Hikarucho is a 19 year old Japanese artist that is a body paint expert. She uses acrylic paints to do her art. Sometimes she achieves such realistic effects that it seems almost impossible that it’s only paint!
At five minutes walking distance from Akihabara, Tokyo’s geekest neighborhood, you can find the Shintoist shrine Kanda Myōjin (Google Maps). At first glance it might appear that it’s just a normal temple but if we go inside…
In the area where omamori お守り (Protectors) are sold I found this special omamori for the workers of the IT industry. One of its powers is to protect your computer against virus attacks. Omamoris that are usually sold in Shintoist temples are meant to protect you against illness, to avoid traffic accidents or bring good luck in your exams. The IT omamori is special and can only be found in Kanda Myōjin.
Special IT Omamori of Kanda Myōjin. It’s design is inspired by chipsets.
In the part of the shrine where the ema (絵馬) are hanged you can also see the influence of the neighbors of Akihabara. In wooden ema you normally write a wish and hang it in the temple. Here I found that almost all ema had also a drawing of an anime, manga or videogame character next to the wish. Some of the drawings were really exceptional!
I talked more about Kanda Myojin in a TV program of NHK World that you can watch here (three minute video).
Last Thursday, Taro Yamamoto, a member of the House of Councillors of the Japanese government, handed a handwritten letter directly to the Emperor. In the letter he expressed his concerns about what is currently happening in Fukushima and the complications that are arising while dismantling the reactors.
A great debate has raged on TV programs and Internet forums. Some have asked for Taro Yamamoto to apologize while others have asked him to resign for giving the letter to the Emperor. This doesn’t mean that they are not worried about the situation in Fukushima, however it turns out that the Japanese constitution says that the Emperor can’t meddle in political issues.
The moment when Yamamoto handed the letter to the Emperor.
It happened during a party organized by the Imperial Household Agency in the Akasaka Imperial Gardens. When the guests arrived to the party they received a map of the gardens and a number of rules to follow like for example “Do not take photos of the Imperial family”. An official of the Imperial Household Agency declared afterwards that they didn’t bother to mention that it’s not allowed to hand objects to the members of the Imperial family in the instructions for the party because it’s common sense. (Source: Asahi Shinbun).
It seems that Yamamoto didn’t know the protocol and he was not fully aware that when handing the letter to the Emperor he was trying to use him for political purposes. He has apologized but he says that he is not going to step down unless somebody else forces him to do so.
Matsushima is a group of almost 300 islands that lay inside a small bay in the Miyagi prefecture. Matsushima is written in Japanese using the characters 松:pine and 島:island because it turns out that most of the islands are covered by pines. The views from the mountains behind the town of Matsushima-machi are considered as one of the three most beautiful views in Japan. The other two are Itsukushima (Miyajima) and Amanohashidate.
The days we were in Matsushima we were not lucky at all. It was cloudy all day, from dawn until night. This one is the best photo I was able to take of the famous view:
The truth is that the famous panoramic view is not the most beautiful thing the islands have to offer, but walking around them and enjoying the breeze from the Pacific ocean is.
Fukuura island is accessible by foot from the esplanade at the seafront of the town.
Ukiyo-e of the Matsushima islands by Hiroshige.
How to get there from Tokyo: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen until the Sendai station. From Sendai change trains to the Senseki line which will take you to Matsushima-kaigan station.
Loco in Yokohama is Baye McNeil’s newest book. Known by the foreigner community in Japan by his blog Loco in yokohama he writes books relating his experiences in Japan in first person. If I try to “explain” Japan in my book “A Geek in Japan”, Baye McNeil’s just talks with his heart and sometimes you will feel like he is talking to you while having a drink in a bar.
I’ll let Bay McNeil explain more about his book:
Spend any time on the trains in Japan during crowded rush hour conditions, with your eyes open, that is, and you’ll likely see a chikan (Japanese pervert) it’s such an epidemic here. I see these guys plying their filthy trade on a regular basis, sometimes as often as two or three times a week. As remarkable as this may sound, the most remarkable aspect of these incidents is the response to it by the other passengers, particularly the men. Generally, nothing.
Most of the train companies in the Tokyo/Yokohama area have addressed this problem in a number of ways, most of which are insufficient. Some companies have women-only cars, some have installed cameras, I’ve even heard that sometimes even the police go undercover and ride among the passengers on train lines notorious for these predators to weed them out. Nevertheless the problem persists and is widespread.
In my new book, I describe a couple of the perv episodes I’ve experienced, Below is a story excerpted from the book, Loco in Yokohama, called:
By the Time I Get to Yokohama:
This morning I was on the train checking my email when we pulled into the station. It was packed to the gills and about to get more so judging from the queues on the platform before the door I was facing. I turned around and braced for the surge. And it came.
As usual, the surge swirled around me as much as it could, avoiding making contact with me—like I was an enormous boulder in the path of a stampede—but soon all of the available space outside of the bubble around me was filled by the surge. That is, those who hadn’t decided to make their way to another equally crowded car began to brush against me. Eventually, one man turned completely around and, with his back and putting a little shoulder into it too, dislodged me from my position without apology or acknowledgement.
This was all par for the course. Sometimes, by the time I get to Yokohama, I’ve exercised patience that would make even Job think seriously about atheism.
A high school girl, caught up in this commuter pinball game, was shoved against me. She turned my way, clearly intending to apologize, saw it was a non-Japanese-style human, did a quasi-nod and curtsy combo, took a quick glance to her rear, and then turned back my way looking a little freaked out. She was dressed in the standard fare, a sailor-style uniform with the skirt hiked up pretty high on her thighs. She wore a surgical mask like many people do, probably to avoid spreading germs or catching the flu that was going around. Her eyes and body language were what made it clear that she was frazzled, though.
She was aggressively repositioning herself this way and that, and it took a moment for me to realize it had nothing to do with me—not this time anyway. People often, upon realizing that they’ve been shoved into my vicinity, make strenuous efforts to remove themselves. I discerned that this girl’s efforts were not to evade me, but rather to escape from someone else—the man behind her.
He was the runt of the litter, and not much taller than the schoolgirl. He was dressed in typical “salaryman” fashion with a briefcase in one hand and his cell phone in the other. His eyes were shifty, but his target was clear. There was no stealth to his game. He wanted her and was aggressively wading through the passengers in pursuit.
The girl slid in front of me and sort of peeked around me to see if he would follow, like I was a cornerstone of a building, or a bodyguard. She chose me, of all people. In a car full of her compatriots, she chose me. I wondered if any thought had gone into her decision. Had she had such an experience before, perhaps with this same guy, on this same train, and learned the hard way that Japanese men wouldn’t lift a finger to protect her? If so, that was actually pretty clever of her, I thought. It would be like a woman being stalked yelling “fire” instead of “help me!” And if she had intended to use the Japanese-free bubble around me to dissuade her assailant, that would also indicate some unorthodox outside-the-box thinking on her part, bordering on genius.
I was intrigued as much as disgusted now. I turned just as the pint-sized perv realized what she’d done. His eyes scaled me slowly until he reached my eyes, and froze when his eyes made contact with mine—like a deer caught in my headlights. Maybe something in my eyes indicated to him that I was oblivious to what he was up to, or he was simply lust-driven and wouldn’t be dissuaded, not even by the likes of me. Whatever went through his sick little mind, it told him to keep pushing forward and ignore me because he tried to slide in front of me and position himself between the girl and me.
I wasted no time closing the gap between us. If anyone were paying attention, it might have looked to them like I was the chikan.
Shorty didn’t like that. Maybe he thought I was trying to move in on his action or something. So, he tried some old slick shit and used the continuing surge of boarding passengers and the sharp edge of his briefcase to wedge himself in front of me. This behavior, however, was very noticeable to everyone in the vicinity. However, instead of focusing on him and his oddly aggressive endeavors to get closer to a high school girl, our fellow commuters kept their indirect and suspicious, fish-eyed focus on me— the conspicuous threat.
Foolishness like this always tempts me to throw up my hands and say “fuck it” and let whatever will be just be. And, taking advantage of my moment of indecision, he wedged his arm between his prey and me.
As the train left the station, I could feel his arm between us adjusting with the movements of the train, only with determination. He was re-positioning it, and in doing so, was angling his briefcase into my groin to make space. This motherfucker!
He was on my right side. I was holding a metal strap with my left hand. I switched to a strap on my right side and, as I did, I swung my right elbow low and caught him squarely in the forehead.
It didn’t so much hurt him as it surprised him.
“Gomen nasai,” I whispered and nod/bowed. He ignored my apology, probably sensing that my assault was done intentionally. A perceptive perv.
But his hand didn’t budge.
My elbow was now above his head. My switching hands had actually made his access to the girl easier. I had anticipated he’d back off after I’d shown him my intention to intervene. He hadn’t and, as a result, now had an almost unfettered and well-concealed entree to her.
The train swerved a bit and everyone was tossed to the left, myself included. He apparently had been anticipating the swerve and used it to slide closer to his potential victim. I realized he wasn’t going to use his hands, though. He’d wanted to get directly behind her for some reason. And now he was, as I had been shoved further to her left by the swerve.
I couldn’t see what was going on below, but I could tell by his face that something was up as he was trying much too hard to look nonchalant. The girl had ceased all struggling and jostling and had accepted her fate, whatever it was. She was looking at her cell phone, eyes locked on it. Some of the other passengers would occasionally glance over to check him out, but most kept re-confirming their proximity to me, feeding their curiosities, or relieving their suspicions as to what my motives might have been for being among them.
By the time we got to Yokohama station, I’d had just about as much as I could take of the misplaced suspicion around me. Will these people ever learn?
But, as the doors opened I saw a flash of movement and heard a ripping sound. It looked like the man suddenly snatched something from the girl. Her panties? I’d heard about pervs using scissors and box cutters to slash women’s skirts open, and even of women’s underwear being stolen off of clotheslines, but I’d never heard of pervs pilfering panties in person!
They tussled a bit to separate like their headphone wires had gotten tangled. Then, he tore away from her, making it appear like a classic NY-style purse snatching, but all the girl had was a school book bag and she was still holding that. He’d done something wrong, that was for sure!
As he tried to shove by me and make his exit, I stuck out my foot and tripped him. He lunged forward, but the crowded conditions kept him from falling. He did knock over several people in the process of making his escape, though. Passengers spilled out of the car onto the crowded platform. He stepped on a couple of the fallen people and stepped over a couple of others, but once his feet were on solid ground, he was Usain.
I thought to pursue, but I wasn’t about to climb over fallen people to do it. I watched as he shoved through the swarm of commuters for the escalator. But the girl, she was not as reticent as me. She apologized and pardoned her way through a few people, shoved her way through others, and took off after him. By the time I reached the escalator, the guy was nearly at his top running speed and the girl was hot on his heels. She must’ve run track.
By the time I reached the top of the escalator, I saw a few heads turned in the direction they had run, but the man and the girl were nowhere to be seen.
Though the measures being taken by the authorities here in Japan to address this issue may discourage some of these pervs, personally I think the only deterrent that is fool-proof is the public’s involvement. Currently, as I described in the story above, the public would sooner turn a blind eye on this plague than get involved and protect vulnerable members of their society from predators. If this attitude doesn’t change, if this tendency to not get involved with matters that don’t directly affect one’s well being doesn’t shift, then these sexual assaults will continue to mar the lives of women interminably
You can buy Loco in Yokohama through Amazon (Kindle or Paperback) Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers worldwide.
Shin-hanga (新版画, new prints) was a Japanese art movement that arose in the early 20th century. It emerged from ukiyo-e art and evolved it a step further bringing new ingredients as for example the use of isometric perspectives. The creative process of shin-hanga artists was the same as the one ukiyo-e artists used. In order to create a work of art it was necessary to draw, carve and print. The shin-hanga prints became very popular among art collectors in United States.
Kawase Hasui and Yoshida Hiroshi were the two most important artists of the shin-hanga movement. My favorite of the two is Kawase Hasui, who not only made prints of the most popular places in Japan, but he also liked to represent scenes of daily life in the streets of Tokyo, as if he was taking photos. By seeing his prints we can have an idea of how Japan was one hundred years ago.
Yoshida Hiroshi had a somewhat different style, more influenced by impressionism from the West. He introduced in his works of art light techniques not seen until then in Japanese paintings. He used a more varied color scheme and played with warm and cool colors depending on the situation. He traveled a lot outside of Japan, mostly around United States and Europe. It’s interesting to see his paintings of places around the world such as the Taj Mahal.
During Second World War United States froze the imports of Japanese prints thus bringing the shin-hanga artistic movement to its end.