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Friday, May 30, 2008

Japanese language lesson: Saying No


Except from a superior at work or a "senpai" (someone older or higher ranked) in school, a direct "No" to a question or request is less common in Japan than in the West.

Instead, the sales clerk or office staff person or Ministry of Finance negotiator may well reply: それはちょっと難しいです(Sore wa chotto muzukashi desu).

The direct translation is: "That's a bit difficult."

The implied meaning is usually: "That is not possible" (or, more informally, "...when hell freezes over").

To the American trade negotiator, "difficult" means "hard but not impossible to accomplish."

Japanese however know that that is the end of the conversation.

Another polite and semi-vague way to decline or refuse a request is 検討する(kentou suru). This literally means "to consider."

Like "muzukashi," though, it often means "no."

When the door-to-door salesman shows up and starts blathering on, just say "kentou shimasu" as you close the door with a smile.

Last week's Japanese lesson

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Abandoned Car Taken Away


Finally...it's gone. This Monday a car abandoned across the small stream from my house has at last been taken away. Loaded on to a truck by crane and driven away fully five months after it was abandoned and ticketed on November 19th, 2007.

Abandoned car trucked away in Nisshin, Aichi Prefecture

The stream, by the way, marks the boundary between Nagoya city and Nisshin and it seems Nagoya city authorities move a little quicker on dumped vehicles than their Nisshin counterparts.

A car abandoned on the Nagoya side just up the road was taken away after just a few days. It was first dumped on the main road to Toyota, almost completely blocking a T-junction, was then moved to a less dangerous position on a side road and then disappeared, presumably at the hands of Nagoya city authorities. The licence plate was for a city near Tokyo.

At last the rusting, oil-spewing hulk over in Nisshin no longer presents a traffic, ecological or aesthetic threat to the neighborhood. Good bloody riddence!

If only the old codger, who insists of driving here from God knows where to feed a legion of stray cats, would see the error of his ways or hopefully drop stone dead, the place (a featureless new suburb on the road to Toyota) might even feel half decent.

Ah, but I'm forgetting it's nearly summer! The delivery van and truck drivers, who stop by the river (because it's nice and quiet) will soon be upon us. Those bastards eat their convenience store lunch boxes, burp their vending machine coffees, chuck their rubbish out the window, empty their ashtrays on the street, then jack up the air-conditioning and finally go to sleep for an hour or two.

Bring back the birch, I say, for these enemies of the planet!
Don't these people know the ice-caps are melting? No, they don't, their lousy TV doesn't tell them that, and they wouldn't care anyway. They ain't paying for the company gas, so fuck everyone else.

Aichi Prefecture has one of the highest rates of vehicle abandonment in Japan. It is estimated to cost the local taxpayer in excess of 5.7m USD a year in removal fees.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Japan National Railway Workers Union demo


Japan National Railway Workers Union demo

I was cycling around Akasaka and Nagatacho at lunchtime today, enjoying the cool, dry sunny weather – a pleasant respite from the recent cloudiness and beginnings of summer mugginess. I happened upon this demonstration happening directly across from the National Diet Building. It was in support of a case that goes back no less than 21 years!

Back on April 1, 1987, Japan Railways was privatized. According to the National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro), its members were unfairly treated by the new rail companies created by privatization. In November 2006, legal action by Kokuro resulted in Supreme Court decisions ordering compensation for union members. It is an extremely convoluted story, but there remain 1,047 laid off union members from that time whose cases have yet to be settled.

You can’t tell from the photo, but there was a considerable police presence (the Kasumigaseki) area is always swarming with them anyway, and I got dirty looks from a few police simply for showing an interest in the demonstration.

Read about the 2010 outcome of the dispute here.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Four Stories Osaka June 2008

Acclaimed expat literary series from the US comes again to Japan for the summer

OSAKA, JAPAN, May 22, 2008—The acclaimed literary series Four Stories, which runs in Boston (USA), Osaka, and Tokyo, kicks off its summer 2008 season on June 15 in Osaka, with readings from the following published authors:

* Hans Brinckmann, Dutch-born ex-banker living in Tokyo and London, and the author of The Magatama Doodle, Noon Elusive, The Ballad of Hope Hill, and the forthcoming Showa Japan

* Deborah Iwabuchi, translator, author and long-time Japan Resident who has translated Crossfire (with Anna Isozaki) and Devil's Whisper by Miyabe Miyuki, Beyond the Blossoming Fields (with Anna Isozaki) by Junichi Watanabe, Translucent Tree by Nobuko Takagi, Love From the Depths (with Kazuko Enda) by Tomihiro Hoshino, and others.

* Sarah Mulvey, instructor at Nanzan University in Nagoya and candidate for a Masters in Creative Writing (U. of Lancaster), where her thesis is "One Way to Tokyo - Experiences of Western Women in Japan"

* Owen Schaefer, Canadian writer living in Tokyo with work appearing in the expatriate anthology Jungle Crows, Dimsum Literary Journal, the Tokyo Advocate, and McGill Street Magazine; and winner of the New Brunswick Writers' Federation prize for poetry

Each author will read in English from his or her fiction or nonfiction prose for 15 minutes, under the theme “Life among the Locals: Tales of expat writers in Japan"

The Four Stories experience: like a 19th-Century salon, only 150 years later--same socializing, same witty banter, corsets optional.

Portugalia: Osaka's hippest Portuguese bar and grill
Sunday, June 15
6-8pm (venue opens @ 5)
Nishi-Tenma 4-12-11, Umeda, Osaka
[Just north of the American Consulate]
Admittance free and open to the public

More information, plus free MP3s and pictures from past events, @ fourstories.org

Four Stories in the Japanese Press:

* The Japan Times (6/22/07): Four Stories is featured on the front page of the Japan Times' national section, which reports, "'Four Stories has helped make Osaka the new Kyoto'....Slater and Four Stories have shown that Osaka's image among some foreign literary critics as a cultural desert is no longer entirely accurate."
* Kansai Scene (6/1/07): Four Stories Japan is "re-energizing the reading movement " in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe.
* Being a Broad magazine (1/1/08) : spotlights Four Stories founder Tracy Slater and the literary series, writing, "The expat community is grateful" for Four Stories.

Tracy Slater, Ph.D
Founder, Four Stories Boston & Four Stories Japan
Japan: 080-5302-3907; Boston: 617-544-3907

Monday, May 26, 2008

Gifu To Toyohashi 60 Years On Meitetsu Trains!


Last week I had yet another glimpse in to the weird world of Japanese train spotters.


Traveling by train, mostly at the weekends with a train-mad 6-year-old, I have gradually become more and aware of this parallel word of Japanese densha otaku (train geeks).

Densha otaku tend to be thicker on the ground at weekends, they are no doubt busy as software programmers, shop assistants or newspaper delivery boys during the week, so events which will attract the spotters are held on Sundays.

Gifu To Toyohashi 60 Years On!

Last Sunday, we were at Meitetsu Gifu Station as the 12.40 Panorama Car to Toyohashi was about to depart. This departure was special, however, and marked the 60th anniversary of the west-east Gifu to Toyohashi service. Special plaques were attached to the front of the train and on each carriage. The Panorama Car was no doubt chosen as it is Meitetsu's oldest running model and soon to be phased out.

The geeks had been milling for hours on the platform to get the best spots for photos, the best seats on the train and to soak up the otaku atmosphere. The 100% male crowd were in a state of high excitement as the special plaques were attached to the train and cameras and videocams began to shoot and roll.

Gifu Station, 1 Hashimotocho, Gifu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Having the time of your life. UUUUUHHHH!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Japan This Week: 25/05/08


Japan News.Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto.

NY Times

Japan reviving coal mining in wake of rise in oil prices.

NY Times

Japan ends forty-year ban on militarization of space.


Bulgarian becomes first European to win sumo tournament.

Japan Times

G8 environment meeting begins in Kobe.

Daily Yomiuri

Food checks shoddy.


Japanese women spikers qualify for Beijing.

Yahoo! Sports

Group of four arrested for filming a porn film in a McDonalds.


Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Suntory Hibiki was voted the world's best blended whisky for the second year in a row. Nikka's Yoichi 20 Years Old won the best single malt title for the first time.

Source: Japan Times

27.46 million people in Japan are aged 65 or older making up 21.5% of the population. Nearly 10% of Japanese are 75 or older.

Source: National Institute of Population and Social Security Research

48% of 90 categories of shore fish stocks have declined in fiscal 2007. Japan's seafood self-sufficiency rate was 59% in 2006, down from 113% in 1964.

Source: Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Ministry

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Golden Rule(s) for Living in Japan


Living in a foreign country requires adjustments, some minor, some not so minor.

Unless you live in a diplomatic compound or in an area full of other expatriates, your neighbors will have different ideas of how to live, what is (in)appropriate, the done thing, etc. This may result in conflict.

In Japan, with a high population density and somewhat complicated interpersonal relations, this takes on even greater importance.

Here then is a short, arbitrary list of suggestions for making life in Japan smoother. This is especially true if you live in a neighborhood as opposed to a "mansion" (apartment in a large building).

1) 挨拶(aisatsu)Greetings

Always greet your neighbors. A simple おはようございます(ohayo gozaimasu, "good morning")goes a long way. Even if you speak no Japanese, learn and use simple greetings.

2) 静かに(shizuka ni)Keep it quiet

No piano practice after 8 pm. Turn the volume down on the tv at night. 近状迷惑(kinjo meiwaku)literally means to cause trouble for the neighborhood. This is about the worst thing you can be accused of. It is usually related to too much noise--especially at night--or #3.

3) ごみ(gomi)Garbage

Put your garbage out on the correct day, at the correct time, in the correct bag or container. Not the night before. Not two hours early. Not in the wrong bag or container.

If you are unclear, ask the women in the neighborhood. They know everything.

If your garbage gets mauled by crows or stray cats--or not picked up because you put it in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong colored bag--this is serious "kinjo meiwaku."

4) 参加(sanka)Participation

If you have a neighborhood festival, clean up day, sports day, children's festival--take part. It's a couple hours out of your life, and will earn you many, many brownie points in the event you "screw up" later on.

5) 回覧板(kairanban)Circular Notice

Some think this is a plot by the neighborhood association to monitor behavior, and in a way it is. What happens is you will get a file folder-like binder with notices and ads. Stamp or sign next to your name, which will be printed in a list at the bottom. Then walk it to the next house, your neighbor. It's fairly painless. If the notice sits on your door step for days on end gathering dust, this is "kinjo meiwaku."

Standards are low for foreigners, especially men (women are supposed to understand things related to the home and hearth better than men). You don't have to sell your soul, just put out the garbage and turn down the volume a bit and say hello.

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, May 23, 2008

Japan Taxi Signs


As Japanese manhole covers are unique to their area, so are the often ornate, Japanese taxi company signs on the roofs of taxi cabs in Japan.

Japan Taxi Signs

Illuminated at night when vacant, these taxi cab signs advertise the taxi company the cab belongs to, or the motif proclaims that the taxi is independent and owned by the driver., although the driver will still probably be working through one of the larger taxi groups.

Japan Taxi Signs

Taxi fares in Japan begin at a hefty 720 yen for the first 2km in Tokyo but cabs are a safe means of transport if you have missed the last bus or train. If you are traveling in a group of four don't think twice, jump in a taxi if you are without public transport.
Common motifs for Japanese taxi signs are lanterns and symbols that represent the area's main characteristics or major products. Thus Tendo taxis in Tohoku have Japanese chess (shoji) motifs as Tendo is the major producer of Japanese chess pieces in the country.

Japan Taxi Signs

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Japanese Compound Words


Japanese compound words are the most important element of Japanese vocabulary.

Common examples are hana+mi 花見 = "flower looking," i.e. cherry blossom viewing, gai+shoku 外食 = "out eating," i.e. eating out, bi+jo 美女 = "beautiful woman," or, a beauty, furu+hon 古本 = "old book," i.e. second-hand book.

Learning a few of the most common mostly two-kanji compounds is a good way to expand your Japanese word power.

The compounds can be formed by combining:

noun+noun such as kawa+zakana 川魚 = river fish. Notice the pronunciation of zakana as the first consonant of the second part of the compound is voiced, which is known as rendaku 連濁 in Japanese, hito+bito 人々 = "person person," i.e. people, is another common example of this sequential voicing.

adjective+noun kuro+fune 黒船 = black ship, as in Admiral Perry's Black Ships.

adjective+adjective usu+gurai 薄暗い = "lightly dark," i.e. dim.

noun+adjective kokoro+zuyoi 心強い = "heart strong,' i.e. encouraging, reassuring, secure

noun+verb hiru+ne 昼寝 = "noon sleep," i.e. siesta,

verb+noun de+guchi 出口 = "going-out mouth," i.e. exit

verb+verb iki+kaeri 行き帰り = "go + return home," i.e. to and from home.

Okay, that's all for this week (kon+shuu) 今週 ("now + week") see you next week (rai+shuu) 来週 ("coming week").

Last week's Japanese lesson

Japanese Compound Words: An Easy Way to Expand Your Japanese Vocabulary

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Maiko Sighting in Kyoto


On a sultry spring day in Kyoto, there was a large crowd gathered outside of the Kaburenjo Theater (pictured below) on Pontocho. This is the narrow street on which there are many bars, restaurants, and tea houses.

That could mean only one thing: Maiko were nearby.

Sure enough, under a makeshift tent two were sitting surrounded by a camera-toting mob.

Middle-aged Japanese men jostled for position next to the two women as their pals snapped photos on cell phones and tiny digital cameras.

"O-nay-san, o-nay-san (sister, sister), look this way!" called out other older people with rural accents and red badges marking them as being part of a tour group from central Japan.

Kaburenjo Theater, Kyoto French tourists in t-shirts and sunglasses held their cameras aloft, snapped, checked the photo, frowned, and reshot.

Then, without a word, the two maiko stood up and left. The crowd silently parted, then scrambled after them clicking away.

The woman pictured above right is named Ichiraku, and is a Pontocho maiko. And a vision indeed.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


ドコモ 携帯電話

I recently upgraded my cell phone from a Sharp FOMA SH 700 to a FOMA SH 705i II. The phone is lighter, the camera has increased from 1.3 megapixels to 3.2 megapixels and the phone can be used overseas in Europe, Russia and even Saudi Arabia. There's a 50,000 yen limit on calls made while overseas, and the calls themselves are charged as international calls so charges are liable to be pretty hefty, as will the phone charges for people calling you.


Sticking with the same model means I don't have to re-learn the phone as most of the functions are identical, with the exception of built-in TV which runs on the One Seg channel. One Seg (1seg) is a newish mobile digital audio/video and data broadcasting service, that by use of Broadcast Markup Language, or BML, allows TV images and text to be displayed on the screen.


The phone costs 43,000 yen for which I took out a two year loan and insurance in case I lose it. I changed color from black to white, hoping it will be visible in the dark. Docomo let you register 5 frequently dialed nunbers for a 10% reduction on calls which I did and I upgraded my plan to hopefully cut down on my monthly bills.

The shop also took away my old phone (they are full of precious metals) but did punch a hole in it first so no personal data can be retrieved.

Having some Japanese language skills helps in dealing with the sales people, but on the whole the experience was fairly seamless and it's well worth dropping in to one of your mobile phone provider's stores to see if you really are getting the best deal available.

Yahoo Japan Auction Service - buy from Yahoo Auctions have it sent to you.

© Japan Visitor.com

Monday, May 19, 2008

Is fashion dying in Japan?


I went for a drink in Tokyo's Ni-Chome last night on my way home, to my favorite bar, Usagi. I sat next to a guy who works in sales of advertising.

The bar was in full swing when I came in, so I spent most of my hour or so there mainly listening. No matter how good my Japanese may have become, all it takes is an unfamiliar word, or a slightly muffled expression, to lose the thread somewhat. But I added the odd comment, and occasionally contributed at some length if given the opportunity.

The conversation was mainly about fashion, especially fashion victims. They were talking about Comme des Garcons and there was mention that it was basically subsidized by the Mitsui-Sumitomo Corporation, a senior executive of which organizes support of it in the name of keeping alive a Japanese cultural institution.

One notable observation by the owner was about how high fashion is being increasingly eschewed by the young, and how the rough, cheap look rules on Ni-Chome. One interesting story he recounted was his overhearing an exchange between a group of young guys in their early 20s the other day in Ni-Chome and a slightly older guy in his early-to-mid 30s.

The younger guys were all casually dressed in Levi's, or the like, and T-shirts, and were giving the older guy the third degree for being dressed osharé, or trendily. "Do you think you're going to get lucky if you dress like that?" and "Does it somehow make you feel special looking like that?" and "Do you think spending on yourself that way has some effect?" etc. etc. – generally giving the guy the third degree.

Subsidized Japanese high street brands and young gay Japanese who scorn anything catwalk? What is Japan coming to?

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Japan This Week: 18/05/08


Japan News.Japan running out of engineers.

NY Times

China allows Japanese earthquake experts into Sichuan.

NY Times

Cigarette machines to be fitted with age sensors--and prevent underage smokers from buying.


US marine gets four years for sexually abusing 14-year-old.

Japan Times

Japan Feeling Left Out as U.S. Talks to Pyongyang

Washington Post

Tsukiji fish market not moving--yet.

Daily Yomiuri

Economy grows on back of increased exports.


J.League soccer club trying to lure Hidetoshi Nakata out of retirement.

Yahoo! Sports

The secret and seedy world of "encounter cafes."


Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

A Hyogo family made sick by Chinese-made dumplings donated 5 million yen ($50,000) to the hospital where they received treatment . The family said this was a gift for saving their lives.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

Percentage of Japanese, by prefecture, who have been abroad.

1) Tokyo: 25.9
2) Kanagawa: 21.8
3) Chiba: 18.3
4) Aichi: 16.5
5) Nara: 16.5
6) Osaka: 15.9
7) Hyogo: 15.6
8) Saitama: 15.4
9) Kyoto: 15.3
10) Shiga: 14.0

The top prefectures are all from metropolitan Tokyo, Nagoya, or Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara).

47) Aomori: 3.4

Source: Ministry of Justice

Cell Phone Decorations

Decorated cell phone携帯電話の飾り

Cell phones are no longer just a tool for business and pleasure and communication.

They are now a statement. As such, the owner must express herself by decorating and or personalizing it.

Colorful straps with dolls and bells and good luck charms are popular. For a time, one seemed to suffice; now four or five or more are de rigueur.

Women with a bit of verve attach bright rhinestone-like bits directly on to the body of the phone itself.

Decorated cell phone
Stickers are also popular, even among young men who plaster their phones with "puri-kura" head shots of their best friends.

For women, "cute" stickers are more common (see the embossed ice cream cones above).

A pink phone brimming with accessories says to the world "Aren't I cute!" A darker color phone with fewer accessories tells the world "You can only dream about being as cool as I am!"

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sonic City Saitama


At 137m the Sonic City building dominates the skyline in Saitama City (previously Omiya, before the merging of Omiya, Urawa, Iwatsuki and Yono to form Saitama City).
The multi-use building was completed in 1988.

Sonic City Saitama

The building houses a hotel, the Palace Hotel Omiya, conference center, offices, shops and restaurants. Sonic City plays hosts to musical performances and international conferences. There is a Wi-Fi spot in Tully's Coffee in the building.

Sonic City
1-7-5 Sakuragi-cho
Omiya Ward
Saitama City


From Tokyo, Omiya Station is on the main Joetsu Shinkansen and Tohoku Shinkansen Lines from Tokyo and Ueno Stations.

From Ueno Station the Tohoku Line runs to Omiya in 25 minutes, from Tokyo Station take the Keihin Tohoku Line (50 minutes), from Ikebukuro Station, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station take the Saikyo Line or Shonan-Shinjuku Lines (25-40 minutes).

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Japanese Lesson: Expressions Using Body Parts

Japanese Lesson: Expressions Using Body Parts.

Today we will look at a few expressions using different body parts, all above the neck: head, eye, nose, and ear.

First is 頭 (atama), which means "head." There are many expressions related to the head. Some are obvious:

頭がいい(atama ga ii)= "head is good," which means smart
頭が悪い(atama ga warui)= "head is bad," which of course means...not so smart, thick

Some are not as obvious.

頭が柔らかい(atama ga yawarakai)= "head is soft," which means flexible

Next let's look at 目(me), or eye.

目がいい(me ga ii)= to have a good eye for something

Moving on to the nose, 鼻(hana).

鼻が高い(hana ga takai)= "nose is high," which means arrogant or haughty

Last, let's look at the venerable ear, 耳(mimi).

耳が痛い(mimi ga itai)= "ear hurts," which translates as being ashamed to hear
耳が早い(mimi ga hayai)= "ear is fast" = having sharp ears

And, why not, one for the road:

口が堅い(kuchi ga katai)= "mouth is hard," which means you can keep a secret, hold your tongue

Read more about the Japanese language

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology


After visiting the Toyota Automobile Museum earlier this year, I was inspired to visit Toyota's other showpiece museum in Nagoya, the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology, not far from Nagoya Station.

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology

I was not disappointed; the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology is superb. The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology is housed in the original red brick buildings of the Toyoda (the forerunner of present-day Toyota Corp) textile factory and research center.

The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology is divided in to two parts in separate buildings. The first building exhibits early automatic looms and outlines the history of spinning cloth. Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota empire developed a wooden hand loom in 1890 and went on to patent an automatic loom based on a British model in 1924, which guaranteed the financial success of his enterprise.

The second building of the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology is all about car production. Toyoda's son, Kiichiro, developed the model AA passenger car - Toyota's first mass-produced automobile introduced in 1936. Various production line units are on display including a US-made 600 ton press and the the latest Japanese robot technology.

It was easy to spend half a day at the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology, which had a number of fun activities for kids and also includes a restaurant "Brick Age" and a cafe.

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry & Technology
1-35 Noritake Shinmachi 4-chome
Nishi-ku, Nagoya
Tel: 052 551 6115
Admission: 500 yen
Hours: 9.30am-5pm (last admission 4.30pm)
Closed on Mondays


Take a local (futsu) Meitetsu train one stop north from Nagoya Station to Sako. The museum is a 3 minute walk to your right from Sako Station.

Book a hotel in Nagoya Japan with Booking.com

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cosmetics on Tokyo Subway

I recently came across this sign (below) on the Tokyo subway urging women not to apply their make up on the trains.

Cosmetics on Tokyo Subway

Women (I have yet to see a man) applying their cosmetics on trains is a common sight in railway carriages up and down the country. It really does prove how smooth the ride is.

The Japanese cosmetics market is huge - the world's second largest after the US - with annual sales well over US$4 billion. The giants of the Japanese cosmetics industry, Kanebo, Shiseido and Kose are also engaged in a massive expansion drive in the rest of Asia, especially in China and Thailand.

Yahoo Japan Auction Service

Book a hotel in Tokyo Japan with Booking.com

Happi Coats

Japanese For Busy People

Monday, May 12, 2008

Kobe Ijinkan (Western Houses)

Kobe Ijinkan神戸北野異人館

Kobe was one of the first Japanese cities in which foreigners settled. Like Nagasaki and Yokohama, which are also port cities, Kobe had a large community of expatriates following the opening of the country in the mid-nineteenth century until 1940.

What remains of that community is primarily in Kitano-cho, the section of city at the foot of the Rokko mountains.

Today there are a handful of mansions and former consulates remaining that are now open to the public.

The area is also home to many restaurants, shops, cafes, churches, a Jain temple, synagogue and a mosque.

Uroko no Ie, pictured above right, and the Former Chinese Consulate are among the most beautifully preserved of the houses. The garden of England House is pictured below.


From JR/Hankyu/Subway Sannomiya Station, go out the north exit and walk up Kitanozaka Street. You are going in the right direction if you can see mountains in the distance. Cross Ijinkan Street and continue one more block to Kitano Street. Turn right and on your right is England House, Yokan Nagaya (French House), and more. Maps are available at most train stations. From the station, it is a 10-12 minute walk.

Entrance Fees

The houses cost either 300, 500, or 700 yen to enter. A three-house pass costs 1,300 yen, the nine-house pass costs 3,500 yen.

Kobe IjinkanYahoo Japan Auction Service

Book a hotel in Japan with Booking.com

Cheap accommodation in Japan

Happi Coats

Japanese For Busy People

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japan This Week: 11/05/08


Japan News.Chinese leader Hu visits Japan.

NY Times

Japan battles urban crow menace.

NY Times

Poison free fugu specially bred challenges industry authorities.

NY Times

Japanese rice remains expensive and difficult to sell as domestic tastes change.

Washington Post

China accuses Dalai Lama of "ruining Olympics."


US pushing Japan to consume cloned beef.

Japan Times

Alleged wife killer Kauyoshi Miura's extradition on hold.

Daily Yomiuri

Government accuses Konica Minolta of dodging 1.8 billion yen in taxes.


Liverpool coach hired by JEF United soccer club.

Yahoo! Sports

The life of a female journalist in Japan.


Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Japan will provide up to $10 million in aid to Myanmar.

Source: Asahi

There are an estimated 150,000 crows in Tokyo.

Source: NY Times

Tokyo had a net influx of 94,500 people in 2007, Kanagawa Prefecture 32,474, Aichi 20,520. Hokkaido had the largest exodus with 20,267 people leaving followed by Aomori 10,274 and Nagasaki 10,064.

Source: Internal Affairs & Communications Ministry

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Wenceslau de Moraes


Wenceslau de Moraes (1854-1929), the Portuguese writer, translator and poet, who spent his later life living near Mt. Bizen in Tokushima on Shikoku, is regarded as the Portuguese Lafcadio Hearn, of whom he was a contemporary.

Wenceslau de Moraes.

Born in Lisbon, Moraes attended Naval College before joining the Portuguese navy and serving on battleships in the Far East. He settled in Macao, where he married a local woman and started a family. In 1889 he visited Japan for the first time and appeared to fall in love with the country. In 1898 he deserted his wife and children in Macao and took up residence in Kobe as Portugal's Consulate General in the port city. It was while in Japan that Moraes began writing about his life in the East for several Portuguese newspapers and magazines.

In 1913, saddened by the death of his Japanese wife Oyone, Moraes resigned from his official posts in Kobe and moved to Tokushima in Shikoku (his wife's birthplace) and began a relationship with her niece Koharu. It was during his time in Tokushima that Moraes became increasingly Japonized in his personal habits and dress and began to face rising resentment from the locals, who may or may not have been scandalized by his relationships with two local women.
After the early death of Koharu, Moraes lead an increasingly isolated existence until his death aged 75.

Moraes' works include Oyone & Koharu (1923), Cartas do Extremo Oriente (1895), Dai Nippon (1897) and O Bom-Odori em Tokushima (1916).

Moraes Hall, Mt. Bizen, Tokushima, Shikoku

The Moraes Hall on top of Mt. Bizen is a memorial museum to the man and his life and includes personal effects, photographs and a reconstruction of Moraes' study.

Moraes Hall
Tel: 088 623 5342

Take the Bizan Ropeway from the Awa Odori Kaikan.

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, May 09, 2008

Kobe City Museum: Louvre Exhibit

Kobe Museum神戸市立博物館のルーブル美術館展

The Kobe City Museum currently is exhibiting items from the Louvre until July 6th.

140 items from the French court of the 18th century are on display.

They include gold and silver works, elaborate furniture, and luggage.

This period was known for its excesses, and the items reflect that.

The Kobe City Museum also has a solid collection of artifacts and other historical items related mainly to the port city of Kobe.

Kobe City Museum
24, Kyo-machi, Chuo-ku, Kobe, 650-0034
Tel: 078 391 0035

1,400 yen for adults. Closed Mondays.


It is a ten-minute walk from the south exit of JR Sannomiya Station.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sezu ni


The –zu suffix on verbs is one that - once you know enough Japanese, but perhaps not quite enough yet - can be rather difficult to grasp the gist of. Because it is not used that much, it can seem difficult. But despite its obscurity, in terms of meaning it is actually very simple.

-zu means “without doing”. It is basically the same as the more commonly heard –naide, but could be said to have a stronger nuance of having failed to do, or missed out on doing, something before doing something else, or for something not happening that would otherwise normally be expected to happen.

Suffixing -zu to verbs takes a bit of getting used to. For example, suffixed to the verb suru, or to do, changes it to sezu: “without doing”. This is an irregular one, but one of the most common, so let’s look at a couple of examples of it first.
(NB For the sake of clarity, the English translations of the following example sentences follow the Japanese sentence structure, even if often at the expense of sounding natural.)

Example of sezu (used with the phrase aisatsu suru [to greet] and sara arai o suru [to do the dishes])

Aisatsu o sezu ni, heya ni haitta.
Without greeting [anyone], [s/he] came into the room.

Sara arai o sezu ni dekaketa.
Without doing the dishes, [s/he] went out.

(Incidentally, the ni following -zu has an adverbial function.)

For all other verbs, -zu is suffixed as follows:

For verbs ending in –ku, -ku changes to –kazu

Verb: migaku (to polish, to brush [one’s teeth])

Ha o migakazu ni, haisha ni itta.
Without brushing [his/her] teeth, [s/he] went to the dentist.

For verbs ending in –tsu, -tsu changes to –tazu.

Verb: tatsu (to stand [up])

Tatazu ni, kyaku o uketsuketa.
Without standing up, [s/he] received the guests .

For verbs ending in –mu, -mu changes to –mazu.

Verb: sumu (to inhabit, to live [somewhere])

Soko ni sumazu ni, kanri o shite iru.
Without living there, [s/he] looks after [the place].

For verbs ending in –ru, -ru changes to –razu.

Verb: furu (to rain)

Ame ga furazu ni, ichinichi ga sugita.
Without raining, the day passed.
(The above sentence is a very good example of the use of -zu, as it suggests an unfulfilled expectation: here probably a faulty weather forecast.)

For verbs ending in –eru, -eru changes to –ezu.

Verb: kakeru (to spinkle on, to sprinkle over)

Shio o kakezu ni, yakizakana o tabeta.
Without sprinkling [any] salt [on it], [s/he] ate the baked fish.

For verbs ending in –gu, -gu changes to –gazu.

Verb: matagu (to make it over [something], to straddle [something])

Gehto o matagazu ni, butsukatta.
Without making it over the gate, [s/he] collided with it.

For verbs ending in –u, -u changes to –wazu.

Verb: suu (to smoke [something], to suck [something])

Tabako o suwazu ni, neta.
Without having a cigarette, [s/he] went to bed.

For verbs ending in –su, -su changes to –sazu.

Verb: korosu (to kill)

Hae o korosazu ni, nigaseta.
Without killing it, [s/he] let the fly out.

For verbs ending in –bu, -bu changes to –bazu.

Verb: manabu (to learn)

Nani mo manabazu ni, gakko ni ikitsuzukeru.
Without learning [anything], [s/he] continues to go to school.

For the sole Japanese verb ending in –nu, -nu changes to –nazu.

Verb: shinu (to die)

Shinazu ni, chokusetsu, “Go” o yorazu ni, tengoku ni agatta.
Without dying, [and] without passing Go, [s/he] went straight to heaven.

And let’s stop on that double banger!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Anaguma or Tanuki


A few days ago we posted a video of what we thought was a tanuki in Shimane Prefecture. One alert reader pointed out the error of our ways and correctly identified the creature as the much rarer anaguma (a badger).


Here is an image of a stuffed tanuki taken at the excellent Ibaraki Nature Museum in Moriya.

Apologies for any confusion caused.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, May 05, 2008

Qatar Forum Competition

We are holding a competition over on our Qatar website. To enter all you have do is to join our new Qatar forum and post, and you could win $50 dollars either as an Amazon voucher or as money sent to your Paypal account. All you have to do to enter is join the forum - and post! So, if you have ever been tempted to work in a country where there are no taxes and petrol costs 20 cents a liter, or if you are curious about a country which, though just 100 miles long, is the second richest nation in the world, head over to ask your questions.

Kawagoe breakdance


Kawagoe is a historic castle town to the northwest of central Tokyo, about 45 minutes by express train from Shinjuku. Certain streets of the central city are lined with weighty, ornate old merchant buildings, and, of course, the temples and shrines that grace most Japanese cities. It prospered so much in the Edo era from its trade with nearby Tokyo (then known as Edo) that it became known as "Little Edo."

Kawagoe is now a tourist town attracting over 5 million visitors a year. It is easily accessible from Tokyo on the Seibu Shinjuku Line, JR Saikyo Line, or Tobu Tojo Line.

As we walked the 30 minutes from the JR station to the historic area, we happened upon something rather more contemporary, the final leg of a breakdancing competition.

Watch the breathtaking acrobatics of the two finalists, all to a DJ beat.

More about the city of Kawagoe

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Japan This Week 04/05/08


Japan News.Film stirs debate on free speech in Japan.

NY Times

Virtual golf at Links Bar courtesy of Nintendo.


Approval rate for PM Fukuda Cabinet dips below 20%.

Japan Times

Chofu area of Tokyo to be evacuated later in May to defuse unexploded WWII bomb.

Daily Yomiuri

54-year-old Briton found not guilty in drug smuggling case.


Chiba Lotte Marines coach Bobby Valentine to feature in documentary.

Yahoo! Sports

History of oral sex in Japan.


Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Average gas prices in Japan hit 153 yen per liter, up 22.8 yen from April 28.

Source: Asahi.com

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rocket Building Omiya Saitama


'Rocket building,' Omiya, Saitama.

Another of the numerous follies that either (depending on your point of view) blight or brighten Japanese cities up, this gold colored rocket building caught our eye from the train arriving in Omiya city in Saitama Prefecture.

Surely a love hotel we thought, but a later inspection of the place revealed it to be a multi-use building including offices, weekly and monthly apartments and a kindergarten - all rather humdrum for such a whacky, shall we say, flight of architectural fancy!

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, May 02, 2008

Rapi:t Train To Kansai International Airport


The Nankai Rapi:t train service from Namba Station is the quickest way to access Kansai International Airport (KIX) from central Osaka.

Rapi:t Train To Kansai International Airport

The award-winning Nankai 5000 trains were designed by Japanese architect Wakabayashi Hiroyuki. The quickest service takes 29 minutes from Kansai International Airport to Namba.

Rapi:t Train To Kansai International Airport

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Honorific Prefixes in Japanese

Honorific Prefixes in Japanese.

Last week we talked about some word endings, which are very important in Japanese.

Today, we will look at prefixes, in particular the honorifics "o" and "go."

Using the noun fish, a simple example is お魚 (o-sakana). A literal translation would be "honorable fish" or "Mr./Ms. Fish." In Japanese, though, this sounds quite normal and it should be translated simply as "fish."

Why add the "o"?

It sounds polite and softens one's language.

In general, "o" is placed in front of words of Japanese origin. Other examples are:

お名前 (o-namae) = name
お薬 (o-kusuri) = medicine
お休み (o-yasumi) = vacation, day off
お金 (o-kane) = money
お買い物 (o-kaimono) = shopping
お忙しい (o-isogashi) = busy

To make things a bit complicated, there is another honorific: "go."

This is used for words of Chinese origin.

ご紹介 (go-shokai) = introduction
ご住所 (go-jusho) = address
ご注文 (go-chumon) = order
ご家族 (go-kazoku) = family

Finally, keep in mind that these are terms to be used for others. You should refer to your neighbor's family as "go-kazoku"--but never as your own family in that way.

Read more about the Japanese language

© JapanVisitor.com

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