Odd Scenes From the Tokyo Marathon (Part 2)

I quite enjoyed the costumes in the Tokyo Marathon, but I couldn’t help wondering if there isn’t something a little passive-aggressive about them. On the one hand, people wearing costumes are saying, “Hey, look. I’m just out here having fun in my costume. I don’t take this seriously.” But on the other hand, if I was out running my heart out in a marathon I trained six months for and some guy dressed up as Doraemon ran past me, I don’t imagine I’d feel too good about it.






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Waiting for the Pachinko Parlor to Open


Serious pachinko players often line up in front of a pachinko parlor before they open so they can be the first one in and find the best machines that are the most likely to pay out.

Odd Scenes From the 2009 Tokyo Marathon (Part 1)

The 2009 Tokyo Marathon took place last Sunday, March 22, 2009. I’ve never seen a marathon before, and I have to say that it was really entertaining and of course, completely different from watching the professional runners on TV.
It’s quite amazing to see hundreds of people rushing by you every minute. I heard that 27,000 people entered the marathon this year, and I figure I must have seen about 20,000 of them rushing by me. If you ever want to get a real feel for what a big number like 27,000 means, the Tokyo Marathon is a good way to really understand just how many it is, and get a feel for just how many different kinds of people there living in Tokyo.








This is a namahage.





Read the Kanji

I guess this site is pretty famous, since it’s already been on Japan Probe, but it recently got a lot better, so I’d like to write about it here. I’ve been struggling with kanji for 17 years, and Read the Kanji is the first study method I’ve ever found that was truly effective and efficient for learning them.


It’s just a quiz site, but it’s done a thousand times better than all the other quiz programs and kanji books out there. It flashes a kanji on the screen, you type in the pronunciation, and it tells you whether you got it right or wrong. The great thing about Read the Kanji, though, is that it remembers the ones you have trouble with, and once you get a certain number wrong, it goes into “failure review” mode, and you do all the ones you got wrong (you have to set it to “Learning mode” for this to happen. Otherwise it’s a straight out kanji test). Once you get out of failure review mode, those difficult kanji keep coming up again and again until you start to get them right. I find the algorithm very clever about showing me the kanji just often enough that I learn them, but not so often that I get sick of seeing them. I’ve been using the site for a couple months, and I’m learning more kanji in a shorter time than I ever have before.
Read the Kanji has thousands of characters, graded according to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and has example sentences with English translations that can be turned on of off as you wish.
The other thing I really like about this site is that the guy behind it clearly considers it a work in progress and is constantly changing and improving it.
The quiz is actually kind of addictive, and I sometimes find it hard to quit once I get started, a problem I’ve never had when studying kanji in the past!

Read the Kanji: http://www.readthekanji.com/quiz

Just a note to all of the people who are coming from the Heisig site (http://forum.koohii.com/viewtopic.php?id=2958&action=new). I can read kanji well enough to do a fair amount of professional translation work, and am familiar with the Heisig method, but didn’t find it worked for me.

Kanamara Penis Festival Reminder

This is just a reminder that Japan’s  most bizarre, hilarious festival is coming up soon. This year it will be held on Sunday April 5.






Video of the festival: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SggvPrkoJUI
Shrine homepage: http://tomuraya.co.jp/wakamiya.htm (Japanese only)

2-3-16 Daishi Eki-mae, Misaki-ku, Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Inside the grounds of Wakamiya Hachimangu.

To get there, take the Keikyu line from Shinagawa Station. Transfer to the Keikyu-Daishi Line at Keikyu Kawasaki Station and get out at Keikyu-Daishi. It takes about 45 minutes and costs 580 yen. The festival starts at 10:00 AM.web analytics The main event, the penis procession starts at 1:00 PM.

There are other posts about the festival here:

Love Hotel Restaurant


In the 1920s, love hotels were called tsurekomi yado, which literally means “bring along inn.”  They evolved from tea houses called deiai chaya that allowed men to bring prostitutes or lovers onto the premises and rent a room upstairs for a liason.

There are none of these operating as love hotels anymore, but there is one in Osaka that has been converted into a restaurant. It’s called Hyakuban and is in Tennoji.hyakuban2

This elegant old building has so much character that you’re intstantly taken back in time to a simpler, more graceful time. Pull aside the sliding doors to reveal the elgant wooden bridge in the front hall, and walk past traidtional woodcarvings and woodblock prints on your way to your own little room. They serve traditional Japanese foods like sukiyaki, shabu shabu, and chanko nabe. I wouldn’t go there just for the food because it was good but not spectacular, but it certainly is a unique, atmospheric dining experience.

Here’s the Hyakuban homepage (Japanese only): http://r.gnavi.co.jp/k069800/

Address: 3-5-25 Sanno, Nishinari-ku, Tel. (06) 6632-0050. Reservations required. Dinner costs an average of 5000 yen per person.

love-hotel-coverThere’s more information about   love hotels in my new book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds. I spent years visiting love hotels around Japan, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese books on sex and love hotels to bring you this book.

It’s 182 pages of information about their history, the people who design and operate them, their place in Japanese society, crime, and much, much more. There’s also a love hotel guide with information on how to get to the best hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

For more information about love hotels, please visit my newly updated love hotel page at: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotels.html

To order or find out more about the book, please visit: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelbookintro.htm. There’s also a smaller guidebook, with just the hotel information for 500 yen: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelguide.html.

There are more love hotel-related posts

Samurai Frog


Giant Samurai Frog in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.

Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome

There are a couple of really nice botanical gardens in Osaka that I used to visit when I was living there a few years ago. One is the Hattori Botanical Garden (link in Japanese only) in Hattori Ryokuchi  Koen, and the other is the Sakuya Konohanakan in Tsurumi Ryokuchi Koen. I’ve always been kind of disappointed that I couldn’t find anything like them in Tokyo, but last weekend when I was in Shin Kiba, I stumbled across the excellent Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome.


There are three domes, the first of which has all kinds of orchids and other beautiful rainforest plants.shin-kiba-botanical-garden6



The second dome is domestic plants, and then the third one has plants from the Ogasawara Islands like these huge palm plants.


Finally there’s a little room full of carniverous plants.


There’s a PDF with contact details and instructions on getting to the greenhouse here: http://www.kensetsu.metro.tokyo.jp/kouen/kouenannai/park/english/yumenetu.pdf

Admission is just 250 yen for adults. If you’re the least bit interested in plants, I really recommend it.

While you’re there, you might want to also visit the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall, a moving museum about a Japanese fishing boat that was accidentally exposed to radiation during an H-bomb test in the 1950s.

Japanese-style bike doubling


Iwatsuki Doll Town

The town of Iwatsuki is said to have over 300 doll-makers and 100 shops that sell them. They’ve been making dolls there since the 1700s, when doll-makers started setting up shop there because the kiri (paulonia) trees there excellent for woodcarving. It soon became a center for the production of hina dolls, and the tradition continues to this day.
I had an idea that doll-making might be a dying business, but it seems to be very common for grandparents to buy a set of hina dolls for new granddaughters, and the shops are surprisingly crowded in the months before Girls’ Day (March 3).

Every year there is a small festival on girls day, with a procession, koto (Japanese harp) concert, and other events. Combined with a visit to the two doll museums, a couple of shops, the nearby Iwatsuki Park, and possibly a stop in at nearby Bonsai Mura, it could be an interesting day out.

Here are some pictures of the procession:



The procession takes place on the Sunday before (or on) March 3. Check the Japan Times Festival Listings for more information.

And here’s the small, but very interesting doll museum.  Many of the dolls date back hundreds of years and are truly works of art. It is also interesting to see how they have evolved over time.




The museum is on the fourth floor, and the two floors below it are a nice doll shop.


Togokyu Doll Museum
3-2-32 Hon-cho, Iwatsuki-ku, Saitama City, Tel. 048-756-1111
Open: Tues. – Sun. (open every day from Nov. 1-May 5), 9 AM-5 PM. Closed at New Year’s, Obon (Aug. 13-15).
It costs 300 yen to enter and is right across from the station the station on the left side of the street that runs perpendicular to the tracks.
English website: http://www.tougyoku.com/hpgen/HPB/entries/24.html


There’s also a second doll museum called the Oningyo Rekishikan Tokyu. It has some nice displays, including a stand with 1,000 dolls in it.

Oningyo Rekishikan Tokyu
3-2-32 Hon-cho, Iwatsuki-ku, Saitama City
Open: 10 AM-5 PM
Exit the station and walk up the street that runs perpendicular to the tracks. Go to the second stop light and turn right. Walk five and a half blocks, and you’ll find it on your right, just after a temple and a 7-11.
There’s no English website, but this page has some pictures (click to enlarge): http://www.scvb.or.jp/data/tokyu.shtml

Iwatsuki Koen
There are doll festivals here on April 19 and November 3 every year. The one on April 19 is called Nagashi-bina. First, there’s a really lovely koto concert by young girls in beautiful kimono. Then priests come and bless paper dolls that are to be floated down the river.
November third is a festival for disposing of old, unwanted dolls. Both festivals begin around 10:00 AM.



It’s about five minutes by taxi or 25 minutes on foot.iwatsuki