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Friday, August 31, 2007

Higashi Mikawa Furusato-en in Ko


Ko, a fairly non-descript town just before Toyohashi and about 35 minutes from Nagoya has nothing too much to recommend it. Located on the old Tokaido highway, now the modern National Highway Route 1, the town is a ribbon of development, convenience stores and supermarkets stretching out along the busy road in either direction from Meitetsu Ko Station.

Higashi Mikawa Furosato-en

Ko's one big attraction is the recently opened Higashi Mikawa Furusato-en (Tel: 0533 87 9301) a large nature park about 20-minutes walk from the station.

Crafts Center, Higashi Mikawa Furosato-en

There's a pleasant walking course through the forested park (though rather worrying "Beware of the Snakes" signs), large play areas with slides for the children, lakes, various good picnic areas, observation towers with views of Mikawa Bay and Toyokawa City and demonstrations of local bamboo crafts.

View of Mito-cho, Higashi Mikawa Furosato-en

Admission is free. There were few people there when we visited probably due to the intense 37-degree Centigrade summer weather. Still, we had the whole park to ourselves along with an extended Chinese family and a few couples and their children. We all ended up sheltering in the shade of a hill as the kids played on the excellent slides.

Take a Meitetsu Express train to Ko Station from Nagoya Station (35 mins) or from Toyohashi (15 mins). Turn right out of the station and follow the signs, the turning to the park is on your left over the river.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

World Championships Osaka 2007


Running from August 25 until September 2nd, the annual track and field world championships are now taking place in Osaka. Japan is playing host for the second time, the first being in Tokyo in 1991. This is the premier track and field event in the run up to next summer’s Beijing Olympic games.

osaka mascotConditions should be similar, too, which is one of many reasons the best have come to Osaka in late August. Because of the heat, events are being held in the early morning hours and then at night.

In early events, Tyson Gay took honors in the men’s 100 meter dash, coming from behind to defeat Asafa Powell and Derrick Atkins. In the women’s 100, 47-year-old wonder Merlene Ottey may finally have lost in her race against age itself. She is the most decorated athlete in world championship history. However, in spite of a poor showing in Osaka, she says that she still plans on training for and participating in the Olympics.

The home side has yet to win a medal. One of Japan’s showcase athletes, 35-year-old sprinter Nobuharu Asahara, ended his career with a 10.36 time in the 100 - which was not enough. Like Ottey, he too hopes to spend next August in China.

Another of Japan’s hopes hammer thrower Koji Murofushi also fell short, finishing sixth.

Other marquee athletes include American Jeremy Wariner, the world record holder in the men’s 400 meter dash; and Swede Carolina Kluft, who dominated the women’s heptathlon.

Events are being held at Nagai Stadium in south Osaka. Access is via Japan Railways Tsurugaoka Station or the Midosuji subway line. Thermoses are permitted, but glass, cans, plastic bottles, and pack containers are prohibited.

Photo © IAAF

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Memoriam: Edward Seidensticker

Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007)

Translator and author Edward Seidensticker died in Tokyo on Monday after a long illness. He was 86. He was best known for his translation of Lady Shikibu's classic tale of court intrigue, The Tale of Genji. He also translated works by Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata.

In addition, he also authored works of his own, including Tokyo Central: A Memoir.

Seidensticker studied Japanese while in the United States Navy, and he arrived in Japan in 1948 as a foreign service officer. Along with Donald Keene, he ranks as having done the most to introduce Japanese literature to the English-speaking world.

The Tale of Genji: Buy this book from Amazon

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Jingu Gaien Fireworks


Summer in Japan means the boom of the festival drum and the rat-a-tat of fireworks. One of Tokyo's biggest summer fireworks festivals is the Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival. This event began in 1980, and has been a major feature of summer in Tokyo ever since. This year’s was held a week and a half ago at the huge No.2 field of the Meiji Jingu Gaien Sports compound (just to the bottom right of Shinjuku Gyoen Park on the map) on August 16.

In the mid-summer heat – sweltering even after sundown – thousands and thousands of people massed to either get into the grounds for 1,000 yen, or sat around on the streets and in the parks surrounding the grounds.

For the 1,000 yen you were given entry, handed a blue plastic mat to sit on, a fan to help cool yourself with, and left to your own devices. The whole field was close to jam packed, but there were still enough tiny plots between groups of people just big enough to solitary me to squeeze into.

There was a stage with entertainment, modern and traditional, that kept the crowd happy until the first magnificent volley of sound and light at 7.30pm. The next hour was uninterrupted pyrotechnic fun as a total of 10,070 fireworks were let off. The variety of shapes, patterns, ways in which the fireworks ‘flowered’ (fireworks are actually called ‘fireflowers’ – hanabi - in Japanese) was amazing and kept the gargantuan audience gasping, oohing and aahing the whole way through.

Stalls around the edge of the grounds sold food and drink. Like almost any major gathering in Japan, even though alcohol is on sale, unruliness just doesn’t happen.

One thing I hadn’t counted on was getting absolutely filthy thanks to the very fireworks that were enchanting us so. The amount of soot and fragments of exploded paper that is rained down on the crowd has to be experienced to be believed! Not a spectacle to be visited in your Sunday best.

Watch a video clip of the Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Japan This Week 26/08/07


Japanese income inequality at its worst ever.


Cop who stalked then murdered woman kills self.

Japan Times

China Airlines plane explodes at Okinawa airport.


Right-winger chops off finger and posts it to PM Shinzo Abe.


Three aged prisoners on death row executed.


Osaka craftsman strives to create the perfect vibrator battery.

Mainichi Shinbun

First Japanese trains arrive in UK for use for Olympics 2012.

Railway Technology

Love Hotel in Japan

Japan Stats

Love Hotel Love Hotels in Japan turn over a profit of 1 trillion Yen - more than the annual profits of Toyota Corp., the anime business and gambling on horse races.

There are approximately 30,000 Love Hotels in Japan.

There are approximately 500 million visits to Love hotels each year.

Around 1,370,000 couples use a Love Hotel each day (approx. 1% of the total population).

It is estimated that 50% of all sex in Japan takes place in a Love Hotel.

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: Blind Willow Sleeping Woman

Book Review: Blind Willow Sleeping Woman.
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami

The overriding theme that coheres in this new collection of short stories spanning Murakami’s writing career is existential loneliness. Whether the protagonist is man or woman, married or single, straight or gay, young or old, none is immune to the vagaries of fate, the touch of death, the uncomfortable nudge of happenstance. Characters frequently do not know what is happening to them, why it is happening, or what to say about it. The freak wave, the poor aunt, the phantom phone caller, the ice man—all are simply manifestations of the unknowable darkness outside the campfire of quotidian human existence that waits patiently to envelope us.

Standout stories are ‘Hunting Knife’, a juxtaposition of connubial complacence and familial misery; ‘Man-Eating Cats’ (which was the basis of the novel Sputnik Sweetheart), a harsh lesson in life’s unexpected twists; ‘Tony Takitani’, a study of absence that has recently been made into a feature film; and ‘Firefly’, a discourse on the inarticulateness that surrounds unexplained death. There are also a few stories, such as the final one, ‘Shinagawa Monkey’, that are more upbeat, allowing for the possibility of people’s finding a kind of Sartrean sense of identity in an arbitrary universe.
Longtime Murakami translators Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin collaborate in this collection to achieve a very readable version of some of the author’s best short fiction. Unmissable for a Murakami fan, but perhaps unsettling and perplexing for the uninitiated.

Reviewed by Richard Donovan

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Buy this book from Amazon

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© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Japan in San Francisco


san francisco 7-11Unlike other American cities, signs of Japan can be found everywhere in San Francisco. In other cities, "Japan" tends to be confined to sushi bars and the occasional manga shop. In San Francisco, Japan is a part of the every day; it is ingrained in the city's soul.

From the neighborhood 7-11--stocked with "gummy" sweets and green peas snacks, Calbee BBQ corn chips and high chew gum (pictured at right)--to Japan Town, Japanese culture is ubiquitous.

Though the number of nissei continues to decline, and Japan Town has seen better days, Japan's influence remains strong.

Catering to the many tourists from Japan, Japanese hotels such as Hotel Nikko are well represented.

Moreover, a short ride from Union Square on a Muni light rail train, the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park could be in Kyoto. Getting off at 9th street, you walk down past the Hotei restaurant and Honda service garage and into the park.

japanese garden san franciscoThe Japanese Tea Garden dates to 1894 and is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. It now covers roughly five acres of Golden Gate Park. Within the garden, there are Japanese plants, many koi, stone lanterns, a Shinto shrine, and more.

A family of Japanese-Americans, the Hagiwaras, lived here from 1895 until they were evicted in 1942 during World War II, when all Americans of Japanese descent were forced into concentration camps. At the point, much of the garden fell into disrepair.

Today, it is a well-kept and popular tourist spot.

Japanese Tea Garden
(415) 752-4227

9 AM to 6 PM daily.

$4 - adults
$1.50 - children (5 and under)
$1.50 - seniors (65 and up)

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mazda Bongo Kitchen Cube

マツダ ボンゴ

We are searching for an original Mazda 'kitchen cube' for fitting into a Mazda Bongo MPV to allow it to be used as a camper. It is quite rare as it was only fitted as an optional extra to the Mazda Bongo.

Mazda Cube

If you have this car accessory or know how we may find it we'd love to hear from you.

Please contact us.

Mazda Cube

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, August 20, 2007

Kanazawa Castle


Crossing the Ishikawa Bridge from the Kenrokuen Garden brings the visitor to one of Kanazawa's other top attractions Kanazawa Castle.

Kanazawa Castle

Formerly the seat of power of the powerful Maeda clan (the Maeda family were the hereditary feudal lords (daimyo) of the Kaga province from 1583) Kanazawa Castle has a chequered history.

Burnt down several times, only the impressive Ishikawa Gate and the Sanjikken Nagaya samurai dwelling house survive from the original construction. However as with Kumamoto Castle in Kyushu, a recent 2001 reconstruction program carried out by Sumitomo Corp. has restored the huge Gojikken Nagaya storehouse and arsenal and the Hishi-yagura and Hashizumemon Tsuzuki-yagura watchtowers adjoining the storehouse to their original state. Gojikken Nagaya means literally "the long building of fifty ken", a ken being an ancient measurement equal to about 1.8m, making the building about 90m in length.

Gojikken Nagaya, Kanazawa Castle

Traditional construction methods were employed in the renovation from the original, existing building plans. Traditional artisans from Kyoto were brought in to teach the local craftsmen in the old techniques. Modern methods such as the use of cranes however were employed to speed up the job!

Kanazawa Castle is set in 9 ha of grounds with many of the original walls and moats still in existence. The area served as an Imperial Army base during World War II and the grounds were the campus of Kanazawa University until the institution moved in 1995.
The extensive lawns in the park are often used for concerts and fashion shows with the castle as a spectacular backdrop.

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle
1-1 Marunouchi
Tel: 076 234 3800

7am-6pm March 1-October 15
8am-4.30pm October 16-end of February
(same as Kenrokuen)

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Japan This Week 19/08/07


Japan and South Korea to undertake joint survey of radiation in the Sea of Japan, called the East Sea in Korea.


Accusations of police racism and abuse in case of Nigerian night-club worker arrested in Tokyo.

Japan Times

IAAF World Athletics Championships to begin in Osaka August 25.


Earthquake damage to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear reactor 'limited' according to IAEA report.


Sex manual DVD sales booming for both men and women.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japan Stats

Japanese expats living abroad by country
USA 246,988
China 124,476
UK 48,289

Japanese expats living abroad by city
New York 48,439
Shanghai 43,960
Los Angeles 38,711

Total number of Japanese expats living abroad

Source Japanese Foreign Ministry

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Kenrokuen Kanazawa


The main attraction in Kanazawa is undoubtedly the garden of Kenrokuen. Kenrokuen attracts thousands of visitors every day from all over Japan and abroad.

Kotojitoro Lantern, Kenrokuen, Kanazawa.

Formerly the site of Lord Maeda's mansion (the Maeda family were the hereditary feudal lords of the Kaga area from 1583) the strolling, landscape garden was built and added to from the 17-19th centuries.

At 114,435 square meters, Kenrokuen is the largest of Japan's "Big 3" gardens - the others being Kairakuen in Mito and Korakuen in Okayama.

Kenrokuen, Kanazawa.

As Kenrokuen was over 200 years in the making it is not really one complete garden but scores of smaller gardens grouped together to form the overall harmonious effect.

The name, Ken-roku-en, refers to "combined-six-garden", a reference to the six attributes of perfection of Sung-dynasty gardening in Luoyang, China: abundant fresh water, antiquity, artificiality, seclusion, space and pleasing panoramas.

Pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls are certainly a major feature of Kenrokuen, which boasts Japan's first fountain, created using the natural pressure of water flowing from a higher pond to a lower one.

Kenrokuen, Kanazawa.

The central pond Kasumigaike is fronted by the Kotojitoro stone lantern, where most visitors pose for a snapshot on the Kotobashi Bridge. The other large lake, Hisagoike Pond, has an ornamental pagoda - Kaisekito - on a small island in its midst.

There are a two main tea house pavilions (Yugaotei and Shiguretei) built in the garden where the elite of Kanazawa could enjoy the tea ceremony and views of the garden. Nowadays more mundane wooden shacks serve the same purpose with beer and soft drinks as well as a bowl of whisked green tea.

With over 180 species of plants and 8,750 trees, Kenrokuen can be enjoyed in any season - there are plum and cherry trees in spring, azaleas and irises in summer and the magnificent pines throughout the year. In winter the pine trees are supported with ropes (yukizuri) to help them withstand the weight of the snow.

Kenrokuen is busy and if possible it is best to make an early start. After your visit warm up or cool off in the splendid 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art across the road or stroll the adjoining Kanazawa Castle.

Kenrokuen Garden
1-1 Marunouchi
Tel: 076 234 3800

Admission 300 yen
7am-6pm March 1-October 15
8am-4.30pm October 16-end of February

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The battle of the sexes in Japan - Ken Shimura


Japan, the land of the swaggering male and the simpering female. The idea of the ‘gentleman’ is not a native Japanese one. The typical male/female couple walking down the street in Japan is characterized by the man staring straight ahead, stern, lordly and important, while two or three paces behind shuffles the woman, head bowed and dutiful. While not as ritualized among the younger generation, that basic pattern is pretty much undisturbed.

Lost in Translation

Now for the great Japan cliche: scratch the surface. What you may never get the chance to witness unless, perhaps, you marry a Japanese yourself, is that same demure woman taking the man’s pay packet at the end of the month and counting out a certain number of notes into his hand. That certain number of notes is the last he will see of any of what he earned that month! Once they run out, he is grounded.

Absolute control of the purse strings is the woman’s unchallenged prerogative in Japan, and adds to the myriad other examples of what-you-see-is-not-what-you-get that no description of Japan can be complete without.

A cursory acquaintance with neighborhood politics will quickly reveal that it is very much the housewives who are in control. The word for aunt in Japanese, oba, is used for middle-aged to elderly women in general, and a favorite, lightly derogatory, term for a band of such women is obatarian, a fusion of oba and the English battalion, clearly signifying the image of fearsome strength that they are seen to possess. Conversely, a word in vogue amongst obatarian for their useless, layabout husbands is sodaigomi, or oversize garbage.

The comedian Ken Shimura is an old staple of Japanese TV. His comedy program Daijobu daaaa (“It’s all right!”) is presently enjoying its 20th anniversary on the Fuji TV channel.

The above clip, subtitled in English by JapanVisitor.com, is a skit from Daijobu daaaa portraying that oldest of battles, the battle of the sexes. It draws its extra dose of humor from how radical the difference is that exists between the politics of a Japanese male/female couple in public and in private – a difference that, in its starkness, as you will see here, readily lends itself to full-on parody.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Interview: Doubles Director Regge Life


JapanVisitor.com spoke with filmmaker Regge Life while he was in Okinawa. His film Doubles: Japan and America's Intercultural Children will be screened at the upcoming Kansai International Film Festival. Life is an award-winner director: four CINE Golden Eagles, a Sony Innovator of 1991, and he has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy for work on Sesame Street. He is in addition the founder and director of the Global Film Network.

Let's start with a bit about you.
Well, I’m originally from New York, worked in theater, and then attended NYU film school in the‘70s.
In the late ’70s early ’80s I was doing ethnographic documentaries. I returned to West Africa, where I had studied in college, I did some work in the Caribbean and also in South America. For financial reasons, however, I stopped doing the docs—they just don’t pay.
My real background was in the theater, to which I then returned.
What is your connection to Japan?
As a filmmaker I had always had an interest in Japanese film. I then got an opportunity to do a fellowship in Japan. I was a Creative Artists' Fellow with the Japan/US Friendship Commission in 1990, and spent the time working with and observing director Yoji Yamada as he filmed the forty-third Tora-san film.
As the fellowship was ending and I was getting ready to leave Japan, I got a proposal to make a film. At the time, in the early ‘90s, Japan was perceived of as being a very racist and closed place. Through my travels and time in Japan, I had met quite a few African-Americans who had decided to make Japan their home.
Funding was still fairly easy to come by in those days, and that project became Struggle and Success: The African-American Experience in Japan. When the final product came out, however, the sponsors were a bit nervous. NHK scheduled to run it, once, at 3 in the afternoon on a Saturday. Twenty minutes into the program, though, the NHK switchboard lit up: “What is this?” and “When is it going to be shown again?”
All the nervousness evaporated when the film was not vilified but lauded.
This was a big win, and it led to Doubles.

Can you tell us a bit about Doubles: Japan and America's Intercultural Children?
Doubles was filmed around the time of the 50th anniversary of the war, in 1995, a time when people in both Japan and the US were taking stock of what had happened and what might have happened. Part of that was revisionist history.
In my mind, though, the enduring legacy of the war is the occupation, in particular the many children born out of wedlock or in a mixed marriage.
This was a very sensitive topic in Japan at that time. There was still the idea that Japan was a mono-racial society. Some government officials had been quoted on the record as making statements about the reasons for Japan’s success—part of which they linked to the lack of racial minorities and conflict.
In addition, the Japanese economy was completely different in terms of film fund-raising from the time that I did Struggle and Success. Thanks to that film, though, we were finally able to put together the funds to do the film.
And NHK aired it three times over the O-shogatsu [New Year]’s holiday in a highly viewed time slot.
After that?
My next project was After America, After Japan, which documents the struggle of “going home.” This picture has been shown at festivals and schools and is perhaps the most popular of my works.
What this film discusses is life abroad—and then the ultimate return. It’s a topic few people like to talk about in the business world. With all of the transfers and sacrifices workers are forced to make—moving from country to country—and the effect this has on families and children and the worker.
What are you working on now?
I’m on my second Japan fellowship. I’m currently fund raising for a feature film based on Cocktail Party, a novel written by Oshiro Tatsuhiro. This is an Akutagawa Prize winner from the 1960s that takes place in Okinawa [which has the highest concentration of US military bases and US military personnel of any Japanese prefecture].
The script is done, and it will be translated into Japanese. The story is about a friendship between an Okinawan who took part in World War II and a younger US soldier.
For the lead role, I am hoping to get an established Japanese actor.
How is funding coming along?
We are raising money in Okinawa, Honshu, the US, and elsewhere. There is one role that features a Chinese, and we are looking into funding from China.
What do you see as the connection between African-Americans and Japanese?
When African-Americans were allowed into the military in 1948, they were sent mainly to occupied areas in Germany and Japan. Black soldiers were given the most menial jobs - a continuation of slavery of a sort - which unlike their white compatriots put them in direct contact with ordinary Germans and Japanese.
This resulted in helping them develop more personal relationships, and again unlike their white peers—who were more insulated on the bases - the black soldiers did not fear the local population. A strong connection was thus made.

Photo © Regge Life

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art


A good place to beat the present 37 degree Centigrade heat after visiting Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa is the 21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art.

21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

Fully air-conditioned and with Morning Glory flowers growing up over the glass walls to further shade the building, the museum was providing a welcome refuge for the tourist hordes coming from Kenrokuen's Mayumizaka entrance just across the road.

21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

Even a tour group from Barcelona were finding the summer weather hard-going in Kenrokuen, so a cooling off period is just what is needed after all that outdoor sightseeing.

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art which opened in 2004 is a beautiful, cool, low-rise glass circle by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and features contemporary art from around the world.

One particularly popular exhibit was the submerged swimming pool with a glass roof which visitors can enter through a basement floor and look up at people taking their photos from above. Fun.

21st Century Museum Of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

At present the museum is showing two excellent exhibitions: Passion Complex: Selected Works from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and My Civilisation: Grayson Perry - a selection of works by the eccentric UK ceramic artist with his alter-egos of Claire the transvestite and Alan Measles, the teddy bear.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
1-2-1 Hirosaka
Tel: 076 220 2800
Admission 1000 yen

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Gay & Lesbian Tokyo Pride Parade 2007


It was a scorching 37 degrees in Tokyo on Saturday August 11, 2007. Yoyogi Park was bursting at the seams with a sense of excited anticipation.

Bottled water and canned beer sold like hot cakes never would have. Gay, lesbian and transgender Tokyo was in its Saturday best to show the rest of the city what fun and freedom were all about.

The milling carnival-like air of the lead up soon gave way to the full on jive of the parade. Led by a massive brass band, the Parade got underway at 3.30pm.

Following the band, outrageously decorated floats, and each other, the huge crowd of thousands began an hour-long loop of the streets surrounding Yoyogi Park, to Harajuku, through Shibuya, and back.

There were overtly political representations, floats provided and manned by bars and associations, sports groups and scores of others of people banding together for outrageous fun and friendship.

Many more thousands of supporters lined the streets of the route, waving and whistling from sidewalks and overhead bridges. There was the inevitable wonderment and stares of half-disbelief from some of the straight crowd of shoppers and tourists, but the infectious fun mixed with the equally irresistable beats from the DJs on passing floats carried the day - all the way.

Shinjuku Ni-Chome was as busy as ever on Saturday evening, as the party mood born on the hot sunlit streets of Tokyo burned far on until Sunday morning.

Click here for podcast movie of Tokyo Pride 2007

Tokyo Pride 2006

© JapanVisitor.com

Japan This Week 8/12/07


Bank of Japan pumps 1 trillion Yen in to the financial system.


Chinese Defence Minister to visit Japan this month.

Japan Times

Earthquake-damaged Niigata nuclear plant make take 12 months to fix.


Japanese film Ai No Yokan (The Rebirth) wins first prize at Switzerland's Locarno International Film Festival.


The world of cheap hand health (te-koki) emporiums in Kanto & Kansai.

Mainichi Shinbun

Paris ceremonies for Japanese newly-weds.

NY Times

Japan Stats

The annual Obon holiday exodus peaked yesterday with around 53,000 people flying out of Narita Airport for overseas vacations. Over 4.47 million people are expected to use Narita in the July 13-September 2 vacation period.
Shinkansen trains on the main Tokaido Line between Osaka and Tokyo were running at 200% capacity and 150% on the JR Tohoku Line from Tokyo to Sendai and points north.
The Obon holiday (Buddhist All Souls) period sees many people visit their hometowns to pay respect to deceased family members.

Last Week's Japan News

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nagasaki Atomic Bombing 62 Years On

長崎, 原子爆弾

Nagasaki Peace Memorial It is 62 years to the day that Nagasaki was devastated by the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan just three days after the first bomb attack on Hiroshima.

Around 70,000 people were killed and a further 70,000 later died of subsequent radioactivity-related illnesses.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue delivered this year's Peace Declaration and paid tribute to his predecessor, Itcho Ito, who was shot and killed in April this year.

The attack in 1945 from the US B-29 bomber Bockscar occurred at 11.02am with the "Fat Man" bomb exploding at a height of around 500 meters above the historic port city.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Interview: "Rodosha" Director Darryl Knickrehm


JapanVisitor.com recently spoke with twenty-seven year-old filmmaker Darryl Knickrehm. He is the organizer and one of the featured directors at the upcoming Kansai International Film Festival. Rodosha and several other of his works will be screened at the Festival.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm from the LA area and went to Chapman University, where I majored in New Media and minored in Japanese. I was always interested in visual arts, and thus kanji was a draw for my interest in Japanese and Japan--and of course my language requirement.

After graduation, I decided to come to Japan as a way of pursuing my twin dreams: living in Japan and making films. Here I soon created DK Pro, which is my production company.

directorsphotoLet's move on to your films.

My first film was shot in the US and then edited in Japan.

After I'd been in Japan a while, I started to make creative contacts. In Osaka I met a composer named Philip van Louwen. Using his wonderful work, we made 152, which is a ghost story about three friends who end up in an abandoned train tunnel. The three enter the train tunnel, where they receive text messages on their phone, which should not technically be possible.

The film was shot on a shoestring. Friends of mine played the three roles and they gave it their all. However, more than anything, the film helped me to make contacts and move on to bigger projects.

Rodosha (The Laborer) was based in part on my own experiences working in Kobe. I wanted professional actors for this film--which ended up putting it on hold for financial reasons. As a result, 152 came out first.

With contacts, though, I met Dan Yukino who is a working stage actor in Osaka. He auditioned and was great--and also had an interest in working in film.

He agreed to play the lead role and was terrific. Rodosha has appeared at 6-7 short film festivals, and was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Miami Short Film Festival.

So you are making foreign films?

[Laughs] Yes, I guess so.

Back to the film, why a salaryman movie?

rodoshaposterWell, both of my parents worked, and like many people, they had to make tremendous sacrifices. The film was also of course, indirectly, observations of my own experiences as a "salaryman" here in Japan. I have a certain amount of frustration with the dehumanizing effects of being an organization man.

In order to make a living--and finance my film projects--I have taught in a large organization. Let's just say that it is a business that does not always treat its employees as well as it might.

What issues, if any, did you have with language when doing the film?

Well, I wrote the script in English. It was then translated into Japanese for the actors. I can explain some things in Japanese, but there are staff members who help me to convey the nuances.

What will you be showing at the Kansai International Film Festival?

Out of Context will be premiering at the Festival. We are now in post-production, the music is now being wrapped up, and it will be ready for the late-August showing.

152, In Absentia, and other of my films will also be screened.

What is the goal of the Festival?

We hope to accomplish three things at the Festival. First, give the films exposure; second, contrary to most Japanese mass media images of foreigners, show foreigners in Japan in a relatively positive light; and, third, to create an international event where people of many different backgrounds can mix.

Future films?

A project called the The Wishing Tree is in pre-production now. We hope to begin filming in September. It is a bit Twilight Zonish. It is about a couple with one child that is unable to have a second. The film is the story of how they will learn to accept this through the meetings they have with odd people at the wishing tree.

Future Plans?

This year is my last to work on short films. The goal of DK Pro is to get notice via the shorts, and then move onto feature length films. My personal goal is to be in production of such a film by the time I am 30.

Last, what or who are your main influences?

Hmm, I would have to put Stanley Kubrick on that list. I like the pacing and camera work in his films. Tim Burton would be another. He is very outside the box, very creative, and dark. I tend to like darker films.

Films that I have been influenced by would include the The Ring, Fight Club, etc. In an odd way these are horror films with a heart.

I make and enjoy tragic movies because they allow the viewer to experience vicariously, say, war or death.

I do like comedy, but in my films I want to make a contribution, to send a message.


Photos © Darryl Knickrehm

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum


The Iga-ryu Ninja Museum (Tel:0595 23 0311) in Iga-Ueno is a fantastic museum for fans of Japanese history in general and the mysterious, secretive ninja in particular.

Ninja house

Just a short walk from Iga-shi Station on the Kintetsu Iga Line is an original, thatched ninja farm house inside Ueno Park.

A female ninja dressed all in pink walks and talks visitors through the ninja residence's hidden swords, revolving walls, secret passageways and concealed trapdoors.

Visitors are encouraged to have a go at disappearing into thin air and the tour is great fun.

ninja demonstration, Iga-Ueno

The ninja, it seems, were one of the first groups in Japan to discover the secrets of gunpowder manufacture and firearms and developed all the necessary concealment devices to guard this military secret from their enemies.

The museum also has two further exhibition halls: the House of the Ninja's Art and the House of Ninja Tradition. The first building has audio-visual displays of the Ninja's infiltration techniques and over 400 ninja tools including rope ladders, armor, shuriken (throwing stars), knives and listening devices. The second exhibition building introduces the ninja's way of life as farmer/warriors and their techniques of disguise, concealment and secret communication.

Don't miss the hourly Ninja Demonstration Zone where 3 present-day male ninja show off their combat skills with swords, sickles and shuriken.


Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission: 700 yen (200 yen extra for the ninja demonstration)

The nearest station to Ueno Park and the Ninja Museum is Kintetsu Ueno-shi Station.
From Nagoya Station journey time is over two hours.

JR Kansai Line via Kameyama to Iga-Ueno Station and then Kintetsu Iga Line to Ueno-shi Station.

By Kintetsu
From Nagoya Station take the Kintetsu Nagoya Line to Ise Nakagawa, change to the Osaka Line to Iga Kanbe, then transfer to the Kintetsu Iga Line and on to Ueno-shi Station.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Anniversary


Today is the 62nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The atomic dome in HiroshimaRemembrance ceremonies will be taking place in Hiroshima Peace Park and in other cities in Japan throughout the day and night to honor the approximately 140,000 recorded victims.

This year The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation has a new chairperson - 59-year-old American Steven L. Leeper.

Leeper, a successful Japan-based businessman and translator, is the first foreigner to hold the position, which is responsible for overseeing the memorials to the victims of the bombing in Hiroshima and spread the message of an end to nuclear weapons worldwide.

The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation is planning an exhibition tour of the USA this year to highlight its work.

The destruction of HiroshimaIn Tokyo the L'Institut Franco-Japonais de Tokyo in Iidabashi will be holding a series of events, including films and photographic exhibitions, to commemorate the Hiroshima attack.

At 8.15am on August 6 1945 the US B-29 bomber "Enola Gay" unleashed the world's first atomic bomb attack on an inhabited city.
The 3m long, 4 ton "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima carried 50kg of uranium 235 and the fission of 1kg of uranium released the equivalent of 16,000 tons of high explosive virtually leveling the city.

Book a hotel in Hiroshima with Booking.com

Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Japan This Week 8/05/07


Nagoya-based Toyota Corp. profits surge.


Sumo grand champion Asashoryu banned for two tournaments for various infractions.


Emperor Hirohito expressed "sorrow" over enshrining of war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine.

Japan Times

Osaka clamping down on sex industry in run up to World Athletics Championships.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japanese gold leaf in women's facials.

NY Times

Japan Stats

Japan's total population fell for the second consecutive year and now stands at 127,053,471.
The number of people over 65 years of age is 26,675,163 or 21% of the population.
However the number of births recorded a slight rise between April 2006 and March 2007 to reach 1,065,533.
The number of deaths was at an all time high of 1,081,174.

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sukyo Mahikari


The huge headquarters of the Sukyo Mahikari religious sect dominates the mountainous skyline to the west of Takayama in Gifu Prefecture.

Sukyo Mahikari World Shrine, Takayama, Gifu

The World Shrine (Suza) is believed by followers of Sukyo Mahikari to enshrine the Su God, the creator of the universe.

The building, completed in 1984 at a reported cost of USD 500 million, is monumental in size topped with a large red globe (munadama) and contains many symbols and features that may be familar to followers of other religions.

The two Towers of Light resembles Islamic minarets, the Star of David and the Wheel of Dhamma is much in evidence and there is a reconstruction of the Quetzalcoatl Fountain from Mexico in the courtyard of the building.

The scarlet interior Great Hall of Worship (no photography allowed) is reminiscent of a massive North Korean movie theater. Adult visitors receive a small shot of local sake after their visit to the Great Hall of Worship.

Quetzalcoatl Fountain

Founded by Okada Yoshikazu (1901-1974), aka Okada Kotama, in the 1960s, Sukyo Mahikari is a mystifying, convoluted fusion of Japan-centric Buddhist, Christian and Shinto beliefs and appears to have much in common with another "new religion" Omotokyo.

Okada, an ex-army officer, seemingly Nazi sympathizer and committed Japanese imperialist, supposedly began receiving divine revelations from God in 1959, and it is these "revelations" that are the basis of the cult's creed.

Sukyo Mahikari World Shrine rises above the rooftops of the local neighborhood, Takayama, Gifu

A central feature of the cult is the ritual practice of "purification by divine light" (okiyome), in which a divine, healing light is transmitted from the palm of an initiate to another believer and the wearing of a locket (omitama) after new members have attended a three-day, paid initiation course.

Sukyo Mahikari, now lead by Okada's adopted daughter Keishu Okada, rejects much of modern medicine and promotes a form of organic farming (yoko agriculture).

There are estimated to be around 300,000 followers worldwide of Sukyo Mahikari with centers in Australia, the USA, Africa and South America.


Sukyo Mahikari
World Shrine
6-83 Kamiokamoto-machi, Takayama, Gifu, 506-0055
Tel: 0577 34 7008

Takayama can be reached by express train from Nagoya Station in just over 2 hours. The World Shrine is about 25 minutes on foot from Takayama Station on national highway 158.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Tabloid Tokyo 2 launch


Tabloid Tokyo 2 launch I had the honor, and experienced the excitement, of attending a book launching last night. The wildly successful window on things weird and wonderful, Tabloid Tokyo 101, now has a sequel: Tabloid Tokyo 2: 101 (All New) Tales of Sex, Crime and the Bizarre from Japan's Wild Weeklies

Geoff Botting, one of the team of three authors, extended me the invitation. I turned up at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo's Yurakucho area, salmon going just a little cool, about fifteen minutes after start off.

We were treated, over good food and drink, to a panel address from three of the authors, who took questions towards the end.

The Tabloid Tokyo series is based, to put it bluntly, on old news. But there isn't a hint of anything musty about it. The authors have patiently combed and filtered the massive weekly outpourings of Tokyo's tabloid magazine press. The best pickings are served up here - with an immediately engrossing freshness that defies publication dates.

Who cares if 'Dads thrown out of homes' was reported in September of last year? "Mr D. thought he was happy. True, he was not pleased about his daughter's upcoming marriage (she was only 24; what the hurry?), but he'd been married thirty years, and at 59 felt he could look back on a pretty good life." So it starts. Who could resist reading on?

And so what if that interview with the 284kg (626lb) sumo wrestler Konishiki about how on earth he manages to have sex (plus quotes from the girls who somehow manage it) happened five years ago? Topics like these are built to last, and they have been saved up here conscientiously, copiously, and in a very easy to read format.

Tokyo Tabloid 2 is an equally racy follow-up to Tokyo Tabloid 101, and exposes Japan in all its grand quirky glory. Get it while it lasts!

Tabloid Tokyo 2 101 (All-New) Tales of Sex,Crime and the Bizare from Japans Wild Weeklies

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Interview: "Kyoto Nocturnes" Director John Foster


JapanVisitor.com recently spoke with photographer and filmmaker John Foster. His film “Kyoto Nocturnes, Part 1: Elegant Slaughter” will be playing at the upcoming
Kansai International Film Festival. The film is, in the words of KyotoNoir, about a "psychotic yakuza boss [that] hires an alluring American hit woman to end a gang war in the geisha district of Japan’s ancient capital."

Can we begin with a bit about you?

I’m from New York and I originally came to Japan in 1991 on the JET program. I was back in the US in ’92-’93. I came back to Japan in 1993 and was here for four years. I saved money to pursue my interest in film. Back in the US, I took part in the International Film and TV Workshops program. These programs are short, intense, hands-on sessions with working professionals. By 1998, I was in pre-production for a short film.

kyoto nocturnesLet’s move on to your film that will be screened at the Kansai International Film Festival. First, how in the world did you make Kyoto Nocturnes?!

Well, I was a volunteer for the Fukuoka Asian Film Festival during an earlier stay in Japan, and had stayed in touch with the couple that run and organize the festival. When I was trying to make contacts for Kyoto Nocturnes, I called them. They gave me a name; that person led to more contacts - and so on.

What about the crew and staff?

It was an all-Japanese crew. This had advantages but also created some issues as well. My rule of thumb is that you should do things in: 1) the most efficient way possible, 2) the cheapest way possible, and 3) the most creative way possible.

On occasion, this caused problems with some of the staff that insisted that we had to do things the “Japanese way.”

What about financing?

The film was self-financed.

How about the actors? How did you get them to appear in an independent film directed by a foreigner? Keishu Tsumagata (Boss Watanabe) and Manabu Inoue (Uchida)?

In terms of getting actors—professional actors—we had a good script and we told them we would only shoot for 4-5 days as opposed to 20-25. This succeeded in creating interest. Also, the story itself is interesting.

We contacted their respective agents, and they both agreed to come in to audition. I wanted an older, established actor for the role of the Boss. Tsumagata was semi-retired after a career in samurai films and “The Professional Killers” television series. He was great to work with though I had to try to tone down his expressions a bit. He has a wonderful face but the look I wanted was low-key, less stylized than the standard Japanese yakuza film.

kyoto-nocturnesInoue is an actor and teacher of acting in Osaka, and his physical appearance was perfect for the role (for reasons that cannot be divulged before seeing the film).

The hitwoman Rakendra Moore? 3rd runner-up in the 1994 Miss Black Teenage Crown?

For the main female role, there was one excellent Japanese woman who auditioned. However, Rakendra had such a great presence that I went with her. The Japanese woman was quite small, and the idea of her getting physical with the Boss just wouldn’t have worked.

Why did you tell the story using the yakuza genre?

Yakuza films have both a kabuki feel along with the element of horror, which I personally like.

The lighting in the restaurant is very dramatic.

The location was Chao Chao Gyoza, a restaurant near Minami-za [Kyoto's main kabuki theater], and for the most part we didn’t do anything. We used lighting to enhance the colors of the restaurant, but the colors you see in the film are basically like those in the restaurant.

What locations did you use? Did you have trouble getting permits?

In addition to the restaurant scenes, we filmed Rakendra at Yasaka Shrine at the beginning of the film. The three bodyguards are standing on a wide street in front of the Gekkeikan Sake Brewery in Fushimi. For this location, we approached the company—which had never given permission to anyone to film there before—and were able to meet with the President. He finally allowed us to film there, which may or may not have had something to do with a perceived sake boom in the US.

For the Gion locations, we had to go around to the local neighborhood associations.

Amazingly, Kyoto has no film commission. This means no one is promoting film in the city and opening doors for prospective filmmakers. You have to do the legwork yourself, and it’s a case-by-case, hit or miss atmosphere.

There is a scene with human testicles in gyoza [dumplings]. What is the story behind this?

A few years ago I was out having dinner with a now former girlfriend. She ordered something, and when I asked her what it was she giggled and translated it as “fish balls.” Later, I realized that, no, fish do not have balls. The scene was born from that mistranslation (joke?).

The violence is relatively mild compared to many yakuza films. Why?

The movie is violent but I didn’t want it to be an exploitation film, I didn't want blood squirting all over the screen. There is violence but, I hope, it is elegant violence. There are take-offs from Hong Kong films—flying daggers, etc.

Were there language issues? Related to the script? Working with staff?

I wrote the script in English, which came to 9 pages. Then the script was translated into Japanese, which with notations ran to 23 pages. Then we had to have it touched up into Kansai dialect.

No one on the staff could speak perfect English, so yes at times there were problems. I ended up using translators.

Also, on a deeper level, in Japan there is no real independent cinema as it exists in other countries. In the US, there are Hollywood feature films, and then many, many types of professional film that do not fit into that category. Independent film in the US is quite varied. Here in Japan, there are professional films and then, basically, there are amateur films. Which meant that a lot of the staff was not professional.

I tried to convey to the staff that though we may not have a lot of money or sponsorship or a big-name actor, this is a professional project.

Are you working on a Part II?

No. The level of stress and time involved in doing a short film here in Japan was very high. I am currently working on photography full time now. I have two books out and am putting my energy into another book.

After two years, I hope to return to the US when the book I am working on is complete - and then do a film back there.

Photos ©KyotoNoir

Buy John Foster's One Hundred Views of Maiko and Geiko

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Book Review: Inventing Japan 1853-1964

Book Review: Inventing Japan 1853-1964.
Inventing Japan 1853-1963, by Ian Buruma

For readers familiar with Ian Buruma's writings on Japan and Asia or those who know him as the author of an erstwhile series of weekly articles published in The Guardian, his most recent volume, Inventing Japan, is as eagerly awaited as the latest Harry Potter book.

His first book exclusively devoted to Japan since 1984's A Japanese Mirror (now happily reissued by Phoenix Paperbacks), Inventing Japan is published in the Modern Library Chronicle's series of short non-fiction works.

Like other volumes in the series, it is neat, concise and slips conveniently into a back pocket. A brisk read at just 177 pages, it ably covers 111 years of Japanese history, while still finding time for anecdotes about the impressive size of the samurai Saigo Takamori's testicles (thought to have been caused by Lymphatic filariasis.)

This is classic Buruma, as is his description of Sakamoto Ryoma as a “wild-haired proto-hippie with a sword” and makes for excellent bursts of light relief as Buruma condenses the history of Japan's modernisation at a rate commensurate with the modernisation process itself. Japan's descent into militarism and its reaction to defeat in the Second World War have recently been the subjects of much weightier Pulitzer Prize-winning tomes.

Buruma himself has already examined Japan's struggle to come to terms with its militarist past in The Wages of Guilt (also recently re-issued by Phoenix Paperbacks). Inventing Japan is a more invigorating and vibrant account, which, like most of Buruma's work, is intensely personal. That is not to say, however, that it is under-researched. The bibliography alone is a must, not only for those new to Japanese history, but for seasoned Japanologists who wouldn't have thought to join the dots between loincloth festivals and Oshima Nagisa.

Terry Bazooka

This review originally appeared in Kansai Time Out

Out: Buy this book from Amazon

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