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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Yamanote Line Tokyo

山手線, 東京

JR's loop line in Tokyo the Yamanote Line is one of the capital's main transport arteries.

Yamanote Line Train at Tokyo Station heading for Shinagawa and Ikebukuro.

The Yamanote Line was completed as a full loop in 1925. The first part of the line between Shinagawa and Akabane stations was opened in 1885.

The Yamanote Line carries on average 3.55 million people daily and connects many of Tokyo's main rail stations and entertainment and shopping areas.

The light-green colored trains run from 4.20am to approximately 1.20 am with trains about every 2-3 minutes at peak periods. A complete loop of the Yamanote Line takes just over or just under an hour.

Trains run in both clockwise (外回り, sotomawari) and anti-clockwise (内回り, uchimawari) directions around the loop.

JR tickets from places outside Tokyo remain valid to any destination on the Yamanote Line.

There are 29 stations on the Yamanote Line, only 2 of which do not connect to other lines.

Here is a list of stations travelling from Tokyo Station in a clockwise direction and connections.

Tokyo Station (Keihin-Tohoku Line, Chuo Main Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keiyo Line, Marunouchi Subway Line, Shinkansen [all major lines from Tokyo], Sobu Main Line, Tokaido Main Line, Yokosuka Line) -- >
Yurakucho (Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yurakucho Subway Line) -- >
Shimbashi (Ginza Subway Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Yurikamome) -- >
Hamamatsucho (Keihin-Tohoku Line, Toei Asakusa Line,
Toei Oedo Line, Tokyo Monorail) -->
Tamachi (Keihin-Tohoku Line) -->
Shinagawa (Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keikyu Main Line, Tokaido Main Line, Tokaido Shinkansen, Yokosuka Line) -->
Osaki (Rinkai Line, Shonan-Shinjuku Line [southbound]) -- >
Gotanda (Toei Asakusa Line) -- >
Meguro (Namboku Subway Line, Toei Mita Line, Tokyu Meguro Line) -- >
Ebisu (Hibiya Subway Line) -- >
Shibuya (Ginza Subway Line, Hanzomon Subway Line, Keio Inokashira Line, Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line, Tokyu Toyoko Line) -- >
Harajuku (Chiyoda Subway Line) -- >
Yoyogi (Chuo-Sobu Line (eastbound), Toei Oedo Line) -- >
Shinjuku (Chuo Main Line, Chuo-Sobu Line [westbound], Keio Line, Marunouchi Subway Line) -- >
Odakyu (Odawara Line, Seibu Shinjuku Line, Toei Oedo Line, Toei Shinjuku Line) -- >
Shin-Okubo -- >
Takadanobaba (Seibu Shinjuku Line, Tozai Subway Line) -- >
Mejiro -- >
Ikebukuro (Marunouchi Subway Line, Saikyo Line (northbound), Seibu Ikebukuro Line, Shonan-Shinjuku Line [northbound], Tobu Tojo Main Line, Yurakucho Subway Line, Yurakucho New Subway Line) -- >
Otsuka (Toden Arakawa Line) -- >
Sugamo (Toei Mita Line) -- >
Komagome (Namboku Subway Line) -- >
Tabata (Keihin-Tohoku Line) -- >
Nishi-Nippori (Chiyoda Subway Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line) -- >
Nippori (Joban Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keisei Main Line) -- >
Uguisudani (Keihin-Tohoku Line) -- >
Ueno (Ginza Subway Line, Hibiya Subway Line, Joban Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Tohoku Shinkansen [northbound]) -- >
Okachimachi (Keihin-Tohoku Line) -- >
Akihabara (Chuo-Sobu Line, Hibiya Subway Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Tsukuba Express)
-- >
Kanda (Chuo Main Line, Ginza Subway Line)

Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line

Places of interest near to JR Yamanote Line Stations

Tokyo Station
Imperial Palace & Marunouchi shopping district

Ginza & Imperial Palace

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tokyo Tower & Zojoji Temple, monorail to Haneda Airport

Shinjuku shopping and entertainment area and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - Tocho

Yoyogi Park

Youth Shopping, Meiji Shrine

Shibuya Shopping & Entertainment District

Ikebukuro shopping and entertainment area

Ueno Park

Ameyoko Shopping District

Akihabara Electronics Shopping District

Yushima-Kanda Historic Area

Osaka also has a JR Loop Line - the more prosaic orange-colored Osaka Loop Line with 19 stations and trains running in both clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. The line connects such major stations as Osaka, Kyobashi, Tennoji, Tsuruhashi and Shin-Imamiya.

Listen to an English announcement on the Yamanote Line

Buy the latest Japanese-English Dictionary from Canon

Mini Japanese Masks

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tojiin Temple Kyoto


Tojiin monkWhen you pass through the outer gate to enter the grounds of Kyoto's Tojiin Temple compound, you first come upon a large graveyard. The two most striking features of the graveyard are a statue of Buddha and another of Shozo Makino, the latter one of the early legends of Japanese cinema. Makino was a director at a local stage theater troupe but made the transition to film in 1907, and is still revered in Japanese film circles.

A bit farther in is the temple itself. Located at the foot of Mount Kinugasa in the northwest of Kyoto, Tojiin Temple was the ancestral temple of the Ashikaga shoguns. It was founded in 1338 by Lord Takauji Ashikaga, who had the renowned landscape designer Soseki Muso create the gardens and ponds on the grounds.

Tojiin garden, KyotoOn a perfect clear winter morning, I had the temple almost to myself. A wizened priest took my 500-yen coin, handed me the ticket and pamphlet, and then with a wry smile said in English, "Please, right."

As directed, you head right. At that point, a large framed image of a monk (see above) and a piped in tour guide (click here to listen) confront you. The recorded lecture, which is a condensed history of the temple, follows you whether you like it or not; there are speakers throughout the buildings.

The garden at Tojiin is divided into an eastern part ("Shinji-chi") and western ("Fuyo-cho," or Lotus Pond). At the northern end is a tea house with a thatched roof, which was built by the shogun Yoshimasa. The garden contains many camellias, Japanese maples, and other species to mark the seasons.

Tojiin Temple
Tel: (075) 461-5786
Entrance until 4:30 pm

Just south of Ritsumeikan University. The closest stop is on the Keifuku Railways Tojiin Station. From there walk north five minutes. Or, take the #50 bus to Ritsumeikan, walk through the campus to the south end. About 10 minutes.

Pocari Sweat


Japan Temple Kyoto Buddhism Ritsumeikan University Iran

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tokyo's Best Oden

お亀 おでん屋 東京

Oden in TokyoNot far from Higashi Kitazawa station in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward is one of Tokyo’s best kept oden secrets: Okame.

Oden is the steamy, savory, assortment of long-simmered vegetables, eggs, seafood, and other various bits and pieces that is most commonly seen at one end of the counter in convenience stores.

Okame – named after the mask of a red-cheeked, smiling, pudding-faced woman often seen at festivals and in traditional decorations - is a small, family-run restaurant in a quiet Setagaya neighborhood where the art of oden has been honed for decades.

OkameWhile it is eaten all year round, oden is traditional winter fare. So even though it was fairly late on Sunday evening, my friend and I were lucky that Okame had just two seats remaining.

Oden is often cooked in a thick, almost gooey, broth, but Okame’s trademark broth is much thinner, and with a corresponding delicacy of taste lacking in, for example, the convenience store variety that is ladled out into the polystyrene box with as little thought as it was thrown in to the cooker.

As well as oden, the restaurant serves a variety of seafood and vegetable delicacies – off-setting the intrinsic homeliness of their staple with a little haute cuisine.
There is very limited choice at Okame when it comes to brands of alcohol, but the shop’s choice has never let us down.
We went for the sake, and drank a few flasks – heated up to complete the perfect alliance of food and drink – not to mention good cheer - against the freezings of the season.

Read more on Japanese food

Sushi Replicas

Books on Japanese food

Japanese masks

Restaurants in Tokyo

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Japan This Week 28/01/07


US diplomat goes on drunken rampage in Tokyo.


Japanese Defense Minister criticizes war in Iraq, calling it a "mistake".


South Korea welcomes/fears popularity of Japanese writers.

Japan Times

Sexual services for the physically challenged.


Interview with Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi.

Midnight Eye

Hotels in Japan

IC Recorders

Japan Travel Guide Books

Japan movie reviews


Japan Stats

Annual alcohol consumption per person in Japan - 6.246 liters

Percentage of the population classified as obese - 2% For both male & female

Percentage of the population classified as overweight - 25% (male) 19% (female)

Fish consumption per person - 66kg

Meat consumption per person - 44kg

Cigarette consumption per person - 3,023

Source: Hungry Planet: by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio spotted in Kansai Time Out

Toyota Corporation's global sales were 8.81 million units compared with GM's 9.09 million units in 2006.

Korean actor and star of the popular soap "Winter Sonata", Bae Yong Jun earned 4.23 billion yen in fiscal 2006.

The new National Arts Center in Roppongi, Tokyo has 12 separate galleries with a total floor space of 14,000 square meters.

Japan accounts for 12% of the annual worldwide tuna catch and Japan consumes 25% of the world's big five tuna species: albacore, bigeye, bluefin, southern bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

Last week's news

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mystery Tour in Japan


Listen to the bus guide's rap

I went along for my first ever Japanese bus tour today. It was the Year of the Boar mystery tour!

Kintetsu Mystery Tour bus, Nagoya Station

Japanese bus tours are advertised in inserts in Japanese newspapers and are a cheap way to enjoy a day out in Japan. Two adults and child came to a very reasonable 12,050 yen for the day.

A 7.30am start from Nagoya Station was a challenge after 3 hours sleep and a bottle of Chilean Red (Vina Maipo - highly recommended) from the local convenience store.

Inside the tour bus.

I was surprised to see about 20 buses contributing to global warming idling outside Nagoya station. Our mystery tour actually comprised a convoy of four Kintetsu buses. Once underway we headed west on the highway towards Kyoto and after a breakfast of Japanese green tea, senbei (rice crackers) and two croissants was passed out, our first port of call was a yatsuhashi (red bean paste sweet) shop in Shiga Prefecture.

The middle-aged tour guide kept up a constant commentary on the mic as we sped down the Meihan Expressway - this was difficult to take at first with a hangover and so little sleep, but as I revived, I began to enjoy her knowledgeable rap on such diverse subjects as the history of Japanese highways (now split into 3 separate regional groups, I learnt), the 1970 Osaka Expo and 19th century Kyoto politics. After a while her amped musings ceased to irritate and became a background noise you could tune in and out of if something of interest in her monologue caught your attention.

The sun broke through as we entered Kyoto and headed for the Gosho, Kyoto's Imperial Palace.

Goou Shrine, Kyoto, dedicated to Wake no Kiyamuru.
Our convoy of four buses pulled up in the Imperial Palace car park and we spilled out to take in Goou Shrine just across the road. This was after all a Year of the Boar mystery tour and the Goou Shrine is dedicated to Wake no Kiyomaru, a Heian Period courtier, who was exiled to the wilds of southern Japan and supposedly escorted and protected for part of his journey by 300 wild boars.
A young couple, celebrating their wedding at Goou shrine in traditional attire, looked suitably embarrassed as 240 day-trippers from Aichi Prefecture broke out in spontaneous applause at their appearance and joined the official photographer in snapping away at the blushing pair.

Thirty minutes and then back on the bus. Next stop a tsukemono (pickles) shop opposite Nishi Honganji Temple near Kyoto Station.

By the time the three of us had got back from the toilets, the free pickles and wine had vanished, so after buying some pickled radish downstairs, we headed out into the warm sunshine to see the Nishi Honganji temple complex.

Nishi Honganji Temple, Kyoto.

Back on the bus, this time balancing our complimentary bento (boxed lunches) on our knees, we drove south out of town past the new, under-construction elevated highways that are spearing in to downtown Kyoto.

The guide's commentary ceased for a while as we all dozed down to Nara and the Nara Palace Site Museum.

We pulled up for 30 minutes to take in the free Palace Site Museum, an interesting insight into Heijokyo - the ancient capital of Japan in Nara from 710-794.

Suzaku Gate, Nara.

The museum presents a series of scale models showing the buildings, culture and clothing of the ancient capital through preserved roof tiles, pottery, tools and Nara Period money (which looks amazingly like present-day 5-yen coins). One amazing exhibit showed customs receipts enscribed on to thin wooden blocks, revealing how sophisticated life had become in peaceful 8th century Japan, as globalization set in with overseas influence from Korea and mainland China shaping Japan's cultural and political development.

Shrine Torii Gate, Nara Park, Nara

There was just time to dash off to get a picture of the restored Suzaku Gate, which was the main southern entrance to the ancient Nara capital, and take a look at the reconstruction work on the huge Imperial Audience Hall, which is due to open in 2010, before it was back on to the bus for a stop at a Nara Park souvenir shop, a quick photo of the predatory Nara deer and then back on the bus once again for the drive to an out-of-town stop for wild-boar soup and a couple of rice balls.

By this time barriers had broken down somewhat among the passengers and it was fun to swap travelers' tales with my fellow bus trippers.

"The older guides like to talk and explain things, the younger ones are more taciturn."
"We chose this trip because it was on the weekend and included three meals."
"There's always a lot of stops to shop."

I have two more bus trips booked in the next month, I'll let you know how things go.

Sightseeing in Kyoto

Airport Access in Japan - Narita, Chubu, Kansai

Mini Japanese Masks

Friday, January 26, 2007

Narita Express


The Narita Express or N'EX, operated by JR East, is the quickest way to get to Narita Airport from downtown Tokyo Station. All seats on the Narita Express trains are reserved and tickets are available from ticket machines in the terminal buildings at Narita Airport.

Narita Express train at Tokyo Station.

All Narita Express services pass through Tokyo Station. There are services every 30 minutes during peak periods and every hour through the rest of the day. There are also Narita Express services to Shinjuku (hourly) and less frequent services to Ikebukuro and Yokohama. Travel times range from approximately 53 minutes for the fastest service from Tokyo Station and one hour 20 minutes to Shinjuku.

Narita Express, Tokyo

Fares are currently 2,940 yen to Tokyo Station, 3,110 yen to Shinjuku and Ikebukuro and 4,180 yen to Yokohama. The JR East Pass and Japan Rail Pass are valid for this train.

A cheaper, though slower alternative, is to take a JR rapid (kaisoku) train from Narita to Tokyo Station (hourly; 90 minutes; 1280 yen).

Coming out on March 28th 2007 are the combined SUICA + N'EX tickets for 3,500 yen, available at Narita Airport Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 Stations for non-Japanese passport holders and including the N'EX fare to Tokyo, Shinjuku or Yokohama for 1,500 yen. The SUICA card can be topped up indefinitely and used on future trips to Japan, similar to an Oyster card in London.

JR East

In competition with the Narita Express is the Keisei Line's Skyliner limited express service. Keisei Line trains travel to Nippori Station (51 minutes) and Keisei Ueno Station (56 minutes) - both stations connect with the JR Yamanote Line. Trains depart every 40 minutes and all seats on the Skyliner are reserved. The current Skyliner fare from Narita Airport to Keisei Ueno Station is 1,920 yen. A normal Keisei limited express train to Ueno costs 1000 yen and takes 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Keisei Line

Narita Airport Information Tel: 0476 34 8000

Sightseeing in Tokyo

Airport Access in Japan - Narita, Chubu, Kansai

Mini Japanese Masks

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Street Cars (LRT) on their way back in Kyoto?


The Kyoto city government has apparently decided to reintroduce trolleys--or, as their modern descendants are more elegantly known, LRT. The acronym stands for "light rail transit," which features rolling stock that is low to the ground and quiet. The trains are sleek and run in dedicated lanes forbidden to automobiles. No official decision has been made or announced in Kyoto, but if what I saw today is any indication it is a done deal.

lrt-stopAs part of a PR campaign to win the "understanding" (i.e., agreement) of city residents, the city sponsored a test run along Imadegawa Dori (street), which is one of the main east-west corridors in central Kyoto. The man in white gloves at left is stopping one of the test run buses with a sign that reads: "Test-Run Bus, Stopping Place." Joining him were hundreds of sign-carrying, whistle-blowing, uniform-wearing men to make sure that things went smoothly.

The test-run was publicized well in advance, with coverage in local papers and tv since the fall--and the street is an ideal location for a tram line.

Imadegawa Street runs from the Silver Pavilion, hard by Mt. Hiei in the east, west past Kyoto University, then across the Kamo River. From there it passes through the following areas: the Imperial Palace and Doshisha University, Nishijin textile area, Kita no Tenmangu Shrine, and up to Kita no Hakubai cho, which is the current terminus of the Keifuku train line. That line runs on a tourist route past Ryoanji Temple, Ninnaji Temple, and other temples and shrines all the way to Arashiyama in the west of the city.

The western part of the city is in particular need of light rail. Far from the city's two subway lines and the JR Sagano Line, residents of these areas are left to rely on city buses. Because of traffic, a trip into central Kyoto for example can take an hour during rush hour, as much as 90 minutes in the peak tourist seasons. On a bicycle, you can make it in 30 minutes easily.

Kyoto was the first city in Japan to have streetcars, in 1895, and there once was a line along Imadegawa. The network covered much of the city, and remains beloved by nearly everyone over the age of 40. The tracks however were pulled up in 1978 in favor of cars and buses, and today only one stretch of the Keifuku Line still runs on a street.

lrt-hiroshimaThe result was predictable enough: the number of cars and buses increased dramatically. And with them traffic jams and pollution. The city has belatedly realized that LRT is environmentally friendly, good for the all-important tourist industry, and will solve many of the traffic issues in northern Kyoto.

Today's test-run used city buses, and it lasted from 10 am until 1 pm. Passes for the ride were given out to "monitors" who were chosen in a lottery. The buses were given the center lane right of way, and followed the proposed course: from the Kamo River to Kita no Hakubai cho. Police, hired guards (to prevent illegal parking on the outer lanes), and the media were all well represented.

As an example of what may Kyoto's future may hold, see the photo above of Hiroshima's light rail in a 2005 snow storm.

Pocari Sweat


Japan Subway Museum Kyoto Trains Kyoto Japan Trains LRT

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mara Kannon


Mara kannon, Yamaguchi If you are one of the millions of men suffering from ED, or you are a woman who is wanting to have a baby, then Mara Kannon Shrine (mara means penis) in Tawarayama may be the place for you to visit.

It's one of the few fertility shrines still left in Japan, and has a wonderful collection of phallic sculptures in all shapes and sizes.

Mara kannon, Yamaguchi Around the shrine are some large pieces carved in wood and stone, and even one made of stainless steel. The quality of workmanship and attention to detail marks them as art, and the shrine feels like an art gallery.

Mara kannon, Yamaguchi, Japan Notice the testicles behind this pair?

Mara kannon, Yamaguchi
Mara kannon

Mara Kannon Shrine
Yamaguchi Prefecture

Buy Arimatsu Shibori

Stories on Japan Sex

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tokyo Subway Museum


The Tokyo Subway Museum, located at Kasai Station on the Tozai Line, is a perennial favorite for train-mad kids and their parents.

The refurbished museum (which first opened in 1986) features a number of historic train carriages, video displays, poster exhibitions, model train layouts and simulation games.

Tokyo Subway Museum

Visitors enter the museum through a subway ticket gate and first up is a section on Tokyo's first underground line between Ueno and Asakusa (now part of today's Ginza-Line) which opened in 1927. On display in the 1920s-period reconstruction of Ueno station is an original 1927 model 1000 subway carriage, which was modeled on New York Subway rolling stock and a 1954 model 301 Marunouchi Subway Line carriage.

The museum also has displays on tunnelling technology and some excellent simulation games, where kids of elementary school age and above are allowed to "drive" the trains under the supervision of the uniformed attendants.

The museum also contains a 1938-model 129 electric carriage, where children can operate the doors, an audio-visual hall, a library, and a small room with drinks and snacks from vending machines.

All in all an excellent hour or two for trainspotters of all ages!

Tokyo Subway Museum
6-3-1-Higashi Kasai
Tokyo 134-0084
Tel: 03 3878 5011
Admission: Adults 210 yen; Children 100 yen

Take the Tozai Line from Otemachi Station to Kasai station. Otemachi Station can be reached by underground passage from Tokyo Station or take the Marunouchi Line one stop from Tokyo Station.

Sightseeing in Tokyo

Nagoya Subway Museum

Pocari Sweat

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Japan This Week 21/01/07


Multiple glitches plague nation-wide university entrance exam ("center
shiken") as 381 Sony IC recorders fail to operate during English listening


Strange, naked dance at the Japan Society of New York.

New York Times

Mongolian sumo wrestler, yokozuna Asashoryu wins his 20th tournament, becoming the 5th in history to do so after Taiho, Kitanoumi, Chiyonofuji and Takanohana.

Japan Times

Tokyo shabu shabu waitresses strip, customers use binoculars and hand mirrors for better look.


Best Japanese films of 2006.

Midnight Eye

Hotels in Japan

IC Recorders

Japan Travel Guide Books

Japan movie reviews


Japan Stats

There are approximately 700 hotels in Tokyo with around 39,000 rooms. Approximately 6,500 of these rooms are in five-star hotels.

In 2005 there were 1,013,000 Japanese living overseas with 352,000 living in the USA, 115,000 in China, 66,000 in Brazil and 55,000 in the UK.

In 2005 there were 2,012,000 registered foreigners living in Japan: Koreans topped the list followed by Chinese, Brazilians, Filipinos and Peruvians.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In 2004 Japan emitted 1279.2 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Source: Ministry of the Environment

Last week's news

Friday, January 19, 2007

Shosei-en Garden


Kyoto's Shosei-en Garden is a traditional Japanese formal garden affiliated with its much larger neighbor to the west, Higashi Honganji Temple; both are part of the Shinshu Otani-ha sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The garden is a ten-minute walk from Kyoto Station, and two blocks from the aforementioned Higashi Hoganji.

Shosei-en GardenIt is thought to have been built in the ninth century on the Heian Period site of Prince Minamoto Notoru’s mansion. Minamoto was the son of the Emperor Saga. In 1641, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the land including the garden to nearby Higashi Honganji. Two years later, the leaders of Higashi Honganji commissioned Ishiyama Saijo to design and construct a garden. This is what became Shosei-en.

Fires in 1858 and 1864 burnt the walls and interior structures to the ground. They were thereafter restored, and in 1938 designated a National Historic Site.

Within the grounds, there are several tea houses, a large pond, a small waterfall, many stone lanterns, and trees and plants that are in bloom throughout the year.

After entering the main gate, the first building on your left is Rinchi-tei. It fronts a small pond and the falls, and features classic austere Japanese design elements: sloped roof with tiles, an engawa porch overlooking the pond, and open rooms with tatami flooring.

Next to it is the Roan Tea House, with its sign warning to watch out for the “bee.” Directly in front of the tea house is Anrido Hall, famed for its painted fusuma screens.

shosei-en-bridgeLast is the pond itself. The Snow-capped Bridge at left clearly brings to mind Monet and the Japonesque boom of the late-19th-century. The Chinese-corridor style Bridge is also a marvel of subtlety (above right).

Visiting in mid-January had the benefit having the grounds almost completely to oneself. The reason for that was, aside from a few camellias, little was in bloom. Next month, though, the plum trees will blossom. They will be followed by snow willows, in March, and then cherry trees in April. Azaleas come out in May, water lilies in the summer, bush clover in September and October, and the fall maples in November.

Shosei-en Garden
(075) 371-9181
Admission: 500 yen is requested

From Kyoto Station, walk north two blocks on Karasuma Dori to Higashi Honganji Temple. Turn right on Nanajo Dori and head east. After two blocks, turn left and head north for a block.

Hours: 9:00 am - 4 pm

Wednesday, January 17, 2007



Utsumi on the south west coast of the Chita Peninsula, south of Nagoya city, is probably the best of the resort beaches on the Chita Peninsula facing Ise Bay.

Utsumi, Chita Peninsula, Aichi Prefecture

Easily reached by Meitetsu train on the Meitetsu Chita Shinsen Line from either Nagoya Station or Kanayama, Utsumi offers an onsen (Shirasunoyu Onsen; 1000 yen entry for adults), some fine white sandy beaches (Chidorigahama Beach is about one and a half kilometers long), good swimming in summer and even a bit of decent snorkelling just off the beach, though be careful of jellyfish late in the season and especially after it has rained.

The 15 minute walk from Utsumi Station to the beach (if you take the back roads along the river) is pleasant, and out of season the town has a tranquil, peaceful air.

Utsumi seafront

Iwajiri Temple, near Utsumi, is also worth a visit and has a number of Buddhist "Important Cultural Properties".

Kendama Wooden Toys

Japanese Watches


Japan Chita Peninsula Utsumi Nagoya Aichi Prefecture Chita

Monday, January 15, 2007

Free hugs in Shinjuku


Free hugs in Shinjuku, Tokyo.Walking through Tokyo’s Shinjuku district on a chilly Sunday night, I was again astounded at how busy the place is. Sunday night it might be, yet the horrors of Monday morning notwithstanding, the streets of Tokyo’s busiest shopping and entertainment district are thronged with crowds numerous and noisy enough to put most cities’ Saturday nights to shame.

Living in Tokyo, it is easy to think you’ve seen it all. What a doubly pleasant surprise, then, to see a nice, well-dressed young man – no ponytail or unshavenness, and not a trace of tie-dye - holding up a sign that, on one side in English, and on the other side in Japanese, proclaimed ‘Free Hugs’.

I approached him to ask if I could take a photo, and quickly got engaged with him regarding what he was doing. It so turned out that his labor of love is thanks to the internet: YouTube to be specific – which is where he got the idea from.

In Japan where touching anyone is very rare (even the handshake is reserved only for foreigners), people lining up on the street for free hugs is difficult to imagine. When I put it to him he said that he was there more to spread the idea of intimacy and togetherness than to actually execute it - a kind of street performance. Although, of course, he showed not the slightest resistance when I claimed my free hug. All of a sudden it felt like summer!

Buy traditional handmade shibori tie-dye from GoodsFromJapan

Archery at Kyoto’s Sanjusangendo Temple


kimono-archerThe annual archery festival held at Kyoto's Sanjusangendo Temple is thought to have begun during the rule of Emperor Keichou in 1600. The event continues to this day, and is held in January on or near Coming of Age Day.

Every year roughly 2,000 young people compete, the men in their dark blue hakama, or male kimono, the women in their finest coming of age furisode, a kimono for an unmarried woman. Both men and women must be newly minted adults: in Japan this means 20 years old. The second precondition for participation is that the competitors must have attained the first dan, or belt, in Japanese archery.

At this year's event, which took place yesterday, 897 men and 984 women took part. On the west side of the main temple under a large white tarp to protect the archers from rain or snow, the archers line up in groups of 20 or so and fire away. The men begin at 9, the women at 11:30.

Archers at Sanjusangendo Temple, KyotoThe target lies exactly 60 meters away and, in the preliminary round, is 100 cm in diameter. Following the morning round, the field is winnowed down to the best archers. A second and final round begins at 3:20. This time, though, the target is now but 79 cm in diameter, the distance unchanged.

Close by the crowd mills about and talks, flirts and snaps pictures. Others warm up, oblivious to their surroundings. The sound of the archery jumps between the swoosh of the arrow taking flight and the thwack of the bow's string being released. The arrows fly at tremendous speed, thudding into the padded bull's eye far in the distance.

On the other side of the temple grounds are outdoor stalls selling taiyaki (a cake shaped like a red snapper, filled with chocolate or green tea paste), noodles, and other snacks.

And everywhere are lovely young women yammering into their cell phones: "Where are you?!" "No waaay!" "You must be kidding!" "Where are you going after the competition?"

Japanese Goods

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Japan This Week 14/01/07


China dismisses Japanese claim about EU arms embargo.

People's Daily

Japanese cream puffs plagued by rats and bacteria.


In other bad news for the Japanese food industry, gravel found in doughnuts.


Horror Director Hisayasu Sato on gore.


There was plenty of gore involved in the recent case of a headless torso found in Shinjuku and the lower limbs in Shibuya (see News 17/12/06). The victim turned out to be Yusuke Mihashi, a 30-year-old office worker, killed in his sleep by a blow to the head with a wine bottle and then dismembered by his 32-year-old wife, Kaori. The killing and subsequent cutting up of the corpse are eerily reminiscent of the novel Out by Natsuo Kirino .

Daily Yomiuri

More details on 1978 kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea.

Japan Times

One in three Japanese women interested in filming themselves in flagrante


Foreign visitors to Japan reached a record 8.1 million in 2006, mostly Korean and Chinese visitors but tourists from Western nations were also up.

Daily Yomiuri

Los Angeles Kings goalie Yutaka Fukufuji became the first
Japanese-born person to play in the NHL when he entered
Saturday's game against the St. Louis Blues at the start of the
third period.


Hotels in Japan

English-Japanese Dictionary

Japan Travel Guide Books

Japan Last Will & Testament

If you die intestate in Japan and are survived by spouse and children, the spouse is entitled to 50% and the offspring divide the other 50%.

Japanese law provides a basic tax exemption for inheritance of 50 million yen (approx USD 415,000) plus 10 million yen (approx USD 83,000) for each additional heir.

A spouse is allowed to inherit half the assets or 160 million yen (approx USD 1,330,000), whichever is the greater free of tax.

Source Reducing The Sting by Paul Kallender; ACCJ Journal, March 2006

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shofukutei Tsurubei in Hawaii


Shofukutei Tsurubei at Honolulu Airport.On New Year’s Day I flew from Narita to Honolulu where I was to meet my brother for a ten day vacation on Oahu and the Big Island. Imagine my surprise when, on exiting the terminal and looking for my brother, the first thing I saw was a mass of media guys with mikes and cameras chasing one of Japan’s most famous comic raconteurs cum terebi talento (TV personality), Shofukutei Tsurubei.

Shofukutei Tsurube was by far the most famous Japanese person I saw during my ten days on those rugged and majestic islands, but he was not the last! The streets of Waikiki, while not exactly awash with Japanese tourists, had a strong Japanese presence nevertheless. Certain streets of Waikiki toward the western end were almost devoted to Japanese tourism with buildings bearing nothing but Japanese signs, and luxury fashion boutiques that looked as if they’d been imported as is from madding Ginza. To enter one was to compound the illusion, as almost all the customers were Japanese, making anyone else, especially, perhaps, local Hawaiians, feel like the foreigners.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.Waikiki Beach, however, although crowded with bodies of all shapes, sizes (and I mean SIZES!) and colors was conspicuously lacking in Japanese. Where were they? Off on tours of their own, I guess.

The highlight of my stay happened on the Big Island when I went to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and taking the Chain of Craters Road and then a two-and-a-half hour tramp over a treacherously craggy volcanic landscape to see lava flowing into the sea.

Soon into the hike I saw what was left of the end of the Chain of Craters Road by a 2003 lava flow which deluged the now undrivable part of it: a lone ‘No Parking’ sign poking up tragicomically from amongst the tortured shiny gray-brown sculpture that is dried lava.

'No Parking' sign in a lava flow, Hawaii.From almost two kilometers away you could already feel the immense heat and see the clouds of steam roiling into the air as the molten rock hit the ocean. Closer up the lava itself was clearly visible once the sun went down, and the fury of the literally boiling ocean as the burning gobs of liquid rock dropped into it was something to behold (see photo below). Twice I experienced a sharp but brief sting in my eyes from tiny wind-borne drops of acid created by the chemical reaction. It was an encounter with greatness that, while perhaps not as newsworthy as encounters with famous people, left every bit as deep and lasting an impression.

Lava flowing into the sea, the Big Island, Hawaii.Buy decorative bunchin paperweights from GoodsFromJapan

Pussy Party! from GoodsFromJapan

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Hunter

乃南アサ - 凍える牙

The Hunter - Buy this book from Amazon

The Hunter

by Asa Nonami
Kodansha International
ISBN: 4-7700-3025-8
272 pp

A great work of crime fiction featuring a female detective who works the Tokyo beat. Takako Otomichi's family is not thrilled with her career choice; her colleagues are openly scornful, particularly venomous is the old veteran Tamotsu Takizawa.

However, these pair of cops have to work together in search of a killer who is stalking the streets of Tokyo. They delve into the underbelly of the city: its nightclubs, brothels, and neighborhoods.

What they soon realize is more terrifying than anything they have ever experienced: the killer is some sort of wild animal on the loose in megacity.

The climax has Otomichi face to face with the killer, which of course means she must ultimately confront herself as well.

Writer Asa Nonami is still in her 40s but has already been awarded the First Japanese Mystery and Suspense Award, in 1988 for her debut work: A Happy Breakfast. The original Japanese version of The Hunter won the Naoki Prize in 1996.

Like Natsuo Kirino, who is perhaps the best known writer--male or female--of crime fiction working in Japan today, Nonami's non-crime related writing is as good, if not better, than the crime plot itself. Excellent commentary on contemporary Japan.

Buy this book from Amazon

Japan Crime Fiction

Books on Japan

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Panorama Super Meitetsu Express


Meitetsu Panorama Super, Nagoya Station, Japan

Nagoya Railroad Company Ltd. (aka Meitetsu) is a suburban rail company running out of Nagoya in central Japan.

One of its flagship trains is the Panorama Super Express 1000 (pictured above), which came in to service in 1988.

The Panorama Super Express 1000's top speed is 120 kph when pulling 4 carriages, its normal load.

There are excellent views from the high windows in the front carriage and the train is a work horse on routes to Gifu, Inuyama and Toyohashi from Nagoya.

Buy Japan Happi Coats

Books on Japanese Art and Design

Books on Trains from Amazon

Monday, January 08, 2007

Site of Reversible Destiny


Situated in Yoro Park in Yoro, Gifu Prefecture, not far from Nagoya city is the "Site of Reversible Destiny" (養老天命反転地 yo-ro-ten-mei-han-ten-chi). Opened in 1995, the "experience park" was created by Nagoya-born, New York-based artist Arakawa Shusaku and his wife and artistic partner, poet Madeline Gins.

Reversible Destiny Office

Armed with sneakers (if you need them) and a skateboard helmet provided free at the entrance, visitors are challenged "to rethink their physical and spiritual orientation to the world," and while walking in the Elliptical Field, "instead of being fearful of losing your balance, look forward to it (as a desirable re-ordering of the landing sites, formerly known as the senses)", according to Arakawa's "Directions for Use" on Yoro Park's official site.

The 2,000 square feet site, set in a concave basin in the foothills of the local mountains, is an absurdist landscape of buildings built at weird angles, mazes, sloped floors and curved steps arranged within a garden setting planted with trees (sometimes in deep concrete holes), bamboo groves and 24 species of medicinal herbs .

After entering the park, the first building is the Reversible Destiny Office (added 1997), built as an uneven pastel colored maze, where the ceiling design is a reflection of the floor. Even the toilets are built in the same style with a table-tennis table set into the ceiling of the purple/pink-colored gents.

Next The Critical Resemblance House has household furniture: fridges, sofas, wash basins, mattresses even toilets crammed into a narrow concrete maze-like structure.

The Elliptical Field, Yoro Park

Awareness of where you are or appear to be as well as keeping and losing your balance is a central theme and 5 maps of Japan are built into the site in concrete and The Critical Resemblance House has a roof shaped as a map of Gifu Prefecture.

The Elliptical Field, the concave basin backed by a hollow concrete wall, consists of nine pavilions (each a reproduction of a segment of the Critical Resemblance House) and multiple paths. Visitors have to clamber unsteadily up some of the steep slopes to navigate the paths.

An interesting, thought-provoking day out for all the family, especially screaming, excited and half-frightened kids.

Site of Reversible Destiny
1298-2 Takabayashi, Yoro-cho
Yoro-gun Gifu 503-1267
Tel: 0584 32 4592
Admission 710 yen
High school children 510 yen
Young children 300 yen

Phone ahead if the weather is bad as sometimes the park can be closed in high winds or snow.


From Nagoya and Osaka take ether JR Tokaido Line to Ogaki Station and then change to the Kintetsu Yoro Line or Kintetsu Line to Kuwana and then change to the Kintetsu Yoro Line.

The park is a 10-15 minute walk uphill from Yoro Station or a 5 minute taxi ride.
Kintetsu Taxis Tel: 0584 32 1135

Site of Reversible Destiny, Yoro Park, Gifu Prefecture

As well as the the "Site of Reversible Destiny", the whole Yoro Park area has a Children's Park with a swimming-pool, water park, picnic area and a Sky-cycle. For adults there is a waterfall, a golf course, a pitch and putt course, tennis courts, a camping and barbecue area, a hiking course, temples and shrines, a bamboo forest, Alpine cabins to rent (Tel: 0584 32 1100) and the place is noted for its cherry trees in Spring!

Buy Japan Mandala

Books on Japanese Art and Design

Art Books by Arakawa Shusaku from Amazon


Japan Arakawa Shusaku Modern Art Yoro Madeline Gins Gifu Yazd Guide

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Japan This Week 7/01/07


Instant ramen founder and business legend Momofuku Ando dies at age 96.

Daily Yomiuri

Brother beats, chokes, drowns, and dismembers sister in Tokyo.

Japan Times

Foreigners on the rise, Yakuza on the way out (?) of Tokyo's Kabukicho red light district in Shinjuku.


China calls for US and Japan to respect One China policy in the event of a North Korea attack.

People's Daily

An insider guides us through Japan's AV (adult video) world.

Midnight Eye

Hotels in Japan

English-Japanese Dictionary

Toshiba Satellite PCs

Momofuku Ando and the Osaka Ramen Story

Japan Stats

The number of blogs in Japan is estimated to rise to 7.8 million this year according to a Japanese government report.

Blog related business could rise to 137.7 trillion yen in fiscal 2007.

According to Technorati the blog search engine, over 20,000 blogs are created daily.

The Internet Association Japan estimates that 25% of Japanese women in their teens or 20s maintain blogs.


Japan Adult Video Japan Blog ramen Japan News Momofuku Ando Kabukicho Iran Sightseeing

Saturday, January 06, 2007

K-Tokyu Announcements


Keihan K-Tokyu ExpressRiding on the Keihan train line's K-Super Express from Kyoto to Osaka is about as civilized a way of going between the two cities as you will find. Less crowded than JR, a more civilized crowd than that on Kintetsu, and better looking cars and stations than Hankyu, Keihan is the most attractive of the four lines. The seats face forward—as opposed to the bench seats facing into the car, and therefore directly at the passengers facing on the other side (or, during rush hour, the salaryman’s crotch 12 inches from your face)—there are small paintings at the front of each car on the wall, and the riders tend to be well-mannered professional people. This is mainly an accident of geography: the line runs from downtown Kyoto to the area close to Osaka City Hall.

Still, though, this being Japan there are always announcements to keep us in line. The first announcement is upcoming stations and a few warnings/requests (en route from Kyoto’s Demachiyanagi Station to Osaka's Yodoyabashi Station.):

This train is very crowded so until Yodoyabashi please refrain from using the folding seats near the doors. The next stop is Hirakata Station, followed by Kyobashi Station.

The last car is a women's only car. Near seating for passengers with special needs, please turn off your cell phones; in other areas of the train put your phone on “manner mode” and refrain from speaking on the phone.

Click here for the sound of the Keihan conductor

The second clip is the driver calling out the signals and trestles and stations as he drives into Shichijo Station, in Kyoto, in the evening.

Signal! (yosh!). Warning signal. K-Tokyu. Marker #40. (Second conductor: we are now arriving at Shichijo Station.) (Automatic recording: Passengers seated in the seats near the exits, please stand briefly to allow other passengers on and off the train. Please don't forget your belongings. The door opens at left. Please be careful.)

Click here for the sound of the Keihan conductor

Buy Geisha Fans

Friday, January 05, 2007

Sun Messe


Sun Messe in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu recreates the seven Moai statues of Easter Island facing the local ocean cliffs.

Moai statues at Sun Messe, Miyazaki Prefecture

The mini theme park is a popular place for weddings and has restaurants, a small zoo, a butterfly park and, of course, a souvenir shop. The statues, which were made in the 1990s, are exact replicas of the originals and were built under supervision of Japanese archaeologists.

The Nichinan coastline is known for its stunning views of the sea.

Moai statues at Sun Messe, Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture

Access: The resort is an hour by bus from Miyazaki Station.

Oaza Miyaura 2650
Miyazaki Prefecture
Tel:0987 29 1900
Hours: 9.30am-5pm
Admission 700 yen for adults.
Sun Messe Website

Sun Messe, Miyazaki, Japan

Buy Arimatsu Shibori

Thursday, January 04, 2007



Gamagori in Aichi Prefecture is a popular resort town on the Pacific Coast about 55 km west of Nagoya. Gamagori's main sight is Takeshima Island which is reached by a picturesque bridge 387m from the shore. The interesting Yaotomi Shrine is situated on the top of the hill on the island and there is a path around Takeshima with good views back to the shore and out to nearby Mikawa and Oshima Islands.

View of the uninhabited Mikawa and Oshima Islands

Gamagori also has an aquarium, some upmarket hotels and hot springs - Gamagori Onsen and Miya Onsen. There are plenty of yachts in the harbor and the town is a center for pleasure boating along the coast.

To the west are more onsens at Nishiura and Katahara. Katahara was a production center for hemp for rope-making for boats up until the mid-1970s and produced 40% of Japan's total hemp output. This business has now died with ropes now imported from China and The Philippines.

Takeshima beach

Access: The quickest way to get to Gamagori by public transport is JR train from Nagoya Station on the Tokaido Main Line for Toyohashi. From Gamagori to Nishiura and Katahara take the local Meitetsu Gamagori Line.

There are hourly buses from Gamagori Station out to Takeshima or it is a 20-25 minute walk.
Meitetsu Taxis: 0533 68 7241

Buy Arimatsu Shibori

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tado Shrine


Tado Shrine, in Tado, a small town about 8km from Kuwana in Mie Prefecture dates from the 8th century. Tado Shrine is connected with the 1500 year-old legend of a white horse that acted as a messenger for the local people's prayers to the kami (god), who lives on Mount Tado.

White horse at Tado Shrine

To this day a white horse is kept near the shrine and horses are a major part of Tado Shrine's big festival on 4th and 5th of May each year. Animal rightists should not despair, this is no Spanish donkey, the horse is only kept inside the small shrine for a few hours on special days and has a large open space all to himself for the rest of the time.

There are demonstrations of horseback archery (yabusame), a procession involving retainers in Edo Period costume escorting a young boy made up with white face paint and red lipstick, and the festival's highlight, known as ageuma of horses ridden by latter-day "samurai" trying to scale a 3m high muddy cliff. There are some good images of this on the shrine's website.

Tado shrine's inner Sanctum

Access to Tado Shrine is from Kuwana on the Kintetsu Yoro Line. There is an infrequent bus to the shrine from the station or turn right out of Tado Station and then walk about 20 minutes left along the Tado River bank after you come to the bridge.

Guide to Nagoya

Buy Arimatsu Shibori


Japan Tado Shrine Tado hatsumode New Year
Tado Festival shrine yabusame

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Four Stories January 2007

The Four Stories Japan Winter '07 season will open in Osaka on Sunday, January 14, with Wanderlust: Tales of expat life!

Featuring music, mingling, and four incredible readings from:

Jessica Goodfellow, prose writer and poet with work featured in The Beloit Poetry Journal, DIAGRAM, RATTLE, Best New Poets 2006, and other journals; recipient of the 2004 Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from The Beloit Poetry Journal and the Linda Julian Essay Award from the Emrys Foundation; three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize; and author of the new chapbook A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland

Michael Hoffman, author of 4 books of fiction, most recently Nectar Fragments and The Coat that Covers Him; co-author of Tabloid Tokyo; freelance journalist and translator; and contributor to the Japan Times' weekly Tokyo Confidential feature

Maidhc Ó Cathail, journalist and winner of Kansai Time Out's 2006 essay prize

Hillel Wright, author of Rotary Sushi, a collection of stories, and two novels, All Worldly Pursuits and the recently released Border Town; winner of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Best "Postcard" Story and Japanzine Magazine Best Short Story; and nominee for the Pushcart and Journey (Best Canadian Stories) prizes

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Portugalia: Osaka's best Portuguese bar and grill
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka
[Just north of the American Consulate]
Admittance free and open to the public

And then, Four Stories Opens in Tokyo on Thursday, February 15, 2007, featuring readings from award-winning writers Donald Richie, Leza Lowitz, and Eric Shade, as well as Four Stories founder Tracy Slater, at the very cool Pink Cow in Shibuya.  More info on this event coming soon...

Please spread the word about these two events, and I hope to see you there!

Warmest regards,

Tracy Slater
Founder, Four Stories Boston & Four Stories Japan

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year Hatsumode Toyokawa Inari


Click here for the sound of New Year hatsumode at Toyokawa Inari shrine, Tokyo.

Toyokawa Inari shrine, Asasaka, Tokyo, at New Year.Hatsumode - the paying of respects to the gods on New Year's Day - happens at shrines across Japan just after midnight. Tokyo's subways, usually over by half past midnight, run all night to ferry the faithful - vast numbers of whom visit Toyokawa Inari, a grand, 700-year old Shinto shrine in Tokyo's Akasaka district, home to the god of commerce.

Lengthy queues formed up the street under the lines of red lanterns that lined the outside of the shrine. It was a chilly 3 degrees, but the sky sparkled with clearly visible stars and shone with a big bright gibbous moon. We took our place and waited our turn.

Being the god of commerce, however, he of course favors those who have met with success, and a group of Johnny's boys (pronounced 'jahNEEZ': a showbiz studio that turns out a steady stream of pretty boys who lip synch in glam 1980s get-up, producing automatic hysteria in teenage girls) appeared and were whisked right on in, producing an instant brief wave of panicky, pushy must-see blind devotion in the crowd's young female contingent.

Inside Toyokawa Inari, Akasaka, Tokyo, New Year 2007.After not too long a wait, we got to the front of the shrine (under the purple awning in photo at left) where the sound of coins being thrown into the box mingles with the clapping of hands and jangling of bells by supplicants, and the mumbling chants of the priests to the tock-tock-tock of a drum beat and occasional chimes. (Click on the link at the top of the page to hear an mp3 podcast of it.)

Even after paying one's respects, there are still things to do, such as divining one's fortune. My friend and I stopped at a small shelter with a chest of tiny numbered shelves, each with a stack of papers. In turn we shook the cylinder of sticks, took the one that came out the hole, found the shelf of the corresponding number and took the slip of paper. Both our fortunes were 'kyo', i.e. bad luck; in which case you don't take your bad luck home, but fold it into a strip and tie it, as we did, to the bare wintry branches of a shrine tree.

Daruma and maneki neko stall, Toyokawa Inari, Tokyo, at New Year.I bought a daruma (dharma) doll at a stall that sold both them and a few maneki neko (cats that beckon good luck). The daruma's eyes are without pupils. One you paint in when you make a New Year resolution, the other when you have achieved it.

After leaving the shine we went to the well-known traditional confectionery shop across the road, Toraya, for some New Year fare: bean-paste and rice-cake in sets that are more than mere snacks, but not really a meal either.

The train home at 2.30am was even more packed than the one we'd taken there. I must admit to having dragged my heels a bit heading out tonight into the cold; however, walking back home from the station I felt tangibly refreshed and invigorated, ready to face another wonderful year of whatever luck, or lack of it, may bring me.


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