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Tuesday, May 13, 2003


Entering the Dragon Palace, English-language driving schools and craft experience

Dragon palace

Following on from news of the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, a reader asks why Meguro Gajoen's Dragon Palace is closed most of the year.

Meguro Gajoen is a jaw-dropping wedding hall complex dating from the heady days of the Bubble economy located close to Meguro Station. Even more astonishing is the Showa-period Dragon Palace, built as a Chinese restaurant, just up the hill, which provided the architects of Meguro Gajoen with some inspirational rich pickings.

It also provided animator Hayao Myazaki with ideas for his Oscar-winning animated film "Spirited Away." The Hyakudan Kaidan (Hundred-Step Stairway), for example, leads to six perfectly preserved dining rooms stuffed with art and ornately decorated, all dating from the early 1900s.

Dragon Palace was open for Gourmet Tours throughout Golden Week, and this reader was lucky enough to get a booking. Now she would love to take visitors there at other times of the year.

"There must be many many people who would love to see the interior, but without meals (designed no doubt to take advantage of Meguro Gajoen's range of restaurants) and the sting of a 6,000 yen charge."

Ms Watanabe on (03) 5434 3837 says that because tours were 100 per cent booked out, Meguro Gajoen is thinking of repeating them, possibly in the summer. Business being business, however, lunch buffets will be part of the tour package as before. Watch this space for further details.

Advice for drivers

With reference to the reader in Lifelines (April 25) seeking a cheap driving school with English-speaking instructors, Matt Banks of ReloJapan says that the Koyama Driving School in Tokyo has around 20 English-speaking instructors.

"The full course for those who are taking a license for the first time is very expensive, but for those people who simply wish to convert their valid foreign license, Toyama has a 'paper drivers' course that is designed to help them through the driving test."

As you may or may not know, the Japan Traffic Law changed in June of last year, preventing foreign residents from driving with International Driving Permits (IDPs) after one year following arrival in Japan. Most people typically renew their IDPs when going home for Christmas, but due to the recent law change, this is now illegal.

Matt says ReloJapan, which, as the name suggests, offers relocation services, has developed a new department devoted to informing the public of the changes in Japanese law and helping the foreign community achieve their Japanese license (not an easy process) so that they can once again drive their cars legally on Japanese streets.

"Over the last 6 months we have been developing our Japanese Drivers License Conversion division in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. Our services can save foreign citizens a lot of time and frustration and can save companies that employ foreigners a lot of missed work hours.

"We do this through a variety of services, including a comprehensive computer simulation of the Samezu driving test course and other courses in Japan."

Matt invites readers to browse the company's Web site: www.JapanDriversLicense.com

And there is more: "We can even offer a large discount at select driving schools," he says. Call (03) 5776 6605 should you have any questions.

Craft experience

Hannah is coming to Japan in the summer from Germany and plans to be based in Kansai. "Is there some place I can learn woodblock printing? I was given a Japanese print as a child by an aunt who lived in Osaka and have always been fascinated."

In this situation, I suggest Hannah first goes to the Kyoto Handicrafts Centre, where one-hour classes (costing just 1,500 yen) are given not only in woodblock printing, but also doll making and cloissone enamel work.

She can check out demonstrations of woodblock carving and printing by craftsmen on the third floor. Phone Uchida Art Co. Ltd, who organize these classes, on (075) 761-0345, or fax (075) 761-0349, to find out dates and times. Should she become seriously interested in pursuing the craft, then she needs contacts to effect an introduction to the next level of study.

The Kyoto Handicrafts Centre is at Heianjingu-kita, Marutamachi dori, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8323. Phone (075) 761-5080; fax (075) 761-9281, and e-mail khc@f8.dion.ne.jp. The Web site is at www.h2.dion.ne.jp/~khc

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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