JNTO Tourist Information Center in Kyoto CLOSED!!

I can’t believe it, but the Tourist Information Center in Kyoto (inside the building where you can go up to Kyoto Tower) has closed on Jan. 31, 2004.

Just when the Japanese government is promoting its Yokoso Japan! campaign to entice more foreigners to visit Japan, they do this!!

Kyoto is one of the most tourist-infested places in Japan, and that TIC in Kyoto was always busy and a great place to find out about festivals and places to photograph.

I am totally dumbfounded. Their excuse is that there is a tourist info counter in Kyoto Station. Yes, but they are for the Kyoto-area only, not the entire country of Japan like the JNTO TIC in Kyoto.

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

The newly-opened Mori Art Museum atop the new Roppongi Hills complex is another must-see art gallery in Tokyo. The space was much larger than I had expected. It’s very big.

The opening exhibition titled “Happiness” was good. All forms of art are featured–paintings, sculpture, woodblock prints, etc. Only 2 days left to see it since it will end on Jan. 18. I was delighted that there was no censoring of the pornographic “shunga” woodblock prints and paintings showing genitals. Maybe woodblock prints and paintings are OK, but I wonder if photographs of genitalia would be allowed or not. (There were no such photos.)

Photography was included in the show, namely Nobuyoshi Araki (happy faces), Yasumasa Morimura, and Hiroshi Sugimoto (seascapes).

The museum admission (1,500 yen) also includes admission to the observation deck on the 53rd floor. The view is breathtaking, even at night. The picture windows extend from the floor to the ceiling so it affords a terrific view. There are also benches right in front of the windows so you can just sit and gaze out. Another prime date spot for Tokyoites.

Another good thing about the museum is that it’s open late at night, till 10 pm or midnight. Only on Tue., it closes at 5 pm for maintenance. Roppongi is Tokyo’s major night spot, so the late hours would still attract visitors.

Akebono gone from sumo

Shockingly and sadly, Akebono has resigned from the Japan Sumo Association on Nov. 6, 2003. This means he will no longer be a sumo elder nor a coach.

He plans to become a pro wrestler and his first match will be against Bob Sapp in late Dec.

He is not the first former yokozuna to go this route. There were others like Wajima and Futahaguro, who both left sumo in disgrace and now living in obscurity.

It’s going to be hard to accept Akebono as an entertainment-oriented wrestler.

My photo of Edward Seidensticker in Int’l Herald Tribune

In the Oct. 4-5, 2003 issue of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, the photo I took of translator Edward G. Seidensticker (above) appeared in the Books & Culture column written by my friend Ralph Cassell. It was the first time a photo of mine (properly credited) appeared in this newspaper.

The article titled, “Translator recalls what he got (and missed) over half a century,” was about a talk Seidensticker gave in Tokyo to the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators (SWET) on Sept. 27.

In the translation world, Seidensticker is a legendary figure best-known for translating masterpiece Japanese novels such as Yasunari Kawabata’s Nobel Prize-winning “Snow Country” (Yukiguni), Murasaki Shikibu’s “Tale of Genji, and Jun’inchiro Tanizaki’s “The Makioka Sisters” (Sasameyuki).

Seidensticker accompanied Kawabata to Stockholm in 1968 for the Nobel Prize awards ceremony. Without Seidensticker’s English translation, Kawabata would not have won the prize.

Prince Takamado dies at age 47

He was a cousin of the Emperor and an all-around good guy. So what a shock it was to hear of his sudden and untimely death on Nov. 21. After playing squash at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, his heart just stopped beating. In the hospital, he was put on a heart-lung machine, but died several hours later.

It was only a few years ago when I attended a Macworld Expo in Tokyo. I was admiring the latest Power Macintosh G4 computers at the Apple booth when suddenly, right in front of me, a very familiar-looking man walked up to a Power Macintosh and eagerly asked an Apple staff person about the computer. The man was Prince Takamado. He had a down-to-earth air about him and I was surprised that there was no army of bodyguards surrounding him. Anybody could have gone up to him to shake his hand.

I had a camera around my neck and thought to take his picture, but decided to respect his privacy and didn’t shoot. Too bad. Needless to say, I was very surprised at his interest in computers, especially Macintosh (my own favorite for many years).

May he rest in peace.

Abductees from North Korea return home

The biggest news in Japan this month was of course the homecoming of the five Japanese who were abducted by North Korea in 1978. Can you imagine being kidnapped and taken to a foreign, dictatorial country and being forced to make a life there and coming to like it there? And to not see your family and relatives and your home country for 24 years?? The abductees have now lived longer in N. Korea than in Japan. Apparently, things worked out quite well for these lucky five. Sadly, most of the other Japanese abductees were not so lucky and met a premature death due to bizarre causes.

One of the abductees, Mr. Kaoru Hasuike, brought over about 100 photos which surprised his brother Toru. For one thing, it is rare for North Korean citizens to be able to take photos. Apparently, it’s a luxury only for the privileged class. According to Toru, Hasuike’s photos mostly showed special occasions such as the wedding, birthdays, and travel photos (within North Korea only, of course). There were few photos showing their life in North Korea. As of this writing, Kaoru agreed to make only one photo public. It showed he and his wife standing in front of a temple in 1995. Nothing really special, except that both were wearing a North Korean pin on their chests.

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