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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Summer Festivals in Japan –

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In Japan, summer is synonymous with festivals.

Of course there are festivals held in every part of the world, but there is something about Japanese festivals that makes them stand out from the rest.
Needless to mention, one of the most striking features of summer festivals in Japan is the traditional Yukata.
Watching hundreds of men and women in Japanese traditional attire is an unmatched visual treat.
Here are some of my favorite summer festivals that I attended this summer in Tokyo.

1. Mitama Matsuri

One of the biggest Obon festivals, Mitama Matsuri held at Yasukuni Shrine is a festival that honors the soul of the dead.

In the daytime, there were many traditional dance performances around the shrine area; however the best part of the festival came alive at night when nearly 30,000 lanterns lit the way to the shrine.
I was surprised to discover that another major attraction in this festival was the haunted house.
The Mikoshi parade, the paintings and the dances made this festival very different from the other festivals in Japan.
It was grand and festive, yet very calming and peaceful.

2. Tōrō Nagashi

Having loved being around lanterns in Mitama Matsuri, I could not miss a chance to see another lantern festival Tōrō Nagashi.
Tōrō means lantern and Nagashi means cruise or flow.
No points for guessing, the festival consisted of paper lanterns floating in water.

Around 2,500 lanterns were set afloat on the Sumida river in Asakusa to guide the souls of ancestors to the spirited world.
One could also write a wish on a lantern and release it in water.
The brightly lit river was a perfect spot for photography lovers.
I too tried my naïve photography skills and was fortunate to get a few good clicks.

3. Fireworks Festival

Summer in Japan would not be complete without attending fireworks festival, popularly known as Hanabi.
Fireworks are held at many places in Tokyo throughout summer, but Sumida Fireworks Festival undoubtedly tops the list.

In addition to being most famous, it is also the most crowded festival, hence in order to reserve our spots, we reached a nearby park much before the fireworks’ schedule.
We munched on snacks while patiently waiting for the fireworks to begin.
It started raining heavily in the evening so we stood with raincoats and umbrellas, keeping our fingers crossed, hoping the fireworks don’t get cancelled because of rain.
Luck was on our side, as we eventually witnessed the most incredible fireworks of the season.
The beautiful and colorful sky was definitely worth all the hassle.

4. Himawari Festival

I have always been amazed by flower festivals in Japan.
I love how bunches of flowers are planted and grown in such stunning patterns, be it the red Kochia in Hitachi Seaside Park or the purple Wisteria in Azalea Flower Park.

This summer I attended another flower festival – the Himawari Festival.
Zama city, the place where this festival was held, was painted yellow with over 400,000 tall sunflowers.
There were decks set up at various heights in the plains that offered breathtaking panoramic view of the yellow sunflowers contrasting with the blue sky.

Summer has not yet ended and I am looking forward to upcoming festivals like Koenji Awa Odori, Brazil Samba Carnival and so on.
Who would like to join me for them?

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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Cherry Blossom Season Is Coming! –

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And the question to ask yourself is, “Are you ready? “
In some cases, cherry blossoms have already started blooming, so the answer had better be yes!

Springtime is usually heralded in Japan by the blooming cherry blossoms, which the country is famous for around the world.
They are truly beautiful to see, and some popular cherry blossom viewing sites are often congested with foot traffic.

For example, Naka-Meguro is one such popular destination.
During this season, the area is a veritable zoo of people.
It becomes very difficult to walk around.
So many people want to see the cherry blossoms over Meguro River.
And they are beautiful, for sure.
It would just be nice to see them without so many people around!
The crowds get to some pretty ridiculous levels, and they can be very difficult to manage.
You have to be careful.

In that way, cherry blossom season is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s great to see the nice cherry blossoms, but the crowds can really get in your way.
Be careful when viewing the cherry blossoms this year.
Who knows how many people will be out!

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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Donald Trump: A Most Unusual Politician! –

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The nominees have been decided, and the election is set for November.
Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the presidential election this fall, and it is guaranteed to be one of the most unusual elections ever.
While Hillary Clinton is an establishment political figure who has been in the national spotlight for well over 20 years, the same cannot be said of Mr. Trump.

Of course, he is a well known television fixture who has been famous for many decades.
But he is a political newbie.
In the past, he has toyed with the idea of running for president before deciding against it.
Back then, he would have run as a third-party candidate, and his views were much different from what they are today.
He was more of a moderate when he considered a presidential bid in the year 2000, but times have drastically changed his views.

It is difficult to draw any parallels of previous national party presidential nominees.
Ronald Reagan was also an entertainer, but by 1980, he had made a successful transition from actor to California governor.
Say what you will about his policies, but it was clear that his political success was built on his political brand, not whatever success he had as an actor.

Donald Trump is in a league of his own, and he probably wants it that way.
He plays by his own rules.
I, for one, am excited to see how this election plays out.
There is some chatter that the GOP may change its rules at the last minute to deny Trump the nomination, but that might even be more risky than simply letting Trump become the nominee.
After all, how would Trump’s loyal supporters react to such a tactic?

All I know is, we’re in for one heck of a show!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Obama Visits Hiroshima –

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President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima at the end of May was a historical event.
Marking the first time a currently serving American president visited the symbolic site, it received a wide coverage on the media and generated both eager anticipation and skepticism.
Some went home to catch the speech that would be delivered by President Obama, while some set up a demonstration at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to demand a formal apology.

I didn’t see the event on TV actually (I might’ve been working), but I did read the transcript of Mr. Obama’s speech.
I thought it was a well-written speech, carefully worded to offer both sympathy to the victims of the atomic bomb and also to assure other countries in the SE Asia that it America didn’t condone the expansionist Japan of the past (not that he explicitly pointed out wartime atrocities–but by emphasizing the evils of using technology to kill and the need to find a way to global peace).

In his speech, he repeatedly mentioned the idea of remembering the past so that tragedies may not be repeated again. In other words, reflecting on past mistakes as a moral compass to guide our future.

I thought it was a good speech.
But then again, I don’t have a personal connection to World War 2 or Hiroshima.
Everything I know about the war I learned in Social Studies 10 class.
So I was curious to know how my Japanese friends and acquaintances felt about Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.
When asked about the absence of direct apology in the speech (like some people have been demanding, but as far as I can tell these people are in the minority), one person told me, “For many Japanese people, what’s important isn’t whether America apologizes or not. He officially recognized the victims of the bomb, and that’s enough.”

Another opinion was that apology would’ve been inappropriate because Japan committed wartime crimes as well, and that it would be better to focus on building good relationships with other countries rather than holding onto grudges from the past.

As a foreigner living in Japan, I too agree that it’s important for countries to cooperate, rather than sabotage each other for political or economical gains.
Years from now, when the increasingly aging population is forced to accept immigrants of foreign nationals in order to replenish the number of workers (which is a point of debate), I hope both Japanese people and foreigners alike think of this event and remember that even former enemies can work together.

King Kong Escapes Reunion in Tokyo!

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On January 11, a special reunion was held inside Nakano Sun Plaza that saw a reunion of several actors from Toho Studios. Two of the names are very familiar to Japanese people: Akira Takarada and Yosuke Natsuki. Mr. Takarada appears at many such events in Japan and remains a strong and active presence on the stage and on TV. Mr. Natsuki also makes regular TV appearances on many programs in Japan.

The third person in this reunion was an American actress. Her name is Linda Miller, and she starred in a movie at Toho Studios during the late 1960s. The film is called King Kong Escapes (1967), and not only did it see release in Japan, but Universal Pictures released it in the United States theatrically in 1968.

This marked Ms. Miller first time to visit Japan in over 40 years, and it was the first time she had seen her King Kong Escapes co-star, Mr. Takarada, since finishing the movie. After the movie was completed, Ms. Miller and Mr. Natsuki met and became close friends. They hadn’t seen each other since the early 1970s.

The event was lively, and everyone in attendance was in great spirits. Mr. Takarada hosted the panel discussion and acted as emcee. He brought a few pages of notes with him, and he proved to be well prepared. He was even able to note King Kong’s specific weight and height! He probably knew more bits of info than most of the fans in the audience!

The chemistry between the three actors was palpable. Ms. Miller was very excited to be in the presence of her old friend, and it showed. In many ways, it seemed like everyone picked up from where they left off so many years ago without missing a beat. Perhaps it’s the beginning of some renewed friendships.

King Kong Escapes remains a popular cult film in America and Japan. It’s currently available on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. While some movie fans may snicker at the Kong suit used in the movie, nobody can deny the heart and soul that went into the production. It’s a great-looking film, and one of the most entertaining monster flicks from Toho Studios.

Overall, the reunion of old friends and King Kong alumni was excellent, and fans will be sure to talk about it for many years to come. Could there be another reunion in Japan in the near future? Only time will tell!