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Friday, December 30, 2005

Tokyo Luminarie

東京 ルミナリエ

(Click on pix to expand)

Luminarie, Marunouchi, Tokyo.A friend and I headed out to Marunouchi (the Tokyo Station area) tonight to see the Luminare (loo-mee-nah-ree-eh) display of lit-up arches that has been a New Year spectacle here since just under a decade ago. Kobe seems to have been the first city to start the tradition, with Tokyo then following suit.

It was another beautiful balmy winter evening with, at 7 degrees C (45 degrees F), a bit of a chill in the air, but not enough to really feel. Needless to say the whole area was swarming with people, and the body of people walking up to the Luminarie boulevard was a massive one.

The boulevard is, by day, a high-class shopping street of high street brand-name boutiques, that at New Year, by night, becomes a stretch of densely, intricately and brilliantly lit-up arches that seem to go on forever. We joined the human river and moved gradually closer. The scores of obligatory crowd control personnel were out in full force shouting through megaphones, but otherwise making no difference whatsoever to what the crowd would be doing were they not being shouted at.

Luminarie, Marunouchi, Tokyo.The spectacle of the glittering arches was captivating, but just as eye-catching was the sight of hundreds upon hundreds of mobile phones being raised to take pictures. The glowing screens looked for all the world like a modern-day candle procession and added an almost devotional element to the atmosphere.

We moved slowly through. To be honest, when my friend had first suggested going, I of course agreed, but nevertheless thought idea of lit-up archways was rather cheesy. I had to admit to myself, though, that it really was quite a sight – even if ten minutes of it is enough.

We then wandered along the dozens of shops that nestle under the Japan Rail tracks between Tokyo and Yurakucho stations looking for somewhere to eat. Spoilt for choice, we found a likely looking Korean restaurant called Totori. It was way the best Korean food we’d had for a long, long time. Check it out. (Click on card and map below).
Totori Korean restaurant card.
Totori Korean restaurant map.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Natural Lawson Neighborhood Nightwatch Guardroom

ナチュラル・ローソン と 夜警詰所

Natural Lawson
Lawson’s convenience stores have started a new kind of store called Natural Lawson. I first caught sight of it this evening as I was cycling home through a part of Tokyo I don’t usually cycle through. I stopped and went in purely out of curiosity. Apart from very slightly softer lighting (i.e. glaring instead of blazing), a row of ‘trendy’ spotlights sharing the ceiling with the wonted fluorescent tubes, and the extensive use of reddish brown instead of white in the interior, there seemed to be no difference whatsoever between it and a normal Lawson’s. I bought a chocolate bar and asked the cashier how it was different. She replied ‘We have lots of healthy products’. I must have looked at her somewhat incredulously – because, apart from there being perhaps a few more variety of salads in the salad department, that simply wasn’t so. It was still Junk Food Central. She did a slight retake and then, straight from the hip, said ‘It’s designed to appeal to women’. That had more of the ring of truth, even if the reality of it was rather feeble.

Nightwatch Guardroom I went out in the evening with a friend and on our way out noticed that a little makeshift shed had been erected down the end of the street. A handpainted sign outside it said ‘Nightwatch Guardroom’ with the name of the local community organization. I took a photo of the Guardhouse. Noticing the flash, a guy came out to see what I was doing. I just said ‘Good evening’ and ‘It’s for my blog’. That did the trick, and he smiled and nodded and went straight back in.

My friend explained that this was all no doubt in response to the spate of attacks on (murders of) children recently throughout Japan. They’ll probably be there to calm the fears of the neighborhood for a week or two, before things get back to normal.

Convenience Stores

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Arima Onsen

有馬温泉

Kaiseki RyoriIn the Rokko mountains above Kobe sits one of Japan's oldest and best known hot spring areas: Arima Onsen. Located in the Seto-nai-kai National Park, the climate could not be more different from the balmy port city Kobe. At 931 meters above sea level, it was snow-covered and bitter cold the night we stayed. Kobe, though unseasonably cold, felt positively spring-like in comparison.

The area features the oldest golf course in Japan, farms, a winery, skiing, and of course hot springs. The first sanitarium was allegedly built here by monks more than a thousand years ago.

From Osaka, we rode the Hankyu line to Rokko Station. And then up we went, with the skies darkening and snow beginning to swirl around us. By the time we arrived in Arima and got a cab to the hotel, it was nearly dark and the roads were covered with snow.

kimchi in gift shopWe checked into a moderately priced hot spring hotel, with the usual cheesy chandeliers, karaoke boxes, game center, and gift shop. The main point of the trip, though, was not architectural; it was physical. After dropping off our bags in the rooms--simple but spacious--we changed into yukata robes and headed down to the baths.

Again, you get what you pay for. There were no rotenburo, or outdoor baths, just a large room for washing and two big hot spring fed tubs. The left tub, called kinsen (gold spring), was filled with a muddy orange-brown colored water that had a slight smell of iron. The right bath was a "pure spring," and had neither odor nor color.

After an hour of washing and soaking, beer beckoned. Two beers later and the zen hot spring experience commenced. Aided by the aforementioned beer, the bath, and an inane tv show, time no longer had any meaning as we dozed on the tatami mats in our room.

Hunger brought us back to the temporal.

Arima Onsen Cable CarDownstairs in a large dining room, guests in their robes sat at low tables and enjoyed kaiseki or Kobe beef. We drank more and ate more, until there was nothing to do but collapse on our futon. After a short nap, we got in one more bath.

The next morning before breakfast, we all bathed one last time. Then after checking out we took the ropeway and cable car back down the mountain. It was a clear and cold morning, but by the time we were back on the Hankyu express to Osaka it was a comfortable 7 degrees.

Staying in an onsen in Arima, Hyogo Prefecture Onsen in Japan

Monday, December 26, 2005

Wada Emi and Japanese textiles

ワダ エミ

Wada Emi
Yesterday I visited the Wada Emi exhibition held at the exhibition hall of Baisouin Temple in Gaien-mae. Wada Emi is one of Japan’s foremost costume designers, and the exhibition featured her costumes for the Chinese film ‘Hero', a kind of Dungeons and Dragons-type film based on Chinese myth.

I took a few photos inside before one of the stewards politely informed me that photography was not allowed (there were no signs – or is that a bit of a lame one?!), so unfortunately I can’t put up images what it was like inside.

However, to explain: the costumes ranged from the plebian, to the martial to the royal. The plebian featured lots of cotton and linen, the martial lots of leather, and the royal lots of silk and embroidery, and even a diaphanous, enchanting, and outrageously expensive looking, cloth made from the finest imaginable golden wire. The embroidery is probably what sticks most firmly in my mind: vivid, tight, complex, painstaking works of art. The dreamy billowing clouds of silk were unforgettable too.

There was a fifteen-minute film of an interview with Wada about the making of the movie, with plenty of footage of what went on - centered mainly around the selection of colors and the dying process: all done by hand in China.

Significantly Wada is from Kyoto, the center of Japan’s kimono culture, having been the imperial capital for as long as it was.

If you interested in adding a taste of Japan’s ancient apparel/textile culture to your wardrobe or your room, check out what GoodsFromJapan has on offer.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Snowman in Tokyo

スノーマン
Snowman in Tokyo
Merry Christmas from JapanVisitor!

Here's a shot of something very cold to warm the winter heart of our northern hemisphere readers, and to cool the sweating brows of those in the southern hemisphere: a little snowman made by the two women who work at the convenience store near Tokyo's Nakano-sakaue subway station. It's right outside the store's front door. It's not actually snowing in Tokyo, so I presume the 'snow' was raided from the icebox.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Memoirs of a Geisha

さゆり 映画

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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I watched the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ yesterday in Shinjuku with a friend. It’s the second Japan film I've seen in little over a month, the first one being ‘Spring Snow’. The story is based on the book by Arthur Golden and deals with life at the opposite end of the social spectrum from ‘Spring Snow'. Set in pre-war and wartime Japan, it follows the fortunes of one of two sisters sold by their fisherman father upon the death of their mother to a brothel in Kyoto. It is a gritty tale that plumbs the depths of the geisha world, its power, its weakness and the machinations of a geisha’s success.

The lead character, Chiyo, is befriended in a chance encounter on the street one day by a company director – played with a marvelous blend of muscularity and golden heartedness by Ken Watanabe. Chiyo is enchanted by the stranger who buys her an ice cream, and is determined to find a way into his world by becoming a geisha.

At that time, Chiyo is a slave to the brothel’s madam, but is saved from obscurity by the intervention of an ex-geisha who sees her potential and personally brings her to fruition. The main part of the story follows the intensely political machinations of her road to success and climaxes in her debut when she is hailed as the toast of all Kyoto.

War sees her back where she started: in the countryside, spirited away there safe from the bombing by the beneficent company director. He calls on her to perform him a final service in order to get the co-operation of the Americans for his best friend’s business venture. This is the final test of her mettle, and in the process of compromising the principles she remained true to throughout her rise, she is redeemed by the continued trust of her benefactor.

In spite of being a Hollywood take on Japan using Chinese actresses in the lead roles, it is little – if any – less convincing than a homegrown depiction. Chiyo/Sayuri is played by Ziyi Zhang, and her main rival is played by a Chinese actress too. Ziyi Zhang had been criticized for an overly exuberant performance of Sayuri’s debut dance scene – which truly is a feat of almost acrobatic skill and fiery energy. However, I think this is based on too ‘wooden doll’ an idea of what Japanese culture is all about and falls for the false image the Japanese project of themselves as demure to the bone. (See the blog article on Abe M. Aria for an example of what I’m talking about.)

The only thing about this movie that really got me squirming in my seat was the language. Everyone spoke in Oriental English, with little bits of Japanese thrown in to give it extra Oriental color. I realize that the actors themselves no doubt have non-native speaker accents when speaking English; but purposely smattering their already obviously foreign English with extra Japanese phrases was nothing short of twee and only served to distance the viewer from the story – putting it in a ‘long long ago in a faraway land’ kind of box.

However, in spite of its forced exoticism, this movie satisfies with the sense of excitement it rouses in following the young geisha's career, and the wonderful depictions of her wit and elegance at the expense of her cheesy rivals. The sets are convincing, the acting is superb, and the conscientious portrayals of life in bygone Japan are more than convincing - and moving - enough to warrant paying the price of admission.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Emperor's Birthday Tenno no tanjobi

December 23 Tenno no tanjobi - Emperor's Birthday
天皇の誕生日

The Emperor turned 72 today. The birthday of the current Heiwa Emperor (Akihito) is designated as a national holiday in Japan. When there is a change of Emperor, the date of this national holiday changes. The birthday of the previous Showa Emperor (Hirohito) was on April 29 but this holiday has been kept to retain the week-long Golden Week holidays. December 25 is not a public holiday, of course, in Japan.

The Emperor gives a televised speech, and crowds of well-wishers visit the Imperial Palace for a glimpse of him, though the cold weather may keep many people at home.

Bicycle in the snow

It's been a freezing week here in Nagoya, in particular, with the heaviest snowfall in six decades. Nothing, of course, to the conditions on the Japan Sea Coast and in Hokkaido. The white blanket does look very attractive, though it does play havoc with the transport links.

Rough Guide To Japan Buy this book from Amazon
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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Little Okinawa in Osaka

リトル沖縄

December brings the first real cold weather and the Bonenkai season to Japan. Bonenkai--literally "forget the year party"--are year-end parties held with colleagues or friends, and basically an excuse to get smashed. With some of Soccerphile.com's Japan-based staff, I recently spent a rowdy night in Osaka's Little Okinawa.

Located in a desolate part of south Osaka far from any train or subway station, Little Okinawa is not much to look at. En route, we were more than a bit skeptical. A "great bar!" had been recommended to us by a Japanese client whose judgment had to this point been nothing short of perfect. He had moreover gone to the trouble of making reservations for us, and so off we were.

Little Okinawa in Osaka Riding south in a bus--a bus!--from Taisho Station on the Osaka Loop Line, we wondered if our esteemed friend might be losing it. We got off at the appointed stop, and neither human nor stray dog was to be seen. A cold wind blew up from what appeared to be an abandoned factory.

Around the corner, though, was a telltale sign: a storefront decorated in the bright reds and blues and yellows of Okinawa. This was definitely not a mainland Japanese bar. Uruma Goten is a landmark restaurant and bar where local Okinawans come to play and dance.

Osaka is home to the largest population of Okinawans outside of Okinawa Prefecture. Japan's southernmost prefecture is a group of islands that stretch almost to Taiwan, and is the poorest of Japan's prefectures. For decades many of its young have left to find work on the mainland, Little Okinawa in Osakawith most of them ending up in Osaka. In addition to US military bases, beautiful weather and scenery, the longest-lived people in the world, Okinawa is known for producing great music.

Shima no uta, or Okinawa island songs, feature wonderful high-pitched female vocalists with ethereal voices. They are accompanied by men playing three-stringed shamisen and a female drummer pounding on a large taiko drum. Everyone in the bar (but us) knows the words--in both Osaka and Okinawa dialects--and sings along.

Thanks to a lot of Orion beer and an Okinawan sake in which a poisonous snake marinates to add flavor, the entire bar of 100 or so, from age 20 to 80, is dancing along with the music, either on the stage with the band or on the tatami mats on the floor where tables are set up. The band "gives up" at 11, and everyone calls it a night, drenched in sweat.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mokugyo - wooden gongs

木魚
Late Meiji or early Taisho Period (1900-20) Japanese antique lacquered mokugyoMokugyo (made up from the Chinese characters for wood 木 and fish 魚) are decorative temple gongs made of hollow wood and carved in the shape of a fish.

The resulting percussion instrument is struck with a padded club and is used in Buddhist temples in Japan, Korea and China to signal the start and end of meditation sessions as well as to beat out the rhythm for the chanting of sutras at Buddhist services and funerals.

Japanese cypress (hinoki) or camphor tree wood (kusunoki) is often used for these fish gongs which can be plain or lacquered red.
The fish is an important symbol in Zen Buddhism, since fish never sleep and are forever aware and watchful.
GoodsFromJapan offers antique fish drums or mokugyo

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Hiroshima in Winter

広島

A tram running through the snow in HiroshimaI took the shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto down to Hiroshima over the weekend for a dosokai, or reunion. It was a cold and overcast and blustery day at Hiroshima Station. After meeting up with friends from graduate school, we caught the light rail tram in front of the Station. Our hotel was a "business" hotel on the tram line, which for a six-tatami-sized mat room cost a mere 5,400 yen (about $45). Tight but very comfortable—and just a twenty-minute walk or 5-minute tram ride into the center of town.

While waiting for others that were flying in later that night from Sapporo, we passed some time by walking over to the Genbaku Dome, the site where the atomic bomb fell on 6 August 1945. Snow was beginning to Hiroshima's Genbaku Domefall as the skies darkened. It made for an eerie yet beautiful site.

Back into the center of town, we walked past the city’s baseball stadium. From there we bar-hopped for a while as the snow begin to glaze the streets and cars.

The reunion was held at Sam’s Café, a homey and fun sports bar. A favorite of Hiroshima Carp baseball players and Sanfrecce soccer players, it is filled with sports memorabilia from around the world and had a Premier League game on tv that was big enough to watch but small enough to not overwhelm the bar. German beer drove the conversation, which lasted for hours. The walk back to the hotel at 2 am was quiet, as the city was blanketed in 17 cm of snow.

The next morning we made another trip to the Dome and went our various ways.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nikko Trip & Accommodation

Nikko

日光

Went up to Nikko last weekend, I'd always wanted to go.

It's 2 hours from Asakusa Station in Tokyo though it took us a bit longer, as along with almost every other male on the train, we laid into the beers on the way up, no-one told us to change trains at Imaichi so we ended up at Kinugawa Onsen.

The view from Asakusa station includes a koban in the style of a shinto shrine and the 'golden turd' atop the Asahi Building in the background

No worries, we got a couple of local trains back to Nikko and a taxi to the Seikoen Hotel - the nearest accommodation to the sites. According to the taxi driver the hotel must be owned by Buddhist or Shinto priests to be located so near to Nikko's main sites. It's literally a 10-minute walk to Toshogu, Nikko's prime tourist attraction.

The hotel, though rather starchy at reception, is a friendly enough place with good onsen facilities, including a couple of rotemburo (outside baths) and excellent food.

A combination ticket of 1,300 yen will guarantee you entrance to Nikko's main sites including Toshogu, Rinnoji, and Futarasan jinja but not past the Nemuri-neko (Sleeping Cat) gate and the steep climb through the forest to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

The mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu

The colorful, almost gaudy decoration of the shrines reveal the power and wealth of the Tokugawas - military commanders (shogun) of the nation from the early 17th to mid 19th century. The artwork stands in stark contrast to the more "aristocratic" sensibility of many of Kyoto's temples and shrines. The Tokugawas overthrew imperial control and rejected much of courtly art.

The recurring symbols of fierce animals and sturdy pine trees intend to demonstrate the power and longevity of the Tokugawa dynasty, for so long Japan's paramount clan.

The pine tree was admired by the Tokugawas for its strength and ability to withstand the strongest storms


Travel tip


If you take the express Tokkyu or rapid Kaisoku on the Tobu Nikko line from Asakusa check whether you need to change at Imaichi.
Read about nearby Chuzenji-ko and Kegon Falls.

Lonely Planet Guide to Japan - Buy this book from Amazon
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Onsen in Japan

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Kyoto Display Windows

京都の窓

Kyoto Machiya HomeOne of the many charms of Kyoto is the window displays that can be found in both shops and private homes, mainly traditional machiya (“town house”) wooden buildings with lattice fronts.

Concentrated primarily in the downtown area, shops display their wares: ceramics, folding screens (byobu), yukata, dolls, etc. Homeowners put out arrangements of flowers to reflect the change of season.

In addition, notice boards advertise gallery openings and art exhibits, as well as public announcements.

Porcelain in a show windowOn a ride around town today, I saw a few that caught my eye. The one above is a private home on which the owner has many posters for exhibits at Kyoto museums. The dark brown wood serves a perfect backdrop for the brightly colored posters. The bike parked in front is a reminder that this is an unposed photo.

To the right is a private home's window, with lovely ceramic bowls.

Beautiful Chinese characters on a Kyoto doorThe last photo, at left, is on the door of a shop, and features bold archaic kanji characters.

Kyoto News

Lovely presents from Kyoto

Japanese Soccer News

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Japanese school graffiti

日本の学校においての落書き

Japanese school graffiti lizard.(Right) Japanese school graffiti lizard (CLICK ON PIX TO EXPAND)

There isn't much that is more universal than graffiti. It's something that seems to be as natural to every culture as eating or putting on clothes. Japan with its famously politically docile population and respect for public order might not be expected to have graffiti, but it is about as much as 'problem' here as anywhere. Just as each culture wears clothes and eats food its own way, Japanese graffiti also has its special characteristics.

Japanese school graffiti street.(Left) Japanese school graffiti street
Japanese graffiti is, unsurprisingly, very evocative of manga, the art of cartoonistry, that, like almost any art in Japan, is taken to its highest form.
Japanese school graffiti kamikaze motorbike.
(Right) Japanese school graffiti 'Kamikaze' motorbike
After class was over the other day, I took my camera and, during the break, took a few shots of the artwork that, as term progressed, had become noticeably more prolific - no doubt waiting the new school year in April when it will all be scrubbed off for a new round.

Japanese school graffiti dragons.(Left) Japanese school graffiti dragons
Graffiti is not only about style, however, it is also about content - and a survey of it reveals a variety of sources. Then there is the hi-tech side of Japanese life that finds expression in the paraphernalia of war, transport and leisure. Shown here are examples of

Japanese school graffiti pachinko.(Right) Japanese school graffiti pachinko

motorbikes and pachinko machines. There is the old lore of Japan that finds its way in with images of ghosts, dragons, and demons. Superheros are an interesting halfway house between the old and the new, sharing something with both the old gods and the newer fantasies of science.

Japanese school grafitti caricature. (Left) Japan school graffiti head caricature


There is caricature, that staple of Japanese manga. Shown left is a head of someone who looks decidedly more like a loved or not so loved teacher than a student. There are also the icons of pop culture, like the decades old but ever popular 'Hello Kitty'. The icons that fill the minds of Japanese students are not only homegrown. There are the icons of both good and evil imported from the West, a latter example here being the caricature of Hitler giving a stiff armed salute and saying in Japanese katakana script 'Ha-i-lu Hi-to-la!'.

Japanese school graffiti Hello Kitty.(Left) Japanese school graffiti Hello Kitty
Japanese school graffiti Heil Hitler.(Right) Japanese school graffiti 'Heil Hitler!'

And then there's that thing that makes the world go round: love. The most intricate and carefully thought out example of graffiti was the minutely written discourse pictured below. It is the agonized recollections of a male student regarding the three years he spent with a fellow female student throughout high school. 'You spoke to me first' 'I don't know why, but I responded coldly' - the quintessential male in a relationship that ends with him totally devoted to the woman and ruing the relationship's (apparently albeit civil) demise.

Japanese school graffiti love. (Left) Japanese school graffiti love story.


Comments welcome!

Japanese school graffiti ghost. (Right) Japanese school graffiti ghost

Friday, December 09, 2005

Nagoya-Tokyo Highway Bus

名古屋ー東京ハイウェイバス

Traveled up to Tokyo on the JR Highway Bus from Nagoya to Shinjuku (South Exit) today.

Nagoya Station JR Highway Bus

The journey takes 6 hours and costs 5,100 yen for an adult (half price for my 4-year-old kid). The bus is a comfortable double-decker and follows the northern route on the Chuo Expressway and enters Tokyo via Kofu and Hino.
The Shinkansen bullet train follows the southern coastal route via Shizuoka.

JR Double-decker Highway Bus

The bus passes through some scenic (snow-capped) mountains in Gifu and Nagano Prefectures. We stopped 3 times on route for about 10 or 15 minutes including a stop at the impressive Suwako Lake in Nagano.

Suwako Lake, Nagano Prefecture

The whole experience was enlivened by a chance encounter with Yoshiki Nakahara, a Copenhagen-based artist with an exhibition running at the Teipaku Gallery in the Ginza until 25 December 2005.

Teipark Gallery
Chiyoda-ku
Otemachi 2-3-1
Tokyo
100-0004
Tel: 0332446821

Access

Otemachi Subway Station A4/A5 Exit; JR Tokyo Station Marunouchi North Exit (10 minutes walk)

Yoshiki Nakahara and Joji

ハイウェイバス

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Shinjuku Gyoen Park and a Japanese Poem

新宿御苑

Chatting under a tree in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.(At right) Chatting under a tree in Shinjuku Gyoen Park. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen Park has to be one of the world's most beautiful. This huge tract of land in the middle of Tokyo's most hustling bustling districts is in every way the denial of its environs. Although, when you're in there, the city outside seems less something that you've escaped from, and more like something that the magic of the park atmosphere has transformed into a pleasant backdrop. The hot hum of traffic - still very audible from inside the park - becomes a swooshing akin to wind through branches, or the sound of water falling. The sharp points and edges of the architectured skyline - still visible through and above the trees - are softened, framed and beautified by the foliage of the park, much like ruins are. Escape from the city seems complete, in spite of it actually being still hot upon your heels.


Autumn leaves in Shinjuku Gyoen.I strolled through it this fine autumn afternoon, along with the scores of tweedy old men with big black cameras on stilts, bag-holding pump-heeled old ladies making interminable oohs and ahhs, couples arm in arm, families with dawdling toddlers. The sky was purest blue, and the last embers of autumn were still smouldering on trees and in reflections. I was reminded of an autumn poem by the (rather obscure) nineteenth century writer Arashi Hideo, originally of Sado Island. Roughly translated it goes:




Pond in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.





Cast off your careful
Acquisitioning
Of the propitious
Points in the here and there




Grove in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.


And cast yourself with
Lips undrawn and teeth at home
Into the facts of things:
The autumn clouds of gnats
The airy littering of leaves
The unforeseeable seconds hence,
The pond light's winking random


Roses in Shinjuku Gyoen Park.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cerezo Ties FC Tokyo in Final Match--Loses J.League Championship

Jリーグ優勝

The final day of the J.League season saw five teams with a chance to win it all: Cerezo, Gamba, Kashima, Urawa, and JEF. At the top of the table—by a point—sat Cerezo Osaka. The team that just barely avoided relegation last season was now staring at a championship—a first for a Kansai team. All they had to do was beat FC Tokyo and glory was theirs.

Coming out of the Nagai subway, the skies were overcast and the wind brisk. Daffuya—yakuza ticket scalpers—were busy as were Israeli vendors selling replica jerseys. The press box was full, joining the 43,000 expectant fans. On cue, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds just as the whistle blew for kickoff.

FC Tokyo was the better team, especially in midfield. Cerezo's former national team player Hiroaki Morishima is on his last legs at age 33; the rest of the team is a collection of players with middling talent. Even the two Brazilians are only fair.

At the 43-minute mark in the second half, however, Cerezo was up 2-1, thanks to two goals from former Bolton forward Akinori Nishizawa, and anxious fans were watching the clock. In a scramble in front of the Cerezo net in the 44th minute, FC Tokyo and national team midfielder Yasuyuki Konno slammed home a loose ball to draw even with seconds remaining. That, and a missed penalty in the first half, sealed the tie, which gave Cerezo a single point for a season total of 59 points. All four teams trailing Cerezo won their matches, including local rival Gamba Osaka, which won 4-2 over Kawasaki, collecting three points and thus the League championship for the first time. Cerezo players wept on the field.

Still, Cerezo coach Shinji Kobayashi should be given Coach of the Year award. To take a team without a star—having lost Yoshito Okubo to the Spanish first division—without even two or three very good players, to the cusp of winning the League—was a miracle.

Soccer goods

Gamba Celebrate J1 Title

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Japanese Antiques

Japanese Antiques & Collectibles
骨董

Japanese antiques are some of the most sought after by collectors the world over. Japanese antiques combine high standards of workmanship and artwork with affordable prices and are becoming increasingly popular as decorative items in homes and businesses.

Taisho Era (1912-1928) bronze vase depicting two cranes

GoodsFromJapan presents a range of fine Japanese antiques

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Myoshinji Temple Kyoto

妙心寺

Myoshinji Temple, north west KyotoWithin its walls, Myoshinji is both a refuge and a 24-hour parade of dog-walkers, bike-riders, students, lovers, priests, commuters, and others who are either enjoying the temple grounds or on their way to school or work.

Unlike the more well-known temples of Kyoto, Myoshinji is both free and open: all day, all night, all the time. In the middle of a summer night, young people sit on the veranda of the main hall, quietly drinking beer and talking; in the morning, students and salarymen rush to and from nearby JR Hanazono Station.

Myoshinji is the home of Japanese Zen Buddhism, and was founded in 1337. It houses some of the best-known byobu, or painted screens, in Japan. The temple grounds, moreover, are vast and repel the outside world. The traffic that flies past the south gate, the garish 7-11 sign in front of the north gate, they all fade within seconds of entering the temple.

For local children, it carries another connotation: fear. Unlike the elegant priests at nearby Ninaji Temple, which was designated a World Heritage Site, the priests at Myoshinji are said to be kowai (scary). Parents admonish their badly behaved children that they will be left in Myoshinji in the middle of the night, or else! The priests’ scowling faces and dark robes are a bit intimidating, particularly when they come around the neighborhood bellowing for alms. Recently, they even ring the bell.

Fall leaves at Myoshinji Temple, Kyoto For the casual visitor, though, Myoshinji has hundreds of temples, stone walks, ponds, and is a magnificent stroll. The fall foliage this year has been lovely thanks to a recent cold snap. Today young couples were arm-in-arm gazing at the leaves; older women snapped pictures of each other with their digital cameras.

Near both the south and north gates, there is great shopping for traditional Japanese goods. The north gate has old Japanese cracker and sweet shops; the south gate area features stores that cater to the temple’s needs: clothing, incense, stones, etc.

For complete tourist information on Kyoto.

Myoshinji Bell Sound