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Monday, April 27, 2015

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015--an LGBT Celebration in Japan's Capital

 東京レインボー・プライド

Tokyo Rainbow Pride event, Japan.
Costumed fun at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festa at Yoyogi Park.

The sun joined with over 3,000 people on Sunday to smile on this year's Tokyo Rainbow Pride celebration in Tokyo's Yoyogi district.

This year's celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride was a two-day event: the Festa covering Saturday and Sunday, 25th and 26th April, and the Parade happening on Sunday, 26th April.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride event, 2015.
Main plaza of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festa, Yoyogi Park.

The Festa at Yoyogi Park was an all-weekend affair, from 11 am to 8 pm, and featured scores of stalls, including the trusty Google stall--a regular corporate presence at Tokyo Rainbow Pride--and those of marriage equality groups. The discussion and entertainment schedule was a rich and varied one, ranging from a drag queen show, to musical performances that included a Japanese drumming troupe, to talk events (including "AIDS Is Not Over"), and drawing enthusiastic crowds.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, marching down Omotesando, Japan.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade. Omotesando, Tokyo.

The Tokyo Rainbow Pride event this year was especially focused on marriage equality for LGBT people, given the groundswell in support for it around the world over the past year, and, in particular, the recent move by Shibuya ward to recognize gay partnership when dealing with Shibuya ward residents. Only last week, on April 19, a lesbian couple had a wedding ceremony in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward in an unprecedentedly public expression of gay marriage commitment in Japan. While the formal application to get the marriage registered was not accepted at the ward office, it built on the semi-official recognition already afforded the act by neighboring Shibuya ward.
A very tall drag queen, Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
A towering drag queen at Tokyo Rainbow Pride, 2015.

The Tokyo Rainbow Pride march on Sunday was, as always, a gleeful celebration of diversity. Participants filled the streets of Shibuya led by costumed revellers, waving banners, and generally being visible.

Setting out on the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade through Shibuya, Tokyo, 2015.
Setting off on the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade march, 2015.

JapanVisitor spoke to an organizer who expressed the hope that "with sexual minorities now starting to make their mark publicly in the world, we hope that Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade will continue to be seen not as a 'protest' against discrimination and a striving for visibility, but as a celebration not only of diversity, but of ever greater acceptance of gay, lesbian, and other sexual minorities, by Japanese society."

Google presence at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.
Google stall at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2015, Tokyo, Japan.

See YouTube footage of a previous year's Tokyo Rainbow Pride event.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Japan News This Week 26 April 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Man Says He Flew Drone Onto Japanese Leader’s Office Roof in Nuclear Protest
New York Times

Japan train breaks speed record
BBC

Wartime sex slave urges Japanese PM to apologise during US trip
Guardian

Kyoto’s tourism boom spells war for luxury hotel chains
Japan Times

The Wired Seas of Asia: China, Japan, the US and Australia
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

World Happiness Rankings by country, 2015:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Canada

15. USA

21. UK

46. Japan

84. China

Source: India Times

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

La Chauve-souris: tres suave, at the New National Theatre Tokyo

こうもり バレー

I received a very welcome invitation from the New National Theatre Tokyo to attend the ballet La Chauve-souris, ("The Bat") an adaptation by Roland Petit of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II.


A foyer of the New National Theatre, Tokyo.
A hall in the New National Theatre, Tokyo, taken on an exploratory tour during the interval.

Written in 1979, La Chauve-souris is a story set to the music of Die Fledermaus, but featuring the kind of glitz and glamor that brought such fame to the eponymous troupe that toured Europe in the early 20th century.

The season for La Chauve-souris is very short, only five stagings, and I got to see the second one, held on Thursday, April 23, with Ayako Ono in the role of wife Bella, and Herman Cornejo playing her playboy husband, Johann.

The curtain rose on the thrilling spectacle of Bella poised center stage in a scintillating blue dress with a vast hem that occupied the whole stage, while a great circle of dozens of players, each holding its edge, slowly circled her. It was a spine-tingling opening that set the stage for the rest of the two hours, every minute of which lived up to this exciting first moment.

The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra was under the baton of Alessandro Ferrari, and played a spirited yet beautifully nuanced accompaniment to the drama.

The staging and props were superb: the ultimate in stylish simplicity, featuring in the main memorable use of defined light against large sections of darkness, and vivid, solitary splashes of aptly placed color, and optimal use of the vertical dimension to accentuate a sense of space, evoking the theme of "flight" behind the story. Even the most gorgeous scene, set in Maxim's nightclub, was a broad-brushed "blur" of golden splendor, free of any fussy distractions.

The choreography was spellbinding, drawing on traditional ballet techniques to enhance what were on the whole fresh, modern-inspired movements. The dancers moved as if blithely ignorant of gravity and friction. Particularly impressive was the clearly very athletic Herman Cornejo whose athleticism nevertheless came across less as strength than as magic as he saw to the soaring, floating, and gliding of the very elegant and poised Ayako Ono from stage, through air, and back, over and over again.

The dancing was infused with often prankish humor, as appropriate for a revue, and some whimsical gestures (the family eating is one I'll remember), yet never at the expense of its lilt and polish.

The costuming was what most harked back to the early 19th century roots of the ballet's name. Black, white, and scarlet a-gogo, either in smooth form-hugging lines or voluptuous skirts--tantalizing either way.

Verve, sparkle and passion held sway for two thoroughly enjoyable hours, enchanting a pretty much full house that couldn't get enough of it. It was ballet toffee, but of the most moreish, quality kind. On the train from Hatsudai to Shinjuku I could pretty much tell who'd just been to the show from the smiles on passengers' faces.  


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Friday, April 24, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 2

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 2
Tuesday February 18th 2014

After leaving the old Chinese settlement I head to the long line of temples spread along the base of the hills to the south of the valley. Known as Teramachi, it starts with Sofukuji, one of the main tourist spots of Nagasaki, a Chinese temple containing several National Treasures.

I had been there before, so this time I didn't pay the entry fee but contented myself with some photos of the unusual Chinese-style gate. The heavy rainfall predicted yesterday had still not arrived though it remained dark and overcast. Heading northeast along Teramachi short distance was the entrance to the next temple, Daikoji.

Daikoji Temple, Nagasaki.


The entryway leading to an impressive gate was flanked by well-pruned and sculpted trees, but poking my head inside the gate I saw nothing that made me want to explore further. Next was Daionji, up a long flight of stairs. There was not much to see except the bell tower which seems to have been encased in walls of ochre.

Kotaiji, the next temple, was huge and really nice. Several plum trees, some sort of weeping plum I believe, were blooming which added to the scene. There were a fine pair of fierce Nio in there own gate and some more rather ornate statues of what I believe were some of the Shintenno, the four heavenly kings, also guardians.

With lots of ancillary buildings this is obviously a very active temple. Next along the road was Chosoji which did not look interesting so I passed by. Then it was Kofukuji. The oldest of the Chinese temples. There was a small entrance fee, and I had been here once before, but JapanVisitor wanted a write up of it so I went in and had a good look around.

Not as busy as Shofukuji, but intriguing nonetheless. There are a few more temples along the road but instead I head north across the river and the busy main thoroughfare towards the new Museum of History& Culture.

Just before reaching the museum my eye is attracted to a sign pointing down a narrow alley where I find the Museum of Santa Domingo. Comprising mostly of the excavations which reveals the foundation of an early Portuguese church and settlement.

Nagasaki was for a short while a Portuguese colony, and this is all that remains. Surprising and interesting, and best of all, free. I had heard good things about the new history museum in Nagasaki. It looks like the stonework of a castle, but unfortunately today was a closed day. I now headed back towards Nagasaki Station to complete my circular walk. A couple of hundred meters from the museum there was an impressive looking temple gate and I went in to explore and was completely surprised. It is a big, old temple complex, though it is in a state of decay. There was a few nice statues inside the structures, and behind the main hall a wonderful wall built out of recycled roof tiles and demon tiles and such.

The place was very atmospheric, as abandoned places often are, though it is not quite abandoned. There were no other visitors, which helped the atmosphere for me. Excited by having "discovered" something I head off to the place I had found when studying Google maps before I made the trip here. Fukusaiji used to be the biggest of the Chinese temples in Nagasaki. But it was completely destroyed by the fires that followed the atomic explosion in 1945. The new, concrete replacement is totally unique. The building is in the shape of a giant turtle!!!

Sticking out above the main entrance is a huge turtle head made out of aluminum and standing on the top of the shell/roof is a giant aluminum statue of Kannon. Though the building is made out of concrete there is still a Chinese feel to it. The biggest surprise though is that the temple is home to one of the biggest Foucault Pendulum in the world. Suspended from a cable that begins in the Kannon statues head and passing through the building to the basement below the pendulum shows the rotation of the earth.

A most unusual and unique building that is almost unknown to visitors to Nagasaki, but certainly worth seeking out. I have almost completed my loop walk by now and the threatened rain never did appear. On my way down the hill towards my hotel I stop in at Nakamachi Catholic Church. Built at the end of the 19th century, all that was left after the A bomb were the walls and spire and it was rebuilt in 1951.

Nakamachi Catholic Church, Nagasaki.


On the outside it seems to have been modeled on the nearby Oura Cathedral. Inside is light and spacious with plenty of stained glass. After having visited so many temples and shrines in Japan over the years I know find churches quite atmospheric. Like Shofukuji and Fukusaiji, there is no entrance fee and little visited. Tomorrow I head back to the coast and head down the Shimabara Peninsula and I should be back in Nagasaki in 3 days.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Part 1

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Japan News This Week 19 April 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Nuclear Reactors in Japan Remain Closed by Judge’s Order
New York Times

Japan jet scrambles 'near Cold War record'
BBC

Japanese-American internment artifacts auction cancelled after backlash
Guardian

Japan’s 1968: A Collective Reaction to Rapid Economic Growth in an Age of Turmoil 日本の1968 混乱期の高度成長への共同体的反応
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

In 2014, a record number of children in Japan were victimized by social media. 1,421 children under 18 fell victim to acts of obscenity. That includes pornography, prostitution, and other forms of abuse.

Source: Jiji Press

Air Self-Defense Forces scrambled a record 943 times in fiscal 2014. As a result of intrusions into Japan's air space - mainly by China (464) and Russia (473) - Japan's pilots are on average flying three missions a day.

Source: Jiji Press

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 60, Nagasaki Part 1
Tuesday February 18th 2014

The weather is overcast and dull as I leave my hotel near the main railway station and head south on my one day exploration of Nagasaki. I've been here before, some years ago, and today I will be revisiting some places but also exploring some of the less visited sights.

Rather than take the busy main thoroughfare which is filled with the roar of 6 lanes of motor vehicles spewing fumes into the air I go a couple of blocks towards the water and take a narrow street that is almost just an alley but feels like a canyon.

Overhead a spaghetti-tangle of cables crisscross the sky like a web of a giant spider. My first stop is something called Dragon Promenade in the port area. It's a long, narrow, concrete warehouse running perpendicular to the water. The roof is a multifaceted membrane somewhat reminiscent of the geometry of stealth planes and boats and at the far end sits a huge, orange sphere. Steps lead up to the covered roof which is public space and I believe sometimes events are held here, but mostly it is deserted and seems a little run down.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1.

Can't figure out the orange globe but supposedly the design of the building is meant to reflect the dragon used in the Dragon Dance at Nagasaki's Kunchi Festival. It is the kind of place I love to take photos. Almost next door is the new Ferry Building designed by Shin Takamatsu, an architect whose whimsical and geometric buildings are somewhat passe but again make for the kind of photography I most enjoy making.

Moored in front of the terminal is a ship I had not seen before, the Kanko Maru. It's actually a replica of Japan's first modern warship. Primarily a sailing ship she also had paddle wheels powered by steam. She was built in Holland in 1852 and served briefly with the Dutch navy before being given to the Shogun in 1855 whose government had recently "opened" the country following the return of Perry's Black Ships.

This replica was built in the same shipyard as the first Kanko Maru following the original plans. Last I heard she had been operating out of the theme park Huis Ten Bosch but maybe she is now based here.

A little further down along the waterfront I come to the Prefectural Museum of Art. When I first came to Nagasaki it was not yet fully built and hidden behind hoardings, but approaching along the canal the Prefectural Museum of Art is quite striking.

It is two buildings with the canal running between them and a connecting glass walkway between the two parts. The area along the canal is a public promenade with sculptures. Even though is is overcast the combination of glass walls and the water of the canal offer me plenty of photo opportunities. I forgo the opportunity to go in even though they just open as I am there.

Unless there is something specific I want to see in a museum or gallery I will often save myself the entrance fee, coming as I do from a country where entrance is free to most museums and galleries. Not far away is Dejima, the island where the Dutch traders lived in isolation during the Edo Period of Japanese history.

No longer surrounded by water but by city, it is somewhere else that was still under construction when I last came here. I do decide to fork over the entrance fee. It was interesting enough, though being a new reconstruction the newness of everything was kind of distracting.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 60 Nagasaki Part 1.


From here its just a short walk to Chinatown. I'm not sure when the Chinese New Year was this year, but I seem to have just missed the festival that celebrates it here in Nagasaki's Chinatown as there are still some of the large, brightly colored floats used then sitting in front to the entrance to the shopping street of said Chinatown. I walk quickly through as I am not interested in the restaurants and gifts shops that to my untrained eye look just the same as at any of the dozens of Chinatowns around the world.

What I am interested in is the hillside behind Chinatown which is actually where the Chinese quarter, known as Tojin Yashiki, was located during the Edo Period. It is a pretty decrepit and run down area now, and I'm not sure how many Chinese now live here, but dotted around the area are some small shrine-temples built by the Chinese residents back then.

I'm surprised to find them made out of brick, and while they are not grand like the nearby well-known Chinese temples of Sofukuji and Kofukuji, which were built later for the Chinese community here, it's nice to see the statues and decorations which are most certainly Chinese and not Japanese. Next I head towards the line of temples flanked by the aforementioned Sofukuji and Kofukuji.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 59

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Oizumi - Brazil in Rural Japan

群馬県 大泉町

Oizumi is a small town north of Tokyo, in Gunma Prefecture, noted for its large Brazilian population. Of Oizumi's approximately 40,000 residents (which actually makes Oizumi the largest town (but not city) in Gunma Prefecture), close to 6,000 of them are non-Japanese. However, the majority of the this non-Japanese population is all but indistinguishable at first glance from the local population, being Brazilians of Japanese extraction  who make up about 10% of Oizumi's residents.

Torii of Nagara Shrine, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

The industrial history of Gunma prefecture is a long one, and before and during the war, Oizumi was the site of the Nakajima aircraft factory, which made fighter planes. After the war, the Nakajima factory became what is now the Sanyo and Fuji Heavy Industries factories, which are the main employers here, especially of foreign labor. The Ajinomoto Frozen Foods and the Toppan Printing plants also employ a lot of locals.

The non-Japanese influx dates back to 1990 when the Japanese government changed the immigration laws to allow foreigners of Japanese descent to work freely in Japan. At the time, the municipality of Oizumi, unable to make ends meet, was a subsidized body, and therefore actively recruited newly eligible foreign residents to come and settle there. The resulting population increase boosted tax revenues and brought Oizumi back into the black.


Buildings on Route 354, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.


I visited Oizumi last Saturday with my partner, who is Brazilian Japanese, for an event his company was running there. It took about an hour and ten minutes from Asakusa Station in Tokyo. The Tobu line train took us to Ota Station (Ota City is adjacent to Oizumi) and it was a 15 minute drive to Oizumi from there.

The main street, Route 354, is little different from any main street in a small Japanese town, with an unplanned hodge-podge of old and not-as-old buildings—more or less concrete cubes—raggedly lining it. However, what catches your eye here are the numerous shop and restaurant signs in Portuguese, and the shops and supermarkets themselves, a lot of which stock only Brazilian produce.

While my partner was busy, I went for a neighborhood stroll with my camera and was pleased to find that once I left the main drag, the little streets behind were mostly rural (i.e., agricultural) in feel, and quite picturesque.


Pulled up plants on the roadside, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.


My first real stop was Nagara Shrine, which seemed to be the remnants of a shrine that had been chopped up by residential development. The main shrine was on the edge of a tract of land that could well still be the shrine grounds, but which is now used as a playing field. The only thing that readily identified it as a past or present shrine precinct was the big torii gate on the street side. A walk across the field, where two little boys were kicking a soccer ball, brought you to the tiny old shrine that was almost in a state of disrepair.

As I stood in front of it taking photos, an old woman walked by. I said konnichiwa. She greeted me back and said foreigners were a rare sight around there. We chatted for a few minutes. She spoke pretty good English. On my asking why, she said she'd worked on the nearby American base for a few years after the war. I looked at her with a question in my eyes, because she didn't look much over 60. "I'm 83, she said, going on 84." She'd lived here all her life, right behind the shrine.


Nagara Shrine, Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.


While we were chatting, one of the little boys kicking the soccer ball would come up, yell hello and shake my hand.

I spent another half hour wandering the neighborhood. Rustic though it was, there was an element of modern industry in almost every scene: the garish green pick-up truck parked near the shrine, the small metalworks across from the market garden, the massive power pylons planted in fields and beside trees. But the stars of the landscape that weekend were the blossom trees, cherry, plum and one or two others I couldn't identify. The cherry blossom was just starting to fall and carpeted the ground like pale pink snow. And the plum blossom still on branches were like embers against an overcast early spring sky with its peeps and patches of ozone blue.

To see all the photos I took, browse the Oizumi Google+ photo album I made of my walk ... and please +1 pics if you like them.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Japan News This Week 12 April 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
Ahead of World War II Anniversary, Questions Linger Over Stance of Japan’s Premier
New York Times

Dolphins stranded on Japan beach
BBC

Japan dismisses South Korean protest over 'provocative' textbooks
Guardian

Repatriation But Not “Return”: A Japanese Brazilian Dekasegi Goes Back to Brazil
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to Amnesty International, 22 countries worldwide carried out the death penalty in 2014. The total number of known executions was "at least 607."

China, which is thought to execute in the thousands yearly, does not make public the number of executions it conducts.

Amnesty lists as death penalty cases those that have passed through a judicial system, in which an accused criminal is condemned by a tribunal for a crime, and then ultimately put to death by the state. Thus, beheadings by ISIL are not "counted."

Of those countries that do, Iran lead the list with 289 executions in 2014. Saudi Arabia was in second place at 90. Rounding out the top three, Iraq executed 60 of its prisoners.

The United States put 35 prisoners to death, and Japan hanged three of its death row inmates.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum

亀山社中記念館

The Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum in Nagasaki is a restoration of the building that housed a shipping company begun by Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867), a prominent activist in the struggles to overthrow the Tokugawa regime in the 1850's and 1860's. Historians see the Kameyama Shachu, Japan's first trading company, as a forerunner of the Japanese navy.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.

Money for the venture was provided by a wealthy Nagasaki businessman, Kosone Kendo and the powerful Satsuma han (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture). The shipping company was meant to circumvent the Shogunate's trade blockade against its enemy Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) and its main activity seemed to be running guns and ammunition into Japan.

Although the Japanese style house and garden is a very small space, just 10-, 8- and 3-mat tatami rooms, it attracts a large number of keen Ryoma fans who make the pilgrimage uphill to the museum every day.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.


On display are a number of the great man's personal effects including his haori - a traditional kimono jacket which his family crest (mon) on the chest. There is also a secret mezzanine floor reached through the ceiling if the occupants needed to hide from any shogunal spies.

The Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum is a 15-20 minute walk from the Kokaido-mae tram stop close to Kokufuji Temple. The walk up to the museum has a number of plaques detailing the lives of the men who were active during the Meiji Restoration period when the Tokugawa Bakufu was eventually overthrown and replaced by the Meiji government.

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum
2-7-24 Irabayashi, Nagasaki 850-0802
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
Admission: 300 yen

Kameyama Shachu Memorial Museum, Nagasaki.


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Friday, April 10, 2015

Visiting Nara in the Rain

Does everybody go to Nara? I think so. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, comprised of eight temples, shrines, and ruins, is a historical treasure. Do visit!

Visiting Nara in the Rain.


Now that I've said that... let's talk about when it RAINS. As a tourist, you may have a prescribed itinerary and if the day brings rain, a person just has to make the best of it, come what may. I think that's a good attitude. Rain does discourage some visitors and the crowds may be a bit smaller; however, since the historic buildings are a distance from each other, you will be spending a great deal of your time out in the steady downpour protected only be your new pal Mr. Umbrella. Keeping dry can be a challenge, especially in the matter of feet. So be advised, and be prepared. Also it can be cold, so don't forget that.

Visiting Nara in the Rain.


My daughter has been to Nara twice, once on a sunny day and the other time (when I was there) on a rainy morning. Southern California receives sparse rainfall, and we inevitably have to search the closets for an umbrella when the skies do open up.

At Nara we had umbrellas we purchased in Japan - those 300 yen clear plastic ones - and they were sufficient. It was bit chilly, but nothing was as terrible as having our sneakers completely soaked through. Might I say "Aaarrgh." We managed to see the great Todaiji Temple and witnessed those ubiquitous deer - and saw the warning signs regarding all the possible deer behaviors one could encounter.

Todaiji Temple, Nara, Japan.


After our visit, which ended up being shorter than planned (read: I need to go back to Nara someday to see everything) we climbed onto the bus and took it somewhere, I don't know, I never know, and ended up at a Vie de France cafe for hot coffee and a sweet roll. Back at the hotel, I spent a very long time using the hair dryer on four soggy sneakers.

Vie de France cafe for hot coffee and a sweet roll.


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