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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Japan News This Week 14 September 2014


Japan News.
Japanese Newspaper Retracts Fukushima Disaster Report and Fires Editor
New York Times

Japan nuclear regulator approves reactor restart

Fukushima nuclear disaster: three years on 120,000 evacuees remain uprooted

Pop star Aska gets off with suspended sentence for drug use
Japan Times

History and the Possibility of Taiwan-Japan Relations
The Diplomat

On Patriotism and Constitutional Amendment: An interview with film director Miyazaki Hayao 愛国心と憲法改正について宮崎駿監督に聞く
Japan Focus

Nishikori makes US Open history as first Asian finalist
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Percentage of management that is female, including civil servants, 2012:

1. Philippines: 47.6%
2. USA: 43.7%
3. France: 39.4%
4. Sweden: 35.6%
5. UK: 34.2%
6. Singapore: 33.8%
7. Germany: 28.6%
8. Italy: 25.8%
9. Japan: 11.2%
10. South Korea: 11%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 41, Yunomae to Hitoyoshi Monday November 25th, 2013

It's raining heavily when I wake in my womb-like sleeping compartment on the Taragi Blue Train. I've been lucky with the weather for the vast majority of the walk so far, but today starts with a downpour. I sit in the cafe area of the train and drink a couple of coffees to wait and see if it will ease up a bit. The next pilgrimage temple is just a couple of stops along the rail line at Yunomae.

By 8am, a couple of hours later than I would normally head off, I decide to take the train to Yunomae and see if the weather eases. Once I get to Yunomae its still raining, though not so heavy, so under cover of an umbrella I head next to the station to the Yunomae Cartoon Museum & Community Center. It is part of the Kumamoto Artpolis project to put interesting architecture around the prefecture. Its raison d'etre is that a local man, Ryosuke Nasu, was political cartoonist.

The buildings are interesting enough, though the rain does not show the architecture off. Back at the station I peruse the noticeboards. Local railway stations will usually have information on local attractions, and I find a photo of something I'm very interested in, a Fertility Shrine.

I check with a taxi driver outside the station and he tells me its about eight kilometers away. Damn!! A 16km round trip is a bit far for me to fit in, as I am already behind schedule on the day, so I add the shrine to the list of places to visit when next I come back this way.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

The rain becomes intermittent so with umbrella up I head towards the next temple. On the way out of the village I stop in at a little Buddhist "chapel". It is a Daishi-do, venerating Kobo Daishi, and it is only just standing. It's a thatched building and it's leaning and twisted and looks like it won't last much longer.

I cross over the river, the Kumagawa. This is as far upstream as I will go. Three days walk down the river is Yatsushiro where I should be in four days time. I find the temple, Shozen-in, and unusually there are a pair of cat statues guarding the entrance, not lion-dogs (komainu), not foxes (kitsune), but cats.

Apparently there are quite a few temples and shrines around Japan that venerate particular, historical, cats. The main building of the temple is fairly plain and typical, but next to it is a little jewel. The wood is black, and the roof is thatched, but the complicated woodwork of the eaves is covered in brightly painted, colorful carvings. It's obviously been recently renovated and refurbished and the sign informs me it is from early in the Edo Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

The rain has stopped completely now so I start off down the valley, taking the minor road along the northern side. After a couple of kilometers there is a barrier across the road and road closed signs. I momentarily hesitate.

It is a ways back to the last bridge over the river if I backtrack, but as is usual in situations like this I presume the road is closed to vehicles but on foot I should be able to get through. For a couple of miles there is nothing - no houses or structures, just the narrow road with river on one side and steep forested hillside on the other.

When I do reach the reason for the road closure it is as I had expected, just a bit of ditch digging on the edge of a village so I can walk through with no problem.

In the village I come across another gem. A very elegant temple. It's very simple, a small wooden rectangle with a large thatched roof overhanging on all sides. It reminds me of Fukuji, the oldest wooden building in Japan up in Oita.

The interior of the temple is also extremely simple in plan, design, and decoration. My resolve to come back and explore this area further is strengthened.

A little further along the road I detour back towards Taragi. In the train last night I saw a photo of the shrine and decided it was worth a visit. The shrine is fronted by a big thatched gate holding a pair of Nio, the statues normally found at temples.

Nio were widespread at shrines until the late 19th century when the government artificially separated the Buddhas and Kami. Up in the Kunisaki Peninsula of Oita nio are still commonplace, but elsewhere not so.

For the rest of the day I haul ass for Hitoyoshi. I'm behind schedule so I do not allow myself to be tempted by diversions. Fortunately the weather is steadily improving. There is a little light left as I come into the town so I make a very quick visit to the major shrine and tourist attraction of the town, Aoi Aso Shrine.

Aoi Aso Shrine too has a thatched gate and one thatched building. Across the road is one of the pilgrimage temples so I make a quick visit there before heading off to find my room. There are three more pilgrimage temples nearby so I will base myself here for a few days.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sanage Onsen


Sanage Onsen is a local beauty spot close to Mt. Sanage not far from Toyota city and Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture.

Kinsenkaku Hotel, Sanage Onsen

Located on a small hill, the main onsen hotel here is the Kinsenkaku Hotel (Tel: 0565 45 6111) with a radium bath said to be good for rheumatism. The food here was excellent and plentiful. Even at a slight elevation the air is cooler than in Toyota and Nagoya cities below during Chubu's relentlessly hot and humid summers.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota, Aichi

There's a peaceful pond above a pretty shrine not far from the Kinsenkaku Hotel. A row of eateries runs along the street past the hotel, which also has a large karaoke joint.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota

Free shuttle buses run to the hotel (30 minutes) from Josui Station on the Meitetsu Toyota Line or there are occasional buses from Toyoake, Miyoshi, Josui, Seto, Nagakute and Sanage Station on the Mikawa Line.

Kinsenkaku Hotel
Umamichidori-21 Kanocho
Tel: 0565 45 6111
Google Map

Bus times to Sanage Onsen
Click on the image to enlarge

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Mie Prefectural Art Museum


The Mie Prefectural Art Museum in Tsu city is a 10-15 minute walk from Tsu Station and it is about the same distance down the road on foot to the new MieMu Mie Prefectural Museum.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum's permanent collection is an eclectic mix of modern and more historical works.

There are engravings by William Blake, paintings by French impressionists such as Monet and Renoir as well as a number of pieces of Chinese calligraphy.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan

Other pieces on display include works by Murayama Kaita, Soga Shohaku, Marc Chagall, Francisco de Goya, Salvador Dalí, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Antoni Tàpies.

A separate gallery, which opened in 2003, displays bronze sculptures, plaster casts and drawings by Yanagihara Yoshikatsu (1910-2004).

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum includes a garden space with modern art installations and a cafe/restaurant.

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Mie Prefectural Art Museum
11 Otani-cho, Tsu-shi, Mie, 514-0007
Tel: 059 227 2100
Google Map

Admission: 300 yen for adults; 200 yen for high school or college students
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9.30am-5pm

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum is a 10-15 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Tsu-eki nishiguchi and get off at Bijutsukan-mae.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Kakaku.com - cheap, cheaper, cheapest


Japan has the second biggest mobile broadband network in the world - with subscribed devices actually surpassing the size of the population - and over one hundred million of its 120 million  citizens connected to the internet. It is no surprise then that internet shopping is huge in Japan.

Add to this the deflating state of the Japanese economy, and, again, it's no surprise that the Japanese flock online looking for bargains.

The top site in Japan for finding bargains for goods - mainly new, but also used - is Kakaku.com (literally "Price.com"). Kakaku.com lists retailers and providers for products and services in over 30 different categories, from movie tickets to computers, from cameras, to drinks to moving companies to insurance.

You can choose to list the retailers or providers of your chosen service or product in order of cheapest to most expensive, most expensive to cheapest, popularity, manufacturer, date of sale launch, model and more.

Last week I found myself looking for a new laptop. I went to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara and had a look around at their range of touchscreens. It didn't take me long to settle on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I had a go on it, weighed it in my hand, asked a few questions about it, compared models, and jotted down the price. At about 150,000 yen, it wasn't the kind of purchase I was going to make the same day I first started looking.

I feel a certain burden of obligation to reward good service, and good service includes providing the goods themselves for perusal and trying out before buying. However, out of another sense of duty to myself and my finances, I of course typed it in on Kakaku.com. It was 20,000 yen cheaper there!

I was apprehensive. 20,000 yen. There must be a catch. The company selling it (no.1 in the list when selecting the "from cheapest" ranking) had an address so rural and remote that it wasn't even in Google Streetview. However, its feedback was 97% positive from several hundred evaluations.

Package arrives in the mail from Kakaku.com, Japan.

I went back to Yodobashi Camera and showed the Kakaku.com deal to the guy who I'd spoken to the day before. I still wanted to buy it from the brick-and-mortar and asked him what advantage there could be to buying it there. The response was underwhelming, and we parted with slightly hopeless grins. Burdens of obligation have their price. I estimate mine at being worth 2,000 - 3,000 yen. This was 20,000 yen we were talking about.

Back home, Friday night, I ordered the Surface Pro 3 from the shop on Kakaku.com. I got an instant email response acknowledging my order, and telling me to wait for another mail with payment instructions. (I had chosen bank transfer, the other two options being convenience store payment or Kakaku.com's own "peace-of-mind" payment system that takes about a 4% chunk of the total.)

Shopping from Kakaku.com, Japan.

Saturday morning, the mail with payment instructions arrives, and tells me if I pay by 3pm it would be sent out that day. I go down to the local post office and send the money using the ATM. I get another mail from the shop about an hour later acknowledging receipt of payment, and another a few hours later with notification of dispatch and a post office tracking number.

The tablet arrived on Sunday, two days after I ordered it, pristine and new and in perfect condition. I added my feedback to the shop's profile on the site. I mean, it's an obligation, really!

Need something from Kakaku.com? The folks at GoodsFromJapan can help.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum


MieMu, the new Mie Prefectural Museum in Tsu, opened in April this year and replaces the old Mie Prefectural Museum, located in Kairaku Park, near Tsu Station.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

MieMu is part of a new cultural center which also includes the Mie Center for Arts and the Mie Prefectural Library.

The main exhibit aims to showcase Mie's natural history, flora, fauna and culture. There are impressive interactive video displays, lots of stuffed animals and fish.

Areas of Mie covered include the farming villages of the Iga Basin, the fishing villages in the Shima and Higashi-Kishu regions, Ise Bay, the Osugi Valley and Mt. Odaigahara and the Suzuka Mountains, home of the reclusive Japanese Serow.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

There is also an aquarium for the Japanese Giant Salamander, which were on display at the old museum and various fossils including the skeleton of the "Mie Elephant" - a Stegodon miensis - the largest species to be discovered in Japan to date.

MieMu includes a workshop room, a learning space, a reference room and lecture room as well as a shop and an eating and rest area.

Stegodon miensis

There is a separate gallery for special exhibits, which are an extra charge for adults.

The pleasant, landscaped Museum Field outside includes a lawn, historical signposts and a Toriikofun Stone Sarcophagus.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

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Mie Prefectural Museum
3060 Isshinden-kouzubeta, Tsu, Mie, 514-0061
Tel: 059 228 2283
Google Map

Admission: 510 yen for adults; free for school age children
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 9am-7pm

MieMu can be combined with a visit to Mie Prefectural Art Museum nearby.

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

MieMu is a 25 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Mie Center for the Arts or Yumegaoka Danchi and get off at get off at Sogo Bunka Senta-mae.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Japan News This Week 7 September 2014


Japan News.
Fukushima Workers Who Fled May Have Received Garbled Orders, Reports Say
New York Times

Japan PM Shinzo Abe boosts women in cabinet

Japan and India host trade and security talks

Japanese researchers develop 30-minute Ebola test
Japan Times

Japan Looks to Build Indigenous Fighters
The Diplomat

Hiroshima’s Disaster, Climate Crisis, and the Future of the Resilient City
Japan Focus

Japan's Abe adds women, China-friendly lawmakers to Cabinet (+video)
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


World highest airport landing fees, airport location, per plane in USD:

1. Haneda (Tokyo): $6850
2. Narita (Tokyo): $5600
3. Kansai (Osaka): $5400
4. Toronto (Canada): $5200
5. Darwin (Australia): $4600
6. Bristol (England): $4400
7. Chubu (Nagoya): $4300
8. Dublin (Ireland): $4100
9. Laguardia (New York): $3950
10. Salzburg (Austria): $3800

Source: therichest.com

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Ono-no-Komachi Noh Performance

Meet Ono-no-Komachi, one of the Six Poetic Geniuses who lived in 8th century Kyoto, brought back to life by the most highly acclaimed Noh actors of today on Kyoto's oldest Noh stage!

Ono-no-Komachi Noh Performance

Noh, the oldest musical drama of Japan, has been continuously performed for over 650 years (and has been designated as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by UNESCO.) Enjoy its sophisticated aesthetics, stunning masks, gorgeous costumes, lyric dance and breathtakingly intense musical accompaniment.

Omu Komachi (Komachi’s Parrot-Answer Poem)

September 15th, 2014 at the Oe Noh Stage (on Oshikoji street between Tominokoji and Yanaginobanba streets)
Doors: 1:30 p.m.
Show: 2:00 p.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (approximately 3 hours)

Tickets: 8,000 yen (B-seats); 7,000 (C-seats); 6,000 (D-seats, non-reserved seats)
For the seating diagram, please refer to:
For reservations and more information: 5th@senuhima.com

In her old age, the famous Heian poet Ono no Komachi lives in Sekidera, a temple at the border-pass between the capital and Otsu on Lake Biwa. Emperor Yōzei sends Major Counselor Yukiie to enquire sympathetically how she is. His poem ends: "mishi tamadare no uchi ya yukashisa" (Was not life enchanting there / within the jewelled curtains?).

Yukiie delivers the Emperor's poem, but Komachi tells him that she will answer with just one word. To the courtier's astonishment, she explains how this is possible by changing "ya" to "zo," so that the answer reads: "How enchanting life was there!" [Roy E. Teele translation].

This, she explains is an "ōmu-gaeshi" ("parrot-answer poem"). The rest of the play touches on the comments made about Komachi's poetry in the preface to the Kokinwakashū. She describes a dance by the poet Ariwara no Narihira, then dances herself. Yukiie takes his leave and Komachi returns to her simple brushwood dwelling by the temple, her sleeves wet with tears.

Click to enlarge

Global Performing Arts Database, Cornell University

Tanuki - Japan's raccoon dog


Racoon dogs, now also known as Asiatic raccoons, are called tanuki in Japan. There are five sub-species of raccoon dog, the Japanese one being  known as N. procyonoides viverrinus. Tanuki live in the wild, but are no strangers to areas of human habitation. (Tanuki can, however, be mistaken for the rarer anaguma (badger).)

Tanuki raccoon dog in Shigarakiyaki pottery, Yanaka, Tokyo.
Tanuki garden ornament, Tokyo.
However, the most commonly sighted tanuki in Japan are not of the furry variety, but of what could be called the garden variety, i.e., pottery figurines, believed to bring good luck. The tanuki in this photo was spied in a garden in Tokyo’s Yanaka, a district that retains a distinctly old world atmosphere typified by a traditional garden ornament like this one.

The tanuki is generally a figure of fun in Japan, partly because of its portly belly, and the male's testicles being always portrayed as huge. Yet this is a comparatively recent development, and up until the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, tales of the tanuki depicted it as something of a monster that ate people, thus the creature's full belly.

This depiction lives on somewhat in Japanese sayings and legends. The bakedanuki (“shape-changing raccoon dog”) is a supernatural figure in Japanese lore from way back, and even in today's parlance, a “tanuki” retains the sinister meaning of someone who is cunning and sly, who harbors nefarious plans while maintaining an impassive demeanor. tanuki ineiri ("tanuki nap") means feigning sleep, and tanuki gao ("tanuki face") means to feign ignorance.

The modern association with good luck comes partly from the rotundness of the tanuki's belly and scrotum, the latter being described as an "8-tatami-mat scrotum" (8 tatami mats = about 13 sq.m.). However, the "8-tatami-mat" reference actually comes from the area that one monme (about 3.75 g) of gold would cover when beaten out as gold leaf. A tanuki skin was traditionally used as the base on which the job was carried out. (Thus the saying “Counting your tanuki skins before you’ve caught any” (toranu tanuki no kawazanyo 取らぬたぬきの皮算用)  - the Japanese equivalent of counting your chickens before they have hatched.)

Nevertheless, this association with gold further enhanced the tanuki's good-luck status.

Pottery tanuki for the garden, as in the above photo, are typically rendered in Shigaraki pottery (shigarakiyaki). Shigaraki is an area in Shiga prefecture that is famous for its semi-glazed stoneware, and the tanuki is the archetypal Shigarakiyaki product.

Want a pottery tanuki for your garden? Inquire with the folks at GoodsFromJapan.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Mawaru - word gets around


The kanji character for the Japanese word mawaru is one of the most memorable. Mawaru means "to go around, to go in a circle" and the kanji is the closest any kanji comes to a circle, being a box with a smaller box inside, conveying a sense of both endlessness and repetition.

Mawaru is used by itself, and as a suffix, in Japanese. At its most literal, it is used much the same as "to go around"—or "turn" is used in English. For example, in the negative, handoru ga mawaranai means "the handle won't turn," or, to take someone around with you is tsuretemawaru つれて回る, tsureru meaning to "take someone along" with the mawaru conveying the sense of "around." Other examples are tachimawaru 立ち回る (literally "stand around" but actually meaning "walk around"—the Japanese for "stand around" being tsuttatsu 突っ立つ) or arukimawaru 歩き回る (literally "walk around"). kagimawaru 嗅ぎまわる ("sniff around") and urotsukimawaru うろつき回る("snoop around") are other examples. Then there is the phrase furemawaru 触れ回る, fure being a "proclamation" and the mawaru giving the sense of extra exposure to all and sundry, for the meaning of "to make a show of," "to bandy about," "to broadcast," "let the world know," etc.

 This hints at the "come full circle" sense of mawaru as in the English phrase "what goes around comes around," which in Japanese is tsuke ga mawaru 付けが回る (literally "the bill being due for payment" but with the just-mentioned meaning of inevitable payback for one's actions.) This sense of pendulum-like change is expressed in the phrase shiji ni mawaru 支持に回る, shiji meaning "support," and means to "come around" to a cause or person, i.e. for support to shift to a certain cause or person. It can be translated as "jumping on the bandwagon" or "declaring one's support."

mawatte kuru 回ってくる (literally "around come") means "to come up," as in one's waiting list number coming up. demawaru 出回る (literally "come out and around") means for a product to appear (and then "go around") the market, and as a noun, demawari 出回り, it means the state of supply of a commodity.

Going around various places, such as on a presidential tour, is kakuchi o mawaru 各地を回る ("to go around every area"), so it makes sense that yoi ga mawaru 酔いが回る ("the drunkenness is going around") does not mean that everyone is starting to get drunk, but means "to start feeling the effects of alcohol," i.e. the alcohol has gone around your blood system and is starting to work on your brain. Similarly. uwamawaru 上回る (literally "above around") and shitamawaru 下回る (literally "below around") mean, respectively, "to top" and "to fall below," the "around" bit here also hinting at scope: with shitamawaru, a scope whose boundaries are defined by a top value, or, with uwamawaru, a scope that is gone beyond.

You might think that ki ga mawaru 気が回る (literally "spirit going around") means something to do with your head spinning, but that's heya ga mawaru 部屋が回る ("the room spinning") in Japanese. ki ga mawaru shares the "scope" meaning of uwamawaru and shitamawaru in that it means to give everything its full scope in being attentive to detail, or to others and their concerns. Your spirit is properly "doing the rounds," going over everything it is supposed to, and checking up carefully on everything. However, in other contexts, ki ga mawaru can also have the meaning of one's mind groundlessly turning to negative thoughts, i.e. "turning, or flipping, over" to negativity.

enjin ga mawaranai エンジンが回らない, means the engine won't start (or turn over, as can also be said in English), but it is extended to mean the workings of anything. atama ga mawarani 頭が回らない (literally "head not turning"), means "muddleheaded" or "unable to think straight." shita ga mawaranai 舌が回らない ("tongue not turning") means being unable to get your tongue around a word or words (whether the fault of the word for being difficult or your state of mind). te ga mawarani 手が回らない (literally, "hand won't turn") means not being able to handle a job, work, a project etc. because it's beyond your ability. This meaning could, however, be related to the mawaru of shitamawaru 下回る in the sense of being limited in scope and not being able to operate above a certain level. Another body part connected with "not being able to turn" is the neck: kubi ga mawarani 首が回らない (literally "neck not turning") is neatly parallel to the English "up to your neck" in debt.

By the way, don't be misled by the frequently encountered uketamawaru which means to "hear, be told, receive (an order), take (a reservation)" etc. uketamawaru actually has nothing to do with mawaru but is a word formed from two kanji: uke 受け("receiving") and tamawaru 賜る ("to bestow") (although, confusingly, uketamawaru can also be, and usually is , written using the single kanji 承る).

Finally, a memorable idiom: ohachi ga mawaru お鉢が回る: hachi is "bowl" (prefixed with the honorific "o") and for the "bowl to come around" simply means it's your turn.

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