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What's happening in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shimane Japan, updates on sightseeing, museums, temples, shrines and Japan news.
28 Jul
Jofukuji Temple is a small family temple in Nagoya close to Atsuta Jingu with a fascinating back story.

Jofukuji Temple Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Within Jofukuji Temple stands a memorial in the shape of a ship on a stone stele to commemorate the voyage of the Tokujomaru - a Japanese ship that drifted for a record 484 days in the Pacific in 1813-1814.

The entire crew perished except for 3 men who were rescued by a British ship off the coast of California and 2 men eventually returned to Japan via Kamchatka.

Jofukuji Temple Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Despite the so-called sakoku prohibitions in place at the time during the Edo Period for leaving the country, no action, it seems, were taken against the two returnees.

The Captain Jukichi (Ogura) later built this memorial in Jofukuji in honor of his crew.

Entrance to the temple is free. You may need to pull back the bar lock to enter, close it on your exit.

Jofukuji Temple Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Google Map of Jofukuji

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29 Jul
今週の日本

Japan News.
Line, a Japanese Messaging Service, Teams With New York Venture Fund
New York Times

Although they live freely in Japan, these Koreans still support Kim Jong Un
Global Post

China detains five over stale meat scandal
BBC

Japanese officials order removal of war memorial for Korean labourers
Guardian

Japan assures South Korea it will uphold apology over wartime sex slavery
Japan Times

For Japan, What Comes After Collective Self-Defense?
The Diplomat

Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 帝国日本における社会的抗議行動 1905年の日比谷焼打事件 Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), the number of foreign visitors to Japan in May 2014 was 1,097,000. That is a 25.3% over the same period in the previous year, the second largest in recorded history.

The total number of inbound travelers from January to May 2014 was 5,203,000 (+28.4%), a record setting pace. By destination, travelers from Taiwan recorded the highest growth in a single month basis (282,000 +44.1%). The total number of inbound travelers from Taiwan from January to May 2014 exceeded that of Korea.

Source: Japan Tourism Marketing

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25 Jul
シーサー 沖縄
Shisa statues in Okinawa, Japan.A pair of shisa figurines in the countryside near Naha, Okinawa.The shisa is a cultural artifact that illustrates Okinawa's history as the largely independent Ryukyu Kingdom. Said to have been imported from China in the 14th century, the shisa is derived from the Chinese lion-dog, and serves the same roles: protection from evil, or, to extend the idea: ensuring good luck. However, while the Okinawan shisa comes, like the Chinese "foo dog," in a great many varieties, the shisa is distinctive in being simpler than its Chinese counterpart, without the overwroughtness that can characterize Chinese lion-dogs, which can often end up having a flattened, globular, goggle-eyed almost amphibian look to them compared with shisa.

Shisa costume, Naha Airport in Okinawa.Shisa costume at Okinawa Airport, Naha.Shisa are everywhere in Okinawa,  typically appearing as roof decorations on dwellings, or guarding each side of an entranceway; however as the accompanying pictures show, they also crop up as dance costumes, airport decorations, and more.

Shisa character in traditional Okinawan dance, Japan.Shisa character in traditional Okinawan danceLike the lions that guard Japanese shrines and temples, the shisa come in pairs, one with its mouth open (known as "ah" in Japanese) and one with its mouth shut ("mm").

However, their brick-red coloration, height relative to width, and the often simpler "rough-cut" details of their features, giving them on occasion something of a comical air, set them apart as something that, like Okinawa, is Japanese but with a difference.

The Okinawa souvenir scene is awash with shisa, from the ceramic authentic to the made-in-China two-a-penny versions, from the genuinely, majestically fearsome to the consciously cutesy.

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23 Jul
自転車

People parking illegally on the sidewalk outside Tennoji Station in Osaka has something of a nationwide reputation. It has even made national TV, with 1000's of bicycles parked on every available inch of space around the station making walking a hazardous occupation.

Bicycle Parking At Tennoji Station


Drawn by the new shopping centers of Harukas and Q's Mall more and more people are flooding into the area around Tennoji Station each day. When asked on TV why people parked their bicycles on the street, most replied that the pay-for bicycle lots were full. When the reporters investigated, the lots were, of course, half-empty.

Osaka City staff collecting illegally parked bicycles in Tennoji

Osakans consider it a chore (mendokusai) to have to park in a bicycle lot and pay for the privilege.

So each week the city authorities send a flat-bed truck to Tennoji Station to collect the bicycles and motorbikes and cart them off to the pound near Ashiharacho. It costs 2,500 yen to get your bicycle back as shown on a warning taped to the pavement.

Osaka City staff collecting illegally parked bicycles, Tennoji

As the truck was speeding off people were already parking their bicycles in the new spaces provided, safe in the knowledge that the truck wouldn't be back for a week or so. The endless game of cat and mouse continues on as it has over the last quarter of a century, that I have been observing the phenomenon.

Bicycle Parking At Tennoji Station

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浪速西自転車保管所
〒556-0026 Osaka-fu
Osaka-shi, Naniwa-ku, Naniwanishi, 1-chome
22 Jul
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38
Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen
Friday November 22nd, 2013

I awoke in a dense fog. I'm not referring to the state of my mind, but to the thick mist that filled the river valley and left a coat of moisture over my bag and everything else. The warm glow of the solitary streetlamp in front of the shrine was swallowed up by the fog and barely visible. Above the layer of mist it was probably getting light. I headed off in search of a vending machine with hot coffee. Visibility extended only 20 meters. The first section of today's walk would be along the river so I should be able to navigate it without the reassurance of orienting myself to the landscape.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38 Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen

It was silent and dreamlike and I felt isolated from everything but the road beneath my feet. After an hour or two the fog becomes bright, almost pure white, though still impenetrable, then I catch a glimpse of a white disc above the hills. The sun is up. I am going to cross the river at some point and so I have been counting bridges to find the right one.

According to my map I should have found the bridge by now, so begin to worry that I have passed it. A small kei car comes along and I put out my arm to flag it down. The middle-aged woman driving stares at me and then steps on the accelerator and speeds away with a look of terror on her face. I wouldn't be surprised to have a police car stop me in the next twenty minutes. I have had people phone the police on me before for the suspicious activity of walking while being foreign.

A few minutes later a small pick up comes by and the fearless old gentleman driving tells me that I have passed the bridge. I retrace my steps and cross over the river and finally some blue sky is visible and I can see the landscape of the wide river valley. As I walk away from the river it becomes completely clear to reveal a cloudless sky.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38 Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen

I pass a couple of Tanokami statues. This area is famous for them, and they are a pleasant change from the more typical Jizo. I get into Hishikari, the only town on my route today and find a supermarket to replenish my stomach and supplies. So far today its all been flat along the river, but from here I have to cross over some higher country.

The road is a narrow, winding, mountain lane, with very little traffic. After an hour it gets steeper and I look down on a huge expanse of steel roof. Some sort of factory farm, though not a sound comes from it so I don't know if its chicken or pig or cow.

Japan, and particularly southern Kyushu raises a lot of meat, but you will almost never see any animals outside in the sunshine. It is almost all raised indoors. The road levels off and then starts a slow descent and I get my first glimpse of the Ebino Valley below with the Kirishima Mountains behind. Ten walking days ago I was on the other side of those mountains. I reach the valley floor and once again walk along the Sendai River.

Tanokami statues

By late afternoon I reach Kyomachi Onsen and look in the quiet back streets for my room for the night. I find the Yamaga Onsen and check in for the night. The couple running the hot spring, which caters mostly to locals, are sitting in their living room with the sliding doors open so they can do business with their patrons.

Everybody wants to chat. I suspect I may be the first foreigner they have had stay here. Everyone is very friendly and when I mention that I am interested in seeing the local Tanokami the owner promptly invites me into his car and he drives me a few kilometers out of town where a lot of the Tanokami have been gathered together in one spot. A good end to the day, especially when considering that the room I stay in tonight is only 2,200 yen.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37

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24 Jul
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Foreign Minister Speaks Out Against Chinese Newspaper Graphic
New York Times

Although they live freely in Japan, these Koreans still support Kim Jong Un
Global Post

Japan 'vagina artist' arrest sparks debate
BBC

Doubts over ice wall to keep Fukushima safe from damaged nuclear reactors
Guardian

Foreign residents can’t claim welfare benefits: Supreme Court
Japan Times

Japan’s New Defense Posture
The Diplomat

Remembering Biowarfare Unit 731 Through Musical Activism: A Performance of the Choral Work The Devil’s Gluttony 音楽活動をとうして生物兵器731部隊を思い浮かべる 合唱組曲「悪魔の飽食」のコンサート Japan Focus

Japan’s Break With Peace New York Times

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Statistics

Crime Levels, by country (#1 is highest level of crime), 2014

1 Maldives 100
2 Venezuela 97.03
3 Afghanistan 96.43
4 Kenya 91.25
5 Trinidad and Tobago 91.18
6 South Africa 86.27
7 Guatemala 84.09
8 Nigeria 82.35
9 Puerto Rico 81.9
10 Honduras 81.67

45 United States 55.84

64 United Kingdom 48

127 South Korea 13.89
128 Taiwan 13.57
129 Japan 12.8
130 Singapore 12.72
131 Isle of Man 5
132 Malta 4.17

Source: Nation Master

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17 Jul
旅館楼門亭

Takeo Onsen, in western Saga, is an ancient hot spring whose soft, silky waters, reputed to be beneficial to the skin, have been written about since the eighth century.

Ryokan Romontei Takeo Onsen
According to myth, Empress Jingu created the hot spring by striking her spear into the ground. The fame of the hot spring spread when none other than Hideyoshi wrote about it. In the Edo Period a post station of the Nagasaki Kaido that connected Nagasaki with Kokura and point east on Honshu was built and several lavish bathrooms were constructed for the lords and dignitaries who stayed here.

The town of Takeo Onsen is now home to many luxury resort hotels as well as small, traditional ryokan, but in my quest to find somewhere to stay within my budget I found the best deal at the public onsen.

Located at the top of the town underneath Mount Horai, the public baths are fronted by an Edo Period gate known as the Romon, which has now become the symbol of the town.

Within the grounds is the Ryokan Romontei, a large concrete building with many rooms and its own hot springs. Like the public onsen, it is also very popular and busy. The standard tatami room had a TV, fridge, kettle, etc as well as en-suite toilet. The public baths had free wifi but my room was at the back of the building and so the signal was too weak. The baths were nice and there was a rotenburo or outdoor bath.

Ryokan Romontei Takeo Onsen

For a single person with no meals I paid only 4,000 yen.

Ryokan Romontei
7425 Takeocho Oaza, Takeo, Saga
Tel: 0954 23 2111
Google map of Ryokan Romontei

The ryokan is less than 1 kilometer from Takeo Onsen Station on the JR Sasebo Line.

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17 Jul
Here is a listing of music festivals in Japan for the summer of 2014.

Rock and Electronic

Fuji Rock Festival

July 25-27, Naeba Ski Resort, Nagano Prefecture featuring Basement Jaxx, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Lorde, The Lumineers, Outkast and Damon Albarn from Blur.
www.fujirockfestival.com

Fuji Rock Festival

Rock in Japan

August 2-3 & 9-10, Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki with Acidman, Dragon Ash, Puffy, Rip Slyme, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
rijfes.jp

Rising Sun Festival (RSR)

August 15-16, Ishikari, Hokkaido with domestic Japanese bands including Denki Groove, Sakanaction and Unicorn.
rsr.wess.co.jp

Sonicmania

August 15, Makuhari Messe (Chiba) featuring Kasabian, Kraftwerk, Mogwai and Sakanaction.
www.creativeman.co.jp

Summer Sonic

August 16-17, Tokyo and Osaka with Queen + Adam Lambert, Arctic Monkeys, Superfly, Robert Plant, Krewella, Megadeth.
www.creativeman.co.jp

MTV Zushi Fes

August 8-10, Riviera Zushi Marina, Kanagawa, AK-69, Cream, Han-Kun, Rip Slyme.
www.mtvjapan.com

Labyrinth

Sept 13-15, Naeba Greenland, Niigata

Ringo Fes

Sept 13-14, Matsumoto
ringofes.info

Other Festivals

Sapporo City Jazz

July-August, Sapporo
sapporocityjazz.jp

Pacific Music Festival (classical)

July-August, Sapporo
www.pmf.or.jp

Saito Kinen Festival (classical)

August 10-September 6, Matsumoto, Nagano
www.saito-kinen.com

Stravinsky, Verdi, Gershwin

Monterey Jazz Festival

July 26, Noto, Ishikawa
www.mjfinnoto.jp

Tokyo Jazz Festival

Sept 5-7, Tokyo

Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Chaka Khan, Flat Earth Society
www.tokyo-jazz.com

Tokyo Idol Festival

August 2, Diver City Tokyo, Odaiba
idolfes.com

World Music & Dance Festival

August 4-10, Motomachi Park, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Line up

Earth Celebration

August 22-24, Ogi, Sado Island with Kodo
www.kodo.or.jp

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17 Jul
今週の日本

Japan News.
Chinese Leader, Underlining Ties to South Korea, Cites Japan as Onetime Mutual Enemy
New York Times

Although they live freely in Japan, these Koreans still support Kim Jong Un
Global Post

Sellafield experts to aid Fukushima decommissioning operation
BBC

Crying Japanese politician resigns as investigation into expenses broadens
Guardian

Ex-South Korean ‘comfort women’ for U.S. troops sue own government
Japan Times

Ten Myths About Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change
The Diplomat

What Role for Nuclear Power in Japan’s Future? 日本の未来、原発はいかなる役割を担うべき Japan Focus

A Former Megadeth Guitarist's Journey To Japanese Pop NPR

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of female lawmakers in the national legislative body, by country, in 2013

Norway: 36.1%
France: 18.3%
Germany: 14.1%
United Kingdom: 12.6%
United States: 12.6%
Russia: 4.8%
South Korea: 1.9% 
Japan: 1.1%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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15 Jul
夜行列車の予約

Japan has several night trains that can be reserved only from one month before the intended date of travel. Two of the most popular are the Cassiopeia and the Hokutosei trains which run between Tokyo and Sapporo.

Waiting to reserve a train
The romance of rail is very much alive and well in Japan, and thousands of Japanese aspire to go rocking, rolling and riding across half the length of Japan though the night in the luxury of a sleeping car. Not only Japanese, but demand among overseas tourists for the service is also high.

High demand and a very limited number of cars makes competition for tickets fierce. Over the past month I have tried to book tickets on the Hokutosei and Cassiopeia for three people overseas, but have found it to be nigh on impossible.

Different Japan Rail stations seem to have different ways of doing things when it comes to booking in advance. All require you to be there in person. There is no booking online or by phone. However, some stations require you to there in person at 10:00 a.m. when bookings begin, while others - at least Ueno Station in Tokyo—requires you to apply by 10:00 a.m., and at 10:00 a.m. your application for tickets is processed, in your absence, by station staff in the order your application was received.

Ticket offices at major stations tend to have earlier opening times. For example, Tokyo Station and Ueno stations' Midori no Madoguchi and View Plaza ticket offices open at 5:30 a.m. I therefore went to Ueno Station before 5:30 a.m. to get my application for night train tickets in as early as possible. I am willing to wake up at 4:15 a.m., get dressed, cycle the 15 minutes to Ueno Station to be there around 45 minutes before, i.e. 4:45 a.m., but each time there have always been at least two or three people camped out ahead of me.

I imagine that a similar scene plays out at hundreds of other railway stations throughout Japan every day; so unless you are at the very front of the line and therefore able to get your application processed in the first few seconds after 10:00 o'clock, you fail.

Booking a night train in Japan is extremely difficult, and for the time being I have given up accepting any more orders for such reservations. It requires resigning yourself to a night of little sleep and camping out on in a cavernous concourse on a hard tile floor in front of a closed roller door, and trying not to have to visit the toilet and lose your place to another early bird hopeful.

Read more on the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei trains

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22 Jul
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37
Satsuma Sendai to Sogi no Taki
Thursday November 21st, 2013

After a three month break I am back in Kyushu to continue my walk. This leg will take me from Satsuma Sendai to Kumamoto.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37 Satsuma Sendai to Sogi no Taki

For the first few days I will roughly follow the Sendai River upstream and briefly re-enter Miyazaki. Then its over some mountains and three days following the Kuma River downstream to the coast at Yatsushiro, then directly north to Kumamoto. It's late November, and the fall colors have started where I live, but here in the warmer south they come much later but I am hoping as I get into the mountains I will be rewarded with a fine palette of colors for my photos.

With only a month until the shortest days of the year the days are not very long so I am up well before the sun and make a visit to the main shrine of Sendai, Nitta Shrine. On top of a hill overlooking the river while I am at the shrine the sun comes up. I start to head up river towards the first of today's two pilgrimage temples. I climb up to the embankment from the main road and walk along it. The mist floating over the river starts to thin and burn off.

By lunchtime I reach temple number 46, Hojyoji, a fairly large temple and behind it a set of 88 statues set along a wooded path, a miniature Shikoku pilgrimage.

Walking down the hill along a farm road on my way to join the main road along the river I come across a tanokami - a rice paddy god. The area I am heading in to is famous for tanokami and I'm glad to be able to discover one already.

It's only 8 kilometers to the next temple, Satsumayakushiji, but to reach it I have to leave the river and follow the main road. It's a smaller temple, in a modern concrete building, but there is a small cave with an altar right next to it. Because I am not carrying a Nokyocho, a book for getting temple stamps in, I often don't get to meet the priest, which is sometimes a shame as I can't ask about things.

Sogi no Taki Falls

From here the route heads north east towards Miyazaki, but I am going to take a detour north back to the river to visit Sogi no Taki Falls. The road starts to wind into the mountains, and I pass another tanokami by the side of the road.

Soon the sidewalk disappears and there are a lot of trucks, so when I pass a bus stop that tells me there is a bus in ten minutes I decide to take it. Once I get off the bus there is still a 5 kilometer walk to the waterfalls and the sun is almost to the horizon. I want to get there while it is still light so I can get some photos, so I push myself a little too hard and pull a muscle in my leg.

Grimacing I push on and do in fact reach the falls - often described as "the Niagara of the Orient" - while there is still sunlight. With a bunch of small falls across a 120 meter wide drop in the river, it is pretty enough, but to equate it with the mighty Niagara Falls is a bit much. Like calling a small 100 meter high hill in Wales "the Welsh Mt Fuji". The Japanese seem obsessed with making comparisons.

There is a big park next to the falls, and it is famous for fall colors. Tomorrow is a big festival here so masses of floodlights are being set up to illuminate the trees, along with tents and stages.

I had hoped to sleep in the park but with so much equipment around there is a security cabin set up with 24 hour guards so I must go to plan B. Across the river on a quiet side road is a small shrine. Recently rebuilt on a concrete foundation, it provides a shelf under the overhanging roof where I can lay out my bed for the night.

Once it's dark I see them testing the lighting over in the park so head over and a get a few shots of lit up trees, then time to sleep and try and heal my limping leg.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 36

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9 Jul
Saga City Hotel is located just one minute from the JR Station in Saga City.

Saga City Hotel, Kyushu, Japan
Offering fairly standard rooms with ensuite bathroom and toilet, TV, kettle, fridge, and better than average wifi, the hotel facilities include a large public bath, sauna, coin laundry and beer and soft drink vending machines etc.

There is a restaurant on the first floor where the free, above the norm, buffet breakfast is served.

Saga City Hotel, Saga, Kyushu

Outside the public bath is a large relaxation/entertainment area with massage chairs, video games, library of magazines and manga, large screen TV, vending machines, and wifi. There is free parking for 100 cars.

In the area around the hotel are many restaurants, izakaya, and convenience stores.

Saga City Hotel, Saga, Kyushu

The advertised rate is 4,700 yen for a single room including breakfast. I booked through Rakuten, the online service and the price was 4,500 yen, however when I checked in I received a 1,000 yen discount (not sure why) so paid only 3,500 yen.

The second time I stayed they were running a campaign and got a single room with breakfast plus a fairly decent evening meal for 5,000 yen.

Saga City Hotel
1-7-31 Ekimaechuo
Saga-shi
Saga 840 0801
Tel: 0952 40 0100
Google map of Saga and Saga City Hotel

Other nearby hotels in Saga near JR Saga Station include the Saga Washington Hotel Plaza, the Comfort Hotel Saga, the APA Hotel Saga Ekimae Chuo the Hotel Route Inn Saga Ekimae and the Toyoko Inn Saga Ekimae.

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9 Jul
Deep Kyoto WalksDeep Kyoto: Walks
Amazon e-book
Reviewed by Richard Donovan

As I write in July 2014, the city of Kyoto has just been voted best destination by Travel + Leisure magazine. What underlies such a perennial distinction? Seen in overview, Kyoto is, arguably, not a particularly distinctive or beautiful city. It lacks the architectural integrity of somewhere like Florence, one of its sister cities; it has torn down much of its old domestic and industrial architecture and replaced it with squat concrete blocks. Yet the precincts of its some 1600 temples and 400 shrines, its encircling undeveloped hills, and its bisection by the Kamo River have protected swathes of green and open spaces, allowing the city and its residents to breathe. This, its flatness, and its relative safety make it an eminently walkable city.

But what makes Kyoto a great city is its amazing historical depth, belying this geographical planarity. Residents know these cultural contours remain untraversable to the average tourist, with their mere couple of days in the ancient capital. Many of its ex-pat residents started out as tourists, and never left.

Deep Kyoto: Walks is thus a collective paean to an adoptive city. (Though there are a couple of Japanese contributors, look elsewhere for such a perspective.) Editors Michael Lambe (www.deepkyoto.com) and Ted Taylor, long-time residents and Kyoto-philes, realised that one way to explore Kyoto's hidden depths in written form was to engage their friends and acquaintances to document a favourite city walk. Whether by luck or editorial inducement, the writers have created a patchwork of complementary portraits of 'their' Kyoto that overlap enough to give us two or more viewpoints on iconic aspects of the city, but not so much as to become redundant. A peak that looms in the distance in one piece becomes the focus of the next; an historical figure intertwined with the city's history wanders through different parts of the city, leaving a distinctive legacy in each.

Indeed, the fundamental theme - while lightly trodden in the main - is history: of place, but equally of person. For many authors, the assignment to write about a memorable walk in a favoured city is also a challenge to look back on their own past, and observe how both they and the city have evolved in the intervening period. The dodgy noodle store that sustained an impoverished student may have long ago been replaced by a pink apartment block, and youth by middle age, but traces of both store and student remain and have been recorded for posterity. The city is here a palimpsest of its residents' hearts, and we are invited to peer through the yellowing layers of washi paper.

This e-book is not to be consumed in one sitting, for doing so risks both physical and mental fatigue, as one is dragged down yet another picturesque lane with its inevitably quirky denizens; into the sixteen-hundredth temple, the four-hundredth shrine; through yet another potted history. Taken in moderation, there are many insights to be gained, both for the Kyoto virgin and veteran. My advice would be to read a few pieces in succession, for the editors have generally devised to juxtapose pieces with something in common. Such triangulation not only helps the reader to put things in geographical perspective (along with the helpful appendix of maps for all walks), it also gives one a sense of what it must be like to be part of a foreign community in a self-consciously famous city.

Indeed, there are conflicts in perspective, perhaps the biggest being between the 'progressives' and the 'traditionalists': those who accept, perhaps even welcome, change in the city, and those who bemoan what has been lost and call for the protection of what remains. Pico Iyer, the most famous name among the contributors, appears to occupy the former camp, largely sanguine as he is in the face of the 'modernisation' that has occurred in the decades since he wrote his dreamy love letter to the city, The Lady and the Monk. He has made a name for himself in juxtaposing the incongruities he has encountered around the world, with an easy authority referencing other writers and thinkers from East and West. His relativism challenges us to avoid "reductive dualisms", but here it seems a little tired on his return journey to old haunts in the bustling city centre: his equation of the charms of his favourite convenience store with those of a Zen meditation hall rings rather hollow.

In general, however, this is a collection of fresh, invigorating prose which, while some of it may lack professional polish, makes up for it in enthusiasm and good research. If you have never been to Kyoto, reading it is likely to inspire a longer, lingering visit; if you happen to be lucky enough to live there, then it will get you out the door and exploring a new facet of Japan's 'cultural capital'.

Deep Kyoto: Walks is available from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

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8 Jul
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan Moves to Permit Greater Use of Its Military
New York Times

People love to watch this Japanese politician crying hysterically
Global Post

Olympic runner and WW2 prisoner Louis Zamperini dies
BBC

China rounds on Japan over plan to ease military restrictions
Guardian

Japan hits back at Beijing-Seoul WWII commemoration proposal
Japan Times

NHK Ignores Tokyo Self-Immolation
The Diplomat

Sports, Motherhood, and the Female Body in Contemporary Japan 現代日本におけるスポーツ、母性、女性の身体 Japan Focus

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Statistics

Number of robots, by country, working in industrial jobs in the year 2000 (and 2012).

Germany: 91,184 (161,988)
North America: 89,880 (197,962)
South Korea: 37,988 (138,883)
China: 930 (96,924)
Japan: 389,442 (310,508)
South Africa: 90 (2,586)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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4 Jul
Today I was given a peach from a box of them—a present from another company— passed around in the office this morning. It prompted me to look up the Japanese Wikipedia article on peaches. The following is some of what I found.

Peaches in Japan.A peach in Japan
Peach in Japanese is momo 桃, a word that is said to maybe derive from the phrase mami 真実 or “true fruit,” or from moemi 燃実 or “burning fruit” in reference to its flame-like coloring, or perhaps from the word “one hundred,” 百, one pronunciation of which being “momo,” in reference to the peach tree being highly fructiferous.

The peach is believed to have originated in the highlands at the upper reaches of the Yellow River in north-west China. Peaches reached Europe via the Silk Road in about the 4th century BC. However, archaeological evidence shows that the peach was introduced to Japan over 150 centuries before that. The oldest peach stone found in Japan was unearthed at the Ikiriki remains in Taramicho, Nagasaki prefecture, dating from the early Jomon era (i.e. over 16,000 years old). Archaeological finds dating from since the late Yayoi era show increasingly bigger peach stones, indicating that agricultural varieties of peach were being imported from China.

Peaches in Japan were used not only for food, but had a place in religious rituals as well, having been found buried together with ikuji (amulets consisting of spear-head-shaped slivers of wood) and other ritual objects.

Bitten peach in Japan.Peach with a bitePeaches were highly prized in the Heian to Kamakura eras, but are not believed to have been very sweet, but rather used more for medicinal or ornamental purposes.

Peaches became much more popular in the Edo era, and became available throughout the whole of Japan. And in the following Meiji era, the very sweet suimitsutoh peach from Shanghai was imported and further boosted the popularity of peaches in Japan. Nearly all peaches cultivated in Japan today are descended from the suimitsutoh variety.

The peach, or momo, is a not uncommon theme in Japanese culture. Perhaps the most well-known reference is in the story of Momo-taro (“Peach Taro”) who in one story was a little boy who popped out of a peach that an old childless woman fetched as it floated down the river. Momotaro then went on to fight evil with a band of animal comrades. A variant of the tale is that Momotaro was the offspring of an old couple who were magically restored to youth upon eating a peach, and who celebrated their rejuvenation in a nightlong session during which Momotaro was conceived. Whichever variant, the peach is closely associated with fecundity.

Peach pit in Japan.The last of the peach.The peach is also the topic of a Japanese tongue-twister:
李も桃も桃のうち (momomomomomomomonouchi) or (“A peach and a peach are both kinds of peaches”). Although, strictly speaking, the first kind of “momo” referred to here, written as 李, is not a peach but a Prunus salicina: a kind of plum.

Peaches are a popular summer gift in Japan, and the average gift box of about six peaches will set you back between 3,000 and 6,000 yen—a price you might balk at, but that starts to make sense once you’ve worked your sweet, juicy, messy way to the pit。

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2 Jul
The NHK's 2003 Taiga Drama was the story of the legendary swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi.

Akama Shrine

Based on the novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, the show presented some speculative fiction, but that didn't matter to me at all. This was my first Taiga Drama, and I was completely mesmerized by the action taking place on the screen. After each episode a short travelog aired, showing the historical locations connected to the evening's presentation. These vignettes piqued my interest in the country of Japan.

When my daughter and I traveled to Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture we planned to visit Ganryujima, site of the infamous duel between Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro.

We boarded one of the ferry boats and it first motored over to the waters near Akama Shrine. Founded in 1185, Akama Shrine is dedicated to the young Emperor Antoku, who perished at Dan-no-ura in the last and decisive battle of the Genpei Wars. We had seen the demise of the Heike Clan played out in the NHK's "Yoshitsune" (2005) and "Kiyomori" (2012).

Kamishibai

After pausing briefly at the shrine, the ferry headed for the small island. We disembarked, and as we began walking a man beckoned to us to listen to the story of the duel. While a small group gathered, he sold sticks wound with spun sugar for 100 yen.

He then gave his interesting presentation. If you do not know the story, it is a good idea to stop, sit, and listen, because there is not much to see on the island itself - and then you are able to imagine the duel and the events leading up to it.

Musashi and Kojiro engaged in battle

Later, Amanda and I saw the statue of Musashi and Kojiro engaged in battle, a brief moment in time, literally - for Musashi put away Kojiro with one fell swoop, and then he left the island.

And when we left the island, what did we see? Not a Heike Crab anywhere, but only jellyfish.

Jellyfish

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10 Jul
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 36
Minami Satsuma to Ichiki
Monday August 5th, 2013

I'm up early to an overcast day. On this section of the pilgrimage the temples are far apart, but today I will be visiting one.

I head off through a deserted downtown Kaseda. I pass two railway locomotives. One a smallish steam engine, and the other a diesel. Strange really as there is no railway line here now, but obviously there was one once upon a time.

I've actually lost count of the number of steam engines set up as monuments all over Japan. They seem to be very proud of their railway heritage, and they have every right to be, the railway being one of the contributing factors to Japan's rapid modernization in the late 19th century.

Kaseda steam locomotive
My route follows the main road north and will eventually travel along the coast. It's not particularly busy, which is good as, like so many roads in Japan, there are sections without sidewalks.

My original plan for today was to get as far as Yunomoto, a hot spring resort with plenty of cheap minshuku, and then tomorrow get to the station at Satsuma-Sendai and head home, but last night I heard that friends I haven't seen in a while will be putting on a concert near my home tomorrow evening, so I've decided to really push it today and try to do two days walking in one.

It starts to drizzle. Not a lot of fun, but being wet and sweaty is not as uncomfortable as being wet and cold. The rain becomes showery and I just put my head down and concentrate on covering ground. No time to explore or look around for anything interesting.

The road starts to run along the coast. It might be pretty in the sunlight, but with grey sky and grey water it isn't now. I stop in at a michi no eki and have a break under cover with my pack off. I can see a shrine set in a grove of trees about 500 meters away but can't be bothered to go and explore.

Around the middle of the day the showers ease off a little and I leave the main road and cut through a village to reach pilgrimage temple number 49, Kenzanji.

The driveway leading into the temple has some really nice artwork. Fairly flat blue/grey rocks with pictures of Buddhas etched into them and painted gold. I don't remember seeing any quite like this before. The main hall of the temple is a big surprise. It's a Portakabin....., quite a large one for sure, but still its one of those temporary buildings that are dropped in to building sites.

There does not appear to be any immediate plans for a "proper" hall to be built. Of course there is no reason at all why a temple should have an expensive, architectural marvel. Nothing wrong with humble.

Behind the portakabin are a couple of altars and a small man-made cave containing a Fudo Myo statue painted bright blue. The rocks behind are painted with flames and its quite a quirky thing. The whole place is a little quirky. Nothing wrong with quirky.

Fudo Myo statue painted bright blue

I head off and decide to not go back to the main road but to cut across country roughly following the train line. I pass through Yunomoto and phone the minshuku to cancel my booking. By late afternoon I reach Ichiki and decide that's it. I hop on a train the short distance into Sendai and book into a hotel. That's the end of this 10 day leg.

By a very conservative estimate I've walked 320km during the hottest part of the year, making the grand total somewhere around 1,000km. A good point to stop. I will come back down to Kyushu in the fall when the leaves are turning for the next leg.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35

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3 Jul
今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan’s Historical Blinders: Apology for World War II Sex Slaves Is Again at Issue New York Times

License to boogie? Japan moves to ease its ban on late-night dancing
Global Post

Japan reveals plans to cut corporate tax to below 30%
BBC

Tokyo assemblywoman subjected to sexist abuse from other members
Guardian

Collective defense deal near
Japan Times

The Manga “Oishinbo” Controversy: Radiation and Nose Bleeding in the Wake of 3.11) Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Number of PhDs per 100,000 people by country.

United Kingdom: 323
Germany: 313
USA: 239
South Korea: 236
France: 175
Japan: 124

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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25 Jun
Nokonoshima (能古島) is a small island in the Sea of Japan, accessed by ferry from Meinohama, Fukuoka. A quick 10-minute journey, the ferry departs every hour, on the hour.

Nokonoshima Island, Fukuoka
That Japan is made up entirely of islands fascinates me. I am endlessly wondering what is on this island or that island, how the people live, and what it is like. I have found out a little bit by reading the extraordinary book Doctor Stories from the Island Journals of the Legendary Dr. Koto by Dr. Kenjiro Setoue, and by reading columns by Amy Chavez in The Japan Times. Now I was able to visit one island and see a little bit for myself.

Nokonoshima Island nets, Kyushu, Japan
My daughter and I crossed the water with a small tourist group. As soon as we disembarked, the group headed for a bus stop to parts unknown to us. Suddenly it was very quiet, and only the wind could be heard.

We decided to walk in the opposite direction and see what we could see. Shortly we spotted a small strip of beach and we stepped down to a finely textured sand strewn with shells. We collected a few of these and some lovely pieces of beach glass.

Nokonoshima Island Beach

Continuing our walk, we watched someone silently repairing a fishing net. A nervous feline darted into the brush. Next the road began to run uphill, and if it hadn't been deserted, it probably would have been unwise to be there because the way was quite narrow and twisting.

We could see a beach resort below, far, far away. Originally we had supposed we could walk the perimeter of the island, but we obviously could not, and as we were getting hot and tired, miraculously, a taxi appeared. We rode it back down to the ferry spot and to the mercantile area. I had read about the specialty drink called Nocorita, made from the island's Natsumikan citrus fruit.

Nokonoshima Island

Eager to try it, we did and were not disappointed. The label was so pretty I took the bottle home with me to use as a vase. While we rested and drank, a few cats sidled up beside us and I passed out some cat treats to the friendly creatures.

At this time I wondered if we had chosen the wrong direction to sightsee and we began walking in the opposite direction. We passed a collection of small fishing boats and more cats enjoying the sunshine near the docks.

Then there were houses, but it didn't seem right to go walking through someone's neighborhood, so we returned to the ferry. Nokonoshima is a pleasant place to visit if you like nature and experiencing the sensations of sun, wind, sea, and that wonderful Nocorita.

Nokonoshima Island cats

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24 Jun
Japanese Daisy Chain by Dave WeaverJapanese Daisy Chain by Dave Weaver
Elsewhen Press, paperback, 240 pp.
Reviewed by Richard Donovan

Once there was a woman from Japan who for reasons known only to herself travelled to the exotic heartlands of Surrey and met and married Dave. Dave was enchanted with Japan when they visited together, and, feeling that he now understood the place, decided to write about it. He constructed a series of very short stories with a linking character between each, and the final story looping back to complete the 'daisy chain'. He was a bit shaky on the spelling of advanced Japanese terms like 'kotatsu', but he sent the file to his editor anyway, as he'd said he'd wanted it by Tuesday.

Dave's editor liked to take a hands-off approach to editing - he expected the author's original words to 'speak for themselves', and anyway, he had a huge slush pile of vampire fiction to read through before Monday. So he didn't bother correcting the egregiously large number of basic typos that plagued the text like a band of killer mosquitos on a sultry Kyoto night. Even his paragraph indents were half-hearted.

The printer, too, couldn't care less about whether the words on the page were correct. She had a dozen orders to churn through by Sunday, and also, the editor had instructed her to send out a few of Weaver's print run to the owners of Japan-connected websites. The editor thought they might be good for a review and move some copies for them.

The head of JapanVisitor knew he had a reviewer who enjoyed Japan-related western lit., so he sent the copy on to Richard, who was indeed happy to give it a go. He had a soft spot for people enthusiastic about a subject and with reasonable writing skills who got their work published by a small press and were competing in a market increasingly dominated by the lucky few who were able to make a name for themselves.

Richard felt Dave's first story, set on Mt. Aso, was a rather weak start to the suite with its predictable 'twist', but he did notice that the pacing was good. 'Finding Uncle', about a loser guy who connects through time with a boy trapped under rubble in post-Bomb Hiroshima, was a reasonable if again familiar premise, but ruined by the implausible depiction of the boy's shadow on the wall preserved in the museum: he was either above ground and vaporized in the flash, or buried under the rubble in the basement. It couldn't be both.

However, as he got into the book, Richard found a few pieces that were deftly written and even managed to introduce characters that freshly portrayed an aspect of Japan's culture - like 'The Cop and the Monk', in which a jizo statue comes to life and has a direct line to stillborn and aborted children on his cell phone. Sadly, though, too many stories presented generic portraits that could equally have been plucked from a Western urban setting. The 'hidden world' behind the mundane with which Dave tried hard to inject a coup de frisson into the proceedings came off as sub-Murakami and again not especially 'Japanese'.

Overall, Dave's work, with its interconnected lives and stabs at magic realism, most reminded Richard of Life in the Cul-de-Sac by Senji Kuroi, but the comparison was again invidious. Richard found himself wishing that the God of the Apostrophe, of the Spellcheck, would rise up out of the page and save the text from itself.

Sadly, it was not to be. Richard glanced back at his review. Had he been too harsh, too dismissive? He flicked through the book one more time. His eyes fixed on one word he'd highlighted, and his scowl became similarly set.

No, I think I've been fair, he thought. After all, the author and his apparently absent editor had blasphemed the golden god "Kirrin." And anyway, Richard wanted to fire off the review by Saturday. He had some serious resting to do.

Japanese Daisy Chain is available from Amazon.co.uk in a Kindle edition.

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23 Jun
Hotel AZ is a chain of budget business hotels that until this year were known as Kamenoi Hotel, in fact Googlemaps still have some of them listed as Kamenoi.

Hotel AZ Arao Kumamoto, Kyushu

The original Kamenoi Hotel was in Beppu, Oita, and most of the Hotel AZ chain are in Kyushu, but they are spreading a little on Honshu. They are easy to spot as they are all tan-beige colored with a rainbow arcing over the side of the building.

They are usually located outside the areas where most hotels are clustered in big cities or in towns with few other business hotels. I have stayed at Hotel Az's in Arao in Kumamoto, Iwakuni in Yamaguchi, Takanabe in Oita, and Yahata in Kitakyushu.

Hotel AZ Arao Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

On a recent trip through Nagasaki and Saga I saw 4 newly constructed Hotel AZ's about to open so its seems they are in the midst of a big expansion. An unusual feature of the hotels is that they contain 2 restaurants, one a "family" type like Joyfull, and the other a Japanese restaurant.

This means that even though they are sometimes located away from areas with many eating establishments, you have a choice of what to eat. The family restaurant serves the free buffet breakfast that is included in the room price.

The rooms and amenities are fairly standard, en-suite bathroom, TV, fridge, kettle, internet, laundromat, etc.

Hotel AZ Arao Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

The hotel in Arao also offered free bicycle rental. The price is also standard, 4,800 yen for a single person, though on a couple of occasions I was able to get a bit of a discount by booking through the Rakuten online service.

The chain also seems to be very popular with traveling school sports teams and groups, but this has never caused any inconvenience to me.

Hotel AZ Arao Kumamoto, 958 Manda, Arao, Kumamoto 864-00002

Tel: 0968 65 3301

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24 Jun
今週の日本

Japan News.
Assessing Fukushima Damage Without Eyes on the Inside New York Times

Japan outlaws child porn images - but not in comic books
BBC

Angry Japanese farmers say their animals are poisoned by radiation
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Tokyo assemblywoman subjected to sexist abuse from other members
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Kono apology was tug of war: panel
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Zen Masters on the Battlefield (Part I) Japan Focus

Even If Their Team Loses, Japanese Fans Still Sweep The World Cup NPR


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Statistics

Foreign visitors to Japan in May rose 25.3% from a year before.

The total number of visitors from overseas came to 1,097,200, according to the Japan National Tourist Association.

Chinese visitors came to 165,800. Taiwanese totaled 282,000, and those from Hong Kong were 70,700.

Source: Jiji Press

The US State Department released its annual report on human traficking. Countries are sorted into three tiers based on their level of compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA).

TIER 1 Countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards. TIER 2 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

Examples: Australia, Canada, most of western Europe except for Portugal, South Korea

TIER 2 WATCH LIST Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.

Examples: Cameroon, Jamaica, Japan

TIER 3 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Examples: China, North Korea, Kuwait

Source: US State Department

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20 Jun
自転車

The bicycle has been a very common means of neighborhood transport in Japan from way back. Most towns and cities in Japan are generally flat, making cycling easy.

Homeless person and policeman on bicycles, Asakusabashi, TokyoHomeless man and policeman on bicycles, Asakusabashi, Tokyo
Bicycles in Japan know no boundaries when it comes to the rider's sex, age or economic status. The old lady out shopping, the young mother taking the kids to school, the old man off to get his ciggies, the junior high school team pedaling back from after-school club activities, the elementary school kids with their trainer wheels, the athletic types on their racing bikes in full Lycra, the policeman or policewoman on his or her white rattletrap, with a big box on the back—and then the delivery bikes: courier bicycles and post office delivery bicycles, often towing a trailer, and the traditional food delivery bicycles: stockily built things, ridden by men in white hats and rubber boots, with a special contraption on the back to carry bowls of raamen and the like without them spilling

Lexus cycle, Japan.A Lexus bicycle - the higher of the high end.
Electrically assisted bicycles have become more common over the past decade, and you'll rarely go more than 10 minutes anywhere without encountering one. Snappy little folding bicycles are also becoming increasingly popular in Japan.


Unless they are new, bicycles in Japan can be in pretty poor repair, with unoiled chains, dodgy brakes and at least the beginnings of rust being the norm. The cacophony of horribly squeaky bicycle brakes is a standard part of the Japanese soundscape. Although all bicycles in Japan have gears, people rarely use them. Bicycles are parked often randomly on sidewalks with little thought for pedestrian thoroughfare.

Cycle parking stand in JapanBicycle parking stand in Japan
Bicycles in Japan must be registered against theft, usually at the shop where purchased. Bikes are at risk of being stolen, and should always be locked when left anywhere. They receive an official bicycle registration sticker to identify them in the case of their being stolen—unless of course the thief has removed the sticker.

When it comes to power relations between vehicles, Japan has a hierarchy based on vulnerability: if in any doubt, the bigger gives way to the smaller. Therefore, in situations where who should give way to whom isn't clear, motorcycles and four-wheeled vehicles give way to bicycles, and bicycles give way to pedestrians.

Cyclists in Japan often cycle on the wrong side of the road with impunity, making for a hazard especially at night. Occasionally a crazy cyclist coming down the street the wrong way will want to play chicken with you. Don't budge. He will swerve away at the last split second. Many cyclists have no lights on their bike. Helmets and vivid-colored safety clothing are worn by a minority.

Heavily loaded delivery bicycle in Japan.Heavily laden delivery bicycle, Tokyo
The reason there are so few bicycle accidents in Japan is that people are mutually indulgent and ready to give way.

Taxis are probably the biggest menace to the cyclist in Japan. Taxis are liable to suddenly brake and stop if flagged down, so don't follow them too closely. And never cycle between a stopped taxi and the kerb, unless you want a collision with a suddenly swung open back door letting a passenger on or off. Taxis in Japan are also notorious for not staying between the lines demarking lanes in their desire to be as close to the kerb as possible to pick up prospective fares.
A post office delivery bicycle pulling a trailer.Post office delivery bicycle with trailer
Old men on bicycles are infamous for ringing their bells indiscriminately—so don't do it unless you want to be branded an "ojisan."

Cyclists in Japan generally get away with running red lights. This is dangerous, and I have a friend who has twice knocked over a pedestrian by doing this. He escaped prosecution only by the skin of his teeth—probably only because he injured himself more badly than he did the pedestrian.

Always wear a helmet. I have another friend who spent 6 months in hospital with a broken neck. He was cycling home at normal plodding speed during the daytime back from the supermarket and in a fluke moment of inattention collided with a lamppost. He said he would not have broken his neck if he had been wearing a helmet.

Local bicycle of a restaurant in a Japanese city.Local food shop bicycle
Buy a seat that is fixed to the pole with screws, not the kind that comes off by pulling open a lever-style clip. My saddle was stolen twice before I changed to one that required a screwdriver to remove.

Don't park your bicycle in front of shuttered shops, especially at night. Often the shopkeeper lives upstairs and will remove it.

But do cycle in Japan as much as you can. It beats taking the train (literally in my case: 25 minutes to work door-to-door by bike, 35 minutes by train). It gives you a better idea of what's happening in town. And it's good for you. Just ride safely!

Bicycle parking in Japan

Bicycles in Japan


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18 Jun
Did you learn Japanese so you could read manga? At first, that was why my daughter enrolled in the Japanese School at the local Buddhist temple.

Meikido of Fukuoka

It didn't take long, however, until Amanda developed a keen interest in Japan, its history, and its culture - which I inherited. She spent five years at the school and loved every minute. If you can read Japanese manga and you like doujinshi, we have some information too good to keep to ourselves. In the past, we have visited a wonderful doujinshi store in Kanazawa. On our most recent trip to Japan, we found another AMAZING place to shop.

Meikido of Fukuoka

Meikido is a doujinshi store located in the Tenjin Ward of Fukuoka city. Take the subway to Tenjin and leave via exit #1. Meikido sells both new and used doujinshi. The stock is enormous and there are full shelves of doujinshi arranged carefully by series and category. Initially awestruck, Amanda spent a very long time inspecting and then purchasing a large number of very reasonably priced items. I sat on a pink step stool and unintentionally fell asleep - that jet lag!

If you cannot get to Fukuoka you can shop online at their website: www.meikido.com/sg2/index.php.

An English website is available at www.meikido.com/english or contact us to make an order for you and ship to your address for a small commission.

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30 Jun
A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35
Ei to Chiran
Sunday August 4th, 2013

It's an overcast day as I head off. My first stop is to explore the gardens in Chiran's samurai district, 7 small zen-style gardens in private houses. It's not yet 7am, and the gardens don't open until 9.

The atmospheric old street lined with stone walls is deserted, and I am delighted to discover that the houses with the gardens don't actually have gates or doors that need opening, so I can just step inside and take some pictures without paying the entrance fee.

Samurai district in KasedaSamurai district in KasedaOn my way out of Chiran town I stop in at the main shrine at the edge of town. It's interesting enough, but then in a building alongside the irrigation canal that runs along the edge of the shrine grounds I discover something completely unexpected, karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls.

Produced since the 17th century, these dolls, sometimes powered by springs, sometimes clockwork, were very popular. What we have here at this shrine is a whole animated tableau of demons and characters in a landscape, and what is most interesting of all is that it is powered by water.

Behind the building is a small waterwheel in the irrigation channel that powers the whole thing. Unfortunately it is only activated once a year. I head off towards the coast and Minami Satsuma, my destination for the day. I do not have any expectations of seeing much interesting today. I did some research before I left, studying maps, googling, etc and there seems to be little of note until I reach Minami Satsuma.

As I approach Kawanabe, the only town of any size on the route, the maps shows a sharp dog leg ahead so I decide to take the diagonal and cut across through the low lying area of rice paddies, and I'm glad I did.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 35 Chiran to Minami Satsuma

Approaching the edge of town I discovered a most unusual building. It's a big barn, constructed out of huge logs, but not straight logs, rather gnarly and twisted. Not only that, but the huge root balls are left. Some of the "posts" holding up the building are almost 2 meters wide. It look as if a giant has ripped out ancient trees from a primeval forest and crudely stacked them to make a shelter.

Many small roofs have been built overlapping each other. I really have never seen anything like it and try to imagine how it was built. To say it was quirky would be an understatement.

I carry on down the road towards Kaseda, the name of the town that the modern administrative city of Minami Satsuma is centered on. I stop in at a uniquely Japanese vending experience, a roadside collection of machines selling sex dvds, dildos, lingeries, etc.

Sex DVD vending machine

Often these places will be found near rural love hotels, but I've seen none of those today. Hidden behind corrugated steel walls, lights flicker on as you enter the darkness. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of easy internet access such places can make a profit, but I've seen enough of them to suggest that they do.

It's early afternoon when I get into Kaseda so as I have time I head south to visit the old samurai district. Like Chiran, it was one of the samurai settlements scattered all over the domain in flagrant violation of the Tokugawa edicts stipulating that all samurai must reside in the single domainal castle town.

Unlike Chiran there is not too much to see, some walls, gates, a statue or two. Across the main road is a big shrine. Sitting around a picnic table in the park next door is a group of retired gentlemen wearing armbands.

They give me some pamphlets. The shrine enshrines Shimazu Tadayoshi, a 16th century daimyo who retired to Kaseda. He is remembered as one of the great Shimazu lords, and the wooded, hillside park next to the shrine has a series of his poems carved in stone monuments.

I chat with the old guys, who are members of some sort of Tadayoshi appreciation and promotion society, before wandering into the sedate downtown area to find my hotel. Also like Chiran, Kaseda was home to a kamikaze air base, but the museum for it is a little too far out of town for me to get to.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 34

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