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Monday, March 31, 2014



Hitoyoshi is a hot spring resort town and former castle town on the Kumagawa River in the southern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu.

Miura-ya, Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto

As well as hot springs the city is known for boat trips on the Kumagawa, one of the three fastest rivers in Japan, and is also the destination of the Hitoyoshi SL, one of the few remaining steam trains operating in Japan.

Most of the accommodations on offer were a little pricey for my budget, but I was fortunate to find Miura-ya, conveniently located right on the river bank across from the castle ruins and only 200 meters from the boat launching point.

Miura-ya, Kumamoto Prefecture

I had a room in a brand new concrete block with views of the castle. The room was new, with all the usual amenities including en-suite toilet. Bathing was in the onsen in the basement of the older building. Unusually for such an establishment there was a LAN outlet in the room.

Hitoyoshi Castle Ruins, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

For the room only I paid 4,300 yen. I didn't have any meals, but they offer a room with 2 meals for 5,500 yen, which seems quite cheap.

17 Itsukamachi
Kumamoto 868-0035
Tel: 0966 23 5060

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Japan News This Week 30 March 2014


Japan News.
Fukushima’s Shameful Cleanup New York Times

Cleanup at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant is halted after worker dies in an accident
Global Post

Is Japan playing hunger games with climate change?

Japanese man freed after 45 years on death row as court orders retrial

Haneda expansion a travel game-changer
Japan Times

Hidden Behind Tokyo: Japan’s Rural Periphery Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


612,700 people applied for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia, and the Pacific in 2013.

That is the highest total for any year since 2001.

Europe received 484,600 claims.

By country, here are the number of applicants and, in parentheses, the population of country to which they applied:

Germany: 109,600 asylum applications (80,000,000)
United States: 88,400 asylum applications (317,000,000)
France: 60,100 asylum applications (65,000,000)
Sweden: 54,300 asylum applications (9,000,000)
Turkey: 44,800 asylum applications (76,000,000)
Italy: 27,800 asylum applications (60,000,000)
Australia: 24,300 asylum applications (23,000,000)
Greece: 8,200 asylum applications (10,800,000)
Japan: 3,300 asylum applications (127,000,000)
Republic of Korea: 1,600 asylum applications (50,000,000)



© JapanVisitor

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf


Nagasaki Dejima Wharf is a fairly recent development on the harbor in Nagasaki close to Dejima, the artificial island where once Dutch traders were based during the Edo period of Japanese history.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Kyushu, Japan

The two-story Nagasaki Dejima Wharf has great views of the harbor and Mt. Inasa and has a number of recommended seafood restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. The wooden boardwalk is particularly popular from spring onward when people can sit al fresco on the illuminated, wooden boardwalk.

The Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum is close by. The tram stop at Dejima is a few minutes walk away.

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf (in Japanese)
1-1 Dejimamachi
Tel: 095 828 3939

Nagasaki Dejima Wharf, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, March 24, 2014

Butoh Workshop in Tokyo

Butoh Workshop in Tokyo, Japan

Where: Bunkyo-ku & Minato-ku (Tokyo)
When: May 2nd-22nd
Who: Kanazawa Butoh Kan, Yamamoto Moe, Kobayashi Saga, Nakajima Natsu, Uno Kuniichi
What: Butoh Workshops (56 hours) | Screening | Lectures | Discussion & Performance Events
Cost: 45,000 JPY Early Birds

For More Info & Bookings: butoh-ws.com
Contact: butohWStokyo[at]gmail[dpt]com

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Japan News This Week 23 March 2014


Japan News.
Relatives of Ghanaian Who Died During Deportation Win Ruling in Japan New York Times

Japan's version of amazon.com gets reamed for selling illegal ivory and whale products
Global Post

5. Japan - South to Kyoto recipes

Sea Shepherd boat 'attacked by Japanese whalers' – video report

Abe’s hard-line stance against China worries Japanese firms
Japan Times

Japanese Government Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Victims of child porn in Japan hit a record in 2013.

According to the National Police Agency, victims of child porn came to 642, which was 22% higher than the highest previous record. Statistics have been kept since 2000.


Jiji Press

The number of crime syndicate members - made men in the Japanese yakuza - fell below 60,000 last year. That is the first time the number has fallen below that figure since 1958, when statistics first started being kept.

A record low 22,861 gangsters were charged by the police last year.


Jiji Press

© JapanVisitor

Friday, March 21, 2014

47 Ronin The Movie


47 Ronin, a 3D movie released in December of last year, is a modern retelling of one of the most famous - perhaps the most famous - story of Japanese chivalry. Known as Chushingura in Japanese, this 18th-century story is of 47 masterless samurai, masterless thanks to the hara-kiri (seppuku) of their master upon the order of the Shogun for a breach of etiquette.

Chushingura are recountings of this story in dramatic form, and are a staple of traditional entertainment, mainly because the story represents everything considered most desirable in the traditional Japanese ideology: loyalty to the point of death, or as the pre-World War Two Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors put it: "Duty is heavier than a mountain, and death is lighter than a feather."

47 Ronin is Hollywood’s rendition of the Chushingura legend. It introduces the hereto unseen elements of a “half-breed” (part-Japanese, part-Caucasian boy, later man, called Kai played by Keanu Reeves), and black magic.

Lord Asano, the daimyo master of Ako domain, is hosting the master of Japan, the Shogun, and is bewitched that night by the evil witch mistress of Lord Kira, who is there as part of the Shogun’s retinue. The hapless Asano goes on a zombie-like sleepwalk, surprising Lord Kira and injuring him. For this outrage, Lord Asano is required to commit seppuku (hara-kiri), or ritual disembowelment: an "honorable death" reserved for samurai and nobles, as opposed to execution. The punishment also involves Asano's samurai followers being made masterless, i.e., becoming ronin.

Asano's household includes Kai, brought up by demons as an abandoned half-breed child, and then discovered by Asano's followers as a child to survive as a menial. However, when the masterless samurai, the 47 ronin, set out to avenge their master's death, the till now lowly Kai comes into his own, and leverages his supernatural connections to help them acquire the weapons they will need for their mission.

For the long-term foreign resident of Japan, Keanu Reeves's character, Kai, is the focus of attention: as the (half)-foreigner, or gaijin. And what a "good" gaijin he plays! His demeanor is stolidly bovine in the most placid sense of the adjective. A lamb-like bull, the very marrow of whose big bones knows its lowly place and expects absolutely nothing. His love for the daughter of Lord Asano - mutually felt - is doomed from the start, but is mutely, poignantly and hopelessly hung on to by both parties, to be finally relegated, by both, to their next incarnations on earth - presumably an incarnation when both will be blessed with Japaneseness.

Kai is the perfect "Christian," turning the other cheek to every sneer of "half-breed," even from those whose skin he saves. But then he is sold into slavery by Lord Kira  upon the death of Lord Asano. Kai ends up in slavery in Dejima, where he is a gladiator, and the one-time virtual Jesus now becomes a devil-may-care retro-pro wrestler in an extravaganza of underground grit, grunge and savagery populated by tattooed, muscle-bound, white lowlifes.

He is rescued from these Dutch gaijin, who make for an even less salubrious milieu than his plodding, ever-disappointing Japanese one, and collared into a mission: to avenge the death of the Lord who beneficently granted him the lowliest station in his household, one that remained unchanged from when he assumed it as a child.

Once the mission is embarked on, the pace of the movie slackens and I started glancing at the time. And by the end, I was wishing for it to hurry and be over.

The biggest problem with the end of the movie is that the 47 ronin, having completed their mission and brought the severed head of Lord Kira to the grave of their master, continue to buy into the whole thing. That is, instead of dispersing, happy in the knowledge that they succeeded, they submit themselves to the judgment of the same fat, fusty, finicky, wily old Shogun who delivered the original verdict of death that got the whole adventure rolling. Of course, he orders them to commit suicide too.

In a Hollywood movie, that just doesn't work. Hollywood is all about overcoming and going beyond, and here we have utterly uninspiring, anticlimactic regression as the heroes submit to an overlord that, to anyone familiar with Japanese history, represents the backwardness, isolation, and brutality of a regime that corresponded to today’s North Korea in its lack of freedom. Add to this the fudgy fromage of pledges between Kai and the avenged lord’s daughter of a love - wallowing in violins - that is never to be consummated, and the break with the promising, art-movie opening is complete.

If you're curious, go and see it. As a visual spectacle it succeeds resoundingly: its almost 200 million dollar budget wasn't for nothing. But if you're looking for a story you'll remember and tell to your children, don't see it ... or, at least, don't dispirit your children with it.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kyojin Ohnishi


The Japanese novelist, Kyojin Ohnishi (1916-2014) died a few days ago, on March 12, at age 97 at his home in Saitama.

Ohnishi's first name was originally pronounced Norito, but he later changed the way the kanji were pronounced, to Kyojin. His most famous work as a novelist is Shinsei Kigeki (The Divine Comedy) that he spent no less than 20 years writing, between 1960 and 1980. The novel was published serially for 10 years in the Shin-Nihon Bungaku magazine, and then released in book form between 1978 and 1980.

The Divine Comedy reflected Ohnishi's experience of having been drafted into the army in 1942 to fight in the Pacific War. Ohnishi was left-wing in stance, and much of Shinsei Kigeki is said to have been based on opposition to the depiction of the army in the feted novelist Hiroshi Noma's Shinku Chitai (Zone of Emptiness), which Ohnishi considered lacking in that it failed to depict the capitalistic social class structure that permeated the Japanese army at the time of the Second World War.

Upon the end of the Second World War, Ohnishi and his old middle- and senior-high school friend, Nobuhito Miyazaki (1914-1992), began the literary magazine, Bunka Tembo.

Onishi published a total of eleven novels, as well as numerous essays. According to colleagues, his reputation in the Japanese literary world is "dense," "difficult," and without the wide appeal of better known, more modern authors. For example, on Amazon Japan Shinsei Kigeki is listed as out of stock, with only 8 second-hand copies on offer, and with no immediate plans to restock—and only 11 reviews.

Onishi made headlines in 1980 in regard to his hemophilic son, when he said that he wished he had known he had genes for hemophilia and had refrained from having children. He went on to assert that it was the "divine duty" of everyone in his situation to remain childless.

Onishi's works remain as a powerful voice of and a sturdy witness to the struggles that Japan went through throughout the 20th century to establish a modern identity.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan in the Tenmonkan shopping and entertainment area of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu offers modern rooms in a convenient location.

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Lobby

The rooms, though compact, are spotlessly clean and well appointed with all the latest gadgets such as iPhone chargers. There is WiFi internet in the rooms, some of which have views of the Sakurajima volcano.

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Bed

The Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan is located just off a shopping arcade near the tram stop at Tenmonkan-dori for Kagoshima-Chuo Station and the bus stop for the airport limousine to Kagoshima Airport (1,200 yen).

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan
14-28 Sennichicho
Kagoshima Prefecture

Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan Unit Bath

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 28

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 28
Kirishima Jingu to Hayato
Sunday July 28th, 2013

It's another cloudy day, so that should make the heat a little easier, though after three days of walking in sweat-drenched clothes, I am now getting used to it. Today the route is pretty much straight south to the northern edge of Kagoshima Bay, and it should be pretty much downhill all the way, my favorite kind of walking.

Deserted love hotel haikyo

It looks to be at least a 400 meter descent. I stop in at a few small shrines and after coming over a small rise I can see Sakurajima looming in the distant muggy haze.

I pass through an area of old, decrepit love hotels and, not being able to pass a haikyo experience by, go in and explore. Like most of the older, rural, love hotels, its composed of detached cabins.

Exploring inside the rooms, turns out to be quite disappointing. Nothing sexy or erotic, just rather musty and plain rooms, though all the furniture, fridges, etc are still there.

A dead bat in Kagoshima

Pressing on past a couple more closed love hotels I see the most unusual roadkill I have ever come across, a tiny bat.

It's on the sidewalk and not at all squished, so maybe it was knocked out of the air by a vehicle. Coming down into the flat valley floor that leads to the edge of the bay I spy a vermillion torii on the opposite side of the valley and take the detour to investigate, and I'm glad I did.

Four men practicing martial art with swords

In the shrine grounds four men were practicing some form of martial arts. It might well have been kendo, but it was a form of kendo I've not seen before. Usually the kendo I've seen has just been with a single opponent, but here there were a series of poles in the ground and the "swordsmen" strike first at one, then twist, turn, step forward, go down on one knee, then strike at another pole.

The practice is for taking on multiple opponents at the same time. The second arrangement of poles they set up is for taking on four opponents. I've spoken to friends who have done kendo, and they were of the opinion that this was not kendo, but another form of sword-based martial arts. Whatever it is I am pleased to have been able to see it.

From here into Hayato, the town I have a hotel room booked, it gets increasingly built up. Low flying airliners pass over on their descent into Kagoshima Airport. Sakurajima is much larger and clearer now. I plan to be down there tomorrow. I check into my hotel and it is still early so I head up to the main shrine nearby, Kagoshima Jingu, from where it is believed the modern prefecture of Kagoshima took its name.

Kagoshima Jingu is connected to the founding myths of Japan and was supposedly built by the mythical first emperor Jimmu. The approach to the shrine is a hive of activity, lanterns decorated with children's paintings are strung all over and stalls are being set up... there is going to be a matsuri tonight!! What luck.

There is nothing more fun that coming upon a matsuri unexpectedly. I wander around taking photos in the fading light. In the main hall I watch two miko, shrine maidens, practicing their dance for the ceremony tonight. It's rather surreal without music. I chat with another miko and she tells me what events will be happening, so even though I was hoping to get an early night it seems I will be back later after dark for the festivities.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 27

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Japan News This Week 16 March 2014


Japan News.
After Fukushima, Utilities Prepare for Worst
New York Times

'Atomic peace mission' has spawned an arsenal-in-waiting
Global Post

Two Views of Japan

Fukushima operator may have to dump contaminated water into Pacific

Abe: Kono sex slave apology stands
Japan Times

Imperial Tokyo as a Contact Zone:the Metropolitan Tours of Taiwanese Aborigines, 1897-1941
Japan Focus

One Author of a Startling Stem Cell Study Calls for Its Retraction
New York Times

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

QS rankings of university chemical engineering departments, 2014.

1. MIT
2. Cal Berkeley
3. Stanford
4. Cambridge
5. National U of Singapore
6. Imperial College London
7. Tokyo
8. Delft
8. Kyoto
9. Cal Tech
11. Fed Institution of Switzerland
12. Tsinghua
13. Texas, Austin
15. Princeton


QS ranks

© JapanVisitor

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blue Train Taragi


While scouring the web for cheap accommodation in the upper reaches of the Kuma River valley in Kumamoto Prefecture I came across Blue Train Taragi and just knew I wanted to stay there.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

Blue Train Taragi is three converted railway sleeper cars, and though I have not slept on a Japanese sleeper train I have taken several in Europe, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Blue Train Taragi is located right next to the tracks at Taragi Station, and the rolling stock used to be part of the Kumamoto to Tokyo express sleeper known as the Blue Falcon that ceased operating in 2009.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

One car has 4 berth cabins suitable for families or groups, another has 18 single berth cabins, and the third has a common area with TV, wifi, and a small cafe.

The cabins are, as expected, cramped, yet strangely womb-like. There is no eating and drinking in the cabins, that is what the common area is for. There are washing facilities, but bathing is done across the street at the Ebisu Onsen, a free ticket for which is included in the price.

Thankfully the original toilets are not used, new, modern facilities have been built onto extensions to the carriages. It is possible to order breakfast when checking in or making reservations, as is lunch.

Blue Train Taragi, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan

For an evening meal there are restaurants nearby as well as convenience stores. Blue Train Taragi is very popular with cyclists as there is a cycling tour route in the area, and also cycles can be rented.

The price is a very reasonable 3,000 yen for an adult.

Blue Train Taragi
1534-2 Taragi
Kuma District
Kumamoto 868-0501
Tel: 0966 42-1120
email: info[at]bluetrain-taragi[dot]com

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 27 Miyakonojo to Kirishima Jingu

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 27
Miyakonojo to Kirishima Jingu
Saturday July 27th, 2013

It's another overcast and muggy day. I head off early to take advantage of the coolest temperatures of the day. The pilgrimage temple is just outside the town, surrounded by farmland, and is really unremarkable with no architectural features or statuary on display, and is quite disappointing.

I head off towards the mountains. Today I will be following the rail line as it snakes up a valley towards the Kirishima Mountains before turning south towards Kagoshima Bay.

The next pilgrimage temple is down on the coast of the bay but I have decided to take a detour to visit the Kirishima Jingu Shrine. I have come to the conclusion that there is not much point coming all the way down to southern Kyushu if I am just going to rush from temple to temple, so I am going to allow myself the time to make detours to nearby sights that hold an interest for me.

Kirishima Jingu, Kyushu

After leaving the lowlands the valley closes in quite quickly and the settlements get smaller as they cling to the sides of the narrowing valley. There is not a lot of traffic, but there no sidewalks. There is little to see, I pass no shrines.

By lunchtime I realize that the road is only going to get steeper, and I have about 18 kilometers to go to reach Kirishima Jingu. I stop in at the next station and am happy to find that in a few minutes one of the infrequent local trains will stop.

Using the justification that this is a detour and not a part of the pilgrimage proper, I decide to take the train the 8km to Kirishimajingu station. From there one of the infrequent buses that climb 10km further up the mountains to the shrine itself is about to leave so I take it.

It's now mid-afternoon so I have time to visit the shrine and look around before checking in to the nearby minshuku where I have a room booked. Across from the bus stop is a big building adorned with Tengu, the red-faced, long nosed "forest goblins" associated with yamabushi, the mountain monks of Shugendo.

On investigation I am over the moon to discover it is a mask museum!! One thing I am always on the lookout for in shrines are masks, and so far in this walk around Kyushu there have been relatively few to be found, and here in one place are literally hundreds and hundreds of them.

Mask Museum

Most are from different areas of Japan, some in a style I have never seen before. There are even some examples of the style of mask from my own area, Iwami kagura masks. There are also a few examples from other parts of the world. This has made the diversion well worth it.

After the masks, the shrine is a bit of an anticlimax.

It's impressive enough, all stately and vermillion. It was rebuilt here a few hundred years ago. It used to be much further up the mountain, but was destroyed by eruptions, for the Kirishima Mountains are active volcanoes, parts of which are still off limits to hikers after the most recent rumbling. Because of the geothermal activity this is a hot spring resort area and on my walk to the Marueda minshuku I stop and soak my feet in an ashiyu, the free foot baths found in many hot spring resorts.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 26

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

3rd Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake


The Great East Japan Earthquake struck three years ago today. The quake entailed not only the cataclysmic physical destruction caused mainly by the tsunami that scoured a section of the north-east coastline of Honshu, but had a social, political and economic impact that shook Japan to its foundations, which aftershocks are still being felt today.

The National Diet Building, or Kokkaigijido, of Japan.
The Japanese government still fearful of the consequences of Fukushima

Over 15,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, over 125,000 buildings collapsed, with tens of thousands more damaged. However, the aspect of the disaster that continues to make headlines today is the outcome of the damage visited on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Complex by the tsunami.

While the power plant stood up to the force of the deluge itself, it had an Achilles' heel. The switching stations for the emergency diesel generators needed to power the back-up cooling system of five of the six generation units were not watertight. Notwithstanding the power plant's earthquake-proof design, officials at the headquarters of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which ran the plant had argued against the need for increased tsunami protection that an in-house report had recommended in 2008. This inability to maintain cooling systems led to three of the plant's six nuclear reactors melting down.

The aftermath of the meltdown was the mass evacuation of over 300,000 local residents for fear of radiation exposure. Even though the actual amounts of radiation released at the time were minimal, the water being used to this day to cool the plant is significantly radioactive, and hardly a week goes by without news of yet another leak in tanks storing that water on the plant.

TEPCO's reputation as a responsible company has been destroyed, and, considering the size of the company - the biggest utility company in Japan and fourth biggest in the world, capitalized at over USD6 billion - the image of corporate Japan as a whole has suffered immensely. A history of lax safety measures before the disaster and constant blunders following it have been met in Japan with a sense of despair.

The Japanese government has fared little better, particularly for the numerous instances on which it has been shown to have withheld important information or even denied facts relating to the disaster. Japanese government support for the phasing out of nuclear power, voiced by then prime minister Naoto Kan, has been replaced by support for the nuclear status quo with the election of Shinzo Abe in December 2012.

The tens of thousands of people who have been denied access to their former homes constitute a huge pool of discontent, especially now that three years later the worldwide and nationwide outpouring of support for their plight has been reduced to a trickle as those not so directly affected return to life as normal.

One measure of the fear the government has of public dissatisfaction in the wake of the Fukushima disaster is the scores of policemen that are lining the streets surrounding the Nagatacho government district today. Thinking that perhaps some particularly important person was visiting Japan, I approached one of the policemen to ask what was going on, and was told that it was in case of any trouble, today being the third anniversary of the disaster.

See the JapanVisitor blog about the second anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake disaster.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, March 10, 2014

More Japanese Web Cams

When I first visited Japan, everybody seemed to wonder about the weather over there. I would invariably answer, "It's just like here. We're both in the Northern Hemisphere." That being said, I have spent the winter in Southern California clad largely in shorts and t-shirts. (The state is experiencing a severe drought.) When I read about all the snowfall in Japan, I was quite curious and wanted to see it. "To the Internet!" I proclaimed loudly, to whoever would join my call.

Searching for something that would let me see the snow, I looked at my old favorite, the web cams of Japan. I tried to find live cams. After sifting through an eclectic assortment, I settled on four that pleased me greatly.

Nikko webcam, Tochigi

This is a web cam broadcast from Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture at www.meiji-yakata.com/nikkoclub.shtml I have observed the leaves changing colors and falling from the trees, and I have watched the branches swaying in the wind. Then one day I saw snow! The thermometer read 2 degrees C., and even I, a Fahrenheit-educated woman, could understand that it was COLD!

Next I came upon Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture at www.town-takachiho.jp/culture/livecam/takachihokyo.html I observed large groups of tourists walking the pathways and some people rowing boats on the water. "This must be a good place to visit," I surmised. The area was beautiful and I thought it looked like fun to take a boat ride. The visitors lessened as time passed, and one day snow lay in patches on the ground. It had melted by the following morning.

Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu webcam

At the Uesugi Shrine in Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture are massive snowdrifts. loveyone2.dip.jp:8080/CgiStart?page=Single&Language=1 It is fascinating to me - but I know I wouldn't last a day in that kind of cold. Note to self: Visit in late Spring, early Autumn.

Uesugi Shrine in Yonezawa in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

Then I found Maniwa in Okayama Prefecture at www.city.maniwa.lg.jp/webapps/www/live-cam/location/kannba.jsp I looked, saw something moving, and wondered, "Are those squirrels?" No, they were MONKEYS, snow monkeys. My attention had been captured. The scene shows a section of a pathway that leads to Kamba Falls, and you can see the water rushing down in the distance. One day a man appeared on the path and he methodically tossed food back and forth as he walked in the direction of the falls. He didn't even glance at the monkeys as they darted out and began foraging. On another day I was delighted to see two dark forms partly obscuring the camera view. I supposed the monkeys were checking out this odd piece of equipment and deciding if it could be of any use to them!

Maniwa Okayama Prefecture, Japan

I thought maybe I should go visit these monkeys of Maniwa. Would they behave like the deer of Nara? And then - just a day ago, when I connected to the cam I saw that the grounds were covered with a light dusting of white. I watched the snow falling and a lone monkey sat, unmoving, in the quiet, picturesque countryside.

Webcams in Japan

Books on Tokyo Japan

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Japan News This Week 9 March 2014


Japan News.
Photographing Hiroshima, Fukushima and Everything in Between New York Times

Babymetal: Japan combines J-pop and heavy metal and the results are adorably hardcore
Global Post

Japanese composer apologises for pretending to be deaf

Membership of Japan's yakuza crime gangs falls to all-time low

Japanese historians slam sex-slave apology review
Japan Times

Japan’s 2013 State Secrecy Act -- The Abe Administration’s Threat to News Reporting Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Okinawa, which comprises just 0.6% of the landmass of Japan, plays host to 74% of American bases and facilities in the land of the rising sun.

Between 1972 - 2011, the following incidents in Okinawa occurred.

Accidents involving US Military aircraft: 522 (17 per year or 1.5 a month)

Crime involving US military personnel or dependents: 5,654 (188 per year or 15.6 a month)

Murder, burglary, and brutal crimes: 734 (2 a month)

Note: these are the crimes that were officially recorded.


Asahi Shinbun newspaper

© JapanVisitor

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Meltdown haiku anthology


Hailstone is an events-based group started in 2000 that holds ginko (i.e., haiku walks), rengakai (collaborative poetry-creating sessions), seminars, etc. The Hailstone Haiku Circle is based in Kyoto, and operates mainly by way of its Wordpress blog, Icebox.

However, since 2001, the Hailstone Haiku Circle has also been publishing a biennial anthology of the best of its work.

Meltdown English-language haiku anthology from Hailstone Haiku Circle.

The seventh anthology, Meltdown, came out at the end of last year. Meltdown features almost 500 haiku, arranged by theme, as well as a short 4-part renku cycle—a renku being a collaborative poem to which guests each add a stanza.

'Renku' is a relatively modern word for certain types of 'haikai-no-renga.' The renga tradition has its its roots in the imperial court.The pinnacle of the art is considered to have been attained in the 17th century by the poet Matsuo Basho, who established the single-stanza haiku as an individualistic, reflective form of literary art.

Renga saw vicissitudes in the seriousness of its content. A period of humorous or baser renga would follow on from one of serious 'high art' renga. Basho expressed both elegance and down-to-earth wit in his works.

The haiku in Meltdown are in English, helping bring the enchantment of the literary snapshots that are haiku to English-speakers everywhere.

The cover of Meltdown features a woodblock print crafted by Richard Steiner. The anthology is edited by Stephen Henry Gill.

The Meltdown haiku and renku anthology can be ordered from overseas for $20 a copy, or $38 for two.

Go to the Hailstone website to order your copies.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Three Japanese Authors

For a few years now I have nurtured an interest in Japan and its culture. Lately I have been searching far and wide for English translations of Japanese fiction, and often the Japan Times will turn me on to a potential choice.

Inspector Imanishi Investigates

Recently I have read Seicho Matsumoto's Inspector Imanishi Investigates. A reviewer commented, "A superb thriller... tantalizing." Ah, that description turned out to be quite accurate!

Although set in the late 1950's, the characteristics that continue to define Japan are ever present in the novel. Inspector Imanishi is a very likeable protagonist, and I was so taken by the book I searched for other Matsumoto titles, yet only three or so books have been translated into English. I did purchase a collection of Matsumoto's stories, The Voice and Other Stories, which I am clutching dearly for my upcoming flight to Japan.

Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka

Fires on the Plain, written by Shohei Ooka, was first published in 1951. The story is about a soldier's experience during World War II as he struggles to survive on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. It is a moving treatise on the brutality and senselessness of war. A film adaptation of the book was made in 1959, and it may be viewed on YouTube. One evening I watched the movie on my iphone while under the kakebuton. Even on the tiny screen I felt the impact of the film.

Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka

Then there is Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa. I loved this book, a monumental work of nearly 1000 pages. This historical novel tells the saga of the Warring States, with an emphasis on Toyotomi Hideyoshi, hence the title, Taiko. The book will endow you with a working knowledge of that turbulent era in Japan's history. It can make visiting the historical sights in Japan a much richer experience.

Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotel

ホテル 広島ガーデンパレス

The Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotel in Hiroshima on the Shinkansen-guchi side of Hiroshima Station is part of a chain of Garden Palace Hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kanazawa, Osaka and Fukuoka.

Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotel, Japan

The rooms at the Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotels are clean and functional with both LAN and WiFi internet connections. There is a choice of western or Japanese-style breakfast at the restaurant on the ground floor near reception.

The Garden Palace Hotel in Hiroshima is a short walk from Hiroshima Station, very close to the highway bus station. Walk through the station to the South Exit to reach the tram stop. The Garden Palace is also very close to the Hotel Crystal Hiroshima and the Urbain Hiroshima Executive.

Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotel, Japan

The Hiroshima Garden Palace Hotel
1-15 Hikarimachi
Hiroshima 732-0052
Tel: 082 262 1122
Garden Palace Hiroshima Map

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, March 03, 2014

Hiroshima Trams


The Hiroshima Electric Railway or Hiroden runs the trams (streetcars) in Hiroshima city and Hiroshima Prefecture, the longest and most used streetcar network in Japan.

Hiroshima streetcar, Hiroshima city

There are six tram lines in central Hiroshima and over 270 trams from all over Japan as well as some from Europe, which makes a ride on Hiroshima's trams a popular tourist activity. The Green Mover Max tram that runs on the network is the first tram wholly built in Japan. Hiroshima's trams were imported from overseas beforehand.

The eight numbers for the trams are:

# 1 (Orange) runs from Hiroshima Station to Hiroshima Port
# 2 (Red) runs from Hiroshima Station to Miyajima-guchi
# 3 (Blue) runs from Nishi-Hiroshima Station to Hiroshima Port
# 5 (Green) runs from Hiroshima Station to Hiroshima Port
# 6 (Yellow) runs from Hiroshima Station to Eba
# 7 (Dark Green) runs from Yokogawa Station to Hiroden honsha-mae
# 8 (Pink) runs from Yokogawa Station to Eba
# 7 (Gray) runs from Hachobori to Hakushima

Hiroshima Trams

A one day "Trip Card" for the Hiroshima streetcar costs 600 yen or 840 yen with the Miyajima Matsudai Kisen tourist ferry to Miyajima (*not valid on the JR ferry).

A two day "Trip Card" for streetcars, ferry and ropeway from Momijidani to Shishi-iwa is 2000 yen.

Hiroshima Trams

As yet major IC cards such as Suica, Manaca or Pasmo cannot be used on Hiroshima's trams. "Trip Cards" can be purchased at Hiroshima Station, various hotels around town or from the tram driver. Alternatively buy a PASPY card.

Inner city flat fare for the streetcar in Hiroshima is 180 yen.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Japan News This Week 2 March 2014


Japan News.
36 Hours in Kyoto, Japan New York Times

No jail for most US military sex criminals in Japan
3 News NZ

Japan, U.S. Move to Expand Nuclear Power Programs Despite Contamination at Fukushima & New Mexico
Democracy Now

Japan to review lead-up to WW2 comfort women statement

MtGox files for bankruptcy in Japan after collapse of bitcoin exchange

An Abe-Park dialogue needed
Japan Times

Beyond the Bubble, Beyond Fukushima: Reconsidering the History of Postwar Japan Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The Netherlands is No. 1 country in the world in terms of having the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, beating France and Switzerland which tied for second place.

Here, according to Oxfam, are the highest and lowest scoring countries overall:


1. Netherlands
2. France, Switzerland
3. Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Belgium

21 USA, Japan


1. Chad
2. Ethiopia, Angola
3. Madagascar



© JapanVisitor

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Yamaga Onsen Ebino

Kyomachi Onsen is hot-spring resort town in the Ebino valley, north of the Kirishima Mountains, in the far west of Miyazaki Prefecture near where it meets the borders of Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefectures.

Yamaga Onsen Ebino Miyazaki

There are many ryokan and minshuku in the area, and in my perpetual quest to find the cheapest accommodation possible I found Yamaga Onsen.

Located in a quiet side street behind the station, its a hot spring frequented mostly by locals. The couple running the place operated out of their living room through the open screen doors and while I was checking in there was a constant stream of locals coming in for a soak.

Next to the house are a couple of buildings, one of which has several rooms to rent. Fairly standard minshuku room with TV, kettle, kotatsu, and kerosene heater.

Yamaga Onsen Ebino Miyazaki Kyushu Japan

While chatting I mentioned that I was interested in Tanokami, statues of the God of Rice Paddies, something the area is famous for, so the owner immediately invited me to jump in his car and he took me a few miles away to where there was a good collection.

As a staying guest I didn't get to use the public bath, rather one of the two smaller, private bath rooms. The bath was very hot. For the room for the night with no meals I paid the princely sum of 2,200 yen.

Yamaga Onsen Ebino
583-1 Mukae
Miyazaki 889-4151
Tel: 0984-37-0237

© JapanVisitor.com

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