36 Views of the Ushiku Daibutsu

I first saw the Ushiku Daibutsu in the quirky movie, Shimotsuma Monogatari (Japanese: 下妻物語), which is called Kamikaze Girls in English. You can see the Daibutsu in the hilarious first ten minutes of the movie here. It’s in Ibaraki Prefecture, where I used to work, a place I thought was the about the most God-awful area in Japan. The Ibaraki that I saw in Shimotsuma Monogatari, though, was a strangely beautiful, surreal piece of countryside, and I started to wonder if I’d been blinded by the misery of a job I hated. There was only one way to find out, so last weekend,  I headed to Ushiku.
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It turned out to be right up there in terms of quirkiness with almost anything else Japan has to offer – a giant Buddha statue some 36 stories tall in the middle of nowhere, built by a famous Kyoto temple seemingly as a promotional gimmick for a giant graveyard.
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The Great Buddha was built by the Higashi Honganji Temple, whose headquarters is one of the two big temples in front of Kyoto Station. It’s called ARCADIA in English, which stands for Amida’s Radiance & Compassion Actually Developing & Illuminating Area.

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The statue weighs 4000 tons, and its outstretched left palm alone is 18 m long.

Read the rest of this entry »

Museum of Maritime Science

“Museum of Maritime Science” makes it sounds like it’ll be devoted to algae and tides, but it’s actually about ships. It’s a huge museum that takes a couple of hours to get through, and is quite interesting. There are incredibly detailed models of all kinds of ships through the ages, from Columbus’ Santa Maria to WWII battleships to modern container vessels.

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The museum is shaped like a giant cruise ship.

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Historically, Japan isn’t famous as a sea-faring nation, but it did have some beautiful ships.

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A WWII battleship. Read the rest of this entry »

The Green Tokyo Gundam Project

Tokyo’s giant Gundam is currently attracting millions of visitors who come to see the giant steel robot rising up over Shiokaze Koen in Odaiba. It’s official name is the Green Tokyo Gundam Project, and it’s part of a plan to promote Tokyo’s campaign for the 2016 Olympics – they’re trying to make things greener and more environmentally friendly for the games. It’s easy to be cynical about using a giant steel robot to promote the environment, and how there’s nothing really “green” about the souvenir shops and the way it’s set up. When you go there, there are no environmental messages or other things you’d expect from “green Tokyo” campaign. The Tokyo Olympic committee is working with a for-profit company, Bandai, helping them to promote their products in Tokyo’s bid to host the games so that the city can get prestige and the economic stimulus that comes with being a host city.
But maybe this is the future of environmentalism. They’re going to use the money raised from selling souvenirs to plant trees and put lawns in school grounds. If people come and see the Gundam and have a good time, do they need to learn about the environment? If they are encouraged to consume, to buy gundam models and souvenir booklets, as long as the money is going to the environment, you can argue that it’s doing more good than harm. And a green Olympics is better than a polluting one, even if the organizers are doing it as part of their promotion strategy, right? I guess I can’t really convince myself completely, but it is something to think about.

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love-hotel-coverBy the way, my book, Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds is finally available on Amazon.co.jp, as well as Amazon.com. I spent years visiting Japan’s kinky, sex-oriented hotels, interviewing love hotel designers, owners and staff, and wading through Japanese sources 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.

Sasakawa Ryoichi Statues

I’ve seen these slightly-creepy statues of a guy carrying his mother in various places in Japan, and always wondered what they were. They’re called kouyou no  zou (filial-piety statues), and it turns out they’re of a guy named Sasakawa Ryoichi, whose name will probably ring a bell if you’ve read David Kaplan’s book Yakuza.
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He was a fascist and was arrested as a class A war criminal after WWII. Despite having run a huge fascist organization and recruited a 150,000 man army that plundered China, trafficked in opium, and committed war crimes, he was let go because there was not enough evidence against him (although some say it was because America wanted to use the right-wingers to fight communism). He also had a lot of tie-ins with the yakuza, and was a drinking buddy of the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Kazuo Taoka. Sasakawa was affiliated with the Moonies too, was one of the most powerful men in the LDP (even helping choose cabinet ministers), and once called himself “the world’s wealthiest fascist.”
So by now you’re probably asking yourself why there are statues of the guy all over Japan. Well, the reason is that after getting released from prison, he used his money and political influence to get motor boat racing legalized as a form of gambling. Motor boat racing (kyotei) is one of only four types of gambling that are legal in Japan, and earns billions of dollars every year. The money goes to the Nippon Foundation, and does do a lot of good charity work, supporting the United Nations and many important charities in the country. Another thing it does, is put up these weird statues of Sasakawa and his mother all over the country. They’re outside every motor boat racing track, and also in front of a lot of the museums and cultural facilities that the the Nippon Foundation finances. This one is in front of the Maritime Museum in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.
The statues are just as odd as the man. Most of them were put up while Sasakawa was still alive, and he was present at the unveilings of many of them. Many Japanese people still remember the TV and newspaper ads he bought, ostensibly promoting family values, but many people got the impression he was more interested in promoting himself. The statues appear to be his idea, and all of them have a tear running down his face as he carries his mother up the 785 steps of a temple in Shikoku. If you look him up on the Internet, about half the information will be about his charitable work, featuring photos of him jogging with Jimmy Carter or chatting with the Pope. The other half will be his mug shots, or him having a good time with Mussolini.

Here’s a video of Sasakawa at the unveiling at one of his statues:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECeEbyg2QPs

Wikipedia article on Sasakawa:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryoichi_Sasakawa

Fascinating excerpt from David Kaplan’s book, Yakuza via Google books:
http://books.google.com/books?id=W1vi31vifg0C&pg=PA64&dq=yakuza+kaplan+sasakawa&ei=xkSJSueTJ6rakQSbiO2aCg#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Sasakawa, a Respected War Criminal, an interesting article by a French journalist, who, despite being unable to spell ‘yakuza’ properly, has some interesting information about his life:
http://www.voltairenet.org/article30028.html

The Obakemono Project and Other Interesting Websites

I’m off to Osaka for a few days, but here are a few interesting sites I’ve been meaning to write about for a while:

1. To start off, here’s a great blog called Bastish.net, about an American guy and his Japanese wife living the country life in Nagano Prefecture. They own an organic farm and have a business guiding hikers and showing people around their corner of rural Japan. He’s a really good photographer, and writes interestingly about his neighbors, customers, and family. The blog is at: http://www.bastish.net/index_2.html and if you’d like to try a rural getaway focused on outdoor adventure or immersing yourself in village life with some help from English speakers, check out his One Life Japan website: http://www.onelifejapan.com/index.html.bastish

2. Babies who lick the oil out of lamps, umbrella monsters, and ceiling lickers. They’re all at the Obakemono Project, a very well-done website about Japanese monsters. URL: http://www.obakemono.com/index.php

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3. Calories in Japanese foods – This simple but fact-filled homepage is the place to go if you’re curious about whether miso, soy, or tonkotsu ramen will make you the fattest, or what kind of sushi has the least calories. Here’s the URL: http://www.eiyoukeisan.com/JapaneseFoodCalorie/index.html

4. Bukkake of the Gods: Japan’s Insane Creation Myths is brought to you by the good people at Cracked.com, describing Japan’s vomit and urine gods, gods having sex with corpses, and more.

“What country has the honor to say that part of their homeland is basically godly spunk? Well, Japan does. The story of Japan’s creation is the god Izanagi pushed his “jewel encrusted spear” into “the primal ooze of our planet” and, when pulling out, “spilled a salty substance” that created the Japanese island of Onogoro. If you can’t spot the innuendo there, don’t worry, it only gets less subtle from here…”

Here’s the link: http://www.cracked.com/article_16962_bukkake-gods-japans-insane-creation-myths.html

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We are not here to condemn Japanese culture, with its terrifying game shows and tentacle rape. Who are we to judge?

But we do want to understand it. They say you can learn everything about a people from their mythology and while this may not always be true, Japanese myths seem to explain a lot about the culture that coined the term “bukkake.”

#5.
The Myth of Spunk Island and the Poop Gods

What country has the honor to say that part of their homeland is basically godly spunk? Well, Japan does. The story of Japan’s creation is the god Izanagi pushed his “jewel encrusted spear” into “the primal ooze of our planet” and, when pulling out, “spilled a salty substance” that created the Japanese island of Onogoro. If you can’t spot the innuendo there, don’t worry, it only gets less subtle from here.

The story goes that when Izanagi finally decided to stop metaphorically “raping” the underage Earth below, he took his soon-to-be wife Izanami and descended on the huge island of dried ejaculate where they married and settled. After having sex on Spunk Island the woman gave birth to eight more Japanese islands.

Not too weird, right? Hang on:

Izanami continued to get pregnant and squeezed out more babies into the world. One of them was Homusubi (Kagututi), the incarnation of fire. A literal fireball. Learning first hand that fire is hot, Izanami suffered the worst burning sensation down there… and basically everywhere.


Izanami and Izanagi, in a rare moment of not having weird, unbelievably painful sex.

Being horribly burned from the inside she suffered agony for a couple of days, losing complete control of her bodily functions (what kind of gods are they?), vomiting, urinating and shitting uncontrollably. Her dying spasms of bodily functions gave birth to new gods, a pair for each substance that flew out of her body:

The Vomit Gods:

Kanayamahiko

Kanayamahime

The Urine Gods:

Mitsuha no me

Wakumusubi

The Feces Gods:

Haniyasuhiko

Haniyasuhime


Probably didn’t look anything like this.

So the next time you find yourself on the floor of the bathroom after a night of tacos and tequila, feel free to add these to the list of deities you will be praying to.

#4.
The Rotting Bride

Japanese mythology says that after the untimely god-pooping death of his wife, Izanagi decided he was too old for the bar scene and did the only logical thing – go down to Yomi, the Underworld, to get his wife back. It’s not necrophilia when the gods do it.

In pitch darkness he finally found his beloved but she refused to come back with him, explaining that she has already eaten the food of the Underworld (tacos and tequila no doubt) and must stay there. Still, being the clingy bastard that he was, Izanagi insisted, so Izanami agreed that she would try to work out a return as long as he wouldn’t try to look at her in the mean time.


Just pretend all Japanese gods are white guys in suits.- Photoshop Department.

Per the usual when such a request is made, Izanagi completely ignored it. Once he became tired of waiting, he went to his dead wife and lit a torch in the darkness. There he saw his maggot-ridden decomposing corpse of a bride.

Apparently corpse brides are not as charming as Tim Burton wants you to believe, so Izanagi took a good two-second look at his ex-wife before screaming his head off in terror and making a run for it. Offended by this, Izanami lost her shit and then sent the Hell Hags to kill him.


Hell Hags.

After a spirited action movie-worthy escape, Izanagi finally got to the exit and created a river out of his own piss to divide the Underworld and the real world. After which he sealed off the entrance and, by uttering a single sentence, divorced Izanami.

So to summarize: Izanagi came unannounced to his defacto ex-girlfriend’s house and begged her to come back to him. While she was actually considering it, the bastard caught her without her make-up, started screaming, whipped out his dong and left a trail of piss out of her apartment.

Japanese myths, ladies and gentlemen!

#3.
Susanoo, the Snot God

The authors of these myths weren’t done with the whole “god born from bodily fluids” thing, not by a long shot.

Thus the story goes, when Izanagi emerged from the Underworld, all that contact with death and his ex-wife trying to murder his ass made him feel a bit unclean. So while taking a dip in the old swimming hole, Izanagi washed his left eye, and gave birth to Amaterasu, the goddess of the Sun, the most important deity in Japanese mythology. Hey, it’s better than the pooping thing.

While washing his right eye, Tsukiyomi, the god of the Moon came to be. And while blowing his nose, Izanagi created Susanoo, the god of wind and storms. We can only imagine how the writers must have been kicking themselves for not having the wind god farted into existence.

Anyway, Susanoo entered Japanese Heaven, where he immediately started to piss everyone off. The story goes that he looked down at his sister, Amaterasu, on Earth, and promptly took a shit in her temple.


To be fair, this is what her temple looked like.

He deservedly got kicked out of Heaven shortly after that, and later Susanoo sired a number of children, including a daughter, Suseri-hime. Some time later a man named Okuninushi fell in love with her and asked Susanoo for her hand in marriage.

Being the stereotypical overprotective dad, Susanoo locked the boy in a room full of snakes, then locked him in a room full of wasps and centipedes and finally, apparently having run out of rooms, sent him to look for his arrow in the middle of a meadow. Which he quickly set on fire, in case you forgot what a dick he was.

#2.
Kachi Kachi Yama and the Magical Nutsack Beast

Let’s move on from the shitting gods to the tanuki. You may have seen statues of these guys if you’ve ever been to Japan. They kind of look like raccoons carrying bottles of booze. Oh, and they have enormous nutsacks.

The character of the tanuki is a bit like your drunk grandpa: always borrowing money off of you, getting hammered and dragging his sagging scrotum through your freshly mopped kitchen floor.

The tanuki are also magical tricksters, and in many tales were said to turn horse excrements into delicious looking meals and serve it to travelers or transform into humans, get drunk, visit whore houses and buy stuff with leaves temporarily transformed into money, adding a bit of counterfeit charges to their long list of felonies.

In this particular legend a farmer found a tanuki in his vegetable field, probably doing something dickish like hollowing out his carrots and pooping inside them. Catching the tanuki, he tied it to a tree and decided to go all Gargamel on the bastard and eat the animal.

But first he had to take care of some errands in town (like pick up some sweet and sour sauce), leaving his wife to guard the animal. But the tanuki cried and begged to be let go, so the woman decided to set it free. After which the tanuki killed her in gratitude. Probably also copped a feel while he was at it.

If you’re trying to figure out what the moral of that story is, perhaps you should hear the rest first.

Deciding that he still did not meet his daily dick quota, the tanuki turned himself into the farmer’s wife and cooked her body in a stew, serving it to the husband when he came back.

When the man complimented the stew, the creature transformed back and told the man he had just eaten his dead wife’s flesh. The tanuki left, at which point a rabbit who was a friend of the couple found the tanuki, and slowly tortured and killed him out of revenge.

The moral of the story is that you should probably not go looking for life lessons in Japanese magical giant testicle raccoon myths.

#1.
The Shittiest Place in Japan (Literally)

Emperor Sujin (circa 3rd/4th century) is widely regarded as the first emperor whose existence can be verified through actual historical evidence, though there is not really much to be said about the man. He founded some temples, boned a few princesses and fought a prince that rebelled against him… oh, and apparently his actions are responsible for the best named city in the entire world.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kusobakama.

Translated: Shit Pants.

As the legend goes, back in the days of Sujin, a rival noble named Take Haniyasu decided that the best way to make an imprint on history was to collect a huge army and march against the emperor. Surprisingly, Sujin was not too keen on that and, having the good fortune of being informed of the amassing army beforehand, scraped together his own impressive military force.

His army wore down Haniyasu’s forces over a period of weeks, until finally Sujin’s general shot Haniyasu with an arrow. Without their leader, the enemy scattered, ready for the slaughter.

And slaughtered they were. Sujin’s army tore through them like a badger in a bathtub full of hamburgers, slashing and killing the lot of them in a moment’s notice. The slaughter was apparently so horrible that some of the soldiers threw away their armor, dropped to their knees, begged for mercy and, when it was apparent they would not receive it, shit their pants out of fear.

To commemorate this epic event, three local towns were named Kawara (Armor), Agimi (Oh, lord!) and Kusobakama (Shit Pants).


What an island called ‘Shit Pants’ should look like.

You might be wondering why you have never heard of this city, even on the Internet. The reason for it is because it was renamed to Kusuba, an apparent and pretty much meaningless corruption of the original name. And thus the town of Shit Pants threw away countless millions they could have made from souvenirs.

For more wildly imaginative myths, check out Gay Bigfoot & the 7 Weirdest Mythical Creatures in the World. Or learn about some more cultures that believe crazy shit in 5 Inspiring Religions That Worship Penises.

And bring yourself back to reality with Cracked.com’s Top Picks.

How Safe is Your City from Earthquakes?

earthquake map

Most people don’t think of Shizuoka as a dangerous place, but according to the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, the odds are nearly 90 percent that there’s going to be a major earthquake there within the next 30 years.
The agency defines a major earthquake as over 6-lower on the Shindo scale. A 6-lower is basically when there’s a chance of furniture falling, windows breaking, less-stable buildings collapsing and fires breaking out.

As far as I can tell, the scary predictions you hear about a 70 percent chance of a 7.2  earthquake in Tokyo in the next 30 years are for offshore quakes.

Akita                            7.7

Aomori                         2.0

Asahikawa                   0.2

Chiba                            64.0

Fukui                             1.7

Fukuoka                      3.8

Fukushima                  0.9

Gifu                               17.0

Hakodate                    0.5

Hiroshima                   19.4

Kagoshima                  15.8

Kanazawa                   1.8

Kobe                             17.7

Kochi                             62.3

Kofu                              55.3

Kumamoto                 7.1

Kyoto                            14.6

Maebashi                    2.5

Matsue                        2.1

Matsuyama                33.5

Mito                              31.6

Miyazaki                      45.5

Morioka                       0.7

Nagano                        12.2

Nagasaki                      1.3

Nagoya                        44.4

Naha                             24.9

Nara                              67.1

Niigata                          7.6

Oita                               48.3

Okayama                     22.3

Osaka                           59.5

Otsu                              12.1

Saga                              5.0

Saitama                        22.7

Sapporo                       1.2

Sendai                          4.1

Shizuoka                      89.5

Takamatsu                  40.7

Tokushima                  59.9

Tokyo                           19.7

Tottori                          4.1

Toyama                        5.7

Tsu                                 85.2

Utsunomiya                 1.6

Wakayama                 47.5

Yamagata                    2.3

Yamaguchi                  3.0

Yokohama                  66.7


The information in this post is based on: http://www.jishin.go.jp/main/chousa/09_yosokuchizu/090721yosokuchizu.pdf

If you want more information about earthquake hazards, the best place is: J-SHIS (Japan Seismic Hazard Information System). It’s all in Japanese, but it’s pretty obvious from the map: http://www.j-shis.bosai.go.jp/

There are some links to (slightly older) English-language documents from the agency here: http://www.jishin.go.jp/main/index-e.html

Almost Beautiful: The Shin-kiba Industrial Zone

I find myself quite fascinated with the area around Tokyo Bay these days. It’s pretty incredible to look at it from Google Earth and see the amazing industrial development around it.
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This is Shin-Kiba. ”Kiba” means “lumber yard” and “shin” means “new.” There’s another station nearby called Kiba, which was the original lumber yard, but when land was reclaimed from the bay, it ended up in central Tokyo. A new lumber yard was built here and called “Shin-kiba.”
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Sometimes the factories can be almost beautiful.

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