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Monday, December 22, 2014

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station

The area around the Shinkansen station of Shin-Yamaguchi in Yamaguchi Prefecture is well served with budget hotels, with several of the national chains having hotels there, but I chose to go with Hotel Active, who operate another couple of hotels in Hiroshima and Hakata.

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station, Japan.


The price was one reason. I paid 4,500 yen for a single room, a little bit cheaper than the rest. The room was on the small side, but no smaller than many I have stayed in, and perfectly adequate for a one night stay.

The room was equipped with all the standard amenities, en-suite bathroom, TV, fridge, kettle, high speed internet, etc. The one feature of the room that was way above standard was the chair. I spend a lot of my time in hotel rooms on the internet, and this chair was high-backed and very comfortable.

The amenities of the Hotel Active are also fairly standard, laundry room, internet computers in the lobby, etc, but one unusual feature that was particularly appealing to me was free drinks! Each floor has a drinks machine dispensing free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, 24 hours a day, but the real gem of the hotel's services has to be the free breakfast.

Hotel Active Shinyamaguchi Station, Japan.


Many budget hotels offer free breakfasts, sometimes very simple, and sometimes buffet style with a variety of foods, but this one was huge. 2 big tables filled with Japanese style and "western" style foods and drinks, all you can eat, and all quite tasty.

Hotel Active is located just 50 meters from the south entrance of the Shin-Yamaguchi Shinkansen Station.

Hotel Active
4-1 Ogorimiyukimachi
Yamaguchi city
Yamaguchi 754-0011
Tel: 083 976 0001

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Japan News This Week 22 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Scientist Who Had Claimed Stem Cell Breakthrough Resigns From Japanese Research Institute
New York Times

Japan 'could preserve' damaged 2011 tsunami sites
BBC

Eat to the beat: a music insider’s guide to dining out in Tokyo
Guardian

Activist challenges secrets law with anonymous whistle-blower website
Japan Times

Japan’s Resilient, Decarbonizing and Democratic Smart Communities
Japan Focus


Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Japan is pressing ahead with linear passenger rail. The first line will whisk passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya in 40 minutes, traveling at a cool 500+ km/hour (310+ mph). This section is slated to be complete in 2027. Then a second section, from Nagoya to Osaka, will open in 2045.

Construction Costs: 5.5 trillion yen (4.6 billion US dollars)
Surplus Soil from Construction: 56.8 million cubic meters (enough to fill Tokyo Dome 46 times
Total Length of Tunnels: 246 kilometers (86% of Tokyo - Osaka section)
Number of landowners along line: 5,000 (in negotiations with local governments)

Source: Japan News

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall

御土居

The Odoi is an historic fortification built by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi to protect Kyoto in the late 16th century.

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall.

The Odoi was a system of rudimentary earth works and moats incorporating existing streams and rivers that encircled the historic center of Kyoto, west of the Kamo River. The Odoi encompassed an area from what is now present-day Kitayama Dori to Kyoto Station bounded to the east by the Kamo River and stretching as far west as present-day Enmachi Station on Marutamachi Dori.

Little now remains of this long-forgotten fortification, though the best parts of the remaining Odoi can be seen in the grounds of Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in north west Kyoto.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in west Kyoto, Japan.


Here the Odoi follows the Kamiya River and during the spring plum blossom and autumn leaves viewing seasons, a special entrance charge enables visitors to stroll this lovely walk which includes a red arched bridge and stone monument engraved with the three kanji characters for Odoi (御土居).

Odoi Hideyoshi's Kyoto Wall, Japan.


The walk along the Odoi is illuminated during these two seasons and open late for viewing. The momiji (red maple) trees are aged with some of them over 400 years old.

Kitano Hakubaicho is the nearest station to Kitano Tenmangu or take any of Kyoto buses #10, #26 #50 Raku Bus #101, Raku Bus #102, #203, # 204 or # 205.

Map showing the momiji walk along the Odoi at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 50, Arao to Hainuzuka
Sunday December 22nd, 2013

It's very foggy as I leave Arao and head north. Before too long I leave Kumamoto and enter into the southern part of Fukuoka, known as Chikugo, the old name of the province.

This used to be a major coal mining area, though there is absolutely no sign of it anymore. They didn't run out of coal, there is still plenty under the ground, rather the government chose to shut down the industry because at the time oil was cheaper to import. Same reason why so much wood is imported in this 70% forested country. Pure economics, which turned this area into one of the poorest in the nation.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.


The fog stays thick, but as the morning progresses it becomes brighter. It makes the shrines I visit very atmospheric, with tall trees disappearing into the white. They are interesting shrines too, with very funky, brightly painted komainu sharing the gates with zuijin. In general I have been impressed with the shrines in Kumamoto and in fact in Kyushu overall. There are some areas of Japan where the shrines are few and far between and seem to be little visited or used, but not in Kyushu.

Eventually the fog is burned off to reveal a clear blue sky. By lunchtime I get to the one pilgrimage temple I plan on visiting today. Number 59, Komyoji, seems to be a fairly old temple, though there is a concrete treasure house. There is a lot of statuary including a fine pair of Nio in the gate, but the temple is slap bang in the middle of a brand new housing estate.

A few hundred meters away is a brand new Kyushu Shinkansen station, Shinfunayago, and like the housing development there seems to be no basis for it as there are no large towns nearby, but maybe it is part of some development plan.

On the other side of the station is a structure I had been looking forward to visiting. I had caught glimpses of it as I passed through on the train before.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.


It's called the Kyushu Geibunkan, and is a culture center/ museum and gallery complex. The architecture is fascinating to me. The building is mostly a hodge-podge collection of roofs, none of them symmetrical, with many of them almost reaching the ground. Like the walls of the buildings, these roofs are made of a variety of materials. Quite a striking effect and I like it. There are also a couple of studio/gallery annexes, also in quite different styles, so there is plenty for me to run around and photograph. I forgo paying the entrance fee to see what the museum has to offer as I still have some distance to cover today.

A little way north of the shinkansen station I veer off the main road and head into Mizuta. There is a shrine here I want to visit, Koinoki Shrine. It's a subordinate shrine in the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu, a stately shrine with cedar bark roof enshrining Sugawara Michizane, now known as the patron kami of success in education.

Located behind the main shrine, Koinoki Shrine is festooned with hearts and with lots of pink! This is a "Love Shrine" where people, mostly young and female, come to pray for success in finding a lover or husband. It's not the only shrine of this kind in Japan, but the local people are actively promoting it in these times of falling marriage and birth rates.

If I was younger and single I know where I would be spending time hanging out. From the next station I take a train north into Kurume where I will be basing myself for a few days as I walk the convoluted route the pilgrimage now takes.

Koinoki Shrine, Love Shrine, Kyushu, Japan.


Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49 Tamana to Arao

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 49, Tamana to Arao
Saturday December 21st, 2013

The sun is not yet up, today being the winter solstice and therefore the shortest day of the year, but I encounter several joggers out and about. By the time I cross the river into the town the sun peeks out from the clouds. In the middle of the town is a big Hachimangu shrine with a very impressive gate with a tower. Within the gate a pair of stone Nio, the Buddhist temple guardians removed from most shrines when the government separated Buddhism and Shinto in the Meiji Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49.


In 1877 Saigo Takamori's youngest brother was killed here in a battle of the Satsuma Rebellion. Not far out of town and I come to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, number 57, Rengein Tanjoji and what a surprise it is.

Across a bridge is a massive new gate gleaming golden with fresh wood. Instead of the usual two Nio guardians there are instead 4 statues of the Shitenno, the "Heavenly Kings." They are very ornate and also look new. The temple covers a lot of area, and there is a vermillion pagoda, also seemingly new.

There is obviously money here, but it all seems a little sterile in the way imperial shrines do, lacking in the signs of passing of time and lacking any element of human use. I carry on along the main road, passing through a cluster of love hotels and then an abandoned pachinko parlor.

On closer inspection I see a door is open so I go inside to explore, but there is absolutely nothing of interest inside, just the shell of a standard, cheap, light-industrial/commercial structure. When I first came to Japan I noticed that pachinko parlors disappear at a phenomenal rate, being torn down and often immediately replaced with a new one, and I couldn't figure out why.

Ferris Wheel, Greenland.


Apparently it is to do with taxes, with it being cheaper to tear down a 5 year old structure and replace it. Obviously good for that strange god worshiped in modern Japan, "The Economy."

At Nobara I leave the main road and start to head north, first stopping in at a nice Hachimangu shrine that has a fine pair of old, wooden komainu. I chat with the priest for a while who is busy setting up lanterns and generally getting the shrine ready for the busiest time of the year, the coming New Year.

The road rises and dips, with a bit more rising than dipping, and on the horizon I can see what looks like a multicolored tower or chimney. An hour or so later as my angle changes I see that it is a Ferris Wheel.

Looking at it end-on made it appear as a tower. As I get closer the traffic increases and it becomes apparent it is a big amusement park called Greenland, one I had not heard of before.

To get to the next pilgrimage temple, Taisho-ji, number 101, I have to walk around the boundary of the amusement park listening to screams emanating from the roller coasters. Kongoji turned out to be unusual. It's very large, but there are no tall buildings. Everything is low and constructed out of concrete, quite Chinese or possibly Burmese in appearance.

As I arrive a car-blessing is going on in front of the temple. Its quite busy and there is plenty of statuary and it seems the temple is fairly wealthy. From here I head downhill towards the coast, stopping in at a couple of shrines. In Arao I find the third pilgrimage temple of the day, number 58, Kongo-ji. It's a small, urban temple and my final stop of the day as my hotel is nearby.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Snap Election 2014 - My First Ever Vote

選挙2014年

For the first time in the more than two decades I've lived in Japan, I voted today.

Snap election 2014 candidates, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The candidates
I got naturalized as a Japanese citizen in February of this year, qualifying me to participate in Japan's politics. And the first ever election I got to take part in was quite a newsworthy one, as Prime Minister Abe seeks mid-term endorsement for his policies aimed at turning around the country's flat-lined economy, turning the nuclear electric power plants back on in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and giving Japan official military clout again.

Elementary school polling station, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The polling station
The problem is that a major measure aimed at curbing the gargantuan national debt: raising the consumption tax from 5% to 8% impacted severely on another major strand of his economic policy: raising demand for goods and services among the population.

The local polling station was an elementary school about 3 or 4 minutes away by bicycle - one of those drab old concrete monstrosities from the 1980s or, god forbid, earlier. There were hoardings, one on north side of the school, one on the west, with candidates' posters.

Polling station reception desk, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Voter reception desk
At the desk in the foyer, outside the voting room, I submitted the voting slip I had received in the mail. It was scanned and the clerk confirmed my name. I went in, and gave the paper to another clerk who gave me a voting slip and told me to write the name of the candidate of my choice.

Polling booths, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Polling booths
There was a sheet in front of me with the name and party affiliation of each candidate, so I referred to that to make sure I got it right. I then placed it in the first voting box, placed in front of the first of three clerks sitting in a row at a long desk, each with a ballot box in front of them.

Candidate name voting paper, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
My voter registration form (left) and voting paper for candidate's name (right)
I was then given two more slips, each a different color from the first, and told to write the name of the political party of my choice on one, and, on another, which had the names of the six supreme court judges, I was asked to place a cross against any I didn't approve of, or leave it blank.
Political party voting form and supreme court judge voting form, Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
Political party voting form (left) and supreme court judge voting paper (right)

I filled in the party name, left the supreme court judge paper blank, and posted each in the box of the second and third ballot box clerk respectively.

That was it. I made my way out, leaving my choices to be counted and make their tiny contribution to Japanese history.


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Japan News This Week 14 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look Set to Stick With Abe
New York Times

Could women help fix broken Japan?
BBC

Abe defends Japan’s secrets law that could jail whistleblowers for 10 years
Guardian

Japan’s coal binge stirs international climate fears
Japan Times

Japan May Be In A Post-Growth Era, With Or Without Abe
NPR

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Number of foreigners, by nationality, residing in Japan in 2013:

1) Republic of China: 648,980
2) Korea: 519,737
3) Philippines: 209,137
4) Brazil: 181,268
5) Vietnam: 72,238
6) USA: 49,979
7) Peru: 48,580
8) Thailand: 41,204
9) Taiwan: 33,322
10) Indonesia: 27,210
11) India: 22,522
12) United Kingdom: 14,880

 Total: 2,066,445 (or 1.6% of the total population)

Source: Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deutsche Restaurant Expo 2005

ドイツ館

I made a return visit for the first time in ages to the Deutsche Kan, a restaurant, cafe and bar in Nagakute in Nagoya which once formed part of the German Pavilion at Aichi Expo 2005.

Everything seemed the same; the spacious, wooden interior decorated with reproduction German Renaissance paintings, was still there.

Some things had changed however. There was no longer any German beer - no dark beer, no weissbier and no premium German lagers and no German food either. A Wurst case scenario.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya.

The restaurant is part of the Asakuma steak house chain and serves some delicious buffets and set meals if you are a fan of Japanese steak and mix grills. The salads here come especially recommended and looked very appetizing.

They still have beer, too, only Japanese beer, though, Kirin beer.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya, Aichi.

Deutsche Kan  is a ten minute walk south of Fujigaoka Station on the Higashiyama Line of the Nagoya subway and a terminus station of the Linimo.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya,Aichi, Japan.


Deutsche Kan
Terugaoka 237, Meito-ku, Nagoya 465-0042
Tel: 052 771 1159

Hours: 11am-10pm

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Monday, December 08, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48 Yamaga to Tamana

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 48, Yamaga to Tamana
Friday December 20th, 2013

It promises to be a fine day as I head out just after dawn, though a bitterly cold wind is blowing the clouds across the sky at speed. On my way out of town I pass through a small collection of streets with a big soy sauce brewery and a collection of old Edo Period storehouse now converted to shops. I'm surprised to see some of them already open at this early hour. It's actually quite a nice little district, similar to hundreds of others scattered across Japan.

A few kilometers outside town I turn off at the sign pointing to my first stop, the Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum. At a small car park I notice dozens of small tunnels dug into the cliff faces, apparently they were used for burials, though I have not seen anything like them anywhere else in Japan.

A path leads up through the forest and in a few minutes I am by the largest keyhole tomb in Kyushu. The road from the car park to here is more than 2km so this path was a great shortcut. The museum next to the tomb mounds is by Tadao Ando, and is yet another in the Artpolis project.

Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum.


I run around taking shots of the museum's exterior and then go huddle in the corner out of the wind by the entrance. It is still 30 minutes before opening time but the lady on the desk comes over and lets me in out of the wind. The displays are good. Lots of reconstructions of the inner chambers of burial mounds from around the region, interestingly all brightly decorated.

I head back to the main road down the path and continue on my way. It is mostly slightly downhill but once the road gets back to the Kikuchi River it goes up and over to avoid the big horseshoe curve that the river takes. I stop in at a few shrines. As shrines go they are fairly interesting with some nice wooden komainu and old paintings.

In some areas of Japan the shrines are fairly plain, but some areas, like here, the shrines exhibit more decoration. As I am coming in to Kikusui I can hear a saxophone playing, as I get closer to the source of the sound, most distinctly jazz, it stops, and then a minute later I see a man walk out of a bus shelter carrying a saxophone case. Obviously his neighbors do not like him practicing at home.

I notice that the local manhole covers feature a haniwa, the ceramic figures that were places around burial mounds in ancient times, and then I pass a huge sculpture of the same design. Just off the road are the Etafunayama Burial Mounds, but I decide not to visit, preferring to press on. The main road joins back up with the river and now the coastal plain opens up. I am able to get off the main road and walk along the river embankment.

I get to the bridges that cross over the river into Tamana but carry on down the left bank towards my destination for the night, a big sports park on a hilltop overlooking the town. It is a massive complex with facilities for many kinds of sports and at the highest point in the park I find what I am looking for, the Tamana Observatory, an observation tower overlooking the town.

Tamana Observatory Artpolis Project.


Actually tower is a misnomer, its another of the Artpolis projects and looks more like a massive sculpture with shapes interlocked and protruding out all over.

There are stairs and decks at different levels and the whole mish-mash of shapes seem to be collected around a large egg shaped form at the center. There are locked steel doors on the egg, but seem kind of pointless as there are wide gaps in the walls on either side big enough to easily slip inside where I find a perfectly ovoid chamber with smooth concrete walls.

A perfect place to spend the night, very womb-like (but there is a fine line between womb and cell?). Here I will be safe from the elements, sabre-toothed tigers, or even crowds of angry villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Japan News This Week 7 December 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Right Attacks Newspaper on the Left, Emboldening War Revisionists
New York Times

Japan election: Polls point to convincing Shinzo Abe win
BBC

Police in Japan place anti-Korean extremist group Zaitokukai on watchlist
Guardian

Japan’s fiscal ’13 greenhouse gas emissions worst on record
Japan Times

The Okinawa Reality
The Diplomat

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus


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Statistics

According to the JNTO, the number of international visitors to Japan in September 2014 was 1,099,100 (+26.8%), which was the largest number in the history of September data.

By destination, the number of travelers from China increased 57.6% to 246,000 visitors. The number of inbound travelers from Korea from January to September 2014 totaled 1.99 million.

Source: Japan Tourism Marketing Inc.

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