Townsend Harris & Zenpuku-ji Temple

Back in June last year I reviewed the rather poor 1958 film ’The Barbarian & The Geishaas part of the Films Set In Japan feature on this site. The main man in that film was Townsend Harris played by a fairly under-par John Wayne. It may have been Commodore Perry who first opened trade between the US and Japan in 1853 but it was Harris who became the first Consul General to the Empire of Japan three years later.

By 1859 the American government had set up in one of Tokyo’s oldest temples, Zenpuku-ji temple which is at 1-6-21 Moto Azabu and wasn’t exactly easy to find the other day with  just the address code and no map! I must have cycled round the area many times trying to locate it before taking a chance up some side street where I eventually found it.

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These temple grounds have a monument in the centre dedicated to Harris which was one of my reasons for visiting this place. From successful New York merchant and minor politician to the first US Consul General to Japan, Harris negotiated the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1858 and basically opened up Japan to foreign trade and culture in the Edo period. The America-Japan society dedicated the stone monument in 1936 on the spot where the first American legation set up. Of course there is still a level of discrimination against foreigners in Japan but its nothing compared to the enormous hostility that Harris experienced so many of us can be thankful for his impact. He can be held responsible for Western influence in Japan’s economy and politics which can be read as a mix of good or bad things depending on your perspective!

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For me, it was the film that brought the name of Townsend Harris to my attention and though the primary plot is essentially true the love affair subplot is a work of fiction and perhaps one of those things where a theatrical and artistic license is used to make the story more appealing to cinema audiences.

In the movie, Harris has a romance with a geisha named Okichi but there is no evidence that this is true. Still, their story is one of folklore. Harris died in New York in 1878 and, according to legend, Okichi committed suicide in Shimoda in 1892.

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Another reason for taking in this place was to see something with an estimated age of 800+ years. The oldest ginkgo tree in Tokyo with a girth of 10m is housed within the cemetery ground lying beside the shrine. The grave of the man on the 10,000 yen note is also somewhere in this place but I didn’t bother hunting that down.

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The Star Wars Saga Continues But Does It Really Need To?

“He’s my brother” says Leia to which Han Solo replies with a simple “Oh” and with that one syllable word the Star Wars saga came to an end in terms of spoken words. Of course there was a scene or two more but that was basically ‘The End’ ……….. until the LucasFilm company was sold to Disney on October 30th last year for $4.05 billion.

When that news broke I was having a rare lie-in and woke to many mails telling me the news which is quite rare in this era where one gets most news from Twitter! My feeling that morning was one of surprise that’s for sure and when I was asked a while back to pen my thoughts on the return of this mammoth franchise I declined the opportunity.

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Why would I do that I hear you say when I’ve spent fortunes travelling Earth in search of finding the filming locations. Well, for me, I just can’t get into the idea of there being a storyline that goes beyond ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi‘ where the story came to a perfect conclusion and rounded off the saga.

I’m certainly no huge EU (Expanded Universe) fan but I did read Timothy Zahn’s 1991 book ‘Heir to the Throne‘ and whilst I certainly didn’t hate it I just couldn’t get into it. Hearing about the children of the characters we all love just didn’t appeal. Of course, they’re not necessarily gonna follow any of the events that have happened in EU books after ROTJ but it does seem like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford will be back in some way for the sake of continuity before their kids and/or other new characters help move the story along to wherever its going. I guess, in a way, thats quite nice as there’s no finality like there was when the prequels were made so anything really can happen.

Of course I am following all the news and rumours (and there are many!) on RebelForce Radio and The ForceCast and I have to say that I am enjoying all the speculation, rumours and gossip which the hosts of those podcasts sure do analyse in comprehensive detail. I’m not gonna worry about which characters will appear or more importantly re-appear, or where it will be set and filmed because likelihood is that it will all be done in the studio like ‘Revenge Of The Sith‘ (2005) was.

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I have no doubt that by the time the film comes out in 2015 I’ll lap it all up and hopefully change my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I want to like it and I’m confident, having seen his work on the Star Trek films, that JJ Abrams will not disappoint but that doesn’t mean I’m not a little bit worried about how Star Wars will fare in the hands of someone other than George Lucas.

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Far more of interest to me has been the recently wrapped up ‘Clone Wars‘ TV series which filled in the gaps and a lot, lot more between Episodes II and III. With there being a new animated series ‘Star Wars Rebels‘ on the horizon set between episodes III and IV.

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I think I’m probably in the minority when I say that I don’t mind the axe falling on my favourite shows and in a way actually like it as I firmly believe that you can have too much of a good thing and its better to go out whilst you’re on top before story-lines inevitably get more ridiculous and desperate as the years roll by. ‘Clone Wars‘ didn’t finish off every story but that’s not always the way. However, with the fate of Ahsoka finally known, it did come to a fitting end with such a dramatic and deeply moving conclusion………….just like ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ did 30 years ago.

 

On Screen #2 – Istanbul

Turkey’s economic, cultural, and historical heart is often considered by westerners to be something of a mysterious city; one which is rarely portrayed well on the big screen as its used as a backdrop for international intrigue. Add to that, some stereotypical snapshots of cruel moustaches, belly dancers, hookers, men in fez’s and meat on a stick and you’ve pretty much got the full picture. Of course the days of scary prison melodrama’s are something of a bygone era as Istanbul these days is a modern, hip, young, clean city with Europe and Asia facing off across the Bosphorus Strait.

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Istanbul was the European Capital of Culture in 2010 but it was two years after that when it really put its name on the map in terms of being a popular destination to film in. 2012 was a golden year for Turkey’s most famous city in the movies as it featured as itself in the 007 blockbuster ‘Skyfall‘ (above) as well as the critically slammed ‘Taken 2‘ (below)

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(which I actually quite liked!) and its famous Grand Bazaar also doubled up as the Iranian bazaar (below) in the award winning ‘Argo‘. Apart from that, Istanbul has for the majority of the time played itself which is in stark contrast to On Screen #1 where Vietnam was faked almost every time!

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James Bond just can’t get enough of Istanbul with three 007 movies having now been filmed here. ‘From Russia With Love‘ (1963) (below) was the beginning of the secret agents love affair with the city as two busty belly dancers sweated it out in the name of

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trying to win his affections. The huge atmospheric subterranean-like Basilica Cistern (above right) is a nice cool break from the heat and used to store the city’s water supply.  It is actually beneath Aya Sofya but in the film it’s situated under the Russian Consulate and is where Bond and Kerim Bey escape with the Lektor decoding machine.

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Bond and his accomplice Tatiana board the Orient Express (above left) on platform 1 at Sirkeci station. This station also fills in as Belgrade station where Bond sends a message to ‘M’ and Zagreb station where he is contacted by fake agent Grant. It was also not surprisingly the setting for ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ (above right & below left) in 1974 but wasn’t actually shot in Turkey as France was used instead.

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The Maidens Tower on a tiny islet off the coast at Uskudar (above right) featured in ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999) and is where ‘M’ (Judi Dench) is taken prisoner. As well as Spice Bazaar Bond also visits the Grand Bazaar where he is driven to meet Ali Kerim in ‘From Russia With Love‘ but that wouldn’t be his last visit to the place. In ‘Skyfall‘ Bond pursues assailant Patrice in a high-speed chase through the crowded Eminonu Square and onto the famous Grand Bazaar where the thrilling action takes place both on the rooftops (below left) and inside what is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Fear not as no damage was done to the roof tiles for reinforced steel roof panels were used to carefully protect the historic structure. They filmed scenes in the bazaar on Sundays and paid the owners to keep their shops open.

It doesn’t end there though for the very same rooftop was also in ‘Taken 2‘ and ‘The International‘ (2009); the latter starring Clive Owen (below right) and Naomi Watts as agent and attorney respectively. Owen’s character travels to Istanbul to try and expose corruption in a merchant bank but finds himself fleeing from assassins.

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Topkapi Palace Museum is very much part of the tourist trail and is usually packed. This place played host to Peter Ustinov and co in the 1964 film ‘Topkapi‘ (below) in which they attempt to steal an emerald-encrusted dagger. You even get scanned on the way in which is presumably to stop anyone trying to repeat the antics of that movie.

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The Four Seasons Hotel used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in the 1978 film ‘Midnight Express’ (below) which tells the story of a young American student sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle drugs out of the country. However, the majority of this film, which is of course not a great sell for Turkey as a country, was filmed in Malta due to some kind of disagreement with Turkish officials.

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Anatolia, Pecenek and Saraycik were the principle Turkish locations ‘The Charge Of The Light Brigade‘ (1968) used Istanbul for the arrival of the troops and in 2000 ’Armageddon‘ featured global atmosphere shots of the Blue Mosque which admittedly is a bit of a tenuous connection to this great city but its still a link nonetheless.

Unlike Vietnam (in ‘On Screen #1‘) very few TV series have been set in Istanbul so I’m left with a perennial favourite to fill that void. Anthony Bourdain’s TV series’ ‘No Reservations‘ covered many places around the world in its eight seasons on the Travel Channel and Istanbul was of course no exception. In season 6 episode 2 he sampled some truly amazing looking dishes such as lahmacun, doner kebab, islak burger, midye dolma, börek and raki and visited both the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. Sadly, when I was in Istanbul in 2011 I had some major financial problems which meant that I couldn’t really afford to eat out properly but hopefully that can be corrected next time I visit.

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London Filming Locations: Skyfall (2012)

This triumphant return to form sees Bond go back to his roots with some beautiful scenery including the Scottish Highlands and lots of London scenes which were very satisfying for this misty-eyed Brit living abroad! Before all that though, ‘Skyfall‘ starts off with Bond (Daniel Craig) and Eve (Naomie Harris) in Istanbul on the hunt for a stolen hard drive in a city which also appeared in two other 007 films; ‘From Russia With Love‘ (1963) and ‘The World Is Not Enough‘ (1999). Their pursuit of the assailant takes them through Eminonou Square and the Grand Bazaar (below) with the latter also featuring in the critically acclaimed ‘Argo‘ and the critically panned ‘Taken 2‘ last year. The chase continues on 500 miles south-east to Adana where the spectacular Varda Bridge sees Bond involved in a bout of fisticuffs on top of the moving train before M (Judi Dench) orders Eve to take the shot which results in him supposedly plummeting to his death 90 metres below.

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M is driven to a meeting with Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) at Willis Faber on 10 Trinity Square (below left) near the Tower of London. Only a limited part of the building is seen on screen but more of the building can be seen in ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‘ (2000). On her return to MI6 at 85 Albert Embankment (below right) M witnesses it blowing up. This building was also used in ‘The World Is Not Enough‘.

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Bond is alive and waiting for M at her home in Knightsbridge (below) which was actually the home of 007 composer John Barry who passed away a year prior to the films release. The address is 82 Cadogan Square and Sloane Square is just about the closest Underground station.

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Not too far from here on 22 Ebury Street is a house which is worth a little detour if you’re in the area and it is a very important one for Bond fans. A little blue plaque on the buildings exterior tells us that it was the house of the man who created 007; Ian Fleming.

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Bond is driven across the River Thames with the London Eye in the background. The car continues onto the secret MI6 underground facility which is actually Smithfield Car Park opposite the meat market.

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Deemed to be fit again, Bond makes his way to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square where he meets up with the new Q (Ben Whishaw) in front of The Fighting Temeraire by JMW Turner. Of course photography is not permitted inside but one can always try and take a sneaky one with the worst usually being that you’ll be told off by one of the guards.

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It’s Shanghai next for 007 and though the aerial shots are real the rooftop pool scene was actually filmed in London in Canary Wharf at the Virgin Active Classic Health Club.

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Still in ‘Shanghai’ Bond follows hitman Patrice into a high-rise building but yet again its London and the Broadgate Tower at 201 Bishopsgate although its the entrance on Primrose Street which is seen.

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The real Gunkanjima (formally known as Hashima) is used for the distant shots but the rest was all filmed on a set built back at Pinewood. Full details about this location, its history, how it was faked and how to get there can be read here.

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Silva is captured and brought back to the UK but he soon manages to escape into the London Underground with Bond in pursuit of him between Temple and Embankment stations on the District and Circle Lines. There are only brief shots of those stations before Bond finally emerges at Westminster station and rushes to save ‘M’.

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Bond’s journey takes him along Whitehall where he eventually ends up back at Trinity Square not that this is referenced. We are made to believe that this place, which is a couple of miles eastwards, is one of a handful of government buildings in the area.

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Bond and M flee the carnage at the public enquiry and change cars at Parkside Industrial Estate on Arklow Road in Deptford. It probably doesn’t make too much sense that one of the garages there is home to the Aston Martin DB5 car from 1964′s ‘Goldfinger’ but it’s a nice nod to the past.

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Bond decides to take M to Scotland to draw the villain Silva out into the open and though it is the real Highlands of Glencoe, the “Skyfall” childhood home of Bond was a set built on Hankley Common in Surrey which has also been used in ‘The World Is Not Enough‘ and ‘Die Another Day‘ (2002).

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Back in London, Bond and Eve appear on top of the Department of Energy and Climate change at 55 Whitehall and the Old War Office building alongside it played the part of MI6 in ‘Octopussy‘ (1983), ‘A View To A Kill‘ (1985) and ‘License To Kill‘ (1989). Not surprisingly, its not possible for the general public to go up on the roof which is a shame as that would be one hell of a shot to recapture! Instead, one has to just settle for seeing the building from street level only.

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See other James Bond filming locations by clicking on the places below:

Tokyo        London        Prague        Venice        Como        Istanbul        Las Vegas        Phuket        Vienna        Hong Kong        New York        Panama

 

Hachijojima & Hachijokojima

When I watched ‘Battle Royale‘ (2000) recently for review in the Films Set In Japansection of this site I was under the impression that Hachijojima was where it was filmed and so I started doing my research on the place for this series which will enable me to dip back in to places I visited in Japan before Tokyo Fox went online. Whilst back in England last month I scanned some of the pictures and then I found out that my tenuous link between the film and the island I once visited wasn’t even true! It was actually filmed on Hachijokojima which is nearly five miles west of Hachijojima. Oh well, too late now!

Other than a few goats, Hachijokojima is uninhabited after the government evacuated people from the island, but its much bigger sister island is very much open to tourism. Both islands are actually part of Tokyo even though they’re located nearly 300km south of the mainland. Back in August 2005 my then-girlfriend and I, equipped with just the one t-shirt it seems, took a night ferry from Hamamatsucho at 10.30pm which arrived on the volcanic island some 11 hours later! Of course you can fly there a lot quicker with flights taking just under an hour but thankfully I managed to sleep most of the way there.

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Due to the fact that Hachijō-jima is a volcanic island, there are a few black sandy beaches with the main one being next to the main harbour of Sokodo (above) where we spent our first day in the foreground of the elegant but unoriginally named Hachijō-fuji mountain. With its wide-flowing appearance this image really does represent the island in a beautiful way. From what I remember we could do some snorkelling there and it was so hot that I just had to sit in the shade. I also did a couple of big jumps into the water (from the pier?) with the latter one affecting my hearing for a while after!

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The task the following day was to hike to the top of Hachijō-fuji which stands at 854m and is a composite volcano with an inner crater that has been dormant since its last eruption in 1707. The crater can be seen from a walking path around its rim which we reached from the fifth base where we parked our hired car. We ended up only walking round part of the rim (below) as it was so incredibly windy up there in stark contrast to the strong heat further down.

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Near the foot of the mountain we came across a small ranch called Fureai Farm (below) that offers some scenic views of the island. I can’t recall much else from here other than being surrounded by a load of cows amid all the mist whilst consuming some expensive ice-cream and milk coming directly (well more direct than the usual process anyway!) from the farm animals.

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I’m not usually one for hot spring baths in everyday life but on holiday its ok and so we did go to Uramigataki hot springs which is one of a handful of onsen‘s in the southern parts of the island. It was free, had nice views and was for both sexes meaning that bathing suits were required and, unlike in the western world, no soap or shampoo can be used. Shoes also had to be left at the top of the steps leading down to the pool. Uramigataki Falls is a nearby waterfall (below left) and offers further respite from the islands tropical humid atmosphere which is usually controlled at lower altitude by the cool winds blowing from the sea.

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A sushi restaurant, a secluded snorkelling area and Noboryotoge Lookout (above right) completed the second day before we got drunk after dinner and then met a Japanese guy who we went to the Anchor pub (not sure if it is still in operation) with which is owned by an Australian and Japanese couple and isn’t too far from  Sokodoko ferry landing. Not feeling so good the next morning we left the island, and its gentler, slower, old pace at 10.30am heading back to urban Tokyo!

Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire Episode 4: Japan

This four part series, which was recently repeated on BBC4 whilst I was back home, saw enthusiastic presenter Dr Iain Stewart travel around the Pacific Rim visiting some of the world’s most volatile places. The shows journeyed through the perilous landscapes of Indonesia, the geological booby-traps of California and the hostile peaks of the Andes before concluding in Japan which has had more than its fair share of volcanic disasters.

Geologist Stewart’s passion shined through and he explained and demonstrated everything with relative ease in the name of telling how the rocks beneath our feet have played a fundamental role in shaping human history in this country which has turned geological adversity to its advantage.

To be fair, I only really watched this as I wanted to take advantage of BBC iPlayer downloads to give me something half decent to watch back here in the land of awful dumbed down TV. I never realised at the time of watching that it was a repeat until the end where a feature on miniaturised electrical items seemed a bit dated and I was suspicious as to why the big earthquake of 2011 was never mentioned.

Unlike the usual documentaries on Japan, which tend to just focus on the weird and wonderful, this one was a bit more unique and showed how the country’s culture has been inescapably defined by the rocks. That is the everlasting message of this show and to be honest it did become a bit tenuous at times, particularly the latter part of this documentary where he focused on pachinko, haikyu poetry, walkman’s and miniaturised technology. Of course it was geology that played a starring role in these things.

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Around 75% of Japan is mountainous and with these area’s being less sympathetic to urban settlement it has forced its inhabitants into some of the most densely populated places on earth where space is scarce and every square centimetre is at a premium as the places are 20% smaller than in Western Europe.

I guess the one particular place which shows how overcrowded Tokyo is (due to the rocks remember!), is the morning commuter trains and naturally they feature here as indeed they did only a few days before (August 9th) on the Channel 5 documentary ‘World’s Busiest Train Station’ which showed the ridiculous nature of how pushers are used to cram people in like sardines.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the Nakagin Capsule Tower which actuallydoubled up as love hotel in ‘The Wolverine‘ (2013). Stewart visits an international lawyer who has been living in these 5 square metre rooms for 15 years with no kitchen and a fold out desk and bed to really optimise the rooms tiny amount of space.

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Rather than the perennial regular haunts like Tokyo and Kyoto, Stewart did at least travel the length of the country where he visited the U-shaped river valleys (formed by glacial sculpting) of Kamikochi which is a really wonderful part of central Honshu that I visited back in October 2005 during the Autumn leaves season. He also went to Kyushu and in particular to Mount Aso which is almost constantly active as the toxic gases bubble away down below and if it ever gets to the surface there’ll be one hell of a big bang.

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Further south is Mount Sakurajima; another perilous environment where the locals have to be ready for eruption at any moment. Furthermore, these hostile mountains have landslides, the soil is thin, stoney and unstable and heavy rains leech them of nutrients and its this kind of inhospitable terrain which has forced Japan’s 127 million people to live in huge urban sprawls.

So basically the rocks have caused overcrowding resulting in people craving personal space which led to the invention of the walkman (and its more recent incarnations) giving them their own personal cosmos. All this is in stark contrast to contemplating zen through meditation! The show, originally shown in 2006, concludes with how a big earthquake would not only affect Japan but the rest of the world who have invested here. Not even Stewart’s trip to a Tokyo earthquake prevention centre to experience a simulated quake could have prepared him or any of us for what happened two and a half years ago.