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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Japan News This Week 24 May 2015


Japan News.
The Threat to Press Freedom in Japan
New York Times

Japan aquariums to stop buying Taiji dolphins

Japan security council approves bid to build Australian submarines

Tokyo museum to exhibit sex art, breaking ‘shunga’ taboo
Japan Times

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Deeply Flawed Partnership
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"Income inequality in Japan is above the OECD average and increased since the mid-1980s, as in the majority of OECD countries. In 2009, the average income of the top 10% of Japanese was 10.7 times that of the bottom 10%, up from a ratio of 8 to 1 in the mid-1990s and 7 to 1 in the mid-1980s. This compares to an OECD average of 9.6 to 1 in 2013."

Source: OECD

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Aioiyama Ryokuchi Park Nagoya


Aioiyama Park in Nagoya is a small, forested oasis in the south east of the city's urban sprawl.

Aioiyama Ryokuchi Park Nagoya.

Set around a small hill, the park consists of woods and large areas of bamboo interspersed with small orchards. Aioiyama Ryokuchi Park i one of the few remaining forests in the city that were once used for timber and charcoal.

Aioiyama Park attracts families out for a stroll, joggers and people looking for archaeological finds.

Aioiyama Ryokuchi Park Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture.

There are signposted walking trails through the park which is full of the tranquil sounds of birds and insects. Look out for the many species of butterflies here in summer.

At this time of year however, the park is a haven for mosquitoes so please keep yourself well-covered and wear a protective spray.

The nearest subway station to Aioiyama Park is Aioiyama on the Sakuradori Line, about a 15 minute walk south of the park. Buses 野並11系統 and 植田11系統 both run close to the park entrance.

Aioiyama Ryokuchi Park Nagoya, Aichi, Japan.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 64 Nagasaki to Nagaura

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 64, Nagasaki to Nagaura
Thursday March 6th 2014

I catch a train north out of Nagasaki from Nagasaki Station to avoid the long slog through the city with its rush hour traffic. From Michinoo station it is still really built up and busy but at least I've avoided a long slow climb. I soon reach Togitsu, and, as I am prone to do, I notice the manhole covers that depict some sort of towering rock formation. A little bit further and I can see the rock pillar protruding above the tree on the hillside behind the main road. Apparently it's called Tsugi Ishi Bozu. I decline the detour up the hillside for a closer look.

Once I get to what appears to be the town center I do make a detour. My map shows a big shrine that I fancy exploring. On my way to the shrine I come across what must have been a rich man's house. It is all locked up and there is no signboard explaining what it is or who it belonged to. Not much different from many similar houses I've come across that are open to the public with an entrance fee.

Inari Shrine with fox figurines.

I find the shrine on the hillside nearby. It's an Inari shrine, which are usually very popular, and there are lots of smaller shrines scattered around. Inside the main hall is a statue of a female figure riding a fox, one of the two most common representations of Inari, the other being an old white-haired man carrying rice.

As with all Inari shrines there are hundreds of small fox figurines left as offerings. There is also a white stone komainu though it is very much in Chinese style, not so uncommon in the Nagasaki area I guess.

I head back to the main road and soon reach the shore of Omura Bay. The railway line and expressway head up the eastern shore of the bay and I am taking the route up what I hope to be the much quieter western shore. Lined up on the concrete wharf here at the southern edge there are four Ebisu statues. Probably collected together here from the surrounding neighborhood. Ebisu seems to be very popular here in Nagasaki.

The main road hugs the shore where infill and concrete have extended the land out into the water. Fortunately I can take the older roads that quietly wind through the villages. There are shrines aplenty including several more to Inari. At one shrine there is a sumo ring in the grounds. A raised area of packed earth with a thick rope layed out in a circle embedded in the ground.

Omura Bay, Kyushu, Japan.

Some areas of Japan tend to have sumo rings at shrines whereas some don't. As I get further away from the conurbation of Nagasaki the scenery of the bay becomes prettier. It's a narrow, convoluted bay with lots of small islands. It's actually more like a lake as the inlet into the bay is just a very narrow channel that I will be crossing tomorrow.

There are a lot of love hotels, though they seem to be a little more modern and upmarket than those I usually encounter in rural areas. The traffic thins a little as the day wears on, though detours off the main road to visit shrines are a peaceful break. The road cuts inland and rises to cross over a headland that juts into the bay.

As I come down the other side I see Nagaura nestles along the water ahead. It's still relatively early in the day but I have booked a room here in a small waterfront ryokan. I am the only guest and my room looks out over the water. I spend the last few hours of the day sitting on the dock of the bay watching the colors of the view across the water change as the sun gets lower behind me.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 62

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Osoraku: probability in Japanese

たぶん おそらく

osoraku is a Japanese adverb that means something like "maybe" or "probably" and is used often in Japanese: a language whose speakers often almost delight in its "vagueness."

Learners of Japanese are generally more familiar with tabun, another word that expresses possibility or probability. tabun is  much more likely to appear in textbooks for Japanese language learners than is osoraku.

However, if you want to add an extra level of sophistication to your Japanese, it pays to know how to use tabun and osoraku because, while there is overlap between them, many situations will call for tabun and not osoraku.

The first thing we'll look at when differentiating these two words is the kanji that forms them. tabun is made up of 多 (ta) meaning "a lot, many, a great number/quantity" and 分 (bun) which means "part(s)." If you take "parts" as meaning parts per hundred, or the familiar idea of percentage, then tabun means "a high percentage," i.e., a good chance, a high probability, a better than average likelihood. In other words, tabun expresses a purely mathematical concept.

osoraku on the other hand is a completely different animal in terms of the kanji character it's based on. If tabun is your bespectacled math teacher, osoraku is a monster, the kanji 恐 (onyomi: kyo) standing for fear, dread and awe, usually expressed in the kunyomi adjective osorashii (terrible, dreadful, terrifying, frightening). However, in solving the puzzle of how and why this scary word is used to express something as everyday as probability, an English analogy readily comes to the rescue: the way we sometimes use "fear" in English, as in "I fear we'll never see him again."

"We'll probably never see him again" (たぶん再開することがないでしょう。 Tabun saikai suru koto ga nai desho)is a flat statement of probability, whereas "I fear we'll never see him again" (おそらく再開することがないでしょう。 Osoraku saikai suru koto ga nai desho)carries a clear emotional message of regret at probably never meeting again.

osoraku should therefore be used only in situations where the probability being expressed is unpalatable, undesirable, regrettable. Whereas tabun has a broader reach and can cover any possibility, desirable or undesirable.

Therefore, for example, when looking at old photos: "That's probably Mary." would be "Tabun Mary da." No one will think twice if you say "Osoraku Mary da," but tabun is better here.

Similarly if you're looking for the family dog: "He probably went that way." "Tabun achi itta daro." is better, but "Osoraku achi itta daro" is also okay.

However, you shouldn't use osoraku when the probable result is desirable. "Tabun kekkon suru daro" (They'll probably get married.) is a neutral expression of probability, but if you were to say "Osoraku kekkon suru daro" it would indicate that the likely prospect of those two getting married sends shivers up your spine.

To sum up, feel free to use tabun for any probability; it is completely neutral and covers all bases. However, exercise a little caution with osoraku and use it only when the possibility being expressed is one you'd rather not happen.

Now try the following osoraku test. Which sentences can use "osoraku"? (Answers below.)
1. Ashita wa ________ ame desho. (It'll possibly rain tomorrow.)
2. Bokutachi wa ________ katsu daro. (We could well win.)
3. ________ ma ni awanai daro. (She may well not make it on time.)
4. ________ nakushita yo. (You probably lost it.)
5. ________ mou yoku natta deshou. (It's probably come right already.)

Tabun can be used in all sentences, but osoraku should be used only in sentences one, three and four.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Araki Shusei Museum


Japan is full of weird and wonderful museums many of which are somewhat obscure.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya.

The Araki Shusei Museum certainly falls in to that category but is well worth a visit if you happen to be in suburban Hara in Nagoya.

A local junior high school teacher Araki sent his students out on archaeological hunts and the results can be seen on the second floor with exhibits of pottery, tools, weapons and ceremonial objects from the earliest periods of Japanese history until the Kamakura Period.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya, Aichi.

Pieces of interest include an ancient stone lingam and roof tiles made in Nagoya for the temple of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) in Kamakura.

The first floor has wooden models of floats used in various festivals in the area and throughout Japan, along with a collection of hinanotsurushi ('hanging chicks').

Araki Shusei Museum
Nakahira 5-616
Tel: 052 802 2531
Admission 300 yen for adults.

The Araki Shusei Museum is open 10am-5pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is a 15-minute walk up the hill from Hara Station towards Hara Fire Station.

Araki Shusei Museum, Hara, Nagoya, Aichi.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Japan News This Week 15 May 2017


Japan News.
Haruki Murakami’s ‘Strange Library’ and ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’
New York Times

Japan's first post-WWII arms exhibition

In Japan hell is due north

Japan’s rural schools run out of students

Is Japan the new Britain?

Filmmakers Ash and Kamanaka discuss radiation, secrets and lives
Japan Times

The Sense of Sacred: Mauna Kea and Oura Bay
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


World Competitive Rankings:

1 Switzerland
2 Singapore
4 Finland
5 Germany
6 Japan
7 Hong Kong
8 Netherlands
9 United Kingdom
10 Sweden

Source: World Economic Forum

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Friday, May 15, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 63 Obama to Nagasaki

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 63, Obama to Nagasaki
Friday February 21st 2014

The sun may or may not be up as I head out of Obama and take the road north along the coast of Tachibana Bay. Looming over the town the massive Mount Unzen blocks any view of the sun until later in the morning. Looking back, plumes of steam rise from among the buildings, a signature of an onsen town.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 63 Obama to Nagasaki, Japan.

Tachibana Bay is calm and a little darker shade of blue than the sky. A thin line of even darker blue shows the far shore dividing the two expanses of blue. After half an hour I am able to veer off the main road and take route 210 which was once a railway line. I come to a fork just outside the first fishing village. My map says to take the right fork which starts to rise. My natural inclination is to take the lower road that will hug the coast, but I defer to my map.

The road climbs gently and gives a nice overview over the village below and then passes through a narrow tunnel with the distinctive horseshoe shape of a railway tunnel. Coming out of the tunnel I come upon what I presume to be a local TV station making a travel program.

An older man and a younger woman are both dressed in khaki shorts and wearing pith helmets. I resist the urge to shout out "Doctor Livingstone I presume!" With only a cameraman and a sound man as crew I am presuming they are a low budget local TV show something along the lines of "Lets Explore Locally," because the next section of the road is a minor tourist attraction known as the Green Tunnel.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 63 Obama to Nagasaki by Jake Davies.

The road, formerly the railway track, passes through a narrow cutting and the trees growing above have spread their canopy over the narrow cutting thereby creating a “green tunnel”. The road curves around the mountainside passing through several more tunnels. At several points there are great views down onto fishing villages below and along the approaching north shore of the bay.

The road starts to descend as slowly as it ascended and I end up in Chijiwa where the main road now heads west towards Nagasaki. I find a convenience store to stock up at and sit with a coffee and check my maps. I want to avoid the main road if I can. I find a coast road that literally runs between the cliffs and the sea. Perfect. There is no traffic save for the occasional k-truck. The road comes to an end at a small onsen located right on the beach. From here there is no easy way along the coast so I head inland and join up with the main road heading to Nagasaki.

The road is fairly busy and at first there is a sidewalk, but as it leaves the village the sidewalk ends but starts again at the next village. The road is windy and goes up and down, though never steeply, and because of this the view changes often. I am surprised by the number of love hotels around.

It is still about 30 kilometers to Nagasaki, but it is about halfway between Nagasaki and Isahaya, so maybe they serve both populations. Its a fairly uneventful afternoon with a couple of shrine visits, but as the traffic increases closer to Nagasaki it becomes less enjoyable. By late afternoon I have covered 30 kilometers but there is still more than 10 to go and I think maybe 40km is too much. In the summer, with the longish days, 40km is doable, but at this time of the year it is just too much so I check the timetable at the next bus stop and finding a bus imminent I decide to take it. Tomorrow I head home. This leg has seen me cover 190 kilometers, making a total of 1,710 kilometers in total.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 62

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station


Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station in Shinjuku, Tokyo is a station on the Toei Oedo Line of the Tokyo subway.

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station, Tokyo.

Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station opened in 2000. Adjacent stations are Tochomae and Higashi-Shinjuku.

Close to Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station is the Shinjuku Bus Station with buses for destinations throughout Japan.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II camera review

キャノン パワーショット   G1XマークII

Earlier this year I dropped my trusty old Canon Powershot 9 while climbing on a wall at the National Museum of Nature & Science in Ueno, Tokyo to get a better shot of the massive whale sculpture there. In the middle of it all, a guard came up and motioned me to get down--a warning that came just too late as my camera was already broken. The lens housing must have gotten bent and the lens would no longer extend.

Having had the Powershot 9 for at least three years, and being as avid a consumer as the next shopper, I wasn't as disconsolate as I made out I was to my, more frugal, partner, and promptly began looking for a replacement.

I was keen to start from scratch, and looked at all cameras available that matched my budget of about 60-90,000 yen. However, although starting from scratch, I must disclose my loyalty to Canon for its picture quality. Canon started out with the advantage of my knowing that I like how Canon reproduces color. There's a clarity and depth with Canon which outweighed in my  mind the PowerShot 9's tendency to overexpose the sky in scenes with light/dark contrast.

The single feature I was most interested in was global positioning system (GPS) compatibility. There's nothing more tedious than trying to work out where a photo was taken, especially when you're trying to write guides to Japanese cities. And keeping a notebook handy while snapping is hardly less tedious than resorting to Google Maps streetview to identify places.

I was also interested in high-dynamic-range imaging (HDRI or HDR) as used on my iPhone, as I noticed it avoided the whiting out of skies that I often encountered with my Powershot.

Nikon Coolpix cameras were either below my budget or too bulky. I had an Olympus camera years ago and found the Canon to reproduce color better, so didn't consider Olympus this time around.  The Olympus OMD EM10 would have been the contender, but, hey, call me prejudiced. I looked at Fujifilm, too, but the only class I was interested in, the X-class, was beyond my budget, topping the 100,000 yen mark.

I narrowed it down to three contenders: the Sony a6000. the Lumix DMC-LX100 and the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II.

Comparing camera makes and models can be an endless process and involves getting to grips with any number of technical issues regarding pixels, focus, resolution, and lens speed to name a few. After several days of poring over such details, I came to the conclusion that, besides taking into account the presence or absence of specific features I wanted, finding out what the camera felt like to hold and viewing the results of what it shot was a more than acceptable shortcut to a decision.

Major impressions were that the Sony looked good, had a nice chunky grip, 4K video capture, and very high resolution (according to the specs) - but no touch screen and no GPS tagging. So it was down to the Lumix and the Powershot.

The Lumix had very solid focusing and 4K video capture. But I attended a family get-together one weekend during the month or so that I was investigating camera options, and an uncle of mine had just bought the Lumix. I had a play around with it and it felt all right, but was not that taken by how the picture looked compared to my old Powershot 9.

The Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II was considerably heavier than my Powershot 9 had been, and didn't have that great a grip, either. However, it had GPS tagging (like the Lumix, using a smartphone app), and a screen that was not only a touchscreen, but twisted all the way around for taking selfies. And, most importantly of all, it took pictures with same rich, solid coloration that I had been used to with the previous Powershot.

I always look on Kakaku.com and Amazon first when I'm making a major purchase, but the price there was no better than that offered by brick-and-mortar Sofmap in Akihabara, since I'm a member and get points. I thought I was too old and ugly to get truly excited about things anymore, so was surprised to feel my heart do a palpable little flip when they brought the sleek, black box out from the stockroom. That sense of excitement has persisted with this intuitive, feature-packed camera.

Having had my Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II for a three months now, I have found the following pros and cons:

-There is no physical viewfinder. It requires paying for an expensive snap-on accessory that would only add to the bulk of an already somewhat bulky camera. However, using the screen to compose shots is often hit-and-miss in bright sunshine, and trying to see the spirit level that lets you know if you're holding the camera straight is often impossible in such conditions.
-Poor grip, improved only by buying an accessory grip (which I did) which makes it better, but still not great. You're still curling your fingers around the camera rather than having it nestled in your palm.
-Having the Wi-Fi switch just above the thumb pad. No end of times, especially in have-to-get-that-shot moments, my thumb will inadvertently press the Wi-Fi switch and take the camera completely out of shooting mode. Aggravating.

-the excellent picture quality that I liked in my PowerShot 9, but in even higher resolution.
-a geotagging system that uses Canon's CameraConnect smartphone app. CameraConnect also lets you download photos directly from the camera to the phone using Wi-Fi, and even remotely control the camera.  The remote control thing is fun, but I don't use it often. However, downloading photos from camera to phone instantly is great. Instagram pictures, for example, look much better taken on the Canon than the iPhone. Connecting the camera to the app often takes two or three tries before it works, but, in a way that doesn't really mesh with the cold, hard zeroes-and-ones image of things digital, it seems that the more you use it, the more the camera gets used to it, and responsiveness and stability quickly improve with use. The Wi-Fi connection doesn't require a Wi-Fi environment: just the camera (which generates the Wi-Fi signal) and your smartphone (which receives it). GPS data is recorded on the phone and you add it later using the Wi-Fi connection. We went to East Timor and Bali over Golden Week, and in places like that, getting a GPS signal can take up to 10 minutes, but if you're patient the signal does get found, and the geotagging works.
-the folding out and forward-flippable screen. The screen is a touchscreen, which is great for when you want to quickly select a subject to focus on. But even better is how the screen flips out so that you can look down at the screen with the camera at bellybutton level and take photos. Japanese people in particular are very touchy indeed about getting their photo taken without their permission, and while I never take a photo with the intention of embarrassing anyone, there are times when taking pictures in crowded areas when not having to hold the camera up to eye level has the advantage of being unobtrusive. Also, having the screen flip forwards for selfies is great, as the breadth of field captured is much greater than can be captured with my iPhone - making group shots easier - and, of course, the photo is much better quality.
-the huge range of options and features available (although this is not to say that the Lumix or  the Sony, or any of the others I looked at, were in any way inferior in this regard). One of my favorites is the Creative Shot mode that takes five shots with every shutter press and assigns each one a different effect and zoom setting, depending on what Creative Shot option you go for. I usually use Auto, which selects from all effects and comes up with some really striking, beautifully filtered shots. Perfect for promotional and party shots.
-the step zoom (works only in automatic mode) allowing more exact and decisive zooming in fast-changing situations when using the zoom lever would be likely to take you in too close or too far out.

All up, the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II is the ideal camera for the dedicated amateur who wants the option of both complete automation with a huge selection of special effects, or completely manual operation with a powerful range of adjustable settings--all for less than USD1,000, and beautifully toned pictures guaranteed.

To see photos taken with the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II, see JapanVisitor's Oizumi Google+ album shot using the Canon Powershot G1Z Mark II and enhanced in Adobe Lightroom.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Shouganai: What can you do?

 Shouganai. You don't need to spend much time with a Japanese person to hear this phrase. "There's nothing for it," "It can't be helped," "What can you do?"

Shou (i.e., shō, with a long o) is actually an abbreviation of the word shiyou, which can either mean "way," "method," "means" "resource," "remedy," or "specifications," as of a smartphone or fridge. The first meaning is being referred to here, and the "ga nai" bit simply means "there is none": i.e.   there is no way, no means, no remedy.

Shouganai therefore expresses a sense of resignation, although not necessarily a willing resignation. For example, take the sentence "Aitsu o miru to imaimashikute shouganai."
あいつを見るといまいましくてしょうがない。 "Seeing that guy really gets my hackles up, but what can I do?" The "what can I do?" here powerfully expresses the degree of annoyance and provocation being experienced in that it suggests that doing something about it would entail an action so awful that in the long run it wouldn't be worth it.

The speaker is very much stating that any drastic remedy lies beyond the pale, is entirely impractical, and therefore that gritting one's teeth and plodding on is all that can be done.

Whether shouganai is something the Japanese consciously use against each other in order to take liberties is arguable. However, shouganai definitely lets people get away with aggravating examples of behavior.

For example, no Japanese person I know likes the noisy electioneering cars and vans that wend the streets every few months frenetically jabbering for votes at hugely amplified volume. And even less are sympathetic to the right-wing trucks that aggressively blare martial music through cities and harangue shopping crowds outside stations at even higher volume.

Yet, the thinking goes, for example, that Japan's a democracy, everyone must have their say, these people have invested a lot in what they're doing and are rousing people to have their political say, or that these other poeple have grievances that must be aired--"better expressed in violent words than in violent actions," etc. etc. So, irksome, even painful, as it all might be, "what can you do?"--"Yakamashii kedo, shouganai." ("It's a racket, but what can you do?")

The wind's high, capt'n, the seas are rough
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai
Kenji got Naoko up the duff
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

I'm pooped, I can't work a single hour more
I feel like I'm going to die.
The Katos are rich, so why are we poor?
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

That new Chinese airfield sprung up from the sea
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai
Kim Jong-un's new missiles are aimed right at me
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

And now who's on hand to help but the Yanks?
(Who just years back gave us a black eye)
"America, please." "America, thanks."
Shou ga nai'n dayo, shou ga nai

More about the Japanese language

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