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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Japanese Rain Words

Tsuyu (梅雨) and uki (雨季) in Japanese both mean the rainy season. Literally, the kanji for tsuyu means "plum rain" and uki is translated into "rainy period." The word tsuyu has this reading because June is when all the plums fruit. Tsuyu is poetic, whereas uki is a practical word that just describes the fact.

Japanese Rain Words.

To describe rain (ame) or a shower (niwaka-ame), Japanese language has an abundance of one word nouns - samidare for May rain and saiu for drizzling rain and on and on. This is an another example of the generally accepted idea that Japanese is more lyrical than English (which has become the international language partly because of its practicality).

Kyoto during tsuyu greets you with a different mood than the rest of the year, and the lyrical beauty of this wet season has inspired many literary hearts and works. For people new to the rainy season, be prepared for a time of exceptionally high humidity, learn to love an umbrella, and explore the city with a rain escape plan to a museum or indoor attraction always in mind. Enjoy the rain in its many forms. Kyoto in tsuyu is lush, reflective, and, when you're truly lucky, dry and sunny.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Backdoor School Websites


A mobile phone, featurephone or smartphone is almost a must-have for school pupils in Japan - even, elementary school pupils - primarily as a way of maintaining contact between the child and his or her parents at all times.

A gakko-ura-saito ("backdoor school site," also known as a gakko-hikoshiki-saito, or "unofficial school site") is a non-public website dedicated to topics relating to a particular school, and which students of the school subscribe to.

In nearly all cases, these sites are can only  be accessed by mobile phones or smartphones (computer access is disabled by IP address identification) and are password-protected. Gakko-ura-saito are unsearchable on the internet.

The latest figures for such sites are already 9 years old, but Mombusho (the Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology) estimated back then that there were over 38,000 gakko-ura-saito in Japan. However, this figure included even threads on major internet notice boards such as those operated by  Ni-Channel, MilkCafe and Yahoo Japan. Excluding these, the number dropped to over 4,700. However, this is considered a vast underestimate, considering the difficulty of ascertaining the existence of sites that don't appear on internet search engines.

Gakko-ura-saito are known to have existed at least as far back as 2002  and first came to public attention in 2006 when they were covered by the TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System Television) channel. The topic quickly got taken up by other TV channels and started being treated as a social problem.

Substance was given to this "social problem" reputation in September 2007, when a student at the privately-run Takigawa High School in Suma ward, Kobe, committed suicide as a result of harrassment via the school's gakko-ura-saito, leading to the arrest of four students a couple of months later on charges of extortion.

Besides threat-laden demands for money having been made via the gakko-ura-saito, nude photos of the student had been anonymously posted on it, as well as personal information such as his residential address and phone number.

The administrators of the site, however, were not subject to prosecution, as what the perpetrators had posted was not considered to be outright character assassination but hurtful abuse, in which case the law does not consider aiding and abetting to be a crime. However, in 2008, a court in a civil prosecution ordered the site administrators to pay damages of 550,000 yen.

Apparently much of the content of anonymous noticeboards on gakko-ura-saito are abusive, naming real names, and full of obscene images. Not only students, but parents/guardians, too, are the subject of abuse, leading in some cases to students having to change schools.

In 2008, Yokohama City carried out a survey on gakko-ura-saito, and ordered the removal of them at 68 of the 145 junior high schools in the city. Yet, it was reported that the school staff members charged with the task of taking the sites down were, themselves, made the target of abuse and slander on the sites.

Measures to contain damage caused by abusive postings on gakko-ura-saito include websites for parents and teachers that enable them to surreptiously join gakko-ura-saito for the purpose of monitoring them.

(The above information was gathered mainly from the 学校裏サイト page on Wikipedia.)

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shimogamo Shrine & Rugby History in Japan


The draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan was made earlier this month on May 10 in Kyoto. A look at the history of rugby in Japan might tell us why the former capital, Kyoto, was chosen for this event.

Stone memorial to the first game of rugby in western Japan, Shimogamo Shrine.

It is believed the first ever game of rugby in Japan was played by British sailors in Yokohama in 1874 and had spread via a British professor to Keio University, a college founded by Fukuzawa Yukichi and at the forefront of westernizing zeal at the time, by 1899.

In Kansai, western Japan, the game received a boost when a Keio student taught rugby to Third High School (which was to become the college of Liberal Arts at Kyoto University) students in the grounds of Shimogamo Shrine in 1910.

Sawatasha, a small sub-shrine of Shimogamo Jinja, Kyoto.

A stone monument and Sawatasha, a small sub-shrine of Shimogamo, now mark the historic spot.

Rugby became popular in the Kansai with a club at Doshisha University established the following year and it was the enthusiasm of Kansai students for the game that helped to set up similar clubs at Waseda and Tokyo University in the capital, both now hot beds of the game in Japan.

The ceremony for the draw was preceded by a visit to the shrine by Rugby World Cup dignitaries and a game of kemari (ancient Japanese football) was also held.

Grounds of Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Kyoto to Introduce Accommodation Tax


The city of Kyoto announced on May 10 that it will introduce an accommodation tax beginning in 2018. All hotels and Japanese inns in Kyoto will charge guests a per night fee that will go into the city's coffers.

Kyoto to Introduce Accommodation Tax.

The only exemption is for hotels and inns that cater to junior high school and high school tour groups. One rite of passage in Japan is the school trip - a military-style operation in which a handful of teachers escort and supervise hundreds of students on a several day trip to some far-flung location, often Kyoto - and the hotels these groups use are bare bones and used only by the above groups. 

The Mayor, Daisuke Kadokawa, and City Council will begin discussions in August to decide on the amount visitors will pay.

Like most tourist and business destinations worldwide, Tokyo introduced an accommodation tax in 2002. Osaka followed suit this January.

In those cities, for rooms that are 10,000 yen (roughly $100) a night or more, the tax ranges from 100-300 yen ($1-3) per night.

For those of us who live - and pay city taxes - in Kyoto, this is long overdue and highly welcome.  The city swarms with visitors who use the city's subways, buses, water, medical services, etc. Those of us who live in the city are paying to maintain those services for short-term visitors.

With the exception of a small number of people and groups - temples and shrines (which are exempt from property taxes), restaurateurs, the tourist industry, and hoteliers - most Kyotoites are not merely inconvenienced by the traffic and crowds and difficulty of getting into restaurants but are also paying to maintain the city services tourists are using.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Japan News This Week 21 May 2017


Japan News.
Japanese Princess’s Engagement Revives Debate on Women in Royal Family
New York Times

Do not run: Fleeing from scene when suspected of groping on train not a good idea
The Mainichi

Japan's economy grows faster than expected

Forced into pornography: Japan moves to stop women being coerced into sex films

The Threat to Japanese Democracy: The LDP Plan for Constitutional Revision to Introduce Emergency Powers
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Pay of elected representatives by country, in UK Pounds.

Britain: £66,396 in 2013
Italy: £120,546
Australia: £117,805
USA: £114,660
Spain: £28,969
Japan: 21,000,000 yen (£145,656) in 2011

Sources: Daily Telegraph, for Japan

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Kyoto City Bus 50


The Kyoto city bus #50 runs from Kyoto Station to the Kinugasa campus of Ritsumeikan University in the north west of the city near Kinkakuji and Ryoanji temples.

The #50 bus chugs up the western side of Kyoto.

Kyoto City Bus 50, Kyoto Station.

From Kyoto Station the #50 bus stops at Nanajo Nishinotoin, Nishinotoin Shomen, Nishinotoin Rokujo, Gojo Nishinotoin, Nishinotoin Matsubara, Nishinotoin Bukkoji, Shijo Nishinotoin, Shijo Horikawa, Horikawa Takoyakushi, Horikawa Sanjo, Horikawa Oike, Nijojo-mae for Nijo Station and Nijo Castle, Horikawa Marutamachi, Horikawa Shimodachiuri, Horikawa Shimochojamachi, Horikawa Nakadachiuri, Omiya Nakadachiuri, Chiekoin Nakadachiuri, Senbon Nakadachiuri, Senbon Imadegawa, Kamishichiken, Kitano Tenmangu, Kitano Hakubaicho (for the Keifuku Randen Line), Kinugasako-mae, Waratenjin-mae, Sakuragicho and Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae.

Kyoto City Bus 50, Kyoto Station.

The first #50 bus service for Kyoto Station leaves Ritsumeikan at 6.16am Monday-Sunday and the last bus is 10.20pm daily.

From Kyoto Station the first Kyoto #50 bus is at 6.10am daily and the last bus to Rits is at 10.45pm daily.

The number #50 bus is usually full of university students in the morning but is not so crowded the rest of the day.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own


In the cool hours of early summer take the narrow road south from the gate of Ginkaku-ji Temple to the elevated world of Honen-in Temple. Here you will find the sun shining on a large bamboo grove. Here you will find birds singing sweetly high above. Hear you will experience long, silent moments.

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own.

If one walks this same path every day, one will discover the fresh new breath of the changing seasons. New flowers will open your heart and mind. In early spring, plum and peach flowers bloom here, followed by cherry blossoms in mid spring. In the first days of May: the wonder of the fresh green of a new generation of young leaves.

The monks at Honen-in Temple teach about nature and living in harmony with the natural world. The temple also opens its doors to art exhibitions and music concerts by artists from around the world. Nearby, you will find Anraku-ji Temple and Ryokan-ji Temple. Like Honen Temple, both of these temples are quiet and peaceful too.

Honen-in Temple, Kyoto, Japan.

On the north side of Ryokan-ji, stands the private residence of Mr. Shio-mi, who has been displaying his special family of bonsai, on tiered shelves, to the public for many years. It is the custom for people to show some of their favorite flowering plants to the passing public. Kyoto people love flowers.

Also in this area you will often see colorful, shiny new rickshaws passing by, pulled by strong, tanned young men. And people walking their dog in the evening light. Walking along the paths of Kyoto quietens the heart and brings simple joys to the soul. And every day at four in the afternoon the bell at Honen-in rings out over the neighborhood. And this sound too, should you hear it, has a soothing effect on the soul.

Honen-in Temple Where Japanese Buddhism comes into its own.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima

ビジネスホテル ケアンズ

Cairns Inn is a small, modern hotel in the seaside town of Hiwasa on the coast of Shikoku in Tokushima.

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.

They have ten rooms, nine of which are "western style". The most noticeable thing about the rooms is their size - they are much bigger than regular budget business hotel rooms, and the feeling of space is enhanced by the minimal decorations and furnishing made out of plain wood.

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.

All rooms are en-suite with the usual facilities of TV, fridge, Wifi, etc.

Extra beds can be added to some rooms for families. There are no meals offered, but the hotel is located right next to JR Hiwasa Station and so restaurants and shops are close by. Popular with pilgrims visiting nearby Yakuoji Temple, a single room costs 4,800 yen.

Cairns Inn
75-16 Benzaiten
Okugawauchi, Minami-cho, Kaifu-gun
Yokushima 779-2305
Tel: 0884 77 1211

Cairns Inn Hiwasa Tokushima.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Japan News This Week 14 May 2017


Japan News.
Heng on Revising Japan’s Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

Is Abe using 2020 Tokyo Olympics to promote constitutional revisions?
The Mainichi

X Japan's Yoshiki needs urgent surgery after decades of intense drumming

Japan’s 2019 World Cup organisers have chance to lift rugby from sport shadows

The Global Rightist Turn, Nationalism and Japan
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


List of countries by homeless population

Australia 105,237 (0.43% = homeless ratio)
Denmark 6,138 (0.11%)
Japan 25,000 (0.02%)
United States 564,708 (0.18%)

Source: Wikipedia

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Spring Words in Japanese


Blossom on the apple tree on our verandah.
Blossom - on our balcony 
Halfway through May, with the plum and cherry blossoms having finished, we are well and truly into spring.

Japanese culture and, by association, the Japanese language, is very season-focused, and there are numerous phrases and vocubulary items special to spring.

rishhun 立春 is the beginning of spring. In the West, this is determined according to the spring equinox, but in Japan, it is calculated according to the pre-modern calendar, so always falls on about February 3 (February 4, this year, not March 20, which was the spring equinox.)

shungyo 春暁 means a spring dawn. And dawn in springtime is characterized by harugasumi 春霞, which is the mistiness that comes with the season.

The Tokyo Skytree enveloped in morning spring haze.
The Tokyo Skytree with harugasumi on a shungyo

Such mistiness at nighttime makes for an oborozuki 朧月, or "hazy moon," with all the wistfulness and romance the image invokes.

This "haziness" extends to one's state of mind, and shunmin-akatsuki-o-oboezu 春眠暁を覚えず refers to something that happened to me this week: sleeping so well thanks to the nice not-too-cool but not-too-hot weather that you don't wake up in time. Literally translated: "spring sleep dawn unremembered." I didn't make it to the office until midday!

However, those pleasant temperatures can readily give way to a brief reversion to winter, with the sudden cold spring day being called shunkan or harusamu 春寒.

But we seem to be past that stage now, and things are haruranman 春爛漫, i.e., spring is well and truly here and filling everything with the pulse and glow of new life.

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Tale of Genji: the World’s First Full-length Novel

The Tale of Genji: the World’s First Full-length Novel.

The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) is considered to be the world's first full-length novel.

It was written in the early 11th century by a female imperial court servant called Murasaki Shikibu. This is over a thousand years ago and long before narrative works by European writers such as Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616) and Daniel Defoe (1659–1731).

The Tale of Genji consists of 54 chapters and covers a period of 70 years during which four different emperors reigned. In all, the work has about 400 characters, including 50 main characters. The length of the work is equivalent to over 2,500 pages (with 400 Japanese letters per page; i.e. about 1 million letters).

The story is divided into three parts. The first part spans Chapter 1 (Kiritsubo) to Chapter 33 (Fuji no Uraba). This part mainly describes the lavish early life of Hikaru Genji, the hero of the story.

The second part covers eight chapters: Chapter 34 (Wakanajo) to Chapter 41 (Maboroshi). This part focuses on the lonesome feelings and solitary later life of Hikaru Genji.

The third part covers the last 13 chapters: Chapter 35 (Niou no Miya) to Chapter 54 (Yume no Ukihashi). These chapters tell the part of the story after Hikaru Genji death. The last ten chapters are known as Uji Jujo as they are set in the town of Uji, located a little southeast of Kyoto.

Murasaki Shikibu statue in Uji.
Murasaki Shikibu statue in Uji
Who was Murasaki Shikibu?

Murasaki Shikibu (紫 式部) was the daughter of the middle class court noble, Tametoki Fujiwara. The exact year of her birth is unknown but it is assumed to be some time between 970 and 973. Her mother died when she was a child.

Murasaki Shikibu married Nobutaka Fujiwara in 999, when she was about 27 years old. They had a daughter, Takako, in the following year. However, only three years after their marriage, in 1001, her husband passed away. It is believed that the first chapters of the Tale of Genji were completed around this time.

In 1005, Murasaki Shikibu started to serve the Empress Shoshi who was a daughter of Michinaga Fujiwara, the most powerful court officer of that time. Though the year of her death is not known, historical records indicate that she lived until around 1019.

Murasaki Shikibu was the first Japanese person to be selected by UNESCO as one of the world's great cultural individuals. In addition, Murasaki Shikibu's writing of the Tale of Genji was ranked as 83rd of the "100 Events that Changed the World in Last 1,000 Years", featured in a special October issue of Time magazine in 1997.

The Tale of Genji has been translated into many other languages, including: English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Czech, Croatian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi among others.

In addition to the countless people who have read the book, there are many researchers all over the world who have and continue to pursue research related to the book.

In the Murasaki Shikibu Nikki (Murasaki Shikibu's Diary), Murasaki Shikibu wrote on November 1st, 1008, that she was praised for the excellence of her writing by Kinto Fujiwara, one of the leading literary connoisseurs of that era.

This entry proves that the Wakamurasaki (early Murasaki) chapters had been completed at this time (November 1st, 1008) and that many people were reading them even then.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Japanese Kitchen Clues Culinary Tools to Take Home

Every country has its own assortment of fascinating kitchen gizmos waiting to be discovered. Here in Japan I tried to resist, thinking simplicity was best, but as soon as I clutched my first kitchen toy, I was lost - and that was over 25 years ago!

Now what could that small, shiny, copper basket with the screen lid be? Judging by its long, brass handle, it's obviously meant to be used over fire, but you could only pop 10 grains of popcorn in it. What's often in sauces or sprinkled on top of a number of dishes? Of course, a sesame seed roaster! Naturally, I had to have one. It works, but remember: if the seeds turn color, they are too well done, so be careful and keep shaking.

Japanese Kitchen Clues Culinary Tools to Take Home。

Tea is universal, but the staple tea of Japan is green tea (sencha) or roasted tea (bancha) brewed in pots without built-in strainers. Just look around--hand-made strainers of bamboo or wire mesh with or without stands abound. They are practical and beautiful.

Most countries have sieves; Japan's are handsome and easy-to-use wooden hoop ones. What I prefer for making soft and creamy puree is one that looks like it's made of black plastic mesh but is, in fact, made of horsetail hair. This traditional sieve provides the give needed to insure proper mushing and yet is strong enough to hold together. To use, rinse and lower over a bowl. With someone steadying it, put some well-cooked peas or other vegetables on top. Using a flat paddle, push down and pull to puree. Keeping the paddle flat to utilize maximum surface area is the secret. Wash carefully and dry well.

The 'cookie' cutter, although not used for cutting cookies, has reached an evolutionary peak in Japan where there exists a veritable garden of designs and sizes. Although meant for shaping vegetables, they can be used for cookies, pate, etc. Hint: cut hard things into slices before shaping, and use a pot holder to pad your hand if necessary.

Though larger, rice molds are available in nearly all the same shapes as the cutters. Each comes with a matching pusher. Put the rinsed mold on a wet cutting board, and stuff with rice. Press gently enough with the pusher so the rice just holds its shape (packed too hard, it tastes bad). Pick up the whole set and put it on a serving plate or tray. Holding the pusher steady, slip the sleeve up and out. Gently remove the pusher. Rinse and repeat. After a few tries, you'll get the hang of it.

Japanese kitchen knives - hocho.

The favored shop for passionate chefs looking for the best in kitchen toys is on Kyoto's Nishiki food market street. Aritsugu always has something amazing sitting in their window. Their specialty is knives, which is why I first went there. Lacking knowlege and cash, I was none too confident, even before entering. A talk with the master somewhat reassured me. Basically what he said was, 'Since you don't know how to use or sharpen the expensive knives properly, I won't sell you one. Buy a cheap one, practice, and when you're good enough I'll sell you a better one'! I found a shop I could trust, and ever since then I've been buying most of my tools there. Please note: they accept only cash.

Four more handy items you won't want to be without:

Here's something that looks like a twisted metal skewer. Welded on it are two loops tilted at opposite angles with the downside edge sharpened. Since you'll never guess, I'll tell you what it does: it makes spirals. 'So what' you say? Make one from a carrot and another from a daikon. Work them together, steam so they're still crunchy, put two or three on top of a steamed fish, and voila!-- instant dinner conversation topic.

Want to make lemon spaghetti? Use this handy tool with five tiny rings at one end, pull it around the lemon and presto!--little squiggles of lemon peel for garnishing chicken, fish, salads, pies, etc. Ask for a 'remon guretaa' (lemon grater).

If you want just zest (don't we all?), Japan has wonderful tin-plated copper graters that are completely handmade and incredibly easy to use. (Don't grate into the white part of the lemon--it's bitter!) The larger graters are more convenient and can be used for vegetables like potato, daikon, and carrots. Now that you've zested your lemon, you need this little bamboo gizmo to brush it off onto whatever you're garnishing. No fuss, no mess, no nicked fingers. No kitchen should be without one!

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Sunday, May 07, 2017

Japan News This Week 7 May 2017


Japan News.
Shinzo Abe Announces Plan to Revise Japan’s Pacifist Constitution
New York Times

48% in favor of constitutional amendment: Mainichi survey
The Mainichi

Japan Yakuza: 'Split' in powerful Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi gang

Japan's luxurious Shiki-shima sleeper train – in pictures

Reassessing Juvenile Justice in Japan: Net widening or diversion?
Japan Focus

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"In a Kyodo News poll taken late last month, nearly half of the respondents who said an amendment is necessary cited “Article 9 and the Self-Defense Forces” in a multiple-choice format on what should be the priority issue in revising the Constitution. Roughly half of the pollees who denied the need for an amendment said they support the Constitution as it is because its war-renouncing text has maintained the peace in postwar Japan.

"The Kyodo survey paints a mixed picture of public opinion over the Constitution, particularly Article 9. A total of 60 percent of the pollees called an amendment of the Constitution “necessary” or “rather necessary,” as opposed to 37 percent who replied that an amendment is either “not necessary” or “rather not necessary.”

"The pollees are more split on revising Article 9 — 49 percent in favor and 47 percent not in favor. A majority of those in favor of revising Article 9 cite “changes in the security environment surrounding Japan,” such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development as well as China’s military buildup. On the other hand, three-quarters of all respondents said Japan never engaged in the use of force overseas in its postwar years

Source: Japan Times

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen

Japanese crafts are often regarded as formal and for special occasions only. But this is not true. Just as many handicrafts are simple, inexpensive and created for everyday life. And even simple, daily-life things are skillfully and patiently created by Kyoto craftsmen, who pride themselves on making beautiful things that last for a long, long time. Here are three accessories that you are sure to find useful.

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen.

Lacquerware soup bowls - New black or dark red lacquer tableware is expensive. But Kyoto's Uruwashi-ya offers you a great solution: used lacquerware. Used or antique lacquerware is very reasonable. However, you should inquire about how it will hold up in dry climates, because lacquer is ideally suited to high humidity environments. On the south side of Marutamachi, east of Fuyacho. Open 11:00-18:00, closed on Tues. Tel: 075 212 0043.

Brushes & brooms - Need a handmade brush or broom to clean the house or your garden? Then you've come to the right place. Naito Shoten, an early 19th-century handmade brush and broom shop, has everything you could possible hope for. Everything from large to small, including brushes for long glasses, pot cleaners, and mats (from ¥400). On the north side of Sanjo, just west of the Kamogawa River. Open daily 9:30-19:00. Tel: 075 221 3018.

Japanese Crafts for the Kitchen.

Japanese Washi paper table decorations - Warm to the touch and naturally colored, Japanese handmade paper or washi can easily be adapted to serve as a table cloth, coasters, and for all kinds of other table decorations. And best of all: washi is so strong that it can be used over and over. For a great selection of washi, go to Kamijikakimoto, on the east side of Teramachi, about 100 meters north of Nijo. Tel: 075 211 3481. (www.kyoto-kakimoto.jp)

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Stalking the Wild Herbs of Japan

When mountains slopes become salad ingredient paradises. There are good things growing at your feet in Japan and some of them are edible!

Sansho (Japanese Pepper).

Sansho (Japanese Pepper)

These low (1 to 5 meter) shrubs grow in mountain meadows and around the base of hills. Young leaves appear in March and continue growing till May. The fruit comes out in June and July. The young leaves (called kinome) are good in miso soup (especially in akadashi) and on maze-gohan pilaff, too. They are often used to garnish boiled bamboo shoots. The pepper pods are boiled with soy sauce to make a delicacy called tsukudani.

Yomogi (mugwort).

Yomogi (Mugwort)

This plant grows around houses or along the Kamo River banks in Kyoto from March to June. It's 50-100 cm high and easy to find. The young leaves are boiled, ground, and mixed with mochi dough to make Yomogi mochi. When sweet beans are put inside, it becomes a popular home-made cake. Or dry the leaves, put a handful in a cotton cloth, and add it to your bath. Like soaking in an onsen!

Seri (Japanese watercress).

Seri (Japanese watercress)

You can find this on the banks of rice fields and in wet places from around March to May. It's about 20 - 40 cm in height. It can be cut finely and sprinkled on miso soup, or added to maze-gohan.

Tampopo (Dandelion)

This well-known flower appears from March to April. It can be made into tempura, or mixed with walnuts, peanuts, or sesame and flavored with a bit of soy sauce and sugar. Mustard can be added to spice it up.

Mitsuba (trefoil)

Grows in wet places from March to May. It's usually 30 - 60 cm in height and is good in miso soup, and in maze-gohan.

Nanohana, rape blossom.

Nanohana (rape blossom)

This green vegetable with the thick stalk and yellow flowers looks, and is, good enough to eat. It's delicious made into tempura, or blanched and then flavored with sesame and soy sauce. If you can manage to gather all the above plants, why not have a tempura extravaganza? On your way down from the mountains, just be sure to stop by a liquor store for some sake. Have a healthy Spring!

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima

民宿 弘陽荘

Located in the small coastal town of Hiwasa on the coast of Tokushima, Koyo-so is a fairly standard budget minshuku.

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.

Like many of these older minshuku, a small frontage hides a veritable warren of narrow corridors and staircases that lead to the rooms, bathrooms, and dining rooms.

Hiwasa is home to Yakuo-ji Temple, a famous temple in its own right, but also temple 23 on the famous 88 temple Shikoku Pilgrimage, so many of the guests at Koyo-so will be pilgrims.

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.

The staff speak little English, but are not averse to non-Japanese guests, due no doubt to the increasing number of foreign pilgrims walking the Shikoku pilgrimage.

The facilities are standard for a budget minshuku, no wifi, and I can't speak for the food as I stayed sudomari, for 3,900yen. It's located in the old town, 1 kilometer from Yakuoji Temple, 1 kilometer from Hiwasa Station on the JR Mugi Line, and about 400 meters from the beach.

The beach is famous as a site where turtles come to lay eggs, and right next to the beach is a pretty informative Turtle Museum.

Minshuku Koyo-so
70-Honson, Okugawauchi
Minami-cho, Kaifu-gun
Tokushima 779-2305
Tel 0884 77 1006

Minshuku Koyo-so Hiwasa Tokushima.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights



May, a month of great change, is traditionally regarded as the beginning of summer in Japan, particularly in the central coastal regions of Honshu. It is a month of much activity in every sense of the word, beginning with a riot of new green leaves as Golden Week sends much of the nation into travel mode. In Kyoto, citizens become noticeably more energetic, and on weekends the streets seem to fairly overflow with out-of-town tourists. On the social scene, May is especially cherished by poets and tea ceremony aficionados.

Activity, however, is most apparent as you become aware of the sudden surge of energy in the natural world. The forests become livelier by the day with bird song as countless summer residents return from their southern winter homes, and everywhere there is a growing diversity of newness: new flowering bushes, new plants, new leaves, new insects, newness in all directions.

Because of Kyoto's unique climate, an exotic combination of tropical and temperate elements, and its richly endowed geographical features, the feeling of spring is strong to the point of inducing a mild form of drunkenness. And if one had to suggest a suitable alcoholic beverage for May, champagne would certainly suit the effervescence and joy of this month. As the days get warmer and the days grow longer, the spirit seems to almost lose itself in the successive waves of fine weather and sweet air.

Finally, though a part of Western tradition, May is also the month when the world, for those who remember, celebrates Mother's Day the (second Sunday of May). Not surprising, roses, being the perfect gift for mother, flower profusely this month.

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights.


Kyoto living in May is taken up with celebrations in an outdoor world that is pleasantly warm all day long. Average May temperatures, like those of October, seems ideally suited to human living, and one need no longer worry about a sudden chill or bring an extra layer of clothing just in case.

May is a month crowded with outdoor celebration. Aoi Matsuri, Kyoto’s oldest most famous festival, and the exotic river rituals of the Mifune Matsuri both take place this month (May 21st). Another eagerly anticipated event is Takigi or Torch-lit Noh. This magical spectacle of ancient costumes, masks and ritual is usually held against a suitably gorgeous background. Nara's Kofuku-ji Temple holds its annual Takigi Noh performance on the 11th and 12th of May. At Kyoto's Heian Shrine the event is delayed until the first and second of June.

With the wonders of new growth to be seen nearly everywhere, May is the ideal month to enjoy a light meal or traditional tea and a sweet while marveling at a Japanese garden. With its lush garden surroundings, Kano Shojuan, just across the canal at the southern end of the Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-michi) is a perfect venue for enjoying a cup of tea amidst the splendor of nature in transition (daily 10:00-16:30, except Wed; ¥1,050, with sweet; Tel: 751-1077).

Another highly recommended garden viewing experience can be had at Ganko Zushi's Nijo-en, a restaurant that is sure to please, and which has an unbelievably large garden area.

For those interested in flower arrangement, one accessory prominently used to advantage in May are baskets or kabin kago woven of vines. These can be hung on the wall and filled with a segment of a flowering vine such as a clematis, or placed on an entranceway or hallway table. These baskets make an ideal souvenir to take home and use for flower arrangements.

Kyoto May Seasonal Themes and Highlights.


The green month of May heralds the first tea harvest of the year. On or around May 2nd, 88 days after risshun (the first day of spring according to the old lunar calendar), picking of the newest tea leaves begins. Uji, in south west of Kyoto, is where you can see pickers in their traditional outfits busily harvesting tea throughout May. Uji is home to some of Japan's finest tea plantations.

The first harvested tea, ichiban-cha or shin-cha, is the most expensive because it is the sweetest and mildest in taste. With each successive harvest, the tannin level in the leaves becomes more noticeable, lending a characteristic bitterness to the tea. For tea connoisseurs, the first harvest is an eagerly-awaited event. Appropriately, some of the very first tea leaves are offered to the gods in the Kencha Sai Festival at Uji-gami Shrine on May 5th. At the same shrine, on June 1st, for ¥1,500 you can enjoy a tea ceremony, a light, beautifully arranged meal, and the satisfaction of being one of the first to savor the very finest of the year's harvest (for more information: Tel: 0774-23-2243).

Ippodo tea shop, Kyoto.

For visitors who do not have the chance to go to Uji, Kyoto's famous Ippo-do tea shop is the ideal place to buy fresh tea or sample what is available. Elsewhere, throughout the city, you will also find sweet delicacies made with tea, and in some places even soft ice cream flavored with tea.

Another food item that is particularly identified with May is katsuo or bonito, a variety of tuna, that is served raw this month. This fish is served in many restaurants in May. A visit to Kyoto's gourmet food street, Nishiki (one street north of Shijo), is also a good idea to get an idea of the abundance of foods available in the Old Capital in the fertile month of May.


When it comes to color May is best symbolized by green and purple. The first fresh green spring leaves are called wakaba in Japanese or young leaves. These can be seen as a luminous fresh glow on the mountainsides surrounding the city, a phenomena that lasts until nearly the end of the month when they gradually turn to the final darker greens of June. Another green is that of the different kinds of irises that bloom in profusion in the city's many garden ponds. The iris, which grows so straight and seems so very full of life, is a symbol of good health and makes an ideal gift for someone who is not feeling up to form.

Another May motif, often seen in scrolls and paintings, is that of tiny Chinese dogs frolicking in a flowering background of peonies. Peonies, favored for their rich reds and subtle pinks, have flowers the size of large human hand. They are harder to find in abundance, but can often be seen as potted plants. Nara's Hase-dera Temple is particularly well-known for its slope of peonies.

Finally, the mauve purple flowers of the wisteria vine, equally beloved by flower enthusiasts over the ages, are also a treat not to be missed this month. Enjoy!

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours (YJPT, since 1992), a Japan destination expert for travel and tourism. He specializes in private travel (customized day trips with guides / private guided tours) and digital guidance solutions (about 25% of our business and growing!). Ian and his team offer personalized quality private travel services all over Japan. To learn more, visit www.kyoto-tokyo-private-tours.com or call us on +1-415-230-0579.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Japan News This Week 30 April 2017


Japan News.
The Children of Fukushima Return, Six Years After the Nuclear Disaster
New York Times

Gov't crosses line with launch of landfill work for Okinawa base relocation
The Mainichi

Can Toshiba escape fate of corporate Japan's zombie hordes?

Equality in Japan: is this vision of a fairer society too good to be true?

Continuation of Policy By Other Means: Ensuring that US-ROK Military Exercises Don’t Increase Risk of War
Japan Focus

Japan Inc braces for labor reform, plans to boost productivity - Reuters poll

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Private American universities charge roughly $60,000/year in tuition. Most students don't pay the full amount, but the US is by far the most expensive country in which to pursue post-secondary education.

In Japan, private universities cost about 1.5 million yen ($13,476)/year.  National universities, which are publicly supported, charge far less: 538,000 yen ($4,833) per year.

In the United Kingdom.."For home students, institutions in England can charge up to a maximum of £9,250 (~US$11,370) per year for undergraduate degree programs, and in Wales up to £9,000 (~US$11,050). In Northern Ireland the limit is £3,925 (US$4,830) for EU and Northern Irish students, and up to £9,250 for students from the rest of the UK."

Source: How Much Does it Cost to Study in the UK?

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

There's a Story Behind Every Japanese Festival


Japan is steeped in tradition - or what looks like tradition, with a great number of historical buildings, for example, that were destroyed in World War II having been reconstructed, either as a facade or painstakingly much as they used to be.

There's a Story Behind Every Japanese Festival。

The Tokyo Kabukiza theater is a case in point. In 2013, the old theater was demolished but its facade meticulously recreated over the first few floors of the skyscraper built in the original's place.

However, when it comes to activities, such as neighborhood festivals with people dressed in traditional garb and doing traditional things, you expect the event to be firmly rooted in tradition - local tradition, of course. Yet, talking to a Japanese colleague, I found that not even festivals are always what they seem.

My colleague related how in his hometown, a festival (matsuri) takes place every year that is not only fairly new - i.e. about 40 years old, but which doesn't even involve locals. Rather, it was started by a group in a neighboring town that chose my colleague's town for its better layout for a festival. The group spent a great sum of money on getting an omikoshi portable shrine made, and has held its festival in the town every year.

However, maybe because it's not their town, the festival participants tend to get a bit carefree once they've downed a few sakes, being generally raucous and on the verge of disorderly, and leaving cigarette butts and other trash behind them.

The hosting town is in a bit of a bind because they don't want to cause any hard feelings, especially since the festival goers have gone to the lengths they have in establishing the festival, because it's already been happening for forty or so years, and because it's just one day a year.

I would have thought that, this being Japan, a few quiet words at the right time would be enough to prevent recurrences, but in this case apparently that hasn't worked. He concluded "Sometimes there's nothing for it but to shut up or shout 'wasshoi!'"

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Kyoto Butoh "Underworld Flower"


On a rainy evening in late April, we cycled into central Kyoto to watch a performance of Butoh.

Yurabe Masami Perfoming
In the words of performer Yurabe Masami:

"Since ancient times, we have been fascinated by flowers. Flowers are ever present at festivals, funerals, ceremonies, and such places of deep memory.

This fleeting life, an ephemeral flower blossom—do we not discern a world beyond time in that transitory beauty? This “beyond time” is expressed in Japanese by the word yomi, which refers to the world below. Yomi is a place of both return and resurrection. This place where the dead dwell is not an isolated otherworld, but extremely near.

For instance, during sleep or in the depths of words. Every single night asleep, we live in the world of yomi, then return home accompanied by new breath and vitality. Rather than isolated islands, aren’t our bodies within a great ocean beyond time? Is it not this new breath from yomi that causes flowers to bloom?

Butoh is for me an expression of this. Not a presentation of something with our bodies—but to feel that the body itself becomes an outrageous miracle of a flower. Along with your own body, the viewer’s..."


Like a previous performance, it felt vaguely like watching someone die, slowly.

Devastating. Powerful. Intimate.  

Yuji Kohara.


Ticketing and Reservations Entry costs ¥3,000. Student discount ¥500 off. Reservations please: only eight places per performance.


Just north of the intersection of Koromonotana and Sanjo streets, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-8202

 Kyoto Subway: Five-minute walk from Karasuma line or Tozai line; Karasuma Oike station, Exit #6.
 Hankyu Train: Ten-minute walk from Kyoto line, Karasuma station, Exit #22.


Hiroshi Mimura and Yuji Kohara

Inquiries: butohkan.jp

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Japan Stationery Museum Tokyo


Yatate portable pen and ink case, Japan Stationery Museum, Taito ward, Tokyo.
Yatate portable pen and ink case, Japan Stationery Museum, Taito ward, Tokyo.
The Japan Stationery Museum (Nihon Bungu Shiryokan) is a small repository of things to do with writing - in the broadest sense of the word - in the Yanagibashi district of Taito ward, Tokyo.

The museum occupies the first floor of the Tokyo Bungu Hanbai Kenpo Kaikan (The Tokyo Stationers' Insurance Hall), and covers a lot in quite a small space.

Display cases, the Japan Stationery Museum, Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Display cases in the Japan Stationery Museum
There are the expected things on display like pens, pencils and calligraphy paraphernalia, but among them certain items stand out such as replicas of pencils used by the Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543–1616) and the military commander Masamune Date (1567–1636), ancient Chinese ink stones, and Edo era ink cases (that look like smoking pipes). There are ink bottles, and a huge calligraphy brush made from 50 horses' tails and weighing 14kg.

There are examples of Egyptian papyrus, quill pens, bamboo pens, grass pens, antique fountain pens representing dozens of illustrious brands, and all manner of other writing implements.

Ink bottles, Japan Stationery Museum, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Ink bottles, Japan Stationery Museum, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Yet there are unexpected items, too, that stretch the meaning of the word "stationery," like personal seals from China and Japan, including a replica of a solid gold one used officially in Japan in ancient times. There is a collection of wicked-looking paper knives. And there are even machines such as cash registers, calculators, and a futuristic robotic writing arm.

Mechanical calculators on display at the Japan Stationery Museum, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Mechanical calculators, Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
The calculators made for some of the most interesting exhibits, covering everything from old abacuses, to clunky mechanical hand-operated calculators from the 1960s that looked more like typewriters (of which there were also several).

Primitive long-distance messaging machine in the Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
Primitive long-distance messaging device in the Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
For its small size, the Japan Stationery Museum had an unexpectedly rich and varied range of exhibits, and I spent a good 20 minutes here taking everything in - somewhat longer than the 5 or so minutes I had envisaged on first walking in.

Calligraphy ink stones at the Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
Calligraphy ink stones at the Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
The Japan Stationery Museum is free to enter, and photography is permitted. The curator is welcoming and friendly. There is virtually no English - just a little on the two pamphlets I was given. However, the one thing that seriously compromises the Japan Stationery Museum is its extremely limited opening hours: 1pm - 4pm on weekdays only, closed weekends and public holidays. Closed December 28 - January 5.

Robot writing arm at the Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo.
Robotic writing arm, Japan Stationery Museum
The Japan Stationery Museum is five minutes' walk from the East Exit of Asakusabashi Station on the JR Sobu Line, or Exit A1 of Asakusabashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line. Just follow the overhead Sobu Line railway eastwards.

Japan Stationery Museum in Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
Japan Stationery Museum, Tokyo

Japan Stationery Museum
Yanagibashi 1-1-15, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0052
Tel. 03-3861-4905

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Japanese Umbrellas

One of the most colorful and appealing images of traditional Japan is the graceful paper umbrella. Forty years ago there were almost 10,000 artisans in Japan making umbrellas of oiled paper and bamboo; now very few remain.

Japanese Umbrellas.

A few years ago Jacqueline Ruyak interviewed Shigeta Zenji, an umbrella maker from Obama in Fukui Prefecture.

"I'm working for my health," laughed Shigeta. "I thought about retiring when I turned eighty-three, but I start to feel all my aches and pains if I don't work."

A native of Obama, Shigeta says that he never wanted to make umbrellas. Being the oldest son, however, he had no choice but to follow in his father's footsteps. He used some tools his father made.

"I always used to envy salaried workers because of their steady incomes, but I guess you could say my work is now my hobby. Now I have the time to enjoy both working and talking with customers."

Japanese Umbrellas.

Hard times hide in those words. In the 1950's, when the market for traditional umbrellas all but disappeared, Shigeta watched as the number of active umbrella makers dwindled, forced into retirement or another line of work.

"It was hard, but I see it now as a kind of spiritual training. I couldn't have made it, though, without the support of my family. When I was at my peak, competition was fierce among the local makers as well as among makers in the rest of the country.

That's all over now and I can take it easy, which is good at my age, I suppose. But I sometimes miss the stimulation." Shigeta is unusual among umbrella makers in that he made both the plain, sturdy bangasa and the colorful, slimmer and more elegant janomegasa.

Japanese Umbrellas.

The name bangasa evolved during the Edo period, when shopkeepers in Edo (present-day Tokyo) made it a practice to put a number (ban) on the umbrellas (kasa) they lent to customers caught in the rain. Janomegasa get their name from the umbrella's 'snake eye' design of concentric circles.

Bangasa were so common before World War II that each prefecture had its own color combination, and umbrella makers had to be careful not to confuse orders from different parts of the country.

Nowadays, most customers at Shigeta's sparsely furnished, tranquil shop buy the handmade umbrellas for nostalgic reasons or to use when wearing kimono, and janome are more popular.

Because bamboo and washi (handmade paper) are essential for making Japanese umbrellas, artisans traditionally lived near a good source of both. Obama, in the Wakasa area of Fukui, is blessed with both abundant bamboo stands and Wakasa washi, and it used to be famous for its umbrellas. About 200,000 umbrellas a year were shipped to the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, Shigeta recalls. Those from Gifu, often called the home of the Japanese umbrella, were usually sent to Kyoto.

The making of umbrella parts is still a cottage industry, and Shigeta used to order his ribs, nubs, and shanks from Gifu. Pointing to a pile of slender bamboo ribs, he sighed, "Next year they want a thirty percent increase for those, but I can't raise my prices."

Shigeta favors the locally made washi for its strength. In addition to plain and colored paper, he uses a paper patterned with Japanese umbrellas, a design which is peculiar to Wakasa washi.

Japanese Umbrellas from Kyoto.

Twelve steps go into making an umbrella. First, the handle is attached to the nub, then the ribs, notched with holes, are fitted into slots in the nub. Once the ribs are in place they must be threaded together with strong cotton thread. Next, the ribs are spread apart and the holes at the ends are threaded together before a strip of paper, folded double, is pasted along what will become the rim of the umbrella.

The fifth, and most important, step is fitting paper around the top so that rain cannot seep in. That done, strips of paper cut on the diagonal are pasted to every three ribs to give the umbrella a nicely rounded shape when furled.

The umbrella is then dampened and left overnight. The next day, the ribs are painted with a mixture of paint and a red paste called benigara, and the paper is oiled with linseed oil. Next the umbrella is dried in the sun, then lacquered. How long does this process take? "That's hard to say because I usually work on fifty umbrellas at a time," says Shigeta, who adds that he was considered a full-fledged maker when he was able to finish one hundred umbrellas a month.

To dry the umbrellas Shigeta takes them to a flat area, opens them, and sticks the handles in the ground---the best way to secure them, he says. A field of sunning umbrellas is a lovely image, but the capricious weather on the Japan Sea coast makes this the worst part of the process.

"Around noon it starts raining or a wind comes up or the wind direction suddenly changes. Now I dry twenty to fifty umbrellas at a time, but when I was at my peak it was over two hundred. Getting them out of the ground in a sudden rainstorm was hard work, but at least I could dry any that got wet.

Order this Japanese Umbrella from GoodsFromJapan.com.

The wind is the problem. It tilts them one way, then another, and sometimes the gusts are enough to blow them into telephone wires or trees. Out of a hundred umbrellas, five or six are beyond repair."

What is the best thing about using a bangasa or janome? The smooth yet warm feel of the bamboo handle? The sound of rain on the taut paper? The slight smell of lacquer and oil? The soft color of light filtered through paper? That two can fit cosily under one and be sure of staying dry?

Used with care, a bangasa or janome should last for about ten years. Use is essential because the paper gets stronger each time it is softened by rain and allowed to dry. Shigeta advises using the umbrella as often as possible, then making sure that it dries thoroughly. Store it in a well-ventilated place to avoid ruining the oiling. With these few simple precautions, a traditional Japanese umbrella should be a thing of beauty and use for years.

Jacqueline Ruyak

The Japan Sea-coast town of Obama, where Shigeta Zenji lived, is about a three-hour train ride north from Kyoto Station. However, bangasa and janome can be purchased in Kyoto at the following shop: Tsujikura or ordered online from GoodsFromJapan.

Tsujikura is on the east side of Kawaramachi, north of Shijo. Open 11 am-7pm, closed Wednesdays.

7F Tsujikura Bldg
Higashi-gawa Shijyo Noboru
Kyoto 604-8026
Tel: 075 221 4396

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