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Japan Visitor

What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
20 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
What Germany Can Teach Japan New York Times

How Japan is once again angering environmentalists with its whale hunting program
Global Post

Japan to launch reduced Pacific whale hunt next week
BBC

Japan's consumer inflation set to reach five-year high
Guardian

Murakami’s new book hits shelves amid fan frenzy; more ordered
Japan Times

Japan in the public culture of South Korea, 1945–2000s:The making and remaking of colonial sites and memories Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Ranking of country by the Social Progress Index according to different social and civil indices:

1. New Zealand
2. Switzerland
3. Iceland
4. Netherlands
5. Norway
6. Sweden
7. Canada
8. Finland
9. Denmark
10. Australia
11. Austria
12. Germany
13. United Kingdom
14. Japan
15. Ireland
16. United States

28. South Korea

90. China

Source:

Social Progress Index

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17 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 30
Across Kagoshima City
Tuesday July 30th, 2013

I am going to be based here in Kagoshima for another two nights, so for today's completely urban section of the walk I can leave my heavy backpack in my room.

Priest at temple in Kagoshima
By now the oppressive summer heat has become bearable and today's clearing skies offer a slight reduction in humidity. The plan is to head back out to the northern edge of the city and walk across it visiting the two pilgrimage temples here and head south out of the city as far as I can.

Hemmed in between the mountains and the sea, Kagoshima is not very wide, but very long. I find the first temple tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. Not much to speak of and there is no-one around.

Most pilgrims carry a nokyocho, a book for collecting stamps and calligraphy from each temple, but at 300 yen a pop I don't carry one so I don't have to disturb anyone at the temple.

With 108 temples on this pilgrimage, times 300 yen, that would buy me 8 or 9 nights accommodation, much more important on my limited budget. An hour later I reach the next temple, closer to downtown. It's a modern concrete building raised off the ground to provide parking spaces under the building. As I climb up the steps to the main hall the priest comes out and invites me in for a tea and a chat.

He asks if I would like some prayers for the rest of the journey and so we go outside and stand in front of the Kannon statue while he chants for me. As I make to leave he hands me a can of coffee and some fruit, o-settai, gifts given to pilgrims.

On the Shikoku pilgrimage o-settai is fairly common, often from strangers. Here in Kyushu I have had some, but most of them have been given by priests or their wives at the pilgrimage temples.

I carry on south through the anonymous, urban environment. The names of the banks may change, but so many of the stores and businesses are national chains. I make a detour to the campus of the Kagoshima University where there is a new auditorium designed by the famous architect Tadao Ando.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 30 Across Kagoshima City

The sun breaks through when I arrive which allows me to take advantage of the shadow for some nice photos of it. It's interesting enough, and I appreciate Ando's work the more I see of it, but like too many pieces of modern architectural design the surrounding buildings, power lines, and such, don't allow the design to show itself off.

Another couple of hours and I reach the southernmost station of the city tram, so call it a day. Being high summer there is till a lot of daylight left so I head to the aquarium to see what it has to offer.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 29

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15 Apr
八代グランドホテル

The Grand Hotel in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, is a full service hotel offering wedding and banquet services, but has rooms priced less than a budget business hotel.

Yatsushiro Grand Hotel, Kyushu, Japan
 Yatsushiro is the terminus of the privately owned Hisatsu Orange Railway Line which runs down the coast to Satsumasendai, the JR Hisatsu Line which runs up the Kumagawa River to Hitoyoshi, the JR Kagoshima Line which runs up to Kumamoto and beyond, and Shin Yatsushiro Station on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line.

Yatsushiro Grand Hotel Room

The hotel is situated on the main road less than 1km from JR Yatsushiro station and 1.5km from Yatsushiro Castle.

The Yatsushiro Grand Hotel has free parking, 24 hour reception, coin operated laundry, wi-fi in the lobby, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The rooms are standard, with ensuite bathroom and toilet, TV, fridge, kettle, and internet connection.

For a room with no meals I paid a mere 3,400 yen, a remarkable bargain.

Yatsushiro Grand Hotel, Kyushu

Yatsushiro Grand Hotel
Chodori, Asahi 10-1, Yatsuhiro
Kumamoto 866-0844
Tel: 0965 32 2111

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14 Apr
よりを戻す

"getting back together," "turning the clock back," "starting over" are sentiments of one-time friends, partners and lovers  the world over.

A common way of expressing this feeling in Japanese is the phrase yori o modosu よりを戻す.


To those who know a little Japanese, the yori might seem unintuitive as it is usually encountered with the meaning of "more than," e.g. Kocha yori kohi ga suki (I like coffee more than tea.)

But actually yori/yoru  has all sorts of meanings, backed by various different kanji.

For example, there's yoru 寄る that's all about drawing near, coming/bringing together; e.g. washed up seaweed, i.e. seaweed that has been drawn to shore, is called yorimo 寄り藻.

There's, admittedly, the not so common 選る or 択る meaning to select, pick out, choose (according to a purpose or criterion).

There's the 因る (also able to be written 由る, 依る, or 拠る, but nearly always rendered in hiragana) that is the second kanji in gen'in 原因, or "cause, origin":  It is probably more familiarly encountered as よって、i.e., to be based on or "according to" or "from" or "by," as in Kare no hanashi ni yotte midori da (According to what he says, it's green.), or Chiiki ni yotte hatsuon ga kawaru (The pronunciation differs by district).

But getting back to the yori of the title, this one is written 撚る, meaning "to twist." Written as 撚り, it becomes the noun "twisting." modosu means "to restore," so to "restore the twisting" is a thread-based metaphor in which strands that have become untwisted are retwisted back into a single thread.

So "restoring the twisting," "getting re-entwined," "reopening dialog," "wrapping yourselves around each other again"—however you want to envision it—yori o modosu is all about reliving the good old times with someone.


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15 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
In a Test of Wills With China, U.S. Sticks Up for Japan New York Times

Japan’s biggest pop star right now is a fetishized hologram
Global Post

Play on Japan's Singaporean legacy
BBC

Massive scale of Toyota recall down to increase in common car parts
Guardian

Activists sue over Abe’s ‘unconstitutional’ Yasukuni visit
Japan Times

Japan’s Energy Policy Impasse 日本のエネルギー政策、行き詰まる Japan Focus

Japan’s Foreign Minister Says Apologies to Wartime Victims Will Be Upheld New York Times

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Ranking of country according to different environmental indices:

1. Switzerland
2. Luxembourg
3. Australia
4. Singapore
5. Czech Republic
6. Germany
7. Spain
8. Austria
9. Sweden
10. Norway

12. UK

26. Japan

33. USA

43. South Korea

118. China

Source:

Environmental Performance Index

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11 Apr
指宿の砂むし温泉

Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture is known for its volcanic sand baths (砂むし).

About 10 minutes walk south from Ibusuki Station, the Saraku Sand Bath Hall or Sunamushi Kaikan Saraku is the biggest sand bath facility in the area. Here the sand on the beach is infused with hot water from deep underground.

Yamakawa Sand bath, Kagoshima, Kyushu

After taking off all your clothes and donning a yukata, you are buried in the sand by an attendant. 10 minutes is the recommended limit before you push yourself out and walk back to the Saraku Sand Bath Hall to shower and take a water hot bath and sauna if you so desire.

Ibusuki Sand Bath, Kagoshima, Kyushu

The sand bath in central Ibusuki is not the only one in the area. There is another smaller sand bath, Yamakawa Sand Bath on the beach near the large Healthy Land spa and Flower Park Kagoshima.

Ibusuki Sand Bath, Kagoshima
The procedure is the same but this sand bath had some delicious onsen tamago and onsen-steamed potatoes to enjoy after your sand burial.

Yamakawa Sand bath, Kagoshima
Climbing up the cliffs behind Yamakawa Onsen are good views along the coast to Kaimondake (Satsuma Fuji.)

Sand baths are supposedly more effectively than normal onsen in the healing process. Sand baths are said to be good for rheumatism, lumbago and neuralgia.

Sunamushi Kaikan Saraku
Tel: 0993 23 3900
Yunohama 5-25-18, Ibusuki, Kagoshima 891-0406

Yamakawa Sand Bath
Tel: 0993 35 2669

Hot spa boiled eggs

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8 Apr
愛知環状鉄道線

The 45km long, north-south Aichi Loop Line connects Kozoji Station in Kasugai with Okazaki via Toyota in Aichi Prefecture near Nagoya. Despite its name the line does not perform a loop but runs roughly north from Okazaki to Kozoji which is north east of central Nagoya.

Aichi Loop Line train at Shin-Toyota Station

The Aichi Loop Line (Aikan) serves as a commuter line for workers at the car plants at Mikawa Toyota.

The main intersection stations are Okazaki Station on the JR Tokaido Line, Naka-Okazaki on the Meitetsu Nagoya Line, Shin-Toyota, a short walk from Toyota-shi Station on the Meitetsu Mikawa Line, Yakusa on the Linimo, Setoshi close to Shin-Seto on the Meitetsu Seto Line and Kozoji Station on the Chuo Main Line.

Aikan train at Shin-Toyota Station

Visitors to Toyota Kaikan should alight at Mikawa Toyota.


Aikan

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17 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 29
Hayato to Kagoshima City
Monday July 29th, 2013

It's an overcast and showery day as I make my way to temple #43, Hojo-in. Several times I open my umbrella for short showers as I stop in at a few shrines before reaching the temple. It's a fairly small urban temple with not much to see, though I do notice some glass wind bells with prayers/wishes written on paper hanging from the clapper. I don't remember ever having seen such things before.

Hojo-in, Kagoshima

After a short walk I reach the concrete shoreline of Kagoshima Bay. From here the main road hugs the coast all the way down to Kagoshima city. Ever since I first studied the maps of the route of the pilgrimage I have been looking forward to this section, mountain to one side, water on the other, and views of Sakurajima all the way. I follow the feeder road and am then confronted with an extremely busy road with no sidewalk!!

Of course, roads without sidewalks are commonplace, but they will often have a white line with a meter or more of shoulder that is ostensibly for pedestrians, but here the shoulder is about 15cms, and with the spray coming from the speeding trucks and cars it is really dangerous and impossible to walk. I am livid!

Sakurajima, Kagoshima

Pedestrians, outside of many city centers, are simply ignored by road planners. There is no way I can safely walk down this road without causing the traffic to slow right down to pass me. I check my maps and see that the only other route would be to head inland and go through the mountains which would mean doubling the distance and involve a lot of climbing. There is simply no provision for anyone to walk to Kagoshima. And why should there be? Pedestrians do not contribute to the economy and are therefore a waste of space. The only solution is to backtrack a few kilometers to the last station and take a local train down the coast and hope to find a place where the road has a sidewalk. The train line and road run right next to each other and looking out the window about half-way down the coast I see where the sidewalk begins so alight at the next station.

The sidewalk is wide... at least three meters... and I slowly start to lose my anger at the road builders. At one point the road divides and in the space between is a small shrine built around a rock outcropping. An oasis of stillness between the rushing traffic. The rain seems to have stopped but the clouds that roll overhead are dark and swift. Sakurajima pierces the clouds so I can't tell if it is spewing smoke like it does so often, and then it happens again..... the bloody sidewalk ends!!!!

The gap between the white line and the guardrail is only centimeters, but this time I am not going to walk back 4 or 5 kilometers to the station and take a train, I am going to walk and to hell with the traffic. I stride off as fast as I can. Behind me is the hiss of air brakes as trucks slow right down to pass me. I am sure the traffic is backing up and I am being cursed by drivers for whom time is money, but I am a human being and this is not an expressway off limits to humans... dammit I have as much right to travel this road as the vehicles.

About 500 meters along I come to a small lay-by with a bus stop and checking the timetable I learn that a bus should be along in ten minutes so I sit and wait. I know that on Shikoku where there are many walking pilgrims, complaints by them about the dangerous lack of sidewalks has led to the construction of new sidewalks in many places, but as far as I can tell I am only the second person to walk this Kyushu Pilgrimage, it's designed for car pilgrims, so it would do me no good to complain. The bus comes as promised, and I head into Kagoshima and my hotel, the Cent Inn. I am a few hours earlier than I expected so head out to explore. Tomorrow I will go back to the north of the city and walk across it.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 28

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8 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
A Passion to Pitch: Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka Epitomizes the Japanese Approach to Baseball New York Times

Japan was ordered to stop hunting whales in the Antarctic
Global Post

Japanese mafia launch website
BBC

'Comfort women' deserve a memorial: their ordeal must not be forgotten
Guardian

Fukushima-linked cancer surge unlikely: U.N.
Japan Times

Critical New Stage in Japan’s Textbook Controversy 歴史教科書の引き続く受難 Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Japan Ends Decades-Long Ban on Export of Weapons New York Times

Statistics

Victims of child porn in Japan hit a record in 2013.

According to the National Police Agency, victims of child porn came to 642, which was 22% higher than the highest previous record. Statistics have been kept since 2000.

Source:

Jiji Press

The number of crime syndicate members - made men in the Japanese yakuza - fell below 60,000 last year. That is the first time the number has fallen below that figure since 1958, when statistics first started being kept.

A record low 22,861 gangsters were charged by the police last year.

Source:

Jiji Press

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4 Apr
龍宮神社

Ryugu Shrine is situated at Cape Nagasakibana (長﨑鼻) on the southern tip of the Satsuma Peninsula in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Ryugu Shrine, Kagoshima Prefecture
Ryugu Shrine is a modern construction built to cash in on the legend of Urashima Taro, who is said to have come from this area. The fairy story of Urashima Taro involves a fisherman saving a small turtle from being terrorized by kids. In return, the turtle (or in some versions a larger turtle that appears the following day) invites Taro to Ryugu Palace at the bottom of the sea, where he meets Otohime (Princess Toyotama), a beautiful incarnation of the small turtle Taro had saved.

Ryugu Shrine, Kagoshima, Kyushu

After staying at Ryugu Palace for three days, Taro wishes to return to see his aging mother. Otohime gives him a box called tamatebako, which she says will protect him from harm but which he is not to open.

When Taro returns to his village no-one recognizes him and his mother is gone. In fact, 300 years have passed since Taro left. In panic, Taro opens the tamatebako from which white smoke comes out and ages Taro 300 years.

The shrine buildings seen today date from 2011. Turtles still come to lay their eggs in the area but it was rather strange to see stuffed ones for sale in the souvenirs on the road down to the shrine and the light house at the cape.

Cape Nagasakibana

Ryugu Shrine
Yamagawa-okachiyogamizu
Ibusuki
Kagoshima 891-0513
Tel: 0993 22 3252

There are Kagoshima Kotsu buses from Yamagawa Station on the JR Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line. Nearby is the impressive Flower Park garden with thousands of variety of flowers and the nearer Nagasakibana Parking Garden (1200 yen; 8am-5pm) with tropical plants, parrots and monkeys.

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1 Apr
龍門滝

Ryumon Falls close to Kagoshima Airport in Kagoshima Prefecture is a pleasant place to linger if you are returning a car rental to the airport.

Ryumon Falls Kagoshima Kyushu

The waterfall is on a walking trail that also includes the nearby Kinzan Bridge and Ryumonji-yaki, an ancient kiln set up by Korean potters kidnapped by the feudal lord of Satsuma during Hideyoshi's campaigns in Korea at the end of the 16th century.

Ryumon Falls Kagoshima Kyushu Japan

Ryumoni-taki is located on the Amikakegawa River and is 46m high and 43m wide and is noted as one of the "100 famous waterfalls in Japan."

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31 Mar
ビジネスホテル三浦屋温泉

Hitoyoshi is a hot spring resort town and former castle town on the Kumagawa River in the southern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu.

Miura-ya, Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto

As well as hot springs the city is known for boat trips on the Kumagawa, one of the three fastest rivers in Japan, and is also the destination of the Hitoyoshi SL, one of the few remaining steam trains operating in Japan.

Most of the accommodations on offer were a little pricey for my budget, but I was fortunate to find Miura-ya, conveniently located right on the river bank across from the castle ruins and only 200 meters from the boat launching point.

Miura-ya, Kumamoto Prefecture

I had a room in a brand new concrete block with views of the castle. The room was new, with all the usual amenities including en-suite toilet. Bathing was in the onsen in the basement of the older building. Unusually for such an establishment there was a LAN outlet in the room.

Hitoyoshi Castle Ruins, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

For the room only I paid 4,300 yen. I didn't have any meals, but they offer a room with 2 meals for 5,500 yen, which seems quite cheap.

Miura-ya
17 Itsukamachi
Hitoyoshi
Kumamoto 868-0035
Tel: 0966 23 5060

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30 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Fukushima’s Shameful Cleanup New York Times

Cleanup at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant is halted after worker dies in an accident
Global Post

Is Japan playing hunger games with climate change?
BBC

Japanese man freed after 45 years on death row as court orders retrial
Guardian

Haneda expansion a travel game-changer
Japan Times

Hidden Behind Tokyo: Japan’s Rural Periphery Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

612,700 people applied for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia, and the Pacific in 2013.

That is the highest total for any year since 2001.

Europe received 484,600 claims.

By country, here are the number of applicants and, in parentheses, the population of country to which they applied:

Germany: 109,600 asylum applications (80,000,000)
United States: 88,400 asylum applications (317,000,000)
France: 60,100 asylum applications (65,000,000)
Sweden: 54,300 asylum applications (9,000,000)
Turkey: 44,800 asylum applications (76,000,000)
Italy: 27,800 asylum applications (60,000,000)
Australia: 24,300 asylum applications (23,000,000)
Greece: 8,200 asylum applications (10,800,000)
Japan: 3,300 asylum applications (127,000,000)
Republic of Korea: 1,600 asylum applications (50,000,000)

Source:

UNHCR

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25 Mar
出島ワーフ

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf is a fairly recent development on the harbor in Nagasaki close to Dejima, the artificial island where once Dutch traders were based during the Edo period of Japanese history.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Kyushu, Japan

The two-story Nagasaki Dejima Wharf has great views of the harbor and Mt. Inasa and has a number of recommended seafood restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. The wooden boardwalk is particularly popular from spring onward when people can sit al fresco on the illuminated, wooden boardwalk.

The Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum is close by. The tram stop at Dejima is a few minutes walk away.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf (in Japanese)
1-1 Dejimamachi
Nagasaki
850-0862
Tel: 095 828 3939

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

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24 Mar
Butoh Workshop in Tokyo, Japan

Where: Bunkyo-ku & Minato-ku (Tokyo)
When: May 2nd-22nd
Who: Kanazawa Butoh Kan, Yamamoto Moe, Kobayashi Saga, Nakajima Natsu, Uno Kuniichi
What: Butoh Workshops (56 hours) | Screening | Lectures | Discussion & Performance Events
Cost: 45,000 JPY Early Birds

For More Info & Bookings: butoh-ws.com
Contact: butohWStokyo[at]gmail[dpt]com

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1 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
Relatives of Ghanaian Who Died During Deportation Win Ruling in Japan New York Times

Japan's version of amazon.com gets reamed for selling illegal ivory and whale products
Global Post

5. Japan - South to Kyoto recipes
BBC

Sea Shepherd boat 'attacked by Japanese whalers' – video report
Guardian

Abe’s hard-line stance against China worries Japanese firms
Japan Times

Japanese Government Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Victims of child porn in Japan hit a record in 2013.

According to the National Police Agency, victims of child porn came to 642, which was 22% higher than the highest previous record. Statistics have been kept since 2000.

Source:

Jiji Press

The number of crime syndicate members - made men in the Japanese yakuza - fell below 60,000 last year. That is the first time the number has fallen below that figure since 1958, when statistics first started being kept.

A record low 22,861 gangsters were charged by the police last year.

Source:

Jiji Press

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2 Apr
47ローニン

47 Ronin, a 3D movie released in December of last year, is a modern retelling of one of the most famous - perhaps the most famous - story of Japanese chivalry. Known as Chushingura in Japanese, this 18th-century story is of 47 masterless samurai, masterless thanks to the hara-kiri (seppuku) of their master upon the order of the Shogun for a breach of etiquette.

Chushingura are recountings of this story in dramatic form, and are a staple of traditional entertainment, mainly because the story represents everything considered most desirable in the traditional Japanese ideology: loyalty to the point of death, or as the pre-World War Two Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors put it: "Duty is heavier than a mountain, and death is lighter than a feather."

47 Ronin is Hollywood’s rendition of the Chushingura legend. It introduces the hereto unseen elements of a “half-breed” (part-Japanese, part-Caucasian boy, later man, called Kai played by Keanu Reeves), and black magic.

Lord Asano, the daimyo master of Ako domain, is hosting the master of Japan, the Shogun, and is bewitched that night by the evil witch mistress of Lord Kira, who is there as part of the Shogun’s retinue. The hapless Asano goes on a zombie-like sleepwalk, surprising Lord Kira and injuring him. For this outrage, Lord Asano is required to commit seppuku (hara-kiri), or ritual disembowelment: an "honorable death" reserved for samurai and nobles, as opposed to execution. The punishment also involves Asano's samurai followers being made masterless, i.e., becoming ronin.

Asano's household includes Kai, brought up by demons as an abandoned half-breed child, and then discovered by Asano's followers as a child to survive as a menial. However, when the masterless samurai, the 47 ronin, set out to avenge their master's death, the till now lowly Kai comes into his own, and leverages his supernatural connections to help them acquire the weapons they will need for their mission.

For the long-term foreign resident of Japan, Keanu Reeves's character, Kai, is the focus of attention: as the (half)-foreigner, or gaijin. And what a "good" gaijin he plays! His demeanor is stolidly bovine in the most placid sense of the adjective. A lamb-like bull, the very marrow of whose big bones knows its lowly place and expects absolutely nothing. His love for the daughter of Lord Asano - mutually felt - is doomed from the start, but is mutely, poignantly and hopelessly hung on to by both parties, to be finally relegated, by both, to their next incarnations on earth - presumably an incarnation when both will be blessed with Japaneseness.

Kai is the perfect "Christian," turning the other cheek to every sneer of "half-breed," even from those whose skin he saves. But then he is sold into slavery by Lord Kira  upon the death of Lord Asano. Kai ends up in slavery in Dejima, where he is a gladiator, and the one-time virtual Jesus now becomes a devil-may-care retro-pro wrestler in an extravaganza of underground grit, grunge and savagery populated by tattooed, muscle-bound, white lowlifes.

He is rescued from these Dutch gaijin, who make for an even less salubrious milieu than his plodding, ever-disappointing Japanese one, and collared into a mission: to avenge the death of the Lord who beneficently granted him the lowliest station in his household, one that remained unchanged from when he assumed it as a child.

Once the mission is embarked on, the pace of the movie slackens and I started glancing at the time. And by the end, I was wishing for it to hurry and be over.

The biggest problem with the end of the movie is that the 47 ronin, having completed their mission and brought the severed head of Lord Kira to the grave of their master, continue to buy into the whole thing. That is, instead of dispersing, happy in the knowledge that they succeeded, they submit themselves to the judgment of the same fat, fusty, finicky, wily old Shogun who delivered the original verdict of death that got the whole adventure rolling. Of course, he orders them to commit suicide too.

In a Hollywood movie, that just doesn't work. Hollywood is all about overcoming and going beyond, and here we have utterly uninspiring, anticlimactic regression as the heroes submit to an overlord that, to anyone familiar with Japanese history, represents the backwardness, isolation, and brutality of a regime that corresponded to today’s North Korea in its lack of freedom. Add to this the fudgy fromage of pledges between Kai and the avenged lord’s daughter of a love - wallowing in violins - that is never to be consummated, and the break with the promising, art-movie opening is complete.

If you're curious, go and see it. As a visual spectacle it succeeds resoundingly: its almost 200 million dollar budget wasn't for nothing. But if you're looking for a story you'll remember and tell to your children, don't see it ... or, at least, don't dispirit your children with it.

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20 Mar
大西巨人

The Japanese novelist, Kyojin Ohnishi (1916-2014) died a few days ago, on March 12, at age 97 at his home in Saitama.

Ohnishi's first name was originally pronounced Norito, but he later changed the way the kanji were pronounced, to Kyojin. His most famous work as a novelist is Shinsei Kigeki (The Divine Comedy) that he spent no less than 20 years writing, between 1960 and 1980. The novel was published serially for 10 years in the Shin-Nihon Bungaku magazine, and then released in book form between 1978 and 1980.

The Divine Comedy reflected Ohnishi's experience of having been drafted into the army in 1942 to fight in the Pacific War. Ohnishi was left-wing in stance, and much of Shinsei Kigeki is said to have been based on opposition to the depiction of the army in the feted novelist Hiroshi Noma's Shinku Chitai (Zone of Emptiness), which Ohnishi considered lacking in that it failed to depict the capitalistic social class structure that permeated the Japanese army at the time of the Second World War.

Upon the end of the Second World War, Ohnishi and his old middle- and senior-high school friend, Nobuhito Miyazaki (1914-1992), began the literary magazine, Bunka Tembo.

Onishi published a total of eleven novels, as well as numerous essays. According to colleagues, his reputation in the Japanese literary world is "dense," "difficult," and without the wide appeal of better known, more modern authors. For example, on Amazon Japan Shinsei Kigeki is listed as out of stock, with only 8 second-hand copies on offer, and with no immediate plans to restock—and only 11 reviews.

Onishi made headlines in 1980 in regard to his hemophilic son, when he said that he wished he had known he had genes for hemophilia and had refrained from having children. He went on to assert that it was the "divine duty" of everyone in his situation to remain childless.

Onishi's works remain as a powerful voice of and a sturdy witness to the struggles that Japan went through throughout the 20th century to establish a modern identity.

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19 Mar
Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan in the Tenmonkan shopping and entertainment area of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu offers modern rooms in a convenient location.

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Lobby

The rooms, though compact, are spotlessly clean and well appointed with all the latest gadgets such as iPhone chargers. There is WiFi internet in the rooms, some of which have views of the Sakurajima volcano.

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Bed

The Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan is located just off a shopping arcade near the tram stop at Tenmonkan-dori for Kagoshima-Chuo Station and the bus stop for the airport limousine to Kagoshima Airport (1,200 yen).

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan
14-28 Sennichicho
Kagoshima
Kagoshima Prefecture
892-084

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Unit Bath

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7 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 28
Kirishima Jingu to Hayato
Sunday July 28th, 2013

It's another cloudy day, so that should make the heat a little easier, though after three days of walking in sweat-drenched clothes, I am now getting used to it. Today the route is pretty much straight south to the northern edge of Kagoshima Bay, and it should be pretty much downhill all the way, my favorite kind of walking.

Deserted love hotel haikyo

It looks to be at least a 400 meter descent. I stop in at a few small shrines and after coming over a small rise I can see Sakurajima looming in the distant muggy haze.

I pass through an area of old, decrepit love hotels and, not being able to pass a haikyo experience by, go in and explore. Like most of the older, rural, love hotels, its composed of detached cabins.

Exploring inside the rooms, turns out to be quite disappointing. Nothing sexy or erotic, just rather musty and plain rooms, though all the furniture, fridges, etc are still there.

A dead bat in Kagoshima
Pressing on past a couple more closed love hotels I see the most unusual roadkill I have ever come across, a tiny bat.

It's on the sidewalk and not at all squished, so maybe it was knocked out of the air by a vehicle. Coming down into the flat valley floor that leads to the edge of the bay I spy a vermillion torii on the opposite side of the valley and take the detour to investigate, and I'm glad I did.

Four men practicing martial art with swords
In the shrine grounds four men were practicing some form of martial arts. It might well have been kendo, but it was a form of kendo I've not seen before. Usually the kendo I've seen has just been with a single opponent, but here there were a series of poles in the ground and the "swordsmen" strike first at one, then twist, turn, step forward, go down on one knee, then strike at another pole.

The practice is for taking on multiple opponents at the same time. The second arrangement of poles they set up is for taking on four opponents. I've spoken to friends who have done kendo, and they were of the opinion that this was not kendo, but another form of sword-based martial arts. Whatever it is I am pleased to have been able to see it.

From here into Hayato, the town I have a hotel room booked, it gets increasingly built up. Low flying airliners pass over on their descent into Kagoshima Airport. Sakurajima is much larger and clearer now. I plan to be down there tomorrow. I check into my hotel and it is still early so I head up to the main shrine nearby, Kagoshima Jingu, from where it is believed the modern prefecture of Kagoshima took its name.

Kagoshima Jingu is connected to the founding myths of Japan and was supposedly built by the mythical first emperor Jimmu. The approach to the shrine is a hive of activity, lanterns decorated with children's paintings are strung all over and stalls are being set up... there is going to be a matsuri tonight!! What luck.

There is nothing more fun that coming upon a matsuri unexpectedly. I wander around taking photos in the fading light. In the main hall I watch two miko, shrine maidens, practicing their dance for the ceremony tonight. It's rather surreal without music. I chat with another miko and she tells me what events will be happening, so even though I was hoping to get an early night it seems I will be back later after dark for the festivities.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 27

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17 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
After Fukushima, Utilities Prepare for Worst
New York Times

'Atomic peace mission' has spawned an arsenal-in-waiting
Global Post

Two Views of Japan
BBC

Fukushima operator may have to dump contaminated water into Pacific
Guardian

Abe: Kono sex slave apology stands
Japan Times

Imperial Tokyo as a Contact Zone:the Metropolitan Tours of Taiwanese Aborigines, 1897-1941
Japan Focus

One Author of a Startling Stem Cell Study Calls for Its Retraction
New York Times

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics
QS rankings of university chemical engineering departments, 2014.

1. MIT
2. Cal Berkeley
3. Stanford
4. Cambridge
5. National U of Singapore
6. Imperial College London
7. Tokyo
8. Delft
8. Kyoto
9. Cal Tech
11. Fed Institution of Switzerland
12. Tsinghua
13. Texas, Austin
15. Princeton

Source:

QS ranks

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14 Mar
ブルートレイン

While scouring the web for cheap accommodation in the upper reaches of the Kuma River valley in Kumamoto Prefecture I came across Blue Train Taragi and just knew I wanted to stay there.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

Blue Train Taragi is three converted railway sleeper cars, and though I have not slept on a Japanese sleeper train I have taken several in Europe, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Blue Train Taragi is located right next to the tracks at Taragi Station, and the rolling stock used to be part of the Kumamoto to Tokyo express sleeper known as the Blue Falcon that ceased operating in 2009.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

One car has 4 berth cabins suitable for families or groups, another has 18 single berth cabins, and the third has a common area with TV, wifi, and a small cafe.

The cabins are, as expected, cramped, yet strangely womb-like. There is no eating and drinking in the cabins, that is what the common area is for. There are washing facilities, but bathing is done across the street at the Ebisu Onsen, a free ticket for which is included in the price.

Thankfully the original toilets are not used, new, modern facilities have been built onto extensions to the carriages. It is possible to order breakfast when checking in or making reservations, as is lunch.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

For an evening meal there are restaurants nearby as well as convenience stores. Blue Train Taragi is very popular with cyclists as there is a cycling tour route in the area, and also cycles can be rented.

The price is a very reasonable 3,000 yen for an adult.

Blue Train Taragi
1534-2 Taragi
Kuma District
Kumamoto 868-0501
Tel: 0966 42-1120
email: info[at]bluetrain-taragi[dot]com

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17 Mar
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 27
Miyakonojo to Kirishima Jingu
Saturday July 27th, 2013

It's another overcast and muggy day. I head off early to take advantage of the coolest temperatures of the day. The pilgrimage temple is just outside the town, surrounded by farmland, and is really unremarkable with no architectural features or statuary on display, and is quite disappointing.

I head off towards the mountains. Today I will be following the rail line as it snakes up a valley towards the Kirishima Mountains before turning south towards Kagoshima Bay.

The next pilgrimage temple is down on the coast of the bay but I have decided to take a detour to visit the Kirishima Jingu Shrine. I have come to the conclusion that there is not much point coming all the way down to southern Kyushu if I am just going to rush from temple to temple, so I am going to allow myself the time to make detours to nearby sights that hold an interest for me.

Kirishima Jingu, Kyushu

After leaving the lowlands the valley closes in quite quickly and the settlements get smaller as they cling to the sides of the narrowing valley. There is not a lot of traffic, but there no sidewalks. There is little to see, I pass no shrines.

By lunchtime I realize that the road is only going to get steeper, and I have about 18 kilometers to go to reach Kirishima Jingu. I stop in at the next station and am happy to find that in a few minutes one of the infrequent local trains will stop.

Using the justification that this is a detour and not a part of the pilgrimage proper, I decide to take the train the 8km to Kirishimajingu station. From there one of the infrequent buses that climb 10km further up the mountains to the shrine itself is about to leave so I take it.

It's now mid-afternoon so I have time to visit the shrine and look around before checking in to the nearby minshuku where I have a room booked. Across from the bus stop is a big building adorned with Tengu, the red-faced, long nosed "forest goblins" associated with yamabushi, the mountain monks of Shugendo.

On investigation I am over the moon to discover it is a mask museum!! One thing I am always on the lookout for in shrines are masks, and so far in this walk around Kyushu there have been relatively few to be found, and here in one place are literally hundreds and hundreds of them.

Mask Museum

Most are from different areas of Japan, some in a style I have never seen before. There are even some examples of the style of mask from my own area, Iwami kagura masks. There are also a few examples from other parts of the world. This has made the diversion well worth it.

After the masks, the shrine is a bit of an anticlimax.

It's impressive enough, all stately and vermillion. It was rebuilt here a few hundred years ago. It used to be much further up the mountain, but was destroyed by eruptions, for the Kirishima Mountains are active volcanoes, parts of which are still off limits to hikers after the most recent rumbling. Because of the geothermal activity this is a hot spring resort area and on my walk to the Marueda minshuku I stop and soak my feet in an ashiyu, the free foot baths found in many hot spring resorts.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 26

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11 Mar
東北地方太平洋沖地震

The Great East Japan Earthquake struck three years ago today. The quake entailed not only the cataclysmic physical destruction caused mainly by the tsunami that scoured a section of the north-east coastline of Honshu, but had a social, political and economic impact that shook Japan to its foundations, which aftershocks are still being felt today.

The National Diet Building, or Kokkaigijido, of Japan.The Japanese government still fearful of the consequences of Fukushima
Over 15,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, over 125,000 buildings collapsed, with tens of thousands more damaged. However, the aspect of the disaster that continues to make headlines today is the outcome of the damage visited on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Complex by the tsunami.

While the power plant stood up to the force of the deluge itself, it had an Achilles' heel. The switching stations for the emergency diesel generators needed to power the back-up cooling system of five of the six generation units were not watertight. Notwithstanding the power plant's earthquake-proof design, officials at the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which ran the plant had argued against the need for increased tsunami protection that an in-house report had recommended in 2008. This inability to maintain cooling systems led to three of the plant's six nuclear reactors melting down.

The aftermath of the meltdown was the mass evacuation of over 300,000 local residents for fear of radiation exposure. Even though the actual amounts of radiation released at the time were minimal, the water being used to this day to cool the plant is significantly radioactive, and hardly a week goes by without news of yet another leak in tanks storing that water on the plant.

TEPCO's reputation as a responsible company has been destroyed, and, considering the size of the company - the biggest utility company in Japan and fourth biggest in the world, capitalized at over USD6 billion - the image of corporate Japan as a whole has suffered immensely. A history of lax safety measures before the disaster and constant blunders following it have been met in Japan with a sense of despair.

The Japanese government has fared little better, particularly for the numerous instances on which it has been shown to have withheld important information or even denied facts relating to the disaster. Japanese government support for the phasing out of nuclear power, voiced by then prime minister Naoto Kan, has been replaced by support for the nuclear status quo with the election of Shinzo Abe in December 2012.

The tens of thousands of people who have been denied access to their former homes constitute a huge pool of discontent, especially now that three years later the worldwide and nationwide outpouring of support for their plight has been reduced to a trickle as those not so directly affected return to life as normal.

One measure of the fear the government has of public dissatisfaction in the wake of the Fukushima disaster is the scores of policemen that are lining the streets surrounding the Nagatacho government district today. Thinking that perhaps some particularly important person was visiting Japan, I approached one of the policemen to ask what was going on, and was told that it was in case of any trouble, today being the third anniversary of the disaster.

See the JapanVisitor blog about the second anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake disaster.

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10 Mar
When I first visited Japan, everybody seemed to wonder about the weather over there. I would invariably answer, "It's just like here. We're both in the Northern Hemisphere." That being said, I have spent the winter in Southern California clad largely in shorts and t-shirts. (The state is experiencing a severe drought.) When I read about all the snowfall in Japan, I was quite curious and wanted to see it. "To the Internet!" I proclaimed loudly, to whoever would join my call.

Searching for something that would let me see the snow, I looked at my old favorite, the web cams of Japan. I tried to find live cams. After sifting through an eclectic assortment, I settled on four that pleased me greatly.

Nikko webcam, Tochigi

This is a web cam broadcast from Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture at www.meiji-yakata.com/nikkoclub.shtml I have observed the leaves changing colors and falling from the trees, and I have watched the branches swaying in the wind. Then one day I saw snow! The thermometer read 2 degrees C., and even I, a Fahrenheit-educated woman, could understand that it was COLD!

Next I came upon Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture at www.town-takachiho.jp/culture/livecam/takachihokyo.html I observed large groups of tourists walking the pathways and some people rowing boats on the water. "This must be a good place to visit," I surmised. The area was beautiful and I thought it looked like fun to take a boat ride. The visitors lessened as time passed, and one day snow lay in patches on the ground. It had melted by the following morning.

Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu webcam

At the Uesugi Shrine in Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture are massive snowdrifts. loveyone2.dip.jp:8080/CgiStart?page=Single&Language=1 It is fascinating to me - but I know I wouldn't last a day in that kind of cold. Note to self: Visit in late Spring, early Autumn.

Uesugi Shrine in Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

Then I found Maniwa in Okayama Prefecture at www.city.maniwa.lg.jp/webapps/www/live-cam/location/kannba.jsp I looked, saw something moving, and wondered, "Are those squirrels?" No, they were MONKEYS, snow monkeys. My attention had been captured. The scene shows a section of a pathway that leads to Kamba Falls, and you can see the water rushing down in the distance. One day a man appeared on the path and he methodically tossed food back and forth as he walked in the direction of the falls. He didn't even glance at the monkeys as they darted out and began foraging. On another day I was delighted to see two dark forms partly obscuring the camera view. I supposed the monkeys were checking out this odd piece of equipment and deciding if it could be of any use to them!

Maniwa Okayama Prefecture, Japan

I thought maybe I should go visit these monkeys of Maniwa. Would they behave like the deer of Nara? And then - just a day ago, when I connected to the cam I saw that the grounds were covered with a light dusting of white. I watched the snow falling and a lone monkey sat, unmoving, in the quiet, picturesque countryside.

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