No Tattoos Sign

This sign on a sento (public bath house) says “Irezumi no kata okotowari shimasu.” (People with tatoos are not permitted).

A lot of non-Japanese people with tattoos worry about whether they will be allowed into sento or hot springs, but it’s not usually a problem. There is a distinction in Japan between “irezumi,” Japanese-style tattoos done with traditional methods, and “tatu,” modern tattoos done with electric tattoo machines. As long as a person isn’t covered with them, there shouldn’t be a problem because the “no tattoos” rule seems to be just a polite way to say “no yakuza.”

Here’s a really interesting thesis written by a woman who studied traditional tattoing in Japan. At first she tried to visit tattoo studios and talk with yaks, but she recounts how she had more success working in a hostess club and getting gangsters to talk about and show off their tattoos there! It’s pretty long and academic, but full of interesting information:

If you’d like a shorter, easier read, try:

Little Fireman

Cute kid trying on fire fighter’s outfit at a fire safety promotion in Ueno Park, Tokyo.

Bored Souvenir Seller

I guess selling souvenirs isn’t the most exciting job in the world.


These are hanko, personal seals. Most people use them instead of signatures.

Grave Cleaning Day

In the traditional Tokyo neighborhood of Yanaka, the smell of incense and sounds of people scrubbing gravestones fills the air every year on September 23. It’s higan, the time of the equinox, and Japanese people go to graveyards all over the country for ohaka mairi (grave visits) to pay their respects to their ancestors.
It’s said that the Higan observance comes from a Buddhist belief that when the night and day are equally divided, Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to Nirvana, so there are observances both in spring (shunbun) and autumn (shubun).

A woman on her way to pay her respects at a grave.

This woman is carrying a sotoba, a wooden stick which has the deceased person’s kaimyo written on it. A kaimyo is a special name that is given to the person after he or she dies.

A typical grave.

Burning Doll

Ningyo Kuyo, a festival in which people bring unwanted dolls to a temple to be disposed of in a special ritual. Japanese people can be very superstitious about dolls, and apparently don’t like to throw them away, believing that they have souls. During the festival, a Shinto Priest says prayers for the dolls and then they are burned.
This festival is coming up on Thursday the 25th of September at the Kiyomizu Kannon-do temple in Ueno park, Tokyo every year. It starts at 2:00 PM. The reason the festival is held on the 25th, and not on a weekend like most rituals is that 25 (nijyu go) sounds like the word for doll (ningyo).


If you have an interest in traditional Japanese architecture and can’t get out of the Tokyo area, Kawagoe city in Saitama Prefecture is definitely worth a visit.

It’s an old castle town and has quite a few old kura (stone buildings) and an interesting temple called Kita-in. Kura were originally small stone storehouses that were built beside a person’s house to store valuables in. Most Japanese buildings were made of wood, but the kura’s stone construction helped to prevent fire and theft. In Kawagoe, however, the kura have evolved into regular shops and houses. Kura were very expensive to build, and they were only common in wealthy commercial centers, such as Kawagoe, which provided rice and timber to nearby Edo (modern-day Tokyo).

There used to be about 200 kura in Kawagoe, but, now, just a few dozen remain. Most of them are in the “Kura-zukuri” zone north of the station. Kawagoe doesn’t compare with Shirakawa-go, Takayama, or the old post towns of the Naka-sendo, because most of the houses are on crowded streets with heavy traffic, but some of the buildings are gorgeous.

Kawagoe’s symbol is the Toki no Kane, the Bell of Time. Built between 1624 and 1643, it was destroyed three times in the numerous fires that swept through the city. The latest incarnation was rebuilt in 1893. You can’t actually go in it, but everyone stops by to take a photo.

Kita-in, an important temple was founded in the ninth century. It’s dedicated to Muryoju (Amitabha), the Buddha of unending life, and was formerly the main temple of the Tendai Sect, but to me, it’s the Nose Picking Buddha Temple. There are hundreds of rakan butsu-zo, statues representing the 500 disciples of Buddha. Although many Buddhist sculptures are carved to represent exquisite beauty or terrifying ferociousness, rakan almost always seem to be carved in the spirit of humour and good fun. For more details on the temple, visit the official homepage in English at:

Another place of potential interest is the Honmaru Goten, a palace that was once part of Kawagoe castle. It was built in 1848 and is interesting because many palaces in Japan were were built of wood and have not survived as well as the stone castles they were attached to. (In this case, however, the palace has survived and there is nothing left to see of the castle.)

Address : 2-13-1 Kuruwa-machi, Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, TEL : 049-224-6015, Hours : 9:00 – 17:00, Admission : Adults 400 yen, Students (primary school, junior high school) 200 yen, Holidays : Every Monday (excluding Mondays that follow a holiday or the Kawagoe festival), days following holidays (excluding Saturdays and Sundays), 4th Friday of the month (excluding holidays), Dec 28 – Jan 4

The city’s museum is actually quite a good one, very modern and with attractive, interesting displays. It starts with displays on the ancient history of the area, and some of the artifacts from the Jomon Period are amazing. The next sections detail life for the samurai class during Japan’s middle ages, and in the Edo Period (1603-1867), and there are lots of beautiful examples of Japanese handicrafts, clothes, and weapons. There’s also a section on more recent history, and an area dealing with the city’s famous festivals.
Address : 2-30-1 Kuruwa-machi Kawagoe City Saitama Prefecture, TEL:049-222-5399, Hours : 9:00 – 17:00 ( Admission until 16:00 ), Admission : Adults 200 yen, Students (senior high school, university) 100 yen, Children under junior high school Free, Holidays : Every Monday (excluding Mondays that follow a holiday or the Kawagoe festival), days following holidays (excluding Saturdays and Sundays), 4th Friday of the month (excluding holidays), Dec 28 – Jan 4 (Japanese only)

Kawagoe has a popular festival held on the third weekend in October, in which huge floats are pulled through the streets. has lots of pictures of the festival. If you’re not there in October, you can see two of the city’s 29 floats at the small but interesting festival museum.
Kawagoe Festival Museum
Address : 2-1-10 Moto-machi, Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, TEL:049-225-2727, Hours : April – September 9:00 – 18:30 ( Admission until 18:00 ), October – March 9:30 – 17:30 ( Admission until 17:00)
Admission : General 300 Yen, Students (elementary school, junior high school ) 100 Yen, Holidays : Every 2nd and 4th Wednesday (in case of holidays, the next day) Dec 29 – Jan 1

There is also a huge fireworks display held every year in mid-July. Check the Japan Times festivals page for details.

Getting there:
JR, Seibu Railways, and Tobu Railways all operate services to Kawagoe.
JR: Saikyo Line to Kawagoe Station, 650 yen, 44 min. (The JR station is the furthest from the main sights)
Seibu: Honkawagoe Station, 450 yen, 51 minutes (Change at Tokorozawa, Honkawagoe Station is closest to the main sights)
Tobu: Kawagoe Station or Kawagoe-shi Station, Tobu Tojo Line, 450 yen, 37 minutes (Kawagoe-shi Station is closer to the sights)

The Kura-zukuri area is about 15 minutes walk from Honkawagoe Station, and about 20 minutes from the Tobu and JR stations. Kita-in and the Honmaru Goten are about ten minutes from the Kura-zukuri area. There’s more travel information here.

Other information in English:
Official site:
Japan Guide –
Map in English at:
Event information listings:

Industrial Wasteland 2

Kawasaki’s industrial zone, built on man-made islands reclaimed from Tokyo bay, is actually surprisingly photogenic, and quite an interesting place to spend an afternoon in. I went there on an outing with the Tokyo Cameras photo club and really enjoyed it.

From Shinagawa station in Tokyo, take the JR Keihin Tohoku to Tsurumi Station. Change to the Tsurumi Line and get off at Ogimachi or Ookawa Station. It takes about 40 minutes, and costs 290 yen (be careful, because the Tsurumi Line runs infrequently, especially on weekends).web analytics

There’s another photo of the outing at: