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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Dengue Fever in Yoyogi Park

デング熱

Japan has been shocked by the news that dengue fever has returned to the Land of the Rising Sun after supposedly having been eradicated 70 years ago.

Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.
Frisbee fun in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

And Tokyo has been shocked by the fact that it happened in the heart of the metropolis, in the beautiful, sprawling Yoyogi Park - a hive of activity of all sorts every day of the week (see Instagram video below!)

To blame has been the dramatic rise in international travel, making disease more easily communicable, and global warming, which saw a particularly hot, humid summer in Japan this year.

Yoyogi Park has a large pond - now drained in the wake of the dengue crisis - that is surmised to have been the main spot for the dengue-infested mosquitoes to breed.

Yoyogi Park is not closed, but signs are prominently posted at the gates requesting that people wear long sleeves and trousers, and be watchful for mosquitoes. Wholesale spraying of Yoyogi Park has also been taking place to eradicate the pests.

12 people in Japan have been infected so far - all of them via Yoyogi Park. Dengue fever is caused by a virus, and there is no vaccine. However it is fatal in less than 5% of cases. The only surefire measure is eradication of mosquito habitats-as is happening all-out at Yoyogi Park right now.

"Beat it": Fun times in Yoyogi Park

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Monday, September 01, 2014

Japan's World Heritage Sites John Dougill

Japan's World Heritage Sites John Dougill
Japan's World Heritage Sites
John Dougill
Tuttle, 2014
Full-colour hardback, 192 pp
ISBN 978-4-8053-1285-8

Most coffee-table photo books of Japanese scenes are destined to sit around as dust-collecting decorations rather than be consulted as bona fide reference works. But John Dougill's overview of Japan's UNESCO World Heritage Sites achieves the balance between attractiveness and utility that will ensure Japanophiles are hoisting it into their laps on a regular basis and using it to inspire them for the next trip in a country undeniably rich in both natural and cultural wonders. Given its scope, however, and the emphasis on photography befitting its coffee-table format, the book is an introduction to Japan's heritage rather than the definitive guide to it.

Since ratifying the World Heritage convention in 1972, UNESCO has registered 18 natural and cultural sites in Japan, although the number of individual spots is considerably greater, with places like the former capitals of Kyoto and Nara having registered a large number of shrines and temples, for example. The sites span the northern and southern extremes of the Japanese archipelago, from Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Kingdom on Okinawa Island. They include such iconic spots as Mount Fuji, but also lesser-known gems like the far-flung Ogasawara Islands, which host not only amazing flora and fauna, but a remarkable blending of Japanese and Western culture and genes. Interestingly, both these sites were only registered in very recent years.

Dougill set out in 2012 to visit all the sites (17 at the time of writing), and his introduction adds a welcome personal touch to the necessarily fact-driven nature of the body sections. A noted Japan scholar (see my review of his fabulous city guide Kyoto), Dougill deftly directs his prose through informative geographical, historical and social overviews of each site while never overloading us with details. Indeed, the reader is likely to be left wanting more.

The book does not provide a list of suggested further reading. What it does offer, however, in introductory sidebars is up-to-date information on "practicalities" such as access and contact details, sometimes including webpages. Fittingly, the book concludes with a list of sites awaiting confirmation of World Heritage status. (In fact, since the book's printing, the Tomioka silk mill achieved registration.)

The full-colour photographs, some spilling over two pages, are consistently high quality, and often awe-inspiring. A mixture of the author's own take on the sites and the work of professional photographers, they always enhance rather than overwhelm the writing. Informative captions bridge images and text, while area maps and plans provide further visual orientation. You may not be able to plan your entire trip with Japan's World Heritage Sites, but it will definitely motivate you to make it.

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

Richard Donovan

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Japan News This Week 31 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
Japan’s Premier Supported Ceremony for War Criminals
New York Times

Japan defence ministry makes largest-ever budget request
BBC

Japan executes two more prisoners
Guardian

2,900 children officially declared missing in Japan
Japan Times

Japanese Whaling: The Saga Continues
The Diplomat

Jus koseki: Household registration and Japanese citizenship
Japan Focus

Why Japan's Abe and India's Modi are Asia's new best friends (+video)
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

1,129 were hospitalized in Tokyo over the last 5 years for "dangerous drugs," which are an extra-legal form of marijuana, etc.

Source: Japan News

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station

四ツ谷駅 改札口 更新

Looking at this morning's weather forecast (rain - all the way through to the weekend) I left off cycling and took the train to the office for the first time in about three weeks.

In this morning's rush, I didn't even notice, but on the more leisurely return home I saw that the ticket wickets in Yotsuya Station had been upgraded.

New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station, Tokyo, Japan.
New ticket wickets at Yotsuya Station

The previous ticket gates were by no means old or out-of-date looking, but the green space-age gleam and heightened ergonomics of the new turnstiles caught my eye. While I can't put my finger on what exactly has changed in terms of horizontal profile, something certainly has.

Japanese train station ticket gates are, in my experience, the world's friendliest. The turnstiles of stations in all the other cities with them I've visited in the world are more or less clunky - if not positively aggressive - in comparison. The worst example was at Singapore airport where I sailed through at the same speed I do through a Japanese ticket wicket only to painfully bash a very tender spot on my thigh (no, not that high up, thankfully!) on the very tardily retracting barrier.

We entertained a visitor from overseas last week who we took around Tokyo for a few days. It took him at least a day to get used to the speed you should walk through a Tokyo train station ticket gate, i.e. at normal walking speed, sailing on through and very briefly touching your IC card on the pad without slowing down or stopping.

On the flip side, it may well be that this convenience has a price in the way of more upkeep. Every month or so you'll see a technician or two working on the incredibly complicated looking innards of a temporarily disabled ticket wicket. But keeping things running - and, in this case, people swiftly flowing through them - at all costs is one of the things Japan is about.

PS And it so happened the weather forecast was wrong - it hardly rained at all!

Read more about using trains in Tokyo.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi

A Walk Around Kyushu
Day 40, Urushidamachi to Taragi
Sunday November 24th, 2013

I wake as it is getting light and quickly pack my bag after brushing off the layer of frost on my bivvy sack. If it was this cold down this low I hate to imagine how cold it must have been at 900 meters where I was originally planning to sleep out.

There is a thick fog everywhere. I head down the road towards the Kuma River valley. About 200 meters along I see the neon glow of a couple of love hotels piercing the fog. Damn!! If I had walked two more minutes last night I could have had a room in one of them. Then I pass another of those "adult" vending machine huts.

Before long I reach my turning. I am going to head up the valley along a yamanobenomichi, a road along the edge of the mountains, on the boundary between the flatter valley floor and the steep hills. The place where the water comes out from the mountains, and the place that historically many Japanese lived.

Out in the middle of the valley, where the river that made the valley flows, there is now a main road and a railway line with lots of people settled along both, but in older times this would have all been paddies and agricultural land.

The older settlements, along with shrines and temples and such are all along the yamanobenomichi. Even in big modern cities of today, if you go to where the city butts up against the mountains you will almost always find an old, narrow, windy road, with older styles of houses and shrines and temples and other markers of history. Today I will wander along this one until the next pilgrimage temple, Josen-ji.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi

It's not long till I find the first temple of the day. A Chinese-style gate with a large statue of Kannon leads to a small but nice temple on the hillside. It is still too early for anyone to be about. The colors of the maple, with a full range from green through yellow to scarlet are somehow quite beautiful in the diffuse light with subtle shades of grey. More villages, more shrines, often with brilliant carpets of golden gingko leaves. Little traffic.

Eventually the fog clears but out in the middle of the valley a white, serpentine line of mist clings to the course of the cooler water of the river. Tilled fields begin to steam. Another glorious day.

By lunchtime I come into the biggest village so far today, Asagiri. Big enough to have a small general store where I can get some snacks to eat and sit for a while in the shade. Across the road is a shrine with long lines of stone lanterns lining the entrance. It's a bit grander than a regular village shrine. There has been some money spent on it.

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 40 Urushidamachi to Taragi


Then I read a nearby noticeboard and learn that there used to be a small castle on the hill behind the village. The shrine would have been supported by the local ruler, hence its grandness. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of small castles like this all over Japan until early in the Tokugawa Period when the shogunate restricted each daimyo (feudal lord) to one castle per domain.

I carry on and pass the road that comes down from the mountain that I would have been on if I had followed my original route over the mountain. I stop in at a very small shrine, just a solitary honden, the structure that houses the kami that are usually found at the rear of bigger shrines. It has a lovely thatched roof that has been recently redone. It dates from the 16th century and looks like most shrines would have done before roof tiles became prevalent in the late Meiji Period.

By late afternoon, with the sun lower in the sky I approach today's pilgrimage temple. The almost horizontal sunlight illuminates a small shrine by the side of the temple and I see an old gentleman tying fresh bamboo to the uprights of the stone torii (entrance gate) a sure sign that a matsuri will be held very soon.

The temple itself is very pleasant. Enough statuary and autumn colors to sate my photographic urges. Just as I am about to leave, the priest, in full vestments, and his wife appear at the top of the steps of the main hall and invite me in for tea. I really should accept but the sun is getting low and its still 5km to my bed for the night so I apologize and explain my refusal. From here it's almost dead west to the middle of the valley. As I approach the main road it gets busier and around the station at Taragi there are restaurants and convenience stores and lots of traffic. Time for an onsen and a night on a sleeper train.

Jake Davies

A Walk Around Kyushu Day 39 Part 2

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Japan News This Week 24 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
American’s Star Power Unrivaled in Japan
New York Times

US accuses China fighter of reckless mid-air intercept
BBC

Japan landslide emergency worsens
Guardian

Okinawa holds ceremony to mark 70 years since Tsushima Maru sinking
Japan Times

Women: The Economic Saviors of Japan?
The Diplomat

Okinawa’s “Darkest Year”
Japan Focus

Academic flap turns up heat on China's Confucius Institutes
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

1,129 were hospitalized in Tokyo over the last 5 years for "dangerous drugs," which are an extra-legal form of marijuana, etc.

Source: Japan News

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Obama-so Ryokan

小浜温泉

There are numerous towns called Obama around Japan, the most famous one due to its campaign to link itself to the president of the USA is the one in Fukui Prefecture. The Obama in Nagasaki is a hot spring resort on Tachibana Bay, nestled under the volcanic peaks of Mount Unzen.

Obama-so Ryokan

The hot springs here were recorded in the oldest extant records in Japan from the eighth century, and it is claimed to have the hottest hot spring in Japan with a temperature of 105 degrees. It is also home to the longest ashiyu, public foot bath, in all Japan with a total length of 105 meters that also includes a foot bath for dogs.

Like any hot spring resort there are numerous hotels and luxury ryokan, but as usual I looked for the least expensive option and found Obamaso. Located just off the main coast road, Obamaso is an older, traditional ryokan.

Obama-so Ryokan


There are various size tatami rooms available, some with en-suite toilet, but I opted for the lowest price, no meals, shared toilet, and only 3,200 yen. It was off season, and I was the only guest, which made the place feel a little cavernous, however it also meant I got to enjoy the excellent rotenburo, outdoor bath, all to myself.

Recently refurbished, the rotenburo was one of the nicest I have ever used.

Obama-so Ryokan


Obama-so Minami-Honmachi 7
Obama-cho
Unzen-shi
Nagasaki 854-0513
Tel: 0957 742056

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pokemon Center Nagoya

ポケモン

The most-visited Pokemon Center in Japan is the Pokemon Center in Tokyo.

Pokemon Center Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


There are presently eight Pokemon Centers in Japan besides the Pokemon Center in Tokyo: Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo-Bay (Chiba) and Yokohama.

Pokemon Center, Sakae, Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


The Pokemon Center in Nagoya is located on the 5th floor of the main building of the Matsuzakaya department store in Sakae. The store is always popular and sells a variety of the hit anime's goods.

If you want the hottest Pokemon items before they sell out on the day, our sister site GoodsFromJapan serves customers worldwide who want Pokemon Center goods. If you wish to purchase the latest Pokemon goods and have them sent to your home or business please contact us.

Pokemon Center Nagoya, Aichi, Japan


A word from GoodsFromJapan:
"Hi, Dave here, the "Pokemon guy" for GoodsFromJapan in Tokyo. I get regular orders for Pokemon store goods from people all over the world: Singapore, France, Australia, India - you name it.
Most requests are for limited edition Pikachu goods - including plushies, files, phone cases, card holders, etc. - that come out on the special event Saturdays. I'm often there early morning with lists of customers orders, and in realtime contact with certain customers while I shop for them, texting with them using WhatsApp, Line, etc. just to make sure we're on exactly the same page.
Once the customer has sent the money by PayPal (+ our 15% commission), I send the goods using the super-secure and speedy EMS postal service: fully insured, trackable online, with the customer in 5 days max.
So if you want Pokemon goods from the Tokyo Pokemon Center - especially the hot, limited edition ones - please contact us at GoodsFromJapan.
Pika-chuuu!"

Pokemon Center Nagoya
Matsuzakaya Main Building 5F
3-16-1, Sakae, Naka-ku
Nagoya-shi, Aichi, 460-8430
Tel: 052 264 2727

The nearest subway station is Yaba-cho on the Meijo Line of the Nagoya subway.

Hours: 10am-7.30pm; daily

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Japan News This Week 17 August 2014

今週の日本

Japan News.
With Eye on China, Japanese Premier Skips War Shrine
New York Times

Japanese ministers in Yasukuni shrine visit
BBC

Yubari, Japan: a city learns how to die
Guardian

Municipalities begin making rules for children’s use of smartphones
Japan Times

Sovereign Debt: Eroding Japan's National Security
The Diplomat

Uprising: Music, youth, and protest against the policies of the Abe Shinzō government 反乱 若者は音楽で安倍晋三の政策に抗議する
Japan Focus

Analysis: Abe draws ire even as he avoids war shrine on WWII anniversary
Christian Science Monitor

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog

Statistics

Motor vehicles per 1000 people: 591 (2010)

Source: Wikipedia

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Japan Remembers End of Pacific War at Yasukuni Shrine

終戦記念日 靖国神社

Today is the 69th anniversary of the end of Japan's Pacific War. Since a couple of days ago the right-wing sound trucks have been doing their street-circling routine blaring those funny Japanese-Colonel Blimp-style stirring folksy tunes with their rumpa-dumpa rhythms, sung as if verging on tears of indignantly asserted joy.

Shinmon ("Divine Gate") at Yasukuni Shrine, looking toward the Haiden, Tokyo, Japan.
Paying respects to the war dead at Shinmon ("Divine Gate"), before the Haiden shrine, Yasukuni Shrine.

The streets of Tokyo just north of the Imperial Palace were almost empty due to it being the O-Bon holiday period, but were charged with tension all the same. Surugadaishita intersection, just one intersection east of Tokyo's Jinbocho booktown intersection, was blocked by a police cordon when I passed through at about 9:30 this morning. A plainclothes policeman was remonstrating with a yelling motorist who had gotten out of his car, in the jovial, half-mollifying way authority figures here adopt in the face of blusterers.

I was on a bicycle so, checking with one of the uniformed police, squeezed through (even the footpath had traffic cones and chains strung across it) and continued on my way. Up to Kudanshita intersection was almost completely empty of cars thanks to the roadblock.

From Kudanshita up to Yasukuni Shrine, the traffic resumed, but one lane was blocked off on each side for the grilled-windowed police buses that lined the street. Troupes of young police were being mobilized between them: all in their twenties, fresh-faced and often bespectacled, looking more like student volunteers than front-line enforcers.

Flute and oboe duo, and old man doing his best to sing along, Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo.
Flute and oboe duo, with an old man doing his best to sing along, at Yasukuni Shrine.

Inside Yasukuni Shrine looked busy, hung with banners and with what appeared to be the beginnings of a crowd.

I went to Yasukuni Shrine after midday to see what was happening. The main shrine building was thronged, with a long line of people stretching from the torii gate just in front of it, waiting to approach the shrine and pay their respects to the war dead.

Further towards the other end of the shrine grounds were several stalls, one for the right-wing Nihon Kaigi group selling books with a revisionist take on Japan's waging of war and its causes, and collecting signatures in support of revising Japan's constitution to allow Japanese troops to actively serve abroad. Right beside it was another stall collecting signatures against a move to shift the enshrinement of Japan's war dead to another, less controversial, shrine.

Old soldier I chatted to at Yasukuni Shrine, who fought in Russia as a teen. Tokyo, Japan.
Old soldier I chatted to at Yasukuni Shrine, sent to fight in Russia as a teen.

Most interestingly, however, was the presence of a group dressed in military uniforms, gathered around a monument near one of the gates into the shrine. At their center was a frail looking, long-bearded old man sitting on a beach chair in his uniform, and sporting a medal. I went up to him for a brief chat. He was alert and amiable and told me that he had served in the Japanese army in World War Two in Russia for three years, during which time he had been captured by the Russians. "We were confined," he said, holding up and crossing his hands at the wrist in mime. I asked his age, he said 88 (making his wartime experience a teenage one)—"moh dame, moh dame" ("No good, no good anymore!"). I said he looked fine and we had a brief laugh, I thanked him, and moved on. I noticed that as soon as I moved in to talk to him, the guy in military uniform holding an Imperial Army flag immediately disappeared.

It's a hot day today. I went to the refreshment area where there's a small restaurant, outdoor tables full of people snacking and drinking, and vending machines. I bought a bottle of tea and stood there drinking it. Right beside me a guy in his early-to-mid thirties who sounded somewhat tanked up on beer was loudly proclaiming to a bystander he'd cornered about how America was a "land of killers," positing the fate of the native Americans as an example. While Japanese myself, I couldn't resist being a bit of a loudmouth too, and turned around and said to him "Read the history of Hokkaido" (in reference to the fate of the Ainu). I had finished my drink and was walking away anyway, so his outraged shriek equivalent to "WTF!?" in Japanese failed to make its mark.

Dai-Ni Torii ("No.2 Arch") & Shinmon ("Divine Gate"), Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo.
Dai-Ni Torii ("No.2 Arch") and Shinmon ("Divine Gate") at Yasukuni Shrine. 
 The Emperor and prime minister Shintaro Abe are attending an end-of-war memorial ceremony in the Budokan today. Attended by about 6,000 people, it is reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that of the approximately 5,000 members of families of the fallen, offspring make up the majority, and that this year has a record low number of former wives of the fallen: 19, and, for the fourth year running, 0 parents.

38 other local authorities throughout Japan are holding parallel ceremonies, involving a total of about 40,000 people.

69 years on, the Second World War has become fodder for renewed nationalistic bickering in East Asia, primarily between Japan and China. I was in China just a month ago and noted the daily "Confessions of Japanese War Criminals" column in the English-language newspapers there, and over the past month or so there have been reports of war bereaved families in various parts of China launching group litigation against Japanese companies and the Japanese government for war reparations.

After stirring up the hornet's nest of East Asian resentment last year with a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, PM Abe stayed away this year.

Japanese Intelligence in World War 2 

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