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What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
20 Dec
御土居

The Odoi is an historic fortification built by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to protect Kyoto in the late 16th century.

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall.
The Odoi was a system of rudimentary earth works and moats incorporating existing streams and rivers that encircled the historic center of Kyoto, west of the Kamo River. The Odoi encompassed an area from what is now present-day Kitayama Dori to Kyoto Station bounded to the east by the Kamo River and stretching as far west as present-day Enmachi Station on Marutamachi Dori.

Little now remains of this long-forgotten fortification, though the best parts of the remaining Odoi can be seen in the grounds of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in north west Kyoto.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in west Kyoto, Japan.

Here the Odoi follows the Kamiya River and during the spring plum blossom and autumn leaves viewing seasons, a special entrance charge enables visitors to stroll this lovely walk which includes a red arched bridge and stone monument engraved with the three kanji characters for Odoi (御土居).

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall, Japan.

The walk along the Odoi is illuminated during these two seasons and open late for viewing. The momiji (red maple) trees are aged with some of them over 400 years old.

Kitano Hakubaicho is the nearest station to Kitano Tenmangu or take any of Kyoto buses #10, #26 #50 Raku Bus #101, Raku Bus #102, #203, # 204 or # 205.

Map showing the momiji walk along the Odoi at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.

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19 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 50, Arao to Hainuzuka
Sunday December 22nd, 2013

It's very foggy as I leave Arao and head north. Before too long I leave Kumamoto and enter into the southern part of Fukuoka, known as Chikugo, the old name of the province.

This used to be a major coal mining area, though there is absolutely no sign of it anymore. They didn't run out of coal, there is still plenty under the ground, rather the government chose to shut down the industry because at the time oil was cheaper to import. Same reason why so much wood is imported in this 70% forested country. Pure economics, which turned this area into one of the poorest in the nation.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.

The fog stays thick, but as the morning progresses it becomes brighter. It makes the shrines I visit very atmospheric, with tall trees disappearing into the white. They are interesting shrines too, with very funky, brightly painted komainu sharing the gates with zuijin. In general I have been impressed with the shrines in Kumamoto and in fact in Kyushu overall. There are some areas of Japan where the shrines are few and far between and seem to be little visited or used, but not in Kyushu.

Eventually the fog is burned off to reveal a clear blue sky. By lunchtime I get to the one pilgrimage temple I plan on visiting today. Number 59, Komyoji, seems to be a fairly old temple, though there is a concrete treasure house. There is a lot of statuary including a fine pair of Nio in the gate, but the temple is slap bang in the middle of a brand new housing estate.

A few hundred meters away is a brand new Kyushu Shinkansen station, Shinfunayago, and like the housing development there seems to be no basis for it as there are no large towns nearby, but maybe it is part of some development plan.

On the other side of the station is a structure I had been looking forward to visiting. I had caught glimpses of it as I passed through on the train before.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.

It's called the Kyushu Geibunkan, and is a culture center/ museum and gallery complex. The architecture is fascinating to me. The building is mostly a hodge-podge collection of roofs, none of them symmetrical, with many of them almost reaching the ground. Like the walls of the buildings, these roofs are made of a variety of materials. Quite a striking effect and I like it. There are also a couple of studio/gallery annexes, also in quite different styles, so there is plenty for me to run around and photograph. I forgo paying the entrance fee to see what the museum has to offer as I still have some distance to cover today.

A little way north of the shinkansen station I veer off the main road and head into Mizuta. There is a shrine here I want to visit, Koinoki Shrine. It's a subordinate shrine in the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu, a stately shrine with cedar bark roof enshrining Sugawara Michizane, now known as the patron kami of success in education.

Located behind the main shrine, Koinoki Shrine is festooned with hearts and with lots of pink! This is a "Love Shrine" where people, mostly young and female, come to pray for success in finding a lover or husband. It's not the only shrine of this kind in Japan, but the local people are actively promoting it in these times of falling marriage and birth rates.

If I was younger and single I know where I would be spending time hanging out. From the next station I take a train north into Kurume where I will be basing myself for a few days as I walk the convoluted route the pilgrimage now takes.

Koinoki Shrine, Love Shrine, Kyushu, Japan.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49

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17 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 49, Tamana to Arao
Saturday December 21st, 2013

The sun is not yet up, today being the winter solstice and therefore the shortest day of the year, but I encounter several joggers out and about. By the time I cross the river into the town the sun peeks out from the clouds. In the middle of the town is a big Hachimangu shrine with a very impressive gate with a tower. Within the gate a pair of stone Nio, the Buddhist temple guardians removed from most shrines when the government separated Buddhism and Shinto in the Meiji Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49.

In 1877 Saigo Takamori's youngest brother was killed here in a battle of the Satsuma Rebellion. Not far out of town and I come to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, number 57, Rengein Tanjoji and what a surprise it is.

Across a bridge is a massive new gate gleaming golden with fresh wood. Instead of the usual two Nio guardians there are instead 4 statues of the Shitenno, the "Heavenly Kings." They are very ornate and also look new. The temple covers a lot of area, and there is a vermillion pagoda, also seemingly new.

There is obviously money here, but it all seems a little sterile in the way imperial shrines do, lacking in the signs of passing of time and lacking any element of human use. I carry on along the main road, passing through a cluster of love hotels and then an abandoned pachinko parlor.

On closer inspection I see a door is open so I go inside to explore, but there is absolutely nothing of interest inside, just the shell of a standard, cheap, light-industrial/commercial structure. When I first came to Japan I noticed that pachinko parlors disappear at a phenomenal rate, being torn down and often immediately replaced with a new one, and I couldn't figure out why.

Ferris Wheel, Greenland.

Apparently it is to do with taxes, with it being cheaper to tear down a 5 year old structure and replace it. Obviously good for that strange god worshiped in modern Japan, "The Economy."

At Nobara I leave the main road and start to head north, first stopping in at a nice Hachimangu shrine that has a fine pair of old, wooden komainu. I chat with the priest for a while who is busy setting up lanterns and generally getting the shrine ready for the busiest time of the year, the coming New Year.

The road rises and dips, with a bit more rising than dipping, and on the horizon I can see what looks like a multicolored tower or chimney. An hour or so later as my angle changes I see that it is a Ferris Wheel.

Looking at it end-on made it appear as a tower. As I get closer the traffic increases and it becomes apparent it is a big amusement park called Greenland, one I had not heard of before.

To get to the next pilgrimage temple, Taisho-ji, number 101, I have to walk around the boundary of the amusement park listening to screams emanating from the roller coasters. Kongoji turned out to be unusual. It's very large, but there are no tall buildings. Everything is low and constructed out of concrete, quite Chinese or possibly Burmese in appearance.

As I arrive a car-blessing is going on in front of the temple. Its quite busy and there is plenty of statuary and it seems the temple is fairly wealthy. From here I head downhill towards the coast, stopping in at a couple of shrines. In Arao I find the third pilgrimage temple of the day, number 58, Kongo-ji. It's a small, urban temple and my final stop of the day as my hotel is nearby.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48

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15 Dec
選挙2014年

For the first time in the more than two decades I've lived in Japan, I voted today.

Snap election 2014 candidates, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.The candidatesI got naturalized as a Japanese citizen in February of this year, qualifying me to participate in Japan's politics. And the first ever election I got to take part in was quite a newsworthy one, as Prime Minister Abe seeks mid-term endorsement for his policies aimed at turning around the country's flat-lined economy, turning the nuclear electric power plants back on in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and giving Japan official military clout again.

Elementary school polling station, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.The polling stationThe problem is that a major measure aimed at curbing the gargantuan national debt: raising the consumption tax from 5% to 8% impacted severely on another major strand of his economic policy: raising demand for goods and services among the population.

The local polling station was an elementary school about 3 or 4 minutes away by bicycle - one of those drab old concrete monstrosities from the 1980s or, god forbid, earlier. There were hoardings, one on north side of the school, one on the west, with candidates' posters.

Polling station reception desk, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.Voter reception deskAt the desk in the foyer, outside the voting room, I submitted the voting slip I had received in the mail. It was scanned and the clerk confirmed my name. I went in, and gave the paper to another clerk who gave me a voting slip and told me to write the name of the candidate of my choice.

Polling booths, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.Polling boothsThere was a sheet in front of me with the name and party affiliation of each candidate, so I referred to that to make sure I got it right. I then placed it in the first voting box, placed in front of the first of three clerks sitting in a row at a long desk, each with a ballot box in front of them.

Candidate name voting paper, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.My voter registration form (left) and voting paper for candidate's name (right)I was then given two more slips, each a different color from the first, and told to write the name of the political party of my choice on one, and, on another, which had the names of the six supreme court judges, I was asked to place a cross against any I didn't approve of, or leave it blank.
Political party voting form and supreme court judge voting form, Asakusabashi, Tokyo.Political party voting form (left) and supreme court judge voting paper (right)
I filled in the party name, left the supreme court judge paper blank, and posted each in the box of the second and third ballot box clerk respectively.

That was it. I made my way out, leaving my choices to be counted and make their tiny contribution to Japanese history.


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20 Dec
今週の日本

Japan News.
Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look Set to Stick With Abe
New York Times

Could women help fix broken Japan?
BBC

Abe defends Japan’s secrets law that could jail whistleblowers for 10 years
Guardian

Japan’s coal binge stirs international climate fears
Japan Times

Japan May Be In A Post-Growth Era, With Or Without Abe
NPR

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Number of foreigners, by nationality, residing in Japan in 2013:

1) Republic of China: 648,980
2) Korea: 519,737
3) Philippines: 209,137
4) Brazil: 181,268
5) Vietnam: 72,238
6) USA: 49,979
7) Peru: 48,580
8) Thailand: 41,204
9) Taiwan: 33,322
10) Indonesia: 27,210
11) India: 22,522
12) United Kingdom: 14,880

 Total: 2,066,445 (or 1.6% of the total population)

Source: Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

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10 Dec
ドイツ館

I made a return visit for the first time in ages to the Deutsche Kan, a restaurant, cafe and bar in Nagakute in Nagoya which once formed part of the German Pavilion at Aichi Expo 2005.

Everything seemed the same; the spacious, wooden interior decorated with reproduction German Renaissance paintings, was still there.

Some things had changed however. There was no longer any German beer - no dark beer, no weissbier and no premium German lagers and no German food either. A Wurst case scenario.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya.
The restaurant is part of the Asakuma steak house chain and serves some delicious buffets and set meals if you are a fan of Japanese steak and mix grills. The salads here come especially recommended and looked very appetizing.

They still have beer, too, only Japanese beer, though, Kirin beer.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya, Aichi.
Deutsche Kan  is a ten minute walk south of Fujigaoka Station on the Higashiyama Line of the Nagoya subway and a terminus station of the Linimo.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya,Aichi, Japan.

Deutsche Kan
Terugaoka 237, Meito-ku, Nagoya 465-0042
Tel: 052 771 1159

Hours: 11am-10pm

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17 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 48, Yamaga to Tamana
Friday December 20th, 2013

It promises to be a fine day as I head out just after dawn, though a bitterly cold wind is blowing the clouds across the sky at speed. On my way out of town I pass through a small collection of streets with a big soy sauce brewery and a collection of old Edo Period storehouse now converted to shops. I'm surprised to see some of them already open at this early hour. It's actually quite a nice little district, similar to hundreds of others scattered across Japan.

A few kilometers outside town I turn off at the sign pointing to my first stop, the Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum. At a small car park I notice dozens of small tunnels dug into the cliff faces, apparently they were used for burials, though I have not seen anything like them anywhere else in Japan.

A path leads up through the forest and in a few minutes I am by the largest keyhole tomb in Kyushu. The road from the car park to here is more than 2km so this path was a great shortcut. The museum next to the tomb mounds is by Tadao Ando, and is yet another in the Artpolis project.

Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum.

I run around taking shots of the museum's exterior and then go huddle in the corner out of the wind by the entrance. It is still 30 minutes before opening time but the lady on the desk comes over and lets me in out of the wind. The displays are good. Lots of reconstructions of the inner chambers of burial mounds from around the region, interestingly all brightly decorated.

I head back to the main road down the path and continue on my way. It is mostly slightly downhill but once the road gets back to the Kikuchi River it goes up and over to avoid the big horseshoe curve that the river takes. I stop in at a few shrines. As shrines go they are fairly interesting with some nice wooden komainu and old paintings.

In some areas of Japan the shrines are fairly plain, but some areas, like here, the shrines exhibit more decoration. As I am coming in to Kikusui I can hear a saxophone playing, as I get closer to the source of the sound, most distinctly jazz, it stops, and then a minute later I see a man walk out of a bus shelter carrying a saxophone case. Obviously his neighbors do not like him practicing at home.

I notice that the local manhole covers feature a haniwa, the ceramic figures that were places around burial mounds in ancient times, and then I pass a huge sculpture of the same design. Just off the road are the Etafunayama Burial Mounds, but I decide not to visit, preferring to press on. The main road joins back up with the river and now the coastal plain opens up. I am able to get off the main road and walk along the river embankment.

I get to the bridges that cross over the river into Tamana but carry on down the left bank towards my destination for the night, a big sports park on a hilltop overlooking the town. It is a massive complex with facilities for many kinds of sports and at the highest point in the park I find what I am looking for, the Tamana Observatory, an observation tower overlooking the town.

Tamana Observatory Artpolis Project.

Actually tower is a misnomer, its another of the Artpolis projects and looks more like a massive sculpture with shapes interlocked and protruding out all over.

There are stairs and decks at different levels and the whole mish-mash of shapes seem to be collected around a large egg shaped form at the center. There are locked steel doors on the egg, but seem kind of pointless as there are wide gaps in the walls on either side big enough to easily slip inside where I find a perfectly ovoid chamber with smooth concrete walls.

A perfect place to spend the night, very womb-like (but there is a fine line between womb and cell?). Here I will be safe from the elements, sabre-toothed tigers, or even crowds of angry villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47

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13 Dec
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Right Attacks Newspaper on the Left, Emboldening War Revisionists
New York Times

Japan election: Polls point to convincing Shinzo Abe win
BBC

Police in Japan place anti-Korean extremist group Zaitokukai on watchlist
Guardian

Japan’s fiscal ’13 greenhouse gas emissions worst on record
Japan Times

The Okinawa Reality
The Diplomat

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

According to the JNTO, the number of international visitors to Japan in September 2014 was 1,099,100 (+26.8%), which was the largest number in the history of September data.

By destination, the number of travelers from China increased 57.6% to 246,000 visitors. The number of inbound travelers from Korea from January to September 2014 totaled 1.99 million.

Source: Japan Tourism Marketing Inc.

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6 Dec
MIFA Football Park in Toyosu is a cool place to practice your futsal skills in downtown Tokyo.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu.

MIFA (a play on FIFA) stands for "Music Interact Football for All" and consists of a number of all-weather futsal pitches with floodlights and a trendy cafe, serving focaccia, pasta and pizza and, of course, those essential post-match beers.

Futsal has become extremely popular in Japan due to the lack of available space (and lack of pitches) to play the full (11 a-side) version of the game.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu, Tokyo.

Futsal, which originated in Brazil,  is popular with all age groups in Japan but with the costs involved in booking pitches etc, futsal is especially attractive to the 30+ age group looking to recapture their youth and bond with their contemporaries.

However the artificial turf and the enclosed space takes a toll on aging knee and ankle ligaments (I spent a month in a Japanese hospital after snapping an ACL playing futsal), so always warm up, wear the right footwear and above all take it easy.

MIFA Football Park is a short walk from Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho Line and the Yurikamome Line or Shin-Toyosu Station on the Yurikamome Line. MIFA is right next door to Wildmagic Urban Outdoor Park picnic area.

MIFA Football Park
Toyosu 6-1-23
Koto-ku, Tokyo, 135-0061

MIFA is open 9am-11pm daily. There are 3 18mx26m futsal courts and one 40mx60m junior court available for hire. MIFA also hosts a soccer school and various other futsal competitions and events.

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4 Dec
Maki Shoten foreign food store in the Mototanaka district of north east Kyoto near Hyakumanben and Kyoto University is a long-standing institution in the city.

Maki Shoten Foreign Foods Store, Kyoto.

Maki Shoten was going strong in 1987 when I first encountered it. I became a regular customer buying imported cheese, dried coconut, muesli, wholemeal bread (sadly no longer on sale) and a copy of the Kansai Time Out (also sadly no longer with us).

Maki has long been serving Kyoto's foreign community with all sorts of goodies from home including turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, a great array of imported spices plus cereals, teas and pasta sauces.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto, Kansai.
Now having to compete with more and more foreign foods stores in Kyoto such as Seijo Ishii at Kyoto Station and Jupiter in the Porta underground mall, just in front of Kyoto Station, Maki's may not be as busy as it once was.

Other, newer foreign foods stores in Kyoto include the Yamaya stores in Qanat shopping mall and Karasuma Oike. Meidi-ya on Sanjo, east of Kawaramachi near the Kamo River has been around for years, selling imported foods at higher prices as reflects its central location.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto.

Maki Shoten
63 Tanaka Sato-no-uchi-cho
Sakyo-ku
Kyoto, 606-8212
Tel: 075 781 3670

Hours: 10am-8pm daily except Wednesday

To get to Maki's take the Eiden Line one stop to Mototanaka from Demachiyanagi Station or bus #204.

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8 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 47, Kumamoto to Yamaga
Thursday December 19th, 2013

It was about three weeks ago that I walked into Kumamoto from the south, and now I am back to begin the next leg of my pilgrimage walk around Kyushu. My plan is to walk through Christmas and the New Year period, though I may take a couple of days off if the weather turns bad. My route will take me north then east and then west though country that is all new to me.

Today I head up route 3 to Yamaga, a hot spring resort town that was once a major rice growing and shipping town. Leaving Kumamoto it is drizzling, cold, the road is slightly uphill and the road is busy. Not a fun way to start, but the worst of all is the noise. Every time I visit a city I am truly shocked by just how noisy it is. I find it hard to believe that people can live in an environment like this, but then again I have lived in cities when I was younger.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47 Kumamoto to Yamaga.

Coming into Ueki I stop in at a small shrine to sit on its steps and have some breakfast out of the drizzle. The shimenawa has a couple of unusual straw decorations added to the shimenawa in preparation for the new year.

A little old lady comes out of the ramshackle building in the shrine grounds and checks her persimmons hanging up to dry. We chat for a while. In small local shrines I have always found people friendly and wanting to chat. Unlike in the cities and tourist spots where many people will attempt to use English to chat, out in the more rural areas the people chat with me in Japanese. Much more natural.

The rain has stopped now and a few kilometers further on I pass by an entrance to a temple with several statues along the narrow, entrance road so I decide to pop in and explore, and I'm glad I did. There were numerous small shrines scattered around the wooded hillside with many statues, some of them painted.

By lunchtime the road flattens out and curves to the left and runs straight up the wide plain of the Kikuchi River. Both sides of the river are covered with paddies filled with the stubble of this year's harvest.

Before reaching the bridge across the river on the outskirts of Yamaga I stop in at a couple more shrines. By the time I get into Yamaga the sun is out and I pass by the elegant public spa and head to the pilgrimage temple, Kongo-ji (861-0501 熊本県山鹿市山鹿1592).

It is number 100, one of the twenty "extra" temples on top of the standard 88. It has an unusual stone gate forming a perfect two thirds of a circle. My guess is it is Chinese style.

Yachiyoza Theater, Yamaga, Kyushu, Japan

There is a ceremony going on with a lot of people in attendance so I pay my respects and head to the main tourist attraction, other than the onsens of course, which is just a few hundred meters away, the Yachiyoza Theater, a restored kabuki theater built just over a hundred years ago.

It is one of the bigger provincial kabuki theaters I've visited, and uniquely the ceiling is covered in adverts which makes it look like the ceilings you find in some temples and shrines with each ceiling panel having a small painting.

The sun is going down but I have enough time on my way to my ryokan on the riverside to make a short detour to visit the main shrine of the town, Omiya Shrine.

The low sun illuminates the hilltop shrine causing a strong contrast between the almost black shadows and the bright vermillion, so I run around quickly taking advantage and trying to get as many shots as I can. As the day has gone on it has gotten better and better.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46

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4 Dec
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Unearth Remains, and Their Nation’s Past, on Guadalcanal
New York Times

Japan paper Yomiuri Shimbun retracts 'sex slaves' references
BBC

Japan to investigate e-cigarette safety after formaldehyde findings
Guardian

Abe Cabinet disapproval rating tops support for first time: poll
Japan Times

Troubled Skies Above the East China Sea
The Diplomat

Japan’s Radical Energy Technocrats: Structural Reform Through Smart Communities, the Feed-in Tariff and Japanese-Style “Stadtwerke”
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP.

Denmark 57.4%
Finland 57.1
Norway 55.7
France 52.9
Belgium 52.2
Sweden 50.9
Italy 47.8
Netherlands 47.4
Euro area 46.8
Germany 44.6
Portugal 44.4
Greece 44.4
Britain 41.2
Canada 38.3
Total O.E.C.D. 37.5
Spain 37.4
Ireland 36.1
Japan 34.0
Switzerland 33.8
United States 32.2

Effective tax rate on gross income of $100,000 in 2012.

Belgium 47%
Italy 45.2
Germany 43.8
Denmark 42.3
France 42
India 39.3
Brazil 38.5
Sweden 36.3
Spain 35.3
Britain 31.4
Japan 28.3
United States 26
China 24.7
Switzerland 17.7
Hong Kong 12.8

Source: New York Times

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29 Nov
Shodoshima is the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea. I'm kind of fascinated by the many islands of Japan, and my daughter and I had enjoyed Nokonoshima in Fukuoka several months earlier. Shodoshima turned out to be much different than Nokonoshima.

Shodoshima Seto Inland Sea.

The ferry ride from Takamatsu Port takes about an hour. There are high speed boats available if you want to arrive faster, but the regular ferry is pretty nice and it's a pleasant ride over.

When we arrived, the first thing I noticed was a peculiar scent in the air. We were engulfed in a powerful odor my daughter thought smelled like nuts. In a few minutes we located the source - it was a soy sauce factory. Gotta tell ya, it did not smell good at this stage of production. We decided to walk in a different direction.

Soy Sauce Factory, Shodoshima.

Unfortunately, walking is not the best idea. The town map displayed many interesting attractions, but the directions were vague. We surmised one had to travel by car or bus to reach these places. Where we did walk was in the city, and I was disappointed with Shodoshima because it was exactly like mainland Japan. There was nothing special about it being an island. Unlike quirky Nokonoshima, Shodoshima was urbane and modern.

Shodoshima olives, Seto Inland Sea.

Shodoshima does have a regional specialty which is olives. The trees line the streets and in the souvenir shop near the ferry landing there are all kinds of olive-based products. But I do not like olives, so I was unwilling to take a chance on olive cookies or candy. Instead, I bought some olive soap and lotion, plus a pretty hand towel, to give as a gift.

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26 Nov
北野白梅町

Kitano Hakubaicho Station in west Kyoto is located at the crossroads of the west-east Imadegawa Dori that runs north of the Imperial Palace (Gosho) to Ginkakuji past Demachiyanagi, Hyakumenban and the north-south Nishioji Dori that runs down from Kinkakuji, where it joins the west-east Kitaoji Dori, and then way down south to Nishioji Station on the Tokaido Main Line.

Kitano Hakubaicho Station, Kyoto, Japan.

Kitano Hakubaicho Station is a terminus of the Keifuku Electric Railway (Randen) out further west to Arashiyama.

Hakubaicho Station is within walking distance of Ritsumeikan University Kinugasa campus, Kyoto Butsuryu Museum, Hirano Jinja, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Waratenjin and at a pinch Kinkakuji Temple.

Kitano Hakubaicho Station, Kyoto, Japan.

There are a few places to eat and drink late on around Kitano Hakubaicho Station and it is a good place to find a taxi. Adjacent to the station is a branch of the Izumiya department store.

Kyoto buses to Kitano-Hakubaicho include the #10, #26, #50, Raku #101, Raku #102, #203, #204 and #205.

Kitano Hakubaicho Station, Kyoto, Japan.

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1 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 46, Matsubase to Kumamoto City
Saturday November 30th, 2013

Another fine day for this last day of this leg of my walk. Like yesterday this one will also be a relatively short one giving me ample time to explore tourist sites in Kumamoto city itself.

From here the road and rail and shinkansen lines all follow the same route towards the city. For the first hour or so its is still mostly rural but it soon becomes more urban. I pass by a huge marshaling yard for shinkansen.

Matsubase to Kumamoto City, Kyushu, Japan.

They are certainly convenient and fast for getting from point to point in a hurry, if you can afford them! I figure they travel just about 100 times faster than me.

Now the traffic, buildings, and noise increases as I am into the sprawl of Kumamoto. The first pilgrimage temple, Honzo-in, is a small urban temple, not any bigger than a large house, but behind its walls are a few statues.

From here I head almost directly east towards Suizenji Garden. There are quite a few golden-leaved trees along the roads but urban walking is not so much fun so I just put my head down and cover the ground as fast as possible.

I had been to the garden before, but that time I was there early in the morning and the best views of the garden were back lit and so not so good. This time it was afternoon and the sun illuminated the garden views better.

There was plenty of splashes of color around the edges, but the main view is rolling “hills” of grass with a few trees, including the famous view of Fujisan.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46 Matsubase to Kumamoto City.

This time of the year the grass had died and the ochre was in some ways more dramatic than when it was green. From here I head north east to the next pilgrimage temple, Kongoji. It's a concrete structure, but unlike the previous temple it has no grounds at all, being in fact up in the air on pillars so that the underneath can be used for parking.

Not much here to see so I head to the major temple of Kumamoto, Honmyoji. Compared to the smaller temples I've been visiting on the pilgrimage, it's impressive, being built to memorialize the great samurai lord Kato Kiyomasa, the man who built Kumamoto Castle.

Honmyoji is built on a hill looking at Kumamoto Castle over the city and so is approached up a long wide avenue flanked with temples and then a long series of steps.

There is still color in the trees and the sky is now clear and blue. So I now head back to the station area where I have my room for the night. A quick look around some of the Artpolis Projects in the neighborhood and then time for a bath and beer.

So that's the end of this ten day leg of my journey, and a thoroughly enjoyable ten days it has been. I will be back in a few weeks for another longish leg over the Christmas and New Year Period. I have now walked around 1,260 kilometers, probably more.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 45

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26 Nov
赤穂城

Ako Castle in Hyogo Prefecture is associated with the Forty-Seven Ronin, who avenged the death of their lord, Naganori Asano, the daimyo of Ako, in the year 1702. After killing Yoshinaka Kira, the ronin themselves were ordered to commit suicide.

Ako Castle. Ako, Hyogo, Japan.

Close to the JR station, Ako Castle is easily accessed at the end of the main street, past small businesses and cafes. My daughter and I spent a beautiful autumn morning strolling along the grounds. Afterwards, we wanted to go to the sea shore - we had read that the ocean was nearby. Well... maybe that is true if you have a car! If you are walking, it is kind of far, but we wanted to go to the beach so badly we persevered until we reached our destination.

Roped off beach at Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

We emerged from an enormous park and there it was, the beach. As we drew closer, to our dismay a rope was strung along the stretch of sand and signs sternly forbid the hapless visitor from crossing. I supposed this was a swimming beach that was closed until the following summer season, but even though we did not want to swim we still were prevented from approaching the water. Aarrgh! We had walked a long way. Now what?

Well, we considered, there has to be a way. But the rope was actually attached to the rocks, so there was no going around the back way, so to speak, so we walked on. A bit further we discovered a large block of cement steps leading down to a section of sand and beach that was open, free and clear. We headed down and looked about, noticing plastic bottles and other pieces of trash that had washed up at a high tide. I have seen this before, and it is always a darn shame: why don't people keep the beaches clean? I don't understand it at all.

The Shore At Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

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30 Nov
..今週の日本

Japan News.
Okinawa Voters Replace Governor With Opponent of U.S. Base
New York Times

Japan PM Shinzo Abe dissolves parliament for election
BBC

Japanese police search home of woman held after deaths of six partners
Guardian

Rich get richer, poor poorer under mixed results of Abenomics’
Japan Times

Agent Orange in Okinawa
The Diplomat

The Modern Girl as Militarist: Female Soldiers In and Beyond Japan’ Self-Defense Forces.
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP.

Denmark 57.4%
Finland 57.1
Norway 55.7
France 52.9
Belgium 52.2
Sweden 50.9
Italy 47.8
Netherlands 47.4
Euro area 46.8
Germany 44.6
Portugal 44.4
Greece 44.4
Britain 41.2
Canada 38.3
Total O.E.C.D. 37.5
Spain 37.4
Ireland 36.1
Japan 34.0
Switzerland 33.8
United States 32.2

Effective tax rate on gross income of $100,000 in 2012.

Belgium 47%
Italy 45.2
Germany 43.8
Denmark 42.3
France 42
India 39.3
Brazil 38.5
Sweden 36.3
Spain 35.3
Britain 31.4
Japan 28.3
United States 26
China 24.7
Switzerland 17.7
Hong Kong 12.8

Source: New York Times

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7 Dec
バーはる.レストラン

A friend and I dined at Bar Haru Restaurant  in Tokyo's Kojimachi district. Tucked away on a sidestreet, on the B1 floor of a very plain looking building, Haru is not the kind of place you readily stumble upon.


There were only two of us there when we first went in, at midday. We were soon joined, but by only another two, at a nearby table.


However, unlike a lot of restaurants where lack of customers is a warning sign, Haru could well be the proverbial undiscovered treasure.


The menu is a la France. We went for the five-course lunch menu of the three lunch menus offered, being the priciest at 3,500 yen.


The impeccable service was the first thing that struck us even before the very tasty bread arrived (two types, one wholegrain, attentively topped up). Warm, incredibly polite, and with enough English to enlighten us about the food being served.


The deliciously creamy pumpkin soup, the crisp, market-fresh salad, the plate of amuses including an unforgettable piece of duck pate, the mutton main dish that took me back to days around the family dinner table as a boy—the meal told a story, with the delectable conclusion of a piece of rich fruit cake with ice cream. Tea or coffee was then served.


Bar Haru Restaurant is a chic, modern, unpretentious restaurant where food is taken seriously, and delight is had in presenting it. Lunch was a treat enough in itself. Dinner awaits next time!



Bar Haru Restaurant
Kojimachi 285 Building, B1
Kojimachi 2-8-5, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-0083
Tel. 050-5788-7084

Lunch 11:30 am - 2:00 pm Mon-Sat
Dinner/Bar 6:00 pm - midnight Mon-Fri, till 11:00 pm weekends/public holidays

Nearest station: Hanzomon (about 3 mins), also close to Kojimachi Station (about 5 mins)

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20 Nov
The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel by Richard Flanagan.The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel
Richard Flanagan
Hardback
464 pages
ISBN 978-0385352857

Richard Flanagan's 2014 Booker Prize-winning work about the Burmese railroad fiasco pulls off its brazen trick of appropriating - occupying, if you will - the title of the Japanese haiku master Basho's great travelogue Oku no hosomichi. But it fails to learn perhaps the greatest lesson of the medium: less is more. Its 464 pages, while often filled with arresting images, are about a hundred too many for its purpose; or maybe the problem is that the novel, much like its hapless protagonist, is unsure of its purpose, and thus marches on doggedly in a maze of blind alleys long after it should have packed it in.

While the novel treads the well-blazed path of the allied prisoner-of-war experience at the hands of pitiless Japanese soldiers (in the footsteps of such classics as The Seed and the Sower and The Bridge Over the River Kwai), this time it focuses on Australians' and Japanese' perspectives.

Ironically it is not the hellish details of deprivation and depravity that risk turning off the reader, but rather the hackneyed story of forbidden love that is overly intrusive at a time when the novel should be consolidating its narrative direction.

This second-rate melodrama of a frustrated young wife betraying her lumbering older husband for his surgeon nephew pales against the POWs' hard-earned solidarity in the face of suffering, and produces howlers such as this candidate for the Bulwer-Lytton prize:

"Afterwards, he remembered only their bodies, rising and falling with the crash of waves, brushed by the sea breezes that ruffled the sand dune tops and raked the ash that ate his abandoned cigarette."

Excepting such surfeits of relative clauses and personification, Flanagan is in fact at his best in his observations of the indifferent material world that envelopes human suffering, and of the suffering itself, be it at the hands of their own banality and thwarted sense of self (the Australians), or of a brutal samurai code evoked in war (the Japanese). Attendant is a portrayal of the frightening power of language, common to British and Japanese poetry, and Mein Kampf, to channel the human spirit into equally boundless nobility or sadism.

Thus it is that Basho's haiku ennobling the human aesthetic instinct - "Even in Kyoto / when I hear the cuckoo / I long for Kyoto" - is twisted by a Japanese colonel whose assured racial superiority is licence for an orgy of beheading of the dehumanised Chinese 'enemy': "Even in Manchukuo / when I see a neck / I long for Manchukuo."

Flanagan risks ridicule in employing the quintessential Japanese artform against itself, but such damning juxtapositions work, much as the Nazis condemned themselves by listening to Beethoven while overseeing the Holocaust. The point is that aesthetic sensibility is no substitute for human decency. The haunted army surgeon Dorrigan Evans realises (or as Flanagan intones ad nauseam, "understands") that about himself, even as he seeks solace, if not guidance, in the beauty of others' words throughout his bemused, empty life.

Though it is not a new insight, Flanagan is right to reiterate - writing as he is amid a rejuvenated era of revisionist right-wing politics, not only in Japan - that the starving man who gives half his meagre rice slop to a fellow sufferer is more eloquent in his gesture of universal human solidarity than a thousand poems lauding the unique spirit of a particular race. But sadly Flanagan felt the need to embroider what was essentially his laconic father's true-life experience as a POW with an amorous counterpoint, rendering the eloquent logorrheic and sending the narrative off-track into the jungle mud.

Buy The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel
from Amazon
USA | UK | Japan

Richard Donovan

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16 Dec
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 45, Yatsushiro to Matsubase Friday November 29th, 2013

It's breezy with a partly cloudy sky as I set off and it promises to be a dry day. My first stop is the shinkansen station of Shin-Yatsushiro that is home to yet another of the Kumamoto Artpolis projects. Called the Kilali Monument, it is not really a building at all. Its is shaped like a small house with a pitched roof, but the roof and the walls have many rectangular holes cut out of them so it cannot function as a shelter.

Flat paddy fields in Kumamoto in November.

I guess it is sculpture. Interesting enough. I start to head north alongside the rail line that is straight for several kilometers. The land is flat and covered with paddies that run up to the hills to the east. I see something very strange.

It looks as if rice is being planted in the paddies. Some paddies have plants about a foot high and in others tractors are planting, but this makes no sense at the end of November!!! Rice is a hot weather crop.

I take several detours of the road to stop in at shrines, searching for interesting and unusual stories or art, and am rewarded at several shrines with quite unusual komainu, the Lion-dog guardian statues. Newer komainu are tending to be a standardized "national" design, but traditionally different areas and regions have had quite distinctive designs, and smaller shrines often have quite funky "folk" designs.

Brilliant yellow of a ginkgo tree in Kyushu.

As I pass through small settlements I hear the chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka of machinery in operation and passing by one building the doors are open and I can peer in and see what's going on and suddenly it becomes clear why I thought I was seeing rice being planted earlier.

The machinery operating in these little workshops I have been passing are weaving tatami, the rush flooring found in traditional Japanese rooms. The plants being transplanted into the paddies are “igusa”, the rush that tatami is made from. Apparently the Yatsushiro area is the main producer of tatami in Japan.

Feeling pleased that a mystery has been solved I carry on. There are a lot of small, local shrines. In some areas of Japan they are few and far between, but some areas seem to have a profusion. A legacy I think of early in the twentieth century when the government tried to close down local shrines and have the population worship at "national" shrines

Some areas, and I'm guessing this is one of them, resisted the policy. In this flat landscape and at this time of the year the shrines are also easy to spot from a distance. Most of them have a tall ginkgo tree, brilliant yellow right now, so an obvious landmark.

Shiranui Culture Plaza, Kumamoto Artpolis, Kyushu

It turns out to be a very pleasant day. The walking is flat, the weather is good, there are lots of interesting shrines, and the people I meet, often in the shrines, have been friendly. By lunchtime I reach the rather more urban outskirts of Uki city. Not really a city, but a collection of small towns collectively renamed a city. In the town center is a larger, grander shrine, and it is resplendent in crimson and golden foliage. A few kilometers west I come to the Shiranui Culture Plaza, another of the Artpolis projects

It's actually quite interesting. Basically a long rectangular box with a higher central section it is quite a classical form, both Japanese and western, but the facades are covered in white, horizontal slats which make it appear quite dynamic and vibrant. There are still a few hours of daylight left, but as I am more than halfway to Kumamoto where I will end this leg of my walk around Kyushu I decide to make today and tomorrow easy days and so stop for the night.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 44

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18 Nov
テント広場 東京

You'd be forgiven for thinking it was a homeless person's hut at first glance. But its size, and a quick scan of the banners hanging all over it, mark it as something a little different.


Tent-hiroba anti-nuclear power generation protest site, Nagatacho, Tokyo, Japan.Tent Hiroba, just across from the heart of Japan's economic control center

Tent Hiroba (Tent Plaza, or Tent Square) is a patch of sidewalk just across from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) headquarters in the political heart of Tokyo, the Nagatacho district.

Tento Hiroba is a project by those opposed to reviving nuclear power generation in Japan, and those who remain affected by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster that happened in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Insofar as it represents those displaced by the Fukushima disaster, Tento Hiroba can be called a "homeless persons' hut."

Tento Hiroba was set up on September 11, 2011, six months after the day of the earthquake, as the final act in a human chain protest encircling METI. It has remained occupied by volunteers 24/7 ever since that time, providing an ongoing, constant platform for voices throughout Japan raised in protest against the resumption of nuclear powered electricity generation.

Check out the constantly updated Tent-Hiroba website (Japanese language)

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17 Nov
It was a long journey to Miyamoto, Okayama. I watched my first Taiga Drama, "Musashi" in 2003. My daughter says you never lose your love for your first Taiga Drama - her's was 2001's Hojo Tokimune - and I fondly agree. Over the years she and I have visited many places in Japan whence the legendary swordsman traveled.

Musashi, Otsu, and Matahachi, the three childhood friends.

I thought we had been to them all, until I was researching attractions in Okayama Prefecture and realized we had never set foot in the town of Miyamoto Musashi's birth. So eleven years after that show began, we took a train from Himeji to the small village of yes, Miyamoto, in Mimasaka, Okayama Prefecture.

As we disembarked from the local train, the first sensation I felt was the quiet. Next, we saw a cheerful arrangement of statues - Musashi, Otsu, and Matahachi - the three childhood friends.

Signs pointing the direction to Miyamoto related sites.

Signs pointed the direction to other related sites. We had a pleasant 20-minute walk along a largely deserted street - it seemed as if we were the only people outside and about, except for the black snake we saw along the way.

Black snake probably aodaisho.

There is a museum, a statue of the adult Musashi, and a few other points of significance, such as the birthplaces of Musashi and Matahachi too. But for the most part, this peaceful area invites one to think about what it must have been like to live in this tiny and far off village and to aspire to become something greater.

Statue of Miyamoto Musashi.

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18 Nov
..今週の日本

Japan News.
Leaders of China and Japan Hold Long-Awaited Meeting
New York Times

Japan: Train fans experience super-fast maglev speed
BBC

The foodie traveller … Japan goes gooey for proper pizza
Guardian

JETRO to set up branch in Kyoto to promote culture
Japan Times

The Chinese Poachers: A Good Source of Red Coral – and Information
The Diplomat

Gender Equality in Japan: The Equal Employment Opportunity Law Revisited
Japan Focus

In Tokyo, Following Elders to Bargains
New York Times


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Statistics


The number of criminal code violations in 2013 in Japan fell below 2 million. This was the first time in 32 years that the number fell below this benchmark.

However, the rate of recidivism - repeat offenders - hit 46.7%, which is the highest since 1989.

More than half of the crimes were thefts. In addition, various types of scams are on the rise.

Source: Japan News

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13 Nov
This is something for the ladies out there who love to shop. How fun is it to find something you like and know that when you return home, no one will have anything like it? I think it's great!

Shopping for Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com
I'd like to share with you my favorite clothing stores in Japan. They are (in no particular order): CLEF DE SOL, Heart Market, LOWRY'S FARM, niko and..., CUBE SUGAR, and earth music & ecology. These are chain shops and can be found all over Japan.

Shopping for Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com

I've also got something else to tell you: each of these stores have an online shop! It is easy to choose clothes if you can read just a little bit of Japanese - words related to color and sizing information.

Shopping for Ladies Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com

Maybe you have a friend who can translate these things for you. My daughter helped me. Then what you do is contact a Japan buying service like Goods From Japan, and they will take it from there.

Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.

What I did was buy sale items, and I found that for me, the size specifications were very accurate. Everything looked as good as it had on the websites, and best of all, my clothes fit. And what a thrill it was to receive the package from Japan!

Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.
Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.

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13 Nov
秋に咲くリンゴの花

We have a miniature apple tree on our balcony, about a meter and a half high and probably about ten years old, that prolifically blossoms in spring, fragrant and white, and prolifically bears fruit in autumn: tiny cherry-sized red apples that the birds eat.

Blossom in autumn, Tokyo, Japan.Apple blossom in fall, Tokyo.We're heading for winter here in Tokyo, and the tree is looking sparse and drab with half its leaves fallen, and those that remain dried to a crisp and rust colored.  So imagine our disbelief when just three days ago we noticed a full cluster of snowy white blossom that had suddenly appeared near the top of the tree.

The disconnect between the fragrant, dazzling freshness of the buds and blossoms on one hand and the haggard leaves and half bare branches on the other is striking.

Apple blossom blooming in fall, Tokyo, Japan.
We wondered if it were because autumn this year was warmer than usual, but a look at the Japan Meteorological Office website shows that while the average daily temperature for the first eleven days of November 2013 was 15.7 degrees Celsius (60 F), this year the average daily temperature for the 1st to 11th of November, was 16.6 degrees Celsius (62 F) -- a mere degree or so higher, but enough to trick a tree into thinking spring has returned?

Whatever the (mysterious) reason, the apple blossom is still in bloom after four or five days, and with at least a couple of buds promising several days more of it. How poetic if it lasted long enough to be matched by equally dazzling flakes of early winter snow!

Read about night blossom in Japan

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