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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Owase Station Mie


JR Owase Station is the main point of access to get to the small port town of Owase in the deep south of Mie Prefecture, just before the border with Wakayama Prefecture.

Owase Station Mie Prefecture Japan.

Owase Station opened in 1934 and is now on the JR Kisei Main Line with trains to Nagoya Station, Matsusaka and Shingu Station in Shingu (20 minutes).

The Kisei Main Line runs from Kameyama to Shingu and then on to Wakayamashi.

The first express train to Owase Station from Nagoya is the 8.05am Wide View Nanki that arrives in Owase at 10.45am. The present fare is 5570 yen for a non-reserved seat with journey time 2 hours, 40 minutes. The last Wide View Nanki in the opposite direction is at 6.18pm arriving in Nagoya at 8.49pm, though it is possible to return to Nagoya later with a change of trains at Taki and then Tsu for the Kintetsu Line.

If you are walking over the Magose-toge Pass on the Kumano Kodo, Owase Station or the previous station to the north, Aiga Station are the best starting points.

Local buses radiate out from the station and there is a taxi rank just outside. To get to the beginning of the Magose-toge Pass take either a Mie Kotsu Bus for Kii-Nagashima Station or Shimakatsu and get off at the Washige bus stop (about 13 minutes). Alternatively, take a Mie Kotsu Nanki Express Bus for Matsusaka and get of at Washige bus stop (about 12 minutes).

Owase Station Mie Prefecture Japan.

There are a couple of small business hotels close to Owase Station which is also close to the Owase Fish Market "Ototo" (15 minutes on foot) which has a self-service restaurant and souvenir shops selling local produce. Owase Shrine with its large taiko drum and "married trees" is a 10 minute walk away.

Owase Station
7 Nakamuracho, Owase-shi
Mie-ken 519-3616

Owase Station Mie Prefecture.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

From a Japanese Hospital Ward


It's 6.30am and I was awoken 20 minutes ago from the last of the light dozes that made up my night - light dozes broken by coughing, curtains being pulled, snoring, laughing, someone's unmannermoded device that plinks and blings at intervals, the occasional rustling of plastic bags and the muted din of all-night traffic from the overhead highway nearby.

Bunch of flowers brought by friends, in hospital in Tokyo, Japan.
They were light dozes managed between turning over to relieve shoulders and hips almost numb at times from a very hard mattress and a neck stiff from strange angles forced on it by a no softer pillow. (My sleeping setup at home is straight out of the Princess and Pea.)

Corridor of a Tokyo hospital.
The last time I was in hospital I was about 7 years old. I remember having to wear a Victorian-style bonnet (but in plastic) before my tonsillectomy,  and having to lie there feeling intensely self-conscious in it while a workman worked on a window outside and winked at me. I wriggled the bonnet off and got told off by a nurse for that and for pressing the buzzer for no reason but loneliness and boredom.

This is my first night ever in a hospital in the 25 years I've been in Japan. It's the local hospital just a stone's throw across the river from where we live in eastern Tokyo. Half the facilities on the hospital compound are a hospital, the rest an old people's home.

Hospital in Japan.
Urine collection point
I can chat with my partner, have a book, and my laptop, so am not bored. And no one making me wear a silly bonnet helps.

Pink is the only real color here in the hospital, and there's only a spot of it - limited to the plastic upholstered couches in the waiting room down the corridor. Everything else is ashen. Ashen with a hint of very old lemon or pale flesh. Hospital interiors aren't supposed to be stylish, but neither are they supposed to be lobotomized of anything suggesting life, joy or vigor.

Scene from a Tokyo hospital.
A spot more color: the orange call button.
Life, joy and vigor are left to the nurses. One welcomed me with no-nonsense warmth yesterday, another took my temperature and blood pressure last night with the same good cheer, another delivered my meal to my bedside: rice, miso soup, soup with meatballs and other bits and pieces, a bowl of boiled broccoli bits and shrimp, which all tasted fine. Then the same temperature and blood-pressure nurse did the same thing this morning. They're used to having to jolly patients along, and they do it well, keeping things bullish. One of the other four or five patients in my ward (there are six curtained-off beds) noted how his numbers (weight, maybe) were 666 and she joked how about 777 would be luckier.
Food at a Tokyo hospital.
Besides the medical aspect of why I'm here, I was looking forward to three days in hospital as a chance to blob without guilt. But here I am at 8.30am after a terrible night's sleep, on a hard bed with barriers around it in an ashen blancmange room without a view. It's sunny outside, and I'm wishing I was doing what I'd normally be doing right now: cycling to work.

I haven't been allowed to drink anything since midnight. I'll be having a biopsy (something I keep mistakenly calling an autopsy) in a 2 or 3 hours from now, under a full anesthetic. I'll be in my pajamas all day like an invalid, with an ID tag on my wrist, and not allowed to go outside.

Curtained off beds in the ward of a Tokyo hospital.
Curtained-off beds
The shower is usable only between 9am and 5pm, so I just got one in. In Japan, bathing is generally an evening-only event, so there was no queue. The bathroom was spacious, clean enough, and there was even another spot of pink in the form of a sieve hanging on the wall. But the ventilation slats at the bottom of the door were black and moldy, and everything was old and looked a bit raw, as if it had been hacked and reworked several times.

Bathroom at a hospital in Tokyo.
Finally, a nurse came in to change me into a gown - with some color: teal! - and put me on a drip. She scanned my wristtag - a sole flash of sunrise-red ker-ching laser in an environment that feels pageworn and opaquely analog. My biopsy should be just before midday, she says, as there are five to go before mine. The front seat on the roller coaster might always be more fun, but when it comes to getting bits taken out of you, sixth in line sounds fine.

Hospital bed, Tokyo, Japan.
The drip may just be water, but re-hydration has a calming, even slightly opiate, effect. 10am, less that two hours to go. The traffic starts to sound soothing now. Someone's being called up. There are creaks, clicks and rustles from behind other curtains. More talking from the corridor. Today's voiceless star, my prostate, sits somewhere down there waiting its dumb turn.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center


The Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center is located just to the east of the Seto-Gura Building and its Seto-Gura Museum in Seto, Aichi Prefecture.

Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center, Aichi Prefecture.

The free to enter museum has both permanent and temporary exhibitions of ceramics and glass art as well as a studio shop selling works by local and international artists. The coffee corner allows you to select a cup of your choice to enjoy your drink.

Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center, Aichi Prefecture.

The Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center consists of various buildings including three exhibition galleries and a state-of-the art workshop used by local and visiting artists on the Seto International Ceramic & Glass Art Exchange Program. The workshop has a gas-fired kiln, electric kiln and a glass dissolving furnace.

Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center
81-2 Minaminakanokiri
Aichi 489-0815
Tel: 0561 97 1001
Hours: 10-6pm; closed Tuesdays

Seto Ceramics & Glass Art Center, Aichi Prefecture.

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Japan News This Week 23 October 2016


Japan News.
Japan Withholds Annual Dues to UNESCO
New York Times

Japan begins discussions on emperor's abdication

Death from overwork: Japan's 'karoshi' culture blamed for young man's heart failure

IOC president rejects Koike’s calls to expand new Olympic cost-cutting group
Japan Times

Japanese Memories of the Asia-Pacific War: Analyzing the Revisionist Turn Post-1995
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


The OECD's top 10 highest performing graduates:

1. Japan
2. Finland
3. Netherlands
4. Australia
5. Norway
6. Belgium
7. New Zealand
8. England
9. United States
10. Czech Republic

Source: BBC

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple


The grounds of Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto include a noted Zen vegetarian restaurant, Shigetsu, serving classic shojin ryori set meals (3,000 yen, 5,000 yen or 7,000 yen).

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple, Kyoto.

The menu includes rice and soup and either five, six or seven beautifully presented seasonal side dishes.

The Shigetsu restaurant is open daily from 11am-2pm and can seat up to 250 guests in tatami-floored rooms with views of the garden.

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple.

The 2016 Michelin Guide for Osaka and Kyoto designated Shigetsu as a Bib Gourmand - an eatery serving "exceptionally good food at moderate prices."

See the English website of Shigetsu for full details.

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple, Kyoto.

68 Susukinobaba-cho
Kyoto-shi, 616-8385
Tel: 075 882 9725
Hours: 11am-2pm

Visitors to the restaurant need to pay the 500 yen admission charge to the garden.

If you would like us to reserve this restaurant or any other in Japan for a small fee please contact us.

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple, Kyoto.

Shigetsu Zen Vegetarian Restaurant at Tenryuji Temple.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Furusato Tax System - Municipalities Vie for Money


It's no secret that Japan's population is declining, and that this is causing an emptying out of the countryside to the benefit of the big cities.

Fruit assortment a thank you gift for Japan's Furusato Taxation System.
Fruit assortment - a Furusato Nozei System thank you gift from a rural municipality
A trip to Sado Island a couple of years ago brought home to me the realities of this demographic change. The formerly bustling main street of what was called Ryotsu City when I lived there back in the late 1980s was almost completely dead, with more than half the stores boarded up.

Since 2008, Japan has been trying to mend the economic inequalities that are caused by this rural outflux. The "Hometown Tax Payment System" (Furusato Nozei) lets those living in cities pay up to 20% of their Metropolitan Ward and Municipal Inhabitant Tax on Individuals (kojin juminzei) to a rural local body, in exchange for which the payer receives a "thank you gift" (henreihin), typically of local produce.

Crab offered as a thank you gift for the Furusato Nouzei System in Japan.

The system is popular and the various localities throughout Japan put their all into it, offering a huge range of local-made and -grown products. An industry has grown around it as localities compete with each other to offer attractive gifts, with numerous ranking websites to help the taxpayer-cum-consumer choose which region to support.

But now the urban wards and municipalities are feeling it. This year, the Tokyo metropolis has lost 26.16 billion yen (about USD 250 million) to the localities because of this system. Suginami ward, for example, in west Tokyo, has lost 730 million yen (about USD 7 million),making for 1% of lost income.

Peaches - a thank you gift for the Hometown Taxation System.

The Tokyo wards are fighting back, and today Nakano ward announced that it will also be joining the growing ranks of Tokyo metropolitan wards that offer their own thank you gifts for the payment of individual resident taxes.

The trouble is, urban areas are hard pressed to compete with the beautifully presented produce that forms the thank you gifts sent to urban benefactors, such as Niigata rice or Aomori apples or Kumamoto pompeiyu.

Sumida Ward has been offering lunch coupons for the Tokyo Skytree observation deck since 2014, Shinagawa ward has been offering postcard sets (yes, really) of famous Shinagawa places, but Nakano ward is looking into making the most of its existing relationships with rural municipalities and offering produce from there, like Hokkaido rice or sake from Fukushima prefecture. The cost of running the Furusato system is estimated to be about 30% of the tax contributions received.

Rice as a thank you gift for the Hometown Taxation System.

It's an uphill struggle for everyone wanting money from a shrinking taxpayer base, and Japan's bureaucracies are now having to look more and more to commercial PR techniques in wooing the taxpayer.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Kyoto Bus 37


Kyoto city bus #37 runs from Nishigamo Shako-mae across the Kamo River from Kamigamo Shrine in the north of Kyoto to Sanjo Keihan-mae via Kitaoji Bus Terminal and Shijo Kawaramachi, Kyoto's main shopping district.

Kyoto Bus 37, Kitaoji Bus Terminal.

Bus #37 passes Jinkoin, Omiya Somonguchi-cho, Kamigamo Misonobashi, Kamogawa Chugaku-mae, Kami-Horikawa, Shimotoridacho, Kitaoji Horikawa (for Daitokuji Temple), Kitaoji Bus Terminal for Kitaoji Station on the Kyoto subway, Izumojibashi, Izumoji Kaguracho (for Shimogamo Shrine), Kawaramachi Imadegawa, Furitsu Idaibyoin-mae (for Rozanji Temple and Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine), Kawaramachi Marutamachi (for Shimogoryo Shrine), Kyoto Shiyakusho-mae (Kyoto City Hall), Kawaramachi Sanjo, Shijo Kawaramachi, Shijo Keihan-mae, and Sanjo Keihan-mae.

The Kyoto #37 bus service begins at 5.54am daily from Nishigamo Shako-mae and the last bus is 10.14pm.

Find out more about buses in Kyoto.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Women of Kyoto Yoshino Tayu


Once upon a time in 17th century Japan, a courtesan gifted with both intelligence and beauty, lived in the Old Capital. Her name was Yoshino Dayuu (or Yoshino Tayu). The 18th-century writer, Saikaku Ihara called her the most exceptional Japanese courtesan of all time. According to legend, requests for her portrait came from as far away as China.

Women of Kyoto Yoshino Tayu.

Trained as a high-ranking courtesan from the age of 7, she quickly mastered the arts of Japanese music, dance, poetry, tea ceremony and flower arrangement. She made her debut at the age of 14 and immediately became a sensation. She entranced all of her guests and even drove some mad. One day, the chief adviser to the emperor at that time tried to buy her. Instead, she resigned her position because she was in love with a man four years younger than she, Haiya Joeki (a scandal in those days, no doubt). Soon after they began to live together. Joeki’s father, Joyu, disowned his son. But that did nothing to change their love.

One day, when Joyu was standing under the eaves of a house to get out of the rain, the women of the house came out and offered to dry his clothes and gave him a cup of green tea. To him she appeared humble but at the same time extraordinarily refined. He was fascinated by her. Later, when he told his friend about her, he was informed that that woman was his daughter-in-law (Yoshino). Instantly, he forgave them, and so his son and Yoshino were married and allowed by all to live happily ever after.

Josho-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.

The Nichiren-sect Josho-ji Temple (常照寺) in north west Kyoto holds a memorial service for Yoshino Tayu on the second Sunday in April every year. This consists of a procession of tayu in gorgeous kimono followed by an open-air tea ceremony and a flower arranging (ikebana) exhibition within the temple grounds.

Edited by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: Japan-wide travel expert since 1992. 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 | +81-5534-4372

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Japan News This Week 16 October 2016


Japan News.
When You Have to Go, Japanese Rest Stops Won’t Keep You Waiting
New York Times

Shrinking Population: How Japan Fell Out of Love with Love

Japanese train conductor blames foreign tourists for overcrowding

In setback for female empowerment, Tokyo court rejects teacher’s bid to use maiden name at work
Japan Times

Reconsidering Zen, Samurai, and the Martial Arts
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Girls Opportunity Index.

1. Sweden
2. Finland
3. Norway
4. Netherlands
5. Belgium
6. Denmark
7. Slovenia
8. Portugal
9. Switzerland
10. Italy

15. United Kingdom

27. South Korea

32. USA

35. Japan

Source: Save The Children

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Miyagawa-cho Geiko House

A modern look at a world of traditions

A quiet part of town, though just a stone’s throw from the heart of downtown Kyoto, the Miyagawa-cho area began to develop around 1666. During the colorful and prosperous Genroku period (1688-1704), when a succession of playhouses, chaya (tea rooms) and theater people set up their businesses there, the neighborhood grew dramatically.

A Miyagawa-cho Geiko House、Kyoto, Japan.

The area became the early center of the kabuki world, when the dancer Okuni (from Izumo, in Shimane Prefecture) did her first kabuki-like dances along the Kamogawa River banks. Kyoto’s Minamiza, the only theater remaining from that time, was perhaps Japan’s first kabuki theater. The area became increasingly popular in 1751, when the Tokugawa shogunate allowed the first tea houses (home to the legendary geiko and maiko) to be built on the south end of the Miyagawa-cho district, on land that belonged to nearby Kennin-ji Temple, a quiet, exquisitely preserved Zen temple complex.

The name Miyagawa, which means purifying river, comes from the fact that the hand-carried mikoshi used to transport the Yasaka Shrine deities during the Gion Festival were washed (or purified) with water from the Kamogawa River south of the Shijo bridge.

Today, roughly 44 tea houses, home to 40 geiko and 20 maiko, are still active in Miyagawa-cho, making it the second largest hanamachi* (flower town) in Kyoto. This article features a conversation with Fumie Komai, the 5th generation mama-san of the Komaya tea house, the oldest in the Miyagawa district. Over its long and colorful history, the Komaya has been home to nearly 100 geikos and maikos.

JV: What is it like to be a mama-san and what are the most important things in your business?

Komai-san: To begin with, I feel that I am very lucky to be a mother of a tea house. I think that I am truly fortunate to be able to live in this unique, traditional entertainment world. I take a great deal of pride in what I do, which is essential for preserving the old ways of our culture. Because of the way Japan has changed, I have to try very hard to keep this tea house and the girls (geiko and maiko) that I, in a way, inherited from my ancestors, alive and happy. This has never been an easy business and as a newcomer I will have to work just as hard as the generations of my family before me to keep this unusual business alive.

I always tell my girls that heartful, essentially sincere communication is the most important thing in our business. Our type of service is much more complicated and difficult than any service industry you could imagine. But, like any service industry, the most important thing is to keep the customer happy and coming back again and again.

A good geiko or maiko has to be gentle and disciplined. And they have to dance and sing well. However, being a good entertainer is not just about excellent traditional dancing and singing skills. It is more about understanding what the customer wants the instant he walks in the door. Our clients are men and this make our business special. Women in this business have to become experts in sensing a man’s mood or personality when he walks through the door. Some clients, especially if they come in a group, want us to be quiet and stay in the background. Other customers want us to create a lively, bright mood to entertain them or their guests. To get the atmosphere right from the beginning is not something that can be learned easily. It takes years and years of training.

A Miyagawa-cho Geiko House, Kyoto.

JV: Are today’s geiko and maiko different from a generation or two ago?

Komai-san: Absolutely. Today’s young people, and women in particular, have a totally different attitude to older people. And most of our clients are older. When I was young, our teachers, both at school and in training for the traditional arts, commanded absolute respect. And many of them were very powerful and dignified. Today, that absolute respect seems to be missing. Younger people seem to be less warm-hearted and less willing to work really hard with and for a teacher or a client.

In tea houses, the older women traditionally made suggestions and gave advice to younger women about everything: their work, their attitude and even their personal life. This was the way to maintain discipline and firmly establish our unwritten, but clear rules of conduct. It is our role to tell our girls, 'In this world you can not do that or think like that'. Nowadays, it is becoming harder to communicate like that. Young people still listen, but they seem to be listening in a manner that is less sincere and heartful. They especially do not want to listen openly to what older people tell or say to them. And because of this it is becoming harder and harder to pass valuable experience and wisdom from the old to the young. I feel this could have very disturbing consequences in the future, but I also think that we can adjust to the times. We really don’t have any choice.

Tea houses are organized in a way that is very much an imitation of a family. I am the mama-san or oka-san (mother) and the senior girls are referred to as older sisters (oney-san). The youngest, those in training, are the younger sisters (imoto-san). And we all live together under one roof. So getting along like any family makes perfect sense. In our world, we can never say to a customer, ‘I am sorry, but that is not our fault.’ Everything is our responsibility when it comes to conducting our business properly. And if a younger girl makes a serious mistake, then both she and her older sister will go to the customer and apologize. It’s not like the PTA, where parents can say that their children’s bad conduct is not their fault. Here everything reflects on the house we live in and do business from. We are a team and the team is responsible for everything, no matter what.

JV: What is the schedule like in your "family"?

Komai-san: Our young girls train in the traditional arts for five or six hours every day, usually from around ten in the morning to sometime in the afternoon. At around three, everyone begins to put on their makeup and get their hair ready, which usually takes about ninety minutes. Then they put on their kimono, often with the help of a professional. Guests start arriving from about five in the evening to around midnight. After work they go to the bathhouse and then they are on their own until morning. The girls usually have two days off a month.

Kyoto geisha style costume shoot.

JV: What do you think about the idea of foreigners going to tea houses and experiencing the traditional entertainment of Japan’s geiko and maiko?

Komai-san: I once took two of my maiko girls to England, as part of a cultural exchange mission. I was astounded how little foreigners knew about Kyoto and Japanese culture in general. The maiko is a symbol of Japan, and I would be very happy to introduce people to this world. But this is a very private world. All tea houses still enforce the ichigen-san policy, which means a new customer can only be welcomed if he has a proper introduction. Nowadays, we accept requests from certain hotels or ryokan who wish to entertain their clients with our maiko or geiko. But even in those cases, we have already established a relationship with the management of those establishments. Any one who goes to a traditional teahouse knows enough to know that proper behaviour is expected. So we don’t ever really have any problems. Every one is happy here, and that is the way we like it.

*Note: Kyoto has five geisha districts or 'flower towns': Gion Kobu, Miyagawa-cho, Ponto-cho, Kamishichiken, and Gion Higashi .

Written by Ian Ropke, founder and owner of Your Japan Private Tours: Japan-wide travel expert since 1992. 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 | +81-5534-4372

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