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Friday, August 26, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 8 The Final Morning

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 8 The Final Morning
February 8th 2016

I had hoped to finish yesterday, but both yesterday and the day before had been excellent days with some time-consuming "diversions", so it leaves me with a very short day today to finish. The bus drops me off on the headland sticking out of the north east of the island.

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 8 The Final Morning.

As expected with dawn's light the views are great. A shortcut along the pilgrimage path lets me leave the main road briefly before rejoining it on the descent into Yoshida, a small fishing village but with a decent sized resort hotel. Heading inland I reach Yoshida-an, 83 of the 88. It's a single building and no-one around. Just across the road a nice local shrine with a big tree.

Instead of heading down the coast the path now continues inland towards the massive Yoshida Dam. The path now heads straight up the mountainside, and though the pass is only 190 meters above sea level, I think it's the steepest climb of the whole pilgrimage. As I get closer to the top I catch views inland to the high country still blanketed in cloud. The trail descends quickly into the back of Fukuda, the port where ferries from Himeji arrive and depart.

I soon find Fukuda-an, temple 83. A little old lady is cleaning up inside and as I am about to head off she calls me back and hands me a tray with a bowl of zenzai, a soup of sweet beans, and a cup of tea. The hospitality towards pilgrims here on Shodoshima has been a real added bonus to a wonderful walk.

I skirt the back of the village and then once again take a path through the woods to reach the next temple. Actually, like a couple of other places on the pilgrimage it's one temple but containing two of the 88 sacred sites. Unkai-ji, is temple 84, but one of the halls within it, Unshi-do, is number 85. It's on the lower slopes at the back of the village, and so has a view looking out over the village and port.

I now skirt the edge of the village and head towards the coast and the main road that heads south. I'm in a bit of a hurry as there is a bus and ferry connection I want to make that will get me home this evening comfortably, so I no longer slow down to enjoy the view. Number 86 Atehama-an is a typical small hermitage like so many others, though peering in the Thousand-Armed Kannon statue seemed quite nice. A little further down the coast there is a sign point to a path that wanders around one of the old quarries where stones for Osaka Castle were produced.

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 8 The Final Morning.


No time as I am not making as speedy a progress as I want. The coast road is very pleasant with very little traffic and great views, but there is more up and downs than I had thought. Kaitei-an, number 87 passes and then it is just one more headland to round before the final temple, number 88, another rather simple hermitage, and that's it. I'm finished, without about seven minutes left till my planned bus arrives. At 150 kilometers, the Shodoshima is the shortest of the six long distance pilgrimages I have completed in Japan, but in some ways it was the most enjoyable. Part of that was due to the amazing cave temples, and part due to the hospitality shown to me by the locals, but I think the most enjoyable was that so much of the route was on path rather than road. Next up on this blog will be the diary of my 48 day walk along the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part II

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Dandelion Chocolate Japan in Kuramae Tokyo: transforming the neighborhood

ダンデライオン・チョコレート・ジャパン 蔵前

Dandelion Chocolate is a boutique chocolate confectionery that began life in San Francisco in 2010. In February 2016, it opened a store - a factory with cafe - in the Kuramae district of Taito ward, Tokyo, just north of the Asakusabashi district.

Counter at Dandelion Chocolate Japan cafe in Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Counter at Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Tokyo, Japan


The "small batch bean-to-bar" Dandelion Chocolate factory in Kuramae incorporates a very popular cafe. It is one of the many small, trendy establishments that have been transforming Kuramae over the past couple of years from a nondescript wholesale commercial area into one gaining a reputation for good taste in terms of food, drink and lifestyle-related.

We stopped in at Dandelion Chocolate Kuramae today for a little mid-afternoon refreshment. The light plain wood and glass facade of Dandelion Chocolate is welcoming, and the spacious wood-themed interior extends the welcome further, all the way up to the second floor seating area.

Sunday afternoon at Dandelion Chocolate Japan cafe in Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Ordering and waiting for order delivery at Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Tokyo


It was 3.30 pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon and Dandelion Chocolate Kuramae had a steady stream of customers. However busy the store gets, the spaciousness - particularly the height - of the premises keeps things subdued. We ordered a House Hot Chocolate, an Ecuador Cold Brew and a Dandelion Chocolate Chip Cookie (1,500 yen all up) and waited by the bookshelves while our order was being prepared, browsing some of the chocolate-related exhibits and things on sale there, like books, mugs, and notebooks.

The service was pleasant and efficient, and in a couple of minutes we were upstairs seated around a bottomless glass-topped table that provided a view of the floor below.

The House Hot Chocolate was just the right temperature - not scalding, nice and creamy on top, very real-tasting (pretty sweet, however), and over all too quickly! I could easily have reordered twice if I'd had the time and money. You'd almost swear the Ecuador Cold Brew was coffee - or at least a blend of chocolate and coffee  - if you didn't know better. The initial impression was one of bitterness, but by a third of the way in it had won us well and truly over with its rich, mature, liqueur-like depth.

View of downstairs through glass table, Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Tokyo

The Dandelion Chocolate Chip cookie was the epitome of gooey nostalgia: an unabashedly lavish, buttery, chocolate treat like the best childhood memories are made of. I could easily have reordered twice if I wasn't worried about my waistline.

The jar of marshmallows you can help yourself from when served your tray is a nice extra.

Upstairs at the Dandelion Chocolate Japan in Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Upstairs at Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Tokyo

Dandelion Chocolate in Kuramae serves alcohol, as well. If I wasn't still feeling the effects of Saturday night, a glass of wine would have been nice, too. Next time, we'll try what is actually their main product - the famed "bean-to-bar" chocolate, stacked on the counter - as well. It's not cheap, though, at 1,200 yen for about a 60 gram bar.

The crowd was upbeat and chatty. The sunny, airy atmosphere - with ample windows and skylights - was both relaxing and invigorating, looking out on the greenery of the small park across just the road. It is the ideal place for getting together with friends or special others - or even retreating to alone for a spell.

Entrance to Dandelion Chocolate Japan in Kuramae, Taito ward, Tokyo.
Entrance to Dandelion Chocolate Japan, Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo.

Dandelion Chocolate Kuramae is open 10am - 8pm (last order 7.30pm) every day of the week.

Dandelion Chocolate Kuramae is a 3 minute walk from from Exit A1 (an elevator exit) of Kuramae Station on the Asakusa Subway Line. Turn right out of the exit, then take the next turn right after a few paces onto the main road. Take the pedestrian crossing all the way to the other side of the road (the road forks into two at this point, so you are actually crossing two roads). Go one block and take the first road to your right. Go straight about 80 meters. Dandelion Chocolate Kuramae is on your right, halfway along the second block, right across from Seika Park.

Dandelion Chocolate Japan
4-14-6 Kuramae, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan 111-0051
Tel. 03 5833 7270
10am - 8pm every day.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Japan News This Week 21 August 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
The Numbers Behind Japan’s Sputtering Economy
New York Times

China ‘builds pier for warships’ near disputed Diaoyu Islands
South China Morning Post

Rio Olympics 2016: Japan win first ever badminton gold medal
BBC

Only a cruel despot would stop Japan’s emperor retiring
Guardian

Hawkish education chief Matsuno to uphold government line on ‘comfort women’
Japan Times

Perry’s Black Ships in Japan: The Whitewash of History
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

One in six Japanese children now lives in poverty.
 
Source: NHK

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ken's Club & Garcon Cerkle - Gay Bars in Namba Osaka

ギャルソン・セルクル  ケンズ・バー 大阪南のゲイ・バー

Garcon Cerkle is a gay bar in Namba, Osaka, Japan.
Entrance to Garcon Cerkle gay bar in Namba, Osaka.

When most locals and visitors in the know think of gay Osaka, Doyama comes to mind. Doyama is an area adjunct to one of the region's uber destinations, Umeda, in the northern part of Osaka. Not to detract from Doyama’s glory, but there is indeed gay life to the south - down in the Namba district. It just comes in different flavors.

Bar at Garcon Cerkle gay bar in Namba, Osaka.
The Garcon Cerkle bar, with karaoke screen.

Over in Namba’s “GT Town Building,” you will find two tiny taverns holding not more than a dozen people. Garcon Cerkle is your classic intimate gay bar with a chatty but astute, good looking bartender. Just one floor below the Cerkle is Ken’s Club, which trades in elegance for kitsch, and cool for boisterous. Each welcomes foreigners, and each holds interesting spectacles for said foreigners – professedly gay or otherwise – who may be new to this kind of scene.

Table in Garcon Cerkle, a gay bar in Namba, Osaka.
Table in Garcon Cerkle

Garcon Cerkle is a name which might conjure up some sort of imagery, but it’s safe to just throw that out the window. You will be hard pressed to figure out why this gay bar is called that, or even what it means in the first place. Instead, glide into the darkish, intimate space, and take a place at the six-person bar, or at the one table if you are coming as a group.

Some little snacks will come out with your first drink, which is you clue that there is a cover charge: At Garcon Cerkle, your first drink “set” will run you 1,800 yen, with successive drinks starting at 800 yen. What do you get for this premium? Class, comfort, and just maybe even a little light-hearted flirting with the cute bartender. All ages visit Garcon, and things tend to pick up at around 9pm. They are closed Mondays.



When you’re ready to take your gay to a different plane, hop on downstairs to Ken’s Club. It will take you precisely .34 seconds to realize that this is going to be a different scene. Karaoke is highly encouraged at this 11-year old bar, and you are sure to hear some crooning both good and less-than superb during your stay.

Outside Ken's Club gay bar in Namba, Osaka.
Entrance to Ken's Club

There are short aquariums lining the L-shaped bar, and with a capacity of about 8 people, it’s more like being someone’s living room than a bar. There’s even some home-style food on offer. While the customers are said to range from their 20s to 60s, this blogger can only attest to a 40s and up sighting. Like Garcon Cerkle, Ken’s Club is 1,800 yen for that first drink “set,” but successive drinks are a bit less dear, starting at 700 yen. Ken’s Club is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

The bar at Ken's Club gay bar, complete with fish tanks,.
The fish tank bar at Ken's Club, a gay bar in Namba, Osaka

These two bars give you a peek into the intimate gay bar scene that most foreigners are not privy to. If you’re in the area, check it out!

Both bars are located at 4-3-16 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka, in the GT Town Building. Ken’s is on the second floor, and Garcon Cerkle is on the third.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Japan News This Week 14 August 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.

Mountain Day becomes Japan's newest public holiday
BBC

Japan's Emperor Akihito fears age could impact ability to rule
CNN

Japan’s disaster-hit regions look to ‘Pokemon Go’ to draw tourists
Japan Times

Banned from working, asylum seekers are building Japan's roads and sewers
Reuters

Japan to ask S.Korea to remove girl statue
NHK

Magnet without Chinese rare earths a boon for automakers
The Asahi Shimbun

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

From this year, Japan now has 16 public holidays per year with the addition of the August 11th "Mountain Day." Thailand, Turkey and Pakistan also have 16 public holidays per year. China and Hong Kong have 17, Colombia and Philippines 18, and the top country is India, with 21.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Asakusa's "Toro Nagashi" Floating Lantern Festival

 浅草とうろう流し 

Azumabashi Bridge over the Sumida River was crowded this evening on its upstream side. From about 6.45pm, the crowds on the bridge and lining both sides of the river were treated to the sight of hundreds of candle-lit lanterns being floated from the Asakusa side.

The Toro Nagashi Lantern Floating Festival on the Sumida River, Asakusa, Tokyo.
Toro Nagashi Lantern Floating Festival on the Sumida River, Asakusa
 "Toro Nagashi" means "putting lanterns afloat" and is the feature of this midsummer festival that takes place here every year.

This supposedly ancient festival was revived in 1946 and ran annually until 1965, when flood prevention facilities built along the river made holding the festival impossible. However, with the pedestrianization of the river in the 21st century, the Toro Nagashi festival was revived yet again in 2005, and has been part of the Asakusa district's summer festivities every year since then.

Daylight on the Sumida River, just before the lanterns are set afloat at the Toro Nagashi Festival.
Azumabashi Bridge (red), on the Sumida River near Asakusa, Tokyo.
Every year, about three thousand lanterns are floated down the river. These delicate paper lanterns lit inside by a candle are released near the time of the full moon, and are traditionally seen as ensuring the welfare of those that live along and around the river.

Members of the public are invited to purchase a lantern for 1,500 yen, sent by mail, which they can then decorate with and float down the river on the day. Mail order applications end on July 31, and applications by those who can actually pick up a lantern directly in Asakusa from the Aasakusa Kankou Renmei (Asakusa Tourism Association) end just a couple of days before the event.

Toro Nagashi Matsuri lanterns floating down the Sumida River towards Komagata Bridge.
Lit Toro Nagashi Festival lanterns float downstream towards Komagatabashi Bridge on the Sumida River
We watched the festival from in front of the Asahi Beer Hall. This evening's event happened on a balmy, almost cool, midsummer evening, with the Tokyo Skytree towering in the background, and the breeze making the lights of Asakusa shimmer in the dark waters, amid which the tiny lanterns wended their way downstream - a reminder that life still offers simple, and pretty, pleasures.

Read about the huge Sanja Matsuri Festival that took place here in Asakusa just last month.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part II
The North Coast
Sunday, February 7th 2016

After leaving the castle stone museum I carry on along the coast road under blue skies. After a couple of kilometers I stop in at temple number 79, Yakushi-an, small and fairly nondescript. Now I'm at the northern most section of the island and the road heads east.

Coming into Obe, the small car ferry from Hinase is arriving. For such a small island, Shodoshima has a large number of different ferries connecting to it. On the hillside looking over Obe is number 80, Kannonji, a fairly substantial temple. Visible first above the outer walls is a large silver statue, a Chigo Daishi, a statue of Kobo Daishi as a child.

Inside Kannonji Temple, Shodoshima, Japan.


Surprisingly the main hall of the temple is brand new, all gleaming fresh wood. I saw a photo of the temple a few years ago and it was a fairly ugly concrete structure then. The wide open space in front of the main hall is a raked gravel and rock garden of the kind normally associated with Zen, but this is a Shingon temple.

The head priest tells me to leave my backpack and come inside the main hall where he shows me to a seat in front of the altar. Inside is light and airy and colorful, quite unlike most temples. The ceiling is covered in small paintings. The priest heads to the taiko drum and begins beating it while chanting.

He is doing the Hannya Shinkyo, known in English as the Heart Sutra. I feel quite honored to personally have the blessing. Afterwards he takes me into another building and sits me at some long tables and I am brought a bowl of noodles and some pickles. For those who are accustomed to visiting temples at places like Kyoto, where it feels like the aim is to extract as much money as possible from you, my experiences here on Shodoshima have been just the opposite.

Emonnotaki, Shodoshima, Japan.


It has taken longer to visit Kannonji than I expected, so once again I am behind schedule and stride off along the coast road. At the village of Kobe, a beach resort no less, I am able to leave the road and take to the pilgrim trail which heads directly inland up a valley. Soon the path is in the forest and passes a couple of derelict shrines.

A couple of times the path crosses the road that curves back and forth up the valley. About an hour later I reach where the lantern-lined, wide, stone staircase begins to wind upwards. The path forks. To the left it is closed off with a yellow rope, but it is the route through the Chinese-style gate so I take it anyway. Further beyond the gate a small waterfall surrounded by statues of Fudo Myo, the place for cold-water austerities. A little further and the next gate appears, then the strangest thing happened.

It began to snow. It is not all that cold and some of the sky is blue, but a black cloud nearby must be forced to precipitate as it rises to pass over the center of the island. Up the next set of steps the temple building becomes visible, a very wide structure across the base of the cliff. At the top of the steps the last ascent up is exposed rock with the inevitable chain, but I elect to take the easier path to the right which switchbacks up. Underneath the overhanging concrete building the views are now clear.

I climb up the staircase and emerge into a bright long room, carpeted red and with the cave ceiling covered in hanging red lanterns. The priest greets me and we chat as he shows me around the several altars set in the cave walls. When he finds out I am originally from the UK all he wants to talk about is Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. He asks my name and then writes it onto a small wooden board. He gives me four more boards and asks me to write my name on each. He then takes me through a narrow opening into the inner cave, passing several paintings and small statues of Fudo Myo.

At the back of the cave he shows me the cabinet that contains the Honzon of the temple, a statue of Fudo Myo. He points to the lock and explains it is only opened every 30 years. He claims it is from the 8th century. In front of the locked cabinet is a big, black statue of Fudo. He says it is the "in front" statue, though sometimes I've heard them referred to as "shadow" statues, and they are a substitute for the secret statue. He then tells me to sit in front of a large flat, stone altar on which he then begins to construct a small pyre with small blocks of wood. He begins chanting and beating the taiko drum.

Goma purification ritual, Shodoshima.


With a small ladle he takes a liquid and spreads it on the wood and then sets light to it. More chanting and drumming, and every few minutes he adds more wood, and some plant material. Gradually the flames reach higher and he adds the pieces of wood with my name on them to the fire. It becomes quite mesmerizing, with the statues and other paraphernalia around the dark cave glinting in the flickering firelight.

Eventually the flames reach more than a meter in height. He then leaves his seat and picks up a long steel pole at the end of which is a series of interlinked metal plates. Its a gohei, a shinto purification wand normally made out of wood and paper. He places it into the flames and then waves it over me. He then tells me it's over. I have had the Goma Ritual performed for me personally. I'm not sure how long it took. Possibly ten minutes, possible 30.

I take out my wallet and ask how much I owe and he shakes his head.. Like the previous temple, this one also practises giving.... I feel energized and exhilarated. I have seen Goma performed from a distance before, but to have had a personal one performed in such unusual setting seems really special. I stride back down the mountain and reach the bottom in a fraction of the time it took to climb up. I check at the bus stop and I have over half an hour till the next bus back so I go another couple of kilometers along the coast road past a massive quarry that dominates the view. Tomorrow will be the last leg.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 7 Part I

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Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki Anniversary 2016

長崎, 原子爆弾

Today, August 9th, is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, an historic port city on the west coast of Kyushu in southern Japan.

A solemn prayer is held at 11.02am, the exact time of the bombing and the mayor of Nagasaki will repeat his annual pleas for a nuclear-free Japan.

Three days earlier on August 6th, Hiroshima, became the first city in the world to be attacked by a nuclear weapon when a bomb was dropped on the city by the US Air Force at 8.16am.

Nagasaki Atomic Bombing Anniversary, Nagasaki.


The Nagasaki bomb ended the Pacific War, which had begun with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941.

August 9th will be marked by solemn memorial services in Nagasaki, including an annual address by the Mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue (田上 富久), as he delivers a Peace Declaration to the World.


Monday, August 08, 2016

Nara Visitor Center & Inn

The Nara Visitor Center & Inn, run by the Nara Prefectural government, is close to Sarusawa Pond and Kofukuji Temple and a major resource for foreign tourists visiting this historic city in central Japan.

Nara Visitor Center & Inn, Nara, Japan.


If you need cash, the Nara Visitor Center & Inn has an ATM that accepts foreign issued credit cards. If you are interested in finding out more about Japanese culture, the Nara Visitor Center & Inn has regular daily workshops, either free or requiring a small 500 yen charge.

Try Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana (flower arranging), origami, playing the koto, trying on a kimono or writing calligraphy. The Nara Visitor Center & Inn is also the starting point for free walking tours of Nara lead by enthusiastic volunteers.

Nara Visitor Center & Inn.


During the main spring and summer tourist season there are free excursion Nara Experience Tour buses from the center to either Asuka or Yoshino for foreign visitors.

Tourists can leave luggage here in the left luggage room and also get online in the lounge where there are also PCs and iPads available. You can also charge your phone here too for free.

In addition, the Nara Visitor Center & Inn has a large selection of tourist information leaflets and maps in a variety of languages including English, Chinese and Korean.

The Inn part of the Nara Visitor Center is due to open this fall.

Nara Visitor Center & Inn, Nara, Japan.

Nara Visitor Center & Inn (Official site)
3 Ikenocho Nara-shi, Nara 630-8361
Tel: 0742 81 7461
Hours: 8am-9pm
Nara Visitor Center & Inn Facebook Page


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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Japan News This Week 7 August 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
Bank of Japan resists strong medicine for stimulus
New York Times

Tokyo elects Yuriko Koike as first female governor
BBC

False smartphone alert of huge earthquake triggers panic in Japan
Guardian

Plan for new Korean school in Tokyo threatened by Koike election
Japan Times

Facing extinction: Can the Pacific bluefin tuna be saved?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Average life span in 2015 (top five for women and men):

Women

1. Hong Kong 87.32 years
2. Japan 87.05
3. Spain 85.58
4. South Korea 85.5
5. Switzerland 85.2

Men

1. Hong Kong 81.24 years
2. Iceland 81
2. Switzerland 81
4. Japan 80.79
5. Singapore 80.4
 
Source: Asahi Shinbun

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