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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto


The luxury, 5-star Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto near the Okazaki museum district of the ancient capital is one of the best hotels in Kyoto.

Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto.

Facilities include two outdoor swimming pools, a tennis court, running track, fitness center, sauna and spa. The Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto offers guests several dining options including Japanese, Chinese and international fusion.

The rooms come equipped with flat screen TV, air-conditioning and mini bar.

Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto.

Keage is a station on the Tozai Line of the Kyoto subway one stop east of Higashiyama Station and one stop west of Misasagi Station.

Keage Station is also close to Kyoto Zoo (hence the colorful elephant murals in the station), Nanzenji Temple, Eikando, Kyoto International Community House, Murin-an Garden and the free and fun Lake Biwa Canal Museum.

Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto
Awada Chika-cho 1, Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto 605-0052

Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

LGBT-friendly magazine "Oriijin" launch party


Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending the LGBT-friendly Oriijin Magazine Launch Party in Tokyo. Oriijin is, as the name of the event suggests, a brand new magazine that is being marketed as "LGBT-friendly," i.e., targeted at LGBT people and their allies.

First edition of Oriijin オリイジン a new LGBTQ-friendly magazine for Japan.
Orijiin - a new LGBTQ-friendly magazine for Japan.
The venue was a new space in Hirakawacho, Chiyoda ward, called Space 0 (Space Zero), on the basement floor of the Grid Building. This spacious, high-ceilinged venue has a chic vibe and even serves craft beer.

The entry fee included a complimentary copy of the very first Oriigin magazine and a free drink. I sat down with my drink and magazine, but hadn't browsed far before I got talking to another participant, a member of the Fruits in Suits group that was organizing the event.

After half an hour or so, at about 7:30pm, the event got underway.

Diamond Publishing is the first mainstream publishing company in Japan to publish an LGBT-aligned magazine, and a representative of the company was there to say a few words for the occasion.

Oriijin launch party - the discussion panel is introduced.
Discussion panel at Oriijin launch party, in Space Zero, Chiyoda, Tokyo.

This was followed by a panel discusion began, comprising Morinaga Takahiko, President of the Japan LGBT Research Institute. Inc., Koizumi Shintaro, President of SK Travel Consulting, an LGBT-friendly travel company, and Goto Junichi, Editor of the Sexual Minorities and Homosexuality Guide and Editor of the LGBT Information Portal Website g-lad xx. The buzz was great between these very accomplished players on Japan's LGBT scene - and English speakers among the crowd were kept fully abreast of everything thanks to the very switched on Japanese-English interpreting of Fruits in Suits organizer, Loren Sykes.

The 40-minute or so panel chat was followed by a Q&A-cum-sharing session that warmed up over time.

The first issue of Oriijin magazine is a glossy, 128-page affair with lots of big, mainstream advertisers. The title-theme for this first edition is "Living in the Age of the Heart and Diversity" (the "heart" having the meaning of the thing to be followed, as opposed to social norms).

Grid building, where the Oriijin launch party took place in Space 0 on the B1 floor.
Grid Building, Hirakawacho, Tokyo, where the Oriijin launch party took place

The articles span everything from biographical profiles of well-known LGBT figures in Japan, to social analysis, personal philosophy, fiction, political updates and commentary (e.g., an overview of the increasing number of moves by local authorities in Japan to secure the rights of LGBT residents) and just a touch of froth in the form of an astrology page near the end. It is a good-looking magazine with a lot of very solid content that is sure to help forge a new path for LGBT rights in Japan.

Incidentally the name Oriijin is "nijiiro" ("rainbow colors") spelt backwards.

Oriijin is on sale in mainstream bookshops throughout Japan, and sells for 980 yen. Here's wishing this brand new LGBT magazine a long and bright future.

Read more about gay Japan.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Japan News This Week 26 March 2017


Japan News.
For Japan’s Hitting-Hurling Double Threat, a Complex Path to the Majors
New York Times

Japan's oldest cartoons shown to mark 100 years of anime

Shinzo Abe and wife accused of giving cash to ultra-nationalist school

Amid THAAD row, China overtakes Japan in poll of South Korea’s least-liked countries
Japan Times

Towards an Asia-Pacific ‘Depopulation Dividend’ in the 21st Century: Regional Growth and Shrinkage in Japan and New Zealand
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The latest World Happiness Report was issued. Here are the top ten (happiest) countries, plus three East Asian nations.

1. Norway
2. Denmark
3. Iceland
4. Switzerland
5. Finland
6. Netherlands
7. Canada
8. New Zealand
9. Australia
10. Sweden

51. Japan
56. South Korea

79. China

Source: World Happiness Report

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Kaneru - Doubling Up and Holding Back


The word kaneru in Japanese is a particularly tricky one for learners because, firstly, it has two very different meanings, and, secondly, with one of those meanings it is usually used in the negative, but with what in English we would call a "positive" meaning, and, when used in the positive, has a "negative" meaning. Confused already? Wait around - we'll get to it in a bit.

The most simple and straightforward of kaneru's meanings is "to double up," "combine," "be concurrent," "serve two different purposes," or "do two things, simultaneously."

The kanji itself for kaneru suggests this doubleness, twinness, in its shape, being very nearly vertically symmetrical. Its main radical is hachi, 八, the kanji for 8, which itself is symmetrical.

This meaning is usually expressed using the onyomi, which is ken. For example, a study (shosai) that also serves as a bedroom (shinshitsu) is a shosai-ken-shinshitsu - the ken sounding similar to the cum we would use in English: a study-cum-bedroom.

As a verb, kaneru, expresses this multiple-use meaning in such phrases as Risoteki na shigoto wa shumi to jitsueki o kaneru 理想的な仕事は趣味と実益を兼ねる "The ideal job combines pastime and profit."

However, the same kaneru is used to express a completely different meaning - that of reluctance, hesitation, refusal, inability. It is often tacked onto the end of another verb to express this meaning. For example, Sore wa iikanemasu それは言いかねます。"I'm reluctant to say/I can't say/I'd rather not say." Or, Miru ni mikanete, tetsudatte shimatta. 見るに見かねて手伝ってしまった。"I couldn't just stand by and watch, so went and helped out."

Note that in the above examples, kaneru is tacked onto the base form of the preceding, main, verb. The "ii" in "iikanemasu" is from "iu" (say), and the "mi" in "mikaneru" is from "miru" (see, look, watch).

The opposite of kaneru is the negative form, kanenai - and this is what I was referring to at the beginning - the point where it can start feeling non-intuitive. If kaneru expresses reluctance or inability, then kanenai expresses possibility or likelihood.

It parallels, say, the word "unrestrained" in English, where the addition of "un" actually signals letting it all hang out, throwing caution to the wind, and opening up all sorts of possibilities.

Ano onna wa gekido mo shikanenai. あの女は激怒もしかねない。 "That woman is likely to explode (prone to exploding) in anger." The "shi" tacked on before "kanenai" is the root of suru, "to do." Or, Ano kaisha wa jiko ni narikanenai erebeta o shiyo shiteiru. あの会社は事故になりかねないエレベーターを使用している。"That company is using an elevator that could well cause an accident."

So, remember that although kanenai, with its negative "nai" ending sounds like something not happening, it means that something is liable or likely to happen.
Mou kanenai no bunpo o wakatte ite mo, kaiwa suru toki ni machigai shikanenai. もう「兼ねない」の文法をわかっていても、会話するときに間違いしかねないだろう。 "Even though I now understand the grammar of kanenai,  I'm still likely to get it wrong in conversation."

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ankake Spaghetti


Ankake is a type of thick, sticky Chinese sauce used in noodle dishes that has been adapted to produce Ankake spaghetti, a signature dish of the Nagoya area.

Ankake Spaghetti.

The spaghetti is pan-fried and topped with onions, green peppers and wiener sausages. The sauce is tomato-based.

Ankake spaghetti has spread from the Chubu area to other cities in Japan and there are even Ankake restaurants overseas now. Varieties include vegetable-only toppings (kantori) or meat, sausage or bacon (miraneze). A mix of vegetables and meat is known as mirakan.

Ankake Spaghetti.

The dish was pioneered by Yokoi, a major Ankake chain based in Sakae, with outlets all over Nagoya including the one below in Nagoya Kitte Building near Nagoya Station.

See the Yokoi website for details.

Ankake Spaghetti, Nagoya.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kyoto Trams


Kyoto once had an extensive system of streetcars (trams) up until the 1970's when they were torn up and largely replaced by Kyoto city buses, which before had complemented the trams.

The Kyoto tram network covered an area as far north as Kitaoji Street and as far south as Toji Temple with a line to Fushimi (the first to be built). It extended west as far as Nishioji and as far east as Higashioji and Ginkakuji. (See the old tram map below for routes). At its peak in 1957, the Kyoto tram network covered 76.8km in total with 163 stations.

Old Kyoto Tram Map.

The Kyoto city tram network was the first such in Japan and began operation in 1895 as part of Kyoto's efforts to reinvent itself following the Japanese emperor's departure to the new capital in Tokyo. It was powered by renewable and clean hydro-electric power generated by the opening of the new Lake Biwa Canal.

The Kyoto city authorities have toyed with the idea of bringing back the trams, which would no doubt be a hit with the city's millions of visitors, but such an outcome is unlikely, unfortunately, such is the dominance of the car in contemporary Japanese cities.

However, the nearest thing to a tram left in Kyoto is the Keifuku Line (Randen) out to Arashiyama.

Kyoto Tram in Okazaki.

Visitors to the Okazaki museum area near Heian Shrine can still see a Kyoto tram, which has been converted into a Tourist Information Center, which has brochures on Okazaki in particular and Kyoto in general.

Kyoto Tram in Okazaki.

The tram is adjacent to Kyoto Prefectural Library and close to both Miyako Messe and the National Museum of Modern Art.

Kyoto Tram in Okazaki.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Keage Station


Keage is a station on the Tozai Line of the Kyoto subway one stop east of Higashiyama Station and one stop west of Misasagi Station.

Keage Station, Kyoto.

Keage Station is located very close to the luxury Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto, Kyoto Zoo (hence the colorful elephant murals in the station), Kyoto International Community House, Murin-an Garden and the free and fun Lake Biwa Canal Museum.

Keage Station, Kyoto.

Keage Station is also the nearest subway station to a number of temples including Nanzenji and Eikando.

Previously Keage Station was a station on the Keihan Keishin Line, which now starts from Misasagi Station to Hamaotsu.

Keage Station, Kyoto, Japan.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Japan News This Week 19 March 2017


Japan News.
Shinzo Abe Hurt by New Disclosures Over Ties to Extreme Right-Wing Group
New York Times

Fukushima: Japan court finds government liable for nuclear disaster

Fukushima to host Tokyo Olympics events to help recovery from nuclear disaster

Seeing Ainu as they want to be seen
Japan Times

The “Japan Is Great!” Boom, Historical Revisionism, and the Government
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


There were more online human rights abuses in 2016 than in the previous year. The abuses totaled 1,909, which is a record and 10% more than in 2015.

The largest number of online abuses were related to privacy violations. The next highest category was defamation.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Nosy or Conscientious? A Japanese Bank Gets My Hackles Up


I went to the bank today - one of the banks I have an account with - to withdraw a sizeable sum of money. This account was with the Mitsui-Sumitomo Banking Corporation (SMBC), and is an account that was basically forced on me by the company I work for, as SMBC is its bank, and it wants to keep bank transfer fees to a minimum when paying its staff - a common practice of companies in Japan.

Marunouchi branch of Sumitomo-Mitsui Banking Corporation.
Marunouchi Branch, SMBC
I have accounts with about five banks in Japan. They've accrued over the years mostly for the same reason as I got my SMBC one. But if I had to choose my least favorite Japanese bank, SMBC would be it for the simple reason that most of the old security guys who stand around the entrance of the bank pretty much ignore you if you don't look Japanese. While Japanese-looking customers at SMBC get the hearty Irrashaimase ("Welcome!") on entering and the Arigato gozaimashita ("Thank you very much!") on leaving, I (not being a Japanese-looking customer) usually get silence and looking the other way. It's just one of those things you notice, especially when all the other banks deliver the same rote greeting whether you're Japanese-looking or not.

Anyway, I went to the Marunouchi branch of SMBC today to make a withdrawal of just under a million yen as I had to top up an account we have in another bank for our mortgage repayments. I tried withdrawing it at the branch's ATM, but the amount was too high so I had to do it through a teller.

I was given a simple form to fill in: my name and the amount, and a number which would be called when my turn came. I was called up after a couple of minutes and I told the teller what I wanted to do. I handed her the form, my passbook and my bank card. She asked me if I had my inkan (personal seal). I said no, so she told me that my PIN would do instead. She also asked me for some form of ID, so I handed over my recently minted My Number card - which is the new form of universal ID in Japan.

She stared at my documents for at least a minute. And, sure, my documents must seem odd for a lot of people, as I am am a foreign-born, Causasian Japanese citizen with a Japanese (kanji) surname and a katakana first name. Anyway, she got me to enter my PIN and set about getting my money ready.

At the same time I noticed a guy at the next teller also making a withdrawal. If you think one million yen is a lot of money, then the amount he was withdrawing was whopping - great bricks of notes that were stuffed into a huge envelope that he took away with him.

Back to my teller... she updated my passbook and gave it back to me along with my bank card and My Number card. Then, as she handed me the envelope full of my cash, she passed over at the same time a pamphlet that warned against fraud, in particular the "Ore, ore!" telephone fraud that is often perpetrated against very elderly people by young men pretending to be sons, grandsons, or nephews - "Ore, ore!" being a very intimate way of saying "It's me, it's me!".

All the same, this was a first for me, and I didn't really make the connection between the transaction I was engaged in and "Ore, ore!" telephone fraud. I gave it a cursory look and replied "No" when she asked me if anyone had called me recently trying to get money out of me. This had nothing to do with me, and I wanted to get moving because it was my lunchtime and time was tight. But she wouldn't give up with the questions, and she then asked me what I was going to use the money for. Kaimono ka nanika desu ka? ("Is it for shopping or something?"). I said back, voice somewhat raised Nande kiite irun desu ka? ("Why am I being asked this?") to which she replied something about fraud having been on the increase recently.

Fraud? I being the one with the money in my hand - and not having been defrauded at all - it felt like a clear, but profoundly puzzling, expression of suspicion directed at me. The Japanese guy next along who had withdrawn the huge sum of cash hadn't been handed a pamphlet about fraud or been asked what he was intending to use his cash for. All my foreigner hang-ups surfaced. They surfaced like a desperate man gasping for air, or like flatulence in dirty bathwater: disturbed, unhappy and unsavory. I strode out impatiently.

I walked the next few blocks to the other bank to deposit the cash wearing a forced smile to prevent me looking like the disgruntled, offended, hurting "gaijin" that I was feeling like.

On the way back to work, the feeling of victimization kept coming back, so the only thing for it was to let off some steam. I called the free-dial number on my SMBC bankbook and, after two minutes of navigating through the automated responses, I got a human on whom I unloaded my frustrations, relating the story with more irateness than politeness.

SMBC in Marunouchi, Tokyo, Japan.

She said she'd put me through to the branch where the incident happened. The muzak while I waited went on and on and on. "Are they hoping I'll hang up?" - my gaijin paranoia was in full swing. Eventually another woman came to the phone, and it was just as well the muzak had lasted as long as it had, because it had lulled me somewhat into placidity.

I told her my story fairly dispassionately, emphasizing the fact that the guy beside me had escaped all nosy questioning. The bank employee was professional and personable, and explained that asking questions about the intended use of money withdrawn is for the purpose of trying to ensure that customers have not being victims of fraud. If, for example, I had said "Because my nephew apparently suddenly needs a double tonsillectomy at the Hilton Hotel," warning bells would ring. She also explained why the guy beside me wasn't asked any questions, saying that regular customers, especially with business accounts, are well known at the branch.

I was as honest with her as I could be, explaining that as a foreign-looking Japanese I was particularly finely tuned to what I perceived as unfair treatment, which she seemed to appreciate, and said she would be bringing up the matter at the next seminar they have on the topic.

The only thing that still sticks in my craw is the nosiness of the question "What will the money be used for?" It's my hard-earned, and the bank's job is to keep it safe until I want it, and not quiz me on why I want it back. If I'm helpless enough to have been convinced to withdraw it for purposes that are not in my interests, is it really the bank's job to try and rescue me? And even if it is, do I really come across as so helpless that I need checking up on? I'm 54, not 14 or 104.

However, even then I may not be being all that reasonable. Talking to my workmates about it today and my partner about it this evening, they all say they are nearly always asked by the teller about what the funds they're withdrawing will be used for. The charitable interpretation is that they often sound out customers so as to be more aware of customers' needs, and to be able to offer appropriate services where they can. My partner he says he always tells them and is never the worse for it.

Morals of the story? 1. Don't be a paranoid foreigner. Chill! 2. If you really want privacy when it comes to how you use your hard-earned, the ATM and the underside of your mattress are your friends.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Furukawa-cho Shotengai


The Furukawa-cho arcade (shotengai) is right at exit 1 of Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line of the Kyoto subway.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai, Kyoto.

The arcade itself dates from 1963 but the shopping street goes back to the Edo Period and earlier, serving pilgrims on their way to Chion-in Temple, Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine to the south.

The recent explosion of foreign visitors to Kyoto has meant two former mansion (apartment) buildings and a traditional machiya townhouse on the arcade have been converted into guesthouses popular with Asian travelers from China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore in particular.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai, Kyoto, Japan.

These are Hostel Haruya Kyoto, Guesthouse Oki's Inn and Hotel Japaning Kyoto. The more upmarket Kyoto Miyabi Inn is just nearby on the banks of an attractive canal.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai has a mix of traditional shops selling fruit and vegetables, meat and household articles as well as a new craft beer bar, Beer Komachi and some excellent restaurants such as Kyogohan Nishimura, Furukawacho Manryo, Kyoto Nakasei Nikuzuki and Miyutei Kitchen.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai, Kyoto.

You are guaranteed a friendly welcome as you stroll this traditional arcade (more so if you buy something or enter an eatery!)

Higashiyama Station is one stop east of Sanjo Keihan Station (the interchange station with the Keihan Line) and one stop west of Keage Station.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai, Kyoto.

Higashiyama Station is located at the south west corner of the Okazaki museum district and this is the closest station to the area. It is about 10-15 minutes walk to Heian JinguKyoto Prefectural LibraryKyoto Municipal Museum of Art and on the same (west) side as Miyako Messe and the National Museum of Modern Art.

Furukawa-cho Shotengai (in Japanese)

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