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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Japan News This Week 31 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan's Premier Supported Ceremony for War Criminals
New York Times

Japan defence ministry makes largest-ever budget request
BBC

Japan executes two more prisoners
Guardian

2,900 children officially declared missing in Japan
Japan Times

Japanese Whaling: The Saga Continues
The Diplomat

Jus koseki: Household registration and Japanese citizenship
Japan Focus

Why Japan's Abe and India's Modi are Asia's new best friends (+video)
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

1,129 were hospitalized in Tokyo over the last 5 years for "dangerous drugs," which are an extra-legal form of marijuana, etc.

Source: Japan News

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station

四ツ谷駅 改札口 更新

Looking at this morning's weather forecast (rain - all the way through to the weekend) I left off cycling and took the train to the office for the first time in about three weeks.

In this morning's rush, I didn't even notice, but on the more leisurely return home I saw that the ticket wickets in Yotsuya Station had been upgraded.

New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station, Tokyo, Japan.
New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station

The previous ticket gates were by no means old or out-of-date looking, but the green space-age gleam and heightened ergonomics of the new turnstiles caught my eye. While I can't put my finger on what exactly has changed in terms of horizontal profile, something certainly has.

Japanese train station ticket gates are, in my experience, the world's friendliest. The turnstiles of stations in all the other cities with them I've visited in the world are more or less clunky - if not positively aggressive - in comparison. The worst example was at Singapore airport where I sailed through at the same speed I do through a Japanese ticket wicket only to painfully bash a very tender spot on my thigh (no, not that high up, thankfully!) on the very tardily retracting barrier.

We entertained a visitor from overseas last week who we took around Tokyo for a few days. It took him at least a day to get used to the speed you should walk through a Tokyo train station ticket gate, i.e. at normal walking speed, sailing on through and very briefly touching your IC card on the pad without slowing down or stopping.

On the flip side, it may well be that this convenience has a price in the way of more upkeep. Every month or so you'll see a technician or two working on the incredibly complicated looking innards of a temporarily disabled ticket wicket. But keeping things running - and, in this case, people swiftly flowing through them - at all costs is one of the things Japan is about.

PS And it so happened the weather forecast was wrong - it hardly rained at all!

Read more about using trains in Tokyo.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 40, Urushidamachi to Taragi
Sunday November 24th, 2013

I wake as it is getting light and quickly pack my bag after brushing off the layer of frost on my bivvy sack. If it was this cold down this low I hate to imagine how cold it must have been at 900 meters where I was originally planning to sleep out.

There is a thick fog everywhere. I head down the road towards the Kuma River valley. About 200 meters along I see the neon glow of a couple of love hotels piercing the fog. Damn!! If I had walked two more minutes last night I could have had a room in one of them. Then I pass another of those "adult" vending machine huts.

Before long I reach my turning. I am going to head up the valley along a yamanobenomichi, a road along the edge of the mountains, on the boundary between the flatter valley floor and the steep hills. The place where the water comes out from the mountains, and the place that historically many Japanese lived.

Out in the middle of the valley, where the river that made the valley flows, there is now a main road and a railway line with lots of people settled along both, but in older times this would have all been paddies and agricultural land.

The older settlements, along with shrines and temples and such are all along the yamanobenomichi. Even in big modern cities of today, if you go to where the city butts up against the mountains you will almost always find an old, narrow, windy road, with older styles of houses and shrines and temples and other markers of history. Today I will wander along this one until the next pilgrimage temple, Josen-ji.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi

It's not long till I find the first temple of the day. A Chinese-style gate with a large statue of Kannon leads to a small but nice temple on the hillside. It is still too early for anyone to be about. The colors of the maple, with a full range from green through yellow to scarlet are somehow quite beautiful in the diffuse light with subtle shades of grey. More villages, more shrines, often with brilliant carpets of golden gingko leaves. Little traffic.

Eventually the fog clears but out in the middle of the valley a white, serpentine line of mist clings to the course of the cooler water of the river. Tilled fields begin to steam. Another glorious day.

By lunchtime I come into the biggest village so far today, Asagiri. Big enough to have a small general store where I can get some snacks to eat and sit for a while in the shade. Across the road is a shrine with long lines of stone lanterns lining the entrance. It's a bit grander than a regular village shrine. There has been some money spent on it.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi


Then I read a nearby noticeboard and learn that there used to be a small castle on the hill behind the village. The shrine would have been supported by the local ruler, hence its grandness. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of small castles like this all over Japan until early in the Tokugawa Period when the shogunate restricted each daimyo (feudal lord) to one castle per domain.

I carry on and pass the road that comes down from the mountain that I would have been on if I had followed my original route over the mountain. I stop in at a very small shrine, just a solitary honden, the structure that houses the kami that are usually found at the rear of bigger shrines. It has a lovely thatched roof that has been recently redone. It dates from the 16th century and looks like most shrines would have done before roof tiles became prevalent in the late Meiji Period.

By late afternoon, with the sun lower in the sky I approach today's pilgrimage temple. The almost horizontal sunlight illuminates a small shrine by the side of the temple and I see an old gentleman tying fresh bamboo to the uprights of the stone torii (entrance gate) a sure sign that a matsuri will be held very soon.

The temple itself is very pleasant. Enough statuary and autumn colors to sate my photographic urges. Just as I am about to leave, the priest, in full vestments, and his wife appear at the top of the steps of the main hall and invite me in for tea. I really should accept but the sun is getting low and its still 5km to my bed for the night so I apologize and explain my refusal. From here it's almost dead west to the middle of the valley. As I approach the main road it gets busier and around the station at Taragi there are restaurants and convenience stores and lots of traffic. Time for an onsen and a night on a sleeper train.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Part 2

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Japan News This Week 24 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
American’s Star Power Unrivaled in Japan
New York Times

US accuses China fighter of reckless mid-air intercept
BBC

Japan landslide emergency worsens
Guardian

Okinawa holds ceremony to mark 70 years since Tsushima Maru sinking
Japan Times

Women: The Economic Saviors of Japan?
The Diplomat

Okinawa’s “Darkest Year”
Japan Focus

Academic flap turns up heat on China's Confucius Institutes
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

1,129 were hospitalized in Tokyo over the last 5 years for "dangerous drugs," which are an extra-legal form of marijuana, etc.

Source: Japan News

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Obama-so Ryokan

小浜温泉

There are numerous towns called Obama around Japan, the most famous one due to its campaign to link itself to the president of the USA is the one in Fukui Prefecture. The Obama in Nagasaki is a hot spring resort on Tachibana Bay, nestled under the volcanic peaks of Mount Unzen.

Obama-so Ryokan

The hot springs here were recorded in the oldest extant records in Japan from the eighth century, and it is claimed to have the hottest hot spring in Japan with a temperature of 105 degrees. It is also home to the longest ashiyu, public foot bath, in all Japan with a total length of 105 meters that also includes a foot bath for dogs.

Like any hot spring resort there are numerous hotels and luxury ryokan, but as usual I looked for the least expensive option and found Obamaso. Located just off the main coast road, Obamaso is an older, traditional ryokan.

Obama-so Ryokan


There are various size tatami rooms available, some with en-suite toilet, but I opted for the lowest price, no meals, shared toilet, and only 3,200 yen. It was off season, and I was the only guest, which made the place feel a little cavernous, however it also meant I got to enjoy the excellent rotenburo, outdoor bath, all to myself.

Recently refurbished, the rotenburo was one of the nicest I have ever used.

Obama-so Ryokan


Obama-so Minami-Honmachi 7
Obama-cho
Unzen-shi
Nagasaki 854-0513
Tel: 0957 742056

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Keywords
Japan Onsen
Onsen
Unsen
Nagasaki
Japanese Ryokan

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pokemon Center Nagoya

ポケモン

The most-visited Pokemon Center in Japan is the Pokemon Center in Tokyo.

Pokemon Center Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


There are presently eight Pokemon Centers in Japan besides the Pokemon Center in Tokyo: Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo-Bay (Chiba) and Yokohama.

Pokemon Center, Sakae, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


The Pokemon Center in Nagoya is located on the 5th floor of the main building of the Matsuzakaya department store in Sakae. The store is always popular and sells a variety of the hit anime's goods.

If you want the hottest Pokemon items before they sell out on the day, our sister site GoodsFromJapan serves customers worldwide who want Pokemon Center goods. If you wish to purchase the latest Pokemon goods and have them sent to your home or business please contact us.

Pokemon Center Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


A word from GoodsFromJapan:
"Hi, Dave here, the "Pokemon guy" for GoodsFromJapan in Tokyo. I get regular orders for Pokemon store goods from people all over the world: Singapore, France, Australia, India - you name it.
Most requests are for limited edition Pikachu goods - including plushies, files, phone cases, card holders, etc. - that come out on the special event Saturdays. I'm often there early morning with lists of customers orders, and in realtime contact with certain customers while I shop for them, texting with them using WhatsApp, Line, etc. just to make sure we're on exactly the same page.
Once the customer has sent the money by PayPal (+ our 15% commission), I send the goods using the super-secure and speedy EMS postal service: fully insured, trackable online, with the customer in 5 days max.
So if you want Pokemon goods from the Tokyo Pokemon Center - especially the hot, limited edition ones - please contact us at GoodsFromJapan.
Pika-chuuu!"

Pokemon Center Nagoya
Matsuzakaya Main Building 5F
3-16-1, Sakae, Naka-ku
Nagoya-shi, Aichi, 460-8430
Tel: 052 264 2727

The nearest subway station is Yaba-cho on the Meijo Line of the Nagoya subway.

Hours: 10am-7.30pm; daily

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Japan News This Week 17 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
With Eye on China, Japanese Premier Skips War Shrine
New York Times

Japanese ministers in Yasukuni shrine visit
BBC

Yubari, Japan: a city learns how to die
Guardian

Municipalities begin making rules for children’s use of smartphones
Japan Times

Sovereign Debt: Eroding Japan's National Security
The Diplomat

Uprising: Music, youth, and protest against the policies of the Abe Shinzō government 反乱 若者は音楽で安倍晋三の政策に抗議する
Japan Focus

Analysis: Abe draws ire even as he avoids war shrine on WWII anniversary
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Motor vehicles per 1000 people: 591 (2010)

Source: Wikipedia

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Japan Remembers End of Pacific War at Yasukuni Shrine

終戦記念日 靖国神社

Today is the 69th anniversary of the end of Japan's Pacific War. Since a couple of days ago the right-wing sound trucks have been doing their street-circling routine blaring those funny Japanese-Colonel Blimp-style stirring folksy tunes with their rumpa-dumpa rhythms, sung as if verging on tears of indignantly asserted joy.

Shinmon ("Divine Gate") at Yasukuni Shrine, looking toward the Haiden, Tokyo, Japan.
Paying respects to the war dead at Shinmon ("Divine Gate"), before the Haiden shrine, Yasukuni Shrine.

The streets of Tokyo just north of the Imperial Palace were almost empty due to it being the O-Bon holiday period, but were charged with tension all the same. Surugadaishita intersection, just one intersection east of Tokyo's Jinbocho booktown intersection, was blocked by a police cordon when I passed through at about 9:30 this morning. A plainclothes policeman was remonstrating with a yelling motorist who had gotten out of his car, in the jovial, half-mollifying way authority figures here adopt in the face of blusterers.

I was on a bicycle so, checking with one of the uniformed police, squeezed through (even the footpath had traffic cones and chains strung across it) and continued on my way. Up to Kudanshita intersection was almost completely empty of cars thanks to the roadblock.

From Kudanshita up to Yasukuni Shrine, the traffic resumed, but one lane was blocked off on each side for the grilled-windowed police buses that lined the street. Troupes of young police were being mobilized between them: all in their twenties, fresh-faced and often bespectacled, looking more like student volunteers than front-line enforcers.

Flute and oboe duo, and old man doing his best to sing along, Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo.
Flute and oboe duo, with an old man doing his best to sing along, at Yasukuni Shrine.

Inside Yasukuni Shrine looked busy, hung with banners and with what appeared to be the beginnings of a crowd.

I went to Yasukuni Shrine after midday to see what was happening. The main shrine building was thronged, with a long line of people stretching from the torii gate just in front of it, waiting to approach the shrine and pay their respects to the war dead.

Further towards the other end of the shrine grounds were several stalls, one for the right-wing Nihon Kaigi group selling books with a revisionist take on Japan's waging of war and its causes, and collecting signatures in support of revising Japan's constitution to allow Japanese troops to actively serve abroad. Right beside it was another stall collecting signatures against a move to shift the enshrinement of Japan's war dead to another, less controversial, shrine.

Old soldier I chatted to at Yasukuni Shrine, who fought in Russia as a teen. Tokyo, Japan.
Old soldier I chatted to at Yasukuni Shrine, sent to fight in Russia as a teen.

Most interestingly, however, was the presence of a group dressed in military uniforms, gathered around a monument near one of the gates into the shrine. At their center was a frail looking, long-bearded old man sitting on a beach chair in his uniform, and sporting a medal. I went up to him for a brief chat. He was alert and amiable and told me that he had served in the Japanese army in World War Two in Russia for three years, during which time he had been captured by the Russians. "We were confined," he said, holding up and crossing his hands at the wrist in mime. I asked his age, he said 88 (making his wartime experience a teenage one)—"moh dame, moh dame" ("No good, no good anymore!"). I said he looked fine and we had a brief laugh, I thanked him, and moved on. I noticed that as soon as I moved in to talk to him, the guy in military uniform holding an Imperial Army flag immediately disappeared.

It's a hot day today. I went to the refreshment area where there's a small restaurant, outdoor tables full of people snacking and drinking, and vending machines. I bought a bottle of tea and stood there drinking it. Right beside me a guy in his early-to-mid thirties who sounded somewhat tanked up on beer was loudly proclaiming to a bystander he'd cornered about how America was a "land of killers," positing the fate of the native Americans as an example. While Japanese myself, I couldn't resist being a bit of a loudmouth too, and turned around and said to him "Read the history of Hokkaido" (in reference to the fate of the Ainu). I had finished my drink and was walking away anyway, so his outraged shriek equivalent to "WTF!?" in Japanese failed to make its mark.

Dai-Ni Torii ("No.2 Arch") & Shinmon ("Divine Gate"), Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo.
Dai-Ni Torii ("No.2 Arch") and Shinmon ("Divine Gate") at Yasukuni Shrine. 
 The Emperor and prime minister Shintaro Abe are attending an end-of-war memorial ceremony in the Budokan today. Attended by about 6,000 people, it is reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that of the approximately 5,000 members of families of the fallen, offspring make up the majority, and that this year has a record low number of former wives of the fallen: 19, and, for the fourth year running, 0 parents.

38 other local authorities throughout Japan are holding parallel ceremonies, involving a total of about 40,000 people.

69 years on, the Second World War has become fodder for renewed nationalistic bickering in East Asia, primarily between Japan and China. I was in China just a month ago and noted the daily "Confessions of Japanese War Criminals" column in the English-language newspapers there, and over the past month or so there have been reports of war bereaved families in various parts of China launching group litigation against Japanese companies and the Japanese government for war reparations.

After stirring up the hornet's nest of East Asian resentment last year with a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, PM Abe stayed away this year.

Japanese Intelligence in World War 2 

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Business Hotel Chidori Shimabara

ビジネスホテル千鳥

Shimabara in southern Nagasaki is home to a nice reconstructed castle, Shimabara Castle, a preserved samurai district, and is towered over by the volcano Mount Unzen which erupted in 1991 with the lava flow causing death and destruction. There is an interesting museum to the event and nearby are a series of houses buried under ash and debris.

Business Hotel Chidori Shimabara Kyushu


There are a few hotels and ryokan in the area, and in searching for the least expensive I came up with Business Hotel Chidori. It's not a very new building, but the rooms were fine with all the usual amenities, including internet access in the rooms. I had a western style room but Japanese style tatami rooms are also available.

Business Hotel Chidori Shimabara Kyushu

A single room was just 3,500 yen, and an extra 500 yen gets a substantial breakfast. The hotel is located just a 1 minute walk from Shimatetsuhonshamae Station on the Shimabara Line, which runs from Shimabaragaiko, the port where ferries from Kumamoto arrive and depart, and Isahaya on the Nagasaki main line.

Shimabara sunset Kyushu.


Business Hotel Chidori, Shimabara
2-7393-4 Bentenmachi, Shimabara
Nagasaki 855 0802
Tel: 0957 62 4845
Google map

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Black Angel Sculpture in Nippori Fabric Town

黒い天使 吉田隆

My partner and I were heading for Tokyo's beautiful old Yanaka district via Nippori.

The area immediately west and south of Nippori Station is pretty featureless, although numerous overseas backpackers could be seen here and there thanks to the cheap backpacker accommodation that the area has quite a lot of.

However, something eventually came up that endowed the area with a little character. We found ourselves on a street just west of Nippori Station called Nippori Chuo-dori (Nippori Central Avenue) that the numerous banners hung along it proclaimed as being "Fabric Town," and with little fabric and leather shops along it here and there to back the claim up. Apparently there are over 60 such stores along the street, but they are not as densely packed together as say the shops in the kitchenware street of Kappabashi near Asakusa.


Then as we got closer to Nippori Station, almost at the intersection of Nippori Chuo-dori and Ogubashi-dori (尾久橋 for the kanji afficionados out there), we came across this charming statue: a poignant cubist creation called "Black Angel" by the Ishikawa-based sculptor, Takashi Yoshida, set up there in 1985.

"Black Angel" is rigorously angular (I regret not taking a photo of the equally angular back), yet the overall impression is one of delicacy and poise, even pathos, with her possibly pregnant state, obscured features, and lacking right arm - an impression further encouraged not only by the unmistakably dark name of the piece, but also by the distressed little cartoon girl on the fence in the background, importuning pedestrians to cross the road carefully.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 2

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39
Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi part 2
Saturday November 23rd, 2013

So, I arrive at a decision. I will head back down the valley and go over the mountains where they are lower. I'm not entirely convinced it's the right thing to do. I don't like backtracking as a rule, and there is a good chance I can get over where I originally planned, but maybe I am accumulating a little caution in my old age.

When I was younger I would not have changed my plan. I would have gone ahead and encountered problems but they would have been experienced as adventures. The bottom line, I think, is the worry that I have a room booked tomorrow night and if I don't make it I will still have to pay. That's the thing that nags at me. So.... I stride off east down the valley.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 2

My first option is to take the main road, Route 221. It's a new road that roughly parallels the expressway heading north for those willing to pay the exorbitant tolls. Route 221 goes up a "corkscrew" section before passing through a long tunnel and then with another corkscrew descending on the other side. Being a new road it is not likely to have anything interesting to see.

The old Route 221 still winds its way over the mountain, almost certainly no traffic, and probably narrow and overgrown with weeds. It would be a nice walk, but I decide against it because there is the possibility of it being closed at some point by landslide, and because it's a very windy road that would be a much longer walk. In the end, as it's getting into the afternoon, I decide to head a bit further east and go up into the mountains to where a rail line goes over.

As I leave the valley floor the road quickly becomes steep. The station at Masaki is a nice, old, wooden country station, and I'm surprised to find a whole bunch of stalls and local people selling souvenirs. Apparently the train that stops here is a tourist train that stops here for 10 minutes while the driver moves to the opposite end of the train to take it up a switchback.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 2


There are apparently three rail switchbacks in Japan, and two of them are on this line. The next train arrives and tourists bundle off the train and there is a hive of activity around the stalls. Lots of photos are taken. The train itself is rather nice, with wooden interiors and some floor to ceiling windows. The conductor calls us on and we head off, first 200 meters, then stop while the driver changes ends again, and then on up. A few minutes later we are looking down on the station we just left and all the locals are waving.

The views down to the valley and across to the Kirishima Mountains become quite stunning and the train stops several times to allow photos to be taken. The next station is Yatake, about 550 meters in elevation, another small wooden building. We stop here for 5 minutes for photo ops with an old steam engine in a shed next to the station. And then we start to descend, stopping one more time for views over Hitoyoshi and the Kuma River Valley.

On the final descent into Okuba Station the train line does an almost complete 360 degree loop before stopping while the driver once again changes ends for the switchback. Another old wooden station, though the interior of the waiting room is completely covered in meishi, business/name cards. Not sure when the "tradition" started but many of the passengers are busy affixing their own cards or reading the ones on walls. I head off.

The sky is still light but this side of the mountain is in shadow and sunset is not far away. I want to get down as far as I can before looking for a place to sleep. The road is steep and windy. I pass under the expressway that crosses the narrow valley on tall concrete stilts.

It's starting to get dark when I reach the main road, but there is a nice wide sidewalk so I keep pushing on though my eyes are constantly scanning for a possible place to sleep - an abandoned farm building, substantial bus shelter etc.

Just as its getting completely dark I pass a big construction company site. At the edge of the property, far from the main buildings and warehouses are a cluster of railway wagons being used for storage. It's not perfect, but at least I will be hidden from view, and it's now so dark that it will be difficult to find anywhere better.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Part 1

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Japan News This Week 10 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
500,000 Told to Evacuate as Typhoon Strikes Japan
New York Times


Typhoon Halong triggers evacuation orders in Japan
BBC

Anime producer Studio Ghibli may have made its last film
Guardian

Okinawa: pocket of resistance
Japan Times

"How Hiroshima and Nagasaki Saved Millions of Lives"
The Diplomat

Political Protest in Interwar Japan
Japan Focus

Where Xi leads, Abe follows? China, Japan compete in Latin America
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Alcohol consumption in Japan 7.6 litres per capita

Source: Nationmaster

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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Nagasaki Atomic Bombing Anniversary 2014

長崎, 原子爆弾

Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Today, August 9th is the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, the second city in Japan after Hiroshima, three days earlier to be devastated by a nuclear bomb dropped by the American Air Force during World War II.

The original, intended target was the industrial city of Kitakyushu to the north of Nagasaki but the target was changed due to prevailing cloud cover on the day.

The day will be marked by solemn memorial services in the port city on the western coast of Kyushu, including an annual address by the Mayor of Nagasaki as he delivers a Peace Declaration to the World.

A solemn prayer is held at 11.02am, the exact time of the bombing and the mayor of Nagasaki will repeat his pleas for a nuclear-free Japan, given extra emphasis this year as the LDP-led government gradually tries to reopen nuclear reactors closed since the 2011 tsunami and subsequent meltdown of nuclear facilities in Fukushima Prefecture.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Kodo Sawaki - Japan's "homeless" Zen Buddhist priest

澤木興道

The Soto school of Zen Buddhism is the major branch of three in Japan, the other two being Rinzai Zen and Obaku Zen.

Soto is distinguished by a very free type of meditation that purposely sets itself no focus.

Soto Zen derives from the Chinese Chan Buddhist sect, the Caodong school, founded in the 9th century by Dongshan Liangjie (807-869), and introduced to Japan by the Japanese priest Dogen (1200–1253) in the 13th century.

One of the twentieth century's most prominent practitioners of Soto Zen in Japan was the priest Kodo Sawaki (1880-1965).

Kodo Sawaki statue in Sengakuji Temple, Tokyo, Japan.
Kodo Sawaki statue in Sengakuji Temple, Tokyo

I encountered Sawaki while writing a guide to Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo. While Sengakuji's main reputation is as the burial place of the 47 Ronin, it is a Soto Zen temple, and has had a bronze statue of the Zen scholar, Kodo Sawaki, there since 1988.

Kodo Sawaki was born in the city of Tsu, Mie prefecture, and grew up in difficult circumstances, raised by a gambler of an uncle after his father died while Kodo was only 7—his mother already having died when he was 3. The uncle himself died when Kodo was a teenager, leaving him on his own in the world.

Sawaki was drafted to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. He then became a Zen teacher and by his 50s was teaching religion at Komazawa University.

He acceded to management of a temple in Kyoto, Antaiji, in 1949, but did not settle down there. Rather he remained more or less peripatetic, traveling throughout Japan and overseas on teaching missions.This was something of a break with tradition, and although he did have a regular abode, earned him the epithet "Homeless Koto."

Kodo Sawaki's lectures and writings were published throughout his lifetime and are still widely available. He was widely influential, and mentored at least two priests who spread his teachings in the West, and several more active in Japan.

Sawaki's style of Zen meditation was purely Zen for Zen's sake, and a famous quote of his is that "Zen is simply sitting there, not for the sake of this, that or anything."

Sawaki's body was donated to science after he died.


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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima Anniversary 2014

広島

The atomic dome in HiroshimaToday, August 6th is the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and three years on from Japan's latest, on-going nuclear disaster in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, which still remains to be resolved.

Indeed, the present LDP government plans to gradually reopen Japan's nuclear reactors which were shut down in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

The government has also re-interpreted Japan's post war constitution to allow Japan's military greater wiggle-room to take part in conflict.

Ceremonies will take place in Hiroshima Peace Park as usual and throughout Japan to remember the approximately 140,000 victims of Japan's first but not only nuclear disaster.

The attack on Nagasaki occurred three days later on 9th August, 1945. Around 50,000 people are expected to attend the event in Hiroshima this year.


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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39
Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi part 1
Saturday November 23rd, 2013

I head off into the mist. Not as thick as yesterday's morning mist, but brighter because the ground and vegetation is covered with a thick layer of crystalline frost. The first part of today's walk will take me to a temple about 10km up the valley, and from there a decision must be made that has been preoccupying me for the past few days.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

The mist is soon burned off to reveal a clear blue sky, though the land is steaming as the strong sun first melts the frost then evaporates it. The valley is wide and I am on a small, quiet road close to the foothills of the Kirishima Mountains on my right. There is not much activity or traffic. The small farming settlements I pass through are still.

The signs of rural decline are evident in the long abandoned small stores and gas stations. About half way to the temple the road crosses the rail line that runs around the edge of the Kirishima range and down to Miyakonojo. a single track with infrequent service, kept running by government subsidies so schoolkids can get to school and the elderly without cars can get to the doctor's. As I get closer to temple 42, Kousenji, I can see where the temple is by the golden yellow foliage of a tall, hence ancient, gingko tree.

An amazingly long lived tree, both individually and as a species, individuals can live for more than 1,000 years, though there are none in Japan that old as they were brought from China by Buddhist monks in the 12th century, which is why so many of them can be found at temples or shrines.

As a species they are also very ancient, with a close relative having been on the earth for 270 million years. The temple itself is quite small but pleasant, with a large concrete main hall with several smaller wooden halls. There is a fine statue of Fudo Myo, and a small covered shrine to Kannon with a nice collection of dolls plus, a bonus for me, a collection of masks.

It's now late morning and a decision must be made about which direction to head now. The next pilgrimage temples are almost directly north of where I am, and that is obviously the shortest route, but between me and the temples are a range of 1200 meter high mountains. There is a mountain road that starts near here that goes over the mountains topping out at a pass a hair under 1,000 meters, and this has been my planned route.

The road follows the Sendai River up to its source, and there is an elegance to the idea of continuing to follow the river. About halfway up the mountain I can take a small detour and hike to an interesting rock formation with a shrine that has been known as a "power spot" long before the current trendy versions have become popular. Because of its remote location it is rarely visited. A big plus in my book.

A 24 hour hike across wild mountains will certainly be exhilarating and enjoyable. All these factors are pluses. The primary factor arguing against choosing this route is snow. The upper reaches of the road gets closed for the winter and may already be so. Of course that is for vehicles, and so could be walked, but I don't know how much snow and ice will be up there.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Kyomachi Onsen to Urushidamachi Part 1

From here, looking at the sun soaked southern face of the range there is no snow, but on the other side of the pass the road does some windy switchbacks which will almost certainly include sections where the sun doesn't reach at this time of the year and there could well be snow and ice that could be problematical. One other factor is the temperature. By the time it gets dark I should be just at the highest point, and today down here at 250 meters there was a good freeze. At 1,000 meters it will be very, very cold. Not a huge problem as my sleeping bag can handle it. My other choice is to head back down the valley to where the mountains are not so high and cross over there. What to do?

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 38

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Joban Line

常磐線

The Joban Line is a 350 km (including branch lines) railway line whose main trunk line joins Ueno Station in Tokyo (and now beyond - see map below) with Sendai Station in Miyagi. The Joban Line had its beginnings back at the end of the 19th century in the Mito Line.

Joban Line ordinary train.
"Futsuu" train on the Joban Line

Joban Line special express.
Joban Line Special Express Train
I rode the Joban Line the other day from Ueno north-east up to Ushiku Station where we took a half-hour bus ride to the huge, towering Ushiku Daibutsu Buddha statue, the height of about a 27-story building!

Ushiku Daibutsu Buddha.
Ushiku Daibutsu
Then back on the Joban Line, this time to Kandatsu Station, where we had a great lunch with friends at a Brazilian restaurant there, the Ponto de Escape, about 10 minutes walk from the station.

Ponte do Escape Brazilian restaurant, Arakawaoki, Tsuchiura, Japan.
Ponto do Escape Brazilian Restaurant
Once again we took the Joban line train, to the Ami Premium Outlet about half an hour’s bus ride from Arakawaoki Station. As an outlet it was no more or less than what you would expect: scores of clothing and houseware brand shops selling their goods for considerably cheaper than in the cities - and with a few restaurants and things thrown in for good measure.

Ami Premium Outlet, Ami, Ibaraki, Japan.
Ami Premium Outlet
Ami Premium Outlet, while perfectly adequate, lacked the pizzazz and landscaped beauty of, say, the Prince Shopping Plaza in Karuizawa. Still, the prices were right, and we arrived back in Ueno Station happy shoppers.

If you’re visiting the Ami Premium Outlet, take the west exit out of Arakawaoki Station, locate the big Mega Don Quixote sign across from where you come out, and wait there for the bus to the Ami Premium Outlet. You buy a 520 yen return ticket from the bus driver. It takes about 35 minutes. Or a taxi will cost you about 3,500 yen.

Map of the Joban Line (red)

(From Ueno Tokyo Train Line Opens)

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Japan News This Week 3 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
A Troubled Outlook for China-Japan Ties
New York Times

Arrested Japanese artist: 'My vagina is not obscene'
Global Post

China detains five over stale meat scandal
BBC

Schoolgirl 'beheaded classmate because she wanted to dissect someone'
Guardian

Japan names five more islets for addition to Senkaku chain
Japan Times

The Consequences of Shaming Politics in East Asia
The Diplomat

The Japan-China Confrontation Over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands – Between “shelving” and “dispute escalation” 尖閣・釣魚諸島をめぐる日中対立 棚上げと激化のあいだとは Japan Focus

Theodore Van Kirk, 93, Enola Gay Navigator, Dies
New York Times

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Annual Average Income at Private Companies in Japan:

Men: 5.02 million yen (roughly USD 50,000)
Women: 2.68 million (roughly USD 26,800)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Japan's smoking rate fell below 20% in 2014. This is the first time to fall to that level. Statistics have been taken since 1965. The poll was conducted by Japan Tobacco Inc., of which the Japanese government is the largest shareholder (33% of stock is held by the government).

Source: Jiji

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