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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower京都タワー

The iconic symbol of Kyoto's "modernity," Kyoto Tower is seen here from the 15th floor of the Granvia Hotel.

This is the luxury hotel in the Kyoto Station building, and has restaurants open to the public on the top floors. We are looking towards the center of the city and beyond to the north.

The white tower, recently refurbished, rises above all but the station building.

In the distance you can see the rest of the cityscape that is Kyoto--and how completely out of scale the Tower is.

It is particularly popular with Japanese junior high school students, for whom it is a must visit while in Kyoto on the school excursions.

Compared to something as dull as Kiyomizu Temple or yet another shrine world heritage site, Kyoto Tower is big, "kirei" (clean, new), and has a gift shop on the ground floor where they can buy presents for themselves and their friends.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Drunk in Japan


Drunk in Japan

Public drunkenness is not considered a shame in Japan and is viewed with indulgence. Every day thousands of drunken office workers, mostly males, can be seen slumped in the carriages of subway trains or on station platforms. Some of them may even be lying in pools of their own vomit.

Drunk in Japan

Station staff patiently attempt to waken the sleeping drunks and even use wheelchairs to transport them to waiting taxis outside the station.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Japan This Week: 28 September 2008


Japan News.Japanese Party Chooses Aso as Leader.

NY Times

Cabinet's Support Rate Starts Off at 48%.


Tourism minister apologizes for gaffes.

Japan Times

Obituary: Jun Ichikawa.


Air bag for Japan's elderly.


Japan's karaoke politics.


Japanese Transport Minister Nariaki Nakayama resigns


Oh to step down at end of season.

Yahoo! Sports

Italian Valentino Rossi won the Japanese MotoGP at Motegi and his sixth world championship.


Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Average Monthly Cash Earnings of Regular Employees (2007): 330,313 yen.

Total Hours Worked and Scheduled Hours Worked (2007): 1,808 hours.

Source: The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training

2007 saw traffic fatalities dip below 6,000 for the first time in 54 years in Japan.

Source: Yahoo News Japan

Sales at convenience stores rose 5.3% in August compared with a year previously. Total sales were reported at 678.48 billion yen. The increase was partly due to more shoppers buying cigarettes now that vending machines require a TASPO card to purchase tobacco.

Source: Daily Yomiuri

Japan ranked 18th in the annual global corruption survey tied with the US. New Zealand, Sweden and Denmark were joint top followed by Singapore. The UK was 16th. China was ranked 72nd. Somalia was dead last at 180.

Source: Transparency International

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Loft is a giant of Japanese retailing. Owned by the Seibu Group, Loft stores are aimed at young homeowners and avid hobbyists.

Loft stores can be found throughout Japan in many large department stores and stock a wide variety of home and garden items including tableware, furnishings, draperies as well as office supplies, bridal goods, kids' stuff and stationary.

Loft store

Established in 1996 with its HQ in Shinjuku in Tokyo, there are now around 50 Loft stores nationwide, employing around 3,400 staff.

Tel: 03 5291 6210

Friday, September 26, 2008

K1 Dream 6

K1 Dream 6.
Kakutogi, Japanese for any hand-to-hand fighting sport, grew big in Japan throughout the 1990s and is now huge. Perhaps the most popular now is K1, a sport established in Japan in 1993 that combines various martial arts to get something that looks like a blend of boxing, kickboxing, and wrestling.

I got to see a K1 event on Tuesday, a national holiday for Autumnal Equinox Day, held in the Saitama Super Arena, connected to the JR Saitama Shintoshin Station on the JR Saikyo Line. A friend had got tickets to the "K1 Olympia Dream 6 Middle Weight Grand Prix 2008 Final Round" event from an old classmate of his who is big in the Japanese kakutogi scene.

We got there at 3pm, and the event got started at 4. The massive stadium was probably about three quarters full. There was a large TV broadcasting presence as it was to be broadcast nationally at 9pm that evening.

Unlike traditional sports, K1 is an over the top showbiz spectacle, all swirling spotlights, strobelights, elaborate computer graphics, pumping music, a totally manic announcer yodelling and trilling each entering contestant's name, grand entrances in silly costumes and exaggerated posturing, and even exploding tinsel showers around the ring on occasion.

Saitama Super Stadium, Saitama, Japan.

What should have been a climax of the afternoon was a fizzer. Fight #11: the Heavy Weight One Match between the firm favorite, Mirko Crocop of Croatia, and a new boy, Alistair Overeem of the Netherlands, began very promisingly with the two massive men first trying to stare each other out before the bell rang, and then engaging in a very tough and bitter struggle.

It soon became apparent though that, strong as Mirko Crocop was, the gargantuanly built Alister Overeem was stronger. He opened a cut beside Crocop's eye which required a couple of breaks to mop up the blood, and soon after that it became clear that Crocop was in serious trouble. In spite of the crowd egging him on with words of encouragement, he basically collapsed to his hands and knees and another break was called.

Saitama Super Stadium, Saitama, Japan.

It was obvious from Crocop's demeanor that his pride had been at least as badly wounded by the young Alistair Overeem as had anywhere on his body. There was a great palaver as people screened Crocop, still on his hands and knees and pulling the bitterest of faces, from view with sheets. After what seemed an age, with the impatient Overeem dancing on his feet in the corner, it was finally announced (to the very patient crowd!) that Crocop was "in no condition to continue". But whereas it was clear that Overeem had completely licked him, it was called a "No contest"!

Grossly unfair to Overeem, I thought, and completely shameless of Crocop and his team. Anyway, Overeem is the new boy on the block, seemed like a much nicer guy than Crocop, and is the man to watch.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Japanese "mono" and "koto"


Whereas English uses the word “thing” to refer to anything that exists, Japanese generally divides existence into the physical and non-physical. mono is usually a tangible thing, such as a wallet, a cabbage, a door, or a coin, while koto is an intangible thing, such as a win, a habit, a wish, or an incident.

So, when you’re talking about an intangible thing, you add the word koto to refer to a specific incidence of it. E.g. take talking/chatting. The Japanese verb “to talk/chat” is shaberu. To make the meaning of “talking/chatting,” i.e. a definite act, just add the word koto: shaberu koto.
Taro wa shaberu koto ga suki desu, or “Taro likes talking."
Or, “neru” (sleep)
Mari wa neru koto ga suki desu, or “Mari likes sleeping.”
Or hoeru (bark)
Inu wa hoeru koto ga suki desu, or ”Dogs like barking”

So if a Japanese person asks you:
Nani o suru koto ga suki desu ka? (What do you like doing?”)
you can answer, for example,

jogingu suru (jog)
Watashi wa jogingu suru koto ga suki desu.
I like jogging.

baka-bakashiku suru (act the fool, behave like an idiot)
Watashi wa baka-bakashiku suru koto ga suki desu.
I like playing the fool.

hon o yomu (read books)
Watashi wa hon o yomu koto ga suki desu.
I like reading.

taberu (eat)
Watashi wa taberu koto ga suki desu.
I like eating.

gatsu gatsu taberu (pig out)
Watashi wa gatsu gatsu taberu koto ga suki desu.
I like pigging out.

shashin o toru (take photos)
Watashi wa shashin o toru koto ga suki desu.
I like taking photos.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thousand Origami Cranes


Senbazuru or a thousand folded origami cranes are seen throughout Japan at temples and shrines and places of remembrance and atonement such as the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima or the Daihonei tunnel complex in Nagano built by forced labor during World War II. The cranes may also be offered at weddings to wish the happy couple everlasting happiness or on the occasion of the birth of a child.

Thousand Origami Cranes

The folding of a thousand cranes relates to the legend that if a person undertakes such a task they will be granted a wish by a crane - considered a mythical bird possessed of special powers in Japan.

Nowadays, special origami sets for making the cranes can be bought in shops and department stores.

In literature, the most famous reference to the 1000 cranes is Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by American novelist Eleanor Coerr. The book tells the tragic story of Sadako Sasaki, who died from leukemia in 1955 brought on by radiation poisoning from the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008



P.T.O. (PEOPLE TOGETHER FOR MT. OGURA), a new citizens’ environmental and cultural action group, founded in Kyoto, March 2008

Ogurayama, the beautiful dome-shaped mountain rising on the northern side of the Hozu Gorge as viewed from Arashiyama. A mountain quite unique in its literary associations – from the courtier poets and poetesses of Heian through Priest Saigyo (who had his first hermitage there), Fujiwara Teika (who compiled the karuta collection of 100 Poems by 100 Poets there) right down to Basho (who wrote his Saga Diary there), Kyorai and later haiku poets.

To Mount Ogura
that morning has come
of early winter showers;
when, only yesterday,
all four directions dimly glowed
with red and yellow leaves. (Teika)


Today, Ogurayama is a 'forgotten mountain'. On the one hand, it has become a storehouse of wildlife – kingfishers, little cuckoos, deer, wild rabbits, monkeys and so forth – for its varied forests comprise both broadleaf deciduous and broadleaf evergreen, with coniferous sections, too.

On the other, its environmental problems have become severe. PTO and its volunteers are engaged in tackling the rampant pine disease, in replanting, in maintenance of the bamboo groves on Ogura's lower slopes, and in collection of rubbish tipped illegally and its future prevention.

We have recently won three security cameras from the City Hall for use at the worst of the dumps. We are helping to restore the mountain to a healthier condition as well as guiding people along its charming ancient paths, many of which are in poor condition. A collection of contemporary poetry, Ogurayama Hyakunin Ikku/Isshu – both celebrating and lamenting the mountain today – is in the process of completion (anyone composing verse while walking over or along the foot of the mountain may contribute). We work so that Mt. Ogura will once again become a true inspiration for people who seek enjoyment of natural beauty, and will find its rightful place again in the living local culture of Sagano.

We are in the process of recruiting volunteers (free) as well as members (¥1,500 per year to 31 March 2009). If you aren’t able to visit the mountain and wish to contribute 'from afar' you can deduct the ¥500, which is the insurance policy we pay for members who help from time to time on the mountain itself. If you have already been to Mt. Ogura and seen the problems for yourself, how about supporting us? If not, just come along and help, with your labour offered as donation. Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

Best wishes,

Stephen Gill
Sagano, Kyoto, Sept. 2008
on behalf of P.T.O., whose other officers are Okiharu Maeda, Yoshio Kawagoe, Mieko Nakatsuji, Yoshio Takada, Akitomo Suzuki and Manabu Hayashi

Mt. Ogura hiking events include: 27 Sept. (Sat.), 11 Oct. (Sat.), 23 Nov. (Sun.). Please come! Rendezvous: 10:00 JR Saga-Arashiyama Station barrier. Bring drink, packed lunch, walking shoes and rainwear if necess. Events will go ahead in moderate rain. Distance to walk: generally 4 km. There is a bamboo fence repairing workday on 20 Sept. and pine plantation dead tree removal workdays on 4/18 Oct., 1 Nov. and 6/20 Dec., too. These will not go ahead in rain.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Taro Aso


Taro Aso, Japanese PMTaro Aso, 68, was today elected at the new leader of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and will become the next Prime Minister.

A conservative hawk, who favors pump-priming the economy, Aso is the grandson of post World War II Prime Minster, Yoshida Shigeru.

It was 4th time lucky for the "charismatic" Aso who lost out in previous leadership elections to Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda.

Aso easily won the vote by LDP MPs and regional party members - winning 351 out of the 527 votes cast, way ahead of his nearest challengers in the leadership race, Kaoru Yosano and Yuriko Koike, who polled just 66 and 46 votes, respectively.

Aso, a Roman Catholic, known for his straight-talking, frequent gaffes and love of Japan's manga culture, is a controversial figure and a member of the political elite that has ruled Japan since the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Aso is related not only to post-war premier Yoshida Shigera but also Meiji oligarch Toshimichi Okubo.

Aso studied at both Stanford University and the London School of Economics in his early years before joining his father's company Aso Mining Company in 1966. Aso served as president of the company from 1973 to 1979 and penned the firm's official history - making no mention of the wartime slave laborers (Koreans and Allied POWs) who were forced to work in Aso Mining's copper mines during World War II. Aso was also a member of the Japanese shooting team at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Aso's election signals a pronounced step to the right for Japan after Fukuda's term in office. Aso is a traditionalist and nationalist who favors a strong foreign policy stance vis-a-vis China and North Korea, though it remains to be seen if he will follow in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's footsteps and visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

Aso has made a number of contentious remarks during his colorful political career including disparaging a burakumin (dowa) minority MP and firmly rejecting calls for a woman to ascend to the imperial throne.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Japan This Week: 21 September 2008


Japan News.Japan Banking Stocks Suffer Biggest Drop Since 1987.

NY Times

Tainted rice used in 100,000 rice balls.


Lehman in talks to sell off Japan equity, assets.

Japan Times

Japan's PM hopeful fails to acknowledge family use of slave labour.


Tokyo's gadget heaven.


Ichiro ties 200-hit season mark.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

In 2007, 20,007 foreign nationals were arrested in Japan. Almost half, 9,211, of these were apprehended for immigration-related issues.

Of the remaining crimes, theft accounted for more than half of the cases. Just 477 (.02%) of the total were for "vicious crimes" (murder, rape, assault, etc.). These crimes were committed primarily by Chinese (52%) and Brazilians (22%).

Source: NPA (National Police Agency)

300 people were arrested in 2007 for child pornography offenses in Japan. That is a 17% increase from the previous year.

Japan and Russia are the only two countries in the Group of Eight that do not ban possession of child pornography.

Source: International Business Times

There were 2.83 goals scored on average in the J. League last season - 867 goals in 306 games - compared with 2.63 in the Premier League in England and 2.55 in Serie A in Italy.

Source: World Soccer Magazine

Only 24.6% of Tokyo dogs in 2005 wore official municipal government issued dog tags.

Source: Health, Labor & Welfare Ministry.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shibuya 109

109, shibuya, tokyo渋谷109

Shibuya 109, or just 109 (ichi-maru-kyu, in Japanese), is a landmark for women between the ages of 10 and 30.

The cylindrical building stands at a fork in the road just up a slope from the scramble intersection in front of Shibuya Station, in Tokyo.

Within its eight above-ground and two underground floors one can find the latest fashions in Japan.

In addition, it is a sociologists dream. On each floor, you will find many boutiques, each offering a very defined fashion look. The women who work as clerks in these shops wear the clothes of the shop--and the attitude appropriate to the look.

The pinker the fashion, the cuter the look and behavior of the clerks. In the hip-hop influenced shops, the attitude was considerably cooler.

In one boutique, the two women clerks flew around the tiny shop screaming "irashaimase" (welcome). They both were deeply tanned, short, cute, and were sporting completely blonde hair, short cotton skirts, and lots of bangles. Across the hall, in a much more subdued place, the tall reserved female clerks barely noticed customers.

109, shibuya, tokyoThe mall was packed with Japanese women, all under 30, and legions of Asian tourists, many of whom were on the wrong side of 30.

In total, there were 50+ shops, some with wonderful names.

Some of my favorites were:

baby Shoop
Shake Shake

and, of course, XOXOkisskiss.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ema Japanese Votive Plaques


Ema are small, painted, wooden boards or plaques found displayed in Shinto shrines.


Usually purchased for around 500 yen and bearing the chief symbol or characteristic motif of the shrine or an animal associated with the Chinese zodiac, ema are inscribed with a wish or hope: success in exams, luck in marriage or finding a partner, a healthy child-birth, financial prosperity, winning the lottery...anything is possible...just buy a plaque, fill in the details, pray to the kami (gods) and hang it up with the rest.


Often the image on the plaque may be of a horse, uma or ma in
Japanese means "horse" hence ema is literally "horse picture". 

You don't have to write in Japanese, the Shinto gods are multi-lingual and will understand your wish.

These ema are from Zozan Shrine in Matsushiro in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Numbers in Japanese


One of the first things a visitor to Japan should memorize are the numbers in both written and spoken form so here they are:

Listen to the numbers in Japanese

1 - ichi; 一
2 - ni; 二
3 - san; 三
4 - shi (yon); 四
5 - go; 五
6 - roku; 六
7 - nana (shichi); 七
8 - hachi; 八
9 - kyuu; 九
10 - jyuu; 十

100 - hyaku 百
200 - ni-hyaku 二百
1,000 - sen 二千
2,000 - ni-sen 千
10,000 - ichiman 一万
20,000 - ni-man 二万

The numbers are useful in restaurants and shops and for saying your age if asked.
watashiwa nana sai desu - I'm seven years old. See it's child's play.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Japanese Fashion: Legs and Tattoos

Shibuya Station, Tokyo秋のファション:足と入れ墨

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I wandered around Shinjuku, Daikanyama, and the Harajuku/Omotesando areas and was struck by many things.

One surprise for someone coming up from Kyoto was the number of tattoos, especially on women. In Kansai, tattoos are still a bit rare. Mobsters, of course, and the occasional college student or artist have tattoos.

In Tokyo, however, tattoos were everywhere.

And on all parts of the body.

We saw countless tattoos high up on the thigh just barely visible under a skirt or hot pants, just next to cleavage, on the back of the neck, the side of the ankle, the shoulder blade, etc.

The woman with the Mickey Mouse tattoo--it's real--on her calf was waiting for a train at Shibuya Station. Her exposed shoulders featured elaborate dragons.

One sign that tattoos may even be a bit passe was that we spied a woman, in her late 20s, who had the telltale scars on her left arm of tattoo removal. She was feeding a baby in an Italian coffee shop.

Another, more attractive, surprise were leggings.

Women of all ages sported all sorts of leggings.

Leggings, OmotesandoThe women pictured at left was in her early- to mid-40s, very attractive, and made quite an impression with her brilliantly colored and patterned leggings. She is strolling along Omotesando on a recent Saturday.

Few if any openly stared at her as she paraded along the tree-lined street thronged with tourists and locals.

The clack-clack of her heels punctuated the colors as they shifted along her legs while she walked.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spelling - on sale now!

Everything looks fine with this piece of English, for some reason added to the wall of a neighborhood supermarket.

Advantage To Leam

"Loaded with information
that will be to
your advantage to leam."

Hang on - that's "leam" not "learn"...have a closer look.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Mobile Libraries in Japan


For small, rural towns in Japan with no public library, residents rely on a mobile library service provided by the nearest city with a public library.

Matsushiro mobile library

In Matsushiro, just outside Nagano, the mobile library calls once a week on Saturdays, from the main library in Nagano city.

Matsushiro mobile library


To get to Matsushiro, take the Nagano Dentetsu Yashiro Line train to Matsushiro Station from Nagano. Alternatively, take the more frequent local bus from Nagano Station to Matsushiro from bus platform #3 outside the station.

Yahoo Japan Auction Service

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Japan This Week: 14 September 2008


Japan News.Japan Seeks to Withdraw Its Military From Iraq by Year’s End.

NY Times

Police to target 2 firms in probe of tainted rice.


Japan's Koizumi backs female PM candidate Koike.

Washington Post

Economy shrank 3% last quarter.

Japan Times

Japan: Sumo chief resigns over drugs scandal.


Japan centenarians at record high.


Japan complete jittery 3-2 win over Bahrain.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The Japanese economy shrank 3% in the April-June quarter.

Source: Kyodo News

Only 33% (2,065) of 6,261 candidates from the country's law schools passed the annual national bar examination.

Source: Justice Ministry

As of September 1, 2008, 36,276 people are over 100 years old in Japan - 31, 213 women and 5,063 men.

Source: Welfare Ministry

Friday, September 12, 2008

Polar Bears Turn Green


Making the news in the UK were the green polar bears of Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya.

The bears' normally white fur has turned green due to the growth of an algae in their pond.

When the hot weather in Nagoya ends, the algae will disappear and the bears will be white again.


Higashiyama Zoo
Chikusa-ku, Higashiyama, Motomachi 3-70
Hours: 9:00am-4:50pm; closed Mondays
Admission: 500 yen

Take the Higashiyama subway line to Higashiyama Koen or Hoshigaoka stations.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Japanese Language: Country Names in Kanji


Today we are going to look at a few country names, as they are rendered in Chinese characters. 国(くに、こく;kuni, koku)is country. To identify a country, you can often just place its kanji, or Chinese character, in front of that. (Katakana, the Japanese syllabary for foreign words, can always be used, and some countries only have a katakana rendering.)

中国(ちゅうごく、chugoku)= China, the "middle" country or kingdom, whence all comes
韓国(かんこく、kankoku)= Korea
英国(えいこく、eikoku) = England, the "hero" country
米国(べいこく、beikoku)= USA, the "rice" country

Other countries are frequently abbreviated to one character when referred to in the press. At right in parentheses is the original.

印(いん、in)= India (印度)
仏(ふつ、ぶつ, futsu, butsu)= France(仏蘭西)
伊(い、i)= Italy(伊太利亜)
独(どく、doku)= Germany
西(にし、nishi)= Spain (西班牙)
欄 (らん、ran) = Holland (阿蘭陀)
加(か、ka)= Canada (加奈陀)

And let' not forget:

日本(にほん、にっぽん、nihon, nippon)= Japan

Please send other examples.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan & Edogawa Ranpo


A short walk from the oyster bars' side of Toba Station is the quirky Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan.

Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan

The museum is the preserved former residence of local artist and writer Junichi Iwata and displays manuscripts, letters and every day items from the lives of Iwata and his literary friend Edogawa Ranpo. Iwata drew illustrations for Edogawa Ranpo's stories and the two shared the house for a while, when Ranpo was living and working in Toba.

Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan

Also on show are photographs dating back to 1936, many featuring the famous women divers (ama) of the area.

The subsequent fame of Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965), aka Taro Hirai, far outweighs that of his associate Junichi Iwata, and it is the personal effects of the noted mystery writer, including his trademark beret and round glasses, on display at the museum, that attract most interest.

Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan

Ranpo was an admirer of western thrillers and mystery tales, especially those of Edgar Allan Poe. Among Ranpo's best known works are: Phantom of the Universe, Phantom of the Circus and Vampire.

Ranpo and Junichi Iwata also collaborated on researching the hidden history of Japanese homosexuality - nanshoku - and Iwata published the book Honcho Nanshoku Ko on the subject.
Iwata (1900-46) died at a young age, only 45, in Tokyo, but the museum is a fitting tribute to an energetic, young artist of the time.

Toba Minato Machi Bunka Kaikan
Toba 2-5-2
Tel: 0599 26 3745
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-3pm; Sat-Sun 10am-4.30pm
Admission: Free

Walk south from Toba Station past the entrance to the remains of Toba Castle, at the next signal bear right and the museum is on your right.

There are Kinstetsu trains to Toba from Osaka and Nagoya (1 hour, 35 mins) and there are overnight highway buses from Ikebukuro via Kuwana and Tsu to Toba.

Yahoo Japan Auction Proxy Service

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Toba Oyster Bars


If you are visiting Toba in Mie Prefecture to see the Mikimoto Pearl Museum or the Aquarium, find time to drop in to one of the small oyster bars serving up fresh shellfish in the JR Station Shotengai.

Mizunuma Sasaeten

The row of shops is near the inland entrance to Toba station away from the sea, not the main seaside entrance near the coast where the tourist office is....on the other side. Turn right as you come up from the platforms.

Usually run by a middle-aged woman who dispenses local news along with the beers, the shops serve up delicious shellfish. Ask the kindly matron which type is "in season." The shellfish are kept in water tanks at the front of the shops and you just need to point: abalone, clams, mussels, lobsters, oysters, periwinkles, scallops, sea urchins, sazae (turban shell), whelks.

Ekimaeshotengai, Toba

My favorite place is Mizunuma Sasaeten (水沼さざえ店) run by Mrs. Nakamura, who will be encouraging you in to her small shop as you pass by.

Mizunuma Sasaeten
Tel: 0599 25 2511

There are Kinstetsu trains to Toba from Osaka and Nagoya (1 hour, 35 mins) and there are overnight highway buses from Ikebukuro via Kuwana and Tsu to Toba.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Japanese Women Shopping

Japanese Women Shopping買い物中の日本人女性

These two women are heading towards the Keihan Line in Yodoyabashi Station, in Osaka, on their way home after a day of shopping. The women on the left, three bags, is clearly the daughter; the woman on the right, two bags, is her mother.

This is a common site in Japan, the mother-daughter shopping date.

The daughter is dressed in low-cut, high-heel boots. She is wearing denim short shorts, ripped and or frayed in tactical places. Her top shows off a brown midriff and petite belly button, and is cut to expose her shoulders.

O-ka-san is dressed more conservatively in white capri pants, low-heel pumps without a back, and a brown top with the collar turned up. She has the de rigueur Vuitton bag.

Both women have dyed their hair to a similar degree.

The younger woman is taller, which is common in Japan.

Daddy is no doubt at work, and his credit card took a hit today. Including lunch, the ladies look as they have made quite a day off it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Japan This Week: 7 September 2008


Japan News.In Japan, a leadership vacuum.

NY Times

Transparency in interrogations curbs police abuse: so what are they afraid of?


So far, it just isn't looking like Asia's century.

Washington Post

Kyushu - the land of warriors holds on to traditions.


Psy-trance partygoers get set for The Gathering weekend.

Japan Times

Japan: Sumo world in turmoil after wrestlers test positive for marijuana.


Woman, 60, held over mail threat to kill pupils.

Daily Yomiuri

Japanese ace loses teen showdown at US Open.

Yahoo! Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The percentage of the Japanese population over age 65 hit 21.5% in 2007. There are now 27 million elderly people in Japan.

Source: USA Today

The total number of Burakumin--the descendants of Japan's traditional outcaste population--is estimated at between one and three million.

Source: Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Percentage of household food budget spent on dining out by city (rank of city)

Tokyo: 22.5% (1)
Nara: 20.8% (5)
Nagasaki: 16.2% (16.2)
Aomori: 14.3% (49)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Only 11,638 trainees enrolled on courses for nursing care givers in April 2008 as opposed to a target of 25,407. Japan will require 1.4-1.6 million care givers by 2014.

Source: Welfare Ministry

Tokyo stocks fell 2.75% on Friday to their lowest levels since March 2008.

Source: Nikkei

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Zenkoji Temple Nagano


Zenkoji is Nagano's must-see sight and one of the most famous temples in Japan.

Zenkoji Nagano

Dating from the 7th century, Zenkoji keeps the Ikko-Sanzon Amida Nyorai, supposedly the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan (from Korea in the 6th century). A copy of the image is displayed to the public every six years in the Gokaicho Festival, the next is in 2009. The original is kept behind a curtain and is never seen by the laity.

The temple has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt on a number of occasions and the present main hall of the temple was built in 1707.

Zenkoji Temple Nagano

Zenkoji's popularity stems from the fact it is a non-sectarian temple and welcomes visitors from all faiths and creeds. A priest and priestess share the responsibility for the temple's ecumenical rituals. In an ancient ceremony, the high priest or priestess prays for the salvation of visitors every morning.

Zenkoji Temple Nagano

Underneath the main hall is a narrow, pitch-black tunnel that symbolizes the path to enlightenment. Struggle through the darkness with your hand to the wall to guide you and you will discover a metal handle, which is the key to salvation. To enter the tunnel is 500 yen. Be warned it is hot, long and frightening!

Zenkoji Temple
491 Motoyoshi-cho
Tel: 026 234 3591

Take a bus (100 yen) from bus stop #1 outside Nagano Station.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Parque Espana


Japan has a fascination with theme parks that recreate the "life and culture" in other countries. Probably the most famous example is Huis Ten Bosch, the "Dutch" theme park in Nagasaki in Kyushu.

Parque Espana

Parque Espana (Shima Spain Village) in Mie Prefecture on the southern coast near the Ago Bay is part amusement park, part recreated Spain. Various facets of Spanish architecture are here: Andalusian houses, a castle, a statue of Colombus and Spanish-style plazas. There's als a Santa Claus Street, Carmen Street as well as Fiesta and Columbus Squares to get you in the Latin mood.

Visitors often come by bus as part of a package tour and stay overnight at one of the resort's hotels. There are also guided tours for elementary school children to introduce them to "Spanish culture."

There are parades by costumed characters, street performances, an onsen, restaurants and cafes and lots of activities for the kids.

Parque Espana

The amusement park has three spectacular rides: Bullfight Roller Coaster, Gran Montserrat and the Pyrenees.


Parque Espana (Shima Spain Mura)
Sakazaki, Isobe-cho
Tel: 0599 57 3333
Admission: 2,800 yen for adults; children 12-17 1,800 yen; children 4-11 1,200 yen.

English website

From Osaka Namba Station the journey by Kintetsu train and shuttle bus (360 yen) to the park from Ugata Station is about 2 hours, 40 minutes.
From Nagoya Station the journey by Kintetsu and bus to the park from Ugata Station is 2 hours, 13 minutes.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Japanese Expressions II


It's Thursday, so let's take a look at a few more useful expressions.

ピンからキリまで(pin kara kin made)= from best to worst

You can shorten it to ピンキリ (pin kiri).

棚からぼた餅(たなからぼたもち、tana kara bota mochi)= an unexpected bit of good luck. The expression literally means "a rice cake on a bookshelf."

It can be shortened to たなぼた(tana bota).

And for summer, even late summer:

生ビール(なまビール、nama biru)= A draft beer.

And for all those who dream of something else:

脱サラ(だつさら、datsu sara) = leaving the life of a salaryman and pursuing a different path.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Obuse Sidewalks


Obuse in Nagano Prefecture prides itself on being an arty town right down to its pretty sidewalks (or pavements if you're a Brit).

Obuse Sidewalk, Nagano

Sidewalks are a bit of a luxury in Japan - often its just a white line painted at the side of the road - but Obuse city has relaid its predestrian walkways with blocks of the local chestnut wood, making for a very soft stroll through the town's many art galleries, boutiques and museums.

Obuse Sidewalk

Obuse is known for its delicious Japanese sweets made from chestnuts and using the wood for the pavements was one way of recycling the old trees.

Obuse Sidewalk, Nagano


Take the Nagano Dentetsu Line from Nagano Station to Obuse (20 minutes by limited express; 35 minutes by local).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Matsushiro Daihonei Nagano


As Japan faced certain defeat in World War II, special plans were put in place to move the Emperor and the main organs of the Japanese state, including the ministries and NHK, to underground bunkers in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture in Matsushiro.

Tunnel complex, Matsushiro Daihonei, Nagano

The thinking was to prepare for a final battle to inflict such damage on the Allies as they would accept the continuation of the Imperial system. A special chamber was constructed to house the Emperor and his family underneath the hard rock.

Plan, Matsushiro Daihonei, Nagano

Construction of the 6km-long underground tunnels and shelters began in late 1944, when around 7,000 Korean forced laborers were moved into hastily-built camps at the site at Mount Zozan and local residents were evicted.

Matsushiro Daihonei Nagano

Construction work continued around the clock in terrible conditions. Workers were fed a meager diet and it is estimated that around 1,000 people died from malnutrition, execution and accidents as the rock was dynamited and carried out by hand on wooden trolleys and in rope nets.

All records of the operation were destroyed at the end of the war and only the names of 3 Koreans workers and a Japanese who died at the site are now known: Tosan Paku, Kisuru Kim, Tokusu Chou and Jiro Nakano.

Also at Mount Zozan an ianjo or "comfort women station" was established when four young Korean women were brought to Matsushiro on the promise of work as "special nurses" to serve the Japanese guards and high-ranking Koreans.

Matsushiro Daihonei, Nagano

The women disappeared at the end of the war and their fates remain unknown. The building where the comfort women were kept was dismantled in 1991. The Organization for the Memorial Center of Another History in Matsushiro has preserved the remains of the structure and has plans to re-erect the building as a war memorial. So far, these plans are on hold due to lack of financing (30m yen is the projected budget) and some opposition amongst the local people.

A school project in 1985 brought to light the tragic history of the tunnels and the Nagano city government secured and opened 500m of the shelter complex to the public after pressure from the local community. The tunnels are administered by the sightseeing section of Nagano city and there is local concern that not enough emphasis is placed on the historical and educational aspects of the site.

Japanese soldiers at Matsushiro Daihonei, Nagano

At the site is a memorial stone in Japanese and Korean.
Entrance to the tunnels is free.
Hours are 9am-4pm.
Tel: 026 224 8316
Matsushiro city page on Daihonei

The small historical museum mouitotsunorekishikan (もういとつの歴史館; "Another History Museum") to the right before the main entrance to the tunnel, exhibits tools and photographs reconstructing the harsh existence of the workers with a stirring introduction in Japanese by the museum's guide (admission 200 yen).

Another History Museum, Matsushiro, Nagano

To reach the tunnels take a Nagano Dentetsu Yashiro Line train to Matsushiro Station from Nagano and then walk south about 20 mins. Alternatively, take the more frequent bus from Nagano Station to Matsushiro from bus platform #3 outside the station.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Fukuda Resigns

福田 赳夫

Yasuo Fukuda Yasuo Fukuda today has resigned after less than one year in office.

Fukuda announced his resignation at a hastily arranged news conference at his official residence in Tokyo.

Fukuda's administration has seen its popularity slump due to the sluggish economy, the lost pension records scandal and an unpopular healthcare scheme.

Fukuda succeeded Shinzo Abe, who also quit after less than a year following a series of embaressing ministerial scandals.

The hawkish Taro Aso, like Fukuda, another scion of the ruling elite, could be the next in line for the top job.

Kachoen Kakegawa


Kachoen in Kakegawa in Shizuoka Prefecture is a large bird and flower park, which has overtaken Kakegawa Castle as the small town's biggest tourist attraction.

Man with bird in hand!

Visitors get the chance to feed and interact with birds in a semi-natural environment of greenhouses (supposedly Japan's largest), lotus ponds and outdoor spaces.

Kachoen Kakegawa

Kakegawa's Kachoen is part of a larger chain of bird theme parks with sister sites in Kobe (Tel: 078 302 8899), Fujinomiya city in Shizuoka (Tel: 0544 302 8899) and the huge Vogel Park (Tel: 0852 88 9800) in Matsue in Shimane.

Birds on display include owls (thankfully tethered or caged), emus, penguins, as well as a range of tropical birds such as flamingoes, parakeets and toucans.

Kachoen Kakegawa

If Hitchcock's The Birds scared you to death, this may not be the place for you, but for those not suffering from ornithophobia, Kachoen is an interesting and fun day out.


Kakegawa City
Tel: 0567 62 6363
Hours: 9am-4.30pm
Admission: Adults 1050 yen; 6-12 year old children 525 yen

Kachoen is a 10-15 minute walk south of Kakegawa Station or get on the loop bus that follows the southern route.

Kakegawa is a stop on the Tokaido shinkansen before Shizuoka and is easily accessible from Nagoya (1 hour) or Tokyo (1 hour, 50 minutes). By car, exit the Tomei Highway at Kakegawa IC.

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