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Monday, December 30, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 22 Miyazaki City

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 22
Miyazaki City
Wednesday March 27th, 2013

I was up early and took a train north out of Miyazaki to where I finished walking yesterday.

Miyazaki Minka-en, Miyazaki, Kyushu

It is grey and overcast and rain is forecast. Before too long I reach the edge of the grounds of Miyazaki Jingu and coming in through the path through the words come upon a great surprise. It's the Minkaen, an open-air museum of old, traditional farmhouses that have been brought here from various parts of the Miyazaki countryside and reassembled.

The nicest thing about it was that entrance was free, something not unheard of in Japan, but not common. Miyazaki Jingu was as uninteresting as I expected it to be. All white gravel and faux ancient, very much a creation of the politico-religious system that became known as State Shinto, I find such places sterile and completely devoid of any of the "nature worship" that we are told Shinto is all about.

Oyodo River, Miyazaki, Kyushu, Japan

Close by is the first of the two pilgrimage temples I visit today. A small, concrete temple, there are some nice statues in the ground. It starts to drizzle. Not so much fun, but at least I don't have to carry a heavy backpack today. I follow the curve of the Oyodo River which is wide and still on this final stretch of its journey from mountain to sea and then cross over it and head inland to the suburbs to find the next temple. It too is concrete, but on the wooded slope behind it is a miniature pilgrimage route of 88 statues.

I rejoin the river and follow it back towards the coast, stopping in at shrines along the way. I now head south through the urban sprawl before late in the afternoon jumping on a train back into the city centre and my hotel. Just across from the station is the Miyazaki Science Museum and it is still half an hour before closing. It's noisy, and bright, with lots of flashing lights, sound effects, and kids running around. A perfect antidote to the damp gray day it has been.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Japan News This Week 29 December 2013


Japan News.
Risky Nationalism in Japan New York Times

Okinawa governor approves plan to relocate US Marines Futenama air base
Global Post

Japan moves close to beating 15 years of falling prices

Chinese media attacks Japan's Shinzo Abe for visit to Yasukuni shrine

Anti-Japan demonstration held in Hong Kong over Abe’s shrine visit
Japan Times

Japan’s Designated Secrets Protection Law Would Foreclose Criticisms of the Government Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


2013 Children's Well Being Ranking of 31 developed nations, by country:

1. Holland
2. Finland
3. Iceland
4. Norway
5. Sweden
6. Japan
7. Germany
8. Switzerland
9. Luxembourg
10. Belgium, Slovenia

17. United Kingdom

29. USA

Source: UNICEF

© JapanVisitor

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Kohaku 2013

Kohaku Uta GassenKohaku is a male-vs-female singing face-off between famous entertainers in Japan run by Japan's public broadcaster, NHK. "Ko" is the kanji for "red" and stands for the women; "haku" is for white and represents the men.

Begun as a radio program immediately after Japan's loss in WW2, Kohaku became a TV program as well in 1953 and has remained a staple of NHK's New Year programming every year.

This year, 2013, is Kohaku's 64th. The most talked-about planned new appearance is that of the recently risen star, Chris Hart, a 29-year-old San Franciscan now living in Japan who has wowed Japan for the past year with his soulful renditions of J-pop songs and enka. Hart's first album, Heart Song, reached no.3 on Japan's Oricon charts this year—a sign of stunning success in Japan's huge music industry, which almost equals the revenues of the U.S.

Other new men's acts will be the 65-year-old nostalgia-folk singer Izumiya Shigeru; the five-member rock band from Hokkaido, Sakanaction; the five downy-cheeked twinks of Sexy Zone (yet another use-by-next-year product of the Johnny's and Associates talent agency); traditional crooner, Fukuda Kohei; and self-proclaimed "fantasy band," Linked Horizon. The all-time veteran of Kohaku, the 65-year-old Itsuki Hiroshi, will be appearing for the 43rd time.

New women's acts will be E-girls, a choir-sized recycling of members—aged 13 to 26—of several previous girl groups; NMB48, the over-the-top camp girl revue from Osaka; and miwa, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter. The longest serving female this time will be Akiko Wada with her 37th appearance.

Kohaku will air on December 31 2013 from 7:15 pm to 11:45 pm on both NHK TV and radio.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hagi Castle Ruins

If you have read my previous posts, you know that I am an American who is crazy for Japanese history.

Hagi Castle Ruins, Yamaguchi

When my daughter and I visited Hagi it was because I was in a Mori Motonari phase. I wanted to see Hagi Castle Ruins, the place where Motonari's grandson and heir had lived.

Mori Terumoto had been forced to leave Hiroshima because he had supported Mitsunari's side during the Battle of Sekigahara. He built Hagi Castle in 1604 and the Mori ruled the domain for about 260 years.

Three cats at Hagi Castle, Yamaguchi

The castle grounds were very quiet. I touched the rock walls that remained, and as we moved forward I saw three cats sunning themselves on a wooden bench. "Three cats, just like the three Mori brothers who stuck together," I told Amanda. We decided to climb to the tsumemaru, or citadel, which sat atop Mt Shizuki, elevation 143m. The elevation meant nothing to this American raised on inches, feet, yards, and miles.

Mt Shizuki path at Hagi Castle

I had in my possession a piece of Hagi ware, a rather large and lovely vase I had purchased in the city. It was fairly heavy and I thought about setting it down and coming back to get it later. My daughter thought we might not return to the same spot, so I put the vase inside my backpack. Aaaarrrgh! What a mistake!

The trail up the mountainside was uneven and rough, necessitating extra steps here and there and caution where the path was muddy. We kept going, up and up, and I breathed very hard and sweated under the weight of the Hagi ware.

Top of Mt Shizuki, Hagi Castle, Yamaguchi

How long had it taken the Mori vassals to get up and down this mountain? When we reached the top I rested. Then there appeared a man in business attire who had obviously been climbing behind us. He looked perfectly groomed and refreshed, not disheveled and exhausted like me. For him, the trek had been no trouble at all.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Japan News This Week 22 December 2013


Japan News.
Amid Chinese Rivalry, Japan Seeks More Muscle New York Times

Japan boosts military spending amid growing tensions with China
Global Post

China denounces Japanese military strategy

Shinzo Abe: is Japan's PM a dangerous militarist or modernising reformer?

Japan achieves 10 million tourist target for 2013
Japan Times

Back to the Future: Shinto, Ise and Japan’s New Moral Education Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


2013 press freedom rankings, by country:

1 Norway Sweden
3 Belgium Finland Netherlands
6 Denmark Luxembourg Switzerland
9 Andorra
10 Iceland Liechtenstein
12 St. Lucia
13 Estonia Ireland Monaco New Zealand Palau San Marino
19 Germany Marshall Islands Portugal St. Vincent and Grenadines
23 Barbados Costa Rica Jamaica United States of America
27 Bahamas Czech Republic
29 Canada St. Kitts and Nevis
31 Australia Austria Micronesia United Kingdom 
35 Belize France
40 Dominica Japan Lithuania Slovenia Suriname
64 Chile Israel Namibia South Korea (Partly Free)
71 Hong Kong (Partly Free)
179 China, Congo, Gambia (Not Free)


Source: Freedom House
© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hamamatsu Act City


Hamamatsu Act City adjacent to Hamamatsu Station consists of a tower and a number of connected buildings including the Okura Act City Hotel Hamamatsu, the Main Hall, the Concert Hall, the Exhibition and Event Hall, a Congress Center, a Seminar and Exchange Center, an Observation Gallery, the Museum of Musical Instruments as well as various outdoor public spaces: Chopin Hill, Music Square, Recreation Square, Sun Square and Sunken Plaza.

Hamamatsu Act City, Shizuoka

The Act City Tower is the central landmark of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture and rises to a height of 213m with the Observation Gallery at 185m. The  Okura Act City Hotel occupies 17 floors of the tower.

Act City opened in 1994 and the building is built to resemble a harmonica, a reference to the city of Hamamatsu's connection with the production of musical instruments.

Hamamatsu Act City, Shizuoka

Hamamatsu Act City
111-2 Itayamachi

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Marueda Kirishima-So

Marueda Kirishima-So is a minshuku in a quiet part of this village in the Kirishima area of Kagoshima Prefecture about ten minutes walk south of Kirishima Jingu Shrine and with views towards the Kirishima Mountains.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu

With a deer skull and antlers flanked by wooden masks of the Seven Lucky Gods hanging on the outside wall it seemed that this might be a little different, and I was right.

Marueda Kirishima-So bedroom and futon

The spacious lobby was decorated in an eclectic and funky mix of large scale travel photos, traditional Japanese artifacts, and a hefty dose of 50's retro Americana.

My room was large, and unusual in its decoration, including vintage furniture.

The onsen was located in separate building next door. In the lobby there was wi-fi access.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Kirishima, Kagoshima, Japan

As usual I booked sudomari, room with no meals, for 3,500 yen, but I was really hungry and the landlady didn't mind me changing to evening meal and breakfast for 6,500 yen, and I am glad I did.

The meal (see below), in a small dining room/ restaurant, was huge, and ended up consisting of 16 dishes.

Marueda Kirishima-So
2247-6 Kirishima-taguchi
899 4201
Tel: 0995 57 3833
Google map

The minshuku is a 15-minute drive to nearby Maruo Falls.

Marueda Kirishima-So, Japanese food, Kyushu

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21 Takanabe To Miyazaki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 21
Takanabe to Miyazaki City
Tuesday March 26th, 2013

It's an overcast morning as I head off, but no rain is forecast. Before I continue on my way down the coast towards Miyazaki city I head inland a few kilometers to see something I discovered while researching this leg of my trip.

Called Takanabe Taishi, it is a collection of 700 statues of Buddhas and gods on a hilltop overlooking the town, but these are unlike any other statues you can see in Japan. They were not made by an artist, but rather by a local man who retired from his business at aged 40 and then spent 40 years carving these statues. They are blocky and angular and look like they were carved by kids but therefore have a primitive fascination.

Takanabe Taishi a collection of 700 statues of Buddhas

I come down the hill and cross the river into the town itself. I really wanted to visit a shrine about 10km upstream that enshrines a Korean prince, but it would take too much time. I stop at a convenience store for breakfast and while sitting outside sipping my coffee a man comes up and wordlessly hands me a bunch of bananas.

My white pilgrims jacket at work again.

Takanabe itself is rather dilapidated and run down and seems devoid of any economic vitality. Too far from any major city to function as a suburb it is like so many other rural towns in Japan. I pass through the town stopping in at a few shrines and head up onto a small plateau and am back again in the countryside. It looks and feels like it could be in England, save for the stands of bamboo. I pass a huge, ramshackle two storey chicken barn held together with wire and patches of chicken wire and dozens of recycled doors and windows. A pair of worried -looking chickens are clucking around outside trying to find their way back inside.

A little further I pass a series of sleek, grey boxes with no details, very industrial. A new chicken "ranch". The road joins back up with the main highway running south and for an hour or so the scream of low flying jets disturbs the air. I am passing Nyutabaru Airbase, and it seems very active and busy, mostly with fighter jets.

Park near Nyutabaru Airbase, Miyazaki

In a local park an older jet is on display. No protests here against low flying jets over residential areas. Japan does not have a military, as I am often told, so what I am seeing here must be in my imagination.

The road gets busier and busier as I approach the outskirts of Miyazaki City. A few kilometers off the road is an interesting shrine I want to visit, the burial site of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, ignored when the modern Japanese state went on a frenzy of shrine building and expanding to honor their own imaginary history, but I am too tired.

When the sun goes down I hop on a train into the city center where I have a cheap hotel room for three days. Tomorrow I will come back out and walk in and around the city.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 20 (Part 2)

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, December 16, 2013

UFO Catchers in Chiba

It took a long time to get to Japan this time in October.

UFO Catchers in Chiba

We were delayed in Los Angeles for three hours, two of which we sat on the runway. The reason? "Paperwork." Apparently this problem requires that passengers wait ON the plane and IN their seats while such paperwork is completed. (Thanks, United and the New Star Alliance.)

I started watching "Ben-Hur" on the in-flight entertainment - if you recall, it is three hours long - and I saw over two thirds of the film prior to liftoff.

The delay resulted in missing our connection to Nagoya, and by the time we disembarked in Narita all domestic flights had been cancelled because of the typhoon. We were to spend the night in Narita and catch a flight for the following evening. Well, what can you do but go with it? I'm a firm believer that you can have fun wherever you are, if you want to.

UFO Catchers in Chiba, Japan

The next morning we discovered there was only one train line running out of Narita. The route to Chiba was open, and we thought, hey, why not, let's take a train ride. At the least we can enjoy the passing scenery. The train ran very... slowly. But we arrived in Chiba! I started looking around, trying to take everything in when I saw it - like a siren calling seafarers - an arcade filled with UFO Catcher machines.

On past trips we rarely attempted playing on the machines, but now that the yen and the USD were fairly similar in value, we were amenable to the idea of pouring 100 yen coins into the slots. We had also studied past players' advice online, so with that information we were raring to go.

Amanda happens to be very good at using the claw-operated machines due to her early days of training in the local Del Taco restaurant. She did not win every time, but enough that we got pretty excited about it. "I wonder if this is how gambling feels," she commented. We were having a ridiculously good time. With a bag full of prizes, we headed back to Narita to catch our flight to Nagoya and continue the quest for the next UFO Catcher Machine.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Japan News This Week 15 December 2013


Japan News.
A Public Works Boom in Japan Has Echoes From the Lost Decade New York Times

A solution for the East China Sea
Global Post

Keisuke Honda: AC Milan to sign CSKA Moscow's Japan midfielder

Japan condemned for 'secret' executions

U.S., Chinese warships nearly collide in South China Sea
Japan Times

Marines, Missiles, and the Iron Lady: The Military Leg in Japan’s Ocean Strategy Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Number of executions approved by recent Japanese Justice Ministers (parentheses equals of months in office)

Seiken Sugiura - 0 (10)
Jinen Nagase 10 - (11)
Seiroku Kajiyama 11 - (13)
Eisuke Mori 9 - (11)
Satsuki Eda 0 - (7)
Current minister Sadakazu Tanigaki 8 - (11)

Source: Asahi Shinbun
© JapanVisitor

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Write About Japan

If you have visited Japan recently on holiday or for business, we'd love to hear from you.

Share your Japan experience by sending us your travel tips, experiences, photos or videos of Japan.

We'd love to hear from you and publish your stories on JapanVisitor.com or on our popular blog.

If you do wish to air your thoughts and experiences on Japan please contact us.

Any topic Japan related is considered. Send us your text in Microsoft Word format or in the body of an email and any images as attached jpg or gif format.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima


Located among the rice paddies out in the countryside west of Shibushi Station in Kagoshima Prefecture is a group of modern houses clustered around communal landscaping with a meandering stream running through it.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima Kyushu

It is a "village" of minshuku, Japanese guest houses, that offer accommodation for visitors to the nearby Yomoginosato Hot Spring which itself has no accommodations. I chose to stay at Suzukaze, Windbell, for reasons that will become obvious.

Suzukaze is a true Bed & Breakfast establishment, offering no evening meal. Lunch and dinner can be had at the nearby onsen. Suzukaze also doesn't have bathrooms, only showers, again because of the nearby onsen.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima Kyushu

The two rooms are large, 10 tatami, and have views of either the garden or the stream. Each room has TV, kettle, refrigerator etc. The rate per person is 3,500 yen, or 4,000 yen including breakfast.

The owner was a school teacher before retiring and he and his wife spent their lives backpacking around the world and so wanted to offer inexpensive and friendly accommodation. Unusually, for such a small establishment, the rooms all have internet access.

Suzukaze Guesthouse Shibushi Kagoshima

They will pick you up from the bus stop, train station, or ferry port, where regular ferries connect with Tokyo, Osaka, and Naha.

While researching potential places to stay before my trip I often use online booking services which sometimes offer special plans.

In this case I found that Suzukaze also has a few smaller rooms that they offer at reduced rates to school and university sports teams that come to the area for training camps. I also noticed that they offered a really special rate of only 1,000 yen per night to guests who are walking!

Though it was a little off my route I couldn't resist the price, and I'm glad I did.

The owners were very friendly, spoke excellent English, and were very generous.

When I mentioned that I was interested in a shrine about 10km away we immediately jumped into his car and he took me there.

That evening he gave me a couple of beers, and in the morning a free breakfast. Best 1,000 yen I ever spent on accommodation.

Suzukaze Guesthouse
4100-5 Ariakecho Futsuhara
Kagoshima Prefecture
Tel: 099 457 2340
email: yadosuzukaze[at]yahoo[dot]co[dot]jp

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Joel Stewart Tone Poems Exhibition

Joel Stewart is an American artist who has been living and working in Kyoto, Japan for some 25 years.

Joel Stewart Tone Poems Exhibition

His current exhibition Tone Poems runs from Tuesday December 3rd to Sunday December 15th at art gallery HAKUHOU-DOU, every day except Monday, from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The gallery is located near Heian Shrine in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto.
Telephone 075-771-9401

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, December 09, 2013

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival


Yesterday was the Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, a fire festival held at Fukugonji Temple, a 10-15 minute bus journey from Kasugai Station, north of Nagoya.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival

The Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival begins with an afternoon of taiko drum performances by adult and children's groups alike and culminates in the fire festival which gets underway around 6pm after dark, this year preceded by a short, but rousing performance by the world famous Kodo drummers.

Participants walk through a fire of pine branches (with their shoes on) in a Buddhist ritual to cleanse the previous year's sins, especially covetousness, anger, and ignorance. Local people connected with the temple dressed in white garb lead the way, followed by the general public.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, Kasugai

The actual fire experienced during the walk symbolizes the metaphysical fires that can burn within us and a reminder to us to control these inner flames that can lead us down the path to misery.

The virtue of patience is also required to stand in a crowded queue for around 90 minutes in the pitch dark. It might be better not to join the queue which begins to form at around 4.30pm unless you want to get to the very front to take photographs or video. You can still walk the flames but wait at the edges of the temple compound if you feel claustrophobic.

Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival, Aichi Prefecture

Full details of the festival in both Japanese and English can be found on the Fukugonji Temple's website describing the festival: akiba-taisai.fukugonji.com

According to the above site, the temple was founded in the 15th century by Seizen, a follower of the monk Akibasanjakubo, a spiritual adept who had gained mystical powers at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei in Kyoto.

The festival takes place on the second Sunday of December each year in commemoration of the death of Akibasanjakubo.


Fukugonji Temple
Aichi Prefecture
Komaki city
Ookusa 5229
Google map of Fukugonji

To get to Fukugonji, take a Tajimi-bound JR train from Nagoya Station, Tsurumai Station, Chikusa or Ozone and get off at Kasugai. Then catch an Aoi bus to the temple. Ask the driver to let you off at the nearest stop. The last Aoi bus back from the temple leaves at 7pm, though there are later Meitetsu buses from a stop a considerably longer walk from the temple.

Firewalking: 300 yen

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Japan News This Week 8 December 2013


Japan News.
Lights, Mirrors, Instagram! #ArtSensation: Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ at David Zwirner Gallery New York Times

Japan passes a democracy-muzzling Patriot Act
Global Post

Biden urges Seoul-Tokyo co-operation amid Asia tensions

Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight

Protests over secrets bill fiery at 11th hour
Japan Times

The Harbin An Jung-Geun Statue: A Korea/China-Japan Historical Memory Controversy - See more at: Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Japan PISA results:

2000: #1 (Math), #2 (Science), #8 (Reading)
2006: #6 (Math), #10 (Science), #7 (Reading)
2012: #4 (Math), #4 (Science), #4 (Reading)

PISA are a set of tests given to 15-year-old students in countries worldwide every three years. Conservatives attribute the decline in 2006 to a more relaxed educational policies (yutori kyoiku), and the recent rise to more intensive policies implemented by the Abe government.

More than 510,000 students took part in this latest PISA survey, representing about 28 million 15-year-olds globally.

Source: Japan News
© JapanVisitor

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Hankai Uemachi Line Streetcar Osaka


The Hankai Uemachi Line runs from Tennoji Station (Tennoji-ekimae) in Tennoji, south Osaka to Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shrine and from Tennoji-ekimae to Hamadera-ekimae.

Hankai Uemachi Line Streetcar Tennoji Osaka

The Hankai Uemachi Line is one of Osaka city's last surviving street car lines. The original line dates from 1900.

The full list of stops is Tennoji-ekimae, Abeno (with connections to the Tanimachi subway line), Matsumushi, Higashi-Tengachaya, Kitabatake, Himematsu, Tezukayama-sanchome (with connections for the Nankai Koya Line), Tezukayama-yonchome, Kaminoki (Nankai Koya Line at Sumiyoshi Higashi Station), Sumiyoshi (Hankai Line) and Sumiyoshikoen (Nankai Main Line to Wakayama).

Access to the platform is from the entrance to the subway lines at Tennoji Station. There is no direct access from the street at Tennoji.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, December 02, 2013

Kyoto City Bus 46


Kyoto city bus #46 runs between Kamigamo Shrine in the north of Kyoto and Kyoto Kaikan Bijitsukan near Heian Jingu in the Okazaki area of central Kyoto via west and downtown areas of the city.

Kyoto City Bus 46

Bus #46 passes Imamiya Jinja, Bukkyo University in north west Kyoto near Kinkakuji Temple, Senbon Kitaoji, Senbon Marutamachi, Nijo Station, Shijo Omiya, Shijo Kurasuma, Shijo Kawaramachi, Shijo Keihan Station, Chion-in and Gion.

Kyoto City Bus 46

The Kyoto #46 bus service begins at 6.02am daily and the last bus is 9.40pm, Monday to Saturday and 9.15pm on Sunday.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Japan News This Week 1 December 2013


Japan News.
China Sends Jets Into ‘Air Defense’ Zone After Flights by Japan and South Korea
New York Times

War between Japan and China is an accident waiting to happen
Global Post

China scrambles jets in air zone to monitor US and Japanese planes

Zaha Hadid's sport stadiums: 'Too big, too expensive, too much like a vagina'

Foreign chefs get green light to work at Kyoto ‘ryotei’ restaurants
Japan Times

Okinawa - The Pentagon’s Toxic Junk Heap of the Pacific
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Your Favorite Book Seller:

1. Kinokuniya (Tokyo)
2. Junkudo (Hyogo)
3. Amazon (Online)
4. Maruzen (Tokyo)
5. Yurindo (Kanagawa)
6. Sanshodo (Tokyo)
7. Asahiya (Osaka)
8. Yaesu Book Center (Tokyo)
9. Tsutaya (Tokyo)
10. Rakuten Books (Online)

Source: Asahi Shinbun
© JapanVisitor

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