Autumn Foliage Hunting in Hanno, Saitama!

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Wanna go hiking in the golden season of autumn leaves? There is no lack of such hiking routes in suburban Tokyo! To show you what Tokyo has on offer, students from the graduate school of tourism in Rikkyo University took a Seibu Railway train to Hanno in Saitama prefecture (adjacent to Tokyo). Our trip features not only autumn leaves, hiking, and onsen, but also surprises for anime fans!

Anime pilgrimage: Yama no Susume

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Speaking of anime pilgrimages in Saitama, the top destination might be Chichibu, which is the place featured in “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day”. While in Hanno, the talk of the town is “Yama no Susume”.

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Hanno Ginza shopping street

Departing from Hanno Station, we walked through the main shopping street and arrived at Kannon Temple, one of the locations featured in “Yama no Susume”. Be sure to check out those “Emas” (small wooden plaque on which worshippers write their wishes) and a distinctive statue of a white elephant featured in the anime. Take a group photo and see how it compares with the scene in the anime!

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Ascending Mt. Tenran for its panoramic views and autumn foliage

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Mt. Tenran (a small mountain at about 200 meters above sea level) and Noninji Temple are famous for their autumn leaves, especially when the leaves are expected to be in full glory from the end of November. Though we were here a bit earlier (first weekend of November), we still had a whole lot of fun taking loads of pictures!

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An easy autumn hiking trip to Lake Miyazawa

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Departing from Mt. Tenran, we continued our casual hiking trip to Lake Miyazawa. The air was refreshing and the forest a perfect location for taking pictures. It took us about 90 minutes to get to the lakeshore. Shall we rent a boat and fish on the lake, or take a walk along the lakeshore path? Well, taking a soothing hot spring bath maybe the first priority!

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Reminder:

  1. Get some food around Hanno Station or refuel halfway in the super market near the Seibu Railway elevated tracks.
  2. Though this hiking route is beginner-friendly, there are some up-hills and down-hills that may become slippery after raining.

Enjoy a lakeside hot spring bath

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Our last stop is Lake Miyazawa Onsen “Kirari”, a hot spring facility boasting lake views from both the open-air hot spring bathhouse and the restaurant. After refreshing our mind and body with a soothing hot spring bath and a good meal, we hopped on a bus and returned to Hanno Station. What a perfect day!

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How do you like our trip? For those interested in walking and hiking, do check out Seibu’s pamphlet for various hiking trips departing from stations of Seibu Railway. Hope it will be helpful during your next trip to Japan!

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Lake Miyazawa Onsen “Kirari”
Hours: 9:00~24:00
Admission: from 1,000 yen (towel included)
Website: click here (Japanese)

Other useful information

Hiking route and map from Hanno Station: click here (Japanese)

Bus Schedule from Lake Miyazawa to Hanno Station (bus departs every an hour or so, takes about 10 minutes and the fare is 180 yen)

Seibu Railway Walking & Hiking Pamphlet (online version)

**For more information about tourist attractions along the Seibu Railway lines, check out Seibu Railway’s English website and facebook page!

A Day Trip from Tokyo: Chichibu

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Speaking of tourist destinations on the Seibu Railway network, Chichibu and Kawagoe are by far the most well known. In particular, Chichibu has been gaining popularity in recent years on the back of traditional and social media exposure. In this series of articles we will show you how we explored Chichibu by following Seibu Railway’s suggested itinerary. Join us and discover Chichibu!

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Our first stop was “Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall”. The building used to be an industrial site and is now a museum for “Chichibu Meisen”, a high quality silk fabric known for its daring designs and brilliant colors. The textile is officially designated as a Japanese traditional craft and yet it’s quite practical and modern fashionable. Here you can pose for a memorable picture wearing beautiful Meisen textile, or try your hands on silk dyeing. (Reservation required)

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Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall
Hours: 9:00-16:00
Admission: 200 yen
Website: http://www.meisenkan.com/ (Japanese only)

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It’s about time for lunch, and let’s try the local specialty soba noodles! We had pork soba and sesame dip soba at “Maruta”, a soba restaurant right across the street from Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall. Do ask for the free soba soup after you finished the noodle. You can drink it as served or mix it with the dip sauce. I was told it’s good for the skin!

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Maruta
Hours: 11:30-17:00
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sobadokoromaruta/

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The historic Chichibu Shrine is the main venue for Chichibu’s Kawase Festival and Night Festival. The shrine is characterized with many colorful decorative sculptures, including the “three monkeys” that reminds people of its famous counterpart in Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Moreover, make sure to check out those creative anime “Emas” (small wooden plaque on which worshippers write their wishes) inspired by the animation film “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” and “The Anthem of the Heart”.

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Chichibu Shrine
Website: http://www.chichibu-jinja.or.jp (Japanese only)

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Chichibu’s summer festival (Kawase Festival) and winter festival (Night Festival) takes place in July and December respectively. For those who missed the festive seasons, visit Chichibu Festival Museum and experience the charm of the festival through various interactive exhibits. Best of all, the video clips shown on the second floor are available in Japanese, Chinese, English, and Korean. It was so impressive that I bet whoever has watched it would make up his or her mind to come back again and experience the festival first hand!

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Chichibu Festival Museum
Hours: 9:00~17:00 (April~November); 10:00~17:00 (December~March)
Admission: 410 yen
Website: http://www.chichibu-matsuri.jp (Japanese only)

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Making good Japanese Sake requires high quality water. Blessed with the clear subterranean water flowing from nearby mountains, “Bukou Brewing” boasts an extensive lineup of sake products and offers tax-free shopping for foreign tourists. If you understand some Japanese language at least, do make a reservation for a free sake tasting and brewery tour.

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Bukou Brewing
Hours: 8:00-17:30
Website: http://www.bukou.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

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It’s about time to go back to Tokyo and we started to walk toward Seibu Chichibu Station through the Banba Street in front of Chichibu Shrine. Among the many stylish cafes and household zakka shops we discovered along the retro feeling kinda street, we were most impressed with the collaboration between a modern bagel bakery and an old shop called Yasudaya.

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Get a minced pork cutlet at Yasudaya and bring it to the bakery to make it a bagel sandwich. Yummy and innovative! It is such tiny creative stuff that brings vigor and tourists to town!

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Last but not least, shibazakura (moss phlox) bloom from mid April to early May in Chichibu. So why not visit Chichibu for a casual flower viewing trip if you’re visiting in Tokyo in spring!

The Art and Culture of Kanazawa

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Kanazawa has been the economic and cultural center of the Hokuriku region since the Edo period, during which the feudal lords supported and encouraged the development of culture and handicrafts. Fortunately Kanazawa escaped destruction during World War Two, so parts of the old town remain in good condition today.

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Since the old days, traditional Japanese culture has been very much a part of daily life in Kanazawa and Ishikawa Prefecture. Fine arts such as Noh, the tea ceremony, dyeing and gold leaf are handed down to current generations and continue to dazzle.

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Noh
Designated as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Noh is a classical performing art which originated in the Japanese middle ages. A Noh play is far more about conceptualization than many other forms of theatrical art and thus takes some prep-work to understand it.

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Kanazawa Noh Museum is a great place to start. Here you can even put on a Noh mask and costume. Noh wonder!

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Kanazawa Noh Museum
Hours: 10:00-18:00, closed on Mondays
Admission: 300 yen
Address: 1-2-25 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.kanazawa-noh-museum.gr.jp

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Kanazawa Gold Leaf
The making of gold leaf is another flourishing Kanazawa tradition. 99% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. At ‘Kanawana Katani’, you can try your hand at gold leaf decoration.

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One session lasts about 60 minutes. Price depends on your choice of creation and starts from 900 yen. You get to take your handiwork home of course!

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Kanazawa Katani
Hours: 9:00-17:00
Address: 6-33 Shimoshin-cho, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.k-katani.com

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Contemporary Art
In Kanazawa you can immerse yourself not only in traditional Japanese culture but also modern art from around the world. Opened in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a great example of Kanazawa’s flourishing art and culture. The architecture itself is a breath of fresh air and its collection of modern artworks promises to give you a new perspective on Kanazawa’s rich cultural landscape.

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21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Hours: 10:00~18:00, closed on Mondays
Admission: 350 yen for permanent exhibitions
Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.kanazawa21.jp

Hokkaido: Indulge in the Paradise of Gourmet Food

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Known as the Kitchen of the North, Sapporo boasts an endless list of delicious local specialties from ramen and fresh sea food to all sorts of sweets and confectionery. Plan your perfect Hokkaido holiday around gourmet food and get some souvenirs for your loved ones back home.

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Miso ramen
First developed in Sapporo, miso (soybean paste) ramen usually features plenty of hot pork lard to keep your body warm during Hokkaido’s harsh winter. Typically bean sprouts are added to balance the robust and heavy flavor of the soup. If you want to eat like a local, order extra toppings of corn and butter.

Where to eat?
Ramen Sumire
URL: http://www.sumireya.com/ (Japanese only)

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Soup curry
This is a famous local dish that consists of rice and curry-flavored soup with lots of spices and ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, and tender chicken thighs. You can find many restaurants serving this dish around Sapporo, each with its own recipe. Besides eating in, you may as well bring home a microwavable meal of soup curry as a souvenir.

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Where to eat?
Soup Curry Cocoro
URL: http://www.cocoro-soupcurry.com/english/index.html

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Crabs and prawns
Seafood lovers will know that Hokkaido is a land of gourmet delicacies, especially when it comes to seafood. There are three famous crabs in Hokkaido, the King Crab, the Snow Crab, and the Horsehair Crab. The best way to try everything at one sitting is to head for a sumptuous crab buffet that offers not only unlimited crabs but also fresh prawns prepared in various styles such as sushi and deep-fried tempura.

Where to eat?
Ebikani Gassen
URL: http://www.ebikani.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

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Seafood rice bowl
Donburi Chaya is a seafood donburi (rice bowl) specialty store serving delicious seafood at incredibly low prices in Sapporo. Fresh ingredients are brought in from Nijo Fish Market, which explains why its seafood is so delicious and affordable. Donburi Chaya opens early, at 7:30 a.m., and during lunchtime it’s always packed with locals and tourists. Since it’s located right inside Nijo Fish Market, you can blend in with the lively atmosphere while enjoying a delicious meal!

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Where to eat?
Donburi Chaya
URL: http://www.donburi.jp/ (Japanese only)

A Day Trip from Narita Airport: Historical Chiba

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Narita is home to Narita International Airport, a main gateway to Japan. The following places are within 30 minutes by taxi or public transportation from the airport, and are also perfect for travelers with time to spare during layovers. There’s no need to go far from the airport to experience exotic Japan!

Narita-San Shinshoji

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Visit one of the most popular temples in Japan. The headquarters of the Shingon sect’s Chizan School, this temple was built by Archbishop Kanjo in 940. The temple is dedicated to Fudomyo-o, the god of fire, and has been a favorite site for excursions and pilgrimages ever since the Tokugawa shoguns moved the national capital to Edo (Tokyo) in 1603. The temple currently attracts more than 3 million visitors wishing for their safety, luck, and prosperity during the first three days of the New Year’s Festival alone. Several of the temple’s structures have even been designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

URL: http://www.naritasan.or.jp/english/

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Narita-San Omotesando

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Stroll historic Japan at Omotesando. The 800-meter-long street leads straight to Narita-San Shinshoji Temple, and many small antique-style inns, restaurants, and souvenir shops are nestled along either side. Authentic local delicacies such as Unaju (eel over rice) are so juicy that will definitely satisfy both your stomach and travel checklist.

URL: http://www.nrtk.jp/lang/en/sightseeing/02_omote.html

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Boso-no-mura

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Travel 150 years into Japan’s past and try your hand at traditional crafts!  Boso-no-mura is an interactive museum park made up of authentic samurai residences, farmhouses, and other buildings from the Edo period. They offer around 350 types of demonstrations and hands-on experience programs.

URL: http://www.chiba-muse.or.jp/MURA/e/

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Sakura Samurai Houses

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Experience real Samurai life! Sakura City began as a fortified town at the foot of a local castle that served the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo period. Today, several historic samurai houses remain along Sakura Samurai Street, and the Horita House is one of the samurais houses open to the public.

URL: http://www.city.sakura.lg.jp/0000000627.html (Japanese)

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Free Tour of Narita Area!

Great news for overseas travelers having a layover at Narita Airport! Narita Airport is running a “Narita Transit Program” offering free guided tours or self tours around Narita international transit passengers. For more information, please check their website.

URL: http://www.narita-transit-program.jp/

Running around the Imperial Palace

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As more and more runners hit the streets, the surroundings of the Imperial Palace have become a Mecca for runners; just like Central Park in NYC. Arguably the most popular running course in Tokyo, the parameters around the Imperial Palace is booming for several good reasons:

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1. Easy access

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The course is right in the city center, and can be easily reached via seven subway stations on four different lines.

2. Convenient facilities

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Along the course, there are no lack of toilets, water fountains, and vending machines. Catering for office workers who want to hit the road before or after work, runner’s stations fitted with changing rooms and shower facilities have been built in recent years. You can even take a dip in one of the nearby public baths after a good run.

3. Safety

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Needless to say, there are lots of police guarding the Palace, making it a safe place to run even at night.

4. Great running course

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The course is traffic free and with good views. You will be greeted by spacious moats, stone walls, trees, and of course, modern buildings on the other side of the road. One lap of the course is around 5km, making it a perfect run for both beginners and experienced runners. As if to add a few more incentives, there are distance markers representing each prefecture in Japan, so you can honestly tell everyone you’ve run all the way from Niigata to Nagano.

5. Run with others

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It is getting popular among office workers to have a drink together after a good run. The increase of well-designed and fashionable running ware also encouraged more female runners to put on their running shoes.

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Because the running course is so popular, it can be crowded on weekends. As more and more runners join the running boom, runner’s etiquette has become a concern recently. To respond to the concerns, the local tourism association has come up with 10 guidelines. If you become one of the Imperial Palace runners, just remember one thing: the route is not reserved only for runners.

Five places to enjoy the Olympics in Tokyo before 2020

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1. View exciting live broadcasts of the Rio Games in Ueno Park

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Want to follow the Olympic Games but don’t feel like watching TV at home or in your hotel room? Then join the crowds at Ueno Park and cheer for your favorite athletes by watching live broadcasts shown on a big screen. Apart from various stage events and sport experience sessions, I was most impressed with the realistic multimedia footage of athletes’ performances shown on a screen with a length of 30m! Also don’t forget to get a free Tokyo 2020 pin badge by filling out a simple questionnaire.

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Tokyo 2020 Live Site in 2016 – from Rio to Tokyo –
Dates: Aug. 6, 2016 – Aug. 22, 2016 and Sep. 8, 2016 – Sep. 19, 2016
Hours: 9am – 6pm
Admission: free
Location: Ueno Park (check the website for five other venues in suburb Tokyo and Tohoku area)
URL: click here


2. Buy Tokyo 2020 official merchandises in Shibuya or Ginza

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Get official licensed Tokyo 2020 products before anyone else! Selection ranges from t-shirts and towels to souvenirs such as pin badges and key holders.

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Dates: Jul. 29, 2016 – Sep. 19, 2016
Hours: 10:30am – 8:30pm (Shibuya); 11am – 8:pm (Ginza)
Location: Tokyu Toyoko Store 2F concourse (Shibuya) and Tokyu Plaza Ginza 6F (Ginza)
URL: click here (Japanese only)


3. Experience various sport activities at Tokyo Sports Expo

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The annual event features a whole range of sport experience sessions instructed by Olympic medalists and other top athletes. Definitely a great chance to experience and develop an interest in various kinds of sport activities!

Tokyo Sports Expo 2016
Dates: Oct. 8, 2016 – Oct. 9, 2016
Hours: 10am – 5pm
Admission: free
Location: Komazawa Olympic Park, Koganei Park
URL: click here (Japanese only)


4. Watch a baseball game in Yokohama Stadium

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Baseball the national pastime of Japan will return to the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 after a 12-year hiatus. Though not has been confirmed yet, Yokohama Stadium, home of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, is emerging as the most likely candidate to host the baseball games during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So why not catch the baseball fever before 2020 by watching a BayStars game at Yokohama Stadium?

*The professional baseball season starts in April and ends in October.

Yokohama Stadium
Access: 3 minutes walk from Kannai Station on JR Negishi Line.
URL: click here (Japanese only)


5. Revisit Tokyo 1964 at Komazawa Olympic Park

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Though National Stadium, the main venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, has been demolished to make way for a new stadium for 2020, you can still get a taste of the 1964 Games at Komazawa Olympic Park, the second site for the 1964 Olympics when facilities such as athletic fields and gymnasium were used as venues for soccer, wrestling, and other competitions. It was opened to the public after the Olympics, and is also one of the venues for the above mentioned Tokyo Sports Expo.

Komazawa Olympic Park
Access: 10 minutes walk from Komazawa-daigaku Station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line.
URL: click here

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

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Located to the northwest of Tokyo, Nagano is easily accessible with Hokuriku Shinkansen and serves not only as an ideal overnight trip from Tokyo, but also a great stopover on the way to Kanazawa. In this article we will bring you to Iiyama, Zenkoji Temple, and Karuizawa and show you what they have on offer. Join us and expect to discover a different Japan!

Suggested itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya for dinner – (back to hotel) – Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

Day 2: Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – MIDORI Nagano / Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Option 1 (love nature): Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

Option 2 (be sporty): Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Day 1: Iiyama

Tokyo Station 7:52 – (Shinkansen) – 9:32 Iiyama Station

Located to the north of Nagano city, Iiyama is a compact small town reminiscent of rural Japan. Especially suitable for a walking tour.

Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

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Iiyama Station – (8 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio

For over 350 years, craftsmen in Iiyama have been making the durable Uchiyama washi paper. Here you can try your hand at making washi and creating your one-of-a-kind postcard.

Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

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Iiyama Handicraft Paper Studio – (15 minutes on foot) – Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art

Based in Iiyama, Mayumi Takahashi seems to possess an innate ability to capture the essence of countryside life in the good old days. Once you step into the museum, you will be impressed by the dolls’ amusing facial expressions and thoughtfully designed details that recreate the heartwarming scenes occurring in everyday countryside life.

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Though it was the first time I visited the museum, I had a feeling I’ve seen these dolls somewhere sometime in my life. Maybe because they are so real that I had this déjà vu kind of feeling?

RokubeiJapanese traditional cuisine with a local twist

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Mayumi Takahashi Museum of Doll Art – (10 minutes on foot) – Rokubei

If trying local food is important to you when you travel, this is the place to be. Because of the harsh winter in Iiyama, people have been using plant fibers to replace wheat in making the local Tomikura soba, which gives the noodle a unique springy texture. Another local dish you can’t miss is Sasazushi (Sushi on bamboo grass), a local variation of sushi that has its root as portable food for troops of the famous warlord Uesugi Kenshin.

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Tomikura soba and Sasazushi
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Miyuki pork steak rice bowl

Tanakaya Brewing

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Rokubei for lunch – (7 minutes on foot) – Tanakaya Brewing

Delicious Japanese sake made with local ingredients and by local employees. Come and sample the sake of your choice.

Patisserie Hirano

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Tanakaya Brewing – (1 minute on foot) – Patisserie Hirano

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The patisserie offers a wide selection of cakes and pastries at reasonable prices, and is highly popular among local people and tourists. We had coffee with an apple tart, a matcha mousse cake, and a sakura swiss roll cake. After you tried its cakes, you will have no doubt why it’s a neighborhood mainstay.

Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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Patisserie Hirano – (15 minutes on foot) – Iiyama Station 16:28 – (Shinkansen) – 16:39 Nagano – Check in at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

After exploring Iiyama, we headed to Nagano, the capital city of Nagano Prefecture. Tonight we stayed at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano, a modern city hotel boasts superb location (directly connected to Nagano Station), comfy guest rooms, and an elegant bar offering creative cocktails and charming night view. Certainly it is an ideal base to explore Nagano.

Azumaya – Treat yourself to a slice of Japanese high life

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Hotel Metropolitan Nagano – (20 minutes on foot, or take a local train to Gondo and then walk 10 minutes) – Azumaya

This was the place we had dinner in Nagano city. Hiding in an unassuming alley near Zenkoji Temple, Azumaya is a fine dining Japanese restaurant whose buildings are renovated from Japanese traditional storehouses with almost 200 years of history. Local delicacies served are as pretty as pieces of art. Recommended for those want to experience Japanese hospitality.

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Bar APOLLO of Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

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The night is long and we are not yet ready to call it a night! Bar APOLLO is located in the top floor of the hotel and offers creative cocktails and great night views. My personal favorite is the APOLLO cocktail mixing apple cidre, apple juice, and peach liquor.

Day 2: Zenkoji Temple and Karuizawa

Zenkoji Temple – Discover the mysteries of National Treasure

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Nagano Station – (7 minutes by bus) – Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple worshipped by many generations. The Hondo (Main Hall) is designated as National Treasure, and also the third largest wooden structure in Japan.

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The streets leading up to the temple are lined with souvenir shops, stylish cafes and soba restaurants.

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Mystery 1: The Buddha enshrined here is said to be the oldest in Japan and no one has ever been allowed to see it. Thus it is known as the “Secret Buddha”.

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Mystery 2: Go down into the crypt passage and search for the “key to the paradise” in absolute darkness. The key to finding it is to keep faith and just move forward.

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Mystery 3: Find the plaque under the eaves of the Sanmon Gate and take a close look at the first character (善). It is stylized to look like the face of a cow due to an old Japanese saying that goes “following a cow to Zenkoji”.

Mystery 4: Take a look again. Can you find 5 pigeon figures hiding among the strokes of the three characters?

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Free guided tours are available in several foreign languages. Check out the details at http://www.zenkoji.jp/ENGLISH/guide/

Nagano Station & MIDORI Nagano – Everything under one roof

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Zenkoji Temple – (7 minutes by bus) – Nagano Station / MIDORI Nagano

Nagano Station is not only a perfect gateway to exploring Nagano, it is also a shopping haven as well! You can get everything you need from souvenirs to a taste of local gourmet at MIDORI Nagano without stepping out of the station building. Since Nagano is most famous for its honey sweet apple, why not choose something from an array of souvenir snacks made from Nagano’s apple?

Karuizawa

Nagano Station 13:05 – (Shinkansen) – 13:36 Karuizawa Station

Before going back to Tokyo, we made a stop at Karuizawa, and propose you the following two options for a quick of the famous resort. Both options require travelling on bus. While you can follow our itinerary listed here, make sure to check the latest bus schedule (Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

Option 1: Shiraito Waterfall – Artful and graceful

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Karuizawa Station 14:00 – (bus) 14:23 Shiraito Waterfall

Standing 3 meters high and 70 meters wide, the crescent-shaped Shiraito Waterfall is named so because the water off the rock surface looks like hundreds of white threads (shiraito) are flowing down. The waterfall is refreshingly cool in summer and ever flowing in winter because geothermal heat keeps the water temperature at about 11 degree Celsius even in wintertime.

Option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park – Play chess on ice

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Karuizawa Station 14:15 – (bus) – 14:35 Karuizawa Ice Park

Checkmate! No, we are not talking about moving chess pieces on a chessboard but sliding stones on a sheet of ice. This is curling, a unique winter sport in which two teams take turn sliding stones towards a circular target. A great deal of strategy is involved, that’s why curling is often called “chess on ice”. Here at Karuizawa Ice Park, the curling venue for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, basic curling lessons are offered all year round for anyone interested in learning the game. Come and give the unique sport a shot. You will fell like an Olympian! After you have experienced curling, you may try ice skating before the next bus comes.

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Information: 2,380 yen per person for a 60-minute curling lesson. Inquiry and reservation by email: [email protected]

Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza – Indulge in a shopping spree before going back to Tokyo!

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If you followed option 1: Shiraito Waterfall 15:30 – (bus) – 15:53 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 18:51 – (Shinkansen) – 20:00 Tokyo Station

If you followed option 2: Karuizawa Ice Park 17:02 – (bus) – 17:32 Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza/Karuizawa Station 19:41 – (Shinkansen) – 20:52 Tokyo Station

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Located right next to JR Karuizawa Station, Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is a shopping heaven less than 90 minutes away from Tokyo. Find outlet shops of overseas designer brands and local specialty food and products at this huge shopping mall set among acres of grassland. If you are looking for distinctive souvenirs to bring home, head to the Souvenir Court for a great selection of local delicacies of Nagano. And of course tax-free shopping is available here!

Key takeaways

Boasting the highest life expectancy of all 47 prefectures in Japan, people in Nagano seem to exude friendly warmth as naturally as the sun gives out heat. In this article we have shown you an itinerary covering top tourist attractions and places off the beaten tracks. The rest is up to you to experience!

Previous in the series:

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

Overnight trip from Tokyo- (1) Countryside Gunma and Snow Country Niigata

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Countryside Gunma & Snow country Niigata

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If you’ve been to Japan many times, chances are you’ve explored almost every corner of Tokyo and wondering where else can you go. In fact, there are many attractive sightseeing spots and activities in adjacent prefectures known only by locals. Thanks to Japan’s efficient transportation network, you can easily visit these places with an overnight trip from Tokyo.

In the first series of our “overnight trip from Tokyo”, we are bringing you to Gunma and Niigata. Located to the north of Tokyo, the two prefectures are easily accessible by Shinkansen and boast many gems yet to be discovered.  So join us and embark on a journey through nature and culture!

Suggested itinerary

Day 1: Tokyo Station 8:24 – (Shinkansen) – 9:18 Takasaki Station 9:26 – (Local train) – 10:12 Numada Station 10:30 – (bus) – 10:44 Harada Farm 13:35 – (bus) – 14:06 Denen Plaza Kawaba – (5 minutes by car) – Yutorian

Day 2: Yutorian – (45 minutes by free shuttle bus) – Jomo Kogen Station 10:10 – (Shinkansen) 10:37 Urasa Station – (15 minutes by car) – Hakkaisan Yukimuro – (20 minutes by car) – Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple – (15 minutes by car) – Urasa Station 13:43 – (Shinkansen) – 13:55 Echigo Yuzawa Station, and then choose from:

Option 1 (for a quick snow experience): Play with snow at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort and then go back to Tokyo.

Option 2 (from amateurs to pros): Stay at Naeba Ski Resort to fully enjoy this powder snow paradise.

Option 3 (great for families and kids): Stay at NASPA Ski Garden for a memorable family ski trip.

Departing from Tokyo Station.

Day 1: Countryside Gunma

Tokyo Station 8:24 – (Shinkansen) – 9:18 Takasaki Station 9:26 – (local train) – 10:12 Numada Station 10:30

Get your stuff ready and we are heading to Gunma for a perfect countryside getaway! Today we will be taking a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Takasaki, and then transfer to a local train for Numada. From there on you can follow our suggested itinerary, but make sure to check the latest bus schedule (find the schedule at the link below “沼田駅4番のりば”, Japanese only) to ensure a smooth trip.

Harada Farm- Fruit picking all year round

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Numada Station 10:30 – (bus, get off at Shimogumi 下組) – 10:44 Harada Farm

After a 15-minute bus ride, we are at Harada farm. Here you can hand pick fresh fruit and eat it on spot. From strawberries and cherries to grapes and apples, there is always some fruit in season whenever you visit. Definitely a fruit farm that makes a fun family outing!

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Also check out the Apple Baum Factory and indulge in an apple feast of fresh apple juice, apple pie, and baumkuchen that has a whole piece of apple filled inside.

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After having lunch in the farm restaurant, we took the 13:35 bus for our next stop: Denen Plaza Kawaba.

Denen Plaza Kawaba – A roadside station that has its all

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Harada Farm 13:35 – (bus, get off at Denen Plaza 田園プラザ) – 14:06 Denen Plaza Kawaba

While a roadside station basically functions as a rest area along roads and highways, Denen Plaza Kawaba has evolved to become a tourist attraction on its own and is among the most popular roadside station near Tokyo. From café to bakery and pottery workshop to farmer’s market, the place has everything to keep you and your kids busy for a whole day.

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We had rice bread, fresh yogurt, grilled German sausages, blueberry crepe and apple caramel crepe. Maybe a bit too much for an afternoon tea but obviously we couldn’t resist the temptation of gourmet food! It’s a mere 5-minute taxi ride from here to the Japanese inn (Yutorian) we will be staying, so you may stay at Denen Plaza Kawaba as long as you like (though you may want to check-in at Yutorian earlier to fully enjoy it). If you prefer to take a bus, you can do so by taking a 15:01 bus for Numada Station, and from there transfer to the free shuttle bus (reservation required) for Yutorian.

Yutorian – Escape from city life and unwind in nature

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Denen Plaza Kawaba – (5 minutes by car) – Yutorian (Hire a taxi or take the 15:01 bus for Numada Station and from there take a free shuttle bus (reservation required) for Yutorian)

Located on an expansive land dotted with seven thatched-roof lodgings, Yutorian is the perfect place to experience Japanese country life. Thanks to the beautiful natural surroundings and soothing hot springs, we enjoyed a relaxing stay in a serene environment reminiscent of old Japan.

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Spacious guest room provides guests with utmost relaxation.

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You can move around in the hotel with electric cars, or ride the monorail to the observatory deck. Kids will love it!

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There is even a mini museum exhibiting Japanese antiques and artifacts.

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Enjoy a course meal with a total of 11 dishes prepared using local and seasonal ingredients.

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Heal your body and mind in the spacious open-air bath. Rooms in the main building even have private outdoor hot spring bath.

Day 2: Snow Country Niigata

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Yutorian – (45 minutes by free shuttle bus) – Jomo Kogen Station 10:10 – (Shinkansen) – 10:37 Urasa Station

After having breakfast, we headed to Echigo Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture, the snow country depicted by Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata in his novel “Snow Country”. Apart from Echigo Yuzawa, we also had a side trip to Hakkaisan Yukimuro and Saifukuji Temple. The two places are more easily accessible if you’re traveling by car. So it’s up to you whether to do the side trip or head to Echigo Yuzawa straight from Jomo Kogen Station by Shinkansen.

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Hakkaisan Yukimuro

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Urasa Station – (15 minutes by car) – Hakkaisan Yukimuro

Yukimuro, literally a snow room, is a product of wisdom of local people to co-exist with nature by storing snow inside a cellar for various usages. Hakkaisan Yukimuro is a modern snow room that uses the cool air to store sake and food. You can actually see the storing space and take home some local products as souvenirs. It’s a great place to learn and experience lives in the snow country. There are also restaurants serving udon and soba noodles.

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Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple

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Hakkaisan Yukimuro – (20 minutes by car) – Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple

Hiding behind an unassuming façade is the breathtakingly beautiful and exquisite ceiling carving created by Uncho Ishikawa. Drop by and take a look, you’ll surely be convinced why Uncho is known as the Michelangelo of Echigo.

Echigo Yuzawa

Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple – (15 minutes by car) – Urasa Station 13:43 – (Shinkansen) – 13:55 Echigo Yuzawa Station

With more than 10 ski resorts, Echigo Yuzawa is a paradise for skiers of all levels. From absolute beginners to experts, everyone can find something suited to his or her needs. The area is also famous for hot springs that are especially soothing after a few rounds of skiing. Here we propose three options for you to enjoy the snow experience!

Option 1: GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort – Right next to the station

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This option is good for a quick snow experience. Play with snow at GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort before going back to Tokyo.

Located right next to Gala Yuzawa Station (direct Shinkansen service during snow season), GALA Yuzawa Snow Resort is such a skiing heaven that offers everything from rental gears to dining services. While advanced skiers can enjoy various new facilities, first timers can take ski lessons and have a whole lot of fun. Be it skiing or snowboarding, a variety of courses are sure to satisfy you!

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Directly connected to Echigo Yuzawa Station, CoCoLo Yuzawa Gangi-dori Shopping Street is a mall that has everything from local specialty products to gourmet food and souvenirs. You may nibble on many kinds of free samples before deciding to buy or not. Even an onsen bathhouse is here for you to enjoy hot spring that has sake poured into it.

Option 2: Naeba Ski Resort – Powder snow paradise

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This option is suitable for anyone from skiing amateurs to pros. Stay at Naeba Ski Resort to fully enjoy this powder snow paradise.

50 minutes by bus from Echigo Yuzawa Station, Naeba is one of the most popular ski resorts in Japan and attracts numerous visitors from abroad as well. Everything from accommodations and hot springs to various dining options and fun family activities are all available directly in front of the slopes! While families and kids can enjoy various snow activities in the snow land play area, those who would like to learn skiing or snowboarding can take lessons provided by English speaking instructors.

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Breeze through snow trails! If skiing or snowboarding is not your thing, why not try riding a snow mobile? The staff will give you a basic lesson and guide you through the snow trails.

Option 3: NASPA Ski Garden – Great for families and kids

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Stay at NASPA Ski Garden for a memorable family ski trip. Recommended for families and kids.

NASPA Ski Garden is a skiers-only (snowboarding is not allowed here) ski resort offering various ski courses and such facilities as cafeteria, onsen bathhouse, pool and fitness. In particular, kids can have fun playing with snow at NASPA Kids Garden in a dedicated and safe environment.

Key takeaways

That wraps up our trip in Gunma and Niigata. It takes only 80 minutes to travel from Echigo Yuzawa back to Tokyo, so it’s totally possible to do an overnight trip from Tokyo covering selected destinations in Gunma and Niigata. If you’ve been to Japan several times and want to discover a different Japan, this is definitely an ideal travel option for you! 

Next in the series:
Overnight trip from Tokyo- (2) Nostalgic Nagano

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

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

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The largest game show in Japan

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

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

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

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

For those who wanna stay ahead of the game

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

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

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

For souvenir collectors

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

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

For those in the gaming industry

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

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Alan has participated in TGS 9 years in a row.

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

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

For those interested in indie games

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

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Japan Game Awards

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

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

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

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

Some extra fun

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

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

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

Information

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

Official website of TGS

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