Tag Archive for japan

5 Things about Japan that totally rock

I try to make these monthly lists unique, and without repeating what others have already said to ad nauseam. So, here are 5 things you might not know already about Japan.

 

1. Trains

There’s lots of them. They’re everywhere. Even if you live here, you don’t really need to own a car at all. I know a family who rents a car two or three times a year, whilst most people don’t bother buying one; otherwise they’re an unnecessary expense. Cities are connected usually by city government-owned subway trains and buses, as well as some private train and bus companies. Then, satellite cities that feed into major metropolitan cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama have mainly private train companies and Japan Rail (JR). Then cities are linked mainly by JR East, JR Central, JR West, or JR Hokkaido companies. This includes the infamous bullet train (see 5 Things about Bullet Trains).

A local train that services rural towns and feeds to a satellite city of Nagoya. To see this image, and others like it, see the Transport gallery.

 

2. Unique festivals

How many other countries or communities you know has a penis festival, and can be very open about it? Well, to be more descriptively precise, a fertility festival, the video below shows the male fertility festival, and there’s also a female one held some weeks later (no pun intended). There’s also a Naked Man Festival, a Stone Bringing Festival, Doll Festival, dance festivals, and many other festivals.

A YouTube video of the Tagata Fertility Festival, see here for the Tagata Fertility Festival gallery, and past blog posts.

 

3. Fishing

Yep, how often do you see someone in a wooden boat, with a huge fire, catch fish with birds. Yes, I really do mean they use cormorants tied to rice hemp lines to dive into the river water, catch some fish, and then come up and cough them up into the boat. The lines keep the birds from getting away and from swallowing the fish. After watching the fish catching display, you can retire to a nearby restaurant to sample these fine hacked up aquatic cuisine. Cormorant fishing is done in various places including Inuyama, and is a summer thing that usually runs from May to October. The trip costs about ¥2,500 for basically an hour wait and a 20 minute one-run along the river, and then it’s over.

For this photo of cormorant fishing at Inuyama, and others like it, see the Night in Japan gallery.

 

4. Convenience stores

Convenience stores are everywhere. I heard that at any time (usually) you’re never more than 300 meters from a convenience store. Which is better than what I hear about not being more than 3 meters from a rat in New York. Anyway, in some small towns these small modern general stores serve as pseudo supermarkets, and for everyone a refuge from the winter cold or summer heat. They have a huge selection of drinks, snacks, and even lunch sets, and even hygiene supplies for office staff who were either too busy to go home, or too drunk to catch the last train. Lawsons (pictured) is starting to offer space with tables and chairs, too. Though this is coming 15 years after similar companies were doing the same in South Korea.

For this photo see see it in my PhotoShelter portfolio, and other convenience store photos see my agent’s website via search: “Japanese convenience store”.

 

5. People leave you alone

Basically, you’re left alone and people don’t bother you. The police are hard to find, mainly because they don’t need to come out of their police stations, unless they really have to. I cannot think of a lazier police force. People don’t pass judgements of you, and so you get an illusion of total freedom. Of course, some travellers and expats mistake this as a license to horse around and behave like juveniles, so please don’t. Tourists and expats have been banned from the famous Tokyo fish markets already. If you have tatoos, cover them with plasters or t-shirts. Don’t wear tracks suits or sports suits in public, people usually wear these as pyjamas. When my family came to visit, people somehow sensed they were tourists and were very warm and welcoming, and helpful. For me? Maybe I look like a local now, and so nobody cares.

For this photo of a naked guy giving a pink ribbon to a high school girl, as a policeman watches on, and others like it, see the Naked Man Festival gallery.

 

There’s of course many more things, but this is just a taste. You’ll have to come and see the rest for yourself. There are thousands more photos at my PhotoShelter portfolio, and my agent’s website. Also, 5 Ill Conceived Things in Japan coming next month.

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5 Things about “Hanami” (Cherry Blossom Viewing)

Welcome to Spring. Japanese people go crazy over cherry blossom viewing, I guess because it’s the first sign that the winter cold is breaking, and warmer days are clearly ahead. However, the plum flowers are already blooming, and have been for most species for about a month, but the cherry blossoms (or “sakura”) bloom for a week before the Spring breezes blows the petals away. Also, even though there are hundreds of thousands of these trees across the country in various species and varieties, most of these bear no edible fruit.

A young Japanese lady admiring the cherry blossoms. For this model released photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Seasons gallery.

 

1. Weather and when

The cherry trees blossoming is triggered by warmer weather, beginning in Okinawa in the south in February, to central Japan where they typically blossom in the second week of April, to Hokkaido in June (I think). The trees typically remain in bloom for seven or eight days. If there’s heavy rain, the petals are out for a very short time, but if the weather remains mild, the cherry blossom parties, or “Hanami Matsuri” can go on for nearly two weeks. Japanese Meteorological Agency used to provide blooming forecasts for nearly fifty years, but a few years ago they ended this service. Too many tour companies have tried to sue the JMA for inaccurate forecasting, costing the tour companies lots of money because of their own inflexibility and understanding of weather and nature. Now there are websites that make their own predictions that you can use like JNTO.


For this cherry blossom (sakura) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

2. Language point

The following contains both Roman, Chinese and Hiragana characters. “Hanami” (花見、はなみ), literally means ‘flower viewing’ (Wikipedia), but what Japanese people really mean is just hanging out and enjoying cherry blossom trees. “Sakura” (桜、さくら) means ‘cherry trees’ and ‘cherry blossoms’, and “ume” (梅、うめ) means ‘plum’, ‘plum tree’, and ‘plum flowers’.

Flowers on a Japanese plum tree. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

3. How it’s celebrated

Usually cherry blossom parties are held by groups of people. Usually work colleagues, community groups (typically neighbourhood groups), university clubs, groups of friends, and some times families get together for this. For evening parties, one or two poor sods have to get a tarp and some basic supplies and stake out a good spot until the evening when the others arrive. Usually its the young office staff or secretaries job to do this. Otherwise, most folks have their party in the day time. I think it’s still quite uncomfortably cool even in the day time, so day time parties are more common. They usually have a small bar-be-cue, have sake and beer, and relax and enjoy themselves without any loud frivolities.

For this Hanami (cherry blossom party) photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

 

2. Why cherry blossoms and not plum flowers?

Good question. The plum flowers are out much longer, they start earlier, and some species are out in the warmer part of spring, too. Also, plum flowers are usually much nicer or prettier. In fact, in the Nara period (710-794AD), it was the plum flowers that were revered, and to some extent the cherry blossoms and wisteria. Later, because of famous literary works focusing on cherry blossoms, the other options fell to the wayside (Wikipedia/Hanami History). Cherry blossoms are out for only a week typically at the start of April in central Japan. This timing, and brevity, seems to act as a convenient demarcation in time for Japanese people. School and university calendars start in April, companies have their new recruits start in April, companies transfer their staff to start in April, so March-April is also the moving season. The end of March marks the end of storage and tax-thingamy time, so major electronics stores have sales before new models are shipped and put on display. It seems the start of April is the time when Japan hits the reset button and lots of things starts fresh.

For this cherry blossom school sports photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

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1. Legend

Continuing on from point 2 above, it is said by Japanese people that the life of a samurai is short lived, with the sudden start and end as the cherry blossoms themselves. A good for a samurai is to have a quick sudden end, rather than a gradual fade to nothing, much like the sudden fall of petals from a cherry tree.

Nagoya castle in the Spring. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Cherry Blossoms gallery.

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#BREAKING Kakuryu wins the Emperor’s Cup

Twenty-eight year old Mongolian Kakuryu (born Mangaljalav Anand; Wikipedia) becomes the fourth Mongolian to win the Emperor’s Cup, after Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Harumafuji. It was also announced that he is to be promoted to be one of three top-ranked wrestlers called “Yokuzuna”. This photo is currently available for immediate purchase or licensing from my Sumo Gallery. It has been an exciting tournament, the two current top-ranked wrestlers, Hakuho and Harumafuji have struggled a little of late, Kotooshu crashed out and retired, and then this upset. It’s been great.

Kakuryu (left) faces Takayasu (unseen) in the Osaka Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

Kakuryu (left) faces Takayasu (unseen) in the Osaka Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Photo taken on Monday 17th March.

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#BREAKING: Bulgarian sumo wrestler Kotooshu may be retiring

First tweets from a Japanese sports journalist, @kaznagatsuka, says Kotooshu may be quiting this tournament.

UPDATE (7.30pm 20thMar): Kotooshu’s last bout was on Tuesday against Hakuho.

Below, Kotooshu ahead of his bout where he was defeated by Harumafuji just this Monday.

Bulgarian Kotooshu in his final tournament in the Osaka Spring Tournament.

Bulgarian Kotooshu in his final tournament in the Osaka Spring Tournament.

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Out of form Kotooshu in his last tournament?

I don’t like to focus on the negative. I usually post stuff on the sumo because it’s just so fascinating. The Bulgarian Kotooshu (born Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, Wikipedia) was still the new kid on the block and a rising star when I first arrived in Japan. He was great to watch, though he made mistakes, he still had energy and enthusiasm so that he could win, and it seemed he was growing into the role of the top ranked wrestler, a yokozuna. However, he never got past Ozeki, the second highest rank and was demoted to Sekiwaki at the end of 2013. He won one tournament and the Emperor’s Cup in 2008 (Wikipedia), and he was the darling of the media, and was on all the Bulgarian Yoghurt advertisements. Throughout his sumo career he’s been plagued by various injuries to his knees and arms. This tournament is the worst I’ve seen of him perform. In fact, every time I’ve seen him live, he’s lost, and Monday was no different. However, one win for nine losses is a record that would mean he’d have to be further demoted or retire.

Below, is an in-form and on-fire Harumafuji (right) displaying his strength, whilst a very out-of-form (and possibly very deflated and demotivated) Kotooshu watches on.

In form Mongolian Harumafuji wins easily against a struggling Bulgarian Kotooshu in the Osaka Spring Tournament.

In form Mongolian Harumafuji wins easily against a struggling Bulgarian Kotooshu in the Osaka Spring Tournament.

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5 Unique things from JPA

I don’t normally blow my own trumpet or show off, but sometimes you have to sing your own praises. However, how else can credit go where credit is due in this dynamic, short-term memory age of the internet. JPA has done some things that were not previously seen on the internet before. However, I’m not claiming to be the first, but these ideas were independently thought of by me (without having seen others do it first), or revived by me. So, what is there to be so proud about?

 

5. Camera-back photos / preview & announcements

As at time of writing (mid-January, 2014), this photo of the Tado Horse festival is 624 days old. I think it is probably also the first time anyone has photographed the back of their camera and posted an update to a social network. This was posted via iPhone to Twitpic, to Twitter. Luckily, I’ve worked out how to make these camera-back photos look more interesting (recent example). Here’s the rest of my Twitpic portfolio for social networking.

#Tado #Horse #Festival The horse got over the barrier. We&#03... on Twitpic

 

4. Referencing Information

I didn’t invent referencing. The Harvard, Oxford, and APA referencing styles for academic writing has been around for much longer than I’ve been alive. However, I am one of the very few bloggers who provide links to my information sources. So if I write about the Naked Man Festival, News events, the Tado Horse Festival, the Tenjin Festival, whatever, I provide a little bit of starting information to help put my photos in context for journalists and sources to get them going.

The start of the Tenjin Festival (Tenjin Matsuri) at Tenjin Shrine, Osaka.

The start of the Tenjin Festival (Tenjin Matsuri) at Tenjin Shrine, Osaka. Photo available via my agent’s website.

 

3. Demonstrating promo photos

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen this catching on, yet. What better way to self-promote, and show how your own photos can be used? For these photos, and others like them, see my PhotoShelter Models gallery.

A young lady appearing as though she's holding a promo card.

A young lady appearing as though she’s holding a promo card.

Young lady looking as though she's holding the Twitter account holders name.

Young lady looking as though she’s holding the Twitter account holders name.

 

2. Double exposure photography

This is my favourite kind of photography, using good old fashioned film, with all it’s charisma, and lots of experimentation. Before publishing Poem of a Cacophonous City, I’ve not seen any double exposure photography on social networking sites nor photographer websites (I was never really a Flickr user at that time), except when you look up Pablo Picasso’s own work from decades before. It would seem that since publishing this set of photos, people have also rediscovered it, or are now sharing it beyond Flickr. For this photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter Art gallery.

 

1. Photo-videos

I don’t think I’ve the first to do this, but I’ve not seen anyone else do this one, yet. It’s simple, and I think it’s a great way to show case my work. It’s simple, choose a theme and a set of photos, or just lump all your favourite photos together, add cool music or recorded sound, and press ‘Export’, and it’s done. Here’s my YouTube Channel, and an Intro photo-video:

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#POTW Nagoya Women’s Marathon 2014

The Nagoya Women’s Marathon will be on this Sunday, 9th March. At time of writing I don’t have any specific news about it, but I suspect that it will have all of Japan’s top women competing, and tens of thousands of women, and hundreds (or thousands) of men, too. In previous years it has been an Olympic qualifying event attracting various internarion runners (previous blog posts, 2012 and 2013, blog tag ‘marathon‘). For these photos see my PhotoShelter portfolio and my agent’s website. I will probably attend the event, so new photos may be added.

Good luck to the competitors, and best wishes to all the runners entering. For everyone else, on Sunday I’ll be on Twitter/JapanesePhotos.

 

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3 March Girls Day (Hina Matsuri)

Each year on the 3rd March is Girls Day in Japan. In Japanese it’s called Hina Matsuri, which means Dolls Festival. Usually, families set up a large display in late February, like the one below, and have their daughters pose next to it for photos. The dolls are based on the Heian court, and are arranged in descending order of rank across either a five or seven tiers. Each tier and doll has a specific meaning, but generally it was or is believed that the dolls take away evil spirits. The display is usually set up in the tatami room or guest room of the house. There are special foods and drinks that girls have on the day. Some communities might host some events just for girls, but other than that, not much else happens, however, the Nagoya Womens’ Marathon is next weekend. Also see the Japan Today Girls Day story, and Wikipedia/hinamatsuri.

For this photo, and others like it, see the Girls Day gallery.

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#tgif Snow Monkeys

Looking for something to do this or another weekend? The very well known Japanese snow monkeys are actually Japanese macaques, Lt. Macaca fuscata, are the northern most living primates, other than humans. These macaques were photographed Jigokudani Monkey Park hot springs, near Yudanaka, in Nagano prefecture. To do the trip, you can take a special JR express train to Nagano city, or a bullet train, where you’ll see lots of reminders that the city once hosted the Winter Olympics, last century. You could stay in a hotel there, or take a 44min train ride to Yudanaka and stay in a holiday resort hotel. All the details of how to get there and other local info is available at this website, http://nozawa-onsen.com/. However, you should be warned that there is nothing to do at Yudanaka in the evening, and it seemed that the restaurants take turns on being open in the weekday evenings. Also, here’s a link to a monkey-cam with on the hour updates (local time), http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam/monkey/index.htm.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Nature gallery on PhotoShelter website, and my agent’s.

Since Yudanaka had a daytime high of -6°C (about 30°F), you’ll definitely need hiking thermals (shirt and long underwear type, or long johns), two layers of socks (regular & thick was fine for me), a regular undershirt, shirt, jumper (or sweater), and the thickest winter jacket for outdoor camping you’ve got. Thermals are good because they’re quick dry, and I wore regular hiking trousers, as they’re also quick dry. Regular hiking boots are fine, and may be spikes, but I didn’t use mine. Of course, you’ll need gloves, scarf, and hat. I wore a hat with a visor to keep my jacket hood out of my eyes. You will need to walk for about 30mins from a car park, and you’ll probably want to stay there for about an hour. They tell you not to bring food near the macaques, but there are lockers near the entrance gate that you can use, right next to where you’ll pay the ¥500 entrance fee.

Expect to take lots of photos.

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Foundation Day holiday

It’s the annual Foundation Day holiday today, 11th February. So, here are five facts about the public holiday. It used to be celebrated on the lunar calendar equivalent, but for convenience the Japanese have abandoned it for the Gregorian calendar.

1. What. This day marks the time when Emperor Jimmu created the throne to rule Japan in 660BC (Wikipedia/Public Holidays in Japan) and began the imperial order. The actual year is contested, and the emperor is said to have died at the age of 126 years (Wikipedia/Emperor Jimmu).

2. Why. At the time when Emperor Jimmu established the Japanese empire, much of the main island was inhabited by both Japanese and Ainu people, of which there were also Japanese tribal chiefs that Jimmu had to still militarily defeat. Jimmu was unsuccessful in defeating the cheif of Naniwa (now ‘Osaka’), but continued trying to expand ‘Japan’. Emperor Jimmu himself expanded the empire further east and north, to modern day Kii Peninsula (south of Nagoya, but east of Osaka; Wikipedia/Emperor Jimmu).

3. Legacy. Japanese expansionism in the pre-war era was attested to this emperor, and was used in Japanese propaganda, which was abandoned in 1945. The modern holiday was established in 1966, and first celebrated in 1967. In my whole time in Japan, I only came to realise the holiday existed after I took the photo below. Usually, to celebrate the holiday, young people go out on shopping dates. Not much else happens that I’m aware of, I guess because the neighbours would complain about any overt Japanese patriotism associated with the day (Wikipedia/National Foundation Day).

4. Religion. Though the emperor of Japan is also the head of Shinto, and is said to be a descendant of Jimmu, the name Jimmu is of Chinese origin and is related to Buddhism (Wikipedia/Emperor Jimmu). His mausoleum is in Kashihara, Nara.

5. Etymology. Final interesting fact, the word “Japan” does not even come from the Japanese language. This place is locally known as ‘Nippon’, ‘rising sun’. The word Japan was adopted into European languages from Malay, via Dutch explorer-traders. In fact, the word originates from Chinese, ‘Jih pun’, meaning ‘sunrise’ (Etymonline).

For this Foundation Day photo, and others like it, see my PhotoShelter portfolio, and my agent’s website.

Photo taken on film on 11th Feb, 2012. A young couple out in the trendy shopping district of Sakae, Nagoya. The Japanese national flags are seen on the side of a department store building (photo on my PhotoShelter portfolio).

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