Shinmachi Juku

Gojo is a small city in Nara Prefecture, about an hour and a half from Osaka by train、and is on the way to the famous monastery-mountain Mt. Koya. Well-off the beaten tourist track, it gets few visitors, but if you’re ever in the area, you might want to stop off and see the Shinmachi area, a semi-preserved area with a lot of nice old buildings.

The area has 77 buildings which have been preserved from the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) and 19 from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). It used to part of the Kishuu Kaido, a highway that ran between Wakayama and Osaka. Around 1960, however, a highway was built nearby, and people gradually stopped coming to the area.

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Niche Blogs

I guess every blogger in Japan sometimes envies the Japan Probes and the Danny Choos and the millions of visitors they get. I read them and enjoy them, but sometimes I think the blogs that take the most creativity and work are the little niche blogs with a narrow focus. There are quite a few of them that I visit regularly, and I’m always surprised at how they keep coming up with so much interesting content on a narrow topic.

Today I’m profiling a few of the most interesting ones:

How to be heian

In How to be Heian Japanese, a blog on the bizarre customs and lifestyles of people in the Heian Period (794-1185), you’ll learn about how people were known to call off marriages if their potential partner’s calligraphy was not up to snuff, how women never cut their hair, and how courtiers all had litter boxes in their rooms.

Onsen soaker

Onsen Soaker is written by a hot spring fanatic who goes on more than a hundred bathing expeditions a year. There are tons of great hot springs here that you’ll never find in the guidebooks, and the Japanese writer always has interesting observations about them. She’s a real connoisseur and will tell you about the quality of the water, the facilities, and much more. She visits hot springs all over Japan, and provides detailed access information for all of them. My only complaint is that I can’t see the photos when I visit this site in Firefox, but it works fine in Chrome.
drivers seat

Japan From the Driver’s Seat is the blog of Michael Cash, an American Truck Driver living and working in Japan. The majority of his photos are taken from inside his truck, which must be an enormous challenge. Being a truck driver, he gets to a lot of places most people never see, and he has a great sense of humor.
as I see Japan

As I see Japan…from L.A. faces what I would have thought would be an insurmountable handicap for a blogger.Since he’s not in-country the blogger posts  movie and book reviews. I’m not into samurai movies, but I find his history book reviews really interesting. They’re actually closer to summaries, and he always picks out interesting things. For example, I really enjoyed this post where he writes:

However, most of these [samurai] stereotypes are not based in reality. Medieval samurai often used deception or surprise to defeat an enemy. Samurai fought not just for honor but usually for very clear rewards.
One of the biggest myths of the samurai is that the samurai sword was his primary weapon, the soul of the samurai. However, during most of samurai history, it was the bow and arrow that was the true weapon of the samurai. It is true they carried a sword but it was a back-up weapon. Similar to modern soldier whose primary weapon is a rifle but they also carry a sidearm. It was not until the 250 years of peace during Edo period under the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns where the samurai considered the sword to be their soul.
Gaijin tonic
Gaijin Tonic treats as its subject everything related to alcohol in Japan. There are good posts on Japanese drinking games, an Alcatraz-themed restaurant, and Tokyo’s Top Ten Weird Watering Holes.” It’s all written with humor and style, and never gets old.
Japanese law blog
Read a few posts of the Japanese Law Blog, and you’ll be amazed at how much Japanese society is changing. Posts about the government’s plan to allow couples to have separate surnames, proposals to lower the voting age, lay judges, and changes to the organ donation laws make you realize that there are big things afoot right now. It’s surprisingly readable without too much legalese, and I find it adds some much needed analysis to the poorly reported stories in Japan’s English dailies.
Daily Fuji

I really respect Joshua Zimmerman for getting off his butt and taking a photo of Mt. Fuji every single day (even when it’s not visible!). He takes it from a different angle every time, and some of the photos are really beautiful.

This blog about Japanese school lunches has everything you ever wanted to know about school lunches in Japan. It’s more interesting than it sounds.

Railway Museum

Is it lame to write a blog post about a place you don’t recommend? I went to the Transportation Museum in Omiya, about 30 minutes north of Ueno, because several Japanese people recommended it to me. To be honest, though, I see so many trains every day in Japan that it just wasn’t very interesting. The other thing was that all the displays seemed to be about the trains themselves rather than the people they carried, the workers, or how they affected society.
There were a lot of excited-looking kids there, but unless you’re a real testu-kichi (railroad geek), I’d give this place a miss.

transport museum1
The museum started off  well with this jinsha, a human operated railway car. The first one was built in 1895, and they operated until 1930.

transport museum2
This beautiful old railway car reminds me of an experience I had a few years ago. I saw a poster for a ride on a steam locomotive and thought it might be interesting. When I got there, though, it was only the locomotive that was old-fashioned. The rest of the cars, which had conveniently been obscured by smoke in the poster, were just regular JR train cars, so I basically just rode on a regular train for an hour.

transport museum3

Japan’s first steam locomotive.

transport museum4

They blow the train’s whistle and rotate it around on an old turntable every day at noon.

The museum is really crowded, far from Tokyo, and expensive (1,000 yen for admission plus 630 yen train fare from Ueno).

The museum’s English homepage is at:

Edo-Period Recycling


Edo-Tokyo Museum Diorama

I stumbled across this interesting article a while ago about how there was pretty much no garbage in Japan’s Edo Period because almost everything got recycled.
I translated it into English, but it’s a bit long, so if you’re like me and have the attention span of a three-year old from using the Internet too much, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Everyday life in Japan’s Edo Period would today be known as a recycling society. They didn’t just recycle to reduce garbage; they had a mentality of valuing things and completely using everything up. For those of us who live in Japan’s disposable society of today, there might be a lot of things we can learn from the Edo Period recycling mentality.
One type of recycler was the collector. Things were so valuable that people could make a living by collecting scraps and garbage. Collectors employed by public bathhouses went around looking for anything they could burn, even garbage, to save on expenses ,and paper buyers bought up used books and scrolls. Paper was so valuable that poor people were actually able to scrape out a living by going around looking for scraps of paper on the street. Scrap metal collectors would give candy to kids in exchange for old nails and other bits of scrap metal and there were even dealers who bought ashes from fires.
Even human excrement was valuable. One of the most bizarre recyclers in the Edo Period was the “night soil” collector, who bought human and animal excrement and sold it for fertilizer. (This isn’t in the article, but I’ve read it was so valuable there were even cases where criminals would steal it.)
There were thousands of used clothing shops, and Japanese clothing was ideal for recycling because kimono were cut straight in equal proportions with no waste, so even if it was old clothes or old rags, they were all standardized goods. From this point of view, they were completely different from Western clothes–if Western clothes are taken apart, they are all different sizes and have no value and cannot be recycled the way kimono were.
Repairers, the second main category of recyclers, would usually travel from house to house. You could get your knives sharpened, have someone resurface your mirror, ask them to put new teeth put in your clogs, or have your broken bowls glued, all without leaving the comfort of your own home.
The full article is after the jump. Read more