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Japan Visitor

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

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

Japan train breaks speed record
BBC

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

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

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

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World Happiness Rankings by country, 2015:

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

15. USA

21. UK

46. Japan

84. China

Source: India Times

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25 Apr
こうもり バレー

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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24 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 2
Tuesday February 18th 2014

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

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

Daikoji Temple, Nagasaki.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakamachi Catholic Church, Nagasaki.

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

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Part 1

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27 Apr
今週の日本

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

Japan jet scrambles 'near Cold War record'
BBC

Japanese-American internment artifacts auction cancelled after backlash
Guardian

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

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

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

Source: Jiji Press

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

Source: Jiji Press

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15 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 1
Tuesday February 18th 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1.

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

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

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

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 59

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14 Apr
群馬県 大泉町

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

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

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


Buildings on Route 354, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

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

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

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


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

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

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


Nagara Shrine, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

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

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

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

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27 Apr
今週の日本

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

Dolphins stranded on Japan beach
BBC

Japan dismisses South Korean protest over 'provocative' textbooks
Guardian

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

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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11 Apr
亀山社中記念館

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

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

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

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.

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

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

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

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.

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

Visiting Nara in the Rain.

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

Visiting Nara in the Rain.

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

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

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Davies

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

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

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

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

 
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6 Apr
THE NAGOYA PLAYERS PRESENT THE CLUB BY DAVID WILLIAMSON

ナゴヤプレーヤーズ

Nagoya Players - The Club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japan News.
China Is Urged to Confront Its Own History
New York Times

Where are Japan's entrepreneurs?
BBC

Tokyo's Shibuya ward is first in Japan to recognise same-sex marriage
Guardian

Womenomics for Japan: is the Abe policy for gendered employment viable in an era of precarity? 日本にとってのウーマノミクス 安部政権、雇用政策のジェンダー化はプレカリアートの時代に実現可能か
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

In Heisei 24 (2012), there were 11,142 criminal offenses committed by foreigners resident in Japan. That was a 11.4% decrease from the previous year. 71.5% of those were thefts.

Compared to 10 years earlier, crimes committed by foreigners have more than halved.

By nationality, Chinese are the leading offenders having committed 4900 of the 11,100 crimes.

Source: National Police Authority, Pages 11-12

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15 Apr
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 59, Kashima to Konagai
Monday February 17th 2014

Rain is in the forecast for today so I head off as soon as it is light hoping to minimize the amount of time I have to spend walking in the rain.

I find the first pilgrimage temple of the day easily enough on a main road to the south of the town. Rengo-in, temple number 63, is quite a small temple but the main hall has a thatched roof. Though it's early, the priest's wife is out cleaning and she invites me behind the main building to a newish concrete "treasure house" which she unlocks and lets me in. Inside is arranged as an altar with a group of obviously old statues, the large central one dating from the 12th century.

Temple 62, Tanjo-in is a few kilometers down the same main road though I miss it first time and have to backtrack as the rear of the temple complex is on the main road, the entrance being "behind" and I didn't see it.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 59, Takeo Onsen to Kashima.

Tanjo-in is much larger with quite a few low buildings with gardens between, though they seem somewhat unkempt. There is no-one around so I can't see inside.

The main road continues east towards the Ariake Sea and my route heads down the coast towards Nagasaki, but first I make a detour. 5 kilometers south is Yutoku Inari Shrine, one of the three top Inari shrines in Japan and though it will be a 10km detour I can't really be this close and not visit.

Part way down the road my eye catches a rather unusual stone gate so I head over to investigate and find an information board. This is Fumyo-ji, a quite large temple with extensive grounds and so I head in to explore. The path does two 90 degree turns and passes by two ponds before the bell gate comes into view. It looks like no-one has done any upkeep in years. The whole place looks and feels abandoned.

Many temples and shrines, especially in rural areas, are no longer inhabited and look deserted, but there are usually signs that someone comes in at times and does some upkeep, but here it truly feels as if no-one has been here in ages. It must have been grand in its day. Apparently it was built by the local daimyo as a family temple and is a copy of Manpuku-ji, the first Obaku Zen temple in Kyoto.

I poke around but there is little to see except a large hanging wooden fish, a traditional temple bell. Back on the road towards Yutoku Inari and there is still none of the forecast rain. As I get closer to the shrine the valley narrows and more signs of tourism appear, and the final approach is along a narrow lane lined with shops selling tourist souvenirs much the same as at any other major shrine or temple.

Yutoku Inari Shrine, Kyushu, Japan.

The shrine itself is quite impressive. The main building is perched about 5 or 6 storeys off the ground, supported by a lattice of concrete though it must originally have been wood similar to the famous Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto.

From the top the view over the valley shows a series of paths and viewing platforms on the opposite side that would, I think, offer spectacular views of the vermillion shrine against the green mountainside. Pleased that it still hasn't started raining I run around and explore and take lots of photos. Then it's back up the road the way I have just come from.

Once back at the main road I am in Hizenhama, home to an Historic Preservation District of old buildings. There are a bunch of sake breweries and apparently sake tours are popular. It's quite nice to see historic areas not gentrified and made twee like in Kyoto or Kurashiki. Exploring down a side alley I find a "samurai" house. Large and thatched, it must have been a high ranked samurai. There is free entrance so I pop in for a look see.

On the other side of the river is an area of lower class houses and there is a group of three very small homes that have been renovated. It is nice to see something that is not of the upper classes as most historic buildings are. I finally reach the coast and start to head south.

I had walked up the coast on the opposite shore, but it is not visible in the haze. The water is mirror flat and poles stick out of the water holding nets. Finally the threatened rain begins and I press on quickly. The rain increases. The forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain all day so I decide to hop on a train into Nagasaki as I figure the city will be more comfortable on a rainy day than walking down the coast. A few kilometers before I reach the station at Konagai I pass into Nagasaki Prefecture, though I didn't notice it with my head down.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 58

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1 Apr
My favorite Taiga Drama remains the 2000 production, "Aoi Tokugawa," and when I first traveled to Japan I wanted to visit Zozoji Temple, site of the Tokugawa Mausoleum.

Cat Rescue In Japan.

I remember passing through the gates, noticing the pine tree planted by Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States, and then seeing a cat - a friendly orange feline with a curled tail. It followed us toward the temple.

I looked around, wondering where the cat had come from. Where there houses nearby? Who did the cat belong to?

Cat Rescue In Japan.

Well... I have come to Japan many, many times since then. I have seen a lot of cats and I gather there is a problem here regarding stray animals. Cats are dear to my heart and my own six felines are all rescues.

In the past I volunteered at a cat rescue organization in the USA, but now I want to help homeless cats in Japan. I make a monthly donation to the Japan Cat Network, located in Fukushima, but a Google search will yield results for many such organizations in Japan. If you would like to help, I hope you will check them out. Here's hoping all my feline friends find safe and loving homes!

Cat Rescue In Japan.

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11 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Soccer Hits an Unexpected Rough Spot
New York Times

Can education change Japan's 'depressed' generation?
BBC

Dolphins slaughtered in Taiji, Japan: leading zoo body accused of links to hunt – video
Guardian

Japan’s 1968: A Collective Reaction to Rapid Economic Growth in an Age of Turmoil
Japan Focus

Miss Universe Japan Faces Criticism That She Is Not Japanese Enough
Huffington Post

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Statistics

"Japanese governmental statistics tell us that there were only 5,545 recorded international marriages in 1980. This more than doubled in 1985 when 12,181 international marriages were recorded. The figure doubled again 5 years later in 1990 with 25,626 marriages consisting of one foreign national. The number has steadily increased since then. It reached its peak in 2001 with 39,727 interracial marriages – this is 7 times the 1980 figure.

Multiracial individuals or more specifically Hafus are therefore growing dramatically in Japan. Owing to the fact that data on ethnic/racial background is not collected anywhere in the Census in Japan (i.e. only nationality), it is hard to say exactly how many Hafus or mixed 'race' individuals live in Japan. However in 2004 we know that there were 39,511 international marriages, which accounted for about 5.5% of all marriages in Japan. A high number of them were between Japanese and Chinese (13,019), Philippines (8,517) and Korean (8,023) individuals.

There were only 1,679 American Japanese, 524 Brazilian Japanese, 403 British Japanese marriages. So we can say that visible Hafus are a minority of the minority. The number of foreign nationals living in Japan has increased in recently years. In 1985, about 850,000 foreigners lived in Japan. That figure doubled to 1,700,000 in the year 2000. Over the last few years the number has been steadily growing and in 2006 there were about 2,100,000 residents with foreign nationality. Therefore the number of foreigners in Japan in 2006 was almost three times that in 1985. This is a firm indication of Japan’s increasing internationalization."

Source: Hafu Japan

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31 Mar
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 58, Takeo Onsen to Kashima
Sunday February 16th 2014

I head off in the dark as I have a long distance to cover before I reach my room I've booked in Kashima tonight. On the top of a hill to the south of the town I come to my first port of call, the Saga Prefecture Space & Science Museum.

I have heard that the museum is quite good, but I am far too early to be able to go inside and anyway it is the architecture that interests me. Like so many of these provincial museums, the architects have indulged themselves and created a modernist collage of protruding shapes and geometric solids reminiscent of a Sci-Fi movie rendered space structure, freed from gravity.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 58 by Jake Davies.
I wander around and get some good shots from all angles before heading off. It's good to be off the main roads as I cut across the hills. No commercial properties at all, and very little traffic. I feel much more comfortable as this is the kind of country where I do most of my walking. I notice that a lot of fields have wheat growing in them. As usual I stop in at the local shrines I pass. At one of them a ceremony is about to take place so I hang back a little. There is a priest and about 8 men, all of them dressed in everyday clothes, so they are not village "elders."

I have attended many village shrine ceremonies over the years, and it is always just men. I have yet to see a woman at such an event. As I get close to Ureshino I reach a bigger road and pass under an expressway. I find the place I have been eagerly anticipating, the Ureshino Hihokan, which translates as "Museum of Hidden Treasures," a euphemism for sex museum.

It would be hard to know what it was if you didn't read Japanese, as there was not a lot of signage, the most visible thing being a large golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon flanked by a pair of Nio which made the building appear to be some sort of religious structure.

There used to be a lot more of these places, many, like this one, in hot spring resorts, but they are disappearing. This one will be closing next month so I was glad of the opportunity to visit. A full report with photos can be found here.

For now I will just say that it was fascinating and over the top kitsch, though it also had many example of the traditional stone phalli that I continue to seek out on my explorations of the backwaters of Japan.

A few minutes after leaving the Hihokan I leave the main road and take a smaller road towards the coast. All morning I had been climbing slightly, but now the road starts to descend. I notice a lot of houses have thatched roofs, rather the thatched roofs that have been covered over with tin. I am not sure when they started to do that, and you will also sometimes see a thatched roof that has been covered in tile. I do see a couple with the thatch uncovered, and one is a very large house with relatively new thatch.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 58.

At the junction in the road that leads to Yoshida the bus stop is in the shape of a tea pot. Yoshida is known for its ceramics. As I reach the coastal plain I can see Kashima ahead, a decent sized town by the look of it. There are two pilgrimage temples nearby as well as some other sites I want to see but the sun is low in the sky so I will leave them till tomorrow. My ryokan is south of the busy town centre, on the edge of the old town so I look for a supermarket to stock up on provisions as I have booked a room with no meals.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 57

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23 Mar
旧豊田佐助邸

The Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence is one of the historical attractions on Nagoya's "Cultural Path" which runs from Nagoya Castle east to Tokugawa Art Gallery and Tokugawa-en.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence, Nagoya.
Sasuke Toyoda was the younger brother of the more famous Sakichi, the founder of the company that was to become Toyota Corp - the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence, Nagoya.

The house, built in 1923 is a mix of western and Japanese styles including Japanese tatami-style rooms, and western stained glass and furniture, as was common for the properties of the Japanese elite at this period. Look out for the "Toyota" motif in some of the western style light and ventilation fittings. The garden is spacious and again a mix of Japanese and European styles.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence, Nagoya, Aichi.

Both Sasuke's brothers Sakichi and Risaburo had houses in this area but Sasuke's former residence is the only one left intact, though the gate of Risaburo's house still remains, a little to the north.

Other places to see along the Cultural Path include Nagoya City Hall, the Hori Art Museum, Nagoya City Archives, the Aichi Prefectural Building, the Chikaramachi Catholic Church, the Shumokukan, home of Tamesaburo Imoto, the Futaba Museum, Kenchuji Temple, the residence of Tetsujiro Haruta and the Nagoya Ceramics Hall.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence, Nagoya, Aichi.

The Cultural path runs through a prosperous, residential district home to the rich and powerful of Meiji and Taisho-era Nagoya and includes the houses of artists, merchants, bankers and writers.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence
8 Chikara-machi 3-chome
Higashi-ku, Nagoya, Aichi
Tel: 052-972-2732
Hours: 10am-3.30pm; closed Mondays and Fridays
Admission: Free

Access

The Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence is a 15-minute walk east from Shiyakusho Subway Station on the Meijo Line of the Nagoya subway or five minutes from the Shimizuguchi and Shirakabe bus stops.

Former Sasuke Toyoda Residence, Nagoya, Aichi.

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Books on Japan
11 Apr
今週の日本

Japan News.
In Japan, a Farmhouse Becomes a Journalist’s Elegy
New York Times

China media: Japan ties
BBC

The best restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto – chosen by Japan’s top chefs
Guardian

“All Japan” versus “All Okinawa” - Abe Shinzo’s Military-Firstism
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World Press Freedom Index 2015.

1 Finland
2 Norway
3 Denmark
4 Netherlands
5 Sweden
6 New Zealand
7 Austria
8 Canada
9 Jamaica
10 Estonia
11 Ireland
12 Germany
13 Czech Republic
14 Slovakia
15 Belgium
16 Costa Rica
17 Namibia
18 Poland
19 Luxembourg
20 Switzerland

34 United Kingdom

49 United States

59 Malawi
60 Republic of Korea
61 Japan
62 Guyana
63 Dominican Republic

176 China

178 North Korea

Source: Reporters Without Borders

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18 Mar
A couple of years ago we blogged about a new railway line being built through Tokyo, from Ueno station to Tokyo station, that was at that time referred to as the Tohoku Jukan Line.

Ueno Tokyo Line track over Yasukuni-dori, Tokyo.Ueno Tokyo Line track - at very top, piggybacked on shinkansen line - over Yasukuni-dori, Tokyo, Japan.The tentatively named Tohoku Jukan Line has now been completed, and opened last Saturday, March 14, as the newly named Ueno Tokyo Line. Basically, until now Ueno has been the terminal station for the three lines that serve Tokyo from the north-east: the Utsunomiya Line (which is actually a section of the Tohoku Main Line), the Joban Line and the Takasaki Line.


Until last Saturday, if riding any of these lines in the Tokyo direction to go further west in Japan, you had to get off at Ueno and change to the Keihin Tohoku line or Yamanote line bound for Tokyo Station. You could then change to the eastbound Tokaido Line from there. However, the Ueno Tokyo Line now joins the three northern lines to the Tokaido Line. Trains from all four lines run right through Ueno, Tokyo and Shinagawa station onto each other's lines.

In other words the Ueno Tokyo line now allows direct access to Tokyo and Shinagawa stations and beyond on the Utsunomiya, Takasaki and Joban lines, and direct access to Ueno Station and beyond on the Tokaido line.



Between 8am and 9am every day: 5 Utsunomiya Line trains and 5 Takasaki line trains go via Ueno, Tokyo and Shinagawa stations and continue on down the Tokaido line as far as Shinagawa, Hiratsuka, Atami, Kokubunji, or Odawara. 3 Joban Line trains from Toride and 2 from Narita go through to Shinagawa via Ueno and Tokyo stations.

Between 10am and 5pm every day: 21 Utsunomiya Line trains and 21 Takasaki line trains go via Ueno, Tokyo and Shinagawa stations and continue on down the Tokaido line.
28 Joban Line trains (14 tokkyu special expresses, 6 kaisoku expresses and 8 local trains) from Toride go through to Shinagawa via Ueno and Tokyo stations.

Between 5pm and 11pm every day: 39 Tokaido Line trains go through Shinagawa, Tokyo and Ueno stations, 19 of them to the Utsunomiya Line and 20 of them to the Takasaki Line.
26 Joban Line trains (6 tokkyu special expresses, 19 kaisoku expresses and 1 local train) go from Shinagawa station through Tokyo and Ueno Stations and through to Narita or Toride.

On the Utsunomiya Line it now takes 36 minutes between Omiya and Tokyo (a saving of 9 minutes), 46 minutes between Omiya and Shinagawa (saving 10 minutes), and 64 minutes between Yokoyama and Omiya (saving 13 minutes).

On the Joban Line, it now takes 39 minutes between Kashiwa and Tokyo (saving 7 minutes) and 49 minutes between Kashiwa and Shinagawa (saving 8 minutes). With the advent of the Ueno Tokyo Line opening, the Joban Line also now offers two new kinds of the train, the express Hitachi, and the local Tokiwa.

Another new train service launching at this time is the Local Green Car, an upscale option for those traveling on a local train. The Local Green Car is available on all four lines that the Ueno Tokyo Line connects: the Utsunomiya Line, the Takasaki Line, the Tokaido Line and the Joban Line. The price of an upgrade to a Local Green Car depends on whether you book ahead or buy the ticket from the conductor on the train, whether it is a weekday or a holiday, and on the total length of your trip.

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18 Mar
復興特別税

Tax receipt, Bird Princess, ebook, Japan.I just paid my taxes on last year's income. They included a surcharge of 2.1% of my income tax, called the Special Income Tax for Reconstruction. In the case of companies as taxpayers, there was a similar Special Corporate Tax for Reconstruction.

The Special Corporate Tax for Reconstruction began to be levied in April 2012 and was levied for only two years, until 2014—the originally planned three-year period being suddenly truncated to two years (out of the goodness of the Diet's heart?) The Special Income Tax for Reconstruction began to be levied at the start of 2013. Both taxes were and are for the purpose of securing sufficient resources for the reconstruction work in those areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Unlike the two-year corporate tax, the personal income tax is to be levied until 2037 - that's 25 years! Companies: winners, individual taxpayers: losers.

The Special Income Tax for Reconstruction is levied on all income tax paid in Japan, whether the taxpayer is a permanent resident of Japan or not.
 
However, for non-Japanese residents who qualify for a tax deduction for taxes paid overseas, the Special Income Tax for Reconstruction is levied based on income tax for that person's pre-deduction earnings - such earnings including money earned in Japan, money earned overseas that was paid in Japan, and earnings remitted from overseas. The overseas earnings of some non-permanent resident taxpayers may exceed the maximum tax deduction allowed. For such taxpayers, the amount in excess can be deducted from the Special Income Tax for Reconstruction. However, no more may be deducted from the Special tax than the part of it that derives from overseas earnings.

The Special Income Tax for Reconstruction is further levied as a 500 surcharge on both prefectural and local body taxes, i.e., a 1,000 yen surcharge per tax payer per year.
 
In 2013, the Special Tax for Reconstruction raised one 1.224 trillion yen (i.e., about ten billion US dollars at today's exchange rate).

While the funds are no doubt doing much good, there have been problems identified with their allocation. For example, in 2012, it was discovered that some of the funds were being used to strengthen the defenses of Japanese whaling fleets against attacks from anti-whaling groups, and, somewhat less egregiously, to reinforce central government agency buildings in Tokyo against earthquakes - still a far cry from helping those in need in the north-east.

Also, it has been found that, to date, of the funds that go to companies, almost three-quarters go to the zaibatsu, with small-and-medium-sized companies sent to the back of the queue.
Bizarrely, in 2012, 43 million yen (c. USD355,000) of the funds was given to the girl idol group, Bird Princess. Sure, they are a group from the affected area, look like lovely girls, and no doubt do a lot to cheer people there up - but a 43 million yen state subsidy for pop?
 
Equally bizarrely, last year it was discovered that a large amount of the funds had gone to the Japan Publishing Organization for Information Infrastructure Development (JPO), part of whose mission is to sponsor the digitization of books in the earthquake affected area, in the sense of creating archives. A worthy cause, but ... several hundred such subsidized titles included works such as "The Ultimate in Erotic Ecstasy," "Super-Sexed Coercive Probe," and "Climaxing Housewives of Karuizawa" (Karuizawa being a resort area for the wealthy, far from the earthquake affected area). State-subsidized porn, in other words.

Well, in the stale, doughy air of the second floor of the backstreet Asakusa Tax Office, waiting for my tax payment to be dealt with at tortoise pace, I entertained myself with the possibility that 2.1% of the handful of brown banknotes I handed over is destined for stardom, whether in skirts on the dazzling stage, or in a "well-cummed" ebook reader.

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23 Mar
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 57, Saga to Takeo Onsen
Saturday February 15th 2014

Back in Saga to begin the next leg of my pilgrimage walk around Kyushu I am happy to find it warmer and sunnier than the Sanin Coast where I live.

As I head west out of Saga I follow the rail line rather than the main road. To the north I see the mountains with a dusting of snow on the higher elevations. I soon leave the city behind and am among the paddies and fields.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 57 Saga to Takeo Onsen.

Many have the stubble of last years rice crop but there is also plenty of fresh, green winter wheat. I pass the temporary station of Saga Balloon, only operating, I guess, when one of the Hot Air Balloon festivals is taking place.

I head towards a shrine marked on my map but when I get there find a crowd of people outside with banners and megaphone. Some sort of local election going on. By now I reach the main road, a busy strip of asphalt lined with commercial properties.

There are a lot of car dealerships, one sporting a Statue of Liberty. Lots of national chain electronics stores. More than a few pachinko parlors.
One named "Zero" with the slogan "it's so cool to enjoy life frankly." Frankly, I have no idea what that means.

There are national chain family restaurants, karaoke bars, a smattering of love hotels, and of course the ubiquitous konbini. I avoid convenience stores if I have a choice, but increasingly the choice is not there. 100 yen fresh coffee and public toilets are what they excel at providing. I stop in at shrines along the road. Many of them have the local style of torii.

Made of stone, the pillars are much wider than in the normal style and they taper quite dramatically. The cross piece is also much thinner than usual. The overall effect seems to be to create the illusion of them being taller than they are.

A smile comes and my eyes widen as I spot an old Morris Minor rusting in a piece of waste land. Don't see many of those here, though you do see lots of the old Minis. A small detour off the main road takes me to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, Koya-ji.

Mizuko Jizo, Kyushu, Japan.

Koya-ji is quite a big temple, on a hillside, but after entering the main gate I am face to dace with a construction site. The buildings are scattered around the edge so I explore. There is a nice two storey pagoda and a fine statue of Fudo Myo, and many Mizuko Jizo.

The tine statues left for dead children and foetuses. Many of them are dressed in hats and scarves and coats. Back at the main road a car stops and I have a conversation with the driver, he speaking English and I Japanese.

He is offering me a lift, though I am going in the opposite direction to him. I explain that I am on a pilgrimage and I like walking, but it doesn't seem to make any sense to him. Once he finds out where I'm from he wants to talk about Led Zeppelin. All the time he seems unaware that this is just a two lane road and traffic is having to slow down to pass him.

As I get into Takeo Onsen the sun is going down so I just have time to visit the next temple, number 102, Komyo-ji. It is unremarkable, though there is a small Inari shrine next to it.

The cheapest room I could find was at the ryokan in the grounds of the big public onsen in the town, and to get to it I have to walk past many of the higher-priced onsen ryokan and resort-style hotels.

The public onsen is quite distinctive behind an Edo Period gate that has now become the symbol for the town. The ryokan is huge and very busy. I am staying sudomari, without meals, so while most of the residents are eating I take the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor bath while it is almost empty.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56

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31 Mar
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Coastal Town Still Struggling to Rebuild From 2011 Tsunami
New York Times

Japan marks anniversary of devastating 2011 tsunami
BBC

Fukushima Water: the fictitious energy drink goes on sale
Guardian

The Making of "A Body in Fukushima": A Journey through an Ongoing Disaster
Japan Focus

Japan marks four years since tsunami
Washington Post

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Statistics

Automobile production in Japan in January 2015 stood at 777,656 units, compared with the 860,854 units recorded for the same month of the previous year. This figure shows a decrease of 83,198 units or a 9.7% production decrease on the same month of the previous year.

Source: Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA)

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13 Mar
田県神社の豊年祭, 犬山、愛知県

The 2015 Tagata Jinja Fertility Festival takes place on Sunday on March 15. Expect large crowds to this increasingly popular festival as it falls on a weekend this year.

Tagata Shrine Phallic Festival

This historic and undoubtedly bizarre phallic festival involves a boisterous procession involving a 2.5m freshly carved wooden phallus carried 1.5km (with multiple sake-fueled rest stops) between Kumano Shrine and Tagata Shrine near Inuyama, just outside Nagoya in central Japan.

Tagata Shrine Phallic Festival
The ancient Honen-sai Festival is concerned with fertility and regeneration and prayers for a successful harvest for the year.

Access to Tagata Shrine

 Meitetsu Komaki LineTo get to Tagata Jinja take a Meitetsu train from Nagoya Meitetsu Station or Kanayama Station to Inuyama. Change to a Meitetsu Komaki Line train leaving from platform 3 and go three stops to Tagata Jinja Mae. Turn left out of the station and then left again at the main road. Alternatively take the Kami-Iida Line from Heian-dori subway station on the circular Meijo Line.

Tagata Jinja is about 400m on your right. To reach Kumano Shrine turn right out of Tagata Jinja, cross over the main road and Kumano Jinja is on your left as you climb the hill after crossing over the railway line.
Alternatively take the Tsurumai Subway Line to Kami Otai and change to a Meitetsu Line train to Inuyama and then the Komaki Line to Tagata Jinja Mae.

Tagata Shrine
Aichi, Komaki-shi, Tagata-cho-152
Tel: 0568 76 2906


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14 Mar
LINE

Line is a little green app that lets users text, voice chat, video chat (conference calls of up to 100 people!), and share photos, movie clips and sound clips. Since its launch only four years ago, Line has become one of, if not the, world's most popular messaging app. Line has become a gaming platform, too, with a thoroughly addictive line-up of mobile phone games such as Line Rangers (the only one I've had any personal experience of in the form of a partner who spends every waking minute playing it on two iPhones, one of them mine!)

The spur to Line's development was the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Japanese employees of South Korea's biggest internet search provider, Naver Corporation, created it as an online way to communicate with each other in the post-disaster period when so much communications infrastructure had been damaged.

LINE on an iPhone, Japan.LINE on an iPhone
Line was released to the public in June 2011, and in just under two and a half years later had been downloaded over 300 million times. Naver Corporation spun Line off to the newly created Line Corporation, which has overseen its growth worldwide.

Line has expanded its platforms from the intial Android and iPhone to almost all the major platforms mobile and otherwise. Some platforms are said offer a better LINE experience than others, Windows being the least satisfactory. There is a raft of features that differentiates it from other messaging apps, such as the ability to add friends by both shaking their phones in proximity to each other, or by using the built-in camera function to snap the other's QR code. Chats can be set to disappear after a certain time.

Sumo news on a LINE app timeline, Japan.Sumo news on a LINE timelineLine's big emoticons, or emoji ("picture-letters") are a massive feature of the app, and people pay to get new ones! There is such a rich array of them expressing all heights, depths and shades of emotions, that users often communicate simply by exchanging icons pretty much unaccompanied by text.

Line's most unique feature vis-a-vis other messaging apps is how it also offers social networking Facebook-style with user homepages to which you add friends make posts and upload images and videos. Users can customize their homepage with pay-for cartoon characters and the like purchasable from the Line shop. The options and apps available within Line are constantly expanding, with Line Pay hovering in the background of most of them.

As with anything new and successful, curmudgeons come out grumbling. One egregious example was the headline in the Yomiuri Shimbun's English language daily newspaper, the Japan News, titled "LINE connects teenagers, flies under adult radar." The poorly written, sensationalist article tried to associate the tragic murder on February 20th of a schoolboy by his schoolmates with their use of LINE, with a graph prominently displayed showing a small spike in murder cases in 2011, the year LINE was launched. With over 300 million users, the anarchic potential has us quaking.

Sensationalist article about LINE in the The Japan News (Yomiuri Shimbun).Sensationalist article about LINE in the Japan News, March 1, 2015
LINE has almost become as must-have in Japan as a smartphone itself, and it looks unstoppable outside Japan too. Japan has shown that it has what it takes to make a hit with software. Struggling and hidebound Japanese corporations should take a fresh green leaf from LINE's burgeoning book.




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