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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 24 Yowara to Nichinan

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 24
Yowara to Nichinan
Friday March 29th, 2013

This is the 11th and final day of this leg of my walk around Kyushu and I have pretty much walked across the prefecture of Miyazaki from north to south. Today I have two pilgrimage temples to visit before heading home. I'm going to walk this section in reverse, from the end point back to where I finished yesterday as the local train operates very few trains and it is much more convenient to do it that way.

I am up before light in my hotel in Miyazaki and catch the first train down to Yowara, a small settlement in a narrow mist-filled valley that is home to an interesting shrine I wanted to visit. Connected to the great Udo Jingu shrine I visited yesterday, because of its remote location it is far less well visited or known, but is decorated with a lot of fine ornate and painted carvings. It is still really early and so there is no-one about that I can ask about the shrine's history, which is a shame as local people are usually only too happy to explain things to foreigners.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 24 Yowara to Nichinan

I head down the valley and as I approach the coast the mist lifts and shows it to be a grey overcast day. I pass through Nango and on the other side of the town come to the first temple, Chomanji, a nondescript, low, concrete structure reached by crossing over the single railway track.

The priest and a couple of elderly women parishioners are in the main hall having a ceremony so my visit has a soundtrack of drum and chant. Then I reach the coast, with inlets and bays and offshore spires of rocks and steep islets. This is apparently quite a popular seaside resort area, but now in the off season there are few visitors.

By lunchtime I reach Aburatsu, a largish port extended out into the sea by concrete. Across the town on the far hillside I can see the next temple. The temple itself is dark and wooden at the base of the hill, but above it on the hillside is the okunoin, the "inner" hall, of concrete with a red roof.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 24 Yowara to Nichinan

The town itself has a few places of interest..... an old stone bridge, and in front of a shrine a statue of a young woman. I don't recognize her name, but I photograph the information board for later translation and study. The most intriguing thing for me was an old three storey store on the main street. Built in a style that incorporates bits of western and Japanese features, there is something quite beautiful about it. This type of architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries has in recent years become quite attractive to me, though I would hesitate to say exactly why.

I head upriver, inland towards Nichinan Station and the train home. I pass through an arcade, common in most towns, and in the cities always bustling with activity. It's Friday afternoon, not a closing day, but the vast majority of storefronts are shuttered and the only people are schoolkids cycling through. It may be that the desolation is because this is a tourist area and it's out of season, but it seems more likely that this is just the state of small towns in rural Japan.

So, on a very conservative estimate I have covered 260 kilometers on this leg, making a grand total of 630km. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the what I expect the total walk to be.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 23

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Minshuku Sennari-so Ibusuki

Minshuku Sennari-so is a small, modern minshuku with seven guest rooms in the coastal onsen resort of Ibusuki in southern Kagoshima Prefecture.

Minshuku Sennari-so, Ibusuki, Kagoshima

The rooms are traditional Japanese in that they have tatami floors and futon, but non-traditional by having toilet and bathroom en-suite.

Also unusual is that every room has a LAN port for internet access though you need to bring your own cable.

Minshuku Sennari-so, Ibusuki, Kagoshima, Japan


Minshuku Sennari-so is located one kilometer south east of Ibusuki train station, a stone's throw from the waterfront, and only 200 meters from the town's main tourist spot, the Saraku Sand Bath Center where customers pay to be buried under hot, steaming, sand.

I paid 4,300 yen for a room without meals. With breakfast Minshuku Sennari-so costs 5,140 yen, and with breakfast and dinner, 7,185 yen.

Minshuku Sennari-so, Ibusuki, Kagoshima, Japan


Minshuku Sennari-so
5-chome-10-9 Yunohama
Ibusuki
Kagoshima 891-0406
Tel: 0993 22 3379

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Japan News This Week 26 January 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Star Envoy’s Frankness Puts Kennedy Mystique to Test in Japan New York Times

Japan's dolphin hunt: Tradition or barbary? (VIDEO)
Global Post

Japanese History, Chinese Democracy
BBC

Shinzo Abe: a new dawn is breaking over Japan
Guardian

Anti-nuclear Koizumi feels resolved to whatever fate comes his way
Japan Times

Bombs Bursting in Air: State and citizen responses to the US firebombing and Atomic bombing of Japan1 Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

More than half of US military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa, the smallest and most southern of the 47 prefectures in the country.

The total number of US military in Japan is 44,000. In Okinawa, a series of islands removed from the main island of Honshu, the figure is just under 23,000.

To compare the size of Okinawa and several locations in the United States, see below:

Okinawa: 877 sq miles (2,271 km²)
Rhode Island: 1,212 sq miles (3,140 km²)
Maui: 727 sq miles (1,884 km²)

Okinawa is thus roughly 72% the size of of the state of Rhode Island. With 22,772 soldiers and marines - the majority are marines - in the prefecture, that would equal 16,395 foreign armed military personnel in Rhode Island.

The 32 US bases in Okinawa moreover occupy roughly 20% of the land area of the prefecture.

Thus, bases to house the above 16,395 armed, very fit, battle-ready young men (and a small percentage of women) far from home would occupy 242 square miles of the Ocean State.

Source:

Various

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Twenty-six Martyrs Museum Nagasaki

二十六聖人記念館

The memorial to the Twenty-six Martyrs and the adjoining Twenty-six Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki commemorates the twenty-six men who were crucified on the orders of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi on February 5, 1597 on Nishizaka Hill, not far from present-day Nagasaki Station. The victims had their right ears cut off and were forced to walk from Kyoto to Nagasaki with their hands bound. On Nishizaka Hill they were then lanced on the cross with spears thrust diagonally through their bodies.

Shrine of Twenty-Six Martyrs in Nagasaki


An outdoor sculpture in the shape of a cross by Yasutake Funakoshi was erected in 1962 to mark this important event in the history of Christianity in Japan.

The Twenty-six Martyrs Museum at the site has an excellent collection of historical artifacts relating to the introduction of Christianity in Japan including original statues of the Virgin Mary, disguised as Kannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy, historic reliquaries, paintings, statues, carvings, books, maps, prints and fumi-e, metal images of Jesus or Mary, that Christians were forced to stamp on to renounce their faith after the crack-downs on Christianity at the beginning of Tokugawa rule in the 17th century.

Twenty-six Martyrs, Nagasaki

The highlight of the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum is an original letter written by Francis Xavier to King John III of Portugal.

Twenty-six Martyrs Museum Nagasaki, Kyushu, Japan

Luis Frois, the most prominent Jesuit in Japan at the time, attended the executions but was to die a few months later. A plaque at the site marks his life as a priest in Japan.

Shrine of Twenty-Six Martyrs Nagasaki Kyushu


Twenty-six Martyrs Museum
7-8 Nishizakamachi
Nagasaki
850-0051
Japan
Tel: 095 822 6000
Google map of the 26 Martyrs Museum

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Italia Gai Shiodome

Walking from the Shiodome area of Tokyo just near Shimbashi Station in Shimbashi towards Hamamatsu-cho Station, Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Garden and the Pokemon Center brings you to Italia-gai (Italian Town), an area of the capital designed to look like Italy.

There are cobbled streets, Italian cafes and restaurants and Italianesque architecture, we even saw a left hand drive Lamborghini, but that was just coincidence, I think.


Italia Gai Shiodome Tokyo


The biggest building in Italia-gai is the huge Japan Racing Association's (JRA) off-track betting betting facility for Japanese horse racing, the huge JRA Wins Shiodome, complete with colonnades and rounded arches.Inside is the Pronto Cafe and several floors of vast atria for laying bets on Japanese horse racing involving a convoluted and arcane system.

Italian bars, restaurants and cafes in Italia-gai Tokyo include Due Italian (Tel: 03 3436 5337) and 3mendo (tremendo), 2-16-4, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan 105-0023 (Tel: 03 3433 0477).

Italia Gai Shiodome, Tokyo


The Italian Embassy is also reasonably close to this area, though still a distance, being located south of Shiba Koen.

Hotels in the Italia-gai area of Tokyo include the Mitsui Garden Hotel,the APA Hotel Shinbashi Onarimon and the Art Hotels Hamamatsu-cho.

Italian Town Tokyo is roughly equidistant from Hamamatsu-cho and Shinbashi stations, both of which are on the circular Yamanote Line.

Italia Gai Shiodome,Tokyo, Japan


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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Japan News This Week 19 January 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Defying Japan, Rancher Saves Fukushima’s Radioactive Cows New York Times

Watch Japanese fishermen catch a 26-foot, 360-pound Giant Squid
Global Post

Japan trial of Tokyo sarin attack cult member begins
BBC

Fukushima is an ongoing warning to the world on nuclear energy
Guardian

Chinese group mulls suing Japanese firms over wartime forced labor
Japan Times

The Origins of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute between China, Taiwan and Japan Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

Crime continues to decline in already hyper-safe Japan.

2013 murders in Japan: 939
1954 murders in Japan: 3,081

In 1954, the population of Japan was about 80 million; now it is 127 million.

Source: Jiji Press

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Prudential Tower Akasaka Tokyo

プルデンシャル・タワー 赤坂

The bustling Akasaka district in Tokyo is dominated by a gleaming white architectural giant, the Prudential Tower. This 38-story behemoth stands out not for its 158m height but for the sophistication of its design which belies the simplicity of its shape, imparting finesse to what would otherwise appear as bulk.

The Prudential Tower in Akasaka, viewed from Kojimachi.

Floors 1 and 2 of The Prudential Tower are stores and other businesses, the third to 24th floors are offices, and floors 26 to 38 contain 125 apartments, 70% of which are serviced, and which cost in the region of at least one million yen a month to rent.

The Prudential Tower was built by Taisei Corporation, completed in 2002. The history of the site on which the Prudential Tower stands is a story in itself.

Up until the time of the Pacific War, the site was occupied by the Koraku ryotei (traditional high-class guesthouse) which happened to have been one of the premises commandeered by rebel troops on 26 February 1936 in the attempted coup d'état known as the February 26 Incident. The Koraku met a worse fate within the decade, scoring a direct hit from an American B-52 bomber during the raids on Tokyo.

The Prudential Tower in Akasaka, towering over the streetscape of nearby Kojimachi.

Following the war, what began as a luxury apartment building built by the sugar mogul and later prime minister from 1957-60, Aiichiro Fujiyama, was subject to a sudden change of plans to become a hotel, the New Japan Hotel, which opened in 1960.

The New Japan Hotel was later bought out by Japan's takeover king of the time, Hideki Yokoi (the man who later bought the Empire State Building). Yokoi was the ultimate in hardnosed rationalizers, and applied his costcutting when refurbishing the New Japan Hotel to the point where the building went without a fire sprinkler system and did not contain fireproof construction materials.

The Prudential Tower at nightfall, seen from nearby Kojimachi.

In 1982, the New Japan Hotel burnt to the ground with the loss of 33 lives. Yokoi was found guilty of negligence in 1993 and spent the next three years in jail. However, for all of that time, the burnt out hotel remained as is, finally being demolished in 1996. The owner of the site by this time, Chiyoda Seimei insurance, had plans for developing it anew, but went bust in 2000 before it could do anything.

Prudential then teamed up with Mori Building to buy the incomplete development, resulting in the construction of the present Prudential Tower in 2002.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Japan Blogs

ジャパン ブログ

Japan reportedly has the highest number of bloggers per head of population in the world. A 2007 Technorati survey found that Japanese (37%) edged English (36%) and Chinese (8%) as the blogosphere's most blogged language.

Why do Japanese bloggers blog more frequently than others? High literacy rates, the easy availability of high-speed internet access, digital cameras amd mobile phones all play a part - but in a virtual one-party state with a limp, mainstream press - blogs offer a medium to challenge authority and existing power structures and let off some steam.

That's not to say the majority of Japanese blogs are concerned with political and social activism, far from it, most Japanese blogs, like those in the rest of the world, are domestic by topic: family, food, hobbies, travel and pets - a huge section of the Japanese blogosphere seems dedicated to the household dog or cat....yawn!

Anyway here are a few of our favorites both Japanese and Japan-based blogs divided by category.

Pets

a-thera
Pet portal with thousands of cat and dog blogs.

Photography

boxman - mostly black and white photos of locations in Tokyo and overseas.

In our next feature on Japan blogs we'll look exclusively at English-language blogs on Japan.

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Japanese For Busy People

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pokemon Center Tokyo

Pokemon is a global phenomenon born in Japan and there are a number of Pokemon Centers in Japan where fans of the character can get the latest Pokemon releases.

Pokemon Center Tokyo, Japan


There are presently eight Pokemon Centers in Japan: Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Tokyo-Bay (Chiba) and Yokohama.

The Pokemon Center in Tokyo is located in the Shiodome Shibarikyu Building opposite Hamamatsucho Station near the Shiodome area of Tokyo near Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Garden and Italia-gai.

Pokemon Center Store, Tokyo, Japan


Crowded at weekends, when new releases hit the store, it is best to visit the Tokyo Pokemon Center mid-week.

However, if you want the hottest Pokemon items before they sell out on the day, our sister site GoodsFromJapan serves customers worldwide who want Pokemon Center goods. If you wish to purchase the latest Pokemon goods and have them sent to your home or business please contact us.

A word from GoodsFromJapan:
"Hi, Dave here, the "Pokemon guy" for GoodsFromJapan in Tokyo. I get regular orders for Pokemon store goods from people all over the world: Singapore, France, Australia, India - you name it.
Most requests are for limited edition Pikachu goods - including plushies, files, phone cases, card holders, etc. - that come out on the special event Saturdays. I'm often there early morning with lists of customers orders, and in realtime contact with certain customers while I shop for them, texting with them using WhatsApp, Line, etc. just to make sure we're on exactly the same page.
Once the customer has sent the money by PayPal (+ our 15% commission), I send the goods using the super-secure and speedy EMS postal service: fully insured, trackable online, with the customer in 5 days max.
So if you want Pokemon goods from the Tokyo Pokemon Center - especially the hot, limited edition ones - please contact us at GoodsFromJapan.
Pika-chuuu!"

 

Pokemon Center Tokyo, Japan


Pokemon Center
Shiodome Shibarikyu Building 2F
1-2-3 Kaigan
Minato-ku
Tokyo 105-0022
Tel: 03 6430 7733

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nakatsugawa Station

中津川駅

Nakatsugawa Station is a station on the JR Chuo Line from Nagoya via Tajimi to Nakatsugawa. The Chuo Line then continues on to Shiojiri, Takao, Mitaka and eventually Tokyo Station.

Nakatsugawa Station, Gifu Prefecture

Both local and express trains stop here including the Shinano to Shiojiri, Matsumoto and Nagano. As you exit the station there is a taxi rank to your left as well as a Tourist Office. Here as well are buses to the Nakasendo post-town of Magome. The tourist office has a number of pamphlets to the region and can help with accommodation reservations throughout the Kiso Valley region and bus times.

Nakatsugawa Tourist Office, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

If you are walking to either Ena or Magome on the Nakasendo, carry on straight ahead down the main street towards the large Apita store on your left. To the right is the Nakasendo to Ena, to the left is a joyato stone lantern and wooden, kosatsuba notice-board and the route up the steps to Magome and Tsumago.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome

The Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome in the Shiodome district of Tokyo is a top quality hotel located in the area occupying floors 24-38 of the Royal Park Shiodome Tower building with amazing views out over Tokyo spread out below.

Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome, Tokyo


The basement floors of the Royal Park Hotel have a branch of Kinko's, a convenience store and the Balinese-style Mandara Spa.

The rooms are tastefully-appointed with WiFi throughout the hotel. The Royal Park Hotel has two restaurants: one Chinese and one Japanese as well as a cafe/bar in the lobby on the 24th floor.

Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome, Tokyo


Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome
1-6-3 Higashi-Shinbashi
Minato-ku
105-8333
Tel: 03 6253 1130

The nearest stations are Shimbashi Station on the Tokaido Line, Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yokosuka Line, Asakusa Line and Ginza Line and Shiodome on the Oedo and Yurikamome lines.

Royal Park Hotel The Shiodome Tokyo


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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Kumano Kodo backwards on a bike

Tony Gibb

The Kumano Kodo is a walking pilgrimage from the West Coast of the Kii Peninsula to three old, Shinto shrines on the East and South of the peninsula. These are Kumano Hongu Taisha, the Kumano Hayatama Taisha and the Kumano Nachi Taisha.

During the 11th century these Grand Shrines were visited by members of the Imperial family from the Imperial Capital in Nara. They would follow the trail across the Kii Peninsula from Wakayama, down to Kii Tanabe and across to Kumano Hongu. From there they would catch a boat down the Kumano River to Shingu, visit Kumano Hayatama Taisha and then walk around the coast and climb up to Kumano Nachi Taisha. By the 15th century it had become a pilgrimage for everyone, not just aristocrats and the trail became so congested the pilgrims were compared to ants as they struggled along.

The Imperial route (green) and mine (magenta)
The Imperial route (green) and mine (magenta)
It wasn't in order to be difficult but I started visiting the three Kumano Kodo shrines from the wrong end and at the middle shrine. The normal pilgrimage is by foot across the mountainous interior of the Kii Peninsula (shown in green on the map). The path is not suitable for a road bike and would probably be difficult for a mountain bike with path elements such as shown in the following picture. I started in Shingu, visited Kumano Hayetama on foot, rode to Kumano Hongu and rode back to Kumano Nachi.

Section of pilgrim path, Kumano Kodo
Section of pilgrim path
I visited Hongu Taisha just 3 months after a huge typhoon had ripped through the Kii Peninsula. The Kumano River had run as much as 30m above its usual level and the roads were still half washed away. All along the road there were sections where it had fallen into the river or been swept by rocks and dirt falling down the adjacent hillside.

Typical road section three months after the typhoon
Typical road section three months after the typhoon
Near to Kumano Hongu is the Yunomine Onsen village, consisting almost entirely of hotels and ryokans dedicated to the rituals of the Japanese bath. It was wonderful after the long ride up the Kumano Valley to soak in an outdoor bath under a light drizzle of rain. The food was pretty good in the Yoshinoya Ryokan too.

Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hongu Taisha
Kumano Hayetama Taisha
Kumano Hayetama Taisha
Kumano Nachi Taisha Kumano
Kumano Nachi Taisha
Nachi Taisha is co-located with the Buddhist temple Seigantoji, the first temple on the 33 temple Saigoku pilgrimage route. The site was chosen to be near the Nachi waterfall, one of the more spectacular sights in Japan. Following the Saigoku route was my purpose in visiting Japan and the riding Kumano Kodo was a wonderful way of getting into the right frame of mind.

Nachi Falls in the mist
Nachi Falls in the mist
The Saigoku pilgrimage route runs around the Kii Peninsula, up through Nara and Kyoto, across to Himeji, up to the northern coast of Honshu and back across and along Lake Biwa. But that’s another story and can be found in By Bike Around Saigoku

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Japan News This Week 12 January 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Abe’s Profane Pilgrimage New York Times

Being Lord Voldemort in Africa
Global Post

Japan and China criticise each other's Africa policies
BBC

Hakone Ekiden: the greatest race on Earth?
Guardian

New Japan research scandal brewing over Alzheimer’s study
Japan Times

Japanese Begin to Question Protections Given to Homegrown Rice New York Timesl

Bitter Soup For Okinawans - The Governor’s Year-End Betrayal Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

Top 10 newspapers in the world by daily circulation numbers (country):

1. Yomiuri: 9.96 million (Japan)
2. Asahi: 7.64 million (Japan)
3. Mainichi: 3.43 million (Japan)
4. Times of India: 3.31 million (India)
5. Reference News: 3.07 million (China)
6. Nihon Keizai Shinbun: 2.9 million (Japan)
7. Bilt: 2.75 million (Germany)
8. Dainiku Jagran: 2.67 million (India)
9. Chunichi Shinbun: 2.66 million (Japan)
10. People's Daily: 2.6 million (China)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hichiso Precambrian Museum

The Hichiso Precambrian Museum in Hichiso, Gifu Prefecture, looks like one of those projects undertaken during the Bubble Period when central government was doling out funds to the localities to stimulate Japan's "post-growth" economy.

Hichiso Precambrian Museum, Gifu, Japan


The Nima Sand Museum in Shimane Prefecture springs to mind as a similar undertaking, where the splendor of the exterior architecture dwarfs the contents within.

The Hichiso Precambrian Museum in Hichiso is meant to resemble a space ship that has just landed in this rural backwater and it does just that.

Hichiso Precambrian Museum, Gifu, Japan


The Hida River near Hichiso was where Japan's oldest rock going back 2,000 million years was discovered by a geologist from Nagoya University. The Hichiso Precambrian Museum contains this rock and other pieces of ancient rocks from around the world, a 4,000 million year old rock from Canada (the "world's oldest rock") and a 3,500 million year old lava pillow from Australia.

Visitors to the museum are first invited to watch a 15 minute video on the formation of rocks explained by a character called Recky to a trio of local kids. You are then transported in an elevator with lots of flashing lights to the Precambrian Age (the basement floor). Here there are lots of rock samples including precious stones and jewels and a model of the topography and geology of the local area.

Hichiso Precambrian Museum, Gifu, Japan


Hichiso Precambrian Museum
1160, Naka-aso, Hichiso-cho, Gifu
509-0403
Tel: 0574 48 2600
Hours: 9am-4.30pm; closed Monday
Admission: Adults 500 yen
Google Map

Kamiaso is the nearest station on the JR Takayama Line or take Route 41 north from Nagoya or south from Gero Onsen.

Hichiso Precambrian Museum, Gifu


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Keywords
Japan rocks Gifu Gero Nagoya Japanese Geology

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Japan in Myanmar

ミャンマーでの日本

Over New Year, my partner and I spent a week in Myanmar (Burma). The destination was at my partner's suggestion and was one that, to be honest, I was not expecting a lot of. I imagined it would be much the same kind of milling, pushy, rowdy, smelly, potholed, unworkable mess that we have already encountered in other developing countries on our travels.

Sure, grottiness has its own charms. I'm always on the lookout for the kind of stained, crumbling walls that can provide a charmingly exotic backdrop to pair shots of my partner and me. And I treasure such moments as one I saw recently in a Bangkok riverside market of a great big hairy sow tenderly nuzzling a resting dog, which raised its head and meekly licked the amorous pig's snout.

Hello Kitty in Burma.


However, I was unprepared for Myanmar. Unprepared for the (comparatively) good roads - barely a pothole anywhere; unprepared for the atmosphere of gentleness - free of the jostling and pushing that you get even in Japan; unprepared for the new atmosphere of (comparative) liberality that has freed the country from the close monitoring and harassment that I had heard accounts of before going there; unprepared for the gleam of gold that richly and warmly colors almost every part - somewhere - of the Myanmar landscape; unprepared for the jazzy variegated clothing worn by the populace, much more diverse and vivid than anywhere I'd ever seen before; and, as a long-term resident of Japan, unprepared, too, for the size of the Japanese presence in Myanmar.

Holy Balanced Rock at Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Burma.
Golden, multicolored Myanmar

The most conspicuous Japanese presence is in the form of Japanese vehicles. We must have seen thousands of Japan-made cars, trucks and buses during our week in Myanmar, many of them second-hand, most of which, in the case of taxis, trucks and buses, still had the original Japanese signage on them. One taxi we took came complete with the satellite navigation system from Japan (with the cursor stationary on Tokyo).

Japanese companies are making deep inroads into the Myanmar market, with virtually all the big Japanese car and electronics manufacturers present by way of street advertising and dealerships.

Japan was bigger here than we expected for food, too. While there wasn't much in the way of imported Japanese food on shop shelves, there were little sushi shops everywhere - evidence of Japanese culinary culture making a far-reaching mark on Myanmar. (Not that we tried any: uncooked food is definitely to be avoided in Myanmar!)

Yet, China and South Korea, too, are if not equally represented, not far behind. LG in particular has a very big presence in Myanmar that rivals that of any Japanese company. And the electric motor scooters we hired up in Bagan for a couple of days, to tour its vast plain of myriad padodas, were by a Chinese company—almost as attractively designed as a Japanese product and every bit as solid and reliable in performance (with 7 hours' riding on a single, overnight recharge).

News about Japan in a Burma newspaper.
News about Japan in a Myanmar newspaper

Myanmar's infrastructure is still very much in its infancy, but for the length of our stay, everything physically worked pretty satisfactorily. Hotel front desks were a bit of a mess, though, in that requested wake up calls were late or not made, messages or even a suitcase left for us by local friends/acquaintances were not passed on, and one hotel even insisted on payment for a reservation that we had paid for already! The idea of service has yet to permeate, but there were shining exceptions of solicitousness and courtesy.

Japan is Myanmar's most generous donor of aid, and just two weeks before our visit the two countries signed an investment treaty to enhance commercial relations. As part of the deal, Japan forgave over five billion dollars' worth of debt, with bridge loans for the remainder. This follows a 51 billion yen loan made to Myanmar for infrastructure development in June 2013 by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The biggest such project is the Thilawa Special Economic Zone just outside Yangon, which, again, was getting underway at the very time of our visit. 51 percent of it is owned by Myanmar, and 49% by Japan Thilawa SEZ Company Limited (JTSC), which includes Japanese multinationals like Marubeni, Mitsubishi and Sumitomo. The joint Japanese-Burmese Thilawa Special Economic Zone and is expected to be completed next year.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

De facto gay marriage in Japan

De facto gay marriage in Japan.
ゲイの縁故者

Three years ago my partner (a male) and I (a male) - both longtime residents of Japan - tied the civil union knot in New Zealand. Then at the end of last year, shortly after gay marriage became legal in New Zealand, we changed our civil union status to married.

Recently in Japan we bought an apartment. For income reasons, only my partner was able to secure a bank loan, yet we shared the cost of the the deposit, and will share the loan repayments from here on in, equally. Nevertheless, as the holder of the loan, he alone has the right to be the official owner of the property. (In the course of inquiry, we discovered that joint ownership of property is very unusual in Japan.)

While we are both healthy, no problems. However, if something were to happen to my partner, I would be left out in the cold, even if he were to leave me the property in his will. Gift tax and inheritance tax in Japan are enormous, usually necessitating the sale of the property by the beneficiary to pay them. However, if we were a married couple, that tax burden would lighten considerably.

We therefore set about to try and register ourselves as a same-sex married couple here in Japan. Family register matters are dealt with on the local level, in our case by the kuyakusho, or ward office (of one of the 23 wards of Tokyo).

Our aim, in officialese, was to “merge households” (setai-gappei) as, to date, in spite of sharing the same address, we form two separate “single person households” (tanshin-setai) in the ward office records. This could be done; however, we were told that we were unable to register as a married couple.

We politely challenged the decision not to register us as married, and asked what law prohibited it. The clerk went away for a few minutes and came back, not with a reference to a section, clause and paragraph of some particular marriage-related law, but, lo and behold, a copy of Section 24 of the Constitution of Japan!

Paragraph 1 of the two paragraphs of Section 24 begins with “Marriage shall be based only on the consent of both sexes” (Kon-in wa ryosei no goi nomi ni mototsuite seiritsu shi) - those last two words clearly putting paid to recognition of same-sex marriage.

However, this section of the Constitution was not written with the intention of stymying any future attempts between same-sex couples to wed. Rather, it heralded a break from the bad old days of Japanese history when consent to marriage was the preserve of the head of the household of, respectively, the bride and the groom. A woman stuck in an abusive marriage had never even consented to the marriage and therefore had no consent to withdraw. And even the paternal consent that had gotten her into the marriage was now transferred to the head of the new household, her husband. In other words, a married Japanese woman was a prisoner to her father then husband, so assigning "consent to both sexes" was, in the broadest terms, about the freedom of the individual to determine that individual's own fate, and about equality between the sexes.

Fast-forward sixty-nine years, and this groundbreaking assertion of marital freedom has ironically, thanks to that word “sexes” chosen in the mid-1940s without an inkling of its 21st century ramifications, become a denial of freedom and equal treatment for gay people in Japan. (If only they had gone for “parties”!)

But all was not lost. The (apologetic! - Japan is so nice like that) clerk said that between the statuses of tanshin (single-person) and kekkonsha (married person) is that of enkosha (de facto married person) and that we could opt for the latter.

We did that. It has probably not yet solved our problem of what would happen if I were to be left alone with the property, but as de facto recognition of a gay couple by a Japanese local authority, it made us happy and serves as a further step toward our goal of full official recognition of my partner and I as comprising a family.
 ____

P.S. I was talking with friends about the status of gay marriage under the Constitution, and was informed that in spite of the "both sexes" (ryousei) that forms the letter of the law, the spirit of the law is also considered significant in its interpretation, and that several legal experts in Japan therefore believe that gay marriage is a possibility as the Constitution stands. It was pointed out to me that if we took the ultimate step of the elder of us adopting the other (a common solution applied by gay couples to the absence of gay marriage in Japan), we would be denying ourselves the opportunity of marrying if gay marriage were to become a reality here. That's food for thought, but, given the immediate motivation behind our desire to become "family," we're more inclined to go for the admittedly less-than-ideal current alternative than stay in limbo waiting (or—if we had the time, idealism and energy—campaigning) for a change that has yet to garner the kind of broad, swelling support being seen in other countries.

Read more about gay Japan.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 23 Miyazaki to Udo Jingu

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 23
Miyazaki to Udo Jingu
Thursday March 28th, 2013

I take the first train out of Miyazaki south to where I finished walking yesterday. There is a bit of a breeze that seems to be blowing away yesterdays overcast sky.

Udo Jingu, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan


Today there are no pilgrimage temples on the schedule, rather two famous shrines, both connected to ancient myths. By the time I reach Aoshima the sun is up and I am rewarded with some fine coastal scenery.

The shrine is on the small island of Aoshima, reachable by a short bridge that crosses to to a spit of land that almost makes the island a peninsula. There are a few people around, mostly Korean tourists.

The shrine is fascinating as it is set in what I would call jungle. It may technically only be sub-tropical, but to my eyes it's jungle. After wandering around the shrine a small museum connected to it that displays the myths around the shrine opens so I pay a visit before heading back to the mainland and continuing on south down the Nichinan Coast.

Sun Messe, Miyazaki, Japan


A few kilometers south of Aoshima I stop in at a small shrine and am delighted to find a photocopied information sheet about the kagura that is held here at the end of November. Being a mask-maker myself I am always on the look out for different styles, and the ones here are certainly different than others I've seen. I make a note of the date and plan to come back here one November.

The coast road continues south, often lined with very tall palm trees, and I am able to keep up a brisk stride as I will be going back to Miyazaki tonight so don't need to be carrying my heavy pack.

In the afternoon I pass the entrance to one of the major tourist attractions of the area, Sun Messe, whose main feature are 7 life-size reproductions of Easter Island statues.

Sun Messe is on top of the hill and I can't be bothered to make the climb up to see something so obviously fake. Udo Jingu, my destination for the day is on a promontory overlooking the Pacific, but to get to it I have to walk through the traffic tunnel that cuts through the promontory and then cut back.

Udo Jingu shrine itself is quite impressive, situated as it is inside a large cave overlooking the sea crashing onto rocks below. A good proportion of the visitors here seem to be Chinese.

Kyushu has done a good job at attracting tourists from mainland Asia. Most signs at tourist sites are in Korean, Chinese, and English as well as Japanese.

Exploring around the shrine grounds I find a little-used trail that points to another shrine. Getting to it involves a bit of a scramble, but it's worth it. It too is located inside a cave, but with no shops or staff or other visitors, the atmosphere is more reverential. Way off in the distance I can make out the Easter Island Statues on the hilltop. And that's it for today, so I head to the bus stop to wait for the bus back to Miyazaki.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 22

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

Japan News This Week 5 January 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
No Meeting With Leader of Japan, Chinese Say New York Times

Chinese balloonist lands in midst of isle dispute with Japan
Global Post

Japan's ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage
BBC

China and Japan: the pot and the kettle
Guardian

Fire at Yurakucho triggers rail delays
Japan Times

Systems of Irresponsibility and Japan’s Internal Colony Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Statistics

Citizens of thirty-seven countries were surveyed in 2011 by the condom maker Durex about the frequency of sexual relations.

"Percentage of those who engage in sex more than once a week":

1. Colombia: 89%
2. Russia: 88%
2. Indonesia: 88%
11. Greece: 80%
35. Canada: 56%
36. England: 55%
37. Japan: 27%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Cent-Inn Kagoshima

Cent Inn Kagoshima is conveniently located in downtown Kagoshima city, a few minutes walk from the Tenmonkandori tram stop, a five minute walk from the Kagoshima Castle Ruins, and two hundred meters from the Xavier Memorial Church where the City View tourist bus can be boarded.

Cent-Inn Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan


The rooms at Cent Inn are western-style with en-suite bathroom, fridge, kettle, TV, and wired internet. There is also an internet-connected computer in the lobby.

In-room massage is available, and parking at 500 yen a day is also on offer. There is a coin laundry.

Cent-Inn Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan


The 24 hour Front Desk offers photocopying service and dry cleaning. There are no no-smoking rooms. I paid 4,750 yen a night, but got a 300 yen discount by not having the room cleaned for the second night.

Cent Inn
892-0841, Kagoshima Prefecture
Kagoshima-shi, Terukuni-cho 12-1
Tel: 099 227 5611
Google Map of Cent Inn

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy Year of the Horse 2014

あけましておめでとうございます

Happy 2014 to all our visitors. It's the Year of the Horse in 2014, below is the kanji character for the Year of the Horse (午年; umadoshi).

Happy Year of the Horse 2014


2013 saw the government of Shinzo Abe and the LDP continuing to row with China and South Korea over disputed islands and Abe's visit to Yasukuni Shrine at the end of the year.

On the economic front, stocks ended higher as the yen continues to weaken and deflation lessens.

We wish you all a peaceful and healthy 2014.

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