Kumamoto Castle, built by Kato Kiyomasa between 1601-1607 in Kumamoto Kyushu, is Japan's third largest castle after Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle.
Kumamoto Castle is a masterpiece of defensive architecture and has never been successfully stormed.
The outer walls of Kumamoto Castle measured 13km and the inner walls 5km. Kato planted camphor and gingko trees to provide firewood and edible nuts in time of seige and also dug 120 wells to provide water.
Most of the original wooden buildings were destroyed in a fire during the 1877 siege of the castle by a rebel army led by Saigo Takamori. The defenders under the command of Kanjo Tani (1837-1911) still managed to hold out for 50 days until reinforcements arrived and Saigo's rebellion was crushed. Only the Uto-Yagura turret survived the fire.
Reconstruction began in 1960 and will continue during 2007 so the castle can be restored to its former glory for its 400th anniversary. The huge Hon-Maru Go-ten Ohiroma reception hall is nearing completion.
The main tower of the 6-storey, 30-meter keep (donjon) contains an interesting museum detailing the history of Kumamoto Castle along with exhibits of Japanese armor, shells used in the 1877 attack and original photographs.
The castle grounds are popular places for cherry blossom viewing and contain Kumamoto's Prefectural Art Museum.
Admission is currently 500 yen.
Kumamoto Castle General Office
1-1 Kyo-machi Kumamoto 860-0007
Tel: 096 352 5900
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Friday, March 30, 2007
Spring officially came last Wednesday, and, like clockwork, almost from that day things started noticeably warming up. Well, no: positively heating up.
Yesterday, March 29, was the warmest day on record for this early in the year in 12 locations throughout Japan, the warmest being Koyama in Tochigi Prefecture at 26.2 degrees Celcius (79 degrees Fahrenheit), usually its July average.
Tokyo was 24 degrees, its late May average. This means that the blossom season has been affected, and is about a week earlier than usual.
And sure enough, on the right here's a photo of blossom taken in a side street of Tokyo's Fukagawa area no less than 10 days ago - at a stage of blooming you'd usually only expect to find around about now.
Below is a shot taken today on a bridge over the Kanda River in Nakano ward: the neighborhood out under the glorious sakura blossom.
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Thursday, March 29, 2007
Posing in front of the orange gates at Sanjusangendo Temple, in Kyoto, a young woman models a kimono.
Though restricted mainly to formal occasions today, the most well-known form of Japanese dress is by no means dead or dying.
Other than foreign tourists, in Japan no one gawks at a woman in a kimono; it signifies a special occasion, to be sure, but one that is utterly ordinary.
Women wear them to weddings, funerals, their coming-of-age day ceremony when they turn 20. In summer, the lighter cotton yukata robe is also seeing a revival.
Young designers now incorporate non-traditional designs into yukata. Other designers have used kimono and yukata material to fashion western clothing.
The woman pictured above is participating in a coming-of-age day ceremony, which takes place in early January.
A team of paid hairdressers took two-three hours to dress her, do her makeup, and style her hair.
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Sunday, March 25, 2007
Large earthquake strikes Ishikawa Prefecture.
Survey shows 60% of the Japanese public disapprove of PM Shinzo Abe.
Upmarket "Delivery Health" service busted in Tokyo.
China Premier Wen Jiabao to visit Japan in spring.
Japan's trade surplus grows 7.7% in February
Japanese company develops "Space Curry".
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Japan's exports for January 2007 in USD
China USD 7,479,295,000
Korea USD 3,952,498,000
Taiwan USD 3,064,643,000
Hong Kong USD 2,767,887,000
USA USD 10,509,215,000
Panama USD 1,017,831,000
Germany USD 1,631,632,000
Netherlands USD 1,265,955,000
UK USD 1,252,287,000
Source: JETRO Japan External Trade Organization
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Saturday, March 24, 2007
Though not on the same scale as Tokyo Tower, Nagoya's TV Tower can lay claim to being the first broadcasting tower of its kind to be built in Japan. The TV Tower in Sakae was completed in 1954, four years before Tokyo Tower.
Nagoya TV Tower is 180m in height and broadcasts waves for 5 TV stations from its antenna. There are two observation decks at 90m and 100m - one inside and the other outside. The inside sky deck has comfortable seating and a small coffee bar. Climb up the stairs to reach the exterior sky deck.
The 4th floor has a restaurant - the Tower Restaurant Nagoya - and a small gallery. The tower is illuminated at night and is a well-known Nagoya landmark.
Admission to the TV Tower is from 10.00am-9.00pm and costs 600 yen for adults.
There are a number of bars and small eateries just outside the entrance of the tower.
Located in Nagoya's main entertainment area of Sakae, the tower offers good views of the city below.
Easily visible is Oasis 21, a new concrete and laminated glass shopping center, outdoor park and the entrance to Sakae bus terminal. Oasis 21 opened in 2002 and was designed by Casai Hideki. There is a tourist information center in the complex as well as numerous restaurants and shopping outlets. It worth taking the elevator or stairs up to the Aquapark which is supposed to act as a giant humidifier.
The Aichi Arts Center and the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art are housed in the tall Aichi Arts Center building adjacent to Oasis 21.
Nagoya TV Tower
Tel: 052 971 8546
Tel: 052 962 1011
Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art
Tel. 052 971 5511
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Friday, March 23, 2007
Tsu is the prefectural capital of Mie Prefecture located on the coast of Ise Bay about 75km west of Nagoya.
Tsu has a population of around 150,000 people and is Japan's smallest prefectural capital by population.
Tsu is certainly a laid-back and unhurried sort of place. One of the city's attractions is a giant salamandar in the Prefectural Museum in Tsu Park (Kairakuen). I watched the beast in its tank for about five minutes (it had to be pointed out to me as it looks just like a rock) and it never moved. Tsu Park is the site of the former villa of the feudal lord Takatora Todo and is a short walk from Tsu station across the road from Gokoku Shrine.
Tsu was an important castle town in the Edo Period and a transit point for pilgrims visiting Ise Jingu farther south along the coast. The original castle was built in 1580 by the younger brother of the warlord Nobunaga Oda and expanded by the noted samurai warrior Takatora Todo, whose equestrian statue stands in the castle grounds. Parts of the old castle's massive stone walls and moat still survive and there is a 1950s reconstruction of a three-storey turret.
Shitennoji Temple near Tosei Bridge is worth a visit for its tranquil garden and impressive wooden gates. Shitennoji Temple was founded by Prince Shotoku (574-622)and was rebuilt in 1615.
Not far from Tsu Castle and the prefectural buildings is Kannonji Temple, which has a five-storey pagoda. Other notable temples and shrines in Tsu are Senju-ji Temple (Tel: 059 236 5701), also known as Takada Honzan, (take a bus 20 minutes from the station to Honzon-mae bus stop) and Yuki Shrine, which is dedicated to Munehiro Yuki (died 1338) a general of the Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and famous for its plum blossoms in spring.
Tsu Festival, which dates back to the 17th century features period costume parades and a unique "Toujin Dance" (唐人おどり). The elaborate costumes and masks supposedly mimic a delegation of Korean diplomats, who visited Japan at that time, no doubt causing wonderment among the native Japanese.
The town's beaches, notably Niezaki and Akogigaura, draw avid wind-surfers throughout the year and swimmers and sun-bathers in summer.
From Nagoya Station Kintetsu Line train or JR Line train (approx. 50 minutes).
From Osaka Namba Station Kintetsu Line train or JR Line train (approx. 90 minutes).
By car, Tomei Expressway from Nagoya.
There are highway buses from Tokyo taking around 8 hours.
There is a fast boat from Tsu to Chubu International Airport (approx. 40 minutes).
Information on the Toujin Dance (in Japanese)
Guide to Nagoya
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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Pasmo is a prepaid card able to be used to pay the fare on all trains and buses, regardless of operator, i.e. whether public or private, in the Greater Tokyo area. It is interoperable with Japan Rail’s nationwide Suica card, so that either card can be used.
Like the Suica card, the Pasmo card has:
1. A ‘registered’ option, whereby if you register your Pasmo card with your name, and thus for your use only, you can get a refund for however much was remaining on the card if you lose it.
2. A ‘commuting pass’ option, whereby you can use it as a commuting pass, thus taking advantage of the cheaper fixed journey fare. However, it is still usable for journeys not covered by the pass. It will do the necessary calculations automatically.
However, the Pasmo has the added advantages of:
Like the Suica, it also doubles as electronic money and can be used to pay for purchases in stores wherever the Pasmo-Suica charge service is installed.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The main building, which is closer to the street, is a concrete block that is imposing and unattractive. The building at the rear (pictured at right), behind a high fence, is more in keeping with the elegant character of the French-influenced boulevard of three- and four-story mansions that have become embassies over the years.
Moreover, sushi bars and Japanese restaurants are ubiquitous. Many are run by Koreans and other “Japanese” staff, but are popular nonetheless.
Perhaps the premier event on the Japanese expatriate calendar in
The cherry trees were a gift from
The festival this year is scheduled for April 1 – 15. As of March 21, the cherries had yet to bud. Magnolias and other early-blooming species are out, but no cherry trees.
This year’s festival has a full lineup of events: tea ceremony by the
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Tuesday, March 20, 2007
This is the time of year when Japanese universities hold their graduation ceremonies.
Typically university graduation ceremonies are held in deluxe city center hotels and students attend in traditional hakama for the girls and suits for the boys. The hakama kimono can cost in the region of US$600 to hire for the day.
Graduation rates for Japanese universities are high. The large majority of students who enter university in Japan graduate four years later.
Entry in to the workplace begins soon after in early April at the beginning of the Japanese financial year.
Many students take "graduation vacations" (卒業旅行) for a week or 10 days in Europe, Australia or the USA before their graduation ceremonies. These are often highly-organized bus tours taking in a number of major cities, which offer little insight into the countries visited.
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by Brian J. McVeigh
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Monday, March 19, 2007
ミッドランド スクエア, 名古屋
Midland Square, central Japan's tallest building at 247m, officially opened this month on March 6th. Located just across the road from Nagoya Station's Central Towers and slightly taller by 2 meters, the building was jointly financed by Toyota Motor Corp. and Mainichi Shinbun (Newspapers), who will take up a large proportion of the office space in the 47-storey tower (which has a further 6 underground floors). Other of the over 30 companies with offices in the building include ANA, JTB, Tokai Tokyo Securities and Nomura Bank.
Midland Square offers around 30 designer shopping outlets including branches of Cartier, Celine, Chloé, Dior, Loewe and Louis Vuitton, a 7-screen multiplex cinema on the fifth floor (Tel: 052 527 8808), restaurants and cafes on the 3rd, 4th, 41st, 42nd floors and B1F and a viewing gallery on the 44th floor - the Sky Promenade - which is partially opened to the elements, so visitors can feel the wind and experience the sounds at around 240m above ground. Admission to the Sky Promenade is from 11.00am-23.00pm and costs 700 yen for adults.
The total cost of the Midland Square development is estimated at around US$1 billion and the new building has lead to an increase of land prices in the Meieki area of 35% in fiscal 2005-6.
Though nowhere near as high rise as Tokyo, the area around Nagoya Station (Meieki) now has four large towers including the twin towers of the Nagoya Station building, Midland Square and the nearby, beautifully curved 40 storey, 180m-tall Nagoya Lucent Tower, which mainly houses IT and financial companies. The Lucent Tower's top floor is taken up by a bar with great night views of Nagoya including Nagoya Castle and the TV Tower in Sakae.
With around 10,000 workers in the new Midland Square building, surrounding services have been somewhat overwhelmed, with long queues forming at restaurants in the underground malls under Nagoya Station. The salary-men and OLs (office ladies) certainly can't afford to eat lunch every day at some of the deluxe bistros on the 42nd floor, so a boxed-lunch (bento) service now operates on the ground floor for the hungry workers.
Tel: 052 584 7111
Tel: 052 588 7955
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie sentenced to prison for fraud.
US Embassy in Tokyo hasn't paid rent for 9 years.
Film Review: Shadow Hunters - samurai / ninja drama lacks social commentary.
Enjo kosai gone very bad in Nagoya Love Hotel.
Bombardier propeller airplane on Osaka-Kochi route makes emergency landing.
80% of nursing grads can't administer CPR or stop bleeding.
LDP Head: "China not a threat"
Japan urged to "face history"
Gay Freedom Fighter Ken Togo Speaks Out
Pin-up queen Aki Hoshino turns 30
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Japanese Tourism Stats
In Asia, China received the largest number of Japanese visitors in 2006 with 3,745,900 Japanese visiting the country, followed by 2,338,921 visitors to Korea, 1,161,489 visitors to Taiwan, 1,311,987 visitors to Thailand and 1,311,111 to Hong Kong.
Visitors to Australia (651,000) and New Zealand (136,401) were down 5% and 12% respectively on the previous year.
In Europe, Japanese visitors to Spain saw a massive 17% rise to 710,900 visitors for 2006.
Altogether, 17,535,000 Japanese traveled overseas in 2006.
Source: Ministry of Justice and JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization)
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Saturday, March 17, 2007
Yoshiki Nakahara is a youthful and magnetic 52-year-old Japanese painter resident in Copenhagen, Denmark for the past 22 years. I met up with him in a gallery in Ginza this afternoon.
Nakahara works in oils rich as chocolate in their daubed density and peacock-like in their subtle brilliance. Various layers of ruminating darks and pastels combine with the vivid daubings, splashes, and swipes that generally form the immediate ‘face’ of his works to create an immediate sense of depth and dimension that only grows with the amount of time you devote to each one. The subtlety and complexity of color mixing that inhabits this depth are the elements that work immediately on the imagination, conjuring up as many images, memories and phantoms as there are people who see them.
Born and raised in Gifu prefecture, Nakahara went to Europe in the early 80s looking for inspiration. He ended up providing as much inspiration as he was seeking: the woman that a mutual attraction had paired him with on a visit to Copenhagen and whom he had promised he would return to after a tour of the Continent – now his wife - turned up in pursuit of him in Barcelona, unable to wait any longer. Since then he has been a resident of Denmark, visiting Gifu for a couple of months every year since then.
Nakahara’s works are uniformly untitled. Nakahara stresses the importance of the moment in understanding his works: the moments of their creation and the attendant impressions, conscious or unconscious, that they have on the artist while painting and, just as importantly, the moment of their viewing and the unique mindset - shaped by time, place and events - of the viewer. In other words, these are not concepts or feelings served up on a plate. They demand that the viewer give something back.
These qualities show in Nakahara’s own demeanor: he is less the classic old-school ‘master’ than the dedicated, connected ‘enabler’, the ‘medium’. He doesn’t seek to overpower, he demands engagement.
An established presence in the European art world, Nakahara has a keen following, one collector even having exclusively devoted himself to his works.
A selection of Yoshiki Nakahara’s works is available for viewing, and for sale, at the “Gallery Sho” in the Hokuo no Takumi (‘Scandanavian Crafts Gallery’ – tel.03-5524-5657) in Ginza 1-15-13 Hokuo Building 3F. Nearest stations Ginza 1-chome on the Yurakucho subway line (Exit 10), or Takaracho on the Asakusa subway line (Exit A3). The exhibition is until March 25 and can be seen 11am to 6pm every day except Mondays.
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Japan Tokyo Denmark art Yoshiki Nakahara
Friday, March 16, 2007
After an amusement park-like ride on Kyoto city bus--drive as fast as possible, brake in the shortest amount of space, repeat--we got off at Daitokuji-mae, frazzled but braced by a wintry breeze. It was a relief to be walking on terra firma, and the temple grounds were mostly empty in the late afternoon.
Daitokuji is a large temple complex in north central Kyoto that is part of the Rinzai sect. It was established in 1319 by Daito Kokushi.
Like Myoshinji in the west of Kyoto, Daitokuji is a city within walls--and free other than certain sub-temples. During the Onin War, some of the temples burned down; it was thereafter rebuilt by wealthy merchants.
Aside from being a wonderful place to wander, away from traffic and noise, where dog walkers and children gather, the sub temples are also well worth a visit.
Daisen-in is very well known for its rock garden, and the main building is a national treasure. Jukko-in features wall paintings by Kano Eitoku and his father Kano Shoei.
We had time for one and chose Ryogen-in, which was constructed in 1502. The Meditation Hall is the oldest in Japan; the temple also has on display the "oldest gun in Japan," which was allegedly used in a chess match between the shoguns Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. (They both survived the match.) There is also a dragon painted on a sliding door--hence the name Ryo-gen-in, which means the source of the dragon temple. An inner rock garden is the smallest in Japan, a larger rock garden--Isshidan (pictured above)--is within, and a moss garden is the back.
A fifteen minute walk from Kitaoji Subway station (Karasuma Line). Or, take #205 or 206 bus from Kyoto station and get off at Daitokuji-mae.
They vary by sub-temple, but are usually 400-500 yen.
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Thursday, March 15, 2007
Watch a video of the 2007 Tagata Jinja Hounen Matsuri
Listen to the sounds of Tagata Jinja Hounen Matsuri
Listen to the music of Tagata Jinja Hounen Matsuri
The Tagata Jinja Hounen Sai has grown in popularity over the years. The annual fertility festival held annually on March 15 attracts a boisterous crowd of both Japanese and foreign visitors to witness a 2.5m, approximately 300kg wooden phallus being carried on a mikoshi (portable shrine), by teams of 12 men, the 1.5km between Kumano Shrine and Tagata Shrine near Inuyama, just outside Nagoya.
Tagata Jinja is believed to date back over a 1500 years and is dedicated to fertility, good harvests and the natural bounty symbolized by the male phallus. The shrine is not a place of worship of the male member as such, but the natural fecundity, renewal and growth the erect penis represents.
Tagata Jinja abounds with representations of the phallus, even the shrine's bell is in the shape of a penis and during the year the shrine, located in the non-descript suburb of Komaki, is often visited by young couples who come to pray for the birth of a child.
Each year a new phallus is carved by a local master craftsman from a Japanese cypress tree (hinoki) and both the tree and the craftsman undergo various purification rites as the wood is carved over the winter months in readiness for the spring festival.
On the day of the festival, the procession starts from Kumano Shrine at 2pm and the portable shrine is accompanied by Shinto priests, musicians playing ancient court music, local dignitaries, women carrying smaller wooden phalluses and loud shouts of "wa-sha-i" as the heavy load is carried to its destination. Sake is freely dispensed in paper cups from a sake cart on the way and everyone is invited to touch and in some cases feign to suck the members on display.
The middle-aged Japanese men carrying some of the phalluses obviously get a great kick out of offering the wooden penises to Western women to fondle and caress (it's their ultimate fantasy!) and the women are unashamedly turned on by the sight of so much hard, though wooden, cock.
The procession reaches Tagata Shrine about 4pm for the literal climax of the day's events. A small portable shrine carries a wooden representation of Takeinadene-no-mikoto, the male deity visiting his female counterpart (and wife) Tamahime-no-mikoto, who is enshrined at Tagata Jinja. Next comes the huge phallus which is placed in the shrine for another year, the old phallus being sold off.
The Tagata Jinja Hounen Sai is undoubtedly a fun day out and there are lots of stalls in the grounds selling chocolate coated bananas, pink sugary phalluses and the usual beer, fried noodles, fried potatoes and takoyaki. Visitors can buy the shrine's ema (votive plaques), carved wooden phalluses, keychains and other lucky charms to take back home with them as souvenirs.
Also of interest is the nearby Ogata Jinja, where representations of the female vagina can be found.
To get to Tagata Jinja take a Meitetsu train from Nagoya Station or Kanayama Station to Inuyama. Change to a Meitetsu Komaki Line train leaving from platform 3 and go threee stops to Tagata Jinja Mae. Turn left out of the station and then left again at the main road. Tagata Jinja is about 400m on your right. To reach Kumano Shrine turn right out of Tagata Jinja, cross over the main road and Kumano Jinja is on your left as you climb the hill after crossing over the railway line.
Alternatively take the Tsurumai Subway Line to Kami Otai and change to a Meitetsu Line train to Inuyama and then the Komaki Line to Tagata Jinja Mae.
Ogata (Oh-agata) Shrine (Tel: 0568 67 1017) is a ten minute walk, turning right out of Gakuden Station on the Meitetsu Komaki Line.
Mara Kannon Phallus Shrine Yamaguchi
Kanamara Festival Kawasaki
Phallic & Vaginal Shrine in Tottori Prefecture
Read more about Tagata Jinja and the Hounen Sai
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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
On a slightly overcast early March Saturday, my daughter and I rode the Keifuku train up to Arashiyama and spent a couple of hours in Tenryuji Temple. When you get off at Arashiyama Station, the last terminus, you go out and turn right, cross the street, and walk about 100 meters.
Tenryuji, or as it is formally known Tenryu Shiseizen-ji, is the head temple of the Tenryu sect of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It was created in honor of Gautama Buddha, and in 1994 became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Temple is justly known for its gardens, which are best seen either during the fall or in late March when the cherry trees are in bloom.
You enter off the main road that runs through Arashiyama, in the west of Kyoto, and then walk far back into the grounds of the temple. To enter the temple costs 500 yen (300 for children), and another 150 yen if you want to go into the main hall.
Before it became a temple, in 1339, the land that is Tenryuji was a villa. The villa was later converted into a temple in order to hold a memorial service for Emperor Go-daigo.
Tenryuji was wildly successful and expanded far to the east; at one point it contained as many as 150 sub-temples. Fire, however, destroyed the temple in 1358, 1367, 1373, 1380, 1447, and 1467. It was rebuilt following further destruction during the Onin War, again burned in 1815, and lost many temples and artifacts during the Hamaguri Rebellion in 1864.
After we hit our daily limit of culture, we headed back to the Station and had crepes. Then, inside the station, we soaked our feet in a small hot spring. It cost 150 yen, and we each got a small towel to dry off afterwards. The “hot spring” has two tables, and you sit around them with other tourists and locals and soak your weary feet.
Two minutes from the Keifuku Line's Arashiyama Station. Or take a city bus to "Keifukuarashiyama." A 7-8 minute walk from JR Saga Station.
68 Susukinobaba-cho, Tenryuji, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto.
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Japan Kyoto Tenryuji Temple Zen Japanese gardens
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Mino city in Gifu Prefecture, north of Nagoya, has a long history of washi paper production dating back to the Nara Period (710-794).
Not far from Mino station are two parallel streets of preserved Edo-style houses of former prosperous paper merchants complete with udatsu roofs. udatsu are ornately-tiled firewalls attached to both ends of a dwelling's roof to prevent the spread of fire from house to house.
Wealthy merchants in the town competed with each other to build ever more decorative udatsu. The Kyu-Imai Ke Jutaku is one such merchant house now opened as a museum dedicated to the art of washi production and paper-making techniques.
Mino History Museum (Tel: 0575 33 0021)
Mino hosts an Akari Art Exhibition in mid-October every year. Akari artwork (Japanese washi paper lanterns) presented by members of the public is lit up and exhibited along the historic streets.
During the Hina Matsuri (Dolls Festival) in March many of the houses exhibit collections of Japanese dolls.
Other places of interest in the Mino area are Ogura Castle in Ogura Park with good views of Mino and the Nagara River. The park is also known for its cherry blossoms in spring. Oyada Shrine has colorful maple leaves in autumn.
Before the construction of a railway in the Meiji Period, Mino's paper was shipped by river and at Kawaminato on the Nagara River remains of the former river port can be seen in the shape of a wooden wharf and lighthouse.
Just to the south of Mino on the Nagaragawa Line, Seki City is known for its production of Japanese sword and kitchen knife blades. The Seki Swordsmith Museum (Tel: 0575 23 3825; Hamono-kaikanmae Station) holds demonstrations of Japanese sword forging. The Knife Museum (Tel: 0575 24 2132), housed in a Canadian log house, has a collection of unusual and rare knives from around the world including what is claimed as the world's largest knife.
Mino is accessible in around 1 hour 40 mins to 2 hours from Nagoya Station. Take the JR Chuo Honsen Line to Tajimi (41 minutes), then the JR Ota Line to Mino-Ota (29 minutes), then the Nagaragawa Line to Mino (31 minutes). The Nagaragawa Line continues on to Gujo Hachiman.
By road take the Tokai-Hokuriku Expressway north from Ichinomiya to Mino Interchange or National Highway 156 from Gifu city.
Mino City Tourism Division Tel: 0575 33 1122
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In the fall it was Arashiyama; then Nijo Castle; now it is Higashiyama's turn to be illuminated. Throughout the year, the city of Kyoto sponsors artistic illumination in and around some of the city's most beautiful areas, of which Higashiyama certainly qualifies.
My daughter and I walked from near the Minami-za kabuki theater up past Yasaka Shrine, on towards Kodaiji along the lively Nene no Michi street. From there it is a short walk to the narrow cobbled lane known as Sannenzaka that runs up towards Kiyomizu Temple.
And everywhere were lights and small lamps, the latter casting a delicate glow against temple walls, wooden slats, and stone streets.
There was a fair sized crowd, but it was subdued and the size of the streets and the night air made strolling comfortable. All of the local shops were open late, and it felt more like Barcelona or an Italian city at night than Kyoto.
Local tea and confectionary companies were giving out samples. We had cups of a pinkish tea with flecks of gold in the bottom as young rickshaw drivers pulled couples and young women around on tours.
The illumination continues until March 21. It runs nightly from 6 - 9:30 pm.
Later in the spring, Kiyomizu Temple is scheduled to be lit up.
From Gion, a 10-15 minute walk. You can go through Yasaka Shrine and then head out the south end. Or a ten-minute walk from the Higashiyama bus stop. Bus #206.
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Monday, March 12, 2007
I spent most of the weekend wandering around one of Tokyo’s hidden gems, the Fukagawa (“Deep River”) neighborhood in Koto-ku.
Compared with, say, Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Minato, Koto-ku is not the place you normally think of going to if you’ve got nothing to do. However, it’s well worth a stroll around for half a day or so, if only to get away from what Shinjuku, Shibuya and Minato have too much of and enjoy doing nothing that involves crowds of people and wads of cash.
Fukagawa and the areas around it have strong ties with sumo and haiku, the Yokozuna stone bearing the names of all 68 generations of yokozuna champions being there, and it also being the place where the haiku poet Matsuo Basho set off on some of his treks around Japan.
Kiyosumi Teien Gardens are a slice of landscaping paradise, the Fukagawa Edo Museum makes for a whimsical 15 minutes back in time as you wander around an indoor reconstruction of an Edo-era Tokyo neighborhood (complete with mechanical cat on the roof that miaows!), and the temples and shrines – and there are scores of them – are not your gray concrete boxes squeezed between buildings with a statue or two out front, they are, on the whole, full-fledged domains with space to wander around freely, often with enough rituals going on to keep you fully absorbed in what’s happening.
Eitai-dori is a lively shopping street chock-a-block with reasonably priced mainly-Japanese fare from sushi (lots of them) to noodles to bento shops. Massive Kiba Koen Park is nearby for the kids to go crazy in, and if you insist on your helping of haute couture for the day, there’s the big sleek Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo just 10 minutes walk away.
Read and see more about Fukagawa here.
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Japan Japan Blog Tokyo Fukagawa Kiyosumi
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Sumo Association dismisses allegations of match-fixing
PM Abe ignites furor with denial regarding sex slaves during WWII
Film Review: Kwaidan
Osaka vs Tokyo
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There were 18,236 reported cases of domestic violence in Japan last year up 8% on 2005 and the highest total since the National Police agency began recording statistics for the offence in 2002. 99% of victims were women.
2007 was the first year since records began in 1876 that Tokyo recorded zero snowfall in the official winter period.
Nagoya became the first metropolitan area in Japan to ban smoking in its taxis when the Nagoya taxi association announced a no-smoking policy in its 8,000 member taxis.
1 in 5 Japanese is 65 or older and the number will increase to more than 1 in 4 by 2015. By 2050 projections predict 36% of Japanese will be senior citizens - over 65 years of age!
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Saturday, March 10, 2007
Passed through the delightful, though touristy town of Gujo Hachiman in Gifu Prefecture today. The sound of fresh running water is everywhere (3 rivers run through town) and there are a number of fine temples, shrines and gardens as well as streets of traditional housing.
A fine castle is perched on the hill overlooking Gujo Hachiman and the views over the town below and surrounding mountains are superb.
British writer Alan Booth mentions the town in his book Looking For The Lost: "The lanes...are narrow, steeply walled, and end in dimly lanterned eating places or in small stone bridges that arch over splashing streams. It was like an Edo-era stage set."
If possible it is best to spend a night here in a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) or minshuku (B&B) so you have the town to yourself after the tour buses have left at around 5pm and before they arrive again the next day.
Gujo Hachiman is probably best known now for the Gujo Odori, which lasts from mid-July to mid-September and includes all night street dancing involving thousands of yukata-clad dancers during Obon in mid-August.
Access: There are express buses from both Gifu Station (approx 1 hour) and Nagoya Station (approx 2 hours) or take the more scenic but slower train route from Nagoya Station (2 hours and 45 minutes). This involves catching a JR Takayama Line train to Mino Ota via Gifu, then changing to the Nagaragawa Railway for the journey to Gujo Hachiman Station.
Gujo Hachiman is easily explored on foot or there is bicycle hire at the Tourist Office (Tel: 0575 67 0002)
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Friday, March 09, 2007
The Four Stories Japan Winter '07 season will conclude in Osaka on Sunday, March 18, with "STRIKING OUT: Stories of failure, desperation, and loss."
FEATURING prose readings from:
Jerry Gordon, co-founder of Reading Words Osaka; author of Language Unfitting, Armageddon's Garden, Fully Formed Failure (CD) and, most recently, Milagro and You; and producer of the spoken-word CD Kansai Poets Vol. 1
Suzanne Kamata, editor of anthology The Broken Bridge and the journal Yomimono; author of River of Dolls and the forthcoming novel Losing Kei; and writer of fiction and nonfiction appearing in Utne Reader, Kyoto Journal, and more
Chris Page, editor of Kansai Scene; author of the novel Weed; and writer of short stories and articles in The London Magazine, The London News Review, and more
Holly Thompson, professor of creative writing at Yokohama City University; Regional Advisor of the Tokyo chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators; and author of the novel Ash and articles and short stories from Wingspan, The Broken Bridge, and more
Sunday, March 18, 2007
6-8:30pm (venue opens at 5; readings start @ 6)
Portugalia bar and grill
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka
ADMITTANCE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
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Thursday, March 08, 2007
The small town of Konomiya, part of Inazawa city, just outside Nagoya witnesses one of Japan's most famous hadaka matsuri or naked festivals.
Watch a movie of Konomiya Hadaka Festival
The raucous festival dates back to 767 when the local governor of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) instigated the festival in an attempt to ward off a plague epidemic sweeping the country.
The festival has a number of stages.
On the second day of the lunar new year a post marked with the words "naoi shinji" is set up outside Konomiya Shrine.
An hour later at 10am a group of applicants arrive in the hope of being chosen as that year's shin-otoko or ("god-man"). To be selected as shin-otoko is considered a great honor, though a dubious one in most people's eyes in view of what is to follow.
A huge 4-ton rice-cake (mochi) is prepared and is presented to the shin-otoko on the eve of the main festival. For three days prior to the start of the matsuri the shin-otoko is kept alone, enclosed in a small hall in Konomiya Shrine. He is fed only rice-gruel and water and has all his body hair shaved off as part of the purification rite.
The festival begins in mid-afternoon on the 13th day of the lunar new year when thousands of men dressed only in loincloths carry a bamboo pole covered with pieces of paper carrying the excuses of people who couldn't make it to the festival that year.
When the shin-otoko appears from the shrine the assembled men - many of them aged 23 or 42 (ages considered unlucky or yakudoshi) - converge on the shin-otoko in an effort to touch him and thus pass on their bad luck and so rid themselves of evil.
The shin-otoko's guards, who attempt to stop him getting killed in the crush, throw cold water on the crowds to help cool things down. The event can be dangerous and people have suffered injuries in the past.
At 3am the next morning the shin-otoko carrying a "mud cake" on his back - symbolizing bad luck and calamity is chased away from the shrine and the mud cake is buried by the shrine priests. This part of the festival is known as yonaoi shinji.
Later that morning the large rice cake presented earlier is cut up and distributed to worshippers. Eating the rice cake is supposed to ward off illness and misfortune.
Access: Take a Meitetsu Line train from Nagoya Station bound for Gifu to Konomiya Station (north exit and then a short 3-minute walk) or a JR Tokaido Line train from Nagoya Station to Inazawa Station and then a 15-minute walk to Konomiya shrine.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Love hotels can be found in most areas of Tokyo with larger concentrations in Ikebukuro, Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya.
The seedy Dogenzaka area (aka 'Love Hotel Hill'), up the hill from the Hachiko statue at JR Shibuya Station on the Yamanote Line, has a particular well-known collection of love hotels.
All told there are over 35,000 love hotels in Japan. Here are a few examples of love hotels from Roppongi, Tokyo, which are more discreet in style than the garish exteriors of many love hotels in Shibuya.
A good introduction to the brash interior design and decor of Japan's love hotels is Love Hotels - The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan with photographs by Misty Keasler.
Love hotels are also known as "boutique hotels","fashion hotels" or even "romance hotels". Colloquially the term in Japanese is ラブホ (rabuho).
The most recent forerunners of love hotels were tsurekomi yado or tsurekomi yado (lit. bring in inn), which grew up as family-run, short-term houses of prostitution in Tokyo after World War II. These establishments fell foul of the law in 1958 when prostitution was made illegal in Japan.
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