I heard there are many hot springs in Japan. Please recommend one of them.
①If you are staying in Tokyo, I would recommend Hakone hot-spring resort. Ha-kone is a popular all-year tourist site because of its many hot-spring resorts, beautiful scenery and comfortable climate. Its easy access from Tokyo, views of Mt. Fuji, and the plentiful facilities in the district also add to its attraction.
②If you are staying in Kyoto or any other place in the Kansai area, I would rec-ommend Arima hot-spring resort in Hyogo Prefecture. Located, quite conven-iently, within the city limits of Kobe, this resort attracts numerous visitors throughout the year. With a history of over 1,000 years, it is said to be one of the three oldest hot-spring resorts in Japan. Although Arima Onsen basically has a modern face today, one can still find several old buildings and some nice temples when strolling through the narrow streets of the town center. Due to its compact size, Arima resort can be explored entirely on foot.
③If you are staying in Kyushu, I would recommend Beppu hot-spring resort in Oi-ta Prefecture. One of the most popular resorts in all of Japan, Beppu provides more than 3,000 sources of hot water not only to the hotels and inns but also to private homes. Beppu has the sea in the foreground and mountains to its rear. This location and the variety of hot mineral springs make it a favorite vacation spot for travelers.
These days, global warming is getting more serious. How does it af-fect Japan? What can Japan do to stop global warming?
As with everywhere else on Earth, global warming has been affecting Japan more seriously than before. For example, it has gradually increased torrential rainfalls, decreased agricultural water, changed the flora, and eroded some beaches. More and more people are realizing that global warming is a real threat to our lives. I think we all should start conserving much more energy, and the Japanese government should redouble its efforts to tackle global warming do-mestically, as well as internationally.
I heard the Meiji Restoration was very important in Japanese history.Why was it so important? Tell me how it happened and what changes it brought to Japan?
Japan realized the need to establish a modern state to cope with powerful West-ern countries, once it opened its doors to the world in 1854 after 220 years of na-tional isolation. As a result of strong demands from imperial loyalists of the lower samurai class, the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu stepped down in 1867, and Emperor Meiji came to the throne. Thus, the Meiji Restoration took place in 1868, which included a series of drastic political, economic and cultural changes. Seek-ing to “enrich the nation and strengthen the military,” the new government promoted industrialization and modernization, through abolishing the feudal system and introducing Western culture and political systems.
I saw sumo wrestlers throw salt into the ring and stomp their feet before their match. Why do they do that?
Sumo is a time-honored sport, and, historically, it was done as part of a Shinto ritual as well. Purification rites are a vital part of Shinto, and, in Japan, salt is believed to have the sacred power to purify the impure. This is why sumo wres-tlers throw salt into the ring in order to purify their sacred fighting ground be-fore their match. Also, they stomp their feet so that they can ward off or placate evil spirits hidden in the earth of the ring.
I heard that there was “the procession of feudal lords” in the Edo period. Please explain what it was like and what it was for?
During the Edo period, there was a rule of the Tokugawa shogunate called “San-kin-kotai,” or the alternate attendance system. By this rule, daimyo, or feudal lords, were required to reside in alternate years in Edo (now Tokyo) to be in at-tendance of the shogun. A typical daimyo traveled to the capital, with 150 to 300 or more vassals and members of his household, using the main highways. This was called “daimyo-gyoretsu,” or “the procession of feudal lords.” The size of the entourage was an indication of the daimyo's status. The journeys and the overall upkeep of a daimyo's Edo estates consumed a large part of his income, so they fi-nancially weakened the daimyo and thus the Tokugawa shogunate was better able to control them.
What kinds of TV programs do you like? What TV program would you recommend to foreigners?
Of the wide variety of programs that are popular on Japanese TV, I personally like documentaries the most. But, since most foreign visitors may not understand Japanese, I would recommend they watch samurai dramas. By watching them, they can get a very good idea of what the traditional Japanese lifestyle was like, even if they don't understand the language.
Why are there so many Buddhist temples in Kamakura?
During the Kamakura period, when Japan saw the rise of the samurai to power, several new Buddhist sects were established in Japan. Among these sects, the Rinzai sect came to enjoy the patronage of the upper warrior class, especially “shikken,” or Hojo regents. Hojo regents financially helped to build many large temples in Kamakura. This is why there are many temples in Kamakura.
What is Japan's climate like?
There are four distinct seasons in Japan — spring, summer, fall and winter. There is also a rainy season between spring and summer. Japan's climate is in-fluenced by summer and winter monsoons, ocean currents and topographical features.
Why do Japanese people eat sea bream on happy occasions?
On festive occasions such as wedding banquets, Japanese people eat sea bream, often complete with its head and tail. It is because “tai,” the Japanese word for sea bream, sounds similar to, thus is associated with, a Japanese word “medetai,” meaning “auspicious.” Also, sea bream is red, and the color of red has tradition-ally been the color of celebration in Japan because it is associated with the sun.
I hear that many Japanese houses are made of wood. What are the advantages of wooden structures in Japan?
Earthquakes are relatively frequent in Japan, and wooden houses are better at withstanding minor quakes. When wood is subjected to a force it may bend and warp, but it does not break easily. And when the force is removed, the wood re-turns to its former shape. Because wood is flexible, it can absorb seismic stresses. Also, Japan's summer is hot and humid, but wood breathes and absorbs moisture. In severe cold winters, wood is not as cold to the touch as stone.
In the Edo period, there was a system called “Sankin-Kotai.” What was the purpose of it?
The “sankin-kotai” system is known as the system of “alternate attendance.” It was instituted by the third shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Iemitsu, as a means of political control. During the Edo period, Japan was divided into many autonomous feudal domains. Each lord, however, had to stay in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) every other year. Members of his family were held in Edo as hostages. One of the chief objectives of this system was to weaken the lords financially.
How is Japan's prime minister elected?
The Japanese prime minister is elected by the Diet from among its own members. Japan has a similar system to the UK's parliamentary cabinet system, and its government is party-based. So the leader of the majority party is usually ap-pointed prime minister.
I have seen gardeners wrapping tree trunks with straw mats or straw blankets (in early winter). What is that for?
The practice is called “komo-maki,” or literally, “straw-mat wrapping.” Some peo-ple do this in order to protect pine or cedar trees from harmful insects. Some cat-erpillars or insects harmful to those trees try to live underneath the bark or dead leaves during winter. By wrapping the trunks with a straw mat about 1 or 2 me-ters above the ground, they can draw insects in under the mats. In early spring, they remove the mats from the trees and burn them together with the harmful insects, thus protecting the trees.
Tell me about “Tokaido 53 Stations.” What is “Tokaido-gojusan- tsu-gi”?
The Tokaido was one of the Five Routes constructed under Tokugawa Ieyasu. They formed a series of roads linking Edo, which was the seat of the military government, with the rest of Japan. Of the Five Routes, the Tokaido connected Edo with the then capital of Kyoto. The most important and most traveled of the five, the Tokaido ran along the eastern coast of Honshu, thus giving rise to its name meaning “Eastern Sea Road.” Along this road, there were 53 post stations, which provided stables, food, and lodging for travelers. These stations tended to be located in scenic spots or places of historic interest, so much so that a famous ukiyoe painter Utagawa Hiroshige produced a series of 55 woodblock prints to commemorate them.
At the end of the Edo period, why did the shogun return his power to the emperor?
It was because, towards the end of the Tokugawa period, pro-imperial sentiment was rising in Japan. The anti-Tokugawa leaders of the Satsuma and Choshu domains formed an alliance in 1866, in order to challenge the ruling Tokugawa shogunate and restore the emperor to power. They proclaimed an “imperial res-toration,” and ordered Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, to surrender the domains ruled by the Tokugawa family. When Em-peror Meiji ascended the throne in 1867, the Tokugawa shogunate was over-thrown.
Tell me about Todai-ji Temple.
Todai-ji is one of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples, and is a major landmark of Nara. Todai-ji was completed in the middle of the 8th cen-tury as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. It houses Japan's largest statue of Buddha (Daibutsu). Also, the Great Buddha's hall of Todai-ji is the world's largest wooden structure, even though the present recon-struction of the early 18th century is only two thirds the size of the original.
I have no cash and I only have credit cards. How can I get cash?
If you hold a major credit card such as Visa, Master, or Amex, you can borrow money, with interest, at ATMs located across all major cities in Japan.
What would you do if your tour bus got stuck in a traffic jam and didn't move anywhere for long periods of time?
In that type of situation, it would be quite tough because you would run out of the usual things to guide about, such as places or things they can see through the bus windows. So I would try to teach them how to sing a simple Japanese song, or teach them some easy Japanese phrases or even kanji characters using drawing paper. That way, the tourists could still enjoy themselves during an otherwise very boring period in their tour.
Suppose you are taking a group of tourists to Meiji Shrine, what would you explain to them before entering the shrine?
Meiji Shrine was built in 1920, and it is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, both of whom oversaw Japan's entry into the modern world following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This shrine is a very popular place for New Year visits and conducting wedding ceremonies. Also, it is famous for its spring and autumn festivals featuring traditional performances such as Noh drama, ancient court music, and dancing.
I saw people carrying a small shrine on their shoulders at a local festival. What is it and why do they carry it?
It is called “mikoshi.” Mikoshi is a portable shrine in which the spirit of a deity temporarily reposes during a festival held in the deity's honor. It is carried on the shoulders of 20 to 30 people wearing happi coats and shouting “wasshoi, wasshoi.” The carrying of a portable shrine through the community signifies a visit of the deity to all who live there.
The precincts of most shrines and temples are covered with pebbles. Why is that? Does it signify something?
The precincts of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are sacred areas. So, peo-ple ward off evil and purify these grounds by scattering clean pebbles gathered from the upper reaches of some sacred rivers. Also, visitors to the shrines and temples can pacify their feelings and purify their mind, as they walk on the peb-bles and listen to the sound of their own steps. With composure and a cleansed mind, obtained in this way, the visitors are finally allowed to appear before the hall of worship, where deities or sacred objects are enshrined.
What period of Japanese history are you interested in most?
①I am interested in the Edo period most. The Edo period spanned from 1603 to 1867, and politically Japan enjoyed relative peace and stability for more than two centuries, due in part to the national seclusion policy. Also, it was during this period that traditional Japanese arts, which we are still proud of, such as kabuki, bunraku puppet theater, ukiyoe, and haiku, flourished. The townspeople, cen-tering around the merchant class, played a major role in fostering this type of culture.
②I am interested in the Meiji period most. The Meiji period spanned from 1868 to 1912. This period saw the transfer of power from the Tokugawa shogunate to the imperial court, and the transition from a system of government based on the shogunate and “han” domains to a unified state. This was also the period that witnessed the transition to a capitalist economy and the establishment of a mod-ern state system. In 1889, the Meiji Constitution was officially announced, laying the foundation for the political structure of post-feudal Japan.
What is the difference between sake and shochu?
Sake is a fermented alcoholic beverage, whereas shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage. Sake is made exclusively from rice, but shochu can be made from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, or buckwheat. Both can be served either cold or warmed, and the alcoholic content of sake ranges from 12 to 18 percent, while shochu is from 20 to 45. Shochu is considered a low-grade liquor, but is also used as the base in making high-quality fruit liquor such as “umeshu,” or plum wine.
On New Year's Eve, the bell of a Buddhist temple is struck 108 times. What does it signify?
It is called “Joya-no-kane.” Joya-no-kane are the 108 chimes of the temple bell which are sounded around midnight on New Year's Eve. The sound of the bell rings out the old year and rings in the new year. It is also supposed to release people from the 108 worldly sins.
I heard that there is a ski resort in Hokkaido where many Australians visit. Where is it?
It is Niseko, one of the major ski resorts in Hokkaido. Around 7,500 Australians visit here annually. It is because (1) many of them are attracted to the top quali-ty powdery snow; (2) the time difference between Australia and Japan is only an hour; and (3) there are direct flights between Sapporo and major Australian cit-ies in winter.
Why did samurai always have two swords?
When two swords were carried together by a samurai, they were called “daishō,” or literally “big and small.” More accurately, they are referred to as the katana, or longer bladed sword, and the wakizashi, shorter bladed sword. The daishō were limited exclusively to the samurai, and therefore a symbol of their rank. The wakizashi was carried to commit “seppuku” (or “hara-kiri”), or to be used in case the longer sword was broken in combat. Usually the swords were used indi-vidually, although a few samurai were trained to use them in combination.
Who do you think is the most important foreigner in Japanese his-tory?
I think it is Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who used “gunboat diplomacy” to make Japan accept and sign “the Treaty of Peace and Amity” (or “Treaty of Kanagawa”) in 1854. This led to the opening of two ports (Shimoda and Hakoda-te) to American whaling ships. This also meant the end of Japan's 220-year “sa-koku” (seclusion) policy and later Japan's signing of “the Treaty of Amity and Commerce” under conditions favorable to the U.S. in 1858. These historical events marked the burgeoning Western influence on Japan.
If one of your foreign tourists left his camera on the train, what would you do?
I would call up the nearest lost & found office of a major station on the line that the person had just used. If I weren't able to get the number or get through, I would go to a nearby police box, and a police officer should be able to help us solve the problem.
I know Japanese people love flowers. But why do they particularly love cherry blossoms?
Cherry trees bloom brilliantly and lose their flowers in the short span of about two weeks. This evokes a sentimental feeling among Japanese, drawn from an ancient cultural belief, and reminding us of the short, transitory nature of hu-man life. Also, cherry blossoms are regarded as the official signal that spring has come after a long, cold winter, so people are naturally in a cheery mood. Besides, Japanese people like to enjoy “hanami,” or cherry- blossom-viewing parties, with family and friends. These are some of the reasons why Japanese love cherry blossoms in particular.
I heard that there are some different dialects in Japan. Can you tell me something about them?
Interestingly enough, although Japan is such a small island country, it has sev-eral distinctive local dialects in the Japanese language. For example, the stand-ard Japanese word (also the word in the Tokyo dialect) for “thank you” is “ariga-tou,” whereas it is “ookini” in the Osaka dialect. Yet, people from all areas, in-cluding Okinawa, can communicate with one another in standard Japanese, which has evolved from the speech patterns used by people in the Tokyo area over the centuries.
I want to go to Hakone. Could you tell me something about Hakone?
Hakone is a popular all-year tourist site because of its many hot-spring resorts, beautiful scenery and comfortable climate. Its easy access from Tokyo, views of Mt. Fuji, and the plentiful facilities in the district also add to its attraction.
I have seen two types of curtains: One was a red-and-white one, and the other was a black-and-white one. What are they? What is the dif-ference between them?
The curtain with broad red-and-white vertical stripes is used on celebratory oc-casions, such as entrance and graduation ceremonies at schools. On the other hand, the one with broad black-and-white vertical stripes is draped on sad or unhappy occasions, such as funerals. Since ancient times, red has been the color of celebration because it is associated with the sun. Black has been the color of mourning because it is associated with night and darkness.
I want to visit a traditional Japanese garden. Is there anywhere you can recommend?
①If you are traveling in Tokyo, I recommend Hama Rikyu Gardens in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. Hama Rikyu was the garden of a feudal lord's residence during the Edo period, and is one of Tokyo's most attractive landscape gardens. It is located along Tokyo Bay, next to the futuristic Shiodome district. Seawater ponds (“Shi-oiri-no- ike”), which change their water level with the ebb and flow of the tides, former duck-hunting grounds, forested areas, and a teahouse are some of the park's attractions. Also, you can enjoy the superb contrast between the tradi-tional gardens and Shiodome's skyscrapers in the background.
②If you are traveling in Tokyo, I would recommend Rikugien in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. It is one of Tokyo's most beautiful, Japanese-style landscape gardens. Completed in the early 18th century by shogunal official Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, Rikugien literally means “six-poem garden,” and reproduces 88 scenes from fa-mous poems in miniature. Rikugien is quite a spacious garden with a large cen-tral pond, islands, forested areas, man-made hills, and several teahouses.
③If you are traveling in Kyoto, I would recommend Kinkaku Temple and its sur-rounding garden. Kinkaku, a three-story pavilion covered in gold leaf, is posi-tioned at the edge of a pond. The structure is supported on pillars, extends over the pond, and on a clear day it is beautifully reflected in the calm waters. You can also enjoy exploring the surrounding garden with its moss-covered grounds and teahouses.
④If you are traveling in Kyoto, I would recommend the garden at Ryoan-ji Temple. It is one of the most famous Zen-style dry-landscape gardens in Japan. Just 15 rocks are arranged in three groupings of seven, five, and three, in waves of raked white pebbles. From the temple's veranda, which is the proper viewing place, on-ly 14 rocks can be seen at one time. Move slightly and another rock appears but one of the original 14 disappears. In the Buddhist world, the number 15 denotes completeness.
Why is Edo Castle called the Imperial Palace now?
Built early in the Edo period, Edo Castle was the headquarters of the Tokugawa shogunate for over two centuries. In 1867, however, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th and last shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, surrendered to the emperor the political authority to rule the country. After the Meiji Restoration started the following year, the area enclosed by the castle's inner moat became the Imperial Palace.
What was the Nara period like? Tell us about the Nara period.
The Nara period spanned from 710 to 784, when Nara was the capital of Japan. Buddhism flourished in this period, under the state patronage and protection of the religion. It was also during this period that the world's largest existing bronze statue of Buddha was constructed at Todai-ji Temple in Nara.
These days the Japanese economy is very bad. What do you think Japan should do to cope with it?
In Japan, both consumer spending and plant and equipment investment have been weakening for a long time. I hope that the Japanese government will strive hard to boost domestic demand, by cutting waste in the government spending and implementing drastic, practical measures. It is hoped that some policies of the Democratic Party of Japan, such as child allowance and scrapping high-school fees, will truly bring out an immediate effect on the Japanese econ-omy.
What is the difference between udon and soba?
Soba are long, thin brownish noodles made from buckwheat flour mixed with wheat flour, egg and yam starch. Udon are white noodles made from wheat flour, and are thicker than soba. Both are eaten either hot in a soup or as a cold dish with a dipping sauce.
What was the Heian period like? Tell us about the Heian period.
The Heian period spanned the time from the transfer of the capital from Na-gaoka to Kyoto in 794 until Minamoto-no-Yoritomo's establishment of his sho-gunate government in 1192. Emperors, aristocrats like the Fujiwara family, and retired emperors ruled for a large part of this period. This period saw the devel-opment of arts and literature of courtly elegance and refinement, as exemplified in the novel “The Tale of Genji.”
Why do Japanese people clap their hands at Shinto shrines?
Clapping hands in front of a Shinto shrine is often misinterpreted to mean that the worshiper wishes to call the attention of kami, or the Shinto god. Historically speaking, however, clapping hands is an ancient form of paying respect in Japan. In ancient times, people clapped their hands at ceremonies held at the Imperial Court or when receiving a gift from a person in a high position. Therefore, by clapping hands before a Shinto shrine or altar, the worshiper is paying respect to the deity.
I hear that in Japan it is very hot and humid in summer. How do you cope with it?
During very hot, humid summers, I sometimes spend evenings or holidays with a yukata on. Yukata is an informal thin cotton kimono, and it is very relaxing to be in, especially on hot days. Also, our family often waters our yard to cool the air that comes into our house, and hangs a “furin” under the eaves. Furin is a wind chime made of metal, porcelain, or glass, and when it catches the summer breezes, it makes a nice soothing sound, which makes me feel better.
Why are there so many shrines and temples in Kyoto and Nara?
Both Kyoto and Nara were once the ancient capitals of Japan. During the Nara period, successive emperors hoped to pacify the nation through embracing Bud-dhism as a state religion. Kyoto had been the capital for more than 1,000 years, and many emperors believed in Buddhism. As for shrines, the reason for exist-ence of the Japanese imperial family is based on the Shinto tenet that emperors are the descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu. For these reasons, many em-perors sponsored the building of shrines and temples in the two ancient capitals.
What would you do, if a group of foreign tourists you are guiding missed the Shinkansen they were supposed to take?
I would tell them not to worry. The Shinkansen trains run quite often. In the case of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, the super- express trains run every 10 minutes or even more often. So we can take the next train and get an unreserved seat using the same ticket of ours.