The Takaoka Top Sites Tour

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Not all cities can boast of National Treasures, vast nature, and one of Japan’s Three Great Buddhas, all within walking distance of the main station. So for some quiet meditation or some dazzling festival floats, be sure to stop at these spots.

Takaoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha)

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Watching over the city at 15m tall and said to be the most handsome of the Three Great Buddhas according to poet Akiko Yosano, Takaoka’s Daibutsu stands—or sits, rather—as the only one of the three completely funded and crafted by its local citizens.

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Erected in 1933, three decades of coppersmith construction went into creating this 65 ton landmark, which contains a collection of art and craftwork beneath the statue, also well worth seeing.

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Zuiryuji Temple

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The most prized relic of the prefecture, Zuiryuji’s Central Buddha Hall, Lecture Hall and Main Gate are the only buildings in Toyama registered as National Treasures. Dedicated to Takaoka’s founder, Lord Maeda Toshinaga in 1663, this Zen temple is representative of early-Edo architecture.

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Central Buddha Hall

When gazing at the Central Buddha Hall, be sure to look up, as this work of architectural genius supports 47 tons of lead tiles without employing a single nail!

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Mikurumaya Kaikan

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Though the Mikurumayama Festival, which dates back to 1611, can only be caught on May 1 along Takaoka’s city streets, you can view examples of its beautiful floats here at this museum all year round.

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Known for their tall wooden hoko poles and elaborate lacquerware and metalwork ornamentation, these carriages are said to be based on an elegant one once used by the great Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which was later donated to Takaoka’s Maeda clan.

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Takaoka Kojo Park 

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Within just a 10-min walk from the station, here you can enjoy 22 hectares (54 acres) of lush greenery at this park, particularly beautiful during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons.

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While nothing remains of the original Takaoka Castle that once stood here except for the expansive moat, a free zoo, and the Manyou Shu Festival in early October, as well as a recent statue of Lord Toshinaga Maeda.

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The stage for the three-night poetry reading festival, Manyou Shu.

Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako –

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

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L’EX Hokuto No.12

Day 1:
14:48  Board Rapid Airport No. 147, alight at Minami Shin Chitose at 14:51
15:05  Board L’EX Hokuto No.12
16:25 Arrive Lake Toya Station
Rent a car from the station to Toyako Onsen, 15 mins by car

LAKE TOYA ONSEN

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View of Lake Toya from Toya Manseikaku Hotel. In the distance is Mt Yotei.

Lake Toya is one of the biggest lakes in Japan and is a popular onsen resort. It offers views of Mt Yotei, which is fondly known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji for its symmetry.

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View of the fireworks from a cruiseship

Fireworks are held every night on the lake in front of the various hotels lining the lake. In fact, Lake Toya has the longest running fireworks festival, running from April to October.

Mt Usu Ropeway

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View from Mt Usu

Just a 15-min car ride from Lake Toya is the 733-m high Mt. Usu, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan. It erupted four times in the past century, and Mt Usu is a result of one of the eruptions. The G8 Summit was held near here in 2008.

DRIVE FROM LAKE TOYA TO NISEKO

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Lunch at Niseko

 

The ski resort of Niseko is a scenic 2 hour’s drive from Lake Toya, and we had lunch at Niseko Prativo, a semi-buffet style restaurant that boasts a salad bar serving vegetables grown in Hokkaido, and milk from the next-door award-winning dairy farm. From the restaurant you can get a view of Mt Yotei as well. The milk pudding, cheesecake and yogurt drink here were also divine! Not to mention the cheese tarts at Takahashi’s Dairy Farm next door.

SEGWAY

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Segway tour

Now, what better way to work off those lunch calories than to hop on a segway? WAttention explored the surrounding area on these cool segways.

 

After that, we drove back to Sapporo for the night.

Stay tuned for Day 3: Autumn leaves at Sounkyo Onsen, minus 21 degrees Celsius Ice Pavilion, and more!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

 

Tokyo Skyline Views From Bunkyo Civic Center

The best season for viewing Tokyo’s skyline is from November to February. The air can be so clear that on a sunny day you can see as far as Mt.Fuji. Tokyo has countless observatory decks with great views, but with slated windows that suppress reflection, the Bunkyo Civic Center has to be one of my favorites, and you can enter for free!

Just look at this breathtaking view of Shinjuku’s towering skyscrapers with Mt. Fuji in the backdrop.
The tallest building located on the right side of Mt.Fuji is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

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Next, let’s have a look at the view of Ikebukuro. The highest building here is Sunshine City, which also has a good observatory that is currently being rennovated. It is scheduled to reopen in Spring 2016.

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You can also enjoy a great view of Tokyo’s new landmark tower, the Tokyo Skytree.

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With Shinjuku on your west side and Ikebukuro and the Tokyo Skytree on the east, you can enjoy an unparalleled panorama view from the Bunkyo Civic Center that is definitely worth a visit.

Things get even more exciting as the sun sets. The silhouette of Mt. Fuji in the back of Shinjuku’s urban landscape is simply stunning.

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The first 15 minutes of twilight are the most spectacular, so be sure to arrive at the observation deck before it gets dark.

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At night, the skyscrapers become extra glamorous with their flashy lights, but Mt. Fuji stays its dignified self. Behold this amazing panorama of nature and civilization.

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And here’s a look at the heavy traffic on Kasugadori street heading for Ikebukuro during rush hour.

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The Tokyo Skytree takes on a different charm at night with its colored illumination.

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Bunkyo Civic Center

Entrance fee: Free
Hours: 9am – 8:30pm
Holidays : December 29 – January 3, 3rd Sunday in May
Location; Kasuga 1-16-21, Bunkyo, Tokyo
Access: 1-min wak from Korakuen Station (Marunouchi Line, Namboku Line), 1-min walk from Kasuga Station (Mita Line, Oedo Line)

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 7: Digital Content Expo 2015

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

Where is modern technology heading?

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At the main hall of Tokyo’s Miraikan

The Digital Content Expo is an annual event held at Tokyo’s Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. With new technology products and experiments for digital contents as video-games and anime, walking around in the showroom here gives you a good impression of where modern technology is heading. WAttention was on the site to check it out, so let’s see what the newest Japanese technology has in store for you!

Peek into different worlds

At this year’s Digital Content Expo, it was very noticeable that VR (virtual reality) devices are becoming more and more mainstream. While video-game companies as Nintendo and Sega released VR devices way back in the nineties, technology was too limited to provide an experience appealing enough at the time.
Now, roughly 20 years later, VR devices are so advanced and functional that they seem to be well on their way to create a new revolution in the world of technology, and with this I am not just talking about video games. At the Digital Content Expo, developers showcased many new ways to use VR devices, ranging from architectural software to practicing sports and interactive contents for museums.

Staying innovative

Among the products and experiments displayed at the event, the one’s that attracted the most visitors were not per se those that used the most advanced technology. Of course new technology creates new possibilities, but what’s even more important is how and what you decide to do with it. The popular booths all had something unique and special on display that did not only rely on heavy investments, but on the ideas of the creators even more so. Here follow some of the most creative digital contents we saw this year.

 

The Doodle Zoo

At first sight, this project might just look like a simple sketch book to make drawings of animals. But after you finish drawing your animal and put a stamp on its belly, your creation comes to life and will start walking around and shaking its ears. Seeing your own drawing walking around together with animals drawn by other people is a total blast and great fun for kids!

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Parents always worry about their baby. It is not uncommon anymore for parents to install a webcam in their home to check on the baby with their smartphone or computer when out or at work. Now, with this digital pacifier parents can know things about their baby that aren’t even possible with the naked eye. The sensor attached to this pacifier detects how strong and in what kind of patron the baby sucks on the pacifier. The pacifier sends over the situation the baby’s sucking indicates to a computer or smartphone. For example, if the baby stops sucking, the devices sends over “Your baby has fallen asleep”.
I feel great potential in this project. If it evolves even more, we might even become able to talk with animals!

 

Lyric Speaker

Hardly anyone buys CD’s anymore. Music is downloaded digitally or listened to online. But hasn’t a part of music’s charm gotten lost? For example, CD’s used to come with lyrics books. Today, less and less people take the time to have a good look at the lyrics. The newly developed music playing device “The Lyric Speaker” solves that problem, as it “plays” music not only the sound, but also the text. The lyrics of the song are displayed on the device, allowing you to pay attention to the lyrics without having to search for them online. This concept might also work for discos, where larger versions of these devices could be installed to dance not only to the beat.

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Avatar Phone

If you are a shy Japanese but still want to show your expressions, this new application developed by Yahoo! JAPAN will come in handy as it reads both your movement and facial expressions which you can show through an anime-ish character during a chat session. Choose the character that matches you the best as your personal avatar to show your feelings to someone without having to actually confront this person. Leaving away the question whether this is socially healthy or not, it definitely shows something about the Japanese society and the way people interact with each other.

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

 

Nagoya Tastes: Miso and More

 

 

Nagoya is a treasure chest of street food and has a unique food culture from that of Tokyo and Osaka, the other two major cities it is sandwiched between and often bypassed for. Just coming here for a gastronomic adventure is worth the trip itself!

MISO CUTLETS

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Nagoya is famous for its miso food culture. The dominant type of miso used is 八丁味噌, or hachomiso, which is a miso with a sweet and nutty taste. This is used as a seasoning for all sorts of food, such as oden, and most famously on its pork cutlets as miso cutlets.

SEKAI NO YAMACHAN

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Sekai No Yamachan, or literally, Yamachan of the World, is a popular restaurant chain specializing in Nagoya dishes, and famous for its spicy and crispy chicken wings. There are 75 branches within Japan, with 37 in Aichi prefecture and 17 in Tokyo. You can also eat other Nagoya specialties here such as kishimen.

KISHIMEN

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This is a broad and flat noodle with a broth that is not as soy sauce heavy as the Kanto style and not as light as the Kansai style. Its smooth and chewy texture makes it a tactile treat.

MORNING 

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“Morning” in Japan refers to breakfast, and the most famous component of breakfast in Nagoya is the red bean paste toast served with a dollop of butter. Try this melting blend of east meeting west here!

 

 

 

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 6: OJAGA DESIGN

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

Japanese craftsmanship spirit meets Pikachu

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Already as a child, the founder of OJAGA DESIGN, Sei Ogawa, or Ojaga, the nickname he is known by, loved to create. “I could spend hours tuning up my Mini 4WD’s” he says, showing his fond memories of these Japanese miniature race car models by brand Tamiya, that were a huge boom among children during the eighties and nineties. It was a great time to be a child in Japan, as the dawn of the golden years of Japanese subculture entertainment brought along many classic manga, anime and video-games to be engrossed by. These would later become a major source of inspiration for OJAGA DESIGN’s leather accessories.

After graduating high-school, Ojaga stuffed the minimum items necessary to survive in his backpack, and departed on a journey that would change his life forever. In Africa, a land that has inspired him in many ways, Ojaga became fascinated by leather through African drums, realized the material’s potential and decided to make what would later become his lifework out of it.

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Today, Ojaga is the owner and founder of OJAGA DESIGN, a leather accessory brand that creates handcrafted Japan made products. The iconic sewing stitches that show how hours of love and care went into each craft are not just charming, but also proof that Ojaga and his employees are proud owners of the Japanese craftsmanship spirit.

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Since its founding, OJAGA DESIGN has been part of a wide variety of collaborations. It has teamed up with different fashion apparel brands, and one of its first joint projects was a partnership with Tamiya, Ojaga’s beloved brand of mini plastic model cars. He is heavily inspired by Japanese subculture, and two and a half years ago he even managed to catch his first Pikachu, the best-known character from the beloved global video game and animation franchise, Pokémon. “I received an offer from The Pokémon Company to create a Pikachu themed accessory.”

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While most Pokémon Trainers aspire to catch ’em all, Ojaga chooses to focus instead on just Pikachu. Throughout the years, he has produced a wide assortment of Pikachu themed leather accessories, as well as key holders and pouches featuring Poké Balls, devices used for catching wild Pokémon.

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After Pokémon, many big names including Studio Ghibli (“My Neighbor Totoro”) and SANRIO (“Hello Kitty”) followed, and so OJAGA DESIGN’s assortment is full of must have items for otaku.

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What makes OJAGA DESIGN special, is that even after receiving such fame, Ojaga has refused to change his philosophy of putting an emphasis on handmade products. Every single accessory crafted by OJAGA DESIGN is still sewed by hand to the last stitch, making the amount of products that can be manufactured extremely limited. This forces foreign customers to come to Japan to purchase these limited crafts. “But isn’t the journey itself half the fun?” says Ojaga, a man that has travelled the world in search for unique crafts himself.

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Ojaga wants you to experience and appreciate the hard work that goes into handmade crafts for yourself, and introduces the OJAGA KIT, a workshop kit that includes all the materials and tools necessary to make your own creation. “With our Pikachu OJAGA KIT, you can sew your own Pikachu strap. It makes for a unique present to give someone, especially a Pokémon fanatic”

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“I’m not striving to become a multi-billion dollar brand. I just hope that people can remember the charm and appeal of handmade crafts through my work.” And indeed, from its creations to the people that make them, OJAGA DESIGN succeeds in reminding you and me the character of crafts before mechanization and mass-production.

Interested yet? Check out OJAGA DESIGN’s official stores in Tachikawa and Daikanyama during your visit to Japan!

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


OJAGA DESIGN Tachikawa

Location: Takamatsucho 1-16-20, Tachikawa, Tokyo

Access: 10-min by taxi from JR Tachikawa Station North Exit

Hours: 11am – 8pm

OJAGA DESIGN Daikanyama

Location: Ebisu Minami 3-6-7-201, Shibuya, Tokyo

Access: A 6-min walk from Daikanyama Station (Toyoko Line)

Hours: 1pm-9pm (from 12am to 8pm on weekends and public holidays)

 

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©1976, 2014 SANRIO CO., LTD. APPROVAL NO.S550740
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The Takaoka Traditional Crafts Tour

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More than anything—yes, even Doraemon—Takaoka is a city of craftsmanship.

In particular, metalworking here dates back to the Edo era, when it was designated as an industrial zone under the ruling Maeda lords. Over 400 years later, the city is still the nation’s leading copperware producer, and its skillful techniques and traditions are revealed in every statue that lines its streets, as well as its modern lineup of accessories and decorations. Below are three names any craft fan or omiyage hunter will surely want to be familiar with.

Kanaya-machi 

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Behold the birthplace of Takaoka’s metal-casting industry. Lord Toshinaga Maeda established this district in 1611 by commissioning seven metal workers, and one walk down its stone-paved streets—which also includes scraps of copper—will give you a nostalgic sense of the city’s origins.

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Enter into one of its many latticework-decorated machiya townhouse shops, and you’ll find boutique displays with one-of-a-kind products, handcrafted by third and fourth generation artisans laboring in the dark factory warehouses hidden just behind the storefront.

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From copper to tin, ceramic to lacquerware, a wide array of decorative items can not only be purchased here, but even handcrafted by participating in a workshop, such as the one offered at Sabo Gallery Otera—a great way to experience Takaoka’s tradition for yourself.

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Nousaku

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What began a hundred years ago as a manufacturing company of brass and bronze butsudan Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets, and flower vases, has expanded to one of Takaoka’s most innovative creators of tableware and home accessories.

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In fact, a meal at any nice dining establishment within the city is likely to be served on one of Nousaku’s malleable tin plates.

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Its KAGO basket line is perhaps its most popular, using 100% tin, making them bendable by hand into a number of shapes to suit any occasion.

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By visiting its factory, you can get a first-hand tour of the creation process, from the initial pouring of molten aluminum, bronze, copper, and tin into the mold, down to the detailing and polishing—a metal-lover’s must see.

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Raden

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Said to have originated in Nara in the 7th century, raden is the decorative craft created by setting lustrous abalone shell into lacquerware, glass, stone or metal. And at Musashigawa Koubo, a team of just five craftsmen design each of these masterpieces in their small workshop, carrying on four generations of the trade in Takaoka.

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Once the abalone shell—a wide variety of which are employed—is polished down to as thin as 0.1mm, it is carefully cut and shaped before inlaid and polished again.

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While originally designed for Buddhist altars, tableware, and traditional Japanese ornaments, Musashigawa Koubo keeps up with the times, handcrafting everything from business card holders to smartphone cases and desk accessories. Though a bit more pricey than your typical omiyage, these gifts are sure to be as treasured in the future as they have in the past.

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A Taste of Sh旬n: Nuts Over Ginko

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Come autumn, the leaves of the ginko tree, also known as a the maidenhair tree and the city tree of Tokyo, turn a bright yellow and the tree starts to bear fruit. While the view of a yellow canopy of ginko trees against a clear blue sky is breathtakingly beautiful, the stench of squished ginko nuts can take your breath away in another sense.

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That said, ginko nut hunters come out during this season to gather these nuts off the ground and wash off the skin, in pursuit of the nut inside which has a bitter sweet taste, making it perfect for frying or baking. The ginko nut is also known for its health properties such as lowering cholesterol levels. Often found in chawanmushi (steamed egg), the ginko nut is also often eaten on its own.

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Grilled ginko nuts with salt are a popular item at izakayas as a healthy snack with beer. The texture is slightly firmer than that of a boiled potato and has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

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Fried ginko nuts are also sold off the shelves at supermarkets or convenience store as a snack for the health conscious.

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And last but not least, another popular way of eating ginko is to of course, to steam it with rice.

The Takaoka Street Treats Tour

Situated between the two capital cities of Toyama and Kanazawa, Takaoka is often bypassed by tourists. But with lots to offer in terms of culture, crafts, gourmet, historical streets and a Doraemon street, Toyama’s second largest city is one you don’t want to miss. Find out more about the hidden charm of Takaoka in this 5-part series.

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Sightseeing and snacking go hand-in-hand, and with nearly all the major tourist attractions in Takaoka City within walking distance, these street treats make the perfect pairing for your exploring.

Anything and Everything Konbu

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Though green konbu kelp isn’t cultivated locally, the Kitamaebune ship trade routes from Hokkaido to Toyama Bay made this seaweed a staple here for over 300 years. Sure, its furry texture may not be what you’d expect on your onigiri riceball or atop your oden, but it makes for a savory and healthy addition to almost any dish!

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Takaoka Croquette

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Croquette is a favorite across Japan, but perhaps no other city treasures this crispy potato-filled treat more than Takoaka, where sales are said to be highest in the nation. From local Hida beef-filled versions, to the oversized Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) version, over 40 stores are ready to dish out this deep-fried soul food.

Black Dorayaki

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Combining the rich black soy sauce flavor of Toyama’s famed Black Ramen with animated hometown hero Doraemon’s favorite food, this red bean paste and butter-filled pancake is the perfect way to commemorate the city’s beloved blue cat.

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Melon Bun

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Though not native to Takaoka City, this melon bun chain store from next door Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture (whose name humorously reads “The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Bread Ice Cream”) has been featured on TV numerous times since opening. Straight out of the oven, its slightly crispy texture and sweet taste is delicious by itself or with a scoop of ice cream inside. Apparently the world’s best fresh baked melon bun refers to the first person to have created it…

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Black Kaki no Tane

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Only available in the Hokuriku region, try the black version of this traditional kaki-pi (crescent-shaped rice cracker kaki no tane and peanuts) snack. Just don’t be confused, as unlike all the other black dishes in Toyama, this one gets its color and flavor from black squid ink, not soy sauce.

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Nagoya Sights (1): Castles and Ferris Wheels

 

 

Situated between the popular tourist cities of Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya is often left out of the “Golden Route” from Tokyo heading to Kansai. However, this third largest city in Japan has lots to offer from history to food and sights.

For a start, it boasts famous castles and Ferris Wheels, and we’re not talking about a theme park!

NAGOYA CASTLE

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Famous for its kinshachi, or golden dolphins which are recognized as a lucky charm, the Nagoya castle was built by the first shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa. Along with Kumamoto Castle and Osaka Castle, this is one of Japan’s most famous castles. The kinshachi is typical of the spirit of Nagoya, which places emphasis on lavish appearances.

INUYAMA CASTLE

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This unassuming little castle on a hill, more specifically, Inuyama, is recognized as a national treasure for its historical value. First built in 1440, it is the oldest wooden castle tower in Japan and one of only twelve original castles remaining from the feudal age, having withstood many wars and natural disasters. Inuyama is around 30 minutes from Nagoya city by express train.

SKY [email protected] SAKAE 

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Not many places can you find a 42m diameter Ferris Wheel attached to a shopping mall. Hop onto one of the capsules for a 15m ride that will give you great views of the grid streets of Nagoya.

 

 

The Takaoka Taste Tour

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From historic copperware craftwork to the futuristic cartoon cat Doraemon, Takaoka City is the home of traditional and modern culture for all ages. And thanks to the recently completed Hokuriku Shinkansen, visiting this picturesque town located along Toyama Bay, facing the Sea of Japan, has never been more convenient. Travel with WAttention as we bring you Takaoka’s top eats, spots, and traditions in this five-part series.   

The Takaoka Taste Tour

Toyama Bay is indeed gorgeous, named as one of the Most Beautiful Bays In The World by UNESCO last year. But it is also a breeding ground for Japan’s tastiest seafood, some of which can only be found here. Whether raw, fried, or in your ekiben (“train bento”), bite into the bay’s best eats while they’re at their freshest in neighboring Takaoka—and don’t forget about it’s iconic ramen either.

Shiroebi (White Shrimp)

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Referred to as the “jewels of Toyama Bay”, full-scale fishing for these little whitish-pink creatures takes place only here, between April and November. Savor its sweet melt-in-your-mouth creaminess by trying it raw, or eat it whole as a crunchy fried snack.

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Hotaruika (Firefly Squid)

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These, one of the smallest species of squid, are as delicious to eat as they are fascinating to watch, as they light up Toyama Bay with their glow in early spring. Often boiled and served in a sumiso (vinegar and miso) sauce, this delicacy can also be enjoyed as tempura, or of course, raw.

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Toyama-wan Zushi (Toyama Bay Sushi)

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With over 500 species of fish swimming throughout the waters here, there’s no shortage of toppings for fresh sushi. Typically served as a set of 10 atop Toyama-grown rice, Toyama-wan Zushi offers a sampling of all the local favorites, including yellowtail buri and honmaguro tuna.

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A Toyama-wan Zushi display inside Shin-Takaoka Station

Masu no Sushi

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300 years ago, a samurai dedicated this dish of pressed pink trout sushi wrapped in bamboo leaves to the daimyo lord Toshiaki Maeda, and ever since, it has been considered a classic. Be sure to grab one of the ekibens for your train ride back, as these have won numerous national awards for best boxed lunch!

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Toyama Black Ramen

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Dark soy sauce is the secret ingredient to this, the flagship noodle dish in Toyama Prefecture. But don’t let the color scare you, as this ramen took first place three consecutive years at the Tokyo Ramen Show. And unlike the other dishes above, it can even make a great omiyage if you buy the instant version at any convenience store in the area.

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Hachiko’s New Home in 2020

How will Shibuya’s iconic station change in light of the Tokyo Olympics?

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How will Shibuya’s iconic station change in light of the Tokyo Olympics?

Probably the only fixture from today left recognizable near Shibuya Station in 2020 will be the bronze statue of Japan’s most beloved dog, Hachiko, at the west exit of the station where the Akita dog waited faithfully for his master to return from work. In preparation for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Shibuya Station is scheduled to undergo a complete makeover.

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Imagine six brand new towers, all towering within walking distance from the station. Even a 46-floor skyscraper is set to be built right on top of Shibuya Station itself Imagine how much easier Hachiko would be able to see his meeting place with his owner from far away with such a landmark in the Shibuya skyline.

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And did you know that there’s actually a river that runs through Shibuya? Soon Shibuya’s river will be restored to its former glory and make for a pleasant walk for people and their pets.

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With a brand new expanded multi-level station entrance, even the most experienced Shibuya-goers might need a little extra time to find Hachiko their first time getting off here.

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But fear not, Japan’s favorite Akita dog is here to stay. In fact, the Hachiko meeting area will be expanded to be even bigger, so that more tourists and locals can greet him. Can you imagine how long the lines will be to take this kind of a photo once the Olympics begin? (Yes, even our editors take photos with Hachiko when on location.)

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Nor will the Shibuya Crossing will be changing anytime soon. Well, other than the fact interracialdatewebsites.com that this scramble might become even more pedestrian packed! Perhaps running across this intersection and dodging the crowds could some how be turned into an Olympic sport?

 

Photo Source: SHIBUYA+FUN PROJECT(shibuyaplusfun.com)

Matsumoto Must-Go Day Trips

Matsumoto City is probably most well-known overseas for its historic castle, the Matsumoto Castle, which is over 400 years old and a National Treasure of Japan. Nagano’s second largest city also has lots else to offer, which WAttention will introduce in this 4-part Matsumoto Must sightseeing series. 

MOUNT NORIKURA 

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Around an hour and 15 minutes by bus and train from Matsumoto lies one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains, Mount Norikura, which is the third tallest peak of the Northern Japan Alps at 3,026m. It is a popular destination for enjoying the autumn colors and a popular way to enjoy the mountain is by taking the bus to the summit and walking down to the next bus stop.

NARAIJUKU POST TOWN 

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The wooden “post town” or accommodation in the Kiso Valley for weary travelers who walked thousands of miles between the trade route of Kyoto to Edo continues to provide accommodation for those looking to travel back in time to 200 years ago. Some of the buildings now sell traditional snacks such as oyaki or souvenirs. The houses are built at an angle to each other and not flushed in a line so that all the houses are visible in a row. Just 45 minutes west of Matsumoto by the JR Chuo Line.

 

KAMIKOCHI HIGHLAND

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Known as the Swiss Alps of Japan for its picturesque mountain scenery, Kamikochi is 51km west of Matsumoto and has hiking trails of various levels, the shortest of which can be completed in an hour. Come here for fresh alpine air and river fish. Or stay overnight at some of the accommodation available at this national park and try some river fish, such as ayu or iwana. Private cars are not allowed to drive into the park, but there are buses and taxis that ply there.

 

Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake: A Japanese Wine Paradise

Savor it, experience it

Japan is not the first destination that comes to mind for wine tasting. But times have changed and Japan is no more a country of just sake. The quality of the country’s whiskey has been acknowledged globally with some of the finest liquors, and while still standing in the shadows of top-class vineyards as, say, Italy’s Tuscany or France’s Provence, Yamanashi Prefecture is gradually spreading its name throughout the world as an area of quality wine.

The best way to see, feel, and of course savor the wines of Yamanashi, is without a doubt by staying at Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake located in Hokuto city. This “wine resort” allows you to get familiar with the local wines in style and comfort that few, if not no other facilities can compete with.

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At Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake, the amount of activities available to get you familiar with the local wines are staggering. Taste 24 different local wines at the resort’s YATSUGATAKE wine house, have dinner at OTTO SETTE – the resort’s chic Italian restaurant that serves refined dishes to go with the wines – and enjoy a conversation with an experienced sommelier.

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But that is not where it ends. Hosnino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake offers various plans to make your stay as romantic and wine-full as possible. How about a stay at the “wine suite room”, for example? While a stay in this wine-themed suite might be a little pricey, do note that it includes 5 quality wines for you to freely drink and take home, a chic dinner and breakfast at the resort’s restaurants and more.

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Everything about this suite just screams wine!

Of course, there are plenty of other activities not related to wine available as well. The resort’s stylish Piment-dori street has seasonal activities and stores that range from local bred vegetables on sale in summer to Halloween illumination and a Christmas show.

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Il Mare, the resort’s spacey pool equipped with a cafe is ideal to relax and Yatsugatake activity center offers plenty of outdoor activities for the children while you receive a winter limited VINO Fonte treatment at the resort’s spa that uses wine grape draffs.

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If you are an outdoor person, horse-riding through Hokuto city’s picturesque forests or skiing in the winter can also be enjoyed.

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Hoshino Resorts RISONARE Yatsugatake

Location: 129-1 Kobuchizawa-cho 129-1, Hokuto, Yamanashi

Access: 5-min by pickup bus from Kobushizawa Station (Chuo Main Line, Koumi Line)

URL: http://www.hoshinoresorts.com/en/resortsandhotels/risonare/yatsugatake.html

Training Through Tohoku (4): Traditional Crafts

The Tohoku Traditional Crafts List

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A cute hand-carved figurine or hand-stitched gift makes for a great keepsake in your living room display case or for daily use, and there’s no lack of such creative crafts in Tohoku. Bring back a piece of tradition for yourself or your friends with these items below!

Kogin-zashi (Aomori)

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A cotton threading technique native to Aomori’s Tsugaru region, it is said that over 600 varieties of these geometric patterns have been handed down since the Edo era. Artisans originally weaved white threads into the blue farming outfits known as kogin, but now apply this method to bags, wallets, and pincushions of every color.

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Tetsubin (Morioka)

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Nambu ironware in Iwate Prefecture dates back over 400 years, and Iwachu’s tetsubin cast-iron tea pots are perhaps the most exported craft from the Tohoku region, gaining worldwide popularity. This writer was surprised to find them on sale in his native Los Angeles just last week! Known to enhance the taste of teas by fortifying it with iron, these kettles will last a lifetime.

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It takes 15 years of experience before one can officially be considered a true ironware craftsman here, and the Made in Japan attention to detail is evident in every product, ranging from the iconic black kettle, to its new line of colorful frying pans, coffee kettles, and rice pots.

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Sasano-Ittoubori (Yamagata)

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Said to have originated in the Sasano area by Yonezawa City over 1,000 years ago according to local tradition, an experienced ittoubori (“one knife carvings”) craftsman can whittle one of these toys in just a matter of minutes. The hawk and chicken are the most representative of the twelve animal lineup, each bearing its distinct long curly tail.

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Kokeshi (Sendai)

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Though this traditional toy can be found throughout Japan, five of the original eleven designs originate in Miyagi Prefecture. The Naruko style pictured here is known for its kind face, and a head that squeaks when turned. Since no two faces are identical, each kokeshi doll makes for a one-of-a-kind gift.

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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

A Taste of Sh旬n: Say Cheese To Persimmon

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Persimmons, or kaki (柿), and pumpkins are the signature orange foods of autumn. From September till around December, persimmon trees can be seen ablaze with the orange fruit.

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The flesh tastes mildly sweet, and depending on how ripe it is, ranges from a crunch to jelly-like texture.

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In the rural areas, it is common to see strings of persimmon being hung up to dry. This heightens the sweetness of the persimmon, and gives it a more chewy texture.

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More recently, dried persimmon has also been used to make sweets and desserts, most popularly with cream cheese which compliments its taste–much like how cheese goes with other dried fruits such as apricot.

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Persimmon leaves, known for their anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial qualities, have also been used to wrap sushi and lend some fragrance to the rice and raw fish.

 

 

Three Ways To Eat Fugu

Fugu, Safe and Yummy

Being a poisonous fish, Fugu, or pufferfish is one of the most notorious delicacies in Japanese cuisine. Although most of our  readers are probably familiar with it, I assume that most of you have yet to try it out for yourself.

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While between 1 to 6 people die by Fugu poison per year in Japan, calling an evening at a Fugu restaurant “Japanese roulette” would be unfair. More than 90 percent of the Fugu poison incidents do not occur at restaurants, but at home by eating self-caught and self-prepared fugu.
To be allowed to serve Fugu at a restaurant, all the chefs need to have a license, which can only be obtained by 3 years of hard training. Furthermore, the liver, a Fugu’s most poisonous part, is forbidden to be served.
While eating an amateur prepared Fugu can indeed be very dangerous, having Fugu at a restaurant is a lot more safe than for example driving a car, practicing sports or even eating fast food!

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The iconic Fugu of Tsubora, a famous Fugu restaurant in Osaka

While Fugu is widely renowned for being poisonous, what is less known, is how it is eaten.
At a Fugu restaurant, a dinner course that has several dishes with Fugu prepared in different ways is generally ordered. Here are the 3 major ways in which Fugu is often prepared.

1. Fugusashi

Fugusashi, or Fugu as sashimi, is without a doubt the most traditional and most famous way of serving fugu. Due to Fugu’s firm texture, normal sashimi slices would be too hard to chew. This is why fugu is cut in slices so thin that they are transparent, also making it a feast for the eyes. The slices are served on a large plate, often in the shape of a crane.
Fugu as sashimi is dipped in Ponzu (citrus soy sauce) rather than plain soy sauce.

 

2. Fugu  no karaage

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Today, Fugu chunks deep fried in a thin layer of flour are one of the most popular ways to eat Fugu. These crispy delights can be dipped in either Ponzu or salt.

 

3. Fugunabe, or Techiri

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The main dish of a fugu course is usually Fugu nabe, a hot pot dish with a konbu (seaweed) broth soup that includes many vegetables as shiitake, enoki mushroom, Chinese cabbage, spring onions etc. which are simmered together with the fish. Once only the soup is left, the dish can be finished by adding some salt and rice. This is called zousui and is also common in other Japanese hot pot dishes.

Other popular Fugu dishes include Shirako (Fugu’s soft roe), jellied Fugu, Hire-zake (dried fugu fins served in hot sake), and the now forbidden Fugu liver.

Matsumoto Must See Sights

Matsumoto City is probably most well-known overseas for its historic castle, the Matsumoto Castle, which is over 400 years old and a National Treasure of Japan. Nagano’s second largest city also has lots else to offer, which WAttention will introduce in this 4-part Matsumoto Must sightseeing series. 

 

MATSUMOTO CASTLE

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This is Japan’s oldest surviving castle at over 400 years old, and one of the five castles to be declared a National Treasure along with Himeji Castle, Hikone Castle, Inuyama Castle and Matsue Castle.  This is a flatland castle–that is, not built on a hilltop–making it an easy 15-minute walk from the Matsumoto Train Station. Its black exterior against the backdrop of the Japanese Alps and surrounding moat makes it particularly picturesque, especially during the cherry blossom season.

NAWATE DORI SHOPPING STREET

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Just across from the Matsumoto Castle is this quaint shopping street along the Metoba river that used to separate the Samurai residences from the common folk. The river here used to be inhabited by frogs–hence its dominant frog theme and even a temple dedicated to a frog. Pick up a taiyaki to eat while strolling for souvenirs here.

MATSUMOTO MUSEUM OF ART

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The world’s most popular artist in 2014, (by an American survey of museum attendance) avant-garde pop artist Kusama Yayoi was born in Matsumoto in 1929 and her works are now on permanent display at the Matsumoto Museum of Art. Polka dots are her signature motif, and her works are said to have influenced her contemporaries such as Andy Warhol. Walk into the fascinating world of art installations by Japan’s most prominent and prolific contemporary artist here. A special exhibition of her works will be on display until the end of June 2016.

WATERING HOLES (of various sorts)

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Matsumoto is blessed with several natural spring water sources sprinkled all over town, which have been used by the townsfolk since the Edo era for consumption or putting out fires. Get a taste of fresh mineral water–each water source has a slightly different taste!

 

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Matsumoto also boasts a thriving bar culture for watering holes of a different sort. Main Bar Coat has over 300 types of Scotch and Japanese whiskies and is a must-visit for any fan of whiskey.

 

NAKAMACHI DORI STREET

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Black and white traditional warehouses make up the Nakamachi Area, and these buildings have been converted into bars (such as Main Bar Coat), cafes, souvenir shops and restaurants, making for an atmospheric stroll.

 

 

Onsen Oasis: Kinugawa Nioson Plaza

An onsen for everyone, with everyone

Kinugawa is a popular onsen retreat in Tochigi Prefecture, located near famous world heritage site Nikko. In the old days, it was a sacred onsen only for monks and Daimyo  (feudal lords) after their prayers in Nikko. Today many spas, ryokans and hotels are located along the leafy valley of Kinugawa.

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Other than onsens, a wide arrange of activities can be enjoyed here. Take a leisurely boat trip downstream or go whitewater rafting along the Kinugawa river. Also be sure to visit the Tobu World Square, a museum park where famous buildings and world heritages have been rebuilt on a 1/25 scale.

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Tokyo Skytree is huge even when its 25 times smaller!

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Located along the Kinugawa river, Nioson Plaza is a great place for families or couples to stay and soak in an onsen for a one or two day trip to combine with Nikko. The traditional tatami rooms here create an authentic atmosphere, and the romantic view of the river from the outdoor baths while soaking in the 100 percent natural onsen water is amazing.

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One of the outside baths is entered with a swimsuit and is gender free. That means that you can enjoy this great onsen experience as a couple or even with the whole family!

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Another outside bath is a real Japanese riverboat filled with onsen water. How about staring at the boats descending the Kinugawa river from your own boat?

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


Kinugawa Onsen Nioson Plaza

Location: Kinugawaonsen Ohara 371-1 Nikko, Tochigi

Access: 10-min by taxi from Kinugawa Onsen Station (Tobu Line)

URL: http://www.niousonplaza.com/ (Japanese)

Matsumoto Must Try Delicacies

Matsumoto City is probably most well-known overseas for its historic castle, the Matsumoto Castle, which is over 400 years old and a National Treasure of Japan. Nagano’s second largest city also has lots else to offer, which WAttention will introduce in this 4-part Matsumoto Must sightseeing series. 

 

 

MUST TRY DELICACIES 

Ask any Japanese and they will tell you that Nagano Prefecture is famous for soba, horse meat, bee larvae and grasshoppers–not all in one dish, of course!

Matsumoto has a unique local soba of its own, called Toji Soba, which literally means “dipping soba into soup”–or how the soba is eaten. Cold soba is given a dip in hot dashi broth, shabu shabu style, and then eaten with the soup which has pork, mushrooms, mountain vegetables and fried oily tofu as ingredients.

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In Japan, horse meat sashimi is commonly eaten in Nagano Prefecture and Kumamoto Prefecture. Like beef, there are various cuts of different fat marbling. Horse meat has been gaining popularity in Japan for being low in fat and high in protein.

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Bee larve is known to be rich in protein. The taste and texture is perhaps best described as similar to a dried natto. These little bugs are understandably hard to harvest and hence don’t come cheap! The color variation indicates the stage of the larvae’s maturity–the darker, the closer it was to becoming a busy bee.

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Grasshoppers are flavored tsukudani-style, ie. with soy sauce, mirin and sake–with a nice crunch. Good with sake!

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The region has also developed its own breed of salmon, Shinshu salmon–a crossbreed of two trouts to result in a fish rich in oil content. This is only available at restaurants in Nagano.

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Now, for more common local soul food, there is yuba (tofu skin)…

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Rich and creamy tofu skin!

…and for something a bit more hearty, the sanzoku (literally meaning Mountain Thief) fried chicken cutlet.

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Now, do you feel like you could eat a horse?

Training Through Tohoku (3): Strange Foods

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The Strange Foods List

Trying new foods is half the adventure of traveling, and Tohoku is full of land and sea creatures—or the above dish, which looks straight from outer space—served so fresh that sometimes they’re still moving on your plate. Be on the look out, or perhaps beware, of the following!

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Dancing Squid (Aomori)

This freshly sliced squid dish is served so quickly that it actually moves or “dances” when you touch it with your chopsticks. Though most famous in Hakodate, Hokkaido, where even a festival dance called the Ika Odori (Squid Dance) exists, you can also catch it in Aomori—one of the Japan’s largest squid suppliers. Fear not if you find yourself squirming in your seat as well. They’ll usually grill, fry, or boil the unsliced portion for you to eat if you ask.

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Fujitsubo (Aomori)

On Aomori’s official list of “Eight Delicacies”, these creepy crustaceans are actually barnacles, often eaten steamed or boiled in shell. The naming is a lot more delicate than its appearance–meaning literally “wisteria vase”, the shape of the barnacles resembling in a crustacean wisteria, perhaps. Even within Aomori at peak season in the fall, it might take some searching to find a place that serves this uncommon specialty. We had to settle for just looking at it poke its head (or claws?) out at us in the market.

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Tataki Hakkinton Pork (Morioka)

This premium “platinum” (hakkinton) brand of pork, native to Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture is a rare sight, literally. Forget everything you’ve learned about always needing to cook your pork thoroughly, as here you can find it lightly grilled (tataki) and as pink on the inside as the pigs themselves.

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Same no Shinzou “shark heart” (Sendai)

Though shark-filled waters aren’t usually considered a blessing, they are in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the few places in Japan where you can find shark sashimi. Since raw shark can only be eaten when extremely fresh, it’s no wonder that it has a very clean taste, with hardly any fishiness to it. Not for the chicken-hearted.

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Tsuyahime Soft Serve Ice Cream (Yamagata)

It is said that Yamagata’s distinguished tsuyahime rice tastes great not just when freshly cooked, but even after cooling, and this is surely the the coldest way to enjoy it. Rice is used as a base for a number of Japanese treats, from mochi to the non-alcoholic fermented amazake drink, and this soft serve carries the same subtle sweetness—the perfect dessert for this article’s odd menu.

Next up: the Tohoku Must Buy 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

Learn a Word: 犬も歩けば棒に当たる

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.

犬も歩けば棒に当たる

Pronounced: Inu mo arukeba bo ni ataru
Kind of phrase: Japanese saying

What it implies

I recently visited my home country the Netherlands for the first time in almost 2 years. I had not spoken much Dutch since my last visit, which resulted in awkward language mistakes made by a native. Remembering sayings especially troubled me, and phrasing them wrong was found hilarious by my Dutch friends.
“Aren’t there any sayings in the Japanese language?” asked one of them.
“Oh yes there are” I answered, and of course I had to come with an example. The first Japanese idiom that struck my mind was 「犬も歩けば棒に当たる」 (Inu mo arukeba bo ni ataru), which can be literally translated as: “If a dog keeps walking, it will eventually bump into a stick / get hit by a stick”045717

This translation made my friends frown at me. They were obviously unable to understand what this saying could possibly imply.

“Well” I started to explain. “The walking dog is a metaphor of a person that acts and doesn’t sit still. Just as the dog bumps into a stick, something will happen to a person that acts too.”

“So basically this idiom tells people to sit still and don’t do anything so nothing bad will happen?”

“No, no” I shaked my head. “The opposite. Something good will happen eventually as long as you keep acting.”

“But how is bumping into or getting hit by a stick a good thing?”

Now it was my turn to frown. I had never thought about it, but of course bumping into a stick is not nice for a dog. Then how could this saying have come to life? It was time to consult Google sensei.

What it used to imply

Apparently, 犬も歩けば棒に当たる was originally used as what my friends first thought it was. A walking dog that bumps into or is hit by a stick is a metaphor of something unfortunate happening to a person that shows off too much or is too self-assertive. However, 当たる (ataru) which stands for “bumping into” or “getting hit by” in this sentence, is also often used for winning something, as in “hitting” the jackpot. Therefore, 当たる has a positive sound to it, despite the fact that the dog is being hit by a stick and not the jackpot. This is why the saying started to be used in a positive way more and more often, and its original meaning was slowly forgotten.

So there you have it, a great advice in life. If you want good things to happen, just keep on walking….and if something bad, a stick for example, stands in your way, just jump over it like this dog!

A Taste of Sh旬n: Ode to Oden!

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O, Oden!

For the past three days, I’ve had oden for lunch. Oden, for the uninitiated, is a staple winter dish in Japan that comprises fishcakes, tofu, radish, konjac, boiled eggs , kelp and anything that can a) soak up the flavor of the  broth, or b) contribute to the flavor of the broth or both.

With the weather getting cooler in Japan past mid-autumn, oden stalls can be seen in combini (convenience shops) throughout Japan.

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You pick whichever morsel you fancy, pour in the soup and pay at the counter, where you’ll be asked if you’d like miso sauce, Japanese mustard or yuzu kosho (yuzu pepper paste) as a condiment.

People from different regions of Japan have different condiments of choice: for example, if you are from Nagoya which has a strong miso-culture you’d definitely choose miso to go with your oden.

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Toyama Oden, where kelp is a topping

 

In Toyama prefecture, where kelp is heavily consumed, shredded kelp is commonly added as a topping.

 

Coming from Singapore, the dish reminded me of something we have back home called Yong Tau Fu, which means stuffed tofu–but various vegetables, not just tofu, are also stuffed with fish paste, and lots of other ingredients including fishcakes are also available for the picking.

 

 

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That said, the sight of floating white marshmallow-like things in the soup did seem rather strange to me–these white fluffy things being the “hanpen”, made basically from whipped fish paste and egg white.

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Shizuoka Prefecture is famous for its “black hanpen”, which is darker because it uses fish like mackerel and sardines rather than cod for the fish paste.

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So, the next time you are in a convenience store or izakaya, don’t forget to give these steamy morsels a try!

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.

 

Life inside the Flower and Willow World

Becoming a geisha

In my geisha house I will be taking a new hangyoku (maiko) trainee in this month. What kind of girls become geisha trainees in this day and age? Usually they are girls who are attracted by the Japanese arts: girls who like kimono and who would like to learn Japanese dance. But recently I get applicants who have lived or travelled overseas and found themselves unable to answer questions about Japan, and who then start to realise that they have little understanding of their own country’s traditional culture.

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I would like my trainees to know some English or at least be interested in learning, and who want to perform overseas. There is increasing interest in geisha by foreign tourists and I am very keen to introduce geisha culture abroad. All of my five trainees to date have been able to travel overseas to perform at least once. We have been invited by a customer to perform in Russia next May, so I am hoping my new trainees will be performing in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I also get applications from girls all over the world from the US to Africa: girls who have been brought up on anime and who are obsessed with the idea of becoming a geisha. I would not discriminate on the basis of the color of a girl’s skin, but the simple fact is that being a geisha is a “talking” job. Geisha must be charming, amusing, very good at listening and able to anticipate their customers every want: they must be absolutely fluent in Japanese or it would not work. After me, there have been several foreigners who tried being a geisha in the countryside where just being able to meet a foreigner is already a novelty for the local customers. All of them were married, and thus none of them could have worked as geisha in Tokyo where the rules are very much stricter. And, except for in Yugawara, they have now all quit. In the eight official geisha districts of Tokyo (those with geisha offices), where the customers are much more sophisticated, no foreigner has debuted. So it is not so easy to become a geisha in Tokyo.

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My two new geisha prospects this month are both excellent candidates. One is a girl in her late twenties who has had an international career in the arts between Tokyo and New York and who wants to experience a more Japanese lifestyle. And the second is a 20 year old girl who went to school to learn to sew kimono, and who now wants to experience Japanese dance.

New trainees must concentrate on Japanese dance first and foremost. My trainees will learn directly from one of the most senior geisha in Tokyo, and also from an official dance school master. They must be able to perform several dances perfectly before they can attend banquets. They will also learn drum, some tea ceremony, and shamisen. And they will be in kimono all day every day for their lessons as they must learn to move gracefully in kimono; an art in itself. It will be a very busy 3 months in the autumn learning their first dances, and then they will be experiencing banquets for another few months as trainees. As my geisha house is independent I work together with geisha from every district in Tokyo, and my trainees have a great opportunity to work alongside a range of different geisha.

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Young geisha in Tokyo wear furisode long-sleeved kimonos, but they have deep tucks sewn into the shoulders and sleeves to symbolise childhood. Kimonos need to be re-sewn for my new trainee hangyoku (maiko). And we will be busy collecting all the personal items that they must acquire to be able to start work: name cards with her geisha name (my girls all have names including the character “sa” from Sayuki), hand towels with her new geisha name to distribute to customers and her older sisters, bags and sandals, accessories and hair ornaments.

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I remember my own debut, in Asakusa, in December, 2007. I had to walk, as the first white geisha to ever debut in Japan, fully made-up and dressed in a million-yen antique kimono of my geisha mother, with the hakoya-san “bag carrier” of the geisha office, through all the crowded streets of Asakusa to deliver my hand towels to all the people I would be obliged to in the future: customers, older geisha sisters, owners of the shops that carry geisha goods. It was terrifying. But in the end it is the customers who came forth to encourage and support me that made it all worthwhile.

Customers these days are changing. There are less and less of those that are very familiar with the geisha world, and increasing numbers of first-timers and foreigners. I do hope that my new girls experience the same encouragement and support from this new generation of customers.

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Sayuki welcomes new trainees in her Yanaka-based geisha house that have a strong interest in traditional Japanese culture, perfect Japanese, and long-term residency. Please see www.sayuki.net for more information. And anyone can book a banquet with Sayuki and her trainees through the contact form on the web-site. 

Editor’s Pick: Warehouse Kawasaki – A Piece of Ghetto Hong Kong in Japan

Legendary Hong Kong Ghetto “Kowloon Walled City” rebuilt in Kawasaki

Japan just seems to be able do everything better – even in terms of getting all dirty and ghetto. Not convinced? All you have to do is visit amusement park Warehouse Kawasaki to get a taste of true Hong Kong ghetto that would probably be hard to find in the real place itself.

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Even real rubbish from Hong Kong was flown in to recreate the full grittiness of the notorious Kowloon Walled City when Warehouse Kawasaki opened in 2009.

If you love your Hong Kong Kung-fu movies, are a fan of classic anime Golgo 13 or consider the video-game Shenmue part of your education, there’s a pretty big chance that Kowloon Walled City rings a bell.

This phenomenon was an incredibly dense ungoverned “city” located in the outskirts of Hong Kong until it was demolished by the Hong Kong government in 1993. The name “walled city” can almost be taken literally, as the buildings were built so closely next to each other that they almost seemed like a wall of buildings, and like a giant box from above.

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This walled city was also a spectacle to behold from the inside, with dark narrow alleys creating an incomprehensible maze of everything illegal, ranging from prostitution to clinics of unlicensed  doctors.

While it is probably for the best that the area is no more, its atmosphere can still be savored, but in Japan’s Kawasaki and not Hong Kong. Amusement center Warehouse Kawasaki came with the idea of recreating the Kowloon Walled City’s legendary alleys as a concept for its retro video-game floors, and the result is incredibly realistic.

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In the shabby alleys here you will find old Hong Kong neon-lights and advertisement stickers, dark and gray residences and small companies, one more suspicious than the other, food stalls with hanging chickens and ducks at display, restrooms that seem like they are taken straight from a horror movie and everything else you would expect from a lawless land.

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Although the upper floors of Warehouse Kawasaki are a video-game arcade of modern times, even the facade of the 18-storey building is a serious attempt on recreating the Kowloon Walled City, with dust and rust noticeable on every part of the building.

If you need a break from the always clean and tidy Japanese streets, search no further than this!

Warehouse Kawasaki

Location: Nisshincho 3-7 Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki, Kanagawa

Access:  An 8-min walk from the Central Exit of Hatchonawate Station (Keikyu Main Line)

URL: http://www.warehousenet.jp/ (Japanese)

Matsumoto Must Try Street Eats!

Matsumoto City is probably most well-known overseas for its historic castle, the Matsumoto Castle, which is over 400 years old and a National Treasure of Japan. Nagano’s second largest city also has lots else to offer, which WAttention will introduce in this 4-part Matsumoto Must sightseeing series. 

 

MUST TRY STREET EATS 

1) Oyaki おやき

These baked buns are a specialty of the Nagano prefecture. They are traditionally filled with savory stuffings such as picked Nozawana vegetables, miso pickled eggplants or shredded radish and baked over a big hot plate, hence its name Oyaki, which means “something baked”. You can find these sold almost anywhere in the prefecture. These come from Naraijuku Post Town, an hour’s local train ride from Matsumoto City.

 

2) Taiyaki たいやき

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It’s always a good sign when you see locals frequenting a shop, and this little taiyaki shop, Taiyaki Furusato, located at Nawate Dori Shopping Street along the Metobagawa river had a steady stream of locals taking home boxes of this griddled pastry with red bean filling. Crispy and not too sweet, this is perfect for have as a street snack while checking out the shops along Nawate Dori.

 

3) Goheimochi 五平餅


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This is a variation of the usual round mochi or dango (rice dumpling) which is chewy and made of rice flour. The goheimochi (which literally means Five Flat Mochi, though as you can see, it does not refer to the number of mochi) is made from coarsely crushed rice that is molded onto a stick and grilled. So it is slightly crisp to the bite with the texture of rice grains remaining. The sauce is made from sesame – sometimes more than one type of sesame – soy sauce and/or miso.

 

Next up, Matsumoto Must Try Local Gourmet: Horse meat, Grasshoppers and Baby Bees

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So hungry you could eat a horse? Well, Matsumoto is the right place for you!

 

 

Nakamura Keith Haring Collection: New York pop art in Yamanashi

Universal art meets Japanese blending

The Japanese are masters in blending their ancient culture with foreign and modern influences. Majestic shrines next to towering skyscrapers, tatami rooms with plasma screen televisions, manga-themed kabuki performances, anything seems possible in this country of juxtapositions.

That’s why finding a private museum dedicated to works of New York pop artist Keith Haring in Yamanashi Prefecture’s Hokuto City, a city of natural beauty surrounded by mountains, somehow didn’t surprise me at all.

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The museum building designed by acclaimed architect Atsushi Kitagawara seems like a mysterious artifact from outer space that coincidentally landed in the middle of a forest. Still, the futuristic piece of architecture somehow manages to feel at home here. The museum floor’s level gradually changes as it descends together with the hill it stands on, showing that while being eccentric, the museum was designed to stay in harmony with nature. This, is exactly what I would like to call Japanese mastery of blending completely different aspects into one.

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Keith Haring started off his works in the late seventies and early eighties by making drawings with chalk on empty advertisement billboards in the New York subway. His simple, cartoonesque drawings soon received a wide acclaim, allowing him to make a breakthrough. Until he died of aids in 1990, Haring continued to produce abstract pop-art, sticking to his original style. There was something extremely genuine and universal that could be felt through his works, and so he managed to touch the hearts of people regardless from their ethnic backgrounds. Even today, Haring’s works still have a lasting impact on busy modern people like you and me.

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Keith Haring artwork © Keith Haring Foundation / Courtesy of Nakamura Keith Haring Collection / Photo © Rakutaro Ogiwara

While being guided through the museum, I realized that the ability of the Japanese to bring different aspects from all over the world together and blend them, is similar to what Haring achieved through his works. The people on his works are not of a certain race, but still colorful and diverse. Abstract illustrations of a man with a hole in his stomach and a dog jumping through it like a hoopla, or men watching a pyramid with a UFO next to it while masturbating might all be totally absurd, but display a universal world and the unique vision of a true artist. Having these works displayed at a museum not in Tokyo, but in a laid-back area of Yamanashi prefecture, sounds only fitting, and should be considered a piece of art itself.

Nakamura Keith Haring Collection

Admission fee: 1,000 yen for adults, 800 yen for college students and seniors, 600 yen for children from 6 to 18. Free for Children under 5

Hours: 9am – 5pm

Location: Kobuchizawa-Machi 10249-7 , Hokuto, Yamanashi

Access: 8-min by taxi from Kobuchizawa station (Chuo Main Line)

URL: http://www.nakamura-haring.com/english/index.html

Maple Hunting In Saitama: Nagatoro

A river engulfed in floral flames

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Located along the Arakawa river in the mountains of the Chichibu area in Saitama Prefecture, is the town of Nagatoro, a picturesque nature paradise that flaunts its assets throughout the year. During spring, the whole town becomes one big pink fairy tale with a total of more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees, while new green leafs create an amazing contrast with the Arakawa river in summer.

In autumn, the Arakawa river will be engulfed in floral flames. Magnificent golden and crimson leafs can be enjoyed while going down the river by a traditional Japanese boat. Together with these autumn leafs, the river’s azure surface and rough cliffs and rocks along the way make for an enchanting ride through Japan’s mesmerizing nature.

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The Tsukinoishi Momiji Park, or Moon Stone Maple Park, is another popular maple tree spot. While fresh verdure can be enjoyed during spring, the crimson leafs during autumn are without a doubt the biggest charm here.

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How about a romantic late-evening stroll when the maple trees are lit-up?

月の石もみじ公園(ライトアップ)

 

Nagatoro

Location: Nagatoromachi, Chichibu-gun, Saitama

Access: 1 hour and 40 minutes from Ikebukuro by Seibu Ikebukuro Line and Chichibu Railway

Maple Hunting in Kyoto: Tofukuji

Sacred temple leafs

As one of Kyoto’s best spots for autumn foliage, Tofukuji temple should be high on the list of anyone that calls him/herself a “maple leaf hunter”.
You will be overwhelmed by the myriads of maple trees that stand on an area equivalent to 5 baseball stadiums, and enchanted by the Japanese harmony they create together with one of Kyoto’s most picturesque temple complexes.

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Especially famous is the Tsuten bridge, which connects the main temple to the Kaisando temple that stands at the foot of Mt. Higashi.
From the viewing point at the middle of this bridge, you look out at the stunning maples from both sides.
However, don’t expect to be the only visitor as this is a really popular destination during the autumn foliage season. But even with the shutters of photographs that go on like summer crickets, the magnificent view on tons of golden and crimson maple leafs take away your breath anyway.

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For photography, also check out the Ga-un bridge and Engetsu bridge, which are two smaller bridges located next to the Tsuten bridge.

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Tofukuji temple is also renowned for its 4 artistic gardens laid out by acclaimed Japanese gardener Mirei Shigemori. Each garden has a completely different style, ranging from the southern traditional Japanese rock garden to more eccentric gardens such as the northern garden with its check pattern of moss and square-cut stones.

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While most tourists only come to visit the Tofukuji temple, it is only the start for the devoted maple hunter! A walk from Tofukuji temple to Sennyuji temple is highly rewarding, with tons of hidden maple spots on the way. Spots like the Raikoin temple and the Imakumano Kannnonji temple are just as picturesque and breathtaking as Tofukuji temple, but without the crowds!

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Best period for autumn foliage: End November – Begin December

Location: A 10-min walk from Tofukuji Station (JR Nara Line, Keihan Main Line)

Access: Honmachi 15-778, Higashiyama, Kyoto

A Taste of Sh旬n: Nuts over Chestnuts

The slightly acrid smell of roasting chestnuts in the air is one of the fixtures of autumn in Japan, and heading to the countryside for some chestnut picking is one of the popular autumn activities for Japanese.

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The chestnuts fall to the ground and split when ripe, and the seeds inside are pickled from their spiky shell.

One of the most common way to enjoy these mildly sweet nuts is by roasting them over charcoal, and you can often see street stalls selling these by the roadside. Those from the Tanba region in the north of Kyoto are particularly famed for being big and perfectly shaped, as well as for their sweetness. These used to be presented as offerings to the Emperor and Shogun over 1,000 years ago.

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Another favorite way to enjoy these nuts is to boil them with rice, for kurimeshi (chestnut rice).

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The taste and texture of chestnuts also makes them perfect for use in desserts.

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You will see mont blancs (a sponge cake dressed in chestnut cream and topped with a candied chestnut or marron glace) being offered in most patisseries.

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In wagashi shops, or Japanese confectionery shops, you will see the kurikinton — a chestnut-shaped wagashi made of chestnut paste and sugar.

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And of course, don’t miss out on the seasonal limited editions of classic souvenir snacks, such as Iwate Prefecture’s Kamome no Tamago (Seagull’s Eggs) with chestnut paste inside!

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.

 

Training Through Tohoku (2): The Must Eat List

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The Tohoku Must Eat List

Though seafood (like the highest quality black tuna pictured above) and beef are the biggest draws for foodies here, the tastes of Tohoku extend far beyond. Known to have a richer flavor than cuisine from other regions of Japan, these treats will have you dining like Lord Date Masamune…or well, like a king.

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Nokkedon (Aomori Prefecture)

“Nokke” means “topping”, and here at the Furukawa Ichiba, you can build your own seafood bowl!

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Start by picking up a set of ten vouchers (1,080 yen), two of which you’ll use to get your bowl of rice (or just one for a smaller portion for those cutting back on carbs).

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Then go on your own seafood hunt through three long rows of stalls, waiting for you to redeem your coupons for scallops, squid, sashimi and more.

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Not only is it fun to design your own don, but a great way to experience the morning market atmosphere of this coastal city.

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Furukawa Ichiba Access: A 5-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Reimen “Cold Noodles” (Morioka)

Located in central Iwate Prefecture, Morioka is the last place you’d expect to find a Korean-style noodle dish. But for over the past 50 years, these chewy noodles served in a refreshing cold and spicy soup have become one of the “Three Great Noodles” of the area, along with Wanko Soba and Jajamen.

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Gyutan “Cow tongue” (Sendai)

Though rumored that gyutan became popular throughout Sendai as it was the least wanted and most affordable part of the cow in post-war days, it now reigns as the capital’s chief delicacy. A bite of this—one of the juiciest and most flavor-packed cuts of beef—will show you why. Just don’t let the name get to you.

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Tama-konnyaku “Konjac balls” (Yamagata)

Rounding up our list (literally) these skewered konjac balls are made from the starchy konjac root native to Japan. This snack is so famous in Yamagata, that nearly every tourist spot and shopping area here is almost guaranteed to have a big pot of these gelatinous-textured treats, simmering in a soy sauce base (which sometimes includes Japanese sake).

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Now that you’ve got the essentials down for feasting in the northeast, get ready for some strange foods in our next article, perhaps not for the faint of heart!

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

Make and eat sushi the professional way

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Stand at a restaurant counter like a real sushi chef

You love Japanese cuisine and trying out some of Tokyo’s most refined sushi restaurants is not enough for you? Then how about learning how to make sushi yourself at long established sushi restaurant “Tsukiji Tamazushi” located near the famous Tsukiji fish market! A professional chef does not only teach you how to prepare a total of 9 different sushi, but also explains you the history of the kitchen utensils you will be using, and give a lecture on how to properly interracial dating app eat sushi.sushitaiken3

Discover the depth of Japanese culture through the art of sushi!

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Spot information:

Name: Tsukiji Tamazushi
Price range: 8,000 yen
Location: Tsukiji 2-15-19 Millennium 1 2F, B1, Chuo
Access: A 3-min walk from Tsukiji Station (Hibiya Line)
Website: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/jge/en/entry/post-000814.html
Note: No English instruction available. If you do not understand Japanese, coming with an interpreter is mandatory.