situations where the probability being expressed is unpalatable, undesirable, regrettable. Whereas tabun has a broader reach and can cover any possibility, desirable or undesirable.

Therefore, for example, when looking at old photos: "That's probably Mary." would be "Tabun Mary da." No one will think twice if you say "Osoraku Mary da," but tabun is better here.

Similarly if you're looking for the family dog: "He probably went that way." "Tabun achi itta daro." is better, but "Osoraku achi itta daro" is also okay.

However, you shouldn't use osoraku when the probable result is desirable. "Tabun kekkon suru daro" (They'll probably get married.) is a neutral expression of probability, but if you were to say "Osoraku kekkon suru daro" it would indicate that the likely prospect of those two getting married sends shivers up your spine.

To sum up, feel free to use tabun for any probability; it is completely neutral and covers all bases. However, exercise a little caution with osoraku and use it only when the possibility being expressed is one you'd rather not happen.

Now try the following osoraku test. Which sentences can use "osoraku"? (Answers below.)
1. Ashita wa ________ ame desho. (It'll possibly rain tomorrow.)
2. Bokutachi wa ________ katsu daro. (We could well win.)
3. ________ ma ni awanai daro. (She may well not make it on time.)
4. ________ nakushita yo. (You probably lost it.)
5. ________ mou yoku natta deshou. (It's probably come right already.)









Answers
Tabun can be used in all sentences, but osoraku should be used only in sentences one, three and four.


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18 May
荒木集成館

Japan is full of weird and wonderful museums many of which are somewhat obscure.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya.

The Araki Shusei Museum certainly falls in to that category but is well worth a visit if you happen to be in suburban Hara in Nagoya.

A local junior high school teacher Araki sent his students out on archaeological hunts and the results can be seen on the second floor with exhibits of pottery, tools, weapons and ceremonial objects from the earliest periods of Japanese history until the Kamakura Period.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya, Aichi.

Pieces of interest include an ancient stone lingam and roof tiles made in Nagoya for the temple of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in Kamakura.

The first floor has wooden models of floats used in various festivals in the area and throughout Japan, along with a collection of hinanotsurushi ('hanging chicks').

Araki Shusei Museum
Nagoya-shi
Tenpaku-ku
Nakahira 5-616
468-0014
Tel: 052 802 2531
Admission 300 yen for adults.

The Araki Shusei Museum is open 10am-5pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is a 15-minute walk up the hill from Hara Station towards Hara Fire Station.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya, Aichi.

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19 May
今週の日本

Japan News.
Haruki Murakami’s ‘Strange Library’ and ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’
New York Times

Japan's first post-WWII arms exhibition
BBC

In Japan hell is due north
BBC

Japan’s rural schools run out of students
Guardian

Is Japan the new Britain?
Nikkei

Filmmakers Ash and Kamanaka discuss radiation, secrets and lives
Japan Times

The Sense of Sacred: Mauna Kea and Oura Bay
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World Competitive Rankings:

1 Switzerland
2 Singapore
3 USA
4 Finland
5 Germany
6 Japan
7 Hong Kong
8 Netherlands
9 United Kingdom
10 Sweden

Source: World Economic Forum

© JapanVisitor.com


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21 May
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 63, Obama to Nagasaki
Friday February 21st 2014

The sun may or may not be up as I head out of Obama and take the road north along the coast of Tachibana Bay. Looming over the town the massive Mount Unzen blocks any view of the sun until later in the morning. Looking back, plumes of steam rise from among the buildings, a signature of an onsen town.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 63 Obama to Nagasaki, Japan.

Tachibana Bay is calm and a little darker shade of blue than the sky. A thin line of even darker blue shows the far shore dividing the two expanses of blue. After half an hour I am able to veer off the main road and take route 210 which was once a railway line. I come to a fork just outside the first fishing village. My map says to take the right fork which starts to rise. My natural inclination is to take the lower road that will hug the coast, but I defer to my map.

The road climbs gently and gives a nice overview over the village below and then passes through a narrow tunnel with the distinctive horseshoe shape of a railway tunnel. Coming out of the tunnel I come upon what I presume to be a local TV station making a travel program.

An older man and a younger woman are both dressed in khaki shorts and wearing pith helmets. I resist the urge to shout out "Doctor Livingstone I presume!" With only a cameraman and a sound man as crew I am presuming they are a low budget local TV show something along the lines of "Lets Explore Locally," because the next section of the road is a minor tourist attraction known as the Green Tunnel.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 63 Obama to Nagasaki by Jake Davies.

The road, formerly the railway track, passes through a narrow cutting and the trees growing above have spread their canopy over the narrow cutting thereby creating a “green tunnel”. The road curves around the mountainside passing through several more tunnels. At several points there are great views down onto fishing villages below and along the approaching north shore of the bay.

The road starts to descend as slowly as it ascended and I end up in Chijiwa where the main road now heads west towards Nagasaki. I find a convenience store to stock up at and sit with a coffee and check my maps. I want to avoid the main road if I can. I find a coast road that literally runs between the cliffs and the sea. Perfect. There is no traffic save for the occasional k-truck. The road comes to an end at a small onsen located right on the beach. From here there is no easy way along the coast so I head inland and join up with the main road heading to Nagasaki.

The road is fairly busy and at first there is a sidewalk, but as it leaves the village the sidewalk ends but starts again at the next village. The road is windy and goes up and down, though never steeply, and because of this the view changes often. I am surprised by the number of love hotels around.

It is still about 30 kilometers to Nagasaki, but it is about halfway between Nagasaki and Isahaya, so maybe they serve both populations. Its a fairly uneventful afternoon with a couple of shrine visits, but as the traffic increases closer to Nagasaki it becomes less enjoyable. By late afternoon I have covered 30 kilometers but there is still more than 10 to go and I think maybe 40km is too much. In the summer, with the longish days, 40km is doable, but at this time of the year it is just too much so I check the timetable at the next bus stop and finding a bus imminent I decide to take it. Tomorrow I head home. This leg has seen me cover 190 kilometers, making a total of 1,710 kilometers in total.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 62

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13 May
新宿西口駅

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station in Shinjuku, Tokyo is a station on the Toei Oedo Line of the Tokyo subway.

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station, Tokyo.
Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station opened in 2000. Adjacent stations are Tochomae and Higashi-Shinjuku.

Close to Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station is the Shinjuku Bus Station with buses for destinations throughout Japan.

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12 May
キャノン パワーショット   G1XマークII

Earlier this year I dropped my trusty old Canon Powershot 9 while climbing on a wall at the National Museum of Nature & Science in Ueno, Tokyo to get a better shot of the massive whale sculpture there. In the middle of it all, a guard came up and motioned me to get down--a warning that came just too late as my camera was already broken. The lens housing must have gotten bent and the lens would no longer extend.

Having had the Powershot 9 for at least three years, and being as avid a consumer as the next shopper, I wasn't as disconsolate as I made out I was to my, more frugal, partner, and promptly began looking for a replacement.

I was keen to start from scratch, and looked at all cameras available that matched my budget of about 60-90,000 yen. However, although starting from scratch, I must disclose my loyalty to Canon for its picture quality. Canon started out with the advantage of my knowing that I like how Canon reproduces color. There's a clarity and depth with Canon which outweighed in my  mind the PowerShot 9's tendency to overexpose the sky in scenes with light/dark contrast.

The single feature I was most interested in was global positioning system (GPS) compatibility. There's nothing more tedious than trying to work out where a photo was taken, especially when you're trying to write guides to Japanese cities. And keeping a notebook handy while snapping is hardly less tedious than resorting to Google Maps streetview to identify places.

I was also interested in high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) as used on my iPhone, as I noticed it avoided the whiting out of skies that I often encountered with my Powershot.

Nikon Coolpix cameras were either below my budget or too bulky. I had an Olympus camera years ago and found the Canon to reproduce color better, so didn't consider Olympus this time around.  The Olympus OMD EM10 would have been the contender, but, hey, call me prejudiced. I looked at Fujifilm, too, but the only class I was interested in, the X-class, was beyond my budget, topping the 100,000 yen mark.

I narrowed it down to three contenders: the Sony a6000. the Lumix DMC-LX100 and the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II.

Comparing camera makes and models can be an endless process and involves getting to grips with any number of technical issues regarding pixels, focus, resolution, and lens speed to name a few. After several days of poring over such details, I came to the conclusion that, besides taking into account the presence or absence of specific features I wanted, finding out what the camera felt like to hold and viewing the results of what it shot was a more than acceptable shortcut to a decision.

Major impressions were that the Sony looked good, had a nice chunky grip, 4K video capture, and very high resolution (according to the specs) - but no touch screen and no GPS tagging. So it was down to the Lumix and the Powershot.

The Lumix had very solid focusing and 4K video capture. But I attended a family get-together one weekend during the month or so that I was investigating camera options, and an uncle of mine had just bought the Lumix. I had a play around with it and it felt all right, but was not that taken by how the picture looked compared to my old Powershot 9.

The Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II was considerably heavier than my Powershot 9 had been, and didn't have that great a grip, either. However, it had GPS tagging (like the Lumix, using a smartphone app), and a screen that was not only a touchscreen, but twisted all the way around for taking selfies. And, most importantly of all, it took pictures with same rich, solid coloration that I had been used to with the previous Powershot.

I always look on Kakaku.com and Amazon first when I'm making a major purchase, but the price there was no better than that offered by brick-and-mortar Sofmap in Akihabara, since I'm a member and get points. I thought I was too old and ugly to get truly excited about things anymore, so was surprised to feel my heart do a palpable little flip when they brought the sleek, black box out from the stockroom. That sense of excitement has persisted with this intuitive, feature-packed camera.

Having had my Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II for a three months now, I have found the following pros and cons:

Cons
-There is no physical viewfinder. It requires paying for an expensive snap-on accessory that would only add to the bulk of an already somewhat bulky camera. However, using the screen to compose shots is often hit-and-miss in bright sunshine, and trying to see the spirit level that lets you know if you're holding the camera straight is often impossible in such conditions.
-Poor grip, improved only by buying an accessory grip (which I did) which makes it better, but still not great. You're still curling your fingers around the camera rather than having it nestled in your palm.
-Having the Wi-Fi switch just above the thumb pad. No end of times, especially in have-to-get-that-shot moments, my thumb will inadvertently press the Wi-Fi switch and take the camera completely out of shooting mode. Aggravating.

Pros
-the excellent picture quality that I liked in my PowerShot 9, but in even higher resolution.
-a geotagging system that uses Canon's CameraConnect smartphone app. CameraConnect also lets you download photos directly from the camera to the phone using Wi-Fi, and even remotely control the camera.  The remote control thing is fun, but I don't use it often. However, downloading photos from camera to phone instantly is great. Instagram pictures, for example, look much better taken on the Canon than the iPhone. Connecting the camera to the app often takes two or three tries before it works, but, in a way that doesn't really mesh with the cold, hard zeroes-and-ones image of things digital, it seems that the more you use it, the more the camera gets used to it, and responsiveness and stability quickly improve with use. The Wi-Fi connection doesn't require a Wi-Fi environment: just the camera (which generates the Wi-Fi signal) and your smartphone (which receives it). GPS data is recorded on the phone and you add it later using the Wi-Fi connection. We went to East Timor and Bali over Golden Week, and in places like that, getting a GPS signal can take up to 10 minutes, but if you're patient the signal does get found, and the geotagging works.
-the folding out and forward-flippable screen. The screen is a touchscreen, which is great for when you want to quickly select a subject to focus on. But even better is how the screen flips out so that you can look down at the screen with the camera at bellybutton level and take photos. Japanese people in particular are very touchy indeed about getting their photo taken without their permission, and while I never take a photo with the intention of embarrassing anyone, there are times when taking pictures in crowded areas when not having to hold the camera up to eye level has the advantage of being unobtrusive. Also, having the screen flip forwards for selfies is great, as the breadth of field captured is much greater than can be captured with my iPhone - making group shots easier - and, of course, the photo is much better quality.
-the huge range of options and features available (although this is not to say that the Lumix or  the Sony, or any of the others I looked at, were in any way inferior in this regard). One of my favorites is the Creative Shot mode that takes five shots with every shutter press and assigns each one a different effect and zoom setting, depending on what Creative Shot option you go for. I usually use Auto, which selects from all effects and comes up with some really striking, beautifully filtered shots. Perfect for promotional and party shots.
-the step zoom (works only in automatic mode) allowing more exact and decisive zooming in fast-changing situations when using the zoom lever would be likely to take you in too close or too far out.

All up, the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II is the ideal camera for the dedicated amateur who wants the option of both complete automation with a huge selection of special effects, or completely manual operation with a powerful range of adjustable settings--all for less than USD1,000, and beautifully toned pictures guaranteed.

To see photos taken with the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II, see JapanVisitor's Oizumi Google+ album shot using the Canon Powershot G1Z Mark II and enhanced in Adobe Lightroom.

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12 May
 Shouganai. You don't need to spend much time with a Japanese person to hear this phrase. "There's nothing for it," "It can't be helped," "What can you do?"

Shou (i.e., shō, with a long o) is actually an abbreviation of the word shiyou, which can either mean "way," "method," "means" "resource," "remedy," or "specifications," as of a smartphone or fridge. The first meaning is being referred to here, and the "ga nai" bit simply means "there is none": i.e.   there is no way, no means, no remedy.

Shouganai therefore expresses a sense of resignation, although not necessarily a willing resignation. For example, take the sentence "Aitsu o miru to imaimashikute shouganai."
あいつを見るといまいましくてしょうがない。 "Seeing that guy really gets my hackles up, but what can I do?" The "what can I do?" here powerfully expresses the degree of annoyance and provocation being experienced in that it suggests that doing something about it would entail an action so awful that in the long run it wouldn't be worth it.

The speaker is very much stating that any drastic remedy lies beyond the pale, is entirely impractical, and therefore that gritting one's teeth and plodding on is all that can be done.

Whether shouganai is something the Japanese consciously use against each other in order to take liberties is arguable. However, shouganai definitely lets people get away with aggravating examples of behavior.

For example, no Japanese person I know likes the noisy electioneering cars and vans that wend the streets every few months frenetically jabbering for votes at hugely amplified volume. And even less are sympathetic to the right-wing trucks that aggressively blare martial music through cities and harangue shopping crowds outside stations at even higher volume.

Yet, the thinking goes, for example, that Japan's a democracy, everyone must have their say, these people have invested a lot in what they're doing and are rousing people to have their political say, or that these other poeple have grievances that must be aired--"better expressed in violent words than in violent actions," etc. etc. So, irksome, even painful, as it all might be, "what can you do?"--"Yakamashii kedo, shouganai." ("It's a racket, but what can you do?")

The wind's high, capt'n, the seas are rough
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai
Kenji got Naoko up the duff
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

I'm pooped, I can't work a single hour more
I feel like I'm going to die.
The Katos are rich, so why are we poor?
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

That new Chinese airfield sprung up from the sea
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai
Kim Jong-un's new missiles are aimed right at me
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

And now who's on hand to help but the Yanks?
(Who just years back gave us a black eye)
"America, please." "America, thanks."
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

More about the Japanese language

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12 May
今週の日本

Japan News.
Traditional Geishas Entertain Western Guests
New York Times

Japan's renewable revolution at risk
BBC

Charlotte the Japanese monkey to keep her name despite right royal row
Guardian

Seoul accused of politicizing Japan’s latest UNESCO heritage bid
Japan Times

Sawaki Kōdō, Zen and Wartime Japan: Final Pieces of the Puzzle 沢木興道、禅宗、そして戦時下日本 パズルの最後のピース
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

2014 Global Equity Rankings:

1 Iceland
2 Finland
3 Norway
4 Sweden
5 Denmark
6 Nicaragua
7 Rwanda
8 Ireland
9 Philippines
10 Belgium
11 Switzerland
12 Germany
13 New Zealand
14 Netherlands
15 Latvia
16 France
17 Burundi
18 South Africa
19 Canada
20 United States

26 United Kingdom

87 China

104 Japan

117 South Korea

Source: World Economic Forum

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15 May
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 62, Shimabara to Obama
Thursday February 20th 2014

I'm up early to another fine day with clear blue skies, though the peak of Mount Unzen is draped with a cap of clouds clinging to the snow. I will be passing over that range today so I set off early.

First I head a little south to the Unzen Disaster Memorial Museum that commemorates the most recent eruption of Unzen back in 1996. I had been here before, and it is way too early for it to be open, but near the museum proper is another site that I had missed before.

Mount Unzen, Shimabara, Nagasaki.

Many of the houses that were buried under the mudslide are on display, some outdoors, some in a covered building. They actually look very weird because they have no damages, they are just buried with roofs and telegraph poles sticking out. Apparently the mud flow, formed out of a mixture of ash and the extra runoff from heavy rains falling on the fresh lava, was only moving at a slow rate by the time it got here to the coast so people were able to evacuate slowly and safely, and the force of the flow was not strong enough to demolish the houses, just engulf them. All a bit surreal.

I now cut inland and head towards the mountains. For the first few hours it's a fairly gentle slope until I reach Ryusho-ji, the 64th temple of the pilgrimage, and the reason for coming down onto the Shimabara Peninsula. Towering over the entrance to the temple is a huge statue, brightly colored statue of Fudo Myo-O, and the main temple building is completely covered in blue tarps hiding the reconstruction.

Obama Onsen, Kyushu, Japan.

Piles of new roof tiles are stacked by the temple office. For a donation towards the rebuilding you can have your name etched into a tile. From the temple the road starts to become steep and then starts to wind itself into switchbacks. In the shadows piles of snow remain unmelted and the temperature drops.

There is no sidewalk and a fair bit of traffic so that adds to the lack of fun in this part of the walk. Eventually I cross over the pass and start to drop into Unzen Hot Spring, a small resort little more than one street. Steam rises all around with the unmistakeable odor of rotten eggs. Even though it is out of season and most of the resort hotels seem closed up for the winter I find a bakery and settle in for a top up of caffeine and calories.

Rejuvenated and rested I wander and find a boardwalk that meanders through the steaming and bubbling pools that have dozens of pipes snaking away from them to the hotels. The smell does not get any more pleasant. There may be more to see in the town but I need to get going as I am only a little over halfway to my destination, though it should be all downhill from now on to the shore of Tachibana Bay.

It turns out that the western slope of Unzen is much steeper than the eastern. There is no gentler slope as it gets further down, it is switchbacks all the way. I soon catch glimpses of Tachibana Bay through the trees, and there is less traffic on this side, so its a very pleasant walk. About three quarters of the way down I pass through a small settlement, the first since leaving the top. Some of the residents are out playing gateball, a Japanese variation on croquet and very popular with retirees.

A little further and I come to something quite unexpected and not marked on my map, some sort of a miniature religious theme park. There are no religious buildings, just a small tea room, but scattered around the grounds is a veritable who's who of popular Japanese deities.

There are large statues of the Seven Lucky Gods, an Amida Buddha, several Kannon, a dragon holding a giant golden sphere, a Fudo MyoO, a kappa, a giant red Tengu mask, a small Inari shrine, and several others.

20 minutes later I reach the coast and find my room for the night, a traditional onsen ryokan that has seen better days but is priced for my budget. I think I am the only guest as it is out of season. In the last rays of the setting sun I explore the onsen resort town of Obama. The most notable feature is the longest foot bath in Japan. 110 meters long, one meter for each degree of water temperature. I soak my feet for a while before heading back to my room. The ryokan has recently refurbished the rotenburo, the outdoor bath, and I have the whole place to myself.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 61

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6 May
Do you have a favorite Japanese mascot? I purchased the 2014 Perfect Data Book which has pictures of the mascots from each prefecture. Funassyi, the pear mascot from Funabashi in Chiba, ranks as the most popular of them all.

2014 Perfect Data Book.

My favorite mascot is Ibaraki's Mito Mitsukuni, also known as Mito Komon. Whenever I see him I think of Nakamura Baijaku's wonderful portrayal of Mito in the 2000 Taiga Drama, "Aoi Tokugawa."

Club T Japanese Mascots.

I also like this character because of the long-running television series (1969 - 2011) "Mito Komon." When we initially came to Japan it was the first show we saw on the hotel TV! It made us think that somewhere in Japan, an episode of "Mito Komon" perpetually airs.

Club T Japanese Mascots.

Recently I decided to search for some character merchandise. Using an inspired combination of search terms on Google Japan, I discovered Club T at clubt.jp and it turned out to be my dream site.

Club T Japanese Mascots.

If you are interested in mascot-themed tees, polos, phone cases, tote bags, and other assorted items, just click the character-filled "Yuru T" box. (If you prefer other artistic choices, the site is overflowing with options.) Of course, I selected one of the Mito Komon t-shirts, and my package arrived last week. I was quite pleased! If you find something you'd like to purchase, just contact Goods from Japan and they will get it for you.
9 May
今週の日本

Japan News.
Effort by Japan to Stifle News Media Is Working
New York Times

Bad blood between Japan and Korea persists
BBC

Japan's PM apologises for US war dead – but fails to mention 'comfort women'
Guardian

Abe restates ‘deep remorse’ over wartime aggression
Japan Times

Cycling the Kyoto maze could get easier
Japan Times

The Abe Government and the 2014 Screening of Japanese Junior High School History Textbooks
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Foreign tourists spent 706.6 billion yen (roughly $700 million) in the first quarter of 2015. That is an increase of 64% on the same period from the previous year.

Chinese lead the way, spending on average 300,434 yen ($2,499)/person.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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1 May
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 61, Nagasato to Shimabara
Wednesday February 19th 2014

I catch the first train out of Nagasaki to Nagasato and the sun is up by the time I start walking. The mountaintops to the north are white with snow but down here on the coast the wind is a little crisp but its blowing away the low clouds to reveal a blue sky mottled with high cloud.

After a short walk I come to a road that is most unusual in Japan - its is dead straight for 7 kilometers. Reason being it is on a dyke that stretches across the bay to the far shore. This is the infamous Isahaya Bay Reclamation Project, a 2 billion dollar boondoggle that has destroyed the last major tidal wetlands in Japan.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 61 by Jake Davies.

The rationale for its construction was to "reclaim" land to grow rice, but by the time it was completed in 1997 Japan had masses of unused agricultural land and farmers were being paid to not grow rice. Once the water stopped flowing out into the Ariake Sea the life of the wetlands began to disappear and the fishermen and nori harvesters of the Ariake Sea started to report reduced yields.

As far as I know there is currently a gridlock because of lawsuits of environmentalists and fishermen on the one hand who want the dike opening up, and those with vested interest in the reclaimed land who want it to stay closed.

Halfway across the dike is a rest area and I am able to climb up for a bit of a view, to the south is the Shimabara Peninsula with Mount Unzen rising in the middle. All being well I will be walking over those mountains tomorrow. The long, straight slog across the mouth of the bay on top of the dyke was uneventful.

I now follow the coast road east and then south. Whenever I get the chance I take detours away from the nosy and busy main road and stop in and explore shrines. By late morning I am coming in to Kumini and here I cut inland to visit somewhere I discovered while exploring with Google Maps.

It's an old "samurai district," a collection of old samurai dwelling and walled streets dating back to the Edo Period. While the walls lining the streets still exist, many of the houses are of a much more recent vintage, though there are a few old ones.

The centerpiece however is the Nabeshima House, built by a lesser member of the family that ruled over what is now Saga, though Kumini is now Nagasaki. Unfortunately the main house is closed to the public while it is undergoing some renovation work, but the gardens were a pleasant surprise.

Nagasato to Shimabara walk, Kyushu.

I wander back to the main road and continue down the coast when I start to see streetlamps shaped like crabs holdings a soccer ball. Then I saw a giant version? What the hell is that all about? Have they trained a species of giant crab to play soccer? Or is it that crab is the local specialty and the local high school soccer team often wins the national championships?

By now the coast road is running south and as one of the bright yellow local trains trundles by I contemplate hopping on for the last section down into Shimabara, but it has turned out to be a beautiful day with a clear blue sky so I ignore my legs grumbling and carry on walking. I get into town and my booked hotel room as the sun has disappeared behind Mount Unzen but it is still light enough to explore some shrines near my hotel.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Part 1

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27 Apr
 東京レインボー・プライド

Tokyo Rainbow Pride event, Japan.Costumed fun at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festa at Yoyogi Park.
The sun joined with over 3,000 people on Sunday to smile on this year's Tokyo Rainbow Pride celebration in Tokyo's Yoyogi district.

This year's celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride was a two-day event: the Festa covering Saturday and Sunday, 25th and 26th April, and the Parade happening on Sunday, 26th April.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride event, 2015.Main plaza of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festa, Yoyogi Park.
The Festa at Yoyogi Park was an all-weekend affair, from 11 am to 8 pm, and featured scores of stalls, including the trusty Google stall--a regular corporate presence at Tokyo Rainbow Pride--and those of marriage equality groups. The discussion and entertainment schedule was a rich and varied one, ranging from a drag queen show, to musical performances that included a Japanese drumming troupe, to talk events (including "AIDS Is Not Over"), and drawing enthusiastic crowds.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, marching down Omotesando, Japan.Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade. Omotesando, Tokyo.
The Tokyo Rainbow Pride event this year was especially focused on marriage equality for LGBT people, given the groundswell in support for it around the world over the past year, and, in particular, the recent move by Shibuya ward to recognize gay partnership when dealing with Shibuya ward residents. Only last week, on April 19, a lesbian couple had a wedding ceremony in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward in an unprecedentedly public expression of gay marriage commitment in Japan. While the formal application to get the marriage registered was not accepted at the ward office, it built on the semi-official recognition already afforded the act by neighboring Shibuya ward.
A very tall drag queen, Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.A towering drag queen at Tokyo Rainbow Pride, 2015.
The Tokyo Rainbow Pride march on Sunday was, as always, a gleeful celebration of diversity. Participants filled the streets of Shibuya led by costumed revellers, waving banners, and generally being visible.

Setting out on the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade through Shibuya, Tokyo, 2015.Setting off on the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade march, 2015.
JapanVisitor spoke to an organizer who expressed the hope that "with sexual minorities now starting to make their mark publicly in the world, we hope that Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade will continue to be seen not as a 'protest' against discrimination and a striving for visibility, but as a celebration not only of diversity, but of ever greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, and other sexual minorities, by Japanese society."

Google presence at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.Google stall at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
See YouTube footage of a previous year's Tokyo Rainbow Pride event.

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4 May
今週の日本

Japan News.
Man Says He Flew Drone Onto Japanese Leader’s Office Roof in Nuclear Protest
New York Times

Japan train breaks speed record
BBC

Wartime sex slave urges Japanese PM to apologise during US trip
Guardian

Kyoto’s tourism boom spells war for luxury hotel chains
Japan Times

The Wired Seas of Asia: China, Japan, the US and Australia
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World Happiness Rankings by country, 2015:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Canada

15. USA

21. UK

46. Japan

84. China

Source: India Times

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25 Apr
こうもり バレー

I received a very welcome invitation from the New National Theatre Tokyo to attend the ballet La Chauve-souris, ("The Bat") an adaptation by Roland Petit of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II.


A foyer of the New National Theatre, Tokyo.A hall in the New National Theatre, Tokyo, taken on an exploratory tour during the interval.
Written in 1979, La Chauve-souris is a story set to the music of Die Fledermaus, but featuring the kind of glitz and glamor that brought such fame to the eponymous troupe that toured Europe in the early 20th century.

The season for La Chauve-souris is very short, only five stagings, and I got to see the second one, held on Thursday, April 23, with Ayako Ono in the role of wife Bella, and Herman Cornejo playing her playboy husband, Johann.

The curtain rose on the thrilling spectacle of Bella poised center stage in a scintillating blue dress with a vast hem that occupied the whole stage, while a great circle of dozens of players, each holding its edge, slowly circled her. It was a spine-tingling opening that set the stage for the rest of the two hours, every minute of which lived up to this exciting first moment.

The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra was under the baton of Alessandro Ferrari, and played a spirited yet beautifully nuanced accompaniment to the drama.

The staging and props were superb: the ultimate in stylish simplicity, featuring in the main memorable use of defined light against large sections of darkness, and vivid, solitary splashes of aptly placed color, and optimal use of the vertical dimension to accentuate a sense of space, evoking the theme of "flight" behind the story. Even the most gorgeous scene, set in Maxim's nightclub, was a broad-brushed "blur" of golden splendor, free of any fussy distractions.

The choreography was spellbinding, drawing on traditional ballet techniques to enhance what were on the whole fresh, modern-inspired movements. The dancers moved as if blithely ignorant of gravity and friction. Particularly impressive was the clearly very athletic Herman Cornejo whose athleticism nevertheless came across less as strength than as magic as he saw to the soaring, floating, and gliding of the very elegant and poised Ayako Ono from stage, through air, and back, over and over again.

The dancing was infused with often prankish humor, as appropriate for a revue, and some whimsical gestures (the family eating is one I'll remember), yet never at the expense of its lilt and polish.

The costuming was what most harked back to the early 19th century roots of the ballet's name. Black, white, and scarlet a-gogo, either in smooth form-hugging lines or voluptuous skirts--tantalizing either way.

Verve, sparkle and passion held sway for two thoroughly enjoyable hours, enchanting a pretty much full house that couldn't get enough of it. It was ballet toffee, but of the most moreish, quality kind. On the train from Hatsudai to Shinjuku I could pretty much tell who'd just been to the show from the smiles on passengers' faces.  


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4 May
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 2
Tuesday February 18th 2014

After leaving the old Chinese settlement I head to the long line of temples spread along the base of the hills to the south of the valley. Known as Teramachi, it starts with Sofukuji, one of the main tourist spots of Nagasaki, a Chinese temple containing several National Treasures.

I had been there before, so this time I didn't pay the entry fee but contented myself with some photos of the unusual Chinese-style gate. The heavy rainfall predicted yesterday had still not arrived though it remained dark and overcast. Heading northeast along Teramachi short distance was the entrance to the next temple, Daikoji.

Daikoji Temple, Nagasaki.

The entryway leading to an impressive gate was flanked by well-pruned and sculpted trees, but poking my head inside the gate I saw nothing that made me want to explore further. Next was Daionji, up a long flight of stairs. There was not much to see except the bell tower which seems to have been encased in walls of ochre.

Kotaiji, the next temple, was huge and really nice. Several plum trees, some sort of weeping plum I believe, were blooming which added to the scene. There were a fine pair of fierce Nio in there own gate and some more rather ornate statues of what I believe were some of the Shintenno, the four heavenly kings, also guardians.

With lots of ancillary buildings this is obviously a very active temple. Next along the road was Chosoji which did not look interesting so I passed by. Then it was Kofukuji. The oldest of the Chinese temples. There was a small entrance fee, and I had been here once before, but JapanVisitor wanted a write up of it so I went in and had a good look around.

Not as busy as Shofukuji, but intriguing nonetheless. There are a few more temples along the road but instead I head north across the river and the busy main thoroughfare towards the new Museum of History& Culture.

Just before reaching the museum my eye is attracted to a sign pointing down a narrow alley where I find the Museum of Santa Domingo. Comprising mostly of the excavations which reveals the foundation of an early Portuguese church and settlement.

Nagasaki was for a short while a Portuguese colony, and this is all that remains. Surprising and interesting, and best of all, free. I had heard good things about the new history museum in Nagasaki. It looks like the stonework of a castle, but unfortunately today was a closed day. I now headed back towards Nagasaki Station to complete my circular walk. A couple of hundred meters from the museum there was an impressive looking temple gate and I went in to explore and was completely surprised. It is a big, old temple complex, though it is in a state of decay. There was a few nice statues inside the structures, and behind the main hall a wonderful wall built out of recycled roof tiles and demon tiles and such.

The place was very atmospheric, as abandoned places often are, though it is not quite abandoned. There were no other visitors, which helped the atmosphere for me. Excited by having "discovered" something I head off to the place I had found when studying Google maps before I made the trip here. Fukusaiji used to be the biggest of the Chinese temples in Nagasaki. But it was completely destroyed by the fires that followed the atomic explosion in 1945. The new, concrete replacement is totally unique. The building is in the shape of a giant turtle!!!

Sticking out above the main entrance is a huge turtle head made out of aluminum and standing on the top of the shell/roof is a giant aluminum statue of Kannon. Though the building is made out of concrete there is still a Chinese feel to it. The biggest surprise though is that the temple is home to one of the biggest Foucault Pendulum in the world. Suspended from a cable that begins in the Kannon statues head and passing through the building to the basement below the pendulum shows the rotation of the earth.

A most unusual and unique building that is almost unknown to visitors to Nagasaki, but certainly worth seeking out. I have almost completed my loop walk by now and the threatened rain never did appear. On my way down the hill towards my hotel I stop in at Nakamachi Catholic Church. Built at the end of the 19th century, all that was left after the A bomb were the walls and spire and it was rebuilt in 1951.

Nakamachi Catholic Church, Nagasaki.

On the outside it seems to have been modeled on the nearby Oura Cathedral. Inside is light and spacious with plenty of stained glass. After having visited so many temples and shrines in Japan over the years I know find churches quite atmospheric. Like Shofukuji and Fukusaiji, there is no entrance fee and little visited. Tomorrow I head back to the coast and head down the Shimabara Peninsula and I should be back in Nagasaki in 3 days.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Part 1

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4 May
今週の日本

Japan News.
Nuclear Reactors in Japan Remain Closed by Judge’s Order
New York Times

Japan jet scrambles 'near Cold War record'
BBC

Japanese-American internment artifacts auction cancelled after backlash
Guardian

Japan’s 1968: A Collective Reaction to Rapid Economic Growth in an Age of Turmoil 日本の1968 混乱期の高度成長への共同体的反応
Japan Focus

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Statistics

In 2014, a record number of children in Japan were victimized by social media. 1,421 children under 18 fell victim to acts of obscenity. That includes pornography, prostitution, and other forms of abuse.

Source: Jiji Press

Air Self-Defense Forces scrambled a record 943 times in fiscal 2014. As a result of intrusions into Japan's air space - mainly by China (464) and Russia (473) - Japan's pilots are on average flying three missions a day.

Source: Jiji Press

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4 May
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 1
Tuesday February 18th 2014

The weather is overcast and dull as I leave my hotel near the main railway station and head south on my one day exploration of Nagasaki. I've been here before, some years ago, and today I will be revisiting some places but also exploring some of the less visited sights.

Rather than take the busy main thoroughfare which is filled with the roar of 6 lanes of motor vehicles spewing fumes into the air I go a couple of blocks towards the water and take a narrow street that is almost just an alley but feels like a canyon.

Overhead a spaghetti-tangle of cables crisscross the sky like a web of a giant spider. My first stop is something called Dragon Promenade in the port area. It's a long, narrow, concrete warehouse running perpendicular to the water. The roof is a multifaceted membrane somewhat reminiscent of the geometry of stealth planes and boats and at the far end sits a huge, orange sphere. Steps lead up to the covered roof which is public space and I believe sometimes events are held here, but mostly it is deserted and seems a little run down.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1.
Can't figure out the orange globe but supposedly the design of the building is meant to reflect the dragon used in the Dragon Dance at Nagasaki's Kunchi Festival. It is the kind of place I love to take photos. Almost next door is the new Ferry Building designed by Shin Takamatsu, an architect whose whimsical and geometric buildings are somewhat passe but again make for the kind of photography I most enjoy making.

Moored in front of the terminal is a ship I had not seen before, the Kanko Maru. It's actually a replica of Japan's first modern warship. Primarily a sailing ship she also had paddle wheels powered by steam. She was built in Holland in 1852 and served briefly with the Dutch navy before being given to the Shogun in 1855 whose government had recently "opened" the country following the return of Perry's Black Ships.

This replica was built in the same shipyard as the first Kanko Maru following the original plans. Last I heard she had been operating out of the theme park Huis Ten Bosch but maybe she is now based here.

A little further down along the waterfront I come to the Prefectural Museum of Art. When I first came to Nagasaki it was not yet fully built and hidden behind hoardings, but approaching along the canal the Prefectural Museum of Art is quite striking.

It is two buildings with the canal running between them and a connecting glass walkway between the two parts. The area along the canal is a public promenade with sculptures. Even though is is overcast the combination of glass walls and the water of the canal offer me plenty of photo opportunities. I forgo the opportunity to go in even though they just open as I am there.

Unless there is something specific I want to see in a museum or gallery I will often save myself the entrance fee, coming as I do from a country where entrance is free to most museums and galleries. Not far away is Dejima, the island where the Dutch traders lived in isolation during the Edo Period of Japanese history.

No longer surrounded by water but by city, it is somewhere else that was still under construction when I last came here. I do decide to fork over the entrance fee. It was interesting enough, though being a new reconstruction the newness of everything was kind of distracting.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1.

From here its just a short walk to Chinatown. I'm not sure when the Chinese New Year was this year, but I seem to have just missed the festival that celebrates it here in Nagasaki's Chinatown as there are still some of the large, brightly colored floats used then sitting in front to the entrance to the shopping street of said Chinatown. I walk quickly through as I am not interested in the restaurants and gifts shops that to my untrained eye look just the same as at any of the dozens of Chinatowns around the world.

What I am interested in is the hillside behind Chinatown which is actually where the Chinese quarter, known as Tojin Yashiki, was located during the Edo Period. It is a pretty decrepit and run down area now, and I'm not sure how many Chinese now live here, but dotted around the area are some small shrine-temples built by the Chinese residents back then.

I'm surprised to find them made out of brick, and while they are not grand like the nearby well-known Chinese temples of Sofukuji and Kofukuji, which were built later for the Chinese community here, it's nice to see the statues and decorations which are most certainly Chinese and not Japanese. Next I head towards the line of temples flanked by the aforementioned Sofukuji and Kofukuji.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 59

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14 Apr
群馬県 大泉町

Oizumi is a small town north of Tokyo, in Gunma Prefecture, noted for its large Brazilian population. Of Oizumi's approximately 40,000 residents (which actually makes Oizumi the largest town (but not city) in Gunma Prefecture), close to 6,000 of them are non-Japanese. However, the majority of the this non-Japanese population is all but indistinguishable at first glance from the local population, being Brazilians of Japanese extraction  who make up about 10% of Oizumi's residents.

Torii of Nagara Shrine, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.
The industrial history of Gunma prefecture is a long one, and before and during the war, Oizumi was the site of the Nakajima aircraft factory, which made fighter planes. After the war, the Nakajima factory became what is now the Sanyo and Fuji Heavy Industries factories, which are the main employers here, especially of foreign labor. The Ajinomoto Frozen Foods and the Toppan Printing plants also employ a lot of locals.

The non-Japanese influx dates back to 1990 when the Japanese government changed the immigration laws to allow foreigners of Japanese descent to work freely in Japan. At the time, the municipality of Oizumi, unable to make ends meet, was a subsidized body, and therefore actively recruited newly eligible foreign residents to come and settle there. The resulting population increase boosted tax revenues and brought Oizumi back into the black.


Buildings on Route 354, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

I visited Oizumi last Saturday with my partner, who is Brazilian Japanese, for an event his company was running there. It took about an hour and ten minutes from Asakusa Station in Tokyo. The Tobu line train took us to Ota Station (Ota City is adjacent to Oizumi) and it was a 15 minute drive to Oizumi from there.

The main street, Route 354, is little different from any main street in a small Japanese town, with an unplanned hodge-podge of old and not-as-old buildings—more or less concrete cubes—raggedly lining it. However, what catches your eye here are the numerous shop and restaurant signs in Portuguese, and the shops and supermarkets themselves, a lot of which stock only Brazilian produce.

While my partner was busy, I went for a neighborhood stroll with my camera and was pleased to find that once I left the main drag, the little streets behind were mostly rural (i.e., agricultural) in feel, and quite picturesque.


Pulled up plants on the roadside, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

My first real stop was Nagara Shrine, which seemed to be the remnants of a shrine that had been chopped up by residential development. The main shrine was on the edge of a tract of land that could well still be the shrine grounds, but which is now used as a playing field. The only thing that readily identified it as a past or present shrine precinct was the big torii gate on the street side. A walk across the field, where two little boys were kicking a soccer ball, brought you to the tiny old shrine that was almost in a state of disrepair.

As I stood in front of it taking photos, an old woman walked by. I said konnichiwa. She greeted me back and said foreigners were a rare sight around there. We chatted for a few minutes. She spoke pretty good English. On my asking why, she said she'd worked on the nearby American base for a few years after the war. I looked at her with a question in my eyes, because she didn't look much over 60. "I'm 83, she said, going on 84." She'd lived here all her life, right behind the shrine.


Nagara Shrine, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

While we were chatting, one of the little boys kicking the soccer ball would come up, yell hello and shake my hand.

I spent another half hour wandering the neighborhood. Rustic though it was, there was an element of modern industry in almost every scene: the garish green pick-up truck parked near the shrine, the small metalworks across from the market garden, the massive power pylons planted in fields and beside trees. But the stars of the landscape that weekend were the blossom trees, cherry, plum and one or two others I couldn't identify. The cherry blossom was just starting to fall and carpeted the ground like pale pink snow. And the plum blossom still on branches were like embers against an overcast early spring sky with its peeps and patches of ozone blue.

To see all the photos I took, browse the Oizumi Google+ photo album I made of my walk ... and please +1 pics if you like them.

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27 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
Ahead of World War II Anniversary, Questions Linger Over Stance of Japan’s Premier
New York Times

Dolphins stranded on Japan beach
BBC

Japan dismisses South Korean protest over 'provocative' textbooks
Guardian

Repatriation But Not “Return”: A Japanese Brazilian Dekasegi Goes Back to Brazil
Japan Focus

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Statistics

According to Amnesty International, 22 countries worldwide carried out the death penalty in 2014. The total number of known executions was "at least 607."

China, which is thought to execute in the thousands yearly, does not make public the number of executions it conducts.

Amnesty lists as death penalty cases those that have passed through a judicial system, in which an accused criminal is condemned by a tribunal for a crime, and then ultimately put to death by the state. Thus, beheadings by ISIL are not "counted."

Of those countries that do, Iran lead the list with 289 executions in 2014. Saudi Arabia was in second place at 90. Rounding out the top three, Iraq executed 60 of its prisoners.

The United States put 35 prisoners to death, and Japan hanged three of its death row inmates.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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11 Apr
亀山社中記念館

The Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum in Nagasaki is a restoration of the building that housed a shipping company begun by Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867), a prominent activist in the struggles to overthrow the Tokugawa regime in the 1850's and 1860's. Historians see the Kameyama Shachu, Japan's first trading company, as a forerunner of the Japanese navy.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.
Money for the venture was provided by a wealthy Nagasaki businessman, Kosone Kendo and the powerful Satsuma han (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture). The shipping company was meant to circumvent the Shogunate's trade blockade against its enemy Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and its main activity seemed to be running guns and ammunition into Japan.

Although the Japanese style house and garden is a very small space, just 10-, 8- and 3-mat tatami rooms, it attracts a large number of keen Ryoma fans who make the pilgrimage uphill to the museum every day.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.

On display are a number of the great man's personal effects including his haori - a traditional kimono jacket which his family crest (mon) on the chest. There is also a secret mezzanine floor reached through the ceiling if the occupants needed to hide from any shogunal spies.

The Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum is a 15-20 minute walk from the Kokaido-mae tram stop close to Kokufuji Temple. The walk up to the museum has a number of plaques detailing the lives of the men who were active during the Meiji Restoration period when the Tokugawa Bakufu was eventually overthrown and replaced by the Meiji government.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum
2-7-24 Irabayashi, Nagasaki 850-0802
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
Admission: 300 yen

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.

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10 Apr
Does everybody go to Nara? I think so. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprised of eight temples, shrines, and ruins, is a historical treasure. Do visit!

Visiting Nara in the Rain.

Now that I've said that... let's talk about when it RAINS. As a tourist, you may have a prescribed itinerary and if the day brings rain, a person just has to make the best of it, come what may. I think that's a good attitude. Rain does discourage some visitors and the crowds may be a bit smaller; however, since the historic buildings are a distance from each other, you will be spending a great deal of your time out in the steady downpour protected only be your new pal Mr. Umbrella. Keeping dry can be a challenge, especially in the matter of feet. So be advised, and be prepared. Also it can be cold, so don't forget that.

Visiting Nara in the Rain.

My daughter has been to Nara twice, once on a sunny day and the other time (when I was there) on a rainy morning. Southern California receives sparse rainfall, and we inevitably have to search the closets for an umbrella when the skies do open up.

At Nara we had umbrellas we purchased in Japan - those 300 yen clear plastic ones - and they were sufficient. It was bit chilly, but nothing was as terrible as having our sneakers completely soaked through. Might I say "Aaarrgh." We managed to see the great Todaiji Temple and witnessed those ubiquitous deer - and saw the warning signs regarding all the possible deer behaviors one could encounter.

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan.

After our visit, which ended up being shorter than planned (read: I need to go back to Nara someday to see everything) we climbed onto the bus and took it somewhere, I don't know, I never know, and ended up at a Vie de France cafe for hot coffee and a sweet roll. Back at the hotel, I spent a very long time using the hair dryer on four soggy sneakers.

Vie de France cafe for hot coffee and a sweet roll.

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7 Apr
Japan Country Living reviewed by Jake Davies.Japan Country Living
Amy Sylvester Katoh & Shin Kimura
Tuttle Publishing
192 pp
ISBN-10: 0804818584
ISBN-13: 978-0804818582

When one looks at what is considered nowadays to be traditional Japanese culture one can see that much of it is derived from three main sources, firstly the elite culture of Heian Period aristocrats: the poetry, the costumes, the ceremonies and pageantry of Kyoto, etc. Secondly, samurai culture: the zen arts of tea ceremony, Noh theater, the castles, martial arts & ninja etc, and finally the urban culture of Edo: Kabuki, Ukiyo-e, etc.

Though these traditions have in modern times spread to larger sections of the population, historically they were not the culture of most Japanese. Most Japanese were not the aristocracy, samurai only ever made up about 10% of the population, and while in the Edo Period Japan was one of the most urbanized countries in the world, the vast majority of Japanese until very, very recently did not live in towns or cities but in the countryside, where the traditional culture is currently fast disappearing.

The countryside is also difficult for tourists to visit, neither having convenient transportation nor tourist infrastructure like hotels and English information. So that brings me to this book, which lavishly illustrates with great photos much of the traditional culture of the Japanese countryside.

With the stunning photography the book could stand as a coffee table book, and for many it will serve as a rich repository of ideas for interior and exterior design projects, others may find it awakening a desire to get out of the city to a life more hand-made.

The book is divided into four sections, though there is much overlap between the sections, the first being the architecture of the farmhouses, and the emphasis is on thatch. There are still plenty of thatched houses lived in throughout the countryside, though far more common, but not pictured here, are the thatched roofs protectively covered with tin. Thatchers still exist, I have seen more than a few structures being re-thatched, but so many thatched roofs are returning to the earth where they came from like so many traditional buildings.

The objects to be found inside rural homes are also extensively covered, not just the crafts and tools, but the kinds of things people collect, like dolls, fans, masks etc. The raw materials of country life are well covered: wood, stone, bamboo, paper, and of course the perhaps pre-eminent raw material - rice straw, from which more things can be made than you could possibly imagine.

Of course food is covered, as the countryside is after all where much of it comes from, and several recipes are included. If there is one color that is representative of the Japanese countryside, then that color must be indigo, the plant-based dye that colored what people wore, and the other uses made of the home-woven fabrics like noren, though in fact there are several hundred distinct and named variations of the color many of them found gracing the wonderful photos throughout the book.

The book is a celebration of a culture and tradition that is fast disappearing, and so there is, as with much of what is now classed as tradition, a tendency to romanticize and idealize, but it is still a living tradition kept alive rather than one being revived.

Most of the people in the book are elderly and will not be around too much longer, but they are living the only life they have known. Hopefully the book will inspire visitors to venture out from the crowds and concrete of cities like Tokyo and Kyoto and seek out what remains of the traditional culture of the people of Japan rather than the "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" that constitute so much of what is considered traditional Japanese culture. Oh, did I mention the fantastic photographs?

Jake Davies

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan
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7 Apr
"tsuyomi" - the Japanese character for "strength."tsuyomi, or "strength"Acquiring skills is a constant theme of life in Japan - as it is anywhere, but it comes with the added aura of "mastering a way," the word hōhō or yarikata (やり方) often being used for "way/method." Hōhō (方法) is a slightly more abstract meaning, while yarikata has a somewhat more hands-on feel.

Mastering a hōhō or yarikata enables the individual to provide others with goods or services, and thus be of use to society. And while Japanese culture has a strong vein of feting those who are to all intents and purposes useless to society because they have no desire to master anything (monogusa), the conventional ideal is of an individual who only has worth when working for the good of all, adding value by practicing, and further polishing, his or her mastered skill.

Skills attained, or even innate, are called tsuyomi (強み) or chōsho (長所), and the opposite—a weakness, failing or shortcoming—is a jakuten (弱点) or tansho (短所).

One good way to spark conversation in Japan might be to ask what the other person is good at or strong at: Tsuyomi wa nan desu ka. And once you get to know someone better, you might even want to reveal one or two of your jakuten: the more kawaii the jakuten the better!

 
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6 Apr
THE NAGOYA PLAYERS PRESENT THE CLUB BY DAVID WILLIAMSON

ナゴヤプレーヤーズ

Nagoya Players - The Club.

The Nagoya Players kick off their 2015 season with performances of The Club, a 1970's boardroom drama written by Australian playwright David Williamson and given a modern twist in this production.

The cast includes Michael Kruse as committe member Jock Riley, Dan Pousson as club captain Danny Bower, David Alcock as coach Laurie Holden and Ritchie Croan as star player Geoff Hayward.

Performances take place at Himawari Hall in Marunouchi (nearest subway stations are Marunouchi Exit 4 or Hisaya Odori Exit 1):

April 10th at 7pm
April 11th at 1pm and 6.30pm
April 12th at 1pm and 5pm

The show will be performed in English, with subtitles in Japanese. Pre-sale tickets are 2000 yen

About the Nagoya Players
The Nagoya Players are a well-known English-language theatre company with more than 30 years of experience in entertaining Nagoya audiences. Founded in 1975, The Nagoya Players represent a mix of natives of the Nagoya area and the local foreign community. They have been featured in print, both locally and nationally, and on radio and television. The Nagoya Players have presented a range of genres. For more information about the theatre company, visit nagoyaplayers.info.
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