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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 5 Tonosho

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

I catch the first bus out of Tonosho heading up the long valley that runs north. The bus driver was careful to inquire just exactly where I was heading to. All my experiences with bus drivers on Shodoshima have been very positive, with every single one offering assistance.

I get off where I got on yesterday afternoon and start to head back down the valley towards Tonosho. There are clouds around but its another warm, fine day. It's not far to the first two stops, both small hermitages, and both just off the main road against the base of the hills. Number 49 Torin-an and 50 Yuku-an are fairly typical of the many hermitages on this pilgrimage route, with nothing special in the architecture or statuary, but somehow very welcoming.

Every one has a space to sit down out of the sun or rain, a toilet, and are all very well tended. Interestingly at Yukuan was a statue of En no Gyoja, the legendary founder of Shugendo, reinforcing that these sites were primarily Shugendo in earlier times.

From Yuku-an I stay off the main road and hug the base of the mountain until reaching Kyu Hachimangu, number 52, and not a temple at all, rather a small shrine, though it does have a small Buddhist statue in front of each of the three altars, something that was outlawed at the birth of modern Japan when Buddhas and kami were artificially separated by government order, (think unscrambling eggs).

The biggest Juniper tree in Japan, Shodoshima.
The biggest Juniper tree in Japan, Shodoshima
Right next to the shrine is what appears to be a small grove of tall trees, but which turns out to be a single tree, and not only that, it is a National Natural Monument, the biggest Juniper tree in Japan.

With a 16 meter girth the trunk splits into 3 which is why it looks like a grove rather than a single tree. It is said to be 1,500 years old. It is in the grounds of Hosho-in temple which is number 54, and among the various buildings that make up the complex is Hodobo Temple number 51.

From here it is close to the Tonosho town centre which the temple overlooks, but before reaching the town the trail heads along and up the hillside to another small temple, Kannon-do, number 55. From here it is now a footpath that goes pretty much straight up the hillside to small temple, Gyoja-do, number 56. As further evidence of the Shugendo connection this small temple enshrines En no Gyoja, the founder.

The views now expand over the town below to the islands beyond. The vermillion pagoda of my next stop clearly visible rising above the town's rooftops. A sign points up behind the temple and there I find a huge rock wrapped with a shimenawa.

Sacred rock at Gyoja-do Temple.
Sacred rock at Gyoja-do Temple
Most large rocks have legends associated with them, but I cannot find out about this one. The path down soon reaches the edge of town and I head towards the pagoda. But first I must cross over to another island. What we call Shodoshima is actually not one island, but two. The southwest corner is an island called Maejima, but it is separated from Shodoshima itself by a very narrow strait, narrower than many rivers, so in essence it appears as one island.

This is the Dobuchi Strait, and the Guinness Book of World Records lists it as the narrowest strait in the world. I cross over at its narrowest section where it is less than ten meters wide and carry on towards the nearby pagoda.

The pagoda at Saikoji Temple.
The pagoda at Saikoji Temple
Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4 Part II

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Manyosen Light Rail Takaoka


The Manyosen Light Rail system operates in the city of Takaoka in Toyama Prefecture. The Manyosen consists of two connected tram lines and runs from Takaoka Station to Rokudoji Station and then on to Koshinokata.

Manyosen Light Rail Takaoka, Toyama.

The first line is the 7.9km long Manyosen Takaoka Kido Line from Takaoka Station to Rokudoji Station. From Takaoka Station there are stops at Suehirocho, Kataharamachi, Sakashita-machi, Kyukan Iryo Center-mae, Hirokoji, Shikino Chugakko-mae, Shiminbyoin-mae, Ejiri, Asahigaoka, Ogino, Shin Nomachi, Yonejimaguchi, Nomachiguchi, Shin Yoshihisa, Yoshihisa, Naka Fushiki and Rokudoji.

The second line is the Manyosen Shinminatoko Line that runs 4.9km from Rokudoji Station to Koshinokata with stops at Shogawaguchi, Imizu City Shinminato Chosha-mae, Shinmachiguchi, Naka Shinminato, Higashi Shinminato, Kaiomaru and Koshinokata. Most of the stations on the Shinminatoko Line are unmanned.

Manyosen Light Rail Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture.

The tram lines were operated by the Kaetsuno Railway Company (which now only operates local buses) until Manyosen took over their running in 2002.

The first trams begin at 5.37am from Yonegamachi with the first tram from Takaoka Station at 6.15am. The last tram from Takaoka Station is at 10.30pm. The complete journey from Takaoka Station to Koshinokata takes 49 minutes. There are approximately four departures an hour from Takaoka Station. The fare from Takaoka Station to Koshinokata is 350 yen with fares within Takaoka city 150-200 yen depending on distance.

Manyosen (official site)

Manyosen Light Rail Takaoka, Toyama.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Japan News This Week 24 April 2016


Japan News.
Behind Mitsubishi’s Faked Data, Fierce Competition
New York Times

Japan earthquake: Minamiaso devastated

Meet the woman who makes fake fingers for Japan's reformed gangsters

Obama to visit Hiroshima, make anti-nuclear speech: Nikkei
Japan Times

Japanese Government Misinformation On North Korea’s Rocket Launch
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The annual press freedom rankings were announced this week. Japan dropped eleven spots from 61 to 72.

1. Finland (1)
2. Holland (4)
3. Norway (2)
4. Denmark (3)
5. New Zealand (6)

16. Germany (12)
18. Canada (8)

38. United Kingdom (34)
41. USA (49)
45. France (38)

72. Japan (61)
 77. Italy (73)

176. China (176)
179. North Korea (179)
180. Eritrea (180)

Source: Freedom House

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Sanpo in the Park 2016

Sanpo in the Park 2016, Tokyo.
Animal Walk Tokyo (AWT) invites you to…
Sanpo in the Park 2016

Join us for our annual family event, Sanpo in the Park on Sunday, May 22, from 10am in Yoyogi Park to raise money for Dog Shelter.

Founded in 2011, Animal Walk Tokyo is an animal-loving community supporting our four-legged friends in Japan. To date, we have raised over 2.2m JPY for local animal charities.

This spring, we will host a 2k walk for animal-loving friends followed by a picnic with entertainment to raise money for Dog Shelter, a local rescue group made up of multiple families that train and rehome abandoned dogs. Some furry friends from Dog Shelter that are looking for their forever homes will also make an appearance on the day.

Sanpo in the Park 2016.

Entertainment includes; a hula dance performance by Kao Takasaki, music by Kaz Kuwamoto, massages by Club360’s Lisa Batey, crafts with students from the American School in Japan, dog training with Dog Shelter, and a bake sale. Plus, the first 70 people to register on the day will receive a goody bag!

Please also feel free to bring your dogs along to join in the fun (although you don’t need a doggy date to attend - this event is for both dog-owners and animal-lovers)!

Full Details
Date: Sunday, 22 May
Time: Registration opens at 10am, Walk starts at 10:30am (Event expected to end around 12:30pm but you are welcome to stay after this time)
Place: Fountains, Yoyogi Park (See map for meeting place) - Look out for the AWT volunteers in bright blue t-shirts!
Cost: 2,000JPY per person, 4,000JPY per family of 2+ people (100% of entry fees goes directly to Dog Shelter)
Additional Notes - Please read
1. Although there will be some snacks on sale, we encourage you to bring a packed lunch (and a tarp) for the picnic. Please also make sure that you have enough drinking water for your four-legged friend if they are accompanying you.
2. Please note that it is illegal to take your dog off the leash in public in Tokyo, therefore all dogs participating in the event must be on a leash.
3. Due to unforeseen circumstances, such as bad weather, the event may be cancelled. Please check the FB event page for related announcements.
For more information on Animal Walk Tokyo, visit www.animalwalktokyo.com or www.facebook.com/animalwalktokyo, or email us at animalwalktokyo[at]gmail[dot]com.

For more information on Dog Shelter, visit www.dogshelter.jp (Japanese only).

Thursday, April 21, 2016


"Japanese diet is like food's iPod: we kept food's energy value extremely compact and concentrated without sacrificing the taste. But to enjoy it, you do not need to cook only in Japanese style "- says Naomi Moriyama, author of the book "Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen." According to her, it is just enough to follow a few rules. If you follow it, you won't only get a chance to enjoy nice figure, but also make yourself healthier as well. Worth a shot, isn't it?

Read more about Japanese food principles for keeping healthy and slim.

Top 5 Japanese Food Principles Worth Borrowing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4 Part II

A Walk Around Shodoshima Part II
Day 4
Sunday December 27th

After coming down from the cave temples the next two stops on the pilgrimage, 35 Hayashi-an and 39 Matsukaze-an were simple, rudimentary structures, both surrounded by big cemeteries.

I had a bit of trouble finding the next temple, number 38 Komyoji, in the maze of little streets that is the village. Now I am on the road that heads up to the pass and over to Nakayama. There is very little traffic, like most roads to mountain passes it starts out as a gentle slope and become steeper.

Somen noodles drying in the winter sun in front of a farmhouse.
Somen noodles drying in the winter sun in front of a farmhouse
In front of one farmhouse I see a rack drying somen, a type of noodle similar to vermicelli - one of Shodoshima's specialties, it is still almost all made by small family operations, and winter is the time to see it out in the sun being dried.

The pass is not as high as I feared, though the last few hundred meters are steep. The road drops quickly and down below I can see the next temple. Actually it is two temples on one site. Temple 43 is Jodoji, and the Kannon Hall in the grounds is 45.

The biggest structure is the priests house with a big thatched roof. Interestingly I discovered three different styles of onigawara, the gargoyle-like demon tiles at the end of roof ridges. Two of the designs were new to me.

From Jodoji the trail goes up the mountainside, and I literally mean up, with no switchbacking. It was very steep. The trail tops out at 250 meters above sea level at a ledge lined with huge trees, behind which sat temple number 44 Yubune San. That is its common name. Temples will often have three names, an official name, a mountain name, and a common name.

The mountain and official name is Kodai-san Senju-in Rengeji. The small temple building is not so important, rather the sacred spring beside it is. It is one of the 100 Best Natural Spring Waters in Japan, or a more literal translation might be “Exquisite & Well Conserved waters”.

Nakayama Senmai Da, one of the top 100 ride paddy terraces in Japan.
Nakayama Senmai Da, one of the top 100 ride paddy terraces in Japan
Apparently it has never dried up and continues to feed the terraced rice paddies on the steep slope below. Nakayama Senmai Da is one of the 100 Top Rice Paddy Terraces in Japan. That is 100 "best of's" at one spot.

The mountainside above is still natural forest with many large juniper and camphor trees, not a tree farm of monocultural cedars, like so much of Japan's mountainsides. The view down over the Nakayama area is quite impressive. Down there in the villages are a couple of thatched folk kabuki theaters, but unfortunately my route will not take me to them.

The mountain trail now descends slightly along the mountain and passes through a hillside village before entering the forest once again. Next stop is 47, Toganoo-san, the simplest of all the cave temples on the island. A simple porch roof covers the entrance which is barred to keep monkeys from taking the food offerings on the altar. Inside is just a small cave and altar. Maybe if a road had been built up to here like it has at all the other cave temples then it may have been more developed.

Carrying on down the path then comes to a small concrete building, number 48, Bishamnon-do, with its painted statue of Bishamonten, favorite of samurai. From here you can see the giant statue of Kannon gleaming white in the afternoon sun on the far hillside. My route will take me there in a few days.

Inside Toganoo-san cave temple, Shodoshima.

The path comes out into the village at the base of the valley and nearby is temple 46, Tamonji. A walled temple with a bell tower over the gate, the most unusual thing here was a line of new small statues in front of a mound. They were figures but almost abstract in design. I have no idea who or what they represented as there was no-one around to ask.

I find a bus stop and the timetable informs me that the next bus is not for a couple of hours. I sit on a wall and refresh myself with a drink from a vending machine and ponder my plan. Temple 74 is a little higher up on the slope, and from there its not far to the main road that runs into Tonosho where I will be staying and as there is likely to be a lot more frequent buses I force myself to trudge on a little further. About thirty minutes later I arrive at Enmanji, temple number 74 - a very pleasant temple set among greenery and a few large trees. The wooden statue of Kannon in the main hall was particularly nice. Five minutes later I reach the main road and while waiting for the bus enjoy the great views looking back up the valley and mountains I had walked down. The sun was close to setting and the mountainside was bathed in gold. Another excellent day on this intriguing small island.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016


(English language with Japanese subtitles. Music arrangement by Prisca Molotsi)
June 3rd–5th | Nagoya City Performing Arts Center, Shin Sakae

This summer, prepare for an explosion of magic, music and mayhem as Nameless Theatre brings Shakespeare’s most popular comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Nagoya.


Four young lovers elope by moonlight into a forest. Unbeknownst to them, the magical beings that live there are in the midst of a war, one that threatens to cause havoc in the human world also. Trapped in the middle of the chaos, the lovers are in for an evening they will never forget…

Taking the traditional ruffles and tights image of Shakespeare and adding a contemporary spin, Nameless Theatre’s production of Midsummer has restaged the show as a Harry Potter-inspired musical. The songs in the show have been arranged by Prisca Molotsi (also appearing as Fairy Queen Titania), and will be set to dance sequences choreographed by Miho Kobayashi.

Alongside our army of dancing fairies, we're proud to have with us on stage some of the best international acting talent in Aichi. Fairy King Oberon will be played by Kazumasa Nishikawa, headmaster of the prestigious national dance school Nishikawa-Ryu. Alongside familiar faces in the community theatre scene such as Jessica A. Robison (Hermia), Aya Kawakami (Puck), and Elijah Ben (Theseus) are newcomers Susie Misuzu (Hippolyta) and Veenesh Dubois (Bottom). You'll also recognize community leaders such as Harry Hill (Tom Snout), Lowell Sheppard (Egeus), Matt Fraser (Philostrate) and Stephen Kovacsics (Robin Starveling).

Performances will be held Friday, June 3rd, at 6:30pm; Saturday, June 4th, at 1pm and 6:30pm; and Sunday, June 5th, at 1pm and 5pm. General admission tickets are ¥4,000 in advance (¥5,000 at the door). Group ticket discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

To book tickets please visit namelesstheatre.org or call 052 725 8216

For more information on the show and group discount tickets please contact Nameless Theatre at info[at]namelesstheatre[dot]org

Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/namelesstheatre

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Japan News This Week 17 April 2016


Japan News.
A Champion of Japan’s Right Wing Is Jailed Over Campaign Payments
New York Times

Baby girl rescued after Japan earthquake

Secretary of State John Kerry Visits Historic Visit to Hiroshima

John Kerry makes 'gut-wrenching' tour of Hiroshima peace park

First Japanese sub since WWII enters Sydney Harbor for naval exercise
Japan Times

'Killing the Practice of Whale Hunting is the same as Killing the Japanese People': Identity, National Pride, and Nationalism in Japan’s Resistance to International Pressure to Curb Whaling
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


When the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, approximately 140,000 people died in a city whose population was 330,000 at the time.

Four months earlier, on the nights of March 9 and 10, , 1945, three hundred (300) B-29 bombers dropped 1,700 tons of incendiary (napalm) bombs on Tokyo. Roughly 100,000 people died.

Source: Japan Times

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Stop and Frisk by the Japanese Police


Japanese passerby gets questioned and searched by a policeman.
A man (face obscured for privacy) is randomly stopped and searched by a policeman outside Yotsuya Station 
I was witness a couple of days ago to a‘stop and frisk’(shokumu shitsumon) incident by the Japanese police outside Yotsuya Station. It was about 1:30 pm on a bright sunny day in Yotsuya - a district that, of generally trouble-free Tokyo, has to be one of the metropolis's least troubled areas.

I was waiting for the traffic lights to cross the road, and saw most of it. The policeman (as a matter of course armed with a pistol) was polite but clearly insistent, and spent the best part of at least a minute looking and feeling inside the passerby's bag, asking him questions all the while.

If the man being search fit some kind of profile, then it was a very subtley designed profile, because he was by no means your textbook criminal looking type. In fact, he positively radiated decency in his demeanor, was at least equally polite as the policeman searching him, and very cooperative.

However the clear insistence and obtrusiveness of what was going on - and in a setting, right outside a railway station gate, that could hardly be more public - made the almost excessive politeness on both their parts awkward and difficult to watch.

Shokumu shitsumon situation in Yotsuya, Tokyo, Japan.
Policeman patting down bystander as part of random check, Yotsuya, Tokyo
Judging by the faces of a couple of people near the station entrance observing what was going on, the actions of the policeman were not justified. If I had seen other police up and down Shinjuku-dori doing the same that day it would have made more sense as being part of a bigger investigation, but there was no evidence of that at all. This just seemed like an individual policeman picking a susceptible-looking citizen at random and subjecting him to a probing, insistent, physical and verbal search that was no less distasteful for being conducted without overt aggression.

Japanese police stop people at random a lot. It's happened to me only three or four times in the 20 or so years I have been in Japan, but there is definite racial profiling, meaning a lot of friends and acquaintances are stopped regularly, whether walking or driving.

A quick search online revealed the following JapanTimes article about shokumu shitsumon, written by a member of the Tokyo Public Law Office, and  that everyone living in Japan would do well to read.

The last paragraph gives good advice: that if subject to a sudden "stop and frisk" on the street, while cooperation is probably the best response, you are by no means obliged to even stop, but may continue walking while talking to the police officer(s) and, for good measure, recording what is going on using your phone - just in case.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 4

A Walk Around Shodoshima
Day 4 Back into the mountains
Sunday December 27th

Yesterday was spent mostly walking along coastline, but today I head back into the higher country. The first two days of the walk included visits to some of the amazing cave temples of the island, and today there will be some more. Tonight I will be staying in Tonosho, so for the first time I will be carrying my full pack with me.

Dawn over the hills of Shodoshima above Ikeda Port.
Dawn over the hills of Shodoshima above Ikeda Port.
I get off the bus not long after sunrise and start heading up a small valley towards Hoanji, temple 40. It is located at the head of the valley and approached up steps. It was pretty enough, with some unusual little statues in shrines at the base. In the grounds of the temple was a stone statue of the reclining Buddha, not so common in Japan, and a small wooden Fudo. Bathed in dawn's light it was high enough to have a view over Ikeda.

The priest's wife (or sister, or daughter) was loading a car and was kind enough to show me where the trail up the mountain began. Pretty steep, but nice to be among trees with the rustle of dead leaves underfoot. The path comes out on a small asphalt road that winds along the mountainside to the entrances to the next two temples. From here the view is more expansive and Tonosho is in view.

Ahead I catch a glimpse of some green roofs at the base of the cliffs some way ahead. I reach the turn off that heads up the mountain to Bukkoku-san. It's very steep and after a while opens out to a parking area. Passing between the stone Nio guardians the way is now lined with stone lanterns. As I approach the gate a statue of Kobo Daishi is perched on a rock overlooking visitors.

Stone statue of Fudo Myo, the main deity at Bukkokusan Temple.
Stone statue of Fudo Myo, the main deity at Bukkokusan Temple.
In front of the cave entrance is a curious statue of a male and female Ogre, he red, she blue. The story behind it and full details of this and the next cave temple Nishinotaki can be found in a full article here.

The cave entrance is fronted by a small structure with a temple roof. Inside is like a grotto, with many candles supplying the only illumination. There are numerous altars and statues, but the main one is Fudo Myo.

Back down at the gate I find the footpath that goes along the side of the mountain to Nishinotaki. Once again the footpath is the quickest and easiest route. If I were in a car I would have to walk all the way down to the car park, drive down to the asphalt mountain road, go along a ways and then drive up, park, and then climb some more. By foot its just a ten minute stroll with no climbing involved.

Looking down on Tonosho from Nishinotaki Temple.
Looking down on Tonosho from Nishinotaki Temple.
Nishinotaki is a much larger temple complex, below sheer cliffs towering above the buildings, The main hall fronts a cave, but the entrance to the cave is through a tunnel to the left of the main hall. There are statues everywhere, many of Fudo Myo, and the views over the island and sea to Shikoku beyond are stunning.

Higher than the main hall is a large building on a concrete framework that projects out. This is a Goma Hall where fire rituals are held in front of yet another Fudo Myo statue. The young priest directs me to another large stone carving of Fudo at the base of the cliff.

All in all the temple is a surprising large complex considering its location. From the main building a long stairway, lined with lanterns, lead down to the car park. From here I follow the driveway down as far as the main road, and from here I take a footpath that continues to descend to the village below and the next few sites on the pilgrimage.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Shodoshima Day 3 Mito Peninsula

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