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Monday, September 22, 2014

Hamaso Ryokan

浜荘

Hamaso is a waterfront ryokan located on shore of Katagami Bay, an inlet of Omura Bay in central Nagasaki Prefecture. It is about halfway between Nagasaki city and Huis Ten Bosch.

Hamaso Ryokan, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan


Hamaso is a modern building and the rooms are clean and bright and airy. When I stayed there it was out of season and I was the only guest. My room overlooked the water and had a fantastic view of the sunrise.

Hamaso Ryokan, Nagasaki


The toilets and bathrooms were not ensuite. The establishment has a reputation for high quality food, not surprisingly seafood caught in the bay and landed just meters from the ryokan, but I stayed sudomari, room only, and for that I paid 4,000 yen.

Hamaso Ryokan
2590 Nagauramachi, Nagasaki 851-3212
Tel: 095 885 2030
Google Map of Hamaso

Hamaso Ryokan


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Japan News This Week 21 September 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Tea Party Politics in Japan: Japan's Rising Nationalism
New York Times

Japan nuclear regulator approves reactor restart
BBC

The truth about the peer-reviewed science produced by Japan's whaling
Guardian

All systems go for second stage of tax hike: Tanigaki
Japan Times

Japan Enters Global Submarine Market With Soryu Offering
The Diplomat

Japan's Secrecy Law and International Standards
Japan Focus

Japan, Germany shake off WWII arms constraints. A cause for concern?
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of management that is female, including civil servants, 2012:

1. Philippines: 47.6%
2. USA: 43.7%
3. France: 39.4%
4. Sweden: 35.6%
5. UK: 34.2%
6. Singapore: 33.8%
7. Germany: 28.6%
8. Italy: 25.8%
9. Japan: 11.2%
10. South Korea: 11%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lake Ikeda

池田湖

Lake Ikeda (Ikeda-ko), located 40km south of Kagoshima, and about 10km east of Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture, is Kyushu's largest lake.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan


Ikeda-ko has a perimeter of 15km and reaches a maximum depth of 233m. From December through February, the lake is surrounded by fields of flowering rape plants (nanohana), which makes for a lovely sight.

A caldera lake, Lake Ikeda is known for the clarity and cleanliness of its water, though its quality has been in decline since the 1960's, with the lake water down from a transparency of nearly 27m to 5m.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan


Lake Ikeda is also home to Japan's largest eels which can grow to an amazing 1.8m or 2m in length - maybe it is these large creatures that have given birth to the Issie story - a monster akin to Nessie in Scotland - said to inhabit the deep waters. To the east, indeed, is a smaller lake called Lake Unagi (Eel Lake).

The only road close to the lake is on the west side from where there are great views over the water from viewing spots planted with cherry trees.

Lake Ikeda, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Military Recruitment in Japan

自衛隊

The Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is made up of three branches: Ground, Maritime and Air. Prevented by the Constitution of Japan from engaging in any military action besides the purely defensive, Japan's participation in even United Nations peacekeeping mssions was not without controversy.

Japan Pride, Self-Defense Force recruitment poster, Tokyo.

This might give the impression of a militarily emasculated Japan, but in actual fact Japan's military budget is the fifth biggest in the world and growing. The appointment of Shinzo Abe as prime minister in 2012 heralded the start of a more tigerish mood in Japan, a mood fortified by the recent stand off with China over ownership of the Senkaku Islands.

This year, the JSDF is to request a budget increase, for national spending next fiscal year of JPY 4.9 trillion yen (about USD 456 billion). Much of this is for new stealthier submarines, tilt-rotor planes, unmanned surveillance aircraft and patrol planes.

Japan Pride, Japan Self-Defense Force recruitment poster, Tokyo.

However, no budget increase can increase the numbers of young people in Japan, and Japan's aging population makes for a shrinking base for military recruitment.

Thus these posters seeking military recruits spotted this week in Yushima Tokyo - one for boys, one for girls. The headline "Japan Pride" is repeated in Japanese in the phrase at the bottom "Hokori o mune ni" or "A heartful/chestful of pride."

But couldn't a smidgeon of that extra budget be spent on some professional-looking graphic design?

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Japan News This Week 14 September 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japanese Newspaper Retracts Fukushima Disaster Report and Fires Editor
New York Times

Japan nuclear regulator approves reactor restart
BBC

Fukushima nuclear disaster: three years on 120,000 evacuees remain uprooted
Guardian

Pop star Aska gets off with suspended sentence for drug use
Japan Times

History and the Possibility of Taiwan-Japan Relations
The Diplomat

On Patriotism and Constitutional Amendment: An interview with film director Miyazaki Hayao 愛国心と憲法改正について宮崎駿監督に聞く
Japan Focus

Nishikori makes US Open history as first Asian finalist
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Percentage of management that is female, including civil servants, 2012:

1. Philippines: 47.6%
2. USA: 43.7%
3. France: 39.4%
4. Sweden: 35.6%
5. UK: 34.2%
6. Singapore: 33.8%
7. Germany: 28.6%
8. Italy: 25.8%
9. Japan: 11.2%
10. South Korea: 11%

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 41, Yunomae to Hitoyoshi Monday November 25th, 2013

It's raining heavily when I wake in my womb-like sleeping compartment on the Taragi Blue Train. I've been lucky with the weather for the vast majority of the walk so far, but today starts with a downpour. I sit in the cafe area of the train and drink a couple of coffees to wait and see if it will ease up a bit. The next pilgrimage temple is just a couple of stops along the rail line at Yunomae.

By 8am, a couple of hours later than I would normally head off, I decide to take the train to Yunomae and see if the weather eases. Once I get to Yunomae its still raining, though not so heavy, so under cover of an umbrella I head next to the station to the Yunomae Cartoon Museum & Community Center. It is part of the Kumamoto Artpolis project to put interesting architecture around the prefecture. Its raison d'etre is that a local man, Ryosuke Nasu, was political cartoonist.

The buildings are interesting enough, though the rain does not show the architecture off. Back at the station I peruse the noticeboards. Local railway stations will usually have information on local attractions, and I find a photo of something I'm very interested in, a Fertility Shrine.

I check with a taxi driver outside the station and he tells me its about eight kilometers away. Damn!! A 16km round trip is a bit far for me to fit in, as I am already behind schedule on the day, so I add the shrine to the list of places to visit when next I come back this way.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi


The rain becomes intermittent so with umbrella up I head towards the next temple. On the way out of the village I stop in at a little Buddhist "chapel". It is a Daishi-do, venerating Kobo Daishi, and it is only just standing. It's a thatched building and it's leaning and twisted and looks like it won't last much longer.

I cross over the river, the Kumagawa. This is as far upstream as I will go. Three days walk down the river is Yatsushiro where I should be in four days time. I find the temple, Shozen-in, and unusually there are a pair of cat statues guarding the entrance, not lion-dogs (komainu), not foxes (kitsune), but cats.

Apparently there are quite a few temples and shrines around Japan that venerate particular, historical, cats. The main building of the temple is fairly plain and typical, but next to it is a little jewel. The wood is black, and the roof is thatched, but the complicated woodwork of the eaves is covered in brightly painted, colorful carvings. It's obviously been recently renovated and refurbished and the sign informs me it is from early in the Edo Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 41 Yunomae to Hitoyoshi


The rain has stopped completely now so I start off down the valley, taking the minor road along the northern side. After a couple of kilometers there is a barrier across the road and road closed signs. I momentarily hesitate.

It is a ways back to the last bridge over the river if I backtrack, but as is usual in situations like this I presume the road is closed to vehicles but on foot I should be able to get through. For a couple of miles there is nothing - no houses or structures, just the narrow road with river on one side and steep forested hillside on the other.

When I do reach the reason for the road closure it is as I had expected, just a bit of ditch digging on the edge of a village so I can walk through with no problem.

In the village I come across another gem. A very elegant temple. It's very simple, a small wooden rectangle with a large thatched roof overhanging on all sides. It reminds me of Fukuji, the oldest wooden building in Japan up in Oita.

The interior of the temple is also extremely simple in plan, design, and decoration. My resolve to come back and explore this area further is strengthened.

A little further along the road I detour back towards Taragi. In the train last night I saw a photo of the shrine and decided it was worth a visit. The shrine is fronted by a big thatched gate holding a pair of Nio, the statues normally found at temples.

Nio were widespread at shrines until the late 19th century when the government artificially separated the Buddhas and Kami. Up in the Kunisaki Peninsula of Oita nio are still commonplace, but elsewhere not so.

For the rest of the day I haul ass for Hitoyoshi. I'm behind schedule so I do not allow myself to be tempted by diversions. Fortunately the weather is steadily improving. There is a little light left as I come into the town so I make a very quick visit to the major shrine and tourist attraction of the town, Aoi Aso Shrine.

Aoi Aso Shrine too has a thatched gate and one thatched building. Across the road is one of the pilgrimage temples so I make a quick visit there before heading off to find my room. There are three more pilgrimage temples nearby so I will base myself here for a few days.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sanage Onsen

猿投温泉

Sanage Onsen is a local beauty spot close to Mt. Sanage not far from Toyota city and Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture.

Kinsenkaku Hotel, Sanage Onsen


Located on a small hill, the main onsen hotel here is the Kinsenkaku Hotel (Tel: 0565 45 6111) with a radium bath said to be good for rheumatism. The food here was excellent and plentiful. Even at a slight elevation the air is cooler than in Toyota and Nagoya cities below during Chubu's relentlessly hot and humid summers.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota, Aichi


There's a peaceful pond above a pretty shrine not far from the Kinsenkaku Hotel. A row of eateries runs along the street past the hotel, which also has a large karaoke joint.

Sanage Onsen, Toyota


Free shuttle buses run to the hotel (30 minutes) from Josui Station on the Meitetsu Toyota Line or there are occasional buses from Toyoake, Miyoshi, Josui, Seto, Nagakute and Sanage Station on the Mikawa Line.

Kinsenkaku Hotel
Umamichidori-21 Kanocho
Toyota
Aichi
Tel: 0565 45 6111
Google Map

Bus times to Sanage Onsen
Click on the image to enlarge

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Mie Prefectural Art Museum

三重県立美術館

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum in Tsu city is a 10-15 minute walk from Tsu Station and it is about the same distance down the road on foot to the new MieMu Mie Prefectural Museum.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu


The Mie Prefectural Art Museum's permanent collection is an eclectic mix of modern and more historical works.

There are engravings by William Blake, paintings by French impressionists such as Monet and Renoir as well as a number of pieces of Chinese calligraphy.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan


Other pieces on display include works by Murayama Kaita, Soga Shohaku, Marc Chagall, Francisco de Goya, Salvador Dalí, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Antoni Tàpies.

A separate gallery, which opened in 2003, displays bronze sculptures, plaster casts and drawings by Yanagihara Yoshikatsu (1910-2004).

The Mie Prefectural Art Museum includes a garden space with modern art installations and a cafe/restaurant.

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Mie Prefectural Art Museum
11 Otani-cho, Tsu-shi, Mie, 514-0007
Tel: 059 227 2100
Google Map

Admission: 300 yen for adults; 200 yen for high school or college students
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9.30am-5pm

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum is a 10-15 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Tsu-eki nishiguchi and get off at Bijutsukan-mae.

Mie Prefectural Art Museum, Tsu, Japan


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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Kakaku.com - cheap, cheaper, cheapest

価格ドットコム

Japan has the second biggest mobile broadband network in the world - with subscribed devices actually surpassing the size of the population - and over one hundred million of its 120 million  citizens connected to the internet. It is no surprise then that internet shopping is huge in Japan.

Add to this the deflating state of the Japanese economy, and, again, it's no surprise that the Japanese flock online looking for bargains.

The top site in Japan for finding bargains for goods - mainly new, but also used - is Kakaku.com (literally "Price.com"). Kakaku.com lists retailers and providers for products and services in over 30 different categories, from movie tickets to computers, from cameras, to drinks to moving companies to insurance.

You can choose to list the retailers or providers of your chosen service or product in order of cheapest to most expensive, most expensive to cheapest, popularity, manufacturer, date of sale launch, model and more.

Last week I found myself looking for a new laptop. I went to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara and had a look around at their range of touchscreens. It didn't take me long to settle on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. I had a go on it, weighed it in my hand, asked a few questions about it, compared models, and jotted down the price. At about 150,000 yen, it wasn't the kind of purchase I was going to make the same day I first started looking.

I feel a certain burden of obligation to reward good service, and good service includes providing the goods themselves for perusal and trying out before buying. However, out of another sense of duty to myself and my finances, I of course typed it in on Kakaku.com. It was 20,000 yen cheaper there!

I was apprehensive. 20,000 yen. There must be a catch. The company selling it (no.1 in the list when selecting the "from cheapest" ranking) had an address so rural and remote that it wasn't even in Google Streetview. However, its feedback was 97% positive from several hundred evaluations.

Package arrives in the mail from Kakaku.com, Japan.

I went back to Yodobashi Camera and showed the Kakaku.com deal to the guy who I'd spoken to the day before. I still wanted to buy it from the brick-and-mortar and asked him what advantage there could be to buying it there. The response was underwhelming, and we parted with slightly hopeless grins. Burdens of obligation have their price. I estimate mine at being worth 2,000 - 3,000 yen. This was 20,000 yen we were talking about.

Back home, Friday night, I ordered the Surface Pro 3 from the shop on Kakaku.com. I got an instant email response acknowledging my order, and telling me to wait for another mail with payment instructions. (I had chosen bank transfer, the other two options being convenience store payment or Kakaku.com's own "peace-of-mind" payment system that takes about a 4% chunk of the total.)

Shopping from Kakaku.com, Japan.

Saturday morning, the mail with payment instructions arrives, and tells me if I pay by 3pm it would be sent out that day. I go down to the local post office and send the money using the ATM. I get another mail from the shop about an hour later acknowledging receipt of payment, and another a few hours later with notification of dispatch and a post office tracking number.

The tablet arrived on Sunday, two days after I ordered it, pristine and new and in perfect condition. I added my feedback to the shop's profile on the site. I mean, it's an obligation, really!

Need something from Kakaku.com? The folks at GoodsFromJapan can help.


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Monday, September 08, 2014

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum

みえむ

MieMu, the new Mie Prefectural Museum in Tsu, opened in April this year and replaces the old Mie Prefectural Museum, located in Kairaku Park, near Tsu Station.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum


MieMu is part of a new cultural center which also includes the Mie Center for Arts and the Mie Prefectural Library.

The main exhibit aims to showcase Mie's natural history, flora, fauna and culture. There are impressive interactive video displays, lots of stuffed animals and fish.

Areas of Mie covered include the farming villages of the Iga Basin, the fishing villages in the Shima and Higashi-Kishu regions, Ise Bay, the Osugi Valley and Mt. Odaigahara and the Suzuka Mountains, home of the reclusive Japanese Serow.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum


There is also an aquarium for the Japanese Giant Salamander, which were on display at the old museum and various fossils including the skeleton of the "Mie Elephant" - a Stegodon miensis - the largest species to be discovered in Japan to date.

MieMu includes a workshop room, a learning space, a reference room and lecture room as well as a shop and an eating and rest area.

Stegodon miensis


There is a separate gallery for special exhibits, which are an extra charge for adults.

The pleasant, landscaped Museum Field outside includes a lawn, historical signposts and a Toriikofun Stone Sarcophagus.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum


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Mie Prefectural Museum
3060 Isshinden-kouzubeta, Tsu, Mie, 514-0061
Tel: 059 228 2283
Google Map

Admission: 510 yen for adults; free for school age children
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 9am-7pm

MieMu can be combined with a visit to Mie Prefectural Art Museum nearby.

Tsu Station is about 50 minutes by Limited Express from Nagoya Kintetsu Station and about 55 minutes by JR on the Kisei Line from Nagoya Station. Tsu can be reached in about 80 minutes from Osaka Namba Station. Tsu Station is also on the Ise Railway.

MieMu is a 25 minute walk from the west exit of Tsu Station or take a Mie Kotsu bus bound for Mie Center for the Arts or Yumegaoka Danchi and get off at get off at Sogo Bunka Senta-mae.

MieMu: Mie Prefectural Museum


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