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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sangi Railway Hokusei Line


The Sangi Railway Hokusei Line which runs 20km within Mie Prefecture from Nishi Kuwana Station in Kuwana to Ageki Station in Inabe is a Japanese trainspotters' delight.

The Hokusei Line is a 762mm narrow gauge railway that gives the carriages a "toy-train" feel.

Sangi Railway Hokusei Line train

Like the Yoro Line to Ogaki that also has a terminus at Kuwana, the Hokusei Line was previously owned by Kintetsu Railways until 2003.

The service between Nishi Kuwana and Ageki is a local one that stops at every station and is driver only with no conductor. There are two trains an hour increasing to three at peak times.

The complete list of stations on the Hokusei Line is: Nishi Kuwana (西桑名), Umamichi (馬道), Nishi Bessho (西別所), Rengeji (蓮花寺), Ariyoshi (在良), Hoshikawa (星川), Nanawa (七和), Ano (穴太), Toin (東員), Oizumi (大泉), Sohara (楚原), Oda (麻生田) and Ageki (阿下喜).

Sangi Railway Hokusei Line train at Nishi Kuwana

There are only four 762mm narrow gauge railways in Japan and the Hokusei Line is the longest. The others are the Kintetsu Utsube Line and Kintetsu Hachioji Line (both in Mie Prefecture near Yokkaichi) and the Kurobe Gorge Railway in Toyama Prefecture.

Places of interest near to Hokusei Line stations include Hashiri Izun Temple near Umamichi Station, the first stop from Nishi Kuwana, about 1km away.

Nishi Kuwana Station, Mie Prefecture

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Echizen Railway


The Echizen Railway in Fukui has two lines: the Katsuyama-Eiheiji Line (color code orange) and the Mikuni-Awara Line (blue).

Echizen Railway train at Fukui Station

The Katsuyama-Eiheiji Line runs from Echizen Railway Fukui Station, just outside the East Exit of Fukui Station to the terminus at Katsuyama, where there are buses to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Although the bus service to Eiheiji Temple is more direct you can change at Eiheiji-guchi and transfer to a bus to visit the famous Zen temple.

Katsuyama Station has been restored to its former glories and the pretty, timber-framed building now hosts a cafe looking out on to the platform.

Echizen Railway Fukui Station

The Mikuni-Awara Line runs 28km from Echizen Railway Fukui Station to Mikuni-Minato Station in Sakai. The inbound services to Fukui Station are timed to connect with Hokuriku Express trains from JR Fukui Station.

Echizen Railway Katsuyama Station Fukui Japan

The Echizen Railway is something of a step back in time and should be a treat for fans of Japanese railways. Each train has a (male) driver and (female) attendant (pictured above) in a division of the sexes fairly typical of Japanese society as a whole.

Echizen Railway Katsuyama Station Fukui

The Echizen Railway Mikuni-Awara Line connects with the Fukubu tram line at Tawaramachi Station.

Echizen Railway
Click to enlarge

The Echizen Railway was previously operated by Kyoto-based Keifuku Electric Railway until ownership was transferred to Echizen Railway after a couple of accidents on the line in 2001.

Echizen Railway

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Monday, October 20, 2014

eyexplore Tokyo Photo Tour

I took part on Saturday in a hands-on photo tour called "Tradition and Modernity" organized by eyexploretokyo photo tours.

Japanese couple with parasol in Hamarikyu Park, Tokyo.

I had actually booked a couple of weeks beforehand for the eyexploretokyo "People and Streets" tour that took groups of aspiring tourist/photographers through the streets of Harajuku, but Typhoon Phanfone put paid to that.

"Tradition and Modernity" began in Tokyo's beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens, which is ideal for the theme given its deeply traditional landscaping and examples of Japanese architecture against a not-so-distant backdrop of very modern skyscrapers that almost surround the park.

Inside Hamarikyu Park, Tokyo.

Magnus, our tour guide, is a professional photographer, originally from Germany and now based in Japan. "Tradition" obviously being of the Japanese variety, we were encouraged to draw on Japanese aesthetic traditions in composing our photos. Our guide not only gave examples, but provided clear and constructive feedback on the photos we took. Comparing what we had taken with what he had taken, and with shots by other participants, too, was a valuable learning experience in itself.

Shiodome City Center building, Tokyo, taken on an eyexploretokyo photo tour.

The afternoon sun on the park gave way to dusk, and we were encouraged to take advantage of the changing light to capture scenes creatively and memorably.

We then walked to nearby Shinbashi station, through a cluster of skyscrapers, which we spent further time photographing more in the "modernity" vein. The next stop was Yurakucho, a warren of darkly lit underpaths and alleys that feature tiny Japanese-style pubs and snack stalls - evocative of the movie Bladerunner which drew very much on this tradition-modernity dichotomy for its effect.

eyexploretokyo guide, Magnus, in Shiodome, Tokyo, Japan.
Our expert eyexploretokyo guide, Magnus, in foreground

I appreciated in particular the handy hints regarding aperture and speed settings for the dingy conditions we were shooting in, and found a touch of new-found confidence operating in manual mode.

Colorful advertising in a Yamanote line train, Tokyo.

The group then moved on to the brand-new, super-modern Kitte building in Marunouchi, from whose outdoor balcony we finished up with more night shots, of the recently, and beautifully, renovated Tokyo Station, in all its redbrick grandeur complete with restored cupolas.

Raamen shop underneath Yurakucho station, Tokyo.

The above shots are from my own "best of" on the day which, thanks to eyexploretokyo, represent a far better outcome than my usual unreflective solitary pointing and shooting.

Recently restored Tokyo Station by night.

I heartily recommend one of these tours to anyone in Tokyo, resident or tourist. This tour opened this long-term Tokyo resident's eyes to new aspects of Tokyo's charm, mystery and beauty ... in expert hands, in great company, and with some beautiful shots to show for it.

eyexploretokyo website (check out the eyexploretokyo Facebook page too)

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Japan News This Week 19 October 2014


Japan News.
Japan, Seeking Revision of Report on Wartime Brothels, Is Rebuffed
New York Times

Typhoon Vongfong injures dozens in Japan

South Korea urged to drop libel charges against Japanese journalist

Reactor safety near Japan’s volcanoes disputed by prominent expert
Japan Times

Japan and Its Neighbors: Shinzo Abe's Northeast Asia Diplomacy
The Diplomat

Democracy's Porous Borders: Espionage, Smuggling and the Making of Japan's Transwar Regime (Part 2) 民主主義の境界は隙だらけ スパイ活動、密輸などで形成された貫戦旗(トランスウォー)体制 (下)
Japan Focus

More than one land of the rising sun
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


24.9% of Japanese people live with either a cat or a dog making a national total of 11,530,000 dogs and 9,750,000 cats.
Source: Nippon Zenyaku Kogyo Co.,Ltd

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Tenmonkan Kagoshima


Tenmonkan in Kagoshima is one of the city's main shopping, entertainment and accommodation districts.

Tenmonkan Kagoshima

Long shotengai covered arcades such as Tenmonkan Hon-dori (Main Street) Arcade and the Tenmonkan G3 Arcade (Sennichi-dori) stretch out from both sides of the main road through the area where the Kagoshima tram runs.

The glass roofed arcades offer shelter from the elements during winter and summer as well as the ash from Sakurajima.

Tenmonkan shotengai arcade Kagoshima Kyushu Japan

The arcades are home to a variety of shops, bakeries, restaurants, cafes and izakaya - Japanese style pubs.

Look out for the delicious anko - azuki bean paste - sweets on sale. From Kagoshima Chuo Station take the street car to the Tenmonkan stop.

Tenmonkan Kagoshima Kyushu Japan

One of the many hotels in the Tenmonkan area is the recommended Richmond Hotel Kagoshima Tenmonkan.

Other places to stay in Tenmonkan, Kagoshima include the Cent Inn Nibankan, the 2-star, budget Hotel New Nishino, the 3-star Sun Days Inn Kagoshima, the Toyoko Inn Kagoshima Tenmonkan No.2, the Kagoshima Plaza Hotel Tenmonkan, the Chisun Inn Kagoshima, the one-star Business Hotel Tenmonkan and the Remm Kagoshima.

Tenmonkan Kagoshima Kyushu Japan

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hirabari Station


Hirabari Station is one stop west of Akaike Station, one stop east of Hara Station and two stops east of Ueda Station on the Tsurumai Line of Nagoya subway. Hirabari Station is the nearest subway station to Nagoya Driving License Center and Nagoya Agricultural Center, famous for its plum blossoms in early spring.

Hirabari Station, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture

The area around Hirabari Station includes a Piago supermarket open from 10am until 8pm, a pachinko parlor, a branch of the Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ bank, Hirabari Post Office, a Mister Donut outlet, a branch of Osho Gyoza, a Matsuya gyudon fast food restaurant, a B&D discount pharmacy, an ECC language school, and a variety of shops, bars, cafes, clinics, restaurants and izakaya.

Hirabari Station on the Tsurumai subway line

Hirabari Station has full wheelchair access by elevator and a charged bicycle parking lot (100 yen for bicycles). There is a taxi rank at the station.

Hirabari Station bus terminal

Buses from Ueda include the Kan Hongo 1 for Hongo, the Hirabari 11 for Hara Station, the Hirabari 12 for Hirabari Jutaku public housing estate, the Nagoya Driver's License Center, and Tokushige Station and the Tokushige 11 for Tokushige Station on the Sakura-dori subway line.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Japan News This Week 12 October 2014


Japan News.
Japan Protests an Indictment of a Journalist
New York Times

Japan volcano: 12 more found dead

Giovanni’s Island review – an animated tale of a harrowing postwar exile

Failing was fun, Nobel physics laureate says of blue LED quest
Japan Times

In Japan, Will Hafu Ever Be Considered Whole?
The Diplomat

Japan Focus

Japan orders Google to 'forget' a user's past
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


2014 Global AgeWatch Index. The index compares of quality of life in older age possible by nation:

1. Norway
2. Sweden
3. Switzerland
4. Canada
4. Germany
6. Netherlands
6. Iceland
8. USA
9. Japan
10. New Zealand
11. UK
48. China
50. South Korea

Source: Global AgeWatch

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Homelessness in Meijo Koen


The efforts of Rev. Daniel Rea to address the homeless population in Nagoya, Japan's 4th largest city, include an out-reach to other churches active in the area addressing this pressing social problem, in an effort to co-ordinate a united policy for tackling the issue.

Homelessness in Meijo Koen, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Homelessness is manifestly low on the priorities of policy-makers in Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture as a whole and the problem has been left to churches and local NGO's to provide short-term, make-shift solutions to a social concern crying out for decisive, city-wide governmental action.

We visited the MIR Restoration Church, a short walk from Tokai-dori Station on the Meiko Line from Kanayama Station situated in an area of vast public housing blocks, housing a large proportion of Japanese-Brazilian immigrants.

MIR Restoration Church, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

The MIR Restoration Church provides a now, sadly, run-down shelter for five people behind its main church premises, where homeless men can find accommodation and access day work in local factories and businesses as well as claim state benefits. The building is far from ideal and faces closure from the city authorities, who seek to have the structure condemned as unsafe.

Down the street, the Pentecostal Assembleia de Deus shares premises with a Filipino congregation the Immanuel Christian Fellowship both active in the area for social welfare and care for the disadvantaged.

Immanuel Christian Fellowship, Tokai-dori, Nagoya

Later we visited Meijo Koen, Nagoya's main inner city park, close to the tourist attraction of Nagoya Castle, where a small population of homeless people have moved into the interior of the grounds near the lake, a popular place for cherry blossom viewing in spring. It seems they may have been moved away from the entrances to the park under pressure from the authorities, though this has not been confirmed.

Assembleia de Deus, Tokai-dori, Nagoya, Aichi

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Bloody Moon Eclipse Over Tokyo

Yesterday's eclipse of the moon was, fortunately, visible from Japan and occurred in the evening.

By the time I finished work at about 7 p.m., there was just a bright white sliver, about 1/16 of the moon, at the top of the lunar disk, and as I cycled home over the next half hour it got gradually smaller and smaller until, at about 7:45 p.m., the moon was almost entirely obscured - although still able to be identified by the reddish-brown tinge it had taken on. The color of the eclipse this time earned it the moniker of a "blood moon" - a suitably spooky one for an event so steeped in mystery and superstition.

Eclipse of the moon over Marunouchi, Tokyo.
Lunar eclipse over Marunouchi, Tokyo. (Yes, that dot in the sky!)
Almost as interesting as the eclipse itself was the reaction it elicited, of contained excitement and intense curiosity among the scores of people at almost every street corner or other vantage point.

Cycling down past the Imperial Palace and through the Marunouchi district, I saw dozens and dozens of mobile phones somewhat futilely pointed at the night sky to record the event (I say futilely, because look at the meager result of mine above, taken on my phone!)

Once home I got out my camera and took a shot of the almost fully eclipsed moon from the balcony looking east. In this somewhat better shot, you can make out the red, fully eclipsed moon quite high in the sky. Below it, in the middle of the photo is the broad "coolly hat" silhouette of the Kokugikan (the headquarters of sumo in Japan) and, right behind it, the Edo Tokyo Museum - both in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo.

Red, fully eclipsed moon over the Kokugikan and Edo Tokyo Museum, Tokyo.
Red, fully eclipsed moon in the sky over the Kokugikan and Edo Tokyo Museum, Tokyo.

A lunar eclipse is called a gesshoku 月食 in Japanese, the first kanji being for "moon" and the second for "eat": a colorful rendition of a phenomenon where, indeed, the moon does appear to be being consumed.

Apparently this eclipse is one of only eight tetrads that will happen in the twenty-first century, a tetrad being a set of four eclipses. The first in this current tetrad took place in April, with the next two due to happen on April 4th and September 28th, 2015.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Nagoya to Fukui By Highway Bus


The quickest way to get from Nagoya to Fukui is by train. However, though an hour longer in travel time, the highway bus from Nagoya Station is cheaper especially if you buy a fixed return ticket, though it is usually no problem to change the time of your departure at Fukui Station.

Nagoya to Fukui By Highway Bus, Nagoya Station

The highway bus to Fukui leaves from the Taikoguchi Shinkansen exit of Nagoya Station and arrives at the East Exit of Fukui Station. There are various stops on the route including at a highway service station and in Tsuruga and Sabae on the way to Fukui on the Hokuriku Expressway around the eastern side of Lake Biwa.

Taikoguchi Exit Nagoya Highway Bus Ticket Office

Journey time is 3 hours. A single ticket is 3,000 yen with a fixed return 5, 140 yen. By train from Nagoya the quickest journey time without changing is by Shirasagi Limited Express train taking 2 hours, 11 minutes and costing 5,700 yen for a single. Another route is to take a Hikari Shinkansen to Maibara from Nagoya Station and then change to the Shirasagi. Journey time is only 99 minutes and the fare is 6,120 yen.

Nagoya-Fukui Highway Bus at Fukui Station

The highway bus at the Taikoguchi exit of Nagoya Station leaves from stop number 2 where buses depart for Fukui and Kanazawa and less frequently to Kofu and Toyama. Departure times for Fukui are 7.10am, 8.30am, 10am, 11.10am, 1.10pm, 3.10pm, 5.10pm and 7.10pm.

Return buses to Nagoya depart Fukui Station at 7am, 8am, 10.30am, 12.50pm, 2.30pm, 4.30pm, 6pm and 7pm.

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