In order to become fluent in Japanese and reach the level of a native speaker, you have to leave the textbook behind at some point. The school I went to (Naganuma) handed out copies of newspaper articles at the advanced level. Another great resource is Aozora (blue sky), a free online library similar to Project Gutenberg.
Aozora was founded in 1997 and archives books for which the copyright has expired under current Japanese law or were released by the copyright holder into public domain. Some works may disappear in the next few years if the U.S. can force Japan into “harmonizing” their copyright law and extend the length of copyright to protect the interests of big publishers. Some classic works still sell well after all. Project Gutenberg and other online archives are facing a similar threat as copyright term extensions are in discussion for other trade agreements too.
What can you find at Aozora.gr.jp? Books, and lots of them. All works have been scanned in and are published as text files. This will come in handy if you are using an electronic dictionary on your smartphone or PC. Many of the greatest writers both from Japan and foreign countries are represented with their work. Read the rest of this entry
Tokyo German Village is a park in Chiba, located about two hours from central Tokyo. The park offers facilities for families, flower events, a souvenir shop and German food. It’s not an educational place meant to teach you German – in many ways it’s very much a Japanese park.
Winter is time for the illumination festival when the whole park turns into an LED wonderland. Illumination festivals at parks like Tokyo German Village (Tokyo Doitsu Mura 東京ドイツ村) are usually more impressive than the festivals in central Tokyo. The festival lights and motives also change every year, encouraging people to visit the park at least once a year.
This year’s Winter Illumination Shangri-La started on November 8 and will continue until March 31. The lights are switched on from 4 to 8 pm, last entrance is at 7.30 pm. Until early January, a shuttle bus will run from Sodegaura Station (Uchibo Line) to Tokyo German Village. The whole trip took me about two hours, but it was well worth it! Read the rest of this entry
Trains in Japan are excellent but pricy, especially long distance ones. If you are lucky enough to stay in the country for more than one month, travelling by bus is the cheapest option to explore the country. Also, as fewer overnight train services are offered, buses become the only way to travel at night (unless you have a rental car, of course).
I used both trains and busses during a three-month trip to Japan, visiting three great festivals in Northern Tohoku (Aomori Neputa Matsuri, Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri, Akita Kanto Matsuri) and the cities Osaka and Takayama. For Tohoku and Osaka, I used the Japan Bus Pass by highway bus company Willer Express.
The Bus Pass is Willer’s equivalent to the Japan Rail Pass but is more flexible. You can travel either three or five days of your choice within two months from purchase. It’s exclusive to short term tourists of Japan i.e. if you are a resident of Japan, you can not buy the pass. Reservations have to be made beforehand and if you plan to do a round trip on the same day, one of the buses has to be a daytime bus. You can cancel a reservation up until a day before and make a new one.
Willer Express offers a variety of buses and the pass is valid on all except the premium ones. I used the theater and relax bus. Read the rest of this entry
Just like any other kid, I liked toy stores. One German toy store called “Spielwahn” in particular seemed magic to me. That store didn’t sell action figures, Barbie or board games but a range of games and robots by the Japanese manufacturer Tomy. Since then, I have a soft spot for that company which even to this day continues the tradition of quirky toys, most of which will never make it outside Japan.
This book is the Omnibot fan book and was published in 2007 by Mycom, coinciding with the release of Tomy’s humanoid i-SOBOT. The pictures on the cover are not in scale as the i-SOBOT is merely 16cm (6.5″) tall, about a quarter of the size of the Omnibot 2000 pictured on the left. The quite agile successor to the Omnibot range came out in 2007 and that particular toy store in Germany had long been replaced by a shoe store by then.
Going back to that 80′s toy store, the Omnibot was the king of robots at that place. Its shape resembled R2-D2 and the complicated buttons on the front promised many features. Simple programs could be put on cassette tape and the robot was also able to carry light items using the supplied tray. Also in the box was the remote control which is essential to using the Omnibot. The robot was released in multiple colors, although the white one is the most common. But what about the black Omnibot? Read the rest of this entry
Over 2.5 million visitors across Japan have seen the special exhibition Art Aquarium which features goldfishes in small and big tanks illuminated with changing lights. I have been to the exhibition two years ago when it started in Tokyo. The exhibition is now in Fukuoka and in Osaka. The Osaka exhibition’s tanks vary from the ones shown here.
Japanese people love good illumination shows as can be seen every year in December. The Art Aquarium features both video projections and lighting, with the latter changing color after a few seconds. Thus you can see every tank in different colors.
The tanks itself are also impressive. The exhibition starts with a few smaller tanks which can only be enjoyed if you knee down. Different breeds of goldfish swim in the tanks and while the smaller ones only house a couple of fishes, the biggest contains almost one thousand! Lighting changes between seven colors.
Some of the works combine aquariums with Japanese motives such as the four distinctive seasons.
More photos: Read the rest of this entry
A while ago I stayed in Osaka for New Year’s and was unsure where to spend the evening. So I decided to check out Space Station Osaka, a video game bar in the Americamura neighborhood of Osaka. You can get drunk while playing Atari, Nintendo and Sony games.
The free magazine which mentioned the bar didn’t include a map or a good photo of the place, so I was wandering around trying to find it. There is a small sign in front of the stairs which leads to the bar.
Inside is a row of flat screens and classic consoles. The bar has both the NES and the Famicom, Super NES and Super Famicom, Mega Drive, Dreamcast and more recent consoles such as the Wii and PlayStation 3. There was even an Atari VCS in a corner, although I can’t imagine someone playing it.
I picked the Dreamcast first because mine is broken and Jet Set Radio is one of my favorite games. The bar doesn’t have a great selection of Dreamcast games yet. Unsurprisingly, many games were for Nintendo 8-bit: Retro game shops are full of Famicom games. Read the rest of this entry
The 23rd James Bond is out and again is not set in Naoshima. Naoshima is a small Japanese island between Honshu and Shikoku and is known for its art museums. One museum is dedicated to the James Bond novel “The Man with the Red Tattoo” by Robert Benson. Naoshima officials are still hoping for a movie adaption.
The museum is located near the Miyanoura Ferry Terminal, the main arrival points for passengers coming from Uno Port. It’s just one big room with no staff on site so it doesn’t claim to be an expansive James Bond museum. Most of the exhibits are indeed dedicated to the novel which is set partially in Naoshima, while the rest are mostly from the movie “You Only Live Twice”. An object called “Heartbreak” which is featured in the novel can be seen as well as notes and photos collected by Benson.
The latter is of course the only James Bond movie so far set in Japan. It’s one of my favorite ones too, because I like that Bond stays in one country for most of the story. In “The Man with the Red Tattoo” Bond reunites with his Japanese friend and chief of secret service “Tiger” Tanaka.
The main reason for a visit should be the 007 tribute “From Naoshima with Love” though… Read the rest of this entry
“Sairyu no Kawa” is one of the world’s largest underground discharge channel systems and is sometimes compared with a cathedral due to its size. The water discharge tunnel not only provides safety for an area easily flooded, but is also often featured in the media. They allow visitors.
The facility uses five banks connected to the rivers Naka, Kuramatsu, Koumatsu, Otoshifurutone. In case of an overflow, water is taken from the rivers, filling the banks until all banks are full. The first bank is connected to a drainage pump station which directs water to the Edo River. The whole tunnel is 6.3 kilometers long and 50 meters below ground.
The discharge tunnel protects a part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area that has been devastated multiple times. The Naka River drainage basin is surrounded by large rivers and fills like a bathtub in case of heavy rainfall. Since the area has been urbanized – 52 percent are urban area – more people are affected than in 1955, when rice paddy fields made up 52 percent and only 5 percent of the area was urban.
Except when it’s used to collect water, the facility may be visited. Tours are offered free of charge. So what’s a visit like? Read the rest of this entry
The No Nukes festival was initiated by Ryuichi Sakamoto and called for a ban of nuclear power plants and weapons. He assembled many fellow artists such as Asian Kung-Fu Generation, the Hiatus and Kraftwerk for a two-day festival held at Makuhari Messe.
For me, the performances of Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) and Kraftwerk were the main reason to pay 6800 Yen for a one-day pass. Kraftwerk only played on the first day.
Unlike most of the Summer festivals, Nu Nukes was located conveniently for Tokyoites. Getting to and back from Makuhari Messe on the same day is no problem. The downside is that trade fair halls are not great concert locations. Read the rest of this entry
From the Wall Street Journal to Biscuit Today, there was probably not one magazine which didn’t report about the iPhone 5 and its launch day. Since Apple tends to give even its partners as little information as possible, most of the smaller cell phone shops here in Japan had to improvise. Most important for the customer was, whether the shop takes reservations or not.
So cell phone shops know the iPhone 5 will sell well, but they haven’t received promo material or event demo units yet. Therefore they improvise:
Shop with iPhone 5 mockup
Some shops even had cases! Read the rest of this entry