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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Japanese Umbrellas

One of the most colorful and appealing images of traditional Japan is the graceful paper umbrella. Forty years ago there were almost 10,000 artisans in Japan making umbrellas of oiled paper and bamboo; now very few remain.

Japanese Umbrellas.

A few years ago Jacqueline Ruyak interviewed Shigeta Zenji, an umbrella maker from Obama in Fukui Prefecture.

"I'm working for my health," laughed Shigeta. "I thought about retiring when I turned eighty-three, but I start to feel all my aches and pains if I don't work."

A native of Obama, Shigeta says that he never wanted to make umbrellas. Being the oldest son, however, he had no choice but to follow in his father's footsteps. He used some tools his father made.

"I always used to envy salaried workers because of their steady incomes, but I guess you could say my work is now my hobby. Now I have the time to enjoy both working and talking with customers."

Japanese Umbrellas.

Hard times hide in those words. In the 1950's, when the market for traditional umbrellas all but disappeared, Shigeta watched as the number of active umbrella makers dwindled, forced into retirement or another line of work.

"It was hard, but I see it now as a kind of spiritual training. I couldn't have made it, though, without the support of my family. When I was at my peak, competition was fierce among the local makers as well as among makers in the rest of the country.

That's all over now and I can take it easy, which is good at my age, I suppose. But I sometimes miss the stimulation." Shigeta is unusual among umbrella makers in that he made both the plain, sturdy bangasa and the colorful, slimmer and more elegant janomegasa.

Japanese Umbrellas.

The name bangasa evolved during the Edo period, when shopkeepers in Edo (present-day Tokyo) made it a practice to put a number (ban) on the umbrellas (kasa) they lent to customers caught in the rain. Janomegasa get their name from the umbrella's 'snake eye' design of concentric circles.

Bangasa were so common before World War II that each prefecture had its own color combination, and umbrella makers had to be careful not to confuse orders from different parts of the country.

Nowadays, most customers at Shigeta's sparsely furnished, tranquil shop buy the handmade umbrellas for nostalgic reasons or to use when wearing kimono, and janome are more popular.

Because bamboo and washi (handmade paper) are essential for making Japanese umbrellas, artisans traditionally lived near a good source of both. Obama, in the Wakasa area of Fukui, is blessed with both abundant bamboo stands and Wakasa washi, and it used to be famous for its umbrellas. About 200,000 umbrellas a year were shipped to the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, Shigeta recalls. Those from Gifu, often called the home of the Japanese umbrella, were usually sent to Kyoto.

The making of umbrella parts is still a cottage industry, and Shigeta used to order his ribs, nubs, and shanks from Gifu. Pointing to a pile of slender bamboo ribs, he sighed, "Next year they want a thirty percent increase for those, but I can't raise my prices."

Shigeta favors the locally made washi for its strength. In addition to plain and colored paper, he uses a paper patterned with Japanese umbrellas, a design which is peculiar to Wakasa washi.

Japanese Umbrellas from Kyoto.

Twelve steps go into making an umbrella. First, the handle is attached to the nub, then the ribs, notched with holes, are fitted into slots in the nub. Once the ribs are in place they must be threaded together with strong cotton thread. Next, the ribs are spread apart and the holes at the ends are threaded together before a strip of paper, folded double, is pasted along what will become the rim of the umbrella.

The fifth, and most important, step is fitting paper around the top so that rain cannot seep in. That done, strips of paper cut on the diagonal are pasted to every three ribs to give the umbrella a nicely rounded shape when furled.

The umbrella is then dampened and left overnight. The next day, the ribs are painted with a mixture of paint and a red paste called benigara, and the paper is oiled with linseed oil. Next the umbrella is dried in the sun, then lacquered. How long does this process take? "That's hard to say because I usually work on fifty umbrellas at a time," says Shigeta, who adds that he was considered a full-fledged maker when he was able to finish one hundred umbrellas a month.

To dry the umbrellas Shigeta takes them to a flat area, opens them, and sticks the handles in the ground---the best way to secure them, he says. A field of sunning umbrellas is a lovely image, but the capricious weather on the Japan Sea coast makes this the worst part of the process.

"Around noon it starts raining or a wind comes up or the wind direction suddenly changes. Now I dry twenty to fifty umbrellas at a time, but when I was at my peak it was over two hundred. Getting them out of the ground in a sudden rainstorm was hard work, but at least I could dry any that got wet.

Order this Japanese Umbrella from GoodsFromJapan.com.

The wind is the problem. It tilts them one way, then another, and sometimes the gusts are enough to blow them into telephone wires or trees. Out of a hundred umbrellas, five or six are beyond repair."

What is the best thing about using a bangasa or janome? The smooth yet warm feel of the bamboo handle? The sound of rain on the taut paper? The slight smell of lacquer and oil? The soft color of light filtered through paper? That two can fit cosily under one and be sure of staying dry?

Used with care, a bangasa or janome should last for about ten years. Use is essential because the paper gets stronger each time it is softened by rain and allowed to dry. Shigeta advises using the umbrella as often as possible, then making sure that it dries thoroughly. Store it in a well-ventilated place to avoid ruining the oiling. With these few simple precautions, a traditional Japanese umbrella should be a thing of beauty and use for years.

Jacqueline Ruyak

The Japan Sea-coast town of Obama, where Shigeta Zenji lived, is about a three-hour train ride north from Kyoto Station. However, bangasa and janome can be purchased in Kyoto at the following shop: Tsujikura or ordered online from GoodsFromJapan.

Tsujikura is on the east side of Kawaramachi, north of Shijo. Open 11 am-7pm, closed Wednesdays.

7F Tsujikura Bldg
Higashi-gawa Shijyo Noboru
Kyoto 604-8026
Tel: 075 221 4396

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chidorisu Murayama Zosu Kyoto Vinegar


Murayama Zosu: Making the finest vinegar products for more than 250 years

Kyoto vinegars are popularly known as kyozu, and among the several locally produced brands, Murayama Zosu's Chidorisu has an especially high reputation. Its unique fullness and depth of taste, unchanged for over 250 years, are absolutely indispensable for bringing out the flavor in kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto cuisine), which has become synonymous with fine Japanese food.

Chidorisu Murayama Zosu Kyoto Vinegar.

Large scale Japanese vinegar production dates back to the Muromachi Period (1333 - 1576). Before that time, vinegar, like sake, was a luxury product available only to the aristocracy. Beginning in the Genroku era (1688-1704) vinegar came into wide use to fix the color in dyed kimono fabric. This process is no longer carried out with vinegar and so today the only vinegar makers surviving in Kyoto are the ones making vinegar for cooking.

Murayama Zosu produces its vinegar through a series of separate stages. First, they take normal white rice and saccharify it. Following this they ferment the mixture into alcohol. Finally, they add an acetic acid producing bacteria and allow the mixture to ferment further until it becomes vinegar. Murayama Zosu produces its vinegars using two methods: 1) their handmade vinegar making process takes about three months from start to finish. 2) using machine production techniques, the company produces about 1,000,000 liters of vinegar a year.

It is almost impossible to talk about authentic Japanese cuisine without vinegar. For example, how could we enjoy the special taste experience of sushi without vinegar? Kyoto vinegars are made to complement the subtle blend of flavors that traditional Kyoto cuisine is known for. In particular, no one flavor should dominate the overall taste, so Kyoto vinegar is very light in comparison to vinegars made in other parts of the country.

Most of Murayama Zosu's production is sold directly to restaurants, and retailed through supermarkets and in the Kyoto food speciality corners of major departments stores. Some of their best products are sold directly to Japanese restaurants in London and Paris, mainly because the vinegar in Europe is much too strong for Japanese cooking purposes.

For visitors interested in visiting Murayama Zosu's factory, tours can be arranged (advanced reservations are required, and an interpreter should accompany visitors not fluent in Japanese). For more information on arranging a tour or buying some of their products (their mustard-like vinegar miso is highly recommended) telephone the company on 075 761 3151. Their traditionally-styled newly rebuilt factory/office is centrally located on the south side of Sanjo just west of Higashioji.

If you wish us to purchase and ship this product to you please contact us

Maruyama Zosu
3-2, Sanjo Ohashi
Kyoto 605-0005

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Marvel Age of Heroes Exhibition

Marvel's comics exhibition "Age of Heroes" is taking place at the Tokyo City View, on the 52nd floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower from April 7 to June 25.

Marvel Age of Heroes Exhibition, Tokyo.

Over 200 exhibits are on display including original stage costumes, props and other Marvel memorabilia.

Beat the queues with VIP tickets and enter without lining up.

22% OFF Mori Tower Observation Deck Roppongi Hills VIP Tix

Marvel Age of Heroes Exhibition, Tokyo, Japan.

Access to Roppongi Hills by train is from the following five Tokyo subway stations:

-Roppongi Station on the Hibiya Subway Line, Exit 1C (3 mins)
-Roppongi Station on the Oedo Subway Line, Exit 3 (6 mins)
-Azabu Juban Station on the on the Oedo Subway Line, Exit 7 (8 mins)
-Azabu Juban Station on the Namboku Subway Line, Exit 4 (11 mins)
-Nogizaka Station on the Chiyoda Subway Line, Exit 5 (10 mins)

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Japan News This Week 23 April 2017


Japan News.
Japan: More than four million middle-aged 'parasite singles' still live with their elderly parents

Criminal complaint filed against PM's wife, Akie Abe, and aide over Moritomo Gakuen
The Mainichi

What it's like to hold Japan's super train golden ticket

Anger, confusion as Japan revives militaristic edict
The Business Times

Japan's exports, imports surge in sign of renewed vigor

Japan Inc braces for labor reform, plans to boost productivity - Reuters poll

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Abortions reported in Japan have steadily declined over the past few decades, from their peak in 1955 when the number of abortions was 67% of the number of live births, to 2000 when they were 28%, to 2014 when they were 18%.

Source: Historical abortion statistics, Japan, Johnston's Archive

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Beta - not Betaa


If you know a smattering of Japanese and you are listening to Japanese people talking among themselves, you may well catch what sounds like the word "better" and think they are using katakana English to express a preference for something.

However, the chances are that rather than betaa, with its long drawn out final "ah" sound, that corresponds to the English "better," you are actually overhearing the word beta ("beh-ta"), which is quite different - almost opposite - in meaning, in fact.

Sore wa beta na hyogen da 「それはベタな表現だ」, or Beta na hassou da ベタな発想だ mean, respectively, "That's a hackneyed expression" or "(That's a) humdrum idea."

According to a contributor to the excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro (literally "Yahoo Knowledge Bag") website, an online forum for all possible kinds of questions, there are two possibilities when it comes to beta's roots.

One is that beta is a corruption of the word subete, or "everything," "all," in the sense of "covering everyhing," "being all the same," and that this developed in about the 17th century.

The other approaches this same idea of "uninterupted sameness" and "lack of differentiation" from a completely different angle, i.e., from the established meaning of beta (べた, in hiragana, not katakana) as "mud," this mud being used to fill in all the gaps - as on an old block wall, for example - to make the surface smooth and featureless.

Whichever the theory that you go with, there are many words in Japanese in use today that express this sense of flatness, e.g., betanuri べた塗り means painting or spreading a substance over a surface to make its smooth, betanagi べた凪 means calmness or wavelessness on a body of water, betaashi べた足 is a golfing term used to describe planting your feet flat on the ground before making a swing, betabore べた惚れ means to fall hopelessly in love with someone ("fall flat in love" kind of works in English, too!), and betabome べた褒め means to praise someone to the skies (in the sense of completely ["smoothly" if you like] slathering them with praise).

By the end of the 18th century, saucy Edo-period short novels, which closely mirrored life on the streets, were including the word beta in the sense of "lacking a twist" and being "two a penny" - a usage which before long found its way into the language of artists and entertainers to describe cliched, corny, unimaginative and same-old-same-old.

So keep a close ear out for whether that last "ah" sound is short or lengthened. There's a crucial difference.

Zenzen beta na hanashi ja nai ne! 全然ベタな話じゃないね! (It's not your everyday kind of story at all, is it!)

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Yodobashi Camera - an Appliance Megastore


Yodobashi Camera is one of Japan's biggest electronics and home appliance retail chains.

Apple Store, Yodobashi Akiba, Akihabara, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
The Apple store in Yodobashi Akiba
There are 24 branches of Yodabashi Camera, about half of them in the greater Tokyo area, and the rest in big population centers throughout Japan, going as far north as Sapporo in Hokkaido and as far west as Hakata in Kyushu.

The camera section on the 3rd floor of the Akihabara branch of Yodobashi Camera.
Cameras in Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara

Yodobashi Camera began in 1960 as a camera store, when a camera cost months and months worth of the average salary. Yodobashi Camera's strategy was to open stores right next to major stations in the greater Tokyo area and to stock as many products as possible, rapidly expanding into home appliances in general. Yodobashi Camera is all about accessibility: accessibility to stores: near stations and open from 9:30am to 10pm, and accessibility to products, the range of which now covers pretty much everything.

Yodobashi Akiba Akihabara, Tokyo.
Yodobashi Akiba, Akihabara
This strategy very much paid off, and Yodobashi Camera is now a giant, especially in the Tokyo area where shopping for appliances almost necessitates a visit to Yodobashi Camera to compare prices - whether in person or online.

Yodobashi Camera salespersons at work.
Selling cameras at Yodobashi Camera
Online is Yodobashi Camera's new retail frontier. Last September Yodobashi Camera started a new online service called Yodobashi Extreme that, in the 23 Tokyo wards and a few areas just outside them, directly competes with Amazon Japan's Prime Now.

Information counter, Showa-dori Entrance, Yodobashi Akiba.
Multimedia Akiba Store information counter, Showa-dori Entrance
Prime Now gets goods to customers within an hour if they spend more than 2,500 yen and don't mind paying an 890 yen freight charge, or within two hours freight-free.

Yodobashi Extreme's delivery time frame is two and a half hours - not as fast as Amazon Prime Now - but the customer can follow the progress in real time online, delivery is always free, and the range of goods available on Yodobashi Extreme is currently much, much bigger than on Amazon Prime Now. The two companies are therefore locked in an online battle for Japan's capital city. Time will tell if Tokyo has room for both.

A Gold Point Card from Yodobashi Camera
Yodobashi Camera Gold Point Card
Meanwhile, Yodobashi Camera's brick and mortar stores, at least in Tokyo, seem to be constantly thronged. The service at Yodobashi Camera is hit and miss. Staff there often seem routinely overworked and distracted, and can often be more curt and less cooperative than typical Japanese store staff. However, Yodobashi Camera stores don't pretend to be boutiques, and the range of goods available there makes a visit to Yodobashi Camera almost mandatory if you want a hands-on comparison between the goods on your wish list.

Prices at brick-and-mortar Yodobashi Camera stores are usually higher than what you can find online, but the store's bonus points system (10% of purchase if paying by cash, 8% with credit card) reduces the gap considerably.

Showa-dori Entrance, Multimedia Akiba Store, Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara.
Showa-dori Entrance, Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara, Tokyo

Yodobashi Akiba is my local Yodobashi Camera branch, in Akihabara. The Multimedia Akiba Store is a massive building with 9 above-ground floors full of merchandise and 6 underground parking floors. Everything is sold here in the way of gadgets and appliances. There is even a restaurant floor (8F) and a golfing and batting center on the top (9F) floor.

Exit 3 of Hibiya Subway Station, Akihabara, at left, and the Showa-dori Exit of JR Sobu line Akihabara station at right. Entrance to Yodobashi Akiba off to right.
Subway (left) and JR (right), with Showa-dori Entrance of Yodobashi Akiba off to the right

If you go to Yodobashi Akiba by train, the Showa-dori Exit of JR Akihabara Station brings you directly to the Showa-dori Entrance of the store. Exit 3 of the Hibiya Subway Station will also bring you out at Yodobashi Akiba's Showa-dori Entrance. (Read more about Akihabara shopping.)

There is also a massive Yodobashi presence in Shinjuku, which is where the company's headquarters are located.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ginza Six Opens Today


Ginza Six opens in Ginza, Tokyo.
Ginza Six - a grand, glitzy new shopping presence in Ginza

Ginza Six is a brand new shopping complex that opens today in Tokyo's most prestigious shopping district, Ginza.

Ginza Six is so named because it is on the Ginza 6-Chome intersection, on the site where the Matsuzakaya department store (Ginza's first) stood between 1924 and 2013. The company that runs the Matsuzakaya and Daimaru chains of department stores teamed up with Mori Building - most famous for its Roppongi Hills and Omotesando Hills complexes - as well as Sumitomo Real Estate - to bring this grand retail project to life.

And grand is the word. Ginza Six is a sleek, imposing modern edifice designed by the prominent architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, with just enough of a minimal, functional air - and just enough use of wood inside - to save it from complete 80s glam. The building's facade is supposed to evoke the idea of sunrays and traditional Japanese noren curtains that typically hang in the doorways of restaurants.

Ginza 6 facade, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.
Ginza 6: a new home for international fashion brands in Tokyo
Ginza Six's 17 floors (four of them below ground) house over 240 stores, half of which are fashion-related and with dozens and dozens of food-related establishments, too, and a dedicated delicatessen floor on B2.

Special features at Ginza Six include a charming, church-like noh theater on the B3 floor, and a big, rather formal, rooftop garden that includes rows of maple and sakura trees.

A brief stroll through Ginza, especially on a weekend when the main street is pedestrianized, quickly reveals that a sizeable proportion, if not the majority, of shoppers here are from China. Chinese tourists are drawn to Ginza in their droves for the top-class brand goods here, which are guaranteed to be genuine; for the prices, which are generally lower in Japan for such goods than in China; and for the panache of Ginza: Tokyo's top shopping area in terms of the range and quality of luxury goods available there.

Entrance to Ginza 6 shopping center, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.
Entrance to Ginza Six
In the 21st century when most young Japanese now flock to cheap fashion outlets like H&M, Uniqlo and Gap, it is hard to imagine developments like Ginza Six surviving on the strength of Japanese shoppers alone. And to moneyed Chinese tourists used to the boutique glamor that makes up great swathes of cities like Shanghai, for example, old-time Japanese department stores just do not cut it. Ginza Six with its conscious Japanesque touches incorporated into cutting edge global glam is now the most alluring tourist trap in town.

New shopping glitz for Ginza - the Ginza 6 retail complex.
Crowds outside Ginza 6, Tokyo
Read more about Ginza shopping.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nameless Theatre Presents Othello


Nameless Theatre presents Othello (English language with Japanese subtitles)

Following the success of last season's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nameless Theatre is preparing for an evening of jealously, betrayal and revenge as they bring Shakespeare's thriller, Othello, to Nagoya this June.

Nameless Theatre Presents Othello.

Powerful and influential, Othello is an entrepreneur at the peak of his powers. But when the "green-eyed monster" slowly begins to convince him of the infidelity of his wife, Desdemona, he embarks on a mission of bloody vengeance.

Sleek, fast-paced and as up to date as when it was first penned, Shakespeare's revenge tragedy shows us the power love has to unite, strengthen, and destroy.

When: Tues. 6 June (7pm); Wed. 7 June (7pm); Thurs. 8 June (19:00); Fri 9 June (7pm) (doors open 30 mins. before performance)

Where: Chikusa Playhouse (千種文化小劇場) 3 Chome-6-10 Chikusa, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi-ken 464-0858

Access: A 3-minute walk from Fukiage Station exit 7, or a 10-minute walk from Imaike station exit 9 on the Higashiyama Subway Line.

Admission: General admission 4,000 yen in advance (5,000 yen at the door). Discounts available for groups of 10 or more.

Reservations: Visit namelesstheatre.org, or phone 052-725-8216 (9am to 5pm)

Inquiries: E-mail info@namelesstheatre.org

Facebook: facebook.com/namelesstheatre

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Yagenbori Fudoin


Yagenbori Fudoin in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Yagenbori Fudoin Temple in Bakurocho neigborhood, Chuo ward, Tokyo.

Yagenbori Fudoin is a small, picturesque temple in the Nihonbashi-bakurocho area of Chuo ward, Tokyo, with a distinctive pagoda. It is distinctive first for its pretty octagonal roof perched like a hat on a head-like sphere, and also for being on a high platform, accessible by a flight of stairs flanked by red banners. It is also somewhat distinctive for being squeezed between nondescript concrete buildings that only serve to accentuate its charms.

A fudoin is a temple belonging to the esoteric Shingon branch of Buddhism championed in Japan by the priest Kukai (774–835). Yagenbori Fudoin was one of the three major Fudoins in old Edo (i.e., Tokyo in the pre-modern era), the other two being Meguro Fudoin in Meguro ward, and Mejiro Fudoin in Toshima ward. (Incidentally, Meguro and Mejiro mean, respectively "eye black" and "eye white" - an interesting contrast that in this context might just be a coincidence, but which warrants looking into for a future blog post, maybe!)

Yagenbori Fudoin - an annex of Kawasaki Daishi.
People paying their respects at Yagenbori Fudoin, Chuo ward, Tokyo.

Of these three, Yagenbori Fudoin is different in that it is actually the annex of another temple located over 22km to the south, in Kawasaki City - a temple called Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji belonging to the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Kawasaki Daishi.

Kawasaki Daishi is one of the biggest temples of the Chisan School of the Shingon sect. The other two in the Kanto region are Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita City, Chiba, and Takao-san Yakuo-in Yuki-ji Temple in Hachioji City, Tokyo),

The object of veneration at Yagenbori Fudoin is a statue of the Acala, or the Fudō Myō-ō as it is known in Japanese, carved to celebrate the fact that the Shingon school reformer, the priest Kakuban (1095–1143) survived his 43rd year which, in Buddhist reckoning, was an inauspicious one. The statue was placed in Negoro Temple in present-day Wakayama prefecture.

Yagenbori Fudoin with a display of the products of a temple sponsor.
Yagenbori Fudoin, with products of a sponsor on display in front

Then about four centuries later, in 1585, Negoro Temple was burnt down in one of the wars waged by Japan's second "great unifier," Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The priest of the temple put the statue in a chest and carried it all the way to Edo (current day Tokyo) where he built a temple beside the Sumida River, which became today's Yagenbori Fudoin.

In 1832, the temple became the site of a school founded by a priest to teach Western-style medicine. Then in 1892, it became a branch temple of Kawasaki Daishi.

A three-day fair takes place every year at the festival around December 28.

Yagenbori Fudoin is a 3-minute walk from Exit B3 of Higashi-nihonbashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, and a 5-minute walk from Exit A4 of Bakuro-yokoyamacho Station on the Toei Shinjuku Subway Line.

Yagenbori Fudoin in a placid neighborhood of Nihonbashibakurocho, Chuo ward, Tokyo.
Yagenbori Fudoin Temple squeezed between neighbors in Bakurocho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
2-6-8 Higashi-nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Taiji Station


Taiji Station is a JR station on the Kisei Line. Visitors traveling south from Owase StationKumano-shi Station and Nagoya Station to the north need to change trains at Shingu Station to reach Taiji.

Local train at Taiji Station.

The first express train to Shingu Station from Nagoya is the 8.05am Wide View Nanki that arrives in Shingu Station at 11.34am. The present fare is 7,390 yen. From Shingu it is about 30 minutes by local train or 21 minutes by Kuroshio or Wide Nanki Express to Taiji.

From Osaka's Tennoji Station a Kuroshio Express takes 3 hours and 20 minutes and costs 6,890 yen.

Taiji Station mural

Visitors to Taiji Station are greeted by cheerful pictures of whales and dolphins in the sea, painted as if by local school children.

Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture on the south eastern coast of the Kii Peninsula has become known outside Japan for a rather darker association with cetaceans since the release of Ric O'Barry's The Cove documentary in 2009.

Junkan bus at Taiji Station, Wakayama.

A local loop bus connections with incoming trains and runs to the Taiji Whale Museum. The station has pamphlets and maps to help tourists get around Taiji.

Regular buses (which are cheaper than the train) from the Meitetsu bus station at Meitetsu Nagoya Station run to Shingu via Kumano. From Shingu there are trains to Taiji. Locals buses connect Shingu with Kumano-shi.

Taiji Station, Wakayama Prefecture.

Taiji Station
Wakayama Prefecture

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Japan News This Week 16 April 2017


Japan News.
Japan’s Sand Museum, a Home to Ephemeral Treasures
New York Times

Figure skating star Mao Asada stuns Japan with retirement

Japanese warships to join US fleet near North Korea as tensions rise

Emperor’s abdication ceremony, the first in 200 years, likely to be held in December
Japan Times

Reconstruction Disaster: The human implications of Japan’s forced return policy in Fukushima 復興災害:福島の強制帰還政策が意味すること
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"Japan ranked No. 4 in official development assistance in 2016 among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an OECD report showed Tuesday.

Japan also ranked fourth in 2015. The United States topped the ODA rankings for 2016, followed by Germany and Britain.

Japan’s ODA spending increased 12.7 percent from the previous year to $10.37 billion, according to the report."

Source: Japan Times

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Garakei - Japan's Unique Featurephones


A Japanese featurephone, or garakei.
The garakei, an endangered species
Japan is among the top 15 countries in the world for internet penetration. As of 2013, about 85% of the Japanese population had access to the internet via a computer or mobile device.

Mobile devices also have very high penetration in Japan. In 2015, there were about 159 million mobile/cellphone subscriptions in Japan, outnumbering the population by an almost incredible 23 million!

However, unlike in neighboring South Korea, for example, where 88% of the population owned a smartphone in 2015, or even China where 58% owned one, only about 40% of the Japanese population owned a smartphone. The remaining 60% (about 95 million phones) were cellphones.

The most popular kind of cellphone in Japan is the featurephone, smarter than the old original Nokia-style brick, but dumber than a smartphone. However, featurephones in Japan come with an array of features and specifications geared to Japanese infrastructure that don't work overseas. For example, years ago, before I got an iPhone, my featurephone provided by au (the mobile provider owned by KDDI, the second biggest carrier in Japan) came with a very convenient built-in Suica function. To go through a railway station turnstile, or pay for a bottle of water at a convenience store or vending machine, I simply swiped my phone instead of a plastic card, and topped up my Suica online.

The Galapagos Islands  inspire the term "galakei."
The Galapagos Islands, the inspiration for the term galakei
Featurephones with these kinds of Japan-only features are known locally as garakei (or galakei). The etymology is funny. Gara (which can also be pronounced gala, as Japanese makes no distinction between the "l" and "r" sounds) is short for Galapagos, and "kei" is short for keitai, which means "mobile." In other words, a "Galapagos mobile."

From the famous giant Galapagos tortoise, to the marine iguana to the blue-footed booby, the isolated Galapagos Islands are known for their numerous uniquely evolved species. The Japanese featurephone's evolution is likened to this, as something recognizable the world over, yet which has adapted to its environment and developed unique features.

The fact that Japan had a policy of national isolation, or sakoku, for over two centuries up until 1853 adds another dimension to the garakei moniker, giving it a sheen of self-conscious humor.

However, like so many unique species on our planet, the garakei seems to be facing extinction. NTT, Japan's biggest mobile provider, announced last November that it was discontinuing its "iMode keitai" mobile line and replacing it with Android-based "P-smart" smartphones, and other providers are following suit.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Hanzomon Station


Exit 1 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Exit 1 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi
Hanzomon Station is in the Kojimachi district of Tokyo's Chiyoda ward and serves one of Tokyo's most elegant neighborhoods.

It is named after the Hanzomon Gate of the Imperial Palace Tokyo, just four minutes' walk east. (The Hanzomon Gate is where Shinjuku-dori Avenue [part of Route 20] starts, going as far west as Kabukicho in Shinjuku ward.)

Ticket wicket near Exit 5, northern end of Hanzomon Station.
Northern ticket wicket, Hanzomon Station
In turn, the station gives its name to the whole subway line that it forms a part of: the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line. Hanzomon Station is code-named Z-05 on the Hanzomon Line. It opened in 1982.

There are no transfers at Hanzomon Station, but Kojimachi Station, on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line, is just four minutes' walk west along Shinjuku-dori Avenue from Exit 2 of Hanzomon Station.

Exit guide at Hanzomon Station, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
Exit information, Hanzomon Station
Think "Hanzomon Station" and think "cafes, bakeries, eateries, patisseries." Every exit of Hanzomon Station opens out onto mostly quite elegant places to eat, snack or just enjoy a cup of coffee.

Hanzomon Station provides access to a number of well-known Tokyo places. At its southern end are Exits 1 and 2, which come out at basically the same place, serving the Kojimachi business district. From here it's an 8-minute walk south-east to the National Theatre, and the imposing, modern Supreme Court building next to the Theatre. Across from the Theatre and Court is the Sakurada Moat of the Palace.

Hanzomon Gate, Imperial Palace, Tokyo.
Hanzomon Gate of the Imperial Palace - just east of Hanzomon Station
The station's other four exits are all north of Shinjuku-dori, serving the exclusive Ichiban-cho residential district. Exits 3a and 3b serve the same corner, with 3a on the street that goes through Ichiban-cho and 3b around the corner on Shinjuku-dori Avenue, accessible through the big SAP building.

Exit 4 is right behind the JCII Camera Museum, 2 minutes' walk away, the British Embassy, 7 minutes' walk away, and the Embassy of Paraguay, on the northern end of the British Embassy.

Yushin-in Temple and Museum, with Exit 4 of Hanzomon Station.
Exit 4 of Hanzomon Station in Yushin-in Temple and Museum building
Exit 4 comes out through the Yushin-in (友心院) Building, the Yushin-in being a temple (albeit a very modern one) of the Shin-nyo-en (真如苑) religion. There is a sign there referring to a "museum" of the temple, but when I asked I was told that it would only be open to the public from next year.

On the other side of the road from Exit 4, a few meters down a side street, is an elevator entrance/exit. A short walk further down the side street brings you to the Embassy of Ireland.

Hotel Monterey Hanzomon near Exit 5 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Hotel Monterey Hanzomon
Exit 5 is at the northern end of Hanzomon Station and comprises a stair exit on the main street, and an elevator also on the main street, but a little back. Across the road from Exit 5 is the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon, highly regarded for its very reasonably priced rates in such a prime location, for its friendly English-speaking staff, and great breakfast!

The whole length of Hanzomon Station can be traversed underground.

Elevator Exit across from Exit 4, Hanzomon Station.
Sign to the side-street elevator of Hanzomon Station - across from Exit 4

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

National Theatre Japan - a Blossom Paradise


The National Theatre of Japan is in Hayabusacho, Tokyo, overlooking the western moat of the Imperial Palace.

National Theatre Tokyo sakura tree.

The theatre opened in 1966 following the passing of the National Theatre Act in the National Diet. The theatre comprises two auditoriums. 

National Theatre Tokyo sakura blossoms.

The Large Theatre is a 1,610-seat auditorium used for performances of kabuki, buyo dance and drama.The Small Theater is a 590-seat auditorium for kabuki, bunraku puppet theater, buyo dance, hogaku music, and folk arts. In 1979, the adjacent 300-seat National Engei Hall was added.

National Theatre Tokyo sakura with visitors.

The National Theater of Japan is one place that has to be seen during the springtime cherry blossom season. There are a couple of dozen cherry trees here, of ten different varieties.

Visitor photographing National Theatre Tokyo sakura

For some reason, they blossom about a week earlier than average - even earlier than the cherry trees around the Imperial Palace, nearby Chidorigafuchi Park, and the Supreme Court, which is right next door to the National Theatre.

People under the trees - National Theatre Tokyo sakura.

The grounds of the National Theatre are buzzing with visitors throughout late March and early April, taking in the exuberant beauty of the pink and white blooms that plump out the normally black, spindly cherry trees.

National Theatre Tokyo sakura viewed by young couple.

Enjoy these shots taken over the past 10 days in the grounds of the National Theatre.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hatasu & hateru - same kanji, very different meanings

The difference between hatasu and hateru.

hatasu 果たす is a Japanese word represented by the symbol for rice paddy on top of the symbol for tree. Its most basic meaning is related to the idea of fruitfulness, bearing fruit, coming to fruition, and in combination with other kanji, it always refers to literal fruit: kajitsu 果実: "fruit"; kashokusei 果食性: "fruit-eating, fructivorous"; kashokudoubutsu 果食動物: frugivore.

Anyway, the most common use of the word hatasu is when describing the carrying out of a public duty (yakume) or pledge/promise (yakusoku), or private/moral duty (gimu) or role (yakuwari) - all of which has obvious connections to the turning out of results that is fruition.

So to perform one's official duty is yakume o hatasu 役目を果たす, to play a role is yakuwaki o hatasu 役割を果たす, and to fulfill a promise is yakusoku o hatasu 約束を果たす.

However, hatasu can be stretched to include the meanings of serve, deliver, put to work, accomplish, live up to. For example, "The city delivered on its promise to improve the quality of drinking water." shi ga inryosui o kaizen suru yakusoku o hatashita 市が飲料水を改善する約束を果たした。Simply to "keep its promise" would be yakusoku o mamoru 約束を守る, so hatasu brings with it the more robust meaning of "delivering on."

Oddly, however, the related word hateru 果てる - the same "ha" kanji but with "teru" attached instead of "tasu," has a completely different meaning. hateru means to peter out, fizz, grind to a halt, die. It is most usually used after words with a somewhat negative meaning, and gives them extra oomph. For example, to be tired is tsukareru 疲れる, but to be tired out, totally pooped, drained, is tsukarehateru 疲れ果てる. To fall to ruin is areru 荒れる and to fall into utter ruin is arehateru 荒れ果てる. To change is kawaru 変わる and to completely change (but for the worse) is kawarihateru 変わり果てる.

These two derivatives of 果 have nothing to do with each other in terms of meaning, but I hope this post can play the role of teaching you the meanings of hatasu and hateru このポーストが果てると果たすの意味を覚えさせる役を果たせばいいと思います。kono posuto ga hatasu to hateru no imi o oboesaseru yaku o hataseba ii to omoimasu!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum Naha


The moving Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum in Naha, Okinawa is dedicated to the victims (mostly children) of the sinking of the Tsushima Maru ship in 1944 during World War II.

Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum, Naha, Okinawa.

The doomed vessel was evacuating children from Okinawa to Kagoshima on the mainland when it was sunk by a torpedo fired by the submarine USS Bowfin.

In all of the 1,788 people on board, 80% were drowned. The affair was hushed up by the Japanese authorities. The crew of the Bowfin only heard that their prey had been carrying children 20 years after the war had ended.

Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum, Naha, Okinawa.

The Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum tells the story of this war-time tragedy through photographs, wall panels, as well as belongings of the victims. A classroom, where some of the children who died had studied, has been recreated.

Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum Naha, Okinawa.

Behind the museum close to Gokokuji Temple in Memorial Park is the Kozakura Monument - a memorial cenotaph raised by public donations of 1 yen in the 1950's by people in Aichi Prefecture. The somber memorial done in black and white stone is a fitting place to ponder the horrors of war, especially when it affects innocent young children.

The stone memorial with the names of the victims engraved on it mirrors the shape of the prow of the Tsushima Maru.

Kozakura Monument, Naha, Okinawa.

Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum
1-25-37 Wakasa
Naha, Okinawa 900-0031
Tel: 098 941 3515

Hours: 9am-5pm (Last entry 4.30pm;) Closed Thursdays and New Year (December 31-January 3

Admission: Adults: 500 yen, 13-18 year-old children 300 yen, elementary school students: 100 yen.

Access: Get off the Yui Monorail at Kenchomae Station and walk about 15 minutes. Alternatively take a Naha City Bus, any of numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 15, 45 and get off at Nishinjo or Kume Yubinkyokumae and walk five minutes.

Kozakura Monument, Naha, Okinawa.

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