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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Japan This Week: 31 August 2008


Japan News.God's Home Gets Rehab, and Japan Sneaks Peek.

NY Times

Desolate islands raise tension between South Korea and Japan.

NY Times

Japanese NGO worker murdered in Afghanistan.


Less Yen for Foreign Travel In Aging, Risk-Averse Japan.

Washington Post

Torrential rain leaves one dead.

Japan Times

Residents go to courts to evict yakuza.


Govt, ruling bloc decide 11.7 trillion yen stimulus package.

Daily Yomiuri

Canada loses to Japan in final, earns silver at Women's Baseball World Cup.

Yahoo! Sports

18-year-old Kei Nishikori reaches 4th round of US Open tennis tournament.

NY Times

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Average annual rainfall:

Tokyo: 1523 mm (60 inches)
London: 752 mm (29 inches)
New York: 1128 mm (44 inches)
Beijing: 653 mm (25 inches)
Cairo: 27 mm (1 inch)

Source: World Climate

Tokyo has 191 Michelin stars shared among 150 restaurants - the most in the world.

Source: Japan Times

45 locations in 26 prefectures have recorded record rainfall in a single hour this summer.

Source: Japan Meteorological Agency

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Japan in San Francisco

San Francisco Yerba Buena garden festivalサンフランシスコにある日本

Japanese influence in San Francisco remains strong.

On a cool day in August, a group of koto players set up in Yerba Buena Gardens just south of Market Street in San Francisco.

We had visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum nearby, and when we wandered out the sweet tinkly sounds of five or six koto players wafted towards us.

A mix of tourists, business people, homeless, and young people stretched out on the lawn facing the small amphitheater. There was a short bit of explanation between each song. Then the women set off on their ethereal songs.

The group in this free lunch-time concert was the Sawai Koto School, which was founded in 1979 by Kazue Sawai. 

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Japanese Language: Rice


A variegated vocabulary develops around food staples in any language. In meat-eating Western countries, for example, we have cows, bulls, beef, calves, veal; or pig, swine, pork, ham, bacon – all of which basically refer to the same food sources. Japan is the same when it comes to its own staple, rice.

The rice plant, i.e., rice when still growing in the ground, or even in its harvested state before threshing, is called ine. Due to the particularly warm temperatures this summer, and the lack of typhoons, ine production has been particularly high this year.

Once rice has been threshed and you are left with just the grains, it become kome, or, with the usually honorific o- in front of it, o-kome. Because ine production was so high this year, the price of kome is set to fall.

Once the o-kome has been put in the suihanki, or rice cooker, and gently boiled till soft, it is now go-han, and ready to eat. The go- is also honorific, but, unlike kome, where the o- is sometimes left off, you never hear the word han, only go-han – except when it is incorporated in other words like the above suihanki (sui=to cook, esp. grain, pulses, etc., such as rice or beans + han=rice + ki=device) or sekihan (seki=red, han=rice), red rice used for auspicious occasions.

Han is the Chinese reading of the character. One of the native Japanese readings is meshi, which also has the extending meaning of “food”. Therefore, while yakimeshi means “fried rice”, meshi by itself means “a meal”. Asameshi (asa=morning + meshi=meal) means breakfast. As an idiom, asameshi mae (asa=morning + meshi=meal + mae=before) i.e., “before breakfast,” means “a piece of cake” or “easy as pie” in English.

Another, somewhat less common, alternative pronunciation of the han character is manma or mama. Interestingly, manma not only means cooked rice, but is the word used to describe baby talk; and the other pronunciation mama appears in the word mamagoto (mama=rice, goto=affair, business, thing) which means “playing house"!

Last week's Japanese lesson

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Orchid Gardens Nagoya



Just a short walk south of the IdcN Museum are the Orchid Gardens - an urban garden dedicated to the orchid.

Orchid Gardens Nagoya

The Orchard Gardens are a pleasant retreat in the center of Nagoya and consist of both interior and exterior European-style garden space.

Orchid Gardens Nagoya.

The main, pleasantly cool main Ran no Yakata (ランの館 i.e., "Hall of Orchids") atrium displays over 250 species of orchid as well as other flowers. The ceiling was modeled on the Crystal Palace erected in London's Hyde Park for the first World Expo of 1851.

Orchid Gardens Nagoya.

Outside are some fine lawns in a British-style garden, a small lake with lotus flowers and an Asian garden built around a Balinese-style arbor.

The Orchid Gardens includes a flower shop on the first floor and the second floor has a noted restaurant. The air-conditioning system for the building is ecologically run using an in-house sewage treatment center.

Orchid Gardens Nagoya


Orchid Gardens
4-1 Osu 4-chome

Tel: 052 243 0511
Hours: 9am-5:30pm every day
Price: Free

Nearest subway station is Kamimaezu on the Tsurumai and Meijo Lines of the Nagoya subway.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beijing Olympics in the Japanese Media


An American friend and his Chinese wife long resident in Japan have decided that Thailand would be the best place to watch the Olympics. Having seen tv coverage of different Olympic games in the US, Japan, and China, they roll their eyes at the thought of any more "USA USA USA" chanting (US), crying athletes and heartfelt disappointment (Japan), and lots and lots of ping pong (China). Thailand is, to put not too fine a point on it, not dominant in any sport. As a result, you get a wide selection of events and little nationalistic commentary. And great food.

The Japanese media was negative throughout the Beijing games. It wasn't just the usual suspects--the center-right Yomiuri Shinbun, farther right Sankei Shinbun, and the silly sports dailies--but even the center-left Asahi Shinbun.

While Japanese athletes for the most part disappointed, the local media stewed about China.

The lead headline in the Asahi on the day after the closing ceremony was "Gold: China 51, Japan 9." Farther below in a sub-heading was, "Human Rights and the Environment: No Changes." And, in a bit of a stretch, there was a prominent story about the men's marathon winner, Samuel Wanjiru.

The Kenya native was recruited to and spent his high school years in Sendai, under the tutelage of a Japanese coach and team.

The headline read "Japan Bred--Wanjiru Wins Marathon."

After graduating, he moved on to Toyota Jidosha to continue his training in Japan. However, prior to the Beijing games, he returned to Kenya to train--because as was widely reported in the English-language press he felt he had a better shot at the gold if he used less severe training methods.

In the post-race interview with Japanese tv, he replied that the main lesson he had learned in Japan was gaman. This translates as "patience" or "perserverance." What it really means though is the capacity to endure, to overcome terrible adversity. It is a much prized quality in Japan.

Perhaps that is exactly what the American-Chinese couple lack when the Japanese announcers are screaming or weeping or fuming about an event that happens to feature an athlete from Japan.

Monday, August 25, 2008

IdcN Design Museum Nagoya


Located in the Nadya Park building in Sakae, the International Design Center showcases modern design from the early 20th century onwards.

IdcN Design Museum Nagoya

Many of the exhibits are housed in revolving "Collection Towers" - press the button to see a variety of industrial and commercial design standards appear - telephones, vacuum cleaners, radios and a number of American Art Deco classics.

IdcN Design Museum Nagoya

There are also a number of interactive computer consoles outlining the history of design and an interesting display of iconic posters.

IdcN Design Museum Nagoya

The museum has explanations in both Japanese and English. There is a small bar and shop selling upmarket design products and wines from around the world.

IdcN Design Museum
Nadya Park Design Center Bldg. 4F
3-18-1 Sakae
Tel: 052 265 2106
www: idcn
Hours: Open 11am-8pm; closed Tuesdays

Access: A short walk west from Yaba-cho Station on the Meijo Line (Exit 5 or 6) or south from Sakae Station on the Meijo and Higashiyama lines of the Nagoya subway.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Japan News This Week: 24 August 2008


Japan News.Japan seeks arrest of three Sea Shepherd campaigners.

NY Times

Japan's trade surplus shrinks 87% in July.

Washington Post

79-year-old woman knifes two people at Shibuya Station.

Japan Times

HSBC accused over "cultural insensitivity" after white sumo ad.


Young Briton held in Japan on suspicion of shaking newborn son to death.


Japan's baseball pros humbled by US minor leaguers in Beijing.

Daily Yomiuri

Hideki Matsui returns to Yankees.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

There are an estimated 273,740 taxis nationwide, according to a 2006 survey. Sendai had 3,003 taxis as of March 2007.

Source: Construction & Transport Ministry

Japan's university graduation rate from its 725 universities fell to 84.6% last year compared with a global average of 70%.

Source: Daily Yomiuri

Of 16,801 successful doctorate graduates in 2007, only 4,146 found employment.

Source: Education Science & Technology Ministry

On average 150kg per person of food is thrown away each year in Japan, which has a rate of only 40% of food sufficiency.

Source: Josei Jishin

An estimated 30 trillion yen in 10,000 yen notes are held by households nationwide.

Source: Bank of Japan

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Japan Olympic Baseball


Oh dear! In the eagerly awaited Olympic baseball match-up between Japan and arch-rivals South Korea, it was the Koreans who advanced to the gold medal game leaving Japan and their team of highly-paid pros with the prospect of either the bronze medal or going home with nothing.

Interest in the game was high and the score (6-2 to South Korea) was posted at the entrance to the elevators in this office building so that workers could keep up with the score as they sneaked out for a smoke or a drink from the vending machines.

Japan v S. Korea Olympic Baseball

Ironically, it was the South Korean slugger, Lee Seung Yeop, who plies his trade in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants, who sealed the match with a two-run homer.

Japan's women showed the men how to do it by winning the softball gold beating the USA in the final game.

Japan in Thailand


As in the rest of South East Asia, the Japanese economic, financial and cultural presence in Thailand is huge.

Bangkok has virtually a Japanese restaurant on every street, billboards advertising the latest Japanese products abound, Japanese supermarkets and bookshops appear in most shopping malls, many of which were built using Japanese capital.

Technological Promotion Association, Bangkok

Japan is Thailand's biggest trading partner accounting for 20% of the country's imports and just under 12% of its exports. Over 1,200 Japanese firms are registered at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok and Japan provides over 35% of all direct financial investment in the country. A large Japanese government loan helped finance the building of Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Japanese restaurant, Bangkok

On a more personal level there is even a Japanese-only street in the red-light district of Patpong off Silom Road in the capital, where the CSWs speak fluent Japanese and cater to no other nationality.

Indeed Japanese make up the largest number of foreign visitors to the country with around 1.2 million Japanese tourists visiting Thailand annually - Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai being the preferred destinations.

Japanese restaurant, Bangkok

The two countries' royal families supposedly enjoy cordial relationships and the history of interchange between Japan and Thailand goes back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when there was a Japanese settlement at the Thai capital of Ayudhaya (present-day Ayutthaya) and samurai served in the Thai King's army before the closed-door policy of sakoku shut off the valuable "red seal" trade between the two Asian neighbors.

Though never a colony, during World War II Thailand became a vitual satellite of Tokyo and it was to aid the Japanese war effort in Burma against the British and Indian armies that the infamous "Death Railway" was built. The original Bridge over the River Kwai can still be seen in Kanchanaburi in western Thailand with the small JEATH War Museum recreating a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Besides the numerous Thai CSWs who are trafficked to fuel Japan's pink industry, the next few years should see a small number of Thai nurses allowed in to the country to provide care for Japan's legions of old people.


Japanese Embassy in Bangkok

Japanese Chamber of Commerce

Friday, August 22, 2008

Camp queens on Japanese TV


O-né Mans is a program that airs every Tuesday on Nippon Television Network at 7pm. “A convergence of charismatic characters from every walk of life, all of whom employ camp language with consummate skill” is how the program is introduced on the station’s website.

O-né in Japanese means “big sister”. In Japanese gay parlance, “o-né” means “camp queen”. And O-né Mans is a program featuring 9 camp queens from “all walks of life” camping it up for the TV audience.

“Men, but not men, more feminine than women” is the next line in the website’s introductory blurb. “These are the charismatic genii of the ultra-future,” gushes the next.

But read a little further on, and you will find that “all walks of life” refers to the worlds of fashion, webmastership, hairdesign, showbiz, flower design, gym training, nursing, and cooking. God forbid that anyone deemed to bear authority in Japan, such as lawyers, priests, politicians, doctors, bankers, accountants, etc. should get a look in. And God further forbid that the camp cast be let loose on TV audiences by anyone but a “normal,” i.e. straight, MC.

In a sense, gay men could be said to be empowered by O-né Mans, attested to by their “charisma” alone keeping the program afloat. But in another sense, the program is a statement of how gay men are straitjacketed in what heterosexual Japan believes gay ought to mean. These are not men who love men – they are genderless freaks: “men but not men, more feminine than women”. Being gay is not about sexuality – it is about “employing camp language with consummate skill,” the implication being that if you are not a camp queen with the gift of the gab, you cannot properly call yourself gay. And while gay men are depicted as being in “all walks of life,” as noted above, they are notably absent from the walks of life where decisions are made about people’s fate.

Check out the O-né Mans website (Japanese only.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Japanese Language: Idioms


The dog days of summer are upon us, and a few idioms are just what we need to keep us going.

序の口(じょのくち、jo no kuchi)= This is an expression from the world of sumo. It means "just the beginning." The origin of this expression is the sumo rankings that come out prior to each tournament. The rankings go from "jo no kuchi" all the way up to "yokozuna," which is the grand champion. Thus, "jo no kuchi" is the lowest rank in the top level of sumo--just the start.

You can use it when you are beginning a project or in more casual circumstances.

机上の空論(きじょうのくうろん、kijo no kuron)= something that sounds good in theory--but ain't gonna work or is not practical. "Kijo" is on the desk, "kuron" means an empty discussion.

一長一短(いっちょういったん、iccho ittan)= having both good and bad points.

Here is one for August: 優柔不断(ゆうじゅうふだん、yuju fudan)= indecisive. Nothing like putting something off until the weather cools a bit.

Our last expression this week is a perennial favorite.

以心伝心(いしんでんしん、ishin denshin)= tacit communication. It means something understood, without having to say anything. Japanese often use and love this expression.

Last week's Japanese lesson

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monkey At Shibuya Station


A monkey caused panic today at Tokyo's Shibuya Station as it evaded capture by police armed with nets and sped off in the direction of Yoyogi Park.

There have been a number of simian sightings in the capital of late and as usual the Japanese police did not get their man.

Kyoto Kyouen


The Kyoto Kyouen development at Sanjo Keihan Station in downtown Kyoto is a pleasant shopping and dining development that has replaced the site where east bound trams were once turned around, and the old bus station.

Kyoto Kyouen

The low-rise development has a traditional theme and incorporates traditional wooden buildings, dry stone Zen gardens and water features.

Kyoto Kyouen

There are a number of shops selling traditional Kyoto crafts as well as a Spanish, Italian and Korean-style restaurants and Japanese eateries.


Kyoto Kyouen
137 Daikoku-cho

Exits 3, 4, and 5 of Sanjo Station on the Keihan Line and Exit 2 of Sanjo Keihan Station on the Tozai subway line.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church


Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church

The Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church was completed in 1998. Located on a hilltop overlooking central Yamaguchi City, the striking modern design replaced an earlier church built in 1958 that mysteriously burned down in 1991.

Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church
The church is open to visitors from 09:00am to 17:30pm daily, and there is a Mass on Sundays from 09:30 -10:30.

There is also a Christian Museum located below the church that is open daily except Wednesdays. Admission 300yen.

Yamaguchi-shi, Kameyama-cho 4-1B
Tel. 083-920-1549

The city also has a Xavier Memorial Park with a monument to the Catholic Missionary.

Francisco de Xavier, the first Christian missionary to visit Japan arrived in Kagoshima in 1549. He made a brief, unsuccessful visit to Yamaguchi City in 1550, but returned in 1551 and this time succeeded in gaining the support and patronage of the local Lord, and stayed for 6 months achieving 500 converts in that time.

Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church
Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kyoto Store Shutters

Kyoto yoiyama京都のお店の前のシャッター

While wandering around Kyoto one recent evening, I found two steel shutters that caught my eye. On the left is the universally recognized Coke bottle, on the right an ad for a local tea drink.

In my hometown, Philadelphia, both would be covered in graffiti. And filthy. And multi-padlocked.

These shutters were clean, in every sense of the word. The rendering of the Coke bottle, in particular, was sharp and eye-catching.

Moreover, there did not appear to be any lock holding the shutters fast.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Japan News This Week: 17 August 2008


Japan News.As its work force ages, Japan needs and fears Chinese labor.

NY Times

Mobage-town: Japan's biggest mobile-only social network.

Washington Post

Big business in death.

Japan Times

The alternatives to bombing Hiroshima were not morally superior.


PM's plan for secular war memorial shelved.

Daily Yomiuri

Yoshida dominant in winning 55kg wrestling gold.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Osaka's official homeless population is 7700.

Source: BBC

There are 60,000-70,000 Filipina dancers in Japan; a third are undocumented.

Source: Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ritsurin Koen Cycads


Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu is one of Japan's finest and largest strolling gardens.

Constructed over a period of a hundred years in the Edo Period, the garden combines the traditional features of most Japanese gardens of its type: 'borrowed scenery,' lakes, bridges, tea pavilions and mini-mountains.

Ritsurin Koen Cycads

Built for the enjoyment of the successive ruling lords of the area, the garden was designed to be appreciated in all seasons of the year.

After the fall of the feudal system, the park has been open to the public since 1875.

Ritsurin Koen Cycads

As for the varied flora of the park, there are plum and cherry blossoms in spring, irises and lotuses in summer, maples in autumn and camellias in winter.

My own favorites are these ancient cycads presented to the Matsudaira family (then the rulers of Takamatsu) by the Shimazu clan of the Satsuma domain. Satsuma at the time held the trading rights to the then independent Ryukyu Islands, which now make up modern-day Okinawa Prefecture. The plants are now over 300 years old and are protected by the prefecture.


Ritsurin Koen
Tel: 087 833 7411

Take a bus from JR Takamatsu Station.

Friday, August 15, 2008


国際 ゲイ ホームページ

I met the guys behind JguyUSguy, Japan’s most popular site for gay foreigners living in Japan, foreigners into Japanese guys, and Japanese guys into foreigners, back in the late 90s. I was trying to get a club night started in Osaka – where I lived at the time – called Traffik, and contacted JguyUSguy by mail about promoting it.

It was a modest success, and I ran it – as the main DJ - three times. But club owner fees and the difficulty of doing a club night pretty much singlehanded put paid to it before too long. Fun while it lasted though.

Anyway, I contacted the site for support. JguyUSguy is such an institution in gay Japan that I was surprised and flattered to get mail back from one of the two webmasters – the US guy – not only offering the full support of JguyUSguy for Traffik, but about getting together sometime. Since that time we have been good friends, and, thanks to his introduction, I now have translation work that forms a large part of my income.

As highly polished and professional in nature as it is, JguyUSguy is, surprisingly, not the webmaster’s bread and butter, but a (Herculean) labor of (true) love. It has been fairy godmother to no end of international liaisons, and a valuable and necessary forum of cross cultural dialog. I say “necessary”, because of anywhere, Japan must be a place where Western ways of doing things can be so out of place, in spite of its Western-style living accouterments, that English-speaking guys really need a place where they can hook up to question, probe, get feedback, get advice, impart opinions – and plain howl.

About a year ago the webmaster introduced a membership system whereby parts of the site are accessible only to those who sign up for a modest annual fee. I know how much time he puts into the site – how much time he has put into the site over the years – for no tangible return but the satisfaction of knowing that the magic that brought him and his man together can be, and is being, transmitted to others.

If you have any interest in Japanese guys, whether you live in Japan or not, I would urge to surf JguyUSguy - if you haven’t already yet - and see the wealth of community resources on offer, and just feel the warmth – the heat, even. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The O-Bon Yasumi

The O-Bon Yasumi.

It’s O-Bon season in Japan. This is the time of year when souls of the dead are said to return to the family home, and, traditionally, people return to the family home to pray for those souls’ repose.

And, sure enough, Tokyo is pretty deserted this week, especially today. My cycle ride to work this morning was a rather eerie experience, what with the almost silent streets that, being almost free of cars and trucks, seemed much wider and longer.

The Japanese word for holiday/break is yasumi. It is therefore very easy to ask people about whether and when they'll be off by asking, for example:
Ashita (tomorrow) wa (marking the subject “ashita”) yasumi (holiday) desu ka (question tag)?

Ashita wa yasumi desu ka.
(Is tomorrow a holiday?/Are you on holiday tomorrow?)

Or, instead of tomorrow, asatte (the day after tomorrow), or raishuu (next week).

Another, more sophisticated, way of expressing the idea of a holiday or break is the Chinese reading of the character for yasumi, which is kyuu. It can be used as a shorthand for yasumi, but only in conjunction with another character.

For example, the Chinese character for “facility” or “hall” is pronounced kan. You’ll see it at the end of words like toshokan (library), or taiikukan (gymnasium), or eigakan (cinema). Therefore, if you want to ask if a facility is going to be closed, you can use the word kyuukan. "Ashita wa kyuukan desu ka?" (Will this place be closed tomorrow?)

The Chinese reading of the Japanese word tsuzuku,“to continue,” is ren. So the shorthand renkyuu expresses “continuing holidays," or, in more normal English, “consecutive holidays”. O-bon, being four days - August 13 to 16 - is a renkyuu.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shikoku Manholes


We love Japanese manholes and it seems our visitors like them too from the feedback we have had.

Here are some more Japanese manholes from the island of Shikoku including manholes from Takamatsu, Matsuyama, Konpira-san and Tokushima.

Matsuyama manhole
Matsuyama manhole
Konpira-san manhole
Takamatsu manhole
Takamatsu manhole
Tokushima manhole
Tokushima manhole

Yahoo Japan Auction Service

Book a hotel in Shikoku Japan with Booking.com

Japanese For Busy People

Smoking In Japan


Japan remains very much a smoker's paradise with low prices (around 410 yen for a standard pack of 20), weakly worded health warnings on cigarette packets and no sign on the political horizon of a European-style blanket smoking ban in workplaces, bars and restaurants. There is just not the official will for that sort of drastic anti-smoking measure in Japan at the moment—a will that cannot be expected to strengthen while the commercial behemoth that is Japan Tobacco is such a lucrative source of income for the government.

No Smoking Zone, Kanayama, Nagoya

However, restrictions on tobacco use are increasing. Most urban areas have no-smoking zones outside major train stations and in various busy thoroughfares. These are particularly strict in Tokyo, where weed-addicted office workers huddle into cramped spaces reserved for smoking, surrounded by vending machines, ash trays and occasionally smoke extractors.

Long gone are the days of cigarette smoke being sucked in to Tokyo's subway stations from over-flowing ashtrays at station entrances. The on-street smoking bans around places such as Tokyo and Shibuya Stations are also in response to incidents of lit cigarettes burning young children in the face as smokers bustle through the packed crowds with burning fags in their hands.

Cigarette vending machine

Another sign of the times is the introduction of the TASPO ID card to reduce underage smoking at the nation's millions of vending machines.

Only available to people over 20, with proof of identification, a TASPO Smart Card is now necessary to purchase tobacco products from vending machines. Take up of the cards has been low and after the scheme's subsequent introduction there have been calls from smokers' groups to allow vending machines to once again dispense tobacco between 11pm-6am. At the moment cigarette machines automatically close during the night.

No Smoking sign in Minato Ward, Tokyo

Smoking has also been banned in most of the nation's taxis and is only allowed in certain smoking areas on train station platforms and in designated smoking carriages on trains and the Shinkansen bullet train.

In 2005 the smoking rate among Japanese men declined to 45.8% with the rate among women rising to to 13.8% according to a JT survey.

Nevertheless, of all cancers, lung cancer is the number one killer in Japan, and smokers here are deemed to be at 4 to 5 times greater risk of contracting lung cancer than non-smokers.

Related Links

Japan Tobacco (JT) - the world's 3rd largest tobacco company
Smoke Free Japan - has a few links to smoke-free bars and restaurants (not currently updated)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kompira-san Kotohira

琴平, 金刀比羅宮, こんぴらさん

Kompira-san, in the village of Kotohira in Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku, is a large mountain-side Shinto shrine complex dedicated to the guardian god of seafarers.

Kompira-san Kotohira

The visit to the shrine entails scaling 1,368 steps up on Mount Zozu and the Gohonsha (Main Hall) and the Ema-do Pavilion, though it is possible, if you still have the energy, to ascend another 500+ steps to reach the small Oku-sha shrine off to the right of the Main Hall. The aged and infirm are carried up in special palanquins.

Kompira-san Kotohira

Visitors approach the steps through a covered arcade and pass by some traditional sweet vendors (Gyonin Byakusho) under their parasols, who are all supposedly descendants of families who were allowed to sell in the grounds of the shrine from times gone past.

Kompira-san Gonin Byakusho

Places to explore on the way up include the Homotsukan Museum with painting and sculptures and the Shoin Art Museum with painted screens by Edo-period artist Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795).

Kompira-san Kotohira steps

Konpira-san plays host to a number of festivals including the colorful, night-time Otaisai in October and kemari (a kind of proto-soccer played by Shinto priests in elaborate Heian-period costume) on May 5, July 7 and also in December. Apart from Konpira-san kemari can only be seen in Kyoto.

On a clear day, there are fantastic views over the surrounding countryside and out to the Inland Sea.

The view from the top, Kompira-san Kotohira



Kotohira is easily accessible by train from Takamatsu 30km to the north east. Take a Kotoden train or JR train from Takamatsu. Kotohira is 75 mins from Kochi on the JR Dosan Line.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Japan News This Week: 10th August 2008


Japan News.Flush With Cash, More Asian Tourists Flock to Japan.

NY Times

Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony: No Discernible Boos for US or Japan.

Washington Post

Nissan orders Israeli ally to pull commercial.

Japan Times

No entry for surrogate baby / Divorce of Japanese couple leaves girl stranded in India.

Daily Yomiuri

Holden leads U.S. past Japan in Olympic soccer opener.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

In 2007 there were 33,093 suicides in Japan. This was the 10th straight year in which more than 30,000 took their own lives.

Source: Japan Times newspaper

Saturday, August 09, 2008

World debut of the "fuda"


Strolling home from Shinjuku Station down Omekaido Street, I stopped by a solitary guy sitting on some steps at the side of the footpath, who was beeping away on a weird looking musical instrument. Only one other person was watching, but having two people watching drew a (very) small crowd.

After beeping away for a bit on a rotatable cylinder covered in little buttons, he announced to us that tonight was the "street debut" of the "fuda," an instrument completely of his own creation.

There are only 10 such instruments in the world, he said, all made by him. He was very skilled at playing it, and maintained a good rhythm and nice counterpoint.

Keep an eye out for it, and, remember, you saw it first on JapanVisitor!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Alamas Cafe Tokyo Ni-Chome


Shinjuku Ni-Chome, one stop east of Shinjuku Station on the Marunouchi subway line, is Tokyo's gay nexus.

The latest news from Ni-Chome is the advent of the Alamas Cafe, a "DJ cafe" on the main drag of the district, Naka-dori Avenue. It is affiliated with the gay club, Arch, also in Shinjuku Ni-Chome.

As the subtitle suggests, it has a DJ booth fully visible from the street (at the right of the photo [see left]).

The Alamas is subtley lit, restfully decorated, and, compared with Advocates just a couple of blocks away, has a nice chilled vibe. It opened just last month: in July 2008.

I was there this evening - a little early for things to be jumping yet, and, being summer, perhaps a little too hot.

Kyoto Prefectural Office


The Kyoto Prefectural Office, west of the Imperial Palace, is a fine European-style building constructed on a large scale in 1904.

Kyoto Prefectural Office

The building is situated on the pretty, tree-lined Kamanza Street and is designated
an Important Cultural Property. Nearby are the Kyoto Prefectural Police Headquarters and Kyoto Second Red Cross Hospital.

Enjoy the cherry trees in the grounds in season.


Kyoto Prefectural Office
Kyoto 602-8041
Tel: 075 451 8111

A 10-minute walk west of Marutamachi subway station or take a number #10 bus to Fucho-mae from Sanjyo Keihan, or buses #93, #202 or #204 from Keihan Marutamachi.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Institut Franco-Japonais du Kansai


The Institut Franco-Japanois du Kansai is a much loved building and garden a short walk southwest of the Hyakumanben crossroads opposite the main campus of Kyoto University.

Institut Franco-Japonais du Kansai

The distinctive European-style building was renovated in 2003 and the grounds are a wonderful place to sample French cuisine at the cafe (open Tues-Sat; 11am-8.30pm) or a refreshing evening drink. The restaurant is particularly popular in Kyoto's cherry-blossom season.

The Institut Franco-Japonais du Kansai opened in 1927 to teach French language and culture, which remains the Institute's primary function. In addition, the institute stages films, exhibitions and music events.


Institut Franco-Japonais du Kansai
8, Izumidono-cho
Tel: 075 761 2105

The nearest railway station is Demachiyanagi on the Keihan Line or take a bus to Kyodai Seimon Mae.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Go'o Shrine Kyoto


Go'o Shrine in Kyoto on the western side of the Imperial Palace is dedicated to all things pig.

Go'o Shrine Kyoto

The shrine enshrines Wake no Kinomaru (733–799), an adviser to the Heian Period Emperor Kammu (737–806), and the courtier's sister Hiromushi.

Instead of the usual komainu (mythical lion-like beasts) standing guard outside the shrine, a pair of wild boar do the job instead.

Legend has it that after saving the Emperor's heirs from a plot led by the Buddhist priest Dokyo, Wake no Kinomaru was exiled on the orders of the Empress Koken, who had patronized the "meddling" priest, was possibly Dokyo's lover and may have been involved in the conspiracy to change the succession in favor of Dokyo.

Go'o Shrine Kyoto

Traveling in the wilds of present-day Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu, the loyal adviser hurt his leg but was protected by a herd of wild boar, hence the iconography that dominates Go'o Shrine.

Wake no Kinomaru

Little was made of this story until after the Meiji Resoration in 1868 when loyalty to the Emperor became the dominant theme of official propaganda. Thus, Go'o Shrine was established as a symbol of the new state orthodoxy in 1886.

The shrine is also thought to help those with leg injuries and is also a venue for lavish marriage ceremonies - conveniently situated as it is to a number of hotels which host the subsequent wedding receptions.

Go'o Shrine Kyoto.

The grounds of Go'o shrine contain a statue of Wake no Kinomaru and also an example of breccia (pebble stones naturally cemented together) called sazareishi (さざれ石) in Japanese, reference to which is made in the Japanese national anthem, the Kimigayo. Breccia (made up of angular stones) or conglomerates (made up of rounded stones) take a long time to form and the reference in the Kimigayo is to moss growing on sazareishi - a metaphor for a long period of time.


Five minutes north from Marutamachi Subway Station and west of the Imperial Palace on Karasuma Dori. Go'o Shrine is virtually next door to the Kyoto Garden Palace Hotel.

Go'o Shrine
Karasuma Dori
Kamigyo Ward
Kyoto Prefecture 602-0881
Tel: 075 441 5458

Go'o Shrine Kyoto, Japan.

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