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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dokudami

ドクダミ 蕺草

Dokudami (Fish Mint; Houttuynia cordata) flowers at this time of year in Japan. Dokudami, lit. "poison stop" is considered medicinal, acting as a mild laxative and diuretic as well as a general body cleanser. Some elderly Japanese people still make a tea from its dried leaves, though its medicinal properties are more highly thought of now in the west rather than Japan.

Dokudami


Few people in Japan now eat dokudami leaves in salad and the plant is less widespread than it was 25 years ago, though it has adapted well to most environments in urban and suburban Japan.

Dokudami can be found throughout Japan, China and Korea.

Dokudami plants



More info on dokudami


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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Daitokuji Temple North Kyoto

Daitokuji Temple大徳寺

Daitokuji Temple is located on Kitaoji Dori in north Kyoto. From its inception in the 14th century, Daitokuji was a small monastery. Daitokuji was established by the monk Shuho Mocho.

However, in 1325, the monastery was converted into a facility for the imperial court. This set Daitokuji on the path to great prosperity.

Daitokuji temple has long been closely allied with Sen no Rikyu, the tea master born in Sakai, the port town just south of Osaka.

Rikyu was the tea master for the warlord Oda Nobunaga and later for his rival Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Today, the Daitokuji complex covers more than 50 acres and is perfect for a stroll or a slow bike ride.

Daitokuji Access

Daitokuji Temple
Daitokuji-cho, Murasakino, Kita-ku
Tel: 075 491 0019

Daitokuji is a fifteen minute walk from Kitaoji Subway station (Karasuma Line). Or, you can take #205 or #206 bus from Kyoto Station and get off at Daitokuji-mae.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Narrow Kyoto Lane

Very narrow lane Kyoto狭い京都路地

Just north of Shijo-Kawaramachi - the main intersection in downtown Kyoto - is the Opa department store. This is a casual version of Takashimaya, Daimaru, Marui, Isetan - all of which are delightful and expensive and marketed to a well heeled crowd.

Opa aims lower and younger and less expensive.

Behind it are temples, shops, and other diversions.

In addition, there is perhaps the only street in this area of Kyoto that snakes ever so slightly.

It is lined with small shops and restaurants, including some traditional okonomiyaki joints, and as best as we can figure has no name.

The area is a stone's throw from the most crowded part of Kyoto city, yet is oddly quiet.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Imperial Palace Moat

The Imperial Palace, formerly Edo Castle, in Tokyo is surrounded by an impressive series of moats. During the Edo Period of Japanese history (1603-1867), the moats surrounding Edo Castle were much more extensive and encircled an area which now includes modern-day Tokyo Station and the Marunouchi area.

Imperial Palace Moat Tokyo

Some of the moats were filled in or built over with roads as Tokyo developed in the late 19th century. Sotoboridori is literally "Outer Moat Road" and covers a former section of moat. The moats of the Imperial Palace provide welcome green and shade in the heart of the metropolis and are a haven for wildlife.

Imperial Palace Moat Tokyo

When Japanese castles were constructed, the moats were first dug and the excavated earth was used as a support for the stone walls. Moats were sometimes lined with stone to reduce erosion and were typically 8-9m deep and over 25m wide. Moats at Japanese castles could be either a steep U-shape or more of a square, box shape.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Japan News This Week 26 June 2011

今週の日本

Japan News.'Safety' Myth Left Japan Ripe for Nuclear Crisis

New York Times

Japan's Chubu Electric gets 100bn yen emergency loan

BBC

Okinawa airbase row takes new twist as US and Japan delay relocation

Guardian

Doctor, mobster held in organ-trading, bogus adoption of donor

Japan Times

Japón se prepara para las secuelas de Fukushima en la población

El Pais

日本将投放790万桶应急石油储备

Caijing

The Past Matters: Lessons From History and From Japan’s March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan Focus

Japan’s high fryers pass Olympic heat test

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

Japan now ranks 121st out of 186 countries in its ratio of percentage of female lawmakers.

Japan's rate of female legislators is now 11.3%. That compares with:

45% in Sweden
39.6% in Norway
32.8% in Germany
21.3% in China
16.8% in the USA
14.7% in South Korea

Source: Gender Gap Index

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gay Tokyo: Rehab Lounge 3rd Anniversary

リハブラウンジ 3年記念

Rehab Lounge is a relative newcomer to gay Shinjuku Ni-Chome, the gay entertainment center of Tokyo not far from Shinjuku Station. The "master" (as bar owners are called in Japan), Fumi, speaks impeccable English, and at least one of the bar staff is always foreign.


Rehab Lounge 3rd Anniversary


If the mood is right, people dance - but, with the DJ booth manned most Friday and Saturday nights, there's never a good excuse not to dance.

 When Rehab Lounge started, I DJed there on Friday nights and was sometimes the only person there besides the staff.


Gay Tokyo: Rehab Lounge 3rd Anniversary

Last weekend, I went to Rehab Lounge's third anniversary party. It is now one of Shinjuku Ni-Chome's most popular bars for both gay and lesbian partiers, both Japanese and foreign, and it was jumping!

Rehab Lounge is a recommended stop if you're visiting a gay bar in Shinjuku Ni-Chome, and having more than survived its first three years, you can bet it will be a venue of gay and lesbian fun and friendship for a long time to come.

Rehab Lounge 3rd Anniversary Tokyo


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Democratic Party of Japan Supporters Unable to Vote in Upcoming Party Election

民主党サポータは党内選挙に投票できず

The Democratic Party of Japan - aka "Minshuto" in Japanese - is not allowing its "supporters" the right to vote in the upcoming Party election.

The Party is the current ruling party, and the election will determine the next prime minister of Japan, once current PM Naoto Kan at long last resigns.

For those who support and want to participate in Party decisions, two options exist: become a "Party Member"(党員)or "Supporter"(サポータ).

The former costs 6,000 yen a year and allows one the right vote in Party elections and participate in annual Party meetings. The later is 2,000 yen a year and confers the right to vote in Party elections but not attend meetings.

For both, non-Japanese citizens with a permanent residence visa are allowed to join, which allows among others many of Japan's Korean residents to participate. The minimum age requirement is 18.

Following the resignation last July of Yukio Hatoyama, we went to the Kyoto Minshuto office and signed up. A young man explained that supporters and members are not permitted to vote in the first election following registration. In other words, we would have to wait until the second election - which will be sometime this summer after Kan resigns.

However, thanks to a visit from a lackey at the office of our local representative's office, we recently learned that, no, supporters would not be allowed to vote in the upcoming election because the "administrative procedures would not be ready."

Why not, we asked? The election is not for several months.

"The situation is a bit difficult," replied the grim-faced young man in his politician-to-be suit, shoes, and hair cut.

Difficult is Japan almost always means "impossible," and in effect ends a conversation.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sherry Club Ginza

シェリークラブ 銀座

I went to Sherry Club, a Spanish bar-cum-restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza with a friend on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago.

Sherry Club Ginza Tokyo

Sherry Club has true vintage in being 25 years old - something of a rarity in a city where bars and restaurants are opening and closing all the time. Sherry Club began in 1986, and since that time has been bringing the best of Spanish cuisine and drink to Tokyo palates.

As the name suggests, the star of the Sherry Club is sherry. They have so many varieties of it that they even made it into the Guinness Book of Records for it.

Sherry Club Ginza in Tokyo

We began with one of the three or four Spanish beers on offer: crisp and tawny, and ordered half a dozen small dishes, the most memorable of which being the fried mushrooms and the cheese plate.

When it came to sherries, we started with dry and white and worked our way towards the sweeter and darker as the evening moved pleasantly on.

The cuisine was simply exquisite (in the literal sense of "simply"), the service was professional, manifesting what is another relative rarity in Tokyo: waiters who genuinely know what they're talking about rather than parroting the shop's set "recommendation" patter.

Another refreshing feature of Sherry Club is the lack of pretension. I have never been to Spain (Portugal's the closest I've gotten), but I can easily imagine the atmosphere being pretty similar to that of a similar establishment in Spain, with its laid back vibe, and a buzz to the air that was all about adults genuinely enjoying themselves.

Sherry Club Ginza

The bill was what you'd expect for food, drink and service of that quality: not exactly cheap at about 10,000 yen per head, but I doubt whether there are many other places in Tokyo that could do anything approaching the same for less.

Every month or so, Sherry Club has a Fiesta night of flamenco music and dance.

Sherry Club
2/3F, Yugen Building, 6-3-17 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
東京都中央区銀座6-3-17 悠玄ビル2F・3F
+81 3-3572-2527

Access from Hibiya, Yurakucho and Ginza stations.

Google Map to Sherry Club Tokyo

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Noho Noh Theatre Kyoto 30th Anniversary Performance

Kyoto Noh Noho能法劇団30周年記念公演一目瞭然

The Noho Noh Theatre Troupe will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this July with a series of performances.

Billing itself as unique mix of Western and traditional theatre, Noho was founded in 1979 by Jonah Salz to fuse the style and spirit of Japanese noh-kyogen and Western tales.

The troupe has put on works by Shakespeare, bilingual kyogen, Beckett and others.

Based in Kyoto, Oe has performed at the Edinburgh fringe festival, Avignon, and in Paris.

On July 18th, at the Kyoto Oe Noh Theatre - a short walk east of Kyoto City Hall on Oshikoji Dori - the troupe will put on the following program:

Act Without Words 1 (Beckett)
Rockabye (Beckett)
Susugigawa
Improvisation (Palle Dahlstedt)

Photo © Noho

Information

Tickets are 3,000 yen in advance, 2,000 for students. Add 500 yen for tickets purchased on the 18th.

Email: noho30th@yahoo.com

Tel: +81 75 221 8371

See more about what's on in Kyoto and Tokyo

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yakuza Gangs and Organized Crime in Japan

暴力団 やくざ

Japan, stable and orderly, is a place where just rocking the boat is tantamount to rebellion. Yet, a not very well kept secret of this Japan is the presence of very well organized crime, or the yakuza. The reach of organized crime in Japan is long and powerful, and, because of it, everyday life in much of Japan today is a complicated weave of the legitimate and illegal.

Although I have lived in Japan for a long time, I have little personal experience of organized crime. I lived in Osaka for several years and had one or two acquaintances whom I am sure were rank and file yakuza members of the gurentai (hoodlum) type, as opposed to the tekiya (street peddler) or bakuto (gambler) type. One of them, with his girlfriend, befriended me once when out drinking, a habit the three of us continued at intervals for a year or two. However, on the odd occasion when talk strayed from the personal into politics, he revealed a notable touchiness – a fieriness, in fact - on the topic of Japanese power and integrity, particularly in regard to the United States, which steered me away from broaching anything beyond the bounds of the personal again. I have also briefly interviewed Japanese right wing thugs who drive loudspeaker vans. They were willing to interact with me for the purposes of the interview and were not personally hostile.

A good friend of mine, whom I have known for years, comes from Kobe. He and I have a freer rapport than the above mentioned ex-acquaintance, and recently when dining together the conversation turned to the Middle East and how the inequalities perpetrated there are the major cause of that region’s troubles. The talk soon turned to Japan where he volunteered that Japan is by no means marked by equality either; yet, like anywhere else, including the Middle East, those who suffer the brunt of inequality will always seek redress. This principle explains the rise, too, of what is now Japan’s biggest organized crime gang, the Yamaguchi-gumi of Kobe.

The traditional source of manpower for Japanese gangs has been its homegrown class of outcasts, or untouchables, the burakumin, who, in spite of being Japanese were, in terms of quality of life, hardly better off than Japan’s captive colonials. Burakumin were traditionally the class from which those who disposed of dead bodies came from. They were legally liberated in the early Meiji period of Japanese history, in 1871, when the feudal caste system was abolished, but they are still the least well educated, the poorest and the least politically represented sector of Japanese society.

Immediately after the war, Japan was in tatters. Some in the Korean and Chinese communities of Kobe, who had been forcibly brought to Japan, now had carte blanche to take revenge on their now defeated overlords, and either did so or were feared to want to do so. The police appealed to the local Yamaguchi-gumi for help in keeping order. Ironically, the largely burakumin gang members being appealed to were little better off than the one-time colonial captives and had as much, if not more, in common with them than with most non-burakumin Japanese. (Although it should be noted that there are powerful Korean gangs in Japan, too, made up of descendants of those forcibly brought to Japan from Korea in the first half of the 20th century and who, in spite of being born in Japan, are still denied Japanese citizenship.)

However, the Yamaguchi-gumi lent its muscle; but this cooperation effectively put the police in its debt, and oiled the wheels of the Yamaguchi’s ever-expanding operations in Kobe and the rest of the Kansai region.

The Yamaguchi-gumi is now a massive business presence in its hometown of Kobe, not to mention much of the rest of Japan, and is at least as powerful as the police there. It is almost impossible to do business in Kobe without appeasing the Yamaguchi-gumi. Much of the Yamaguchi-gumi’s presence has therefore been effectively legitimized, and it is not at all uncommon for ordinary citizens and businesspeople who are owed money to appeal to the Yamaguchi-gumi for help in collecting it. A gruff phone call or two made by the obliging gang member on the appellant’s behalf is usually all it takes. In the same breath, however, it must be noted that this suggestion of Robin Hood-style goodness is well and truly nullified by the egregious loan sharking that the same gangsters also engage in.

The same kind of people who make up the gangs make up the ranks of Japan’s vociferous right-wing. The Japanese gangs were sought out by both American and Japanese authorities in the Red-scare years after World War Two as a powerful force against communism. They were used primarily as union busters and as a violent counter to the Japan Communist Party. Ironically, for all the right-wing’s uncompromising Japan-first nationalism, there are not a few non-Japanese in its ranks. Interviewing Japanese right wing nationalists and listening to Japanese right wing messages howled from trucks, they are clearly represent an aggrieved and unfortunate segment of Japanese society. Theirs is a voice of outraged pain and anger.

Inequalities have all sorts of back alley ways of finding redress when they are not dealt with head on. Deep-rooted prejudice is one of the most difficult things to eliminate in any society. The presence of gangsters and right-wing thugs in Japan is testament to continued prejudice. It is a situation where most people in Japan would rather pay off the country’s underclass under the table when necessary and put up with the antics of its desperadoes than embrace it and give it freedom and equality.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

"Jimmy 'Feedback' Hipster of Tokyo"

代々木公園 ヒップホップ



Yoyogi Park, (Yoyogi Koen, in Japanese) especially on a Sunday, is one place in Tokyo where the city lets its hair way down. Suits and ties seem to be banned, yet it almost seems, too, that a degree of lunacy is somehow required for entry (which is free).

I was in the youth fashion Harajuku area of Tokyo today, not far from Yoyogi Park, so I decided to take a short break in the form of a stroll through Yoyogi Park.

One act that caught my ear, whether I liked it or not, was the self-styled "Jimmy Hipster." What first got my attention was a sound that reminded me immediately of a store's metal roller shutter being lowered at closing time. They do not oil them in Japan, and the sound as it slowly unwinds is of tortured banshees. This was almost as bad, but coming from a speaker.

Jimmy Hipster did what he did - between adjusting his CD player, swigging on a drink, hitching his pants, turning around, having a swagger, walking back to where he'd been standing before - and rapped. It was a mixture of English and Japanese, even the Japanese delivered in a kind of "rappy" accent, much, I guess, like non-American singers the world over very often feel obliged to put on an American accent when they sing - for the cred.

Cred or not, Jimmy Hipster believes in himself. Check out the YouTube video "Jimmy 'Feedback' Hipster of Tokyo" and see if you're a fan.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japan News This Week 19 June 2011

今週の日本

Japan News.Protests Challenge Japan’s Use of Nuclear Power

New York Times

Japanese city Hiroshima withdraws 2020 Olympics bid

BBC

Japan's post-quake kawaii cute movement

CNN

Japanese underworld tries to cash in on tsunami clean-up

Guardian

Kansai mulls own nuke nightmare vulnerability

Japan Times

Isabel Coixet vende sus 'polaroids' de Japón para reconstruir una escuela

El Pais

难以启齿地震中日本人的性问题

Caijing

Japan’s Decline as a Robotics Superpower: Lessons From Fukushima

Japan Focus

Japan teen Takagi goes Dutch with Utrecht move

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

The number of foreign tourists to Japan declined by 50% in the month of May.

Just 388,000 arrivals were logged in May, according to the Japan National Tourist Association.

Source: Kyodo News

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Calligraphy Exhibition in Tokyo

書道 展覧会

Calligraphy exhibition

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for over six years now, from the same teacher. The number of students my teacher has has grown greatly over those years, and this year, for the first time, the teacher organized a class exhibition at a gallery in Tokyo's Shibuya shopping district.

Intially I declined the opportunity to participate, balking at the 32,000 yen it required. However, my teacher was insistent and passionately set about trying to convince me to take part. Looking back, I don't think the reasons were basically any better than "but every one else is." However, needless to say, I crumbled and forked out for the privilege.

Everyone submitted two pieces. A certain sum of the money handed over went into mounting them. The bigger of the two I submitted is pictured above: a Chinese poem. Saturday afternoon didn't rain, there were a lot of fellow students there who I knew by face but not name, so it was good to get to know them a little better and see what their work looked like.

The profundity and beauty of certain works was stunning, especially since some of them were created by people whose personalities hinted at nothing of the profundity and beauty their brushes are capable of.

There was champagne and expensive nibbles - as you'd expect for a the kind of money we'd forked out. But, at the end of the day, it was a very closed circle of spectators - basically incestuous, and I left after it had wound down three hours later thinking I'm going to be "out of town, unfortunately" next time it comes around.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Siebold Memorial Museum

One of my favorite places in Nagasaki is the Siebold Memorial Museum situated in the pleasant hills above Nagasaki Station and the harbor.

Siebold Memorial Museum


The Siebold Memorial Museum is located on a plot near to where Siebold's former house in the Narutaki district once stood. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), a German physician and naturalist who came to Japan as part of the Dutch trading house in Dejima, Nagasaki.

Siebold Memorial Museum, Nagasaki


Erected by Nagasaki city, the Siebold Memorial Museum building and entrance are a reproduction of Siebold's own house in Leiden and the Lotz family house in Würzburg, Germany, where he grew up and studied at Würzburg University.

Siebold first came to Japan via Batavia (Indonesia) in 1823. Fortunately Siebold was able to escape the harsh confines of Dejima after successfully treating a local shogunate official and he set up home nearby the present museum with his common-law Japanese wife Kusumoto Taki. Their only child Oine was later to become the first practicing female doctor in Japan.

With the permission of the Tokugawa authorities, Siebold set up a school called the Narutaki-juku, which grew into an institute for rangaku ("Dutch Studies"), Japan's only window on western technology at the time through the medium of Dutch.

Siebold is most famous in Japan for his extensive studies of Japanese flora and fauna. Siebold and his numerous Japanese assistants and helpers amassed a huge collection of plants and animal specimens, which were sketched by local and Dutch artists and form part of the many exhibits at the museum. Indeed, the first specimen sent to Europe of the Japanese Giant Salamander was by Siebold.

Expelled back to Europe in 1830 after the so-called "Siebold Incident" when the doctor was found in possession of maps of Japanese territory, an act forbidden at the time, Siebold set up his huge collection in Leiden, Holland, bolstered by more specimens sent from his successor in Nagasaki, Heinrich Bürger.

Siebold achieved world fame as a naturalist for his great work Flora Japonica, the first study of Japanese flora. He returned briefly to Japan from 1859-1863 during the Bakumatsu Period but left disillusioned.

The events surrounding Siebold's life are loosely interwoven into the novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kibune to Kurama Hike Kyoto

Cedar Roots, Kibune, Kyoto貴船から鞍馬まで

In the north of Kyoto is some of Japan's premier urban/rural hiking.

From Demachiyanagi Station, in Kyoto, it is but a thirty-minute ride on the Eizan Dentetsu train line to some great hiking. The hike begins in Kibune and ends in Kurama.

From Kibune-guchi Station, it is 20 minutes up a two-lane mountain road to the village of Kibune. The walk is mostly quiet and peaceful as cedar trees tower over you on both sides. There is bus service from the station to the village, but it is quite infrequent.

In the town there are inns on both sides of the road. In summer, these inns put out decks over a narrow river. This is the height of summer luxury: drinking and dining as the waters rush beneath you.

Kibune Shrine is on the left side and up a stone path.

The entrance to the hike up and over a hill to Kurama is close to a red bridge you passed earlier. There is a 200 yen mountain climbing fee.

The first 20 minutes or so are a bit hard going. When things flatten out, there is an open area full of cedar roots.

In these mountains the two-meter tall Benkei is believed to have trained. Benkei (1155 - 1189) is a warrior famed for his exploits at Kyoto's Gojo Bridge, just south of downtown. He fought and defeated 999 passing samurai here, claiming their swords.

In the 1000th duel, however, he was defeated by Minamoto no Yoshitsune, the son of a famous warlord. Benkei then became Yoshitune's retainer and fought together with him.

Along the way to Kurama is a small museum, more natural beauty, and temples.

Once down and in the village of Kurama, it is time for a hot spring.

Kurama Onsen Details

Hours: 10 am - 9 pm. Fees: 1,100 yen for adults. 700 yen for chlildren aged 4 - 12. Telephone: 075 741 2131

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tokoname Ceramics

常滑

Tokoname located on the Chita Peninsula south of Nagoya is an ancient kiln town famous for its high quality ceramics, especially its redware tea sets (kyusu) and maneki neko pot cats.

Tokoname


During the Edo Era (1603-1867) Tokoname was a major manufacturing town for ceramic water pipes, many of which were sent to the Shogun's capital at Edo (Tokyo) by sea to provide drainage and create the city's early water supply.

Nowadays, Tokoname is a sleepy town of 55,000 most often visited at the weekends by people walking the various courses around the potteries and buying ceramics.

Tokoname Ceramics Aichi



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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tatara Bridge

多々羅大橋

The Tatara Bridge (Tatara Ohashi) connecting the island of Ikuchijima in the Inland Sea with Omishima, boasts a center span of 890m and the Tatara Bridge was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world when it was completed in 1999. It took about 7 years to construct. Tatara Ohashi is now the 4th longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.



Tatara Bridge


Tatara Bridge forms part of the Nishiseto Expressway, known as the Shimanami Kaido, that connects Japan's main island of Honshu with the island of Shikoku, via several small islands that lie between the two.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Harina Shrine

針名神社

The nearest shrine to my house in Tenpaku-ku Nagoya is Harina Jinja, a spacious shrine set in a small patch of woodland that abuts the Nagoya Agriculture Center.

Harina Shrine Nagoya


Harina Shrine has a history dating back to 905 CE according to ancient records when it was located about 800m north of its present location. The shrine has an area of around twelve thousand square meters making it one of the largest in Nagoya.

Harina Shrine Nagoya Aichi


The shrine has many classic features of shinto shrines in Japan including torii gates, a chozuya water fountain, a pair of guardian komainu (lion dogs) and a line of red torii gates dedicated to inari, the fox kami.

Harina Shrine has an annual Summer Festival with stalls set up and Obon-style dancing in July. At New Year, taiko drummers entertain worshippers making their first shrine visit of the year.

Harina Shrine, Tenpaku-ku, Nagoya


The nearest station to Harina Jinja is Hirabari on the Tsurumai Line of the Nagoya subway. Akaike Station is also a 20 minute walk away.

Harina Jinja
Tenpaku-ku, Tenpaku-cho
Nagoya
Tel: 052 803 6174

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Japan News This Week 12 June 2011

今週の日本

Japan News.Economy Sends Japanese to Fukushima for Jobs

New York Times

Richard Hammond's Engineering Connections: The Bullet Train

BBC

Japan Hid High Nuclear Radiation Levels

CNN

Fukushima nuclear plant may have suffered 'melt-through', Japan admits

Guardian

Novelist Murakami slams nuclear policy

Japan Times

Un ídolo flamenco en Japón

El Pais

日本公开中国舰艇穿越冲绳附近海域画面

Caijing

The Family, Koseki, and the Individual: Japanese and Korean Experiences

Japan Focus

Japan names 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup team: A fan’s reaction

Yahoo Sports

Japan's cat's ear headset that matches your mood

BBC

Last Week's News

Statistics

Debt as a percentage of GDP:

Japan: 204%
Italy: 133%
Greece: 113%
Ireland: 113%
USA: 99%
Portugal: 99%
France: 97%
United Kingdom: 89%
Germany: 81%

Source: Time

In a poll of residents of elderly residents of five countries, the percentage who replied yes to the question "the government should place greater emphasis on policies for the young":

Japan: 28%
Sweden: 24%
Germany: 17%
South Korea: 16%
USA: 8%

Source: Asahi Shinbun


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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tokyo Right Wing Sound Vans' Summer Heyday

東京 街宣車



The office here in Tokyo's Hirakawacho district is just a little north of Nagatacho, Japan's seat of government. A new feature of early summer this year is the increased street presence - with the usual intense hollering - of the right wing sound vans (in Japanese, gaisensha) in the area.

While they are certainly no strangers to the streets around Nagatacho, the right wing has been particularly active since a few days ago, slowly cruising the otherwise sleepy streets of Hirakawacho, police in tow, and haranguing a profoundly uninterested and irritated local populace who are forced to close windows in the summer heat to block the ear-splitting blast.

The decibel levels are truly terrifying, not to mention the voice itself, which often cracks in self-induced paroxysms of outrage, roars guttural non-verbal admonitions between sentences, and generally keeps up an almost superhuman level of ongoing rage. Amphetamines are the (illegal) drug of choice in Japan, and it would not surprise me at all if it were a factor in fueling such rants.

The behavior of right wing sound vans makes it more than clear that the protagonists are not interested in trying to persuade - but simply to shock and scare. It is an assault of verbal violence whose tone says more about Japan's extreme right wing than any manifesto.

See JapanVisitor interview a right wing sound van leader

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Don Quijote - firetrap

ドン・キホーテ 火災

Don Quijote


Don Quijote is multi-armed group, one of whose enterprises is a huge chain store of the same name with over 150 premises throughout Japan, and even one or two overseas. Its merchandise range is so broad, with over 40,000 different products, that it is difficult to typify, but the company’s website describes it as “electrical appliances, miscellaneous household goods, food, watches and fashion-related merchandise, sporting goods and leisure products, DIY products and other items.”

Don Quijote stores' hours are typically very long, with many open 24 hours. Most stores sell duty-free goods for foreign shoppers and offer credit card facilities. A Don Quijote store can be found in almost any busy, not-too-upmarket shopping area and are as thronged with customers as they are densely chock-a-block with merchandise.

Don Quijote suffered a spate of arson attacks in 2003, with the worst, in its Urawa-Kagetsu outlet on Dec. 13, 2004, killing three employees. A 49 year old woman was convicted in 2007 and jailed for life for starting the fire, as well as fires in other stores that were not big enough, however, to prove fatal.

Don Quijote stores were criticized in the wake of the arson attack for a cluttered layout that made aisles very difficult to navigate, blocked fire exits, and generally made escape next to impossible. Nevertheless, looking at a Don Quijote store today shows that nothing has been learned. The Don Quijote store in Shinjuku, for example, is so jammed with goods that elevator doors are half blocked, and visibility - let alone access to fire escapes - is zero.

I was immediately wary of going any deeper into the Don Quijote Shinjuku East Exit Head Store, let alone upstairs, on my very first visit - even before I knew anything of the chain’s history of fire disaster. It doesn't take much imagination - it stares you in the face. It reminds me of the story of the story behind the automatic revolving door at Roppongi Hills that had a sensor set too high up to detect the presence of young children. On March 26, 2004 a 6 year old boy was crushed to death in it - after no less than 32 similar non-fatal incidents had been documented by the owner of Roppongi Hills, Mori Building Co. since the opening of the building.

Japan is safe on the face of it, but dangers do lurk. As fun as the Don Quijote experience of getting totally lost in goods may be, it has already proven deadly and the company shows little interest in preventing it from happening again.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Osaka Station Renovations

Osaka Station大阪駅開業

Osaka's gateway train station recently "opened" on May 4th, showing off major renovations.

Following seven years of construction work, the new station building opened for business on May 4th.

The north side of Osaka Station has been developed into a shopping area. Mitsukoshi-Isetan department store and LUCUA (shopping center) are now on the north side.

On the south side, the Daimaru department store has expanded its floor space.

The main difference that visitors will notice though is the new and quite dramatic roof.

Plans were to create a European style train terminal, with a high rood and open atmosphere.

The roof does that; however, the old, rusty rooves on each platform have yet to be removed. The reason for that is due to a large and unforeseen mistake.

The original concept was to take out the old, unattractive rooves once the large above-head roof was in place. However, wind blows in rain at an angle - and if the old rooves were removed, passengers on the platforms would get wet.


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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Yushima Tenjin Tokyo

湯島天神

Yushima Tenjin

I was at Yushima Tenjin Shrine last weekend on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon. The shrine is in Yushima (literally "Hot Water Island") just south of, and adjacent to, Tokyo's Ueno district.

Yushima Tenjin is one of Tokyo's oldest Shinto shrines founded way back in the 5th century A.D. It sits at the top of a slope that requires just a little exertion when the weather warms up. But it is only about 150 meters from Yushima subway station.

Yushima Tenjin is a typical Shinto shrine in almost every way, with its torii arch and its shaden architecture, but on the other hand it is a thoroughbred of shinto shrines with its enchanting main shrine building, and beautiful life-size bronze statue of a nadeushi cow near its temizuya purification font. There are charming sculptures of scenes from Japanese legend on the covered walkway at the back of the shrine.

Yushima Tenjin

It is also of special significance in the Tokyo area as the region's foremost shrine of scholars. Since the 14th century it has enshrined the spirit of the ancient bureaucrat-scholar Michizane Sugawara, and since then it has become the place where students come to pray for examination success. There is a special tradition of writing one's academically inclined wish on an ema votive tablet and hanging it on the rack in front of the shrine.

Yushima Tenjin is a charming sightseeing spot, full of trees, with a small Japanese garden, that is generally not overly crowded, and takes only about 20 or 30 minutes to take in.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Rainbow Pride Ehime to get city funding

レインボープライド愛媛

Matsuyama City is the capital of Ehime prefecture, the northwestern prefecture of Shikoku Island, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands.

A provincial town like Matsuyama of only half a million people might not typically be expected to be particularly progressive or liberal in its policies and initiatives, yet the tenacity and persistence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual activists have proved the common wisdom wrong once again.

That is to say, Matsuyama City has just extended its GLBT community the right to receive funds from the city’s “citizen activity promotional fund.” The organization that achieved this is the non-profit organization Rainbow Pride Ehime, a GLBT group that works to promote the rights and visibility of sexual minorities in Ehime prefecture.

Having gotten this far, the organization’s next move is to make further presentations to Matsuyama City regarding the specific projects it wants municipal money for.

As was simply expressed by a Rainbow Pride Ehime representative regarding this breakthrough: “If you make yourself properly heard, the community will try and start thinking about you.”

Well done, Rainbow Pride Ehime!

Check out the Rainbow Pride Ehime website (Japanese language only)

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Bershka Shibuya

ベルシュカ 渋谷

Bershka Shibuya Tokyo


Shibuya, Tokyo's main center of youth fashion, can now boast a Bershka.

Bershka is a fashion concept store belonging to Inditex, the same company that owns Zara, and has been around since 1998. However, it is brand new to Shibuya, having opened on April 15 with a very glam opening party that featured performances by Shinichi Ozawa, Space Ibiza, and Mitsu the Beats.

Bershka in the Zero Gate shopping building, is now a very hip, bright green, new presence of Shibuya shopping. Zero Gate forms part of the Parco chain, and also has the ultra-hip Zaru restaurant on the B1 floor, renovated this past March to look as much like a nightclub as a restaurant.


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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Japan News This Week 5 June 2011

今週の日本

Japan News.In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency

New York Times

Japan PM Naoto Kan survives no-confidence vote

BBC

Chefs with Issues: Why culinary Japan matters - and even more so now

CNN

Fukushima effect: Japan schools take health precautions in radiation zone

Guardian

Police arrest second man over biggest-ever robbery

Japan Times

Japón espera a unos pilotos muertos de miedo

El Pais

日本众议院否决菅直人内阁不信任案

Caijing

Danger in the Lowground: Historical Context for the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan Focus

Japan, Peru draw 0-0 in Kirin Cup

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

Japan's fertility rate rose slightly to 1.39 in 2010.

That is an increase of 0.02 from the previous year.

Source: Kyodo News

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Wataru Ishizaka and Taiga Ishikawa, gay politicians

石坂わたる 石川大我

This spring was remarkable in Japan for bringing into public life two out gay politicians: Wataru Ishizaka, 35,  who was elected as a councilor of Tokyo’s Nakano ward (Wataru Ishizaka website), and Taiga Ishikawa, 37, Social Democratic Party, elected as a councilor of Tokyo’s Toshima ward (main attraction: Ikebukuro) (Taiga Ishikawa website).

It was not the first time that a member of a sexual minority had been elected to public office in Japan. In 2003, the transexual, Aya Kamikawa, 43, was elected to Tokyo’s Setagaya ward council. Also, in 2005, Kanako Otsuji, 37, came out as a lesbian after having already been elected to the Greater Osaka Council. However, April 2011 was the first time openly gay candidates succeeded in being elected.

Both Ishizaka and Ishikawa are active spreading the word about sexual minorities and gay rights in the course of their political activities.


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Friday, June 03, 2011

Police security in Tokyo

青山通り 警備

Police security in Tokyo


The office is in Tokyo’s Kojimachi district, not far from the political heart of Japan, Nagatacho. It is normal to see members of the police stationed on the streets around Nagatacho just watching for any suspicious traffic or pedestrians.

The right wing propaganda trucks, or gaisensha, that blare their music and message onto the hapless world are especially drawn to Nagatacho, and they are no doubt the main object of police vigilance. Perhaps the assassination of the chairman of Japan Socialist Party, Inejiro Asanuma, in 1960 by a right-wing 17-year-old is still very much alive in the political establishment’s memory.

Police security Tokyo


The security, however, becomes positively intrusive whenever foreign VIPs are visiting, particularly those from China or the US. At times like those, it is usual for the streets to be semi-cordoned, with the police manning a mobile steel fence that can be pulled fully across the street to block it to traffic at a moment’s notice.

Tokyo’s Aoyama-dori street, also known as Route 246, starts in Shibuya and runs right through Nagatacho, up to the western edge of the Imperial Palace. Therefore, it is particularly prone to security-related traffic interruptions.


Police security in Tokyo

I was crossing a pedestrian bridge over Aoyama-dori the other day and noticed that the police had completely blocked off the lane of Aoyama-dori that flies over Sotobori-dori street. There was no sign of an accident, so I can only assume that it was the ultimate in security measures being taken that day.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Grom does not employ conservatives グロム 保守派禁止の採用方針

グロム

Grom does not employ conservatives

Grom is an Italian gelato chain that began in Turin in the first decade of this century, founded by two young Italian entrepreneurs, Guido Martinetti and Federico Grom. It has very few shops outside Italy, but of them, Tokyo has the most, with four branches.

I stopped in at the Jingumae branch on Omotesando Street, not far from Harajuku Station. The flavors are multitudinous and the caramel gelato I ordered was one of the best-tasting I’d ever had.

The service was impeccably Japanese, to a fault. The woman before me waited and waited for hers, and when it came, it was a little different from what she had ordered. “It’s OK - I’ll take it, I’ll take it,” she said - clearly tired of waiting. Nevertheless, the girl behind the counter completely ignored her request, threw the “wrong” order in the trash (three scoops of delicious gelato - into the trash!), and started all over again. The woman waiting groaned.

Anyway, after the delicious flavor experience, my most memorable impression of the Jingumae Grom has to be the slogan above the counter (see photo above):
Grom does not employ colorants, aromas, conservatives or any chemical additives. We never did. We never will.
No conservatives? Well, they’re lucky they’re based in fairly liberal Tokyo (although the governor of the metropolis, Shintaro Ishihara is not exactly a lefty) and that their staff is nice and young. A hiring policy like that might pose considerable problems out in the more staid and stuffier provinces.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sea Urchin Anyone?

ウニ

For sushi lovers in Japan, sea urchin (uni in Japanese) is one of the top three delicacies. The color of sea urchin (see below) ranges from yellow to bright orange. Sea urchin sushi consists of the gonads of the sea urchin.

When eating sea urchin sushi, a few drops of soy sauce may be applied directly on top of the sea urchin.

Sea Urchin, uni

Sea urchin sushi is widely available in sushi shops in Japan including kaiten (rotating) sushi shops. But someone looking for freshness may want to head to a specialty shop such as those found in department stores. The sea urchin pictured above was purchased at Kintetsu Department Store in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture.

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