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Monday, April 30, 2007

Ichihashi Tatsuya


A manhunt is on for Ichihashi Tatsuya, the prime suspect in the brutal murder of 22-year-old English teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker.

The battered, bound and naked body of Ms Hawker, who worked for the Nova English conversation school franchise was found buried in a bathtub of sand on the balcony of Ichihashi's apartment in Ichikawa, near Tokyo.

Ichihashi Tatsuya

Ichihashi, 28, managed to escape from 9 policemen in his stocking feet when the officers called at his apartment to investigate the disappearance of Ms Hawker. Ms Hawker had apparently been followed home on March 20 by Ichihashi, who begged her to give him an English lesson.

The pair met for the conversation class on Sunday March 25 in a cafe near Gyotoku subway station not far from Ms Hawker's home and were captured on CCTV ordering drinks. Ichihashi and Hawker were at the cafe from around 9am-9.45am before leaving, apparently for Ichihashi's condominium.

Hard facts surrounding the police investigation are hard to come by. There are reports Ichihashi's home was stacked with violent and sexually explicit manga and he may have cut off the hair of the victim.

Around 150 detectives are assigned to the case to find Ichihashi, whose mugshot (above) is posted at police stations and koban around the country. So far unsuccessful police action includes raiding a love hotel called Chateau, in Nishi Funabashi, and shutting down the Tozai Subway Line to conduct searches for Ichihashi.

There is speculation in the Japanese press that Ichihashi, the son of wealthy parents from Gifu Prefecture, has committed suicide or is avoiding detection in Osaka's day-laborer areas.

The trail has gone cold for now.

Translations from the Japanese press on the Lindsay Ann Hawker case

The Hawker family have set up a Lindsay Anne Hawker webpage to help track down her killer.

Being A Broad have launched a T-shirt campaign in support of the Hawker family.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Japan This Week 4/29/07


Three convicted killers sent to the gallows.


Suspected murderer of Lucie Blackman acquitted in her death, shocking those at the trial.


Movie Review: Midori - The Girl in the Freak Show.

Midnight Eye

Japanese Supreme Court Rules against Sex Slaves and other Wartime Workers.

NY Times

Nude women in surgical masks.


Last Week's Japan News

Japan Stats

Well over a million Japanese tourists are expected to take overseas vacations during this year's Golden Week Holidays which began yesterday. Popular destinations are Hawaii, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Guam.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

2008 G8 Summit


Next summer's G-8 Summit, which will be held in Japan, looks set to be spread pretty much all over the archipelago.

shinzo-abe-posterFollowing the lead of the Okinawa/Kyushu Summit, which took place at multiple venues in 2000, the Japanese government is considering splitting up the meetings based upon who attends.

The main venue will be Lake Toya, on the northern island of Hokkaido. The heads of state will convene here. The location was chosen because it is a "green" resort--and also has the added benefit of being in the middle of nowhere and will thus be easy on the Japanese police.

Of the location, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted as saying: "It fits the image of my plan to build a beautiful nation."

For the other meetings, there is more convenience and a certain amount of symbolism in the choice of each venue.

Kyoto, which is considered foreigner friendly, has been selected for the foreign ministers. Finance ministers will get together in nearby Osaka, which is the historic center of business and industry. Environmental ministers will convene just a bit east in Kobe, which is a port city with nearby mountains. Last, ministers of the interior will either meet in Tokyo or in neighboring Chiba.

A formal announcement is expected in the coming week.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Kurokawa Onsen

黒川温泉, 熊本県

Kurokawa onsen is one of Kyushu's best onsen resorts.

Kurokawa onsen

Kurokawa has grown in popularity over the last ten years and despite its reasonably out-of-the-way location, it is best to spend a night here to sample the special atmosphere in the early morning and the evening when the day-trippers are not in town.

Kurokawa has over 20 hot springs situated along the river at the foot of the steep, wooded valley. There are some excellent rotemburo (outside baths) and prices for some of the public spas start as low as 100 yen.

Kurokawa onsen

Accommodation options with breakfast and evening meal in any of Kurokawa's ryokan are on the expensive side but great service and food translates to excellent value for money.

Kurokawa's tourist office (Tel: 0967 44 0076; 9am-6pm) offers a map of the spas and a day pass (1200 yen) for entry to three onsen.

Kurokawa's most well-known hot spas include: Shinmeikan (Tel: 0967 44 0916), which has mixed bathing rotemburo and a cave bath, Yamabiko Ryokan (Tel: 0967 44-0311) has a huge outdoor hot pool and beautiful gardens and is entered via the roofed bridge over the river, Kurokawa-so (Tel: 0967 44 0517) has excellent, rocky, outdoor pools.

Kurokawa is best reached by private car from either Kumamoto or Beppu. There is a bus from Aso (approx. 1 hour) but the return bus leaves only two hours later. There are buses to both Kumamoto and Beppu from the Yamanami Highway Senomoto bus stop which is a taxi ride from Kurokawa.

Kurokawa Onsen Official Site (Japanese)

Kurokawa onsen

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mount Aso Caldera


Mount Aso in the center of Kyushu is an active volcano and the largest caldera in Japan. This huge, ancient, volcanic crater was formed over 100,000 years ago and measures approximately 120km in circumference and approximately 24km north to south and 18 km across east to west. The caldera contains five peaks Mount Eboshi (1337m), Mount Kishima (1321m), Mount Naka (1323m), Mount Neko (1408m) and Mount Taka (1592m).

Mount Aso Kyushu

The Aso-Kuju National Park area is an easy day trip from either Kumamoto or Beppu by car or public transport.

The tallest of the five peaks of Aso-san is Taka-dake at 1592m. Most visitors make the trip to Naka-dake (1323m) to see the volcanic crater lake belching steam and the impressive, barren landscape that surrounds the crater.

Mount Aso Kyushu

On the way up to Naka-dake there is the interesting Aso Volcano Museum (Tel: 0967 34 2111; 9am-5pm), where you can see film of Naka-dake from cameras positioned in the crater wall. Just across the road from the museum are some lakes in a grassland - Kusasenri - where visitors can rent horses and pretend to be in Mongolia.

There are seven daily buses to the museum and to the foot of Naka-dake from Aso train station. The last bus down from the mountain is at 5pm. There is a ropeway to the crater or it is a 20 minute walk to the top.

The whole National Park area is excellent for hiking and onsen. There is a popular trail from the crater at Naka-dake to the peak of Taka-dake and then down to Miyaji Station, one stop east of Aso Station on the JR Hohi Line.

Mount Aso Kyushu


There are 3 daily trains from Beppu making the 2 hour journey to Aso Station. There are hourly trains from Kumamoto taking 90 minutes to Aso. There are also buses from Kumamoto, Kurokawa Onsen and Beppu.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007



In the not so distant future, paying with cash in Japan may be the equivalent of wearing a fedora. Unlike the United States, though, credit cards are not going to make cash transactions rare; rather, it is prepaid cards.

suicaThe Financial Services Agency (FSA) is now considering giving approval for eMoney transactions to include both money transfers--now limited to banks and financial institutions--and the ability to convert the balance of a prepaid card into cash.

There are currently four major prepaid cards in Japan: Edy, Suica (at left), ICOCA (below right), and PASMO.

Edy has 28 million subscribers and can be used at Circle K convenience stores.

Suica is JR East's rechargeable smart card that can be used JR lines in Kanto, Kansai, and Sendai, and on all subway lines and buses in the Tokyo metropolitan region. There are 20 million cardholders.

ICOCA is JR West's answer to Suica, and it is used primarily in Kansai--Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara--but can also be used in the capital as well. To date, 2.9 million cards have been issued.

icocaThe final card, PASMO, is a rechargeable smart card used on all train and bus transport in the Tokyo metropolitan region. 3.3 million cards have been issued.

The three transport cards can all be used at many convenience stores.

This month, two more cards enter the market: nanako and WAON. The former debuted on the 23rd and is good for use at the 22,000 7-11 stores in Japan. WAON will be issued on April 27, and can be used at the 23,000 AEON stores.

These cards promise to make using dirty old bills so 2007.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Denpark Anjo

デンパーク, 安城

Listen to the muzak at Denpark

Japan makes a specialty of country-related theme parks. Huis ten Bosch is the most famous example in Nagasaki, but there is also a Spain Mura near Ise Shima in Mie and a Villaggio Italia in Nagoya.

Denpark, Anjo

Anjo, a small, quiet town between Nagoya and Toyohashi has Denpark - a compact theme park based on the architectural and agricultural charms of Denmark.

Denpark, Anjo

From the piped Euromuzak to the manicured lawns, Denpark does its best to recreate a piece of faux-Denmark in deepest Aichi. There's a windmill, various reconstructions of Danish houses, Carlsberg beer on tap and plenty of cheese and butter in the shops.

There's a toy train to whisk the kids around the park's pleasant gardens and street performers put on shows in "Floral Place" - a huge glass house with restaurants and shops.

Tel: 0566 92 7111
Hours: 9.30am-5pm
Admission: 600 yen
Denpark, Anjo


Take a JR Tokaido Line Express train to Anjo Station from Nagoya Station (22 mins) or from Toyohashi (25 mins).
Alternatively take a Meitetsu Line train from Nagoya Station to Shin-Anjo.
Then a Meitetsu bus for "Anjo-Kosei-Byoin" and get off at JR Anjo Station.
From JR Anjo Station take an "Ankuru Bus" to Denpark (25 mins).

By Car
Route 23 to Izumi Exit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Japan This Week 4/22/07


Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito assassinated in front of campaign office.

NY Times

Just how close are Japan and China?

China Daily

Cell phones fuel infidelity.


Japan's age-old problem.


Mobster guns down another yakuza in broad daylight, holes up in apartment and fires at cops.


Last Week's Japan News

Friday, April 20, 2007

Asia Society Conference in Tokyo

The Asia Society will hold its 17th annual conference in Tokyo from May 16 - 18. The Asia Society, which is located in New York, is an NPO whose stated mission is to strengthen and improve relations between people in Asia and the United States.

The first annual conference was held in Hong Kong, China, in 1989, and focused on business and economic issues.

Tokyo hosted the conference once before, in 1993.

This year's theme is "Coming Together, Moving Ahead: Asia Economies through Integration and Innovation." No one knows what this means, but there will be simultaneous interpretation in English, Japanese, and Chinese.

US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Shieffer and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be speaking, the latter delivering the opening address.


The conference will be held from May 16 - 18 at the Prince Park Hotel, in Minato Ward Tokyo. The admission fee is 73,000 yen for the three days. Meals are included.

Tokyo Contact

Telephone: Forma Corporation at 81-3-5570-6297
Email: tsuji@asiasoc.org

New York Contact

Daniel Simon at the Asia Society:
E-mail: tokyo2007@asiasoc.org
Phone: (212) 327-9292
Fax: (212) 327-2280


By Airport Limousine Bus (shuttle bus)

* 1 hour 30 minutes from New Tokyo International Airport (Narita)

Subway Stations:

* 2 minute walk to Akabane Bashi Station (Oedo Line) ~ direct access to Roppongi, Aoyama, Shinjuku
* 3 minute walk to Shiba Koen Station (Mita Line)
* 9 minute walk to Daimon Station (Asakusa Line & Oedo line) ~ direct access to Asakusa

Nearest JR Yamanote Line Station:

* 10 minute walk to Hamamatsucho Station ~ 2 stations to Shinagawa

The Prince Park Tower Tokyo
4-8-1 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku
Tokyo, 105-8563, Japan
TEL: 81-3-5400-1111
FAX: 81-3-5400-1110


Japan Tokyo Kyoto Asia Society New York

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Osaka World Trade Center


The Osaka World Trade Center is the centerpiece of the 1990s Bay Area development at Osaka Port on the reclaimed island of Sakishima.

Osaka World Trade Center

The 252m-tall building is one of the highest buildings in Japan. On a clear day there are stunning views over Osaka from the glass observation deck on the 55th floor (Admission fee 800 yen). The surrounding area, known as Cosmo Square, also includes a Hyatt Regency Hotel and the huge Asia & Pacific Trade Center retail mall.

ATC - Asia & Pacific Trade Center

The island is also home to a Natural Bird Sanctuary and the impressive 1200 tonne glass dome of the Osaka Maritime Museum (Tel: 06 4703 2900), designed by French architect Paul Andreu, who also has the new Beijing Opera House in Tianaman Square Beijing on his CV. The nearby Osaka Wine Museum (Tel: 06 6613 2411) has a restaurant and wine bar and exhibits from Osaka's sister ports, which include San Francisco, Melbourne, Shanghai and Busan.

Osaka Maritime Museum

Cosmo Square is more popular at weekends than during the week but the area has yet to fully take off as residential buildings are still being built and visitors from downtown Osaka can be put off by the relatively expensive transport fares out to Sakishima. Quite a few shops in the Osaka Food Outlet for example have been forced to close.

Access: Take the Chuo Line Technoport Line from Honmachi to Cosmosquare Station and then change to the New Tram Technoport Line to Trade Center-mae Station. Alternatively from Suminoe Subway Station take the New Tram Technoport Line to Trade Center-mae Station.
There are boats too from Osaka Nanko Ferry Terminal to Universal Studios (Dream Shuttle).

Osaka World Trade Center

World Trade Center Building (Osaka)
14-16, 1-chome, Nanko-kita, Suminoe-ku, Osaka
Tel: 06 6615 6000

Narita-san Temple Inuyama


Listen to Buddhist priests chanting at Narita-san Temple

With easy walking distance of Inuyama Castle, Narita-san Temple is worth a visit and has fine views of the Kiso River and the castle. On a fine day it is possible to see the skyscrapers of Nagoya in the distance.

Narita-San Temple, Inuyama

Inuyama's Narita-san Temple is a branch temple of the Shingon sect's
Narita-san Temple in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo's main international airport.

The temple was opened in 1953 and sits upon a steep hill. Shingon Buddhism is associated with its founder, Kukai aka Kobo Daishi, and the temples he founded on Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture. Shingon is known as esoteric Buudhism and teaches that enlightenment can be found in this lifetime through spiritual practice including mudras, mantras and mandalas.

Narita-San, Inuyama

Narita San Temple
Tel: 0568 61 2583

The nearest stations to Narita-san Temple are Meitetsu Inuyama Yuen Station (7 mins walk) or Meitetsu Inuyama Station (20 mins walk).
There are regular Meitetsu trains to Inuyama Station from Nagoya Station and Gifu. The journey from both cities takes around 35 minutes by express.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nagasaki Mayor Murdered


Mayor ItoThe mayor of Nagasaki was fatally shot twice in the back by a member of the Japanese underworld yesterday.

Mayor Itcho Ito, 61, was shot at point blank range outside Nagasaki Station by Tetsuya Shiroo, 59, a leading member of the Suishin-kai, a local affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest organized crime syndicate.

Speculation on the motives for the attack may be as trivial as a compensation claim Shiroo was pursuing against the city after his car was damaged in a pothole in 2003; though organized crime involvement more likely points to possible corruption and kick-backs involving public works contracts rather than a personal vendetta.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a "rigorous investigation" into the shooting, it is doubtful that the ruling LDP, which has well-documented and long-standing links with yakuza organized crime, will do much once the outrage over Ito's death has died down.

Mayor Ito is the second mayor of Nagasaki to be shot. In 1990, former Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was seriously wounded by a rightist, after the ex-mayor claimed Emperor Showa bore some responsibility for the events of World War II.

Japanese Politics and Society

Canal City Hakata


Fukuoka Canal CityCanal City Hakata is a shopping mall in the center of Fukuoka that has done much to reinvigorate the port city. Completed in 1996, Canal City has helped turn the formerly depressed downtown area into a lively and thriving destination.

Design principal Jim Jerde's work includes a Grand Hyatt hotel, a multiplex movie theater, and a "canal" that winds its way through the first level of the shopping and entertainment complex. Within its 2.5 million square feet, you will also find restaurants, cafes, and open performance spaces.

On the third floor there is a "Ramen Stadium," where you can sample most if not all of the varieties of noodles available in Japan. We opted to go local and had a good bowl of Hakata Ramen.

On the day we went, an Italian juggler/performer was holding sway over a large crowd of teenagers and women with young children. The fountains in the canal behind him shot up at intervals and punctuated his attempts.

The design of the building recalls a canyon from the southwest of the US. In both color and curve, Canal City seems like a bit of Arizona transplanted into an urban Japanese setting. The sun slices through the canyon and shimmers off of the Hyatt windows and canal waters.

The Hyatt bar looks out over the fountains and the shoppers, and was the ideal place to take the edge off and assess the damage after an afternoon of shopping.

Canal City, Fukuoka


From the Airport: take the Fukuoka subway to Nakasu Kawabata, Exit 5, and then walk 10 minutes.
From Hakata Station, it is a ten-minute walk; or, from Gate A, Transportation Center 4, a ten-minute bus ride to "Canal City Hakata Mae" stop.
From Tenjin Station, it is a ten-minute walk.


1-2-25 Sumiyoshi
Fukuoka 〒812-0018

TEL: 092-272-2812
FAX: 092-272-5553


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sonic Train From Hakata to Oita


JR Kyushu's Sonic is an express train running from Hakata Station in Fukuoka to Oita via Beppu.

Sonic Express at Beppu Station

The journey along Kyushu's north east coastline takes approximately 2 hours. A more scenic, though slower, inland route from Fukuoka to Beppu is the Yufuin-no-Mori.

Sonic Express From Hakata to Oita

There are two types of Sonic Express: the white model 885 and the blue model 883 (pictured). The Sonic trains have a top speed of 130kph. Along with a number of other trains in Kyushu, the Sonic Express was designed by Eiji Motooka.

Sonic Express Train From Hakata to Oita

Monday, April 16, 2007

Inuyama Castle


Inuyama's main attraction its is fine castle overlooking the Kiso River below.

Inuyama Castle

With building supposedly beginning in 1440, Inuyama Castle (also known as Hakutei) is Japan's oldest existing fortress. The present Momoyama-style keep and gates of Inuyama Castle were completed by Oda Nobuyasu, the uncle of notorious, local warlord Oda Nobunaga, in 1537. The castle has two basement floors and four floors above ground.

Along with its fine views, the castle's wooden donjon has displays of suits of samurai armor, folding screens and documents from its long historical past.

View from Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle was privately owned by the Naruse family, retainers of the local Matsudaira clan, from 1618 until recently except for a period just after the Meiji Restoration when the property was seized by the new Meiji government as punishment for Naruse support of the defeated shogunate.

The castle was given back to the Naruse family for repair and upkeep in 1895 after an earthquake damaged it in 1891 but ownership was transferred to a civic foundation in 2004.

Inuyama Castle
Tel: 0568 61 1711
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission 500 yen

The nearest stations to Inuyama Castle within 15-20 minutes walking distance are Meitetsu Inuyama Yuen Station or Meitetsu Inuyama Station.
There are regular Meitetsu trains to Inuyama Station from Nagoya Station and Gifu. The journey from both cities takes around 35 minutes by express.

Inuyama Travel Guide

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Japan This Week 4/15/07


Chinese Premier Wen meets with Japanese Emperor.

China Daily

Referendum clears lower house paving way for constitutional revision.

Japan Times

Rural mom and pop shops being replaced by sex shops.


Japanese hostage freed in Paraguay.


Nationalist governor Shintaro Ishihara wins third term as head of Tokyo.


Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fukuoka Yatai - Food Stalls


The eating experience for visitors to Fukuoka is having dinner at one of the hundreds of food stalls (yatai) that dot Fukuoka's main entertainment areas of Tenjin and Nakagawa.

Fukuoka food stalls - yatai

The food on offer is usually Fukuoka's legendary ramen (Chinese noodles), oden (stewed meat & vegetables in a soy sauce), gyoza (fried Chinese dumplings), yakitori (grilled chicken) and other mostly fried fare, washed down with tea, beer, sake or shochu.

Fukuoka food stalls - yatai
The most famous place to sample Fukuoka's yatai is in the Nakasu entertainment district on the Naka River.

Some places may have a queue of 50 people waiting to eat at a dozen seats, while other stalls are customer free. The food is not cheap and may set you back around 30-50 USD for just a few, often lukewarm dishes and a beer. The views of the river are better on Nakasu but for a more genuine, less touristy yatai experience you may be advised to check out the stalls along Showa Dori.

Yatai are usually open for business from around 6pm to 1 or 2am at night. Sunday is often the day off for many stalls, though not all.

Nearest subway stations are Tenjin Station and Nakasu Kawabata Station.

Fukuoka food stalls - yatai

Japanese Art - Geisha Fans

Japanese Fiction

Friday, April 13, 2007

Japan - China Strategic Talks


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Japan on Wednesday for three days of talks on the strategic relationship between the two most powerful nations in Asia. His talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hinted that historical issues could hamper the slow thaw that is currently taking place. However, his invitation to Japan's Emperor may turn out to be the coup of the trip--and really warm relations.

shinzo-abe-posterAfter former PM Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine--enraging both China and South Korea--hopes are high that Abe would take a different path on Sino-Japanese relations.

Yasukuni, which is where Japanese war dead are enshrined--including class A war criminals Hideki Tojo et al--has strained relations in East Asia since the 1980s.

Abe worshipped at the shrine in September, prior to becoming PM, but has yet to indicate whether he will do so in an official capacity as prime minister.

Abe, moreover, earlier this spring voiced his skepticism about Japanese military involvement in directly managing wartime brothels. This not only stunned many in Japan--which apologized to the comfort women in 1993--but once again infuriated its neighbors.

Economic relations, however, between China and Japan are very good. China is now Japan's largest trading partner, larger even than the US.

Problems however remain.

First are territorial issues. The two countries disagree over an area in the East China Sea near Okinawa, under which there are gas field reserves. A compromise may be in the works.

Also, both sides are wary of military developments in recent years. Japan is moving slowing but surely towards becoming a "normal nation" and perhaps even revoking Article 9 of its constitution, which prevents it from launching a war of aggression. China for its part has been on a military spending spree in recent years, often using more than 10% of its budget on its military.

The wild card in all of this may be North Korea. China acts as its patron and is thought to have sway over Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, which may help in resolving the abductions issue in Japan--the issue that catapulted Abe to his current position.

Beijing olympics logoIn a speech to the Japanese Diet on Thursday, Wen was warm and diplomatic. Where he made the biggest impression, though, was in a meeting with the Emperor. In a brilliant bit of diplomacy, Premier Wen extended a warm invitation to the Heisei Emperor to next summer's Beijing Olympic Games.

Before returning to China, Wen visits Kyoto today.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mikimoto Pearl Museum

ミキモト真珠島, 鳥羽

Probably the must-see sight in Toba on the Mie coast is Mikimoto Pearl Island which houses the Mikimoto Pearl Museum.

Statue of Mikimoto Kokichi in characteristic bowler hat

Toba is the world's birthplace of the cultured pearl industry. In 1893 Mikimoto Kokichi (1858-1954) produced the world's first cultured pearl. Mikimoto's life and work is celebrated on Mikimoto Pearl Island.

The interesting, hi-tech Pearl Museum explains in both clear English and Japanese how natural and cultured pearls are produced, how the pearls are graded, polished and strung on necklaces or set in jewelry. There is also an exhibition room of pearl jewelry including antique pieces, elaborate crowns and even Himeji Castle constructed from pearls.

Cultured pearls at the Mikimoto Pearl Museum

The Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall is also a well-presented exhibition of the great man's life from his humble beginnings growing up in a Meiji-era noodle restaurant (which is authentically reproduced), to his discovery of the potential for pearls and marine products in general from a trip he undertook to Tokyo and Yokohama as a young man.

Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall

Through gradual trial and error Mikimoto eventually discovered a means of producing cultured pearls and in 1899 opened his first pearl shop in Ginza, Toyko. Mikimoto's pearl jewelry business was one of the first Japanese companies to become an international brand and he opened stores first in London (1913), and later in Paris, New York, San Francisco and other US cities as well as Bombay and Shanghai.
Mikimoto bought the patent of a rival Japanese system of producing cultured pearls - the Mise-Nishikawa method - and thus secured a virtual world monopoly of the cultured pearl business.

Examples of Mikimoto's writings and his collection of Ebisu statues (Ebisu is the guardian deity of fishermen and had a special place in Mikimoto's heart) are also on display.

On the hour is a performance by female divers - ama (海女), who traditionally dived to bring up shellfish, seaweed, natural pearls and oysters and then returned the oysters to the seabed after they had been "seeded".

Mikimoto Pearl Museum

Though men also work as divers, women were traditionally favored as they could withstand the cold of the sea better due to a greater percentage of body fat than males. Wearing a white suit and a mask, three ama dive from a boat to show off their skills in collecting shellfish from the deep. Working ama don't wear the white suit nowadays, but instead favor brightly colored orange tops (so boats can see them) and thermal tights.

Once a popular side business for women in the countryside, diving by ama is gradually dying out in modern Japan and most of the ama divers are now in their 50s, 60s or even older. The glamorous ama featured in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice would be a rare sight indeed.

Mikimoto Pearl Island
1-7-1 Toba,
Mie Prefecture
Tel: 0599 25 2028
Admission 1,500 yen


Toba is easily reached by Kintetsu Railway from Osaka (approx 2 hours), Kyoto (approx 2 hours) and Nagoya (1 hour 40 mins). A JR or Kintetsu train takes about 20 minutes between Ise and Toba.

There is a ferry across Ise Bay to Chubu International Airport (100 mins) near Tokoname on the Chita Peninsula with train connections to Nagoya and also a crossing to Irako on the Atsumi Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture (55 mins).

See the Isewan Ferry Company for more details (Tel: 0599 26 3335).
Buses cross the scenic Ise-Shima Skyline road between Ise and Toba.
Toba JR Station Tel: 0599 25 2066
Toba Kintetsu Station Tel: 0599 25 2126
Toba Tourist Office Tel: 0599 25 2844
Kintetsu Taxi Tel: 0599 25 2538

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shikanoshima Fukuoka


Though Japan’s eighth-largest city—only a tiny bit smaller than KyotoFukuoka is still in many ways much more laid back than other Japanese cities its size. Part of that no doubt is because of nearby beaches.

Fukuoka ferryThe most accessible of these beaches can be found at Shikanoshima.

Shikanoshima is an island that is connected to and now legally incorporated as part of Fukuoka City. On a causeway, it is no more than 20-25 minutes by car from downtown to the island.

Another option is to take the local ferry (pictured at right). An express goes directly to Shikanoshima; a local stops at Saitozaki and one other small port. The boat is as smooth as can be. Even in rough winds, we moved comfortably through the water.

It is also possible to take the train to Saitozaki, and then ride a local bus.

The island is interesting not just because it is so rural and has beautiful beaches but also because of its history.

The Gold Seal of the "Kan no Wa no Na no Kokuo” (King of Japan, Chinese colony) was found in Kananosaki on Shikanoshima in 1784. The seal is made of gold but is no larger than a thumb. Today there is a small park with a plaque--see below--that marks the spot where the farmer Jinbei found the seal.

It was originally sent as a gift to the Japanese emperor in 57 AD. The Kobu Emperor of Go-kan, a country in ancient China, gave the seal to an envoy from Japan.

Kan no Wa no Na no KokuoIt was finally donated in 1978 to the city of Fukuoka, and is now on display in the The Museum of Fukuoka.

The next major historical event also involved visitors from continental Asia. In 1279, Mongolian invaders led by Kublai Khan landed on Shikonoshima. They demanded a “tribute”—protection money, essentially—from the Japanese shogun. The shogun refused, and a slaughter of the islanders ensued. Thanks to Japanese guerilla attacks the Mongols were repelled. They returned later, only to be kept at bay by the legendary kamikaze winds.

In other military history, an American air base, Camp Hakata, was located on the other side of the causeway until its closure in 1972.


Ferry: Get on at Hakata Port at Bayside Place. The ride takes 20 minutes.
Train: Ride to Saitozaki, then take a local bus across the causeway.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Shinjuku Gyoen blossom


Cherry blossom viewing, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo. This Saturday I spent the morning and part of the afternoon in Shinjuku Gyoen, one of Tokyo’s most (rightly) famous parks.

By 11.30 the grounds were flooded with mainly couples and groups lounged on (usually) lurid tarpaulins on the lawns of the park amongst the blossom that since last week has been out in full bloom.

Blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo. Next to the blossom, the most conspicuous things that come out are the cameras.

For every person kicking back with a beer (and, in spite of the ‘No alcohol in the park’ sign at the gate, its everywhere!) there’s one tending to a great black lensed and tripoded piece of paraphernalia, often in such a way that the supposed focus of the activity, the appreciation of the short-lived spectacle of the blossom, seems almost sidelined.

Spring foliage, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo. Changeable as the spring weather is, the occasional cloudiness was more than made up for by long spells of brilliant sunshine – that I happened to fall asleep under and burn my face.

This is the last weekend of the all-too-brief glory of the blossom trees for this year.

Enjoy these brief samples of the gardens’ massive spring panoply.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tsurumai Park


Hanami is great...until it starts raining.

A sudden and constant downpour dampened the spirits of thousands of cherry blossom revelers at Tsurumai Park at the weekend.

Tsurumai Park, Nagoya

Tsurumai Park is the most lively spot in Nagoya for cherry-blossom viewing and the boisterous, drunken atmosphere is similar to Maruyama Park in Kyoto.

All human life is here: students, salarymen, street sellers, musicians, office ladies, hookers, gangsters, gay cruisers, bosozoku, karaoke crooners, homeless, police officers, performers, foreigners and of course, lots of drunks.

During the cherry-blossom season partying goes on pretty much 24/7, with some people camping out overnight to be sure to bag a spot to place their blue tarpaulin.
The rain, though, does drive away all except the very hard core or very drunk.

Tsurumai subway station (Exit 4) on the Tsurumai subway line or Tsurumai JR Chuo Line Station.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Japan This Week 4/08/07


Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye opposes US resolution calling on Japan to officially apologize over the comfort women issue.

The Daily Yomiuri

Japanese historian continues to insist on proof of direct military involvement in managing wartime brothels.

New York Times

Japanese naval officers swapping porn online leak defense secrets.

China Daily

Goku-atsu extra thick condom providing help for premature ejaculation sufferers.


TV cameras show murdered English woman spent final hours with suspect.


Daisuke Matsuzaka "Dice-K" is impressive in debut.

Japan Times

Film Review: Sakuran.

Midnight Eye

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Fukuoka Asian Art Museum


Located closer to Busan than Tokyo, Fukuoka has long had stronger ties with the Asian continent than other parts of Japan. From Korean potters—often forcibly brought to Japan—and Chinese leaders in the past to Korean and Chinese tourists today, Asian influence has been and remains very palpable in Kyushu’s largest city.

fukuoka-faamOne example is the The Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM). It bills itself as “the only museum in the world that systematically collects and exhibits Asian modern and contemporary art. The works in the collection of the museum are not imitation of Western art or repetitions of traditional works.” And it more than lives up to this billing.

The Museum is located in the center of town on the 7th and 8th floors of the Riverain building. It is three-minute walk from Nakasu-Kawabata Station or a 15-minute walk from Canal City.

On the day we visited, an exhibit entitled “Asia in Love” was in its final days.

Among the paintings and works, those by Chinese were the most impressive. A giant work in oil of a family resting on a mountain side on the way to a funeral, a coffin with ropes for carrying off to the side, was stunning. Works by Indian painters brought to mind Bollywood in their use of color and energy.

FAAM is not just fine arts though; it also exhibits crafts. In the lobby were wonderful rattan chairs from the Philippines; in a separate exhibit were furoshiki (cloth made for wrapping and carrying items) from South Korea.

A café in the lobby looks out onto the city. On the same floor is a book store/gift shop that is worth spending time in.

Perhaps the only complaint was the dearth of English-language explanation.


A three-minute walk from Nakasu-Kawabata subway station. Kawabata-machi bus stop. The Hotel Okura and Hakata-za Theater are both next door.

7 & 8th floor, Riverain Center Building
3-1 Shimokawabata-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City

Tel: 092 263 1100
Fax: 092 263 1105

Opening hours: 10:00-20:00
Closed on Wednesdays (or the following day if Wednesday is a national holiday). Also closed for the New Years holiday (26 Dec - 1 Jan).

Adults: 200 yen; High School Students 150 yen; otherwise free.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Friday, April 06, 2007

Yufuin no Mori


The Hakata to Beppu Yufuin-no-Mori Express is a fun ride for luxury train enthusiasts.

Yufuin no mori Express at Yufuin Station

The distinctive green JR train has natural, wooden interiors, a good on-board food menu and is a leisurely way to enjoy the countryside of Kyushu, admiring the passing scenery from the high-positioned seats.

The train, which has a top speed of 120kph, travels from Hakata (Fukuoka) to Beppu in 3 hours and 15 minutes via Futsukaichi, Tosu, Kurume, Hita, Amagase, Bungomori, Yufuin and Oita.

Japanese Art - byobu screens


Japan Yufuin Yufuin-no-mori Japan trains Kyushu

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Beppu Onsen


Beppu, on the north east coast of Kyushu, has literally thousands of onsen. Every day 100,000 kl of hot water boils up to the surface from over 3700 openings around the town.


Your hotel or ryokan in Beppu will almost definitely have its own hot spring bath but its worth exploring a few other hot spa options as well. All the public baths in Beppu are all in effect onsen and its possible to relax in a traditional bath house for as little as 100 yen.

One of Beppu's most famous bath houses is the wooden Takegawara Onsen (Tel: 0977 23 1587) located in the town's small red light district.

Takegawara Onsen

The original bath was built in 1879 and the present structure dates from 1938. Takegawara spa has both an onsen (100 yen) and a sand bath (1000 yen), where you can be covered in hot sand and bake for a while. The onsen is open from 6.30am-10.30pm daily and the sandbath opens from 8.30am-10.30pm (the sandbath is closed on the 3rd Wednesday of every month). The water is pretty hot in here.

Just down from Beppu Station is the appropriately named Ekimae Koto Onsen (13-14 Ekimae-machi, Tel: 0977 21 0541). This place dates from 1938 and includes rooms above the bath houses, a private room costs 2,500 yen a night and the dormitory 1,500. A two hour rest is 600 yen.

Ekimae onsen, Beppu

Admission is 300 yen for just the baths which includes a towel, a bucket and bar of soap. The two small baths are situated down a flight of steps in a cellar-like room and the place has a real local atmosphere.

Another place with bags of local flavor is Kaimonji Onsen, which has definitely seen better days but is an atmospheric bath house. Kaimonji Onsen is just off Ekimaedori next to Kaimonji Park. Again the changing rooms are upstairs from the baths below.

Kaimonji Onsen, Beppu

North east of the center of town near one of the Jigoku areas is a particular favorite -- Shibaseki Onsen (Tel: 0977 67 4100). The waters of the area have been known for centuries and Shibaseki Onsen, reached by bus number #16, has a lovely rotemburo (outside bath) in a small garden. There is also a pine sauna, which was closed for repairs the last time I visited. Admission is 210 yen.

Shibaseki Onsen

Beppu Tourist Office
12-13 Ekimaemachi
Tel: 0977 23 1119

Japanese Toys - taketombo

More information on Beppu onsen

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yanagawa City Fukuoka


Yanagawa CanalYanagawa is a hidden gem. Approaching either via train or car, you are presented with a typically dreary rural Japanese town: a mishmash of architectural styles that do not seem to have any connection to their surroundings; telephone poles and wires sprouting everywhere; gasoline stations, pachinko parlors, karaoke bars, and low end "snacks" (smoky hole-in-the-wall bars run by an often long-in-the-tooth mama-san) clogging the main streets; and then more and more of the above. To discover the town's beauty, however, all you have to do is look down.

Yanagawa has hundreds of kilometers of canals, and this is what draws in the crowds. The town was originally a farming village, and the canals were built hundreds of years ago for irrigation. They have since been restored and today are plied by donkobune--low flat boats powered by a man with a pole--that take tourists on short cruises.

Ornaments in Yanagawa, JapanAmong the highlights on the trip were Yoko Ono's great-grandfather's ancestral home, the many cherry trees in bloom, and a small snake that stared back at us from under a bridge as the boat slid by. The wind was strong and intermittent squalls of rain poured down (thankfully the boat was stocked with plastic raincoats), but our elderly boatman smiled and told stories throughout. At the end, he broke into a plaintive song, which elicited great applause.

Also of interest is the Ohana Seiyokan (pictured below right), the villa of the Tachibana family, which ruled Yanagawa from roughly 1600 - 1868. The building was completed at the beginning of the 20th century and is a massive pile intended to impress. Directly behind it is a Japanese structure that looks out onto a koi pond.

We were lucky to visit after Hinamatsuri--Girls' Festival--and many dolls and hanging ornaments were on display.

Yanagawa is also known for its river eel. Fried and laid on a bed of rice, it is wonderful. The tourist section of the city is enveloped by the smell of fried eel.

Seiyokan, Yanagawa FukuokaFollowing a lunch of said eel, we headed for our final destination: Hakushu. This is the former home of native poet Hakushu Kitahara; the building is now a museum that contains his works. It is built in the local style with cross-hatched white and black plaster walls (see below).


From Fukuoka City, take the Nishitetsu train from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station to Yanagawa Station. The ride takes 46 minutes.

By car from Fukuoka International Airport, take the Kyushu Expressway to the Yamei exit. From here follow the signs to Yanagawa. About 80 minutes.

Yanagawa FukuokaDetails

The Kawakudari boat rides cost 1,500 for adults, 800 for elementary school age children. The ride lasts 70 minutes, though a 30-minute course is also available.

Yanagawa Tourist Authority: TEL: 0944-73-2145

Japanese Art - byobu screens

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