Ten Quirky Objects

Here are 10 objects that pretty much any Japanese person would recognize, but which may not be so familiar to foreigners. How many do you know? (Bonus points for knowing the Japanese name as well.)

There hints above the pictures will become visible if you highlight them. Click here for the answers.

#1 Hint: Kind of the opposite of a lawnmower.

#2 Hint: Usually at least two meters long.

#3 Hint: Not a nunchaka!

#4 Hint: For women who want to look more Western.

#5 Hint: It might help you sleep better.

#6 Hint: Used for cleaning.

#7 Hint: Standard equipment in a soapland.

#8 Hint: Used with something green.

#9 Hint: Associated with death.

#10 Hint: They’re protecting something.

Click here for the answers.

Jomyo-in, the Jizo Temple

I rode my bicycle past Jomyo-in Temple hundreds of times on my way to work, never suspecting that it might be worth visiting until last year they started doing construction on it, and I got a look inside because one of the walls was torn down. It’s actually pretty interesting because its filled wall-to-wall with thousands of Jizo sculptures.

Before the Meiji Restoration, all of Ueno Park and a lot of it’s surroundings were one huge temple called Kan’ei-ji, and Jomyo-in was one of its 36 sub-temples. Kan’ei-ji was closely associated with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and Jomyo-in is named for the mother of the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

The temple was renamed Jomyo-in in 1723. The front gate is said to date back from this time.

The jizo thing was started by a monk called Myoun, who became the chief priest of the temple in 1876. He was originally from Osaka, and at the age of 25, while living as a hermit at a temple in Nikko, he came have great faith in Jizo. He started out with the idea of making a thousand jizo statues, but when they were finished, he started thinking big and decided to go for 84,000. The temple and some sites that I checked seem to indicate that there really are 84,000 jizo statues there, but there clearly aren’t.

There’s a really cool 360 degree panoramic photo of the temple here: http://www.360cities.net/image/jomyoin#695.86,-9.07,110.0

And a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY_gi-UPjo4&playnext=1&list=PL851D134A302A2D60

The temple is right next to the entrance of the Yanaka Cemetery.

There’s a very good map and detailed access information on this PDF: https://www.meanwhile-in-japan.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/yanaka.pdf

Here is the temple’s official homepage, in really difficult to read Japanese: http://www.tendaitokyo.jp/jiinmei/jinss/ss3jyomyo.asp

 

Fearsome Nio at Entsuu-ji Temple

Entsuu-ji is a kind of a cheesy-looking Zen Temple near Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, but it has some really cool Buddhist sculptures.

These are kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” and they stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that one, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and one, the Mishabe Kongo, (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

Entsu-ji probably isn’t worth a special trip, but you might want to combine it with a visit to the Yoshiwara former red-light district or the Kotsukappara Execution Grounds.

Here is the temple’s homepage (in Japanese only) http://www6.plala.or.jp/entsuji/

Getting there: From Minami-senju Station, go out of the West Exit, turn left, and walk to the stop lights. Turn right and walk north to the next set of lights. Turn left, and walk to the second set of lights, which is a big road called Nikko Kaido or Route 4. Cross the street, and turn left. Entsu-ji will be on your right. You can also take Exit 3 from Minowa Subway Station, turn right, and north on Nikko Kaido/Route 4. Coming from Minowa, Entsu-ji will be on your left.Address: Tokyo, Arakawa-ku, Minami-senju 1-59-11 (Japanese: 東京都 荒川区南千住1-59-11)

TEl. 03-3891-1368

These are Kongo Rikishi (aka Nio),Kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that the one on the left, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and the one on the right, the Mishabe Kongo (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

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Mimikakiten: The Next Maid Cafe?

Remember how when you were a kid they told you to never put  anything in your ear at all because it’s really, really dangerous and could give you permanent hearing loss? Well, no one has ever said that in the entire history of Japan, and most Japanese people have an ear cleaning kit at home.
A husband lying down with his head on his wife’s lap having his ears cleaned is an image of domestic bliss in Japan, and it’s said that when a guy has no one to clean his ears, it can be a lonely experience to do it for himself.
Well, never fear, because now there’s a shop called the Yamato Mimikakiten where you can go to get your ears cleaned by an attractive young woman. A woman’s lap is often called a “hizamakura,” (you’ve probably seen the popular lap pillows sold to lonely otaku), and this shop lets you rest your head on the girl’s lap during the session.

The company calls its employees komachi, which means “beautiful woman.” Each one seems to be required to keep a blog which they update daily with pictures of themselves and chatter about their daily lives. (Here’s a sample, but it’s in Japanese only.) You can choose your komachi for an extra 500 yen per half hour.

Here’s a video:

A cleaning costs 2,700 for 30 minutes and 4,800 yen for one hour.
If you’d like to check it out, there’s a branch in Ueno. From JR Ueno Station, go out the Central Exit and turn right, walking past Keisei Ueno Station. You’ll pass Yodobashi Camera and AbAb Department Store on the other side of the road. Keep going until you see a JTB travel agent. The ear cleaner’s is in the next building, a pachinko parlor and capsule hotel which says “Treasure Hunting” on it.

The address is 2-6-11 Egg Biru 6F
Taito-ku, Tokyo.
Tel. 03-3839-8100
It’s open from 12 to 10 every day.

The shop’s website is at: http://www.yamamotomimikaki.com

Mysterious Garden Rocks

If you’ve ever been to a Japanese garden, you’ve may have seen these little rocks wrapped in ropes in various places. What are they?  Decorations? Stuff left by lazy workers? If I saw the rock in the middle of this path, there’s a good chance I’d just obliviously keep walking. Actually, though, this is a  sekimori ishi (or  tomari ishi), and it’s a “Do Not Enter” sign with a difference.
Sekimori ishi are usually used on stepping-stone paths in teahouse gardens and are a subtle message telling people not to enter when a tea ceremony is going on or to let people know that a path is closed to the public. However, unlike a “Do Not Enter” sign, they represent a tacit agreement between the guest and host to, “pretend that this is not here.” They also have a decorative function, and it’s true that they have a lot more aesthetic appeal than a “keep off the grass” sign.

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of sekimori ishi and how to make them here (in Japanese only). It’s a site by a professional garden designer, and he made the rock in this photo. You can even purchase your very own authentic sekimori ishi from the site.

Fukagawa Matsuri

The Fukagawa Matsuri (officially the Fukagawa Hachimangu Matsuri) is one of Tokyo’s “Big Three” festivals, but seems to be a lot less well-known than Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri.

Its a mikoshi festival, and its gimmick is that people throw water on the mikoshi carriers to cool them down.

This year I went to the children’s mikoshi event because it’s not nearly as crowded. It was great for photography because there were enough people to give it quite a lively atmosphere, but I could move around as much as I wanted and get up close for photos.

It’s held near Monzennaka-cho on the Oedo and Tozai Subway Lines. The climax of the festival is always on the 15th of August.

Boso no Mura Folk Village

The Boso no mura is a fantastic blend of history, nature, and beautiful architecture in Chiba, near Narita Airport. It doesn’t seem to get many visitors, which is really a shame because it’s a really worthwhile tourist spot – very educational, entertaining, and great for photography.

The main attraction is this re-created samurai town. The buildings are amazing, and inside there are people demonstrating traditional crafts. Depending on the day and time, there’s Ukiyoe printmaking, blacksmithing, bamboo crafts, straw crafts, ceramic art, weaving, etc. You can even try your hand at things like making pottery or children’s toys. You can see photos of all the buildings on this page, but it’s in Japanese only.

There’s also an old farm that is actually under cultivation. Here are more details, again, in Japanese only, but with lots of photos.

This Jomon Period history museum is really well-done, and has some very interesting displays. In the back, they have Jomon Period houses, and a lonely-looking old man came and talked my ear off for 15 minutes about Jomon house-building techniques.

I only had to wait about 30 seconds to get this photo of the main street of the town with no people walking through it.

You can try on samurai armor for free too.

The admission fee is only 300 yen.

The problem is that it’s kind of difficult to get to. You have to head all the way out to Narita Station and then take a bus for 20 minutes.

Website in English: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/e/index.html

Location: 1028 Ryukakuji, Sakae-machi, Imba-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 270-1506, Japan.
Phone +81-476-95-3333

Much more detailed website in Japanese: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/index.html

From Ueno Station, take the Joban Line and get off at Abiko. From there, take the Narita Line to either Narita or Ajiki Station. It’s about one hour to both stations, and costs 890 yen. You can also take the Keisei Line to Narita, which is only 810 yen and requires no transfer.

From Narita Station, go out the West Exit to the taxi stand. Take the bus bound for Ryuukaku-ji Shako (Japanese: 竜角寺台車庫). It takes about 20 minutes costs 390 yen.

From Ajiki Station, take the bus for Ryuukaku-ji Shako (Japanese: 竜角寺台車庫). It’s eight minutes, and the bus costs 210 yen.

Here is the bus schedule from Narita: 8:25, 8:47, 9:10, ※9:40, 10:10, 13:08, 13:38, 14:12, ※10:40, 11:38, 12:10, 12:38, 14:50, 15:15, 15:40, 16:15
※Weekend buses from Apr. to Nov.

Here is the bus schedule from Ajiki: 8:13, 8:56, 10:02, 12:31, 13:21, 14:21, 15:21, 16:30, 16:54, 17:43

The last bus back is at 18:57 from Ajiki and 15:39 from Narita. Call 0476-95-3333 for more bus information.

Money for Nothing

Sometimes Japan’s gift-giving culture can make life really complicated. Having to leave half your suitcase empty so that you have room to put souvenirs for all your co-workers, or trying to figure out if money envelopes are for funerals or weddings can be a nuisance, but this is only the tip of the gift-giving iceberg. Throughout the year and on countless occasions in daily life, Japanese people are socially obligated to slip little envelopes filled with money to one another. Here are some of the more famous and interesting ones:

Senbetsu (Japanese: 餞別) – Farewell money is given to someone who is moving, going on a long trip, or quitting her job to get married. Recent university graduates about to go on a working holiday can expect anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 yen from close relatives, and workers who are being transferred or are quitting their jobs to get married get anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 yen per co-worker (usually depending on their rank within the company).
Average take: 50,000 yen

Choju Iwai (長寿祝い) – Make it to the age of 60 in Japan and you’re entitled to some cash. Kanreki is a celebration based on the Chinese zodiac, and happens when a person has lived through the entire cycle of astrological signs and returns to the same year and horoscope sign as they were born in. Achieve this amazing feat, and all your kids and grandkids have to cough up some cash. Children pay 20,000 to 30,000 yen, grandchildren pay 10,000 to 20,000 and other relatives 5,000 to 10,000.  There are also celebrations at 70, 77, 80, 81, 88, 90, 99, 100, 108, and 111.
Average take: 70,000 yen

Sharei (Japanese:謝礼) – If you’re about to go under the knife, it’s probably best to slip the doctor a little gratitude money in an envelope before the operation. Although it’s technically illegal and is not as common as it once was, many patients still pay it.
Average payment: 300,000 – 1,000,000 yen

Tegirekin (Japanese:手切れ金) – When a man terminates a relationship with a hostess or mistress, he pays her separation money. The amount depends, of course, on his income, how long they’ve been going out, and how much trouble it would cause him if she revealed intimate details to his wife or company.
Average take: 100,000 yen

Otoshidama (Japanese: お年玉) – Most Japanese children and teens look forward to New Years a lot more than they do to Christmas because they know that there’s going to be New Year’s gift money from each and every older relative of working age. Elementary school students get about 1,000-3,000 yen, jr. high students take in 3,000-5,000 yen per relative, and high school kids get 5,000-10,000 yen.
Average take: 40,000 yen

Okozukai (Japanese:お小遣い) – Okozukai can mean pocket money when parents give it to children, but when a man gives spending money to a mistress, the word takes on a completely different meaning.
Average payout:300,000 yen/month

Kaiki Iwai (Japanese:快気祝い) – If someone has helped you out or visited you a lot while you were sick or hospitalized, it is customary to pay them recovery celebration money. The amount is usually one-third of the estimated value of presents or cash gifts that you received while ill.
Average payment: 3,000-10,000 yen

Isharyou (Japanese:慰謝料) – If you’re ever involved in a fender bender or get hit by a car, make sure you get your consolation money, which is paid for your mental suffering and is over and above the cost of car repairs and hospital treatment. It is also paid out in divorces in the case of infidelity or spouse abuse. Minor accidents and injuries start at about 20,000 yen.

Reikin (Japanese:礼金) – The most famous of Japan’s courtesy payments, this money is paid to landlords for the privilege of moving into their buildings.
Average payment: two months’ rent

Goshuugi (ご祝儀) – If you’ve passed an important examination, been accepted into, or graduated from school, or won an important prize, you might get some congratulatory money.
Average take: 10,000-30,000 yen

Kenshoukin (Japanese:懸賞金) – When you see banners being paraded around the ring before a sumo match, it means that there is prize money on the table. Each banner represents one sponsor, and for every sponsor, the winning wrestler takes home 35,000 yen.
Average take: 30,000 yen

Okaeshi (Japanese:お返し) – Okay, now the bad news. When Japanese people get gifts, there is usually an obligation to give a return gift called an okaeshi. For example, if you get a present for your baby, it’s common to give a return gift of one-third to one-half the value of the original gift.

Gogatsu Ningyo, the Dolls of Boys’ Day

Japan has some of the most amazing dolls in the world, and when I went to visit my wife’s family during Golden Week, I was surprised to see that one of the rooms in the house had been taken over by an enormous display of gogatsu ningyo (literally ‘May dolls’) in honor of my new son.

The official name of the holiday being celebrated is Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, and it comes on May 5th, every year, but it used to be called Tango no sekku, and was originally just for boys. The festival is centuries old, and no one knows exactly where it came from or how it originated, but there are some theories here.

Anyway, it’s basically a day to wish for the health and happiness of male children, and there are a lot of masculine symbols associated with it, like the above tiger and the below carp.

These are irises, the flower that gives the festival its old name, Shobu no Sekku. Irises were used in purifying rituals, and because the word for iris, shobu, sounds like the word for military spirit, it also became associated with samurai virtues.

Nara Houses

Japan is well-known for its excellent public transportation system, but something I’ve been realizing recently is that if you want to see the really beautiful parts of the country, you need a car. Every time I head out into the Nara countryside, I’m amazed at how beautiful the old houses and countryside are. These houses are all in and around the city of Gojo.