Yearly Archive 2014

ByRay Proper
Dec 24, 2014

Legendary Nagano: Folk Tales and Legends from the Roof of Japan

legendary_nagano_bookThe Story of Lazy Taro is one of 23 stories in Legendary Nagano: Folk Tales and Legends from the Roof of Japan, a collection translated by Peter Ninnes and Sachiko Miyairi. The book is available in Kindle and paperback from Amazon, and in other e-book formats from Smashwords.com.

We have a short interview with Peter, below, followed by the story of Lazy Taro, presented for your enjoyment.  If you are interested in this story please consider purchasing the book!


An Interview with Peter Ninnes

JIS: You’ve written a number of travel books about Nagano. What inspired you to turn to folk tales?

Peter: While writing those other books I had come across a number of well-known and interesting stories, and I wanted to make these more widely available to an English-speaking audience. In the process, we also found some more obscure but very entertaining stories which we have also included.

JIS: Some of these stories are indeed very entertaining, but do you have any other reason to publish the stories?

Peter: Yes. In fact, the stories tell us a lot about Japanese culture and values. Take “Lazy Taro”, for instance. It is a funny story because on the one hand it is about the value of hard work, which most people would say is an important value in Japanese society. But on the other hand, it also tells us that different people have different talents. In this story, the “work” of composing and reciting poems is valued, and leads to a large reward. So that is a bit different to the kind of work that is commonly valued today, which in many cases is more about making money than being creative.

JIS: So what were your sources for the stories?

Peter: Back in the 1970s and 1980s a groups of primary school teachers from Nagano compiled these stories in Japanese and they were mostly published by a local education association. Public libraries still have copies of these books. So along with my co-translator, we went through these books, choosing stories that seemed worth translating. Then we had to get permission from the authors to publish the translations. This was a bit difficult in some cases because they had passed away. Fortunately, we found the President of the local folk tale association living nearby, and she was able to give us permission.

JIS: In the paperback edition, every story has a photo of the area where the story took place. How did you go about finding those places?

Peter: It was a combination of 10% research and 90% good luck. That photo of the statue of Lazy Taro is an example. We found the locality of Niimura and drove over there, but we couldn’t find anything related to the story. It was pretty quiet, and nobody was around. Even the Niimura station was deserted. We stopped to admire a temple with a beautiful maple tree in it, and just then a monk came out of the temple and was about to get into his car and drive off. We asked him about Lazy Taro, and he directed us to the statue, which is by the side of a field in the middle of nowhere.

JIS: And who do you see as the main audience for this book?

Peter: It is really a fun read for anyone interested in Japan, or in folk tales or short stories in general. We tried to make the translation relatively easy, so that Japanese people with high school level English could also read  and enjoy it.

You can find more about Peter Ninnes and his books here on JIS as well.

Hiking, Walking and Biking Nagano: Nagano City

Hiking and Hot Springs: Highlights of a Weekend in Nagano


The Story of Lazy Taro

Lazy-Taro-statue1 A long time ago, in Niimura in Chikuma District, there was a man called Monogusa Taro. His name means “Lazy Taro”. He lay by the side of the road on a mat, with a little roof over his head made of bamboo poles and straw thatch. He would lie there singing a strange song that none of the other villagers could understand. The song sounded like a lullaby.

The adults just ignored Taro’s mumbles but the children in the village often stood nearby and made fun of him.

“Hey, Taro! Aren’t you bored? You just lie there all day. Why don’t you play with us?”

Taro replied, “You stupid kids! I just can’t be bothered!”

The adults said to the children, “Don’t go near Taro. He only lies around all day singing songs. Singing is for people who have nothing better to do. If you go too close to people like him, you’ll become stupid, too. Don’t be like him.”

So the children gradually stopped visiting him.

Lazy Taro had a long beard because he never shaved. What is more, he had never taken a bath, so he was quite filthy.

One day, one of the neighbors felt sorry for him. She brought him five dumplings. Taro quickly ate four of them. The last one he just played with. He would toss it in the air, catch it, and lick it. Then he dropped it on the road and it rolled away from him.

“Damn!” he said. He reached out for it, using a stick lying nearby, but he still couldn’t reach it.

“Never mind,” he said. “I really don’t have the energy. Someone will pass by and I will ask them to pick it up for me.”

Taro waited, but no one came. Birds pecked at the dumpling, and dogs sniffed it. Taro used the stick to chase them away. Still no one came by.

Four days passed. Then a man called Saemonnojo Nobuyori came along. He was the steward for the local lord. His job was to manage the lord’s properties and farms. He was accompanied by 50 or 60 of his workers.

Taro said to himself, “Oh, good timing!”

Then he asked Saemonnojo, “Can you please pick up that dumpling for me?”

The steward just ignored him. But Taro said in a loud voice, “If you cannot pick up the one dumpling as I asked, how can you manage this land? It should be easy to get off your horse and pick it up! You’re just as lazy as me!”

The workers said, “What a rude fellow!”

Some of the workers jumped off their horses and tried to grab Taro.

“Wait!” said the steward. “I’ve heard of a fellow called Lazy Taro. Is that who you are? Ha! You are just as lazy as everyone says! What do you live on?”

Taro replied, “I stay completely still, even for four or five days at a time, until someone gives me something.”

“I see. That’s interesting. Why doesn’t a young fellow like you feel like working? Isn’t it better to work in the fields like other people do?”

“I don’t have any fields.”

“Then I will give you one,” said the steward.

Taro said, “No thank you. I’m lazy. I don’t want any fields.”

Saemonnojo said, “But everybody wants their own land. Don’t you also want some? However, if you don’t want land, why don’t you become a merchant and sell things?”

Taro replied, “No. For one thing, I don’t have any money.”

The steward said, “Don’t worry. I will give you some.”

Taro said, “No, I don’t want anything. I prefer living in my little shanty and singing my little songs. That is what is best for me.”

The steward asked, “What, you sing songs? Tell me, what do you mean?”

Taro said, “Nothing. I’ve been singing since I was little.”

Saemonnojo said, “What? Since you were very young? Really?”

He turned to one of his workers and told him to bring some writing materials. He put up an official notice that said: “Feed him three cups of rice twice a day and give him sake once per day. Anyone who breaks this rule must leave the domain.”

When they saw the sign, some people said, “The steward is such a terrible person! Why do we have to give rice and sake to a lazy person like Taro?”

Other villagers said, “There is nothing we can do. As the saying goes, ‘We cannot win against crying children or the steward!’”

So the villagers took turns to deliver the rice and sake to Taro, even though they did not want to.

***

Three years passed. There was an important man from that area called Arisue. He was a first rank counselor in the national government.  He needed to go to the capital to stay for a long period of time. He wanted to take with him one of the men from Niimura to work for him while he was in the capital. The local farmers said, “We have a big problem here. We need someone to go to the capital. No one wants to go. They will be separated from their families.”

Someone said, “Why don’t we get Lazy Taro to go?”

Someone else said, “Yes, he’s doing nothing here. He should do something for us!”

The farmers sent their representative to see Taro. “Hey, Taro! One of us has to go to the capital to work for the counselor. I’m sorry to have to ask, but can you go with him?”

The farmers told him all sorts of stories about how gorgeous Kyoto was, even though none of them had ever been there. In this way they tried to convince him to go.

Taro said, “No, I don’t want to go there,” and he shook his head.

Another villager said, “In Kyoto, there are many pretty girls!”

But Taro was unmoved.

Finally, someone mentioned that there are tanka poets in Kyoto.

Taro said, “You mean there are many poets in Kyoto?” His eyes began to shine. “Then, what kind of work will I have to do in Kyoto?”

The villagers asked, “Can you go?”

“OK,” Taro agreed. “It is very boring staying with idiotic villagers. It will be good for me to do something different.”

The farmers were delighted to hear that. And of course they were grateful to Taro. Before Taro changed his mind, they prepared new clothes and shoes for him, and readied him for his departure. They even went part of the way with him, to make sure he went.

Taro arrived in Kyoto safely, and worked really hard. It seemed he was a different person.

Taro worked for seven months. After that, the counselor no longer needed him and so he had some free time. He knew a lot of poems. Some he had made up himself and some he had learned. He wanted to do something with them. In those days, people sent poems to other people and they used another person to recite the poem. Taro wanted to be one of those poets. He told his idea to the person who took care of him in the house.

The person told him, “If you want to learn about poems, go to Kiyomizudera Temple.”

Taro was delighted. The next morning, very early, he went to the temple and stood on the big balcony.

Taro said out loud to the passersby, “Please teach me some poems.” However, everyone was afraid of him. He still looked like some wild country bumpkin. The people steered clear of him. Later, when the sun was setting, he thought he should go home. Just then, a pretty girl, about 17 or 18 years old, came up to him. When Taro saw her face, he felt a strange sensation, unlike anything he had felt before. It was as if some kind of power had flowed into his body.

“I’m Taro, from Niimura, Shinano. Please tell me all about tanka poetry.” Taro grabbed her sleeve.

“Please let go,” said the girl. “I cannot talk if you are hanging on like that.” Taro came to his senses, and let go of the girl’s sleeve.

Instead of telling him about tanka poetry, the girl simply recited the following tanka poem, which was in fact a riddle: 

If you want to come

To my house on the corner,

It may be purple

Or on the edge of flowers

That we call karatachi

The girl recited the poem very quickly. She then rushed from the balcony. Taro dashed after her, but it was getting dark, so he lost sight of her.

Taro thought, “She recites so quickly! She’s the girl that is going to teach me poems!”

He puzzled over the meaning of the poem for many days. Finally he figured out where her house was, and found it. When Taro met her, he recited a poem to her in return. He put into it all of his feelings of delight at finding her. The girl was surprised, because he looked poor, yet he recited the poem very beautifully.

She thought, “He came to my house to learn poetry.” She was very moved. So she invited Taro into her house. From that time she taught him about poems. Not only did his poems improve, but his personality also changed.

Later, one of his poems became famous. The Emperor heard about him. Eventually Taro was invited to the Emperor’s Palace. Taro took the girl to the palace. When they got there, there was a Japanese bush warbler singing in a plum tree.

Taro recited the following tanka poem to the Emperor:

The warbler’s clear voice

Drifting sweetly on the breeze

As the raindrops fall

Upon the bright umbrella

Of plum flowers in the spring

The Emperor complimented him, and asked about Taro’s background. Taro could not tell him, because did not know himself. However, he had a lucky charm. It indicated that he was from the Emperor’s family. The Emperor therefore decided to appoint him to a position as a middle-ranking general and gave him some land in Shinano.

Taro married the girl who taught him poetry. They went back to Shinano and Taro gave some of his land to the farmers who took care of him a long time ago. And they lived happily ever after.

Original Japanese source: Takada Mitsunari. 1979. Lazy Taro. In Matsumoto no Minwa [Matsumoto Folk Tales] (pp. 171-185). Shinano Education Association Publishing Department, Nagano. Used with permission.

ByRay Proper
Dec 24, 2014

Hatsuhinode in Nagoya 2015

Norikura_sunriseAmong the many customs associated with “oshogatsu,” or New Years, are a good many firsts; from the first trip to the shrine to the lesser practiced first tea ceremony of the year, New Years in Japan is about moving forward and marking the occasion.

A popular first is the practice of “hatsuhinode,” or taking in the first sunrise of the new year.  The first sunrise is best enjoyed from some where along the ocean, or from the mountain, but anywhere will do.   The main point is to mark the occasion, and to reflect on what a great year you have in store!

Here are a few places locally to Nagoya to conveniently participate in the custom of Hatsuhinode.

Midland-Square near Nagoya station

The sky promenade will be open from 5:30 to 8:00 am on January 1st, 2015

www.midland-square.jp/event (Japanese)

www.midland-square.jp/english (English, but few specifics)

 

The TV tower in Sakae

The observation deck will be open from 5:30 to 7:30 am on January 1st, 2015 (Limited to 600 people)

www.nagoya-tv-tower.co.jp (English)

Image by Kazuyanagae (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons (modified)
ByFirst Admin
Dec 16, 2014

Lost Items in Japan and Shareikin Rewards

lost_and_foundIn Japan there is a very old system of “lost and found”, based on a 1300-year-old system preceding Japan’s urbanization or unification as a nation. Small lost-and-found centers all over Japan have been used for centuries, even to facilitate the return of food and produce to their original owners.

In the modern practice, “finders” of lost money (for example) who hand the money in at a police box or similar lost-and-found office are entitled to about 10% of the money (called “Shareikin”) as a reward from the owner after they have reclaimed their property. If the owner never comes forward, after six months the money is given back to the “finder”, although it’s only a small percentage of people who actually follow through on this right of claim.

The process goes something like this:

If you find something on the street like a wallet or a purse, you hand it in to the authorities who then take down your name and address. Then, when the owner of the wallet claims back their property, they must contact you directly and arrange for payment of the “Shareikin”. This means that when you give your contact details to the police, they will be passing this information directly on to the owner of the property, so be advised of this when you hand in the item. This is of course the procedure only when you are officially handing something in to the police – if you leave it at the front desk of the hotel lobby where you found the wallet, for example, the tradition of “Shareikin” is dependant on whether the person who gets back their wallet knows who you are or not, so it’s more of an act of a good samaritan. Here are some illustrations of how “Shareikin” works in the real world:

The ATM

Years ago, a friend of mine lost 100,000 yen in an ATM. She did this, because she was in a hurry as she had left her kids in the car, and the first couple of times she tried to withdraw the money, it didn’t work, and she couldn’t read the explanation to find out why. Anyway, after the second time it didn’t work she grabbed the explanation paper and ran back to the car. Only the problem was that it HAD worked, and she had left 100,000 yen in the teller machine. I met her the next day at Citibank to pay the bill she had to pay with that money, but when I looked at her ATM receipt it in fact been withdrawn from her account, we soon worked out what had happened. She looked absolutely sick. There was a guy in the line behind her, she felt sure he would just pocket the cash with no repercussions.

We went to the UFJ bank where she opened her account, and they told us that there was nothing they could do (in fact they wouldn’t even check their records) because if the receipt says the money was withdrawn then it was withdrawn and there was no room for a mistake. Then with heavy hearts we went to the police station, but miraculously the money had been handed in and we got it back just by filling in some forms, describing the event with the times and showing the ATM receipt. Then they told us that the guy who had handed it in was entitled to this “Shareikin” reward, and they gave us a paper to give to him and gave us his address and phone number. My friend was personally SO happy to have this information as she was SO grateful to the guy for not taking off with the 100,000 yen, so she immediately baked some cookies and took it over with the money. The guy took the cookies but didn’t take the money until she pressed…. the law just requires that it is offered and it doesn’t have to be taken.

The Shinkansen

One New Year’s Eve, another friend, John, was riding the last Kodama Shinkansen at night with his manager. In front of them, a suited salaryman woke up as the train pulled in to his very local station where the train waits to be overtaken by faster trains. He got a shock to wake up at his own station, and he grabbed his coat off the hook and quickly jumped off the train. As he did, a big packet of cash fell to the ground with a thud, and my friend heard it. Inside, there was 333,000 yen (at least, that’s what was written on the outside of the envelope). John grabbed it and jumped off the train (not even knowing if the train would go and he would be stuck there all night!!!) and raced after the man. The man was a little scared to be chased by a gaijin, so he kept going faster and faster… then my friend called out in Japanese “Hey, you who dropped the 333,000 yen!!!” and the guy turned around, the colour of chalk, because he realized what had happened. He was so grateful and immediately went to take some money out of the packet but John refused. The guy then chased HIM back to the train tracks waving this packet of money – the shinkansen doors are shutting and my friends manager is wedged in the door so that the train can’t leave. John got on the train just in time, leaving the guy bowing and scraping from the platform. John’s manager said to him “Hey, why did you even do that? Why didn’t you just hand it in to the train conductor, then he has to give you a “Shareikin” and if he never claims it then it comes back to you!”. My friend was a little shocked at his managers attitude, but he said that one day it would be repaid. “The world doesn’t work that way!” said the manager.

The Coffee Shop

My same friend John and his same manager were in a coffee shop the very next week. They were sitting next to a table of young dyed-hair Japanese deliquent types. John’s manager was really down about how noisy and rude the young folk were being, so they moved table. After John and his manager left, my friend realized that he had left his wallet on the table. “Oh no,” said the manager, “Those young people were at the next table… the money is probably gone by now.” At just this time John’s wife called…. she had had a call from the insurance company, who had had a call from the coffee shop. The insurance guy’s meishi was the only telephone number in the wallet and so they called it. John rushed back to the coffee shop and was immensely grateful that the coffee shop waitress. But the coffee shop waitress pointed to the table of hair-dyed youths, and said it was them who handed it in. John went over to the table, and asked who it was who found his wallet. It was one of the girls. He offered her “Shareikin” immediately (and she looked like she could use it too), but no matter how he insisted she would not take it. Apparently her mother’s handbag was lost the week before and somebody had brought it back to her, so this was just her way of “repaying” that favour.

So much for the manager’s warning “The World Does Not Work That Way”.

ByMark Guthrie
Dec 12, 2014

Onsen – The How To’s, Do’s and Don’ts

OnsenAs temperatures around the country plummet, the Japanese winter can seem harsh, particularly if you are not fortunate enough to live in an environment that is equipped with central heating. However, as unlikely as it seems, there is some cause for celebration, as the winter is the perfect time to indulge in the Japanese pastime of onsen.

What is an onsen?

An onsen is probably best described as a hot spring bathing spa, and their use is a long held tradition in Japan. While it may seem unpleasant to live in a nation of constantly shifting tectonic plates, the pay off is a near endless supply of geothermal springs in which the locals love to bathe. Though traditionally located outdoors there are nowadays many indoor bathing spots throughout Japan for you to enjoy.

(NB: These indoor onsen, heated by water from natural geothermal springs, should not be confused with sento.  Onsen must legally contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements including iron, sulfur and metabolic acid, while the artificially warmed sento public baths do not).

What are the rules?

Like many aspects of Japanese culture there are strict forms of etiquette to consider when visiting an onsen, and if you wish to impress your hosts it is best if you follow the rules.

Shoes off – If you have spent any time in Japan, this will probably be a no brainier. Onsen pretty much always have tatami floors, and thus the wearing of shoes is strictly prohibited.

Get naked – Once the shoes are off, it’s time for the clothes. Japanese talk about the benefits of “naked communion”, hadaka no tsukiai, the breaking down barriers and meeting on a level footing. This can be somewhat daunting for those not used to public nudity, but as baths are usually same sex, it is no different to a gym or swimming bath locker room. If you do feel the need to cover your modesty, you can use your towel (more of which, later).

Once you have removed your clothes, place them in a basket. There are often coin lockers for valuables. Ask at the front desk for details. (Before you have undressed, of course!)

Wash properly – Before taking the plunge, it is important to wash thoroughly. All onsen will provide washing stations with stools, faucets and wooden buckets. Most have showerheads and toiletries, though some do not, so it is advisable to bring your own soap just in case. Washing with soap and shampoo is not necessarily required, however many younger bathers choose to do so. If you do use soap, be sure that you rinse well afterwards, ensuring that no suds fall into the bath water. In some older onsen you may need to scoop water from the baths. If this is the case, it is acceptable not to use toiletries as to avoid soap suds getting into the bath water. Once you have finished, clean and rinse your washing station.

Towel – Anyone who is a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know the importance of bringing a towel, and onsen is one of those places where it is especially crucial. Many onsen will provide a smallish hand towel, sometimes at a similarly small fee, although many guests will bring their own. This towel is dual-purposed as it can be used to wipe away sweat in the humid air, as well as providing a degree of modesty for those who require it.

At no point should your towel enter, and thus contaminate, the bath water. Towels can be laid by the side of the pool or balanced folded on the head. If a towel accidentally drops into the water, wring it out outside of the bath.

Wash again – This is less a rule than a recommendation. After bathing for a while it is advisable to wash once more (using soap if you prefer) before returning the bath. This will clean away your sweat as well as giving you an opportunity to cool down. Onsen can be very hot (the water should be a minimum of 25 degrees) and can cause fainting, particularly if alcohol has been consumed previously.

Once you are clean again, lower yourself for another dip.

After bath – When you are finished, wipe off as much sweat and excess water as possible with your hand towel before returning to the locker room. Some bathers may wish to wash one last time, but for the spring water’s minerals to have a full effect, it is advisable not to rinse before dressing.

Can I go with my family?

Onsen is considered a communal affair and people often go with friends, families and even colleagues. Traditionally men and women bathed together in both onsen and sento, but this ended with the introduction of western values during the Meiji era.

This can make family excursions difficult, however young children of either sex are usually accepted in either the men’s or women’s baths. For older children, or couples wanting to spend their onsen time together, there are konyoku baths. In these mixed bathing onsen men cover their genitals with a towel and women will wrap themselves in a full sized towel. In some prefectures, Tokyo included, mixed-nude bathing is banned, so swimsuits or special bathing suits called yugi are required.

Are my tattoos okay?

Unfortunately not. Despite radical changes in skin art culture in Japan in recent years, tattoos are still seen as, if not necessarily the sign of gangster membership, at the very least a symbol of delinquency. As such, many onsen ban bathers sporting body art, no matter how small or non-confrontational. If it is small enough you may be able to get away with wearing a water resistant bandage, but otherwise you should be respectful of the establishment’s regulations.

By Mark Guthrie

Image: flickr.com "Us at onsen" by Meg Scheminske (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
ByRay Proper
Dec 10, 2014

Japan: To Drive or Not to Drive?

When discussing the pros and cons of driving in Japan, one of the most common questions that comes up is whether a car is really necessary at all. Those relocating to the one of Japan’s major cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya, or Osaka soon find upon arriving that most large metropolitan areas are serviced by extensive and efficient transportation systems. In these areas, some residents neither own a car nor even possess a driver’s license, although car usage is fairly common amongst families with children. However, outside the main Japanese metropolitan areas, public transport is not as extensive and trains and buses do not run as frequently, and so cars are the main form of transport for most residents.

Rules And Manners

Compared to other countries in Asia, driving in Japan is relatively safe, and personal drivers are not
necessary. While there are different rules and manners that need to be adjusted to, and also the occasional narrow road or sharp turn, experienced drivers will likely find the transition to driving in Japan relatively easy to make.

One major rule to note here is that cars in Japan drive on the left side of the road, with the driver’s seat on the right side of the car. No, Japan was never a British colony; this is actually a custom that has been carried over from feudal times. However, most people who hail from right-side driving countries are able to adjust quickly to this difference (although for the first few months, they may occasionally switch on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal). Road signs also follow international standards and for the most part should be relatively easy for experienced drivers to understand, and in large metropolitan areas many signs marking important roads and landmarks are written in both Japanese and English.

However, there are some common mistakes typically made by first-time drivers in Japan. For instance, at a 4-way stop, the vehicle on the left has the right of way. It is also not possible to make (right or left) turns at red lights, even if there is no oncoming traffic. Most importantly, Japan has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol, meaning drivers should hand over their keys to a sober companion even if they’ve had just a sip. Or better yet, the smart thing to do would be to rely on public transport if the evening’s activities will involve alcohol – something that is certainly not uncommon in Japan.

As for manners, the Japanese tend to be very considerate drivers. For instance, they acknowledge by honking their horns when other drivers allow them to pass on narrow roads. They also signal their gratitude when given the right-of-way by flashing their hazard lights three times, and turn off their headlights at intersections or crosswalks to reduce glare. However, there are times when they can be impatient. One example of this is that most Japanese drivers tend not to stop at yellow lights or even the first few seconds after the light turns red, and the inexperienced run the risk of being hit from behind if they fail to “go with the flow.” This partially stems from the need to relieve congestion at intersections by showing a little flexibility with the traffic signal rules. Additionally, due to narrow roads and a general lack of parking space, many cars park illegally, forcing other vehicles to veer in and out of the outside lane.

Licensed to Drive

Japan Drivers LicenseInternational Driving Permits (IDP) can be obtained in most countries, allowing holders to drive overseas temporarily. License holders from countries which are signatories of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (95 countries and 2 regions including Japan have signed as of March 5, 2011) are technically allowed to drive in Japan for up to one year after arrival. There are also 6 countries from which license holders are allowed to drive in Japan with their foreign licenses alone (Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and Taiwan) as long as they carry a certified Japanese translation.

It is important to note here that there are several things to be aware of when using an IDP in Japan. First of all, an IDP is only valid for up to one year from the date of arrival, and cannot be renewed or replaced with a new permit unless the holder leaves the country for at least three months. Secondly, the IDP is meant to be used by tourists and short-term residents of less than one year. The police are not always lenient in their treatment of long-term residents who have not yet acquired their Japanese licenses, and according to some consular missions such as the American Embassy, there have been a few incidents of individuals with IDPs being charged with driving without a valid license, which also invalidates their insurance policies. Long-term residents are therefore strongly encouraged to obtain their Japanese drivers licenses at the earliest opportunity.

See a full article detailing the usage of an IDP in Japan here.

Even as a foreign resident, in most cases it is not too difficult to obtain a Japanese license, as a simplified conversion process exists for holders of valid foreign licenses. Furthermore, if the license holder is from one of the 23 countries (plus one region) with a bilateral agreement with Japan, they may not even be required to take a written test or practical skills (road) test. Fortunately, even if these tests are required, those utilized for foreign residents are simplified versions of the normal tests, and can be passed relatively easily with adequate preparation.

The conversion process does, however, involve quite a bit of document preparation, and all of this documentation needs to be submitted with the initial application. The nature of the documentation will depend on individual circumstances, but generally applicants will be required to submit the following: the foreign license and its official translation (issued by the Japan Auto Federation, or JAF), passport, Resident Registration Certificate, proof of holding a license for at least three months, and lastly proof of physically being in the license issuing country after the license issue date for a period of at least three months.

For more information please see www.JapanDriversLicense.com

Car Ownership

Lease JapanBefore buying a car, there are a few points to know about car ownership in Japan. Owning and operating a car in Japan involves numerous fees on top of the price of the vehicle. The most significant of these fees is for what is called “shaken,” a compulsory car inspection required every two years (three years for a new car), and depending on the vehicle, fees typically range from JPY 100,000 – JPY 200,000. There is also a car weight tax, an annual vehicle tax, and compulsory enrollment in a liability insurance policy. Compulsory insurance provides minimal coverage, and so it is highly recommended that all drivers enroll in secondary (collision) insurance for full coverage

Another hurdle with car ownership is the car registration process. This process can be very daunting, even for Japanese speakers, as it involves a great deal of paperwork and preparation of documentation, as well as visits to both the local police station to register the designated parking space (proof of owning a parking space is another requirement), and to the land transport office to register the car and license plate number under the name of the car owner.

Typically, most people will choose to purchase their vehicles at a dealership, as the dealer will assist with some of the necessary paperwork. When purchasing used vehicles from auction sites and especially private individuals, the new owner of the vehicle will need to personally take care of the registration process and also an additional process for transferring ownership of the vehicle from one person to the other.

For those looking for a more hassle-free way of driving in Japan, car leasing is also a popular option among expatriates and other foreign residents. Leasing removes the responsibilities of car ownership and also usually includes a variety of benefits such as providing full liability insurance, vehicle delivery service, and regular maintenance checks. While the majority of companies offering car leases only provide service in Japanese, there are a few which do offer support in English. One such company is H&R Consultants, a relocation and real estate company which also offers leasing services through its Lease Japan brand.

For more information please see www.leasejapan.com

By
Dec 08, 2014

English Speaking Childcare / Babysitting Services in Nagoya

IMG_8366Babysitting was not a “thing” here, generally, until somewhat recently.  Traditionally in Japan the woman stays home while the man works, while families lived with their parents and extended families much more often than in other countries, thus lessening the need for a stranger to come into the home.

Over time all of these facets of Japanese society have changed somewhat, and there has been an increase in the need and availability of babysitting, nanny, and other domestic services in Japan.

In Nagoya, there is regrettably far less selection than in Tokyo or the Kansai (Osaka / Kobe ) area, but even so this increase in demand has brought options for English speaking childcare services here as a happy side benefit too.  It is possible to find babysitters through some companies, like the one below.

Babysitting Companies


Second Family English

Babysitting, Culture, and Household Help in English.  “Known for our excellent service which goes above and beyond to ensure your child is cared for, we use affection and positive reinforcement with educational activities to help foster your child’s growing mind.”

As well as child-minding, Second Family English offers numerous other services including house-cleaning, meal preparation, shopping, and cultural assistance. “We strive to provide the love, support, and care of a second family.”

Website: www.secondfamilyenglish.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/secondfamilyenglish

Poppins

Poppins provides babysitter, childcare center, childcare support, and visiting elderly care services. (Limited French language services also available)

Website: www.poppins.co.jp/english/nanny…

Please note that these companies all have their own systems including registration fees and prices. The right company and the price you will pay will depend on your specific requirements, so please see their individual websites for more information.

Other Options


Ask Around – Make Friends!

Ask other foreign mothers what they do. There are a number of high school kids who speak English (such as NIS or Nanzan International students) who make a fortune in pocket money by watching other smaller kids, but the only way you will find one of these is by word of mouth.  You can meet other families and mothers by joining one of these special interest social groups around Nagoya.

  1. The H&R Group Events – Meet other local English speaking families and local residents, seek advice on living in Nagoya, or help others!  Recent arrivals to Nagoya will find these meet-ups especially valuable because there is no better source for news, views and helpful information about life here in Nagoya, Japan than other members of the expat community.
  2. The Nagoya Foreign Mothers Group – a must for anyone planning to give birth in Japan, this group also is a great place for mothers of young babies. It’s a group with a long history of foreign mothers helping each other out in Nagoya. The group meets every second Saturday, 10:00 – 12:00 at the Nagoya City Women’s Center
  3. The Cross-Cultural Exchange Association -The “CCEA” was formed in 1982 as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cultural exchange, international understanding and friendships amongst women of all nationalities living in the Nagoya Area. Social activities, general meetings and special interest groups are some ways in which members develop friendships, discover the local community, and learn about the rich cultural heritage of Japan and other countries.
  4. The Chayagasaka Cooperative Playgroup – This group meets on Wednesday mornings. Members must have at least one non-Japanese parent who uses English as a first language. To contact, email to chayagasakaplaygroup(at)gmail.com
  5. Nakamura English Playgroup – This group meets on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, from 10 – 12, at the Nakamura Lifelong Learning Center. All foreign, bi-cultural, and returnee families, and others who are committed to raising their children bilingually, are welcome to join the group.
  6. The Meet and Greet Luncheon – A monthly lunch where 40+ women of various nationalities, interests, and ages gather to meet, eat, and greet. Great for new arrivals and those seeking new friends. Children’s play area available. English is the language of communication. To contact, e-mail to Nagoyameetandgreet(at)gmail.com

Reference to any business or organization is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute an official endorsement by the H&R Group

Photo courtesy of www.secondfamilyenglish.com
ByMark Guthrie
Nov 27, 2014

Hiwatari Shinji – A Buddhist Fire Walking Ritual

fire walkingWinter in Japan can get a touch on the chilly side, can’t it. So, what’s the best way of warming up? Sitting under a kotatsu? Attaching hot kairo heat pads to your body? How about walking through fire? Okay, maybe the latter one is a bit extreme, but that doesn’t stop the priests and followers at Akibasan Entsu-ji doing just that.

Hiwatari Shinji is a Buddhist fire walking ritual performed throughout Japan, and is held in the Akibasan Entsu-ji shrine on the second Sunday of every December.

The history of Akibasan Temple

The temple itself was founded by the great Buddhist teacher Kūkai (posthumously known as Kōbō-Daishi) who preached a Mikkyō esoteric tantric form of Buddhism, and enshrines the fire kami (or god) Sanjakubo Daigongen.

Born in Shinano in modern day Nagano prefecture, Sanjakubo left home to become a wandering priest, begging as a way of subsisting. When studying the religious rites of Acala (or Fudō-myōō in Japanese), a wrathful sword wielding deity engulfed in flame, Sanjakubo felt a sword in his hands which enabled him to fly. Mounted on the back of a white fox he flew southwards where he landed on Mt Akiha or Akihasan, thus becoming Akiha/Akiba kami, a protector against fire.

Akiba kami gained great popularity in the mid-Edo period, which is perhaps when the right hand temple at Entsu-ji became dedicated to him. At this time both Shintoism and Buddhism were worshiped together, with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples coexisting side by side. However the Meiji government outlawed this system, forcing followers to choose one or the other, destroying one place of worship. Fortunately the the shrine at Entsu-ji was left untouched and the traditional style can still be seen to this day.

What’s happening?

There are various forms of worship of Akibasan throughout the country. At Akibasan Entsu-jiin Atsuta the first ritual performed is Shichijuugozen-jinku in which mochi rice cakes are offered up to 75 mountain gods. Following this 20 to 30 shugenja dressed in white kimono (ascetic mountaineering priests who practice severe self-discipline and abstention and equate enlightenment with attaining oneness with kami) pray for better fortune, improved business, and the growth of family prosperity. Sutras are recited, conch shells are blown and the shugenja hold question and answer sessions with followers. After this it is time for the Hiwatari-shinji, the fire walk.

The Homa (goma) ritual of consecrated fire is unique to Vajrayana and Esoteric Buddhism. The daily burning of wood offerings is performed by qualified priests and is believed to have a powerful cleansing effect spiritually and psychologically. During the Hiwatari Shinji, this ritual is taken to another level, with a burning pathway placed before the shugenja priests.

To elevate to a higher level of concentration they chant kuji-in, nine syllable mantras common in Mikkyō Buddhism, before striding out across the heat. The ritual’s purpose is to pray for protection from fire and other tragedies that can come from the elements, as well as against theft, traffic accidents, poverty and early mortality.

 

Getting involved and getting there

Once the shugenja have finished, it’s your turn. No, really. After the priests come their various followers, but anyone can take part in the cleansing ritual if you have the bottle (and a high pain threshold). If you want to take part, or even just witness this remarkable festival, you should head to Akibasan Entsu-ji shrine near Atsuta jinga. Prayers and rituals will be going on from 7am, and the fire walking begins at 7pm going on until 9pm.

To get there take the Meijo subway Line to Tenma-cho. (If you are travelling anti-clockwise, be sure that you are on the circle route, and not heading out on the Meiko line to Nagoya-ko). From there take exit 1 and walk straight for approximately 3 minutes. On the Meitetsu line get off at Jingu-mae, cross the road towards Atsuta shrine, and turn left. It takes about 8 minutes.

Address: 2-3-15 Jingu, Atsuta-ku (google map)

Enquiries: 052-671-6987

For more information: kikuko-nagoya.com

Image: pinterest.com "Japan" by Aggiedem – Modified

ByMark Guthrie
Nov 27, 2014

Hiwatari-Shinji – Fire Walking at Akibasan Entsu-ji

Winter in Japan can get a touch on the chilly side, can’t it. So, what’s the best way of warming up? Sitting under a kotatsu? Attaching hot kairo heat pads to your body? How about walking through fire? Okay, maybe the latter isn’t the best of ideas, but it doesn’t stop the priests and followers at Akibasan Entsu-ji doing just that.

Hiwatari Shinji is a Buddhist fire walking ritual performed throughout Japan, and it is held in the Akibasan Entsu-ji shrine in Atsuta on the second sunday of every December.

The history of Akibasan Temple

The temple itself was founded by the great Buddhist teacher Kūkai (posthumously nown as Kōbō-Daishi) who preached a Mikkyō esoteric tantric form of Buddhism, and enshrines the fire kami (or god) Sanjakubo Daigongen.

Born in Shinano in modern day Nagano prefecture, Sanjakubo left home to become a wandering priest, begging as a way of subsisting. When studying the religious rites of Acala (or Fudō-myōō in Japanese), a wrathful sword wielding deity engulfed in flame, Sanjakubo felt a sword in his hands which enabled him to fly. Mounted on the back of a white fox he flew southwards where he landed on Mt Akiha, or Akihasan becoming Akiha/Akiba kami, a protector against fire.

Akiba kami grew in popularity in the mid-Edo period, which is perhaps around the time when the right hand temple of Entsu-ji became dedicated to him. At this time both Shintoism and Buddhism were worshiped together, with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples coexisting side by side. However the Meiji government outlawed this system, forcing followers to choose one or the other, destroying one place of worship. Fortunately the the temple at Entu-ji was left untouched and the traditional style continues to this day.

What’s happening?

Throughout the country there are various ways for followers to worship Akibasan. At Akibasan Entsu-ji the first ritual performed is Shichijuugozen-jinku, in which mochi rice cakes are offered up to 75 mountain gods. Following this, 20 to 30 shugenja (ascetic mountaineering priests who practice severe self-discipline and abstention, equating enlightenment with oneness with the kami) dressed in white kimono, pray for better fortune, improved business, and the growing prosperity of the family. Sutras are recited, conch shells are blown and the shugenja hold question and answer sessions with followers. After this it is time for the Hiwatari-shinji, the fire walk.

The Homa (goma) ritual of consecrated fire is unique to Vajrayana and Esoteric Buddhism. The daily burning of wood offerings is performed by qualified priests and acharyas and is believed to have a powerful cleansing effect spiritually and psychologically. During the Hiwatari Shinji, this ritual is taken to another level, with a burning pathway placed before the shugenja priests.

To elevate to a higher level of concentration they chant kuji-in, nine syllable mantras, common in Mikkyō Buddhism, before striding out across the heat. The ritual’s purpose is to pray for protection from fire, and other tragedies that can come from the elements, as well as theft, traffic accidents, poverty and early mortality.

Getting involved and getting there

Once the shugenja have finished, it’s your turn. No, really. After the priests come various followers, but anyone can take part in the cleansing ritual if you have the bottle (and a high pain threshold). If you want to take part, or even just witness this remarkable festival, you should head to Akibasan Entsu-ji shrine near Atsuta jinga. Prayers and rituals will be going on from 7am, and the fire walking begins at 7pm going on until 9pm.

To get there take the Meijo subway Line to Tenma-cho. (If you are travelling anti-clockwise, be sure that you are on the circle route, and not heading out on the Meiko line to Nagoya-ko). From there take exit 1 and walk straight approximately 3 minutes. On the Meitetsu line get off at Jingu-mae, cross the road towards Atsuta shrine, and turn left. It takes about 8 minutes.

Address: 2-3-15 Jingu, Atsuta-ku

Enquiries: 052-671-6987

For more information: kikuko-nagoya.com

Map

 

By Mark Guthrie

ByFirst Admin
Nov 23, 2014

Train Travel in Japan

Many people know of the exceptional value of a Japan Rail Pass, which allows tourists to ride the train systems in Japan for a set period without paying individual ticket prices. Unfortunately, the Rail Pass is only available to non-residents of Japan, so if you’re not a tourist, then you’re out of luck!

However, there are many other forms of special ticket or pass available. These tickets are all outlined here

Seishun Juhachi Kippu

Most notable is the Seishun Juhachi Kippu, which is seasonally available and offers five days of “norihodai travel” (as much as you want), limited only to non-reserved seating travel on local and rapid trains belonging to Japan Railways.  That even includes some of the slower shinkansen (bullet trains), I believe.

Surutto Kansai Ticket – Kansai

If you are travelling in the Kansai area for a few days, the Surutto Kansai Ticket is one of the better rail passes available in Japan. One of its advantages is that it does not only cover the train and bus lines between cities, but also most city buses and subways inside the cities. The Surutto Kansai Two Day Ticket and Surutto Kansai Three Day Ticket are rail passes, providing unlimited usage of trains, subways and buses in the Kansai Region (around Osaka and Kyoto), with the prominent exception of JR trains.

JR Aozora Free Pass – Chubu

The Aozora Free Pass is offered by JR Tokai, and it allows the holder one day of unlimited use of local trains in the Chubu area.  The pass is only available on weekends and national holidays, but at (roughly) 2500 yen per ticket it can be a great deal if you are going “day trip distance” from the city.  I personally use this ticket quite a bit while hiking in the mountains surrounding Nagoya.

For an absolutely flawless description of riding the train in Japan, and many more discount ticket options please see japan-guide.com’s page, or the JR Group Website.

For detailed timetable information which includes JR and other trains, and flight information, please see the Hyperdia or Jorudan Route Finder websites. This not only tells you the fastest and most convenient ways to travel, it also gives detailed fare information, and different travel options.

Japan Travel Phone

For those who prefer a voice on the phone, Japan Travel Phone is a nationwide telephone service for those in need of English language assistance and travel information. Dial 0088-22-4800 (toll-free outside Tokyo and Kyoto).
Service hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.daily.

Photo: Wikipedia “SeriesE233 JR-East chuou” by Sui-setz  (Public Domain) – Modified
ByMark Guthrie
Nov 11, 2014

Dive on in – Public Swimming Pools in Tokyo

SwimmingSwimming is, it is often stated, perhaps the best form of exercise, and as a nation that takes its health particularly seriously, it is perhaps no surprise to find that there are swimming pools for public use all over Japan. So, whether it is to improve stamina, help with muscle building, or to lose a few pounds, why not check out your local pool?

Below are a few things you should know about public swimming pools in Japan.

Hygiene is taken seriously

In some countries it is acceptable to quickly stick your head under the shower before diving into the pool – in some countries even this nod to hygiene is not required – but in Japanese public baths, much like in the hot spa onsen, it is expected that you wash thoroughly before you enter the pool. Soap and shampoo are not necessarily required, but a good scrub under the shower head is the least that is expected. Another thing to remember is the removal of your shoes before entering the changing rooms which, considering how many bare feet there are, is not such a daft idea.

Swimming caps are required

Whether male or female, anyone swimming at a public pools is required to wear a swimming cap. And while some of the more follicly challenged amongst us gentlemen may feel it an absurd undertaking when we have more hair on our chests than on our heads, pool culture in Japan demands that we must follow the lead of our more hirsute companions. Swimming caps (often cloth as opposed to the nylon sort worn by professional swimmers) can be found in most sports stores. If you do not have a cap your local pool may be able to provide you with one for your visit.

Be aware of pedestrians

Many public pools in Japan have two main sections; one for swimming, with aisles for slow, medium and fast swimmers; and one for walking. That’s right, walking. One of the most common uses for public pools in Japan is resistance walking. This form of exercise – walking lengths of the pool – is of particular benefit to those requiring physiotherapy exercise (athletes with lower body injuries especially) as well as the elderly. It is the latter that are most common in Japan’s public pools, particularly during week days.

The pool is not necessarily a play area

Perhaps out of courteousness for those elderly patrons, Japanese public pools are generally not a place where you can take the children for a splash around, playing Marco Polo and cannonballing (in fact diving of any kind is somewhat dangerous as there is likely to be no deep end thanks to the perambulatory nature of half of the pool). While there are exceptions to this, particularly at weekends and on hot summer days, compared to pools back home swimming is a relatively kid free zone. For those of you who take your swimming seriously, this may be a welcome respite from the horseplay you find in many swimming pools, however it is something of a shame when you consider that swimming is not mandatory in Japanese schools, and many children grow up either afraid of the water or unable to swim.

Get out of the pool

One of the great things about swimming is the peace and solitude of being fully submerged under water. In fact it can often feel as if you are all alone in the pool. If you do not pay close attention in Japanese public pools, this may indeed be the case. Every hour (usually on the hour or at five minutes to), the pool is entirely cleared while staff perform safety inspections and the life guards are changed. This change is signaled by music being played overhead, at which time everyone vacates the water at a leisurely pace. At some places swimmers will wait out the inspection in poolside saunas, while at others an overhead announcer will lead everyone in group stretching exercises.

Cap, bathing suit, and nothing else

Most swimming pools will request that women do not wear make up in the pool, but jewelry too is likely forbidden. Another big no-no in the pool are tattoos, though if you are aware of Japanese culture this will come as no surprise. If you do have tattoos, it is probably best to cover up with a rash vest, waterproof bandage, or the most concealing bathing suit you can find.

Where to swim in Tokyo:

There are many public pools all over Tokyo. Here are a few you can try:

Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Sendagaya is heated for use throughout the year. The 25-meter pool has six lanes. The 50-meter pool has 8 lanes, 30 meters of which has a depth greater than 2 meters

Sumida City Gymnasium near Kinshicho station has a 25m pool with seven lanes as well as a 50cm pool for infant bathing.

Katsushika City Sogo Sports Center has a 25m pool as well as a 15m pool for beginners and is accessible from Aoto Station on the Keisei Line.

If you are looking to spash about, Edogawa-ku Sports Land has a 50m pool split into sections for walking, swimming lengths as well as just having fun. The nearest station is Shin Koiwa.

Ariake Sports Center has two main swimming areas, one of which has a fun slide. You can get there after a 10 minute walk from either Ariake Tennis-no-Mori Station or Odaiba Keihin Koen Station, both on the Yurikamome Line

Setagaya pool 10 minute walk from Hachimanyama Station on the Keio Line, has a 25m pool, a pool for children, a Jacuzzi , and a walking pool and slide. It can get busy with children on weekends.

Kinuta Koen pool has a full 50m pool for which cards can be purchased at the counter. It can get busy on weekends, but if that doesn’t put you off head to Setagaya-ku.

Sogo Taiyuan Swimming Pool in Gotanda is 25m, but as part of a school, it is advisable to call to confirm public usage times.

For a fuller listing of swimming pools open to the public, check out the extensive list on swimia.com the details for which have been provided by the general public.

 

By Mark Guthrie

Image: flickr.com "140222-N-BX824-087" by U.S. Pacific Fleet (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified