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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Japan This Week: 31 May 2009


Japan News.In Reporting a Scandal, the Media Are Accused of Just Listening

NY Times

Hello Kitty car Nissan Cube

NY Times

Haruki Murakami fans snap up latest novel 1Q84 after five-year wait


Truancy is rife at Japanese universities

Times on Line

Job offer ratio ties worst level


Au Japon, les suicides se multiplient à cause de la crise économique

Le Monde

Former stable master gets six years for young wrestler's hazing death

Japan Times

Broadband goes big in Japan


Toyota plans to host 2010 Japanese Grand Prix

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

According to a newspaper poll, 81% of Japanese ride their bicycles on the sidewalk, even though this is illegal.

When asked why, the most popular answer was "riding on the street is dangerous." 2,312 people replied thus.

2. "On the road, cars get in the way" (294).
3. "The sidewalk is made for riding" (135).
4. "On a bike I can't ride as fast as a car" (54).
5. "Because a bike is a human powered vehicle" (41).
6. "Because other cyclists ride on the sidewalk" (31).
7. "Other" (156).

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Former sumo stablemaster jailed

時津風 山本順一 相撲

Former sumo coach, Junichi Yamamoto, AKA Tokitsukaze, 59, was sentenced to six years in jail on May 29 for ordering the beating of an apprentice that caused the 17-year-old boy’s death.

The incident happened in June 2007 after the apprentice had tried to run away from the stable. Not only did Yamamoto assault him with a beer bottle and force him to train to the point where he could barely stand, but he ordered three other apprentices to “teach him a lesson” upon which he died shortly after.

Sumo is already in the doldrums in terms of the number of new recruits it is able to attract, so scandal is the last thing it needs. In spite of the world of sumo being, like any other traditional pursuit in Japan, cloaked in shadows and behind-the-scenes wirepulling, clearly manslaughter was too much, and the full spotlight was turned on it. It was decried by the then prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, and the stable master, Yamamoto, was ejected from the Sumo Association.

The process from the incident itself to Yamamoto’s ejection can be partly deduced by the fact that the initial official verdict on the boy’s death was “illness,” but an autopsy ordered later on made clear it was due to physical trauma.

The atmosphere of a sumo stable is intense. I was fortunate to be able to witness it first-hand in a tour of a sumo stable earlier this year. Discipline is absolute, everything is done in unison, and the apprentices’ day is strictly regimented. And, as you can imagine, just being patted on the head by one of them would probably put you out cold, let alone getting intentionally beaten up.

Former stablemaster Yamamoto intends to appeal his sentence.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mount Gozaisho Mie


Mount Gozaisho (1212m) in Mie Prefecture is an easy day trip from Nagoya. Mount Gozaisho is a strenuous hike up the central Nakamichi path now that the easier Uramichi path has been washed away by floods last autumn.

Mount Gozaisho

Allow about 2 or 3 hours if you are not in good shape. Parts of the trail are almost vertical and there are ropes, chains and bamboo ladders to help you up in places. Some of the drops are sheer and care should be taken when clambering over the sharp rocks. The route over the rocks is marked with red, painted circles.

Mount Gozaisho

Watch out for some rare mountain flowers on the way. Monkey sightings are frequent at the foot of the mountain and you will be serenaded by nightingales at this time of year. There are spectacular views from the top and from the ropeway. The trail is popular with usually older people mainly walking down.

At the top is a restaurant, viewing platforms and a ski slope.

At the foot of Mount Gozaisho is the hot spring resort of Yunoyama with a number of Japanese-style inns or ryokan, where you can spend the night or just pop in during the day to take the waters.

Bath charges range from around 500 yen to 1,000 yen for entry to the baths at the various hotels, many of which have rotemburo or outdoor pools.

Here are a list of some of the options:

Kuranosuke (059 392 2509) 800 yen for adults; 400 yen for children

Otel do Maronie (059 392 3210) 1000 yen for adults; 500 yen for children

Hotel Yunoki (059 392 2141) 800 yen for adults; 400 yen for children

Shikanoyu (059 392 2141) 1000 yen for adults; 3-500 yen for children

Irodorikoyo (059 392 3135) 525 yen for adults

Mount Gozaisho


Yunoyama Onsen can be reached in just over an hour from Nagoya Station by Kintetsu Railway (830 yen). Change at Yokkaichi and take the Yunoyama Line to Yunoyama Station. From there, there is an infrequent bus up to the spa (260 yen), taxi (over 1000 yen) or a 30 minute walk uphill.
Alternatively, there are direct Mie Kotsu buses from Nagoya Station (1280 yen) to the resort. Buses leave Nagoya at 7.52am (Weekends), 8.28am, 9.12am & 10.34am. The last bus back to Nagoya is 5.15pm. Other bus times back from Yunoyama are 2.15pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm.
Tel: 059 392 2261
The ropeway costs 1200 yen one-way or 2100 yen return.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aging in Japan


Elderly woman with shopping, Tokyo.
Age is quite a popular topic of everyday conversation in Japan and is much more freely discussed in Japan than in the West, in that "How old are you?" (Ikutsu desu ka?, or Nansai desu ka?) is by no means a social taboo.

A growing segment of the Japanese population is now over 65 years old (rokujuugo-sai). It is growing for two reasons: the number of children being born is rapidly declining, and longevity (nagaiki, literally "long living") is increasing.

A senior citizen is known as a rohjin, and an old people's home is a rohjin hohmu.

A recent problem with rohjin hohmu in Japan is that a growing number, while operating as de facto old people's homes, are not declaring themselves as such in order to avoid the expense of having to comply with the plethora of regulations that apply to them. They are often exposed in the course of government audits, putting themselves, the authorities, and, in particular, their residents, in a quandary.
Other age-related vocabulary includes: fukushi (福祉, welfare), kurumaisu (車椅子, wheelchair), and nenkin (年金, pension).

© JapanVisitor.com

Read more about aging Japan

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

JR Trains Central Japan


The JR Main Line or JR Chuo-honsen runs 246km from Tokyo to Nagoya, through some lovely mountain areas. Most travelers take the much quicker Shinkansen bullet train which takes 1 hour, 40 minutes from Nagoya to Tokyo Station by the fastest Nozomi trains, via Yokohama Station and Shinagawa Station in Shinagawa. The non-reserved fare is 10,070 yen.

If you wanted to get from Nagoya to Tokyo by express train your journey time would be dramatically increased and you would need to change trains a number of times. The fare would be 6,300 yen but would be more than double the travel time.

Leaving Nagoya Station, you would travel via Kanayama to Nakatsugawa. Change here for a Shinano Express to Shiojiri. From Shiojiri take a train to Takao via Kofu and Otsuki. From Takao the penultimate leg of the journey takes you from Takao Station to Mitaka, where you need to change again for a Chuo-Sobu Line service to Tokyo Station.

The rail link between the capital and Nagoya was completed in 1911.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ryoanji Temple

Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto龍安寺

Kyoto's Ryoanji is, like the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji), currently under construction.

The roof in and around the stone garden is currently being completely rebuilt.

It is still possible to visit the garden, but it is clear that work is going on.

The zen temple was built in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto. It is an example of karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden.

The white sand garden, which is surrounded on three sides by an earthen wall, is rectangular in shape and 25 meters from east to west and roughly 10 meters north to south.

The are fifteen rocks in five groupings. It is said that until one attains enlightenment, only 14 can be seen at one time.


Bus #59 from Keihan Sanjo station or Ryoan-ji Station on the Keifuku Kitano Line from Kitano Hakubaicho station.

13 Ryoanji Goryonoshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Tel: 075 463 2216


Mar 1st - Nov 30th : 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Dec 1st - End of Feb : 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


Adults, High School students: 500 yen
Junior High School students and under: 300 yen
© JapanVisitor

Monday, May 25, 2009

Japan Visitor May Newsletter


Japan Visitor holds regular competitions and to enter them please sign up for our Japan newsletter.

Subscribers will receive all the latest news on free gifts, special offers and new competitions. This month we extended our competition and are giving away Japanese baseball caps and happi coats from our sponsor GoodsFromJapan.com. If you wish to sponsor our newsletter or promote your event or product, please contact us.

Japan Visitor May Newsletter

© JapanVisitor.com

Rough Guide To Japan

Japanese Hair Obsession

Amazing hair日本人髪の毛(のこだわり)

Japanese people take their hair very seriously.

From the samurai top knot to the geisha's elaborate wig, the bikers upswept locks of the 1960s to the beehives of today - a lot of time, energy, and money goes into hair care and presentation.

Case #1: The guy at right dozing on a train near Kyoto. He could be a pimp on his way to work in one of the red-light districts, or perhaps he is doing a post doc in physics at Kyoto University and off to attend an academic conference.

The wind tunnel look he is sporting is not cheap. At most salons, that alone would set him back about 10,000 yen ($100). The dye job would be extra.

Great hair, OsakaThe woman he is no doubt off to meet, at left, is our Case #2. She is at Osaka's Kyobashi Station. With her back to us - or rather her hair to us - she is sporting the classic neo-hostess look of overflowing, painstakingly mussed, and heavily dyed locks.

The man in the red happi coat does not have his hand stuck in her hair, though it could happen.

He is actually passing out free tissue packs; the young lady needs a few before heading off for an evening of pouring drinks and lighting cigarettes for middle-aged men at a hostess club.

Note the contrast between her beehive and the two tightly cropped men that bookend her head.

Estimated cost: 18,000 ($180) for the dye and weave.

Our final example, Case #3, is a bit more conservative.

The woman is waiting at Tsuruhashi Station, in Osaka, for the express train to the Pacific coast and its hot springs and inns.

Tight bun, Osaka train stationShe has a tight bun that is only slightly tinged with henna. It is neatly pinned and held back with a hairpiece.

Is she a company president meeting clients? A bored housewife off for a weekday dalliance with a company president? A salesperson for a major cosmetics firm? A post doc in physics at Kyoto University? A hair model?

Please submit your guesses.

Estimated cost: 6,000 yen ($60) for the dye job.

© Japan Visitor

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Japan This Week: 24 May 2009


Japan News.Japan Acts to Contain Swine Flu Outbreak

NY Times

Astronaut tests flying carpet in space


Swine Flu Spreads in Japan, Despite Quarantine Inspections

Washington Post

Plunge in Japan’s GDP takes it close to depression and raises prospect of deflation returning

Times on Line

Cutback in flight checks as flu focus shifts


Grippe porcine : l'OMS prête à passer au stade 6


Major banking groups report massive losses

Japan Times

Japan's economy in record plunge


Japanese Fans Mobilize to Keep Valentine as Their Manager

NY Times

Japan’s Nishikori pulls out of French Open

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

Eighty percent of Americans replied that Japan is "reliable," according to a Foreign Ministry poll. This is the highest figure since the polls began being taken in 1960 and a 13% rise from last year.

91% of US public opinion leaders answered that Japan was "reliable," which was a one percent decline from the previous year.

Source: Yomiuri Shinbun

For the first time, sales of electric bicycles exceeded those of motor scooters (50 cc engine or smaller). In 2008, domestic sales of electric bicycles - bikes with an electric engine that turns on when you pedal, thus making it easier to go up hills and faster - reached 315,000 units. In contrast, motor bike sales lagged behind at 295,000 units.

This contrasts with 1999 figures: 160,000 for the bikes, more than 600,000 for motor bikes.

Even though electric bikes are often more expensive, they use no gas and can be parked for free anywhere.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tokyo Gay Pride 2009


Tokyo Gay Pride 2009.

Today was the 2009 Tokyo Gay Pride, what should be the annual highlight of gay Tokyo. It was much, much better than last year - simply because it happened, whereas last year it didn't. However, it was a pale specter of Tokyo Gay Pride from the year before, 2007.

2009 Tokyo Gay Pride took place in the Kyogijo event space across from Yoyogi Park. The weather held out, there were quite a few booths - including even one from Goldman Sachs - there was a feel of excitement, however mellow, and some wackily turned out people.

Tokyo Gay Pride 2009.

Still, to be honest, if I didn't go there with the aim of blogging it, I wouldn't have missed much. There was a stage presentation that, for the hour or so I was there, at least, involved no song or dance, but a large panel discussion - yawn. Attendance was scarce, and the hundreds of people needed to give momentum to the atmosphere in a space that big just weren't there. It was a matter of killing time wandering around stalls, and almost desperately looking for any friends.

Tokyo Gay Pride 2009.

Perhaps most disappointing of all was the absence of a parade this year. There's nothing like a parade to give a gay pride event the edge it needs from exposure out on the streets to the big, bad world. This year it was a generally meek, camera-shy gathering of well meaning gay folks that if it wasn't for the few brave ones featured in the photos here would have been entirely forgettable.

Tokyo Gay Pride 2009.

Loins girded for Tokyo Gay Pride 2010 - Gambarimasho! (i.e., "Let's go for it!")

© Japan Visitor.com

Read more about Gay Tokyo

Tokyo Pride 2007
Tokyo Pride 2006

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Kamo no Okusu - Japan's biggest known tree


The biggest known tree in Japan, as measured by girth, is the Kamoh no Ohkusu (aka Kamo no Kusu, a Giant Camphor Tree) in Kagoshima prefecture.

The kusunoki, or camphor tree, (Cinnamomum camphora) is an evergreen tree native to southern Japan, Taiwan, south-east China and Indochina. Camphor is a solid aromatic substance with a wide range of uses, including medicinal, culinary, and ritualistic. It is also an insect repellant, as a component of smokeless gunpowder, and in celluloid production.

Kamo no Okusu - Japan's biggest known tree

This massive camphor tree known as "Kamoh no Ohkusu" ("Giant Camphor Tree of Kamoh") is on the grounds of the Kamo Shrine. It has a trunk diameter of 24.2 meters (79 feet), a root circumference of about 40 meters (130 feet), and a height of 30 meters (98 feet). It is believed to be between 1,500 and 3,000 years old.

Kamou no Ohkusu was designated a Special National Natural Treasure in 1952. A wooden walkway was added on top of the exposed root system in 2001, making it possible to walk right around the trunk itself. After a program to rejuvenate the tree, it is now producing brilliant green foliage and masses of small white flowers once again every spring.

It's base is so massive that there is a door in it, suggesting it was once hollowed out for use as, perhaps, a refuge or storage place.

Google Map

Kamoh no Ohkusu
Kamoh Hachiman Shrine,
Kamigyutoku, Kamoh-cho, Aira-gun, Kagoshima-ken 899-5302
Tel 0995-52-1211

© Japan Visitor

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Friday, May 22, 2009

29th Tokyo Design Festa


29th Design Festa, Tokyo.

I went to the two-day twice yearly Design Festa - no. 29 - in Tokyo on Sunday, May 17, at Big Sight in Tokyo's Ariake district. The blurb goes "There will be over 2600 Booths, Performance and Live Music areas, Restaurants Cafes and Bars. Two days filled with art, energy, excitement and discovery!" The Design Festa is about as artistic, energetic, exciting, and discovery-filled as a small-town church fair, and with that same sense of abstracted matronly bustle over small-change trivia.

When I went last year, I did find one or two booths featuring actual art – the most notable being one run by a German guy who was selling some stunning modern art from India.

Not this time. Sure, there were a few booths that displayed painstakingly twee illustration (among the hundreds of exhibitionists of amateurish affectation-laden dross). There was a handful of examples of well-crafted, but pretty similar-looking, leatherwork and glasswork And then there was jewelry, jewelry, jewelry, jewelry, jewelry, and more jewelry. And then more. And more jewelry. Stop at six jewelry stands and you’ve pretty much seen them all.

29th Design Festa, Tokyo.

I started out with that look on my face of obligatory interest. Even keepers of the most dismal, adolescent “concept” or the most forgettable pap have made the effort to be there with good intentions. And what could be more dispiriting than a dayful of blank unappreciative looks?

But my charity dissipated after 15 minutes. A) I was a 1,000-yen-paying guest, B) the last thing the Design Festa needs is charity, C) I don’t think my “look” was convincing.

29th Design Festa, Tokyo.

In the name of the “art” it pretends to sponsor – not to mention, even, the “energy, excitement and discovery,” the Tokyo Design Festa needs buckets and buckets of the icy cold water of criticism. The Tokyo Design Festa is an open day for meaningless doodle and flounce bereft of milieu. It takes itself too seriously to have the spontaneous joy of a festival, and is too lightweight to be edifying. It is the lost meanderings of those with nothing better to do – both “artists” and audience, the twitterings of sparrows on a popcorn-littered lawn.

29th Design Festa, Tokyo.

Have the Design Festa organizers heard of screening? Sometime, hopefully, they’ll get in there with hard heads, some cultural nous, and a scoresheet, and set about reducing those 2,600 forgettable booths to 260 (even 26!) that just say something.

(Did I mention? The Design Festa has a lot of jewelry.)


Rough Guide To Japan

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Swine Flu - Japan


Japan is now at war(戦争中、senso chu).

The enemy is swine flu(新型インフルエンザ、shingata infuruenza), and no measure or action taken is too great or out of proportion.

Quarantine Inspection Crew at Kansai Airport.
Quarantine Inspection Crew, Kansai Airport
Just prior to departure for a short trip to the US in early May, the President of the university(大学、daigaku)where I work sent an email to all faculty and staff. It was clearly motivated by an administrative directive (行政指導、 gyosei shido)from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (厚生労働省、Kousei Roudo Sho)in Tokyo.

The jist of the mail was: all business trips to North America are until further notice banned (禁止、kinshi), and all personal trips should be done "with restraint"(自粛、jishuku)- which better translates as "do NOT go."

Over the past weekend there was an outbreak(発生、hassei)of the flu in the port city of Kobe. Students who have never been abroad were infected (感染、kansen)by other students who also had no experience of traveling overseas. Schools and universities in Kobe and parts of Osaka are now closed for the week.

On our arrival back in Japan last week, the pilot informed us mid-flight that we should stay seated after landing at Kansai International Airport while Japanese authorities carried out a quarantine inspection(検疫検査、ken eki kensa)to determine the temperature of every passenger on the plane.

This took roughly 90 minutes. A team of perhaps 10 entered the plane dressed in light blue hospital scrubs, surgical gloves, and plastic face masks.

Japanese media watching Quarantine Inspection Crew at Kansai Airport.
Japanese media watching Quarantine Inspection Crew, Kansai Airport

They moved around the plane and took the temperature of each passenger by pointing a heat sensor at one's forehead, collecting a health form each passenger filled out, and then noting all of the data.

After we were all cleared and allowed to leave the plane, our first human contact in Japan was with yet another "official."

A tall man standing just outside the door of the plane in yellow hospital scrubs, surgical gloves, and a plastic face mask yelled at each departing passenger: "Hands!"

As you put out your hands, he then shot of a dab of disinfectant(消毒液、shodoku eki)onto each of our palms.

Then, behind him, a woman in a mask handed each of us a mask(マスク), which we were to wear (着用、chakuyo).

The final hurdle was walking through the quarantine station and then on to immigration.

Welcome to Japan.

The media in Japan has worked itself into a frenzy over this, bordering both on hysteria and, at times, xenophobia. Both the print media and television news are running non-stop coverage of the crisis.

Surgical masks being worn at Kansai International Airport.
Surgical masks at Kansai International Airport

There are now lines at pharmacies (薬屋さん、kusuriya san)for masks, and shortages have been reported.

Japan is now in full panic mode (パニック状態、panikku jotai).

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nijo Castle in Spring

Nijo Castle, Kyoto春の二条城

Nijo Castle is an amazing site at any time of the year.

A visit in spring with the azaleas in bloom, though, was indeed special.

The entire site is a World Heritage Site. In addition, there are the following Cultural Properties:

Ninomaru Palace
Wall Paintings in the Ninomaru Palace
Higashi Otemon (gate)
Ninomaru Garden

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the official residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun of Japan.

It was completed in 1626 when some structures were moved from Fushimi Castle to Nijo.

It is well known for its moats, vast grounds, amazing paintings, and squeaking "nightingale" floors to warn of intruders.

Nijo Castle, Kyoto Access

A one-minute walk from Nijojo-mae subway stop. A seven-minute walk from JR Nijo Station.


Hours: 8:45 - 16:00
Fees: 600 yen


Late March - early April: night time illumination
Late September - early November: Castle Festival
Late October - early November: Public tea ceremony party
January 2 - 4: New Year's special garden opening

© JapanVisitor

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aeolian Ride in Tokyo


Aeolian Ride in Tokyo.

"Aeolian Ride, the world's only inflatable bike ride" is how it promotes itself. It's all about a bunch of cyclists in big ballooning oversized white jackets -looking something like sailing ships, meringues, or tiny, fast-moving clouds - and whooping as they ride through the streets.

Aeolian Ride is an event that happens in many cities throughout the world, and on Saturday, May 16, it was Tokyo's turn.

The day was overcast, but not overly gloomy, cool, and dry. About forty cyclists showed up at 3.15pm at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, about thirty of whom donned the distinctive inflatable suit that is the Aeolian Ride trademark. I enrolled too late for a suit, but was fortunate enough to be given one by someone halfway through the 90-minute ride that took the group through the Yoyogi, Shibuya, and Aoyama districts of Tokyo.

Aeolian Ride in Tokyo.

In spite of the occasional nuisance it created for motorists, there was very little road irritation. Even in seen-it-all-before Tokyo, the bulging white cyclists and their whoops stole the whole street's attention wherever they passed, gathering smiles or, at worst, benign puzzlement.

Today's Aeolian Ride was organized the by creator of the whole idea, Jessica Findley. She got the idea a few years ago, and got the first Ride off the ground four years ago, in 2005.

We ended up at the Square Hedges bar in Meguro - a very atmospheric space that provided a warm, relaxing end to a heady day.

 Aeolian Ride in Tokyo.

Rough Guide To Japan

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mitake Shosenkyo


Kofu's best tourist attraction, after the Super Toilet in the JR station of course, is the beautiful gorge of Shosenkyo.

Just 30 minutes by bus from Kofu Station, this spectacular river valley is at its very best in autumn, just as the leaves change color.

Mitake Shosenkyo, Kofu, Yamanashi

Recently voted the second best attraction in Japan after Mount Fuji by readers of The Daily Yomiuri, Shosenkyo Gorge is within easy reach of the capital.
Kofu city is only 90 minutes by Super Azusa or Kaiji express train from Shinjuku in western Tokyo, with a further 30 minutes by bus necessary to reach the gorge.
With an early start from Tokyo it's possible to be eating fresh trout and noodles with mountain herbs for lunch, following a refreshing and relaxing 4km stroll along the banks of the Arakawa River.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Japan This Week: 17 May 2009


Japan News.Leader of Japan’s Opposition Resigns

NY Times

Swine flu fears prompt Japan to cancel women's North American tour


Panasonic seen posting $1.1 billion loss in 2009/10

Washington Post

Sony poised to return to breakeven despite bleak sales prospects

Times on Line

Google to reshoot Japan 'Street View'


Les gadgets électroniques menacent le climat


Cabinet member exits after tryst

Japan Times

Luggage box stuck in plane engine


Naked, drunk and incoherent in Tokyo

Global Post

Japan's Ishikawa gets invite to PGA Championship

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

So called "eco" cars are expected to account for more than 10% of all car sales in Japan in 2009.

Based on sales figures for the month of April, 2009 - in which Honda's Insight and Toyota's Prius are leading the way with strong sales in an otherwise soft market - 2009 figures for these vehicles should top 10% of automobile sales.

Source: Nikkei Shinbun

Percentage of unwed mothers:

Italy: 21%
Ireland: 33%
Canada: 30%
United Kingdom: 44%
USA: 40%
Japan: 2%

Source: Washington Post

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Horikawa River - Reborn

Horikawa River, Kyoto堀川せせらぎ再び

Kyoto's Horikawa River is back after 55 years of being buried under concrete.

Running next to Horikawa Dori (street, which can be seen above and to the right of the river), the Horikawa was for more than half a century literally a trickle, roughly 25 cm (10 inches) wide, surrounded on both sides by a thick ugly layer of concrete.

Instead of the landscaping, benches, and the three-meter wide river pictured above, replace that in your mind's eye with solid concrete - nothing but - and a narrow crack running down the very middle.

Twenty-four years ago, a local group was founded (Committee to Beautify Horikawa Street and Horikawa River, 堀川と堀川通りを美しくする会), and at a cost of $18 million the river has finally returned and along with it a landscaped park.

The wheels of Japanese bureaucracy turn slowly, but at long last this somewhat drab part of town west of the Imperial Palace with few tourist sites has been restored.

The history of the river is as long as that of the city itself. It was built as a canal some 1200 years ago when Kyoto was first established. Barges hauled lumber and farm products along it for hundreds of years.

Later on, the yuzen dyeing industry, which took place mainly in the Nishijin area just north of these photos, used the river to wash the dyes out of fabric. In those days the river was famous for its multi-colored hue - and not used for drinking or anything else.

During World War II, Horikawa Street was widened - and many residents forcibly relocated when their homes were torn down - to serve as firebreak in the event of a US Air Force attack.

Around 1950, the river came to be known as the ドブ川 ("dobu gawa," or ditch river) because the sewer next to the river backed up and its effluent flowed into the river.

Shortly thereafter, because of fears of flooding, the city decided to bury the river under tons and tons of concrete.

And there it lay for 55 years.

Now the renovated park and river stretch 4.4 km, north from Nijo all the way to just south of Imadegawa Dori. It has proved a big hit with families and couples.

Next on our Kyoto public works wish list: 1) installing a light rail system, 2) burying the telephone wires, and 3) building bike lines.

© JapanVisitor

Horikawa River, Kyoto
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Friday, May 15, 2009

Geisha - Not!

Fake Geisha本物の舞子と違う

One of the pleasures of visiting Kyoto is the opportunity to see a real live geisha.

Tourists stalk them in the alleys of Gion and Pontocho.

Another bit of sport is spotting the (Japanese) tourists who hire a "geisha" agency to transform them for a day into a geisha.

Essentially, what you do is pay the company - there are several in Kyoto, stocked with kimono, wigs, and makeup - to dress and make you up. A photographer is extra.

Then you tramp around the city's sites having photos taken of you and being stared at.

Though hardly an expert of the clothing and accessories that a real geisha will wear, I still can pick out these faux geisha easily.

1. They wander, during the day, the city in groups of 2 or 3.
2. There is usually a photographer in tow.
3. The women are struggling with their geta (raised shoes).
4. These "geisha" will steal a glance to see if people are looking at them.

The woman pictured above had been riding a rickshaw along Nene no Michi with her photographer. They stopped at the end of the street for a photo.

© Japan Visitor

Rickshaw, Nene no Michi, Kyoto
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Color - iro

One of the most colorful words in the Japanese language is, unsurprisingly, the word 'color,' or iro.

Whereas in English the non-literal meanings of the word have a lot to do with identity: showing one's colors, trooping the color, in Japanese it has more to do with love and sex.

色気 iroke, literally "color spirit," has, besides the (not often used) meaning of "shades of color" the meaning of "sexual interest, erotic feeling." iroke no aru means to have sex appeal, and its opposite is iroke no nai. E.g. iroke no aru otoko, a sexy guy; iroke no nai hito, someone without sex appeal.

色っぽい One adjective for the word iro is iroppoi, literally "colorish," but it has nothing to do with frequencies of light. It means "sexy, erotic, sensual, glamorous, attractive, brassy, amorous, voluptuous."

色男 An iro-otoko, literally, "color man," is a "hot guy, lady-killer, lover, adonis."

色きち女 Iro-kichi-onna, literally "color crazy woman" is, as you can probably guess, a nympho.

好色 Koh-shoku is the Chinese reading of the characters for "to like" (koh) and "color" (shoku). Koh-shoku means "lust, sensuality, lewdness" and is a rather old-fashioned term for what is now called, in a borrowing from English, poruno.

Finally, double iro up: iroiro, and you have a completely different meaning: "various, this and that, a mixture." "Iroiro arigato," or "Thank you for everything." "Iroiro komarimashita yo," or "Oh, I had all sorts of problems."

Used together with a noun you add the particle "na" to make iroirona, or the more common, and easily pronounced, ironna. "Ironna hito," or "all sorts of people."

Iro wa imi ga iroiro aru! (Color has all sorts of meanings!)

© Japan Visitor

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

7 Quality Budget Hotels in Tokyo

Taking a trip to Tokyo either for leisure or business can be an expensive proposition. Japan is one of the more expensive countries in the world.

Because of this, many visitors are looking to get a good deal on their Tokyo hotel. Fortunately, with of the influx of tourists and business travelers to Tokyo, there is now a proliferation of different types of hotels that cater to different budgets. This ranges from business hotels (Western-style hotels that are located near the center of Tokyo) to kanshuku, which are similar to hostels in that most facilities are shared with other travelers and rooms are simply furnished with tatami mats.

If you are on the lookout for good budget hotels in Tokyo, consider checking out one of these seven hotels.

Keio Plaza Inter-Continental Tokyo

Located at the heart of the city, the Keio Plaza Inter-Continental Tokyo is known for its perfect melding of the east and the west. It has a hospitable staff and tasteful decorations that consist of beautiful chandeliers and ikebana flower arrangements. Even though it is a part of the luxury Inter-Continental chain of hotels, the Keio Plaza still holds some of the more affordable rooms in the city. Additionally, it has many features that business travelers will surely welcome like high speed internet and a business center. Tourists, on the other hand, will appreciate the interesting restaurants, bars, and luxury services that the hotel offers.

ANA Hotel Tokyo

The ANA Hotel Tokyo is conveniently located just a few minutes away from such popular places as Tameike-sanno, Roppongi-itchome, Kamiyacho and Akasaka Stations. Also, it is close to government offices, Akasaka and the Roppongi entertainment establishments, making it great location for both business and pleasure. The ANA Hotel Tokyo has nice amenities that is atypical of a budget hotel. The rooms all have air conditioning, satellite TV, and mini bar. There is also an in-house restaurant and bar. Conference rooms are available for business functions and there is also a swimming pool, sauna and spa.

Hotel New Otani Tokyo

The Hotel New Otani Tokyo is tucked away in a quiet section of the city away from the busy city center. It is located in the middle of a 10 acre Japanese garden that dates back to the 16th century. The hotel primarily caters to business travelers, offering world class amenities and services. Businessmen will be delighted to know that there are modern office services and equipment for their use. This includes 24 banquet rooms as well as meeting and conference rooms. The hotel has been the site of many large conventions and business functions.

New Hankyu Hotel Tokyo

In terms of convenience, the New Hankyu Hotel Tokyo is one of the most accessible hotels in Tokyo. It is a short five minute walk away from Tsukiji Station, which makes it a very strategically placed hotel if you are planning on making frequent trips through the subway.
The hotel itself is located on the 33rd through the 38th floors of a distinctive commercial building that has a great view of the city, particularly landmarks like the Tokyo Tower, Sumida River and Tokyo Bay. Amenities are very respectable as the hotel offers great cuisine and beautifully designed rooms. The staff is very attentive to guests. The hotel itself is marketed towards business travelers, and as such all rooms have a massage sofa as well as a fax line. Guests can also request for a fax machine.

Sunshine City Prince Hotel Tokyo

The Sunshine City Prince Hotel is located just eight minutes away from the Ikebukuro Station. The hotel itself is located amidst the hustle and bustle of the Ikebukuro district, which features a number of great attractions like the International Aquarium, Alpa Shopping Center, World Imports Mart, and the Culture Hall, among others. The hotel features 1,166 rooms in a 38 story building.

New Koyo

One of the most affordable hotels in Tokyo is New Koyo. The hotel has earned a reputation for having the some of the most budget friendly prices in the city. For just $21 for a single room and double rooms at $44, you can see why it's considered a budget traveler’s favorite. All of the rooms feature a TV set and there is internet access in the lobby. The hotel even rents out bicycles for 500 yen a day. Also, The New Koyo has been favorably reviewed. Because of the unbelievably low price, expect to have difficulty booking rooms or making reservations.

Sakura Hotel

The Sakura Hotel is another budget friendly hotel that budget travelers will surely add to their list of affordable hotels in Tokyo. The Sakura hotel offers hotel rooms at very low rates (although not as low as New Koyo's). A single room only costs $55. The hotel offers different room types that include double, twin and dorm style rooms (which are available with bunk beds). The dorm style rooms are actually just $35 per person. Consider getting this rate if you travel as a group - whether as tourists or as a business team.
The rooms in the Sakura are all equipped with basic amenities such as air conditioning. The hotel also offers other amenities and services like a laundromat, a café that’s open 24 hours, and an internet café. Reservations at the Sakura can be done online for added convenience.

This is a guest post by Dee Barizo. He does marketing for Japanican, a travel website specializing in Japan hotels.

Book your Japan hotel today at Japanican.com.

Japanese rightists out for Putin


Japanese right wingers protest Russian Prime Minister Putin's visit to Tokyo, May 12 2009.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in Tokyo. He arrived on the 11th and will leave on the 13th. Tokyo’s Nagatacho area, the political heart of the country, and surrounding areas such as Akasaka and Kojimachi, were bristling with security, the roads accessing Nagatacho with fences drawn half across them, manned by riot police.

Japanese right wingers protest Russian Prime Minister Putin's visit to Tokyo, May 12 2009.

Although Putin arrived on the 11th, Japan’s extreme right wing was out in force on the morning of the 12th in numerous sound trucks, vans, and buses, that broadcast shrieks and hollers of political indignation, and Colonel Blimp-style brass band music, at such a volume that the shouting itself was sometimes drowned in its own shrill feedback.

Japanese riot police watch right wingers protest Russian Prime Minister Putin's visit to Tokyo, May 12 2009.

The focus of Japanese right wing fury today was the Kuril Islands just north of the northern large island of Hokkaido. Only 1,300 km lies between the tip of Hokkaido and Russia – not even 90 minutes on a Boeing 747 – and for all of that short flight, if you looked out the window you would see islands all the way.

Before the Second World War, Russia and Japan met roughly in the middle of that string of islands, but Russia occupied them all at the end of the war, a move which has prevented the signing of a post-WWII peace treaty between the two countries.

The trucks, buses, vans, and placards of today’s right wingers were therefore all emblazoned with a map of the Kurils and the slogan “Return the northern territories!”

Street security for Prime Minister Putin's visit to Tokyo, May 12 2009.© Japan Visitor

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One Love Jamaica Festival 2009

ワン・ラヴ・ジャマイカ・フェスティバル 2009年

The One Love Jamaica Festival has been an annual fixture in Tokyo at least since 2007.
It ran both days last weekend, 9 and 10 May.

One Love Jamaica Festival 2009.

The biggest attraction was, obviously, the music, and the sound shell stage at Yoyogi Park was pumping it out.
There were stalls by the dozen selling food and booze - a lot of it Jamaican-inspired.

One Love Jamaica Festival 2009.

Besides the ubiquitous, day-long reggae music from off the stage, there was a Jamaica travel exhibition,
an art event featuring live painting, and a Jamaica photography exhibition.

One Love Jamaica Festival 2009.

The weather smiled on the One Love Jamaica Festival. It was sunny, warm, and still not too humid.

The One Love Jamaica Festival is set to run again in 2010 at Yoyogi Park.

© JapanVisitorPosted by Picasa

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ozawa To Resign


Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan's main opposition party Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has announced he will step down in the wake of a fundraising scandal that has reduced his popularity and that of his party battling to end the unpopular Liberal Democratic Party's grip on power.

Ichiro Ozawa election posterProsecutors in Tokyo have alleged that Ozawa's political fundraising organisation received 21 million yen ($216,000) in illegal donations from a mid-size construction company, Nishimatsu Construction between 2003-2007. Ozawa replied that he believes the charges are politically motivated.

Ozawa's move comes ahead of a general election that must be called before October this year. The Democratic Party of Japan has a real chance of toppling the government of Taro Aso and the LDP and Ozawa stressed that his move was to limit damage to his party before the poll.

Ozawa entered politics in the late 1960s and was elected to the Diet in 1969, becoming a member of the powerful Kakuei Tanaka faction.

Ozawa has twice held key offices in previous LDP governments, first in 1985 as Home Affairs Minister under Yasuhiro Nakasone and in 1989 as LDP Secretary General.

During the fall-out from the Sagawa Kyubin/Shin Kanemaru corruption scandal, Ozawa jumped ship from the LDP, where he had made many enemies during his heady rise, to form the Japan Renewal Party in 1992 along with long-time ally Tsutomu Hata.

This alliance lead to the end of LDP rule for the first time in 38 years with the short-lived administration of Morihiro Hosokawa in 1993, while Ozawa and Hata pulled the strings in the background in true kuromaki style.

Ozawa's became the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) from 2003, where he has joined forces once more with Tsutomu Hata. Ozawa was forced to step down briefly as leader in 2004, when he was caught up (along with a number of Japan's political elite) in the ongoing Pension Scandal.

Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Japan This Week: 10 May 2009


Japan News.Toyota Posts an Annual Loss

NY Times

Hitachi predicts record losses for a Japanese manufacturer


Japan Inspecting Airliners for Flu Victims

Washington Post

Japanese scientist claims breakthrough with organ grown in sheep

Times on Line

'Play along' tactic thwarts cons


La déflation revient au Japon


Google crosses line with controversial old Tokyo maps

Japan Times

Communism on rise in recession-hit Japan


Holy Mackerel: A breakthrough in tuna science

Global Post

Wang Liqin into final at table tennis world championships

Yahoo Sports

Last week's Japan news

Japan Statistics

The percentage of children in Japan has fallen to 13.4% of the overall population. The 14 and under set continues to shrink. At the local level, Okinawa Prefecture had the highest overall population of children with 17.9%. At the other end, Akita Prefecture recorded the lowest with just 11.5%.

Read more about graying Japan.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

Top five future dream, girls:

1. Chef
2. Day care worker
3. Teacher or Nurse
5. Singer/TV Talent

Top five future dream, boys:

1. Baseball player
2. Soccer player
3. Academic
4. Doctor
5. Chef or Carpenter

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Kofu Super Toilet


On a recent visit from Tokyo to Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture during Golden Week, we came across this "Super Toilet" in the Eclan Department store above Kofu Station.

Listen to the sounds of the Super Toilet

Kofu Super Toilet

The toilet was about the same size as my friend's Tokyo apartment and certainly a lot cleaner and less cluttered. Relaxing music was piped into the convenience, which was a modern toilet and bidet combination, ideal for the job in hand.

95% of all toilets now produced in Japan are these western style "throne" types and the traditional Asian squatter type (below) is gradually disappearing. Young children are unaware as to how to use squat toilets at school and as a result are remaining constipated throughout the day until they rush home after class to release their bowels.

Bog standard squatter


Kofu, west of Tokyo, is 90 minutes from Shinjuku Station by Super Azusa or Kaiji express train. The toilet is in the west wing of the department store on the 2nd floor.

© Japan Visitor

Friday, May 08, 2009

School Visit to Kiyomizu Temple

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto中学校旅行清水寺訪問

One of the rites of passage for all Japanese is the school trip.

In elementary school, it is a supervised overnight - or several nights - to a prefectural facility where the children can learn or experience a theme they have been studying in class.

Examples include marine life, farming, the environment, etc.

Once in junior high school, the trip usually goes a bit farther afield. The most popular destinations are Kyoto, Tokyo, Hokkaido, and the southern islands of Okinawa.

Junior high students are taken to the destination - and then basically released to their own devices. They have a checklist of sites to see, tasks to complete - the most irritating task is an "interview" that their English teacher has assigned: it involves finding and interviewing a foreigner - but the chaperones are never with them. (Rumor has it the teachers sleep at the hotel while the kiddies are away, or are merely hungover.)

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto High school students are now just as likely to go abroad. Hawaii, Australia, South Korea, and China are popular. Still, many do the tried and true domestic routes.

On a recent visit to Kiyomizu Temple, we saw many many junior and high school students.

The primary purpose of the outing seemed to be 1) browse the junky shops on the road up to the World Heritage Site, 2) eat green tea ice cream, 3) take group photo, 4) make lots and lots of noise.

© Japan Visitor

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