Japan Times: Japan’s rural temples target mass foreign and luxury tourism

Japan Times (by Junko Fujita):

Deep in a forest in Japan‘s Fukui Prefecture, a 13th century Buddhist temple where Steve Jobs once dreamed of becoming a Zen monk has teamed up with a Tokyo skyscraper builder to seek the commercial enlightenment of foreign tourist dollars.

As a weak yen fuels record tourism, Eiheiji Temple, local authorities and Mori Building Co. — the construction company behind some of Tokyo’s glitziest retail palaces — plan to redevelop the site, including placing a ¥1.3 billion hotel nearby. From there, a new path will be built leading visitors to the spartan site that intrigued the Apple Inc. guru.

Japan’s temples have long been business and tech-savvy, offering lucrative services like funerals while courting domestic tourists — a recent Eiheiji exhibition featured video from a drone operated by a monk. But compared to other parts of the world, religious sites outside centers like Kyoto have been slow to target mass foreign tourism.

What has changed is a shrinking population using temples less, crimping revenue just as annual overseas tourist numbers surge toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of 20 million well ahead of a target date of 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. Japan’s farther-flung regions, long suffering a rural exodus, now want a piece of an influx led by visitors from China, South Korea and Taiwan that is bolstering big-city economies.

Eiheiji is a monastery that has been isolated from the rest of the world,” said the Rev. Shodo Kobayashi, a deputy administrator at the temple. “But we cannot be divorced from our community forever. We need to respond to the needs of local governments to increase tourists.”

Eiheiji needs money to support monks in the kind of intensive Zen retreat training that once appealed to Steve Jobs. But visitor numbers have skidded to less than half a million a year, nearly two-thirds below a late-1980s peak when group tours organized by Japanese companies and neighborhood associations were at the height of their popularity.

For the temple and local authorities, a new bullet train line that connects Tokyo with neighboring Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, offers a lifeline. The picturesque castle town just over 50 miles away is seeing a surge in foreign tourists whisked from Tokyo in just over 2½ hours.

The temple aims to spend ¥1.3 billion to build a two-story hotel offering modern comforts — including alcohol — to 80 guests in the adjacent town of Eiheiji, while the surrounding Fukui Prefecture’s authorities will redevelop the path leading to the temple in a project to be completed by 2020.

With a place to stay the night, tourists will spend more time and money,” said Shouji Kawakami, an Eiheiji town official. Local officials hope to double the number of visitors to the temple by 2025.

For Yasuo Sasaki, head of the promotions department at Fukui Prefecture, the stakes go beyond tourism itself. “We need to strengthen our brand power to attract more tourists,” Sasaki said, “then we could revive our economy and people in Fukui will regain pride and confidence.”

It is an ambition shared by many of Japan’s less-traveled cities and towns, largely left behind while the Tokyo metropolis continues to grow in economic power.

But while these places invest in new facilities, for Kosuke Motani, chief senior economist at Japan Research Institute, it will remain difficult for locations that have fallen out of favor with domestic tourists to see a return.

In order for them to attract foreign tourists, they need to have something very unique,” said Motani. “It is very challenging for places that were deserted by Japanese people to attract foreign tourists.”

Still, some say foreign tourists can, and will come.

At Chusonji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Iwate Prefecture that traces its roots back nearly 1,200 years, promotions aimed at attracting visitors from Taiwan and Thailand are paying off, and will be stepped up, said senior temple priest Kaisyun Chiba. A broad central government push to encourage visitors to Japan is also helping, he said.

We have been making efforts to attract tourists but we haven’t done enough,” said Chiba. “How hard we try to attract them would be a key for the future.”

Back at Eiheiji, shaven-headed monks in black robes will continue to go about centuries-old rituals. But those interested in joining their austere training regime may be discouraged by Steve Jobs’ conclusion after consulting his spiritual advisor, an Eiheiji-trained monk who also performed his marriage service.

He said there is nothing over there that isn’t here, and he was correct,” the former Apple leader told writer Walter Isaacson in his authorized biography. “I learned the truth of the Zen saying that if you are willing to travel around the world to meet a teacher, one will appear next door.”

Gaijin Tips: “Eat all your rice in Japan”

Check out this Gaijin Tip from video/blogger kanadajin3, who is actually named Mira and is “a girl who moved from Toronto, Canada to Tokyo, Japan.”

Eat all your rice in Japan. Leaving food behind is rude esp if it is rice bits. When you scrape food off your rice cooker, you need to take everything, leaving little bits is ruder than leaving a lot. If you just can’t finish your food that you got at a restaurant then you can leave some behind, but try to finish everything at home and at your friends house.

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Newly established Japan Ninja Council promises to be your one-stop website for all things ninja

RocketNews 24:

When you think of “cool Japan,” it’s hard to overlook ninjas, those stealthy spies and assassins with more tricks up their sleeve than a magician in a parka. And yet it seems these timeless icons of Japanese culture have largely been overlooked by the national government’s Cool Japan in favor of AKB48 spin-offs and abacuses.

So instead, a band of 11 Japanese governors and mayors have assembled to create the Japan Ninja Council (JNC) with the sole aim of reminding everyone how cool ninjas are. Having officially launched on 9 October they aim to collect every bit of information on ninjas, including their history and culture, and provide it to anyone who wants to learn more about these elusive figures.

All 11 founding fathers of the JNC took part in an opening ceremony last Friday to celebrate its birth. They include the governors of Kanagawa, Shiga, and Saga Prefectures along with the mayors of Odawara, Ueda, Iga, Koga, and Ureshino.

The council will be led by its president, Mie Prefecture Govenor Eikei Suzuki, and vice-president, former Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Mizohata. Rounding out the group is prominent kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo the Eleventh in a supporting role.

▼ Most members decided to look the part for the council’s launch

Unfortunately since they decided to launch on a Friday before a long weekend, nothing much has happened yet. The JNC website “ninja-official.com” is up but only has a brief history of ninjas and a video about a ninja weapons show in Iga. It is a fairly cool video though.

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Things you won’t believe Chinese tourists are buying in Japan: drugstore edition

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RocketNews 24:

Often when you visit another country, one thing on everyone’s to-do list is a little shopping. It’s always interesting to see what products a foreign country offers that you can’t find back home. It’s also weird and fun to see the products you are familiar with presented in a different way.

One of the main reasons Chinese tourists visit Japan is to shop. It’s not uncommon to see a Chinese visitor enter a store and drop the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars – usually in cash – on seemingly everyday products like clothes or electronics, but in some cases store shelves are picked completely clean.

But what’s on these tourists’ shopping lists? Here are 11 “godly” pharmacy products that Chinese visitors simply have to buy when they visit Japan.

When thinking about your next vacation, you normally wouldn’t consider over the counter medicinal goods to be the purpose of your trip. That’s exactly the reason for many Chinese tourists, though, who come to Japan and line up in front of drugstores before they even open. These shoppers will buy a bunch of items in bulk and leave having spent on average 20-30,000 yen (US$160-240), with some big-time shoppers spending close to 50,000 yen at one drug store.

Can’t think of $200 worth of things to buy at a drugstore? Well, maybe you will after reading this list.

1. Eye drops

2. Anti-inflammatory medicine

3. Liquid bandages

4. Cooling patches

5. Headache medicine

6. Keratin softener

7. Cysteine medicine

8. Constipation medicine

9. Canker sore medicine

10. Feminine hygiene products

11. Throat lozenges/cough drops

It may seem strange for eye drops to be at the top of the list, but it’s not uncommon for Chinese people to carry them in their purse, back pocket or pencil case. When Chinese shoppers are asked why they buy these in Japan, they reportedly answer, “Chinese products don’t work at all, whereas Japanese items, especially painkillers, are really effective.”

We suppose it makes sense to stock up after all!

Another popular commodity is adhesive bandages/plasters, especially amongst women. They claim that Japanese plasters don’t come off when you are cooking or getting your hands wet, making them much more convenient. Adhesive bandages are also cheap and light, so they make for a good souvenir and can be bought in bulk.

▼ Or they want these super cute Band-Aids!

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Chinese shoppers’ comments that Japanese medicine is more effective might seem odd to expatriates living in Japan, since dosages for painkillers and other medicine are usually quite a bit lower than versions you can find in western countries. However, since China is much closer to Japan than the U.S., Chinese travelers looking to buy some non-prescription drugs will continue to flock to Japan, and around 10 million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Japan this year alone.

If you happen to be suffering from dry eyes while in Japan and pop into a store to find them all sold out of eye drops, now you know why. You may find yourself lining up before the stores open just to get some!

Young Japanese artist crafts exquisite animal-shaped candy at his shop in Asakusa (Tokyo)

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RocketNews 24:

Japan sure knows how to elevate its food to an unparalleled level of art, and today we’d like to introduce you to the works of another master Japanese craftsman of sweets. His life’s passion is creating exquisitely detailed animal-shaped candy, which are so astoundingly intricate that it probably won’t be long before a museum asks to put them on display!

Shinri Tezuka is the artist behind these incredible edible creations. Born in 1989 in Chiba Prefecture, Tezuka states that he loved to sculpt anything he could get his hands on from a very young age. That childhood passion translated into a full-time career for him, and he now spends his days traveling across Japan to participate in all sorts of events and parties, and also offers hands-on workshops to teach people of all ages about his craft. As a result of these expeditions, he’s been featured on numerous Japanese television shows to date. And get this–despite being only 25, he’s already taken on three apprentices who are eager to carry on his tradition!

▼ Shinri Tezuka, the man behind the craft

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Since 2013, Tezuka has also overseen his own shop called Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin (amezaiku refers to the art of making candy into human and animal-shaped forms). The shop is fittingly located in Tokyo’s traditional Asakusa district, only a short walk away from the popular tourist destination of Senso-ji Temple.

▼ Exterior and interior views of the shop

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While browsing through some of his breathtaking creations, it’s easy to forget that they are indeed candy and are meant to be eaten. In fact, some people find the distinction between the art and food so fine that one of the questions in the Q&A section of Asakusa Amezaiku Ameshin’s official site asks, “Can I really eat this candy?”

The answer is a resounding “yes,” by the way. In addition, Tezuka uses only naturally occurring dyes to color his creations, so you can rest easy knowing that you’re not eating any artificial pigments.

Let’s take a look at some of his animal-shaped candy creations now:

▼ The caption says that these goldfish are the two most popular designs among shop customers.

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▼ These gorgeous cranes were crafted using real gold leaf on their wings.

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▼ Here are some candy creations crafted in Tezuka’s Asakusa studio…

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▼ …and here are some he created at various public demonstrations.

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Tezuka does take orders for customized candy creations at his shop, but he is unable to accept requests for popular characters due to copyright laws. Guess we’ll just have to wait and hope for a deal to come through with Nintendo so that we can see Tezuka’s version of Pikachu in candy form!

Shop information
Ameshin / アメシン
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Imado 1-4-3, 1st floor
東京都台東区今戸1-4-3 1F
Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Closed Thursdays
Website

“Walk In Shanghai”

Shanghai is known as one of the busiest and biggest cities in the world, and thanks to media artist JT Singh we are getting a unique tour through its sprawling network of streets, subway lines, highways and, of course, people. Reversing Singh’s own movement against that of the city allows for us to focus in on his own actions and journey amidst 24 million others, as well as appreciate the simple pleasure of walking versus other methods of transportation.

Singh is an expert on emerging cities and has advised many city leaders throughout North America, Asia and Europe, including those in Toronto, Shanghai, Tokyo and Fuzhou, on how to help cities engage with their global context through tactics such as enhancing local cultural economies, tourism and trade, developing international presence and attracting foreign investment.