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Beneath This Sea, A Sculpture Garden Is Saving an Ecosystem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

Tags 

culture, Fish, oceans

Bopping and Bathing in Beppu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/09/2022 - 6:48am in

Published in Nikkei Asia 9/9/2022

BEPPU, Japan — Ichiro is the big boss around here.  Brought up in the hot springs mecca of Beppu, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, he has never left his hometown. He has his pick of the local females and at mealtimes his favorite food is brought to him without fail.

Right now, he is gazing at me with a 1,000-meter stare, his mouth hanging slightly open in a cynical grin. “Who the hell you do you think you are?” he seems to be saying. I fix him with my hardest, most Clint Eastwood-like squint but, not being a 5-meter Asian crocodile, I quickly lose the staring contest.

Altogether, there are over 40 alligators and crocodiles residing in the Oniyama jigoku (“Devil Mountain Hell”). This venerable tourist attraction is an adjunct to the Oniyama Hotel, a large hot spring hotel with several sizeable baths, some in the open air.

Strictly speaking, Ichiro should be called Ichiro 2 since he took on the name of an illustrious predecessor, rather as Kabuki actors and other exponents of Japanese traditional arts sometimes do. Ichiro 1, whose skin hangs from the wall of the information room, started his career in 1923 and lived to the ripe old age of 72. At 7 meters in length, he would have made his successor look scrawny.

Dinner time! Dinner time!

There are other “hells” to sample in the hot springs area of Beppu, some offering eggs and cakes cooked in the scalding water. I visited all eight of them and have the stamps on my pamphlet to prove it, but the Oniyama reptile garden is by far the best.

Once upon a time Beppu was an international destination, with cruise ships docking on their way to Yokohama. In 1935, Beppu was really buzzing, with some 6,500 foreigners staying in standard hotels and ryokans (Japanese-style hotels) and more than half a million people using the railway station.

Among the famous visitors over the years were Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, George Bernard Shaw, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Helen Keller, the blind and deaf American disability rights activist, and James Bond.

Yes, Ian Fleming, 007’s creator, stopped off in Beppu when conducting research for You Only Live Twice. In the novel, he has Bond enjoy a meal of fugu (blowfish) with Japanese spy chief Tiger Tanaka and tour the hells, which he found satisfyingly sinister — “each bubbling, burping nest of volcanic fumaroles was more horrific than the last.”

At the "Lake of Blood" hell At the “Lake of Blood” hell

There are two important figures behind the branding of Beppu as a tourist destination. The first is the 13th century itinerant monk, Ippen. Statues and images of him are everywhere in Beppu’s Kannawa hot springs district.

Ippen appears  to have been something of a showman, staging ecstatic religious ceremonies with music, dance and groups of nuns stripping off. According to the legend, he arrived in what is now Beppu and encouraged the local people not to fear the geysers, which were considered a curse on the land, but to develop them into health-enhancing hot springs.

Images of Ippen are everywhere Images of Ippen are everywhere

The second influencer was a remarkable entrepreneur called Kumahachi Aburaya who was born before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which thrust Japan into the modern world, and passed away in 1935. Aburaya made a fortune speculating in the Osaka rice market, then lost every yen in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. Broke at the age of 35, he spent several years wandering in the United States, then returned to Japan and settled in Beppu.

Sensing the market potential, he opened the Kamenoi Ryokan in 1911. Now called the Kamenoi Hotel, it still exists. Aburaya also set up a tourist bus company, complete with young women in uniforms as tour guides.

A master of public relations, he came up with this killer slogan: “For mountains, it’s Fuji; for the sea, it’s the Inland Sea; for hot springs, it’s Beppu.” The man born in the still-feudal mid-19th century had anticipated the era of mass tourism.

During the post-war American occupation of Japan, there was a strong U.S. military presence in Beppu. Japanese jazz legend Toshiko Akiyoshi got her start hammering out blues and bop in the rough-and-tumble bars of Beppu — quite a contrast to the classical exercises the young girl had been accustomed to in her comfortable home in colonial Manchuria.

When Fleming showed up in 1962 with journalist friends Richard Hughes (“Dikko Henderson” in the novel and film) and Torajiro Saito (“Tiger Tanaka”), Beppu was in its prime, attracting 5 million visitors a year. The absolute peak was marked in 1973, when 13 million people – the equivalent of more than 10% of the Japanese population — swarmed to Beppu, a city of 130,000 inhabitants.

Bond in Kyushu Bond in Kyushu

The growth could not last, and it did not. Overseas holidays became popular and attractions like Tokyo Disneyland offered stiff competition. Yet, Beppu’s popularity remained at a high level throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

One crucial element in the prosperity of Beppu and other resort towns was the custom of blue chip companies taking large numbers of employees on short holidays during which they would eat and drink to excess and let their hair down in all sorts of ways. Hot springs were a favorite destination, and there was a boom in the construction of hotels that could cope with sudden influxes of squadrons of office workers. It took the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble in the 1990s to end that.

Many resort towns never really recovered. Beppu has. Tourism — mostly domestic at the moment — continues. The company trip is no longer a thing, but now we have offsite meetings and “workations,” which are smaller scale, but not very different. More to the point, Aburaya’s slogan is still effective. Japanese people love hot spring baths, and Beppu remains a go-to location.

I can testify that taking a late night bath under the stars at the Oniyama Hotel makes a good day perfect. When Japan finally reopens to foreign tourism after the COVID-19 pandemic, expect a flood of Asian tourists keen to bask in the waters at a bargain price, thanks to the weak yen.

New developments are underway too. I heard good reports about Beppu’s Asia Pacific University, an international branch of Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University. The student body and faculty are 50% foreign, and local observers are impressed by the quality of both.

Oita Airport is a 30-minute drive away, with the flight to Tokyo taking 90 minutes. One businessman I met spends three days a week in Tokyo and the rest in Beppu, his hometown. I can understand that. The food is cheaper and probably better. I had my doubts about eating Italian in Beppu, but the food at Otto e Sette, ingredients all locally sourced, was superb. The owner-chef, who has received numerous awards, uses vitamin-rich hot spring water in his cooking.

The family-run Ono eaterie, also in the Kannawa district, offers a contrasting approach, all bustle and energy. Nominally a yakitori (roast chicken on skewers) joint, it offers most of the dishes you would expect in an izakaya (the Japanese equivalent of a tapas bar).

If you want a more sophisticated meditative experience, you can always spend an afternoon or longer in Yufuin, a greener, cooler, quieter place half an hour away by car. Considered the Kyushu equivalent of Karuizawa, the summer getaway for wealthy Tokyoites, it attracts film and art world types.

Some seaside towns in Britain are amongst the most deprived areas in the country. Everyone has left who has the ability to do so. Beppu is not like that at all. The era of corporate tourism may be gone for good and some of the hells underwhelming compared to modern day attractions. Nonetheless, the regional pride of the inhabitants is palpable. They strongly believe their town is a great place to live. While that remains the case, it will be.

Just ask Ichiro

Satisfied smile Satisfaction guaranteed

Philosophers as Arts and Culture Critics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/09/2022 - 10:18pm in

“Which living philosophers review fiction, movies, television shows, plays, music, art, etc. for non-academic publications?”


[photo by B. Weinberg]

This question arrived in my inbox recently, and seems perfect for a Friday. I think we can understand “non-academic publications” broadly enough to include not just newspapers, magazines, and online publications, but also personal blogs or websites, and regular and public posts/threads/videos on social media, too.

Readers, please share your knowledge here. (Self-promotion welcome.)

I’ll start by mentioning two philosophers I know of. One is Justin Khoo (MIT), who writes film reviews for various sites. The other is Matt Strohl (Montana), who writes about movies at his site (and whose Why It’s OK to Love Bad Movies was published last year).

Your turn…

Dear Amazon Prime, I’m Not a Racist, But Why Are You Destroying My Precious Middle-Earth With Black Hobbits?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/09/2022 - 4:17am in

Dear Amazon Prime,* As a loyal customer I’m appalled at your latest WOKE stunt and...

I Didn’t Believe in Elves Until I Did

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/09/2022 - 4:03am in

Tags 

culture, Travel

When I visited Iceland, there were a few things on my list: an active volcano, a museum of witchcraft in the Westfjords, a puffin tour, and running into Björk and becoming best friends. I kind of knew I wanted to visit Hafnarfjörður, a port town close to Reykjavík, home to an idyllic volcanic park known for elf sightings. But it was an afterthought, a kitschy stop that I expected to experience as...

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What’s Lost When a Home Becomes a Working Site of Capital

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/09/2022 - 12:56am in

Tags 

culture

Recently, while looking for an Airbnb in my hometown for an upcoming visit, I found my dead father’s house. Bewildered, I scanned the listing. Could this really be the same house where I’d scrambled eggs for him every morning and watched his favorite movies on TCM every night? The new owners had stripped the place of its shabbiness, though I wondered as I read whether they’d been able to do the...

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Why Are We Afraid of Flounces and Frills?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 08/09/2022 - 2:00am in

Why do most philosophers hate clothes—or rather, hate fashion? The majority rule seems to be to treat the outer surface with either ritual formality or complete derision, as if the less you comb your hair the closer you are to truth....

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The Healing Power of the Friendship Retreat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/09/2022 - 7:11am in

Tags 

culture

In order to gather the people you love, sometimes you have to make a plan. “Old Friends” is an ongoing series exploring the many ways that friendship changes shape in adulthood. It started as an aspirational text between buddies: “I want to run away somewhere for a month and just disappear.” I’d sent it to my friend Matt in a fit of pique. I was on my fourth daily hour of Zoom fatigue...

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No New Friends

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/09/2022 - 7:00am in

Tags 

culture

Making friends in your 20s is one thing. Making friends as a mom in my mid-30s felt nearly impossible. “Old Friends” is an ongoing series exploring the many ways that friendship changes shape in adulthood. You wouldn’t know it to meet me now, but as a child, I was deeply, almost paralyzingly shy. I struggled with new situations, always anxious that everyone around me knew something I didn’t—what...

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What a Bunch of Interesting Humans Are Reading This Summer/Fall Purgatory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/09/2022 - 6:30am in

Tags 

culture, Books

Summer doesn’t officially end until September 22. Here’s what to read before then. Whether or not it’s factually true, I have always been of the belief that September feels like the hottest month of the year. This could be because I live in Los Angeles, where there is rarely a meaningful difference in weather once we cross the threshold of August. (A problem that only gets worse each year.

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