As you may know, being an English speaker in Japan, my main and almost only tangible contact with the Anglophone world is via the internet. How else does one keep a healthy state of mind and remain up to date? So, personally and professionally speaking, freedom on the internet is vital for me and the millions of expats from all countries all around the world. Threats to internet freedom is sure to have a stifling affect. Worse still, any such legislation created in the US will affect
People who do not live in America
People who have never been to America
People who cannot vote in American elections, and cannot (and shouldn’t) affect American policy.
So, the gist of CISPA is that your browsing and internet information (things you do, and info you leave on websites) can be shared with American government agencies. Who as access? It’s a long list, the Office of the President, the Office of the Vice Presidents Children, the Forest Service, J-2 Intelligence, West Point Military Academy, (ironically) Office for Civil Rights, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and lots more (EFF, Under CISPA). What can you do? Go to the http://internetdefenseleague.org/ website and show your opposition to the planned legislation, even if you’re not American.
It’s impossible to make a list of only five things, when it should be 500 or more! But here is the quint-essentials for any first-time traveller to Japan. So, here they are, in no particular order.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto.
1. Where easy to slip-on & off shoes
It sounds so stupidly simple, but especially if you’re touring in Kyoto you’ll be slipping your shoes on and off ten times before lunch, and ten times again before dinner. All the temples, shrines, original castles, people’s own homes, restaurants, everywhere you’ll be airing your feet. If you have foot odour problems, then you really, really should pay BodyShop a visit.
2. Prepaid phones and SIM cards
This was the hardest to research section. Most countries make it easy to get a mobile phone, and also make it easy to get a prepaid SIM card. In Japan, that is totally not the case. Despite the very low street crime, Japan does have the worlds largest three criminal gangs (the largest numbering over 30,000). So, they have very, very tight restrictions on who they give mobile phones out to. Because Japanese companies and government work on protectionist principles, the local mobile phone market has for a long time locked out foreign competitors, and one mechanism was by using a different radio-frequency and system to work. So, your mobile phone probably won’t work here. It is possible that today’s smart phones, like the Android, iPhones, and tablets may work; expect the worst, but hope for the best.
It seems, that bmobile.ne.jp may be able to help you. You can purchase a SIM card for your smartphone or tablet and use that for upto 1Gb or 14days, and it’s extendable. You order online, and organise for it to be available at an airport post office. See their website for details: http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/index.html
Other options? Well, easy to understand websites in English are a rarity. Coupled with lazy companies whose “English” website contains only links to the Japanese-language-only services, make them useless to international travellers (eg: AU).
3. When in Rome stuff / Don’t look like a total tourist
This one is about having a bit of decorum, Japanese people are best described as calm, quiet, unassuming, people. It is annoying when people are distracting, loud, and boisterous. Perhaps I’ve lived here for too long. Just watch what people do, how they behave, and go with it. Also good advice when eating unfamiliar food, too.
Generally, it’s a good idea to take few clothes with you when you travel, and buy clothes that are local and in season. Some blogs and “travel experts” claim that they never take check in luggage, but carry all the essentials in carry-on bags, as luggage gets lost at the rate of two passengers per plane (luggage stats, avoiding lost luggage). I still check in luggage, have never flown a dodgy airline, and have never lost luggage (touch wood). Also, your winter trousers might be equivalent to our autumn wear, leaving you freezing, or your summer trousers may leave you melting here. In other countries, looking like a local makes you less of a target. In Japan? Well, the advantage is that when you need help, people are more likely to not just help, but go that extra mile for you. Loud print shirts with “Zombie Apocalypse” written in bold print with fake blood stains might make getting service and help a little more difficult. Looks count for a lot here. Pack plain shirts, jeans, nothing niche, and cover those tattoos (tattoos banned for Osakan public servants). Recommended clothing stores? Uniqlo is new, now quite popular, decent, in season, and cheap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniqlo
4. You’ve gotta be seated to eat by 11.30am or forget it
Especially if you’re travelling in Kyoto, all the restaurants are getting pretty full at 12pm. I find that I really, really need to eat well, and eat relaxed when I’m doing a lot of walking. So, I want to sit, relax, have space for my bag, and be able to leave my bag at the table, while I go to the restaurant toilet. So, as a general rule of thumb be looking for potential places to eat when you arrive in an area, then do sight seeing, and just after 11am, start looking for a good place to eat. Otherwise, you might find yourself eating at the not-so good places (which will still be decent, but not special), or standing and waiting until 1.30 or so.
5. Vending machines are everywhere
It’s true. They are everywhere. You don’t need to bring Thermoses, sippers, or Starbucks travel cups. At ¥150 (£1, €1.20, USD$1.50, AUD$1.50) for the most expensive drinks, it makes life really convenient. Drinks with red price tags in winter are heated, and blue tags means chilled. Also, Seven Elevens, Family Marts, Circle K’s, and so many other convenience store companies are everywhere, that if in a pinch, you can get one of those awful bento box lunches (loaded with preservatives) to fill your tummy for a few hours. Little known fact, there are more temples and shrines in Japan, than convenience stores. When you look around, you wouldn’t know it.
It’s not that time year again… err… yet, but it is. Cherry blossoms, (桜, さくら, sakura) in my area are usually out in the second week of April, however, they were open in time for St Patricks Day, due to the unseasonally warm weather. The fully open flower below was taken just yesterday, however, the tree probably lost most of its petals today due to the heavy rain and strong wind. That’ll put a damper on this weeks cherry blossom parties (photo 1, photo 2). Tomorrow, and the rest of this week, is meant to be mild, so any trees that haven’t blossomed yet should be looking great.
Just for this season, I’m offering a 10% discount for this and other cherry blossom pictures on my PhotoShelter portfolio. Actually, any photo on my PhotoShelter portfolio. As per usual, conditions apply, USD$20 minimum purchase, offer for a limited time. Act now, before you forget, and share with your friends / colleagues. Coupon code: SAKURA2013.
On a recent trip, I found myself at a beach. Totally by accident, I swear. And I found some pebbles and decided to do the most cliché beach / pebble photo I know, the zen pebble stack. About a month later I’m back at my regular work station and was keywording and captioning photos and came across the zen pebble stack photo.
The word “zen” 禅 is a word in Japanese for silent meditation, and it’s associated with a type of Buddhism called Zen Buddhism, or zen-shu 禅宗. The photo below is iconic in western countries as being representative of zen. I’ve lived in Japan for quite a few years. I’ve travelled to a all the important places in Japan (excluding Tokyo, it’s not that important, actually). However, I’ve never, never seen a pile of pebbles anywhere in Nagoya, Kyoto, the gardens of Kyoto, temples or shrines of Kyoto, Osaka, or Nara. The first Google hit I found that explains the mysterious pile of rocks is on eHow. It explains that it’s a garden feature, that helps the gardener to feel ‘zen’ from nurturing a garden. I suppose a pile of pebbles is more meditative than a pet chihuahua.
In any case, never have I seen a zen pebble stack in Japan, not even in photos, except on English language websites. This, and other photos of Australia can be found in the Australian Stock Photos Gallery.
Small zen pebbles stacked on sand with a reflection in water.
World Water Day is Friday 22nd March. This week and next I’ll be asking folks on Google+ and Twitter to share their water related photos, especially regarding how water is important to nature and humanity. To kick off the week, here’s mine.
For more information see the United Nations World Water Day website. See my PhotoShelter portfolio for more water photos. The photo below was taken at the Clyde River, in Batemans Bay, Australia, which represents leisure use of water. Unfortunately the nearby fisherman didn’t want to pose in the photo to show more of leisure (fishing) as well as food, because he hadn’t finished making his sand castle, which he was going to use to impress his bikini clad mermaid girlfriend who was drinking an imported designer brand water.
My story isn’t as harrowing as those up north, but it is my story. I’m in Nagoya, halfway between Tokyo and Osaka, well south of the Tohoku earthquake.
11th March 2011 was a very cold, but sunny day. At about 2.47pm I felt my building beginning to sway, and then it got violent.For the first ten minutes the NHK broadcast was only the automatic computer system announcing the basic facts in Japanese, English, Portuguese, Mandarin, and may a couple of other languages. Then later we saw confused, hurriedly arranged news anchors starting to pass on info to us, including the first images of the tsunami sweeping across low-lying homes and fields. The earthquake swayed and shook us at various intensities for the next five hours. During that time, I wondered if I should evacuate my building or not, but I stayed glued in front of my TV. I remained standing behind my couch with heavy winter jacket on ready to run, eyes on the TV updates, and all I had was my wallet, keys, and mobile phone in hand. Now, I have a backpack with emergency survival kit, and I’d ensure I have my camera. Looking outside, I saw that water in the nearby canals was slopping side to side, like coffee in my mug as I walk from the kitchen. I slept with my clothes next to my bed for a few days, and always a good pair of shoes ready at the door.
In the following days and weeks, I wondered if the nearby fault, the Nankai fault, might also be triggered. The Nankai fault was the one that was expected to be the next big quake, affecting mainly Nagoya and the central region, and the northernmost limit of affect is Tokyo. There apparently is over 80% chance of it slipping, creating a magnitude 8 earthquake, resulting in a tsunami expected to be over 10 meters in some areas, which will overwhelm many coastal storm surge barriers. It is expected that 10,000’s in my region would die from what is called the Great Nankai Earthquake. Consequently, it was because there seemed the very real possibility that the Nankai earthquake could be triggered, is why I remained in my region and didn’t head north to visually record the devastation. Apparently, experts feel that the Nankai trough is in very real danger or slipping, even more so now the shape of the earth has changed. I also learnt in the months afterwards that the whole earth had sped up, and the earth’s angle of lean changed ever so slightly, as a result of the Tohoku earthquake (Wikipedia).
I know today is significant (the second anniversary of the 11th March 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster), and so today is a double dose of Photo of the Week (POTW). One photo is a cultural event that is something to now especially look forward to and enjoy, and the other is commemorative.
The Tagata Fertility Festival photo below was taken just days after the actual disaster, and it shows people determined to try and enjoy life, despite the horror witnessed days before. Also on the day the photo was taken one of the nuclear reactors exploded. I didn’t know at the time, so I hoped that the wind was blowing away, and I really did have the feeling that being outside, photographing this event, might have been dangerous. I think I only learnt about the reactor explosion when I got home. I now have Reuters and other news outlets in my Twitter feed.
Below is a photo from the Nuclear Spring Collection I made just weeks after the actual disaster, see the Nuclear Spring blog search for previous posts. The title “Nuclear Spring” is significant, in that it amalgamates the concepts of Nuclear Winter, Silent Spring, and the time of year the Fukushima disaster occurred. Nuclear Winter is the supposed effect on the weather systems of the world after a nuclear war. Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 that describes the effect on the environment after farmers sprayed and killed all the insects. This book is regarded as the birth of the modern environmental movement. Still today, thousands of people are protesting against the continuance of nuclear power in Japan (Japan Today, Reuters), and there is a wonderful blog that aims to provide information that the media does not, the Fukushima Diary.
In commemoration of the 11th March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, the homepage slide show gallery was changed to the Nuclear Spring gallery. The collection is so called because of reference to Nuclear Winter and the historic book called Silent Spring.
I wonder if it is a coincidence that the Nagoya Women’s Marathon is held so close to, or the same weekend as the International Women’s Day. The first event was held in 1980, and only the 2011 event was cancelled due to the 11th March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster (Wikipedia). I attended this year again, and got a few key photos. It was about 12 degrees Celsius, though it felt warmer, with a very light warm breeze. There were concerns about the yellow dust / sand blown in from China affecting the health of anyone outdoors. Also, there was a 40% chance of rain at 2pm, though I was already feeling the odd spit at 10.30am, as the lead group past me at the 22km point on Wakamiya Ave, near Yaba-cho Station.
This years photos are uploaded to my agent’s website, Asian Photo Connection, and will be available in a few days. However, until then, the 2013 will be temporarily available at my PhotoShelter Portfolio of Nagoya Women’s Marathon gallery for immediate purchase.
Eri Hayakawa (#17, Japan) and Yoko Miyauchi (#14, Japan) in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon at the 22km point
Strangely, there was no Twitter hashtag or updates during this event. 🙁 It seems kind of standard to expect this these days, isn’t it?
I just got back from a long overseas trip, and I have about 20Gb of photos to process. Unfortunately, though, my main laptop with my photo software died! I was working on stuff, when suddenly the power cut out! That was it! The battery was fine, the power cable is fine and has a green light on the AC adaptor, but the computer just suddenly blacked out! It won’t restart, and there’s no signs of life.
Anyway, it looks like it’ll be a couple of days until the repairman can come and fix it. In the mean time, there’s a whole lot of empty real estate on my desk that is barely filled in by my mini laptop. I was looking to do some minor tweaks to this website, and to start processing my photos… but I guess my holiday has just been extended by a little. 🙁
FYI, photo from the MoreLomo app, and processed on the PhotoShop Express app.
Mini laptop barely filling the hole left behind by the out of service main laptop