Featured Post

August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Japan Board of Education: Amazing Grace...?

Japan Board of Education Textbook.

Amazing Grace

Shuken Shuppan  Polestar textbook English Communication

Preface:  Japanese / Japan is  one of the leading donors in humanitarian aid around the world.   They have donated billions of yen to charities, developing countries, and startup business to just about every country on the globe.  Some Japanese have even taken matters to the extreme  to the point of poking their noses into hotspot areas like Palestine and Isreal, things the Japanese may want to avoid.  Had Japan shared its borders with an ethnic minority with its own government, the relative peace and calm of this country would be questionable.   No other country can be like nor emulate Japan.   So, where does this spirit of charity and altruism come from exactly?   Why do the Japanese feel they need to save the whole world, while caring very little for its own people?   It's the Board of Education...?  The essay below is one such example of what Japanese kids learn in school, and how stories like Minako resonate with so many Japanese and how the spread of Christianity is subversively being taught to Japanese kids.   

This article was taken from Polestar Shuken Shuppan English textbook:

Amazing Grace is a very popular song.   It has been heard by millions of people at least once in their lives.   In Japan, probably the most famous version was by Honda Minako.   Two years after its release in 2003, Minako entered hospital.   She had leukemia.   In hospital, Minako recorded the song on a voice recorder.   It was to cheer up a friend in the same hospital.   A short time later, in November 2005, Minako passed away.

[ I have noticed over the years, mainly through my  empirical observation  with a lot of Japanese people, that they take comfort and joy in western  religious hymns  with Christian themes such as Amazing Grace.  Most admittedly do not understand the lyrics.  I am wondering how this is possible when 90% of Japanese are non-Christians...   [ " Many Japanese are familiar with Christianity and have had exposure to the religion either through school or churches based in Japan"].  [me]

According to her wishes, a commercial was made for a bone marrow bank.   In the commercial, the version of Amazing Grace on her voice recorder was used.   Many people were moved by her beautiful voice.   However, most people had no idea of the meaning behind the song.   The words to Amazing Grace were originally written by an Englishman called John Newton in the eighteenth century.   The reasons why he wrote this hymn are rather interesting and unexpected. 

[ In this paragraph, I notice the virtues of Minako and how she tries to offer solice and comfort through her voice.  This is good, but I do not know why Christian hymns are chosen for this when most Japanese do not even understand the songs  words, or why they were used in the hymn.][me]

John Newton was born in London in 1725, the son of a ships's captan.   At the age of 11, he began going to  sea with his father.   When he grew up, he found work in the slave trade.   He took slaves from the west coast of Africa to the New World .   In those days, trading slaves was legal.   Newton himself saw nothing wrong with the business.

[ I am also concerned about why slavery in context seems to be justified because it was legal?    Why couldn't Shuken reword this by condemning slavery as wrong in spite of it being legal for the sake of posterity?    
And then going as far as to say Newton saw nothing wrong with it.   Where the students should be feeling more sympathetic towards the slaves, they now feel endeared toward John Newton as a sort of man who was spared by God's wrath for his own personal transgressions and not for the condemnation of slavery bought upon him by his involvement in human trafficking***]   Most slaves perished at sea due to disease or  were thrown overboard during storms at sea to lighten the load of the slave ships, why couldn't they have been spared?  Why does Shuken need to  attach some altruistic virtue to Mr. Newton?  Maybe young Japanese want to be like John Newton, or other Anglo saviors of the world?

In 1748, at the age of 22, Newton experienced a life-changing event.   It occurred in the Atlantic Ocean during a great storm.   His shop was about to sink.   For the first time in his life, he called out to God: "Lord, have mercy upon us!"  Eventually, the storm passed and the ship managed to make it to Ireland.   Newton saw it as a miracle. 

[ The miracle here is that he was spared?  Were the slaves spared, too? How did one man's legacy become something worthy to be published and taught in a Japanese textbook..?   How does it relate to education?  ]

Newton believed that he survived as a result of God's protection.   When he reached land, he went straight to a church and got baptized.   After that, his faith in God gradually increased and he began to regret his sins.   He also began to feel sympathetic towards the slaves that he met on his work.

[ So, here we see the slaves were not important until a storm hit and that is the reason god spared his life was because of his own sins....   The real reason God may have spared his life was to save the lives of the slaves he was trading... and not his own for the sake of his own salvation...]  

At the age of 30, Newton had a stroke.   His doctor told him to give up his life as a sailor.   He worked as a tax collector, but he was no happy.   Newton felt that the time had come when he should serve God rather than himself.   In 1764, Newton became a clergyman in Olney, a small village in the English countryside.   Around this time, Newton wrote many hymns to tell people about the Christian message.   he never forgot the memory of this miraculous rescue at sea.   That was the image in his mind when he wrote the famous lines of Amazing Grace. 

[ So again, I am wondering what was the intended message for publishing Minako singing a song with religious implications?   What are Japanese students supposed to take from this story?   The story could have been written with a greater focus on her talents as a singer and her struggles with Leukemia rather than using her legacy as a great singer to elevate a white slave owner who had an epiphany with God with a ship full of slaves to the New World.  Shukan, you can do much better than using Minako's legacy for spreading Christianity in your public schools. ]me  

Final notes:  

Christian themes  on salvation have been subtly implemented in school textbooks in Japan for well over 50 years either through songs or stories of Anglo salvationism.    They start to see Anglo favorably in the site of God, and not the lesser people like the slaves who endeared horrors unspeakable during the human trafficking and slave trade days.   The original teachings of Japanese ancestry where those of suicidal glory or death through sacrifice, has now been replaced by Anglo salvationism indirectly.    What were the reasons for the BOE to add this story in their high school textbooks?   What exactly is the lesson to be learned by Japanese students from this story?    Was it the story of Minako and her struggle or John Newtons?  Whose salvation?    Minako was not spared.    What did the students actually learn here?

N.B. Not all slaves were from African countries, some came from southern Europe and that is why I used the word human trafficking, too. 

Antique Pool Antik Yüzme Havuzu

                                      Antique pools in the Mediterranean are beautiful.

Pentax K-1000 manual 

Before I moved to Japan, I had spent years travelling around the world in search of amazing cocktails, beautiful vistas, and natural hot spas.   In the picture above is a photo taken at an antique pool in Turkey, sort of like a hot spring museum under water.   I have been to this country about 3 times as it's been the intersection of culture, language, and religions for entire civilisations for  centuries!   Parts of the Holy Bible were even written and inspired by God in parts of Turkey - The New Testament.

Pentax K-1000 film camera

In this photos is a place in Yuzme Havuzu called the Sacred Pools of Hierapolis.   Underneath this potassium-rich water are submerged fragments of fluted marble columns which has rested at the bottom of this pool for centuries.   Dating back to the 2nd Century before the birth of Jesus Christ, this same water was used to treat the sick and the dying after wars  fought and lost.    Many souls have passed over here, and into Abraham's bosom.   There are and still may be sarcophaguses underneath some of the pools, unless they were excavated.  

Hot pools is another term I want to throw around.   Most baths in Turkey are naturally heated unless you are in a big hotel where it's artificially heated.  Hierapolis is not heated as far as I could tell and is absolutely amazing when stepping into.  First thing you notice is how deep the pool is and at the color of the water.   Being careful not to step on the columns underneath your feet.   Just know, that you are bathing in the same waters as the mighty Romans did at the very height of their glory, even emperors have soaked here.

Getting here is a journey, like most places in Turkey.  Literally, I had to take planes, trains, boats, and automobiles to get here.   Once arriving here at Hierapolis you can enjoy the beautiful rugged landscape of dried up salt water pools and bask in a bygone era when Romans  ruled the world, and when men were inspired by God to change the world.

At present, I am a Japan-based travel blogger and have been for a number of years writing on Japanese hot spas.   I am a certified hot spring / onsen sommelier and have self-published a book on dozens of natural hot spa baths in this country.

Finally, I highly recommend visiting the hot pools in Turkey.  This country is full of natural volcanic waters that are rich in minerals and can heal you from travel fatigue.   Just about every major hotel has its own spas and Turkish baths - which are different from hot pools.


Antique Pool


Koi Fish Museum Garden Park: Nishikigoi no Sato

museum  garden

Welcome to carp heaven!  

No other place in Japan can you find a garden more replete than Nishikigoi no Sato.  Though relatively small, the park maximizes the use of space through minimalism.   You have waterfalls, bridges, bubbling brooks, pagodas, and lastly, big beautiful carp, each prized and beloved for its own unique beautiful patterns.

Why travel this far up to see a bunch of fish in a garden?   In Japan, there  are over 827 prized gardens, each with its own uniqueness, and international appeal.   There are a variety of garden / parks in Japan.   I say garden/park because here in Japan gardens allow you to walk, hike, and picnic in  gardens, which is what a park allows.   A standing garden is typically a place where you look at, grow, and cultivate flora, shrubs, flowers, and is not often open to the public.   In Japan, many gardens allow you to sit amongst the trees and flowers while enjoying a tea with snacks all while admiring the beauty of the garden - the best of both worlds.

("There are a variety of garden types in Japan.  You have tea gardens, rock gardens,  pond gardens, shrine gardens, pure land gardens( Buddhist), dry gardens, strolling gardens, and lastly, carp gardens.")

Here at Nishikigoi you can learn about the entire history of Japanese Koi in under 40 minutes.   After paying admissions ( 700 yen entry + 200 for fish food) the person behind the counter will hand you a brochure in either Japanese or English.   You then walk into the main hall and there you will see a large screen T.V. where you sit down to watch a 25-minute video on carp  breeding.   Fascinating to watch.   I highly recommend it.

Entrance leading to the indoor aquarium

Carp are resilient, aggressive, and strong freshwater fish.   They can survive in the most polluted rivers and demanding ecosystems throughout the world.   In the U.S.A., where I am from, we Americans regard the carp as the Queen of the River and a favorite  amongst fish anglers in North America, just for the pure joy of fishing.   Although carp is the most widely consumed fish in the world, it is not so in America....How ironic.   We fish it, but we don't love to eat it.  It is also the most abused fish in sport fishing.  

The spotted carp which are prized all over the world is actually caused by a natural mutation.  Real carp is not as  beautiful as its spotted cousin, but rather ordinary looking.    First discovered in China, carp was fished as a food source because of its hardy nature.   In the above picture where the man is holding a spotted carp, the size and weight of this fish can grow up to 50 kilograms!   Prized carp is only handled by hand, not netting.  All carp are picked up and moved by human hands and rarely fight when being handled in this way.  Thousands of carp are handled by hand yearly when being moved between ponds for selection and breeding.  

This museum is an excellent place for family, friends, couples, and photographers.   The indoor aquarium is a breeding area.  Carp are kept here for a few more months until they reach the desired size of the breeder.   As for the names of these fish, there are over 16 different kinds of carp.  Click here for more information.

The outdoor garden

Just walking around the garden is relaxing, especially on a cool day where you can pick up on a lot of minus ions from the waterfall.   Enjoying the carp  while feeding them is a real treat.
Ice cream cone was used to carry fish food

Waste nothing.  Even the carp understands this...lolol..? j/k

There are a variety of subjects you can shoot in this garden and,  depending on the time of day you can get some really good compositions.

Reaching the museum, you will need to take a shinkansen from Tokyo to either Nagaoka Station or Echigo Yuzawa Station.  Then change to the local line.   Once at Echigo Yuzawa you can refresh in a nice hot spa to relax.  From Echigo Yuzawa Station it's a 59-minute train ride to Ojiya.    The only saving grace at Ojiya is the Lawson convenience store across the street from the station.  Essentially, there is nothing in this part of Niigata.

After you reach Ojiya, you need to hail a taxi and ask them to take you to Nishikigoi no Sato.  I do not know how much it costs to get there.   I am always driven and shown around by a local.   Buses are infrequent.  One bus an hour.   Across from the museum is a ramen shop for lunch if you get hungry.   The footpath in this garden is only for strolling and feeding the carp.  You could have a tea on the bench.

I left out a bunch of other pictures of this place, so if you are interested in seeing bred carp that are worth up to $50,000 U.S. Come have a look.   I think the lowest price you would pay is something like $350.00.   You can also breed spotted carp to be a lot smaller than the standard 35kg...?

Every year, this museum attracts breeders from all over the world.  The next event will be held on October 29th and October 30th 2016!  It will be the biggest event of the year for nishikigoi, the birthplace of prized carp.  

Old ~ Ichinobe Onsen

Old ~ Ichinobe Onsen

Photo taken at 1a.m.

After thoroughly soaking away the stiffness in my back,  in a mineral rich  hot spring bath for thirty minutes, I could slowly feel the tension ease away down through my legs.     While in that state of peace I reflected on the events of the day and what was to come the next day.   Dinner  and drinks with a local girl was fantastic tonight.    I had met her  a few times,  once in Nagoya and the second time in Tokyo, and this time in Gunma - her hometown.  Nice being served chilled sake again, like how her nimble fingers delicately held the bottle when she poured the sake in my cup.   I like how she rested her hands under her chin after serving me,  while watching me sip the rice brew.

Ichinobe is another off the beaten track hot spring / onsen town; no street lights after dusk.  Nights are so quiet you can hear mosquito wings.   Autumn nights are nice in Gunma.  A bit chilly, but comfortable enough to wear a flannel and some sandals.   Dinner that night was grilled squid over bottles of chilled sake.  Gunma Prefecture is not well-known for fish and that  is because it's sort of in the middle of everything.  If you visit this prefecture try the pork cutlets, miso paste, sake, and pickled foods.   And of course, the great natural outdoor spas.

While there may be famous landmarks here, like statues and temples and stuff, I have not visited them.   I think people visit Gunma for the nature and the camping expeditions. In the picture there's a fire main for water.   I have personally visited this region dozens of times to enjoy camping and driving.   The scenery offers excellent vistas, especially in Autumn.    There's even a wild safari park for the kids.   Gunma is easily accessible by car or train - two hours. 
Gunma could even be day-trip for some people if you live in Tokyo.   

Another caveat I wanted to mention was that there aren't many restaurants around small onsen communities in Gunma, so bring your own food and drinks after dark.  And if there're any restaurants  they probably close early.   The nearest major train hub is Takasaki Station and they have everything there.   If you are the type of traveller who enjoys solitude and being away from the crowds and don't mind going solo, then Gunma would be the place.   

There are quite a few hotels at reasonable rates that offer tatami rooms for under 7000 yen ( $60 ).   I specifically chose a room with tatami flooring for relaxation.   Japan imports 70% of its tatami from China and is therefore cheaper and inferior in quality than Japanese tatami which is made using real "Igusa"  a type of grass with medicinal benefits that soothe the senses.   Everybody knows real tatami is very expensive, but since modern flooring and bedding has replaced traditional flooring in most Japanese homes, real tatami / washitsu has lost its popularity.   

I especially enjoy relaxing on a tatami in summer, particularly after a long soak in a spa.   The coolness from the straw and the heat from the body emit a very grassy smell that makes you feel like you are outside and sprawled out on a grassy knoll.   The window is wide open behind me and a gentle breeze comes in through the paper doors and dries the excess moisture from my skin.   I can hear the gentle sounds of the bush warbler.   It's a type of heaven....

For the Glory of Sake

For the Glory of Sake

Couldn't help but notice the snarky remark the Japanese guy made sitting next to me on my left.  " Oh...you like Japanese sake.   This is a Japanese drink.  I like I like" he chided in Japanese English.  He attempted to rest his hand on my balls, but I slapped it away.  "No shit, then why are you drinking two fingers Jack-n-Coke" I retorted.   

I was requested to come and have a sit and drink lesson by the owner of the bar, who in turn introduced me to this drunk S.O.B.  And for a nominal fee I had to grit and bear the sickness of sitting next to a stinky salary man with a Black penis fetish for several hours while appearing like I was having the time of my life.  I didn't want to ruin it for my Jukujo matron and patron, so I behaved.  

I haven't been to a Japanese shrine in a while, but whenever I go I always pray and thank the Gods for the Japanese Jukujo.  I thank them for delivering me from the scourge of silly little she-men who do a dis-service to the gospel of Japanese sake, and you wonder why the younger generation have a negative image of their own national drink.     Sake salvationist like myself who stand in the trenches to defend and protect Japanese sake from the sissiphication and the wapanization of Japanese sake, often times go unnoticed.   I make too much sense, and so therefore it must be wrong.  Same disease of the soul you see in North America.  

In order for sake to survive it has to be exported, repackaged, and re-branded overseas before it can have appeal at home again - Japan.    It's like this because saketeers and marketers have dropped the ball.  They forgot to export the culture of sake along with the sake, unlike in the world of sushi where you have "sushi police" who travel around the world to check that sushi is being properly represented.   If you were to juxtapose that with sake, and visit so-called sake bars you would rarely see sake being served in its natural form.  Most likely it will be used in cocktails or fruit juice chu-hi, and shots so that the yuppies can appear stuffy and sophisticated with their arm candy in tow, and horrible Japanese pronunciation to boot.  

When I set foot on Japanese soil years ago I vowed to fight evils that would destroy the Japanese soul.   I am the soul of Japan, not just a soul in Japan and I have a commitment to save what's left of sake's soul and the soul of the nation.    In all the years of my travels I have learned from Japanese women, and some men, that sake has its own essence.   I used to borrow my friend Japanese wife and stay overnight with her in my room and study the balance of sake and Jukujo.   Like watching the drops of sake move down her inner thigh and the deep aromatics from her perspiration blended in with a nice Junmai Dai-Ginjo.  

I once did an all nude sake and onsen photo shoot with one of my Niigata mommas (31 y.o) in a  private outdoor bath in Gosen, Niigata.   Since she was a pro-cyclist and junior olympian swimmer for years she had these well-toned and shapely thighs with  creamy white skin that accentuated her beautiful body.  A truly and purely Japanese woman, even by conservative Japanese standards.   In the backdrop were rolling hills and a lake in the foreground.    When I positioned her under the lamp that was next to the edge of the spa with the natural scenery in the background, I had a god moment.  

A quick suck on the nipples to make them stand up and the composition was perfect.   I took the shot.  I had her pour sake down those nipples while I sucked and  swallowed the sake off of them.   The steam and mist from the hot bath mixed in with the sake  created beautiful aromatics in the water.   Had her spread them to reveal it and worshipped at the alter of vulva.   Enjoyed the smegma and saltines along with the cherry on the nose.  This is me, and a far cry from the bar scene in the first paragraph.  God, deliver me from the scourge of ridiculous salarymen.  

As I have stated previously, for a nominal fee I have been teaching bar owners in Kanagawa on how to serve and explain Japanese sake in English to foreign visitors.    They all know never to mix sake or make it into a wapanese drink.  Sake should be served in a variety of drinking ware.   First, avoid using an ochoko, instead use a kikijoko.   Size matters.  The only reason you would ever need to use ochoko is when you are measuring your servings.  This is so that everyone drinking can have a chance to enjoy the sake.   Then, switch to earthenware or stoneware serving cups made from clay - guinomi.  Let the customer feel the difference in texture.   Another option would be to use a freshly cut pine masu - small wooden box shaped drinking cup usually made of freshly cut wood.   The aromatics from the pine and the sake give off a different impression and is very Japanese.   Lastly, I recommend using a full bell-shaped wine glass to enjoy the color and deep aromatics of the sake.   

Next, we explain the different classes of sake, making sure to  properly explain Junmai-shu and Junmai Daiginjo-shu.  And, being careful to use words like "pressed" instead of "filtered" when separating lees and the proper milling rates of sake.  Lactic acid and yeast and molds and what the differences are, so when customers ask they'll have the answers.   One thing I notice with bar owners is that they don't know anything about regionality.  When you serve sake you need to explain where the sake came from, who brewed it, and what unique regionality is attached to the sake and the region.   For example, Niigata  is famous for a type table rice called ko-shi-hi-kari, and then explain the differences between a table rice and a sake rice.  Instead, most bar owners serve sake and ask silly questions like "oishi desuka / is it good?" yawn.  Or, they just look at you and say stupid shit like " wow, you must be Japanese!  Ohh, wow, you are great."    Sure, the Japanese are just trying to be polite, but most times they just go overboard and start to sound stupid ass hell. 

I am writing this in preparation for sake day on October 1st.   The brewing season officially starts on this day.  Of course, larger breweries brew all-year-round, but the traditional way has always been October 1st.  There are other traditions related to the Kanji that also has significance to sake day, but that's too archaic and maybe not so relevant.  Just know it's when all of the great sake festivals start and when brewers start making sake.   Look for exciting events all over Japan, especially in Kyoto on October 1st and 2nd.   

Let's hope the bar staff gets it right on delivering on sake lore, tradition, and brewing methodology.  For the foreign tourist welcome to Autumn.   Great brash and lively sake with delicious autumn foods is the best.   Expect to meet tons of new poeple and mingle with sake enthusiast from all over the world.    October 1st is the like the Mecca for sake in Japan.  Expect me to be up in Niigata and around Tohoku savoring the lovely Jukujo and great hot sake.   Look for "hiya-oroshi" brewed sake.  It's  sake that  is pasteurized once just after brewing but released in the autumn without the standard second pasteurization -  this is the most autumnal of all sake styles.   Expect bold crisp and gamey flavors that accentuate autumnal beauty.  



Follow by Email