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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 67 Sasebo to Yoshii

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 67, Sasebo to Yoshii
Sunday March 9th 2014

It is still dark as I head off. I have a long way to go today. The first pilgrimage temple, number 72, Korin-in is just one kilometer north of my hotel in downtown Sasebo.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 67 Sasebo to Yoshii.
Ancient Tree At Tozenji Temple
It's a small urban temple with mostly concrete buildings, but I can make out a Fudo Myo statue. From here my route heads north up a narrow valley filled with city. The sky starts to lighten and the traffic increases. The road narrows as it reaches the pass and down below I see a river valley running east and west.

The next temple is down the valley a few kilometers and the next one after that is up the valley to the right so I decide to cheat and jump on a train that will take me down the valley. I hate walking back along a road I have just walked. I get off at Motoyama and the sun has come up. I head south across the river and main road towards temple 74, Tozenji.

Towering over the entrance to the temple is a huge ancient tree illuminated in the golden light of the sunrise. There is no-one about and the temple buildings are still locked up. I am hoping to visit five of the temples today, so that is two down and three to go.

I head up the valley which is really just a suburb of Sasebo even though a mountain stands between it downtown. After passing where the main road and train line comes down the mountain from Sasebo it starts to quieten down a little and become more rural than urban.

The road climbs gently and I stop in at a few shrines. Then the valley narrows and the road climbs steeply and I am looking down the valley with the hazy city far down below. Its now completely rural. I am surprised by the entrance way to Saikoji, temple 74, as it is wide, long, and lined with lanterns and trees, suggesting that it is going to be a large temple.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 67 Sasebo to Yoshii.
Statue of Fudo Myo-o
And it is, it must have been quite a big complex in its day, though now it all seems a bit run down. There are a lot of different halls and shrines, and several gardens but they are overgrown. I decide I am going to have to do some research to find out the history of such a big temple. I leave by the side entrance and am surprised to see a huge statue of Fudo Myo-o with an altar beneath it. While not the biggest I have seen on this pilgrimage it is certainly big.

I carry on up the hill and as it gets steeper my pace slows. After a few kilometers I turn left and head towards the mountains. A long tunnel will take me through to the valley on the other side which I will then head down. As I enter the tunnel a sign tells me it is at 360 meters above sea level. Quite a climb for the day, but I delight in the knowledge that for the rest of the day I will be going downhill.

After emerging from the tunnel the road descends quickly to the river below and then turns west and heads downstream. It's completely rural now until I come into the small town of Sechibu where I find a small stone building that houses the local coal mining museum.

The entry fee is one I am comfortable with - it's free - but being from a coal mining family myself I would have paid to go in anyway. It was not a huge museum, mainly the tools of the trade, but most interesting were several old black and white photos enlarged up to wall size, one of which depicted a group of men and women, stripped to the waist, covered in coal dust, sitting and eating their lunch down a mineshaft.

I had read that in the early days of coal mining in Japan it was very much a family affair with husband and wife teams, the men doing the digging and the wives hauling it out, and this photo seems to confirm that.

I carry on downriver towards the next two temples. Temple number 76, Saifukuji, is up on the hillside on the south side of the valley, but fortunately the way to it is by a long road that gently climbs away from the river rather than by a direct route straight up. Approaching the temple there are lines of Jizo all wearing different colored bibs.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 67 Sasebo to Yoshii.
Cave at Saifukuji
The path leads to quite a large, modern house which I presume to be the priest's home, and a small temple building, but the real surprise is behind where there is a huge cave in the cliff side. Actually its not really a cave anymore as the roof has collapsed to make a natural stone bridge. In the nooks and crannies of the overhangs are a variety of small shrines and altars. Statues of Fudo Myo predominate. It was a delightful surprise.

I head back down to the river and main road and carry on downstream. I've probably walked close to 30 kilometers today and I start to get weary. My map shows a few shrines just off the main road but I can't be bothered to make the detour. By late afternoon I can see temple 75, Ohashikannonji, on the mountainside on the other side of the valley but decide I can't face the climb, so that will be where I start on my next leg in a week or so. I jump on a train from Yoshii and head back to my room in Sasebo.

This has been just a four day leg of my walk. And I reckon I have now walked at least 1,930 kilometers. Probably a lot more, Whenever I use a tracking app on my tablet it reports that I walk about 20-25% further than Google maps estimated distances, probably due to all the detours.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 66

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 68 Yoshii

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, June 29, 2015

Business Hotel Sanyo Sasebo


I had great difficulty booking a room in Sasebo because I was wanting one for three days, and the middle day was a Saturday. Friday night and Sunday night were OK but there must have been something going on because everywhere was full on the Saturday.

Business Ryokan Sanyo Sasebo, Nagasaki.

After exhausting possibilities on Rakuten I went to Sasebo's own tourist website where they had a list of smaller ryokan and minshuku that didn't have a presence on the larger hotel booking websites.

Business Ryokan Sanyo came through and I was able to book the full three nights in the location I wanted just a few minutes walk from the main station. The price was excellent too. 3,500 yen for one person for one night, but by mentioning that I got their phone number from the Sasebo Tourist Website I got a 300 yen per night reduction.

Business Ryokan Sanyo Sasebo, Nagasaki, Kyushu.

It's an older establishment that has seen better days, but the room was much larger than a modern business hotel as was the bed. There were a couple of arm chairs and a coffee table so it was easy to relax.

There was a TV but no phone or fridge or kettle, but each afternoon the vacuum flask jug was filled with boiling water on a tray with some green tea & Japanese sweets.

Business Ryokan Sanyo Sasebo, Japan.

There is no internet access, but the nearby tourist information office at the station has free wifi running 24 hours a day, so I was able to use that when needed. The ensuite bathroom has a Japanese style bath, so its knees up to chest, no stretching out. For anyone on a budget, the low price more than makes up for the lack of facilities.

Business Ryokan Sanyo
1-9 Shiohama-cho
Sasebo, Nagasaki 857-0876
Tel: 0956 22 8822

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Japan News This Week 28 June 2015


Japan News.
Toyota Defends Diversity Hiring After American Is Arrested
New York Times

Japan's PM is jeered at Battle of Okinawa ceremony

Japanese court endorses adultery for business purposes, experts say

Best Frenemies: Japan, Korea Mark 50th Anniversary Despite Rivalry

U.S. rights report slams Japan on child abuse, prison conditions, asylum system
Japan Times

Japan’s Proposed National Security Legislation — Will This Be the End of Article 9?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Nearly 40% of Japanese women and men in their twenties and thirties are not interested in having or finding a romantic partner.

According to a nationwide Cabinet survey of attitudes about marriage and the family, 37.6% of 2,643 surveyed replied that they had no interest in a partner. None.

The two most common reasons were that a relationship was "troublesome" (46.2%), and "I am more interested in my hobby" (45.1%).

Source: Yahoo Japan

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Rabbit that Got Away: Getting Away with It in Japanese

New diseases and immunity to them, compliance, tax exempt status, earthquake safe buildings, professional licensing—these are all topics that regularly hit the news or are at least widely discussed. But besides their topicality, what do they have in common?

免 (men) and how it is used in the Japanese language.
men: the "rabbit that got away"

What holds them all together in Japanese is the character men, 免, which is at the base of the verb manugareru 免れる or to "get away from," "be free of," "be immune to," "be rid of," "get out of." Its etymology is interesting in that it is a variation on the character for "rabbit" 兎. Originally the only difference between the two characters was the absence of the bottom right dot in 免, which absence signified a rabbit that had escaped and was free.

Let's have a look at how 免 is involved in some much talked about things.

In the wake of the increase in consumption tax to a hefty 8%, there has been a profusion recently in Tokyo of shops offering tax-free purchases. The tax-free system was expanded in October last year to cover not only clothing, electrical appliances, and the like, to include food and beverage, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Tax-free shopping is now a whole lot more attractive for visitors to Japan, especially since the savings are instant, i.e., in the form of cheaper prices, and don't involve having to apply for a refund when leaving Japan. The key word here is menzei 免税, literally "free of" + "tax." Visit Japan and that phrase will follow you everywhere, from the moment you step into the airport. 

Immunization, or vaccination, is men-eki 免疫 in Japanese, and is a huge focus of attention in today's world as new diseases like SARS and MARS appear. The scientific community does its best to respond with new drugs, at least to cure them and, ideally, to immunize against them. Vaccine-preventable diseases (VPD) that are vaccinated against as a matter of course in Japan are tuberculosis, chickenpox, rubella and measles, and the local authority generally covers the cost of vaccination. Japan is generally a very healthy environment, but as a regular precaution the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that travellers to Japan are up to date with their vaccines against measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox (varicella), polio, and influenza.

Japan is among the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and the effects of the massive earthquake that rocked Japan in 2011 are still very evident. Earthquake-proof architecture is therefore a very big concern in Japan, expressed by the term menshin 免震 ("free of" + "quake"). Today's news reports that menshin (earthquake proofing) of Osaka's famous Tsutenkaku Tower has just been completed, having begun in October of last year.

One interesting use of men is in its appearance in the word for "licence" or "certificate": menkyo (免許) or, less commonly, menjou (免状). You might wonder what "getting away with something" has to do with being licensed; but if you think about it, it is similar to the use of "license" in English which, as in driver's license, suggests "permission," or, as in "license to kill," suggests "freedom" (albeit in the worst sense of the word.  As in most countries, the word license, menkyo, in Japan is most commonly associated with driver's license, or unten menkyo (運転免許). If you're a tourist or short-term resident in Japan, you'll need an international driving permit (IDP) or kokusai-unten-menkyo-sho (国際運転免許証) to drive a car in Japan.

Finally, for all you fans out there of the Japanese anime television series Psycho-Pass, the word menzai 免罪 (exempt) will mean something in the context of menzai-taishitsu-sha 免罪体質者, meaning the kind of immunity (in the same sense as the phrase "diplomatic immunity") that Makishima Shougo has vis-a-vis the Sibyl System and Dominator.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Uesugi Shrine & Uesugi Kenshin Yonezawa


Yonezawa is located in the southernmost part of Yamagata Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan. What makes Yonezawa notable (besides being the birth place of Date Masamune) is the city's connection to the Uesugi Clan.

Uesugi Kenshin Shrine Yonezawa.

Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Yonezawa became the headquarters of the Uesugi for many generations to follow. Although the famed warrior Uesugi Kenshin did not live in Yonezawa Castle (he died in 1578), a shrine dedicated to his memory (Uesugi Shrine) stands today on the castle ruins.

Uesugi Kenshin Shrine Yonezawa, Tohoku.

The nearby Treasure House is aptly named, for it holds many precious Uesugi artifacts. We were very surprised to see genuine items, NOT reproductions. Among the collection are Uesugi Kenshin's lute, a war helmet belonging to Naoe Kanetsugu, and a scroll written by Uesugi Yozan.

Uesugi Kenshin Shrine Yonezawa.

Yonezawa has a online web cam at http://loveyone2.dip.jp:8080/CgiStart?page=Single&Language=1 What you see is the view from the visitor center.

I had watched the camera for a year or so prior to our visit and wondered about it. I saw thick snowdrifts in the winter and a blooming wisteria vine in the spring. I also noticed an awful lot of pigeons hanging around. Well, now I know why. The shop sells pigeon feed and the birds know who butters their bread!

Uesugi Kenshin Shrine Yonezawa.

Did I mention the web cam? We couldn't resist taking a picture of ourselves on camera.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Japan Travel Guide: The Ultimate Itinerary Planner

Japan Travel Guide: The Ultimate Itinerary Planner.
Japan Travel Guide: The Ultimate Itinerary Planner is a Kindle app designed to take the pain out of planning your itinerary for a trip to Japan.

Japan Travel Guide: The Ultimate Itinerary Planner covers Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Okinawa.

The guide is not an itinerary of the type detailing how long to spend in each place before moving on to the next. Rather it suggests the places that are must-see and omits those the authors, Christopher Crane and Emma Chan, consider not worth your time.

Each destination is divided into sub-sections: Tradition, Modernity, Eat & Drink, Festivals & Cherry Blossom. The Tokyo section also includes side trips to Yokohama, Kamakura and Mt. Fuji.

Recommended places to see are included in each section along with excellent photographs and useful maps. Thus for Tokyo the authors recommend eating sushi at Tsukiji Market, drinking coffee at Cat Cafe and exploring the French pastries at Tokyo Midtown.

For Kyoto festivals, the big three of Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri are on the to do list along with the Gozan Fire Festival during Obon in August.

My favorite sections were on Nara and Okinawa. The authors offer some excellent, more off-the-beaten-track suggestions to enjoying these rather less visited destinations. There are some good tips on music festivals and food markets in Okinawa and there's a variety of hidden gems for Nara.

The guide is written in an amusing, light-hearted and carefree style and makes for an excellent planner for your Kindle before any trip to Japan.

File Size: 3852 KB
Print Length: 81 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publication Date: June 13, 2015

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Japan News This Week 21 June 2015


Japan News.
The Family Dog
New York Times

Japan: Wartime tram restored for Hiroshima anniversary

Japanese PM's plan to allow troops to fight overseas angers voters

No-foreigners landlord case shows Japan ‘utterly unprepared’ to fight discrimination: expert
Japan Times

Striving for “Normalization” – Korea-Japan Civic Cooperation and the Attempt to Resolve the “Comfort Women” problem
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


According to the June issue of Kami no Bakudan (Paper Bomb), a Japanese monthly magazine, from 1952 - the formal end of the US Occupation - until 2007, there were 201,481 recorded crimes perpetrated by US soldiers, sailors, and marines. (That excludes statistics from Okinawa - where the majority of US bases are located - prior to 1972, when it was a US territory.)

That works out to ten crimes per day, and includes the deaths of 517 Japanese nationals. These are the known, recorded cases that were revealed in 2007 in a session of the Japanese Diet. The statistics are kept - and were presented at the Diet - by the Japanese Ministry of Justice.

However, because of extraterritorial rights enjoyed by US servicemen and women, nearly 100% of those cases were remanded to US military courts. With the tiny exception of the most dramatic and horrific cases that result in large anti-base demonstrations, unrest, and Japanese media attention, the accused are tried in military courts and often let off with a warning, if that. 

Source: Kami no Bakudan

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, June 19, 2015

Groins, Crotches and Thighs - Getting Round Them in Japanese


One of the kanji "lessons" that sticks most clearly in my mind is an impromptu one given me by a deputy principal of one of the junior high schools I worked at back in the late 1980s when I first came to Japan.

The concept of crotch, groin and thigh in the Japanese language.
Is it a crotch, a groin, or halfway between two thighs?

Maybe it was at an enkai (drinking party), because I remember some raucousness as he taught me the Japanese word for "thighs" — mata, and drew in the air the very intuitive kanji for it, 叉, that indeed does closely take after a pair of crossed legs with a tiny "slot" in between that he delighted in adding as a finishing touch.

In Japanese, however, the concept of the thigh/groin area is a little blurred. mata can actually be written using any of three commonly used kanji: 叉, 股 or 俣, and relates to all things femoral.

The usual word for thigh is actually momo, and is written using 股 or 腿. Momoniku ("thigh meat") for example, is the word for a round of beef, a ham, or a leg of poultry. Yet, the messiness continues with the word sumata (素股) (and, for some reason, not pronounced "sumomo") meaning "inner thigh" or, in a derivative meaning, that halfway house to sodomy, intercrural sex. And then there is the word for steps or strides: 小俣 (komata) meaning short, or mincing, steps (or, just to keep you confused, in its no.2 meaning: crotch, groin or thigh), and 大股 (ohmata) meaning big steps, a swinging stride (also: the act of straddling something, or, in sumo, a thigh-scooping body drop.)

In everyday parlance, mata is actually more about the crotch, and is written using the flexible 股, or the 叉 I was first introduced to, or 俣. It can also be used to describe a fork in a tree, road, river, etc. or the tines or a fork. A person’s crotch can also be described as a mataguchi 股口, literally “crotch-mouth.”

So, to sum up so far: mata = crotch, fork, and momo = thigh.

Then there is the verb that derives from it, matagu 跨ぐ, which, as a transitive verb (the kind of verb A does to B) means to step over, step across, stride across, or cross, and as an intransitive verb means to span, bridge, saddle or straddle.

matagu is often used as part of the idiom shikii o matagu 敷居を跨ぐ, literally “to cross the threshhold” or with the meaning of “to set foot in.”

Other common uses are, for example, “cross-border” as in kyokai o matagu mondai 境界を跨ぐ問題: a cross-border issue, or, literally, an “issue that straddles/crosses borders.”

Finally, don’t be confused between the above meanings of the word mata and the mata that all learners of Japanese will be familiar with meaning “also, again, in addition to, moreover.” The kanji for the “again” meaning is 又, which originally depicted the right hand, and probably derives its current meaning from the concept of “on the other hand.” This week’s mata, 叉, actually also derives from hand, but in the sense of interlaced fingers—thus “fork.”

Sore ja, mata ne!

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


When I set my sights on visiting Sendai, one of the reasons was Kokeshi. You may already know that Kokeshi are wooden dolls, but their original purpose remains unknown. It is believed they first appeared during the later Edo Period, from 1603 - 1868.


According to the supplied literature there are ten different styles of Kokeshi - all created in the Tohoku region exclusively - and five styles produced in Miyagi Prefecture: Narugo, Togatta, Yagiro, Sakunami, and Hijiori.

I made my selection purely on size and looks. For about 800 yen I purchased a Kokeshi from a working artist in the gift shop near Aoba Castle. I also stopped at Shimanuki Honten in downtown Sendai. There I found a Kokeshi meant to represent Date Masamune! I was very pleased.


The store carries a comprehensive variety of Kokeshi in an array of sizes, styles, and prices. Kokeshi are charming examples of Tohoku folk art and a good souvenir of my trip.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Yoyogi National Stadium - an Olympic architectural treasure


Yoyogi National Stadium (Kokuritsu Yoyogi Kyogijo) is a huge sports arena across the road from Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, made up of two separate, but architecturally similar, gymnasiums. It was designed by a famous Japanese architect and built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which Japan hosted the diving and swimming events, as well as basketball.

Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.1 viewed from the south, Tokyo, Japan.
Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.1 viewed from the south.

The much bigger Gymnasium No.1 was built for the swimming, and Gymnasium No.2 for the basketball. The buildings alone of the Yoyogi National Stadium occupies 3.4 hectares (almost 8.5 acres), on a 9-hectare (22-acre) plot in the Jinnan district of Shibuya ward.

At the time, almost all useful land in Tokyo was used by the American military, so it took a good two years of negotiation with the US Army to secure the current site on which the stadium was built.

The architect, Kenzo Tange (1913-2005) is Japan's most famous architect, and is recognized worldwide as a prominent modernist architect.

The stadium was completed on August 31, 1964, just 39 days before the start of the Olympic event.

Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.1 viewed from the north, Tokyo, Japan.
Yoyogi National Stadium Gym No.1 from the north
Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.1 viewed from the north, with Gymnasium No.2 to the right, Tokyo, Japan.
Yoyogi National Stadium Gym No.1 from the north, with Gym No.2 to the right

The most visually distinctive things about the Yoyogi National Stadium are the ridge of the roof of Gymnasium No.1, and the varying height of the eaves of both gymnasiums. At either end of the ridge is a vertical prominence reminiscent of the ornamental rafter ends on a Japanese shrine gable. The ridge is the support for the roof, which at the time of its building was the biggest suspended roof in the world.

At each end of the ridge is a massive post, about 40 meters high, and between them are strung two 280-meter long cables from which the roof is suspended.

The whole roof is roundish in shape, and the height from the edge to the ground gently changes, making for a beautiful undulating shape like a leaf with some edges curled up.   In fact, from the air, Gymnasium 1 looks very much like a big leaf, albeit with the two sides displaced - one up, one down - along the central stem.

Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.2 from the north, Tokyo.
Yoyogi National Stadium Gym No.2 from the north.

Yoyogi National Stadium was built for the swimming/diving and basketball events of the 1964 Olympics, but is now used for many other purposes. Since 1983 it has been used as a concert venue, mainly for pop and rock acts. It is also used for  sporting events such as futsal (the outdoor futsal court having been completed in 2012), pro-wrestling, volleyball, basketball, judo, boxing, figure skating, and more. Gymnasium No.1 is also a venue for recreational ice skating in winter and swimming in summer. The pool can be planked over and the space used for gymnastics.

Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.2, Tokyo, Japan.
Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.2
The huge No.1 Gymnasium (25,396 square meters) has a seating capacity of over 13,000 people. The considerably smaller No.2 Gymnasium (5,591 square meters) seats 3,200 and is used mainly for the sport it was originally constructed for: basketball, and next most commonly for pro-wrestling.

Yoyogi National Stadium Gymnasium No.1 from the west, Tokyo.
Gymnasium No.1 from the west, across the Yamanote Line.

In 1987, Tange received the Pritzker Architecture Prize for the Yoyogi National Stadium, with the judges describing it as one of the most beautiful buildings of the 20th century.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, June 15, 2015

Vietnam Festival 2015 in Tokyo

ベトナム・フェスティバル2015 代々木

The Vietnam Festival 2015 happened in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, this weekend past: June 13 & 14.

Vietnam Festival 2015, Yoyogi, Tokyo.
Vietnamese dress at the Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo

Subtitled "Viet Nam - Japan: Hand in Hand," the festival stressed the increasingly cooperative relationship forming between Japan and Vietnam in terms of trade, tourism and personal-level exchanges.

Entrance of Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo.
Entrance to the Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo
The two major sponsors were Japan's NEC and Vietnam Airlines. Almost 90 booths filled Yoyogi Event Space, just across the road from Yoyogi Park. Most were for food, but there was fine arts, handicrafts, educational institutes, and even a language booth giving free lessons for passersby in the basics of the Vietnamese language.

Brastel Remit money remittance company, Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo.
Brastel Remit money remittance company booth, Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo.

There were several booths by remittance companies, taking advantage of the increasing trade and exchange between Japan and Vietnam.

Anh Khoa performs at the Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
Anh Khoa performing at the Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
 The performance stage was a constant kaleidoscope of sound and color as acts from both Japan and Vietnam performed for a crowd of thousands. The biggest act was Vietnam's Anh Khoa, a rock artist the fans came flocking to the moment he appeared on stage.

Back-of-a-van karaoke, Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
Karaoke fun in the back of a van, Vietnam Festival 2015, Tokyo, Japan.

The next Vietnam Festival 2015 to take place is in Kurihara, Miyagi prefecture in fall: October 24 & 25.

A video posted by JapanVisitor (@japanvisitor) on

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Japan News This Week 14 June 2015


Japan News.
What You Should Know About the Trans-Pacific Partnership
New York Times

Japan parliament brawl over labour law

Japan reveals record defence budget as tensions with China grow

Japan security bills reveal irreconcilable divide between scholars, politicians
Japan Times

In the Woods with Takuboku and Kenji -- Soul Brothers of Meiji Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The World's Best 50 Restaurants 2015:

1 El Celler de Can Roca  (Spain)
2 Osteria Francescana  (Italy)
3 Noma  (Denmark)
4 Central  (Peru)
5 Eleven Madison Park  (USA)
6 Mugaritz  (Spain)
7 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal  (UK)
8 Narisawa  (Japan)
9 D.O.M.  (Brazil)
10 Gaggan  (Thailand)

To see full list, click on the link below.

Source: Guardian

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Japan on the Island of Yap


Stone money and coconuts on Yap Island, Micronesia.
Stone money on Yap Island.

My partner and I visited Yap last week for four days. Yap is one of the islands of the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap is tiny: you can easily drive around it in a day, and its population is about 11,000.

Stone money at Yap Airport.
Stone money symbol at Yap Airport.

Yap is probably best known for its stone money: hefty disks of rock quarried and hewn mainly in neighboring Guam and brought here to serve as markers of wealth and status. They can be seen throughout the island in sizes ranging from dinner plate to millstone.

Traditional Yap house with stone money, Micronesia.
Traditional house on Yap, with stone money.

Yap's recent history is quite closely tied up with Japan's. After World War I, Yap went from being under German control to Japanese, under the auspices of the League of Nations. Then after the end of World War II, Japan was relieved of Yap by the United States which held it under the auspices of the United Nations until 1986, when Micronesia became a country.

There was a small population of Japanese on Yap in the 1920s - no more than about 150, which swelled to about 4,000 during the Pacific War, in the form of military personnel.

Mindful of this history, we therefore kept our ears and eyes open for evidence of any Japanese influences that remain on Yap.

Fake made-in-Japan goods on Yap.
Chinese influence on Yap, posing as Japanese.

We were told that there was a Japanese-owned dive shop in Maap, up north, but on driving there we found that it, and the other one in the town, were closed at least for that day.

We saw no evidence of Japanese food anywhere, or Japanese names. I had read about the wrecks of a few Japanese planes around the old airstrip on Yap, but an hour of meandering around the area in our car didn't lead us to any. (Yap is no exception to the rule that hardly anyone knows where anything in the neighborhood is.)

Kaday Village Community Office, Yap, built by Japan.
Kaday Village Community Office, Yap, donated by Japan.

In fact, foreign influence of any sort seems to be rather superficial in Yap, and the old ways seem very much alive and well. There seemed to be an almost complete lack of any yearning for things Western and modern on the island, and visitors were treated with the very same matter-of-fact courtesy, kindness and good-humor that typified the everyday lives and dealings of the locals: no extremes of cozying up on one hand or defensiveness on the other, just good warm human contact wherever you went. Perhaps the most memorable evidence of how strong the culture is in the face of Westernization was the sight of a bare-breasted old woman waiting for someone at the airport, and not warranting a second glance from anyone.

Plaque of the Kaday Village Community Center, Yap.
Sign on wall of Kaday Village Community Center, Yap.
The only concrete evidence of a Japanese presence was the Kaday Village Community Center: a small building that was staffed by a somewhat dour woman. I noticed a plaque on the building's wall that read:

The Project for Development of Small Scale Fisheries in Yap

Granted by the government of Japan as a token of friendship and cooperation between Japan and the Federated States of Micronesia, 1997.

I asked her about it, but she dismissed the inquiry with a wave of her hand saying "That was a long time ago," suggesting, perhaps, that the project has lost its steam.

Community project poster, Kaday Community Center, Yap.
Steps of the Kaday Community Center, Yap.

If so, it's too bad, because judging by the state of things there, specifically the fact that virtually all of the very few restaurants near where we were staying were out of fish while we were there, commercial fisheries is something the island could do with.

The Kaday Community Center, Yap, Micronesia.
Kaday Community Center, Yap
© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, June 12, 2015

Zao Fox Village


There's a Fox Village in Miyagi Prefecture! I was looking forward to visiting this attraction. From Sendai we took the JR to Shiroishi Station where we disembarked and hired a taxi to drive us up the mountain.

Zao Fox Village, Shiroishi, Miyagi.

For some unknown reason a huge gorilla statue stands outside the Fox Village. Once past this oddity we paid the admission fee, and an employee stated several rules: your feet must be covered, do not touch the foxes, and keep the fox treats (available for purchase) hidden in your pockets. Even though I do not speak Japanese, her gestures were very clear.

Zao Fox Village, Miagi Prefecture, Japan.

Full of anticipation, we passed through the entrance and we began to see foxes immediately, in an assortment of colors - white, black, and auburn. The majority were adults, but being springtime, there were tons of BABIES! For a small fee, you were allowed to hold one. Did you hear what I said? You can HOLD a baby fox! So we did, and the attendant took some pictures for us.

Zao Fox Village, Miyagi, Tohoku, Japan.

Cuddling a fox kit felt a bit like handling a puppy, except it seemed as if the kits were (understandably) nervous. I mean, why is this doofus touching me? I don't like it. They knew as well as we did that they were not meant to be held. The only halfway plausible explanation I could think of (besides generating yen) was that the kits would lose their fear of humans. When the attendant returned the kits to their cage, they appeared relieved.

Separate from the foxes were some farm animals: two miniature horses, lots of rabbits, and some charming goats. A worker was raking their pen and he yelled at a goat to get out of the hay box (where he looked adorable), and the goat slowly complied. Also present in a nearby cage were two crows and they blinked their eyes, watching us while we took pictures. One of the crows steadily manipulated a wire attached to the cage door. I predict an eventual break out.

Zao Fox Village, Miyagi, Tohoku, Japan.

For the foxes there was a much larger outdoor area surrounded by a tall fence. As we walked through this area, the foxes went about their daily activities - playing, sleeping, fighting, and screaming angrily. I had no inkling that foxes made that sound. Sometimes a fox would approach us and stare.

I suspect more than a few knew I was packing treats. As we climbed up on the observation platform the foxes hurried over and sat below. I broke off pieces of the treats (which looked a lot like Slim Jims) and tossed them down. Expertly, nearly every fox caught the morsels midair.

I must admit, as intriguing as this place is, a few other things bothered me. I didn't like seeing the fox on a leash attached to a pole. He walked around and around, trying to find a way to escape. I was upset to see two foxes in separate, stark wire cages with nothing of comfort. Since they were healthy, why weren't they loose with the others, but on display like this? For their sake, I hope they were freed at the end of the work day.

Zao Fox Village, Miyagi, Tohoku, Japan.

The day we visited was pretty cold (to us) at 10 degrees Celsius, and this was compounded by a powerful wind that thundered through the trees. Maybe this is just May in the mountains and as summer approaches the weather will be milder. But I thought you should know.

The Zao Fox Village has a gift shop and a small restaurant. We waited there while an employee called us a taxi for the drive back to the station. I think the Zao Fox Village is worth a visit. Seeing the foxes was definitely a rare experience and I was not disappointed.

Zao Fox Village
Kawarago-11-3 Fukuokayatsumiya
Miyagi Prefecture 989-0733
Tel: 0224 24 8812

A visit to Zao Fox Village can be combined with seeing Shiroishi Castle in Shiroishi town.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Muslim Friendly Apartments in Tokyo


Muslim Friendly Apartments in Tokyo, Japan.

June, 2015

To answer the needs of Japan’s growing Muslim community, Tokyo real estate agency Sakura House announces the opening of Japan's first Muslim-friendly apartments in Tokyo.

Sakura House's Itabashi Muslim Friendly Apartments are the first Japanese apartments that are exclusively for Muslims who are going to visit Japan, or are already in Japan.

The apartments are located in Tokyo's Itabashi ward, near Hasune Station on the subway Toei Mita Line, providing residents good access to central Tokyo, including the mosques in Otsuka and Okachimachi.

All rooms are furnished, with fully-equipped kitchens; with two bedrooms, the rooms are suitable for stays by families and groups. Monthly fees start at 110,000 yen, covering costs for electricity, water, natural gas, furnishings, Internet Wi-Fi and maintenance.

Web page: www.sakura-house.com

For further information or to make arrangements for a tour of the above residence, please contact:

Lutfi Bakhtiya
Sakura HousePublic Relations Manager
Tel: +81-3-5330-5250
Fax: +81-3-5330-5251
E-mail: lutfi[at]sakura-house[dot]com

Sakura House is a Tokyo real estate agency providing furnished monthly rooms for students, interns, working professionals and vacationers from around the world who are going to visit, or are already in Japan. 1,300 apartments, share house rooms and dormitory beds in 120 Tokyo area locations.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 66 Haiki to Sasebo

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 66, Haiki to Sasebo
Saturday March 8th 2014

For the last week or so of my pilgrimage there has actually been very few pilgrimage temples to visit. There has been days of walking between some of them, but the next few weeks that will see me completing the walk around Kyushu there are many pilgrimage temples so I will be visiting several a day. I will not be following the route suggested in the guidebook, which was written for people driving the route, but will zigzag somewhat in a route that makes more sense for someone walking.

Haiki Strait, Kyushu, Japan.

Like today I will be based in Sasebo and go out by train to each section of the walk. This has the advantage of me not having to carry a full pack, just a day pack. Once I start out at Haiki the sun comes up and for a while I walk along the bank of the Haiki Strait, so have a wonderful view of golden reflections in the still water. I start to head east, inland up a river. I will be returning to Sasebo tonight but now I am heading directly away from it. The road climbs to a pass and then drops down to the Kawatana River valley and I head up it to the first temple of the day.

Tozenji, number 66 on the pilgrimage, and like all the others belonging to the Shingon sect. Where the main hall should be is just a flat area of gravel with strings stretched out marking where I presume the new hall will be built. A young priest comes out of a building and invites me inside for tea. Like all the priests I have met on this journey he expresses surprise at a foreigner walking the pilgrimage.

I ask and receive permission to go through the fence and explore behind the temple. There is a narrow gully filled with mossy rocks on top of which stand small statues wearing red hats and bibs. The color combination of moss green with vermillion has come to be iconic for me. I say my farewell and he gives me some fruit and snacks to take with me.

I continue north towards Hasami town center then turn west and head towards Sasebo. I pass a lot of brick chimneys though most of them have derelict buildings underneath. Across the hills is Arita, famous for porcelain. Here in Hasami they make porcelain too, though it is not as well known.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 66 Haiki to Sasebo.

The chimneys belong to old potteries. I come to a busier main road and a few hundred meters along see a roadside diner, a Big Man burger joint. Sasebo Burgers are quite famous, an excellent article on them can be found here, so I stop for lunch, and I have to say it was an excellent meal, among the best burgers I have ever had in Japan.

Along the road at Mikawachi I join up with the railway and main road heading into Haiki and on to Sasebo. I head off the main road and meander up to the next temple, number 71, Jyosen-ji.

There is nothing outstanding here, though a path lined with 33 Kannon statues leads through manicured bushes. So back to the main road. It's now urban all the way in and other than a few shrines there is nothing much to report until in the southern part of downtown Sasebo I turn up through the entrance gate of Seigan-ji temple.

It's not on the pilgrimage but seems to be the most interesting temple in Sasebo. It's a fairly long walk up into the wooded hillside, and turns out to be well worth the visit. The many buildings are situated next to a cliff which has numerous altars within overhangs, but the main thing is there are lots of statues.

It's peaceful as the hum of the city does not reach in, and the diversity of statues keeps me occupied with taking photos. Walking the last kilometer it is still sunny and so I decide to go on to the next pilgrimage temple today rather than tomorrow morning. It is less than a kilometer from my hotel and located on a hillside with a bit of a view over he city towards the port.

All the buildings at Daichi-in, temple 104, are concrete, but there are some small plum trees in bloom, a massive paper lantern hanging over the steps to the main hall, and a couple of older wooden Nio so there is a little atmosphere. And that's it for the day, I'm off to explore the nightlife and dining possibilities of Sasebo.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 65

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 67 Sasebo

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, June 08, 2015

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima


Date Masamune (1567-1636) is surely Sendai's favorite son and the pride of Tohoku. The warrior's aura quietly abides throughout the city and several versions of his image adorn signs, places, and merchandise. I have read a translated version of the historical manga by Yokoyama Mitsuteru, and it left me with the impression that Date Masamune was awesome.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima.

 In Matsushima there is a Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum. Outside the door is a marker indicating the height of the tsunami waters, about to my knees. Inside, the first thing you observe is not unexpected but Date Masamune in full armor, sitting astride his horse.

Next is a large hall filled with famous people from the Tohoku region, and wow, are they impressive. The figures, depicting individuals such as Noguchi Hideyo and Dazai Osamu, are incredibly realistic. I could imagine being very nervous if forced to spend a night at this museum.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima.

Once you walk past the seated Matsudaira Katamori the story of Data Masamune begins. A series of full-scale figures in detailed, descriptive dioramas start with the warrior's birth and chronicle his life and times.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima.

I was very pleased to see English translations and to note that the facts echo those from the manga, leading me to believe a historical record of the events does exist. Someone took a great deal of care with this museum - the figures, costumes, and scenery are beautiful and well-crafted.

As it turns out, a group of schoolchildren entered the museum after we did. Theirs was a fast visit whereas we continued to linger - slowing reading, examining, and thinking.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima, Japan.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum
13-13 Matsushima Fugendo
Miyagi-ken 981-0213
Tel: 022 354 4131

The Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum is a 10-minute walk from Matsushima Kaigan Station on the JR Senseki Line. Matsushima Kaigan Station is 39 minutes from Sendai Station.

Michinoku Date Masamune History Museum Matsushima, Tohoku, Japan.

© JapanVisitor.com

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