Monthly Archive August 2017

ByMark Guthrie
Aug 30, 2017

Tokyo’s Jazz Scene

Jazz

When you think of music in Japan it is hard to get past the impression of super-cutesy J-Pop idols, adorably non-threatening ever-expanding boy bands, and the bright preposterous-ness of the gravity-defying-haired Visual Kei bands. However, scratch past that (admittedly thick and ubiquitous) surface and you will find in Tokyo a varied and eclectic music scene. One musical genre that is particularly well represented is Jazz, with so many cafes, bars and clubs across the capital only New York City is comparable for sheer quantity. Below are a few to get you started.

Cotton Club – Marunouchi

One of the big boys on the scene, Cotton Club (named after the legendary jazz club of Harlem) showcases most of the biggest talent from around the world, and as such can be a little pricey, often costing in the region of 15,000 JPY for admission. However, if you want to see the best, you are going to have to pay top dollar, particularly as performers will sign exclusivity deals, meaning that you won’t find them playing cheaper bars a few days later.

That said, if you are going to take the ‘money is no option’ route, then you are in for quite a show. The acoustics and production values are top notch, and the atmosphere is intimate and thus pretty good for somewhere that is ostensibly an ‘event’ venue. Acts from all aspects of the genre are showcased, from serious straight jazz right across the board into soul, funk and smooth jazz.

Blue Note – Aoyama

Part of the international Blue Note chain, this is the biggest jazz club in Tokyo, and has prices to match. Like the Cotton Club, above, it attracts the highest quality international acts as well as the most lauded local gigs. In fact, by sheer size this venue should be topping our list.

The fact that it doesn’t is down to it being very much a place where spectacle takes precidence, and you are more likely to share your table with salarymen showing off their secretaries than you are afficianados, about which James Catchpole of Tokyo Jazz Site has written frequently and scathingly. Still, it keeps getting the big names (in the past it has been host to the likes of Dizzie Gillespie to Herbie Hancock), so the people keep coming.

The Pit Inn – Shinjuku

If you want something that truly says ‘Tokyo Jazz’ then look no further than The Pit Inn. Having this year celebrated its 50th anniversary The Pit Inn is still going strong, offering up all manner of Jazz throughout the spectrum – from avant-garde to straight jazz – and you really never know what might come up next. The atmosphere is very much reverential to the artists, making it reassuringly distant from the plushness of the city’s jazz behemoths and at 3,000 JPY for most nights, it’s well worth a punt.

Sometime – Kichijoji

The area of Kichijoji is well known for its jazz clubs, and Piano Hall Sometime (to give it its full name) is one of the most popular. Established in 1974, it features acts every night from around 1,800 JPY, around half of what you would be charged elsewhere in town, and nearly a 10th of the likes of Blue Note and Cotton Club. The club is decorated with antiques and quirky accessories and musicians play from the center with listeners packed around and above them, and while the jazz tends to be of the straighter variety played by emerging Japanese artists, it does see some truly innovative acts at times.

Jazz Spot Intro – Shinjuku

If you are looking for somewhere with more of a jazz workshop vibe, head over to Jazz Spot Intro in Shinjuku. There is no fixed line-up, but their Saturday jam sessions have become something of Tokyo legend when Japanese and foreign musicians – both amateur and professional – pop by to join the band. It is all held together by bar manager Inoue-san who acts as both band leader and barman, serving your drinks between alto-sax solos. For the nights where there are no live acts there are around 1500 vinyl records and 1000 CDs placed around the bar to choose from.


Tokyo Jazz Festival

For a really comprehensive list and indepth review of Tokyo’s sprawling jazz scene, check out the excellent Tokyo Jazz Site, where you will also find information on Tokyo Jazz Festival, happening September 1, 2, 3 2017.

Launched in 2002, the Tokyo Jazz Festival has developed into the largest international jazz festival in the country, drawing some 80,000 visitors to watch the 200 plus acts that hail from  all over Japan and the world.

Mark Guthrie

Photo: flickr.com “JAZZ: Sonny Fortune” by Professor BopBy: Professor Bop (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

By
Aug 28, 2017

The Yatai Festival at Osaka Castle

Picture in your mind the usual selection of Japanese yatai and festival foods, like karaage, tama sen, JUMBO hot dogs, “kakigori” shaved ice. Now throw all that out, because this is not that.  The Yatai Festival at Osaka Castle is a very large outdoor festival that offers a wide variety of gourmet foods and drinks to sample via booths, or “yatai” which will line the walk in the “Taiyo-no-hiroba”  area of Osaka Castle.  Bring your friends and family.

The Yatai Festival 2017

“Taiyo-no-Hiroba” in Osaka Castle Park
3-11 Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu 540-0002 ( map )
September 15 – 18, 2017 10:00 – 20:00

Free to join, but food and drinks require vouchers which can be purchased up to 30 minutes before closing
06-6947-1912
www.tv-osaka.co.jp/tvofes

Image: wikipedia.com “Yatai in the summer festival by Tomomarusan (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

ByMark Guthrie
Aug 24, 2017

Tokyo’s Alternative, and More Interesting, Beer Gardens

Summer Nights at Yoyogi Village Beer Terrace

It could be argued (by me at least) that one of the greatest things on Earth is sitting outside on a warm day with an ice cold beer. Thankfully the city of Tokyo is blessed with a plethora of  beer gardens adorning its free spaces and atop of many of its buildings.

However, the chances are that by this time of year you may be sick of the regular beer gardens that adorn department store roof tops and are looking for something a bit more interesting. Well as it happens, Tokyo has a few beer gardens that are a little out of the ordinary. Here are a handful worth checking out this year (2017).

Yona Yona Beer Garden at Ark Hills

Of course the most important thing about a beer garden is the beer, right? But sometimes that is the problem, because most places just do the regular stuff: Kirin, Asahi, Saporro and Suntory. Well this year at Ark Hills you can enjoy the evening sippng on craft beers from Nagano Prefecture’s well-known Yo-Ho Brewing Company. Choose from six of their great beers – including Tokyo Black, Suiyoubi no Neko, the eponymous Yona Yona and a limited-edition Ark Hills Ale, made just for the occasion. But get in quick, as September 3 is the last day!

  • Where: Ark Hills, Minato, Akasaka, 1 Chome−12−32 (map)
  • Websitearkhills.com
  • Until: September 3, 2017

Matcha Beer Garden

So, craft beer isn’t alternative enough for you? How about Japanese ‘matcha’ green tea beer? Yes, it sounds strange, but Green Tea Restaurant 1899 Ochanomizu in Chiyoda is doing just that. You can choose from standard green tea beer, green tea dark beer, hojicha (roasted green tea) beer and two types of Japanese black tea beers. If you find yourself unable to stick to the tea for the two hour all-you-can-drink course there are more recognizable choices in Suntory Premium Malts and Asahi’s Kuronama black lager as well as non-alcoholic options including non-alcoholic green tea beer. Note, food is not included in the 3,500 JPY course price.

  • Where: 3-4 Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda-ku  (map)
  • Website1899.jp
  • Until: September 30, 2017

Yoyogi Village Beer Terrace

Want to lounge on the beach sipping on ice cold Coronas while the Mariachi band serenades you, but can’t get the time off to go to Mexico? Well don’t worry, because Yoyogi Village Beer Terrace has got your back. Down on the complex’s imitation beach is a ‘Mexican Summer’ themed beer garden which dishes up classic Mexican cuisine like tacos and tortillas as well as not-so-classic Mexican fare such as Mexican Pizza cooked in a stone bake oven. Drinks include the aforementioned Corona as well as margaritas and frozen mojitos.

  • Where: Yoyogi Village, 1-28-9 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku  (map)
  • Websiteyoyogi-village.jp
  • Until: September 30, 2017

Palace Hotel Summer Terrace

Now we are getting into the more upmarket side of the beer garden. The sumptuous Palace Hotel this summer is opening its terrace so that one may escape the general hoi polloi of the beer garden crowd. At 7,000 JPY for two hours it is quite a bit more expensive than most beer gardens, but it more than makes up for it in its surroundings, and the extensive menu is nothing to be sniffed at either. Feast on brochettes (skewers) of prawn, lamb, sausage and tandoori chicken as well as salads and hummus as you enjoy your glass of sparkling wine, beer, sangria or cocktail. Or why not go all out, and plump for the Laurent Perrier champagne course at an extra 5,000 JPY per head.

Tokyo Tower Highball Garden Rooftop

Maybe, at the end of the day, you’re just not that into beer. Well, in that case you should head over to Tokyo Tower where they will be reopening their Highball Garden on top of Tower Foot Town. They have an extensive list of highballs, and a food selection that includes katsu and karaage as well as an all-you-can-eat Jingisukan lamb course. Two hours of drinks and jingisukan will set you back 4,500 JPY if you’re a man and 500 JPY less if you’re a woman. Oh, and they have beer there too.

  • Where: Tokyo Tower, 4-2-8 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku (map)
  • Website: tokyotower.co.jp
  • Until: October 6, 2017

 

* Most of these, for a set time and cost, will offer an all-you-can drink ‘nomihoudai’ service along with food. Check websites to see what different menus they have.

Mark Guthrie

Image via http://www.yoyogi-village.jp/bar/1407 – Screengrab – Modified

ByMark Guthrie
Aug 24, 2017

Nara, the Original Capital City of Culture

Some 1,300 years ago the Empress Genmei established the seat of power in the mountainous area of Heijō-kyō, and in doing so created the country’s first ever permanent capital. With the nation being ruled from the city (present-day Nara) this time has come to be known as the Nara period.

Today Nara is a small and compact city that, when it comes to tourist attractions, historical charm, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and cultural relevance per square mile, Nara is not unlike an amusement park of historical relics. Every where you look, every where you turn, there is another impressive temple, shrine or sprawling park, making it an excellent destination for a day trip from Nagoya.

Upon arriving at Nara station it is pretty easy to find the sights of the city: simply head north past the streets lined with restaurants and souvenir stores (perhaps stopping to watch the impressive pounding of mochi by the fastest mochi maker in Japan on the way). At the top of these streets, the sights begin.

Kofukuji

Kofukuji is most likely to be the first attraction that you come across as you head through Nara. At one time the family temple of the Fujiwara, the most powerful family during the Nara and Heian Periods, it was established in Nara at the same time as the capital in 710 it had been comprised of over 150 buildings.

Today there are just a couple of significant structures remaining, including a five story pagoda, the Eastern Golden Hall and a three story pagoda. Standing 50 meters tall, the former is Japan’s second tallest pagoda.

Nara Park

Nara Park is perhaps what Japanese think of when they consider Nara. Though the park houses most of the city’s attraction, it is by no means the most striking park that you will ever see. That said, it is not without its charms, particularly during the spring’s cherry blossoms and the changing of the leaves during autumn, and is best known for the 1,200 wild deer that roam the area.

Considered in the Shinto religion to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame, with some deer having learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed, although they can be aggressive so taking care is advised.

Todaiji

The other symbol of the city is the temple of Todaiji (main photo). Built in 752 as the head temple of Japanese Buddhism, modeled on palaces of China, it is an immense structure (although it is currently just two thirds of its original size) that held such power in the country that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 to limit the temple’s influence on governmental affairs.

Inside the huge central building, is the Daibutsu (great Buddha) which at 15m tall is world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana. It is quite a striking sight.

Kasuga Taisha

Like Kofukuji, Kasuga Taisha was part of the Fujawara clan’s complex of religious structures, and today it is considered Nara’s most celebrated shrine. It is perhaps best known for its lanterns, with many stone lanterns lining the pathways to the shrine, and hundreds of bronze lanterns hanging from the buildings.

Unfortunately they are lit only twice a year at Lantern Festivals in early February and mid-August. However the shrine is open all year round, and the structures themselves, nestled away amongst the trees, slightly corroded in places, have a real rustic, spiritual charm.

Naramachi

After seeing the temples and shrines of Nara, it is well worth a visit to Naramachi (literally Nara town) as you return to the station. As you might expect of what was once a capital city, Nara was at one time a bustling commercial town. From the 15th century the streets were lined with ‘machiya’, buildings that served as both the shop fronts and homes of merchants plying their wares from outside of these narrow structures (built this way as they were taxed on street access rather than structure size). Some of these buildings remain and are open to the public.

Another fascinating aspect of Naramachi is Gangoji Temple, at one point one of  Japan’s most important temples. Registered as a Unesco World Heritage Site, today only a couple of temple buildings remain of the once expansive complex.

While these are just a few of the more popular sites in Nara, there are plenty more shrines, temples, parks and restaurants to explore in this ancient city. Being so compact, and just 90 minutes from Nagoya, it makes for an excellent day trip in which you can pack in more sightseeing than you would in pretty much any other city in the country.

Getting to Nara

Map Link

Getting to Nara From Nagoya

By train: Getting to Nara from Nagoya by train couldn’t be easier. Take the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto where you can change to the Nara line.

By car: Driving to Nara takes a little longer than the train, at around two and a half hours. Take the Tomei-Osaka Expressway, Osaka National Highway and National Route 25. From there its Route 187 and Prefectural Route 188. (Google map to Nara Station here)

By bus: There are five Meitetsu buses between Nagoya and Nara each day. It takes about two and a half hours and costs 4,100 JPY for a round trip. Website here.

By Mark Guthrie

Image by ©Christian Kaden www.Japan-Kyoto.de  (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by David Offf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by Tetsushi Kimura (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by Cory Doctorow (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by tonko43 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by Ian n Teresa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

ByMark Guthrie
Aug 24, 2017

Lagunasia, Aichi’s Premier Amusement Park

Laguna Gamagori is an exciting, fun marine resort complex in the Bay of Mikawa, and is a place at which one can enjoy the sea, go shopping, ride rollercoasters, play in the pool, and have a whole lot of fun.

Lagunasia Pool

Perhaps the greatest draw for the some three million annual visitors to the Gamagori Laguna area is Lagunasia, an amusement park that is fun for both kids and adults alike. At this time of the year most come to float, bask and play in one of the many pools, and until September 25, 2017, visitors have quite a lot that they can enjoy.

The Joia Mare pool area is laid out in the style of a European marine resort, where you can laze beneath a cooling parasol with drinks or a bite to eat, after which you can take a stroll out into the ‘sea’ (well, actually it’s a large pool that is designed to look like the seashore, but if you suspend your disbelief willingly, it’s almost quite there). Keeping the marine vibe going is the central pool, another large play area that is built to reflect a wharf harbor beach.

For those who think that splashing around in the pool expends too much energy, you can lounge in the jacuzzi bath,or grab a rubber ring and float along the river pool. However, if you have kids, you may not be afforded such relaxing luxuries as they will most likely wish to fly down the water slide, climb on the pirate ship or play in the water jets. There is also a foam machine, but you may baulk at paying an additional 500 JPY for the privilege

From August 31 Lagunasia will once again be opening their pool for night swimmers where you can float romantically in the evenings in neon lit pools, see the projection mapping and later watch as fireworks burst overhead. This is more of an adult experience, and as under 16s are not permitted, it’s not somewhere to bring the kids. However, if the recent TV commercials are anything to go by, expect there to be quite a few university and high school students.

Lagunasia on dry land

It’s not just in the pool that fun can be had in Lagunasia. In fact there are 23 kinds rides and attractions with roller coasters such as the Aqua Wind and Legend of Labyrinth, merry go-rounds, water splash rides, monster shooting games, a 65 meter high Ferris Wheel, and even popular comic and animated series One Piece has its own special attraction.

On the quieter side is the Flower Lagoon, a beautiful garden that has a seasonal display of tens of thousands of plants and flowers, including Flower Valley where you can stroll over the gorgeous buds on a glass bottomed bridge. In the evenings Flower Lagoon is lit up enchantingly, as is the whole of the park with giant projection mappings and illuminations. As if that wasn’t enough going on, the Laguna Ten Bosch Art Gallery holds regular entertainment revues, though there doesn’t seem to be anything being performed in English at the time of publication.

Once you have finished your day at Lagunasia, you may then want to relax at the Thalgo Laguna onsen hot spring and spa complex, with hot natural spring water pumped from 1,500m underground. Or if commerce is more your thing, there is a ‘festival market‘ shopping complex nearby.

Lagunasia Details

  • Address: Gamagori, Kaiyōchō, 2 Chome−2−3−1 (map)
  • Websitelagunatenbosch.co.jp
  • Admission: Depending on what you want to do at Lagunasia there are different prices ranging between 2,150 to 5,150 JPY for adults and 710 to 2,600 JPY for youngest kids. However, in one of those weird moments of ‘inverse discrimination’ that you sometimes find in Japan, foreigners can get 10% discount as long as you have your passport and are not a permanent resident. To claim your discount show ticket staff this webpage.

 

 

By Mark Guthrie

Images via http://lagunatenbosch.co.jp/laguna/english/index.html# (modified) – Screengrabs

ByMark Guthrie
Aug 24, 2017

Need for Speed: a Day at The Suzuka Circuit and Motopia Amusement Park

Japan is a nation for which the production of automobiles has driven (pun intended) its development and economy for generations, and as of 2014 there were more than 75 million cars owned, nearly 60 cars for every 100 people. And that’s before we include the 11.2 million motorcycles. It should come as no surprise that the country that brought us Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Toyota, Mitsubishi (need I go on?) is somewhat obsessed by motor vehicles, and for those who worship at the alter of the engine, the Suzuka International Racing Course (or Suzuka Circuit for short) in Mie Prefecture is their mecca.

The brainchild of the Honda Motor Co. founder Soichiro Honda, the Suzuka Circuit was designed in 1962 as a test track. Today it remains as the preeminent motorsports track in the country, is one of the most technically challenging courses in the world, and is the site of major races such as the Suzuka 8 Hours, Super GT and of course the Japanese F1 Grand Prix.

But it’s not just the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel who can enjoy themselves at Suzuka Circuit. There is plenty that you and your family can do at Suzuka, whether it be watching races, driving the course, playing games, eating out or soaking in a hot spa, there is something for absolutely everyone.

Motorsports

Of course the main thing about the Suzuka Circuit is the racing. As mentioned, it holds most of the important races in Japan from all aspects of motorsports, and you can be part of the 155,000 strong crowd. There are events most weekend (I know someone who travels up from Nagoya pretty much every weekend to catch a race) so no matter what sort of motor head you are, check out the events page to see what’s coming up.

However there can be no doubting that the Formula 1 Grand Prix is the biggie. This year the race will fall over the weekend of October 6-8 (with the first two days being taken up by practice and qualifying, respectively) and if you are interested there are still tickets left, which you can buy here.

Amusement Park MOTOPIA

But even if you’re not much of a motor head, the Suzuka Circuit can be a great day or weekend out, especially if you have a young family, thanks to the Amusement Park MOTOPIA. Many of the rides at Motopia are motor-driven cart attractions that can be enjoyed – safely – by adults and children from as young as two.

Perhaps the most exhilarating of these is the kart games. Children under 140cm can drive Kochira Racing Karts, while bigger children and adults can take their Advance Kart B-License, giving them the opportunity to race over and over, competing with their times, improving as they do so.

In fact with most MOTOPIA attractions the aim of the game is self development and improvement as every ride has some kind of goal or challenge to achieve, which goes some way to keeping kids, and adults, constantly entertained.

Other attractions include various vehicle-based rides such as mini touring bikes (for children 3+ who can ride a bicycle without stabilizers) an adventure village, a pool in the summer and Putti Town which has many hands on rides and activities for smaller children (which leads me to think that the word ‘Putti’ is a misspelled Japanese-icized attempt at ‘petit’, the French word continuing the language of ‘Grand Prix’).

If you are willing to pay a further 1,500 JPY, you or your children can take the opportunity to ride an electronic car on the actual Suzuka Circuit track, the first of its type in the world, something that is a must for any car obsessives, both young and old.

Suzuka Circuit Hotel and Spa

After a long day of amusements, thre is a good chance that the last thing that you want to do is get back in your car (particularly as it is going to be something of a come-down when compared to being on the tracks) so you may want to wind down a little.

The Suzuka Circuit Hotel nearby has various plans to suit your needs, including buffet dinners, breakfasts and family rooms. Many of these have F1 style seats, which is a bit more impressive than your usual Corby Trouser Press. Prices for rooms are pretty reasonable considering that there isn’t a whole lot of choice in the area, but it might not suit those on a tighter budget.

Whether you stay at the hotel or not, you can still relax at the Kur Garden hot spring onsen and pool where you and your kids can take a swim (bathing suits required), soak in the indoor hot spring, or head outdoors to the ‘rotenburo’ open air onsen, complete with a ‘utaseyu’ hot spring waterfall.

Suzuka Circuit Details

  • Where: 7992 Inoucho, Suzuka, Mie Prefecture (map)
  • Getting there by public transport: From Nagoya Kintetsu station it takes about 90 minutes to get to Suzuka Circuit. Take the Kintetsu line to Shiroko Station. From there take a bus destined for Suzuka Circuit (鈴鹿サーキット)
  • Websitesuzukacircuit.jp

By Mark Guthrie

Image by proby458 (Paul)  (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image via http://www.suzukacircuit.jp/en/experience/amusementpark/racingkart/ – Screengrab (modified)

ByJustin Hanus
Aug 24, 2017

Digging into the Rituals of Clam Digging

They begin showing up on the beaches in late spring and continue to gather all summer long, armed with small rakes (kumades), plastic buckets, and mesh bags. It is Shiohigari time – literally “hunting in the tides.” The Japanese tradition of digging in the sand for shellfish, mostly clams, is so ingrained in the culture that the word Shiohigari is sometimes substituted for springtime itself.

Clams can only be dug at low tide and so practitioners of Shiohigari study the tide tables to pick the best times to hit the beaches. The media often report on clam digging conditions through the season. Real aficionados know that different species of clams wash up on the beaches at different times during the year and different places. The Japanese carpet shell is the most common quarry for clam diggers, it accounts for 25 percent of all mollusks consumed in the world.

Beaches near big cities will become crowded and the best mud flats for digging clams are controlled by local fishermen’s unions so fees are charged to access the beach. There are typically clam digging stations that will set the regulations for the day and rent equipment. If a harvest has been especially bountiful, additional monies can be charged to diggers commensurate with their catch. Anyone can successfully hunt shellfish and Shiohigari is one of Japan’s most beloved family activities. It is so popular that some beaches will sell advance tickets in local stores.

Once on the sand, clam digging can be arduous work, either on hands and knees or stooped over. Short pants or rolled up long pants are the uniform of the Shiohigari. Sandals or old shoes are worn to keep from inadvertently slicing open a foot on a shell. A hat is a good idea for protection from the sun.

Plucking the coveted bivalves from their subterranean homes

The clams are usually buried out of sight at least two centimeters below the surface so it is necessary to feel for the shells with the kumade. One clue as to whether a clam is hiding under foot is by examining the surface for small holes. Dig where the mud is flat since that is an indication that the ground has not been harvested by another Shiohigari. A favored technique is to dig shallow and wide rather than deep. When a clam is encountered it must be extricated by hand and dropped into the bucket. Keep the bucket filled with salt water to keep the clams alive and shells closed.

And what to do with all those clams? Soak the bivalves in salt water to sift out the sand and keep the animals alive until cooking. Then douse the catch in sake and steam them for a tasty dinner after a good day’s hunt.

One of the best areas around Kansai to dig clams is Tokimeki Beach (http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/events/festivals_events/post_170.html), also known as the Tannowa Shellfish Gathering Beach. There is a fee to use the beach for adults and children and barbecue grills can be rented to cook your catch fresh on the beach.

By Flickr user ysishikawa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Aug 24, 2017

Kobe’s Cutest Menace: Wild Boars

Sometimes the most dangerous animals are not the ones you expect. In the United States the animal that kills the most people each year are deer, from collisions with automobiles. Yes, adorable Bambi itself.

Kobe has a similar problem with wild boars. These feral pigs are native everywhere in Japan where they are called yama kujira – the mountain whale. The creatures are scarcely that large, although they can grow to be over 100 pounds and more. The Japanese boar has little fur and is striped, especially when young. It boasts distinctive white whiskers.

For hundreds of years humans had little contact with boars, who stayed mostly hidden in their mountain forest habitat. The animals were actually venerated in Japanese culture, admired for their bravery and determination. In some places boars became symbols of prosperity and fertility.

Boars are coming down from the hills

But in recent years the boars have become increasingly common in farmers’ fields, perhaps due to a reduction of their traditional habitat. They destroy crops and threaten to ruin the farms financially. The beleaguered land owners try increasingly imaginative ways to deal with the invaders from spicy hot peppers spread on the ground to actual trapping and hunting. Japan has no national policy for controlling wild boars – it is up to the ingenuity of the farmer.

There is another danger from boars in Japan – radioactivity. Animals contaminated by the nuclear reactor failure at Fukushima have begun spreading into other prefectures. No one knows how many wild boars are radioactive but given their insatiable appetites and proclivity for procreation there are likely many thousands. In places boar meat must be tested before human consumption and disposal of radioactive carcasses has become problematic.

Kobe has its own wild boar problem. The voracious pigs are showing up within city limits. The animals can be aggressive and there have been reports of boars biting and injuring people in the city. One was even spotted strolling into a Higashiyama Ward hotel. The boars are believed to be wandering into the city in search of an easy meal. It is a whole lot easier for a wild pig to snatch food off a trash heap than root around for nuts in the woods. Wild boars seem to have no fear of people.

Wild boars may look cute…

The problems that arise from these pig-man encounters is that many people think the wild boars are cute – especially baby piglets – and therefore harmless. The boars are known to roam the campus of Kobe University on the slopes of Rokko Mountain. They are so often seen that the library has made the wild boar its official mascot and a road has been named after the college interlopers.

Wild boars have developed a fondness for breeding in the concrete culverts around Kobe and the little striped piglets will snatch the heart of any observer who happens upon a new brood. Feeding wild boars, even babies, is against the law in Kobe so it is best to keep your distance. Then again, it is always advisable to give a snorting wild boar a wide berth when encountering one. Remember, Bambi is the deadliest forest animal of them all.

By [2] ([1]Uploaded by Mariomassone) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Aug 24, 2017

Horse Archery on Display in Kobe

In the history of warfare there has seldom been a more impressive warrior than the horse archer. Riding a steed at full gallop, letting go of the reins with both hands, and leveling a bow and arrow against the enemy was truly a fearsome sight on the battlefield. These highly mobile combatants were especially useful in battles across open plains involving thousands of men, as was often the case in medieval times.

As weaponry advanced, however, the horse archer was rendered obsolete. For one thing, a man and a horse together were a much easier target than superior armed foot archers. When firearms became light enough to be wielded by cavalry in the 1600s, the horse archer disappeared altogether. But those eye-catching skills employed by mounted archers have not vanished entirely.

The three ways of the Japanese horse archer

In Japan, the ancient practice of shooting arrows from horseback is known as “yabusame.” It was considered one of the highest of the martial arts a Japanese warrior could aspire to. Only the finest samurai would be permitted to shoot arrows from the back of a horse. Today the skills of yabusame are on display every year at the Rokujohachimangu shrine in Kobe City on the second Sunday in October. (http://www.kansaimatsuri.com/en/matsuri/1339/). What can you expect to see?

Horseback archery in the 21st century is performed primarily as a Shinto ritual. There are three styles of Japanese archery that can be re-created on the riding grounds. In classic yabusame, an archer carrying a large sword and five Kaburaya arrows (the type that make a whistling sound through the air) on his back gallops down a straight course of approximately 218 meters long firing at targets. The traditional warrior garb is likely to include an ayaigasa on his head, a sulkan with bottom and sleeves tied to prevent interference with the shooting movements, a mukabaki around the waist, and a glove on the bow hand.

During the exhibition there will be orchestrated rituals to note including prayers and ceremonial shouting as each target is approached. Watch for when the archer stands up in the stirrups and spreads his or her knees in a technique called kuramawari. There are also exacting methods for posturing and fixing the arrow to the bow.

Kasagake is a form of horseback archery competition drawing on the practice rituals of ancient warriors. In Kasagake the accuracy and efficiency of shooting the arrows is more critical than the pageantry. The riding grounds are half as long – the equivalent of 51 lengths of an unstrung bow. Archers must keep their steeds within the boundary of the course as they shoot their arrows. The targets of yore were often conical shaped reed hats and the arrows were checked not only for accuracy but depth of penetration. Gambling on the horseback archers was often a part of kasagake.

A third style of Japanese horseback archery no longer gets the re-creation treatment. Inuounmono was a training technique for hunters and involved horse archers maneuvering through a large riding ground known as a umada with 150 dogs on the field. The competition was to shoot the most dogs in a prescribed time limit. The archers would use special ‘inuuchihikime’ arrows designed not to harm the dogs but this spectacle was discontinued nonetheless.

By en:user:Crossfire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Bow10ez.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons