Month: Last updated Aug 1, 2017

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. In 1990, residents’ group decided to start preserving the area, but, unfortunately, it seems to be a bit of a half-hearted effort. On their homepage, they proudly point out that they’ve gotten the electric company to paint the telephone poles the same color as the buildings. Shinmachi could be a great attraction if it was preserved a little better, or if there were more tourist facilities, but as it is, I’d only recommend it if you are a real architecture buff or if you were passing  through on the way to Mt. Koya and wanted to stop off somewhere for half an hour or so. Getting there: Take the...

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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: 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 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...

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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. 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. 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. Japan’s first steam locomotive. They blow the train’s whistle and rotate it around on an old turntable every day at...

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Edo-Period Recycling

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...

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