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Friday, October 30, 2015

Tadaji Temple Shimane a direct link to Kukai

多陀寺

Hamada in Shimane prefecture is a small city on the Japan Sea, and known for its attractive white sand beaches. Hamada was once a bustling port in the Middle Ages for trade with the Asian mainland, and today still has the area's only deep-sea harbor.

Buddha made from fishing buoys, Tadaji Temple, Hamada, Shimane.
Buddha made from fishing buoys, at Tadaji Temple, Shimane Prefecture
Tadaji Temple is on a hill a little north-east of the center of Hamada, and is the best-known of the city's temples, with a long history. Being on an elevation, Tadaji offers great views of the white, sandy Hamada coastline, and the dramatically weathered, sculpted-looking rocks of Iwatatamigaura: a section of coast in Hamada Coastal Prefectural Natural Park, just to the north. True to its location, the name tadaji literally means "very steep/precipitous temple."

The founder of Tadaji was a disciple of the great Japanese Buddhist priest, Kukai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism that preserves the tantric form of Buddhism that has since died out in China. The founder accompanied Kukai to Tang China at the end of the 8th century, where they both studied under the Buddhist monk Huiguo. The founder returned to Japan in 806, two years before Kukai did, and in his subsequent wanderings settled on the current site as an auspicious location-which no doubt had something to do with the "magical" view. Here he established a temple, enshrining a golden statue of the Kannon, the goddess of mercy that he had brought back from China. Tadaji is also famous for having over sixty wooden Buddhas carved from drift timber.

The cute figurine pictured here was photographed at Tadaji Temple. Its face looks typical of a Buddhist image, as well as its arm and hand gestures, and it is standing on a lotus. The four characters on the doll: 平生往生, are pronounced hei-zei-oh-joh. This is originally a Buddhist phrase that means something like "All good things come to those who wait," or, more specifically, that attaining Buddhahood is a matter of living one's life normally, accruing virtue, and awaiting that moment of salvation.  However, it has also come to take on the quite different meaning of "A stitch in time saves nine."

The saying originated in the teachings of Shinran (1173-1263), the monk who founded the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism. Jodo Shinshu has an especially strong following in western Japan: specifically Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Shimane, and Oita, so is especially well-known in these prefectures. Although Tadaji Temple belongs to the Shingon sect, not Jodo Shinshu, apparently the phrase is an intimate enough part of the culture to appear even in a Shingon Buddhist temple without seeming odd.

Tadaji Temple
Ubuyucho, Hamada-shi, Shimane-ken 697-0002
〒697-0002 島根県浜田市生湯

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Minikomishi magazines: Japan's underground press

ミニコミ誌

minikomishi is a Japanese word that refers to privately published, small-circulation magazines. By definition, minikomishi are therefore magazines that appeal to a small audience.

minikomi is an abbreviation of "mini communication" as opposed to "mass communication"; shi means "magazine." Being mini, minikomishi are seen as avoiding the major pitfall of mass communication, i.e., social and political circumspection for the sake of maintaining circulation figures.

minikomishi began, and flourished, in the 1960s and 1970s in Japan, when the educated youth of Japan, like youth in the rest of the world at that time, expressed their outrage against the socio-economic-political system that had led first to war and then, in peace, to the worship of the pursuit of ever greater national GDP.

The most vocal opponents of the system were students of Tokyo University and Nihon University, both elite institutions, and their students therefore highly literate.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the biggest foci of youthful opposition were the renewals of the Treaty for Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the USA (abbreviated to Anpo in Japanese) in 1960 and again in 1970, and the Sanrizuka protests against the building of Narita Airport—a struggle now archived in the Narita Airport and Community Historical Museum.

Therefore, most minikomi were dedicated to thought and action centered on issues such as these, and most died out when the next, politically more docile, generation, took over.

However, minikomishi remain, and the most conspicuous of them are doujinshi (literally "like-minded magazines"), which typically feature more or less extreme erotic content. Another notable minikomishi that has survived is the entertainment information and ticketing magazine, Pia, which began as a minikomishi by students of Chuo University in Tokyo who were movie enthusiasts. However, by having turned into a mass communication magazine, Pia cannot really said to have survived as a minikomishi, but rather evolved. 

The National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture, is the main repository now of historical minikomishi, which is commendable, but also evidence that the minikomishi that tried to change the world have now been consigned to history.

However, all is not lost for alternative thought and action in Japan. The internet has become the perfect combination of mini- and mass-communication, and much of the buzz on the streets created by the previous generation through self-publication of paper-and-ink organs has now moved online. 

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku Part II

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 75, Thursday March 27th, 2014
Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku, Part 2

My route across the wide, flat valley will zigzag as I want to visit as many of the shrines scattered between the rice paddies as I can. None of them are major shrines, just small local shrines, and the chances are that most will have nothing unusual in them, but every now and then I find a shrine with something interesting: a mask, an unusual komainu, a tidbit of local history, and so on, that I find it worthwhile visiting every shrine I can.

There seems to be more shrines than usual in this wide valley, possibly related to the fact that this was one of the first areas settled by the immigrant Japanese and was a powerful kingdom in ancient times before the creation of the country "Japan."

I stop in at several shrines, pleasant enough, but nothing noteworthy. I also pass numerous cherry trees in full bloom. Coming into the village of Ito I stop in at a Sumiyoshi Shrine.

Cherry trees in full bloom, Imajuku, Kyushu.


Right next door is a massive, about 50 meters square, steel frame suspended off the ground by steel and granite pillars. Growing all over the frame is a vine which I am guessing is wisteria, though this early in the year there is no sign of leaf or flower.

Surrounding the area are lines of Buddhist statues. Now I head down the middle of the valley and in the next settlement spy another shrine. I have gotten quite good at seeing where shrines are at a distance. They will often be set in a grove of trees that are much taller, hence older, than what is surrounding them. This shrine is called Sazare Ishi Shrine, which means "pebble rock." Sazareishi is a "conglomerate" - a sedimentary rock that cements pebbles together by pressure. It is most famously known in Japan in a line from Kimigayo, the national anthem:

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

I've seen quite a few at other shrines around the country, usually encircled by a shimenawa, but I look around but cannot find the stone. A few kilometers further on, in the middle of the valley, I come to the place I have been aiming for, the Ito Historical Museum, a four or five storey building quite out of place in this area of farms and paddies.

In ancient Japan, bronze mirrors were symbols of power. Probably the most well known example are the 100 mirrors given to the legendary Queen Himiko by the Chinese Emperor. Obviously the more mirrors you possessed, the more important you were.

Bronze mirror, Ito Historical Museum, Kyushu, Japan.


The Ito Historical Museum exhibits artifacts dug up from the grave of the local "king" Hirabaru. It included the biggest mirror ever found in Japan, and 40 other mirrors, the largest number ever discovered in a single gravesite until a bigger hoard found a few years ago near Nara.

Its a fairly "dry" museum but I'm glad to have visited. On down the valley.... more cherry blossoms... more shrines.... and then I reach the shore of Imazu Bay. Land reclamation has pushed the land out into what was once water and this section of the bay is almost enclosed like a lagoon.

The next temple, number 83, Seigan-ji, lies at the base of a hill on the other side. As I get closer its not hard to see the temple as the grounds have ample cherry trees in full bloom. The temple is an uninspiring, concrete building, but steps lead up to a shrine and then on up to another shrine and a Bishamon Hall on top of the hill.

Neither structure has anything of interest, but the views made the climb worth while, across the water to Nokonoshima Island and Shika Island in one direction and west towards the peninsula in the other. Back down I head towards the bridge that crosses the narrow entrance to the bay, stopping in at a shrine along the way.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Chikuzenmaebaru to Imajuku Part II.


From the bridge I can see the distant skyline of Fukuoka with the distinctive profile of Fukuoka Tower clearly visible. Heading towards Imajuku Station I pass a most curious roadside shrine that is certainly not Japanese. The main statue is a big, fat, Frog God of some kind, and flanking it are two guardian statues that are extremely grotesque. Behind, a long, curved pole has some kind of decorations hanging from it. I am guessing it is Indonesian or Balinese, though I have never been to those places. I cannot imagine why it is here. At Imajuku I catch a train into Hakata and my hotel. I had hoped to get all the way in on foot but the day just didn't have enough hours.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 75 Part I

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 26, 2015

Matsubara-danchi Station Saitama

松原団地

Today was an idyllic Tokyo Sunday, not a cloud in the nihonbare (literally "Japan fine weather") sky, and the early autumn air clear, crisp and bracing. I spent the afternoon in Soka City, in Saitama prefecture, about 25 minutes north of Asakusa station on the Tobu Skytree Line, as my partner had business to do there.

East Exit, Matsubara-danchi Station, Tobu Skytree Line, Saitama.
East Exit, Matsubara-danchi Station, Tobu Skytree Line
We alighted at the station next north of Soka-shi Station: Matsubara-danchi Station. Danchi means "housing estate," and name pretty much reflected the environs: block after block of huge, bland public apartment blocks, an average of about 15 stories high, clumped around either side of the railway line and stretching out somewhat beyond.

Hyakutai-bashi Bridge, Soka-shi.
Hyakutai-bashi Bridge
However, a one-hour walk around the neighborhood redeemed it to the remarkable degree that a leisurely walk around pretty much any neighborhood can do.

Iron pine cones, Hyakutai-bashi Bridge, Soka-shi
Iron pine cones, Hyakutai-bashi Bridge
A quick online search for Soka-shi before leaving revealed Hyakutai-bashi Bridge as about the only thing of fame. It had about six feedbacks on TripAdvisor, most of them "Average." The bridge was just five minutes walk from the east exit of Matsubara-danchi Station, accessed by walking down Pine Avenue, named for the trees that line it. The street was lined with banners for Soka International Harp Festival.

Pine Avenue, Matsubara Danchi, Soka City, Saitama Prefecture.
Pine Avenue, Matsubara Danchi, Soka City
Hyakutai-bashi is a rarity of a bridge in that it is right beside a river, but without crossing the river. Rather, it's a footbridge over a road, in the style of a traditional Japanese bridge, and part of the path in the pine-planted Fudabakashi Park that extends several kilometers along the west bank of the Ayasegawa River. Alongside the path was a stone memorial engraved with a haiku by the haiku master from Soka City, Shoushi Mizuhara (1892 - 1981).

Shuoushi Mizuhara haiku monument, Ayasegawa River, Soka
Shuoushi Mizuhara haiku monument, Ayasegawa River, Soka City
I'm generous. I'd give Hyakutai-bashi Bridge a "Very Good," I guess, in that it is convincingly antique in atmosphere, and is endowed with the little touches Japan is famous for, the most memorable being cast iron pine cones on the path (see photo).

Ayasegawa River, Matsubara-danchi, Soka City, Saitama
Ayasegawa River, Soka City, Saitama
Back to the station to explore the west side of Matsubara-danchi Station. The biggest feature: Dokkyo University, is not visible from the station, but, depending on the time you're there, perhaps, is very evident in the crowds of students coming and going.

Earthquake simulator truck, Matsubaradanchi Nishiguchi Koen, Soka City.
Earthquake simulator truck, Matsubaradanchi Nishiguchi Koen
Both sides of the station have a lot of shopping, but the west side has more, or at least bigger scale, shopping, including a large Tobu supermarket. The Soka City Central Library is right across from the station, and is flanked by a shopping mall that seems to occupy basically part of the same building. Just beyond the library is a small park called Matsubara-danchi West Exit Park.

Matsubaradanchi Station, West Exit
West Exit of Matsubaradanchi Station
In the park, I happened upon a disaster preparedness fair for the local community happening there, with a big shiny red fire engine and firemen in their uniforms. There was also an "earthquake simulation truck" and hardly had I entered the park than a very friendly old helper invited me to try it. It was just me and an old lady, and we sat at a small table in the truck being violently shaken for about 4 minutes (felt about four times that long), having nothing to do or say but politely giggle together while being vigorously rocked and rolled to recorded sounds of breaking crockery.

Matsubara-danchi Station and environs is best experienced in brilliantly sunny weather on a balmy day. (But isn't everything?)

Finally, for something very cute I discovered on my walk around the Matsubara-danchi neighborhood, see my "Kawaii ne!" post on Google+

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Japan News This Week 25 October 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Unbroken’ to Finally Be Shown in Japan
New York Times

Japan's hidden caste of untouchables
BBC

Marine conservationists claim Japanese fishermen are dumping dolphin corpses at sea
Guardian

Russia slams Japan’s UNESCO papers on WWII POWs
Japan Times

Inside Fukushima's Potemkin Village: Naraha
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Best highways in the world:

1) UAE
4) Portugal
6) Japan
10) Taiwan
14) USA
17) South Korea

Source: 2015 World Economic Forum

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bookworm Alert! The 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival Tokyo

神田古本まつり

56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival Tokyo: Fri. October 23 - Sun. November 1, 2015

Customers at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, along Yasukuni-dori Avenue
Perusing books at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, along Yasukuni-dori Avenue
The Jinbocho area in the Kanda district of Tokyo is a bookworm's delight, famous for its scores of book stores, most of them for used books. The local booksellers' association website lists over 160 used bookstores, and over 70 stores selling new books, in the area.

A bargain bin at the at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, Tokyo.
Bargain bin at the at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival
 Most of the bookshops in Jinbocho focus on a particular topic, such as the board games of shogi and go, art, the Japanese literature of a specific age, philosophy and religion, social sciences, hobbies, arts and crafts, subculture (which includes a lot of erotica), calligraphy, old Japanese copybooks and rubbings of inscriptions on monuments, ukiyoe paintings, books about traditional Japanese seals, science, military-related, natural history, foreign books, music ... the list goes on.

For the past 56 years, since 1959, the Jinbocho bookshops have held an annual fall book fair called the Kanda Second-hand Book Festival (神田古本まつり Kanda Furuhon Matsuri). This year's festival, the 56th, starts tomorrow, Friday, October 23, and continues for ten days, finishing on Sunday November 1. The hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (but until 6 p.m. on the final day).

Crowds at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, 2015.
 Crowds at the 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, 2015, alongside Yasukuni-dori Avenue.
The festival is centered on the Jinbocho intersection in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward, is sponsored by the Kanda Used Book Sellers' Association and with the official support of Chiyoda Ward Office and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

About 100 stores will be taking part, with an estimated over one million books for sale. Stalls will line about 500 meters (about one-third of a mile) of Yasukuni-dori Avenue, which runs through Jinbocho, with great bargains to be had.

Book piles at the  56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, 2015.
Pile of books at the  56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, Tokyo, 2015.
 A charity auction of especially prized tomes will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 31 at the Sakura-dori Event Space.

There will be special events throughout, such as traditional seal-making experience classes, papermaking classes, music performances, talk events, and lectures.

Going by previous years' attendance, no less than about half a million people are expected to converge on the book fair over the ten days, many of them from outside Tokyo—even outside Japan—drawn by this venerable tradition, and the thrill of the book bargain.

Lanterns of the Yasukuni-dori Commercial Association, 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, 2015.
"Yasukuni-dori Commercial Association" lanterns, 56th Kanda Second-hand Book Festival, 2015.
Getting there
Jinbocho is accessible immediately from Jinbocho station on the Mita and Shinjuku subway lines, or is five minutes walk from Ochanomizu station on the JR Chuo/Sobu line and the Chiyoda subway line.

Read hundreds of Japan book reviews 

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Nagoya To Nara By Bus

名古屋ー奈良のバス

If you have the Japan Rail Pass the quickest way to reach Nara from Nagoya is to take a shinkansen to Kyoto Station and then change to the JR Nara Line for JR Nara Station. The journey takes about 90 minutes: 36 minutes on a Hikari Shinkansen from Nagoya Station to Kyoto and then 44 minutes on a JR Nara Line rapid service train. Ordinarily the journey would cost 6,560 yen one way.

Nagoya To Nara By Bus.


It is also possible to go from Kintestu Nagoya Station to Kintetsu Nara Station but this would involve two changes - at Yamatoyagi and Yamatosaidaiji, take two hours, 20 minutes and cost 3,860 yen single.

Much cheaper is to take a Meitetsu Highway Bus from Meitetsu Highway Bus Terminal to either JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station. This takes two hours, 40 minutes and costs only 2,550 one-way or 4,100 yen return.

Nagoya To Nara By Bus.


To spend a full day in Nara from Nagoya it is best to catch the first bus at 7.50am and come back on the last bus at 6.40pm. Other buses for Nara leave Nagoya at 10.50am, 2.50pm, 6.50pm and 8.50pm.

The bus is rarely full and can be booked online or in person at Meitetsu Highway Bus Terminal. The bus makes stops at Yamato Takahara, Tenri, Kintetsu Nara Station and JR Nara Station.

Nagoya To Nara By Bus.


Meitetsu highway buses run to various destinations throughout Japan including Beppu-Oita, Chubu International Airport, Fuji Five Lakes, Fukui, Fukuoka, Hirugami Onsen, Kanazawa, Kochi, Iga-Ueno, Iida (in Nagano Prefecture), Kamikochi, Kitakyushu, Kobe, Kyoto, Matsumoto, Matsuyama, Nagano, Nagasaki, Niigata, Shirakawa-go, Sendai, Shingu in Wakayama, Shinjuku in Tokyo, Shirakawa-go, Takamatsu-Marugame, Tokushima, and Toyama.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 19, 2015

Japan Tour Guide - Seeing Japan with a Local Volunteer

ジャパン・ツアー・ガイド

I was wandering through Harajuku on the weekend, camera in hand, looking to take snaps among the crowds of "beautiful people" there for the JapanVisitor Google+ "Kawaii ne!" collection.

Standing on the sidewalk across the road from Harajuku Station was a pair of guys each holding a bright placard marked "Volunteer," "Do you need help?, "Ask anything - we can help you."

Japan Tour Guide volunteers in Harajuku, Tokyo.
Two Japan Tour Guide volunteers in Harajuku, Tokyo.

Curious to learn more, I approached them and chatted for a few minutes. They were enthusiastic, courteous, and spoke very good English. They were university students, and part of the Japan Tour Guide collective.

"The only way to experience the true Japan is through locals" is the catch cry of the JapanTourGuide website. The concept is of "tourist-guide matching." The tourist registers on the very nicely designed, simply laid-out website, agrees to the terms and conditions, provides some personal information, and specifies the place and time he or she would like a guide for. The organization then does its best to match the tourist's needs with an appropriate guide.

Contact is then made between the organization and the soon-to-be sightseer through Facebook and a plan is mutually framed in preparation for the visit.

JapanTourGuide is basically a free service, so those who use it are expected to respect that. It provides a unique opportunity to get to know Japan at a personal level for visitors who probably don't know anyone in Japan.

What better way to get to know the true Japan than to find out about the history, culture and sights of Japan in the company of a local?

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Japan News This Week 18 October 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Okinawa Governor Freezes Work at U.S. Base
New York Times

Japan Can Now Send Its Military Abroad, But Will It?
NPR

Toothless tiger: Japan Self-Defence Forces
BBC

Japan threatens to halt Unesco funding over Nanjing massacre listing
Guardian

WMF calls for Tokyo’s Tsukiji wooden buildings to be preserved
Japan Times

Komeito’s Soka Gakkai Protesters and Supporters: Religious Motivations for Political Activism in Contemporary Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Japanese Central Agency Subsidies for Renewable Energy Projects, 2009 to 2013 (units: billion YEN)

2009: 70.8 billion yen
2010: 134.8 billion yen
2011: 92.0 billion yen
2012: 78.1 billion yen
2013: 82.3 billion yen

Total (4 years): 468.0 billion yen

Source: Japan Focus

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ice Monster on Omotesando: A Shaved Ice Sensation

 アイス・モンスター 表参道

Ice Monster is a very slick and hugely popular shaved ice cafe on Tokyo's ultra-chic Omotesando boulevard, and opened just this spring, on April 29.

Ice Monster branch, Omotesando, Jingumae, Tokyo.
Ice Monster, on Omotesando Boulevard, Jingumae, Tokyo
Occupying a corner spot on the boulevard, this sole branch in Japan, so far, of the Taiwanese chain draws the eye with its cute and cutting edge design, and, during the day, with the crowds that line up waiting for a coveted seat inside.

We dropped in tonight at around dinner time, when most people are looking for a meal rather than a snack, so we got a seat right away.

A truly monster Mango Sensation, at Ice Monster, Tokyo, Japan.
A truly monster Mango Sensation, at Ice Monster, Tokyo (and a napkin with the cute MS logo)

We were struck by the very stylish woodwork ceiling, set off by an almost equally stylish (in the context) bare concrete floor, for an overall clean, mod black, white, brown and gray decor.

The menu was equally simple, with only about half a dozen things on the menu: four shaved ices (called "Sensations") and a handful of soft serve ice creams.

First floor of Ice Monster Omotesando, Tokyo, with woodwork ceiling.
First floor of Ice Monster, Omotesando
We went for the Mango Sensation and a coffee-and-Kahlua soft serve. The Mango Sensation was a somewhat startling 1,500 yen, but more startling was the size of it when it arrived at our table about 5 minutes later - along with a glass of subtly flavored warm water, reflecting the Chinese eschewing of cold water in favor of warm for health reasons.

Ice Monster's "Sensations" are huge! And they redefine "shaved ice." Forget the corny, forgettable funfair idea of super-cold miniature shards of frozen water that melt immediately and unremarkably the moment they hit your tongue, and are gone in a fake-tasting, sugary blur.

Mango Sensation at Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo, partway through.
Partway through our Mango Sensation - note the panettone-like texture
No. The mountainous shaved ices served at Ice Monster are more like that Italian treat that is a mix between bread and cake: panettone. Yes, somehow the Ice Monster alchemy transforms frozen water into an incredibly flavorsome, almost chewy, mouthful that stays tasty and maintains its body while you savor the very real (capital-S) "Sensation" of, in our case, mango: big, ripe, orange, juicy mango. You get through a mouthful, nice and slowly, and it's still very much there, still making you go "Mmm!" even by the time you're eventually, and reluctantly, sending it on its way down.

Toward its base, the towering icy mound is complemented with a scoop of two of mango ice cream, embedded with actual pieces of mango, and with a chunk of what looked and tasted like sweetened tofu. A melody of textures.

Coffee & Kahlua soft serve ice cream at Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo.
Coffee & Kahlua soft serve ice cream at Ice Monster
The coffee-kahlua soft serve deserves a paragraph of its own, too. As soft cream, it was way up there in terms of any soft cream I've ever had in terms of purity of flavor. All that was evident was the advertised coffee and Kahlua: no milkiness nor any extraneous, additive-inspired underflavors.

Second floor of Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo.
Upstairs at Ice Monster - with distinctive ceiling feature
We savored the coffee-and-Kahlua soft serve first, as an entrée to the Sensation; but, looking back, it would have been better at the end, as a small dessert to the big dessert. Yet, temporal misgivings fade beside the main topic: flavor, which this soft serve was solidly endowed with. One slurp of the first fragrant spoonful and the hour hand fast-forwarded to the wee hours, the chair turned to velvet, a jazz singer sweetly slurred before me on a dimly lit stage. Snap, snap, wake up! Where am I? My partner comes sharply back into my vision, wanting his share too.

All good things must end, and after a good twenty or so minutes we left our table, and couldn't resist a peek upstairs. The eye-catcher upstairs was, again, the ceiling, but with a different twist: artfully suspended wooden balls.

Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo, occupies a conspicuous corner site.
Ice Monster, Omotesando, on its conspicuous corner site.
Oh, and how can you talk about Ice Monster without mentioning the Ice Monster logo? A cute little mustachioed sketch-face that could be expressing any of a number of feelings. How about "gustatory delight"?

Ice Monster on Omotesando is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, with last orders at 8:30 p.m.

Lucas's Tokyo Dining Guide

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple

池上本門寺 お会式




The tightly resonant drumming and the boisterous chanting could be heard almost the moment we got off the train at Nishi-Magome station. It was Monday October 12, Physical Education Day--a national holiday--but something else was happening here.

Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo.
In front of the Main Hall
It wasn't long before we saw our first procession of Buddhist faithful, in single file walking along the sidewalk each bearing an uchiwadaiko ("fan drum") which they beat in unison while loudly chanting the Lotus Sutra (or daimoku in Japanese): namu myoho renge kyo, namu myoho renge kyo!

The group we encountered was one of many that converge on Ikegami Honmonji Temple on this day from Nichiren Buddhist temples all over Japan to commemorate the death of the thirteenth century priest Nichiren.

Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo.
Mando lanterns
Oeshiki (oh-eh-shee-kee) is the general name given to all commemorative festivals of a religious or other leader's death, but Oeshiki has come to be most closely associated to this event at Ikegami Honmonji. Groups of Nichiren Buddhist believers from thousands of Nichiren temples all over Japan come here. The members of each group sport distinctive happi coats and banners identifying their group.


Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Japan.
Confectionery stall
The Ikegami Honmonji Oeshiki Festival climaxes after sundown, and besides the chanting and drumming features floats. Unlike the better known omikoshi floats used in Shinto festivals, the Oeshiki floats, called mando (literally, "ten thousand lights") are lantern-like structures with lights in the middle - often a lit-up miniature scale model of a pagoda - and are borne by groups of men up the 96 stone steps leading to the main temple building. At intervals, matoi: banner-type poles with tassels that firemen used to use as warning signals, are spun around so that the tassels radiate, the spinning being considered equivalent to reading sutras--not to mention the festive buzz the sight ignites.


Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo, Japan.
Procession of believers in front of the temple
Nichiren Buddhism is a very muscular form of Buddhism. Nichiren was strident in his criticism of other Buddhist interpretations during his lifetime, and Nichiren Buddhists were subject to much persecution because of the political implications and results of their beliefs and actions. Certain lay Nichiren Buddhists even took the teachings to the point of nationalist extremism in the late-19th to early-20th centuries in a movement known as Nichirenism. While Nichiren Buddhism, or any Buddhism for that matter, no longer plays such a conspicuous role in Japanese life today, the tradition of stridency is more than apparent in the powerful, almost martial, chanting and drumming that echoes through the streets and around the temple.

Those uchiwadaiko, or "fan drums," may be very simple in construction, but the tension of the leather drumhead must be very high, because they sound they emit when beaten is remarkably loud, with a powerful tenor twang that is difficult to fully appreciate without hearing it live. That combined with the full-throated chanting that reminds you more of football crowd enthusiasm than religion (but perhaps that's a fine distinction?) make for a sound experience that you physically feel rather than just hear.

Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights, Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo.
The Main Hall of Ikegami Honmonji Temple
However, inside the temple is more reminiscent of a party than a war. There are all the stalls you find at any Japanese festival, selling snacks, drinks, candy floss, toys, as well as booths for darts, fortune-telling and more--a cacophony of sellers' cries and kids' excited yells. The crowds are almost overwhelming. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people gather for the Oeshiki, and there is very secure (but non-intrusive) crowd control in place, as well as fire engines on hand for the sake of the buildings.

Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple.
Crowds pray at the main temple
It is only when you approach the imposing Soshi-do (Founder's Hall) with a massive post planted in front of it bearing the daimoku, that the gravity and scale of the true celebration becomes clear.

The numerous groups doing their circuits around the neighborhood come together in front of the 27-meter high Soshi-do where with renewed energy they chant and drum and clash small cymbals. Each then enters the temple group-by-group to receive a blessing, then makes way for the next group.


Visitors pay their respects at the temple
Meanwhile, a huge, deep-voiced gong sounds periodically over the courtyard and over the hubbub, reminding all of the solemnity of what is being commemorated. Aurally, that gong rung every minute or so was the most memorable thing about the whole experience for me, sounding right down deep and staying there, with eternity calling back during each strung-out interval.


Oeshiki and Ten Thousand Lights at Ikegami Honmonji Temple.
The stupa with Nichiren's ashes
Ikegami Honmonji has numerous beautiful structures, made all the more alluring by dusk having fallen. Perhaps the most memorable was the red stupa containing the ashes of Nichiren himself, who was cremated here the day after his death.

Adjoining the temple compound, on its west side, is Ikegami Baien (Ikegami Plum Tree Garden), a public park, with facilities including a lookout, and which provides a pleasant half-day diversion any time of the year.

Ikegami Honmonji is accessible from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line (about 10 minutes walk), Nishi-Magome Station on the Yurakucho subway line (15 minutes walk), or by Tokyu Bus to Honmonji-mae bus stop from either Omori or Kamata stations on the Keihin Tohoku Line.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cheap Accommodation in Minami-Senju

In the Edo Period the area around what is now Minami-Senju Station in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo did not have the best of reputations. As it lay north east of the center of old Edo, it was considered the direction that evil came from.

Cheap Accommodation in Minami-Shinju, Tokyo.


As a result the area became populated with ritual outcastes (burakumin) who were forced to live here by the shogunate. Japan's outcastes were people who worked in trades associated with animal slaughter or death in general: butchers, tanners, undertakers, executioners etc.

Cheap Accommodation in Minami-Shinju, Tokyo.


Indeed one of the three execution grounds in Edo, the Kozukappara Execution Grounds, were situated here in the area now covered by the railway sidings at Minami-Shinju Station. At Enmeiji Temple, close to the station, many of the bodies killed at Kozukappara were given a cheap burial. The "Neck Chop Jizo" (Kubikiri Jizo) statue was erected in 1741 at the temple to offer solace to these poor souls.

Cheap Accommodation in Minami-Shinju, Tokyo.


The Minami-Senju area had always offered cheap accommodation for construction workers and day workers in Tokyo but over the last decade hotel and guest house owners have reached out to the growing number of backpackers visiting the capital.

The rule of thumb is that if the guest house has a name in kanji (Japanese characters) it will serve Japanese customers; if it has an English (romaji) name it is aimed at the international traveler market.

Dormitory in Minami-Shinju, Tokyo.


Rooms are really cheap by Tokyo standards and offer a two or three tatami-mat space with shared bathroom, toilets and showers and kitchen. Some rooms may also be western-style with beds. Facilities usually include WiFi, a coin operated launderette on the premises, TV and bicycle hire. Some premises offer dorm-style accommodation in bunk beds.

Cheap Accommodation in Minami-Shinju, Tokyo.


Some recommended places to stay in the Minami-Senju area include the Hotel Palace, Aizuya Inn, Dorm Hostel Ebisuya, Tokyo Backpackers, Kangaroo and Hotel New Koyo. There are literally scores of places to choose from. See here for a fuller list of accommodations in Minami Senju, Tokyo.

Minami-Senju Station is on the following train lines: the Hibiya Line of Tokyo metro, the Joban Line and Tsukuba Express.

It is a 20-30 minute (2km) walk south to the tourist attractions of Asakusa or cycle on a rental cycle or hop on a Hibiya Line subway to Ueno or the electronics center of Akihabara. Asakusa is one stop on the Tsukuba Express from Minami-Senju.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Japan News This Week 11 October 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Photographing Japan, Through Shadows of the Past
New York Times

Breaking out of Japan's male-dominated workplace
BBC

Japan's Rugby World Cup success breaks world TV viewing record
Guardian

Article 9 supporters disappointed to miss Nobel Peace Prize
Japan Times

Japan’s Bid to Become a World Leader in Renewable Energy
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, one in six (16.3%) Japanese children live in poverty. That is a new record.

For households with one adult, the figure jumps to 54.6%.

That is the highest among developed countries.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, October 09, 2015

Kaihin-Makuhari Station

海浜幕張駅

Kaihin-Makuhari Station (Kaihimmakuhari Station) in Chiba Prefecture is on the JR Keiyo Line to Tokyo Station.

Kaihin-Makuhari Station, Chiba Prefecture.


Major stops on the route to Tokyo are for Minami-Funabashi, Maihama (for Tokyo Disneyland), and Shin-Kiba. Heading the other way major stations are for Chiba-Minato, Soga, Kazusa-Ichinomiya and Kimitsu.

Some Musashino Line, Uchibo and Sotobo line trains also stop at Kaihin-Makuhari Station.

Kaihin-Makuhari Station, Chiba Prefecture.


The area around Kaihin-Makuhari Station has a number of Japanese and international restaurants catering to the many foreign visitors to Makuhari Messe and a resident foreign community.

Kaihin-Makuhari Station, Chiba Prefecture.


Hotels in the area of Kaihin-Makuhari Station include Hotel Francs, APA Hotel & Resort Tokyo Bay Makuhari and the Hotel Green Tower Makuhari.

Other places of interest close to Kaihin-Makuhari Station include the stadium of the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team, Kanda University of International Studies, The Open University of Japan and the Makuhari Campus of Teikyo Heisei University.

Kaihin-Makuhari Station is also a hub for various local buses including the yellow Baytown Bus and buses to Makuhari Messe.

Kaihin-Makuhari Station, Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Canon Service Center Showroom and Gallery in Ginza

キャノン・サービス・センター 銀座

Canon is Japan's biggest camera maker and has a wide support network. I visited the Canon Service Center in Tokyo's Ginza district today, as my camera had developed a problem with lens retraction.
The service center is on the second floor of a facility that includes the Canon Gallery and the Canon Showroom.



Canon Service Center lobby, Ginza, Tokyo. Japan.
Canon Service Center lobby, Ginza, Tokyo
A touchscreen device at the entrance issued me a number after I had selected the purpose of my visit ("Repair") and the kind of camera to be repaired (a compact). There were about a dozen other people sitting waiting, and about half a dozen people manning the long counter. I browsed with interest some pamphlets for photography seminars run by Canon on topics such as exposure, shooting in RAW. ocean photography, and more. However, they are probably not much use if you don't understand Japanese, and they were by no means free. I was called up after only 5 minutes.


Ticket-issuing machine, Canon Service Center, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Ticket-issuing machine
I speak Japanese, so had no problems. There was a non-Japanese talking to a couple of staff members further along the counter, and I noticed that between them they managed to communicate in adequate English to attend to the guy's needs.

My problem was noted and documented, I was asked how I would like the camera returned (I selected courier) and, because it was still under guarantee, that was it. He said I would get the camera back, with a replaced lens, by the 21st, i.e., two weeks from now.

Waiting room and reception, Canon Service Center, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Waiting room and reception, Canon Service Center, Ginza
That took all of 5 minutes, so I was out of there in a total of 10 minutes. By then I noticed the room was already empty of other customers.

I still had plenty of time on my hands, so wandered down to the showroom I had seen on my way there. The Canon showroom in Ginza is a large space dominated by an encompassing circular arrangement. In the center is a platform of variously shaped and colored objects that serve as the focal point for people testing out the scores of cameras on the bench around the circumference.


Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo
Every recent Canon camera is available for hands-on testing here, indicating the level of trust Canon has in their customers, as these fully functional cameras represent a lot of money!


Inside the Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Inside the Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo
Yet, a camera is only as good as its lens, so there is also a large cabinet of lenses against a wall near the back corner. In many cases, camera lenses are more expensive than the camera body, so the cabinet is securely locked, but with a sign saying to approach a staff member if you would like to try one out. They ranged in size from those you could hold in one hand, to those at the bottom that looked as if you'd need at least three hands to safely manage and maneuver them.

Whereas the most expensive Canon camera body at the moment, the EOS-1D X, costs around USD5,000, the most expensive lens, the EF 800 mm f/5.6L IS USM. costs USD13,000!


Camera lenses, Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Camera lenses, Canon Showroom, Ginza, Tokyo

It was interesting for someone like me who has only ever owned compact cameras to try putting a digital single-lens reflex camera through its paces. A nice thing about Canon is that if you've used one model, the control layout is close enough on all models to make figuring out the basics not too difficult. The arrangement in the middle of the room made for a great focal point on which to try the various lenses, functions and viewfinders, as I zoomed in on them bigger, faster and more clearly than I'd ever experienced before, and enjoyed the sophisticated sensation of shutter buttons capable of multiple shots per second.

Finally I browsed the wall display of example photobooks that people had created via the Canon Photopresso service. This is a social networking cum sales service for getting followers, creating photobooks from your own photos and making them available for sale to the general public. Any sales generated, via the Photopresso website, earn royalties for the photographer. They were glossy, nicely finished, and definitely more fun and memorable than browsing an online slideshow.


Canon Gallery, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.
Canon Gallery, Ginza, Tokyo
After 15 minutes in the showroom, I went through to the other side of the building, to the Canon Gallery.

Like any gallery, the exhibition changes regularly, and this time it featured the work of Ken Tsurusaki, who is a keen fisherman and, as such, takes aquatic photographs. This exhibition was called Tamagawa: Nature in Tokyo, with scenes both above and below water, of the Tamagawa River that runs through Tokyo's Ota ward, and the wildlife in and around it.

"Tamagawa" exhibition, Canon Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.
"Tamagawa" exhibition, Canon Gallery, Tokyo
It's going to be a somewhat lonely week or two with my Canon (a PowerShot GX1 Mark II). I rely on it mainly for photos for the JapanVisitor Google+ page, mainly the very popular collections: "Kawaii ne!" (translated as "Cute, isn't it!") and more serious but yet-to-find-its-feet "Tokyoites." I'll just have to use my iPhone6 in the meantime and hope for the best!

© JapanVisitor.com

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