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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Japan News This Week 25 September 2016


Japan News.
Japan’s Newest Technology Innovation: Priest Delivery
New York Times

Is the Bank of Japan running out of options?

World's oldest fish-hooks found on Okinawa, Japan

Calls to abolish death penalty grow louder in Japan

Number of foreign visitors to Japan sets August record of 2.04 million
Japan Times

Spying on Muslims in Tokyo and New York — “Necessary and Unavoidable”?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Use of agricultural chemicals, by country, per area (i.e., amount sprayed by country X per/hectare), in 2010:

1) China: 18 kg/hectare
2) South Korea: 14+kg/hectare
3) Japan: 13+kg/hectare
4) Holland: 8-9 kg/hectare
5) Italy: 7+kg/hectare
6) Germany: 3+kg/hectare
7) France: 3+kg/hectare*
8) United Kingdom: 3 kg/hectare
9) USA: 2+kg/hectare

Until 2003, Japan was far and away the greatest user of agricultural chemicals. For example, in 1990, Japan used 20+kg/hectare, while the USA used 2 kg/hectare. The second greater user (abuser) of chemicals was Italy, which sprayed 16 kg/hectare in 1990. By 2004, however, China began to use chemicals heavily, and in 2007 was the the number one user of chemicals.

*Data for France is from 2009.

Source: Faostat

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Guest House Kioto


As the number of foreign tourists increases in Kyoto, quite a few residents of the ancient capital are developing their traditional machiya properties into guest houses advertised on Airbnb and hotel booking sites.

Guest House Kioto, Kyoto.

Guest House Kioto close to Senbon Shakado Temple and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one such traditional property offering four guest rooms with either futons or beds, as well as a dormitory room with beds. The property is located in the narrow streets of the Kamishichi-ken geisha district.

The name Kioto is a clever play on words as the kanji character for ki is wood and oto is sound. There's a common area with WiFi where guests can mingle and a breakfast is served in the living room with a view of the inner garden.

Kyoto buses #10, #50, #51, #55, #59, #101, #102, #201 and #203 all stop nearby on Imadegawa Dori. Buses #6, #10, #46, #50, #55, #59, #201 and #206 stop on Senbon Dori.

Guest House Kioto map.
Click to expand the map

Guest House Kioto
602-8319 Kyoto
Mizomae-cho 100
Tel:075 366 3780

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mizuhiki-zaiku decorative paper cords


Mizuhiki (binding twine or paper cord decorations) were first developed and used in Kyoto in the Heian period (794-1185). They were originally used as a kind of hair decoration for members of the imperial family and court. Later in the Muromachi period (1333-1568), mizuhiki began to be used as a kind of gift wrapping, featuring red cords on the right and white cords on the left.

They came into common use in the Meiji period (1868-1912) as kind of decoration for weddings, funerals and other important life events. Both the gift wrapping and ceremonial decorative form continue to be used today. Highly professional skills and long experience is needed to make these decorations well and quickly. Kyoto has always been and continues to be the leading center for mizuhiki.

Decorative rittai-kazari mizuhiki
There are two basic kinds of mizuhiki. The first is the two-dimensional decorative binding twine, called hira-kazari, which is placed around thick, white washi paper money envelopes for weddings, celebrating the birth of a child, and funerals. The second kind are the elaborate and often brightly colored three-dimensional rittai-kazari, based on animal or plant designs, which are generally used only for weddings.

A hira-kazari mizuhiki and envelope for a wedding.
A hira-kazari mizuhiki and envelope for a wedding
The process of making mizuhiki begins by twisting Japanese washi paper into strings. The strings are then bound fast together with rice glue, and either dyed, or wrapped with gold and silver leaf or silk threads, according to the intended use. Finally, the strings are cut to the appropriate length, and woven into their final form. Though most of these processes are performed by machines today, the weaving of the actual decoration, which involves a wide rage of complex folds, bends, twists and loose knots, is still done exclusively by hand.

A hira-kazari mizuhiki for a funeral in Japan.
A hira-kazari mizuhiki for a funeral in Japan
If you are interested in seeing the wonders of mizuhiki, visit any Japanese paper craft shop, or ask for them at major department stores. You can also find envelopes with mizuhiki attached at any convenience store (red and white for celebrations; black and white for funerals).

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking

Karan koron, karan koron, this is the Japanese sound of someone walking down the street in geta, or traditional wooden clogs. For the Japanese this is a nostalgic sound, that conjures up images of people wearing yukata (informal cotton kimono) and enjoying the relaxed ambience of night-time summer festivals.

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking

Footwear plays an interesting role in daily Japanese life as a way of marking the transition between different kinds of interior and exterior spaces. For example, before entering a house, outside shoes are removed in the genkan. After stepping into the interior family space, inside slippers are put on. And before using the rest room one takes off the inside house slippers and puts on a special pair of "bathroom slippers".

One classic error of foreign guests is to forget to change back to the regular slippers after leaving the rest room. This situation, of wearing the bathroom slippers into other rooms, represents bringing something unclean into a clean area and provokes either laughter or disgust, depending on the host family. So strong are the divisions between spaces, articulated by changes in footwear, that if a person leaves the house in a hurry, laces up their shoes, and then remembers a forgotten item, rather than step on the interior floor in their outside shoes they will crawl on their hands and knees, with their feet held up high to retrieve the forgotten item.

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking.

Nor are these delineations limited to personal space. An American journalist, giving birth to a baby in Tokyo, was issued a pair of slippers when she was admitted to the hospital in labor, and was required to change to slippers of another color when she entered the delivery room. Special shoes for specific situations are also part of the cultural picture.

While I was living in a mountain village, I watched a bride dressed in a wedding kimono and wearing very high wedge sandals bid a formal farewell to her neighbors. When she finished she walked away slowly, assisted by a woman on each arm. A crowd of village woman walked behind her. "When you got married, was it like this?" I asked one of them. "Oh, yes, just like this I needed help to walk. Oh those shoes!"

Walking through the Gion entertainment area in Kyoto you may catch a glimpse of a geisha. Take a look at her feet. If she is wearing very high clogs, she is an apprentice geisha or maiko. This custom dates from the period when apprentices were children, and wore tall shoes to add to their height. Nowadays, maiko are young women, who walk gracefully and unassisted in high clogs.

Sandals and pretty feet of a young girl in yukata.

Shoes are also connected to Japanese beliefs about health. Older people have pointed out to me that walking in geta or backless sandals requires the wearer to flex the foot with each step just to keep the footwear from falling off. This repeated flexing is thought to contribute to good health, and some believe that wearing Western shoes (which do not require this muscular movement) is less healthy. A contemporary approach to the health and footwear issue can be seen in slippers featuring inside soles covered with beige plastic nodules. Positioned to stimulate health-promoting pressure points, the nodules produce sensory stimulation to mild pain, depending on the wearer.

Buying traditional Japanese footwear: These shops sell geta for about ¥2,000: Kyoto Handicraft Center, Tel: 075 761 7000. Nakatsuji, Tel: 075 492 0436. Oshima in Nishiki market, Tel: 075 221 3473. For wooden sandals with indigo fabric trim (from about ¥3,000): Yamato Mingeiten, Tel: 075 221 2641.

*If you would like to purchase geta from any of these stores please contact our sister site GoodsFromJapan

Written by Anne Overton and edited by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Japan News This Week 18 September 2016


Japan News.
Opposition Figure’s Rise Could Pave Way for Female Leaders in Japan
New York Times

Japan half-marathon runners stir up hornets' nest

Japanese centenarians' honorary gifts hit by austerity as numbers soar

High court rules Okinawa governor’s order to stop U.S. base work ‘illegal’
Japan Times

The Return of the Outcast(e) Map: Kobe, Cartography and the Problem of Discrimination in Modern Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


According to a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 70% of unmarried men and 60% of unmarried women in Japan between the ages of 18 - 34 are not in a relationship.

The percentage for men is the highest since such surveys began in 1987.

In addition, around 42 percent of the men and 44.2 percent of the women admitted they were virgins.
Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gay in Nagoya? All hope not quite lost

名古屋 ゲイ

Sun Set Cafe, gay bar in Nagoya.
Sun Set Cafe, gay bar in Nagoya.
Oh no! You’re looking for a gay night out on the town in Nagoya and (gasp!) you can’t figure out what to do! There’s good news and bad news: The bad news is that there is almost nothing to speak of in the way of a gay scene in Nagoya, as compared to Tokyo or Osaka (or even lesser cities than Nagoya, for that matter). The good news? That there is almost nothing to be gay about in Nagoya. There are indeed a few, cozy places out there.

Gay bar King Diamond is in this building, Nagoya.
Entrance to the building with gay bar King Diamond, Sakae, Nagoya
Looking for a big gay dance club? Head for the shinkansen (bullet train) and get out of Nagoya. But if you are down for some low key lounging, there are some friendly faces and comfortable places waiting for you to drop by. Best if you can speak a bit of Japanese, but even if you can’t, speaking slowly with a nice smile gets you half way there.

Nagoya gay bar, King Diamond, in the Sakae district.
King Diamond entrance sign.
King Diamond is located in the Sakae district, generally considered the shopping and nightlife center of Nagoya. This gay bar is oriented towards the younger crowd (and their admirers), but in practice, there’s a healthy customer contingent running into their 40s. The bar opens at 9pm (except on Sundays, when they are closed) and rumbles on until 5am. 1,800 yen for your first drink and accompanying snack (2,800 for women), with successive drinks starting from 800 yen. Emphasis on the “successive,” as the crowd here is known to knock ‘em down. Perhaps they are drinking their gay-in-Nagoya sorrows away? We kid.

Bar staff at Nagoya gay bar, King Diamond, in the Sakae district, Naka ward.
Friendly King Diamond bar staff pose for a pic.
Another, somewhat more mixed crowd option, awaits you just a few blocks away at Sun Set Café (not “Sunset Café,” well, just because). The Sun Set-tles into a somewhat different vibe due to its mix of mostly gay men, their female friends and “fag hags.” Catty, catty! The lengthy bar makes for a degree of grandeur, but also makes it hard to chat people up. Expect service here to range between attentive and obsequious, which contrasts with King Diamond’s more “we’re cool buds that like you” approach to customer service.

Building housing the gay bar, Sun Set Cafe, Nagoya, Japan.
The building with Sun Set Cafe on the 3F
The Sun Set rises at 8pm and sets at 8am, but is closed on Mondays. 1,600 for the drink/snack initial set, but that rises to 2,800 for women (who need to be accompanied by a man to get in). The crowd is mostly 20s and 30s, but, hey, if you’re a foreigner, it generally doesn’t matter.

The door of Sun Set Cafe, a gay bar in the Sakae district of Nagoya, Japan.
Sun Set Cafe entrance
Don’t go to a gay bar too early here in Nagoya. Of greater concern than the faux pas is the fact that you will probably be bored, as things don’t really pick up until 11pm, or in the case of Sun Set, more like midnight.

Sun Set cafe gay bar in Nagoya, Japan - the bar.
The bar at Sun Set Cafe, Nagoya

Inside the Nagoya gay bar, Sun Set Cafe
Slinky interior, Sun Set Cafe, Sakae, Nagoya

See, as it turns out, Nagoya almost isn’t that bad after all.

King Diamond: 〒460-0008名古屋市中区栄4-13-10  Tel. 052 242 5077
Sun Set Café:     〒460-0008名古屋市中区栄4-5-18 Tel. 052 251 7880

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Friday, September 16, 2016

The World of the Elderly in Japan The land that lies before us all

According to research by WHO on life expectancy in advanced nations, the average life of a Japanese citizen is a leisurely 83.7 years (80.5 for males, and a healthy 86.8 for females). In fact, Japan is the No. 1 country for longevity (followed by Switzerland (83.4 years), Singapore (83.1), and Australia (82.8)).

The World of the Elderly in Japan The land that lies before us all

Today, of all the industrialized nations, Japan has the most old people and the least babies. Believe it or not, nearly half of all Japanese people will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025.

Not surprising then, there is a national holiday for the Elderly. Keiro-no-hi holiday, or 'Respect for the Elderly' Day, falls on Monday 19th this year. On this day, the hope is that the young will pay their respects to the elderly, wish them a long healthy life and thank them for their wisdom and hard work. In some cities there are even presentations made.

But the truth be told: it must be pretty hard for the elderly these days. These are the people who fought in the war. The people who built Japan into an economic superpower in 30 years or so. These are also the same people who were raised according to the ways of traditional Japanese society and culture. Today, as they walk around the cities they built, they must really wonder who they built it for.

Young people generally tend to forget about the elderly in the rush of youth. This is considered natural and the elderly probably remembering being that way when they were young. But a lack of respect for the elderly is a relatively new thing and certainly not something the elderly themselves can remember feeling when they were young. But a total lack of respect for old people in Japan is becoming increasingly common. Younger people seem to view them as a nuisance, as distant reminders of the old world of Japan.

Today, some elderly people consider the young of Japan to be alien creatures: entirely beyond understanding and communication. These are the kids that have inherited the riches that their grandparents created. And the sad thing is: most young people don't even think about the sacrifice and effort their grand parents made. They only seem to be thinking about themselves and this is the biggest criticism the elderly have of them: they are selfish. And selfish is a pretty new word in Japanese society. If anything, the Japanese are naturally unselfish. But not any more.

Relations between the elderly and the young are still healthy in rural areas, where nearly nobody lives these days. If you go into the countryside, where time slows down and thing become naturally natural, the elderly still have their place in society. In fact, they run society. They are in charge and they are the kings and queens of their families. This is good. This is the way it should be.

But in the cities, the elderly seem to have no place to call their own. They seem forgotten and this is saddest thing of all. But on Elderly Day, Japanese society, as a whole, tries to remember and honor them.

This year let's try to remember how important they really are. Without them we would have nothing. Without them we would not even exist. And let's not forget the biggest truth of all: in a few decades we will be elderly ourselves. It's the future for all of us. Let's try to remember that.

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Actor Yuta Takahata Goes Scot-Free for Rape

高畑裕太 汚職

Yuta Takahata is a 23-year-old Japanese actor who has appeared already in a couple of movies (L [2016] and Okaasan no Ki [2015], albeit in very minor roles) and several TV dramas and TV movies. He is becoming a well-known face on TV, and is the son of veteran actress Atsuko Takahata and actor Ryosuke Ohtani.

Yuta Takahata.

Japan was shocked to learn last month, on August 23, that Yuta Takahata had been arrested for rape - the rape of a female staff member at a hotel he was staying at in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. Then, last Friday, on September 9 - just 17 days after his arrest - Takahata was released on bail after the Gunma public prosecutor's office decided to drop charges against him.

Far from denying the crime, Takahata explained his actions to the police, saying that he "couldn't control his desires," and then both his mother and Takahata himself publicly apologized for the incident. This suggests that it is a very clear cut case, and that conviction would have been likely in the case of a prosecution. During the time of his brief incarceration, it was conjectured that Takahata would get a prison sentence of about 7 or 8 years. The reason for eventually deciding not to prosecute him was not given.

Newsworthy as this all is, it was not that blogworthy - until today. The Tokyo Sports newspaper reported today that no less than 80 million yen was paid in an out-of-court settlement with the victim of Takahata's sexual assault.

"Out-of-court settlement." Now, I'm no lawyer, but in my mind, out of court settlements are things that happen in civil cases, not criminal cases. An out-of-court settlement is what divorcing couples do, or someone who accidentally put a dent in someone else's car does, or what siblings squabbling over a parent's will do. An out-of-court settlement is not something that happens in a criminal case like a rape.

Divorces, dents in cars, and the relative wealth of a group of siblings are not matters that involve many people besides those directly involved. However, crimes are a different story. Justice must be seen to be done, and an appropriate sentence must be meted out to punish the perpetrator and to send a message to society that such behavior is unacceptable to everyone, even if it does immediately and directly involve only a very few people.

Justice is supposed to be blind, i.e., justice should be done whatever the perpetrator's personal circumstances. However, the fact is that circumstances do often affect outcomes in the form of some degree of mercy. The ultimate mercy is forgiveness, and what, you may ask, is a decision not to prosecute a crime that the perpetrator has completely owned up to in the form of an apology if it is not forgiveness?

Forgiveness for what? In the context of 80 million yen having been paid to Takahata's victim for an "out-of-court settlement," the motive for the prosecutor not to prosecute can only be recognition of the Takahata family's having paid off the victim. Yet, if everyone accused of a crime in Japan had enough money to pay their victim a sum of money that would buy you a very comfortable brand new apartment in Tokyo, and in so doing avoid prosecution, the whole justice system in Japan may as well pack up its bags and go home.

But not every criminal has that kind of money. So the justice system waits around to "serve" the unfortunate majority of criminals who do not have stacks of money, are not famous, not blessed with famous parents, actor's looks or, in other words, are without the means to rush around behind the scenes pulling strings, paying people off - buying forgiveness - and in so doing corrupting the justice system.

Thinking that maybe my assumption about the reason for the prosecutors' decision not to do their job might be unfounded, I called the Maebashi District Public Prosecutors Office this morning and asked why Takahata was not prosecuted. After being put through to the relevant person by the operator and identifying myself, I was politely told by the male at the other end of the phone that such information "could not be disclosed." I politely pointed out that this was a case in which the public had an interest, but nothing concrete was forthcoming, so the conversation ended after less than two minutes.

Yuta Takahata was forgiven because he is rich and famous. And it was his birthday yesterday, too. Congratulations, Yuta-kun.

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Hagi Bush Clover One of the Seven Grasses of Autumn

On my fingers do I count the meadows flowers of the fall, and find their number is seven in all.

Bush clover, eulalia, arrowroot, pinks, patrinia, agueweed, and bellflower—these they call the seven flowers of the fall.

Manyoshu (7th century, Japan)

For a thousand years the Seven Grasses of Autumn have been admired for their subtle beauty, appearing again and again as design motifs on screens, ceramics, lacquerware, and kimono. Unlike the seven "grasses" of spring which can be eaten, these seven are for visual appreciation, especially on the night of the harvest moon when they are arranged on a lacquer tray with rice dumplings called dango.

Hagi Bush Clover seen on a byobu screen.
Hagi Bush Clover depicted on a byobu screen
Hagi, or bush clover, was especially loved by the ancient poets (even more than cherry blossoms!). This lush green bush can grow up to ten feet high. Its reddish-purple or white blossoms can be found in many gardens in fall. There is a Hagi Festival this month at Kyoto's Nashinoki Shrine, during which people compose haiku, write them on strips of paper, and then hang them on the hagi bushes.

Nashinoki Shrine is well known as an excellent place to view hagi (bush clover). About one thousand clover bushes are planted here. Over this holiday weekend (September 17-19), tanzaku (strips of fancy paper) bearing haiku written by poetry lovers are hung on the branches of the clover bushes, which are at their best at this time of year. Selected tanzaku are used to decorate red and white clover bushes arranged in a bamboo tube. Then, together with a suzumushi (cricket) in an insect basket, it is dedicated to the deity of the shrine. In the oratory of the shrine, kyogen, Japanese dance, and koto music are performed, while outdoors in the grounds of the shrine, a tea ceremony is held.

Hagi is also to be seen in abundance at Jorin-ji Temple on the east side of Kawabata, just north of Imadegawa.

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Monday, September 12, 2016

North Korean Aligned Protesters in Japan say No to THAAD


Korean Japanese demonstrate for peace in Ueno, Tokyo.

There are about 900,000 people of Korean descent living in Japan, less than a third of whom are naturalized Japanese citizens. The Japanese Korean People's Unification Alliance (Zainichi Kankoku Minshu Toitsu Rengo (在日韓国民主統一連合) is an association of Korean nationals - most of them born in Japan - who support the cause of reunification of the Korean peninsula - but under the auspices of North Korea.

There was a small band of Zainichi Kankoku Minshu Toitsu Rengo members dressed in traditional Korean costume, banging drums, bearing a banner reading "Peace Campaign" (ピース・キャンペーン in katakana), and handing out pamphlets in the Ueno district of Tokyo yesterday, beside the entrance to Ueno Park and the Keisei Ueno Railway station.

I stopped and took a photo and talked to one of the guys handing out pamphlets. It so turned out they were protesting against the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system to be used in South Korea to counter the new threat of North Korean nuclear weapons.

Anti-THAAD pamphlet by a North-Korea-aligned Japanese Korean group in Tokyo.
The anti-THAAD side of the pamphlet I received
He also gave me a pre-printed postcard addressed to the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, and featuring, among other things, two pictures of the late "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, shaking hands with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. He asked me to please write an anti-THAAD message on it, affix a stamp to it, and post it. I said I'd read the pamphlet first.

Anti--Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) pamphlet by a North-Korea-aligned Japanese Korean group in Tokyo.
Anti--Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG)  side of the pamphlet I received.

One side of the pamphlet is anti-THAAD, the other side is anti-Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG), the massive military exercises conducted by South Korea and the United States every year since 1976, the posited opponent in the exercise being North Korea.

North Korea gets a brief mention in the pamphlet, not as a belligerent, but simply as a country that should not be provoked and with which dialog should be sought.

Anti-THAAD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye, the President of South Korea, given to me at Ueno Park, Tokyo.
Anti-THADD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye

Japanese Koreans who align themselves with North Korea are not as vocal or powerful as they were up to a decade or so ago, partly because the  General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, AKA Chongryon, no longer enjoys the funding it used to by an increasingly hard up North Korea, and also because the anti-Korean discrimination in Japan which bolstered the organization's raison d'etre is not as strong and widespread as it used to be.

Anti-THAAD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye - the side to write a personal message on.
Message side of the anti-THAAD postcard to Korean President Park Geun-hye.

However, pockets of activity like we got to see on Sunday in the Ueno shopping district show that apologists for the North Korea regime still have a considerable voice here in Japan.

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