Aug 27, 2014

Matsumoto Castle: You 'll never regret going to see it!

Hi everyone!

Last weekend my husband and I went to Matsumoto City by car. The purpose of our visit was, needless to say, the famous Matsuoto castle (松本城、城、pronounced [jo:], means a castle). What else? Well, actually, there are some other minor touristic spots in this city but the castle is the only place worth a long trip.

Believe me, even if there are not many things to see, you'll never regret going there to see the magnificent castle.  

Photographed from the outside of the moat surrounding the castle keep

If you are interested in traditional Japanese architecture, you should never miss Matsumoto Castle, one of the four castles designated as Japan's national treasures, along with Himeji Caslte, Inuyama Caslte and Hikone Castle.

Many other castles were burnt down during World War II or demolished after the feudal system was abolished in 1871. Wooden structures need to be constantly maintained, but most ex-feudal lords who lost their privileges no longer had enough money to keep the gigantic buildings. As a result, many castles, except for the lucky four, deteriorated over time or got heavily damaged due to typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters. In later years they were restored but are too new to be national treasures.

By the way, do you know every Japanese castle has a nickname? Himeji Castle is called the White Heron Castle due to its pure white exterior, and Matsumoto Caslte is the Crow Castle because, as you can see, it is all black outside.

The same keep from a different angle   

Matsumoto Castle was originally constructed in 1504 by the Ogasawara Clan. Its owners had changed many times In 1590 the Ishikawa Clan, the owner of the castle of the time, began the construction of the castle keep, or "tenshu-kaku" (天守閣) in Japanese. It was believed to be completed in 1593 or 1594.

This is the main gate of the castle Taiko-mon (太鼓門), built in 1595. You need to pay the entrance fee of 610 yen for an adult, 300 yen for elementary school and junior high school students (6-15 years old) to enter the castle keep.

When there are too many visitors, entry to the castle is limited and you might have to wait more than one and a half hours. If you plan to stay overnight near the castle, I suggest that you come back next morning when the gate opens at 8:30 a.m.

When you go through the gate, you'll notice the huge rock on your left hand, called Gamba-ishi (玄蕃石), a symbol of the power and authority of the ruler, because it required so many laborers to quarry such a big stone (3.69 meters high and 22.5 tons) from a mountain and carry it to the castle site.

Can you see the small triangular and rectangular shaped holes on the black wood wall? They are for firing guns and bows when attacked by enemies.

After Taiko-mon, you go through another gate called Kuromon (黒門), adorned with the family crest of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the liege-lord of the Ishikawa Family. It is widely believed that they made Matsumoto Caslte black modeling after Hideyoshi's Osaka Caslte to show their loyalty to him.

When entering the castle, you have to take off your shoes. You are given a plastic bag so that you can put your shoes in it and carry them around. Don't leave your shoes at the entrance!

In the castle, various precious items related to the the castle are displayed such as rifles and armors.

While many castles restored after World War II are constructed of concrete, the Matsumoto Castle is made of woods as you can see.  

The stairs are narrow and steep. Sometimes you have to wait when other people are going up and down the stairs.   

Usually the lords and their families were not living in the keep. They moved in to the castle keep only in wartime. The space where the lords stayed is surrounded by blinds and a little nicer than other areas. 

This is the view from the keep. Isn't it nice? If you like hiking and trekking, there are so many famous mountains and plateaus near Matsumoto City, such as Kamikochi (上高地) highland and Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳)peak.  For more information about mountain activities, visit the site of the National Parks Foundation. Click here (in English). 

Kamikochi highland
(Photo from National Park Foundation)
Matsumoto Castle is located in the center of the city, only 10 minute-walk from Matsumoto Station.

address: 4-1 Marunouchi Matsumoto City
tel.: 0263-32-2902
Open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Dec.29-Jan. 3.









Aug 1, 2014

Transvestite culture in Japan

Hi everyone!

The rainy season was over and super humid disgusting summer has come. I really hate Japanese summer which seems getting hotter and hotter every year. Last Saturday on the 26th when  1,889 people were rushed to hospital due to heatstroke and 11 died. Isn't it awful?

Sorry, I didn't mean to complain about the weather. Today's post topic is transvestite culture in Japan. 

What intrigued me was a news report I saw on TV last week. A 27-year-old man got arrested for sneaking into a shop in an attempt to steal money and setting fire before leaving the place. But strangely, the person shown in video breaking in the building was a "girl." Yes, as you guessed, she was a man dressed as a woman. According to the report, he was an employee at a "cross-dressing maid cafe" in Akihabara, the Mecca of otaku.

A cross-dressing maid cafe?! I never knew such a thing even existed. I checked on the internet and found out there are at least several cafes or bars with transvestite waiters in the Tokyo area.

"Male maids" at Newtype, a cross-dressing cafe in Akihabara
where the arrested man might have worked 
Interestingly, those cross-dressers are not necessarily gays. Of course some may be, but many say they just love wearing women's clothes and they are romantically and sexually attracted to women rather than men. Some lady maids even brag that they are popular with women as they understand girls better and have common topics with them. 

That is a big difference from gay bars in Shinjuku 2-chome area, where cross-dressers are either homosexual or at least bisexual with high probability. In Akihabara cross dressing may be a kind of cosplaying, and that's why even young girls and heterosexual couples can casually go to a transvestite cafe.

New Type
Address: 3rd floor of Isamiya Diahachi Bldg., 3-7-12 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03)5577-5565 
Hours: Tue.-Thu., Sun. & holidays, open 6-11 p.m.; Fri., Sat. & day before national holidays, 6 p.m.-6 a.m.;  

There are books, photo albums and DVDs of men in girl clothes. 

女々男子∞【めめだんしエイト】 (~オールカラーハードカバー写真集~)
Photo album "Meme danshi eight" featuring eight cross-dresers

ゆりだんし (myway mook)
another photo album "Yuri danshi"
ここまで可愛くなれる! 男の娘メイクBOOK (SANWA MOOK)
"Otoko no ko Make Book"
make-up book for crossdresers
Traditionally, Japanese have appreciated androgynous beauty. In Kabuki, a classical dance-drama established in the 17th century, performers are all men. Many kabuki fans often say that male actors can be more womanly than real women because men are always pursuing ideal female beauty. The photo below is of Tamasaburo Bando, a famous female-role actor (onnagata, 女形)and living national treasure. 
Legendary onnagata actor Tamasaburo Bando
Even in strolling troupes that have both male and female performers, good-looking young actors are often expected to play female roles. Believe or not, this lady is also a man, and straight.

Actor Taichi Saotome 

Cross-dressers can find their places to live in the world of TV as well. The most famous transvestite TV personality these days is definitely this big man-lady Matsuko Deluxe, who can be seen anywhere, on TV, in publicity on trains, etc. Everybody loves his (her?) sharp tongue.

From here I'll write in Japanese. 


窃盗(せっとう): theft
目的(もくてき): purpose
忍び込む (しのびこむ): to sneak into
事件(じけん): incident、case


防犯カメラ(ぼうはんー): a security camera
映像 (えいぞう):video picture

女装(じょそう)する: to wear women's clothes
店員(てんいん): an employee of a shop, restaurant, cafe, etc.



必(かなら)ずしも~ではない: not necessarily
異性(いせい): people of the opposite sex


昔(むかし):ancient times
中性的 (ちゅうせいてき): androgynous 
美(び): beauty
もてはやす: to praise
傾向(けいこう): tendency


伝統芸能(でんとうげいのう): traditional performance art
歌舞伎(かぶき): kabuki
演(えん)じる: to play
役(やく): a role


役者(やくしゃ): an actor/actress
大衆演劇(たいしゅうえんげき): popular drama (a genre of Japanese theatrical art)
しばしば: often