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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 50, Arao to Hainuzuka
Sunday December 22nd, 2013

It's very foggy as I leave Arao and head north. Before too long I leave Kumamoto and enter into the southern part of Fukuoka, known as Chikugo, the old name of the province.

This used to be a major coal mining area, though there is absolutely no sign of it anymore. They didn't run out of coal, there is still plenty under the ground, rather the government chose to shut down the industry because at the time oil was cheaper to import. Same reason why so much wood is imported in this 70% forested country. Pure economics, which turned this area into one of the poorest in the nation.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.

The fog stays thick, but as the morning progresses it becomes brighter. It makes the shrines I visit very atmospheric, with tall trees disappearing into the white. They are interesting shrines too, with very funky, brightly painted komainu sharing the gates with zuijin. In general I have been impressed with the shrines in Kumamoto and in fact in Kyushu overall. There are some areas of Japan where the shrines are few and far between and seem to be little visited or used, but not in Kyushu.

Eventually the fog is burned off to reveal a clear blue sky. By lunchtime I get to the one pilgrimage temple I plan on visiting today. Number 59, Komyoji, seems to be a fairly old temple, though there is a concrete treasure house. There is a lot of statuary including a fine pair of Nio in the gate, but the temple is slap bang in the middle of a brand new housing estate.

A few hundred meters away is a brand new Kyushu Shinkansen station, Shinfunayago, and like the housing development there seems to be no basis for it as there are no large towns nearby, but maybe it is part of some development plan.

On the other side of the station is a structure I had been looking forward to visiting. I had caught glimpses of it as I passed through on the train before.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 50 Arao to Hainuzuka.

It's called the Kyushu Geibunkan, and is a culture center/ museum and gallery complex. The architecture is fascinating to me. The building is mostly a hodge-podge collection of roofs, none of them symmetrical, with many of them almost reaching the ground. Like the walls of the buildings, these roofs are made of a variety of materials. Quite a striking effect and I like it. There are also a couple of studio/gallery annexes, also in quite different styles, so there is plenty for me to run around and photograph. I forgo paying the entrance fee to see what the museum has to offer as I still have some distance to cover today.

A little way north of the shinkansen station I veer off the main road and head into Mizuta. There is a shrine here I want to visit, Koinoki Shrine. It's a subordinate shrine in the grounds of Mizuta Tenmangu, a stately shrine with cedar bark roof enshrining Sugawara Michizane, now known as the patron kami of success in education.

Located behind the main shrine, Koinoki Shrine is festooned with hearts and with lots of pink! This is a "Love Shrine" where people, mostly young and female, come to pray for success in finding a lover or husband. It's not the only shrine of this kind in Japan, but the local people are actively promoting it in these times of falling marriage and birth rates.

If I was younger and single I know where I would be spending time hanging out. From the next station I take a train north into Kurume where I will be basing myself for a few days as I walk the convoluted route the pilgrimage now takes.

Koinoki Shrine, Love Shrine, Kyushu, Japan.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49 Tamana to Arao

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 49, Tamana to Arao
Saturday December 21st, 2013

The sun is not yet up, today being the winter solstice and therefore the shortest day of the year, but I encounter several joggers out and about. By the time I cross the river into the town the sun peeks out from the clouds. In the middle of the town is a big Hachimangu shrine with a very impressive gate with a tower. Within the gate a pair of stone Nio, the Buddhist temple guardians removed from most shrines when the government separated Buddhism and Shinto in the Meiji Period.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 49.

In 1877 Saigo Takamori's youngest brother was killed here in a battle of the Satsuma Rebellion. Not far out of town and I come to the first pilgrimage temple of the day, number 57, Rengein Tanjoji and what a surprise it is.

Across a bridge is a massive new gate gleaming golden with fresh wood. Instead of the usual two Nio guardians there are instead 4 statues of the Shitenno, the "Heavenly Kings." They are very ornate and also look new. The temple covers a lot of area, and there is a vermillion pagoda, also seemingly new.

There is obviously money here, but it all seems a little sterile in the way imperial shrines do, lacking in the signs of passing of time and lacking any element of human use. I carry on along the main road, passing through a cluster of love hotels and then an abandoned pachinko parlor.

On closer inspection I see a door is open so I go inside to explore, but there is absolutely nothing of interest inside, just the shell of a standard, cheap, light-industrial/commercial structure. When I first came to Japan I noticed that pachinko parlors disappear at a phenomenal rate, being torn down and often immediately replaced with a new one, and I couldn't figure out why.

Ferris Wheel, Greenland.

Apparently it is to do with taxes, with it being cheaper to tear down a 5 year old structure and replace it. Obviously good for that strange god worshiped in modern Japan, "The Economy."

At Nobara I leave the main road and start to head north, first stopping in at a nice Hachimangu shrine that has a fine pair of old, wooden komainu. I chat with the priest for a while who is busy setting up lanterns and generally getting the shrine ready for the busiest time of the year, the coming New Year.

The road rises and dips, with a bit more rising than dipping, and on the horizon I can see what looks like a multicolored tower or chimney. An hour or so later as my angle changes I see that it is a Ferris Wheel.

Looking at it end-on made it appear as a tower. As I get closer the traffic increases and it becomes apparent it is a big amusement park called Greenland, one I had not heard of before.

To get to the next pilgrimage temple, Taisho-ji, number 101, I have to walk around the boundary of the amusement park listening to screams emanating from the roller coasters. Kongoji turned out to be unusual. It's very large, but there are no tall buildings. Everything is low and constructed out of concrete, quite Chinese or possibly Burmese in appearance.

As I arrive a car-blessing is going on in front of the temple. Its quite busy and there is plenty of statuary and it seems the temple is fairly wealthy. From here I head downhill towards the coast, stopping in at a couple of shrines. In Arao I find the third pilgrimage temple of the day, number 58, Kongo-ji. It's a small, urban temple and my final stop of the day as my hotel is nearby.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Snap Election 2014 - My First Ever Vote


For the first time in the more than two decades I've lived in Japan, I voted today.

Snap election 2014 candidates, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The candidates
I got naturalized as a Japanese citizen in February of this year, qualifying me to participate in Japan's politics. And the first ever election I got to take part in was quite a newsworthy one, as Prime Minister Abe seeks mid-term endorsement for his policies aimed at turning around the country's flat-lined economy, turning the nuclear electric power plants back on in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and giving Japan official military clout again.

Elementary school polling station, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
The polling station
The problem is that a major measure aimed at curbing the gargantuan national debt: raising the consumption tax from 5% to 8% impacted severely on another major strand of his economic policy: raising demand for goods and services among the population.

The local polling station was an elementary school about 3 or 4 minutes away by bicycle - one of those drab old concrete monstrosities from the 1980s or, god forbid, earlier. There were hoardings, one on north side of the school, one on the west, with candidates' posters.

Polling station reception desk, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Voter reception desk
At the desk in the foyer, outside the voting room, I submitted the voting slip I had received in the mail. It was scanned and the clerk confirmed my name. I went in, and gave the paper to another clerk who gave me a voting slip and told me to write the name of the candidate of my choice.

Polling booths, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
Polling booths
There was a sheet in front of me with the name and party affiliation of each candidate, so I referred to that to make sure I got it right. I then placed it in the first voting box, placed in front of the first of three clerks sitting in a row at a long desk, each with a ballot box in front of them.

Candidate name voting paper, Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan.
My voter registration form (left) and voting paper for candidate's name (right)
I was then given two more slips, each a different color from the first, and told to write the name of the political party of my choice on one, and, on another, which had the names of the six supreme court judges, I was asked to place a cross against any I didn't approve of, or leave it blank.
Political party voting form and supreme court judge voting form, Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
Political party voting form (left) and supreme court judge voting paper (right)

I filled in the party name, left the supreme court judge paper blank, and posted each in the box of the second and third ballot box clerk respectively.

That was it. I made my way out, leaving my choices to be counted and make their tiny contribution to Japanese history.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Japan News This Week 14 December 2014


Japan News.
Grudgingly, Japanese Voters Look Set to Stick With Abe
New York Times

Could women help fix broken Japan?

Abe defends Japan’s secrets law that could jail whistleblowers for 10 years

Japan’s coal binge stirs international climate fears
Japan Times

Japan May Be In A Post-Growth Era, With Or Without Abe

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Number of foreigners, by nationality, residing in Japan in 2013:

1) Republic of China: 648,980
2) Korea: 519,737
3) Philippines: 209,137
4) Brazil: 181,268
5) Vietnam: 72,238
6) USA: 49,979
7) Peru: 48,580
8) Thailand: 41,204
9) Taiwan: 33,322
10) Indonesia: 27,210
11) India: 22,522
12) United Kingdom: 14,880

 Total: 2,066,445 (or 1.6% of the total population)

Source: Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deutsche Restaurant Expo 2005


I made a return visit for the first time in ages to the Deutsche Kan, a restaurant, cafe and bar in Nagakute in Nagoya which once formed part of the German Pavilion at Aichi Expo 2005.

Everything seemed the same; the spacious, wooden interior decorated with reproduction German Renaissance paintings, was still there.

Some things had changed however. There was no longer any German beer - no dark beer, no weissbier and no premium German lagers and no German food either. A Wurst case scenario.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya.

The restaurant is part of the Asakuma steak house chain and serves some delicious buffets and set meals if you are a fan of Japanese steak and mix grills. The salads here come especially recommended and looked very appetizing.

They still have beer, too, only Japanese beer, though, Kirin beer.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya, Aichi.

Deutsche Kan  is a ten minute walk south of Fujigaoka Station on the Higashiyama Line of the Nagoya subway and a terminus station of the Linimo.

Deutsche Restaurant, Fujigaoka, Nagoya,Aichi, Japan.

Deutsche Kan
Terugaoka 237, Meito-ku, Nagoya 465-0042
Tel: 052 771 1159

Hours: 11am-10pm

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Monday, December 08, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 48 Yamaga to Tamana

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 48, Yamaga to Tamana
Friday December 20th, 2013

It promises to be a fine day as I head out just after dawn, though a bitterly cold wind is blowing the clouds across the sky at speed. On my way out of town I pass through a small collection of streets with a big soy sauce brewery and a collection of old Edo Period storehouse now converted to shops. I'm surprised to see some of them already open at this early hour. It's actually quite a nice little district, similar to hundreds of others scattered across Japan.

A few kilometers outside town I turn off at the sign pointing to my first stop, the Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum. At a small car park I notice dozens of small tunnels dug into the cliff faces, apparently they were used for burials, though I have not seen anything like them anywhere else in Japan.

A path leads up through the forest and in a few minutes I am by the largest keyhole tomb in Kyushu. The road from the car park to here is more than 2km so this path was a great shortcut. The museum next to the tomb mounds is by Tadao Ando, and is yet another in the Artpolis project.

Kumamoto Prefectural Ancient Tomb Museum.

I run around taking shots of the museum's exterior and then go huddle in the corner out of the wind by the entrance. It is still 30 minutes before opening time but the lady on the desk comes over and lets me in out of the wind. The displays are good. Lots of reconstructions of the inner chambers of burial mounds from around the region, interestingly all brightly decorated.

I head back to the main road down the path and continue on my way. It is mostly slightly downhill but once the road gets back to the Kikuchi River it goes up and over to avoid the big horseshoe curve that the river takes. I stop in at a few shrines. As shrines go they are fairly interesting with some nice wooden komainu and old paintings.

In some areas of Japan the shrines are fairly plain, but some areas, like here, the shrines exhibit more decoration. As I am coming in to Kikusui I can hear a saxophone playing, as I get closer to the source of the sound, most distinctly jazz, it stops, and then a minute later I see a man walk out of a bus shelter carrying a saxophone case. Obviously his neighbors do not like him practicing at home.

I notice that the local manhole covers feature a haniwa, the ceramic figures that were places around burial mounds in ancient times, and then I pass a huge sculpture of the same design. Just off the road are the Etafunayama Burial Mounds, but I decide not to visit, preferring to press on. The main road joins back up with the river and now the coastal plain opens up. I am able to get off the main road and walk along the river embankment.

I get to the bridges that cross over the river into Tamana but carry on down the left bank towards my destination for the night, a big sports park on a hilltop overlooking the town. It is a massive complex with facilities for many kinds of sports and at the highest point in the park I find what I am looking for, the Tamana Observatory, an observation tower overlooking the town.

Tamana Observatory Artpolis Project.

Actually tower is a misnomer, its another of the Artpolis projects and looks more like a massive sculpture with shapes interlocked and protruding out all over.

There are stairs and decks at different levels and the whole mish-mash of shapes seem to be collected around a large egg shaped form at the center. There are locked steel doors on the egg, but seem kind of pointless as there are wide gaps in the walls on either side big enough to easily slip inside where I find a perfectly ovoid chamber with smooth concrete walls.

A perfect place to spend the night, very womb-like (but there is a fine line between womb and cell?). Here I will be safe from the elements, sabre-toothed tigers, or even crowds of angry villagers with flaming torches and pitchforks.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Japan News This Week 7 December 2014


Japan News.
Japanese Right Attacks Newspaper on the Left, Emboldening War Revisionists
New York Times

Japan election: Polls point to convincing Shinzo Abe win

Police in Japan place anti-Korean extremist group Zaitokukai on watchlist

Japan’s fiscal ’13 greenhouse gas emissions worst on record
Japan Times

The Okinawa Reality
The Diplomat

Descent Into Hell: The Battle of Okinawa
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


According to the JNTO, the number of international visitors to Japan in September 2014 was 1,099,100 (+26.8%), which was the largest number in the history of September data.

By destination, the number of travelers from China increased 57.6% to 246,000 visitors. The number of inbound travelers from Korea from January to September 2014 totaled 1.99 million.

Source: Japan Tourism Marketing Inc.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

MIFA Football Park

MIFA Football Park in Toyosu is a cool place to practice your futsal skills in downtown Tokyo.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu.

MIFA (a play on FIFA) stands for "Music Interact Football for All" and consists of a number of all-weather futsal pitches with floodlights and a trendy cafe, serving focaccia, pasta and pizza and, of course, those essential post-match beers.

Futsal has become extremely popular in Japan due to the lack of available space (and lack of pitches) to play the full (11 a-side) version of the game.

MIFA Football Park, Toyosu, Tokyo.

Futsal, which originated in Brazil,  is popular with all age groups in Japan but with the costs involved in booking pitches etc, futsal is especially attractive to the 30+ age group looking to recapture their youth and bond with their contemporaries.

However the artificial turf and the enclosed space takes a toll on aging knee and ankle ligaments (I spent a month in a Japanese hospital after snapping an ACL playing futsal), so always warm up, wear the right footwear and above all take it easy.

MIFA Football Park is a short walk from Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho Line and the Yurikamome Line or Shin-Toyosu Station on the Yurikamome Line. MIFA is right next door to Wildmagic Urban Outdoor Park picnic area.

MIFA Football Park
Toyosu 6-1-23
Koto-ku, Tokyo, 135-0061

MIFA is open 9am-11pm daily. There are 3 18mx26m futsal courts and one 40mx60m junior court available for hire. MIFA also hosts a soccer school and various other futsal competitions and events.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Maki Shoten Foreign Foods Store

Maki Shoten foreign food store in the Mototanaka district of north east Kyoto near Hyakumanben and Kyoto University is a long-standing institution in the city.

Maki Shoten Foreign Foods Store, Kyoto.

Maki Shoten was going strong in 1987 when I first encountered it. I became a regular customer buying imported cheese, dried coconut, muesli, wholemeal bread (sadly no longer on sale) and a copy of the Kansai Time Out (also sadly no longer with us).

Maki has long been serving Kyoto's foreign community with all sorts of goodies from home including turkeys for Christmas and Thanksgiving, a great array of imported spices plus cereals, teas and pasta sauces.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto, Kansai.

Now having to compete with more and more foreign foods stores in Kyoto such as Seijo Ishii at Kyoto Station and Jupiter in the Porta underground mall, just in front of Kyoto Station, Maki's may not be as busy as it once was.

Other, newer foreign foods stores in Kyoto include the Yamaya stores in Qanat shopping mall and Karasuma Oike. Meidi-ya on Sanjo, east of Kawaramachi near the Kamo River has been around for years, selling imported foods at higher prices as reflects its central location.

Maki Shoten, Kyoto.

Maki Shoten
63 Tanaka Sato-no-uchi-cho
Kyoto, 606-8212
Tel: 075 781 3670

Hours: 10am-8pm daily except Wednesday

To get to Maki's take the Eiden Line one stop to Mototanaka from Demachiyanagi Station or bus #204.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47 Kumamoto to Yamaga

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 47, Kumamoto to Yamaga
Thursday December 19th, 2013

It was about three weeks ago that I walked into Kumamoto from the south, and now I am back to begin the next leg of my pilgrimage walk around Kyushu. My plan is to walk through Christmas and the New Year period, though I may take a couple of days off if the weather turns bad. My route will take me north then east and then west though country that is all new to me.

Today I head up route 3 to Yamaga, a hot spring resort town that was once a major rice growing and shipping town. Leaving Kumamoto it is drizzling, cold, the road is slightly uphill and the road is busy. Not a fun way to start, but the worst of all is the noise. Every time I visit a city I am truly shocked by just how noisy it is. I find it hard to believe that people can live in an environment like this, but then again I have lived in cities when I was younger.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 47 Kumamoto to Yamaga.

Coming into Ueki I stop in at a small shrine to sit on its steps and have some breakfast out of the drizzle. The shimenawa has a couple of unusual straw decorations added to the shimenawa in preparation for the new year.

A little old lady comes out of the ramshackle building in the shrine grounds and checks her persimmons hanging up to dry. We chat for a while. In small local shrines I have always found people friendly and wanting to chat. Unlike in the cities and tourist spots where many people will attempt to use English to chat, out in the more rural areas the people chat with me in Japanese. Much more natural.

The rain has stopped now and a few kilometers further on I pass by an entrance to a temple with several statues along the narrow, entrance road so I decide to pop in and explore, and I'm glad I did. There were numerous small shrines scattered around the wooded hillside with many statues, some of them painted.

By lunchtime the road flattens out and curves to the left and runs straight up the wide plain of the Kikuchi River. Both sides of the river are covered with paddies filled with the stubble of this year's harvest.

Before reaching the bridge across the river on the outskirts of Yamaga I stop in at a couple more shrines. By the time I get into Yamaga the sun is out and I pass by the elegant public spa and head to the pilgrimage temple, Kongo-ji (861-0501 熊本県山鹿市山鹿1592).

It is number 100, one of the twenty "extra" temples on top of the standard 88. It has an unusual stone gate forming a perfect two thirds of a circle. My guess is it is Chinese style.

Yachiyoza Theater, Yamaga, Kyushu, Japan

There is a ceremony going on with a lot of people in attendance so I pay my respects and head to the main tourist attraction, other than the onsens of course, which is just a few hundred meters away, the Yachiyoza Theater, a restored kabuki theater built just over a hundred years ago.

It is one of the bigger provincial kabuki theaters I've visited, and uniquely the ceiling is covered in adverts which makes it look like the ceilings you find in some temples and shrines with each ceiling panel having a small painting.

The sun is going down but I have enough time on my way to my ryokan on the riverside to make a short detour to visit the main shrine of the town, Omiya Shrine.

The low sun illuminates the hilltop shrine causing a strong contrast between the almost black shadows and the bright vermillion, so I run around quickly taking advantage and trying to get as many shots as I can. As the day has gone on it has gotten better and better.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 46

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