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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Japan News This Week 23 April 2017


Japan News.
Japan: More than four million middle-aged 'parasite singles' still live with their elderly parents

Criminal complaint filed against PM's wife, Akie Abe, and aide over Moritomo Gakuen
The Mainichi

What it's like to hold Japan's super train golden ticket

Anger, confusion as Japan revives militaristic edict
The Business Times

Japan's exports, imports surge in sign of renewed vigor

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

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Abortions reported in Japan have steadily declined over the past few decades, from their peak in 1955 when the number of abortions was 67% of the number of live births, to 2000 when they were 28%, to 2014 when they were 18%.

Source: Historical abortion statistics, Japan, Johnston's Archive

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Beta - not Betaa


If you know a smattering of Japanese and you are listening to Japanese people talking among themselves, you may well catch what sounds like the word "better" and think they are using katakana English to express a preference for something.

However, the chances are that rather than betaa, with its long drawn out final "ah" sound, that corresponds to the English "better," you are actually overhearing the word beta ("beh-ta"), which is quite different - almost opposite - in meaning, in fact.

Sore wa beta na hyogen da 「それはベタな表現だ」, or Beta na hassou da ベタな発想だ mean, respectively, "That's a hackneyed expression" or "(That's a) humdrum idea."

According to a contributor to the excellent Yahoo Chiebukuro (literally "Yahoo Knowledge Bag") website, an online forum for all possible kinds of questions, there are two possibilities when it comes to beta's roots.

One is that beta is a corruption of the word subete, or "everything," "all," in the sense of "covering everyhing," "being all the same," and that this developed in about the 17th century.

The other approaches this same idea of "uninterupted sameness" and "lack of differentiation" from a completely different angle, i.e., from the established meaning of beta (べた, in hiragana, not katakana) as "mud," this mud being used to fill in all the gaps - as on an old block wall, for example - to make the surface smooth and featureless.

Whichever the theory that you go with, there are many words in Japanese in use today that express this sense of flatness, e.g., betanuri べた塗り means painting or spreading a substance over a surface to make its smooth, betanagi べた凪 means calmness or wavelessness on a body of water, betaashi べた足 is a golfing term used to describe planting your feet flat on the ground before making a swing, betabore べた惚れ means to fall hopelessly in love with someone ("fall flat in love" kind of works in English, too!), and betabome べた褒め means to praise someone to the skies (in the sense of completely ["smoothly" if you like] slathering them with praise).

By the end of the 18th century, saucy Edo-period short novels, which closely mirrored life on the streets, were including the word beta in the sense of "lacking a twist" and being "two a penny" - a usage which before long found its way into the language of artists and entertainers to describe cliched, corny, unimaginative and same-old-same-old.

So keep a close ear out for whether that last "ah" sound is short or lengthened. There's a crucial difference.

Zenzen beta na hanashi ja nai ne! 全然ベタな話じゃないね! (It's not your everyday kind of story at all, is it!)

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Yodobashi Camera - an Appliance Megastore


Yodobashi Camera is one of Japan's biggest electronics and home appliance retail chains.

Apple Store, Yodobashi Akiba, Akihabara, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
The Apple store in Yodobashi Akiba
There are 24 branches of Yodabashi Camera, about half of them in the greater Tokyo area, and the rest in big population centers throughout Japan, going as far north as Sapporo in Hokkaido and as far west as Hakata in Kyushu.

The camera section on the 3rd floor of the Akihabara branch of Yodobashi Camera.
Cameras in Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara

Yodobashi Camera began in 1960 as a camera store, when a camera cost months and months worth of the average salary. Yodobashi Camera's strategy was to open stores right next to major stations in the greater Tokyo area and to stock as many products as possible, rapidly expanding into home appliances in general. Yodobashi Camera is all about accessibility: accessibility to stores: near stations and open from 9:30am to 10pm, and accessibility to products, the range of which now covers pretty much everything.

Yodobashi Akiba Akihabara, Tokyo.
Yodobashi Akiba, Akihabara
This strategy very much paid off, and Yodobashi Camera is now a giant, especially in the Tokyo area where shopping for appliances almost necessitates a visit to Yodobashi Camera to compare prices - whether in person or online.

Yodobashi Camera salespersons at work.
Selling cameras at Yodobashi Camera
Online is Yodobashi Camera's new retail frontier. Last September Yodobashi Camera started a new online service called Yodobashi Extreme that, in the 23 Tokyo wards and a few areas just outside them, directly competes with Amazon Japan's Prime Now.

Information counter, Showa-dori Entrance, Yodobashi Akiba.
Multimedia Akiba Store information counter, Showa-dori Entrance
Prime Now gets goods to customers within an hour if they spend more than 2,500 yen and don't mind paying an 890 yen freight charge, or within two hours freight-free.

Yodobashi Extreme's delivery time frame is two and a half hours - not as fast as Amazon Prime Now - but the customer can follow the progress in real time online, delivery is always free, and the range of goods available on Yodobashi Extreme is currently much, much bigger than on Amazon Prime Now. The two companies are therefore locked in an online battle for Japan's capital city. Time will tell if Tokyo has room for both.

A Gold Point Card from Yodobashi Camera
Yodobashi Camera Gold Point Card
Meanwhile, Yodobashi Camera's brick and mortar stores, at least in Tokyo, seem to be constantly thronged. The service at Yodobashi Camera is hit and miss. Staff there often seem routinely overworked and distracted, and can often be more curt and less cooperative than typical Japanese store staff. However, Yodobashi Camera stores don't pretend to be boutiques, and the range of goods available there makes a visit to Yodobashi Camera almost mandatory if you want a hands-on comparison between the goods on your wish list.

Prices at brick-and-mortar Yodobashi Camera stores are usually higher than what you can find online, but the store's bonus points system (10% of purchase if paying by cash, 8% with credit card) reduces the gap considerably.

Showa-dori Entrance, Multimedia Akiba Store, Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara.
Showa-dori Entrance, Yodobashi Camera, Akihabara, Tokyo

Yodobashi Akiba is my local Yodobashi Camera branch, in Akihabara. The Multimedia Akiba Store is a massive building with 9 above-ground floors full of merchandise and 6 underground parking floors. Everything is sold here in the way of gadgets and appliances. There is even a restaurant floor (8F) and a golfing and batting center on the top (9F) floor.

Exit 3 of Hibiya Subway Station, Akihabara, at left, and the Showa-dori Exit of JR Sobu line Akihabara station at right. Entrance to Yodobashi Akiba off to right.
Subway (left) and JR (right), with Showa-dori Entrance of Yodobashi Akiba off to the right

If you go to Yodobashi Akiba by train, the Showa-dori Exit of JR Akihabara Station brings you directly to the Showa-dori Entrance of the store. Exit 3 of the Hibiya Subway Station will also bring you out at Yodobashi Akiba's Showa-dori Entrance. (Read more about Akihabara shopping.)

There is also a massive Yodobashi presence in Shinjuku, which is where the company's headquarters are located.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ginza Six Opens Today


Ginza Six opens in Ginza, Tokyo.
Ginza Six - a grand, glitzy new shopping presence in Ginza

Ginza Six is a brand new shopping complex that opens today in Tokyo's most prestigious shopping district, Ginza.

Ginza Six is so named because it is on the Ginza 6-Chome intersection, on the site where the Matsuzakaya department store (Ginza's first) stood between 1924 and 2013. The company that runs the Matsuzakaya and Daimaru chains of department stores teamed up with Mori Building - most famous for its Roppongi Hills and Omotesando Hills complexes - as well as Sumitomo Real Estate - to bring this grand retail project to life.

And grand is the word. Ginza Six is a sleek, imposing modern edifice designed by the prominent architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, with just enough of a minimal, functional air - and just enough use of wood inside - to save it from complete 80s glam. The building's facade is supposed to evoke the idea of sunrays and traditional Japanese noren curtains that typically hang in the doorways of restaurants.

Ginza 6 facade, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.
Ginza 6: a new home for international fashion brands in Tokyo
Ginza Six's 17 floors (four of them below ground) house over 240 stores, half of which are fashion-related and with dozens and dozens of food-related establishments, too, and a dedicated delicatessen floor on B2.

Special features at Ginza Six include a charming, church-like noh theater on the B3 floor, and a big, rather formal, rooftop garden that includes rows of maple and sakura trees.

A brief stroll through Ginza, especially on a weekend when the main street is pedestrianized, quickly reveals that a sizeable proportion, if not the majority, of shoppers here are from China. Chinese tourists are drawn to Ginza in their droves for the top-class brand goods here, which are guaranteed to be genuine; for the prices, which are generally lower in Japan for such goods than in China; and for the panache of Ginza: Tokyo's top shopping area in terms of the range and quality of luxury goods available there.

Entrance to Ginza 6 shopping center, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.
Entrance to Ginza Six
In the 21st century when most young Japanese now flock to cheap fashion outlets like H&M, Uniqlo and Gap, it is hard to imagine developments like Ginza Six surviving on the strength of Japanese shoppers alone. And to moneyed Chinese tourists used to the boutique glamor that makes up great swathes of cities like Shanghai, for example, old-time Japanese department stores just do not cut it. Ginza Six with its conscious Japanesque touches incorporated into cutting edge global glam is now the most alluring tourist trap in town.

New shopping glitz for Ginza - the Ginza 6 retail complex.
Crowds outside Ginza 6, Tokyo
Read more about Ginza shopping.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nameless Theatre Presents Othello


Nameless Theatre presents Othello (English language with Japanese subtitles)

Following the success of last season's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nameless Theatre is preparing for an evening of jealously, betrayal and revenge as they bring Shakespeare's thriller, Othello, to Nagoya this June.

Nameless Theatre Presents Othello.

Powerful and influential, Othello is an entrepreneur at the peak of his powers. But when the "green-eyed monster" slowly begins to convince him of the infidelity of his wife, Desdemona, he embarks on a mission of bloody vengeance.

Sleek, fast-paced and as up to date as when it was first penned, Shakespeare's revenge tragedy shows us the power love has to unite, strengthen, and destroy.

When: Tues. 6 June (7pm); Wed. 7 June (7pm); Thurs. 8 June (19:00); Fri 9 June (7pm) (doors open 30 mins. before performance)

Where: Chikusa Playhouse (千種文化小劇場) 3 Chome-6-10 Chikusa, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi-ken 464-0858

Access: A 3-minute walk from Fukiage Station exit 7, or a 10-minute walk from Imaike station exit 9 on the Higashiyama Subway Line.

Admission: General admission 4,000 yen in advance (5,000 yen at the door). Discounts available for groups of 10 or more.

Reservations: Visit namelesstheatre.org, or phone 052-725-8216 (9am to 5pm)

Inquiries: E-mail info@namelesstheatre.org

Facebook: facebook.com/namelesstheatre

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Yagenbori Fudoin


Yagenbori Fudoin in Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
Yagenbori Fudoin Temple in Bakurocho neigborhood, Chuo ward, Tokyo.

Yagenbori Fudoin is a small, picturesque temple in the Nihonbashi-bakurocho area of Chuo ward, Tokyo, with a distinctive pagoda. It is distinctive first for its pretty octagonal roof perched like a hat on a head-like sphere, and also for being on a high platform, accessible by a flight of stairs flanked by red banners. It is also somewhat distinctive for being squeezed between nondescript concrete buildings that only serve to accentuate its charms.

A fudoin is a temple belonging to the esoteric Shingon branch of Buddhism championed in Japan by the priest Kukai (774–835). Yagenbori Fudoin was one of the three major Fudoins in old Edo (i.e., Tokyo in the pre-modern era), the other two being Meguro Fudoin in Meguro ward, and Mejiro Fudoin in Toshima ward. (Incidentally, Meguro and Mejiro mean, respectively "eye black" and "eye white" - an interesting contrast that in this context might just be a coincidence, but which warrants looking into for a future blog post, maybe!)

Yagenbori Fudoin - an annex of Kawasaki Daishi.
People paying their respects at Yagenbori Fudoin, Chuo ward, Tokyo.

Of these three, Yagenbori Fudoin is different in that it is actually the annex of another temple located over 22km to the south, in Kawasaki City - a temple called Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji belonging to the Chisan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Kawasaki Daishi.

Kawasaki Daishi is one of the biggest temples of the Chisan School of the Shingon sect. The other two in the Kanto region are Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita City, Chiba, and Takao-san Yakuo-in Yuki-ji Temple in Hachioji City, Tokyo),

The object of veneration at Yagenbori Fudoin is a statue of the Acala, or the Fudō Myō-ō as it is known in Japanese, carved to celebrate the fact that the Shingon school reformer, the priest Kakuban (1095–1143) survived his 43rd year which, in Buddhist reckoning, was an inauspicious one. The statue was placed in Negoro Temple in present-day Wakayama prefecture.

Yagenbori Fudoin with a display of the products of a temple sponsor.
Yagenbori Fudoin, with products of a sponsor on display in front

Then about four centuries later, in 1585, Negoro Temple was burnt down in one of the wars waged by Japan's second "great unifier," Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The priest of the temple put the statue in a chest and carried it all the way to Edo (current day Tokyo) where he built a temple beside the Sumida River, which became today's Yagenbori Fudoin.

In 1832, the temple became the site of a school founded by a priest to teach Western-style medicine. Then in 1892, it became a branch temple of Kawasaki Daishi.

A three-day fair takes place every year at the festival around December 28.

Yagenbori Fudoin is a 3-minute walk from Exit B3 of Higashi-nihonbashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, and a 5-minute walk from Exit A4 of Bakuro-yokoyamacho Station on the Toei Shinjuku Subway Line.

Yagenbori Fudoin in a placid neighborhood of Nihonbashibakurocho, Chuo ward, Tokyo.
Yagenbori Fudoin Temple squeezed between neighbors in Bakurocho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
2-6-8 Higashi-nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Taiji Station


Taiji Station is a JR station on the Kisei Line. Visitors traveling south from Owase StationKumano-shi Station and Nagoya Station to the north need to change trains at Shingu Station to reach Taiji.

Local train at Taiji Station.

The first express train to Shingu Station from Nagoya is the 8.05am Wide View Nanki that arrives in Shingu Station at 11.34am. The present fare is 7,390 yen. From Shingu it is about 30 minutes by local train or 21 minutes by Kuroshio or Wide Nanki Express to Taiji.

From Osaka's Tennoji Station a Kuroshio Express takes 3 hours and 20 minutes and costs 6,890 yen.

Taiji Station mural

Visitors to Taiji Station are greeted by cheerful pictures of whales and dolphins in the sea, painted as if by local school children.

Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture on the south eastern coast of the Kii Peninsula has become known outside Japan for a rather darker association with cetaceans since the release of Ric O'Barry's The Cove documentary in 2009.

Junkan bus at Taiji Station, Wakayama.

A local loop bus connections with incoming trains and runs to the Taiji Whale Museum. The station has pamphlets and maps to help tourists get around Taiji.

Regular buses (which are cheaper than the train) from the Meitetsu bus station at Meitetsu Nagoya Station run to Shingu via Kumano. From Shingu there are trains to Taiji. Locals buses connect Shingu with Kumano-shi.

Taiji Station, Wakayama Prefecture.

Taiji Station
Wakayama Prefecture

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Japan News This Week 16 April 2017


Japan News.
Japan’s Sand Museum, a Home to Ephemeral Treasures
New York Times

Figure skating star Mao Asada stuns Japan with retirement

Japanese warships to join US fleet near North Korea as tensions rise

Emperor’s abdication ceremony, the first in 200 years, likely to be held in December
Japan Times

Reconstruction Disaster: The human implications of Japan’s forced return policy in Fukushima 復興災害:福島の強制帰還政策が意味すること
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


"Japan ranked No. 4 in official development assistance in 2016 among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an OECD report showed Tuesday.

Japan also ranked fourth in 2015. The United States topped the ODA rankings for 2016, followed by Germany and Britain.

Japan’s ODA spending increased 12.7 percent from the previous year to $10.37 billion, according to the report."

Source: Japan Times

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Garakei - Japan's Unique Featurephones


A Japanese featurephone, or garakei.
The garakei, an endangered species
Japan is among the top 15 countries in the world for internet penetration. As of 2013, about 85% of the Japanese population had access to the internet via a computer or mobile device.

Mobile devices also have very high penetration in Japan. In 2015, there were about 159 million mobile/cellphone subscriptions in Japan, outnumbering the population by an almost incredible 23 million!

However, unlike in neighboring South Korea, for example, where 88% of the population owned a smartphone in 2015, or even China where 58% owned one, only about 40% of the Japanese population owned a smartphone. The remaining 60% (about 95 million phones) were cellphones.

The most popular kind of cellphone in Japan is the featurephone, smarter than the old original Nokia-style brick, but dumber than a smartphone. However, featurephones in Japan come with an array of features and specifications geared to Japanese infrastructure that don't work overseas. For example, years ago, before I got an iPhone, my featurephone provided by au (the mobile provider owned by KDDI, the second biggest carrier in Japan) came with a very convenient built-in Suica function. To go through a railway station turnstile, or pay for a bottle of water at a convenience store or vending machine, I simply swiped my phone instead of a plastic card, and topped up my Suica online.

The Galapagos Islands  inspire the term "galakei."
The Galapagos Islands, the inspiration for the term galakei
Featurephones with these kinds of Japan-only features are known locally as garakei (or galakei). The etymology is funny. Gara (which can also be pronounced gala, as Japanese makes no distinction between the "l" and "r" sounds) is short for Galapagos, and "kei" is short for keitai, which means "mobile." In other words, a "Galapagos mobile."

From the famous giant Galapagos tortoise, to the marine iguana to the blue-footed booby, the isolated Galapagos Islands are known for their numerous uniquely evolved species. The Japanese featurephone's evolution is likened to this, as something recognizable the world over, yet which has adapted to its environment and developed unique features.

The fact that Japan had a policy of national isolation, or sakoku, for over two centuries up until 1853 adds another dimension to the garakei moniker, giving it a sheen of self-conscious humor.

However, like so many unique species on our planet, the garakei seems to be facing extinction. NTT, Japan's biggest mobile provider, announced last November that it was discontinuing its "iMode keitai" mobile line and replacing it with Android-based "P-smart" smartphones, and other providers are following suit.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Hanzomon Station


Exit 1 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Exit 1 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi
Hanzomon Station is in the Kojimachi district of Tokyo's Chiyoda ward and serves one of Tokyo's most elegant neighborhoods.

It is named after the Hanzomon Gate of the Imperial Palace Tokyo, just four minutes' walk east. (The Hanzomon Gate is where Shinjuku-dori Avenue [part of Route 20] starts, going as far west as Kabukicho in Shinjuku ward.)

Ticket wicket near Exit 5, northern end of Hanzomon Station.
Northern ticket wicket, Hanzomon Station
In turn, the station gives its name to the whole subway line that it forms a part of: the Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line. Hanzomon Station is code-named Z-05 on the Hanzomon Line. It opened in 1982.

There are no transfers at Hanzomon Station, but Kojimachi Station, on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line, is just four minutes' walk west along Shinjuku-dori Avenue from Exit 2 of Hanzomon Station.

Exit guide at Hanzomon Station, Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.
Exit information, Hanzomon Station
Think "Hanzomon Station" and think "cafes, bakeries, eateries, patisseries." Every exit of Hanzomon Station opens out onto mostly quite elegant places to eat, snack or just enjoy a cup of coffee.

Hanzomon Station provides access to a number of well-known Tokyo places. At its southern end are Exits 1 and 2, which come out at basically the same place, serving the Kojimachi business district. From here it's an 8-minute walk south-east to the National Theatre, and the imposing, modern Supreme Court building next to the Theatre. Across from the Theatre and Court is the Sakurada Moat of the Palace.

Hanzomon Gate, Imperial Palace, Tokyo.
Hanzomon Gate of the Imperial Palace - just east of Hanzomon Station
The station's other four exits are all north of Shinjuku-dori, serving the exclusive Ichiban-cho residential district. Exits 3a and 3b serve the same corner, with 3a on the street that goes through Ichiban-cho and 3b around the corner on Shinjuku-dori Avenue, accessible through the big SAP building.

Exit 4 is right behind the JCII Camera Museum, 2 minutes' walk away, the British Embassy, 7 minutes' walk away, and the Embassy of Paraguay, on the northern end of the British Embassy.

Yushin-in Temple and Museum, with Exit 4 of Hanzomon Station.
Exit 4 of Hanzomon Station in Yushin-in Temple and Museum building
Exit 4 comes out through the Yushin-in (友心院) Building, the Yushin-in being a temple (albeit a very modern one) of the Shin-nyo-en (真如苑) religion. There is a sign there referring to a "museum" of the temple, but when I asked I was told that it would only be open to the public from next year.

On the other side of the road from Exit 4, a few meters down a side street, is an elevator entrance/exit. A short walk further down the side street brings you to the Embassy of Ireland.

Hotel Monterey Hanzomon near Exit 5 of Hanzomon Station, Kojimachi, Tokyo.
Hotel Monterey Hanzomon
Exit 5 is at the northern end of Hanzomon Station and comprises a stair exit on the main street, and an elevator also on the main street, but a little back. Across the road from Exit 5 is the Hotel Monterey Hanzomon, highly regarded for its very reasonably priced rates in such a prime location, for its friendly English-speaking staff, and great breakfast!

The whole length of Hanzomon Station can be traversed underground.

Elevator Exit across from Exit 4, Hanzomon Station.
Sign to the side-street elevator of Hanzomon Station - across from Exit 4

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