Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Hollywood of Japan: Eiga Mura

See the hand at left? That gives you a sense of scale: the 747 is less than 24" long!
This miniature airport and city are part of one of the more modern "sets" on the grounds of Eiga Mura, a low-key theme park in Kyoto. Rubbery monsters once roamed this very set, squashing buildings and grabbing 747s with their fake talons as the cameras rolled.

We were in no danger from Godzilla or Mothra the day we walked around the set more than a decade ago. For us, as for many visitors, the visit was a golden opportunity to watch a period drama being filmed in front of old-style merchant buildings. The actors were wearing period-specific kimonos and the samurai had their swords at the ready.

The attractions have since been updated to reflect the more contemporary ninja craze. Visitors are also invited to get made up and costumed in period fashion if they choose (see left). 

Hubby and I used to enjoy watching (with English subtitles) episodes of Mito Komon, the longest-running period drama on Japanese TV. Alas, after a 42-year run, this program ended in 2011. It seems that Edo-era period entertainment is on the decline these days. But Eiga Mura lives on, happily.
 - MBW

Monday, June 24, 2013

Captain Santa Club

In the middle of the Hiroshima business district is a unique store called Captain Santa Club--"for the people in love with the sea."

Sadly, we walked by before the store was open, but its web site is worth browsing. Sea-worthy T-shirts and caps for landlubbers are the mainstay clothing items here.

Jolly ol' Santa as yacht captain? Aye-aye!

At right, a recent image from the good Captain's Facebook page, which is quite active. - MBW

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Browsing Wordtanks and More in Akihabra

We saw these high-tech bathroom scales in one of the 250 electronics/appliance stores near Tokyo's Akihabra train station.

The scales do everything but Skype with your nutritionist.

We were in Akihabra because hubby wanted a new Canon Wordtank electronic dictionary. While he shopped, the rest of us walked through aisles and aisles of the latest gadgets for office/home, kitchen, and bathroom.

During the week, you have to dodge traffic and crowds to cross the street in Akihabra. On Sundays, the main street is turned into a pedestrian mall. If you're in Tokyo, this is a must-see area!
    - MBW

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Steam-Punk Meets Shiodome: Howl's Moving Castle Clock

Just steps from the hotel where we stayed in the Shiodome section of Tokyo is this steam-punk clock designed in the style of Howl's Moving Castle, the famous Studio Ghibli animated movie.

Installed in 2006, it "chimes" four times a day. We and dozens of other people gathered to watch the four-minute show, with glockenspiel music, secret openings, and characters from the movie moving around the clock as the seconds tick on. (We liked it so much that we came back a couple of times!)

If you haven't seen Studio Ghibli's latest release, From Up on Poppy Hill, hubby's review is here.
    - MBW

Friday, June 14, 2013

Memories of Japanese Baseball

Last time we were in Japan, we went to a home game of the Yokohama Baystars, who beat the Yakult Swallows in an early evening game. It was close, but a relief pitcher (from the Bronx!) clinched the game for the Baystars. Above, the view from our seats along the first-base side. What this photo doesn't show: The enthusiastic cheerleaders who periodically danced across the field and the tricked-out Toyota that brought the winning pitcher from the bullpen to the mound in automotive (sponsored) style. 

This past April, when Yokohama played Yakult again, player Tony Blanco smacked a home run to win the game for the Baystars--his 14th home run of the month. That got some people wondering about the sudden streak of home runs throughout the league. Turns out that Nippon Professional Baseball wanted to make baseball games more exciting, so it altered the ball to go further when hit. Hmmm. Sadly, it hasn't helped the Baystars all that much: They're down toward the bottom of the league, at least for now.
   - MBW

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Favorite Places: Edo-Tokyo Museum

One of our favorite places in Tokyo is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. When you enter the Edo section, you start at a replica of the famous Nihonbashi Bridge. From there, exhibits are arranged chronologically, showing the development of the old capital over the years, and ending with Tokyo's landmark hosting of the 1964 Olympics.

Last time we visited, we enjoyed the "please touch" exhibits in the Edo section. Want to feel like a peasant? Try these buckets on for size (hubby did). Want to feel upper class? Climb into one of the palaquins (Sis did).

Volunteer guides are available to escort you through the museum and explain the exhibits in English, German, French, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, or Russian. Our English-speaking guide was a young woman who was happy to practice her language skills with us.

Lonely Planet likes this museum...Frommer's calls it a "don't miss." The fictional tour group in Getting Oriented spent a few hours there, of course. When you go, plan for lunch at the Japanese restaurant on the top floor!
     - MBW

Monday, June 10, 2013

Japan Tourism, circa 1910

Marketing Japan as a tourist destination is nothing new. These fascinating photos were used to promote travel to Japan a century ago.

Hand-tinted, of course, from black and white photos taken by Tamamura Kozaburo, who set up a studio in Yokohama in 1883.

Kozaburo was known for "Yokohama shashin" which translates to "Yokohama photographs" but clearly, his photos were more wide-ranging. 

Below, Kozaburo's photo of the great Buddha at Kamakura, where we've been more than once. It still looks exactly the same, a century later.

I did not have the fictional tour group visit this Kamakura Buddha in my novel, by the way. Instead, because the group was spending time in Kyoto, I had the "leader" take them to the Buddha in nearby Nara. The Nara Buddha is actually bigger, not to mention being housed in a giant temple.

 - MBW

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Japan Old and New

What to do on your first day in Japan? The guests on the Japan Old & New tour led by Phil Fletcher in Getting Oriented landed in ultra-modern Osaka and were then swept back in time as they visited Kyoto, the old capital city.

On my first visit, more than 20 years ago, I braved the crowds of Tokyo Station to hop on a bullet train to Kanazawa, an old castle city on the west coast, where hubby (Getting Oriented's author) was in a language immersion course.

Most recently, I spent my first day in Japan having breakfast at Denny's (really) and then walked to Asakusa for a visit to the Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji. 

The photo above, from the Japan National Tourism Organization, shows the famous gate at this temple, through which millions of visitors throng every year.

For other views of Japan old and new, take a look at the stunning and artistic images named winners of a recent Japan Tourism Agency photo contest. This photo, for instance, gives a glimpse of one of the country's newest tourist destinations, the Sky Tree in Tokyo.

So what would you like to do on your first day in Japan?            - MBW