Naturalization in Japan - the first step

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My partner and I are of the same sex, and while we are married in a country that recognizes our relationship, our cohabitation is, under Japanese law, just that: "room sharing." As such, a nightmare scenario is that whereby one of us is incapacitated and hospitalized and the other has no right to access him or to have a say in anything relating to him.
Pamphlet issued by Japan's Ministry of Justice about naturalization.

Both of us have been in Japan for around two decades, and are very likely to remain here. We already have permanent residency status, but for the above reasons we have decided to apply for Japanese citizenship. Once Japanese citizens, one of us can add the other to his koseki, or family register, and thus become de jure family members with a recognized say in each others' lives.

We therefore went to the Civil Affairs Office of the Ministry of Justice, Tokyo, today for the first stage in the process: the interview. Usually it is a one-on-one affair, but the gentleman who interviewed us agreed to see us together "just this once."

The atmosphere in the tiny office was less bureaucratic than professorial, with the elderly clerk taking us slowly through what was involved, carefully and clearly but without any hint of the condescension that is often to be encountered in officialdom.

We had brought all our passports, my Certificate of Alien Registration (which is now being replaced by the Residence Card, that my partner is already in possession of), and my driver's licence.

He first asked us for the broad story of our Japan experience, when and why we came here, and how long we had been away since that time. He flicked through our passports as we spoke, casually verifying what we said.

We had to meet six basic requirements: at least five consecutive years living in Japan, being twenty years or over (we cleared that in leaps in bounds!), absence of vice, ability to support ourselves, the willingness to lose our current non-Japanese citizenship, and a lack of any anti-social or seditious intent (more a repudiation of gang membership than anything else).

Building in Tokyo housing the Civil Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Justice.

He was an eminently even-handed man, but would look up at us after each item, briefly searching our countenances to satisfy himself that nothing egregious lurked beneath.

Once that had been established, we got to the nitty-gritty of it: what we would need for the application. There were only seven items on the list, but each involved considerable clerical work, and ... the last item was called "Other" - which one word promised a rabbit hole all of its own.

Some of the requirements were predictable: filling in of the naturalization application form, curriculum vitae; some were a little onerous: copies of every page of all our passports; and some were a plain chore: getting a Certificate of Citizenship from my home country, and submitting not only all the information about my family, but, in addition to my birth certificate, a statement from my mother not only that she actually bore me, but her marriage certificate to prove that I was born in wedlock!

He wrote a phone number at the top of the page, and his name, to call "just in case," which I get the feeling will be a number I'll have memorized before long.


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Aomori Nebuta Matsuri 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

The 2012 Aomori Nebuta matsuri begins in Aomori on August 2 and runs through to August 7. The Tohoku's version of the Rio Carnival is one of the biggest events in the country and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who come from all over Japan and abroad.

Nebuta Festival

The huge illuminated nebuta floats are pulled through the city along a set route at night accompanied by thousands of haneto dancers, calling out the words rasse rasse in the local dialect and musicians playing flutes and drums.

The origins of the Nebuta Festival are obscure but may be related to the Chinese tanabata festival, which is usually celebrated on July 7 in Japan. it is thought the Aomori Nebuta Festival was well established in the town by the 1700s.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Tohoku

The nebuta floats are large wire frames (previously bamboo) covered with Japanese washi paper which have been beautifully painted often with the images of fierce warriors and other historical figures. The floats are illuminated from within by light bulbs which have replaced the previously used candles, which were a fire hazard.

Nebuta Festival, Aomori, Japan

The Nebuta Festival concludes on the 7th August with a daytime parade beginning at 1pm, a boat parade between 7.15pm and 9pm in Aomori Bay when seven floats are loaded on to boats and a huge fireworks display.

Prizes are awarded to the best floats and onlookers are encouraged to purchase or hire a haneto costume and join in the fun!

Nebuta Festival Official Site


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Kakuozan Summer Festival

Sunday, July 29, 2012

This weekend was the annual Kakuozan Summer Festival - a recent arts, crafts and food festival set up to boost trade and business in this trendy, arty part of Nagoya west of Motoyama.

Kakuozan Festival, Nagoya

Set up on the street just west of exit 1 of Kakuozan subway station leading to Nitaiji Temple, the festival has a small stage for local music acts featuring dad rock to taiko drums and lots of stalls selling food and local crafts.

We sampled an excellent curry and some French red wine at Mercure (tel: 052 761 9881) - a fromagerie halfway up the street on the left.

Kakuozan Summer Festival, Nagoya

A brief but violent thunderstorm had everyone diving for shelter, but it soon cleared to allow the festival and the dad rock and beer drinking to continue on what was a very, very hot and humid day. Kakuozan Summer Festival takes place on the last Saturday and Sunday of July from noon to 7pm.

Kakuozan is on the Higashiyama Line, one stop west of Motoyama. Kakuozan also stages spring and autumn festivals.

Kakuozan Summer Festival, Nagoya


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Japan News This Week 29 July 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Japan News.Sea Shepherd leader pursued by Japan, skips bail in Germany

Christian Science Monitor

Japan Gone Grey


Chief executive of Japanese investment bank Nomura quits



Our Planet

Ad in Wall Street Journal seeks U.S. support for Senkaku purchase plan

Japan Times

日本高温一天热死3人 千余人中暑送医院


The No Nukes 2012 Concert and the Role of Musicians in the Anti-Nuclear Movement

Japan Focus

Careers of Suzuki and Matsui Are Further Intertwined

New York Times

Last Week's Japan News


In 1962, during the peak of commercial whaling, Japanese consumed 230,000 metric tons of whale meat. In 2001, when scientific permits were issued to hunt some 500 to 600 whales annually, that had dropped to just 1,803 metric tons - out of which 70 metric tons was left unsold.

Source: Independent

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Unique Japan

Friday, July 27, 2012

 "Japan is unique"

The first exposure I recall to assertions of Japan's uniqueness was when I lived on Sado Island as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the government sponsored Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

One of the teachers at my base school had invited me to study the swordplay art of iaido, which I took to with alacrity. It was at a talk given to our local iaido circle addressed by an iaido sensei from the mainland.

It was not an inspiring or interesting speech, and what is worse, the speaker somehow strayed into reflections on the Japanese physique, mentioning (in who now knows what context) that "foreigners' legs are different from ours." Different? Bored, young, incautious me instantly took the opportunity to quite audibly comment amidst the respectful hush, "Nagai desu!" ("They're long!"), a faux pas that I noticed later my poor teacher had to spend several minutes mending with the speaker on my behalf once the speech had dragged to an end.

I am a lot wiser now. Denying, or making light of Japan's uniqueness, does not win you friends in Japan.

So last week when an elderly part-timer at a company I do work for explained that he was an amateur researcher into the differences between Japan and other countries, I listened politely when he informed me that in the course of his research he had found that the Japanese brain was opposite to the "foreign" brain in terms of the respective roles of the right and left hemisphere. Okay.

At a party on the weekend, I made a passing remark about the current popularity of zombies and vampires in popular Western entertainment. This was immediately taken up by a young attendee as evidence, from out of the blue, about the uniqueness of Japanese culture which finds its thrills in the invisibility of ghosts rather than the gory physicality of zombies. Okay.  My comment on current trends was countered with something plucked from history. I did not bring up the long history of stories about invisible ghosts that also characterizes much, if not most, of the history of the horror genre in the West.

"The Japanese language is uniquely difficult":  here the assertion has a point. The written Japanese language is a mish-mash of Chinese literacy forcibly imposed on a very unChinese language, leading to endless inconsistencies and complexities. Okay. However, the spoken Japanese language is no more difficult than any other language, as anyone who has lived in Japan for two or three years and has picked up the the language to whatever degree can tell you.

Another favorite theme of the Japanese uniqueness school goes along the lines of "Japanese culture uniquely suggests as much as it explicitly expresses." Okay. Like any culturally homogenous society, intimately and universally shared values and customs mean a lot can be taken for granted. Whether this translates into effective communication when it actually matters is quite a different story. The events centering on the nuclear disaster in the wake of the 2012 Great East Japan Earthquake suggest that, at least in times of crisis, being Japanese offers no advantages when it comes to efficient communication.

Another example of something uniquely Japanese is Zen Buddhism and the wabi-sabi that is associated with it. Zen Buddhism is a creation of Chinese culture, not Japanese, and is as much as part of Korean culture, as seon Buddhism, and Vietnamese culture, as Thiền Buddhism. It just so happened that this brand of Buddhism was introduced to the West via Japan, leading to the misconception that Zen is uniquely Japanese.

What lies behind assertions of uniqueness in Japan is the relationship Japan feels with the West. For the past century the Japanese have acutely felt the tug of war between, on one hand, the flow of culture that characterized Japan until the mid-nineteenth century and, on the other hand, the Western culture that it had to largely make its own in order to compete with the rest of the world. Which part of Western culture it should make its own, and which parts of Japanese culture it should maintain, have been pressing questions since that time.

In other words, Japan since the nineteenth century has faced something of an identity crisis. This crisis often becomes explicit - becomes an issue - whenever a non-Japanese person is present, and therefore becomes a constant theme of conversation to which non-Japanese are subjected.

Japan does not take its traditional culture for granted, as is obvious by the degree to which Japanese culture has been universally problematized in Japan. That is no doubt a good thing. However, if you are a foreigner who has chosen to live in Japan, being an anvil on which the problem has to hammered out is a role that, tiresome though it might be, is clearly therapeutic and - however perversely - appreciated.


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Fuji Rock Festival 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The line up for this year's Fuji Rock Festival July 27-29th includes Radiohead, the Stone Roses, Noel Gallagher, Ray Davies, Toots & the Maytals included in the over 200 artists appearing.

This year's theme is 'Independence', 'Cooperation' and 'Respect of nature'

Tickets for Fuji Rock are 42,800 for the three days or 17,800 for one day. A one-day car park pass is 3,000 yen as is a camp site ticket on Naeba Ski Resort. Bicycles and motor bikes are free to park. Naeba Onsen hot spring can be used for a fee.


JR Echigo Yuzawa Station is the nearest shinkansen station (90 mins from Tokyo Station)
A free shuttle bus service runs for all ticket holders between the station and the festival site.


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Japan Ukiyoe Museum Matsumoto

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What should a tourist visit in Matsumoto? Without hesitation, I recommend the magnificent Matsumoto Castle. But after that, should you stop at Italian Tomato for a bite to eat? (It's good.) Maybe you'd like Mr. Donut? (Mmmm! We did.) Or maybe you'd like to leisurely browse through the local Animate shop? (Did that one, too.)

How about going to Matsumoto's Japan Ukiyo-e Museum? It houses the largest private collection of woodblock prints in the world. The Sakai family has amassed over 100,000 pieces of this beautiful art. How about it? Sound good? Let's go!

Japan Ukiyoe Museum

I think you will need some assistance to find the museum. We were told it is a 15 or 20-minute walk from the castle grounds. That isn't too far.

We've been walking now for about 15 minutes... should be getting close. Is that a street or a neighborhood pathway? Do you see any signs? What does the map say?

I am getting kind of tired. We've been walking for 30 minutes now. Should we keep going? What's that building over there? A school? Oh.

Where are we? I see a bus stop. There's a man in that little office over there. I think he's selling all those old appliances lying in the gravel lot. Ask him if he can call us a taxi. The man called his friend, but the friend wasn't home. Where is this museum? Wouldn't you think a museum with such a big collection would want people to come and see it? What is the man doing now? He's trying to wave down a bike rider... no, a lady driving a van!

The lady stopped. I can't believe it. If someone did that in America you would be too scared to stop. She's looking at the map carefully and speaking to Amanda in Japanese. She's going to give us a ride to the museum! The people in Japan are so nice!

Look, we're at the museum! We made it. I want to buy a print to take home. Aren't you glad you came with us? Remember the next time you walk here you should turn right at the old farm stand. Pass it on.

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum (JUM)
2206-1 Shimadachi
Hours: 10am-5pm; closed Monday


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Kyoto Design House

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kyoto Design House should be a port of call for all visitors to Kyoto interested in buying and taking home a Japanese craft item at a reasonable price.

Glassware, Kyoto Design House

The shop has over 1500 modern craft items made by local Kyoto craftspeople including ceramics (sake sets, teapots, rice bowls), incense, wooden chopsticks, bowls, kimono fabrics, gold leaf, umbrellas, candles and art works.

Kyoto Design House opened in 2009 and seeks to bring together in one spot, the immensely rich crafts of Kyoto.

Kyoto Design House teapots


Kyoto Design House
105 Fukunaga-cho
Tel: 075 221 0200
Hours: 11am-8pm
Google map of Kyoto Design House

Kyoto Design House is situated on the 1st floor of the Tadao Ando-designed Nikawa Building in central Kyoto close to the Kyoto City Office and Honnoji Temple. Take the Tozai subway line to Kyoto Shiyakusho Mae Station.


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Webcams in Japan

Monday, July 23, 2012
Never was I interested in webcams until the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March 2011. At that time I downloaded a live view of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima for my iPad.

I checked it every day and felt a deep fear for Japan and even for the United States: if it can happen in Japan, it can happen here. I thought, this is what it would be like if we had a nuclear meltdown. I live 24 miles away from the nuclear facility at San Onofre, California.

Nikko webcam

As the situation in Japan slowly improved, I still checked the webcam and installed the updates. I began to consider that I was getting to see Japan while I wasn't there, and maybe there were other webcams available with scenes of interest. The first one I discovered was a bridge and rushing river in Nikko. I was pretty happy with that because I had visited Nikko and it brought to mind the experience.

Next, I found a place on Shikoku called Bentenyama. I like this webcam too because often people are in evidence. Sometimes visitors walk up the steps leading to the shrine, pull up in a car, or ride past on a bicycle. The sun shines, the wind blows, and the sidewalk can be wet. I feel as if I'm witnessing the passing of seasons.

Bentenyama webcam

Over the months I have searched for different webcams of Japan, and once in a while I discover one that makes me scratch my head; nevertheless, I keep looking to see what that cockatiel is up to each morning.

Cockatiel webcam

These webcams have a mysterious allure for me, especially the one from Fukushima. One of the camera views is from TBS/JNN, and I was very surprised to realize there is sound with the live feed. Somehow, the singing birds cause me to feel such hope.


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Next time on Dragon Ball Z

Sunday, July 22, 2012
What would you say is your favorite thing to come from Japan? Since it is probably difficult to pick just one thing, perhaps we should narrow the category: What is the most popular Japanese anime to come to the United States? I would say it has to be Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball Z. I would give the Cell Saga a five-star rating.

dbz group

Now wait a minute! Before we get into a heated discussion here, let me continue. Yes, I loved Astro Boy when I was in kindergarten and Kimba the White Lion when I was in elementary school, and I have enjoyed many animated series since that time. But somehow, Dragon Ball Z grabbed hold of my daughters and me as soon as we began watching that day in McDonald's, when I first saw a very young Gohan in the clutches of Goku's brother Raditz. As I viewed their troubled interaction, the thought grew in my mind: I really want to know what this is!

Every afternoon we sat, enthralled, in front of the TV. My younger daughter and her friends, all boys, reenacted DBZ scenes on the playground, and everyone competed to be Vegeta. We all quoted lines from the show. One of my favorites came from King Kai when he admonished Goku for bringing Cell to his planet. (Goku felt it was a safe location to blow up the evil villain.) Before the explosion King Kai said rather huffily, "You could have at least called!"

Android, Dragon Ball Z

I cannot tell you how nervous we were as we watched the evil Cell fly above the land. Who would he get and when? It was a bit like seeing the Korean horror flick, The Host. To relieve the tension I would pen silly poems and send DBZ e-cards to my daughters: "I'm Mr. Popo, I'm a very nice guy/ But I miss my boss, and that's no lie/Had to merge with Piccolo, that's what he did/Had to find Cell who flew and hid." There was also a large humor contingency with the appearance of three androids, Android 16, Android 17, and Android 18. Androids 17 and 18 took obnoxiousness to a fine art, while Android 16, well, he was GREAT! Why, oh why did it have to come to THIS?


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Japan News This Week 22 July 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Japan News.Tokyo Rally Is Biggest Yet To Oppose Nuclear Plan

New York Times

Japanese head overseas with strong yen



Our Planet

Finance Ministry reveals 2010-2011 computer virus; info leak feared

Japan Times



Barren Senkaku Nationalism and China-Japan Conflict

Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News


There has been a large increase in visas issued at the Japanese consulate at Shanghai. 58,349 visas were issued by the consulate general in China's second city in June. That is up 230% fromt the same period in the previous year

Source: Jiji Press

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Japan's attention to detail and guerilla gardening

Friday, July 20, 2012

What makes Japan great also sometimes makes it teeth-grittingly irritating. Japan grew to greatness because it typically leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of something, and pays inordinate care to detail.

Corridor of Tokyo condominium.

While this can lead in one direction to near-economic supremacy and the achievement of great elegance and beauty, it can also lead to the plain old persnickety.

I came home this evening from work to our apartment on the upper floor of a security-protected apartment building. Our apartment is at the very end of the corridor.

The only people who go as as far as our entrance are the occasional visitor, the occasional delivery person, and the building's (very genial) caretaker.

Tokyo condominium corridor.

A couple of weeks ago we put a plant, a hosta, that hadn't been doing too well on the balcony, just outside the gate to our front door, hard up against the barrier.

This evening I came home to find a note slipped underneath the flowerpot:


Please do not place objects in the common space
(umbrellas, shoes, cases, playthings, bicycles, motorcycles, any other object)
Management company

Warning note from Japanese condominium management company.

Talk about taking the rules to extremes.  Of course we complied and removed it, but had we seen fit to protest, the response would be: "We don't want complaints from other residents." Other residents such as the couple next door we never ever see, or the middle-aged-mom-and-dad-with-daughter-in-her-thirties at the other end of the corridor, mom of whom peers at us at length through a crack in the door, dad who snubs us, and daughter who regards us with busy disdain. In other words, people who if they or we disappeared would not made an iota of difference to each others' lives.

What we had done without a second thought - put a pot plant that needed a change of location out the front - had been turned into an act of guerrilla gardening!


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Japanese Funeral Ceremonies

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The day after the wake (otsuya) is the funeral ceremony (soushiki). This takes place at the funeral parlor where the family of the deceased and the other mourners assemble for a funeral service lead by the same priest who had officiated at the wake the night before.

Funeral altar and coffin

We gathered at 8.30am and the procedure started an hour later at 9.30am. Similar to the previous evening's wake, the priest lead the rhythmic prayers for the deceased using a mokugyo gong and metal bowl-shaped rin gong.

The one man band of the priest using voice and his two gongs produces pleasant and soulful music and the young children in the audience, who were too young to really know the significance of the events, were soon tapping their feet to the Buddhist beat. Anxious mothers and older siblings attempted to control the youngsters' exuberance.

Again, as at the wake, the mourners in turn offer bows, hands clasped in prayer (gasho) and incense to the deceased.

The coffin is now wheeled into the center of the room and the lid raised. Flowers, photographs of relatives and the fruit and vegetables from the altar are now placed in the coffin around the body. People touch the body and weep over the corpse, the deceased's favorite drink, coffee was placed on her lips one last time. This was a very emotional and moving moment. A heartfelt "goodbye."

The coffin is now wheeled outside and placed in a waiting hearse which contains the priest, the chief mourners and leads the cortege of other mourners in their cars to Yagato Crematorium.

Yagoto Crematorium Nagoya

Once at the crematorium we followed the priest to oven number 5 where he said a short prayer and the crematorium workers placed the coffin in the oven, like a torpedo into its tube, doffed their caps and pressed the "on"  switch.

The mourners are then lead into a separate waiting room with drinks and snacks on offer at a small stall. After a wait of around one hour the mourners return to see the cremated body. Twenty years ago at the same crematorium we were allowed to pick at the ashes (ikotsu) direct from the red hot oven tray - obviously a dangerous procedure with young children about.

Now, the crematorium workers sort the major bone parts themselves with chopstocks and take them to one side. Metal objects being placed in the coffin are also now proscribed.

At the side of the room, mourners in pairs each holding a piece of bone transfer it to an urn. Everyone takes turns in pairs until the urn is full and placed in a wooden box covered with a cloth.

The mourners then return home in a different direction to that they have arrived in - a superstition to throw off the deceased's spirit from attempting to return home and haunting the family. On arrival back at the funeral parlor, purifying salt is thrown on the mourners, in another superstitious rite, to cleanse the lingering aura of death.

Purifying salt packets

Nowadays to save time for busy people, the shonanoka (初七日) ceremony (lit. "first seven days") which was once performed seven days after the funeral, is now done by the priest on everyone's return to the funeral parlor. The deceased is given a new name after death and prayers are said for the repose of her soul.

The ashes of the deceased are usually divided after collection and kept in a household shrine (butsudan) at the family home and at a grave in the cemetery, if the family can afford the very large expense involved.


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Japanese language: wa and ga used with ichimen

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
一面は 対 一面が

The particles wa (は) and ga (が) rarely cease to be problematic aspect of the Japanese language even for the experienced foreign Japanese speaker. Although nothing to do grammatically or semantically with the English a and the, they are equally as resistant to complete mastery by the non-native speaker.

My latest encounter with wa and ga was through the noun ichimen (一面) which, broken down into its kanji components means "one" (一) "face/side/aspect" (面). However, most confusingly, the dictionaries list several different meanings for ichimen, the first being "one face/side/aspect" and the second being "the whole surface of."

"one aspect of" and "the whole of" is a big difference in a single vocabulary item. There are parallels, however in English, such as the word "quite": compare, for example, "It's quite hot this evening" (rephraseable as "It is somewhat hot this evening.") with "She's quite the lady" (rephraseable as "She is very much a lady.")

But there is a way of generally distinguishing the two opposite meanings of ichimen, and it is per kind favor of wa and ga.  

wa is generally used to introduce the topic of a sentence, and is often loosely translated as "as for (such and such/so and so), ..." or "when it comes to (such and such/so and so), ..." When used with wa, ichimen indicates the particular meaning, as well as the abstract use, of ichimen, i.e. "one aspect (of the issue)" as opposed to "one side (of the house)."

It would take too long here to go into how ga differs grammatically from wa, and this post is meant more as a handy tip - or yet just another example - rather than a full explanation. So let's just continue by saying that "ichimen ga" refers more to the general ("all over") meaning, as well as the concrete use, of ichimen, i.e. "all around, all over."

Oryo no sakana de ichimen ga makkuro ni natta kawa
A river that's gone black all over with teeming fish

Ichimen wa shinbun no kao
One aspect [of it] is [as the] face of the newspaper.

But remember this is a language we are talking about, not math, so you will find exceptions. Context is everything!


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Over the Counter (OTC) Drugs in Japan

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Japan has a huge domestic pharmaceuticals market, the biggest in the world after the United States with annual sales of between 7 and 8 trillion yen (USD88 - 100 billion) of which about USD8.7 billion's worth is in over the counter (OTC) (i.e. non-prescription) drugs.

With the rise of health foods and other health-related lifestyle products, the figure for OTC sales in Japan is on the way down. However, Japan remains an OTC drug paradise, with a huge range of products, many of them drawing on traditional Chinese medicine for their supposed efficacy, and many of them promising added vigor and stamina.

 The drugs in the photo above, taken in a Tokyo drug store, feature maca, the root from South America that purportedly can increase libido, turmeric (known as ukon in Japanese) that is supposed to be good for the digestion and have anti-cancer properties, garlic, zinc, and mixtures of all four.

Hyaluronan, a substance used in the body for tissue growth and healing, is also a popular ingredient in OTC medicines, and a few can be seen on the bottom shelf in the photo.

 (The statistics quoted here are from Yoku Wakaru Iyakuhin Gyokai (Understanding the Pharmaceutical Industry) by Tsuyoshi Nagao, Nippon Jitsugyo Publishing, 2007.)


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Japanese Funeral Wakes

Monday, July 16, 2012

Over the last couple of days I have been attending the wake (otsuya) and funeral ceremony (soushiki) of my mother-in-law, who sadly passed away on Saturday morning.

Funeral altar and coffin

Many of the rites and traditions of Japanese funerals and wakes may well appear strange and rather morbid to other nationalities and faiths.

In our case the ceremony took place at a funeral parlor in suburban Nagoya over Sunday and Monday. The deceased, clothed in a pure white kimono, is placed in a plain, wooden coffin in front of an elaborate altar covered with flowers, candles, vegetables (carrots, cucumber and a cauliflower), fruit (apples), a cup of Japanese tea and the traditional bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks thrust vertically into the rice.

The coffin has a glass window covered with a white cloth to allow mourners to view the face of the deceased, which has been carefully and expertly dressed by the funeral parlor's skilled and efficient undertakers.

Japanese slippers

The wake consists of a priest of the same religious sect (in this case Soto sect Zen) of the deceased directing the service. The priest, garbed in rich gowns and a pair of orange and golden slippers, chants the funeral service accompanying himself with a wooden mokugyo gong and metal bowl-shaped rin gong.

Mourners arrive dressed in black and all offer prayers, bows and incense to the spirit of the deceased. Even after the prayers from the priest have finished, mourners arrive throughout the evening to pay their respects, following signs to the funeral parlor set up on the streets outside.

Japanese funeral sign


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Toyomi Bridge - Tokyo engineering heritage

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tokyo has a lot of rivers and canals, and many which once existed have now been filled in. This also means that Tokyo has a lot of bridges.

Toyomi Bridge from Minato Bridge, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

As I was cycling through the Nihonbashi area in Tokyo's Chuo ward, the bridge pictured here caught my eye with its heavy, retro feel and its stark white coloring. I took the above photo from a bridge called Minato-bashi.

Toyomi Bridge spanning the Nihonbashi River, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

I cycled a little further east to the bridge itself and discovered that it was a tangible cultural property of Chuo ward, as was explained on the following plaque.

Information board, Toyotomi Bridge, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.

The English translation (by us) goes as follows:

"Toyomi BridgeChuo Ward Cultural Property
Shinkawa 1-chome, Chuo Ward

Construction began on the current Toyomi Bridge in May 1926 and was completed in September 1927.

Toyomi Bridge crosses the Nihonbashi River, and is the closest bridge to where the Nihonbashi River flows into the Sumida as its tributary.

The Toyomi Bridge has a long history. There was a bridge here called the Toyomi Bridge (also known as the Otome Bridge) in the mid-Edo era. The surrounding area was called Shinborigashi where small cargo vessels from various provinces would unload their cargoes of sake bound for Edo (Tokyo's former name), and the river at that time was lined with white plaster-walled sake warehouses.

Toyomi Bridge became a steel bridge in the Meiji era, but collapsed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The Bureau of Reconstruction requested a new plan from a Yutaka Tanaka of the Engineering Department, although the drawing up of the actual plans was done by the young Takeo Fukuda (1902-1981). Out of consideration for the boat captains returning to port, he designed this bridge, closest to the confluence of the Nihonbashi and Sumida rivers, in a different way to make it stand out.

Takeo Fukuda proposed a Vierendeel bridge, and the finished result was this weighty-looking bridge across the river with the look of a laid-down ladder. There are only a few of its kind throughout Japan, making it an important heritage bridge for modern engineering, and as such it has been registered as a Tangible Ward Cultural Property.

Chuo Ward Education Committee
March 2003"

Here is what the majestic old bridge looks like closer up ...

Toyomi Bridge, close up, Chuo ward, Tokyo.

and below is a view of the confluence of the Nihonbashi River and the Sumida River that it feeds into.
Confluence of the Sumida and Nihonbashi rivers, Tokyo.


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Japan News This Week 15 July 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Japan News.A Lost Deal for South Korea and Japan

New York Times

Japan baseball exports to MLB striking it big in US



Our Planet

Debris from Japan tsunami extends 2,000 miles across Pacific


Deadly downpours rage on in Kyushu

Japan Times

日本九州北部特大暴雨持续 已致20人死亡


Japan’s Political Upheaval and Massive Public Dissent

Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News


Purse Snatching, by prefecture, January - June 30 (2011 rank).

1. Osaka 850 (1)
2. Saitama 614 (4)
3. Chiba 531 (6)
4. Kanagawa 524 (3)
5. Fukuoka 497 (7)

Source: Asahi Shinbun

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No Need For Re-entry Permits for Japan

Friday, July 13, 2012

Re-entryI called Nagoya Immigration Office this week and was told by the official on the end of the phone that there is now no need to renew expired re-entry permits after the new immigration rules came into force this month.

The new immigration procedures for foreign nationals will see the old alien registration card (gaikokujin-tōroku-shōmeisho) replaced by new (zairyu cards) beginning from July 2012.

The move mirrors the change in authority for issuing foreign residence cards from the local municipalities (ward offices) to the Justice Ministry (MOJ).

The new procedures got off to a bad start this Monday when the computer system handling the changes crashed on the first day affecting regional immigration offices throughout Japan, as well as immigration offices at Narita Airport and other major airports.

People spent many hours in queues and some applicants were not issued with the new cards but told they would later be mailed to them.


Goodbye Mitsukoshi Shinjuku - Hello Bic Camera & Uniqlo

Thursday, July 12, 2012
ビックカメラ・ユニクロ 新宿東口

Mitsukoshi Department Store on the east side of Shinjuku railway station was a grand old dame of Shinjuku, having opened in 1930 - before the War, even. It was housed in the Mitsukoshi Alcott Building, on one of the best pieces of Shinjuku real estate, but it is no more, and the Mitsukoshi Deparment Store vacated the site four months ago, never to return.

New Bic Camera and Uniqlo on East Side of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo.

Then the big news this month was the opening on July 5 2012 of a new store in its place: the Shinjuku East Exit branch of the electronics and home appliance retail giant, Bic Camera. Bic Camera also has a huge store on the west side of Shinjuku Station, giving it now as impressive a presence in Shinjuku as its biggest rival, Yodobashi Camera.

But Bic Camera is not the only retailer to cash in on Mitsukoshi Department Store's departure from Shinjuku. Japan's low-cost fashion giant, Uniqlo, also secured space there in April, giving it, like Bic Camera, a strong presence both east and west of Shinjuku  station.

Architecturally however, Shinjuku is worse off. The bland shiny white facade that now dominates a large chunk of Shinjuku-dori Avenue near the East Exit is a far cry from the characterful and elegant masonry it replaced. Particularly missed is the Tiffany's store that occupied the ground floor of Mitsukoshi Alcott. It was the epitome of classical complete with a statue on a plinth.

Modern white can be done beautifully, an example being the Ginza Matsuya Department Store, but Shinjuku has had to do with a quick draftsman fix for a quick new buck.

More about Shinjuku shopping


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Getting naturalized as a Japanese citizen

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Having been in Japan for over 20 years - getting on to the length of time I have spent out of Japan, and already longer than I have spent in my "home country" - and partly at the urging of my partner, I decided to apply for Japanese citizenship.

Japanese Ministry of Justice Office in Tokyo.
Ministry of Justice Tokyo Office

The process of naturalization (called kika in Japanese) is administered by the Ministry of Justice, so I went down to the Tokyo office of the Ministry of Justice in the Kudan district of Tokyo, just north-east of and across from the Imperial Palace, and next to the Chiyoda Ward Office.

Applying to be naturalized as a Japanese requires a lot more than just taking away a form and coming back with it filled in. I had to make an appointment for an interview, and bring to the interview my passport (and any old passports I have), my gaikokujintorokusho (i.e. foreigner ID card), and driver's license.

I will then be interviewed and, I presume, be assessed as to whether or not I qualify to simply apply, let alone to get citizenship. The interview is still some weeks away, so news of it will be slow, but we will keep you up to date.


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Music Festivals in Japan 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Here is a listing of music festivals in Japan for the summer of 2012.

Rock and Electronic

The Peaceful Love Rock Festival

July 7-8, Okinawa with Diamantes & Zukan

Nano-Mugen Fes

July 15-16, Yokohama Arena with Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Suede, Mates of State

Goose Fresh Beat

July 14-15, Yukari no Mori, Tsukuba, Ibaraki


August 18-19, Hiroshima with Dragon Ash, Radwimps

Join Alive

July 21-22, Iwamizawa, Hokkaido with NICO Touches the Walls, Mannish Boys

Fuji Rock Festival

July 27-29, Naeba featuring Radiohead, Noel Gallagher, Stone Roses, Elvis Costello

Rock in Japan

August 3-5, Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki with Avengers in Sci-Fi, Weaver, Dragon Ash

World Happiness

August 12, Yumenoshima Park, Tokyo with YMO and Kaela Kimura

Rising Sun Festival (RSR)

August 10-11, Ishikari, Hokkaido


August 17, Makuhari Messe (Chiba) featuring Pitbull, Basement Jaxx, 2manyDjs

Summer Sonic

August 18-19, Tokyo and Osaka with Green Day, Rihanna, Jamiroquai, Tears For Fears

Arabaki Rock Fest (held in April this year)

April 28-29, Michinoku Park, Miyagi

Freedommune Zero

August 11, Makuhari Messe (Chiba) with Manuel Göttsching, The Lowbrows


August 25, Yokohama Arena with Gary Beck, Derrick May, Ken Ishii


May 12, Makuhari Messe (Chiba) with Orbital, Mayuri, Derrick May


June 2-3, Kodamanomori, Kiso-mura, Kiso-gun, Nagano


Sept 15-17, Naeba, Niigata

Other Festivals

Sapporo City Jazz

July-August, Sapporo

Pacific Music Festival (classical)

July-August, Sapporo

Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto (classical)

August 7-Sept 7, Matsumoto

Monterey Jazz Festival

July 28, Noto, Ishikawa

Tokyo Jazz Festival

Sept 7-9, Tokyo

Starlight Dance Reggae Festival

July 14-16, Meiho Ski Resort, Gifu

Ueda Joint

Not held this year

World Music & Dance Festival

August 4-10, Hakodate, Hokkaido

Earth Celebration

August 17-19, Sado Island with Kodo


August 24-26, Nanto, Toyama


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Lawson Plus

Monday, July 9, 2012

Of the major convenience store chains, Lawson seems the most innovative of the bunch as the company seeks to reach out more to women, particularly housewives and the elderly through its Lawson Plus, Lawson Natural and Lawson 100 stores. Housewives generally hold the purse strings and the elderly are increasing as a percentage of the population so it seems a sound business plan to target these groups.

Lawson Plus store

Lawson Plus is slightly different to a run-of-the-mill conbeeni in that it has wider aisles (for the elderly), more subdued colors and a seating area where people can sit and enjoy some of the snacks served inside. Thus Lawson Plus is a kind of mix between a convenience store and a cafe. There are around 750 Lawson Plus stores in Japan.

This branch of Lawson Plus is directly opposite Nishi-honganji Temple in Kyoto.


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Hemp in Japan

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hemp (asa) has a long history in Japan and was used to produce clothing and ropes from the very earliest times of the Jomon Period.  During the succeeding Yayoi Period hemp use for clothing continued including among the Ainu in Hokkaido.

From the 7th century on hemp was used in the making of paper as well as for ropes for temple and shrine bells, noren curtains, bow strings, sandals, the thongs in geta and for ships' rigging.

Hemp at this time was also used to treat various ailments as part of kanpo or Chinese herbal medicine. Hemp seeds, indeed, can still be found in some supermarkets for use in cooking.

Hemp plant

Farmers grew fields of hemp throughout Japan and a number of hemp harvest festivals (taima matsuri) survived in certain places in Shikoku, which produced hemp clothes used in ceremonies by the Imperial family and Shinto priests.

Hemp growing, indeed, was only made illegal in Japan in 1948 during the post-war American Occupation and farmers now need a special license to cultivate the plant. A number of farmers have taken to hemp production and the eco-friendly material is now used for making paper lamp shades, bedding, clothing and bags now sold in such shops as the trendy and 'naughty by nature' Oromina in Tokyo.

Nowadays Japan has very strict laws regarding hemp (marijuana; taima) use, cultivation and possession with penalties of up to five years in prison for mere possession of the smallest amounts. Paul McCartney fell victim to Japan's narcotics laws in the 1970s but was released after diplomatic pressure from Britain.


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Japan News This Week 8 July 2012

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Japan News.Inquiry Declares Fukushima Crisis a Man-Made Disaster

New York Times

Japan switches on Ohi nuclear reactor amid protests



Our Planet

Japanese cultural traits 'at heart of Fukushima disaster'


Ex-execs deny negligence in '05 train crash

Japan Times



Nikon, Neo-Nationalists and a Censored Comfort Women Photo Exhibition

Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News


The average income of Japanese lawmakers hit a record low last year. In 2011, the average politician earned 20.03 million yen ($250,000 USD). The financial records of lawmakers have been made public since 1992.
Source: Jiji Press

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Early Morning Sumo Practice at Akibasan Jinganji

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Nagoya Sumo Tournament (basho) begins tomorrow and a stable of wrestlers up from Tokyo is preparing for the competition at a temporary ring set up at Akibasan Jinganji Temple near my house.

Sumo wrestlers practice

On the advice of my local liquor store owner, who supplies the wrestlers with copious quantities of beer and other staples, I went up to see them train this morning.

Sumo wrestlers Nagoya

There was lots of friendly banter and laughs as the wrestlers practiced their moves and I was struck how graceful they were on their feet, almost like 150kg ballet dancers.

Sumo ring

At the end of the session they laid salt in the ring to spell out the kanji character for "Victory."


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Thursday, July 5, 2012
Did you watch the NHK's Fuurin Kazan back in 2007? This exciting drama portrayed the saga of the Takeda clan, told from the viewpoint of Yamamoto Kansuke, a general and strategist for Takeda Shingen. When we arrived in Nagano, the first place we visited was Hachimanpara Park, site of the famous fourth Battle at Kawanakajima. We had thrilled at the Taiga Drama, and we were eager to see the statue of Takeda Shingen fending off blows from the attacking Uesugi Kenshin. The Takeda Lord had a metal fan as his sole defense.

Takeda Shingen statue

As we approached the park, a good-natured tour group passed us and offered to take a few photos of my daughter and me. We saw signboards depicting the battle positions of the Takeda and Uesugi forces and other interesting facts about the area. A good deal of the text was also printed in English, which definitely increased my appreciation of the surroundings. Ah, and there was that famous statue! We spent some time admiring it and contemplating the scene. Then we walked through the park and I looked toward the hills and tried to imagine the soldiers moving furtively down the trails.

Uesugi Kenshin statue

We were very pleased to find Fuurin Kazan still prominently featured in the gift shop, and we purchased several Takeda-Uesugi items. After being kindly offered a cup of tea, we decided to sit for a while and enjoy hot bowls of udon. When we had finished our meal we wanted to walk to Yamamoto Kansuke's burial site. We received directions and set off. As we passed over a river I wondered if this was where the Takeda and Uesugi had once faced each other, waiting to see who would make the first move.

Three Strikes information board

Then we walked and walked some more. We had gone pretty far and there was not a single indication to assure us we were headed the right way. I was getting kind of nervous about it until my daughter guided us through a group of houses, where on a small street corner we saw a sign which indicated our destination. We proceeded down a pathway which led through farmland. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable because it seemed like trespassing, but the local farmer paid us no attention. And there we were, at Yamamoto Kansuke's grave. Finally.

Drive Safely sign

I was a bit dismayed at the prospect of walking all the way back to the park and the bus stop. When we actually saw a taxi cab, I practically fell over as I waved for him to stop. Once we got in and sat down, hey, everything was all right.


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