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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Suicides Statistics in Japan


The number of suicides recorded in Japan for 2004 was 32,325. This is a decrease from the record high of 34,427 suicides in 2003.
Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide and Statutes

The number of self-killings has increased among members of Japan's military - the Self-Defense Forces (SDF)- who are now involved in peace-keeping operations in Iraq.

There has also been a rise to 55 in the number of group suicides among young people who have contacted each other through Internet suicide web sites.

The majority of people who take their own lives are over 40, male and unemployed.

Over 1 million people commit suicide annually and Japan leads the world in deaths per 100,000 of the population.

Buy this book from Amazon

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Wakamaru - Robots For Sale

三菱ロボット - ワカマル
Wakamaru at Expo 2005
The Wakamaru robot that has been on display at the Aichi Expo will go on commercial sale next month.

The one-meter tall humanoid robot produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries can recognise and communicate with up to 10 different people and understand approximately 10,000 words. Wakamaru will be marketed as a house-sitter/guard cum secretary.

Wakamaru is powered by rechargeable batteries and moves on wheels. The new models will be available in a selection of colors and the 30kg robot, which can be linked to mobile phones, will retail for for about 14,280 USD.

Goods From Japan

Monday, August 29, 2005

'Don't stop the reforms' - Koizumi

「改革をとめるな。」 - 小泉

Cycled home again from work today. Apart from a couple of days a few days ago we’ve been having fine weather virtually everyday meaning I’m getting lots of legwork in just by commuting. Beats being squeezed up against strangers in a train with a middle-aged suit-and-tie’s Brylcreamed bad haircut right under your face. 6pm and it’s already noticeably darker, there’s a lighter, cooler feel to the air that makes you feel a few degrees more energized than you did under the hot wet blanket of summer that was still heavy over the city only a week or so ago.

One thing the slight retreat of the heat does is release a new set of smells: nothing particularly identifiable, but all of them somehow a little sharper, fresher, more pungent – whether pleasant or not. Especially noticeable on a bicycle, I suppose. You don’t usually walk far enough to get as big a sample of odors, and stuck in a car or a train you’re also stuck with pretty much the same smells for the whole trip.

Got home, cleared my mail out of the letterbox, and found the pictured flyer from the LDP. There's an election coming up on 9/11, of all days. The flyer reads down the right ‘Don’t stop the reforms’. The opening line says ‘I’m making a renewed effort to privatize the Post Office’. I’m too tired from work to read the whole thing: the densely written manifesto continues over to fill the whole of the other side too. But anyway, Koizumi’s staking his whole career on the success of his so far unsuccessful attempt to privatize the PO. He is apparently proposing to split it in four and release the vast sums of cash deposited in it to the market.
So far that money has been largely funneled into Japan’s infamous ‘road to nowhere’ public works projects. The countryside is littered with concrete monstrosities that this kind of spending spawns: there not for any purpose beyond the twin one of reassuring the ‘lucky’ locality that they haven’t been forgotten and employing tens of thousands of construction workers, many of whom would otherwise be unemployed, perhaps even homeless.

The amount of that kind of spending has been drastically cut, however: 4.5% of GDP now as opposed to 9% in 1996. Has that got something to do with the fact that walking though Shibuya the other day with Norio we saw a guy in his early to mid 30s sitting in a busy plaza with a felt-penned sign ‘Looking for work’?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Yakuza War Feared

Yakuza War Feared.

The recent ascension of Kenichi Shimoda as oyabun (親分), or Godfather, to Japan’s largest organized crime group has police and government authorities fearing open warfare among rival yakuza groups.

Shimoda takes over leadership of the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi from the more diplomatic Yoshinori Watanabe. Under Watanabe, the most powerful domestic yakuza group has in the last ten years aggressively expanded its influence eastward into Tokyo. The mob in the capital, primarily the Inagawa-kai and Sumiyoshi-kai, has reacted with alacrity and violence in attempts to protect its turf.

With a total membership of 39,200, according to the Yomiuri Shinbun, the Yamaguchi-gumi now has 55 offices in Tokyo and at least 900 gangsters based there. Watanabe, who spearheaded the move into Tokyo, maintained cordial relations with Kakuji Inagawa, the late leader of the Inagawa-kai.

With the two men now out of the picture, the Metropolitan Police Department is worried about a spike in violence. Moreover, according to journalist Atsushi Mizoguchi, unlike Watanabe, Shinoda will not hesitate to “spill blood if that’s what it takes to bring back power to Yamaguchi.”

Yakuza Movie Book

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Hostels in Japan


Ryokan Nishiyama, Kyoto
Accommodation can be the most expensive part of your budget on any visit to Japan but over the last few years a number of more reasonably priced hostels and budget hotels have sprung up across the country.

These cheaper types of accommodations include a number of good value traditional guesthouses called ryokan (旅館) and minshuku (民宿) which have kept prices steady to attract foreign tourists.

A particularly recommended ryokan is the Ryokan Nishiyama in central Kyoto which can be booked below along with budget hotels, hotels and ryokan throughout Japan.

Hostels and budget accommodation in Japan

Tsukuba Express (TX)

つくばエクスプレス - 秋葉原ーつくば

Tsukuba Express (c) Tsukuba City Wednesday August 24 saw the start of a new express train service - the Tsukuba Express - between Tokyo's electronics mecca of Akihabara and Tsukuba (Science City) in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The 58 km route which passes through Saitama and Chiba prefectures will take 45 minutes compared to 85 minutes previously on the JR Joban Line or around 65 minutes by bus.

The new line has 20 stations equipped with automated gates with stops in downtown Tokyo at Shin-Okachimachi, Asakusa, Minami-Senju and Kita-Senju.

Fares are presently 1,190 yen for the whole journey (2015). Fares are slightly cheaper if you purchase using a smart card such as PASMO or Suica.

Kenkyugakuen Station, Tsukuba.

There are four types of train operating on the Tsukuba Express: Rapid, Commuter Rapid, Semi-Rapid, and Local. The Rapid is the fastest service at 45 minutes and seven stops. The Semi-Rapid service between Akihabara and Tsukuba takes 52 minutes with 14 stops. The Local does the journey in 57 minutes with stops at every station.

Tsukuba Express English information

Guide to Tsukuba

Friday, August 26, 2005

Construction Noise in Japan

House under construction
According to buyusa.gov the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) announced Japan's total housing starts for May 2005 to be 101,862 units, a 3.0% increase compared to May 2004.

Unfortunately one of them was just across the street and it's the third new house built since January within spitting distance of where I live. So that's 8 solid months of hammering, banging and construction meetings that start before 7am every day with hardly a break, not even at weekends.

The worst sounds are the automatic nail punches and the electronic voices on the trucks as they reverse or are parked with their hazard lights flashing and whirring.

I've been out to remonstrate a couple of times but noise pollution cannot be escaped. My neighbors dog barks endlessly and I can even hear their phone through the walls and the 50 cm gap between our houses. The election's coming up so the political parties' sound trucks will be blasting their inane greetings anytime soon .

A friend in Kyoto with over 15 years in Tokyo and Kyoto reports that despite all the noise he's never heard any of his neighbors having sex as he has in the US. What's (not) going on?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Singapore Pavilion


Singapore recently changed the exterior of its pavilion at the Aichi Expo in Nagoya introducing green vinyl strips to replace the original red and yellow colored plastic plates of the original design.

The effect is somewhat reminscent of the plastic fly barriers hung in the back doors of many Western homes but is being heralded as a new direction in Singaporean design.

Decide for yourself. (The roti shop is still doing good business!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test


The Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is conducted both in Japan and outside Japan to evaluate and certify the language proficiency of primarily non-native speakers of Japanese.
The test is administered by Japan Education Exchanges and Services, inside Japan, and by the Japan Foundation outside Japan.

The test date for 2005 is Sunday December 4 and the application period is July 4 - September 5.

In the UK the test is administered by SOAS Language Centre, University of London, on behalf of the Japan Foundation.

A good resource for studying the necessary kanji content of the test is Kanji Clinic

Further details on the JLPT test

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Japanese Byobu Screens


Japanese Byobu Screens.

Beautiful, handmade, hand-painted Japanese screens. These byobu make the perfect gift. They can be placed on a desk or coffee table, at home or work.


Five years of online service, thousands of satisfied customers.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Shibuya Flower Project

'Shibuhana' Volunteer Group, Tokyo

The heart of
Japan’s commercial youth culture beats hard in the slope just north-west of Shibuya station. Neon a go-go, hip-hop bagginess, tanned-to-crisp bleachedness, afros, Ts, alohas, crewcuts, strutting natural cool, slinky grim cool, billboards, packed Starbucks … shopping bags, shopping bags, shopping bags.
I was there today CD shopping and took the JR line from Shinjuku. I went out the famous ‘Hachiko’ exit, nicknamed after the statue of the legendary faithful dog that dominates it. As I headed towards the shopping area I noticed that the Easter Island-type sculpture of a head known as ‘Moyai’ that ‘Hachiko’ now shares the plaza with was surrounded with huge golden sunflowers. There were people tending them, all in the same design T-shirt. On a blissful summer day like today it was a beautifully vivid spectacle and after stopping to take a shot of it, I approached the young gardeners.

The volunteer group ‘Shibuhana’ (shibu for Shibuya, hana: the Japanese word for flower) runs the Shibuya Flower Project, its motto: ‘Flowers in Shibuya, smile on people, the seeds are in your heart’. The founder’s inspiration was to try and reduce the number of people who thoughtlessly littered the teeming streets of the quarter by beautifying it.
The beautifying efforts are focused on the ‘Moyai’ sculpture garden. Every month has a different flower theme. Next month is the turn of the cosmos, to which, apparently, the now happily blooming sunflowers will have to give way. Check out their website.

Hostels in Tokyo

Saturday, August 20, 2005



Following the mid-August Bon holidays—Japan’s All Soul’s Day(s) in which all Japanese celebrate the annual return of their deceased ancestors by having a priest come to pray at the family altar, or by making the trip to their ancestral village—Kyoto holds its Jizo-Bon festival on the following weekend. These are neighborhood block parties cum children’s festival whose purpose is to pray for the health of children, and are held nowhere else in Japan.


The festival officially begins when a Buddhist priest prays for the neighborhood ojizo-san, a mini-Buddha placed in altars found throughout Kyoto. However, prior to that adults come together early in the morning to set up a temporary altar, hang up paper lanterns that are strung between telephone poles, set out tables full of sweets and drinks, and close off the block to traffic. In my neighborhood, in western Kyoto, following the pre-festival preparations all then made an offering at the altar.

At that point, the festival is a tightly scheduled series of events spread out over two days. Children eagerly await the signal—a gong that 2-3 children carry around and ring out at appointed times—for the next event. At 10 am, the children receive sweets, at 10:30 there is a drawing for toys (my daughter was none too happy to get the same Licca-chan doll she had received last year). At noon a lunch of chirashi-sushi is served to all.

After lunch, perhaps the most "religious" event takes place: “juzo-mawashi.” The children sit in a large circle, and pass around a long string of prayer beads to the beat of a religious gong. At three sweets are once again distributed. The first day ends with a small display of fireworks. Adults sit out in the street, drinking and gossiping while children play until late, wandering from block to block to see school friends and take part in many Jizo-Bon festivals.

Day two starts with the ringing of the gong to call the children for a final package of sweets. At 11 there is one more drawing for toys and games. Following a communal lunch, Jizo-Bon comes to an end and the adults disassemble the altar, take down the lanterns, and store everything until the following August.

Hostels in Tokyo

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sendai Earthquake

Sendai Earthquake.

The Sendai Miyagi region of nothern Japan was today rocked by a powerful earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale. The quake was felt as far away as the capital Tokyo with tall buildings swaying for a full minute in the powerful tremor.

40 people were injured in the earthquake marked by unusually strong horizontal motion.

Even here in Tokyo it was felt as a fairly substantial earthquake, remarkable less for its violence than for its length and its motion. Once it started - almost imperceptibly - it just kept going. Sitting at my desk at work I looked around and caught the eye of one or two workmates looking back at me equally quizzically. Was it an earthquake? And in the space it took to ask, it gradually picked up pace and got going.

It can only be described as exactly like being at sea - like riding a series of swells. While not at all violent in Tokyo, it was big, and what was even worse than the actual experience of rocking and rolling around was the fear that it would suddenly tower into something awful and possibly even deadly. The unusual length of time it kept going only heightened this fear. Most earthquakes are over with in about 10 seconds - which, even then, seems like an age. This is by far the most prolonged one I have ever experienced: much longer, for example, than the 1995 quake of 7.3 on the Richter Scale that destroyed Kobe, which I experienced in nearby Osaka.

Once it was over, it was over - so I thought. Here's me, who's never been seasick in my life, about ten minutes after the earthquake was over starting to feel distinctly queasy. I didn't throw up but for half an hour it was touch and go. And judging by the coughs, shuffles, sighs and general signs of discomfort around me, I don't think I was the only one!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Pacific War


Japan and other Asian countries today marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific.

Pacific War.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi together with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko attended a special televised memorial service in Tokyo where they paid their respect to Japan's war dead.

Koizumi offered apologies and remorse on behalf of the nation as a result of Japan's role in the conflict which left millions dead and injured throughout the region.

Acts of remembrance were also held throughout Asia's capitals, where Japan's neighbors particularly China and Korea feel that Japan has not adequately confronted its militaristic and colonial past history.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade 2005


Gay Pride
After a hiatus of two years, the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade was back. The fourth Parade took place in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Saturday, August 13. Defying all naysayers it was a roaring success with, what organizers estimate, at least 3000 paraders and another 2000 supporters.

The theme was diversity. A true celebration of sexual diversity, not only gays and lesbians, but even asexuals had their retinue in the march around the streets of Shibuya. And represented amongst the gays and lesbians was the whole range of pursuits, beliefs, practices and fantasies ranging from drag kings and queens to American footballers, leathermen, Christians, anti-war gays and lesbians, to boys and girls next door.

Gay Pride
While rain had been forecast, the marchers were treated to a generally fine - at worst sometimes overcast - if roasting, summer day: a perfect opportunity to peel right down, which large numbers gleefully took. In typical Japanese style the parade had its own hierarchy with the organizers taking the lead, followed behind by a multitude of different parties led by an uplifting brass band - glinting silver and gold - and multifarious baton/rainbow flag twirlers. With a light police escort the parade moved to the streets drawing smiles and waves from even the most curmudgeonly.

The march left Yoyogi Park (also the venue of Tokyo Plage, featured in the previous blog entry) at and it wasn't until that the final group came home. Meanwhile, the irrepressible crowd milled around stalls, snapped pictures, laughed, talked, met up and enjoyed while the Tokyo gay scene's famous DJ Patrick spun house tunes from the soundshell stage.

Tokyo Gay Parade The final ceremony took place on the stage at to cheers, applause, tinsel, fireworks and bubbles, and - most importantly - to the promise roared in echo by the crowd of the Fifth Lesbian and Gay Parade next year.

Then, as if on cue, as the final words were said a clap of thunder sounded, and as the crowd dispersed the rain came down in buckets.Tokyo Gay Parade
The Parade was followed by a Parade party "After Spice" at club Ace in Shinjuku from .

The next day, Sunday, is the Rainbow Festival in Shinjuku 2-chome.

The streets will be closed to traffic and thronged with lesbian and gay revellers.

Tokyo and Lesbian Gay Parade 2006

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Tokyo Plage

Tokyo Plage
The middle of mid-summer Tokyo: Shibuya in August, is, as always, the center of Japan’s youth culture. However, this year it will be even more than mini skirts, ripped jeans, Louis Vuitton bags, and Chanel sunglasses. Welcome bikinis and speedos! From the 13th to the 21st this mad urban conglomeration of everything wacky is getting its own real live beach. A snazzy facility has been built with deckchairs and volleyball courts, as well as the inevitable catwalk for a fashion show, not to mention truckload after truckload of white sand – over 1000 tons of it - brought over from China, all to produce ‘Tokyo Plage’.
Inspired by a similar project in Paris, the project has been suitably christened a la francais. It is organized by Sky Perfect TV, Japan’s biggest satellite TV channel, in collaboration with Kao Cosmetics which is running the ‘Shibuya Beach’ program. The sponsors hope to attract over 200,000 trendy beach boys and gals.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tatami mats

Traditional Japanese tea room
Natural hand-woven rush tatami goza mats. The traditional Japanese flooring for homes or restaurants.
Direct from Japan and available in a variety of large sizes our tatami mat covers make excellent, safe and affordable floor coverings over carpets or hard surfaces. Tatami mats make any room feel lighter and more spacious.
goza are the top decorative layer of traditional tatami mats and lend to any room or space that special Oriental atmosphere and aroma - perfect for meditation and relaxation.
Our mats are ideal for your children's play rooms and bedrooms as they are natural, long-lasting, stain-resistant, wipe clean easily and improve air quality.
Each mat is edged with an attractive patterned border which can be used for securing your mat to the floor surface.
New tatami have a green color and a fresh grassy smell which fades in light to leave a bright golden color and are naturally treated to repel insects.
The size of Japanese rooms are still measured in tatami or -jo to this day, as traditional tatami had a basically standard size (roughly 90cm by 180 cm - 3 feet by 6 feet), though mats from Kyoto and the west of Japan (honma) were slightly larger than the mats produced in Tokyo and eastern Japan (edoma).
tatami mat covers are made of soft reeds and each tatami mat contains around 4,000 to 5,000 rushes.
The woven edge or eri
Hemp or cotton cord is then used to weave the rushes together.
Our tatami carpets make the ideal gifts for you, your home and friends.
GoodsFromJapan.com now offers two types of goza tatami mat: our Standard high-quality mats and also Premium hand-produced made-to-order mats. The made-to-order mats take between 2-10 days to produce (depending on size) from the time of your order and come with a border (eri) in patterned green, brown, blue or plain black. Please specify the color you prefer in your order.
Our Standard high-quality mats all have green patterned borders.

Purchase Japanese Tatami mats

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nagasaki 60 Years After The Bomb

長崎 - 原子爆弾

Nagasaki Peace Memorial, Nagasaki.

It is 60 years to the day that Nagasaki was struck by the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan by the Allies in 1945. Around 70,000 people lost their lives as an immediate result of the devastation and a further 70,000 fell victim to subsequent radioactivity related illnesses.
In 1550 the first Portuguese ship arrived in Nagasaki Harbor. In 1571, the Japanese government opened up the port of Nagasaki to foreign trade to the Dutch and, to a lesser degree, Chinese merchants. The foreign traders were confined to tiny Dejima Island. For more than 200 years this was Japan’s only contact with the outside world. What remains of the city’s experience with outsiders can be found in Chinatown, a reconstructed Dejima, castella (pound cake) and the longer noses Nagasaki residents have supposedly been saddled with thanks to their Dutch genes.
I had the pleasure of seeing Puccini’s opera ‘Madame Butterfly’ at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall last Saturday. The opera being staged when it was had an extra layer of meaning, the town where Madame Butterfly is set being Nagasaki. Of any city in Japan Nagasaki was most likely to be visited by an American sailor as Nagasaki was, until Japan opened up in1869, the sole window into the country on the rest of the world. How ironic then that Japan's first gateway to the outside world and for long its most international city ended up as a target – mainly thanks to the primary planned target, the city of Kokura, being totally covered in cloud that day. A small break in the clouds over Nagasaki as the pilot was about to give up and go back to base spelt Nagasaki’s doom.
Starring the Bugarian prima donna Doina Dimitriu and a sparse but lush modern set by a prominent Japanese designer, Madame Butterfly was a heart stirring two hours of meticulously and boldly staged spectacle. Premiered in 1905, the story is about an American playboy of a sailor who marries the exquisite but poor Madam Butterfly (or ‘Cho-cho san’ – chocho meaning butterfly in Japanese) of Nagasaki. He returns to sea saying he will return and all but forgets her. Meanwhile she and their son born since his departure wait his return, she disdaining all advice to forget him, passionately believing he will return. He does eventually return, but with an American wife, to take the child. The distraught and utterly bereft Butterfly kills herself. The bay has been immortalized by the divine aria ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ sung by a longing Madame Butterfly as she scans the horizon, yet again, and again, for any sign of her beloved’s warship describing in detail how one fine day he will sail into the harbor and come up the hill.

Time has healed Nagasaki, and it is as beautiful a harbor as any in Japan, surrounded by hills and dotted with boats. The heartbreak of history is almost over as survivors of its wartime tragedy dwindle. Not only does it retain the charm of history and the beauty of its setting, as a focus of peace it reaches out in hope to the future.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

Monday, August 08, 2005


Junichiro Koizumi.
Japanese politics has been plunged in to turmoil with the news that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dissolved the Diet (parliament) and called a snap election for 11 September following the defeat of the government's postal reform bill.

The bill was the centerpiece of Koizumi's economic reform package and the defeat came after 22 members of Koizumi's own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) voted against the measure.

Japanese postal savings account for a quarter of Japan's personal assets. Japan Post has 25,000 post offices nationwide and over 260,000 employees.

The snap election looks certain to widen the already deep rifts within Japan's governing party which has held power virtually without interruption since the end of World War II.

The six bills Koizumi and his chief economic adviser Heizo Takenaka were hoping to pass would have seen the privatization of Japan Post by 2017 and split the giant state corporation into private companies handling postal services, banking and insurance.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto



kaiten sushi
Fast becoming an institution all over the world, kaiten (lit. "revolving") sushi has brought the conveyor belt out of the factory and into our hearts. In reality, most items never make it round more than once, being thrown away when they lose their freshness. The busiest places always serve the freshest fish and watching the chefs working at the speed they do is a wonder to behold.
In general, kaiten sushi is the lower end of the market but consequently, it's often very cheap. Dishes are either all one price or colour coded with a guide on the wall. Stack up the plates as you eat or in larger places, drop them into a "letterbox" in the counter and the bill is calculated automatically. Great for finding your favourites and getting better quality elsewhere. It's worth remembering that even things you don't like at a kaiten sushi restaurant might blow you away at a classier establishment.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hiroshima 60th Anniversary

HiroshimaA Bomb Dome 広島

At 8.15 this morning, exactly sixty years ago, a thunderous act of war instantly transformed the city of Hiroshima's legacy - if not the whole of Japan's - into one of peace. On August 6, 1945, during the last days of the Second World War, the United States dropped the first of the two atomic bombs it would use against Japan on the city of Hiroshima.

The details of the destruction caused by the bomb have become part of modern legend, and Hiroshima has likewise become a virtual religious symbol. Its symbolism was further reinforced today with the Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies that took place there along with speeches by survivors and public figures.
Today is also the final day of the 6th General Conference of Mayors for Peace, held, significantly, this year in Hiroshima.

The president of the worldwide General Conference is also the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. Since taking office in 1999, not only has he overseen Mayors for Peace grow by a third, he has also earned himself a reputation as one of Japan’s most progressive mayors.

As a Japanese mayor - in fact as an authority figure anywhere in Japan - Akiba is a rarity. As well as graduating from the traditional training ground for Japan’s elite, the University of Tokyo, he also has a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Furthermore, he lived over 20 years in the United States, meaning not only is he thoroughly bilingual, but his language skills are matched by his ability to relate to things comfortable and confidently on an international level. As well as a commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons, he has transformed the city of Hiroshima.

From being a city suffering from the corruption of backroom politics, gang violence (Hiroshima has traditionally been a yakuza stronghold), and environmental pollution, under Akiba’s leadership the city is now run more transparently and efficiently than ever before, youth are being given more city-sponsored guidance, and he has succeeded in boosting tourism to Hiroshima dramatically.

Sharing the stage with Akiba and the survivors in Hiroshima today is, of course, the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. While matters of international war and peace are no doubt occupying his mind today, he has a problem even closer to home.

That is, the upper house of parliament is about to vote on his bill for privatization of the post office: a critical move in his program of reform. If they defeat it he says he will dissolve the house - a dissolution that would be fiercely criticized for creating a ‘blank’ in the national power structure. 

Hiroshima has become a mecca for peace activists worldwide, so first on the list for visitors to the city must be the Peace Park, Peace Memorial Museum, and the A-Bomb Dome.

Other places of interest include Hiroshima Museum of Art, Hiroshima City Manga Museum and the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum.

Tourist information centers are at Hiroshima Station (tel. 082-261-1877) and Hiroshima's Ujina Port. Cultural and other information available at the Hiroshima International Conference Center (tel. 082-247-9715) in the Peace Park.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Barefoot Gen

Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story Vol 1
Barefoot Gen
by Keiji Nakazawa
ISBN: 0867194502
284 pp
Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen) is a Japanese comic book series about a boy who has survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The book begins as Japan is in the midst of the war.

Gen is a normal, active boy who is more preoccupied with his own friends and life than that of the larger world around him. This world, however, is turned upside-down by the horror of what happens on a clear day in August 1945. Gen is a strong boy who manages to maintain his sense of humor in the face of the most trying situations.

You will cheer along with him. Whatever your take on the use of the bomb, this is a compelling read. Barefoot Gen nearly brought a tear to the eye of this often cynical reviewer.

Buy this book from Amazon

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dogs in Japan

Japanese dogs.

More than 48 million households in Japan keep pets, according to a 2004 survey by the Japanese pet food manufacturers' association. In 2003, the number of dogs rose by more than 1.5 million to 11.3 million.

The number of dogs being kept as domestic pets in Japan (along with other more exotic animals) began increasing sharply during the economic boom of the "Bubble Years" of the 1980s.

The domestic pet population is experiencing a second spike as the economy picks up again and Japan's population rapidly ages. Nearly a fifth of Japanese - 24 million people - are aged 65 or older; by 2050, they will account for 35% of the population.

More pensioners are turning to pets for companionship as their children leave home and dogs are also cute accessories for the younger generation.

Specialist restaurants for pets have appeared in Tokyo and there is now a 40-room pet hotel at Kansai International Airport - costing up to US$100 a night - for owners to leave their animals while away on holiday.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

Gas Pavilion Aichi Expo

Aichi Expo Gas Pavilion
The stated basic theme of the Gas Pavilion at Aichi Expo is "Dream Energy - For People, for the Earth". A typical wishy-washy Expo title.

The Gas Pavilion hopes to demonstrate the diversity and potential of natural gas as a clean resource in the 21st Century.

The Gas Pavilion is seen here lit up against a typhoon sky at Aichi Expo 2005.

Hotel Nishiyama and other accommodation in Kyoto

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