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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Japan News This Week 17 December 2017


Japan News This Week.

Destroyed in Tsunami, Temple is Reborn
New York Times

Japan's Babe Ruth Is The Latest Japanese Player To Sign With MLB Team

'Lonely gifs' by Motocross Saito celebrate solitude in Japan

Object from US military helicopter falls onto elementary school in Okinawa
The Mainichi

'Not ashamed': dolphin hunters of Taiji break silence over film The Cove

Japanese kanji of the year is 'north' – thanks to Kim Jong-un

The War on Games
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Annual Hours of Sunshine, World Cities

Tokyo 1,876
Seoul 2,065
Taipei 1,405
Beijing 2,670
Shanghai 1,775
New York 2,534
London 1,633
Paris 1,662
Barcelona 2,591
LA 3,254

Source: Wikipedia

Kyoto 1,798

Source: DIY Solar and Eco Life

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Kure: The Happiness Behind the Giving

Kanji began as pictograms. Kanji convey little information about pronunciation (even less than English spelling does!), but are all about conveying representing things by way of their shape. Well, at least that's the idea. Those original shapes, conceived thousands of years ago in China, have changed considerably, morphing into logograms, and are now representative only in a very abstract way.

Some kanji retain that pictographic sense of direct representation. Ones that immediately come to mind are 一 (ichi in Japanese) for one, 口 (kuchi) for mouth, 門 (mon) for gate, 田 (ta) for ricefield, and 竹 (take) for bamboo. You look at them and think, "OK, I get it."

But even if you don't "get it" at first sight, kanji have a way of insinuating themselves and coming to feel like very natural ways of conveying a particular thing or concept pretty soon after you've gotten to know them.

For example, if you'd never seen 心 before, you'd probably be hard-pressed to guess it meant heart, but once you've learnt it, you can almost see it beating and the blood itself pumping. And whenever you see it as a component (in technical terms, as a radical) in another more complex kanji, you know that that kanji's meaning pertains to feelings or emotions.

One such kanji for me is , which once you've gotten to know it, is very anthropomorphic to the point of being outright cute.

(onyomi: gu or go; kunyomi: kure) Read more about onyomi and kunyomi kanji readings

Even without knowing what it means, you can see a little figure, feet firmly planted, with left hand on hip and right hand raised in salutation. And, sure enough, it is a combination of the now very rare kanji 夨 which denotes a person with head to one side, and the kanji for mouth, 口, which we saw above.

"Officially," 呉 depicts someone with their mouth open, laughing, or someone dancing, bearing a ceremonial implement. It is the root kanji for the kanji 娯, i.e., with the kanji for "woman" added at the left, which is a now rare way of writing the word "tanoshii," or "fun."

However, over the centuries, 呉 has pretty much lost this meaning in everyday life, and it is now used to represent the word kureru, which means the giving of something to someone of a lower social status, or for requesting something from someone. Yet, even then, kureru is rarely rendered using a kanji, but in hiragana.

Tanaka-san ga kureta mono desu. (It's something Ms. Tanaka gave me.)
Watashite kuremasen ka. (Would you kindly pass me that?)
Sore o kure! (Give me that!)
Yatte kure! (Do it!)

呉 is also used to represent the Chinese Kingdom of Wu, which featured in Chinese history in the sixth century BC, and was located near present day Wuxi and Suzhou cities in Jiangsu province, a little inland from Shanghai. Incidentally the Chinese simplification of this kanji has seen it lose its perky hands-on-hipness to become 吴.

The kanji for kureru is most often seen as a placename: for the town of Kure in Hiroshima prefecture, famous for the JMSDF Kure Museum

Besides representing the word kureru, 呉 is used in the following phrases:
呉呉も kureguremo: repeatedly, sincerely, earnestly
Kuregure mo karada ni ki o tsukete kudasai (Take [constant] good care of yourself)
Kureguremo goryoshin ni yoroshiku (Please pass on my regards to your parents)

何呉と無く (more usually written mostly in hiragana 何くれとなく) means "in many/various ways"
Nanikuretonaku osewa ni narimashita. (You have helped me in so many ways.)

So although you won't see this happy little character waving at you very much, remember its presence every time you encounter a kureru request.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kusatsu Yado Honjin


Kusatsu, a key post town in the Edo Period (1600-1868), is located on the cross roads of two of Japan's main roads: the legendary Tokaido highway, linking Edo or Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka along the Pacific Coast and the Nakasendo linking Kyoto to Edo through the interior mountains.

Two main inns called honjin, two sub-inns called waki honjin, and 70 taverns were actively doing business in Kusatsu until the end of Japan's feudal period, when railway transportation suddenly made these highways obsolete overnight.

Kusatsu Yado Honjin, Shiga.

The Kusatsu Yado Honjin, now a fantastically preserved museum, functioned as an officially appointed inn for daimyo (feudal lords) in the Edo Period. It was designated a site of Japanese historical interest in 1949, and stands as a superbly preserved tribute to the amazing craftsmanship of that era. The inn had about 300 rooms, one of which covered an amazing 268 tatami mats, all surrounded by a high wall.

Since 1996, the inn's old gate, kitchen, tatami corridors, beautiful gardens, and a number of its fabulous daimyo suites have been open to the public. This is a place every tourist will want to see and will never forget: a gem of gems from the Edo Period located less than an hour from Kyoto.

See what the Edo world was all about, by experiencing one of the Tokkaido highway's best preserved daimyo inns.

Kusatsu Juku (Information in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English)
2-8-1 Kusatsu
Shiga 525-0034
Tel: 077 561 6636

Hours: 9am-5pm (entry until 16:30), closed on Mondays, and the day after national holidays, and December 28th-January 4th.

Entry: 240 yen (students 180 yen).

Located a 10-minute walk southeast of JR Kusatsu Station. (25 minutes by shinkaisoku express, on the Biwako Line, from Kyoto Station, or 20 minutes from JR Yamashina Station via the Tozai subway line).

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Japan News This Week 10 December 2017


Japan News This Week.

Ghostly Boats Carry North Korean Crews, Dead and Alive, to Japan
New York Times

Japan's Emperor Akihito To Abdicate In April 2019

EU agrees biggest free trade deal with Japan

Baseball: Japanese pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani chooses the LA Angels
The Mainichi

North Korean 'ghost ships' reveal desperation for food and funds

Abe Shinzō's Campaign to Reform the Japanese Way of Work
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Press Freedom Rankings, 2017

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Finland
4. Denmark
5. Netherlands
6. Costa Rica
7. Switzerland
8. Jamaica
9. Belgium
10. Iceland

40. United Kingdom

43. United States

63. South Korea

72. Japan

176. China

180. North Korea

Source: Reporters Without Borders

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Tales of Old Kyoto The Shrimp and the Sea Bream


Long, long ago, there once was an energetic, highly curious shrimp living in one of Japan's many rivers. Among this little shrimp's many dreams was his firm desire to visit the sea, just once. One day, the little shrimp decided it was time.

Tales of Old Kyoto The Shrimp and the Sea Bream.

In parting from his friends, he simply stated, "I want to go to the sea and then swim all over the world," and then set out as energetically and confidently as ever. That night, after reaching the sea, the now tired shrimp began looking for a safe place to sleep. After a while, he found a big hole in a rock and saying: "This is what I’ve been looking for," went in for a good night’s sleep.

However, this was no ordinary hole. This was the nose hole of a big sea bream. As the little shrimp was getting comfortable, the sea bream began to feel more and more uncomfortable. Suddenly, the sea bream couldn't stand it any longer and let out a huge explosion of a sneeze. Naturally, the little shrimp was sent flying through the water helpless against the power of the sea bream's super sneeze. Before the shrimp knew what had happened, he had crashed into a big rock and broke his back. And ever since then, shrimps have all had a bent back.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Fall Scenes from the Middle of Tokyo


Fall scenery in Japan is something most people would associate with forests and mountains or, at best, rural towns. However, the megapolis that is Tokyo is full of spectacular autumnal views at the end of year.

I was cycling through Tokyo today with my camera and took a few shots around the Marunouchi, Imperial Palace and Nagatacho districts of Tokyo.

Daichi Life Insurance Building, Tokyo, in autumn.
Daiichi Life Insurance Building, Tokyo, with Imperial Palace moat.
The Daiichi Life Insurance is one of the most stylish buildings in Marunouchi facing onto the eastern edge of the Imperial Palace moat. It is of recent historical significance too, having been the Allied headquarters in the Occupation. Near Hibiya Station.

Meiji Life Insurance building, Tokyo, in fall with gingko trees.
Meiji Life Insurance building, Marunouchi, Tokyo, with gingko trees.

The Meiji Yasuda Life insurance building is just a block north of Daiichi Insurance, and is grandiose in a more classical way, but lent the same golden beauty with the erect ginkgo trees lined along its front.

Gingko trees in fall near the Imperial Palace, Marunouchi.
Gingko trees in Marunouchi near the Imperial Palace, .

This avenue between Marunouchi and the Imperial Palace is a vista of ginkgo trees that right now are at their mature golden peak, with the leaves creating a luscious carpet both over trees and the ground beneath them.

School pupils clearing autumn leaves in Kokkaizentei Park.
School pupils clearing leaves in Kokkaizentei Park, Nagatacho
There were hundreds of school children in Kokkai Zentei Park today - right across from the National Diet building - "volunteering" to pick up fallen autumn leaves in the park by the sackful - no doubt a welcome day off from study, especially on such a beautiful clear, sunny day as today was.

National Diet Building, Tokyo, in autumn.
Fall at the National Diet Building, Tokyo
The National Diet Building just across from the park was flanked by trees at the left that have given up their foliage, and ginkgo trees on the right that are still richly golden.

Street strewn with fallen leaves, Nagatacho, Tokyo.
Sidewalk covered in autumn leaves, Nagatacho, Tokyo.
This sidewalk in Nagatacho, not far from the National Diet Building was carpeted with distinctive, triangular ginkgo leaves that contrasted dramatically with the dark figures of bureaucrats venturing out into the natural beauty that Tokyo's streets are full of right now.

Autumn foliage at the National Theater, Tokyo, Japan.
Fall foliage at the National Theater, Tokyo
The National Theater of Japan is on the opposite site of the Imperial Palace from Marunouchi, in Hayabusacho, next to the Hirakawacho district. The entrance to the Theater is a riot of fiery autumnal colors.

Supreme Court of Japan lined with gingko trees in autumn.
Ginkgo trees in autumn at the Supreme Court, Tokyo, Japan.
Right next to the National Theater is the brutalist modernity of the Supreme Court, its bold angles and planes beautifully set off by what looks like a row of flaming torches.

Check out the Marunouchi Shuttle Bus or the Sky Bus Tokyo: great ways to see the sights of Marunouchi.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Japan News This Week 3 December 2017


Japan News This Week.

Why a Generation in Japan Is Facing a Lonely Death
New York Times

For Kitasan Black, the Finish Line Draws Near
New York Times

In Japan, A Growing Scandal Over Companies Faking Product-Quality Data

The economic lessons Japan can teach the West

Harumafuji's retirement in line with JSA's desire to not have disgraced yokozuna compete
The Mainichi

North Korea claims it successfully tested new type of missile that can strike US

Tokyo University at War
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Press Freedom Rankings, 2017

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Finland
4. Denmark
5. Netherlands
6. Costa Rica
7. Switzerland
8. Jamaica
9. Belgium
10. Iceland

40. United Kingdom

43. United States

63. South Korea

72. Japan

176. China

180. North Korea

Source: Reporters Without Borders

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The History of Tobacco and Bamboo Pipes in Japan


Tobacco entered Japan in the Momoyama Period (1568-1600) through the Portuguese.

Tobacco was smoked using a bamboo pipe with a fine metal fitting on either end. Though cigarettes rapidly gained popularity at the turn of the 19th century, kiseru bamboo pipes are occasionally still used by some people.

Kiseru tobacco pipe.

Kyoto and Tokyo were both important centers for the production of kiseru or bamboo tobacco pipes until World War II. Kiseru pipes made in Kyoto were prized as the best throughout Japan.

Although they are no longer commonly used for smoking tobacco, they are still highly valued as curios or antiques. Kiseru usually have three parts: a bowl and a mouthpiece made of gold, silver or brass, and a long stem made from high quality bamboo.

Kiseru tobacco pipe.

These bamboo stems were often dyed red, black or amber, some were painted by hand. The bamboo (prepared by boiling and drying) used for these pipes is called shinobe and comes from Hakone in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Shinobe also absorbs nicotine well. In the 1990's shinobe bamboo became virtually extinct in Shizuoka Prefecture due to massive golf course development and other land clearance. Now all remaining bamboo pipes are made from stock materials.

Find out more about the history of tobacco in Japan at the Tobacco & Salt Museum in Tokyo.

If you wish to source and purchase kiseru pipes or any other item from Japan please contact us at GoodsFromJapan.com

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, December 01, 2017

Dojuzan Kasugai Hike


Kasugai, north of Nagoya, may not be known for its natural beauty, however, it does exist.

The small mountains of Dojuzan (429m), Otaniyama (425m) and Mirokuyama (437m).

The small mountains of Dojuzan (429m), Otaniyama (425m) and Mirokuyama (437m), south west of Tajimi, make for a good hike through the forest with spectacular views on a clear day, stretching as far as the skyscrapers around Nagoya Station to the south and the mountains of the Southern Alps in Gifu and Nagano prefectures to the north.

The trail connecting the three peaks is part of the larger Tokai Nature Trail.

Kasugai Hike.

If coming by car, park in the parking lot of the Kasugai Botanical Garden (グリーンピア春日井).
Walk 15 minutes to the Hosono Camp Ground BBQ facilities, the hike begins from a marked trail near Akiba Shrine. The trail could be classified as moderate in difficulty along a well marked path through forest, passing several clear waterfalls.

There are no facilities, so bring your own. The circular route takes a total of approximately two hours.

Kasugai Hike.

There are infrequent Meitetsu buses to Kasugai Botanical Garden from Kozoji Station. Take the bus from bus stop 4 bound for the Botanical Garden (植物園行き ニュータウン経由).

Information on the hike (in Japanese) can be found here: www.jac.or.jp

Kasugai Hike.

Kasugai Hike.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nara and its Gardens


The vast park area, the core remains of Nara's classic period (752-777), is the first thing that strikes visitors to Nara. Apart from this natural woodland, where deer roam about posing for photographs and beg for rice crackers, the city has many classic Japanese gardens which are worth a visit. Here are a few of the most interesting ones.

Nara and its Gardens.
Isuien Garden, Nara © Eddie Smolyansky
Isui-en, a garden of the shakkei, or borrowed scenery type, skillfully incorporates views of the Wakakusa and Kasuga mountains. Dating from the Meiji Period, this garden affords an excellent view of Todai-ji Temple, and is particularly well-known for its fine collection of rocks.

Imanishi Garden, a moss garden which serves as a backdrop for the Imanishi House, built in the Muromachi Period (1333-1576) in the so-called shoin style, and designated an Important Cultural Property, features cleverly-positioned stepping stones which form a cross from one side of the garden to the other.

Kyu Daijo-in Garden, Nara, Japan.

Kyu Daijo-in Garden was designed by the famous fifteenth century gardener Zenami. This is a garden in the shinden-zukuri style, originally designed around a Shinden, or centrally-positioned main building. The vermilion-painted wooden bridge that enables strollers to cross from one side of the natural lake to the other, is one of the garden's most attractive features.

The garden of Futai-ji Temple is renowned for the abundance of its flowers. Founded by Ariwara Narihira, this temple is also known as Narihira-dera. This month hagi (bush clover) and kiku (chrysanthemums) will be in bloom.

Heijo-kyo Sakyo Sanjo Nibo Kyuseki Garden, a garden featuring an s-shaped man-made pond, is to be found in the area once occupied by Heijo-kyo. It is thought that in Heian times the pond was sometimes the venue for an elegant poetry game.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Japan News This Week 26 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Mitsubishi Materials Adds to Japan Inc.’s Quality Problems
New York Times

Japanese Lawmaker's Baby Gets Booted From The Floor

San Francisco accepts 'comfort women' statue

Boat washed ashore with N. Koreans disappears at Japan port
The Mainichi

Sumo wrestling embroiled in scandal again after champion admits assault

The Intractability of the Sino-Japanese Senkaku/Diaoyu Territorial Dispute: Historical Memory, People’s Diplomacy and Transnational Activism, 1961-1978
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Japan ranks last among 11 Asian countries in attracting foreign talent to live and work. It ranked behind Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

In the 2017 IMD World Talent Ranking, Japan finished 51st out of 63 nations. Singapore was number one in Asia.

Reasons given for Japan's poor performance were language barrier and rigid business practices.

Source: Bloomberg

In the 2015 PISA test results, which were recently released, Japanese students placed high in problem solving ability. Japan finished second in the world behind Singapore in collaborative problem-solving.

Source: OECD

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 24, 2017

Shimokitazawa Sendaiya Tofu Restaurant

Shimokitazawa ("Shimokita" for short) is a fascinating little enclave in western Tokyo of stores, restaurants, cafes, theaters and live music clubs. We were there on the weekend to make a video for the Shimokitazawa guide page on JapanVisitor.com.

We started filming about 11am. The weather was perfect, and the streets were buzzing. But making movies can get quite tiring: avoiding getting in the way of flow of people, trying to think on your feet and sound and look good on camera, working out where you are and where you're going, keeping a keen eye out for shooting opportunities, and, last but not least, trying to be inconspicuous. Stores in Japan, in particular, are very jealous of their image and seek to control every last thing about it, and strangers bowling up with cameras generally fill them with dread.

So by 1pm we were already a bit tired and hungry. I wanted to go to a Hokkaido soup curry place  called Rojiura Curry Samurai Shimokitazawa that I included on the Shimokitazawa dining page that I recently created, but my partner was taken by a tofu restaurant, so we checked it out.

Sendaiya was small, friendly and cosy. It looks like it started life as a regular tofu store, and then added a few tables and chairs and started serving tofu-based meals. Asking the proprietor, we found out that it is actually based in Yamanashi prefecture, and has a couple of branches in Tokyo, the other being in Ikejiri.

We both went for the salmon, natto, and tofu set. It arrived pretty quickly, although there was a hiccup in that although the waitress had gotten our order right, the kitchen hadn't, and we were missing the salmon. It turned up promptly with an apology after we said something, and we enjoyed a hearty meal - thanks partly to the rice and natto being tabehodai (all-you-can-eat).

As we were paying, we ordered a couple of the tofu donuts they had in the glass case under the counter. They even got that wrong - giving us a vegetable flavored one instead of the pumpkin one we clearly ordered. However, it wasn't a big deal, it tasted great, and cheerful, friendly service is more important than dotting i's and crossing t's.

See the Sendaiya website

© JapanVisitor.com

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

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