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Monday, August 21, 2017

Sanjusangengo Temple Area

三十三間堂

Nestled long and low behind the earthen walls that separate it from the noise of the city, Sanjusangendo is a national treasure temple of unique architectural and sculptural importance. First dedicated in 1164 by Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-92) within his retirement estate, the Hojuji Dono, Sanjusangendo is one of the few architectural remnants of the turbulent era that ended rule by the nobility and brought power to the warrior class, who moved the center of government to Kamakura near Tokyo.

Sanjusangengo Temple Area, Kyoto.


The 12th century was marked by the phenomenon of emperors retiring soon after ascending the throne (Goshirakawa reigned only 3 years), taking with them much of the actual power, which they continued to use from elegant retirement estates. Goshirakawa, a gifted poet and musician, conducted affairs of state for 34 years, even after taking priestly vows in 1169. His living quarters were directly connected to Sanjusangendo, which served as his personal chapel. But of the numerous buildings he constructed within the Hojuji Dono, only Sanjusangendo and the Hojuji Den (small octagonal halls which mark the graves of Goshirakawa and his consort Kenshumonin) exist today.

Although popularly known as Sanjusangendo or the Hall of Thirty-three Bays, officially the temple is known as the Rengeo-in: the Temple of the Lotus King, considered the most powerful esoteric form of Kannon (The Goddess of Mercy) for the bestowal of prosperity, cure of illness, eradication of evil, and insurance of enlightenment.

This 1,000-armed Kannon for which the temple is famous, was Goshirakawa's special object of devotion in his later years. Although the original hall burnt to the ground in the disastrous fire of 1249, it was reconstructed on the same site and rededicated in 1266. Its name originates from an architectural unit of length: the bay or space between large pillars (each a single tree trunk) that support the roof beams. There are 33 bays because Kannon manifests herself in 33 different forms. Within these bays, the central 3-meter-high image of Kannon is flanked by 1,001 smaller standing Kannons with multiple heads and arms.

The symbols held in each of Kannon's hands signify the various benefits she bestows on humanity. The unique sculptures of Sanjusangendo provide a comprehensive overview of the realistic imagery typical of Kamakura Period art. One hundred and twenty-five of the standing Kannons are originals saved from the fire of 1249. The remainder were carved in the same style. The softer, more feminine faces of the replacement figures are representative of Buddha and Bodhisattva forms made throughout the Kamakura Period. The sense of motion and emotion seen in the bodies and faces of the Gods of Thunder (Raijin) and Wind (Fujin) at the north and south ends of the altar provide a vivid contrast. Lifelike features, enhanced by glass eyes (an innovation of the Kamakura Period), mark the high point of Japanese portrait sculpture. Fujin with his bag of wind and Raijin with his ring of drums are two of the 28 attendants of the 1,000-armed Kannon, many of Hindu origin, such as the flute-playing birdman Karurao (Garuda). These deities, ascetics, heavenly maidens, warriors and demi-gods give special protection to those who believe in the protection of Kannon. Their facial expressions and form cover every human and inhuman form imaginable and are masterpieces of the art of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), which was a time of vigorous realism that gave birth to Zen Buddhism and the simple but devoted military life of the samurai class that has been romanticized since.

The great length of Sanjusangendo became an inspiration to warriors in later centuries, with the start of a great archery contest held at the temple twice yearly since 1573. You will have a chance to see this contest on May 2nd, when the best line up to try and hit the target which is 118 meters away (the full length of the building). Shooting along the side of the building, under the overhanging roof, requires the archers to shoot their arrows in a perfect arc to hit the target. It's quite amazing to see! Outside of the temple, be sure to wander around the large and rather plainly landscaped grounds.

Something that everyone enjoys is feeding the carp in the large pool on the east side of the building near the entrance. Food for these colorful and massive beasts, which bring good luck by the way, is available at the side of the pond for a small sum. Also in the area (just 500 or 600 meters north of the museum) is the remarkably preserved home and studio of the famous Japanese ceramic artist Kawai Kanjiro. His home looks just like the day he last lived in it some 30 years ago. A leading figure of the Japanese folk-art movement, there are many examples of his works and objects he collected or received in his lifetime. The house is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (closed Mondays).

Sanjusangendo is at the eastern end of Shichijo Street (just walk east along Shichijo from Shichijo Keihan Station).

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is 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.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sushi is Overrated

過大評価された寿司

Is Tokyo sushi overrated?
Sushi restaurants - are they overrated?
At JapanVisitor.com, we get numerous inquiries about making sushi bar bookings - mainly in Tokyo - which we pass on to our sister site, GoodsFromJapan.

Tokyo's top sushi bars are finicky places that generally don't take reservations directly from anyone living outside of Japan. Visitors must make bookings through their hotel concierge or through their credit card company. An often-encountered problem, however, is that the hotel concierge will only contact the restaurant once the guest has arrived, which, in the case of the more popular restaurants, is too late already.

Furthermore, sushi restaurants in Tokyo are, generally speaking, not particularly hospitable to non-Japanese. At rare best, foreign diners are made to feel welcome, usually they are tolerated, and quite often they are made to feel distinctly unwelcome, except, maybe, when their money is being taken at the end.

I have generally stopped going to sushi bars in big Japanese cities for the very reason that the chefs are often surly, sour old dinosaurs who feel so secure on what is seen as one of the pinnacles of Japanese culinary culture that acting hospitable - at least to non-Japanese customers - is below them. Hospitality is left to the often genuinely nice, but frazzled, overworked middle-aged woman who runs around the sushi restaurant for them.

There are, of course, exceptions to the "grumpy sushiya-san" rule, but once you've sat down and started ordering - only to then find that you're not really welcome - it's kind of too late without creating a scene.

One example is Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, which has somehow convinced the Western press and culinary establishment that it is the top sushi restaurant in Tokyo (and by extension, Japan), has been awarded Michelin stars, but which rushes guests through its USD300-equivalent course in just 30 minutes - in many cases actually asking people to eat faster as the clock ticks down. Sukiyabashi Jiro is well-known, too, for not liking non-Japanese guests, unless they happen to be President Obama, for example, who was taken there by the Japanese prime minister.

I have never eaten at a sushi restaurant where the bill has come to more than about 7,000 yen, and I never want to. Sushi is a piece of fish on rice. A course of sushi is a glorified snack, not a feast. The best course of sushi I have ever eaten cost me less than 3,000 yen. It was at a tiny, out-of-the-way restaurant on Sado Island. It tasted great mainly because the fish was clearly very, very fresh. It tasted even better because the middle-aged male owner was welcoming and hospitable.

All the same, it was pieces of fish on rice. Sushi-making is called an art. Cooking fish and chips is an art if you're good enough at it. Sushi is great once in a while, but it's not the stuff gourmet's dreams are made of.

To get sushi that fresh in Tokyo, you have to pay about the same as it cost me to go to Sado and back, but without the warmth of atmosphere, and quite possibly with scowls and asides in Japanese at your expense.

If you want great food in Tokyo, go to a place that serves Japanese cuisine that has variety, is exquisitely prepared and cooked, and where there is a bit of fun in the air. The last such place I went to was a kappo restaurant in Yokohama. It was intimate, the food was multifarious and exquisite, the chef and waiting staff were chatty, and although it came to about 20,000 yen each, we really felt as if we'd dined, been looked after, and wanted to come back.

High-end sushi bars in Tokyo may give you enormous cred when relating the experience to colleagues back home, and if that's what you're after and money is not an issue, then best of luck with getting a reservation.

© JapanVisitor.com

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Japan News This Week 13 August 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
The truth about Japanese tempura
BBC

Trump’s Tough Talk on North Korea Puts Japan's Leader in Delicate Spot
New York Times

Kin of '85 JAL crash victims pray for dead at disaster site
The Asashi Shimbun

METI seeks to pass nuclear buck with release of waste disposal map
Japan Times

Bowing deeply, Japanese PM tries to put problems behind him with new cabinet
Washington Post

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Hope in Japanese

希望という表現

Sporadic missile tests by North Korea, especially over the past few months, and the equally hot words now flying over the Pacific in their wake are giving rise to both fear of war, and hope for a solution.

Hope is always in ready supply in those who care about the future, and so we're going to look at how this wonderful state of mind is expressed in Japanese.

Japanese, of course, has it's word for the noun "hope," which is 希望 kibo. That's what you'll find in the dictionary, but it's not what you'll often hear in conversation.

The way kibo is used, it is usually closer to "wish" or "desire" - i.e., something that will benefit you personally, than to the expansive emotion that is hope. For example, メーカー希望価格 meh-kah-kibo-kakaku is "recommended retail price" or, literally "manufacturer's wished for price"; or 希望の学校 kibo no gakko is the school you are aiming to enter.

The more usual way to express hope is using the pattern dattara ii. dattara is the conditional form of the verb "da" (the closest thing Japanese has to a "be" verb) and "ii" means "good". In other words "it would be good if..." but attached to the end of the sentence, not the beginning. The "da" verb is used here as the standard example, but the transformation applies to whatever verb is being used.

So, "I hope the North Korean threat will blow over" is "Kita Chosen kara no kyoui ga sugisattara ii ne." 北朝鮮からの脅威が過ぎ去ったらいいね. sugisaru means "blow over", and becomes the conditional sugisattara, or "if [something] blows over." By the way, the "ne" at the end is the almost mandatory invitation to assent that comes at the end of so many spoken Japanese sentences. So, literally translated: "If would be good if the North Korean threat blew over, wouldn't it."

Or, "I hope Trump tones his rhetoric down a bit" becomes "Torampu ga goki wo sukoshi yawaragetara ii ne." トランプが語気を少し和らげたらいいね. The infinitive yawarageru (to soften, to tone down) becomes the conditional yawaragetara.

So expressing hope in Japanese requires that you first sit down and study your conditional tense. Here are some commonly used verbs:
da → dattara, or, more politely,
desu → deshitara (be)
kuru → kitara (i.e., an irregular transformation) (come)
iku → ittara (go)
kureru → kuretara (give - from someone else to you)
yameru → yametara (quit, lay off doing something)
kau → kattara (buy)
kiru - kitara (wear)

Try making a few of your own. Put them as comments below if you want some feedback!

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cash Equals Contraband

現金イコール禁制品

Money is so strictly controlled in Japan that sending cash and receiving it feels like dealing in an illicit substance.

I got a call from my credit card company the other day. There wasn't enough money in the bank account my credit card payments come out of.

I got the bank account number from the credit card company to pay the money into, and went and withdrew the amount in cash from another bank account I have.

I figured that paying it in cash straight into the ATM of the credit card company's bank would be cheaper than doing it from the ATM of my bank.

With cash in hand, I went over to the branch of the credit card company's bank, and used the ATM to send the money to the prescribed account number. However, a notice came up on the screen saying that because the amount was greater than 100,000 yen, I would have to do it through a teller.

I went over to the bank information clerk, where they give you a number for waiting for the teller service. She asked what I wanted to do, and I explained.

To my surprise, she told me that (1) to deposit cash into the credit card company's account, I would need to provide proof of identity, with a photo, and (2) that it was actually cheaper to do it from my own bank's ATM and that (3) there was no amount restriction if I did it from my own bank's ATM.

So I went back to my bank, put the cash back into my account, and did a furikomi (transfer) of the money to the credit card company. No hassles.

Dealing with cash in Japan is like dealing in contraband. The government is clearly very nervous about cash transactions being used for dishonest purposes, so, even when withdrawing your own money, you have to vouch for it every step of the way.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki Anniversary 2017

長崎, 原子爆弾

Today, August 9th, is the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

Three days earlier on August 6th, Hiroshima, became the world's first city to be attacked by a nuclear weapon when a bomb was dropped on the city by the US Air Force at 8.16am.

Nagasaki Atomic Bombing Anniversary, Nagasaki.

A solemn prayer is held at 11.02am, the exact time of the bombing and the mayor of Nagasaki, Taue Tomihisa, will repeat his annual pleas for a nuclear-free Japan.

The Nagasaki bomb ended the Pacific War, which had begun with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.

The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, is also expected to mark the day with a statement expressing Japan's determination to remain free of nuclear weapons.


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima Anniversary 2017

広島

This year's anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima will take place as always on August 6th.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


This year is the 72nd anniversary of the bombing at 8.16am on the morning of August 6, 1945. Solemn ceremonies take place on the day in Hiroshima Peace Park and throughout Japan to remember the approximately 140,000 victims of Japan's first but not only nuclear disaster.

The bombing of Nagasaki by the US Air Force was to follow just 3 days later and then again in Fukushima in 2011, another nuclear disaster was to occur. This one caused by a natural disaster aided by human error and institutional incompetence.

Another nuclear threat also hangs over Japan, namely North Korea. The rise of the nuclear threat posed by its rogue neighbor has resulted in an increase of sales of nuclear shelters in the weeks heading into this year's anniversary.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Public transport has come to a halt in some cities during North Korean missile tests and commercials have appeared on Japanese TV giving instructions on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack: seek shelter in strong buildings or underground shopping malls and if outside in the open, drop to the ground and cover your head.


Book a hotel in Hiroshima Japan with Booking.com

Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Japan News This Week 6 August 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Can Japan provide answers to the west’s economic problems?
Financial Times

Selfie-posting young women flocking to pools after sunset
The Asashi Shimbun

Bill to lower age of adulthood set for submission to Diet in fall
Japan Times

Parts of woman's body dumped by police officer by mistake
Japan Today

Japan delays sales tax rise to 2019
BBC

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

In 2015, household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 135% in Japan, almost the same as for Finland (130%) and Portugal (143%), compared with 112% for the USA, 150% for the UK, 212% for Australia, and 51% and 52% for Hungary and Latvia.

In 2015, household savings as a percentage of disposable income was 0.72% in Japan, compared to -1.11% in the UK, 6% in the USA, 7.18% in Korea (2014), and a whopping 37.99% in China (2014).

© JapanVisitor.com

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Lapsed Driver's License in Japan

運転免許 失効手続き

For some reason, it came to me as I came down the elevator. I impulsively reached for my wallet, pulled out my driver's licence and, sure enough, it had expired two weeks before.

If your license expires in Japan when you should have renewed it, it is called shikko 失効, i.e., lapsed, or invalid.

A Japanese driver's license that has been invalidated.
My invalidated Japanese driver's licence

It's not that big a deal. You simply have to repeat the whole application process for a new one, which, if nothing has changed too much since last time, is time-consuming (a couple of hours).

To my shame, it has happened to me before. In addition to going through the whole rigmarole, including having my eyes tested, I had to sit through a one-hour traffic safety seminar - which was actually well done, with lots of visuals - reserved for those who have done something amiss.

I telephoned ahead a few days ago to see what I should do this time, and one of the questions I was asked was "Were you out of the country at the time your licence expired?" It just so happens that I was. I was in Turpan, China, for 5 days, neatly enveloping the date my licence expired. It so turns out that being out of the country is a watertight reason for not having renewed your licence.

I went to the Samezu Driver's Licence Center this morning. It opens at 8am, so I got there when it opened so I wouldn't be late for work. (The Driver's Licence Center is closed on weekends.)

Because I had been out of the country, I went to only two counters: No.1, where they inspect your licence, look at the notification postcard you may have been sent by the Center, and give you the right forms to fill out, and then No.6, the "Shikko" counter, which doesn't open until 8.30am.

I filled out the form, waited in front of counter no.6 until it opened (there was only one person waiting at this counter besides me), and explained myself to them when my turn came.

Everyone at the Center is the lively, cheerful, practical type who deal with things warmly, briskly yet conscientiously, and make themselves very clearly understood.

The guy took my form and looked at my passport to vouch that I'd actually been out of Japan on the date my licence expired. I should have thought of it before, but the only stamps were from the Chinese immigration authorities. I always use the automated passport gate at the immigration check at the airport, so don't have any stamps in my passport from the Japanese authorities.

He said I'd have to approach the Personal Information Office (kojin joho hogo kakari 個人情報保護係) of the Ministry of Justice (Homusho 法務省) and make a request for disclosure (kaiji seikyu 開示請求 ) for a record of my entries into and departures from Japan (shutsu nyukoku no kiroku 出入国の記録 ). Once the print-out was received, I should bring it back to the Driver's Licence Center and submit it as proof of my having been out of the country, thus letting me off the hook.

Instructions for requesting personal information, or kaiji seikyu, from the Ministry of Justice, Japan.
Instructions from the driving license center for applying for release of personal information from the Ministry of Justice


The alternative was to undergo the test from the beginning again, which would have taken a couple of hours, but, in that case my next licence would remain normal Blue, whereas, if I could excuse myself for having failed to renew, my next licence would be Gold - awarded to those who have committed no traffic violations for the past five years. The licence card actually features a beautiful gold strip, instead of the normal blue one, glowingly telling the world what a compliant, safe (or, in my case, very occasional) driver you are.

I lust for Gold, especially since I had missed out on it last time - when I didn't have an excuse for having let my license lapse - so opted for the Ministry of Justice route. So at lunchtime today, I went to the Ministry of Justice building no.6A, just across from Hibiya Park.

The culture here was quite different from that at the Licence Center. I had to explain what my business was to a guard at the gate, explain again and reveal the contents of my bag to a guard inside, go to the reception desk where a slightly nervy older woman gave me a badge to wear and commanded me to return it "without fail" on my way out. Another guard then escorted me to the office I wanted.

The office was as quiet as a church, and the young man who saw me was slightly curt (to begin with). He gave me a form to fill in, I selected for print-out only the month during which my licence had expired. After I handed the form back to him, he wanted to see my passport, asked if I had any documentation attesting to the date I became a Japanese citizen (I didn't), so made do with my health insurance card as ID, and then sent me downstairs to buy a 300 yen revenue stamp (shunyu inshi 収入印紙).

By the time I came back, he had mellowed somewhat (maybe he thought my kanji were kirei [beautiful] - that always helps). He asked me if I wanted to come back to pick up the document, or if I'd like it posted. I said I'd pick it up in person. He said it normally takes 10 days to 2 weeks. The guy at the Driver's Licence Center had prepared me for this, and told me to say I needed it urgently. So I told him what it was for and that I was unable to drive until I received it. He asked me when I would like it by, I said the 9th, and he said they would do their best and phone me when it was ready.

I thanked him, left, handed back my badge, and walked back to work.

I'm going overseas again on the 11th, so very much hope they can it back to me by the 9th so that I can get my licence - my Gold driver's license - reissued before I leave.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Nebuta Festival 2017

ねぶた祭り

The 2017 Aomori Nebuta matsuri in Aomori city in the far north of Japan runs this year from August 2 until August 7. The festival kicks of with a children's parade on August 2 from 7.10pm-9pm.

Nebuta Festival


On the final day of the festival there is a day time procession with the festival concluding with a parade of boats in Aomori Bay. Seven floats are loaded on to boats followed by an impressive fireworks display from 7-9pm.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Tohoku


The nebuta floats are large wire frames (previously they were constructed from bamboo) covered with Japanese washi paper, which have been beautifully illustrated with a range of motifs from fierce samurai warriors to more contemporary manga and anime characters.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Japan
.

Prizes are awarded to the best floats and onlookers are encouraged to purchase or hire a haneto costume and join in the chayashi dances.


Nebuta Festival Official Site

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