Nishimura leather iPad cover design 3

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 3


for iPad


for iPad mini


for iPad air

See other Nishimura Yuzen-Chokoku products:


SHIBUYA HOTEL EN will open on Feb 5th, 2016 in Shibuya, with a design based on Japanese culture, nature, art, tradition and history.


Each of the 9 floors are decorated according to different theme, like Hokusai, “WA”, and manga.

manga floor
The Manga Floor


Torii floor
Torii (Gate) Floor

Why not try a stay here for a new kind of “WA” hotel!



PRICE: Single 19,000 yen (per night)/ Twin 25,000 yen (per night)/Special floor 40,000 yen (per night)


ADDRESS: 1-1 Maruyama-cho, Shibuya

ACCESS: From JR Yamanote Line Shibuya Station (Hachiko exit), cross the Shibuya scramble and head towards “Shibuya 109”. Turn to the left at the traffic light at Dogenzaka 2 Chome. Shibuya Hotel En will be on the left after passing the first traffic signal.


Why not move around Shibuya via the Hachiko Bus?


Shibuya City runs the small, non-step Hachiko Bus, which also allows easy wheelchair access. You can go nearly everywhere in Shibuya by this bus!

Bus Route(Uehara-Tomigaya)
Uehara-Tomigaya Route map(PDF 31KB)

Uehara-Tomigaya Time table(PDF 85KB)

Bus Route “Jinguno Mori Route”(Jingumae-Sendagaya)
Jingumae-Sendagaya Route map (PDF 64KB)

Jingumae-Sendagaya Time table (PDF 18KB)

Bus Route Honmachi-Sasazuka Loop “Haruno Ogawa (A Stream in Springtime) Route “

Honmachi-Sasazuka Loop Haruno Ogawa Route map(PDF 67KB)

Honmachi-Sasazuka Loop Haruno Ogawa Time table (PDF 87KB)

Bus Route Ebisu-Daikanyama Loop “Yuyake Koyake (Sunset) Route”

Ebisu Daikanyama Yuyake Koyake Route map(PDF 72KB)

Ebisu Daikanyama Yuyake Koyake Time table(PDF 57KB)


Fee:100 yen

Bird Watching in Yoyogi Park


Did you know there are a variety of birds you can spot in Shibuya?
If you’re interested in bird watching, we recommend you join this class!

Date: Jan. 23 (Sat), 2016
Place: Bird Sanctuary, Yoyogi Park in Shibuya
Participation Fee: Free
Participant Max: 20
Application Method: Call 03-3469-6081 (Yoyogi Park Service Center)

Birds viewable in January, 2015
Spot-Billed duck/Turtledove/Goshawk/Buzzard/Kingfisher/Pygmy Woodpecker/Parus Varius/Japanese Great Tit/Brown-Eared Bulbul/Japanese White-Eye/Starling/Thrush/Sparrow/Water wagtail/Oriental Greenfinch/Black-faced Bunting/White’s Thrush etc.

URL: (Japanese)

What’s “Earth Garden”?


The Earth Garden event will be held in Yoyogi Park on Jan 23-24, 2016. This festival aims to raise awareness about the environment in a fun way, with food, music, eco-products and more.


DATE: 10am-4pm Jan 23-24, 2016
*event will take place regardless of weather conditions
PLACE:Yoyogi Park in Shibuya
FEE: Free

Hachiko heading back to Akita?!


In 1924, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took Akita dog Hachiko, as a pet. Hachiko kept waiting for his owner in front of Shibuya Station after Ueno’s death, and now, his bronze statue is famous as a meeting place in Shibuya.

However, recently officials have begun considering moving the Hachiko statue temporarily to his hometown of Odate, Akita Prefecture in 2020, in light of construction work around the station. Such would make for his first return in 96 years!

Diary of a Japan Tour Guide: Monica in Asakusa & Shinjuku

Japan Tour Guide (JTG) is an online portal that aims to match volunteer Japanese guides with visitors coming to Japan. Read about their tours put together for tourists by these friendly local guides in this regular column!

We received a request from Monica from Taiwan (pictured center below), who wanted to visit Asakusa and Shinjuku. The guides were Tomonari Watanabe, a university student, and LingLing, a student from China studying abroad in Japan.


We met with Monica at the iconic Kaminarimon Gate at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa in the afternoon.


After introductions, we explored Asakusa Nakamise-dori. This is the main shopping street at the temple, filled with shops where you can buy souvenirs and snacks.


We ate ningyoyaki (small griddled cakes filled with bean paste), one of the most famous food items in Asakusa, and monaka ice cream (ice cream sandwiched between crisp wafers).


Next, we tried omikuji. These are sacred lots that tell one’s fortune. Here’s how they work: first, put 100 yen in the money box. Second, shake the container with many numbered sticks until one comes out of the little slot. Lastly, find the box with the same number and take out the paper sheet. This little slip of paper predicts your fortune!


We then needed to cleanse ourselves before entering the temple. We went to Sensoji and put 5 yen into the osaisen (offertory) and prayed. It is believed that 5 yen will bring good luck to your love life!


From Asakusa we headed to Kappa-bashi by foot. Here, there are lots of shops with kitchen goods and food samples. Monica showed great interest in food samples, as she also makes them back home, but out of clay instead of wax.



Afterwards we explored Ameyoko (Ameyayokocho), a busy street market area which is wellーknown for having very reasonable prices. Various products such as fresh fish, dried foods, bags, cosmetics, imported goods and more are sold along both sides of the street. Since the New Year was just around the corner, it was crowded with people seeking ingredients for osechi-ryori (special dishes only eaten for New Year’s). Monica told us that Ameyoko is similar to Taiwan’s night markets.



At the end of the day, we went to the Izakaya “Kyomachi Koishigure” in Shinjuku. Once we stepped inside, it was like being transported to Kyoto. We enjoyed delicious Japanese food and sake while enjoying the atmosphere and vibe of Kyoto.



This is just a small look into one of the many adventures you can have with Japan Tour Guide.
We are looking forward to guiding you around the city and showing you the ins and outs of Japan!

Limited-Time Character Cafe at Shibuya Parco

mainOn Jan. 28, “Kanahei’s YURUTTO CAFE” featuring illustrator, manga artist, and LINE stamp creator Kanahei’s cute characters, will open for a limited time at Shibuya PARCO’s THE GUEST cafe & diner.


Besides the original menu based on Kanahei’s “Piske & Usagi” characters and her “Small Animals” series, find original goods only available at this cafe’s shop, as well as a commemorative photo spot at the store front!

Location: THE GUEST cafe & diner (Shibuya PARCO Part 1, 7F)
Dates: Jan. 28 – Mar. 14, 2016
Hours: 11am – 10pm (last order for food), 10:30pm (last order for drinks)

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 11 The past and present of Japanese video games

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

An Interview with Koji Igarashi

If you are in your twenties or thirties and are a fan of Japanese video games, there is a pretty big chance you grew up spending hours on end in the dark world of Castlevania, one of Konami’s most iconic franchises. Now, you can look forward to reliving the magic with a new game by former Castlevania key creator and gaming world legend, Koji Igarashi (fondly known as IGA)’s latest project, called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. So eager were IGA’s fans to bring this fantasy world to fruition that it only took only 4 hours to reach the base goal of 500,000 US dollars on KICKSTARTER, one of the world’s biggest crowdfunding platforms. And only to think that this was just the beginning!

WAttention had the honor to interview IGA himself, and asked him about his new project, his masterpieces of the past, and the current state of the Japanese video game industry in general.

On Castlevania: 

“Castlevania is a gothic horror themed side-scroller (a 2D video game viewed from a side-view camera angle in which a character moves from one side to the other) in which the main character uses a whip as the main weapon to fight against Dracula and his army of mummy men, werewolfs and other characters that will remind you of B horror movies” IGA explains.

Although IGA is not the father of the Castlevania franchise which started in 1986, the first entry he worked on in 1997 “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” was a revolutionary title that to this day is widely seen as not only the best entry in the franchise, but also as one of the best video games ever released for the original Sony Playstation.

In a time in which 3D video games came to rise due to new powerful hardware, IGA and his team had the guts to stick with 2D and revolutionized the side-scrolling genre by making it non-linear and adding elements of exploration and backtracking. While IGA humbly mentions Nintendo’s Super Metroid as an earlier game with similar features, it cannot be denied that IGA further expanded the concept by introducing experience points and magic, concepts borrowed from RPGs (role playing games), hence making the game more accessible for the less skilled gamer.

Much like IGA himself, a great number of famous Japanese video game creators from companies as SEGA, Konami, Capcom and Square Enix have gone their own ways in the last decade. We asked IGA why he thinks so many creators have left their companies.

“Video-game companies cannot accept new ideas as easily as before. Production costs are becoming higher as technology advances while sales are getting worse largely due to the rise of smartphone devices. Testing new grounds has become much more risky than before, forcing companies to play it safe by releasing titles of tested formulas for already existing franchises, leaving creators little to no freedom”

On Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night will be the first title of IGA’s new studio ArtPlay. The project is partially funded through KICKSTARTER. With over 5.5 million US dollars funded by over 64 thousands backers, IGA’s project ranks in as the 11th best funded project and second best funded video game ever on KICKSTARTER.

“Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night” is currently in development for Steam (PC/Mac/Linux), (PC/Mac/Linux), XBOX One, Playstation 4, Wii U, and PS Vita and is scheduled for a 2017 release.


“As Bloodstained is partly funded by my fans, I want to give them the type of experience they have been waiting for. Still, while creating a game that will feel familiar, I am hoping to try new things as well. Also, given the fact that this is a new franchise, the story and setting will add a fresh touch to the game too.”


On the future of the game industry: 

With even world-wide acclaimed video game creators as IGA having a hard time finding publishers to fund their projects, how do new talents bring their ideas to the world? Luckily, there is a new movement called indie games, which are video games created by independent developers. While the production costs for big titles are higher than ever, modern developing software has made the programming of video games more convenient and less expensive, allowing young creators to independently create and present their own video games.

“The difference between my project and indie games is that there is an existing fan base for my project. I have to make sure that those fans will be satisfied with my game, but an indie developer is completely free in what he wants to make, limited only by his own imagination.” says IGA, indicating that he does not see himself as an indie developer.
He does state that the marketing for his current project is significantly different from that of a traditional video game, and that as his own boss, he does possess similar freedom as an indie developer.

“I think that there are two types of creators. The creator that makes something completely new and the creator that perfects an already existing concept or genre. I happen to be the latter one, but for creators that want to bring something completely new to the world, video game companies aren’t as tolerant as in the old days. Luckily, they can show their projects as indie games, which is why I feel great potential towards this new branch of our industry”

While Japan is still a bit behind the west when it comes to indie games, the market is gradually growing. IGA was a speaker at 2015’s Bitsummit, an indie game festival in Kyoto that was held for the third time on July 11 and 12.

IGA was pleasantly surprised by the scale and popularity of the event. Indeed, with more than 80 developing teams showcasing their projects and over 4,500 visitors, the Japanese indie game industry is definitely growing, and hopefully we will soon see young Japanese creators once again captivate the world with their fresh ideas like IGA did nearly two decades ago.


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

Shibuya Ranks #1 in Tokyo for College-Bound Rate


This weekend, Jan. 15-16, high school students across the country will take the “Center Test” university entrance exam. And according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, Shibuya Ward ranks at the top of Tokyo’s 23 wards for highest college-bound rate!

With 77.9% of high school students continuing to college or junior college, Shibuya more than doubles the lowest ranking ward, Adachi Ward, at 38.9%. Chiyoda (76.9%), Minato (75.3%), Bunkyo (74.7%) and Suginami Ward (72.6%) rounded off the list’s top 5.

Best of luck to all test-takers, in Shibuya and across Japan!


“Tree of Children” in Aoyama


Ever see this strange objet d’art along Aoyama-dori Street?

It is called “Tree of Children”, sculpted by famous Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. Okamoto said “Humans must accept life as it is,” and expressed this thought through this artwork with many faces of children living freely. Find it just in front of the United Nations University!

Address: 5-53-1 Jingumae, Shibuya

First Brush With Geisha Culture

Before I became a geisha I was lecturing in Japanese Studies at university, and making anthropological documentaries for broadcasters like National Geographic Channel or Channel 4 (UK), or writing.

After I became a geisha, and then decided to continue working as a geisha at the end of the first year, I sometimes had qualms about the wisdom of completely abandoning my academic career.

That dilemma was nicely resolved a year after my debut. I had gone to visit the President of Keio University, my alma mater, to ask if we could organise a banquet for foreign students. Instead, Mr Anzai asked me to lecture at Keio on Geisha Studies.

My geisha mother had warned me many times never to mention the word “education” in front of the older geisha. Education was a sensitive issue as many of the older geisha were primary school graduates, and it is only recently that many new recruits to the geisha world are university graduates.

So what on earth would be the reaction of my older geisha sisters to the thought of an actively practising geisha lecturing at university? I could not even begin to imagine what would happen. But, as with everything else I did as a geisha in Asakusa, I asked for and received permission from both my geisha mother, and from the geisha office. As it happens, not one single time either then or after, did a single geisha make any comment at all about me lecturing. And as the last lecture that I did each term involved all the students coming to a banquet in Asakusa as the customers, many of the geisha I worked with in Asakusa met my students. Now, that I have my own independent geisha house and work with geisha from all over Tokyo, geisha from almost all the districts have met my students. And geisha from Asakusa still regularly attend my banquets.

So it was that I became the first geisha ever to be employed as a lecturer, and my classes were the first time that any Japanese university has ever had lectures on “Geisha culture.” In the end this is something that is very positive for the geisha world. My students are all fluent in several languages and will leave their elite universities for elite international careers. I hope the hundreds of students I have taught by now have fond memories of their time studying geisha culture and will become customers in the future. And teaching Geisha Culture at university helps to concrete the idea of Geisha Culture as a legitimate and serious subject in the minds of bureaucrats and educationalists.

I like taking my students out of school for a third of their classes. They meet an older geisha to hear about the old days in Shimbashi and Yanagibashi, go to see geisha dances in Kyoto or Tokyo, watch my trainees have their dance classes with one of the senior geisha, and tour a geisha district and tea-houses and meet with the tea-house mothers.

And they also get to do “hangyoku henshin” (maiko transformation) or dress up as little geisha themselves (hangyoku is the Tokyo word for maiko, or young geisha). I mostly dress them with the help of my current trainee geisha, but they have to learn to do their makeup themselves.


First they put on a layer of wax called bintsuke abura, that protects their skin from the white makeup. The white makeup is a kind of talc these days, mixed with water.

Before the white paste is painted on the girls put a bright pink color around their eyes and cheeks leaving the bridge of their noses white. This color is like blusher and gives texture to the face. The white layer covers the pink and it takes some practice to get the right amount of pink so that it shows through the white not too brightly but is still visible.

Next comes a splash of vermilion red directly on the upper eyelids to lengthen and accentuate the black Asian eye. The eyebrows also are colored in charcoal black but have touches of red at both ends.


The geisha’s whole look displays little touches of red in her undercollar, in the tie-dye splashes of red in her obijime ties, and in her makeup. The startling contrast of red, white and black, makes any Asian woman look beautiful. Next comes thick black eyeliner, and lastly the distinctive deep red pout of the geisha mouth.


It takes all day long to make up and dress my students. In the photos here we were lucky to enlist the help of a tea-house mother in Otsuka district (Tokyo) who kindly allowed us to get dressed in her tea-house, and one of my older geisha sisters in Otsuka helped us out for the day.

I have enough kimono to have several trainees in my geisha house wear a different kimono every month of the year so there is no problem having enough kimono for all my students. But some things I need to borrow and one of my wonderfully cooperative older geisha sisters in Mukojima district lends me the seasonal hair ornaments that I don’t have enough of each term for the students.

The girls get ready one by one and take a walk around the geisha district while waiting for the last ones to finish dressing. We can’t wait too long….girls who are not used to wearing kimono have a lot of trouble staying together and neat!

Finally, towards evening, when all the girls are ready we take the final photo…here you can see the Otsuka geisha and tea-house owner in front of the tea-house with my young students. How do they look?


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 for more information. And anyone can book a banquet with Sayuki, her geisha sisters and her trainees through the contact form on the web-site.

Shop For Antiques At The Setagaya Boroichi Fai


Do you have a keen eye for antiques?

If so, save the date for the Setagaya Boroichi Fair on the 15th and 16th of January, where you can find a wide variety of antiques, arts and crafts, interior decorations, fashion items, books, plants and more!


Caption: Old chisels and intricate artwork found at the fair.

The fair originally started as a flea market for the farmers around 1570s, where they exchanged used farming clothes. As most of them were old and raggedy – colloquially called “boro boro” – people started calling it a Boroichi, the name we still use today even though the items on sale are more presentable.

During its peak, there were around two thousand stalls lining up right next to each other, providing not only everyday items but also food and entertainment. Today, about 700 stalls display their treasures, some centuries old, others unknown.


Caption: Streets are packed with people trying to find one of a kind items.

You don’t have to be the expert of antiques to enjoy this fair. Just stroll down the street and see what people have in store. A plethora of random items will give you a glimpse into Japanese history and nostalgia.


Caption: Plants and Bonsai are popular items sold at the Boroichi fair.


Caption: How about a Manekineko for a souvenir?


Caption: Freshly made sweets and snacks, perfect for snacking on as you shop!

Though the fair is held in a quiet suburb of Setagaya ward, it attracts approximately 200,000 visitors every year. The number alone is a enough testament for a visit, right? If you are fed up with the latest and greatest of what Japan has to offer, visit Boroichi for a change. You might find it very refreshing.

To get to the fair, hop on a cute tram called the Setagaya line and get off at Kamimachi Station. I suggest getting there early so you can have a better look at the treasures from the past and perhaps keep some for yourself. Enjoy!


Date: Jan. 15th & 16th

Hours: 9am to 8pm

Fee: Free

Access: Setagaya Line Kamimachi Station

URL: (Japanese)

Discover Drinking Alleys In Japan (II): Neighborhood Yokochos

Almost every area has its own yokocho for locals to gather and unwind. Here are some other alleyways with character worth stopping by.

1) Asakusa Hoppy Dori 


Hoppy has a reputation as being the mixer of choice of the older generation, and for good reason—it was created in their younger days as a cheaper alternative to beer, to be mixed with stronger liquor such as shochu. In this alleyway, you can even find “draft” hoppy. The specialty here is “motsu stew”, or a hearty dish made from pig or cow innards, vegetables and konjac.

Access: 3-min. walk from Metro Asakusa Station

2) Amazake Yokocho 


Unlike the other alleyways that come alive at sunset, this 400m alleyway is more of a daytime place with a refined Shitamachi (old downtown) feel of the Edo era and famous for its amazake, or sweet non-alcoholic rice wine, and taiyaki baked pastry from a 99-year-old shop.

Access: 2-min from the Metro Ningyocho Station

3) Harmonica Yokocho 


Formerly an underground flea market that sprung up in the early post-war period some 70 years ago, this is lined with small shops and bars just like the holes on a harmonica mouthpiece. While some of the tenants date way back, this area is now popular with the younger crowd for its trendy standing bars and hip restaurants.

Access: 2-mins walk from East Exit of Kichojoji Station


4) Koenji Gado-shita


This is known as the alley for aspiring musicians and to support these struggling artistes are cheap bars, pubs and shops selling used CDs, musical instruments and clothes. Hang out with the lively crowd here under the tracks on the west side of Koenji Station. A must try is the “Gyoza for zero Yen” at Tachibana gyoza restaurant where you get a sizeable free gyoza portion with every drink ordered.

Access: 2-mins walk from JR Koenji Station

Coming Of Age Day

seinen3In Japan, one is considered an adult at the age of 20 and a national holiday – called Coming of Age Day (成年の日, seinen no hi) – is designated on the second Monday of January to celebrate this milestone event. This is a great opportunity to see a rainbow spectrum of traditionally-dressed men and ladies walking around town.


Eligible residents receive an invitation card by the local government, informing them of the designated celebration venue. The actual event consists of a congratulatory speech and presentation of a  commemorative gift to the newly initiated adults .



Ladies wear a furisode, or a type of kimono with long sleeves that drape down, while men either wear a traditional dark kimono with hakama or a suit and tie.


In Japan, 20 is the legal age for smoking and drinking….


…and the newly initiated adults usually celebrate this day by going out for a drinking party!




Ginza’s Past and Present in Photos

Ginza is one of the best places to go shopping in Tokyo, especially in January as many of the department stores here will have a bargain sale in the second half of this month.

The Kabukiza Theater also has a special program to mark the beginning of the New Year.

So why not head down to Ginza and check out these historical buildings that hark back to to the late 19th century and early 20th century?


The Kabukiza Theater is one of the most famous Kabuki theaters in Japan. Surrounded by modern buildings, it creates an interesting contrast between Japan’s past and present.


This is a postcard from somewhere between 1925 and 1945, and shows us what Kabukiza Theater looked like before it was bombed during the end of WWII.

The Kabukiza Theater was originally constructed in 1889.

It has been reconstructed after a fire in 1921, after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, after the WWII bombings in 1945, and recently in 2010 because it was starting to show its age.

The phoenix design on the noren (curtain) at the entrance is Kabukiza Theater’s crest. This legendary bird originally from China, stands symbolic for happiness.


At night, the theater will be elegantly lit-up. Faced to the busy Harumi-dori street, it can get quite busy during rush hours here.

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If you walk along Harumi-dori street towards Ginza station, you will reach the famous Ginza 4-chome (yon-chome) crossing.


On the right side of this crossing is department store Ginza Mitsukoshi, and the building with the clock on the left side is Wako, also a department store. These department stores have stood symbol of Ginza’s luxury image since the thirties.


This photo was taken somewhere between 1932 and 1941. As you can see, both department stores were already at their current locations.

Today, Ginza shines with stylish lights at night, thus managing to look hip while maintaining its original charm.

This is the crossing of Harumi-dori street and Chuo-dori street.
You can see Matsuya Ginza at the end of Chuo-dori street on the right side of this photo.

Matsuya Ginza is also one of Ginza’s historical department stores, but today boasts a modern style architecture, which is beautifully illuminated with LED at night.

The following photo taken between 1920 and 1930, you can see how trams used to pass by in Ginza.


While you will probably be busy shopping in Ginza, sometimes, try to stand still and imagine what the area was like in the old days. Doing so will really allow you to appreciate the area for sure.
Spot Information

Kabukiza Theater

Location: Ginza 4-12-15 Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit 3 of Higashi Ginza Station (Hibiya Line, Toei Asakusa Line)

Ginza Mitsukoshi

Location: Ginza 4-6-16, Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit A7 of Ginza Station(Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line and Hibiya Line)


Location: Ginza 4-5-11, Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit B1 of Ginza Station (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line and Hibiya Line)



Matsuya Ginza

Location: Ginza 3-6-1 Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit A12 of Ginza Station (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, and Hibiya Line


Shopping Campaign for Tourists

Until Feb. 29, the Japan Shopping Tourism Organization is holding its first campaign geared towards foreign tourists at the Koen-dori shopping street area – Tokyo Prime Shopping 2016 in Shibuya – giving away 1,000,000 yen in prizes and gift cards.

To participate, download the smartphone application WeChat, and use the “shake” function in the Koen-dori shopping street area to enter a lottery to win prizes and gift cards. Lottery entrants will also receive discount tickets and present coupons, valid at nearly 900 participating stores.

In addition, on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 6:18pm, the “Lucky Shake Event” will take place for just 30 seconds, where an extra 1,000,000 yen in present coupons will be given away.


A Taste Of Sh旬n: Anglerfish Hotpot

Say Ahh..nkou!

The ankou, or anglerfish, is one of those grotesque deep sea creatures (not unlike the hoya) that one wouldn’t fathom putting in one’s mouth. But the ankou is a winter delicacy that many Japanese look forward to eating, usually in the form of a hotpot. It is popular with the ladies for its reputed high collagen content in its gelatinous skin.


The springy flesh of the anglerfish – similar to that of the fugu, or puffer fish – makes it suitable to be boiled in a hotpot. The ankou nabe (anglerfish hotpot) is usually flavored with a miso-based soup with the ankou liver mixed in with a splash of sake.


The ankou liver – or ankimo – is known as the “foie gras of the ocean” for its rich taste and smooth texture.

In fact, all parts of the ankou can be eaten, from head to tail. Due to the slimy nature of the skin, it is sliced and gutted while hung. This is a much anticipated spectacle, like that of a tuna cutting show.

There is a saying that “Fugu in the West, Anglerfish in the East”. Ooarai in Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for its catchment of anglerfish, and there’s even an Anglerfish Hotpot Festival every November. So don’t forget to try the ankou while it’s in season from December to February!

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.


Aoyama Gakuin celebrates victory

Today at 12:40pm, Aoyama Gakuin University held a victory ceremony in front of Goucher Memorial Chapel, celebrating its second consecutive win at the 92nd Hakone Ekiden race.

IMG_1180 2
Aoyama Gakuin 4th-year Kazuma Kubota jokingly asking the audience to raise their hand if they came to see him.

Coach Susumu Hara and the ten participating runners each shared brief words of appreciation and encouragement before a flood of students, faculty and visitors.

IMG_1197 2
A banner hanging by the campus entrance on Aoyama-dori Street, which reads, “Because we suffered more than anyone else, we had more  fun than anyone else.”



About Geisha Districts

Every tourist equates Japan with geisha. But most are hazy about where geisha actually are. They might know Kyoto has geisha, but many don’t know that Tokyo does too.

Actually there are probably 30 or 40 geisha districts still in Japan, generally defined as being a place where there is a geisha office (kenban) coordinating the activities of a number of individual geisha houses.

0804190Sayuki with Kamaishi geisha

Kyoto has five districts, Tokyo has six official districts and a scattering of places where there are individual geisha houses. But throughout Japan there are districts from Niigata to Nagasaki.

People generally think of Kyoto geisha as most traditional because Kyoto itself is old. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you consider that geisha, in their current form, have only been around for around 400 years. From that perspective Kyoto geisha and Tokyo geisha are equally old.

There are many reasons to have a geisha district. Often they sprang up around shrines because of the number of tourists coming to visit. “Pray, pay and play” was the traditional form of tourism. Kamishichiken (seven tea-houses) district in Kyoto got its start from its seven tea-houses near to a shrine. Asakusa’s geisha district has survived because of its proximity to the Asakusa Kannon temple, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist sights. Other districts are near a castle, like Nagoya or Morioka. These are generally high class districts because of their high class clientele and because their clientele were living nearby permanently. Other districts were near hot springs, another type of domestic tourism. But these were generally lower class in the old days because their clientele were short-term and temporary.

IMG_5094Sayuki exchanging greetings with Gion geiko

Yet other districts emerged along the main roads of Japan at the posting inns where customers would stay overnight. In many of the 52 stops on the road from Tokyo to Kyoto there was a geisha district, usually also lower class because of the transient nature of the clientele. My geisha mothers used to say whenever I was not up to scratch that I was no better than a Shinagawa geisha! Thinking of all the high rise office buildings in Shinagawa today it is hard to imagine a geisha district there, or to recall that Shinagawa was the first stop on the road to Kyoto from Tokyo. Shinagawa no longer exists as a geisha district and Oi Kaigan, which follows it, has now lost its geisha office. The next stops on the old Tokyo-Kyoto road, Yugawara, Atami, and Hakone, also have rather lower standards than town districts. The geisha mostly work without being in the white makeup and traditional attire of geisha, and some of their geisha houses send out both geisha and “companions” (kimono-dressed hostesses without any of the skills of geisha), sometimes even interchangeably, something absolutely unthinkable for high class districts that have very rigid rules about what a geisha is and does.

IMG_3428Sayuki with Ito geisha
Another key reason for a geisha district to exist is because it was the center of a certain industry. Fukagawa, on Tokyo Bay, was the centre for the lumber industry, and as lumber began to be transported by truck instead of by boat, the businesses on the waterfront declined and the geisha disappeared.

I was lucky to win the Endeavour scholarship from the Australian Government shortly after I became a geisha. The Australian Government funded my research on geisha, and this allowed me to travel to practically every geisha district in Japan, visiting the geisha offices and meeting geisha and tea-house owners, and building relationships with geisha all over the country.

IMG_1626Sayuki entertaining customers with Kyoto geiko and maiko

Later I was invited back to many of these districts for banquets to perform with the local geisha, or I was able to invite geisha to visit Tokyo and attend banquets with my customers. Most geisha only usually appear at banquets with geisha from their own districts. And most geisha think that whatever happens in their own district is the norm for geisha everywhere. Few geisha have a wide overview of geisha all over Japan and are able to see their own district objectively. Thanks to the Australian Government support I have been really fortunate to be able to see and work with geisha from many districts around Japan and to continue those relationships. And more than anything get some real insight into different ways of doing things, and which districts are more successful.

IMG_4156_4Sayuki at the Ito geisha dances

Mannequins on vacation at Hikarie


Ever wonder what mannequins do when they’re not modeling the newest fashions in perfect posture?

If so, head to fashion mall Shibuya Hikarie to catch the Mannequin’s Holiday “New Year’s & Potato Chips Exhibition” by performance group happy unbirthday, where mannequins show how they enjoy a day off, dressed in snack package wrappers in a room also comprised of wrapper-made items.

While the exhibition space is open from 11am – 8pm, the final “Closing Party” performance will take place tomorrow, Jan. 7 at 8pm, where you can bring your own snacks to participate!

Location: Shibuya Hikarie
Final Exhibition Day: Jan. 7
Exhibition Hours: 11am – 8pm
Closing Party: 8pm
Fee: None

Furano Ski Area

Blessed with the lightest and driest snow in Hokkaido, as well as great view of the Daisetsuzan Mountains, the Furano Ski Area attracts all levels of skiers in winter.
Situated in the center of Hokkaido, this area benefits from Siberian storm systems that pass over the Sea of Japan and dump powdery snow. Even though Furano gets relatively fewer snow than other ski areas in Hokkaido, it gets more days with fine weather and it still gets knee-deep and the occasional neck-deep snow in some areas.
The Furano Ski area even hosted the International Ski Federation Downhill World Cup 10 times. While Japanese top skiers choose this area as training base due to the great conditions, about 80% of areas are rated beginner or intermediate.

The resorts and ski schools there are also quite accommodating for families, providing child care and ski lessons for children in English. Furano is made up with two zones, the Kitanomine zone and the Furano zone with various accommodation options. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, you can also try snowmobiling and backcountry skiing.

Read also: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

[ Information ]
By train:
From Chitose airport or Sapporo, Furano can be accessed by JR train via Takikawa Station which takes approximately 2 hours. JR runs a “Lavender Express” from Sapporo Station to Furano Station too. Take taxi from Furano Station to the ski area which will take 5-10 min.

By bus:
Take Chuo express Bus from a bus terminal in the basement of Sapporo Station to Downtown Furano. Buses run hourly from 8AM to 7PM. (3 hrs., 2,260 yen one way). There are direct buses from the New Chitose Airport to the Furano resort (3 hrs., booking required), too.

Open: from Nov. 26, 2016 to May 7, 2016 (Dates are subjects to change)
Lift ticket: Adult 4,000 yen (From Nov. 28 to Dec.11 and Mar. 22 to May 5), Adult 5,200 yen (From Dec.12 to Mar. 21), Senior 3,500 yen (From Nov. 28 to Dec.11 and Mar. 22 to May 5), Senior 4,700 yen (From Dec.12 to Mar. 21)

[ Address ]
18-6 Kitanominecho, Furano-shi, Hokkaido

Diary of a Japan Tour Guide: Jaslyn in Harajuku & Shibuya

Japan Tour Guide (JTG) is an online portal that aims to match volunteer Japanese guides with visitors coming to Japan. Read about their tours put together for tourists by these friendly local guides in this regular column! 

The other day, we received a request from Jaslyn, a 21-year-old Singaporean studying economics. She wanted to go to Harajuku and experience “very Japanese things” since it was her first time visiting Japan. So we created a tour that was enriching and suited her wishes.

The guides were myself, Satoru, a university student, and Yozo, an office worker. The three of us met up at Harajuku Station at 10am and began touring!


First, we visited Meiji Shrine, one of the most famous sightseeing places for foreign tourists in Tokyo. With so many trees there around the shrine area, we temporarily forgot that we were in lively Harajuku! Jaslyn seemed to be surprised at how silent the place was, and relaxed amidst the vast nature.


In my experience guiding foreigners here, I sometimes meet people who confuse shrines and temples. Shrines are based on the Japanese traditional religion called Shinto. On the other hand, temples are based on Buddhism, which was introduced by India via China, of which there are a lot of worshipers all over the world.

Being purified mentally, we left the shrine and went to Takeshita Street to eat lunch.

Takeshita Street is one of the main streets in Harajuku and there are many kinds of stores including clothes shops and restaurants that line both sides of the street. After hanging out for 20 minutes here, we chose a Takoyaki restaurant for lunch.


Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese food mainly made of wheat, with diced octopus inside it. (“Tako” means octopus in Japanese.) Although Jaslyn had never eaten it before, she quickly took a liking to it.


Next, we went toward Shibuya via Yoyogi Park, the fourth largest park in Tokyo. After walking for several minutes, we found ourselves surrounded by fallen leaves completely covering the ground! I wish I could describe how beautiful the scene was in words!


After another twenty minute walk, we arrived at the famous “Shibuya Crossing” intersection, where sometimes up to 3,000 people cross the road at once. Then we moved to a video game arcade to take purikura – pictures in a photo sticker booth that is particularly popular amongst the youth in Japan.


Your face in the pictures is automatically modified to be even cuter, and you can send your favorite picture to yourself by email. (A simple registration process is required.) Jaslyn was so hooked on purikura that we did it twice before leaving!


After having dinner, we went to Shibuya Station to see her off and said our goodbyes there. I hope she experienced a lot of Japanese culture and had fun throughout our one-day tour of Harajuku and Shibuya.

Japan Tour Guide will help you create great and unforgettable memories during your stay in Japan! Why don’t you come sightseeing in Japan with us?


Aoyama Gakuin wins Hakone Ekiden


For the second consecutive year, Aoyama Gakuin University won the Hakone Ekiden race on Jan 2-3. This two-day long-distance running relay race from Otemachi, Tokyo to Hakone and back is the most popular nationwide televised sporting event during the New Year’s holidays.

We stopped by Aoyama Gakuin University (just a minute away) today to get a shot of their new victory banner. Congratulations to our next-door neighbor university!

Discover Drinking Alleys In Japan (I) : The “Yamanote Yokochos”



Yokocho in Japanese literally means “side alley” and usually refers to a small, winding smoky lane that leads you into another realm of Tokyo where grit rules over grids.

While popular as tourist spots today, these clusters sprung up randomly in the ashes of post-War Japan as black markets or unlicensed bars and businesses. Its role, however, remains the same—as a place to either lose, find or just be yourself off the mainstream hustle and bustle of life.

The Way of the Yokocho 

Entering a drinking hole along the yokocho for the first time can be daunting, especially if you don’t speak Japanese. Fortunately, some shops in the bigger yokochos have English and Chinese menus. Otherwise, following these simple rules will help make your experience enjoyable.

  1. Always order a drink or more to go with your food
  2. Don’t invade the counter space of the person next to you
  3. Don’t linger after finishing your food—bar hop to the next stop!
  4. Do bring enough cash to pay, credit cards are often not accepted


Check out these famous yokochos along the Yamanote Line, all within close walking distance from the station. Discover the different character, flavors and scents of each alleyway.

1) Ebisu Yokocho



This yokocho is unique for being indoors and hence, sanitized. Opened in 2008 after renovating an old apartment block, it maintains the alleyway feel of being cramped, or cozy, with a good mix of 21 food stalls. The crowd here has a higher proportion of expatriates, and is perhaps reflected in the choice of stalls which includes a couple of wine bars – one even selling Iberico ham!

Access: 2-min. walk from JR Ebisu Station East Exit, or the Hibiya Line Ebisu Exit

2) Ameyayokocho (Ameyoko)


Ameyoko is thought to have its roots as a black market after World War II, where “ame” – standing either for candy or American goods – was sold here when such goods were scarce. Today, this 500m long street is packed chock-a-block with shops selling everything from snow crabs to candy and snacks, bags, clothes, shoes and exotic foreign foods. The alleyways off this alleyway house a maze of izakayas which start from as early as 10am.

Access: 1-min walk from JR Ueno Station Chuo Exit

3) Shimbashi Gado-shita 


Located near the central business district, this stretch of watering holes under the train tracks is the big brother of drinking alleys and known as the “salaryman’s heaven” where tired men in dark suits go to knock back a swig or two over a couple of skewers on the way back from work, or to unwind on a Friday night with colleagues.

Access: 2-min. walk from Karasumori Exit of JR Shimbashi Station




4) Omoide Yokocho 

Take a walk down “Memory Lane” (Omoide Yokocho) which lies in the shadows of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers. Numerous izakayas and bars line this winding back alley where stalls selling grilled cow and pig innards (motsuyaki) emerged in the post-war days when flour was scarce. Today, about one-third of the nearly 60 shops here still dish out this soul food. Salarymen can also be spotted queuing up for their favorite soba shop or yakitori joint. Pull up a bar stool, grab some skewers, and soak in the retro atmosphere here while creating some new memories of your own!

Access: 1-min. walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit. URL:


5) Nonbei Yokocho 



Tucked away from the Shibuya crossing crowd and fancy fashion malls is Nonbei Yokocho (literally, “Drunkard’s Alley”) that still offers a glimpse of 1950s Shibuya, when shops were low-rise and had wooden structures. Take a reminiscent stroll through this 36-eatery-lined alleyway and you’ll understand why some tourists might mistake this for time-travel theme park.

Access: 4-min. walk from JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit.




7 Great Winter Activities in Northern Tohoku


1. Get sporty

Winter in Northern Tohoku is a paradise for those who enjoy winter sports. Majestic mountain ranges carpeted in fresh powder snow provide a number of great ski hills all over the region. Most ski hills, provide rental equipment and lessons, so it’s a great place to pick up skiing as well.

Read also:
Top 4 Central Japan Resorts

2. Get festive

Despite being famous for their grand summer festivals, Tohoku has a list of amazing winter festivals as well. Yokote is known for its Kamakura Festival where people can eat and drink inside snow domes, while artistic snow sculptures at snow festivals in Towadako and Iwate attract huge crowds every year.

Yokote Kamakura Festival
Access: Yokote is 1 hour on JR Ou-honsen line from JR Akita station

3. Walk in Nature

The beech forest of Shirakami has a special beauty in winter. Go snowshoeing with a great guide and enjoy nature to the fullest. If you are up for something more authentic, try a “jifubuki” (ground snow storm) session and discover the harshness of Northern Tohoku winter first-hand.

Trekking in Shirakami
Access: 1 hour bus ride from JR Hirosaki station

4. Indulge in Great Winter Food

Winter, like any other season, is full of seasonal delicacies. ­There are a number of local hotpots that let you enjoy a variety of local products in one pot. Another way to stay warm in the cold winter is by drinking atsukan (warm sake). Match locally-brewed sake with native dishes as they tend to create a wonderful harmony with each other.

Dinner at Lamp no Yado
Read also: Tohoku Secluded Hot Springs: Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen

5. Warm up in Hot Springs

“Yukimi buro”, literally meaning “snow viewing bath”, is what the Japanese indulge in during winter, as soaking in hot springs at an outdoor bath is one of the best ways to enjoy the tranquil beauty of snow. Fortunately, since scenic hot springs are scattered all around Northern Tohoku, you can enjoy “yukimi buro” in various regions during the snow-covered winter.

Tsurunoyu at Nyuto Hot Springs
Access: Approx. 1 hour bus ride from JR Tazawako station

6. Submerge in Local Music

The Tsugaru region of Aomori is known for its Tsugaru jamisen, a 3-string instrument widely performed around the region. Its lively and rhythmic music is unlike other Japanese folk music, and sounds more like rock. You can enjoy a performance at various places in Aomori, including restaurants and bars.

Enjoy 30-min. performances at the ASPAM tourist center, offered twice daily
Access: An 8-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.
Read also: Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

7. Witness the Vast Nature

The northern tip of Honshu is lined with amazingly scenic landscapes along the coast of the Sea of Japan. To fully enjoy the view, hop onboard the Resort Shirakami, a special train where you can enjoy astounding scenery at every turn. You can also enjoy a shamisen performance and local folk songs as you enjoy the harsh yet breathtaking beauty of nature from within the warm train.

Resort Shirakami
Access: From JR Akita or JR Aomori station
Website: JR East Joyful Shirakami



Tsugaru Shamisen performance

Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Geometric “Kakutsunagi”

Own a unique piece of classic Japanese design

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

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

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

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

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

Kyo Karakami Wall Panel Geometric “Kakutsunagi”


See in store

See other Karakami interior and accessories products:

In Harmony with the Seasons: Zoni

text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe, decoration/ Junko Kibe

The pictured zoni dish is a soup of chicken dashi stock with simmered root vegetables,
to which roasted mochi and fragrant mitsuba (cryptotaenia japonica) has been added.

Zoni is the name of a soup containing mochi that is traditionally eaten in Japanese households on the first day of the New Year. Depending on the region, the ingredients can vary, and the soup may be a clear soup, soy sauce-based, or made with miso or white miso. But whatever the style, zoni is a combination of a soup containing several vegetables.

Preparations for a New Year’s feast traditionally begin on December 31. Considering that the first day of the month had been called tsukitachi (rising

of the moon), a dark, moonless night was important for resetting everything, and eating zoni on the morning after that also meant that the body was being prepared to accept new things.

Burying yourself in the diversity of a full year—despite being surrounded by an array of happenings, the people of ancient times must have focused their wisdom and consideration for their health into these tiny servings of zoni, praying that they could continue to live on.

 Eating mochi, where the god of the New Year had been believed to dwell, first thing in the New Year, is an act that represents receiving their energy. For the Japanese, this god had no been doubt a manifestation of their ancestors.

Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Kakizome: The First Writing Of A Year

Happy New Year!

Out with the old and in with the new. The beginning of the year is a perfect time to decide what we want to accomplish for that year.

So what is your New Year’s resolution?

Spend more time with your family? Learn a foreign language? Travel more? Advance in your career? Run a marathon?

Whatever it may be, there is proven evidence that if you write down your resolution on a piece of paper you’re more likely to achieve that goal. I guess Japanese people have known this phenomena for a long time, since they have a special custom of writing their New Year’s resolution with a calligraphy brush on the 2nd of January. This tradition is known as Kakizome: the first writing of a year.


In the distant past, Kakizome used to be practiced only among imperial household members. But thanks to temple schools and literary education, this tradition became popular among common people during the Edo period. Nowadays, Kakizome is a favored New Year activity among the young and old alike.

There is a phrase often used in the world of Japanese calligraphy: Sho Ha Hito Nari (calligraphy reveals personality). This notion is quite common among Japanese people and contributes to a strong emphasis on having beautiful handwriting.

Calligraphy is a mandatory subject in elementary school, where Japanese kids learn not only how to write letters beautifully but also the correct writing posture and ways to hold and maintain brushes properly. Quite often, teachers assign kids to do Kakizome over the New Year holiday.

The practice of calligraphy is not in vain since there are many opportunities to show your handwriting skills. For example, many Japanese companies still require handwritten resumes from job applicants. Beautiful handwritten resumes almost always give a good impression.

Here are some popular auspicious words you can try!







Kakizome was, and still is, a special ritual where people clear their mind and focus on expressing their determination using beautiful lettering. To prepare for Kakizome, one has to get a fresh water, pour it into a square basin, grind charcoal gently until its fresh scent wafts into the air. Once everything is set, he or she dips the tip of the calligraphy brush into a pool of fresh ink then makes a steady stroke. Every line, dot, stroke and stop is consciously made.


Caption: Don’t own a calligraphy brush? Not to worry! There are a handful of affordable calligraphy pens available at any stationary store in Japan.


When you are done with Kakizome, hang it on the wall. The bold strokes on a piece of pristine white paper might give you the determination and will to accomplish your New Year’s resolution. Or perhaps it’s just a beautiful piece of art to look at.


A New Year marks a new beginning. I hope it brings you lots of joy and success.