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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kyoto Antiques: Shopping & Window Shopping

京都のアンティーク

There are two areas in Kyoto known for antiques: Teramachi (north of Nijo, south of Marutamachi) and Shinmonzen. Both areas are perfect for window shopping and, naturally, shopping.

Teramachi, Kyoto's newest antique center, is more casual and, often, quite a bit cheaper. It also has a wide range of other interesting shops (highly recommended for high quality Asian handicrafts and art & tea ceremony accessories).

Kyoto Antiques: Shopping & Window Shopping.


Shinmonzen, running west for about 500 meters from Higashioji just north of the Gion district, is the old center of Kyoto's antique industry. The shops here are less suited for window shopping, but interesting in every other way. Many shops in both areas specialize (for example Chinese/Japanese/Korean antiques, paintings, lacquer ware, ceramics, bronze, Japanese furniture, wood-block prints, wood carving, scrolls, Buddhist paintings and sculptures, pearls, glassware, tea ceremony utensils, kimonos, etc.), while others offer a crazy selection.

When it comes to antiques, prices are often not marked, and bargaining is expected. Most shops on both streets are open every day 10am-6pm (some are closed on Mondays). English is understood and spoken well in many shops.

Experience the exotic world of Kyoto antiques, and take something special home from Asia's streets of treasure.

Antique Wedding Kimonos

Like the Western wedding dress, the wedding kimono for brides in Japan is white too. In the Japanese wedding ceremony, a bright, white, silk kimono must show a stunning beauty, symbolizing that perfect moment in a young woman's life.

If you go to kimono shops or flea markets, you will find wedding kimonos. But the white ones are very rare, because of the traditional recycling practice of silk kimonos in Japan. Often, wives reworked their wedding kimono so that it could be used as a formal kimono, and in unusual cases the very fine fabric was used for baby diapers.

Nowadays, you only can find brocaded, colorful, antique, kimonos in original designs. Wedding brides wear this uchikake as a over-garment on top of layers of white silk kimonos. These brocaded wedding kimono are called uchikake. Uchikake kimonos are usually red based, brocaded on thick silk material with a long length. Its gold, silver, and many other colored threads create incredible patterns with traditional embroidery techniques.

Decorative kimono pattern.


The popular designs on wedding kimonos are often crane, turtle, pine tree, plum blossoms or bamboo. They are recognized as the symbols of longevity, happiness, prosperity or even fertility.

In the Edo period, uchikake was worn by high ranked women in the inner halls of the royal palace or shogun's castle. The gorgeous uchikake were the women's uniforms, in a sense, to show each other their rank in the hierarchy.

This custom made uchikake to be understood as a status symbol of gorgeousness and wealth. Since the wedding ceremony is the highlight of every family, uchikake began to be worn for the wedding ceremony.

Uchikake is also seen in Noh costumes sometimes, too. Uchikake material is made using a special weaving technique known as karaori, nishiki-ori, kinran-ori, or donsu-ori. This special weaving method creates raised figures such as birds and flowers and is one of the most amazing arts of the Japanese textile world.

Kyoto’s famous Nishijin textile area began producing karaori in the 16th century. In documents from the 17th century, it is recorded that it takes 70 days to weave a 120 cm long, 30cm wide piece of karaori material.

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: Japan-wide travel expert since 1992. Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579 | +81-5534-4372

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fundoshi Loin Cloth Gay Bar - Only in Japan

ふんどし ゲイバー

Sure, you can get a drink in gay bar most anywhere in the world. Wherever there’s a gay nightlife, there are low-key bars, pulsating clubs, cruisy joints, and just about everything in between. But does your hometown have a gay bar where everyone must wear a fundoshi? At Zakoza Bulge Bar, in the Namba district of Osaka, you can have a gay experience that is both quintessentially Japan and definitely unforgettable.


What is a fundoshi, you say? It’s ok to ask. A fundoshi is a thin, cotton scarf-like swath of fabric that, when contoured, tied, and tucked just right, becomes an approximation of some very short, rather revealing short pants or even underwear that just ever-so-subtly might even be diaper redolent. Zakoza Bulge Bar has fundoshi available if you don’t have your own, and if you’re not sure how to put it on, someone will be happy to help.

Sign at the entrance of Zakoza Bulge Bar, Namba, Osaka, Japan.
Entrance sign to Zakoza Bulge Bar, Namba, Osaka

Zakoza Bulge Bar’s clientele are mostly in their 30s or 40s, but don’t let that be an impediment should you fall outside of the range. There are all you can drink plans as well (figure somewhere in the 3,000 range), but there’s also a base plan of 1,800 which includes two drinks if you arrive before 7pm, and just one drink if you arrive later. Additional drinks are 500 yen and up. The owner and clientele are very welcoming towards foreigners, so don’t worry about anything, little or small.

Drink course menu at Zakoza Bulge Bar, gay bar in Namba, Osaka, Japan
The drink course menu at the gay Zakoza Bulge Bar
The entrance to Zakoza Bulge Bar is on the second floor (exterior staircase), which is the floor where the bar and changing area is. It’s a long bar, and home-cooked food appears on it at around 10pm. It’s also a great place to ease into conversation, be it with the bartender or other customers.

Zakoza Bulge Bar lounge, for gay guys into fundoshi loin cloths, Osaka, Japan.
Zakoza Bulge Bar's very laid-back lounge
Up on the second floor, there are a couple of lounge areas, one of which includes a big TV, making for an experience exactly like hanging out in someone’s living room with a bunch of people you don’t know that well. Except that they are wearing fundoshi. There are also mismatched sofas, a bit of a raunchy conversation, and drinks in everyone’s hands. It’ll all very collegiate somehow.

Rack of fundoshi at gay bar Zakoza Bulge Bar, Namba, Osaka.
The fundoshi rack, Zakoza Bulge Bar

Half of the third floor is an outdoor deck, and here you will find an above ground pool big enough for probably ten people to take a dip. This of course makes their fundoshi sheer, which may leave less to the imagination than their pre-dip state. On the third floor is also another indoor lounge area. There are plenty of places to lounge. How you cross or choose not to cross your legs is up to you.

Zakoza Bulge Bar's pool for fundoshi wearers, Osaka, Japan.
Zakoza Bulge Bar's very own pool, Namba, Osaka

Some nights are not fundoshi nights (though Saturday always is), but some other theme that leaves you near nude. Zakoza Bulge Bar is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and is located at 2-3-23 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Heian Ladies of Legend Ono no Komachi & Izumi Shikibu

大野小町

Ono no Komachi, known for her beauty, poetry and madness, lived in the middle of the ninth century and served as a lady-in-waiting in the Heian court.

Ono no Komachi poem at Zuishinin, Kyoto.
Ono no Komachi poem at Zuishinin
Despite her legendary beauty and obvious passions, she never married. But her poems more than make up for whatever she may have missed in the way of marital bliss.

On such a night as this
When no moon lights your way to me,
I wake, my passion blazing,
My breast a fire raging, exploding flame
While within me, my heart chars.

(from An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry by E. Miner)

In mid life she was sent out of the capital to Yamashina, where she supposedly resided for some years at Zuishin-in Temple. She is said to have gone mad there and the temple now honors her every year with the Hanezu Odori. She probably wrote this poem during her stay at the temple:

The color of the blossoms have faded
Vainly, I age through the rains of the world
Watching in melancholy.

(translation by N. Teele)


和泉式部

Izumi Shikibu (circa 1000), another great woman writer of the Heian period, also wrote lasting poetry and had a difficult personal life.

Izumi Shikibu shown on an 18th century woodblock print.
Izumi Shikibu shown on an 18th century woodblock print
We know a lot more about her life than Komachi. Izumi Shikibu got her name from her marriage to the governor of the province of Izumi. She divorced him after their first child and returned to the court in Kyoto, where she had been raised. Soon she was having an affair with a prince, who died, and then his brother, who also died. She recorded both of these affairs in her diary, including a number of passages and poems that clearly indicate how much she loved and how much she had lost.

Lying down alone,
I am so confused in yearning for you
That I have forgot
The tangles of my long black hair,
Desiring the one who stroked it clear.

But she continued to see and be with other men. She eventually married (and then left) her second husband, the governor of the province of Tango. Her final years were spend on Mount Yoshiya at Toboku-in. And for the past hundreds of years Seshin-in, a subtemple of Toboku-in has been celebrating her life. The temple moved its location to the east side of Shinkyogoku, a little south of Rokkaku in the Momoyama period (1568-1600). Every March 21 at about 11.am, Noh chants are performed here and Edo period reproductions of handscrolls of her poems are displayed in her honor. Including this one:

Seeing the plum blossoms
I wait for the song of the warbler
Spring has come
Veiled in mist

Courtesy of Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Japan News This Week 25 September 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan’s Newest Technology Innovation: Priest Delivery
New York Times

Is the Bank of Japan running out of options?
BBC

World's oldest fish-hooks found on Okinawa, Japan
Guardian

Calls to abolish death penalty grow louder in Japan
Guardian

Number of foreign visitors to Japan sets August record of 2.04 million
Japan Times

Spying on Muslims in Tokyo and New York — “Necessary and Unavoidable”?
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Use of agricultural chemicals, by country, per area (i.e., amount sprayed by country X per/hectare), in 2010:

1) China: 18 kg/hectare
2) South Korea: 14+kg/hectare
3) Japan: 13+kg/hectare
4) Holland: 8-9 kg/hectare
5) Italy: 7+kg/hectare
6) Germany: 3+kg/hectare
7) France: 3+kg/hectare*
8) United Kingdom: 3 kg/hectare
9) USA: 2+kg/hectare

Until 2003, Japan was far and away the greatest user of agricultural chemicals. For example, in 1990, Japan used 20+kg/hectare, while the USA used 2 kg/hectare. The second greater user (abuser) of chemicals was Italy, which sprayed 16 kg/hectare in 1990. By 2004, however, China began to use chemicals heavily, and in 2007 was the the number one user of chemicals.

*Data for France is from 2009.

Source: Faostat

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, September 23, 2016

Guest House Kioto

木音

As the number of foreign tourists increases in Kyoto, quite a few residents of the ancient capital are developing their traditional machiya properties into guest houses advertised on Airbnb and hotel booking sites.

Guest House Kioto, Kyoto.


Guest House Kioto close to Senbon Shakado Temple and Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is one such traditional property offering four guest rooms with either futons or beds, as well as a dormitory room with beds. The property is located in the narrow streets of the Kamishichi-ken geisha district.

The name Kioto is a clever play on words as the kanji character for ki is wood and oto is sound. There's a common area with WiFi where guests can mingle and a breakfast is served in the living room with a view of the inner garden.

Kyoto buses #10, #50, #51, #55, #59, #101, #102, #201 and #203 all stop nearby on Imadegawa Dori. Buses #6, #10, #46, #50, #55, #59, #201 and #206 stop on Senbon Dori.

Guest House Kioto map.
Click to expand the map


Guest House Kioto
602-8319 Kyoto
Kamigyo-ku
Mizomae-cho 100
Tel:075 366 3780
www.facebook.com/guesthouseKIOTO

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mizuhiki-zaiku decorative paper cords

水引

Mizuhiki (binding twine or paper cord decorations) were first developed and used in Kyoto in the Heian period (794-1185). They were originally used as a kind of hair decoration for members of the imperial family and court. Later in the Muromachi period (1333-1568), mizuhiki began to be used as a kind of gift wrapping, featuring red cords on the right and white cords on the left.

They came into common use in the Meiji period (1868-1912) as kind of decoration for weddings, funerals and other important life events. Both the gift wrapping and ceremonial decorative form continue to be used today. Highly professional skills and long experience is needed to make these decorations well and quickly. Kyoto has always been and continues to be the leading center for mizuhiki.

Mizuhiki
Decorative rittai-kazari mizuhiki
There are two basic kinds of mizuhiki. The first is the two-dimensional decorative binding twine, called hira-kazari, which is placed around thick, white washi paper money envelopes for weddings, celebrating the birth of a child, and funerals. The second kind are the elaborate and often brightly colored three-dimensional rittai-kazari, based on animal or plant designs, which are generally used only for weddings.

A hira-kazari mizuhiki and envelope for a wedding.
A hira-kazari mizuhiki and envelope for a wedding
The process of making mizuhiki begins by twisting Japanese washi paper into strings. The strings are then bound fast together with rice glue, and either dyed, or wrapped with gold and silver leaf or silk threads, according to the intended use. Finally, the strings are cut to the appropriate length, and woven into their final form. Though most of these processes are performed by machines today, the weaving of the actual decoration, which involves a wide rage of complex folds, bends, twists and loose knots, is still done exclusively by hand.

A hira-kazari mizuhiki for a funeral in Japan.
A hira-kazari mizuhiki for a funeral in Japan
If you are interested in seeing the wonders of mizuhiki, visit any Japanese paper craft shop, or ask for them at major department stores. You can also find envelopes with mizuhiki attached at any convenience store (red and white for celebrations; black and white for funerals).

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking

Karan koron, karan koron, this is the Japanese sound of someone walking down the street in geta, or traditional wooden clogs. For the Japanese this is a nostalgic sound, that conjures up images of people wearing yukata (informal cotton kimono) and enjoying the relaxed ambience of night-time summer festivals.

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking


Footwear plays an interesting role in daily Japanese life as a way of marking the transition between different kinds of interior and exterior spaces. For example, before entering a house, outside shoes are removed in the genkan. After stepping into the interior family space, inside slippers are put on. And before using the rest room one takes off the inside house slippers and puts on a special pair of "bathroom slippers".

One classic error of foreign guests is to forget to change back to the regular slippers after leaving the rest room. This situation, of wearing the bathroom slippers into other rooms, represents bringing something unclean into a clean area and provokes either laughter or disgust, depending on the host family. So strong are the divisions between spaces, articulated by changes in footwear, that if a person leaves the house in a hurry, laces up their shoes, and then remembers a forgotten item, rather than step on the interior floor in their outside shoes they will crawl on their hands and knees, with their feet held up high to retrieve the forgotten item.

Traditional Japanese Footwear A New Way of Walking.


Nor are these delineations limited to personal space. An American journalist, giving birth to a baby in Tokyo, was issued a pair of slippers when she was admitted to the hospital in labor, and was required to change to slippers of another color when she entered the delivery room. Special shoes for specific situations are also part of the cultural picture.

While I was living in a mountain village, I watched a bride dressed in a wedding kimono and wearing very high wedge sandals bid a formal farewell to her neighbors. When she finished she walked away slowly, assisted by a woman on each arm. A crowd of village woman walked behind her. "When you got married, was it like this?" I asked one of them. "Oh, yes, just like this I needed help to walk. Oh those shoes!"

Walking through the Gion entertainment area in Kyoto you may catch a glimpse of a geisha. Take a look at her feet. If she is wearing very high clogs, she is an apprentice geisha or maiko. This custom dates from the period when apprentices were children, and wore tall shoes to add to their height. Nowadays, maiko are young women, who walk gracefully and unassisted in high clogs.

Sandals and pretty feet of a young girl in yukata.


Shoes are also connected to Japanese beliefs about health. Older people have pointed out to me that walking in geta or backless sandals requires the wearer to flex the foot with each step just to keep the footwear from falling off. This repeated flexing is thought to contribute to good health, and some believe that wearing Western shoes (which do not require this muscular movement) is less healthy. A contemporary approach to the health and footwear issue can be seen in slippers featuring inside soles covered with beige plastic nodules. Positioned to stimulate health-promoting pressure points, the nodules produce sensory stimulation to mild pain, depending on the wearer.

Buying traditional Japanese footwear: These shops sell geta for about ¥2,000: Kyoto Handicraft Center, Tel: 075 761 7000. Nakatsuji, Tel: 075 492 0436. Oshima in Nishiki market, Tel: 075 221 3473. For wooden sandals with indigo fabric trim (from about ¥3,000): Yamato Mingeiten, Tel: 075 221 2641.

*If you would like to purchase geta from any of these stores please contact our sister site GoodsFromJapan

Written by Anne Overton and edited by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Japan News This Week 18 September 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
Opposition Figure’s Rise Could Pave Way for Female Leaders in Japan
New York Times

Japan half-marathon runners stir up hornets' nest
BBC

Japanese centenarians' honorary gifts hit by austerity as numbers soar
Guardian

High court rules Okinawa governor’s order to stop U.S. base work ‘illegal’
Japan Times

The Return of the Outcast(e) Map: Kobe, Cartography and the Problem of Discrimination in Modern Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 70% of unmarried men and 60% of unmarried women in Japan between the ages of 18 - 34 are not in a relationship.

The percentage for men is the highest since such surveys began in 1987.

In addition, around 42 percent of the men and 44.2 percent of the women admitted they were virgins.
 
Source:Yomiuri Shinbun

© JapanVisitor.com

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Gay in Nagoya? All hope not quite lost

名古屋 ゲイ

Sun Set Cafe, gay bar in Nagoya.
Sun Set Cafe, gay bar in Nagoya.
Oh no! You’re looking for a gay night out on the town in Nagoya and (gasp!) you can’t figure out what to do! There’s good news and bad news: The bad news is that there is almost nothing to speak of in the way of a gay scene in Nagoya, as compared to Tokyo or Osaka (or even lesser cities than Nagoya, for that matter). The good news? That there is almost nothing to be gay about in Nagoya. There are indeed a few, cozy places out there.

Gay bar King Diamond is in this building, Nagoya.
Entrance to the building with gay bar King Diamond, Sakae, Nagoya
Looking for a big gay dance club? Head for the shinkansen (bullet train) and get out of Nagoya. But if you are down for some low key lounging, there are some friendly faces and comfortable places waiting for you to drop by. Best if you can speak a bit of Japanese, but even if you can’t, speaking slowly with a nice smile gets you half way there.

Nagoya gay bar, King Diamond, in the Sakae district.
King Diamond entrance sign.
King Diamond is located in the Sakae district, generally considered the shopping and nightlife center of Nagoya. This gay bar is oriented towards the younger crowd (and their admirers), but in practice, there’s a healthy customer contingent running into their 40s. The bar opens at 9pm (except on Sundays, when they are closed) and rumbles on until 5am. 1,800 yen for your first drink and accompanying snack (2,800 for women), with successive drinks starting from 800 yen. Emphasis on the “successive,” as the crowd here is known to knock ‘em down. Perhaps they are drinking their gay-in-Nagoya sorrows away? We kid.

Bar staff at Nagoya gay bar, King Diamond, in the Sakae district, Naka ward.
Friendly King Diamond bar staff pose for a pic.
Another, somewhat more mixed crowd option, awaits you just a few blocks away at Sun Set Café (not “Sunset Café,” well, just because). The Sun Set-tles into a somewhat different vibe due to its mix of mostly gay men, their female friends and “fag hags.” Catty, catty! The lengthy bar makes for a degree of grandeur, but also makes it hard to chat people up. Expect service here to range between attentive and obsequious, which contrasts with King Diamond’s more “we’re cool buds that like you” approach to customer service.

Building housing the gay bar, Sun Set Cafe, Nagoya, Japan.
The building with Sun Set Cafe on the 3F
The Sun Set rises at 8pm and sets at 8am, but is closed on Mondays. 1,600 for the drink/snack initial set, but that rises to 2,800 for women (who need to be accompanied by a man to get in). The crowd is mostly 20s and 30s, but, hey, if you’re a foreigner, it generally doesn’t matter.

The door of Sun Set Cafe, a gay bar in the Sakae district of Nagoya, Japan.
Sun Set Cafe entrance
Don’t go to a gay bar too early here in Nagoya. Of greater concern than the faux pas is the fact that you will probably be bored, as things don’t really pick up until 11pm, or in the case of Sun Set, more like midnight.

Sun Set cafe gay bar in Nagoya, Japan - the bar.
The bar at Sun Set Cafe, Nagoya

Inside the Nagoya gay bar, Sun Set Cafe
Slinky interior, Sun Set Cafe, Sakae, Nagoya

See, as it turns out, Nagoya almost isn’t that bad after all.

King Diamond: 〒460-0008名古屋市中区栄4-13-10  Tel. 052 242 5077
Sun Set Café:     〒460-0008名古屋市中区栄4-5-18 Tel. 052 251 7880

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Friday, September 16, 2016

The World of the Elderly in Japan The land that lies before us all

According to research by WHO on life expectancy in advanced nations, the average life of a Japanese citizen is a leisurely 83.7 years (80.5 for males, and a healthy 86.8 for females). In fact, Japan is the No. 1 country for longevity (followed by Switzerland (83.4 years), Singapore (83.1), and Australia (82.8)).

The World of the Elderly in Japan The land that lies before us all


Today, of all the industrialized nations, Japan has the most old people and the least babies. Believe it or not, nearly half of all Japanese people will be over the age of 65 by the year 2025.

Not surprising then, there is a national holiday for the Elderly. Keiro-no-hi holiday, or 'Respect for the Elderly' Day, falls on Monday 19th this year. On this day, the hope is that the young will pay their respects to the elderly, wish them a long healthy life and thank them for their wisdom and hard work. In some cities there are even presentations made.

But the truth be told: it must be pretty hard for the elderly these days. These are the people who fought in the war. The people who built Japan into an economic superpower in 30 years or so. These are also the same people who were raised according to the ways of traditional Japanese society and culture. Today, as they walk around the cities they built, they must really wonder who they built it for.

Young people generally tend to forget about the elderly in the rush of youth. This is considered natural and the elderly probably remembering being that way when they were young. But a lack of respect for the elderly is a relatively new thing and certainly not something the elderly themselves can remember feeling when they were young. But a total lack of respect for old people in Japan is becoming increasingly common. Younger people seem to view them as a nuisance, as distant reminders of the old world of Japan.

Today, some elderly people consider the young of Japan to be alien creatures: entirely beyond understanding and communication. These are the kids that have inherited the riches that their grandparents created. And the sad thing is: most young people don't even think about the sacrifice and effort their grand parents made. They only seem to be thinking about themselves and this is the biggest criticism the elderly have of them: they are selfish. And selfish is a pretty new word in Japanese society. If anything, the Japanese are naturally unselfish. But not any more.

Relations between the elderly and the young are still healthy in rural areas, where nearly nobody lives these days. If you go into the countryside, where time slows down and thing become naturally natural, the elderly still have their place in society. In fact, they run society. They are in charge and they are the kings and queens of their families. This is good. This is the way it should be.

But in the cities, the elderly seem to have no place to call their own. They seem forgotten and this is saddest thing of all. But on Elderly Day, Japanese society, as a whole, tries to remember and honor them.

This year let's try to remember how important they really are. Without them we would have nothing. Without them we would not even exist. And let's not forget the biggest truth of all: in a few decades we will be elderly ourselves. It's the future for all of us. Let's try to remember that.

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Actor Yuta Takahata Goes Scot-Free for Rape

高畑裕太 汚職

Yuta Takahata is a 23-year-old Japanese actor who has appeared already in a couple of movies (L [2016] and Okaasan no Ki [2015], albeit in very minor roles) and several TV dramas and TV movies. He is becoming a well-known face on TV, and is the son of veteran actress Atsuko Takahata and actor Ryosuke Ohtani.

Yuta Takahata.


Japan was shocked to learn last month, on August 23, that Yuta Takahata had been arrested for rape - the rape of a female staff member at a hotel he was staying at in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. Then, last Friday, on September 9 - just 17 days after his arrest - Takahata was released on bail after the Gunma public prosecutor's office decided to drop charges against him.

Far from denying the crime, Takahata explained his actions to the police, saying that he "couldn't control his desires," and then both his mother and Takahata himself publicly apologized for the incident. This suggests that it is a very clear cut case, and that conviction would have been likely in the case of a prosecution. During the time of his brief incarceration, it was conjectured that Takahata would get a prison sentence of about 7 or 8 years. The reason for eventually deciding not to prosecute him was not given.

Newsworthy as this all is, it was not that blogworthy - until today. The Tokyo Sports newspaper reported today that no less than 80 million yen was paid in an out-of-court settlement with the victim of Takahata's sexual assault.

"Out-of-court settlement." Now, I'm no lawyer, but in my mind, out of court settlements are things that happen in civil cases, not criminal cases. An out-of-court settlement is what divorcing couples do, or someone who accidentally put a dent in someone else's car does, or what siblings squabbling over a parent's will do. An out-of-court settlement is not something that happens in a criminal case like a rape.

Divorces, dents in cars, and the relative wealth of a group of siblings are not matters that involve many people besides those directly involved. However, crimes are a different story. Justice must be seen to be done, and an appropriate sentence must be meted out to punish the perpetrator and to send a message to society that such behavior is unacceptable to everyone, even if it does immediately and directly involve only a very few people.

Justice is supposed to be blind, i.e., justice should be done whatever the perpetrator's personal circumstances. However, the fact is that circumstances do often affect outcomes in the form of some degree of mercy. The ultimate mercy is forgiveness, and what, you may ask, is a decision not to prosecute a crime that the perpetrator has completely owned up to in the form of an apology if it is not forgiveness?

Forgiveness for what? In the context of 80 million yen having been paid to Takahata's victim for an "out-of-court settlement," the motive for the prosecutor not to prosecute can only be recognition of the Takahata family's having paid off the victim. Yet, if everyone accused of a crime in Japan had enough money to pay their victim a sum of money that would buy you a very comfortable brand new apartment in Tokyo, and in so doing avoid prosecution, the whole justice system in Japan may as well pack up its bags and go home.

But not every criminal has that kind of money. So the justice system waits around to "serve" the unfortunate majority of criminals who do not have stacks of money, are not famous, not blessed with famous parents, actor's looks or, in other words, are without the means to rush around behind the scenes pulling strings, paying people off - buying forgiveness - and in so doing corrupting the justice system.

Thinking that maybe my assumption about the reason for the prosecutors' decision not to do their job might be unfounded, I called the Maebashi District Public Prosecutors Office this morning and asked why Takahata was not prosecuted. After being put through to the relevant person by the operator and identifying myself, I was politely told by the male at the other end of the phone that such information "could not be disclosed." I politely pointed out that this was a case in which the public had an interest, but nothing concrete was forthcoming, so the conversation ended after less than two minutes.

Yuta Takahata was forgiven because he is rich and famous. And it was his birthday yesterday, too. Congratulations, Yuta-kun.


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Hagi Bush Clover One of the Seven Grasses of Autumn

On my fingers do I count the meadows flowers of the fall, and find their number is seven in all.

Bush clover, eulalia, arrowroot, pinks, patrinia, agueweed, and bellflower—these they call the seven flowers of the fall.

Manyoshu (7th century, Japan)

For a thousand years the Seven Grasses of Autumn have been admired for their subtle beauty, appearing again and again as design motifs on screens, ceramics, lacquerware, and kimono. Unlike the seven "grasses" of spring which can be eaten, these seven are for visual appreciation, especially on the night of the harvest moon when they are arranged on a lacquer tray with rice dumplings called dango.

Hagi Bush Clover seen on a byobu screen.
Hagi Bush Clover depicted on a byobu screen
Hagi, or bush clover, was especially loved by the ancient poets (even more than cherry blossoms!). This lush green bush can grow up to ten feet high. Its reddish-purple or white blossoms can be found in many gardens in fall. There is a Hagi Festival this month at Kyoto's Nashinoki Shrine, during which people compose haiku, write them on strips of paper, and then hang them on the hagi bushes.

Nashinoki Shrine is well known as an excellent place to view hagi (bush clover). About one thousand clover bushes are planted here. Over this holiday weekend (September 17-19), tanzaku (strips of fancy paper) bearing haiku written by poetry lovers are hung on the branches of the clover bushes, which are at their best at this time of year. Selected tanzaku are used to decorate red and white clover bushes arranged in a bamboo tube. Then, together with a suzumushi (cricket) in an insect basket, it is dedicated to the deity of the shrine. In the oratory of the shrine, kyogen, Japanese dance, and koto music are performed, while outdoors in the grounds of the shrine, a tea ceremony is held.

Hagi is also to be seen in abundance at Jorin-ji Temple on the east side of Kawabata, just north of Imadegawa.

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: personalized quality private travel services all over Japan since 1992. To learn more, visit our site (www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com) or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

Monday, September 12, 2016

North Korean Aligned Protesters in Japan say No to THAAD

在日韓国民主統一連合

Korean Japanese demonstrate for peace in Ueno, Tokyo.

There are about 900,000 people of Korean descent living in Japan, less than a third of whom are naturalized Japanese citizens. The Japanese Korean People's Unification Alliance (Zainichi Kankoku Minshu Toitsu Rengo (在日韓国民主統一連合) is an association of Korean nationals - most of them born in Japan - who support the cause of reunification of the Korean peninsula - but under the auspices of North Korea.

There was a small band of Zainichi Kankoku Minshu Toitsu Rengo members dressed in traditional Korean costume, banging drums, bearing a banner reading "Peace Campaign" (ピース・キャンペーン in katakana), and handing out pamphlets in the Ueno district of Tokyo yesterday, beside the entrance to Ueno Park and the Keisei Ueno Railway station.

I stopped and took a photo and talked to one of the guys handing out pamphlets. It so turned out they were protesting against the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system to be used in South Korea to counter the new threat of North Korean nuclear weapons.


Anti-THAAD pamphlet by a North-Korea-aligned Japanese Korean group in Tokyo.
The anti-THAAD side of the pamphlet I received
He also gave me a pre-printed postcard addressed to the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, and featuring, among other things, two pictures of the late "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, shaking hands with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. He asked me to please write an anti-THAAD message on it, affix a stamp to it, and post it. I said I'd read the pamphlet first.

Anti--Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) pamphlet by a North-Korea-aligned Japanese Korean group in Tokyo.
Anti--Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG)  side of the pamphlet I received.

One side of the pamphlet is anti-THAAD, the other side is anti-Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG), the massive military exercises conducted by South Korea and the United States every year since 1976, the posited opponent in the exercise being North Korea.

North Korea gets a brief mention in the pamphlet, not as a belligerent, but simply as a country that should not be provoked and with which dialog should be sought.

Anti-THAAD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye, the President of South Korea, given to me at Ueno Park, Tokyo.
Anti-THADD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye

Japanese Koreans who align themselves with North Korea are not as vocal or powerful as they were up to a decade or so ago, partly because the  General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, AKA Chongryon, no longer enjoys the funding it used to by an increasingly hard up North Korea, and also because the anti-Korean discrimination in Japan which bolstered the organization's raison d'etre is not as strong and widespread as it used to be.

Anti-THAAD postcard for posting to Park Geun-hye - the side to write a personal message on.
Message side of the anti-THAAD postcard to Korean President Park Geun-hye.

However, pockets of activity like we got to see on Sunday in the Ueno shopping district show that apologists for the North Korea regime still have a considerable voice here in Japan.


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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Japan News This Week 11 September 2016

今週の日本

Japan News.
In the Land of the Robot, Androids Are on the March
New York Times

Japan investigators say no bribery in Tokyo Olympic payment
BBC

'Haafu' and proud: Miss World Japan won by mixed-race contestant
Guardian

The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making
538

Despite dwindling momentum, Koizumi pursues anti-nuclear goals
Japan Times

From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

According to. a UNESCO report on global education, just 7 countries will meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 (universal secondary education) by 2030.

They are Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, and South Korea.

To read the fascinating report, click below.

 
Source: Guardian

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka - Subtle Plainness

赤坂四川飯店


Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka - one of the more elegant corners.
An elegant corner of Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan.

Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka has been serving Szechwan cuisine in Tokyo since 1970, and is famous as being the first restaurant to introduce Szechwan cuisine to Japan. The current owner, Chen Kenichi - son of the founder - is also famous as the "Iron Chef Chinese" on the Iron Chef TV series.

Kenichi's son, Kentaro, runs another of the several Szechwan Restaurants in Tokyo: the Szechwan Restaurant Chen, in Shibuya.

Thick saucy meatballs on rice at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka.


A group of us went to Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka last Sunday for dinner, and we chose it because one of us is a vegetarian, and Szechwan Restaurant, with its extensive choice of tofu-based dishes, has a reputation for particularly vegetarian friendly Chinese food.

 Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka is, properly speaking, in Hirakawacho, not Akasaka, which is across Aoyama-dori (Route 246). Hirakawacho is much more a business district than it is residential, so Sunday evening was somewhat empty. Like most restaurants in this part of Tokyo, it no doubt relies more on lunch than dinner.

Eggplant and long bean dishes, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
The delicious start to our meal at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.


Szechwan Restaurant is on the 5th and 6th floor, with a somewhat elegant entrance, albeit in that heavy, wooden Chinese style, but relieved by being bright and spacious. Inside the restaurant is quite plain, with just a few big paintings and pieces of calligraphy on the walls as decoration. For friends, the atmosphere is great: unpretentious and friendly, but the lack of sophistication in the decor might not make it the ideal spot for that someone special.

Plain and simple decor at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Plain and simple interior, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.


This lack of pretension extends to the food which could also be described as quite plain, but the kind of plainness you know would be fiendishly difficult to reproduce yourself. The accent is on the innate flavors of the ingredients.

There are course meals (about 20,000 yen with a minimum order of two people), but we went for a la carte, served in a pot from which everyone helped themselves, or which we got a waiter to dish out for us.

Soup dish at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.


First up was eggplant in pickled chili pepper sauce, stewed to tenderness without any mushiness, together with sliced onion, and served with a slice of lemon. The browned string beans with ground pork were still quite firm and with some crunch, and accompanied by a very crunchy deep-fried rice cracker.

The two most memorable dishes for me were the chicken wings, which were stewed to a really nice tenderness and which, like everything else, were not over-seasoned. The other, the spicy tofu dish, was memorable for being incredibly spicy - too much for my liking, it actually made me cough and sneeze (and I'm basically a big fan of spicy, as in Indian food!)

Super spiciness in the form of tofu at at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Tofu, the spiciest dish of the evening at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.


Some of us had the mango shaved ice for dessert, others the rice cake with coconut.

One other flavor that will stick in my mind - along with that chicken - is the pu-erh tea served at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka. It was superb: the perfect balance between a no-nonsense cuppa and exotically fragranced tea. It was so good I asked if I could buy a jar, which they graciously let me do.

A shaved ice mango dessert at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo.
Mango and shaved ice at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka, Tokyo - with that delicious pu-erh tea.
Conclusion: if you're vegetarian and want to eat good Chinese food, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka is a good place to go. The food is not haute cuisine in looks or flavor, but tends more to the homely, so if you're looking for "glamor" in terms of presentation and atmosphere, this might not be the place for you. However, if you're looking for very well cooked, elegant, authentic Szechwan food and friendly, attentive service, Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka gets top marks.





Lunch at Szechwan Restaurant Akasaka starts at about 3,000 or 4,000 yen per head, with dinner starting at about 5,000 or 6,000 yen.

Hours: 11.30am-3pm (last order 2pm), 5pm-10pm (last order 9pm), open every day except at Year End/New Year.

5F, 6F, Zenkoku Ryokan Kaikan, 2-5-5 Hirakawacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-0093
http://www.sisen.jp/
Tel. 03-3263-9371

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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Sushi Noike in Yanaka - Unagi Eel Paradise

すし乃池 谷中

Sushi Noike, an English-friendly sushi shop in Sendagi, Tokyo.
The kawaii front of Sushi Noike, Yanaka

 Yanaka is one of Tokyo's most charming districts - albeit in an old, often dilapidated, way. A friend and I met there for lunch this past, sunny Saturday. We rendezvoused at the West Exit of Nippori Station (a very difficult station to traverse from east to west if you're on a bicycle!).

We walked through Yanaka cemetery, which might sound somber, but it's not. The avenue through the cemetery is a vista of cherry trees that, in summer, provide welcome, dappled shade.

My friend told me about a sushi shop in Yanaka that he remembered visiting about twenty years ago. Sushi sounded great, so that's where we headed. With a little help from Google Maps on our iPhones, we found Sushi Noike after about a 15 minute walk heading in the Sendagi Station direction.

Sitting at the counter of Sushi Noike, Yanaka, Tokyo.
At the counter of Sushi Noike

(Some background about me and sushi. I love sushi. I've never had a problem with run-of-the-mill mass-consumer sushi shops like kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) or anywhere like that. But just as often as not, I find the old, established sushi shops (i.e., usually the best ones in terms of the quality of the sushi) to be foreigner-unfriendly. The latest experience was just a few weeks ago in Okachimachi, when my partner and I decided to try one of the old sushi shops there that we often go past when out shopping in Okachimachi.

Luck of the draw, maybe - but the one in Okachimachi we walked into at random was a big mistake. First, there was hardly anyone there - a bad sign. Then, the toothless old guy who served us was initially struck dumb at the sight of a foreigner (even though I was with my Japanese partner), and before long the other chef started making snide, audible jokes about "gaijin" to the group of guests alongside us at the counter, who all goggled and giggled at us. The only relief was that we didn't have to say as we closed the door behind us, "But it tasted superb, didn't it!" - because it didn't.)

Anyway ... to my relief, as an old, established sushi shop, Sushi Noike was nothing like that. There were several people there - a good sign, including several young people. The welcome from the middle-aged woman (the wife, I guess) who served the guests  was matter-of-fact but friendly for a sushi shop. We sat at the counter, near the door.

Sushi Noike is famous for its eel (unagi) sushi, so we ordered a plate of unagi-zushi, and a plate of assorted sushi. We started with a bottle of beer while the sushi was being prepared, and caught up on what had passed since we last met.

My friend is between jobs now, I learned, but is using some of his time to view - or re-view - classic movies. It was interesting to hear him tell me, for example, how John Wayne movies moved from good cowboy/bad Indian to much more nuanced depictions as the years went by.

Good-looking sushi at Sushi Noike, Yanaka, Tokyo, Japan.
Good-looking and great-tasting sushi at Sushi Noike

The unagi-zushi was divine: rich and soft - and really melted in the mouth. The other plate also included one of my favorites, ikura, which my friend kindly let me poach. The rice was the ideal firmness for the softness of the unagi, with no dryness, wetness or odd flavors, but clean-tasting and just the right chewiness. And the sushi pieces were on the generous side in terms of volume, both of rice and of topping, and looked really smart and handsome sitting there on the plate from being put together beautifully and in good healthy colors from the ingredients being fresh.

Square blue dish at Sushi Noike, Sendagi, Tokyo.
Dish at Sushi Noike
I love ginger, and the slices of ginger served with the sushi were particularly good - probably because well-sourced and super-fresh.

The owner is a mild-mannered, middle-aged chef who spoke with us now and then, such as when I asked him about the old clock on the wall: "It's not actually that old - about thirty years, I think. An Italian clock" - suggesting that time ticks very slowly indeed at Sushi Noike!

Sushi Noike near Sendagi Station is a popular Tokyo sushi restaurant.
Customers at Sushi Noike, Tokyo
The clock was just one of the many, various decorations that adorn Sushi Noike. There were all sorts of kawaii things - especially the dolls - in the window, and plenty to make conversation about inside, too. I'm a big fan of nice chinaware, and the little cobalt blue dishes here were very pretty.

The two plates of sushi and the beer came to 5,700 yen - not a price I'd want to pay every day for my lunch, but definitely worth it once in a while for sushi that good and in an atmosphere that pleasant.

Cut with the name "Sushi Noike" on it in kanji and hiragana.
Sushi Noike's own cup
Sushi Noike hours are 11.30am-2pm (last order 1.30pm) then 4.30pm-10pm (last order 9.30pm) from   Monday to Saturday; and 11.30am-8pm (last order 7.30pm) on Sundays and public holidays.

Sushi Noike is closed every Wednesday.

Sushi Noike is best accessed from Sendagi Station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line C-15) - a two minute walk along Route 452.

Sushi Noike English language website

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