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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Studio Coast Tokyo


Last weekend was the annual celebration in Tokyo of Peru's independence, involving the Peru embassy and several sponsoring companies and organizations, including the discount telephone card and overseas money remittance company, Brastel.

As usual, the Peruvian independence celebrations were held in Studio Coast, an event space in the Shin-Kiba district of Koto ward in Tokyo.

Studio Coast has a deceptively small front for its massive size, and features several different floors and spaces for different kinds of parties, and for different dance floors at parties. The main dance space is cavernous, dominated by a gigantic disco ball, and a very high-powered sound system. Studio Coast's location in Shin-Kiba is in an industrial district far from residential zones, meaning that the sound can be cranked up without fear of annoying anyone.

Studio Coast is the venue for both live events and club events, the best known of its club events being the long-running Ageha club night and the very popular Shangri-La series of gay club nights.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nana-san-maru: driving in Okinawa

七三丸 沖縄

Today in Japanese history was known in the prefecture of Okinawa on July 30 1978 as Nana-san-maru, the Japanese for "730." "730" referred to July 30 being the day on which traffic rules in the prefecture were brought into line with the rest of the Japan, and were changed from driving on the right-hand side of the road, U.S.-style, to driving on the left-hand side, Japanese style.

Nana-san-maru: driving in Okinawa

Up until the end of the Pacific War, cars in Okinawa ran on the left-hand side like the rest of Japan, but Okinawa came under direct United States control following the war, and with that the traffic flow was changed.

Japan was given control of Okinawa in 1972, but it wasn't for another six years that this fundamental road rule was brought back into line with the rest of Japan.

Needless to say, the lead-up to the change was carefully orchestrated - as the Nana-San-Maru campaign, the change itself was carefully executed, and the roads carefully supervised in the months that followed. Nevertheless, there were numerous minor traffic accidents, but happily none that ended in serious injuries or fatalities.

The United States' imposition of new driving rules is by no means the only thing that has ever radically distinguished Okinawa from the rest of Japan. In fact, until the 17th century, it was not a case of Okinawa and "the rest of Japan" but "Okinawa and Japan," the Ryukyu Kingdom as it was known then being a completely different country.

Okinawa still retains much of its old pre-Japanese culture, which makes it a fascinating place to visit, especially thanks to its tropical climate which provides a refuge from the winter further north-east.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sumida Fireworks Festival 2013 in Tokyo


The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is a Tokyo tradition that takes place every July in Japan's capital.

This year for the first time in the five years that we have witnessed the fireworks festival first-hand, the Sumida Fireworks Festival was sadly cut short by bad weather.

Partly cloudy skies all day Saturday did not seem to bode ill for the Sumida Fireworks Festival, as the cloud was high, and there were large patches of blue sky showing above Tokyo all day.

The Sumida Fireworks Festival got underway on time, at 7.30pm, with media helicopters hovering overhead for aerial footage, the Metropolitan Highway 6 that runs alongside the Sumida River closed to traffic, and the crowds of thousands milling along Kuramae Bridge, as well as the bridges north and south of it.

It was therefore with a sense of incredulity that heavy rain began about 20 minutes into the display, and grew heavier and heavier, quickly developing into a thunderstorm, with cloud so low that it completely obscured the Tokyo Skytree.

There was nothing for it but to cancel the Sumida Fireworks Festival. The helicopters quickly quit as the cloud lowered, and the festive, yukata-clad crowds quickly dispersed in a sea of umbrellas (or not, for the optimists in there) amid the pelting rain, bolts of lightning, and rumble of thunder.

We went inside and switched on the TV, to find that commentary on the Sumida Fireworks Festival outside had switched to replays of last year's Sumida Fireworks Festival 2012.

Then, perversely, almost on the dot of 8.30 p.m., when the Sumida Fireworks Festival 2013 had been due to end, the thunderstorm lifted, the rain stopped, the cloud dispersed, and before long it was back to a clear, pleasant summer evening in Tokyo.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Japan News This Week 28 July 2013


Japan News. Chinese, With Revamped Force, Make Presence Known in East China Sea

New York Times

Japan military 'needs marines and drones'


China's coastguard confronts Japanese ships near disputed islands


Third check for quake fault ends at Oi plant

Japan Times

Japan's Democracy at Risk – The LDP's Ten Most Dangerous Proposals for Constitutional Change

Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News


One of the most contentious issues in Japanese politics is the differential between voting power in rural and urban areas. This is a legacy of the post-War US Occupation. General MacArthur and his staff drew up districts that favored conservative rural areas at the expense of more liberal cities. The purpose was to thwart the spread of communism. One result of that is the conservative, pro-American Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) goes into any and every national election with a huge built-in advantage. A group of lawyers and activists squawk and sue following every election - as they are now doing after Prime Minster Abe and his party handily won several weeks ago - but have been stymied by conservative courts.

That difference in the most recent election can be found below. Of the forty-seven Japanese prefectures, one voter in barely populated Tottori was equal to almost 5 in Hokkaido. That is, if the number of registered voters in Tottori divided by voting districts in the prefecture is set at 1, in Hokkaido the ratio would be 4.77. Thus, the voters in Tottori and other rural areas have a disproportionate say in national government.

1) Hokkaido: 4.77
2) Hyogo: 4.71
3) Tokyo: 4.47
4) Fukuoka: 4.27

43) Tokushima: 1.35
44) Fukui: 1.35
45) Kochi: 1,30
46) Shimane: 1.22
47) Tottori: 1

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Kyoto City Bus 12


As well as Kyoto city bus #204 another bus to pass Kinkakuji Temple in north west Kyoto is the Kyoto city bus #12.

Kyoto City Bus 12 near Kinkakuji Temple

The number #12 bus runs from Shijo Keihan Station to Sanjo Keihan Station to Yasaka Shrine in Gion then west along Shijo Street, a major shopping area, turning north on Horikawa past Nijo Castle, Nishijin Textile Center and Hokyoji Temple up to Kitaoji then west to Kinkakuji past Bukkyo University to terminate at Ritsumeikan Kinugasa campus.

Kyoto City Bus 12 near Kinkakuji

The Sanjo Keihan-yuki #12 bus service begins at 6.20am daily and the last bus is 9.30pm.

The Ritsumeikan-yuki #12 bus service begins at 7.38am on week days and 7.38 on weekends; the last bus is 10.50pm. The bus is popular with Ritsumeikan students and staff who have commuted into Kyoto on Keihan railways.

Kyoto City Bus 12 near Kinkakuji Temple, Japan

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

JR Inn Sapporo Hotel


Sapporo, on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, is one of Japan's more spacious-feeling cities, and offers a lot of good sightseeing, not least for its examples of old architecture here and there, typically red brick.

JR Sapporo Inn in Sapporo, Hokkaido

Like most cities in Japan, Sapporo is well-connected by rail and bus to the rest of Hokkaido, making JR Sapporo Station an important transport hub for the traveler.

The JR Inn Sapporo is a fairly new and reasonably priced hotel just a minute and a half's walk from the south exit of to Sapporo Station—situated just south-west of the station. Built in 2011, the JR Inn Sapporo is a clean, modern, comfortable hotel designed for the medium budget traveler who is interested more in practicality and convenience than luxury.

Complimentary breakfast at the JR Inn Sapporo.

Checking in at the JR Inn Sapporo.

The JR Inn Sapporo is a ten-floor hotel located just across from, and overlooking, the Hakodate Trunk Line railway. This means that trains can be heard until quite late and from quite early in the morning, but not enough to disturb guests' sleep.

The JR Sapporo Inn offers a free, simple buffet-style breakfast in its light and airy dining room.

Car parking just across from the JR Inn Sapporo.

For the traveler touring by automobile, there is a secure car park just across from the hotel that costs only 1,000 yen for the night.

JR Inn Sapporo
Nishi 6 Kita 5 Chuo-ku
Japan 060-0005
© JapanVisitor.com

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Round Japan on a Bicycle


I spent last weekend in Hokkaido, flying the hour-and-a-half from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Shin-Chitose Airport in Hokkaido (according to Wikipedia, the busiest air route in the world, transporting over 9 million people every year). We then spent another hour-and-a-half driving from the Shin Chitose Airport to Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city.

Lake Utonai in Hokkaido.

We didn't have long in Hokkaido: it was as much a social trip as a sightseeing one, meeting three Thai friends who had taken a direct flight from Bangkok to Shin-Chitose Airport a few days before, and spending the last couple of days of their Hokkaido trip with them.

We did about half a dozen sights, the furthest being Furano, a town famous for its flower - particularly lavender - farms, the lavender being in full bloom when we were there, making for a memorable spectacle well worth the trip. Furano also has a cheese factory and a wine center, but they were underwhelming, institutionalized tourist-bus traps that we would have best skipped.

On the shore of Lake Utonai in Hokkaido.

The highlight of Sunday was a drive out to the Mitsui Outlet Park Sapporo Kitahiroshima, about 45 minutes drive from Sapporo. Our friends stayed there and were going to take the bus back to Sapporo, so the two of us drove on to Lake Utonai, a lake just a little south of Shin-Chitose Airport. Lake Utonai is about 9km in circumference and only about 120cm deep at its deepest point! The lake is not a famous tourist spot, except when migrating greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) and swans swarm the lake. Lake Utonai's biggest claim to fame is that it was Japan's first bird sanctuary, established in 1981. The weather had gotten overcast by the time we got there, and there was really nothing of interest to see - just a large body of water to gaze out over, which is never unpleasant.

As we were walking back to the car, a guy in his late teens or early twenties came in on a bicycle laden with panniers; he was obviously on a cycling camping trip. Once past us, the bicycle could be seen to have a sign on the back saying the rider was on a cycling tour of the whole of Japan, had started from Fukuoka, way down in Kyushu, and that this was his 99th day on the road.
Cycle tour of the whole of Japan, photo taken at Lake Utonai.

I asked him about his trip. It was just a trip - and we chatted for a couple of minutes. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him if he was blogging his trip or anything, but it really just seemed as if he was cycling his way around Japan for the hell of it. He had about three months in Hokkaido, and was headed for the northernmost point. I took this photo and wished him all the best.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

ANA Hotel Sapporo


The ANA Hotel Sapporo in Sapporo is located very close to Sapporo Station and is an up-market accommodation ideal for both short stays and more extended holidays in this northern city.

ANA Hotel Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

The 412 guest rooms at the ANA Hotel Sapporo offer excellent, modern facilities and the hotel has a number of restaurant options, a bar, an art gallery, shopping arcade, massage salon, free LAN Internet access and cable TV in all the rooms. The hotel's sky lounge has good views of Sapporo on a clear day.

The ANA Hotel Sapporo is a short walk from Sapporo Subway Station on both the Toho Line and the Namboku Line. There is a paid-for direct shuttle bus from New Chitose Airport.

ANA Hotel Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

ANA Hotel Sapporo
1-2-9 Kita 3 Jonishi
Tel: 011 221 4411
ANA Hotel Sapporo Map

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 13 Bungo Ono to Usuki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 13, Friday 22nd February Bungo Ono to Usuki

The sun is not yet up but the sky is light as I catch the first train out of Oita. Instead of going all the way to where I ended my walk yesterday I get off one station before, a small place called Sugao. I've read that nearby are some more examples of stone Buddhas.

I find them about 2km from the station on the other side of a line of hills. Like all the others I've seen they are carved into an overhanging cliff face, but these have much more paint remaining on their surfaces. A very deep, rich red seems to be the main color they were painted, with a golden ochre also in evidence. They must have been quite magnificent when they were first made.

Sugao Buddha, Kyushu

I head back the way I cam from the station and passing an old school there are lots of elderly people out playing gateball. Originally based on croquet I was very surprised to learn how modern it is. It was invented in 1949 but didn't really become popular until the 1960's and 70's.

Gateball was made to be faster and more exciting than croquet and was aimed at young people, but its the old people of the countryside who play it most. Even remote hamlets will have a gateball court.

I cross the road and head over the next hills. Here I pass another obsessive sport of Japan.... a huge golf course and country club. From here its pretty much downhill all the way to the coast at Usuki. I take a little half kilometer detour to see a stone bridge that was marked on the roadside tourist map. Its actually quite impressive, having a single span of more than 30 meters.

It was built in 1824, and Kyushu is home to more than 90% of all the stone bridges in Japan, the influence, I believe, of the Chinese in Nagasaki. Back on the road I stop at a lay-by to get a drink from a vending machine. A delivery truck pulls in and the young driver asks where I am going. I tell him Usuki and he asks if I want a ride. I decline by telling him I'm on a walking pilgrimage. He tells me that when he was younger he hitch-hiked all over Japan. He buys me a drink from the machine. Osettai, gifts given to pilgrims, are commonplace on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, but much rarer on others. The kindness of strangers is always a gift far greater than any actual thing given.

The day is uneventful, the road is not so busy, and there are plenty of shrines to explore. By mid afternoon I am about 5km from Usuki and I reach the Usuki Stone Buddhas, dozens of cliff carvings in four sites close to each other. I believe they are the only stone Buddhas registered as National Treasures.

There is also an interesting temple and a hill top Hiyoshi Shrine which suggest to me that the ascetic Buddhist monks who made these carvings were connected to the Tendai sect. Leaving the Buddhas I soon reach the busy main road into Usuki. The last two kilometers are like a strip mall, lined with car dealerships, chain family restaurants, pachinko parlors, home and garden stores....... up on the mountain to my right is the next temple on the pilgrimage, but I decide to leave it until tomorrow when I am less tired.

Usuki Kyushu Japan

When I finally reach the old town I am really weary and perturbed to discover that my hotel is at the opposite end of the town so I trudge along the old shopping street that looks as if it has seen better days. After resting up in my room and getting some energy back I take a sunset walk to the nearby port just as I big car ferry is pulling in. I didn't realize how close Kyushu and Shikoku get at this point.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 12

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Akabira Station Hokkaido


Akabira is a small town just north of Mt. Sorachi in Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido. Akabira town's railway station, Akabira Station, code named "T23," was established in 1913, and is one of the 69 stations on JR Hokkaido's Nemuro Main Line (Nemuro Honsen).

Akabira Station on the Nemuro Main Line, Hokkaido.

Together with the nearby town of Ashibetsu, Akabira was a rich source of coal and a busy scene of mining activity until the mid-1960s. The area was divided into three according to the operators of its three mines and their locations: Showa Denko K.K.'s Toyosato, Hokkaido Colliery & Steamship Co., Ltd.'s Akama, and Sumitomo's Akabira. Akabira was distinctive for having three slag heaps, one from each area, behind Akabira Station, which had been established in 1913.

The late-1950s to early-1960s was the period of peak mining activity in Akabira, when Akabira Station was the departure point for rail destinations all over Japan of up to 200 carloads of coal daily. In terms of volume, Akabira Station was second in Japan after Umeda Station in Osaka. Akabira's population at this time was over 50,000 - about five times the present population of what has become a sleepy, not no doubt far more green and pleasant, hollow.

 In 1962, national energy policy changed with the liberalization of oil imports, spelling the end of the era of coal, and by the mid-1960s Akabira's importance as a coal town, and therefore Akabira Station's importance as a freight station, was over. The final nail in the station's historical coffin was in 1989 when the last dedicated coal line, the Sumitomo rail freight line, was closed.

Akabira Station was rebuilt in 1999, and is now a 6-floor structure that also houses the Akabira Koryu Senta Mirai ("Akabira Community Center 'Future'"). The new station building makes up in looks what it has lost in importance with its imposing red-brick castle-like design, in the style of the Edwardian architecture typical - at least in Europe - of when the original station was erected in 1913. Red brick is an architectural theme of Hokkaido, and this modern contribution helps keeps the tradition alive.

Akihira is about an hour by train from Sapporo, changing trains at Takikawa, or an hour and a half by Kosoku Furano-go bus.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Japan News This Week 21 July 2013


Japan News. In Japan, Searching for Prized Sea Urchins

New York Times

Pioneering adult stem cell trial approved by Japan


Fukushima rainfall caused steam above reactor, says Tepco


Nearly 2,000 at Fukushima No. 1 face higher thyroid cancer risk

Japan Times

The Re-Branding of Abe Nationalism: Global Perspectives on Japan 安倍ナショナリズムの再ブランド化  グローバルな視点からの検討

Japan Focus

Hot summer for Japan and China disputes

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News


Top Paid CEOs in Japan, 2012

1) Carlos Ghosn, Nissan; 96.800,000 yen (approximately $9.68 million)
2) Deborah Dunsire, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, 77,600,000
3) Frank Morich, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, 74,500,000
4) Tadataka Yamada, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, 71,200,000
5) Hiroshi Mitsuhara, Nihon Chouzai, 59,000,000
6) Yoshiharu Inaba, Fanuc Corporation, 59,000,000
7) Hajime Satomi, Sega-Sammy, 58,300,000
8) Keiichi Mori, Focus Systems, 48,000,000
9) Shunzo Mori, Shinetsu Chemical, 46,000,000
10) Masato Matsuura, Avex, 45,100,000

Source: Aera

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Joyato Stone Lanterns


Like Kosatsuba noticeboards, Joyato stone lanterns are a feature of Edo period post towns (-juku) on Japan's main highways such as the Nakasendo and Tokaido linking the ancient capital of Kyoto and the shogunal power base at Edo (Tokyo).

Joyato Stone Lantern Nakatsugawa Japan

Joyato lanterns were situated at the entrance to post towns and were lit at nightfall to guide any late-coming travelers safely to the towns to find rest and refreshment at the many inns located there. They burned throughout the night until first light -thus the name Joyato which means "all night light".

Joyato Stone Lantern Nakasendo Japan

Joyato lanterns can be seen on the Nakasendo in Ena, Nakatsugawa and other post-towns along the way. Some are original and some are modern constructions.

Walk Japan runs highly recommended walks along Japan's Nakasendo Way where participants can learn about the fascinating history of the highway in the Edo Period.

Joyato Stone Lantern Nakasendo Highway Japan

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Kyoto City Bus 204


The Kyoto city bus #204 runs in a circular route from Kitaoji Bus Station in northern Kyoto past Kinkakuji Temple, Waratenjin, Hirano Jinja, Kitano-Hakubaicho (convenient for Kitano Tenmangu Shrine), Enmachi, the southern end of the Imperial Palace along Marutamachi, Kurodani Temple, then north up Kitashirawaka past Ginkakuji Temple, passes Mototanaka on the Eiden Line, convenient for Maki Shoten, and then west along Kitaoji back to Kitaoji Bus Station. This bus is the Kinkakuji yuki anti-clockwise loop. The clockwise loop is known as Ginkakuji-yuki and follows the same route but in reverse in a clockwise direction.

Kyoto City Bus 204, Kyoto, Japan

The Kinkakji-yuki #208 bus service begins at 5.35am daily and the last bus is 10.44pm on weekdays and Saturdays and 10.21pm on Sundays.

The Ginkakji-yuki #208 bus service has the same first and last bus times.

If you are using the buses in Kyoto consider buying either an all-day bus pass for 500 yen, which covers the downtown area of the city or a Kyoto Sightseeing One-Day (1,200 yen) or Two-Day Pass (2,000 yen), which are valid on Kyoto City buses (green), Kyoto Bus Company buses (white) and the subway.

Kyoto City Bus 204, Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto Travel Passes

Insert your card into the card slot as you enter at the rear of the bus. The first time you do this, the date will be printed on your card. If you pass outside the designated inner city area put your card in the machine and the extra fare will be calculated, which you can pay by inserting coins into the slot.

Places outside the designated inner city area include Arashiyama to the west and Shugakuin in the north east and buses that run to these places have black numbers on a white background like the number #5 bus to Shugakuin. Flat fare (220 yen) buses have white numbers on an orange or blue background. Both travel passes are available at subway and bus stations in Kyoto.
Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

Kyoto City Bus 204.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Makino-ike Ryokuchi Koen Nagoya


Makino-ike Ryokuchi Koen is a pleasant public park in north eastern Nagoya, centered around Makino Lake.

Makino-ike Ryokuchi Koen Nagoya, Japan

Makino-ike Ryokuchi Park has some lovely woodland trails, a children's play park, a baseball diamond, a gate ball area, lawn space and is a good place to flee the oppressive summer heat in Nagoya.

Makino-ike Ryokuchi Koen Nagoya Aichi


Makino-ike Ryokuchi Park
Oaza Takabari
Nagoya 465-0067
Tel: 052 701 3089
Google map

There are Nagoya city buses to Makino-ike Ryokuchi Park from Hirabari Station on the Tsurumai Line of the Nagoya subway and city and Meitetsu buses from Hoshigaoka Station on the Higashiyama Line.

Makino-ike Ryokuchi Koen Nagoya Japan

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mount Ontake


Mount Ontake on the borders of Gifu and Nagano prefectures is Japan's second highest volcano after Mt. Fuji at 3,067m and Japan's 14th highest mountain. Ontake last erupted without warning on 27 September, 2014 killing dozens of hikers. The last major eruption before that was in 1979 with a low level eruption alert in 2008.

Mount Ontake, Gifu and Nagano Prefectures

Mt Ontake has five crater lakes and Ni no Ike at an elevation of 2,905m is the highest such lake in Japan.

Mt Ontake is a popular pilgrimage site for yamabushi (mountain priests) and many people make the ascent to the shrine at the top of the mountain during the summer hiking season. There are a number of trails to the summit starting from the village of Otaki and returning via Kurosawa.

Mount Ontake, 2nd highest volcano in Japan

The climb takes about 5 hours to cover the 17km to the top or about 3 hours if you start from the Ta-no-hara trailhead. There are ten stations on the ascent and visitors often stay overnight at the 8th station to climb to the summit to see the sunrise the next day.

If you wish to miss out on all that walking take the Ontake Ropeway (1300 yen single; 2400 yen return) instead to an elevation of 2150m - a short hike to the 7th station.

Mount Ontake, Japan

Mt. Ontake is about 100km north of Nagoya and there are buses to Otaki and Kurosawa from Kiso-Fukushima (75 minutes) or to the Ontake Ropeway (60 minutes).

From Tokyo's Shinjuku Station take a JR Azusa or Super Azusa Express to Shiojiri and then change to the JR Chuo Line to Kiso-Fukushima.

Nigorigo Onsen is another popular place to either start or end a hike of Mt. Ontake.

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Japan Visitor Blog

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

O-mochi Japanese rice cake


Japan shares the Asian tradition of rice cakes: glutinous rice that is pounded into a paste and shaped. In Japan, it is called mochi, or more usually the honorific o-mochi.

The tradition of mochimaking, or mochitsuki, has been an important one in Japan, and, is associated mainly with New Year in Japan, when mochi forms one of the most important Japanese foodstuffs of the season, in the form of "kagami-mochi" (lit. "mirror rice cake"), a stack of round or oval rice cakes which are placed on a Shinto shrine (a Shinto shrine always featuring a mirror).

Mochitsuki is a two-person task, one turning the rice between slow rhythmic pounds with a wooden mallet by the other.

Round o-mochi rice cakes, Japan.

Mochi retains its ceremonial role in Japan, but is much more familiar to people as an ordinary snack purchasable at convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores.

There are dozens and dozens of different kinds of mochi available in Japan, featuring numerous different shapes, sizes, fillings, coatings, and consistency.

The o-mochi featured here are basically shiromaru mochi ("round white rice cakes"), the kind used for the New Year kagami mochi referred to above. As you can see in the second photo, they are filled with that most popular of o-mochi fillings, bean paste, or anko.

Note, also, the two different colors of mochi here: white and green. The white mochi is made of rice pounded as is, the green, known as kusamochi "grass rice cake," is colored by adding yomogi (Japanese mugwort) to the mix.

Eating a bean-paste-filled rice cake, Japan.

The universal sensation provided by all mochi, whatever the variety, is that distinctive soft, elastic, chewiness—something like a cheekfull of plump, giving, digestible chewing gum that rolls around, rendering your whole mouth slightly helpless feeling, until your top and bottom teeth finally find each other again, and that once pillow-like little packet of pudge is now chomped up and hydrated enough now to swallow in smooth fleshy gobs. Tengoku da yo! ("Heavenly!")

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 12 Oita to Bungo Ono

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 12, Thursday 21st February Oita to Bungo Ono

The next leg of the pilgrimage is to two temples in Bungo Ono, about 35 kilometers inland from Oita City. 35km is certainly doable, though with a full pack and the short winter day it may be a bit of a stretch, so I decide to leave my pack in my cheap hotel room, walk there and take a train back. Next day I can take the first train back out and walk from there back to the coast at Usuki.

With no pack the first few hours I stride along and try to get through the urban sprawl of Oita City as fast as I can. By 9am I reach the banks of the Ono River which I need to follow up into the high country. As with many rivers in Japan, one bank has a major road and the other a narrower, quieter one and finally I am free of the traffic. Maybe one vehicle every ten minutes passes by.

Ono River, Oita River, Kyushu

I reach Inukai, a one street village bypassed by the main road on the other side of the river it is almost a ghost town. It has a train station, but only about 20% of its commercial establishments appear to be operating. Just past Inukai I reach the main road, and now I have to make a decision. I have three choices of route. The shortest will take me over the high ground to the north of the river.

The simplest would be to take the main road to the south of the river. I elect to follow the middle way, along the river, figuring it will be the prettiest. I realized I had made the right decision when, after a short walk, I came to a small sign pointing up a side road to the Inukai Stone Buddhas, a small set of cliff carvings. It was a steep 500 meters, but well worth it as the main carving was not a Buddha at all, but Fudo Myo, my favorite Buddhist deity!

So I'm feeling pleased with myself as I walk along the quiet road above the river until I reach a sign that explains why not a single vehicle has passed by...... the road is closed!! Usually in situations like this I just ignore the sign and hope that even though cars can't get through I will be able to. Last November while walking around the Kunisaki Peninsula I ignored a road closed sign and then 2 hours later came to a 15 meter high wall of rocks, mud, and trees blocking the road.

Fortunately I was able to scramble over, and I trust to my luck again. Turns out the narrow road is simply blocked by construction equipment doing some repairs. I continue on for a few more kilometers and then its time to climb up from the riverbank and find the first temple. Its temple 96, one of the 20 "extra" temples on top of the 88.

Kenryu-ji is quite a large and pleasant rural temple with well manicured bushes lining the stairway up to it. From here I head directly south to the town of Mie which appears on the map as the administrative center of Bungo Ono City. I get into town as the sun dips behind the mountains and so must find an extra burst of energy to reach the next temple about 3km out of town. It turns out to be a really interesting place.

Yakushi Nyorai, Renjo-ji Temple

Outside the main temple grounds of Renjo-ji is an old, long hall guarded by Nio, and inside more than 1,000 small statues of Yakushi Nyorai, known as the healing Buddha. Even more interesting is the possibility that this may be the first temple in Japan.

Official history says that Buddhism was introduced to the Yamato rulers by the King of Paekche, but this ignores the fact that Kyushu and western Japan has always had interactions with the Asian mainland outside of and separate from those of the rulers in far off central Japan.

According to the local legend a local man, Manano Choja, invited a Buddhist priest over from Paekche. Manano had a beautiful daughter who was chosen to be a concubine of a Yamato prince. Unfortunately she died on the sea journey to Yamato.

The prince later became Emperor Yomei, and the official first temple in Japan, Asuka dera, wasn't built until after Yomei's death, so its perfectly possible for the claim to be the first temple in Japan to be correct.

I personally like it when mainstream history is challenged by the periphery, so I was really pleased to have found this place, but the sun had set and I needed to get back to town to catch a train back to Oita.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 11

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Japan News This Week 14 July 2013


Japan News. Masao Yoshida, Nuclear Engineer and Chief at Fukushima Plant, Dies at 58

New York Times

Japan's Quest for Empire 1931 - 1945


Yakuza magazine – for the well-read gangster


‘Abenomics’ dark side: hinterland pay cuts

Japan Times

The Marines Will Not Defend the Senkakus 海兵隊は尖閣を守るつもりはない - See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Sato-Manabu/3964#sthash.ZHiNz4hf.dpuf

Japan Focus

Japan to give nuclear power another chance

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News


Youth Unemployment By Country (Aged 15 - 24)

*Greece: 59.2%
*Spain: 56.5%
*Portugal: 42.1%
*Italy: 38.5%
*France: 25.3%
*Sweden: 23.4%
*Great Britain: 20.2%
*USA: 16.3%
*Australia: 8.7%
*Japan: 8.1
*Germany: 7.6%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

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Happi Coats

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Obata Ryokuchi Koen


Obata Ryokuchi Koen is a large public park on the north-eastern outskirts of Nagoya, in Moriyama ward. Obata Ryokuchi Park features often deserted woodland trails, lovely ponds and small lakes as well as a popular children's park and a large lawn space. The park is divided into two with the main park close to Obata Ryokuchi Station and the smaller West Park just a little distance away.

Obata Ryokuchi Koen, Nagoya

Located in the north east of Nagoya city on the Yutorito guided bus line from Ozone Station, Obata Ryokuchi Koen is a pleasant place to wander, listen to the bird song and escape the summer heat in Nagoya.

Plants and trees in Obata Ryokuchi include cherry trees, higanbana, lotus flowers, Metasequoia trees and gentians.

For sports players there is dedicated space for baseball, tennis and gate ball.

Obata Ryokuchi Koen, Nagoya, Aichi

Obata Ryokuchi Park is close to Ryusenji Temple.


Obata Ryokuchi Park
Ushimaki, 1632-1
Nagoya 463-0094
Tel: 052 791 9492

Take a Yutorito Line bus from Ozone, Nagoya Dome or Sunabashi stations all on the Meijo Line. There are also buses to Obata Ryokuchi Station from Meitetsu Obata Station on the Seto Line.

Obata Ryokuchi Koen, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, July 12, 2013

Love in Japan

The word "love" in the Japanese language is "ai," pronounced like "eye." Contrary to what Westerners sometimes think, love is just as alive and well in Japan as it is, say, in the Mediterranean and people do things just as crazy for it here as they do there.

Yet, Japan is still basically a very traditional society, and love has therefore often been treated here as something impossible and unattainable because of status or fate.

Unlike the word "love" in English, the Japanese word "ai" is not used as a synonym for "like very much" - you will never hear anyone saying in Japanese that they "ai" carrot cake, or sumo, or manga, or the Tokyo Skytree by night. The word in that case is "daisuki," literally "like very much."

"Daisuki" is to like very much, "suki" is to like. And, actually, these words are used much more often in common parlance than the word "ai" to express affection for things and people. Even lovers are more likely to say "suki" or "daisuki" to each other than "ai shiteru."

There is a lot of Japanese art dedicated to love, whether tending towards the carnal or the spiritual. The Edo period had its erotic shunga prints depicting semi-naked lovers in the throes of it. There is no shortage of love as a theme when it comes to the Japanese cinema. And Japanese literature, like literature anywhere, has kept the flame of love burning throughout the ages, starting with what is recognized as the world's first true novel, the Tale of Genji, back in the eleventh century, whose starting point is an emperor's undying affection for a (later deceased) concubine.

Some other more modern classics of Japanese literature that investigate the theme of love are Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari, which is about sacrificial love, centered around a mountain man and a geisha, Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio, a love story involving a declining aristocratic family and a nouveau riche one in Japan's Taisho era, and Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki, about the reminiscences of a man on the exploits of his youth in his difficult search for true love.

Read reviews of these Japanese novels about love.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tokudaiji Temple Tokyo oasis amidst commotion

特大寺 摩利支天

Tokudaiji is a small temple just off the bustling Ameyayokocho ("Ameyoko") alley very near Ueno in Tokyo. Tokudaiji is a Nichiren Buddhist temple that is distinguished by its venerating of the ancient Indian god, Marici—thus the sub-title of the temple: Marishi-ten.

Tokudaiji Temple, off Ameyokocho, Tokyo.

The exact origins of Tokudaiji are unclear, but it is believed to have been established in the 17th century.

The normal serenity associated with Buddhism and its temples is nowhere to be found in the vicinity. Rather, the surrounding Okachimachi neighborhood is at most times of the day a jam-packed cacophony of sellers and buyers, with most of the stores opening onto and selling directly from the streetfront.

Okachimachi is the station one stop south of Ueno, and the nearby Ameyoko alley has one of the biggest Asian store presences in Tokyo, especially Chinese, and is the place to go if you want to stock up on Chinese culinary ingredients, as well as a host of other exotic foods. There are numerous fish shops, fruit shops, and confectionery shops—in fact, Tokudaiji is completed surrounded by several different wings of the confectionery store, Niki Confectionery. There is Japanese food aplenty in Okachimachi, too, and it is where we buy our weekly supply of tofu every crowded, milling, yelling Saturday afternoon.

Entrance to Tokudaiji Temple, Okachimachi, Tokyo.

The god Marishi, although it appears in the  Bhagavad Gita, is apparently not so named in the modern Hindu pantheon. As enshined at Tokudaiji, he rides a wild boar, his left arm raised, and wielding a sword with his right hand. He is said to be the god of luck and victory, and as such was traditionally worshipped by those in the military and the entertainment world. Lending prowess to the god's reputation is the remarkable fact that it was spared in both the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and the bombings of World War Two.

Tokudaiji makes visiting Okachimachi and the Ameyoko street that runs through it a somewhat more pleasant experience, even if only as somewhere to escape the madding crowd for a few minutes.

Read more about Japanese shrines and temples.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Registering a bicycle against theft in Japan


My new Northrock mountain bike, Tokyo.

 For all Japan's vaunted lack of casual crime, bicycle theft is a problem in a country where the bicycle is such a common means of transport. (Only just yesterday, for example, although my locked bike was okay, the new rear LED light I bought for it last week was removed and stolen.)

Japan therefore has a system of bicycle registration to guard against bicycle theft, known as the Jitensha Bohan Toroku (Bicycle Anti-Theft Registration) system. According to a 1994 amendment of the 1980 Act for the Promotion of the Safe Use of Bicycles and the General Implementation of Parking Measures for Bicycles Etc., every owner of a bicycle in Japan is obliged to register.

This weekend, I went to Costco in Misato City, north-east of Tokyo, primarily for grocery shopping, but ended up buying a Northrock mountain bike, a brand that seems to be proprietary to Costco. For 42,000 yen, it seemed like a good buy. I was tempted by a similar Cannondale also on display for about another 8,000 more, but the Northrock's having a bicycle stand was the deciding factor. Bicycles are not normally the kind of thing you buy on a whim, but there it was, it looked good, and my trusty almost-ten-year-old Giant had been costing me more and more in terms of replacing worn and torn parts.

Once I'd got it home, the first thing I did was assemble the front wheel, the handle bar and the seat, and I was ready to go. I took it to nearby Ueno the next day, found a bike shop, and registered it.

Most bicycle shops offer a bicycle registration service, and are obliged to register even bikes not bought there. I was asked to bring my bike inside, show the purchase receipt, and fill in a form. They took down the bike's serial number, completed the paperwork, and a registration sticker was stuck to my spot of choice on the frame, and I received my receipt. It cost 500 yen.

The anti-theft registration system is a good idea: the registered information is sent to the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction in which the registration took place, and is kept on record for a set number of years, usually five, but differing by jurisdiction. However, there is no confirmation of the bicycle having been registered - you simply have to trust the bike shop people to do it properly, yet it's a service they don't get remunerated for.

Japan bike registration.

The sticker is sturdy and looks quite difficult to remove, but it is hard to imagine anyone who has gone to the trouble of stealing a bike not scratching the registration sticker off. There is still the serial number identifying the bike, by which the true owner can be found, but random checks of bicycle registration are not particularly common.

Also, as anyone - especially a foreigner - knows who has gone to the local police box or police station with a complaint, the response is initially non-comprehending then generally bored and lethargic: the wheels turn as far they have to with as little effort exerted as possible, and then return to complete stasis. I have never heard of any lost property returning as a result of reporting it to the police in Japan. You need clout - the kind that those who rely on bicycles for transportation aren't usually much endowed with.

Be that as it may, I have my registration sticker, giving my brand new bicycle the added sheen of official legitimacy. You touch-a my bike, I show you my paper.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Karuizawa New Art Museum


The Karuizawa New Art Museum (KaNAM) in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture is dedicated to mostly post-war Japanese and foreign modern art.

Karuizawa New Art Museum, Nagano

The current exhibition is of the work of Yayoi Kusama entitled "I Love Myself Too Much - Narcissism that Moved the World."

Previous exhibitions have included the art of Yasuhiro Chida, Masataka Oyabu, Inoue Yuichi and an exhibition of Edo Period erotic, shunga wood-block prints.

The glass building was designed by Japanese architect, Rikuo Nishimori, and opened in 2012. The white supports on the exterior and interior represent the local forests.

Karuizawa New Art Museum, Nagano, Japan

The museum includes an art shop and a recommended Italian restaurant, Ristorante Pietrino.

Karuizawa New Art Museum
1151-5 Karuizawa
Nagano 389-0102
Tel: 0267 46 8691

Hours: 11am-5pm; closed Tuesday

Access: Karuizawa New Art Museum is a 10 minute walk from Karuizawa Station along Karuizawa Hon-dori. Karuizawa is an hour on the Shinkansen from Tokyo.

Karuizawa New Art Museum, Nagano, Japan

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, July 08, 2013

Nagoya International Center


Nagoya International Center (NIC) is an impressive facility housed on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Nagoya Kokusai Center Building within sight of Nagoya Station.

Nagoya International Center (NIC)

Nagoya International Center provides information on medical, legal, cultural, municipal and educational matters in Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture.

Nagoya International Center has information in English, Portuguese, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and other languages including tourist maps, information about language courses and up-coming events and festivals in the Nagoya area.

Nagoya International Center (NIC), Aichi

The lending library has a large collection of books in English, Japanese and some other languages as well as newspapers, magazines and audio-visual materials.

There are 3 PCs available to use (fee charged) and international TV programs playing on a large screen. Conference rooms are available for hire.

Nagono 1-47-1
Tel: 052 581 0100
Hours: 9am-7pm; closed Monday

Take exit 2 from the Kokusai Center Station on the Sakura-dori Line. The US Consulate in Nagoya is on the 6F of the same building. (Tel: 052 581 4501).

International Centers in Japan

Nagoya International Center (NIC), Aichi Prefecture

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