Japan eager for panda arrival from China

Japan is rolling out a red carpet ahead of the arrival of much-awaited special guests from China: a pair of giant pandas.

The two 5-year-old pandas are due to arrive at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo on Monday. They’ll be the zoo’s first since the 2008 death of its beloved giant panda Ling Ling.

The Ueno area was filled with panda themes Sunday. Streets were decorated with banners carrying panda cartoons, and shops were selling novelty goods.

"The pandas are finally coming to town," said beaming Masahiro Kayano, a jewelry store owner in Ueno. "We are so excited."

The zoo’s first pair of pandas arrived in 1972, marking the signing of a peace treaty between Japan and China.

Expectations are running high for the new set of pandas to boost Tokyo’s economy and its troubled relations with Beijing.

Read the rest of the story: Japan eagerly awaits pandas arriving from China.

Cooling off in ghost houses – Tokyo, Japan

Ghost houses are set up especially for the summer in amusements parks in Japan with the tradition linked to Japanese Buddhism which views August as the time when ancestral spirits may return for a visit and Japanese visit their elders’ graves.

This year ghost houses have reported dramatic increases in visitor numbers as they tap into the Japanese tradition of also telling scary stories to send shivers down people’s spines and cool them down.

With temperatures still running high, Tokyo Dome City Attractions has extended its ghost house opening by a month.

"Japanese naturally connect summer with being scared and feeling cool thanks to that," said the Dome’s spokesman Yoshinosuke Goto.

Read the rest of the story: As temperatures soar, Japanese turn to ghost houses.

Tokyo needs a genuine landmark

What does Tokyo have as a genuine landmark?

Well, there’s 52-year-old Tokyo Tower, but that’s not the draw it once was. Or there’s Tokyo Sky Tree, which, at 603 meters high, is set to be the world’s tallest broadcasting tower when it’s completed soon. But so what?

What Tokyo really needs is a historical monument symbolizing the essence of the Japanese spirit, culture and lifestyle, argues a Tokyo-based citizens’ group whose aim is to rebuild what it considers the ultimate symbol of Tokyo: the main tower of Edo Castle.

"Paris has the Palace of Versailles nearby, London has Buckingham Palace and Beijing has the Forbidden City," Shizuo Kigawa, one of the group’s executive members, told The Japan Times recently. "Tokyo has nothing that embodies Japan’s history. In this sense, Asakusa or Tokyo Tower don’t qualify."

Read the rest of the story: Will Edo Castle’s tower rise again?.

Japan Stationary Museum

It’s on the first floor of a building near Asakusabashi Subway Station. It’s easy to get to and find, and it’s free to enter. There’s a collection of writing and stationary objects that occupies the first floor. The museum is overseen by two senior custodians who are very friendly and kind. They expressed surpise when I walked in out of the blue. Actually, I was the only visitor they had had so far in a while I think.

Unfortunately, the tags for the items are written only in Japanese but don’t let that stop you from visiting. I had a walk through first, jotted down some questions and then approached the custodians for clarification and assistance. We managed somehow with my limited Japanese and their much better English.

There’s a Ming dynasty seal made of rock crystal on display. It’s so unusual. Usually, seals are fashioned out of some kind of metal. There’s also a miniature gold seal on display that caught my eye. The custodians informed me that it was a gift from the Emperor of China named Kobute to an unknown Emperor of Japan. It dates from the Yayoi period, 57 AD. It weighs 108 grams of pure gold (99.9%). It was found in Kyushu by a farmer. It must be the oldest seal in Japan.

There are replicas, copies, of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s pencils on display. There are two of them. One measures 11.4 cm and the other 7.2 cm in length.

There are many inkstones on display. There’s one very large inkstone that has a beautiful embroidered flora and fauna motif along its edge. It is of an unknown age and worth a small fortune.

There’s a brush on display that must be one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. The custodians told me that it was made with the tails of 50 horses. It weights 14 kg and is 170 cm tall. It was used for advertising. There’s also a very tall Shaffer pen on display as you walk into the museum. It dates from 1920 and is 160 cm tall. This too was used for advertising. There’s also a 1905 poster by A.W. Faber “Castell” on display. There’s another interesting sign on display. It’s American. It says, “School Tuck Shop” Est. 1901 Proprietors: The Misses Molesworth.

There were so many things that caught my eye. There’s a variety of adding machines (mechanical, battery, or electrical), writing instruments new and old, ink stones, abacuses, hibachi (warming the hands), writing boxes, and stationary products such as pencil cases. I loved the graphics on the The Paper Slates on display in the cabinet. There’s also an autopen on display.

Also, on display were three photographs. One dating from the Taisho period and the other two from the early Showa period showing the packaging of glue and its shipment.

I found the trip very interesting since many of the items on display in the collection I still currently use. I have two manual typewriters dating from the 40s and the other from 70s that I still currently use. There’s a desk top computer on display very similar to the one I still use. I still rely on a battery charged adding machine to tally up my totals. It just showed me how quickly objects have become obsolete nowadays.

I’d like to thank the two senior custodians Mr. Hidemi Tsuchida and Hisayoshi Horioka for their kindness and assistance. As I was leaving, they presented me with a Japan Stationary Museum pen. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

If you have an interest in early writing instruments, seals and the like, do check them out. You might be pleasantly surprised as I was.

Nearest Station: Asakusa-bashi
Address: 1-1-15 Yanagibashi, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3861-4905
Home Page: http://www.bungu.or.jp (In Japanese)
Business Hours: 1:00pm-4:00pm; Closed Sat, Sun & Holidays
Admission: FREE

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.

Gundam-themed cafe opens in Akihabara

About 200 people lined up on Saturday for the early-morning opening of the first official “Gundam”-themed cafe, based on the popular sci-fi animation series. Female staff members dressed as characters from the series greeted customers to the cafe in Tokyo’s Akihabara district when its doors opened at 8.30 a.m on Saturday.

Accessible from the JR Station at the “Denkigai Exit” and just below the Yamanote line, Bandai Gundam Café is the ultimate stop for Gundam fans. The cafe is filled with Gundam memorabilia, TVs showing Gundam episodes, and even serves Gundam-shaped cookies, commonly called Taiyaki (waffle-like pastries often filled with red bean paste).

Check out the official website.

Bistro Juban Stand – Standing Bar

Standing Bars are not only for middle aged men any more. They once were as they were used by salarymen to drop in after work. They would drink, perhaps have an appetizer, and talk there around the big barrels discussing what ever it was that happened to be happening around the office. That was yesterday. Not today. Today standing bars are a lot more hip and diverse.


For a stylish Standing Bar near Azabu Juban Station, try the Bistro Juban Stand. It is open for all and has a regular fair of many young women and internationals, too. But, besides all those wonderful people being around…well it’s really affordable with 390 yen jugs of beer, 500 yen sake and so-chu, and even appetizers that go for 300 yen, like the Shrimp Peperonchino…did I say yummy? Yummy.


Out late? Don’t like to go home? When you’ve missed the last train, you can just stay there until 4 a.m. the next morning. No biggie, no hassle. They’re open late. If you like to sit and drink, they have a table in the back (Charge 500 yen). But after a few that might be where you want to end up.

During the daytime, they serve their own original curry. It is 490 yen and tasty. They serve 100s of dishes of curry each and every day. I’ve been there and I know you will enjoy just drinking or meeting new friends there. Try it out. But, hey it’s getting cooler outside you say for a standing bar…more reason to find someone and stand a little closer.

Hint: If you need a landmark look for the big barrels placed in front of the bar.


For More Information:

Address: 2-1-9-1F Azabu Juban, Minato-ku
1minute walk from Subway Nanboku line, Oedo line “Azabu Juban” exit 4
TEL: 03-5730-9777
Time: 16:00-4:00am


Tokyo Tower in Lights — “insert message here.”

Tokyo Tower…Ever wonder what all the lights mean? Well here’s you chance to find out…well maybe it’s in Japanese…but I’ll give you a few hints as to what’s happening this month…

Just past is pink on the 1st and it was for….breast cancer’s “Pink Ribbon Day.”

And today, Friday the 2nd, is for the 2016 Olympics and Paralymics, and on the 11th and 12th is something called Diamond Veil and has the message reading “Grow your spirit in love, earth, the environment, and peace.”

I like it, and I hope you do, too.

Go ahead and take a look…it’s interactive…Tokyo Tower Official Site

photo of “50th Anniversary of Tokyo Tower” by inoc

My visit to the Yasukuni Shrine


His private visits to the Yasukuni shrine provokes the ire of many Asian countries. Why does Prime Minister Koizumi visit the Yasukuni shrine? I didn’t know. As it so happened, I had moved to Shinjuki and was living within walking distance of the shrine. So, one April morning, I made my way there to find out.

In my mind’s eye, I had thought the shrine itself would be larger and more imposing than it was. I was struck by its simplicity. I had double checked with one of the security guards on duty. “Sumimasen” I asked. “Yasukuni koko?” I said and gently pointed to its direction with my hand. He nodded his head and uttered a “Hai.” He then instructs me on Shinto protocol in Japanese and reminds me to clap twice. I reply with an “Arigato gozaimasu.”

The complex is bustling with activity. There are many visitors present. There’s a live performance taking place on a makeshift stage. I notice that there are many Japanese seniors in attendance.

I walk towards the shrine. I instinctively sense the reverence of the place. Many are offering their respects. It is a special place. I can see that. I can feel it. It is a place of worship.

After, I visit the war museum. I learn about the Yasukuni shrine. The shrine is where the Japanese revere their own who have died for the nation. The shrine dates from the Meiji period. The registry of souls also dates from the Meiji period.

The fallen become guardian divinities and protect Japan from evil.

I spend many hours working my way through the exhibits on the two floors. Many of the exhibits have been translated into English. There are exhibits on loan from the Imperial Family. I begin to realize that there is a connection between the Imperial Family and the Yasukuni shrine. There is a moving images presentation on Japan’s military past which I watch. I take a seat in the back. I notice that many Japanese are weeping silently. The atmosphere is charged with emotion.

I take a break and sit in the lounge area on the second floor to collect my thoughts. I feel weary. I am feeling tired. I feel slightly overwhelmed by it all but I continue on with my visit.

I make a mental note. There’s a reference to Nanking. There’s a reference to the GHQ occupation policy. There’s a reference to the Emperor Showa repudiating his divine status. There’s a reference to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Kamikaze exhibit leaves me feeling terribly sad. The photo portraits of the Kamikaze overwhelm me. There is a volume of their correspondence that has been translated into English which I read. Their words leave me feeling numb.

I explore the grounds of the enclosure. There’s a sumo pit on the premises and a lovely Japanese garden. My visit to the shrine leaves me with a deeper understanding of Japanese people and Japanese modern history. I come away with the understanding that the Yasukuni shrine, the Imperial Family, and the Sakura (cherry blossoms) shape the identity of the Japanese people. Yes, the shrine houses the names of Japan’s convicted war criminals but also those who fought for a modern Japan.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.
photo by: HIRATA Yasuyuki

Hachiko Fever

The story of Hachiko, the Akita-ken who symbolizes loyalty, devotion, and friendship has been brought to the screen recently in a new movie, Hachi (also called Hachiko- A Dog’s Story). It was released in Japan on 8/8 (to correspond with ‘hachi, hachi’), and will be out in America on December 18. Whether or not you know the story of this inspiring canine who waited for his master at Shibuya Station everyday for over ten years, I recommend Hachiko Waits, by Leslea Newman, to fill you in. Leslea’s book is faithful to the details of the original story, while adding a few new characters, especially a young boy, Yasuo, who befriends Hachi. It is a young adult novel, though I must admit I read it twice myself, enjoying the details of Tokyo in the 1920’s and the story of how Hachi becomes the respected and loved Hachi-ko.

If you are in Tokyo, why not call a friend, meet at the Shibuya Station at the Hachiko statue, and make a Hachi night out of it. And of course, bring along a copy of the book for while you wait!

I’ll be waiting for a Wednesday (Ladies Day) or the first of the month to see the movie, when the price in theatres in Japan goes down to 1000 yen, from the regular 1800 yen ticket price.




Aikawarazu Life in Japan

Link to find out more about the Shibuya Hachiko Statue:


Parasite Museum as Hot Dating Spot?

Are you tired of exploring parks, temples, or nice restaurants in Tokyo with your partner? Then, I recommend trying something a little different like the Meguro Parasitological Museum.

This museum is literally showing specimens of parasites. You will hardly and hopefully never get the chance of ever seeing these specimens in your normal everyday life…Well unless you are in Meguro, Tokyo or you are scientist or researcher.

Usually, when you imagine parasites they are something gross or scary, and well that might just make you avoid wanting to look at one directly. Or so most sane people would think before building a museum to show them. But they built it and it’s actually not that scary…I guess. This museum tells you that parasites are more interesting than scary and more part of life on our planet than you might think.

I saw on TV once a famous opera singer, Maria Callas, who put parasites purposefully inside her as part of her diet plan. It seems to be a slightly dangerous way of dieting, but actually it’s not sooooo…dangerous as you have to only avoid a few kinds of parasites completely, the ones that can kill you more immediately as opposed to the ones that slowly drain your body of its nutrients while they suck the life force out of you. Either way, I don’t see it catching on anytime soon or getting as popular as the “Banana Diet” craze.

The museum shop has some really original merchandise. It’s mostly cute, nifty, and strangely gross T-shirts, key holders, and things. I think they are cool to have and that’s why I tell you people about them.

Oh…and have fun on your date.

For more information:
Meguro Parasitological Museum Website