Archive for 5 Things

5 Things to enjoy in Nagoya Japan

It’s kind of hard to believe that this city needs an introduction. It is home of the Toyota Motor Corporation, it’s parent company, and the other subsidiaries, and the swathe of other automotive related companies. It is the home of the famous JR Central bullet trains (the white and blue-stripped ones) that service between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. The shape of modern Japan evolved from the Battle of Sekigahara (site is a 20 minute train ride from Nagoya station) where Japan was unified by Nobunaga Oda (born in Nagoya Castle), and Ieyasu Tokugawa (born in nearby Okazaki Castle). Tokugawa was the first Shogunate of Japan in 1603 and the Tokugawa Clan had remained the rulers of Japan until the Meiji Restoration era when the US sent naval ships to force Japan to open up to foreign trade. The Tokugawa Clan survives today, though they seem to be based in Tokyo, and manages the Nippon Yusen shipping company.


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A fashionable young man riding through Sakae.

More photos of Nagoya are on my portfolio.

Nagoya today, is a thriving city, with land prices that rival Tokyo and London. It has the world’s largest train station (by floor area, which includes a department store, offices, and a luxury hotel). It is steeped in history, and thoroughly a member of the 21st century.

 

Getting to Nagoya:

Nagoya is very well connected. It is serviced by a domestic airport at Komaki (on the Meitetsu train company from Nagoya Station), and the Centrair International airport (aka Chubu airport), on a different Meitetsu train line. Nagoya is on the main Tokaido bullet train line between Tokyo and Osaka. It can also be reached from Osaka by the cheaper Kintetsu train company. Commuting in the city is really super easy with the Nagoya City Subway (aka chikatetsu), Meitetsu, Kintetsu, and JR train companies. The buses are mainly part of the Nagoya City Subway system. The most popular transport ic card used is the Manaca (but buying single-use tickets with coins is normal, too).


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So, what is this best kept secret of Japan? Here are five things to introduce the city to you (there are of course more, but this is a start).

 

1. Nagoya & Inuyama Castles

These two castles are night-and-day different to each other. They are a world apart in so many ways. You must have a “castle day” on your itinerary. Firstly, see Nagoya Castle (Wikipedia). It’s a replica, or reconstruction, though the locals don’t put it that way. They prefer “rebuilt”, especially since the US air force fire-bombed the original. This reconstruction was completed (with concrete and an elevator for lazy samurais) in 1959. Today it’s a museum, and not a military strong-hold any more.

A young lady using a guidebook in Japan.

A young lady at Nagoya Castle. Buy this Cormorant Fishing photo

In contrast, Inuyama Castle (Wikipedia) is in original condition, with timbers hundreds of years old. Low beams to duck under, and a deck you can walk out on for excellent panoramic views, including the battle field of Sekkigahara, where the Tokugawa’s won Japan. There are great local festivals there, especially worth seeing the cherry blossom festival and portable shrines. Also, as seen below, there is cormorant fishing demonstrations at night for the middle months of the year. Because of the nature of Inuyama Castle, I’d really recommend you spend the morning at Nagoya Castle, have lunch in nearby Sakae, and then go to Inuyama Castle for the afternoon. It’s great to experience the modern, and then authentic in this order.

Cormorant Fishing
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Above, cormorant Fishing near Inuyama Castle

To get to Nagoya castle from Nagoya station, take the subway (yellow Higashiyama Line) to Sakae, and change to the Meijo (purple) Line. Get off at Shyakusho Station. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. To get to Inuyama Castle (Google Maps), from Nagoya station, take the Meitetsu train company on the Inuyama Line to Inuyama station or the one after it, Inuyama Yuen Station. From Nagoya to Inuyama Yuen Station it takes about 30 minutes for about ¥600. Stroll through the town until you get to the castle. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.

 


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Nagoya Castle

 

2. Shopping

Ask anyone in Nagoya what their hobbies are, they typically reply “shopping, eating, and sleeping”. I agree, these are not hobbies per se, but this is how they do spend their time. The main places for shopping is in the underground arcades in front of and behind Nagoya Station. These are called Esca and Unimall. Also in Sakae at the street level department stores, back alley shops, and the underground arcade. Finally, young people love to hangout at the street level arcades at Osu. There are lots of fashion stores for women, electronics stores, and some bookstores. Osu often has events on, and the visually striking Osu Kanon Temple is worth checking out.

To get to Sakae, from Nagoya station, take the subway two stops to Sakae (¥200, about 5 minutes). To get to Osu from Nagoya, take the subway one stop to Fushimi and change to the Tsurumai (blue) line, and go for one stop and get off at Osu Kanon Station. Total travel time is about 10 minutes, ¥200. Follow the crowds to and past Osu Kannon Temple. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.


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Osu is the centre of Nagoyan youth culture, and shopping.

 

3. Restaurants / Nightlife

Nagoya is a Japanese-foodies heaven. There are restaurants galore everywhere around Nagoya station, Fushimi, Sakae, Sakae-Machi, and Osu. I cannot recommend one, simply because you cannot swing a cat without hitting it against some kind of bar, café, restaurant, or other eatery. Food is really cheap, like about ¥1,000 (USD$10) for a good plate or “set menu” of quality food. If you had to shoe-string it, you can get noodles or a bowl of beef and rice for under ¥400 (USD$4).


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Restaurants use curtains, like shown above, to indicate that they are open for customers.

A lot of places, including department stores and regular shops, are open late, like up to 9pm. Note that Korean and Taiwanese stores are often open later. In Japan, though, there is a caveat. Most Japanese people don’t go out to mix and meet new people; that’s really rare. So don’t expect to find much in the way of pubs and nightclubs like back home. Instead, they spend time with people they already know getting drunk at restaurants known as an ‘izakaya’ (kind of a restaurant-pub). Food there is usually high quality. However, I’m finding (things are changing) that cheap prices is starting to equal cheap food. Good prices equal properly good food. Also, if you think you’re going to enjoy a good Italian restaurant, think again. It’ll be a Nagoya take on Italian style. So expect shrimp on your cabonara, Japanese-rice seasoning on your spaghetti, or a side of rice with a seaweed seasoning on top. The only thing that really annoys me is that cheap restaurant’s (or expensive restaurants scamming their customers) idea of salad is simply shredded cabbage with dressing. If you really did want to go to a pub or nightclub, these places are typically frequented by the expat community, so it’s a great way to meet expat locals. In Nagoya notable places include Shooters, The Hub, Coopers, and probably the best of the bunch, Red Rock (see Nagoya Info).

Regarding transport, be aware of the last train times for you. The last train is typically 11.50pm or just after midnight. Taxis are about, but expensive. Finally, Japan is not a rowdy, raucous type of country. So nights out are typically peaceful and light-hearted.


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Fashionable young women out at night shopping in Sakae.

 

4. Events

There are a whole bunch of things happening in Nagoya for much of the year. For instance (there are many others):


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Contestants in the Nagoya street dance competition, “Domatsuri” in Sakae, Nagoya.

 

5. Atsuta Shrine

This shrine attracts about 9 million visitors each year (Wikipedia), and is one of the three most important sites for Shinto, the state religion. The three important places are Ise Shrine, Atsuda Shrine, and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Ise Shrine, two hours away in Mie prefecture, is like the Vatican; and Atsuta Shrine is like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The third most important place is where the Emperor lives, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Each of these three sites have one of the three important relics (Wikipedia) that give the right to rule to the Emperor. There are no known drawings or photographs of these items, and so there is no independent verification that these items are housed at the purported locations, or even exist. The sword is kept at Atsuta Shrine, the mirror is kept in Ise Shrine, and the jade is kept in the palace in Tokyo.

At Atsuda Shrine, there are many little wooden buildings on the grounds, and each of these house a god of some specialty. Usually, there are retired men hanging around the grounds. Often, these men want to simply keep their English up, and so they like to just introduce themselves to tourists and offer a kind of free tour and some info. Take them up on their kind offer, they are friendly and actually quite informative. Take some sort of sweets to share with them; I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.


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There are festivals and events held often through the year. The shrine is insanely packed with people shuffling shoulder to shoulder on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of January each year. They return the previous year’s wooden arrow which brings fortune, pray for the new year, and get a new wooden arrow for the new year. Each year, these arrows are ceremoniously burnt as an offering to the Shinto gods. There is a ceremonial archery event on the 15th January. A lantern festival is also held in July. Every weekend there is something happening, usually Shinto style weddings, and Shinto-christenings for infants are often held here.

Take the Meitetsu train from Nagoya to JinguMae station (about two stops) for about ¥230, or JR for ¥190. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.


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One of the main buildings at Atsuta Shrine.

 

There is of course more to see in Nagoya. These are my picks, but you might find something more to your taste here at Nagoya Info, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet websites. However, I can offer you a…

Naked Man Festival, Kounomiya
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The Naked Man Festival, at Kounomiya, usually held in February each year.

 

Bonus: Nagoya City Art Gallery

This is the oddest thing I’ve experienced so far this year. I went to the city owned art gallery and discovered that they had an exhibition of not one, but a few Andy Whorhols, Calder, and a Chagall. They have a good permanent collection, and often something interesting on most times through the year. Annoyingly, the “English website” for this gallery is actually just an old pdf document, but it’s here, Nagoya City Art Museum (also see Trip Advisor, & Wikipedia). The gallery was designed and constructed by renowned Kisho Kurokawa between 1983 to 1987, and opened in 1988. It is a five to ten minute walk from Fushimi subway station, which is a 2 minute ride from Nagoya Station on the Higashiyama (Yellow Line), or 2 to 5 minutes from the Osu Kanon Station on the Tsurumai Line (Blue Line). Follow the signs, and see Google Maps. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.

5 Things to do this Spring in Japan

Are you thinking of what to do in Japan these Spring holidays? Look no further. Of course I talk mainly of Nagoya in central Japan. In case you don’t know. Nagoya is the major city in between Tokyo and Osaka. It is the home of the Toyota Motor Corporation, and the famous blue Central JR bullet trains. Land prices here rival that of Tokyo and London, and it’s one of the richest cities in the world. It’s also a convenient base for travellers. So, if you’re going to be in Japan and looking for travel ideas, start with these. Oh, and here’s one little trivial point to mention. The Spring holidays start mid-Winter (end of January), and finish in early Spring (early April). Don’t ask me why, just go with it.

For each below, there are links that include How to Get There information.


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1. Plum blossoms

Plum flowers typically bloom in about the last week of February and last until about mid-March (depending on the species and the weather). These flowers have more petals than cherry blossoms, last longer, and have more vibrant colours. These flowers used to be the most revered until a Kyoto poet captured Japanese hearts for the cherry blossoms. Plum flowers can be enjoyed at many major parks, including private botanic gardens like Nabana no Sato, the Nagoya Agricultural Centre, and Higashiyama Park (at Higashiyama Koen Station, Higashiyama Line).

Plum flowers
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2. Osaka Sumo Tournament

The Osaka Sumo Tournament is a little unique. It’s the only sumo tournament where the wrestlers need to walk through the public areas between the fighting mound in the centre of the stadium, to the changing rooms out back. So you can get close enough to get clear photos of the wrestlers just before and after their bouts. The tournament runs from the second Sunday of March for fifteen days until the fourth Sunday. Tickets are available online and can be picked up at the venue from special machines; don’t forget your purchase code and info. Learn more about the sumo here at the Going to a Sumo Tournament post.

Osaka Sumo
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3. The Naked Man Festival

Don’t worry, they’re not all men; they’re not completely naked; and it’s not so much a festival that you have to take part in… unless you really want. It’s held annually on the 15th of January in the lunar calendar (usually between mid February to early March). In 2015 it was held on the 3rd March (Gregorian Calendar). The festival attracts about 13,000 participants (males from about 6 or 7yo, to those about 70 or 80. You’ll even see tattooed gangsters playing their part as members of the community, too. You’ll have to bump your way through a crowd of perhaps 150,000 to 200,000 spectators of mainly excited women and girls. The festival is also known as the Hadaka Matsuri (“hadaka” is ‘naked’, and “matsuri” is ‘festival’).


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4. The Fertility Festival

Like the Naked Man Festival, this festival traces it’s roots to ancient Japan and is held with strong religious connections. It basically is a large wooden phallus being joyously carried through the Tagata township. On the internet it’s also known as the penis festival. It’s held on the 15th March each year (Gregorian Calendar). See here for specific info on the Tagata Fertility Festival.


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5. Cherry blossoms / Sakura

Of course, no mention of Spring and Japan is complete without mentioning the delicate and fleeting petals of a tree that bears no fruit, yet covers almost every temple and shrine and park in the country for about one week. The image below was taken at Nagoya Castle. You can get there via the subway Meijo Line, at the Shyakusho-mae Station in downtown or central Nagoya. The castle is also a museum and has the Nagoya gymnasium which hosts the July summer sumo tournament. There are some specific things you can do in this fleeting time, typically one week, and it involves friends, alcohol, bad decisions, and can be day or night. Learn five things about hanami here (hanami literally means “flowers-see”).


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Bonus: Tado Horse Festival

The Tado Horse Festival is held in the Golden Week holidays, the end of April and early May. It’s held in Tado, a small township just outside of Kuwana city, which itself is outside of Nagoya. The festival typically attracts about 120,000 spectators. It’s major.


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5 Things: A holiday to Vietnam

Everyone dreams of a “once in a lifetime holiday”, though in truth, many take several of these in their lifetimes, and even annually. This post isn’t for the newbie or veteran holiday makers so much, but for those who haven’t been to Vietnam yet. I have to begin with a caveat, everyone travels differently, and so the following account is based on my own personal experiences. Without further preamble, here are 5 Things about going to Vietnam.



A Vietnam Airlines aeroplane in Nagoya airport. It seems the hostesses had better English than the JAL ones.

 

1. Getting there is easy.

It really is. Do I need to say anything more on this? Ok, so for me to fly from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was double the price than going to South Korea or Taiwan, but I’ve already done those countries. For most people, you need to apply for a visa in advance at the Vietnamese embassy long before you fly. For certain countries who were not involved against Vietnam’s struggle for independence (including the Vietnam war), they can just arrive in Saigon and Hanoi and get a landing visa. Japanese citizens can get a landing visa, but I had to post my passport to the consulate in Tokyo a couple of months before I flew. Like many flights to and from Nagoya in the off-peak time, the flight was empty. The photo below shows that in a row of six seats, five three were empty.



The flight and food was nice, but notice the paperback in-flight entertainment system?

 

2. Plan your trip.

Don’t do what I did, and just have a vague idea to go to a scuba diving company, and then make up the rest as you go. For me, the flight from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was too short for me to work out other things I could have done whilst I was there. I kind of missed out, but still filled my time and leisurely way. No regrets.



May be it’s the wine talking, but diving at Nha Trang sounds great!

 

3. No real language barrier

Compared to Japan, I think travelling in Vietnam is perhaps easier. I’ve heard lots, and lots of stories of how travellers to Japan ask for directions, but the train station staff reply in Japanese believing the traveller will understand him. In contrast, the waitresses, some taxi drivers, have better English than some Japanese-English teachers. The hotel staff learn French and English, and are very good at English (I’ve not tested their French). So, for first timers, I think Vietnam is a better welcome to Asia than Japan.

Staff at a hotel in Vietnam.

Staff at a hotel in Vietnam.

 

4. There are lots of things to do

This is where you realise that you don’t have enough time for the itinerary you want to have. Hoi An has the lanterns (wish I knew about that), Hanoi is a backpacker magnet for it’s rustic charm and refusal to be dragged into capitalism. Nha Tang turns out to have a seedy reputation, but the diving is good, especially for my limited level of experience.



Vietnam is a pretty good diving destination. For general travelling, perhaps it’s safer to go there than to the Philippines and Thailand at the moment.

 

5. Watch out!

On my first day there, the concierge at the hotel said, “don’t go walking along the beach front after midnight”. Sensible advice, I thought. On my second day, a pair of German girls told me how another German girl had her bag snatched in Saigon, as she was walking along the street by a guy on a scooter. She lost her passport, credit cards, and smart phone. On day three, a pair of English girls said that a Canadian girl also had her bag snatched also by a guy on a scooter, and she lost her passport and credit cards. On day four, a German guy at the Nha Trang airport wouldn’t tell me why, but he was getting out of the country post haste. On day five, as I was walking along the street I heard a guy saying to probably a Vietnamese lady “they took my camera, they took my money, they took my…”. On day six, in my hotel room I discovered my toothbrush was missing! (True story). I stayed in my hotel room all morning peering out the window. The point is, leave your credit cards, passport, surplus money, and other key valuables in your hotel room safe. Oh, and choose a hotel that explicitly states that each room has a safe. When you’re out walking, keep the strap of your shoulder bag over your opposite shoulder, and keep the bag in front of you. With a backpack, have one strap over one shoulder, and also have it in front of you, too. Don’t wear anything that might suggest you’ve got money (no jewellery or Louis Vuitton labels), and only carry enough money for what you need for your morning or afternoon adventure. I’ve heard of people using dummy wallets in their back pockets as a means to protect a little money pouch in the front. It seems bag snatchers work in pairs on a single scooter. The rider comes in slow and close to the nearest person to the road, and the other guy whisks the bag off of shoulder of the victim.


Probably mum, son, granddad, youngest son.

 

Bonus. The people are friendly

They are. They will help you and the English speaking ones are normally very happy to talk to you. Just ask them questions and learn about their life and country from their perspective. I’ve seen lots of travellers ask about things, and then answer their own questions (and merely reiterating stereotypes), but not letting the local talk. Ask your question, wait (they might need time to process your language), and then they’ll start talking, perhaps tentatively at first. But ask more questions about their responses. They’ll warm to you.



Beautiful (and tacky) souvenirs and cheap clothing in Ben Thanh Markets in District 1, Saigon.

5 Things about typhoons in Japan

As yet another typhoon approaches (number 18 for 2014), I thought this information might be timely for many people. I’ll keep it brief, mainly because there isn’t that much to say. For current typhoon information see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/. For current and general weather warnings (including snow and other), see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/warn/. For rainfall and radar maps see http://www.jma.go.jp/en/radnowc/. For news, see http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/.

 

1. There’s nothing to see here

Typhoons are not that dangerous… any more, at least. If you’re super rich and live in a good neighbourhood in a sturdy house, or like most expats, live in a very sturdy apartment or condominium building, there’s nothing to worry about. Basically it’s just a windy, rainy day, and it has no effect on you, whatsoever. However, if you live in a low-lying area, near canals or rivers, in an area with storm-surge barriers near the sea, then you might have something to worry about (think New Orleans). Furthermore, if you live in Taiwan (with dodgy illegal rooftop structures all around you), or other places with flimsy building construction, then you shouldn’t stay too long near the windows or on your balcony and definitely don’t venture out. In countries like China, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and others there will be a lot of debris flying about.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach.

An office worker with an umbrella walking in a typhoon past a canal that is about to breach, in 2011. He probably was allowed to return home halfway through the day because of a change of JMA advisory.

 

2. Employers expect you to go to work

That’s right. Even if your home is at risk, and your family too, you’d better have a good reason not to come into work. Fortunately, most companies allow their employees to either stay home or return home when the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) says that their is a “Warning” level for “storms” (or red on the JMA maps, but listed for “storms”). That means that the slow response the JMA has in updating their websites, and the near server crashes they experience from hundreds of thousands of hopeful employees means that when the information finally comes through, many employees could be in the brunt of the typhoon as they are travelling home. In contrast, Taiwan is much, much more organised. When the government announces closures of government offices either the night before or before 7am on the morning of an expected landfall, all businesses follow suit, so no-one is in harms way unnecessarily. I’ve seen news reports in Japan of children at a school sports day being killed by a marque blowing over in the middle of a typhoon. Japanese do tend to deny nature exists. It is a country of engineers and bureaucrats, not humanitarians.

 

3. Japan Meteorological Agency website is a problem to itself

I guess the JMA doesn’t quite understand that itself is a small natural disaster. Their information does not appear useful to non-Japanese people who are in Japan. On their Japanese version of the website, their typhoon probability circle times are in Tokyo time, but the English side it’s in GMT, a fact I didn’t know for the first eight years I lived in the country (I hadn’t heard of “UTC” until recently). I always wondered why there were such discrepancies in the expected arrival times. Furthermore, the language is not descriptive enough to adequately communicate the level of threat you face. They did bring out a new level last year. So there are now (my translation in parenthesis):

  • Grey: No warning or advisory (no danger)
  • Yellow: Advisory (moderate danger)
  • Red: Warning (high danger; risk of injury and damage)
  • Purple: Emergency Warning (extremely high danger; expected loss of life and serious damage to property in some places)

Furthermore, they still use Japanese and Japanese-English terms on their English website that no-one else understands. Here are some that you’ll see with a translation (republished from September 2012 JMA Information blog post):

  • Ku: Ward (like a suburb)
  • Cho / Mura: Town
  • Shi: City (like “Nagoya-shi” is just a city called “Nagoya” in regular English)
  • Hokubu: Northern areas
  • Nambu: Southern areas
  • Tobu: Eastern areas
  • Seibu: Western areas
  • “Storm”: Extremely high danger winds
  • Gale: Very strong wind, but only moderate danger
  • JST: Japan standard time, though the English website quotes everything in UTC (Greenwich Mean Time). Use TimeAndDate.Com Meeting Planner to convert.

That’s right, the word “storm” refers to strength of wind, not the normal English definition of violent weather that includes thunder and lighting.

One more thing on this point, JMA doesn’t give names to typhoons, but they count them. The one that is bearing down on me as I write this is “number 18 of 2014”, as you can see here, http://www.jma.go.jp/en/typh/141824.html The English version of the website does include the international name of the typhoon. However, all the local news services refer only to the number, not the name.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013.

Japanese Meteorological Agency website screenshot from September 2013. Click on your area of the JMA map on their website, and it’ll take you to information for your specific city or region.

 

4. What is actually dangerous about them in Japan?

Some simple facts. The slower the typhoon moves north, the more energy it has. Also the slower it moves, the more rain will pummel the storm area. The more rain in an area, the greater the risk of run-off overwhelming flood barriers, and the greater the risk of land and mud slides in hilly areas. A slow moving typhoon might track between 8 to 15km/h. A faster moving typhoon might move from about 20 to 25km/h. From about 30km/h it seems they start to loose organisation and fall apart. Also, from eye-balling the JMA satellite imagery, if you can easily and very clearly see a large hole in the centre, the eye, then it’s a seriously strong typhoon (see below). In my experience, the central pressure of typhoons is in the 900-1000hPa range. If it drops quickly, that means it’s getting stronger. I think I have seen typhoons under 900hPa, which is seriously strong and quite dangerous. Wind speeds or gusts over 200km/h is considered strong, but speeds over 300km/h are extremely rare and would make international headlines for weeks to come. The most dangerous or wild part of the typhoon is usually the northern arc, not so much the southern for some strange reason. Rainfall of anything over 150mm (I think in a 24hr period) is expected of almost all typhoons, over 200mm is more normal. However, rainfall in the range of 300 to 400mm is a lot. I think rainfall of 50 to 80mm/hr is a lot and expected in the centre of typhoons.

Typhoon season in Taiwan is typically in July and August. In Japan it is typically in August, but mainly September and October. It’s rare to get one in May, June, or July, but not unheard of. I’ve seen typhoons approach and hit South Korea in August.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

A satellite image showing a very well formed super typhoon, on 9th October 2014.

 

5. Blue skies afterwards

Usually after a typhoon all the pollution in the skies have been blown away and you’ll see the most amazing blue skies. Also, it’ll be a hot day, too. I’m not entirely sure why. Typhoons tend to follow the warm or hot ocean currents, but warm air or rather, warm days follow typhoons.

Clear blue skies are usually seen after typhoons have past.
Expect clear blue skies and very warm or hot days after typhoons have past.

 

Bonus. A quick Japanese lesson

  • 台風 (taifuu) typhoon
  • 大雨 (ooame) heavy rain
  • 強風 (kyoufuu) strong wind
  • 暴風 (bouhuu) very strong wind
  • 洪水 (kouzui) flood
  • 高波 (takanami) high waves
  • 風速 (fuusoku) wind speed
  • 降水量 (kousuiryou) rainfall

List originally from: https://twitter.com/akokitamura/status/1036770678249148416?s=20

5 Great reasons to be in Japan this summer

There’s usually plenty of reasons to be in a major city like London, Melbourne, or New York during summer. Though, I’ve heard Parisians tend to evacuate their city in summer. Anyway, summer seems to be the time when office workers discover a world outside their buildings, uni students discover life after exams, communities look over their garden walls and discover they’ve got neighbours. As you’ll also soon see, Japan is a land of superlatives. Here’s the top 5 reasons why summer in Japan is great.

 

5. Sumo in Nagoya

Nagoya is Japan’s fourth largest city, and is conveniently situated between Tokyo and Osaka. The Nagoya Summer Grand Sumo Tournament is held for the 15 days (from Sunday to Sunday) in the middle of July.

For this sumo photo, and others like it, see the Sumo gallery at my PhotoShelter portfolio. This is the hottest sumo tournament. Really, you’ll be sweating a lot in the stadium. You’ll need to pay inflated prices for cool drinks, but fans are free.

 

4. Festivals

There’s lots of them. Everywhere, almost every weekend from about the end of July to mid to late August. Look up some travel related websites to find out what’s going on, where, and more precisely when. There’s a variety of festivals including sea / marine, fire, community, dance, and more.

The Kuwana Stone-bringing festival is held on the first weekend of August, annually. This is apparently the loudest festival in Japan. See here for the Ishidori / Stone-bringing Festival gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio.

 

3. Tenjin Festival

This festival, yes another festival, is supposedly the biggest in Japan with possibly a million people gathering in the festival vicinity at some point during the day or evening. The Tenjin Festival is held on the 24th and 25th of July each year.

The men's part of the Tenjin procession.

The men’s part of the Tenjin procession.

For this photo, and others like it, see my agent’s website, “Tenjin Matsuri“.

 

2. The World Cosplay Summit

It’s usually held on the first weekend in August in Central Park, Sakae, in the centre of Nagoya. The World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is trying to become the central or focal point of the cosplay culture. However, the main rule is that all costumes must be of a Japanese origin comic, animation, video game etc. So no Star Wars, no Harry Potter, no foreign stuff. In short, it’s a big soft-touch diplomacy thing to centralise and promote Japan. That said, it’s still great. Unfortunately, the actual competition performances are bilingual up until the main TV sponsor, Aichi TV, starts to air the competition later in the evening, then all the announcements are in Japanese only.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

The Finnish team parading on the Red Carpet on the day of the World Cosplay Summit competition performances.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Cosplay gallery in my PhotoShelter portfolio and my agent’s website, “Japan Cosplay“. One of the Finnish girls admitted to me that she was warned that it would be hot and humid, and not the choose a costume that is inappropriate for the heat. She admitted they thought they made a good decision, but it seems summer in Nagoya is not like summer in Finland.

 

1. Fireworks

I don’t know why, but Japanese people associate fireworks displays with feeling cooler. Somehow high temperature explosives gives them some relief from the night time heat. Firework displays are held probably every weekend from mid July to late August somewhere in the country. This display in Kuwana city is held on the last Saturday of July. A weekend later Tsu city has it’s display, then a weekend after that is another in Gifu, and it goes on. It’s a time when families bring out the eskies / cooler boxes, with cool drinks, beers, dinner, insect repellent, picnic rug or folding chairs, eat, chat, and wait for the fireworks to begin.

For this photo, and others like it, see my Night in Japan gallery on my PhotoShelter portfolio. Note, this photo was taken a some distance, and with my widest angle lens (at 17mm), and it just fits in the frame.

5 ill-conceived things in Japan

No country is perfect, and certainly, it’s easier to see things when you’re on the outside looking in. However, in the hope of improving life, or making life just that bit easier, here’s five things that weren’t so well thought through, and lessons could be learnt from. In case you don’t like what I say, do remember that last month I did 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock, and that no country is perfect, every country has problems and awesomeness.

1. Free Wifi for Tourists: 3,000 Wifi hotspots for foreign tourists (Sankei). It sounds great, right? You would hope that it would be ‘no strings attached’, but I doubt it. Two of the sponsors are the Osaka tourism bureau and the Kansai business association. In other words, they want to feed you with “information” about where you should spend your money, whilst only providing you with “information” about their club members. I would also be wary, especially when you should consider safeguarding your personal info. “Free” wifi hotspots in Japan are apparently already available in English, but typically there is a sign up page in Japanese, and they are likely to send you spam, in Japanese. The sign up page is likely to ask you for your demographic information, which won’t be related to providing you with free, unbiased information. JR East, the train company that services Tokyo and surrounds, has sold customer Pasmo card information to companies, including age, commuting information, statistics, and so forth without prior consent or such. Apparently, they have not sold customer names, but no word on if they also sold customer contact details or not. So far, no privacy guarantees have been made regarding what they do with the information you provide and your browsing data, and I really doubt they will bother. However, it isn’t such a bad thing. Currently, it’s nearly impossible for a non-resident to get a mobile phone sim card in Japan, even for tourists (see how you can get a sim card at this previous blogpost). Consequently, free internet is better than allowing phone companies charge for phone and internet access (they won’t let you use your overseas model, but force you to buy a two-year contract). Currently, most of the proposed wifi hotspots will be around tourist areas and public transport just in Osaka. Otherwise, Starbucks provides free wifi at the cost of a coffee, and simply only your email address.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

 

2. English language websites and information

Bouncing straight from internet to Japanese “English language websites”, is the lack of credible English language websites. Many major companies (far bigger, and much richer than JapanesePhotos.Asia), has websites with extensive information in Japanese. Train companies have some good and detailed information on how to get discounts for travel, and earn points on your travel card. However at time of writing nothing in English, or very little or it’s very out of date. Considering that banks and train companies deal with tens of thousands of non-Japanese speaking customers every day, it’s amazing to consider that they think nothing of a sizeable portion of their expat customers. That’s right, banks do not provide any web-based banking services in English (or other major languages in Japan, including Portuguese, Chinese, nor Korean). Banks do have English language websites, but these are only for investors, not customers. Is JapanesePhotos.Asia any different? Well, I wish I had a budget and team of people to write and translate stories. What information I do provide in Japanese is for potential models, though (model call).

 

3. Employment

Japan has a three tiered system. At the top is the full-time tenured employment, with full benefits for health and pension. Second is contract full-time, usually for a maximum of three or five years. At the bottom is the part-time contract, also for only three or five years maximum. The reason for this is that only full-time tenured employees are entitled to health and pension benefits at company expense, but no-one else is. Most companies want to avoid paying health and pension, so they usually employ staff for a limited term. Even if the job is permanently required, the person filling it is not. As a consequence, most workers in Japan are temps. So is it any wonder that over 70% or 90% (depending on source) of people haven’t felt any benefit from an apparently improved economy? (CNN, and Japan Today). Also, some companies apparently have 70% of their staff classified as managers, which is supposedly because companies aren’t legally required to pay their managers overtime, allowing a loophole for cost-cutting. Japanese companies demand undying loyalty of their workers, but don’t seem willing to return in kind.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

 

4. Software, Internet, and computing

This time it’s not a problem of Japanese people’s making (I think), it’s mainly America’s. If you’ve never lived outside of your own country, you may find it hard to understand, but this is such an important issue for expats in Japan. Companies like Microsoft, Adobe and such are the biggest culprits, and others like hotelclub.com and surveymonkey.com. Websites for these companies detect that you’re trying to access their website from Japan, because the IP address is Japanese. Consequently, the website software is designed to respond to the IP address locality and provide the website for the assumed language of the reader. So, Hotelclub.com points me to their Japanese language version of their website, because the website designers assume that there are no expats or travellers in Japan, only Japanese people live in Japan, and that all people in Japan can read Japanese. Worse still, you can change the language to your preferred language, but you need to read and understand which one of these is yours: 日本語 and 英語 or ドイツ語 or even 韓国語. The solution would be easy, just write the name of the language IN that language (Wikipedia does it); or instead of detecting the IP address location, use the browser’s language detection. Microsoft’s and Adobe’s strategy to prevent software piracy is to make it impossible for expats in Japan to get their products from shops or even download from their websites their software. Microsoft forces you to use their website in Japanese, and prevents you from trying to purchase software from their American (English language) website. And the Japanese MS website will only allow you to download the Japanese language version of their software, anyway. Consequently, years ago many of my expat friends had to share software. Now we don’t try, we just wait until someone does a trip overseas and ask them to purchase it for us. No wonder why people here have changed from Microsoft and PC machines to the multi-lingual Apple software (I even changed to Linux for a while). Such treatment is a constant reminder that expats don’t belong.

Customers in the Apple store in Japan.

 

5. Illegal tracking

It was recently announced that Japan Rail Osaka will allow a company to install cameras and face-recognition software to track customers. It’s actually illegal to do this, but the company will do it anyway. The reason given is that they will use the data for disaster evacuation research. However, in normal conditions people will chose exits they need to use, rather than the closest one available. Besides, why is facial recognition required for disaster evacuation? This was not explained. What will the company do with this information? Again, not explained.

 

6. Customer Service

Yes, I know, “But Japan is renowned for it’s high quality customer service!”. Yes, I have experienced the I-couldn’t-care-if-you-lived-or-died customer service in my own country. Here, when you present yourself to store staff, they go through the robotic motions of pretending to care and go the extra mile for their customers. It’s a quality that Japanese people think is unique to Japan. It’s not. In Korea they say “the customer is king”, meaning treat all customers like royalty. In Taiwan it varies, where there is a desire to please (to have return customers) to having personalised care for the customers they actually do like. In contrast, Japanese store staff avoid me. In the big stores the customer service staff steer clear from me, and it’s only when I catch one in flight between (Japanese) customers can I get my questions answered. Who are the culprits? Well, all of the major companies so far. Bic Camera (see the picture below), Softmap, Yamada Denki, and even when the Starbucks person goes round with free samples, I’m either last or don’t get any. Which, is why I’ve added this number six point in a list of five; I’m writing this in Starbucks, sitting next to a Grande Cappuccino, and contemplating where I’ll have my lunch. Also, if the staff at McDonalds, Starbucks, or a supermarket say something and you either didn’t quite catch it or didn’t understand their Japanese, they may repeat it in well-pronounced competent English. Only to return to Japanese for the rest of the interaction, which is totally bizarre. In Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most European countries, if they suspect that you’re an English speaker, they use English with you from start to finish. Only in my experience in Japan (and Italy) do they use only their first language with you, and only in Japan when they are obviously more competent in English than you are in Japanese, do they insist that you continue to struggle in Japanese. Good luck with that in the 2020 Olympics.

Customer service fail

Customer service fail

Also see 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock.

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.

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.

 

4. 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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5. Legend

Continuing on from point 4 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.

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:

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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