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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hotei Osaka Gay Bar for Older Set

ほてい 大阪

Hotei gay bar for the older set, in Shin-Sekai, Osaka, Japan.
The bar at gay Hotei, Shin-Sekai, Oaaka


Do you feel annoyed, envious, or just generally bitter when you go into a gay bar and everyone is so painfully young to your “mature” eyes? Is the music too loud, the scene too, well, scene-y? Or perhaps you just wish to see what another, future facet of your gay life might look like? If so, there is a bar in the Shin-Sekai area of southern Osaka city just for you. It’s called Hotei, which means “pot belly,” a few of which you may see in this venerable establishment.

The door of Hotei, Shin-Sekai gay bar, Osaka.
Entrance to Hotei, Shin-Sekai, Oaaka

Hotei is a narrow venue, with a long bar extending deep back from the entrance and a couple of tables in the very rear. The action is at the bar, unless your idea of “action” is jostling for drinks against sweaty, hard bodied young’uns. In that case, there is no action. What you will find is a lot of jovial middle-aged guys chatting each other up from their comfy bar stools.

Inside Hotei, a gay bar in Osaka for guys in their 40s and up.
Serving the older gay customer - Hotei, in Osaka, Japan.

Karaoke is very much in effect, and the staff is fun and friendly. Fridays and Saturdays are busiest, with peak bustle hitting its stride at about 7:30pm. This is not an all-nighter kind of gay party crowd for the most part.

Drinks in gay bar Hotei, a Shin-Sekai, Osaka, bar for the older set.
The friendly bar tender at Hotei, a gay bar for older men in Osaka.

If you don’t speak any Japanese, you are still welcome here, but your smile and sign language may have to rise to the occasion. However, regardless of your language abilities, you will be welcomed like a long lost relative. Hotei is completely without pretense, which is not something that can be said for some of those “cool” gay bars up in Doyama.

Karaoke in Hotei, a gay bar for older guys in the south of Osaka City, Japan.
The laid back atmosphere of gay bar Hotei, Osaka.

Sidling up to the bar at Hotei will run you 1,300 yen, and that will cover your first drink and some nibbles. Beyond that, additional drinks start at around 700 yen.

Table and seats at Hotei, gay bar for the older set in Osaka, Japan.
Seats and table to relax at in Hotei.


Hotei is located at 3-1-6 Ebisu-higashi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka. Take Exit 5 of Dobutsuen-mae Station.

The drinks shelf at Hotei, a gay bar for older guys in Shin-Sekai, Osaka, Japan.
The spirits shelf at Hotei, gay bar in Osaka.



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Monday, August 29, 2016

60th Koenji Awa-Odori - young energy on Tokyo's streets

東京高円寺阿波踊り2016年

Koenji in Tokyo's Suginami ward is one of Tokyo's most youthful districts, so it makes sense that one of Tokyo's most energetic traditional-style dance festivals, the Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori, happens here every year.

A dancer at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Dancing at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
The Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori took place here yesterday on the streets of Koenji for the 60th time this year. This two-day event of costumes, music, rhythm and dancing happened on Saturday August 27 and Sunday August 28, from 5 pm to 8 pm - the evening hours being the cooler hours in Tokyo's mid-summer.

Help getting adjusting the yukata the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Tightening a team member's obi belt,60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

We were there to see the 60th Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori 2016 on Sunday afternoon. The blurb says the crowd each year tops a million, and the packed streets of Koenji made that easy to believe.

Making up faces at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
A last minute hand at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

Thirty groups took part in this year's Tokyo Koenji Awa-Odori, each with its own yukata robes, colors, music, rhythms, and moves. Some have only about 35 members, others well over 100, many date from the early 1970s, others formed much more recently.

Typical Awa-Odori hats and yukata at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
Typical Awa-Odori attire at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

The dancing may differ in the details between groups, but the Awa-Odori is a dance from the island of Shikoku - specifically Tokushima (formerly known as the province of Awa). This dance became the trademark of this event that, for its first few years, styled itself as the Koenji Baka-Odori, or the "Koenji Dance of Fools." The dance is an out-and-out "import" from Shikoku that was adopted simply because it was considered more appropriate than the "baka" antics to date. Some teams base their dancing on the real Awa-Odori more than others, but the aim of each team is to distinguish itself from the others with its look, style, sound and energy. Teams come from all over, one there clearly being marked "Shikoku University."

Faces from all over the world at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.
International face of the Koenji Awa-Odori, Suginami-ku, Tokyo.

Several foreigner members of various teams were in evidence, too. One I spoke to, a European woman who is a university student here, said she got to participate through friendships made in Koenji.

Man carrying drum at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Suginami ward, Tokyo, Japan.
A bit of chest at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan.

Koenji has few big open roads - most of it is alleys and malls, so organizing a huge dance parade here takes tactics. Therefore, there are actually eight different venues, north and south of JR Koenji Station, from where the dancing starts, simultaneously, at 5 pm. We went to the starting point farthest south of the station, the Minami Awa-Odori spot, and spent about half and there watching several teams depart from there.

Big brother, little sister, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Suginami ward, Tokyo, Japan.
Big bro, little sis at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, Japan
The streets are lined with stalls selling everything from beer to cocktails to takoyaki to icecream, and the vendors as much into the festive spirit as anyone with their cries to stop and buy.

 Dancing in the alleyways of Koenji, at the Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Getting fierce in Koenji's alleyways at the Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Perhaps the Koenji Awa-Odori is best experienced on one of Koenji's narrow alleys where the drums, cymbals, flutes, shouts - not to mention the energy of the dancers themselves - form a potent concentrate of pure, joyous energy and where there is an almost tangible rapport between the tireless costumed dancers on the street and the happy party goers lining it.

Dance party departing from the Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Setting out from the Minami Awa-Odori Venue, Koenji.
This year was the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori event. This powerful display of talent and enthusiasm began in 1950s, when Japan was making its entry on the world stage once again after emergence from defeat in war. It is just as needed today, in the aging, flatlining 2010s, to remind us that Japan's spirit is still as community-based, youthful and eager to get out there and express itself in music, rhythm, color and dance as ever.

Enjoy a selection of photos of the 60 Koenji Awa-Odori below.

An alleyway of Koenji, chock-a-block with dance procession and spectators, Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
A Koenji alleyway chock full of  dancers and spectators, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
Street stall at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Street vendors at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo.

Dancer in front of "Lover Soul" clothing store, one of many in Koenji, at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo.
Dancing in front of "Lover Soul," one of Koenji's many clothing shops.

 Men and women dance on the street at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo,
Men and women dancers at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, 2016.



The heat of the moment - dancing their hearts out at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Letting go at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

Men's group dancing at the Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Men getting down to it in a Koenji alley at the Awa-Odori Festival, Tokyo, 2016.



Street scene at the Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.
The Minami Awa-Odori Venue of the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival, 2016.

Participants from different groups wait for the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade to start.
Men from different groups wait the start of the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori.

Men in pink yukata at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Men in pink, 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Standard bearers at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016 waiting for 5pm start time to come around.
Standard bearer and drummer at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Parade, Tokyo, 2016.

Young dancing team member at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival on Sunday August 27, 2016.
Boy dancer at the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival

Preparations for drums and lanterns almost over before the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival Parade, Tokyo, 2016.
Drums, mobile phone, lantern - before the Koenji Awa-Odori Festival Parade, Tokyo, 2016.


Tying up a team member's obi belt at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Tying a team member's obi belt at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori Dance Parade, Tokyo, Japan.

Man in yukata on a Koenji street corner at the 60th Koenji Awa-Odori, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Taisho-era fashion on a Koenji street corner, Awa-Odori, 2016.


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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Japan News This Week 28 August 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
Driver in Japan Playing Pokémon Go Kills Pedestrian
New York Times

Who said Japan's politicians were boring?
BBC

Japanese City Takes Community Approach To Dealing With Dementia
NPR

From Rio 2016 to Tokyo 2020: Olympic drama moves on
Guardian

Apology culture in Japan: Takahata’s mother says sorry for adult son’s alleged sexual assault
Japan Times

Hitler's dismantling of the constitution and the current path of Japan's Abe administration: What lessons can we draw from history?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Beer production worldwide experienced its second year in a row of decline. Economists believe a slowdown in the economy is the cause. Below are the results of the top 8 beer producing countries from 2015.

1. China, 4299 (production amount, in ten thousand kiloliters), -4.3% (compared to previous year)
2. USA, 2228, -1.4%
3. Brazil, 1385, -2.0%
4. Germany, 956. +0.4%
5. Mexico, 745, -4.5%
6. Russia, 730, -4.7%
7. Japan, 546, -0.1%
8. Vietnam, 467, +20.1%
 
Source: Asahi

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest: Exuberance on the Streets of Tokyo

浅草サンバカーニバル


Decorated float the the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Partytime! A float at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016
Easygoing, fun-loving, downtown Asakusa is one of Tokyo's most colorful areas even on an ordinary day - but positively dazzles at the end of August each year with the huge, Brazilian-inspired Asakusa Samba Carnival. This event recreating Rio in Tokyo is a celebration of dance, performance and music that has become part of Asakusa's heart and soul over the past three decades, and draws crowds of up to half a million - rivaling that other huge annual Asakusa event, the Sanja Matsuri.

Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, 2016
The 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival happened again today at 1pm - the contest beginning at 1.30pm - and ended five spectacular, unbridled, kaleidoscopic hours later at 6pm. The approaching typhoon meant gray skies and scattered rain, but that didn't deter anyone. The streets were a blaze of color and dancing, and were packed with exuberant spectators who, although on the sidelines, radiated just as much excitement as the participants.

35th Asakusa Samba Carnival in Asakusa, Tokyo with Skytree behind.
Tokyo Skytree forms backdrop to 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival
17 samba teams from around Japan took part today: veterans such as G.R.E.S. Uniao dos Amadores and G.R.E.S. Barbaros - both associated with the Carnival since its very beginning in 1981 - to relative newcomers like G.R.E.S. Sol Nascente, for whom this was their sixth carnival.

Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate, Tokyo, 2016.
Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate

The Carnival being a contest ensures that the teams are giving it their all, and the bad weather didn't stand a chance against the mass enthusiasm. Each team whirled, gyrated, twisted and leaped to the samba sounds pumped out from each float. The costumes, floats, dancing and performing skills had to be seen to be believed: imaginative, intricate, inimitable.

A train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo
Japan has a large Brazilian population, and the participating teams include numerous Brazilian members; however, the vast majority of participants are Japanese, many of whom have spent time in Brazil absorbing and perfecting their carnival skills.

Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
The contest was divided into two leagues. The S1 League is of teams of between 150 and 300 people and including the four essential elements of a carnival team: the comissao de frente (the lead group) the porta bandeira (flag bearer), the mestre sala (man dancing with the porta bandeira at the head of the group), and baianas (the women dancing in big hooped dresses). The S1 League winners this year were the formidable G.R.E.S. Barbaros (i.e. "Barbarians" - not named so for nothing!)

Jugglers and baianas at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Baiana dancers and jugglers, 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
The S2 League is of teams of 30 to 150 members and doesn't require the full complement of the above four carnival elements. The ICU Lambs were the S2 League winners this year.

Barbaros team's bandeiras at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Banners of the winning S1 League Barbaros team, 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016
The carnival climaxes during the last hour, 5 to 6pm, when the competition is at its hottest and the dancers and performers are at one with each other, the atmosphere, and the crowds - giving it everything they've got, absorbing and exuding carnival energy.

Starting just outside the Ekimise shopping building housing the Tobu Skytree Line's Asakusa Station, the parade goes down to and right into Kaminarimon Avenue, past the huge red Kaminarimon Gate of Sensoji Temple, and finishes a few hundred meters further on at Sushiya-dori.

People from all over the world converge on the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Competition, 2016.
The whole world enjoys the 35th Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest 2016 in Tokyo
Enjoy these pictures of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival held on August 27, 2016, in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Jugglers juggle at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Jugglers at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm tree costumes at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm trees at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo.
Drummers in parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Drumming parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016
Boat themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan 2016.
Boat-themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo.
Want the CD of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival songs? Inquire with GoodsFromJapan.

Read about the 2016 Brazil Festival in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

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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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