Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

The Nihon Minka-en, a park filled with old houses from the Edo Period (1603-1868) is one of my favorite places in the Tokyo area. I’ve been there quite a few times, though, so I was happy to discover the Edo Tokyo Tatemono-en in Koganei City, west of Tokyo.
It’s similar to the Nihon Minka-en, but most of the buildings are of more recent vintage, the majority being from the 19th and 20th centuries. There are three sections, one of old, wooden Edo-Period buildings, one with a recreation of a typical street from the early 20th century, and a third with homes belonging to important people of great historical value.tatemonoenmakeup

Not only are the buildings interesting on the outside, but the museum has done a really good job of recreating what they were like inside. In the photo below, you can see an abacus and the account books in this cosmetics shop called Murakami Seikadou (notice that the kanji are all written from right to left). All of the buildings have English pamphlets with interesting descriptions of the buildings’ history, architectural characteristics, and most interestingly, details about the people who lived in them and their businesses or lives.

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The photo below shows an umbrella-maker’s shop. There’s an interesting display on how they were made.

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A small residential street of row houses.

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Hotel Broccoli

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The Hotel Broccoli in Osaka’s Tanimachi-9chome love hotel district.

love-hotel-coverThere’s more information about   love hotels in my new book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds. I spent years visiting love hotels around Japan, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese books on sex and love hotels to bring you this book.

It’s 182 pages of information about their history, the people who design and operate them, their place in Japanese society, crime, and much, much more. There’s also a love hotel guide with information on how to get to the best hotels in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.

For more information about love hotels, please visit my newly updated love hotel page at: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotels.html

To order or find out more about the book, please visit: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelbookintro.htm. There’s also a smaller guidebook, with just the hotel information for 500 yen: http://www.quirkyjapan.or.tv/lovehotelguide.html.

There are more love hotel-related posts
here.

Firefighters’ Ladder Tricks at the Takao Spring Festival

I’ve been wanting to see one of these performances of traditional fire-fighting techniques for years, but I always seem to miss them. Last weekend, I finally got to take one in at Mt. Takao’s Spring Festival, and it was really impressive.
Back in the Edo Period (1603-1868), fires were a huge problem in Japan. In Tokyo, they were called the Edo no Hana (flowers of Edo), and could kill tens of thousands of people and burn large sections of the city.
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The pole with the white strips on it (below) is called a matoi, and it is actually a fire-fighting device. It would be soaked in water, and the firefighters would spin it around, and the spraying water and fan-effect would put out the flames or stop them from spreading. They are extremely heavy, and the operators, called matoi-mochi were the strongest men in the unit. They would line up on the edge of the roof and one man would weild it until he was exhausted or succumbed to smoke inhalation, and then the next man would take over.
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The men who held  the ladders were called hashigo-mochi. The poles they carried were called tobiguchi, and here are being used to support the ladder. Modern firefighters try to put out fires, but in the Edo Period, the main work was done by tobi ninsoku, demolition experts, whose job was to use tobiguchi and other tools to destroy nearby buildings, creating firebreaks so that the flames would not spread.

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These poses on the ladders aren’t just for show. They were used to let the other firefighters know about wind direction and progress of the fire so that the men below could decide where to build firebreaks and fight the flames most effectively.takao-fireman3

If you look carefully, you’ll notice that this guy has a rope around his right foot.

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The Takao Festival is held on the third Sunday in April every year. There is a parade of children in Heian Period costumes that starts from the ropeway station near the top of the mountain at 11:00. The ladder display starts at 12:00 at Yakuoin Temple. To get to Mt. Takao, take the Keio Line to Takao-san guchi (be careful because JR Takao Station is pretty far from the trail heads).

Tokyo’s most famous firefighting festival is called the Dezome-shiki, and is held every year on January 6. It has all kinds of high-tech fire-fighting equipment, a demonstration by an elite fire-fighting squad, as well as traditional ladder skills: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a02_fes_dezome.html
There’s a video of the Dezome-shiki at: http://samuraidave.wordpress.com/category/hikeshi/. The ladder tricks start at about 2:20 into the video.
I found a very interesting-looking book called Taiho-jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai online. You can read a very interesting explanation of firefighting in the Edo Period at: http://books.google.com/books?id=g5BP7DGuNFsC&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=edo+firefighters+ladder&source=bl&ots=s28Zqo2lWb&sig=9EKpL0TC_OltZuXM1v1glr9CIZ4&hl=en&ei=bybzSZaAPNKLkAXWy933Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7#PPA13,M1

Takao Spring Festival

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Japanese festivals are great, but if you want to get a good seat so you can enjoy them properly, you usually have to arrive an hour or two before they start. I arrived about 90 minutes early for this one, because I remembered the last time I went to Mt. Takao during the autumn foliage season, when there were thousands of people lined up for the cable car and the main trail up the mountain was so crowded there were human traffic jams at several choke points.
I got a really pleasant surprise, though, because despite the beautiful spring weather, there were no crowds at all. In fact, the participants probably outnumbered the spectators.
Takao’s spring festival starts off with a chigo procession. Chigo are children dressed up as members of the Heian Period (794-1195) nobility. They’re joined by Yamabushi (an ascetic sect of mountain priests), a marching band, and some fire fighters from the local town who put on an acrobatic performance atop 7-meter high ladders later on.
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The festival is held on the third Sunday in April every year. To get there take the Keio Line to Takao-san guchi (be careful because JR Takao Station is pretty far from the trail heads). The procession starts from the cable car station near the top of the mountain at 11 AM.

Kongo Rikishi Statue at Shitennoji Temple in Osaka

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A statue of a kongo rikishi at Shitennoji Temple in Osaka.

What is a “Jesus Body?”

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There are already a lot of blogs and websites devoted to Engrish, and I think there are enough of them already, so I don’t want to make this kind of post a regular thing, but I’m more than a little curious about what a “Jesus body” might be. The product is a diet supplement and its spokesperson is Kaori Manabe, a television personality and gravure idol. Here’s what a “Jesus body” looks like:

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These are my theories about what a “Jesus body” might be:

1. An emaciated body like Jesus after his 40 day and night “diet” in the wilderness?
2. A body that makes you say “Sweet Jesus!” when you see it?
3. Something about stigmata?
4. A reference to the Eucharist. Maybe the diet pills are in a wafer form, representing the “body of Jesus”?
5. A perfect body.

Got an idea or explanation? Leave it in the comments, please.

Posted in Food. 8 Comments »

Camera Envy in Japan

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I have a really nice camera, an EOS 40D made by Canon. When I’m outside Japan, I occassionally feel a touch self-conscious about carrying around such an expensive camera. But in Japan, I  always feel like I’m riding a tricycle in the Tour de France. Just look at the cameras the members of this photo club have. Every one of those lenses probably costs in the vicinity of $10,000.  Every festival I go to, every park I visit, I see these expensive cameras and lenses, and then the next day I somehow find myself on the Map Camera Website drooling over L lenses and 5D Mark II cameras.
This is what they were photographing, by the way:
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