Fuerza Bruta: an unbelievable and jaw-dropping performance

A mind blowing performance that will leave you in awe
A mind blowing performance that will leave you in awe

Having performed in over 60 cities in 30 countries, FUERZA BRUTA is in town to debut their new show “WA!-Wonder Japan Experience.” Don’t miss the chance to take part in this one and only experience-type entertainment at Tokyo Shinagawa Prince Hotel Stellar Ball from August 1 to December 10.

High wire flying dancers opens the show
High wire flying dancers opens the show
High technology is infused in the stunning performance
High technology is infused in the stunning performance
Dancers interacting with the audience as they perform in a mid-air pool
Dancers interacting with the audience as they perform in a mid-air pool
Dancers get together for taiko drumming
Dancers get together for taiko drumming

Breaking the boundary between performers and the audience, the Argentina-based Fuerza Bruta brings you a show that far exceeds your expectation of a live concert, play and musical. Fuerza Bruta has infused the essence of Japanese culture into their latest work by using 360-degree space as a stage and combining modern music, Japanese taiko drum with captivating light effects. Dancers jump out from every corner of the venue as the portable stage moves to engage the audience, closing the distance between the two. The performance, totally beyond imagination, will have you on the edge of your chair!

Dancers dance away in the transparent tube emerging from the sky
Dancers dance away in the transparent tube emerging from the sky

The portable stage allows close interaction between performers and the audience on the first floor
The portable stage allows close interaction between performers and the audience on the first floor

Pudding, WAttention Ninja

Ladies, be prepared to have your hair messed up by blowing winds and drenching rain. Four to five dancers opened the show by flying in the sky, moving back and forth, making us feel as if we were the ones hanging in mid-air. After that, a Japanese samurai took the stage. The audience was roaring for him as he cleared away all the enemies and obstacles on the way! Another impressive show involves a big piece of cloth that came out from two sides of the stage, covering the audience. As we focus on the projection on the cloth, dancers started flying up and down. Everything happened in a blink of an eye, catching everyone off guard! This is what FUERZA BRUTA is all about—a visual, sensual and unexpected fantasia.

Not only is the performance worth the while, the venue, designed with surprising features, is a must-see!

Torii gate projected at the entrance, extending a welcoming invitation to guests (Photo Credit: Panasonic)
Torii gate projected at the entrance, extending a welcoming invitation to guests (Photo Credit: Panasonic)
Exquisite 3D projection mapping on rugged walls
Exquisite 3D projection mapping on rugged walls

The projection at the entrance is as impressive as it sounds. Imaging technology from Panasonic is widely used in this ultimate performance. Aside from nine projectors at different corners of the venue, the entrance is decorated with a gigantic entrance door made by 34 LED panels and a floor made out of 125 LED screens. The digital imaging space, as colorful and real as it gets, is transformed into a torii gate and waterfall in a second.

The main hall has six laser projectors and 13 55 inch liquid crystal screens. Short focus projection technology makes 3D projection mapping all the more real on rugged walls. One becomes more and more expected just by looking at the projected images from the entrance extending all the way to the main hall.

Pictures are taken by hidden cameras and then displayed on a screen next to the locker area using AR effect
Pictures are taken by hidden cameras and then displayed on a screen next to the locker area using AR effect

The standing seat on the first floor moves from time to time so you might want to put larger luggage in the locker for convenience sake.
The standing seat on the first floor moves from time to time so you might want to put larger luggage in the locker for convenience sake.

WAttention editor’s review

In the main hall, there are also hidden cameras that take pictures of guests. AR effect is then added to make faces of Japanese Kabuki Theater or comic characters. Find a Kabuki version of yourself on the screen next to the locker area. Pictures and filming are allowed during the performance so you can share all the fun with friends on social media.

Panasonic presents WA!-Wonder Japan Experience

Time: From August 1st, 2017 to December 10th, 2017
Venue: Stellar Ball, Shinagawa Prince Hotel
Ticket: (presale) First floor standing seat 7,600 Yen / Second floor reserved seat 10,800 Yen / Second floor VIP seat (campaign, program list and original goods included) 15,000 Yen
(ticket at the door) First floor standing seat 8,700 Yen / Second floor reserved seat 12,000 Yen
* Prices are tax inclusive
* Second floor reserved seat and VIP seat ticket holders can go to the first floor as they wish after the opening show
Official website: http://fbw.jp/en/
eplus: Eplus tickets

In harmony with the seasons: Kangetsusai

kangetsusai

The beauty of the full moon that occurs in the middle of fall has been admired by the Chinese since ancient times. This “middle of the fall” moon is scheduled by the old Oriental lunar calendar that was in use before the Gregorian calendar was introduced and is equivalent to modern August. In ancient East Asia, August was regarded as the month when the air became the clearest and people started enjoying the full moon on the 15th of this month. The actual date of this ancient 15th of August can be translated into modern 27th of September this year. In Japan, traditionally, the full moon after the “middle of the fall” was also admired as “the moon after” or “the moon reminiscent of the fall”, and it was even regarded as unlucky not to celebrate both moons in some areas of Japan. is year, “the moon after” happens on the 25th of October. It is likely that ancient people were already aware that the moon and tidal changes are strongly related to life forces.

kangetsusai

In harmony with the seasons: Choyo no Sekku

choyu-no-sekku

The “yang” of the “yin-yang” concept is thought to become too strong and hence inauspicious on dates which are odd-numbered in both day and month. The sekku, or seasonal festival, became an event to counter this threat. Within these days, September 9th is known as the Choyo no Sekku as it is the day when the number strongest in “yang” is doubled. It has long been believed that when the power of the nature becomes too overbearing, the life of mankind is endangered. In order to avert that danger and pray for a long life, chrysanthemum flowers are soaked in water or sake and drunk for its blood-cleansing properties. In a time when most illnesses were thought to be caused by impurities in the blood, the chrysanthemum was a type of precious kampo medicine that only the royalty could afford. One of the rituals carried out during the Choyo no Sekku is to place a wad of silk on top of chrysanthemum flowers and to use the parts that absorbed the flower’s dew to wipe one’s body to cleanse oneself. The folksong, “Kikudoji”, used frequently in noh performances, is inspired by the eternal spirit of the chrysanthemum when it bursts into full bloom. In fact, during the Heian era, ladies from the nobility would wipe their faces and bodies with chrysanthemum dew in the hopes of staying young. For the peasants, it was a day to enjoy the chestnut. We now know the chestnut as being a health food rich in vitamin C, and well-balanced in terms of protein and fat. People in the past knew this from experience and eating this in the hopes of longevity on day of the Choyo is a festival tradition that cannot be missed.

In harmony with the seasons: Tanomi Festival – Early September

tanomi-festival

Tanomi Festival – Early September

The “Tanomi Festival” later became the “Hassaku Festival”—written in a different kanji character to mean festival for ‘pleading’—among merchants and samurai warriors, and evolved as a rite to foresee if riches would be amassed and a clan would be secure in the future.

In the old days, Japanese farmers used to go around the homes of friends and acquaintances on Hassaku, the first day of the eighth month of the year in the old calendar, carrying the first ears of rice harvested on that day to pray for a good harvest and to thank the Gods for being able to grow rice. These actions were called “Tanomi”. A time of year that has been noted in history as when typhoons had been feared, this period coincides with the two hundred and tenth day since the beginning of spring. Since the days when natural disasters were considered to be curses of the higher beings, people had prayed so damage would be minimal, and they buried offerings of money hoping for the safety of their family members. Such customs began to spread throughout the country, and they included the festival of the wind, hoped to appease the God of the wind. Over the years, these festivals became integrated and later led to the Hassaku festival, which eventually started to be observed throughout Japan.

Moerenuma Park – Natural Art & Artistic Nature

Tetra Mound
Tetra Mound

Not really seeing where the bus was going, and then awkwardly wandering into a parking space, trying to find Moerenuma park, I ended up crossing a bridge and the first landmark greeting me was an impressive glass pyramid. That is when I knew for sure I was at the right place.

Moerenuma-Park

Let me take you a bit back. Moerenuma park in Sapporo might be a misleading name and the green spot on the map doesn’t really help. If you think it’s just another park and opt to skip it, I’d say you’re missing out. It’s a landscape art paradise, the dream project of Japanese-American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, who sadly did not live to see the opening of the park. Built on top of a former landfill site and surrounded by a marsh (hence the name, ‘numa’) it is a success story going on to win many awards. The park’s construction began in 1982 and it was completed in 2005. It is completely free of charge and open to the public year round.

Inside the pyramid
Inside the pyramid
zoria-outside-the-pyramid-moerenuma-park
zoria-inside-the-pyramid-at-moerenuma-park

The glass pyramid is a homage to Noguchi’s friend I.M. Pei, who designed the glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre Museum. It’s nicknamed “Hidamari”, which means “sunny spot” in Japanese. We had a great time taking photos inside, capturing the sunlight and playing with the shadows. There, you can visit the gallery dedicated to Noguchi, where you can also have a drink or a snack and head to the top of the pyramid for great views of both Sapporo and Moerenuma park. And we realized we were in for a treat. From the Tetra-Mound to the little pond and perfectly planted tree groves, we couldn’t wait to get down and explore it.

view from the top of the pyramid
View from the top of the pyramid

icecream-in-moerenuma-park

The vast park features nature and art in perfect harmony,with the landscaped Mount Moere, the Tetra Mound, The Sea Fountain and the art sculptures that are actually playgrounds nestled secretly between the greenery until you discover them. Although you see the outline of the park from the top of Hidamari, there’s still a lot of surprise and discovery, that’s why you need a map to walk around, mouth gaping open and losing track of time while taking hundreds of photos, all of them perfect. According to the official website this park changes in synch with the seasons, so in spring the cherry blossoms are in bloom and in winter you can ski on Mount Moere. Visiting in summer, we were welcomed by a the green Eden, lush nature and a cool breeze.

 Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere

There was something serene and laid back in the way everyone relaxes in this park. First of all, it’s so spacious, crowds are never a problem. Secondly, you’re free to do anything you like. People were cycling, running, walking their dogs, parents playing with their children, couples taking photos, guys skateboarding under the Tetra Mound… You can dip your feet in the shallow pond called Moere Beach, have a picnic, play music and just truly enjoy the shared public space. You can rent a bicycle and use it in the park, but be careful, it’s only until 5 PM despite the park being open until 9 PM. Moreover different activities in the park have different working hours, so make sure to check the Sea Fountain show times, the pond etc.

zoria-on-playthings

As the day was ending and families were leaving the park before sunset, we got to see another face of Moerenuma – quiet, empty, almost eerie, beautiful. If you are a photo enthusiast, I recommend staying until the end, getting some nice clean shots and having the whole park to yourself as the gold of the sun dissipates across it and melts away. The best treat are the playthings, which are such beautiful sculptures that you cannot believe children were playing with them just moments before. But in the late hours before closing they can be all yours. You can forget your own age and get lost in the colourful labyrinth of fun, with new sculptures peeking around the corner.

playthings-sculpture
playthings-sunset

playthings-at-moerenuma-park

As darkness fell upon the park we knew it was time to leave. The five hours we spent there flew by as if it had been merely an hour. If you are on your first visit to Moerenuma park you might be torn between exploring all of it or just lying down, relaxing, taking it all in. I wish I could go there all the time, do all my work there, but for now I’ll just have to hope to visit it again some time. But you, don’t skip this park if you are in Sapporo!

moerenuma-park-at-night

sunset-morenuma-park

Moerenuma Park

Admission: free
Hours:
Apr.29 – May 9:00-19:00
June – Aug. 9:00-20:00
Sep. – Nov.3 9:00-19:00
Nov.4 – Apr.28 9:00-17:00
Closed first Monday of each month and every Monday from Nov.4 to Apr.28
The Sea Fountain Operates from Apr.29 to Oct.20
Access: From JR Sapporo Station, take the Sapporo Municipal Railway (Toho Line) to Kanjo-Dori-Higashi Station (approx. 25 minutes). Get off and take the Higashi 69 or 79 Chuo Bus to “Moerenuma Koen Higashiguchi” bus stop (east entrance). It’s roughly a 10-minute walk to the park’s Glass Pyramid from there.
URL: http://moerenumapark.jp/english/

WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.

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Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Tohoku – Aomori Prefecture

Aomori Prefecture 1~ 10

 

 1 Yagen Mountain Stream (薬研渓流) in Mutsu

A photo posted by kaorist (@kaorist) on

A photo posted by キソキソ (@kuwakeen) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Yagen Bridge, Koyo Bridge, Otome Bridge (Suspension Bridge), Rotenburo (open air bath)
Access: Take the bus from Shimokita Station (JR Omita Line) and get off at Ohata. From there it´s a 20min taxi ride (reservation before is necessary).
Address: Yagen, Ohata-machi, Mutsu-shi, 039-4401 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
www.en-aomori.com

 

 2 Mount Osore (恐山) in Mutsu

A photo posted by Hisaya Wada (@komanosuke678) on

A photo posted by Sachi Wakasa (@sachiwakasa) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the beginning of November
Event: Autumn visit at Mount Osore!
Date: October 8th (Saturday) – October 10th (Monday), 6am – 6pm
Admission: 500 yen (adults), 200 yen (children)
Details: Different guided walks through the nature, Yosakoi performance, food stands, Segway, etc.
Access: 43 bus ride from Shimokita Station (JR Omita Line) until Osore-zan
Address: 3-2 Usoriyama, Tanabu, Mutsu-shi, 035-0021 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp

 

 3 Kawauchi River Valley (川内川渓谷) in Mutsu

A photo posted by meg* (@me9mi3to) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Sekirei Bridge, Ajisai Bridge, Asunaro Bridge
Access: 15min Taxi ride from Kawauchimachi Station; 40min JR Bus ride from Ominato Station (JR Ominato Line) into Wakinosawa direction until Kawauchi
Address: Kawauchimachi, Mutsu-shi, 039-5201 Aomori
aomorishokoren.or.jp (Japanese only)
Ranking: ★★★★☆

4Jogakura Onsen & Jogakura Bridge (城ヶ倉温泉・城ヶ倉大橋) in Aomori

A photo posted by Qoo (@qoo_aomori) on

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October
Recommended Spots: view from Jogakura Bridge
Access: 1,5hour JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Jogakura Onsen (30min walk)
Address: Minami-Arakawayama, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com

 

5Lake Towada (十和田湖) in Towada

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Event: Oirase Mountain Stream Eco Road Festival 2016
Date: October 29th (Saturday) – October 30th (Sunday), 9am – 3pm
Details: Different guided walks through the nature, Yosakoi performance, food stands, Segway, etc.
Access: 2h15min bus ride from Hachinohe Station (JR Hachinohe Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, Aomori Railway Line); 2h45min bus ride from Shin-Aomori Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Tohoku Shinkansen, JR Hokkaido Shinkansen)
Address: Kowadakohanyasumiya 486, Okuse, Towada-shi, 018-5501 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.jnto.go.jp

 

6Hakkoda Mountains (八甲田連峰) in Aomori

To_八甲田DSC_0890_R

First colors: End of September
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Hakkoda Ropeway, Tamoyachi Shitsugen
Access: 1hour JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Hakkoda Ropeway Station Mae
Address: Hakkoda Ropeway Sanroku Station, 1-12 Kansuizawa, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.hakkoda-ropeway.jp

 

7Hirosaki Park (弘前公園) in Hirosaki

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: Beginning of November
Event: Chrysanthemum and Autumn-Color Festival of Hirosaki Castle
Date: October 21st (Friday) – November 13th (Sunday), 9am – 5pm (Admission to the park until 4:30pm)
Admission: Botanical Garden of Hirosaki Castle 310yen (adults), 100yen (children); Botanical Garden of Hirosaki Castle + Around the castle + Fujita memorial garden 510yen (adults), 160yen (children)
Access: 15min Konan Bus ride from Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Gono Line, Konan Line) into Fujishiro Eigyosho direction until Shiyakusho Mae Koen Iriguchi
Address: 1-1 Shimoshirogane-cho, Hirosaki-shi, 036-8356 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.hirosakipark.jp

8Shirakami Sanchi (白神山地) in Nakatsugaru – Nishimeya Village

白神_暗門の滝

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October until the end of October
Recommended Spots: Anmon Waterfall sidewalk
Access: 1h10min taxi ride from Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line, JR Gono Line, Konan Line); 1,5hour bus ride from Hirosaki Bus Terminal
Address: Between Meya Bridge and Anmon Waterfall, Tashiro, Nishimeya-mura, Nakatsugaru-gun, 036-1411 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com

 

9Sukayu Onsen & Jigoku Numa (酸ヶ湯温泉・地獄沼) in Aomori

To_八甲田_地獄沼_R

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: Middle of October
Recommended Spots: Manju Fukashi, Sukayu Camping Ground
Access: 1h40min JR Bus ride from JR Aomori Station or JR Shin-Aomori Station into Towada-ko direction until Jogakura Onsen
Address: Jigoku Numa, Arakawa, Aomori-shi, 030-0111 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com

 

10Nakano Maple Mountain (中野もみじ山) in Kuroishi

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First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Event: Nakano Maple Mountain Light-up ~ Light Fantasy
Date: October 13th (Thursday) – November 6th (Sunday), 4:30pm – 9pm
Access: 40min bus ride from Kuroishi Station (Konan Railway Konan Line) until Itadome (10min walk); 30min taxi ride from Kuroishi Station (Konan Railway Konan Line)
Address: Nakano Shrine, Fudodate 27, Minami-Nakano, Kuroishi-shi, 036-0405 Aomori
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.en-aomori.com

Thanksgiving for food in Japanese Itadakimasu and Gochisousama

Thanksgiving For Food in Japanese

thanksgiving

The words for this article are those used to give thanks before and after meals.

” 食への感謝の言葉〜「いただきます」と「ごちそうさま」”

”Tanatsumono, momonokigusa mo Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso. Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito”

Itadakimasu – いただきます

The first half of the phrase reads: “Tanatsumono, momonokigusa no Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso.” This is similar in meaning to the phrase “itadakimasu” that is said before eating a meal. Specifically, it means that the harvest from the fields is a blessing from the sun, which I gratefully partake.”

Gochisousama -ごちそうさま

The second half of the phrase reads: “Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito.” This is said to give thanks after a meal, like the phrase “gochisousama” used nowadays. “Toyouke no kami” refers to the god of food. “Gochisousama”, when written in kanji characters, infers to the action of running about and is meant to recognize the effort of the person who prepared the meal. In other words, it means, “Be it morning or night, I give thanks to god for providing my meals.” This complete phrase was recited by an 18th century classics researcher, Motoori Norinaga, and it is still currently chanted in shrines before and after meals.

Words of thanks

These days, the long phrases starting with “tanatsumono” and “asayoini” are not recited, but most Japanese would say “itadakimasu” before eating a meal and “gochisousama” at the end. It seems there is no equivalent for such phrases in English, but these phrases that come naturally for any Japanese when partaking in food is an expression of thanks towards nature for its bounty.

Though old-fashioned, these phrases embody an important aspect of the Japanese mindset. To reflect this history, I have expressed these words in old-style hiragana called hentaigana. This form of writing can only be deciphered by experts of Japanese classical literature nowadays, but this text, which evolved from kanji into its current typology, has a beautiful form. Each word connects to the next, and this makes it necessary to control the flow of ink from the brush, and control of one’s breath to be slow and even. These are words of thanks, suitable to decorate the dining table.

Discover Murakami, Niigata with Ocean Flavours

Various salmon dishes (grilled with salt, pickled in sake lees or smoked)
Various salmon dishes (grilled with salt, pickled in sake lees or smoked)

Autumn is full of activities in Tohoku! It is the time of year when locals are busy preserving food for the long, harsh winter ahead, and visitors are welcome to have a taste during this culinary tradition. Tsuruoka city’s Yura, the biggest fishing port in Yamagata Prefecture, has developed many ways to preserve its great salmon catches, one of which is covering the fish in distillers’ grains and miso paste. Besides eating it raw and with sushi, you can also grill it with salt, marinate it in soy sauce or boil it in sweet Japanese sauce.

Salmon hanging from the eaves to expose them to the cold sea breeze (Murakami, Niigata ken)
Salmon hanging from the eaves to expose them to the cold sea breeze (Murakami, Niigata ken)
An experienced cook busy salting (Murakami, Niigata ken)
An experienced cook busy salting (Murakami, Niigata ken)

Niigata’s Murakami city has enjoyed fame for its salmon cuisine since the Edo period (1603-1867). It is customary to hang salt-preserved salmon from the eaves of houses in early December. Gusts of cold winter wind dry off the moisture in the salted salmon, giving it a rich, sophisticated texture. The sight of thousands of salmon hanging from traditional Japanese houses in winter is as fascinating as it can get!

View of the Sea of Japan during autumn from Oga Peninsula
View of the Sea of Japan during autumn from Oga Peninsula

Japanese sandfish is also a common winter treat. The fish also referred to as “God fish” on the Oga Peninsula, swims to Akita Prefecture for spawning in December. Salt-preserved Japanese sandfish(Hatahata) is an important source of protein during winter. People in Akita grill it with salt, cook it in a hot pot and eat it with seaweed paper. Trying this treat is a must when you visit Tohoku!

Murakami: 1-hr ride from Niigata Station (JR Jôetsu Shinkansen) until Murakami Station (JR Uetsu Line)

Fish market in Sakata
Fish market in Sakata
Sailfin sandfish dish
Sailfin sandfish dish

Best Autumn Fruits to Enjoy

Workshop for dried persimmons (Takahashi Fruit Land in Kaminoyama)
Workshop for dried persimmons (Takahashi Fruit Land in Kaminoyama)

Sample some of Tohoku’s best autumn fruits by taking a train that travels through a forest of autumn colors! Get off at Furukawa Station on the Tôhoku Shinkansen and take the Rikû-East Line. This runs through Naruko, a hot spring village with more than 1,000 years of history. Naruko has a cluster of five hot springs—Naruko, East Naruko, Nakayamadaira, Kawatabi and Onikobe—and is home to Naruko Kyo(Gorge), the Tohoku region’s most scenic of gorges. From Naruko-Onsen Station, the train travels along the Araogawa River before climbing up a slow slope toward Naruko Gorge, where colorful foliage decorates rocky cliffs in autumn. This is absolutely one of the best scenic train trips in Japan! (Foliage viewing season is from late October to early November.)

train in autumn leaves Kaminoyama: Get off at Kaminoyama-Onsen Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)

Shinjô is the last station on the Rikû-East Line. After foliage viewing, why not take the shinkansen to Yamagata Prefecture for a feast of seasonal fruits? Known as the Fruits Kingdom, Yamagata is the number one producer of cherries and pears in Japan. Apples, grapes and many other juicy fruits are also grown here. Tourists can visit orchards, hand pick grapes (early September to late October) and pears (October), and even have a try at making dried persimmons. Tourist orchards can be found in Yamagata’s Kaminoyama and Tendo cities.

Autumn foliage at Yama-dera Temple
Autumn foliage at Yama-dera Temple

Yama-dera:20-min ride from Yamagata Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen) until Yamadera Station (JR Senzan Line)

Another must-visit spot is Risshaku-ji. The temple, also called Yama-dera, consists of 30 big and small halls. A moss-covered stone staircase starts from the foot of the mountain and goes all the way to the majestic halls and temples on rough, stony cliffs. The heavenly landscape, coupled with red leaves, looks just like a painting on a Japanese wooden screen.

View of Naruko Kyo
View of Naruko Kyo
In Yamagata, you can enjoy pear picking (mid-September until end of October)
In Yamagata, you can enjoy pear picking (mid-September until end of October)
Make your own parfait at Takahashi Fruit Land (Kaminoyama, Yamagata ken)
Make your own parfait at Takahashi Fruit Land (Kaminoyama, Yamagata ken)

Golden Rice Ears

Niigata’s golden shimmering fields
Niigata’s golden shimmering fields

When going to a Japanese supermarket, you might be surprised by the many different types of rice on sale. “Japonica rice” is well-known for its stickiness and sweetness. The Tohoku region has long been a popular rice-producing area and is famous for its delicious, high-quality varieties.

Rice ears of the Shonai Plain
Rice ears of the Shonai Plain
North Tohoku’s unique scenery of rice plants
North Tohoku’s unique scenery of rice plants

Production of this kind of unique rice is possible due to weather conditions. During winter, Tohoku’s prefectures are covered by tremendous snowfalls, and the ones along the coast (Niigata, Akita and Yamagata) are exposed to the harsh climatic conditions of the sea. When spring approaches, snowmelt water flows into the big rivers and irrigates the large, open paddy fields. Due to the foehn phenomenon, in which dry wind blows down the mountains, the mid-day temperature is very high, but it cools down substantially in the evening. The combination of these factors makes Tohoku ideal for rice production. Since a long time ago, the Shonai Plain in Sakata has been a primary storage area for rice and the warehouse “Sankyo Soko,” built there in 1893, is still in use.

In October, as harvest season draws near, golden rice ears rustle in the wind and Japan’s most representative scenery spreads throughout the region. To round up your autumn trip to Tohoku, catch a glimpse of the charming views from the local train or shinkansen (bullet train).

Kiritanpo hotpot by the fireside
Kiritanpo hotpot by the fireside
Polished “new rice”
Polished “new rice”

“Sankyo Soko” warehouse (Sakata, Yamagata Ken)
“Sankyo Soko” warehouse (Sakata, Yamagata Ken)

“Sankyo Soko” warehouse:2-hr ride from Niigata Station (JR Jôetsu Shinkansen) until Sakata Station (JR Uetsu Line). From there it is another 5-min ride by car.

For many Japanese, the region offers another special activity to look forward to: the tasting of “new rice.” In rice-producing areas, you can find diverse cuisine using these rounded grains of white gold. Akita, for example, is famous for kiritanpo, a dish in which freshly cooked rice is smashed, pressed around a skewer made of Akita cedar and grilled. It is a traditional meal served with a hotpot, which includes chicken and vegetables. Kiritanpo is sold throughout the year in local restaurants and souvenir shops, but it is especially enjoyable to eat during harvest season.

Rice Paddy Art

The villagers of Aomori’s Inakadate village turn rice paddies into canvas and paint rice shoots into different colours every year. In 2017, they used seven colours and 13 strains of rice, as well as various art and measuring techniques, to create an impeccable, highly detailed design. Although other cities try to imitate their effort, Inakadate’s rice paddy art remains the best in quality and the finest in design.

Rice Paddy Art Exhibition:20-min ride from Hirosaki Station until Tamboâto Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen)

Rice Paddy Art Exhibition
Rice Paddy Art Exhibition

Apple Kingdom

Apple Kingdom
Apple Kingdom

Mount Iwaki, also called “Tsugaru Fuji” (Tsugaru describes the western region of Aomori ken), is in Aomori, Honshu’s northernmost area. Autumn is the best season to enjoy a variety of colours at Oirase Mountain Stream and Lake Towada, as well as the lush red apples growing in abundance at the foot of the mountain; Japanese apples are famous for being quite large and flawless in taste and texture. The cultivation of apples in Aomori began at the start of the Meiji Restoration by unemployed samurai. In 1875, the region, which had not been used for apple cultivation before, received three apple saplings from the West. Samurai, who had lost their social status, exchanged their katana (single-edged swords) with pairs of shears and refined the technique of sentei (pruning). Hence, Aomori became Japan’s best area for producing apples. These ripened fruits, which survive harsh climate conditions such as heavy snow and drastic temperature differences between day and night, offer a unique harmony between sweet and sour, giving them an especially rich flavour.

Hirosaki’s apple pies
Hirosaki’s apple pies
Hirosaki's apples
Hirosaki’s apples

Hirosaki, the pioneer city for apple production, features about 50 shops which produce apple pies. Growing popularity among the tourists are the “Apple Pie Map,” showing all the shops selling this delicacy, as well as the baking event where an apple pie with the diameter of three metres is made. Including the production of apple juice and cider, this fruit plays an essential part in Aomori’s culture.

After enjoying the picturesque scenes of autumn colours at Oirase Mountain Stream, Lake Towada and from the Hakkoda Ropeway, set off to Hirosaki and get a taste of Aomori’s local speciality!

An apple orchard in front of Mount Iwaki
An apple orchard in front of Mount Iwaki
Oirase Mountain Stream’s Choshi-Otaki Waterfall
Oirase Mountain Stream’s Choshi-Otaki Waterfall
View of Hakkoda Mountain Range from Towada’s water-lily pond
View of Hakkoda Mountain Range from Towada’s water-lily pond

The “DATE Culture” Fostered by Masamune

Statue of Date Masamune overlooking the city of Sendai from the ruins of Sendai Castle, which is located on a plateau.
Statue of Date Masamune overlooking the city of Sendai from the ruins of Sendai Castle, which is located on a plateau.

More than Just a Warrior

Born in a time when Japan was plagued by civil wars during the Sengoku period (mid 15th century – early 17th century), Masamune rose quickly to become a tactful, ruthless and ambitious warrior from a young age, earning the name “Dokuganryu” (One- Eyed Dragon, as he had lost an eye to smallpox at a young age). In 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo who completed the unification of Japan under central rule, awarded Masamune lordship of the Sendai Domain for his loyalty, making him the most powerful daimyo.

Despite his fearsome reputation, Masamune was an educated man and a patron of the arts, Wanting Sendai to rival the Kyoto-Osaka region, he worked to expand trade and beautify the area. Tohoku, once a remote part of Japan, soon prospered as a popular destination for tourism, trade and prosperity. While Masamune embraced tradition, he also saw the need to embrace foreigners, especially their technology and knowledge. He encouraged foreigners to visit his region and even dispatched an embassy on board the San Juan Bautista, (a ship built with European techniques) to meet the Pope, while also visiting the Philippines, Spain and Mexico.

In addition, Masamune had a distinct philosophy about hospitality that reflected his deep appreciation for the arts. Having a passion for food, when entertaining guests he personally created the menu, tasted the food and presented it, showing visitors the utmost care and attention with cuisine reflecting his sense of aesthetics, inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony and Noh (classical musical dramas). Far more than a typical general, Masamune expressed himself as a highly sophisticated and uniquely cultured individual.

Masamune’s cultural knowledge, as well as his governing policies, gave birth to the “DATE Culture” that spread throughout the castle town and eventually to the more distant Tohoku communities. But what exactly is ”DATE Culture”? It is a glamourous culture that respects the richness of tradition while embracing new ideas; in addition, it appreciates the highest beauty and perfection while remaining modest. Visitors cannot help but notice these principles on display as they explore Tohoku’s traditional artwork, cuisine and way of life in general.

http://datebunka.jp/en/

For Masamune-related spots, visit:

Sendai Castle Ruins

sendaijoshi

After becoming Sendai’s first feudal lord in 1603, Date Masamune build Sendai Castle on Mt. Aoba, which overlooks the city. Currently, only the stone walls remain, but it continues to be a symbol of Sendai City.

Masamune’s Zuihoden Mausoleum

zuiganji

Hours: 9am – 4:30pm (Until 4pm from Dec to Jan)
Admission:550 yen

Sendai City Museum

date-armor

Hours: 9am – 4:45pm (Last entry 4:15pm)
Closed: Mondays, days following national holidays and Dec 28 – Jan 4. Also closed for renovations from Dec 28, 2017 – Mar 31, 2018.
Admission: 460 yen

Experiencing Date Culture Today

The traditional Sendai Tansu were originally used for merchants and samurai to keep their personal items.
The traditional Sendai Tansu were originally used for merchants and samurai to keep their personal items.

Sendai Tansu: A Treasured Craft

Tansu were originally used as mobile pieces of furniture in which merchants and samurai could keep their personal items. Made from zelkova Japanese elm and chestnut, each tansu is painstakingly crafted, finished with kijiro-urushi (uncoloured) lacquer and embellished with embossed metal fittings of dragons, Chinese lions or peonies. At age 80, Eikichi Yaegashi is one of Sendai’s most respected tansu craftsman, specializing in the creation of the decorative metal fittings. As the fourth generation in his family to continue the craft’s tradition, he creates striking pieces of art that truly capture the undeniable beauty of “DATE Culture.”

A variety of metal fittings decorate the tansu.
A variety of metal fittings decorate the tansu.
Eikichi Yaegashi is a famous tansu craftsman who specializes in metal fittings.
Eikichi Yaegashi is a famous tansu craftsman who specializes in metal fittings.

Shokeikaku: Food Culture Derived from Masamune’s Aesthetics

Once the residence of the Date clan, who relocated here after having to relinquish their domain in 1867 due to the Meiji Restoration, this two-storey wooden bungalow is now a popular restaurant and venue for special occasions. Overlooking a splendid Japanese garden, it features local cuisine presented in adorable, miniature Sendai tansu. Other highlights are the artefacts and heirlooms on display, including Masamune’s iconic black suit of armour and helmet with the golden crescent moon.

Shokeikaku is the former residence of the Date clan.
Shokeikaku is the former residence of the Date clan.
shokeikaku by night
Shokeikaku by night
Shokeikaku
Shokeikaku:
143-3, Hitokita-nishi, Taihaku-ku, Sendai Taihaku-ku, Miyagi

Myriad Winter Festivals in Tohoku!

Hachinohe Enburi takes place February 17 to 20 in different corners of the city
Hachinohe Enburi takes place February 17 to 20 in different corners of the city

Hachinohe Enburi : Dance Parade for Good Harvest

Aomori’s Hachinohe shi holds an enburi festival every year from February 17 to 20 to celebrate the arrival of spring. The Hachinohe Enburi, with a history of 800 years, is said to have been invented by a farmer named Fujikuro. As the story goes, he promoted the substitution of singing and dancing for excessive drinking and quarrels during the New Year’s holiday.

An enburi parade, led by a dancer representing Fujikuro, features people playing cymbals, drums and flutes and performing dances representing scenes of farm work such as planting, sowing and praying for a good harvest. There is another type of enburi dance, too, which is more bold and lively: Dancers knock the ground with wooden sticks in an effort to wake the Rice God from hibernation.

Hachinohe: Hachinohe Station (JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

Day: The highlight of the event is the procession of dancers who just paid respects at Chojasanshinra Shrine
Day: The highlight of the event is the procession of dancers who just paid respects at Chojasanshinra Shrine

Night: Oniwa Enburi takes place in a garden at night. Originally, it was performed only for powerful landlords and wealthy businesses owners.

Night: Oniwa Enburi takes place in a garden at night. Originally, it was performed only for powerful landlords and wealthy businesses owners.

Somin-sai : the Spirited Battle of Half-Naked Men

Participants climb the bonfire tower to bathe themselves in smoke to remove bad luck
Participants climb the bonfire tower to bathe themselves in smoke to remove bad luck

The Kokuseki Temple in Iwate’s Oshu city holds the Somin-sai every February. With a history of more than 1,200 years, the festival features enthusiastic men wearing only fundoshi (thin loincloths).
With torches in hand, the group starts from the temple at midnight and treks to the Ruritsubo River for cleansing, shouting “Jasso! Joyasa!” along the way. A bonfire shaped like a pound key is set up in front of the main hall of the temple. Participants can climb the 150-centimetre tall bonfire tower and bathe in the fire’s smoke, which some believe removes bad luck. Enduring harsh winds and ice-cold temperature, the men perform several other rituals to pray for health and a bountiful harvest. The long event ends with a competition for a “somin bag” (hemp sack), which is full of amulets and thought to be sacred. The person who seizes the bag is believed to receive good luck and happiness, and the competition lasts until early in the morning!

Kokuseki-ji Temple: 20 min from Mizusawaesashi Station (JR Tôhoku Shinkansen) by car

Kishu Kasedori : Not Your Ordinary Bird

Kasedori dance around a bonfire while singing
Kasedori dance around a bonfire while singing

On February 11, the annual Kishu Kasedori is celebrated in Kaminoyama (Yamagata ken). This unique and mysterious New Year’s ritual features people strolling through the streets dressed in kendai (plaited clothes made from rice straw, worn over the head and body like a giant conical hat). The costumes are shaped like cones so they grab the curious attention of crowds immediately. Wrapped in the enthusiastic atmosphere of this water-splashing event, the Kishu Kasedori Festival captivates everyone in this freezing area. It is said that Kasedori is the incarnation of the deity of abundant harvest and household safety. This festival has its roots in the beginning of the Edo period when local residents invited the deity down from the mountains to offer prayers for the new year.

Participants acting as Kasedori dance in circles and raise their voices singing “ga-ga!” as they visit local shops and pray for prosperous business and fire protection. While doing so, they are splashed with water from the audience. In addition, locals tie towels around the conical hats and pray for one year of family peace and thriving business.

People think of Kasedori as a bringer of good fortune. In fact, some say that women’s hair will become beautifully black after tying it with a rice straw fallen from the costume of the deity!

Kishu Kasedori is a traditional festival in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture
Kishu Kasedori is a traditional festival in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture
Don’t miss the chance to take a photo of yourself with the Kasedori!
Don’t miss the chance to take a photo of yourself with the Kasedori!
Splash the Kasedori with water and wish for family peace and prosperous business!
Splash the Kasedori with water and wish for family peace and prosperous business!

Kaminoyama: Kaminoyama Onsen Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen)

Aizu Erousoku (Painted Candle Festival)

Painting candles, a traditional craft in Fukushima’s Aizu area, boasts a history of over 500 years. This festival is held in early February each year in Aizuwakamatsu shi’s Tsuruga Castle and Oyakuen Garden. A total of 10,000 painted candles decorate the venue and different corners of the city. Seeing them burning in the wind is like watching fireflies dance flittingly through the winter evening.
Tsuruga Castle and painted candles work in harmony
Tsuruga Castle and painted candles work in harmony

Aizuwakamatsu: 65 min from Kôriyama Station (JR Touhoku Shinkansen)to Aizawakamatsu Station by Train (JR Ban-etsu- West Line)

Sendai Pageant of Starlight

Sendai’s winter illumination always attracts throngs of tourists
Sendai’s winter illumination always attracts throngs of tourists
Every December, the beech trees on both sides of Aoba Street in Sendai are decorated with more than 100,000 LED lights, giving the city a soft, warm glow at night. Sendai’s most popular winter festival, it is an absolute treat for the eyes!

Sendai: Sendai Station ( JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Festival (Snow Lantern Festival)

The Snow Lantern Festival, held in early February at Hirosaki Castle, is one of the five biggest snow festivals in Tohoku, featuring 300 snow lanterns handcrafted by locals, large snow structures based on historical architecture and gigantic slides. Dim candlelight glowing in miniature igloos adds a tinge of winter romance to the peaceful atmosphere.
Hirosaki Castle is especially atmospheric during the Snow Lantern Festival
Hirosaki Castle is especially atmospheric during the Snow Lantern Festival

Hirosaki: 30 min from Shin-Aomori Station (JR Ôu Line) to JR Hirosaki Station by Tsugara Limited Express

Kamakura Matsuri (Snow Hut Festival): More than Just Igloos!

Burning tenpitsu so that it reaches heaven
Burning tenpitsu so that it reaches heaven

Kamakura festivals, often held on the day of the first full moon of a new year (around mid-February) to pray for household safety and a bumper grain harvest, are traditional events in the Tohoku region. And there is far more to the Akita Kamakura festivals than their ever-popular igloo-building activities!

Rokugo Kamakura: with a Bamboo Pole Fight!

The Rokugo district in Akita Ken’s Misato town holds a Kamakura Matsuri every February 11 to 15, featuring an array of activities such as writing down one’s wish on coloured paper, making igloos, participating in or watching a “fortune-telling” bamboo pole fight and making a bonfire to burn the wish papers. The Rokugo Kamakura Festival is a combination of a rice harvest ritual that dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD) and an ancient court custom of burning tenpitsu (wish paper) in a bonfire.

Wishes written on paper of five different colours are called tenpitsu
Wishes written on paper of five different colours are called tenpitsu

The festival’s highlight is on the last day, when locals participate in a bamboo pole fight and burn the tenpitsu. The pole fight can be traced back to the Edo period (1603–1867) and the result of the competition is said to reveal the fortune of the coming year’s harvest. Participants divide themselves into team North and team South and, legend has it, if team North wins, the town will be blessed with a good harvest; if team South wins, rice prices will go up due to shortage. As the fight involves an intense bonfire and the aggressive swinging of five-meter-long bamboo poles, it is considered one of the most dangerous and exciting festivals in Japan.

After two rounds (the entire fight lasts for three), the audience start to burn tenpitsu on the triangular-shaped, straw bonfire. Tradition has it that bathing in the fire’s smoke brings health and wellbeing. Also, it is said that the higher one’s tenpitsu flies in the flame, the better one’s handwriting gets by the year, resulting in better grades at school.

Both children and adults write down their wishes
Both children and adults write down their wishes
Akita’s Suwa Shrine is located opposite the venue of the bamboo pole fight
Akita’s Suwa Shrine is located opposite the venue of the bamboo pole fight

Miniature shrines made of snow can be seen everywhere
Miniature shrines made of snow can be seen everywhere

Misato’s Rokugo District: 10 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) by car

Hiburi Kamakura: Swirling Balls of Fire

Akita ken’s Kakunodate is known as Tohoku’s “Little Kyoto” because many samurai residences are well preserved there, giving the town a refined, elegant atmosphere. Every February 13 to 14, the town holds a Lunar New Year celebration called Hiburi Kamakura (The Fire and Snow Festival). The event starts with participants lighting bales of straw on fire in furnances made of snow, and is followed by the burning of both tenpitsu and New Year’s decorations in a bonfire to pray for peace in the new year. The highlight of the festival is when participants grab the ends of the ropes tied to the flaming straw bales and whirl them in circular
Kakunodate’s Hiburi Kamakura is famous for participants swirling fireballs in wide circles
Kakunodate’s Hiburi Kamakura is famous for participants swirling fireballs in wide circles
motions around themselves. This swirling ritual of blazing fireballs, traditionally thought to ward off diseases in the new year, adds a mystical aura to the snow-covered landscape.

Kakunodate: Kakunodate Station (JR Akita Shinkansen)

Yokote Snow Festivals: Kamakura Matsuri & Bonden Matsuri

In the city of Yokote in Akita Ken, two traditional snow festival events are held annually on the first full moon of the year.

Calm Snow Festival – ‘Kamakura’

The Yokote Kamakura Matsuri, held every February, has a history of 450 years, and features many igloos at various locations across the city and a burning ritual. Traditionally, in the area between the Yokote River and Yokote Castle (once a samurai residence), locals would worship the God of Kamakura by offering sake and homemade pounded rice cakes. They also burned New Year’s decorations and ropes in igloos to pray for children’s wellbeing. On the other side of the Yokote River, where commoners used to live, igloos were traditionally set up to honour the
Igloos become places of worship during the festival
Igloos become places of worship during the festival
water gods next to the communal well, which supported the lives of the locals. Today, this tradition carries on as residents set up altars to worship the gods, while children often stay in the igloos enjoying grilled rice cakes and amazake, a traditional, sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.

Yokote:20 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen Station) to Yokote Station by local train JR Ôu Line

Active Snow Festival – ‘Bonden’

Men carrying a bonden to Asahiokayama Shrine
Men carrying a bonden to Asahiokayama Shrine
Bonden, a tool representing the descent of a divine spirit, are used in Shinto rituals. In the past, bonden were wooden sticks with many zigzag-shaped paper streamers tied to them. Today, bonden have evolved into 4.3-metre-high wooden poles with round bamboo baskets measuring 90 centimetres in diameter. They are accessorized with colourful strains of cloth, zigzag paper streamers and various other decorations.
Modern bonden sometimes weigh more than 30 kilos, depending on the amount of creativity that goes into the making. During the festival season, bonden are displayed around residential areas as a prayer for safety before being carried by a group of men to Asahiokayama Shrine on February 17.

Asahiokayama Shrine: 15 min from Yokote Station (JR Ôu Line) to Ôsawa stop by bus

Yuzawa Inukko Matsuri (Dog Festival)

Cute dog sculptures at the festival venue
Cute dog sculptures at the festival venue
On the second Saturday and Sunday of February, people make snow sculptures of dogs in Akita’s Yuzawa area to thank the canines for their loyalty. The festival, with a history of 400 years, also features altars made of snow, where participants offer rice cakes in the shape of dogs.
Staff wearing traditional outfits featuring an Akitaken (dog breed)
Staff wearing traditional outfits featuring an Akitaken (dog breed)

Yuzawa: 40 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) to Yuzawa Station by local train (JR Ôu Line )

Kento-Sai (Votive Lantern Festival)

Enormous candles are set up to pray for business prosperity
Enormous candles are set up to pray for business prosperity
Kanto-Sai, also known as the Candle Festival, in Nigata’s Sanjo city (famous for its cutlery production) has been held since the Edo period to pray for prosperous business and the safe travels for business owners. Visit the Sanjo Hachiman Shrine on January 14 and 15 to see gigantic candles weighing 30 to 50 kilos, with a diameter of 50 centimetres and a height of one metre!

Sanjo: Tsubamesanjô Station (JR Jôetsu Shinkansen)

Namahage Culture: Living with the Times

生剝鬼是秋田男鹿市特有的傳統文化
Namahage culture is a tradition unique to Oga, Akita Prefecture

In an agriculture society where people’s daily lives depend on the weather, people have worshipped the gods at festivals to pray for crop prosperity, to ward off evil and to bring good fortune. What was once a ceremony solely to worship gods, however, has transformed into a traditional folklore event in modern times. The culture of Namahage, frightening the people of Oga city in Akita Prefecture, is a perfect example.

What is Namahage
Namahage ( なまはげ ) is a folk event unique to the Oga Peninsula in Oga city, Akita Ken. The word derives from combining the Japanese word for erythema (namomi) caused by idling next to a fire for a long period in order to avoid the winter cold, and the word for tearing off (hagu) the reddish lumps that can build on the skin as a result. The demons looking gods who warn those slacking off from work and their studies became known as Namahage.
There are various theories as to the origin of these fearsome demons. one legend goes that a village was afflicted by the evil doings of five demons. To combat the problem, a deal was made: If the demons could build a thousand stone steps leading up to the Akagami Shrine Goshado in a single night, they would offer a girl in return but, if the demons failed, they had to leave the village forever. The five demons made it as far as the 999th step but, when they were about to set the last stone, the villagers interfered by imitated the morning crow of a rooster. Thinking it was a voice from heaven, the dissapointed demons ran away from the village, never to return.

To entertain a Namahage is to
To entertain a Namahage is to “Namahage Gozen” (meal)
The Namahage Sedo Festival is held annually on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February
The Namahage Sedo Festival is held annually on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February

Namahage Folk Ritual
Every year on December 31, New Year’s Eve, locals wrapped in knitted straw known as kede put on fearsome Namahage masks exclusive to their districts and walk around neighborhoods to visit homes. Warning children to work hard, to study and to listen to their parents, the Namahage shout things like, “Are there any crying children?” and “Are there any misbehaving children?”. This frightening act comes from the wish that the children will earn good grades in school, succeed in society and thus be happy in the years to come. Each homeowner entertains the Namahage with sake and sailfin sandfish (caught off the coast of Akita Prefecture) while praising his spouse and children in order to protect them from the frightful visitor. Also, on January 3, Saitou-sai(Festival) is held at Manshin Shrine, which boasts a history of about 900 years. In the vicinity of the shrine, a fire is lit and mochi (pounded rice cakes, also known as goma mochi) are roasted; they are offered to the Namahage, descended from the mountaintop as the gods’ messenger, and a prayer is said for the village’s peace and crop prosperity. Combining the New Year’s Eve Namahage event and Saitou-sai, locals have created Oga’s Winter Festival, also known as the Namahage Sedo Matsuri. Every year, the event is held on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February, satisfying any tourist’s curiosity about Namahage culture. The highlight is when the Namahage ascends the mountain with torch in hand. The sight of the torch’s flame illuminating the dark road against the bright white snow creates a truly mystical scene!

At the Namahage Sedo Festival,
masks featuring each district are on full display
At the Namahage Sedo Festival, masks featuring each district are on full display

Goshado: 30min bus ride from Oga Station (JR Oga Line) by bus
Shinzan Shrine: 50min from Hadachi Station (JR Oga Line) by bus

Taking a photo with a Namahage
Taking a photo with a Namahage

The Event’s True Meaning
Originally, participants in the Namahage folk ritual would visit most households. However, with the changing times, now there are some families who do not welcome a visit from the Namahage. Some parents cannot stand to see their children being scolded, and some say that it is a cruel ritual of disciplinary punishment against children. In this way, the tradition of this culture has been challenged repeatedly through the ages.

Noboru Sugawara, a local elder, used to visit households as a Namahage. In his opinion, shouting of the Namahage wards off evil and brings good fortune. People who are unaware of Namahage culture sometimes misunderstand the ritual as simply an act of chastising children, Sugawara says, and hence something threatening. This conveys the importance of understanding the true meaning behind Namahage culture instead of inheriting the tradition blindly, and its value should be handed down to future generations.

American teacher Scott Camino dressed up as a Namahage on New Year's Eve
American teacher Scott Camino dressed up as a Namahage on New Year’s Eve
Ashizawa’s reproduced mask at the event
Ashizawa’s reproduced mask at the event
Ritual to start the festival
Ritual to start the festival

Cultural Revitalization through Mask Reproduction

Traditional Namahage culture is also under threat due to the disappearance of masks that are unique to each district, as well as the fact that the ritual is no longer held in certain regions. In 2014, Ashizawa District’s Youth Association gained attention for its efforts to reproduce its mask for the first time in 30 years. Yasuaki Takeda, a member of the Youth Association to produce masks, reveald that they used old photos in literature material, to confirmed the features of the mask, gather the necessary materials and collaborate in the production, a process that took over two years. They wanted to create an exact replica of the original mask, but soon realized the challenges that came with the color formulation and preparation of the material. This led the Association to have a change of heart regarding an exact replica, and they realized that by using current materials, the mask would truly reflect the current times.
Scott Camio, an American teacher at Funagawa Daiichi Elementary School in Oga, has participated in the New Year’s Eve ritual. As a non-Japanese, he said he was strongly moved by how local residents were struggling to preserve Namahage culture and their approach not only to pass it on to next generations, but also to improve it. In this way, the Namahage folk culture does not burn out in an instant like fireworks, but rather is deeply rooted in the lives of the local residents; they continue to explore how to find a balance between traditional culture and modern- day life in order for the true meaning of Namahage culture to be handed down to future generations.

At the Namahage Museum, there is a variety of regional masks on display
At the Namahage Museum, there is a variety of regional masks on display
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (open year-round)
Access:15min from Hadachi Station (JR Oga Line) by car

From grilled foods to deserts and drinks: Japanese street stalls

yati-food-stalls
 These mobile food stalls are a staple of the matsuri scene. From grilled foods like yakitori and okonomiyaki to desserts like choco-banana and taiyaki, these stores serve up almost any kind of Japanese festival food imaginable. The easiest way to experience yatai is to head to Fukuoka as it has the largest number of permanent stores throughout the city.

yatai-gallery

Flowing Noodles: Chopstick Fishing

flowing-noodles-nagashi-somen
Flowing noodles

This fun summer tradition has diners working to catch their meal. Aptly named “flowing noodles”, The sōmen is placed in long bamboo flumes with fast running cold water that carries the noodles past guests who try to catch them with their chopsticks. The noodles are then immediately dipped in tsuyu (つゆ, flavoured dipping sauce) and eaten.

nagashi-somen-bamboo-cups
Bamboo cups for dipping sauce (Dashi)

nagashi-somen-gallery

Nishiyama, the secret hot spring of gods and champions

nishiyama-onsen-in-fukushima

Tucked away in the Fukushima countryside, perhaps it’s no surprise that this hot spring and traditional Japanese inn is overlooked by many people. But it is a crying shame, as – apart from the stunning natural beauty that is Fukushima – the atmosphere of this place is very peaceful and a long way away from the hot springs in the cities.

river-by-ryokan-in-nishiyama-onsen

As I sit here writing this article, I can hear nothing but the chirping of birds and rushing water from the river and waterfall outside my room. Voted number five for “Best Spring Quality” by Gunji Isamu, the onsen champion with experience of seven thousand five hundred hot springs to his credit, it’s easy to see why this hidden gem of Fukushima should be on the to-go list of anyone looking for a real hot spring experience.

nishiyama-onsen-layout-view

Nishiyama was built in the year 717, shortly after the start of the Nara period (AD 710 to 794) of Japanese history. It’s said that bathing in each one of the onsens here will cure the visitor of any disease. This is why Nishiyama hot springs often referred to as kami no onsen, or “the hot springs of the gods”. The hot springs themselves are spaced out and some are hard to find (despite planning to try three, I was only able to locate two in the short time I was there!) There is supposedly a hot spring with a shrine in it, but I never managed to find it. While there are plenty of signs, visitors should be aware that these are all in Japanese.

nishiyama-onsen-indoors-hot-spring

This is the first bath I visited. Visitors should be aware that the middle one is quite a bit hotter than the other two, although not hot enough to pose a problem. The baths themselves are quite small but large enough to accommodate two or three people comfortably.

very-hot-outdoor-hot-spring-onsen-fukushima-nishiyama

The other hot spring I visited was this one. This has a much larger bath as well as an outdoor one in beautiful scenery. Both are lovely but considerably hotter than the first, and the outdoor one was so hot that I was only able to stay in for a few minutes. It might be best to leave this one for winter! There is another outdoor spring in the ryokan itself with a stunning view of the waterfall. This is mixed bathing, but for those of you who might be a little embarrassed, 7-9pm is for women only.

mixed-outdoor-ryokan-onsen-hot-spring-

The accommodation is very good, and the landlady Kaneko Sanae is pleasant and speaks reasonable English, so the language barrier won’t be a problem. The rooms are clean and airy as well as quiet. There is air conditioning, but with both windows open I didn’t feel any need to use it, although it might be a different story in winter. Complimentary yukata and toothbrushes are provided and each room sleeps two, with a small alcove containing a refrigerator, coffee table and two chairs by the window. Most of the drinks in the refrigerator are alcoholic, but there is a bottle of mineral water, and a kettle and traditional Japanese tea set are also provided. For the desperate among you, there is a vending machine in the hallway! On a side note, however, there are no convenience stores nearby so I advise stocking up with anything you feel you might need before arriving unless you plan to rent a car.

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Futons are provided along with pillows, but the pillow is a traditional Japanese one filled with something that feels like gravel. It’s more comfortable than it sounds, but if you’re the kind of person who needs a soft fluffy pillow, you’ll either need to bring your own or improvise something with the cushions in the room (luckily there are plenty of these!)

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The dinner and breakfast provided is also very good, but traditional Japanese fare, a lot of which is sourced from Aizu itself, such as the grilled chicken skewers (yakitori) and horsemeat. If you love Japanese food or are always up for experiencing a new cuisine, then look no further. If you’d prefer toast, however, this isn’t the place for you. Drinks at meals are either tea or water, which are both complementary or alcohol, which will incur an additional cost (bringing in your own alcohol is a definite no-no, although I wasn’t able to get the landlady’s view on bringing in a Coke or grape Fanta from the vending machine). The drinks menu is only in Japanese; however, the landlady is more than happy to translate for you.

If you’re looking for souvenirs, you can buy handmade soap and lotions made from some of the hot spring water. These can be purchased from Nanokamachi Station (JR Tadami Line) and Mishima Inn, or alternatively, you can just order directly from the website.

As a non-drinker, the lack of a non-alcoholic drinks menu was the biggest problem for me, but that aside, this is a fantastic hot spring and traditional Japanese inn combined, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is looking for a taste of authentic, traditional Japan in a peaceful country setting.

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WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Jude Austin
Jude sold her first story to a magazine at the age of twelve and has been writing ever since. In the past, she’s dabbled in various jobs from care worker to roulette croupier to language tutor, all the while scribbling down various ideas and frightening random people by asking them equally random questions about astrophysics, medicine, genetic science and whether or not it was really true that people could explode in outer space.

She currently lives in Japan, where she divides her time between studying film production at college, watching Japanese TV, working on her next few books (her latest sci-fi thriller Project Tau is currently available on Amazon) and hunting for the perfect takoyaki vendor while trying to have random encounters with members of Arashi. She also writes fanfiction under the penname JudasFm.

Please don’t ask about the Bright Blue Squid. It only encourages him.
MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

 

Ninja ID: jude.austin

Hiyashi Chuka: the best ramen for summer…and winter?

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During the hot and humid days of summer, this chilled ramen dish is a welcome change from regular ramen. The cold noodles are served topped with a variety of ingredients such as strips of tamagoyaki (玉子焼き, egg omelet) and thin slices of cucumber, tomatoes, and ham which are tossed together before it is eaten. Some study says cold ramen is the most popular noodle dish among others for summer in Japan.

Hiyashi Chuka
Looks delicious…

These days you might see signs hanging from your favorite Ramen shop wall saying “Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita”. Fear not, this only means they’ve started serving cold ramen. During summer, Hiyashi Chuka is so popular that you can get it from every convenience store offering a different taste, and these signs have even inspired the creation of a song.

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Hiyashi Chuka 5
Yummy yummy

“Hiyashi Chuka” literally means “Chilled Chinese” but despite what the name suggests, this cold ramen is a dish invented in Japan and it even has its own official day; July 7th, recognized by the Japan Anniversary Organization. The love for these chilled noodles even sparked the creation of the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association, an organization that was born out of an interesting anecdote.

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In 1975, a jazz pianist named Yosuke Yamashita went to a ramen shop during winter and ordered Hiyashi Chuka, but the ramen shop owner told him they didn’t have any because it was winter and Hiyashi Chuka is served only in summer. Yamashita gets furious and yells:

なぜ、冷し中華は冬に食えないのか! 生ビールもアイスクリームも食えるのに! この差別はなくさなければならない!

“Why!, why can’t I eat Hiyashi Chuka in winter?, we drink cold beer and eat ice cream in winter after all, we have to end this kind of discrimination!”. It was this desire to eat Hiyashi Chuka during winter that drove him to create the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association and promote the dish by organizing events and spreading information about this delicious summer (and winter, Yamashita would argue) treat.

Source: News Postseven (Japanese)

What is your favorite noodle dish for summer? Let us know by answering our survey.