The Maternity Mark, shown here, helps to facilitate attention to pregnant women. The mark often appears on the priority seats on the train or bus. More recently it has also been used at parking spaces adjacent to shops or lavatory facilities, for the exclusive use not only of handicapped people and the elderly but also by families with expectant mothers or nursing infants.
While many drivers won’t consider use of electric cars due to their comparatively short range, this does not present a great problem when driving on small islands. On the Island of Yakushima — registered as a world heritage site — electric cars are thriving. While just 130 kilometers in circumference, the island boasts 18 battery charging stations, and in order to promote adoption of electric vehicles nearly all of them can be utilized free of charge. In the case of an M-type i-MiEV electric car produced by Mitsubishi Motor Co., for example, the quick charger in the photo can replenish 80% of the battery charge in just 15 minutes, enabling the car to be driven approximately 100 kilometers. It appears that other small islands that are tourist destinations are also engaged in similar experiments at adopting electric vehicles.
These kind of cute statues of tanuki (Japanese raccoon-dogs) are often found outside shops serving noodles and other Japanese foods. They are a representative type of ceramics produced in Shiga Prefecture known as Shigaraki-yaki. Being greeted by such a large horde of these tanuki, with their lovable expressions, warms the hearts of visiting tourists.
Standing up to 35 meters height, the Daisen tumulus in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture — also commonly referred to as the tomb of Emperor Nintoku — spans the length of nearly five football fields, making it the world’s largest ancient burial mound in terms of area, and putting it in the same class as the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt and the Tomb of Qin Shihuang in China as one of the three largest in the world. It was constructed in the early to mid-5th century AD. In 2008, the tumulus and its environs were placed on a provisional list of places in Japan for possible designation as UNESCO’s world heritage site. At the World Heritage Committee meeting held in Cambodia in June, Japan’s ancient military capital, Kamakura, was dropped from consideration, leading some to conclude that the bar has been raised for the designation. The Daisen tumulus is administered by Japan’s Imperial Household Agency, which is engaged in its own internal debate over the pros and cons of allowing an imperial tomb to be designated as a world heritage site.
At tourist attractions it’s common to see outlined figures that enable people to insert their own face and take humorous souvenir photographs. Rather than leaving the holes empty, at this spot in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture the faces are “returned” to their owners while the panel is not in use and at night. This way, viewers can see who the figures are supposed represent — which is not always immediately obvious. The caricature on the far right is Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902) an important literary figure during the Meiji era (1868-1912) known for his versatile and prolific output of haiku, tanka and other poetry, works of fiction, critiques and essays. He was born and raised in the city.
Hanafuda are Japanese traditional 48 playing cards. There are number of games to play with them. The name literally translates as “flower cards.”
It has an origin of Portuguese missonary bringing playing cards from Europe in the 16th century. They were also 48 of them. Then card games became popular among people, along with their use for gambling.
Private gambling those days was illegal. But playing with card games per se was not banned, so new cards were created with different designs to avoid the restriction. Each time gambling with a card deck of a particular design became too popular, the government banned those cards, which then prompted the creation of new ones. This cat and mouse game between the government and rebellious gamblers resulted in the creation of many differing designs.
However, the government began to realize that some form of card games would always be played by the populace, and began to relax their laws against gambling. The eventual result of all this was a game called Hanafuda. Because they do not have numbers (the main purpose is to associate images), it has a partially limited use for gambling. However, it is still possible to gamble by assigning points for completed image combinations.
There are twelve suits, representing 12 months. Matsu (pine) represents January, Sakura (cherry blossom): March, Momiji (autumn leaves): October, for example.
Kyoto offers the traveler a range of beautiful sights to see and fascinating historical places to visit. The shining golden pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, the impressive, towering wooden structure of Kiyomizu-dera, the sprawling grounds and ornate interiors of Nijo Castle, the old geisha quarter Gion where you just might catch a glimpse of a geisha herself… The list goes on. These experiences are to be looked forward to, but what many visitors to this ancient city may not be expecting is how stiflingly hot and humid the summers here can be. However, like Kyoto’s many centuries old temples and shrines, this is not anything new, and the locals have long since found a way to beat the heat to relax and refresh in style. River terrace – or deck – dining is exactly what it sounds like. This traditional summer activity is when Kyoto riverside restaurants, tea houses, and cafes set up special open-air decks beside or even over the accompanying river. The open-air terraces afford diners not only a view of the river but also the refreshingly cool breeze of the evening in which to unwind and recover from the day’s heat. Seating consists typically of tatami mats with floor cushions and low tables. The fare served is historically Japanese, but in more recent years restaurants specializing in other cuisines have started joining in the tradition, serving up Chinese, French, and even yakiniku where guests sear fresh cuts of meat over grills built into their tables. Along the famous Kamo River (Kamogawa, in Japanese) in Kyoto, these open-air river terraces are known as noryoyuka. Restaurants on the Kamogawa in Kyoto proper offer a variety of opportunities to enjoy noryoyuka, but there’s somewhere just outside the city that offers a distinctly different scene.
Many who have climbed one of the higher structures in the city will have undoubtedly noticed the surrounding mountains, and it is here that the small town of Takao can be found (not to be confused with Tokyo’s Mt. Takao). Takao shares its more metropolitan neighbor’s tradition of riverside terrace dining, but the vernacular here is slightly different: in Takao it is called kawadoko. The temperature here tends to be a few degrees lower than Kyoto proper, and the verdant mountain landscape provides a completely different atmosphere from that of the old capital’s restaurant, townhouse, and temple-lined lanes. There are a number of establishments offering the kawadoko experience to the slightly more intrepid visitor, and Momijiya is one such establishment. Momijiya is a ryokan – a traditional style Japanese inn – located just outside Kyoto in the wooded heart of Takao. The ryokan is actually split into the honkan, the original (main) wing, which sits atop a valley, and the bekkan, or annex, which is situated further down the side of said valley. Momijiya’s scenic kawadoko are located all the way at the bottom of the valley, nestled snugly into the fresh green forest beside a pristine mountain river. Getting there is a bit of a journey itself, starting with catching a shuttle from central Kyoto. After winding its way up out of the basin in which Kyoto sits and then abruptly down to the bottom of a small valley, the shuttle stops at a curious wooden suspension footbridge across a river. On the opposite bank stand the riverside terraces – the kawadoko – of Momijiya.
The kawadoko are adorned by strings of lanterns which flicker to life as the early evening fades into twilight, and the scent of katori senko – coils of mosquito repelling incense – wafts through the air as guests make their way to their seats, where the first few dishes of the Japanese style meal are already laid out. As diners enjoy each other’s company and gaze out at the refreshingly green scenery with the river murmuring softly below, the announcement comes that the evening’s special entertainment has arrived. Soon after, shuffling along in tightly wrapped kimono, come the maiko.
Kyoto is famous for many things, and one very special aspect of its history that remains to this day is its geisha culture. The younger, apprentice geisha are referred to as maiko, and at Momijiya’s kawadoko, guests can look forward to a pair of maiko visiting during the meal. This is quite a rare opportunity as booking a party with geisha or maiko can be rather difficult for the uninitiated. The maiko make their way from table to table, stopping to chat and pose for pictures. Those knowing a little of the Japanese language may pick up on the unique Kyoto dialect spoken by the maiko, and none can help but marvel at their gorgeous silk kimono, their striking makeup, and their painstakingly arranged and decorated hair. After making the rounds to each table, the maiko perform a traditional dance for the kawadoko guests as they finish their meals.
Both Kyoto’s noryoyuka and Takao’s kawadoko welcome guests from the beginning of May to the end of September. As the activity is very popular for locals and domestic tourists, advance reservations are highly recommended and may be required at some establishments. Consult your hotel concierge or the tourist information center for advice and help. Evening tours to Momijiya’s kawadoko in Takao, including shuttle service from central Kyoto is also available.