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Friday, February 29, 2008

Classifying When You Count in Japanese

日本語で数える

Counting in Japanese is tricky enough as it is.

Making things even worse (or more fun?) is that you will need to alter the classifier depending upon what you count.

In English, there are "pods" and "prides" that indicate that you are counting or talking about whales and lions. In daily life, though, one is generally spared having to know this. Not so in Japanese.

This blog will go over just several of the more common ways of classifying what is being counted.

Counting people, for example, you use "nin" (人). Naturally, though, there are exceptions to this rule:

One person = "hitori" (一人)
Two people= "futari" (二人)
Three people="san nin" (三人)

When counting non-human creatures, "hiki" (匹)is used. One cat/dog/insect/fish becomes: "ippiki" (一匹). Two are "ni hiki" (二匹).

Books and magazines use "satsu" (冊). One book or magazine is: "issatsu" (一冊). Two are "nisatsu" (二冊).

For shoes and socks, one needs "soku" (足). One pair of socks = "kutsushita issoku" (靴下一足).

For flat shapes, "mai" (枚)is what you need. Paper, cards, and money use this.

Our last example is "kai" (回). This is used to show how many times an action has taken place. "Three times" = "san kai" (三回).


There are many others. When in doubt, you can always fall back on "hitotsu" (one), "futatsu" (two), etc.; not elegant, perhaps, but your meaning will be conveyed.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chubu International Airport Shopping

中部国際空港

Chubu International Airport or Centrair is Japan's third largest airport after Tokyo's Narita Airport and Kansai International Airport near Osaka.

Chubu International Airport Shopping

Located on a man-made island off the west coast of the Chita Peninsula to the south of Nagoya, Centrair is only 25 minutes away from Kanayama Station and 30 minutes from Nagoya Station by express train.

Centrair is yet to take off as a real Asian hub but if you do find yourself waiting for a flight or an onward connection be sure to visit the Sky Town shopping and dining center on the 4th floor of the airport.

Chubu International Airport

Unlike shopping at Narita, Centrair has not really gone down the international brand name route and its shops and restaurants are meant to represent the best of the Chubu area of central Japan.

As you ascend the escalator to Sky Town, on your left is a recreation of a number of Meiji-era buildings - Renga Dori (Brick Road) - housing up-market shops, restaurants and cafes. To your right is the faux Edo-Period Chochin Yokocho (Lantern Alley) with traditional Japanese restaurants and the "Miya-no-yu" bath-house with views of the planes taking off and landing as you soap and soak.

Chubu International Airport, Aichi Prefecture

Between Renga Dori and Chochin Yokocho is an event space and beyond that is the outdoor wooden viewing deck.

Tastefully done, Renga Dori and Chochin Yokocho are fun to stroll if you have time to spare at Centrair.

Other facilities at the airport include WIFI hotspots, computer terminals, a post office, bureaux de change, convenience stores and a Tourist Information Office on the first floor near the Meitetsu train station.

Access

The quickest way to get to Centrair is on the μ sky Rapid Limited Express operated by Meitetsu Railways. There are also buses to Nagoya, Fukui, Shizuoka, Gifu, Mie, Toyota and Toyohashi.

There are regular boats to Tsu, Matsuzaka and sightseeing cruises to Nagoya and Yokkaichi ports.

There is a Comfort Hotel at Chubu International Airport.



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Keywords

Japan Tokyo Kyoto Nagoya Kyushu

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ichibata Yakushi Temple

一畑薬師, 島根県

Last weekend we took a trip up into the mountains to visit Ichibata Yakushi Temple in Shimane Prefecture. Heavy snowfall deterred all the other tourists, so we had the place to ourselves.

Ichibata Yakushi Temple

Many temples and shrines in Japan become associated with particular benefits, Tenmangu shrines for success with exams, shrines and temples for blessings for cars, Izumo Taisha shrines for finding marriage partners, etc.

Ichibata Yakushi Temple

Ichibata Yakushi Temple, perched on a mountaintop in Shimane Prefecture is the equivalent of a Japanese "Lourdes" for those with any kind of eye complaint, with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making their way there every
year.

The temple was founded in 894, and was built around a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing.

Ichibata Yakushi Temple, Shimane

A local fisherman found the sculpture of Yakushi washed up on a local beach. The current along the Shimane coast comes from Korea, so this is the probable source of the statue.

He took it home and prayed fervently in front of it, and many miracles occurred, the most relevant being his blind mother had her sight restored.

The temple was built on the mountaintop overlooking the coast, with expansive views of it, as well as views of Lake Shinji in the other direction. Being on a mountaintop there are steps leading up to it, 640 in all, but a road and bus now goes all the way to the top and few people climb the stairs, except once a year when a race is held which draws distance runners from all over.

Ichibata Yakushi Temple

The temple was originally of the Tendai Sect of Buddhism, but then became Rinzai Zen, and though the temple still maintains its Rinzai lineage, it became a Kyodan (a religious corporation, or church) and operates outside the Buddhist hierarchy.

To facilitate the journey for the pilgrims a railway line was built, and there are the usual line of souvenir shops on the approach to the temple. They have also branched out to specialize in children, and also pets.

Another money-making scheme is a couple of rental cabins within the temple grounds, built on a bluff with wonderful views, that are available for a reasonable fee (12,000 yen per cabin).

As well as the views from the temple, 84,000 statues of Yakushi Nyorai, donated by pilgrims and supporters, are well worth a view.

Ichibata Yakushi can be reached via the Ichibata Electric Railway from the terminal stations in Izumo city, or Matsue.

Access

From Ichibataguchi Station, Ichibata Yakushi Temple (Tel: +81853670111) is a ten minute ride by bus or taxi.
Entrance is free.

Ichibata Yakushi Temple
Kokyomachi 803
Izumo-shi
Shimane
691-0074

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kyoto Tower

Kyoto Tower京都タワー

Towering above nearby buildings, Kyoto Tower is a striking landmark that over the years has become something of a tourist attraction in the ancient capital. It is just north of Kyoto Station, and because of restrictions on building height in Kyoto, it dominates the skyline in a way that towers in other cities could only dream of.

Built in 1964 in tandem with the Olympic Games held in Tokyo that year, it was opposed by the majority of Kyotoites. The city government however forced through its construction in the name of appearing "modern."

For younger residents of Kyoto, it is just one part of the modern cityscape; for older people, and many foreigners, it remains a symbol of a construction industry gone wild--and terrible taste. Noted critic Alex Kerr famously called it a "stake through the heart of the city."

The Tower is built on the roof of a building--the Kyoto Tower Hotel--in front of the Station building. The first floor of that building has a gift shop which swarms with junior high school students from around Japan on their school trip.

At 131 meters high, it affords a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city. The observation deck is open from 9 am - 9 pm, and costs 600 yen for adults. Capacity is 500 people.


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Monday, February 25, 2008

Inokashira Park & Zoo

井の頭公園と動物園

Inokashira Park - lake.

-less than 20 minutes from Shinjuku or Shibuya
-a venerable old Tokyo park founded in 1918
-the first Imperial gift of its kind to the nation
-has a zoo and aquarium
-popular cherry-blossom park in spring
-famous for its temple to Benzaiten, goddess of love

Inokashira Park is a venerable old park straddling Musashino and Mitaka cities in western Tokyo. A little rough around the edges, it is nevertheless elegant in atmosphere, in full working order, and freer and more laid back than many other more kempt Tokyo parks.

More than just a place to enjoy nature, Inokashira Park, especially on the weekend, is a gathering place for casual musicians, artists, and street performers, sharing their creativity with other visitors - an alternative vibe not found so readily inside Tokyo's 23 wards.

Inokashira Park was bestowed as gift from the Imperial family in 1918 - the first such park in Japan. It is dominated by an elongated, tree-lined lake, fed by the Kanda River, on which you can paddle a row boat (600 yen for the first hour, then 200 yen per extra 30 min) or take a pedal boat or "swan boat".

Benzaiten Temple, Inokashira Park.

The lake is split by walkways for ease of access. The south-west corner of the lake features the exceptionally colorful temple of Benzaiten, (originally the Hindu Sarasvati Devi) the goddess of "all that flows," and, by extension - at least in Japan - love. Tradition has it, though, that the capricious goddess will halt the flow between any couple that ventures out on the lake in one of the hire-boats - FYI!

Inokashira Park is richly forested, and is a sight in spring, when it is overrun with cherry blossom picnickers. Its fall colors are also a good reason to visit later in the year.

There are several cafes in the park, and public toilets everywhere.

Inokashira Park Zoo

Monkeys at Inokashira Park Zoo.

Not to be missed if you are visiting Inokashira Koen is its zoo. In two parts, the main part is past a road that runs diagonally through the park to the west. Cross the footbridge over the road, pay your 400 yen (150 yen for kids) and enjoy the company of monkeys, birds (check out the beautiful pheasants), guinea pigs (able to be petted until 3pm), squirrels, and Hanako the elephant (born 1947 - presently the oldest in Japan), to name a few. There is also a walk-through tropical greenhouse.

Using the same ticket, you also have access to the remainder of the zoo - back in the park itself - on a peninsular that sticks out into the park's main lake. Check out, in particular, the splendid mandarin ducks, and don't forget the aquarium.

As with the park, don't expect to be dazzled by the zoo. However, it is in basic working order, run conscientiously on what is obviously not a massive budget, and more than worth the price of entry.

Further south, the park has an Olympic sized swimming pool, tennis courts, and an athletic track.

Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

At the south-west end of the park is the whimsically designed Ghibli Museum for fans of the animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Tickets (1000 yen for adults, 700 yen for high/junior high school students, 400 yen for elementary school pupils) are not available from the Museum itself, but must be purchased in advance from a Lawson convenience store, using Lawson's automatic Loppi ticket system, or, if you are overseas, through a Japanese travel agent. (For a fee, our affiliated site, GoodsFromJapan, is able to arrange the purchase of tickets. Please be aware, however, that tickets for busy periods may be sold out weeks, if not months, in advance.)

Access

From Mitaka Station on the JR Chuo line, take the Park Exit (i.e. south exit) and walk straight ahead until you come out onto the main road running left-right. Cross the road, go right, and then take the first left - just past the Marui department store (its logo looks like OIOI). Walk down colorful Nanai-dori Avenue, full of little cafes and alternative shops, all the way to the park and the lake. The main attractions of the park are to your right.

Keio line from Shibuya. If you take the Keio line from the Shibuya direction, get off at the stop before Mitaka: Inokashira Koen Station. This station is at the very eastern tip of the park, so you can take in the whole of the charming elongated lakeside on your way to the main body of the park.

By car. Turn south at Kichioji Eki Mae intersection and you'll come across a 24-hour car park about half a kilometer down. 400 yen per hour, and 200 yen for every extra 30 minutes.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Japan This Week 2/24/08

今週の日本

Japan News.Japanese whaling town divided by reports of mercury taint.

NY Times

Man dons girl's school uniform, enters a school, and gets arrested for trespassing.

Guardian

Another US serviceman accused of rape in Okinawa.

BBC

Tokyo-based New National Theatre Ballet debuts at the Kennedy Center.

Washington Post

Maritime Self Defense Forces head to get the axe over Aegis collision with fishing vessel.

Japan Times

Japan launches communications satellite into space.

BBC

The life and times of Bob Sapp, Japan idol.

Yahoo! Sports

Special service in a Nagoya sex shop.

Mainichi

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Photochemical oxidant pollutants broke a record in 2007. Warning days, on which the pollutants exceeded safety standards, were issued in 28 prefectures last year, and on 220 days in Tokyo. The prime suspect is Chinese industry.

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Kinosaki Onsen (hot spring)

Ichi no Yu bath house城崎温泉

Located near the Sea of Japan in Hyogo Prefecture, Kinosaki is a quaint town with many public baths and onsen, or hot springs. The economy of the town is devoted almost entirely to hot spring tourism and crab, which is a local delicacy.

Bathing in hot springs in the area dates back 1400 years.

The resort town of Kinosaki has many ryokan (Japanese inns) and seven public baths. These draw in crowds primarily from Osaka and Kyoto, from which express trains arrive frequently.

Exiting the train station, the main street is a jumble of restaurants, antique shops, and fish stalls that sell freshly caught crab and squid and various types of fish. Crab can range in price from 1500 yen (about $15) per all the way up to 15,000 yen depending upon the size and type.

At the end of this street is the Otani River. Willows lean over this small, tree-lined canal that feeds into the Sea of Japan. In front of you is Ichi no Yu (pictured above right), a massive public bath that features a "Cave Bath." Turning left here will take you into the main area for promenading, shopping, and bathing.

Gosho no Yu, Kono Yu, and Mandara Yu are among the more popular bath houses along or near this street.

Pinball, Kinosaki, JapanThe town is also known for its traditional game arcades (at left). Wooden, non-electric games can be found in the old-fashioned arcades along this street (Yu no sato Dori).

During the day, older couples and groups of college women wander from bath house to cafe to arcade. At night, guests staying in local inns don yukata and go on a bath crawl. Unlike many over-developed hot spring resort towns--where guests spend the entire time inside using facilities at their hotel--Kinosaki has a vibrant downtown with a lot of foot traffic both day and night.

Part of the reason for this is that if you stay in a ryokan, you will be given complimentary tickets to as many of the bath houses as you like. This gets people out of their hotel and into town.

At the end of Yu no Sato Dori and off to the right, just before you come to Kono Yu bath house is Onsenji (Onsen Temple) and a ropeway up to the top of the mountain. Another temple is Gokuraku Temple, which is just up from Mandara Yu.

After our third bath--fourth if you include the pre-dinner bath at the inn--we dropped into a local izakaya pub for some of the local brew and squid on a stick.

Thus fortified, we headed back for one last bath and then the trip back to our inn.

Japanese shrineAccess

From Kyoto Station, express trains take two and a half hours and cost 4,510 yen; from Osaka, trains take 2 hours and forty-five minutes.

Bath House Hours and Costs

Mandara Yu and Yanagi Yu are open from 3 pm - 11 pm. All other bath houses are open from 7 am - 11 pm. Bath houses cost 500 yen to enter (though guests at local inns are given complimentary tickets to all of the bath houses).

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Narita Airport Shopping

成田空港、千葉県

Narita Airport, in Chiba Prefecture, is Japan's largest airport and the main international airport serving the Tokyo and Kanto area.

Oygen Bar, Narita Airport, Tokyo, Japan.

Narita, or to give the airport its full name, New Tokyo International Airport, also serves as an important Asian hub, especially for flights coming to and from the west coast of the USA.

Also many international flights that originate at other Japanese airports, such as Chubu International Airport, just south of Nagoya, fly to their destinations in Europe and the US via Narita.

Narita Airport, Chiba, Japan.

Chances are then that visitors to Japan or Japan residents will spend some time waiting for a flight at Narita Airport.

There's a reasonable, though by no means outstanding, collection of shops, cafes and restaurants to help you pass the time between international flights. Besides the usual range of international brands to choose from, including Prada, Tiffany and Ferragamo, Narita has an interesting Oxygen Bar, where transit passengers can revive themselves, after a long trans-Pacific flight of breathing in recycled air, by sucking in some much-needed oxygen and a high-priced juice.

If you need to get online there are internet terminals charging 100 yen for 10 minutes, WIFI has yet to arrive.

Many shops will accept US dollars as well as Japanese yen, though if you have time on your hands you may wish to make use of the excellent bureau de change offices located in Narita Airport. Service is quick and efficient and charges low especially compared with such places, as say, Italy.

Luggage bins at Narita Airport

Finally, if you just have to shower and crash, Narita does have some short stay rooms open from 7.00am-9.30pm. A shower costs 500 yen (less than $5) and a single room is 1000 yen with a double room 1600 yen for the first hour with an 800 yen per hour charge after that for both single and double rooms.

Access

The quickest way to get to Narita Airport is on the Narita Express from Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro or Yokohama Stations.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hiragana

ひらがな

A few weeks ago we looked at katakana (カタカナ). Today we are going to focus on the other syllabary (an alphabet of syllables) in the Japanese written language - hiragana (ひらがな).

As katakana are square and angular in design, hiragana are more rounded and flowing. Whereas katakana are used mainly to write foreign loan words, hiragana are used for representing the body of Japanese grammar.

Katakana

There are 48 hiragana "kana" which include the vowels (a, i, u, e, o; あ,い,う,え,お), consonants followed by a vowel (かka, きki, くku, けke, こko) and n ん.

Hiragana are used for Japanese words for which there are no equivalent Chinese characters (漢字 kanji), for example particles such as wa は, some suffixes such as ~san さん (Mr, Mrs) and verb and adjective inflections. In the present tense of the verb "to go" iku 行く (ku く) is the inflection, in the past tense of the verb - ikimashita 行きました (kimashita きました) is the inflection. Similarly with adjectives: using "beautiful" - utsukushii 美しい - as an example (shi しい) is the inflection.

The basic set of hiragana characters (gojuuon) can be modified by the addition of the dakuten marker < ゛>. Unvoiced consonants can be changed to voiced consonants with the marker placed after the character, thus ka か becomes ga が and ta た becomes da だ for example.

Hiragana are also used to give the pronunciation of Chinese characters (漢字 kanji), where the character may be obscure or in children's books. This reading aid is called furigana (ふりがな).

Hiragana story book

Pre-school children begin reading stories made up exclusively of hiragana before moving on to books with a mix of simple kanji plus furigana and hiragana.

Hiragana developed in the 5th century and was based on the cursive script of Chinese characters used in calligraphy.

Nowadays hiragana is important for inputting Japanese text from a computer keyboard, electronic translation dictionary or mobile phone keypad. Typically typing a phrase or word in hiragana will automatically bring up a number of kanji equivalents for the user to choose from.
In the sentence "I am a doctor." (watashi wa isha desu 私は医者です) the characters for watashi (I) and isha (doctor) can be generated by inputting the hiragana.

Some useful books for getting started with hiragana are Let's Learn Hiragana, Japanese Hiragana For Beginners and Learning Hiragana & Katakana.

がんばってください! (Ganbatte kudasai - Good luck!)



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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bjork in Tokyo

東京でのビョーク



Bjork was in town last night, playing at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. I took a taxi there after work and got together with a couple of friends to watch her.

The Budokan, with a maximum capacity of 15,000 people, was sold out. Security was not particularly strict going in (I was politely asked if I had a camera), but very high strung once inside (We had the misfortune of sitting right where a security guard was posted, and had to put up with his half-panicked skittering and jitterbugging around for the whole concert as if he'd been put in charge of a busload of football fans.)

Bjork was a powerhouse of vocal passion, and her band was an impressive mix of the old and the new, ranging from what looked like a clavichord played by a man who could have been your banker uncle to electronic gadgets that appeared more like Star Trek weaponry (and sounded like it too!) than musical instruments - and manipulated by a guy that looked like a Miami surfer.

Bjork was, of course, a massive hit with the crowd. The strong shamanistic element of her music and performance, although universal in appeal, strikes a particularly deep chord in Japan where that tradition is still very strong. The last song, especially, when the brass backing band (all female) came down on stage all doing a mad jerky dance while Bjork whipped the house up to a furious finale had distinct similarities to the kind of street dancing you often see in Japan.

Bjork plays the Budokan again on the 22nd. What's on in Tokyo right now.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hyakumanben Flea Market Kyoto

Kyoto Flea Market百万遍
Every month, there are three major flea markets held at Kyoto temples: Hyakumanben on the 15th at Chion-ji, Kobo-san on the 20th at Toji Temple, and Tenjin-san on the 25th at Kita no Tenmangu.

Hyakumanben is the smallest of the three but offers a wide variety of handmade jewelry, bags, clothing, and wonderful homemade breads and other food. Chion Temple is located just across the street from Kyoto University on Imadegawa Dori.

The temple grounds teems with visitors and bargaining on the non-food items is half of the fun.

Pictured above are handmade pouches that can be used for cell phones, a wallet, or more traditional items. Below are beads that can be strung together to create a necklace or bracelet.

Most of the prices ranged from 300 - 2,000 yen. The sellers/artists tended to be young creative women, though the woman who sold me a bag of kimchi has clearly seen many years of flea markets.

Access

Buses #17 and 206 from Kyoto Station, buses 201, 31, 17, 17 from Shijo Kawaramachi. This open air market is held at Chion Temple across from Kyoto University on the 15th of the month, close to Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan and Eiden lines.



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Monday, February 18, 2008

Nagoya Friends 4 year anniversary party 2/23 THIS SATURDAY!!

Nagoya Friends is holding it's 49th party in Nagoya!


4 YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY AT





  • Date: February 23rd, 2008 (4th Saturday) THIS SATURDAY!!!
  • Time: 18:30 - 21:00
  • Drinks will be served between 6:30pm-8:45pm.
  • Place: Shooter's Bar (Pola Bldg, 2-9-26 Sakae, Naka-ku (very close to Fushimi Station)
  • Fee: 3000 Yen
  • Dress code: Anything (Casual, etc)
  • Reservations: Not necessary but recommended and appreciated. Just show up to the party!
  • Over 25,000 Yen worth of exciting prize giveaways each month!
  • Discount Travel Vouchers from JST Travel in Sakae!!
  • A brand new iPod Shuffle!
  • more prizes to be announced!
There will be free food along with free drinks (beers, wine, cocktail drinks and juices). Our party is not a dinner party, but we will have light food & snacks. Quantities are limited, so please come early! Please free to come alone or bring your friends. EVERYBODY is welcome to join regardless of nationality/gender. Reservation is greatly appreciated. About 125-150+ people are expected to attend. Approximately 55% female and 45% male, 70% Japanese and 30% non-Japanese. Pictures from previous Nagoya Friends Parties.

Map & Directions

Contact: 080-5169-1666(Japanese) 080-5469-6317(English)
Get off at Fushimi Station (Higashiyama Line - Exit #5)
Shooter's Bar (Pola Bldg, 2-9-26 Sakae, Naka-ku (very close to Fushimi Station)



Train Directions

  • From Nagoya Stn. take the Higashiyama Subway line to Fushimi Station (GET OFF at Fushimi Station!!) Take the #5 Exit from then walk straight along Rt. 19 AWAY from Hirokoji-Dori for about 3/4 of a block. Shooters is on the left side of the street at the end of the block. Look for the sign on the sidewalk.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Japan This Week 2/17/08

今週の日本

Japan News.Baseball star Kosuke Fukudome prepares for Major League ball and the Chicago Cubs.

NY Times

Cherries from heaven.

Guardian

Japanese politicians propose an 80-mile "peace tunnel" to Korea.

Guardian

Obama in Fukui Prefecture is milking its connection with the US Presidential candidate of the same name.

Guardian

Marine under investigation for rape in Okinawa. The victim was a 14-year-old girl.

Daily Yomiuri

Bedroom advice for Hiroshi.

Mainichi Shinbun

Sarin killer to get death penalty.

Japan Times

Banned pesticide "still used" in China.

Asahi.com

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Percentage of population over 65 in the year 2000:

Japan: 17.2
EU: 14.7
USA: 12.3
Russia: 12.3
China: 6.8
India: 4.6

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

Percentage of population over 65 in the year 2050:

Japan: 37.7
EU: 27.6
Russia: 23.8
China: 23.7
USA: 21.0
India: 14.5

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

Breakdown of Yakuza (organized crime) members in Japan:

Full time: 40,900
Part-time: 43,300

The Yamaguchi-gumi (Kobe), Sumiyoshi-kai (Tokyo), and Inagawa-kai (Tokyo) are the three largest crime organizations. The Yamaguchi-gumi alone accounts for 46% of all mobsters in Japan.

Source: Kyodo News

41 foreigners from a total of 816 applicants were granted refugee status in Japan in 2007, those granted refugee status included 37 people from Burma. a further 69 Burmese nationals were granted a stay on humanitarian grounds.

Source: Justice Ministry

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fukutoku Inari Jinja

福徳稲荷神社

Sitting on the hillside on the western edge of Honshu, Fukutoku Inari, also known as Inunaki no Oinari, commands fine views over the ocean in the direction of China (where Inari most probably originated).

Torii gate Fukutoku Inari Jinja

We were fortunate to be there not long after dawn as the sun rose above the mountain behind the shrine and treated us to a fiery display.

Fukutoku Inari Jinja

Built in 1971, the buildings are in virtually pristine condition, with the obligatory vermillion dominating. Like most Inari shrines there is a "tunnel" of vermillion Torii, though unusually this tunnel does not lead to the shrine, rather from the shrine to a bluff overlooking the sea.

Fukutoku Inari Jinja, Yamaguchi Prefecture

The shrine is located just off Route 191 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a little north of Shimonoseki, in the village of Toyoura.

Torii tunnel, Fukutoku Inari Jinja


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Japanese language: using "wa"

日本語の「は」



In Japanese grammar, the article wa (along with ga, which we’ll look at another time) is the most basic element of a Japanese sentence. At first glance it resembles the “be” or “do” verb in English, but treating it as such will lead to mistakes.

Wa indicates the main topic of a sentence and is closest in meaning to the English “as for,” or the colon. Thus “Okaasan wa nete imasu” (Mom is asleep) can be broken down as follows: Okaasan (mom) + wa = “as for mom,” and “nete imasu” = “asleep”. In other words, “As for mom: asleep”. It just so happens that in this example “wa” correlates perfectly with “is,” but, as I just mentioned, this is by no means always the case.

Take the following example:
Tokyo wa wakarimasen. (wakarimasen = “not know” or “not understand”). If you think of “wa” as “is” or “do,” this sentence seems nonsensical, or at least whimsical. “Tokyo doesn’t know/understand” doesn’t make sense (unless we are using Tokyo as an abbreviation for, say, “the Tokyo branch” – but here we are not.)

But taking “wa” for what it really means “as for,” we can translate it like this: “As for Tokyo, don’t know”. To understand this sentence, however, we need to take in another aspect of Japanese grammar: omission of “I, you, s/he, it, we, they”.

Omission of pronouns not that uncommon in casual English. For example, “Dunno” is enough to convey the fact that “I” don’t know, and “Could be” might be referring to anyone: “I” or “you” or “he” or “she” or “it” or “we” or “they”. It depends on the context.

It's the same in Japanese; except, in Japanese, abbreviating like this is very much a part of even the formal language. So “As for Tokyo: don’t know” requires an "I," "you," "s/he," "it," "we," or "they" before the word “don’t” to make it understandable. And, just as with the English “Could be,” the identity of the person who “doesn’t know Tokyo” depends completely on the conversational context. If the person saying this sentence is referring to his/her own unfamiliarity with Tokyo, then it would translate as "I don't know Tokyo."

So, thinking of wa as the introducer, or an isolator, of the main topic under discussion will make it a lot easier to use and understand.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

JR Kisuki Line

木次線

Japanese Rural rail lines. Part 1 JR Kisuki Line

JR Kisuki Line

For getting from A to B quickly and conveniently, Japan's Shinkansen and Express rail networks are second to none, albeit at a hefty price, but for those who actually enjoy traveling, for those who feel that the journey is at least as important as the destination, Japan's rural rail lines have much to offer.

The trains travel at slow speed, allowing you the pleasure of taking in some wonderful scenery, and your fellow passengers are more likely to engage in conversation with you than on the commuter trains. The intimacy extends even further, as the trains literally pass through people's back yards, again affording glimpses of life quite different to that of the cities.

JR Kisuki Line carriage


Most of the rural lines are single track, and usually single carriage trains, and the downside is that they don't run very often, but with some judicious planning it's possible to spend days, or weeks, leisurely criss-crossing a less visited Japan in comfort.

One such line is the JR Kisuki Line.

Starting at JR Shinji (San-in Line), on the shore of Lake Shinji (Japan's 8th largest lake), in Shimane, the train travels 82 kilometers to terminate at Bingo-Ochiai station high in the mountains of Hiroshima, near where the 3 prefectures of Hiroshima, Shimane, and Tottori meet.

For most of the way the line follows the Hi River, passing through the area known as Okuizumo (Inner Izumo) an area that is the setting for one of Japan's oldest myths, the story of Susano defeating the 8-headed serpent, Yamata no Orochi, and thereby winning the hand of a local "princess". There are numerous sites in the area connected with the myth and its characters, as well as a couple of folklore museums, and museums on sword-making and iron-forging, as the Yamata no Orochi myth is linked to the discovery of iron in this area in ancient times.

Views from the JR Kisuki Line

There are plenty of onsens in the area, with Kisuki and Izumo Yokota having many. Kisuki is also known for its dairy products and its cherry blossoms along the riverbank.

When the train reaches Izumo Sakana, at 564 metres, it stops for 15 minutes to let the passengers alight and sample the healing waters of a sacred spring in the station. The waters are famous in this part of the world, with one restaraunter driving more than an hour each-way to fill his car with barrels of the water for use in his restaurant.

Izumo Sakana spring

The mountains around Izumo Sakane are very steep, so to get up them the train now shunts up a series of switchbacks, one of only 3 in all of Japan. After the 3rd switchback the train pauses to allow the passengers to literally look directly down at the station 150 metres below.

The train continues to ascend along a wide curve until Miinohara station, at 726 meters the highest station in the JR West network, until finally reaching Bingo-Ochiai. Once a busy rail junction, with turntable, engine sheds, water tower, and engineers and staff living around the station, it is now deserted and unmanned. This type of station is known as a Hikyou station, a "secluded" station, and is very popular with Japanese train enthusiasts, of which there are many.

The journey takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, and a single ticket is 1,450 yen

From here you can take a Geibi Line train either to Miyoshi, then on the Hiroshima City, or to Niimi in Okayama Prefecture.

The Okuizumo Orochigo is a special tourist train that runs on this line, with open windows and wooden tables and benches that runs daily from April to June, and on weekends and holidays from July to November.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Breed!

美容室 ブリード

Breed


The rate of increase in Japan's population has been in steady decline since the 1980s. The birthrate per mother is the lowest in the world at 1.29 children, and the numbers of young people are falling every year. Over-65s now account for almost 21% of the population, compared to just under 14% for under-15 year olds.

In January 2007, then Health Minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, created a furore when, in addressing the problem of the falling birthrate, he referred to the nation's women of childbearing age as "baby-making machines" and "baby making devices."

But it seems that not only politicians are concerned about the future of the population. Here in a neighborhood of Tokyo's Nakano ward is no less than a hairdressing salon that urges passersby to "BREED"!

But is it politically motivated? There is, to be sure, quite an intimate element in the act of giving and getting a haircut, but Tokyo has plenty of other places that cater to overtly carnal needs, for breeders or non-breeders.

No, it's probably just that with the thousands of hairdressers that dot the urban landscape - as much a feature of it as convenience stores and police boxes - finding a unique name must become something of a challenge: one that this salon rose to without pulling any punches!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Kyoto's Nijo Station

NIjo Station, KyotoJapan Railway (JR)'s Nijo Station is two stops from Kyoto Station on the Saiin Line, which heads west out of the city towards rural Kyoto Prefecture. It is a short walk from here to Nijo Castle.

The Station was rebuilt in 1996 when the tracks were elevated. It now is best known for its distinctive hat-like roof.

The former station building is still intact and can be seen just down line at the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which was opened in 1972 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of railway operations in Japan. The former station house was built in 1904 and is a Meiji Period wooden structure that is warm and cozy--everything in other words the new building is not.

What the new building may lack in coziness, however, it makes up in scale. The sloping roof moreover evokes an ancient straw Japanese hat.

Both the JR line and the Tozai subway line stop here. The JR line is convenient for Kyoto Station and points west, including Arashiyama. The subway runs under the northern edge of downtown, stopping in front of Nijo Castle, City Hall, and close to the museum district.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Japan This Week 2/10/08

今週の日本

Japan News.China and Japan agree to work on poisoned dumplings issue.

People's Daily Online

Packaging the cause of poisoning?

Mainichi Shinbun

Sumo stable boss arrested over murder.

Guardian

After medical mishap resulting in death, female physician and nurse get it on--and eventually begin servicing male patients.

Mainichi Shinbun

Japan's "research whaling" facing domestic problems: slow sales.

Asahi.com

Australia releases Japanese whaling photos.

BBC

Japanese paper aeroplanes to fly in space.

BBC

"Japan passing" - Japan set for long, slow economic declne.

Washington Post

66-year-old to make come back at Beijing Olympics.

BBC

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Legal professionals per 1,000 people:

US: 327
Britain: 223
Germany: 204
France: 86
Japan: 21

Source: The Daily Yomiuri

Wind powered electricity (rank, as measured by 10,000 kilowatts):

Germany: 2,062 (1)
Spain: 1,162 (2)
US: 1,160 (3)
India: 627 (4)
Japan: 139 (13)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Solar powered electricity (rank, as measured by 10,000 kilowatts):

Germany: 286 (1)
Japan: 171 (2)
US: 62 (3)
Spain: 12 (4)
Australia: 7 (5)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Nuclear powered electricity (rank, as measured by 10,000 kilowatts):

US: 10,475 (1)
France: 6,602 (2)
Japan: 4,958 (3)
Russia: 2,319 (4)
Germany: 2,137 (5)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Japan in Small Town America

コーバリス, オレゴン州

Even in the smallest of small-town America, Corvallis, Oregon (population 53,900), Japan has a presence, it seems.

I was surprised to discover not one but two Japanese-themed restaurants and an aikido center.

Corvallis, Oregon, USA

Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
250 SW Third St. (3rd & Jefferson)
Corvallis, OR 97333
Tel: 541 754 7508

Corvallis Oregon

Ki Aikido
115 NW 2nd St
Corvallis, OR 97330
Tel: 541 757 2746
oregonki.org

Corvallis Oregon

Aomatsu Japanese Restaurant
122 NW 3rd St, Corvallis
Tel: 541 752 1410


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Friday, February 08, 2008

Nagahama Castle

長浜城、滋賀県

Nagahama, a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, is a popular swimming and sailing resort in summer.

Nagahama Castle

In winter, Nagahama and its marinas are virtually deserted, but the reconstructed Nagahama Castle is worth a visit if you happen to be in town or are passing through.

The original Nagahama Castle was constructed on the orders of the local warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) in the 16th century. Nagahama was Hideyoshi's first fief and he also resided in the castle for certain periods of time.
The castle was demolished by the Tokugawa regime in 1615 due to the "one province, one castle" regulation enforced to reduce the power of local feudal magnates (daimyo). Nearby Hikone Castle survived and some of Nagahama Castle's building materials were transported from Nagahama to reinforce Hikone Castle.

Nagahama Castle, Shiga Prefecture

The current structure was reconstructed in 1983 following the advice of a professor of historical architecture from Tokyo Kogyo University (Tokyo Institute of Technology). The fortress contains a museum with displays of historic firearms, telescopes and samurai armor. The castle's top observation deck affords good views of Lake Biwa on a clear day.

Nagahama Castle
Koen-machi 10-10
Nagahama-shi
Shiga
526-0065
Tel: 0749 63 4611
Admission 400 yen
Hours: 9am-5pm (last entrance 4.30pm)

A short walk from JR Nagahama Station on the JR Biwako Line (Hokuriku Line). Nagahama is about 90 minutes from either Kyoto or Nagoya by JR train via Maibara.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Kansai Dialect

関西弁

Spoken by roughly 20 million people (greater than the population of either Belgium or Holland) Kansai dialect is the standard form of speech in western Japan. This area includes Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Shiga, Wakayama, and Mie Prefectures. It is the main linguistic and cultural counter balance to "hyojungo," or standard Japanese, which is spoken in the Tokyo area of eastern Japan.

Kansai dialect is highly influential because of its association with Osaka comedians, Kobe mobsters, and Kyoto geisha--and can be heard frequently on television.

The rivalry and tension, linguistic and otherwise, between Tokyo and Osaka is one of the great dramas in Japanese life.

The basic difference between the language of Tokyo and, say, Osaka has to do in part with word endings.

In Tokyo, "ikanai" (行かない)equals "I/you/he don't/doesn't go." In the West of Japan, you would say "ikahen" or "ikimahen." In the past tense, too, things are different in Kansai. In Tokyo: "tabenakatta" (食べなかった)means "I/you/he didn't eat." Kansai: "tabehenkatta" or "tabenkatta."

Another difference is the use of the verb to be. In Kanto, which is where Tokyo lies, you say "iru" whereas in Osaka it becomes "oru."

A third difference is the "da" vs. "ya" divide. In Kanto, you would say "da" while in western Japan it is a hearty "ya." For example, in Yokohama: "sou da" (that is so). In Kobe, it is "sou ya."
A fourth difference is the often used "honma" (really). In Tokyo, that should be "honto."

In addition to intonation, many other differences exist. Kansai people freely mix eastern and western Japanese verb forms and word endings depending upon the situation; Tokyoites do not mix, and consider non-standard Japanese a bit crude.

Last, there is also great variety within Kansai speech. Kyoto dialect, for example, has quite distinctive verb endings that are not used in other parts of Kansai.

If you are just beginning Japanese language study, it is better to get "standard" (eastern) Japanese under your belt; if you start spouting off Kansai dialect to your Tokyo neighbors, they may consider you a bit of a hillbilly. For those of you living in Kansai, however, you will have to add Kansai dialect to your linguistic repertoire as it is the de facto "standard" speech there.


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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Matsuo Shrine

松尾大社

Matsuo Taisha, sometimes known as Matsunoo, is an interesting ancient shrine on the outskirts of Kyoto that offers a little more to see and do than most of the often visited shrines in the area. It is also less crowded.

Sake at Matsuo Shrine

Located near Arashiyama, it was founded in 701, almost 100 years before the founding of Kyoto. It was founded by the head of the Hata clan, an immigrant clan that ruled the area before the moving of the capital from Nara. The Hata also founded the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Matsuo Shrine

The Hata were instrumental in bringing Sake brewing techniques from Korea, and the shrine has a deep and long association with sake brewers, who still take water from the sacred well Kame no I, located in the shrine.

Matsuo Shrine, Kyoto

The shrine grounds are home to 3,000 rose bushes which are in bloom during April and May.

About 30 years ago, the famous landscape designer and painter, Mirei Shigemori, built (at great expense) three gardens at the shrine, the Iwakura Garden, in ancient style, the Horai Garden, in Kamakura era style, and the Kyokusui Garden, in Heian era style. They are considered some of the best modern gardens in Japan.

Matsuo Shrine

The two main festivals at the shrine are the Shinko-sai, and the Kanko-sai. Shinko-sai is held on the first Sunday after April 20th. Six mikoshi, or portable shrines, are carried and ferried across the Katsura River to the opposite side, and each mikoshi is placed in a shrine there. Three weeks later, the mikoshi are returned to Matsunoo Grand Shrine, and this procession is called Kanko-sai.

Entrance to the shrine grounds are free, but there is a 500 yen entrance fee to visit two of the three gardens, as well as a Sake Museum and a small museum showing shrine treasures, including such rarities as sculptures of Kami (gods).

Access

Matsuo Station, Hankyu Arashiyama Line.
City Bus 71.

Address: 3 Arashiyama-miyamachi, Nishikyo-ku
Tel: 075 871 5016
 

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Change in Cigarette Vending Machine Law

たばこ自動販売機

From March to July this year smart cards will be introduced for use of cigarette vending machines across the country.

Cigarette vending machine

Smokers will have to apply for an age-verification card to purchase cigarettes from Japan's estimated 520,000 cigarette vending machines.

To apply for the new IC smart card, smokers will need to send in a passport size photograph and a copy of a document showing the applicants age, such as a driving license.

Taspo card slot

The application card, which is free of charge, can be obtained from shops selling tobacco, convenience stores or downloaded from the taspo website.

The new regulations are a move to cut under-age smoking. People in Japan are legally able to smoke from 20 years of age.