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Monday, December 30, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 22 Miyazaki City

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 22
Miyazaki City
Wednesday March 27th, 2013

I was up early and took a train north out of Miyazaki to where I finished walking yesterday.

Miyazaki Minka-en, Miyazaki, Kyushu


It is grey and overcast and rain is forecast. Before too long I reach the edge of the grounds of Miyazaki Jingu and coming in through the path through the words come upon a great surprise. It's the Minkaen, an open-air museum of old, traditional farmhouses that have been brought here from various parts of the Miyazaki countryside and reassembled.

The nicest thing about it was that entrance was free, something not unheard of in Japan, but not common. Miyazaki Jingu was as uninteresting as I expected it to be. All white gravel and faux ancient, very much a creation of the politico-religious system that became known as State Shinto, I find such places sterile and completely devoid of any of the "nature worship" that we are told Shinto is all about.

Oyodo River, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan


Close by is the first of the two pilgrimage temples I visit today. A small, concrete temple, there are some nice statues in the ground. It starts to drizzle. Not so much fun, but at least I don't have to carry a heavy backpack today. I follow the curve of the Oyodo River which is wide and still on this final stretch of its journey from mountain to sea and then cross over it and head inland to the suburbs to find the next temple. It too is concrete, but on the wooded slope behind it is a miniature pilgrimage route of 88 statues.

I rejoin the river and follow it back towards the coast, stopping in at shrines along the way. I now head south through the urban sprawl before late in the afternoon jumping on a train back into the city centre and my hotel. Just across from the station is the Miyazaki Science Museum and it is still half an hour before closing. It's noisy, and bright, with lots of flashing lights, sound effects, and kids running around. A perfect antidote to the damp gray day it has been.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Japan News This Week 29 December 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Risky Nationalism in Japan New York Times

Okinawa governor approves plan to relocate US Marines Futenama air base
Global Post

Japan moves close to beating 15 years of falling prices
BBC

Chinese media attacks Japan's Shinzo Abe for visit to Yasukuni shrine
Guardian

Anti-Japan demonstration held in Hong Kong over Abe’s shrine visit
Japan Times

Japan’s Designated Secrets Protection Law Would Foreclose Criticisms of the Government Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

2013 Children's Well Being Ranking of 31 developed nations, by country:

1. Holland
2. Finland
3. Iceland
4. Norway
5. Sweden
6. Japan
7. Germany
8. Switzerland
9. Luxembourg
10. Belgium, Slovenia

17. United Kingdom

29. USA

Source: UNICEF

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kohaku 2013

Kohaku Uta GassenKohaku is a male-vs-female singing face-off between famous entertainers in Japan run by Japan's public broadcaster, NHK. "Ko" is the kanji for "red" and stands for the women; "haku" is for white and represents the men.

Begun as a radio program immediately after Japan's loss in WW2, Kohaku became a TV program as well in 1953 and has remained a staple of NHK's New Year programming every year.

This year, 2013, is Kohaku's 64th. The most talked-about planned new appearance is that of the recently risen star, Chris Hart, a 29-year-old San Franciscan now living in Japan who has wowed Japan for the past year with his soulful renditions of J-pop songs and enka. Hart's first album, Heart Song, reached no.3 on Japan's Oricon charts this year—a sign of stunning success in Japan's huge music industry, which almost equals the revenues of the U.S.

Other new men's acts will be the 65-year-old nostalgia-folk singer Izumiya Shigeru; the five-member rock band from Hokkaido, Sakanaction; the five downy-cheeked twinks of Sexy Zone (yet another use-by-next-year product of the Johnny's and Associates talent agency); traditional crooner, Fukuda Kohei; and self-proclaimed "fantasy band," Linked Horizon. The all-time veteran of Kohaku, the 65-year-old Itsuki Hiroshi, will be appearing for the 43rd time.

New women's acts will be E-girls, a choir-sized recycling of members—aged 13 to 26—of several previous girl groups; NMB48, the over-the-top camp girl revue from Osaka; and miwa, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter. The longest serving female this time will be Akiko Wada with her 37th appearance.

Kohaku will air on December 31 2013 from 7:15 pm to 11:45 pm on both NHK TV and radio.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hagi Castle Ruins

If you have read my previous posts, you know that I am an American who is crazy for Japanese history.

Hagi Castle Ruins, Yamaguchi


When my daughter and I visited Hagi it was because I was in a Mori Motonari phase. I wanted to see Hagi Castle Ruins, the place where Motonari's grandson and heir had lived.

Mori Terumoto had been forced to leave Hiroshima because he had supported Mitsunari's side during the Battle of Sekigahara. He built Hagi Castle in 1604 and the Mori ruled the domain for about 260 years.

Three cats at Hagi Castle, Yamaguchi


The castle grounds were very quiet. I touched the rock walls that remained, and as we moved forward I saw three cats sunning themselves on a wooden bench. "Three cats, just like the three Mori brothers who stuck together," I told Amanda. We decided to climb to the tsumemaru, or citadel, which sat atop Mt Shizuki, elevation 143m. The elevation meant nothing to this American raised on inches, feet, yards, and miles.

Mt Shizuki path at Hagi Castle


I had in my possession a piece of Hagi ware, a rather large and lovely vase I had purchased in the city. It was fairly heavy and I thought about setting it down and coming back to get it later. My daughter thought we might not return to the same spot, so I put the vase inside my backpack. Aaaarrrgh! What a mistake!

The trail up the mountainside was uneven and rough, necessitating extra steps here and there and caution where the path was muddy. We kept going, up and up, and I breathed very hard and sweated under the weight of the Hagi ware.

Top of Mt Shizuki, Hagi Castle, Yamaguchi


How long had it taken the Mori vassals to get up and down this mountain? When we reached the top I rested. Then there appeared a man in business attire who had obviously been climbing behind us. He looked perfectly groomed and refreshed, not disheveled and exhausted like me. For him, the trek had been no trouble at all.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Japan News This Week 22 December 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Amid Chinese Rivalry, Japan Seeks More Muscle New York Times

Japan boosts military spending amid growing tensions with China
Global Post

China denounces Japanese military strategy
BBC

Shinzo Abe: is Japan's PM a dangerous militarist or modernising reformer?
Guardian

Japan achieves 10 million tourist target for 2013
Japan Times

Back to the Future: Shinto, Ise and Japan’s New Moral Education Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

2013 press freedom rankings, by country:

1 Norway Sweden
3 Belgium Finland Netherlands
6 Denmark Luxembourg Switzerland
9 Andorra
10 Iceland Liechtenstein
12 St. Lucia
13 Estonia Ireland Monaco New Zealand Palau San Marino
19 Germany Marshall Islands Portugal St. Vincent and Grenadines
23 Barbados Costa Rica Jamaica United States of America
27 Bahamas Czech Republic
29 Canada St. Kitts and Nevis
31 Australia Austria Micronesia United Kingdom 
35 Belize France
40 Dominica Japan Lithuania Slovenia Suriname
64 Chile Israel Namibia South Korea (Partly Free)
71 Hong Kong (Partly Free)
179 China, Congo, Gambia (Not Free)

Source:

Source: Freedom House
 
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hamamatsu Act City

アクトシティ浜松

Hamamatsu Act City adjacent to Hamamatsu Station consists of a tower and a number of connected buildings including the Okura Act City Hotel Hamamatsu, the Main Hall, the Concert Hall, the Exhibition and Event Hall, a Congress Center, a Seminar and Exchange Center, an Observation Gallery, the Museum of Musical Instruments as well as various outdoor public spaces: Chopin Hill, Music Square, Recreation Square, Sun Square and Sunken Plaza.

Hamamatsu Act City, Shizuoka


The Act City Tower is the central landmark of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture and rises to a height of 213m with the Observation Gallery at 185m. The  Okura Act City Hotel occupies 17 floors of the tower.

Act City opened in 1994 and the building is built to resemble a harmonica, a reference to the city of Hamamatsu's connection with the production of musical instruments.

Hamamatsu Act City, Shizuoka


Hamamatsu Act City
111-2 Itayamachi
Hamamatsu

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Marueda Kirishima-So

Marueda Kirishima-So is a minshuku in a quiet part of this village in the Kirishima area of Kagoshima Prefecture about ten minutes walk south of Kirishima Jingu Shrine and with views towards the Kirishima Mountains.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu

With a deer skull and antlers flanked by wooden masks of the Seven Lucky Gods hanging on the outside wall it seemed that this might be a little different, and I was right.

Marueda Kirishima-So bedroom and futon


The spacious lobby was decorated in an eclectic and funky mix of large scale travel photos, traditional Japanese artifacts, and a hefty dose of 50's retro Americana.

My room was large, and unusual in its decoration, including vintage furniture.

The onsen was located in separate building next door. In the lobby there was wi-fi access.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Kirishima, Kagoshima, Japan


As usual I booked sudomari, room with no meals, for 3,500 yen, but I was really hungry and the landlady didn't mind me changing to evening meal and breakfast for 6,500 yen, and I am glad I did.

The meal (see below), in a small dining room/ restaurant, was huge, and ended up consisting of 16 dishes.

Marueda Kirishima-So
2247-6 Kirishima-taguchi
Kirishima
Kagoshima
899 4201
Tel: 0995 57 3833
Google map

The minshuku is a 15-minute drive to nearby Maruo Falls.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Japanese food, Kyushu


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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21 Takanabe To Miyazaki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21
Takanabe to Miyazaki City
Tuesday March 26th, 2013

It's an overcast morning as I head off, but no rain is forecast. Before I continue on my way down the coast towards Miyazaki city I head inland a few kilometers to see something I discovered while researching this leg of my trip.

Called Takanabe Taishi, it is a collection of 700 statues of Buddhas and gods on a hilltop overlooking the town, but these are unlike any other statues you can see in Japan. They were not made by an artist, but rather by a local man who retired from his business at aged 40 and then spent 40 years carving these statues. They are blocky and angular and look like they were carved by kids but therefore have a primitive fascination.

Takanabe Taishi a collection of 700 statues of Buddhas


I come down the hill and cross the river into the town itself. I really wanted to visit a shrine about 10km upstream that enshrines a Korean prince, but it would take too much time. I stop at a convenience store for breakfast and while sitting outside sipping my coffee a man comes up and wordlessly hands me a bunch of bananas.

My white pilgrims jacket at work again.

Takanabe itself is rather dilapidated and run down and seems devoid of any economic vitality. Too far from any major city to function as a suburb it is like so many other rural towns in Japan. I pass through the town stopping in at a few shrines and head up onto a small plateau and am back again in the countryside. It looks and feels like it could be in England, save for the stands of bamboo. I pass a huge, ramshackle two storey chicken barn held together with wire and patches of chicken wire and dozens of recycled doors and windows. A pair of worried -looking chickens are clucking around outside trying to find their way back inside.

A little further I pass a series of sleek, grey boxes with no details, very industrial. A new chicken "ranch". The road joins back up with the main highway running south and for an hour or so the scream of low flying jets disturbs the air. I am passing Nyutabaru Airbase, and it seems very active and busy, mostly with fighter jets.

Park near Nyutabaru Airbase, Miyazaki


In a local park an older jet is on display. No protests here against low flying jets over residential areas. Japan does not have a military, as I am often told, so what I am seeing here must be in my imagination.

The road gets busier and busier as I approach the outskirts of Miyazaki City. A few kilometers off the road is an interesting shrine I want to visit, the burial site of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, ignored when the modern Japanese state went on a frenzy of shrine building and expanding to honor their own imaginary history, but I am too tired.

When the sun goes down I hop on a train into the city center where I have a cheap hotel room for three days. Tomorrow I will come back out and walk in and around the city.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 20 (Part 2)

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Monday, December 16, 2013

UFO Catchers in Chiba

It took a long time to get to Japan this time in October.

UFO Catchers in Chiba


We were delayed in Los Angeles for three hours, two of which we sat on the runway. The reason? "Paperwork." Apparently this problem requires that passengers wait ON the plane and IN their seats while such paperwork is completed. (Thanks, United and the New Star Alliance.)

I started watching "Ben-Hur" on the in-flight entertainment - if you recall, it is three hours long - and I saw over two thirds of the film prior to liftoff.

The delay resulted in missing our connection to Nagoya, and by the time we disembarked in Narita all domestic flights had been cancelled because of the typhoon. We were to spend the night in Narita and catch a flight for the following evening. Well, what can you do but go with it? I'm a firm believer that you can have fun wherever you are, if you want to.

UFO Catchers in Chiba, Japan


The next morning we discovered there was only one train line running out of Narita. The route to Chiba was open, and we thought, hey, why not, let's take a train ride. At the least we can enjoy the passing scenery. The train ran very... slowly. But we arrived in Chiba! I started looking around, trying to take everything in when I saw it - like a siren calling seafarers - an arcade filled with UFO Catcher machines.

On past trips we rarely attempted playing on the machines, but now that the yen and the USD were fairly similar in value, we were amenable to the idea of pouring 100 yen coins into the slots. We had also studied past players' advice online, so with that information we were raring to go.

Amanda happens to be very good at using the claw-operated machines due to her early days of training in the local Del Taco restaurant. She did not win every time, but enough that we got pretty excited about it. "I wonder if this is how gambling feels," she commented. We were having a ridiculously good time. With a bag full of prizes, we headed back to Narita to catch our flight to Nagoya and continue the quest for the next UFO Catcher Machine.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Japan News This Week 15 December 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
A Public Works Boom in Japan Has Echoes From the Lost Decade New York Times

A solution for the East China Sea
Global Post

Keisuke Honda: AC Milan to sign CSKA Moscow's Japan midfielder
BBC

Japan condemned for 'secret' executions
Guardian

U.S., Chinese warships nearly collide in South China Sea
Japan Times

Marines, Missiles, and the Iron Lady: The Military Leg in Japan’s Ocean Strategy Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

Number of executions approved by recent Japanese Justice Ministers (parentheses equals of months in office)

Seiken Sugiura - 0 (10)
Jinen Nagase 10 - (11)
Seiroku Kajiyama 11 - (13)
Eisuke Mori 9 - (11)
Satsuki Eda 0 - (7)
Current minister Sadakazu Tanigaki 8 - (11)

Source: Asahi Shinbun
 
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Write About Japan

If you have visited Japan recently on holiday or for business, we'd love to hear from you.

Share your Japan experience by sending us your travel tips, experiences, photos or videos of Japan.

We'd love to hear from you and publish your stories on JapanVisitor.com or on our popular blog.

If you do wish to air your thoughts and experiences on Japan please contact us.

Any topic Japan related is considered. Send us your text in Microsoft Word format or in the body of an email and any images as attached jpg or gif format.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima

民宿すず風

Located among the rice paddies out in the countryside west of Shibushi Station in Kagoshima Prefecture is a group of modern houses clustered around communal landscaping with a meandering stream running through it.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima Kyushu


It is a "village" of minshuku, Japanese guest houses, that offer accommodation for visitors to the nearby Yomoginosato Hot Spring which itself has no accommodations. I chose to stay at Suzukaze, Windbell, for reasons that will become obvious.

Suzukaze is a true Bed & Breakfast establishment, offering no evening meal. Lunch and dinner can be had at the nearby onsen. Suzukaze also doesn't have bathrooms, only showers, again because of the nearby onsen.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima Kyushu

The two rooms are large, 10 tatami, and have views of either the garden or the stream. Each room has TV, kettle, refrigerator etc. The rate per person is 3,500 yen, or 4,000 yen including breakfast.

The owner was a school teacher before retiring and he and his wife spent their lives backpacking around the world and so wanted to offer inexpensive and friendly accommodation. Unusually, for such a small establishment, the rooms all have internet access.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima


They will pick you up from the bus stop, train station, or ferry port, where regular ferries connect with Tokyo, Osaka, and Naha.

While researching potential places to stay before my trip I often use online booking services which sometimes offer special plans.

In this case I found that Suzukaze also has a few smaller rooms that they offer at reduced rates to school and university sports teams that come to the area for training camps. I also noticed that they offered a really special rate of only 1,000 yen per night to guests who are walking!

Though it was a little off my route I couldn't resist the price, and I'm glad I did.

The owners were very friendly, spoke excellent English, and were very generous.

When I mentioned that I was interested in a shrine about 10km away we immediately jumped into his car and he took me there.

That evening he gave me a couple of beers, and in the morning a free breakfast. Best 1,000 yen I ever spent on accommodation.

Suzukaze Guesthouse
4100-5 Ariakecho Futsuhara
Shibushi
Kagoshima Prefecture
899-7503
Japan
Tel: 099 457 2340
email: yadosuzukaze[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]jp

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joel Stewart Tone Poems Exhibition

Joel Stewart is an American artist who has been living and working in Kyoto, Japan for some 25 years.

Joel Stewart Tone Poems Exhibition


His current exhibition Tone Poems runs from Tuesday December 3rd to Sunday December 15th at art gallery HAKUHOU-DOU, every day except Monday, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The gallery is located near Heian Shrine in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto.
HAKUHOU-DOU
Telephone 075-771-9401

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival

秋葉大祭

Yesterday was the Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, a fire festival held at Fukugonji Temple, a 10-15 minute bus journey from Kasugai Station, north of Nagoya.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival


The Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival begins with an afternoon of taiko drum performances by adult and children's groups alike and culminates in the fire festival which gets underway around 6pm after dark, this year preceded by a short, but rousing performance by the world famous Kodo drummers.

Participants walk through a fire of pine branches (with their shoes on) in a Buddhist ritual to cleanse the previous year's sins, especially covetousness, anger, and ignorance. Local people connected with the temple dressed in white garb lead the way, followed by the general public.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, Kasugai


The actual fire experienced during the walk symbolizes the metaphysical fires that can burn within us and a reminder to us to control these inner flames that can lead us down the path to misery.

The virtue of patience is also required to stand in a crowded queue for around 90 minutes in the pitch dark. It might be better not to join the queue which begins to form at around 4.30pm unless you want to get to the very front to take photographs or video. You can still walk the flames but wait at the edges of the temple compound if you feel claustrophobic.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, Aichi Prefecture


Full details of the festival in both Japanese and English can be found on the Fukugonji Temple's website describing the festival: akiba-taisai.fukugonji.com

According to the above site, the temple was founded in the 15th century by Seizen, a follower of the monk Akibasanjakubo, a spiritual adept who had gained mystical powers at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei in Kyoto.

The festival takes place on the second Sunday of December each year in commemoration of the death of Akibasanjakubo.

Access:

Fukugonji Temple
Aichi Prefecture
Komaki city
Ookusa 5229
Google map of Fukugonji

To get to Fukugonji, take a Tajimi-bound JR train from Nagoya Station, Tsurumai Station, Chikusa or Ozone and get off at Kasugai. Then catch an Aoi bus to the temple. Ask the driver to let you off at the nearest stop. The last Aoi bus back from the temple leaves at 7pm, though there are later Meitetsu buses from a stop a considerably longer walk from the temple.

Firewalking: 300 yen


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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Japan News This Week 8 December 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Lights, Mirrors, Instagram! #ArtSensation: Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery New York Times

Japan passes a democracy-muzzling Patriot Act
Global Post

Biden urges Seoul-Tokyo co-operation amid Asia tensions
BBC

Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight
Guardian

Protests over secrets bill fiery at 11th hour
Japan Times

The Harbin An Jung-Geun Statue: A Korea/China-Japan Historical Memory Controversy - See more at: Japan Focus


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Statistics

Japan PISA results:

2000: #1 (Math), #2 (Science), #8 (Reading)
2006: #6 (Math), #10 (Science), #7 (Reading)
2012: #4 (Math), #4 (Science), #4 (Reading)

PISA are a set of tests given to 15-year-old students in countries worldwide every three years. Conservatives attribute the decline in 2006 to a more relaxed educational policies (yutori kyoiku), and the recent rise to more intensive policies implemented by the Abe government.

More than 510,000 students took part in this latest PISA survey, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.

Source: Japan News
 
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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Hankai Uemachi Line Streetcar Osaka

上町線

The Hankai Uemachi Line runs from Tennoji Station (Tennoji-ekimae) in Tennoji, south Osaka to Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine and from Tennoji-ekimae to Hamadera-ekimae.

Hankai Uemachi Line Streetcar Tennoji Osaka


The Hankai Uemachi Line is one of Osaka city's last surviving street car lines. The original line dates from 1900.

The full list of stops is Tennoji-ekimae, Abeno (with connections to the Tanimachi subway line), Matsumushi, Higashi-Tengachaya, Kitabatake, Himematsu, Tezukayama-sanchome (with connections for the Nankai Koya Line), Tezukayama-yonchome, Kaminoki (Nankai Koya Line at Sumiyoshi Higashi Station), Sumiyoshi (Hankai Line) and Sumiyoshikoen (Nankai Main Line to Wakayama).

Access to the platform is from the entrance to the subway lines at Tennoji Station. There is no direct access from the street at Tennoji.



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Monday, December 02, 2013

Kyoto City Bus 46

京都市バス#46

Kyoto city bus #46 runs between Kamigamo Shrine in the north of Kyoto and Kyoto Kaikan Bijitsukan near Heian Jingu in the Okazaki area of central Kyoto via west and downtown areas of the city.

Kyoto City Bus 46


Bus #46 passes Imamiya Jinja, Bukkyo University in north west Kyoto near Kinkakuji Temple, Senbon Kitaoji, Senbon Marutamachi, Nijo Station, Shijo Omiya, Shijo Kurasuma, Shijo Kawaramachi, Shijo Keihan Station, Chion-in and Gion.

Kyoto City Bus 46


The Kyoto #46 bus service begins at 6.02am daily and the last bus is 9.40pm, Monday to Saturday and 9.15pm on Sunday.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.



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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Japan News This Week 1 December 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
China Sends Jets Into ‘Air Defense’ Zone After Flights by Japan and South Korea
New York Times

War between Japan and China is an accident waiting to happen
Global Post

China scrambles jets in air zone to monitor US and Japanese planes
BBC

Zaha Hadid's sport stadiums: 'Too big, too expensive, too much like a vagina'
Guardian

Foreign chefs get green light to work at Kyoto ‘ryotei’ restaurants
Japan Times

Okinawa - The Pentagon’s Toxic Junk Heap of the Pacific
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Your Favorite Book Seller:

1. Kinokuniya (Tokyo)
2. Junkudo (Hyogo)
3. Amazon (Online)
4. Maruzen (Tokyo)
5. Yurindo (Kanagawa)
6. Sanshodo (Tokyo)
7. Asahiya (Osaka)
8. Yaesu Book Center (Tokyo)
9. Tsutaya (Tokyo)
10. Rakuten Books (Online)

Source: Asahi Shinbun
 
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Friday, November 29, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 20 Part 2 Hyuga to Takanabe

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 20 (Part 2), Monday March 25th Hyuga City to Takanabe

I head out of Mimitsu and stay on the minor road that runs parallel to the train line, shielded from the sea by low trees. A quiet road with nothing but rice paddies flooded in preparation for planting and the occasional train rushing by.

Curiously there seems to be another line running alongside but it has no overhead power line. It's elevated like a shinkansen track but by the aging of the concrete its obviously somewhat older.

Miyazaki Test for Maglev train


Most curious of all is that above the track it is covered in solar panels. I think maybe it is a conveyor belt system to transport quarried materials to a factory or port but it is silent and I don't remember passing anything like that. The reality is much more surprising and interesting.

It is the Miyazaki Test Track for the experimental Maglev train! Built in 1977 and running arrow straight for 7 kilometers, in 1979 they attained a speed in excess of 500 kph.

In 1996 a new test track opened in Yamanashi and the maglev program moved there, but this track was used for another type of experimental train, something called "wing in ground effect," that if I understand it correctly means that instead of using a magnetic field to suspend the vehicle off the ground it uses small wings to create air pressure.

I don't know if the experiments are continuing, and I don't know if the massive line of solar panels is to power the project or just generating electricity to be used on the regular train line or be resold. A little further and coming in to a village my eyes are attracted to splashes of vivid color on the hillside.

It's a small shrine, engulfed in cherry blossoms, and behind it the hillside has been denuded of trees and planted in azalea bushes that have been pruned into curved shapes. The combination of white, bright green, pink, and red is striking indeed. From here I head back inland to the main road to find the next temple, Gyoshinji, temple 35.

Fudo Myo-o statue at Gyoshinji, Miyazaki


Gyoshinji is set back from the road in the woods and like so many temples nowadays is made of concrete. A plain wooden torii frames a path leading into the woods. Lined with statues, the dark path opens up at a lovely cascade of water falling down the rocks, surrounded by dozens of statues of Fudo Myo-o.

This is the kind of place I am always hoping to discover. A place of natural power where ascetics have purified themselves for centuries. I'm energized and though its been a long day already I head off again with a renewed spring in my step.

Coming into Tsuno, the only town of any size I've seen today, I pass through a large torii and enter into what turns out to be a big shrine. With wide gravel paths and a delightful landscaped koi carp pond and garden this was the Ichinomiya, first ranked shrine, of Hyuga province, the earlier name of Miyazaki.

I chat with the priest and he tells me that here was where Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan, descended from the mountains and began his conquest of Japan. The main kami enshrined here is Okuninushi, the Izumo kami who "ceded" Japan to the descendants of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.

More research for me to do when I get home!. On the other side of town I stop in at the next pilgrimage temple. Quite uninteresting. Another couple of hours and the sun has already set when I finally reach the banks of the Omaru River at Takanabe and my hotel for the night. It's been a very long but full day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 20 (Part 1)

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Monday, November 25, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 20 Part 1 Hyuga City to Takanabe

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 20 (Part 1), Monday March 25th Hyuga City to Takanabe

I headed out at sunrise to an overcast sky that promised to dissipate. Yesterday was a short day and today was going to be a much longer one so I made as fast a pace as I could along the main road heading south out of Hyuga City in Miyazaki.

After an hour I headed off the road towards the hills upon which was the first temple of the day, Nakanoji, number 34. Yesterday there was only one of the pilgrimage temples to visit, today there would be three.

Miyazaki Beach, Kyushu, Japan
Click on the image to expand

On reaching it after a little climb the sun broke through and the line of moss-covered statues along the entrance path was covered with the deep red of fallen camellia blooms and scattered over them like confetti were white cherry petals. There is no-one around this early in the morning so I quickly depart back down the hill, under the new expressway being constructed and follow the road alongside it with its constant stream of dump trucks.

I have no idea how many people in Japan are employed to drive piles of earth from point A to point B but if it was in the millions it would not surprise me.

Japan is in a constant state of being reshaped. The main road now runs past some nice looking beaches with dark grey/beige sand. A lone surfer is out optimistically hoping that the tiny waves will grow. I stop in at a handful of shrines. As the road approaches the Mimi River it starts to rise to become the new concrete bridge spanning the river mouth, and then the sidewalk just stops!

I walk back and try to find a sign that explains how I can cross, but find none so I drop down to the old road and follow it upstream to the old bridge. I'm a bit peeved as I can ill afford the time needed for the detour. Once on the other bank I pass a couple of love hotels tucked away.

The literature on these uniquely Japanese establishments deal pretty much just with urban examples, rural love hotels are quite different.

As the road rejoins the main road at the new bridge I see it has a sidewalk. Looking back I can see a staircase climbing up from the village on the other side. If I had gone into the village I could have found it.

Mimitsu, Mimi Port, Miyazaki Prefecture
Click on the image to expand

Now I am in Mimitsu, Mimi Port, classified as one of the top 100 Most Beautiful Historical Landscapes of Japan. Since the Edo Period, and until the railway and roads took away the business, Mimitsu was a major port and supposedly had 1,000 dwellings, storehouses, and shipping offices.

There are three stone-paved streets in the village lined with Edo period homes, shops, and warehouses. I would have liked to spend a few hours here taking photos and visiting the local history museum, but I had much further to walk today so had to content myself with shooting on the run.

To be continued

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 19

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Japan News This Week 24 November 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Dispute Jeopardizes New Posting System for Japanese Players
New York Times

Japanese emperor will break burial tradition by being cremated
Global Post

China establishes 'air-defence zone' over East China Sea
BBC

Fukushima nuclear disaster is warning to the world, says power company boss
Guardian

Secrecy bill dodges public debate
Japan Times

Revisioning a Japanese Spiritual Recovery through Manga: Yasukuni and the Aesthetics and Ideology of Kobayashi Yoshinori’s “Gomanism”1
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Wage Gap By Country (-14% = women earn 14% less than men):

Sweden: -14%
USA: -18%
UK: -18%
Germany: -21%
Japan: -27%

Political Representation By Country (% of parliament that is female):

Sweden: 45%
USA: 17%
UK: 22%
Germany: 33%
Japan: 11%

Source: Time
 
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Hotel New Hayata Hyuga City Miyazaki

Calling itself a Business Hotel, but with a restaurant, hall for weddings, conference room, and, in the summer, a rooftop beer garden, the Hotel New Hayata in Hyuga City in Miyazaki looks and feels more like a regular hotel.

Hotel New Hayata Hyuga City Miyazaki


Located 100 meters off Route 10, the main road running down the coast of Miyazaki, and a short walk south of the JR station in Hyuga City, it is located right on the banks of the river and half the rooms have great views over the river.

I paid 3,900 yen for a single room with all the standard amenities:- TV, phone, hairdryer, en-suite bathroom etc. There was no internet access in the room but it is available in the lobby and wi-fi in the restaurant. Breakfast, Japanese or Western style is an additional 600 yen.

45 rooms.

Hotel New Hayata Hyuga City Miyazaki
99 1-chome, Shinsei-cho
Hyuga^shi
Miyazaki 883-0013
Tel: 0982 53 6000
Fax: 0982 53 6002

Hotel New Hayata Hyuga City Miyazaki


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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wakayama Tama

Somewhere in Wakayama lives a marketing genius. I'm referring to the individual who came up with the idea to assign the title "Station Master" to a living, purring, calico cat named Tama.

Wakayama Tama, Wakayama


Not only has Tama saved the local train line, but putting her various images on merchandise must be a cash cow for the city of Wakayama. Speaking as but one recent visitor, I put down a ten thousand yen note in the Tama shop and left without it.

When you go to Wakayama's main train station, on the walls are mascot pictures of Tama and paw prints on the ground lead you in the direction of the Tama Line. My daughter and I did not know what to expect but as we boarded the train we were full of anticipation.

Nitama and hat


She read a train board that indicated Tama had to go to the veterinarian that day, and second in command Nitama (meaning "Second Tama" or "Tama #2" ) would be filling in for her. When we got off at Nitama's stop, we had to wait a few minutes, but very soon a train conductor showed up with the beautiful, long-haired calico cat in his arms.

A Chinese tour group rushed around them excitedly. I was really surprised at the calmness of this cat. She seemed completely unruffled by the bustle about her. She posed for many photos and listened to plenty of oohs and aahs in a matter-of-fact manner. She was really cute.

Tama merchandize


We next decided to ride the train to the last stop and see the Tama Museum. It was located inside a small cafe in a little train station adorned with cat ears. Adjoining this was the amazing Tama shop where I easily parted with all that yen.

When I finished spending, we boarded the Tama train for our return trip. Images of the Tama mascot character covered the outside of the car, but since many trains in Japan are very colorful, we didn't think too much about it until we stepped inside.

Tama train, Wakayama


We had never seen a train car like this! The interior was beautiful, decorated with a polished wood floor dotted with occasional paw prints, cheerful Tama wallpaper, settee loveseats in feline-patterned fabrics, and a large wooden bookcase filled with cat-related books. It was impressive and fun. My hat is off to you, creator of all that is Tama!

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Buying Real Estate in Japan - Signing the Loan Contract

外国人の土地所有権

My partner and I are a foreign couple who have just purchased a brand new apartment in Tokyo from a major real estate developer. The building is virtually finished and we are due to move in next month.

We paid the first half of our deposit at the end of last year, and are due to pay the remainder by our move in date next month. In the meantime, last week we had to sign the contract for the loan we had been approved for.

We had to be at the Contract Room of the real estate company at one afternoon last week to sign the loan contract and attend to other bits and pieces.

We got there just a couple of minutes after the due time, and were the second to last people there. We were sat down in the middle row at the back of the room at our numbered table.

What immediately struck me was the contrast between the gloss and glitz of the publicity material for the property and the mousy drabness—even dowdiness in some cases—of the real estate company staff, not to mention the other assembled contractees.

The first guy to speak, who addressed everyone from the podium, lacked even a shred of suaveness or charisma, and, while adequate, was unengaging in style, and he gabbled. The guy from the bank was a guileless, styleless good-hearted bumpkin type who no doubt makes an ideal dad, but had awful breath which hit us the moment he started talking and which kept wafting over. We had to open an account with the bank for the purpose of repaying the loan. It was a bank I never see advertising for, and when I asked what kind of bank it was, he explained, with an embarrassed laugh (and a gale of bad breath) that it was “for rich people.”

He took us through the most important procedure of the session: signing the contract. The performance that took center stage was my partner’s filling in of the forms with our address in kanji—he painstakingly, I and the bank guy with our breath held (“if only!” in his case). Any mistakes had to be double-crossed out and have his inkan affixed. My partner's “1”s were also subject to correction when he gave them a horizontal base stroke: another no-no. The form in its final state was a splotchy red mess.

Of the five or six women we dealt with, one or two were pained, insecure, brittle haughty types; one was a dismissive bitch; one was a quivering, quavering little nelly; one (who peddled us water filter replacements) spoke with a thin curtain over her weirdness; and the last one was chirpy, sweet and charming, with blingy nails. The best-for-last rule applied to the men, too, and we finished up with a very able and thoroughly amicable guy who even went so far as to take us through filling out a mail redirect application form for the post office.

As for the other soon-to-be residents, there wasn’t a whiff of style, smartness or sass in the room. There were a couple of young couples with a baby, who looked like they might hold the promise of some brief but buoyant conversation in front of an elevator some day, but the rest were sensible-shoed brownclothed middle-aged types (or clearly heading that way) who at a glance, at least, seemed to personify plodding insularity.

One of the dozen or so people who sat down to take us through something was a woman from NHK. After a short introduction, when she asked if we would have a TV signal receiving device my partner gave an outright “no,” while I slightly dithered, which he reiterated when she sought confirmation. (Even if we actually will have a TV set, we have never even once used the TV function in the four years we have been together.) She was powerless in the face of it and quickly moved on—to quiet applause from me for my partner's clean, decisive victory.

A guy from a legal office spoke to us about the procedures required for transferring ownership of the property to our name. It's fairly simple from our end: supplying him with our new juminhyo (residency certificate issued by the ward office) within five days of being given the key.

It is a matter of only weeks now before we move in. There is a room-viewing session coming up when we check that the specifications are what we ordered and that everything looks shipshape, and another session a week later (if necessary) to check that any requested repairs were adequately carried out. We then pay the appropriate property taxes and maintenance fees (2.7 million yen alone!) plus the remainder of our deposit. The key is then handed over to us three weeks later when we will officially become Tokyo landowners.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Japan News This Week 17 November 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Removing Fuel Rods Poses New Risks at Crippled Nuclear Plant in Japan
New York Times

Caroline Kennedy sworn in as ambassador to Japan (VIDEO)
Global Post

'A robot is my friend': Can machines care for elderly?
BBC

Fukushima residents may never go home, say Japanese officials
Guardian

New emissions goal derided as ‘bad joke’ at U.N. climate summit
Japan Times

Environmental Report: In Japan, Captive Breeding May Help Save the Endangered Wild Eel ...But Can the Seas Be Saved?
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Global Slavery Index Ranking, by country (number of people enslaved)

1 Mauritania (140,000 - 160,000)
2 Haiti (200,000 - 220,000)
3 Pakistan (2,000,000 - 2,200,000)
4 India (13,300,000 - 14,700,000)
24 Thailand (450,000 - 500,000)
84 China (2,800,000 - 3,100,000)
94 Brazil (200,000-220,000)
130 Japan (76,000 - 84,000)
134 USA (57,000-63,000)
139 France (8,000 - 9,000)
142 Singapore (1,100 - 1,200)
160 UK (4200-4600)

Source: Global Slavery Index

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Gifu Squirrel Village

金華山リス村

I am fascinated by Japan's Warring States Era, and over the years I have visited historically significant sites all across Japan.

Gifu Squirrel Village, Mt Kinka


On this day my daughter and I took the ropeway up to Gifu Castle. Once inside, we enjoyed viewing the portraits of warlords such as Saito Dosan and Oda Nobunaga, but seeing the brutal weapons of war made us cringe with discomfort.

Also, I think there is something about Gifu Castle and its environs that you should know - there is a Squirrel Village. In fact, we stopped at the Squirrel Village before we climbed the steps to Gifu Castle (Sorry, Nobunaga). And we were utterly charmed.

Gifu Squirrel Village near Gifu Castle


After we paid the 200 yen entrance fee, the attendant handed us each a glove to wear. She opened the gate and we could see squirrels both gallivanting and lazing about. The attendant sprinkled a finely ground "nut dust" into our gloved palms and the squirrels were immediately attracted, jumping up and nibbling at the treat we held. It was pretty darn cute.

We each took pictures using our un-gloved hand. Next, we were given a few peanut pieces to feed to the caged chipmunk, who was even cuter than the squirrels. I felt sorry that the chipmunk was confined because it zipped frenetically around the cage - it would have driven my cats insane - but given a peanut, the chipmunk paused to eat. We were enchanted by the Squirrel Village, but if you are afraid of rodents (like my mom) or if you consider them pests (like my dad) it is probably best to pass this one by.

Chipmunk, Gifu Squirrel Village


Amanda and I reflected on what Oda Nobunaga would think about the Squirrel Village existing on the castle grounds. We concluded that it would meet his approval as long as it produced revenue!

Gifu Squirrel Village map

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Top 10 Tips for Traveling in Japan on a Budget

安い日本

1) Buy drinks from drug stores

While 100 yen shops may seem like a good deal (about a dollar for a drink), drug stores usually have drinks for as cheap as 60 yen!

Drug Store in Japan


2) Fill up your water bottle for free

Have a look in that restaurant you want to visit. Are there water bottles on the tables? Most cheap places have them. Don't bother orderings drinks, drink that free water and refill your water bottle.

Free Water in Japan


3) Eat at Japanese fast food restaurants

With prices starting at 3 dollars, get your fill of some junky, but Japanese food. Look out for Matsuya (松屋), Yoshinoya and Sukiya.

Matsuya Restaurant, Japan


4) Go to cheap bento box takeaway shops

Origin Bento is a great place to pick up a cheap bento for 400 yen or more (about 4 dollars). There is loads of choice and there are plenty of little parks around to eat them in.

Origin Bento store, Japan


5) Use 'Free passes'

Going for a one day trip somewhere? There may be a 'free pass' to this place, offering unlimited bus and/or train use plus maybe some discounts at tourist attractions for a whole day, for a fixed price.

Free Pass Hakone Boats, Japan


6) Eat at cheap all-you-can restaurants

Look out for these signs outside a restaurant: 食べ放題 (tabehoudai) or ご飯のおかわりが無料 (free rice). These mean all-you-can eat!

Tabehodai - all you can eat!


7) Don't get the expensive express train from the airport

Instead of getting something like the Narita Express into Tokyo, get on a normal express train and save on the extra charges. It will only add half an hour or so to your journey.

Narita Express, Tokyo


8) Stay in a love hotel

While they do sound a bit sleezy, many offer a nice, small room for around 6000-9000 yen a night. A stay in a love hotel is also a truly 'only in Japan' experience.

Love Hotel in Japan


9) Stay in a capsule hotel

It may look like a coffin, but it’s the cheapest way to stay in a 'hotel' in the center of a Japanese city. Prices start from just 2500 yen a night, about 25 USD.

Capsule Hotel, Japan


10) Use highway buses instead of the Shinkansen

Use cheap bus companies like Willer Express and take a night bus to save a huge amount of money over taking an expensive bullet train and staying in a hotel room.

Willer Express Highway Bus, Japan


Matthew Baxter

Matthew is a blogger, game developer and writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He has lived cheaply in Japan for over 5 years, and writes for Cheapo Japan, a travel guide dedicated to budget travel in Japan. You can read more of his work at www.cheapojapan.com

Read more about how to enjoy Japan on a budget

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