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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Living With Robots in Japan

Japan, the land of Mobile Suit Gundam, has long been a leader in the field of robotics. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Japanese are bringing robotics to bear on the biggest problem facing Japan: how to care for its skyrocketing numbers of elderly citizens.

Japan doesn't do immigration, so there is no pool of cheap foreign careworkers to draw on, and nursing and care work in Japan is poorly paid and stressful - meaning few of the ever dwindling number of young Japanese are attracted to it.

Enter the robots: not just slaves that bring the bedridden bottles of green tea, but also a mechanical seal with luscious long eyelashes and a soft silky pelt called Paro that responds pretty realistically to touch and voice. Paro is on the cutting edge of “soft robotics” that aims to serve the mind rather than the body, encouraging the lonely and those suffering dementia to interact with something that elicits emotions.

The Financial Times explores this state of robotics among Japan's elderly in a short, slick documentary video called "The soft side of robots: elderly care." Hear a centenarian rave about her Paro, a nonagenarian speak of the dangers of robots, and hear from Paro's inventor himself about how his wacky idea was conceived and how it has succeeded. Check it out here on YouTube:

Read more about aging Japan

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Monday, May 23, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima To the Great Kannon

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 6, To the Great Kannon
Saturday February 6th

Due to a combination of my own schedule and lousy weather forecasts, it has taken a month for me to be able to get back here to Shodoshima so I can finish the last leg of my walk around the island on the Shodoshima 88 Sacred Sites Pilgrimage.

This sixth day of my walk the weather is set to be fine for walking and I am based in Tonoshima and will use the local buses to get back and forth to my various starting points. Today I start from Tonosho and start to head up the western side of the island.

The first temples on the route are across the narrow channel and I can see them from my hotel, but to get to them I must walk into the town and cross the bridge across the Dobuchi Strait and then walk out again.

Once I get to the other side I sit and have a little break and a small car stops and I am given the all too common interrogation: "Where are you going?" "Where are you from?" etc etc. They tell me they have a guest house and I am welcome to come and stay tonight free of charge. I politely decline as I have already paid for my room at the hotel and that is where my luggage is, so then they invite me to come for lunch.

I scribble down the phone number but don't tell them that I don't have a cellphone, as to finish the walk in time I can't afford the break. They drive off and I head up a back street to find the next temple, number 61, Jogen-an, a small place of just two small buildings, but with a large tree in front, an Obame Oak, used to produce a particularly fine type of charcoal called Binchotan.

Not far up the coast road is the next temple, Honkaku-ji, number 53, the temple I could see from my hotel on the other side of the water. It's a fairly substantial temple with many buildings and statues. Some steps lead up the hill to a tall stone pillar topped with four lions. This is an Ashoka Pillar, memorializing the great emperor Ashoka who ruled the Indian sub-continent in the 3rd Century BCE who is famous for converting to Buddhism.

A Walk Around Shodoshima To the Great Kannon.
Shodoshima Pilgrims
A path from the pillar leads up a little more to the next temple, number 65, Komyo-an, a concrete building with no windows. Just as I am about to leave a mini bus turns up and out pile about a dozen chattering pilgrims all dressed in white with staffs and all the other correct pilgrim paraphernalia.

This is the first pilgrim tour group I have encountered on my walk on Shodoshima. I head up the road towards the headland where there are a total of six pilgrimage temples to visit scattered across three or four fishing villages.

Most are unremarkable, but Shorinji, number 68, has a nice raked sand garden featuring a cone and a pyramid. One thing that did strike me as I was wandering around the labyrinth of narrow alleys and lanes in the fishing villages was that over on the other side of the island people were paying good money to visit the 24 Eyes Movie Village, a fake reconstruction of a traditional fishing village, and yet would never dream of visiting any of these genuine ones.

Shikai, fishing village on Shodoshima.
Shikai, fishing village on Shodoshima
As I head north the road veers inland towards the mountain ridge I know I will have to climb over later, but first I stop in at quite a substantial temple, number 70, Chosoji, with white walled grounds and a bell tower gate. There is some nice statuary and gardens within so I pause for a while and prepare for the slow uphill walk to come.

About a kilometer further up the narrow country lane a small car stops. It's the man who stopped earlier this morning and he tells me it's lunchtime and beckons me to get in. His place is just 200 meters back down the road and we go into a big log cabin, imported from Canada apparently. Inside six women are busy preparing lunch.

Free organic lunch at  Mr. Imagawa's place.
Free organic lunch at  Mr. Imagawa's place
Jiro Imagawa has quite a nice set up. He has a big organic farm and also runs a guest house as well as having a converted barn with more spartan facilities at only 2,000 yen a night. He offers a variety of "experience" tours on the island, but many of his guests are WWOOfers, people, often foreign, who stay for free in return for a few hours labor on his farm. So instead of trudging the pilgrim trail up into the mountains I get to enjoy a delicious organic lunch surrounded by female company.


Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 5 Part II

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Japan News This Week 22 May 2016


Japan News.
Abe Voices Outrage After Former U.S. Marine Is Arrested in Okinawa Killing
New York Times

Visiting Tokyo's hedgehog cafe

Questions over Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid are spreading far and wide

Senior Obama aide says remarks in Hiroshima likely to address toll of nuclear weapons, war
Japan Times

Internal Exposure Concealed: The True State of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Debt burden as a percentage of GDP, by country.

Japan: 227.9%
France: 98.2%
UK: 90.6%
USA: 73.6%
Germany: 71.7%
India: 51.7%
China: 16.7%

Source: Time

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

J-World Tokyo

J-World Tokyo is an indoor theme park dedicated to popular "Jump" magazine manga such as Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece.

J-World Tokyo.

Located inside the Sunshine City building in Ikebukuro, J-World Tokyo has a variety of games and attractions for visitors. Instructions for the games are given in English and Chinese as well as Japanese and there are Chinese and English guide books to help foreign visitors navigate the attractions.

J-World Tokyo also has a number of manga-themed places to eat and a gift shop selling goods from the popular series.

J-World Tokyo, Ikebukuro.

An unlimited attractions pass for adults is 2,600 yen or it is 800 yen to enter and then 800 yen for each attraction. For children aged 4-15 the prices are 2,400 yen for an unlimited attractions pass or 600 yen to enter and then 600 yen for each attraction.

J-World Tokyo, Ikebukuro.

J-World Tokyo
Sunshine City World Import Mart Building 3F
3-1-3 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Tokyo 170-0013
Tel: 03 5950 2181
Hours: 10am-10pm (last entry 9pm)

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro

Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro offers rooms with double beds (on the small side) and a kitchenette. The hotel is aimed at young couples (on the small side). As well as the rather cramped quarters, the hotel bathrooms are slightly raised from the floor of the rooms making entry and exit from the tiny unit bathroom rather tricky.

Sheets and towels are not changed nor the room cleaned during your stay but there are coin-operated washing machines available in the hotel and vacuum cleaners on hand if you fancy a spot of hoovering.

Next door to the hotel is an excellent 24-hour shokudo - a canteen-style eatery and there is a convenience store across the street. The location is good if you are visiting nearby Ikebukuro but there are better value hotels with higher standards in other parts of Tokyo.

Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

Situated close to Otsuka Station on the JR Yamanote Line and closer still to Mukohara on the Arakawa tram line, Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro is also a 10 minute walk from Sunshine City in Ikebukuro and a further 10 minutes from there to Ikebukuro Station.

The Mystays chain offers a variety of different hotel types across Japan including capsule hotels (MyCube) and so-called Flexistay Inns.

Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

Hotel Mystays Higashi-Ikebukuro
170-0013 Tokyo
Higashi Ikebukuro 4-39-13

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae


The Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae is a short walk from Matsue Station. Like all Toyoko Inn accommodations in Japan, the Matsue Ekimae branch provides reasonably priced accommodation with a buffet breakfast included.

Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

The rooms are a fair size with space under the bed to store a suitcase. The Wifi is fast and a good night's sleep assured in quiet, downtown Matsue.

The Toyoko Inn in Matsue is close to most of the city's attractions including Matsue CastleLafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and Lafcadio Hearn's Old Residence as well as the popular and fun boat trip along the castle moats.

Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

The Toyoko Inn group has a membership card system which allows for quick and easy online booking with the added benefit of a points system.

Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae
690-0003 Shimane
Matsue, Asahi 498-10

Other hotels close to Matsue Station include the Dormy Inn Express Matsue, the Matsue Plaza Hotel, the Matsue Excel Hotel Tokyu and the Matsue Urban Hotel. At the station's south exit, there is also a sauna where visitor's can find budget accommodation.

Toyoko Inn Matsue Ekimae, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Japan.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Japan News This Week 15 May 2016


Japan News.
Obama’s Visit Raises Ghosts of Hiroshima
New York Times

Japan vagina artist cleared over kayak model but fined for data distribution

Tokyo Olympics: €1.3m payment to secret account raises questions over 2020 Games

Japan’s foreign workers policy riddled with contradictions, says lawmaker
Japan Times

In Historic Step, Obama To Visit Hiroshima Later This Month

A Year of Memory Politics in East Asia: Looking Back on the “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan”
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Percentage of POWs during World War II that died while held in captivity, by country:

Russian POWs held by Germany: 57.5%
German POWs held by Russia: 35.8%
American POWs held by Japan: 33%
British POWs held by Japan: 24.8%
British POWs held by Germany: 3.5%
German POWs held by France: 2.58%
German POWs held by the United States: 0.15%
German POWs held by Britain: 0.03%

The Soviet Union and Japan did not sign - or abide by - the 1929 Geneva Convention on treatment of POWs.

Source: QUORA

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sanja Matsuri 2016 Asakusa Tokyo


Today was the second day of the massive, annual, 3-day Sanja Matsuri festival in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Bearing a golden mikoshi shrine, Sanja Matsuri 2016 in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

Close-up of shrine bearers at Sanja Matsuri 2016, Tokyo.
Camaraderie at the Sanja Matsuri 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo. 

The Sanja Matsuri (literally "three shrine festival") is associated with Sensoji Temple, or, more accurately, with the Shinto shrine that forms part of the Sensoji Temple. The shrine venerates the founders of what is said to be Tokyo's oldest temple (over 1,200 years), and the Sanja Matsuri likewise celebrates them.

Children's fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo.
Children's fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, with Tokyo Skytree in background.
Today being the second day, over 100 mikoshi portable shrines were paraded down the main street of Asakusa, each representing one of the dozens of districts that make up the Asakusa area. The parade down the streets is actually the last - if most publicly visible - stage of the ceremony. To begin with, they are borne down the long Nakamise-dori alleyway flanked by stalls that leads up to Sensoji Temple, then are taken to the adjacent Asakusa Shrine where they are blessed by a Shinto priest. They then return to their respective neighborhoods with every bit as much enthusiasm as they set out.

Some senior members of the Sanja Matsuri procession, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Senior participants at the Sanja Matsuri procession, 2016 - Kaminarimon Gate of temple in background.
Enthusiasm is the Sanja Matsuri's keyword. The air crackles with it. Drums bang and fifes toot, and the voices of the shrine bearers are raised in rhythmic unison as they shoulder the poles on which the shrine rides, and the buoyant crowd, merging with the edges of the procession buzzes with excitement.

Omikoshi shrine with Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple in background.
Ornate mikoshi shrine in front of Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple, Sanja Matsuri 2016.
One very distinctive aspect of the Sanja Matsuri more in evidence on the third day than the second is how the shrines are rocked and jostled by those carrying them. Sunday, the third day, is when the Shrine's own three mikoshi are paraded, and they are the focus of an extraordinary outpouring of energy and noise that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Shrine bearers shouldering a shrine at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.
Gambatte! Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.
Yet, in spite of all the boisterousness, the massive crowds gathered to watch are essentially calm, polite and considerate of each other. The great numbers of children present - both participating and watching - attest to the inclusiveness and warm community spirit of the Sanja Festival - in spite of its sometimes fearsome reputation (somewhat sensationally painted so at times simply because of the conspicuous presence of yakuza gangsters at Sanja Matsuris in the past among those taking part).

Children with a neighborhood float at the Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Children with a festive drum and fife float at the 2016 Sanja Matsuri.

Depending on the weather, I may well go to Asakusa again tomorrow for the climactic third day of the Sanja Matsuri. If so, more coverage on the way!

A view from behind of a fundoshi at the Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Fundoshi-clad participants at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Otsuka Station


Otsuka Station in Tokyo is on the Yamanote Line one stop clockwise from Ikebukuro Station. Otsuka Station connects with the Toden Arakawa tram at Otsuka-ekimae stop - a short walk from either the north exit or south exit.

Otsuka Station, Tokyo, Japan.

The Midori no madoguchi (Green Window) ticket office is open from 8am-8pm. Otsuka Station also has a View Altte ATM machine.

The Atre Otsuka department store is built over the station and has a range of shops and dining possibilities. The Hotel Bell Classic is situated right at the station with the Otsuka City Hotel also close by.

Crooning outside Otsuka Station, Tokyo.

The streets around the Toden Arakawa tram line are pleasantly low rise and the fences on either side of the line are used to grow roses which bloom around May each year. There are a number of reasonable izakaya along the streets on either side of the tram kine close to Tenso Shrine.

The Broseley serves some imported guest beers and real ales to go along with its food (including fish and chips) and there are tables outside to enjoy the trams going past.

Ema at Tenso Shrine near Otsuka Station.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 5 Around Tonosho Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 5 Part II, Around Tonosho
Monday December 28th

As I head towards the pagoda at Saikoji I don't bother looking for signs as it is clearly visible. I take a left down a narrow lane and then begins a 15 minute journey as I try to find my way to it. I have unwittingly entered "maze town" - a section of the old town that is truly maze like.

Main Gate to Saikoji Temple, Shodoshima.
Main Gate to Saikoji Temple, Tonosho, Shodoshima
I end up walking around and around and finally end up at the base of the small rise that the pagoda is on but there is construction work going on and access is blocked. I keep going around and eventually arrive at the vermillion temple gate.

From the temple, access to the pagoda is also blocked by construction. Getting out was much easier than getting in - I should have looked for the sign. The next temple is further along the main road towards Tonosho Port. This time I carefully look for signs.

I can see on the map where it should be, but there is no sign. Instead I wander up some steps through a torii, Shinto gateway, to visit the little shrine. On my way down I follow a little side path and find the small temple building, number 64, Matsukaze-an. Carrying on, passing the headquarters of the Shodoshima Pilgrimage Association, the next two stops are on the hillside above the port.

Finding them is no easy task as it is once again a maze of narrow lanes and alleys. At one point the narrow road gets steeper and steeper and I realize I'm on the wrong road. Eventually I ask a local and get easy directions. Daijo Den and Renge An are two small structures side by side. There are also several other small shrines and halls at the site. There are a few nice statues and a view over the harbour. Not far away is a large shrine and I stop in for an explore before heading up the hill and over the pass down to the south coast.

Statue of Kobo Daishi outside Kodokutsu Temple.
Statue of Kobo Daishi outside Kodokutsu Temple
Off to the left is the cluster of hotels around the start of the Angel Road, but before I head right down the coast I need to find the next small stop on the pilgrimage, Kanro-an, number 59. Now its just a few kilometers down the quiet coast road until the little fishing village of Yanagi and the next temple, Kodokutsu, located at the base of a cliff with a long concrete breakwater protecting the harbour.

The entrance is marked by a vermillion torii, which suggest a shrine rather than a temple, but that is because the enshrined deity here is Benzaiten, an originally Hindu Goddess with both Shinto and Buddhist associations.

This is another of the cave temples that are so numerous here on Shodoshima, but this time a sea cave rather than a mountain cave. Just as I arrive the old priest apologizes as he has to go off on an errand, so I am left to explore by myself.

The entrance leads down to an antechamber, and then further down into the cave, which suggest that before all the concrete construction of the harbor the cave must have been just above sea level. It reminds me of a miniature version of the famous Udo Jingu Shrine down in Miyazaki, which was a temple until the government decreed it a shrine.

From here I get back on the coast road and follow it around the southern tip of the peninsula and start to head back towards Tonosho Port. The road is straight, on the left a one-meter-high concrete wall and then a narrow beach of white sand and views to islands.

Shodoshima coastline, Shikoku.
Shodoshima coastline
On the right a narrow village only two or three houses deep. Over a small headland and the scene repeats itself. Halfway through the second village I stop in at the final temple of the day, another small hermitage, Jodo-an. The sun is low as I finally get back into Tonosho and my room. I'm taking a few days off from my walk as my wife is coming to visit and I will spend a few days showing her some of the sights I've encountered in the past week, then the last three days walk around the northern half of the island.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 5 Part I

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