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Thursday, September 29, 2005

History of the Watch in Japan

時計

Casio Frogman

The first wrist watches were invented and worn in 17th century Europe.

Western timepieces and clocks were first brought from Europe to Japan by Portuguese and Spanish Jesuits and later by Dutch traders and were of huge fascination.

Francisco de Xavier is often said to have brought the first mechanical clock to Japan in 1551, which he presented to a feudal lord (daimyo) in what is now Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The Japanese had developed their own clock in the Edo Period (1603-1867) called the "Pillow Clock" or "Wadokei" (Japanese clock 和時計). The Wadokei was driven by the downward movements of weights, which turned a winding drum, which then rotated the hands of the clock via gears. Japanese timepieces had be adjusted each day to fit the existing Japanese time system.

In Edo Period Japan time corresponded to the position of the sun and a day was divided into 12 time periods: 6 for the daytime and six for nighttime. The system obviously varied with the seasons and the six daytime time periods were not the same length as the six night periods -except at the equinoxes when they are equal. The 12 periods were named after animals.

It was not until the Meiji Period in the nineteenth century with the introduction of high-tech Western engineering techniques and precision machinery however that the first clocks and fob watches were mass-produced by a forerunner of the present-day watch manufacturer Seiko.

The first wrist watch was produced in Japan as late as 1913.
From then on things moved quickly however and Seiko produced the first quartz watch for mass-production in 1969. The company also pioneered the world's first LCD quartz watch in 1973 followed by the world's first multi-function digital watch two years later. In 1988 Seiko introduced the first automatic power generating quartz watch and a watch with a computer chip inside. Other new developments in watch-making have followed at regular intervals.

Other Japanese watch manufacturers began to challenge Seiko's early market dominance - brands such as Casio and Citizen (which began in the 1930s) began to sell their watches to a global market. Seiko responded by launching a number of "new" brands distinct from the Seiko name such as Alba, Lorus and Pulsar.

Japan now produces many of the most innovative and fashionable watches in the world.

Choose from a selection of Japanese watches

Casio Watches

Seiko Watches

Citizen Watches

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Henoko Okinawa

辺野古

Henoko
As I was walking back to Yotsuya station after work a student handed me a pamphlet as I went by Sophia University. I pulled it out of my pocket on the train and had a scan. It is by a group opposing the relocation of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, a heliport in Okinawa, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. 75% of the US's many bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa.

It is planned to move the base to a so-far unspoiled area of Okinawa called Henoko, an area designated by Okinawa prefecture as a conservation area, noted for its coral reefs, tidelands and seaweed grounds. It is also the northern limit of the habitat of the dugong, an endangered saltwater manatee that is internationally protected.
The reef is said to be home to nine other endangered marine species. (Local authorities claim that no living dugongs have ever been sighted inside the reef.)

The base will be centered round a massive 1,280m (4,200 foot) long runway with 100m (328 foot) overruns at either end, built, like the whole base, on land reclaimed out as far as the reef. The total area to be reclaimed is about 2.4km (1½ miles) long and 800m (½ mile) wide less than a kilometer (about 1000 yards) off the coast. Drilling into the seabed began almost two weeks ago, on September 16.

Local opposition to the project is understandably strong, running at 82% according to a survey carried out last month. Some of the most ardent of the campaigners against the project are second-generation Okinawan Americans, known as uchinanchu, many of them living in the United States. They have organized themselves into an organization called the Okinawa PeaceFighters. They have even brought legal action against the US government in the form of the ‘Rumsfeld vs Dugong’ case before the San Francisco Federal Court, arguing that the danger posed to the dugong by the construction of the base makes it illegal under the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.

What difference such activities make to the progress of the base remains to be seen. But the fact that at least a few of Japan's notoriously apolitical students are moved to do something beyond the usual confines of their sheltered worlds can only be encouraging.

Guide to Okinawa

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Sumo Tokyo Basho

相撲

Mongolian yokozuna Asahoryu won the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo for his sixth consecutive Emperor's Cup, matching the 38-year record of the legendary yokozuna Taiho. Asahoryu came from behind in the basho to overtake the Bulgarian sekiwake Kotooshu who had set the early pace and had a two-win lead at one stage.

Asahoryu and Kotooshu faced each other in a playoff to decide the tournament and the mean-machine from Mongolia won easily, forcing out his opponent.

Nerves obviously got to Kotooshu - known as the "David Beckham of Sumo" for his good looks and popularity with women - though handsomeness is all relative in the world of sumo. Chances are he is well on his way to his first tournament victory however, which would be a first for a European-born wrestler.

Guide to Tokyo

Sumo

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Hostels in Tokyo

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Translators

canonv80sm
The latest Genius Japanese-English dictionary, which is found in nearly all electronic dictionaries, has some very interesting and local example sentences. Clearly a baseball fan had a hand in the writing of the dictionary, and perhaps an Osaka native. Among the sentences are the following:

彼は阪神タイガーズの監督のような口ぶりだった。
He talked as if he were the manager of the Hanshin Tigers.

阪神タイガーズのセ・リーグ優勝で関西中が沸き返った。
The Kansai region was excited about the Hanshin Tigers winning the Central League championship.

These and other sentences can be found in the best dictionaries and are on sale at GoodsFromJapan
- These are made for the domestic market in Japan and available outside of Japan only online. We stock the latest and best Canon and Casio models--and our prices are the best around.

Canon WordTank G70

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Aichi Expo Ends

愛知万博

Dutch Pavilion Aichi Expo ends today and the number of visitors is likely to exceed 22 million in the six months of the Exposition. An estimated 34,500 people slept overnight on Friday to make sure they got to see the event.

The international pavilions will be dismantled over the coming weeks but one exhibit not going home will be the centerpiece of the Nepali Pavilion - a Nepalese temple - which has found a buyer here in Japan after an appeal from the head of the Pavilion. The cost of shipping the structure back to Nepal would have been a burden on the Nepalese authorities, who decided to get shot of it.

The next international Expos will be held in Zaragoza, Spain in 2008 and Shanghai, China in 2010.

Expo Call Center (052) 955-2005

Aichi Expo 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hakone

箱根
Komagatake, volcanic area of Hakone.
A Japanese friend and I hurriedly decided to hire a car and spend a night in nearby Hakone: an area just north of the Izu Peninsula, only about 80km (50 miles) from Tokyo. Hakone, along with the Izu Peninsula, is said to be Japan’s most popular tourist destination. Being the countryside it obviously has a lot of natural beauty, it is blessed with onsen (hot springs), as well as fine views of Mt Fuji. However, it owes its popularity as much, if not more, to being just an hour or two down the Tomei Expressway as to its natural endowments.

For all their vaunted devotion to nature, Japanese often seem curiously blind to it, or at least not so much charmed by it as by the idea of simply being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Though, I’m not so sure even about that. In spite of the limited time we had, one thing my friend insisted on being included in the agenda was a visit to the massive Gotemba Premium Outlet not far from Hakone on the Tokyo side. The closer we got, the more crowded the country roads became with the massive convergence of vehicles on the Outlet. We parked in a huge parking building planted on the countryside and walked the 15 or so minutes to the Outlet.

It was not exactly a nightmare. It was simply a big suburban-style shopping center, built typically on the cheap, chock-a-block with clothing and accessory shops, and milling with thousands of people who’d rather sink back in the bourgeois humdrum of picking up a shirt at Gap for two-thirds the normal price than savor the rural sights and sounds of the countryside many of them so rarely get the chance to be out in. Odakyu runs a shuttle bus there and back to Tokyo. At least the rowdy, smelly, factory-like crush at interchanges on the expressway is understandable. But to go out of your way like that?

The hotel was pretty uninspiring, but we were lucky to get anything in the way of accommodation having left it till the day before our departure, so couldn’t be choosers. Had we planned properly I would have liked to have stayed in the Fujiya Hotel in Miyanoshita. We drove past it: a grand, elegant old place that has been in operation since 1878 and has hosted innumerable foreign dignitaries and celebrities. Near our hotel was the Pola Museum of Art, a gallery run by the Pola cosmetics company. Stylishly implanted into the surrounding scenery, it boasts some seriously great works of art, including Monet’s Waterlilies, lots of Renoir (Japanese women, especially, adore the Impressionists) and a special exhibition at the time of the so-called Shirakaba school of early twentieth century Japanese artists who were the vanguard of Western-style painting in Japan. Saneatsu Mushakoji (who also founded a socialist village) was the principal member, but of any of the members I was most attracted to the rich, vivid simplicity of Narashige Koide.

Komagatake Ropeway, Hakone
We also rode the Komagatake Ropeway, a ropeway that takes you through Hakone’s most thermally active area all the way to Ashi no Ko (Lake Ashi). We stopped off at the midway Komagatake ropeway station itself and walked up the short slope to where they boil eggs in the natural hot water. They sell the shiny blackened product for 500 yen for six, the eating of which is said to prolong life by seven years!

Eating natural boiled eggs, Hakone.

I had been to the Hakone Open-Air Museum before, and, not having much time, we didn’t go there this time. It’s far more worthy of a visit than the Gotemba Premium Outlet, featuring as it does the huge sculptures of the British sculptor Henry Moore, among others, and having its own dedicated Picasso Museum.

The map of Hakone is dotted with museums, halls and gardens that we would have liked to see but just didn’t have the time. In random order:
Owakudani Natural Science Museum
Hakone Teddy Bear Museum
Hakone Ashinoyu Flower Center
Wooden Handicraft Center (Hatajuku Yoriki Kaikan)
Hakone Old Highway Museum (Hakone Kyuukaidou Shiryoukan)
Narukawa Art Forum
Hakone Ashinoko Museum
Pearl-Shimokawa Memorial Hall commemorating the life of Yasaburo Shimonaka, the founder of Heibon-sha publishing company (accessible only by appointment)
Wild Grass Garden (Ashinoko Nogusa Kouen)
Hakone Check Point Exhibition (Hakone Sekisho Shiryoukan) relating to the toll gate established there in 1619
Hakone Detached Palace Garden (Onshi Hakone Kouen), the old resort palace of the Emperor Meiji
Recorve Hakone Art Museum
‘Hakone Glass Forest’: a Venetian glass museum
Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands
Hakone Mononofu no Sato Art Museum
Hakone 3-D Space Dinosaur World (Hakone 3-D Uchu-Kyouryuu Waarudo)
the interestingly named Mental Image Art Museum (Shinshouha no Kan)
Moa Museum of Art and its sister museum the
Hakone Museum of Art which specializes in Japanese ceramics through the ages
Sengokuhara Cultural Center
Hakone Begonia Garden
Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History
Hakone Garden Museum
Hakone Folkcraft Hall (Hakone Kankou Bussankan)
Homma Museum of Art (which I really would have liked to go to)
Mori no Fureaikan: a small natural history museum on the shore of Lake Ashii.

Guide to Hakone

Guide to Tokyo

Sumo

Amazon Store Japan

Onsen in Japan

Friday, September 23, 2005

Shubun no hi

秋分の日
* September 23 Shubun no hi - Autumn Equinox Public Holiday

This is the second ohigan period of the year when people traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors and attend family reunions.

Public Holidays

Guide to Hakone

Guide to Tokyo

Sumo

Amazon Store Japan

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Casio I-Range W-100DJ-7AJF

Casio's legendary I-Range
カシオ計算機

Casio's legendary I-Range for sale only on GoodsFromJapan.com. The "I" stands for intelligence and information.

This is product is available only in Japan. Manuals, etc., are in Japanese.


* Solar Powered
* Automatic Recharging (up to six times a day)
* US/Mexico/Canada WWVB setting at 60 kHz
* Water proof for daily use
* World Time: settings for 48 cities in 29 time zones worldwide
* Summer Time Function
* Stop Watch
* Timer
* Alarm
* Battery Indicator Display
* Power Saving Function
* Calendar
* Ordinary/Military Time Function
* EL Back light


Lightweight body - 52.5 mm (H) x 33 mm (W) x 7.6 mm (D) : 2 inches high, 2 inches wide, 0.3 inches thick.

Weight: 95 grams (3.35 ounces)


Price: Special offer US$159

Casio Watches

Seiko Watches

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Respect For The Aged Day

敬老の日
Keiro no hi - Respect for the Aged Day

* Third Monday in September Keiro no hi - Respect for the Aged Day

Today is Respect for the Aged Day, which was instituted in 1966, on this day City Halls throughout Japan hold ceremonies of thanks for senior citizens and various events for old people are staged across the country. I once saw a football tournament in Kyoto on this day involving players who looked to range in age from 75 to about 90. It was amazing to see them in their pristine soccer jerseys "warming up".

The "graying" of Japanese society is a well known phenomenon. The number of Japanese aged 65 or above has reached a record 24.31 million, accounting for 19 percent of the population in 2005 - the highest among industrialized nations. The number of men aged 65 or over in Japan is estimated at 10.26 million - 16.5 percent of the male population, while women over 65 number 14.05 million, or 21.5 percent of all females, according to government figures.

The number of Japanese people aged 100 or older is projected to reach a record 25,606 by the end of September 2005, with women making up 85 percent of the total.

Public Holidays

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sodapop - Nagoya

Sodapop
アメリカの片田舎にあるレストラン
Soda pop!

1F Saint East of Yamate
5-5 Yamate-dori
Showa ku
Nagoya

tel/fax
: (052) 835 5541

http: r.gnavi.co.jp/n098900/index.htm

Friendly and spacious restaurant bar in Yagoto.

Just a short walk up the hill from Yagoto subway station, across from Chukyo University, this is a popular spot with Japanese and foreigners alike.

With a good selection of world beers and other drinks and an extensive menu of western and Mexican food, Soda Pop is a great local venue, whether you're looking for a night out or just a quick bite and drink on the way home.

Also has a pool table and hosts occasional live music events and parties (the legendary Halloween bash is particularly popular).

Pop in to Soda pop!

Open: 6:00pm - 1:00am, Closed Sundays.



Bars in Nagoya

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, or 'Tocho'

東京都庁

Tokyo Tower
The area just west of Shinjuku station, West Shinjuku, has Japan's most concentrated cluster of skyscrapers. The massive earthquake that rocked Tokyo in 1923 established West Shinjuku’s geological credibility when, being bedrock, virtually none of the buildings on it were damaged. The skyscraper-building boom began in the early 1970s with the construction of the 170m high Keio Plaza Hotel. Since then the Keio has been dwarfed by dozens of other highrises, the mother of them being the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Completed in 1991 at a cost the equivalent of over US1 billion, at 243 meters (797 feet) it is Tokyo’s tallest building.
Tokyo Tower
The ‘Tocho’, as it is known for short, was designed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange and, according to him, was inspired by the Notre Dame. Compared with the sparer lines of most of the skyscrapers that surround it, the traditional grandeur of the cathedral is certainly apparent in its complexity of structure and surface, not to mention its equally grandiose sprawl. The complex also incorporates the 37-storey Tokyo Metropolitan Main Building No.2, and the eight-story Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Building. Taking up as much land as it does, the whole Tocho complex is like a town unto itself, and, walking around and through it, with its heights, depths and multiple levels, unless you take great care to ascertain your bearings, you are likely to get lost.
Tokyo Tower
There is a free observation deck on each of the No.1 building’s twin towers on the 45th floor. Unlike Tokyo on the ground, however, Tokyo from a quarter of a kilometer up is not a beautiful city. The parks, tree-lined avenues, rivers, temple groves and shrubbery that amply decorate the city on the ground are completely lost in the angles of the concrete jungle. The sheer expanse of the metropolis is breathtaking, though, and there is an added ‘ooh aah’ factor in being able to catch Mt Fuji on a clear enough day. I have only visited the northern of the two No.1 building towers. As you can see from the photos, it was definitely not a Mt Fuji day. There is a tawdry piano bar there with fake antiquarian plinths and plastic ivy completely out of keeping with the crisp modernity of the structure (a common failing, it must be said, in Japan), and once you’ve done the piecemeal 360 degrees, gazing out at more and more and more endless urban acreage stretching further than the eye can see, there’s nothing for it but to go back down.
Tokyo Tower
The northern No.1 Tower has a Tourist Information Center on the ground floor that is packed with useful guides to and maps of Tokyo in numerous languages including, of course, English. English speaking staff are also on hand.






Hours
North Observatory open 9:30a.m.-11:00p.m. Closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month.
South Observatory open 9:30a.m.-5:30p.m(till 11pm when North Observatory closed.)Closed on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
The scheduled day off is postponed to the next day if it falls on a national holiday.
Both observatories are closed between December 29 and 31, and January 2 and 3, as well as on occasional building inspection days.
Last admittance is 30 minutes before closing time. Entry is free. There is a security check before boarding the ground floor elevator.

Read more about Tocho, with YouTube Video guide

Click here for some bars and restaurants in Tokyo

Tokyo Guide

Gameboy

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Gameboy Micro Debuts in Japan

任天堂ゲームボーイミクロ

gb-silverNintendo's newest mobile game console, the Gameboy Micro (pictured at right) debuted yesterday in Japan, attracting a large number of orders. The Micro is the world's smallest console; it will go on sale in the US in one week and on November 4 in Europe.



Already controlling more than 90% of the portable game market, Nintendo hopes that the Micro will scare away any possible rivals. The Kyoto-based firm, which got its start as a manufacturer of playing cards, hopes its latest model will appeal to women, casual users, and adults in the 24-35 age range.

Buy Gameboy Micro



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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Yume no Shima Koen Dream Island Park

夢の島公園

Yume no shima, Tokyo
Located in Tokyo's industrial Koto ward bordering Tokyo Harbor, Yume no Shima Koen is a splash of freshness in a landscape of gargantuan blank-faced warehouses between which runs an endless convoy of trucks and vans.

I had to go to the driver’s license center in Koto ward this morning, and took the opportunity to visit the park at the same time.

Yume no Shima began life as a landfill and dumping ground, but was rescued from this poor fate in 1972 when it was decided to make it into a park. It is now a verdant space covered mainly with eucalyptus trees and enjoyed by strollers, sketchers, picnickers, sunbathers, and anyone else seeking refuge from the bustle. Between the Park – reached by a bridge – and the mainland is a yacht marina.

Yume no shima
The most conspicuous feature of the park is the Yume no Shima Tropical Greenhouse Dome. Made up of three domes it features fern and forest in A Dome (complete with waterfall), an archetypal tropical village in B Dome, and the fauna of the Ogasawara islands, a tropical Pacific archipelago 1000km south-south-east of Tokyo (and officially part of Tokyo) in C Dome.

Being Japan, there is an Exhibition Hall full of interactive gadgets displaying the marvels of fauna, a Visual Hall for video-based education, and an Exhibition Hall that focuses on a succession of different themes. One of the most memorable exhibits for me was the carnivorous plant room: a small greenhouse full of insect-eating plants slowly and silently digesting the beetles, ants and others still visible if you peer into the elegant fluted bags that they dangle below them.

(Yume no Shima Tropical Greenhouse Dome is open 9.30am-4pm every day except Monday and between December 29th and January 3rd. Adults 200 yen, junior high students 100 yen, elementary school pupils, free. English pamphlet available.)
Yume no shima
Five minutes walk from the Dome is a rather less conspicuous institution, the Daigo Fururyu Maru Exhibition Hall, housing the fishing boat that was bombarded with lethal doses of radiation in 1954 when the US tested the hydrogen bomb ‘Bravo’ on Bikini Atoll - in spite of the ship being 60km outside the prohibited zone. Almost 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs, it destroyed the health of the crew - burning many of them horribly - and eventually ended many of their lives prematurely. The ship is therefore a symbol of the anti-nuclear testing movement. It is very impressively housed in an almost church-like structure and is accompanied by informative and often saddening displays.

(The Daigo Fururyu Maru Exhibition Hall is open 9.30am-4pm every day except Monday. Admission free. English pamphlet available for 100 yen.)

Yume no shima
The Park is also home to the massive, superbly equipped but amusingy named ‘BumB’(that's 'Ass' with a B on the end, for American users!), or, the Tokyo Sport and Cultural Center, with an arena, a futsal ground, heated pool and gym; performance and educational facilities; accommodation; and public spaces such as a restaurant, 'Youth Square' and Kids' Room.

Besides these the Park also boasts a huge multi-purpose colosseum as well as a baseball ground.

Yume no Shima Park is 10 minutes walk from Shin Kiba station on the JR Keiyo line or the Yurakucho subway line. Also accessible from Toyocho station on the Tozai subway line by taking the bus from 'Toyocho' bus stop to 'Yume no Shima' bus stop. A 5-minute walk from the bus stop.

Tokyo Area Attractions

Tokyo Guide

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Daikanyama

代官山

ShinjukuRead an area guide for Daikanyama


It’s the middle of September, and what has been an almost balmy two weeks has sidled off like a false friend and we’re back in the middle of the molten cauldron that was August. I am still cycling everywhere with a grim attachment to the sticky rubber grips and the sweaty seat, but all that keeps me going is visions of golden leaves on a cool (truly friendly!) ghost of a breeze-to-come.

After work today I cycled from Yotsuya down to Daikanyama, a small, elevated undulating area just off hip ‘Street Central’ Shibuya that you get to by cycling way, way down Meiji Boulevard (from Shinjuku) and then eventually turning right at Namikibashi (‘Tree-lined Bridge’). Sure enough, Namikibashi is still a tree-lined bridge – kind of old and functional, but with an elegance that outlives the budget it was built to. If Shibuya is hip, then Daikanyama is uber hip.

I look for disco-inspired funk, dirtier the better. I was recently introduced to the totally spot-on Bonjour Records by my friend of over 17 years, Norio, a dedicated Tokyo denizen who took me to the smaller Shinjuku branch about three weeks ago, and the Daikanyama shop just a couple of weeks ago. Having exchanged pleasantries a couple of times already with the woman there, this time we got talking and, when I mentioned to her what I liked, she obligingly plied me with a few CDs and a couple of LPs, most of which my poor wallet, already stretched to the limit by excessive wining and dining over the past month and a half, had no choice but to say yes to, hands raised in pure surrender! Oh the funk!

So here I am listening to the Idjut Boys ‘Press Play’, supping on Scottish ‘Kelpie’ seaweed ale, that also totally rocks, windows and sliding door open in defiance of the air conditioner, and wishing all me mates were back from vacation.

Daikanyama, with its expensive subtleties that turn out to be essentials; its scaled down celebrity-strewn sloping streets that don’t let on unless you look hard; its birdcages over steps down to basements, its parodies, the realness of its eateries, fashion, books, all waiting there without blare, its boys and girls striding or dawdling the streets whom you want to stop and … well… ask the way.

Tonight is hot, and the air is not cooling at all with the progress of the clock. The river outside fills the air with its steady rush. At least that air was free of election announcements tonight. The Liberal Democratic Party has won big time. There is talk that Koizumi’s imminent break-up of the post office will sacrifice thousands of jobs. Is that why the woman in the post office today was so positively gushing and helpful today when I posted my letter to New Zealand? No, that's being cynical. But although things are supposed to be getting cooler here, that’s not what’s happening now.

Tokyo Area Attractions

Tokyo Guide

Gameboy

Amazon Store Japan

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Love For Sale Foreign Priests At Japanese Weddings

私は偽牧師

Hands of prayer

It’s usually a Saturday or a Sunday. Most of the chorus girls I work with are bitches. I dress up in the same old costume and do the same old routine every time. My act’s only 18 minutes long, but they pay me over USD150 for my troubles. Sometimes I do it up to four times in one day. It’s not for just the kids either, the whole family’s there – the whole extended family usually. Occasionally, without meaning to, I make them laugh. Occasionally, if I’m doing it right, I make them cry.


What the hell am I?

Actually, odd and slightly sleazy as all the above may sound, what I do has – in theory anyway – a lot more to do with heaven than the other place. I am a wedding minister. A shameless, godless, moneygrubbing wedding minister at a Japanese wedding chapel. I am very good at my job. I’ve never been late. I’ve never missed a line. (I did once miss out a whole hymn – but only one!) I’m civil to the three girls in the chorus and the organist – even though they’re usually kind of unpleasant (it’s not hard to fathom: I’m getting paid a whole three times more than they are ; ) – and, most important of all, I keep it REAL!

And fake as the whole white wedding thing is in Japan, there’s more than enough reality involved to keep the job interesting. Probably the biggest insight I have gained into the reality of Japanese society is its intricately layered socio-economic class structure. The ‘we Japanese’ catchcry that is echoed by the whole population here is a flimsy veneer over the inequalities of wealth, power and status that characterize Japan every bit as much as they characterize Britain – if not quite as conspicuously.

There are the somber, straight-as-a-ramrod, high-collar congregations that go through what must be the very foreign-feeling moves of the service with as much solemnity as if they were part of an ancient Japanese imperial rite. At the other extreme is the crowd with half-cut air-chewing dad in a scarecrow suit next to mum packed into a synthetic fiber kimono. The groom’s bad boy, orange-dyed mates lounging all over the seats down the back are ogling the bride’s posse of glam chicks across the aisle and shifting and guffawing about the whole adventure, and the service is a mash of flashlights from little cameras and mobile phones. And of course there’s every other kind of congregation in between, each as clearly identifiably distinct a section of the wide spectrum of Japanese society as the last.

I welcome the congregation, I pray, we sing, I read from the Bible about love: how it’s kind, how it’s gentle, how it doesn’t hurt anyone, how it isn’t proud or conceited, how it never gives up. People often sit up a bit and listen because I like those words and I mean them. I give them a little wedding message about their lives from now on, I administer the vows, the couple and I sign the wedding vow, we sing another hymn. The part I’ve memorized is the benediction right at the end. The kindly bespectacled minister now raises his arms over bowed heads of the couple, he summons all that is real, even the dyed heads feel it and drop a little, and in a voice of minor thunder he spells out in the vernacular the solemn promise of betrothal as from the throne of the Almighty. The words ‘for ever and ever’ ring forth over the rented monkey suits, frills, lace, designer trash and now silent photographic gadgets. The climax of ‘let no man put asunder’ arrives as the hush beyond the voice of the Lord’s servant holds its own awed mighty breath. I then lower my hands, look to the vow-bound couple, smile gently and say ‘Omedeto gozaimasu’ (‘Congratulations’). I bid the congregation stand and welcome the newly married couple, and to the strains of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ (coming from a real live pipe organ too!) I follow slowly with firm grace at a respectful distance behind the couple as they make their way to the great doors of the chapel, the crowd doing anything from clapping politely to letting off a fresh flurry of little cameras right in their faces and shouting slightly off-color jokes at the groom.

I stand at the door as the congregation files out, bowing, smiling and saying lots more ‘omedeto gozaimasu’ s. My final moment is as a beneficent man of the cloth waving to the crowd watching from outside now as the doors slowly swing closed. I hurry up to the changing room, trying to avoid the girls, shed the cross-embroidered stole, the white collar, the purple shirt, the black robes, get back into my suit and tie (the crowd is still milling outside, so it’s still got to be real) and make as inconspicuous an exit around the happy folk as I can. They’re happier, I’ve shown and told them all about love, and I’m richer. Certainly nothing ain’t got no worse!

Articles on Japan and Japanese culture What's on in Tokyo Tokyo


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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Clubs & Clubbing in Japan

夜遊び

clubbingMuch like the rest of the dance world, Japan’s clubbing history has gone from the underground to the mainstream in a short space of time. An individual free-style crowd, small low-key clubs and low paid but highly enthusiastic DJs, have been replaced by glo-stick wielding youngsters, small modern clubs and costly but still enthusiastic DJs.

Japan has a healthy club scene at the moment and a lot of DJs are making a name for themselves both here and abroad. DJs such as DJ Krush, Yoji Biomehanika, Energy Dai and Kihira Naoki to name but a few, have been working hard to put Japan on the clubbing map. While it may seem a little expensive at first gaining entry to some clubs and having a few drinks, choose the right event and you’ll be in for an experience of a lifetime. Japanese clubbers are among the most exuberant in the world and the frenzied atmosphere that they help create is unlike anything you’ll ever come across again.

Focusing mainly on the Kansai area, here’s a guide to help you make the most of your stay in Japan and to help you choose where to go when celebrating or commiserating your team’s performance.


Kansai, which consists of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and surrounding areas, boasts a thriving nightlife scene that encompasses both the underground past and the modern present. As with Tokyo, the clubs in the region cater to a wide range of musical tastes: from home grown DJ talent to international DJs coming over on a monthly basis.

Kyoto has the long running Metro and the newly opened Sekai World as its main clubbing attractions. While Metro is an old fashioned, tight and sweaty club with a wide range of nights and DJs, Sekai World is a funky, groovy club hosting mainly house and soulful disco. Down in Kobe the scene is a little different from that of the bigger cities. Clubs Oto-Ya, Corn and Seed attract a more laid back crowd but as is common in Japan, they host a good variety of music styles.

clubbing1While Kyoto and Kobe have their own unique clubs, it’s Osaka that’s the party capital in this region. With approximately 20 main clubs and dozens more smaller clubs, there’s no shortage of places to visit or events to go to. Roughly speaking, Osaka can be divided into four main clubbing areas.

The first and probably most concentrated area is Amerika Mura in Shinsaibashi, Minami Osaka. Here about eight or so clubs lie within walking distance of each other. Underlounge and Joule are the top dogs here and regularly compete against each other in terms of music and DJs. Underlounge frequently gets the upper hand over its rival thanks to a larger capacity (1,200 compared to 800) and a better quality of DJs playing there. Not to be outdone however, Joule charges less on the door (1,000 yen compared to 2,500 yen) and has a relaxing upstairs lounge bar so you can drink and chat without ever feeling the need to dance. Other clubs in the surrounding area include: Club Two and I-to-I, situated in the same building they both play host to a wide variety of hip hop, drum’n’bass and reggae nights; Club Flatt & Club Gross Ozone are two typically Japanese clubs, small with a lot of younger people hanging out there, so expect a variety of events and music; Grand Café is as close as you’ll get to a lounge bar in Osaka and the kind of place you’ll want to get dressed up for.

Moving slightly east, but still in the Shinsaibashi area, are the foreign owned clubs. Sam & Dave 5 is the place to be at the moment; a spacious club that embraces "all kinds of house and trance", the venue also a delicious food menu and professionally trained bar staff. Canadian owned and managed, Rakan is the other popular venue in this area - the so-called ‘Pleasure Den’ offers a taste of the sordid side of Osaka nightlife. Don’t go near the place until after midnight as there’s usually nobody there before then. Head down towards Namba and a club that’s located under a train station. Rockets is a bizarre, grunge inspired club that hosts regular underground parties. Happy hardcore, gabba, minimalist techno and indie are very popular music styles here.

The Kita area of Osaka (i.e. Umeda and surrounding areas) offers a more underground feel to your clubbing experience whilst in Japan. Club Noon (formerly Club Dawn), which would earn the prize for Kansai’s best nightclub if ever there were a vote, is a maze of winding corridors and low ceilings. Frequented by everyone from office ladies to posers, Noon is an alternative option for those who want to keep away from the mainstream clubs of Amerika Mura. Club Karma, on the other hand, represents a small club with an underground attitude that attracts the more street wise of punters. Located near the Hilton hotel, the foreigner-friendly staff have a gem of a club on their hands with this one.

Finally, situated a short train ride from the centre of the city is Bayside Jenny. Primarily a band venue, the club often hosts regular dance events. Being located away from the city centre has its advantages and disadvantages, but it’s a popular venue with the locals and usually doesn’t finish until well into the early hours of the morning.

Be sure to check the local press for club listings. The Kansai club listings can be founds in the popular monthly English language magazine, Kansai Time Out. Maps to those clubs can be found on the magazine’s website.

Tokyo has numerous high profile clubs that have the capacity to hold up to approximately 5,000 people. Clubs like Liquid Room, Yellow, Velfarre, Club Citta and Blue entitle the capital city to call itself the main centre for dance enthusiasts. Big events carry expensive cover charges but expect nothing less than pure, uninhibited madness on the dance floors.

Tokyo Listings:

Blue 03 3797 1591
Club Asia 03 5458 1996
Harlem 03 3461 8806 – hip hop
Liquid Room 03 3200 6831
Loop 03 3797 9933 techno & house
Maniac Love 03 3406 1166 intense house, techno & trance
The Room 03 3461 7167 club jazz
Velfarre 03 3402 8000
Vuenos 03 5458 1996
Womb 03 5459 0039 drum ‘n’ bass, house, techno
Yellow 03 3479 0690

Nagoya

There's a thriving club scene in Nagoya mainly, though not exclusively, based in Sakae

Japan Restaurant & Bar Listings



Click here for some bars and restaurants in Tokyo

Tokyo Guide

Gameboy

Amazon Store Japan

Ueno Park Tokyo Guide

Tokyo Tower Area Guide


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Friday, September 02, 2005

Nintendo DS & Gameboy Micro

任天堂DS&ゲームボーイミクロ

gb-silverKyoto-based Nintendo is about to launch its latest hand-held game machine. The new Nintendo Micro will, the company hopes, eat into the lead rival Sony has of late enjoyed in the video game market. Following its failure three years ago with GameCube, Nintendo has been hurt by the success of Sony's Playstation 2. The Micro (pictured at right) follows last fall's DS ("dual screen") video game. The Gameboy Micro will be released and in Japanese stores in a week.


The DS features a touch-panel display, voice recognition, and wireless connectivity. The last function will allow many users to play at once. Gameboy Micro--which is basically Game Boy Advance SP in a better looking body--will be released in Japan on September 13, the all-important US market a week later on the 19th, and in Europe on November 4th. (The new Sony PS 3 will be released next spring.)

Nintendo is hoping to sell 3.5 million units of the DS.

Buy Gameboy Micro



Gameboy

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