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.
Posts Tagged ‘Tokyo’
Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 31, 2012
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the many reasons is that was a period of vigorous cultural activity that was distinctively Japanese, as the country had withdrawn from most interaction with the rest of the world.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.
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 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)
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 by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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%
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.
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 3, 2012
– 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 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 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 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 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.
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.