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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kohaku Uta Gassen 2014

Kohaku Uta GassenKohaku is a New Year's Eve institution in Japan watched by millions of viewers across the nation.

Kohaku 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 World War II, Kohaku became a TV program as well in 1953 and has remained a staple of NHK's New Year programming every year.

This year, 2014, is Kohaku's 65th and 51 acts will be taking part. New acts include HKT48, an AKB48 clone from Hawks Town in Fukuoka, Hiroko Yakushimaru and May J.

From the women's team other 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; Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, watched more for her clothes than her singing talent, Akiko Wada, making her 38th appearance and veteran crooner Seiko Matsuda. Ayumi Hamasaki has made the brace decision to be absent this year after 15 consecutive years on the show.

The White (men's) team includes the ageless SMAP, Exile, American enka sensation Chris Hart, and Kiyoshi Hikawa. Debutants for the men are V6 and rockers Sekai on Owari.

Kohaku will air on December 31 2014 from 7:15 pm to 11:45 pm on both NHK TV and radio.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Japan News This Week 29 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Shinzo Abe Has Eyes on Revising Constitution in Japan
New York Times

Japan charges Tokyo 'vagina artist' with obscenity
BBC

Noma goes to Tokyo: ‘this is a great opportunity to show off what we can do’
Guardian

Work begins in Japan to shield infrastructure against cyberattacks
Japan Times

The Japanese State’s New Assault on the Victims of Wartime Sexual Slavery
Japan Focus


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Statistics

In a survey of more than 1,600 married women across Japan found that 45.1 percent were sexless. The research was conducted by Mayumi Futamatsu — author of “Tonari no Shinshitsu" (The Bedroom Next Door), a book on marital sex published in 2014. This compares to the 15 percent of married couples in the United States believed by US researchers "to have extremely low sexual activity." In the UK, 20 percent of married people under 24 in Britain reported being sexless.

Source: Japan Times

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 51 Hainuzuka to Mii

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 51, Hainuzuka to Mii
Monday December 23rd 2013

It's dark when I walk to Kurume Station and catch a train south to where I finished yesterday. The first stop is the number 10 pilgrimage temple, Fudo-ji.

It's a small temple in a neighborhood of windy roads, but when I do find it the sun pokes above the distant mountain horizon and bathes the main hall in golden light. All the statues and the surrounding land is covered in a thick, crystalline frost. If I was to follow the route of the pilgrimage guide I have I would now head north to a cluster of temples north of the Chikugo River, but the guide is written for people doing the pilgrimage by car, and though it may be the shortest route it makes less sense to me so I have chosen a different route. I head northeast to something not on the pilgrimage, but something worth seeing, a 62 meters tall statue of Kannon.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 51 Hainuzuka to Mii.


As I get closer the statue is easily visible towering over the small town, though the view is partially obscured by the tangled web of cable and wires that lay suspended over the roads. The temple, a branch of Daihonzan Naritasan up in Chiba, is a modern temple founded in 1958.

A friend of mine would disparagingly call it a Buddhist "theme park" as it has numerous "attractions" as well as the giant statue of Kannon, there is a replica of an Indian tower, an underground heaven and hell experience, a site for car blessings, and lots of opportunities to spend money to increase your luck.

However, from my understanding, this is not too different to how many temples, especially pilgrimage temples, operated in the Edo Period. After climbing the stairs inside the giant Kannon statue there were fine views over Kurume and the Chikugo River.

I carried on eastwards to a mountaintop shrine I had not heard of before, Kora Taisha. Along the way I have to detour around the barbed wire fence surrounding a large army base. The army in Japan keeps a fairly low profile, considering that technically it shouldn't exist. Of course, it may look like an army to you and I, but it's not. It's a "self defense force." And those aren't tanks behind the fence, they are "special vehicles."

Of course, when I dig in my garden I don't use a spade I use a "personal excavation device."

A little further along the road and I see a most unusual sight. Half a dozen Santas riding motorbikes. They stop by the side of the road and I see one of the riders is dressed as a Christmas tree and another as a reindeer. I can only guess that they must be on some sort of a charity run. Or maybe not.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 51 Hainuzuka to Mii.


I get to the base of the mountain and am pleased to discover that there is an old trail of stone steps that go up to the shrine. I am not pleased that I have to climb a mountain, I don't like climbing, but it pleases me that I can be off the road and follow in the footsteps of the many who have climbed these steps before me in centuries past.

The shrine itself was rather nice, with the structures now standing dating back to the 17th century. Beside the shrine was an overlook offering views along and across the wide Chikugo River valley. I will be spending a few days walking up the valley on this side, and then then back down across the country I can see laid out in front of me.

A really nice surprise was that behind the shrine I found a pair of fertility stones, one male, one female. I head back down the steps and head to the nearby station at Mii from where I take a train back into Kurume where I have enough daylight left to do some sightseeing. At one shrine there are still orange and red leaves on a maple tree.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tachikawa Station

Tachikawa Station on the JR Chuo line is about 40 km west of Tokyo Station. It is a major station at the center of a modern, bustling commercial district, and one with a history to match its size. As of last year, Tachikawa Station saw daily use by over 160,000 commuters, putting it in the top 20 busiest stations run by JR East.

Tachikawa Station, Tokyo, Japan.


Tachikawa Station established way back in 1889, only 17 years after the introduction of railway to Japan in 1872.

Tachikawa Station provides access to four railway lines: the JR Chuo Line, with which it is most closely associated; the Ome Line, which starts at Tachikawa Station and goes as far as Okutama Station; the Nanbu Line which also starts at Tachikawa Station and goes to Kawasaki; and the Tama Toshi Monorail Line which runs between Higashiyamato and Tama, via Tachikawa.

Arch at North Exit of Tachikawa Station, Tachikawa, Japan.
Arch at North Exit of Tachikawa Station

Tachikawa Station has eight platforms and four ticket wickets: South, East, West and Granduo (Granduo being the shopping plaza adjoining the station, owned by JR East). The South and West exits were added just within the past 6 or 7 years as part of a general rejuvenation of the station complex.

The Lumine Department Store occupies the upper floors of the station building, and the north exit of the station (being an exit as opposed to a ticket wicket), features a massive intersecting decorative archway in tubular steel over the pedestrian deck.

Tama Toshi Monorail Line from Tachikawa Station.
Tama Toshi Monorail departing Tachikawa Station

Tachikawa Station is the stop off point for visits to nearby Showa Kinen Park, one of the greater Tokyo area's biggest and most beautiful parks.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tokyo Station Centenary

東京駅 100周年

Tokyo Station, the granddaddy of Tokyo's Marunouchi district, turned 100 years old this month. The station opened on December 18, 1914, after six-and-a-half years of construction work.

Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station, Japan.
Tokyo Station - Marunouchi side.
The plans for its construction had been laid 30 years before, in response to the rapidly growing population of Tokyo. The project received a massive budget boost shortly after Japan's victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, taking it to six times the original budgeted amount. The result was a grand Renaissance-style building that not only announced Japan's arrival as a modern state, but as the first non-European power in modern times to defeat a European power.

Until Tokyo Station was built, Tokyo had only two railway termini: Ueno Station up north, and Shimbashi Station a little south. Tokyo Station marked the joining of these lines and the beginning of a citywide railway network.

South side of Tokyo Station, with Marunouchi Building.
South side of Tokyo Station, with, from left to right, Marunouchi Building and Shin-Marunouchi Building.
Tokyo Station has a distinguished history not only in the vigorous modernization efforts it embodied - but in a tragic sense too in that no less than two prime ministers were assassinated here: Takashi Hara in 1921, and Osachi Hamaguchi in 1930.


Bombing in World War II destroyed two of the Station's domes, and it remained shorn of them for almost the next seven decades. In 2012, renovations were completed at a cost of over USD600 million, restoring Tokyo Station to its former glory, domes and all. To ensure its safety in the event of a major earthquake, it was seismically isolated - a project that consumed a large portion of the renovation budget.

Tokyo Station has an art gallery, a hotel, and Wi-Fi throughout.

Over 3,000 trains pass through Tokyo Station every day, making it Japan's busiest station in terms of rail traffic, if not in numbers of passengers (for which it is sixth).

JR East just released a commemorative centennial Suica card for the event, but it sold out so quickly that plans have been announced for a second run.

North end of Tokyo Station with Kitte Building in background, Tokyo, Japan.
North end of Tokyo Station with Kitte Building in background.


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Monday, December 22, 2014

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station

The area around the Shinkansen station of Shin-Yamaguchi in Yamaguchi Prefecture is well served with budget hotels, with several of the national chains having hotels there, but I chose to go with Hotel Active, who operate another couple of hotels in Hiroshima and Hakata.

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station, Japan.


The price was one reason. I paid 4,500 yen for a single room, a little bit cheaper than the rest. The room was on the small side, but no smaller than many I have stayed in, and perfectly adequate for a one night stay.

The room was equipped with all the standard amenities, en-suite bathroom, TV, fridge, kettle, high speed internet, etc. The one feature of the room that was way above standard was the chair. I spend a lot of my time in hotel rooms on the internet, and this chair was high-backed and very comfortable.

The amenities of the Hotel Active are also fairly standard, laundry room, internet computers in the lobby, etc, but one unusual feature that was particularly appealing to me was free drinks! Each floor has a drinks machine dispensing free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, 24 hours a day, but the real gem of the hotel's services has to be the free breakfast.

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station, Japan.


Many budget hotels offer free breakfasts, sometimes very simple, and sometimes buffet style with a variety of foods, but this one was huge. 2 big tables filled with Japanese style and "western" style foods and drinks, all you can eat, and all quite tasty.

Hotel Active is located just 50 meters from the south entrance of the Shin-Yamaguchi Shinkansen Station.

Hotel Active
4-1 Ogorimiyukimachi
Yamaguchi city
Yamaguchi 754-0011
Tel: 083 976 0001

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Japan News This Week 22 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Scientist Who Had Claimed Stem Cell Breakthrough Resigns From Japanese Research Institute
New York Times

Japan 'could preserve' damaged 2011 tsunami sites
BBC

Eat to the beat: a music insider’s guide to dining out in Tokyo
Guardian

Activist challenges secrets law with anonymous whistle-blower website
Japan Times

Japan’s Resilient, Decarbonizing and Democratic Smart Communities
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Japan is pressing ahead with linear passenger rail. The first line will whisk passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya in 40 minutes, traveling at a cool 500+ km/hour (310+ mph). This section is slated to be complete in 2027. Then a second section, from Nagoya to Osaka, will open in 2045.

Construction Costs: 5.5 trillion yen (4.6 billion US dollars)
Surplus Soil from Construction: 56.8 million cubic meters (enough to fill Tokyo Dome 46 times
Total Length of Tunnels: 246 kilometers (86% of Tokyo - Osaka section)
Number of landowners along line: 5,000 (in negotiations with local governments)

Source: Japan News

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall

御土居

The Odoi is an historic fortification built by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to protect Kyoto in the late 16th century.

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall.

The Odoi was a system of rudimentary earth works and moats incorporating existing streams and rivers that encircled the historic center of Kyoto, west of the Kamo River. The Odoi encompassed an area from what is now present-day Kitayama Dori to Kyoto Station bounded to the east by the Kamo River and stretching as far west as present-day Enmachi Station on Marutamachi Dori.

Little now remains of this long-forgotten fortification, though the best parts of the remaining Odoi can be seen in the grounds of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in north west Kyoto.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in west Kyoto, Japan.


Here the Odoi follows the Kamiya River and during the spring plum blossom and autumn leaves viewing seasons, a special entrance charge enables visitors to stroll this lovely walk which includes a red arched bridge and stone monument engraved with the three kanji characters for Odoi (御土居).

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall, Japan.


The walk along the Odoi is illuminated during these two seasons and open late for viewing. The momiji (red maple) trees are aged with some of them over 400 years old.

Kitano Hakubaicho is the nearest station to Kitano Tenmangu or take any of Kyoto buses #10, #26 #50 Raku Bus #101, Raku Bus #102, #203, # 204 or # 205.

Map showing the momiji walk along the Odoi at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 50, Arao to Hainuzuka
Sunday December 22nd, 2013

It's very foggy as I leave Arao and head north. Before too long I leave Kumamoto and enter into the southern part of Fukuoka, known as Chikugo, the old name of the province.

This used to be a major coal mining area, though there is absolutely no sign of it anymore. They didn't run out of coal, there is still plenty under the ground, rather the government chose to shut down the industry because at the time oil was cheaper to import. Same reason why so much wood is imported in this 70% forested country. Pure economics, which turned this area into one of the poorest in the nation.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.


The fog stays thick, but as the morning progresses it becomes brighter. It makes the shrines I visit very atmospheric, with tall trees disappearing into the white. They are interesting shrines too, with very funky, brightly painted komainu sharing the gates with zuijin. In general I have been impressed with the shrines in Kumamoto and in fact in Kyushu overall. There are some areas of Japan where the shrines are few and far between and seem to be little visited or used, but not in Kyushu.

Eventually the fog is burned off to reveal a clear blue sky. By lunchtime I get to the one pilgrimage temple I plan on visiting today. Number 59, Komyoji, seems to be a fairly old temple, though there is a concrete treasure house. There is a lot of statuary including a fine pair of Nio in the gate, but the temple is slap bang in the middle of a brand new housing estate.

A few hundred meters away is a brand new Kyushu Shinkansen station, Shinfunayago, and like the housing development there seems to be no basis for it as there are no large towns nearby, but maybe it is part of some development plan.

On the other side of the station is a structure I had been looking forward to visiting. I had caught glimpses of it as I passed through on the train before.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.


It's called the Kyushu Geibunkan, and is a culture center/ museum and gallery complex. The architecture is fascinating to me. The building is mostly a hodge-podge collection of roofs, none of them symmetrical, with many of them almost reaching the ground. Like the walls of the buildings, these roofs are made of a variety of materials. Quite a striking effect and I like it. There are also a couple of studio/gallery annexes, also in quite different styles, so there is plenty for me to run around and photograph. I forgo paying the entrance fee to see what the museum has to offer as I still have some distance to cover today.

A little way north of the shinkansen station I veer off the main road and head into Mizuta. There is a shrine here I want to visit, Koinoki Shrine. It's a subordinate shrine in the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu, a stately shrine with cedar bark roof enshrining Sugawara Michizane, now known as the patron kami of success in education.

Located behind the main shrine, Koinoki Shrine is festooned with hearts and with lots of pink! This is a "Love Shrine" where people, mostly young and female, come to pray for success in finding a lover or husband. It's not the only shrine of this kind in Japan, but the local people are actively promoting it in these times of falling marriage and birth rates.

If I was younger and single I know where I would be spending time hanging out. From the next station I take a train north into Kurume where I will be basing myself for a few days as I walk the convoluted route the pilgrimage now takes.

Koinoki Shrine, Love Shrine, Kyushu, Japan.


Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49 Tamana to Arao

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 49, Tamana to Arao
Saturday December 21st, 2013

The sun is not yet up, today being the winter solstice and therefore the shortest day of the year, but I encounter several joggers out and about. By the time I cross the river into the town the sun peeks out from the clouds. In the middle of the town is a big Hachimangu shrine with a very impressive gate with a tower. Within the gate a pair of stone Nio, the Buddhist temple guardians removed from most shrines when the government separated Buddhism and Shinto in the Meiji Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49.


In 1877 Saigo Takamori's youngest brother was killed here in a battle of the Satsuma Rebellion. Not far out of town and I come to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, number 57, Rengein Tanjoji and what a surprise it is.

Across a bridge is a massive new gate gleaming golden with fresh wood. Instead of the usual two Nio guardians there are instead 4 statues of the Shitenno, the "Heavenly Kings." They are very ornate and also look new. The temple covers a lot of area, and there is a vermillion pagoda, also seemingly new.

There is obviously money here, but it all seems a little sterile in the way imperial shrines do, lacking in the signs of passing of time and lacking any element of human use. I carry on along the main road, passing through a cluster of love hotels and then an abandoned pachinko parlor.

On closer inspection I see a door is open so I go inside to explore, but there is absolutely nothing of interest inside, just the shell of a standard, cheap, light-industrial/commercial structure. When I first came to Japan I noticed that pachinko parlors disappear at a phenomenal rate, being torn down and often immediately replaced with a new one, and I couldn't figure out why.

Ferris Wheel, Greenland.


Apparently it is to do with taxes, with it being cheaper to tear down a 5 year old structure and replace it. Obviously good for that strange god worshiped in modern Japan, "The Economy."

At Nobara I leave the main road and start to head north, first stopping in at a nice Hachimangu shrine that has a fine pair of old, wooden komainu. I chat with the priest for a while who is busy setting up lanterns and generally getting the shrine ready for the busiest time of the year, the coming New Year.

The road rises and dips, with a bit more rising than dipping, and on the horizon I can see what looks like a multicolored tower or chimney. An hour or so later as my angle changes I see that it is a Ferris Wheel.

Looking at it end-on made it appear as a tower. As I get closer the traffic increases and it becomes apparent it is a big amusement park called Greenland, one I had not heard of before.

To get to the next pilgrimage temple, Taisho-ji, number 101, I have to walk around the boundary of the amusement park listening to screams emanating from the roller coasters. Kongoji turned out to be unusual. It's very large, but there are no tall buildings. Everything is low and constructed out of concrete, quite Chinese or possibly Burmese in appearance.

As I arrive a car-blessing is going on in front of the temple. Its quite busy and there is plenty of statuary and it seems the temple is fairly wealthy. From here I head downhill towards the coast, stopping in at a couple of shrines. In Arao I find the third pilgrimage temple of the day, number 58, Kongo-ji. It's a small, urban temple and my final stop of the day as my hotel is nearby.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Snap Election 2014 - My First Ever Vote

選挙2014年

For the first time in the more than two decades I've lived in Japan, I voted today.

Snap election 2014 candidates, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The candidates
I got naturalized as a Japanese citizen in February of this year, qualifying me to participate in Japan's politics. And the first ever election I got to take part in was quite a newsworthy one, as Prime Minister Abe seeks mid-term endorsement for his policies aimed at turning around the country's flat-lined economy, turning the nuclear electric power plants back on in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and giving Japan official military clout again.

Elementary school polling station, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The polling station
The problem is that a major measure aimed at curbing the gargantuan national debt: raising the consumption tax from 5% to 8% impacted severely on another major strand of his economic policy: raising demand for goods and services among the population.

The local polling station was an elementary school about 3 or 4 minutes away by bicycle - one of those drab old concrete monstrosities from the 1980s or, god forbid, earlier. There were hoardings, one on north side of the school, one on the west, with candidates' posters.

Polling station reception desk, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Voter reception desk
At the desk in the foyer, outside the voting room, I submitted the voting slip I had received in the mail. It was scanned and the clerk confirmed my name. I went in, and gave the paper to another clerk who gave me a voting slip and told me to write the name of the candidate of my choice.

Polling booths, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Polling booths
There was a sheet in front of me with the name and party affiliation of each candidate, so I referred to that to make sure I got it right. I then placed it in the first voting box, placed in front of the first of three clerks sitting in a row at a long desk, each with a ballot box in front of them.

Candidate name voting paper, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
My voter registration form (left) and voting paper for candidate's name (right)
I was then given two more slips, each a different color from the first, and told to write the name of the political party of my choice on one, and, on another, which had the names of the six supreme court judges, I was asked to place a cross against any I didn't approve of, or leave it blank.
Political party voting form and supreme court judge voting form, Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
Political party voting form (left) and supreme court judge voting paper (right)

I filled in the party name, left the supreme court judge paper blank, and posted each in the box of the second and third ballot box clerk respectively.

That was it. I made my way out, leaving my choices to be counted and make their tiny contribution to Japanese history.


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Japan News This Week 14 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look Set to Stick With Abe
New York Times

Could women help fix broken Japan?
BBC

Abe defends Japan’s secrets law that could jail whistleblowers for 10 years
Guardian

Japan’s coal binge stirs international climate fears
Japan Times

Japan May Be In A Post-Growth Era, With Or Without Abe
NPR

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Number of foreigners, by nationality, residing in Japan in 2013:

1) Republic of China: 648,980
2) Korea: 519,737
3) Philippines: 209,137
4) Brazil: 181,268
5) Vietnam: 72,238
6) USA: 49,979
7) Peru: 48,580
8) Thailand: 41,204
9) Taiwan: 33,322
10) Indonesia: 27,210
11) India: 22,522
12) United Kingdom: 14,880

 Total: 2,066,445 (or 1.6% of the total population)

Source: Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deutsche Restaurant Expo 2005

ドイツ館

I made a return visit for the first time in ages to the Deutsche Kan, a restaurant, cafe and bar in Nagakute in Nagoya which once formed part of the German Pavilion at Aichi Expo 2005.

Everything seemed the same; the spacious, wooden interior decorated with reproduction German Renaissance paintings, was still there.

Some things had changed however. There was no longer any German beer - no dark beer, no weissbier and no premium German lagers and no German food either. A Wurst case scenario.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya.

The restaurant is part of the Asakuma steak house chain and serves some delicious buffets and set meals if you are a fan of Japanese steak and mix grills. The salads here come especially recommended and looked very appetizing.

They still have beer, too, only Japanese beer, though, Kirin beer.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya, Aichi.

Deutsche Kan  is a ten minute walk south of Fujigaoka Station on the Higashiyama Line of the Nagoya subway and a terminus station of the Linimo.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya,Aichi, Japan.


Deutsche Kan
Terugaoka 237, Meito-ku, Nagoya 465-0042
Tel: 052 771 1159

Hours: 11am-10pm

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Monday, December 08, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48 Yamaga to Tamana

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 48, Yamaga to Tamana
Friday December 20th, 2013

It promises to be a fine day as I head out just after dawn, though a bitterly cold wind is blowing the clouds across the sky at speed. On my way out of town I pass through a small collection of streets with a big soy sauce brewery and a collection of old Edo Period storehouse now converted to shops. I'm surprised to see some of them already open at this early hour. It's actually quite a nice little district, similar to hundreds of others scattered across Japan.

A few kilometers outside town I turn off at the sign pointing to my first stop, the Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum. At a small car park I notice dozens of small tunnels dug into the cliff faces, apparently they were used for burials, though I have not seen anything like them anywhere else in Japan.

A path leads up through the forest and in a few minutes I am by the largest keyhole tomb in Kyushu. The road from the car park to here is more than 2km so this path was a great shortcut. The museum next to the tomb mounds is by Tadao Ando, and is yet another in the Artpolis project.

Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum.


I run around taking shots of the museum's exterior and then go huddle in the corner out of the wind by the entrance. It is still 30 minutes before opening time but the lady on the desk comes over and lets me in out of the wind. The displays are good. Lots of reconstructions of the inner chambers of burial mounds from around the region, interestingly all brightly decorated.

I head back to the main road down the path and continue on my way. It is mostly slightly downhill but once the road gets back to the Kikuchi River it goes up and over to avoid the big horseshoe curve that the river takes. I stop in at a few shrines. As shrines go they are fairly interesting with some nice wooden komainu and old paintings.

In some areas of Japan the shrines are fairly plain, but some areas, like here, the shrines exhibit more decoration. As I am coming in to Kikusui I can hear a saxophone playing, as I get closer to the source of the sound, most distinctly jazz, it stops, and then a minute later I see a man walk out of a bus shelter carrying a saxophone case. Obviously his neighbors do not like him practicing at home.

I notice that the local manhole covers feature a haniwa, the ceramic figures that were places around burial mounds in ancient times, and then I pass a huge sculpture of the same design. Just off the road are the Etafunayama Burial Mounds, but I decide not to visit, preferring to press on. The main road joins back up with the river and now the coastal plain opens up. I am able to get off the main road and walk along the river embankment.

I get to the bridges that cross over the river into Tamana but carry on down the left bank towards my destination for the night, a big sports park on a hilltop overlooking the town. It is a massive complex with facilities for many kinds of sports and at the highest point in the park I find what I am looking for, the Tamana Observatory, an observation tower overlooking the town.

Tamana Observatory Artpolis Project.


Actually tower is a misnomer, its another of the Artpolis projects and looks more like a massive sculpture with shapes interlocked and protruding out all over.

There are stairs and decks at different levels and the whole mish-mash of shapes seem to be collected around a large egg shaped form at the center. There are locked steel doors on the egg, but seem kind of pointless as there are wide gaps in the walls on either side big enough to easily slip inside where I find a perfectly ovoid chamber with smooth concrete walls.

A perfect place to spend the night, very womb-like (but there is a fine line between womb and cell?). Here I will be safe from the elements, sabre-toothed tigers, or even crowds of angry villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Japan News This Week 7 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Right Attacks Newspaper on the Left, Emboldening War Revisionists
New York Times

Japan election: Polls point to convincing Shinzo Abe win
BBC

Police in Japan place anti-Korean extremist group Zaitokukai on watchlist
Guardian

Japan’s fiscal ’13 greenhouse gas emissions worst on record
Japan Times

The Okinawa Reality
The Diplomat

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to the JNTO, the number of international visitors to Japan in September 2014 was 1,099,100 (+26.8%), which was the largest number in the history of September data.

By destination, the number of travelers from China increased 57.6% to 246,000 visitors. The number of inbound travelers from Korea from January to September 2014 totaled 1.99 million.

Source: Japan Tourism Marketing Inc.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

MIFA Football Park

MIFA Football Park in Toyosu is a cool place to practice your futsal skills in downtown Tokyo.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu.


MIFA (a play on FIFA) stands for "Music Interact Football for All" and consists of a number of all-weather futsal pitches with floodlights and a trendy cafe, serving focaccia, pasta and pizza and, of course, those essential post-match beers.

Futsal has become extremely popular in Japan due to the lack of available space (and lack of pitches) to play the full (11 a-side) version of the game.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu, Tokyo.


Futsal, which originated in Brazil,  is popular with all age groups in Japan but with the costs involved in booking pitches etc, futsal is especially attractive to the 30+ age group looking to recapture their youth and bond with their contemporaries.

However the artificial turf and the enclosed space takes a toll on aging knee and ankle ligaments (I spent a month in a Japanese hospital after snapping an ACL playing futsal), so always warm up, wear the right footwear and above all take it easy.

MIFA Football Park is a short walk from Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho Line and the Yurikamome Line or Shin-Toyosu Station on the Yurikamome Line. MIFA is right next door to Wildmagic Urban Outdoor Park picnic area.

MIFA Football Park
Toyosu 6-1-23
Koto-ku, Tokyo, 135-0061

MIFA is open 9am-11pm daily. There are 3 18mx26m futsal courts and one 40mx60m junior court available for hire. MIFA also hosts a soccer school and various other futsal competitions and events.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Maki Shoten Foreign Foods Store

Maki Shoten foreign food store in the Mototanaka district of north east Kyoto near Hyakumanben and Kyoto University is a long-standing institution in the city.

Maki Shoten Foreign Foods Store, Kyoto.


Maki Shoten was going strong in 1987 when I first encountered it. I became a regular customer buying imported cheese, dried coconut, muesli, wholemeal bread (sadly no longer on sale) and a copy of the Kansai Time Out (also sadly no longer with us).

Maki has long been serving Kyoto's foreign community with all sorts of goodies from home including turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, a great array of imported spices plus cereals, teas and pasta sauces.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto, Kansai.

Now having to compete with more and more foreign foods stores in Kyoto such as Seijo Ishii at Kyoto Station and Jupiter in the Porta underground mall, just in front of Kyoto Station, Maki's may not be as busy as it once was.

Other, newer foreign foods stores in Kyoto include the Yamaya stores in Qanat shopping mall and Karasuma Oike. Meidi-ya on Sanjo, east of Kawaramachi near the Kamo River has been around for years, selling imported foods at higher prices as reflects its central location.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto.


Maki Shoten
63 Tanaka Sato-no-uchi-cho
Sakyo-ku
Kyoto, 606-8212
Tel: 075 781 3670

Hours: 10am-8pm daily except Wednesday

To get to Maki's take the Eiden Line one stop to Mototanaka from Demachiyanagi Station or bus #204.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47 Kumamoto to Yamaga

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 47, Kumamoto to Yamaga
Thursday December 19th, 2013

It was about three weeks ago that I walked into Kumamoto from the south, and now I am back to begin the next leg of my pilgrimage walk around Kyushu. My plan is to walk through Christmas and the New Year period, though I may take a couple of days off if the weather turns bad. My route will take me north then east and then west though country that is all new to me.

Today I head up route 3 to Yamaga, a hot spring resort town that was once a major rice growing and shipping town. Leaving Kumamoto it is drizzling, cold, the road is slightly uphill and the road is busy. Not a fun way to start, but the worst of all is the noise. Every time I visit a city I am truly shocked by just how noisy it is. I find it hard to believe that people can live in an environment like this, but then again I have lived in cities when I was younger.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47 Kumamoto to Yamaga.


Coming into Ueki I stop in at a small shrine to sit on its steps and have some breakfast out of the drizzle. The shimenawa has a couple of unusual straw decorations added to the shimenawa in preparation for the new year.

A little old lady comes out of the ramshackle building in the shrine grounds and checks her persimmons hanging up to dry. We chat for a while. In small local shrines I have always found people friendly and wanting to chat. Unlike in the cities and tourist spots where many people will attempt to use English to chat, out in the more rural areas the people chat with me in Japanese. Much more natural.

The rain has stopped now and a few kilometers further on I pass by an entrance to a temple with several statues along the narrow, entrance road so I decide to pop in and explore, and I'm glad I did. There were numerous small shrines scattered around the wooded hillside with many statues, some of them painted.

By lunchtime the road flattens out and curves to the left and runs straight up the wide plain of the Kikuchi River. Both sides of the river are covered with paddies filled with the stubble of this year's harvest.

Before reaching the bridge across the river on the outskirts of Yamaga I stop in at a couple more shrines. By the time I get into Yamaga the sun is out and I pass by the elegant public spa and head to the pilgrimage temple, Kongo-ji (861-0501 熊本県山鹿市山鹿1592).

It is number 100, one of the twenty "extra" temples on top of the standard 88. It has an unusual stone gate forming a perfect two thirds of a circle. My guess is it is Chinese style.

Yachiyoza Theater, Yamaga, Kyushu, Japan


There is a ceremony going on with a lot of people in attendance so I pay my respects and head to the main tourist attraction, other than the onsens of course, which is just a few hundred meters away, the Yachiyoza Theater, a restored kabuki theater built just over a hundred years ago.

It is one of the bigger provincial kabuki theaters I've visited, and uniquely the ceiling is covered in adverts which makes it look like the ceilings you find in some temples and shrines with each ceiling panel having a small painting.

The sun is going down but I have enough time on my way to my ryokan on the riverside to make a short detour to visit the main shrine of the town, Omiya Shrine.

The low sun illuminates the hilltop shrine causing a strong contrast between the almost black shadows and the bright vermillion, so I run around quickly taking advantage and trying to get as many shots as I can. As the day has gone on it has gotten better and better.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46

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