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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Japan News This Week 24 September 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
The Latest Design Trend: Black and Burned Wood
New York Times

How Japan reacted to missile test
BBC

Japan PM Abe calls for global blockade of N. Korea
The Mainichi

'A language we use to say sentimental things': how shoegaze took over Asia
Guardian

Japan’s New Conspiracy Law Expands Police Power
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Japan's military, the oddly named Self Defense Forces, is extremely powerful. While it flies under the radar - intentionally so - if a shooting war were to break out in East Asia, Japan would  hold its own against South Korea and maybe even China for now.

The ten most powerful militaries in the world are:

1. USA
2. Russia
3. China
4. India
5. France
6. Great Britain
7. Japan
8. Turkey
9. Germany
10. Egypt

Source: Global Firepower

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Anjo City Tanabata Festival

安城七夕まつり

The Anjo City Tanabata Festival took place from August 4-6 in Anjo, Aichi Prefecture. Joel Hadley Jr was in attendance for what was the 64th time the festival has been held. He kindly sent us these great photos and video.

Anjo City Tanabata Festival, Aichi.


The Tanabata or Star Festival is usually associated with July 7 and has its origins in an early Chinese festival recounting the tale of two star deities (Vega and Altair) who were forbidden to meet except on this auspicious day. The Tanabata festival story first came to Japan during the Heian Period of Chinese cultural influx.

Anjo City Tanabata Festival, Aichi Prefecture.


Anjo vies with other large Tanabata festivals in Sendai, Shizuoka, Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture and Asagaya in Tokyo to be the biggest and best in Japan. The Anjo Star Festival claims the largest number of tanzaku (votive paper strips) and longest bamboo-lined street.

Events include a parade of school children, music events and Obon odori dance performances.

Anjo City Tanabata Festival.


Around a million people attend the festival over its 3 days and there are hundreds of food stalls, lit by lanterns at night, set up to cater to the milling crowds of yukata-clad spectators.

Sample such festival favorites as yakitori (grilled chicken), kakigori (shaved ice), yakisoba (fried Noodles) and takoyaki (octopus in a batter).

Anjo City Tanabata Festival, Aichi.


The festival takes place in the streets around JR Anjo Station. JR Anjo Station can be reached from Nagoya Station in less than 15 minutes.

Take the slowest Kodama shinkansen to Mikawa Anjo Station (10 minutes) and then change to a local Tokaido Line train for Toyohashi (2 minutes). The journey costs 2,720 yen. Alternatively take a JR Rapid service train from Nagoya Station bound for Toyohashi and get off at Anjo (470 yen; 25 minutes).

Anjo City Tanabata Festival, Aichi.


The Japan Rail Pass is valid on this journey.

Alternatively take a Meitetsu train from Nagoya Meitetsu Station to Minami-Anjo Station on the Nishio Line and walk about 5 minutes.

To find out more about the event visit the official website www.anjo-tanabata.jp or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/tanabata.anjo


You can see more of Joel's take on Japan on his YouTube channel.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kochi Sakura Hotel

高知さくらホテル

Located just a 5 minute walk from the main JR Kochi Station in Kochi city, the Kochi Sakura Hotel is at the bottom end of the budget business hotel price range.

Kochi Sakura Hotel.


Starting at 3,600 yen for a single, the rooms, décor and fittings of many hotels at this price are somewhat faded and worn, but here they are equivalent to a hotel thousands of yen more expensive.

The ensuite room have all the standard features: TV, phone, AC, kettle, fridge, yukata etc and the free wi-fi was a decent speed. There are laundry facilities and a Japanese restaurant on the first floor. Buffet breakfasts are available for 300 yen.

Kochi Sakura Hotel.


The hotel has some bicycles that are free to use for residents. Limited car parking is available. Credit cards are not accepted. Non-smoking rooms are available. The front desk will store your luggage for you after you checkout but not before check-in. Overall good value.

Kochi Sakura Hotel
1-3-11 Kitahinmachi
Kochi-shi, Kochi 780-0056
Tel: 0888 82 5021

Kochi Sakura Hotel, Kochi, Shikoku.


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Yumeji Takehisa

竹久 夢二

Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934) was a poet and Nihonga painter, originally from Setouchi in Okayama Prefecture.

Yumeji Takehisa painting Woman in Cafe (1915).


Completely self taught, Takehisa did not attend art school and considered himself a craftsman first and an artist second.

Takehisa drew designs for magazines, books, clothing and household objects and he is considered one of the pioneers of modern graphic design in Japan.

His designs for kimono and yukata are now seen as classics of traditional Japanese styling.

Yumeji Takehisa yukata.

There are a number of museums dedicated to Yumeiji Takehisa's art including the Yumeji Art Museum (夢二郷土美術館) in Okayama, the Takehisa Yumeji Museum (竹久夢二美術館) in Tokyo, the Kanazawa Yuwaku Yumejikan Museum (金沢湯涌夢二館) in Kanazawa and the Takehisa Yumeji Ikaho Kinenkan (竹久夢二伊香保記念館) in Gunma.

Takehisa had a rather fraught private life with a wife who he divorced after only a few years together and a number of lovers, none of whom settled down with him. His wife Tamaki and two of his lovers Hikono and Oyo were considered his muses and are often the subjects of his paintings.

黄八丈 by Yumeiji Takehisa (1931).


A few years before his death, the artist spent a year on the west coast of the USA before sailing to Europe where he sketched and sought inspiration in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

Takehisa died of tuberculosis at the young age of 49 and is buried in Zoshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo.



Yumeji Takehisa yukata.


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Monday, September 18, 2017

Kyoto Statues: Takayama Hikokuro and Izumo Okuni

高山彦九郎

Takayama Hikokuro (1747-1793) was a celebrated samurai of the Edo Period (1600-1868). His statue (on Sanjo, a few meters east of Kawabata) is hard to miss.

Takayama Masayuke

In 1783, on a tour to the capital, he prostrated himself at the eastern end of the Sanjo Bridge, when he saw the ruins of the Imperial Palace in the distance. After a major fire the palace had been left completely unrepaired by the weakening Tokugawa shogunate.

In anger, so a popular story goes, Hikokuro beheaded the statues of three Ashikaga shoguns at Tojiin Temple and displayed them in the dry bed of the Kamogawa River in a bold act of protest against the government.

His action raised popular support and was part of the anti-Tokugawa movement eventually led to the downfall of the shogunate less than a century later.

The imposing bronze statue of him, in the kneeling position, dating from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) is a tribute to his courage and love of Kyoto.

出雲の阿国

Facing the huge, storied façade of the Minamiza Theater from across the street, next to the river, half-hidden in a row of large trees, the statue of Izumo Okuni is easy to miss. Her impact on the Japanese cultural scene, however, is not. Izumo singlehandly created the kabuki theater from out of nothing.

She is said to have come to Kyoto from Izumo in 1603. Before coming to the capital she was a miko or a young maiden in the service of a Shinto shrine. When she arrived in Kyoto she found a lively street performance scene booming in the city: performers wore colorful clothing and played their instruments closer to the way rock stars do today than anything Japan has seen before.

Statue of Izumo no Okuni Founder of Kabuki, Kyoto

Inspired and eager to please, she soon acquired a reputation among the lower classes for her wild, often outrageous dance performances on the banks of the Kamogawa River, near the Shijo Bridge, where her statue stands today. He dance was known as the kabuki dance, and before long she had become a celebrated cultural figure throughout the nation. The kabuki theater rose out of her creative madness. Today, the only kabuki theater left in Kyoto stands across from where she first danced so wildly.

© JapanVisitor.com

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Japan News This Week 17 September 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
North Korea’s Threat Pushes Japan to Reassess Its Might and Rights
New York Times

North Korea missile: How long has Japan got to defend itself?
BBC

No. of Japanese centenarians hits record 67,824 amid medical advances
The Mainichi

India starts work on bullet train line with £12bn loan from Japan
Guardian

The Dr. Seuss Museum and His Wartime Cartoons about Japan and Japanese Americans
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

There were 2,495 mountaineering accidents across Japan in 2016, the second highest figure since data became available in 1961, according to the National Police Agency. A total of 319 people died or went missing while 1,133 were injured. Nearly 60 percent of the victims were in their 50s or older, according to the NPA.

Source: Japan News Today

Compared to its peers in the OECD, Japan invests very little in education. Of the 34 member states of the OECD, Japan ranked at the bottom.

In 2013, Japan ranked 32nd of 33 countries.

In the most recent survey of the proportion of public expenditures on education in GDP, Japan spent a paltry 3.2% - and ranked dead last. The OECD average was 4.4%. Denmark was highest at 6.3%.

Japanese families are expected to - and if they have the means usually do - contribute a large amount to their children's educational expenses.

Source: OECD Data

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Okazaki Cherry Blossom Festival

岡崎お花見際

These excellent photos and video of this year's Cherry Blossom Festival at Okazaki Castle in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture were kindly sent by Okazaki resident Joel Hadley Jr.

The festival takes place over the first 10 days or so of April when the trees are usually in full bloom.

Okazaki Cherry Blossom Festival.

There are around 800 cherry trees in Okazaki Park and the festival runs through the day and night. Many food stalls (yatai) are set up to serve the 1,000's of people who attend from all over the region.

Okazaki Cherry Blossom Festival, Aichi.

Okazaki Cherry Blossom Festival, Aichi.

Okazaki Cherry Blossom Festival, Aichi.

The nearest stations to Okazaki Park are either Higashi Okazaki or Okazaki Station on the Meitetsu Line from Meitetsu Nagoya Station.


You can see more of Joel's take on Japan on his YouTube channel.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

If Japanese Parents Got Paid for Raising their Kids

育児の「年収」

In the Japanese news, the Meiji Yasuda Life insurance company yesterday released the results of a survey carried out in July on 1,032 married-with-children Japanese people aged 20 to 59 where they were asked how much a parent should earn per year for raising a child if they were to be paid for it.

If Japanese Parents Got Paid for Raising their Kids.


38% of respondents responded with a figure between 1 and 3 million yen (approx. USD 9,000 - 27,000, at today's exchange rate) and 6% with a figure between 5 and 10 million yen (USD 45,000 - 90,000). The average "appropriate salary" given by women averaged 2.38 million yen (approx. USD 21,500), and by men, 2.36 million yen (approx. USD 21,300) - a barely significant difference - for an average of 2.37 million yen (USD 21,500).

However, while the number of women who replied "0 yen" was 3%, the number of men who gave that response was 11%. This prompted Meiji Yasuda Life's chief economist, Yuichi Kodama, to speculate that "although there has been an increase in ikumen [men who stay home and raise children], there is still a deep-rooted tendency among men to belittle the task of childrearing."

To put the "recommended average salary" of about 2.37 million yen in perspective, the average salary in Japan in 2016 (the latest figure I could find) was 4.11 million yen (approx. USD 37,000). However, most people raising children in Japan are in their late 20s or in their 30s, and, even if working in a company, would probably be earning less than, or around, 3 million yen.

The most interesting thing is how the average recommended salary given by both men and women was about the same, suggesting that, in spite of what the chief economist's concerns, men and women in Japan largely share the same view on the value of childrearing.

To illustrate this, one thing I have noticed more and more when out and about is how Japanese men are just as likely to carry children or push the pram around now as are the women. The sight of a Japanese couple with mom alone interacting with the kid(s) while dad stands apart seems on track to become as rare as the sight of old-time, stern-faced dad walking a few paces ahead of mom trailing demurely behind.

(The Japanese news article referred to here is entitled 育児の「年収」237万円? 明治安田が意識調査 and was accessed on the Nikkei news site.)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Daiko Onsen Nagoya

大幸温泉

Daiko Onsen is a rare community sento in Nagoya, located in the working class neighborhood of Daiko, near Nagoya Dome, on the north side of Nagoya Dome-mae Yada Station on the Meijo Line of the city subway.

Daiko Onsen Nagoya.


Small family-run sento have largely disappeared in Nagoya, replaced by larger, out-of-town, so-called "Super Sento" - which offer bigger and more varied baths, massages, free Wifi, slot machines and even in-house restaurants.

It came as something of a shock to discover this small, somewhat ramshackle establishment, so I decided to put its healing and cleansing powers to the test as soon as possible.

Daiko Onsen Nagoya.


The changing area looks like someone's (untidy) living room circa 1970 with a fridge for soft drinks and beer, and a large ashtray surrounded by green sofas. Smoking in the male section seems obligatory.

Inside, the bathing area has a number of different baths and a small rotemburo in a tiny garden, just outside.

The sauna was an extra charge but starred two fully-tattooed and rather fat yakuza discussing their day. From what I could overhear, they had attended a funeral by car and were pleased they had saved on the shinkansen fare.

Daiko Onsen Nagoya.


A soccer-mad, half-Japanese, half-Danish lad, who was in Japan visiting family in the area, struck up a pleasant conversation, which we continued in the "lounge" over a beer before he was called home by his grandmother.

If you crave an authentic, "kicking it with the locals" Japan experience while in Nagoya, seek out Daiko Onsen before it is confined to sento history.

Daiko Onsen
3-15-6 Daiko, Higashi-ku
Nagoya-shi
Aichi-ken 461-0043
Tel: 052 721 7601

Admission is 420 yen for adults over junior high school age, 150 yen for junior high school students and 70 yen for infants.

Hours: 3.30pm to 12am with last entry at 11.30pm; closed Mondays.

As is usual, there is a coin laundry next door. Parking available for 11 cars.

If you are interested in discovering other public baths (sento) in Nagoya, the Aichi Prefecture Public Bathroom Association publishes a map of their locations (in Japanese): aichi1010.sakura.ne.jp

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Monday, September 11, 2017

The Floating Worlds of Shimabara

島原

Set in a sea of rice fields, the pleasure quarters of Shimabara (Isle of Fields) were once surrounded by a moat and wall. Women entered the west or east gates often never to reemerge, remaining within as virtual captives to provide their guests with a variety of pleasures.

The Floating Worlds of Shimabara.


In Japan, there were four such districts licensed under the watchful eye of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Unlike its counterparts in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagasaki, however, Shimabara boasted a special class of women trained in all the traditional arts: known as tayu, their beauty and refinement were legendary, and were even said to surpass those of the geisha.

The origin of the word tayu is obscure. One theory is that the title derived from an appellation and ranking that, centuries ago, was conferred on members of the court who were accomplished in the arts.

Later, the name was bestowed on artistically-gifted commoners who entertained the aristocrats. Another theory holds that the women who eventually became tayu were daughters or wives of noble households that had fallen on hard times and had turned to artistic pursuits to support themselves. Whichever story is the real one, the fact is that tayu were accorded fifth rank status in the court's five-tiered hierarchy.

Like geisha, tayu also drink with their guests; unlike geisha, they may refuse an offer of alcohol. They can even refuse to serve a guest. This latter privilege is exercised through an ingenious ceremony called kashi no shiki.

By the light of two candles, the tayu greets her guests. Picking up an empty lacquered sake cup, she raises it so that the bottom of the shallow vessel is clearly reflected in the candlelight. She then returns it to its tray and slowly leaves the room. If the assembled guests have met her standards, she returns, but if one among them has somehow displeased her, she does not show her face again.

What happens if one guest, favored by a tayu's company, asks for more personal favors? She excuses herself from the room and dresses herself in all her finery. Her hair adorned with ornaments, her brocade obi tied in the most elaborate bow, and a heavy silk outer garment draped over her shoulders, she reenters accompanied by two hand-maidens.

In her most imposing manner, she announces that if he is willing to assume responsibility for her upkeep and all that it entails, negotiations may proceed. "Needless to say, this offer is almost always declined," Hana Ogi added with a slight smile.

Hana Ogi's costumes belong to Wachigai-ya and are on average 200 years old. Such silk weaves cannot be purchased today, nor are the hair ornaments readily available. A tayu's attire, composed of layer upon layer of gorgeous silk, and her hairdo take hours to prepare. Hana Ogi claims that although the outfit is heavy - the hair ornaments weigh about five or six kilograms and the robes about twenty-five - she is quite fast: it only takes her about an hour to get dressed. One must learn not only how to move gracefully when so clothed, but how to dance as well!

Given the arcane knowledge required of tayu, it is hardly surprising that their numbers are so scarce. "We had a newcomer, a woman from Kobe, but she only lasted about a year," Hana Ogi admitted. "Many young women want to try on the robes and hair ornaments and just look the part without undergoing the disciplines of dance and tea ceremony and so on. The sacrifices that this work requires aren't easily borne by today's young women."

Perhaps the dedication needed to pursue this life is already a thing of the past. Certainly, without an extremely wealthy patron, one could not possibly follow its prohibitively expensive dictates. Or was there another side to this world that we weren't grasping?

© JapanVisitor.com

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Japan News This Week 10 September 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Trump’s Phone Buddy in North Korea Crisis: Shinzo Abe
New York Times

Is Japan's economy bouncing back?
BBC

Japan should discuss deployment of US nukes inside country: Ishiba
The Mainichi

'Cockroaches' and 'old hags': hounding of the North Korean diaspora in Japan
Guardian

The History Problem: The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

The annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings were announced. Japan did badly, again.

1. University of Oxford
2. CalTech
3. Stanford
4. University of Cambridge
5. MIT
6. Harvard
7. Princeton
8. Imperial College London
9. ETH Zurich
10. Cal Berkeley

39. University of Tokyo
91. Kyoto University

Source: The World University Rankings

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Kasagi Kyoto Prefecture

笠置町

A visit to Kasagi, the southernmost town in Kyoto Prefecture, is a journey back to Japan's ancient roots.

Those who venture to Kasagi will find it still abounds in natural splendor. Kasagi is famed for its cherry blossoms and maple leaves, and favored by campers and canoers for summer recreation.

Kasagi Kyoto Prefecture.


Canoes and equipment can be rented by the Kasagi Bridge, and, lessons are given on weekends and holidays during the summer. A public campground on the river bank is open free to the general public.

With a population of less than 1,500 people, Kasagi has a small-town atmosphere, where those seeking physical and spiritual stimulus will find relief from the big city and all its demands.

As recorded in the 14th century chronicles known as the Taiheiki, Kasagi was where Emperor Godaigo fled during civil war with the shogun and the remains of his retreat can be seen on the summit of 289 meter-high Mt. Kasagi, one of several mountains overlooking the town. A guide to the ruins and to Kasagi's other attractions, including its famous rocks, can be obtained at the Kasagi Sangyo Shinko Kaikan (Industrial Center), right next to the station.

The winding way up Mt. Kasagi offers the visitor a strenuous stroll and exceptional views of the river valley below. One of the course's first attractions is a stand of giant boulders, where devotees once came (and perhaps still do) to pray to the natural deities of these giant stones.

On one boulder, an 8th century monk from Todai-ji Temple in Nara carved a simple image of the Miroku Bosatsu on the face of a boulder. Early in the 9th century, a graceful twelve meter-high line drawing of the Kokuzo Bosatsu was carved on a second granite monolith.

Practicing monks at one time trained themselves physically and mentally by dangling each other from atop the rock; the terror this induced encouraged thoughts of their own mortality.

Because it was a site of Buddhist worship, the mountain took on a reputation as a gateway to the next world.

The path also takes one past the Yurugi-ishi, or Unstable Rock, a boulder of army-crunching potential, which was used centuries ago in a failed attempt to threaten approaching attackers, and which can still be jiggled with one hand.

Not all of Kasagi's charms are located outdoors. Visitors might enjoy viewing the historical displays on exhibit at the Sangyo Shinko Kaikan. Or, for a gastronomic treat, consider partaking of one of Kasagi’s specialties, kiji-nabe (pheasant stew) or wonderful botan-nabe (wild boar stew).

If you have time, and happen to be coming by car, a side-trip to Yagyu in neighboring Nara Prefecture will take you into the hills past tumbling waterfalls and wet cedar forests. Besides several shrines, the town's other attractions include a small museum located in what was formerly the Imperial Minister's Residence. Buses to Nara leave from Yagyu village throughout the day, but do not go to Kasagi.

Getting to Kasagi: From JR Kyoto Station, take the Nara Line Limited Express to Kizu. In Kizu, change to a local train and continue to Kamo.

In Kamo, a quick change (2 minutes) to a tiny diesel-powered train will get you to Kasagi. Total traveling time is roughly 90 minutes. For more information, call (in Japanese) the Kasagi Town Government Office Tel: 074395-2301.

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

Hiking Mt. Shakagatake Nara Japan

釈迦ヶ岳を登る

Hiking Mt. Shakagatake Nara Japan


The best hiking in Kansai is found in the mountains in southern Nara Prefecture. History, culture, and tremendous vistas draw hikers from around Japan.

The highest peak is Mt. Hyakkogatake, which is 1915 meters  (6,215 feet) above sea level.

Nearby Mt. Shaka is just shy of that, its peak exactly 1800 meters (5905 feet).

These peaks, and Misen (second highest in Kansai), are all linked by ancient mountain paths. Many of these routes were used for commerce and transport, most long since rendered obsolete by car and rail; many others however remain pilgrimage routes. 

Both Hyakkogatake and Misen are fairly tough climbs. Mt. Shaka, however, is a pleasant walk since the most popular trail head starts at roughly 1000 meters. From there, it is an easy two-hour hike to the top.

Getting to this trail head, however, is another story.

The area is full of mountains so roads are narrow and winding. From one such rural road, Route 168, you enter a service road that hugs a lake created by a dam. After 10 kilometers, which will take almost an hour in a car, you reach the end of the road - and many other cars and a public toilet. This is the starting point. 

Mt. Shakagatake
You climb a set of steps into a forest. From there it is a series of gradual climbs, a bit of up down, that will bring you to the peak.

At the peak hikers are rewarded with a panoramic view. 9 km in the distance, and a day's hike, is Misen. What is most striking after the view is the statue of Shaka, which is the Japanese way of saying Buddha (often Japanese will say "Shaka-san" or "Shaka-sama").

According to Japanese-language sources, the statue was carried to the top by a legendary climber. Masahiko Okada (aka, "Devil Masa") was 6 foot 4 inch (188 cm), 264 pound (120 kg) mountain of a man who was famed for his super human strength.

The statue was made in three sections, each of which Okada carried up, on his own in three trips, to the top of the mountain.

Getting There

Drive along Route 168 in Totsukawa, Nara Prefecture, to the Tanise suspension bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the narrow road up for about 10 km. There are several forks. Follow the signs that read 登山口.

Note: Between November and March, hikers should be wary of snow. Also, there is wildlife - deer, fox, bear, serow, tanuki, boar - so some precaution is advised, especially for those sleeping in tents.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

That's ZENtertainment in Asakusa

If you watched America’s Got Talent in 2015, you’re sure to remember the energy and ingenuity of the Japanese dance group Siro-A.

That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
That Zentertainment - literally!
Their rubber-band-tight choreography fused with a blaze of cutting-edge visuals and an incredibly eclectic soundscape to wow judges and audiences all the way to the semi-finals. Their imagination-powered performances made for an unforgettably psychedelic impact as the troupe twisted, leaped, somersaulted and jived in a dazzling, full-of-surprises interaction with the lights and lasers.

Just four years before Siro-A got an award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just three years before Siro-A did a  European tour, and a long-running show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

Siro-A clown welcomes the crowd at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
A colorful welcome on the stage of That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo

Fast-forward to 2017, and the amazingly lithe, imaginative and fun-loving boys from Sendai are now working their on-stage sorcery - with a big dash of comedy, dance, acrobatics and traditional Japaneseness - at the Rox 1 complex in Asakusa, Tokyo.

That's ZENtertainment is a half-hour show that takes place several times a day just four minutes’ walk from the very famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

My partner and I attended the 9pm show on Monday night. The venue is the Yumemachi Restaurant Theater on the 4th floor of the Rox 1 building. It’s a big, high-ceilinged space with tables that you sit around over drinks and snacks.

Scale model of old Asakusa, foyer of That's ZENtertainment, Yumemachi Restaurant Theater, Asakusa.
Model of old Asakusa, Asakusa Rokku Yumemachi Theater foyer.

Antique advertising signs, foyer of Yumemachi Theater, Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo, Japan.
Antique advertisement collection in the foyer of the That's ZENtertainment venue

The foyer has the added attraction of a huge display of authentic antique commercial signs, and scale models of the Asakusa townscape from before it was destroyed by the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake.

 The That's ZENtertainment atmosphere is laid back and fun from the word go, with a friendly clown welcoming you in, singing me a snatch of a Maori song when he learned I was from New Zealand(!), taking our photo (cleverly incorporated later into the show) and making us feel very welcome and excited about what was to come.

Siro-A recreate Tokyo 2020 Olympics symbol at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics skit at That's ZENtertainment
The show did not let us down. The dancing was dynamic, the visuals were spectacular, and the tricks played using sound and light were often jawdropping. Then the pace - the pace! We were on a rollercoaster being whizzed us through the kaleidoscope of color, dance and sound at gleeful speed, and we didn’t want it to stop.

As much as we (50+-year-old men) enjoyed it, it was a bit of a shame that there were no kids there that evening to appreciate the show, because the performance is a dream come true for under-18s brought up on electronic games and gadgets. Family entertainment extraordinaire!

Fun with traditional-style Japanese paper parasols at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi theater, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Parasol spectacle at That's ZENtertainment

But the icing on the That's ZENtertainment cake, or, should I say, the flavor of the cake itself, is deliciously and traditionally Japanese. Much of the show’s appeal is how it blends complete mastery of the latest digital technology with a relaxed and thoroughgoing familiarity with age-old Japanese culture. There’s even a bit of a kanji class woven into the fun - but in a way that’s a million memorable miles from chalk dust and textbooks.

The amount of entertainment value packed into that half-hour is breathtaking. For 1,999 yen, including a drink, it was cheap at half the price.

Siro-A dances with photos of the writer at That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo.
That's me! That Zentertainment!

That's ZENtertainment
is a must-do if you’re in Asakusa (which, if you’re visiting Tokyo, you’re almost sure to be). With up to six shows a day, it’s easy to slot That's ZENtertainment into any schedule. If the Asakusa of temples, shrines, souvenirs, rickshaws and genteel old restaurants ever needed an extra dash of quintessentially 21st-century fun and color, That's ZENtertainment is it!

Curtain at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi Gekijo Theater, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
The curtain fall on a fabulous show - That Zentertainment

That's ZENtertainment
Yumemachi Gekijo Restaurant Theater
Rox 1 Building, 4th floor,
1-25-15 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
That's ZENtertainment website


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Monday, September 04, 2017

Maple Sky Tour Bus Hiroshima

The Maple Sky open double-decker tour bus takes 90 minutes to visit most of the major tourist attractions in Hiroshima, including Hiroshima Castle, the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Park, Mazda Stadium and includes views of the islands and sea.

Maple Sky Tour Bus Hiroshima


The cost of the Maple Sky bus is 2,000 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for kids under 12. A free audio guide in either English, Chinese or Korean is available.

For the same price a second course includes a walking tour of the Peace Park and misses the sea views, but takes two hours.

The Maple Sky Tour Bus runs throughout the year on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays, Golden Week and through the summer vacation.

The bus departs from the Shinkansen gate on the north side of Hiroshima Station at 10.10am.

An afternoon departure at 1.10pm does not operate in winter, and an evening departure at 7.10pm operates only in the summer.

In the winter a special evening service operates to view Hiroshima Dreamination, the city's illumination event.

For more information see the official website: www.chugoku-jrbus.co.jp/teikan/meipurusky

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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Japan News This Week 3 September 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
A Pacifist Japan Starts to Embrace the Military
New York Times

North Korea: A brief history of pacifism in Japan
BBC

In Photos: A-bomb survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi dies of cancer at 88
The Mainichi

Japanese minister Taro Aso praises Hitler, saying he had 'right motives'
Guardian

Japan’s New Conspiracy Law Expands Police Power
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

September 1 in Japan is Fire Prevention Day. It is a reminder of the events that took place on this date in 1923. 94 years ago, at 11:58 am - just as Tokyoites were lighting their fires to prepare lunch - an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale struck. 105,000 people died or were never found again. Because of resulting fires, thousands were boiled alive in the Sumida River, into which they had fled.

If a similar earthquake were to occur today, what would the likely damage be? Were an earthquake measuring 7.3 to strike under the capital today, damage estimates are:

23,000 dead
123,000 wounded
610,000 buildings destroyed
8,000,000 struggle to return to their home
86.2 trillion dollars in damages to the Japanese economy

Source: Asahi Shinbun, August 30, 2017, page 7

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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Takehei Shoten Japan's Bamboo Specialist

竹平

In operation for over 100 years, and now in their 4th generation, Takehei Shoten is known by many as Japan's bamboo specialist.

Takehei Shoten Japan's Bamboo Specialist.

Within their cavernous warehouse, they stock about 100 different kinds of specialty bamboo, ranging from the standard to the very exotic. The age-old expertise that Takehei has built up over 100 years is sought out by bamboo artisans, architects, traditional musicians, designers, and antique dealers from all over the country.

Takehei also exports bamboo materials overseas (mainly to antique dealers, interior decorators, landscaping specialists and architects). As the fastest growing plant in the world (1.2 meters in 12 hours), bamboo is a remarkable material that remains the preference for many of Japan’s traditional designs and utensils.

Their curved window frames (for a Japanese home or tea ceremony room) are just one of Takehei's many unique products. (There are only about 4 or 5 artisans left in Japan that can make frames of this high quality and intricacy.)

Takehei is located on the west side of Omiya, north of Gojo. Open from 9:00 to 18:00, except on Sundays and public holidays.

Takehei
403 Omiya-gojo, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto 600-8377
Tel: 075 841 3803

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Friday, September 01, 2017

Burial Mounds in Sakai Osaka Nominated as World Heritage Sites

百舌鳥・古市古墳群を世界文化遺産に

Japan is littered with burial mounds. In my Kyoto neighborhood, a local park that is perhaps 2-3 acres and deeply wooded, was once home to the remains of local aristocrats. Dogs and children to this day enjoy running up and down the weedy hills that dot the the park. (The remains and items buried with the departed are long gone, having been looted hundreds of years ago.)

Mozu burial mounds seen from the air


Farther south, in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, are perhaps the most famous burial mounds in the country. Seen from above, the best known of the Mozu burial mounds is shaped like a keyhole. This is but one of many in the area. It holds the remains of an emperor, and is thus managed by the Imperial Household Agency.

The Japanese Council for Cultural Affairs recently recommended the Mozu-Furuichi Kofungun ancient tumulus clusters for UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2019. If as expected the Cabinet approves this decision, the Japanese government will submit official documents of recommendation to UNESCO by Feb. 1 next year. UNESCO will then make its decision at some point next summer.

Osaka officials and local residents are in a full World Heritage Site Frenzy, hoping this will become Osaka's first site.

However, short of viewing the mound from above - via a drone? - there is little to see if one makes the trip.

As the mound is an imperial site, entrance is strictly limited. Japanese archaeologists, for example, are forbidden from digging and researching the mound. Many have filed for permission to enter the site - but are inevitably rebuffed.

Aside from being "holy ground," no reason is given. Rumors that a thorough dig of the 4th-century site would further tie the Japanese imperial family to the Korean peninsula is often cited.

Thus, short of dramatic loosening of regulations, visitors will stand at a traditional fence, perhaps 30 meters from a forest in which the mound lies. How this will result in a tourism boom has many scratching their heads.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Japan News This Week 17 August 2017

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan's Richest Village Can't Find Workers for Its Factory
Bloomberg

Never too old to code: Meet 82-yr-old developer
The Japan News

Koike says no to eulogy for Koreans killed in 1923 quake
Japan Times

74% of Japanese happy with their lives: gov't survey
Japan Today

Billionaire Porn King Reinvents Himself as Japan’s Startup Guru
Bloomberg

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

New Japanese Sword Museum Under Construction in Sumida, Tokyo

刀剣博物館

Sign for the new but uncompleted Japanese Sword Museum, Ryogoku, Sumida, Tokyo.
Sign for the new Japanese Sword Museum, Ryogoku, Tokyo
The Japanese have been renowned blade makers for centuries, with these products having been exported by Japan to Korea and China since the Middle Ages.

The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords (Nihon Bijutsu Touken Hozon Kyokai 公益財団法人日本美術刀剣保存協会) was founded in 1948, partly in response to the Allied Occupation administration's confiscation of weapons, including swords, with the aim of preserving this aspect of Japanese culture.

New Japanese Sword Museum in Sumida ward: state of completion in August 2017.
State of completion of new Japanese Sword Museum, Sumida ward, in August 2017

The Japanese Sword Museum was then founded in 1978 to share this heritage with the general public. Among its numerous exhibits was the sword used by Japan's legendary "God of War," the 16th century daimyo, Uesugi Kenshin.

The museum closed in March 2017 for the purpose of moving from its old premises in Yoyogi, Shinjuku ward, to new, much bigger premises, in the Yokoami district of Sumida ward, just north of Ryogoku, which is famous as the heart of sumo wrestling in Japan. The new site is part of the Kyu-Yasuda Teien Garden.

Work on the new Japan Sword Museum in the Yokoami district of Sumida ward, Tokyo.
Construction work on the new Japanese Sword Museum, Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo

The new Japanese Sword Museum is designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, who also designed the National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto and the  4 World Trade Center, New York, which opened in 2013.

The new Japanese Sword Museum is due to open in January 2018. The striking, 3-story modern concrete building has already been completed, and all work is now being done on the interior.


Another angle of the yet-to-be-completed Japanese Sword Museum, Yokoami, Sumida ward, Tokyo.
Current state of completion of the new Japanese Sword Museum, near Ryogoku, Tokyo
Combined with the surrounding Kyu-Yasuda Teien Garden, the superb Edo-Tokyo Museum nearby and the recent renovation of Ryogoku Station with its Edo Noren Ryogoku dining and shopping attraction, this new development will further enhance the sightseeing value of east Tokyo's Sumida ward - home also to the Tokyo Skytree a couple of kilometers north-east.

Signboard with construction data for the new Japanese Sword Museum, Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo.
Construction data signboard in Japanese at site of new Japanese Sword Museum, Sumida ward, Tokyo

Finally, an ancient sword haiku:

So keen the blade
The mark it renders now
The mind's eye waits to see

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Gitaigo - Onomatopoeia in Japanese

擬態語


gobo-gobo, niko-niko, dara-dara, kira-kira, batchiri, shibu-shibu - the list goes on. All these are what are called gitaigo, or onomatopoeia, in Japanese. Gitaigo are visceral, vivid, essential to the Japanese language, lying right at its heart, and nothing will make you sound more like a native-speaker than peppering your speech with them.

But the scope of Japanese onomatopoeia is so huge that mastering it is one of the language learner's biggest challenges (much bigger, say, than mastering the spelling of "onomatopoeia"!)

Even more than when learning regular Japanese vocabulary, gitaigo are best learned organically, i.e., by picking up on them in people's conversations, noting what context they are used in, and then trying them out in your own conversations.

However, even those already familiar with gitaigo might not be aware of the various classifications within them.

There are five classes of gitaigo, and, strictly speaking, they are not all called gitaigo - only one class of them.

Giseigo 擬声語, literally "voice-mimicking words," giseigo 擬声語 refer to sounds that humans and other living things make, such as boo-boo ブーブー ("oink oink" in English), or ogyaa おぎゃあ ("mew mew" - a kitten's cry), or petcha-petcha ペチャクチャ ("prattle-prattle").

Giongo 擬音語, or "sound-mimicking words" are for representing sounds made by inanimate objects in the natural world, such as goro-goro ゴロゴロ (the rolling of thunder), or shito-shito シトシト (drizzling rain), or zaa-zaa ざあざあ (pouring rain or rushing water).

Gitaigo 擬態語, or "situation/state-mimicking words" (the word usually used to refer to all Japanese onomatopoeia) strictly speaking refers only to words describing the state of really inanimate things, like donyori どんより (dullness, gloominess), sara-sara さらさら (either rustling, murmuring, or fluent, smooth, free-flowing), or fuwa-fuwa ふわふわ (soft and fluffy), or bonyari ぼんやり (indistinct, faint, dim).

Giyogo 擬容語, or "content-mimicking words" describe the actions or behavior of a living being, such as goon-goon ぐんぐん (steadily), or sesse-to せっせと (industriously, beavering away), or kechi-kechi ケチケチ (stingily, tight-fistedly, parsimoniously), or pichi-pichi ピチピチ (bursting with vigor).

Gijogo 擬情語, literally "feeling/emotion-mimicking words" include expressions like kuyo-kuyo くよくよ (moping, fretting), gikut-to ギクッと (to be startled, feel a shock), or hara-hara ハラハラ (to be kept in suspense, to be on edge, excited), or chiya-haya ちやほや (to fuss over someone, pamper, spoil them).

However, these five categories are by no means watertight. For example, the last example, hara-hara, is also a giongo, describing a state of fluttering, trickling, hanging down, or, in the case of hair, straggling.

And the goro-goro that is above described as a giongo (the sound of thunder, or the sound of a heavy round thing rolling) can also be a giyogo, describing a state of lazing around not doing much.

But it's good to have a framework, no matter how porous, to awaken you to the various kinds of onomatopoeia there are, and how fluid some of them can be.

Have fun with gitaigo! It's surprising how they stick in your mind once you've used them a few times and - more importantly - once you've experienced that zap of recognition, that instant bond of understanding, from a native speaker.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Sanjusangengo Temple Area

三十三間堂

Nestled long and low behind the earthen walls that separate it from the noise of the city, Sanjusangendo is a national treasure temple of unique architectural and sculptural importance. First dedicated in 1164 by Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-92) within his retirement estate, the Hojuji Dono, Sanjusangendo is one of the few architectural remnants of the turbulent era that ended rule by the nobility and brought power to the warrior class, who moved the center of government to Kamakura near Tokyo.

Sanjusangengo Temple Area, Kyoto.


The 12th century was marked by the phenomenon of emperors retiring soon after ascending the throne (Goshirakawa reigned only 3 years), taking with them much of the actual power, which they continued to use from elegant retirement estates. Goshirakawa, a gifted poet and musician, conducted affairs of state for 34 years, even after taking priestly vows in 1169. His living quarters were directly connected to Sanjusangendo, which served as his personal chapel. But of the numerous buildings he constructed within the Hojuji Dono, only Sanjusangendo and the Hojuji Den (small octagonal halls which mark the graves of Goshirakawa and his consort Kenshumonin) exist today.

Although popularly known as Sanjusangendo or the Hall of Thirty-three Bays, officially the temple is known as the Rengeo-in: the Temple of the Lotus King, considered the most powerful esoteric form of Kannon (The Goddess of Mercy) for the bestowal of prosperity, cure of illness, eradication of evil, and insurance of enlightenment.

This 1,000-armed Kannon for which the temple is famous, was Goshirakawa's special object of devotion in his later years. Although the original hall burnt to the ground in the disastrous fire of 1249, it was reconstructed on the same site and rededicated in 1266. Its name originates from an architectural unit of length: the bay or space between large pillars (each a single tree trunk) that support the roof beams. There are 33 bays because Kannon manifests herself in 33 different forms. Within these bays, the central 3-meter-high image of Kannon is flanked by 1,001 smaller standing Kannons with multiple heads and arms.

The symbols held in each of Kannon's hands signify the various benefits she bestows on humanity. The unique sculptures of Sanjusangendo provide a comprehensive overview of the realistic imagery typical of Kamakura Period art. One hundred and twenty-five of the standing Kannons are originals saved from the fire of 1249. The remainder were carved in the same style. The softer, more feminine faces of the replacement figures are representative of Buddha and Bodhisattva forms made throughout the Kamakura Period. The sense of motion and emotion seen in the bodies and faces of the Gods of Thunder (Raijin) and Wind (Fujin) at the north and south ends of the altar provide a vivid contrast. Lifelike features, enhanced by glass eyes (an innovation of the Kamakura Period), mark the high point of Japanese portrait sculpture. Fujin with his bag of wind and Raijin with his ring of drums are two of the 28 attendants of the 1,000-armed Kannon, many of Hindu origin, such as the flute-playing birdman Karurao (Garuda). These deities, ascetics, heavenly maidens, warriors and demi-gods give special protection to those who believe in the protection of Kannon. Their facial expressions and form cover every human and inhuman form imaginable and are masterpieces of the art of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), which was a time of vigorous realism that gave birth to Zen Buddhism and the simple but devoted military life of the samurai class that has been romanticized since.

The great length of Sanjusangendo became an inspiration to warriors in later centuries, with the start of a great archery contest held at the temple twice yearly since 1573. You will have a chance to see this contest on May 2nd, when the best line up to try and hit the target which is 118 meters away (the full length of the building). Shooting along the side of the building, under the overhanging roof, requires the archers to shoot their arrows in a perfect arc to hit the target. It's quite amazing to see! Outside of the temple, be sure to wander around the large and rather plainly landscaped grounds.

Something that everyone enjoys is feeding the carp in the large pool on the east side of the building near the entrance. Food for these colorful and massive beasts, which bring good luck by the way, is available at the side of the pond for a small sum. Also in the area (just 500 or 600 meters north of the museum) is the remarkably preserved home and studio of the famous Japanese ceramic artist Kawai Kanjiro. His home looks just like the day he last lived in it some 30 years ago. A leading figure of the Japanese folk-art movement, there are many examples of his works and objects he collected or received in his lifetime. The house is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm (closed Mondays).

Sanjusangendo is at the eastern end of Shichijo Street (just walk east along Shichijo from Shichijo Keihan Station).

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sushi is Overrated

過大評価された寿司

Is Tokyo sushi overrated?
Sushi restaurants - are they overrated?
At JapanVisitor.com, we get numerous inquiries about making sushi bar bookings - mainly in Tokyo - which we pass on to our sister site, GoodsFromJapan.

Tokyo's top sushi bars are finicky places that generally don't take reservations directly from anyone living outside of Japan. Visitors must make bookings through their hotel concierge or through their credit card company. An often-encountered problem, however, is that the hotel concierge will only contact the restaurant once the guest has arrived, which, in the case of the more popular restaurants, is too late already.

Furthermore, sushi restaurants in Tokyo are, generally speaking, not particularly hospitable to non-Japanese. At rare best, foreign diners are made to feel welcome, usually they are tolerated, and quite often they are made to feel distinctly unwelcome, except, maybe, when their money is being taken at the end.

I have generally stopped going to sushi bars in big Japanese cities for the very reason that the chefs are often surly, sour old dinosaurs who feel so secure on what is seen as one of the pinnacles of Japanese culinary culture that acting hospitable - at least to non-Japanese customers - is below them. Hospitality is left to the often genuinely nice, but frazzled, overworked middle-aged woman who runs around the sushi restaurant for them.

There are, of course, exceptions to the "grumpy sushiya-san" rule, but once you've sat down and started ordering - only to then find that you're not really welcome - it's kind of too late without creating a scene.

One example is Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten, which has somehow convinced the Western press and culinary establishment that it is the top sushi restaurant in Tokyo (and by extension, Japan), has been awarded Michelin stars, but which rushes guests through its USD300-equivalent course in just 30 minutes - in many cases actually asking people to eat faster as the clock ticks down. Sukiyabashi Jiro is well-known, too, for not liking non-Japanese guests, unless they happen to be President Obama, for example, who was taken there by the Japanese prime minister.

I have never eaten at a sushi restaurant where the bill has come to more than about 7,000 yen, and I never want to. Sushi is a piece of fish on rice. A course of sushi is a glorified snack, not a feast. The best course of sushi I have ever eaten cost me less than 3,000 yen. It was at a tiny, out-of-the-way restaurant on Sado Island. It tasted great mainly because the fish was clearly very, very fresh. It tasted even better because the middle-aged male owner was welcoming and hospitable.

All the same, it was pieces of fish on rice. Sushi-making is called an art. Cooking fish and chips is an art if you're good enough at it. Sushi is great once in a while, but it's not the stuff gourmet's dreams are made of.

To get sushi that fresh in Tokyo, you have to pay about the same as it cost me to go to Sado and back, but without the warmth of atmosphere, and quite possibly with scowls and asides in Japanese at your expense.

If you want great food in Tokyo, go to a place that serves Japanese cuisine that has variety, is exquisitely prepared and cooked, and where there is a bit of fun in the air. The last such place I went to was a kappo restaurant in Yokohama. It was intimate, the food was multifarious and exquisite, the chef and waiting staff were chatty, and although it came to about 20,000 yen each, we really felt as if we'd dined, been looked after, and wanted to come back.

High-end sushi bars in Tokyo may give you enormous cred when relating the experience to colleagues back home, and if that's what you're after and money is not an issue, then best of luck with getting a reservation.

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