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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Ogaki Station

大垣駅

Ogaki Station in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, is on three railway lines.

Ogaki Station, Gifu, Japan

Ogaki Station is on the 57.5km Yoro Line running from Kuwana in Mie Prefecture to Ibi in Gifu, the 34km Tarumi Line to Tarumi and is also on the JR Tokaido Main Line with train services to Nagoya, Toyohashi, Sekigahara and Gifu.

Shirasagi Limited Express trains run to Fukui, Kanazawa, Maibara and Toyama while the Hida Express connects to both Kyoto and Osaka.

Local JR trains also connect to Mino-Akasaka.

Ogaki Station, Gifu, Japan.

The Yoro Line is useful for getting out to Yoro Park and the interesting Site of Reversible Destiny.

Ogaki Station, Gifu, Japan.

Ogaki Station is also the departure point for many local bus services including the bus out to the Keirin Bicycle Race Track.

Bus at Ogaki Station, Gifu, Japan.


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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Matsutake Mushroom Season in Japan

松茸

Matsutake (literally "pine mushroom"), known as mycorrhizal mushrooms in English, or scientifically as Tricholoma matsutake is a very tasty species of mushroom that grows in certain environments in Japan during a limited season only.

Matsutake mushrooms in Takashimaya Department Store, Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Matsutake mushrooms - any buyers?
The matsutake has been traditionally prized in both China and Japan for its distinctive aromatic flavor. It is richly meaty on the taste buds, and with a uniquely fresh and spicy odor that gives the eating experience a delightful, added olfactory dimension.

Matsutake is picky about where it grows. It usually grows only under the Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) in Japan. Matsutake hunters have the additional challenge of locating it before it's discovered by animals such as rabbits, deer and squirrels--who find them just as delicious as do humans.

Another challenge has been the decline of the Japanese red pine population on which matsutake depend, due to a pine nematode that has been attacking if for the past few decades.

The matsutake season has just begun this year in Japan. We were on the B1 food floor of the Takashimaya department store in Nihonbashi on Sunday, and saw this table of matsutake, the first of this year's crop. I have always known that matsutake are expensive--both because of their desirable flavor and their increasing rarity--but I felt it quite viscerally when I spied the price tags.

At today's exchange rates the 12,800 yen that a single matsutake is selling for is about USD105 or EUR95. The 21,600 yen that a pack of five is selling for is about USD180 or EUR160. Itadakimasu!

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Japan News This Week 30 August 2015

今週の日本

Japan News.
A Sprawl of Ghost Homes in Aging Tokyo Suburbs
New York Times

Tsunami Warnings, Written in Stone
New York Times

Three Western myths about Japan
BBC

Japan unable to commit to IOC’s deadline for Tokyo 2020 stadium
Guardian

Particles From The Edge Of Space Shine A Light On Fukushima
NPR

A lady’s lot at Little League in Japan: lunches, liquids and lavatories
Japan Times

War Remembrance in Japan’s Buddhist Cemeteries, Part II: Transforming War Criminals into Martyrs: “True Words” on Mt. Kōya
Japan Focus

Japan delivers whisky to International Space Station - for science, obviously
CBC News

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

89% of Japanese respondents to a Yomiuri poll said they consider depopulation a "serious issue."

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

To the question, "Do you prefer squid or octopus (to eat)?", 65% chose squid and 35% octopus. When asked why the preference, the most common reply was "taste."

Source: Asahi Shinbun


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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mukainada Station

向洋駅

Mukainada Station is the nearest station to the Mazda Museum if you are visiting this popular attraction just outside Hiroshima city.

Mukainada Station, Hiroshima.


Mukainada Station is just two stops south of Hiroshima Station on the Sanyo or Kure lines. Note that express trains do not stop here and you will need to catch a local. To reach the museum take the exit with the convenience store, walk straight until you get to the main road with the Matsuda Hospital on your right. The Mazda Museum is 50 meters to your right on the opposite side of the road.

Mukainada Station, Hiroshima.


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Iwami Seaside Park

石見海浜公園

The Japan Sea Coast is usually considered the best place to swim in Japan. The Pacific Coast is much more populated and industrialized with Japan's major cities dotting the seaside down from Tokyo to Yokohama, through Shizuoka, Nagoya and Osaka.

Iwami Seaside Park, Shimane.


The Echizen Coast in Fukui Prefecture has some wonderful beaches as has Shimane and the offshore Oki Islands.

One excellent place to enjoy white sands and warm water is Iwami Seaside Park, 5km of beach between Hamada and Gotsu. If you are not enjoying the swimming and snorkeling from the white sands head for Aquas near Hamada, the largest aquarium in western Honshu and Aquas Land, a vast playground/amusement park popular with families with children.

Iwami Seaside Park is also popular with people driving north from Hiroshima. Visitors can camp or rent cabins near the beach. From Hiroshima take the Sanyo then the Chugoku Expressway and exit at Hamada I.C. From here it is less than a 15-minute drive to the beach on National Highway 9.

Express buses from the Shinkansen Exit of Hiroshima Station run to Hamada.

Iwami Seaside Park

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Japan News This Week 22 August 2015

今週の日本

Japan News. Japan protests Russian PM's visit to disputed island
Reuters

Nagoya 112-yr-old man world’s oldest
The Japan News

Japan has so many super old people that it can’t afford to give them special sake cups anymore
The Washington Post

Japan’s economy shrinks
BusinessNews

Team Jamaica get Japanese send-off
Jamaica Observer

Smuggling bid ends with Fukuoka hospital removing 400 cannabis balloons from man's stomach
NewsOnJapan

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics
The number of confirmed deaths by murder in Japan has been, on the whole, falling over the past few years, with 699 deaths by murder in 2004 and 370 in 2013, according to a Japanese police report.
Heisei 25 no hanzai jousei ("The State of Crime in 2013")

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Otani Honbyo

大谷本廟

If you are in Kyoto mid-August during the Obon holiday period and are visiting the popular Kiyomizudera Temple in the south east corner of the city, try to make a short detour to see Otani Honbyo, a temple with adjoining graveyard that is lit with candles and lanterns at night during the Obon period. There are good views down over the city, especially at night.

Otani Honbyo, Obon, August, Kyoto, Japan.


Otani Honbyo contains the grave of Shinran (1173-1263), the founder of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism along with around 15,000 other graves in this historic cremation and burial ground.

Otani Honbyo
6-514 Gojobashi Higashi
Kyoto
605-0846

Access

From Kyoto Station it takes about 20 minutes by bus to the Kiyomizu area. Take bus number #100 or #206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka. From Keihan Gojo Station it is a 20-minute walk. From Shijo-Kawaramachi, take the #207, #80, or #85 bus.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Japan News This Week August 15 2015

今週の日本

Japan News. Japan PM expresses 'utmost grief' over WW2 but no fresh apology
Reuters

Volcanic alert raised for Sakurajima in Kagoshima
The Japan News

Japan emperor offers 'remorse' on WWII surrender anniversary
The Washington Post

Japan WW2 commemorations - in 60 seconds
BBC

Britain remembers VJ Day 70 years on
Daily Telegraph

Japan Statistics
Japan has perhaps up to 2 million Christians among its population of over 120 million. About half a million of Japan's Christians are Catholic. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has about 125,000 members in Japan, and the Salvation Army is very active in Japan.

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

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Friday, August 14, 2015

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 71 Mimasaka to Hizennagano

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 71, Mimasaka to Hizennagano
Sunday March 23rd, 2014

Today I have a cluster of three pilgrimage temples to visit, one of them near the top of a mountain. It's the last day of basing myself in Sasebo and therefore being able to walk with just a light pack. I studied the map last night for the best route to take and ended up deciding that there is no way to avoid zigzagging and I should be able to end up at a station where I can get back to my hotel in Sasebo one more time.

Toko-ji Temple, Kyushu, Japan.


I take the first train out of Sasebo and go one station past Kamiarita where I finished yesterday. There is not a cloud in the sky. The first temple of the day, Toko-ji, number 67 on the pilgrimage, is just a few minutes walk south of the station. It's a small, rural temple with the only noticeable thing being row upon row of jizo statues in faded red bibs, most with a multicolor windmill.

Across the road is a very curious shrine. Built on a rise that is all exposed rock, a series of empty terraces have been carved into the rock in front of the shrine. A signboard explains that this was an area where some of the Heike settled after their defeat and a dance performed annually at the shrine was created by them. I head back to the station and carry on north. To my left some fairly high mountains loom.

The next temple is near the top. The road leading up to it is on the north side so I take the small road that hugs the base of the hills. When I get round to the road there is a big stone torii over a path that heads up the mountain. This would be the shortest route up, but most probably the steepest, whereas the road will be longer but less steep. I will come down the trail and go up the road. Part way up is a temple on the right but I decide to check it out on my way down.

It's quite a climb, but as I've noted before, easier than anticipated. When I arrive at the temple, Saikomitsuji, I am surprised to find it open with someone tidying up. The guide book said it was an unmanned temple but I guess that it being a Sunday in o-higan something will be going on. A torii and steps lead up the mountain to the shrine on top but I decide against the extra climb. I am already at more than 450 meters and that’s enough climbing for the day. I head down the mountain along the trail and it's great to be off the roads and walking through trees.

The trail hits the road at the small temple I passed on the way up and I cross the small bridge to check it out. There are lots of statues with bright flower offerings and a small building, but a path up the mountain lined with yet more statues beckons me. I really didn't want to do any more climbing, but I started to climb anyway. I am glad I did. The path ended at a cliff face with fantastic view down over the surrounding countryside and carved into the cliff a giant 7 meter high relief of Fudo Myo.

Relief statue of Fudo Myo, Kyushu.


Beneath the statue is a huge polished steel circular mirror that I am guessing is facing towards the rising sun. Quite impressive and completely unexpected. I head back and carry on down the trail through the forest. I reach the valley pretty quickly and head off towards the next temple.

Not far from the base of the mountain I come to a big shrine with a lot of activity. Men in suits and women in kimonos are milling around. This is Kurokami Shrine, or rather Lower Kurokami Shrine. The Upper Kurokami Shrine is the one on top of the mountain. The ceremony everyone is here for is a Shinto style wedding.

Many people believe this is a traditional and ancient ceremony but its actually very modern and is based on the royal weddings of Europe. A little further along the road and I pass by a supermarket where I am able to get some lunch. I find temple 68, Mudo-in, at the base of the hills not far off the main road. There is a nice Fudo statue and some strange, weathered komainu, but otherwise just another small, rural temple.

Mudo-in priest, Kyushu, Japan.


However it seems that the priest's family are visiting and I am invited to sit in the shade and enjoy a cool drink. The priest's daughter or daughter-in-law speaks good English and she fetches out a photo of the priest's brother, also a priest, meeting with the Pope. The old guy is very proud of it.

I head off north and cross over the hills to reach a river that runs eventually into the Matsuura River which empties into the sea at Karatsu which will be my destination tomorrow. I follow the rail line a couple of stations and by mid afternoon reach Nagano where I get on the train back to Sasebo. It's a beautiful day and I have a few hours left to do some exploring of shrines and temples in Sasebo.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 70

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Monday, August 10, 2015

More Kokeshi

こけし

In May of this year I visited Miyagi Prefecture and wrote a post here about the humble beginnings of my kokeshi collection. At the time of course I pretty much knew zilch about kokeshi - I simply liked the look of the craft. Since then, however, I have made the effort to educate myself. To that end I purchased two books dedicated to the art of kokeshi.

Kokeshi: From Tohoku With Love


Kokeshi: From Tohoku with Love by Manami Okazaki is concerned primarily with the production of kokeshi and contains interviews with twenty kokeshi craftspersons who live and work in the Tohoku region.

Kokeshi


Kokeshi Book by Yousuke Jikuhara is a delightful pictorial filled with examples of the varying kokeshi styles. Although nearly all the text is Japanese, the artists' names are printed in English.

I found the most information about kokeshi on a blog called "Kokeshi Adventures." It is written by a kokeshi aficionado named John who has traveled across Japan visiting kokeshi artists, onsens, shops, and museums, and attending special kokeshi events.

Kokeshi Adventures Blog.


He has a real treasure trove of knowledge within his pages. If you are interested in this charming folk art, I recommend reading John's blog. And if you are visiting Japan this September of 2015, the biggest and longest-running kokeshi festival in Japan will be held at Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture on September 4th, 5th, and 6th.

More Kokeshi.


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