Ever wonder about Japan’s crown jewels

I was recently reading a book about Japan history and I found some really nice information about the Imperial jewels.

It did motivate me to share it with you so after a bit more research I came up with this:

No visit to any capital  in the world is complete without seeing the country’s crown jewels. A famous example would be the Tower of London and its wonderful treasures! Kept safe behind tick glass casings, they intrigue and fascinate visitors who admire those golden treasures that make up a nation’s objects of royalty.

But out of all those majestic nations that have preserve the kingship lineage or that still preserve some kind of historical ties to royalty, one exception prevail Japan! There were never a visit in Japan that could have brought you to even think  about seeing the relics of the emperor of Japan. You could still see from a far distance, the place holding those wonderful object  but you will never even set a foot in the vicinity of the building.

Don’t be worry if I sound harsh, not even the emperor him self has seeing those object at lest not since the 12th century. Object that should be presented to him on is enthronement lay unseen and undistributed for 1000s of years, wrapped in many layers of cloths to be then stored in boxes.

Even if those items have not seeing the light for so long they have  played an incredibly important role in Japan. They are symbols of the power of the emperor of Japan; the mirror, the jewels and the famous sword.

Maybe one day we will have the chance to finally see them back as a wonderful token of Japanese history.

Found this wonderful picture of the Tokyo Imperial palace

Hoped you liked this funny historical fact about the Imperial Jewels of Japan


Manga Cafe’s 漫画喫茶 and Internet Cafe’s ネットカフェ

Manga Cafe’s 漫画喫茶 and Internet Cafe’s ネットカフェ

Internet and Manga cafe’s are everywhere in Japan.

They are now part of the modern Japanese culture. The internet cafe’s are the newest version of the original manga cafe. Manga Cafe’s or in Japanese mangakissa 漫画喫茶 made their debut in post world war 2. Back then, most people could not afford to buy manga’s or for the most fortunate ones the space restriction that many Japanese home have made it difficult to store those comic book.

But what exactly is a Maga or internet cafe?

Pretty easy! It’s a place where you can kick back and enjoy a good Manga ( japanese comic book) or surf the web.

Mostly like everything Japanese there is a bit more to it!  A lot of Japanese people go in those cafe only to relax and enjoy some good reading.  But there is a hole sub culture behind those cafe’s!

In Japanese it is mostly refered as netto kafe nanmin ネットカフェ難民 which literally mean Net cafe refugees.  In recent year in major cities like Tokyo, the price of living as sky rocketed, leaving many people with employment homeless. In august, 2007 the Health Ministry of Japan stated in a new conference that Around 5,400 people with no fixed address spend their nights at 24-hour Internet cafe’s across Japan, of whom 27 percent are in their 20s. Since then the government has being reluctant to release new numbers but the number of those refugee as most definitely sky rocketed!

Photo by Ryosuke Kawasaki

You must wonder why!? Why those homeless business man or woman would live there and not at the hotel or even a hostel?

Internet cafe’s are cheap usually 400yen an hour, plus the normally offer packages for long time periods. You can have a variety of different room types like: normal chairs, non-smoking seat, sofa, massage chair, party room, internet seat, pair seat, zashiki (a tatami), reclining seat and they even have some small futon rooms too. Then you have the other interesting aspect for those homeless business man the free stuff. In all manga and internet cafe’s you have a variety of free drinks and snakes all included in you basic prices. They also offer sheep convinces type food.

Photo by Ryosuke Kawasaki

You can also have access in your room or inside the cafe to movies,DVDs players, shower room, darts, magazines, PC class, music CDs, nail salon, pool table, newspapers, CATV/CS broadcast, table tennis, slot machine, tanning bed, mahjong and many more depending of the location.  All those services under 1400 or 1600yen a night which is way cheaper than a really crappy capsule hotel or anything in the cheap range.

!!Coming soon!!

Here is the list of the up and coming post on Gaijinlife

Internet and Manga Cafes

An interview with Dan from Japanese castle explorer.com

money gifts gosyugi

skateboarding in Tokyo and Japan

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden in Bunkyo-ku

Tips to understand Japanese’s sense of humor

Many more post coming in the next weeks

Here is the picture of the day

This picture was taken by Guillaume Marcotte form tokyoluv.com

The shibuya crossing

Nice interview with Pearl!

You must wonder who is Pearl ??

Here I am! I will introduce her to you!

Pearl is a Japanese singer and musician I met through twitter. Since then I must say I listen to her myspace page mostly every day. Since her songs make me happy and I’m totally in love with them I wanted to make an interview with her so you can first get to know her and second so you could all enjoy her wonderful music.



Hello Pearl how are you today?

”Im pretty fine thank you very much!”

When did you start music?

”I started to learn piano when I was little. At first, my grandma taught me how to play then when I was 6 I started to take piano lessons.

I wanted to major piano at university and become a concert pianist, but like  many things in life  I couldn’t. I graduated from an ordinary university then worked and forgot music.”

What made you start again?

”A few years ago I got sick, and I’m still undergoing  treatment, this situation made me think about my old passion. I really thought that I should live and I should do all the things I want to do till I die. From there I started to play again.”

Is music an inspiration for you?

”Music helped me all through my life. It helps me now and I think music help so many people around the world to go though many hard situation.”

On your myspace page you sing and do you play other instruments?

”I must say I think my singing is not good, but I want to move people’s soul with music. I play the piano and the flute.
When I was little I joined the local chorus and I played the flute at school brass band.
In my University days, I played the flute at chamber orchestra, sang  chorus for Russian folk songs, and joined a piano circle.
Also joined international friendship circle and theatrical company. I was really busy back in those days.”

What motivates you when you sing or write songs?

”Everything motivates me, especially things of nature, water, moon, plants….etc
I sometimes ask guests to give me theme and improvise  live.”

When you play how can you describe your feeling?

”humm this is hard in English! I’m thinking of moving people. I try to feel them feel their souls. I try to send them something that will move them ….lol”
Since you started music again what did you accomplish?

”I created a music circle in Niigata. It’s called “International Friendship with Music”. At first I wanted to do 2 things, a music circle and an international friendship one. After thinking about it I realized  it would be hard to manage two circles, so I thought of unifying them. People may laugh, but I believe if there is music, borders are meaningless.”

What music do you like to listen ?

”I listen to all kinds of music. In childhood, my parents were listening classical, jazz, bossa nova and many Japanese tunes.

Now I still enjoy those types plus I listen to rock and R&B, too.
I love ethnic music and I absolutely check world music corner at CD shop.”

In the future where would you like to be with your music?
”I don’t know, but anywhere. I want to move help and heal people all around the world.
Thanks to internet, I can send my music to the whole world. I’m  trying hard to keep on sending good music.
And it would be nice if I could ease someone’s mind and cheering up him.
Thank you so much Pearl
”Your welcome, I love you all.”

Again if you want to listen to Pearl’s music just go visit her myspace page.

The Geisha 芸者

The Geisha 芸者

Geisha are traditional entertainers in the field of Japanese arts and music. They mostly specialize in Japanese dance, singing, and a variety of instruments including hand drum, shoulder drum, shamisen or Japanese flute. They train throughout their lives, are very highly skilled, and some of the older geisha are even “living national treasures”, the highest status of artist in Japan. There is a really sad misconception about geisha being prostitute and it is seriously wrong to think about that. Of course in the Japanese culture prostitution always had a strong place but geisha were no part of that.

Geisha under the age of 20 or so are called maiko in southern Japan, and hangyoku in northern Japan. Contrary to popular misconception, girls only do five years of training if they begin in Kyoto at 15. In most other districts in Japan, girls who begin as hangyoku or maiko begin at 18, so only do two or three years, and if they are older than 20, they normally debut as ippon-san or geisha. Whether one debuts as a maiko or hangyoku, or as a geisha, it is rarely done without a year or so of training. After their years of preparation, new geisha debut either as hangyoku or as geisha depending on their age at the time they debut.

Geisha are called out to tea-houses or to events, functions and parties, to entertain. This kind of tradition of private entertainment was very common in the West too in previous centuries. Bach or Mozart would have been called out to play at the parties of lords and the nobility. In the West, this former tradition of private entertainment has largely evolved into large-scale public entertainment like ballet, or opera. In Japan, geisha also perform at large public events and annual dances, but the former tradition of small-scale private entertainment of customers having a private meal at a tea-house with friends or acquaintances and calling in geisha to entertain them as they eat and drink – has remained in Japan to the present-day. Geisha are very cultured independent businesswomen with their own customers, some of whom have been patrons for decades, and they often manage younger geisha too. Like any Western artist or musician or actress, they can and do fall in love and have relationships, but this is always entirely a private matter and never part of the job.

Is there any gaijin geisha!?

Yes there is one!

Here real name is Fiona Graham, she holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford, and an M.B.A. from the same. Her first degrees was in psychology taken at Keio University, where she was the first Western woman to graduate. In 2007 as part of a social anthropology project she became the first gaijin geisha in the 400-year history of the geisha. For this she took the name Sayuki meaning transparent happiness. She work in Asakusa one of the oldest of Tokyo’s six remaining geisha districts. She has lived in a geisha house (okiya), and participating in banquets as a trainee for the past year. She has been training in several arts, and will specialize in yokobue (Japanese flute). Sayuki made her debut after a year of training which is normal timing in her district.Sayuki became a geisha initially with anthropological fieldwork in mind, but is currently planning to continue as an actively working geisha for some time. Sayuki has lectured at a number of universities around the world, and has published several books on Japanese culture. She is also an anthropological film director with credits on international broadcasters.

Tsukiji fish market 築地市場

Tsukiji fish market 築地市場

Did you know Tokyo holds the biggest fish market in the world?

Yes the Tsukiji fish market is the biggest whole sale fish and seafood market in the world.

The market is located near the Tsukijishijo Station on the Toei Oedo line and Tsukiji Station on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya line (that’s my home line). I love this market, if you are a sushi fan its heaven. You can eat delishously fresh sushi’s of any kind and witness the live auctions if you’re an early bird.

There are two sections at Tsukiji market: the Jonai shijo and the Jogai shijo
In the Jonai shijo section you will find all the whole sealers, this is where the action takes place in the morning and when I say morning it’s early around 5h30 am because that’s when the auctions starts. The actions normally stop around 8h00 am but the market is open till 3h00pm. I must say, if you can go there around 5h30 6h00 you will witness and live a quite nice experiance.There is approximately 1000 wholesale dealers so i let you imagine the action that this section of the market can pack up during the early morning!

The second section of the Tsukiji market is the Jogai shijo. In this section you will find some wholesale and retail shops. In these shop you can find of course fish and seafood but also find Japanese kitchen tools, restaurant supplies and groceries. For the sushi lover in you this section is also home of many Japanese restaurant many of which that serves sushi.

For all of you intrepid early birds, that are willing to visit this market I would like to give you some little rules of conduct at the market. Why rules super simple the wholesale section of Tsukiji Market is where business is conducted and it is really really important for visitors not to interfere with those sales or activities. In 2008 the market, especially the famous tuna action was close to the public because of bad behavior form visitors. If you want to enjoy this wonderful sight of Tokyo here are those rules:

You should visit the tuna auction between 5:00am and 6:15am
Don’t use your flash during the auction if your taking a photo
Do not enter restricted areas
Don’t obstruct traffic or the operations
Do not bring large bags or suitcases
Do not wear high-heel or sandals!
Don’t smoke in the market
And of course don’t touch the fish!

A  little History about the Market and the fish industry in Tokyo

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the one to establish the first fish market in Tokyo. Since he was the shogun he wanted a stable source of fish and seafood for the Edo castle. He there for invited fisherman’s from Osaka to Edo so they could provide fresh food for the castle. All the fish that was not taken at the Edo castle was sold near the famous Nihonbashi bridge. So the first Tokyo fish market was created, it was called Uogashi, many more markets were created along the rivers and canals near Nihonbashi. The Tsukiji market was then created in 1935. The condition as for why it was created were not so pleasant, in September 1923 Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake refered as the Great Kanto earthquake. This event destroyed most of Tokyo including the Uogashi fish market.

I hoe you enjoyed this post. Feel free to comment.

Miyamoto Musashi 宮本 武蔵

宮本 武蔵

Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese Samurai. His date of birth or death are still a matter of great debate among Japanese historian or genealogist. But one thing is sure he lived during the keicho era. Most people would know this time period has the early Edo period. This period in Japanese history was one of great change for Japan. Tokugawa Ieatsu was warring to unify and control all Japan. During this period a legend was in the mist of making.

When Musashi was 13,he fought his first dual with a samurai named Arima Kihei. Arima was traveling to aquier more skill in his art. He went to the city of  Hirafuku-mura to accept public chalanges. Musashi saw that and wrote his name had a challenger. A messenger came to the Dorin’s temple, where Musashi was staying, to inform Musashi that his duel had been accepted. Dorin, Musashi’s uncle, was shocked by this, and tried to beg off the duel in Musashi’s name, based on his nephew’s age. Kihei was adamant that the only way his honor could be cleared was if Musashi apologized to him when the duel was scheduled. So when the time set for the duel arrived, Dorin began apologizing for Musashi, who merely charged at Kihei with a six-foot quarterstaff, shouting a challenge to Kihei. Kihei attacked with a wakizashi, but Musashi threw Kihei on the floor, and while Kihei tried to get up, Musashi struck Arima between the eyes and then beat him to death. It was saud that Arima was arrogant, overly eager to fight, and not a really talented swordsman. That duel would be  the first in a series of many fight for the young Miyamoto.

In 1600, a war began between the Toyotomi clan and Tokugawa clans.Those tow clans were the major forces in that period. Musashi fought on the  Toyotomi’s side or also known as “the Army of the West”. More precisely, he participated in the attempt to take Fushimi castle by assault in July 1600, in the defense of the besieged Gifu Castle in August of the same year, and finally in the famed Battle of Sekigahara. Some doubt has been cast on this final battle, as the Hyoho senshi denki has Musashi saying he is “no lord’s vassal” and refusing to fight with his father in the battle. After the battle, Musashi disappears from the records for a while. The next mention of him has him arriving in Kyoto at the age of 20 , where he famously began a series of duels against the Yoshioka School. Musashi’s father, Munisai, also fought against a master of the Yoshioka school and won 2 out of 3 bouts in front of the shogun at the time, Ashikaga Yoshiaki who granted him the title of “Best in Japan”. The Yoshioka School was the foremost of the eight major schools of martial arts in Kyoto, the “Kyo-ryū Schools of Kyoto”. Legend has it that these eight schools were founded by eight monks taught by a legendary martial artist resident on the sacred Mount Kurama. At some point, the Yoshioka family also began to make a name for itself not merely in the art of the sword but also in the textile business and for a dye unique to them. They gave up teaching swordsmanship in 1614 when they fought in the Army of the West against Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Battle of Osaka, which they lost. But in 1604, when Musashi began duelling them, they were still preeminent. There are various accounts of the duel

Musashi challenged the master of the Yoshioka School to a duel ,he was a samurai named Yoshioka Seijūrō. On 8 March 1604 Seijūrō accepted, and they agreed to a duel outside Rendaiji in Rakuhoku, in the northern part of Kyoto. Musashi arrived late, which would become on of is famous psychological tactic. By doing so he greatly irritating Seijūrō. They faced off, and Musashi struck a single blow, per their agreement. This blow struck Seijūrō on the left shoulder, knocking him out, and crippling his left arm. He apparently passed on the headship of the school to his equally accomplished brother, Yoshioka Denshichirō, who promptly challenged Musashi for revenge. The duel took place in Kyoto outside a temple, Denshichirō wielded a staff reinforced with steel rings while Musashi arrived late a second time. Musashi disarmed Denshichirō and defeated him. This second victory outraged the Yoshioka clan, whose head was now the 12-year old Yoshioka Matashichiro. They assembled a force of archers, musketeers and swordsmen, and challenged Musashi to a duel outside Kyoto, near Ichijoji Temple. Musashi broke his previous habit of arriving late, and came to the temple hours early. Hidden, Musashi assaulted the force, killing Matashichiro, and escaping while being attacked by dozens of his victim’s supporters. With the death of Matashichiro, this branch of the Yoshioka School was destroyed.

From 1605 to 1612, he travelled extensively all over Japan in Musha Shugyo, a warrior pilgrimage during which he honed his skills with duels. He was said to have used bokken or bokuto in actual duels. Most of the engagements from these times did not try to take the opponent’s life unless both agreed, but in most duels, it is known that Musashi did not care which weapon his foe used such was his mastery. In1607, Musashi departed Nara for Edo, during which he fought and killed a kusarigama practitioner named Shishido Baiken. In Edo, Musashi defeated Muso Gonnosuke, who would found an influential staff-wielding school known as Shinto Muso Ryu. Records of this first duel can be found in both the Shinto Muso-ryu tradition and the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū (Miyamoto Musashi’s school). Musashi is said to have fought over 60 duels and was never defeated, although this is a conservative estimate, most likely not accounting for deaths by his hand in major battles. In 1611, Musashi began practicing zazen at the Myoshinji Temple, where he met Nagaoka Sado, vassal to Hosokawa Tadaoki; Tadaoki was a powerful lord who had received the Kumamoto Domain in west-central Kyūshū after the Battle of Sekigahara. Moving to Kyūshū would lead to one if not the most famous duel in Miyamoto’s life.

The duel whit Sasaki Kojirō

In April, 1612 he would be asked to duel Sasaki Kojirō who was a long-time rival of Miyamoto, and is considered the most challenging opponent Musashi ever faced. Apparently, the young Musashi heard of Kojirō’s fame and asked Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki through the intermediary of Nagaoka Sado Okinaga, a principal vassal of Hosokawa to arrange a duel. Hosokawa assented, and set the time and place as 13 April 1612, on the comparatively remote island of Ganryujima of Funashima. The match was probably set in such a remote place because by this time Kojirō had acquired many students and disciples, and had Kojirō lost, they would probably have attempted to kill Musashi. According to the legend, Musashi arrived more than three hours late, and goaded Kojirō by taunting him. Kojiro’s favored weapon during combat was a straight-edged nodachi with a blade-length of over 90 cm long. As a comparison, the average blade-length of the regular katana are usually 70 cm but rarely longer. It was called the “Monohoshi Zao” (often translated into English as “The Drying Pole”). Despite the sword’s length and weight, Kojirō’s strokes with the weapon were unnaturally quick and precise. When Kojirō attacked, his blow came as close as to sever Musashi’s chonmage. He came close to victory several times until, supposedly blinded by the sunset behind Musashi, Musashi struck him on the skull with his oversized bokken (wooden sword), which was over 90 centimeters long. Musashi supposedly fashioned the long bokken, a type called a suburitō due to its above-average length, by shaving down the spare oar of the boat in which he arrived at the duel with his wakizashi. Musashi had been late for the duel on purpose in order to psychologically unnerve his opponent.

After this duel Miyamoto Musashi fraught in the Osaka castle battle on the Toyotomi clan side against the Tokugawa army. Not long after the Toyotomi clan lost and was decimated, but Musashi did  not died there. He did go to Edo after but the historical account of that period are a bit unclear so I am going to leave them for you to do your own research.

Six years later, in 1633, Musashi began staying with Hosokawa Tadatoshi, daimyo of Kumamoto Castle, who had moved to the Kumamoto fief and Kokura, to train and paint. Ironically, it was at this time that the Hosokawa lords were also the patrons of Musashi’s chief rival, Sasaki Kojirō. While there he engaged in very few duels; one would occur in 1634 at the arrangement of Lord Ogasawara, in which Musashi defeated a lance specialist by the name of Takada Matabei. Musashi would officially become the retainer of the Hosokowa lords of Kumamoto in 1640.
In the second month of 1641, Musashi wrote a work called the Hyoho Sanju Go (“Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy”) for Hosokawa Tadatoshi; this work overlapped and formed the basis for the later Go Rin No Sho. This was the year that his third son, Hirao Yoemon, became Master of Arms for the Owari fief. In 1642, Musashi suffered attacks of neuralgia, foreshadowing his future ill-health. In 1643 he retired to a cave named Reigandō as a hermit to write The Book of Five Rings. He finished it in the second month of 1645. On the twelfth of the fifth month, sensing his impending death, Musashi bequeathed his worldly possessions, after giving his manuscript copy of the Go Rin No Sho to his closest disciple younger brother. He died in Reigandō cave around June 13, 1645.

The Hyoho senshi denki described his passing:
At the moment of his death, he had himself raised up. He had his belt tightened and his wakizashi put in it. He seated himself with one knee vertically raised, holding the sword with his left hand and a cane in his right hand. He died in this posture, at the age of sixty-two. The principal vassals of Lord Hosokawa and the other officers gathered, and they painstakingly carried out the ceremony. Then they set up a tomb on Mount Iwato on the order of the lord.

It is notable that Musashi died of what is believed to be thoracic cancer, and was not killed in combat. He died peacefully after finishing the Dokkodo The Way of Walking Alone,21 precepts on self-discipline to guide future generations. His body was interred in armor within the village of Yuge, near the main road near Mount Iwato, facing the direction the Hosokawas would travel to Edo; his hair was buried on Mount Iwato itself.

Miyamoto Musashi was a samurai, a philosopher, an expert in human psychology, a book writer and an artist. He wrote many incredible book that should be read by everyone, one of which is Go Rin No Sho The book of the five rings.He is also know to have helped in the construction and design of the famous Himeji town and castle.

I will finish this post with some artwork pictures of is drawing and paintings.