All the Proof You Need that Apple Pay Suica is Changing Everything

Here is a Japanese secret: men don’t make a hit product. All those geeky guys who lined up at the Omotesando SoftBank store in 2008 to buy iPhone 3G didn’t mean a thing.

iPhone truly arrived as a bona fide Japanese hit when iPhone 3G S appeared in women’s magazines. Suddenly you saw lots of young Japanese women with beautiful nail art furiously texting on the trains. With an iPhone.

Japanese women make or break hit products. If this tweet is true, it’s all the proof you need to know that Apple Pay Suica is a huge game changing hit and mobile payments have truly arrived.

Translation: a high school girl says “That person is using Apple Pay Suica, how cool!”



Apple Music Japanese Radio Stations

Dear Naoko,

Congratulations on the new gig on Apple Music radio! Just love you on the Kayokyoku station. Honestly I was so tired of that Avex crap on J-Pop I had given up.

And what was that Korean TV Dramas channel coming first thing all about? I thought Japan was the second most profitable music market after the USA. It was Dentsu marketing bucks, wasn’t it? Well, I guess Jimmy and Dre changed their tune after Dentsu dumped them for Spotify Japan. Serves ’em right.

Hey I’m really really sorry about the iCloud Music Library kanji sorting not working. I told Jimmy and Dre about it like a thousand times but they never listen. Maybe they don’t have any Japanese working in Apple Music engineering, either that or the Japanese there are not really…well you know what I mean.

Don’t feel bad though, a lot of your fellow Japanese artists are in the “#” section too, Seiko-chan, Rumiko, Saori Yuki to name a few. I don’t think Jimmy and Dre are jilting you, so don’t take it personally. I guess that means Japan won’t get that Siri DJ thing. If Apple Music can’t sort your name how will DJ Siri ever find you?

Tell you what, next rainy day let’s go to the cinema. Just you and me, we can have a good cry. It won’t change anything but we’ll feel better. Until then!

Love and Kisses,
Your Biggest Fan

Shin Godzilla in 5 Minutes with English Subtitles

The orginal Godzilla film richly captured the inane postwar political system brokered by the GHQ. It’s funny watching the great Shimura Takeshi having to endure communist diet member accusations that Godzilla is all just an American plot.

The 2016 Shin Godzilla was a big Japanese hit in part because the film slyly re-captured and satirized modern Japanese politics. Half the fun was watching it in a theatre listening for the dialog the Japanese audience laughed at.

Soguwa Karuo’s “If you’re free let’s take in a movie” YouTube site has some wonderful movie reviews, explanations really, made just with his voice and his pen. His Shin Godzilla synopses above is hilarious and worth your time. Bonus points if you get the munchkin like speeded up Japanese

The Other Side of Mt. Minobu: Hiking the Old Akazawa Trail

27th generation innkeeper Kinu Mochizuki runs Edoya, Akazawa’s last remaining inn for pilgrims.

Nichiren Shu followers are well acquainted with Minobusan, site of Kuonji Temple and the resting place of Nichiren Shonin. Both followers and tourists have visited the top of Minobusan via the ropeway to see Shishin-Kaku Temple, breathe cool fresh mountain air and take in the view of Mt. Fuji and the Fuji River valley below.

The more adventurous way to the top for pilgrims, or even trail race runners, is to hike the old trail from Kuonji to Shishin-Kaku Temple. Only the truly adventurous, or hard-core trail runners, then continue on the trail to reach Shichimensan. at trail goes down the other side of Minobusan passing long shuttered inns (bo) for visiting pilgrims, through the village of Akazawa. The name of the town, red mountain stream, comes from the reddish colored rocks found in the Japanese Southern Alps and surrounding foothills.

Akazawa dates back to the Heian period. It has been designated a historical preservation district. Its history is tightly bound to the history of Shichimensan, which was established as a holy mountain and pilgrimage site long before Nichiren Shonin arrived at Minobusan in 1275. The trail from Minobusan might sound romantic, but it long ago disappeared into a quiet country road that zigzags down the backside of the mountain. Only at the entrance to Akazawa does it become a foot path again, a steep stone path winding through the village.

Stone path from the top of Akazawa

Near the top of the stone path is Myofukuji Temple. According to Rev. Chiyu Ide, the head priest of Myofukuji, its history extends back to the deepest roots of Japanese Buddhism. “Have you heard of Shugendo?,” he asked. This was one of the first forms of Japanese Buddhism

It incorporated mystic elements of both Buddhism and Shinto. Shugendo ascetics and priests journeyed through deep valleys and peaks as part of their spiritual practice worshipping huge boulders, giant trees, and the mountains themselves as the sacred vessel bodies of gods, seeking enlightenment and rebirth in the rising sunlight over the mountain.

Myofukuji temple, Akazawa

Shichimensan itself is a kekkai, a sacred barrier, protecting Mt. Fuji. If you watch an equinox sunrise on Shichimensan, the sun rises directly over the peak of Mt. Fuji. On that day, the sun shines in a perfect line across the top of Mt. Fuji, through Shichimensan, and straight to Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture. Izumo is one of the most important Shinto Shrines, said to be older than Ise Shrine itself.

“This was established as a Shugendo temple,” Rev. Ide explained. “In Nichiren Shonin’s time, it was Shingon. Nichiro Shonin, a Senior Disciple of Nichiren Shonin, convinced the head priest of Myofukuji to covert and become part of Kuonji.” Some of the Myofukuji Temple structures today look new. Inside the Founder’s Hall, colorful kifuda line the walls. In the Main Hall, there’s a restored ceiling painting of Shichimen, the protector of the holy mountain. Asked about the number of temple members here in Akazawa, Rev. Ide became quiet for a moment. “I have to travel a lot to support the temple. I’m not here as much as I would like to be.”​

Buddhist priests in country temples usually have to work other jobs to make ends meet. Rev. Ide travels extensively doing Kito blessings and Reidan consultations. It not only supports the temple, but also helps bring new practitioners and pilgrims to Akazawa and Shichimensan.

The path from Myofukuji temple to Edoya inn

Further down the stone path, almost at its end, is the Edoya ryokan, the last surviving inn of Akazawa. It is run by 92-year-old Kinu Mochizuki, the Okami, or proprietress. She is the 27th in her family line to hold this honor and responsibility. Okami is one of the many Japanese words almost impossible to translate into English. The two characters that make up Okami are “woman” and “Shogun.” It conveys a woman general who runs the family business, raises the children and keeps the tradition going. Still today, the longest running Japanese family businesses, some dating back to the Heian period, are invariably run by women generals.

Mochizuki-san’s back is bent with age. She walks with a cane, but is cheerful, bright and always happy to show you her inn while explaining the history.

“I’m 92, and since last year I’ve had pain in my lower back,” she explained. But that did not stop her from opening up the sliding doors to reveal the big interior room.

“This is where guests chant Odaimoku, eat and sleep.” She pointed out the hallway that ran outside the tatami rooms. “As you can see there is plenty of space for groups of 50 to 60 to put their luggage and other belongings.”

Shichimensan seen from Edoya

“We have groups staying here from May to November, 700 or 1,000 people sometimes, so all the inns (meaning Edoya and the other bo surrounding Shichimensan) have to cooperate and divide them among the inns. We all serve the same food and charge the same price. 60 stay here, 40 there, and so on. When that happens we all sit around making hundreds of onigiri, rice balls. Even though my back hurts, I can do it. I only have these hands, but I endeavor to do my best.” She thrusts out her hands for emphasis, strong country hands that have clearly done a lot of work.

What is the future for the last remaining inn in Akazawa? Mochizuki-san says, “I have a grandson. He is interested, but I don’t know if he is willing to take on the responsibility of running Edoya. I have no say in the matter of what happens after I die. What’s the point of worrying about it?

The Mochizuki family has been running Edoya, an inn for pilgrims, for 27 generations.

“Nowadays, who wants to take on this difficult work when there are easier ways of making a living? There really isn’t anything here in Akazawa. It is 100 Cho (the old distance measure of approximately one cho =109 meters) to Minobu, 50 Cho to Shichimensan. There weren’t that many pilgrims when I was growing up because of the distance. And there were not many pilgrims coming during the war. Those who came had to bring their own rice, and we would cook it for them. They had to have enough for the whole journey because of war rationing.

“It became dangerous here, too. Near the end of the war, several bombs were dropped in the village below, because the B-29 planes had to clear their holds on the way back from bombing Kofu. It’s hard to believe that a person like me experienced that. We had to clear metal debris from our fields. As junior high students, we were required to work in military or agriculture production. There was no freedom. We can look back now and say how stupid it all was, but back then it was simply what one had to do.”

Mochizuki-san went on to explain that modern roads and bridges changed everything. Now people can drive to the bottom of Shichimensan, park their car and start walking. When groups come now, they don’t hike from Minobu. They drive up from below, stay overnight, and then drive back down to the Shichimensan trail entrance. The pilgrims have changed, too. Most of those coming now are from Reiyukai, not Nichiren Shu members.

She waved her hand at the big empty room. “In the old days, the ceilings and walls were covered with silk banners and senjya fuda. They disintegrated long ago. When the pilgrims came, it wasn’t just once. They arrived every year, no matter what.” Nichiren Shu members stopped coming during the late 1980s bubble era, when values changed and Japanese birthrates went into steep decline. A culture carefully built up over centuries can disappear in the blink of an eye.

“There used to be six inns here in Akazawa. We’re the last one. Osakaya had been closed for ten years, but this spring, someone rented it and has opened it as a guest house for backpackers from overseas. There’s even a man from France who wants to live here,” she said, as if a man from France was an unexpected turn of events.

Sunrise over Mt. Fuji as seen from Shichimensan

If you come to Minobusan, Akazawa and Shichimensan, you can experience directly and breathe the air of faith and practice expounded by Nichiren Shonin. You can see all that it built over the course of centuries, one pilgrim, one step at a time. Don’t let these hard earned accomplishments fade away. Come to Shichimensan and hike the same path of countless pilgrims over centuries past. The path is the same, taken one step at a time.

The statue of Lady Oman and the waterfall near the Shichimen trail entrance. Lady Oman prayed under the waterfall then climbed Shichimensan, the first woman to do so.


The Last Showa Store on Shopping Street

The Showa era was officially over when the Showa Emperor passed away in 1989. Current Showa era nostalgia is post-war baby boom Showa running from the early late Fifties to early Eighties. Real Showa era shops are disappearing at an increasingly rapid rate as mom and pop retire and shutter the family store.

One last Showa store still graces the Asagaya Pearl Center Shopping Arcade: Saito Convenience Store. Most days the Saito store is shuttered but when Mr. Saito is in the mood, he opens the store and rolls out an eccentric display of senbei rice crackers and vinyl umbrellas (on rainy days).

The last photo shows Saito Convenience Store in fading Showa glory: stylish multi-color hiragana signage, lonely looking senbei bags on a display cart, vinyl umbrellas and a Honda Super Cub delivery bike parked in front. You can’t get more ‘last Showa standing’ than this. In an era of chain stores sweeping away the last vestiges of mom and pop, I hope Mr. Saito will be around for years to come.