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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nara and its Gardens


The vast park area, the core remains of Nara's classic period (752-777), is the first thing that strikes visitors to Nara. Apart from this natural woodland, where deer roam about posing for photographs and beg for rice crackers, the city has many classic Japanese gardens which are worth a visit. Here are a few of the most interesting ones.

Nara and its Gardens.
Isuien Garden, Nara © Eddie Smolyansky
Isui-en, a garden of the shakkei, or borrowed scenery type, skillfully incorporates views of the Wakakusa and Kasuga mountains. Dating from the Meiji Period, this garden affords an excellent view of Todai-ji Temple, and is particularly well-known for its fine collection of rocks.

Imanishi Garden, a moss garden which serves as a backdrop for the Imanishi House, built in the Muromachi Period (1333-1576) in the so-called shoin style, and designated an Important Cultural Property, features cleverly-positioned stepping stones which form a cross from one side of the garden to the other.

Kyu Daijo-in Garden, Nara, Japan.

Kyu Daijo-in Garden was designed by the famous fifteenth century gardener Zenami. This is a garden in the shinden-zukuri style, originally designed around a Shinden, or centrally-positioned main building. The vermilion-painted wooden bridge that enables strollers to cross from one side of the natural lake to the other, is one of the garden's most attractive features.

The garden of Futai-ji Temple is renowned for the abundance of its flowers. Founded by Ariwara Narihira, this temple is also known as Narihira-dera. This month hagi (bush clover) and kiku (chrysanthemums) will be in bloom.

Heijo-kyo Sakyo Sanjo Nibo Kyuseki Garden, a garden featuring an s-shaped man-made pond, is to be found in the area once occupied by Heijo-kyo. It is thought that in Heian times the pond was sometimes the venue for an elegant poetry game.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Japan News This Week 26 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Mitsubishi Materials Adds to Japan Inc.’s Quality Problems
New York Times

Japanese Lawmaker's Baby Gets Booted From The Floor

San Francisco accepts 'comfort women' statue

Boat washed ashore with N. Koreans disappears at Japan port
The Mainichi

Sumo wrestling embroiled in scandal again after champion admits assault

The Intractability of the Sino-Japanese Senkaku/Diaoyu Territorial Dispute: Historical Memory, People’s Diplomacy and Transnational Activism, 1961-1978
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Japan ranks last among 11 Asian countries in attracting foreign talent to live and work. It ranked behind Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

In the 2017 IMD World Talent Ranking, Japan finished 51st out of 63 nations. Singapore was number one in Asia.

Reasons given for Japan's poor performance were language barrier and rigid business practices.

Source: Bloomberg

In the 2015 PISA test results, which were recently released, Japanese students placed high in problem solving ability. Japan finished second in the world behind Singapore in collaborative problem-solving.

Source: OECD

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 24, 2017

Shimokitazawa Sendaiya Tofu Restaurant

Shimokitazawa ("Shimokita" for short) is a fascinating little enclave in western Tokyo of stores, restaurants, cafes, theaters and live music clubs. We were there on the weekend to make a video for the Shimokitazawa guide page on JapanVisitor.com.

We started filming about 11am. The weather was perfect, and the streets were buzzing. But making movies can get quite tiring: avoiding getting in the way of flow of people, trying to think on your feet and sound and look good on camera, working out where you are and where you're going, keeping a keen eye out for shooting opportunities, and, last but not least, trying to be inconspicuous. Stores in Japan, in particular, are very jealous of their image and seek to control every last thing about it, and strangers bowling up with cameras generally fill them with dread.

So by 1pm we were already a bit tired and hungry. I wanted to go to a Hokkaido soup curry place  called Rojiura Curry Samurai Shimokitazawa that I included on the Shimokitazawa dining page that I recently created, but my partner was taken by a tofu restaurant, so we checked it out.

Sendaiya was small, friendly and cosy. It looks like it started life as a regular tofu store, and then added a few tables and chairs and started serving tofu-based meals. Asking the proprietor, we found out that it is actually based in Yamanashi prefecture, and has a couple of branches in Tokyo, the other being in Ikejiri.

We both went for the salmon, natto, and tofu set. It arrived pretty quickly, although there was a hiccup in that although the waitress had gotten our order right, the kitchen hadn't, and we were missing the salmon. It turned up promptly with an apology after we said something, and we enjoyed a hearty meal - thanks partly to the rice and natto being tabehodai (all-you-can-eat).

As we were paying, we ordered a couple of the tofu donuts they had in the glass case under the counter. They even got that wrong - giving us a vegetable flavored one instead of the pumpkin one we clearly ordered. However, it wasn't a big deal, it tasted great, and cheerful, friendly service is more important than dotting i's and crossing t's.

See the Sendaiya website

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Soemoncho & Hozenji Dotonbori


If you haven't been to see the night life areas of Osaka when the night is in full swing or just coming to an end in the wee hour of morning, then you've been missing a slice of life that is forever interesting and these days slowly fading away.

Soemoncho, Osaka.

Mizu shobai or the water business is a part of Japan that has been around for a very long time. A business of the night that flows high and low along with the economy and indeed is very much part of the larger economy, since so many decisions and deals are clinched between drinks and small talk in the semi-darkness of an expensive club.

In previous years the business suffered badly under the double influence of the recession and the severe cutback in business expenses.
And then too, because of younger generations of salarymen, who tend to spend more time with their families and less with the guys from the office. At one time you had nearly no choice as a salaryman but to go: it was literally a part of the job, as well as being a way of letting off steam before going home. These days the clubs are changing their ways and trying their best to stay in fashion with the business crowd, but it seems they're fighting a losing battle that only a very few smart clubs will win in the end.

Osaka, like any other big city in Japan, has its fair share of mizu shobai areas. The best known are Kita Shinchi just south of Umeda and the Namba or Minami area, where things are cheaper and a lot more varied.

The fact that Namba is cheaper probably has something to do with history of Osaka's development after the war. In the late sixties and seventies with the increasing importance of Itami Airport and the expansion of housing along Hankyu's railway lines, the southern part of Osaka was lost in the swirl of progress and development that gave rise to Umeda and all its glitz. All the same the area around Dotonbori still has its original charm and a following of business people and nighttime revelers that makes Kita Shinchi look narrow and somehow ridiculous.

One particular area that continues to pull in the crowd is Soemoncho, a one-and-a-half-kilometer stretch running east west between Sakaisuji and Midosuji. What makes Soemoncho interesting is that it is dated: things looked older and less flashy, and day or night one gets the distinct feeling that the clientele who come here are more than likely the prosperous owners of the thousands of businesses that spill onto the streets of Shinsaibashi and Namba. If Kita Shinchi has a eighties and nineties feel, then Soemoncho is most definitely of the fifties and sixties when Japan's economy was like a run away train on a downhill slope.

In Soemoncho you can find everything and anything and see anyone and everyone. There are nightclubs with big facades of neon and tuxedoed staff waiting to take your car and park it. Cabarets for the old fashioned (of which there are many!). For the pampered and well-heeled stomach, there is a Korean restaurant the size of a medium-sized warehouse.

For the more elegant and sophisticated, there are glassed-in private gardens, long curving wooden counters and high-backed swivel stools covered in fresh linen. Here a polite but authoritative bar tender/waiter will serve drinks of your preference along with top quality steaks, as if you were a gentleman of note and property. And then there's every manner and kind of high class Japanese joints, that the food loving people of Osaka are famed for from Hokkaido to Kyushu. There are also strip joints and the like, with their more suspicious and questionable attendants out front beside the glossy pictures trying to get you to come inside and see the action.

Where but Japan can you buy a silk tie at 1 am or a priceless pot of blooming orchids at 2 am? Soemoncho and the surrounding streets are spotted with tiny boutiques that sell expensive evening wear, lingerie, perfume and jewelry, neckties and belts, along with high-class fruit vendors. And for the distinguished older clientele there are shops selling selected antiques and kimono accessories. These shops cater to the sufficiently rich and usually slightly drunk customers who buy something for that special lady-friend on their arm or in appreciation for a mama-san's (the proprietress of a bar or club) tactful way of making an evening with clients go very, very smoothly.

If you happen to find the doorways of Soemoncho too expensive or imposing, then all you have to do is cross the Dotonbori canal a few meters away and you’ve entered the poor man’s paradise of excitement and pleasure. Suddenly the colors are brighter and the restaurants smaller, no longer serving the best fish and meat on the market. Now it's okonomiyaki, yakisoba and the like. But all the same it is always busy here at night and even in the daytime. A kind of consumer paradise that forever serves the idle masses in search of amusement.


And yet it's not all fun and games. Just fifty meters off the Sennichimae shopping mall, you find yourself next to a small temple, incense clouds constantly billowing up and filling the surrounding air, and water flowing melodiously and constantly out of a natural spring. This temple is famous in Osaka and absolutely worth a visit.

Hozenji dates back to 1597 and has been a popular place for women to wish for a healthy and successful childbirth. Tiny as the temple may be, there always seems to be someone there lighting incense or praying to the thick and wet moss-covered Amida Buddha statue, flanked by his two equally moss covered protectors and surrounded in a halo of purifying flames.

Walk the streets of around Soemoncho and Hozenji, and experience Japan's circus of the night.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Japan News This Week 19 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Shohei Otani, a Two-Way Player, Says He Is Ready to Leave Japan for M.L.B.
New York Times

'Comfort Woman' Memorial Statues, A Thorn In Japan's Side, Now Sit On Korean Buses

Jack Dorsey saddened by Japan's 'Twitter killer'

Retirement looms for Harumafuji after assault as sumo world faces history of violence
The Mainichi

Japan anger over South Korea's shrimp surprise for Donald Trump

Violence, Okinawa, and the ‘Pax Americana’
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Today we introduce two interesting polls from Japan.

Poll #1 is the all important issue of whether men stand or sit while urinating.

In a survey from the Japan Toilet Institute, 44% of men between the ages of 20 and 69 sit while urinating.

35.3% said they sit out of their own volition. 8.3% were told/requested by their family or spouse to sit and thus made the transition from standing to sitting.

Source: Asahi Shinbun

A second poll was of Japanese views of US President Donald Trump. A telephone survey asked, "How trustworthy is Donald Trump as the leader of an allied country (to Japan)?"

13% - Do not trust at all
48% - Do not trust much
34% - Trust somewhat
3% - Trust very much

Source: Asahi Shinbun

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exploring Hikone


Hikone, the second largest city in Shiga Prefecture, is dominated by the imposing presence of its fine castle, a magnificent structure that, faring somewhat better than a lot of its counterparts, somehow managed to escape the wholesale destruction of castles at the beginning of the Meiji Period. Although Hikone is justly famous as a castle city, Hikone Castle is by no means the only attraction that the city has to offer.

Hikone Castle, Shiga Prefecture.

Since the middle of the seventeenth century, when peaceful times forced armor and weapon makers to turn their skills in another direction, Hikone has been a major center for the production of Buddhist family altars known as butsudan. The street that runs parallel to the Seri River is lined on both sides with shops selling these elaborate structures, and Hikone butsudan are reputed to be the among the best in the country.

Perhaps the most interesting of Hikone's many temples is Ryotan-ji, popularly known as Niwa-no-Tera, or the garden temple, because of its three beautiful gardens. This month (November), the russets and reds of the maple trees that line the approach should be especially spectacular. Of particular interest are the paintings by Kyoriku Morikawa, a disciple of the famous poet Matsuo Basho, that adorn many of the temple's sliding wooden doors. Ryotan-ji is about a twenty-minute walk from Hikone Castle. Ryotan-ji is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and admission is 300 yen.

Northeast of the castle is the beautiful garden of Genkyu-en. Laid out in 1677 by Ii Nao'oki, the fourth lord of Hikone, the garden features a series of meandering paths that wind their way around a large central pond. Reminiscent of Kanazawa's famous Kenroku-en, this peaceful garden is more intimate and compact than its illustrious counterpart. Beautiful in any season, Genkyu-en should be particularly spectacular this month, when autumn colors are at their best. Sit in the teahouse overlooking the pond, and enjoy a sweet followed by a bowl of bracingly-bitter green tea. The garden is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Tea and a sweet are available for 500 yen.

Exploring Hikone, Shiga Prefecture.

At the foot of the castle stands the Castle Museum, an accurate reconstruction of the Omote Goten hall, one of the main castle buildings. The extensive collection includes arms and armor, folding screens, tea utensils, traditional musical instruments, and a breathtaking array of Noh masks and costumes, some of which date back to the sixteenth century. The museum also has a magnificent Edo Period (1603-1868) Noh stage, where performances of Noh and Kyogen are periodically given. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. Admission is 500 yen.

The highlight of a day in Hikone is a visit to the castle. The wide steps that lead up to it wind eccentrically this way and that, slowing down the progress of the uninvited, and making it difficult to arrive unannounced. The approach is lined with trees, planted to provide sustenance in the forms of both food and medicine in the event of siege. Built by the Ii family in the early seventeenth century, Hikone Castle commands a spectacular view of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. From the upper reaches, the island of Chikubu-jima, home to Chikubu-jima Hogon-ji, the thirtieth temple on the thirty-three temple pilgrimage of western Japan, is clearly visible, as is the tiny unpopulated island of Take-shima.

The castle interior is a celebration of wood. Walking on wooden boards that millions of feet have rendered wonderfully smooth, one looks up to discover a ceiling of magnificent wooden beams. Cleverly-concealed rectangular and triangular openings, through which arrows and bullets could have been dispatched, are also in evidence. The heady smell of perfectly-seasoned timber which permeates the castle is more in keeping with a rustic retreat than a bastion of defence, and reminds the visitor that this is a castle that was never attacked. The castle is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Admission is 500 yen.

Getting there: Hikone is a 48 minute ride from JR Kyoto Station. Trains are frequent, and the trip costs 1,140 yen each way.

Municipal Office, Sightseeing Department: (0749) 22 1411
Traditional Industry Exhibition Hall: (0749) 22 4551
Hikone Community Hall: (0749) 22 3013
Hikone Swimming Center: (0749) 23 4911
Tourist Information Center: (0749) 22 954

© JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tales of Old Kyoto: Why Dogs and Cats Never Get Along With Each Other


Once upon a time in Kyoto, there was a woman who adored dogs and cats. She had one dog and one cat and she was with them all the time, everywhere she went.

One day, she took them for a walk along a small stream. When she returned home, she found that she had accidentally dropped one of her precious rings along the way. Knowing how much the ring meant to the woman, the dog and cat decided to go back to look for it.

Why Dogs and Cats Never Get Along With Each Other.

They made the long journey back to the stream and began searching for the ring in the water. "There it is! There it is!" They rejoiced when they finally spotted her ring at the bottom of the water. The cat was the first to try. She stretched her arm down into the water, but it was too short to reach the ring.

So next the dog jumped in, fetched the ring up in his mouth, and swam back to the bank. As cat and dog made their way home, they were both very happy about having recovered their owner's ring.

However, when they arrived home the wet dog was made to stay outside the house. And so the cat put the ring in her mouth and presented it to the woman. She was overjoyed and praised the cat saying, "What a very clever cat you are! It is a wonder that you were able to find my ring. You are so good!"

She kissed and patted the cat over and over again. Listening from outside the door, the dog was jealous and angry at the cat and grumbled to himself, "It was I who jumped into the stream and I who deserves all the affection, but instead look how unfairly I am treated!"

Ever since this episode, never being able to forgive them, dogs have always held a grudge against cats. And that is why whenever a dog sees a cat it will bark fiercely and go chasing after it.

© JapanVisitor.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ikkyu The Quick-Witted Novice


Once upon a time, there was a monk who was the head of a very famous temple. It was his secret pleasure to sip a special jar of sweet sugar syrup in his private room, hidden even from his young novice, Ikkyu. One day the monk had to go out for an appointment. Anxious for his little treasure, he called Ikkyu and said, "Ikkyu, I must go out. Now you must never touch or taste what's in this jar. It is a very strong poison, and even a single drop can kill you."

The Quick-Witted Novice.

Ikkyu's curiosity was aroused by his master's suspicious behavior, and as soon as the monk had left, Ikkyu rushed back into the monk's room and opened the lid of the jar. He dipped his finger into the sticky liquid and licked it thoroughly. The "poison" was sweet and delicious! Ikkyu lost himself in devouring this wonderful treat, lick after lick until the jar was completely empty.

Suddenly Ikkyu realized what trouble he was in. "What am I going to do when the monk comes back! He'll be so angry." But Ikkyu was a clever boy, and a bright idea soon popped in to his head. "Yes! That's it!” he cried. He ran to a shelf and picked up the monk's finest flower vase and dashed it to the floor. He then fell to the floor himself and began sobbing pathetically.

When the monk saw his treasure scattered on the floor, he flew into a rage. "How many times have I told you to be careful with this vase? Do you realize what you’ve done?"

"Yes, master," replied Ikkyu. "It is the worst thing I have ever done. How could I break your precious vase, even accidentally? I was so ashamed that I decided to take responsibility and kill myself with your poison. I ate it all, but alas! I am not yet dead. I cannot even die properly. What shame!"

The monk, blind to Ikkyu's clever wit, could not resist such a heart-wrenching display of feeling. "Enough, Ikkyu, enough. You did not mean to do it. I forgive you. Now, please stop crying," said the monk helplessly.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Japan News This Week 12 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

In Rural Japan, Lifting a Shrine and Building a Friendship
New York Times

Trump: Japan could shoot down North Korean missiles

Japanese gov't struggling with Trump's request for it to buy more defense equipment
The Mainichi

Japan's 'Black Widow' sentenced to death for murdering a string of lovers

Agent Orange on Okinawa: Six Years On
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


As of November 4, the number of visitors topped 24,039,700, which was the record set in 2016.

Source: Jiji Press

© JapanVisitor.com

Friday, November 10, 2017

Canceling an ANA flight to Japan

So here's the thing: I should be in Japan right now. In early August I booked a reservation with ANA Airlines, but unfortunately, a few days later something unexpected happened. And "I didn't want to say nothin'" until now: my traveling companion was diagnosed with cancer.


Amidst this great upheaval I realized I would have to cancel our trip to Japan. We might need that ticket fare to use for other purposes. But I had not purchased traveler's insurance.

Well, hallelujah, ANA was able to help. A kind and sympathetic customer representative explained the refund process and the document we needed to provide to them. (And during this conversation, while I was briefly placed on hold, I could hear the music - you know, THAT music - the tune that plays as you board your flight to Japan and when the atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation - as opposed to your return flight when only a sense of decency keeps you from shoving everybody out of the way so you can disembark!) To receive a refund, we had to get a signed doctor's note detailing the reason for non-travel. The best way to get it is to ask your doctor at your first follow up visit. He can give it to you right there.

Miho-no-Matsubara, Shizuoka.

When we telephoned ANA again, the representative guided us through the submission process. She waited as we emailed the document and then she acknowledged its arrival. The refund was virtually instantaneous, and it was only a week later that the credit card company deducted the amount from our account. We were refunded all but about $100 USD of the $7100 price for two business class seats. As for future travel to Japan, we hope to return in the spring of 2018. We'll see.

These days we have talked about what we would be doing in Japan if we were there now. And then I thought of this: Maybe there are some readers of this blog who could go enjoy some of the things we had planned on doing. Do you live in Shizuoka? Can you access Miho-no-Matsubara? Are there seashells to collect along the shoreline? Is it really cold? Can you see Mt. Fuji? Do you live near Hamamatsu? Can you check out "Naotora: The Lady Warlord Taiga Drama Hall?" Is it as big as last year's "Sanada Maru?" Is it cool or not? Is anyone over in Aichi? Will you try some Toyohashi Curry Udon for us? We were sooo looking forward to it. Thanks!

Toyohashi Curry Udon.

© JapanVisitor.com

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Trump in Tokyo

トランプ大統領 東京訪問

President Trump was in Tokyo on Monday, Japan being his first stop on a tour of Asia that took him to South Korea yesterday.

Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate, where Donald Trump stayed on his Tokyo visit.
East Gate (Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate) of Akasaka State Guest House (Geihinkan), where Trump stayed on his Japan visit

Trump was in Tokyo yesterday, Japan being his first stop on a tour of Asia that took him to South Korea today.

Shinjuku-dori Avenue had police stationed along it, and on inquiring with one of them if it was because Trump was due to pass by, I was told that it was just part of the security for the Geihinkan, or Akasaka Palace, which is where he was staying.

Trumpwatchers talk to a policeman in front of the Geihinkan
Trumpwatchers talk to a policeman in front of the Geihinkan

I mentioned this at the office morning meeting, which got one or two staff members quite excited by their proximity to greatness, or, at least, to newsworthiness.

The Geihinkan, near Yotsuya Station, is just 10 minutes' walk from the office, so at lunchtime I wandered down there. It was a beautiful crisp, clear autumn day, and a flash of presidential orange would have brought an extra fiery touch to an autumn landscape that is only just starting in Tokyo.

Wakaba East Intersection, in front of the Akasaka State Guesthouse, where Trump stayed.
Wakaba East Intersection, in front of the Akasaka State Guesthouse, where President Trump stayed.

I didn't go back along Shinjuku-dori, but the more direct route, past the New Ohtani Hotel. At the bottom of the slope going up to the hotel I encoutered the first security battalion, which had a fence on stand-by to block the road if necessary.

Photographers wait for a glimpse of Trump across from the East Gate of the Geihinkan.
Photographers wait for a glimpse of Trump across from the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House.

Closer to the Geihinkan, past the playing fields for Sophia University, there were more police stationed here and there. The road in front of the Geihinkan was open, but, oddly, the police was politely refusing entry to the road to a couple of guys on motorbikes.

Police provide security for Trump's visit, Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo.
Police provide security for Trump's visit outside the Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo.

Right across from the Japanese-style side gate to the Geihinkan (the main gate is Western-style) was a cluster of sightseers with cameras in a space set out for them with traffic cones, and a policeman overseeing.

Waiting for Donald Trump to appear, at the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo, Japan.
Waiting for Donald Trump to appear, at the East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House (Geihinkan) Tokyo, Japan.

I thought it unlikely that the Trump motorcade would emerge, or return, at that time of the day - about 1:30pm - because he'd probably already be out there shaking hands and saying how very good, very bad or beautiful things were. But the sightseers (which, of course, included several journalists, it seemed) were dedicated, and just waited there in anticipation for the 15 or so minutes I spent walking past them then back again.

Road leading to front gate of Akasaka State Guest House, Tokyo, where Trump stayed.
Road leading to front gate of Geihinkan (Akasaka State Guest House), Tokyo, where President Trump stayed.

On my way back, a policeman said "konnichiwa" to me, and, when I responded, asked me if I was sightseeing ("Kanko desu ka") to which I responded "Hai."

East Gate (Kishu Clan Tokugawa Nakayashiki Front Gate) of Akasaka State Guest House, where Trump stayed on his visit to Tokyo, Japan.
East Gate of the Akasaka State Guest House, which Trump's entourage left and re-entered,

Helicopters flew overhead at various times of the day, adding, literally, to the buzz. Today everything is back to normal. The only thing I found newsworthy was Trump's question to the Emperor about whether he'd designed his residence or not. Considering that the Emperor had a steeply uphill battle just to get permission to abdicate, and that his daughter-in-law has suffered stress-induced illness due to her tightly regimented existence, Trump's assumption of mogul-like power of whim and fancy on the part of the Emperor was naive and awkward.

Policeman guard a road in the Kioicho district of Tokyo during President Trump's visit.
Policeman on guard in the Kioicho district of Tokyo during President Trump's visit.

 © JapanVisitor.com

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Zoen Japanese Landscaping


The basic techniques that are used for creating and maintaining traditional Japanese gardens were first developed during the Heian Period in Kyoto, which has an ideal climate for growing garden trees, a high concentration of special rocks and sand as well as an abundant water supply. At first gardening was an exclusive art practiced by priests, the aristocracy and warriors. The art spread to the merchant class, in the form of tsubo-niwa, during the latter half of the 16th century. The tsubo-niwa gardens of Kyoto were influenced by the tea ceremony. Built between homes, they serve to improve lighting and air circulation.

Makayaji Temple showing the Heian Period garden and pond, Mikkabi, Shizuoka

The various elements of a garden, including trees, stones, grasses, sand and moss, all have distinctive meaning as symbols. The delicate balance of these elements is determined by considering the light and soil conditions. Gardens are then planned and laid out on paper to visual perspective and elevation. The first step in garden design is building the foundation to provide drainage so that the roots of trees and plants do not rot. At this time, ditches for such underground facilities as electrical equipment and water supply systems are also excavated. After completing the foundation work, the garden rocks, trees and shrubs, and related sodding are positioned according to the design plan. Lastly, decorative moss, other plants, and gravel are placed or spread out over designated areas.

The Kyoto Prefectural Landscape Gardening Cooperative Association

The Kyoto Prefectural Landscape Gardening Cooperative Association, with about 350 members (individuals and companies), has been active in preserving Kyoto gardens and transmitting landscaping skills and knowledge to new generations for nearly 100 years. Over the past 45 years, Japan's traditional landscape gardening industry has suffered a severe downturn in business, and the total number of new gardens handled by association members has been steadily decreasing. Today, more than half of an average Japanese gardener's work involves maintenance. Gardens take a considerable amount of time to mature and once a garden has reached maturity it requires special skills to maintain it according to its original design.

Until only quite recently, the special skills of Japanese landscaping were passed on from generation to generation. Today, the number of garden businesses is decreasing. To keep Japan's age-old gardening skills alive, the Association has set up a special one-year intensive gardening school to train apprentices. Naturally, Kyoto is the perfect place to study this art; the city is home to most of Japan's most famous gardens. This year, the school has 32 students, half of whom are from outside Kyoto.

A view of the Higashiyama Hills in an example of shuzan at Murin-an Villa, Kyoto.

Japanese landscape gardens have become very popular internationally. The Association designed a large-scale garden, modelled on the famous garden at Daigo Temple's Sanpo-in, in Kyoto's sister city in Mexico, Guadalajara. Employing Mexican workers and under greatly different climatic conditions, the project took nearly two years. The Association also created a Japanese garden for a private residence belonging to Prince Charles, in England. As a gift of friendship between the US and Japan, a number of young gardeners in the Association were employed to build a garden in Oklahoma. The Association is also active in working with the international Japan Garden Society, which visits Kyoto annually.

© JapanVisitor.com

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Japan News This Week 5 November 2017


Japan News This Week.

Encountering Robots While Still Using Fax Machines in Japan
New York Times

Japan suspect ‘killed nine over two months’

Emperor Akihito to meet US President Trump on Monday
The Mainichi

Japan will entertain Donald Trump with Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen singer

Overcoming Double Erasure: Japanese “comfort women”, nationalism and trafficking.
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


In 2010, Toyota president Akio Toyoda earned 340,000,000 yen ($2.98 million USD). For that, he was levied 20.7% in taxes.

For someone earning the average salary in the same year - 4,300,000 yen ($37,741 USD) - the rate of taxation was 34.6%.

The reason for that is that Mr. Toyoda received much of his salary in stocks, dividends, and financial products, which are taxed at a flat 20% - no matter what the amount is.

Source: Kami no Bakudan (Paper Bomb) magazine, October 2017, page 32

"The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, an annual benchmarking exercise by the World Economic Forum (WEF), found that despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for women to play a greater role in society, the nation had done little to make more use of its female talent since its ranking at 101st last year.

Contributing most to the drop, the WEF said, was the gender gap for professional and technical workers, with Japan ranking 118th for economic participation and opportunity — down from 106th last year."

Source: Japan Times

© JapanVisitor.com

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Kyoto City Bus 4


The Kyoto city bus #4 runs from Kyoto Station to Kamigamo Shrine in the north west of Kyoto city.

The #4 bus travels up Kawaramachi, Kyoto's main shopping street, then to Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan and Eiden lines, Shimogamo Shrine, Ipponmatsu, Matsugasaki Station on the Karasuma Line of the Kyoto subway, Kitayama Station and up to Kamigamo Jinja.

Kyoto City Bus 4, Kyoto Station.

From Kyoto Station the #4 bus stops at Shiokoji Takakura, Nanajo Kawaramachi, Kawaramachi Shomen, Kawaramachi Gojo, Kawaramachi Matsubara, Shijo Kawaramachi, Sanjo Kawaramachi, Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae (Kyoto City Hall), Kawaramachi Marutamachi, Kojin-guchi, Furitsu Idaibyoin-mae, Kawaramachi Imadegawa, Demachiyanagi, Shin-Aoibashi, Tadasunomori, Shimogamo Jinja, Ipponmatsu, Rakuhoko Koko-mae, Rakuhokukoko Seimon-mae, Kitazonocho, Kodonocho, Higashikitazonocho, Sakyoku Sogochosha-mae, Matsugasaki Station, Nonogamicho, Kitayama Station, Kamigamo Sakakidacho, Midorogaike, Kamigamo Toyodacho, Kamigamo Matsumotocho, Kamigamo Shogakko-mae, Kamigamo Ishikazucho, Kamigamo Shobuencho, Kamigamobashi, Shimogishicho, Kamogawa Chugaku-mae and Kamigamo Jinja.

Kyoto City Bus 4.

The first #4 bus service for Kyoto Station leaves Kamigamo Shrine at 6.20am Monday-Sunday and the last bus is 9.13pm daily.

From Kyoto Station the first Kyoto #4 bus is at 7.18am daily and the last bus to Kamigamo Shogakko-mae is at 10.10pm daily.

*Note all buses go as far as Kamigamo Shrine with about half going as far as Kamigamo Shogakko-mae only. This is about 10 minutes on foot from Kamigamo Shrine and directly south of Ota Shrine.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

© JapanVisitor.com

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda


The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum (Enpaku) on the Waseda University campus in Tokyo is dedicated to the history of drama and is named after Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859-1935), a writer, dramatist and translator.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda.

Under the pen name of Harunoya Oboro, Tsubouchi wrote literary criticism, novels, plays and translated Shakespeare's complete works into the language of Japanese kabuki.

The museum, which holds many of Tsubouchi's original works and a collection of ukiyo-e prints of the kabuki play Chushingura, was designed by Kenji Imai and opened in 1928. It was modeled on the former Fortune Theatre in London, an Elizabethan theatre that existed at the same time as the more famous Globe Theatre.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum Waseda.

The museum's large collection from around the world includes masks, folding screens, bunraku dolls, theatre magazines, costumes and items related to motion pictures and TV as well as theatre.

There is a library on the premises with a collection of rare books and books in other languages relating to the theatre.

Dramatic performances from Japan and overseas are held at the theatre including two annual festivals: a Shakespeare Festival and the Shoyo Festival.

You can also sample a Ruby Nile beer at Uni Cafe on the Waseda campus after your museum visit.

Ruby Nile Beer.

Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum
1-6-1 Nishi-waseda
Tokyo 169-8050
Tel: 03 5286 1829
Hours: Weekdays 10am-5pm (until 7pm on Tuesdays and Fridays); closed weekends and holidays
Admission: Free

© JapanVisitor.com

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