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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Nursing Rooms & Diaper Changing Rooms In Japan


The website mamamap.jp have made an app for moms visiting Japan with their children to search for nursing rooms and places to change children's diapers.

Moms and dads in Japan have gathered together to design an app that searches for nursing rooms and places to change your child's diapers.

Resting and nursing rooms for babies in Japan are known for being both clean and pleasant. This app helps you locate them.

The FREE app is available for download here from iTunes. It requires iOS 8.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

mamamap app for finding changing rooms in Japan.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 The North Coast

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7
The North Coast
Sunday, February 7th 2016

I take the first bus out of Tonosho Port and get off in front of the Great Kannon. The bus has climbed steadily all the way and the road now drops down towards the coast. Looming above the hills the 50 meter tall statue of Kannon is all pink, orange, and golden in the light of the sunrise, but the warm colours belie the bitterly cold wind that is blowing.

The Great Kannon of Shodoshima catches the first rays of dawn.
The Great Kannon of Shodoshima catches the first rays of dawn
Though it promises to be a sunny day, this is the first time I have felt cold here on Shodoshima and so spend a few minutes sheltering from the wind in a bus shelter. Heading down the road, the coast of Okayama is clearly visible across the water, illuminated by the golden light of the sunrise.

It's not far to the first temple of the day, number 75, a fairly substantial temple with several small halls and a concrete main hall. Still in the shadow of the mountains, it's cold and there is no-one around so I don't tarry. I cross over the main road and head down a narrow lane and then a path to reach Sangyo-an Hermitage, the okunoin "inner hall" of temple 76 lower down in the next village. I like these hermitages -not at all austere and very welcoming.

This one has a spring with a statue of Kobo Daishi, the focus of this pilgrimage. The spring and statue has a natural roof of some kind of dense bush. I carry on downhill but before reaching 76 I follow the hill around and head up the little valley to temple 77, Kankiji, stopping in first at a small village shrine with a very tall, old camphor tree in front of it. Kankiji was a medium sized temple, white-walled, with a small bell tower and a very wide main hall, and with great views looking down on the fishing village of Yakatazaki and the shores of Okayama beyond.

A small wooden Jizo at Kankiji Temple.
A small wooden Jizo at Kankiji Temple
It's a then minute walk downhill into the village to reach number 76, Kongoji, not a big temple, but with a largish bell tower gate. The sun is high enough now that I am in the brilliant sunshine and it's a pleasant stroll along a lane, over the rise to the fishing village of Kitaura and Togenji Temple, not numbered but one of the "extra" temples known as bangai on the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage. Kongoji is an unremarkable temple with a gate set in a white wall. When I first came to Japan I was struck how with their stone retaining walls topped with white plaster walls so many temples looked like miniature castles.

Now I am back on the main coast road and the way heads east. Though the main road there is very little traffic. For about an hour I stride along with the sea to my left and the land rising steeply to my right and I reflect once again how enjoyable this pilgrimage has been. This is my sixth long distance pilgrimage, albeit the shortest, but in many ways it has been noticeably the most enjoyable. Having had good weather is an obvious help, but not having any busy roads or cities also is a big plus. Then there are the amazing cave temples and the hospitality of the local people, but I think the biggest plus is the overall diversity in such a short distance.

The small fishing harbour at Kitaura on the north coast of Shodoshima.
The small fishing harbour at Kitaura on the north coast of Shodoshima
Ahead I can see the michi no eki, road station, that houses a small museum about the local stone quarries that supplied some of the stone for Osaka Castle, but just before reaching it I head inland along the bank of the river that enters the sea here and head to temple 78, Unko-An. Before reaching it I stop in at the village shrine with another huge camphor tree in the grounds and also a raised bed of white sand with a rotting rope circle laid on it - a sumo ring. I find the temple built just above what used to be a small quarry that supplied some of the stones to Osaka. Back down the opposite bank of the river and I visit the small museum which actually has quite a big collection of tools and equipment that were used in older days for quarrying and working the granite blocks. In the late morning sun I carry on along the coast road.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 6 Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part II

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Grand Slam Gay Bar in Osaka - The Name Says It All!


Just a few minutes’ walk from Osaka's Umeda district, one of the entertainment and shopping beating hearts of Osaka, leads you to the Doyama district. Packed with gay bars, clubs, and other venues galore, there’s something for every letter in the LGBTQ acronym!

Grand Slam LGBTQ bar in Doyama, Osaka, Japan.
Having a good time at Grand Slam, Osaka.
One especially good gay bar for foreign visitors is Grand Slam, or “GS” as the locals call it.

Going strong for seven years, this hot spot is no flash in the pan, and for good reason. This bar, lounge, and karaoke spectacle accommodates 20-30 people comfortably, which is just the right size for a bit of schmoozing. You can find a place at the bar or a comfy seat in back, but you’ll want to head toward the back if you are going to try your hand at karaoke. Not to worry, you sound better than you think when you’re singing – there’s software in the karaoke machine to ensure that!

Masa-san, the master of Grand Slam, Osaka, Japan.
Masa-san, the master of Grand Slam
Master,” in the Japanese sense of the word, simply means “the person in charge of the bar.” Masa-san, your master at Grand Slam, will not be able to grant you every wish your charmed life may be owed, but with the help of his also English-speaking staff, he will do his best to make it a nice stay. This means finding a good place for you to sit when you come in (at the bar, in the lounge area, or off to the side even), getting that drink to you exactly as you like it, and perhaps even doing a little matchmaking, should you have the inclination. It’s also just as easy to simply sit back and enjoy the show.

Mirror ball in Grand Slam gay bar, Doyamacho, Osaka, Japan.
Karaoke screen and mirror ball - fun at Grand Slam, Doyama-cho, Osaka
When it’s time to ramp up the party, it’s got to be karaoke! And while intimate karaoke is nice, add in a light show and a smoke machine and the party gets even better. Mount that small stage, if you like, and even revel in the entertainment grandeur of standing and bellowing high while the smoke machine does its thing. It can be quite a grand experience, and as gay as you want it to be, depending on what kind of diva’s songs you choose to sing!

The bar at LGBT bar, Grand Slam, Doyama, Osaka, Japan.
The well-stocked Grand Slam bar

Ultimately, it’s getting to know people in just the right size venue that makes Grand Slam a winner. For former customers who have not been as of late, do drop by, as they just remodeled in May.

Rainbow flag at Grand Slam bar in Doyama-cho, Osaka, Japan.
A rainbow flag greets visitors to Grand Slam

While it is unabashedly a gay bar, expect to find a mixed crowd, with reasonable prices (figure 1000 yen for that first drink, then around 700 yen for successive ones), a lively, upbeat space, and a way to have a great time in a comfortable (you can actually have a conversation here with just an ever-so-slightly raised voice), pressure-free environment.

Grand Slam also runs special party nights, advertised when they happen on the Grand Slam website.

Welcome to Grand Slam, a gay, lesbian, and mixed bar in Osaka.
Entrance to Grand Slam, Doyama-cho, Osaka.

Grand Slam is located at 6-14 Doyama, Kita-ku, Osaka, on the ground floor. It’s open daily except Mondays, 9pm to 5am.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, June 27, 2016

Top 3 Gyudon Restaurants in Japan


Gyudon is typical Japanese fast food and consists of a bowl of rice topped with beef cooked in a sweet sauce of spring onions, soy sauce and mirin.

Gyudon at Matsuya.

Three large chain stores: Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya head the list of the top three gyudon restaurants in Japan. Typically these three restaurants operate 24/7 and 365 days a year.

The three have different menus and may serve not just classic gyudon, but also butadon (pork on rice), kimichidon (kimchi on top of the meat) and unadon (eel on rice).

There are also variations for the amount of the meat, gravy sauce on the rice such as tsuyudaku (extra sauce) and negidaku (extra onions). Gyudon is traditionally eaten with miso soup and Japanese green tea which may or may not be complimentary depending on the store. Various sets are also served which include miso soup and Japanese pickles - tsukemono.

Visitors to Japan on a budget or looking to try Japanese fast food should try eating at one or all of the three chains. Menus are usually in English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese.

Yoshinoya - One of the top 3 Gyudon Restaurants in Japan.

Yoshinoya 吉野家

Yoshinoya is the oldest of the three gyudon chains and dates back to 1899 when meat-eating became more widespread in Japan as part of the increased westernization of the early Meiji Period. The first store appeared in Tokyo in the Nihonbashi fish market of Tokyo (maybe to offer the workers a new experience and change to their diet) before moving to the Tsukiji Fish Market after the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923.

Yoshinoya has since grown to have over 1,000 restaurants in every prefecture in Japan as well as outlets in several other countries such as the USA, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Top 3 Gyudon Restaurants in Japan

Yoshinoya was hit by the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease (BSE) in the USA in 2003, which led to a ban on the import of US beef into Japan until 2006.


Matsuya gyumeishi restaurant in Nagoya.

Matsuya 松屋

Matsuya is another of the big three gyudon chains in Japan with over 1,000 stores in 30 plus prefectures throughout Japan. Matsuya is the only one of the big three where customers need to buy tickets from a machine to order. Matsuya also offers curry in addition to its gyudon or gyumeishi meals.

Matsuya menu.

Matsuya began life as a Chinese-style restaurant in Tokyo in 1966 in Nerima-ku, Tokyo and opened its first gyudon restaurant in 1968. Matsuya offers gyumeishi with free miso soup for eat-in orders as well as a breakfast menu served between 5am-11am including a grilled salmon set with rice, a western-style breakfast with sausage and egg and side dishes of tororo (grated yam), tofu and potato salad.


Sukiya gyudon store, Nagoya.

Sukiya すき屋

Sukiya is the largest gyudon chain in Japan with over 1800 restaurants in all 47 of Japan's prefectures as well as restaurants in Brazil, China, Taipei, Mexico and China. Sukiya began in Namamugi near Yokohama in Kanagawa in 1982 and has seen huge growth since then under the umbrella of the huge Zensho food company.

Sukiya is known for its wide choice of gyudon toppings such as the Chinese-style seafood kaisen chukadon and family restaurant style seating, not just the traditional counter seats.

Sukiya had a bad reputation for exploiting its staff who were forced into what is known as "black baito" (poor part-time working conditions with long hours and low pay). Sometimes only one part-time member of staff was on duty during the night shift, whereas Matsuya and Yoshinoya usually had two staff working the night shift. Various strikes and protests and, most tellingly, great difficulty in attracting part-timers to work there, led to this skinflint company raising wages and improving conditions.

Customers can pay in cash or by using popular IC cards such as SUICA, PASMO, manaca etc.

Top 3 Gyudon Restaurants in Japan.


© JapanVisitor.com

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Japan News This Week 26 June 2016


Japan News.
At Okinawa Protest, Thousands Call for Removal of U.S. Bases
New York Times

Apology after Japan porn industry coercion claims

Thousands protest at US bases on Okinawa after Japanese woman's murder

Keeping it real: Naomi Kawase on filmmaking
Japan Times

Okinawa Update: Opposition to the Construction of a New U.S. Base at Henoko and the Responsibility of the U.S.
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"Japan has some of the worst wealth inequality and highest rates of child poverty among the world’s developed nations, according to a UNICEF report unveiled Thursday, which ranked the nation 34th out of 41."

Source: Japan Times

China and Japan had the fastest-growing HNWI populations in 2015. In Japan, the rise was 11%.

Source: Guardian

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, June 24, 2016

Commune 246 - here today, gone tomorrow

Side entrance of Commune 246, Minami Aoyama, Tokyo
Side entrance to Commune 246, Minami Aoyama, Tokyo
Omotesando is the centerpiece of the ultra-trendy Harajuku/Aoyama district. Omotesando intersects with Aoyama-dori which connects the area to Shibuya a little over a kilometer to the south-west. Very near the intersection, and just off Aoyama-dori is a colorful jumble of more or less permanently set up food and drink booths and stands called Commune 246.

Commune 246 is the successor to the 246 Common that occupied this spot until a couple of years ago.

The side entrance to Commune 246, Minami-Aoyama, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
The side entrance to Commune 246
The fairground look of Commune 246 is only what meets the eye. There are several parts to Commune 246 that deserve a little nosing around. The prefab-style Midori.so2 Gallery that hosts cutting-edge art exhibitions, a "free university" talk space, and even Caravan Tokyo, a trailer home for hire as a hotel, that make it truly "community" as opposed to just commercial. Commune 246's catchphrase is "Curate the City."

But, for the casual - and especially the non-Japanese speaking - visitor, Commune 246's food options will be the main attraction.

Under the big white dining arch at Commune 246, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.
Schmatz - subtitled "Fresh German Food" and "Beer Dining" offers a selection of German beers along with hearty but imaginatively created fusion-style morsels to accompany it like Schitzel Parmigiana (pork schnitzel with parmesan and tomato sauce), salmon carpaccio and wild boar sausages, to name just a few. Schmatz hours 11:30 am to 10 pm.

Antenna< >WIRED CAFE (there's another one in Shinagawa) is more of a regular cafe than a stand and is a place where you can hang out for a while. It has its 600 yen "open dogs": White Gravy Dog, Guacamole Dog, Indian Curry Dog, Kitsune Dog, and more, with tea or coffee for just 200 yen more, as well as smoothies, chocolate drinks, draft beer etc for around the 500 yen mark. Antenna< >WIRED CAFE hours 11 am to 10 pm.

Caravan Tokyo trailer home hotel in Commune 246, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.
Caravan Tokyo trailer home accommodation in Commune 246
Cori. Japanese Vegan Food ("No meat, no eggs, no milk, no animal seasoning") is just what the name says.
Hours 1 pm - 9 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

Ichimame is all about soy: non-GM organic soy grown without agricultural chemicals, for delicious 700 yen soy milk smoothies like komatsuna and banana, strawberry and raspberry, mango and pineapple, and ginger and orange.
Schmatz and Fish Co-op stalls at Commune 246, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.
Schmatz and Fish Co-op stalls at Commune 246

There's Breton kushiyaki, with green salads on the side, and Tonpai Kitchen for "Thai Food and Beer," Bharat Spice Labo for great-tasting Indian food, Brooklyn Ribbon Fries with its cross between French fries and crisps and that come in a range of surprising (and surprisingly good-tasting) coatings and dips, Fish Co-op for deliciously prepared Japanese seafood, Avenue B Soup & Veggies
for organically produced vege soups, and more.

Main Entrance to Commune 246, off Aoyama-dori, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.
Main Entrance to Commune 246
True to it's catchphrase "Curating the City," Commune 246 holds a string of events throughout the year from book launches, to starlight markets, to loft parties, so check out the Commune 246 website to stay tuned.

Finally, all good things must come to an end, and Commune 246's days are precisely numbered: 159 days left as of today: clearly displayed at the top of the website. But 159 days is still plenty of time to enjoy lots more of this funky, happening - and welcoming - village inside the city.

Commune 246 is in Minami Aoyama 3-13, Shibuya ward, Tokyo.
Commune 246 is in Minami Aoyama 3-13
Getting to Commune 246: From Omotesando Subway Station, go right out of Exit A4, go up to the Omotesando/Aoyama-dori intersection and turn right. You can access Commune 246 down the first little alley on the right, which takes you to the side entrance after about half a minute's walk. Or, you can enter by the main entrance by taking the second alley on the right. The Commune gate is a little way in.

© JapanVisitor.com

Inside Track Japan For Readers

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Uramado Exhibition

An exhibition by Julie Stephen Chheng and Thomas Pons.

Uramado Exhibition.

Uramado explores Augmented Reality in paper creations, by the way of a journey proposed to the audience. Through the screen of their smartphones, viewers can project themselves in fantasy or dreamy worlds ... which will suddenly come to life.

Uramado Exhibition, Tokyo.

The exhibition is two projects in augmented reality started during the artists' residency at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto:

Animated Chronicles is an animated diary about day to day life in Japan.

Uramado is a series of augmented pop-ups with virtual contents inspired by Japanese windows. At night, these pop-ups become little lanterns and reveals other animations in augmented reality.

Uramado Exhibition.

* Thomas Pons is an animation director and Julie Stephen Chheng a designer. They are both graduates from Les Arts Décoratifs de Paris.

From 2016/05/26 to 2016/06/29 at the French Institute of Tokyo
15 Ichigaya Funagawara-machi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 162-0826

Uramado Exhibition.

Uramado Exhibition, Tokyo.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ruins of Kira Yoshinaka's House


The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the defining tales of Japanese history, combining as it does so many seemingly quintessential Japanese traits and behavior patterns: suicide, loyalty (bushido), honor, patience, deception and vengeance among them.

Ruins of Kira Yoshinaka's House, Ryogoku, Tokyo.

The villain of the piece is undoubtedly Kira Yoshinaka (1641-1703), a corrupt official in the service of the shogun who insults Asano Naganori, the feudal lord of the Ako domain (in present-day Hyogo Prefecture). The enraged Asano draws his short sword on Kira within the grounds of Edo Castle and for this breach of the strict samurai code is sentenced to commit seppuku or ritual suicide.

Ruins of Kira Yoshinaka's House, Ryogoku, Tokyo.

As further punishment, Asano's domain is confiscated by the Tokugawa regime and thus his followers become masterless samurai or ronin. 47 of Asano's men, led by Oishi Kuranosuke, plot their revenge and after two years of planning and deception they storm the large mansion of Kira Yoshinaka on the winter's evening of December 15, 1702, killing him and placing his severed head on the grave of their master in Sengakuji Temple.

A small fraction of Kira Yoshinaka's once huge mansion is still preserved in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo with a small shrine dedicated to his spirit. There is also a small well in the grounds, a reminder of the original well, where the 47 Ronin washed Kira's head before taking it away.

Ruins of Kira Yoshinaka's House, Ryogoku, Tokyo.

Ruins of Kira Yoshinaka's House
3-13-9 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku
Tokyo 130-0026

The former house of Kira Yoshinaka is a short walk from Ryogoku Station on the JR Sobu Line.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, June 20, 2016

Berrick Hall Yamate Yokohama


Berrick Hall in the Bluff/Yamate district of Yokohama is the former Spanish-style mansion of the British businessman B.R. Berrick (1878-1972). It was designed by the American architect J.H. Morgan (1868-1937) in 1930 and post-dates the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Berrick Hall is the largest pre-war foreign residence in Yamate.

Berrick Hall Yamate Yokohama, Japan.

J.H. Morgan first came to Japan in 1920 and is known for his steel-framed buildings, which were designed to survive the earthquakes to which Japan is prone. Morgan rebuilt the nearby Christ's Church, which had been destroyed by the tremors of 1923. Morgan was also responsible for the building of Yamate 111, as well as the grandstands of the Old Negishi Racetrack.

Morgan is buried in the Yokohama Foreigners' Cemetery, of which he designed the elegant entrance gate and gatehouse, where a small museum dedicated to the foreign influence in Yokohama is housed.

Morgan's wealthy client B.R. Berrick was born in London and first arrived in Yokohama in 1898 to join his family's successful import-export business. The Berricks exported Japanese lacquer, paper (washi) and silk as well as importing a variety of European goods in to Japan.

The first Berrick residence was destroyed in the 1923 Earthquake, hence the need for a new place to live. Interestingly, Berrick also served as the honorary consul of Finland during his time in Japan and the present Finnish Embassy in Tokyo occasionally holds events in the residence. Berrick and his family finally left Japan in 1938 when war with the West was seemingly imminent and relocated to Vancouver, Canada.

Berrick Hall Yamate Yokohama, Japan.

The interior of the mansion includes motifs and stylistic elements borrowed from Spain and the Islamic world as well as Japanese-style rooms and exquisite tile and iron work.

Post World War II, Berrick Hall was requisitioned by the occupying American armed forces. In 1956 Berrick donated his mansion to St. Joseph's International School and it was utilized as a dormitory by the school until 2000. The exotic design and lush gardens of Berrick Hall are now a popular venue for wedding ceremonies for both international and Japanese couples.

Berrick Hall Yamate Yokohama, Japan.

Berrick Hall
72, Yamate-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama, 231-0862
Tel: 045 663 5685

Admission: Free
Hours: 9.30am-5pm; July & August 9.30am-6pm; Closed: every 2nd Wednesday of the month (open if a national holiday), also closed over the New Year holidays.
Access: The nearest stations are Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minatomirai Line and Ishikawacho Station on the JR Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line.

Other attractions in the Yamate/Bluff area of Yokohama include Christ Church, the Yokohama Foreigners' Cemetery, the British House Yokohama, the Museum of Tin Toys and the Yamate Museum of Tennis. The Ehrismann Mansion is also close to Berrick Hall.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Japan News This Week 19 June 2016


Japan News.
Chasing Hiroshige's Vision of Japan
New York Times

Japan's yen - the unlikely investment haven

Japan's dementia crisis hits record levels as thousands go missing

Minor’s death sentence sees Japan media split on anonymity rule
Japan Times

Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Cost to enter World Heritage Sites, in Japanese yen:

Byodoin Temple (Japan):  600 yen
Kiyomizu Temple (Japan): 400 yen
Tower of London (England): 4,620 yen
Versailles (France): 2,055 yen

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor.com

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima To the Great Kannon Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 6, To the Great Kannon Part II
Saturday February 6th

After a delicious lunch with mostly female company it was time to press on. As pleasurable as lunch was, it had taken almost two hours out of a very short winter's day, and if I was going to get where I needed to before dark I had to pick up the pace.

A kilometer or so up the quiet narrow lane and I arrived at the small village of Takinomiya where I enjoyed a drink while exploring the local Yasaka Shrine. Nearby was Takinomiya-an, a small hermitage and number 71 of the pilgrimage. The bell tower was moved here from the Yasaka Shrine when the government separated the Buddhas and Kami in early Meiji.

Approaching Kasagataki, Shodoshima.
Approaching Kasagataki, Shodoshima
I take the well signed footpath that heads up towards the top of the ridge. I have been climbing gently since mid-morning and so the last stretch to the ridge is quite quick. The ridge is very narrow and every now and then I pass a statue. As the trail starts to get steep I come upon a curious circular room of concrete and above it a statue of Fudo Myo. Down below, the valley I walked down on day 4 stretches away into the distance.

The trail now starts down the opposite side of the ridge. It is very rocky and the trail is not at all clear but it's fairly obvious where I'm heading. Soon I reach a wide path and a bell tower and then lines of statues. I've reached Kasagataki, the okunoin of temple 72, Ryukoji, which is located lower down at the base of the mountain.

Way up at the base of the cliff is a group of building set against the rock, obviously various caves/ halls, and on top of the cliff itself a tall, pagoda made of stone. Between me and the building is a huge, steep slope of bare naked rock. Not perfectly smooth, but with no steps carved into it, a handrail goes part way up. However, a yellow rope is strung across the base which would seem to imply that entry is forbidden. I slowly start to make my way up. Where the handrail ends there is a small cave off to the right which I go into and explore.

The main halls of Kasagataki, Shodoshima.
The main halls of Kasagataki, Shodoshima
The entrance is flanked by stone lanterns and statues and inside a small altar. From here there is a chain to help with the climb up to the main halls. I really want to make the climb but figure the doors are probably locked so instead I head back down. Following the path along I come to another section leading down that is just exposed, jagged rock. There is a handrail but here also a yellow rope suggesting entry is not allowed, but as I have come over the mountain rather than up the mountain from the temple below, there is no other way.

From the gate a long and wide flight of stone steps leads down to the road. Coming from below it must be one hell of a climb up to Kasagataki. I follow the country lane down into the village where I find Ryukoji, a substantial temple and one of only a handful on this pilgrimage with Nio guardians. I walk along the hillside through the village and head north east towards the Daikannon. First I stop in at pilgrimage temple number 73, Guze-do.

Entrance to the Great Kannon.
Entrance to the Great Kannon
From here the bright, white, slender figure of the giant Kannon statue becomes visible rising from the hillside ahead. I take what seems to be the most direct route towards her, but come to a stream with deep concrete banks and so must head back towards the main road before finding the entrance.

The base of the statue, which is more than 50 meters high, contains a temple and after paying my entrance fee, go in and explore. An elevator ascends up inside the statue to the viewing platform. The small windows looking out are the jewels in Kannon's necklace. The views to the front look down on the valleys and mountains I previously walked, and the view from behind is the coast of Shodoshima and views towards Okayama and other islands. The sun is close to setting and there is a bus stop just in front of the Daikannon entrance, so its a good point to stop for the day and catch the bus back down to Tonosho.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 6 Part I

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part II

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, June 17, 2016

Top 10 Japanese Flowers & Flowering Plants

Japan is home to a huge variety of flowering plants and one of the joys of visiting this verdant land is to experience its varied flora.

Certain flowers and flowering plants define the seasons in Japan. Depending on what time of the year you visit, you will encounter these plants in abundance whether in parks and gardens or part of a traditional Japanese festival.

Plum blossom (ume) heralds the approaching spring.
Plum blossom (ume)

Plum Blossom

Plum trees (ume) blossom in late winter in Japan and are a sign that the cold months are nearly over and spring is on the way. The plum tree was introduced to Japan from China and today there are many varieties of plum blossom in Japan and in a number of different colors. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in north-west Kyoto is particularly famous for its plum blossom. The plums themselves are used to make umeboshi (pickled plums) and umeshu (plum wine).

Japanese tea field Sayama, Saitama.
Japanese tea: a variety of camellia


Camellia (tsubaki) is seen everywhere in Japan especially in hedgerows lining sidewalks and apartment buildings. Camellia is an evergreen, displaying glossy green leaves throughout the year and bright, red showy flowers that drop suddenly when over. The tea we all know and love (ocha in Japanese) is botanically a variety of camellia (Camellia sinensis) and can also be seen planted in neat rows throughout the Japanese countryside especially in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is famous for its tea production. Izu-Oshima Island has Japan's largest camellia garden.

Cherry blossom in Tokyo, Japan.
Cherry blossom (sakura)

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom (sakura) is the flower most associated with Japan and its culture. During the cherry blossom season, usually around the beginning of April (though later in the far north of Japan) people flocks to public parks, temples and shrines for hanami - cherry blossom viewing - an activity that often involves picnics and a fair amount of drinking and merrymaking. The brief bloom of the pink leaves before they fall to earth represents the finite nature of existence and was, and is, a recurrent theme in the literature and sensibilities of the Japanese people. The sakura motif can also be seen in many Japanese arts and crafts and goods for sale. Sakura blossoms appear on the reverse of the 100 yen coin.

Azaleas in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Azaleas (tsutsuji)


The azalea (tsutsuji) flowers following the cherry blossom and, like the camellia, is often found in hedges along sidewalks and in private houses. The season when the azealeas are in bloom is one of the best times to visit Japan - before the rains of the wet season and the heat of the summer. There are over 300 varieties of azalea in Japan and they have been cultivated here since the Kamakura Period. Nezu Shrine in Tokyo is particularly famous for its stunning azaleas.

Iris at Ota Shrine, Kyoto, Japan.
Iris (ayame)


The beautiful purple or, less frequently, white iris usually blooms for a short period in May in Japan. The Japanese iris (ayame; Iris sanguinea) grows in damp, wet conditions and can be found close to ponds and small lakes in Japanese temples and shrines. Ota Shrine near Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto has a wonderful meadow full of purple irises, a truly wonderful sight when in full bloom. Nearby Kyoto Botanical Garden also has a remarkable Japanese iris garden.

Wisteria in Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi.
Wisteria (fuji)


Wisteria (fuji) is endemic to Japan and grows in thick vines often supported on a trellis in Japan's parks and gardens. Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture is especially famous for its wisteria. The kanji for fuji (藤) appears in many common family names, the wisteria flower features in many family crests, and fuji-musume, or "Wisteria Daughter," is a time-honored theme of Japanese painting and drama, specifically kabuki.

Hydrangeas (ajisai) bloom during the rainy season in June and July.
Hydrangeas (ajisai)


Hydrangeas (ajisai) bloom during Japan's rainy season, in June and July. A number of temple and shrine gardens are well-known for their hydrangeas including Meigetsu-in in Kamakura, Fujimori Jinja Shrine in Fushimi in Kyoto and Tofukuji also in south-east Kyoto. The hydrangea is native to south and east Asia (China, Korea, Japan, the Himalaya region and Indonesia) as well as North and South America.  There are over 70 species throughout the world, and Hydrangea serrata is the variety native to Japan and Korea, of which there are several different cultivars. Hydrangea leaves are generally toxic if eaten, but mountain hydrangea have a natural sweetening agent that is used to make what is called amacha tea.

Water lily leaves and a lotus in Japan.
Lotus (hasu) and water lily (suiren)

Water Lilies & Lotus

Water Lilies (suiren) and the related lotus (hasu) bloom in Japan's hot and humid summer months. The lotus flower is associated with Buddhism and Buddhist temples. Lotuses can often be seen in temple ponds. Shinobazu Lotus Pond (不忍池), on the western edge of Tokyo's Ueno Park, is a large pond full of lotuses, said to have been first planted here in the early 17th century during the Edo Period. The image above is from Hokongo-in Temple in Kyoto.

The chrysanthemum (kiku) is one of Japan's unofficial national flowers.
Chrysanthemum (kiku)


The chrysanthemum (kiku) is an unofficial "national flower" of Japan taken from the Chrysanthemum Seal (kikumon) of the Imperial family. Originally from China, the chrysanthemum blooms in autumn and can be seen at flower exhibitions across the country, as growers compete to produce the perfect bloom. The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is Japan's greatest honor, bestowed by the Emperor, and similar to France's Legion of Honor. The stylized chrysanthemum motif appears on the Japanese passport.

Cosmos in Huis Ten Bosch, Nagasaki, Kyushu.
Cosmos (kosumosu)


Cosmos (kosumosu コスモス in Japanese) originated in the Americas and has spread throughout Japan since the early Edo Period. The cosmos appears in autumn with beautiful pink, purple and white flowers. Cosmos can be found in meadows, river banks and, increasingly, in parks and gardens, like these beautiful petals pictured at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture. Koganei Park in Tokyo has a huge number of cosmos and there are cosmos viewings at Hamarikyu Gardens, Akirudai Park, Shinagawa Hanakaido and Symbol Promenade Park in Odaiba - all in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

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