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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oden

おでん

In these cold winter months in Japan, a favorite winter warmer is oden, a selection of ingredients boiled in a soy-flavored dashi broth. Dashi is made with konbu seaweed and shaved tuna flakes (kezurikatsuo), so oden is not really vegetarian, though many of the other ingredients are staples for non-meat eaters: daikon radish, potatoes, konnyaku (konjac or devil's tongue), kinchaku (mochi in a deep-fried tofu pouch) and tofu. Other things found in oden include boiled eggs, chikuwa fish cakes, folded seaweed, meatballs on sticks, sausages, octopus and sometimes skewered beef.

Oden
Convenience store oden

Oden can be found at food stalls at temple fairs and festivals, convenience stores, izakaya and at some specialized Japanese restaurants. There are many regional differences and the oden you eat in Tokyo is likely to differ from that popular in Osaka, Hiroshima or Kyoto.

Oden
Aomori oden - heavy on the eggs

You order your oden by the piece and it is served in a either in a bowl with broth or just plain on a tray. Mustard is served to dab on the pieces and to increase the heat effect.

Oden ready to eat

Oden goes well with hot sake rather than beer.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Spectacles Japan

眼鏡

Japan is one of the most myopic nations on the planet. Between 50%-60% of Japan's general population wears eye glasses or contact lenses.

With 60-72 million potential customers, competition between rival opticians and contact lens retailers is fierce. 25 years ago, each neighborhood would have a local optician, these small family businesses have largely disappeared, replaced by cut-price mega stores with 1000s of pairs of eye glasses from different makers to choose from. Styles range from cheap and functional to highly fashionable designer specs costing 100s of dollars.

Many stores make a literal spectacle of themselves to increase custom. Here outside this store in Tokyo a young man takes to rapping to draw the crowds.


The Japanese word for spectacles is megane, often seen written in katana - メガネ or hiragana めがね.

It is thought the first spectacles where brought to Japan by the Jesuit priest Francisco Xavier (1506-1552) and presented to a local feudal lord.

Early Japanese spectacles often used tortoiseshell (鼈甲, bekkou) in their manufacture and an early pair of ivory-made glasses can be seen at Daisenin Temple in Kyoto. Other historical eye-glasses are a pair that belonged to Ieyasu Tokugawa kept at the Tosho-gu Shrine in Nikko.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Japan News This Week 29 January 2012

今週の日本

Japan News.Japan: Nuclear Contamination Cleanup Near Stricken Plant to Start in Spring

New York Times

Japan did not keep records of nuclear disaster meetings

BBC

Japan reports first trade deficit in 32 years after tsunami

Guardian

Nuclear foes defy order to remove tents from the grounds of METI

Japan Times

Japón sufre su primer déficit comercial en tres décadas

El Pais

« La Fissure », un webdocu sur le Japon de l'après-Fukushima

Rue 89

伊恩•坎贝尔:日本贸易逆差不只意味着不幸

Caijing

Henoko and the U.S. Military: A History of Dependence and Resistance

Japan Focus

Oakland manager Melvin excited about Japan series

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

Of the nine attacks involving a firearm in 2011 that are suspected to be the work of the Japanese mafia (yakuza), eight took place in Fukuoka Prefecture. The one other was an attack on an entertainment company office in Tokyo.

In 2012 to date, the one attack was the January 17 shooting of a construction company president in Fukuoka.
Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flea Market Toji Temple Kyoto

Toji Temple初弘法

Toji Temple in south Kyoto is best known for the large pagoda that can be seen from the bullet train as it pulls into Kyoto Station.

Toji was created in 796 C.E. and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Toji Temple is also famous for its monthly flea market.

On the 21st of each month, the temple hosts a large outdoor market known as "Kobo-san."

The market is held in honor of Kukai, the founder the temple.

Kukai's full name was Kobo Daishi. He died on the 21st of March; therefore, the flea market is held on the 21st. Stalls are set up and sell antiques, food, pottery, crafts, art, clothes, etc.

On the first flea market of 2012, it was cold and rainy. However, over 100,000 people showed up.

Information

Kujo Subway Station (Karasuma Line).
1 Kujo, Minami-ku, Kyoto.
Tel: 075 691 3325
Free Admission. (9am-4.30pm).

Toji is a short walk or cycle ride west from Kujo subway station along Kujo Street or from Toji Station, one stop south of Kyoto Station on the Kintetsu Line. Buses #202, #207, #208 and #19 pass by the main entrance to the temple.


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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Big Issue Comes to a Station Near Me

ビッグイシュー

The Big Issue Japan

The Japanese edition of The Big Issue is, indeed, big in Japan. And from yesterday it just got a little bigger: I was coming out of Asakusabashi station, my station, on Tokyo's Sobu Line, went down the stairs onto the street, and just to the left of the little mobile lottery booth was the sight, familiar in much of Tokyo, but not in Asakusabashi, of a man selling The Big Issue.

I walked past, thought, looked in my wallet, found I had coins, went back, and bought a copy. It featured the Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama on the cover, and an interview with her inside.

The vendor told me that this was the first day for The Big Issue to go on sale in Asakusabashi, and that he would be a regular fixture from hereon in.

160 yen of the 300 yen you buy the 30-page Big Issue for goes to the vendor. He was also selling Big Issue merchandise, notably fabric shopping bags.

The issue I bought was number 183. The Big Issue being a monthly, that makes this year the 15th year of The Big Issue in Japan.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru

メモリアル・シップ 八甲田丸

The Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru, located in Mutsu Bay near Aomori Station in Aomori is Japan's first railroad ferry museum.

Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru


From 1966 until 1988 the Hakkoda Maru transported trains 113km from Aomori in Honshu to Hakodate in Hokkaido. The opening of the Seikan Tunnel linking the two towns made this journey redundant and the ship was transformed into a floating museum dedicated to the history of the historic crossing.

The Seikan Ferry crossing between Aomori and Hokkaido had been in operation since 1908, with the first train ferry going into service in 1924. In 1954, five ferries including the Toya Maru were sunk in the Tsugaru Strait by Typhoon Marie, with over 1,400 deaths.

On display are models of other Japanese ships, uniforms of the crew, historic documents and panel displays showing how the trains were loaded onto the ship.

The Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru also offers a full bar and restaurant service and the rear of the ship serves as a beer garden in summer.

The Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru is a short walk from Aomori Station under Aomori Bay Bridge.

Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru, Aomori


Other attractions in Aomori include the reproduction of Showa-era food stalls at Yatai Mura, the Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum, the Aomori Contemporary Art Center, A-Factory, ASPAM, Wa-Rasse, Aomori Machinaka Baths and the fish market in the basement of the AUGA department store.

Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru (Official site in Japanese)
112-15 Yanagawa
Aomori
Tel: 017 735 8150
Hours: 9am-7pm; 9am-5pm November-March
Admission: 500 yen
Memorial Ship Hakkoda Maru map

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snow in Tokyo

東京に雪


It snowed in Tokyo on Monday night. I happened to look outside at about 11pm, and witnessed a full-on snowstorm: masses of huge snowflakes whirling through the air coating the railing, the plants - everything, and even flying in through the open door.

Tuesday morning, the whole of Tokyo was frosted under a layer of about 3cm of glistening, crunching snow. The trains were late, pedestrians lost their footing, and shopkeepers were bent over shovels scraping snow off the sidewalk in front of their store, as were the kids from the nearest junior high school off the promenade alongside the Sumida River where they go for their morning group jog.



Most snow in Japan's main island of Honshu falls on the Japan Sea side, where the winds that make it over the mountains have usually left most of their moisture. However, very occasionally, maybe once or twice ever winter, they are still laden with sufficient water to deposit a coat of snow on the Pacific side.

A snowfall is rare enough phenomenon with Tokyo weather to send a bit of a thrill through the city, but bothersome enough to make Tokyoites glad that it's not regular.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kisogawa Station

木曽川駅

JR Kisogawa Station is on the JR Tokaido Line with trains to Nagoya Station, Okazaki, Ogaki and Gifu.


The nearby Kiso River is known for its cherry blossoms in spring. The first train from Kisogawa Station on weekdays to Nagoya is 5.26am with the last train at 11.55pm.

Shin-Kisogawa is a nearby station on the Meitetsu Line.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Beauty - a kanji lesson

美 漢字レッスン



One of the best words to learn in any language is that which stands for one of the best concepts in any language: beauty, beautiful. Who can be offended, who cannot be charmed, if you point at something or someone and say just the word "Beautiful"? (Well, exceptions do come to mind!) Let's have a look at how to write the word "beauty" or "beautiful" in the Japanese language.

The character for beauty is particularly appealing one in that, in its symmetry, it is, indeed, beautiful. The roots of the character might make you think twice, though. The upper part, 羊, is the character for "sheep," and the bottom part, 大, for "big." Old China, pastoral idylls, shepherdly musings - and the imagination starts to race. Enough! Whatever its provenance, beauty is beauty.

In Japanese, the character alone is pronounced bi (its onyomi, or "sound reading", and as an everyday word it is pronounced "utsukushii" (its kunyomi, or "meaning reading"), the final "shii" being adended in hiragana like so: 美しい.

Aesthetics in Japanese is 美学 (bigaku), literally "beauty study"). You get your hair done at a 美容室 (biyoshitsu), literally "beuatiful looks room," or, in normal English "beauty salon." Your mother-in-law is (at least upon first meeting) a 美人 (bijin), literally "beautiful person," or, in normal English, a "beauty." Beautification or glorification is, in Japanese, 美化, (bika), literally "beauty transformation." And 審美眼 (shinbigan), literally "judging beauty eye," is to have aesthetic sense, or an eye for beauty.

So, remember this symbol of beauty whose form reflects so faithfully its meaning, and its Japanese pronunciation, utsukushii, that will so often come buoyantly to your rescue when conversation has started to sink.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Japan News This Week 22 January 2012

今週の日本

Japan News.Japan’s Prime Minister Shuffles Cabinet in a Bid for Tax Support

New York Times

New video of Fukushima nuclear reactor interior

BBC

How a Japanese paper rose to the occasion in tsunami disaster

Guardian

New Kimigayo ruling

Japan Times

Japón permitirá a sus nucleares funcionar hasta los 60 años como máximo

El Pais

Nucléaire au Japon : « L'Etat est un traître pour les travailleurs »

Rue 89

日本将试验开采海底“可燃冰”

Caijing

Megasolar Japan: The Prospects for Green Alternatives to Nuclear Power

Japan Focus

Texas spent time getting to know Yu before $107M

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

The number of tourists who visited Japan in 2011 declined by 27.8% compared with the previous year.

6.2 million tourists visited Japan in 2011, which was a large drop from the 8.6 million in 2010.

Source: Kyodo News

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Crazy English on Japanese Clothing

Japan is rightly famous for its crazy English used to give a touch of the exotic to clothes and accessories.

We all have our own particular favorites of misspelled and grammatically incorrect English as well as the plain bizarre.

Here's a recent example which takes song lyrics from Minute By Minute by the Doobie Brothers:

You Will Stay
Just To Watch Me,
Darlin'. Wilt Away On Lies
From You


Does the wearer know he is sporting Doobie Brothers' lyrics? Does he care? Is it copyright infringement?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Japanese Supermarkets

スーパーマーケット

Japanese supermarkets look pretty much like their counterparts elsewhere around the world. Though as fish and seafood is so much part of the Japanese diet, the fresh fish counter in Japanese supermarkets is prominent and a specialized butcher's counter is usually noted for its absence or small size.


Japanese supermarkets usually open around 10am until 8pm though some supermarkets in Japan are 24 hours. Credit cards can be used and many supermarkets offer a points card and a variety of vouchers for deductions on future purchases.

Service at the checkout at japanese supermarkets is speedy and polite. Plastic bags often cost an extra 5 yen to encourage customers to bring their own bags.

Japanese Supermarket


Goods stocked in Japanese supermarkets include fruit and vegetables, dairy products, dried goods, canned food, snacks, beer, wines and Japanese sake, non-alcoholic drinks, toiletries and ready-to-eat, pre-prepared foods including a variety of often excellent salads, yakitori and grilled fish. If you can't cook Japanese food, you can buy most of the classic dishes pre-prepared and just reheat them in the microwave and serve with rice prepared in a rice-cooker.

Supermarket in Japan


Large supermarket chains in Japan include Aeon, Valor and Daiei along with Costco from the US with several stores in Japan including those in Kobe, Sapporo, Kawasaki and Machida-shi near Tokyo.

Japanese Supermarket


French supermarket Carrefour sold its operation in Japan to Aeon in 2005 and left the Japanese market.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant in Hiroo Tokyo

アノプロシィーム チェコ レストラン

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant in Hiroo Tokyo

In Tokyo's pleasant Minami Azabu district, near Hiroo station, is something of a rarity for Tokyo, indeed for Japan: a Czech restaurant, called Ano Prosim (formerly Cafe Ano).

I went to Ano Prosim with a group of friends last Sunday, having made a reservation. First impression: surprise that one of our party, who had arrived first, was standing out in the cold, having found outside the front of the restaurant to be warmer than the welcome he'd found inside. Not a great start.

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant in Hiroo Tokyo

Indeed, on the whole party entering, the "welcome" was decidedly low-key, if there at all. And, what's more, the place was empty! Near Hiroo station, on Sunday lunchtime, and completely empty? Hmm. We were shown the more expensive evening menu, and had to request the lunch menu.

I started with a plate of chicken liver pate, sausage and Camembert cheese: gourmet quality, but there was no bread. We requested it, and they went out to buy some from the local bakery for us, which took about 10 minutes. For mains I had the pork roast, which was a very happy meeting of heartiness and haute cuisine. The bread was good - but having to ask for it, and their not having any on the premises, did seem a little odd.

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant in Hiroo Tokyo

We didn't order drinks for a variety of reasons: non-drinkers, too much last night, etc., but the drinks menu did look good, featuring beers and wines from the Czech Republic and elsewhere.

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant

Ano Prosim Czech restaurant in Hiroo Tokyo

Fortunately we were a party of five: big enough to keep a good vibe going. Perhaps we struck them on a bad day, but it's certainly not the kind of place I'd take a date.

More reviews of Tokyo restaurants

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bunka-Den at Atsuta Jingu

文化殿

The Bunka-den treasure storehouse museum (also known as the Atsuta Jingu Museum) is located within the grounds of Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya. A modern ferro-concrete building constructed in 1966 to mimic Azekura (log-cabin) style architecture, the Bunka-den has over 4,000 pieces in store of which a small number are on revolving display, changed every month.

Bunka-Den Atsuta Jingu

The exhibits, which have been donated by members of the Imperial and Tokugawa families as well as the general public, include daggers, swords, garments, Bugaku dance masks and historic documents.

Bunka-Den Museum, Atsuta Jingu

Bunka-den
1-1-1- Jingu
Atsuta-ku
Nagoya
456-0031
Tel: 052 671 0852
Hours: 9am-4.30pm; closed last Wednesday of the month

The nearest stations are Jingu-mae on the Meitetsu Line and Jingu-nishi subway station on the Meijo Line.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raijin

雷神

Raijin is the Japanese god of thunder and lightening and depictions of raijin in paintings and sculpture are commonplace in classical Japanese art. Raijin is often shown with drums beating out the sounds of thunder.

In Shinto mythology raijin seems to have both positive and negative connotations: positive in the sense that thunder and lightening are often precursors of rain but negative in the sense of danger and the possibility of fire.

Raijin

This image of raijin can be seen at Kenninji Temple in Kyoto. A famous sculpture of raijin along with his fellow god fujin (the god of wind) can be seen at Sanjusangendo Temple, also in Kyoto.


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Kyoto Municipal Zoo

Kyoto City Zoo京都市立動物園

Kyoto Municipal Zoo is Japan's second largest zoo. By American standards, it seems quite small. Tokyo's Ueno Zoo is Japan's largest zoo. Kyoto Zoo is the second oldest zoo in Japan.

Kyoto's zoo is located in Okazaki Park close to The National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto, Kyoto Municipal Museum,  Heian Shrine, and Nanzenji Temple.

The zoo is home to roughly 700 animals.

It opened in April 1903 and retains a bit aged feel.

Some of the conditions in which the animals are housed are not ideal - barren concrete floors are standard - but it is for the most part a good day out.

Information

Okazaki, Hoshoji-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Telephone : 075 771 0210
Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm (March - November)

Fees

General: 500 yen
Junior High School Students: 300 yen
Elementary School Students and under: Free

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Japan News This Week 15 January 2012

今週の日本

Japan News.Japan - Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis (2011)

New York Times

Japanese earthquake recorded from sea floor

BBC

Quota market could save whales

Guardian

New Noda Cabinet on tax push

Japan Times

Fukushima analizará la leche materna de 10.000 mujeres en busca de radiación

El Pais

Le Louvre envoie des œuvres à Fukushima. Raisonnable ?

Rue 89

日本华媒:且看日本社会如何强力“打黑”

Caijing

Okinawa, New Year 2012: Tokyo’s Year End Surprise Attack

Japan Focus

Japan’s Maeda set for West Ham switch

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

Japan's oil imports, by country, in 2010:

Saudi Arabia: 29.2%
UAE: 20.9%
Qatar: 11.6%
Iran: 9.8%
Russia: 7.1%
Kuwait: 7%
Other: 6%
Iraq: 3.3%
Oman: 2.7%
Indonesia: 2.4%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Contribute to Japan Visitor Blog

Do you live in Japan? Have you got something to say about Japan?

Have you visited Japan recently for business or pleasure?

Do you want to contribute to JapanVisitor's blog and broadcast your voice and opinion to a wider audience?

JapanVisitor is looking for enthusiastic contributors with an interest in things Japanese to widen readers' appreciation of this long-standing Japan blog.

Can you write well in the language of your choice? Do you take good photographs? Is what you want to say of interest to other Japanophiles?

If the answer to all these questions is "Yes" we'd love to hear from you.

If you do wish to air your thoughts and experiences on Japan please contact us.

Any topic Japan related is considered. Send us your text in Microsoft Word format or in the body of an email and any images as attached jpg or gif format.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Super Hotel

スーパーホテル

The nationwide Super Hotel chain in Japan is a cut-price accommodation option for both domestic and international travelers.

Usually (though not always) located near major railway stations in Japan, Super Hotels offer buffet-style breakfast starts, clean, though small, rooms and Internet access.

The majority of Super Hotel's over 100 hotels in Japan are located in Tokyo and Osaka (where the company first grew), though most large Japanese towns and cities have a Super Hotel including Aomori, Nara, Tottori, Yamaguchi, Kagawa, Kochi, Izumo and Hakata.

Super Hotel


Check in at Super Hotels is 3pm and check out is 10pm and guests are expected to vacate their rooms for cleaning during these hours unless they confirm beforehand at the reception.

To book online in Japanese, English, Korean or Chinese, you will need to become a member after which you will receive a point card after you check in to receive reductions on future hotel bookings.

Though definitely aimed at the single male business traveler, Super Hotels offer both rooms for couples and families. A single room with breakfast will cost less than 5,000 yen and often less than this if taking advantage of special offers when booking well in advance.

Super Hotel


Super Hotel
Tel: 06 6543 9000


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Asahi Style Free

アサヒ スタイルフリー

Asahi, one of Japan's big four beer makers, has joined Kirin in producing a totally alcohol-free beer.

The rather oddly named "Style Free" (don't Japanese advertising companies employ English-speakers?) joins Kirin's Free on the creaking shelves of convenience stores and liquor shops throughout Japan.

Asahi Style Free beer

Style Free is 0.00 % alcohol and has proved popular with long-distance drivers (that's when I tried it), sea lions and recovering alcoholics. The taste is tinny and hoppy and one can of Style Free is usually enough (for life).

If you'd like to see some rather damning reviews of Style Free, have a laugh over at ratebeer.com

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hibachi

火鉢

As generators of heat in Japan's cold winter months, hibachi are now little more than curiosities. These antique charcoal braziers are usually ceramic and lined with metal. Hibachi were (and occasionally still are) used to boil a kettle and also as an outsize ashtray as smokers would light their bamboo kiseru pipes on the charcoal and then empty them into the ash by tapping the bowls on the metal rim.

Hibachi

Hibachi can still be bought in antique shops and flea markets such as those at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine and Toji Temple in Kyoto. Hibachi can make for garden ornaments either as fish ponds or plant vases. They are also attractive as interior decorations.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mount Fuji View

Yaezu Shizuoka富士山

Japan's iconic mountain Fuji is visible in the distance.

Late 2011 was warm, so snow only crowns the peak of the mountain.

Normally, the entire mountain would be blanketed in white.

Climbing season when many climbers go to see sunrise on from the summit of Mt Fuji is long over, but still it was unseasonably warm.

The Pacific Ocean spreads out from Yaezu, in Shizuoka Prefecture, with the Izu Peninsula in the distance.

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Kyoto Tourist Information Center

京都総合観光案内所,京なび

As befits its position as one of the most visited cities in Japan, Kyoto has one of Japan's largest and best-equipped Tourist Information Centers.

Kyoto Tourist Information Center Kyoto Station


Located on the second floor of Kyoto Station Kyo Navi (京なび) is a spacious, high-tech plaza offering tourist information not just on Kyoto city and Kyoto Prefecture but on other Japanese cities as well.

The multi-lingual staff can offer travel advice in English, Chinese, Korean and some other languages and visitors are free to surf the computers in the center to find the specific information they require as well as choose from a wealth of travel brochures in a variety of languages.

The welcoming staff can offer help on booking hotel accommodation in Kyoto and tips on how to spend your time in Japan's ancient capital from festival frolics to Zen meditation.

Free copies of the monthly English magazine Kyoto Visitors' Guide are also available. The old Kyoto Tourist Information Center before the new Hiroshi Hara-designed Kyoto Station was opened was located next to the old Kintetsu Department Store, which is now Yodobashi.

Kyoto Tourist Information Center


Kyoto Tourist Information Center (Kyo Navi)
Tel: 075 343 0548
Hours: 8.30am-7pm daily

Further tourist information on Kyoto can be found at the Kyoto City Tourism Association Visitor Information building (Tel: 075 752 0227; 9am-5pm) opposite Heian Shrine in the Okazaki district.


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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Japan News This Week 8 January 2012

今週の日本

Japan News.The Myth of Japan’s Failure

New York Times

Top sumo wrestler ushers in the New Year

BBC

Yakuza gangs face fight for survival as Japan cracks down on organised crime

Guardian

Nuke regulators get teeth via bills

Japan Times

La industria baja los humos al coche eléctrico

El Pais

The Flowers of War, Christian Bale et les travers du cinéma chinois

Rue 89

消息称日本三井住友拟收购中邮基金20%股权

Caijing

Science with a Skew: The Nuclear Power Industry After Chernobyl and Fukushima

Japan Focus

Japan striker Lee looks to join Southampton

Yahoo Sports

Last Week's News

Statistics

The number of new adults - 20 years old is the legal age of adulthood in Japan - was 1.22 million on New Year's Day. That is half the peak number, in 1970, when there were 2.46 million.

Source: Kyodo News


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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Biwa

琵琶

A biwa is a Japanese traditional instrument usually translated into English as a "short-necked lute" with four strings and played with a plectrum.

The biwa can be made from a variety of wood including rosewood, cherry, mulberry and zelkova.

Biwa

The biwa is related to the Persian oud and probably came to Japan via China sometime before the Nara Period (710-794).

The biwa is usually held upwards from the lap while the players sits in seza (a kneeling position) and plucked with the large triangular-shaped plectrum.

The biwa became associated with court music (gagaku) in the Heian Period (794-1192). Many of the later players were blind and sang narrative songs to the accompaniment of the biwa, often about the battles of the Heike and Genji clans from the classic Tale of the Heike (平家物語).

The biwa remained a popular instrument in Japan until the end of the Edo Period and the coming of western instruments and music from the 1870s onward.

Later variations of the instrument originated in Kyushu and are called Chikuzen biwa and Satsuma biwa, the later style popular with the region's samurai to encourage their martial values listening to tales of past heroism and derring-do.

Biwa plectrums


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Friday, January 06, 2012

Aomori Contemporary Art Center

国際芸術センター青森(ACAC)

The Aomori Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) south of Aomori city is located on the grounds of Aomori Public College.

Aomori Contemporary Art Center


The Aomori Contemporary Art Center was designed by self-trained architect Tadao Ando, whose prolific CV includes the Suntory Museum in Osaka, Omotesando Hills in Tokyo and the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum on Naoshima Island in the Inland Sea.

The Aomori Contemporary Art Center's circular exhibition hall is surrounded by a graceful water feature and set in a pleasant natural environment. There are also various studios and workshops for woodwork, printing, AV and photography on site, plus a residential hall and lounge.

Aomori Contemporary Art Center


ACAC showcases both contemporary Japanese and foreign art and includes an Artist in Residence Program (AIR) for both Japanese and foreign artists.

2011's summer exhibition "Re-Modernologio" included works by Tomii Motohiro, Niwa Yoshinori, Asakai Yoko and Romanian visual artist Pal Peter.

Aomori Contemporary Art Center (ACAC)


The Aomori Contemporary Art Center can be reached in 40 minutes by a JR bus or Aomori city bus from Aomori Station.

Aomori Contemporary Art Center
152-6 Yamazaki Goshizawa
Aomori
Tel: 017 764 5200
Hours: 9am-7pm daily
Admission: Free
Aomori Contemporary Art Center map

Anamorphosis 3, the sculpture you walk on by Pal Peter


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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum

青森県立郷土館

Prefectural museums in Japan are not always guaranteed to excite but the Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum in Aomori is an exception and well worth a visit for its broad sweep of Tohoku culture from the Jomon Period to the present day.

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum


The Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum is housed in a grand 1930s building that was previously a bank. The museum itself opened in 1973 and its several floors have exhibition rooms dedicated to a variety of subjects as well as occasional special exhibitions - such as the comic cut-outs of people sleeping off too much sake at cherry blossom time (see image below).

The Archeology Exhibit has some fantastic earthenware and clay figures from the Jomon Period sites around Sannai-Maruyama, just west of Aomori city and the Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum is an important reference for anyone interested in this early period of Japanese history.

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum


Aomori's nature is covered with dioramas and taxidermy exhibits and the nature Exhibit includes a model of the Aomori Elephant or Naumann Elephant, named after the fiery German geologist Heinrich Edmund Naumann (1854-1927), who spent a decade teaching and researching in Japan in the 1870s and 1880s.

The History Exhibit covers Aomori's history from the Nara Period onward including the history of the powerful Edo era Tsugaru and Nanbu clans, the Hakkoda-san Incident of 1902 and World War II. Original photographs, uniforms and newspapers help recreate 1940s Aomori, which was heavily bombed by the US air force.

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum


The Folk Customs Exhibit displays agricultural implements, clothes and a number of oshira - pillar like household gods unique to the Tohoku area.

Other exhibits include an Apple Exhibit dedicated to Aomori's agricultural mainstay - apples, a Personal Experience Room, very much with school children in mind, where visitors can play with various exhibits, the Pioneers of Aomori Exhibit dedicated to such Aomori alumni as writer Osamu Dazai (1909-1948), Pulitzer Prize-winning war photographer Kyouichi Sawada (1936-1970) and singer Noriko Awaya (1907-1999) and the "Refined" Collection Exhibit, over 11,000 pieces donated by a local doctor.

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum, Aomori


The Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum is one block south of Yatai Mura and about a 15 minute walk from Aomori Station.

Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum
Honmachi 2-8-14
Aomori
030-0802
Tel: 017 777 1585
Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum map

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sanfuri Yokocho

さんふり横丁,青森

Aomori in the far north of Japan has a well-deserved reputation for the excellence of its local food.

Sanfuri Yokocho Aomori


Sanfuri Yokocho (Yataimura) in the east of the city is a recreation of intimate Showa-style food stalls offering a few seats (8-12) around a counter presided over by a mama. The 15 stalls are arranged in an alley covered with paper lanterns. Sanfuri Yokocho opened in 2005 and is open in the evenings.

Sanfuri Yokocho


Diners can try some of Aomori's excellent sashimi (raw fish), kaiyaki miso (pictured above), and oden washed down with a glass or two of local sake or beer.

Yatai Mura is north of Amenity Street, one block north of the Aomori Prefectural Folk Museum.

Sanfuri Yokocho Aomori


Yatai Mura
Honmachi 3-8-3
Aomori
030-0802
Tel: 017 745 4242
Map of Yatai Mura

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