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Sengakuji: The Final Resting Place of the 47 Rōnin

  • Posted by:
  • April 13, 2017

The story of the 47 Rōnin is a perfect example of honoring the bushidō, the way of the warrior code. It is a code of conduct that exemplifies a warrior’s moral values in mastery of martial arts, frugality, loyalty, and honor unto death. The tale of the 47 Rōnin, also historically known as “The Ako Vendetta,” and in fiction as the Chushingura, is an example of the Bushido honor code associated not just with samurai, but also with the Japanese national identity.

Gravestones of the 47 Rōnin. | David Marcos Moreno

A rōnin was a samurai with no lord or master.  A samurai could lose his master in death or even from falling out of his master’s favor. As the story goes, a feudal lord from the 18th century, Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) after he attacked a high-ranking master of ceremonies, Kira Yoshinaka.  Naganori’s death left the samurai under his patronage without a master, and left them honour-bound to take revenge.

Sengakuji Temple. | sophietica

The 47 Rōnin warriors disappeared for over a year and according to legend, they became drunkards as part of a plan. In December of 1703, the 47 Rōnin banded together to launch a surprise attack on Yoshinaka’s castle. They successfully killed Yoshinaka, finally avenging their master. True to their code, they turned themselves in to the authorities, who sentenced them to commit seppuku. One of the 47  Rōnin, Terasaka Kichiemon, was deemed too young to commit seppuku. He was pardoned by the Shogun and lived to be 87 years old.

All 47 Rōnin are now interred in front of the tomb of their master in the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple, Tokyo. Sengakuji  (泉岳寺) is a small temple located in Shinagawa Station. Each year on the 14th of December, a festival is held to honor the 47 Rōnin’s revenge. Thousands of visitors flock to the tiny graveyard to pay tribute to the exemplary faithfulness and courage of the 47 brave souls.

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Magical Kochia Hill in Hitachinaka

  • Posted by:
  • April 10, 2017

Hitachinaka (ひたちなか市 Hitachinaka-shi) city is located in Ibaraki Prefecture, in the northern Kantō region of Japan. It is a hiragana city, a place whose name is written with hiragana syllabary as opposed to other cities that are written in the traditional kanji.

Kochia. | Border. garaku

The towns of Minato and Hiraiso and the village of Katsuta are within the Naka District. The  municipalities system was established on April 1, 1889. Minato was renamed Nakaminato in 1938 while Katsuta was made into a town in 1940. During World War II, the area experienced heavy air raids and shelling by Allied warships because of the many factories nearby that produced war-related materials. On March 31, 1954, the towns of Hiraiso and nakaminato merged to form the city of Nakaminato and Katsuta became a city that same year. On November 1, 1994, Nakaminato and Katsuta yet again merged to form the city of Hitachinaka.

One of the unique places to visit in Hitachinaka is Hitachi Seaside Park. The park is right next to Ajigaura Beach, a popular tourist destination for nature lovers. The park spans an area of eight acres with flowers that bloom with bursts of color all year round.

Green kochia. | kobaken++

During autumn each year, the park becomes extra special when the thousands of Kochia bushes turn crimson red on Miharashi no oka (Lookout Hill). Kochia are a type of large herb that grow in bushes about 90 centimeters tall. The rest of the year the bushes are green; in late September they begin to change color to deep red.

The beautiful display of color is such a spectacle that many visitors flock to see Kochia Hill in September and October. The Kochia Carnival highlights the colors of fall.  People can frolic amongst the 36,000 red Kochia bushes and millions of cosmos flowers that also bloom around the same time the Kochia turns red.

Kochia in Hatachi Seaside Park. | Border. garaku

The cosmos flowers come in several colors ,which makes the sight even more breathtaking. For visitors coming from the Tokyo area, there are also direct buses from Asakusa and Ueno Stations that go to the entrance at Kaihin Kouen Iriguchi (海浜公園入口) bus stop.

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The Folklore of Japanese Mermaids

  • Posted by:
  • April 6, 2017

Mermaids are usually depicted as beautiful women who bewitch sailors into the watery depths. In Japan, mermaids are often translated as “human fish” or ningyo. They are fish-like creatures from Japanese folklore. Supposedly, a ningyo has shiny golden scales, a monkey’s mouth with small teeth similar to a fish’s, and a voice that resembles a skylark or a flute. Its flesh when eaten is delicious, and anyone who eats it will live longer than usual. The Japanese believe that if a ningyo is caught, it will bring misfortune and storms. Because of this, many fishermen who find these creatures caught in their nets throw them back into the ocean. It is also believed that if a ningyo washes ashore, it is an omen of war or calamity.

Ningyo

Japanese folktales tell us the mermaid first appeared to Prince Shotoku at Lake Biwa. When the prince was on the brink of death, it was able to tell him its sad story. The creature had once been a fisherman who entered prohibited waters. As punishment, he turned into a hideous animal. The ningyo, wanting to atone for his transgression, asked the prince to build a temple to display his remains as an example on the sacredness of life.

Mermaid mummy. |Mary-chan

The temple is now known as Tenshou-Kyousha Shrine and houses the mummified remains of the mermaid. The mermaid mummy is cared for by the Shinto order at Fujinomiya, near Mount Fuji.

Another story tells us about a ningyo named Yao Bikuni, an 800-year-old Buddhist priestess.  A fisherman from Wakasa Province caught an unusual fish, so he invited his friends to partake of his catch. One of his guests snuck a peek into the kitchen and was astounded to see that the fish had a head of a human. He warned the other visitors about what he saw and to avoid eating the fish. When the host finished cooking and offered his guests the fish, they secretly wrapped it in paper ready to be thrown away when they got home.

However, one guest had too much sake and forgot to throw away his piece of the strange fish. This man had a young daughter who demanded a present when her father arrived home. The man, without thinking, gave her the fish. When he realized what he had done, he tried to stop his daughter from eating it but he was too late. Nothing out of the ordinary happened to his daughter at first and he forgot about it after awhile.

Ryuguji  mermaid temple. |  NelC

Years passed and the young girl grew up and got married. The daughter after marriage never seemed to age while her husband grew old and died. After many years of not growing a day older and being widowed yet again, the woman became a nun and wandered around the world. Finally, she came back home to Wakasa where she finally passed away at 800 years old.

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The Over 100 Year Old Kamihinokinai’s Paper Balloon Festival

  • Posted by:
  • April 3, 2017

The Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai in Akita Prefecture is a spectacular annual event that’s been celebrated for over a hundred years. About 100 gigantic paper balloons lit with candles are released and shine magically like stars in the winter evening sky. The balloons are painted with Ukiyo-e styled women and samurai warriors. It truly is something to behold!

Paper balloon. | Chris Lewis

Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival is held each year on February 10. It is a traditional event whose origins can be traced back to the Edo Period scientist Hiraga Gennai (1728–1780). He was a Japanese pharmacologist, student of Rangaku, physician, author, painter, and inventor who supposedly taught the Japanese the principles behind hot air balloons.

The paper balloons are about eight meters tall and are able to float up in the sky from the air inside, heated by candles. The designs painted on the paper balloons are usually from traditional Japanese wood-block prints, and some of the balloons have people’s wishes people written on them. The purpose of the event is to make a wish, and it used to be for a good harvest and good health. Nowadays people have come to wish for more varied things such as success in life, passing exams, and safe travels.

Hiraga Gennai

To witness the event from Tokyo, get off the Shinkansen at Kakunodate Station (about 3 hours from Tokyo), change trains to Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway, and you will arrive at Kamihinokinai Station. Travel time is about 40 minutes.  You can also join a scheduled tour around the area northwest of Kamihinokinai where Lake Tazawa is located. It is the deepest lake in Japan, and is close to several hot spring resorts. Another reason to visit the many wonders of Japan!

Winter paper balloon festival. | Syuzo Tsushima

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KCP Fall 2016 Completion Ceremony

  • Posted by:
  • March 30, 2017

KCP International gives serious students who want their Japanese language ability to grow by leaps and bounds, and are ready to work hard for it, KCP will help you achieve your goal. Your success is our success.

Class is very intense. In 11 weeks, you can earn more Japanese credit than you would earn in an entire year at your home school.

The culture-and-civilization course, combined with the dorm or homestay context and with the extracurricular clubs, all make for a varied blend of experiences that have you living the Japanese life every moment of every day.

Last December, KCP Fall 2016 batch proudly completed their course. Here are some highlights of their completion ceremony:

KCP Flickr

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The Unique Nakagin Capsule Tower

  • Posted by:
  • March 27, 2017

Traditional Japanese architecture predominantly made use  of wood because of the abundance of timber in the country. Timber is particularly resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes. Wood is also an ideal type of material for Japan’s humid climate. Modern Japanese architecture is a far cry from the traditional style: the mid-20th century was a time of great experimentation in Japanese architecture. Many architects sought to break boundaries and create original designs. One such example is the Nakagin Tower.

Nakagin Tower. | d’s2nd

The Nakagin Capsule Tower is a product of the Metabolism (shinchintaisha) architectural style, a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth, spearheaded by Kisho Kurokawa. A capsule hotel, kapuseru hoteru, is a popular type of affordable accommodation in Japan for the weary traveler who may have had a bit too much to drink, missed the last train home, or needs a place to sleep for the night that has basic amenities without the services offered by other regular hotels.

A typical capsule is made of fiberglass a little over 6 ft. long and 4 ft. wide. It has enough room for you to sleep comfortably in (provided you’re not over 6 ft. tall), and some capsules are big enough for you to sit upright. Most pods are equipped with a small television, wireless internet connection, small console, dimmable lighting, and wall-mounted alarm clock. To ensure your privacy, the capsules have curtains and a door at one end.

Nacagin Capsule Tower. |d’n’c

The Nakagin Capsule Tower consists of two separate towers that serve as support for the 140 prefabricated capsules. Each capsule is a tiny apartment that has many amenities such as a refrigerator, a television set, even a reel-to-reel tape deck. The original idea of the concept of the tower is that each capsule can be eventually replaced by newer models. This ensures that the living standards in the building will be constantly up to date.

Inside the Nakagin Capsule. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

As elegant and one of a kind the building may seem, the tiny apartments were considered to be cramped, with a gigantic concrete shell considered as ugly and dehumanizing. The maintenance cost started to pile up and the real-estate value in the center of the Ginza district began to collapse. The building was slated to be demolished in 2007, but an uproar arose among the architectural community, who consider the building a masterpiece. Kurokawa led the campaign for its preservation until the end of his life. As of April 2014, the Save Nakagin Capsule Tower Project has begun crowd-sourcing funds to buy the tower’s capsules and secure voting rights against the Tower’s demolition.

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Ōwakudani Black Eggs

  • Posted by:
  • March 23, 2017

Ōwakudani, or Great Boiling Valley, is located in the mountain town of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. It is a popular go to place for many visitors to witness its scenic views, volcanic activity, and most especially for the unique Kuro-tamago (black egg).

Ōwakudani is an active volcano valley with sulfur vents and hot springs. Visitors flock to the valley to see breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji and the volcanic gases that rise from the ground.  It can be reached via an aerial tram up to the hot springs, or walk up the 1 km path. There are a few hiking trails around the Ōwakudani station, but there is one specific trail that you simply cannot miss out on. It is an upward trek to the boiling site of the famous Ōwakudani black eggs. The 15-minute uphill climb is worth every step. Once you get to the top, you will have the chance to taste the kuro-tamago.

Ōwakudani black eggs. | エン バルドマン

Ōwakudani Black Eggs are regular chicken eggs. It is the manner in which the eggs are boiled that makes them special. The eggs are boiled at exactly 80 degrees Celsius (176 deg. F) for about an hour in natural spring water, then steamed at 100 degrees (212 deg. F) for 15 minutes in steel baskets.

Ōwakudani valley boiling site. | Aapo Haapanen

The spring water used to boil the egg contains sulfur and iron, which makes the eggshells turn black. It is rumored that eating these black eggs will add seven years to your life.

The Ōwakudani valley is also sometimes referred to as the Death Valley by locals. About 3,000 years ago, Mount Hakone erupted, leaving a hot spring-filled crater. The path leading to the black eggs are full of sulfuric geysers which can be dangerous. The area is prone to landslides caused by the constant volcanic activity. Conditions are potentially unsafe, and the walkway leading to the egg boiling springs is closed at times.

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Tips on How to Keep Safe While Studying Abroad

  • Posted by:
  • March 20, 2017

Japan is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. The country has an incredibly low crime rate. A 2014 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development study ranked Japan as “the safest country in the world.” Japan also reports “the second-lowest homicide rate after Iceland and the second-lowest assault rate after Canada.”

Japan is proud of being such a safe place that children can walk home and even go to shopping malls without any adult supervision, women can walk dark back alleys and empty streets alone, people can leave their bags unattended without fear of their things being stolen, and cars can be left running without fear of them being driven away.

Passport. |  Tim Sackton

Japan’s crime rate may be one of the lowest in the world, but it still isn’t 100% safe. It is still best to exercise caution especially when you are a foreigner in a new country.

Here are some tips on keeping safe while abroad:

Sign up for U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

This government sponsored program gives you the automatic updates and information on the latest travel warnings and alerts from the Bureau of Consular Affairs about the country you’re in. It also comes in handy if you lose your passport.

Keep a low profile.

Being a foreigner in another country, it’s always advisable to not stick out like a sore thumb. Always dress appropriately, try to observe local customs and traditions and know beforehand the do’s and don’ts when in Japan.

S15 Kamakura trip. | KCP Flickr

Research about your host country.

Learn about the local customs and laws of Japan. It would also be helpful to know the proper person to contact in case of emergency as well as where the US embassy offices are located closest to the area where you’re staying.

Get travel and health insurance.

Even if you are in perfect health and have no health issues, it’s best to come prepared. Get full medical examinations prior to your departure and all the necessary vaccinations. Know where the nearest hospitals and clinics are in the area where you’ll be staying and if there are any medications that are prohibited to bring into Japan.

Don’t feel too comfortable.

Even if Japan is considered safe, and after spending some time in the country, you start to drop your guard and being too comfortable becomes a habit. One day you may still find yourself caught in a predicament. Always remember to be on your guard, and as the saying goes… “It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

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The Enchanting Iya Valley

  • Posted by:
  • March 16, 2017

Iya Valley is considered one of the last vestiges of Japan’s old world.

Historically, the remote Iya Valley (祖谷渓, Iyakei) served as a sanctuary for the members of the Taira Clan or the Heike, who took refuge in the region after losing the Genpei War (1180-1185), during the end of the Heian Period. Descendants of the Heike can still be found in the area hundreds of years later around the Iya valley.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

Tourism is popular in the western area of the valley, Nishi-Iya, which draws a number of visitors because of its historic vine bridge (kazurabashi) and hot spring baths. The eastern area, Higashi-Iya or Oku-Iya, can still be relatively difficult to reach, making its natural beauty even more undisturbed. Thirteen vine bridges once spanned the area; in early times, those bridges were the only method for crossing rivers.

History is not clear on the origins of the vine bridges, but legends tell us that they were built either by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, or by the  Heike refugees. Only three vine bridges survive today and are maintained.

Iya Kazurabashi  (祖谷かずら橋)

Iya Kazurabashi is the largest and most popular of the three remaining bridges. It stretches 45 meters at the center of the valley across the Iya River. The vine bridge gives visitors a majestic view of the river, 14 meters below. The bridge is rebuilt every three years and is anchored to gigantic cedar trees on both ends. It is reinforced by modern steel cables hidden within the vines for extra safety.

Iya Valley. |Sarah Marchildon

Oku-Iya Kazurabashi (奥祖谷二重かずら橋) or couples bridges

The larger of the two bridges is Husband Bridge (Otto no Hashi). It stretches 44 meters across the Iya River beside a small waterfall. Slightly below Otto no Hashi is Wife Bridge (Tsuma no Hashi) which spans 22 meters upstream. The bridges contain steel cables hidden within vines that are replaced every three years.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

The bridges are connected with each other using a network of paved hiking trails that lead to camping grounds along the far side of the river.

Wild Monkey Bridge is found right next to Tsuma no Hashi. This is a type of bridge that is made of a wooden cart suspended on a rope over the main bridge. It was used to transport goods and people and was reconstructed for visitors to try out by pulling themselves across the river.

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National Museum of Western Art Makes UNESCO World Heritage List

  • Posted by:
  • March 13, 2017
On July 17, 2016, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee recognized buildings in seven countries for their innovation and influence in laying the foundation for modern architecture. The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, Tokyo, and 16 other buildings designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

National Museum of Western Art. | 663highland

The National Museum of Western Art in Japan (NMWA) is the only structure in the country designed by the renowned architect. The museum is the premier public art gallery in the country specializing in art from Western traditions. The museum also houses the core art collection of Matsukata Kojiro (a Japanese businessman who devoted his life and fortune to amassing a collection of Western art). The NMWA was completed in 1959 and dedicated as a symbol of the resumed diplomatic ties between japan and France after World War II.

Le Corbusier or more formally known as Charles-Édouard  Jeanneret (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), was an architect, writer, painter, designer, and urban planner, and is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930. During his five-decade-long career, he constructed buildings in Europe, India, North and South America, and Japan.

Le Corbusier was an avid urban planner whose vision was dedicated to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities. He was a founding member of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), a series of events and congresses arranged across Europe by the most prominent architects of the time. Its objective was to spread the principles of the Modern Movement focusing in all the main domains of architecture (such as landscape, urbanism, industrial design, and many others).

Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier described the city of the future as consisting of large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting on piers, “Cities in the Sky.” His theories were adopted by the builders of public housing in Europe and the United States. In Great Britain, Le Corbusier’s ideas were thought of as a cheaper method of providing public housing from the late 1950s.

The National Museum of Western Art will be the 20th World Heritage site in Japan and the first in central Tokyo.

Open Interior of the “Maison Blanche” (1912).| Eveline Perroud

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