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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Japan News This Week 31 March 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. ‘In Japan, a Portrait of Mistrust’

New York Times

Japan cherry trees in early bloom in Tokyo

BBC

Fukushima town revealed in Google Street View two years after tsunami

Guardian

Fallen tycoon Horie freed from jail

Japan Times

A Lasting Legacy of the Fukushima Rescue Mission: Cat and Mouse with a Nuclear Ghost 福島救援活動の永続する遺産—核の幽霊といたちごっこ

Japan Focus

Where are all the shoppers? Curfew shows what base relocation could mean to Okinawa

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

The number of foreign applicants who passed the recent annual nursing exam fell to 9.6%. In the previous year, it was a record high 11.3%.

Because of a shortage of nurses, Japan has recruited nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The applicants have struggled with Japanese language so this year's test was lengthened to 100 minutes and included hiragana characters to all of the kanji to make reading easier.

Source: Jiji Press

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Iwami Kagura Train & Iwami Kagura Line

石見神楽電車

Recently JR West unveiled a new livery for a train that runs in Shimane along the Japan Sea coast, the Iwami Kagura Train.



Iwami, the old name of the province that is now the western part of Shimane Prefecture, is home to a very popular and dynamic style of kagura, a type of folk dance theater popular is some areas of Japan but virtually unknown in others.

The two car train is decorated on the outside with masked characters from some of the dances: Ebisu, red demons, fox demons, the god Susano-o & the eight-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi.

There is no decoration on the inside of the train. The train is an Aqualiner, an express that runs on the Sanin Line between Masuda in the west of Shimane to Yonago just across the border in Tottori. Strangely it does not run on the newly named Iwami Kagura Line.

Ebisu Station, Iwami Kagura Line, Shimane


Iwami Kagura Line is the new name for the Sanko Line which runs from the Sanin Line Gotsu Station on the Japan Sea coast to Miyoshi in the mountains of northern Hiroshima where it connects with the Geibi Line to Hiroshima and Niimi, and the Fukuen Line for Fuchu.

The 108 kilometer Sanko Line opened in 1930 though the central section was not completed until 1970.

Railway Bridge, Gonokawa River, Shimane, Japan


The Iwami Kagura Line follows the Gonokawa River, the longest river in West Japan, and the five trains a day leisurely crisscross the river many times taking almost three and a half hours to complete the journey passing right through the heart of Iwami Kagura country.

As the Iwami Kagura Line each of the 35 stations has been given a name of one of the dances in the Iwami kagura repertoire, and a large signboard displays a photo from the dance as performed by a kagura group from close to the station and an explanation of the dances story is also displayed.

Oeyama Station, Iwami Kagura Line, Japan


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Friday, March 29, 2013

Taketomi Water Buffalo Carts

水牛車

Being transported on a water buffalo-drawn carriage (suigyusha) is something of a tourist meme in the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa.

Taketomi Water Buffalo Carts, Okinawa, Japan


Such rides are available on both Taketomi and Iriomote islands - the latter at Yubu-jima. On Taketomi Island, each carriage takes about twelve to fourteen passengers and the local driver/guide transports you around the picturesque village of traditional bungalows surrounded by coral stone walls bedecked with colorful bougainvillea and hibiscus.

The guide explains the local culture, flora and fauna and also finds time to strum an Okinawan tune on his sanshin as you trundle slowly down the lovely lanes for added atmosphere.

Taketomi Water Buffalo Carts, Okinawa, Japan


Many of the tour operators on Ishigaki Island offer buffalo cart rides as part of a tour of Taketomi otherwise it costs around 1,300 yen for the 30-minute ride.

Taketomi is a short 10-15 express boat ride from Ishigaki Ferry Terminal. Touts for the various rides wait in vans to transport you to Taketomi village, around 2km from the port.

Taketomi Water Buffalo Carts, Okinawa, Japan


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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cosmic Configuration sculpture by Kenji Mikawa

宇宙の構成 三澤憲司

Uchu no Kosei (Cosmic Configuration) by Kenji Mikawa.

Not far from Ebisu Station in Tokyo is the headquarters of Sapporo Beer. The headquarters shares its site with the adjoining Ebisu Garden Place, and the Museum of Yebisu Beer.

Yebisu Garden Place comprises several large buildings, and its most memorable feature is a breathtakingly massive arched covering over a plaza that serves as the entrance to the main building. Ebisu Garden Place has a lot of shopping, many restaurants, including one of Tokyo's best, the Michelin 3-star Joel Robuchon Restaurant, one of several Joel Robuchon establishments in Tokyo.


Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography also has its home - a very striking modernist-Classicist building - in Yebisu Garden Place, as does the Ebisu branch of the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Uchu no Kosei (Cosmic Configuration) sculpture by Mikawa Kenji.

The JapanVisitor blog has focused now and then on Japanese statuary over the past year, and on a recent visit to Yebisu Garden Place, specifically the Museum of Yebisu Beer, I snapped this sculptural stone trilogy that adorns the front of the Sapporo Beer headquarters.

Named, perhaps a little overambitiously, Uchu no Kosei, (Cosmic Configuration) it is a work in faux-antique stone topped with very cleanly designed, unmistakably modern, metal shapes. The sculptor is Kenji Mikawa, a sculptor/painter born in 1945 in Nagano prefecture, and who is responsible for a number of modernist-primitivist, plinth-inspired works in stone and metal around Japan, one of the most beautiful of which, in my opinion, is a drapery-style monument that graces the lake of Tokyo's Shakujii Park.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 2 Sue

Day 2, December 26th, 2012
A day with Fudo Myo-o

It's still dark as I take the first train out of Hakata Station, but when I get off in Sue the sky is lightening and it appears to be cloudless. I head north and then turn west into the valley, that the villages that make up the town of Sasaguri are scattered along. As I leave the main road and start to head towards the mountains the sun rises and I stop at a shrine and sit under an ancient camphor tree and have some breakfast in the golden light of the low winter sun.

Fudo Myo-o statues, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan


I'm so happy to be in the mountains on a sunny day. I have no great love for walking uphill with a pack on my back, but to get from A to B there is no way to avoid it, so I slowly amble up the narrow mountain roads. I reach the first temple quickly and am surprised that its not at a higher altitude. I get really excited when I find behind the temple a waterfall surrounded by dozens of statues of Fudo Myo-o!!

With his grimacing, fanged visage, sword in hand, surrounded by flames, Fudo Myo-o is known as a wrathful deity but I find him strangely reassuring. Though he has many attributes, I associate him with sites like this, ascetic sites, places where aspirants will stand under freezing water and undergo purification for spiritual training. I have a massive collection of photos of Fudo statues, and here I am happy to add more than a dozen new ones to my collection.

An hour later I reach the next temple, and it too has many Fudo statues. The waterfall is not as impressive, but seems clear that this mountain has a history as a site of spiritual training, and according to legend Kobo Daishi himself spent time here for that reason.

It gets steeper and then I come to a new Buddhist hall of some kind with a car park and a small cafe. I'm confused because its not on my map and so I ask for directions in the cafe. The old lady points me up a trail and so I head off. After about ten minutes of steep climbing I realize I am on the wrong path. By now I should have reached a pass and be heading downhill. I am heading to the summit of the mountain, not where I want to go. When I asked for directions I pointed to a temple and shrine on my map, so I guess the old lady didn't look properly and just presumed I wanted to go where everyone else goes. What the hell, I figure as I am on the way up I may as well go to the top.

Fukuoka from Mt Wakasugi, Kyushu, Japan


Its much further and steeper than I imagined and I'm puffing and sweating when I reach the shrine on the summit of Mount Wakasugi. There's lots of ice up here at 600 meters and I wish I had left my pack at the bottom. The view is great, and way off in the distance I can see Fukuoka. A very steep trail leads down a few hundred meters to the Okunoin, the cave where Kobo Daishi undertook austerities.

The climb up has taken over an hour and now I have to descend back to where the trail I want heads down and along the mountains. The short winter day is on the wane and I need to hurry.......

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 1

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reimeikan Museum Kagoshima

鹿児島県歴史資料センター黎明館

The Reimeikan Museum in Kagoshima, on the southern island of Kyushu, is located at the foot of Mt. Shiroyama and is dedicated to the history, culture and folklore of Kagoshima Prefecture from ancient times to the present.

Reimeikan Museum Kagoshima Japan


The Reimeikan opened in 1968 to commemorate 100 years since the Meiji Restoration, an event of great importance in the history of Kagoshima when it was known as Satsuma domain.

The Reimeikan underwent a renewal and modernization in 1996.

The Reimeikan is built on what was formerly the site of Kagoshima Castle (aka Tsurumaru), of which only the stone walls and moats remain. The grounds contain a number of cherry trees.

Reimeikan Museum Kagoshima


The Reimeikan has three floors and includes exhibits and historical documents relating to the culture and festivals of Kagoshima including dioramas, scale models, paintings, scrolls, tools and clothing.

The Reimeikan's somewhat plain and austere exterior belies what is actually a very modern, interactive, variegated and intelligently laid-out museum that kids will enjoy every bit as much as adults.

The museum also contains a restaurant, a cafe, an auditorium and a shop.

The Reimeikan is close to the Statue of Saigo Takamori on Shiroyama. Access is from Shiyakusho-mae tram stop.

Reimeikan
7-2, Shiroyamacho
Kagoshima
892-0853
Tel: 099 222 5100

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Yozakura - the Night Blossom Tradition

夜桜 Night blossom

Yozakura means "night blossom" in Japanese, and is one aspect of Japan's ancient cherry blossom tradition.

Yozakura in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo.
Yozakura in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

The Japanese cherry tree, Prunus serrulata, is an ornamental tree that, due to its artificial breeding over the centuries, does not produce fruit. It blossoms in early spring, which is the occasion for the centuries-old tradition of hanami (literally, "flower viewing") in Japan.

Love under the yozakura, with the Tokyo SkyTree, Taito ward, Tokyo.
Lovers enjoying sakura at dusk,
with Tokyo SkyTree in the background. Taito ward, Tokyo.
The sakura (cherry blossom) season is now at its peak in Tokyo, somewhat earlier than is typical. A stroll through any part of the capital city will show beautiful scenes of the shimmering off-white-with-a-touch-of-pink petals of the tiny flowers that cover the gnarled, black trunk and branches of Japanese cherry trees.

Dusk blossom yozakura in Kuramae, Taito ward, Tokyo.
Yozakura, Kuramae, Taito ward, Tokyo.

At nighttime, cherry trees continue to charm, either in moonlight or under lamplight, as the petals subtly reflect the gentle light. Picnicking under cherry trees at night is a tradition in Japan, and adds a sense of mystique and fun to the floral charm.

Partying under the yozakura, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.
Drinking under the yozakura, a night party in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.
Japan has three traditionally famous spots for yozakura: Hirosaki Park in the town of Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture, Takada Park in the town of Takada in Niigata prefecture, and Ueno Onshi Park in Tokyo (among other Tokyo hanami spots).

A small night blossom scene in Yanagibashi, Taito ward, Tokyo.
Yozakura by lamplight, Yanagibashi, Taito ward, Tokyo.

Yozakura works its magic on the streets of any city, turning even backstreets like the one shown above in Tokyo's Taito ward into picturesque scenes with every bit as much charm of their own as the splendor of better known quarters, like the British Embassy in Japan in Chiyoda ward, pictured below.

Yozakura in front of the British Embassy, Tokyo, Japan.
Night sakura in front of the British Embassy, Tokyo.


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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Japan News This Week 24 March 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. North Korea Threatens U.S. Military Bases in Pacific

New York Times

Japan: The worst developed country for mothers?

BBC

Toyo Ito becomes sixth Japanese architect to win Pritzker Prize

Guardian

Tepco snubs ¥10.5 billion cleanup tab

Japan Times

Fukushima Rescue Mission Lasting Legacy: Radioactive Contamination of Nearly 70,000 Americans 福島救援活動の永続する遺産—アメリカ人の被曝

Japan Focus

Two years after tsunami, Japan's small business owners stuck in limbo (+video)

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

Between January 1 and March 16, 2013, the Japanese press has devoted a lot of ink to the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) trade negotiations. The US press has all but ignored it.

Number of stories covering TPP by the Asahi Shinbun and the New York Times:

Asahi: 224
New York Times: 10

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tokyo Cherry Blossom Spots 2013

花見




The cherry blossom in Tokyo is now at its best. The most popular places for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in Tokyo include Ueno Park, Yasukuni Shrine, Koishikawa Korakuen, Aoyama Cemetery, Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Sumida Park and Inokashira Park.

The blossoms have come early this year, but are beautiful whether viewed by day or for nighttime cherry blossom viewing.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum

杉原千畝

The Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum, located in the deep countryside of Yaotsu in Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, is a museum dedicated to the life and good deeds of this small town's most famous son.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum, Yaotsu, Gifu


Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) was born in Yaotsu and spent his early life at schools in Nagoya before studying languages in Tokyo at Waseda University. In 1919 Sugihara joined the Japanese Foreign Ministry and was posted to Harbin in China, becoming an expert in Russian.

Twenty years later Sugihara found himself as the vice-consul at the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania when the Second World War broke out in Europe with the German invasion of Poland.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum, Gifu, Japan


It was here that thousands of European Jews besieged the Japanese Consulate begging for transit visas via Japan to escape Nazi persecution. Sugihara asked for advice from his superiors in Tokyo on how to deal with the escalating humanitarian crisis outside his consulate. Ignoring their orders not to issue visas, Sugihara followed his conscience and began hand-writing visas for the thousands of Jews pleading for an escape route.

Sugihara's actions of issuing valid transit visas are thought to have saved the lives of around 6,000 Jews, who fled across Russia to Vladivostok and then Japan to escape the concentration camps. Sugihara continued issuing visas even as his train was leaving the railway station Lithuania when the consulate was closed down in 1940 and he left for a new posting in Berlin.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum


After the war Sugihara returned to Japan and was dismissed from his post. During the 1960s Sugihara used his Russian language skills working as a representative for Japanese companies in Moscow. It was in 1968 that he was contacted by people his actions had saved and he was honored by the Israeli government with the State Medal of Honor.

The Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum presents the history of Sugihara's life using video (including English and Hebrew language versions), photographs, realia and a recreation of his office in Kaunas. Each visitor is given a blue "passport" on entry in remembrance of Sugihara's humanity.

The western-style museum is pleasantly built of cypress (hinoki) trees and close by is the Bells of Peace Monument representing the piles of visas issued by Suhihara, with the words "Love", "Courage" and "Heart" engraved on the bells.

Chiune Sugihara Memorial Museum
Yaotsu 1071
Yaotsu-cho
Kamo-gun
Gifu
505-0301

Hours: 9am-5pm; closed Monday
Admission: 300 yen

Access: there are irregular buses from Akechi Station on the Meitetsu Line to Yaotsu and then a bus to the museum (10 minutes) or a bus from Mino Ota Station to Yaotsu and then the same bus to the museum.
By car, the museum can be reached from the Toki and Tajimi ICs on the Chuo Expressway or from the Komaki IC on the Meishin Expressway and then National Highway 41.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inshu-Ikeda Residence

旧因州池田家表門

The Inshu-Ikeda Residence (aka Kuromon or "Black Gate") in Tokyo's Ueno Park district is the former residence of the daimyo (feudal lords) of Inaba Province, present day Tottori Prefecture.

Inshu-Ikeda Residence, Ueno Park, Tokyo


Originally located in the Marunouchi area of the Japanese capital near Tokyo Station, the gate was moved here in 1954.

The Kuromon has a hipped gable roof and twin sentry boxes. The gate is classified as an Important Cultural Property.

Inshu-Ikeda Residence, Ueno Park, Japan


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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 1 Hakata

December 25th, 2012

I leave my hotel near Hakata Station and walk towards the temple that marks the start of the pilgrimage route that I am going to follow around the island of Kyushu.

It's Christmas Day, but that means little in Japan where it is just another workday and already the roads and sidewalks are busy with cars, buses, taxis, cyclists, and pedestrians on their way to work. Its dark and raining heavily, not an auspicious beginning, the only bright point being that today I don't have to carry a heavy pack as my walk will circle around the city so I can hop a train back to the hotel this evening.

Tochoji, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan


Tochoji is a large undistinguished concrete complex. According to legend it was founded by Kobo Daishi in the early 9th century after he returned here from China. A couple of years ago a new, vermillion pagoda was built. In the main hall a solitary woman is praying.

From here I head towards the Naka River which I will follow south towards the next temple in the suburbs. I stop in briefly at the Kushida Shrine, the most famous of Fukuoka city's shrines. The main hall has a collection of very long nosed tengu masks that I hope to photograph but without a tripod its still too dark and overcast to get any shots.

I follow the river as far as Takamiya and then head up into some low hills to find the second temple. Navigating Japanese streets is rarely easy at the best of times, and when meandering over hills the lanes and alleys can be well nigh on impenetrable.

Several times I ask passers-by for help but, as is common when asking directions in Japan, nobody knew where the temple was. I find it on top of the hill with a view over a great sea of concrete and roofs that is Japanese urban sprawl. The temple itself is also concrete and featureless. Inside a solitary woman sits as the shaven-headed priest drums and chants. Outside a brightly painted statue of Fudo Myo add a splash of color to the drab, monotone environment.

The rain eases.

Back down the hill and for a few kilometers I follow the Nishitetsu rail line. At Zasshonokuna I veer off and head directly east towards a line of low hills.

Mikasa River, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan


Crossing the Mikasa River the rain has stopped and to the north the sky is brightening. I remember reading that a major battle took place here many centuries ago but no sign of it now exists. The road heads up through a narrow valley and at the top, passing under the expressway, I can see the mountains across the valley where I expect to be walking tomorrow. Now draped with cloud and rain, I hope that the weather will be nicer tomorrow.

I find the next temple easily, and like the second there is little to distinguish it. Most of the temples on this pilgrimage route are minor, but as any walking pilgrim will tell you, its not the temples themselves which are important but the journey between them.

I start my way north up the valley. On my left the hills that separate it from the airport and downtown Fukuoka, on my right the much higher group of mountains I will be climbing up tomorrow, and then I have my first surprise of the walk...

Umi Hachimangu. The shrine is fairly big, but it is dwarfed by and enclosed within a grove of massive, gnarly trees. Kada's Forest, as it is known, is a grove of giant camphor trees, and the shrine marks the site of a major story from Japan's ancient founding myths, the story of Empress Jingu who, after carrying him in her womb for three years, gave birth here to the man who would be known as Emperor Ojin.

When I was researching my planned route I saw no mention of Umi or Umi Hachimangu so I found it energizing to have "discovered" it. I carried on north for another hour or so to Sue before catching a train back into Hakata.

Jake Davies

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Homeless in Ueno Park

上野公園のホムレス

Ueno Park in Tokyo has a sizeable homeless population. The problem of homelessness has not gone away since it first came to public attention amidst the economic slow-down of the "Lost Decade" of the 1990s.

Homeless in Ueno Park, Tokyo


However other problems, such as the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Japan's territorial spats with its neighbors have pushed the problem of homelessness in Japan to the back burner.

Various NGOs struggle to help the victims, mostly older men in their 50s and 60s, regain employment and get them off the streets.

Homeless in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan


The reality is, however, that there is a lack of political will and a public apathy to the homeless and their blue tarpaulin tents in Tokyo's major and minor parks, though doubtless they would all be rounded up and shipped out of the capital, should Tokyo ever get the Olympics.

Homeless, Ueno Park, Tokyo, Japan

Figures vary for the number of homeless people in Japan, though Tokyo has the most of any city in the country with a conservative estimate of around 5,000.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Ebisu Station

恵比寿駅

Statue of Ebisu, Ebisu Station, Tokyo

Ebisu Station in Tokyo is named after Yebisu Beer, which had a large brewery in this area in the early 20th century. A freight station was built in 1901 to serve the brewery and was called Yebisu Station. In 1906 a passenger station was opened nearer to Shinjuku and was called Ebisu Station -  a case of a place name evolving from a brand.

Ebisu Station, Tokyo, Japan


Nearby attractions include Yebisu Garden Place, which includes the Yebisu Beer Museum, the Mitsukoshi department store, a open air market, cafes including a Starbucks, a number of restaurants, the Beer Station beer hall, the Westin Tokyo hotel and a recreation of a French chateau housing the Michelin-starred La Table de Joel Robuchon. There is a covered passageway linking Ebisu Station with Yebisu Garden Place called Yebisu Sky Walk.

Ebisu Station has a European style cafe, Rail, serving, yes, Yebisu beer and coffee.

Ebisu Station, Tokyo, Japan


Ebisu Station is served by three JR lines: the Yamanote Line, the Saikyo Line and the Shonan-Shinjuku Line as well as the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Japan News This Week 17 March 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. Nuclear Neighbors for North Korea?

New York Times

Japan seeks to join TPP free trade talks

BBC

Japan becomes first nation to extract 'frozen gas' from seabed

Guardian

Abe purges energy board of antinuclear experts

Japan Times

Tohoku Has Been Rent Asunder for Future Generations

Japan Focus

Two years after Japan's nuclear meltdown, what happened to Fukushima's orphans?

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

Rank by country of GDP - per capita in US$ as of July 2012.

1 Liechtenstein 141,100
2 Qatar 104,300
3 Luxembourg 81,100
4 Bermuda 69,900
5 Monaco 63,400
6 Singapore 60,500
7 Jersey 57,000
8 Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) 55,400
9 Norway 54,200
10 Brunei 50,000
11 Hong Kong 49,800
12 United States 49,000
13 United Arab Emirates 48,800
14 Guernsey 44,600
15 Switzerland 43,900
16 Cayman Islands 43,800
17 Gibraltar 43,000
18 Netherlands 42,700
19 Austria 42,400
20 Kuwait 42,200
21 Canada 41,100
22 Sweden 40,900
23 Australia 40,800
24 Ireland 40,100
25 Iceland 38,500
26 British Virgin Islands 38,500
27 Germany 38,400
28 Belgium 38,200
29 Taiwan 38,200
30 Denmark 37,600
31 Greenland 37,400
32 Andorra 37,200
33 Finland 36,700
34 United Kingdom 36,600
35 San Marino 36,200
36 France 35,600
37 Japan 35,200
38 Isle of Man 35,000
39 Macau 33,000
40 Korea, South 32,100

Source: CIA World Factbook

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Premium Yebisu Joel Robuchon

薫り華やぐヱビス

It is always a pleasure to add to our series of reviews of Japanese beers. Today is the turn of Yebisu's Premium Yebisu Joel Robuchon.

Premium Yebisu Joel Robuchon beer


I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the slightly chemical first taste on opening the can but I had just spent two weeks drinking real ales in the UK, so I suppose that is normal.

As the beer settled in the glass it had a light pleasant taste and a lighter, thinner color than standard Japanese lagers. The beer is a tie up with renown French chef Joel Robuchon and is produced with malt from France's Champagne region and New Zealand hops.

The ABV is the Japan standard 5%.

Joel Robuchon owns a number of restaurants in Japan, where the beer will be served. These include La Table de Joel Robuchon in Ebisu and a restaurant of the same name in Nagoya.

Premium Yebisu Joel Robuchon lager


We have previously reviewed craft beer in Japan, Sapporo Classic and Sapporo Kaitakushi.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Akasaka K-Tower Tokyo

赤坂ケイ・タワー

Akasaka, right next to Tokyo's governmental district of Nagatacho, is one spot where the rich and powerful - as well as the not so rich and powerful - go to have fun: dine, shop and drink.

Kajima Corporation's Akasaka K-Tower, Moto-Akasaka, Tokyo.

Just north of Akasaka, in the Motoakasaka district, is a striking new tower (in the sense of being just over a year old) called Akasaka K-Tower.

Akasaka K-Tower is no more than an office tower with the top few floors housing apartments, and has none of the aspirations to fame and grandeur of, say, Tokyo Midtown or Roppongi Hills. It has nothing but its looks to commend it, but for me that was plenty.

With its layered grid exterior in a stark simple two-tone of white beams and dark windows, Akasaka K-Tower has both a boldness and delicacy about it that makes for a very smart, new architectural presence in Akasaka, one of central Tokyo's bustling business and fun entertainment areas.

Akasaka K-Tower had been catching my eye for the past few months, so my curiosity drove me to Google it, only to find that it's too new to show on Google Maps, although the name "Akasaka K-Tower" can be found on Google Maps.

Akasaka K-Tower was designed and built by the Kajima Corporation, which has its headquarters in the building right next door to Akasaka K-Tower (on the far side, not visible in the photo). Kajima Corporation is one of the Japan's leading construction companies, and has been around since 1880. The "K" in "K-Tower" is for "Kajima."

Kajima Corporation, like many other Japanese construction companies, is known to collude with other construction companies in bid-rigging (or dango). Kajima has also been a longtime contributor of funds to politicians, for the alleged purpose of winning government contracts. The most notable beneficiary of Kajima's generosity is Ichiro Ozawa, a longtime political kingpin in Japan, who admitted to receiving biannual contributions in the early 1990s. As recently as 2010, both Ozawa's and Kajima Corp's offices were searched by public prosecutors on suspicion of bribery.

March 2014 update
Kajima Corporation was also caught red-faced at the beginning of 2014 when incorrectly installed plumbing in a building Kajima is constructing for the Mitsubishi Jisho property development company's "Parkhouse" brand led to the partially completed building being demolished and purchasers being made to wait for another 3 to 4 years. Read more about the troubled birth of The Parkhouse Grand Minamioyama Takagicho and the background to the The Parkhouse Grand Minamioyama Takagicho incident.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Minshuku Sato Kitsuki

Minshuku Sato is located south of the river across from Kitsuki Castle.

Minshuku Sato Kitsuki Oita


I booked for 3,200yen sudomari (only stay; no food) but asked for some food and got a big bowl of champon with rice and a beer for 800 yen. The ground floor is a shokudo or canteen.

There is a convenience store across the street with a supermarket 20 min walk away. One onsen is 5 minutes walk, another 20 minutes walk.

No English is spoken. They say they will pick up from station which is 5k from the town. 10 tatami size rooms. TV. Kettle. Ac/heater operates on coins.

〒873-0005
大分県杵築市
大字猪尾63-1
Tel: 0978 62 6051

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu

A Walk Around Kyushu

On Christmas Day, 2012, I began what I estimate will be a 2,000 kilometer walk around the island of Kyushu.

I plan to roughly follow the route of the Kyushu 108 Sacred Sites Pilgrimage, a modern creation designed mostly for car and bus pilgrims and it will take me through each of the seven prefectures of Kyushu and most of the major cities.

A Walk Around Kyushu, Japan


I do not consider myself a particularly religious person, but the pilgrimage offers a convenient framework for the walk and it will take me to places I would probably not normally choose to go.

Last year I walked the 1,200 kilometer Shikoku Pilgrimage and I found it a wonderful way to explore country that was new to me. Walking has numerous benefits as a mode of travel: its affordable!, its healthy, but mostly it offers a way of seeing things that would otherwise be missed.

It has been my experience that in the out of the way places, away from the main tourist haunts, there are interesting sites to see, histories to discover, and people to meet, and zipping by in a car, on a bus or a train they remain invisible.

I have visited Kyushu several times, though I have never visited the southernmost prefecture of Kagoshima. Miyazaki and Kumamoto I have only made very brief forays into.

Fukuoka and Oita, I have both visited several times but there remains much un-visited, so in the main I will be going places I have not been to before. I will be in the cities and the deep countryside, in the mountains and along the coasts. I wish to experience the full diversity of Kyushu.

I am guessing that it will take about 70 days, but I don't plan to complete the walk in one go. I have gardens to look after and other commitments that make it impossible to have such a big chunk of free time, so I will be walking it in sections and hope to take around a year.

I only plan on walking in 4 of Japans' seasons: the Rainy season and the Typhoon season I plan to avoid for obvious reasons, but each of the other seasons have their own character that will show different aspects of the place.

When possible I will be staying at cheap business hotels, in the smaller towns and villages in minshuku, but I will be carrying a full pack so there will be times when I will have to sleep out, on the beach, in the woods, etc.

A Walk Around Kyushu, Japan


I will be visiting lots of shrines and temples. I am fascinated by the diversity of art that can be found there, and also, shrines in particular, are repositories of local history, legend, and myth. There are also many sites that my route will take me by that I know I want to see, but the most important thing will be the surprises and the unexpected.

So, please join me each week here on Japan Visitor Blog as I recount my experiences of each day of my journey.

Jake Davies

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sakazuki Art Museum Ichinokura

市之倉さかづき美術館

The Sakazuki Art Museum in Ichinokura just south of the ceramics center of Tajimi in Gifu Prefecture introduces the ceramics of local potters and an historic collection of sake cups (sakazuki).

Sakazuki Art Museum Ichinokura, Gifu, Japan


The kilns of Ichinokura in its heyday were the largest producers of sake cups in Japan producing around 40% of the nation's total output.

The museum's huge collection of sake cups includes works from the Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras.

Sake cups at Sakazuki Art Museum Ichinokura

There are buses from Tajimi Station to the museum (about 15 minutes) or take a JR train to Kokokei Station and walk up the river valley past the historic kilns and ceramics galleries and shops of the linear village. By car, the museum is 20 minutes from Tajimi IC on the Chuo Expressway.

The Sakazuki Art Museum has an attached shop selling ceramics, sake and other goods as well as an Italian-style restaurant, Moon. The spacious car park also attracts vendors selling pottery and fruit and vegetables and has the atmosphere of a local craft market.

Sakazuki Art Museum (website in Japanese)
6-30-1 Ichinokura
Tajimi
Gifu Prefecture
Tel: 0572 24 5911
Hours: 10am-5pm; closed Tuesday
Admission: 400 yen

Sakazuki Art Museum Ichinokura


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Monday, March 11, 2013

Second Anniversary of the Tohoku Earthquake

東北地方太平洋沖地震

Today is the second anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

Tohoku Earthquake


Restoration work continues slowly in the areas damaged by both the massive tsunami and the nuclear contamination and it is estimated that the nuclear clean-up operation may take 40 years or more.

The strain on residents in the Fukushima area is palpable with an increase in divorce rates, as wives and children leave the area to escape the effects of radiation whereas husbands with jobs feel forced to stay and carry on.

Many people and their families have also left the areas affected by fallout, probably never to return, though a recent WHO study downplayed the risks of increased cancer rates in the region.

Residents also experience discrimination from the wider Japanese population similar to the fate of the hibakusha - the  survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombs of 1945.

Tohoku Earthquake

Despite widespread opposition to nuclear energy in Japan - opinion polls show 70% of Japanese people opposed - and continued demonstrations, such as the huge anti-nuclear rally in Hibiya Park in Tokyo yesterday, the anti-nuke movement maybe running out of steam. The pro-nuclear LDP, led by new PM Shinzo Abe, which presently also enjoys support ratings of 70%, is committed to restarting Japan's currently moth-balled reactors.

The huge Tohoku earthquake happened at 2.46pm on a Friday in 2011 and was to be Japan's largest crisis since World War II.

Look back at the events using this earthquake map and the panic buying that hit Tokyo as people feared the worst.

See a video of the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude Tohoku earthquake as people mill around outside their offices in Tokyo.


The earthquake was the largest experienced in Japan since records began and the most costly natural disaster in history.


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Japan News This Week 10 March 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. Japan's Hope: If You Build It, They Will Come

New York Times

Fukushima disaster: Cameras monitor nuclear 'ghost towns'

BBC

Japan edges out of recession

Guardian

PM2.5 sandstorms to reach Tokyo

Japan Times

Truth to Power: Japanese Media, International Media and 3.11 Reportage

Japan Focus

Will China, Japan, and South Korea hit the 'reset' button for Asia?

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

According to a survey carried about by the Japanese advertising agency Hakuhodo, 50.2% of Japanese men in their 40s and 50s would marry their wives if born again. If they were reborn, met the same woman - half of Japanese men would want to marry her. Japanese women however had different ideas. Fewer than 40% of the woman would marry the same man if born again.

Source: Jiji Press

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Shrinking Hotel in Akasaka Tokyo

赤坂プリンスホテル

Overlooking Tokyo's business and entertainment district of Akasaka is what was once a grand hotel on a hill, the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka (known as the Akasaka Prince Hotel until 2007).

Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka,Tokyo, shrinking!


The hotel itself dates from 1955, and the current 40-story building dates from 1983. The height of it combined with its chic, glassy, V-profile and how it overlooked the Aaksaka-mitsuke district together with the nearby Hotel New Otani, made the Grand Prince a playground of the rich and famous during Japan's Bubble Era of the 1980s.

It is perhaps fitting then that this former pillar of extravagance is now shrinking. Yes, a shrinking building!  I didn't get it myself when the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka's noticeably shortened stature first caught my eye a few months ago. I put it down to faulty memory, perception, or a mixture of the two, but learned just a few days later that my faculties had, in fact, served me properly and that the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka was gradually growing smaller.

The 138.9 meter (455 foot) tall hotel closed at the end of March 2011. From April to June it was used to house refugees from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Then in June 2012, demolition of the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka got underway.

However, this happened to be the tallest building in Japan ever to be a target of demolition. The height of the building combined with its proximity to numerous surrounding buildings made traditional methods of demolition problematic.

Tokyo's shrinking building, the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka.

Firstly, installing cranes at that height was, reportedly, considered a problem (one which is a little difficult to understand, however, considering how commonly cranes are installed at enormous heights for construction purposes), the concern about noise, dust and danger vis-a-vis the rest of the neighborhood was also a big problem.

So the solution was to use the roof of the building as a cover, as a huge, perfectly fitting "hat" and encasing the building in a sheath, inside of which the demolition work was carried out, and which was lowered little by little following the demolition of each floor.

Dreamed by up by the construction company, Taisei Corporation, this unique demolition method is dubbed the Taisei Ecological Reproduction System, or "Tecorep," the "ecological reproduction" bit referring to its parallels to (i.e. "reproduction of") the natural process of decomposition.

Besides obviating the need for cranes, Tecorep makes it possible to keep demolition going 24/7, without the constraints of potential neighborhood complaints about noise and dust, or bad weather.

The photos here were taken just this week and show that the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka has reached about half its former height. The demolition schedule was delayed from the very beginning, so when it will finish is anyone's guess, but considering how long it has taken to get this far, it might not completely disappear until the end of this year.

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Tagata Shrine Fertility Festival 2013

田県神社の豊年祭, 犬山、愛知県

The 2013 Tagata Jinja Fertility Festival takes place next Friday on March 15.

Tagata Shrine Phallic Festival


This increasingly popular and bizarre phallic festival involves a procession involving a 2.5m freshly carved wooden phallus carried 1.5km between Kumano Shrine and Tagata Shrine near Inuyama, just outside Nagoya in central Japan.

Tagata Shrine Phallic Festival

The ancient Honen-sai Festival is concerned with fertility and regeneration and prayers for a successful harvest for the year.

Access to Tagata Shrine

 Meitetsu Komaki LineTo get to Tagata Jinja take a Meitetsu train from Nagoya Meitetsu Station or Kanayama Station to Inuyama. Change to a Meitetsu Komaki Line train leaving from platform 3 and go threee stops to Tagata Jinja Mae. Turn left out of the station and then left again at the main road. Alternatively take the Kami-Iida Line from Heian-dori subway station on the circular Meijo Line.

Tagata Jinja is about 400m on your right. To reach Kumano Shrine turn right out of Tagata Jinja, cross over the main road and Kumano Jinja is on your left as you climb the hill after crossing over the railway line.
Alternatively take the Tsurumai Subway Line to Kami Otai and change to a Meitetsu Line train to Inuyama and then the Komaki Line to Tagata Jinja Mae.

Tagata Shrine
Aichi, Komaki-shi, Tagata-cho-152
Tel: 0568 76 2906


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