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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Soemoncho & Hozenji Dotonbori


If you haven't been to seen the night life areas of Osaka when the night is in full swing or just coming to an end in the wee hour of morning, then you've been missing a slice of life that is forever interesting and these days slowly fading away.

Soemoncho, Osaka.

Mizu shobai or the water business is a part of Japan that has been around for a very long time. A business of the night that flows high and low along with the economy and indeed is very much part of the larger economy, since so many decisions and deals are clinched between drinks and small talk in the semi-darkness of an expensive club.

In previous years the business suffered badly under the double influence of the recession and the severe cutback in business expenses.
And then too, because of younger generations of salarymen, who tend to spend more time with their families and less with the guys from the office. At one time you had nearly no choice as a salaryman but to go: it was literally a part of the job, as well as being a way of letting off steam before going home. These days the clubs are changing their ways and trying their best to stay in fashion with the business crowd, but it seems they're fighting a losing battle that only a very few smart clubs will win in the end.

Osaka, like any other big city in Japan, has its fair share of mizu shobai areas. The best known are Kita Shinchi just south of Umeda and the Namba or Minami area, where things are cheaper and a lot more varied.

The fact that Namba is cheaper probably has something to do with history of Osaka's development after the war. In the late sixties and seventies with the increasing importance of Itami Airport and the expansion of housing along Hankyu's railway lines, the southern part of Osaka was lost in the swirl of progress and development that gave rise to Umeda and all its glitz. All the same the area around Dotonbori still has its original charm and a following of business people and nighttime revelers that makes Kita Shinchi look narrow and somehow ridiculous.

One particular area that continues to pull in the crowd is Soemoncho, a one-and-a-half-kilometer stretch running east west between Sakaisuji and Midosuji. What makes Soemoncho interesting is that it is dated: things looked older and less flashy, and day or night one gets the distinct feeling that the clientele who come here are more than likely the prosperous owners of the thousands of businesses that spill onto the streets of Shinsaibashi and Namba. If Kita Shinchi has a eighties and nineties feel, then Soemoncho is most definitely of the fifties and sixties when Japan's economy was like a run away train on a downhill slope.

In Soemoncho you can find everything and anything and see anyone and everyone. There are nightclubs with big facades of neon and tuxedoed staff waiting to take your car and park it. Cabarets for the old fashioned (of which there are many!). For the pampered and well-heeled stomach, there is a Korean restaurant the size of a medium-sized warehouse.

For the more elegant and sophisticated, there are glassed-in private gardens, long curving wooden counters and high-backed swivel stools covered in fresh linen. Here a polite but authoritative bar tender/waiter will serve drinks of your preference along with top quality steaks, as if you were a gentleman of note and property. And then there's every manner and kind of high class Japanese joints, that the food loving people of Osaka are famed for from Hokkaido to Kyushu. There are also strip joints and the like, with their more suspicious and questionable attendants out front beside the glossy pictures trying to get you to come inside and see the action.

Where but Japan can you buy a silk tie at 1 am or a priceless pot of blooming orchids at 2 am? Soemoncho and the surrounding streets are spotted with tiny boutiques that sell expensive evening wear, lingerie, perfume and jewelry, neckties and belts, along with high-class fruit vendors. And for the distinguished older clientele there are shops selling selected antiques and kimono accessories. These shops cater to the sufficiently rich and usually slightly drunk customers who buy something for that special lady-friend on their arm or in appreciation for a mama-san's (the proprietress of a bar or club) tactful way of making an evening with clients go very, very smoothly.

If you happen to find the doorways of Soemoncho too expensive or imposing, then all you have to do is cross the Dotonbori canal a few meters away and you’ve entered the poor man’s paradise of excitement and pleasure. Suddenly the colors are brighter and the restaurants smaller, no longer serving the best fish and meat on the market. Now it's okonomiyaki, yakisoba and the like. But all the same it is always busy here at night and even in the daytime. A kind of consumer paradise that forever serves the idle masses in search of amusement.


And yet it's not all fun and games. Just fifty meters off the Sennichimae shopping mall, you find yourself next to a small temple, incense clouds constantly billowing up and filling the surrounding air, and water flowing melodiously and constantly out of a natural spring. This temple is famous in Osaka and absolutely worth a visit.

Hozenji dates back to 1597 and has been a popular place for women to wish for a healthy and successful childbirth. Tiny as the temple may be, there always seems to be someone there lighting incense or praying to the thick and wet moss-covered Amida Buddha statue, flanked by his two equally moss covered protectors and surrounded in a halo of purifying flames.

Walk the streets of around Soemoncho and Hozenji, and experience Japan's circus of the night.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Japan News This Week 19 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Shohei Otani, a Two-Way Player, Says He Is Ready to Leave Japan for M.L.B.
New York Times

'Comfort Woman' Memorial Statues, A Thorn In Japan's Side, Now Sit On Korean Buses

Jack Dorsey saddened by Japan's 'Twitter killer'

Retirement looms for Harumafuji after assault as sumo world faces history of violence
The Mainichi

Japan anger over South Korea's shrimp surprise for Donald Trump

Violence, Okinawa, and the ‘Pax Americana’
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Today we introduce two interesting polls from Japan.

Poll #1 is the all important issue of whether men stand or sit while urinating.

In a survey from the Japan Toilet Institute, 44% of men between the ages of 20 and 69 sit while urinating.

35.3% said they sit out of their own volition. 8.3% were told/requested by their family or spouse to sit and thus made the transition from standing to sitting.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

A second poll was of Japanese views of US President Donald Trump. A telephone survey asked, "How trustworthy is Donald Trump as the leader of an allied country (to Japan)?"

13% - Do not trust at all
48% - Do not trust much
34% - Trust somewhat
3% - Trust very much

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exploring Hikone


Hikone, the second largest city in Shiga Prefecture, is dominated by the imposing presence of its fine castle, a magnificent structure that, faring somewhat better than a lot of its counterparts, somehow managed to escape the wholesale destruction of castles at the beginning of the Meiji Period. Although Hikone is justly famous as a castle city, Hikone Castle is by no means the only attraction that the city has to offer.

Hikone Castle, Shiga Prefecture.

Since the middle of the seventeenth century, when peaceful times forced armor and weapon makers to turn their skills in another direction, Hikone has been a major center for the production of Buddhist family altars known as butsudan. The street that runs parallel to the Seri River is lined on both sides with shops selling these elaborate structures, and Hikone butsudan are reputed to be the among the best in the country.

Perhaps the most interesting of Hikone's many temples is Ryotan-ji, popularly known as Niwa-no-Tera, or the garden temple, because of its three beautiful gardens. This month (November), the russets and reds of the maple trees that line the approach should be especially spectacular. Of particular interest are the paintings by Kyoriku Morikawa, a disciple of the famous poet Matsuo Basho, that adorn many of the temple's sliding wooden doors. Ryotan-ji is about a twenty-minute walk from Hikone Castle. Ryotan-ji is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and admission is 300 yen.

Northeast of the castle is the beautiful garden of Genkyu-en. Laid out in 1677 by Ii Nao'oki, the fourth lord of Hikone, the garden features a series of meandering paths that wind their way around a large central pond. Reminiscent of Kanazawa's famous Kenroku-en, this peaceful garden is more intimate and compact than its illustrious counterpart. Beautiful in any season, Genkyu-en should be particularly spectacular this month, when autumn colors are at their best. Sit in the teahouse overlooking the pond, and enjoy a sweet followed by a bowl of bracingly-bitter green tea. The garden is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Tea and a sweet are available for 500 yen.

Exploring Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.

At the foot of the castle stands the Castle Museum, an accurate reconstruction of the Omote Goten hall, one of the main castle buildings. The extensive collection includes arms and armor, folding screens, tea utensils, traditional musical instruments, and a breathtaking array of Noh masks and costumes, some of which date back to the sixteenth century. The museum also has a magnificent Edo Period (1603-1868) Noh stage, where performances of Noh and Kyogen are periodically given. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is 500 yen.

The highlight of a day in Hikone is a visit to the castle. The wide steps that lead up to it wind eccentrically this way and that, slowing down the progress of the uninvited, and making it difficult to arrive unannounced. The approach is lined with trees, planted to provide sustenance in the forms of both food and medicine in the event of siege. Built by the Ii family in the early seventeenth century, Hikone Castle commands a spectacular view of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. From the upper reaches, the island of Chikubu-jima, home to Chikubu-jima Hogon-ji, the thirtieth temple on the thirty-three temple pilgrimage of western Japan, is clearly visible, as is the tiny unpopulated island of Take-shima.

The castle interior is a celebration of wood. Walking on wooden boards that millions of feet have rendered wonderfully smooth, one looks up to discover a ceiling of magnificent wooden beams. Cleverly-concealed rectangular and triangular openings, through which arrows and bullets could have been dispatched, are also in evidence. The heady smell of perfectly-seasoned timber which permeates the castle is more in keeping with a rustic retreat than a bastion of defence, and reminds the visitor that this is a castle that was never attacked. The castle is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Admission is 500 yen.

Getting there: Hikone is a 48 minute ride from JR Kyoto Station. Trains are frequent, and the trip costs 1,140 yen each way.

Municipal Office, Sightseeing Department: (0749) 22 1411
Traditional Industry Exhibition Hall: (0749) 22 4551
Hikone Community Hall: (0749) 22 3013
Hikone Swimming Center: (0749) 23 4911
Tourist Information Center: (0749) 22 954

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tales of Old Kyoto: Why Dogs and Cats Never Get Along With Each Other


Once upon a time in Kyoto, there was a woman who adored dogs and cats. She had one dog and one cat and she was with them all the time, everywhere she went.

One day, she took them for a walk along a small stream. When she returned home, she found that she had accidentally dropped one of her precious rings along the way. Knowing how much the ring meant to the woman, the dog and cat decided to go back to look for it.

Why Dogs and Cats Never Get Along With Each Other.

They made the long journey back to the stream and began searching for the ring in the water. "There it is! There it is!" They rejoiced when they finally spotted her ring at the bottom of the water. The cat was the first to try. She stretched her arm down into the water, but it was too short to reach the ring.

So next the dog jumped in, fetched the ring up in his mouth, and swam back to the bank. As cat and dog made their way home, they were both very happy about having recovered their owner's ring.

However, when they arrived home the wet dog was made to stay outside the house. And so the cat put the ring in her mouth and presented it to the woman. She was overjoyed and praised the cat saying, "What a very clever cat you are! It is a wonder that you were able to find my ring. You are so good!"

She kissed and patted the cat over and over again. Listening from outside the door, the dog was jealous and angry at the cat and grumbled to himself, "It was I who jumped into the stream and I who deserves all the affection, but instead look how unfairly I am treated!"

Ever since this episode, never being able to forgive them, dogs have always held a grudge against cats. And that is why whenever a dog sees a cat it will bark fiercely and go chasing after it.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ikkyu The Quick-Witted Novice


Once upon a time, there was a monk who was the head of a very famous temple. It was his secret pleasure to sip a special jar of sweet sugar syrup in his private room, hidden even from his young novice, Ikkyu. One day the monk had to go out for an appointment. Anxious for his little treasure, he called Ikkyu and said, "Ikkyu, I must go out. Now you must never touch or taste what's in this jar. It is a very strong poison, and even a single drop can kill you."

The Quick-Witted Novice.

Ikkyu's curiosity was aroused by his master's suspicious behavior, and as soon as the monk had left, Ikkyu rushed back into the monk's room and opened the lid of the jar. He dipped his finger into the sticky liquid and licked it thoroughly. The "poison" was sweet and delicious! Ikkyu lost himself in devouring this wonderful treat, lick after lick until the jar was completely empty.

Suddenly Ikkyu realized what trouble he was in. "What am I going to do when the monk comes back! He'll be so angry." But Ikkyu was a clever boy, and a bright idea soon popped in to his head. "Yes! That's it!” he cried. He ran to a shelf and picked up the monk's finest flower vase and dashed it to the floor. He then fell to the floor himself and began sobbing pathetically.

When the monk saw his treasure scattered on the floor, he flew into a rage. "How many times have I told you to be careful with this vase? Do you realize what you’ve done?"

"Yes, master," replied Ikkyu. "It is the worst thing I have ever done. How could I break your precious vase, even accidentally? I was so ashamed that I decided to take responsibility and kill myself with your poison. I ate it all, but alas! I am not yet dead. I cannot even die properly. What shame!"

The monk, blind to Ikkyu's clever wit, could not resist such a heart-wrenching display of feeling. "Enough, Ikkyu, enough. You did not mean to do it. I forgive you. Now, please stop crying," said the monk helplessly.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Japan News This Week 12 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

In Rural Japan, Lifting a Shrine and Building a Friendship
New York Times

Trump: Japan could shoot down North Korean missiles

Japanese gov't struggling with Trump's request for it to buy more defense equipment
The Mainichi

Japan's 'Black Widow' sentenced to death for murdering a string of lovers

Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


As of November 4, the number of visitors topped 24,039,700, which was the record set in 2016.

Source: Jiji Press

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 10, 2017

Canceling an ANA flight to Japan

So here's the thing: I should be in Japan right now. In early August I booked a reservation with ANA Airlines, but unfortunately, a few days later something unexpected happened. And "I didn't want to say nothin'" until now: my traveling companion was diagnosed with cancer.


Amidst this great upheaval I realized I would have to cancel our trip to Japan. We might need that ticket fare to use for other purposes. But I had not purchased traveler's insurance.

Well, hallelujah, ANA was able to help. A kind and sympathetic customer representative explained the refund process and the document we needed to provide to them. (And during this conversation, while I was briefly placed on hold, I could hear the music - you know, THAT music - the tune that plays as you board your flight to Japan and when the atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation - as opposed to your return flight when only a sense of decency keeps you from shoving everybody out of the way so you can disembark!) To receive a refund, we had to get a signed doctor's note detailing the reason for non-travel. The best way to get it is to ask your doctor at your first follow up visit. He can give it to you right there.

Miho-no-Matsubara, Shizuoka.

When we telephoned ANA again, the representative guided us through the submission process. She waited as we emailed the document and then she acknowledged its arrival. The refund was virtually instantaneous, and it was only a week later that the credit card company deducted the amount from our account. We were refunded all but about $100 USD of the $7100 price for two business class seats. As for future travel to Japan, we hope to return in the spring of 2018. We'll see.

These days we have talked about what we would be doing in Japan if we were there now. And then I thought of this: Maybe there are some readers of this blog who could go enjoy some of the things we had planned on doing. Do you live in Shizuoka? Can you access Miho-no-Matsubara? Are there seashells to collect along the shoreline? Is it really cold? Can you see Mt. Fuji? Do you live near Hamamatsu? Can you check out "Naotora: The Lady Warlord Taiga Drama Hall?" Is it as big as last year's "Sanada Maru?" Is it cool or not? Is anyone over in Aichi? Will you try some Toyohashi Curry Udon for us? We were sooo looking forward to it. Thanks!

Toyohashi Curry Udon.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Trump in Tokyo

トランプ大統領 東京訪問

President Trump was in Tokyo on Monday, Japan being his first stop on a tour of Asia that took him to South Korea yesterday.

Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate, where Donald Trump stayed on his Tokyo visit.
East Gate (Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate) of Akasaka State Guest House (Geihinkan), where Trump stayed on his Japan visit

Trump was in Tokyo yesterday, Japan being his first stop on a tour of Asia that took him to South Korea today.

Shinjuku-dori Avenue had police stationed along it, and on inquiring with one of them if it was because Trump was due to pass by, I was told that it was just part of the security for the Geihinkan, or Akasaka Palace, which is where he was staying.

Trumpwatchers talk to a policeman in front of the Geihinkan
Trumpwatchers talk to a policeman in front of the Geihinkan

I mentioned this at the office morning meeting, which got one or two staff members quite excited by their proximity to greatness, or, at least, to newsworthiness.

The Geihinkan, near Yotsuya Station, is just 10 minutes' walk from the office, so at lunchtime I wandered down there. It was a beautiful crisp, clear autumn day, and a flash of presidential orange would have brought an extra fiery touch to an autumn landscape that is only just starting in Tokyo.

Wakaba East Intersection, in front of the Akasaka State Guesthouse, where Trump stayed.
Wakaba East Intersection, in front of the Akasaka State Guesthouse, where President Trump stayed.

I didn't go back along Shinjuku-dori, but the more direct route, past the New Ohtani Hotel. At the bottom of the slope going up to the hotel I encoutered the first security battalion, which had a fence on stand-by to block the road if necessary.

Photographers wait for a glimpse of Trump across from the East Gate of the Geihinkan.
Photographers wait for a glimpse of Trump across from the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House.

Closer to the Geihinkan, past the playing fields for Sophia University, there were more police stationed here and there. The road in front of the Geihinkan was open, but, oddly, the police was politely refusing entry to the road to a couple of guys on motorbikes.

Police provide security for Trump's visit, Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo.
Police provide security for Trump's visit outside the Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo.

Right across from the Japanese-style side gate to the Geihinkan (the main gate is Western-style) was a cluster of sightseers with cameras in a space set out for them with traffic cones, and a policeman overseeing.

Waiting for Donald Trump to appear, at the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo, Japan.
Waiting for Donald Trump to appear, at the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House (Geihinkan) Tokyo, Japan.

I thought it unlikely that the Trump motorcade would emerge, or return, at that time of the day - about 1:30pm - because he'd probably already be out there shaking hands and saying how very good, very bad or beautiful things were. But the sightseers (which, of course, included several journalists, it seemed) were dedicated, and just waited there in anticipation for the 15 or so minutes I spent walking past them then back again.

Road leading to front gate of Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo, where Trump stayed.
Road leading to front gate of Geihinkan (Akasaka State Guest House), Tokyo, where President Trump stayed.

On my way back, a policeman said "konnichiwa" to me, and, when I responded, asked me if I was sightseeing ("Kanko desu ka") to which I responded "Hai."

East Gate (Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate) of Akasaka State Guest House, where Trump stayed on his visit to Tokyo, Japan.
East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House, which Trump's entourage left and re-entered,

Helicopters flew overhead at various times of the day, adding, literally, to the buzz. Today everything is back to normal. The only thing I found newsworthy was Trump's question to the Emperor about whether he'd designed his residence or not. Considering that the Emperor had a steeply uphill battle just to get permission to abdicate, and that his daughter-in-law has suffered stress-induced illness due to her tightly regimented existence, Trump's assumption of mogul-like power of whim and fancy on the part of the Emperor was naive and awkward.

Policeman guard a road in the Kioicho district of Tokyo during President Trump's visit.
Policeman on guard in the Kioicho district of Tokyo during President Trump's visit.

 © JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Zoen Japanese Landscaping


The basic techniques that are used for creating and maintaining traditional Japanese gardens were first developed during the Heian Period in Kyoto, which has an ideal climate for growing garden trees, a high concentration of special rocks and sand as well as an abundant water supply. At first gardening was an exclusive art practiced by priests, the aristocracy and warriors. The art spread to the merchant class, in the form of tsubo-niwa, during the latter half of the 16th century. The tsubo-niwa gardens of Kyoto were influenced by the tea ceremony. Built between homes, they serve to improve lighting and air circulation.

Makayaji Temple showing the Heian Period garden and pond, Mikkabi, Shizuoka

The various elements of a garden, including trees, stones, grasses, sand and moss, all have distinctive meaning as symbols. The delicate balance of these elements is determined by considering the light and soil conditions. Gardens are then planned and laid out on paper to visual perspective and elevation. The first step in garden design is building the foundation to provide drainage so that the roots of trees and plants do not rot. At this time, ditches for such underground facilities as electrical equipment and water supply systems are also excavated. After completing the foundation work, the garden rocks, trees and shrubs, and related sodding are positioned according to the design plan. Lastly, decorative moss, other plants, and gravel are placed or spread out over designated areas.

The Kyoto Prefectural Landscape Gardening Cooperative Association

The Kyoto Prefectural Landscape Gardening Cooperative Association, with about 350 members (individuals and companies), has been active in preserving Kyoto gardens and transmitting landscaping skills and knowledge to new generations for nearly 100 years. Over the past 45 years, Japan's traditional landscape gardening industry has suffered a severe downturn in business, and the total number of new gardens handled by association members has been steadily decreasing. Today, more than half of an average Japanese gardener's work involves maintenance. Gardens take a considerable amount of time to mature and once a garden has reached maturity it requires special skills to maintain it according to its original design.

Until only quite recently, the special skills of Japanese landscaping were passed on from generation to generation. Today, the number of garden businesses is decreasing. To keep Japan's age-old gardening skills alive, the Association has set up a special one-year intensive gardening school to train apprentices. Naturally, Kyoto is the perfect place to study this art; the city is home to most of Japan's most famous gardens. This year, the school has 32 students, half of whom are from outside Kyoto.

A view of the Higashiyama Hills in an example of shuzan at Murin-an Villa, Kyoto.

Japanese landscape gardens have become very popular internationally. The Association designed a large-scale garden, modelled on the famous garden at Daigo Temple's Sanpo-in, in Kyoto's sister city in Mexico, Guadalajara. Employing Mexican workers and under greatly different climatic conditions, the project took nearly two years. The Association also created a Japanese garden for a private residence belonging to Prince Charles, in England. As a gift of friendship between the US and Japan, a number of young gardeners in the Association were employed to build a garden in Oklahoma. The Association is also active in working with the international Japan Garden Society, which visits Kyoto annually.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Japan News This Week 5 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Encountering Robots While Still Using Fax Machines in Japan
New York Times

Japan suspect ‘killed nine over two months’

Emperor Akihito to meet US President Trump on Monday
The Mainichi

Japan will entertain Donald Trump with Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen singer

Overcoming Double Erasure: Japanese “comfort women”, nationalism and trafficking.
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


In 2010, Toyota president Akio Toyoda earned 340,000,000 yen ($2.98 million USD). For that, he was levied 20.7% in taxes.

For someone earning the average salary in the same year - 4,300,000 yen ($37,741 USD) - the rate of taxation was 34.6%.

The reason for that is that Mr. Toyoda received much of his salary in stocks, dividends, and financial products, which are taxed at a flat 20% - no matter what the amount is.

Source: Kami no Bakudan (Paper Bomb) magazine, October 2017, page 32

"The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, an annual benchmarking exercise by the World Economic Forum (WEF), found that despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for women to play a greater role in society, the nation had done little to make more use of its female talent since its ranking at 101st last year.

Contributing most to the drop, the WEF said, was the gender gap for professional and technical workers, with Japan ranking 118th for economic participation and opportunity — down from 106th last year."

Source: Japan Times

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Kyoto City Bus 4


The Kyoto city bus #4 runs from Kyoto Station to Kamigamo Shrine in the north west of Kyoto city.

The #4 bus travels up Kawaramachi, Kyoto's main shopping street, then to Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan and Eiden lines, Shimogamo Shrine, Ipponmatsu, Matsugasaki Station on the Karasuma Line of the Kyoto subway, Kitayama Station and up to Kamigamo Jinja.

Kyoto City Bus 4, Kyoto Station.

From Kyoto Station the #4 bus stops at Shiokoji Takakura, Nanajo Kawaramachi, Kawaramachi Shomen, Kawaramachi Gojo, Kawaramachi Matsubara, Shijo Kawaramachi, Sanjo Kawaramachi, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae (Kyoto City Hall), Kawaramachi Marutamachi, Kojin-guchi, Furitsu Idaibyoin-mae, Kawaramachi Imadegawa, Demachiyanagi, Shin-Aoibashi, Tadasunomori, Shimogamo Jinja, Ipponmatsu, Rakuhoko Koko-mae, Rakuhokukoko Seimon-mae, Kitazonocho, Kodonocho, Higashikitazonocho, Sakyoku Sogochosha-mae, Matsugasaki Station, Nonogamicho, Kitayama Station, Kamigamo Sakakidacho, Midorogaike, Kamigamo Toyodacho, Kamigamo Matsumotocho, Kamigamo Shogakko-mae, Kamigamo Ishikazucho, Kamigamo Shobuencho, Kamigamobashi, Shimogishicho, Kamogawa Chugaku-mae and Kamigamo Jinja.

Kyoto City Bus 4.

The first #4 bus service for Kyoto Station leaves Kamigamo Shrine at 6.20am Monday-Sunday and the last bus is 9.13pm daily.

From Kyoto Station the first Kyoto #4 bus is at 7.18am daily and the last bus to Kamigamo Shogakko-mae is at 10.10pm daily.

*Note all buses go as far as Kamigamo Shrine with about half going as far as Kamigamo Shogakko-mae only. This is about 10 minutes on foot from Kamigamo Shrine and directly south of Ota Shrine.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda


The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum (Enpaku) on the Waseda University campus in Tokyo is dedicated to the history of drama and is named after Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859-1935), a writer, dramatist and translator.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda.

Under the pen name of Harunoya Oboro, Tsubouchi wrote literary criticism, novels, plays and translated Shakespeare's complete works into the language of Japanese kabuki.

The museum, which holds many of Tsubouchi's original works and a collection of ukiyo-e prints of the kabuki play Chushingura, was designed by Kenji Imai and opened in 1928. It was modeled on the former Fortune Theatre in London, an Elizabethan theatre that existed at the same time as the more famous Globe Theatre.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda.

The museum's large collection from around the world includes masks, folding screens, bunraku dolls, theatre magazines, costumes and items related to motion pictures and TV as well as theatre.

There is a library on the premises with a collection of rare books and books in other languages relating to the theatre.

Dramatic performances from Japan and overseas are held at the theatre including two annual festivals: a Shakespeare Festival and the Shoyo Festival.

You can also sample a Ruby Nile beer at Uni Cafe on the Waseda campus after your museum visit.

Ruby Nile Beer.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
1-6-1 Nishi-waseda
Tokyo 169-8050
Tel: 03 5286 1829
Hours: Weekdays 10am-5pm (until 7pm on Tuesdays and Fridays); closed weekends and holidays
Admission: Free

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Conversation with Hal Gold from 1997

A Conversation with Hal Gold from 1997.
Writer, historian, critic, and long-time Kyoto resident, Hal Gold (July 24, 1929 - March 25, 2009) lived in Kyoto for over 30 years, and was a well-known writer on Japan-related subjects.

He passed away in Kyoto at the beginning of the 21st century. This interview took place in 1997.

His published works include a series of essays on Japan (Japan in a Sake Cup), a few books in Japanese, a book which focused on Japan as a right-brain society, as well as a number of articles on turn-of-the-century Kyoto development. His most recently published work, Unit 731 Testimony (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Ltd.), deals with the war crimes of the Japanese army connected with medical experiments conducted on live prisoners in Manchuria between 1932 and 1945.

What is it about Kyoto that interests you?

Gold: My own interest in Kyoto lies in the post-Meiji Restoration period, which, in my opinion, has received far too little attention. I am especially interested in the technological lead Kyoto took in Japan after the restoration. In those days, Kyoto had the reputation of doing everything first in Japan's educational reform, electricity, physics, chemistry. For centuries, the economy of the city had been built on the imperial court and surrounding structures. Then, all of a sudden, the whole economic basis of the city collapsed when the emperor and the entire court apparatus moved to Tokyo. Kyoto was in shock and lethargy. Those who remained, and the many ambitious people who came in from outside the city, realized that the only way to replace the lost imperial-based economy was to pursue technology. This incredible historical discontinuity, if you will, makes this period very interesting.

In terms of infrastructure, how did Kyoto become so advanced, who was involved?

Gold: After the Restoration, when the whole country was reorganized from fiefdoms into prefectures, Kyoto Prefecture became a political entity. Kyoto City was only set up 22 years later. In the early days, Kyoto Prefecture set up the seimikyoku, an organization aimed at implementing Western advances in physics and chemistry. Using the new sciences to develop new products, a number of different study centers were set up. At one time there was even a big Dutch-type windmill where City Hall stands today, which was being used for agricultural research and experimental irrigation methods.

Can you illustrate a good example of this turn-of-the-century promotion in terms of modern-day technology?

Gold: Look inside almost any electronic appliance and there's liable to be a component supplied by a Kyoto company. Kyoto has numerous small to medium companies in highly specialized areas of technology, usually related to the production processes of other products. Kyotoites sometimes remark that the city's high-tech ceramics are rooted in the traditional Kiyomizu pottery industry. However, it's a long way from tea cups to semi-conductors. There had to be something that happened in between there. It took me a long time to find out what the missing link was, which is the subject of several articles I have written, and hopefully will be part of a book I'm planning right now.

Kyoto has been your home for the past 30 years, have you had any difficulties living here?

Gold: It is a well-known complaint amongst the Japanese that Kyoto people are most difficult in all of Japan. It might be true, but it's no accident. In a way, it's their right. For hundreds of years Kyoto was invaded by one army after the other, and because of this Kyoto citizens learned to put on a face that was the same to friend and foe alike. A great portion of Kyoto society was made up of kuge (lower class nobility) households. The kuge had social rank but no real authority. This meant that when a farmer came to a kuge household and asked, "May I leave my wagon in that empty lot over there?" the kuge didn't have the authority to say yes or no. However, the kuge had to maintain his position, and so they became very adept at using language that didn't mean anything but which maintained their image of position and rank. This kind of language and interaction has remained very much part of the Kyoto manner of communication today. It irritates a lot of Japanese, and some non-Japanese people also, but that's history, and there's really no one to blame.

What would you say is great about Japan, something that you can't find in American life?

Gold: Well, I’m from New York. In New York, of course, one's living environment can be quite hostile. One of the beautiful things about living in Japan is that you don't have think about those kinds of things at all. This frees up a lot of energy. For a city of its size, life in Kyoto is about as safe and serene as it gets. All the same, I often wish for some of that Meiji era ambition and foresight on the part of the local government.

What are your favorite places in Kyoto?

Gold: I often jog up Daimonji mountain, and I am very interested in its history. Daimonji is owned by 50 some odd families who are my neighbors, people who have been there for years, I mean generations. One almost unknown theory is that the fire on the mountain in the shape of the ideograph dai (大; great) which is lit every August was originally a star shape. Kobo Daishi probably absorbed this knowledge from the Far East in the 8th century. According to some sources, the mon was created to symbolize a star because Kobo Daishi wanted to spread the belief that stars contained human destiny. Kobo Daishi brought all sorts of philosophies and dogmas from different religions to Japan. He started the Mikkyo Shingon sect, which has a star festival. No other Buddhist sect believes in the stars. Shingon also is unique for its practice of fire worship, which is part of what Bon fire rituals are all about. I also like to jog along Tetsugaku-no-michi. I especially love the little waterfall near the shrine at the southern end of Tetsugaku-no-michi. A while ago, my wife and I went to Argentina and saw the huge Iguazu falls. Liquid awe! After we came back to Kyoto, I took my first jog and went to see the tiny waterfall. It looked great, and I understood the meaning of the old adage, itteki taikai, literally, a drop of water is an ocean.

Your latest book is about a very controversial subject. Any comments?

Gold: Unit 731 is not just about Japanese history; it's also about American history. Very few people are aware of the fact that the American military made a deal with the Unit 731 leaders. We promised not to prosecute them in return for the medical knowledge they obtained from their horrible experiments. Now that the leaders are nearly all dead, the crimes are starting to come into the limelight. Early last December, the US Justice Department came out and said that 16 people formerly connected to 731 would not be admitted to the US. The big question is why then. Some people claim that it was because the Hiroshima Dome was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which America opposed. Whatever the reasons, the testimonies I have collected and translated in this book reveal a lot Japan's human experimentation program, the American secret data-for-freedom swap, and the continuing effects of Unit-731 morality in Japanese medicine and industry today, including the outbreak of AIDS through tainted blood products.

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.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 30, 2017

Furuiwaya-so Kumakogen

Kokuminshukusha literally means "citizens lodgings" and are hotels operated by local governments. Often they have good locations and are reasonably priced, and such is the case with Furuiwaya-so in the mountains of Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

Furuiwaya-so is located across the road from Furuiwaya, a collection of rock formations some towering up to 100 meters, and a popular scenic spot.

Many of the rooms have views out onto the formations. It is also close to Iwaya-ji Temple, one of the 88 temples of the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage and so is also a popular place to stay for pilgrims.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

There are standard western-style rooms with beds and Japanese-style rooms with tatami and futons. Some of both types have ensuite toilets and bathrooms, and some don't. The hotel has it's own onsen. The restaurant has great views.

There are the standard facilities, though the wifi only works in the first floor reception/ restaurant area. With the increasing number of non-Japanese visitors walking the pilgrimage they have plenty of experience dealing with foreigners and speak a little English.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

A single room starts at only 4,500 yen. I paid 6,800 for a six tatami room with alcove and views, ensuite toilet and bathroom, and two meals. I left early in the morning before the restaurant opened and so they prepared some onigiri for me the evening before.

1636 Naose
Ehime 791-1213
Tel: 0892 41 0431

* If you would like us to reserve a room for you here or at other accommodations in Japan please contact us.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Japan News This Week 29 October 2017


Japan News This Week.

Subaru Admits Inspection Failings, in Another Blow to Japan’s Carmakers
New York Times

Japan teen 'forced to dye hair black' for school

Japan's antinuke resolution passes, but support down from past years
The Mainichi

What now for Japan after Abe's landslide election victory?

Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


2016 witnessed a large number of bullying cases among school children. According to the Ministry of Education, there were more than 320,000 incidents of bullying. That is a 40% increase from the previous year.

The majority of the cases occurred in elementary schools, and were arguments or typical childhood quarrels.

By prefecture (state), Kyoto led the way with 96.8 cases per 1,000 students. At the other end, rural Kagawa had just 5.0.

Editorial note: Like many other "problems" in Japanese society, the "dramatic increase" in recent years is part in due to more scrutiny and increased reporting. We wonder though how much more common bullying actually is now than in the past.

Source: Asahi Shinbun, 27 Oct 2017, page 37

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, October 28, 2017

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot


This walk (about 2 miles in length and packed with stuff to look at and enjoy) will take the average person about 3 hours to complete (not including lunch).

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot.

The walk leads through one of Kyoto's most popular tourist areas and is very easy to follow.

It's best to start in the morning around 11am or so. To time this trip perfectly get the exact departure times for the Torokko train (from Torokko Saga Station) that will take you to where the Hozugawakudari River run begins; the last boat usually departs around 4pm, so you will have to board the train by 3pm or so (the train and the boat schedules are linked).

To start the ramble, take a taxi to Torii no moto, the large orange shrine torii gate that marks the beginning of the Atago Mountain precinct (Atago-san is the highest peak on the western ridge and the shrine is home to a powerful fire protection deity).

This red torii marks the start of a pilgrimage route to the top of Mt. Atago. On either side of the torii are huge 400 year-old tea houses that have served pilgrims and visitors for centuries. Meals are also served at both places (about 10,000 yen; reservations necessary). But for hardly anything you can enjoy a bowl of tea inside their ancient smoke-darkened interior.

To start the walk turn your back to the torii gate. With the gate to your back, turn left up the gentle slope, until you come to the unusual temple of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji on your left. An English pamphlet is available upon request.

On the hilly grounds of this temple the visitor will find a wonderful array of carved stone figures, characterized by big smiles and joyful energy. After leaving the temple, trace your steps back to where you started (the torii gate) and follow the road past the tea houses downhill.

After about 200 meters you will come to a stone stairway on your right leading up to Adashino Nenbutsu-ji (化野念仏寺), a stunning temple that is famous for its thousands of stone Buddhist images, originally unmarked graves of the poor.

Follow the route downhill. On your left are a number of colorful shops that cater to the many tourists that come to this area (especially during maple leaf season in November). Where the shops come to an end, the road will fork. Stay right here. After about 250 meters, you will come to a pathway leading sharply off to the right. This path leads into the green grounds of two temples (Gio-ji and Takiguchi-dera).

Gio-ji Temple, Kyoto.

One of the several versions of the story behind simple yet beautifully landscaped Gio-ji Temple is special. Gio and her sister Gijo were Heian Period dancers. Gio became the mistress of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181), a famous military leader. When he became smitten with Gijo, he banished Gio from his mansion. A year later, Gijo, filled with remorse for Gio, decided to join her at this secluded retreat. They lived out their days in prayer, waiting for this transient life and its humiliations to end.

Further along this knoll lies Takiguichi-dera Temple where a young woman once is said to have written a farewell poem on a stone in her own blood after being denied for the second time by the man she loved (the priest who founded the temple). Exit the grounds of these two temples and then follow the road further to the right. After another 200 meters or so, you will come to the bucolic thatched hut known as Rakushisha on your left.

Translated to mean the Cottage of the Fallen Persimmon, this site was visited by the famous haiku poet Basho. A great number of stones in the garden are inscribed with poems (translations for some are given in the pamphlet).

A little further on a path leads sharply off to the right into the grounds of Jojakko-ji Temple, which sits on the top of mossy hill. Note the wonderfully ancient thatched-roof gate. After exiting the temple grounds, turn right again and you will soon come to a pond on your right. Walk past the pond and follow the path around to the right. Soon you will come to a gentle, forested road leading up to your right. This road leads into the five-acre, former estate of Ohkochi Denjiro, Japan's legendary silent film era star.

Known as Ohkochi Sanso, this attractive garden and teahouse complex is open to the public. The views from Mt. Ogura, where Ohkochi Sanso lies, have been celebrated in classical poetry since the 9th century. At the end of the villa tour, you will come to a place where you can have a bowl of refreshing (for the Japanese at least) whipped tea (matcha).

As you exit the ground of the villa, turn right and then left and enter a fairly large bamboo forest. After about 200 meters, you will see a gate on your right side which is the back (north) entrance to the vast grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple (天竜寺; Heavenly Dragon Temple).

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto.

Tenryu-ji, a major Rinzai Zen sect temple, built in 1339 by the first Ashikaga shogun, once ranked as the largest Zen monastery in western Japan, with 120 sub-temples. The temple's perfectly designed garden (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185); it was brilliantly re-stylized by Muso Soseki in the 13th century.

Exit the temple grounds through the main gate and you will find yourself in the center of the swirl that is Arashiyama (Storm Mountain). To your right is the pleasant river scene for which the area is well known.

For the boat ride walk to Torokko Saga Station (トロッコ嵯峨駅) adjacent to Saga Arashiyama Station.

From the station take the scenic, colorful, open-air train to Kameoka (about 30 minutes away) and then the free shuttle bus to the river where you will catch a river boat for the mild, white-water ride back down to Arashiyama.

Hozugawa River Trip, Arashiyama, Kyoto.

The train leaves Kameoka every hour at 35 minutes past. The boat leaves on the hour (except for the last one at 3.30pm). The train ride takes about 30 minutes  The boat ride takes about 90 minutes-2 hours.

The Torokko train leaves from two stations (Torokko Saga and Torokko Arashiyama).

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Stroll Through Kojimachi

麹町 平河町

I went through the Kojimachi and Hirakawacho area of Tokyo today, on the western edge of the Imperial Palace, near the Hanzomon Gate and Hanzomon Station. The following are a few casual snaps I took.

Demae in Kojimachi, Tokyo, Japan.
Demae, Kojimachi
Demae (出前) is what traditional food delivery is called in Japan, and this guy makes for a typical sight on the streets of Tokyo, carrying bowls of food, probably to workers on a nearby construction site. Traditional though this style of delivery may be, you can't fault it for its efficiency, what with about a dozen bowls making the smooth journey from restaurant to customer, no time-consuming loading or unloading involved, using nothing anymore sophisticated than a well-balanced tray and a pair of legs. Food deliveries in Japan are often by bicycle or motor scooter, but here legs are all that are needed.

Demae food delivery in Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Demae II
Sidewalks in Japan are touch and go - often they're there, often they're not, and there's a lot more of what an English speaker might call jaywalking than you'd expect, with space for pedestrians and space for vehicles being more or less shared in many cases. Here our demae guy walks smack down the middle of this Kojimachi backstreet, that, as you can probably tell, is a pretty quiet one. That street sign he's walking over says "Stop" (Tomare).

Magazine-reading man on Kojimachi sidewalk, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Gentleman reading a magazine in Kojimachi
It's not just the roads that are fairly quiet in most of Kojimachi, the footpaths don't get too crowded, either. Here a businessman from one of the hundreds of companies that make Kojimachi and Hirakawacho their home has a leisurely read while strolling.

Buying a drink on the streets of Hirakawacho.
Buying a drink in Hirakawacho
Drink vending machines in Japan are a nice little money spinner for people lucky enough to own property that lots of people go past every day. They're commonly found on parking lots and in front of buildings like this one, making use of otherwise waste space. Here a woman rummages for change to buy a can of something from the Kirin machine (Kirin makes lots of other beverages besides beer!) The "N1B" sprayed on the side could be for management's reference or it could be an example of what in Japan is quite rare (but in this case incredibly boring) graffiti.

Construction site in Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Construction site
Buildings in Japan get cut down and pop up again like mushrooms, with few buildings taking more than about a year to build, and few lasting more than about 40 years. That means construction sites everywhere, all the time. In the fairly cramped streets of Tokyo, that often means congestion, too, with trucks and cranes servicing the construction site coming and going. Here a shidouin (person whose job it is to direct traffic - but you can't really call them "traffic wardens") red baton at the ready, stands facing a vehicle about to leave the site, waiting until I have passed when he will direct it out with big sweeping gestures and maybe some cries. Most of these guys are in their late-40's to 60's, probably used to be construction workers themselves, and are no doubt just eking out a living - but it beats sitting at home alone drawing the dole.

Yakult sellers, Hirakawacho, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
Yakult sellers
Sharing the vibe of the demae guy at the top bearing lunch, these Yakult sellers push their product through the streets of Hirakawacho for that one-on-one touch that the Japanese have traditionally preferred when it comes to purchasing. Their red-and-white jackets are quite snappy, but the covers on the cart are in that insipid gray-green and rainy-day-pink that is typical of the interior decor of medical facilities in Japan. I once stopped to buy a little bottle of Yakult from a seller who I encountered just one street down from this one, and she kindly gave it to me and wouldn't accept any money.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kyocera Museum of Art Dawn of Restoration Exhibition

The Kyocera Museum of Art will host a new exhibition: Dawn of Restoration - Exhibition Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Toba-Fushimi from October 28 - December 3.

Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama by Kunihiro Utagawa
Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama by Kunihiro Utagawa
The exhibition will feature approximately 60 pieces including "Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama," printed on colored woodblock called nishiki-e that describes the Battle of Toba-Fushimi at the time and Osaka Castle in flames, the kawaraban newspapers published in the Edo Period and a drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto where Ryoma Sakamoto, a key historical figure in the Meiji Restoration, was treated after being injured in the Teradaya Incident, an attempted assassination.

A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth  Shogun (a portion) by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka.
A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth  Shogun (a portion) by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka
The woodblock "A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth Shogun" by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka shows the shogun's escape from Osaka to Edo (Tokyo) by sea.
Drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto.
Drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto
Magojiro Ata, a Satsuma Clan soldier’s helmet (Courtesy of Jonangu Shrine).
Magojiro Ata, a Satsuma Clan soldier’s helmet (Courtesy of Jonangu Shrine)
The Kyocera Museum of Art
(Kyocera Corporation Global Head Office, 1st floor)
6 Takeda Tobadono-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City, Japan 612-8501
Access: global.kyocera.com
Dates: October 28 (Saturday) through December 3 (Sun), 2017
*The museum will be open every day during this special exhibition. Hours 10am to 5pm (last admission at 4.30pm)
Admission: Free
Exhibits: Approximately 60 items

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Learning Japanese With Language Apps

Visiting Japan has been a big part of my life since 2010, but learning to speak and understand the Japanese language has not. One day a friend of mine, fluent in English and Tagalog, asked me why. I had not one good reason but many poor excuses: "I'm lazy, I'm too old, and I can't be bothered."

But her question got me to thinking. Whenever I was in Japan I was often seized by an intense desire to speak the language of the natives. But at those times , completely unbidden, high school Spanish would fill my head. A phrase like "Esta Susana en casa?" uttered in Japan was as helpful as you would guess. I continued to let my daughter do all the reading, writing, speaking, and translation of Japanese that we needed.

Learning Japanese with Memrise.

Then one day I tuned into a YouTube channel featuring Rachel and Jun. Rachel was discussing ways to learn Japanese, and she recommended choosing a method that suited your learning style. She added that sometimes learning Japanese could be very difficult, but you just have to push your way through it. All of this struck me as honest and realistic.

Memrise ranking.

I began to research some online programs and I decided upon Memrise Pro. I spent just over a year working my way through Japanese I, Japanese II, Japanese III, Japanese Particles, and Katakana. Japanese I was a real eye-opener, and it was a huge challenge for me, but I persevered through the last lesson. I ended up ranked as #272 of all time, har. Good job, eh? But as I immersed myself into Japanese II, all of a sudden things started making sense. At the end of the course I was ranked #10. I improved even more in Japanese III and reached #5 of all time. I felt as if I could communicate a bit, and that felt great.

Cats' kanji.

As with most subjects on the Internet, language apps can evoke strong and varying opinions. I think the best program of all is the one that you will stick with. I'm continuing my studies with a workbook on kanji. There are just so... many of them! But it has become a pleasure to learn Japanese and I'm up for the challenge.

© JapanVisitor.com

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