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Thursday, January 31, 2008



Japanese has three alphabets: Chinese characters or kanji (漢字), hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ).

Hiragana and katakana are phonetic syllabaries made up of 46 characters. The first five characters of both hiragana and katakana are the vowels a, i, u, e, o. The rest of the letters are a combination of a consonant and a vowel, for example, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko and n ン - the only singular consonant.


Katakana is literally "fragmentary kana" and is square and angular in shape in comparison with the more rounded hiragana.

Katakana is often taught in Japanese kindergarten and, along with hiragana, is learnt before children begin on Chinese characters in the first grade of elementary school.

Katakana is usually used in the following ways:
* to transliterate foreign loan words from English, Chinese and other languages such as television (テレビ - terebi), radio (ラジオ - rajio), fried rice (チャーハン - chaahan), Chinese noodles (ラ-メン - raamen), part time work (アルバイト - arubaito) etc.
* foreigners', except Chinese, names are written in katakana such as Smith (スミス - sumisu), Brown (ブラウン - buraun) etc
* for the names of foreign countries, regions and cities such as "America" (アメリカ - amerika), England (イギリス - igirisu), Vietnam (ベトナム -betonamu), London (ロンドン - rondon), Asia (アジア - ajia) etc.
* in advertising and on signs for emphasis, here katakana acts much like italics, such as garbage (ゴミ - gomi), spectacles (メガネ - megane), pervert (チカン - chikan), coffee (コーヒ - koohii) etc
* animal, fruit and plant names are often written in katakana such as monkey (サル - saru), dog (イヌ - inu), apple (リンゴ - ringo), persimmon (カキ - kaki) etc
* onomatopoeia, words representing sounds or movements, for example, bowwow (ワンワン - wanwan), lick (ペロペロ - peropero), scratch (ポリポリ - poripori), squeak (キシキシ - kishikishi)
* some Japanese company names are written in katakana, such as Toyota (トヨタ), Sony (ソニ), Honda (ホンダ) etc

Last week's Japanese lesson

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Todaiji Temple Nara


Todaiji in Nara is one of Japan's most famous and most-visited Buddhist temples.
The main hall - Daibutsuden - is considered to be the largest wooden building in the world, though this 1709 reconstruction is a third smaller than the original structure which was completed in 752.

Daibutsu, Todaiji Temple Nara

The Daibutsuden contains the awe-inspiring Daibutsu (Great Buddha), a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana first cast in 746. Parts of the present statue were later recast during the Edo Period (1600-1868). The statue is 16.2m tall and consists of 437 tons of bronze, 130kg of gold, 75kg of mercury and 7 tons of vegetable wax.

The designer of the original Buddha was a Korean artist from the Paikche Kingdom, Kuninaka-no-Kimimaro. The building is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Naidaimon Gate, Todaiji Temple

Todaiji is the headquarters of the Kegon sect of Japanese Buddhism and Vairocana Buddha is considered by followers of the sect to be the spiritual body of the historical Buddha - Gautama Buddha or Sakyamuni in Japanese terminology. After achieving enlightenment in what is now the small town of Bodh Gaya in Bihar, northern India, the Buddha sat for a week in deep meditation and it is this pose that is represented in the giant statue.

Just in front of the Daibutsu is a 4.5 meter tall, Nara Period, octagonal, bronze lantern which is classified as a "National Treasure".

The temple is approached through the large Naidaimon Gate (Great Southern Gate), first built in the Nara Period (710-784). The gates contain the fine wooden sculptures of two Deva (Nio) guardian kings carved in the 13th century and considered some of the most beautiful wooden statues ever produced.

The temple grounds are inhabited by deer, which are allowed to wander freely. Please be careful if offering them food!

Todaiji Temple Nara.

Images © Perrin Lindelauf & JapanVisitor

Tel: 0742 22 5511
Todaiji is around 30-40 minutes walk from either JR Nara or Kintetsu Nara stations. There are also buses from both these stations. Nara is an easy day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Japanese monkeys in a cage


Outside of zoos and pet shops, I have rarely seen wild animals kept in cages in public spaces in Japan. I do remember bears caged in an Ainu Village in Hokkaido some years ago, but it came as something of a shock to see red-faced Japanese macaques imprisoned in a cage in Nagahama Castle Park on the shores of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.

Japanese monkeys in a cage

The smell of animals' faeces and urine was strong as the wind blew in from the lake and the monkeys did not look happy nor, one of them, in the best of health.

Next to the monkeys was an empty cage. The sign posted on the wire explained that the cage had held a deer in captivity for 22 years and it had recently died.

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Japanese Manhole Covers


We can't get enough of Japanese manhole covers. As committed drainspotters we hope to bring you a steady diet of Japanese manhole covers throughout the year.

The following Japanese manhole covers were shot in Shimane Prefecture in the south west of Honshu.

Nichihara Manhole Cover, Shimane Prefecture

Nichihara Manhole Cover, Shimane Prefecture

Masuda Manhole Cover, Shimane Prefecture

Gotsu Manhole Cover, Shimane Prefecture

Asahi Manhole Cover, Shimane Prefecture

See more Japanese manhole covers

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Japan This Week 27/1/2008


Japan News. Japan's Nikkei index has shed a third of its value since July, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange has lost $1.3 trillion in value, equivalent to the entire economy of Canada.

NY Times

Judge quits after biting woman in sex shop.

The Daily Yomiuri

In a truly tragic case, a young woman commits suicide in Osaka after her child was killed by an intruder in a robbery.

Japan Times

Head of driving school arrested over groping his young female students in Love Hotel car parks.

Mainichi Shinbun

High levels of mercury found in New York sushi.

New York Times

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

There are approximately 520,000 cigarette vending machines in Japan.

Source: The Tobacco Institute of Japan

Over 1 million tablets of MDMA or Ecstasy were seized in Japan in 2007, the highest number on record.

Source: National Police Agency

102 blood donors tested positive for HIV in 2007 from a total of 4,939,548 donors.

Source: Health, Labor & Welfare Ministry

The most popular names for new born children in Japan in 2007 was Hiroto for boys and Aoi for girls.

Source: Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co.

23.9% of Japanese men in their 20s have never been in a romantic relationship. For women, the figure was 7.8%. Even in their 30s, an astounding 8.7% of Japanese men still had never had a girlfriend. For women, it was just 3 percent. The main reason given by those unlucky in love was "work."

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Registration System for Foreigners

New Registration System for Foreigners.

The "gaijin card" that all foreigners resident in Japan must carry as a form of identification looks set to disappear--or, rather, be updated.

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said on Friday: "We're moving toward deciding to abolish the current system."

The government announced yesterday that a new registry system for foreigners will be introduced. The new system will be similar to the system for Japanese nationals, which includes marital status and address for a household not just on an individual basis.

The purpose is to make it easier for communities with large number of foreigners to keep track of whether, for example, children are enrolled in school.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Japanese: the almighty adjectival


Every Thursday, we're going to introduce you to bits and pieces, and aspects of, the Japanese language. But, before we go too far, let’s talk a bit about putting sentences together in Japanese. Perhaps the most useful thing to keep in mind is how things are described in Japanese.

There are ordinary old adjectives like red (akai), noisy (urusai), cold (samui) and sexy (sekushina) that work exactly the same as in English. E.g. akai isu (red chair), urusai yatsu (a noisy guy), samui hi (cold day) and sekushina onna (sexy woman).

However, when it comes to trying to say things like “The man I spoke to on the phone this morning,” it’s best to try and forget about how we do it in English.

In some ways, Japanese is more consistent than English in regard to sentences like this. In English we jump from saying, for example, “the tall MAN” (i.e. description + THING) to “the MAN I spoke to on the phone this morning” (i.e. THING + description. But Japanese keeps the order the same.

So in Japanese, you would say: “this morning/on the phone/spoke to/MAN”. (Kesa/denwa de/hanashi o shita/OTOKO) How’s that for efficient? (When you’re saying a sentence like this, everyone knows, unless you specifically state otherwise, that you’re the one who spoke to the man, so you can leave any reference to yourself out.)

How about: “the music I liked as a kid?” We’re describing music here, so MUSIC comes last in the Japanese sentence, i.e. “kid time/liked/MUSIC” (Kodomo no toki/ki ni itta/ONGAKU”.

Try it yourself: using the three following words: otoko (man) aruiteru (walking) yuki ni (in the snow), try and say “The man walking in the snow” in Japanese. Have a look underneath the picture below (of snow, yesterday, in Tokyo – taken at Nakano-sakaue Station) to see if you were right.

Snow falling at Nakano-sakaue station, Nakano ward, Tokyo.

Yuki ni aruiteru otoko. Congratulations! Now, do you remember the word for "cold"?!



Akiko Fujii (center) performing jiuta.

Jiuta - literally "earth song" - is a kind of Japanese musical performance dating from the 17th century when blind male musicians would entertain the yuppies of the day: the rising professional classes, with the koto: a kind of harp, the shamisen: a three-stringed guitar-like instrument, and the shakuhachi: a bamboo flute.

Needless to say, such music is now rarely heard in Japan, and I was privileged to be offered a ticket to a jiuta performance on Monday evening at Tokyo's Aoyama Round Theater, courtesy of the main jiuta performer, Ms. Akiko Fujii, and the Japan Traditional Cultures Foundation.

Like most court-inspired music in Japan, jiuta is hardly entertainment in the conventional sense of the word. It is very closely allied with silence, and has complicated rhythms that are not really designed to get toes tapping.

The main performer of the evening, Ms. Akiko Fujii, had a very engaging presence, a full, expressive voice, and exuded complete mastery of the jiuta form. Her very first performance, "Black Hair," was especially enchanting, and made even more enjoyable by being able to follow the lyrics in English translation.

“It is the pillow we shared that night, when I let down my jet-black hair…”

Between performances there was English commentary, which also helped make the music that much more approachable.

Jiuta group.

Akiko Fujii, born in Osaka, is the daughter of the National Living Treasure, Kunie Fujii. She comes from a long line of musicians with a history going back almost 400 years.

Keep an eye on JapanVisitor’s What’s On page for future performances.

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Japan Tokyo jiuta Akiko Fujii Aoyama Round Theater

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fukuoka Airport International Terminal


The new international terminal at Fukuoka Airport was opened in 1999, and built on the site of the former USAF base Itazuke.

Fukuoka Airport International Terminal

© Jake Davies & Japanvisitor.com

Fukuoka Airport is the third largest airport in Japan after Tokyo's Narita Airport & Osaka's Kansai International Airport.

The Tokyo to Fukuoka air route is one of the busiest in the world.

Fukuoka Airport is Japan's most easily accessible airport, being just a few minutes subway ride from downtown Hakata and its Shinkansen station.

The International terminal is served by Japanese, East Asian, and SE Asian airlines. There are regular international flights to Bangkok, Beijing, Busan, Chengdu, Guam, Hong Kong Kong, Manila, Seoul and Taipei.

Chubu International Airport

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Keihan K-Tokyu人身事故

Last Wednesday, the K-Tokyu Express train bound for Demachiyanagi, in Kyoto, pulled out of Osaka's Kyobashi Station exactly on time at 5:36 pm and was comfortably full. The Keihan express trains are painted an elegant orange-red and yellow, and have a small painting on the front inside wall of each carriage and large picture windows. These carriages feel more like European inter-city trains than the usual point A to point B crush of Japanese rush-hour lines.

The conductor's baritone guided us through the stops until Kyoto in a brief announcement as we pulled out of Kyobashi. We were three or four minutes into our ride and easing into cruising speed when, suddenly, the sound of rocks--scattering violently or hitting the windows or skidding across the bottom of the carriage--made everyone duck reflexively and look around.

The lights then went out as the cable bounced from the overhead wire and against the roof above us. The car was nearly dark but for the emergency lights along the floor.

Using the the euphemism for suicide, the conductor came on again: "There has been an accident, and we are going to be delayed." His voice was calm, but the delivery was not silky smooth as it had been minutes before.

An awkward silence came over the carriage, and we all glanced out into the night. Nothing but rain-streaked windows and darkness.

People began text-messaging and calling home or friends to say they would be late. After several minutes the sound of a distant siren could be heard. The riders spoke in hushed voices in the darkness, and settled in for a long wait. The train finally started up after 25 minutes.

According to my brother-in-law, a driver for JR, "it is not a matter of if, but just a matter of time" before the train you are driving will kill someone.

At the bottom of page 33 of the next morning's Asahi Shinbun newspaper, there was a small article stating that "a 73-year-old woman who was on the tracks of the Osaka-Kyoto route of the Keihan Line was hit by an express train at approximately 5:40 pm and killed instantly. Trains were delayed up to 40-minutes, and 340,000 commuters were affected."

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Monday, January 21, 2008



During the winter season it is common to see large orange-like fruit ripening on garden trees and in orchards in the Japanese countryside. This is the Citros junos or yuzu in Japanese.


Originally from China the yuzu can grow to resemble a grapefruit and is related to its smaller cousin the mandarin orange or tangerine (mikan). However, the yuzu is tart in taste, not sweet and is not peeled and eaten as is.


Yuzu are used in Japanese cuisine much like a lemon in western cooking: yuzu can be squeezed over fried foods such as tempura, form part of dressings and sauces such as ponzu, and set on the dish as a garnish decoration.

Yuzu are also often placed in baths or onsen spas in winter as a form of aromatherapy.

Yuzu have been "re-discovered" as a garnish and seasoning in the West and have been taken up as an essential ingredient by a number of US chefs. Yuzu juice comes in bottles and can be bought online. Yuzu is also a popular name for Japanese restaurants.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Japan This Week 1/20/08


Japan News.Japanese trawler trailing whaling protesters?


Chinese seafood "safe," asserts Beijing.

NY Times

PM Fukuda may set greenhouse gas emissions targets at Davos confab.

The Daily Yomiuri

Hello Kitty set to launch product line for men.

Japan Times

Cellphone novels dominate mainstream publishing.

New York Times

Japan's hot spring resorts go hi-tech.

New York Times

The alarming rise in sexlessness among couples coupled with the number of men who sit while urinating bode ill for future of Japan, according to shrink.

Mainichi Shinbun

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The Construction Ministry and National Police Agency (NPA) announced this week that 98 "model districts" around Japan have been slated to have bicycle lanes put in over the next two years. Examples include Tokyo's Hatagaya and the area around JR Kameido Station.

The purpose is to reduce bike-on-pedestrian collisions, which have skyrocketed in recent years. In 2006, there were 2,767 collusions, which is 4.8 times greater than 10 years ago.

The lanes will be separated from vehicular traffic by guardrails or plantings. Some 200 kilometers of lanes will be built.

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

543,385 students took this year's Center Test for University Admissions down 9,967 on last year. The 3:1 ratio of applicants to university places is a record low.

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Snowy sunrise on the Gonokawa River

Gonokawa River

The Gonokawa River is the longest river in the Chugoku region at over 190km in length. The beautiful river flows through the prefectures of Shimane and Hiroshima and is nicknamed "Chugoku Taro".

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Japanese Women's Leggings and Shoes

Japanese leggings流行の下半身ファション

Colorful leggings are all the rage now among young women in Japan. Swathed in below the belt layers to ward off the winter cold, women prance through city streets in mini-skirts and multiple pairs of leggings of every sort of design and color.

This young woman is also wearing "military" heels to complement the blue tights and striped leggings.

Her below the navel look is rounded out with a ripped denim skirt and the requisite brand shop bag. Boutiques in Japan make extra stylish and extra sturdy bags for their female customers--and therefore get free advertising from the millions of women who carry around their lunch in a Gucci bag.

This young woman was photographed at Osaka's Kyobashi Station during rush hour. Pigeon-toed and doe-eyed, she was completely absorbed in text-messaging on her cell phone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Japanese Lesson of the Week: KY

Japanese Lesson of the Week: KY.

The first time I heard the expression "KY" was in a train full of junior college women playing with their cell phones, twiddling their bangs, and squealing at the top of their lungs--oblivious to all around them.

In the midst of this estrogen-fueled chaos, a woman in front of me yelled to her friends, 「あの人ってめちゃKY!」(ano hito tte mecha KY!). This roughly translates as: "That person is really clueless!" The group exploded in laughter and agreement.

In Japanese, "KY" has nothing to do with K-Y Jelly. It is a combination of "ku-ki"(空気), which means "air" or "atmosphere" and is the K. The Y is "yomu"(読む), which means to "read." The Y is usually used in its negative potential form--読めない ("yomenai"), meaning "can't read."

Thus, KY is slang for someone who can't read the situation, doesn't get it, is completely out to lunch.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vegetarian Sandwiches


We wrote earlier about the problems of being vegetarian in Japan.


A solution seemed to be at hand from the current sandwich boom recently underway in Japan. Many bakeries and convenience stores are now stocking a range of sandwiches - a western snack completely absent from the shelves of most stores just a few years ago.

Egg sandwiches

Admittedly the Japanese sandwich is a pale version of its European counterpart. The white, spongy bread, shorn of its crust, has the constituency, and some would say the taste, of a cotton futon. We have yet to find any fillings that would satisfy a committed veggie or even a lacto-vegetarian. Cheese and tomato? Dream on. Ham and egg predominate as fillings. Yes, you can find a tuna sandwich but what if you don't eat fish?

We live in hope of the first truly Japanese vegetarian sandwich. If you happen to spot one, please let us know.

Onigiri anyone?

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kunizakari Sake Museum Handa


Listen to a part of the sake museum guided tour

Just across the road from the Vinegar Museum in Handa is the Kunizakari Sake Museum. The two liquids are historically Handa's biggest exports and have an intimate connection as vinegar can be made from sake lees - a by-product of sake production.

Kunizakari Sake Museum Handa

The Kunizakari Sake Museum is free to enter and includes a guided tour of the building with exhibits of historic implements used in sake brewing and an explanation of the production process, a video promoting sake as an essential ingredient of Japanese culture and the best bit - a sake tasting session.

The museum is housed in a 200-year-old building and sake has been brewed on the premises since 1972.

A cedar ball or sugidama is hung outside the building and is replaced each autumn when the first sake of the year is produced.

Kunizakari Sake Museum
Nishihon-machi 2-24
Tel: 0569 23 1499

Kunizakari Sake Museum is a short walk east from either Meitetsu Chitahanda Station or JR Handa Station. Take a JR or Meitetsu train from Nagoya Station.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Vinegar Museum Handa


Vinegar, along with sake came to Japan in the 5th century. Vinegar was first produced from rice but in the early 19th century, the founder of the Mizkan vinegar company, Matazaenon Nakano, discovered a way to make vinegar from sake lees, a by-product of sake brewing.

Vinegar Museum Handa

Sake was already produced in Handa, a small town on the east coast of the Chita Peninsula, south of Nagoya city, so raw materials were in abundance.

The "Su-no-sato" Vinegar Museum is located in one of the large, black, wooden buildings that make up Mizkan's present-day production facility.

A visit to the museum is free and consists of a 30-minute video on the history and health benefits of vinegar (it reduces cholesterol) and then a 30-minute tour of the museum, which displays the manufacturing process used in the Edo Period and that in use today.

Edo Period sushi - bigger than today

Vinegar was used in making nigiri sushi (hand rolled sushi), which was beginning to become popular in Edo (Tokyo). Edo-period sushi was about three times bigger than contemporary sushi and was sold at stalls to customers who ate it standing up or on the go. Nakano's vinegar was transported by the boat-load up to Edo, guaranteeing the fortune of the family business and launching an international condiment conglomerate in the process.

Museum of Vinegar
2-6 Nakamura-cho
Tel: 0569 24 5111

Su-no-sato is a short walk east from either Meitetsu Chitahanda Station or JR Handa Station. Take a JR or Meitetsu train from Nagoya Station.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Japan This Week 1/13/08


Japan News.Buddhists go modern to attract new converts.


Unsafe US beef may have been sold in Japan.

NY Times

Ruling party takes advantage of obscure parliamentary rule to allow Japanese navy to begin refueling US ships in Indian Gulf again.

The Daily Yomiuri

Japan passes Afghan Bill.

NY Times

Nori (seaweed) grows in popularity in the US.

NY Times

Government passes law to help hepatitis C sufferers.

Asahi Shinbun

Japan is the world's largest "urban mine" with 6,800 tons of gold in the country inside electronic appliances - the highest figure in the world.

Japan Times

Seventh-grade boy has his first sexual experience in after school detention--at the hands of his 28-year-old teacher.

Mainichi Shinbun

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Avoiding illegally parked bicycles is a fact of life in Japan. Bikes clog sidewalks and have even been known to prevent ambulances from getting down narrow streets.

According to a survey completed in 2005, Tokyo leads the nation in abandoned bicycles with 103,760 littering its streets. Osaka came in second with 61,794. Kyoto was in tenth place at 8,494.

The total for the entire country was 387,246, because of more bike parking lots and other measures, that is a decrease of 49,575 since 2003.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

Overseas visitors to Japan have risen to a record high of 9.15 million in 2007, an increase of 12.9% on 2006 figures. Japanese travelers overseas dropped 1.4% to 17.3 million, the lowest figure since 2003. Despite new fingerprinting procedures at Japan's airports introduced on November 20, 2007, the number of incoming visitors has risen 13.4% compared with a year ago.
Source: Justice Ministry

Japan has 60,000 tons of silver and 1,700 tons of iridium inside electronic appliances in the country, 23% and 61% respectively of the world's total resources. (see article above).

Source: National Institute for Materials Science

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Benesse Educational Research and Development Center


The Benesse Educational Research and Development Center, part of the Benesse Corporation, based in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward, recently conducted a survey called "International Survey of Six Cities" on the academic performance, study-related attitudes, and other miscellaneous aspects of the lives of young school pupils in six cities worldwide: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Helsinki, London, and Washington DC.

Naturally, some interesting facts emerged. Overall, the pupils with the most gung ho attitude towards their studies were in Seoul, where the average pupil spends two and a half hours on weekday evenings on homework and extra study - compared to two and a quarter hours in Beijing, an hour and three-quarters in Tokyo, and just over an hour in Helsinki, London and Washington DC.

What might appear to be the most baffling statistic for pupils from a country that pulled itself up by the bootlaces to become one of the world's leading economies is Japanese pupils' response to the statement "In this country, those who try hard are rewarded." A mere 30% of Japanese pupils agreed, compared with 48% in Beijing, 65% in London, 68% in Washington DC, and 70% in Seoul.

Also interesting was pupils' evaluation of the ultimate usefulness of study. Across the board, Japanese pupils rated getting an education least important when it came to "working for a big, well-known company," (30% of Tokyo pupils thought it was important, compared with around 50% in the other five cities), "becoming rich" (a mere 13.6% in Tokyo compared with 50% in London and Washington DC), "to become a respectable person" (35% in Tokyo compared with 71% in London and Washington DC).

Similarly, only 16% of Japanese pupils (and just 8% of Beijing pupils) thought that "I can be happy if I am rich," compared with 25% in Helsinki, 35% in Seoul, and 45% in London and Washington DC.

Most revealing was the percentage of Tokyo pupils who thought education was necessary "to live a happy and fulfilled life": only 40%, compared with over 50% in Seoul and Beijing, and almost 75% in London and Washington DC. Also, only 25% of Tokyo pupils believed they would be happy "if I graduate from a good university (40% in Beijing, 60% in Seoul, 80% in London, 85% in Washington DC.) It was also revealed that a whopping 87% of Japanese pupils say they "talk with my family a lot," compared with about 75% of pupils in the other cities.

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Japan Tokyo education survey Benesse Corporation

Friday, January 11, 2008

Four Stories Tokyo January 2008

Four Stories Japan Winter Season Kicks off in Tokyo!

Please join us for the return of Four Stories Tokyo: "Sight, Taste, Touch: Tales of the senses" on January 31st.

FEATURING prose readings from:

* Leza Lowitz, author of over 12 books of fiction, poetry and translation; winner of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and PEN Josephine Miles Poetry Award; and NEA Fellowship recipient.

* Mark Robinson, author of Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook; editor of the Japanese culinary magazine Eat; deputy editor and music editor of Tokyo Journal magazine; and food and culture contributor to publications such as Nest (U.S.), the Financial Times, The Times (U.K.), the Australian Financial Review Magazine, and others.

* Ted Taylor, writer and musician living in Kyoto, whose work has appeared in Kyoto Journal and more; winner of the 1999 Kyoto International Cultural Association Essay Contest.

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The very awesome Pink Cow, with food and drinks available from 6pm 'til you drop
Villa Moderuna B1
1-3-18 Shibuya
Shibuya-ku Tokyo
150-0002 (Map)


Warmest regards,

Tracy Slater
Founder, Four Stories Boston & Four Stories Japan

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Japanese Police Force


There are around 280,500 police officers in Japan under the control of the National Police Agency. That is around one police officer for every 450 citizens, a similar ratio to that of the UK, but less than the US. Each of the 47 prefectures in Japan has its own police force. There are also special police units as part of each prefectural force such as riot police (kidotai), railway police and some prefectures maintain Special Assault Teams, trained to deal with terrorist incidents, violent kidnappings and hijackings. Recently a SAT force was involved in the capture of an ex-yakuza member who was holding his wife hostage just outside Nagoya, though one of their number became the first SAT member to die while on duty.

Most visitors to Japan will probably first encounter the Japanese police in neighborhood koban (police boxes) and standing on a small box with a big stick outside Shinkansen (bullet train)ticket gates.

Minato Ward Tokyo koban

The modern Japanese police service dates from 1874 when the Meiji authorities set up a centralized European-style force to maintain and consolidate its control over the country. A samurai police force had also been maintained during the Edo Period (1603-1868) to deal with civil disorder in the large cities of Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, Kyoto and other castle towns. The famous Shinsengumi, which was charged with assassinating the enemies of the Tokugawa regime in the turbulent 1860s, can be considered a forerunner of today's Special Assault Teams.

Japanese traffic cop, Tokyo

As Japan drifted to the right from 1910 to the 1930s the police became an instrument of government oppression and the Special Higher Police (Tokko) were formed as a highly-politicised force to crack down on political dissent and even "wrong thoughts."

After the end of the war the police were decentralized and the 1954 Police Law created the present structure of prefectural police forces under the aegis of the National Police Agency. Japanese police officers are armed and patrol in cars (black and white), on motorbikes, bicycles and on foot.

In general, the Japanese police are polite and helpful when dealing with directions, minor complaints and lost property at the koban level. However, with a conviction rate of over 99% for people charged with offences, questions have been raised about confessions coerced from defendants while in police custody.

Police guarding the Chinese consulate in Nagoya

Detection and prosecution rates are much lower for serious crimes in Japan including murder and rape. Prosecution rates for such crimes have dropped from 90.5% in 1995 to 59.4% in 2006 according to the Japan Times newspaper.

Japanese police rarely pursue a case if a suspect is not apprehended in the first two months of an investigation. Ichihashi Tatsuya, the chief suspect in the murder of a young English teacher near Tokyo last year, is one of a number of prime suspects still on the lam.

A cursory glance at the Japanese press or japanpolice.blogspot.com also reveals the alarming number of crimes committed by Japan's finest themselves. In 2007, these crimes included murder, fraud, embezzlement, DUI, perversion of justice, doctoring evidence, groping, drug use and illegal interrogation techniques amounting to torture.

Police Emergency Number 110
National Police Agency
Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department
Kyoto Prefectural Police

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: Midori by Moonlight

Book Review: Midori by Moonlight

Midori by Moonlight
Midori by Moonlight
by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
St Martin's
ISBN 0312372612
192 pp

Though a few details in the novel don’t quite jibe, Midori by Moonlight is a fun and perceptive read. The story begins with 30-year-old Midori having just arrived in San Francisco from Fukuoka to live in the US “for good." She is at the magnificent home of her fiancé Kevin, and only barely competent in English. The first sign of trouble comes in the form of an ex-girlfriend at their engagement party--with whom Kevin disappears for most of the party.
By Japanese standards, Midori is already a bit long in the tooth. When Kevin, a monolingual English teacher who spends a year in Fukuoka to "forget," proposes to her after only several dates, she almost immediately accepts. This is in part because her concerned parents arranged a devious attempt at omiai (arranged marriage), which totally backfires.
Back in San Francisco at the party, Kevin dumps Midori for the former girlfriend, leaving her with nowhere to go, sixty days left on her visa, and her life plan in tatters. Fortunately for her, the one Japanese person she met at the party passed along a business card—and thus the novel continues.
Kevin’s aristocratic and efficient mother puts Midori up in a swish downtown hotel until her return flight, thus cleaning up the mess her son has created. What will Midori do? A return trip to Japan, tail between her proverbial legs, would bring shame on both her and her parents. It would be a complete failure, and doom her to returning to the omiai circuit in perhaps a distant city where the news of her failed non-marriage to a gaijin would not be discovered.
Without giving away too much, Midori, through pluck and luck and a talent at making desserts, finds her way. And the reader is pulled along by her winning combination of innocence and determination.
The “problems” in the book are minor. However, they grated a bit. First is Kevin. There are many Kevins, to be sure, both in Japan and abroad. However, this Kevin was born into a multi-millionaire family. He lives in a house in San Francisco with an elevator, many rooms, and a full-time maid. This is all fine and well; however, his future plan is to “become an English teacher at a university” in the US.
In the real world, this would mean teaching classes part-time at San Francisco State for $9 an hour, no benefits. In his world, this is never going to happen.
Second is a pivotal conversation Midori has with her post-Kevin roommate, who is also Japanese. Like her, he fled Japan for the US. His reason for doing so was mainly because of the suicide of his older brother. The brother did not pass his university exams and threw himself under a train. As a result, the family is—on top of its grief—forced to pay the train company for the inconvenience the death caused other passengers. Midori is stunned by this.
Anyone in Japan over the age of 15 is aware of this fact of life; it is part of "common sense" in Japan that if you commit suicide by jumping in front of a train your family will be forced to pay the railway company. If you do so at rush hour, you will pay more.
Third are the details of Midori's life. For someone who knows little or nothing of modern Japanese women, her character is illuminating; for anyone, however, who has spent time in Japan, she comes pretty close to the staple characters of tv shows and women’s magazines, gaijin bars and online dating.
Having said that, though, this book was thoroughly enjoyable and would be perfect as a film.

Reviewed by C. Ogawa

Buy this book from Amazon

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Japanese New Year Cards - Nengajo


Just as people send Christmas cards in the West to keep in touch with friends and family, a similar tradition exists in Japan of sending New Year cards (nengajo) to arrive on January 1st. It is customary for businesses to send out these cards to clients and customers too.

Standard New Year Card

Pre-formatted and postage-paid cards can be purchased from stationery shops which often have the relevant animal of the Chinese zodiac displayed as part of the layout. 2008 is the year of the rat and you will see the rodent as part of the 50 yen stamp at the top left of the card above. The character for the particular animal featured that year is different from that used for the animal in everyday Japanese. Therefore, this year featuring the rat, the character you will see is the one usually used for the word "child" - a somewhat unfortunate, perhaps, double meaning.
Speaking of children, families often produced their own designs for the front of the card, usually with cute images of their offspring much to the fore. The bottom of these cards is printed with a lottery number for the New Year Jumbo Lottery (takarakuji) so as well as sending your friends a New Year greeting, you could be sending them a fortune, though the odds are not stacked in your favor!

Happy New Year

The post office takes on part-time workers, often students, to help deliver the estimated 35 billion cards (about thirty cards for every man, woman, and child in Japan) sent each year and post office letter boxes are changed to provide a separate opening just for nengajo. New Year cards account for almost 20% of all annual postal revenues in Japan.

The tradition of sending nengajo supposedly goes back to the Heian Period (794-1192) and became institutionalized when the modern Meiji-era Japanese post office began printing cards in 1873. Lottery numbers began to be issued on cards in 1949 to lift the Japanese people out of their post-war blues.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Yunoyama Onsen


Yunoyama onsen at the base of Mount Gozaisho (1212m) in Mie Prefecture is an easy day trip from Nagoya for those in search of some hot, healing spa waters during the cold season.

Yunoyama Onsen

Legend has it that the hot springs were discovered in the 8th century by hunters who spotted deer enjoying the hot water. Situated in Suzuka Kokutei Park, the small spa village has a number of Japanese-style inns or ryokan, where you can spend the night or just pop in during the day to take the waters.

Bath charges range from around 500 yen to 1,000 yen for entry to the baths at the various hotels, many of which have rotemburo or outdoor pools.

Here are a list of some of the options:
Otel do Maronie (059 392 3210) 1000 yen for adults; 500 yen for children

Hotel Yunoki (059 392 2141) 800 yen for adults; 400 yen for children

Kuranosuke (059 392 2509) 800 yen for adults; 400 yen for children

Shikanoyu (059 392 2141) 1000 yen for adults; 3-500 yen for children

Irodorikoyo (059 392 3135) 525 yen for adults

Yunoyama Onsen

Yunoyama Onsen can be reached in just over an hour from Nagoya Station by Kintetsu Railway (830 yen). Change at Yokkaichi and take the Yunoyama Line to Yunoyama Station. From there, there is an infrequent bus up to the spa (260 yen), taxi (over 1000 yen) or a 30 minute walk uphill.
Alternatively, there are direct Mie Kotsu buses from Nagoya Station (1280 yen) to the resort. Buses leave Nagoya at 7.52am (Weekends), 8.28am, 9.12am & 10.34am. The last bus back to Nagoya is 5.15pm. Other bus times back from Yunoyama are 2.15pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm.

Besides the onsen resort, the surrounding area is also popular with hikers and skiiers. The longest cable car in Asia, the Gozaisho Ropeway, ferries people up to the summit for spectacular views on a clear day. Hiking to the top is around 2 to 3 hours' walk.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Japan This Week 1/06/08


Japan News.Japanese rethinking education, and looking to India.

NY Times

Tokyo rated by Independent Newspaper as the "capital of Asia."

Japan Times

37,000 year-old frozen baby mammoth goes on display in Tokyo.

The Daily Yomiuri

After PM Fukuda's visit to Beijing, whither Japan-China relations?

The People's Daily

Killer Mochi (sticky rice cakes) strikes again.

Mainichi Shinbun

Special service at Osaka dental clinic.

Mainichi Shinbun

The Japanese government takes over the chairmanship of the G8 group of industrialized nations on January 1st.


Japanese company offers "pet allowance."


With a conviction rate of 99%, Japan's legal system is about change.

Channel 4 News

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

2007 traffic fatalities in Japan were the lowest in 54 Years. The death toll was 5,743, which was a 9.6 percent drop from the previous year. Police attribute this to the new Road Traffic Law, which took effect in September.

Source: Kyodo News

Births top out at 1.1 million in 2007. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan's fertility rate in 2007 is expected to rise slightly to 1.33.

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

According to Seven-Eleven, one of Japan's major convenience store chains, about 50% of its customers complete their purchase in 3 minutes or less, and 80% within 5 minutes – times that are getting shorter and shorter, making it more difficult to direct customers' attention to new products. With a male to female customer ratio of 6:4, Seven-Eleven attracts more female customers than Lawson's, where the ratio is 7:3. Too bad for Lawson: women's average convenience store budget is 582 yen – 30 yen higher than for males.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports that 50% of customers sense that food prices have been rising in Japan lately, most notably for oil and salad dressing, vegetables, and instant products. To address the problem, most consumers would like to see a reduction in the amount of packaging – a factor of merchandising in Japan that often seems excessive.

In line with the law passed in April 2007 which aims to increase the number of children Japanese women have, major mobile phone provider Softbank Corp. is offering its employees a 50,000 yen bonus for the birth of a first child, 100,000 yen for the next, a million yen for the third, 3 million for the fourth, and 5 million for every child thereafter.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Inazawa Mitsubishi Tower


Inazawa is an unremarkable, rather grim town, north of Nagoya on the rail route to Gifu. Inazawa's one claim to fame is a 173m (567 foot) tower in the grounds of its Mitsubishi factory complex.

Inazawa Mitsubishi Tower

According to the BBC the US$ 50m tower will be used by Mitsubishi to conduct research on high speed elevators for the next generation of super skyscrapers.

Inazawa Mitsubishi Tower

Mitsubishi, the main employer in Inazawa, will "test new drives, gears, cables and other lift systems," according to the BBC article.

Inazawa Mitsubishi Tower


Inazawa is three stops north of Nagoya Station on the JR Line to Gifu and Maibara. The huge tower is visible from the station. Turn left and walk about 15 minutes for a close-up view.

Friday, January 04, 2008

88 Temple Pilgrimage - Kyoto

Kyoto 88 Temple Pilgrimage京都の88八ヶ所

Japan's most famous pilgrimage route is on the southern island of Shikoku. The 1,200 km route consists of 88 shrines, and is thus called "The 88 Temple Pilgrimage."

Many of the temples along the route were founded by Kukai, the monk and scholar better known as Kobo Daishi.

Today's pilgrim is more likely to do the Shikoku route in his own car, or a tour bus. Some however still don the white jackets of the pilgrim and walk it. Walking the route takes roughly two months to complete, and many of the temples offer low-priced accommodation.

There are however other less arduous pilgrimage routes. Among them is "Hachi-ju Haka-sho" (88 Temple Pilgrimage), a short hike in the hills behind Ninnaji Temple that is modeled on the Shikoku route. Located in northwest Kyoto, Ninnaji is a World Heritage Site and is well worth a visit, but for locals the mountains behind it are perhaps even more inviting.

Statue along the 88 Temple PilgrimageIn imitation of the more famous route in Shikoku, there are 88 mini-temples. These temples are small and set at short distances from one another. "Pilgrims"--usually joggers or older people out for a short hike--can cover the entire walk in less than an hour.

Each of the temples is slightly different, and all have an appealing well-worn feel.

Some of the temples have statues, like the one at left with its elaborate bib and cap. Kukai is featured in at least of one of them.

At the highest point in the hike, you are treated to a wonderful panoramic view of Kyoto.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Karato Fish Market


The Karato Fish Market is on the waterfront in Shimonoseki right next to the Kaikyo-kan aquarium (Tel: 0832 28 1100).

Karato Fish Market

In the early hours of the day it is a busy wholesale market, and as the day progresses it turns into a retail market heavily visited by tourists. All kinds of seafood delicacies can be bought and eaten there, and it specializes in fugu (Puffer Fish) as Shimonoseki is the undisputed capital of fugu with 80% of all fugu in Japan passing through here.

Karato Fish Market

Images of Fugu are everywhere, even adorning the manhole covers.

Fugu manhole cover, Shimonoseki
The market has been here since 1933, but the new 8,000 square meter building was built in 2001. The roof of the market is unusual in that it is covered in grass.
Entrance is free and there is a large car park. There are buses from outside Shimonoseki Station with the first one leaving at 5.55am on weekdays.

Karato Fish Market

Karato Market
5-50 Karato
Tel: 0832 31 0001

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Day in Meiji Jingu Shrine


South Gate of Meiji Shrine.
Tokyo's Meiji Jingu Shrine was a hub of New Year's Day religious activity. Located in sprawling, wooded 170-acre grounds, the Shrine is accessed via grand avenues of trees that form a complete canopy over the paths.

Dappled sunlight from a brilliant, crisp blue winter sky played over the thousands who thronged the ways to the shrine. The Shrine is accessible from three directions, the main one being the south gate (see above).
Meiji Shrine.
The courtyard of the Shrine, while crowded, was not quite as much of a hubbub as the experience of just getting inside suggested. The crowd was concentrated in front of the Shrine, watched over by very conspicuous security as hundreds of coins were flung moment by moment into the big wooden receptacles and hands were clasped in prayer for a year of health and good fortune.

Tying sacred lots in Meiji Shrine.
Outside the Shrine, there were stalls selling amulets, most of them featuring the rat, which is the Chinese zodiac animal for this year. There was also, of course, the omikuji, or sacred lots, that people drew, read, and then tied to the clothes line-like structures nearby (see above).

After 20 minutes or so of looking around and taking photos, I wandered on to Yoyogi Park, which forms part of the same grounds, and lay down in the unusually quiet park for an hour under the warmth of the diamond white sun. It sure felt like the first day of a happy new year!

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Japan Tokyo Meiji Jingu New Year Yoyogi Park

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year 2008

新年 2008年
Kohaku 2007.

Today is New Year’s Day, or gantan in Japanese. Yesterday, New Year’s Eve, or ohmisoka, is just as big a day as New Year’s Day. On the evening of the 31st, Japan’s main TV station, NHK, broadcasts Kohaku from 9pm until just before midnight: an over-the-top variety show that features the creme of the entertainers who have made it big in mainstream Japan, plus some newish talent whose appearance on the show guarantees that they will make it big.

Kohaku 2007.
Kohaku is an extravaganza that spans the whole gamut of mainstream entertainment in Japan, from the mediocre, maudlin, and manic, to the melodious, and even the magnificent. It is the kind of program that can only really be watched in company, preferably over dinner.

A friend and I sat around a lucky-dip stewpot, a typical dish in winter, and watched Kohaku on his massive 72” screen, and toasted each other with an extra cup of sake when the countdown to 2008 was over.

Toyokawa Inari Shrine, New Years Day 2008.

We then set out for Toyokawa Inari shrine in Tokyo's Akasaka district, the shrine visited by those connected with the arts and music. With its artistic links, it attracts big names, so the front of the shrine was thronged with young fans awaiting the appearance of any of a number of big stars.

After paying our respects at the shrine, we went across the road to the Toraya restaurant where we had one of the distinguished establishments New Year traditional sweet bean dishes. New Year is the only time of the year the trains run all night, so we caught a train back to our respective homes at about 4am this morning.


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