Illumination at Keyakizaka-dori Street Roppongi Hills

During the winter, illumination shines everywhere in Tokyo.
Even on the most cold nights, the illumination is there to keep one’s heart warm.

Keyakizaka-dori Street in Roppongi Hills has 1.2 million shining LED lights, and Tokyo Tower – also beautifully lit-up – can be seen in the backdrop.

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The illumination here comes in two colors, “Snow & Blue” and “Candle & Red”. The illumination’s color changes over time, allowing you to enjoy two different illuminations at one spot!

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On the day of my visit, the almost full moon was also shining in the distance, eager to join the illumination.

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From this angle, it is as if the illuminations are like stars in the universe, encircling the moon. A rare shot of natural and artificial shots shining together.

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As one of the most romantic illumination spots Tokyo has to offer, Keyakizaka is ideal for a winter date.

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Along Keyakizaka-dori – which is a slope though not very steep – a wide arrange of luxury shops are available for quality shopping. This shot is taken from a lower point looking up at the slope.

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If you spot a hidden heart,  you can engage in an interactive activity with your smartphone! Hidden hearts are very scarce and only lit up for 5 minutes every hour, but if you succeed in finding one, something cool will happen!
Find out more here.

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This photo is taken from a pedestrian bridge. Looking at illumination from above provides a fresh view.

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The warm red illumination and light tracks of passing cars together make a stunning collaboration on this shot. On the day this  shot was taken, it was very windy and cold. Be sure to put on warm clothes when you go to see illumination in Tokyo.

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Att Roppongi Hills, many other illumination events can be enjoyed as well until December 25. Find out more on the official website.
I would also like to recommend the observatory at Roppongi Hills during this period for an illuminated skyline view, which I will introduce in my next entry.

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Keyakizaka-dori Street Roppongi Hills Illumination

Location: Roppongi 6,Minato, Tokyo
Access: Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Roppongi Station (directly connected to Roppongi Hills), or a 6-min walk from Toei Oedo Line Roppongi Station.

Period: November 4 2015- December 25 2015

Hours: 17:00 PM–23:00 PM

Fee: Free

Nishimura iPad leather cover design 1

Nishimura with iPad
Combining traditional craft with modern vision, Nishimura has created this intricately designed iPad cover that transports you into a different dimension with an illumination of vivid and powerful motifs when backlit by the iPad screen. These covers come in three sizes to use for you iPad, iPad mini or iPad air and can be ordered in navy blue, red or beige. Chose your favorite out of the three different designs and add a unique Japanese taste to your iPhone!

Nishimura iPad leather cover design 1

$322.00

for iPad

$276.00

for iPad mini

$303.00

for iPad air

See other Nishimura Yuzen-Chokoku products: http://wattention.com/articles/nishimura-yuzen-chokoku-craft

Western Emoticons VS Japanese Kaomoji

Kaomoji history in a nutshell

If you have any Japanese friends that you correspond with through internet, it should be no secret that most Japanese love to use emoticons. With chat applications as LINE providing an amazing range of stamps and even the opportunity to create your own originals, things only become crazier from now on. And only to think that it all started with some simple combinations of symbols typed out on the keyboard. Yes :-) and (^_^) , I am talking about you guys!
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The first use of emoticon dates bake to a time when the internet did not exist yet as we know it today. Communicating with text by a computer was something completely new, and sometimes resulted in conflicts, as it was hard to tell if someone was serious or not just by reading the text. That’s why in 1982, Scot Fahlman was the first to propose the use of emoticons.  :-) was to be used for something that was meant as a joke, and :-( for something that was not. This marked the start of western emoticons as we know them today.

4 years later,  the first Japanese emoticon was put on screen by Yasushi Wakabayashi in a correspondence through ASCII Net, a Japanese forerunner of the internet. Today, Japanese emoticon are known as kaomoji, literally translated as “face characters”.

kaomojiEmoticons as cultural icons

Western emoticons and Japanese kaomoji have had two significant differences in style from the start. First of all, while western emoticons as :-) are looked at sideways, kaomoji as (^_^) can be understood without tilting the head. This difference might be pure constructive, but the second difference indicates cultural characteristics.

:-) and (^_^) are both so called smileys, but why do we know that they are smiling? The western emoticon obviously has a smiling mouth, but its Japanese variant does not. However, the eyes of the kaomoji is expressing joy. While in western culture smiling is always done with the mouth – often while laughing out loud – the Japanese tend to silently give a friendly nod, expressing their joy with the eyes.

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This is not just a hypothesis by the writer of this article. The Japanese language has actual phrases that show there is truth to this statement. Me wo hosomeru (narrowing one’s eyes), for example, is a synonym for smiling in the language.

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Joy is not the only feeling the Japanese express with their eyes. The following list of emoticons indicates that western people tend to read a person’s expression by the mouth, while the Japanese focus more on the eyes.

Sad face:        Western :-(             Japanese (>_<)

Sorry face:                 Western  :‑c                                 Japanese m(_ _)m

Crying face:                Western ;-(                                 Japanese (T_T)

Angry face:                 Western :[email protected]                              Japanese (ーー゛)

The next time you are talking or chatting with a Japanese in real life, try to see if you can read his or her eyes, be it virtual or real pupils!

Azuma Bridge: A Bridge Of Crimson Thunder

Although Asakusa is without a doubt best known for the Sensoji temple, allow me to introduce another landmark in the area: Azuma bridge.

Azuma bridge is located on the opposite side of Sensoji temple, but can be reached from Asakusa Station within 3 minutes. It crosses over the Sumida river, with Taito ward on the west side of the river, and Sumida ward on the east side.

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With the headquarters of Asahi Breweries, or Asahi Beer Tower – the golden colored skyscraper designed as a beer glass – in the backdrop, Azuma bridge makes for a popular photo spot.

The “Asahi Sky Room” located on Asahi Beer Tower’s 22nd floor, is a cafe where you can enjoy a freshly tapped beer while gazing at Tokyo’s skyline.

The black building with the golden object on top it is Super Dry Hall, “Super Dry” being Asahi Breweries’ most popular brand. The golden object on top is said to represent the burning soul of Asahi Breweries, and was designed by French designer Philippe Starck in 1989.

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The traditional Japanese patterns on Azuma bridge are called “Raimon”, which stands for thunder in Japanese. These patterns and the bridge’s crimson color come from the Sensoji temple, as the Kaminarimon gate is literally translated as thunder gate, which also boasts the same color.

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Of course, looking up at the impressive skyline from Azuma bridge is a must. However, do not forget to also look down and check the bottom of the bridge and see its unique design patterns.

I have a weak spot for well designed bridges, and consider photographing them my life work.

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At the western side riverbanks near the bridge, tourist boats depart for city cruises. This popular tourist attraction allows you to enjoy Tokyo’s urban landscapes along the Sumida river. Find out more here!

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The other side of the river functions as the embarkation point of Yakatabune, or traditional Japanese houseboats. On board a Yakatabune, you can enjoy refined Japanese cuisine together with the scenery. Find out more here!

Of course, you can also go for a stroll along the river’s pedestrian paths. I personally like to head downstream as there are many beautiful bridges in this direction.

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The area shines even more at night, enlightened by myriads of street lights and lights from surrounding skyscrapers that are reflected in the river.

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But even at night, Azuma bridge still boasts the same elegant crimson color.

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The following picture was taken on a clear day with a full moon. Within 15 minutes after the sunset is the best time for taking pictures.
009_LET0657141203 Located in front of Asakusa is the long-established department store Matsuya Asakusa. The Art Deco style exterior of this 1931 department store was restored in 2012. Its classy lights at night perfectly match the architecture. You will find this department store on your way back from the Azuma bridge, so how about some quality shopping here?

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Keep in mind that the Azuma bridge is only one of the many exciting activities and must-see spots to enjoy in and around Asakusa. That being said, I hope this article will be useful for planning your visit!

Spot Information

Azuma Bridge
Location: Kaminarimon 2, Taito, Tokyo
Access: 3-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Toei Asakusa Line)

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 9 KAWAII MONSTER CAFE

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

Beyond Kawaii 

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From the moment you are swallowed by Mr. Ten thousand Chopsticks, or Choppy, KAWAII MONSTER CAFE’s mascot character which’s mouth functions as the entrance of this café newly opened in August 2015, you know that you are entering a different world. One so vivid and crazy that it could only be possible in Japan, or to be more precise, only in Harajuku.

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Harajuku, Tokyo’s hip and wacky youth fashion trendsetting area is like a giant toy box turned upside down with toys of all sorts of colors and shapes spread throughout the city. Not just the architecture, but also the people that walk the streets scream originality and abstractness, together making Harajuku a monster of a city, and a cute monster it is!

But even in Harajuku, KAWAII MONSTER CAFE’s bizarreness manages to stand out as a monster within a monster. After entering the café, you will first be confronted by the sweets go round, a carousel with the looks of a giant cake. While fairy-tale like animals galloping on this alone are enough to bring about a sense of awe, do realize that this is only the beginning.

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As one of Tokyo’s most spacey cafes, KAWAII MONSTER CAFE boasts 4 zones of different theme and interior. These range from unicorn heads drinking from baby milk bottles to a glowing jellyfish spreading its tentacles over a bar. These scenes go way beyond something one could refer to as just “cute” in the English language. However, presenting an absurd, grotesque yet somehow charming world, KAWAII MONSTER CAFE suggests that the Japanese word “kawaii” could be a much broader concept.

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“Monster girl” – gaudy girls dressed up so flashy you won’t even see on Harajuku’s streets –make an essential part of this surreal world. They are not waitresses, and are best interpreted as the inhabitants of KAWAII MONSTER CAFE. Their presence makes the concept feel real and organic, and make this world actually come to life.

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Surprisingly, the dishes are quite yummy and don’t taste like they contain as many food additives as you would think.

Dishes like Colorful Rainbow Pasta and Colorful Poison Cake make KAWAII MONSTER CAFE’s universe complete. Their appearance is more like the pallet of an abstract painter and rank among the most toxic looking foods you will ever see!

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Kawaii culture is one of Japan’s largest subcultures, but KAWAII MONSTER CAFE serves something way beyond your expectations directly on your plate. A visit to this new Harajuku landmark will blow your mind and have you rethink the definition of “kawaii”. At least KAWAII MONSTER CAFE suggests that if translated simply as “cute”, the true essence of this culture could be lost in translation.

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

What do geisha do?

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There are all kinds of misconceptions about what a geisha is and what she does. Geisha are traditional entertainers. “Gei” means “art” in Japanese and literally means “person of art”. We are dancers and musicians, much like opera singers or ballet dancers. Geisha also perform on the big stage. Usually each district has a large performance once a year: a big production featuring different music and dance each time and coordinated with the help of all the music and dance teachers that teach the geisha.

But most geisha entertainment is private. We go to tea-houses where customers have dinner, and sit with the customers during their meal, performing for just half an hour or so halfway through the dinner.

If you think about it, in the days of Bach or Mozart, they didn’t sit around in a garret composing music as they pleased, and they didn’t live on social welfare either. They had to perform their music and usually they did so at the houses of nobles. In other words it was a kind of private entertainment. And one assumes they must have had some social skills as well or they would not have been invited back.

For whatever reason, this kind of private entertainment turned into large scale public entertainment in the West. But in the geisha world, geisha entertainment has always remained mostly private.

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And apart from banquets we accompany our customers in all kinds of ways. Geisha sometimes dance at weddings while the bride is changing, or even attend funerals to help because geisha can be relied on to be discreet and well mannered with guests.

Often geisha are invited on mass to the first day of the sumo wrestling tournaments, or the first day of the kabuki traditional theater. Or even to the opening of new department stores or businesses.

Last week I had a banquet on Friday night in Tokyo with overseas customers and then travelled to Kyoto to attend the Gion Higashi geisha district’s annual dances on Sunday. A customer of mine arranges tickets for me for these dances each year. The geisha in Gion Higashi entertain his Kyoto clients when he is in Kyoto, and he supports them by buying tickets each year to their performance. These kind of long-term reciprocal favors are the very basis of the geisha world.

Of course, tourists always want to know about how far geisha will or won’t go.

Geisha traditionally would stop being a geisha if they got married, so all geisha are single are hence available, something that adds greatly to the romance of the geisha world from the customer’s point of view.

It is very possible that a geisha might fall in love with a customer, and of course, geisha encourage that hope.

But like any professional, a geisha’s romantic relationships are entirely her own business.

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Do the “Hell Tour” at Beppu Onsen

Beppu in Oita Prefecture is probably the most famous onsen resort in Japan, producing the most hot spring water than any other area. The type of hot spring water varies on the location of the onsen, such as whether it is near the sea or the mountain.

Other than soaking in a hot spring, a popular activity is to do the Jigoku Meguri, or Hell Tour. There are a total of 8 Hell Hot Springs in an array of colors, but there probably isn’t a need to visit all of them unless you prefer to watch animals in hot springs than dip in one yourself. Here is a selection of six of them.

LAKE OF BLOOD 

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The high temperature of the hot spring water here (about 78 degrees) and the resulting volume of iron oxide and magnesium oxide in the water gives it its blood red colour.

SEA OF HELL

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Formed from a volcanic explosion around 1,200 years ago, this hot spring is nearly 98 degrees Celsius and the high content of radium iron sulphate gives the water its turquoise color.

SHAVEN MONK’S HEAD HELL 

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The bubbles forming in this hot spring of grey mud are said to look like the shaven head of  a monk. As the water temperature here hits around 99 degrees Celsius, dipping in this onsen is not advised, however, a foot bath facility is available on premise. There’s also a public bath next door with various pools to dip in.

WHITE POND HELL 

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This steaming milky white hot spring lake is surrounded by a Japanese garden and has an aquarium with rare tropical fish such as the man-eating piranha.

TORNADO HELL 

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This geyser erupts every 30-40 minutes for up to 10 minutes at a time, reaching around 50m in height.

MONSTER MOUNTAIN HELL 

 

 

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Over 80 crocodiles and alligators inhabit this hot spring which was the first hot spring facility to rear crocodiles over 90 years ago.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 8 Haruka Kurebayashi

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

All decorations lead to Harajuku

If “cute as a button” refers to the buttons on clothing, it might be about time to call the idiom dated. Haruka Kurebayashi is about as cute as it gets, and while we spotted more than 10 bracelets, 9 hairpins, 3 necklaces and 6 shoelaces, there was not one button to be found on her!

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If you have ever walked the streets of Tokyo’s Harajuku, you have probably seen a girl colorful as a candy cane like Haruka before. This eccentric, over the top fashion style is called Decora, which started off in Harajuku in the late nineties. Being an abbreviation of the English word “decoration”, Decora girls – or Decora-chan as they are called – are not frugal with the use of accessories. From hair to shoes, these girls put an effort in decorating themselves as flashy and gaudy as possible. However, it is important that they do look girly and kiddy and refrain from too boyish or intimidating looks as in other Harajuku fashion styles as for example Gothic Lolita or Hadeko.

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Why does Japan boast such a novel fashion style as Decora? Haruka thinks that because of Japan’s generally strict and formal society some people find it hard to be themselves. Decora functions as a tool for such individuals to freely express who they are.

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Frequently featuring in teen fashion magazine KERA, Haruka is not only a model, but also a mentor to beginning Decora-chan girls as she gives detailed advises on her blog, twitter and even Youtube on how decorate oneself as kawaii as possible. These advises range from matching vintage clothing to how to make even braces an appealing fashion item.

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“There is always one item that I especially want to wear, so I dress and decorate myself around this item” Haruka explains, pointing at her stuffed sheep-doll necklace, the item that stood central in her outfit on the day we interviewed her.

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“From boutiques to vintage stores, I buy my clothes and accessories at all sorts of different places, and even make some of them by myself. What is most important to me, is how I combine these clothes and accessories together. For example, I matched these colorful shoelaces with my white plateau high-heeled boots”

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Fully decorated with toyish rings, sweeter than candy nail art, a girly yet punk hairstyle, heart shaped contact lenses and what not, Haruka truly represents her fashion style’s concept. However, while Haruka might not hesitate in decorating her looks, she does not decorate who she is. Decora fashion is simply a part of her identity, and it is this natural flair that has made her such an iconic model to the genre.

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But Haruka was not always the star she is today. “Until I was scouted, I was just a girl in Shizuoka prefecture far away from Harajuku, a fairy tale like world where everything seemed possible.”

While Haruka totally has the atmosphere of a charismatic muse, the fact that she is just being herself is what makes fans feel closely related to her. Even foreign girls obsessed by Harajuku and its magic find it easy to sympathize with Haruka as although on a different scale, to Haruka too, Harajuku was once a faraway land.

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

Shinjuku in Photos: Nature & Night Sights

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Shinjuku is a large district of Tokyo that is home to all kinds of great and wonderful things to see and do. You can look out over the district from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, wander one of the many side streets that line Shinjuku Station, or even get lost in the numerous passageways within the station itself. But what are the top things to do that won’t set you back a few hundred dollars?

In this series, professional cameraman Heath Smith provides a photo tour of his top five places to see—all of which are free, or relatively cheap!

4. Be with nature in Shinjuku Gyoen Park

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden Tea House

If you are tired of walking around in crowds, one place to go and relax is the magical gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen Park. Enjoy a bento box on the open grass fields, or walk around and explore the lush greenery and garden designs. Entrance to this park is only 200 yen—a small fee, which helps to keep the park nice and clean.

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A foot bridge and pond within the park grounds.
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The vast fields make for great picnic spots!
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Leaves and petals scattered across the pond.

5. See Shinjuku from above

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From the Tokyo Metropolitan Building looking towards Shinjuku Station.

Lastly, you must see Shinjuku from above, and there’s no better place to see it than the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. It has free observatories on both the north and south towers. Take a ride up to the 45th floor for a spectacular view over the city, looking out on Skytree or Mt. Fuji.

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The silhouette of Mt. Fuji along the skyline.
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The Tokyo Skytree, visible from across the city.
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The nearby triple-tower Hyatt Park Hotel on the left.

Ski in Japan: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

While crisp gold and red leaves are still falling across Tokyo, it won’t be long until Japan’s peaks are powdered with fluffy white snow. And with the ski season starting as early as mid-November in Hokkaido, it’s not too early to plan for your winter wonderland trip. In this series, we bring you the hottest resorts for the coolest ski trips, complete with onsens and scenery to accompany your downhill thrills. 

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Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

Snow and Hokkaido are a natural pair, where feather-light powder falls throughout nearly half the year, and its famed Sapporo Snow Festival crowns the season from Feb. 5-11. So for the full Japanese winter experience, start here on its most northern island, where blankets of white wonder await!

Niseko United

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Number of courses: 60
English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Pick up an All-Mountain Pass for access to all four resorts on Mt. Nikes Annupuri. With a total of 48km of groomed slopes and a course as long as 5.6km, this 4-in-1 spot is great for longer stays.

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Address: Niseko Annupuri: Aza Niseko 485, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Access: Take the Niseko United Shuttle Bus to all our resorts from Kutchen Station.
Web: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 25
Just over an hour away by train from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, this resort comes with an open air hot bath facing the lush forests of Tomamu. Give ice skating a go as well as the Ice Village and enjoy its various ice sculptures.

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Address: Naka-Tomamu, Shimukappu-mura, Yuufutsu-gun
Access: Take the shuttle bus from Tomamu Station.
Web: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en

Furano Ski Resort

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 23
Known for its gorgeous rural landscapes and clear blue skies in the winter, you will not find a more picturesque skiing backdrop than the Furano Valley. After skiing, grab a drink at a snow dome ice bar.

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Address: Nakagoryo, Furano-shi
Access: Take a taxi from JR Furano Station or the direct shuttle bus from New Chitose Airport.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/furano/index.html

 

A Taste of Sh旬n: Feeling Crabby?

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Clockwise from left: hairy crab, taraba crab and the snow crab

Crab season is officially here, with the start of the snow crab fishing season beginning off the Sea of Japan last week. The snow crab, or zuwaigani, is a much-loved winter delicacy by the Japanese. Other popular types of crabs include the hairy crab and taraba crab. The season lasts till around March next year.

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Snow crab sashimi (left) and taraba crab sashimi (right)

As with all things fresh in Japan, snow crab is best savored raw with soy sauce or ponzu (a citrus-based sauce). However, as crab has to be handled very carefully in order to be served raw, this is not always available at restaurants.

BOILED IN A HOTPOT

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Another popular way is to boil the crabs in a hotpot, either on its own or as part of a mixed hotpot, which will lend a sweetness to the resulting broth.

GRILLED

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For many, the aroma of grilled crab wafting in the air is irresistible. As the crab meat is already flavorsome, no additional sauce or seasoning is necessary. Just enjoy the natural juices of this tasty crustacean!

SHABU-SHABU

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Another popular way is to briefly blanch the snow crab legs in hot soup in shabu-shabu style.

CRAB MISO 

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While the flesh of the crab is tasty, many a crab fan will tell you that the best part of the crab lies in its “miso”, or a greyish-green mix paste which is a mix of internal organs. It has a creamy texture and flavor perhaps best described as close to that of uni (sea urchin).

 

MISO SAKE 

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To round off the crab feast, pouring hot sake into the crab shell to result in a complex flavorsome brew is a must try! Boiling the sake in the shell crab to extract more of the essence of the crab and miso is highly recommended.

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.

 

Shinjuku in Photos: The Station & Skyscrapers

Shinjuku Bus Terminal

Shinjuku is a large district of Tokyo that is home to all kinds of great and wonderful things to see and do. You can look out over the district from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, wander one of the many side streets that line Shinjuku Station, or even get lost in the numerous passageways within the station itself. But what are the top things to do that won’t set you back a few hundred dollars?

In this series, professional cameraman Heath Smith provides a photo tour of his top five places to see—all of which are free, or relatively cheap!

2. Explore Shinjuku Station itself

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Shinjuku Bus Terminal, viewed from inside the station.

Shinjuku Station is the busiest station in the world with more than 3.5 million commuters traveling through it every day. If you are willing to go exploring, you can find some really spectacular sights that let you look out over the district.

Cocoon Tower (left) and L-Tower (right)
The iconic Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower (center) and L-Tower (right).
The mad rush of people as they leave Shinjuku Station on the east exit.
The mad rush of people as they leave Shinjuku Station on the east exit.
Shooting from the Shinjuku west exit pedestrian bridge
Shooting from the Shinjuku west exit pedestrian bridge.

3. Walk the Path of the Giants

The Sompo Japan Building, as seen from the pedestrian bridge.
The Sompo Japan Building, as viewed from the pedestrian bridge.

Shinjuku is home to many of Tokyo’s tallest and attractive skyscrapers. If you walk from the Sompo Japan Building towards the Park Hyatt Tokyo, this path will lead you by a lot of interesting sites, like the Shinjuku LOVE Sculpture, and the courtyard of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building.

The Shinjuku Mode Gakuen as seen from below
The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower from below.
The Shinjuku "LOVE" Sign is just one of many located all around the world.
The Shinjuku “LOVE” sign is just one of many located all around the world.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Building, seen from the courtyard
The Tokyo Metropolitan Building, seen from the courtyard.
The road next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building passes alongside most of the skyscrapers here.
The road next to the Tokyo Metropolitan Building passes alongside most of the skyscrapers here.
Lastly, don't miss this amazing view from the atrium of the Shinjuku NS Building.
Lastly, don’t miss this amazing view from the atrium of the Shinjuku NS Building!

Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

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!  

FURANO MARCHE 

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Furano is well-loved for its wine and cheese. Just a 10min drive from the Furano Prince Hotel is the Furano Marche, where you can find a vast array of Furano fresh produce, such as the various types of potatoes (fresh or boiled and flavored with butter and vacuum packed), souvenirs, food as well as handicraft.

JAM AND THE ANPANMAN AT THE ROKUGOU VIEWING PLATFORM 

 

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After stocking up on souvenirs, we headed to the Kyohsai Farm’s Furano Jam Garden around a 20 min drive away at the base of the Rokugou Viewing Platform. This viewing platform is very popular in the summer months as a place to view fields of lavender. At the jam store, you can try 35 types of jam, many of which are only available here, such as haskap berry jam and pumpkin jam. Right next door is the Anpanman Shop, which stocks a whole array of Anpanman toys, books and snacks, with an Anpanman gallery on the second floor, where if you are lucky, you can even meet Anpanman for a handshake and photo. It is the only Anpanman shop in the whole Japan to have been operated directly by the creator of Anpanman, Takashi Yanase.

 

FURANO OMUCURRY 

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Furano Omurice at Natulux Hotel

Furano Omucurry, or short for omurice curry, is the soul food of Furano–which is also known as the bellybutton of Hokkaido for being right in the middle of the island. It has to meet 6 criteria to be called Furano Omurice, such as using local vegetables, eggs, cheese or wine, serve a local beverage or Furano milk, make sure the cost is kept within 1,000 yen (excluding tax) and display the Omucurry Flag. Each restaurant offers a unique interpretation of the dish. A must try the next time you are in Hokkaido! We tried the omucurry at Natulux Hotel, which is just 3min by car from the Marche.

WINE, CHEESE AND DESSERT

wineWithin close driving distance is the Chateau Furano, Furano cheese factory and Campana della Vigna Rokatei. Sample Furano wine and pure grape juice here…

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Try five kinds of cheese and butter here such as wine flavored cheese and squid ink cheese, or try  your hand at making cheese, bread or pizza here.

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Rokatei is a confectionery maker from Furano, and is a popular choice for souvenirs. It recently opened a store and eat-in cafe in Furano with a stunning view of rolling vineyards. The ice cream Another must-try sweet treat is “Santa’s beard”, which is another Furano creation of half a melon topped with a tower of soft serve ice cream.

Having feasted on the best of Furano classics, we drove to Asahikawa whereby we then took the train, L’EX Super Kamui No.38 back to Sapporo, before taking a plane back to Tokyo, already missing the vast space and fresh foods of Hokkaido.

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano

The 5 highest mountains of Japan

Who is Japan’s king of the hill?

With 73 percent of Japan’s land consisting of mountains and more than 100 of them being over 2,500 meters high (including peaks of the same mountain range), it is safe to say that Japan is a mountainous country. But which of these giants, are the very highest? Here follow Japan’s big five!

1. Mt. Fuji

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Height: 3,776m
Prefecture(s): Shizuoka, Yamanashi

Mt. Fuji is not only Japan’s most iconic, but also Japan’s highest mountain. Best viewed from Yamanaka lake in Yamanashi prefecture.

2.  Mt. Kita

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Height: 3,193m (10,476 ft)
Prefecture(s): Yamanashi

Mt. Kita is Japan’s tallest non-volcanic mountain. It is located in Yamanashi’s Minami-Alps city, which can be translated as Southern Alps city.

3. Mt. Okuhotaka

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Height: 3,190m (10,470 ft)
Prefecture(s): Nagano, Gifu

If its peak had been only 2 average women’s size taller, this would have been Japan’s second highest mountain. Being more rocky than most of Japan’s other mountains, climbing Mt. Okuhotaka is not recommended if you are not an advanced climber.

4. Mt. Aino

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Height: 3,189m (10,463.0 ft)
Prefecture(s): Yamanashi, Shizuoka

With a mountain peak so wide you can even get lost, Mt. Aino’s peak is also known as the Aino Dome. Climbing Mt. Aino is often done on the way to Mt. Shiomi, a popular mountain to climb in the same region.

5.  Mt. Yari

 

m_163605Height: 3,141 m (10,305 ft)
Prefecture(s): Shizuoka, Nagano

Towering in the back of this picture like a sharp spear, it is not hard to understand where Mt. Yari got is name from, yari being Japanese for spear.

Cloudy with a Chance of Crazy: Fuji-Q Highland

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Cloudy with a Chance of Crazy: Our Fuji-Q Highland Experience

Jelaine from the Philippines was one of two winners of our recent Fuji-Q Campaign. Here, she gives WAttention readers a first-hand review of three of Fuji-Q Highland’s most daunting rides.

Jelaine, at the Fuji-Q Highland entrance.
Jelaine, at the Fuji-Q Highland entrance.

Fuji-Q Highland was a relatively unknown entity to me, unlike Universal Studios or Disneyland. So when the opportunity to visit the theme park presented itself, the only reasonable reply was, “YES PLEASE!”

The day we visited though started with a disappointing 91% cloud cover forecast, which meant a very narrow chance of seeing the magnificent Fuji-san. However, we were still stoked by all the crazy attractions, and at once queued at the nearest and most imposing roller coaster: Fujiyama, fittingly called the King of Roller Coasters.

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Fujiyama

Fujiyama previously held the title for the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster. Although these records have since been beaten, Fujiyama is still one heck of a ride. The coaster started slowly, taking its sweet time to reach its peak height (with markers on the way up indicating the height), which just added to the excitement and tension, and the drop from its highest point left us gleefully screaming our lungs out.

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The highest point of Dodonpa, on the left of the ferris wheel.

Our next stop was Dodonpa. We were curious about this screamer after we saw its length and speed. The coaster began with a countdown, after which it took off at its fastest speed of 172 km/hour immediately upon launching. I was literally speechless for a few seconds from shock, but before I could scream properly, the ride ended. It was just too fast!

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Takabisha

Last, and definitely the most impressive of them all, was Takabisha, which had some exciting inversions and rolls leading to the vertical lift. Similar to Fujiyama, the ascent was teasingly slow, but this one had more of a fear factor, since we were leaning back and couldn’t see anything but the sky in front of us. It stopped for what seemed like an eternity at the top before its scary 121 degree descent.

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Fuji Q Highland is a must try if you’re a thrill seeker like me. But even if you’re not, there are plenty of less heart-stopping attractions to try like the 4D Fuji Airways. Plus, you will have a great view of Mt. Fuji on clear days. Just be sure to check the weather forecast!

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Shinjuku in Photos: The Back Alleys

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Shinjuku is a large district of Tokyo that is home to all kinds of great and wonderful things to see and do. You can look out over the district from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, wander one of the many side streets that line Shinjuku Station, or even get lost in the numerous passageways within the station itself. But what are the top things to do that won’t set you back a few hundred dollars?

In this series, professional cameraman Heath Smith provides a photo tour of his top five places to see—all of which are free, or relatively cheap!

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Two ladies walking through Omoide Yokocho

1. Stroll through Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai

Nestled beneath Shinjuku’s skyscrapers just a minute northwest of the world’s busiest train station, take a walk down “Memory Lane” (Omoide Yokocho) for some nostalgic nightlife. Once home to a black market, just after the war, the food stalls here soon became famous for serving up grilled beef and pork innards (motsuyaki) in 1947.

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With nearly 60 izakayas, bars and tiny eateries lined up wall-to-wall, dishing out everything from yakitori to sushi to ramen, it’s a great place to grab a few skewers while soaking in the retro scenery.

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Or just a few minutes’ walk northeast of the station, check out the six narrow alleyways of grungy drinking holes, known as Golden Gai. Here, 170 two-story bars and eateries are crammed together like salarymen on a rush hour Shinjuku train.

Golden Gai from above
Golden Gai from above

Both of these hidden gems are filled with great street shooting, and though nice to see during the day, they definitely come most alive at night. Just remember that if one of the shop owners gives you the “X” sign with their arms while taking photos, that means to smile and walk away.

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Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano

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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0840h Leave Sounkyo Onsen by local bus
0915h Arrive Kamikawa Station
0925h Leave Kamikawa on L’EX Okhotsk No.2 for Asahikawa
1010 Arrive Asahikawa Station
1030 30 min drive from Asahikawa to Biei

BIEI, LAND OF ROLLING HILLS AND FAMOUS TREES

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Biei’s rolling hills and fields of patchwork colors (depending on the crop of the season) makes it a picturesque place to drive through and almost transports you to an English or European countryside.

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Some of its famous trees include the Ken and Mary Tree, a poplar tree that became popular after it was used as a location for a Nissan Skyline commercial in the early 1970s, and the Parent and Child Trees, though the “child” tree in the middle was recently blown away by strong winds, leaving the parents behind (bottom right of the photo collage).

PICNIC LUNCH

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Picnic is the name of a cosy little cafe that serves soup, burgers and sandwiches for eat-in or takeaway, perfect for an outdoors picnic in summer or autumn!

AOIKE (BLUE POND)

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After lunch, WAttention headed to the Blue Pond, around 20 minute’s drive from the Biei Station. This pond is naturally blue due to the natural minerals dissolved in the water. It is actually part of an erosion control systme to prevent damage to Biei in the event of an eruption by Mount Tokachidake nearby.

WINE DINNER AT FURANO

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Around 45 minutes’ drive from Biei, is the city of Furano, which is famous for its wine and cheese production. Furano Wine House, located atop a hill, offers a great night view to go with fine food, from steak to deer meat, and pizza made with Furano White Cheese.

NINGURU TERRACE AT FURANO PRINCE HOTEL

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Ninguru Terrace is a quaint little village of boutique shops housed in cottages, and makes for a particularly pleasant stroll when colored by autumn foliage or covered in snow. Enjoy the scent of the surrounding pine trees as well for a truly sensory walk.

 

Stay tuned for the final leg, Day 5 where we try Furano’s soul food, Omurice Curry, and sweets!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

Maple Hunting In Tokyo: Ueno Park

Autumn colors in Ueno Park

As autumn approaches its peak, Japan’s leaves gradually dye in deep red, yellow and orange colors.
While widely renowned for its cherry blossoms in spring, Ueno Park is also ideal for viewing autumn leaves.
In urban Tokyo, it is hard to find a spot for viewing autumn leaves this spectacular, and you can enter for free!

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The green near the park’s fountain is a great place to relax in the soft autumn sun.

Near this fountain is Tokyo National Museum. Many other museums are  located within Ueno Park as well. How about some art after your walk? From October 27 to December 6, Tokyo National Museum opens its garden for autumn leaf viewing. Find more information here.

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The following photos were taken at Ueno Park’s Suribachiyama hill.

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You can see how the sun is shining directly on the leaves, which makes the colors more bright and flamboyant.
As they catch sunlight more easily, trees that stand on a hill are usually the best to enjoy autumn leaves.

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Green and golden leaves creating a photogenic contrast.

 

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A close-up of maple silhouettes.
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Myriads of autumn leaves completely coloring the Suribachiyama hill.

The park’s avenues were colored with refreshing Ginkgo foliage.

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With a backdrop this colorful, it is almost as if Saigo Takamori is about to come to life.

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Fallen leaves covering the ground make for a romantic view, but watch out as it can be slippery!

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Ueno Park

Best period for autumn foliage: Mid November – End November

Location: Ikenohata 3, Taito, Tokyo

Access: A 2-min walk from Ueno Station (JR Lines, Hibiya Line, Ginza Line)

J-Speak, an application that will spread its name by word of mouth.

Getting around Japan can be daunting without speaking the language. But with Docomo’s new free application J-Speak that automatically translates speech between Japanese and 10 languages (English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese), one no longer has to play a game of charades when trying to get your meaning across. In addition, you can get free discount coupons to be used as various shops and restaurants during your Japan trip. This version was made available for android smartphones since October, and an iPhone version will be available from January 2016.

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While all WAttention foreign staff speak Japanese, we tried to have a conversation with our Japanese colleagues using J-Speak, and were able to communicate quite smoothly without the awkward pauses common when using similar applications.

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However, do keep in mind that this is automatic translation, and therefore not always completely accurate. If you want to be 100 percent sure that you are correctly translated, choose from a large amount of pre-translated sentences that can be selected per situation. These situations range from asking directions to checking in at the hotel and are always reliable.

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Representing the spirit of Japanese hospitality, this completely free application is not only a translation tool, but functions as your travel guide to Japan at the same time.

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For each region of the country, you can find information on tourist sights, shopping, food and activities in your own language and receive free discount coupons. The application can be used anywhere in the world, so you can also use it when preparing your trip to Japan!

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Click here to download J-Speak for android.

Click here to download J-Speak for iPhone (old version) *This version is only a translation tool and does not include any travel information or coupons.

All About Geisha Banquets

Life as a geisha is often busy with organizing events, and as usual, this week I am busy with organizing banquets for the week ahead. Banquets are the main thing that geisha do, but it seems customers are often not really sure what a banquet involves. So what is a banquet?

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The average banquet is a leisurely two hour dinner at a traditional Japanese tea-house. Cuisine is usually fresh seasonal ingredients, with a lot of fish, but there are some wonderful vegetarian options, and meat can be prepared on request.

Tea-houses are usually exquisite traditional buildings often with little gardens, and every corner of the tea-house is beautiful.

Customers usually arrive first and order drinks, and then the geisha make their entrance all together.

The price for a banquet depends on the ratio of customers to geisha. One customer and ten geisha would be very expensive indeed, but ten customers and one geisha would be very affordable. Usually it would be best to have at least a minimum of one geisha for every five or so guests. I always ask my customers to tell me their numbers and the maximum budget they want to pay per person and I give them some options within their budget. I try not to turn anyone away. Sometimes there are ways to make banquets work even for smaller budgets.

Halfway through the meal the geisha do a performance, usually around half an hour long, with a variety of instruments: shamisen and singing, drum, and flute, and the geisha dance. The music is always different to match the season.

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And then if the customers would like to, we play traditional drinking games.

The banquet I am organizing now is an overseas client who comes to Japan every year for his birthday with different friends and family each time. I still need to get a birthday present, and organize a birthday cake. And I have arranged tickets for him for the annual geisha dances in one of Kyoto’s geisha districts, a lovely opportunity to enjoy a geisha performance on the big stage.

I often say that coming to a banquet is to experience the best of Japanese architecture in the beautiful tea-houses, the best of Japanese cuisine, and sake, the best of Japanese painting in the art on the walls, and pottery, and flower arrangement in the decorations. One can see the loveliness of the geisha kimonos, and the artisanship in our accessories. And experience Japanese music, and of course, dance. There is really nowhere else that one can get such a total Japanese cultural experience at one time in one place.

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Now with internet, one can find banquets advertised, but some caution is needed. Much of what is advertised are not real banquets…geisha prices don’t alter so how do they do it? Sometimes restaurants hire one maiko to go around every room in the restaurant spending only 10 or 15 minutes in each room. Other times customers are all together, 30 or 40 of them, in one large room. There is even one company advertising as geisha girls who have never trained as geisha at all!

But the internet has made other things easier. Traditionally first-timers were not welcome at tea-houses. But now if foreign customers book with me online I become the introducer and the tea-houses will accept even first-timers.

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Anyone can book a banquet easily by contacting Sayuki on www.sayuki.net.

Sayuki has some extra tickets for the annual geisha dances in Kyoto on Sunday, Nov 8. Contact [email protected] for further information.

Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo

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 Okhotsk No.2

Day 3:
7:21 Board the L’EX Okhotsk from Kamikawa Station
9:41 Arrive Kamikawa Station

BEAR PARK AND ICE PAVILION

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Feed the bears and experience minus 21 degrees all in one venue!

Bears roam freely on some mountains in Hokkaido, but you don’t have to head to the deep forests to see one. In fact, you can see 12 huge bears at the Asahikawa Bear Park at the Daisetsu Mori-no-Garden and watch how they try to charm you for cookies (provided by the park). After that, find out why the bears decide to hibernate in the Hokkaido winters by entering the Ice Pavilion, literally the coolest entertainment place in Japan with temperatures going below minus degrees Celsius.
Around 15 minutes by car from the station.

LUNCH @ FRATELLO DI MIKUNI

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Set lunch at Mikuni, a fine dining restaurant by Mikuni Kiyomi

Within walking distance from the Daisetsu Mori-no-Garden, is a fine dining restaurant with a view of the Daisetsuzan Mountain Valley, run by renowned chef, Mikuni Kiyomi, who is also known as the Food Ambassador of Hokkaido.  Enjoy the tastiest food of the season here at prices that won’t break the bank!

KURODAKE ROPEWAY 

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Autumn foliage from the ropeway

Mt. Kurodake is the highest peak in the Daisetsuzan National Park at 1,984m and is easily accessible by ropeway which leads to the 5th Station halfway up to the peak. From there, one can take a chairlift further up to the 7th Station. The view of the carpet of autumn foliage on the dramatic mountain ranges is simply stunning.
Around 30 minutes by car from Fratello Di Mikuni.

GINGA WATERFALL AND RYUSEI WATERFALL

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Two minutes’ drive from the ropeway are two waterfalls around 80m high, with water that comes from melted mountain snow. Ginga (silver river)  is meant to be a “female” waterfall for the way it falls in several strands and Ryusei (meteor) is thought to be a “male” waterfall for its powerful straight stream.

SOUNKYO ONSEN

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What better way to end the day than to soak in an outdoor hot spring, with autumn foliage and the background soundtrack of the gushing river?

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And the onsen experience of course wouldn’t be complete without a kaiseki meal featuring foods of the season such as river fish!

DAY 4 brings us to Furano!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

The Takaoka Doraemon Tour

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For fans of Doraemon, a pilgrimage to Takaoka, where Fujiko F. Fujio created the futuristic blue robot cat, is a must. And though you may not have a Dokodemo door—one of Doraemon’s handy gadgets—to instantly transport you here to Takaoka City, we’ve provided the next best thing with this photo tour, starting right at JR Takaoka Station.

Send a postcard from the Doraemon Postbox

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It may not be as big as the city’s Great Buddha statue, but this giant bronze postbox on the station’s ground level is the largest Doraemon you’ll find in the city. Best of all, letters and postcards sent from here will be postmarked with a Doraemon stamp, a great souvenir from your trip!

Shoot some selfies at the Doraemon Promenade 

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Step outside the station and walk towards the Takaoka Manten Hotel, and you’ll find the whole cast awaiting you. Dedicated by Fujiko himself, these statues were established to continue to inspire creativity amongst the city’s children (or adults like us).

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Ride the Doraemon Tram

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Dedicated in 2012 to commemorate 100 years until the birth of Doraemon in 2112 (according to the manga, as this cat hails from the future), this tram along the Manyosen Line is a Doraemon dream ride, decorated with everything from little dorayaki painted on the interior, to its cute tram logo on the front.

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Dorayaki, Doraemon’s favorite red bean-filled pancake treat.

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Just be sure to look up the tram’s schedule in advance, as there’s only one tram that travels between Takaoka Station and Koshinokata Station (Imizu City).

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Go to where it all began

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Though you won’t find any Doraemon statues to mark the spot, head to the Takaoka Park Sumo Field within Takaoka Kojo Park to see where it all began. Here, on the hill just behind this field, it is said that Fujiko would come regularly for inspiration for his artistic creations.

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Just look for this rock, a short walk from the main entrance to Imizu Jinja Shrine.

See the newest landmark

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Opening in just over a month on Dec. 1, get a rare glimpse into Fujiko’s imaginative world, through many of his original drawings and artworks gathered at the Fujiko F Fujio Hometown Art Gallery. Just a 10-min. walk from the Ritsushikino Chugakkoekimae Station via the Doraemon Tram!

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And to finish, why not try a Toyama Black Dorayaki? A sweet ending to top off your tour.

All Doraemon Photos ©Fujiko-Pro

Maple hunting in Tokyo: Mt. Takao

A magical ride through golden and crimson tunnels

From Shinjuku, hop on the Keio Line and within an hour your are at the foot of Mt. Takao, which is arguably Tokyo’s best autumn leaf viewing spot. You might think that autumn leafs are best viewed deeper in the country, but don’t underestimate Mt. Takao, which is ranked as the 4th best autumn leaf viewing spot of the whole country by Tokyo Walker.

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There are three ways to enjoy the feast of leaves here. Get sweaty by climbing the mountain yourself, or choose for either the cable car or chair lift to take you on a magical ride. Especially the cable car is highly recommended as it takes you deep into Mt. Takao’s autumn forests otherwise not accessible.  The myriads of maples here form golden and crimson tunnels that lead you to the top of this 599m high mountain.

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The leafs surrounding Yakuo-in temple near the top take on an amber hue as well and make for a spot well worth the hunt.

While not joining the autumn leaf festival as you  might hope, the stunning mountain range view with Mt. Fuji in the backdrop from the top make a perfect ending to this mesmerizing journey.

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Mt. Takao

Best period for autumn foliage: Mid November

Location: A 5-min walk from Takaosanguchi Station (Keio Line)