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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Toei Eiga Mura (Toei Movie Land)


Kyoto's Eiga Mura, or Toei Movie Land, is a sometimes cheesy but often fun theme park located on the grounds of what was once the center of the Hollywood of Japan: the Toei Film Studios. Until the early 1970s, Toei churned out a combination of samurai period dramas and, more importantly, works by the masters of Japanese cinema. This period stretched from the early part of the last century through the late 1960s.

eiga-muraThough the studios are still used for the occasional samurai film--which are made almost wholly for domestic consumption, and decidedly B-class--it survives today primarily as a tourist attraction for junior high students from around Japan who are in Kyoto on their annual overnight school trip.

This is apparent from the moment you enter the park. The front of the former studio is now a massive parking lot for tour buses filled with uniform-wearing adolescents on holiday. When you enter, you first must go through an "All-weather Large-scale Complex" known as PADIOS, which is a combination gift shop/arcade/super hero movie theater/restaurant. Getting your eight-year-old through this without spending money requires a minor miracle.

Finally out of that, it is time for the attractions. First is the "chambara show," a demonstration of Japanese-style sword-fighting. The program featured two bad guys and one good guy; the three of them jokingly walked us through the basics of stick-fighting.

From there, it was a short walk to the Nakamura-za theater, where a "ninja show" was taking place. We arrived a bit late and before entering were looking at a few old movie posters in the lobby when out came the star in full kabuki-like makeup and wig. He winked as he strode past us and into the theater.

After the show, we wandered around Edo Town and Old Shopping Street and Yoshiwara Street, which on a cold February day were deserted. These were models of an old shopping street and homes from the Edo Period, and are still used as film sets.

In the far back of the lot, along with a few movie-related attractions a haunted house and more gift shops awaited.

Except for a Study Hall, though, in which there are photos and artifacts and old movie posters, there is very little indication of what the Studio once was. The theme park's home page moreover has no information, in either Japanese or English, about the vaunted history of the studios. To film buffs, the Toei Studios are hallowed ground, wherein lurk the ghosts of Kurosawa, Mifune, Setsuko Hara, and the many others who drove Japan's "Golden Era" of cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.

Still, it is a good day out for children of all ages.


A five-minute walk from Uzumasa Station on the Keifuku Line (which is also convenient for Koryuji Temple). From JR Hanazono or Uzumasa Stations, a roughly 15-minute walk. The following buses also stop close by: 61, 62, 63, 75, 93.

The Kyoto Film Studio is open from 9 - 5 pm from March 1 - November 30; 9:30 - 4:30 pm from December 1 until the end of February. Tickets for adults cost 2,200 yen; junior and senior high school students 1,300 yen; elementary students 1,100 yen.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Plum Blossoms

The seasons in Japan are measured out with leaves and blossoms.

First out at this time of year (mid-late February) are plum blossoms and camellia, followed about a month or six weeks later in April by everyone's favorite - cherry blossoms.

Plum Blossom, Nagoya Agricultural Center

Early summer before the rains sees azaleas and wisteria in bloom.

Other flowerings that draw the crowds to temples, shrines and botanic gardens around the country are hydrangeas, lotus and iris in the rainy season (mid June-July).

Late summer and early autumn sees chrysanthemums on show before the maple leaves change color to a brilliant red and bring tourists in droves to the mountains of Kyoto and Arashiyama.

The plum tree was introduced to Japan from China and plum blossom became a recurring image in traditional Japanese art. Plum tea, pickled plumes (umeboshi) and umeshu - a sweet alcoholic drink are the main products from the Japanese plum tree.

Plum Blossom, Nagoya Agricultural Center

Famous places to view plum blossoms include Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto and Yushima Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo.

These images are from Nagoya's Agricultural Center, a 15 minute walk east from Hirabari Subway Station on the Tsurumai Line.

Plum Blossom, Nagoya Agricultural Center

The flowering trees draw substantial crowds at weekends and unfortunately there is a constant line of cars about 1km in length, engines running, throughout the day, waiting to park in the Center's small car park. No-one sees the irony of polluting the atmosphere while admiring nature's bounty on an unseasonally warm afternoon.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More Tokyo Koban


Tokyo's police boxes - koban - are some of the most idiosyncratic in style in Japan.

Koban in Ginza, Tokyo

Koban in Ginza 1-chome, Tokyo

If you have an image of a koban and wish to display it here please email it to us.

Read more on the Japanese police force

Koban in Ginza, Tokyo

Koban in Ginza, Tokyo

Akasaka koban, Tokyo

Koban in Asakasa, Tokyo

Japanese Bonsai

Tabi Boots

Japanese police

More Koban

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Japan This Week 2/25/07


JAL pilot bugs former JAL flight attendant (and former lover).


Boston Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka's secret pitch.

New York Times

Young Japanese men refuse to give head.


Film Review: Sakuran

Japan Times

Buy Japan Books

Last Week's News

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bike ride round Tokyo

Plum blossom, Nakano ward, Tokyo.

I surfed myself half blind Friday night till the wee hours and went to bed dreaming of spending a long Saturday morning oblivious to the world. But, curtains drawn and all, with sunrise heralding a crystal clear day I was up with the larks, and any ambitions of sleeping in dissolved in the brightening dawn.

Before I knew it I was showered and on my bike heading for Ginza, taking in a little newly emerged urban plum blossom on the way.

Being before 10am, Shinjuku was almost devoid of cars and, off the main drag, pedestrians. It was all delivery trucks and vans lining the streets. I went all the way to and past the Imperial Palace and veered right at its south-east corner towards Ginza. Ginza was even emptier than Shinjuku. It felt kind of lonely, so after pedaling the length of Chuo-dori and photographing a funky koban police box (see photo below), I went down to Shinbashi then followed Sotobori-dori, then Aoyama-dori to Meiji Jingu shrine.

Ginza 4-chome koban police box, Tokyo. The wind was freezing and gusted fiercely at times, but I got there, albeit frozen mouthed, parked my bike at the Kitasando gate and did the pleasant ten minute walk through the shady wood that lines the path.

You walk through two massive torii gates to get to the inner shrine. The courtyard was bathed in brilliant, and blessedly warm, sunshine, and scattered with a mixture of worshippers, wedding guests and tourists.

Meiji Jingu, like Ise Jingu, is the center of state-Shinto in Japan and as such was one of the important foci of Japan's drive to catch up with the West (the Western-style Meiji constitution was signed here) as well as being a focus of emperor-worship.

Bride and groom at Meiji Jingu, Tokyo. I felt like wandering through the gardens, but, being the end of the month, decided to save myself the 500 yen entry fee, and, after about 20 leisurely minutes of wandering around the main shrine, headed back to where I'd left my bike.

I headed west through Yoyogi - a nicely preserved piece of Tokyo that doesn’t necessarily show the city at its best, but shows it at its most familiar and unaffected – yet mixed with just enough cool and edgy to keep it from being bland.

Took a few snaps on my way through and headed for Nakano where I met a couple of friends for lunch.

Election billboard, Yoyogi, Tokyo.Spent the late afternoon in Ochanomizu with another friend looking for second-hand CDs, then to Shin-Nakano for yakiniku. This was our third time to experiment with restaurants in Shin-Nakano and, after pretty consistent disappointment there, I’ve decided that in terms of dining, the residential districts just don’t measure up to the inner city.

Today, like the other restaurants we tried last week, things weren’t working, the beer tasted like piss, the waiters kept getting things wrong or simply forgetting things. Hopeless. Back to Shinjuku, Shibuya and everywhere else civilized.

Still, we salvaged a decent time out of it and walked home our separate ways at about 10.30pm. After five minute’s walking I was stopped on the sidewalk of Omekaido by a presentable young man. ‘Oh, what’s this going to be?’, I thought. He asked me if I spoke Japanese, explained all very quickly that he worked for a variety shop, and before I knew it I had in my chilly hand a trashy looking American-style billfold with what I presume was a fake $20 note in it - and he was rattling off prices! I twigged that he was targeting drunks, but I wasn’t far gone enough for him, pushed it back and he disappeared in a puff of cold breath.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Camille Claudel - Le Japon ancien-regard de Paul Claudel : La Danse de Senrei

カミーユ・クローデル - パウル・クローデル:千鮮の曾の踊り

On March 1st, nihonbuyo legend and choreographer Senrei Nishikawa will perform two works in Kyoto that have their provenance in the art and lives of brother and sister Camille and Paul Claudel. Of the two, writer Paul Claudel in particular had a strong connection to Japan.

camille-claudelCamille Claudel (1864 - 1943), for whom the first performance is named, was a highly regarded sculptor in turn of the century Paris, though she was perhaps better known as being the lover of Rodin. When they separated--Rodin did not want to end a twenty-year relationship he had with another woman--she entered a period of mental instability and spent many years in an asylum. And, unfortunately, she ultimately destroyed most of her work.

Her brother, Paul Claudel, was a playwright, novelist, and the ambassador to Japan (1922-1928). He was later France's highest-ranking diplomat in Washington during the pre-War years. A controversial figure in his day, Claudel was right-wing and devoutly Catholic--and deeply influenced by Noh. During his tenure in Tokyo, he was a regular at Noh performances.

La Danse de Camille Claudel - La Danse de Senrei was originally staged in 2004 as Camille Claudel. It featured guitar, contrabass, shakuhachi, and drum. The new work, Le Japon ancien-regard de Paul Claudel, will be accompanied by koto and shakuhachi.

Both performances will be held at the Kyoto Fumin Alti Hall. The Hall is a short walk from Imadegawa Station, which is on the Karasuma subway line. Senrei later travels to Switzerland and France.

Location & Prices

Kyoto Fumin Alti Hall
Tickets are 5,000 yen, or 7,000 yen for reserved seats.
The show takes place on March 1st and begins at 7 pm.


Located just south of Doshisha University on Karasuma Dori. Take the Karasuma subway to Imadegawa Station, go out exit 6, and walk south on Karasuma Dori. Alti Hall is five-minute walk south and is on the side of the street opposite Gosho (the Imperial Palace) park. By bus, take the #201 or #203 and get off at Demachiyanagi-ekimae.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yamate-dori Tokyo


Buddha at Joganji Temple, Nakano.Yamate-dori is a roughly north-south avenue that runs all the way from Itabashi in the north of Tokyo to Shinagawa in the south-east.
It runs through Nakano-sakaue, which is where I followed it south from for a couple of hours the other day.

Walking south I first called in to Joganji Temple with its multitude of statues of the Buddha (one particularly touching one pictured here).

Towers in West Shinjuku, Tokyo, from Yamate-dori.Further down the street at various intervals between the often somewhat dreary architecture of the area the silvery space-age lines of Shinjuku Park Tower (actually one building, although built like three) in Nishi (West) Shinjuku (just a little south of Tocho the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings) would become visible on the right hand side of the avenue.

Overhead highway construction, Yamate-dori. Just a little further on and Yamate-dori is completely dominated by a new massive overhead highway under construction (at right) and due to open in December of this year.

As I just mentioned, the architecture in this area is, like much Japanese cityscape, nothing to write home about, but sometimes, in spite of itself, it comes up with scenes that grab you.

This one (below) of the parking building and apartment block with the BMW sign on top and the stripey garage beside it is one of them.

Parking, Yamate-dori, Tokyo.After about three kilometers I was in the Yoyogi area.

I called in briefly to Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine (below) looking for a toilet more than anything else, but found out that in going in I had walked right past the only toilet available – on Yamate-dori. So back out to the street again without further ado.

Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine, Yamate-dori, Tokyo.After another couple of kilometers my legs were starting to feel it, so when I came to the Keio Inokashira line I decided I’d had enough, turned right and walked as far as Komaba-Todai-mae and took the train back to Shinjuku.


Japan Tokyo Yamate-dori

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Osaka Love Hotels


Out of town Love hotel architecture is often fantastically garish, with the buildings often designed in the shape of castles, space ships or boats.

Love Hotel in Osaka

Inner city love hotels are more understated in their exteriors to fit in with the surrounding buildings, so as not to risk the opposition of local residents and shopkeepers.

Love Hotel Osaka

A good introduction to the brash interior design and decor of Japan's love hotels is Love Hotels - The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan with photographs by Misty Keasler.

Love Hotel in Osaka

Here are a few examples of love hotels from Osaka.

Osaka Love Hotel

Love hotels are also known as "boutique hotels","fashion hotels" or even "leisure hotels". Colloquially the term in Japanese is ラブホ (rabuho).

Love Hotel, Osaka

The Japanese Love Hotel industry is estimated to generate 4 trillion yen in annual business. Short-term hotels for privacy and sexual pleasure have existed in Japan since the Edo Period.

Osaka Love Hotel exterior

The most expensive part of a Love Hotel room's interior decor is the bathroom.

Love Hotels in Tokyo

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Books on Japanese Art and Design

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Japan This Week 2/18/07


Tokyo University PR Head arrested for molesting woman on the train.

Daily Yomiuri

Japanese Foreign Ministry goes ballistic over Australian's book on Princess Masako.


Film Review: Starfish Hotel.

Film Review: Starfish Hotel on Midnight Eye

Koreans who collaborated during WWII with Japanese rulers to have land seized.

Korean Herald

Japan's defense of whaling.

Japan Times

Aspiring model liposuctions body fat upwards into a J-Cup bosom--and a complete lack of balance.


Film Review: Starfish Hotel

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Last Week's News

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kodaiji Temple/Nene no Michi


kodaiji templeNene no Michi (The Path of Nene) is among the most beautiful streets in Kyoto. Located in Higashiyama Ward, in eastern Kyoto, two aspects of the streetscape are particularly striking: the adherence to building code (i.e., the buildings are in traditional Kyoto style, with no garish signs or atrocious modern architecture) and, second, the fact that there are no telephone poles or wires to be seen.

Both of these differentiate the street from most of the rest of the city.

Approaching from Maruyama Park and Yasaka Shrine, you walk down a gentle slope towards Kodaiji Temple on the left and Entokuin Temple on the right.

The former, pictured above, was built in 1605 at the behest of Nene, for whom the street was named. She was a noblewoman who married Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Perched on a hill above the street, the temple has some of the best views of the surrounding area and down into central Kyoto.

Ishibei Koji Street , KyotoBack on Nene no Michi, a bit further east, is the lovely Ishibei Koji alley. It is filled with high end restaurants, private homes for the wealthy, and ryokan (Japanese style inns). It represents the best of refined elegance that Kyoto can be.

Walking south on Nene no Michi, you will ultimately arrive at Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka--the narrow sloped streets that have tasteful shops filled with Japanese goods --ultimately arriving at Kiyomizu Temple, which is at the top of the itinerary of most visitors.


From Gion, a 10-15 minute walk. You can go through Yasaka Shrine and then head out the south end. Or a ten-minute walk from the Higashiyama bus stop. Bus #206.

Friday, February 16, 2007

National Art Center Tokyo


National Art Center, Tokyo.Art in Tokyo just got an extra dose of glam! Starting to feel a little jaded about Roppongi Hills? The National Art Center, Tokyo, just opened at the end of January a short stroll away from the Hills. Designed by Kisho Kurokawa, this undulating silvery, glassy new dimension to the capital is Japan’s largest exhibition space and is unique in being a devoted exhibition space with no permanent collection of its own.

Built on the old site of the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Solid State Physics (now out at Kashiwa City), with its completion Roppongi has convincingly reaffirmed itself as Tokyo’s most cutting edge area.

There are two exhibitions on at the National Art Center, Tokyo, at the moment: an overview of 20th century art, and a collection of works from the Pompidou Center in Paris.

I went for the 20th century exhibition: “Living in the Material World – 'Things' in Art of the 20th Century and Beyond”. I got there at 4.15pm thinking an hour and three-quarters would be enough. However, by closing time I had only made it about two-thirds of the way through and had to rush through what was left to me in the remaining cavernous rooms.

The building is immense! Many of the exhibition rooms would by themselves provide ample space for an exhibition in a provincial city, but put them together and the scale becomes mind-boggling. However overwhelming the structure might look from the outside, once inside it feels much, much bigger.

This is an exciting addition to Tokyo. Keep an eye on what’s on there at JapanVisitor's What's On in Tokyo and Kyoto page.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Twilight Express


The Twilight Express will end operations in the spring of 2015.

On a warm (fall) day in Sapporo, my wife, daughter, and I boarded the Twilight Express at Sapporo Station. The dark blue sleeper cars brought to mind travel from an earlier time.

We had booked tickets for the overnight trip to Kyoto, and would arrive there in 22 hours.

Twilight Express - Osaka to Sapporo, Hokkaido

We had a small second-class compartment with two fold-down beds. As the train pulled out of Sapporo, we snacked on onigiri rice balls and watched the scenery roll by.

As midday turned to evening, the train approached the world's longest underwater tunnel--the Seikan Tunnel--which connects the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. For someone from Honshu, the open space in Hokkaido was almost disorienting. Before dinner, the three of us sat in the Panorama Car and watched the crimson skies become night.

An announcement then warned us that we would be in the tunnel for 30 minutes or more. The vast fields gave way to utter darkness as we entered the tunnel. And we clacked and clacked into the dark.

By the time we exited the tunnel and were on Honshu, it was dinner time. After the cramped room the dining car seemed spacious and comfortable.

The next morning dragged on as the train was in no hurry. We played cards and games to kill time.

The train arrived in Kyoto exactly on time, and we got off feeling a bit like sailors on shore leave. It took a few steps to readjust to walking on ground that did not move.

Twilight Express

The Seikan Tunnel is the longest underwater rail tunnel in the world at 53,850 meters.

The Twilight Express is the longest overnight train service in Japan traveling for around 1500 kilometers.

Trains leave several times per week from Osaka at noon, stopping at Shin-Osaka Station, Kyoto, Tsuruga, Fukui, Kanazawa, Takaoka, Toyama, Naoetsu, Nakaoka and Niitsu on Honshu island and Toya, Higashi-Muroran, Noboribetsu, Tomakomai, Minami-Chitose and Sapporo on Hokkaido.

Japan Rail Pass holders will have to pay a supplement to travel on this train.

Kagura Masks

Wednesday, February 14, 2007



Listen to the sounds of monks chanting on Mount Koya

Legend has it that Kukai threw his vajra (ritual thunderbolt sceptre) all the way from China and it landed in the mountains of Wakayama, where the monk found it on his return to Japan, when he was searching the wilderness south of the capital in Kyoto, for a suitable place to found his religious retreat and spread the word of Shingon (tantric) Buddhism.

Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture

Even by car the route to Koyasan is long and winding and the journey by foot in Kukai's day must have been especially arduous.

Kukai had been granted use of the area by the Emperor Saga and work began on the buildings in 819 which were not complete until 835 just after Kukai's death.

However, Kukai (now Kobo Daishi) was not cremated but interred as stipulated in his will and his followers believed he had entered a state of deep meditation, not death. To this day, the head priests of Koyasan continue to feed and clothe the over 1000 year old corpse.

Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture

During his lifetime Kukai appears to have been a man of incredible energy and talent. He was a noted linguist, who could read and speak Chinese and studied Sanskrit, he wrote poetry and practised calligraphy, supervised engineering projects, opened schools and produced many religious tracts codifying his new doctrines.

Buy beautiful wooden Buddhist statues from JapanNow opens the store of mystic words
Where the hidden treasures emerge into the daylight
Where all the virtues and powers materialize
The Buddhas in the innumerable Buddhist kingdoms
Are nothing more than the Unique Buddha in the depth of our soul;
And the lotuses of gold, as many as the drops of water in the ocean,
Are our body.

Kobo Daishi (774-835)

Koyasan guide

Books on Kukai

Kukai and His Major Works

Tantric Poetry of Kukai

Monday, February 12, 2007

National Foundation Day


Watch a movie of right wingers blasting the crowds at Shinjuku Station, Tokyo.

Right wingers in front of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo.Today is a holiday in Japan: National Foundation Day, although the day itself was actually yesterday. It is brought over to Monday just to give the populace a day off.

Anyway, National Foundation Day, or Kenkoku Kinenbi, has its roots in Kigensetsu, or ‘Empire Day’, founded by the Meiji Emperor in 1873 to help cement the imperial foundations of recently modernized Japan’s new Western-style nation-state following the abolishment of the traditional Shogunate. Although done away with after World War II, Kigensetsu was subsequently revived in 1966 as National Foundation Day.

With its imperialist, Shinto-inspired past, National Foundation Day is not the massive celebration that Kigensetsu used to be. However, predictably, the Japanese right wing comes out in full force on this day.

Right wingers outside Shinjuku Station on National Foundation Day.Tokyo's busiest station, Shinjuku, played reluctant host to this faction of right wingers, as they ranted and hollered what was virtually abuse at the passing crowds. Dressed in sharp fascist black and waving oversized flags featuring a modified swastika on an old imperial Japanese flag, they completely dominated proceedings for as far as their massive loudspeakers could be heard.

The vociferousness and ear-splitting volume of the delivery cast a pall of unease over the entire area, the policemen in the nearby police box attempting to show particularly reassuring smiles to unnerved passers by.

Click the link at the top of the page to watch a faction of the Japanese right wing deliver a no-holds-barred harangue to the crowds around Tokyo’s Shinjuku station on National Foundation Day.

Buy online genuine Japanese baseball caps from GoodsFromJapan.

Digital cameras online: highest made-in-Japan quality, from GoodsFromJapan.

Japanese-English electronic dictionaries. Buy them online from GoodsFromJapan.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Japan This Week 2/11/07


Sumo honchos agree to sue publisher over allegations of match-rigging.

Daily Yomiuri

North Korea accuses Japan of avoiding wartime responsibility.

People's Daily

Tokyo cops lose four key pieces of evidence in murder case.

Japan Times

Pantyhose market in Japan collapsing.


Film review: Summer Time Machine Blues.

Midnight Eye

Anger and consternation as racist magazine "Gaijin Hanzai Ura File" goes on sale in Japan.



Japan in Amber

Hotels in Japan

IC Recorders

Japan Travel Guide Books

Japan movie reviews


Japan Stats

Setagaya-ku is the number one garbage producer of Tokyo's 23 wards.

As of November 2006, Japan's jails held 71,500 prisoners. 5,312 inmates were foreigners (7.42%): 1,804 Chinese, 1,477 Korean*, 417 Brazilian, 385 Iranian, 146 Vietnamese, 115 Filipino, 95 Colombian, 738 other nationalities.

Fuchu Prison in Tokyo, Japan's largest jail, has 3,200 inmates of whom 550 are foreigners (17.18%).

*Koreans (Zainichi) born in Japan may be classified as Korean foreign nationals.

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

The number of foreigners charged under the Penal Code in 2006 was 27,459, a decrease of 16.9% from 2005.

Yakuza (organized crime) membership was estimated at 84,700.
Full-time members, 41,500; part-time members, 43,200. The first time ever part-timers have outnumbered full-timers since records began in 1958.

The top 3 yakuza crime syndicates are:
Yamaguchi-gumi (Kobe-based) approx 21,000 members
Sumiyoshi-kai (Tokyo-based) approx 8,000 members
Inagawa-kai (Tokyo-based) approx 5,000 members

Source: National Police Agency

There are 94 inmates on death row in Japan awaiting execution as of 31 December, 2006.

Japan's courts sentenced 44 people to death in 2006.

Source: Japan Justice Ministry

Last week's news

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Roppongi to Nakano


Woman in kimono on the streets of Roppongi, Tokyo.After meeting with friends for dinner in Roppongi this evening, I decided to take a long slow stroll back home to Nakano. It wasn’t too cold and there seemed to be an added patina of excitement to things tonight, Monday being a national holiday (National Foundation Day, carried over from Sunday, on which it actually falls).

I wandered the backstreets of Roppongi a little. Just a few meters off the gaudy cosmopolitan furor of Tokyo’s prime nightlife thoroughfare, you wander through little dense old neighborhoods, down squeeze-shouldered alleys, watched over by the odd dozing cat on a gatepost. You could hear a pin drop and you feel like an intruder. Back out on the main street you breathe easier again. Right in front of me is a young woman carefully balancing her way past fluorescent shopfronts in a kimono.

Sony Computer Entertainment 'Play Station', Meiji-dori, Tokyo.Heading roughly northward I walked through Roppongi’s more upmarket neighbor Akasaka and up to Meiji Avenue. Things started getting more exclusive-looking the closer I got to Aoyama. On my left I went past the Sony Computer Entertainment building with its vast ‘PLAY STATION’ sign etched into the design of the windows.

Roppongi Hills, first anniversary.Before long I was at Omotesando Hills, that, as the sign says, is having its first anniversary. I hadn’t been by Omotesando Hills for a while so walked around the back and took in some tres chic tres minimal shopfronts, and then inside (it was 8.50pm, 10 minutes before closing time) for another look at the inside: a gleaming metallic sci-fi wedding cake look that is such a surprise after the almost droll, willfully toned-down look of the place from the street.

An hour had passed already, and it took me another to get to Shinjuku where I stopped in at Tower Records and bought a couple of CDs. I got back home to Nakano just as it started to rain.

Am back home chilling to Jimmy Smith live. Two more sweet whole days of chill to go!

Japanese Bonsai

Tabi Boots

Love Hotel Temple


Love hotels and temples

Temple and Love Hotel in the background.

Space is at a premium in Japanese cities. Edo-era temples and more contemporary Love Hotels share the same lot in Shin-Sakae, Nagoya.

A wink and a prayer.

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Books on Japanese Art and Design

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Koban Styles


Along with manhole covers and Love Hotels, Japanese police boxes - koban - display a wide range of, often striking, design styles.

Koban, Tajimi, Gifu

Koban in Tajimi, Gifu - the police box has been designed in the same style as a typical ceramic producing shop-house in the town

Much post-war Japanese architecture can be drab fare indeed. Every Japanese town and city has its share of identikit, glass and steel office blocks and gray, featureless apartment buildings. A convenience store looks pretty much the same whether it is in Niigata or Naha.

Not so koban. Many Japanese police boxes have become virtual landmarks in the districts they serve.

Look out for these symbols of architectural flair and individuality on your travels around Japan.

If you have an image of a koban and wish to display it here please email it to us.

Mediterranean colors in this koban in Yagoto, Nagoya

Koban in Yagoto, Nagoya - the colors transform this police box into something you might see on the Italian Riviera

Koban in Azabu, Tokyo

Koban in Azabu, Tokyo - a grim location under an elevated highway but the pastel pink adds a touch of light

Read more on Tokyo koban

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rokkaen Kuwana


The city of Kuwana, west of Nagoya, is home to a hidden gem of Meiji Era architecture - Rokkaen.

Rokkaen Kuwana designed by Josiah Conder

The Rokkaen was designed by one of the Meiji Period's favorite foreign architects, Josiah Conder, who also built the Rokumeikan, the Kyu-Furukawa Tei and the Kyu-Iwasaki Tei in Tokyo.

Rokkaen Kuwana Mie Prefecture Japan

Completed in 1913, the combined Western and Japanese-style house was the former residence of Seiroku Moroto, a local rice magnate, who made his fortune in the area.

Besides the two main buildings, which were restored in 1993, the complex incudes a strolling garden and Japanese-style kura or storehouses, reflecting the owners business in the rice trade.

Rokkaen Kuwana Mie Prefecture

The European building, with the original furnishings still in evidence, includes a four-storey tower, sunroom and veranda and connects directly to the long Japanese-style tatami-floored annexe. There is a telephone room, some superb period fireplaces and the both drawing room and dining room have been recreated with antique furniture and wallpaper.

Access: A 15 minute walk east from Kuwana Station
663-5 Takaba, Aza, Oazu, Kuwana City
Hours: 9am-5pm (last entrance 4pm)
Closed Mondays
Admission: Adults 310 yen
Tel: 0594 24 4466

Rokkaen Kuwana Mie Prefecture

A visit to the Rokkaen can be combined with a viewing of the Seiroku Moroto Garden in season, which is virtually next door. Part of the garden was created by Hikozaemon Yamada in the Edo Period while an extension was added by Seiroku Moroto in the 1890s. The grounds include a guesthouse, a teahouse, storehouses, a shrine and the main house.

Hours: 10am-5pm (last entrance 4pm)
Closed Mondays
Admission: Adults 500 yen
Tel: 0594 24 1361

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The grounds are open from mid-April to the end of June and mid-October to the end of November.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tofukuji Temple


Sanmon Gate Tofukuji TempleOn an unseasonably warm early February morning, we biked down to south Kyoto in search of a bit of culture and beauty. Located behind the Number 2 Red Cross Hospital, the Tofukuji Temple complex spreads in all directions. Today it is the head temple of the Tofukuji School of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

Tofukuji was founded in 1236 and built in the ensuing decades, but has been plagued by fire on many occasions: it was destroyed in 1319, 1334, and 1336, and burned again in the 15th century.

It has since come to be known as one of the Great Zen Temples of Kyoto; the others are Kenninji, Manjuji, Nanzenji, Shokokuji, and Tenryuji.

The temple is best known for its massive gate—at 22 meters it is the largest in any Japanese zen temple (above left)—and its zen garden within the Hojo (Abbot's Hall). The gate was built in 1425—then taken apart, fixed, and rebuilt in the 1970s.

Rock Garden Tofukuji TempleThe zen garden—and temple as a whole for that matter—is probably at its most beautiful in the fall when the momiji maple trees are in their glory. The fall colors though bring gas-spewing tour buses filled with chattering visitors from the provinces.

Today, however, was peaceful and sunny. The grounds of the main temple are free (sub-temples cost 400 yen for adults). Women raked leaves in the shadows of the Sanmon gate, wearing only loose cotton samue work clothes. They chatted and laughed as they worked; a few tourists wandered around alone or in pairs.

The rock garden (above right) at Hojo, an abbey for the priests, is not nearly as well-known as the one at Ryoanji Temple; however, the veranda was empty and the late morning sun poured in at just the right angle. This is the “southern garden.”

Moss Garden Tofukuji TempleOn the opposite side of the building is the “northern garden,” which features square cut stones that are laid out in a checkerboard pattern with rich moss in the blank spaces.

The overall effect is that of squares inlaid in a verdant field of green.

Within the vast grounds, there is also a Zendo meditation hall, the main hall, and woods with a creek deep below in a picturesque ravine.

Tofukuji Temple
(075) 561-0087
Entrance until 4:30 pm

From either JR Tofukuji Station or Keihan Railways Tofukuji Station about 10 minutes. From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line one stop on a local train.

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