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Friday, June 29, 2007

Baby Derby on Japanese TV

ベビーダービー







Japanese TV: you could almost say that if something doesn't show up on it sometime, it hasn't been thought of yet.

Japanese kids: As a people the Japanese dote on them. Childhood is seen as a time of supreme, blissful innocence, and perhaps more importantly, a time of freedom before the onerous duties of adulthood are imposed.
Put them together and ...

... you get a gameshow where, in each program, the members of the panel place bets on potential winners of generally off-the-wall contests - this week the contest being between crawling babies!

How fast can a baby crawl across 10 meters? And how can he or she be made to do so?

These are questions that you will see answered on this clip: excerpts of highlights from the seven elimination rounds, and, of course, the final championship.

Selectively subtitled in English by JapanVisitor.

Boo boo baa baa! (That's "Goo goo gaa gaa!" in Japanese.)


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Iwami Ginzan

石見銀山

Iwami Ginzan, "Iwami Silver Mountain", in Shimane Prefecture, southern Honshu, has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan.



© Ojisanjake

In its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Iwami Ginzan mines were producing around one third of all the silver in the world. Iwami Ginzan was home to a quarter of a million people, either working in the mines, or supporting the mines.

Work in the narrow shafts of the mines was brutal so lifespans for the miners were extremely short; to service the need for the frequent funerals there were almost 200 temples in the area.

Also included are old roads to the Shimane coast and the three traditional port towns of Okidomari, Tomogaura and Yunotsu, from where the silver was loaded on to boats for shipping.

Interestingly, Iwami Ginzan's proposal to be accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was initially turned down by the UNESCO sub-committee about a month ago, but has today been accepted by the full committee meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. There is speculation that a large "sweetener" may have been paid (though surely not in solid silver) to secure Iwami Ginzan's acceptance on the new list after intense lobbying by the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency and the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

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Book Review: RackGaki

落書き

RackGaki, by Ryo Sanada and Suridh Hassan

Having grown up in Philadelphia in the 1970s, I approached a book on Japanese graffiti warily. That period was the heyday of Cornbread, who is still something of a legend in the city. He was the first “bomber,” and his distinctive tag could be seen on buses, trolleys, trains, police cars, and many, many buildings all over the city. Cornbread and his imitators essentially defaced the city. After his arrest—his many arrests, for multiple crimes—he began tagging prison walls. With the exception perhaps of churches, nothing was sacred.

From Cornbread to Japan.

RackGaki documents the tagger and bomber scene in Japan, which got a relatively late start. By the time Cornbread was an in-and-out of prison drug addict father of 10 in the early ‘90s, graffiti was just debuting in Japan.


Rackgaki
Authors Ryo Sanada and Suridh Hassan trace the origins of tagging in Japan and introduce the premier Japanese “writers,” mainly in Tokyo and Osaka. Much of the showcased work makes use of abandoned buildings and highway underpasses and other relatively unobjectionable spaces as canvases. (Though, of late, the amount of graffiti in Japan is clearly increasing on private property and public places. A recent trip to Nara was notable mainly for the shock of black chicken scratch that blotted many of the storefronts in a heavily touristed area.)

The work in RackGaki is clearly “Japanese” in that it is influenced by anime and manga, and also uses Chinese characters. Most of the writers though would not pass muster among serious muralists. Among them, though, are several who might find paying work in another medium: Tenga, Esow, and SCA Crew (all based in or near Tokyo), and Zen One and Very from Osaka. In particular, Tenga’s characters are stunningly beautiful and powerful.

The authors subscribe to the school of thought that tagging is an oppressed art form. Whether you agree or not, the photos in RackGaki are worth the price of the book. As in so many fields, Japanese taggers draw on Japan’s visual culture to borrow and create something new.

One wonders what Cornbread, now in his 50s and working in anti-graffiti programs in Philadelphia, would say to his Japanese brothers.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Utsubo Park Osaka

靭公園大阪

osaka utsubo parkNow fashionable, hip, and rose-scented, Utsubo Koen (Park) is a small slice of green mixed with European café culture right in the heart of urban Osaka. However, it wasn’t always so.

The park, which is in Nishi-ku close to Honmachi Station on the Yotsubashi subway line or Awaza Station on the Chuo subway line, was in the early part of the 20th century the only fish market in Osaka.

With the opening in 1931 of the Osaka Central Market, the fish market at Utsubo soon closed due to the competition. During the Second World War, the entire area was completely destroyed by a US Air Force carpet-bombing campaign. Following the War, it served as an airport for small aircraft for US occupying forces.

In the 1990s, as it was slowly becoming trendy—thanks in part to the planting of the rose garden—it also became a magnet for homeless. The two camps clashed periodically, culminating with the forced eviction of the park’s 20-30 residents in the early hours of January 30, 2006. Arriving with bullhorns and trash bags, 750 cops and ward officials cleared out all of the homeless and their belongings.

osaka utsubo parkToday the park’s 24 acres feature a dense allee of pine trees, tennis courts, a rose garden, and even a large open space with grass. Clothed statues of middle-class parents and children adorn the end of the allee.

The streets that edge the park were until recently filled with small industrial operations, or mom and pop stores with a working class Osaka feel. Now the neighborhood has Vietnamese and Indian restaurants, a French bakery and women with expensive dogs, artists’ ateliers and “trendy” cafes.

Café Vade Mecum exemplifies this. A gallery cum café with an Italian barista, it is run by a Japanese fashion designer named Shin (pronounced “sin”)—whose studio is on the floor above—and his British partner, Michelle. It is pictured below left.

Café Vade MecumThe design is spare, with a concrete floor, hyper-modern modern chairs (read: uncomfortable), and elegant Danish crockery. The back of the café looks out onto the Park. Coffee, sandwiches (from a Turkish bakery), and sparkling wine are available. The coffee, wine, and food were excellent.

The long gone Osaka fishmongers must be rolling in their graves.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sanja Matsuri Ban

三社祭

Sanja Matsuri, held in May in Asakusa, Tokyo will be a changed event in 2008.

Gangsters ride the portable shrines

The Asakusa Shrine Association has decided to get tough with local gangsters and cancel the honja mikoshi and miyadashi parades of portable shrines as bearers, mostly members of Japan's yakuza, refused to comply with instructions from the association not to jump on and ride on top of the portable shrines.

Seven bearers who rode on the mikoshi have so far been arrested by Tokyo police, having been identified from video footage.

Tattoos are out in force for the May event

The Asakusa Shrine Association has previously warned the bearer groups that jumping on the portable shrines and turning their buttocks to the mikoshi is an insult to the gods. The annual event draws over a million visitors.

Sanja Matsuri 2006

Sanja Matsuri Video


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Monday, June 25, 2007

Honnoji Temple Kyoto

本能寺京都

Honnoji Temple is where the great daimyo Oda Nobunaga died in 1582. The shogun was attacked at the temple and then forced by one of his trusted generals, Akechi Mitsuhide, to commit ritual suicide. This all took place during an attempted coup d’etat. Nobunaga's death was quickly avenged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Mitsuhide was defeated and killed (possibly by peasants as he fled the battle field).

Honnoji TempleThe temple itself was founded in 1415, and is a part of the Nichiren sect. It was once located a short distance south at the intersection of Shijo and Nishinotoin streets. Like much of Kyoto, though, it was destroyed by fire many times. It was moved to its current location in 1589. There is now a memorial to Oda Nobunaga inside the grounds of the temple.

This is not the most elegant temple in Kyoto. There are two reasons however tourists visit: its historical significance as the temple where the great general Nobunaga died; and, second, its location. It is just across from City Hall, and backs onto Teramachi Street, which has many great shops. A walk up Teramachi from Shijo all the way to Sanjo, under the arcade, is a great way to pass an afternoon in Kyoto.

Thus, you can easily combine shopping, strolling, history, and a bit of culture both at and around Honnoji. The grounds of the temple are free, but there is a 500 yen fee to enter a small building (Honnoji Takuramonokan) on your right as you enter from Teramachi. The second floor contains items related to Nobunaga: byobu screens, swords, decorative scrolls, and more.

Admission fees

Free for the temple grounds. 500 yen for Honnoji Takuramonokan.

Hours: 9 am - 5 pm

Access

Across the street from City Hall along Teramachi Dori. Nearest Train Station Shiyakushomae on the Tozai line, or a fifteen-minute walk from Keihan Sanjo Station.

Address

522 Shimohonnojimae-cho Teramachi-dori Oike-sagaru Nakagyo-ku.
Tel: 075 231 5335

Akechi Mitsuhide, like Oda Nobunaga, came from what is now present-day Chubu, central Japan, near the cities of Nagoya and Gifu.
Akechi Mitsuhide's grave can be seen in his hometown of Akechi, Gifu Prefecture.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Japan News 24/06/07

今週の日本

Power failure stops train service for hours in Tokyo.

Yomiuri

World War Two battle island Iwo Jima renamed.

Guardian

Okinawan prefectural government urges Ministry of Education to change new school textbooks dealing with the the battle for Okinawa in World War II.

Asahi

Japanese universities and colleges scrambling to fill student places.

NY Times

1 in 4 Japanese men aged 30-34 still a virgin, according to a recent survey.

Mainichi

Hidden Tokyo - Nostalgic Bar Scene in Tokyo

New York Times

The start of the whaling season in Wadaura, a traditional fishing village north of Tokyo. Report and slideshow as a whale is caught and butchered.

Guardian

Japanese minister on diet to highlight growing obesity problem as Japan's middle-aged fattens up.

Washington Post

Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, June 23, 2007

China in Shinjuku

新宿に中国



Perhaps the second most common language heard on the streets of Tokyo after Japanese is Chinese. Chinese tourists seem to far outnumber English speaking tourists, revealing Tokyo's magnetism as a tourist attraction for Japan's gigantic neighbor.

China is apparently doing its best to keep things mutual, and this week featured a China tourism promotion at the event plaza near Shinjuku Station's east exit, directly across the road from the Alta Studio.

The plaza is always crowded even when nothing organized is going on, and is perhaps Tokyo's prime people-watching locale: a human pot pourri of everything that makes the Japanese capital tick. The blaring music, sizzling colors and mindblowing feats of the China tourism promotion vamped up the atmosphere even further and captured, even if only for a minute or two, the eyes and ears of everyone passing through.

The promotion consisted mainly of song and dance - song and dance only as the Chinese can do it, that is, making the next to impossible look effortless. And not only effortless but unforgettable in its grace and near-perfection.

Watch a clip here of a troupe of Chinese dancers as they redefine the words "sinuous" and "lissome" - followed by an excerpt from a comic, but equally prodigious, monkey dance.


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Akechi Tetsudo Akechi Railway

明知鉄度

The Akechi Tetsudo (Akechi Railway) train makes the journey between Ena and Akechi in Gifu Prefecture, not far from Nagoya. The 50 minute route through the forests, traditional villages and tiny wooden stations is a delight for mountain train enthusiasts and a reaquaintance with the joys of train travel after the horrors of a packed, sweaty, weekday commute.

Akechi Testudo

Akechi Railway trains run approximately hourly and costs 670 yen single fare Ena-Akechi. The first Akechi Railway train from Ena is at 6.48am and the last at 21.44pm on weekdays, 20.54pm at the weekend or on public holidays.


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Friday, June 22, 2007

Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art

愛知県美術館、名古屋

Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art in Sakae, Nagoya is adjacent to the Oasis 21 complex to the east of Nagoya TV Tower. Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art is located on the 10th floor of the Aichi Arts Center Building.

Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art

The museum has permanent collections of modern arts and crafts including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, kimono and glassware. The museum also hosts visiting collections from other museums. A highlight this year has been the popular Jakuchu & The Age of Imagination exhibition. An Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition begins in November this year.

The gallery spaces are large and airy and the Aichi Arts Center building offers two restaurants and a cafe.



The Aichi Arts Center building has twelve floors above ground and five basement floors: including Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art on the 10th floor, the Aichi Prefectural Arts Promotion Service, an Art Library, a rental gallery and art theaters (theater, concert hall, and mini theater).

Aichi Prefectural Museum Of Art
Higashi-ku, Higashi Sakae 1-13-2
Nagoya 461-8525
Tel: 052 971 5604
www-art.aac.pref.aichi.jp
Closed Mondays
Admission 500 yen

The nearest subway station is Sakae on the Higashiyama and Meijo subway lines or Sakaemachi station on the Meitetsu Seto Line. Sakae is two stops on the Higashiyama Line east of Nagoya Station.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hostess Bar

ホステス・バー

Of all of the “mysteries” of the East and Japan, perhaps none is so puzzling as the institution the hostess bar. In any city in Japan, hundreds if not thousands of hostess bars are open for business every night of the week, all year round. They are usually concentrated in nightlife areas such as Ginza and Shinjuku (Tokyo), Umeda and Namba (Osaka), Kiyamachi and Gion (Kyoto), and so on—but they are literally everywhere.

Like the experience to be had with the more exotic Geisha, the sex is implied but almost never offered at a hostess bar. Another similarity is the scripted feel of the experience. From the time one enters until the time one leaves, all the players know exactly what will happen, which role s/he will play, down to the topics of conversation. And, unless you are in a brothel masquerading as a hostess club, you will not get laid. Never.


Sayonara Bar

If you go with a regular, the proprietress (“Mama-san”) will be awaiting your arrival since you called ahead. Two young women in low-cut dresses, high heels, and dyed beehive hairstyles will greet you; Mama herself will put on a big display of gratitude and warmth.

You will next be seated on a leather sofa in front of low tables in a smoky room with one other male present: the barman. From within the ether, a woman named “Akemi” or “Megumi” or “Mana” will slide in next to you. Her thigh will just slightly brush yours as she smiles at you. She will proffer her business card—with AKEMI written in lacy print and her cell number and email printed below that—and utter the magic words: Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu (welcome, nice to meet you, I am beholden to you).

Drink orders are taken by a lower ranking hostess, and then the fun starts.

Now it is time for 90 minutes of “chatting” and drinking. You will be given a warm towel to wipe your hands and face clean. Akemi will light and relight your cigarettes, she will fill and refill your glass. During the hour and a half, she will rotate between customers within your group. If you are dull or dour, Akemi will rotate often. If she likes you or you are “interesting” or “funny,” she will stay longer, and perhaps ask you for your cell number or email address.

The topics of conversation are scripted as well: Job, age (guessed at playfully), hobby, how much and often you drink, and sexual innuendo (how hairy you are, how hairy she is, how may partners you have had, etc.). If you are foreign, you are guaranteed to be queried about Japanese women and food. “Do you like Japanese girls?” “How are we different?” "Which do you like better?" "Can you eat raw fish?” "Could you eat sashimi off of my behind?!" (Gales of laughter when you reply that, as long as there is wasabi, you would most certainly like to give it a try.)

There is an informal ranking system to the bars. Bars with Japanese staff are at the top of the pecking order, though a blond Westerner adds cachet, especially if she can speak some Japanese. Bars in Ginza or Gion are automatically higher than bars in less chic areas.

Next down are bars with Korean and Chinese women, the latter popular but scorned as “being interested in only one thing” (money). Filipina bars are also popular as the women are thought to be akarui (bright, cheerful). Recently, bars with Mongolian women have sprouted up. Japanese-speaking Russian and Ukrainian hostesses are now not uncommon, though they are less popular than less fluent American or English or Australian women.

After our ninety minutes are up, we are presented the bill for 12,000 yen ($100) each, and then leave the smoke-filled room as Akemi et al bow to us. As soon as we part, the women are back preparing for the next round of customers.

Most Japanese men do not expect anything more from the experience than the watered-down drinks, fleeting companionship, and somewhat ribald conversation. (That is why you will often see businessmen out with clients in hostess bars.) Those who do though are made to pay, in many ways.

If you do want to “date” a hostess, you will need to impress with either jokes and/or money. The following morning, you will find text messages in your cell phone inviting you to “events” at the bar. After a certain period of regular visits, and perhaps gifts, you may begin to meet outside. At this point, things become very expensive. Dresses, shoes, trips are all part of the cost for her time and affections.

And even then nothing is guaranteed, except that it will cost you; there is no mystery whatsoever to this aspect of the bars.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Know your children, talk to your children

子供のこと、どれぐらい知っていますか




If anything has characterized working life in Japan since WWII, it is overwork - usually for no extra pay.

The commuter trains at 8.30pm or even 9pm are every bit as packed with homegoing men in suits as at 6pm. A wander through the streets of Tokyo even past midnight - even on weekends! - reveals any number of fluorescently lit concrete and glass cubicles with heads bents over desks.

It is a truism to say that this kind of lifestyle impacts family life. While work addiction has tacitly been recognized as one of the sacrifices Japan must pay if it is to hold its nodding, bloodshot-eyed head high in the world, recognition of some of the dangers seems at last to be coming from on high.

Kids that hang themselves - often for apparently trivial hurts done them, or because of intolerable bullying from peers, others that stab mom to death while she's sleeping and cut off her head, and many many more such stories of often monstrous teenage misfits, provide compelling, if unpalatable food for thought for Japan's establishment.

It was therefore interesting to see this TV advertisement by Japan's Advertising Council about parent-child relations.

The ad depicts an open day at a typical Japanese high school - except with the roles reversed. The parents are on display, while the kids watch from the back of the classroom. Watch the video, subtitled in English by JapanVisitor, for an example of Japan striking back at at-home alienation.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Krispy Kreme Shinjuku Tokyo

クリスピー・クリーム

Krispy Kreme, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.Time: a hot early summer Sunday mid-morning. Place: Southern Terrace: one of Shinjuku ward's hippest strips - just south of Shinjuku station. A string of patient Tokyoites - scores, if not hundreds, of them - languish under the blazing sun in a long stretched out queue that just doesn't seem to be moving.

What are they waiting for? A chance to grab a Louis Vuitton bag? To take in a leggy bimbo or a pearly toothed god of the screen? To vote? To pray? To buy a bonanza lottery ticket? No. If you look carefully at the photo you'll see the shop they're besieging is Krispie Kreme!

No matter how much you like them, the fact is that Krispy Kremes are for Americans more of afterthought when you're paying for your gas and feeling a little hungry than a 'treat' you devote a whole morning to - waiting and waiting and waiting, before being herded into a jam-packed store for a few minutes of high-calorie chocolaty dough.

The Shinjuku Krispy Kreme opened late last year and has been constantly besieged ever since. It's amazing what a touch of the perceived 'exotic' can do for a product!


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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Japan News 17/06/07

今週の日本

Former Montreal Expos and Tokyo Giants baseball star Warren Cromartie to tag-team
wrestle in Japan.

NY Times

War displaced Japanese lose in court again.

Asahi

Okinawans furious over textbook revisions.

Asahi

Ten Pakistani sailors go AWOL in Akihabara, miss ship home, on the run in Tokyo.

Asahi

Film depicts young women nurses in wartime Okinawa.

Midnight Eye

Earthquake-proof gravestones debut in Japan.

Mainichi

Japan Stats

30,400 children were being raised in Japanese orphanages in 2003, up 13% from 27,000 in 1998.

Source: Japanese Health Ministry

Aichi Prefecture has the largest number of registered dogs with 438,160 canines. Tottori Prefecture has the lowest number of dogs with 29,908 reflecting the fact it has the lowest human population of any prefecture in Japan with 652,717 inhabitants.

Source: Kansai Time Out

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Velo Taxi Nagoya

ベロタクシー名古屋

A bicycle taxi service has begun in Nagoya around the Central Business district and entertainment center of Sakae.

Velotaxi in Nagoya

Velotaxis began in Berlin in 1997 and where used at the 2005 Aichi Expo.

Charges are around 300 yen (2.40 USD) for short trips around Sakae.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Akechi Taisho Village

明知大正村、岐阜県

The village of Akechi, in the municipality of Ena in Gifu Prefecture, is a hidden gem, and makes for a pleasant day trip from nearby Nagoya to the south.

Akechi Taisho Era Post Office

Akechi has retained a large number of buildings from the Taisho Era (1911-1925), when the town had a thriving silk production industry.

Now a sleepy backwater reached by the Akechi Railroad from Ena city, Akechi is attempting to re-invent itself through tourism as "Taisho Village". The 50-minute train journey from Ena is spectacular, winding through mountain forests, verdant green paddies and pretty villages. You can even open the windows and lean out to enjoy the cool air.

Akechi, Gifu Prefecture

On arrival Akechi Station and even the adjacent toilet are both done in Taisho Era style and their is plenty of similar architecture to come. The town is a delight to stroll: the narrow footpaths along the Akechi River, the picturesque lane of "Taisho Alley" and the roads leading to the Nihon Taisho Mura (Tel: +81573543944) - a modern museum reconstructing the life of the town in the early twentieth century and its then-thriving sericulture.

Just up from the Nihon Taisho Mura building is Old Miyake House, a thatched, wooden Japanese farmhouse and surrounding garden with a couple of old codgers in attendance telling visitors how ancient the house is. It dates from 1688. I told them I had lived in England and used to drink in pubs that had been refurbished in 1668. They no doubt thought I was a lunatic.

Nihon Taisho Mura, Akechi

Back in the center of town, don't miss the old wooden post office (now the Museum of Communications) next door to the contemporary post office and the impressive Taisho Mura Museum across the road.

It's possible to walk into the hills on numerous hiking trails and see the ruins of Akechi Castle or walk on the Tokai Nature Path to Iwamura Station and catch the train back to Ena.

Access

The quickest way to reach Ena is by JR Central Liner train from Nagoya Station. Then walk out of the station and turn left. The tiny Akechi Tetsudo Station is next to Ena Tourist Office. The first train from Ena is at 6.48am and the last at 21.44pm on weekdays, 20.54pm at the weekend or on public holidays. The train also stops at the historic castle town of Iwamura.

If you are driving from Nagoya take route 363 from Seto or route 11 from Toyota. Ena city is very near Ena Interchange on the Chuo Expressway, which follows the old Nakasendo post road to Magome and Tsumago at this point.

Taisho Alley, Akechi, Gifu Prefecture

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Kyoto Purple Sanga J.League Match

京都サンガFC

On a blustery pre-rainy season Saturday in June, Kyoto Purple Sanga took on Montideo Yamagata in a second division (J2) match in Japan's professional soccer league.

It had poured rain only a few hours before kickoff, with great thunder and lightning. Perhaps as a result, only 5,600 fans made it to the match.

kyoto purple sangaWe bought seats in the home supporters section behind the south goal. Ominous clouds scudded across the sky, the dark purple Hankyu Line trains rolled by in the distance in 5-minute intervals, and Kyoto supporters chanted and sang (to listen, click on #5-8) for the entire 90 minutes of the match.

At home, it was a must win for Kyoto. Sanga was in fourth place going into the match, the visitors third. In order to have a shot at promotion to the top division of Japanese soccer, J1, at the end of the season in November a J2 club must finish in one of the top three spots.

Kyoto looked sharp in the first half and went up thanks to two early goals courtesy of Kuronuki and the tiny Brazilian Paulinho. Montideo never threatened, and a third goal late in the match sealed the win for Sanga.

The supporters club to our right consisted of people who appeared to be mainly in their 30s and 40s. A bare-chested younger man up front led chants with a bullhorn and choreographed flag waving and other movements. There were at least two large drums, which were used to keep the beat and fire up the team.

There was no hostility in the stands, and many fans brought children to the match. (The most hostile act of the day came from the players following the match: on their victory lap they perfunctorily clapped and bowed to the supporters section, and then immediately walked off the pitch ignoring the pleas for autographs or at least a handshake from the many children gathered in the stands.)

The supporters from both teams were let out at the same time after the match, police were nowhere to be seen, and the train home was packed with members of both groups but not threatening in the least.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Tokyo street promotions

路上宣伝
NTT Docomo sales women.
When it comes to promotion of goods and services, the 'flesh-and-blood' approach - in other words, the unmediated voice, eye-to-eye, hand-to-hand approach - is considered the most effective. This approach is at its most extreme at election time when sound trucks rumble through otherwise quiet neighborhoods blaring what in most other countries would be considered intolerably raucous spiels at levels which, if the truck passes you by, leave your ears almost literally ringing.

In its more toned down, everyday form, this approach takes the form of people on the street handing out flyers. During business hours it is impossible to walk more than about 10 or 15 minutes through any business area of a Japanese city without being offered advertising material by a young man or woman.

Most of the distributors of advertising are baito
(i.e. part-timers - an abbreviation of the German frei arbeiter) and are usually dressed pretty much as they like. However, bigger companies really trying to make a difference to their sales figures are more likely to go all out and conduct a focussed campaign complete with roadside stall and uniformed staff.

I was walking through Tokyo's busy Shinjuku CBD on the weekend and encountered these saleswomen promoting the services of Japan's biggest mobile phone provider, NTT Docomo. Being on the cutting edge of mobile phone technology, NTT is obviously trying to underline its technical prowess with the retro 'space girl' look.

Zap! I was sold! Just like that.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Japan News July 10 2007

今週の日本

Services held in memory of victims of attack at Ikeda Elementary School.

Yomiuri

Japanese cop stabs himself to get off work.

Guardian

"Idiot parents, rotten kids, useless teachers."

Japan Times

NHK children's programs TV director arrested for child molestation.

Mainichi

Japan seniors urged to be productive.

BBC

Japan Stats

According to a survey by GE (General Electric) Consumer Finance Tokyo the average "pocket money" afforded a Japanese salaryman has risen for the third straight year to 48,880 yen per month (approx. US$400). The survey was conducted with 500 working men on the Internet aged 20-50 years old.

Japan is 4th in the list of countries with the largest emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) with 1.3 bn metric tons which is 4.7% of the global total recorded for 2004. Japan trails the USA (5.9 bn tons/21.9%), China (4.7 bn tons/17.4%) and Russia (1.7 bn tons/6.2%).

Source: US Energy Information Administration

Last Week's Japan News

Friday, June 08, 2007

Tokyo Cruise

東京都観光汽船

Listen to an announcement on a Sumida River cruise

Tokyo Cruise Line, the company that runs boat services on the Sumida River and in Edo Bay is not really a commuting option in Tokyo but is a pleasant way to see some of Tokyo's riverside and bayside attractions.

The Himiko Boat and Asahi Brewery Building

The company runs five water bus lines:
Sumida River Line (Red)
Asakusa-Odaiba Direct Line (Gray)
Odaiba Line (Green)
TokyoBig Sight Palette Town Line (Blue)
Museum of Maritime Science/Shinagawa Aquarium Line (Purple)

There are water bus stops at:
Hinode Pier
Asakusa (Azuma Bridge)
Hamarikyu
Toyosu
Harumi
Tokyo Rinkai Fukutoshin Area
Palette Town
Tokyo Big Sight
Ooi Seashore Park
Shinagawa Aquarium

Travel times are:
Asakusa to Hinode Pier (45 minutes)
Asakusa to Odaiba Seaside Park (50 minutes)
Hinode Pier to Odaiba Seaside Park (20 minutes)
Hinode Pier to Tokyo Big Sight (25 minutes)
Hinode Pier to Shinagawa Aquarium (50 minutes)

Rainbow Bridge Tokyo

It is also possible to charter one of the company's boats starting at over 300,000 Yen for one hour.

Full information in Japanese, Chinese and English is available on the company's website.

Tokyo Cruise Homepage
Tel: 0120 977311

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hama Rikyu Gardens

浜離宮恩賜庭園

Hama Rikyu Gardens, a short walk from Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Gardens, and located in the Shiodome area, is one of Tokyo's most popular open spaces.

Hama Rikyu Gardens

The garden is the site of a Tokugawa family villa dating from 1654 when Matsudaira Tsunashige reclaimed part of the shallows of Edo Bay and created the seawater pond fed from an inlet channel to the bay. The pond was used for duck hunting (with nets) at the time and is now a sanctuary within Tokyo for a number of wild species of birds and fish. The Tokugawa elite could access the garden by boat and remains of a landing stage is still visible at Shogun O-agariba not far from the present day water bus stop.

Hama Rikyu Gardens

The sixth Tokugawa Shogun Ienobu later renovated the gardens which were renamed "Hama Goden" (Beach Palace). The gardens reached their final form under the eleventh Shogun, Ienari. As with Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Gardens, the property passed to the Imperial Family after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, was badly damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the Second World War and was finally taken over by Tokyo city and opened to the public in 1946.

There is a popular traditional tea house on Nakajima, a small island in the Shiori Lake, where visitors can enjoy green tea and Japanese sweets. Beer, snacks and soft drinks are also available from stalls near the lakeside Wisteria terrace.

Tea house, Hama Rikyu Gardens

Besides the saltwater pond, the only one still left in Tokyo, the garden is known for its Peony garden, a 300-year-old pine tree and for its blooms of rape flowers and cosmos.

Hama Rikyu Gardens
1-1 Hama-rikyu Teien
Chuo-ku, Tokyo
104-0046
Tel: 03 3541 0200
Admission 300 yen
Hours: 9am-5pm

The Nakanogomon-guchi entrance is a 5-minute walk from Shiodome Station on the Toei-Oedo and Yuri-kamome Lines.
The Otemon-guchi entrance is round 7 minutes on foot from both Shiodome and Tsukijishijo Stations on the Toei O-edo Subway Line.
12 minutes on foot from Shimbashi Station on the JR Yamanote Line, Tokyo Subway Ginza Line and the Toei Asakusa Line.
There is a Water Bus (Suijo) Stop inside the garden from Ryoguku. It is 35 minutes by boat from Asakusa and 5 minutes from Hinode Pier.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Interview: "Pink Box" Author Joan Sinclair

水商売、風俗、ピンクボックス

JapanVisitor.com recently spoke with feminist, journalist, lawyer, photographer, and former English teacher Joan Sinclair about her work on Japan’s ubiquitous sex industry, Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs.

pervert-train japanCan we start with a little bit about yourself. You are a lawyer? Are you also still working as a photographer?

I'm actually no longer working as a lawyer. As for the photography, yes, I am still doing work in photography. I have not put down the camera yet.

What brought you to Tokyo?

I was teaching English on the JET program. I was in Saitama for 2 years from 1995 to 1997.


Why this book?



Pink Box


Teachers at the middle school where I was working were talking one day about telephone clubs. My basic reaction was, What is this?! Over time, I heard more and more and realized that there was a wealth of nightlife I had never heard of. I had a friend take me on a walking tour of Kabukicho. Once I began to recognize the signs, the writing, I realized they were everywhere. The sex industry is more a part of mainstream culture than in the US.

I got interested in the range of activity [within the clubs]. Fake hospitals, fake classrooms, fake trains--but I still had little personal experience. The US of course has brothels and strip clubs but nothing like Japan. In Japan the archetypes come from manga; the aesthetics are similar to manga, the heroes reflect adult manga. I thought that was an interesting reflection of modern Japanese culture. These kinds of clubs in a way adhere to cultural norms, but they are more a sanctioned playground where men can be boys, can break the rules while still sticking within the norms of Japanese society.

This all stayed with me after I left Japan. 10 years later--after a law degree and life in the US--I went back to Tokyo without knowing if I could do it, but the purpose was to do a book. I had no firm commitments from publishers, just "let us know when you have something."

How did you talk your way in?

There were four different angles. I spent time getting to know the girls, the customers, the managers, and finally the advertisers. Also, I moved in next to Kabukicho. I hung out there, talked about the photo project. Most people understood how creative the clubs were, and they wanted to help—and almost everyone knew somebody. I followed up on these connections, filling my cell phone with numbers. It took a lot of time and patience. You cannot just demand entrance. I am a woman, a foreigner, and I had a camera--three things the doormen are told to keep out.

Can you describe your first success?

First time: at a bar I met a customer of the clubs, and he agreed to introduce me to the managers of his favorite clubs. We were denied at the door of the first few places. Finally a manager at another club was flattered by it. These turned out to be my first photos. Then it was easier to get in. After that, I would call directly. Or rather, I hired a male translator to cold call the places that placed ads in Manzoku, Naitai and other magazines [that cover the sex industry]. We would look at ads and call the clubs directly. He did the calling, which was important; the clubs would have hung up on me.

body_stocking_serviceNext I built a web site, which was important to show people. I gave out the link to everyone.

And, over time, more and more photos made it easier and easier to gain entrée into the clubs.

There were however a few key players. Ultimately, I went outside of Tokyo - Kobe, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Osaka. The managers there were more welcoming than Tokyo, especially in Kansai. Tokyo was much harder because of a police crackdown.

What was a day's/night’s work like while doing this? Describe a typical day.

Breakfast at 6 am with hosts getting off work. We would meet for ramen. Then I would buy film in the afternoon.

After that I would dress up in suit, make an appointment with a magazine editor, ask permission of their clients that, in exchange for using my photographs, they would help me get in. It was quite formal.

Then I would meet a hostess at 6 pm while she was getting ready for a “dohan” (pre-work date). After that we would go to her club at 9 pm. At 11 pm it was off to image clubs and soaplands.

It was all day, all night—and crazy hours.

How did you not get in the way?

I was always in the way! The clubs are crowded, dark, smoky. I always felt like I was in the way. The best thing I could do was keep my camera equipment to a minimum. I had to learn to be…the way gaijin learn and not to knock things over in the supermarket…make myself minimal.

Also, I didn’t look customers in the eye. It was important not to make the customers uncomfortable.

No one ever asked me to work there. They were not the kind of places where foreigners could work.


Araki by Araki
How were you treated by the women? The managers?

Managers were extremely accommodating to the women who worked there. “Are you sure you want to do this” [have your photo taken] and completely blasé about me. A couple of managers though fell in love with the project. A quarter of the book is thanks to a group in Osaka, who were so open to the idea of an art book.

The girls themselves were giddy with excitement. I speak broken Japanese, I am kind of clumsy, and when I get into photography I really get into it. I was friendly and someone they could have a good time with. That is what I am most proud of: the photos reflect the good time we had.

What was the biggest problem you had?

I was having a really frustrating time getting pix at the beginning. I was in a club in Kabukicho, and I tried to take photos without asking permission. This is very much a no-no in Japan where privacy is so important. I cut a hole in my purse and stuck the lens in and had a remote control. I thought no one knew. They knew.

Someone called the manager. I was whisked away to a back room. They took all of my film out of the camera and started yelling at me. I explained about the photo project, and the manager calmed down. “You know what, call me in a few months,” he said, and then threw me out. I went back in 6 months, got his permission, and took photos.

Kabukicho is a small world, and that could have ruined it right there. I wrote a sincere apology and delivered it in person. I learned my lesson.

What kind of women in Japan opt for this work?

Many are college students, still living at home; most are middle class. They usually start in their early 20s.

How long do they do it? As a career? Do they get married?

One day to 10 years. Many answer ads stuck in Kleenex packs that are passed out for free at train stations. Some get addicted to the money and spend their earnings on Louis Vuitton bags.

Is it easy for them to leave the work?

It depends. Generally yes. But some get into debt---going to host clubs or to loan sharks. I truly believe most got in the business through free will.

Part of the problem with leaving, though, is that it’s hard to leave financially. The average annual salary is about $120,000--if you work in a high-paying hostess club, a soapland, which are the highest paying. Korean massage is not nearly as high. The girls on the street make way less.

They can of course leave and work as a receptionist--and make a quarter of what they made before.

As a feminist, what is your take on the business?

It's complicated. It’s hard to tell who's being taking advantage of. The man paying $300 for drinks? The woman serving him? Japan blurs the line of who’s in power.

What is the legality of the clubs?

It's a gray zone. Prostitution is illegal but the laws are completely unenforced. The definition moreover is very loose. The police know; it is very open and the clubs advertise openly, with huge neon signs, their own websites and staffed sex club information centers and referral services.

Yoshiwara [a traditional red-light district near Ueno, Tokyo] is for example a part of a long tradition. There is a vested interest in keeping it a red-light district.

Do they get busted? If yes, why?

If the clubs do not adhere to proper licensing procedure.

Why did you focus on Japanese workers only?

That's a good question. When I first went I shot a few areas where the women were mainly Thai or Filipina. That is a different book, a different project. My goal was to focus on the pop kind of creativity and humor, the over the topness and kitsch at the clubs--and the women who work there are Japanese.

The human trafficking is another story. It would have been a different project. It begins in their home country. With the sex trafficking, the story is more about the women themselves and less about the clubs.

Which type of club was the most…creative?

Hmmm, my favorites would have to include the American Crystal in Kabukicho (a Marilyn Monroe club). The customer enters and is seated at table in front of a one-way mirror. On the other side are a bunch of women with long dresses the famous picture of Marilyn in New York in 1954. You phone in to them, “Number 3 stand up.” The woman stands up over a grate, wind blows up her dress, and the floor is mirrored. The women can’t see the audience.

Another is the All You Can Feel Sushi Club. The girls were called maki, ebi, and other sushi names. They made out with clients—and then switched every 3 minutes. Just like a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt.

How well the book has been received?

In the West it has won some awards for art. For example, it was named one of American Photography Magazine's best photo books of 2006. People get it in the art world. In Japan, I don’t know. The book is not in Japanese and is not well known.

While I was doing the book, though, the women were tickled pink, they were surprised by their own culture’s creativity, fascinated by it.

Why are these clubs, this industry so successful in Japan?

Japan is a consumer-driven society that does not have Judeo-Christian values and has a more open sexuality. It is a hard-working and tightly wound society paired with a manga-driven sexuality. Combine these elements with loose law enforcement. All of which has created a very wild and robust sex industry.

Thanks and best wishes.

Photographs from PINK BOX (Abrams Books). © Joan Sinclair

Buy Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden

旧芝離宮恩賜庭園

This gem of a garden, along with Koishikawa Korakuen Garden is one of Tokyo's few surviving clan gardens from the Edo Period. It is also only a short walk from nearby Hama Rikyu Gardens and both places can easily be seen in half a day.

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden, Tokyo

The garden is built on land reclaimed from Edo Bay and became the residence of an official of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate - Okubo Tadatomo - in 1678.

The original garden, called "Rakujuen", was designed by landscapers from Okubo's home fiefdom of Odawara (present-day Kanagawa Prefecture). After the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the end of the Tokugawa regime, the garden was bought by the Imperial Household Agency in 1875 and renamed Kyu-Shiba Rikyu (Shiba Detached Palace).

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden, Tokyo

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu was donated to the Tokyo city authorities in 1924 after the site was devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake of the previous year.

The focal point of the garden is the large pond, Sensui, which like Hama Rikyu's pond still is, was once filled with seawater from Edo Bay by means of a inlet, that can still be seen. Nowadays the lake is freshwater and contains a number of islands, rock formations and massive carp (koi).

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden, Tokyo

There are a number of garden hills which provide vantage points to view the central lake and garden. Other points of interest include a kyudo (Japanese archery) range (which is available for hire), a karetaki (dry, rock waterfall) and a wisteria trellis.

The garden is also known for its azaleas, cherry blossoms and irises in season.

The borrowed scenery (shakkei) of the garden is now provided by some of Tokyo's contemporary skyscrapers.

Access

Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Garden
1-4-1 Kaigan
Minato-ku
Tokyo 105-0022
Tel: 03 3434 4029

A stone's throw from Hamamatsu-cho Station on the JR Yamanote Line and JR Tokaido and Keihin Tohoku Lines.
Around 5 minutes on foot from Daimon Station on the Toei O-edo Subway Line.
10 minutes on foot from Takeshiba Station on the Yuri-kamome Line.


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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Japan This Week 6/03/07

今週の日本

Japanese researchers find 2,000 year old melon.

Yomiuri

Japan's Agriculture Minister hangs himself hours before an inquiry.

NY Times

Japan's first openly gay candidate runs for election.

Guardian

Riyo Mori crowned Miss Universe.

Mainichi

Teacher at elite Osaka high school arrested for panty snatching--from his
former student.

Mainichi

US$1 million gold bath tub stolen.

BBC

"Boyfriend pillow" comforts Japanese singles.

BBC

Greenpeace faces a hard sale to turn Japanese away from whaling.

BBC

Cell phone cameras help Japanese lose weight.

CNN

Last Week's Japan News

Snake in Tokyo street

東京に蛇

Japan has snakes, most of them harmless. I was walking through Tokyo's Shinjuku district on a quiet street bordering Shinjuku Gyoen Park when my eye was caught by a small snake lying near the middle of road, basking in the sun.

It is not uncommon to see a snake or two when hiking in Japan, but this is the first time I had ever seen one in an urban environment.

Check out the short movie I took of it, posted to YouTube.




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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Book Review: Pink Box

水商売、歌舞伎町、風俗

Feminist, journalist, lawyer, photographer, and former English teacher Joan Sinclair has produced a fascinating work on Japan’s ubiquitous sex industry. Pink Box: Inside Japan's Sex Clubs takes the reader places most of us will never get to.

In Tokyo's Shinjuku, Osaka's Umeda, Kyoto's Kiyamachi, and throughout the country, women dress up like “nurses, policewomen, and commuting secretaries to provide men with fantasy services acted out in elaborately decorated playrooms.”

body_stocking_serviceSinclair starts in Shinjuku's Kabukicho, ground zero of the Japanese sex industry, where the fun comes in almost any shape and size and fantasy. Amazingly, Sinclair—a foreign woman—managed after being away from Japan for ten years to return and talk her way into the clubs, camera in hand.

In 2005, she spent a year deep in the demi-monde of the Japanese sex industry, “befriending the women, customers, and managers who work in Japan’s entertainment industry”—and ultimately was granted complete access.

She was if not exactly in the trenches then right next to them, snapping away. The photos in
“Pink Box” depict the working conditions for the women, the feeling of the brothels, the sheer variety; more than that, though, they portray as individuals the women who choose to work there.

The book is divided into chapters based on the different choices available to the consumer: hostess clubs, host clubs, nude theaters, touch pubs and pink salons, soaplands, peeping rooms, fashion health, image clubs, happening bars and couples’ clubs, and a final chapter on “still more pink businesses.”

This is a fascinating look at a world few are privy to.

Photograph from PINK BOX (Abrams Books). © Joan Sinclair

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