Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Emperor Shows his Face to the Masses In Tokyo

Slightly jet lagged and a little hung over I woke up(after only a few hours of sleep) on January 2,2009 resolved to make it to Chiyoda ward. The reason I skipped some much needed rest was to witness something kind of special. Apparently, there are only two dates on the calendar in which the inner garden of the Emperor`s palace is open to the public; his birthday and New Years. Despite the royal family having no real power many Japanese still gather in mass twice a year to see the royal family address the public. This year I was among the hoard of people gathered to catch a glimpse of the Japanese Emperor.

I have never been a person who puts much faith in royalty. I mostly view royalty as a drain on government funds and allowing a society to make gods out of men. Yet, there is something special about royalty which I cannot deny. The history that royal families stand behind is amazing. The thought of one blood line being able to maintain their position at the top of society for so many years boggles my mind.

Anyway, at around 1:40 pm on the 2nd day of the year I found myself standing with a large crowd of people all waiting to see the royal family of Japan. The energy of the crowd was strange for me. All of those people getting so excited to see some old man and his spoiled family was a little shocking for me. These `royals` are nothing more than humans just like everyone waiting to see them for a few minutes. They are nothing more than people who are living off the legend of their dead relatives. For the Japanese it appears that this old man and his spoiled family hold a lot of meaning. From what I gathered at the palace the royal family are more than just a family of people. It seems that the royals are the symbol of the spirit of Japanese society. They are supposed to give hope to the Japanese people. While they may be giving hope to the masses it is still rare for most Japanese to ever see the royal family. I guess the idea that the Emperor is alive is enough for most Japanese to get all filled with hope.

The actual amount of time the royal family took to spread hope was very short. They presented themselves to the public about 15 minutes at the most. When they showed-up from atop a special balcony the crowd went crazy. People started cheering and screaming like a rock star had just showed up. Everyone had paper Japanese flags and waved them in the air. The sea of flags looked like one of those rallies after a politician wins an election. People were going mad for a man who can offer no solutions to issues effecting their daily lives. The event was capped off by the old Emperor giving a short speech which he told the Japanese people to `stay strong during these tough times.` Yeah, ok old man we will stay strong while you enjoy the best of life with our tax money.

Hell, I should not be so hard on this tradition of praising the Emperor. At one time the position of Emperor carried a lot of power and influence. The Japanese even used to think that the Emperor was god. I can imagine how hard it must be to toss old traditions out the window. For over 1,000 years it was believed that the Emperor was god. A 1,000 plus year old tradition is something which does not go away easily. Now days all Japanese know and understand that the Emperor is not god. They know that he really is just an old man with a spoiled family. So I think that the Japanese people do not put much faith in the Emperor rather their faith rest in the title of Emperor. The position itself stands for something much more than some old man and his crazy family. The idea that the soul of Japan rest with the title of Emperor is something I may never fully understand.

Overall, it was cool to experience such an event. It is a part of Japanese culture that is rare to witness because it only happens twice a year. Now I can say that I have seen the Emperor of Japan. If you want to see something kind of rare then mark your calendar for the Emperor`s birthday.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Choice Cuts from the English speaking J-web

During 2008 my use of the internet has become much more refined. I have taken up feeding my interest of all things Japan by becoming a J-blog addict of sorts. I read a lot of blogs about and related to Japan. I even have my own little blog about life in Japan! It has been a lot of fun reading J blogs and keeping one of my own going. There are so many good blogs out there that I always have something good to read. This creates a slight problem in deciding what is the cream of the crop. Well, as with all blogs there is usually something good about it that keep people coming back for more. Although, there are some blogs, that not only keep me coming back, but also make me check daily for a new post.

Everyone has their favorite J-blog. What one person finds to be crap someone else may think it is pure gold. There are some sites that I only visit when I am really hard up for something to read while others think that same site is great. With these ideas in mind I offer up what I think to be some of the best J-blogs on the net. I hope that you agree that these sites are very good and deserve positive mention.

Escape from New York

I read this blog on a regular basis. It is written by, and about, Benjamin L. Belcher`s adventures as he lives on his own for the first time far from home. He has some pretty good thoughts on many different things. He is also a teacher so he has a few funny stories to tell. Be sure to check out his blog posts about being in a Japanese rock band!

The one and only Neil Duckett has one of the best J-blogs on the net. He gives readers exactly what they want and then some. The very popular J-babe of the week is a always worth checking out every Friday. I am never disappointed by a visit to

I very good blog with plenty of photos. Mr. Kimball takes a lot of photos of Japan. A lot of them are really amazing. I can spend hours looking at the many posts offered by this site. Well, worth taking the time to check out.

Lets Japan

A often funny site which is always a good read. This site has provided me with lots of laughs and useful tidbits about Japan. Good place to learn about the ends and outs of Japanese culture. Lets Japan is also home to the very funny Monkey in The City series.

Tokyo Damage Report

This site goes way off the beaten path to provide a peak into the subcultures in Tokyo. From sex parties to underground punk shows Tokyo Damage Report will delight the freak inside of everyone. Also includes a very useful guide to the top underground spots in Tokyo.

Good blog about a varied range of Japan related topics. Usually has something good to read. The photo posts are really good.

Great social network site all about J-pop. Always full of news and information on all the top acts and upcoming artist as well. All styles of J-pop are represented with daily updates from users. Perfect site for those interested in J-pop.

The Long

The web home of Nick Ramsay. It seems that Nick is quickly becoming a major driving force in the development of the English speaking J-web. A regular on many of top J-blog and Japan related websites Nick dives head first into the J-web everyday. He is the creator of the every growing and highly popular Japan related social bookmark site.

7:10 to Tokyo

A great site from the mind of Billy West. The site itself is kind of like a webzine featuring articles written by J-bloggers. Anyone who wants to showcase some of their best work can submit an article. Some really good stuff appears at 7:10 so it is worth checking out from time to time.

Andy in Tokyo

Interesting look at Japanese culture and daily life in Japan. Always provides a good read.

Tokyo Filter

Another creation of Billy West. Tokyo Filter is a video site kind of like Youtube except all the videos are Japan related. Users can submit videos directly from their youtube account! So far good vids are appearing on site which adds promise of even better vids as the site grows.

The top social bookmarking site on the English speaking J-web. There is always something good to read. A lot of blogs and japan related sites show up daily. The community of users are a wonderful and interesting group of folks.