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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lucky Shisa Dog Lions in Okinawa

シーサー 沖縄

Shisa statues in Okinawa, Japan.
A pair of shisa figurines in the countryside near Naha, Okinawa.
The shisa is a cultural artifact that illustrates Okinawa's history as the largely independent Ryukyu Kingdom. Said to have been imported from China in the 14th century, the shisa is derived from the Chinese lion-dog, and serves the same roles: protection from evil, or, to extend the idea: ensuring good luck. However, while the Okinawan shisa comes, like the Chinese "foo dog," in a great many varieties, the shisa is distinctive in being simpler than its Chinese counterpart, without the overwroughtness that can characterize Chinese lion-dogs, which can often end up having a flattened, globular, goggle-eyed almost amphibian look to them compared with shisa.

Shisa costume, Naha Airport in Okinawa.
Shisa costume at Okinawa Airport, Naha.
Shisa are everywhere in Okinawa,  typically appearing as roof decorations on dwellings, or guarding each side of an entranceway; however as the accompanying pictures show, they also crop up as dance costumes, airport decorations, and more.

Shisa character in traditional Okinawan dance, Japan.
Shisa character in traditional Okinawan dance
Like the lions that guard Japanese shrines and temples, the shisa come in pairs, one with its mouth open (known as "ah" in Japanese) and one with its mouth shut ("mm").

However, their brick-red coloration, height relative to width, and the often simpler "rough-cut" details of their features, giving them on occasion something of a comical air, set them apart as something that, like Okinawa, is Japanese but with a difference.

The Okinawa souvenir scene is awash with shisa, from the ceramic authentic to the made-in-China two-a-penny versions, from the genuinely, majestically fearsome to the consciously cutesy.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bicycle Parking At Tennoji Station

自転車

People parking illegally on the sidewalk outside Tennoji Station in Osaka has something of a nationwide reputation. It has even made national TV, with 1000's of bicycles parked on every available inch of space around the station making walking a hazardous occupation.

Bicycle Parking At Tennoji Station



Drawn by the new shopping centers of Harukas and Q's Mall more and more people are flooding into the area around Tennoji Station each day. When asked on TV why people parked their bicycles on the street, most replied that the pay-for bicycle lots were full. When the reporters investigated, the lots were, of course, half-empty.

Osaka City staff collecting illegally parked bicycles in Tennoji


Osakans consider it a chore (mendokusai) to have to park in a bicycle lot and pay for the privilege.

So each week the city authorities send a flat-bed truck to Tennoji Station to collect the bicycles and motorbikes and cart them off to the pound near Ashiharacho. It costs 2,500 yen to get your bicycle back as shown on a warning taped to the pavement.

Osaka City staff collecting illegally parked bicycles, Tennoji


As the truck was speeding off people were already parking their bicycles in the new spaces provided, safe in the knowledge that the truck wouldn't be back for a week or so. The endless game of cat and mouse continues on as it has over the last quarter of a century, that I have been observing the phenomenon.

Bicycle Parking At Tennoji Station


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浪速西自転車保管所
〒556-0026 Osaka-fu
Osaka-shi, Naniwa-ku, Naniwanishi, 1-chome

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38 Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38
Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen
Friday November 22nd, 2013

I awoke in a dense fog. I'm not referring to the state of my mind, but to the thick mist that filled the river valley and left a coat of moisture over my bag and everything else. The warm glow of the solitary streetlamp in front of the shrine was swallowed up by the fog and barely visible. Above the layer of mist it was probably getting light. I headed off in search of a vending machine with hot coffee. Visibility extended only 20 meters. The first section of today's walk would be along the river so I should be able to navigate it without the reassurance of orienting myself to the landscape.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38 Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen


It was silent and dreamlike and I felt isolated from everything but the road beneath my feet. After an hour or two the fog becomes bright, almost pure white, though still impenetrable, then I catch a glimpse of a white disc above the hills. The sun is up. I am going to cross the river at some point and so I have been counting bridges to find the right one.

According to my map I should have found the bridge by now, so begin to worry that I have passed it. A small kei car comes along and I put out my arm to flag it down. The middle-aged woman driving stares at me and then steps on the accelerator and speeds away with a look of terror on her face. I wouldn't be surprised to have a police car stop me in the next twenty minutes. I have had people phone the police on me before for the suspicious activity of walking while being foreign.

A few minutes later a small pick up comes by and the fearless old gentleman driving tells me that I have passed the bridge. I retrace my steps and cross over the river and finally some blue sky is visible and I can see the landscape of the wide river valley. As I walk away from the river it becomes completely clear to reveal a cloudless sky.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38 Sogi no Taki to Kyomachi Onsen


I pass a couple of Tanokami statues. This area is famous for them, and they are a pleasant change from the more typical Jizo. I get into Hishikari, the only town on my route today and find a supermarket to replenish my stomach and supplies. So far today its all been flat along the river, but from here I have to cross over some higher country.

The road is a narrow, winding, mountain lane, with very little traffic. After an hour it gets steeper and I look down on a huge expanse of steel roof. Some sort of factory farm, though not a sound comes from it so I don't know if its chicken or pig or cow.

Japan, and particularly southern Kyushu raises a lot of meat, but you will almost never see any animals outside in the sunshine. It is almost all raised indoors. The road levels off and then starts a slow descent and I get my first glimpse of the Ebino Valley below with the Kirishima Mountains behind. Ten walking days ago I was on the other side of those mountains. I reach the valley floor and once again walk along the Sendai River.

Tanokami statues


By late afternoon I reach Kyomachi Onsen and look in the quiet back streets for my room for the night. I find the Yamaga Onsen and check in for the night. The couple running the hot spring, which caters mostly to locals, are sitting in their living room with the sliding doors open so they can do business with their patrons.

Everybody wants to chat. I suspect I may be the first foreigner they have had stay here. Everyone is very friendly and when I mention that I am interested in seeing the local Tanokami the owner promptly invites me into his car and he drives me a few kilometers out of town where a lot of the Tanokami have been gathered together in one spot. A good end to the day, especially when considering that the room I stay in tonight is only 2,200 yen.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Japan News This Week 20 July 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Foreign Minister Speaks Out Against Chinese Newspaper Graphic
New York Times

Although they live freely in Japan, these Koreans still support Kim Jong Un
Global Post

Japan 'vagina artist' arrest sparks debate
BBC

Doubts over ice wall to keep Fukushima safe from damaged nuclear reactors
Guardian

Foreign residents can’t claim welfare benefits: Supreme Court
Japan Times

Japan’s New Defense Posture
The Diplomat

Remembering Biowarfare Unit 731 Through Musical Activism: A Performance of the Choral Work The Devil’s Gluttony 音楽活動をとうして生物兵器731部隊を思い浮かべる 合唱組曲「悪魔の飽食」のコンサート Japan Focus

Japan’s Break With Peace New York Times

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Crime Levels, by country (#1 is highest level of crime), 2014

1 Maldives 100
2 Venezuela 97.03
3 Afghanistan 96.43
4 Kenya 91.25
5 Trinidad and Tobago 91.18
6 South Africa 86.27
7 Guatemala 84.09
8 Nigeria 82.35
9 Puerto Rico 81.9
10 Honduras 81.67

45 United States 55.84

64 United Kingdom 48

127 South Korea 13.89
128 Taiwan 13.57
129 Japan 12.8
130 Singapore 12.72
131 Isle of Man 5
132 Malta 4.17

Source: Nation Master

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ryokan Romontei Takeo Onsen

旅館楼門亭

Takeo Onsen, in western Saga, is an ancient hot spring whose soft, silky waters, reputed to be beneficial to the skin, have been written about since the eighth century.

Ryokan Romontei Takeo Onsen

According to myth, Empress Jingu created the hot spring by striking her spear into the ground. The fame of the hot spring spread when none other than Hideyoshi wrote about it. In the Edo Period a post station of the Nagasaki Kaido that connected Nagasaki with Kokura and point east on Honshu was built and several lavish bathrooms were constructed for the lords and dignitaries who stayed here.

The town of Takeo Onsen is now home to many luxury resort hotels as well as small, traditional ryokan, but in my quest to find somewhere to stay within my budget I found the best deal at the public onsen.

Located at the top of the town underneath Mount Horai, the public baths are fronted by an Edo Period gate known as the Romon, which has now become the symbol of the town.

Within the grounds is the Ryokan Romontei, a large concrete building with many rooms and its own hot springs. Like the public onsen, it is also very popular and busy. The standard tatami room had a TV, fridge, kettle, etc as well as en-suite toilet. The public baths had free wifi but my room was at the back of the building and so the signal was too weak. The baths were nice and there was a rotenburo or outdoor bath.

Ryokan Romontei Takeo Onsen


For a single person with no meals I paid only 4,000 yen.

Ryokan Romontei
7425 Takeocho Oaza, Takeo, Saga
Tel: 0954 23 2111
Google map of Ryokan Romontei

The ryokan is less than 1 kilometer from Takeo Onsen Station on the JR Sasebo Line.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Music festivals in Japan 2014

Here is a listing of music festivals in Japan for the summer of 2014.

Rock and Electronic

Fuji Rock Festival

July 25-27, Naeba Ski Resort, Nagano Prefecture featuring Basement Jaxx, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, Lorde, The Lumineers, Outkast and Damon Albarn from Blur.
www.fujirockfestival.com

Fuji Rock Festival


Rock in Japan

August 2-3 & 9-10, Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki with Acidman, Dragon Ash, Puffy, Rip Slyme, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
rijfes.jp

Rising Sun Festival (RSR)

August 15-16, Ishikari, Hokkaido with domestic Japanese bands including Denki Groove, Sakanaction and Unicorn.
rsr.wess.co.jp

Sonicmania

August 15, Makuhari Messe (Chiba) featuring Kasabian, Kraftwerk, Mogwai and Sakanaction.
www.creativeman.co.jp

Summer Sonic

August 16-17, Tokyo and Osaka with Queen + Adam Lambert, Arctic Monkeys, Superfly, Robert Plant, Krewella, Megadeth.
www.creativeman.co.jp

MTV Zushi Fes

August 8-10, Riviera Zushi Marina, Kanagawa, AK-69, Cream, Han-Kun, Rip Slyme.
www.mtvjapan.com

Labyrinth

Sept 13-15, Naeba Greenland, Niigata

Ringo Fes

Sept 13-14, Matsumoto
ringofes.info

Other Festivals

Sapporo City Jazz

July-August, Sapporo
sapporocityjazz.jp

Pacific Music Festival (classical)

July-August, Sapporo
www.pmf.or.jp

Saito Kinen Festival (classical)

August 10-September 6, Matsumoto, Nagano
www.saito-kinen.com

Stravinsky, Verdi, Gershwin

Monterey Jazz Festival

July 26, Noto, Ishikawa
www.mjfinnoto.jp

Tokyo Jazz Festival

Sept 5-7, Tokyo

Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Chaka Khan, Flat Earth Society
www.tokyo-jazz.com

Tokyo Idol Festival

August 2, Diver City Tokyo, Odaiba
idolfes.com

World Music & Dance Festival

August 4-10, Motomachi Park, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Line up

Earth Celebration

August 22-24, Ogi, Sado Island with Kodo
www.kodo.or.jp

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Japan News This Week 13 July 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Chinese Leader, Underlining Ties to South Korea, Cites Japan as Onetime Mutual Enemy
New York Times

Although they live freely in Japan, these Koreans still support Kim Jong Un
Global Post

Sellafield experts to aid Fukushima decommissioning operation
BBC

Crying Japanese politician resigns as investigation into expenses broadens
Guardian

Ex-South Korean ‘comfort women’ for U.S. troops sue own government
Japan Times

Ten Myths About Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change
The Diplomat

What Role for Nuclear Power in Japan’s Future? 日本の未来、原発はいかなる役割を担うべき Japan Focus

A Former Megadeth Guitarist's Journey To Japanese Pop NPR

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of female lawmakers in the national legislative body, by country, in 2013

Norway: 36.1%
France: 18.3%
Germany: 14.1%
United Kingdom: 12.6%
United States: 12.6%
Russia: 4.8%
South Korea: 1.9% 
Japan: 1.1%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reserving Night Trains in Japan

夜行列車の予約

Japan has several night trains that can be reserved only from one month before the intended date of travel. Two of the most popular are the Cassiopeia and the Hokutosei trains which run between Tokyo and Sapporo.

Waiting to reserve a train

The romance of rail is very much alive and well in Japan, and thousands of Japanese aspire to go rocking, rolling and riding across half the length of Japan though the night in the luxury of a sleeping car. Not only Japanese, but demand among overseas tourists for the service is also high.

High demand and a very limited number of cars makes competition for tickets fierce. Over the past month I have tried to book tickets on the Hokutosei and Cassiopeia for three people overseas, but have found it to be nigh on impossible.

Different Japan Rail stations seem to have different ways of doing things when it comes to booking in advance. All require you to be there in person. There is no booking online or by phone. However, some stations require you to there in person at 10:00 a.m. when bookings begin, while others - at least Ueno Station in Tokyo—requires you to apply by 10:00 a.m., and at 10:00 a.m. your application for tickets is processed, in your absence, by station staff in the order your application was received.

Ticket offices at major stations tend to have earlier opening times. For example, Tokyo Station and Ueno stations' Midori no Madoguchi and View Plaza ticket offices open at 5:30 a.m. I therefore went to Ueno Station before 5:30 a.m. to get my application for night train tickets in as early as possible. I am willing to wake up at 4:15 a.m., get dressed, cycle the 15 minutes to Ueno Station to be there around 45 minutes before, i.e. 4:45 a.m., but each time there have always been at least two or three people camped out ahead of me.

I imagine that a similar scene plays out at hundreds of other railway stations throughout Japan every day; so unless you are at the very front of the line and therefore able to get your application processed in the first few seconds after 10:00 o'clock, you fail.

Booking a night train in Japan is extremely difficult, and for the time being I have given up accepting any more orders for such reservations. It requires resigning yourself to a night of little sleep and camping out on in a cavernous concourse on a hard tile floor in front of a closed roller door, and trying not to have to visit the toilet and lose your place to another early bird hopeful.

Read more on the Cassiopeia and Hokutosei trains

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37 Satsuma Sendai to Sogi no Taki

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37
Satsuma Sendai to Sogi no Taki
Thursday November 21st, 2013

After a three month break I am back in Kyushu to continue my walk. This leg will take me from Satsuma Sendai to Kumamoto.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 37 Satsuma Sendai to Sogi no Taki


For the first few days I will roughly follow the Sendai River upstream and briefly re-enter Miyazaki. Then its over some mountains and three days following the Kuma River downstream to the coast at Yatsushiro, then directly north to Kumamoto. It's late November, and the fall colors have started where I live, but here in the warmer south they come much later but I am hoping as I get into the mountains I will be rewarded with a fine palette of colors for my photos.

With only a month until the shortest days of the year the days are not very long so I am up well before the sun and make a visit to the main shrine of Sendai, Nitta Shrine. On top of a hill overlooking the river while I am at the shrine the sun comes up. I start to head up river towards the first of today's two pilgrimage temples. I climb up to the embankment from the main road and walk along it. The mist floating over the river starts to thin and burn off.

By lunchtime I reach temple number 46, Hojyoji, a fairly large temple and behind it a set of 88 statues set along a wooded path, a miniature Shikoku pilgrimage.

Walking down the hill along a farm road on my way to join the main road along the river I come across a tanokami - a rice paddy god. The area I am heading in to is famous for tanokami and I'm glad to be able to discover one already.

It's only 8 kilometers to the next temple, Satsumayakushiji, but to reach it I have to leave the river and follow the main road. It's a smaller temple, in a modern concrete building, but there is a small cave with an altar right next to it. Because I am not carrying a Nokyocho, a book for getting temple stamps in, I often don't get to meet the priest, which is sometimes a shame as I can't ask about things.

Sogi no Taki Falls


From here the route heads north east towards Miyazaki, but I am going to take a detour north back to the river to visit Sogi no Taki Falls. The road starts to wind into the mountains, and I pass another tanokami by the side of the road.

Soon the sidewalk disappears and there are a lot of trucks, so when I pass a bus stop that tells me there is a bus in ten minutes I decide to take it. Once I get off the bus there is still a 5 kilometer walk to the waterfalls and the sun is almost to the horizon. I want to get there while it is still light so I can get some photos, so I push myself a little too hard and pull a muscle in my leg.

Grimacing I push on and do in fact reach the falls - often described as "the Niagara of the Orient" - while there is still sunlight. With a bunch of small falls across a 120 meter wide drop in the river, it is pretty enough, but to equate it with the mighty Niagara Falls is a bit much. Like calling a small 100 meter high hill in Wales "the Welsh Mt Fuji". The Japanese seem obsessed with making comparisons.

There is a big park next to the falls, and it is famous for fall colors. Tomorrow is a big festival here so masses of floodlights are being set up to illuminate the trees, along with tents and stages.

I had hoped to sleep in the park but with so much equipment around there is a security cabin set up with 24 hour guards so I must go to plan B. Across the river on a quiet side road is a small shrine. Recently rebuilt on a concrete foundation, it provides a shelf under the overhanging roof where I can lay out my bed for the night.

Once it's dark I see them testing the lighting over in the park so head over and a get a few shots of lit up trees, then time to sleep and try and heal my limping leg.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 36

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Saga City Hotel

Saga City Hotel is located just one minute from the JR Station in Saga City.

Saga City Hotel, Kyushu, Japan

Offering fairly standard rooms with ensuite bathroom and toilet, TV, kettle, fridge, and better than average wifi, the hotel facilities include a large public bath, sauna, coin laundry and beer and soft drink vending machines etc.

There is a restaurant on the first floor where the free, above the norm, buffet breakfast is served.

Saga City Hotel, Saga, Kyushu


Outside the public bath is a large relaxation/entertainment area with massage chairs, video games, library of magazines and manga, large screen TV, vending machines, and wifi. There is free parking for 100 cars.

In the area around the hotel are many restaurants, izakaya, and convenience stores.

Saga City Hotel, Saga, Kyushu


The advertised rate is 4,700 yen for a single room including breakfast. I booked through Rakuten, the online service and the price was 4,500 yen, however when I checked in I received a 1,000 yen discount (not sure why) so paid only 3,500 yen.

The second time I stayed they were running a campaign and got a single room with breakfast plus a fairly decent evening meal for 5,000 yen.

Saga City Hotel
1-7-31 Ekimaechuo
Saga-shi
Saga 840 0801
Tel: 0952 40 0100
Google map of Saga and Saga City Hotel

Other nearby hotels in Saga near JR Saga Station include the Saga Washington Hotel Plaza, the Comfort Hotel Saga, the APA Hotel Saga Ekimae Chuo the Hotel Route Inn Saga Ekimae and the Toyoko Inn Saga Ekimae.

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