“Obon” Buddhist Observance in Japan

local_templeObon is a time to express our gratitude to loved ones who have passed on before us.  It is an annual Buddhist observance observed in the middle of August (13th to 16th plus a weekend).  It is in July in Tokyo and in a few areas, but for most of the Japanese, the middle of August is the Obon period, when families get together and pay a visit to their ancestor’s grave.

People say that Obon is based on a Buddhist belief that departed souls return to their families during this period.  However, Jodo Shinshu school views in a different way.  “Obon is a time of gratitude, giving, and joy in the Truth of Life.”  So, it may be different depending on which school of Buddhism you are in or maybe local “custom.”  Either way, family members get together during this period, and thus it may be comparable to the Thanks Giving Day in the western cultures.

I should also note that the Obon coincides with the anniversary of  Japan’s surrender in World War II, which is August 15.  Although the event does not have any religious meaning, it gives us additional sentiments to stay in peaceful minds.

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Opening a Restaurant in Sapporo

When starting a restaurant business here in Japan, zoning regulations usually are not the primary concern. We can open and run a restaurant right in the middle of a quiet residential area.  Surprised?

odoriOne of the reasons behind it probably lies in the limited land. Japan is a mountainous country where two thirds of the land are covered by mountains. So the government, in order to efficiently use the limited land, thinks that it is insignificant to place a clear cut distinction between commercial and residential areas like in other western countries.

If you plan to start a restaurant business in Japan, one thing you may wish to remember is that officers from the Public Health Center visit your site and inspect to see if everything is in order and conforms to local regulations. It is, therefore, very important to start dealing with the authority, before submitting the application,  by showing detail floor plans, including what equipment to be installed and its position in the kitchen.  Acquiring restaurant business permit here in Japan is not just a simple file-and-register process.  Of course the worst part is, as always, there’s no English information made available by the authority.

The application may be taken care of by a licensed practitioner, in this case, “Gyoseishoshi” administrative scrivener.  They are licensed to represent the applicant in filing documents with the national and local governments.

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It’s the lavender season in Hokkaido

lavenderJuly in Hokkaido is ideal for distance runners.  Maybe not just for runners, but also for any other sports.  I hear that many college sport teams have summer training in Hokkaido due to its mild summer climate.

Along the Shiroihi Cycling Road in Sapporo, which is my regular running course, are trees of deep summer green and blooming flowers, and lavender is one of them.

I happened to learn that the cultivation of lavender in Japan was started out here in Sapporo about 80 years ago.  Since the Furano area (including Nakafurano and Biei) is the brand name of lavender fields in Hokkaido,  it was a little surprise to me.  I don’t think that most of us, although living in Hokkaido,  know the history.

Talking about the lavender, by the way, I occasionally search tweets with the keyword. When I find one with a photo, I retweet 🙂  I know that it would surprise the person a little, but that’s what the Twitter is for, don’t you think?

For your information, the peak season of lavender here in Hokkaido is the middle of July. We may be able to enjoy the view in early August.


Japan’s compulsory car inspection

I think owning a vehicle in foreign countries involves experiencing social and cultural differences.   In Japan, we have “sha-ken“, that is mandatory vehicle road-worthiness inspection, comparable to MOT in the UK.

invo_motWhile MOT is a checkup of basic vehicle functionalities, Sha-ken is rather the “preventive maintenance” of vehicles and it’s costly here in Japan.

This time, it cost me “only”, I would say, a total of 93,000 yen, however, it cost me more than 200,000 yen two years ago, because I had to have brake pads, brake cylinders, ATF and others replaced with the new ones.  The next time will be a headache again.  I will have to replace the timing belt of the engine.

Included in the total cost is “Vehicle Weight Tax”  (32,400 yen), compulsory liability insurance (27,800 yen) and filing seal tax (1,800) yen. The Vehicle Tax (39,500 yen) is paid separately, because it’s a prefectural tax, due in the end of May.  These costs differ depending on the type and size of vehicles.

Regarding the compulsory liability insurance, it is only a bare minimum and car owners are expected to have another insurance with private companies.

For your information, most of vehicle service shops in Japan are licensed by the Government and so are automobile mechanics.  According to the survey conducted by Japan Automobile Service Promotion Assocication, 85.7% are licensed mechanics.


Roses in Safety Islands

roses0620Roses are the flower of my living district, Shiroishi ward in Sapporo city, and we can enjoy roses in the safety islands along Kanjodori Boulevard.

The budget probably comes from the Hokkaido prefecture.  I would definitely say YES for an increase of the budget to make the view better.

There had been an exquisite nice rose garden in the hillside of  Mt. Moiwa that commanded a nice view of Sapporo city.  Although the garden was privately owned, it had been open for public.  I think that many of the Sapporo citizens were disappointed to hear the garden was closed.

The largest rose garden in Hokkaido is the one in Iwamizawa, about two hours drive from Sapporo. I will post some photos when I have a chance to visit the garden in the high season.

I love roses 🙂