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Feb. 2010 - Sapporo Snow Festival 2010 (Iolani Palace)Held during Feb. 5-11, 2010, the 61st Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido featured Iolani Palace as a giant ice sculpture. Especially beautiful when lit up at night.
I currently have over 33,000 images online from all 47 prefectures. They are in over 770 coherent photo sets (albums) categorized by prefecture and city/town/village.
Jun 05, 2010
Nov. 2009 - Kyoto Jidai MatsuriJun 05, 2010
Nov. 2008 - Asakusa OdoriThe 23rd Asakusa Odori, a dance performed by Asakusa geisha in Tokyo, was held on Oct. 28-29, 2008 at the Asakusa Kokaido Hall in Asakusa. They gave two identical shows on both days. It was a rare opportunity to see this dance performed only once every several years. The dances were stunningly beautiful. The gorgeous kimono, white faces, splendid colors, and music were all spellbinding.

I had eagerly awaited for the Asakusa Odori to be peformed again. The last time was way back in April 2001 when I still did not have a digital camera. Finally, I can cross off Asakusa Odori off my digital "to-do" list.

Wish they held it annually, but apparently it is too expensive for them to do so.
Sep 09, 2009
Feb. 2009 - Obama GirlsI've never witnessed such a popular US president in my lifetime. I'm proud too, because he was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, not far from where I went to high school. He's wildly popular in Hawaii, and we think of Obama as one of us, a local boy. Ironically, during the presidential campaign in 2008, Hawaii's top political brass (our Republican Governor and senior Senator) did not favor Barack (the Gov wanted McCain and Daniel wanted Hillary). Goes to show how out of touch with the people politicians can be. During Christmas 2008, we were happy to see the President-elect vacationing in Hawaii (it was an annual tradition for him). Too bad he didn't wear an aloha shirt nor any flower leis.

A real twist in the story is happening in Japan, as the city of Obama in Fukui Prefecture started riding on the coattails of Barack's namesake. I visited Obama on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 when they held a special event that included hula dancing by the Obama Girls. Made up of local women from Obama, they aim to promote their city which happen to have the same name (or same pronunciation) as the US president. They cite Barack's Hawaii connection as their reason for forming their hula troupe.

These women spend their own money traveling around Japan and even to Hawaii to promote their hometown. I took pictures and videos of them dancing in an ancient temple where they held the event. The city's main streets are decorated with banners with Barack's likeness. Souvenir shops sell Obama goods too. It's great how a little imagination and effort can revitalize a city or at least bring a lotta PR to itself.

In Japanese, "Obama" means small beach. And it is a small fishing town with a small swimming beach. It made headlines in 2002 as one place where North Korea abducted a Japanese couple (the Chimuras) in 1978. Obama city now hopes that Barack will someday visit them. Wouldn't that be something, a real media frenzy too. Hey Barack, drop by Obama in Fukui (and maybe even Obama Onsen Spa in Nagasaki) when you can.
Jul 20, 2009
Feb. 2008 - Manga & AnimeManga & Anime

This is a photograph, not a manga drawing. These are life-size dolls of manga characters found at the Tokyo Anime Center in Akihabara, Tokyo.

If you can draw huge eyes and a tiny nose and mouth, you can draw manga.

Those of us in Japan have long known about the popularity of manga comics and anime, even among adults. We often saw them reading comics in trains. To foreign visitors, it was one of Japan's most amusing phenomena.

Fast forward to today, and we see how popular Japanese manga has become outside Japan. I was really surprised to see manga books even in Finland.

There are also many more manga/anime characters than ever before. The simple days of readily identifiable Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Speed Racer characters are gone forever. We are now smothered by a plethora of major and minor characters of all shapes, sizes, colors, species, costumes, and personalities.

So what's this got to do with photography? Well, we also have people called costume players (cosplayers for short) who dress up as manga/anime characters and pose for photographers at manga/anime fairs. Of course, there are cosplayers outside Japan too.

Pretty amazing when you think that just 15 or 20 years ago, manga/anime was pretty much limited to Japan and a few niche markets overseas.

So, what will be the next Japanese thing to take the world by storm? Pachinko? Not likely.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
Sep 16, 2008
May 2008 - Lake Toya, HokkaidoLake of the North

Lake Toya is a circular caldera lake formed after the mountain blew its top and water started to gather in the crater. Smaller volcanoes in the center erupted again to form what is now the four Nakajima islands in the middle of the lake seen above.

The whole Lake Toya area is now in the welcome mode for the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit. Welcome signs can be seen everywhere, even at the New Chitose Airport.

The lake's main town is Toyako Onsen, a hot spring on the southern shore. From there, you can take a local bus or rent a bicycle to visit other places around the lake. Don't miss seeing the dramatic volcanic landscapes at Showa-Shinzan/Mt. Usu and Nishiyama Craters which last erupted in March 2000.

Yokozuna Kitanoumi, one of sumo's greatest grand champions and the current chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, is from the Lake Toya area (Sobetsu town). His ring name "Kitanoumi" means "Lake of the North" in reference to Lake Toya. There's even the Yokozuna Kitanoumi Memorial Hall.

Bicycling around the entire lake was very pleasant, seeing carp in the transparent water, cherry blossoms, lakeside sculptures, and nesting swans. And the police were also starting to move into the area to prepare for the next G8 Summit in July.

Lake Toya is an easy train or bus ride from Sapporo and New Chitose Airport, taking 90-150 min.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
Sep 16, 2008
May 2008 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - Lake Toya, HokkaidoLake of the North

I visited Hokkaido during Golden Week (late April to early May) for a magazine shoot. My visit centered on Lake Toya, the site of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit to be held during July 7-9, 2008.

I hope the G8 leaders will have time to visit at least some of the many sights in and around Lake Toya which is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido. The average tourist will need at least three days to explore the lake, volcanoes, hot spring waters, and even a sumo museum.

May was a lovely time to visit the lake. The cherry blossoms and plum blossoms were out. I rented a bicycle and rode around the lake in one day.

I also photographed some local people doing environmental activities like converting waste vegetable oil to biodiesel fuel, using winter snow to cool a vegetable warehouse, and high school students testing Lake Toya's water quality. The upcoming G8 Summit, which will focus on the environment and climate change, has heightened local interest in the environment.

I also noticed many Chinese tourists in Hokkaido. I found them almost everywhere I went, Lake Toya, Sapporo, and Otaru. Tourist signs were in English, Chinese, Korean, and Russian too.

It's been years since I visited Hokkaido. Great to have reacquainted myself with this scenic northern island. Uploaded about 900 new images of Hokkaido.
Sep 16, 2008
Nov. 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JPHokule'a in YokohamaFeb 20, 2008
Nov. 2007 - Hokule'a in YokohamaHokule'a in Yokohama

Hawaii's most famous canoe named Hokule'a departed Hawaii in Jan. 2007 and sailed to Micronesia and arrived in Japan in April. It visited Okinawa, Kyushu, Shikoku, Hiroshima, and other places until arriving in Yokohama on June 9, 2007, its final stop. A large crowd (including Miss Yokohama in kimono above) turned out to greet the canoe with the Yokohama Bay Bridge as the backdrop.

What makes this canoe so special and famous is that it was used to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti (and many other places) without any modern navigational instruments. They only referred to the sun, moon, the stars, and ocean waves to navigate through the vast Pacific Ocean or Polynesia. This is called celestial navigation. Extremely few people can do this, and the Hawaiians are learning this skill of long-ago.

They wanted to prove that the original native Hawaiians were able to sail between Tahiti to Hawaii on purpose, and that they did not land on Hawaii by accident. Photos here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
Feb 20, 2008
May 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - OiranOct 14, 2007
May 2007 - OiranJapan's best-dressed woman: The Oiran and Tayu courtesan from the Yoshiwara licensed quarters in Edo (Tokyo). Today, we can only see her persona in folklore, kabuki plays, movies, and festivals like the Ichiyo-zakura Matsuri held in early April north of Asakusa.

This festival's highlight is the Oiran Dochu procession when the oiran and her entourage parade along a back street to a stage where she performs in an Oiran show.

I enjoyed her gorgeous costume and show. Real glad to see people still preserving the culture of the oiran. It looked quite authentic.

After seeing my oiran photos, see my oiran video as well. You can see her putting on (and later taking off) her massive clogs. (I was shooting stills at the same time so some parts of the video look shaky.)

The oiran. My favorite woman to photograph in Japan.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono







© Philbert Ono
Oct 14, 2007
April 2007 - Sakura, SakuraThe cherry blossom is Japan's most venerated flower. You haven't seen nor experienced Japan until you see the cherry blossoms.

My favorite flower to photograph. No matter how many years we live in Japan, we never get tired of seeing these fragile and fleeting flowers.

If you're a visiting tourist, it can be tricky to time your trip when the flowers are in full bloom. In central Japan, they usually bloom from late March to early April. Every year, the flowers seem to bloom at a slightly different time, making it unpredictable. They always bloom earlier or later than usual, depending on how cold/warm the winter was. Changes in the global climate is really affecting the cherry blossoms.

Even if you're here during the sakura season, it can be frustrating. Half the time, the weather gets windy or rainy just when the flowers are in full bloom during the critical 2- or 3-day peak period. There are also nice sunny days, but it could be on the day after you leave Japan or when you have to be at work.

In Tokyo, there are many places to see cherry blossoms. Every year, I make it a rule to photograph cherries in places I've never visited before. We can only visit so many places during the peak period of only 2 or 3 days. After that, the petals fall off rapidly.

This year, it wasn't so good weather-wise during the peak period. I counted only one blue-sky day in Tokyo. The other days were overcast, rainy, or hazy due to yellow dust blown from China. On overcast days, I shoot the flowers when they are lit up at night such as at Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi (excellent lighting, but horrendous crowds), Sumida Park, and Meguro River.

On sunny days, visit Rikugien Garden, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Koganei Park, Sotobori Canal, Inokashira Park, and ICU Campus in Mitaka.

And if you are in Kyoto in April, don't miss the Miyako Odori Cherry Dance by geiko and maiko.

Sakura vocabulary:

Sakura - Cherry blossom.
Sakura zensen - Cherry blossom front, where the cherries start to bloom in Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
Kaika - First flowers to bloom. In Tokyo, a tree in Yasukuni Shrine serves as the official barometer for declaring that cherries have started blooming in Tokyo.
Mankai - Full bloom.
Hanami - Outdoor party or picnic under the cherry trees where people eat, drink, and be merry.
Somei-Yoshino - Most popular variety of cherry blossom with full-looking clusters of flowers on the branches.
Shidare-zakura - Weeping cherry blossoms.
Sakura Matsuri - Cherry Blossom Festival.
Yo-zakura - Cherry blossoms lit up at night.

Cover photo (Rikugien Garden weeping cherry tree) and page design:
© Philbert Ono






© Philbert Ono
May 03, 2007
Jan. 2007 PHOTOGUIDE.JP - Akashi CastleA noted castle in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. More photos here.May 03, 2007
Jan. 2007 - Plum PairJapan's warm winter this year is making plum blossoms bloom much earlier than usual, a far cry from last winter's cold temperatures and large snowfall.

The first flowers to bloom in the new year, plum blossoms have the sweetest smell of all the flowers I know in Japan. The white ones are extremely pacifying. There are also pink and red ones, and each have a different sweet smell. There is an incredible variety of ume plum blossoms.

The plum blossom is deeply entrenched and beloved in Japanese culture. You often see it depicted on New Year's postcards, food, paintings, woodblock prints, and fusumu sliding doors. It is part of the auspicious sho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, and plum).

You can see plum blossoms during Feb. to early April, depending on region of Japan. In the Tokyo area, Kairakuen Garden in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture and Yoshino Baigo in Ome, Tokyo are most famous.

Wakayama Prefecture is also nationally famous for ume plums (for eating). Minabe town in southern Wakayama has huge groves of plum trees on mountain slopes. The smell is sweet.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono
Feb 23, 2007
Oct. 2006 - Fall Colors, Shiga Pref.Autumn might be a depressing time for some people as the temperature gets colder and the trees go bare. However, like the other three seasons, autumn in Japan has its own unique attractions to look forward to.

Autumn colors are the obvious. Many mountains and temples have trees which turn red or yellow in fall. Huge crowds flock to see the dainty, red momiji maple leaves. In Kyoto, autumn is the busiest tourist season of the year. Many of its famed temples are ablaze in colorful leaves in Nov. And traffic is gridlocked.

Just a stone's throw away from Kyoto is neighboring Shiga Prefecture. After Kyoto and Nara, Shiga has the third highest number of buildings (temples & shrines) designated as National Treasures. Many temples and shrines in Shiga are also well-known for fall colors.

On the east side of Lake Biwa, there is Koto Sanzan, or the East Lake Temple Trio, consisting of Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji temples all noted for fall leaves and National Treasures. The photo above was taken at Kongorinji temple.

Have you ever seen autumn leaves when they are lit up at night? Shiga also has a few gardens where you can see autumn colors looking brilliant against the dark sky. Almost like fireworks. Very different from daytime. Check out Genkyu-en Garden next to Hikone Castle, Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu, and Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine to see what I mean.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono


PhotoGuide Japan has been online for 10 years. It's been a blast and we look forward to the next 10 years. We thank all of you for your support and encouragement in making us the world's highest-ranked site for photography + Japan (at least at Google).

What sets us apart is our comprehensive and unique content found nowhere else. Our information is drawn from original, first-hand sources in Japan. We also take our own pictures, write our own articles, and state our own opinions.

We are content creators, and we own the content we create. Content is our most valuable asset and we plan to keep creating it for the benefit of all. It is the most important element of the Internet. Content is definitely King.




夜に紅葉をライトアップする庭園もあります。真っ黒の空のキャンバスに色とりどりの葉っぱがとても奇麗。日中と全く違う美しさ。ライトアップするところは、彦根城の隣にある玄宮園、 野洲市の兵主大社、と大津市の日吉大社とか。夜には混んでいないし、癒されます。

© Philbert Ono

PhotoGuide Japan 10周年!

おかげさまで当HPが10周年を迎えました。インターネットって本当に面白かった。emailとホームページ、e コマース、ADSL ブロードバンド、オークション、携帯のiモード、CSSデザイン、PHP+MySQL、ブログ、Wiki、写真と動画の共有サイト、SNSなど凄まじい展開ばかりでした。僕もこれらのトレンドとテクノロジーにほとんど乗りました。


PhotoGuide Japanのコンテンツもこつこつと追加したり更新したりしてきました。まだまだ不足している部分もありますが、現状のままでも比較すべきものがない。

Dec 28, 2006
Aug. 2006 - Yamato Awa OdoriThe Yamato Awa Odori is held on the last weekend of July in the city of Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture. Yamato is easily accessible from Tokyo.

Originating in Tokushima, the Awa Odori dance festival has spread quite far and wide in Japan. Those of us in Tokyo can see it in Koenji and Kagurazaka, besides Yamato.

Its roots lie in the Buddhist Bon dance which is also held in summer to welcome the souls of the deceased coming back to visit us. The Awa Odori in its present form, however, is quite different from the more low-key Bon dance.

It is nicknamed the "Fool's Dance" because the hands are shaken next to the head. In Japan, this gesture means the person is crazy or stupid. The Bon dance has people dancing in a circle, whereas the Awa Odori is a street parade of numerous, highly-trained Awa dance troupes typically consisting of children, women, men, and musicians. The music consisting of taiko drums, flutes, and shamisen is quite infectious.

It's a much more upbeat and lively dance than the Bon dance. One of my favorite Japanese festivals to watch and photograph.

Pictured above is a dance troupe named Chidori-ren. They are members of the Maritime Self-Defense Force based in Atsugi. Last year when I first saw them, they really stood out with an incredible performance. Possible only by being in top physical condition and doing lots of dance practice. They were perfect. See for yourself with my photos here and video here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono






© Philbert Ono
Sep 23, 2006
April 2006 - Kagurazaka GeishaLiving dolls, that's what they are. The makeup, hairstyle, kimono, and song & dance all combine to make the geisha Japan's ultimate artisans and entertainers.

Every spring, we are treated to public dance performances by real geisha in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo. Kyoto is not the only place in Japan where you can see geisha. We also have some in Tokyo. Not as many as before, but just as beautiful, elegant, and spellbinding.

I know they are just normal women underneath it all. But still, all that makeup and costumes really overwhelm you, especially when you see them up close.

Kagurazaka is a neighborhood in central Tokyo built on a gentle slope, and it happens to be one of Tokyo's geisha districts. (The others being Shimbashi and Asakusa.) There's a busy main drag of shops and restaurants, and when you step into one of the small side streets, suddenly you're in a quiet and different world with high-class, Japanese-style ryotei restaurants where the geisha work.

Kyoto is well-known for geisha dances in spring. But Tokyo also has its geisha gem in Kagurazaka. For the 8th time this year, they performed their annual "Hana no Kai" geisha dance on April 8. This year, they gave three shows instead of the usual two. And all three shows sold out. Kagurazaka has been receiving quite a bit of media attention lately, increasing its popularity.

The cover photo above is a scene from their first number called "Fuji Murasaki" (Wisteria Purple). Wisteria is a purple flower that hangs down from a vine or branch. It is another symbol of spring, especially the month of May when they bloom.

As you can see, they don't use sophisticated background sets like their Kyoto counterparts. But they don't need it anyway. The plain background actually makes the geisha stand out even more. And the relatively small size of the hall (about 400 seats) makes it more personal and friendly. For a mere 2,000 yen, you can sit anywhere in the hall, even on the front row and feast your eyes on the colorful, wish-it-were-longer, eye-candy spectacle. (It lasts for only about an hour.)

The geisha in Shimbashi also hold their annual dance performance called "Azuma Odori" in late May at the Shimbashi Embujo Theater. However, that hall is too large (over 1,400 seats) and the tickets cost between 1,500 yen and over 7,000 yen. I saw that show once, from the cheap seats way up on the 3rd floor. I was almost the only one on that floor. There were too many empty seats and the geisha were too far away. They need to advertise more. Not too many people know about these spring geisha dances in Tokyo.

After the performance, the Kagurazaka geisha came out into the lobby to thank us for coming. Posing with them was a great photo op. Photos here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono






僕は今年でこのをどりが3回目です。毎回外国人の友人を連れて行ってます。"Very beautiful!"といつも言うんです。僕は、桜と同じく、芸者さんのをどりを見ないと春の気分になれません。東京の無形文化財に指定してもいいぐらいです。写真はここ

© Philbert Ono
Jun 19, 2006
Jan. 2006 - PHOTOGUIDE.JPSymbols of Japan

The Japanese flag, Mt. Fuji, a geisha in Kyoto, a torii gate, and cherry blossoms.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

Project in Progress

WELCOME to PHOTOGUIDE.JP! You are witnessing the start of a new and ambitious project initiated by me, Philbert Ono. This project aims to introduce Japan in pictures and in English. This site will expand greatly over the coming months and years.
Feb 21, 2006
Jan 2006 - Sapporo Snow FestivalAnybody from Hawai'i would recognize the giant snow sculpture above: It's a replica of the Iolani Palace (complete with coconut trees and a statue of King Kamehameha), Hawai'i's most famous and historic building in Honolulu.

Held during early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido is Japan's biggest festival in winter with 2 million visitors. At the main venue in Odori Park in central Sapporo, giant sculptures of snow are built by the local Self-Defense Force personnel, taking about a month with countless truckloads of snow hauled to the site.

Years ago, I spent a memorable winter in Sapporo and photographed the snow festival before, during, and after it was held. Not many people see how they construct (and later destroy) these frosty works of art, so I've uploaded some of the pictures I took.

By an incredible coincidence, one of the giant snow sculptures turned out to be the Iolani Palace. Being from Hawai'i, I was just totally thrilled. It was to commemorate direct flights from Sapporo (Chitose) to Hawai'i.

Thus, every year, one or more of the giant snow sculptures depict a famous building outside Japan. In Feb. 2006, a few famous buildings in Australia will be featured. International and local organizations are also invited to build smaller snow sculptures.

It's cold, but quite fun. We learned the hard way that it's important to use a wooden frame within the sculpture (like the metal rods in concrete) to prevent the sculpture from collapsing. (Nobody told us that until our snowy work of art broke and we had to build it again.)

In 2006, the festival will be held during Feb. 6-12.

I have uploaded over 80 pictures of this festival. See them here.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono

-- Japanese --





© Philbert Ono
Feb 21, 2006
Nov. 2005 - Tokyo Jidai MatsuriTokyo's Festival of the Ages is held annually in Asakusa on Nov. 3, Culture Day, a national holiday. It is one of Asakusa's three biggest festivals (the other two being the Sanja Matsuri in May and the Samba Carnival in Aug.) It attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

Asakusa is well-loved by all. It is perhaps the most popular remnant of Tokyo's past. It has a very long history, beginning in 628 when two fishermen brothers snagged a golden Kannon statue in their fishing net in nearby Sumida River. A wealthy landowner told them about the statue's religious value and built a small temple for it. That temple grew into today's Sensoji, the heart and soul of Asakusa.

The Jidai Matsuri is essentially a costume parade depicting various periods in Tokyo's history. It includes dramatic performances such as the Golden Dragon Dance, White Heron Dance, and fireman acrobatics. My personal favorite is the Oiran Dochu courtesan procession that you see above.

Only the oiran, an elite courtesan, was permitted to hold a courtesan procession during the old days of the Yoshiwara licensed quarters. She is dressed in her finest and escorted by a good number of people, including these two young attendants in front of her called "kamuro." In the old days, the kamuro were about 7 or 8 years old and sold into a brothel to assist the courtesan and learn the trade.

I have uploaded over 140 pictures of this festival, showing all the historical periods and characters that appear in the parade. It's a complete photo guide to the festival. Most photos were taken in 2004 and 2005, with a few taken in earlier years. See Tokyo Jidai Festival.




Nov 14, 2005
Aug. 2005 - Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, TokyoWhat a hot summer it was this year. Aug. 14 was a scorcher as well, but at this "water-throwing festival," we received temporary relief by getting sprayed (fire hose) and splashed (buckets) with water.

The full-scale version (hon-matsuri) of this festival is held every three years, and this year was it. We saw 56 mikoshi (portable shrines) paraded along the streets near Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm for the festival's climax. If you missed it, you'll have to wait until 2008.

What you see above is a bunch of people in a pool of water on a flatbed truck using plastic buckets to splash water on each portable shrine that passed by.

A lot of water was expended this day, and I cringed a little when I thought about places like Shikoku where they were having a serious water shortage. Fortunately, Tokyo did not have a water shortage this year.

Since I live near Fukagawa, it's easy for me to see this festival held since the 17th century. It is one of Tokyo's Big Three Festivals. I already have a detailed photo essay here. Sorry, but I have not yet uploaded pictures of this year's one (nor the one in 2002). Maybe later.

Cover photo and page design:
© Philbert Ono






© Philbert Ono
Aug 28, 2005
June 2005 - Expo 2005 Kaleidoscope, AichiGlobal, global, global. I hope you like this word because if you visit Expo 2005 in Aichi Prefecture, you'll see it everywhere: Global Loop, Global Commons, Global Common 1, Global Common 2, Global Common 3, Global Common 4, Global Common 5, Global Common 6, Global Tram, Global Village, and Global House.

Over 120 countries, Japanese companies, local governments, and international organizations have pavilions at this "Nature's Wisdom" world expo not far from Nagoya.

It is actually Japan's second Universal Exposition (the first was Expo '70 in Osaka). The site is within an hour's train ride from Nagoya Station, but it will take longer to actually set foot inside the gate due to the crowds and security check. From Nagoya Station, it took me almost 2 hours to actually get inside the Expo.

I went on a weekday in May and even then, it was very crowded. Spent most of the day in the uncrowded international pavilions, then spent the evening entering government pavilions like Japan, Aichi, and Nagoya (taking about 20 min. each). To enter the popular corporate pavilions, expect to wait 2 or 3 hours. (I don't think any pavilion is worth waiting that long.)

One expo highlight is the exhibit of a frozen mammoth (head with tusks, and foot) unearthed in Russia in excellent condition and brought to Expo 2005. It was easy to see it with a reservation ticket (seiriken) which you can obtain near Global House where the mammoth is.

I've seen many expos in Japan, and without exception, this expo is mainly entertainment, amusement, and corporate and international PR. The site also has large tracts of greenery and water, but few people have the time and energy to walk around those areas. It's impossible to see everything in one day, so if you have only one day, prioritize the pavilions you want to visit.

Although the 4,600 yen admission ticket is somewhat steep, it's worth going at least once. Just to see what it's like and ogle at the crowds. To avoid the crowds, go on a rainy/stormy day. If you go during the summer, I wish you luck with the crowds and heat.

See more photos of the Aichi Expo here.
Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono





写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono
Jun 05, 2005
Oct. 2004 - Yokozuna Musashimaru's Final Dohyo-iriYokozuna Musashimaru held his retirement ceremony on Oct. 2, 2004 at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo.

He performed his final ring-entering ceremony pictured above. The inset photo shows Konishiki cutting a snippet of Maru's topknot.

With Maru's departure, sumo is without a top-ranking Hawaiian wrestler for the first time since 1968. At least we can take comfort in the fact that sumo is now more cosmopolitan than ever before. In the top two divisions of sumo, we can find Mongolian (including the current and only yokozuna), Russian, Georgian, Bulgarian, and Korean wrestlers.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono




© Philbert Ono
Jun 05, 2005
July 2004 - Nebuta Matsuri, AomoriThis was the first edition of PhotoGuide Japan's new home page design called the "Billboard Look." A dramatic change from the "Stripe Look" that was used for many years previously.

Photo caption: One of my all-time favorite festivals, the Nebuta Matsuri is held in early August in Aomori in northern Japan. I give this picture the honor of being the first to be featured in this newly designed home page.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono



写真: © Philbert Ono.
Jun 04, 2005
Aug. 2004 - Flame for AthensCollage of photos I took on June 6, 2004 when the Olympic Torch Relay came through Tokyo.

In the middle is table tennis prodigy Ai Fukuhara speaking after she anchored the torch relay and lit the cauldron you see at Tokyo City Hall.

On the right is another runner who carried the torch across the Olympic Bridge in front of the Olympic Swimming Pool in Harajuku. Pictured in the background is a large Olympic sculpture at a shopping complex in Harajuku.

Japan brought home an unprecedented haul of 37 Olympic medals (16 gold, 9 silver, & 12 bronze). The 16 golds match the number received at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The medal count ranked 6th among all participating countries.

One thing I couldn't understand was the public apologies by the Japanese athletes who didn't win any medal or a gold. No need to apologize for doing one's best. The men's team gymnastics event was my favorite Olympic moment. When Tomita landed perfectly and everyone knew Japan bagged the gold. See photos of the Olympic torch relay here.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono


2004年6月6日に開催された都内の聖火リレーの写真コラージ。聖火ランナーの最後は愛ちゃんでした。撮影したのは、出発点の東京ビッグサイト(長嶋 一茂)、銀座(橋 幸夫)、浅草(古賀 稔彦)、表参道(一般)、とゴールの都庁都民広場(福原 愛)。岩崎 恭子と小谷 実可子も撮りたかったけどどこで走るか未公開のため、ダメでした。

写真: © Philbert Ono.
Jun 04, 2005
Dec. 2004 - Imperial Palace VisitEmperor Akihito waves to the flag-waving crowd at the Imperial Palace on Dec. 23, 2004, his birthday and a national holiday. A similar spectacle also takes place on Jan. 2.

Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 are the only two days when the general public is allowed to enter the palace to greet the Emperor and his family. From left to right is Princess Nori, the Crown Prince, the Emperor, the Empress, and Prince and Princess Akishino. Crown Princess Masako did not appear.

Before we got to see the Emperor and his family behind bullet-proof glass, we stood in line for about 2 hours, went through a bag inspection, body frisking, and crossed the famous Nijubashi Bridge.

We waited 30 min. more in the plaza, then the Emperor and his family appeared right on time at 10:20 am. People waved the paper flags that had been distributed and cheered "banzai!" When the Emperor spoke, the crowd immediately fell silent. He spoke for only about a minute, thanking us for celebrating his birthday and mentioning this past year's numerous natural disasters.

After he finished, everyone waved the flags again and cheered. The Imperial family waved back and soon disappeared behind the sliding paper doors. They were on the balcony for a whole THREE minutes. I thought they would stay there for at least 10 min. Barely had time to mount my telephoto lens.

We were then promptly herded to the exit to make room for the next horde of people waiting to see the Emperor who appeared two more times that day. I was surprised to see quite a few foreigners, including four guys in a Santa Claus suit.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono

See more photos of my Imperial Palace Visit.





写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono

もっとの一般参賀の写真はここ 一般参賀の写真はここ。
Jun 04, 2005
April 2005 - Cherry Dance, KyotoIf you're lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the month of April, don't miss the annual Miyako Odori or Cherry Dance performed by some 64 geiko and maiko (apprentice geisha) dressed in beautiful kimono. This is Kyoto's biggest event of the year and a national institution. This year, the 133rd Miyako Odori will be held (first performed in 1872).

There are four shows daily during April 1-30 at the Kobu Kaburen-jo Theater in Gion, one of the prime geisha districts in Kyoto. With so many shows, it is fairly easy to obtain tickets priced from 1,900 yen to 4,300 yen. Even the maiko themselves are required to sell a large lot of tickets.

The dance consists of eight plays showing the different seasons of Kyoto. The last act is the most colorful with the cherry blossom motif. Photography is permitted but no flash. My only complaint is that it's too short. It lasts only about an hour. But this is what the geiko and maiko practice hard for, and it's a great honor to appear in this dance. They are the best.

When we think of geisha dances, most of us think of the Miyako Odori, but Kyoto actually has other geisha dances such as the Kyo Odori at Miyagawa-cho Kabuki Theater during April 2-17 (3 shows daily), the Kitano Odori on April 15-25 (2 or 3 shows daily) at Kamishichiken Kaburenjo, and the Kamogawa Odori during May 1-24 (3 shows daily) at Pontocho Kaburenjo Theater. Each dance represents their respective geisha district.

And did you know that Tokyo also has geisha? They are in Asakusa, Kagurazaka, and Shimbashi. I bet you didn't know that they put on annual geisha dances either. Well, the Kagurazaka geisha will hold its annual Hana no Kai dance on April 16 this year (2 shows), and the Shimbashi geisha performs their annual Azuma Odori at the Shimbashi Embujo Theater on May 28-31 (2 shows daily).

Unfortunately, the Asakusa geisha don't hold annual dances for the public. The last one they had was several years ago (which was very nice!). However, they do appear or dance publicly at major festivals in Asakusa such as the Sanja Matsuri in May and Tokyo Jidai Matsuri in Nov.

This cover shot is a composite image taken a few years ago. The cherry blossoms (not real) hanging from the ceiling has been "lowered" in the picture. It's actually much higher on stage.

Cover photo and page design: © Philbert Ono





写真と表紙デザイン:© Philbert Ono
Jun 04, 2005
May 2004 - Hula Dancer + GeishaThe images were taken from vintage postcards. 2004 was the 150th anniversary of US-Japan relations.

This is also the last "stripe look" home page design. The home page design and layout was completely changed from the next update in July 2004.
Jun 04, 2005
Jan. 2004 - Valentine DarumaDigitally altered photo of a daruma doll in Takasaki, Gunma Pref.Jun 04, 2005
March 2004 - Hibiscus + SakuraHibiscus is the symbol of Hawaii (my hometown) and sakura are cherry blossoms. Digitally composited. 2004 was the 150th anniversary of US-Japan relations.Jun 04, 2005
March 2003 - PhotoGuide Japan Reborn!This was a milestone time when the site's biggest overhaul was completed after almost the entire site became database-driven with php programs and MySQL databases. The number of topic categories was also drastically reduced to only three: NewsZONE, DirectoryZONE, and PhotoZONE to correspond to the site's new infrastructure. All the topics were grouped under these three categories.

Ironically, almost everything changed except this home page layout which would last for another year or so. One minor improvement was the use of a larger logo graphic, replacing the Web site name's text at the top.
Jun 04, 2005
Sept. 2003 - Spreading Our WingsIncidentally, this is the same model pictured on the March 2003 cover.Jun 04, 2005
Aug. 2001 - Koenji Awa OdoriIn MailOrderZONE, a PayPal shopping cart was incorporated.Jun 04, 2005
Sept. 2002 - Smiling LadiesPhoto from vintage postcards. A graphic button on the upper right was made to link to the Japanese version.Jun 04, 2005
Nov. 2001 - Kyoto International Photo Showcase (KIPS)Photos were from our group show in Kyoto in Nov. 2001.Jun 04, 2005
Jan. 2002Finally, PhotoGuide Japan's logo was placed on the upper left corner. Sometimes the stripe look had two color tones. But the Web site name at the top was still text.Jun 04, 2005
May 2001 - 5th AnniversaryPhoto of a red-and-white curtain which signifies an auspicious event (our 5th year). The page layout was also improved with a vertical pinstripe on the left and right sides. The side bar column was also improved with a better "stripe look." This basic page layout would last for 3 years.Jun 04, 2005
Jan. 2001 - Akebono Arigato!The cover photo commemorated Yokozuna Akebono's retirement. There's also now a site search box on the upper left.Jun 04, 2005
Aug. 2000 - With love, from OkinawaPhoto of a sanshin player on Taketomi island, Okinawa. The notice board also announces PhotoGuide Japan's second public event called "Tokyo International Photo Showcase 2000" held in Oct. 2000 at the Yokohama Museum of Art.Jun 04, 2005
Oct. 1999 - TIPS '99PhotoGuide Japan's first public event called "Tokyo International Photo Showcase" held in Oct. 1999 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. The theme was, "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained." It was a slide show featuring several photographers. It was also when a logo was made for PhotoGuide Japan.Jun 04, 2005
Jan. 2000 - Welcome 2000Photo from a giant billboard in Akihabara.Jun 04, 2005
July 1999 - LifeguardSame layout as the previous year.Jun 04, 2005
Aug. 1998 - Laughing GeishaA "Notice Board" was created in the side bar column. The photo is from a vintage postcard (retouched).Jun 04, 2005
April 1998Big announcement for my new online mail order service called MailOrderZONE. This was the official start of PhotoGuide Japan's entry into e-commerce. The page design also changed to a two-column format.Jun 04, 2005
July 1997Notice that we still didn't have a logo so the typeface of "PhotoGuide Japan" kept changing on the home page.Jun 04, 2005
Jan. 1998It was during this time when e-commerce started to take off and I was preparing to start an online business of selling Japanese photo books. Cover photo is from a vintage postcard. Jun 04, 2005
June 1997The photo is the Tower of the Sun sculpture by Taro Okamoto for Expo '70 in Osaka. The category divider is now a colored stripe instead of a line. This "stripe look" became the basis for the home page design until 2004.Jun 04, 2005
Nov. 1996Two more topic categories were introduced by this time: ResourceZONE and DirectoryZONE. ResourceZONE eventually merged with DirectoryZONE. The photo of the two women came from one of my favorite vintage postcards.Jun 04, 2005
Mar. 1997 - 1st AnniversaryThe Web site got its own domain name and new Web host. The new HistoryZONE was created. Jun 04, 2005
May 1996 - The BeginningThis is what PhotoGuide Japan's home page looked like in May 1996 soon after it first went online in March 1996. Topics were organized under three categories: 'ZineZONE, PhotoZONE, and DataZONE. Many of the original topics still exist in the present site.

This was well before frames, css styles, e-commerce, and flash came to fore. We still did not have our own domain name either. And Yahoo! Japan did not exist yet either. The site was created with Adobe PageMill 1.0, and later 2.0.
Jun 04, 2005
Camera-tsuki keitai denwa (or keitai camera)カメラ付き携帯電話 - "Camera-tsuki" means camera-equipped. "Keitai" is portable, and "denwa" is telephone. Ever since the camera phone was introduced in Japan in 2001, it has become hugely popular with the masses using them for snapshots and as you can see, self portraits.

Place: Takayama Festival, Gifu Pref.
May 28, 2005
Nihon Sankei - Miyajima日本三景 宮島 - Miyajima in Hiroshima Pref. is also one of the Scenic Trio of Japan (Nihon Sankei). It is an island in the Seto Inland Sea famous for Itsukushima Shrine which seems to float on the ocean. It is symbolized by a large, orange torii in the sea, Japan's most famous torii.May 28, 2005
Nihon Sankei - Amanohashidate日本三景 天橋立 - "Nihon Sankei" means the Scenic Trio of Japan. This is one of them, Amanohashidate in northern Kyoto. It is simply a sand bar with pine trees growing on it. Since it looks like a bridge (and actually serves as a bridge for pedestrians and bicycles), "Amanohashidate" means Bridge of Heaven. It has been the subject of poets and artists for centuries. This popular view can be had from a hilltop park nearby.

The Scenic Trio was thought to have originated in the 17th century when a Confucian scholar named 林春斎 traveled all over Japan and declared in writing that these three places were the best.

Place: Amanohashidate, Kyoto.
May 28, 2005
Nihon Sankei - Matsushima日本三景 松島 - Matsushima is another member of the Scenic Trio of Japan (Nihon Sankei). They are pine-clad islands off the coast near Sendai, Miyagi Pref.

Place: Matsushima, Miyagi Pref.
May 28, 2005
Kasetsu studio仮設スタジオ - Makeshift photo studios are set up in department stores, etc., during the prime portrait-taking seasons such as Shichi-go-san.

Place: A local department store.
May 28, 2005
Hanami花見 - "Hanami" literally means flower viewing, but it really means "partying under the cherry blossoms." Trash becomes a problem at the end of each day at major cherry blossom parks.

Place: A local park in Tokyo.
May 28, 2005
Shichi-go-san七五三 - "Shichi-go-san" literally means seven-five-three. This is a Shinto-based, coming-of-age day on Nov. 15 for 7-year-old girls, 5-year-old boys, and 3-year-old girls. Although this is not a national holiday (like Coming-of-Age Day for adults in Jan.), many parents dress up their coming-of-age children in kimono and visit Shinto shrines for prayers around Nov. 15 (usually the closest weekend). It is also a busy time for portrait studios because many parents also dress formally and go to have family and child portraits taken before going to the shrine.

Place: A temporary photo studio in a local department store.
May 28, 2005
Shūgō shashin集合写真 - "Shūgō shashin" means group photo, typically of a tourist group, school class, family gathering, etc. At famous places like Nikko above, you might see a photographer offering to photograph you in front of a famous view or building.

Place: Nikko, Tochigi Pref.
May 28, 2005
Tenbōdai展望台 - "Tenbōdai" means observation deck or lookout. It could be outdoors like this one, or on the top floor of a skyscraper. It implies a place that is up high where you can look down at the marvelous view.

Place: Hakodate, Hokkaido.
May 28, 2005
No Smoking on Street路上喫煙はやめましょう - This is "Rojō kitsuen wa yamemashō." It means please don't smoke while walking on the street.

Place: Street corner near a train station in Tokyo.
May 28, 2005
No Bicycle/Motorcycle Parking駐輪禁止 - "Chūrin kinshi" in red characters mean two-wheeled vehicles cannot park here. In blue characters, it says "jitensha" (bicycles) and "ōtobai" (motorcycles and motor scooters).

Place: Street corner near a train station in Tokyo.
May 28, 2005
Beware of Wild Monkeys野生の猿にご注意 - "Yasei no saru ni go-chūi." "Yasei" means wild, and "saru" is monkey. Japan has a substantial population of wild monkeys which can be very aggressive in foraging for food, especially at tourist spots. They often steal food (sweets, etc.) from tourist shops and commonly grab any paper or plastic bag that you are carrying. If you see wild monkeys, you should not feed them nor carry any bags with your hands.

The sign also says "We cannot be responsible for any accidents caused by wild monkeys."

Place: Mt. Hiei Driveway, Kyoto.
May 28, 2005
Beware of Jellyfishハブクラゲに注意しよう! - "Habu kurage ni chūi shiyō." Beware of jellyfish. In Okinawa, "habu kurage" (Chiropsalmus quadrigatus) is a type of poisonous jellyfish whose venomous sting can cause death.

Place: Taketomi island, Okinawa.
May 28, 2005
Watch Out for Pickpockets!スリに御用心 - Another human animal to watch out for. "Suri ni go-yōjin!" means watch out for pickpockets! "Suri" means pickpocket, and "go-yōjin" is like "chūi."

Place: Takayama Festival, Gifu Pref.
May 28, 2005
Do not Go Beyond the Buoysブイの外 危険 - It reads "Bui no soto kiken" which means "Dangerous to go beyond the buoy." The buoys in this case are the brightly-colored floating balls that mark the outer boundary of the safe swimming area. The water is usually too deep or the waves are too dangerous beyond this boundary. Almost all swimming beaches in Japan have some kind of outer boundary.

Place: Northern Lake Biwa, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
No BBQバーベキューは禁止です - The characters in red say, "barbecue wa kinshi desu." Having a barbecue is prohibited.

Place: Ohara beach, Chiba Pref.
May 28, 2005
Beware of Flashers!エッチマン注意! - Besides watching out for poisonous snakes, jellyfish, and wild monkeys as you saw in the previous images, there's one last wild animal to watch out for: the flasher. Apparently, this country neighborhood has had a flasher (a person who shows his genitals) so often that they put up this sign to warn female passers by.

The sign reads "H man chūi!" "H" is for "hentai" meaning pervert. "Man" is man, and you know what "chūi" means.

Place: Country road, northern Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Beware of Habu Snakesハブに注意 - "Habu ni chūi." Finally we see the third most common word on warning signs: Chui, meaning "beware of" or "watch out for." Habu is a species of poisonous snake common in Okinawa where this picture was taken.

Place: Okinawa
May 28, 2005
Take Off Your Shoes土足厳禁 - It says "Dosoku genkin" or footware prohibited. "Dosoku" literally means dirty feet, and "genkin" is like "kinshi," meaning prohibited. So we have to take off our footwear before going up the stairs to see the second floor of this museum.

In most places, it will be obvious that you have to take off your shoes before entering the castle, museum, temple, etc. At the entrance hall, you will see a shelf to store shoes and indoor slippers lined up on the floor.

Place: Azuchi, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Under Construction工事中 - The sign reads "Kōji-chū" meaning "under construction." You see this often at Japanese Web sites as well.

Place: Near Mt. Fugendake, Nagasaki Pref. (Note that the year stated in the image indicates the year the photo was first published, not the year when the picture was taken.)
May 28, 2005
Danger! Do not Jump in River危険!川へ飛び込まないでください。- The red characters read "Kiken!" (Danger!), and the black characters say "Kawa e tobi komanaide kudasai." "Kawa" is river, "tobi komi" is to jump or dive in.

This at the famous Dotonbori canal in central Osaka where it is a popular place for fanatical baseball fans to jump in whenever the local baseball team (Hanshin Tigers) wins big. The river is quite polluted and littered with trash (though recently cleaned up by the city). During the Soccer World Cup in 2002, several hundred people jumped in the water when the Japan team won a crucial game.

Place: Dotonbori, Osaka.
May 28, 2005
No Swimming遊泳禁止 - By now you must be getting sick of seeing this word "kinshi." Well, it's certainly not a pleasant word since it limits your freedom. But it also serves to keep you safe. The kanji in red reads "yūei kinshi" meaning "swimming (and playing in the water) prohibited." Below in black reads, "Koko wa suieijō dewa arimasen." This is not a place for swimming.

Place: Lake Biwa at Otsu, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Go Slow徐行 - The sign on the right says "Jokō" meaning go slow (when boarding or disembarking from the ferry). You may see this at construction sites as well.

Place: Onomichi, Hiroshima Pref.
May 28, 2005
Do Not EnterThis sign is similar to the preceding one. The middle column of characters has the word "kōji" (工事) which means construction. So the sign means, "Danger: No entry except for authorized construction workers."

Place: Mikuni-cho, Fukui Pref.
May 28, 2005
Under Construction - Do Not Enter工事中 - Another variation of "Do not Enter." The red characters read "Kōji-chū shinnyū kinshi" meaning no entry during construction operations. The "No entry" traffic symbol is also a tell-tale sign. You usually see this symbol at the entrance of a one-way road (if you face the wrong direction).May 28, 2005
Danger, Keep Out危険 立入禁止 - The kanji characters on the right say "kiken" meaning danger. The big characters on the left say "tachi-iri kinshi" meaning "entry prohibited." Remember the word "kiken" (危険). It is one of the three most common words on warning signs in Japan. Another one is "kinshi" (禁止). If you see it, be aware that something is prohibited.

Place: Ohara beach, Chiba.
May 28, 2005
Do not Enter立入禁止 - Another "entry prohibited" sign or "tachi-iri kinshi" in red kanji characters. On the right, the characters read, "kankei-sha igai" meaning "unauthorized persons."

Place: Lake Biwa at Otsu, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
No Photography撮影禁止 - The sign reads "Satsuei kinshi." "Satsuei" means to take photos, and "kinshi" means "prohibited." The "No photo" symbol also makes it clear.

On Japanese warning signs, the three most common words you will see are "kinshi" (禁止), "kiken" (危険), and "chui" (or "go-chui") (注意). They respectively mean "prohibited," "danger," and "beware of."

Place: World PC Expo in Makuhari Messe in Chiba.
May 28, 2005
No Tripods三脚使用禁止 - The bold characters read, "Sankyaku shiyō kinshi" meaning tripod use is prohibited. The sign further explains that since tripods hinder the view of other spectators, they are not allowed except in the press photographers' box.

The kanji characters for tripod consists of "san" for three (the 3 horizontal lines make it obvious), and "kyaku" which means legs.

Place: Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine (during the Yabusame Festival), Kamakura, Kanagawa Pref.
May 28, 2005
No Tripods and Monopods, unless...三脚 一脚 - This sign says "Sankyaku, ikkyaku go-shiyō no kata wa, kyokasho (2,000 yen) ga hitsuyō desu." Since you learned the characters for "tripod" in the preceding image, you should also know the characters for monopod, called "ikkyaku," literally "one leg."

This sign is a warning and a money-making scheme. It says that you cannot use a tripod or monopod in this garden unless you pay 2,000 yen to obtain a permission slip.

Place: Heian Shrine Garden, Kyoto.
May 28, 2005
No Photography撮影禁止 - Another sign that reads (top to bottom) "Satsuei kinshi." "Satsuei" means to take photos, and "kinshi" means prohibited. At this Shinto shrine, you are not allowed to photograph inside the main shrine building housing the altar.

Place: A shrine in Kyoto.
May 28, 2005
Swimming Beach海水浴場 - The sign on the left reads "Kaisui Yokujō." "Kaisui" literally means ocean water, and "yokujō" is bathing place.

Place: Kujukuri beach, Chiba Pref.
May 28, 2005
This Week's Recommendations今週のおすすめ - The top string of characters say "Konshū no Osusume." "Konshū" is this week, and "osusume" is recommendation. You might see such a signboard in train stations. It publicizes major events and travel to those places. In this case, the Tenjin Matsuri (festival) in Osaka, the Hasu Matsuri (Lotus Flower Festival) in Kusatsu, Shiga Pref., and the Yosakoi Hyogo Festival in Kobe.

Place: A JR train station in the Kansai area.
May 28, 2005
Stone Buddha石仏 - The characters read "Sekibutsu." "Seki" is stone, "butsu" is Buddha. This small stone buddha was one of several embedded on a series of stone steps leading to the castle tower.

Place: Azuchi Castle Ruins, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Quasi-National Park国定公園 - On this sign post, the smaller characters on the right read "Noto Hant? Kokutei K?en." "Noto Hantō" means Noto Peninsula, and "Kokutei Kōen" means Quasi-National Park. The word "hantō" literally means half island.

A quasi-national park is like a second-tier national park. The top-ranking national parks called "Kokuritsu Kōen" are defined to be natural areas of beauty rated as world-class. Meanwhile, the quasi-national park is not regarded as "world-class," but it is still beautiful enough to be designated as a national park. The large characters on the left say "Sekinohana," the name of this scenic coast.

There are over 50 quasi-national parks in Japan. In addition, there are prefectural parks designated by the local governor. These are areas of natural beauty recognized by the prefecture, but are not as magnificent as national and quasi-national parks.

Place: Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Pref.
May 28, 2005
Lake Mashu湖 - The large characters in the middle is "Mashū-ko" or Lake Mashū. The third character "ko" means lake. Names of lakes almost always ends with this word. Lake Mashū, one of the cleanest and most transparent lakes in Japan, is within a national park called "Akan Kokuritsu Kōen" as indicated by the small characters at the top.

Place: Lake Mashū, Hokkaido
May 28, 2005
Fortune-telling Noteおみくじ - "Omikuji" is one way Shinto shrines make money. You pay a small fee and you receive a small paper note with a fortune inside.

Place: Heian Shrine, Kyoto
May 28, 2005
Eight Scenic Views of Omi近江八景 - This sign post indicates that this place is a Scenic Spot ("Meishō" in the red characters). The scenic spot is one of the Eight Scenic Views of Ōmi or "Ōmi Hakkei." And this Ōmi Hakkei is Night Rain at Karasaki.

Ōmi (also spelled Ohmi) is the former name of Shiga Pref. During Japan's feudal era, there were a few hundred fiefs each having a name. These fiefs were eventually consolidated into the current 47 prefectures. Thus, each prefecture consists of one or more old feudal domains. The names of these old fiefs are commonly used in present-day place names within the prefecture.

Famed woodblock artist Hiroshige visited Ōmi and drew these eight scenic places immortalizing the term "Ōmi Hakkei," an idea that came from a lake in China. There are other similar names such as "A Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji" made famous by woodblock print artists.

Place: Karasaki at Lake Biwa, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Peace平和 - "Heiwa" is another word you will hear often, especially in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa. The first two characters on the left read "Heiwa" followed by "ishiji" (cornerstone). (Ishiji is normally pronounced "ishizue," but they call it "ishiji" here.)

Place: Cornerstone of Peace, Okinawa. This is a memorial park with many black slabs of stone inscribed with the names of the 200,000 people (all nationalities) who died during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
May 28, 2005
Castle城 - "Shiro" (or oshiro) means castle, but when it is appended to a name of a castle, it is pronounced "jō." Such as Kaminoyama-jō in the above example.

Also, if you're Okinawan, you would be familiar with this kanji because many Okinawan names have it. For example, Oshiro, Miyashiro, Kaneshiro, etc. The kanji can also be pronounced "gi" as in Miyagi (think Karate Kid movie).

Place: Kaminoyama Castle, Yamagata Pref.
May 28, 2005
Cape岬 - Cape is "misaki" in Japanese. The sign says "Sukoton Misaki," or Cape Sukoton.

Place: Rebun island, Hokkaido
May 28, 2005
National Park国立公園 - As in many countries, Japan has areas of natural beauty designated as national parks called "Kokuritsu Kōen" (the last four characters on the sign's top line). The entire top line of characters reads, "Seto Naikai Kokuritsu Kōen." Seto Naikai is the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and Honshū islands. It is one of the first three areas in Japan to be designated as a national park in 1934. There are over 25 national parks in Japan. (See list at: http://www.env.go.jp/en/jeg/nps/pamph/index.html).

In the middle line (left to right), are two small characters "Meishō" or "Scenic Spot." The large characters is the place name, Tomonoura. Below this in small characters is Fukuyama-shi, the name of the city.

Place: Tomonoura (Fukuyama), Hiroshima Pref.
May 28, 2005
Castle Ruins城跡 - This is "jōseki," a kanji compound using "shiro" (see preceding image). The title's bottom two characters is "jōseki" meaning castle ruins. The top two characters is "Koyama," the name of this particular castle.

Place: Koyama Castle, Shizuoka Pref.
May 28, 2005
Bicycles and Motor Scooters自転車/原付 - The left kanji characters (top to bottom) say "jitensha" (bicycles). On the right, it says "gentsuki" which is short for "gendōki-tsuki jitensha" (原動機付き自転車)or motor scooters.

Place: Island in the Seto Inland Sea.
May 28, 2005
International国際 - Another word all overseas tourists in Japan should know: "Kokusai," the first two large, white characters on the left. It means international. It is followed by "kōryū" meaning exchange or interchange, and "tsudoi" or event.

Place: Tokyo
May 28, 2005
Cherry Blossom Festival桜まつり - In big black characters is "Sakura Matsuri." "Sakura," of course, means cherry blossoms, and "matsuri" is festival. Above that in small characters is "Sumida Kōen" (Sumida Park) which is famous for cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

Place: Sumida Park, Tokyo
May 28, 2005
Thank YouIn big, red hiragana characters at the top is "Arigato gozaimashita." If you cannot even read this, it means you are totally illiterate in Japan. This big gate faces the pier where passengers get off the ferry and head for the train station right beyond this gate.

Place: Hama-Kanaya Station, Chiba Pref.
May 28, 2005
Bay Cruise Map伊根湾めぐり案内図 - The large white kanji characters at the upper left say "Ine-wan Meguri Annai-zu" or Ine Bay Cruise Guide map. When the word "meguri" follows the word for bay (wan) or any body of water, it means sightseeing boat cruise. This map, near the pier, shows the route of the sightseeing boat.

Place: Ine (Tango Peninsula), Kyoto.
May 28, 2005
Bus Stopバス - At the top, the red katakana characters at the top says "basu" or bus. The word "noriba" (のりば)or "stop" is often appended to "bus." Below "Basu" is the name of the bus stop (Sumoto I.C.). "I.C." stands for "interchange" (on an expressway). Below that is the name of the bus companies stopping there (Tokushima Bus and Awaji Kōtsū).

Place: Awaji island, Hyogo Pref.
May 28, 2005
Emergency Refuge Area指定避難所 - What might look like another sightseeing map is actually a guide to the nearest emergency refuge area. It is usually a large park, and it is mainly for major earthquakes. The kanji characters at the top read "shitei hi'nan-jo" or designated evacuation area. The name of the park (Nishi Kōen) is further to the right.

Place: Sendai, Miyagi Pref.
May 28, 2005
Cycling Roadサイクリング ロード - Above the bicycle symbol in green, it reads "Cycling Road." (Above that is "Shimanami Kaid?.") It is obvious that this is a path for bicycles.

Place: Island in the Seto Inland Sea. The Shimanami Kaidō is a roadway connecting several bridges spanning across a few islands in the Seto Inland Sea from Imabari in Ehime Pref., Shikoku to Onomichi in Hiroshima.
May 28, 2005
You Are Here現在地 - Sightseeing and parking map. The "P" stands for "parking lot." Toward the bottom, the red kanji characters say "Genzai-chi" (You are Here).

Place: Minakuchi Castle, Shiga Pref.
May 28, 2005
Public Toilet公衆便所 - Pronounced "kōshū benjo." And "WC" means "water closet." This is outside in the park. The men's/ladies' room inside a department store, etc., is usually called "otearai" (お手洗い).

Place: Sumida River fireworks, Tokyo.
May 28, 2005
Sightseeing Map観光案内図 - You will often find a large sightseeing map right outside the train station. At the top, the last four kanji characters read "Kankō Annai-zu" meaning sightseeing guide map. Such maps are inexact and you cannot tell how far things are. The first three characters is the name of the city (Himi-shi).

Place: Himi, Toyama Pref.
May 28, 2005
Store Your Bags一時預り所 - "Ichiji azukari-sho" means makeshift baggage storage place. This facility has been provided to accommodate the bags of the flood of visitors coming to see a big festival near this train station. The available coin-operated lockers are not enough. The "ichiji" can also mean one o'clock, but in this context, it means temporary.

The sign on the right says, "Ichinichi ikko 400 yen" and "Eigyō jikan 8:00 - 17:00." It costs 400 yen to store one bag, and the storage hours are as stated. The place requires you to come back for your stored bag by 5 pm. One advantage of the coin-operated lockers is that you don't need to come back for your bag by 5 pm.

Place: Shimo-Suwa Station, Nagano for the Onbashira Festival.
May 28, 2005
Welcome!ようこそ - The red hiragana characters read "Yōkoso!" (Welcome!). The bottom characters say "Mother Bokujō e" (to Mother Farm).

(Note that all the Japanese kanji characters you see on signs will read either from top to bottom or from left to right.)

Place: Mother Farm, Chiba.
May 28, 2005
Exit出口 - The kanji characters beside the door says "Deguchi," meaning Exit. In this case, this door is only for exiting, not entering. (You enter the bus through the front door.) You will see "Deguchi" at train/subway stations as well.

Place: Bus stop in Tokyo.
May 28, 2005
Train Station駅 - The kanji characters read "Sannomiya Eki." The last character "eki" is what you will always see in train and subway station names.

Place: Sannomiya Station, Hyogo Pref. (10 days after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Jan. 1995).
May 28, 2005
Tourist Information Center観光案内所 - "Kankō Annai-sho." A string of kanji characters any tourist in Japan should remember. "Kankō" means sightseeing, "annai" means guide, and "sho" is place. You can find sightseeing maps and pamphlets, sometimes in English.

Place: Local museum in the countryside.
May 28, 2005
Photo Paper印画紙 - Pronounced "ingashi," it means photo paper, the kind you use in the darkroom. This is an ad from a camera magazine published in 1940. It advertises Sakura Photo Paper. The company was called Konishiroku (see bottom characters), the forerunner of Konica.May 28, 2005
Costume Player Area, Tokyo Big Sight会場 - The sign says "Cosplay Kaijō" meaning Costume Player area (where you can pose for photographers). They are allowed to use it from 12 noon to 4:00 pm. And they even provide a dressing room (closes at 5 pm) for these costumers who attract visitors to the comic book show held there. Taken at Tokyo Big Sight.May 28, 2005
Self PrintingThe top characters says "Self Print" which means you can print photos yourself. On the red sign, it says that you can print from your digital camera or camera phone. However, when you look at all the little notes, there are so many things to keep in mind that you'd better ask the sales clerk to help you operate this machine. Before sticking in your memory card, better back up the data first.May 28, 2005
Commemorative Photo SignMt. Aso in Kumamoto Pref. This is a signboard graciously provided for "ki'nen shashin." You can stand behind this sign which says "Commemoration of Climbing Aso" with the date chalked in below it.May 28, 2005
Photo Galleryフォトギャラリー - This is obviously "photo gallery." Above it is "Hana to Midori"(花と緑)meaning flowers and greenery. This was at the Lake Hamana Pacific Flora expo in 2004.May 28, 2005
Disposable Cameras写るんです - Next to a coffee machine on the left, this is a vending machine selling single-use cameras (or film with lens).

FujiFilm was the first to introduce these cameras (in 1986). Their single-use camera brand is called "Utsurundesu" (the red characters on the machine) meaning "it takes photos." It comes from the word "utsuru" which means capture (an image). It is also the first character in the word "shashin(写真).

Other film makers came up with their own cutsey names. These cameras, though, are on its way out as digital cameras and camera phones dominate.
May 28, 2005
DPEDPE - Stands for Development, Printing, and Enlargement. We often find this at neighborhood photofinishers, but never at pro labs. The kanji after "DPE" is "uketsuke." The same characters as in the preceding picture.May 28, 2005
Portrait Studio写真館 - "Shashinkan" is portrait studio. In Japan, they call it "photo studio" which in real English could mean a rental studio used by a pro photographer to photograph products, models, etc. Also notice the "55-min." photo lab next door.May 28, 2005
55-min. PhotosThe term "one-hour photo" was once popular, but it seems "55 minutes" has taken over. Below the number "55" is the kanji for "fun" or minutes. Below that is "shiage" meaning "finished in." Thhe red katakana characters on the right says "Digital camera prints."May 28, 2005
Photo Lab Counter受付 - The last two characters on the large sign above is "uketsuke" meaning reception desk. This is a film processing counter inside a large camera store. The katakana characters before uketsuke say "Color Print." It's where to go to get your film processed.May 28, 2005
Portrait Studio Services写真館 - "Shashinkan" (the last three characters on the bottom line) is portrait studio. This sign is outside a portrait studio advertising its basic services.

From top to bottom:
Ki'nen shashin (記念写真): Literally "commemorative photo" which could be any kind of portrait--of family, children, etc., for any kind of occasion like coming-of-age day, graduation, etc.
Shutchō shashin (出張写真): Location shoot. A photographer can be dispatched to any location for any type of shoot such as wedding receptions, children's track meets, etc.
Shōmei shashin (証明写真): ID photos.
May 28, 2005
Commemorative Photos記念写真 - The top characters says "Ki'nen shashin." Ki'nen shashin is perhaps the most common photo term in Japan. Literally, it means "commemorative photo," but it has no real English equivalent.

It almost always show a person(s) you know and it's usually posed. They include family, friends, and yourself. It is a visual keepsake to record good memories. The picture answers the who, what, and where questions on a personal level such as travel photos, a meeting with the mayor, or at a friend's birthday party. It can be a casual snapshot or formal portrait.

This sign invites customers to have their photo taken by a pro photographer in front of this famous temple. The second line says "Ippun de dekimasu" meaning ready in 1 minute.
May 28, 2005
Photo Booth証明写真 - "Shōmei shashin." This is another very common photo term in Japan. You often see it at camera shops, photofinishers, and on these photo booths.

This booth is emblazoned with "Shōmei shashin" in red characters. It means ID photos (for resumes, driver's license application/renewal forms, and passports). Of course, people often use it for fun too.
May 28, 2005
Photo ServicesSign outside a portrait studio and camera shop.
From top to bottom:
1st line from top (red characters): Irrelevant (ignore it)
2nd line: Studio satsuei (portraits taken in the studio) and Shōmei shashin (ID photos).
3rd line: Irrelevant
4th line: Camera, yōhin (supplies), and album
5th line: Digital eizō shori (Digital-editing services)
May 28, 2005
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