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What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
1 Oct
遅延証明書

Trains in Japan are renowned for achieving the almost impossible feat (in most countries) of running on time. And even if a train is a minute or two late, in Tokyo during the day they come and go so frequently that you're never waiting for more than about five minutes.

Train delay certificate, Sobu Line, Tokyo, Japan.Train delay certificate, Sobu Line, Tokyo, Japan.Having the trains run on time in Japan is achieved by way of strict discipline and efficient communication, which is visible in the highly formalized words and gestures used by train drivers and station staff.

If you watch a Japanese train driver or the guard who rides at the back of the train, you will see that his (occasionally her) working life consists of formulaic phrases that must be loudly and clearly uttered (whether or not anyone is there to hear them), hand/arm gestures that must be made, flags waved and whistles blown: physical ways of ensuring that the right checks are being made and awareness of the right things is being maintained.

This strictly formulaic approach extends to everything, illustrated by this morning's westbound Sobu/Chuo line being subject to a delay. I was waiting at Asakusabashi station in Tokyo for the Sobu line train to Yotsuya. I arrived at the platform at about 9:10 a.m. A train promptly arrived, but once I got on, the doors remained open, and there was an announcement of a delay due to having to "remove something at Higashi-Nakano station."

I got onto the NHK News Web site, which has pretty much everything that happens locally, and found out that "what appeared to be a cloth" had to be removed from the power lines above the track between Shin-Okubo and Higashi-Nakano stations: a section of the JR Chuo Line that comes northward out of Shinjuku and curves westward.

A cloth on a power line making for a one-hour delay? Rules must be obeyed, and every one of them was no doubt afforded full compliance as the offending cloth-like object was carefully and deliberately removed.

Dealing with delays, as with everything else, is not done by halves, and when I arrived at Yotsuya station there was a little box of Delay Certificates (chien-shomeisho) in front of the manned ticket wicket, for me, and all others affected, to pick up and present to the boss at work as proof.

Delay Certificates, according to Wikipedia, are used only in Japan and Germany: about the only two countries where public transport delays are abnormal enough to warrant them.

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30 Sep
オランダ坂

Oranda Slope or Dutch Slope is an area of western style houses in Nagasaki close to the Confucius Shrine and Oura Catholic Church.

The Dutch had been permitted to trade on the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki throughout the Edo Period. With the opening up of Nagasaki to other foreigners as a Treaty Port in 1859, nationals from Britain, the USA, France, Russia and other countries began to settle. The Japanese residents of Nagasaki referred to all non-Asians as "Oranda-jin" - Dutchmen.


Oranda Slope, Nagasaki
Most people associate western residences in Nagasaki with Scottish businessman Thomas Glover (1838-1911) and Glover Garden.

However, there are quite a few other original houses of western traders dating from the late 19th century still standing in Nagasaki. Some of them are private residences and some are opened as museums.

Western Residences in Nagasaki
The houses near Dutch Slope are characterized by their clapboard exteriors, wooden shutters, tiled-roofs in the Japanese style, wide verandas and chimneys. In the main, they are painted an attractive sky blue color.

Western Residences in Nagasaki
Among the buildings still standing in this area are the wooden, former Russian consulate and the brick former British consulate at the bottom of the slope.

The former Russian consulate now serves as the Former Kyoryuchi (Foreign Settlement) Private School History Museum (free admission) detailing the history of Christian mission schools in the area. The building also served as the Prussian consulate, US consulate and as housing for missionaries during its time in active use.

The Russell Kinenkan (Russell Memorial Hall) is a wooden building dating from 1868 that serves as a history museum. Elizabeth Russell was a Methodist missionary and the founder along with Jennie Gheer of present-day Kwassui College - a school for girls.

Western Residences in Nagasaki
Orandazaka
Higashiyamatemachi
Nagasaki, 850-0911
Google Map of Dutch Slope


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28 Sep
今週の日本

Japan News.
Yoshiko Yamaguchi, 94, Actress in Propaganda Films, Dies
New York Times

Japan steps up sanctions as tensions rise with Russia
BBC

Anger in Tokyo after North Korea delays report on abductions
Guardian

New idol group exists to pay off debts
Japan Times

Japan: Let Them Eat Whale
The Diplomat

A New Japanese Miracle? Its Hamstrung Feed-in Tariff Actually Works
Japan Focus

Asia's troubled waters: What's going on in the South China Sea? Take our quiz.
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Countries, by percentage of population, most at risk from coastal flooding due to global warming:

1. Netherlands: 47%
2. Vietnam: 26%
3. Thailand: 12%
4. Japan: 10%
5. Myanmar: 9%
6. Bangladesh: 7%
7. UAE: 7%
8. Philippines: 7%
9. Bahrain: 6%
10. Belgium: 6%

Source: Climate Central

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29 Sep
ベトナムにおいての日本

Being in Vietnam as a tourist is an odd idea if you're old enough to remember the constant black-and-white news coverage of the place during its wartorn years. However, its the second decade of the 21st century, and everything's sharper now and in color.

Lotteria Japanese fastfood outlet in Vietnam.Lotteria hamburger outlet in VietnamOur few days in Vietnam were dominated by color: a sizzling palette of it after the dove, mushroom or battleship grays of Japan. The architecture, too, is a world away from Japan's--ironically in that it epitomises a central element of Japanese culture that is nevertheless pretty much absent in Japanese building design: kawaii, or cuteness.


Housing in Hanoi, Vietnam.The kawaii architecture of VietnamPerhaps it's the French influence, but housing in Vietnam is intensely cute and quaint with its French windows, pediments, projecting bays, tympanums, cornices and fanlights, all painted in varying degrees of subtlety and finesse in generally bright and snappy, but at the same time delicate and well-thought-out, combinations.

Dorayaki Addict shop in Vietnam.Dorayaki Addict, Hanoi, Vietnam
However, when it comes to Japaneseness, the most striking presence in Vietnam is Japanese motorbikes, especially Honda. I was told by a Vietnamese local that of the approximately 3 million motorcycles (mainly motorscooters) in Hanoi alone, about two-thirds were Honda, and most of the remainder Yamaha. Compared with motorbikes, cars are in the minority on Vietnamese streets. Honda cars are not uncommon, although Toyota seemed to dominate there.

Honda motorcycle dealership in Vietnam.Honda motorcycle dealership, Vietnam.Japan's popularity in Vietnam goes beyond just technology, and extends to food and toys. We saw not a few Lotteria fast food outlets on our travels, Japanese restaurants, karaoke, Hello Kitty, Sony dealers, and highway billboards advertising many different Japanese brands.

We encountered numerous Japanese tour groups in Vietnam, however, it was apparent from the exchange rates offered there that the US dollar was still favored over the yen.

"I Love Tokyo," seen in a Hanoi department store, Vietnam."I Love Tokyo" Japanese houseware corner in a Hanoi department store, Vietnam.
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26 Sep
足羽神社

Asuwa Shrine on Asuwayama (Mt. Asuwa) in Fukui is said to be 1500 years old. Asuwa enshrines the mythical 6th century Emperor Keitai, who was supposedly born in Fukui.

Asuwa Shrine, Fukui
Asuwa Shrine is mentioned in both the Nihonshoki and Kojiki chronicles and is known for its ancient weeping cherry tree said to be at least 370 years old. During the cherry blossom season the tree is illuminated at night.

The actual buildings, however, date from 1959, as the shrine has been destroyed several times over its history by fire, war and earthquake.

Asuwa Shrine 370 year old cherry tree, Fukui

Asuwa Shrine attractions supplicants to pray for safe child-birth and success in examinations and business.

To get to the shrine from Fukui Station the quickest way is to walk over Sakurabashi and ascend the Atagozaka steps - 145 Shakudani stone steps - to the shrine. Alternatively take a tram to Koen-guchi Station or take the West Route Smile Bus to the Atagozaka stop.

Asuwa Shrine (in Japanese & English)
1-8-25 Asuwa Uemachi 108
Fukui 918-8007
Tel: 0776 36 0287

Asuwa Shrine

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26 Sep
ホームレス

The increase in the number of homeless people living rough in Japan's major cities dates from the 1990's and the beginning of the "Lost Decade" as Japan's economy began to contract after the collapse of the assets and property bubble of the 1970's and 1980's.

Homeless Problem in Nagoya Aichi

Hard figures for the exact number of homeless people in Japan are hard to come by.

Government statistics quote a number of around 25,000 people as officially homeless in Japan.

In Nagoya alone, the city authority says around 100-200 people are living on the streets. Caritas, a Catholic social welfare group, dedicated to helping disadvantaged people, believes the figure is much higher at approximately 2000-3500 people. These figures are supported by such organizations as Oasis in the UK.

Homeless Problem in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

The years 1999-2008 saw an explosion in the number of people rendered homeless in Nagoya due to the downturn in the fortunes of small, subsidiary companies related to the area's biggest employer, Toyota Motor Corporation.

Low-tier workers, predominately older males, began to fall through the societal cracks at this time as employment dried up. Industrial injuries, family break-ups, poverty and pure bad luck meant that many older men with few qualifications and skills were forced on to the streets.

Traditionally in Japan, when the main bread-winner (mostly male) lost their jobs, the wife would decamp with any children to the wife's family, leaving the man to cope as best he could.

Partial relief came in 2005 with the hosting of Aichi Expo 2005 in Nagoya, when the global spotlight forced Nagoya city to act and set up a shelter for its homeless community.

However, the budget was time limited and soon after the Expo ended, the shelter was closed and the homeless had no option but to return to the streets.

Since then, various NPO's and churches in Nagoya have been trying on an ad hoc and uncoordinated basis to aid the city's homeless community. These efforts include food handouts and opportunities for the homeless to bathe and seek medical attention.

Unlike in cities such as London in the UK, the churches in Nagoya have not yet come together to formulate a centralized plan to seek to get the needy off the streets by pressurizing  the city to open drop-in centers or shelters, where the homeless can obtain an address, gain or replace ID documents, apply for jobs or state welfare and open bank accounts.

The homeless in Japan's cities are open to abuse by gangs of youth who may terrorize them at night, beating them up and destroying their tarpaulin shelters or by Japan's mob, the yakuza, who set up vulnerable individuals in shoddy, inadequate apartments to scam the welfare system, taking the lion's share of any benefits from the state they may receive under threat of violence.

What the homeless need in Nagoya and in Japan's other major cities is a government funded system to provide a long-term shelter where they can get off the streets at night, obtain a legitimate address and hope to reintegrate in to society.

Homeless Problem in Nagoya

Over the coming year, JapanVisitor will be following the work of the Rev. Daniel Rea in Nagoya, an American Puritan, experienced and committed to finding practical solutions to the homelessness problem in Nagoya, after his previous work with the disadvantaged in Houston, Texas.

Rev. Daniel Rea has produced a comprehensive plan for a homeless day care center in Nagoya with costings and a needs analysis of the current homelessness problems of the city.

We ask you to join us as we seek together to end the scourge of homelessness in Nagoya by setting up a day center in the city.

Over the next weeks and months we will detail the people living rough on the streets of Nagoya, their lives and stories, and the attempt to set up a Day Center to help them.

Homeless Problem in Nagoya

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26 Sep
東横INN福井駅前

The Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae is part of the nationwide Toyoko Inn chain of business hotels. Situated right at the West Exit of Fukui Station, the Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae is super convenient for getting around Fukui and for getting out to visit Eiheiji Temple and the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae

Rooms are on the cramped side but there is free Wifi, though not always the most efficient, and complimentary breakfast - rice balls, miso soup, vegetables, tea and juice.

While I was staying there was also free curry rice every night between 6pm-7pm if you could face the same dinner every evening.

Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae

The staff were very friendly and facilities include newspapers (English ones too) and computers in the lobby, a laundry room and car parking.

The area around Fukui Station has a number of hotels including the Route Inn Fukui Ekimae right next door, the Hotel Econo Fukui Ekimae and the Terminal Hotel Fukui. All offer fairly similar facilities and are similarly priced.

Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae
2-1-1, Ote Fukui-city
Fukui 910-0005
Tel: 0776 29 1045

Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae

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22 Sep
浜荘

Hamaso is a waterfront ryokan located on shore of Katagami Bay, an inlet of Omura Bay in central Nagasaki Prefecture. It is about halfway between Nagasaki city and Huis Ten Bosch.

Hamaso Ryokan, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Hamaso is a modern building and the rooms are clean and bright and airy. When I stayed there it was out of season and I was the only guest. My room overlooked the water and had a fantastic view of the sunrise.

Hamaso Ryokan, Nagasaki

The toilets and bathrooms were not ensuite. The establishment has a reputation for high quality food, not surprisingly seafood caught in the bay and landed just meters from the ryokan, but I stayed sudomari, room only, and for that I paid 4,000 yen.

Hamaso Ryokan
2590 Nagauramachi, Nagasaki 851-3212
Tel: 095 885 2030
Google Map of Hamaso

Hamaso Ryokan

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25 Sep
今週の日本

Japan News.
Tea Party Politics in Japan: Japan's Rising Nationalism
New York Times

Japan nuclear regulator approves reactor restart
BBC

The truth about the peer-reviewed science produced by Japan's whaling
Guardian

All systems go for second stage of tax hike: Tanigaki
Japan Times

Japan Enters Global Submarine Market With Soryu Offering
The Diplomat

Japan's Secrecy Law and International Standards
Japan Focus

Japan, Germany shake off WWII arms constraints. A cause for concern?
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of management that is female, including civil servants, 2012:

1. Philippines: 47.6%
2. USA: 43.7%
3. France: 39.4%
4. Sweden: 35.6%
5. UK: 34.2%
6. Singapore: 33.8%
7. Germany: 28.6%
8. Italy: 25.8%
9. Japan: 11.2%
10. South Korea: 11%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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16 Sep
池田湖

Lake Ikeda (Ikeda-ko), located 40km south of Kagoshima, and about 10km east of Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture, is Kyushu's largest lake.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan

Ikeda-ko has a perimeter of 15km and reaches a maximum depth of 233m. From December through February, the lake is surrounded by fields of flowering rape plants (nanohana), which makes for a lovely sight.

A caldera lake, Lake Ikeda is known for the clarity and cleanliness of its water, though its quality has been in decline since the 1960's, with the lake water down from a transparency of nearly 27m to 5m.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan

Lake Ikeda is also home to Japan's largest eels which can grow to an amazing 1.8m or 2m in length - maybe it is these large creatures that have given birth to the Issie story - a monster akin to Nessie in Scotland - said to inhabit the deep waters. To the east, indeed, is a smaller lake called Lake Unagi (Eel Lake).

The only road close to the lake is on the west side from where there are great views over the water from viewing spots planted with cherry trees.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan

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28 Sep
自衛隊

The Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is made up of three branches: Ground, Maritime and Air. Prevented by the Constitution of Japan from engaging in any military action besides the purely defensive, Japan's participation in even United Nations peacekeeping missions was not without controversy.

Japan Pride, Self-Defense Force recruitment poster, Tokyo.
This might give the impression of a militarily emasculated Japan, but in actual fact Japan's military budget is the fifth biggest in the world and growing. The appointment of Shinzo Abe as prime minister in 2012 heralded the start of a more tigerish mood in Japan, a mood fortified by the recent stand off with China over ownership of the Senkaku Islands.

This year, the JSDF is to request a budget increase, for national spending next fiscal year of JPY 4.9 trillion yen (about USD 456 billion). Much of this is for new stealthier submarines, tilt-rotor planes, unmanned surveillance aircraft and patrol planes.

Japan Pride, Japan Self-Defense Force recruitment poster, Tokyo.
However, no budget increase can increase the numbers of young people in Japan, and Japan's aging population makes for a shrinking base for military recruitment.

Thus these posters seeking military recruits spotted this week in Yushima Tokyo - one for boys, one for girls. The headline "Japan Pride" is repeated in Japanese in the phrase at the bottom "Hokori o mune ni" or "A heartful/chestful of pride."

But couldn't a smidgeon of that extra budget be spent on some professional-looking graphic design?

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19 Sep
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Newspaper Retracts Fukushima Disaster Report and Fires Editor
New York Times

Japan nuclear regulator approves reactor restart
BBC

Fukushima nuclear disaster: three years on 120,000 evacuees remain uprooted
Guardian

Pop star Aska gets off with suspended sentence for drug use
Japan Times

History and the Possibility of Taiwan-Japan Relations
The Diplomat

On Patriotism and Constitutional Amendment: An interview with film director Miyazaki Hayao 愛国心と憲法改正について宮崎駿監督に聞く
Japan Focus

Nishikori makes US Open history as first Asian finalist
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of management that is female, including civil servants, 2012:

1. Philippines: 47.6%
2. USA: 43.7%
3. France: 39.4%
4. Sweden: 35.6%
5. UK: 34.2%
6. Singapore: 33.8%
7. Germany: 28.6%
8. Italy: 25.8%
9. Japan: 11.2%
10. South Korea: 11%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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11 Sep
A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 41, Yunomae to Hitoyoshi Monday November 25th, 2013

It's raining heavily when I wake in my womb-like sleeping compartment on the Taragi Blue Train. I've been lucky with the weather for the vast majority of the walk so far, but today starts with a downpour. I sit in the cafe area of the train and drink a couple of coffees to wait and see if it will ease up a bit. The next pilgrimage temple is just a couple of stops along the rail line at Yunomae.

By 8am, a couple of hours later than I would normally head off, I decide to take the train to Yunomae and see if the weather eases. Once I get to Yunomae its still raining, though not so heavy, so under cover of an umbrella I head next to the station to the Yunomae Cartoon Museum & Community Center. It is part of the Kumamoto Artpolis project to put interesting architecture around the prefecture. Its raison d'etre is that a local man, Ryosuke Nasu, was political cartoonist.

The buildings are interesting enough, though the rain does not show the architecture off. Back at the station I peruse the noticeboards. Local railway stations will usually have information on local attractions, and I find a photo of something I'm very interested in, a Fertility Shrine.

I check with a taxi driver outside the station and he tells me its about eight kilometers away. Damn!! A 16km round trip is a bit far for me to fit in, as I am already behind schedule on the day, so I add the shrine to the list of places to visit when next I come back this way.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

The rain becomes intermittent so with umbrella up I head towards the next temple. On the way out of the village I stop in at a little Buddhist "chapel". It is a Daishi-do, venerating Kobo Daishi, and it is only just standing. It's a thatched building and it's leaning and twisted and looks like it won't last much longer.

I cross over the river, the Kumagawa. This is as far upstream as I will go. Three days walk down the river is Yatsushiro where I should be in four days time. I find the temple, Shozen-in, and unusually there are a pair of cat statues guarding the entrance, not lion-dogs (komainu), not foxes (kitsune), but cats.

Apparently there are quite a few temples and shrines around Japan that venerate particular, historical, cats. The main building of the temple is fairly plain and typical, but next to it is a little jewel. The wood is black, and the roof is thatched, but the complicated woodwork of the eaves is covered in brightly painted, colorful carvings. It's obviously been recently renovated and refurbished and the sign informs me it is from early in the Edo Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

The rain has stopped completely now so I start off down the valley, taking the minor road along the northern side. After a couple of kilometers there is a barrier across the road and road closed signs. I momentarily hesitate.

It is a ways back to the last bridge over the river if I backtrack, but as is usual in situations like this I presume the road is closed to vehicles but on foot I should be able to get through. For a couple of miles there is nothing - no houses or structures, just the narrow road with river on one side and steep forested hillside on the other.

When I do reach the reason for the road closure it is as I had expected, just a bit of ditch digging on the edge of a village so I can walk through with no problem.

In the village I come across another gem. A very elegant temple. It's very simple, a small wooden rectangle with a large thatched roof overhanging on all sides. It reminds me of Fukuji, the oldest wooden building in Japan up in Oita.

The interior of the temple is also extremely simple in plan, design, and decoration. My resolve to come back and explore this area further is strengthened.

A little further along the road I detour back towards Taragi. In the train last night I saw a photo of the shrine and decided it was worth a visit. The shrine is fronted by a big thatched gate holding a pair of Nio, the statues normally found at temples.

Nio were widespread at shrines until the late 19th century when the government artificially separated the Buddhas and Kami. Up in the Kunisaki Peninsula of Oita nio are still commonplace, but elsewhere not so.

For the rest of the day I haul ass for Hitoyoshi. I'm behind schedule so I do not allow myself to be tempted by diversions. Fortunately the weather is steadily improving. There is a little light left as I come into the town so I make a very quick visit to the major shrine and tourist attraction of the town, Aoi Aso Shrine.

Aoi Aso Shrine too has a thatched gate and one thatched building. Across the road is one of the pilgrimage temples so I make a quick visit there before heading off to find my room. There are three more pilgrimage temples nearby so I will base myself here for a few days.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40

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10 Sep
猿投温泉

Sanage Onsen is a local beauty spot close to Mt. Sanage not far from Toyota city and Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture.

Kinsenkaku Hotel, Sanage Onsen

Located on a small hill, the main onsen hotel here is the Kinsenkaku Hotel (Tel: 0565 45 6111) with a radium bath said to be good for rheumatism. The food here was excellent and plentiful. Even at a slight elevation the air is cooler than in Toyota and Nagoya cities below during Chubu's relentlessly hot and humid summers.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota, Aichi

There's a peaceful pond above a pretty shrine not far from the Kinsenkaku Hotel. A row of eateries runs along the street past the hotel, which also has a large karaoke joint.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota

Free shuttle buses run to the hotel (30 minutes) from Josui Station on the Meitetsu Toyota Line or there are occasional buses from Toyoake, Miyoshi, Josui, Seto, Nagakute and Sanage Station on the Mikawa Line.

Kinsenkaku Hotel
Umamichidori-21 Kanocho
Toyota
Aichi
Tel: 0565 45 6111
Google Map

Bus times to Sanage OnsenClick on the image to enlarge
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13 Sep
三重県立美術館

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum in Tsu city is a 10-15 minute walk from Tsu Station and it is about the same distance down the road on foot to the new MieMu Mie Prefectural Museum.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum's permanent collection is an eclectic mix of modern and more historical works.

There are engravings by William Blake, paintings by French impressionists such as Monet and Renoir as well as a number of pieces of Chinese calligraphy.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan

Other pieces on display include works by Murayama Kaita, Soga Shohaku, Marc Chagall, Francisco de Goya, Salvador Dalí, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Antoni Tàpies.

A separate gallery, which opened in 2003, displays bronze sculptures, plaster casts and drawings by Yanagihara Yoshikatsu (1910-2004).

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum includes a garden space with modern art installations and a cafe/restaurant.

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Mie Prefectural Art Museum
11 Otani-cho, Tsu-shi, Mie, 514-0007
Tel: 059 227 2100
Google Map

Admission: 300 yen for adults; 200 yen for high school or college students
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9.30am-5pm

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum is a 10-15 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Tsu-eki nishiguchi and get off at Bijutsukan-mae.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan

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9 Sep
価格ドットコム

Japan has the second biggest mobile broadband network in the world - with subscribed devices actually surpassing the size of the population - and over one hundred million of its 120 million  citizens connected to the internet. It is no surprise then that internet shopping is huge in Japan.

Add to this the deflating state of the Japanese economy, and, again, it's no surprise that the Japanese flock online looking for bargains.

The top site in Japan for finding bargains for goods - mainly new, but also used - is Kakaku.com (literally "Price.com"). Kakaku.com lists retailers and providers for products and services in over 30 different categories, from movie tickets to computers, from cameras, to drinks to moving companies to insurance.

You can choose to list the retailers or providers of your chosen service or product in order of cheapest to most expensive, most expensive to cheapest, popularity, manufacturer, date of sale launch, model and more.

Last week I found myself looking for a new laptop. I went to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara and had a look around at their range of touchscreens. It didn't take me long to settle on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I had a go on it, weighed it in my hand, asked a few questions about it, compared models, and jotted down the price. At about 150,000 yen, it wasn't the kind of purchase I was going to make the same day I first started looking.

I feel a certain burden of obligation to reward good service, and good service includes providing the goods themselves for perusal and trying out before buying. However, out of another sense of duty to myself and my finances, I of course typed it in on Kakaku.com. It was 20,000 yen cheaper there!

I was apprehensive. 20,000 yen. There must be a catch. The company selling it (no.1 in the list when selecting the "from cheapest" ranking) had an address so rural and remote that it wasn't even in Google Streetview. However, its feedback was 97% positive from several hundred evaluations.

Package arrives in the mail from Kakaku.com, Japan.
I went back to Yodobashi Camera and showed the Kakaku.com deal to the guy who I'd spoken to the day before. I still wanted to buy it from the brick-and-mortar and asked him what advantage there could be to buying it there. The response was underwhelming, and we parted with slightly hopeless grins. Burdens of obligation have their price. I estimate mine at being worth 2,000 - 3,000 yen. This was 20,000 yen we were talking about.

Back home, Friday night, I ordered the Surface Pro 3 from the shop on Kakaku.com. I got an instant email response acknowledging my order, and telling me to wait for another mail with payment instructions. (I had chosen bank transfer, the other two options being convenience store payment or Kakaku.com's own "peace-of-mind" payment system that takes about a 4% chunk of the total.)

Shopping from Kakaku.com, Japan.
Saturday morning, the mail with payment instructions arrives, and tells me if I pay by 3pm it would be sent out that day. I go down to the local post office and send the money using the ATM. I get another mail from the shop about an hour later acknowledging receipt of payment, and another a few hours later with notification of dispatch and a post office tracking number.

The tablet arrived on Sunday, two days after I ordered it, pristine and new and in perfect condition. I added my feedback to the shop's profile on the site. I mean, it's an obligation, really!

Need something from Kakaku.com? The folks at GoodsFromJapan can help.


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13 Sep
みえむ

MieMu, the new Mie Prefectural Museum in Tsu, opened in April this year and replaces the old Mie Prefectural Museum, located in Kairaku Park, near Tsu Station.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

MieMu is part of a new cultural center which also includes the Mie Center for Arts and the Mie Prefectural Library.

The main exhibit aims to showcase Mie's natural history, flora, fauna and culture. There are impressive interactive video displays, lots of stuffed animals and fish.

Areas of Mie covered include the farming villages of the Iga Basin, the fishing villages in the Shima and Higashi-Kishu regions, Ise Bay, the Osugi Valley and Mt. Odaigahara and the Suzuka Mountains, home of the reclusive Japanese Serow.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

There is also an aquarium for the Japanese Giant Salamander, which were on display at the old museum and various fossils including the skeleton of the "Mie Elephant" - a Stegodon miensis - the largest species to be discovered in Japan to date.

MieMu includes a workshop room, a learning space, a reference room and lecture room as well as a shop and an eating and rest area.

Stegodon miensis

There is a separate gallery for special exhibits, which are an extra charge for adults.

The pleasant, landscaped Museum Field outside includes a lawn, historical signposts and a Toriikofun Stone Sarcophagus.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

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Mie Prefectural Museum
3060 Isshinden-kouzubeta, Tsu, Mie, 514-0061
Tel: 059 228 2283
Google Map

Admission: 510 yen for adults; free for school age children
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 9am-7pm

MieMu can be combined with a visit to Mie Prefectural Art Museum nearby.

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

MieMu is a 25 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Mie Center for the Arts or Yumegaoka Danchi and get off at get off at Sogo Bunka Senta-mae.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

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13 Sep
今週の日本

Japan News.
Fukushima Workers Who Fled May Have Received Garbled Orders, Reports Say
New York Times

Japan PM Shinzo Abe boosts women in cabinet
BBC

Japan and India host trade and security talks
Guardian

Japanese researchers develop 30-minute Ebola test
Japan Times

Japan Looks to Build Indigenous Fighters
The Diplomat

Hiroshima’s Disaster, Climate Crisis, and the Future of the Resilient City
Japan Focus

Japan's Abe adds women, China-friendly lawmakers to Cabinet (+video)
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World highest airport landing fees, airport location, per plane in USD:

1. Haneda (Tokyo): $6850
2. Narita (Tokyo): $5600
3. Kansai (Osaka): $5400
4. Toronto (Canada): $5200
5. Darwin (Australia): $4600
6. Bristol (England): $4400
7. Chubu (Nagoya): $4300
8. Dublin (Ireland): $4100
9. Laguardia (New York): $3950
10. Salzburg (Austria): $3800

Source: therichest.com

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6 Sep
Meet Ono-no-Komachi, one of the Six Poetic Geniuses who lived in 8th century Kyoto, brought back to life by the most highly acclaimed Noh actors of today on Kyoto's oldest Noh stage!

Ono-no-Komachi Noh Performance

Noh, the oldest musical drama of Japan, has been continuously performed for over 650 years (and has been designated as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by UNESCO.) Enjoy its sophisticated aesthetics, stunning masks, gorgeous costumes, lyric dance and breathtakingly intense musical accompaniment.

Omu Komachi (Komachi’s Parrot-Answer Poem)

September 15th, 2014 at the Oe Noh Stage (on Oshikoji street between Tominokoji and Yanaginobanba streets)
Doors: 1:30 p.m.
Show: 2:00 p.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (approximately 3 hours)

Tickets: 8,000 yen (B-seats); 7,000 (C-seats); 6,000 (D-seats, non-reserved seats)
For the seating diagram, please refer to:
www.senuhima.com/senuhima/zuo_xi_biao915_reserved.html
For reservations and more information: 5th@senuhima.com
Description:

In her old age, the famous Heian poet Ono no Komachi lives in Sekidera, a temple at the border-pass between the capital and Otsu on Lake Biwa. Emperor Yōzei sends Major Counselor Yukiie to enquire sympathetically how she is. His poem ends: "mishi tamadare no uchi ya yukashisa" (Was not life enchanting there / within the jewelled curtains?).

Yukiie delivers the Emperor's poem, but Komachi tells him that she will answer with just one word. To the courtier's astonishment, she explains how this is possible by changing "ya" to "zo," so that the answer reads: "How enchanting life was there!" [Roy E. Teele translation].

This, she explains is an "ōmu-gaeshi" ("parrot-answer poem"). The rest of the play touches on the comments made about Komachi's poetry in the preface to the Kokinwakashū. She describes a dance by the poet Ariwara no Narihira, then dances herself. Yukiie takes his leave and Komachi returns to her simple brushwood dwelling by the temple, her sleeves wet with tears.

Ono-no-KomachiClick to enlarge
Global Performing Arts Database, Cornell University
www.glopad.org/pi/en/record/piece/1000345
6 Sep
タヌキ

Racoon dogs, now also known as Asiatic raccoons, are called tanuki in Japan. There are five sub-species of raccoon dog, the Japanese one being  known as N. procyonoides viverrinus. Tanuki live in the wild, but are no strangers to areas of human habitation. (Tanuki can, however, be mistaken for the rarer anaguma (badger).)

Tanuki raccoon dog in Shigarakiyaki pottery, Yanaka, Tokyo.Tanuki garden ornament, Tokyo.However, the most commonly sighted tanuki in Japan are not of the furry variety, but of what could be called the garden variety, i.e., pottery figurines, believed to bring good luck. The tanuki in this photo was spied in a garden in Tokyo’s Yanaka, a district that retains a distinctly old world atmosphere typified by a traditional garden ornament like this one.

The tanuki is generally a figure of fun in Japan, partly because of its portly belly, and the male's testicles being always portrayed as huge. Yet this is a comparatively recent development, and up until the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, tales of the tanuki depicted it as something of a monster that ate people, thus the creature's full belly.

This depiction lives on somewhat in Japanese sayings and legends. The bakedanuki (“shape-changing raccoon dog”) is a supernatural figure in Japanese lore from way back, and even in today's parlance, a “tanuki” retains the sinister meaning of someone who is cunning and sly, who harbors nefarious plans while maintaining an impassive demeanor. tanuki ineiri ("tanuki nap") means feigning sleep, and tanuki gao ("tanuki face") means to feign ignorance.

The modern association with good luck comes partly from the rotundness of the tanuki's belly and scrotum, the latter being described as an "8-tatami-mat scrotum" (8 tatami mats = about 13 sq.m.). However, the "8-tatami-mat" reference actually comes from the area that one monme (about 3.75 g) of gold would cover when beaten out as gold leaf. A tanuki skin was traditionally used as the base on which the job was carried out. (Thus the saying “Counting your tanuki skins before you’ve caught any” (toranu tanuki no kawazanyo 取らぬたぬきの皮算用)  - the Japanese equivalent of counting your chickens before they have hatched.)

Nevertheless, this association with gold further enhanced the tanuki's good-luck status.

Pottery tanuki for the garden, as in the above photo, are typically rendered in Shigaraki pottery (shigarakiyaki). Shigaraki is an area in Shiga prefecture that is famous for its semi-glazed stoneware, and the tanuki is the archetypal Shigarakiyaki product.

Want a pottery tanuki for your garden? Inquire with the folks at GoodsFromJapan.


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4 Sep
回る



The kanji character for the Japanese word mawaru is one of the most memorable. Mawaru means "to go around, to go in a circle" and the kanji is the closest any kanji comes to a circle, being a box with a smaller box inside, conveying a sense of both endlessness and repetition.

Mawaru is used by itself, and as a suffix, in Japanese. At its most literal, it is used much the same as "to go around"—or "turn" is used in English. For example, in the negative, handoru ga mawaranai means "the handle won't turn," or, to take someone around with you is tsuretemawaru つれて回る, tsureru meaning to "take someone along" with the mawaru conveying the sense of "around." Other examples are tachimawaru 立ち回る (literally "stand around" but actually meaning "walk around"—the Japanese for "stand around" being tsuttatsu 突っ立つ) or arukimawaru 歩き回る (literally "walk around"). kagimawaru 嗅ぎまわる ("sniff around") and urotsukimawaru うろつき回る("snoop around") are other examples. Then there is the phrase furemawaru 触れ回る, fure being a "proclamation" and the mawaru giving the sense of extra exposure to all and sundry, for the meaning of "to make a show of," "to bandy about," "to broadcast," "let the world know," etc.

 This hints at the "come full circle" sense of mawaru as in the English phrase "what goes around comes around," which in Japanese is tsuke ga mawaru 付けが回る (literally "the bill being due for payment" but with the just-mentioned meaning of inevitable payback for one's actions.) This sense of pendulum-like change is expressed in the phrase shiji ni mawaru 支持に回る, shiji meaning "support," and means to "come around" to a cause or person, i.e. for support to shift to a certain cause or person. It can be translated as "jumping on the bandwagon" or "declaring one's support."

mawatte kuru 回ってくる (literally "around come") means "to come up," as in one's waiting list number coming up. demawaru 出回る (literally "come out and around") means for a product to appear (and then "go around") the market, and as a noun, demawari 出回り, it means the state of supply of a commodity.

Going around various places, such as on a presidential tour, is kakuchi o mawaru 各地を回る ("to go around every area"), so it makes sense that yoi ga mawaru 酔いが回る ("the drunkenness is going around") does not mean that everyone is starting to get drunk, but means "to start feeling the effects of alcohol," i.e. the alcohol has gone around your blood system and is starting to work on your brain. Similarly. uwamawaru 上回る (literally "above around") and shitamawaru 下回る (literally "below around") mean, respectively, "to top" and "to fall below," the "around" bit here also hinting at scope: with shitamawaru, a scope whose boundaries are defined by a top value, or, with uwamawaru, a scope that is gone beyond.

You might think that ki ga mawaru 気が回る (literally "spirit going around") means something to do with your head spinning, but that's heya ga mawaru 部屋が回る ("the room spinning") in Japanese. ki ga mawaru shares the "scope" meaning of uwamawaru and shitamawaru in that it means to give everything its full scope in being attentive to detail, or to others and their concerns. Your spirit is properly "doing the rounds," going over everything it is supposed to, and checking up carefully on everything. However, in other contexts, ki ga mawaru can also have the meaning of one's mind groundlessly turning to negative thoughts, i.e. "turning, or flipping, over" to negativity.

enjin ga mawaranai エンジンが回らない, means the engine won't start (or turn over, as can also be said in English), but it is extended to mean the workings of anything. atama ga mawarani 頭が回らない (literally "head not turning"), means "muddleheaded" or "unable to think straight." shita ga mawaranai 舌が回らない ("tongue not turning") means being unable to get your tongue around a word or words (whether the fault of the word for being difficult or your state of mind). te ga mawarani 手が回らない (literally, "hand won't turn") means not being able to handle a job, work, a project etc. because it's beyond your ability. This meaning could, however, be related to the mawaru of shitamawaru 下回る in the sense of being limited in scope and not being able to operate above a certain level. Another body part connected with "not being able to turn" is the neck: kubi ga mawarani 首が回らない (literally "neck not turning") is neatly parallel to the English "up to your neck" in debt.

By the way, don't be misled by the frequently encountered uketamawaru which means to "hear, be told, receive (an order), take (a reservation)" etc. uketamawaru actually has nothing to do with mawaru but is a word formed from two kanji: uke 受け("receiving") and tamawaru 賜る ("to bestow") (although, confusingly, uketamawaru can also be, and usually is , written using the single kanji 承る).

Finally, a memorable idiom: ohachi ga mawaru お鉢が回る: hachi is "bowl" (prefixed with the honorific "o") and for the "bowl to come around" simply means it's your turn.

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3 Sep
デング熱

Japan has been shocked by the news that dengue fever has returned to the Land of the Rising Sun after supposedly having been eradicated 70 years ago.

Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.Frisbee fun in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo
And Tokyo has been shocked by the fact that it happened in the heart of the metropolis, in the beautiful, sprawling Yoyogi Park - a hive of activity of all sorts every day of the week (see Instagram video below!)

To blame has been the dramatic rise in international travel, making disease more easily communicable, and global warming, which saw a particularly hot, humid summer in Japan this year.

Yoyogi Park has a large pond - now drained in the wake of the dengue crisis - that is surmised to have been the main spot for the dengue-infested mosquitoes to breed.

Yoyogi Park is not closed, but signs are prominently posted at the gates requesting that people wear long sleeves and trousers, and be watchful for mosquitoes. Wholesale spraying of Yoyogi Park has also been taking place to eradicate the pests.

22 people in Japan have been infected so far - all of them via Yoyogi Park. Dengue fever is caused by a virus, and there is no vaccine. However it is fatal in no more than about 1 case out of 20. The only surefire measure is eradication of mosquito habitats, as is happening all-out at Yoyogi Park right now.


"Beat it": Fun times in Yoyogi Park
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1 Sep
Japan's World Heritage Sites John DougillJapan's World Heritage Sites
John Dougill
Tuttle, 2014
Full-colour hardback, 192 pp
ISBN 978-4-8053-1285-8

Most coffee-table photo books of Japanese scenes are destined to sit around as dust-collecting decorations rather than be consulted as bona fide reference works. But John Dougill's overview of Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites achieves the balance between attractiveness and utility that will ensure Japanophiles are hoisting it into their laps on a regular basis and using it to inspire them for the next trip in a country undeniably rich in both natural and cultural wonders. Given its scope, however, and the emphasis on photography befitting its coffee-table format, the book is an introduction to Japan's heritage rather than the definitive guide to it.

Since ratifying the World Heritage convention in 1972, UNESCO has registered 18 natural and cultural sites in Japan, although the number of individual spots is considerably greater, with places like the former capitals of Kyoto and Nara having registered a large number of shrines and temples, for example. The sites span the northern and southern extremes of the Japanese archipelago, from Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Kingdom on Okinawa Island. They include such iconic spots as Mount Fuji, but also lesser-known gems like the far-flung Ogasawara Islands, which host not only amazing flora and fauna, but a remarkable blending of Japanese and Western culture and genes. Interestingly, both these sites were only registered in very recent years.

Dougill set out in 2012 to visit all the sites (17 at the time of writing), and his introduction adds a welcome personal touch to the necessarily fact-driven nature of the body sections. A noted Japan scholar (see my review of his fabulous city guide Kyoto), Dougill deftly directs his prose through informative geographical, historical and social overviews of each site while never overloading us with details. Indeed, the reader is likely to be left wanting more.

The book does not provide a list of suggested further reading. What it does offer, however, in introductory sidebars is up-to-date information on "practicalities" such as access and contact details, sometimes including webpages. Fittingly, the book concludes with a list of sites awaiting confirmation of World Heritage status. (In fact, since the book's printing, the Tomioka silk mill achieved registration.)

The full-colour photographs, some spilling over two pages, are consistently high quality, and often awe-inspiring. A mixture of the author's own take on the sites and the work of professional photographers, they always enhance rather than overwhelm the writing. Informative captions bridge images and text, while area maps and plans provide further visual orientation. You may not be able to plan your entire trip with Japan's World Heritage Sites, but it will definitely motivate you to make it.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

Richard Donovan

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4 Sep
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan’s Premier Supported Ceremony for War Criminals
New York Times

Japan defence ministry makes largest-ever budget request
BBC

Japan executes two more prisoners
Guardian

2,900 children officially declared missing in Japan
Japan Times

Japanese Whaling: The Saga Continues
The Diplomat

Jus koseki: Household registration and Japanese citizenship
Japan Focus

Why Japan's Abe and India's Modi are Asia's new best friends (+video)
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

1,129 were hospitalized in Tokyo over the last 5 years for "dangerous drugs," which are an extra-legal form of marijuana, etc.

Source: Japan News

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26 Aug
四ツ谷駅 改札口 更新

Looking at this morning's weather forecast (rain - all the way through to the weekend) I left off cycling and took the train to the office for the first time in about three weeks.

In this morning's rush, I didn't even notice, but on the more leisurely return home I saw that the ticket wickets in Yotsuya Station had been upgraded.

New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station, Tokyo, Japan.New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station
The previous ticket gates were by no means old or out-of-date looking, but the green space-age gleam and heightened ergonomics of the new turnstiles caught my eye. While I can't put my finger on what exactly has changed in terms of horizontal profile, something certainly has.

Japanese train station ticket gates are, in my experience, the world's friendliest. The turnstiles of stations in all the other cities with them I've visited in the world are more or less clunky - if not positively aggressive - in comparison. The worst example was at Singapore airport where I sailed through at the same speed I do through a Japanese ticket wicket only to painfully bash a very tender spot on my thigh (no, not that high up, thankfully!) on the very tardily retracting barrier.

We entertained a visitor from overseas last week who we took around Tokyo for a few days. It took him at least a day to get used to the speed you should walk through a Tokyo train station ticket gate, i.e. at normal walking speed, sailing on through and very briefly touching your IC card on the pad without slowing down or stopping.

On the flip side, it may well be that this convenience has a price in the way of more upkeep. Every month or so you'll see a technician or two working on the incredibly complicated looking innards of a temporarily disabled ticket wicket. But keeping things running - and, in this case, people swiftly flowing through them - at all costs is one of the things Japan is about.

PS And it so happened the weather forecast was wrong - it hardly rained at all!

Read more about using trains in Tokyo.

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