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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Giselle and the Fate of Wahine book review

ワヒネ 小説

Book review of Giselle and the Fate of the Wahine.
Giselle and the Fate of Wahine

New Zealand has created a niche for itself as a sparsely populated, grandly landscaped, green Pacific Arcadia thanks to decades of tourism PR topped by having featured as the setting for the Lord of the Rings movie. The "garden city" of Christchurch has been at the forefront of this portrayal, as the gateway to the skies of the more touristically popular of the two main islands, the South Island.

Giselle and the Fate of Wahine, by the Japan-based New Zealander, Marty Walpole, is the lyrical title of a novel set in New Zealand, and opening in Christchurch. It is a work of historical fiction based on the Wahine disaster of 1969, when the inter-island car ferry, the Wahine, sank in Wellingon harbour on a run from Christchurch, ending in the loss of scores of lives.

Wahine means "maiden" in Maori, and the name alone adds a poignant edge to the tragedy. But does Giselle and the Fate of Wahine extend the title's lyricism with  perhaps a gesture to mythical Maori maidenhood? Does it maybe open with a sketch of the stately, small-city beauty of 1960s Christchurch? Does it leverage anything of the nature resort reputation that New Zealand has woven itself over the past few decades?

No. Giselle and the Fate of Wahine opens an hour before the city's "rush hour," with its "parks with joggers," garbage collectors' "huge trucks," and "uniformed coffee shop and restaurant staff placing chalkboard menus on the wet sidewalks." The reader's eyebrows are immediately raised - that is if the reader is at all familiar with the provincial sleepiness of late 1960s New Zealand when jogging as a personal regime was in its raw infancy and pretty much limited to members of harriers clubs, chainstore-like uniformed coffee shop staff a virtually unknown phenomenon, and the idea of restaurants opening before, we are told, the buses had even started their runs preposterous.

In other words, Giselle opens with a scene reminiscent of legendary American urbania - thousands of miles from Christchurch and still decades before anything remotely like what is described there came to typify the place—if it does even now. The vocabulary alone with its "chalkboards" (i.e. blackboards) and "sidewalks" (footpaths) is a world away from the Kiwi lingo of the 1980s, even, (when this reviewer lived there), let alone the 1960s.

This fake, foreign grittiness continues with the first speech act encountered in the book: "'About fucking time,' Emma muttered." Fucking? 1969 New Zealand? Yeah, right - da gangsta rap made her do it. But, in an abrupt flip, consider the only time we get to see the Garden City by night, or, more precisely, nearby Lyttelton Harbour. Try Google Imaging the locale to get an idea of how small it is in 2013, let alone in 1969,  then come back and ponder how "Emma marveled at the night view of the harbor, with its neon." Hardcussin' Emma has suddenly turned lacebodiced Heidi-comes-to-town, overwhelmed by the sight of the town's pub sign.

Other jarring anachronisms include a sheet of A4 (not foolscap), the wind blowing in km/h, and headaches being cured with the obscure Panadol (not the actually ubiquitous Disprin).

Most damningly of all, there are no characters in Giselle and the Fate of Wahine, only character names. No one is lovable, no one is hateable, no one is even really much in between: there are just names fitted with apparently random, generally unevocative, physical descriptions here and there (like "a small man with a thin body") that are assigned actions and words. The hint of a relationship (incidentally, girl-on-girl), is introduced a quarter of the way through, but even that is left hanging, and virtually no character development takes place whatsoever. Wooden is the word that comes to mind.

Physics is an insuperable problem in Giselle. In an unintended sci-fi-like twist, different objects and characters apparently occupy independent dimensions within the same scene. One very remarkable example is presented in a single paragraph: "Furniture slid across the floors, piling up on the lower side of the room. Older passengers had trouble sitting in the chairs and opted to sit on the carpeted floors. One young woman had been trapped under the crashing furniture and was hauled out by other passengers." Yet, amid this violently unstable mayhem, the very next sentence describes how "Emma and Janice sat with coffee in their hands. Both were quiet, watching the people around them. Emma sat forward and waved to Richard who was pouring coffee for two ladies sitting nearby." Go figure. Or how about when the Wahine is battling the waves in Wellington Harbour, driven off the reef on which she had foundered by winds of up to 250km/h? Bugger me if there aren't "Along the cliffs thousands of people holding umbrellas"! Aye, they put things together good'n'proper in them days, they did.

Giselle and the Fate of the Wahine is full of grammatical errors, especially punctuation-related, and questionable vocabulary choices; but these pale into insignificance against much more annoying features, probably the biggest being the inordinate repetitiveness and longwindedness that plague the book. I swear it's going to take me a good ten days to recover from being battered over the head repeatedly with unnecessary, uninspired and clumsy descriptions, often in histrionic metaphors, of how the sea heaved, the storm raged, the wind howled, and the rain lashed relentlessly, fiercely, unforgivingly, brutally (take it away, Mr. Roget!), every two or three paragraphs, virtually right the way through.

I kept waiting for something to happen throughout Giselle and the Fate of Wahine's 324 pages, but nothing did. The disaster is not the germ of the book, it engulfs the book and leaves nothing of novelistic value in its aftermath. In fact it is less a novel than an unglued report. Even what are meant to be crises come and go colourlessly, without credibility or impact. It is repetitive, careless, naive, and contextless, lacking any storytelling spark, and memorable only for its headshaking incongruities.

The author clearly has the will, but the way is still being discovered. Broader and deeper reading of others' writing would no doubt go a long way.

Giselle and the Fate of Wahine was published just last month, as a paperback only, and can be ordered online from Pegasus.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

How to find an English teaching job in Japan

英吾教師の仕事を修飾する方法

Teaching English in Japan
JapanVisitor often gets inquiries from prospective English teachers in Japan about how to best promote themselves and find an English-teaching job in Japan.

Like most English-speaking foreigners in Japan, most of us on the JapanVisitor team also started out as English teachers, so we’d like to share a little of our experience and wisdom regarding finding a satisfying and rewarding English-teaching job in Japan.

Firstly, there are more opportunities in big cities than elsewhere in Japan, and the conditions of work in big cities will often be better. If you want to teach English in Japan for the Japanese experience, then you probably won’t mind where you end up (one of us started off on Sado Island!). While big cities like Tokyo and Osaka offer (often) better pay and more convenience, the boonies offer a more immersive Japanese experience and generally much cheaper accommodation.

Secondly, looking at ads on websites and waiting for something that looks good to come up won’t, alone, do it. It worked better up to a couple of decades ago when the idea of coming to Japan was something of a rarity, but globalization has made its mark since then, and the ratio of supply to demand is higher than it used to be.

Scouring ads should, of course, form part of your job seeking effort, but the major part of it should be undertaken on your own initiative.

The best place to start is with your CV and a cover letter, preferably in both English and Japanese. They want to know you can write good English, and going the extra mile to write in Japanese can only look good, and can only help you when the administrative staff dealing with your application don’t speak English.

Then you should select your target area (whether geographical or vocational) and get lists of addresses and contacts of all the establishments you think you might want to work at, and then some more. To do this, you will need to surf the web in Japanese if you really want to maximize your chances.

Once you have printed out all your address labels, you should launch a full-scale mass mailing of your CV and cover letter by Japan Post (you'd be surprised how many older Japanese don't use email) and/or fax.

The greater number of CVs you send out, the greater your chances of landing the ideal teaching job (or any job, for that matter) in Japan. You will have to devote several days to this task - the sky is the limit, but as with anything, the more ventured the more gained.

In the meantime, if you see anything advertised, you should respond with your CV as well.

Gambatte!
Teaching English in Japan: Finding Work, Teaching, and Living in Japan

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Japan News This Week 28 April 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. Officials’ Visit to Japanese Shrine Could Anger Neighboring Countries

New York Times

Abenomics: Can it really end deflation in Japan?

BBC

Why warring 'allies' hold no terrors for North Korea

Guardian

China officially labels Senkakus a ‘core interest’

Japan Times

Yet Another Lost Decade? Whither Japan’s North Korea Policy under Abe Shinzō

Japan Focus

Is Japan's Shinzo Abe finally acting on his true nationalist colors?

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

Professional baseball players in Japan have seen their salaries decrease by 830,000 yen ($8,340) compared to 2012.

The average NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) baseball player now earns 37.33 million yen ($374,890).

In Major League Baseball, the average salary is $3.2 million (31,800,000 yen).

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gongendo Shrine Ishigaki

権現堂,石垣

Gongendo Shrine on Ishigaki Island in Yaeyama, Okinawa, is situated right next door to Torinji Temple just a short way west of Ishigaki Port on Yui Road (Route 79).

Gongendo Shrine Ishigaki, Okinawa


Gongendo Shrine was constructed in 1614 and rebuilt in 1786 after it was destroyed by a tsunami in 1771. Gongendo was damaged again in World War II but was restored once more in 1947.

Gongendo Shrine is designated as a National Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. The shrine is opposite a small, traditional Okinawan rock garden on the opposite side of the road.

Gongendo Shrine Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan


Gongendo Shrine is within easy reach of Ishigaki public market, Miyara Dounchi House & Gardens and the Yaeyama Museum.

Gongendo Shrine Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan


Gongendo Shrine
285 Ishigaki
Okinawa Prefecture
907-0023



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Friday, April 26, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 5 Kitakyushu

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 5, December 29th, 2012

The bad weather of yesterday has gone as quickly as it appeared, and today is back to being warm and sunny.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 5, Japan


The first hour or so is not fun. From my hotel near Yahata Station I follow Route 3, the main road and it's very, very noisy and its rush hour. Kitakyushu is a massive conurbation, bigger in area than Fukuoka, and about a million people live here and they all seem to be on this road right now.

After passing under the expressway I turn off the main road and head up a slight rise. Looking back over and beyond the distinctive outline of Space World a line of smokestacks are spewing smoke and god knows what other substances into the air. Kitakyushu is one of Japan's Eco Model Cities, and compared to fifty years ago when it was one of the most polluted places in Japan it is certainly much much cleaner. Now you can see the blue sky and fish swim in the bay.

I drop down into a small valley and leave the main road and walk through the residential streets. This is an upmarket area, with big houses, tall walls surrounding them, and plenty of visible security.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 5, Japan


I find the first temple, Amida-In, high on the hillside, now hemmed in on all sides by houses, it must have been more impressive before the urban encroachment. I chat with an old gentlemen who once lived in Ohio, he in English, and I in Japanese. He asks the question that many ask, why am I, a non-Japanese, walking a Japanese pilgrimage?

I am frustrated by the assumption that things Japanese and non-Japanese exist in separate realities. The question why was I walking a pilgrimage is the natural one that could be answered, but always in Japan the rigid distinction between Japanese /non-Japanese and the implied impenetrable gulf between them makes it impossible to give an honest answer so I simply say because I enjoy walking.

I walk a little past the temple and reach the rise. Down below is the last stretch of Kyushu before the straits separating it from Honshu. Its a dense grid of mostly houses with no distinguishing features or landmarks, and like most streets in Japan they are not named or numbered, so finding the last temple proved to be difficult.

After several tries I found someone who knew the temple and directed me to it. Small and compact occupying no more space than a house, at least there were several nice Fudo Myo-o statues. And that’s it for this first leg of my pilgrimage.

From here I walk to the coast and head east towards Kokura Station and my hotel for the night, passing the Jerde-designed Riverwalk Complex. I want to check in there and take some photos but first dump my bag and take a shower.

Time to head home for a few days to spend New Year with my wife. I'm using the Seishun18 rail ticket that gives 5 days travel on local trains for only 11,000 yen, so I came down to Kyushu, will go home, then come back down in the New Year and get back home again all for less than the regular one-way fare.

In 5 days I've walked from Fukuoka to Kokura and at a conservative estimate have walked 120 kilometers, not a great pace, but considering the shortness of the midwinter days, not bad.

Though I will be passing through other big cities later in the walk I think this section has been the most urban so I'm glad to get it behind me. Time for a beer and to check out the illuminations over along the river near the Riverwalk Complex.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 4

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Writer Abroad: Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan

Writer Abroad: Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan: Watching Home from Far Away: On Watching the Boston Marathon Bombings from Japan Guest post by Tracy Slater On Ap...

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Beach Combing on Katsurahama Beach

Living in Southern California, I have always held a great affinity toward the beach and have spent many a pleasant day on the sand and in the sea.

Katsurahama Beach, Kochi, Shikoku, Japan


Whenever I visit Japan I am interested in seeing the beaches in whatever locality I happen to stay. I have picked up smooth beach glass on the wet sands of Hiroshima and I have waded in the warm waters of the Sea of Japan near Kanazawa.

There I saw families drive their cars up to the water's edge, set up picnics, and cast fishing lines into the sea. It is an overwhelming feeling sometimes when life seems so idyllic.

In early November my daughter and I were in Kochi, the land of Sakamoto Ryoma and many wonderful sites. It is well worth your time to visit Katsurahama Beach and the surrounding locale.

Sea urchin on Katsurahama Beach, Kochi


The natural beauty of the area is striking. From above, the beach is framed by tall, stately pines. Walking down the path we heard the sound of the ocean grow louder and witnessed the waves crashing against some monumental rocks and the sea spray shooting into the air.

We crossed the sand to the shore and peered closely at the sand and gravel at our feet - and there we saw hundreds of tiny sea shells. We could not help but gasp at this wonder.

At home we do not see many shells on the local beaches. In addition, many beaches are protected by state and national regulations which prohibit the collecting of natural flora and fauna.

So to be at a beach where we were allowed to engage in beach combing seemed a minor miracle. We spent an unspecified time lost in a world of discovery. Afterward we took lots of pictures, and still feeling incredibly giddy we sent video footage from my iPhone to various innocent and unsuspecting friends in the USA.

Sponge Bob

The most crazed spectacle I sent to my younger daughter, Kendra. Channeling "SpongeBob SquarePants Episode #39a "Jellyfish Hunter," I began "Hey all you people, hey all you people, won't you listen to me... I've just been to Kochi, it's no ordinary city, it's the bestest city in Japaaaaaaaan!!!"

Recently I inquired about the existence of this regretful lapse of judgment and was told, "It's in my files." Well, hopefully it is lost in those files, for my sake and that of the fine city of Kochi, Japan.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kabira Bay Ishigaki

川平湾,石垣

Kabira Bay (kabira wan) on Ishigaki Island in the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa, is Ishigaki's main tourist draw and is an awe-inspiring and beautiful natural site.

Kabira Bay Ishigaki Okinawa Japan


Kabira Bay is famous for its lovely emerald colored water, cultured black pearl industry and incredibly fine white sand. Swimming is prohibited at Kabira Bay though there are glass-bottomed boat tours to view the marine life, coral and pearls.

There is a small shrine on the headland and a viewing platform to take in the expansive view. If you do want to swim head to nearby Sukuji Beach.

Boat Kabira Bay Ishigaki Okinawa Japan


There are a small number of souvenir shops here and a rather kitsch habu snake farm but, on the whole, especially out of season in March and November, Kabira Bay is very quiet, with only the sound of lapping waves on a picture perfect strand of white sand.

Other attractions on Ishigaki Island include Torinji Temple and Gongendo Shrine, just a short way west of Ishigaki Port, Yonehara Beach, the Yaeyama Museum, Ishigaki Market, Banna Forest Park, Mt Nosoko, Maezato Beach, Mt Omoto, Uganzaki, the Tojin Grave and Yonehara Palm Grove.

Kabira Bay Ishigaki Okinawa Japan


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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu Hotel - convenient Tokyo accommodation with style

赤坂エクセルホテル東急

Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu, in Akasaka, Tokyo.
Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu, in the Tokyu Plaza Building, Tokyo

The Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu is conveniently located in the heart of Japan's governmental district, Nagata-cho - immediately accessible from Nagatacho subway station - and directly across the road from the bustling and convenient Akasaka dining and entertainment area.

The 14-story Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu (with two additional below-ground floors) has no less than twenty different categories of room available, from the Standard Single for 22,500 yen per night, through a range of different styles of room—a total of 17 rooms reserved specifically for women, such as Ladies Moderate Single, Ladies Superior Twin, Ladies Deluxe Twin, etc.—up to the 3-person Premiere Suite for 115,500 yen per night. (These prices good until March 31, 2014.)

Nearly all room types offer a choice of smoking or non-smoking, with 278 rooms designated as non-smoking.

Guest rooms come with regular channel, pay-per-view, video-on-demand (VOD), and satellite television; a LAN cable and high-speed Wi-Fi (free internet access), telephone, refrigerator, trouser press, bidet lavatory, hair dryer and water boiling facilities together with complimentary tea (black and green). A computer can be hired for 1,500 yen per night.

Entrance to Tokyu Plaza, in Akasaka, Tokyo.


Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu guest rooms are virtually self-contained. The bathrooms of guest rooms at the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu are fully provided with various soaps, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush set, razor, brush and comb, and nightwear.

The ladies' only rooms have additional comforts in the form of feather bedding, an accessories case, face cleansing products, a hand mirror, and the addition of herb tea to the complimentary teas available.

All rooms come with a laundry service. Unfortunately the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu does not have any wheelchair accessible rooms for the disabled. Neither does the hotel have any connecting rooms.

Check in at the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu is at 2pm, and check out at 11am.

The Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu has a restaurant, salon (lounge bar), and cafe on the 3rd floor. The restaurant and salon serve breakfast from 6am and 7am respectively. There is another restaurant on the 14th floor, as well as a cigar bar—only from the evening only.

However, guests at the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu are by no means limited to the hotel's facilities. The hotel is located inside the larger Akasaka Tokyu Plaza: a complex with no less than 15 different restaurants, including high-class sushi, a Turkish restaurant, Chinese, Italian, regional Japanese cuisine, and even a Hooters. There is a 7-11 convenience store and a Tully's Coffee on the ground floor, over a dozen men's and women's fashion stores and beauty boutiques on the 2nd floor, and a hairdressers on the 3rd floor.

Just across the road is the bustling bar and entertainment district of Akasaka. Next door is the massive gleaming white Prudential Tower.

Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu viewed from Akasaka side, Tokyo.

Even one of Tokyo's most fashionable districts, Aoyama, is walkable along picturesque Aoyama-dori Avenue if you like walking, or just one stop on the subway. Two stops beyond Aoyama is one of Tokyo's most cutting edge fashion districts, Harajuku, with its elegant Omotesando boulevard.

Tokyo's center of foreign-style nightlife, Roppongi, is also easily accessible from the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu for a night of song and dance.

The Prime Minister's residence is only 5 minutes walk away from the from the Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu, and, just behind the Prime Minister's Residence, the grand old National Diet Building.

Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu
2-14-3, Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0014
Tel (81) 3 3580 2311Fax (81) 3 3580 6066

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Connection of the Tokyu Toyoko and Fukutoshin railway lines in Tokyo

 東急東横線・副都心線 相互直通運転

Last week, on Tuesday April 16, the Tokyo metropolitan railway network was expanded with the connection of the Tokyu Toyoko and Fukutoshin lines.

The 1.4km of the Toyoko line between Shibuya and Daikanyama has been routed underground, and now connects to the Fukutoshin line at Shibuya station. The above-ground station of the Toyoko line was closed, and is now underground, shared with the Fukutoshin line station. The direct link to the Hibiya line was also discontinued.

Thanks to this, six Tokyo metropolitan area lines have been brought together. It is now possible to take a through train from the  Tobu Toji line or Seibu Ikebukuro line, via the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho line or the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin line, to the Tokyu Toyoko line or the Yokohama Kosoku Tetsudo Minatomirai line, allowing through passage all the way to Motomachi-Chukagai Station in Yokohama.

The Toyoko line has thus become part of the metropolitan railway network.

This development has been accompanied by station improvements made to the Shibuya-to-Yokohama line. Stations between Shibuya and Yokohama have been upgraded to allow 10-car limited express, commuter limited express, and express trains. Platforms have also been widened and made more accessible for wheelchair users and physically challenged.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Japan News This Week 21 April 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. Japan Confronts Hazards of Judo

New York Times

Shinzo Abe's challenges in reviving Japan's economy

BBC

Haruki Murakami fans queue overnight for latest novel

Guardian

IT entrepreneur hopes to revive rural areas

Japan Times

Japan Under Neonationalist, Neoliberal Rule: Moving Toward an Abyss?

Japan Focus

Global defense spending dips for first time in 15 years

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

In the one-year period ending up to October 2012, Japan's population decreased a record 284,000.

Moreover, the number of persons aged 65 or older is now 30,000,000

That is out of a population of 127,000,000.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Torinji Temple Ishigaki

桃林寺,石垣

Located a little west of Ishigaki Port on Yui Road (Route 79) is Torinji Temple, which according to the official tourist pamphlet was the first Buddhist temple built on the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa.

Torinji Temple Ishigaki, Okinawa


Torinji, which belongs to the Zen sect, was built in 1614 and now sits right next door to Gongendo Shrine which was also constructed at the same time.

Torinji's main attractions are two 18th century wooden statues of Deva kings (nio) which are now considered the guardians of Ishigaki.

Torinji Temple Ishigaki Okinawa


Torinji Temple is within walking distance of the public market, Miyara Dounchi House & Gardens and the Yaeyama Museum.

Torinji Temple
285 Ishigaki
Okinawa Prefecture
907-0023
Tel: 0980 82 2142

Torinji Temple Ishigaki Okinawa


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Friday, April 19, 2013

Ishigaki Port

石垣港

Ishigaki Port is the major ferry hub of the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa with ferries to Taketomi Island (10 mins), Iriomote (40 mins), Kuroshima (30 mins), Kohama (30 mins), Hateruma (60 mins) and Yonaguni Island (4 hours). There are no longer ferry services from Ishigaki to mainland Japan or Naha.

Ishigaki Port, Yaeyama, Okinawa, Japan


Ishigaki Port is served by a number of private ferry/tour operators who compete for the tourist trade and are linked with the major Japanese mainland tour operators. These include Hirata Tourism, Anei Kanko, Dream Kanko and Yaeyama Kanko.

Ishigaki Port, Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan


These tour companies can arrange specific island tours and activities such as kayaking and mangrove cruises on Iriomote and water buffalo rides on Taketomi and Yubu Island on Iriomote. The diving specialists Tom Sawyer are also based at the port.

Some of the ferry operators offer a "passport" system where travelers can use the ferry "passport" for unlimited travel on the company's boats for a limited period of time such as three days. Bicycles are charged to take on the boats unless carried in a bag.

Ishigaki Port, Yaeyama, Okinawa, Japan


Ishigaki Port has a number of small shops selling food, drinks, ice cream, beer and local souvenirs such as awamori.

Ishigaki Port is close to the island's bus terminal and the main entertainment and hotel area. Nearby hotels to Ishigaki Port include Hotel Tulip, Hotel Gran View (formerly Chisun Resort Ishigaki), Hotel Peace Island and the Toyoko Inn Ishigaki.

Ishigaki Port, Yaeyama Islands, Okinawa, Japan


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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Choosing A Good Japanese Shochu

さつま島美人

I am no connoisseur of sake (Japanese rice wine) let alone shochu so I asked a Japanese friend to recommend a good bottle for me.

Choosing A Good Shochu in Japan


He suggested a shochu called "Satsuma Island Princess" (Satsumajima Bijin) from Kagoshima Prefecture and distilled from sweet potatoes. Satsuma is the old name for Kagoshima prefecture and also the origin of the name "satsuma" for tangerine oranges (mikan) in Britain.

Shochu can be made from a variety of base ingredients including sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat or sugar cane. The Okinawan variant, awamori, is made from long-grain rice.

I took a trip to my local Liquor Mountain and asked the baito (part-time shop assistant) for the brand. Of course, in the tradition of all such part-time employees, he had no idea, probably not even being of the legal age to drink, which is 20 in Japan.

Japanese Shochu from Kagoshima


He called the manager who found the bottle for me. The label was well designed and oozed quality. So, after parting with 1700 yen (about 17 $) I took my 1.8 L bottle home to try or should that be dry?

Shochu is very easy to drink mixed with water and ice and is deceptively strong at around 25% proof.

Island Princess is a name to remember if you want to take home a liquid souvenir of Japanese shochu.

Choosing A Good Japanese Shochu


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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 4 Nogata

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 4, December 28th, 2012

Well, the good weather had to end at some point.... two days of glorious sunshine but today is grey and dark and drizzly.

The first temple is about ten kilometers away to the north on the outskirts of Nogata, so with head down I head along the main road, …. maybe there are interesting things to see, but I just focus on making distance and get there in about two hours.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the temple, but across the road is a larger temple complex with some trees and space so I take a short break in the bell tower.

The next temple is across the river on a hill overlooking the main part of Nogata. Again it is not particularly interesting but the drizzle eases up a bit. At the bottom of the hill I find a small shrine that is the first interesting thing of the day. Guarding the entrance are not the usual komainu, or in the case of Inari shrines, foxes, but rather a pair of monkeys.

Phallic monkey statue, Kyushu, Japan


It's a shrine to Sarutahiko, an earthly kami with strong phallic associations, and with his long nose considered to be the forerunner for the tengu. Long associated with monkeys, behind the shrine are hundreds of votive monkeys: toy monkeys, demon-quelling monkeys, hear no evil-see no evil-speak no evil monkeys, but surprisingly only one phallic monkey.

Across the road, up a lane lined with lanterns, is the main shrine of the town. Far more imposing than the folk shrine down below, its also more austere, all dark wood and white gravel with little of the playfulness of the local shrine. In a room I see a dozen or so miko taking a class with a priest. All the big shrines will have miko permanently on staff, but for shrines such as these miko will be hired as temporary workers for 3 or 4 days over the New Year period when the shrine will receive thousands of visitors.

Miko Shrine Maidens, Kyushu, Japan


On my way across the valley I noticed a steam engine on the hill and as it is located close to the shrine I head over to have a look. There are actually two locomotives on display, complete with sound effects. This is the Nogata Memorial Hall of Coal, a small museum dedicated to the history of coal mining in the area. All around the outside of the buildings are equipment from the mining, now rusting. The last mine here closed down in 1976.

On the outskirts of Nogata to the north along the river is the last temple for today. From here the fastest route to Yahata is along the main road, but it has started to rain again and I really don't fancy the noise of the main road so I choose to follow the river.

The embankment offers a much quieter and prettier route. At Nakama I leave the river and start to head north east. It's now urban sprawl as far as the eye can see. Its been dull all day, but now it's getting dark. There is still 8km until my hotel near Space World, but the rain gets heavier. I'm wet. Its dark. To hell with it, I jump on a train at Imaike and head for a shower and some dry clothes.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 3

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo in Ikebukuro

ホテルメトロポリタン東京

Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro entrance.

The Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo in the Ikebukuro district is one of Tokyo's better hotels, and the flagship hotel of the Metropolitan Hotels, owned by JR East Hotels. The Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo has been an accommodation presence in Ikebukuro since 1992.

The Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo offers comfort and convenience without being too highly priced (think an average of 12,500 yen per night for a standard room), and with the overwhelming advantage of immediate proximity to Ikebukuro station - only 3 minutes walk from the West Exit of Ikebukuro Station.

The Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo is adorned with tasteful gardens in the natural Japanese style, and the block the hotel occupies is attractively lined with trees, giving it a refreshing seasonal air.

Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro inside entrance.


The Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo is a 24-floor hotel; floors 5 to 15  are for Standard rooms (with a 500 yen charge for optional Wi-Fi), and floors 16 to 23 for Deluxe rooms (with free Wi-Fi). The 24th floor is reserved for the luxurious Executive Suites.

The several restaurants at the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo offer everything from Italian, to Japanese, Chinese, sushi, and teppanyaki. There is also a bakery and several bars.  Most restaurants and bars at the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo are on the B1, 1, mezzanine and 2 floors, but there are two luxury restaurants on the 25th floor offering the best of both food and Tokyo views.

There is a wide range of tasteful shopping opportunities offered within the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo, from fashion to flowers to Japanese souvenirs.

Grand lobby of the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro.


Other services include video on demand (pay for), room service (pay for), laundry service (complimentary), a 24-hour business center (100 yen/5 mins), massage (pay for), high-speed internet (pay for), and a music rehearsal room (3,000 yen/3 hours).

Laptop computers can be rented for 2,100 yen per night (unless all rented out), baby beds (for up to 1-year-olds) are available for free, video/DVD players are available for free, as are an iron, trouser press, humidifier, multi-plug, and mobile phone recharger.

Check in is from 2pm to 5am; check out is at 11am
There is parking for 160 cars at a cost of 1,000 yen per car per night (10am on the day of check in to 6pm on the day of check out)

Garden-lined entrance to the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo Ikebukuro.


Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo
1-6-1 Nishi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-8505
Tel 03-3980-1111
Fax 03-3980-5914

Room interior of the Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo in Ikebukuro, Japan

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Bangladesh Festival 2013 in Tokyo

池袋でのバングラデシュ祭り

Bangladesh Festival, Ikebukuro, Tokyo 2013, at the fountain.

Tokyo's Bangladeshi community celebrated on Sunday in Ikebukuro Nishi-guchi Koen park in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district. The huge triangular glass atrium of the adjoining Tokyo Metroplitan Theater, with its 6-meter black Cubist sculpture out front, provided an imposing ultramodern backdrop to the cultural festivities.

Music stage, Bangladesh Festival Tokyo 2013.

It was a balmy early spring afternoon, and a crowd of thousands filled the park, milling around the scores of booths and pressing around the pulsating music stage.

Live music dominated the atmosphere, with male and female Bangladeshi solo vocalists and backing band filling the air with tunes from the evocative to the thrilling and generally working up the enthuiastic clapping and dancing audience with Bangladeshi pop music and rousing repartee.

Stalls at the Bangladesh Festival 2013, Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

The stalls were a mix of food vendors selling traditional Bangladeshi meals, snacks, and drinks, much of it halal. The lines of food stalls, sending up clouds of barbecue smoke and sporting banners were constantly thronged by both Bangladeshi and Japanese revelers.

Other booths offered a range of various services to the Bangladeshi community, including the newly launched Brastel Remit service whose very competitive overseas remittance rates from Japan to Bangladesh and other Asian countries are making Brastel Remit popular.

Bangladesh Festival 2013, Ikebukuro Nishi-guchi Koen Park, Tokyo.

The Ikebukuro Nishi-guchi Koen park fountain, playing its cycle of leaping spouts, was another focal point of the festival, and was an especially popular spectacle with the kids, both Bangladeshi and Japanese.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Japan News This Week 14 April 2013

今週の日本

Japan News. Japan Re-emerges in the Aerospace Arena With a New Jet

New York Times

North Korea crisis: Japan prepares for possible attack

BBC

Haruki Murakami fans queue overnight for latest novel

Guardian

M6 quake jolts western Japan

Japan Times

North Korean and US Nuclear Threats: Discerning Signals from Noise 北朝鮮と米国による核の脅し—発信されるシグナルとノイズの区別

Japan Focus

Could China and Japan see a spring thaw in relations?

Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News

Statistics

In 2012 there were 682 known executions in the world.

1. China 1000+
2. Iran 314+
3. Iraq 129+
4. Saudi Arabia 79+
5. USA 43
6. Yemen 28+
7. Sudan 19+
8. Afghanistan 14
9. Gambia 9
10. Japan 7
11. North Korea 6+

Note: a + symbol means that the exact number is not known but assumed to be greater than the confirmed number.

Source: Amnesty International

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Restored Tokyo Station by Night

東京駅 夜景

Restored Tokyo Station by night.

Tokyo Station is Tokyo's grandest railway station. The renovation of Tokyo Station was completed in 2012, and restored the more than century old transport hub of the metropolis to its former glory.

Since October 2012, that former glory has been further enhanced after sundown by illumination designed to bring out the station's old, revived beauty.

Tokyo Station by night is lit up using LED lights with adjustable computer-controlled color balance. The focus of the lighting is on six distinctive elements that make up Tokyo Station:
-the brick walls that in earthquake-prone Japan have become something of a rarity, and which the lighting brings out in their all their antique warmth (sturdily reinforced during the recent renovation using the latest structural technology!)
-the three main arches of Tokyo Station, each grand arch extending the full height of the the station's three stories.
-the tiled roof, in natural slate, that covers the 335 meter long station.
-the white granite pillars on the second and third floors that feature between the windows.
-the three domes, restored for the first time since their destruction in WWII, inset with round copper porthole-type windows.
 -the stately white windows that line the Tokyo station front.

Tokyo Station lit up at nighttime.

The night time spectacle that is Tokyo Station is thanks to the expertise of professional lighting designer Kaoru Mende, who is also responsible for the lighting design of Tokyo International Forum, Kyoto Station, Sendai Mediatheque, and Roppongi Hills.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

The outskirts of Tokyo

I went for a car ride with my partner and three of his work colleagues to Chigasaki last weekend, about 50 km out of Tokyo to the southwest - past Yokohama. For someone who rarely makes it more than about two stations' distance outside anywhere within the Yamanote line, I find the satellites of Tokyo are a bland wilderness pretty much undifferentiated whichever point of the compass you happen to follow.

Car sales yards one after another, representing every Japanese car maker and a few of the European ones, lining the long, flat, straight main drag; fiberglass-paneled shops, restaurants and fast-food joints in pastel greens and pinks and yellows, built to be pulled down and replaced soon, sporting fake steeples, giant cutesy, garish 3D plastic icons, revolving signs and huge carparks; mini-hatchbacks everywhere driven at 40km/h plus the occasional all-white low-rider sedan with an orange-haired discontent slumped in the driver's seat; raamen shops, udon shops; huge shopping complexes a few hundred meters back from the main street grumbling the same practicality; fiberglass-paneled or concrete four-story cubes of love hotels sporting a slapped-on fake flowery trellis and pretend bay windows; slouched five-story blocks of apartments covered in what look like beige bathroom tiles; little plots of carparks with 6 or 7 spaces here and there, each with its own ticket machine; stand-alone family houses everywhere, all two-story, gabled, brown, and with a low concrete block wall out front; covered shopping malls that intersect the main road with English-sounding names; and everything overhung with a cobweb of gray concrete poles of power lines with suspended junction boxes and thick black sheathing.

This is car territory and there are no impediments to smooth progress besides traffic lights. If you are hungry you can brake almost anywhere, park and eat. You get lost if you don't have your navigation on, but you always have it on. This is a conurbation, and everything merges into everything else.

Our main destination was a friend with an online retail business who had way too much stock for the amount of business he was now doing, but had had to move into a warehouse half the size because of the rent. We sorted through the thousands of jeans and trousers, the hundreds of shirts, ignored the DVDs and CDs and books all from a few years back, and found a few things we could wear, one or two of them real finds, and for very cheap.

We were back in Tokyo by evening, flying back into and through the city on the overhead highway that loops around the metropolis, much of it built over the city's canals. We park the car back in Sumida, unlock our bikes and cycle back home over the bridge.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 3 Sasaguri

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 3, December 27th, 2012

The sky is clear but in the shadow of the mountains the sun cannot yet reach the valley floor to melt the ice and frost as I walk through Sasaguri and head towards my first stop of the day, Nanzoin Temple.

A Walk Around Kyushu, Japan


It's not part of the pilgrimage I'm walking but I've read that is is claimed to be home to the largest bronze statue in the world, so a must-see for me. Its still a long time to opening when I arrive but as there is no closed gate I wander in and explore and I have the place to myself.

There is a lot to explore as it is quite a large complex, with grottoes and tunnels and hundreds of statues including a huge and colorful Fudo Myo-o. Eventually I find the Reclining Buddha, 41 meters in length and weighing 300 tons, it really is quite impressive. I debate whether to wait for the sun to peek around the corner and shine on the statue itself for the dramatic photo it would make, but decide to head off and as I leave the staff of the temple and the first tourists start to arrive.

I have a hotel booked in Iizuka tonight and yesterday's detour to the top of the mountain has put me behind schedule so I set a brisk pace and follow the main road. Normally I would take the smaller roads that pass through the villages, rather than the more heavily trafficked main roads that now bypass the villages, but not today.

After a few hours I descend into the wide valley of the Onga River which I cross to reach the first of the pilgrimage temples I will visit today, #93 Shoho-ji and here I meet the young priest.

Young Japanese priest, Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan


Like policemen, it seems to me that priests are getting younger and younger. He offers me a tea and we sit on the temple steps and chat. He, like myself, has walked the Shikoku Pilgrimage and so we have a connection, but more interesting is that he tells me that his father who is the priest at temple#3 back in Fukuoka has walked this Kyushu pilgrimage and did it in 65 days. This is the first time I had heard of anyone walking this pilgrimage.

I now head north towards the town of Iizuka, once one of 26 post stations on the Nagasaki Kaido, the main road of Kyushu during the Edo period. Along this way passed all the southern Kyushu daimyo on their way to Edo as well as the Dutch merchants from Nagasaki. The road ended in Kokura in Kitakyushu and is now marked with a memorial bridge in front of the ultra modern Riverwalk Complex.

At Temple #11, Myokan-ji, I am surprised to find a nice karesansui, the dry, raked gravel and rock garden most often associated with Zen, but this, like all 108 sites on the pilgrimage, is a Shingon temple.

In the main shrine of the town I step in to a hive of activity. The grounds are filled with vans and trucks and dozens of stalls are being set up in preparation for the New Year when the shrine will get more visitors than all of the other days of the year combined. As well as the stalls there are lights being strung, banners hung, awnings erected, and signs posted.

There is one more stop before I reach my hotel, the Kaho Gekijyo Kabuki Theater, a fine example of a Taisho Period theater and the last one still operating in the region, where once were 48 catering to the coal miners, who worked the Chikuho coalfield. Chikuho coalfield was the richest in Japan and the reason why Japan's steel industry began in nearby Kitakyushu. The theater is surprisingly interesting and for the 300 yen entrance fee visitors can wander throughout the building including backstage and below stage to see how the 16 meter diameter revolving stage was moved. Best of all, for me, was the display of props that included some nice old masks.

The sun has shone all day and it has been filled with a variety of things seen and learned. A good day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 2

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Web Hotel Asakusabashi

ウェブ・ホテル浅草橋


Web Hotel Asakusabashi is a small, five-story hotel very close to Asakusabashi Station on the Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan) Asakusa subway line (exit A6) and on the JR Sobu line.

Conveniently located Web Hotel Asakusabashi is clean and modern, having opened only in 2009, comfortable, reasonably priced, and non-smoking throughout. Although Web Hotel Asakusabashi is less than two-minutes walk from Asakusabashi Station, the hotel is just behind the main Edo-dori Avenue on a quiet, secluded backstreet, making for a peaceful, relaxing stay.

Web Hotel Asakusabashi has a laundromat on the premises, computers for guest use, a massage service, free coffee, and an express postal delivery service.

Rooms at the Web Hotel Asakusabashi are equipped with a TV, Wi-Fi, fridge, hair dryer, etc. and, if you require them, a trouser press, iron, humidifier, and VCR. If you reserve it beforehand, an in-room microwave oven is also available.

The Web Hotel Asakusabashi itself has no parking facilities, but commercial pay-for parking facilities are available in the immediate Asakusabashi vicinity.

Check in at the Web Hotel Asakusabashi is from 3pm to 2am, and check out at 10am.
The Web Hotel Asakusabashi accepts the following credit cards: Visa, Diner's Club, American Express, Master Card, and JCB card.

Places to see near the Web Hotel Asakusabashi include:
-Akihabara shopping district famous for electronics and Japanese gaming and manga culture. Just one stop away on the JR Sobu line.
-Asakusa traditional temple district, just two stops away on the Asakusa subway line.
-Ueno park, Ueno zoo, museum, market and shopping district, just two stops away: on the JR Sobu line (to Akihabara) then the JR Yamanote line (to Ueno).

Web Hotel Asakusabashi
1-30-3 Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0052, Japan
Tel. 03-5833-8686
Fax. 03-5833-8688

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Kaiji Beach & Hoshizuna

星砂

Kaiji Beach on Taketomi Island in the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa is famous for its star sand or hoshizuna.

Kaiji Beach, Taketomi, Okinawa, Japan


To paraphrase the information boards on the beach: "Star sand is the sedimentation of the foraminifera's dead shells (Baculogypsina sphaerulata). Live foraminiferas can usually be found on seaweed and other marine plants. Star sand is said to bring happiness, though a sad folktale tells of how a giant sea serpent eats the babies of stars and later their remains wash ashore as hoshizuna.

Kaiji Beach, Taketomi, Yaeyama, Okinawa, Japan


Visitors hunt for the sand on the beach or you can see samples under a microscope at the small stall set up selling trinkets and small bottles of sand as souvenirs.

Taketomi is a short 10-15 express boat ride from Ishigaki Ferry Terminal. Kaiji Beach is a 15-20 minute walk from the main settlement on Taketomi or a short cycle ride.

Kaiji Beach, Taketomi, Yaeyama, Okinawa


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Monday, April 08, 2013

Tokoyo Inn Asakusabashi - a convenient Tokyo hotel near Akihabara

 東横INNアキバ浅草橋駅東口

The Toyoko Inn Tokyo Akiba Asakusabashi-eki Higashi-guchi hotel.

The Toyoko Inn Tokyo Akiba Asakusabashi-eki Higashi-guchi hotel is a popular, clean, well-located, and reasonably priced hotel in Tokyo's Asakusabashi district, just one train station east of Akihabara (or "Akiba" for short), and two train stations south of the famous traditional Asakusa district.

The Toyoko Inn Asakusabashi is about two minutes' walk from Asakusabashi Station on the JR Sobu line. The Toyoko Inn also runs a free shuttle bus from nearby Akihabara electronics, gaming, and manga district to the hotel.

Toyoko Inn Tokyo Akiba Asakusabashi-eki Higashi-guchi has 239 rooms, and 12 different room types suited for all sorts of travellers: couples or singles, those on a big or a low budget, smokers or non-smokers.

The hotel features wi-fi in public-use places, massage facilities, and free LAN access in rooms.

Because of its excellent location, free shuttle bus to Akihabara shopping, proximity to the railway station, good meals and reasonable rates, the Toyoko Inn Tokyo Akiba Asakusabashi-eki Higashi-guchi is often booked out, so the earlier the better when it comes to making bookings.

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