AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’

All you have to do is look (152)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 31, 2012

Nakamura Mari, who has been performing as a busker (with an electric keyboard) in front of train stations until the last train of the day. She’s sold 80,000 CDs in four years. A group of 15,000 fans provided her enough support to get her a solo gig at Budokan in Tokyo. The performance here is at Shibuya Station.

Posted in Music, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Life in the Edo period

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 27, 2012

MANY Japanese are fascinated by the Edo period, which extended from 1603-1868. Among the many reasons is that was a period of vigorous cultural activity that was distinctively Japanese, as the country had withdrawn from most interaction with the rest of the world. In the words of the Kodansha Encyclopedia, developments during the period “strongly influenced the political organization, social structure, ethical practices, and aesthetic perceptions of modern Japan.”

Author and columnist Tachibana Akira wrote an article published in the Weekly Purieibooi earlier this year whose intent was to keep the interest in the period grounded in reality. The title of his article was, If you want to learn about life in the Edo period, go to a slum in India. Here it is in English.

*****
You sometimes hear people frustrated with the lack of growth in the Japanese economy say they would like to return to the ordered society of the Edo period. They seem to think that life was by far more humane in pre-modern society than today’s free market-based society.

Researchers in the new academic discipline of historical demography are studying past population trends using records of the population registers called shumon aratamecho and ninbetsu aratamecho. What can we learn about daily life in the Edo period studying the movement of people and changes in the population?

The historians have discovered some strange phenomena as a result. While the population increased in most regions during the Edo period, they declined in the (highly populated) Kanto and Kinki regions. These two regions contained the cities of Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto, which had more than one million people each. Why did the population grow in regional areas and fall in the cities?

It’s because living conditions in those cities at the time were foul.

Other than those instances in which their farmland was expanded through reclamation or other projects, all but the eldest sons of farm households went elsewhere to seek work. Most of them left home at age 14-15 to become apprentices. It was common to take up such work as the weavers of Nishin brocade or to become attached to commercial establishments.

The apprentices lived packed into the back rooms under the roof in commercial establishments. They became particularly susceptible to infectious diseases. Extensive harm was unavoidable if there was an outbreak of smallpox or dysentery.

While the infant mortality rate was high during the Edo period, it was not unusual for people in agricultural villages to live into their 60s. In the three largest cities, however, deaths from malnutrition or infectious disease in one’s teens or twenties were a frequent occurrence.

The population of Japan in the ordered society of the Edo period remained constant at roughly 26 million. This was not because of the stability of society, however, but because the population increases in the farming villages were weeded out in the cities. Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka were death traps for the young people who went there to find work.

The poor from outlying regions who came to Edo found employment as construction laborers, peddlers, or menials at commercial establishments. If they were thrown out of work, it is likely they had few options other than begging or prostitution to survive.

If you think about it, their lives must have resembled those of the poor in India or Southeast Asia. Those who can’t survive in Indian agricultural villages often wind up in the slums of Delhi or Mumbai. In impoverished countries, it is not unusual for women to find that prostitution is their only means to live. This gives rise to an immense sex industry that ranges from upscale establishments authorized by the government (police) to illegal street prostitution. It is very similar to the prostitution system of the Edo period that reached its zenith with the Yoshiwara quarter in Edo. (The name Yoshiwara became used for similar districts throughout the country.)

Conditions in impoverished countries are very similar. That poverty also existed in the Edo period, and many people had no choice other than to live in nagaya in the slum districts.

You don’t need a time machine to experience life in the Edo period. All you have to do is go to a South Asian slum.

Afterwords:

Mr. Tachibana’s Japanese-language website has an English title: Stairway to Heaven. It features a photograph of the ladders to heaven painted on the side of a mountain near the sacred Yamdrok Lake in Tibet.

Posted in History | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

All you have to do is look (135)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nationwide sales started simultaneously for yearend lottery tickets in a lottery with an aggregate pot of JPY 600 million (about US$ 7.28 million). This scene is in Nishiginza, Tokyo. Sales continue until the 21st. (Photo by Jiji)

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All you have to do is look (131)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 8, 2012

A building in Minato Ward, Tokyo, whose owners are participating in a green initiative. According to a government survey, there were 511 installations of this type in Tokyo last year. The aggregate area of the green spaces was 8.9 hectares, or more than 12 soccer fields.

Posted in Environmentalism, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (120)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Main gate stone bridge, Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Posted in Imperial family, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012



* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
– Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
– Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.

Afterwords:

A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

*****
Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

Posted in Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (108)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Osato Tamaishi Wall on the island of Hachijojima, part of the Tokyo Metropolitan District. It is in the Philippine Sea about 180 miles from central Tokyo.

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Artistes

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE Japanese festival tradition isn’t limited to older Shinto ceremonies. For example, high schools and colleges also hold what they call culture festivals. Earlier this fall, the Tokyo University of the Arts, the country’s most prestigious art school, held its annual festival called the Geisai 2012.

It’s staged every year for three days, and this year it featured performances by more than 50 musicians from the music department, an exhibition of more than 50 works of art by students from the fine arts department, a film festival, street stalls, and a beauty contest called the Idol Matsuru! (That last is a bit of collegiate humor — the Japanese refer to teen pop stars as idols, and matsuru, the root word for matsuri, or festival, means to deify as a god.)

It must have been fun, because 100,000 people showed up, and the school doesn’t have that many students.

This year’s theme was “eat! Eat! Art!” Explained the student head of the festival committee:

“The idea is that we want people to feel closer to art. We hope the participants get a taste of the arts that will satisfy their appetite.”

And just like a Shinto festival, Geisai opens with a mikoshi parade. This year’s parade was held in Ueno Park with eight mikoshi designed on non-Shinto themes that included Mexico, frogs, and outer space.

Added the committee chair:

The Geisai is the crystallization of the expression of diversity.

I think it’s safe to take his word for it.

*****
Here’s alumnus Sakamoto Ryuichi giving everyone what they want: A Happy End.

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Poll results

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

THE Shinhodo 2001 poll has a small sample size and is conducted only in Tokyo, so everyone knows that the numbers aren’t ironclad. Nevertheless, politicians are said to find the results a useful guide to assessing the public mood.

The most recent survey was taken on Thursday and released on Sunday. Here are the answers that people are looking at.

* Which party will you cast your vote for in the proportional representation round of the next election?

1. Democratic Party (Ruling party): 8.2%
2. Liberal Democratic Party: 28.2%
3. Putting People First Party (Ozawa Ichiro party): 1.8%
4. Japan Restoration Party (Hashimoto Toru party): 3.4%
5. Your Party (first national reform party): 3.8%
6. Don’t know: 43.6

The Jiji poll regularly has the non-affiliated group at more than 50%, and that continues to be the most important overall factor in Japanese politics. Whenever the next election will be held, the DPJ is facing a repudiation of their performance which will probably exceed that for the LDP in 2009.

The numbers for Mr. Hashimoto would probably be higher in the Kansai region. That demonstrates one of the problems he faces — translating his regional popularity nationwide.

It would seem that Ozawa Ichiro’s primary function now is filling space in newspapers.

* Do you support the Noda Cabinet?

Yes: 19.0%
No: 75.6%
Other: 5.4%

These numbers are as ugly as those for Hatoyama Yukio in the spring of 2010. The Japanese system is such that political parties can maintain control with approval ratings at 40+. The pols start to get edgy when it falls into the 30s, and they start thinking about life after the Cabinet in the 20s.

That said, it’s not easy to explain why Noda Yoshihiko’s numbers are this bad. The consumption tax increase was unpopular, but that was discounted months ago. Opposition to his restart of a few nuclear power plants is probably a factor, but that would not explain the corresponding rise in support for the LDP. They aren’t the ones clamoring to shut down nuclear power for good. His government’s response to both China and South Korea this summer has been measured and firm, unlike that of his predecessor, Kan Naoto.

I can only think the public is fed up with the idea of a DPJ government in general, rather than any one specific issue.

* What are your expectations for the new party to be formed by Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro?

Positive: 56.0%
Negative: 39.0%
Don’t know: 5.0%

This is puzzling — Mr. Ishihara is 80 years old and cranky. He is not the sort of man to attract voters half his age and younger. Then again, this survey was conducted in Tokyo, which is his base. But because his response to South Korea and China would be firmer still, it’s possible that the public realizes Obsequious Japan is no longer going to work. Standing up for the country — which is not the same as nationalism — is a winner with the public.

* What are your expectations for a possible alliance between Ishihara Shintaro and Hashimoto Toru?

Positive: 51%
Negative: 44%
Don’t know: 4.6%

This is more puzzling, even considering that the numbers for Mr. Hashimoto’s party have been sliding since late summer. (I suspect that might be due to concerns about the problems with China and South Korea, and the Osaka mayor’s inexperience in foreign affairs, rather than anything he did.) Evidently, a few folks in Tokyo like their Ishihara straight and not blended.

* When do you think the lower house should be dissolved and an election held?

This year: 64.2%
Next year: 32.2%
Don’t 3.6%

The impatience is understandable, but as a practical matter, it might be better to hold a double election with the upper house vote scheduled for next summer. That might create a mandate and give a party or an alliance a better chance of passing legislation. The winners of a lower house election now will still have to deal with upper house as it’s presently constituted until next year. Another lower house election would probably be needed, so holding one now might not accomplish much.

Whatever the schedule, Japan’s next election (or series of elections) is likely to be as transformative for this country than the one about to be held in the United States.

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Ichigen koji (189)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Prostitution is the only way for South Koreans to make any money during short term stays in Japan.

- A man named Kim after being arrested by Tokyo police on 26 September for running a call girl ring, called the Oppa Club, in Arakawa Ward. Police said the suspect Kim scouted South Korean women in their 20s and told them they could make JPY four million a month through prostitution (slightly more than US$51,000). He put them up in three different units in a Taito Ward condominium and sent them out on an outcall basis using a unlicensed Korean cab driver. Police suspect he employed as many as 15 women at once, and averaged monthly revenue of JPY 16 million.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Quotations, Sex, South Korea | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Tokyo harvest

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THAT’S not just any old hayseed harvesting those rice plants — that’s the Emperor of Japan. He put on his boots, grabbed a sickle, and got right to work, cutting down about 100 plants. The man’s no stranger to farm chores. He planted the seeds, too.

Bet they don’t do that at Buckingham Palace.

He grew two kinds of rice, one a variety of mochi. Reports say this Palace harvest was that of a typical year. The crop will be used in ceremonies as well as eaten at the palace.

It’s a simple photo, but the combination of rice and the Emperor lies at the heart of the Japanese identity. Inose Naoki, a prolific non-fiction author who also serves as the Vice-Governor of Tokyo, briefly describes one of the ceremonies at which the rice will be used.

Many of Japan’s holidays have a rather complicated history. Labor Day is originally associated with the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), which is connected to the Tenno (Emperor).

Even those people for whom the name Niinamesai does not register should recall seeing on television the Tenno cutting the rice in the paddy at the Fukiage-gyoen (gardens) at the Imperial Palace. The Niinamesai is a festival to celebrate the rice harvest and offer a prayer for an abundant harvest in the coming year.

The Tenno’s rice harvest is a symbolic performance. The Tenno, whose spiritual power has been strengthened to the maximum through the Chinkonsai (Shinto service for the repose of the dead) held the previous night, conducts a ceremony at the Imperial Palace for offering the harvested grain to the divinities. The Daijosai is conducted when the new Tenno ascends the throne, and is best understood as a version of the Niinamesai on a larger scale.

The Tenno system has continued even with the changes to the Constitution after the defeat in the war and the transfer of ultimate sovereignty from the Tenno to the people. When decisions were being made on new holidays, the Niinamesai was offered as a candidate, adapted as a day to give thanks for the new harvest. The associations between the name of the holiday and the Tenno gradually grew weaker, and the holiday was established as a day to honor work, celebrate production, and to have the citizens extend their thanks to each other for the work they do.

A poem in the Man’yoshu suggests the Niiname was once a ceremony conducted in the home. The name Niiname is not to be found among the harvest festivals held throughout the country in the early modern period, however. In short, it is best considered a ceremony restored under the Meiji Tenno system.

Here’s a previous post on ceremonial rice harvests by younger and prettier farmhands.

But the Imperial Palace doesn’t have the only paddy in central Tokyo. Here’s a plot in the Ginza district on the street right behind the Tiffany & Co. outlet.

The leader of the group that came up with the idea explained:

“The environment in which we can grow rice is Japan’s treasure. Nothing is possible without that environment. I want people to value this Japanese environment.”

There’s also a paddy on a rooftop in Akihabara, the consumer electronics district. The plot’s been managed since 2009 by an NPO whose slogan is, “You can even do it in the middle of Tokyo.” They plant the rice in June, so it shouldn’t be too much longer before it’s time to harvest their crop, too. Pressed into service as temporary agricultural workers are the maids in the district’s maid cafes, as well as voice actors.

Here are the pretty maids all in a row at last year’s harvest. They don’t swing a sickle, but they do approach the task with typical Japanese aplomb.

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (57)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 23, 2012

An anti-China demonstration in Tokyo yesterday. The Chinese media said several thousand people were present, but the AFP news agency from France thought 800 was more accurate.

The sign the woman on the left is holding says that Japan-China friendship is a fantasy. The sign in the background asks why the Japanese government is still giving subsidies to students from China. The sign draped over the man at right says that the Self-Defense Forces should be stationed at the Senkakus.

The Chinese media said it was a “right-wing” demonstration. Had those been Chinese people with Chinese flags and signs that said “Kill Small Japan”, they would have said it was a patriotic protest.

The Chinese media treated it as one of the big stories of the day, while the Japanese media barely noticed. Some Chinese on the net saw that one of the Japanese demonstrators carried a sign that read, “Chinazism”. (Not bad, that.) They were so incensed they bought the domain name Chinazism.com. with the idea of using it to dump on Japan. You can see it here. The copy at the top reads, “Chinazism? What qualifications do you devils from small Japan have to use that word?”

Photo from the ifeng.com website affiliated with Phoenix News of Hong Kong.

Posted in China, International relations, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Ichigen koji (170)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 13, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

(After the Tohoku Disaster), there arose again the awareness that we are of one culture. This awareness has been felt again in regard to the Senkaku islets.

It became apparent with the manner in which we received the public donations that the Tokyo Metro District requested to purchase the Senkakus. It came lapping in like gentle waves. It was nothing like the fanaticism shown, for example, by the South Korean president when he visited Takeshima, or those people who rip up the Japanese flag. I sensed a quiet passion.

The Metro District determined an appropriate price through surveys and the advice of the Asset Price Council. A resolution was passed in the assembly. We followed the rules of democracy and tried to purchase them fairly.

In contrast, the national government has no idea when it will pass the special legislation authorizing bond issues, and it still can’t distribute the JPY four trillion in grants to be sent to local governments. They shouldn’t have any money, but they bought the islets for JPY 2.05 billion. We do not know the basis for the purchase price, and they have not fulfilled their responsibility to explain to the taxpayers.

- Inose Naoki, Vice-Governor of the Tokyo Metro District and a non-fiction author

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (31)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A team from Kitasuna, Tokyo, after winning the Little League World Series in Williamsport PA by beating a team from Tennessee 12-2.

Photo by AFP-Jiji

Posted in Photographs and videos, Sports | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Lanterns, lions, and Taiwanese proto-pub rock

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

OF the many cultural treasures in South Korea, one of the finest is the Gyeongbok Palace in northern Seoul. Built in 1394 and rebuilt in 1867, it was the main palace of the Joseon dynasty. It’s really a complex rather than a single building, and it’s also the site of the National Folk Museum and National Palace Museum. Naturally, it’s a popular destination for tourists, both foreign and domestic. One of the attractions is the hourly changing of the guards, which is more frequent that the similar ceremony at Buckingham Palace. That’s a photo of the Gyeongbok Palace gate above.

Gyeongbokgung is accessible by Line #3 on the Seoul subway, which has a station nearby. Five years ago, the officials in charge of such things came up with the idea of using models of traditional Korean lanterns to light the corridor from the subway to Exit #5.

They used a design identical to that of the stone lantern in front of the Muryangsu Hall at the Buseok Buddhist temple in Yeoungju. The temple was built in 676 and has become another well-known tourist attraction. The stone lantern out front has been designated as National Treasure 17. This is it:

And here are the six models of National Treasure 17 lining the Seoul subway corridor on Line #3.

Aren’t they an attractive addition to the underground corridor? It’s an improvement over plain tile walls. But only photos of the lanterns remain, because the lanterns themselves aren’t there anymore. They were taken out in June.

A group of citizen-activists with the provisional name of The Search for the Location of Cultural Treasures (the actual name is clumsier) decided to get upset about the lantern installation five years after it happened because it reminded them of the stone lanterns that line the main pathway to Shinto shrines in Japan. Therefore, in South Korea, they fall under the category of ilje janjeh (日帝残滓), literally “detritus from the Japanese Empire”. The term is commonly used in the country’s news media.

The head of the group, a Buddhist priest named Hyemun, added that the Gyeongbok Palace is more closely associated with Confucianism than with Buddhism, so it was inappropriate to have Buddhist lanterns in the subway nearby.

The company operating the subway wanted to leave them in the corridor, but then the mass media got involved. That settled that. The company is wholly-owned by the city of Seoul, so they thought their only choice was to bend to public opinion. They weren’t happy about it, however, because the lanterns had to be dismantled by hand to be removed.

Others recalled that the same type of traditional Korean lantern which reminded some people of the detritus of the Japanese Empire also stood in front of the Changdeok Palace in Seoul. That’s another one of the Joseon Dynasty palaces, and this one dates from 1412. The lantern there stood outside, so it was easier to remove in February. At last report, the traditional Korean lantern Japanese Empire detritus at the Cheongwadae, or Blue House, the office and residence of the South Korean head of state, is still there.

Lions

Still, the Koreans had it a lot easier than the Japanese would if the same bee were to buzz in their bonnets. The latest expample of purifying their line of sight of the imperial detritus of centuries worth of Korean tradition involved only the removal of six elaborate light fixtures in the Seoul subway and a cultural relic at a palace. So far.

But Japan has more than 88,000 Shinto shrines nationwide, ranging from large facilities with more than a million visitors a year to plain neighborhood wooden structures smaller than the average house. Large or small, almost all of them have a pair of lion-like statues standing guard to ward off evil from the premises. Here’s a photo of one.

They’re called koma-inu, and the name literally means “Korean dog”. The word koma was used in ancient times for the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese think they were of Indian Buddhist origin, but the models they used came from China through the Korean Peninsula. If Japan were to be seized by a detritus disposal spasm, it would take years to remove these Buddhist images at Shinto facilities that have Korea in their name. Their associations are closer to the unclean than the Korean lanterns.

Not all of the statuary at the 88,000 shrines would be removed. Some of them have foxes instead of koma-inu. And the Mimeguri Shinto shrine, in Tokyo’s Kuroda Ward, has the statue of a real lion.

No one knows when the Mimeguri shrine was founded, but it was definitely there in 1693. The tutelary deity of the shrine is Mitsui Takatoshi, the founder of the Tokyo store in 1673 that later became the Mitsukoshi department store. It was called Echigoya in those days, and it’s shown on the left in this Hiroshige print.

The modern Mitsukoshi was modeled after Harrods in London, and their main store in Tokyo has a statue of the same sort of lion on the first floor. That lion was copied from the beasts that surround the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square. The British Empire detritus at the Mimeguri shrine was once on the first floor of Mitsukoshi’s Ikebukuro store. The shrine asked for it when the store closed.

That’s not the only oddity at the shrine. Shinto shrines have a gate with two columns at the entrance called a torii. This shrine has a tori with three columns arranged in a triangular shape.

It was modeled after the torii at the Konoshima Shinto shrine in Kyoto, which has one of a handful of triple toriis in the country. The idea is that the third column connects the shrine to another shrine on the next lot. This one came from the Mitsui estate. In fact, the shrine’s name in Japanese (三囲) can also be read as Mitsui.

There are also stone lanterns of the traditional Japanese Empire detritus variety on the grounds, without any visible connection to the Mitsui family business.

They do look a bit like Korean National Treasure 17, but then the statue of the beast at the main gate of Gyeongbokgung also looks a bit like some of the Korean lions at Shinto shrines. Except those are really Chinese.

Isn’t East Asia fun?

And because it isn’t possible to have too much East Asian fun, let’s have some more! The Taiwanese duo in the video below was known as the King of Kinmen, and the style of music they’re playing is called nakashi. Here’s an explanation of its origin:

(A)ccording to Tsan Yi-cheng (詹益城), who was once one of Taiwan’s most recognized faces on the nakashi scene, the most credible of these stories gives credit to Japanese sailors during the early 1900s for inventing this primitive form of pub rock.

“Nakashi originated in port towns such Tamsui and Keelung. Japanese sailors would come ashore and, being sailors, frequent bars. Of course there were no tape or CD players, so the sailors had to make their own entertainment,” Tsan said. “So they performed music which took on aspects of enka, or Japanese country music and filled it with lyrics about roaming the world and having a girl in every port.”

According to Tsan, the result of this odd musical coupling was unlike anything people in Taiwan had ever seen or heard before. Until the Japanese sailors came along, local pub and teahouse bands were still using traditional Chinese classical instruments rather than western ones.

“With their guitars, accordions and appetite for good times, Japanese sailors revolutionized bar and teahouse music in Taiwan,” the Peitou-based nakashi star said. “They enthralled crowds in teahouses and bars and, of course, drove the women wild with their contemporary musical style.” As Japan’s colonization of Taiwan continued, nakashi slowly became the music of choice for both the occupying forces as well as the Taiwanese.

As more locals began to pick up accordions and guitars, however, nakashi slowly became localized. Instead of drawing on enka for inspiration, Taiwan’s nakashi players added elements of Fujienese and Taiwanese folk to the tunes.

Instead of forming disposal squads of purity inspectors, the Taiwanese turned their detritus of Imperial Japan into a golden good time.

Nagashi with a g, by the way, is the word for the practice in Japan of singers and musicians going from bar to bar at night to perform for tips. That’s probably the origin of the Taiwanese term. When I first arrived in Japan, I knew one old nagashi singer who accompanied himself with an acoustic guitar, but I haven’t seen him or anyone else do it in quite a while.

Here’s what it looked and sounded like in Taiwan during a nagashi renaissance.

Posted in Arts, History, Music, Popular culture, Religion, Shrines and Temples, South Korea, Traditions, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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