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Fushimi Inari Taisha

May 24th, 2009

My favorite place in Japan from a tourist’s point of view is probably Fushimi Inari Taisha, the large shrine to Inari, diety of cereal grains and business. It’s a really quick train ride away from central Kyoto. If you read Japanese, you might be interested in the official site.

Even if you’ve never been, you’re probably already familiar with the site. It was featured in Memoirs of a Geisha. It was also the inspiration for the art installation “The Gates” by Christo and Jean-Claude. The epic arrangement of Shinto gates (鳥居 / torii) packed so tightly together creates an amazing, surreal illusion – you feel as though you’re walking through an otherworldly hallway.

I’ve been to Fushimi Inari Taisha 4 or 5 times now, and it sure doesn’t get old. It’s sort of like Miyajima in that it stands apart from other shrines and temples. If that sort of thing isn’t up your alley, you may find yourself thinking “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” You won’t get that feeling here. Visiting at different times of day, in different seasons, etc. all change the scenery drastically.

I included Fushimi Inari in my old student travelogue from my study abroad days. You can see a video clip that I put together by clicking here (it will open in an overlay) or by visiting the original. I also wrote about it a few years ago when I spent Christmas vacation in Kyoto at the J-Hoppers hostel with friends, including J-Web vlogger/blogger Claytonian.

If you do go, I recommend taking the extra time to wander up to the upper loop past the lakes. I love the view at the top – you can even see Kyoto Tower. Most people tend to go a little bit into it and turn back, imagining that things look the same all the way up. The truth is, the scenery changes. Fox statues, mini-torii and all sorts of devotionals, incense burners, and the like are scattered throughout the area. Perhaps you’ll meet and befriend a shrine cat there like I’ve done on more than one occasion.

The theme for this Japan Blog Matsuri was “your favorite place in Japan.” It’s being hosted by Shane at the Nihon Sun.

Customary Drivel, JBMatsuri, Media, Photos, RIH Entries, Trips, Unsolicited Commentary

Netbook Partitioning

May 8th, 2009

Some of you may have recently noticed that I’m a fan of Ubuntu, thanks to the countdown to version 9.04 and OS logo at the bottom of my sidebar and my post about the Ubuntu Manga PR. I’m a complete newcomer to the world of Linux, but I now use Ubuntu on my Asus Eee PC 1000HA netbook, installed alongside Windows XP. They’re set up so that I share a large chunk of space for files accessible from either OS. I thought I’d briefly explain how I did that in case anyone out there is curious. (Short version: this is a geek post.) Read more if you’re still interested! Normal posts will resume soon for the non-geeks, so don’t worry. I’m just in tinkering mode lately. Read more…

Customary Drivel, Ubuntu / Linux, Unsolicited Commentary

An Example ALT Budget

April 29th, 2009

Many people wonder what life in rural Japan costs. Since my salary is publicly available to pretty much anyone who looks it up, I figured disclosing my monthly spending habits would be no big deal. This is what I actually spend on stuff each month. Every single financial transaction I have made in 2009, more than 300 so far, is included. This is by no means what everyone’s budget looks like, but it’s a real case study for the curious. I’ve got charts, and explanations of the categories that I use below. Please note that the color legend is different between the two charts.

As you can see, I have paid on average ¥81,425 each month towards my college loans. (It’s aggressive on purpose.) That’s where most of my monthly money goes. Allow me to point out that for both of these charts the value given to the Housing category is weighted incorrectly, yet accurate. I paid several months’ worth of rent in January. My actual rent is ¥19,000 / month plus water usage fees (which are separate from hot water fees – regular fees are around ¥1,000 monthly for me, while hot water fees hit at about ¥3,800 each month). In short, “Housing” looks twice as big as it really is. :-) But it’s accurate, because I actually did pay enough to skew it. Ha ha.

Food is the most surprising cost to me. I spend nearly the same on Food as I do on Trips each month. To date, I’ve spent ¥158,255 on food this year. Unreal. I had no idea eating costed so much. I’ve especially noticed how much each trip to the vending machine costs. I’m going to see if I can’t cut this substantially by joining the coffee pool at work (one time ¥500 versus ¥120 for each can of coffee that tastes bad anyway), and by eliminating silly snacks when I buy lunch – which would be a good thing anyway. I’m not sure what my Entertainment expenditure says about me… A mere monthly average of ¥5,498, or a cumulative ¥21,992 over 4 months. Yikes. I obviously have no life. Half of that was spent on presents for other people! Ha ha. This is where rural Japan helps you save. When there is nothing to do, you don’t spend money on entertainment, I guess. I get most of my entertainment online these days.

Let’s take a look at the percentage of my gross income that I spend by category. Remember, the housing slice will shrink eventually to half its current size. I’m really encouraged when I look at this and remember that the Transportation, Food, Utilities, and Housing categories are the only rigid ones. I must spend on these without much leeway. The rest is all flexible! The rest can be adjusted at a moment’s notice! I can’t tell you how nice it is to realize this. Before I started tracking my spending habits, I always “knew” how much I needed to get by – but now that I watch it, I know just how small the number is. I can live on ¥80,000 yen a month. The rest is freely adjustable. I happen to choose to travel (while I can!), and pay off loans with a large amount of it. Other folks do different things.

Do you track your expenses? Do you have any questions about what I’ve written so far? Leave me a comment, and I’ll answer as best I can – but I reserve the right to not make public every little detail. Ha ha. Please keep reading past the fold to see the descriptions of the categories I used for the tracking and the charts. Read more…

Customary Drivel, Unsolicited Commentary

Ubuntu Manga

April 23rd, 2009

How cool is this? There’s a free manga out there about the Ubuntu Linux distribution. I assume it’s a PR thing, but you should totally check it out! It’s a free Creative Commons Licensed PDF download away, and it’s available in Japanese AND English (and Spanish, Portuguese, French, Indonesian, Russian, Vietnamese, Italian, Thai, and Korean so far), for those studious readers out there. Odds are that if you’re an Ubuntu fan (I’m writing this on my Ubuntu OS based Eee PC 1000 netbook, so I count), then you’ve likely already seen this. If you’ve never heard of Ubuntu before, or think Linux is scary, this is a great way to introduce you to a free operating system. Why not check it out?

(I will remove these hotlinks after a few days and leave only the links to the sources developing the translations. The file names will likely change, and it’s semi-bad manners even for free distribution stuff, etc.)


(An example frame, side by side, for comparison.)

I often wonder about Linux’s popularity in Japan. I’ve known 2 other people in Japan who use it at all. Aaron, a former CIR who now localizes games, originally encouraged me to try Linux (Ubuntu was the “flavor” he favored at the time, dunno what distro he’s toying with nowadays). Then there’s a non-English teacher (no idea what he teaches, but it’s not English) at one of my high schools who I’ve caught playing with Fedora at work. To his shock (and horror?), I knew what it was and enthusiastically encouraged him to continue toying with it. I honestly can’t imagine Japan’s average workplace without old, crappy leased Windows machines. But I wish I could! Think of the yen that would be saved. Think of the pocket change to be saved. Ha ha. It’s mind boggling.

If you happen to use Ubuntu already, and you’re curious about Japanese input options, let me point you to this thread. It’s a little dated, but it worked on Ubuntu 8.10 for me just the same. It helped me install Anthy (like Microsoft IME or Atok) and some helpful fonts. Once I set it all up, I find it easier to type in Japanese in Ubuntu than I do on Windows. The only thing that’s not as accurate is maybe the handwriting recognition for kanji lookups. I’ve found another page here that might be helpful if you’re interested in the differences between SCIM and UIM. (That’s not scary, but it sounds scary. Like a lot of Linux stuff.) :-)

Via DoctorMO which was linked by GeekDad, who got the attention of BoingBoing.

Customary Drivel, Ubuntu / Linux, Unsolicited Commentary, 日本語

Imabari City Foreign Tourism Project

April 21st, 2009

This month, the Japan Blog Matsuri is being held at What Japan Thinks, and the theme is “Slow Times in Japan.” Now, while I live on a tiny fishing island in rural Japan, I’m a pretty busy guy. I’m frequently scooting from one school to the next, blogging, networking both on and offline, planning classes, planning trips, starting upcoming podcasts (the rumors are true…), and more. Then it occurred to me – this is the perfect opportunity to announce the special project that I’ve been asked to help with. You could say that my city, Imabari, is having a bit of a slow time with tourism lately. It’s my job to help – and I want your input! Read more…

Customary Drivel, JBMatsuri, RIH Entries, Trips, Unsolicited Commentary

2009 Imabari Stimulus Guide

April 15th, 2009

So, the government of Japan decided to follow the silly US economic policy of granting “stimulus” checks to the people. (I call this silly because I’d rather the US government just let us keep our money to start with, not pretend to be so magnanimous in doling out cash we used to be holding… I didn’t actually pay Japanese taxes last year, so this is free cash for me. Sorry Japanese taxpayers! I promise to spend it here.) If you’re currently a registered foreigner in Japan, you’re probably eligible for the payments – but you should check. The money is being meted out by the local governments, so if you don’t live in Imabari City, this may not be of use to you.

I checked this site and found that the notices and application forms were mailed out on Monday (the 13th of April). Comb through what you thought was junk mail and double check. ;-) You’ve got until Tuesday, October 13th to apply for your stimulus money. I’ll do a quick summary first, and the application procedure second. Read more…

Customary Drivel, Politics, Unsolicited Commentary, 日本語