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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46 Matsubase to Kumamoto City

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

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

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

Matsubase to Kumamoto City, Kyushu, Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46 Matsubase to Kumamoto City.

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 45

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Shore At Ako Hyogo


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

Ako Castle. Ako, Hyogo, Japan.

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

Roped off beach at Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

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

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

The Shore At Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Japan News This Week 23 November 2014


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

Japan PM Shinzo Abe dissolves parliament for election

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

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

Agent Orange in Okinawa
The Diplomat

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

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Tax revenues as a percentage of GDP.

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

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

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

Source: New York Times

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Bar Haru Restaurant, French Cuisine in Kojimachi Tokyo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Donovan

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 45 Yatsushiro to Matsubase

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

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

Flat paddy fields in Kumamoto in November.

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

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

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

Brilliant yellow of a ginkgo tree in Kyushu.

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

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

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

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

Shiranui Culture Plaza, Kumamoto Artpolis, Kyushu

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

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

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 44

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anti-Nuclear Tent Hiroba in Tokyo

テント広場 東京

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Miyamoto Mimasaka Okayama

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

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

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

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

Signs pointing the direction to Miyamoto related sites.

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

Black snake probably aodaisho.

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

Statue of Miyamoto Musashi.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Japan News This Week 16 November 2014


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

Japan: Train fans experience super-fast maglev speed

The foodie traveller … Japan goes gooey for proper pizza

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

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

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

In Tokyo, Following Elders to Bargains
New York Times

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

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

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

Source: Japan News

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Shopping Online for Clothes in Japan

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

Shopping for Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com

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

Shopping for Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com

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

Shopping for Ladies Clothes in Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com

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

Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.

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

Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.

Online shopping from Japan with GoodsFromJapan.com.

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