Month: Last updated Aug 1, 2017

36 Views of the Ushiku Daibutsu

I first saw the Ushiku Daibutsu in the quirky movie, Shimotsuma Monogatari (Japanese: 下妻物語), which is called Kamikaze Girls in English. You can see the Daibutsu in the hilarious first ten minutes of the movie. It’s in Ibaraki Prefecture, where I used to work, a place I thought was the about the most God-awful area in Japan. The Ibaraki that I saw in Shimotsuma Monogatari, though, was a strangely beautiful, surreal piece of countryside, and I started to wonder if I’d been blinded by the misery of a job I hated. There was only one way to find out, so last weekend,  I headed to Ushiku. It turned out to be right up there in terms of quirkiness with almost anything else Japan has to offer – a giant Buddha statue some 36 stories tall in the middle of nowhere, built by a famous Kyoto temple seemingly as a promotional gimmick for a giant graveyard. The Great Buddha was built by the Higashi Honganji Temple, whose headquarters is one of the two big temples in front of Kyoto Station. It’s called ARCADIA in English, which stands for Amida’s Radiance & Compassion Actually Developing & Illuminating Area. The statue weighs 4000 tons, and its outstretched left palm alone is 18 m long. Last year I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Big Red Dot Out of Ruins,...

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Museum of Maritime Science

“Museum of Maritime Science” makes it sounds like it’ll be devoted to algae and tides, but it’s actually about ships. It’s a huge museum that takes a couple of hours to get through, and is quite interesting. There are incredibly detailed models of all kinds of ships through the ages, from Columbus’ Santa Maria to WWII battleships to modern container vessels. The museum is shaped like a giant cruise ship. Historically, Japan isn’t famous as a sea-faring nation, but it did have some beautiful ships. A WWII battleship. Some of the technical sections are actually pretty interesting, showing you...

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The Green Tokyo Gundam Project

Tokyo’s giant Gundam is currently attracting millions of visitors who come to see the giant steel robot rising up over Shiokaze Koen in Odaiba. It’s official name is the Green Tokyo Gundam Project, and it’s part of a plan to promote Tokyo’s campaign for the 2016 Olympics – they’re trying to make things greener and more environmentally friendly for the games. It’s easy to be cynical about using a giant steel robot to promote the environment, and how there’s nothing really “green” about the souvenir shops and the way it’s set up. When you go there, there are no...

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Sasakawa Ryoichi Statues

I’ve seen these slightly-creepy statues of a guy carrying his mother in various places in Japan, and always wondered what they were. They’re called kouyou no  zou (filial-piety statues), and it turns out they’re of a guy named Sasakawa Ryoichi, whose name will probably ring a bell if you’ve read David Kaplan’s book Yakuza. He was a fascist and was arrested as a class A war criminal after WWII. Despite having run a huge fascist organization and recruited a 150,000 man army that plundered China, trafficked in opium, and committed war crimes, he was let go because there was not enough evidence against him (although some say it was because America wanted to use the right-wingers to fight communism). He also had a lot of tie-ins with the yakuza, and was a drinking buddy of the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka. Sasakawa was affiliated with the Moonies too, was one of the most powerful men in the LDP (even helping choose cabinet ministers), and once called himself “the world’s wealthiest fascist.” So by now you’re probably asking yourself why there are statues of the guy all over Japan. Well, the reason is that after getting released from prison, he used his money and political influence to get motor boat racing legalized as a form of gambling. Motor boat racing (kyotei) is one of only four types of gambling...

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The Obakemono Project and Other Interesting Websites

I’m off to Osaka for a few days, but here are a few interesting sites I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: 1. To start off, here’s a great blog called Bastish.net, about an American guy and his Japanese wife living the country life in Nagano Prefecture. They own an organic farm and have a business guiding hikers and showing people around their corner of rural Japan. He’s a really good photographer, and writes interestingly about his neighbors, customers, and family. The blog is at: http://www.bastish.net/index_2.html and if you’d like to try a rural getaway focused on outdoor adventure or immersing yourself in village life with some help from English speakers, check out his One Life Japan website: http://www.onelifejapan.com/index.html. 2. Babies who lick the oil out of lamps, umbrella monsters, and ceiling lickers. They’re all at the Obakemono Project, a very well-done website about Japanese monsters. URL: http://www.obakemono.com/index.php 3. Calories in Japanese foods – This simple but fact-filled homepage is the place to go if you’re curious about whether miso, soy, or tonkotsu ramen will make you the fattest, or what kind of sushi has the least calories. Here’s the URL: http://www.eiyoukeisan.com/JapaneseFoodCalorie/index.html 4. Bukkake of the Gods: Japan’s Insane Creation Myths is brought to you by the good people at Cracked.com, describing Japan’s vomit and urine gods, gods having sex with corpses, and more. “What country has...

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