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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Moyai of Shibuya Station

渋谷駅 モヤイ像

Shibuya Station is famous for its Hachiko statue - so famous in fact that the exit near the statue is named after it. However, the south exit of Shibuya Station also has a statue - a much bigger one - that isn't as famous: the Moyai.

This massive statue is based on the moai statues of Easter Island, and was donated to Tokyo by Niijima Village in the Izu Islands south of Tokyo, which are officially a part of Tokyo. It was 1980, and the occasion was the celebration of Tokyo's 100th year as capital of Japan (which previously had been Kyoto).

Niijima Village is the source of the stone of which this statue is made. The word "moyai" is a word in the Japanese dialect of Niijima Village meaning "to work together," and by happy coincidence it sounds like "moai."

Although poor cousin to Hachiko, Shibuya Station's south exit moai is actually more memorable, in its grand, tragic simplicity, and, not least, its solitude in a spot only a minute's walk from the Shibuya shopping area - one of the Japan's most crowded places!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Tokyo Vice Book Review

Tokyo ViceTokyo Vice: An American reporter on the Police Beat in Japan

by Jake Adelstein


ISBN: 0-521-58810-3

346 pp

With so many books promising untold riches, then failing to deliver, this journalistic adventure by Jake Adelstein is rare: it is unputdownable and a real eye-opener into a side of Japanese society that foreigners and Japanese themselves very rarely see, and as such is highly recommended.

After graduating from Sophia University in the early 1990s, Adelstein became the first Western reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, the biggest Japanese–language newspaper in Japan (and the newspaper with the highest circulation in the world). He was soon assigned to the crime beat and after a stint in Saitama (north of Tokyo and as the author describes it, "the New Jersey of Japan") he was sent to cover the notorious red-light district of Kabukicho and the foreigner's playground of Roppongi in central Tokyo. In doing so he made contacts of pimps, prostitutes, hostesses, yakuza gangsters, various members of the police force, and other assorted characters for information.

He details the various complexities of his job and illuminates the necessity of having good connections, which means spending almost every other night wining or dining police connections, or turning up at their houses with gifts. The loyalty Adelstein has for his profession, his colleagues, and his sources is truly admirable, and the friendships he makes are unforgettable. He also makes his way between various competing factions of the police agencies, the media, the government, and other organizations to try and get what he wants.

Adelstein details his descent into this world with both glee and weariness; his evenings become drunken prowls around hostess bars, sex industry establishments, and the nightlife and detritus of Tokyo as he searches for information. His insider's view of the Lucy Blackman case and the way the police handled it are fascinating. He details his involvement in other cases involving various lowlifes of Japanese society and opens up a whole new world to the reader.

The Yakuza are very prominent throughout - indeed, it appears that there are few businesses in which they do not have some kind of presence - and the sheer power that they command, both in physical presence and financially, is breathtaking; the police's role appears to be just to keep them in check as much as possible rather than to attempt to try and eradicate them.

Adelstein eventually gets in way too deep. Knowing too much about Goto Tadamasa, leader of the Goto faction, a branch of Japan's biggest Yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, and a man who was able to enter the USA and obtain a liver transplant despite being on various blacklists, Adelstein is threatened to "either erase the story, or we'll erase you. And maybe your family." He decides that enough is enough and to get out, but not before a showdown with Goto.

The book succeeds on all levels - it is a fascinating glimpse into Japanese society on a level rarely penetrated by Westerners and Japanese alike; it is the journey of a man who loves his job and family but wades in way too far; and it is a truly great read. With stories like these, Jake Adelstein would make a phenomenal drinking partner.

David White

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tokugawa Yoshinobu Grave

Tokugawa Yoshinobu Grave, Tokyo徳川慶喜お墓

Tokugawa Yoshinobu was the 15th and final shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. He attempted to reform the shogunate system - but failed.

He resigned in late 1867, bringing the Edo period of Japanese history to a close, and retired into relative obscurity (though was close to the Imperial family throughout his life).

Like Japan itself, Yoshinobu was swept up by the tectonic changes that overtook the country with the opening of its ports to foreign powers.

He died on November 22, 1913, and is buried in Tokyo's Yanaka Cemetery.

The cemetery and the surrounding area - Yanaka or Sendagi - is well worth a day out. It is close to Ueno Park, and can be done on foot.

To find the grave itself is not hard as there are markers (see below). You may get lost and are more likely to have crows and stray cats for company than human beings - but with a bit of persistence you will find it.

The cemetery is very peaceful.


The Yanaka area can be accessed from either Sendagi Station (Chiyoda subway line) or Nishi Nippori Station (Yamanote Line). For the cemetery, Nishi Nippori Station is the closest station. Nishi Nippori station is just below the cemetery, which is accessible by a short walk up some steps.

Yanaka Cemetery Tokyo
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yukimi Daifuku from Lotte


Lotte, the giant confectionery maker from Korea, is huge in Japan, and, naturally, produces a lot of food and sweets here in Japan with a distinctively Japanese twist.

Mochi, or pounded rice cake, is a delicacy in Japan. So is ice cream. But you don't usually see the two together.

But Lotte has created a rice-meets-dairy product called Yukimi Daifuku - yukimi meaning "snow viewing" and daifuku meaning "dumpling," packing ice cream inside a chewy skin of rice cake.

I bought one for the first time the other day, for only 100 yen or so (i.e. less than USD1) and tried it - or, rather, them: there are actually two inside.

Gently picking up the first dumpling with the small plastic spoon provided, I was somewhat skeptical. Given the flesh-like consistency of mochi, was it going to be like kissing, or, worse still, devouring, a corpse? Or would it softly caress my lips before playfully zinging them and my teeth with pure bracing zest - a foretaste of the merry silver crackle of the winter that lay before us - and suddenly numbing my unsuspecting tongue to speechlessness with a delightful mercurial shiver?

I ate the second one too, so guess which!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Japanese Manhole Covers From Gifu & Kofu


These manhole covers are from Hida Hagiwara near Gero Onsen in Gifu Prefecture, Kofu in Yamanashi, Ise in Mie Prefecture, Kira in Aichi and Himakajima, a small island off the tip of the Chita Peninsula, south of Nagoya.

Japanese manhole covers are a unique form of street design and definitely worth keeping your eyes to the ground for. More often than not, the motif of the manhole cover reflects a regional characteristic or well-known local product. Thus we have a squid for Himakajima, fishing in Hagihara (a place known for its ayu sweet fish) and a pilgrim for Ise. Flowers are common too.

Kofu Manhole Cover

Kira Manhole Cover

Hagiwara, Hida

Ise Manhole Cover

Himakajima, Aichi Manhole Cover

Kisogawa, Gifu Manhole Cover

If you have a manhole cover shot and wish to show it on this blog please contact us if you'd like us to display it.

Manhole Covers in Japan

More Manhole Covers - Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Shimane, Hiroshima

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Kabukicho Tokyo


Kabukicho is one of Tokyo's largest "entertainment" areas and well-known for its red-light sleaze.

Kabukicho near Shinjuku Station is home to over three thousand bars, cinemas, hostess joints, karaoke boxes, nightclubs, pachinko parlors, love hotels, soaplands and massage establishments and has been a center of organized crime since the end of World War II.

The Koma Theater in Kabukicho is a venue for musicals and samurai dramas. the historic Hanazono-jinja (Tel 03 3200 3093) is the local shrine for success in business and leads into the Golden Gai bar alley. The shrine is illuminated at night.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Japan This Week 25 October 2009


Japan News.Beauty and the Bento Box

New York Times

Tokyo festival to screen Japanese dolphin slaughter film


Japan FM: U.S. base should stay on Okinawa

Washington Post

La emperatriz Michiko cumple 75 años

El Pais

2010 bill eyed to give foreigners local-level vote

Japan Times

Welcome to All Saints Church...on the 21st floor an Osaka hotel

Times Online

Le festin médiatique d'Haruki Murakami, par Philippe Pons

Le Monde

Gates presses Japanese on Okinawa


Rising Debt a Threat to Japanese Economy

New York Times

At Tokyo Auto Show, Hybrids and Electrics Dominate

New York Times

Ex-M’s catcher Johjima urged to return to Japan

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

CO2 Emissions in 2007, by country:

China: 21.2%
USA: 19.8%
EU: 13.5%
Russia: 5.6%
India: 4.5%
Japan: 4.2%

Source: IEA

2009 Press Freedom Index. The ranking is from most free to least free.

1 Denmark
- Finland
- Ireland
- Norway
- Sweden
6 Estonia
7 Netherlands
- Switzerland
9 Iceland
10 Lithuania

17 Japan

21 United Kingdom
22 USA

33 South Africa

93 Israel

150 Israel (extra-territorial)

168 China

Source: Reporters Without Borders

Among thirty-five major cities, Tokyo was ranked 4th in terms of "functionality."

1. New York
2. London
3. Paris
4. Tokyo
5. Singapore
6. Berlin
7. Vienna
8. Amsterdam
9. Zurich
10. Hong Kong

Source: Global Power City Index

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kameido backstreets - lost Tokyo

亀戸 裏道


Kameido, just one stop east of Kinshicho, is an area in Tokyo's east end - in Sumida ward - with a vibe more in common with Osaka than the rest of Tokyo.

Casual, unpretentious, with no aspirations to anything but life and its pleasures as lived day by day, it is not the kind of place you would associate with tourism and sightseeing.

Kameido, Tokyo.
However, for those with an interest in Tokyo as it isn't usually seen, either because it is too far off the beaten track, or because modern development has obliterated the ways of life and architecture of the past, Kinshicho offers insights not to be gotten elsewhere.

I was in Sun Street Kameido today, a shopping center closer, actually, to Kameido Station on the JR Sobu Line than to Kinshicho Station. After lunch at Sun Street Kameido (an excellent 70-minute Japanese-style buffet for only 1,782 yen), I took a few backstreets and stepped back in time.

Kameido backstreets - lost Tokyo

As can be seen here, that preservation does not necessarily mean preservation in the best of conditions. An old property dominated by a gigantic willow tree covered in ivy was one of the most interesting finds. Its driveway was so packed with junk, that a wall of trash had mounted up against the inside of the locked front gate.

Kameido backstreets - lost Tokyo

While old does not necessarily mean either beautiful or ugly, both could be found in roughly equal portions in the forgotten streets of Kameido and Kinshicho.

Kameido backstreets - lost Tokyo
Read here about Kameido Tenjinja Shrine

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Tsukiji: The Fish Market At The Center Of The World

TsukijiTsukiji: The Fish Market At The Center Of The World

by Theodore C. Bestor

ISBN: 0-5202-2024-2
456 pp

Long a popular destination for foreign visitors to Tokyo, Tsukiji, the world's biggest fish market with some 450 different types of fish and a daily turnover of more than 2,000 tons of fishy products, is nevertheless facing a crisis in Japan's changing business and food culture. Though it is only a short hop from Ginza, its appeal to foreigners has left some locals bemused. A recent article in the Nikkei Shimbun marvelled at the number of tours for foreigners to this most Japanese of institutions.Luckily for us, the unique nature of this great market has been captured by Bestor, an anthropologist, in this fascinating book.

Though it is an ethnographical study of Tsukiji as a trade and economic institution, at no point does the prose lose the layman. Bestor approaches his subject from a dazzling array of angles, with the focus shifting from the lives and routines of market families, to its colourful history, to more serious discussions on its significance in Japan's economic and cultural history as well as the influence it exerts on the world fishing industry.

What Bestor manages to do is to walk his reader through this complex world and bring it all gloriously to life. He starts out with his own boozy induction to the joys of sushi and first visit to the market. This helps the reader remain anchored when the greater cultural, historical, economic, culinary and social implications of the market come to be discussed. The stall banter, wheeling and dealing, market slang and nuggets of fish lore interspersed throughout help make this much more than just an academic treatise.
The arrival of kaiten-zushi, the kombini and family restaurants, and what all that actually implies for us who live here, is also discussed.

Getting to understand Tsukiji helps to put so many more pieces of the Japanese jigsaw in place and sheds light on both past and present. No matter how familiar you may be either with Japan or her greatest market, this study, the result of a decade of research and observation, will prove rewarding. There is even a welcome guide to getting the most out of a visit to Tsukiji, which anyone will surely want to see after reading this. Indeed, most Tokyoites would learn a thing or two.

Aidan O'Connor

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Insho Domoto Museum of Fine Arts Kyoto

Domoto Museum堂本印象美術館

A little bit of Barcelona lurks in northwest Kyoto.

Just across the main gate to Ritsumeikan University, a bit down the road from the Golden Pavilion, is one of the oddest buildings in Kyoto.

The Insho Domoto Museum of Fine Arts Kyoto was designed by the the great nihonga painter Insho Domoto, who was a painter and teacher in Kyoto until his death in 1975.

The museum, which has Gaudi like design elements on the outside and inside, is currently exhibiting nihonga works that feature Japanese women since the beginning of the twentieth century.

The exhibit runs from October 2 (Fri) until November 29 (Sun).

Most of the works are from the Taisho and Showa era, when clothing shifted from Japanese to Western styles and the "modern girl" (moga) appeared.

Some of the best works are scrolls and advertising posters for beer.


500 yen for adults


26-3 Kamiyanagi-cho
Hirano Kita-ku
Tel: 075 463 0007

9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Last Admission at 4:30p.m.) Closed Mondays. Adults: 500 yen.

Access: The Insho Domoto is across the street from Ritsumeikan University's Main Gate. From JR/Kintetsu Kyoto Station take bus number 50. From Sanjo-Keihan, buses 12, 15, 59. Get off at Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae.

Domoto Museum
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Japanese Woman in Fur Boots

Kyoto woman's fur shoes女性毛衣靴

A beautiful young woman on her bike pulled up next to me and stopped to wait for the light to change in northwest Kyoto.

We had just been to an exhibit at the Domoto Museum and were on our way to a cafe.

The woman was texting, phone in her left hand. In both ears were ear pods attached to an iPod.

In addition to being attractive - and sensory overloaded - she was wearing amazing ankle boots.

Her outfit was completed by a gray scarf, black jersey, black skirt, and black tights. There was a large pink bag in her basket, a smaller purse slung over her shoulder.

But what really was striking were the boots.

Some designer had seen to fit to attach a 10 centimeter wide band of fake - we hope - fur on top of low boots.

Perfect for cycling and visiting the nearby Golden Pavilion on a fall day.

Japanese woman, bike
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crows in Japan


With the possible exception of stray cats and barking dogs (both pet hates of mine), the biggest urban pest in Japan are crows - karasu (in Japanese).

Crows are the Taleban of Tokyo - large, aggressive, noisy and clad all in black.

With wingspans of around a meter and sharp claws and beaks, Japan's crows have moved in from the countryside to the towns to scavenge on the easy pickings of household garbage.

Garbage bags ripped open by crows

Household waste in Japan is not usually placed in a bin or can but left in a plastic bag by the side of the road to be picked up by speeding garbage trucks. Nets are used to cover the piles of plastic rubbish bags but the crows are clever enough to simply lift these off to get at the goodies within.

Beware the crows!

Some estimates put the number of crows in Tokyo at 150,000 birds and the city government is involved in an ongoing fight to cull their growing numbers. Between 2001-2008, 93,000 crows were lured into traps and poisoned in the Japanese capital.

Crows, which often make their nests in and from high-voltage power lines, have also been responsible for a number of blackouts as they eat their way through the cables, even causing the bullet train in northern Japan to temporarily shut down once.

Crows in Japan

If you have ever been buzzed by a crow or worse shat on by one of the Hitchcockian monsters, you'll be with Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on his crow extermination campaign, as the Tokyo city authorities try to eliminate this avian menace.

Listen to the sounds of crows in Tokyo
Video by Rob Markovitz

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Kyoto Cityscape

Kyoto cityscape京都町並み

Kyoto is the home and soul of traditional Japanese culture.

Seventeen World Heritage Sites are sprinkled throughout the city.

Many other sites not recognized by the UN are equally stunning.

Several hundred geisha work in the city's four licensed geisha quarters.

Moreover, unlike every other major city in Japan, it was not bombed during World War II. Kyoto remained intact in August 1945 - while Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al lay in ruins.

However, in the 50+ ensuing years the city itself - in the name of becoming "modern" - has essentially destroyed itself. Old buildings have been knocked down and replaced by concrete structures with no design value.

The idea that historic preservation has any inherent value is still mostly an alien concept to the powers that be in the city.

As a result, the signature features of modern Kyoto have become:

1. Pachinko parlors
2. Convenience Stores
3. Parking Lots
4. High Rise Coops known in Japan as "Mansions"
5. Telephone poles and wires

For a city that earns its much of its living from tourism, one would hope for a bit more vision and planning.

With the exception of small pockets - Shirakawa Dori, Nene no Michi - there is not one area that has retained a "Kyoto" look in its entirety. Walk around Kyoto and in your mind's eye compare the cityscape to what you would find on a street in Paris, Florence, Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, Philadelphia's Society Hill.

As a result, the World Monuments Fund recently placed Kyoto's beautiful machiya townhouses on its "2010 At Risk" list.

Perhaps this will spark a bit more of a revival of the beautiful townhouses than the current "boom" has.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Japan This Week 18 October 2009


Japan News.Obama Becomes Japan's English Teacher

New York Times

Japan Rethinks a Dam, and a Town Protests

New York Times

Japan begins to shake off US foreign policy influence


Japan urged to solve global child custody disputes

Washington Post

Crystal Kay is having a ball

Japan Times

Investor alarm as Finance Minister blasts corporate Japan's ethics

Times Online

Enlèvements d'enfant : Huit pays demandent au Japon de reconnaître le droit parental

Le Monde

Japan's new hi-tech 'graveyards'


Taking On Skyscrapers to Protect View of an Old Friend

New York Times

Former Japanese Prime Minister Revealed as Alien! (In Movie.)

New York Times

Japan Want Stronger Challenges Than Scotland And Togo

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Michelin three star restaurants, top three cities in the world

1. Paris (10 total)
2. Tokyo (9)
3. Kyoto (7)

New York had four, Hong Kong two, and Rome and London one apiece.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Shipments of beer and beerlike drinks declined 2.4% in the first nine months of this year in Japan. Shipments totaled 345.25 million cases. Because of the cool summer, however, that was a drop from the previous year.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

The number of flu patients has doubled in the last week, now topping 640,000.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunshine Sakae Nagoya


Sunshine Sakae Building in Sakae, Nagoya is a large shopping and entertainment building with a 42m-diameter Ferris wheel tacked on to the font.

Sunshine Sakae

The six-story building is just west of Oasis 21 and the TV Tower. The Sunshine Sakae building is illuminated by LEDs at night.

Besides the Ferris wheel (Sky Boat) which has good views of downtown Nagoya, there are a selection of restaurants, a Tsutaya DVD rental store, clothes stores, a hairdresser, a Tully's Cafe and, this being Nagoya, a pachinko parlor.

Sunshine Sakae

Access is through the "Grand Canyon" Square from Exit 8 of Sakae Station on the Higashiyama and Meijo Lines of the Nagoya subway. The Sky Boat costs 500 yen per ride.

Sunshine Sakae Nagoya Japan

Sunshine Sakae
3-24-4 Nishiki
Tel: 052 310 2211

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Friday, October 16, 2009

The Unfettered Mind

The Unfettered Mind 不動智神妙録

The Unfettered Mind
by Takuan Soho
Kodansha International
Translated by William Scott Wilson
ISBN: 4-7700-2947-0

William Scott Wilson has made a name for himself translating the martial-philosophy classics of 16th-century Japan. He is best known for his version of Hagakure, also available in this Kodansha series, which reached new heights for product placement in Jim Jarmusch’s film Ghost Dog.

Not only did Kodansha’s handsome red-on-black binding feature in Forrest Whitaker’s samurai/hitman hands, but extensive quotations from Wilson’s lyrical text are a key framing device throughout - making it the literate person's Kill Bill.

While Hagakure is little more than a quirky compendium of samurai etiquette, The Unfettered Mind provides a coherent series of insights into the timeless Zen Buddhist principles that underlie the samurai ethic.

The monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645) was a polymath, as adept at calligraphy, painting and cooking as he was at advising the Shogun on political affairs. While not a swordsman, he understood the art of the sword equally well: as with all arts, it involves the dissolution of the notion of self, unfettering the mind from the ego so as to be able to perform any action effortlessly and smoothly.

This book contains the letters he wrote to his protégé, Yagyu Muneyoshi, one of the greatest swordsmen of his time (see his own work, The Life-Giving Sword). Their influence on the samurai’s book is obvious.

Takuan tackles the great mysteries of life such as the mind and spirit with down-to-earth analogies involving plenty of fruit (that’s the gardener side of him coming out there). He is even comfortable to explain ghosts as an equally real part of the continuum of existence.

Swordplay is the pivot for his discussion, because it is such a clear interplay of life and death. Even those with no interests in the martial will find a distillation of wisdom here that can be applied to everyday life. While there are moments of obscurity that even Wilson cannot retrieve, overall his fluid prose helps elucidate Takuan’s masterpiece and keep it relevant for our age and culture.

Richard Donovan

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Can Recycle Man Japan


A common site in the early mornings near where I live in Nagoya is a man on a bicycle festooned with tin cans. Each area puts out its plastic, cans and bottles on a different day to be picked up by the city's recycling trucks.

Can Recycle Man

Before the truck arrives, a homeless person on a bicycle will come and gather all the beer and other aluminium drinks cans.

The cans are sold to a recycler for 30 yen (about 33 cents) a kilo. I reckoned the man had about 30 kilos of cans attached to his bike. That's 900 yen for a morning's work, enough to buy some food and maybe a cup of sake but little else.

Can Recycle Man

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Rough Guide To Japan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

FILM PREMIERE Gay Squirrel and the Tail/Tale of the Cat on the Moon


ef Gallery presents a new film by Dutch artist Johan Peter (J.P.) Hol
"Gay Squirrel and the Tail/Tale of the Cat on the Moon!"

Gay Squirrel and the Tail/Tale of the Cat on the Moon

19:00 - 21:00 Thursday 15 October 2009

The film, telling the tale of a quest for one's attributes, is set in a closet that contains the universe.
For the first time Hol investigates his own sexuality. Part of the installation is a three-dimensional 3.5 m high Gay Squirrel (Gallery ef) & a 2.8m high Tailless Cat (studio J).
Additionally there will be a series of hand painted posters and action figures of the film characters.

Gay Squirrel and the Tail/Tale of the Cat on the Moon

Interview with J.P. Hol


Friday 16 October-Sunday 8 November 2009

The film (12 mins) runs alternately in English and Japanese versions.
12:00 - 21:00 (19:00 on the final day) closed on Tuesdays, entrance free

Gallery ef
Gallery ef 2-19-18 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0034
tel +81-(0)3-3841-0442 fax +81-(0)3-3841-9079

Co-host venue studio J, Osaka

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Japanese kids kendama dance to Michael Jackson

大久保祭り 剣玉 マイケル・ジャクソン

Today, October 12, is a holiday, Health and Sports Day, (usually October 11, but moved to the 12th this year) and it is also the day of the Okubo Festival in the Okubo district of Tokyo's Shinjuku ward. Okubo is Tokyo's most prominent Korean town.

It was a perfect fall day with clear sunshine and cool breezes, and hundreds of people lined the streets to watch the festival.

The parade I was there to watch was particularly interesting for two reasons: 1. the kids at the front were playing kendama while, 2., the kids behind all danced to Michael Jackson!

Check out the YouTube video above of Japanese/Korean kids playing kendama to the sounds of the late King of Pop.

Buy kendama online!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Four Stories Osaka October 2009


Featuring four distinguished authors reading in English under the theme “As the World Turns: Tales of Changes and Transformations"

OSAKA, JAPAN, October 7, 2009—The internationally acclaimed and award-winning literary series Four Stories, which runs free events in Boston (USA), Osaka, and Tokyo, kicks off its next event in Umeda, Osaka, on November 8, 2009, with readings in English from the following distinguished authors:

Theresa Matsuura, author of the short story collection A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories
Rebecca Otawa, contributor to Kansai Time Out magazine and Kyoto Journal, and author of At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman's Journey of Discovery
Ian Richards, associate professor at Osaka City University; reviewer of fiction in his own country, New Zealand; and author of the collection of short stories Everyday Life in Paradise and the biography To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan, which was nominated for the NZ book of the year
Tracy Slater, author of essays from Best Women's Travel Writing, 2008, Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Kansai Time Out, and the Gourmet Girl column in Kansai Scene

Plus the Four Stories style of literary investigation: ask the best question; win a free drink!

The Four Stories experience: like a 19th-Century salon, only 150 years later - same socializing, same witty banter, corsets optional.

6-8pm (venue opens @ 5)
Portugalia Bar & Grill
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka
(Just north of the American Consulate)

Admittance free and open to the public.

More information, plus free MP3s and pictures from past events, @ fourstories.org

Four Stories in the Japanese Press: The International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun (1/23/09): Four Stories is spotlighted in the article “Writing about Japan: Join the Crowd (and have fun)” as an integral part of Japan’s English-language literary scene; The Japan Times (6/22/07): Four Stories is headlined on the front page of the Japan Times' national section, which reports, "'Four Stories has helped make Osaka the new Kyoto'....Slater and Four Stories have shown that Osaka's image among some foreign literary critics as a cultural desert is no longer entirely accurate”; Kansai Scene (6/1/07): Four Stories Japan is "re-energizing the reading movement " in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe: Being a Broad magazine (1/1/08) : spotlights Four Stories founder Tracy Slater and the literary series, writing, "The expat community is grateful" for Four Stories.

Four Stories in the US Press: Improper Bostonian’s Best of Boston (8/1/08): “Best Literary Series”; Boston Globe (10/1/06) :"Four Stories is the city's hippest reading series" (3/19/06) "Everybody knows about Four Stories, everybody raves about Four Stories, and Four Stories is…the place to be”

Tracy Slater, Founder, Four Stories
Japan: 080-5302-3907; Boston: 617-544-3907

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Japan This Week 11 October 2009


Japan News.Former Japanese Finance Minister Is Found Dead

New York Times

Mandelson calls on Japan to lift 'invisible' barriers to free trade


South Korea, Japan press North Korea to return to talks

Washington Post

Maehara: 48 of 56 dam projects to be frozen

Japan Times

Japan’s king of couture slides into bankruptcy

Times Online

Un typhon fait quatre morts au Japon

Le Monde

Children take over at Tokyo theme park


Okazaki hat-trick power Japan to 6-0 win over Hong Kong

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Self Defense Forces (Japanese military personnel): 138,000
People's Army (Chinese military personnel): 1,601,000

Japanese Naval Fleet: 148 ships (43.5 square ton displacement)
Chinese Naval Fleet: 890 ships (130 square ton displacement)

Japanese Air Force: 430 fighter planes
Chinese Air Force: 1,980 fighter planes

Source: Asahi Shinbun

52.3% of Tokyo University (Todai) students' parents combined income in 2007 was 9.5 million yen ($106,000 USD) or higher.

That is more than double the average income in Japan.

51.4% of Todai students attended private high school. Another 10.5% attended elite schools affiliated with other universities.

However, tuition at Todai - the Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Sorbonne et al of Japan all rolled into one - is roughly one third those of private universities. This is because it is a public national university. Private universities cost 1.5 million yen or more.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Average winter bonuses are forecast to be 659,864 yen. That is a 13.1% decline on winter bonuses in 2008.

This is based on a survey of 218 companies in Japan.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ramen Yokocho Sapporo Ramen


Sapporo is known for its ramen (Chinese egg noodles). The whole city is scattered with ramen joints, but the most famous place to try ramen is in Ramen Yokocho - an alleyway packed with steaming, crowded, noodle restaurants.

Sapporo Ramen

Ramen stock comes in three main flavors: miso (fermented soybean paste), shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce). Hokkaido ramen specializes in the miso variety. There are spicy kara-kuchi ramen options too.

Ramen Yokocho is in the entertainment district of Susukino not far from the Susukino metro station on the Namboku Line.

Sapporo Ramen

Everyone has their favorite ramen hole-in-the-wall. On a recent trip we were recommended Shirakaba Sanso. Shirakaba Sanso has a number of shops in Sapporo, one in Chitose and another in Aqua City, Odaiba, Tokyo.

Shirakaba Sanso
Tel: 011 512 7388
Images by Rob Markovitz

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nakano General Hospital


Nakano General Hospital
Asameshi-mae means "before breakfast" in Japanese, and is a phrase used to mean "a walkover," "easy-peasy," "piece of cake," "do it with my eyes closed." And that's how I cut my finger two days ago: before breakfast - while scooping my Granola with a cup, in fact. The handle broke and in a split second the sharp bit left on the cup gouged my middle finger.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

It was gaping and bleeding profusely - nothing for it but a trip to the local hospital. I bandaged it up with a strip of towel and some rubber bands and set out down Okubo-dori Street heading for Nakano General Hospital - five minutes by taxi, but, I discovered that on weekday mornings no taxis travel west in the Nakano ward section of Okubo-dori Street, and I couldn't be bothered waiting for a bus, so I walked.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo
After 35 minutes I got to the bleak Nakano General Hospital (see top photo). I went in, told them my problem, showed my health insurance card to reception, filled my name and address in on a form, was given a yellow plastic folder, and was sent upstairs to outpatients.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo
I had to fill in another form at outpatients, and waited for no more than about 15 minutes before I was called in to the doctor's office. It was a young, pale, very proper-looking male doctor who looked at it, said I'd need stitches after getting the finger anesthetized, and told me to lie on the couch.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

He anesthetized my finger, and then set to work stitching it up. "Hari nanbon ni naru no desu ka" ("How many stitches?") I asked. "Sa, owarimashitara kazoemasho" ("Well then, let's count once we're done") he pertly replied.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

It was over in five minutes, the finger was bandaged, and the doctor explained what medicine he was prescribing: two days' worth of orally ingested antibiotics, painkillers, and a creme. He told me to come back the next day to get it checked.

Nakano General Hospital, Tokyo

I bowed and thanked him, took my yellow folder to the outpatients counter, waited, was given it back, and took it downstairs to pay. I took a ticket from the machine, waited for my number, went to the cashier, paid 2,240 yen, and took the prescription to the pharmacy, which was not even thirty seconds' walk from the hospital front entrance.

After getting my medicines, I then stopped somewhere nearby - for breakfast.

© JapanVisitor.com

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Velotaxi Kyoto

Kyoto Velo Taxiベロタクシー京都

The other evening in Kyoto, not far from Keihan's Sanjo Station, we saw a curious vehicle parked in front of the Sanjo Ohashi Bridge.

Known as a Velotaxi, three of them have been ferrying tourists and locals around the city since 2002. Rounding out the Japan fleet, there are 30 in Tokyo and a number in Nagoya and other Japanese cities.

They are "short-distance transportation system developed in Berlin," according to the brochure the driver gave us.

Given the compactness of downtown Kyoto, the Velotaxi would seem to be a good fit.

For a slow ride in good weather, it is quite a treat and quite reasonable.

Up to 0.5 km

Children (0 - 2): free
Children (3 - 5): 200 yen/child
Adults (6 and up): 300 yen

For each .1 km thereafter

Children (0 - 2): free
Children (3 - 5): 30 yen/child
Adults (6 and up): 50 yen

Two adults, one child, and a baby could probably squeeze in.

Velotaxi Japan

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Old Sign Kurama Kyoto

Sign in Kurama, Kyoto古い看板鞍馬京都

On a recent hike from Kibune to Kurama, in northern Kyoto, we strolled the last stretch from the trail head in Kurama to a local hot spring.

The homes that line the road, new and old, are all tastefully done in a "Kyoto" traditional style. Unlike much of the rest of the city, there were no cheap, lego-like homes to be found.

On the right, beyond the houses on the east side of the road, were farmers' fields and a stream.

For local children, the stream must be inviting. And for litterbugs, it also appears to be a draw.

On the right side of the ride, one of the wooden homes had a classic sign with a plea to not litter in the stream:

"Don't litter! The fish and living things in the river are crying!

Kurama Children's Association"

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Daibonsho Bell Zojoji Tokyo


Zojoji is the main temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. It is right next to Tokyo Tower. It was founded as the sect’s eastern Japan seminary in 1393 and was relocated to its present site in 1598. In those days it was a massive complex containing 48 subsidiary temples, over 3000 priests and over 150 grammar schools. Times have changed and it now occupies but a fraction of its former area.

Coming from Daimon or Hamamatsucho stations, the first you will see of Zojoji is its huge 21 meter (69 foot) high gate, the Sangedatsumon, built in 1622, the only remaining part of the original temple. Just inside to your right is the Daibonsho, a giant 15 ton bell cast in 1673, tolled six times twice a day.

Watch a young priest toll the bell in this YouTube clip.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 05, 2009

Japan Worldmapper


These new maps from Worldmapper clearly show the population bulges in the main Japanese cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. Hokkaido is the least densely population region of the country.

Click on the maps to expand the image.

Japan map.

In 2002 Japan was the second largest spender on arms after the USA, which spent US$353 billion; 45% of all state military spending worldwide.

Expenditure on arms and munitions.

© Copyright 2009 SASI Group (University of Sheffield)

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