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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Hina Matsuri Doll Festival in Japan

 ひな祭り 雛祭

Today is the Hina Matsuri, or Doll Festival, in Japan: a springtime festival for girls featuring the display of dolls dressed in traditional courtly attire, and held for the healthy growth and development of the daughter(s) in the family.

Mebina Empress Doll at the Hina Matsuri Doll Festival, March 3, Japan.

Although a girl’s festival, the Hina Matsuri features dolls of both sexes, the Obina (Emperor doll) and Mebina (Empress doll) – the “bina”  in each being the same kanji as for “hina.”
The original meaning of hina is “chick” (as in baby hen or rooster), indicating the idea of immaturity.

The centerpiece of the Hina Matsuri celebrations is a set of tiered shelves on which rows of dolls sit regally. The number of dolls depends largely on the wealth of the family, and the way they are arrayed depends on which tradition the family chooses to follow, there being several variations. Other decorative details also vary, often according to region.

The flower of decoration is the plum blossom, which is just emerging around Japan at this time as the first hint of spring.

Food and drink are integral to any Japanese festival, and the Hina Matsuri sees white sake (perhaps just a sip for the daughter – and lots more for the adults) and sushi being served. Hishi mochi, which is a special pink and white rice cake, and hina arare, which is a rice-and-bean snack in the form of lozenges color white for snow (purity), green for foliage (vigor), and pink for long life (health) are also integral foodstuffs. Hina arare are traditionally sweet in eastern Japan and salty in western Japan. Like the sake and sushi, a little of them is placed in front of the dolls.

Nagashibina is a Hina Matsuri tradition whereby paper dolls are floated downstream, in a similar fashion to the poetry writing Kyokusui no Utage tradition.

The Hina Matsuri in Tokyo means booming business for the Asakusabashi district, famous for the traditional doll shops and emporiums that line Edo Avenue near Asakusabashi Station (not to be confused with Asakusa, two stations north on the Toei Asakusa subway line).

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A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56 Kurume to Saga

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 56, Kurume to Saga
Sunday January 5th 2014

This will be the last day where I base myself in Kurume, and interesting town that I had never heard of before coming here but which has been my home away from home as I have explored the region. As I am walking across the bridge to Nagatoishi on the north side of the river the sun comes up behind me.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56

I find the first temple, Dainichi-ji, easily enough and it is yet another structure indistinguishable from a house. The ground floor is two open car parking spaces, the second containing some statues and the entrance to the stairs that I presume lead up to the "main hall."

There is no reason why a temple must conform to a pre-determined idea of what a temple should look like, but it is disappointing nonetheless. It is also a little too early in the morning to ring the bell and go in so I pay my respects to the statues at the entrance and head off. Nearby I find a small Buddhist temple/chapel with a lot of activity going on. Obviously a festival will be soon taking place.

Under cover is a small statue of Kannon, but surrounding it are dozens and dozens of small figures: some Jizo, some of the 7 Lucky Gods, Daruma, cats, dolls, children's toys, a huge diversity of traditional and pop figures.

I love these eclectic collections. A little further and I come to Chiriku Hachimangu Shrine. At the top of a flight of stone steps, as shrines so often are, when I reach the top I can see dozens of pairs of shoes laid out in front. A ceremony is going on. The shrine itself is fairly austere, as Hachiman shrines often are.

This is one of half a dozen major Hachiman shrines across Kyushu that date back centuries before the Hachiman cult took hold and spread on the main island of Honshu to become the most common shrine across Japan (according to one way of measuring it). It was a Kyushu based cult first.

From here I cut across country stopping in at shrines along the way. It's flat and agricultural, though the settlements are closer together. I reach the main road, Route 34, and a few hundred meters later reach the next temple, number 6, Ryuo-in.

Fudo Myo, Kurume to Saga, Kyushu.

Ryuo-in is a large temple, and very busy, though the main hall does not look like a traditional temple. Rectilinear with walls that slope inwards, the whole building is clad in red tile and is mostly windowless. It looks like a small town hall or library built in the early 1970's.

There is a smaller hall, white concrete and also non-traditional, and an Inari Shrine with a "tunnel" of vermillion torii, but the nicest thing, for me, is the large statue of Fudo Myo in bright primary colors.

Fudo Myo is the honzon (main deity) of this temple. From here it is now a straight shot into Saga and my hotel for the night and the end of this leg of my walk.

It's a busy road and not much fun walking as I am bothered by the noise. The noise of urban Japan is perhaps the thing that bothers me most. I can't get used to it. So much traffic. Even a short break sitting on the steps of a shrine set back from the road 100 meters offers some relief. I pass by the entrance to Yoshinogari, the huge archeological site that was once thought to be the home of the legendary Himiko, "Queen of Yamatai."

I had been here once some years ago and this time decided to press on and use the remaining daylight to explore Saga, somewhere I haven't been. I find my hotel, the Saga City Hotel, near the station and am able to leave my pack while I head off to explore the castle ruins.

Saga Castle has a huge moat and some walls, a reconstructed gate, but most impressive is the reconstructed “palace”. Best of all, entrance is free. There are women dressed in kimono everywhere. Inside in the very long main reception room I found out why. There is going to be a performance. The floor is covered with 40 to 50 Kotos, the traditional stringed instrument, and these are what the kimono clad women, of all ages, are here to play.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 56 Kurume to Saga.

Against the back wall a line of seats with men in tuxedos and bow ties holding shakuhachis. Gender roles are quite distinct. The concert is free, and I would like to stay and watch, but the start is still an hour away and the sun is low so I decide instead to do some more exploring.

On my way back to the hotel I walk through the grounds of Saga Shrine, and there are still lines of people queuing up for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, even though it is January 5th.

Tomorrow I head back home and will return in February for the next leg. At a very rough estimate I have walked 1,520 kilometers, already more than the famed Shikoku Pilgrimage, and there is still much of Saga Prefecture, all of Nagasaki Prefecture, and then back into Fukuoka Prefecture before I finish.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Japan News This Week 1 March 2015


Japan News.
Japan: Leak Is Disclosed at Nuclear Plant
New York Times
Prince William remembers Commonwealth war dead in Japan

Clocking off: Japan calls time on long-hours work culture

Three teen suspects held in Kawasaki boy’s slaying
 Japan Times

Images of Suffering, Resilience and Compassion in Post 3/11 Japan 3.11以後 苦難、回復力、慈しみの映像
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Only 28.3% of the public understands the My Number identification system that will be used for social security and tax administration.

According to the same Cabinet Office survey, 43% have actually heard of the system.

Source: Jiji Press

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Japanese Crows


I am interested in crows and their intelligence and habits. I once read a book called The Caw of the Wild by Barb Kirpluk and learned the birds are especially fond of peanuts. This information proved quite accurate and now I am known in the local crow communities as "the Lady with the Goods."

Japanese Crows.

When I came to Japan I was eager to see what the native crows were like. I had read various newspaper accounts describing the birds' aggressive behavior, and whenever I watched a Taiga Drama and heard the sound of crows cawing I knew it meant something bad was about to happen.

Japanese Crows.

I first heard the distinctive, deep and raspy voice of a Japanese crow while in Ueno Park in Tokyo, and I thought "Wow." The crows spoke the word "caw" distinctly. As I enjoyed my soda and yakitori, the crows hovered close by, hoping for a dropped morsel or a free handout. Crows are an opportunistic sort. I tossed a small piece of chicken in the grass and instantly, a crow swooped, snatched the food, and took off. The omnivore crow suffers no qualms about consuming their fellow avian, albeit roasted and seasoned.

In Nagoya I spotted a murder of crows in the surrounding castle park. I had peanuts to share. Would they appeal to Japanese crows? Ah, the answer is yes. Free food is free food, whether in Japan or the USA. Except for their larger size and impressive vocal cords, the Japanese crows are just like their North American cousins.

Japanese Crows.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Tokyo Marathon 2015


It was that time of year again for the Tokyo Marathon - the ninth. While the temperatures are still low enough not to get too sweaty, it's not so cold you freeze.

Swan runners at the Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.
Swan runners, Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.
We were on the streets of Taito ku, Edo-dori to be specific, which forms the third of the four branches of the course.

Victory in the Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.
"Victory," Tokyo Marathon 2015, Taito ward, Tokyo, Japan.
By the time we made it (about 1pm), the faster runners had already gone and meaning the win-at-all-costs atmosphere had morphed to a more fun one.

Tokyo Marathon 2015 at Higashi Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo Marathon 2015 at Higashi Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Just as much imagination goes into the Tokyo Marathon as does muscle, apparent in the thousands of unique costumes worn by many participants.

For the first time in the history of the Tokyo Marathon, two runners from the same country, Ethiopia, won both the men's and the women's races: Endeshaw Negesse (2:06:00) and Berhane Diba (2:23:15).

Tokyo Marathon 2013

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Japan News This Week 22 February 2015


Japan News.
Japan’s Economy Expands, but Less Than Expected
New York Times
Japan: New world record set for building snowmen

Tokyo after dark: late-night debauchery in Japan – in pictures

Outrage grows over Sono ‘apartheid’ column
Japan Times

My Story: A Daughter Recalls the Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Country Corruption Rank 2014 + (Democracy Rank 2014). #1 is the least corrupt country.

1. Denmark 1 (1)
2. New Zealand (6)
3. Finland (2)
4. Sweden (3)
5. Norway (4)
5. Switzerland (5)
7. Singapore (73)
8. Netherlands (6)
9. Canada (9)
10. Australia (11)
11. Germany (9)
12. United Kingdom (13)
13. Belgium (8)
13. Japan (16)
15. United States (14)
15. Ireland (11)
17. Uruguay (18)
17. Chile (21)
19. Austria (16)
20. United Arab Emirates (76)

32. Korea, South (38)

82. China (121)

Source: World Audit

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse

The Sforza Monument was to be the largest equestrian statue in the world but was never cast.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse, Nagoya.

Designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the huge bronze statue was to depict Francisco Sforza, the duke of Milan, and was commissioned by his son Ludovico. The clay model of the statue was destroyed by invading French troops in 1499 and the project was never realized.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse.

However a modern fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) version of the statue can be seen outside the main entrance of Nagoya Congress Center.

This statue is 8.3m in height, 3.6m in width and 8.8m in length and was created from original drawings by Prof. Hidemichi Tanaka of Tohoku University.

Sforza Monument Leonardo's Horse, Nagoya, Aichi.

Another casting of the horse was made in the USA and two statues made from the cast by the Japanese-American sculptor Nina Akamu are at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Michigan while the other was taken back to Milan and stands at the Hippodrome in San Siro.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55 Amagi to Tosu

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 55, Hita to Kamiura
Saturday January 4th 2014

It's still dark when I leave my hotel and walk to Kurume Station. I take a train north across the river towards Amagi where I will continue my pilgrimage, but first get off after a couple of stops at Kitano Station.

A few hundred meters from the station is a shrine I want to visit, a branch of Kitano Tenmangu, the first shrine to Sugawara Michizane in Kyoto. The village here is called Kitano after the shrine's name. That is not unusual, many places in Japan are named after the local shrine or temple.

It is quite a big shrine, and has a single statue of a white horse, fairly common at shrines, but also has three orange horses, which is quite unusual. The walls of the corridors of the shrine are covered with examples of calligraphy, something the Kami Tenjin, the enshrined spirit of Michizane, is known for. I jumped back on a train to the last station of the line, Amagi, and when I arrive the sun is up promising another fine day.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55 Amagi to Tosu.

I had some trouble finding the first pilgrimage temple of the day, Kotokuin, number 7 in the order they are listed. It was located in a suburban area a little north of the station but was not a large temple with typical large curved roof, but a small single story building, so I could not see it from a distance.

I asked several passers-by, but had no luck. Often in Japan if a place is not famous then even people who live nearby will not know where it is. I find it eventually and there is not much to see.

My route now heads west across the wide plain. Japan is often characterized as being a mountainous country, and while that is true, there are plenty of wide open flat areas, this being one of them. While I haven't yet traveled in many parts of Japan, so far in my experience Kyushu seems to have a lot of these flat areas.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 55 Amagi to Tosu.

It is of course mostly farmland, and several times I pass near a huge structure with silos. The fields and paddies are also interspersed with small settlements, marked by trees, the largest of the trees often indicate a shrine, none of the ones I visited had any visitors though.

By lunchtime it is becoming more urban and I reach temple number 3, Nyoirinji, and it is very busy. Nyoirinji's not a very big temple, but is obviously very popular. The most noticeable thing is the large number of frog statues. They are everywhere.

In the car park are a line of large metal ones covered in what appears to be graffiti, but what is in fact prayers and wishes. I had hoped to meet with the head priest of the temple, the father of the young priest I had met at temple number 93 some 53 walking days ago, but he was obviously very busy.

The grounds did have a nice walk with many fine statues so I leisurely explored before heading off. I headed south, now into urban Ogori and walked parallel to several train lines as well as the main road and expressway. There were several larger shrines to stop at and explore.

Nyoirinji Temple frog statues, Kyushu.

I pass under the East-West expressway and turn west parallel to it. At a big shrine I am surprised to find many statues of monkeys, not the Three Wise Monkeys, but mostly mother monkeys in red hats holding baby monkeys. It's a Hiyoshi Shrine, a branch of the famous shrine at the base of Mount Hiei whose guardian animal is the monkey.

In Tashiro I find the last pilgrimage temple of the day, Fudo-in, number 4. It took some finding as it is a small concrete structure in the middle of a crowded suburban area. Nothing much to see except for a nice statues of Fudo Myo O, the temple's namesake. It's now getting late and I head south back towards Kurume. I get as far as Tosu before deciding to call it a day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 54

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar


"Japan is expensive." Yes, I've heard that declaration many a time. But it doesn't have to be if you shop at Book Off and Book Off Bazaar! Book Off is Japan's largest chain of used book stores, with over 800 locations nationwide. There are eight Book Offs in the USA, five of them in Southern California.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, Japan.

Book Off is a treasure-trove of used Japanese books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs, and everything is sold at a significant discount. Remember that art book you gazed upon and longed to hold in your hands? What about that manga series you wanted to try? Was it not your fondest wish to complete your collection of SMAP CDs? It is very possible for your dreams to come true at Book Off.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, Japan.

I have visited many Book Offs in Japan and have a special regard for the stores in Kochi and Fukuoka. The Fukuoka Store is actually called Book Off Super Bazaar because it has much more than books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs - it is filled to the rafters with a wondrous variety of used merchandise. We spent time in the anime-related section and inspected hundreds of items. For my daughter and me, a trip to Book Off is a treat every time we come to Japan.

Book Off & Book Off Bazaar, rows of manga.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Japan News This Week 15 February 2015


Japan News.
Prime Minister Abe Appeals to Japanese on Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

Kenji Ekuan's Enduring Legacy Lives On Restaurant Tables

Japan seizes passport of Syria-bound journalist

Japanese misanthropes march against 'passion capitalism' of Valentine's Day

Injuries to Okinawa anti-base protesters ‘laughable,’ says U.S. military spokesman
Japan Times

Wrongful Convictions and the Culture of Denial in Japanese Criminal Justice
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Tokyo was recently named the "safest city in the world."

The Safe Cities Index 2015 looked at 50 of the biggest cities on "every continent and scored them across four safety categories. Aside from personal safety and the risk of violent crime, the ranking took into account health security, infrastructure safety and even how a city protects its citizens’ digital privacy. Tokyo scored highest in the digital security category while its air quality, improving but still relatively poor, kept it down in the health category. Osaka actually beat out Tokyo in the personal safety category by one spot, but its worst performance was in infrastructure where it didn’t even crack the top 10."

1. Tokyo
2. Singapore
3. Osaka
4. Stockholm
5. Amsterdam
6. Sydney
7. Zurich
8. Toronto
9. Melbourne
10. New York
11. Hong Kong
12. San Fransisco
13. Taipei
14. Montreal
15. Barcelona
16. Chicago
17. Los Angeles
18. London
19. Washington, D.C.
20. Frankfurt

Source: Japan Today

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