Meiji Jingu energetic fountain

Inside Meiji Jingu temple there is a natural fountain (quite strange in downtown Tokyo) which is the spring of a small water stream that ends up a little further in a small pond on the limit with Yoyogi park. It turns out that the fountain is considered one of he most “energetic” places in the city; it is a power spot or パワースポット (in Japanese). In general, all Meiji Jingu is considered a power spot and legend has it that the energy is specially positive at 6:00 a.m.

The fountain, which is called Kiyomasanoido 清正井, is the most energetic spot in the temple and its “powers” have been known for a very long time. However, until the end of last year it was almost always unnoticed by the temple visitors, but then it appeared on TV… and since then really long lines are being formed regularly only to be able to see the fountain!

Some people say that the fountain is energetically connected with Mount Fuji because its location is just in one of its “energetic lines” according to the ryumyaku 龍脈 technique (something similar to the Feng Shui).

Power spot

Power spot
People say that if you take a picture of the fountain and you store it into your cellphone, it will bring you good luck.


Vídeo of the power spot.

Source: Yahoo News.

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The street of the frogs

Near Matsumoto Castle, next to a river, there is a street plenty of small shops. The street is called “kaeru”, which in Japanese means many different things; the Japanese language has many homophone words, just like the Chinese language. The three different meanings of “kaeru” that gave name to this street in Matsumoto are: “frog” (蛙), “come back / go back home” (帰る) and “be able to shop” (買える). The locals use the name of the street referring to the three meanings, the street is full of frog statues and is full of places where they are able to shop, and after strolling along the street they go back home. It’s a really curious street and it’s on the way if you go walking from Matsumoto station to the castle.

Kaeru
At the beginning of the street there are some frogs with katanas welcoming visitors.

Kaeru
Small temple dedicated to the “frog gods”

Frog reading
A frog reading.

Kaeru

Kaeru
The river that flows next to the street.

Kaeru
There are frogs even in the beautifying fences!

Kaeru
Money purses like the one that Naruto owns!

Kaeru
One of the shops in the street, where almost anything you could imagine is on sale. Ceramics, books and vegetables, what a mix.

Kaeru
Alberto and I transforming into frogs.

Kaeru

Kaeru
Map of the area. The station is in the lower left part of the map, and the street of the frogs is just across the bridge in the center of the map, heading north, on the way to the castle.

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Foreigner nose

Sometimes when Japanese people dress up like a “foreigner”, they put on a fake plastic nose trying to imitate our noses, which generally are more protuberant than theirs. For example, in this TV show, the comedian Tsukaji Muga is dressed up as an “Amerika-jin” (American). Notice the fake big nose and the tie :)

In the show, the contestants have to grab the food that passes by in front of them using chopsticks. In this other video you can see another contestant dressed up like a Mexican (curiously without nose, can anybody guess why?); there is also a Russian (with fake nose) and an Indian as well (also with plastic nose). The two girls represent China and Japan.

If you want to know what happens when one of the contestants fails and can’t get the piece of sushi watch this other video:

If you are enjoying the TV show and want to watch some more I put here a couple of more videos. In one of the videos the contestants have to dip down a meatball into a raw egg.

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Japanese style bath

If you have never taken a bath in a Japanese onsen (public baths) you will find the following videos interesting. The water used in onsens is of volcanic origin and depending on the location of the onsen the water has different proprieties; in general having a bath in an onsen is good for the skin. If you travel to Japan in winter don’t forget to visit an onsen to have a relaxing bath, and don’t forget the onsen etiquette! The onsen shown in the videos is this one.

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Terminator exhibition

Last year, back in April, I visited with friends a temporary exhibition about Terminator where they had some real models that had been used in the movies. Some of the models were really impressive. For example, the Cameron model eyes were so realistic that they were scary. The showcased T1 turned out to be a “real” robot (which functioned without special effects/post-production) that was built for the movie Terminator 3 and was also used in Terminator 4.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
This T-600 photo I took is really cool. You can download it in high resolution here.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
Beautiful look.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
Cameron.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
T-800.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
From right to left: Pablo, Yuko, Sara, Ignacio and I.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
T1 used in the last two films.

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
Poster explaining the history of robotics, which ends in 2029 with the arrival of the “Terminator Era”!

terminator cyborg robot cyberpunk
At the end of the exhibition there was a female robot that moved her head so much that a girl had to comb her hair every now and then. She was quite close from going out of the uncanny valley.

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Living in Internet cafes

Japan is the country with the biggest comics market in the world; people read manga in trains, in coffee breaks at work, laying down on the grass in parks… The obsession is such that in the 60’s some cafeterias saw a business opportunity and started to offer a catalog of different manga volumes for which clients had to pay per reading hours.

The business of this kind of cafeterias called Manga Kissa hasn’t stop growing until the Internet arrived, when they had to change and offer more services apart from reading manga. Since around ten years ago Manga Kissa also offer computers connected to the Internet. Nowadays most of them have private booths where the client can surf the net, read, watch movies or play video games with certain privacy.

One time I visited a Manga Kissa with my friend Yamamoto who usually frequents this kind of places. “It’s much cheaper to spend two hours in a Manga Kissa and read 10 manga volumes than buying them” he tells me as we are entering in one of the biggest Manga Kissa in Tokyo, which occupies more than four floors of a building. At the entrance we are asked how many hours we want to stay and we receive the keys to our respective personal booths. Then we walk through several hallways with bookshelves loaded with thousands of manga volumes, DVD movies and video games. Yamamoto chooses five volumes of a classic manga from the 70’s; I feel overloaded with such an amount of information, with so much entertainment to choose from, and walk to my booth without anything to read.

I go inside my booth, it only has enough space to accommodate a seat and a computer in front of it. The seat is a quite comfortable reclining seat in which it would be easy to fall asleep. The computer has some preinstalled video games, not much different from the ones I would find in Europe. But just beside the computer there is also a PlayStation 3, a Wii and a Cable TV set-top box. After five minutes I feel again lost among so many entertainment options and I decide to go out of the booth to check what other options are available. Billiards, ping-pong, massage service, a room to play board games, etc. Eventually Yamamoto and I end up playing ping-pong. When we go out they charge us 800 yen, around €6.5/$9, for two hours. While going out I also realize that there is a locker room with showers!

Since the Japanese bubble burst at the beginning of the 90’s, more and more Japanese people can’t afford to pay rent in the big cities. Many people that lost their jobs ended up homeless living on the streets but others decided that a cheap way to have a place to sleep was to spend the nights in a Manga Kissa booth. Manga Kissa owners quickly realized the new trend and introduced cheaper rates like for example “8 hours for €10/$14”. The trend became even more marked when some of the most important Manga Kissa chains in the country installed shower services. With the current economic woes, more and more people are becoming homeless and spending their nights in a Manga Kissa; they are temporary workers that earn a low wage and can only afford to spend around 300 euros / 400 dollars per month for accommodation. They are cybernomads, the product of the long Japanese economic crisis, that after almost 20 years still hasn’t gotten any better.

Article originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

Other articles published in El País:

The invention of Dr. Nakamats

Can you remember about Dr. Nakamats? He is the most prolific inventor in history; this month he reached 3,500 patents. He is already more than 80 years old but he is still in good shape and maintains a really active lifestyle. A Danish producer came to Japan to film a documentary about the popular inventor called “The invention of Dr.Nakamats”. There is still not a release date set but we already can enjoy the trailer:

The trailer looks great; I am really looking forward to watch the whole documentary. Notice the details in the logo, for example “Till 2072” 😉

Dr. Nakamatsu

I am already a big fan of Doctor Nakamatsu, if you want to follow the latest news and inventions of Dr. NakaMats you can become a fan of him on the Fan Page I created on Facebook.

My brain is very important – Dr. Nakamats

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Hanazono festival

Lately I’ve been enjoying “traditional Japanese festivals” (matsuris 祭り) more than ever. Matsuris are usually held next to a temple and one of the main activities is to eat. Omikoshi processions and traditional dances are common activities as well; but somehow I have the feeling that what is really important and brings people to the festivals is the food, the sake and having a fun time with family and friends. During the festival there are several food stalls, some of them with tables and chairs and some without them. These pictures are from the last festival I attended at the Hanazono temple (in Shinjuku), a temple dedicated to Inari, the Shintoist god of rice and fertility. It is a small, but quite enjoyable, temple trapped in between the skyscrapers of Tokyo; when you go inside it makes you relax and escape from the stress of the big city. If you want to enjoy some matsuri, in this Wikipedia page you can find the name, date and location of the most important festivals in Japan:

花園神社祭り Hanazono festival

Yakisoba
Yakisoba

Yakitori stall
Yakitori stall

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Japanese lanterns
Lanterns sponsored by local businesses.

Yakisoba
More yakisoba

Japanese spiritual bouquets
Spiritual bouquets blessed by gods; if you put them on your house or company they will bring good fortune.

Japanese bouquets
More bouquets.

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival snakes
This woman was performing a weird show with snakes.

Hanazono festival snake
There is a snake in that box.

Hanazono festival

Hanazono festival

Maid - 花園神社祭り
These idols dreessed as maids were selling candies and their DVDs (videos of them in bikini shaking their boobs). It was one of the most popular stalls in the festival.

Other festivals, matsuris:

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Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park is a really beautiful park located in the west of Tokyo which is not as popular among tourists as other parks like Yoyogi or Shinjuku Gyoen. Many times I prefer to come to Inokashira because it’s much more quiet and some parts have a nice Japanese style touch.

Inokashira Park belonged to the imperial family but the emperor donated it as a gift to the Japanese people almost a hundred years ago. The green area of the park surrounds a quite big lake which is called Inokashira as well; at the end of the lake there is a temple dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten. One of the most popular things to do in Inokashira Park is to rent a duck-shaped pedal boat. Legend has it that couples that go together into a pedal boat in Inokashira lake will see their love strengthened. If you like manga and anime maybe you will recognize Inokashira Park, as it is usually seen in series like GTO or Video Girl Ai (if I remember well there are at least a couple of romantic scenes set in one of the bridges over the lake).

The get to Inokashira Park you have go to Kichijoji station (JR Chuo line in Tokyo) and then walk five minutes south. A great way to spend a pleasant day is to combine a walk in Inokashira Park with a visit to the Ghibli Museum, which is right at the end of the park to the southwest.

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park temple
Temple dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten.

Inokashira Park ukiyo-e
This is the same temple painted in ukiyo-e by Hiroshige.

Feeding pigeons and carps
Feeding pigeons and carps at the same time.

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park sakura trees
All those trees are sakura trees that will blossom very soon.

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Park

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Wasabi

Wasabi is a very popular Japanese culinary ingredient. It is of greenish color and you usually eat it as a paste/sauce to accompany raw fish plates. Maybe it is so well known because it’s very hot, although its spiciness is quite peculiar and it doesn’t stay on the tongue, but rather “goes up” straight to your nose cavity. If you have never tasted it, watch out for this greenish paste that goes with some Japanese dishes.

Wasabi
A sashimi dish with wasabi on the side.

At the store, you can find wasabi in a tube that looks like tooth paste. If you’re interested, you can find those wasabi tubes at any Asian supermarket anywhere around the world.

Wasabi
A wasabi tube, as usually sold.

What I didn’t know was the origin of this mysterious green paste. It happens to come from a bulb that grows naturally in some humid areas, although nowadays there’s a whole industry dedicated to grow this plant.

wasabi
Wasabi plant.

wasabi
Wasabi crops.

wasabi
Wasabi, once collected.

wasabi
Wasabi at the store.

In order to obtain the wasabi paste, you need to grate it. On the following pic, courtesy of wikipedia, you can clearly see how you get wasabi paste from grating it.

wasabi

And finally, a screen shot from a commercial of wasabi flavored chips.

wasabi

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