Tokyobling's Blog

Graves of Gokokuji Temple

Posted in Places by tokyobling on May 14, 2015

The huge Gokokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward is interesting not least for its graves of many historically significant persons in Japanese recent history. Not least among them is the statesman and Imperial Court Noble Sanjo Sanetomi (三条実美, 13th March 1837 – 28th February 1891). More well known to Westerns might be the grave of Marquess Okuma Shigenobu (大隈重信, March 11th 1838 – January 10th 1922) whose grave is in the first picture. Both of these men were prime ministers of Japan, Okuma during the first years of the Great War, and both of them have huge stone Torii guarding the entrances to their graves. Okuma founded the schools that would become the famous Waseda University in 1882. He also spoke English and managed to remove the official ban on Christianity in 1873.

I took these photos in the winter a few months ago, but now in summer the cemetery is more spectacularly alive with trees, flowers and birds everywhere.






Taisha Station Interiors – Shimane Prefecture

Posted in Opinion, Places by tokyobling on December 27, 2013

This is the interior of the wonderful but now disused Taisha Station in Shimane Prefecture on the northern coast of Japan. The constructions is a combination of western post and beam and Japanese finishing details and exterior roofing, giving it a strangely familiar feel. It does not feel like a typical countryside station but more like a proper waiting hall. It is easy to imagine groups of people and families gathering here to pick up relatives coming to visit over the holidays or to see of young people leaving for university or work in the big city! Take a look at the destinations list and you will see that this station was unusually well connected, there are fares to most places in western Japan and all the way to Tokyo on local train routes. It must have been an interesting journey in the time of steam powered locomotives.

Economists might also find the fare table quite interesting, as it shows us a little bit about how much inflation Japan has had in these 24 years since the table was last updated. Practically zero. This corresponds to one of the stupidest foreign language media hoaxes about Japan, the myth of “the lost decades”. I am old enough to remember back in the day when inflation was something universally detested and governments won elections on their “promises” to fight inflation. These days it is the complete opposite and governments fight to establish some sort of inflation, and they often point to the example of “the Japanese lost decades”. Here is an interesting article debunking the story. Or as my Dutch friend mentioned upon visiting Japan for the first time: “for a country two and a half decades into a recession, there sure seems to be a lot of construction going on”. Indeed.












Busena Marine Park – Okinawa

Posted in Animals, Nature, Opinion, Places by tokyobling on December 19, 2013

About near the north-middle of Okinawa, on the main island’s western coast lies the Busena Cape (Busenamisaki) stretching out into the ocean and sheltering a large coral reef in its shallow bay. I visited there in 2011 and took these photos of the 760m long white beach. These days the cape has a resort park, with the obligatory resort hotels and tourist attractions. Many of these are left over from the 2000 G8 Summit meeting. I wonder if any of the visiting world leaders got to see any of the natural beauty of this little piece of paradise? Tellingly, the only of the eight leaders who attended who is still in the same position is Russia’s Putin. Also tellingly, the most interesting part of the summit was the hockey game between a Canadian and a local Okinawan team. Ice Hockey in Okinawa? Who would have imagined it. If you are ever lucky enough to get handed a 2000 yen note, that was issued first in 2000, you can see the commemorative back side featuring Shuri castle from Okinawa.

One of the main tourist attractions of the cape is the glass bottom boat tours. Having never seen a coral reef before it was interesting, but for people who are braver than me I guess that the real action is underneath the surface, diving and snorkeling. Like in all the oceans of the world, the coral reefs of Okinawa is most likely heading towards extinction. There are volunteer and government programs to restore the reefs but without tackling the larger problem of ocean acidification it is unlikely that we will be able to show our grandchildren any corals apart from the ones grown in aquariums. Okinawa also regularly suffer from overpopulation of starfish that feed on corals and there are local volunteer diving teams that spend weeks every year removing starfish or even killing them to save the coral. As always in these problems, without addressing the causes the symptoms are unlikely to go away.

Still, to uneducated visitors like me, this part of Okinawa looks like a little piece of paradise. You can find the homepage of the Busena Marinepark here.

Oh, and this is the 1800th post online (not including deleted posts). Time flies!












Shinmaiko Marine Park – The Elections and the Oceans

Posted in Opinion, Places by tokyobling on December 17, 2012

Bear with me as I use an example of a tiny and absolutely unremarkable little seaside park in Aichi prefecture to wax philosophical for a little while. As you might have noticed, there was a big election here in Tokyo today. One of the main subjects of discussion in this election was the future of nuclear energy in this country. Some parties ran on the promise that they would close down all the nuclear power plants by the year 2030. Of course the question of how this is supposed to happen aren’t really explained, but one of the ways would probably be to invest in alternative energy sources, like these two plants at the Shinmaiko Marine Park in Chita City (知多市), Aichi prefecture. Made by a Danish company, these two plants generate about 3 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to power about 850 households. Although this is just a tiny slice of the energy needs of the city it is a good start I think, and absolutely necessary if the country is ever going to have a chance to retire the nuclear power plants.

The second theme of this post is about the Japanese view of the ocean. If you have visited any of Japan’s large cities it is easy to forget that they are actually often port cities with huge terminals, industry and trade taking up what would in other countries be very attractive real estate next to the ocean. Since most people in Japan are separated from the ocean by a wide stretch of industry zoning, the government has started developing many marine parks and recreation areas nestled among the factories and terminals, to allow people a green corridor to the ocean. Most of them are popular with fishing enthusiasts, couples and families looking for a good barbecue spot in the summer. I live in Tokyo, one of the greatest port cities in the world but I see the ocean about a couple of times a month, at best! In cities like Nagoya and Chita it is even worse, but small parks like this is making it slightly easier to get access to the ocean. Most maritime cultures or cultures that live in close contact with the ocean have developed a “sensibility” to the ocean, but not Japan. For Danes, New Zealanders and Britons for example, the ocean is often the subject of art, poetry and music, but I find that Japanese have much less refined sensibilities towards the ocean, with most of the religion, the myths, the songs and poetry being focused more inwards, inland. Without making too much of a big deal about it, I think it is an interesting subject that is often overlooked in discussions about the Japanese national character.

If you are ever in Nagoya, and feel like seeing the ocean, Shinmaiko Marine Park is one of the most accessible spots. Just hop on the Limited Express on the Meitetsu Tokoname Line (名鉄常滑線), getting off at Shinmaiko Station (新舞子駅) and then taking the ten minutes walk west. Or, if you are living in Nagoya, chances are you have a car. If you’ve been to this park (I’d be very surprised if any readers have!) or if you know any other good “pocket parks” near the ocean in Japan, just let us know in the comments!






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