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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jakuchu Exhibit Shokokuji Temple


jakuchu30 scroll paintings by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) are currently on display at Shokokuji Temple, in Kyoto. This is the first time in 120 years that they have been shown together. The best known of them are "The Colorful Realm of Living Beings" and the "Sakyamuni Triad."

It took Jakuchu 10 years to complete "Realm," which he donated to Shokokuji in the hopes of eternal salvation for himself and his family.

In 1889, the 30 scrolls of "The Colorful Realm of Living Beings" were given to the Imperial Family. They are normally housed in the Sannomaru Shozokan Museum on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The "Triad" series is kept at Shokokuji.

The Shokokuji exhibition was organized to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the death of the temple's founder, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

On the day we went, guards with bullhorns at the main gate guided taxis to a turnaround, stopped local traffic, and warned of "delays." As we walked in, more bullhorns awaited.

A tent was set up to sell tickets in front of the museum. Young men in suits herded visitors into a line and announced through bullhorns that there was a 40 minute wait to enter the gallery. (Friends who went on Sunday waited three hours.)

The wait and the crowd however were well worth it. Jakuchu's bold and brilliant works nearly jump from the scrolls. Absolutely stunning.

The Jakuchu exhibit continues until June 3 at Shokokuji Jotenkaku Museum, which is open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. For more information: (075) 231-0301.

Take the Karasuma Subway from Kyoto Station to Imadegawa Station. From there it is a 3-minute walk.

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Japanese Fiction

Byobu Screens

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Half-price Condoms Kyoto


half-price condomsPeople in Kansai, or western Japan, are known for their business prowess. Osaka was the center of business in Japan for centuries until Tokyo usurped that role in the 1960s. Kyoto too is full of creative entrepreneurs. The ancient city has spawned Nintendo, Kyocera, Wacoal, Rohm, Omron and many other companies and brands known worldwide.

In spite of a reputation for being a bit aloof--and the city itself being better known for temples and geisha--Kyotoites are very practical and down to earth when it comes to making a buck.

Cycling through downtown the other day, I passed a large metal sign advertising "half price condoms." The same sign has been in front of a mom-and-pop drug store for the 8 years that I have been riding in the neighborhood.

The sign is bolted to a metal stand that sits in front of a neighborhood drug store on a narrow downtown street. The red and blue combination is quite eye-catching, and I have always wanted to go in and ask the ancient man behind the counter, "What's the story behind the sign?" Or: "How are sales?"

If you did do your shopping here would it be ok to kiss and tell? Is this the kind of thing you would tell your wife/girlfriend/lover? "Honey, guess what, I got a great deal on condoms!" Or, just before you slip on a permanently half-price condom, "You'll never believe the deal I got on this condom."

On second thought, though, unless your better half is a merchant herself--or very drunk--it might spoil the mood.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rikugien Gardens


Rikugien Gardens, an Edo-period, landscaped, strolling garden, was created in the early 18th century by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, an associate of the shogun of the day, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. The name refers to the "Six Principles or Categories" (六義) of classical Chinese and Chinese-influenced, Japanese poetry.

Rikugien Gardens

The garden later became the property of Iwasaki Yatoro, the founder of the Mitsubishi group, a Meiji-era business tycoon who also owned the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei house and gardens in Tokyo designed by British architect Josiah Conder. Rikugien was donated to the city of Tokyo in 1953.

The layout of the strolling gardens, with a 35m high "mountain", pond, teahouses, stone lanterns and bridges are based on the theme of Waka (和歌 lit. "Japanese" + "song") poetry. 88 scenes from famous poems are recreated in the gardens and stone markers (sekichu) indicate these special views. 32 of the original 88 markers still remain.

Rikugien Gardens, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo

Rikugien has some areas of dense wood and the strolling gardens are noted for their cherry blossom and maple leaves in spring and autumn.

The centerpiece of the garden is the pond. Imo-yama and Se-yama are two hills on Naka-no-shima - a small island in the water and represent the mythical, male and female deities Izanagi and Izanami. Look out for garyu-seki a half-submerged rock in the lake representing a sleeping dragon and horaijima a small islet represented by rocks.

Rikugien Gardens, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo


Rikugien Gardens, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0021
Tel: 03 3941 2222
Admission: 300 yen
Hours: 9am-5pm

Less than 10 minutes walk from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote Line and Tokyo Subway Namboku Line.
Around 10 minutes on foot north east from Sengoku Station on the Toei Mita Line.
From Kyu-Furukawa Gardens walk down Hongo Dori for about 15-20 minutes.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Japanese Cabinet Minister Kills Himself


Toshikatsu Matsuoka, Japan's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 62 years old, killed himself in Tokyo today. He was due to appear a few hours after the time of his death before a parliamentary committee for questioning, and opposition parties were calling for his resignation.

Toshikatsu Matsuoka (left).

The scandal he was embroiled in was over 28m yen (USD236,600) that he claimed as water and electricity fees at his parliamentary office. However, parliamentary offices in Japan are not charged for utility costs.

He had been refusing to explain the situation to a parliamentary committee, and his innocence was being staunchly defended by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister.

He is the seventh Japanese member of parliament to commit suicide since 1945.

Click on the above movie posted on YouTube for news clips regarding the scandal as broadcast today on Japanese TV. Subtitled in English by JapanVisitor.

Design Festa 07 Tokyo

デザイン・フェスタ07 東京

Design Festa 2007, Tokyo.The Tokyo Design Festa 2007 happened over this weekend: May 26 and 27. It was my third visit in as many years. As always, it took place at the massive Tokyo Big Sight venue, and was very well attended.

Of the hundreds of booths, the majority are devoted to the graphic arts in the form of illustrations, paintings, photographs, and the like. The volume of works on display can be a little overwhelming, but if you approach the event in a relaxed way, take your time and stroll the aisles, it is nothing less than inspiring, with the amount of obvious devotion to art and craft, the assiduousness with which the booths themselves and of course the works in them have been produced and presented, and the patience with which the artists themselves person their booth in spite of the massive amount of competition for attention.

Design Festa 2007, Tokyo.The graphical element of the Design Festa is the event's staple, and comprises the backbone of what visitors expect. However, there were two booths I saw that gave this Design Festa (Vol#25) a bit of a twist - or should I say, kink.

One featured a young woman with her face framed in a board with the words 'Hit Me' (see photos below). It was a pie-throwing booth and for a couple of hundred yen you could hurl a shaving foam pie at her.

The other was even further off the wall. A stocky sullen-looking guy was standing gangster-pimp-like beside a demure-looking girl in a mini-skirt. The sign she was holding read 'Fan: 500 yen, Magic Hand: 20,000 yen'.

Design Festa 2007, Tokyo. In other words, for 500 yen you could use the fan at her feet to waft her skirt up over her hips and take in what she was wearing underneath (there was another sign saying that, indeed, she was wearing panties!) or for 20,000 yen (about USD200) use the 'magic hand' pincer to do the job. Only in Japan?!

It would be tempting to indulge in a bit of intellectual waffle about political irony, etc, but in the absence of any commentary in the booth itself, I have no idea what the thinking, if any, behind it was. As with the pie hurling booth, I didn't see any takers!

Design Festa Vol#24 December 2006

Tokyo Design Festa No #22 - November 2005

What is the Design Festa?

Design Festa 2007, Tokyo.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Japan This Week 5/27/07


North Korea tests missiles in Sea of Japan.


Diet passes revised law that stiffens penalties for crimes committed by minors.

Japan Times

Japan's busybodies digging through their neighbors' trash.


Mongolian Hakuho wins spring sumo tournament.


Japanese whaling research.


Last Week's Japan News

Japan Stats

Japanese investment in the USA 2000 US$14.1 billion
Japanese investment in the USA 2006 US$12.1 billion

Japanese investment in Asia 2000 US$2.1 billion
Japanese investment in Asia 2006 US$16.2 billion

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Four Stories Osaka May 2007

The Four Stories Japan Summer '07 season will kick off in Osaka on Sunday, June 17, with "East and West: Tales from two hemispheres."

FEATURING prose readings from:

* Juliet Winters Carpenter, Kyoto professor; acclaimed translator of Ryotaro Shiba's The Last Shogun, Kobo Abe's Beyond the Curve, and Miyuki Miyabe's Shadow Family; and author of Seeing Kyoto
* Jessica Goodfellow, author of A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland; recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from The Beloit Poetry Journal and three-time Pushcart nominee, with work featured in Best New Poets 2006 and on Garrison Keillor’s NPR program The Writer’s Almanac
* Roland Kelts, Lecturer at the University of Tokyo; co-editor of the New York-based literary journal A Public Space; author of JapanAmerica; and writer with work in Zoetrope, Playboy, Doubletake, Salon, The Village Voice, Newsday, Cosmopolitan, Vogue and The Japan Times
* Lou Rowan, author of the story collection Sweet Potatoes and critical essays in The English Studies Forum and The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and editor of the Seattle-based journal Golden Handcuffs Review

Sunday, June 17, 2007

6-8:30pm (venue opens at 5; readings start @ 6)
Portugalia bar and grill
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka


Warmest regards,

Tracy Slater
Founder, Four Stories Boston & Four Stories Japan

Friday, May 25, 2007

PingPong in Ryogoku


PingPong is a comic team of two women (well, one woman, and what I presume must be a man that dresses and acts like a woman) that feature on daytime Japanese TV doing light documentary coverage of the generally weird and wonderful.

Today they went to Ryogoku in Tokyo, the home of sumo in Japan. It was a long show, but this clip was the most interesting bit. Watch PingPong visit a cakeshop that includes among its clientele someone you'd never expect. Good Japanese daytime TV grotesquery!

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gifu Cormorant Fishing


Gifu is famous for its cormorant fishing (ukai) on the Nagara River. After dark from mid-May to mid-October, excursion boats can be hired, from hotels and at the booking office just below Nagara Bridge, to participate in a traditional practice of catching Japanese sweetfish (ayu) using comorants.

Tethered by rings around the neck so that they don't swallow their catch, the birds are released in to the water in search of Japanese trout (ayu) from long, covered, wooden fishing boats with braziers out front to attract the fish.

Comorant Fishing on the Nagara River, Gifu.

The captured fish are grilled and traditionally served up with Japanese beer and sake.

Ukai cormorant fishing from river boats also takes place in Arashiyama in Kyoto and other river towns around Japan.

The best view for spectators is the far bank of the Nagara river. Gifu Castle is clearly visible on the hill above.

Excursion boats on the Nagara River

Cormorant fishing has been employed in Japan since at least the 8th century. Traditionally each fishing boat is manned by four men, the captain (usho), two assistants (uzukai) and the man who tends the burning grate at the front of the boat to attract the fish. The birds are captured from the sea and tamed and trained by the boat masters to fish from the river.

Fishing expeditions are cancelled on nights with a full moon (the fish are not attracted to the boats by their fires on bright nights) or on evenings after heavy rain.

The hired excursion boats, lit with Japanese lanterns, go out in a group to watch the fishing. The masters of the boats are local bigwigs and live in large, often traditional houses on the banks of the river.
Cormorant Fishing Season
May 11-October 15

Nagara River Access

Take a bus 20 minutes from JR Gifu Station (Platform 11) or Meitetsu Gifu Station (Platform 4). Get off at Nagarabashi. Gifu is around 30 minutes by Meitetsu or JR train from Nagoya Station.

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Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gifu Castle


Gifu Castle stands proudly on top of the 300m-high Mount Kinka. There has been a fortress on this spot since the 13th century.

Gifu Castle

Previously known as Inabayama Castle, Gifu Castle is associated with the life of local Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who strengthened the castle's fortifications and was responsible for the name change.

View from Gifu Castle

The present concrete structure dates from the 1950s and includes collections of Edo-Period weapons and armor. There are tremendous views from the top observation deck down over Gifu city and the Nagara River below. There is also a small museum just below the castle which contains musical instruments and other period artefacts and is included in the price of admission.

There's a restaurant with excellent views, beer and food just up from the ropeway station at the top of the mountain.


Gifu Castle
Tel: 058 263 4853
Admission: Adults 200 yen; children (4-15 years) 100 yen

Gifu Castle is in Gifu Park. Take a bus 15 minutes from JR Gifu Station (Platform 11) or Meitetsu Gifu Station (Platform 4). Get off at Gifu Koen Rekishi Hakubutsukan-mae. Walking to the castle takes around 1 hour by mountain trail or alternatively take the ropeway. Gifu is around 30 minutes by Meitetsu or JR train from Nagoya Station.

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Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kawadoko (outdoor deck) Dining, Kyoto


Kyoto is unique among Japanese cities in that it has embraced its rivers. It has not avoided the Ministry of Construction-sponsored concreting of its waterways; however, unlike Tokyo and Osaka and other cities, Kyoto never turned away from its waters.

The Kamogawa River, which flows through central Kyoto, is where Kyotoites go to play and enjoy, romance and dine. From just south of the downtown area all the way north of Imadegawa Street, the river banks are thronged with people.

kyoto kawadokoLovers sit at intervals a stone's throw from the bars and nightlife of Shijo and Sanjo. Young mothers bring their children to play in the shallow waters near Imadegawa. Medical students relax and play tennis behind the Kyoto Prefectural Hospital.

And, from early May until September, residents and tourists eat and drink on decks set up overlooking the river.

Restaurants along Pontocho and, farther north and south, Kiyamachi face the Kamogawa River. From about Gojo (fifth street) up until Oike, all restaurants have decks erected out the back of their buildings and facing the river.

Some set up tables with chairs, others lay out goza mats and have low tables around which customers sit on the floor and eat.

The deck pictured above was photographed from the west side of Shijo-Ohashi (fourth street bridge) at sunset before the decks filled up. The restaurants are situated along Pontocho. In the distance are the mountains, and to your right is Gion.


The restaurants are all accessible from Pontocho, which is a narrow alley full of bars and restaurants that runs from Shijo-Ohashi up almost to Sanjo Street, or Kiyamachi south of Shijo and north of Sanjo. Shijo-Ohashi is a one-minute walk from the Hankyu train's Kawaramachi Station, or Keihan train's Shijo Station.


Unless you go just as restaurants are opening, at 6, it is highly advisable to have reservations. On weekends in mid-summer, it can be very difficult to get in.

Japanese Goods - Goza Mats

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Monday, May 21, 2007

Shizuoka Hobby Show 2007


I attended the 46th Shizuoka Hobby Show last Friday, one of the biggest toy fairs in Japan.

The event was held at the Twin Messe in Shizuoka from 17-20 May. The first two days are trade only with the last two days open to the general public.

Erotic Toy

The big names in Japanese toy production - Bandai, Tamiya, FineMolds, Diorama - exhibit their new lines to a large domestic and international group of buyers.

It was great to feel like a kid for the first hour among all the model trains, planes, helicopters and cars.

Shizuoka Hobby Show

Bandai's Gundam was big as always but what caught my eye was the number of erotic fantasy toys on display. I spent my early youth building and painting Airfix Stukas and Spitfires with my Dad, not sure how I would have got on with some slim-hipped, busty Amazons on display here.

Shizuoka Hobby Show


There are free shuttle buses to Twin Messe from Shizuoka Station South Exit.

Shizuoka Twin Messe
Tel: 054-285-3111 

Shizuoka Hobby Show
Tel: 054-286-5105 
FAX: 054-287-5930

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Japan This Week 5/20/07


Mobster caught in rubber ball extortion case.


Minor severs then delivers mother's head to police station.


Former yakuza surrenders after daylong standoff--and the murder of a cop.

Japan Times

Tokyo to name nameless streets, ease confusion in the metropolis.

The Guardian

Interview with film director Hiromasa Hirosue.

Midnight Eye

Japanese women devouring boy love manga.


Japanese schools to teach patriotism.


Last Week's Japan News

Japan Stats

Registered foreigners in Japan 2006 - 2,084,900

Koreans 598,000 (28.7%)
Chinese (26.9%)
Brazilians (15%)
Filipinos (9.3%)

Source: Japan Justice Ministry

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

57 - Fifty-Seven, the best of New York in Roppongi


The bar of 57 in Roppongi on opening night.I was honored with an invitation to the opening of Tokyo's newest New York-style dining bar: 57. It was on Thursday, May 10, when floor manager Patrick Bommarito and manager Shogo Izaki turned on a night that spelt panache.

Wine and champagne flowed, the DJ (all the way from, of course, New York) spun, saxophonists wandering amongst the crowd wailed, and girls danced.

It was at times an almost unnavigably well attended function and set an adult, upper tone that the venue promises to keep.

Patrick Bommarito, floor manager (center), with DJ.57 is a true collaboration between two cities involving, from New York, Glen Coben as architect; Stephen Hall of the restaurant-focussed PR company, The Hall Company; menu designer Shane McBride; and, on the Tokyo side, restaurant designers Metromet.

For Tokyo, the space is immense, yet is designed with a variety of possibilities in mind, from large company groups, to circles of friends, to couples. This is reflected in the variety of spaces available - all of them geared to that ambiance of restrained and tasteful New York love of good vibes.

The food is chophouse-style and the bar serves the full range of cocktails, plus several concocted specially for 57.
Dancers at 57's opening night, Roppongi.
Access to Fifty-Seven

57 is on just off Roppongi-dori Avenue, at the first set of traffic lights east of the big Roppongi intersection. Look for the small Mikawadai Koen Park, turn down the street and its immediately on your right just after the park. Basement floor.

4-2-35 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

03 5775 7857


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Japanese Fiction

Happi Coats

Horai Bridge


Horai Bridge in Shimada near Shizuoka is the world's longest wooden bridge and has the Guinness Book of Records plaque to prove it.

Horai Bridge, Shimada

The bridge was first built in 1879 in the early Meiji Period to span the Oi River. The wooden supports were washed away in repeated floods and were replaced with concrete in 1965.

Guinness Book of Records plaque

The bridge is 897m (i.e. just over half a mile) in length. There is a 100 yen toll to walk the bridge. Be careful as the rail is low and strong winds can whip down the river valley. Horai Bridge has featured in a number of Japanese movies and is illuminated at night.

Horai Bridge, Shimada

Shimada stands on the old Tokaido highway between Kyoto and Tokyo, now National Highway Route 1. During the Edo-period, before the building of the Horai Bridge across the river, travelers would cross the river carried in a sedan chair (rendai) or for a cheaper price on the back of a waterman. The woodblock artist Hiroshige (1787-1858) depicts this scene in one of his famous works.
The river was left without a bridge on the orders of the Tokugawa shogunate as a defensive measure to slow down any enemy army advancing on Edo (Tokyo).
Each year in summer the Kawa-goshi (or Rendai-goshi) Matsuri re-enacts the crossing of the river in sedan chairs and on the backs of latter-day coolies.

Shimada has a number of other interesting festivals. The Obi Matsuri takes place only once every three years and includes parades of participants in Edo-era costume, mikoshi (portable shrines) and the display of georgeous wedding obi belts.
The next Obi Festival is October 12-14, this year.

The Shimada Mage Matsuri is held on the third Sunday in September and features a parade of the town's hairdressers and beauticians dressed in yukata robes modeling Edo-Period hair-dos.


The nearest station is Shimada on the JR Tokaido Honsen Line. Coming by car the nearest Highway Exit is Yoshida Interchange on the Tomei (Tokyo-Nagoya) Expressway.

Friday, May 18, 2007



Yesterday in Nagakute-cho near Nagoya an ex-yakuza took his wife hostage, shot and wounded his son and daughter, both in their early 20s, as well as two policemen, one of whom later died.

Check out the NHK TV news report of the incident, subtitled by JapanVisitor in English and posted to YouTube.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Sumiya Motenashi Art Museum Kyoto


Sumiya is a two-story building that served as a very high-end restaurant/brothel during the Edo Period; its history dates from more than 350 years ago. Located in a former red-light district known as Shimabara, in central Kyoto, Sumiya is now a museum open to the public.

Sumiya kyotoOfficially known as The Sumiya Motenashi Art Museum, Sumiya is the only remaining "ageya" in Kyoto. Ageya were elegant restaurants where Geisha and Taiyu performed and lived. In 1952 the building was designated as an Important Cultural Property.

Sumiya was a place for well-heeled to come to be entertained—but to label it to a "brothel" is to limit its significance and function. It was a meeting place and salon where elite and powerful men gathered. It was for example the meeting place of Shimabara Haidan, a well-known haiku group. It was also a showcase for some of the most talented artists and artisans of the era.

There are no other comparable buildings surviving in Tokyo or Osaka - or anywhere in Japan.

On a weekday in May, I was one of only a handful of people in Sumiya. I had whole rooms to myself to enjoy, for example, the garden from the veranda and the many fusuma (sliding doors) and byobu (painted screens).

After paying, you enter a large room that could be any dull prefetural museum. Behind glass cases were byobu and other artifacts. This is not what I was after. Going through a small area where there are storage lockers, you come into the original kitchen and food and drinks preparation area.

It is very spacious and has five old “stoves” for cooking rice immediately on the left. Above, slats in the ceiling were used to ventilate the smoke that floated up from the fires. In the foreground, a large tatami area remains. The area once had as many as 30-40 staff bustling about, running back and forth from the rooms where clients were entertained.

Customers would enter through the main gate nearby and pass through a large noren curtain. They were then guided into the adjoining rooms to be entertained.

Sumiya KyotoFurther in are the rooms for customers and a large garden. The garden is not accessible - like a true geisha, you can look at her but not touch. An eighty-year-old trellised pine spreads out before you like a dragon. Behind it are two teahouses, one with a copper roof, the other thatched.

Amazingly, the same family has owned and managed the facility for 13 generations since 1641.


From JR Tambaguchi Station, which is one stop from Kyoto Station on the JR Sagano Line (part of the longer San-in Line), walk south along Senbon Dori (street). This is the street you come to as you exit from the right side of the station. It runs next to the JR train line. Walk with the train line above you and on your right and the Kyoto wholesale fruit and vegetable market on your left. When you reach a small temple on the left, turn left. Make your first right and the walls of Sumiya will appear.

From the north side of Nishi Honganji Temple, walk west on Haniya machi Dori for three blocks. Read more about Sumiya Motenashi Art Museum.


32 Banchi, Ageya-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan
TEL.075-351-0024 FAX.075-351-0026

Open 10 am – 4 pm.
1,000 yen for adults.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Naked Tokyo

Naked Tokyo

Naked Tokyo.Naked Tokyo is pretty straightforward. It is a photographic exhibition featuring nakedness that happens mainly in Tokyo. Yesterday evening, 14 May, was Naked Tokyo, Part 4, and it took place in Super Deluxe in Roppongi, an underground event space only a minute’s walk east of Roppongi Hills.

I spoke to organizer, Tim Porter, also a renowned photographer (although not represented there last night). Under the auspices of curator Kanji Embutsu, he and a team of five others – including three of the evening’s exhibitors – brought the event to life. And life, not why it is lived, but how, is – Tim Porter stressed to me – what the show is all about.

Life as performance was the theme of co-producer Mumi Trabucco’s works which featured portraits of the renowned Tokyo performance artist Barae whose face was a fascinating mixture of supplication, ecstasy and contemplation.

Fellow co-producer LeRoy Howard’s work was similarly dramatic but in a way that explored the dramas people are driven, rather than seemingly choose, to play. His subject was a naked man who, superimposed, appeared in different postures and expressions as three people in the same frame. The theme was the life of Jesus and featured critical moments of the story of the end of his life.

Super Deluxe, Roppongi, Tokyo.Exhibition designer Frank LaRivière’s work evoked the idealized contours and the depersonalization of science, with eerily perfect pallid headless bodies duplicated and joined to themselves in perfect endless symmetry.

My personal favorite was the humid, deep-rainbow, unpin-downable movement of Barbara Flatten’s work that honored the mysterious and unknowable about other people while acknowledging at the same time the deep desire to build stories around them, however ineffable they might be.

Bonnie Bajaj shot life as something lived at night – beautifully and dangerously, in rich deep renaissance colors, and postures that invoked desire and the proximity of death.

There were eleven other photographers’ works displayed around the walls and on a slideshow that dominated the center. By about 7pm the space had filled up, the bar got busy, titillated not only by the naked windows to life on the walls but by the very cool sounds of the DJs who softly spun the night away.

Naked Tokyo did what it implicitly promised: showed me more of Tokyo, and the people who make it, than I normally get to see. Forthright, friendly, nakedly modest – keep on eye on what's on to make sure you catch the next one.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kyu Furukawa Gardens Tokyo


Kyu Furukawa Gardens are a short subway ride from Korakuen Garden and it is worthwhile seeing both gardens in the same day as well as trying to squeeze in nearby Rikugien Gardens as well.

Kyu Furukawa Gardens Manor House designed by Josiah Conder

Originally the property and grounds belonged to Mutsu Munemitsu, a colorful Meiji-era politician, who allied himself with Saigo Takamori in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, was subsequently imprisoned but was later rehabilitated and became Japan's foreign minister.

Kyu Furukawa Gardens

The western-style house in the gardens was designed by the prolific English architect, Josiah Conder (1852-1920), who also built the Rokumeikan, Nikolai Cathedral and Kyu Iwasaki-tei in Tokyo and the Rokkaen in Mie Prefecture.

The brick and slate country house now serves as the Otani Art Museum and is set in terraced, British-style rose gardens with a large, adjacent lawn.

Shinji-ike - designed by Niwashi Ueji

The Japanese gardens were laid out by Kyoto-based landscape designer Ogawa Jihei, aka Niwashi Ueji (1860-1933) and include a pond created in the shape of the Japanese character for heart (心), a waterfall and a dry waterfall (karetaki) using rocks to create the impression of moving water.

The Kyu Furukawa Gardens are noted for their roses, cherry blossoms, azaleas, peonies and maple leaves in season.


Kyu Furukawa Gardens
1-27-39 Nishigahara, Kita-ku, Tokyo 114-0024
Tel: 03 3910 0349
Admission: 150 yen
Hours: 9am-5pm

Kyu Furukawa Gardens is less than 10 minutes walk from Kami-Nakazato Station on the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line or Nishigahara Station on the Tokyo Namboku Subway Line. Alternatively about 12 minutes walk from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Aoi Festival Kyoto


Kyoto’s Aoi Matsuri, or Hollyhock Festival, is an annual festival that climaxes on May 15th with a procession that moves from the Gosho Imperial Palace via Shimogamo Shrine to Kamigamo Shrine.

Aoi Matsuri KyotoAoi Matsuri is thought to be one of the world's oldest festivals. It dates to the sixth century following the destruction of one year's fall harvest. In order to appease the ever angry gods, then Emperor Kinmei ordered that special religious rites take place at Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines. According to legend, it worked.

In the year 807, Aoi Matsuri was then annointed as an official imperial event, and, but for a two century interruption beginning with the Onin War, has continued to this day.

The festival consists of the imperial messenger's court and Saio-Dai, a young princess from the imperial family who was the head of the two shrines.

All of the shrines, costumes, and horses taking part are decorated with hollyhock leaves and branches. Because it was originally an imperial festival, ordinary people were not allowed to take part for many years.

The modern festival features several hundred participants dressed in Heian Period costumes. The costumes are reproductions of those worn by officials delivering a message from the Emperor to the two shrines.

Also, characters from the world's first novel, “The Tale of the Genji,” are featured.

The central female figure in the procession is the aforementioned Saio-dai, who is accompanied by servants, aristocrats, carriages, horses, and oxen. The role in this year's Aoi Festival will be played by Kae Morikawa, who will be the 52nd person to play the Saio-Dai. Her mother, Kaoru, played the same role 40 years ago. She is lavishly dressed and carried on a palanquin.

The overall feel of the “festival” is more that of a parade than a get blind drunk type harvest festival. There are archery competitions and other events prior to the procession on the 15th, but it is the costumes the draw the crowds.


Take the Karasuma Subway line to Marutamachi Station. The south gate of the Imperial Palace is a 2-3 minute walk.


The festival begins at 10:30 at the south gate of the Imperial Palace. It moves east on Marutamachi Dori to Kawaramachi Dori, where it will turn north. The procession will cross the Kamo River at Demachi Bashi Bridge at 11:15, arriving at Shimogamo Shrine at 11:40. The participants will exit the shrine at 2:20, walk north to Kitaoji Street and turn left to cross back over the Kamo River, at roughly 2:55. All will arrive at Kamigamo Shrine at 3:30.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ome - a Tokyo daytrip

青梅 - 東京からの日帰り

Ome Station on the JR Chuo line, Tokyo.Ome (pronounced Oh-may) is an hour west out of Tokyo on the JR Chuo line - the last stop. It's a friend of mine's favorite hot weather haunt, and he invited me to join him for a hike out there this weekend.

Ome City is in the foothills of the mountainous area that starts proper in neighboring Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, and which, in the latter prefecture, Mt Fuji forms a part of. Historically it was a station on the road between east and west Japan.

We left from Nakano station at 10.15am and got a seat after the train had passed the biggest station between Nakano and Ome, Tachikawa. Ome Station sets the tone for the whole city. The town's history is reflected in the antique style of the station with old-style station clocks, painted movie posters from the early 20th century, wooden waiting stalls on the platform with stained glass windows, and signs done in fonts of yesteryear.

Ome forest, Tokyo.Once we'd stocked up on lunch goods and water at the nearby convenience store we set off on one of the trails that leads into the hills. The sun was filtered by the forest which was made up largely of cedars. Cedars were planted all over Japan after WWII for lumber, but it actually turned out cheaper to import. For decades they remained almost the staple species of large swathes of Japanese forest, but over the past few years have begun to be culled and replaced with native trees. Not only were cedars supplanting native varieties, but they were (and still are) responsible for the hay fever that afflicts so many city dwellers in Japan.

The wildlife only an hour out of Tokyo is as exotic as if it were on an outlying island. 15mm-long ants, great black and turquoise butterflies, bottle-shaped beetles about 6 or 7cm, all manner of spiders (and spiderwebs at head level!), and ... even snakes! We spotted a snake - almost uncannily fast moving. I pursued it for a photo op, which it very kindly consented to, holding out its head and turning its eye on me , almost politely, while I focused and snapped a shot. (See photo - but look hard: it is well camouflaged.) As soon as I was done, it slithered away with a rustle of leaves.

Snake in the forest of Ome, Tokyo.The weather was spring at its most idyllic: warm sunshine and cooling breezes. Several other hikers, as well as joggers, were out on the trails, and we would exchange greetings with a different pair every few minutes.

We were done form, and back at Ome Station by 3.15pm. We made sure we selected the only train that doesn't make a long stop at Tachikawa - the 3.33 - and had no problems getting a seat on the right back to suburbia - noses reddened, legs stretched and souls rested.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Japan This Week 13/05/07


Five Chinese nationals arrested in Tokyo for smuggling 50 kg of stimulants.


New weight loss method discovered in Japan: pull the pubes.


Japanese police force confessions, put the innocent behind bars.

NY Times

Tokyo to name nameless streets, ease confusion in the metropolis.

The Guardian

Wind delays trains, injures woman.


Japan's working poor sleeping in Internet cafes.


Last Week's Japan News

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tokyo Station


Tokyo Station is located in the Marunouchi business district not far from the Imperial Palace grounds and the Ginza shopping and entertainment area. The distinctive three storey, red-brick facade, designed by Kingo Tatsuno, on the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station dates back to 1914, when the building was first opened after 6 years in construction.

Tokyo Station Marunouchi side

There are 10 platforms with 20 lines and the main concourse runs east-west, between the Yaesu and Marunouchi entrances to the station.

Tokyo Station is a main terminal for the JR Tokaido Shinkansen, Akita Shinkansen, Joetsu Shinkansen, Tohoku Shinkansen, Nagano Shinkansen and Yamagata Shinkansen Lines as well as the JR Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Chuo Main Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Keiyo Line, Marunouchi Subway Line, Sobu Main Line, Tokaido Main Line and Yokosuka Line. The Narita Express also runs through Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station is also connected by underground walkways to Otemachi Subway Station which is served by the Chiyoda, Hanzomon, Mita and Tozai Lines. There are many shops, restaurants and cafes in the station's underground area with direct access to the new Shin Marunouchi Building.

The Manunouchi station building contains the Tokyo Station Art Gallery (Tel: 03 3212 2485; Weekdays 10am-7pm; Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays 10am-6pm) and the Tokyo Station Hotel, which is due to reopen in 2011.

Tokyo Station

The soon-to-be redeveloped Tokyo Central Post Office is also near the Marunouchi exit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eikando Temple


On a blazing hot weekday in early May, we rode over through Kyoto's museum area in Okazaki en route to Eikando Temple.

eikando templeSurrounded by temples and old villas, the neighborhood near Eikando is one of the few in Kyoto that retains most of its pre-1960s charm.

From the museums and the massive torii gate in Okazaki, you can walk up Nijo Street for about 10-15 minutes and arrive not too exhausted to enjoy the scenery.

Go past the zoo on your right and keep walking towards the mountains at the edge of eastern Kyoto.

Another possibility is to walk the Philosopher's Walk to its southern end; the temple is not far from this point.

eikando templeEikando is known for many things, primarily though as the home of the priest Yokan who was better known as Eikan (and hence the name of the temple). He converted to the Jodo sect of Buddhism around 1225 and from that time on devoted himself to the poor and sick.
Eikando Temple was, like much of Kyoto, destroyed during the Onin War (1467-1477). It was then restored at the beginning of the 16th century.
Today it is one of many must-sees on the fall foliage itinerary of all Japanese tourists. The maple trees and fall colors are about as beautiful as you will find. The inner garden is full of brilliant red maples--and tourists--in late October and early November.

There is also a magnificent 30-inch high statue known as the Turning Amida. A brilliant work, it is highly unusual in that it has its head turned around towards the back.

Another work of art worth seeing is the "Hatou-zu" (Waves) by Hasegawa Tohaku. Many of the screen paintings are on display--but photography is prohibited.
There were few tourists out when we visited, and the the spring greenery and cool of the temple buildings provided a welcome refuge from the heat.


Eikando-cho 48, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8445
Tel: 075 761 0007

Fee: 600 yen for adults.


Eikando is due north of Nanzenji Temple.
From Kyoto Station, take city bus #5, and get off at "Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi."
From Keihan Sanjo Station, take city bus #5, and get off at "Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi."
From Keihan Marutamachi Station, take a city bus 204 or 93, and get off at "Higashi Tenno-cho."

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spectacles Rap


Watch a movie of a rapper outside a glasses store in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Watch a movie of a rapper outside an optician's in Shinjuku, Tokyo.If you can't find it Shinjuku, it probably doesn't exist. Tokyo's major entertainment and shopping area is where all kinds of Tokyo's poor and well-off rub shoulders in a neon commotion of everything from sedate old department stores and high street boutiques to pachinko parlors and sex shops.

Something very much made it through the commotion on a recent visit there: a rapper outside an optometrist's, appealing to people to see what's on special and what's just come in. The streets are so innured to shouting through cupped hands and megaphones, that this store got creative - and it seemed to be paying off. The guy was guaranteed a small crowd of the curious all day.

Japanese Art - byobu screens

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Japanese Wigs

Japanese wigs are well-known throughout the world for their quality and styling.

Wigs in a store in Asakusa.

Japanese wig-making techniques date back to seventeenth century kabuki theater when men, who traditionally shaved the top of their heads, had to play the roles of women and thus a theatrical wig-making industry grew up to serve the onnagata kabuki actors (men portraying women).
Wigs are also worn by geisha and other traditional and contemporary Japanese dancers and performers.

Japanese wigs do not come cheap. The wigs (pictured) in a speciality store in Asakusa can cost between US$1400-2500 for a full head wig. Interestingly, the mannequins have western features. Hair to make the wigs must be at least 10cm long and as well as domestic supply, Japanese wigmakers import hair from as far away as India.

Japanese Art - masks

Japan Books

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens


Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, a short walk from Tokyo Dome, dates from the early Edo Period.

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

The garden was begun in 1629 by Yorifusa Mito, the first feudal lord of the Mito Tokugawa family and eleventh son of patriarch Ieyasu Tokugawa. Korakuen was completed by Mitsukuni Mito, Yorifusa's son.

The garden is heavily influenced by Chinese garden design. The name - Korakuen - comes from a Chinese text and can translate as "garden for enjoying power later". The central lake was designed by shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa and contains an island with a shrine to Benten, one of the Seven Deities of Good Luck.

Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

The landscaped, strolling garden covers around 7 hectares and includes a Chinese-style stone bridge (Engetsukyo), a waterfall, an iris pond and in season flowering plum and cherry blossoms. The Naitei, or inner garden, was a former inner sanctum for the Mito Tokugawa family and contained a guesthouse separated from the rest of the garden by a Chinese-style gate. The huge garden and its incorporation of Chinese styles served as a powerful symbol of the power and wealth of the Tokugawa elite.

Daidogei at Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens

Korakuen garden is perfect for reading, relaxing and staying cool in summer. When I visited a pair of performers were juggling various objects using Japanese paper umbrellas.


Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 112-0004
Tel: 03 3811 3015
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission: 300 yen

The nearest subway stations are Iidabashi Station on the Oedo Line (2 minutes), Iidabashi Station on the Tozai, Yurakucho and Namboku Lines (8 minutes) or alternatively JR Iidabashi Station (8 minutes). Korakuen Garden is a similar distance from Korakuen Station on the Namboku and Marunouchi Subway Lines, just across from Tokyo Dome.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tado Shrine Festival


Tado Shrine, near Kuwana in Mie, hosts its annual festival on May 4-5th.

Listen to Tado festival music piped from loudspeakers

Thousands of people from the local area around Nagoya flood this rural site each year to witness a bizarre ritual known as ageuma.

Horses ridden by 12 young men (chosen by lot as representive, albeit, 'juvenile' samurai) ride in a procession towards Tado Shrine.

Horse and rider then try to scale a 3m high muddy slope to the flat square of the shrine's main buildings, where the round starts again.

For the young, local men chosen as riders, reaching the top of the slope, still aboard the horse, is a rite of passage celebrated with jubilation. Many riders are thrown, and not wearing helmets, the potential for physical damage is great.

Tado Shrine Festival Mie

The crowds, from grandmas to glam girls, are huge, lining the route from the road to the steps of the shrine. Temporary, wooden stands are built for local residents and guests at the sides of the road, and the horses, riders and mostly drunken handlers proceed slowly up the hill, guiding the horse and young rider to a distance to gallop up the slope, all the while accompanied by music piped from loudspeakers.

Midday on a hot Sunday, the second day of the festival, we walked to Tado Shrine, left out of Tado station, down along the river.

Tado Shrine Festival

Tado Shrine is visible on the hill to your right as you approach the main road ahead of you from the river. Stalls (yatai) - selling food and drinks - are squeezed between the houses and the wooden stands put up for spectators.

It was impossible to get a ringside position of the horses struggling up the slope unless you get here very early - prayers and other rituals start up at around 5am - or are prepared to force yourself through the crowd. We were neither, so for what it was like in earlier days view a movie on Tado Shrine's website.

Tado Shrine Festival

Crowded and noisy, sake and beer to the fore, Tado Matsuri seems a bit about perseverance and determined tradition. Tired horses struggling up a muddy slope, spectators pushing each other through the crowd. We caught one horse kicking off, as we left, demanding a rest from the seemingly endless ordeal and sweaty pangeant, jumping up, its retainers pulled at its bridle and stuck the boot into its flanks to control it.

Tado Shrine is connected with the 1500-year-old legend of a white horse and the kami ('gods') of Mount Tado. Tado Shrine is the gateway for hikes onto trails criss-crossing Mount Tado.

Tado Shrine Festival

Access to Tado Shrine is from either Kuwana or Ogaki on the Kintetsu Yoro Line. There is an infrequent bus to the shrine from Tado station or turn right out and walk about 20 minutes left along the Tado River bank after you come to the bridge.
There are numerous taxis at the station.

Kuwana is less than 30 minutes by Kintetsu Railways limited express train from Nagoya Station.

Guide to Nagoya

Buy Shibori from Arimatsu


Japan Tado Shrine Tado Tado Festival shrine Mie

Monday, May 07, 2007

Entsuji Temple


Kyoto's Entsuji Temple is a wonderful off the beaten path temple with relatively few tourists. It is best known for its use of shakkei, the Japanese landscape design technique of "borrowing" and incorporating a view into the garden you are creating. In the case of Entsuji, the borrowed view is that of Mt. Hiei, which looms in the distance and is perfectly positioned in the view from the temple veranda.

Entsuji TempleTo get there, we walked the kilometer or so up from the Eizan railways' Seika Daigakumae stop. The mountain road is narrow and experiencing growing pains thanks to development in the area. The nearer you are to the main road and station, the newer (and uglier) the homes; as you get closer to the temple, the homes are old Japanese farm houses with charm (and maintenance) to die for.

The priests at the temple seem almost anti-visitor and anti-tourism. (How contrary! Compare that to the Gold Pavilion and Silver Pavilion and Kiyomizu Temple.) En route, there is one small stone sign--in Japanese--off to the side of the road marking the directions to the temple. At the temple, however, there is a prominent sign--in Japanese and English--that states "no photography in the building" (though you can take pictures of the gardens from within the buildings), "no tour guides," etc. The priests on the grounds ignore the tourists, and a young female docent was patrolling the premises to make sure camera-wielding tourists did not sneak off a shot or two.

Entsuji TempleWhen you turn the corner from a hallway to enter the main room, though, you are presented with the view: of the legendary garden and Mt. Hiei. You sit in silence with others gathered on the veranda, looking. A recording of a middle-aged man in no hurry, speaking in Kyoto dialect, comes on and meanders through the history of the temple--and recent controversy.

The temple is part ground zero of a movement fighting unchecked development in the ancient capital. Kyoto developers seem to hate the city, bulldozing wonderful old buildings and then replacing them with tower blocks, parking lots, and another pachinko or karaoke parlor. The preservation movement is weak and made up mainly of foreigners and Japanese academics.

At Entsuji, the tape explains, in the distance between the hedge and Mt. Hiei you can see construction of a "mansion" (tower apartment building), which will eventually sully the ancient view. On the wall to the left on a tack board are many newspaper articles documenting the fight. The view remains at publishing time for the most part unblemished.

The temple's other gardens consist of many varieties of azalea and camellia.

Entsuji Temple
Tel: +81757811875


From Kyoto Station, take bus 45 for about 40 minutes and get off at "Entsuji Michi" stop. From there it is a ten-minute walk. Or take either the Eizan Railways train from Demachiyanagi Station to Seika Daigakumae Station, or the Karasuma subway line to Kitayama Station--from both it is a 25-minute walk.


April - November, 10 am - 4:30 pm. From December - March, the temple closes at 4 pm.

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