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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Conversation with Hal Gold from 1997

A Conversation with Hal Gold from 1997.
Writer, historian, critic, and long-time Kyoto resident, Hal Gold (July 24, 1929 - March 25, 2009) lived in Kyoto for over 30 years, and was a well-known writer on Japan-related subjects.

He passed away in Kyoto at the beginning of the 21st century. This interview took place in 1997.

His published works include a series of essays on Japan (Japan in a Sake Cup), a few books in Japanese, a book which focused on Japan as a right-brain society, as well as a number of articles on turn-of-the-century Kyoto development. His most recently published work, Unit 731 Testimony (Charles E. Tuttle Co., Ltd.), deals with the war crimes of the Japanese army connected with medical experiments conducted on live prisoners in Manchuria between 1932 and 1945.

What is it about Kyoto that interests you?

Gold: My own interest in Kyoto lies in the post-Meiji Restoration period, which, in my opinion, has received far too little attention. I am especially interested in the technological lead Kyoto took in Japan after the restoration. In those days, Kyoto had the reputation of doing everything first in Japan's educational reform, electricity, physics, chemistry. For centuries, the economy of the city had been built on the imperial court and surrounding structures. Then, all of a sudden, the whole economic basis of the city collapsed when the emperor and the entire court apparatus moved to Tokyo. Kyoto was in shock and lethargy. Those who remained, and the many ambitious people who came in from outside the city, realized that the only way to replace the lost imperial-based economy was to pursue technology. This incredible historical discontinuity, if you will, makes this period very interesting.

In terms of infrastructure, how did Kyoto become so advanced, who was involved?

Gold: After the Restoration, when the whole country was reorganized from fiefdoms into prefectures, Kyoto Prefecture became a political entity. Kyoto City was only set up 22 years later. In the early days, Kyoto Prefecture set up the seimikyoku, an organization aimed at implementing Western advances in physics and chemistry. Using the new sciences to develop new products, a number of different study centers were set up. At one time there was even a big Dutch-type windmill where City Hall stands today, which was being used for agricultural research and experimental irrigation methods.

Can you illustrate a good example of this turn-of-the-century promotion in terms of modern-day technology?

Gold: Look inside almost any electronic appliance and there's liable to be a component supplied by a Kyoto company. Kyoto has numerous small to medium companies in highly specialized areas of technology, usually related to the production processes of other products. Kyotoites sometimes remark that the city's high-tech ceramics are rooted in the traditional Kiyomizu pottery industry. However, it's a long way from tea cups to semi-conductors. There had to be something that happened in between there. It took me a long time to find out what the missing link was, which is the subject of several articles I have written, and hopefully will be part of a book I'm planning right now.

Kyoto has been your home for the past 30 years, have you had any difficulties living here?

Gold: It is a well-known complaint amongst the Japanese that Kyoto people are most difficult in all of Japan. It might be true, but it's no accident. In a way, it's their right. For hundreds of years Kyoto was invaded by one army after the other, and because of this Kyoto citizens learned to put on a face that was the same to friend and foe alike. A great portion of Kyoto society was made up of kuge (lower class nobility) households. The kuge had social rank but no real authority. This meant that when a farmer came to a kuge household and asked, "May I leave my wagon in that empty lot over there?" the kuge didn't have the authority to say yes or no. However, the kuge had to maintain his position, and so they became very adept at using language that didn't mean anything but which maintained their image of position and rank. This kind of language and interaction has remained very much part of the Kyoto manner of communication today. It irritates a lot of Japanese, and some non-Japanese people also, but that's history, and there's really no one to blame.

What would you say is great about Japan, something that you can't find in American life?

Gold: Well, I’m from New York. In New York, of course, one's living environment can be quite hostile. One of the beautiful things about living in Japan is that you don't have think about those kinds of things at all. This frees up a lot of energy. For a city of its size, life in Kyoto is about as safe and serene as it gets. All the same, I often wish for some of that Meiji era ambition and foresight on the part of the local government.

What are your favorite places in Kyoto?

Gold: I often jog up Daimonji mountain, and I am very interested in its history. Daimonji is owned by 50 some odd families who are my neighbors, people who have been there for years, I mean generations. One almost unknown theory is that the fire on the mountain in the shape of the ideograph dai (大; great) which is lit every August was originally a star shape. Kobo Daishi probably absorbed this knowledge from the Far East in the 8th century. According to some sources, the mon was created to symbolize a star because Kobo Daishi wanted to spread the belief that stars contained human destiny. Kobo Daishi brought all sorts of philosophies and dogmas from different religions to Japan. He started the Mikkyo Shingon sect, which has a star festival. No other Buddhist sect believes in the stars. Shingon also is unique for its practice of fire worship, which is part of what Bon fire rituals are all about. I also like to jog along Tetsugaku-no-michi. I especially love the little waterfall near the shrine at the southern end of Tetsugaku-no-michi. A while ago, my wife and I went to Argentina and saw the huge Iguazu falls. Liquid awe! After we came back to Kyoto, I took my first jog and went to see the tiny waterfall. It looked great, and I understood the meaning of the old adage, itteki taikai, literally, a drop of water is an ocean.

Your latest book is about a very controversial subject. Any comments?

Gold: Unit 731 is not just about Japanese history; it's also about American history. Very few people are aware of the fact that the American military made a deal with the Unit 731 leaders. We promised not to prosecute them in return for the medical knowledge they obtained from their horrible experiments. Now that the leaders are nearly all dead, the crimes are starting to come into the limelight. Early last December, the US Justice Department came out and said that 16 people formerly connected to 731 would not be admitted to the US. The big question is why then. Some people claim that it was because the Hiroshima Dome was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which America opposed. Whatever the reasons, the testimonies I have collected and translated in this book reveal a lot Japan's human experimentation program, the American secret data-for-freedom swap, and the continuing effects of Unit-731 morality in Japanese medicine and industry today, including the outbreak of AIDS through tainted blood products.

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). 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.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 30, 2017

Furuiwaya-so Kumakogen

Kokuminshukusha literally means "citizens lodgings" and are hotels operated by local governments. Often they have good locations and are reasonably priced, and such is the case with Furuiwaya-so in the mountains of Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

Furuiwaya-so is located across the road from Furuiwaya, a collection of rock formations some towering up to 100 meters, and a popular scenic spot.

Many of the rooms have views out onto the formations. It is also close to Iwaya-ji Temple, one of the 88 temples of the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage and so is also a popular place to stay for pilgrims.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

There are standard western-style rooms with beds and Japanese-style rooms with tatami and futons. Some of both types have ensuite toilets and bathrooms, and some don't. The hotel has it's own onsen. The restaurant has great views.

There are the standard facilities, though the wifi only works in the first floor reception/ restaurant area. With the increasing number of non-Japanese visitors walking the pilgrimage they have plenty of experience dealing with foreigners and speak a little English.

Furuiwaya-so, Kumakogen.

A single room starts at only 4,500 yen. I paid 6,800 for a six tatami room with alcove and views, ensuite toilet and bathroom, and two meals. I left early in the morning before the restaurant opened and so they prepared some onigiri for me the evening before.

1636 Naose
Ehime 791-1213
Tel: 0892 41 0431

* If you would like us to reserve a room for you here or at other accommodations in Japan please contact us.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Japan News This Week 29 October 2017


Japan News This Week.

Subaru Admits Inspection Failings, in Another Blow to Japan’s Carmakers
New York Times

Japan teen 'forced to dye hair black' for school

Japan's antinuke resolution passes, but support down from past years
The Mainichi

What now for Japan after Abe's landslide election victory?

Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


2016 witnessed a large number of bullying cases among school children. According to the Ministry of Education, there were more than 320,000 incidents of bullying. That is a 40% increase from the previous year.

The majority of the cases occurred in elementary schools, and were arguments or typical childhood quarrels.

By prefecture (state), Kyoto led the way with 96.8 cases per 1,000 students. At the other end, rural Kagawa had just 5.0.

Editorial note: Like many other "problems" in Japanese society, the "dramatic increase" in recent years is part in due to more scrutiny and increased reporting. We wonder though how much more common bullying actually is now than in the past.

Source: Asahi Shinbun, 27 Oct 2017, page 37

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, October 28, 2017

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot


This walk (about 2 miles in length and packed with stuff to look at and enjoy) will take the average person about 3 hours to complete (not including lunch).

From Saga to Arashiyama On Foot.

The walk leads through one of Kyoto's most popular tourist areas and is very easy to follow.

It's best to start in the morning around 11am or so. To time this trip perfectly get the exact departure times for the Torokko train (from Torokko Saga Station) that will take you to where the Hozugawakudari River run begins; the last boat usually departs around 4pm, so you will have to board the train by 3pm or so (the train and the boat schedules are linked).

To start the ramble, take a taxi to Torii no moto, the large orange shrine torii gate that marks the beginning of the Atago Mountain precinct (Atago-san is the highest peak on the western ridge and the shrine is home to a powerful fire protection deity).

This red torii marks the start of a pilgrimage route to the top of Mt. Atago. On either side of the torii are huge 400 year-old tea houses that have served pilgrims and visitors for centuries. Meals are also served at both places (about 10,000 yen; reservations necessary). But for hardly anything you can enjoy a bowl of tea inside their ancient smoke-darkened interior.

To start the walk turn your back to the torii gate. With the gate to your back, turn left up the gentle slope, until you come to the unusual temple of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji on your left. An English pamphlet is available upon request.

On the hilly grounds of this temple the visitor will find a wonderful array of carved stone figures, characterized by big smiles and joyful energy. After leaving the temple, trace your steps back to where you started (the torii gate) and follow the road past the tea houses downhill.

After about 200 meters you will come to a stone stairway on your right leading up to Adashino Nenbutsu-ji (化野念仏寺), a stunning temple that is famous for its thousands of stone Buddhist images, originally unmarked graves of the poor.

Follow the route downhill. On your left are a number of colorful shops that cater to the many tourists that come to this area (especially during maple leaf season in November). Where the shops come to an end, the road will fork. Stay right here. After about 250 meters, you will come to a pathway leading sharply off to the right. This path leads into the green grounds of two temples (Gio-ji and Takiguchi-dera).

Gio-ji Temple, Kyoto.

One of the several versions of the story behind simple yet beautifully landscaped Gio-ji Temple is special. Gio and her sister Gijo were Heian Period dancers. Gio became the mistress of Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181), a famous military leader. When he became smitten with Gijo, he banished Gio from his mansion. A year later, Gijo, filled with remorse for Gio, decided to join her at this secluded retreat. They lived out their days in prayer, waiting for this transient life and its humiliations to end.

Further along this knoll lies Takiguichi-dera Temple where a young woman once is said to have written a farewell poem on a stone in her own blood after being denied for the second time by the man she loved (the priest who founded the temple). Exit the grounds of these two temples and then follow the road further to the right. After another 200 meters or so, you will come to the bucolic thatched hut known as Rakushisha on your left.

Translated to mean the Cottage of the Fallen Persimmon, this site was visited by the famous haiku poet Basho. A great number of stones in the garden are inscribed with poems (translations for some are given in the pamphlet).

A little further on a path leads sharply off to the right into the grounds of Jojakko-ji Temple, which sits on the top of mossy hill. Note the wonderfully ancient thatched-roof gate. After exiting the temple grounds, turn right again and you will soon come to a pond on your right. Walk past the pond and follow the path around to the right. Soon you will come to a gentle, forested road leading up to your right. This road leads into the five-acre, former estate of Ohkochi Denjiro, Japan's legendary silent film era star.

Known as Ohkochi Sanso, this attractive garden and teahouse complex is open to the public. The views from Mt. Ogura, where Ohkochi Sanso lies, have been celebrated in classical poetry since the 9th century. At the end of the villa tour, you will come to a place where you can have a bowl of refreshing (for the Japanese at least) whipped tea (matcha).

As you exit the ground of the villa, turn right and then left and enter a fairly large bamboo forest. After about 200 meters, you will see a gate on your right side which is the back (north) entrance to the vast grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple (天竜寺; Heavenly Dragon Temple).

Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto.

Tenryu-ji, a major Rinzai Zen sect temple, built in 1339 by the first Ashikaga shogun, once ranked as the largest Zen monastery in western Japan, with 120 sub-temples. The temple's perfectly designed garden (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185); it was brilliantly re-stylized by Muso Soseki in the 13th century.

Exit the temple grounds through the main gate and you will find yourself in the center of the swirl that is Arashiyama (Storm Mountain). To your right is the pleasant river scene for which the area is well known.

For the boat ride walk to Torokko Saga Station (トロッコ嵯峨駅) adjacent to Saga Arashiyama Station.

From the station take the scenic, colorful, open-air train to Kameoka (about 30 minutes away) and then the free shuttle bus to the river where you will catch a river boat for the mild, white-water ride back down to Arashiyama.

Hozugawa River Trip, Arashiyama, Kyoto.

The train leaves Kameoka every hour at 35 minutes past. The boat leaves on the hour (except for the last one at 3.30pm). The train ride takes about 30 minutes  The boat ride takes about 90 minutes-2 hours.

The Torokko train leaves from two stations (Torokko Saga and Torokko Arashiyama).

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Stroll Through Kojimachi

麹町 平河町

I went through the Kojimachi and Hirakawacho area of Tokyo today, on the western edge of the Imperial Palace, near the Hanzomon Gate and Hanzomon Station. The following are a few casual snaps I took.

Demae in Kojimachi, Tokyo, Japan.
Demae, Kojimachi
Demae (出前) is what traditional food delivery is called in Japan, and this guy makes for a typical sight on the streets of Tokyo, carrying bowls of food, probably to workers on a nearby construction site. Traditional though this style of delivery may be, you can't fault it for its efficiency, what with about a dozen bowls making the smooth journey from restaurant to customer, no time-consuming loading or unloading involved, using nothing anymore sophisticated than a well-balanced tray and a pair of legs. Food deliveries in Japan are often by bicycle or motor scooter, but here legs are all that are needed.

Demae food delivery in Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Demae II
Sidewalks in Japan are touch and go - often they're there, often they're not, and there's a lot more of what an English speaker might call jaywalking than you'd expect, with space for pedestrians and space for vehicles being more or less shared in many cases. Here our demae guy walks smack down the middle of this Kojimachi backstreet, that, as you can probably tell, is a pretty quiet one. That street sign he's walking over says "Stop" (Tomare).

Magazine-reading man on Kojimachi sidewalk, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Gentleman reading a magazine in Kojimachi
It's not just the roads that are fairly quiet in most of Kojimachi, the footpaths don't get too crowded, either. Here a businessman from one of the hundreds of companies that make Kojimachi and Hirakawacho their home has a leisurely read while strolling.

Buying a drink on the streets of Hirakawacho.
Buying a drink in Hirakawacho
Drink vending machines in Japan are a nice little money spinner for people lucky enough to own property that lots of people go past every day. They're commonly found on parking lots and in front of buildings like this one, making use of otherwise waste space. Here a woman rummages for change to buy a can of something from the Kirin machine (Kirin makes lots of other beverages besides beer!) The "N1B" sprayed on the side could be for management's reference or it could be an example of what in Japan is quite rare (but in this case incredibly boring) graffiti.

Construction site in Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Construction site
Buildings in Japan get cut down and pop up again like mushrooms, with few buildings taking more than about a year to build, and few lasting more than about 40 years. That means construction sites everywhere, all the time. In the fairly cramped streets of Tokyo, that often means congestion, too, with trucks and cranes servicing the construction site coming and going. Here a shidouin (person whose job it is to direct traffic - but you can't really call them "traffic wardens") red baton at the ready, stands facing a vehicle about to leave the site, waiting until I have passed when he will direct it out with big sweeping gestures and maybe some cries. Most of these guys are in their late-40's to 60's, probably used to be construction workers themselves, and are no doubt just eking out a living - but it beats sitting at home alone drawing the dole.

Yakult sellers, Hirakawacho, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
Yakult sellers
Sharing the vibe of the demae guy at the top bearing lunch, these Yakult sellers push their product through the streets of Hirakawacho for that one-on-one touch that the Japanese have traditionally preferred when it comes to purchasing. Their red-and-white jackets are quite snappy, but the covers on the cart are in that insipid gray-green and rainy-day-pink that is typical of the interior decor of medical facilities in Japan. I once stopped to buy a little bottle of Yakult from a seller who I encountered just one street down from this one, and she kindly gave it to me and wouldn't accept any money.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Kyocera Museum of Art Dawn of Restoration Exhibition

The Kyocera Museum of Art will host a new exhibition: Dawn of Restoration - Exhibition Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Toba-Fushimi from October 28 - December 3.

Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama by Kunihiro Utagawa
Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama by Kunihiro Utagawa
The exhibition will feature approximately 60 pieces including "Great Victory of the Combined Imperial Forces of Mori and Shimayama," printed on colored woodblock called nishiki-e that describes the Battle of Toba-Fushimi at the time and Osaka Castle in flames, the kawaraban newspapers published in the Edo Period and a drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto where Ryoma Sakamoto, a key historical figure in the Meiji Restoration, was treated after being injured in the Teradaya Incident, an attempted assassination.

A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth  Shogun (a portion) by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka.
A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth  Shogun (a portion) by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka
The woodblock "A Record of the Years of Tokugawa Rule Lord Tokugawa Yoshinobu the Fifteenth Shogun" by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka shows the shogun's escape from Osaka to Edo (Tokyo) by sea.
Drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto.
Drawing of the Satsuma Residence in Fushimi, Kyoto
Magojiro Ata, a Satsuma Clan soldier’s helmet (Courtesy of Jonangu Shrine).
Magojiro Ata, a Satsuma Clan soldier’s helmet (Courtesy of Jonangu Shrine)
The Kyocera Museum of Art
(Kyocera Corporation Global Head Office, 1st floor)
6 Takeda Tobadono-cho, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City, Japan 612-8501
Access: global.kyocera.com
Dates: October 28 (Saturday) through December 3 (Sun), 2017
*The museum will be open every day during this special exhibition. Hours 10am to 5pm (last admission at 4.30pm)
Admission: Free
Exhibits: Approximately 60 items

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

Learning Japanese With Language Apps

Visiting Japan has been a big part of my life since 2010, but learning to speak and understand the Japanese language has not. One day a friend of mine, fluent in English and Tagalog, asked me why. I had not one good reason but many poor excuses: "I'm lazy, I'm too old, and I can't be bothered."

But her question got me to thinking. Whenever I was in Japan I was often seized by an intense desire to speak the language of the natives. But at those times , completely unbidden, high school Spanish would fill my head. A phrase like "Esta Susana en casa?" uttered in Japan was as helpful as you would guess. I continued to let my daughter do all the reading, writing, speaking, and translation of Japanese that we needed.

Learning Japanese with Memrise.

Then one day I tuned into a YouTube channel featuring Rachel and Jun. Rachel was discussing ways to learn Japanese, and she recommended choosing a method that suited your learning style. She added that sometimes learning Japanese could be very difficult, but you just have to push your way through it. All of this struck me as honest and realistic.

Memrise ranking.

I began to research some online programs and I decided upon Memrise Pro. I spent just over a year working my way through Japanese I, Japanese II, Japanese III, Japanese Particles, and Katakana. Japanese I was a real eye-opener, and it was a huge challenge for me, but I persevered through the last lesson. I ended up ranked as #272 of all time, har. Good job, eh? But as I immersed myself into Japanese II, all of a sudden things started making sense. At the end of the course I was ranked #10. I improved even more in Japanese III and reached #5 of all time. I felt as if I could communicate a bit, and that felt great.

Cats' kanji.

As with most subjects on the Internet, language apps can evoke strong and varying opinions. I think the best program of all is the one that you will stick with. I'm continuing my studies with a workbook on kanji. There are just so... many of them! But it has become a pleasure to learn Japanese and I'm up for the challenge.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Japan News This Week 22 October 2017


Japan News.
The Death of Liberalism in Japan
New York Times

Japan's snap election explained

Ex-Kobe Steel workers say data tampering going on for dozens of years
The Mainichi

Terrace House: the must-watch Japanese reality show in which nothing happens

Backstory to Abe’s Snap Election – the Secrets of Moritomo, Kake and the “Missing” Japan SDF Activity Logs
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


According to a survey by the Japanese Society of Legal Medicine, in 2015 some 19,000 Japanese died while taking a bath. This is 4 times the number of those who perished in traffic accidents in the same year. Bathing deaths begin to spike in early October, peaking in December and January.

The second area of the home to be wary of, according to the same survey, is the toilet. There roughly 5% of sudden deaths occur, mainly from strokes that fell the elderly.

To avoid health incidents in the bath, the Society recommends the following: limit bath time to 10 minutes, keep the temperature at 41 (Celsius) degrees or lower, and get out of the bath slowly,

Source: Gendai Nikkan (tabloid newspaper), 18 Oct 2017, page 11

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, October 20, 2017



ariki is a word you sometimes see or hear in Japanese that is usually used after the word ketsuron, which means "conclusion."

ari is from the word aru (to have, to be - depending on the context) and the now antiquated ki, which was an auxiliary verb used to express reminiscing. Reminiscing is always about the past, so ariki was, in effect, the past tense of aru, or, what is now atta.

Setting aside the ketsuron ariki phrase for a moment (which we'll get to in a bit), the most famous use of ariki is in the Japanese translation of the Bible, specifically the opening verse of the Gospel of John which, in English, goes, "In the beginning was the Word." In Japanese this is hajime ni kotoba ariki はじめに言葉ありき.

The autobiography of the prolific Japanese author, Ayako Miura (1922-99) was called Michi Ariki (renamed "The Wind is Howling" in the English language version), meaning "in the beginning was the road" - no doubt reflecting her conversion to Christianity later in life.

So from its original meaning back in ancient times of simply referring to something in the past, ariki now has the meaning of "in the beginning." Apply that to "conclusion" (ketsuron ariki) and you have the meaning of the conclusion, the outcome, having come first. We have a phrase for this in English, a foregone conclusion, which, as with ketsuron ariki, usually has negative connotations.

ketsuron ariki is very much part of the politician's verbal armory in Japan, used when criticizing an outcome that the speaker believes was decided on beforehand, whatever may come - therefore implying that the result was rigged, and that the discussions or procedures gone through prior to the outcome were fake and for show only.

Yet, in common parlance ariki can have a much more pedestrian meaning. I was recently wondering where to eat in the delightfully bohemian Shimokitazawa district of Tokyo, and looked up a few reviews on Tabelog.com, a restaurant information site in Japanese. One restaurant I went to, a pizzeria in Shimokitazawa called Da Oggi was described by a reviewer as making pizza that was guzai ariki, i.e., that "started with the topping," - in other words, it was a pizzeria that put its all into getting the toppings right" as opposed to the normal approach of "kiji ariki" or "starting with the crust" which, he believed, was the approach most pizzerias took, getting the crust just the right consistency before worrying about getting the topping right. I could kind of see what he meant. The crust wasn't as chewy as I was used to, but it certainly wasn't crisp, either - but the topping on my Margherita was out of this world!

If you've read this far, then I have a confession to make. In sitting down to write this, I was more interested in getting you to go to my new Shimokitazawa Cafes and Restaurants page than have you understand the meaning of ariki. Yes, this conclusion is well and truly foregone! Go on - shout it at me: "Ketsuron ariki yaro!" ("yaro" being an intensifier when yelling abuse at someone). But I hope you like the page. I'll be adding to it following more trips to that coolest of spots, Shimokitazawa, with some great little places to people-watch and dine, and with its wonderful Shimokitazawa shopping scene.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 16, 2017

Art Tower Mito

The Art Tower Mito (ATM) in Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture is a multi-media arts center and performance space incorporating a concert hall, theater and art gallery.

Art Tower Mito Ibaraki Prefecture.

Art Tower Mito opened in 1990 and can be seen from all over Mito thanks to the 100 meter-tall steel tower in its grounds. The Concert Hall ATM has a resident ensemble, the Mito Chamber Orchestra (MCO), and also hosts a variety of other musical events in all genres by both Japanese and foreign musicians.

Art Tower Mito.

The ACM Theater also has a resident acting company and hosts performances by both professionals and amateurs. The theater space can hold an audience of over 600 people.

The Contemporary Art Gallery consists of nine galleries and is focused exclusively on contemporary art. Exhibitions usually include explanatory talks of the work.

Art Tower Mito.

Art Tower Mito Ibaraki

Art Tower Mito
1-6-8 Gokencho
Mito, Ibaraki 310-0063
Tel: 029 227 8111

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Japan News This Week 15 October 2017


Japan News This Week.

Seeking Solitude in Japan’s Mountain Monasteries
New York Times

Dentsu's overtime fine puts spotlight on Japan's work culture

LDP eyes solid victory as Koike's party lags behind: Kyodo poll
The Mainichi

Fukushima evacuee to tell UN that Japan violated human rights

Thinking About Coercion in the Context of Prostitution: Japan’s Military ‘Comfort Women’ and Contemporary Sexually-Exploited Women
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


In 2014, Japan spent 3.4% of its GDP on education. That is far below the OECD average of 4.4%.

On a per capita (child) basis, however, public expenditures on education came to 23% of Japan's GDP, which is the OECD average.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, October 13, 2017

Senyuji Temple Shukubo


Shukubo, lodgings within a Buddhist temple, are a wonderful way to not only get some decent-priced accommodation, but also to gain some insights and experiences not available at regular hotels.

Senyuji Temple Shukubo Ehime

For many visitors to Japan a visit to Koyasan, the massive monastic complex on a mountain in Wakayama, will involve a stay in a shukubo, but they exist all over Japan, and Kyoto has quite a few shukubo. On Shikoku, because of the large number of people doing the famous 88 temple pilgrimage known as Ohenro, there are more than a dozen shukubo.

Senyuji Temple Shukubo Ehime Prefecture Shikoku

I recently stayed at the one at Senyuji Temple (仙遊寺), the 58th temple of the pilgrimage located on a mountaintop near Imabari in Ehime Prefecture.

The Shukubo is in a very new, modern building situated right next to the main hall. The rooms range in size from singles to family/group rooms and are all Japanese style with futons, not beds.

Senyuji Temple Shukubo Ehime Prefecture Shikoku.

The bathrooms and toilets are shared. The price is very reasonable, only 6,000 yen including breakfast and evening meal. The food is shojin ryori, Buddhist cuisine, so vegetarians and vegans will have no problem.

They say much of the food is grown in the temple's own gardens. Alcohol is served for those that wish. Located at more than 250 meters above sea level there are stupendous views down on the surrounding countryside and across the Inland Sea. Imabari and the bridges connecting the Shimanami Kaido really show up at night.

Senyuji Temple Shukubo Ehime Prefecture Shikoku.

Before breakfast there is a short service in the main hall, but it is not mandatory. The nearest public transport still involves a one hour walk to the temple, so you need your own transportation.

Senyuji Temple Shukubo
483 Bessho-ko, Tamagawa-cho
Ehime 794-0113
Tel: 0898 55 2141

* If you wish us to reserve accommodation for you at this shukubo or other lodgings in Japan for a small fee, please contact us.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Uji City Walking Routes

Uji City is located in the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture and is well know for its rich cultural history and heritage. The city is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites (Ujigami Shrine and Byodo-in Temple) and is blessed with the rich natural surroundings of the Uji River.

Uji: Favored Spot of the Fujiwara.

Uji is also the setting for the 10 last chapters of the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), one of Japan's earliest novels, written by Murasaki-shikibu in the Heian Period (794-1185). There are two especially fine walking routes in the city that offer the visitor a chance to experience Uji's history and charm.


This path runs along the south side of the Uji River. The name of the path comes from the name of an old method for catching fish that was used in this area. The path passes right by the large pond that reflects the exotic image of Byodo-in Temple (which you can see through gaps in the hedge), the Uji Tourist Information Center, and a traditional Japanese style tea room run by the city called Taiho-an. All along the path the visitor will find wonderful places to relax and take in the lush and almost timeless scene around them. By crossing a bridge and then another on the other side of a small island one can cross the river and start walking along the Sawarabi-no-michi.


The name of this path already existed when the Genji Monogatari was written long, long ago. Sawarabi are the edible shoots of the bracken fern (fiddleheads in English). The flagstone path leads along the river to the base of the hills that border the northern edge of the river. Along the path, the visitor will find Ujigami Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Tale of Genji Museum. The air is very fresh here, and all around are large trees, bushes and flowers. Near Ujigami Shrine there is a monument to the Genji Monogatari, where visitors often take pictures.

Agata Festival

The Agata Festival is the most important annual festival held at Agata Shrine (Tel: 0774 21 3014). The festival begins late in the evening of June 5th and lasts through to the next morning. The festival is sometimes called the "mysterious festival of darkness."

At the beginning of the festival a portable shrine (mikoshi) is carried out of the shrine grounds and around town. Along with the mikoshi, the participants in the parade carry a bonten, which is a long piece of wood with many oblong pieces of white paper attached to it to form a large ball. In the darkness the bonten is waved about in a ritual called bonten-mawashi. It is said that if one catches a piece of paper that falls from the bonten it acts as a powerful charm to drive away evil. In the daytime, before the night time festivities begin, many shops line the approach to the shrine, adding a colorful, lively aspect to this unusual festival.

Mimurotoji Temple, Uji, Kyoto.

Mimuroto Temple (early June-early July): In the wide garden of this old temple there are 30 different kinds of hydrangea. At night, 6/10-25, the garden is lit up (7pm-9pm). Daytime entry 300 yen (night time 500 yen). Tel: (0774) 21 2067. To get to the temple, take the Keihan Line (change at Chushojima) or JR Nara Line to Uji.

Access: To get to Uji take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station to Uji Station (about 15 minutes). Or take the Keihan Honsen Line from Sanjo Station to Chushojima Station, then take Keihan Uji Line to Uji Station. (about 30 minutes). After exiting from the station turn left and walk to the river. The Ajirogi-no-michi follows the right side of the river and the Sawarabi-no-michi the left side.

Uji Tourist Information Center: Tel: 0774 23 3334.

Courtesy of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT). Ian Ropke, founder and owner of YJPT (since 1992), is a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). 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.

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bread Festival - La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 - in Tokyo


My partner and I attended the Setagaya Bread Festival (or, La Fete du Pain Setagaya) on Sunday. This two-day festival was the seventh to take place here, the first having been held in 2011.

"Buns" logo of La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017, Tokyo, Japan.
Setagaya Bread Festival 2017 "buns" logo

We first went to Shimokitazawa to try and return a faulty SD card I had bought a month ago from the branch there of the Jampara discount electronic goods chain (not recommended!). I should have been suspicious from the outset when it cost me only a third of what an identical SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB 95MB/s SD card had cost me at a more reputable store in Akihabara. Sure enough, when I presented my case to the Janpara staff they were instantly on the bald-faced offensive, saying it was probably my camera that was to blame, and pointing out that the receipt itself said, in very small print, "1-week warranty." Clearly Jampara was flogging off a faulty batch. You get what you pay for.
Naohirock & K.A.I. On The Mic rap at the Setagaya Bread Festival 2017, Tokyo.
Naohirock & K.A.I. On The Mic rap at the Setagaya Bread Festival 2017
Anyway, after my partner had vented his spleen at my unacceptably meek acceptance of my fate, we then took a leisurely walk to Setagaya Park, right on the eastern edge of Setayaga ward. The walk took us just over an hour, south of Shimokitazawa.

The Setagaya Bread Festival 2017 was a multi-locational event, taking place at five different, but very close-together, locations: the IID Setagaya Monozukuri School, Ikejiri Elementary School, The Mishuku 420 Commercial Association Building, the Setagaya Gaya-Gaya Hall, and Setagaya Park. We went to the main outdoor presence, first in the grounds of IID Setagaya Monozukuri School, and then across the road in Setagaya Park. (The other, indoor, locales were for bread-baking workshops and the like, referred to as the Bread University.)

Sign at entrance of the 2017 La Fete du Pain Setagaya, Tokyo.
Sign at entrance of La Fete du Pain Setagaya, Tokyo, 2017
The first thing we noticed was rap coming from the school grounds as we approached. A stage amidst the stalls featured a rap duo, Naohirock & K.A.I. On The Mic when we arrived, but they were just one of seven acts that made up the "Daytime Party," most of the others being DJs.

The school grounds had a decent line-up of stalls selling all sorts of bread, by bakeries from all over Tokyo, and stalls run by 15 different local Setagaya ward restaurants and cafes selling general food and drink. Some of the bread looked and tasted good, but there was way too much of the white bread that Japan is so enamored of. Some white bread in Japan is great, like the delicious Italian filone that is our favorite at the Peck bakery found in Takashimaya department stores. But most white bread in Japan is just that: white bread, with its well-deserved negative connotations of blandness, stodginess and lack of nutritional value.

La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 at IID Setagaya Monozukuri School, Setagaya ward, Tokyo.
La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 at IID Setagaya Monozukuri School
But, anyway, we did find some very good wholemeal bread - although one had a consistency so like cake we wondered if something had gone wrong or it was supposed to be like that. We then jived across the road to the sounds of the bad boys on stage to Setagaya Park where, along side the old steam engine, there was a long row of stalls, probably about the same number as in the school grounds, selling more bread of all shapes, recipes and sizes.

Naohirock & K.A.I. On The Mic at the Setagaya Bread Festival, Ikejiri, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo.
Naohirock & K.A.I. On The Mic making their own recipes at La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017
We took our stash - consisting mainly of wholemeal breads filled with nuts and seeds and dried fruit - and sat on a parkbench on a knoll to eat it as a late lunch (it was about 3:30pm already), enjoying the sight and sounds of the ornate fountain in the plaza of Setagaya Park that sprays water in a variety of patterns every few minutes.

Fountain at Setagaya Park, venue of the Setagaya Bread Festival 2017.
Fountain at Setagaya Park, where Setagaya Bread Festival 2017 was held.
We left Setagaya Park about 4pm, tried to go through the Self Defense Forces Central Hospital, but were turned back by a uniformed soldier at the gate, so went east to Higashiyama, went south-east down to Nakameguro, then further south-east to Daikanyama.

By 4:45pm we had gotten to the Old Asakura Family House, which made for a cheap and thoroughly enjoyable half hour in an elegant old house and gardens.

Stalls of La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 at Setagaya Park, Tokyo, Japan.
Stalls for the La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 at Setagaya Park, Tokyo
We then moved on to Daikanyama where the most exciting thing we did was go through a Japanese-style haunted house set up for Halloween in one of the elegant shopping malls there: think white draped raggedy clothing, powdery white faces with teeth dripping blood, rushing up at you out of the dark - scarier than we'd imagined!

The walk from Daikanyama down to Ebisu Station takes you down sloping streets packed with very atmospheric restaurants and bars, nearly all of which make you want to come some day and try out. But darkness was falling, we'd only eaten an hour or so beforehand, and our bicycles were waiting for us at Ochanomizu Station.

The Setagaya Bread Festival 2017 happening at Setagaya Park, Tokyo.
Scene from La Fete du Pain Setagaya 2017 with Setagaya Park fountain, Tokyo.

The winner of the Taste Prize for the Setagaya Bread Festival 2017 was Boulangerie Lebois of Yayoicho in Nakano ward. There were also "Best Looking Bread," and other prizes awarded to other bakeries.

Check out the La Fete du Pain Setagaya next October - recommended for its varied line-up of often great breads and food, jumping entertainment, and a friendly, happening, neighborhood buzz.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, October 09, 2017

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto


Idutsu-yu is a traditional Kyoto public bath (sento) south west of the Imperial Palace (Gosho).

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto.

Idutsu-yu has nice tile work of a church in the European Alps which marks it out among other sento in Kyoto. Another nice touch is the original Showa Period advertising on the washing space mirrors, which date back to when the public bath opened back in 1950.

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto.

Idutsu-yu is one of many fine public baths in Kyoto which include Sakura-yu, Higashiyama-yu at the Hyakumanben intersection near Kyoto University, Funaoka Onsen and Daikoku-yu in Shugakuin. There is another well-known Daikoku-yu in the Gion district.

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto.

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto.

Shimachi Takeyacho-kudaru
Benzaiten-cho 288
Kyoto 604-0093,
Tel: 075 231 6273; 3pm-12am; closed Thursday

Idutsu-yu is a short walk west from Marutamachi Station on the Karasuma Line of the Kyoto subway.

Idutsu-yu Public Bath Kyoto.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Japan News This Week 8 October 2017


Japan News.
After the Tsunami, Japan’s Sea Creatures Crossed an Ocean
New York Times

Japan Special

Koike's opposition to foreign residents' right to vote clashes with her call for diversity
The Mainichi

JJ Abrams' Your Name remake fuels fears of Hollywood 'whitewash'

On Okinawa, many locals want U.S. troops to leave

On Okinawa, Locals Want US Troops to Leave
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"Fewer than one person is murdered for every 100,000 in the population [of Japan,] compared to 4.8 for the United States and 44.7 in Belize...

...To put it all into perspective, the U.S. saw more than 12,000 firearm-related homicides in 2008, while Japan had only 11."

Source: Business Insider

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