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Monday, October 31, 2005

Japan On Wheels

Japan On Wheels



Smart Car



copyright Harrison Wheeler



Since moving to Japan, cars have become a big infatuation of mine. I never used to pay much attention to cars really – they were handy devices that, as long as they got me from A to B on time, and had a decent stereo of course, I was content.

I guess I’m not your typical ‘car-guy.’ Japanese cars however, have oodles more character than ours in Canada. I mean, plenty of cars have CARisma (sorry!), but the majority seems to be boring run of the mill sedans or, god save us all, SUVs.

Here in sunny Japan they've got a variety of cars that match the peculiarity of their manga characters: cute and sometimes even ridiculous, but most importantly efficient. The list of Japanese cars is long and colorful – here are a few to give you an idea.

(Please note that although these descriptions may smell of mockery, they’re really not. It’s a celebration of their oddities!)

The Japan Car Experience

Tag

Horsemeat restaurant Tokyo Nakae

桜なべ、東京

Sakura-nabe Nakae, Daito ward, Tokyo.My friend had been mentioning it on and off for a long time: horsemeat. We make a point of dining somewhere different every weekend but since eating blowfish several years ago nothing had come close to the exoticism (to put it politely) of eating the flesh of what is considered one of man's best friends.

Horsemeat is know as 'sakura', literally 'cherry blossom', in Japanese because of its bright pinkish color. It is consumed in many countries of the world, including France, Italy, Romania and Belgium, as well as Japan. Needless to say, it is by no means a major cuisine in Japan, and restaurants serving it are few indeed.

We discovered a 'sakura-nabe' (literally 'cherry blossom stewpot', i.e. horsemeat cuisine) restaurant in Tokyo's Daito ward, very near what until about 50 years ago was famous as a red-light district. My friend informed me that horsemeat, low in fat and high in protein and therefore traditionally popular with athletes, is considered something of an aphrodisiac - at least insofar as it invests one with the vigor necessary for a good long night of it. The restaurant, 'Nakae', celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The building itself was destroyed in the Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923, but miraculously survived the Second World War.

Horsemeat sashimi.We exited Minowa station on the Hibiya subway line and made our way to Nakae. On our way I recounted to my friend how I'd read recently about how Buddhism decrees that the eating of horseflesh does great harm to one's karma. Hardly had the words left my mouth when around the corner came a bevy of stout women dressed in black, followed by their black suited husbands, all a bit tipsy, obviously back from a funeral! (Buddhism is Japan is associated primarily with funerals.) We walk another block and, lo, a black cat crosses our path! Friendly enough, it was though. Rolled over and let us scratch its belly.

We were welcomed by what must have been a man in his late 60s, if not early 70s, and seen upstairs to our low table on the tatami flooring where a waitress, probably in her late 50s, kindly attended to us for what became a long laidback and pretty drunken evening. As antique as the surroundings and the staff were, the clientele were overwhelmingly young and hip (if, at 43, I can do myself the favor of being included!)

Sumie horses.We went for 'ippin ryori' (i.e. ordering dishes one by one) as opposed to a set course. Horsemeat certainly looks redder than beef, but as far as taste goes, if no one told you, you would probably not know the difference. Knowing it's horsemeat, it does have what could be called a slightly sweeter taste than beef, but eaten with the sesame dressing, the shredded onion and the soy sauce it is served with, the difference is academic. The raw horsemeat slices did however taste very good (apologies to Brigitte Bardot!), particularly with the onion. After the raw slices we had a horsemeat and vegetable stew, and with a few extra condiments that pretty much did us for the evening. Washed down with beers and then shochu, we took it very slowly, absorbing the timelessness of the surroundings with the horse-inspired art on the walls (see photo on right), tongues getting looser as the evening went on.

The bill was not small: 17,000 yen (USD150) for the two of us. Ancient as the establishment was, they were marketing savvy and presented us not only with a bag of horsemeat-related goodies on leaving, including special Nakae cookies and samples of facial products made from horsemeat fats and oils, but a 100th anniversary commemorative DVD about the restaurant! Back out on the wide, quiet Dote Avenue, with the ghosts of old spent pleasures, drunk, warm, full: we hadn't just eaten, we'd partaken - and in more than just food, but in history and a little bit of old Edo legend.

Sakura-nabe 'Nakae'
1-9-2 Nihon-tsutsumi
Daito ward, Tokyo.

Restaurants in Tokyo Bars, Restaurants, Clubs

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Mexican Restaurant Japan

Las Delicias

メキシコ料理

Las Delicias, Nagoya, JapanThe best Mexican restaurant in Japan? Well, quite possibly. Las Delicias in the Osu/Kamimaezu area of Nagoya is gaining a justifiable reputation for its fine food and friendly service and is pretty busy most evenings as word has got around that this is the place to come for genuine Mexican food. (Reservations recommended)
Owned and run by a Mexican family, Las Delicias has an extensive menu, whether you want just a quick snack or a relaxing meal out. Tequilas a speciality too!

Address:

Las Delicias, Mexican Restaurant, Nagoya 2F Soen Minami Hisaya,
4-6-15 Osu,
Naka ku,
Nagoya

Tel: (052) 251 6226

http: www.las-delicias.net

Open:

5:00pm-11:00pm (Mon-Sat)


Map of Osu showing Las Delicias


Restaurant & Bar Guide To Japan

Add your business to our listing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A new constitution for Japan translation

新憲法草案決定

The LDP New Constitution: maintaining the renunciation of war, affirming the right to self defense

(Translated by JapanVisitor from today's Mainichi Shimbun)

On the 28th the now almost 50-year-old Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) decided on the draft of a new constitution with the first meeting of its New Constitution Drafting Committee (chaired by Mori Yoshirou). Of Article Nine, which is the focus of the party’s attention, while retaining Clause 1 which renounces going to war, the draft deletes Clause 2, which at present renounces the use of armed force. It specifies the maintenance of the Self Defense Forces, virtually confirming the right of collective self defense that the constitution as currently framed forbids. While the Preamble to the draft spelling out its principles includes references to its status as an independent constitution and the people’s ‘duty to defend the nation by themselves’, it diverges greatly from the heavily conservative content of the draft that former prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro [and now draft sub-committee chairman - Ed.] had drawn up. With its lack of any expressions about the revival of traditional culture and the like, it shows how much consideration has been given to the sensitivities of the Democratic Party of Japan and the New Komeito Party.

This marks the first time that the LDP has decided on a draft of constitutional change. The new draft, like the current constitution, consists of 99 articles. Mr Mori met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the 28th and came to a final decision on the Preamble and Article Nine. Various points of view were aired and debated at the drafting committee meeting afterwards, but Mr Mori eventually took matters into his own hands and made the final decision at a general meeting of the party policy committee.

The preamble continued to undergo changes up until the last minute. The draft that the chairman of the sub-committee, former prime minister Nakasone, submitted on the 7th was judged to be ‘emotive’ and was changed. Concerning patriotism and national defense, “The nation’s independence is maintained by the efforts of its patriotic citizens” has been dampened down to “We have a shared duty to support and protect ourselves with a sense of love for, responsibility towards and spiritedness for our country and society”. Again, references to such things as Japan’s traditional culture and the historical significance of the Meiji-era constitution have been eliminated. It propounds support of the symbolic rule of the Emperor and environmental protection.

Clause 1 of the Article that forms the main focus of the LDP's attention, Article Nine, was maintained as is from the current constitution in the first stage of the committee process in August. Clause 2 which prohibits the maintenance of armed force and the right to belligerency has been eliminated. It specifies the maintenance of the Self Defense Forces, virtually confirming the right of collective self defense with the stated aim of “defending the safety of the nation and the people for the sake of the country’s peace and independence”. It also makes provisions for international co-operation as “co-operative activities engaged in internationally for the preservation of international society’s peace and safety”. It gives virtual approval to the use of armed force overseas. However, all of this must be reconfirmed at the time when it comes to be drafted as basic law.

Also, while enjoining the people to ‘recognize that freedom and rights entail responsibilities and duties’ the draft includes such new rights as the duty of the government to explain itself, the right to privacy, and environmental rights. Furthermore, the principle of separation of church and state is mitigated regarding religious activities by the government and municipalities and, in consideration of the prime minister’s visiting Yasukuni shrine and the dispersal of lottery funds, certain religious activities are given approval. The present constitution’s prescription for constitutional change of ‘approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet’ is reduced to ‘approval by more than half’.

JapanVisitor specializes in Japanese-English English-Japanese translations.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Atsuta Jingu Nagoya

熱田神宮

Dropped in at Atsuta Jingu today. The shrine, dating from the 3rd century and set in lush forest surroundings, is one of the most important in Japan as it houses the kusanagi-no-tsurugi, a sacred sword which is one of the three sacred Imperial regalia, the others being the mirror at the Ise jingu shrines and the jewels at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Atsuta Jingu, Nagoya.Atsuta Jingu, Nagoya.

The shrine is Nagoya's number one must-visit shrine at New Year and is also a popular venue for shichi-go-san festivals. Shichi-go-san, literally 'seven-five-three', is a celebration held on November 15 for when a girl turns 3 or 7 and when a boy turns 5. Atsuta Jingu is said to visited by over 8 million people per year. The shrine was bombed in World War II and subsequently rebuilt. Atsuta Jingu is seen as a protector of the area's agriculture and the shrine's festivals include an opulent planting ceremony.

The precincts include a 1,300 year old giant camphor tree said to be planted by the renowned Buddhist priest Koubou Daishi, a Noh theater, and the 'Bunka-den' treasure storehouse museum full of important cultural assets, especially swords. (9am-4.30pm, closed last Wed and Thu of every month. Closed Dec 25-31. No admission after 4.10pm).

Access

8 minutes walk from Jingu Nishi Meijo Subway Line, also 8 minutes walk from JR Atsuta (Tokaido Honsen line) or 5 minutes from Meitetsu Jingumae station.


Travel Guide To Nagoya City Guides/Nagoya

Atsuta Jingu

Hot springs in Japan

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum in Kasumigaoka National Stadium, Tokyo

秩父宮記念スポーツ博物館
(国立競技場内)、東京

Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum foyer.Tokyo's Kasumigaoka National Stadium is a graceful 56,000 capacity stadium and host for numerous national sporting events and cup finals.

Built in 1958 for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo National Stadium replaced what was the Meiji Jingu Gaien Athletic Stadium.

Set in tree- & cafe-lined Sendagaya near the JR Chuo/Sobu line station of the same name, it is at about '5 o'clock' of the massive Shinjuku Gyoen Park, a little SE of the CBD of Shinjuku whose towers are clearly visible.

On the ground level of the stadium, to the left after entering the main Setagaya gate (the gate nearest Kokuritsu-kyougijo subway station), is the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum. It is in memory of Emperor Hirohito’s brother, Prince Yashuhito Chichibu, known in Japan as the Sportsman Prince. With an association this distinguished, the museum is far from being an afterthought. It was opened in 1959, only a year after the completion of the stadium. It is an attraction in its own right for any sporting enthusiast. The museum takes up two levels: the first level, however, being little more than the reception desk and a display foyer featuring the theme of whatever special exhibition is underway. (See photo above.)


Having been built for the Olympics, the permanent display centers around the ongoing story of the world's greatest sporting event. The first exhibit which you reach on ascending the stairs to the main exhibition rooms is ‘The Olympic Games and Japan’. There is a scale model reconstruction of ancient Olympia, statuary related to the original Olympics, and an introductory background, replete with memorabilia, of the first 1896 modern Olympics. Exhibits include Olympic torches from a number of games, old uniforms - including those of some of the very first Japanese Olympic athletes, posters, medals, mascots, commerative goods, photographs, tickets and medals.

Move on and the walls of the first room are dominated by a massive media display of the saga of the modern Olympics, with an outline and ample pictorial representation of each Games in succession as you move along. Having been built specifically for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the games of that year are best represented amongst the realia. Gold medals on display from those games are especially noteworthy. A knowledge of Japanese would enhance the experience, but the expert presentation and the wealth of related exhibits in the room's central display cases make for fascinating viewing even without access to the written details.

There are several more display rooms that move on to cover first the winter Olympics and then the ‘History of Modern Japanese Sports’. One display case is dedicated to traditional Japanese sports: yabusame (horseback archery), kemari (a form of football traditionally played by priests), Japanese polo & field hockey, sumo and little known traditional Japanese weightlifting, with a hefty 'chikaraishi' (literally 'strength rock') on display. However, most of this section displays a wide range of sports paraphernalia including soccer and other balls, pucks, saddles, bats, rackets, masks, shoes, trophies, uniforms, and photographs.

One particularly memorable section is ‘The Sports Arts’, full of posters, drawings, statuary, and photographs, including a team photo of a touring New Zealand rugby team from 1967.

Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum entrance.The entrance to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum.

On the way to the (final) special exhibition you pass by a mini theater, of course in Japanese - but worth tarrying for a few minutes for some landmark moving sports footage.

The special exhibition at the time of writing (Oct 2005) was ball sports. The special exhibition is accessible down a display corridor decked out with exhibits reflecting the theme: this time, balls. The display had its own very personable curator, took up three large rooms, and had an information stand with various pamphlets of numerous sports organizations on offer. The display rooms themselves were full of a breathtaking array of balls ranging from golf and table tennis balls to giant kin-balls, from old leather balls to high tech plastic ones, from the old beige soccer balls of yore to hi-tech acid-hued modern ones. Best of all, it was interactive, the curator even encouraging me to 'please touch the exhibits'!

As mentioned above, presentation of the exhibits is mainly in Japanese. However, numerous captions have been translated and there is as much, if not more, in the way of images and realia as there is of commentary. Anyway, aren't museums more about looking (and, at this one, touching) than reading?

The Stadium is also home to a related sports library with about 30,000 books and a collection of over 60,000 (mainly Japanese) sports periodicals.

Finally, visitors are invited to enter the stadium itself and look around, except on the day of events.

Kasumigaoka National Stadium, Tokyo.The stadium’s governing body is the public corporation, The National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health (NAASH). Check out its Kasumigaoka National Stadium Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum page.

Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum
10-2 Kasumigaoka
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0013

Access:
5 minutes walk from Sendagaya Station on the JR Chuo/Sobu line.
2 minutes walk from the Kokuritsu-kyougijo on the Toei Oedo line.

Museum hours:
9.30am – 4.30pm (last entry 4pm)
Closed 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month, and at New Year.

Library hours:
9.30am – 4.30pm (last entry 4pm)
Closed Saturday, Sunday and national holidays.

Entry fee: 300 yen for adults, 100 yen for students. Discount available for groups of 20 or more.

Guide To Tokyo Metropolitan Area City Guides/Tokyo & Tokyo Attractions

The National Stadium is a venue for the 2005 Club World Championship featuring European Champions Liverpool (England), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and the soccer club champions from Oceania, Asia, Africa and Central and North America.
The tournament takes place December 11-18 2005

JALT Conference 2005

JALT 2005

全国語学教育学会 第31回年次大会JALT2005

David Nunan at JALT 2005

For all of you budding teachers out there in Blogger Land - here's a tip on JALT - if you aren't in it, you should be! I too am a 'Newbie' and had the pleasure of attending the JALT Conference 2005 in Shizuoka for the first time. Thousands of like minded foreign folk coming together for discussions, on, you guessed it - English teaching, and all those other topics that expats love to indulge in. Speaking of indulging, the Saturday night party was a big hit and was followed by groups splintering of to invade the town of Shizuoka well into the night. I myself ended up at a place called 'Our Boozer' which I promptly made my own.
JALT conferences also seem to be an excellent way to net-work so take lots of 'meishi', say hello to anyone and everyone, and providence may smile. The publishers are also out in force, so it was a great opportunity for me to grab a bundle of inspection copies - you are really only limited by how much you can carry.
As for the seminars themselves I probably had a similar experience to most- some I thought were great, some not so hot. There are so many to choose from you will invariably blame yourself when you make the wrong choice - but from a 'newbie' my advice would be to read the handbook well in advance and before making your selection - be careful you aren't going to a presentation by a book publisher unless that is really what you are interested in - the open forums/discussion panels were by far the best for me.
Lastly, the big names of the conference were David Nunan, Susan Stempleski,Jennifer Bassett and Kumiko Torikai. I couldn't catch them all - but Kumiko Torikai's lecture and her discussion on National Lang. Policy was most interesting. I hate to dish David Nunan as he is 'the man' but his 'Styles and Strategies' presentation was a little dull- perhaps he thought we were in an ESL 101 class - and that he needed to regurgitate parts of his book prior to selling it to us (signed of course) - hmmmmm, perhaps I am being a bit harsh to justify the fact that my hangover, and those big comfy seats in 'Chu Hall' lured me into nodding off....
Definitely see you next year!

Guide To Shizuoka (City Guides/Shizuoka)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Kansai English Magazines

関西の雑誌

What is there to read in English for the foreign resident or traveler in the Kansai (western Japan) area of Japan?

Kansai Time Out

Kansai Time Out

The granddaddy of English language magazines in the Kansai, the KTO was founded in 1977 and claimed to be the oldest magazine of its type in Japan. Kobe-based, the mag was geared mainly to the older, long-term, resident Anglo-American ex-pat but there's something here for most residents and short-term visitors to Japan.

Recently published in color, the A4-sized KTO was a monthly listings magazine loosely based on London's "Time Out" and provides generally well-written feature articles, regional travel stories, book, film and restaurant reviews as well as comprehensive listings sections for local movies, festivals, concerts, theater performances, sports, meetings and clubs. There's also a regular crossword, letters section and free giveaways. The cover price is 300 yen or the KTO is available on subscription. Unfortunately the KTO went out of business in 2009.

Kansai Time Out

Kansai Scene

Kansai Scene

A relative new-comer, the Osaka-based Kansai Scene began life in 2000, challenging the KTO's previous monopoly on ex-pat publications in the Kansai. A5 sized, monthly, free and full-color, KS is aimed at a younger, more transient crowd than the KTO. The mag doesn't appear to pay for its content and it often shows! The standard of writing and editing can be decidedly mixed. There are feature and travel pieces, bar & restaurant reviews, community listings and good maps of the main entertainment areas in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto.

Kansai Scene

Kyoto Journal

Kyoto Journal

Based in Kyoto, this high-brow not-for-profit quarterly began life in 1987. The brainchild of a group of (mainly) Kansai-based university professors, KJ is known for its minamalist design, quality photography and a succession of strong features on Japan and Asia from such guest writers as Yoko Tawada, Alex Kerr, Pico Iyer and Gavan McCormack. With a leftist, spiritual, ecological agenda to promote, the Kyoto Journal may sometimes come over as elitist and pretentious. The magazine's best articles are its interviews with national and international big-hitters; Aung San Suu Kyi, David Byrne, Liza Dalby, Ryu Murakami have all featured. Cover price 1000 yen or available on subscription.

Kyoto Journal

Kansai Flea Market

Kansai Flea Market

There's nothing to actually "read" in the Kansai Flea Market, certainly no articles or features, but the black and white free weekly publication is still going strong with listings of accommodation offers, language teaching jobs, personals, sayonara sales, bar ads and just about everything else. Free; also available on PDF download.

Kansai Flea Market

Tourist & Resident Information on Japan - JapanVisitor

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Koban Police Boxes

交番

Koban police box near Nagoya station.

Koban police box in Nagoya station.

One readily recognizable feature of Japan's streetscape are its police boxes or koban.

There are now approximately 6,509 koban (police boxes) throughout Japan (2004 figures). Koban began as small shelters for Tokyo's fledgling police service in the 1880s. One of the newly modernized Japan's government advisors, a German named William Hoehn, oversaw a massive increase in the number of local police stations from 1,560 in 1880 to 12,832 in 1890 - an important part of the early Meiji oligarchy's firmer hold over the newly reforged nation. Koban are supposedly manned around the clock, though it is not uncommon to see the smaller koban left vacant. Koban have been touted as the answer to rising street crime in several countries, and police forces from the UK and USA have had a look at the system. It has been adopted to a certain extent in Brazil, Fiji, Mongolia and Singapore.

Koban police box in Minato ward, Tokyo.
Neighborhood koban police box in the Shirokanedai, Minato ward. Tokyo.

Koban are often located near stations and busy entertainment areas and are supposed to act as a community policing center: a deterrent to criminal activity as well as providing a rapid response post in the case of actual wrongdoing. More often koban are used by the public to ask directions and find addresses (the police have excellent local maps) and to report lost property. Koban usually have a red light or lights above the doors.

Shinjuku koban.
Downtown koban police box in Shinjuku ward. Tokyo.

The role of koban as a deterrent has been called into question after incidents involving people running into police boxes to escape a beating or much worse from the yakuza (Japan's mob), some have been dragged out from under the noses of the frightened cops. Koban are certainly not staffed by the elite of Japan's police force, more often elderly or young officers (female officers are not usually seen in koban outside Tokyo and don't do the night shift).

Koban in Daito ward, Tokyo.
Koban at night, Daito ward, Tokyo

Each koban is usually staffed by a group of 4 police - 3 officers under the command of a sergeant working on 3 shifts of 8 hours under the control of the city or ward police station. In rural Japan, koban are replaced by 駐在所 chuzaisho (residential police boxes), where a single officer and his family live.
Koban outside Higashi-Nakano station, Tokyo.Koban outside Higashi-Nakano station, Tokyo.

The architectural style of Japan's koban is predominately gray steel or concrete boxes, but Tokyo especially does have some interesting designs. My personal preference for a big pink plasticky Porky the Pig's head with doors in the snout has not been realized to date.

More images of koban

Tokyo koban

Japanese police

Guide to Japan - JapanVisitor

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Frumpy, grumpy & gray Osaka

フランピー・グランピー・グレー

Osaka Dome, Taisho ward, Osaka.The streets of Tokyo without doubt have their share of overcompensating thousand-yard glarers, shuffling embittered mumblers, perpetual accusing-eyed indignants, pants hitched nipple-high white-socked dimwits. They are, however, an endangered breed who cling insignificantly grimly to their grimness in a well-dressed and balanced sea of citizens at least ostensibly content.

I was, however, down in Osaka today. I was there with a friend from Nagoya, having come up from Tokyo to stay with him last night, making the day trip to western Japan's biggest city together. The trip was for a brief mix of business and pleasure, but, Osaka being Osaka, business got the upper hand.

The pleasure was solely in each other's company: in other words, B.Y.O. In terms of scenery and atmosphere, Osaka makes of by no means effusive Tokyo a capital of bonhomie, charm and esprit. Osakans have their reputation for warmth and lack of pretension. And, sure enough, shop assistants are much more likely to chat, and passers by will give directions readily and with a smile. But acts of individual kindness are powerless beneath the dead weight of parts of the city's general ugliness and ineluctable gloom. The easy manner goes - nicely - so far, and ends in a blank easy parting. Hope for more is lost in the now empty air. Walk back out onto the street with your purchase, or continue on, newly oriented, and the rust, the debris, the caked on grime, the tunelessness, the oil drum, the worn out brittle tat alone all ask you with a grimace what the hell you're looking at. The people: styleless, drab, out of fashion, dressed and decorated with unspun, overspun and tawd. Men approaching a hundred meters down the oily treeless streets: you can already feel the barbed wire tighten. The long sidelong follow throughs of hard-eyed tracksuited couples spinning in surly undertones their suspicion. In balmy Tokyo a sparkle in the eye, a friendly smile in passing, is like a kiss to the proverbial frog. Puffs of white magic really happen. What knee-numbing, sleepless sorcery would it take to similarly transform a hardening Osakan scowl?

The business. A hungover acquaintance in Tsuruhashi with nothing special to say. An old friend in Taisho who greets me wanly, sees me off glumly.

I'm taking an unsatisfying shit in a place called Gryndom Mall, an all but empty shopping space in cheaply built, now bankrupted, Osaka Dome. 'We built this city' in processed synthed cheese echoes in the painted whiteness. It changes to tinny 'Walk Like an Egyptian' as I wipe my arse. We did our deadpan business. It's time to flush and get the hell home.

Osaka City Guide Japan City Guides/Osaka

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tips for traveling by rail in Japan

日本の鉄道に乗るとき

Shinkansen bullet trainThe Japanese rail system is second to none in the world for efficiency, as is attested to by what in any other country is the impossible feat of running the trains on time, all the time. Trains are frequent, usually fairly new and comfortable, accidents are extremely rare, and ticketing is straightforward.

However, station staff know little more English than numbers, and to the foreign traveler there are pitfalls.

Here are 14 useful tips if you’re traveling by rail in Japan.

1. Consider buying a Japan Rail pass if you will using the trains in Japan for more than a week. (NB These are not available in Japan and must be reserved within 3 months of intended use. See Japan Rail pass information at the end of this article.)

2. If you will be in the same city for more than a few days and plan on using the subway a lot, buy a 1000, 3000 or 5000 yen subway pass, depending on how much you expect to be using it. You will save a lot of time spent otherwise calculating fares, stopping at vending machines, and fiddling with small change.
(CAUTION: unused portions of these cards are not refundable. However, shortfalls in the amount remaining can be made with cash at the fare adjustment machine just inside the ticket wicket. Also, if your card is nearly finished, you can simply buy another card, put them on top of each other, and insert them in one of the ticket wickets - usually the one(s) nearest the station attendant’s booth - especially designed to take two. The new card will automatically make up for any shortfall in the old card.)

3. Buy any snacks or other items you may want while traveling beforehand at a convenience store. Stores inside stations are generally more expensive, especially for bento (i.e. traditional boxed lunches). However, while more expensive, station bentos are often better quality.

4. If possible, always carry a memo with the name of your destination and the name of the line it is on written in Japanese characters. Handing a piece of paper to station staff is a lot less traumatic for both parties than trying to exchange foreign tongues.

5. Locate the fare to your destination on one of the fare charts posted above the ticket vending machines. Sometimes these charts can be confusing. On occasions there may even be more than one showing different information. You may have trouble locating the right chart, or even finding your station on the correct chart if there are no English transliterations. If so, show your destination to the station staff and ask ‘ee-koo-ra?’ (‘How much?’). Staff can also be summoned by pressing the (usually) red ‘Call’ button located on each ticket vending machine.

6. Insert your ticket in the ticket wicket opening and take it back out as you pass through. When exiting, insert your ticket in the ticket wicket and pass through. Paper tickets do not come back out when you’re exiting the ticket wicket; commuter passes and rail passes do.

7. Take careful note of where you keep your ticket. Do not lose it. Not only will you need it when you exit your destination station, but a guard may wish to see it, particularly if you're in a reserved seat.

8. Especially when traveling on local trains, calculate the number of stations you will stop at before reaching your destination, and keep a careful count when traveling. Many Japanese station platforms are sparsely signposted, most local trains do not have electronic in-carriage displays, and station announcements are often too brief and muffled to catch. A line information chart with the stations laid out is posted above at least one of the doors in each car.

9. Also, as much as possible, try to find out beforehand what train you can transfer to, if any, to speed your journey up. A combination of local and express trains will save you time, but knowing where to change and what train to transfer to is crucial. You can ask the station staff ‘No-ree ka-eh ga aree-mas-ka?’ (‘Are there any transfers?’)

10. Allow a couple of minutes to find the right departure platform. The information you need will usually be posted on an electronic bilingual bulletin board above the main ticket wicket. However, stations can be mazelike, are not always well signposted, station staff may be busy with other passengers meaning you’ll have to wait a little to enquire - if you have to. In other words, give yourself time.

11. Even once you get to the platform that staff have directed you to, confirm it by checking the platform bulletin board or by showing the name of your destination to staff on the platform, or to other passengers. This is because staff can sometimes get flustered when dealing with foreigners and sometimes make mistakes.

12. Allow plenty of time for changing trains. If you’re lucky the line you’re changing to will be on the adjacent platform; however be prepared to follow signs (hoping they don’t ‘fade out’ as they occasionally do) for up to 5 minutes, sometimes more, often up and down several flights of stairs.

13. Pushing and shoving is par for the course on crowded trains. Don’t take it personally or let it faze you. As with anywhere, a polite attitude gets a polite attitude back.

14. Put any backpacks up on the luggage rack, especially in crowded trains.

Japan Rail Pass information

Not available in Japan and must be reserved within 3 months of intended use.
• Valid for all JR Group local & regional trains except ‘Nozomi’ (the fastest Shinkansen Bullet Train).
• JR run local and highway bus services
• Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry (Hiroshima Prefecture)
To qualify for this, before coming to Japan, you must show you will be a temporary visitor to Japan. Show passport.
Before travelling, buy an exchange order at a JR licensed travel agent and exchange this for your pass at any JR exchange office throughout Japan.
Prices in Japanese Yen.

The passes also entitle the bearer to a 10% discount on JR Group Hotels.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [Ordinary] Green Car [Child] Child [6-11 Ordinary]
7 day 37,800 28,300 18,900 14,150
14 day 61,200 45,100 30,600 22,550
21 day 79,600 57,700 39,800 28,850
- top
JR East Area Pass
The JR East Area Pass gives you unlimited use of the following services throughout Eastern Japan (Tokyo and areas to the North and East).
• Nagano, Tohoku, Joetsu, Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen services
• Local and regional JR trains
Prices in Japanese Yen.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [25+] Youth [12-25] Child [6-11]
5 day 28,000 20,000 16,000 10,000
10 day 44,800 32,000 25,000 16,000
Another option is the Flexible 4-Day Pass which entitles you to unlimited travel on any four consecutive or non-consecutive days within a month of the date the pass was issued.
Period Green Car [1st class] Adult [25+] Youth [12-25] Child [6-11]
4 day flex 28,000 20,000 16,000 10,000
- top
JR West Sanyo Area Pass
The JR West Sanyo Area Pass gives you unlimited use of the following services throughout the Sanyo region (Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima and Hakata area).
• All Shinkansen services (including Nozomi trains)
• All local and regional JR trains
• All JR run local and highway bus services
• Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi ferry (Hiroshima Prefecture)
• Local and regional JR trains
Prices in Japanese Yen.
Period Adult Child [6-11]
4 day 20,000 10,000
8 day 30,000 15,000

More information on Japan rail travel and rail passes. (JapanVisitor/Japan Travel/Travel within Japan)

Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) 2005

TIFF logo
Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) 2005

第18回東京国際映画祭

The 18th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) begins tomorrow October 22 - October 30 at various movie theaters around Tokyo (Japan Travel/Japan Cinemas).

This year's festival has a strong Asian theme as has become usual in recent festivals, though Hollywood is featured with such movies as Noel(starring Susan Saradon, Penelope Cruz), Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (starring Matt Damon) and Proof (Anthony Hopkins, Gwyeneth Paltrow).

In the competition section there are strong films from China and South Korea including Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles by renown Chinese director and competition president Zhang Zimou and starring Ken Takakura as a father in search of his dying son.

TIFF also features a fringe with screenings of classic Japanese movies (Japanese Culture/Film/Movie Reviews), children's movies and the Animecs TIFF which features anime and the latest computer graphics.

www.tiff-jp.net

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Seoul Food

ソウル、韓国

Korea has some great street food sold from roadside stalls all over the country.

Seoul food

It's safe to eat on the street and most Koreans pop out of their offices to snack on the goodies on offer throughout the day.

Dried fish

Department stores' food halls, especially the giant Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul, are other good places to sample a variety of Korean cuisine.

lotte Department store

Korean food and cuisine Korea/Korean Culture/Korean Food

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cheonggyecheon Seoul

Cheonggyecheon - Seoul's New Waterway
チョンゲチョン

8 km of pedestrianized river walkway in downtown Seoul, 21 bridges, old and new, running from City Hall to Dongdaemun Market. An ancient sewer once covered over with busy streets has been reopened in October 2005 to provide a relaxing stroll for present-day Seoulites. 5 minutes walk from Lotte Department Store at Euljiro 1 (il) ga Subway Station (Line 2).

Cheonggyecheon

Seoul Korean City Guides/Seoul

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nikkei Stock Exchange

The Nikkei

日経

Electronic Stocks Board


The Nihon Keizai Shimbun or Nikkei (Japan's equivalent of Britain's The Financial Times) is the world's largest-selling business daily and provides information on Japan's stock markets, business trends and politics. Information from the Nikkei is often displayed on electronic boards like the one pictured above outside banks and at major railway stations. During the "Bubble Years" of the 1980s it was not unusual to see groups of people gathered outside the boards eagerly checking their portfolios.

Japan Finance - Investing in Japan Japan Culture/Finance

Fall Festival Kyoto

秋祭り

In my area of northwest Kyoto, the third Sunday of October is festival day. We give thanks for another harvest, drag out the mikoshi (portable shrine), and drink and carouse as much as possible in eight hours. Within a small radius as many as four festivals are taking place. The drums reverberate from festival to festival, calling the neighbors and tourists out to watch.

The mikoshi at my festival weighs two tons. It is decorated with golden shimmering pieces of intricate design work. We lash two long poles to the bottom, and then 30 men on both sides shoulder it up into the air. We carry it for as long as five minutes at a go, screaming and yelling and sweating. Then we drag it on a cart to the next "village": until recently Narutaki, Omuro, Fukuoji, etc., were true villages. Today they are urban and suburban neighborhoods in Greater Kyoto.

The climax takes place in at Ninaji Temple, the former summer home of the Emperor that was built in the early part of the 9th century. After dragging and carrying the mikoshi--and walking miles--since early in the morning, we are exhausted but expectant. Hundreds come out to watch as we arrive just after 3 pm. The screaming takes on a primal edge; when we hoist up the mikoshi above our heads, the smell of 60 bodies is profound. The drummers set up in front of the main gate of Ninaji pound out an eight-beat rhythm. After 10 minutes of weaving back and forth, we ascend the steep stone steps of the temple. Inside the vast grounds we lurch to and fro, heading for one of the inner sanctums of the temple (and a UNESCO World Heritage site).

There the head priests of Ninaji Temple and Fukuoji Shrine, where the mikoshi is stored, bless the shrine and the festival and us. They chant under deep blue skies. After, we head out again, purified and mad. In front of the crowd--which is not permitted into the inner temple--we erupt. Drenched in sweat, spent, we run the mikoshi back and forth in front of the temple gate. A few of the young "wakachu" (those who carry the shrine) dance.

On the way back to Fukuoji Shrine, where the shrine will pass another year, a fight breaks out. A legendary prick from another village has been egging on one of the leaders from Omuro since early in the day. The leader attempts to brain the guy with a megaphone. Unfortunately, three cops intervene.

A perfect matsuri.

Monday, October 17, 2005

PM Koizumi Yasukuni Shrine Tokyo

PM Koizumi Visits Yasukuni Again
靖国神社


Yasukuni Shrine Main Gate
Image copyright © JapanVisitor
Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine today for the fifth time since he became Prime Minister in 2001, no doubt stirring up a hostile reaction in Korea and China.

A huge grey torii marks the entrance to one of Japan's most controversial sites - Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Founded in 1869 to honor the souls of the soldiers killed in the campaign to restore the Meiji emperor to power, the shrine is now dedicated to Japan's war-dead in all subsequent wars. Over 2.5 million souls are enshrined here, including Japan's World War II leader General Tojo and those found guilty of war-crimes by the Allies after World War II.

Visits by Japanese politicians invariably raise a storm of protest in China and Korea, but for many of the older generation Yasukuni is simply a place to remember family and friends lost in the Pacific war.

Kudanshita Station (Toei Shinjuku, Tozai, Hanzomon Lines).

On the grounds of Yasukuni shrine is Yushukan War Memorial Museum: a shrine for the Japanese right-wing, and recently tastefully refurbished. The Yushukan War Memorial Museum is dedicated to Japanese war dead, among whom Hideki Tojo is the most notorious.

Annual visits by Japanese Prime Ministers to worship—and shore up their political right—assure swift denunciations from China and South Korea. There are interesting exhibitions of soldiers' personal effects from 1894 to the end of World War II, as well as aircraft (including a kamikaze flying bomb), artillery pieces, a tank and a suicide attack submarine (kaiten), along with well-presented panel displays and videos extolling Japan's military adventures.

Take the Hanzomon or Tozai subway lines, or the Toeishinjuku Line to Kudanshita Station. A revisionist take on the War.


Guide To Tokyo City Guides/Tokyo/Tokyo Attractions

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Japanese calligraphy (shuji) lesson

習字を学ぶ
the kanji for flower.
Today I began shuuji (i.e. calligraphy) lessons from a guy who had advertised his services on the internet. I had been looking for a shuuji teacher for months, and serendipitously found Ransui-san just a couple of weeks ago. He is more famous for his ink paintings than his calligraphy, and exhibits regularly in London. Calligraphy, however, is the starting point for ink painting, and he is a licensed expert in the art.

Like most artifacts of Japanese culture, writing entered Japan from China about 1,500 years ago, and the art of calligraphy was one that was practiced by members of the imperial Court, by monks, and, later, by warriors. It was closely associated with the writing of poetry, not only the Chinese classics, but also Japanese renga (linked verse), and the better known haiku.

I have been an enthusiastic student of the Japanese language for 17 years now, and being able to adequately speak and read it, writing it with style is a new frontier. I am also an aficionado of poetry and intend also to get closer to poetry through calligraphy.

bunchin paperweight
I met Ransui-san today in front of Odakyu department store in Shinjuku, we had lunch together at a cafe, then went to the huge Sekaido stationery store nearby to buy the necessary implements for the new venture. My favorite implement is the bunchin, or paperweight. I was torn between a whale and a fish, but went for the fish. We then went to his apartment out at Musashiseki and had our first lesson.

The starting point was the writing of the kanji (i.e. Chinese character) for 'flower' (hana). You can see my first attempt above. Rather clumsy, but 'not too bad at all' I was kindly told.

There are five basic writing styles for kanji, with a maximum of twelve. I'm starting with the basic kaisho style and will branch out into others once I've mastered it.

The best advice my teacher gave me today? 'If you're having trouble getting into it, take a break, have a beer, then see how you feel.'

Read about Japanese haiku here Japanese Culture/Haiku.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Hotels Noblesse Seoul

ソウル、韓国
Hotel Noblesse
Am in Seoul for the weekend which is fun - great food, a fairly laid-back atmosphere even here in Seoul (except for motorbike delivery drivers riding on the sidewalks) and the weather has been wonderful - warm and dry and a slight chill in the evenings.

A friend living in Seoul recommended I stay at the "boutique hotel" Hotel Noblesse in Yoksam near Gangnam (Line 2) on the south side of the Han River. The hotel is one street in from the main drag as you exit Yoksam station (Tel: 02 558 1202; fax: 02 558 0875).

Seoul subway map

I arrived to find out I had booked online the other Hotel Noblesse on the north side of the Han and so had to trek back up north. The other Hotel Noblesse is described as Seoul's "first boutique hotel" and is near Janghanpyeong Station (Line 5) - 465-5 Jangan-dong, Dongdaemun-ku. Exit 3, turn right out of the exit and then first right and the hotel is 300m down the road on the right. You can book online here:

Hotels in Korea - Booking.com

It has a bit of a Japanese Love Hotel feel to it - subdued lighting, porn channels on the TV and lots of mirrors but the bathroom is great, its very quiet and the staff are friendly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

UNESCO World Heritage Sites Japan

地域ユネスコ協会のリスト等
Here is a list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan and the year they were inscribed to the list.

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area of Nara (1993)

NaraParts of Horyuji Temple are the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world - these include the 32m-high five-storey pagoda, the main hall built from 28 massive wooden pillars and the central gate. The temple is possibly the oldest existing temple in Japan and was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku. It is the headquarters of the Shotoku sect. The pagoda was dismantled during World War II but was reassembled after the end of hostilities.

Guide to Nara City Guides/Nara


Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (Okinawa) (2000)

OkinawaThe ruins of the former kings of the Ryukyu Islands (Shuri-jo) are located on a hill to the north-east of the capital, Naha. The castle was the seat of power for the Ryukyu kings from the early 15-century to 1879 when Okinawa was absorbed into Japan. Unfortunately the site was almost completely destroyed in World War II and many of the present buildings are post-war reconstructions.

Himeji-jo (Himeji Castle) (1993)

Himeji Castle is generally considered the most beautiful of all the samurai castles in Japan. The original site dates from the 14th century and the existing castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1580 and enlarged 30 years later by Ikeda Terumasa. The castle consists of a five-storey donjon (keep), three smaller donjonsand is surrounded by walls and moats - the castle is known as Shirasagijo or Hakurojo (Egret Castle).

Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) (1996)

HiroshimaPreviously the Industrial Promotion Hall constructed in 1914, the building, at the hypocenter of the blast, partially survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, and serves as a reminder of the world's first atomic attack.
The building is flood-lit at night and is set in a small park on the east bank of the Motoyasu river opposite the Peace Memorial Park.

Guide to Hiroshima City Guides/Hiroshima

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) (1994)

Kinkakuji, KyotoThe Gion geisha quarter, Nijo castle, Heian shrine, Kiyomizudera, Ginkakuji & Kinkakuji temples, Katsura and Shugakkuin palace, Kyoto is a treasure trove of hundreds of historic temples, shrines, gardens and palaces. Japan's capital from 794 to 1868. Now a modern city of 1.5 million inhabitants, Kyoto remains a center of traditional Japanese art and crafts, culture and cuisine. Designed on a distinctive grid pattern and set in a picturesque basin surrounded by wooded hills, Kyoto is easily accessible from Tokyo or Osaka by train.

Guide to Kyoto City Guides/Kyoto

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara (1998)

Nara, Nara PrefectureJapan's capital from 710-784 and considered the fount of Japanese Buddhism, Nara is another must-see for any visitor to Japan. Nara Park, Todaiji Temple (the world’s largest wooden structure), Shoso-in Hall, Kofukuji Temple (five-story pagoda located in Nara Park), Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Gangoji Temple, Horyuji Temple, Yakushuji Temple, and many more sites are situated within this small and pleasant city.

Guide to Nara City Guides/Nara

Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (1995)

These remote villages in central Japan are noted for their vast A-frame shaped thatched farm houses, set in idyllic forested valleys. The buildings are constructed in the gasshozukuri style (praying hands) - as the steep 60 degree slope of the roofs - designed to withstand heavy snowfall are reminiscent of hands clasped in prayer.

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Miyajima, Hiroshima (1996)

The Itsukushima 'floating shrine' is a vermilion Shinto torii gate standing in the shallow waters off Miyajima island just outside Hiroshima. A shrine supposedly was located at the site from the 6th century but the present form dates from the 12th century. The view of the gate is one of Japan's most representative scenes.

Guide to Hiroshima City Guides/Hiroshima

Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (2004)

The three sacred mountains listed are Yoshino-Omine, in Nara Prefecture; Koyasan, in Wakayama Prefecture; and Kumano Sanzan, which leads to Koyasan. Yoshino is where the main temple of the Shugen sect of Buddhism is located. Koyasan is the home of the original Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism. The total area consists of 495 hectares of historic sites and 11,370 hectares set aside as a buffer zone.

Guide to Omine Travel/Omine

Shrines and Temples of Nikko (1999)

Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu's grand, elaborately decorated mausoleum - the Toshogu - was built in the forested mountains of Nikko (in modern-day Ibaraki Prefecture) in the mid 17th century. Other buildings in the complex include the Futarasan shrine and the Rinnoji Buddhist temple. The whole site reveals the immense power and wealth of the Tokugawa dynasty and the surrounding area is beautiful throughout the year, especially in autumn.

Guide to Nikko City Guides/Nikko

Shirakami-Sanchi (1993)

Shirakami-Sanchi in Akita Prefecture is a 321-acre virgin forest of Siebold's beech trees that once grew throughout northern Japan. The largely trackless forest is home to black bears, monkeys, the serow (mountain goat) and many species of birds including rare eagles and hawks.

Yakushima (1993)

Yakushima21% of the island is considered to be World Heritage territory and 96% of that area is made up of natural forest. Yakushima itself contains several endangered species of plants and animals. The islands Yaku-sugi trees are huge, natural cedars that are unique to the island.With a backdrop of lush green mountains, sparkling blue water, and rare flowers and animals, Yakushima is an incredible place to spend a few days.

Guide to Yakushima Travel/Yakushima

Shiretoko (2005)

The Shiretoko Peninsula at the north eastern end of Hokkaido, jutting out into the Okhotsk Sea, is a natural habitat for rare plant and animal life including Steller's sea lions, and is home to the world's highest recorded number of brown bears. The peninsula is 65 km long and 25 km wide with a number of quiescent volcanoes and hot springs.

Iwami Ginzan (2007)
Iwami Ginzan

The Iwami Ginzan silver mines in Shimane in south west Honshu produced over a quarter of all the world's silver in their heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries and helped to bankroll the Tokugawa Shogunate. Much of the silver from Iwami Ginzan found its way overseas and was used to pay for Chinese silks brought by foreign merchants to Nagasaki. Over 200 temples existed in the area to provide to the workers and their dependents in the mines, mostly administering funeral rites as a silver miner's life was brutally short. Many of the wooden buildings in the town of Omori have been restored and some of the narrow shafts are now open to the public.

Iwami Ginzan

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Japanese - English Electronic Dictionaries

XD-LP7100電子辞書
The lowest prices, the best models, the most reliable delivery. For Canon and Casio Japanese-English, Japanese-Chinese, Japanese-Korean, Japanese-French and many more types of electronic dictionaries:

Canon and Casio Japanese-English, Japanese-Chinese Electronic Dictionaries

Five years of online service, thousands of satisfied customers.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tokyo Olympics Remembered

October 11th Taiiku no hi - Health and Sports Day
体育の日
Instituted in 1966, this day marks the anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Not surprisingly, many sports events are held on this day.

The Tokyo Olympics (October 10-24, 1964) marked Japan's strong economic recovery after the Second World War and showcased the country's growing technological prowess with such projects as the new Olympic stadiums and the shinkansen (bullet train) system which opened in 1964 with the Tokaido Line connecting Tokyo and Osaka. The 210 km per hour speed of the new trains was a world record at the time.

The 1964 Olympics were the first to be held in Asia. Japan had been awarded the 1940 Olympics but these were transfered to Helsinki due to Japan's military involvement in China, but in any event, the Games did not take place owing to the outbreak of the Second World War.

In the medal table Japan finished third behind the USA and USSR with 29 medals in total including 16 golds. Judo and volleyball were added as Olympic sports. The victory of the Japanese women's volleyball in the final remains even today as the most watched televised sporting event in Japan. The game, shown on NHK, commanded a record 85% audience share.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Nursery School Sports Day

運動会

Sports Day

Went to my son's Sport's Day at his nursery school (保育園 hoikuen) today. Tomorrow is the national holiday Health and Sports Day 体育の日(taikunohi) so lots of schools organize their Sport's Day at this time of year.

Must admit that the loud movie theme music, wailing kids, constant clapping and a hot sun drove me back home after about half an hour.

The kids were divided in to two teams of "Red Hats" and "White Hats" like some ancient Tibetan sects and "competed" against similar age groups in such events as simple obstacle races, throwing balls into large boxes, building manga characters' heads with giant cubes and other fun activities.

Everyone was given a medal and came home about 3 hours later. The turn out from parents, grandparents and other well wishers was pretty impressive with everyone recording events on video and digital cameras, cell phone cameras and even the odd SLR camera. The teachers seemed to enjoy walking backwards with exaggerated high knee bends.

Red Hat v White Hat

Read in the newspaper when I got home of a high school student dying of heat exhaustion in Kyoto Prefecture after the school baseball coach put his charges through a punishment training session after the team lost a game. It's amazing how organized sports change the higher you progress up the educational conveyor, one day you're running around with a paper frog on your head, 10 years later ending up dead from baseball drills - made a mental note to keep the kid away from the dreaded high-school baseball, aka yakyu, though he shows no signs of moving in that direction.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ugly Americans

UGLY AMERICAN$: THE TRUE STORY OF THE IVY LEAGUE COWBOYS WHO RAIDED THE
ASIAN MARKETS FOR MILLIONS

UGLY AMERICAN$

Ben Mezrich (Harper Perennial)

Ugly Americans tells the story of young Ivy league graduates based in Osaka who made millions dealing in hedge-funds in the early 1990s.

John Malcolm(a pseudonym), a middle-class football player from Princeton, arrives in Tokyo in 1992 to play in an all-star game and meets a powerful hedge fund trader by the name of Dean Carney, who has much in common with the Gordon Gecko character from Wall Street.

Carney hires Malcolm to work in the Osaka office of his company even though he has little understanding of finance, but his protégé is a quick study, and soon Malcolm is rubbing shoulders with the inner circle of young Ivy League hot shots dressed in ten-thousand-dollar suits who boast of their sexual conquests and shady deals in exclusive nightclubs and brothels. Malcolm gets into some trouble with the yakuza and has to make the deal of a lifetime in order to free himself from their grasp. Despite the hype, Ugly Americans never delivers the thrills it promises and is a real let-down.

Mezrich spends too much time drooling over the Japanese sex industry and not enough time on the specifics of hedge-fund trading. He also seems to think that Osaka is some backwater hick town: "There are about a hundred-thousand foreigners living in Tokyo. In Osaka there are maybe fifty gaijin in the whole fucking city. For some of the natives, you might be the only white person they see all year. And for some of the chicks, you might be the only white dude they fuck in their life." (Mezrich was also sloppy in concealing the identity of "John Malcolm" whose real name has been outed in several reviews on Amazon.)

Actor Kevin Spacey has recently acquired the rights to turn Ugly Americans into yet another gaijin-in-Japan movie. Matt Damon, call your agent.

MATT KAUFMAN

This review by kind permission of Kansai Time Out

Buy this book from Amazon
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UK
Japan

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Villaggio Italia in Nagoya

名古屋港イタリア村

Villaggio Italia ran in to financial difficulties and closed May 13th, 2008.

Gondola ride ticketLast Sunday I paid a visit to the recently-opened Villaggio Italia in Nagoya's port district. It was a warm day and the place was packed with shoppers and diners. Sunday is never a good day to go anywhere in Japan, but if that's your only holiday, there's little choice but to jostle and queue and play musical chairs with everyone else.

Based on the successful format of the much larger Dutch-inspired Huis ten Bosch resort in Kyushu, Villaggio Italia is a small theme park cum shopping and restaurant center attempting to create an Italian atmosphere and environment without the trouble of actually going to Italy.

Ersatz and kitsch it may be, but the vistas and sightlines created by the designers and architects are certainly convincing enough, if you close your eyes and quickly open them again, to lull you into a feeling of actually being "somewhere" in Italy.

That "somewhere" is so very clean and new - a few instances of graffiti and torn election and funeral notice posters might add some touches of authenticity, but "realism" needs to be suspended when you buy your 1000 yen's worth of shopping and restaurant coupons on entry.

The fairly compact site presents a collection of scale copies of famous Italian landmarks such as the Bell Tower from St. Mark's Square in Venice, the statue of David by Michelangelo in Florence and the Mouth of Truth from the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Rome. Genuine Italians even pilot you along a short 100m stretch of Venetian canal in exchange for 800 yen or 600 yen of your coupons - the gondoliers must feel like mice on a treadmill traveling such short distances - but it was fun nontheless.

The reconstruction of the "Italian town" (Citta di Murano) is a mix of various Italian restaurants, snack shops, ice cream parlors and Italian goods shops including designer bags and clothes, lingerie, ceramics, Serie A soccer goods, Venetian glass, jewelry and so on.

There's also a Venetian glass museum (800 yen) and even a wedding chapel and "wedding salon" (whatever that is), positioned slightly away from the main shopping streets. Why anyone would want to get married in an Italianesque shopping center is beyond me, but young couples were busily checking out the facilities accompanied by earnest young women in suits with short hair who looked as if they had just stepped out of a Takarazuka revue.

Behind the buildings of the "Little Italy" is a 3-storey shopping and restaurant center with more Italian labels and designer bags. There's also an Italian supermarket with fresh olives, Parmesan cheese and wine, where you can cash in your coupons for a panino or some olive oil.

Prices in the various restaurants are steep, but the San Marco Cafe does have a genuine seafront setting where you can dine comfortably al fresco while being serenaded by an Italian five-piece orchestra.

Other things to pass the time between shopping and eating and more shopping and eating are trips in a small horse-drawn carriage (800 yen) and a cruise around Nagoya Port (1,500 yen) while being "entertained" by Westerners dressed up in Venetian carnival costumes and masks.

Just as with the recently concluded Aichi Expo, it may well be wiser to visit Villaggio Italia in the evening when there is no entry charge (after 6pm) and the crowds are thinner.

It still remains to be seen whether Villaggio Italia will prove successful and continue to draw in the crowds for pizza, pasta and Prada on warm Sunday afternoons.

Nagoya guide

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE IMAGES

Access

5 minute walk from Nagoyako subway station on the Meiko Line. Car parking available.

Hours

Shopping: 10am-9pm
Restaurants: 11am-11pm (Last order 10pm)
Venetian Glass Museum: 10am-7pm

Tel: (052) 655-1800

Images of Villaggio Italia, Nagoya, Japan
名古屋港イタリア村のイメージ

Italy in Japan

Is this Nagoya or Venice?

The Wedding Chapel
Wedding Chapel

View Along the Main Canal
The main canal at Villaggio Italia

Dining al Fresco
Dining out al fresco at Villaggio Italia, Nagota Port

Gondola
Gondola

Venezia
Venezia