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Monday, October 28, 2013

Roof Gardens At Osaka Station City

大阪ステーションシティ

The massive Osaka Station City in Umeda, Osaka, consists of multi-story North and South Buildings spanned by a huge roof.

Yarawagi-no-niwa Plaza (Healing Garden), Umeda
Yarawagi-no-niwa Plaza (Healing Garden), Umeda, Osaka
Both the North Gate and South Gate buildings have roof garden spaces, where visitors can relax and enjoy the views.

The taller North Gate Building has three roof garden spaces. The Yarawagi-no-niwa Plaza (Healing Garden) on the 10th floor includes a central water feature and gardens and is the most frequented.

Yarawagi-no-niwa Plaza (Healing Garden) , OSC
Yarawagi-no-niwa Plaza (Healing Garden) 
The Kaze-no-hiroba (Wind Plaza) is a smaller space up on the 11th Floor open 7am-midnight.

Tenku-no-noen is a small urban farm on the roof of the North Gate Building on the 14th Floor and is accessed by stairs from the 11th as part of an exercise course.

Tenku-no-noen, Osaka Station City
Tenku-no-noen

Tenku-no-noen is open 7am-9pm. One visiting friend mocked it as just a "few cabbages on the roof" and to be sure the over-riding impression of a visit to OSC is one of concrete and glass rather than flowers and grass.

Taiyo-no-hiroba (Sun Plaza), Umeda
Taiyo-no-hiroba (Sun Plaza)
The South Gate Building's roof garden is the Taiyo-no-hiroba (Sun Plaza) an open-plan roof garden on the 15th, 16th and 17th floors with more views over the city, wooden decking and benches. It looks as if it would be baking on a hot day in summer with little shade and not really that much greenery.

Kyoto Station pioneered the roof garden concept with its "Happy Terrace".


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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Japan News This Week 27 October 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
The Lessons of Japan’s Economy
New York Times

Fatal addiction: Authors accuse Apple of destroying Japan's tech industry
Global Post

Small tsunami reaches Japan after earthquake
BBC

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?
Guardian

Japan receives global offers to contain water spills at Fukushima No. 1
Japan Times

Can Abenomics Cope With Environmental Disaster?
Japan Focus

After Storm, Toxic Water Overflows in Japan
New York Times


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Statistics

In September, foreign tourists to Japan numbered 867,100. That was an increase of 31.7 percent and the highest number since those numbers began to be counted in 1964.

The largest number came from Taiwan (206,800). Those from China came to 156,300.

Source: Japan News

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ryogoku Station in Tokyo's Sumo Heart

 両国駅

Ryogoku Station is a station in Tokyo's Sumida ward at the east end of the metropolis, and serves the JR Sobu line. Ryogoku Station dates from 1904 when the then private Sobu Line was first established here.




The Sobu Railway line began in 1894 with the establishment of a line from Sakura, about 40 km east of Ryogoku, to Ichikawa, about 11 km east of Ryogoku. The line was extended as far as Ryogoku in 1904. The construction involved extending the line from what was then Honjo (now Kinshicho) station. That 1.5 km section was the first ever elevated railroad to be built in Japan. It begun as a single-track line, but with provision for double tracks, and was made double-track two years later.

Ryogoku Station, Tokyo.


Ryogoku Station is right beside the Sumida River, and Sobu Railway lacked the means to build a bridge, so Ryogoku became the line's Tokyo-side terminal, and the company headquarters was built alongside Ryogoku Station. It so happened that in the same year, 1904, the Tobu Railway line's westernmost station, Azumabashi Station (now the Tokyo Skytree Station) was built.  This prompted the construction of the Kameido Line running south from Azumabashi (now Asakusa Station), connecting Azumabashi and Ryogoku. This lasted until 1910, making Ryogoku the terminal station for both the Sobu and the Tobu lines during that time.  As such, it was the biggest earning station east of Tokyo, and the sixth-biggest earning station of all Tokyo stations, until 1932 when the current railway bridge over the Sumida River was completed and the line was extended west to Ochanomizu.

Paintings of sumo wrestlers in Ryogoku Station.


Ryogoku Station burnt down in the 1923 Kanto earthquake, and was rebuilt in its present form in 1929.

East of Ryogoku, railway lines were not yet electrified, so the establishment in 1958 of a (steam) express train service between Ryogoku and the Boso Peninsula down south in Chiba prefecture saw Ryogoku somewhat restored to its former glory as a terminal. As Japan's economy grew during this period, so did the numbers of people going down to Boso and back for a day at the beach.  Even after electrification, many express trains ended here instead of Shinjuku Station, but this finally ended in 1988.

In 1972, an underground express line between Tokyo Station and Kinshicho Station was built as part of the Sobu Line (Rapid), which trains passed Ryogoku by.

So since 1988, Ryogoku Station has served as a local station only.

Ryogoku Station is saved, however, from obscurity by its prominent place as rail hub for Japan's preeminent sumo wrestling area. The Kokugikan sumo stadium is less than five minutes' walk from Ryogoku Station. Ryogoku Station itself features sumo-related paraphernalia inside, and is surrounded by restaurants specializing in the dish associated with sumo wrestling: chanko nabe.

Inside the station concourse are large paintings of sumo wrestlers and part of the pavement is covered with a reproduction of Edo Period map of the area. As you pass through the ticket wicket, there is also a gallery of old photographs outlining the history of Ryogoku Station and th many historic trains and locomotives that have served the station.

UPDATE: In November 2016, Edo Noren Ryogoku opened in Ryogoku Station as part of a general makeover of the whole station. Ryogoku Station has now been tastefully restored to its 1920s elegance, with the addition of the sumo-themed food court and craft shop plaza that is Edo Noren Ryogoku.

(Most of the information here is thanks to the Japanese Wikipedia article on Ryogoku Station.)

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Mark 1 Hotel Tsukuba

ホテルマークワンつくば研究学園

Virtually next door to the Toyoko Inn Kenkyugakuen Tsukuba, at Kenkyugakuen Station is the Mark-1 Hotel Tsukuba - a superior business hotel with the added luxury of a spacious onsen bath open to guests-only.

Mark 1 Hotel Tsukuba, Ibaraki


The boxy rooms are modern and the beds firm. There are excellent views of Mt. Tsukuba from the north facing side.

Tsukuba (Science City) in Ibaraki Prefecture is best reached on the Tsukuba Express (TX) Line from Akihabara (1100 yen) in Tokyo.

Near the Mark 1 hotel is the pleasant Kenkyugakuen-mae Park and the popular Iias shopping mall with its food courts, import supermarket and large Uniqlo store.

Mark 1 Hotel Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan


Also in Kenkyugakuen-mae the Bestland Hotel has an excellent Italian style restaurant, La Porta, on the ground (1st) floor.

Mark 1 Hotel Tsukuba
D3 Gaiku 5
Kenkyu-gakuen
Tsukuba city
Ibaraki 305-0817
Japan
Tel: 029 875 7272
Check-in: 15:00
Check-out: 10:00

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Japan News This Week 20 October 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Leader Rejects Appearance at War Shrine
New York Times

Japan PM hints at amending pacifist constitution
Global Post

China media: Abe criticised
BBC

China summons Japanese ambassador over war shrine visit
Guardian

Defending champion Giants wrap up sweep against Carp, return to Japan Series
Japan Times

Fukushima: Life and the Transnationality of Radioactive Contamination1 - See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Adam-Broinowski/4009#sthash.SlItA5LR.dpuf
Japan Focus


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Statistics

Japan's tuna catch quota for 2015-2017 will increase to 4,737 tons.

The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna adopted the quota at its annual meeting, which was held in Australia.

Member states include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.

Source: Japan News

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Izumo Dome

出雲ドーム

Though there are many large-scale domes scattered across Japan, the Izumo Dome is not one of the better known ones: those would be Fukuoka Dome or Tokyo Dome, but it does have some distinction, being the biggest wooden dome in Japan and by some accounts the biggest wooden building in Japan.

Izumo Dome, Shimane, Japan


The Great Buddha Hall at Todai-ji in Nara is most often described as the biggest wooden building in Japan and even the world, but at 49 meters in height the Izumo Dome is a tad taller, and while the Great Buddha Hall has base dimensions of 57 by 50 meters the Izumo Dome has a diameter of 143 meters, a much larger area, but when it comes to the respective volumes of the 2 buildings the Great Buddha Hall checks in as the biggest by virtue of its shape.

Izumo Dome, Shimane, Japan


Like its more famous counterparts in Tokyo or Fukuoka, the Izumo Dome was built as an indoor sports arena, but as there are no professional sports teams in Izumo its capacity is quite small with just 2,500 seats.

Izumo Dome was built in 1992 and designed by the Kajima Corporation. Its design is based upon the structure of Japanese umbrellas, and is really quite a strikingly elegant building, although that is more apparent from the inside.

Izumo Dome, Shimane, Japan


The skin of the dome is translucent so the inside is bathed in warm light and so no artificial lighting is needed for daytime events. If you visit when there are no events taking place the staff will allow you to walk out to the center of the dome and if you look up you might imagine you were under the dome of a great European cathedral or Islamic mosque.

When there are no ticketed events taking place the Dome is open to the public from 9am to 5pm, 7 days a week for a 150 yen entrance fee.

Izumo Dome is located about 4km from Izumo Station and 6k from Izumo Taisha, and is accessible by a 12 minute bus journey from Izumo Station.

Izumo Dome Interior, Shimane, Japan


Izumo Dome
999 Yano-cho
Izumo-shi
Shimane 693-0058
Tel: 0853 25 1006

Google map of Izumo Dome

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 18 Sotaro to Nobeoka

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 18, Saturday March 23rd Sotaro to Nobeoka

Once again I am up and out before light. The train I need to catch back up into the mountains where I finished walking yesterday leaves just after 6. If I miss it I have an 11 hour wait until the next one!

Today I will be walking downhill all the way..... my favorite kind of walking. Starting in Sotaro, the valley is narrow and steep and as it slowly becomes light it reveals a thick mist filling the valley.

The sun rising in Sotaro


After a while the valley widens enough to have two roads, one on each bank of the river, and whenever possible I take the narrower road with less traffic. I stop in and explore a few shrines. There seems to be quite a few. At times I can walk for most of the day without passing one, but sometimes they are more common.

Eventually the sun rise above the hilltop and shines through the mist, but there is no warmth, no yellow, only a cool blue like a full moon. Another river comes in and joins the one I am following and the valley is wider and the mist has burnt off to reveal blue skies.

A narrow concrete viaduct curves across the valley but is silent with no traffic. A new expressway not yet open. Even when it does open it will likely not have much traffic as most drivers won't pay the exorbitant tolls, but never mind, the construction companies will have made their money, some of which will find its way back into the coffers of the bureaucrats and politicians who authorized the construction in the first place.

Japan the construction state


At the next horseshoe bend in the river a long flight of stone steps lead up to a shrine on top of the hill. If I had a penny for every shrine step I had climbed I could probably retire. Fortunately I left my backpack at the hotel I will be returning to tonight so it's not such a bad climb.

From the top I look down on what is going to be the interchange for the new expressway and a little further downstream I have a good view of Mount Enodake, a flat topped granite mountain that was the site of the decisive battle of the Seinan War, sometimes known as the Satsuma Rebellion or Saigo's War.

In 1877 Saigo and three thousand troops were surrounded by 50,000 troops of the Imperial Army. To everyone's surprise Saigo was not captured, he managed to sneak out with a couple of hundred men, but without ammunition for their guns it was all over. He managed to make it back to Kagoshima where he famously committed suicide.

I turn in to the next village and visit the small museum in the old house that was the site of his encampment. It's dominated by a life-size tableau of Saigo and his lieutenants, and there are a couple of small rooms filled with old guns, uniforms, etc. Worth visiting if you are a Saigo fan I guess.

Behind the house is a small park with cherry trees and a trail that leads up to the top of the mountain and I'm surprised to read that up there is believed to be the tomb of Ninigi, the grandson of Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, and great grandfather of Jimmu, the mythical first emperor of Japan.

From here on into Nobeoka is uneventful. The road gradually widens out and fills with suburbs and traffic. It's only early afternoon when I get back to my hotel next to the station so I have plenty of time to visit the two temples that are part of the pilgrimage route, numbers 31 and 32.

The first is an uninspiring concrete structure in a quiet neighborhood, but the second was quite nice, on a wooded hill at the edge of town. I headed back towards the station and about halfway there was Nobeoka Castle hill located between two rivers. Only the stone walls and ramparts remain now, and like every castle ruin in Japan I have been too it has been planted with cherry trees.

Being a weekend, and being a sunny, warm day, the grounds of the castle were swarming with people. Dozens of blue tarps were already spread out on the ground, music was playing, and alcohol was being consumed. It's O-hanami.

On my way back to my hotel there is one more stop. On the hill behind the train station is the main shrine of the city, a Hachimangu, and above it on the hilltop a small temple with a big statue. It was once advertised as the biggest statue of Kobo Daishi in the world, but a few years ago a bigger one was built in Shikoku. Now it is having a face-lift and is encased in scaffolding so cannot be seen properly. A bit of a let down to end what has been a long and enjoyable day.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 17

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Peninsula Tokyo Hotel

ペニンシュラ東京

The Peninsula Tokyo is a luxury, 24-story hotel in the Yurakucho area of Tokyo, just a few minutes' walk west of the high-class Ginza shopping district and one short train stop from recently refurbished Tokyo Station and the chic central business district of Marunouchi in which the station is located.

Night view of the Peninsula Tokyo hotel, Japan.


The Peninsula Tokyo has 267 spacious rooms and 47 even bigger suites, all featuring the latest in high-tech gadgetry and connectivity.

The Peninsula Tokyo opened in 2007 - the Peninsula group's only flagship presence in Japan - but in the six years since has distinguished itself as one of Japan's top hotels.

The Peninsula Tokyo offers not only the convenience of nearby shopping, but, being located close to Hibiya Park, has ready access to greenery and the events that often happen in Hibiya Park, not to mention views from the rooms of its verdancy. Across from Hibiya Park, and also fully visible from the Peninsula Tokyo, is the Imperial Palace, adding a further note of beauty and dignity to the overall setting.

The Peninsula Tokyo is impeccably decorated inside in generally dark, muted tones, but, as the above picture shows, cuts a dazzling figure in Tokyo's nightscape.

There are five restaurants and bars in the Peninsula Tokyo, serving Japanese, Chinese and Western-style food - and drinks.There is also a spa and fitness room.

While rates change according to season, package and type, rooms start at roughly USD500 a night and suites at about double that. Rooms facing the Imperial Palace are the most sought after.

The Peninsula Tokyo
1-8-1 Yurakucho
Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0006
Tel: 03 6270 2888


View Google Map of the Peninsula Tokyo in a larger map

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Japan News This Week 13 October 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Tokyo left in the cold as ties between Beijing and Seoul warm
Asashi

Japan Companies Sued For Illegally Using Michael Jackson's Name
Global Post

Broken lives of Fukushima
NBCNEWS.com

IMF’s Shinohara Says More BOJ Easing ‘Dangerous’ Without Reforms
Bloomberg

Japan monkey attack victims to be given compensation
BBC

Japan tabloids brimming with anti-Korea diatribes
Japan Times

Japan Needs More Brawling Billionaires
NPR


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Statistics

Percentage of abortions in Japan of all pregnancies:
2001: 22.6%
2010: 16.6%

Source: Johnston Archive

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Japanese Grand Prix 2013 Suzuka

鈴鹿サーキット

The 2013 Japanese Grand Prix takes place at Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, central Japan on Sunday with championship leader Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) from Germany virtually assured of another title.

Practice was perfect on Friday with more excellent weather in the Nagoya area forecast for this long weekend holiday. Temperatures on Sunday will be on the warm side for this time of year.

Suzuka Street Car National Festival

The 5.8km Suzuka circuit is a classic figure of 8 track with an overpass and has seen some great races in the past. Suzuka hosted the 2010, 2011 and 2012 races after Fuji Speedway dropped out of the F1 calendar after hosting the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007 and 2008.

The Japanese Grand Prix race takes place over 53 laps covering 191 miles or 307.4km. The lap record at Suzuka is held by Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) in 2005 with a time of 1 minute 31.540 seconds.

Suzuka hosts other motor sport events and the Suzuka Street Car Festival.

Suzuka is in Mie Prefecture not far from Nagoya city by public transport. Take a Kintetsu or JR train from Nagoya Station or Osaka Station.

Shiroko Station has shuttle buses to the track. Alternatively change at Yokkaichi and take an infrequent Ise Tetsudo Line train to Suzuka Circuit Ino. Then a 20 minute walk.

If driving from Nagoya or Tokyo take the Tomei Expressway and exit at the Suzuka IC. From Osaka take the Shin Meishin Expressway and exit at the Kameyama IC.

Suzuka Circuit
Tel: 059 378 1111
Tickets 11,000 Yen - 72,000 Yen

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Mie Suzuka F1 Nagoya

Friday, October 11, 2013

Japan Moth

日本の蛾

According to the Wikipedia article on moths in Japan, Japan has over 6,000 moths (varieties, that is!), one of which I saw on my door the other day.



This F-117 Nighthawk-shaped little insect, a mere 2.5 or 3 cm long, looked drab at first glance, but closer inspection revealed a rich, perfectly symmetrical embroidery of myriad shades of cream and brown dabbed aesthetically with touches of moss green.

Despite extensive internet searching, I was unable to identify this moth, so leave just a photographic record of it here as a kind of moth encountered in early fall in Tokyo.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kumamoto Tram System

熊本市電

The Kumamoto tram (streetcar) system - in Japanese Kumamoto shiden - has two main routes running on five lines. The tram system in Kumamoto has been in operation since 1924 and is one of the oldest continuously running streetcar networks in Japan. The flat rate to ride on a Kumamoto tram is 150 yen.

Kumamoto Tram


Route A (A系統) operates from Tasakibashi to Kumamoto-Ekimae, Karashimacho, Suidocho, Suizenji-Koen terminating at Kengunmachi.

Route B (B系統) runs from Kami-Kumamoto-Ekimae to Karashimacho, Suidocho to Suizenji-Koen terminating at Kengunmachi.

Kumamoto trams are not barrier-free.

Kumamoto Tram, Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan


Kumamoto Travel Passes

If you plan on going further afield in Kumamoto there is a new city-wide public transport pass at 500 yen for one day or 800 yen for 2 days.

The two travel days do not have to be consecutive. This pass covers all the trams as well as all the city buses including the Shiromegurin and also JR trains within the prescribed area.

The Kumamoto Port Shuttle Bus in not included in the pass, though if you take a regular bus to the port the pass covers part of the fare.

The Kumamoto Loop Bus is also a convenient way to visit the main sites in Kumamoto including Kumamoto Castle, the Children's Culture Center, Prefectural Art Museum, Municipal Museum, Hosokawa Residence, the Traditional Crafts Center, and the Art Museum Chibajo Annex. Downtown the Kumamoto Loop Bus stops near the Contemporary Art Museum and Lafcadio Hearn House.

Kumamoto Tram, with Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu, Japan


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Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men

Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men
What is interesting in Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men is the focus and angle the author Caroline Pover decided to take.

While the topic is extremely focused and may only suit those who are in need of such an angle as Japanese man meets gaijin girl, Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men is still an interesting read, and if you happen to be a Japanese man interested in the subject of cross-cultural relationships (or women looking into seriously going out with Japanese men), there is a lot of practical knowledge that you can immediately grab from this book to improve your life and especially your love life.

Pover has taken a journalistic approach, talking to 150 Western women, and it seems that this work paid off as the varied comments give life to the very focused topic of cross-cultural relationships.

As you can see from the title of the book, the core target is Japanese men who want to start or have a desire to improve their relationships with females from other cultures, especially women from the West.

It's particularly useful if you are unaware of how much social imprint your Japanese culture has (which made me think that some Japanese men may like to read this in Japanese rather than in English).

Some of the topics that the author outlines are touching, kissing, sex, perception of marriage, dating, which you may usually only hear about from your close acquaintances. The book sheds light on relationships, sex, and cultural perspectives that ares so rarely expressed outside private settings.

As explained in the book summary, you will learn how to:
- be more attractive to women.
- let women know you like them
- be a "gentleman"
- create dates to remember
- avoid misunderstandings and mishaps
- propose marriage just like in the movies
- ensure that she always feels special
- make a happy home together
- be an amazing and considerate lover, and even - make your penis look bigger

Some males maybe put off by the fact that whole of the book is based on the perspective of women, but it is precisely this angle that makes this book worthwhile to read, as the author explains: "I wanted to tell those men what women wanted, and how they could give it to them".

Love with a Western Woman: A Guide for Japanese Men is a must read for any Japanese men who are motivated to understand better the "Hows" and "Ways" of improving their cross cultural relationships with women from other cultures, whether it be for casual or more permanent relationships.

This review was written by a Japanese man in his 30's who wishes to remain anonymous but not single.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Osaka Station City Fountain Clock

Water based timekeeping wizardry; 大阪ステーションシティ

It turns out that in the Japanese city of Osaka, a water fountain isn't just a place to go in the office for a catch up on the gossip from the weekend, or from the latest office party, or to discuss who's wearing what, it's also a place to head to when you are late for a train, heading out for a night on the tiles, or simply when you can't locate your phone in the depths of the pit that is your handbag.

Osaka Station City Fountain Clock, Japan


The city of Osaka's main train station, the aptly named Osaka Station City is just one part of a bigger development complex, and much more than just a railway station.

Built in two sections, North and South (original, eh?!) the station also incorporates a shopping center, roof terraces with healing gardens, and of course, entertainment, think lunchtime karaoke, conveyor belt sushi and that infamous Japanese feline, Hello Kitty.

A whopping 2,343,727 passengers pass through this station per day, and every single one of them will have, at some point, stopped to check the time on the station's water fountain.

I am one of those people. What looks like a simple black rectangular wall, is in fact a clock, a clepsydra fountain clock, a word derived from Greek meaning 'Water Thief'.

It's an all singing, all dancing, get out your Casio 1980s watch, digital-style time readout, clock. As the Greek name proves, a clock made of water isn't anything new, but this one, invented by a local company, is a fascinating piece of technical wizardry, and it left me gobsmacked, asking how do they do that?

Osaka Station City Fountain Clock, Umeda


Well, I'll tell you. Cleverly reproducing images and designs stored on a pc, a digital printer ejects droplets of water instead of ink, in exquisitely controlled patterns, with timings the Shinkansen could run to, to produce the final result; a waterfall of digitally displayed time, flowers, music notes, leaves, trees and, of course, actual waterfalls.

The clock displayed the time three times per minute before getting on with its mesmerizing, hypnotic imagery routine, meaning that 90% of the time, the clock isn't actually telling the time, it's simply entertaining passers-by. It's more Swan Lake than throwing shapes on the dance floor, though. I watched one body of water form music notes that flowed into flowers, leaves that combined with waterfalls, all the while resisting the urge to throw a few Yen in and make a wish.

And, as if it's not enough that the time is displayed, the clock fountain also displays the temperature, so the decision to go for a real latte or the iced version, was pretty much made for me, in one gushing message.

Fountains of the World by James Finlayson


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Monday, October 07, 2013

Moyori Eki - Learning Japanese

最寄駅

Even for an advanced second-language Japanese speaker like myself, there are moments of embarrassing failure. There was one such incident the other day when a Japanese colleague asked me Moyori eki wa doko desu ka?


“eki” means “station,” as every Japanese language beginner knows. But moyori? After the fact, the word slowly comes back to me, but upon being asked I immediately took it up as being a place name - perhaps thinking confusedly of the word mori (“forest”) that often crops up in place names.

I therefore answered with the incredibly dumb-sounding Wakarimasen (“I don’t know”).

moyori means “the closest, the nearest, neighboring, nearby,” so in reply to being asked what the closest station was to where I lived, I had said I didn’t know!

The mo in moyori is the kanji better known in the word mottomo (written with the kanji 最も, not the hiragana もっとも—which has a different meaning). In moyori it is abbreviated to mo. The yori is from the verb yoru (寄る) or “stop by, call at, get close to.” Put them together, 最寄, and you have the sense of “the closest,” incorporating a sense of destination. Thus moyori-eki: the nearest station.

So please don’t make my mistake. If someone asks you Moyori eki wa doko desu ka, don’t say Wakarimasen!


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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Japan News This Week 6 October 2013

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan should request international collaboration, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano says
Asashi

Kerry at 'Japan's Arlington' in apparent US Yasukuni push
Global Post

US to send drones to Japan; Tokyo agrees to pay $3.1B to move Marines from Okinawa
NBCNEWS.com

The Threat of ‘Abegeddon’ From Taxes in Japan
Bloomberg

Japan’s Nuclear Refugees, Still Stuck in Limbo
BBC

University of Tokyo ranked No. 1 in Asia: global survey
Japan Times

Historic Japanese erotica comes to London
BBC News

Japan third quarter big manufacturers' mood improves - BOJ tankan
Reuters

Japan Auto Sales Climb Most in 14 Months as Korea Slumps
NPR

Sazae-san, world's longest-running cartoon to go digital in Japan
The Straits Times


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Statistics

Japan's imports and exports between September 2012 & September 2013

Imports: up 29.8%
Exports: up 16.5%

Source: Japan Ministry of Finance
.


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Saturday, October 05, 2013

xiè Reunion Performance

An old friend of mine, Hagi, from years ago when I used to live in Osaka is now a full-time musician and composer in Tokyo, specializing in soundtrack-type music with an earthy, ethnic flair.

Vocalist Keisei of xiè performing at Moon Romantic, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.

Hagi is the founding member of the unit xiè (pronounced "shee-eh"), comprising Hagi on the keyboards, the singer Keisei, with a powerfully mesmerizing, haunting voice, and a shakuhachi player. xiè had been inactive for about two years, so tonight had the added pull of excitement not only of hearing it play, but seeing the group back together on stage again.

It was my first time to attend the venue, Moon Romantic - one of those places that looks like a hole in the wall from the outside, but which is unexpectedly cavernous once you're inside.

Moon Romantic, 月見ル君想フ, Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo.

xiè performed five or six songs, lasting for about 45 minutes. The impassioned vocals, the prodigious shakuhachi playing (often almost mistakable for a flute), and Hagi's multi-dimensioned synthesized soundscapes made for an unforgettable journey in sound that took the small crowd of about thirty people gathered far up and away above the workaday world whose week had just ended.

xiè looks set to extend its reunited run, so keep an eye out for more of this exquisitely Japanese-flavored brand of world music on the Tokyo performance scene.

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Friday, October 04, 2013

Evening Anti-Nuke Protests in Tokyo

反原発

The fierce student riots that filled Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, leading to armed stand-offs with the police, have fallen as completely silent in Japan as they have in most Western countries.

Antinuke power protest in Nagatacho, Tokyo.


However, protest is still alive and well in Japan, even if in much tamer forms. The most conspicuous protests encountered now in Japan are anti-nuclear, especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan earthquake.

Many evenings you can see demonstrations of dozens of people, most of them older than younger, in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo which forms the political heart of the city, not far from, or flanking, Hibiya Park.

There is usually an exaggeratedly large police presence considering the number of people present, the average age of the protesters, and the decidedly pacific, however earnest, mood of the protest.

I often cycle past the area on my way home from work every evening, and took this recent picture of one such protest.

Opposition to the use of nuclear power in Japan has come to segue with opposition to nuclear weapons which has been a constant theme in Japanese life since the atomic bombing of Japan in World War Two. Anti-nuclear power rallies have drawn tens of thousands of participants since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, among them very prominent Japanese figures such as the novelists Kenzaburo Oe and Haruki Murakami, a former assistant professor in nuclear chemistry and author of bestselling books opposing nuclear power Jinzaburo Takagi, and former prime minister Naoto Kan.

Between the occasional large-scale opposition rallies, these evening vigils look seem set to continue.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Japanese Taxi in Fiji

フィジーでの日本の中古タクシー

An Indian taxi driver in Fiji with his Chuo Musen taxi from Tokyo, Japan.


If you follow JapanVisitor on Instagram, you may have seen numerous photos starting on September 19th posted of scenes shot in Fiji. But, as JapanVisitor and therefore very mindful of Japan wherever I go, I kept an eye out for Japan-related sights in Fiji.

One of the most striking was the almost ubiquitous sight of old Japanese trucks and cars. On numerous occasions we encountered trucks with Japanese logos still all over them and even the squeaky female voice announcing in Japanese “turning right” (Migi e magarimasu!) or “turning left (Hidari e magarimasu!). We even saw the orange Japanese taxi - specifically a Tokyo taxi, pictured here in the Fijian town of Sigatoka, Indian driver standing beside it, completely unchanged from its in-Japan state except for the numberplates.

Being orange with a blue stripe, this taxi is immediately identifiable as a former taxi of the Chuo Musen Taxi Cooperative which operates in the 23 wards of Tokyo as well as the adjoining cities of Musashino and Mita just west of Tokyo.

The Chuo Musen Taxi Cooperative is a small-to-medium taxi company which has over 1,700 vehicles, making it the third biggest taxi company in Tokyo after the leading Tokyo Musen and Checker Cab Musen in second place.

The only “news” we could find about Chuo Musen is that from August of last year its taxis began accepting Japan IC transport cards such as the Suica card.

What driver of this cab would have imagined that the Toyota Crown Comfort whose pedal he pumped through the gurning streets of Tokyo would finish its days in sunlit bliss on a South Pacific island?!

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View pictures of distinctive Japanese taxi crests.

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Getting Past Being Just a Gaijin

Getting Past Being Just a Gaijin in Japan.
外人でも主には外人でない

I am a male foreigner who has been working in a Japanese office for about the past six years. For the first few years working here, I never tried to analyze office dynamics much at all. I simply saw myself as the foreigner in a Japanese office. However, I have come to see things differently. Experience of the dynamics here has made me redefine myself. More than a foreigner, I am a man in a Japanese office, albeit with a difference, in that I am gay in Japan.

The office I work in has about 30-35 people, of whom just less than half are women. There are only one or two males in the office who I can say I unreservedly like. They are friendly, warm, polite, cooperative and interesting.  The rest - the vast majority - have exhibited enough typically "male" behavior - ranging from uptight, non-responsive smugness to outright arrogance and bullying - to make me dislike them. I admit that I have a tendency to take things personally, which only worsens the chemistry. In other words, I am not blessed with the robust teflon cheer that I have seen bring quite spectacular inter-personal success with males in the office for a previous foreigner who worked here. My feelings tend to show.

Conversely, most of the women who work here, I like. I don't have that much more to do with most of them than I do with the men, but like them for the same reasons I like the likeable men.

However, unlike how the women here interact with the men, I tend to be, well, more typically male in my interactions. That is, if I am slighted, I tend to react aggressively, instantly shooting down any attempts to establish dominance. This occasionally sees me indulging in the same kind of behavior I abhor in others: unfriendly boorishness, that never fails to shock the unfortunate male it is aimed at.

Yet it was only quite recently that I noticed a reaction among the women that led me to redefine myself as a male more than a foreigner. One quite senior figure in the office, whom I have never had anything to do with in terms of work, once wandered over to where I was helping apply address labels to envelopes. I didn't like him, because not only did he never deign to acknowledge my presence, but more than once he had pushed past me in the office without a word when I greeted him, with a pained, arrogant "don't-bother-me" look on his face.

In applying the labels, I was pressed for time and was therefore doing it production-line style, rather than painstakingly doing each label as if pasting photos in an album - which is how the others were doing it. In the process, the odd label would get applied with a crease in it, or a little crooked. The aforementioned man had come over to the table, looked at what I was doing and proclaimed what translates as "Yep, that's your style, isn't it!" There was a short fuming pause before I let rip. My frustration at having been roped into this task when I was already flat out reacted explosively with my resentment of him personally. I said in ringing tones that he had no idea what "my style" was as he had never requested any work of me, at which he immediately backed off with a shocked look and profuse apologies.

It was then that the light shone down from heaven and revealed on the faces of the women there a look far from shock and dismay, but of quiet satisfaction - repressed delight, almost. I had clearly voiced a shared feeling, and noticed a subtle change in how the women there related to me from thereon in. I was now on their side.

I am not proud of being thin-skinned and occasionally aggressive, but these traits have revealed to me that "foreigner" is by no means the only thing that significantly defines me in a Japanese group. "Foreigner" covers how I pronounce my Japanese, but beyond that there is little about me that a Japanese with the appropriate experiences behind him or her might not have. As a male, on the other hand, I am more likely than many of the women to express to other males in the office what I really think of them, and as an openly gay man I am more likely than straight men to be considered something of an oddity - which no doubt accounts for some of the screwed up interactions I experience day-to-day at the office. And, as a gay man who was considered sissy as a kid and regularly bullied for it, I feel I am oversensitive to how others interact with me now that, as an adult, I (misguidedly?) expect more of other adults in the way of civility than I ever did of other kids.

It is perhaps odd that, having lived in Japan for as long as I have, I defined myself principally as a foreigner for such a long time. In hindsight it looks like naivety, and yet considering how the Japanese/gaijin divide is one at the heart of so much talk in Japan, and how much more conspicuous my being foreign is than being male ("spot the gaijin" as opposed to "spot the male"), it is forgivable naivety.

Foreigners in Japan can allow the fact that they are foreigners to color everything about their experience in Japan, and blame "discrimination," "prejudice" and "parochialism" on the part of Japanese people for everything negative they experience here. But, sometimes it pays to step back and ask yourself what Japanese people really see when they look at you. Sure, people who don't know you will see the black or white face and not much more. But people who know you have generally gotten past that and see you for the myriad other things that make you you.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 17 Saiki to Sotaro

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 17, Friday March 22nd Saiki to Sotaro

So far on this leg of my journey I have really lucked out weather wise.... it's yet another clear sky as I set out from Saiki in the pre-dawn light. My next destination is Nobeoka in Miyazaki, and whichever route I take it's going to be two days of walking through some fairly remote country.

What looks to be the most interesting route would take me down the coast, but a close examination of the map shows that it has a lot of switchbacks which means lots of ups and downs as well as ins and outs around an irregular coast. It also seems that it would be hard to find accommodation, so I opt instead to follow the train line up and over the higher country inland. If I can get to the highest point near the Miyazaki border this evening then I can take a train down to Nobeoka and then tomorrow take an early train back.

Banjo River, Kyushu, Japan


The first couple of hours my route follows the Banjo River inland. The road is busy and there is nothing of interest until the sun rises golden and reflected in the placid river. After an hour the river is flanked by a levee so I climb up above the traffic and walk the path, going against the flow of high school boys bicycling into town. Another 30 minutes and I turn left and cross the river and start to head up into the hills. Thankfully most of the traffic doesn't.

This is what I consider to be the typical Japanese landscape: a long narrow valley, paddies along the river, houses against the hills, every few hundred meters drink vending machines, every few kilometers a small village Post Office,... each small settlement with a shrine and a temple,... but no shops except the occasional liquor shop. For the first time in many days I find a shrine that has masks hanging in the main hall, but it is locked so I can't get in to examine them closer. Still too close to the city. Further from the city the shrines will more likely be unlocked.

On the other side of the river express trains rattle by. About one every 30 minutes, but local trains are few and far between. One at 6 in the morning, one at 5 in the evening, and one more at around 8.

Around lunchtime I am in Naokawa, about halfway to where I want to reach today. It seems to be the biggest settlement on this road, big enough to host a michi-no-eki where I am able to buy a locally-made bento and sit and eat at a picnic table. It's clouding over.

Giant Beetle, Kyushu, Japan


Across the street a giant beetle sits atop a sign pointing to a forest park. The road continues to climb, though much more gently than I had anticipated. The valley narrows and the distance between buildings increase. Ahead I catch a glimpse of pink and blue and yellow, unusual colors out here where man-made structures tend towards natural earth colors and I wonder what it could be. It turns out to be a rural Love Hotel.

Most writings on Japan's love hotels focus on the urban examples. Very little is written about these kind that are usually found in the middle of nowhere, like this one, halfway between towns or cities. They are more like old style American motels, with individual cabins, these painted in candy colors. If I hadn't already booked a room in Nobeoka for the night I would have considered staying here, though some do not allow single customers through fear of suicides I believe. For couples traveling, love hotels can often be good deal for price.

Either side of the road is now just forest, no farms, few buildings, and as I reach Shigeoka station it starts to shower. I check the timetable. About 100 minutes till the train comes. The next station is a tad under 8km away. I decide to risk it and head off briskly with my umbrella. I'm tired, but it will mean 8km less to walk tomorrow. I make Sotaro station with 5 minutes to spare and with the last light I peer out of the train window and look at the country I will be walking down through tomorrow. Now I am in Miyazaki.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu 16

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