Restaurant Review: Kyuzuryu Soba

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Today, soba noodles might stand in the shadow of the almighty ramen, but in eastern Japan, soba have been the major type of noodle for centuries.
Compared to udon which is more popular in western Japan, soba tends to be less internationally recognized, but for those that want to get a deeper taste of eastern Japan, slurping soba is an experience not to be missed. A great restaurant to do so in Tokyo, is Kyuzuryu Soba, a chic soba restaurant located in a narrow but picturesque alley of Kagurazaka.

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Whilst Kagurazaka might be one of Tokyo’s most Edo-ish areas today, the soba and other dishes served at Kyuzuryu Soba, are specialties of Fukui prefecture.
Located east from Kyoto, and lying along the Japan Sea, Fukui’s cuisine is especially known for fresh seafood, and of course, soba!

Kyuzuryu Soba has two branches in Kagurazaka, its main branch, and “Hanare” or annex branch. I would like to recommend Hanare for its fancy cottage style architecture and homey atmosphere.

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The soba here are best eaten chilled, as it allows you to enjoy the chewiness and savor the newly-harvested buckwheat, or shin-soba. You notice how Kyuzuryu Soba is particular about using fresh and additive-free ingredients just by looking at the wasabi!

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Zaru Soba 800 Yen


To do as the Fukuians do, order Echizen Oroshi Soba, which comes together with grated daikon raddish and a chilled soy broth soup.

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Echizen Oroshi Soba 800 Yen

Crispy tempura of season vegetables make for a great side-dish together with the soba, and full-course Fukui cuisine is available as well. Also, don’t forget to enjoy these delicacies together with Fukui sake not easily found in Tokyo to make your dining experience as Fukui as possible!

Noodle chewiness rate: ★★★★★

Freshness of ingredients:★★★★★

Restaurant information:

Name: Kyuzuryu Soba Hanare

Price range: 1,000 yen – 5,000 yen

Location: Kagurazaka 5-1-2 Kagurazaka TN Hills B1, Shinjuku

Access: A 3-min walk from Ushigome Kagurazaka Station (Oedo Line)

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (4): Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

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The Oirase Stream trail, which runs for 14km from Nenokuchi at Lake Towada, is a surreal setting of endless gushing and gurgling streams that course over moss-covered boulders, through an emerald green forest of ferns, Japanese beech and oaks. This scenery is particularly gorgeous, no pun intended, at the Oirase Gorge.

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The boardwalk along the stream is named Bakufu Kaido, or “Waterfall Road”, aptly so for the many waterfalls roaring along this route. Popular scenic spots include the Choshi Otaki Waterfall, Ashuranonagare and Kumoinotaki Waterfall.

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It’s also a good excuse to try the new “long-nosed” Hayabusa Shinkansen which connects Tokyo to Shin-Aomori in a mere 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe Station, and a bus to the Towada Lake Area

Last Cool Trek: Fukiware no Taki in Gunma Prefecture

 

Your last chance to pay homage to the Tsukiji Fish Market!

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A holy ground for sushi lovers

Without a doubt, Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest and most famous fish market on the planet.
Paying a visit is like a holy pilgrimage that sushi lovers all over the world dream about.
If you want to make that dream come true, it is time to hurry up! The Tsukiji Fish Market is due to move to a different location in 2016. Yes, you hear that right, this Tokyo landmark that has been around for nearly a century is in its last year of existence.
Before it’s too late, WAttention introduces you the best way to experience your first and probably last visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

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Point 1:  Arrive early!

As the fresh seafood comes in during the early morning after being hauled by fishermen the night before, waking up early is a must if you want to fully experience the market. Shops for visitors will be open until 1 pm, but the actual market is pretty much finished after 9 am, and the famous tuna auction starts at 5 am. Only the first 120 visitors can observe this auction, so if you want to secure your tuna auction observation, arriving at least 30 minutes before is recommended.

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The auction hall will be full of gigantic tunas caught the night before. Nothing here is mechanized nor computerized – auctioneers shout the prices with hoarse voices as if they are singing while lightly bending and stretching their knees to the rhythm. The auctioneer is reading out the price of the tuna, but uses special terms even most Japanese won’t understand.
The bigger tuna weigh around 220 kilograms, and millions of yen are put on the table for them. The scary thing is that even tuna experts cannot be sure of the fish’s quality before it is cut open, which can only be done once the fish is purchased. There sure is a lot at stake at this auction!

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Point 2: How to walk around

One should first understand that the Tsukiji Fish market consists out of the outer part and the inner part. The outer part is open for tourists, and many small restaurants and shops can be enjoyed at ease here.

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The inner market is where the real business is happening, with motorized trolleys driving around through the busy, narrow paths with stalls that have any fish you can imagine. The inner market is not open for window-shopping, and you will be told that it is forbidden for tourists. However, this is not entirely true. You are allowed to enter as long as you are buying something, so if you say “kaimono” (I’m here to buy), the guards will let you in.

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Point 3: Don’t forget to have breakfast

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As mentioned before, the outer market has lots of restaurants and shops to satisfy your seafood appetite, but true sushi addicts will most appreciate Sushi Dai, a popular sushi shop located in the inner market. Expect to queue even in the early morning, but once you get in, you will soon realize that you have made it to sushi heaven! We recommend the “Trust the chef” menu available for 3,900 yen, which consist out of the freshest fish of the day selected by the chef. The sushi will be put straight on the counter piece by piece.

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Point 4: Do research before going

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First, check the Tsukiji Fish Market calendar to see if the market is open on the day you plan to visit. The market is closed on Sundays and usually (but not always) on Wednesdays.
Be sure to wear the right shoes, as flip flops and high heels are not allowed.
Also keep in mind that you might have to wait for a pretty long time (before the tuna auction starts and in case you decide to queue at Sushi Dai) so wear something warm during winter, and take a book or charge your smartphone to 100% to prepare for time killing.

Point 5: Last but not least, be polite and obey the rules

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The most important thing when visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market, is to be polite and obey the rules. People here are at work, and are not benefiting from your visit. Therefore, it is important that you don’t interrupt or disturb their business. Flash photography is prohibited, especially when observing the tuna auction as the auctioneers might not be able to catch some of the bids because of it.
When walking the inner market, give way to the motorized trolleys as they are given priority. If you stand in their way, expect to be pushed aside without any precautions.

That being said, as long as you are polite and respect the rules, the people at the Tsukiji Fish Market will treat you friendly, especially if you buy a fish or two!
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Photo Credit: Paul Tsunobiladzé, Atsuhiro Suenaga, WAttention

Picturesque Japan: The Great Seto Bridge

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Breathtaking beauty at the world’s longest two-tier bridge

With its lofty white steel towers and gentle curves spanning across five islands, the Great Seto Bridge combines Japan’s natural seaside elegance and technological eminence. Stretching 13.1 kilometers across the Seto Inland Sea between Kojima in Okayama Prefecture and Sakaide in Kagawa Prefecture, this amazing architectural feat is the world’s longest two-tier bridge. 

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The Shimotsui-Seto portion of the bridge

Completed in 1988 after 10 years of construction, what distinguishes this masterpiece from other bridges is its employment of three forms of structural technology–suspension, cable-stayed and truss bridge. Such variety is reflected in the bridge segments, to bearing three unique designs, making a full tour across this seaside landmark well worth your time.

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The Kita and Minami Bisan-Seto portions of the bridge

There’s no better way to enjoy viewing this structural marvel and its surrounding scenery than by taking a trip across it. Delight in the fresh seaside breeze by taking a refreshing 20-min daytime drive across its span (tolls starting at 3,300 yen), or hop on the JR Seto-ohashi train line (510 yen) that runs on the lower level of the bridge–the only railway line connecting Honshu and Shikoku islands.

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For a view that doesn’t require crossing the bridge, take a longer one-hour leisurely cruise along the pleasure boats departing from the Kojima Sightseeing Port. Or for an observation point from land, get your camera ready for some panoramic views at the Seto Ohashi Commemorative Park, which even has a Bridge Theater, taking you on a virtual flight over this bridge!

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Yet, whether by train, car, land or sea, be sure to stick around until sunset, as this bridge illuminates the darkening sky, paving a glowing path across the sea. For picturesque beauty featuring both natural and manmade wonders, the Great Seto Bridge is sure to take your breath away.

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: Engetsu Island

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Access: From Tokyo, take Shinkansen to Okayama Station, change to the local JR Seto-ohashi Line to Kojima Station. To get to the bridge, take a Shimoden bus from Kojima Station headed for Sakaide Station, and get off at Seto-ohashi FW (Fishing Wharf).  To cross the bridge via train take the JR Seto-ohashi Line from Kojima headed for Takamatsu Station in Kagawa Prefecture.

Seto Ohashi Commemorative Park
Hours: 9am-5pm (Last entrance 4:30pm)
Entrance/Theater Fee: None
Address: 6-13 Bannosumidoricho, Sakaide, Kagawa
Access: From JR Sakaide Station, take the Sakaide-shiei Bus to the Seto Ohashi Commemorative Park.

Editor’s Pick: One Piece’s theme park in the heart of Tokyo

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The Straw Hat Crew Takes Over Tokyo Tower!

Experience an exhilarating adventure with Luffy and the Straw Hat Crew at the Tokyo One Piece Tower, located at the base of Tokyo Tower. Spanning three floors and offering live entertainment and attractions, this theme park is a must see for all One Piece fans, and a great intro for first-timers.

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Lovers of this manga series, which recently set the Guinness World Record for comic series with the most copies published, will be in awe of the original art, life-size models, and animation videos created exclusively for this park. Upon entering on the third floor, you are immediately greeted with large poster-size versions of famous scenes from the manga, which come to life with voices crying out, appearing colors and flashing lights!

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For even more interactive fun, head up to the 4th floor where you’ll find eight different attractions, each one themed off a different member of the Straw Hat Pirate Crew. Swing a samurai sword like Zoro, or get spooked at Brook’s Horror House, a walk-through attraction that will have you on your toes from start to finish.

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Practice your samurai skills at Zoro’s Soul of Edge!

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Of course, if there’s one must-see attraction, it’s the “ONE PIECE LIVE ATTRACTION” live action show on the top (5th floor). Behold the full One Piece cast dressed to part, and cheer them on as they explore the mystery of Tongari. This projection mapping show will make you feel like the manga characters have truly come to life before your eyes!

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Before finishing your adventure, find all your One Piece apparel and accessories at the Mugiwara Store, many of which are only available here.

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From the enthusiastic cast members who greet you on each floor, to the dazzling artwork and detailed design of each exhibit, this 3-floor theme park right in the heart of Tokyo will truly take you on a journey to the New World!

Tokyo One Piece Tower
Admission Fee: 3,200 yen (adults), 1,600 yen (children). Tickets can be purchased in advance at your nearest 7-Eleven, or upon arrival at Tokyo Tower.
Hours: 10:00-22:00
Address: Tokyo Tower Foot Town, 4-2-8 Shiba-koen, Minato
URL: http://onepiecetower.tokyo/en

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(C)Amusequest Tokyo Tower LLP
(C)尾田栄一郎/集英社・フジテレビ・東映アニメーション

The Japan Subculture Cheat Sheet

From Atom Boy to Akihabara – everything you need to know about Subculture in Japan

 

It’s not too far off to say that every Japanese grows up on a diet of anime and manga, differing in just a matter of degree – and whether one grows out of it. Indeed, it would be hard to find any Japanese who has not heard of Doraemon, One Piece or Studio Ghibli. With such anime as a common reference for society here, why is it still called a “sub” culture, and how did cutesy characters, spaceships and Godzilla get so mainstream? WAttention spoke with up-and-coming Japanese pop culture critique Uno Tsunehiro, for a brief history of subculture in Japan.

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Godzilla and Post-War Catharsis

Godzilla, the giant radiation-breathing reptile, rampaged onto the scene prior to anime in the early 1950s. It comes under the genre of a special effects production and was a reflection of post-war Japan in its Cold War tensions and atomic age anxieties. “Since direct reference to the war was taboo, Godzilla served to do that,” said Uno, who’s also chief editor of a current affairs magazine “Planets”.

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From Manga to “TV Manga” 

At around the same time, the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka started “story manga”, or manga with richer story lines and character development, making manga not just entertainment for children but across all ages as well. In 1966, Tezuka created the first animated TV series of his monthly manga, “Astro Boy” or “Tetsuwon Atom”. Uno says anime was then referred to as “TV Manga”, and due to high production costs, animation was limited to use of still frames and emphasis was placed on the plot instead. “Astro Boy” dealt with very poignant issues, such as death, loss and acceptance – the anime is about a flying robot created to replace the son of a scientist, who died in a car accident, and his adventures and relationships in the human world.

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Manga’s popularity gained speed and by the 70’s, manga appeared not just in monthly magazines, but took the form of weekly manga magazine instead.

 Anime and Akihabara Boom

According to Uno, Tetsuwan Atom was the first anime boom, followed by Space Battleship Yamato in the 70’s and Mobile Suit Gundam in the 80’s, and Evangelion in the 90’s. In a natural evolution, manga progressed from the page to the screen and into real life via merchandising. All sorts of posters, toys and trinkets are made to allow fans to identify themselves by the manga or anime that they identify with. Plastic models of Battleship Yamato and Gundam characters are still coveted by otakus today in Akihabara. The word “otaku” (literally, “homebody” but referring to hard core fans of anime/subculture) was coined in the 1980s – in a derogatory manner. But now, otakus declare their existence with pride, with female otakus arguing that the term isn’t gender specific.

With the advent of the internet in the late 1990s, Japanese anime exploded to worldwide popularity, and so did Akihabara, the mecca for anime and manga fans. “2005 to 2006 can be said to be when the Akihabara Boom started,” said Uno.

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No Longer a “Sub” culture?

So why are anime and manga are still referred to as a subculture, rather than being part of Japan’s culture?

“For the older generation, anime and manga will be deemed to be a subculture. But gradually, there will be nothing to stop anime and manga from being accepted as a main culture. And then, anime and manga won’t be so ‘cool’ anymore,” said Uno.

Ok, So What’s Next?

Live Idols is where the next Subculture boom lies, Uno predicts. The Live Idols concept started gained popularity from the year 2000, with the original 48-member idol girl group AKB 48 making its debut in 2005. Unlike mainstream TV idols, these Live Idols perform at a regular venue, gaining a local fan base. The concept behind Live Idols is “idols you can meet” – indeed, handshake sessions are a key part of a Live Idol’s existence, and their handshake count would put most politicians to shame. CD releases come with lottery tickets for a chance to attend a “handshake event” to meet members.

So, after quick rundown on the evolution of Japanese subculture, are you ready to unleash you inner otaku yet?

Cheap Dining At Tokyo’s College Cafeterias

A university lecture on how to eat

Eating like the locals is a precious experience for anyone traveling to Japan, but if you don’t know how to and where, there’s a pretty big chance you end up only eating the dishes you already know, like sushi, sashimi, tempura and sukiyaki.

A great and cheap way to dig a bit deeper into modern Japanese cuisine, is to visit a university cafeteria, as quite a lot of them are open to the public. Here you can find a range of food, from udon to ramen, and “stamina” rice sets in the range of 500 yen. 

The WAttention staff sneaked into (just joking, this one is open to the public as well) the Aoyama Gakuin University’s cafeteria, to give you an introduction on how to order your meal at Tokyo’s university cafeterias.

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All set? We’re going in, so let the lecture begin!

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As you can see, Aoyama Gakuin University’s cafeteria is quite modern, with screens displaying the dishes of the day!

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After choosing your dish from the screen, you purchase a lunch voucher from the ticket-vending machine. If you can’t read Japanese, just compare the characters with those displayed on the screen.

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Next, you stand in line and put your ticket on the counter. Here, it’s important you stand at the right counter to avoid queuing for nothing. There’s usually a counter for noodles, one for rice bowl dishes, and one for set meals.

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After receiving your meal on a tray, you walk over to a corner where you can put dressing on your salad, pepper on your ramen, and most importantly, pour in free tea or water.

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OK, you have made it this far, but its still too early to feel at ease, as the last and most difficult part is yet to come. With your meal and a cup of tea or water balancing on the tray in your hands, you have to somehow find an empty seat while dodging incoming students on your way that are trying to do the same thing.
Especially during the busy hours, this can be quite difficult, but as long as you stay persistent you will succeed for sure. Just make sure you don’t end up throwing over your tray, because that would mean starting the whole process over from scratch!

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Once you have safely found a free table, it’s finally time to enjoy your student meal! “Itadakimasu!”

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From left to right: Soy Ramen, Fried cutlets curry, Aoyama Monogatari (Aoyama’s dish of the day)

Here follows a list of school cafeterias in Tokyo that are open to the public.

  1. Aoyama Gakuin University Aoyama Campus
  2. Toyo University Hakusan Campus
  3. Kogaku-in University Shibuya Campus
  4. Hosei University Ichigaya Campus
  5. Taisho University Sugamo Campus
  6. Tokyo University Komaba Campus
  7. Rikkyo University Ikebukuro Campus
  8. Meiji University Surugadai Campus
  9. Musashino University Ariake Campus
  10. Tokyo University of Agriculture Setagaya Campus
  11. Chuo University Tama Campus

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (3): Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

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This sprawling marshland at 760 hectares is well-loved for its charming wooden boardwalk paths through seemingly endless carpets of flora and fauna. The ‘mizubasho,’ or Japanese skunk cabbage, and ‘nikko-kisuge’ (yellow alpine lily) are the signature blossoms here, though there is no lack of other rare mountain foilage at this strictly protected national park.

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Visitors even have to brush their boots against a special carpet before entering to prevent the introduction of non-native plants to this almost pristine park. At some 1,700m above sea level, it’s also Japan’s highest moor. Oze is made up of the Ozegahara moor, Ozenuma lake and surrounding mountains.

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Trekkers are in close proximity here as there is just one path, with one lane for each direction. Nevertheless, as can be expected of Japan, trekkers are thoughtful and there is often what seems to be a greeting competition to see who can “Konnichiwa” the oncoming trekker first.

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The climb to the wooden path involves descending a few flights of steps, which makes this slightly more challenging amongst the treks mentioned. But come here once, and you’ll be back for moor, so to speak.

Access: From Tokyo Station take a JR train to Numata Station, change to an express bus to Oshimizu station.

Next cool trek: Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

 

Aomori’s ancient festival of floats

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Larger than life lanterns at the Aomori Nebuta Festival

Ready to celebrate Japan’s ancient traditions at a matsuri of massive proportions? Grab your geta, and head up to the Aomori Nebuta Festival on Aug. 1-7, one of the most colorful and lively festivals in Japan.

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One of Japan’s Big Three Fire Festivals, this 6-day festival in Aomori city, located along the northern tip of Honshu, attracts over 3 million visitors per year – nearly 10 times the population of the city itself! Above all, locals and tourists flock here to gaze upon the enormous lantern floats (nebuta), decorated as historical and mythical characters.

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Towering as high as 5 meters and weighing up to 4 tons, locals prepare year-round to construct these intricate floats out of traditional washi paper and wire. According to tradition, this festival began by placing lanterns as offerings on the water as a purification rite, but over time the scale of these lanterns grew to their current magnitude. While originally lit by candlelight, hundreds of lightbulbs are now weaved throughout to brilliantly illuminate these multistory lanterns.

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But these visually impressive floats are just half the festival fun. Each night, over 20 of these nebuta parade along to the equally colorful haneto dancers. Draped in vibrant red and yellow sashes, these haneto are known particularly for their loud shouting and wild dancing. With up to 2,000 of them surrounding a single float, moving merrily to the beat of the taiko and tunes of the fue (traditional Japanese flute), they help create one of the liveliest festival parades in all of Japan.

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And the best part is, unlike other parades where you are limited to viewing from the sidelines, here you can actually join in the parade action yourself by renting a haneto costume (about 4,000 yen)! Regardless of experience, anyone with a haneto costume can fall in step to the enthusiastic dancing, and join the throng of thousands shouting at the top of their lungs, “Rassera! Rassera!”

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On the final evening, be sure to catch the boat parade, where the selected prize-winning nebuta are set out to sail on boats down the Aomori Bay. With 11,000 fireworks bursting above, and these gorgeous lanterns lighting up Aomori Bay below, it’s the perfect evening entertainment to say farewell to this summer festival.

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Aomori Nebuta Festival
Time: Aug. 1 Festival Eve 6pm-9pm; Aug 2-6 Nighttime parade 7:10pm-9pm; Aug. 7 Daytime parade 1pm-3pm, Boat parade and fireworks display 7:15pm-9pm
Access: JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station via Tohoku Shinkansen, Shin-Aomori Station to Aomori Station via Ouu Line.
URL: Official Site

Osaka’s Over-The-Top Billboards

From Deep Sea Creatures to Cheese Puff s’ Uncle Karl

In Osaka, people are loud and things tend to get larger than life – especially their billboards.

These flamboyant and extravagant advertisements show how Osaka has always been a city of tradesmen that know no bounds when it comes to selling a product. It also seems as if it reflects the in-your-face, casual and tongue-in-cheek Osakans we know today.

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The Glico billboard (Dotonbori)

Glico’s marathon runner has been iconic to Osaka ever since 1935. Over the last 80 years, the board was renewed many times. Right now we are looking at the 6th generation of Glico’s marathon runners.
Glico is a candy and snack manufacturer based in Osaka, with long-time best sellers as Pocky, Pretz and Caplico.

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Kani Doraku (Dotonbori)

At Kani Doraku, you will know what to expect even if you can’t read any Japanese.
Although this restaurant chain might have branches throughout the country, it’s main branch in Dotonbori is so famous it would be hard to find a Japanese person that has never heard of it.

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The Konamon Museum (Dotonbori)

Established in 2011, the Konamon Museum is relatively new, but its huge octopus (“tako” in Japanese) seems to feel quite at home here in Dotonbori already. At Konamon Museum, you can eat, make and learn about Osaka’s most famous street-food, the Takoyaki.

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Gansozushi Dotonbori Branch (Shinsekai)

Tokyo-based sushi chain Gansozushi decided to do as the Romans do for its Dotonbori branch!

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Yokozuna (Shinsekai)

Yokozuna in the Shinsekai district is not a sumo stadium, but if you want to eat like a sumo wrestler, you won’t be disappointed. Yokozuna serves chanko nabe (sumo style hot pot) and kushi-katsu, which are fried skewers that originate from Osaka. Yokozuna’s kushi-katsu skewers are three times the size of an average skewer!

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Tsuboraya (Shinsekai)

Long-established restaurant Tsuboraya makes sure you know where to try out arguably Japan’s most notorious delicacy, fugu.
In the backdrop, you will see the famous Tsutenkaku Tower. Literally translated as “tower reaching heaven”, Tsutenkaku was Asia’s second tallest structure when it was originally constructed in 1912. With a mere 100 meters, Tsutenkaku might not be something to shout about today, but it has not lost its charm.

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Uncle Karl (Dotonbori)

Uncle Karl has been the mascot character of Karl Cheese Puffs since 1982, and apparently Osaka is still crazy about him! This flamboyant billboard was created to celebrate Uncle Karl’s 30th year as a mascot in 2012.

Thought that was all? Think again! We haven’t even introduced “Kuidaore Taro” yet, a clown-drummer that has been a landmark in Osaka for over 60 years, and than there are tons of other crazy advertisements including a giant plate of gyoza, a ramen dragon, an angry kushi-katsu master and more, but we don’t want to spoil everything for you before your visit!

Access: 

Dotonbori: A 5 min walk from Nanba station (JR Yamatoji Line, Nankai Main Line, Koya Line, Midosuji Line, Sennichimae Line, Yotsubashi Line, Kintetsu Namba Line, Hanshin Namba Line)

Shinsekai: A 5 min walk from Shin-Imamiya Station (JR Loop Line) or Dobutsuen-mae Station (Midosuji Line, Sakaisuji Line)

 

A Taste of Sh旬n: Much Ado About Mochi

Cooled Mitarashi Dango

Recently, a major convenience store chain in Japan came up with a summer version of dango (mochi, or rice cakes, usually on a stick) meant to be eaten cooled. Presumably this is to make the sticky rice ball palatable even on hot and humid days when one’s appetite for heavy or sticky foods like mochi is somewhat suppressed.

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Summer food or not, the humble mochi, or rice cake, is integral to Japanese culture. Freshly-pound mochi is made on special occasions such as New Year’s Day and on festivals.

But there is one place in Japan where freshly-pound mochi continues to prevail in daily meals, and where convenient store mochis or microwave mochis are probably frowned upon – Ichinoseki City in Iwate Prefecture.

Here, mochi is eaten as a complete meal, not as a teatime or road stall snack. This traditional mochi meal is called the Mochi Honzen, and consists of bite-sized mochi in nine guises – covered in grated radish (a palate cleanser), drenched in red bean sauce, smothered in edamame paste, buried under walnut cream, undetectable via black sesame sauce, stuck with natto, another kind of sesame paste, rolled in grated ginger and finally, piled with prawns. To wash this down, there is mochi soup. They taste better then they sound, trust me.

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A complete mochi meal – too mochi to handle?

In Japan, mochi is eaten on major milestones of one’s life – weddings, funerals, festivals and such. Traditionally, there is even a mochi calendar when mochi making is mandated.

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A mochi calendar

As an ending note, people in Ichinoseki love their mochi so much that even a gaping gorge (the Genbikei) won’t get in the way of mochi delivery from the shop across!

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About Sh旬n:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day.

Picturesque Japan: Feel the suspense in the air with this bridge walk

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Like a crossing out of an Indiana Jones movie, this primitive bridge made out of vines can be found hanging over a roaring river in the Iya region of Tokushima Prefecture, and is a popular summer trek for adventurous nature lovers.

The Iya no Kazura Bashi was built by samurai who escaped into this area over 800 years ago with the intent of it being easily cut to prevent pursuers from crossing. It is now designated as a national important tangible cultural asset – and you’ll be relieved to know the 45 meters long and 2 meters wide bridge is completely replaced every three years to ensure its sturdiness.

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That said, it will still take some courage to cross this bridge when you reach it as each step is shaky and rocky. Look down, and you can see the river coursing through some 15-m below!

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Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Great Seto Bridge

Spot information

Name: Iya-no-Kazura Bashi
Address: 162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima Prefecture
Access: Fly into Tokushima, then take the Shikoku Kotsu Bus from JR Oboke Stn, bound for either Kazura Bashi or Kubo, get off at Kazura Bashi Bus stop and walk 5 minutes to Iya-no-Kazura Bashi.

A Lavender lover’s wonderland

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Fragrant fields in the heart of Hokkaido

For the scents, sights, and even tastes of this beloved purple flower, escape the summer heat and head to Hokkaido’s Farm Tomita.

Two hours by train from Sapporo by the rustic Furano valley in central Hokkaido, you’ll find ten different flower gardens and fields here. Dating back over a hundred years to the Meiji Era as one of the original lavender cultivators in Japan, this farm helped put the Furano area on the map as a popular flower viewing site.   

Amongst the ten gardens and fields, the rainbow-like Irodori Field is the most eye-catching with its colorful seven-flower array. 

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The vivid contrast of lavenders, white baby’s breath, red poppies, pink garden catchflies and orange California poppies form a rainbow of flowers that flow along these rolling hills. Blooming only throughout July, with peak season towards the end of the month, you’ll definitely want to visit before these flowers fade!  

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Or for a sight of one of the oldest lavender fields of Japan, walk over to the Traditional Lavender Garden, where Tomita Farm first started. Photos from this field on Japan Railways’ photo calendar helped launch Hokkaido’s lavender farms into nationwide fame back in the 1970s.

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With the Furano valley and Tokachi Mountains in the distance, the sight of lavenders swaying in the wind along these sloping hills make for quite the panoramic view. But plan ahead, for lavender season only lasts from late June to early August, with peak season from early to mid-July.

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Fortunately however, even should you arrive before or after peak lavender season, these fields are filled with a wide variety of other flowers that bloom from spring through autumn. From Iceland poppies to bright marigolds and red roses, these flowers create a colorful carpet across the rural farm landscape.

Autumn Field

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Beyond flower gazing and photo taking, you can also delight in every possible lavender experience at Tomita’s 11 lavender-themed stores, eateries, galleries and workshops. See how Tomita Farm produces their lavender oils, soaps, and award winning perfume at the Distillery and Perfume Workshops, or even create your own lavender scented bookmark to take back home.   

Then to cool off, try their popular lavender flavored soft serve ice cream, or their original “Lamune” drink – a lavender version of the Japanese Ramune soda, only available here!

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Whether admiring its beauty, smelling its fragrance, or tasting its subtle flavor, this lavender wonderland has it all!

Read also: 3 Lovely Lavender Spots Around Tokyo

Farm Tomita
Access: A 7-min. walk from Lavender Farm Station (JR Furano Line)
Address: Kisen Kita 15, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido
Tel: 0167-39-3939
Hours: 8:30am – 6pm (vary based on the season and weather)

Hiraizumi: Representing Heaven on Earth

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Hiraizumi, created as a Buddhist heaven on earth over 1,000 years ago, celebrates its third year as a World Heritage site this June. Its temples, gardens and buildings were recognized as a rare example of a cultural legacy that is deeply permeated with a universal longing for peace – but its roots lie in a land ravaged by war.

The UNESCO recognition also came at a poignant time for Iwate Prefecture, which was hard hit by the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, where thousands of lives were lost. This is the first such UNESCO site in the Tohoku area and the 16th in Japan.

Hiraizumi was founded by the Oshu Fujiwara clan in a bid to fulfill their longing for permanent peace and the achievement of the ideal Buddhist territory.

The dramatic rise and fall of the city – once said to rival Kyoto – within a 100 years inspired the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho to compose several now classic haikus after he visited the remains of Hiraizumi town.

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Famous haiku master, Matsuo Basho , on visiting the ruins of Hiraizumi, penned: Ah! Summer grass! All that remains/Of the warriors’ dreams.

So, just what does this heaven on earth comprise of? It consist of five designated sites, the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) within Chusonji Temple, Motsuji Temple, the remains of Kanjizaiō-in and Muryoko-in and Mt. Kinkeisan. Here, we will introduce Chusonji and Motsuji, and Mt. Kinkeisan.

Chusonji Temple

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This is the cornerstone of the UNESCO designated sites. A climb up the Tsukimi-zaka Slope lined with 300- to 400-year-old cedar trees will bring you to the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) portion of Chusonji Temple. This is the only temple remaining from the 12th century and was built by the founder of Hiraizumi, Fujiwara no Kiyohira to memorialize all living things that died in Tohoku during the power struggle from which he emerged victorious from.

The gold-gilded Konjiki-do within the temple was built as a mausoleum and contains the mummies of four generations of the founding Fujiwara clan.

Motsuji Temple

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The main attraction here is the picture perfect and expansive Jodo garden which has stood for some 800 years. The Buddhist philosophy of Jodo states that it is “expansive without end and everything there is beautiful”. The garden here was created to depict the scenery described in the sutra using the Heian era garden landscaping technique. The center piece here is the Oizumi ga Ike, a pond measuring 180m in the east-west direction.

Mt. Kinkeisan

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This 98.6m high mount located between Chosonji and Motsuji is said to have a golden chicken and rooster, after which it is named, buried at its peak as protectors of the city. When the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho visited Hiraizumi, he sadly remarked that only Mt. Kinkeisan retains its formed after the surrounding temples and buildings were razed to the ground.

Access: Take JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Ichinoseki Station (2 hr. 33 min.)

Cafe Crawl: Kotori Cafe

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Tweet along with Kotori Café’s adorable staff

How about some chitchatting with cute birds at Kotori Café (literally meaning Small birds Café) in Omotesando? This café is a parrot’s answer (or is it just mimicking?) to the recently popular cat cafés. Kotori Café’s greatest aspect is truly its staff, and by that, I mean the birds. Charming parakeets, canaries and parrots come in a wide array of colors and sorts, one just as cute as the other.

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They won’t sit next to you when you have your coffee, but you can look at them from close by through a window.

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But no need to be disappointed. For hugging and petting, there’s always the “Mofumofu Room” (mofumofu being a mimetic word for the soft skin of animals) attached to the café, where you can enjoy some interaction with these affectionate birds. Do note that this service is only available from 11 am to 5 pm.

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Kotori Café’s homemade sweets are just as cute and colorful as the birds, which is no wonder, as they are cake portraits of the café’s charming staff, and the degree of perfection is really impressive! Enjoy a cake set for 1,500 yen that comes with a drink and savor your cake while comparing it to the adorable birds!

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Spot information

Name: Kotori Cafe
Price range: 1,000 – 1,500 yen
Location: Aoyama 6-3-7, Minato, Tokyo
Access: A 5-min walk from Omotesando Station (Chiyoda Line, Hanzomon Line, Ginza Line)
URL: http://kotoricafe.jp/ (Japanese)

À la Kagurazaka



Tokyo’s classy hill

Tokyo boasts an almost uncountable amount of shopping and dining districts. Kagurazaka is not only one of the most authentic and chic, but also definitely the most French district. 
Two French schools are located in the neighborhood, and so the area has a significant French population, and you will find many fancy French brasseries next to the long established Japanese restaurants with traditional facades. This fusion display differentiates Kagurazaka from Tokyo’s many other districts.

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Whilst located in the middle of Tokyo, Kagurazaka is blessed by a cozy and laid-back atmosphere with leafy trees lined up along the main street. Regardless from the time of the day, the district is ideal for shopping, dining, or just to take a stroll.

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By venturing into the narrow side alleys, you can discover a more authentic Kagurazaka. You might even stumble upon geisha houses that take you back to an older Tokyo, …with probably a French brasserie next to them!

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As one of Tokyo’s more old-fashioned districts, the noodle to slurp in Kagurazaka is not ramen nor udon. Soba is the specialty here, and you will pass a wide array of long established soba restaurants as you stroll.

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Restaurant Review: Hiroki Okonomiyaki

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Street-style food in the town of street-style fashion

Though Shimokitazawa is known by many for its street-style fashion, hidden amongst its used-clothes stores and small theater halls is some authentic Hiroshima street-style food at okonomiyaki eatery Hiroki.

P1020359Just a 3-min walk from the station’s south exit, this hole-in-the-wall can be easily overlooked, if not for the lines that form outside at peak lunch and dinner time. But don’t let its humble storefront signage and narrow sliding wooden door entrance deceive you. This tiny restaurant has been serving up some of the best Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki in town for 30 years.

Unlike Osaka-style okonomiyaki (literally, “the things you like, grilled”), Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is made by layering the ingredients, rather than mixing them, plus there is a base of noodles. Starting with a much thinner crepe-like pancake, the chef then grills a generous heaping of thinly sliced crisp cabbage, along with your choice of springy noodles (udon or yakisoba). After stacking up the ingredients over a fried egg, the sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce is brushed lavishly over the top and sides, followed by fine chopped green onions and ginger sprinkled on top.

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The squid, shrimp, scallop and shiso okonomiyaki (1,350 yen)

However, most impressive about Hiroki’s okonomiyakis are what come next: their toppings. Most famous is their squid, shrimp, scallop and shiso okonomiyaki. Carefully selected and imported from the Hiroshima area, these plump and juicy shellfish are so huge that they could be a dish in of themselves. For a hearty and filling street-style meal, this dish won’t disappoint in taste or quantity. Your only problem will be keeping these giant toppings from falling off!

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The oyster okonomiyaki (1,300 yen)

Also, between October and March, you won’t want to miss the seasonal oyster okonomiyaki. Also imported fresh from Hiroshima, the nation’s leading oyster provider with over 450 years of farming history, these rich and flavorful oysters are piled on liberally, combining two Hiroshima favorites in one dish.

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While limited table seating is also available, we recommend grabbing a seat at the counter to watch the chef grill your masterpiece before your very eyes. From the sound of sizzling yakisoba, to the sight of the okonomiyaki sauce caramelizing on the hot teppan, you’ll be in for a full sensory experience.

But with seating only for 16 in this slightly compact, yet cozy joint, be sure to arrive early, as fans of this street-style food will literally line the street to get a taste of Hiroshima soul food here.

Street-style satisfaction: ★★★★★

If you don’t want to leave smelling like okonomiyaki: ★☆☆☆☆

HIROKI
Address: 2-14-14 Honey Shimokitazawa 1F, Kitazawa, Setagaya
Tel: 03-3412-3908
Hours: 12:00-22:00 (Last Order)

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol.02: Love Live! Charms

[WAttention X FIELDS Research Institute]
Explore the fascinating world of Japan’s subcultures with insights from the insideposter

Answering Anime Fans’ Prayers–Love Live! fans pay pilgrimage to the Kanda Myojin.

All the stars were aligned for fans of the Love Live! anime during this year’s Kanda Festival held from May 9-10. For the first time, they got to pay pilgrimage officially at the Kanda Myojin, which appears frequently in the anime as a backdrop, and buy limited-edition official good luck charms and prayer tablets from the shrine featuring the anime’s characters. This collaboration between the Shinto shrine and hit anime is a sign of the growing influence of subculture – even into the sacred space of shrines and one of Japan’s biggest festivals!

The Kanda Myojin Shrine
The Kanda Myojin Shrine

Love Live! charms

Love Live! is about a group of nine schoolgirls who decide to form a school idol group to raise the profile of their school which is on the verge of closing down due to low enrollment. Combining the concept of live idols with anime, this series hit the right note with the audience and since its magazine debut in 2010, has sold music CDs, games, become a TV series, and will even release its first movie this June. And you know you’ve arrived when you find your image endorsing the official good luck ema prayer tablets or protective charms of a historical shrine like Kanda Myojin.

Prayer tablet featuring the Love Live! members
Prayer tablet featuring the Love Live! members

Kanda hard to imagine?

Unlike Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines – which are indigenously Japanese – are more open to such collaborations and adapt to the times. Previous collaborations include a “Kanda Myojin Day” at the Tokyo Dome with the baseball team Tokyo Giants. This is reflective of the Shinto philosophy where the religion is action-oriented and focuses on ritual practices to connect present-day Japan to its ancient past. And how can present day Japan not give any recognition to its booming subculture of anime? Moreover, the Kanda Myojin is just a stone’s throw from the mecca of otaku, Akihabara. Apparently, Love Live! fans already pay pilgrimage to the Kanda Myojin, where Nozomi, one of the characters, works as a part-time shrine maiden.

Omamori charm featuring Love Live! character Nozomi
Omamori charm featuring Love Live! character Nozomi

From Akihabara to Kanda Myojin Museum

And who knows, within the next 100 years, there may be a poster of the Love Live! school idol group rocking out hung on the walls of the Kanda Myojin Museum, where currently paintings from the Edo era, such as a ukiyoe painting of a kabuki performance with an accompanying instrumental ensemble performing at the Kanda Festival, are displayed.

The festival procession passing by Ningyocho
The festival procession passing by Ningyocho

Fans flock to the festival

Fans flocked to the shrine to be the first in line to get their hands on these Love Live! collaboration goods. But first, many offered their prayers, hung up their ema with original manga drawings, and took selfies with the shrine that appears in the anime.

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Fans with their Love Live! posters

The Love Live! Kitchen Car also made its debut at the festival, filling hungry fans with limited Kanda Festival-themed Love Live! lattes, sodas, juices and marshmallows.

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The Love Live! Kitchen Car

For more about Love Live!, visit their official English website: http://www.lovelive-anime.jp/worldwide/

©2013 Project Love Live!

This article was written with the assistance of Fields Research Institute, which conducts research in entertainment.

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (2): Goshikinuma in Fukushima Prefecture

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Here you can row a pleasure boat in one of the largest lakes in the 800m high Bandai Highlands, Lake Hibara, before embarking on a 3.6km route through the cluster of lakes at Goshiki-numa Park nearby.

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This natural wonder was formed when Mount Bandai erupted on July 15th, 1988. The main lakes in this park are called Akanuma, Bentennuma, Rurinuma, Aonuma and Bishamonnuma. The park is a must-see spot in the Bandai Highlands region.

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Minerals from this devastating eruption tints each of these lakes a different hue, ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue to reddish green, the color of which fluctuates throughout the year according to the weather. The easy trek can be completed in around an hour.

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Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Kooriyama Station (1 hr 20 mins), change to the JR Banetsu Nishi Line to Inawashiroko Station (35mins) then take the local bus to Ura Bandai.

Next cool trek: Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

Onsen Oasis: Zao Dairotenburo

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King of Onsens – The Princess Water hot spring

Some hot springs are so good you never forget them. For me, the Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring in Yamagata prefecture is one of those. A decade has passed since my trip there, but I can still remember thinking to myself excitedly, “So this is what a real onsen is like!” as the sulphuric hot spring smell became stronger and stronger and started to permeate the taxi as we ascended the mountain.

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What I saw upon arrival, was beyond my expectations. While famous throughout the country, Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring has managed to resist modernization into a tourist attraction, and I mean that in the very best possible way.

Unlike other man-made onsens that are designed and dugged, this is a natural onsen around which some basic structures have been built to allow people to enjoy it – so don’t expect any saunas, showers or any drink dispensing machines!

All you will find, is the huge crater-shaped natural stone baths located on the top of a mountain hill surrounded by mountain forests. As you soak in the steaming hot, silky smooth, milky water, you realize that people must have come to enjoy this hot spring in the exact same way for centuries.

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The milky water feels like music to your skin, or rather makes your skin sing! This is not is not just one’s imagination, as the water comes from a natural sulfur spring with strong acidity. The water is so good for softening and whitening the skin that it has become known as “Princess water”.

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The Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring is open from mid-April to the end of November. You will be mesmerized by either fresh verdure or golden foliage depending on the time of the year, but whenever you visit, this hot spring and its surrounding nature are well worth you visit and make for an authentic experience you will not forget!

*Click here for an explanation on how to take a Japanese bath for beginners!

Spot information

Name: Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring

Price: 470 yen

Hours: 6 am – 7 pm (clost from end November to mid-April)

Location: Zao Onsen 832, Yamagata

URL: http://www.joy.hi-ho.ne.jp/ma0011/T-Yamagata01.htm (Japanese)

Picturesque Japan: The Kujuku Islands

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Natural seaside beauty at Kyushu’s “99 Islands”

Nearly untouched by human hands and abounding with intricate islet formations, the Kujuku Islands offers an unparalleled scenic seascape view.

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Scattered along Nagasaki’s coastline for 25 km, the Kujuku Islands (literally “99 Islands”, though generally referring to “many”,) form the most densely concentrated collection of islands in Japan. Together with the Goto Islands and Hirado Peninsula, these 208 islands make up the Saikai National Park, on Japan’s most western border.

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For some breathtaking views of these islands from above, stop by one of the four observation points on the Sasebo hills, including Ishidake Observatory. The picturesque scenery from here made it the prime choice as one of the filming locations for the movie, “The Last Samurai.”

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The view from Ishidake Observatory

Better still, embrace the beauty of the deep blue sea and lush green islands by taking a relaxing cruise along the Kujukushima Excursion Boat Pearl Queen, departing five times a day between 10am and 3pm from the Pearl Sea Resort Tour Boat Terminal.

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This white multi-deck ferry weaves throughout these islands on a 50-minute tour, allowing you to get up close to these uninhabited islands while listening to the scenery explanations in both English and Japanese. With islands on every side, roam about the deck or climb up to the lookout post for the perfect photo opportunity. Throughout Golden Week and the summer months (July through October), you can also watch the sun slowly descend beneath these islands on their Sunset Cruise.

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For water sport lovers, you can also yacht or kayak your way through these calm waters. Or if you’d like to actually set foot on one of these islands, take the Uninhabited Island and Feeding Cruise. See the crater-filled rock walls formed from years of lapping waves, or feed the over 7,000 Red Seabream at the nearby fish farm.

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Whether navigating these “99 Islands” by ship, or marveling at the panorama of these preserved natural wonders from above, the number of scenic views here are as countless as the islands themselves.

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: Feel the suspense in the air with this bridge walk

Spot information

Name: Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort
Address: 1008 Kashimae-cho, Sasebo-shi, Nagasaki Prefecture
Access: 25 minute bus ride from JR Sasebo Station
Kujukushima Excursion Boat Pearl Queen Departure Times: 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm
Uninhabited Island and Feeding Cruise Departure Times: 10:30am, 11:45am, 1pm
Official Information: http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/

A Taste of Sh旬n: Serious about shirasu

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This small fry is not to be trifled with.

The shirasu, or whitebait of sardines, is serious business in Japan. Once the annual fishing ban from January to March is lifted, both fishermen and fish lovers flock to the sea to haul in and eat up hoards of this little translucent fish.

When the weather starts getting warm enough to start heading to the seaside, is when Tokyoites start craving for bowls of shirasu.

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Usually eaten raw or boiled, the shirasu has a delicate taste of the sea that is best brought out with soy sauce and grated ginger. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fishy – in fact, some may challenge the fact that its raw version has any taste at all! Eaten fresh and raw, the sublime taste of the shirasu and its smooth texture that slides down your throat can be addictive.

Many shirasu addicts make an early summer trip out of town to nearby Enoshima in Kanagawa Prefecture to slurp up whole schools of this fish, and to snap some pictures of the hydrangea in bloom along the way.

The first time I ate shirasu was at Kamakura, but I must confess it was by accident – I mistook it for a chirashi don (mixed sashimi rice bowl) – but it turned out to be a very pleasant error which I was happy to erase any trace of!

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You can try the raw shirasu rice bowl, boiled shirasu rice bowl, mixed raw/boiled shirasu rice bowl, shirasu ramen, shirasu soba, shirasu pizza/pasta etc…and so far the closest state it has gotten to a dessert is a shirasu waffle. Would you like fries with that?

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About Sh旬n:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day.

Combini Checkout: Haagen Dazs’ Matcha Crumble

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I confess, I am a matcha (Japanese green tea) sweets addict. And to any matcha-lover, Haagen-Dazs’ “Matcha Crumble” (available for 272 yen at most combinis) ice-cream bar is heaven on a stick. I don’t want to exaggerate, but this might just be the very best matcha flavored ice-cream to have ever reached the combinis.

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Why? Because it packs three times the matcha than other ice-creams. Not just the ice-cream itself, but also the chocolate coating, and even the cookie crumbles on the coating are matcha flavored! As can be expected of Haagen-Dazs quality, it has a soft, creamy texture and a refined, bittersweet matcha taste. The same can be said for the crunchy coating, which shares the same depth in both flavor and texture. That’s quality and quantity in one package!

 

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Matcha addict satisfaction degree:
★★★★★

Advised if you want to lose weight? ★☆☆☆☆ (The calories are not extremely high for an ice-cream, but be aware as you might get addicted!)

 

Cafe Crawl: EORZEA CAFE

 

A Final Fantasy Food Adventure

For an eating adventure in Akihabara that both fans and first-timers to the Final Fantasy video game series will enjoy, head to EORZEA CAFE.

Located on the second floor of the PASELA RESORTS AKIBA Multi Entertainment Building, EORZEA CAFE is a collaboration café, themed on Final Fantasy XIV, the latest installment of the iconic Square-Enix video game series.

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Though true FF fans will surely recognize the cozy tavern-like atmosphere with its stained glass windows and wooden floors, this café is actually modeled after the Carline Canopy, a well known rest spot for weary travelers in the game. And just like the video game with its painstaking attention to detail, this café captures everything from the dim lighting to the silver-striped pillars, to the famed intro song and orchestrated soundtrack that streams in the background.

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In addition, fans will have to restrain themselves from getting out of their seats and walking around to take photos of all the original artwork and life-size replica weapons from the game. (Otaku, fear not! Picture taking is allowed!)

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And at the center of the room, the five floating Moogles are so cute that even first-timers will be drawn to these marshmallow-like monsters. (Die hard fans however, no feeding them any kupo nuts now.)

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Of course, the main attraction is the vast Final Fantasy-themed food and drink menu, featuring everything from Marinated Orthros to Squid Ink Pasta of Spriggan. Now if you have no idea what, who, or where Spriggan is, you can just order the dishes that look the most interesting, like the Chocobo Curry Rice, or the Mogli Mini Pancakes.

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If for some reason, you still haven’t gotten your fill of Final Fantasy fun, foods and photo ops, you’re also welcome to step up to the gaming area, where four PCs are set up for you to play Final Fantasy XIV. Just remember, your eating adventure is limited to 120 minutes.

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It goes without saying that fans who grew up on this game will want to come back multiple times until they’ve tried every dish and collected all 10 of the character-themed coasters that come free with your drink. But even for those of us who know nothing about the iconic Square-Enix video game series, the aura of this eatery is enough to transport you to a fantasy world in the heart of Tokyo.

If you’re a Final Fantasy otaku: ★★★★★

If looking for a maid café alternative in Akihabara: ★★★★☆

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EORZEA CAFE is located on the second floor of the PASELA RESORTS AKIBA Building.

FINAL FANTASY EORZEA CAFE

Address: 1-1-10 Soto-kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 0120-192-759

Hours: 11:30am-10:20pm (Entrance into the cafe takes place in 2 hour “adventure” blocks, at 11:30am, 2pm, 4:30pm, 9pm. The final 9pm “adventure” block is 3 hours.)

 

3 Lovely Lavender Spots Around Tokyo

Updated: 2017

Even if you’re not headed to Hokkaido around July-August, there are plenty of places around Tokyo where you can get your fill of purple fields and natural aromatherapy – and the season is just starting! Here’s a list of 3 spots in the Kanto area.

1) Tambara Lavender Park, Gunma Prefecture 

Here you can escape the summer heat at 1,300m above sea level and enjoy 5 hectares of 50,000 lavender bushes of 4 varieties.  There’s a viewing deck from where you can get a view of rolling fields of lavender, and live demonstration of the lavender oil extraction process.

Information:
Period: Jun. 25 – Sep. 4, 2016
Time: 8:30am-5pm
Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to JR Numata Station, and change to a bus headed for Tanbara

2) Lake Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture 

The Ooishi Park at Lake Kawaguchiko is where you can get a photo of lavender fields with Mt. Fuji in the background. The annual Kawaguchiko Lavender Festival is held both here and at Yagisaki Park from mid-June to mid-July, to celebrate the blossoming of 100,000 lavender bushes in all.lavander-spot-japan

Information: 

Kawaguchiko Lavender Festival
Period: Jun. 17 – Jul. 10, 2016 at Yagisaki Park
Jun. 17 – Jul. 18, 2016 at Ooishi Park
Access: From Lake Kawaguchiko take a Saiko shuttlebus to Yagisaki Park/Ooishi Park

3) Arakogawa Park, Aichi Prefecture 

This is the largest lavender field in Nagoya City, with 3,000 bushes and over 20 varieties – from deep purple to lighter hues – lining the river banks of Arako for 1 kilometer. The lavender festival here starts from early June.

Information: 
Date: Jun. 11 – 19, 2016
Access: From Nagoya City take the Aonami Line to Arakogawa Park and walk for 3 minutes
Hours: 9am – 4;30pm

Read also: A Lavender lover’s wonderland for fragrant fields in the heart of Hokkaido

Fireworks from a different angle

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High above from the Tokyo Skytree

There aren’t that many places where you can look down at one of Tokyo’s best fireworks shows – but the Tokyo Skytree is one of them.

The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival – Tokyo’s oldest fireworks festival – is often referred to as one of “Tokyo’s big three firework festivals” together with the Tokyo Bay and the Edogawa Fireworks Festival. And the Tokyo Skytree nearby provides an amazing vista of this fireworks show with around 20,000 shots of fireworks over 2 hours.

Of course, looking up in awe at these colorful explosions while sitting along the riverbanks is a classical experience. However, if you want to look at things from a different angle (literally), try viewing it from the Tokyo Skytree, where you can look down on this festival of colors!

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The festival attracts over 700,000 people every year, making it one of the most crowded fireworks festivals in Japan. If you want to get a good viewing spot, make sure to leave your house early and plan ahead.

The 39th Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Date: Jul. 30, 2016
Hours: 7:05pm – 8:30pm
Location: Sumida River

Continuing to Bring Enchantment to the World, Noritake

From Ginza to Your Dinner Table

It’s the fine chinaware from Noritake that makes your special dinner hour even more of a delight.

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Established in 1904, Noritake’s roots can be traced back to “Morimura Gumi”, set up in New York during the turmoil at the end of the Edo Period when the brothers Ichizaemon and Toyo Morimura decided to start international trading for the sake of their country.

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Ichizaemon and company visited the World Exposition in Paris and were stunned by the intricate European porcelain they came across and eventually decided to start production in Japan. Upon overcoming numerous difficulties, it was in 1914, a decade later, that the first dinnerware set was manufactured in Japan. And since then, with its superb technology and the incomparable beauty of its designs, Noritake china has been loved by people the world over.

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From the finest quality series such as Maestro, the epitome of elegance, to the Totoro series featuring the popular animation, Noritake will always have available the perfect chinaware to match an array of budgets and purposes. Particularly recommended is the Champagne Pearls set. The elegant design and the warm white colors will enhance the fine taste of any type of cuisine. Another reason for the high acclaim that it enjoys among many women and professional chefs is its wide range of use, a fine match not only for western food but for Japanese cuisine as well. Approved by the professionals, the series is a sure winner that will enhance the fun, lovely dinner scene at your home.

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Introducing a new 20-piece home set for the popular Champagne Pearls series, with trim designs that change depending on the glittering light (scheduled for launch at the end of September). (Four 27.5-cm plates, four deep plates measuring 21.5-cm, four coffee cups and saucers) priced at 70,000 yen.

Drop by the Noritake Ginza store for a chance to see these authentic Noritake chinaware. Ginza is where Noritake’s first store had initially opened. While the location of the store may have changed, our desire to bring our customers top of the line products at a top-class venue remains unchanged. This is a place where you’re bound to find that special item you’ve always wanted.

Store information

Noritake GINZA

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Address: Ginza 3-4-12 Bunshodo Building 2F, Chuo

Number of products on exhibit: Approximately 1,000

Hours: 11 am – 7:30 pm Open throughout the year (except for New Year’s holidays)

Tel: 03-3567-6121

Access: 1-min walk from exit A 13 of Ginza Station (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, Hibiya Line)

URL: http://www.noritake.co.jp/tableware/shoplist/index.html

Restaurant Review: Sapporo Ramen Republic

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Your one stop for ramen in Sapporo

If you don’t have the time to search out the best ramen places during your short trip to Hokkaido, also known as the Ramen Continent, why not taste the best of Hokkaido’s ramen culture in one stop?

On the 10th floor of the JR ESTA Building at JR Sapporo Station, the Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku (literally, “Sapporo Ramen Republic”) regularly features eight of Hokkaido’s best ramen shops. Since its opening 10 years ago, this station-front food park has featured 43 of the island’s leading ramen eateries, regularly changing its shops to bring you the most current popular Hokkaido ramen.

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While you can find nearly every type of ramen here, from shio (salt) to shoyu (soy sauce) to tonkotsu (pork-based), Sapporo (not whole of Hokkaido) is particularly known for its miso ramen. As Hokkaido is abundant with corn and dairy products, these are common ramen toppings. Well, everything tastes better with butter, doesn’t it?

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Having traveled for a week throughout Sapporo in search of the perfect bowl of miso butter corn ramen, it was quite ironic that one of the best bowls was waiting here the whole time at Ramen Sora. With just a relatively small slab of butter to enrich the creamy miso broth, coupled with the delicate sweetness of the corn, this ramen had full-flavor without being too heavy.

So when in Sapporo and short on time, trade your ramen searching for ramen slurping here!

Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku
Hours: 11am – 10pm (Last Order: 9:45pm)
Closed: None
Address: JR Tower Esta 10th Floor, 2 Chome-1 Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Access: Directly connected to JR Sapporo Station
Webpage: http://www.sapporo-esta.jp/ramen
Tel: 011-209-5031

Where does this ghost train bring us?

A visit to ghost town, Sakaiminato

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A visit to ghost town, Sakaiminato

Take this ghost themed train to Sakaiminato in Tottori prefecture, the hometown of Shigeru Mizuki, spiritual father of ghost manga series “Gegege no Kitaro”. The “Kitaro ressha” or Kitaro train, which takes the name of the series’ main character, runs on the JR Sakai Line.

Ever since the first entry of “Gegege no Kitaro” was published in 1965, this manga series has received a nationwide popularity, and is still going strong today! Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy Sakaiminato nonetheless. For example, try to find all the cute bronze ghost statues (sorry ghosts, I know you hate being called cute) hidden in town.

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If you manage to find them all, hats off, as there are a total of 153 of these to be found in Sakaiminato!
(See them all here http://www.sakaiminato.net/site2/page/roadmap/bronze/)

There is even a ghost shrine in town, and actual ghosts (really!) walk around in Sakaiminato every day. Apparently, different ghosts appear depending on the day, so if you are a true fan, stay at least a week!

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The Shigeru Mizuki Memorial Hall does not just familiarize you with “Gegege no Kitaro”, but also shows the personality of the artist himself, who is not only a manga-ka, but also a ghost specialist and an adventurer. Despite reaching the age of 93, he still continues to work today!

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Sakaiminato is also famous for its fresh seafood. Once you have had enough of ghosts, head over to the fish market and taste some of the super fresh crab, tuna, and especially the Mosa Shrimp, a shrimp only to be found in the area. Modern dishes as Tuna Ramen and Crab Donburi (a rice dish) are also more than worth a try!

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Tuna ramen with a naruto (sliced fish paste) with Kitaro on it!

 

Hidden gems of Sugamo, the ‘Harajuku for obasans’

This street could hold the secret to Japanese ‘obasans’’ longevity

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This street could hold the secret to Japanese obasans’ longevity

Sugamo is known affectionately amongst the locals as the ‘Harajuku for obasans’, or aunties. It’s not as flashy or famous, but oozes character and confidence from the many hidden gems it has to offer ? from food, shopping, sights and even an onsen. This area makes for an enjoyable day-trip, if you’d like a change from cosplay spotting and futuristic fashion at Harajuku.

Simply replace Takeshitadori with Jizodori Shopping Street, crepes with shiodaifuku (salted red bean mochi) and gothic girls with fake eyelashes with genki obasans wearing sun-visors and forearm covers, and you’re in obasan playland!

Sugamo is the pacesetter when it comes to red hot underwear ? Maruji is the original maker of ‘aka pants’, or red pants, that is traditionally worn on one’s 60th birthday for good luck and health. It now offers a whole range of products for tourists such as a Hello Kitty range ? probably not just for those in their 60s!

 

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One can’t go to Sugamo and not try the shiodaifuku, or salted red bean mochi ? a delicious balance of savoury and sweet in a chewy mochi. This is a favourite teatime snack for the obasans to have over the freshest gossip in town. Mizuno is said to be the originator of this mochi.

 

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Any shop that can survive in a street where the clientele are demanding obasans has to be good at what it’s doing. And Tokiwa Shokudo, a heartland canteen-like establishment, has not only been able to survive but also set up another branch in Sugamo. Head there for a variety of seasonal soul food at great value prices. 

 

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If you’re in town on the 4th, 14th or 24th of that month, there’s even more reason to head to Sugamo as a street festival is held on these dates. You can buy bargain items and local snacks at street stalls that will be lined up along the Jizodori Shopping Street. 

 

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And after all that walking, shopping and eating, why not end the day at a nearby onsen? Sakura Onsen, complete with restaurants and relaxation lounges, is just an 8-minute walk from the Sugamo station, and there’s also a free shuttle bus from the station.

So go compare for yourself how the buzz at Sugamo compared to Harajuku!

Kyo Karakami by Maruni Interior and Accessories

Own a unique piece of classic Japanese design

Add a touch of taste and tradition to your home with a Kyo Karakami wall panel made according to your preferences.

Karakami – which literally means “Tang Chinese Paper” – originated from China during the Tang Dynasty but since it started production in Kyoto over 1,000 years ago, has become a treasured form of washi (Japanese paper) that is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

It was first used by aristocrats as a patterned paper on which to write letters or poetry.

Timeless Classic

Kyoto-based Maruni continues to observe the ancient methods of making Kyo Karakami – by hand, and with all-natural materials, from magnolia printing blocks harking back nearly 200 years, to ingredients derived from seaweed and shells to make the colouring materials. The patterns are classic designs from the Nara Period.

The crushed shells give karakami printing designs its unique iridescent shine that adds to the paper’s timeless appeal.

During the Edo era, this paper, which brings out the beauty of brush calligraphy best, also began to be used for fusuma shoji (paper screens for sliding doors).

Now, you too can transport the art of ancient Japanese living to your living room.

Applying this traditional craft to modern fixtures such as wall panels, wall paper, lanterns, fans and other accessories, Maruni has made this intangible cultural heritage, tangible to the homes and lives of the discerning.

Just like before the days of mass production, at Maruni, you can order a unique wall panel to your liking, choosing everything from the printing block pattern, to paper colour, printing colour and paper type.

Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Vase HOLE DESIGN SUN “Kuchikigumo”

$152.00

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Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Tradition “Tatsutagawa”

$85.00

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Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Vase HOLE DESIGN MOON “Kotogasumi”

$152.00

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Kyo Karakami Paper Fan Wave Design

$74.00

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Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Vase LACK DESIGN BAMBOO “Kumokiri”

$170.00

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Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Geometric “Kakutsunagi”

$76.00

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Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Nature “Kohrin-ohnami”

$76.00

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Kyo Karakami Paper Fan Chidori Design

$64.00

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