Shichiken: A Traditional Sake Brewery With Modern Ideas

A brewery that is a world of its own

Yamanashi Prefecture Hokoto City’s Hakushu area might be famous for Suntory’s Hakushu Whiskey, but did you know that it is also home to long-established sake brewery, Shichiken? WAttention went to check it out, and quickly came to the conclusion that Shichiken is much more than just a sake brewery. It is a museum, a restaurant, a cafe, and you could even call it a world of its own!

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Shichiken brewery ‘s entrance was built in 1835, and its traditional facade alone already makes it worth a visit

Shichiken as a brewery:

Shichiken is a Japanese sake brewery with over 300 years of history, and has been run by the Kitagawara family for 12 generations. Rather than secretly developing techniques without opening up to the public, the young Kitagawara brothers take a more modern approach towards their craftsmanship, welcoming anyone to come and observe the process of sake brewing, and even to see the Kojimuro (a room where the malt is dried), where traditionally not even workers at the brewery were allowed to enter unless they were involved in the process.

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Sake tasting can be enjoyed near the brewery’s entrance, and is sipped from wine glasses. While this may sound unauthentic, wine glasses have proven to be best for sake, as their round shape allow you to enjoy its fragrance more.


Shichiken as a museum:

The Shichiken brewery’s main building is almost 200 years old. In 1880, Shichiken had the honor to receive Emperor Meiji to stay at the brewery during his journey in Yamanashi, Mie and Kyoto. The Kitagawara family redesigned three complete rooms for the Emperor to function as his palace away from palace, which has been left completely intact.
Upon his arrival, Emperor Meiji passed through Shichiken’s main gate. This gate was never used again to this day, as it would be odd to have ordinary people pass the same gate the holy Emperor has passed.
Until it became a museum for visitors, not even the Kitagawara family entered the three rooms Emperor Meiji emperor stayed at, despite the fact that these rooms make up for the major part of their residence. One of the Kitagawara brothers told me that as a young child, he did not know what was in these rooms, and was scared of it. Having lost 3 rooms of their house, the Kitagawara family continued to live in the smaller rooms that were left over.

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Shichiken as a restaurant:

Next to Shichiken, is restaurant Daimin, which belongs to the brewery. The water served on your table is the same water used for Shichiken’s sake.
Daimin uses fresh meat and vegetables from the region, but what makes it special, is that these ingredients are prepared using sake. For example, the fried salmon on this picture was coated in a sauce made of malt left over from the sake. Stewed dishes use sake instead of wine, vegetables were pickled in sake lees and even the delicate dessert had a tint of sake fragrance to it. The result is not only delicious, but also environment friendly as ingredients left over from sake brewing can be used here. That’s the mottainai (a Japanese philosophy of not wasting anything) spirit!

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Shichiken as a cafe:

In the same mottainai spirit as that of DaiminKoji’z, a small cafe located inside the brewery, uses malt left over from sake brewing to create yummy “Koji smoothies”, or malt smoothies. Their natural sweetness is their greatest appeal, as no artificial sugar is added, using only the original sweetness malt contains. These are mixed with local fruits as peach and blueberry, resulting in a healthy yet yummy (alcohol-free) drink dessert.


Shichiken

Location: Tagawara 2283, Hakushucho, Hokuto, Yamanashi

Access: Approx. 2 hours by car from Tokyo. 15-min by taxi from Nagasaka Station (Chuo Main Line) or Hinoharu Station (Chuo Main Line).

URL: http://www.sake-shichiken.co.jp/eng_chn_kor.html

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

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Statue of Sendai’s founding lord, Masamune Date

Tohoku – the northeastern region of Japan’s main island –  is most enjoyable in autumn, when this scenic area is aflame with fall colors, and its famed fruits and seafood are in full harvest. And with the Shinkansen shooting you up to the northernmost prefecture of Aomori in just 3 hours and 20 min, traveling by train is your most convenient choice.

WAttention toured through four of its major cities, from the picturesque port town of Aomori in the north, down to mountainous Yamagata in the south, to bring you some of the best – and sometimes strangest – sites, foods and souvenirs that Tohoku has to offer, in this five-part article series. 

The Tohoku Must-Do List

Home to ancient festivals, historic castle ruins, and even its own traditional music heritage, no Tohoku trip is complete without trying these activities!

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Visit the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum (Aomori)

While the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri – one of Japan’s 3 Biggest Fire Festivals – takes place for a week in early August, you can catch its larger than life floats (nebuta) here all year round.

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With a number of interactive stations, you can touch the washi (Japanese traditional paper) floats, try on a colorful hat that the haneto dancers wear, or even design your own nebuta face.

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“Rassera, rassera!”

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Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum Access: A 1-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Catch a Tsugaru-Jamisen (Shamisen) Performance (Aomori)

The three-stringed shamisen is one of Japan’s most recognizable instruments, but its most popular version, the tsugaru-jamisen is native here, named after the Tsugaru Peninsula in Western Aomori Prefecture. Delight in a 30-min. performance at the iconic A-shaped ASPAM tourist center, offered twice daily.

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ASPAM Access: An 8-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Say hi to Lord Date at Sendai Castle (Sendai)

Behold the statue of founder and now symbolic samurai of Sendai city, Masamune Date – whose helmet is said to be the inspiration for Darth Vader’s – upon the grounds of his castle.

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Though little remains of the castle itself, Mt. Aoba sits 100 m above Sendai City, offering the best panoramic view of this, Tohoku’s biggest city.

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And if you happen to catch him between performances, Lord Date will even take a selfie with you!

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Sendai Castle Access: A 20-min. bus ride (Loople Sendai Bus) from Sendai Station.

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Go fruit picking in an orchard (Yamagata)

Known as the “Kingdom of Fruits”, Yamagata’s sweet sakura cherries, pears, apples and more can be found throughout the country. But there’s no better way to enjoy these at their freshest than by picking them right off the tree.

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One taste and you’ll understand why Yamagata fruits are sometimes referred to as “nature’s candy”. Especially noteworthy is the sekai-ichi apple, (literally “World’s No. 1”).

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Join us for our next article, as we bring you our Tohoku Must Eat List!

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

Japan`s World Heritage Sites: Kumano Pilgrimage Route

The World’s Most Picturesque Pilgrimage

If you take just one pilgrimage – or perhaps just a long hike – in your life, you won’t find a more scenic one than here.

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Though a slight trek off the typical tourist path to Osaka, go just 100 km further south and you’ll reach the area CNN named the top pilgrimage site in the world – even above the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Known as the Kumano Kodo, this ancient trail winds through three prefectures – Wakayama, Nara, and Mie – linking together its three most sacred sites: Yoshino/Omine, Kumano Sanzan, and Koya-san. In 2004, the trail and sites were registered together as a cultural world heritage site.

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The Nakahechi Route

With dramatic views from 2,000 m high overlooking the Pacific seascape, abundant streams and waterfalls, and gentle sunlight trickling through the towering cedars, it’s no wonder this richly forested mountain range in the Kii Peninsula was worshiped as Japan’s main sacred mountain by the 12th century. Valued for its reflection of the fusion of Buddhism and Shintoism here, a sect known as Shugen also took root here, which holds to strict ascetic training in the severe mountain environment. And though the 1,200 year old shrines and temples here are the divine destinations, the etherial journey along these steep and rugged paths is just as heavenly.

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Nachi Otaki Falls in autumn.

Trekking through all 307.6 km of pilgrimage routes could take weeks. But for those who don’t have a month to spare (nor the agility for 20+ km of steep hiking per day), grab a bamboo staff, and maybe even a Heian era kimono—rentable at one of the local teahouses—and be sure to hit these highlights below.

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Mt. Yoshino – Yoshinoyama

Mountain Yoshino Cherry Blossoms
Mountain Yoshino Cherry Blossoms

One look at these precipitous ridges that peek through the clouds make it clear why En no Gyoza established this area as the home for Shugen’s harsh ascetic practices in the 8th century. Followers of this Buddhist sect seclude themselves here, and by the mid-10th century, this mountain’s renown reached as far as China.

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But this mysterious highland is equally famed for its cherry blossoms, as it is said “thousands of trees in a single glance” can be gazed upon here.

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Nachi Otaki Falls

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Behold Japan’s highest waterfall, surging from 133 m high. Deemed as divine for its glorious down flow, this cascade as the backdrop to Seigantoji Temple’s three-story pagoda is the most iconic scene from the entire Kii Peninsula. After snapping your selfies, get a cool spray by the base of the falls, as these waters are said to bring long life.

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Koya-san

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Koya-San

Amongst the city of over a hundred temples a top Mt. Koya, Kongobuji Temple is its crowned construction, and the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism in Japan. Along the way here, spend a night at one of the shukubo (temple lodgings) for a real taste of pilgrim life – literally, as many include the traditional vegetarian menu are offered to monks. Not only is it the most authentic way to travel, it’s the easiest on your pocketbook!

Access:

Mt. Yoshino: A 40-min train ride (Kintetsu Line) from Kashiharajingu-mae Station to Yoshino Station.

Nachi Otaki Falls: A 30-min bus ride (Kumano Kotsu Bus) to Jinja-otera-mae car park from Kii-Katsura Station (JR Kisei Honsen).

Kongobuji Temple: A 15-min bus ride to Kongobuji-mae bus stop from Koyasan Station.

 

 

Yakitolympic: That Other Event Hosted By Japan

Japan’s best skewers all at one spot

If you are a Yakitori lover, you absolutely have to visit the Yakitolympic, which will be held in Higashimatsuyama (Saitama) on the weekend of September 26 and 27. This is the 9th time this olympic of sticks is held (just to make sure, by sticks I mean skewers, not the sticks used in high jumping!)

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This image is of the same event in 2014.

Why go to an event like this if you can also have great Yakitori at an Izakaya or at small eateries in Yokocho alleys, you ask? Well, this event brings together Yakitori from the whole country, including the best skewers from the so called “7 Yakitori Towns”, which are Bibai (Hokkaido), Muroran (Hokkaido), Fukushima (Fukushima), Higashi Matsuyama (Saitama), Imabari (Ehime), Nagato (Yamaguchi) and Kurume (Fukuoka). Being able to try out all these big names on one day, is almost like seeing the 7 world wonders on 1 day! I know, I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is really a big deal!


I go the chance to try out the skewers that will be at the event on a press event last Monday, and I have to tell you, anyone that’s visiting this event is in for a real treat. It was also my first time to realize that Yakitori is a dish with so much variety. Not only is the meat different (while chicken is main, pork and even horse meat can also be used), but the tare (sauce) also differs greatly depending on the skewer’s region of origin. It was really interesting to compare the flavors of all these skewers. However, one thing they have in common is that they are all heaven on a stick!


The 9th Yakitolympic

Date: September 26 (Saturday) and September 27 (Sunday)

Hours: 11am – 7pm

Location: Matsuyama Shiminkatsudo Center’s North Parking Space

Address: Matsumoto-cho 1-9-35, Higsahimatsuyama, Saitama

Access: 10-min from Higashimatsuyama Station East Exit (Tobu Toujo Line)

 

World Heritage (10): Shurijo Castle

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Japan is a land of castles, some like Himeji Castle, which is also registered as World Heritage. But to see the country’s most visited castle, you’ll have to travel all the way down to Okinawa, for a fortress that captures 500 years of Ryukyu royalty.

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130 m high overlooking the urban capital of Naha, Shurijo Castle lies surrounded by over 1,000 m of winding limestone ramparts. As the main castle of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429-1879, it was the flourishing center of politics and cultural exchange.

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UNESCO registered Nakajin-jo Castle’s remains, said to resemble the Great Wall of China.

Known as a gusuku (stone fortress) castle, over 220 of these once thrived across the island before the second Sho dynasty unified the kingdom. In 2000, nine gusuku and related ruins were registered as a cultural world heritage site, of which Shurijo Castle is the glorious centerpiece.

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Chinese-style lion statue

Unlike Japan, the Ryukyu Kingdom enjoyed intensive trade with China, Korea, and southeast Asia. Shurijo Castle reflects this unique cultural interchange in its architecture, for which it is most valued. And though burnt down multiple times—most recently during the Battle of Okinawa—its 1992 reconstructed form fills you with a sense of the majesty of this culturally-infused kingdom.

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The castle is divided into three main areas: the Kyo no Uchi, where services and rituals took place; the Ouchibara private grounds for the royal family; and the Una, where most of the large governmental buildings are lined up. The two most popular sites are below.

Shurei Gate, also found on the 2,000 yen note.

Shurei Gate

Walk through this gorgeous two-level gate and enter the “Land of Courtesy”, as the characters on its wooden signage read. It was said that an ancient Chinese emperor spoke of the Ryukyu Kingdom as a land that prized such courtesy, and the wonderful red tile roofing balanced with white lime continues to offer such a warm greeting to all who visit.

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Seiden

For the best sampling of cultural variety, gaze upon the golden dragons and royal vermillion lacquer coating of the Seiden (main building) in the Una area. These Chinese elements blend beautifully with the Japanese style roofing on this, the island’s largest wooden structure.

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Chinese-influenced dragon pillars, flanking the stairway to the Seiden.

Kings and queens carried out their governmental activities here, and if you head inside, you can even get a glimpse of the royal throne!

The annual Shurijo Castle Festival procession
The annual Shurijo Castle Festival procession in autumn.

Though seasonal festivals and processions take place throughout the year, you can also take a quick 15-min time slip here each morning to witness the ringing of the gong and chanting of “Ukejo” at the opening ceremony at 8:30am. But whether visiting early or late, be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as climbing this castle hill requires some steep trekking!

Access: A 15-min. walk from Shuri Station (Yui Rail)

Photos courtesy of Okinawa Convention & Visitors’ Bureau and JNTO

Water dessert! Kinseiken’s Mizu-shingen Mochi

Water selling like hot cakes

It was on a rainy Saturday morning that we arrived in Hakushu, Yamanashi Prefecture, but a long queue was already snaking its way to the entrance of Kinseiken, a Hakushu based long-established confectionery manufacturer with the facade of a traditional Japanese residence. And were these folks queuing for in the rain? Nothing less than what looks like a big drop of water–the Mizu-shingen Mochi.

The Ojira river that courses through Hakushu is widely known for its clear and pure water and has been selected as one of the best 100 water sources of Japan, which is why many breweries and mineral water producers are based or have a factory in the area, including Suntory and long-established sake brewery Shichiken.

So what’s the fuss with the “Mizu-shingenmochi”? Shingenmochi is a beloved sweet rice-cake that has been a staple product of Japanese confectionery manufacturer Kinseiken for over a hundred years. However, it was not until 2013 that the people at Kinseiken had a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of genius and developed “Mizu-shingenmochi”, which would become a revolutionary dessert in the following year.

Looking almost identical to a waterdrop, it is no wonder that Mizu-shingenmochi was produced under the concept of creating “edible water”.

Before actually trying it out, I imagined the texture of western jelly and the sweetness of Mizu-yokan (a Japanese confectionery that consists of red-bean paste, sugar and agar), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. While biting into my waterdrop dessert, I immediately realized that Kinseiken’s statement of having created “edible water” was not an exaggeration nor a marketing trick; it really tastes and feels like it, with a slight amount of sugar added to remind you that it is a dessert. The kinako powder (roasted soybean flour) and brown sugar syrup also used for original Shingenmochi is there to add some extra sweetness if you want, but eating it without sweetening allows you to savor and appreciate the water’s pureness to the max.


Despite that fact that there are no train stations located hear Hakushu and that it takes roughly 3 hours to reach by car from Tokyo, people were already queuing at 8 am, which is one hour before Kinseiken opens.
850 portions of Mizu-shingenmochi are served on a weekend day, but they usually sell out between 11 and 12. That means that visitors from Tokyo are advised to depart as early as 7 am if they want to make sure they can get their 300 yen portion of edible water. This is literally water selling like hot cakes!

Although the recipe of this watery dessert was leaked, none have succeeded in matching Kinseiken’s quality. This is because Hakushu’s pure water is what makes Mizu-shingenmochi such a refined dessert in the first place.

Mizu-shingenmochi cannot be taken back home as it shrivels and dissolves within 30 minutes.
To try out Mizu-shingenmochi yourself, your only option is to directly pay a visit to Kinseiken in Hakushu. To make things even more difficult, Mizu-shingenmochi is only sold during the weekends from June to September.
This may all sound like a lot of trouble for a drop of water, but trust me, it’s worth the effort!

Kinseiken

Hours: 9am – 6pm (Closed on Thursdays)
*Mizu-shingenmochi are only available during weekends from June to September in 2015.

Location: Hakushu-machi Daigahara 2211, Hokuto, Yamanashi

Access: Approx. 2 hours by car from Tokyo. 15-min by taxi from Nagasaka Station (Chuo Main Line) or Hinoharu Station (Chuo Main Line).

World Heritage (9): The Shrines & Temples of Nikko

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Shrines & Temples of Nikko: Enter into Edo Excellence 

As 2015 marks 400 years since the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo era who is enshrined here, there’s no better time to visit Nikko’s World Heritage sites, with extravagant anniversary events, including a grand procession of 1,000 samurai on Oct. 17.

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Set upon the slopes of Nikko’s sacred mountains in Tochigi Prefecture, the 103 buildings that comprise Toshogu Shrine, Futarasan Jinja Shrine, and Rinnoji Temple, were registered as a cultural world heritage site in 1999. Founded by Buddhist monk Shodo Shonin in the 8th century, they were greatly expanded in the 17th century when chosen as the resting place for Ieyasu. Blending beautifully into its majestic natural surroundings, this ensemble of masterpieces display Edo era ingenuity and creativity at its finest.

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Yomeimon Gate

Toshogu Shrine

Sculpture lovers will delight in the treasury of carvings here – 5,173 to be exact. Built mostly in 1636 as home to Ieyasu’s mausoleum, its 2-story Yomei-mon Gate alone contains 508 sculptures of divine animals and humans. It’s no wonder it also goes by the name “Sunset Gate” (Higurashi-mon), as marveling at its detail can take all day!

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Here you’ll also find the world famous “Three Monkeys” sculpture in the Sacred Stable (Shinkyusha), from which the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” phrase comes, as well as the “Sleeping Cat” above the Kuguri-mon Gate, created by master artist Hidari Jingoro.

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Toshogu Shrine Access: A 5 min. bus ride (Tobu Bus) from JR or Tobu Nikko Station. Get off at the Shinkyo Bus Stop.

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Futarasan-jinja Shrine

From Toshogu Shrine, take a short scenic walk through the cedar tree-lined path to Futarasan-jinja Shrine – devoted to the three gods of the sacred mountain itself – and its famed Shinkyo Bridge.

Legend has it that two snakes formed this bridge when Shodo sought to cross the Daiya River in the 8th century. In autumn, this vermillion, gold, and black arched bridge set against the fiery colors of fall makes for the most picturesque sight in Nikko.

Futarasan-jinja Shrine Access: A 10-min. bus ride (Tobu Bus) from JR or Tobu Nikko Station. Get off at the Nishi-Sando bus stop.

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Rinnoji Temple

The most famous temple in Nikko, the main hall here safe keeps gold-leafed statues of the three Buddhist manifestations of the gods worshiped at Futarasan-jinja Shrine. Built in the same Gongen-zukuri style as Toshogu Shrine, the Taiyu-in building next to this Buddhist temple houses the remains of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu.

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Not wishing to distract from the glory of Ieyasu’s mausoleum, Iemitsu requested a more modest design. However, one look at its golden splendor will show you how among Nikko’s works of art, even “modest” appears marvelous.

Rinnoji Temple Access: A 10-min. bus ride (Tobu Bus) from JR or Tobu Nikko Station. Get off at the Shinkyo bus stop.

Watching Sumo Live Up Close–A “Masu” Do!

Watching sumo from the best seats

Just like in any other sport, getting front seats to watch the matches is an almost impossible task. In sumo, these seats are called Sunakaburi (literally translated as “sand shower”), because they are so close to the dohyo (wrestling ring) that you may find sand, or even an actual sumo wrestler, flying in your direction!

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The most luxurious seats of the stadium are masu-seki, which are seats for a group of people to sit together and enjoy the matches while having sake and a yummy bento.

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Before the actual matches start, the sumo wrestlers gather in the ring where they will be introduced to the public. The heya, or sumo staple they come out for is of great importance, and so you will hear the crowds cheer for wrestlers of the heya they support.

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Once the matches begin, the sumo wrestlers enter the ring from two sides. While in boxing matches these are called the left and right corner, sumo uses east and west. After the ritual of throwing salt in the dohyo to purify it and making shiko drills (stomping the ground with your feet from as high as possible), it’s finally time to clash!

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During exciting matches, passionate supporters forget their Japanese reservedness and stand up to cheer. But fear not because as soon as someone tells them to sit, they will go back to their polite nature, apologizing to the people around them and sit down. The ability to maintain harmony in the midst of the excitement, is something supporters of other sports have a lot to learn from.

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Popular bouts of ace fighters, often have a Kinsho-kin, an additional sum that goes to the winner of that match. There is a lot of excitement surrounding these matches, especially when the higher ranked fighter loses the match, so watch out for the flying cushions!

 

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 5: Tokyo Game Show 2015, What We’ve Seen and What You Can Expect

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

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The largest game show in Japan

Held annually in September, Tokyo Game Show (TGS) is the premier trade show for game developers to showcase their latest game titles and for game players to try them out. This year’s TGS marks a record number of  480 exhibitors, and is expected to welcome 220,000 visitors over the four-day event (open to the public in the last two days). 

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The theme of TGS 2015 is “Play Your Way: Games Unleashed”

In this article I will present you a timely update on the first day of TGS 2015. As a longtime casual gamer myself, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve lived long enough to see what has happened to gaming in the past 30 years, though I may not have been enthusiastic enough to be included in the game nerds’ circle.

For example, though I’ve seen Super Mario evolving from an 8-bit pixel, side-scrolling 2D game, to a full-fledged 3D adventure, I don’t have a shiny PS4 in my living room, nor have I joined any online quest to, say, hunt down an Azure Rathalos. Nevertheless, I am excited to share with you on what I’ve seen today. So join me and play on!

For those who wanna stay ahead of the game

TGS is a premier event that every major player in the video game industry can’t afford to miss. Big names including Sony, Capcom, Konami, Sega, are all here to showcase their newest games and innovation. From watching the newest game trailers to trying the latest demos and game technology, there are just so many ways to enjoy the game show. The only constraint is time. To get your hand on some of the popular games, you may have to wait in line for up to an hour or even more. Here’s what the major players’ have on display for you:

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CAPCOM, famous for its Street Fighter and Monster Hunter series.
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Electronic Arts showing off in Tokyo its upcoming Star Wars game.
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SEGA. Remember the Mega Drive and Sonic the Hedgehog?

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Play Station’s virtual reality experience area. Be prepared to see a long queue for trying out the amazing technology.
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A virtual reality head mounted display.
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The booth of Konami, publisher of popular series such as Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill.
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The KOEI Tecmo booth. I love their “musou” fighting game series and am looking forward to playing the Zelda spin-off on 3DS.

For souvenir collectors

Take a look at the booths, try the newest games, have a lot of fun, and bring home loads of special souvenirs.

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Try Street Fighter V, the latest of the series, and you’ll get a key holder or coaster, depending on how you’d use it.
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Play the newest Winning Eleven 2016 (Pro Evolution Soccer 2016) for a Neymar item.
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Take a photo of STAR WARS BATTLE FRONT, and share it on any SNS with the hashtag #StarWarsバトルフロント, to get a star wars sticker.
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Play coin tossing at the Amazon booth and you have a 50-50 chance to win a t-shirt.
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Take a head in the hole picture and get a fan (a signature item of Zhuge Kongming).
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These are the souvenirs I brought home from TGS.

For those in the gaming industry

If you work in the gaming industry, the trade show is a great chance to talk to interesting people in the same trade but with various background and experience. I got to talk to Alan Lan, Twitter’s Head of Sales for Greater China, and asked him to share with us his thoughts on TGS.

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Alan has participated in TGS 9 years in a row.

Q: For game developers from outside of Japan, do you have any advice for them to make the most of participating in TGS?

A: Come to the venue on public days this weekend. See what the Japanese gamers look like. Look at what excites them. Don’t just look at the sizes of the booth. There are always rich companies who can afford them. Some of them will look empty. Look at the sizes of the crowd in front of booths and the length of queues. Only these reflect the true affections of local gamers. Even you prefer to stare at the boothbabes, see how many of them are cute anime styles and how many of them in western cool styles. Then you get a pretty good feeling of what graphic style this country likes.

For those interested in indie games

Games created by individuals or small independent companies have been gaining steam in recent years. At TGS there is a dedicated indie games area where you can actually talk to the developers. In stark contrast to booths of those big names, the indie area feels more homey and personal. If you’re interested in indie games, I definitely recommend going.

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Japan Game Awards

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The awards ceremony for the Grand Award and Award of excellence was held on the first day of TGS.

Each and every winner for the Award of Excellence is well-known title that made an impact in the past year. My personal favorite is DRAGON QUEST HEROES: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below.

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This year’s Grand Award winner is “YO-Kai Watch 2 Ganso/Honke/Shinuchi”.

Awards will be presented to winners of the amateur and future division on Sep 19 and 20. The awards ceremony will be a great chance to see the real faces of developers behind the winning games.

Some extra fun

This year marks the 30th anniversary for the video game series “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Before the newest title in the series hit the market in December, come to the KOEI booth and relive the memory of playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms II, which was released back in 1989. Feels like being thrown back to the DOS era!

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Instinctively I was looking for the missing mouse, and then recalled that the game was to be played solely with a keyboard. Old memory flash back!
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A special corner commemorating the 30th anniversary of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
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Take a photo in the style of Link, the protagonist of The Legend of Zelda series.

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In addition to all the fun stuff we covered in this article, there will be a lot more cosplay going on in the venue over the weekend, including the Cosplay Collection Night. If you’re in Tokyo this weekend, whether you’re a dedicated gamer or just want to experience the overwhelming atmosphere, TGS definitely worth a visit.

Information

Tokyo Game Show will be open to the public on September 19 and 20 at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. Ticket on the day costs 1,200 yen.

Official website of TGS

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

Why Cushions Fly In A Sumo Match

There’s always some form of heckling or booing that goes on at live sports matches when players don’t perform, especially with sports like soccer, when empty cans and trash are thrown at the field. But the traditional Japanese sport of sumo wrestling may actually top the charts with the usually reserved and law-abiding spectators getting up and flinging their seats–or rather, cushions–at the under-performing rikishi (sumo wrestlers), with the cushions often not reaching the dohyo (wrestling ring) but hitting some other angry spectator on the head!

How did such public outbursts of anger become acceptable in the context of a sumo match? This tradition of cascading cushions is said to have roots in the Meiji era when personal items would be thrown onto the dohyo to congratulate and reward the winner. This was banned when the Ryogoku Kokugikan opened in 1909, so it is thought that spectators stopped throwing their personal items, but the next available thing in reach–their seat cushions. So cushion throwing can either be congratulatory or derogatory–depending on the context.

The bottom line is, Yokozunas–the highest ranking players–are not supposed to lose matches. In fact, in the sumo world, Yokozumas are expected to retire if they lose a tournament, which consists of several rounds of matches played over several days. For practical reasons of comfort (as the Yokozuna match is always the last one), cushion throwing is usually saved for the last match.

 

 

Iris in Wonderland Japan: What did you eat this summer?

 

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In summer in Japan, you will sometimes find bento boxes of grilled eel rice in convenience stores, with a poster stating the “doyo no ushi no hi”.

Apparently, this habit of eating eel on the “doyo no ushi no hi” has been around since the Edo era. This is because the Japanese believe that the eel, rich in protein and nutrients, will help fortify the body against the summer heat.

“Doyo” refers to the 18 days before the change of every season. “Doyo no ushi no hi” refers to the “day of the ox of the seasonal change period”.

There is also another interesting version behind the custom of eating eels on the “doyo no ushi no hi”, which is the fact that the eel is actually least oily during the summer, unlike late autumn when it stores more fat to last the cold winter, causing a dip in eel sales during the summer months.

So apparently, an eel restaurant hired a scientist, inventor and intelligentsia of the day, Gennai Hiraga – who was studying electricity and its production by the eel – to come up with a way to encourage eel eating during the summer. Hiraga then made a sign saying “Today is the doyo no ushi no hi” and hung it outside the eel restaurant. As a result, business boomed, prompting other shops to do the same. Over time, this became a custom.

There is another saying that because “ushi” when written in hiragana form looks like two eels. Hence eating eels on the day of the ox will help to chase away the remaining summer heat.

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In addition, there is a belief that eating foods beginning with the sound “u” on days of the “ushi no hi” will help protect against summer fatigue. Hence, other than eating eels, other foods such as beef (ushi) or udon (wheat flour noodles), plums (ume) or gourds (uri) are also auspicious to eat.

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One of the reasons I love Japan is for the deep sense of cultural traditions, carried on from times long past. This preservation of culture is to me, amazing.

Though the younger generations may gradually forget such traditions, be it the “doyo no usho no hi” or other customs, I think taking the effort to find out the story behind them is always fascinating – especially how the way people thought in the past!

Did you try eel this summer?

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World Heritage (8): Monuments of Ancient Nara

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Yakushiji Temple

Nara was Japan’s first permanent capital from 710-784. And though just for a brief 74 years – compared to Kyoto’s 1,000 year rule – its great prosperity is reflected in each of its marvelous temples and shrines.

In 1998, eight locations were immortalized as cultural heritage sites: Gangoji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, Todaiji Temple, Toshodaiji Temple, Yakushiji Temple, Kasugaya Taisha Shrine, Kasuga-yama Forest, and Heijo-kyo Palace ruins.

This cluster of Buddhist and Shinto temples reflects Nara’s role in the first efforts in Japan to reconcile Shinto and Buddhism.

Here is a highlight of some of Nara’s world heritage treasures:

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Todaiji Temple

If you think the world-famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) statue here is massive – which it is, at 15 m tall with a middle finger of 1.3 m length – you’ll be equally impressed by the Daibutsuden main temple which enshrines it: the largest wooden building in the world! Here in 752, an Indian priest consecrated the colossal copper and bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha, painting in its eyes with a large brush. While gazing upon this mysterious monument, just imagine that the current building, reconstructed in 1692, is only two-thirds the size of the original!

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Todaiji Temple Access: A 20-min walk from Kintetsu Nara Station.

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Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Kasuga-yama Forest

Walk down the path lined with 2,000 stone lanterns leading to this vermillion-lacquered shrine, and you’ll be following the footsteps of the emperor himself who used to worship here. Built in 768 by Lord Fujiwara and dedicated to the gods of the Fujiwara clan, this shrine and its surrounding primeval forest are both registered as World Heritage. Kasuga-yama Forest, the only spot of nature included in this UNESCO site, has been nearly untouched as hunting and tree-felling have been prohibited since 841.

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Kasuga Taisha Shrine Access: A 10-15 min. bus ride from JR Nara Station (Yamatoji Line) or Kintetsu Nara Station (Nara Line). Get off at the Kasuga Taisha Honden bus stop.

Suzakumon Gate, the main entrance to the palace grounds, on the southern end of Suzaku Avenue.

Heijo-kyo Palace (Remains of the Ancient Capital)

While none of the original buildings remain, recent reconstructions, such as the Former Audience Hall (2010), and numerous excavations make it easy to picture the capital city’s grand layout, modeled after Chang’an, China’s most prosperous city at the time. Don’t miss the Suzakumon Gate and East Palace Garden (Toin Teien) either, both rebuilt to full-scale size.

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Heijo-kyo Access: An 8-min bus ride (Nara Kotsu Bus) from Yamato-Saidaiji Station (Kintetsu Nara Line). Get off at the Heijokyo-ato bus stop.

Get Bowled Over By Kourakuen

Real Ramen at Unreal Prices 

For tourists who can always do with more time and money, Kourakuen brings happiness and fulfilment just as its name suggests.

Click here for a 10% discount coupon at Kourakuen! (Detailed information can be found at the end of this article)

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Ramen was first known in Japan as “chuka-soba”, or literally, Chinese-style noodles. That is why Kourakuen, which has been selling ramen for over six decades since the Showa era, says “chuka-soba” on its signboard and not ramen. Kourakuen’s rapid growth from a 3-man hole-in-the-wall eatery in the Aizu area of northern Japan to a nationwide ramen chain of over 500 stores comes from its founder’s mission to provide ramen that is tastier, cheaper and faster.

Kourakuen in Roppongi

Goma Miso Chashu Ramen (Sesame and miso-based ramen with chashu) 637 yen
Sesame and miso go well together and also with the toppings of sweet corn, spinach and chashu (barbecued pork slices). The sesame fragrance is enhanced by a generous sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds! Yummy!

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Though it looks rich, it’s surprisingly light and refreshing!

Tonkotsu Kotteri Chashu Ramen (Rich pork-based ramen with chashu) 637 yen
For those who love full-on flavor, this kotteri (thick) broth is your best bet. Combined with thick and chewy noodles and a generous portion of chashu, you won’t find a more satisfying bowl of ramen at this price!

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The richness of this ramen will satisfy your cravings

Tsukasa Ramen (Pork broth and soy sauce-based ramen with thinner noodles) 561 yen
A must-try for those who sometimes find pork broth too cloying or strong-tasting but crave something a little more than just soy sauce.

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Perfect balance of richness without being cloying!

Tsukemen (Noodles and dipping sauce served seperately) 421 yen
This has gained popularity lately. Dip and slurp up on generous portions of noodles that go well with an addictive sweet, spicy and sour dipping soup.

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Shio Yasai Ramen (Ramen noodles topped with a mountain of veggies in a salt soup) 529 yen
This salt-based vegetable ramen is a healthy choice especially popular amongst the ladies.yasai

On the side…

Gyoza 216 yen
Golden-browned to perfection with lots of juicy pork and cabbage filling.

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Half-Sized Fried Rice 334 yen
Kourakuen was the first to introduce half-sized fried rice as the perfect side-kick to your ramen.

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Kourakuen Original Pudding 194 yen
Ladies rejoice! This pudding surprises with its creaminess and delicate sweetness that belies its ramen roots!

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Korakuen Roppongi Branch

Hours: 24 hours

Address: Roppongi 7-14-13, Minato

Access: A 1-min. walk from Roppongi Station (Hibiya Line & Oedo Line)

10% Discount URL: http://www.wattention.com/kourakuen-coupon/ (Valid until Dec. 10, 2015 for use at these branches: Roppongi, Dogenzaka, Nihonbashi Sakuradori, Hirakawacho, Nakano Station (Southern Entrance), Shinbashi-karasumori. Not valid with other coupons or discounts.

URL: https://www.kourakuen.co.jp/

Japanese Dishes With An Identity Crisis

Flavors can be deceiving

Japan has a rich cuisine culture, but it’s not just about sushi, sashimi or yakisoba.

    Yoshoku, which literally means western cuisine, boasts many western-looking dishes that can actually only be found in Japan. Japan’s Chinese cuisine also has its fair bit of dishes that are unheard of in China.
Let’s have a look at some of Japan’s most popular western and Chinese dishes that in fact don’t come from too far.

1. Doria

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“The Japanese love rice so much that it should even be in gratin” thought Saly Weil, chef of Hotel New Grand in Yokohama in the thirties. The dish was named Doria, and can be found at pretty much any “family restaurant” or Yoshoku restaurant in Japan today.

2. Spaghetti Napolitan

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Shigetada Irie, Saly Weil’s successor at Hotel New Grand, saw American soldiers slurp away at their spaghetti mixed with ketchup sauce which was one of the military rations. He adapted the idea, but fried the spaghetti on an iron plate in similar fashion to that of Yakisoba, or Japanese fried noodles. Napolitan’s sauce is a mixture of ketchup, tobasco and worcester sauce, and common ingredients include capsicum, onion, bacon and sausages.

3. Omurice

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As its name suggests, Omurice consists of a portion of chicken rice (fried rice with chicken in ketchup sauce) wrapped up in an omelet. During the early 20th century, the dish was prepared as a quick stomach-filler for the staff of Rengatei, a Yoshoku restaurant in Ginza. The customers soon started requesting to bring the dish to the restaurant’s menu, and so Omurice was first served to the public.

4. Hayashi Rice

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No, this is not curry, but Hayashi rice, a dish of beef and onions stewed in a demi-glace sauce that consists of tomato sauce and red wine. There are several stories behind its origin – one is that it was invented by a cook named Hayashi who served this at staff meals at the Ueno Seiyoken yoshoku restaurant. Another is that it has its roots in “hashed beef”, and evolved into a Japanese pronunciation of it – “hayashi”.

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Tenshin is the Japanese name for Tianjin, a Chinese harbor city located near Beijing. However, Tenshindon, a crab fried rice omelette dish with starchy sauce could not be found anywhere in the city until Japanese tourists started asking for it and Chinese restaurants smelled good business. There are various theories to when and how Tenshindon was created, but all indicate that the dish is at least 100 year old and has its origins in Japan.

 

Ramen for Beginners

For a smooth slurping experience

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It has become almost impossible to find someone that has never had ramen before, let alone someone that has never heard of it. Still, without knowledge of the Japanese language, stepping into a ramen shop in Japan can be a little bit intimidating. That said, this is an experience not to be missed, so get familiar on how ramen is served and slurped in Japan with this article before you duck under a noren, or shop curtain.

1. How to order

Most ramen shop menus are very simple, but that doesn’t mean ordering is simple if you don’t know how to. While ordering methods differ depending on the shop, here is some basic knowledge that won’t hurt you on your ramen rendezvous.11992214_949889525069984_530041929_n

Ticket vending machines: At the majority of ramen shops, you purchase a food ticket at a ticket machine (usually located at the entrance) and put this ticket on the counter in front of your seat or on your table. If the ticket machine has no pictures and you can’t read Japanese, find any of the following characters for a portion of ramen → ラーメン らーめん 中華そば
Once you get used to purchasing food tickets in advance, it is easy to forget to pay at ramen shops that have no ticket machines, so be mindful!

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From Konaotoshi to Barikata: At most ramen shops, you can order how you want your noodles cooked. This is especially common in Fukuoka Prefecture, where you will hear customers loudly shout their preferences. If you see people around you do this, how about giving it a try yourself? Just shout any of the following: konaotoshi (almost uncooked), harigane (extremely firm), barikata (very firm), kata (firm), futsu (normal), yawa (soft), bariyawa (very soft).

2. Mastering the art of slurping, or deciding not to.

Depending on your culture, slurping noodles might be unheard of. However, in Japan, slurping your ramen (or other noodles for that matter) are the basics of the basics. Noodles are slurped not with the pure purpose of cooling them down, but also to allow the soup’s flavor to spread throughout one’s mouth. This might sound strange if you are not used to the concept, but note that wine experts are on the side of the Japanese as they prefer to slurp their wine in order to savor its fragrance throughout the mouth. Slurping your noodles can also be seen as a gesture towards the master, showing that you are enjoying your bowl to the max.

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Once you have mastered the way of slurping (and even if you decide to go on without doing so), let’s move on to the next step!

3. Don’t take too much time!

Dining at ease while enjoying a conversation is great, but not advisable when you are having ramen. The noodles loose their firmness and become too soft after a short period of time, so eating them right after they are served is considered best. Also, keep in mind that popular ramen shops often have people waiting in long lines in front of the shop to get their hands on a bowl of ramen, so staying too long after finishing your dish can be impolite.

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4. End with a gesture from your side

Some might say that the customer is king, but showing that you enjoyed your slurp will make your ramen master’s day. If you are sitting at a counter seat, putting your finished ramen bowl back on the counter top is a gesture that is always welcome. Don’t forget to say “Gochisosama”  (thank you for the meal), and give a friendly nod as you leave.

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Japan`s World Heritage Sites: Itsukushima Shrine – Hiroshima

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Itsukushima Shrine: The Japanese Benchmark of Beauty

Of all Japan’s cultural heritage sites, Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps not just the most beautiful, but the most important for understanding the traditional Japanese concept of beauty.

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Known by its 16-meter brilliant vermillion otorii gate that seemingly floats amidst the Seto Inland Sea at high tide, this Shinto shrine sits along the crescent beach of Itsukushima Island, just 10-km southwest of Hiroshima City.

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Founded in 593 – as the island’s Mt. Misen was worshiped as the highest mountain of the region – powerful warlord Taira no Kiyomori commissioned its grand expansion in 1146, both worshiping here and attributing his political success to it. It reflects the Shinden aristocratic palace architecture adopted during the late Heian era (1185), with its characteristic main shrine in the center, and side buildings connected via symmetrical kairo passage ways.

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Over the years, new buildings were added, including the five-story pagoda (1407), two-story pagoda (1523), as well as the country’s only Noh stage built upon the sea (Edo era). In 1996, its 20 buildings, most of which date to 1241, along with the nearby surrounding forest land and sea, were registered as Japan’s sixth cultural heritage site. 

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The main shrine and its kairo passage ways viewed from the side, with the 5-story pagoda in the background.

Yet long before UNESCO ever existed, Confucian Scholar Shunsai Hayashi from the Edo era selected this area as one of Japan’s three most beautiful sceneries (Nihon Sankei). Since then it has often been referred to as the traditional standard by which all other sites are measured – with the shrine itself even having been called the “ultimate Japanese building” – largely for two reasons.

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First, most Shinden-style palaces had a garden in front to be used as a stage for performances and ceremonies, along with a pond. Itsukushima Shrine’s designers boldly placed not just a garden and pond in its foreground, but wooden platform stages combined with the vast Seto Inland Sea. The result is a majestic sight, with the otorii gate, main building and its extensive kairo passages appearing as though buoyed upon the waters.

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Second, this area perfectly captures what has come to be known as the “trinity of Japanese beauty”: a man-made structure sandwiched between sea in the foreground and mountains in the background. The colorful contrast of Mt. Misen’s verdant lushness at 530 m, the bright scarlet shades of the shrine, and the reflective blue sea superbly integrates natural and man-made beauty. This harmony is of utmost importance for Shintoism – grounded in nature worship – which has deeply shaped the aesthetic values of Japan.

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You’ll want to leave plenty of time for your trip here, since the gradual rising and falling of the lapping tides drastically changes its ambiance. A walk up close to the otorii gate during low tide is the best way to appreciate its massiveness, but the view by ferry during high tide allows you to take in the full panorama of the shrine and island’s divine beauty.

One word of advice, however, is to not leave your bags unattended while taking your photos or selfies, as the many deer – considered sacred in the Shinto religion – roaming freely on the island will soon descend upon your bag to look for anything to chew on!

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Access: A 10-min. ferry ride from Miyajimaguchi Pier to Miyajima Pier. Miyajimaguchi Pier is a 5-min. walk from JR Miyajimaguchi Station. Or, take a 45-minute World Heritage cruise from a jetty at the Peace Memorial Park.

A Taste of Sh旬n: Matsutake Mushrooms

Matsutake-Nagano2The world’s most expensive funghi is the matsutake mushroom, or literally “pine mushroom”, costing up to US$2,000 per kilogram.

Found at the foot of pine trees, Japan’s answer to the black truffle sprouts during autumn.

The earthy, pungent taste of the matsutake is used to flavour rice and soups.

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The Tamba region in Kyoto is most famous for its production.images (1)

And in some places you can even try matsutake shochu!

Learn a Word: Japanese Animal Sounds

Be it the language that shapes the culture or the culture that forms the word, learn about Japanese culture through key words used in everyday speech.

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Japanese animal sounds can be quite different from how other cultures perceive them to be. Here are a few of them, along with the names of the animals in Japanese, and their English versions. Unlike the various descriptions that can be found in English, the sound an animal makes is usually uniform in Japanese.

Fox きつね (kitsune)

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The cry of a fox is described as “kon kon” (こんこん).
English equivalent: gekkering, barking, purring, wailing

 

Chick ひよこ (hiyoko)

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Chicks are thought to make a sound like “piyo piyo” (ぴよぴよ).
English equivalent: cheep, peep, chirp

 

Monkey さる (saru)

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Japanese monkeys go “ki ki” (きいきい)
English equivalent: chatter, gibber, whoop, screech

 

Frog かえる (kaeru)

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The noise of a frog is described as “kero kero” (けろけろ).
English equivalent: croak, ribbit

 

Horse うま(uma)

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Horses go “hihiin” (ひひいん).
English equivalent: neigh, snort, whinny

 

 

Iris in Wonderland Japan: Cool Cafes To Chillout At

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I like cafes, drinking coffee, and especially cappuccino.
During my freetime I like to chill out at a quiet cafe and enjoy a leisurely brunch or dessert while surfing the web, reading a book or listening to music, and am happy to do this even on my own.
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In Tokyo, one can find cafes with character to relax in peace and quiet while savouring the delights on their menu.
So whenever I have some time to myself, I try to discover a cafe with ambience and try their brunch! In particular, I love Egg Benedicts…
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…and sandwiches!
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In cafes in Tokyo, one can enjoy the company of friends, or chilling out by yourself, unwinding from the daily toil.
Here are a couple of my favorite cafe hangouts:
Bondi Cafe
1-19-7 Tomigaya, Shibuya, La Foret Tomigaya 302
–> I like the decor here that transports one to Bondi beach in Sydney!
 
Viron
Tsukada Bldg. 1-2F, 33-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
–> The baguettes here are made from flour flown in from France, and it shows in the wonderful taste and texture that is sure to leave you satisfied!
 

World Heritage (6): Genbaku Dome

l_158685Genbaku Dome: Hiroshima’s Relic of Hope

Exactly 100 years ago, visitors flocked to admire the newly-built Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall – a proud symbol of modernism with its European-style dome. Now, people from all over the world gather to gaze in wordless wonder at its preserved remains after the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima that ended World War II 70 years ago.

Now known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or Genbaku (“Atomic Bomb”) Dome, it represents the people’s prayer for peace.

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Erected in 1915 by Czech architect Jan Letzel, this 25-m tall brick building with a five-story central core and elliptical copper dome was a rare sight when most buildings in Hiroshima were only two stories and made of wood.

The serenity of the park is a stark contrast to the devastation of the area 70 years ago when the first atomic bomb was dropped by an American air force bomber on Aug. 6, 1945 at 8:15am. Its location almost directly below the hypocenter (just 160 m southwest) of the blast accounted for its miraculous survival. Thanks to three restoration projects since then, its weathered walls and hollowed iron skeleton still preserve a surreal glimpse of this horrific event – and staring silently in awe of it will surely move you.

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The Genbaku Dome therefore is unlike the majority of the world’s 802 cultural heritage sites, which are selected for their aesthetic or architectural beauty. Registered in 1996, it is one of just four, chosen for the “negative heritage” it testifies of, alongside the Auschwitz Nazi Concentration Camp, prison center Robben Island, and the slave trade Island of Goree.

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Yet, as Japan’s most sobering cultural heritage site, it equally embodies the country’s enduring spirit and beauty. With hardly any other traces of such a massive disaster, this revitalized city has now become synonymous with world peace and nuclear disarmament. The hope it conveys is why it has become one of the most popular tourist spots in all of Japan, ranked in the top 3 on TripAdvisor for the past several years, with the number of visitors doubling in the past three years.

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Though entrance into the building is not permitted, walk around its fenced perimeter for a solemn view during the day or night. Also, no trip here is complete without also heading across the nearby Motoyasu River, to the expansive Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to prayers for the victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum within the grounds is filled with numerous artifacts and photos, which will further bring the history here to life.

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Access: A 1-min. walk from JR Genbaku Dome-mae Station (Hiroshima Electric Railway)

All About Ramen

Everything You Need To Know To Become A Ramen Expert

Just like how spaghetti is served in different sauces (tomato-based, carbonara and alle vongole come to mind), ramen comes in a wide array of different soups. The flavor of these soups vary from each other just as much as the character of one ramen master varies from another. However, most ramen can be categorized in the following types.

Shoyu (Soy Sauce) : The Classic Ramen

 

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This Shoyu Ramen is served at Nidaime Nyaga Nyaga Tei in Tokyo

Shoyu Ramen is the most basic version of Japanese ramen, and has its roots in Tokyo. A soy sauce based soup similar to that of Japanese noodles as soba and udon was used to familiarize the Japanese with a type of noodle that was still foreign to the nation at the time. Together with soy sauce, a wide array of ingredients such as chicken bones, niboshi (dried sardines) and vegetables are used to bring out an original flavor.

Shio (Salt) : The Delicate Ramen

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This Shio Ramen is served at Mendokoro Honda in Tokyo

For those that want something a bit lighter on the stomach, Shio Ramen is the best choice as the soup is not as thick and fatty as most other ramen. Together with salt, which is used as the basic ingredient for the soup, chicken bones and pork bones are often used in the soup broth, but aren’t boiled as deeply as in other ramen, resulting in a more delicate flavor. Tanmen, a popular type of Shio Ramen, is especially beloved by the ladies as it is topped with a mountain of fresh vegetables.

Miso: The Heartwarming Ramen

【金澤濃厚中華そば 神仙】濃厚味噌「炎・炙」肉盛そば
This Miso Ramen is served at Kanazawa Noko Chuka Soba Shinsen in Ishikawa Prefecture

Miso Ramen first came to life when a customer at a small eatery in Sapporo asked the cook to put ramen noodles in his tonjiru (miso soup with pork meat) in the fifties. Today, miso ramen is often mixed with pork bone broth and pork lard to keep you warm during the winter. Corn and butter are often used as topping, which you will not often see in other ramen.

Tonkotsu (Pork Bone Broth) : The Heavyweight Ramen

This Tonkotsu Ramen is served at Kourakuen throughout the country

You could say that Tonkotsu Ramen is what cream sauce is to spaghetti. The deeply boiled pork bones create a thick, creamy soup that is without a doubt the heaviest on the stomach among the basic ramen soups. Although Tonkotsu Ramen – which has its origins in Kyushu – is arguably the most popular sort of ramen today, it was not until the nineties that it became popular throughout the country.

Tsukemen: Another way to serve ramen

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This Tsukemen was prepared by the disciples of Kazuo Yamagishi.

Tsukemen puts the main focus on the noodles rather than the soup by serving them separately to dip in the soup. Tsukemen noodles are usually thicker than that of standard ramen, and are cooled down to create an extra firmness. Tsukemen was invented by Kazuo Yamagishi of Taishoken Ramen in 1955, who passed away in April 2015.

The dashi

The essence of a ramen’s soup lies in its dashi, or soup stock. A number of different ingredients are boiled over a long time so that their flavor is extracted. The choice of ingredients for the soup stock and how long to boil them, are crucial elements that heavily influence the flavor of the soup, and a true ramen master will keep perfecting this art for his entire life.

Regular soup stock ingredients are:

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From left to right: Tonkotsu (pork bone), Torigara (chicken bone), Niboshi (dried sardines), Konbu (dried kelp), Katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)

The noodles

Ramen noodles differ in texture, thickness and shape.
In Japan, you can specify the firmness of your noodles – hard, regular or soft. 
In general, the Japanese prefer chewy, firm noodles, but in some regions a more soft texture can also be popular. Of course, this is a matter of personal taste, but it cannot be denied that just as in Italy, al dente is how the majority likes their noodles cooked.
And like how the type of pasta changes to match the sauce used, the same goes for the shape of ramen.
For Tonkotsu Ramen, the main focus is the soup, which is why Hosomen, or thin noodles are often used to keep the dish from being too heavy. Futomen, or thick noodles, go better with Tsukemen as the dipping soup finely escorts their chewy texture.
When the soup is light in flavor, straight noodles might not be able to carry the soup to one’s mouth even if the art of slurping is properly executed. But fear not, in a case like this, chijiremen – or curly noodles – will do the job, keeping a hold on the soup due to their curled shape.

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From left to right: Straight Hosomen (thin noodles), Chuboso Chijiremen (curled noodles of medium thickness), Futo Chijiremen (thick curled noodles)

The toppings

The picture is only complete once the chashu (roasted pork), a boiled egg, leek, nori, menma (fermented beansprout) and naruto (fishcake) are topped on the ramen. These toppings also give the dish a more healthy balance (well, at least to some extent). Toppings vary depending on the ramen in question, but these are the most common.

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First row from left to right: Chashu, Menma, Negi Second row from left to right: Ajitama, Nori, Naruto

With this knowledge, we hope you will be able to enjoy ramen to the max the next time you get to slurp one of these yummy bowls. Don’t forget to let us know once you find your favorite ramen!

World Heritage (5): Shirakawa-go & Gokayama

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Shirakawa-go & Gokayama: Fairy tale-like farmhouse villages 

Like a scene straight out of a fairy tale, the twinkling towns of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama possess a magical beauty that moves with the seasons.

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Ogimachi village, the largest village in Shirakawago

Surrounded by steep rugged mountains and isolated along the Shogawa River, the quaint village communities of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (Gifu Prefecture), and Ainokura and Suganuma in Gokayama (Toyama Prefecture) were registered as cultural world heritage sites in 1995. Known particularly for their steep-roofed gassho-style houses which design reduces snow buildup, 88 of these farmhouses within the three villages are listed as World Heritage sites.

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Gassho literally means “praying hands”, as the slanted roofs so resemble. And like an answered prayer, this creative architecture helped these villages dating back to the 11th century to survive the unique environmental challenges through the present. As only .04% of the land in this area is cultivatable, residents relied on mulberry trees, silkworms, and gunpowder manufacturing for their livelihood.

白川郷にある合掌造りの民家の屋根裏です

These four-story buildings not only allowed for warm storage of silkworm beds and mulberry leaves on the upper floors, but could sustain massive snowfall with its sharp-angled roofing. As a result, you won’t find this picturesque townscape anywhere else in Japan. Such resourcefulness is what earned it its UNESCO registration, even though the oldest original house is but a few hundred years old.

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While an open-air museum and several of these houses are available for touring, the panoramic views from the Ogimachi Castle platform or Tenshukaku platform in Ogimachi village offer the most breathtaking scenery. With re-thatching of the roofs in the spring, vast green forestry in the summer, and a water-spraying exercise in the fall, this area’s seasonal events extend far beyond its iconic winter illumination.

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The water-spraying exercise held on the last Sunday in Oct. for these highly flammable gassho-style houses.

So for a setting that mixes fantasy world with folk town, you couldn’t pray for a better site to visit than here.

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Access:
Shirakawa-go: A 50-min express bus ride (Nohi Bus) from JR Takayama Station.
Gokayama: A  40 min bus ride (Kaetsunou Bus) from JR Johana Station.

Picture Perfect Oirase Keiryu in Aomori

Ashura no Nagare, a photo spot representative of Oirase Keiyu.

The Oirase Keiryu has to be one of the most photographed and photogenic streams in Japan. And for good reason – even if you’re not a professional photographer and the only camera you’ve ever touched is on your smartphone, your photograph will look screensaver-worthy.

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The play of dappled sunlight on the gushing and frothy stream framed by fifty shades of green here – actually it could be 300 shades, as there are that many different types of moss alone – makes it photographic from any angle.

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The flow of the mountain stream is especially rapid during the summer months when water from melted snow flows into this tributary that then flows into Lake Towada, around 14km away from the start of the Oirase River.

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There are several waterfalls along the way, with the widest and most dynamic being the Choushi Waterfall at 20m, located where the Oirase stream begins its flow from the Towada Lake.

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Towada Lake is the largest caldera lake in Honshu, or the main island of Japan, and is also a popular spot for photographers.

Gorgeous in green, the Oirase stream and Towada Lake area – which has designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monuments – is also alluring when azure with autumn colors come October.

ACCESS: JR Tohoku buses run from Aomori Train Station via Oirase Stream to Towada Lake.

 

 

 

A Taste of Sh旬n: Sanma-time in Autumn

The end of summer brings about the season for the similar-sounding “sanma” – or Pacific Saury. But it’s name in Japanese characters, 秋刀魚, means literally “autumn sword fish”, and the aroma of salted, grilled sanma wafting in the air heralds the arrival of autumn and the start of a season loved for its delicious harvests from the land and sea.

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Sanma sushi

Indeed, the southward migration from the northern Pacific Ocean towards Japan at the end of summer is eagerly anticipated by fans, who can’t wait to relive the taste of what could be Japan’s favorite seasonal fish – best savored raw, of course, to enjoy its freshness and natural oils.

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Every September, there will be a Meguro Sanma Festival where the fish is grilled over charcoal and given out to everyone in the line for free! In early Autumn, sanma contains the most oil – almost 20% of its body content – and hence makes for a very good grill, crispy on the outside and juicy inside.

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The sanma used to be a humble fish for the locals as it used to be hauled in abundance and full of tiny bones, but there is a famous tale about the Emperor who got so hungry on a hunting trip that when he smelled grilled sanma in the air he asked his servant to bring him that tasty morsel. When the royal kitchen tried to replicate the taste, they removed the bones and did so many intricate seasonings to the fish that it tasted nothing like the manna from heaven the Emperor tasted on that fateful day. And so, he declared that sanma is only delicious in Meguro!

Grilled or raw, the sanma is no doubt the fish of autumn!

About Shun:
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. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

 

Yokohama Minatomirai: Port of the Future

A skyline that truly impresses

Yokohama’s Minato Mirai skyline has become iconic to the city. A cruise along this port skyline at night will be among the most romantic and exciting experiences during your trip in Japan.

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The towering Yokohama Landmark Tower that was until recently Japan’s tallest skyscraper, the Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel that boasts the appearance of a neatly cut piece of cheese (at least that’s how a Dutch would describe it), and the Yokohama Cosmo World theme park with its lit-up ferris wheel make for a futuristic skyline more than worthy of its name, Minato Mirai, which can be translated as “Port of future”.

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To the port of future, an anchor is no more than decoration

Take the world’s second fastest elevator all the way up to the Yokohama Landmark Tower’s 69th floor observation deck to get a bird’s-eye view on the whole city that stretches out to the mountains. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mt. Fuji!

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Other not to be missed activities include hopping on Cosmo World’s ferris wheel (or maybe even one of the mind-boggling roller coasters, not me though…), and strolling along the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, which is one of the few historical buildings that show that the area has not always been the “Port of future” it is today.

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A visit to the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM might also be interesting, as it tells a significant but not often discussed part of modern Japanese history; the history of instant noodles, which were invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958.

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Another spot I would like to recommend, is Yokohama Minatomirai Manyo Club. You might not believe it, but this is a hot spring located in the middle of Minato Mirai! Hot spring water is carried from Yugawara (a famous onsen resort in Kanagawa Prefecture) on a daily basis.
Relaxing in a hot onsen tub while gazing at Minato Mirai’s impressive skyline with awe, is an unforgettable experience that gives you the best of both Japan’s modern and traditional side.

Yokohama Minatomirai

Access: Get off at Minatomirai Station (Minatomirai Line)

Japan`s World Heritage Sites: Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto: A treasury of temples and shrines

With so many gems gathered here, the sightseer’s dilemma is knowing where to start! So for the time-strapped tourist, here are the top three “must see” spots.

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Much like its elevated position above the city, Kiyomizu-dera Temple stands at the top as Kyoto’s most popular temple. Named after the “pure water” (kiyomizu) from nearby Otowa-no-taki falls, this 1,200-year-old temple draws massive crowds for its wonderful panoramic view from the Kiyomizu Platform.

Kiyamizu-dera Temple in Autumn Season Light-up Event
Kiyamizu-dera Temple in Autumn Season Light-up Event

Getting to this wooden platform suspended 12 m high over the cliff is well worth the climb, especially when these hills are set aflame with autumn colors. Besides, as the most visited temple, you might even spot some geisha on the way up!

Kiyamizu-dera Autumn Season - 1
Kiyamizu-dera Autumn Season – 1
Kiyamizu-dera Autumn Season - 2
Kiyamizu-dera Autumn Season – 2
Kiyamizu-dera Spring Season
Kiyamizu-dera Spring Season

Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Access: From Kyoto Station take the City Bus (Route 206) and get off at the Gojozaka bus stop. A 10-min walk.

2. Kinkakuji Temple

Known formally as Rokuonji Temple, behold the gold standard for temple artistry. Reflected like a mirror on Kyoko-chi pond, each of its three tiers embodies a different form of temple architecture: shin-den, buke, and Zen-sect.

Kinkakuji (Golden) Temple
Kinkakuji (Golden) Temple

With its gold leaf embossing, this glittering masterpiece can be intoxicating. So much so, a monk who found it to be too beautiful to bear, burned it down in 1950, as told in Yukio Mishima’s famous book, “Kinkakuji”. Fortunately, the temple has been restored to its original glory and can be enjoyed in the lush surrounding of its stunning chisen-kaiyu style garden in all seasons.

Kinkakuji Temple in Early Autumn Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Early Autumn Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Winter Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Winter Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Autumn Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Autumn Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Spring Season
Kinkakuji Temple in Spring Season

Kinkakuji Temple
Access: From Kyoto Station take the City Bus (Route 101) and get off at the Kinkakuji-michi bus stop. A 3-min walk.

3. Ryoanji Temple

As even Queen Elizabeth affirmed with her applauses on a trip here, this temple’s garden rocks.

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Though at first glance the simple 10 by 30 m rectangular-shaped gravel garden may not catch your eye, the 15 stones floating amidst this white sand sea is the essence of Zen. Yet the design is also quite puzzle-like, as one stone is always hidden, no matter your viewpoint. The 7-5-3 arrangement of stones have even earned it the name, “Tiger Cubs Crossing Garden”, as though small cubs are following their mother through the water.

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Head to the north part of this garden of the Hojo Residence, and you’ll find this washbasin, engraved with the Zen teaching that can be translated, “to be at peace with oneself, and abandon craving.”

Such words couldn’t be better advice for the frustrated Kyoto temple traveler – when unable to see all 18 UNESCO gems, let these three be enough to give you peace.

Ryoanji Temple
Access: From Kyoto Station take the city bus (Route 50) and get off at the Ritsumeikan daigaku-mae bus stop. A 7-min walk.

The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple

The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple, which can also be found on the back of every 10 yen coin!
The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple, which can also be found on the back of every 10 yen coin!

Nishi-Honganji Temple

The ornately decorated Tang Gate of Nishi-Honganji Temple
The ornately decorated Tang Gate of Nishi-Honganji Temple

Shinyokohama Raumen Museum: Ramen in Showa fashion

A delightful “timeslurp”

Contrary to its naming, Shinyokohama Raumen Museum is more a theme park than a museum.
But fear not, by theme park I don’t mean crazy, looping roller coasters, pendulum rides, drop towers and what not, as such attractions would not be very good on one’s stomach after slurping a portion of ramen noodles. However, what Shinyokohama Raumen Museum’s atmospheric ramen stalls do have in common with such attractions, are the lines you will have to queue at before you get your hands on your bowl of choice.

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The stairs to the museum’s basement floor serves as a time machine that takes you to a nostalgic Japan of a long-gone era. As you make your way through narrow alleys with replicas of drinking holes, tobacco kiosks and bathhouses of postmodern Showa facade, you might bump into a policeman on an old model bicycle who gives you a friendly nod as he passes by.
The main square is decorated with movie posters of Japanese film’s glory years and the publishing firm on the corner looks so real you wouldn’t be surprised to see literary legends such as a young kimono-clad Yasunari Kawabata or Yukio Mishima walk inside with a manuscript under arm.

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Of course, the main attraction of this food-themed attraction park is the ramen, and Shinyokohama Raumen Museum does not disappoint in this field either. A total of nine famous ramen shops from all over the country and even overseas are gathered here to bring you their version of Japan’s now internationally beloved soul food.

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*Please note that these ramen images are posted for the mere purpose to give you an idea on what to expect and are not the actual products available at the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum.

Although eating all 9 ramen on one day is a nearly impossible task, the available “mini ramen” make slurping more than just one ramen possible even for the ladies. The 9 ramen stalls change from every 3-months to 1 year, so even in the unbelievable case that you manage to eat all 9 bowls, this museum is still worth a second visit!

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The connection between ramen and the museum’s postmodern theme, you ask? Good question! Apparently, the museum is replicating a Japanese urban landscape of 1958, the year in which Abe Momofuku invented instant ramen. Ramen itself, was already in Japan before WWII, but only started its journey to become the Japanese soul food it is today after the war ended and soldiers tried to recreate the Chinese noodles they couldn’t forget about.

Shinyokohama Raumen Museum

Location: Shinyokohama 2-14-21 , Kohoku, Yokohama

Access: A 5-min walk from Shinyokohama Station (Tokdaido Shinkansen, JR Yokohama Line, Yokohama Municipal Subway)

Entrance Fee: 310 yen (13 or older) 100 yen (from 6 to 12)

URL: http://www.raumen.co.jp/english/#manual