Friday, April 30, 2010

University of Tōkyō 東京大学

The University of Tōkyō, abbreviated as Todai, is a major research university that has five campuses in Hongo, Komaba, Kashiwa, Shirokane and Nakano and 10 faculties with a total of around 30,000 students, some 2,100 of them foreign (a large fraction by Japanese standards). While nearly all academic disciplines are taught at the university, it is perhaps best known for its faculties of law and literature.

Showa Day 昭和の日

Yesterday was Showa day a Japanese annual holiday and the birthday of former Emperor Showa (Hirohito). Showa was the reigning Emperor before, during and after World War II. The purpose of the holiday is to encourage public reflection on the turbulent 63 years of Hirohito's reign rather than glorifying the emperor himself. Did you spend anytime reflecting today?

Photograph on the University of Tōkyō Hongo campus.

Sanshiro Pond 三四郎池

Sanshiro Pond in the heart of Tōkyō University's Hongō campus which dates to 1615. The garden became known as one of the most beautiful gardens in Edo (now Tōkyō), with the traditional eight landscapes and eight borders and known for originality in artificial pond, hills, and pavilions. The pond's contours are in the shape of the character kokoro or shin (heart), and thus its official name is Ikutoku-en Shinjiike. The name Sanshiro comes from a novel of that name by Natsume Soseki set around Tōkyō University. The feeling of being in a city completely disappears as you wander into this tranquil spot.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yanaka Cemetery 谷中霊園

I enjoy cemeteries, not as a morbid fascination, but for their silence, stillness, history and beauty. Humankind has lavished the dead with ornate structures and beautiful art, for instance the necropolis at the foot of Edinburgh castle in Scotland is an exceptional cemetery with lavish headstones some 30 feet tall and all excellent examples of dark and brooding baroque architecture. Yanaka Cemetery, a huge cemetery located north of Ueno in Tōkyō, is something else entirely. It is a gorgeous angular, organized, clean-lined garden populated with exquisite monuments which are, with rare exception, never more than 5 or 6 feet tall. Awe-inspiring not for their size and elaborateness, but for there tasteful simplicity and elegance. The cemetery is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms that in April shade and blanket its 100 thousand square meters and 7 thousand graves. The cemetery has its own police station and a section dedicated to the Tokugawa clan, family of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns of Japan including the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, also known as Keiki. It’s also home to many famous Japanese luminaries, including the painter Yokoyama Taikan and the famous writer Ichiyo Higuchi (pictured on the 5000 yen note).

Tōkyō Sky Tree 東京スカイツリー

Tōkyō Sky Tree is a broadcasting, restaurant and observation tower under construction in the Sumida ward. As of 29 March 2010 it is the tallest artificial structure in Japan and when completed the tower will have a height of 634.00 m (2,080 ft) making it one of the tallest structures in the world. The current Tōkyō broadcasting tower, Tōkyō Tower, is not tall enough to give complete digital terrestrial television broadcasting coverage due to the construction of many nearby high-rise buildings.

Namjatown Magic Snow

Namco Namjatown is an indoor theme park in the Sunshine City shopping complex in east Ikebukuro, Tōkyō. Namco is a Japanese company best known for producing video games such as Pacman. However, the park itself does not focus on classic ventures but instead features themed dining including ice cream town, curry town and gyoza town, carnival-style games, a haunted house, and a line of character mascots exclusive to the park. On a hot day, or on a hectic day, or on any day, there’s nothing sweeter than cool, creamy ice cream; after all 'desserts' is just 'stressed' in reverse. While at ice cream town you can choose from Turkish soft cream, Italian gelato, Hokkaido ice cream crêpes or sweet named “Magic Snow.” Ice cream city is also the place to try some exotic ice cream flavors such as wasabi, potato, seafood, octopus, beef tongue, chargrilled seaweed and charcoal - just to name a few. Pictured is Magic Snow (shaved condensed frozen milk with a fruit topping) in the likeness of a Gintama anime character which was actually pretty bizarre in-so-far as I've never had anything like it. The texture is like cotton candy and melts on the tongue but the taste is different, it is subtle and pleasant - nom nom nom!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

東京藝術劇場 Tōkyō Metropolitan Art Space

The Tōkyō Metropolitan Art Space is a Japanese concert hall and theater located in Ikebukuro. A recent addition to the Tōkyō music and drama scene, the largest hall with a capacity of 1999 features mainly orchestral concerts while the middle-sized hall hosts dramas, musicals, jazz and dance.

Tōkyō Street Art

Tōkyō street art in Shinjuku, the middle images are from an outside lift at Shinjuku station that has basically become a poster board for slaps.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Yabusame 流鏑馬 #1

The Yabusame Festival in Tokyo's Sumida Park is an impressive display of horseback archery. The fiendishly difficult ritual, a part of a Shinto rite, sees mounted archers wearing traditional hunting clothing of the Kamakura Period charge down a single narrow 208-meter-long track to shoot at three wooden targets arranged at certain intervals. It is believed that the sound of an arrow striking the wooden target transfers the courage of the archer to the audience. The archer mainly controls the horse with his knees, as he needs both hands to draw and shoot his bow. As he approaches a target, he brings his bow up and draws the arrow past his ear before letting the arrow fly with a deep shout. The arrow is blunt and turnip-shaped in order to make a louder sound when it strikes the board. If the board is struck, it will splinter and explode with a confetti-like shower of sakura petals as it falls to the ground. To hit all three targets is considered an admirable accomplishment.

Yabusame 流鏑馬 #2

There are two types of Yabusame: the one of the Kamakura Era is called Koshiki and the one of the Edo Era is called Kisha Hasamimonoshiki. The Shogun encouraged Yabusame as a necessary accomplishment of a samurai and at present, the head of the Ogasawara family holds these archery competitions in Kamakura, Nikko and Asakusa. Originally yabusame was designed as a way to please and entertain the myriad of gods that watch over Japan, thus encouraging their blessings for the prosperity of the land, the people, and the harvest. Pictured is an archer toward the end of the event dressed in ceremonial armor with bow unknocked and wrapped, a member of a parade ending with an awards ceremony.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sensō-ji Pagoda & Sakura

Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon who is associated with compassion. Dominating the entrance to the temple is the Kaminarimon or "Thunder Gate," this imposing Buddhist structure features a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones to suggest thunderclouds and lightning. Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori with its shops, followed by the Hōzōmon or "Treasure House Gate" which provides the entrance to the inner complex. Within the precincts stands this stately five-story pagoda and the main hall.

Sensō-ji 金龍山浅草寺

Massive cauldron of incense at the foot of the main hall of the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district of Tōkyō. Visitors waft the incense smoke, known as the "breath of the gods," over their heads endowing themselves with curative powers. Kōdō, the way of fragrance, is the Japanese art of appreciating incense and is counted as one of the three classical arts of refinement including chadō (way of tea) & kadō (way of flowers).

I breathe in the cool incense smoke from the metal brazier,
While thinking about a poem for my dear friend Lu Wa.
My sandalwood-hearted companion spits out plum blossoms of smoke,
Looking like the cloudy fog of the other world.
Perhaps it's the soul of my friend the old mountain man
In the smoke's dense patterns?
- Kan Po

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Monkey Business

Road barriers from Rokkō Island, Ōsaka and Tōkyō adding a little cute to your daily construction delay induced commuter headaches. Fashioned like a monkey, frog and ???, well I actually have no idea what this last one is . . . any ideas? I personally think a pink elephant would be humorous especially if it was attached to the Japanese no drinking and driving campaign.

Super Dry Hall or Flamme d'Or

The Asahi Beer building located in Asakusa and conceived by interior designer turned architect Philippe Starck, is one of Tōkyō's most notable modern landmarks. It has earned itself several unflattering nicknames among those who disdain its flashy self-important style (one such name is "the golden turd" or kin no unchi) but it will please those who recognize its sleek modern flair. Perhaps most notable for the Asahi Flame, an enormous golden structure at the top, said to represent both the 'burning heart of Asahi beer' and a frothy head. The 360-ton golden flame was made by shipbuilders using submarine-construction techniques and is completely empty. The building itself is covered with highly polished black granite with small portholes for windows which are almost invisible from a distance. The walls of the building curve gently outward towards the top, creating in effect a giant pedestal or 'beer mug' for the gold flame on top.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Omotesando Hills 表参道ヒルズ

Omotesando Hills is a large shopping and residential development on Omotesando Avenue in Shibuya-ku, one of Tōkyō's top fashion streets. Designed by Architect Tadao Ando (Yumebutai), the development has come with some controversy: firstly, for turning its back on the Avenue and creating what its own developers describe as 'another Omotesando' within its interior. Secondly, the building replaced the Bauhaus-inspired Dōjunkai Aoyama Apartments built in 1927 after the 1923 Kantō earthquake. The destruction of the apartments raised questions about Tōkyō's interest in preserving historic buildings. A small section of the old apartments is reconstructed in the South-East part of the new complex. Inside, the mall descends several stories beneath ground, but maintains daylight from a glazed roof over the triangular atrium. The interior floors follow a spiral arrangement (in the shape of giant triangles) that compensate for the gradual slope of Omotesando Avenue. As one triangle is descended one story has been climbed, so if you start at the top you can wander around the whole center without using an escalator.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day アースデー

View of the Suma coast from atop the Rokkō mountains gazing out toward the Akashi Kaikyo bridge. I just returned from a trip to Tōkyō where, on Sunday, witnessed Earth Day Tōkyō 2010 at Yoyogi Park. The event was quite large and very well attended with many booths and tents covering all manner of goods, services, and information covering the environment and the outdoors. The event especially stressed environmental friendliness and food self-sufficiency, as well as celebrating the 40th anniversary of the campaign, which originated in the United States. It was crowded and for the most part like most Earth Day events in America or Europe with people enjoying music, joining various environmentally friendly activities and sampling organic foods. Some notable exceptions, many of the attendees dressed the part essentially like hippies that were somehow also very stylish in a 'Japanese' manner accessorized with frisbees, foot bags and juggling. Secondly, most of the drinks and eats required renting dishes or providing your own so no wood, paper, or plastic was used and huge panels were situated on either side of the food court area that absorb heat from the sun and the energy captured was used to warm water for visitors to wash their dishes.

Taxi Cabs Japan タクシー

Queue of taxi cabs outside of the extremely posh Imperial hotel Ōsaka. Japan has an estimated 260,000 taxis operating nationwide working from 333 different companies, however, the connivence of taxis does not come cheap. While all Japanese taxis have meters, when the left rear passenger door automatically opens for you have 710 yen (+ ~100 yen/500 meters traveled) handy for the driver (tipping is not expected). A vacant taxi displays 空車 in the front window, if occupied 賃走, and each company uses its own design to identify its vehicles and its drivers; who are dressed in the company livery including a hat and white gloves. Oh, and don't try to open or close the door yourself - that can stress the mechanism and make for a very unhappy driver.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ミスタードーナツ Mister Donut

Once an American icon, until being purchased by Dunkin' Donuts, the Mister Donut franchise now operates mainly in Asian markets and is the largest donut chain operating in Japan. The taste of the doughnuts has been tailored to the Japanese palate and the selection is varied leading most patrons (in my observations) to enjoy three different doughnuts per visit. Not a huge fan of most american doughnuts, that are often very sweet and heavy, I find myself in the Mister Donut more often then I would like to admit. Mister Donut offers light and tasty regional and seasonal specials, mochi flower, green tea cake and sweet bean filled doughnuts - just to name a few.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

life is a Rubbishy Beach

The environment at Suma Beach really contradicts some of my preconceived notions about Japan, I believed that the Japanese truly respect their natural environment and are a nation prided on cleanliness and orderly behavior. And for the most part those conceptions hold true, however, I have also found that sometimes a strong sense of indifference is payed to common public spaces. The gardens of every shrine you encounter are impeccably clean and even most city streets are remarkably tidy. The beach is a different story - it is full of treasures but is also full of trash: fast food wrappers, empty cans and bottles, turds, broken glass, rotting fruit, streamers of video tape, a hundred plastic bags and a thousand cigarette butts. Perhaps Suma Beach, or all beaches, are simply a pressure valve for Japanese. . . where they can strip off not just their clothes but also respect for their surroundings?

Monday, April 19, 2010


The magazine section of your local bookstore might have quite a few magazines, if it is a megastore perhaps even lots of them, however, the average bookstore in Japan has them beat. Every - very specific - subject of any kind has a magazine, and probably has three different ones. Many magazines attach freebies, but the king of these is the mook. Mook or e-mook is a word for magazine + book and are identified by their thick paper stock, catalogue like content layout and some included item usually wrapped inside. Some e-mook's are specific to particular brands, most of them release a new edition every season and many are highly collectable. Pictured is the MonoMax e-mook which includes a sharp little Fred Perry branded leather pouch.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beachcombing Suma

Two examples of sand dollars, a name used for many species of flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida and the underside of an unlucky sea star that found itself too far from the receding tide, Suma beach Kōbe.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Higashi 干菓子

Higashi are sweets generally made with one or more kinds of sugar, particular sorts of flour and some other additives. The flour used in higashi is usually made of rice, but flours made of other ingredients, like azuki, soybean or green pea and starches are also used. Higashi are often served at Japanese tea ceremonies and are colored and shaped to represent the current season. For example in Spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom, you will often be served pink sweets shaped into a cherry blossom leaf. The most common and well-known higashi is rakugan which is a small, solid, and sweet candy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Animal Hanami 動物花見

Sumaura park is located on the western slopes of the Rokkō mountains in Suma, Kōbe. Created on land originally owned by the Imperial family, in 1934 it was converted into a public park that is a splendid place to view sakura blossoms in the spring and the changing color of the leaves in autumn. The park has many hiking trails and at the foot of one of these trials is a small house that also serves as a rest stop and cantina. On this particular day it was not fellows of the two legged variety, but instead many furry quadrupeds who were comfortably viewing the blooming sakura from the mats beneath the trees - and catching a nap.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Suma-ku 須磨区

Suma-ku is a ward of Kōbe, there is a white sandy beach in this ward which attracts tourists to the Kansai region for sun bathing and popular events during the summer. The same beach has appeared in the literary epic The Tale of Genji and the band The Beach Boys made a song titled "Sumahama" after this beach. Low tide on this beach reveals animals seen only for a brief time, sea anemones, purple sea urchins, starfish, colorful sea slugs and tiny crabs live in this hidden world. This is an orange asterias amurensis, commonly called the northern Pacific starfish, native to the coasts of northern China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ōsaka Mint Sakura Tunnel

One of the famous sakura-viewing events in Ōsaka is the 'torinuke' (going through) viewing at the head office of the Japan Mint, the government-affiliated body that makes the nation's coins. For one week in April the gates are opened and the mint hosts between 700,000 to 800,000 sakura lovers eager to see the famous trees inside the compound. The 560-meter path, called 'sakura no touri nuke' (sakura tunnel), offers over 100 varieties of sakura trees most of which are varieties that start blooming later in the season marking this 120 year old event as one of the last chances to catch sakura hanami in this region. The throngs of people that shuffle shoulder to shoulder through this narrow one-way path makes this event very claustrophobic, however, I was lucky enough to be invited by some friends for a 'by invitation only' night viewing. We also enjoyed some uniquely salty sakura tea complete with whole flowers heads and petals.


The fragrance of something delicious and strawberry grabbed me by the nostrils while walking through Sannomiya station today; to picture this imagine those Warner Brothers animations where the scent is like a hand, fingers outstretched grabbing you and pulling you floating into the air powerless against it unspoken will. The source of this heaven-sent smell was a warm freshly baked waffle and surly the pearly gates are actually aglitter with these strawberry waffles and the bloke with the book is actually named Manneken not Peter. Rosen Co., known as "Manneken" Belgian waffles, has added strawberry to their product line-up that also includes plain, cocoa, chocolate, rum raisin, almond and maple flavored (some are seasonal). The waffles are made in the Belgian tradition with authentic tools and ingredients and for these lovelies they use real strawberry juice for a delicate balance of sweet and tangy. These waffles are warm and crunchy outside and soft inside, with crunchy corners the texture of lightly toasted sugar. Delicious!

Street Art Ōsaka

These are from under a train overpass in Ōsaka, the left is an example of a stencil and right is a throw-up. This is a breakdown of the different styles of graffiti:
  1. Tag style is the most basic and quickest form of graffiti writing. It is usually a representation of the artists name and is used as a way to gain recognition by being seen in a lot of places and as a signiture for larger pieces.
  2. Throw-Up is another quick method of graffiti writing. It is done by making a layer of paint in one color and a quick outline of the letters in another.
  3. Blockbuster letters are evenly spaced and not too difficult to read. They are just what the name implies, block letters. A blockbuster is used to cover maximum area in a minimal amount of time.
  4. Wildstyle is much more complex than any of the previously mentioned. The letters are very blended and highly decorated. This type of writing can be very difficult to decipher.
  5. Stencils are a quick and effective way to put up somewhat-complicated pieces very quickly.
  6. Stickers are a quick and easy way to slap-up a tag or stencil quickly.
  7. Piece, short for masterpiece, is a graffiti painting much more complex than a tag and having at least three colors.
  8. Heaven is a piece that’s put up in a very hard-to-reach location, often near or on the tops of tall buildings or on freeway signs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Godzilla ゴジラ

Godzilla is a monster awakened by nuclear explosions, penned by its creators with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fresh in the Japanese conscious, and can be understood as a metaphor for nuclear weapons in general. As the film series expanded, the stories took on less serious undertones portraying Godzilla in the role of a hero, while more recent movies (The Millennium series) returned to depicting the character as a destructive monster. Godzilla is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide and it even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This Godzilla, standing only a few feet tall, terrorizes the feet of pedestrians passing a Motomachi camera store.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sakura & Kamogawa 鴨川

Kamogawa, or wild duck river, rises from Mount Sajikigatake in the north of Kyōto and later joins the Takano River at the Kamo-ôhashi bridge and goes through the center of the city. Photographed at dusk near Kyōto university, I am somewhat confused as to why the trees are green in the reflection of the river when they are clearly red and pink with blossoms? A trick of light that has been bent and filtered by water, smog and the curvature of the planet I guess, though it gives me the sense that if you dived head-first into the water you just might resurface in another reality altogether. . .

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kyōto Rickshaw

Jinrikisha, or 'human-powered vehicle,' are a nostalgic means of transport popular with tourists in the Kyōto temple districts and Kamakura. Once a job largely for downtrodden types, rickshaw (as they are known in english) drivers are now themselves an attraction. The healthy and fit young men transport people, are tour guides and seem happy to take a snapshot for you complete with witty commentary. These fellows and their human-powered rides remind me of the cycle cabs that have gained popularity in large cities all over the world, which also (usually) have a sportive hipster at the pedals.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Arashiyama Station 嵯峨嵐山駅

Photograph of Saga-Arashiyama Station train platform, Kyōto. The station is a short walk from Nakanoshima Park and Togetsukyo Bridge. Togetsukyo, or moon crossing, Bridge was named by the emperor Kameyama for the way the moon appears to pass over the bridge.

Streets of Kyōto

Pictured are Ginkaku-ji as seen from high within its garden at sunset, the path leading out of the temple with a security officer leading out the final visitors of the day and the shadowed viewers of a riverside path canopied with sakura.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Kinkyo-chi or Brocade Mirror Pond at the gardens of Ginkaku-ji. Within the pond there are two small islands called Crane and Turtle Islands, both symbols of longevity. There are also large stones within the pond, the large stone in the center of the pond is known as 'Ecstatic Contemplation' while another forms a stone bridge called the 'Bridge of the pillar of the Immortal.' The pond is completed by a small waterfall called Sengetsu-sei or moon watching fountain and the tiny trickle of water from this fall spreads gentle ripples across the whole pond.

Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺

Ginkaku-ji or The Temple of the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple in the Sakyo ward of Kyōto that was originally built to serve as a place of rest and solitude for the Shogun. During his reign as Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa inspired a new outpouring of traditional culture.

"I love
My hut
At the foot of the Moon-awaiting Mountain
And the reflection
Of the sinking sky"
Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490)

Pictured is the karaesanisui garden (dry garden) called Ginshaden or the Sea of Silver Sand. The garden consists of a 2 foot platform of sand that is meant to be viewed as a sea. The highly labor intensive maintenance of the garden requires that the platform walls be reshaped and the garden re-raked everyday. The cone shaped structure is called the Kogetsudai, or Moon-viewing Platform, it might resemble Mount Fuji or was possibly designed to reflect divine light into the hearts of the visitors like the moon. Final image is from the sakura lined path that leads to the gate of the temple and its garden.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Thin Orange Door

Random door with graffiti in the maze like bowels of the Sannomiya Hankyū Station in Kōbe. The rail system in Japan is a somewhat messy weave of different privately run & owned train companies. Certain train lines have tracks & stations that provide nearly overlapping service while other destinations can only be served by certain companies. Major stations such as Sannomiya have multiple companies, Hanshin Electric Railway, Hankyu Railway, Kōbe Municipal Subway and Kōbe New Transit, (nearly) under one roof. All train companies also have a co-owned department store, so depending on what line you are ridding you will know what stores to expect at major stations.

Sakura of Kyōto 京都

Sakura on the streets of Kyōto, photographs from left to right, the torii before the main gate of the Heian Jingu an imperial Shinto shrine. This torii is one of the largest in Japan and the main building of the Jingu, or shaden, is designed to imitate the Kyōto Imperial Palace on a three-fourth scale. The other images are from a riverside path just stumbled upon while walking around - these parks or paths are quite common in Kyōto and when the sakura are blooming the reflection off the water is quite wonderful. The final image shows a sakura tree branch that has grown low near the water offering a unique perspective on the blossom bundles, as seen from above.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 #1

The Philosopher's Path (Tetsugaku no michi) is a pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyōto's Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees and this last weekend these trees exploded with the color of blossoming flowers, drawing with them people from all over Japan and abroad to line every corner of the path. Along with the many Hanami peoples the blossoms also attract many photographers and fine artists with pen, pencil, brush and paint.

Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 #2

The Philosopher's Path begins in the north around The Ginkakuji Temple (Temple of the Silver Pavilion) and ends in the neighborhood of Nanzenji to the south at the Kumano Nyakuoji Shrine and Eikan-do Hall. The path gets its name from philosophy professor Nishida Kitaro who was said to practice meditation while walking this route on his daily commute to Kyōto University.

Philosopher's Path 哲学の道 #3

When Kyōto was designated as Japan's capital in the 700s, one of the downsides of the location was its topography and weather. During the summer months, ocean humidity traveled from the south backs up into the Kyōto valley, which is surrounded by mountains on the west, north, and east, trapping the stifling air. To mitigate the high temperature and humidity during the summer season, a system of canals called 'yari-mizu' or "fashioned streams" were constructed to bring water closer to dwelling in order to provide irrigation and natural cooling.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Arashiyama (嵐山) Sakura

Arashiyama is a pleasant, touristy district on the western outskirts of Kyoto and also refers to the mountain across the Ōi River which forms the backdrop to the district. Pictured is a quaint river boat just up - stream from the Togetsukyo, the wooden (now partially concrete) bridge that is a landmark of the district. Arashiyama is well known for its brilliant - colorful displays occurring during the changing of the seasons and reflecting in its many waterways.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fireball ファイアボール

Disney Studios has a markably different presence in Japan then in its native home. Firstly, the merchandise offering it targeted to the Japanese audience - meaning that bento boxes, chop sticks, gashapon, stationary, and every conceivable item at the dollar store has the visage of a Disney licensed character. However, the characters are not who you might think, Mickey is absent - instead replaced by Stitch who is very popular and Drossel von Flügell (who von wha' you say?) Well, Disney stepped out of the US and partnered with Toei Animation (one of Japan's anime powerhouses) to make their first Japanese anime. Titled "Fireball," the show is targeted at Japanese tastes and humor and currently has run 13 episodes on Japanese TV. It is animated entirely in 3D with no cel-shading of any sort, as would be typical for the medium. Pictured is the Figma figure for Duchess Drossel von Flügell.

Hakutsuru - White Crane

The Crane Wife a Japanese folktale: Osamu was a sail maker and "as he pulled the warp and weft of his sail together, he would often think to himself, How beautiful the cranes are. Of all the birds, they are the most like sails. It is as if the wind is held in their wings." One blustery night, a large crane crashes violently into Osamu's door. The lonely sail maker nurses it back to health and watches the graceful bird soar away. This crane later returns to Osamu's door in the disguise of a beautiful young woman named Yukiko. Osamu & Yukiko fall in love, and marry, but there comes a time when there is no longer food for them to eat. Yukiko tells her husband that she can make a magic sail for him to sell in the village, but that he must promise never to look at her while she is making it. Promises are eventually broken and in the end Osamu never sees Yukiko again: "He wove simple sails for the rest of his years, there at his window, gazing at the marsh and the white cranes. And each autumn, in the season of storms, he waited for a knock on his door."

(I have also read a slight variation of this folktale called the White Crane were the crane is the daughter of an elderly couple, also the album The Crane Wife by the band The Decemberists is a retelling of this folktale.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

限定版 Limited Edition

Gentēban (限定版) is the Japanese word for limited edition, pictured is the limited edition beer can from Asahi celebrating spring and the blooming sakura trees. Recently a Japanese acquaintance told me that if a product - any product - is offered as a limited edition item, then Japanese are sure to go to great lengths to acquire it. For instance, when a long queue blocks the tiny isles of the store you are trying to quickly traverse to catch your train, then a limited edition item is sure to blame. Many items also have very seasonal offerings, such as this beer can, so if you desire foods, items, or products that could be seemingly seasonally related, or more important limited edition, then you better join the queue now or you risk becoming the fellow that missed out!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kitano Tenman Jinja

Two views of the stone stairs at Kitano Tenman Jinja in the Kitano-cho region of Kōbe at the foot of mount Rokkō. It is said that Taira-no-Kiyomori (平 清盛), a general of the late Heian period who was responsible for the establishment of the first samurai-dominated administrative government, founded the shrine. The Shrine also offers an expansive view of Kōbe on a clear day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

When The Saints . . .

This was a traveling Jazz minstrel that entertained the many hanami peoples last weekend at Shukugawa Park. When I crossed paths with them they were playing "when the saints go marching in" in a bluegrass style. The lead musical bard is playing a banjo followed in line by an accordionist, upright bassist (equipped with a wheel - and playing a kazoo) and trumpeter with mute.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pizza Perfect

In what food critics across the globe are calling both bold and brazen, Pizza Hut Japan has announced that after 2,600 years of combined pizza history they have crafted the perfect pie. Developed by Japan's leading culinary scientists trained in (道のピザ) literally 'the way of pizza.' As one renowned scientist stated: "we refer to ourselves as 'pizza artisans' because, as our latest creation clearly proves, we have moved beyond the realm of just crafting tastes in a test kitchen and have made the grand leap into pizza perfection." As the scanned image from the press release shows, perfection does come at a cost, about $36.72 USD but includes among other indigents: corn, mayonnaise, ham, mini hotdogs, and a special sweet ketsup to "up the tastiness."

Classically a savory Italian confection, the pizza is a baked pie of a shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings. The entomology of the word "pizza" is believed to be related to a classical Italian word meaning "a point." Whether this veritable cornucopia of meatiness, this artery squeezing meatsa pie, even has a point is something only time can tell.

Sakura Shukugawa さくら夙川

The Shukugawa Park and its sakura seems to be one of the main attractions in this part of Nishinomiya. The JR Kōbe station is named after it and everywhere you look are images and symbols of sakura. The sakura here were planted under the guidance of Sasabe Shintaro, one of Japan’s foremost sakura-experts and biologists, who also happened to live in Nishinomiya. The park was started prior to WWII but planting was halted during the war. Luckily the park was finished shortly after the war ended and has grown into one of the top 100 sakura viewing places in Japan, as selected by the Japan Cherry Blossom Association (NPO).