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What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
3 Mar
 ひな祭り 雛祭

Today is the Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival, in Japan: a springtime festival for girls featuring the display of dolls dressed in traditional courtly attire, and held for the healthy growth and development of the daughter(s) in the family.


Mebina Empress Doll at the Hina Matsuri Doll Festival, March 3, Japan.

Although a girl’s festival, the Hina Matsuri features dolls of both sexes, the Obina (Emperor doll) and Mebina (Empress doll) – the “bina”  in each being the same kanji as for “hina.”
The original meaning of hina is “chick” (as in baby hen or rooster), indicating the idea of immaturity.

The centerpiece of the Hina Matsuri celebrations is a set of tiered shelves on which rows of dolls sit regally. The number of dolls depends largely on the wealth of the family, and the way they are arrayed depends on which tradition the family chooses to follow, there being several variations. Other decorative details also vary, often according to region.

The flower of decoration is the plum blossom, which is just emerging around Japan at this time as the first hint of spring.

Food and drink are integral to any Japanese festival, and the Hina Matsuri sees white sake (perhaps just a sip for the daughter – and lots more for the adults) and sushi being served. Hishi mochi, which is a special pink and white rice cake, and hina arare, which is a rice-and-bean snack in the form of lozenges color white for snow (purity), green for foliage (vigor), and pink for long life (health) are also integral foodstuffs. Hina arare are traditionally sweet in eastern Japan and salty in western Japan. Like the sake and sushi, a little of them is placed in front of the dolls.

Nagashibina is a Hina Matsuri tradition whereby paper dolls are floated downstream, in a similar fashion to the poetry writing Kyokusui no Utage tradition.

The Hina Matsuri in Tokyo means booming business for the Asakusabashi district, famous for the traditional doll shops and emporiums that line Edo Avenue near Asakusabashi Station (not to be confused with Asakusa, two stations north on the Toei Asakusa subway line).

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3 Mar
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 56, Kurume to Saga
Sunday January 5th 2014

This will be the last day where I base myself in Kurume, and interesting town that I had never heard of before coming here but which has been my home away from home as I have explored the region. As I am walking across the bridge to Nagatoishi on the north side of the river the sun comes up behind me.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56

I find the first temple, Dainichi-ji, easily enough and it is yet another structure indistinguishable from a house. The ground floor is two open car parking spaces, the second containing some statues and the entrance to the stairs that I presume lead up to the "main hall."

There is no reason why a temple must conform to a pre-determined idea of what a temple should look like, but it is disappointing nonetheless. It is also a little too early in the morning to ring the bell and go in so I pay my respects to the statues at the entrance and head off. Nearby I find a small Buddhist temple/chapel with a lot of activity going on. Obviously a festival will be soon taking place.

Under cover is a small statue of Kannon, but surrounding it are dozens and dozens of small figures: some Jizo, some of the 7 Lucky Gods, Daruma, cats, dolls, children's toys, a huge diversity of traditional and pop figures.

I love these eclectic collections. A little further and I come to Chiriku Hachimangu Shrine. At the top of a flight of stone steps, as shrines so often are, when I reach the top I can see dozens of pairs of shoes laid out in front. A ceremony is going on. The shrine itself is fairly austere, as Hachiman shrines often are.

This is one of half a dozen major Hachiman shrines across Kyushu that date back centuries before the Hachiman cult took hold and spread on the main island of Honshu to become the most common shrine across Japan (according to one way of measuring it). It was a Kyushu based cult first.

From here I cut across country stopping in at shrines along the way. It's flat and agricultural, though the settlements are closer together. I reach the main road, Route 34, and a few hundred meters later reach the next temple, number 6, Ryuo-in.

Fudo Myo, Kurume to Saga, Kyushu.

Ryuo-in is a large temple, and very busy, though the main hall does not look like a traditional temple. Rectilinear with walls that slope inwards, the whole building is clad in red tile and is mostly windowless. It looks like a small town hall or library built in the early 1970's.

There is a smaller hall, white concrete and also non-traditional, and an Inari Shrine with a "tunnel" of vermillion torii, but the nicest thing, for me, is the large statue of Fudo Myo in bright primary colors.

Fudo Myo is the honzon (main deity) of this temple. From here it is now a straight shot into Saga and my hotel for the night and the end of this leg of my walk.

It's a busy road and not much fun walking as I am bothered by the noise. The noise of urban Japan is perhaps the thing that bothers me most. I can't get used to it. So much traffic. Even a short break sitting on the steps of a shrine set back from the road 100 meters offers some relief. I pass by the entrance to Yoshinogari, the huge archeological site that was once thought to be the home of the legendary Himiko, "Queen of Yamatai."

I had been here once some years ago and this time decided to press on and use the remaining daylight to explore Saga, somewhere I haven't been. I find my hotel, the Saga City Hotel, near the station and am able to leave my pack while I head off to explore the castle ruins.

Saga Castle has a huge moat and some walls, a reconstructed gate, but most impressive is the reconstructed “palace”. Best of all, entrance is free. There are women dressed in kimono everywhere. Inside in the very long main reception room I found out why. There is going to be a performance. The floor is covered with 40 to 50 Kotos, the traditional stringed instrument, and these are what the kimono clad women, of all ages, are here to play.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56 Kurume to Saga.

Against the back wall a line of seats with men in tuxedos and bow ties holding shakuhachis. Gender roles are quite distinct. The concert is free, and I would like to stay and watch, but the start is still an hour away and the sun is low so I decide instead to do some more exploring.

On my way back to the hotel I walk through the grounds of Saga Shrine, and there are still lines of people queuing up for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, even though it is January 5th.

Tomorrow I head back home and will return in February for the next leg. At a very rough estimate I have walked 1,520 kilometers, already more than the famed Shikoku Pilgrimage, and there is still much of Saga Prefecture, all of Nagasaki Prefecture, and then back into Fukuoka Prefecture before I finish.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55

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6 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan: Leak Is Disclosed at Nuclear Plant
New York Times
 
Prince William remembers Commonwealth war dead in Japan
BBC

Clocking off: Japan calls time on long-hours work culture
Guardian

Three teen suspects held in Kawasaki boy’s slaying
 Japan Times

Images of Suffering, Resilience and Compassion in Post 3/11 Japan 3.11以後 苦難、回復力、慈しみの映像
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Only 28.3% of the public understands the My Number identification system that will be used for social security and tax administration.

According to the same Cabinet Office survey, 43% have actually heard of the system.

Source: Jiji Press

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24 Feb
カラス

I am interested in crows and their intelligence and habits. I once read a book called The Caw of the Wild by Barb Kirpluk and learned the birds are especially fond of peanuts. This information proved quite accurate and now I am known in the local crow communities as "the Lady with the Goods."

Japanese Crows.

When I came to Japan I was eager to see what the native crows were like. I had read various newspaper accounts describing the birds' aggressive behavior, and whenever I watched a Taiga Drama and heard the sound of crows cawing I knew it meant something bad was about to happen.

Japanese Crows.

I first heard the distinctive, deep and raspy voice of a Japanese crow while in Ueno Park in Tokyo, and I thought "Wow." The crows spoke the word "caw" distinctly. As I enjoyed my soda and yakitori, the crows hovered close by, hoping for a dropped morsel or a free handout. Crows are an opportunistic sort. I tossed a small piece of chicken in the grass and instantly, a crow swooped, snatched the food, and took off. The omnivore crow suffers no qualms about consuming their fellow avian, albeit roasted and seasoned.

In Nagoya I spotted a murder of crows in the surrounding castle park. I had peanuts to share. Would they appeal to Japanese crows? Ah, the answer is yes. Free food is free food, whether in Japan or the USA. Except for their larger size and impressive vocal cords, the Japanese crows are just like their North American cousins.

Japanese Crows.

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23 Feb
東京マラソン2015年

It was that time of year again for the Tokyo Marathon - the ninth. While the temperatures are still low enough not to get too sweaty, it's not so cold you freeze.
Swan runners at the Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.Swan runners, Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.We were on the streets of Taito ku, Edo-dori to be specific, which forms the third of the four branches of the course.

Victory in the Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan."Victory," Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.By the time we made it (about 1pm), the faster runners had already gone and meaning the win-at-all-costs atmosphere had morphed to a more fun one.

Tokyo Marathon 2015 at Higashi Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan.Tokyo Marathon 2015 at Higashi Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan.Just as much imagination goes into the Tokyo Marathon as does muscle, apparent in the thousands of unique costumes worn by many participants.

For the first time in the history of the Tokyo Marathon, two runners from the same country, Ethiopia, won both the men's and the women's races: Endeshaw Negesse (2:06:00) and Berhane Diba (2:23:15).


Tokyo Marathon 2013

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3 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan’s Economy Expands, but Less Than Expected
New York Times
 
Japan: New world record set for building snowmen
BBC

Tokyo after dark: late-night debauchery in Japan – in pictures
Guardian

Outrage grows over Sono ‘apartheid’ column
Japan Times

My Story: A Daughter Recalls the Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Country Corruption Rank 2014 + (Democracy Rank 2014). #1 is the least corrupt country.

1. Denmark 1 (1)
2. New Zealand (6)
3. Finland (2)
4. Sweden (3)
5. Norway (4)
5. Switzerland (5)
7. Singapore (73)
8. Netherlands (6)
9. Canada (9)
10. Australia (11)
11. Germany (9)
12. United Kingdom (13)
13. Belgium (8)
13. Japan (16)
15. United States (14)
15. Ireland (11)
17. Uruguay (18)
17. Chile (21)
19. Austria (16)
20. United Arab Emirates (76)

32. Korea, South (38)

82. China (121)

Source: World Audit

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21 Feb
The Sforza Monument was to be the largest equestrian statue in the world but was never cast.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse, Nagoya.

Designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the huge bronze statue was to depict Francisco Sforza, the duke of Milan, and was commissioned by his son Ludovico. The clay model of the statue was destroyed by invading French troops in 1499 and the project was never realized.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse.

However a modern fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) version of the statue can be seen outside the main entrance of Nagoya Congress Center.

This statue is 8.3m in height, 3.6m in width and 8.8m in length and was created from original drawings by Prof. Hidemichi Tanaka of Tohoku University.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse, Nagoya, Aichi.
Another casting of the horse was made in the USA and two statues made from the cast by the Japanese-American sculptor Nina Akamu are at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Michigan while the other was taken back to Milan and stands at the Hippodrome in San Siro.

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1 Mar
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 55, Hita to Kamiura
Saturday January 4th 2014

It's still dark when I leave my hotel and walk to Kurume Station. I take a train north across the river towards Amagi where I will continue my pilgrimage, but first get off after a couple of stops at Kitano Station.

A few hundred meters from the station is a shrine I want to visit, a branch of Kitano Tenmangu, the first shrine to Sugawara Michizane in Kyoto. The village here is called Kitano after the shrine's name. That is not unusual, many places in Japan are named after the local shrine or temple.

It is quite a big shrine, and has a single statue of a white horse, fairly common at shrines, but also has three orange horses, which is quite unusual. The walls of the corridors of the shrine are covered with examples of calligraphy, something the Kami Tenjin, the enshrined spirit of Michizane, is known for. I jumped back on a train to the last station of the line, Amagi, and when I arrive the sun is up promising another fine day.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55 Amagi to Tosu.
I had some trouble finding the first pilgrimage temple of the day, Kotokuin, number 7 in the order they are listed. It was located in a suburban area a little north of the station but was not a large temple with typical large curved roof, but a small single story building, so I could not see it from a distance.

I asked several passers-by, but had no luck. Often in Japan if a place is not famous then even people who live nearby will not know where it is. I find it eventually and there is not much to see.

My route now heads west across the wide plain. Japan is often characterized as being a mountainous country, and while that is true, there are plenty of wide open flat areas, this being one of them. While I haven't yet traveled in many parts of Japan, so far in my experience Kyushu seems to have a lot of these flat areas.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55 Amagi to Tosu.

It is of course mostly farmland, and several times I pass near a huge structure with silos. The fields and paddies are also interspersed with small settlements, marked by trees, the largest of the trees often indicate a shrine, none of the ones I visited had any visitors though.

By lunchtime it is becoming more urban and I reach temple number 3, Nyoirinji, and it is very busy. Nyoirinji's not a very big temple, but is obviously very popular. The most noticeable thing is the large number of frog statues. They are everywhere.

In the car park are a line of large metal ones covered in what appears to be graffiti, but what is in fact prayers and wishes. I had hoped to meet with the head priest of the temple, the father of the young priest I had met at temple number 93 some 53 walking days ago, but he was obviously very busy.

The grounds did have a nice walk with many fine statues so I leisurely explored before heading off. I headed south, now into urban Ogori and walked parallel to several train lines as well as the main road and expressway. There were several larger shrines to stop at and explore.

Nyoirinji Temple frog statues, Kyushu.

I pass under the East-West expressway and turn west parallel to it. At a big shrine I am surprised to find many statues of monkeys, not the Three Wise Monkeys, but mostly mother monkeys in red hats holding baby monkeys. It's a Hiyoshi Shrine, a branch of the famous shrine at the base of Mount Hiei whose guardian animal is the monkey.

In Tashiro I find the last pilgrimage temple of the day, Fudo-in, number 4. It took some finding as it is a small concrete structure in the middle of a crowded suburban area. Nothing much to see except for a nice statues of Fudo Myo O, the temple's namesake. It's now getting late and I head south back towards Kurume. I get as far as Tosu before deciding to call it a day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 54

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16 Feb
ブックオフ

"Japan is expensive." Yes, I've heard that declaration many a time. But it doesn't have to be if you shop at Book Off and Book Off Bazaar! Book Off is Japan's largest chain of used book stores, with over 800 locations nationwide. There are eight Book Offs in the USA, five of them in Southern California.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, Japan.

Book Off is a treasure-trove of used Japanese books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, and everything is sold at a significant discount. Remember that art book you gazed upon and longed to hold in your hands? What about that manga series you wanted to try? Was it not your fondest wish to complete your collection of SMAP CDs? It is very possible for your dreams to come true at Book Off.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, Japan.

I have visited many Book Offs in Japan and have a special regard for the stores in Kochi and Fukuoka. The Fukuoka Store is actually called Book Off Super Bazaar because it has much more than books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs - it is filled to the rafters with a wondrous variety of used merchandise. We spent time in the anime-related section and inspected hundreds of items. For my daughter and me, a trip to Book Off is a treat every time we come to Japan.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, rows of manga.

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3 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Prime Minister Abe Appeals to Japanese on Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

Kenji Ekuan's Enduring Legacy Lives On Restaurant Tables
NPR

Japan seizes passport of Syria-bound journalist
BBC

Japanese misanthropes march against 'passion capitalism' of Valentine's Day
Guardian

Injuries to Okinawa anti-base protesters ‘laughable,’ says U.S. military spokesman
Japan Times

Wrongful Convictions and the Culture of Denial in Japanese Criminal Justice
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Tokyo was recently named the "safest city in the world."

The Safe Cities Index 2015 looked at 50 of the biggest cities on "every continent and scored them across four safety categories. Aside from personal safety and the risk of violent crime, the ranking took into account health security, infrastructure safety and even how a city protects its citizens’ digital privacy. Tokyo scored highest in the digital security category while its air quality, improving but still relatively poor, kept it down in the health category. Osaka actually beat out Tokyo in the personal safety category by one spot, but its worst performance was in infrastructure where it didn’t even crack the top 10."

1. Tokyo
2. Singapore
3. Osaka
4. Stockholm
5. Amsterdam
6. Sydney
7. Zurich
8. Toronto
9. Melbourne
10. New York
11. Hong Kong
12. San Fransisco
13. Taipei
14. Montreal
15. Barcelona
16. Chicago
17. Los Angeles
18. London
19. Washington, D.C.
20. Frankfurt

Source: Japan Today

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12 Feb

日本においての同性結婚か

Shibuya Ward Office in Tokyo has recognized a same-sex couple as being in a relationship equivalent to marriage. Accordingly, it is to propose to the ward council that the couple be issued with a certificate recognizing their relationship.

Apparently the couple had been denied the opportunity to be treated as a couple when applying for housing and when one of the couple was hospitalized. So, in July of last year, the Shibuya ward office began getting opinions from people involved and set up a committee of people familiar with the issues raised.

The ward has just reviewed and accepted the findings of the committee, and has therefore determined to pursue the issuance of a certificate, putting the proposal to the ward council. The ward office is intending to seek the cooperation of all businesses in Shibuya ward in recognizing all same-sex couples in the ward and treating them no differently from married couples. Both partners must be 20 years of age or over.

The system will be different from marriage, but if same-sex partnership comes to be recognized by the issuance of a certificate, this will be the first case of its kind in Japan, and is expected to start a debate concerning Japan's current, traditional household registration system, or kosekitohon

Stay tuned for more gay marriage news from JapanVisitor Blog.

Read more about gay Japan.

(The above is summarized and translated from Japanese media reports.)

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12 Feb
ホイッスラー展

Yokohama Museum of Art is hosting a Whistler Retrospective. It began on December 6 last year and ends on March 1 this year.

Whistler Retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama.Whistler Retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art
James McNeill Whistler was a nineteenth century American artist who lived in Europe all his life from age 21, and was active mostly in England and France.

From the mid-nineteenth century there was a wave of admiration for Japanese art in England, leading to what is known as the Anglo-Japanese style of art, and was associated with the art-for-art's-sake, or Aesthetic, movement that was replacing the idea of art having to serve a moral purpose.

Ticket for the Whistler Retrospective exhibition, Yokohama, Japan.Ticket for the Whistler Retrospective exhibition
Whistler came to Europe in the 1850s when the movement was just beginning, and its influence on him is evident in his work. The most explicit expression of it was in his Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, a mural work he painted in 1876-77 and with extensive use of gold leaf.

Whistler's drew on Rembrandt, Velázquez, and ancient Greek sculpture, too, for his inspiration, yet unsurprisingly it is the Japanese influence that, more than anything else, fuels interest in Whistler in Japan. The Whistler exhibition at Yokohama Museum of Art was thronged yesterday (a public holiday).

Whistler produced a lot more than just paintings. The exhibition included hundreds of his sketches and lithographs--delicate, detailed, often whimsical creations that generated at least as much interest from visitors as the paintings.

Yokohama Museum of Art shop, selling Whistler merchandise, Yokohama, Japan.Yokohama Museum of Art shop, selling Whistler merchandise.
 The Whistler Retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art costs 1,500 yen for adults, which includes admission to the permanent collection.

See what's on now in the greater Tokyo area and Kyoto.

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11 Feb
ビッテ

If you are in search of a German ambiance and authentic German bread, coffee and cakes, Bitte, located in an authentic looking German-style building near Ueda Station is the place to come.

Bitte German Cafe & Bakery, Ueda, Nagoya.
As well as a set German-style breakfast morning set and lunch, Bitte offers a small shop selling German bread as well as German cakes such as Stollen and other German gifts and souvenirs: German beer, ceramics, wine, and, of course, sausages.

Bitte
468-0051, Nagoya-shi, Tenpaku-ku Ueda 1-1313
Tel: 052 804 8884

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3 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Hostage’s Apparent Beheading by ISIS Stirs Outrage in Japan
New York Times

McDonald's Japan forecasts 2014 loss, first in 11 yrs, as food scare hits sales
CNBC

Piketty Diagnoses Japan's Sick Economy
Bloomberg

Japan pop star in coma after inhaling helium for TV stunt
BBC

Japan in new Olympic row over choice of band for 2020 ceremony
Guardian

Robotic probe set to examine inside of melted Fukushima reactor
Japan Times

Sink the Asahi! The ‘Comfort Women’ Controversy and the Neo-nationalist Attack
Japan Focus


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Statistics

A fact of life well known among foreigners resident in Japan, sexlessness in the Land of the Rising Sun is now at long last getting mainstream media attention. This is mainly a government/media attempt at persuading the nation to fornicate - and, fingers crossed - produce babies.

According to the Asahi Shinbun, a survey by the Japan Family Planning association revealed just how sexless Japan is. The poll was taken in September of last year and showed that 44.6% of 16 - 49 year olds had not had sex in the previous month, which is the definition of "sexless": having sex once or less per month.

That is a three percent increase over the previous year's survey, and almost thirteen percentage points higher than the same survey conducted ten years ago in 2004.

When asked why they are not having sex, the number one reply for men was: "too tired because of work." For women, the top reply was "(having sex is too) bothersome."

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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7 Feb
Tokyo is a pretty clean city. Garbage collection is regular and frequent, and shops and houses generally keep the sidewalk in front of them free of litter.

Corner of Edo-dori and Kuramae-dori, Taito ward, Tokyo.
However, there are inevitably spots that no one feels responsible for. Furthermore, disposing of big trash (sodaigomi) such as coffee tables, microwaves, bookshelves, bicycles and the like costs money. You have to pay for it to come and be collected. So the cheap way out is to dump such objects in spots no one feels responsible for, such as by an isolated strip of roadside, behind bushes in a park, or down an embankment.

Trash
We have lived in Taito ward, eastern Tokyo, for almost five years now. Last year we made the purchase of an apartment in Tokyo and, at the same time, got naturalized in Japan. We therefore feel doubly rooted in Japan compared to how we felt while we were still officially foreigners and renting. Our Taito ward address is now our official address, the address in our koseki, or family registry. The koseki in Japan is more than just the address where you live. It represents the piece of land that your family identifies with and that is a crucial element in identifying you and your family--even if, as, say, in the case of a son or daughter gone to seek his or her fortune, you don't happen to live there anymore.

As such, with naturalization, our neighborhood suddenly became more than just where we live in Japan. It become our native plot. We therefore take a greater interest in it than before. One way we have taken to expressing that is by periodically going trash collecting--usually along the Sumida River promenade.

"Before"
However, coming back from the post office this morning, I noticed how filthy the street corner was that commemorates the old Asakusa Observatory on Kuramae 1-chome intersection. It is a designated smoking corner, so is naturally covered in cigarette butts, but had several months', if not years', worth of all other kinds of rubbish, too. (No sodaigomi here, though: too public.)

Cigarette butts
So I went home, grabbed a trash bag and the tongs, and spent an hour and a half of my Saturday afternoon cleaning the corner up. Small though the area was, the variety was surprising: not just cans, bottles and cigarette butts, but calenders, receipts, an umbrella, thumbtacks, rubber bands, sweet wrappers, chewing gum, an ICOCA card, used tissues, hand towels--and no end of toothpicks.

Because it was by busy Edo-dori Street, no one stopped and talked like people often do beside the river. However, the sight of a gaijin (albeit a naturalized one) picking up trash doesn't go unnoticed, and I caught way more than my fair share of long looks, all the way from the majority reaction of outright approving ("Should give him some tea," I overheard) to the sometimes slightly bewildered--even to, in one old guy's case, apparently suspicious ("Is this foreigner trying to show us Japanese up as dirty?")--and with a lot of non-reactions in between.

"After": an hour-and-a-half's worth of trash
Anyway, it stretched my legs--and, even more, my back, and, best of all, provided that trusty sense of satisfaction on comparing the "after" with the "before." Let's see how long the "after" lasts.


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5 Feb
さっぽろ雪まつり

The Sapporo Snow Festival begins today and runs until 11th February again this year.

Sapporo Snow Festival 2015, Hokkaido.

This year is the 66th Sapporo Snow Festival, which has its origins in six snow and ice sculptures made by local high school students in Odori Park back in 1950. In 1955, the Japanese Self Defense Forces helped to make the large sculptures seen to this day.

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010

The main places to see the ice and snow sculptures are: Odori Park, Tsudome Community Dome and Susukino - the main entertainment and commercial area of Sapporo, south of Sapporo Station.

Among this year's over 200 ice sculptures are a replica of the Manila Cathedral in the Philippines, a snow and ice version of the Xingtian Kong Temple in Taiwan, Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, a "Snow Star Wars" based on the popular movie,"Alice's Adventures in Snowland" plus famous character figures such as Sazae-san and family.

Sapporo Snow Festival 2010

As well as the amazing ice sculptures, other entertainments include an "Ice Queen" contest in Susukino, an international ice sculpture festival with 12 teams from such nations as USA (Hawaii & Portland), Korea (Daejeon), Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Finland, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Poland, snow slides, ice mazes and lots of great Hokkaido food and drink such as hot potatoes, seafood and Sapporo ramen.

Around 2 million visitors are expected to attend this year's event. 2.4 million attended the Sapporo Snow Festival in 2014.

Sapporo Snow Festival 2015 (Official Site in Japanese, Chinese, Korean & English)
Tel: 011 211 2376


Sapporo Snow Festival 2010
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The Japanese Spa: A Guide to Japan's Finest Ryokan and Onsen
4 Feb
Kenji Goto and the Japanese Constitution.With the beheading by ISIS of journalist and humanitarian, Kenji Goto (1967-2015), last Saturday, following that of fellow Japanese national, Haruna Yukawa, Japan feels it has been drawn into a global situation that till now it was only an observer of.

Japan can be readily forgiven for thinking that a promise of a USD200 million contribution in non-military humanitarian aid for those uprooted by conflicts in the Middle East does not warrant being called "involvement" in the Middle East, any more than the person on the street who gives 200 yen to a homeless person would call themselves "involved" in solving the problem of homelessness.

However, having two citizens crudely executed without trial--without rightful cause, even--has catapulted Japan into involvement whether it likes it or not. Prime Minister Abe announced on his recent visit to Jordan where he met King Abdullah that Japan is making a "proactive contribution to peace" by contributing the above sum. This must be seen in the light of his pronouncement just half a year ago, on July 1 2014, that Japan would reinterpret the Japanese constitution to allow Tokyo to militarily support partners under attack.

"Contributing to peace" is, from a politician's mouth, not necessarily any different from saying "going to war." The world's biggest "contributor to peace" at present, the United States, imposed this constitution on Japan over 60 years ago, but is sure to at least tacitly approve of the revision and thus perhaps be somewhat relieved of the burden of providing its post-WW2 military umbrella for Japan.

Abe has at least three more years of free rein, having just won a snap election. The economic stimulus he promised does not seem to be generating much more steam, so the ever trusty fallback of nationalism looks like it may be the next political prop his party will turn to. China and North Korea are always good for keeping the populace's nerves on edge, but the horror the nation has just witnessed may well be harnessed to get the ultimate popular seal of approval for a whole new, fewer-holds-barred foreign policy.

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3 Feb
ふとん

Good quality Japanese futon are still made by hand in Japan. Working on a tatami floor the workers use a set procedure to fit the cotton padding within the cotton cover. The whole process resembles a well-choreographed dance, which is done at top speed. It takes two to tango a futon.

How To Make A Japanese Futon.

If the cotton is too big the workers use their hands to tear it to the right size. The cotton padding is folded over at the ends and sides and then the central part is added.

How To Make A Japanese Futon.
The cotton padding is then expertly flipped into the lining cover. More folds and spreads ease the cotton to be a perfect fit inside the lining.

How To Make A Japanese Futon.

Both the upper and bottom futons are made in this way.

Our sister site GoodsFromJapan.com sells these very futons you see being made. If you value a good nights sleep on a natural product that can be aired occasionally in sunlight, please have a look at our selection of high quality Japanese futons.

How To Make A Japanese Futon.

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3 Feb
ニンジン・ジャナイ

A first exhibition in Kanazawa by American multi-media artist John Wells at Gallery Muku from Friday, February 6 to Wednesday, February 11, 2015.

John has recently moved from a long term residency in Kyoto to Kanazawa. The works on show at Gallery Muku are all recent paintings and drawings made in Kyoto and Kanazawa.

"I especially like the feeling when you look and see winter, but then a closer look shows something new is about to bloom."

Ninjin Janai Exhibition John Wells.

石川県金沢市東山2–1–7
Ishikawa-ken, Kanazawa-shi, Higashiyama 2–1–7
Tel: 076 255 6106
Hours: 11am-5pm; Closed Thursday

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1 Feb
今週の日本

Japan News.
Islamic State group purportedly releases Goto execution video
Japan Times

Two Japanese Hostages, as Different as Can Be, Linked by Fate in Syria
New York Times

Japan Has Built Close Ties to Jordan, Nation at Center of Hostage Standoff
Wall Street Journal

IS hostages: Japan analyses new voice recording
BBC

The truth about Noma's live prawn dish
Guardian

Venerable Children's Castle in Tokyo set to close after 30 years
Japan Times

"Life’s First Night" and the Treatment of Hansen's Disease in Japan「いのちの初夜」 ハンセン病は日本でいかに扱われてきたか
 Japan Focus

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Statistics

Quality of infrastructure, ranked by country:

1) Switzerland
2) Hong Kong
3) UAE
4) Finland
5) Singapore
6) Holland
7) Australia
8) Iceland
9) Japan
10) France
11) Germany
12) Portugal
13) Spain
14) Luxembourg
15) Denmark
16) USA
17) Belgium
18) Sweden
19) Canada
20) Malaysia

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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18 Feb
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 54, Hita to Kamiura
Friday January 3rd 2014

Back on the trail after a week at home I am pleased to find the Kyushu weather warmer and sunnier than before. The first few hours on my walk westward out of Hita were pretty uneventful as I maintained a fast pace because I was backtracking where I had walked last.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 54 Hita to Kamiura.

Once the valley opened up I was into new territory and my first stop was Eso Hachimangu. Being New Year, the shrine was decked out with banners and there were lots of visitors making their hatsumode, first shrine visit of the year.

On the hill above the shrine is the spot where Empress Saimei was temporarily interred following her death nearby in 661. She was in Kyushu leading a military campaign to Korea to help her allies/relatives in Paekche in a war against Silla.

This war does not get mentioned much in Japan because it was a crushing defeat by a smaller force of Tang China and Silla. On the hillside there is also a reconstruction of a water clock supposedly invented by her son, the Emperor Tenchi.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 54 Hita to Kamiura.

Part of my fascination with visiting shrines is to pick up such historical information. The river plain on this bank is much wider than on the southern bank and so I am able to keep off the main road and cut across countryside. I stop in at a small park that has replicas of three waterwheels. Apparently they were built in the 18th century and are believed to be the only such wheels in Japan that were used for lifting water for irrigation purposes.

The design of the local manhole covers show them. Manhole covers in Japan are a great way to learn about local features. I carry on across country towards the first pilgrimage temple of the day, stopping in at small village shrine along the way. They all have their banners flying, but there are no people visiting

Many of the shrines claim to be spots connected to Empress Saimei. I come into a small town where I expect to find the temple and there is no temple to be found. I used to navigate by printing out sections of map onto paper, but since getting my tablet I have been entering in the addresses of the temples and using GPS and at some point I must have entered wrong data because upon checking in the small guidebook I have for the pilgrimage I learn that the temple, Nanrinji, number 6 on the pilgrimage, is about 5 kilometers away in towards the mountains.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 54 Hita to Kamiura.

Today was going to be a fairly short one, but now with an extra 10km to walk it will turn out to be a long one. I navigate my way through a maze of small country lanes. On the plus side I get to explore a few more shrines. While on the last road that should lead me to the temple a car stops and the shaven-headed old man driving asks if I am heading to the temple. He is the priest out on an errand and wants to know if I need a stamp for my nokyo, the stamp book that holds stamps from each temple visited. I explain that I don't have a nokyo so he is relieved to not have to turn round and go back to the temple.

The stamps only cost 300 yen, but with over a hundred temples to visit the money spent would be the equivalent of a week's lodgings so I decided that was a better use of my limited funds. I know whether I have visited a temple or not - I don't need proof.

The temple itself was quite pleasant when I got there, at the end of the road nestled against the hills. There was a lot of nice statues and, knowing there was no-one home, I peeked around the back and found a nice little temple garden.

I backtrack south and then head directly west across a wide expanse of flat paddy land. The road runs straight for several kilometers at a time. I stop in at several more small shrines. At one a couple of young mothers with children are visiting. The children become quiet and huddle around their mothers as I approach.

Foreigners are still feared by little children in many places in Japan. The sun is almost down as I reach Joshin-in, temple 90. It is a curious place looking more like a house with a garden of Buddhist statues than a temple. I had hoped to reach the next temple a few kilometers north of here but my unplanned detour has made it too late so I leave it for tomorrow and catch a train south into Kurume for the night.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 53

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29 Jan
風邪薬

As in any other country that experiences very cold weather, winter-time Japan is likely to have you coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, sounding hoarse and seeking relief.



Japanese people commonly wear disposable surgical masks when they have caught a cold, as a courtesy measure to prevent spreading contagion on public transport and at the workplace.

Much more than is typical in Western countries, Japanese people are very likely to visit the doctor when they have a cold. However, there is a booming trade in over the counter cold medicines.

The popular cold and flu remedies in Japan are all-in-one cold and flu capsules. The top three cold and flu symptom drugs on one of Japan's most popular online shopping sites, Kakaku.com, are as follows:

1. LuluAttack EX made by Daiichi Sankyo Healthcare. It is indicated for throat soreness, fever, runny and blocked nose, coughing and phlegm. It contains (in order of greater volume) tranexamic acid, ibuprofen, dl-methylephedrine hydrochloride, thiamine nitrate, dihydrocodeine phosphate, riboflavin, bromhexine hydrochloride, and clemastine fumarate.

2. Pablon Gold A made by Taisho Pharmaceuticals. It is indicated for throat soreness, fever, runny and blocked nose, coughing, phlegm, sneezing,  chills, headache, joint pain, and muscle pain.. It contains (in order of greater volume) acetaminophen USAN, guaifenesin, anhydrous caffeine, dl-methylephedrine hydrochloride, lysozyme hydrochloride, dihydrocodeine phosphate, bisibuthiamine, riboflavin, and carbinoxamine maleate.

3. SS Bronn made by SSP (short for "SS Pharmaceuticals") Co., Ltd. It is indicated for severe coughing and phlegm. It contains (in order of greater volume) L-carbocisteine, dl-methylephedrine hydrochloride, dihydrocodeine phosphate, and chlorpheniramine maleate.

These three are to be found in every drugstore throughout Japan, and considering (1) the coldness of winter in Japan (2) the huge amount of advertising of medicines there is on TV and other media (3) the number of old people in Japan, more likely to catch colds than the younger generation, the annual sales figures for such cures/reliefs are nothing to be sneezed at.

Swine Flu in Japan

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3 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Hostage Crisis Challenges Pacifist Japanese Public
New York Times

Is Japanese Whisky Better Than Scotch?
Wall Street Journal

Japan 'exploring all ways' to free Islamic State hostages
BBC

After the bomb: photographs show Japan’s rebirth from the rubble
Guardian

Journalists criticize Abe’s response to hostage crisis
Japan Times

Never Again: Hiroshima, Auschwitz and the Politics of Commemoration もう二度と… 広島、アウシュヴィッツと記念の政治学
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Poverty in Japan is at a record high. According to the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry's 2012 Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions, 16.3% of people in Japan aged 17 or younger are living in poverty. That is up from 10.9% in 1985.

The average yearly income of single mother households is 2,434,000 yen ($20,649), which is less than half of the national average.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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23 Jan
ー渦の中へー

Yamamoto Yuriko's installation "Into your Whirlpool" goes on display today and runs until February 6.

Yamamoto Yuriko Exhibition Into your Whirlpool Kyoto.

The sound, mist and light work by an experiment-based installation artist Yamamoto takes the audience to meet with and experience the phenomenon of the imagery. The artist is trying to re-think the relationship between the world of existence and consciousness.

Yamamoto Yuriko Exhibition Into your Whirlpool Kyoto.

Gallery G-77
73-3 Nakano-cho
Nakagyo-ku
Kyoto 604-0086
facebook: GalleryG77

Gallery G-77 is close to both Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace just of Marutamachi in the west of Kyoto. The intimate space in a converted machiya is owned and directed by Andrei Mikhilov.

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31 Jan
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 53, Chikugoyoshii to Hita
Wednesday December 25th 2013

Christmas Day is not celebrated in Japan, so as I made my way to Kurume Station in the first light the streets were busy with people heading to work. The sun comes up while I am on the train heading up the Chikugo River valley to reveal a crystal clear sky.

I get off at Yoshii and before I carry on east I make a brief detour to explore the Historical Preservation District. Street after street of white storehouses and shops from the Edo Period, almost none of them converted into trendy tourist shops. It's quite nice.

I head out along the main road. After a while I notice I haven't passed any Ebisu statues. I stop in at shrines, a newly painted one in vermillion makes some great photos with the strong sideways sunlight and black shadows. The valley starts to narrow and the sidewalk ceases. It's not a lot of fun walking along the side of the road with only a painted white line to separate me from the big trucks rushing by.

A Walk Around Kyushu Chikugoyoshii to Hita.
I check my map. I have a new toy, a tablet with GPS, and it says I can cross the river up ahead and give the road on the north side of the river a try. When I get down to the riverbank I see there isn't a bridge, rather a series of concrete blocks with a small space between them. It's nice to get down to the level of the water which is shallow and gurgling over the rocky bed. The road on the other side turns out to be no better, plenty of traffic and no sidewalk.

After a few kilometers of getting more and more irritated by what I am experiencing as a complete lack of regard for pedestrians in Japan I come to a small, new cafe and stop in to take a break. The owners are very friendly and want to chat and take photos of me. When I pay my bill they give me some candy as a gift. I pass a dam and now the valley is very narrow and the river is a long, still reservoir.

This road is busy but on the opposite bank the road is busier so maybe I did make the right decision. A couple of hours later I get into Hita. At some point, though I didn't notice a sign, I have crossed into Oita, but historically Hita has had closer ties and a stronger identity with Fukuoka.

During the Edo Period, Hita was a "tenryo" - a town ruled directly by the Tokugawa government rather than by a local lord, and this obviously caused it to prosper. I head first to Myo-Oji, temple number 95 on the pilgrimage and the reason for coming to Hita. It's a small temple with some nice statuary but nothing remarkable. From here to my hotel on the banks of the river I have to pass through the old part of town, yet another place known by the moniker "Little Kyoto." It's quite pleasant, but I learn that today most of the museums are closed.

Tenryo Hita Whisky Museum, Kyushu.

That's unusual, most places in Japan, if they have a closed day, it's on a Monday, not a Wednesday. I'm not too fussed that the Whiskey Museum is closed as I suspect they had little in the way of free "hands on" exhibits, but the one place I particularly wanted to see was the Gion Matsuri Float Museum.

As I approach the entrance an elderly couple come out the door and tell me its closed. We chat for a few minutes and when the gentleman finds out I walked here he convinces the lady, who I presume is the boss, that they could let me in briefly, so not only did I get to see the museum privately, I didn't have to pay the entrance fee. So, that was it for this leg of my walk. Tomorrow morning I have a few hours to look around Hita some more before heading home to spend New Year with my wife. I will be back for the next leg next week.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 52

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