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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fire in Yanagibashi

柳橋 火事

Work finished yesterday, and I spent today, Wednesday, pottering around the apartment in Tokyo’s Taito ward – not far from Ueno and home to the old Asakusa district.

In the middle of installing a new card reader in my computer, I got a call from my partner asking if I could see “the fire.” He said there were billows of smoke visible from his work (close by where we live). Having heard fire engines anyway, I dropped what I was doing, and set out.

I cycled only a couple of hundred meters before I saw it: a massive conflagration just down the road, on Edo-dori Street. Two buildings. Several fire engines – and there would be about 30 or 40 lining Edo-dori by the time I went back home a couple of hours later.

The building that was most on fire was Hasegawa Merchandise, a five-story fireworks store! (Google Map) So the whole episode was punctuated by the sounds of fireworks exploding – most notably the whistle of skyrockets. (Listen for them at the end of the video.)

I stood at Suga Shrine, just across the road from the blaze. I got talking to a couple of old guys in their 50s, one of them sober, one of them drunk on one-cup sake. The sober one would tell me about every five minutes that ‘the shodo (calligraphy) store” (which was next to the fireworks store, and also on fire) “was full of paper – and so there’s plenty to fuel to blaze.” The drunk one would periodically point out the fire to me, and declaim “Subarashii!,” or “Awesome!”

Fires are very defiant things. There were dozens of fire hoses deluging the group of buildings for the whole two hours I was there, and yet the constant flood seemed to have very little impact on the fire at all. In fact, it spread from two buildings to four during the time I was watching.

By the time I left over 30 fire engines had assembled along Edo-dori Street. Pandemonium!

Watch the Yanagibashi fire.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Michelin Guide Kyoto Ajiro

ミシュランガイド京都あじろKyoto 1-star Michelin

Ajiro is a fine restaurant that serves shojin ryori (vegetarian temple food). It is located a short walk from the south gate of Myoshinji Temple.

"Ajiro" literally refers to the hats worn by zen priests. Neighboring Myoshinji is of course a zen temple, with multiple sub-temples. The restaurant itself is located in an old home just outside the gates.

The style of cooking that Ajiro serves was borne of a religious conversion that took place more than one millennia ago. Prince Shotoku Taishi converted to Buddhism in the 7th century, and as a result the Kyoto ruling class followed suit and similarly took up a vegetarian diet.

Thus, there is no meat, fish or dairy products on the menu.

Ajiro was recently listed in the Michelin Guide, in which it received one star.


From Hanazono Station on the JR San-in Line (JR Sagano Line), cross the large road (Marutamachi Dori) and then walk one block east along Marutamachi Dori.

At the first light, Marutamachi Dori will veer right. You should keep straight and then veer a bit to the left onto the tree-lined street that approaches the south gate of Myoshinji Temple.

When you reach the gate, do not enter but go right on the narrow street that runs past it. The restaurant is 50 meters down and on the right (south) side of the street.

If you are coming from Ninnaji Temple, Ryoanji Temple, or are already in Myoshinji, walk to the south exit, turn left and walk 50 meters. On your right.


075 462 4673 (no English spoken)

Kyoto 1-star Michelin© JapanVisitor.com

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rokakkudo Temple Kyoto

Bibbed statues六角度京都

Rokkakudo is a small temple in downtown Kyoto, just off of Karasuma Dori near Sanjo Dori.

It was established by Prince Shotoku in the year 587 and is one of the oldest temples in the city.

It is the the 18th temple on the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage, and as a result you will often see visitors dressed from head to toe in white.

The temple's name - literally "six-sided" - derives from its hexagonal shape.

Rokkakudo is just behind the main headquarters of Ikebana - flower arranging - which is known as Ikenobo.

The grounds are totally free and rather small, as befitting its location.

Within them though is much to see.

Good luck charms, KyotoThe bibbed jizo statues, above right, are quite a sight. They are lined up just outside the Ikenobo headquarters.

Entering through the main temple gates, you first see a willow tree, below right.

It is adorned with pieces of paper (omikuji) - good luck wishes that have been tied to the branches.

To the left of the tree is a structure that has many painted blocks of wood (ema) and strings of colorful "cranes" (senbazuru) - both of which have also been placed there in the hope of academic or financial success, good health, or other prayers.
Good luck charms, Kyoto© JapanVisitor.com


248 Donomae, Higashinotoin-dori Rokkaku-nishiiru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto


075 221 2686


Open 6:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m


City Bus to Karasuma Nijo, or subway to Karasuma Oike on the Karasuma Line or Tozai Line.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas watching bellies in Koenji

ボルボル 高円寺

I spent Christmas evening with a couple of friends in Tokyo's bohemian Koenji district watching bellies - other than my own.

It would have been more friends if misunderstanding hadn't reigned over the date of the arrangement, but considering how full everywhere seemed to be (not because it was Christmas, but because it was a Friday), just being the three of us was perfect.

We started out in Chatuchak, a Thai restaurant on Koenji's Nakadori Shotengai (i.e., its nightlife strip). The delicious fare there certainly warranted a bit of watching of my own belly, but the effects of the ample quantities of beer on hand put any such anxieties at bay.

We then made our way to Persian bar/restaurant BolBol for a few drinks - and some out-and-out belly watching.

BolBol is a well-established presence in Koenji, not only for its good food, but because it features belly dancing every evening. Tonight the crowd was as much Iranian as it was Japanese, and very family - complete with all the kids.

After half an hour or so of belly dancing by beautiful women to technoed-up Persian music, half those present got up on the floor with the dancers and showed their stuff. Most interesting were the kids - between about 8 and 12 years old, a few of whom were very keen to show their moves, which one of them skilfully seasoned with a few breakdance tricks as well.

BolBol, Koenji, Tokyo, bellydancing.

Heading back east (i.e. in the Ueno Park direction) on the JR Chuo-Sobu line, I was thinking how the term "family entertainment" for me would never be the same again.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Japan This Week 27 December 2009


Japan News.Harsh Realities Stand in the Way of a Leader’s Vision of a New Japan

New York Times

Japanese student charged with Lindsay Hawker murder


Japan drafts record budget as PM battles scandal

Washington Post

El emperador Akihito cumple 76 años

El Pais

Market chaos – it’s down to the lunatic fringe

Times Online

Too innocent for prejudice?

Japan Times

Le Premier ministre japonais démissionnera si le peuple «l'exige»


In Our Time - The Samurai


Golf-Ishikawa retains Japan’s top athlete award

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Suicides caused more than half of the 40,600 train delays in Tokyo in 2008.

According to the Transport Ministry, the 307 suicides at one of the 12 major railway companies resulted in delays of more than thirty minutes or more.

Other causes included malfunctions, stones or other items placed on the tracks, and natural hazards.

Source: Daily Yomirui

Health Care Spending Per Person in US Dollars, 2007 (Average life expectancy at birth)

US: $7,280 (78)
Switzerland: $4,417 (80.7)
Luxembourg: $4,162 (79.4)
Canada: $3,895 (80.7)
Austria: $3,763 (80)
France: $3,601 (80.9)
Denmark: $3,512 (78.2)
Sweden: $3,323 (81)
Australia: $3,137 (81.4)
UK: $2,992 (79.8)
Finland: $2,840 (79.1)
Spain: $2,671 (81.1)
Japan: $2,581 (82.8)

Source: National Geographic

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 26, 2009



Thank you to Daniel for this poem. The author would appreciate any comments on his work in the comments section below, please.

Japanvisitor welcomes any submissions related to Japan: photographs, travel stories, poems etc.

1. Heaven, may I be a Yurikamome amid
Chrysanthemum flowers at Gion Matsori?
High over Yasaka, show me a bird’s eye view of
Kannon, the god of mercy Bosatsu.

2. Eleven faces has Ju-ichimen; see them in
The hondo of 33 bays at Rengeo-in.
Kiyomizu Dera, inspired by Enchin.
Let me ride on the wind like gails of Fujiin.

3. Before I pass on I aim to seek
33 disguises peek by peek.
Their piercing crystal eyes passed the test of time.
May I find a thousand Zen gods sublime

4. Serenade me, Kinnara, your sweet lullaby. Watch me
Senju-kannon, in your every palm an eye.
Forty palms and forty eyes glean twenty-five worlds; in mine behold!
Let there be maikos and moribana to the sound of koto chords.

5. Let me have tea with Sen Rikyu
In a mizuchaya swaddled in royal gagaku.
Moribana is the abundant flower
Gracing the fields of Ninomaru.

6. Take me down to Sunset Horai-Jima,
Up Tetsu Gaku no Michi way.
I’ll find wisdom in the halls of Kitano;
Wa Kei Sei Jaku will make it plain.

7. And if through heaven’s door should be my fate,
Carry me right on past those pearly gates…
To Shinto shrines and solemn Buddhist temples and
The embrace of jolly prosperous bald men with dimples.

8. Let me gain solace at castle Nijo;
Fusuma and byobu in Kano and Okyo.
Hurah! huran is my daily matsuri at
Golden pavilions with games of archery.

9. See me fly like a magic arrow from Sanjusangendo.
From the roof, from the belfry hiwada no shoro.
Hanami tops will break my fall, I’ll laugh like rakugo.
My portrait will be taken by a Maruyam’ Okyo.

10. Lotus flowers and ashes of saito goma;
Yellow ginko leaves and toots of biwa.
Amber rooms and beats of drums taiko make
Complete my inner Yoshiwara of Edo.

Daniel Bruno Sanz
Kyoto 2009

© Daniel Bruno Sanz & JapanVisitor.com

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Friday, December 25, 2009

A revvy Merry Christmas!

サンタ バイク

Santa on a motorbike, Tokyo.

Walking down Omotesando street in Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district on Christmas Eve, I had to almost fight my way through the crowds of young lovers. They were all holding hands, strolling and staring in bliss at the Christmas illuminations that decorated the whole stretch of the slope.

A sudden commotion then ensued with a crowd of young Santa Clauses - on motorbikes! There were about 10 of them, most dressed in the trad red and white Santa suit, complete with beard, and, in some cases, a sack of presents. Mixed in with the Santas were the odd Pooh bear and one or two other costumed characters.

Waving to the crowded pavement, and revving their bikes, the youthful Santas were the center of attention, as other guys and gals came running over to take advantage of the moment and pose with the Yuletide young'uns.

Soon they were gone, but another bevvy brought up the rear just moments later. Then getting on the JR Yamanote line at Harajuku, I noticed yet another group of boy Father Chistmases, this time on foot, getting onto a car just a couple down from mine.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009



The word tema in Japanese is written with the characters for "hand" and then "space." It is akin to the English phrase "time and effort."

The most common use of the word is the phrase "tema ga kakaru," (手間がかかる)or "it takes time and effort" or "it's a lot of trouble" or "it's complex/complicated." The negative form "tema ga kakaranai" means "fuss-free."
Thus, "Kani o taberu no ni sugoi tema ga kakaru kara iranai."
("Crab is way too much trouble to eat, so I don't want any.")

Changing the "ga kakaru" to "o kakeru" means now you're talking about a person rather than a thing. For example:
"Tanaka-sensei wa monogoto o setsumei suru no ni itsumo tema o kakeru kara totemo ii sensei da to omou."
("Mr/Ms Tanaka always goes to a lot of trouble to explain things, so I think he/she is a really good teacher.")

So, "tema ga kakaru" refers to something is time-consuming and troublesome, "tema o kakeru" refers to someone who takes the time and trouble to do something.

"Sono kubetsu o tsukete tadashiku tsukaeru made, sukoshi tema ga kakaru kana."
("It will probably take you a little time and effort to work out the difference between them and use them properly.")

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nengajo - New Year cards


A nengajo (年賀状) is a new year's postcard that is the Japanese equivalent of a Christmas card - but usually simpler in that it is a postcard, rarely, if ever, sent in an envelope. And it is usually sent to way more people than you would usually send a Christmas card to.

In a country like Japan where "not what you know, but who you know" is taken to extremes, staying in touch with people the traditional way is very important - thus the survival of this very labor intensive and not that cheap a custom.

If you post your nengajo by December 25, the post office will ensure that they are delivered right on New Year's Day.If you have received a pre-New Year's Day card - a very simple, somber one - from someone telling you that there has been a death in the family that year, you should not wish them a "happy New Year" out of respect for their bereavement.

When posting your nengago, you should keep the whole bundle together with a rubber band. The shot at the top is of a postbox in Tokyo's Kojimachi district where the post office has actually left a pile of rubber bands on top of the post box for that very purpose. Also, the slot on the left has been designated as for nengajo only.

Finally, nengajo bought from the post office come with a unique lottery number printed on them. If you're lucky, and have the time and energy to go through the (often) hundreds that you receive, you may win money.

More about nengajo

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Japanese Motorcycles v Foreign Motorcycles

日本 オートバイ

Last week we introduced Japanese motorbikes and the big four manufacturers: Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.

This week we interview a biker in the UK who has been riding bikes for over 30 years, ever since he was 16.

Our biker, let's call him Mr. H, started off with a Honda CB 200. Thirty years later, he rides Moto Guzzi, three of them in fact, after a long and painful love affair with Triumph Bonneville.

Japanese Motorbikes

Q: Which do you prefer Japanese or other makes of bikes?

Mr. H: Basically I tend to prefer classic English and Italian motorcycles more than Japanese bikes because they have more character than modern Japanese machines. When I developed my taste for motorcycles in the 70s, Japanese machines were becoming dominant because of the perceived unreliability of British motorcycles, which was true. They took forward the design in huge steps with reliable four cylinder machines and better brakes. Although they took much longer to develop good frames that handled as well as British bikes.

At one point in the 1970s in-line fours from Japan became described as UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycles) as they became very similar in design and layout. Across the frame fours with goodish brakes, but not great frames, very reliable with good electrics.

Since then other manufacturers have caught up in terms of quality, and actually the price differential is closing too. So I tend to ride classic Italian bikes because much of the early development of Japanese motorcycles was at the top end - producing racing bikes, I was always more in to touring machines.

Moto Guzzi

Q: What about Japanese tourers?

Mr. H: The touring bikes the Japanese companies built tended to get heavier and more powerful and they were over the top. Now I like the older bikes because they feel more connected to a time and place, it’s a bit like your musical tastes developing when you are young. At 48 I am the average age for a biker in the UK. It’s an ageing population! Motorcycling is now a hobby more than a means of transport. When I was younger I did not have a car license till I was 27. Now I drive a car for transport and a bike for fun.

Q: Tell us about Japanese bikes now.

Mr. H: Japanese bikes now are far more diverse and highly designed. I think a good bike is one that is not only for purpose but has a degree of soul to it. There is increasing interest now in classic Japanese bikes as people go back to the bikes they rode as kids. So a good Japanese bike is like any other, it has to be technically good but have enough soul to give you sufficient engagement to be worth all the discomfort and risk.

Japanese Motorbikes

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Turn yourself in!


Turn yourself in!

Tokyo's Asakusabashi district, not far from the park, zoo, and museum area of Ueno, is full of traditional specialist shops, and lots of trad Japanese restaurants, too.

Sugabashi intersection, just a couple of minutes walk from Asakusabashi Station, has a yakitori-ya, or roast chicken shop called, quite simply, "Chicken Place." However, for the genre, it is a very upbeat version designed to appeal, no doubt, to the younger hipper set.

Hippest of all is Chicken Place's very quirky street sign - a small lit-up plastic cube that sits on the payment proclaiming "Turn yourself in!" on one face, and on the other sporting the kanji for "sake" (in this case the generic "alcohol" rather than "sake" in particular)

Turn yourself in!

Cute in itself - but look a little beyond the sign in the direction across from Chicken Place, and the full significance of it becomes clear. Chicken Place is right next door to a koban (police box - in photo above)! - immediately identifiable by the vertical red light above its entrance. ("Turn yourself in" sign in the foreground.)

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Japan This Week 20 December 2009


Japan News.Japanese Obsessions

New York Times

Japan Betting On Climate Change Profits


Serbians convicted of Tokyo jewel heist


Japan central bank keeps interest rates steady

Washington Post

El éxito llegó en Japón

El Pais

Masahiro Kanagawa is granted suicide wish as court sentences him to hang

Times Online

Hasegawa defends WBC bantamweight title

Japan Times

Tokyo tient tête à Washington au sujet du transfert d'une base américaine à Okinawa

Le Monde

Between the Ears - The Great Bell


At Towering Japanese Cliffs, a Campaign to Combat Suicide

New York Times

Japan must revive samurai code, says coach

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Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The number of Japanese exchange students studying in the US has shown a decline over the last decade. In 1997, 47,000 Japanese students were studying in the US. In 2007, only 34,000 were doing so.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) orders the countries of the world according to "the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians." Results for 2009:

1. New Zealand (9.4)
2. Denmark (9.3)
3. Singapore (9.2)
3. Sweden (9.2)
5. Switzerland (9.0)
6. Finland (8.9)
6. Netherlands (8.9)
7. Australia (8.7)
7. Canada (8.7)
7. Iceland (8.7)
11. Norway (8.6)

17. Japan (7.7)
17. United Kingdom (7.7)
19. USA (7.5)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crowded Tokyo trains


Crowded Tokyo trains

Tokyo's commuter train system is rightly renowned as being one of the most efficient in the world. The frequency of morning trains at rush hour on the JR Sobu line, for example - the one I take daily - is such that you don't run for a train. By the time I've made it down to the far end of the platform - which is where I have to be for getting off at the right spot at my destination station - the next train has arrived, or is just about to.

However, as a commuter, Tokyo trains can be hell at peak time. A packed midsummer train gets stiflingly hot in spite of the air conditioning - often to the point of inducing barely suppressed and palpable panic in some passengers. It's bad enough even in winter. Getting on the morning train and suffering the cruel punishment virtually hugging someone with really rancid breath, for example, is not something you can get to learn to smile about.

One popular image overseas of Japanese trains is their getting so packed that passengers routinely have to be pushed on by a guard. Since coming to Tokyo, I had regarded this as a myth - or at least a phenomenon to be found only in faded photos from the 1970s.

But at last, I saw it! It was last Friday, and I was trying to get on the Sobu line back to Asakusabashi from the electronics town of Akihabara. The doors wouldn't properly close, because some of them had people half hanging out of them. So the guards had to go down the train from door to door forcing people in and the doors shut. I watched it leave, having missed the train without the slightest misgiving.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Japanese Motorbikes

日本 オートバイ

The big Japanese motorbike companies Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha are household names all over the world.

The big four Japanese motorbike manufacturers all started production after World War II, when there was high demand for low-price transport while the country struggled to get back on its feet.

Motorbike ownership is still large in Japan compared with other countries, especially the 50cc variety (gentsuki), which are ridden by everyone from teenage girls, to students, to delivery men to middle-aged ladies.

Japanese Motorbikes

Honda is the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles and the iconic 50cc Honda Super Cub is a massive seller in South East Asia, where it performs almost like a family car. It's not unusual to see dad, mum and a couple of kids all aboard a 50cc or 90cc Super Cub in the villages of Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. In fact, the sturdy Super Cub is the best selling powered vehicle of all time with sales of over 60 million vehicles worldwide. In Japan, it's now mostly used by delivery workers for the post office and traditional Japanese restaurants.

Japanese Motorbikes

Yamaha and Suzuki vie for second position as the world's second largest manufacturer of motorcycles after Honda. Yamaha is known for its success in the world of motorcycle racing. Greats such as Valentino Rossi, Kenny Roberts and Heikki Mikkola all rode a Yamaha.

Japanese Motorbikes

Motorcycle production is falling in Japan as many people in the huge markets of India and China upgrade to a car. Total production of motorcycles in Japan has fallen from over 3 million units in 1993 to 1.2 million units in 2008.

Japanese motorbike cop image

Read about car manufacturers in recession Japan

© JapanVisitor.com


Honda Tokyo Yamaha Nagoya Japanese motorbikes

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kanji Character for 2009 "New"


At the end of every year, the Japan Kanji [i.e. Chinese character] Proficiency Certification Society solicits from the public the kanji that best sums up the past year.

A ceremony takes place at Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple where the selected kanji is publicly put to parchment by a calligrapher.

The kanji selected this year was the character for “new,” pronounced shin or atarashii.
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This character was chosen because of swine influenza, which in Japanese is 新型(しんがた、shingata), or "new type."

Moreover, the election of the "new" government - 新政権(しんせいけん、shin seiken)- and its attendant hopes and fears were another reason for the choice.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hatoyama Poppo Manju


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Tokyo's downtown Okachimachi district is one stop on the JR Yamanote line from Ueno. Okachimachi is, like Ueno, a far cry from the classier scene a little further west represented first and foremost by Ginza. Okachimachi is represented by its Ameyayokocho shopping street (better known as just "Ameyoko") - a mad bustle of shoppers on the weekend shouted at by criers of all kinds trying to push the best bargain.

The supermarkets are small and crowded, and chock-a-block with often seemingly randomly arranged produce.

Scanning the shelves of one little retailer this weekend, these packets of Hatoyama Poppo Manju caught my eye. Starting from the back of that phrase: Manju are traditional Japanese sweets, small balls made of flour and rice powder dough and filled with red azuki bean paste. Poppo is a child's word for "pigeon." Hatoyama (literally "pigeon mountain") is the name of the new prime minister of Japan. So, something like "Hatoyama Pidgy-Widgy Bean Cakes," - perhaps.

The speech bubble out the Right Honorable's mouth says "Poppo po, hato-poppo," which, apparently, are some of the lyrics from a nursery rhyme about pigeons.

The diagonal red stripe at the top says "anti-bureaucratic administration," in recognition of the new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government's pledge to rein in the presently unbridled power of the Japanese bureaucracy.

Thinking this might all add up to some clever satire comprehensible only to those thoroughly steeped in the culture, I asked one or two Japanese friends what it all meant.

They said "Hato-poppo" is a children's song about pigeons. The bit at the top is about the DPJ's anti-bureaucratic policy. A refreshingly WYSIWYG revelation!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Japanese Woman in Nagoya

Japanese Woman Legs名古屋女

On a cold early December evening, we noticed a young woman waiting for a friend just outside Kanayama Station, Nagoya.

We were waiting for someone, too, and were struck by her light red skirt, black tights and top, and white bag with pink highlights.

The station area is fairly banal: aside from the Boston Museum on the other side, it is the usual mishmash of fast food, banks, telephone wires, and pachinko.

There is a small outdoor mall just behind where the woman is standing.

A view of the mall and beyond - with the requisite love hotel and English school - can be seen below.

Not sure which (if either) of these she was headed to.

Kanayama, Nagayo, evening
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Japanese Bullet Train Staff

Bullet Train Conductor新幹線の担当スタフ

Riding the Japanese bullet train is a comfortable, convenient, and civilized experience.

From the platform attendants who announce the arrival of the trains - and watch over camera-wielding trainspotters who wander too close to the edge - to the conductors who bow as they enter and exit each car, it is a smooth ride.

The conductor pictured right took our tickets in seconds, apologizing first for the inconvenience, and then thanking us after completing the brief procedure.

She carried an electronic device that alerted her to which passengers had yet to show their tickets. Her uniform is perfectly pressed, her scarf pinned professionally. Not a single hair is out of place.

Just before the conductor passed through the car, the "beer and nuts lady" - a young woman with a cart full of coffee, snacks, sandwiches, and beer - made an appearance.

Calling out to the passengers in the car to announce her arrival, she wore a yellow uniform, and was equally well groomed.

Prior to boarding, we took a picture of the platform attendant. He was an officious and serious man, who wielded his red flag with great aplomb and verve.

His shoe shine would make a Marine sargeant proud.

JR Train Man© JapanVisitor.com

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Japan This Week 13 December 2009


Japan News.Japan Suspends Talks on Where to Move a U.S. Air Base

New York Times

Obama's Japan Headache

New York Times

Robots become reality


Does Japan still matter?

Washington Post

Japón anuncia un plan de estímulo equivalente al 1,5% de su PIB

El Pais

Japanese ladies long for date with brutal men of history

Times Online

Japan under fire for laying low in Copenhagen

Japan Times

Au japon, une chirurgie des doigts trompe la douane


Wendy's burger chain to withdraw from Japan


Japan’s Leader Promotes $81 Billion Stimulus Plan

New York Times

World Cup 2010: Shunsuke Nakamura Has To Start On The Bench For Japan - Philippe Troussier

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Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The number of Japanese who agree with the following statement about whether to marry has reached 70%.

"Marriage is a personal choice; therefore, getting married, or not, is ok."

That is an increase on the previous year of 4.9%. A whopping 87.8% of those in their 20s agreed.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Half of Japanese women in their 20s and thirties experience constipation. Including those who suffer from diarrhea, the figure jumps to 84%.

According to a survey by dairy products giant Morinaga, of the 10,000 women polled 52% replied yes to "Often constipated" or "Occasionally constipated."

Source: Asahi Shinbun

National CO2 Reduction Targets (Target Deemed Necessary by IEA)

Japan: 25% (10%)
USA: 4% (3%)
EU: 20-30% (23%)
Russia: 20-25% (27%)
China: 40-45% (47%)

Source: Daily Yomiuri

Beer shipments will hit the lowest level since 1992. Domestic shipments of beer and alcoholic drinks look set to fall below the 482 million cases in 2008.

Source: Kyodo News

Toyoto automobiles have been linked to 40% of the sudden-acceleration cases in the US.

Source: Kyodo News

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Kyoto Cigarette Machine

Kyoto Cigarette Machineタバコ自動販売機

Neither a smoker nor a fan of second-hand smoke, we still find the ubiquitous machines a small wonder.

In appearance and technological capability, the cigarette machines are indeed amazing.

This machine was tucked in an alley just off of Kyoto's Sanjo Dori.

The contrast between the colors -and high-tech vibe of the machine - contrasts nicely with the wooden casing.

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wonderful Fool By Shusaku Endo

Wonderful Fool By Shusaku Endo
Wonderful Fool

by Shusaku Endo

ISBN: 4-8053-0376-X237 pp

At first light comedy, then fast-moving thriller, Wonderful Fool gradually focuses on its Christian Japanese author's favourite theme, the suffering and redemption of the common mass of humanity, but is never bogged down by overt religiosity. Its central figure, the eponymous fool, is a Frenchman with the physique of a sumo wrestler and the heart of a child, reminiscent in his dogged innocence of Dostoyevsky's similarly named Idiot. Like Prince Myshkin, Shusako's Gaston Bonaparte is descended from noble stock, but where Myshkin is feeble in body, Gaston's lumbering form betrays no Napoleonic dignity. What Gaston shares with Myshkin, apart from a lack of wits, is an instinctive, Christ-like need to help those around them that first exasperates, then dumbfounds, and ultimately enriches the people who are fortunate enough to come in contact with him.

When devil-may-care bank-clerk Takamori, living in Tokyo, receives a letter from an old penpal, he has no idea what impact his French friend will have on the life of himself and his haughty young sister. Nor does Gaston realise that his unselfish desire to come to Japan to help others will lead him into the clutches of a ruthless killer who is out for revenge on those who framed his brother during World War II. Shusako employs cinematic-style parallel storytelling that contrasts two worlds of Japan to good effect - the quarters of comparative ease and affluence in a quickly modernising Japan of the 1950s, and the accompanying poverty- and crime-ridden shanty towns that fringe Tokyo like a crusty excretion of sin.

Perhaps the only fault of this 2000 printing is that the translation, first published in 1974, retains explanatory footnotes that are no longer necessary: who, for example, doesn't know what sushi is?! But Shusaku's style itself, at first playful and lighthearted, and then unswerving in its recording of sordid incident, is served well by Peter Owen's prose. Some may find Gaston, like prince Myshkin, a tiresome do-gooder, but Shusaku's unsentimental approach does much to give his misadventures a ring of reality. Gaston's fate is ambiguous, but his effect on those he has touched - which may well include the reader - is decidedly positive.

Richard Donovan

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Japanese Language "Sympathy Budget"

Japanese Language Sympathy Budget.

The Japanese language has nothing equal to good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon profanity.

Insults are more often the result of using impolite verb forms, rolling your Rs in a bad imitation of a mobster, or saying to someone that s/he has for example "short legs."

However, Japanese can hold their own when it comes to subtle put-downs. Hyper aware of status and position, Japanese can be casually cutting with the best of them.

One is the infamous "sympathy budget."

Usually, this is rendered in quotation marks or as the "so-called sympathy budget" in the Japanese media.

What it refers to is the portion of the budget that is devoted to supporting US troops stationed at one of the many bases in Japan. According to politicalaffairs.net, "the total amount of Japan’s payment for the stationing of U.S. forces in the FY 2008 will be 620 billion yen (about 6 billion dollars)." (Note the lack of quotation marks.)

The term is said to originate with the late Shin Kanemaru, who in 1978 defended the payments by saying they are done "out of sympathy." He was at the time the Director-General of the Japan Defense Agency.

The money spent is a source of irritation for many Japanese, particularly in base-heavy Okinawa. Thus, the popularity of the put down.

Needless to say, the term is not popular in the US Embassy.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hostess Bar Psychiatry


I should have realised when we went out with a Japanese business connection last night in Nagoya that we'd end up in a hostess bar - our man virtually lives in them.


If I had planned ahead, I wouldn't have worn that sweater or drank so much beforehand. I would be smoking filtered cigarettes, not roll up tobacco. I needed to look smart and be on the ball. I wasn't. I was tired and tipsy.

"You can't be stupid to be a hostess," my foreign colleague, obviously having the time of his life, declared.

Indeed not, these girls knew their stuff, as the conversation ping-ponged from European countries visited, cinema, to international marriage, to the Japanese couple, to sex (and lack of between aforementioned Japanese couple), to love, to music! This was hard work and I was struggling to keep up.


My weak whiskey soda is constantly refilled, my straggly roll ups expertly lit, a hand occasionally brushes my knee if my responses begin to lag.

Finally, it is over, we could leave. Money is exchanged. Our two beautiful and vivavious hostesses and mama-san accompany us down to the street in the elevator. "How tall you are!"


"I bet you feel like a king," I teased my colleague as we swayed into a taxi.
"Yes, these ladies are professionals. They do their job well. You can't be stupid to be a hostess."

"Who needs an expensive psychiatrist when you can feel good by drinking, smoking and chatting with beautiful (and untouchable) women?"
With that happy thought in his mind, my colleague rode his bullet train back to Kyoto and home before midnight.

Naka-ku, Nishiki 3-19-8
Hiro Ishikawa Bldg. 5A
Tel: 052 961 2245

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hotel De Marronnier Gozaisho


Mount Gozaisho (1212m) in Mie Prefecture is a perfect place to combine autumn leaf-viewing with a hot soak in an onsen.

Gozaisho, Mie Prefecture

At the base of Mount Gozaisho is the hot spring resort of Yunoyama with a number of Japanese-style inns or ryokan, where you can spend the night or just pop in during the day to take a bath.

Hotel De Marronnier Gozaisho

The Hotel du Marrionier (Tel: 059 392 3210), a short walk from the cable car station, is a large onsen hotel with day entry to the baths for 1000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children. Free towels are provided. There is a lovely rotemburo (outdoor bath) with views of the cable cars going up and down the mountainside.

Here are a list of some other onsen options:

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

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

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

Irodorikoyo (059 392 3135) 525 yen for adults

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

Hotel De Marronnier Gozaisho


Yunoyama Onsen can be reached in just over an hour from Nagoya Station by Kintetsu Railway (830 yen). Change at Yokkaichi and take the Yunoyama Line to Yunoyama Station. From there, there is an infrequent bus up to the spa (260 yen), taxi (over 1000 yen) or a 30 minute walk uphill.
Alternatively, there are direct Mie Kotsu buses from Nagoya Station (1280 yen) to the resort. Buses leave Nagoya at 7.52am (Weekends), 8.28am, 9.12am & 10.34am. The last bus back to Nagoya is 5.15pm. Other bus times back from Yunoyama are 2.15pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm.
Tel: 059 392 2261
The ropeway costs 1200 yen one-way or 2100 yen return.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bicycle Parking in Kyoto

Bike Parking in Kyoto京都駐輪所など

Kyoto is finally creating parking space for cyclists.

Cyclists now park more or less where they please, and only rarely fear the tow trucks that come around once a month or so and take illegally parked bikes to a lot in deep south Kyoto. (The city puts up posters in advance announcing the date the trucks will come, which means that only morons, drunks, and foreigners get towed.)

Over ground and underground lots do exist for bikes, but are still few and far between.

As a result, Kyoto, like all Japanese cities, is overrun with bicycles - to the point where it makes walking around them difficult. (I write this as a serious bike commuter, who always parks in a lot by the Kamo River. However, when I go downtown I often park on the street because there is nowhere else to park.)

However, Oike Dori - the large boulevard that passes by Kyoto City Hall - is now putting up short-term parking spaces.

As part of a campaign to clean up the sidewalks, the city is installing four hundred spaces for parking. Work will be complete by January.

The first 30 minutes are free. After that, it costs 50 yen to for each additional two hours.

Bike Parking in Kyoto
© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Japan This Week 6 December 2009


Japan News.In Japan, an Odd Perch for Google: Looking Up at the Leader

New York Times

Will Departures be this year's sleeper film hit?


In medieval Japan, a gumshoe's dark task

Washington Post

El Banco de Japón reacciona ante la amenaza deflacionista

El Pais

Japanese Government split on cash injection

Times Online

Hatoyama: move Futenma to Guam?

Japan Times

Claudel, sa "villa" et le sens du Japon, par Philippe Pons

Le Monde

Giant Echizen jellyfish off Japan coast


Japan’s Relationship With U.S. Gets a Closer Look

New York Times

Open Government

Observing Japan

Upbeat Japan insist semi-final goal still on

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Number of people granted refugee status or some other form of protection in 2008 (UNHCR).

USA: 16,742
France: 11,441
Germany: 7,853
UK: 7,079
Australia: 1,854
Japan: 417

Source: BBC

Top 11 Nation Anxiety Index

According to a survey by the advertising firm JWT, 90% of Japanese experience anxiety. That was the highest rate among a list of countries.

1. Japan
2. Australia
3. Brazil
4. Britain
5. Canada
6. China
7. France
8. India
9. Russia
10. Spain
11. USA
12. China

Source: Daily Yomiuri

School violence is on the rise in Japan. In the 2008 academic year, there were almost 60,000 reported cases of "problematic behavior," seventy percent of which were violent. Below is a breakdown by school:
Elementary School: 6,484
Junior High School: 42,754
High School: 10,380

Total: 59,618 cases

That total is a 13% rise on the previous year.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog

Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal DogHachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog

by Pamela S. Turner

ISBN: 0618140948364 pp

The story of Hachiko is a familiar one to those who live in Japan. The dog went to greet his master, Dr. Ueno, every day at Shibuya station when he got off the train. After the doctor's death in 1925, Hachiko continued to go to the station to wait - for ten years.

His loyalty was commemorated with a bronze statue which now serves as a popular meeting place. Japanese children read about the faithful canine in their textbooks, but Turner has given the story a twist to introduce English readers to Hachiko. She tells the tale, in simple yet elegant prose, from the point of view of a fictional boy named Kentaro.

Nascimbene's watercolor illustrations, evocative of traditional woodblock prints, give a good feel for the period.

Turner follows up with "The Story Behind the Story" so readers can get their facts straight.

This award-winning book should appeal to kids around seven and up.

Suzanne Kamata

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© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, December 04, 2009

Fall Colors in Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Gosho御所の紅葉

On a recent bike trip into the center of Kyoto, we cut through the Imperial Palace en route to the Shijo area.

Under clear blue skies, the many deciduous trees were displaying brilliant reds and yellows and oranges.

One tree in particular caught the eye.

A massive ginkgo tree, a lean yellow rocket enveloped in a field of green pine, was stunning.

Middle-aged men with huge cameras slung around their necks converged on the tree.

Kyoto Gosho
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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hinano Restaurants


Hinano is a restaurant chain serving locally sourced, often organic, all you can eat buffets, which are great for vegetarians in Japan.

Hinano Restaurant, Tsukuba

Hinano franchises are mainly in northern Japan and Kanto with a few restaurants spreading in Kansai in Nara, Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures. Hinano has its HQ in Sendai and started its operations in 2007.

There are outlets in Sapporo, Hachinohe, Sendai, Mito, Tokorozawa, Tsukuba, Utsunomiya, Nagoya, Toyohashi, Yokkaichi, Ise, Okazaki and Nara as well as other cities.

Hinano Restaurant

The choice of fresh food is huge with delicious desserts and a range of fresh juices. Interiors are traditional Japanese farmhouse style with lots of wood and basketware.

The restaurant pictured is in the LALA Garden Mall in Tsukuba Tel: 029 855 8031. Hours are lunch 11am-3.30pm and dinner 5.30-10.30pm. Last orders are an hour before closing time.

Hinano Restaurant

Hinano restaurants

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Swine Flu Measures in Japan

Man with mask in Japan.新型インフーレンザ対策

After the flu panic that swept Japan in May, most are now a bit calmer as winter approaches - and with it the real flu season.

In addition to impending vaccinations and ubiquitous hand washing liquid dispensers, masks are the most commonly seen measure.

On public transportation, in particular, about 20-30% of the passengers are now wearing masks.

This is normally a polite gesture on the part of those suffering from a cold; however, this time it appears to be the other way around: to protect one from those nearby.

Commuter trains in Japan are packed and windows are sealed shut: making them rolling germ factories.

The man above is riding a train out of Tsuruhashi, in Osaka, and has on his hat, his sunglasses, and a thick old-style mask.

Below left are the more technologically advanced - and thinner - masks worn by passengers at Kyobashi Station, also in Osaka.

Below right is a "How to Cough" poster at a national university in Osaka.

Coughing poster, Japan.Lined up, wearing masks in Japan.© JapanVisitor.com

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