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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival


Listen to the sounds of Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival

The 500-year-old Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival takes place annually on the 4th Saturday and Sunday in July in Tsushima just outside Nagoya.

Tsushima Festival, makiwarabune

On the Saturday evening five wood and straw boats decorated with hundreds of paper lanterns float on the Tenno river setting the water glittering with reflected light.

There are firework displays, flute music and taiko drumming to entertain the thousands of people who attend the festival, many wearing colorful yukata.

Fireworks at Tsushima Festival

On the Sunday a similar procession of boats takes place on the river, this time with life-size dolls riding on top of the boats.

Visitors can pay 2,000 yen for a water-side seat on tatami mats or chairs or just find a free spot on the river bank and picnic down for the evening.

Tsushima also hosts a smaller autumn festival on the first Saturday and Sunday of October.

Access: Tsushima Shrine and the Tenno River Park are a 15-minute walk from Tsushima station on the Meitetsu Tsushima line from Nagoya Station. There are also Meitetsu buses from Nagoya.

Tsushima Tourism site (in Japanese)

Monday, July 30, 2007

LDP Lose Upper House Election


Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's main opposition party Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), celebrated victory over Shinzo Abe and the LDP in the Upper House elections held yesterday.

Election Results from the Chunichi Shinbun

The ruling LDP won only 37 seats out of the 121 being contested as opposed to the opposition DJP's 60 seats. This was a huge loss for Abe and his party and meant the opposition DJP assumed control of the Upper House for the first time ever.

Abe took responsibility for the defeat but has refused to step down as Prime Minister, determined to push through his conservative agenda of changing the constitution and encouraging patriotism in schools.

Ozawa vs Abe

Opposition control of the second chamber House of Councillors will make the government's attempts to legislate extremely difficult, however, and could lead to political gridlock, despite the fact that the LDP has a huge majority in the more important Lower House or House of Representatives, courtesy of ex-premier Junichiro Koizumi's landslide win in the 2005 general election.

Voter turnout was low, with less than 50% of eligible voters going to the polls.
Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet next month in an effort to increase sagging public confidence in his party and his premiership.

Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Japan This Week 7/29/07


House of Councillors election to be held today.


PM Abe in free fall.


The rearming of Japan.

NY Times

Earthquake ruins tourist season for Niigata.

Herald Asahi

Yokohama cross-dressing festival.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japan's quake-prone atomic plant prompts concern.

NY Times

Japan Stats

In 1945 domestic rice accounted for 50% of Japan's daily calorie intake. The figure is now less than 22%.
Genetically modified (GM) food material is labelled as such if it equals or exceeds 5% of a food product.

Last Week's Japan News

Sexy Japanese girls' weird boyfriends


The comedian Akashiya Sanma is a very venerable item of comic furniture on Japanese TV. The loud-mouthed hoarse-voiced Wakayama-born, Nara-raised, Osaka-school comedian plays up the essential no-bullshit business man in cheap suit and tie, everything shouted, and all in robust defense of "common sense."

Watch him in action on his program Koi no Kara Sawagi (Much Ado About Love) where he talks to Japanese girls about their boyfriends.

The divide between the sexes is generally a much deeper one in Japan than in the West. See the two sexes battle it out here - Sanma often playing the beleagured male.

These sexily done out girls - all in self-conscious 'tart' fashion - share in their own unique ways their equally unique experiences with boys. Watch and listen to what they say on this YouTube podcast from JapanVisitor - subtitled in English. Be surprised!

Thursday, July 26, 2007



Naoshima is a very small island in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, part of Kagawa Prefecture and only 7.8 square kilometers in size and a population less than 4,000 people.

Le Banc by Niki de Sant Phalle, Naoshima Island

Since 1989 the island has developed a series of art spaces in a natural setting - the Benesse Art Site Naoshima.

Pumpkin on Naoshima Island by Yayoi Kusama

Artists and architects including Tadao Ando, James Turrell and Cai Guo-Qiang have contributed to Naosima's unique environment.


Ferry to the Honshu port of Uno. Two ferry services run from Uno, making multiple trips each day. Both charge 560 yen for a one-way journey. One boat is a car ferry that takes twenty minutes; the other boat is for foot passengers only and takes ten minutes.

The closest express stop to Naoshima on the Japan Railway line is Okayama Station. There are local trains and buses between Uno and Okayama (30km away).

Images © Alan Wiren

Naoshima guide

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: Out


Out, by Natsuo Kirino

You may want to avoid eating before or while reading this thriller. Aside from that caveat, the only other recommendation is to set aside two days because you will not be able to put "Out" down. It draws in the reader with its letter-perfect character descriptions and tightly-constructed plot. Kirino's novel was originally published in Japanese under the same title in 1997. It was a cause celebre selling 300,000 copies and won Japan's top mystery award in 1998. Prior to that, Kirino won the Naoki Prize with "Yawarakana Hoho" (Tender Cheeks).

This hard-boiled novel examines the interrelationships between four women factory workers, who are drawn into covering up the murder one of them commits. This leads to more intrigue and, ultimately, the central premise of the novel: what would you do in similar circumstances? Would you reject a friend's entreaty? If yes, why and how? If no, could you take part in the horror--and then go back to your previous life?

The main character is the brilliant but ordinary-seeming Masako Katori, who works the night shift in a factory. When a co-worker murders her husband, Katori steps forward and enlists the help of two other women in covering up the crime. Katori lives with and takes care of her sexless and depressed husband and her sullen teenage son who no longer speaks to her.

To pigeonhole "Out" as a detective novel does no justice to it. For those who have lived in Japan for many years--or for those who only have the vaguest idea of Japan--this is stunning portrayal of the anomie of modern Tokyo. The portrayals of a Brazilian immigrant, a Yakuza nightclub owner, a Chinese hostess, the working class police detectives, and of course the women themselves are spot-on. Brilliant.

Out: Buy this book from Amazon

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Ichiro Ozawa


Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's main opposition party Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has a real chance of guiding his party to victory over Shinzo Abe and the LDP in the upcoming elections for the House of Councillors on July 29.

Ichiro Ozawa election posterIndeeed, the wily 65-year-old Ozawa has staked his political future on the outcome - promising to retire from public life if his party fail to take an overall majority. This claim should be taken with some skepticism.

Throughout his long and controversial political career as a central player in the perplexing world of Japanese politics over the last four decades, Ozawa has consistently changed tack when events have pushed the Keio University educated, Iwate native into a tight corner.

Ozawa entered politics in the late 1960s, was elected to the Diet in 1969, becoming a member of the powerful Kakuei Tanaka faction.

Ozawa has twice held key offices in LDP governments, first in 1985 as Home Affairs Minister under Yasuhiro Nakasone and in 1989 as LDP Secretary General.

During fall-out from the Sagawa Kyubin/Shin Kanemaru corruption scandal, Ozawa jumped ship from the LDP, where he had made many enemies during his heady rise, to form the Japan Renewal Party in 1992 along with long-time ally Tsutomu Hata.

This alliance lead to the end of LDP rule for the first time in 38 years with the short-lived administration of Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993, while Ozawa and Hata pulled the strings in the background in true kuromaki style.

The Ozawa and Hata coalition collapsed in 1994 as the Socialists left the alliance to join the LDP in a new grouping, which assumed power under the premiership of Tomiichi Murayama. Ozawa's insistence that Japan take a more active role in foreign affairs, 'normalize' its military and his statements in favor of Japan producing nuclear weapons did much to alienate his erstwhile Socialist partners.

Ozawa moved again, joining the New Frontier Party and becoming its leader after a bitter leadership battle with Hata. This party in turn dissolved and Ozawa formed the Liberal Party and joined the LDP in a new coalition in the late 1990s.

Ozawa's most recent metamorphosis is as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan from 2003, where he has joined forces once more with Tsutomu Hata. Ozawa was forced to step down as leader in 2004, when he was caught up (along with a number of Japan's political elite) in the ongoing Pension Scandal. Duly re-elected in April this year, Ozawa stands on the brink of his latest political triumph.

The election poster slogan reads: "A middle-aged man on the move." Oyaji (オヤジ) is slang for a middle-aged man.

Ozawa quotes

On nuclear weapons
"It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads. We have
plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make
several thousand such warheads." (April 2007)

On the July elections
"This is the last chance to put a brake on the politics that have ignored the everyday lives of our citizens." (July 2007)

Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Japan This Week 7/22/07


Nuclear power and Japan: on shaky ground after the recent earthquake.


Domo-kun storms American malls.

NY Times

LDP in trouble ahead of election.

Herald Asahi

ED rampant in Japan.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japan Learns Dreaded Task of Jury Duty.

NY Times

Japan Stats

Nagoya-based Toyota Motor Corp has overtaken General Motors as the world's largest car seller for the January-June 2007 period. Toyota sold 4,716,000 units compared with GM's 4,674,000 units.

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tokyo Sea Life Park


Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokukan) is a massive aquarium in the south east of Tokyo notable for its doughnut shaped main tank featuring blue fin tuna that encircles the whole main complex. It is family-orientated, which is reflected in its very reasonable entry fees.

Tokyo Sea Life Park presents a huge variety of global sealife in natural settings. However the superstars of the show are tuna – blue fin tuna – which for most people probably conjure up nothing more dramatic than tin cans on supermarket shelves. But far from it. These fish are majestic, silver, perfectly streamlined machines on a mission.

They swim with powerful, effortless sways of the tail, each completely self-contained, uncurious about any other, but in an eerie unison, round and round – and fast! The blue fin tuna is a big fish with lines that evolution has honed to efficient perfection. They are impossible to simply glance at in passing. (You will be hooked.)

Besides the giant doughnut tank, the rest of the aquarium comprises scores of different shapes and sizes of tanks from “living room size” for tiny seahorses and other marine minutiae up to tanks big and comfortable enough for sharks.

Sea life is represented from all over the globe: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, and the polar oceans – as well as fish that migrate across and between oceans, like tuna, hammerheads and rays.

There are also exhibits based on microenvironment, such as the deep sea, the shore line (feel free to touch), kelp forests, around Tokyo, and fresh water. Even water birds are represented (including puffins).

Having said that the blue fin tuna are the stars of the show, they get serious competition from the penguins in their outside pool, especially at feeding time.

Has gift shop and restaurant.

Nearby is a bird sanctuary (10 mins walk away), a large open grassy park with a beach alongside the Sumida River and a pier for the tour boats that ply it, a small Japanese garden, and a huge ferris wheel.

Open 9.30am. to 5.00pm (tickets available until 4.00pm) Closed Wednesday (closed Thursday if Wednesday a public holiday).

700 yen for ages 16-64, 350 yen for age 65+, 250 for ages 13-15, free for age 14 and under.

Closed December 29 through January 1.

Free admission for the disabled, and one assistant per disabled person.
Free admission May 4 (Green Day), October 1 (Tokyo Citizens' Day), and October 10 (the aquarium’s anniversary).

Address: Tokyo Sea Life Park, 6-2-3, Rinkai-cho, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo 134-8587, Japan
Phone: 03-3869-5152

by Train
1. 5 mins walk from JR Kasai Rinkai Koen Station on the Keiyo Line, about 15 mins from JR Tokyo station.
2. Subway Tozai line. Get off at Kasai station or Nishi-Kasai station, and take a bus to Kasai Rinkai Koen Station.

by Boat
1. The Tokyo Mizube Line (tel. no. 03-5608-8869), which plies the Arakawa and Sumida Rivers 2. Marine Bus (tel. no. 03-3457-7830) from Hinode Pier.

by Car
Wangan Expressway, exit at the Kasai ramp, follow the signs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Aonami Line & Nagoya Port


Ise Wangan Expressway Bridge

After exploring the pleasant Nakasendo post towns of Akechi, Iwamura, Ogaki and Mitake recently, it was time for the contrast of some Nagoya urban grit.

Aonami Line TrainThe over ground Aonami Line from Nagoya Station leads down to the sea and the artificial islands that make up Nagoya's vast port.

The area around Kinjo Futo and Noseki Stations on the Aonami Line is one of huge public housing complexes, warehouses and the soaring bridges of the Ise Wan Gan Expressway.

The Taiheiyo Ferry terminal for boats to Sendai is near Noseki Station and the Port Messe Nagoya Exhibition Hall is a short walk from Kinjo Futo Station. (Watch out for the dinosaur exhibition coming there soon July 20 - September 2).

More surprising was a huge Italianesque Wedding Chapel near the sea with the attendant foreign cameraman waiting to video the bride and groom as they emerged from the church.

Who would want to get married in a container port with a view of 1000s of cars lined up on the quayside waiting to be shipped overseas? Still the land is obviously cheap enough here to build such a huge faux church and all the soccer pitches located down here.

Italian style Wedding ChapelThere were a surprising number of people about on a day with such strong winds from the recent typhoon: guys playing futsal, marching bands strutting their stuff and trumpeters practicing in the parks as their music sheets fluttered in the wind.

There is an equally surprising amount of wildlife here too - plenty of people fishing in the murky green water and the bird watching center in Inaei Park near Noseki Station is a good place to view the many wild birds still living in Nagoya Bay.


Aonami Line from Nagoya Station or infrequent buses to the Taiheiyo Ferry terminal and Noseki Station.

Aonami Line Map

Book a hotel in Nagoya with Booking.com

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Yoiyama Festival 2007 Kyoto


yoiyama gion kyotoThe rain came down in squalls from about 3 in the afternoon of the 16th. An evening of drinking and wandering the streets of downtown Kyoto in a yukata was not looking promising. Nevertheless, we set out for Karasuma Dori, where the stalls would be set up and the crowd not life-threatening.

The subway was filled with people in yukata on their way to the festival. When we got to Karasuma-Oike and came up out of the exit, the rains had stopped and the streets were being closed off to cars by the police.

On several nights before Gion Matsuri (festival), July 17th, Kyoto closes off most of its downtown to traffic. Colorful street stalls are set up where vendors sell squid on a stick, hotdogs, yakitori, warm beer, iced drinks, and lots and lots of games for children.

Thanks to the rain it was cooler than normal, and the humidity was lower than in the previous days. Most women come in yukata, the colorful summer kimono pictured above. Men wear either a less flashy yukata or a jimbei, which consists of cotton shorts and a top that are like pajamas.

The main drags--Karasuma, Kawaramachi, and Shijo--are closed to traffic and packed with people. There are cops on patrol, and most of their work seems to be guiding parents to the "maigo senta" (lost children center) at Shijo-Karasuma.

yoiyama gion kyotoFarther in, on the side streets off of Karasuma Dori (street), merchants and families open up their machiya townhouses and display their heirlooms: byobu screens, fans, and more. This area is also where the floats, the enormous Yamaboko, that are the feature attraction of Gion Festival, are parked prior to the festival on the 17th. They are wooden floats with paper lanterns atop them.

The crowd at the three "Yoiyamas"--Yoiyama (the night of the 16th), Yoiyoiyama (the night of the 15th), and Yoiyoiyoiyama (the night of the 14th)--tends to be young, but all ages show up in their yukata. Families, older people, tourists--foreign and Japanese--show up to stroll, eat, and stare.

Yoiyama Gion KyotoAt just past 7, the rains started up again. At that point, families with children left the festival to the young and drunk.

Yoiyama 2006

Yoiyama 2005



Ogaki, a small historic castle town not far from Gifu and within easy reach of Nagoya, is best known nowadays for its connections with wandering Edo-period haiku master, Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉) and for its delicious-tasting water.

Statue of Basho, Ogaki, Gifu

Ogaki was the final destination in 1689 of Basho's epic journey to the northeast of Japan related in "Oku no Hosomichi". A Haiku Journey: Basho's Narrow Road to a Far Province (Illustrated Japanese Classics)

References to the poet are everywhere: in the names of restaurants and shops, as well as Basho statues, museums and the town's Basho Festival in November.

Boat on the Suimon River

On completion of his trek around the north of Japan, Basho took a river boat from Ogaki south to Kuwana and then on to his birthplace - the ninja town of Iga. Back in the Edo-period Ogaki was a strategic town on the east-west Nakasendo route between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) and the Suimon River was navigable, making Ogaki a major river port at the time.

Ogaki stone marker dating from 1822 - the stone reads Left - Tokyo; Right - Kyoto

Ogaki's role as an important crossroads is underscored by its nearness to the pivotal battlefield of Sekigahara. In 1600 Ieyasu Tokugawa comprehensively defeated his rivals the Toyotomi clan at Sekigahara. The forces loyal to the Toyotomis were lead by Ishida Mitsunari who had his main fortress in Ogaki.

Apart from some stone walls, there is not much left of the original castle, which was beseiged by Tokugawa after the battle of Sekigahara and destroyed in World War II. The small keep is a modern reconstruction and houses a history museum.

There's a larger local history museum (Kyodokan - Tel: 0584 75 1231) at the back of the Castle Park. Walking south from the castle brings you to a small Basho Museum near the Shiki no hiroba plaza - a pleasant canalized area on the Suimon River.

Ogaki Castle, Gifu

A short walk south of here is a Tourist Information Center (Tel: 0584 77 1535) - there's another at Ogaki Station, Basho's statue and a reconstructed wooden lighthouse.

Ogaki has a pleasant, laid-back charm and is well-worth a visit if only to sample some of its famed bean paste or persimmon sweets.


Ogaki is around 30 minutes on the JR Tokaido Line via Gifu by rapid train from Nagoya Station. Ogaki also connects to Kuwana and Yoro Park by the Kintetsu Yoro branch line. If you are driving from Nagoya on the Meishin highway exit at Ogaki Interchange.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, July 16, 2007

Vodou: Tokyo Summer Festival


Thanks to the sponsorship of the Tokyo Summer Festival, organized by the Arion-Edo Foundation, I was able to attend a performance on Saturday of Haiti’s folk religion, Vodou. It took place in Sogetsu Hall in Tokyo’s Aoyama district, at 2pm.

Vodou is a melding of the Christianity of Haiti’s slavemasters, the French, and the animist religions of the slaves brought over from West Africa. Unfortunately, in its Westernized spelling of ‘voodoo,’ the religion has been so thoroughly stigmatized and stereotyped as something scary and evil, that the only way to break those misconceptions is to see it for yourself.

I had no idea of what to expect. The stage was dominated by a leafless tree that rose up to the ceiling, around which was twined a massive green snake. To the left of the tree was an altar dominated by a crucifix topped by a hat-wearing skull. Flanking the tree were two religious banners, and to the right of the tree was a collection of drums.

The performance itself was less a ‘performance’ of the sort you sat down and took in and more, As MC and lead pecussionist Frisner Augustine soon made clear, ‘a party’, a celebration that the audience was expected to share in. And share in it did! To the incredibly sophisticated rhythms being beaten out by the four percussionists (led by the MC), the audience was asked to keep up a simple clapped rhythm – one that had to be continually reprompted when the drumming got too syncopated to readily follow.

The dancing was the main spectacle. Three women and a man displayed the ritualized dancing, going through several changes of costume and performing a number of ceremonial rites.

How staged or genuine it was I do not know, but every now and then one would succumb to the inrush of the spirits and stumble, convulse, make cries and writhe, while the others tended to him or her – and the beat went on. The climax was an extended session of spirit possession by one of the women, whom the others seated, and, yelping and rolling her eyes, she administered a healing ritual to members of the audience who lined up for her to run her hands over their head and faces.

The colors were vivid, the drumming, bewildering in its complexity, was mesmerizing.

Being able to see vodou for what it is: a party, a celebration, dance, worship, love, was a privilege that not many get to enjoy, and the willingness of the team to come from as far away as they did and bare their spirit as gorgeously as they did is what had the crowd at times literally on its feet.

(Photographs by Shinji Takehara, courtesy of Arion-Edo Foundation.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Japan This Week 7/15/07


Ministry of Education whitewashing wartime history and suffering of


Tojo's granddaughter running for national office.

Herald Asahi

Japanese conservatives want US Congress sex slave apology resolution dropped.

Japan Times

Tokyo man arrested for throwing water bombs at neighbor.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japanese look for new meaning from kamikaze sacrifice.


Just like sturgis, but serving sushi with the corn dogs.

NY Times

Feel free to shout at the visitors from Japan.

NY Times

Rubik's Cube sex - imagine it.

Mainichi Shinbun

Ichiro Suzuki resigns for MLB's Seattle Mariners for 90m USD.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japan Stats

The prosecution rate for serious crimes in Japan including murder and rape has fallen from 90.5% in 1995 to 59.4% in 2006 according to the Japan Times.

The recent upping of the reward money to find Tatsuya Ichihashi, the number one suspect in the case of murdered English language teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker in Tokyo in March, is an indication of the desperation of the Japanese police who rarely persue criminal cases over 2 months if no suspects have been apprehended, according to a July 12 report in Shukan Shincho.

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Four Stories Osaka July 2007

Please join us for our last Summer '07 Japan event, in Osaka on July 29, "Living on the Edge: Tales of tempting fate, taking risks, and breaking boundaries," and see why the Japan Times reports that "Four Stories has helped make Osaka the new Kyoto"!

FEATURING prose readings from:

* Tom Bradley, author of seven novels, including Acting Alone (Browntrout Books, San Francisco), Fission Among the Fanatics (Spuyten Duyvil Books, NYC) and Lemur (Raw Dog Screaming Press); Essayist with pieces in Salon.com, Poets & Writers Magazine, and elsewhere.
* Daniel Davis, writer for Kansai Scene magazine
* Johannes Schonherr, author Trashfilm Roadshows: Off the Beaten Track With Subversive Movies (Headpress, 2002) and Permanent State of War: A Short History of North Korean Cinema, from the anthology Film Out of Bounds (McFarland, July 2007); and freelance writer living in Beppu, Kyushu
* Tracy Slater, Four Stories Boston and Four Stories Japan founder; teacher of writing and literature in Boston University's Prison Education Program; and author of essays and reviews from The Chronicle Review, Post Road, Kansai Time Out, Asahi Weekly, and more

Sunday, July 29, 2007

6-8:30pm (venue opens at 5; readings start @ 6)
Portugalia bar and grill
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka


Warmest regards,

Tracy Slater
Founder, Four Stories Boston & Four Stories Japan

Friday, July 13, 2007

House of Councillors Election


Campaigning for the House of Councillors Election to be held on July 29 began across Japan yesterday.

LDP Election Poster showing PM Shinzo Abe

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lead by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and its New Komeito Party allies are under increasing pressure from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and its partners lead by veteran schemer Ichiro Ozawa.

Government approval ratings have slumped to new lows since Abe took office in the autumn of 2006 - due largely to bureaucratic bungling by the now tainted Social Insurance Agency (SIA) which administered Japan's pension system and accusations of corruption against former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who committed suicide before the scandal broke and further suspicions of graft against his successor Norihiko Akagi.

The key issue in the election is the pension scandal in which the details of 50 million Japanese pension files have gone missing, meaning that 20 million people who spent their lives paying in to the scheme cannot now trace those payments.

Abe came to power promising to recast Japan as a "beautiful country" revamping the post-war constitution and Japan's education system in the process. A defeat in the upper house elections, however, would probably lead to the LDP heirarchy ditching Abe in favor of a more pragmatic figurehead.
The blurb on the poster next to the 'cool biz'-clad Abe reads:
"For Growth You Can Really Feel!"
"Seeing restructuring through - towards a beautiful country: the Liberal Democratic Party".

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2007



After an earlier, happy visit to Akechi and its preserved "Taisho Mura" on the train from Ena, I really wanted to return to that picturesque part of Gifu Prefecture at the earliest opportunity.

Iwamura, five stops from Ena on the historic 19th century Akechi Railway, looked the next most interesting place to explore further.

Iwamura street

Iwamura is an old castle town on the northern, mountain trade route from Kyoto to Tokyo, known as the Nakasendo 中仙道. In Gifu the Nakasendo highway passes through Ena, Iwamura, Mitake and on to Magome and Tsumago.

Iwamura is spread out east to west in front of you as you leave the station, with the impressive stone walls of the ruined Iwamura Castle a steep, forty-minute walk up through the quiet streets to the hill above.

Nearest to the station are reminders of Iwamura's old merchant quarter, which prospered in the Edo Period (1603-1868). As you continue uphill some of the buildings are original early 20th century Meiji Period shophouses -- a pharmacy, a sake brewery, a noodle restaurant, a rice shop -- which retain their original, wooden advertising hoardings from a time when the town grew rich again, following the opening of the Akechi Railway link to Ena and Nagoya and the beginnings of a silk industry and exports to the West.

View of Iwamura

Before the hike or drive up to the ruins of Iwamura Castle visit the air-conditioned History Museum, with its reconstructed Edo Period watchtower and views over the village. The museum has relocated some of its exhibits to the town below including a wooden, Meiji Period notice board (高札 kosatsu).

Iwamura lacks the crowds of the more popular Magome and Tsumago but is an interesting step back in time and an easy day-trip by train or car from Nagoya to the south west.


The quickest way to reach Ena city is by JR Central Liner train from Nagoya Station. Then walk out of the station and turn left. The tiny Akechi Tetsudo Station is next to Ena Tourist Office. The first train from Ena to Akechi and Iwamura is at 6.48am and the last at 21.44pm on weekdays, 20.54pm at the weekend or on public holidays.

If you are driving from Nagoya take route 363 from Seto or route 11 from Toyota. Ena city is very near Ena Interchange on the Chuo Expressway, which follows the old Nakasendo post road to Magome and Tsumago at this point.

Iwamura tourist office

Iwamura Tourist office (above) is housed in a Meiji-era building on your left as you walk along the main street.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, July 09, 2007

Politics of Nanjing

The Politics of Nanjing

The Politics of Nanjing: An Impartial Investigation

by Kitamura Minoru
translated by Hal Gold
University Press of America
ISBN 0-7618-3579-2
173 pp
More than 60 years after the fact, the events surrounding the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese Army in 1937 remain clouded in hyperbole and rhetoric. The continuing denial of the "massacre" by the Japanese government continues to fuel tensions between Japan and China, and so it was with some hope of discovering some new facts that I began to read Professor Kitamura's "impartial" investigation. By the second chapter however, it became blatantly clear that this book's claim to impartiality is invalid.
Kitamura has gone through an enormous amount of materials and records with a fine toothcomb and collected together many discrepancies and facts that support his thesis that the massacre is a masterpiece of Chinese propaganda. To further his agenda he fills in gaps in the historical record with opinions that have no basis in fact, and he ascribes meanings to people's actions that are unverifiable and often extremely tenuous. He presents evidence as a prosecutor, rather than as a judge and as the book progresses, any attempt to mask his bias is dropped so that by the end of the book we can read a simple explanation as to why the Chinese claim of 300,000 victims can be dismissed: "The Chinese are reputedly – and unquestionably – cultural exaggerators." One wonders what the good professor makes of the reputed – and unquestionable – inability of the Japanese government to admit to unpleasant truths.
He ends on the subject of "the emotions of memory", and it is worth quoting in full:
"from these ethnocentric emotions, people can easily be lead to a simple choosing of one conclusion concerning history. Then, Sun Gee continues, that if the Chinese continue clinging to this tendency, it makes it impossible for Chinese thinkers to face complicated international political relations, and they cannot participate effectively in living history."
This strikes me as the exact situation Japan finds itself in as regards its relations with its Asian neighbors.
However, if one reads the book with one's critical faculties fully operational, there is some interesting information unearthed by Kitamura. For instance there seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence linking the Australian journalist Timperley, who was instrumental in reporting on Nanjing to the world and whose reports were influential at the War Crimes Trials, with the Chinese propaganda Ministry, and an interesting section that suggests that some of the more bizarre atrocities claimed by the Chinese may have their roots in Chinese cultural taboos.

Reviewed by Jake Davies
Buy this book from Amazon
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Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Japan News 7 August 2007


Interview with documentary film director Kuzuhiro Soda.

Midnight Eye

LDP Defense Minister Kyuma resigns over remark on atomic bomb.


Torrential monsoon rains and flooding hit Kyushu.

Japan Times

Japanese hot dog eating champion dethroned in US eating contest.

New York Times

Couple in Akita kill woman's son for interrupting their car sex.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japanese police offer 1 million yen for information leading to the arrest of Tatsuya Ichihashi, the number one suspect in the case of murdered English language teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker in Tokyo in March.

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Japan Stats

Kyoto visitors in 2006: 48.39 million

Source: Kyoto Municipal Government

Kyoto city authorities estimated over 48 million people visited Kyoto in 2006. Up 2.4% or 1.12 million visitors from 2005, the sixth consecutive yearly rise in the number of tourists visiting Japan's ancient, cultural capital.

The huge number, more than double the total for London for example, is mostly made up of domestic Japanese tourists making short day trips or short stays of three days or less.
The number of foreign tourists was 803,000, also up 10% from the previous year and including an increasing number of Chinese visitors, as Kyoto's tourist associations seek to target the huge Chinese package holiday market on its doorstep.

Kyoto Guide in Chinese 日本城市导游京都

The statute of limitations in Japan for most major crimes including murder, rape and robbery is 25 years, extended from 15 years in 2005 - but only for crimes committed after the date the law changed. The statute of limitations expired on 37 criminal cases in Japan in 2004.

Japan adopted a statute of limitations for murder when the country formulated its current criminal law, based on Western European legal norms at the time, in the late-nineteenth century period of Meiji westernization. Thinking has subsequently changed in some European countries, prompting the Japanese government's 10-year extension of the law in 2005. In Germany, Britain and the US there is presently no statute of limitations for murder; in France it is 10 years after an investigation is closed.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tanabata Kyoto


tanabata-3Tanabata is the Japanese star festival, which takes place once a year on July 7th. It is the celebration of the "meeting" of two stars: Vega and Altair. Normally separated by the Milky Way, once a year these two lovers come together and meet on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

According to the Japanese folktale, Orihime (Vega), the weaving princess, worked so hard at making beautiful clothes for her father that she never had time to fall in love. Her father, the sky king Tenko, therefore arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Altair), who was a cow herder. It was love at first sight and marriage followed shortly thereafter.

After getting married, however, the besotted Orihime refused to weave, and Hikoboshi let his cows wander all over the Heavens. In fury, Tenko placed the two lovers on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River--the Milky Way--thus preventing them from meeting. Orihime beseeched her father, he relented, and the young lovers were allowed to cross and meet one day a year.

Today the festival is held nationwide. At schools and at home, children welcome this day by writing wishes on small pieces of paper, and then hanging them on bamboo. The largest of the festivals is in Sendai.

tanabata-1In the afternoon, I went over to Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to take in its small version of the festival. There were a few tourists, mainly Chinese-speaking, but for the most part it was local families with their children. Many wore yukata summer robes.

The children sang songs on a stage under a tent as their parents filmed the event or drank beer on the side.

A nearby "shotengai" (high street) had all of its shops decked out with the decorated bamboo. Even the local firehouse had a large piece of bamboo set up in front of its garage doors.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kyoto Graffiti


kyoto graffitiIn the sections of Kyoto that still have traditional walls lining the street, you will often find one of the most ancient and most modern forms of art: tagging.

On the eastern slope of the city, near Shisendo and Enkoji Temple, "Satoshi Kiyomizu" scrawled his name into the wall in front of a minor temple on the narrow road between the two aforementioned (and better known) temples.

His level of skill has nothing on modern bombers, who have tagged many of the walls of Tokyo and Osaka, some quite artistically. His technique perhaps has more in common with the scrawl to be found on the grates that protect stores in Nara.

Still, his work is somehow less objectionable. Whether he pulled out his penknife last week or in 1907, the end result is timeless. Perhaps I am being naive, but there is none of the anger and anti-social taint that is associated with spray-can wielding young men in hoodies.

"Satoshi" is merely asserting his own small existence; modern "writers" on the other hand are venting, thumbing their snotty noses at a society that disapproves of them.

The canvas "Satoshi" uses is ancient and enduring, a tiled roof and daubed mud wall; the canvases modern graffiti writers employ tend toward concrete underpasses and abandoned buildings, the sides of trains and street signs.

If the former had chosen to tag instead with a black spray-can paint on a ferro-concrete wall, what would the effect be?

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco: Blast Off


asian-art-musThe Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will host a manga (Japanese comics), anime (animation), and pop culture extravaganza for aficionados and amateurs alike on July 7th. The exhibit/happening is called Blast Off, and its lineup features:

* Opening ceremony with Gen Taiko, whose drumming will hurl you into space for art and adventure

* Cosplay contest - dress up as your favorite manga, anime, or game character to win prizes

* Manga and anime panel discussions led by experts Frederik Schodt and Gilles Poitras

* Art activities and demonstrations by local artists, illustrators, and cartoonists

* Guided tours of the galleries and special exhibition Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga

* The Manga Lounge - hands-on library, wild anime, toy display...

* Ramen and Rice, the costumed duo that plays string renditions of anime and video game music

* Multimedia performance by Live Action Cartoonists, inspired by Tezuka Osamu's The Story of a Big Forest


Saturday, July 7, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
FREE with museum admission // kids 12 and under always admitted free

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sex of soft sorts on Japanese TV


Sex of sorts on Japanese TV

Panel sales full of spurious demonstrations and ‘experiments’ of so-called wonder products form a very big part of Japanese TV.

Here is a slimming ‘documentary’ from nighttime TV just this weekend that follows the fortunes of three fat girls who – horror of horrors – could no longer fit their favorite pants and sought esthetic assistance.

This particular show – with its unsubtle pushes for a certain esthetic clinic and clothing brands – is not only aimed at the obvious audience represented by its participants: working class Japanese girls. It is also about sex, and is very clearly aimed at Japanese men who like fat girls.

In this 10 minute clip, big raucous Japanese girls put themselves at the mercy of thin precious estheticians, who subject them to quackish ‘therapies’ using retro sci-fi machinery, all to a background of tits and ass jokes, and sexist asides from the commentator.

See how the camera slavers over the mounds of jelly-like fat and try not to think about just who were no doubt gleefully taking it all in, late at night, all alone, with their 6 packs, crisps and boxes of ... well, no, let's leave that to someone else's imagination.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Kansai International Film Festival Osaka


kansai international film festivalThe first Kansai International Film Festival (KIFF) will take place this August in Osaka. On the weekend of the 24th-26th, a lineup of thirty-two “Japanese Films Made by Foreigners!” will be shown at Planet Station in Morinomiya.

The film categories include: Documentary, Culture-Clash, Experimental, The Dark Side, Wabi-Sabi ("Japanese" films), and more. The directors come from ten different countries, and will no doubt present a view of Japan quite different from that in the mainstream Japanese media.

Films will be shown on each day from 12 – 9 pm, and admission is free.

KIFF organizer Darryl Knickrehm will be one of the featured filmmakers. His work Rodosha will be shown twice. Other featured works include Reggie Life’s Doubles, Junko Kajino and Ed Koziarski’s Homesick Blues, Rachael Lucas’s Bondi Tsunami, and more.

Details can be found on the KIFF website:


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Place: Planet Station (map and address in Japanese) in Morinomiya, which is on the Kanjo Loop Line in Osaka

Dates: August 24, 25, 26 (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Time: 12-9 pm divided into 2 hour screenings

Categories: Documentary, Culture-Clash, Experimental, The Dark Side, Wabi-Sabi ("Japanese" films) and More

Screen: main screen = 140 seat theater

Admission: Free

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Japan News 01/07/07


Keio University law professor dismissed from exam committee for giving bar exam tips to students.

Daily Yomiuri

Lack of tuna is forcing sushi bars to serve up deer and horse—raw.

New York Times

Family of murdered teacher Lindsay Ann Hawker in Japan to urge police, citizens to help in finding on the lam killer Tatsuya Ichihashi.


Miss Universe coach takes Japanese candidates to the top.

Japan Times

“White Syndrome” destroying coral in Okinawa.

Asahi Herald Tribune

Sexaholics meet for group therapy.

Mainichi Shinbun

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