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Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Yamanote Line Extravaganza (intro)

In Japan, Travel in Japan on April 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

山手線
Yamanote-sen (the High City Line)

yamanote-line-map

After my Ōedo Line Extravaganza back in June 2015, I got a few requests to do a Yamanote Line Extravaganza. One message was hilarious and too long to quote in its entireity here, but the author said (and I quote):

How could you do the Oedo Line before the Yamanote?
It’s an upstart and a poseur. It’s not even a real loop.

He ended the email with:

You are dead to me, sir. Dead.

I don’t get a ton of mail, but gems like that keep me going. If you’re that on board with my JapanThis! style, then by all means, send emails! Well, it’s actually better to leave a comment. I take back the email thing. Leave comments for the sake of my inboxes. But either way, let’s be friends! Also, bonus points for spelling poseur correctly.

YOU-RE-DEAD-TO-ME

Just kidding, I love you all!

Anyhoo, the reason I started with the 大江戸線 Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line is because I’d already covered a lot of the areas it services and because the name 大江戸 Ōedo literally means the Greater Edo Area and was a nice way to wrap up some articles I had written previously to that series.  Also, just including the word 江戸 Edo in the name was enough to make it first. Furthermore, I hadn’t re-written my looooong reference page about Yamanote vs. Shitamachi. I couldn’t very well write about the Yamanote Line without first exploring what those loaded terms meant, could I?

yamanote line.jpg

So What is the Yamanote Line?

The Yamanote Line has been described as Tōkyō’s most important train. It’s just a train line that runs in a circle around some prominent neighborhoods in Tōkyō. And just like the 大江戸線Ōedo-sen Ōedo Line, it runs in a loop around much of the old Edo city limits. However, unlike the Ōedo Line, it is in fact a true loop line that runs in an uninterrupted circle around the city center.

The word 山手 yamanote high city is the opposite of 下町 shitamachi low city. In the Edo Period, it referred to the secure high ground upon which the 大名 daimyō feudal lords and the 武家 buke samurai families lived. These days, residential addresses inside the Yamanote Line loop are seen as prestigious because they lie in the true center of Tōkyō. Owning or renting an apartment within the “Yamanote Line Loop” is generally expensive, but owning actual real estate[i] puts you into a unique segment of the city’s population. Sometimes you’ll see very old wooden houses within the loop that look run down and often decrepit. The owners may not have a lot of money and their houses may not look like much, but they’re the owners of a small plot of ancestral land that is literally worth a fortune. These families try to keep their land and live traditionally, passing on the plot to the next generation. Sometimes some son or daughter gets rich and knocks down the house and builds a modern domicile, but there are a few who resist and try to maintain this disappearing style of home – the idea being that if the head of the family falls into financial ruin, they could sell the ancestral plot for a huge sum of a money and recover the family’s inheritance.

sibadaimon-1.jpg

The train line currently services 29 stations and in terms of passengers per day it puts most cities’ entire public transit systems to shame[ii]. A new, 30th station and business center will be added between 品川駅 Shinagawa Eki Shinagawa Station and 田町駅 Tamachi Eki Tamachi Station before the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics. This is the first route update to the Yamanote Line since 1971 and it will make use of an old trainyard and maintenance center that is being phased out by JR East, the company that operates the Yamanote Line. Incidentally, it will also give quick access to the 高輪大木戸 Takanawa Ōkido, one of the three original access points to the shōguns’ capital of 江戸 Edo.

The Original Route

The predecessor of the modern loop line was built in 1885 (Meiji 18) and started in 品川 Shinagawa (a seaside port area important for distribution, but relatively rural), then continued to 目黒 Meguro, then 渋谷 Shibuya, then 新宿 Shinjuku, then 目白 Mejiro, then 板橋 Itabashi, and terminated at 赤羽 Akabane (on the border of present day 東京都 Tōkyō-to Tōkyō Metropolis and 埼玉県 Saitama-ken Saitama Prefecture, at the time a rural area near a river begging for industrial revolution pollution). This was the beginning of a new definition of 山手 yamanote high city. This was when the suburban and rural areas west of 江戸城 Edo-jō Edo Castle (then 東京城 Tōkyō-jō) came to be called “yamanote.” Of these stations, none qualified by Edo Period standards as yamanote. Sections of those towns were indeed home to a handful of daimyō, but for the most part they were the outermost suburbs of the shōgun’s capital.

The train line was eventually connected to form its present day loop in 1925 when Akabane was dropped from Yamanote Line service. Like most loop trains in major cities, the Yamanote Line had come to be one of the most efficient ways to get around the city. It united business centers, cultural centers, and the associated red light districts[iii] for maximum economic impact. Tourists tend to find themselves on the Yamanote all the time given the train’s access to major hub stations and hotel districts. Think of a major destination in Tōkyō, it’s probably on the Yamanote Line: 渋谷 Shibuya, 新宿 Shinjuku, 原宿 Harajuku, 代々木 Yoyogi, 上野 Ueno, 秋葉原 Akihabara, 東京駅 Tōkyō Eki Tōkyō Station, and 有楽町新橋 Yūraku-chō/Shinbashi. For residents of the city, almost every station is necessary throughout the year.

I hope you’re excited about this series, because I am. Keep reading and keep watching this spot because I have a special announcement coming up very soon!

Further reading:

 

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If you’re gonna be in Japan, let’s take a history tour together!
JapanThis! – Tours for History Nerds

____________________
[i] In terms of housing, this generally means the plot of land has been passed down the family for generations.
[ii] Yes, you heard me. This single line does more business than most cities’ entire transit systems.
[iii] For, as long time readers know, drinking & whoring.

I Have a Huge Announcement!

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Japanese Manners, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Japanese Subculture, Tokugawa Shogun Graves, Travel in Japan on March 24, 2016 at 3:45 am

大きな発
Ōki na happyō (a huge announcement)

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Today I have a big announcement to make. Japanese history nerds, this is something I’ve thought about for a long time. You see, I spend a lot of time walking around Tōkyō trying to see what obscure pieces of Edo I still find lingering. From time to time, I go on what I call 歴史散歩 rekishi sanpo history walks with my friends. When my friends visit from other countries I always show them around the city – often times focusing on aspects of the city that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

But over the years, I’ve been thinking… “Hey, why don’t WE walk around the city talking about Japanese history? How fun would it be to show people what I’ve found? How fun would it be to hang out with other people who want to see different historical spots and geek out together?”

meshimori onna

Red light districts. We can do that.

Japan This! History Walks

So today, I’m proud to announce the beginning of JapanThis! Guided Tours for History Nerds[i]. I’ve put together a small series of informal history walks that cater specifically to Japanese History Fans. Most of them focus on topics that have come up on JapanThis!.

Some of them are super nerdy, but some of them are inclusive enough to bring your friend or family. I’m working on more that expand on other aspects of the city, but I’m also working on setting up tours that go across the country and ones that even focus on particular eras! I’ve tried to make customization an option in most cases so I hope I can accommodate everyone’s budget. Also, since this is all informal, we can keep it real. I mean, if we visit any places related to Kiyokawa Hachirō, we’re gonna have to call a douche a douche.

Due to preparation, time, materials, and the possibility of changing my work schedule, there’s a very modest, suggested tip for each history walk. It’s super reasonable, so just hit me up via Facebook and we can discuss the details.

The main page for tours can be found on the menu at the top of the blog or by clicking this link. That page contains costs and recommended tips. Oh, also some comments from past customers!

shinsengumi-scan1

You either know the Kiyokawa reference or you don’t….

I’ve developed a ranking system in terms of how geeky a course is and how much time or walking you’d have to do. At the time being I have a few courses devoted to the graves of the shōguns – all of which could be combined into a 3 day combination package if you’re into that sort of thing. However, most of what I offer now are just simple one day intensive history walks of Edo-Tōkyō[ii] and a few cultural experiences. All tours will come with printed background information so you can brush up on the history. You’ll also get a PDF version e-mailed to you with links to relevant articles so you can easily access related articles on the go. Of course, I’ll be with you the whole time to answer your questions, help you with the language, or – god forbid – talk the police out of arresting you.

Here’s a breakdown of my rating system.

What does is mean?

Geek Ranking

☆☆☆☆☆

A low ranking means less obscure shit (you can bring a non-nerd), a high ranking means we’re going deeeeep (way off the beaten path).

Walking Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

I can walk for hours and never get tired. That’s a 5. Watching kabuki, that’s a 1 (or less).

Time Intensity

☆☆☆☆☆

Are you a half-day whiney little bitch or are you ready to go ballz to the wallz?

Keep in mind, a low ranking doesn’t mean it’s boring and high ranking doesn’t mean it’s super cool. There’s no correlation. I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s on the same page as to what their getting into. If you have any questions, just ask. If you use a wheelchair or have any other difficulties with mobility, vision, or otherwise, contact me directly and I’m pretty sure I can sort you out. No problem. Everyone is welcome!

——————

geisha

Let’s Start with the Not-So-Nerdy Tours

These are tours made for Japanese history nerd traveling with friends or family.

koishikawa korakuen

Light Crash Course in Edo-Tōkyō

Starts at Ryōgoku and finishes at Tōkyō Dome. Want to learn more about the history of Tōkyō? Have a traveling companion who is coming from zero but wants to learn a little bit? This might be the course for you!

Edo-Tōkyō Museum

The foremost museum on the history of the city. A fantastic insight into the evolution of the shōgun’s capital into one of the greatest economic powerhouses in the world.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

Edo was a city of 1 million people at its peak – the largest city in the world at the time by some accounts. It was also considered the Venice of East. This museum tells the story of how water played a major factor in the history of the city.

Kōraku-en Garden

This is one of the few daimyō gardens that still remain relatively intact from the Edo Period. It was on the grounds of the residence of the Mito Tokugawa. It was designed to change over the course of the 4 seasons. Bring a camera!!

Options

Eat chanko nabe, the staple food of sumō wrestlers. Eat takoyaki, a popular snack or drinking food. Eat both. May change the order of the course, but we can do it all!

Geek Ranking: ★★✬☆☆ 2.5
Walking Intensity: ★★☆☆☆ 2
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

edo bay

One of the few places you can see the original shoreline of Edo Bay

Quirky Tōkyō Museum Tour

Tōkyō has a lot of museums. Seriously. A lot! This tour hits up 4 of the most unique museums in the city. Unfortunately, most don’t provide comprehensive English support, but don’t worry. I got your back.

Ōmori Nori Museum

Learn about nori[iv] production and even get hands on practice at the making it the way people did in Pre-Modern Japan. Also, see Japan’s first manmade beach.

Tōkyō Waterworks Museum

This is seriously one of the most underrated museums in the world. It studies the history of water in Edo-Tōkyō, in particular, how did the shōgunate provide water and sewerage for a city of a million people?!

Tōkyō Parasitological Museum

Supposedly one of Tōkyō’s most popular date sites, this science museum looks at… yup… parasites! You can even buy one of your very own and smuggle it back into your country.

Meiji University Museum

We’ll only visit the wing of the museum dedicated crime, policing, sentencing, incarceration, torture, and execution – with an emphasis on the Edo Period.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

Personal transportation cost (we’ll use the subway)
Contact me via Facebook.

The hands on “nori experience” is first come first serve, so it needs to be book at least 2 months in advance. Believe it or not, it fills up super quick.
Also, the museum hours change by season.
The Parasitological Museum is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays.
I’ll work closely with you to make this happen!

 

ebizo

Ready to get yo ass cultured?

Kabuki – From Edo’s Low Style to Meiji’s High Style

Ginza

Early lunch; discussion about shitamachi/yamanote culture and kabuki.

Kabuki-za

3 kabuki shows, high class Japanese sweets

Option 0

Return to hotel

Option 1

Cheap Shōwa Era dinner, drinks, & a lot of vibe in Yūraku-chō

Option 2

High end Shōwa Era tempura dinner and a lot of vibe in Ginza

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ✬☆☆☆☆ .5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

Price varies greatly depending on number of people and proximity of seats and if you add an option. Since there are many factors involved, we should discuss this in detail.
Contact me via Facebook.

kamon

Shōgun Courses

There are 3 of them! You can do one. You can do two. Hell, you can do all three!
And that’s not branding. We’re literally gonna look at shōgun-related shit.

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Grave of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Edo from Ōta Dōkan to the Bakumatsu
Shōgun Graves Part 1

Starts at Dōkan’yama or Nishi-Nippori and finishes at Ueno Station spanning the 1440’s to the 1860’s. We’ll see many shrines and temples and a sprawling necropolis that will blow your mind. I’ll also get you the closest you can get to the shōguns’ graves in Ueno[v]. We’ll also see sites associated with the Battle of Ueno which destroyed much of the area in the 1860’s resulting in the building of Ueno Park.

Dōkan’yama

Suwa Shrine, former satellite castle of Ōta Dōkan and Edo Period cherry blossom spot

Yanaka

 

Yanaka Cemetery and environs; graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, Higuchi Ichiyō, Date Munenari, and Takahashi O-den

Ten’nō-ji

Main hall, pagoda ruins

Kan’ei-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa shōguns, post-Boshin War main hall, pagoda, Tōshō-gū, Ghost Lantern, Ueno Big Buddha, Benzaiten, Shinobazu Lake, Kiyomizu Kan’non-dō, Shōgitai Grave and other sites associated with the Battle of Ueno, Saigō Takamori Statue (and possibly access to the Aoi no Ma)

Uguisudani

See a shitamachi red light district, place where Katsu Kokichi[vi] retired and wrote his memoires

Nezu Shrine

One of Tōkyō’s most beautiful shrines

Option

Visit an Edo Period tōfu shop or a Shōwa Period soba shop

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity
: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity
: ★★★★☆ 4

Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grave of Tokugawa Hidetada

A Walk from Edo Castle to Shiba
Shōgun Graves Part 2

Starts in the Outer Moat area of Edo Castle and finishes at Azabu-Jūban. Roughly follow the path the shōgun and his retinue would take from the castle to his funerary temples at Zōjō-ji . Food options exist along the way, so we can discuss by email.

Edo Castle

Hibiya Gate, Saiwai Gate, Shibaguchi Gate, Sukiyabashi Gate/Yūraku-chō, Edo Magistrate’s Office, Sotobori/Marunouchi/Daimyō Alley overview, Tiger Gate

Shinbashi

Remains of original Shinbashi Bridge, Original Shinbashi Station, Karasumori Shrine, Shiogama Shrine, Red Brick Way, remains of Sendai Domains lower & middle residences (Date clan), site of Asano Naganori’s seppuku

Zōjō-ji

Graves of the Tokugawa Shōguns, O-nari Gate, Ietsugu’s Niten Gate, remains of Ietsugu’s innermost stone wall, consolidated graves of the shōguns (there is a museum with regularly changing exhibits – if interested), cemetery for dead babies, Hidetada’s main gate, lesser known remains of Hidetada’s mausoleum, Tōshō-gū, a sakura planted by Iemitsu

Akabanebashi

Fushimi Sanpō Inari Shrine, Shin’ami-chō, upper residence of Kurumae Domain (Arima clan), Kurumae fire watchtower

Bakumatsu Murder Bridges

Site of Henry Heusken’s murder, site of Kiyokawa Hachirō’s murder

Additional Options

Tōkyō Tower; graveyard of the women of Nanbu Domain, Zōjō-ji Museum, shopping/eating in Azabu-Jūban and/or Roppongi Hills – Edo Period shops are in the area.

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★★★★★ 5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

[viii]
Cost will vary if you add an option.
Contact me via Facebook.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu

A Day and Night in Nikkō
Shōgun Graves Part 3

We start at Tōkyō Station, go to Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture for sightseeing and fun, stay in at traditional Japanese inn with a hot spring, then return to Tōkyō the next morning. This is the final resting place of the 1st and 3rd Tokugawa shōguns and the best extant example of shōgunal mausoleums. This tour is great for anyone, but especially good for people whose traveling companions aren’t history nerds but want to do some must-see sightseeing and have a really unique Japanese experience.

Rin’nō-ji
(Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Taiyū-in)

Grave of the found of Rin’nō-ji and origin of all Buddhist activity in the area, Roku Butenzō – the oldest Buddhist monuments in Nikkō, Rin’nō-ji – the temple controls most of the area, Tōshō-gū (grave of Tokugawa Ieyasu), Taiyū-in (grave of Tokugawa Iemitsu). Tōshō-gū is one of the top 5 spots in Japan!

Edo Wonderland

A theme park that recreates the spirit of Edo in architecture, costume, shows, and hands on experience. All of the staff is in character, so they offer guests the chance to cosplay in character! When you’re done, you can enjoy a beer or too watching the sun set over “Edo” in the mountains.

Relax in a Japanese hot spring

Have traditional dinner and a bath (or 2 or 3) in natural, geothermally heated water; get a good night’s sleep on a futon in a traditional Japanese room.

Options

If you want, a traditional Buddhist vegetarian course meal can be arranged.

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★★ 5

There is a Japanese proverb, “Don’t say something is ‘splendid’ until you’ve seen Nikkō” because of its sublime beauty. This may not be the nerdiest destination, but it will definitely make a big impression. In a addition, a famous Kyōto and Nikkō tōfu specialty is widely available.

Final cost will vary depending on number of people, options, etc., but I’m fairly sure I can keep things reasonable, especially for groups![ix]
Contact me via Facebook.

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Other Tours!

hama goten.jpg

Scenic Gardens, Tokugawa Palaces, and Zōjō-ji

Starts at the seaside villa remains of the shōguns, continues to the seaside villa of a high ranking retainer of the shōguns, and ends at one of 2 funerary temples of the shōguns. This is a fairly hands-off course so you’re free to explore at your own pace, but I’m available for everyone at all times.

Former Hama Palace

This was the shōgun’s seaside villa. It retains a unique salt water moat system and Edo Period hunting grounds. It also offers a beautiful view of the city and nature. We can enjoy tea and Japanese sweets a teahouse built in the middle of a lake.

Shiba Rikyū Garden

Originally a seaside fort of the Hōjō clan of Odawara, it was later a daimyō residence of the Ōkubo clan (who originated from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s homeland, Mikawa Province).

Zōjō-ji

We can approach Zōjō-ji the way it was intended to be approached, from the sea. We’ll pass the Great Gate and then move on for a look at a funerary temple of the Tokugawa shōguns.

Options

Feeling a little garden crazy? We could easily swap out Zōjō-ji for 1 or 2 other Edo Period gardens. Perfect for photographers interested in Japanese nature!

Geek Ranking: ★★★☆☆ 3
Walking Intensity: ★★★☆☆ 3.5
Time Intensity: ★★★★☆ 4

2000円 per person (to cover admission fees)
Contact me via Facebook.

beheading

Ready to go somewhere really dark?

The 3 Great Execution Grounds of Edo

I think this will be popular! If you want to see the dark and macabre side of Edo-Tōkyō, you’re not alone. I’m as fascinated with it as I am repulsed by it. Depending on where your hotel is, I will re-arrange the order for the most convenient order – though my personal favorite is Denma-chō→Kozukappara→Suzugamori[x].

Suzugamori

See the killing floor, the posts for burnings at the stake and crucifixions, the well for cleaning heads before display, Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Denma-chō

See the “supposed” killing floor, monuments to Yoshida Shōin (who was a prisoner here); discuss why Yoshida Shōin was a douche.

Kozukappara

See the killing floor of the worst prison in Edo, the Kubikiri Jizō (the last thing the beheaded saw before they died), Ekō-in (temple for the repose of the dead), Namidabashi (the place families said goodbye), “Bone Street.”

Geek Ranking: ★★★★★ 5
Walking Intensity: ★☆☆☆☆ 1
Time Intensity: ★★★✬☆ 3.5[xi]

Contact me via Facebook.

 

I’m Working on a few New Tours

Please remember, I’m just starting this up and I’m doing this all on my own. I have a lot to learn and I’m starting to reach out to other people to try and make a partnership that will help me expand my offerings to longer tours, and even nationwide tours. Imagine a 4-5 day nationwide Shinsengumi tour? How fun would that be??!

Anyways, I really think the sky’s the limit with this. In my mind, it’s the ultimate way to bond with you guys – face to face, high fives and all. And after a serious “thank you” for your support, let’s go take a look at this city – no, this country – that I absolutely love! Also, if you are looking for a more personalized experience, let me know. I’m willing to make custom tours.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you like this idea, share with a friend!

_________________________
[i] JK, actually it’s just Japan This! History Walks because that other name is long as hell and we’re just gonna be chilling out seeing some cool obscure parts of the city and geeking about Japanese history and culture.
[ii] This is 100% negotiable at the moment. Since I’m just doing this in my spare time, I maaaaaaay be able to offer you far more customizable tours. Just let me know what you want.
[iii] I don’t believe these are actual terms used in the real tourism industry…
[iv] An edible seaweed. If you eat sushi rolls, the wrapper is nori.
[v] Working on getting better access, but the area has been pretty much off limits for a long time. They don’t even allow photography in the off limits areas, even if you can get in.
[vi] Son of Katsu Kaishū, the father of the Japanese Navy.
[vii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[viii] To get a 360° view of the main structure itself, it costs 500円 per person. There is a famous peony garden on the site which costs 1200円 per person.
[ix] Nikkō is in the mountains, so I don’t recommend winter at all. Also, the area is extremely crowded in autumn because people come to see the autumn leaves. If you want to come in the fall, I recommend booking 6 months or more to guarantee a comfortable bed and hot bath.
[x] In terms of subway use, it’s an impractical course unless you do alone or unless it’s a one-on-one tour. For groups, I have to find the most cost efficient/time efficient route for everyone.
[xi] Because a good deal of your time will be taking trains to the next execution ground. I’m good at conversation, so it won’t be boring but expect to change trains a few times lol.

Questions from Readers

In Japan on February 21, 2014 at 8:32 am
Wanna know who this is? So did other readers. Today I'll tell you!

Wanna know who this dude is?
So did other readers.
Today I’ll tell you!

I don’t get a lot of e-mails, but I’ve gotten a few over the past few months asking about my personal opinions or musings on certain topics. I don’t think Japan This! is really the place for my personal opinions on things like the “Do you think Korea has a good argument for renaming the Sea of Japan “the East Sea?” That said, I’m a human being and of course I have opinions on such topics.

So I wrote a 5 page article answering reader questions about my personal opinions on a few topics related to Japan and Tokyo. I included a little hate mail, too. (Believe it or not, I do get hate mail from time to time.)

I’ve posted the article on my Patreon page. For those who don’t know, Patreon is a crowd sourcing network that let’s you support artists, bloggers, and other creative people. Basically, if you like all this free content and you want to make a donation to support the blog, it’s a safe and trustworthy way to do so.

Some topics that get discussed are:

What does “Japan This” mean?
The Senkaku Islands.
Eating dolphins.
Hate mail. (My favorite part!)
 Much, much more…

The article is here:

http://www.patreon.com/creation?hid=240821

Begging for donations or charging for content makes me feel like shit, so even if you don’t donate, I’ve decided to include a free post here. I really appreciate everyone who reads Japan This! If no one read this, I wouldn’t do it.

Well, that’s not true. It’s a labor of love. I’d still do it. But it just wouldn’t be as much fun. So thank you to each and every one of my readers (even the ones who send me hate mail). I have lots of love for you. And don’t worry, this blog is always going to be free!

OK, so as for today’s post, I just went to the Regional Immigration Office (every expat’s favorite place in the world), and I had to change trains at Daimon Station. I love this station because inside they have a few old pictures up on the wall. I decided to make a video of one huge photograph they have on display. This panoramic photograph shows a view from Tokyo Station/Marunouchi to Tōkyō Castle (Edo Castle) to Yurakucho/Hibiya Park and Shiodome (which at the time was called Shinbashi). Tameike Sannō was still an 池 ike lake. Sotobori Road was still a moat. You can see the Shiba area is still more or less Zōjō-ji’s massive, wooded precincts and that the bay is lacking the sprawling man-made islands that protect central Tōkyō from the sea. It’s really a spectacular photo.

What does Ushigome-Yanagicho mean?

In Japan, Japanese History on September 27, 2013 at 6:28 am

牛込柳
Ushigome-Yanagichō (Crowd of Cows Willow Tree Town)

Some of Yanagicho's shitamachi vibe (low town)  still exists.

Some of Yanagicho’s shitamachi vibe (low town) still exists.

Will someone please stop the Ushigome insanity??? I wanna get off. I’m starting to feel dizzy.

牛込 ushigome a crowd of cows
柳町 yanagi-chō willow tree town

Every explanation seems to be “there used to be a bunch of willow trees here.”

Well… duh… yeah… that’s what the name means. Willow Tree Town all night long, baby.

Willow trees. Yanagi.

Willow trees.
Perhaps Yanagicho once looked like this in the greener, more river-y Edo Period.
(btw – this is not Yanagicho)

So, there are places called 柳町 yanagi machi or yanagi-chō all over Japan[i] because there are lots of willow trees in Japan. But generally, we can associate willow trees with riversides and low water-rich environs. This area fits that profile. So at one time, there may have been an abundance of willow trees.

This particular place name is a merging of a few elements.

Before the reshuffling of special wards in Tōkyō, the name of the town was 市谷柳町 Ichigaya Yanagichō[ii]. After the reshuffling[iii], parts of Ushigome Ward and Ichigaya Ward were merged into the newly created Shinjuku Ward. When a station was built here the station name became Ushigome Yanagi-chō.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

Ushigome-yanagicho is just another train station. You might not even notice it.

A Little Bit About the Area

After the 明暦大火 Meireki Taika the Great Meireki Fire, many victims were relocated to this area. This area is located in the 下町 shitamachi the low town. In the Edo Period it was an area for commoners and merchants. It was also famous for candle shops. Woo-hoo.

While we have said that Ushigome is a traditionally 山手 yamanote high city area, there was a 下町 shitamachi low city element too. Yanagichō was that element.

Because it was shitamachi, the main intersection is located in a deep depression. By the 1970’s people started noticing that exhaust fumes from cars was supposedly getting trapped here. Residents were turning up with symptoms of lead poisoning and there was a brief media scare about a lead poisoning problem. The government banned trucks over a certain size and took a few other measures to reduce traffic in order to remedy the problem. Supposedly the area is cleaned up now. (I hope TEPCO wasn’t involved in this project or it’s probably worse…)

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970's.

Yanagicho intersection in the 1970’s.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

Yanagicho intersection these days.

The Shinsengumi Connection

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line's Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

A train geek stamp for the Oedo Line’s Ushigome-Yanagichou Station.
Note Kondo Isami on the left and the Shieikan marker in the middle.

But the area’s real claim to fame, in terms of Edo-Tōkyō History, is that Yanagichō is where 試衛館 the Shieikan was located. Bakumatsu and seppuku lovers alike will recognize this name as the dōjō of 近藤勇 Kondō Isami, leader of the 新撰組 Shinsengumi[iv] – some of the biggest bad asses of the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.

Today the dōjō is gone; it disappeared from the historical record[v] in 1867. This is no doubt due to the shame the Meiji Government tried to cast on the samurai who supported the shōgunate – in particular, the Shinsengumi – and especially Kondō Isami, who was essentially rounded up and tried in a kangaroo court of imperial loyalists to be disgraced and put down like a sick dog.

Bastards.

Recently some have suggested that the location where the historical marker is today may not be in the correct location.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

Marker of the place where the Shieikan once stood.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

If you go past the marker and down the hill, there is a small shrine.

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[i] If you don’t believe me, here’s a small list.
[ii] Let it be noted, I haven’t covered Ichigaya yet.
[iii] In short, old Ushigome Ward + old Ichigaya Yanagi Town → Ushigome-Yanagi Town.
[iv] The Shinsengumi were an elite force of swordsmen who were in charge of taking down any anti-shōgunate terrorists in Kyōto. They had an extraordinary will to power and an unsurpassed propensity to kill according to a certain book on the topic that just repeats those phrases until the reader wants to slit their own belly just to make it stop.
[v] At least the records that I have access to.

What does Ushigome mean?

In Japan, Japanese Castles, Travel in Japan on September 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

牛込
Ushigome (Crowd of Cows)

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon. Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.

View of Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke and Ushigome Go-mon.
Judging from the high walls and design of the building on the left, I would say that was a daimyo residence.
But nary a cow in sight… lol

ushi

cow

komi[i]

swarming, huddling, amassed, crowded,
“in bulk”

According to Japanese Wikipedia[ii], in 701, in accordance to the Taihō Code, a livestock ranch was established in this area. In fact, two were established which were sometimes referred to as 牛牧 gyūmaki a cow ranch and 馬牧 umamaki a horse ranch. These two locations came to be referred to as 牛込 Ushigome and 駒込 Komagome.

The fact that there was a cattle/dairy ranch here in the Asuka Period is a known fact (it’s documented). The horse ranch is a different story. In all of my research about Komagome, I didn’t find a single mention of this. When you look up Ushigome, many articles tend to mention Komagome, and I think that because of the strength of the evidence in support of the Ushigome being a literal etymology, the writers try to associate Komagome with it. But this would be a false etymology. Their logic: two places have similar names, they must be related, right?[iii]

Well, anyways, it’s possible that there is a connection between the two (one of the theories about Komagome is that it was a place where horses were herded into a confined space). There just isn’t any record of this being so. When we don’t have the evidence we should always take that theory with a grain of salt.

But with Ushigome, rest assured, this is most likely the case.

Cattle ranches aren't really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can't really imagine what one would have looked like. However, I found this 1950's aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950's and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this....

Cattle ranches aren’t really a common theme in Japanese art, so I can’t really imagine what one would have looked like.
However, I found this 1950’s aerial shot from Oregon in the 1950’s and I wonder if an ancient Japanese cattle ranch would have looked a little like this….

In an edict during the reign of 文武天皇 Monmu Tennō Emperor Monmu (701-704) a place variously referred to as 神崎牛牧 Kanzaki no Gyūmaki Kanzaki Cattle Ranch and 乳牛院 Gyūnyūin “The Milk Institute” was established in the area in the vicinity of 元赤城神社 Moto-Akasaka Jinja Old Akasaka Shrine[iv].

Asakusa Shrine

Today Old Asakusa Shrine is just an afterthought to this building.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest and craziest areas, Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

Located in the heart of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s busiest and craziest areas, present day Akasaka Hikawa Shrine is a welcome way to jump back to Edo while in the craziness that is Tokyo.

A branch of the 大胡氏 Ōgo-shi Ōgo clan from 上野国 Kōzuke no Kuni Kōzuke Province had been living in the Ushigome area since the 1300’s and, if I’m not mistaken, originally held dominion over the area from present day Shinjuku to Ushigome.

In 1553 a member of said clan switched allegiance from the Uesugi to the Hōjō and in return was granted dominion over the area stretching from present day Ushigome to Hibiya (ie; Edo Bay)[v]. The lord built a castle (fortified residence) somewhere in that area and took the place name to establish his own branch of the family and thus the Ushigome clan was born, 牛込氏 Ushigome-shi. The area is elevated so it would have been defensible. It also had a view of Edo Bay and so they could keep an eye on who was coming in and out of 江戸湾 Edo-wan Edo Bay[vi].

In 1590, the Hōjō were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokugawa Ieyasu was famously granted the 関八州 Kanhasshū the 8 Kantō Provinces, which included Edo. Ieyasu evicted the residents of the castle and confiscated the property.

It’s not clear where the castle was located, but there is a tradition at 光照寺 Kōshō-ji Kōshō Temple that says the temple was built on the site of 牛込城 Ushigome Castle. I’ve never looked for myself, but it seems like there are no ruins that confirm this story[vii]. There is a nice sign, though.

Being a large plateau, in the Edo Period, this area was clearly 山手 yamanote the high city and was populated by massive daimyō residences and the homes of high ranking 旗本 hatamoto direct retainers of the shōgun.

Fans of Edo Castle or just any history-minded resident of Tōkyō will recognize the name 牛込橋 Ushigomebashi Ushigome Bridge. This bridge led from Kagurazaka to Edo Castle. If you crossed the bridge you would arrive at  牛込見附 Ushigome-mitsuke Ushigome Approach[viii] and there you would see the 牛込御門 Ushigome go-mon Ushigome Gate. The bridge spanned 牛込濠 Ushigomebori Ushigome Moat. Today the moat is dammed up under the bridge and the Chūō Line runs under it. On one side you can see the moat, on the other side – if I remember correctly – are just trees, a small skyscraper, and a train station; another fine example of Japan bulldozing over and building over its past. That said, there’s plenty to see and do in the area if you feel like having a history walk in the area.

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke

Ushigome Bridge and Ushigome Mitsuke. The area under the bridge is already partially dammed up.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It's a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you're trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

This is what a Mitsuke is. It’s a place to trap intruders as they come in (or perhaps exit). Like a lock and damn system on a river, you’re trapped while you approach the castle. The actual Ushigome Gate is the large structure on the right.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

That awkward Meiji Period that started the destruction of the area.

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[i] For an explanation of this sound change from /komi/ to /gome/, please see my article on Komagome.
[ii] By the way, I didn’t get all my info from Wikipedia. Duh!
I just quoted it to show you how commonplace this Komagome/Ushigome thing is.
[iii] Wrong.
[iv] I’m pretty sure the name Akasaka Shrine and the name of Akasaka are a coincidence… but I may need to look further into this (because OMG my original article says nothing about this). The Ōgo clan was originally based at a mountain in present day Gunma Prefecture called 赤城山 Akagi-san Red Castle Mountain, when they came to this area, they established a shrine called Akasaka Shrine (Red Hill). The original shrine is in Waseda, Shinjuku. Originally in 牛込台 Ushigomedai Ushigome Plateau, it was moved twice – once in 1460 by Ōta Dōkan and again in 1555 by the Ōgo themselves. The shrine still exists in Shinjuku.
[v] Their holdings included 桜田 Sakurada (yes, the same Sakurada of 桜田門 Sakuradamon fame), 赤坂 Akasaka, and 日比谷 Hibiya. Anyone familiar with Edo Castle will immediately recognize their names and their connection to the castle.
[vi] The presence of another lord so close to where the Edo Clan and Ōta Dōkan had their fortified residences adds more to my assertion that Edo wasn’t just “an obscure fishing village” when the Tokugawa arrived.
[vii] UPDATE: There may be some evidence. If you’re interested, check out this blog! (Japanese only)
[viii] Essentially a look out and security check point leading into the castle grounds. For more on what a mitsuke is, check my article on Akasaka-mitsuke.

Waku Waku News!!!

In Japan, Uncategorized on September 10, 2013 at 6:19 pm

ワクワクニュース
Waku Waku Nyūsu (Exciting News)

Japan This T-Shirts

I bet you’ve never seen a t-shirt that said Iriteppo Deonna before!

OK, so I’m excited and depressed at the same time. I’m excited because this blog has taken off and become much more than I had ever expected. I’m also excited because I’ve implemented 2 new dimensions to the site – which I also never expected.

The thing I’m not excited about is asking for donations. And maybe there’s never a cool way to do this. I spend most of my time working – as do most people. And then I spend the rest of my time researching[i], writing, and editing this blog. It’s a labor of love, really. But it’s like having a part time job in addition to my regular job and regular life. I have a dream of one day moving Japan This off of Word Press’s free system and onto a dedicated server (because then I use plug-ins to enhance the experience (many missed opportunities up until now[ii]) and many more ideas about growing the site.

As I’m not bent on world domination and I’m not so interested in making a profit (because I just love writing this blog too much to stop!!!), I’ve decided that crowd sourcing is the way to go. That way it’s voluntary. If you want to and have the means to contribute, it would mean a lot to me (and my readers who can’t afford to contribute).

One of my favorite blogs is a pay only blog[iii]. I don’t know of any other blog like that. But I would never charge anyone to access my blog. I believe in a free exchange of information and ideas. But I know some people who copy and paste and pass on said dude’s blog to other people. In short, it’s a stupid way to run a blog. Granted he has thousands and thousands of readers, I only have… well, about a thousand.

Anyways, I’m babbling….

So here’s what I thought. If every individual reader who liked Japan This! and wanted more content just contributed a few dollars, just a few, it might help me move the site to a server with unlimited space and the ability to add enhancements that I can’t do currently.

I’ve thought of two ways to contribute:

Click this image to become a patron of Japan This!

Click this image to become a patron of Japan This!

PATREON

Patreon is a donation website designed for musicians, artists, vloggers, etc. It’s a service that lets fans say thank you to their favorite creators. Hopefully some of you dig Japan This! enough to contribute a little bit. As the name suggests, you would become a patron of this site. You can make a one-time donation or set up monthly payments. And, of course, you can cancel at any time. So if I start writing utter garbage at some point you can pull the plug on me. lol

The Japan This Shop is waiting for you with super-geek chic that you've never seen before!

The Japan This Shop is waiting for you with super-geek chic that you’ve never seen before!

CAFÉ PRESS

(I got this idea from my friends at samurai-archives.com, who you really should visit.)

I have to say, I’m pretty proud of what’s in there right now. Anyone who reads this blog seems pretty down with the Japanese History thing. They also seem to be pretty geeky and down with obscure references, my bad jokes, and Japanese History. Yes, I just repeated myself.

In the past, I’ve mentioned making a 入鉄砲出女 iriteppō deonna T-shirt. In the middle of my 16 part series on the Tokugawa Funerary Temples, I also mentioned in passing that I should make a T-shirt about writing “new funerary content.” And the other day when I wrote “What does Edo mean?,” it turned into a gargantuan post well over 5000 words and I mused that I should turn that article into a T-shirt.

Well, now that fantasy is a reality in the  Japan This! Café Press Shop.

Ever seen a blog on a t-shirt before?

Ever seen a Japanese History blog on a t-shirt before?

Speaking honestly, if you donate through PATREON, 100% goes to me for maintaining this site. I think this is the best way to do it. If you can donate this way, there’s a way to leave a message when you donate. If you do that, I’ll mention you in an article[iv] and help promote you the best I can. So Patreon is a 100% pure donation.

When you buy at the Café Press shop, I get a couple of dollars here and there off of each purchase. Café Press gets most of your money. But at least you can get a cool Japanese History T-Shirt or sticker or magnet or something with original designs.

Again, I feel shitty asking for donations, but I really want to upgrade the site and give it a permanence and usability that it doesn’t have now. So that’s why I’m asking for your help. And even if no one donates anything, the site isn’t going anywhere. I’ll continue to write. Just would be nice to take things to the next level together with you.

And as I mentioned, if you want to tell the world you support Japan This!, when you donate thru Patreon, you can leave a message and if you want me to, occasionally I’ll give shout outs to donators. And if you buy Japan This! Goods at Café Press, upload a picture of yourself wearing (or using) your new item to the Japan This! Facebook page!

Ii Naosuke on a T-Shirt?? Where have you been all my life??

Ii Naosuke on a T-Shirt?? Where have you been all my life??

This design is available, but Cafe Press won't let me advertise it. It says "Fucking American."  I wear mine everywhere.

This design is available, but Cafe Press won’t let me advertise it. It says “Fucking American.”
I wear mine everywhere.





[i] Research is the most time consuming part of the blog because I tend to cover topics that aren’t available in English.

[ii] The main feature I’d like to add is clickable footnotes. Right now my footnotes are annoying as hell on long posts. But on Word Press’ free service I’m doing all I can do.

[iii] Don’t worry. The guy’s not being a dick. The proceeds are donated to charity.

[iv] Only If you want me to. The system is anonymous by default.

Edo River Fireworks

In Japan, Japanese Holidays, Travel in Japan on August 5, 2013 at 2:38 am

江戸川花火大会
Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edo River Fireworks

江戸川にヤンキーが多い

Edo River Fireworks 2013

First of all, long time readers of Japan This will have noticed that I haven’t had a good history article in a week or two. The main reason is that work is super busy and I just don’t have any free time. Literally. Things will change soon and I promise to continue my Edo-Tokyo place names series as soon as I can. I miss doing it. I also have other ideas for short series, like the Tokugawa Funerary Temples series or the Edo Execution Grounds Spectacular.

In the meantime, I did have a little time after work this weekend to go to the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edo River Fireworks. I’ve gone to this fireworks display almost every year for the past 6 years. It’s one of the best fireworks displays in Japan — I dare say, one of the best in the world.

江戸川花火大会・ヤンキー多いw

Edo River Fireworks. Tokugawa Ieyasu would have been impressed by the number of ヤンキー present at this event.

I took some video this year. I thought I had 10 minutes of footage, but when I started editing, I soon realized that I had over 45 minutes of video clips. That means that I watched almost half of the entire event through my iPhone and not with my own eyes. Probably shouldn’t have done that….  But it does mean I have some interesting content for you, dear reader. And without any further ado, I’d like to present a montage of video clips, in order, from start to finish, of the Edo River Fireworks 2013. I hope you enjoy.

Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 2

In Japan, Japanese Music on August 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 2)

Here I am. Rock me like a Hurricane.


Part 2

#6
いちぬけ Ichinuke

Today we start off where we left off yesterday – with 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl. This song’s title means “one pull.” Although this phrase is dangerously close to the Japanese phrase for “to rub one out[i]”, it actually refers to the Hell Girl offering one pull of a string to take all of your sorrows away[ii]. It’s dark and sultry and… quite frankly, sexy. It’s also spooky as hell which makes it perfect for お盆 o-bon. So I think this is the best song to start off my next half of the list of top 10 summer songs for Japan.

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#7
金魚花火 Kingyo Hanabi

This is a song by Ōtsuka Ai, the title of which translates as Gold Fish Fireworks. Kingyo fireworks are actually a real thing. They a cluster of explosions that after being launched from boats, appear to “swim around” over the water. The water reflects the lights and the smoke is saturated with light.

Kingyo Hanabi ie; Goldfish Fireworks

Kingyo Hanabi
ie; Goldfish Fireworks

Anyone who has spent a summer in Japan, knows that all summer long, not only are there festivals, but there are also great firework displays all over the country. There are at least 12 major firework displays in the Tōkyō Metropolitan area worthy of the capital city. Some of these, for example the Sumidagawa Fireworks date back to the Edo Period. Needless to say, Japan takes its fireworks seriously. And fireworks tie into the Japanese love of 儚い hakanai the fleeting moment.

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#8
ジョイ  JOY

This song is by YUKI, if you don’t know her… I’ll just say that you should and that her pedigree comes from a group called Judy and Mary. Anyhoo, Judy and Mary are ancient history and to be honest YUKI could have gone that way, but as pop artists go in Japan, she holds a certain classic position as just being YUKI. For better or for worse.
This song was a single during my days as a resident of Japan. I arrived in January of 2005 just when the track was released and even though it was a winter release; the song was so big that it rode a wave of popularity well into the spring. The lyrics are great, I think, and it takes me back to my first year in Japan and because it’s so positive, I think it works as a perfect summer song. If you hear this song at the beach, everyone gets really super genki.

By the way, this is one of the most memorable videos of all J-Pop’s history. Probably everyone between 20 and 40 knows it… and if they don’t, you don’t want to know them.

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#9
リルラ リルハ  RiRuRa RiRuHa
This came out in March of 2005, my first year in Japan. The song was everywhere because it was used as in a Vodafone commercial – a company that doesn’t exist anymore in Japan[iii]. It was a massive hit and the song was in heavy rotation well into the spring and early summer. So again, I have great memories of this tune and because it’s so positive, I tend to associate it with summer barbecues by the river and drunken revelries on the beach.

The actual video isn’t available on YouTube[iv], but you can see it if you try this song at karaoke.
For the time being, here’s a live version of it.

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#10
FAKE IT
This song has absolutely nothing to do with summer. It just rocks any time of the year. It’s by the only original “idol” act – an act which recently has been repeatedly imitated or outright ripped off in Japan and throughout Asia. I fucking love them and think their producer, Nakata Yasutaka, is a freaking genius with a capital “G.” Anyways, I couldn’t make a list of Japanese pop music without including Perfume. That would be sacrilege[v].

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[i] ie; male masturbation

[ii] By condemning another person to 地獄 jigoku hell for eternity.

[iii] Softbank bought them out.

[iv] Fuck you very much, traditional bullshit Japanese record companies. You suck because you haven’t left 1990. (Don’t get me started on the Japanese music business… a brother’s got opinions.)

[v] And we all know, Yours Truly would never commit sacrilege.

Top 10 Japanese Songs of Summer 1

In Japan, Japanese Music on August 1, 2013 at 2:03 am

Japanese Top 10 Songs of Summer (part 1)

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

Are you ready for summer Japanese-style?

This list is divided into 2 parts. The first part is a little more traditional, or at least songs that you’ll associate with summer because they only are heard in the summer or because they are about the summer. The second half is made of songs I think sounds awesome when chilling at the beach or a barbecue.

PART 1

#1
阿波よしこの Awa Yoshikono

This is the song the accompanies the most famous of the 盆踊り Bon Odori dances. The dance and this incarnation of the song originated in 徳島県 Tokushima-ken Tokushima Prefecture, the former 阿波国 Awa no Kuni Awa Province. Without a doubt, this song and its accompanying dance and costumes are the prevailing image of お盆祭り o-Bon Matsuri O-bon Festivals on 本州 Honshū, the main island of Japan. Summer in Japan is wicked hot and if you’re gonna spend all day outside sweating and eating and drinking, you might as well have this hypnotic music and dance and costumes to make the event more festive.

This video is of a stage performance of the dance. I chose this one because it was the clearest audio recording I could find with dancers who were pretty good. This performance is a little more stylized then what you would see at a festival, but you’ll get the idea.

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The second video of an actual performance in Tokushima where you can see how the dance is done at a festival. It’s basically a parade. Throughout the main island, at local matsuri that have adopted the dance, it’s not uncommon for the dancers to invite partiers to join in the parade. I don’t think they do that in Tokushima… but I’ve never been so…
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#2
エイサー踊り Eisā Odori

First one thing; Eisā is the name of dance and not the song. I don’t know the name of the song.
This is a style of music and dance associated with Bon Odori that is from 沖縄 Okinawa. It’s freaking bad ass. Dudes with big ass banners lead two opposing “armies” of synchronized male drummers followed by cute girls in Okinawan yukata who “battle” each other. I’m not an expert but I think the “battle” is determined by which team can keep their rhythm better than the other team. If I team is getting confused by the other team’s conductor and tempo, they’ll back off to “re-group” and then “attack” again. I may be totally off on this – I’ve never even been to Okinawa – but it seems like that’s what’s going on.

When I first lived in Tōkyō, I lived in a small corner of 中野区 Nakano-ku Nakano Ward called 鍋横町 Nabeyoko-chō. They have an awesome small but local matsuri that I attended every year that I lived there and even now, I head back for this great neighborhood festival. Naturally, they have Awa Odori, but for whatever reason, they always feature Okinawa Eisā Odori too. So this style of Bon Odori has a special place in my heart as a great sound of summer in Japan.

From Nabeyoko-chō Matsuri 1:




If you see me or Mrs. JapanThis in either of this video, I wouldn’t be surprised.

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#3
夏祭り  Natsu Matsuri

OK, this is a pop song from 2000 by a girl band called Whiteberry[i]. The band is pure J-Pop, but there are some punk[ii] undertones, and somehow the managed to release a summer anthem that shows no sign of disappearing. The lyrics capture a quintessential summer romance that any person who’s lived in Japan should be able to recognize. It’s a celebration of young love, fireworks and, yes… the yearly summer festivals that everyone looks forward to – and everyone never forgets.


 

 

#4
島人ぬ宝 Shimanchu nu Takara

This is a classic pop song by an Okinawan band called BEGIN. They mixed rock[iii] with traditional Okinawan elements… something that if I just read without listening would tell me, never listen to this. But I first heard this song in the winter at karaoke and suddenly found myself enchanted by the love of Okinawa that these guys had. The title is actually in the Okinawan Dialect[iv] and means “The Island People’s Treasure.” If you study Japanese, you may be interested to know that the ぬ nu in the title corresponds to the Standard Japanese の no. There, now you know as much Okinawan as I do.

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#5
あいぞめ Aizome

This is a song from a classic Japanese animation called 地獄少女 Jigoku Shōjo Hell Girl sung by the Japanese voice actress Nōtō Mamiko – who also voices the lead character. This is a weird one, but please, hear me out. O-bon is the season when the Japanese believe ancestral spirits return to their homelands to meet their families. Calling it a “Festival of the Dead” is a bit dramatic, but in the Edo Period, when family members could enjoy time off and be reunited in their ancestral homes with loved ones, they undertook the tasks of cleaning up the family graves and performing Buddhist ceremonies for the dead. As such, they were thinking about dead people a lot. The result was on hot nights, some clans would light 100 candles as the sun was setting and would supposedly tell 100 ghost stories. At the end of each story, a candle would be extinguished. By the time it was dark and you were just down to one last candle, you’d been talking about ghosts all night. When the last candle was put out, it was said a ghost would appear[v]. A lot of the imagery in Jigoku Shōjo centers around o-bon and similar creepy traditions, so I think this song fits in well with the O-Bon and Japanese summer tradition.

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Part two is coming tomorrow.
Honk if you ready!

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[i] Not to be confused with Whitesnake.

[ii] I use “punk” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iii] I use “rock” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; a J-Pop meaning.

[iv] I use “dialect” in the very loosest of meanings… ie; Okinawan is a separate language from Japanese, even if most Japanese don’t admit it.

[v] Life before TV… am I right? am I right?
Anyways, this kind of ghost story telling party was called 百物語怪談会 hyaku monogatari kaidankai 100 ghost stories party.

Nine Inch Nails at Fuji Rock 2013

In Japan on July 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

ナインインチネイルズ
Nine Inch Nails
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I couldn’t make it this year to Fuji Rock…. so I missed out on one of my favorite bands off all times, Nine Inch Nails.

Anyhoo… after a long hiatus, they were quick to put Japan on their first new tour in ages.

The video is here for all to see.

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