Archive for August, 2011

Japan’s Most Beautiful Villages: Shirakawago

As the title suggests, there should be some beautiful picture of this beautiful village in central Japan in this post: so here it is. Located in the mountainous regions of Gifu Prefecture near Takayama city is the beautiful city of Shirakawago. It’s so beautiful that it’s even listed in one of the 39 Japan’s most beautiful villages alliance(only in Japanese). This post has been long overdue and I apologize for the lack of posting but as my last post suggests, that young people are heading out to Tokyo and the larger cities for better opportunities I still feel that there is so much more that the country side in Japan has to offer. This committee that decides the “beautiful villages” has a nice guideline on how it decides which villages should be on the list. Just because the villages “looks” beautiful doesn’t cut it. For example, the village of Iitate over in Fukushima was chosen for its “madei way” of life which incorporates a self-sufficient life style not relying on technology nor nuclear power(the irony as this village was affected by the recent crisis). But the way people interact and appreciate each other’s presence within the community was also seen as a big part to these guidelines. If you ever get a chance to break away from Tokyo I would highly  recommend hitting up one of the many beautiful villages in Japan.

At the entrance of Ogi Village.

Ogi village. Rice fields and the light green color covers the entire vicinity.

Shirakawago is worldly known for its gasho-zukuri minka homes.

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The narrow road leads you back into the village.

The water is as clear as you can get. You can see all sorts of fish and animals along the water route.

View of Shirakawago from the top of the observatory.

Shirakawago awaits you.

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The Misconception of “Tokyo = Japan”

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time especially after living abroad and hearing from my non-Japanese friends talk about their travel experiences in Japan. Especially after the 3.11 crisis, one of the first reactions I noticed was the foreign concern over whether or not Tokyo was affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Second impression was people saying “Oh Tokyo is not affected, phew then everything is cool”. I agree, Tokyo is the capital city; center for Japan’s politics, economy, culture and society and if Tokyo was hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, the effect on Japan and the entire globe would have been detrimental(hence the nuclear reactors were strategically tucked away in a local environment but we can talk more on this later). But from my experience abroad, besides a small number of Chinese people who have come to  love the flower gardens in Hokkaido, most people will definitely start off in Tokyo and maybe visit Kyoto to see the “ Real Japanese culture” if they have time. I think it’s right to say that most people can’t name another prefecture other than Tokyo or Osaka. From this concept  it is not a mistake for foreigners to think that Tokyo is what Japan is all about. But from this 3.11 crisis and the effect of the Tohoku region to the rest of Japan has taught us that a much more balanced country with resources spread across the entire country is desperately in need.  But domestically speaking, why is everyone moving to Tokyo? This summer I have spent much of my time traveling around the local scenes around Japan and I can clearly see that not only the birth rate in Japan is in decline but it’s even more severe in the regions outside of Tokyo. “The youths have all left and found a new living in Tokyo and Osaka” said one of the shop keepers in Miyazaki prefecture.

This trend of human resources, information technology centering in Tokyo has stopped the development of other areas in Japan. When in times of crisis I can’t stop but to think of how the US has New York as its financial center and Washington DC as the center for politics; China has Shanghai and Beijing … you get my point. But this nuance of “If I go to Tokyo, I can make something/prove something for myself” ideology still exists today especially within the youth. It’s also interesting to note that the flexible and easy passage to Tokyo, making it possible for anyone in Japan to relocate to Tokyo. For a comparison with China, it’s not that easy for a Chinese person living in a third tier city to move into Beijing just because there’s more opportunities in Beijing. You need to have enough money saved up to get by in Beijing. Either way, this crisis has taught us many lessons and this idea of centralizing everything into Tokyo needs to stop now and regional government bodies need to step up. Is another round of Tokyo re-bidding to host the 2020 summer olympics really necessary? I’d prefer seeing Hiroshima and Nagasaki co-host it more than anything. Surprisingly enough I run into people who are surprised that the city or Hiroshima still even exists today…

I don’t know the GDP break up of Korea off the top of my head but Seoul as the financial center and capital could be similar to Japan as its proximity to the North Korean border(DMZ) has always been a concern to many of the Korean specialists that I have come into contact with.

Around Shibuya Station in Tokyo in the afternoon with busy traffic

A platform at JR Shibuya Station

The JR Subway Map at Shibuya Station. Most prefectures surrounding Tokyo have benefited from the proximity to Tokyo and its relatively cheaper real estate.