Visiting Japan is the best way to help the country post-earthquake and tsunami

A geisha at Kiyomizudera in Kyoto

It’s such a cliche to point out that Japan is a contrast of old and new traditional and modern, but the comparison keeps coming up because it’s true, and is a part of the country’s cultural DNA. It would be a surprise not to see some people — women, men, old, young, children — dressed in traditional kimono at ancient temples and shrines. It’s not unusual to have a contemplative (dare I say, zen-like) centuries-old spiritual site plopped into the middle of one of the world’s most bustling megalopolises. Japan is home to 14 of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

So it makes sense for me to start this series of blog posts with a photo of a geisha (or a maiko, a geisha-in-training) I saw seemingly floating amidst the crowds of tourists at Kiyomizuedera, one of the thousands of amazing temples scattered throughout Kyoto, the city that contains the soul of Japan. The geisha is a romantic stereotype of Old Japan, and yet, the tradition of geishas performing ancient music and dance continues today.

I returned this month from a two-week trip to Japan with my wife Erin Yoshimura and my mom, Junko. We traveled there for several reasons:

First, because Erin has never met my mother’s family in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

Second, because as Japanese Americans, we both believe it’s important to connect with our roots and appreciate where our values come from and why we think and behave the way we do in the United States.

Third, because we think it’s a cool idea to bring out American side to Japan and see how it’s different from Japanese society.

And fourth, because traveling to Japan is a great way for people around the world to support Japan’s recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region of northeast Honshu, Japan’s main island.

According to an Oct. 5 report from the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism to Japan fell by 62% and 50% in April May over the previous year because of the disasters (including the man-made nuclear disaster at Fukushima). It’s been improving in the months since — in June and July tourism was 36% below 2010 levels. That’s a huge loss for a country that is the third-largest tourism economy in the world.

No, we didn’t visit Tohoku. We flew to Narita Airport outside Tokyo and took a connecting flight to Chitose, the airport that serves Sapporo in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. We spent a couple of days in Sapporo and met with my uncle Fumiya Mori and aunt Mistuko, then took trains to Nemuro, my mom’s hometown on the easternmost tip of Hokkaido. We spent several days there with my uncle Kazuya Mori and aunt Eiko (I adore her) and got to visit Akan National Park (sort of like Japan’s Yellowstone) and the Ainu Village that showcases the culture of the native people of Japan. From Hokkaido we flew to Tokyo and spent four busy days there, then took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. We spent a coupe f days there, and visited the powerful Peace Memorial Park, which forever commemorates the atomic bomb blast of Aug. 5, 1945. We ended the trip in Kyoto before flying home from Osaka’s Kansai Airport.

Two weeks is a long trip, but it was worth it to squeeze in such a diverse array of destinations and see Japan from the dual perspective of foreign tourist and someone coming home after a prolonged absence.


View Day-by-day photo albums on Facebook from our trip to Japan.

View 34 short videos on YouTube of our trip to Japan.

2011 Japan Trip: Photo albums by day

Senso-Ji Temple in Asakusa

Here are complete day-by-day photo albums of our trip to Japan on Facebook (you don’t need a Facebook account to see them, but you’ll need to log in to Facebook to share or post a comment). Many of the photos (like the food shots, for instance) will be included in individual blog posts.

DAY 1Flight to Japan, arrive in Sapporo | DAY 2Sapporo | DAY 3Arrive by train in Nemuro | DAY 4Nemuro | DAY 5Nemuro: Akan National Park, Ainu Village | DAY 6Leave Nemuro, Arrive Tokyo | DAY 7Tokyo: Meiji Jingu, Shinjuku, Shinagawa | DAY 8Tokyo: Asakusa, Shinagawa | DAY 9Harajuku, Shibuya, Asakusa (Sky Tree), Shinagawa | DAY 10Shinkansen to Hiroshima | DAY 11Hiroshima: Peace Memorial Park, Miyajima | DAY 12Kyoto: Kiyomizudera | DAY 13Bus Tours of Kyoto, Nara | DAY 14: Depart Kyoto, arrive Osaka’s Kansai Airport

34 short videos of our 2011 trip to Japan

I recently returned from a fantastic trip to Japan, with my wife Erin Yoshimura and my mom. We flew first to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido, where one of my uncles lives, and then traveled to Nemuro, my mom’s hometown on the easternmost tip of Hokkaido, where another uncle lives. Then we flew down to Tokyo for a few days, then Hiroshima, then Kyoto before flying home from Osaka’s Kansai Airport. It was grueling at times — two weeks is a long trip, especially with your mom! — but I really had a great time and it’s given me a lot to think about… and write about.

I’m still sorting out notes from the trip and organizing the zillions of photos. But I did finally finish editing and titling the many videos I shot with my Lumix LX5 camera. Here are 34 short videos with brief descriptions. Feel free to graze through them, or watch them all (they’re on my YouTube channel).

NOTE: I’ve signed up to include ads on some of my videos, including these ones of Japan. If you feel inclined to click on the ads that show up, I get a little bit of coin in return. If you want to get rid of them, just click the “x” in the upper right of each banner ad.

As I write blog posts, I’ll also embed these videos within them. So think of these vids as previews of some of the topics I’ll be covering.
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Japan’s Ambassador to US visited Denver for 25th anniversary of Colorado-Yamagata relationship

Ambassador of Japan to U.S., Ichiro Fujisaki

It’s not often that Denver receives visitors at the highest levels of the foreign diplomatic corps, but the 25th anniversary of the start of the Colorado-Yamagata Sister State relationship brought Ichiro Fujisaki, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United State of America, to the Brown Palace on August 6.

Fujisaki gave a keynote speech during a luncheon hosted by the Japan America Society of Colorado, which was also attended by Takashi Takahashi, vice governor of Yamagata Prefecture (state), and Kozo Taira, Chairperson of the Yamagata Prefectural Assembly. Also with the Yamagata delegation were several assemblymen, the assembly’s Chief Secretariat, and representatives of the Yamagata International Affairs Office.

The local speakers included Morgan Smith and James Terada, former chairs of the Colorado-Yamagata Friendship Committee. Smith helped forge the Sister State relationship when he served under then-governor Dick Lamm, who was not initially supportive of the idea. Smith recalled his efforts to get the relationship approved, and the accomplishments since then that have come out of the Sister State compact. Gov. Roy Romner, who followed Lamm, was much more supportive, as was Bill Owens after that, and Gov. Hickenlooper already has strong ties to Japan and with Yamagata through visits he made while he served as Denver’s Mayor.

There were also remarks by Colorado state officials including David Thomson, Director of Global Business Development in the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade; Sen. Brandon Shaffer, President of the state Senate; and Rep. Frank McNulty, Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives.

But the luncheon never felt like a dry political summit.
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Denver’s pan-Asian community bands together for Power of Solidarity Japan relief concert

One of the heartwarming positive ripple effects of the tragic disaster in Japan has been the worldwide outpouring of support for the country and the earthquake and tsunami’s victims. That’s true locally in Colorado, where a handful of benefit events have already been held, and not just by Japanese or Japanese Americans.

A couple of weeks ago Colorado’s taiko groups got together to perform an evening of Japanese drumming to raise money for earthquake relief. On Saturday April 16, the Asian Pacific Development Center and 16 — count ’em, 16 — other local Asian community organizations who’ve signed on as partners are hosting “The Power of Solidarity,” a pan-Asian event of epic proportions. (Click the flier for full size.)

The event, which will be held from 5-8 pm at Abraham Lincoln High School, 2285 S. Federal Blvd. (Federal and Evans) in southeast Denver, will feature some of the area’s best talent, starting with Mirai Daiko, the popular all-women taiko group, along with award-winning singer-songwriter Wendy Woo, killer guitarist and songwriter Jack Hadley, Chinese dance group Christina Yeh Dance Studio, Indian troupe Mudra Dance Studio, Indonesian ensemble Catur Eka Santi, the Filipino American Community of Colorado, Korean youth drumming group Dudrim, renowned classical guitarist Masakazu Ito and the United States Vietnamese Veterans Alliance. Phew, that’s a very diverse lineup gathered together for one good cause.
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