5 Odd Omamori

At Japanese shrines you can buy many different omamori, protective charms, for defense against all sorts of evil and ill. Besides the regular charms for things such as safety, love, childbirth and health, Japan has some unique charms that can only be found at certain shrines. These charms are available all your round as opposed to bigger charms during special events.

If you’re into collecting omamori or just like a souvenir from every temple , these are some charms you can’t miss.

Pet Charm

Not only you, but also your pets can enjoy the divine protection of the gods. This charm can be attached to a collar by inserting it through the holes. The plastic protects it from the elements and any shenanigans your beloved pet might get involved in. Available in pink and blue at Chichibu Shrine in Saitama prefecture. Just a short trip from Tokyo, Chichibu has other amazing sightseeing spots besides the shrine.

pet omamori

PC Charm

You will never have to worry about computer viruses or sudden data loss with this charm. Located in the electric capital of Tokyo, the kami of Kanda shrine in Akihabara protects even its digital inhabitants. Besides electronics you might also bump into some manga or anime charms as Akihabara is a hub for Japanese subculture.

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Manga/Anime Character Charm

We mentioned Akihabra and the existence of manga/anime omamori, well…you can find them for real. These omamori are usually found at special events instead of shrines, but there are some exceptions. If a popular manga or anime features a shrine in their story, this location usually becomes a “pilgrimage spot” for fans. If it becomes popular enough, special goods unique to that location might be sold. This charm was bought at a special event for the series “Gintama” and mimics the main character’s outfit.

Omamori

Married Couple Charm

Usually omamori are there to help you find your true love. But once you found that true love, it seems couples still depend on protection from the gods. This cute charm is bought in pairs and can be found at various jinja across Japan. This particular charm was bought at Nogi Jinja and features the image of a married couple in wedding attire.
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Travel and safe return charm

We all know charms for “safe travels”, but this is a specific charm wishing for a “safe return”. Because the word for frog in Japanese, kaeru, sounds similar to the word for coming back, kaerimasu, an illustration of a frog is used.

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I’m sure you will encounter many more fun charms during your visit to Japan!

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


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Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

First Shrine visit of the year – Hatsumode

New Year’s is one of the most important holidays on the Japanese calendar. During the Edo period and the old way of counting, everyone was one year old at birth (because they counted the time you were in the womb) and aged one year on New Year’s day. The beginning of a new year symbolizes a fresh start and people do a thorough cleaning of their homes before stepping into the new year. By the way, 2017 is the year of the Rooster and this year’s element is fire.

After having celebrated at a Buddhist temple everyone heads to a Shinto shrine to pay their first respects of the year. This may happen right after midnight, as shrines are open with food stalls and ready to sell good luck charms. If you go during the day you will definitely spot people dressed in kimono amongst the thousands of people (sometimes even a million!) queueing to pray for the shrine. Many people will be dressed in kimono as a formal gesture to the shrine or temple.

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The origin of Hatsumode

The first shrine visits on New Year’s date back to the Heian period (794 – 1185) when the head of the household would pray at the family’s shrine in a secluded room. During New Year’s a god is supposed to visit each and every one of his/her shrines to give blessings. People wanted to lessen the burden on the gods by going out and visiting the shrine. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), praying on New Year’s changed from a secluded room to a public shrine. People would pray at the shrine nearest to that year’s eho(恵方), or “lucky direction”. You can find your nearest shrine on this useful eho map. You have roughly until the 7th of January to visit a shrine.

Hatsumode was a way to celebrate going from the cold winter to the milder temperatures of spring. The coming of cherry blossoms and growing plants signals a new beginning. When Japan entered the Meiji era (1868) the Japanese government decided to have a standardized calendar instead of the ever-changing Japanese lunar calendar (1873). This made New Year’s day fall in the middle of winter instead of the beginning of Spring.

Charms and Prayers

Besides paying respect, people buy charms and bring their old ones so the temple can burn them. It is unlucky to throw away a charm as a god is believed to reside in it. You can bring any charm you don’t want anymore to a temple and they will professionally take care of it for you.

Old Charms

Buy a mikuji(fortune telling paper) from the Miko(Shinto priestess) and see if this year will be a good one. At big shrines they usually have English mikuji for foreigners, so don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese. If you have a paper with bad luck you tie it to a branch near the shrine, preferably a pine tree. The words for “pine” (松 matsu) and “wait”(待つ matsu) sound similar. Your bad luck will wait by the tree instead of staying with you.

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According to an old belief, you should not make a detour when returning home from the shrine. In order not to “spill” any of the good luck, you need to take the shortest way back. If someone died in your family last year you are advised not to visit a shrine either, as “death” is seen as impure. Each shrine and temple has a different view of death, so some shrines might have no problem with this.

Where to visit?

For the best luck, it’s good to follow your eho and visit the nearest shrine. After all, this god is closest to your home and can thus provide the best protection. If you want to visit a popular shrine, Rakuten Travel has made a list of the best shrines to visit for 2017 (Japanese only). Here is their top 10:

1) Imado Jinja – Asakusa, Tokyo (luck, wealth, love and finding a good partner)
2) Shinsoji Temple – Narita, Chiba (traffic safety, business related wealth, safety)
3) Atsuta Shrine – Nagoya, Aichi (safety for your home/family, business prosperity)
4) Nikko Toshogu Shrine – Nikko, Tochigi (longevity, safety for your home, realization of one’s earnest wish)
5) Samukawa Shrine – Samukawa, Kanagawa (traffic safety, protection from all directions, warding off evil)
6) Sensoji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo (business prosperity, safety for your home, academic performance)
7) Ise Grand Shrine – Ise, Mie (safety for your home, easy childbirth)
8) Izumo Taisha – Izumo, Shimane (marriage, safety for your home, good luck)
9) Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto, Kyoto (prosperous business, good harvest)
10) Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine – Dazaifu, Fukuoka (academics, passing an exam, finding employment)

If you’re still unsure of where to go, you can check out this shrine guide for Hatsumode (Japanese only).

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How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan

The Japanese way of celebrating New Year’s is very different from Western countries. New Year’s is possibly the most important day of the year and is usually celebrated with family or good friends. We’ll take you through a typical day leading up to the first day of the new year.

Write Nengajo

During the old days people would visit everyone they were grateful to for the past year on the first day of the new year. Nowadays everyone lives quite spread out so postcards became the new way to express gratitude. Japan takes nengajo very serious and if you send your cards before the deadline the trusty Japanese post office will make 100% sure your card arrives on New Year’s day.
Sometime during December the post boxes will have a separate nengajo slot. Read about how to write nengajo.

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2017 is the year of the Rooster

Eat Soba

These noodles are eaten on the last day of the year and are called toshikoshi soba. Their connection with New Year’s Day has different origins. Examples are the belief that because soba is cut easily you can easily let go of your hardships, long noodles help you “cross over” to the new year, soba “absorbs” the evil in your body and many more… Every region has a different reason.
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Prepare Osechi

Cooking on the first 3 days of the new year is considered bad luck, so families prepare a feast on or before New Year’s Eve. Every ingredient has a special meaning and can be difficult to prepare for a whole family, so nowadays most people order osechi boxes.
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Get your ornaments ready

After cleaning your house to welcome the New Year’s gods it’s time to start decorating. These decorations can also be set up in advance (but not too far) to ensure a “clean break” between the old and the new year.

First you’ll put up a Kadomatsu, an ornament with three bamboo shoots stuck in pine branches. The shoots represent heaven, earth and humanity. The gods live in the kadomatsu until January 7th. They are taken to a shrine and burned to send the spirits back to their realm.
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Then it’s time to get your Kagami Mochi and put it next to your Shinto altar. These are two stacked round rice cakes topped with a mikan (mandaring orange). Traditionally they used a citrus fruit called “daidai”. This fruit is usually not eaten because of its bitterness and has the ability to stay on its branch for several years if it’s not picked. Thus the fruit became connected with the wish for “prosperity for many generations”. The rice cakes represent the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

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Watch a singing competition on TV

This might seem strange, but over the years this has become a popular New Year’s tradition. NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, or Year-end Song Festival, is a singing competition between a red and white team. These teams consist of popular idols and celebrities and is considered an honor to participate in. It is the top-ranked music event of the year.

Visit a Buddhist temple

The singing competition ends just before midnight so you have enough time to go to your nearest Buddhist temple. The monks sound the bell 108 times, symbolizing all the human desires. The sound of the bell is meant to cleanse your spirit.
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First shrine visit and the first sunrise

The first shrine visit of the year is called hatsumode and many people choose to do it right after midnight. Shrines have prepared enough sweet sake to toast the new year and food stalls are set up until the early morning. The first sunrise is called hatsuhinodeand many people stay up late or wake up early to experience this beautiful sight.

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Unique Christmas Desserts

Just as the seasons inspire traditional Japanese confectionery, the Western-style shops are inspired as well. Especially during Christmas season!

Snowglobe Dessert (1,200 yen)

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PR Times

Working Holiday Connection is collaborating with a café in Harajuku to raise money for people who want to make a change abroad. Only available from Dec. 16th, 2016 – Dec. 25th, 2016. Be quick to grab these adorable snowglobes as the café only has 60 seats. The main components are pistacchio and raspberry mousse, champagne jelly and cake pieces. Truly a Christmas delight!

Information
Working Holiday Connection
Harajuku Omotesando YM square shop
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Jingumae 4-chome 31-10 YM square Harajuku 2F
4-31-10, Jinguumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 11am – 11pm every day
TEL: 03-6434-0359
URL: http://wh-c.jp/

2016 Kid’s Dream Cake (5,400 yen)

Christmas Cake
PR Times

Well-known bakery chain “Ginza Cozy Corner” launched a competition to design your Christmas Dream Cake, and this is the grand prize winner! Chosen from 17,663 participants, 5-year old Manami Hirano’s design won the honor of being realised in cake form. Her “Christmas Rainbow Cake” can only be pre-ordered and there is a limited quantity of 200 cakes. Each cake serves about 6-7 portions.

Information
Ginza Cozy Corner
Shop list (600 shops all over Japan): http://bit.ly/2ddBZBP
Order deadline: until Dec. 18th, 2016
Delivery/Pick-up date: Dec. 23-24-25, 2016

Christmas Doughnuts (190 yen ~)

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PR Times

If you’re not into the classic Christmas Cake, here are some Christmas doughnuts! Floresta is known for its animal doughnuts that now received a Christmas twist. Besides the cute designs, there are also walnut and rum doughnuts for a limited time during Christmas. Your friends will be surprised when you bring this tasty alternative to a Christmas party. Floresta uses all-natural ingredients from Hokkaido such as flour and soymilk.

Information
Shop list: http://bit.ly/2h0T3MT (Japanese only)
Limited until Dec. 25th, 2016

Christmas Tree Pancake Parfait (1,790 yen)

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PR Times

Since its opening last year the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku has been charming diners with colorful dishes and crazy concoctions. Ingredients of this parfait are green tea mousse, cheese mousee and vanilla ice cream. This Christmas tree and snowman are made from cake and more ice cream.

Information
Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku
Shibuya Jingumae 4-31-10 YM square 4F
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am – 4:30pm (lunch) 6pm – 10:30pm (dinner) / Sunday 11am – 8:30pm
Url: http://kawaiimonster.jp/pc/

Christmas Trifle (800 yen)

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PR Times

Cute little strawberry Santas on top of fruit-filled layers. No sugary whipped cream is used so you can savor all the natural flavors.

Information
Nicolas House Harajuku
Limited time menu until Dec. 30th, 2016
address: Shibuya-ku Jingumae 4-26-5 1.2F
Hours: Weekdays 11am – 8pm (last order at 7pm) , Weekends 10am – 8pm (last order at 7pm)
URL: http://www.nicolasusagi.com/

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

History of Christmas in Japan

If you’re in Japan during the Christmas season you might be wondering why Christmas decorations are so prevalent. After all, only about 2% of the Japanese population is Christian and as good as all the holy places are Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

What you will probably see during Christmas in Japan

People standing in long lines at department stores, cake shops and KFC stores waiting to buy their goods they ordered at least five days before while couples are heading to expensive restaurants on an illuminated street with a Christmas tree.

To see why the celebration of Christmas in Japan is so unique, it is necessary to know its history in the land of the rising sun.

First a bit of background history:

Christianity (and foreigners in general) used to be banned

That’s right. The first Christmas mass was held in 1552 in Yamaguchi prefecture by Portuguese missionaries and involved extensive bible readings. When more and more missionaries started to get involved with political affairs in Japan, the lords started to get worried. In order to get rid of this foreign influence as soon as possible, they banned Christianity and all who practiced it in 1614. Christians were prosecuted and forced into hiding. You can still find remnants of these hidden communities in Japan. Not only Christians, but all foreigners were denied entry to Japan under its “closed country” policy. The hidden Christians, cut off from all foreign and traditional Christian influence, had to do everything on their own, sometimes camouflaging the symbols and iconography of their faith in plain sight with Christian statues resembling Buddha and statues of Virgin Mary resembling the goddess Kannon. Because of their secretive nature many rituals were never discovered, including their rituals concerning Christmas.

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Japan was open for Christmas business

Japan was still very chaotic when they opened up the country and entered a new era in 1854, so Christmas wasn’t immediately noticed. However, more and more foreigners came to Japan for business or pleasure. Some of them settled and started doing Christmas parties on their own. The record of the first Christmas tree in Japan was decorated in 1860 by the Earl of Eulenburg from Prussia (before it became Germany) and was set up in the embassy where he was stationed. There is also record of Katsu Kaishu, a prominent Japanese statesman and naval engineer and his family attending a Christmas party at the house of an American family in 1875.

After centuries of isolation, many Japanese were eager to find out more about these foreign cultures, embracing the progress and applying it to Japanese society. Very soon, the celebration Christmas started to bloom wherever there was a concentration of foreigners, leading to the public Christmas tree being set up in Ginza in 1900 by Meiji-ya. This lit the fire of the so-called Christmas “sales battle” between department stores, hotels and other luxury businesses in Japan.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune

History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have strawberry shortcake for Christmas

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While many countries serve a type of fruitcake for Christmas, Japanese people will more likely serve strawberry shortcakes: light and airy sponge cakes topped and filled with whipped cream and strawberries. The founder of Fujiya encountered the strawberry shortcake on his trip to America in 1912. In 1922 the strawberry shortcakes started selling in high volumes as a Christmas cake. Fujiya believes that the cake became associated with Christmas because of its white fluffy cream resembling snow and the red strawberries resembling Santa Claus. The colors red and white also mean “happiness” in Japanese culture and are used to decorate gift envelopes.

Nowadays, businesses strive to outdo each other in creating the best-tasting and best-looking cakes so every year you can find a variety of lavishly decorated Christmas cakes for sale.

History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have fried chicken for Christmas

After the end of World War II Christmas became synonymous with “peace”, something the people desperately needed. The Christmas celebrations made a return and so did the cakes. More Western people and soldiers settled in Japan and had to adapt their Christmas to what they could get in Japan. Seeing as they couldn’t find any turkey, Western households substituted it with chicken. This would later pave the way for Kentucky Fried Chicken to build a Christmas chicken imperium.

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When television became a regular “must have” appliance in every Japanese household during the 70’s and 80’s KFC was the first brand to take advantage of its advertising capabilities. They started a clever campaign that said “Christmas is Kentucky” and the ball started rolling. In 1970 a missionary kindergarten in Aoyama asked the KFC delivery guy to come dressed as Santa Claus because they were having a Christmas party. He came in full outfit saying “merry Christmas” and from then on other kindergartens started ordering KFC on Christmas.
Department stores began to set up Christmas decorations and light-up festivals were organized. More than a family holiday, Christmas became time to enjoy the experience of being with those close to you. A new media-hype started to advertise Christmas as THE holiday to spend with your loved one, the first advertisement is believed to have been released by Japan Railways (JR). Christmas turned into a winter version of Valentine’s Day, but who can blame the Japanese. All those pretty lights, the happy atmosphere and the spirit of peace. It’s all very romantic.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Japan Winter Street Food

Japan is sensitive to the seasons and this is reflected in their food. When the scenery changes the food stalls change as well. Here’s some of the most popular winter-themed Japanese street food.

Yakiimo (Baked Potato)

If you’re in Japan during the winter season you might have seen street vendors roast potatoes on coals. There are even yakiimo carts with a real fire, you’re lucky if you spot one! Most of the time they’re standard sweet potatoes but Japan has a large variety of potatoes that differ in taste. It’s wrapped in tinfoil and baked with its skin. This warm and sweet snack is delicious on a cold winter day and the roasted skin makes the outside nice and crispy.

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Nikuman

These meatbuns can be eaten all year round but are consumed more frequently during the winter season. The main reason is that they’re warm, delicious and fit comfortably in your hands. Your personal meat-filled pocket heater. You can buy these at special stands or at any convenience store. Besides the traditional niku-man (meat bun), there are also an-man (sweet bean paste bun), pizza-man (tomato meat sauce and cheese bun), curry-man and even chocolate-man.

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Oden

There is no clear way to describe oden as it consists of various ingredients in a clear broth. Moreover, these ingredients differ per region or have different fillings. The best way to describe oden is to eat it yourself. When it gets colder, oden stalls will pup up everywhere but you can also buy it at the convenience store. Usually there is a container size you can choose from and a variety of ingredients. Take the ones you like, add some broth and bring it to the register.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

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Gundam and Japan: ode to the statue

Bandai Namco recently announced that it will remove the iconic Gundam statue in front of Tokyo Odabai’s Diver City next year (Model RG 1/1 RX-78-2 Ver. GFT to be exact). Its last public appearance will be on March 5th 2017 when it will be removed. Not only the statue, but also the nearby Gundamfront Tokyo entertainment zone will close its doors on April 5th 2017.

The owners have not announced any plans of a replacement statue or where the current one is going, but with the Gundam franchise still strong in Japan there’s a high chance this won’t be the last time we’ll see giant robots in Tokyo. Fans speculate that we’ll see a new Gundam around 2019 when the franchise celebrates its 40th anniversary. In fact, the statue might even move if we can believe the “Gundam Global Challenge”!
If you want to see the original statue in front of Diver City head to Tokyo before spring next year. As an ode to the iconic statue, let us share some interesting facts about Gundam and its history in Japan.

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A hit since 1979

The Gundam franchise was conceived in 1979 as an original production by animation studio Sunrise, titled Mobile Suit Gundam. It was the first show to use realistic working robots in a military setting and it spawned one of the biggest subgenres of hobby crafts in Japan. Nowadays there are still new creator kits released for Gundam enthusiasts by Gunpla.
In fact, the 2016 Gunpla Builders World Championship will be held on December 18th, 2016 at Gundam Front Tokyo.

Get your Gundam on

Even with the statue and entertainment zone leaving Odaiba, you can still get your Gundam fix by going to the Gundam Café in Akihabara. This official café not only serves food but also sells official goods you can only get at the Café. While you’re in Akihabara you can visit various hobby shops selling Gundam models and kits.

Tokyo Gundam Project

The announcement of the removal of the Gundam statue and the closing of Gundamfront comes as a surprise to most fans, especially as 2016 was the special “Tokyo Gundam Project” year. This is not the first time Gundam fans collaborated on a Gundam project. In 2008 the Hiroshima Animation Biennale saw the rise of the “International Gundam Society” with lectures from actual scientists discussing the possibility of a real Gundam and fans giving opinions about the series. However, since then nothing has been heard of the International Gundam Society. A year before that, in 2007, the Japanese army announced “project Gundam”, the building of several weapons and suits inspired by the franchise. Even now you will occasionally see similar news pop up.

The Statue’s Legacy

Even with all these Gundam activities going on in both Japan and the world, it’s still sad to see the statue go. The statue was erected in the Summer of 2009 at Odaiba Waterfront and quickly attracted 4,5 million visitors in its first month. Still, it was moved to Shizuoka for the Shizuoka hobby fair in 2010, was disassembled for display to raise money for the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and only got its most known spot in front of Tokyo Diver City in 2012. Over the years it got more features such as a moving head, lights and smoke coming from its body.

If you still need more Gundam, check out the official Gundam Info page for all the latest news in Japan and the world.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Winter Solstice in Japan

Winter Solstice is the day of the year when the night is the longest. This year for Japan this day falls on December 21st with a sunrise from 6:48am and a sunset at 4:32pm.

Winter Solstice or Toji(冬至) isn’t a real festival in Japan but more of a tradition. The days are getting colder so people looked for ways to rejuvenate the body and to protect it against sickness.

Yuzu Bath (ユズ湯)

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It is said that the custom of taking a bath with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, started during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). As the Japanese value the wisdom of their elders, this tradition exists to this day.

There are many different reasons why both eating and taking a yuzu bath is a good thing to do on this day. Yuzu packs a lot of vitamin C and is essential to protect yourself against colds and the flu. Adding yuzu to a warm bath gives it a nice fragrance and rubbing the yuzu against your skin heals it from the cold damage. Because of the sharp smell of citrus it is also believed to keep demons and bad luck at bay.

It’s easy, just pop some store-bought yuzu in your hot bath and you’re done. You can also cut the yuzu in slices and soak them in the bath using a sheer towel or cloth like you’re making tea.

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Pumpkin and other Solstice food

Besides yuzu Japanese pumpkin,kabocha(かぼちゃ) is eaten during Winter Solstice. During the winter it is difficult to grow crops, but kabocha is a sturdy vegetable and can be easily preserved. The vitamins are good during the winter for protecting your body from sickness.

What makes food lucky?
The Japanese hiragana alphabet ends with the character “n(ん)”. Since Winter Solstice marks the end of the short days anything with the last character of the hiragana order is seen as lucky. This includes; ninjin (carrot), daikon (Japanese white radish), udon (noodles), konnyaku (gelatine made from the devil’s root) and ginnan (ginkgo nut).

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Lucky Day

Japan has adopted many traditions from China, and amongst them is the belief in auspicious days. The Winter Solstice usually comes paired with a new moon, the mark to start something new. Since the day is also very short, it is seen as “the day when both moon and sun are rejuvenated”. It truly is a day about revitalizing both body and nature.

From this day onward the days will start getting longer again, bringing more sun. With this swing from night to day it is also believed that it’s a swing from the negative to the positive, meaning everyone’s luck will turn for the positive side!

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Why are Japanese homes so cold during winter?

The cold weather is creeping in and many foreigners start wondering why Japanese homes are so cold. Compared to Western houses that are insulated and equipped with central heating, most Japanese homes don’t have these features at all. The reason for this lack of heat goes way back.

Japanese homes are built for summer

That’s right. Japanese summers are very warm and humid, leaving you no escape from the heat. Aside from that, mold and mildew is a big problem in Japan, causing respiratory and health problems in severe cases. During the old times the option for most Japanese carpenters was simple, “during the winter you can always put on more clothes but there’s no way to escape heat and humidity.” That is why Japanese homes are built with plenty of ventilation, open windows and means to let the air circulate and cool down a house.

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One room at a Time

The idea that many Japanese have is to keep yourself warm over keeping a whole house warm. In old times people had one hearth in a central place called an irori (いろり). This hearth would also be used to cook and smoke food. It even helped protect the house itself by drying out the wood with its heat thus preventing rot, fungus and wood disease. Thanks to the heat of the irori many homes have been beautifully preserved. If you see an irori it usually has a fish decoration somewhere, symbolically protecting the house against the fire of the hearth.

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This idea of “one room at a time” is still visible in Japanese homes today with the use of appliances like space heaters and the kotatsu.

The idea of “Warm yourself first”

As mentioned before, the principle is that you warm yourself before you start warming an area. From an economical point of view this is very smart indeed. But for most Japanese they don’t have any choice because their homes aren’t built to preserve the heat from an airconditioner for long. Back when people wore kimono daily they wore a hanten during winter. This is a coat similar to a haori and consist of many fluffy layers of cotton for warmth. Families would huddle up next to the hearth and drink warm tea or eat a hotpot with their hanten on. You can still buy these warm jackets today.

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People on the go have options other than hanten and hearths, opting for warm layers and hot packs called kairo (懐炉,カイロ, literally means “pocket hearth”). The first form of kairo were simple tin cases. Special coal pieces would be lit and inserted in the case and people would bring them around in their kimono. Nowadays, you are more likely to find disposable kairo packs at any convenience store or supermarket. They become small sources of heat the moment you open the package. You can opt for the sticky kind, to stick on your clothing, or the non-sticky kind for holding in your hands. There are even versions to put in your shoes.

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Keeping the warmth

The key to surviving Japanese winter is to create as many hot spots in your home as possible to ensure you’re not in a cold space for too long. Soak in a warm bath or onsen. Bring out a space heater to warm your bedroom, wear a hanten while holding a hot pack when going to the living room, then immediately slip under the kotatsu to enjoy a hot pot and go to sleep with your electric blanket. Now you’re ready to survive until spring comes.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

The Kotatsu Trap

Invented in the 14th century, the kotatsu has been trapping people with its warmth ever since. Forget all plans for a productive day once you turn on this toasty, motivation-sucking device. Has it been sent from heaven or hell? Nobody knows. But the kotatsu is definitely real and you can find it in Japan.

Anatomy of a Kotatsu

A kotatsu is basically a low table with a heater attached to it and a big blanket to keep the warmth inside. It may sound simple, but once you try the kotatsu you’ll be craving for it every winter.

The modern kotatsu has an electric heater, but the original kotatsu was a bit more dangerous with actual charcoal. Back then the hearth was fixed into the ground and would be covered when not in use. It was only until after the Edo period that the kotatsu became a movable piece of furniture. And earthen pot was filled with hot charcoal and could be moved with the table. Later the pot was abandoned in favor of an electric heater.

The kotatsu is most effective while wearing traditional Japanese clothing. The heat enters from the bottom of your kimono and exits at the top.

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Mikan + Kotatsu = …

newmikanFor Japanese, you can’t imagine a kotatsu without a mikan (mandarin orange) on top. Mikan look identical to mandarins but they’re quite different. Easier to peel and seedless, the mikan is the perfect fruit for a lazy day under the kotatsu. Because of its immense popularity it’s one of the few Japanese fruits that is exported in large quantities.

When it gets really cold, nothing beats lazing around under the kotatsu eating mikan.

Don’t fall asleep-!…too late

Because of the uneven distribution of heat, the kotatsu is unhealthy to sleep under. A nap however is totally ok, but there is a big risk of it turning into an overnight stay. Not only humans, but also animals rever the kotatsu. Cats especially love the heat and darkness the kotatsu offers.

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Getting out from under a kotatsu is nearly impossible. So here are some tips to make your kotatsu life easier!

  • Keep napkins nearby, in case you get the sniffles
  • Store all your food and drinks within reach
  • Find a victim to fetch everything you need when you forgot to put it near the kotatsu
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Enjoy!

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Cheap all-you-can-drink Umeshu

If you’re a lover of Umeshu, Japanese plum win, you MUST visit Puedo Bar in Tokyo. For the mere sum of 1,080yen you can drink all the Umeshu you want for one hour, possibly the best umeshu deal in Tokyo! Puedo has a large selection of umeshu from all over Japan so prepare yourself to explore all the different tastes in the world of umeshu. This Japanese plum wine is a drink typically enjoyed by women because of its sweetness. Besides Umeshu, the bar also has a dinner menu designed like the classic Izakaya offerings.
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We stumbled upon Puedo after a fun day in kimono and felt a bit too dressed up for a bar. But Puedo is different, the interior is really nice and the friendly staff were ready to welcome us. We ordered some food from the menu when the waitress informed us about the cheap all-you-can-drink deal. We quickly decided to take this golden chance to get our money’s worth of umeshu.

Rushing to make the most of our hour
Rushing to make the most of our hour

We received glasses and ice from the waitress and were told that the nomihoudai, all-you-can-drink, option was self service. Meaning you can freely take the bottles and pour your own drink.
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When I said there was umeshu from all over Japan I meant literally from all over Japan. On the shelves you can find umeshu from Okinawa, banana umeshu, yuzu umeshu and even tomato umeshu.
Umeshu
When we asked the waitress what their best umeshu was one of the patrons quickly responded with “babaa no chi”, which translates to “grandma’s blood”. We were very surprised to hear this name for a bottle of umeshu but we found it right in the middle of the umeshu wall. The bottle’s label reassured us we heard correctly.
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Everyone’s verdict was that all the umeshu were delicious and that the one hour deal made the evening perfect. And if you want to know how “grandma’s blood” tastes you have to visit Puedo Bar yourself. All I can say is that it tastes better than its name!

Information

Name: Puedo Bar
Hours: 5pm – 11pm (closed on Sunday)
Access: near Kitasenju station
Address: 〒120-0026 Tokyo-to, Adachi-ku, Senjuasahicho, 41−14, Daiichi Building 1F

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Gudetama lost in Edo!

Japan’s popular lazy egg, Gudetama, is lost in the Edo period! This autumn and winter only you can visit Gudetama world at the Toei Kyoto Studio Park.

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

Born in 2013, Gudetama’s name is a play on gude gude, meaning someone without strength or spunk, and tamago, meaning egg. He has a negative attitude towards most things and spends his days lazing around, believing that some day he will be eaten. Of course Gudetama has no drive at all to return to the current times on his own, so you have to guide him. Go on a playful travel from the Edo period all the way to the modern Gudetama World.

We don’t know how Gudetama managed to become a lord, but he did it. Enjoy these funny photo opportunities and become a lazy egg yourself.

Gudetama photo
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

Afterwards, get on your feet and learn the Gudetama dance. You can already practice it at home using this video.

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

After dancing, go back to a Gudetama lifestyle by relaxing in the Gudetama ballpit or resting on a giant Gudetama…yolk?

Gudetama activities
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

This special event also has limited edition goodies such as the Gudetama Edo Lord plushie.

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

Try some of the Gudetama Edo specials which may or may not contain egg. Special dishes include Gudetama shuriken curry, Gudetama parfait and more.

Gudetama food
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

If Gudetama isn’t your thing, the Kyoto Studio Park is still worth a visit. The area is a frequently used set for actual Japanese period dramas and movies. During the day samurai, geisha and townsfolk wander around the Edo style village and give performances. You can also visit the ninja show or ninja trick house and if you’re really brave, the haunted house.

Information

Dates: Sept. 10, 2016 – Dec. 4, 2016
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Mon. – Sun., Sept., Oct., Nov.), 9am – 6pm (Sat.,Sun.& Holidays, only in Sept.) / December: 9:30am – 4:30pm (Mon.-Fri.) 9:30am – 5pm (Sat.,Sun.& Holidays)
Admission: 2,200 yen (adults) / 1,300 yen (junior high & high school students) / 1,100 yen (children)
Location Toei Kyoto Studio Park
Access: 5-min walk from JR Uzumasa Station / 5-min walk from Randen Katabiranotsuji Station / 12-min walk from Subway Uzumasa Tenjingawa Station on the Tozai Line
Address: 10 Uzumasa Higashihachiokacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8161
Ranking: ★★★☆☆
toei-eigamura.com

Nengajo 101 : How to write Japanese New Year’s Cards

Every year Japan’s postmen make a New Year’s miracle come true by delivering millions of New Year’s cards right on time. These cards are called “nengajo” and are a Japanese tradition.
During the old days, people would personally visit families and stores that they were grateful to in the past year. When more people moved from the countryside to cities it became more and more difficult to do these visit. This is when postcards became the common way to thank friends, families and business partners.

Nengajo are a fun way to get creative and creating your own design is the best way to stand out in the recipient’s pile of cards. We’ll show you how to create and write your own nengajo.

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Buy or Make your Nengajo

Shops already carry beautiful designs that you can buy in bulk. When you’re pressed for time this is a good alternative. During the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve you can find them in the post office, stationary shops and kiosks…basically everywhere.
If you do decide to make your own nengajo there are two ways to do it. You can buy blank nengajo at the same shops and decorate each one individually to your liking. Another popular way is to create them digitally and get the printed. This is actually not as expensive as it sounds because many people use this type of service. If you can navigate in Japanese, here are some sites to make your own cards (delivery only in Japan).

Japan Post Nengajo Design Kit(Japanese Only)
Happy Card (Japanese only)
Nenga Netprint (Japanese only)

Of course when you start from a blank design and want to do it manually, stationary and hobby shops sell stamps and stickers to make decorating easier.

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Sending Nengajo

Nengajo need to arrive at the first day of the new year, so post offices put in a lot of effort and hire extra staff to make deliveries. To make this process easier post offices have a temporary separate mailbox for nengajo during December. This way they can sort out the cards earlier. If you get your cards into this box before the specified deadline your card is guaranteed to arrive on the correct day.

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Official nengajo are easy to fill out and all have the same back. Even when you make your own design and onder them the back will have roughly the same layout. There’s a space for the address and your personal message. The pre-stamped area (if your card has it) usually features the new year’s zodiac animal. The animal for 2017 is the rooster.

Win the lottery!

…if you’re lucky!
Official nengajo have a lottery number printed on them and you can win actual prizes such as a television or cooking supplies. The results are announced mid-January on the official “Japan Post” website, in the newspaper and on TV. So don’t throw away your nengajo! Together with the list they will tell you where you can pick up your prize.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

November Lucky Days

In Japan November is a special lucky month because of the number 11 that can be pronounced as いい meaning “good”. Using this as an anchor point, companies and individuals use wordplay on numbers to turn almost every day of November into a lucky day. We’re already a bit into November but we’ll start the list from the top.

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11/1: good posture day いい姿勢の日 (ii shisei no hi)
Awareness day for keeping good posture at work to prevent lower back pain etc.

11/3: Good leather day いいレザーの日 (ii rezaa no hi)
On this day the leather industry of Japan appreciates good leather and even has a “best look in leather” award.

11/5: Good relationship day/ good man day/ いいご縁(ii goen) / いい男の日 (ii otoko no hi)
If you’re looking for a spouse, this is the day to visit a shrine. If you’re a man, this is the day to take care of your health.

11/7: Good woman day いい女の日 (ii onna no hi)
Appreciating women’s beauty. On this day many salons give discounts for beauty treatments.

11/8: Good bag day いいバッグの日 (ii baggu no hi)
Day to appreciate the purse/backpack/bag as a fashion accessory.

11/9: Good shoe day いい靴の日 (ii kutsu no hi)
Awareness day for wearing proper shoes to keep your feet healthy.

11/10: Good friend day いい友の日 (ii jyuu no hi)
Originally the name of a radio program. Show your friend some appreciation on this day.

11/11: Good meeting day いい出会いの日 (ii deai no hi)
The person you meet on this day might become your spouse next year on 11/22

11/13: Good knee day いいひざの日 (ii hiza no hi)
Knee problem awareness day, checkups are encouraged.

11/14: Good stone day いい石の日 (ii ishi no hi)
Good day to do anything with stones such as building a rock garden or honoring someone’s gravestone.

11/16: Good color day いい色の日 (ii iro no hi)
Awareness day for the effect of colors focusing on “making a space beautiful and functional with colors”.

11/18: Good home day いい家の日 (ii uchi no hi)
Good day to buy your own home.

11/19: Good breath day いい息の日 (ii iki no hi)
Take good care of your breath today by keeping it fresh

11/20: Pizza day ピザの日(piza no hi)
Because the pizza margherita was invented on this day, celebrate with some pizza

11/22: Good spouse day いい夫婦の日 (ii fuufu no hi)
Show some appreciation for your significant other on this lucky day.

11/26: Good team day いいチームの日 (ii chiimu no hi)
Teamwork awareness day

11/29: Good meat day いい肉の (ii niku no hi)
Day to enjoy some good quality meat.

As you can see, Japan finds a reason to celebrate almost everything. Every day has even more “lucky meanings” than the ones listed here and every year people come up with new ways to celebrate. Some are more popular than the other and people share the days on Twitter or Instagram. Will you be celebrating all these lucky days?

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Source: http://www.kinenbi.gr.jp/

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tori No Ichi: The Good Luck Charm Fair

If your sign is the Rooster you’re in for a lot of celebrations this year and the next. Tori No Ichi, or bird/rooster day, is celebrated every 12 days of November. This means that depending on the year there can be 2-3 “days of the rooster” in November.

A good luck charm fair

The rooster is a symbol for good luck and successful business, they wake up early and work hard every day. This bird is enshrined at different Otori-jinja in Japan and it is here that you will find all the festivities. You can buy goods such as charms, “rakes” to “rake in” good luck and food with lucky benefits. In actuality, the shrine in Asakusa is dedicated to the Buddhist priest Nichiren who found the Nichiren sect. His statue stands on an eagle and thus received the nickname “Otori-sama” (tori = bird in Japanese).

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Kumade

The wide rake of bamboo to “rake in” good luck is formally called a Kumade. They are heavily decorated ornaments with symbols of good luck and fortune. You can spot maneki neki, sake bottles, five yen coins, cranes and more. It all depends on the merchant and what type of luck you want to bring inside your home. When you buy the Kumade you’re supposed to sing a short phrase together to pray for your family’s safety and success in business; kanai anzen, shobai hanjo. Read more about Kumade here

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Information

Tori No Ichi in Tokyo

Shrine: Ootori Shrine, Asakusa
Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23, 2016
Address: 3-18-7 Senzoku Taito-ku Tokyo
Access: 20min walk from Asakusa station, 10min walk from Minowa or Hibiya station
torinoichi.jp
Shrine: Hanazono Jinja, Shinjuku
Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23,2016
Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Access: East exit Shinjuku station
Ranking: ★★★★☆
hanazono-jinja.or.jp(Japanese only)

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Niigata Prefecture

Niigata 1~ 6


1Dragondola (ドラゴンドラ) in Yuzawa

First colors: Beginning of October
Color Peak: End of October
Details: Long gondola that gives you a panoramic view of the mountains in full fall beauty. The ropeway connects Naeba ski resort and Tashiro ski resort, so even in the winter this is a good visit. The gondola is the longest and fastest in Japan (5,5 km, 6m/s). Also visit the nearby Prince Hotel for the 1,800 yen all-you-can-eat buffet.
Festival: October 31st (Monday) – November 1st (Tuesday). Autumn appreciation day.
Access: 35min bus ride from Echigo-Yuzawa Station (JR Joetsu Line; Hokuetsu Express – Hokuhoku Line)
Admission: 2,400 yen (adults) / 1,200 yen (children) for a return ticket
Address: 202-4 Mikuni, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun, Niigata 949-6212
Ranking: ★★★★☆
tripadvisor.com


2Okutainai (奥胎内) in Tainai

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Details: This valley in the Bandai Asahi National Park is virtually untouched by human hands.
Special sight: One of Japan’s best photo spots for crystal clear water. Nearby hut to enjoy nature.
Access: By car: 50min from Nihon-kai Tohoku Expressway Nakajo IC
90min from JR Uetsu Matin Line “Nakajo Station”
Address: Okutainai-san, Shimoarasawa, Tainai-shi, 959-2816 Niigata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
nihon-kankou.or

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan Niigata Prefecture


3Yuzawa Kogen Panorama Park (湯沢高原パノラマパーク) in Yuzawa

A photo posted by Kazuhisa Inui (@kazuhisa_inui) on

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Details: During the winter this is a beautiful skiing area, but autumn is equally beautiful. Enjoy the 7min ride and observe the twisting mountains covered in colored foliage.
Recommended Spot: Mt. Omine
Access: 10min walk from JR Echigo-Yuzawa Station
Address: 490 Oaza Yuzawa, Yuzawa-machi, Minami Uonuma-gun, 949-610 Niigata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
nihon-kankou.or


4Todo no Mori Water Park (杜々の森名水公園) in Nagaoka

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October
Details: Natural spring water still comes from the ground in this park. There are onsen nearby to enjoy while watching the trees turn color.
Access: 50min by car on the Hokuriku Nakanoshima Mitsuke IC
Address: 3996 Nishinakanomata, Nagaoka-shi, 940-0256 Niigata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
enjoyniigata.com

Ultimate Map of Fall Foliage Destinations in Japan : Niigata Prefecture


5Kiyotsu Gorge (清津峡) in Tokamachi

First colors: mid-October
Color Peak: end of October – beginning of November
Details: One of Japan’s three biggest gorges
Special sight: The panoramic area with an overview of the gorge
Access: 30min by bus from JR Echigoyuzawa, then a 25min walk
Address: Koide, Tokamachi, 949-8433 Niigata
Ranking: ★★★★☆
snow-country.jp


6Yahiko Park (弥彦公園)

First colors: Middle of October
Color Peak: End of October until the middle of November
Details: Best known for its shrine, Yahiko also has a big park with lush greenery. Why not combine your autumn walk with a shrine visit and mountain hike?
Recommended Spot: Maple Valley
Festival: Chrystanthemum Festival at Yahiko Shrine (November 1st – November 24th)
Access: 2min walk from JR Yahiko Station
Address: Yahiko, Yahiko-mura, Nishikanbara-gun, 959-0323 Niigata

Ranking: ★★★★☆
vill.yahiko.niigata.jp

Shichigosan, 7-5-3

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Every year on November 15th parents celebrate the growth of their children during Shichigosan. The name of this event literally means “seven, five, three” and corresponds with the age of your child. At the age of seven a girl is allowed to wear her first obi, when five a boy wears hakama pants in public for the first time and at the age of three both boys and girls are allowed to grow their hair out. Of course the tradition isn’t as strict anymore, but Shichigosan is still an event that many people love to celebrate.

History

During the Heian period (794 – 1185) parents already celebrated their children’s growth on a lucky day in November. The festival only got a set date as the 15th of November during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). During the Edo period (1603 – 1868) commoners joined in on the practice combining it with a shrine visit and offering. Thus Schichigosan as we know it today was born. Boys celebrate it at the age of three and five and girls celebrate it when they turn three and seven. Birthdays weren’t traditionally celebrated in old Japan, everyone was one year old when they were born and aged one year on New Year’s Day. Events like Shichigosan were used as celebratory occasions. Parents buy or rent traditional clothing and dedicate a whole day to celebrate.

After the shrine visit parents buy chitose ame, thousand years candy. It’s shaped like a stick and has the image of a turtle and a crane on the package. These animals are traditional symbols for longevity.

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Clothing

Three year old girls wear a kimono that is tucked in at the shoulders and has no obi sash. When they turn seven girls wear a proper kimono with long sleeves. Five year old boys wear a full formal Japanese outfit with hakama and haori for the first time. Nowadays Shichigosan is more of a photo opportunity for the parents, but the wish for healthy children remains the same.

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Fukui Cosmos fields

Not so many years ago the locals of Miyanoshita in Fukui had to decide what to do with a large piece of barren ground. One of the options was to turn it into a construction site, but the local council made the final decision. Eventually the whole area got turned into a beautiful field ten times bigger than the Tokyo Dome and full of cosmos flowers.

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The reason for choosing cosmos flowers is that it’s a strong flower not in need of much maintenance. They come in a variety of colors and can be left to bloom as is. It was Miyanoshita’s hope that the cosmos field would attract tourists and give the area a relaxing atmosphere. We must confirm that they succeeded, as the whole area looks peaceful with the Mt. Hakusane range as a backdrop.

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During our visit the cosmos weren’t yet in full bloom, but there were already plenty of visitors and kindergartens on school outings to check the earliest flowers. There are separate patches dedicated to single color flowers and there’s an area for the cosmos festival held from mid-october until the end of october. The activities include tractor rides and a fresh market all organized by the locals.

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If you’re in the area during fall, don’t forget to visit this flower field.

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Information

Dates: from the beginning of October until the end of October
Location: Miyanoshita Cosmos Park
Address: 12-16 Goshogaichicho, Fukui, Fukui Prefecture 910-3112
URL: info.pref.fukui.lg.jp (PDF)

5 New Halloween Desserts

With the end of October coming up, department stores and sweets shops are preparing their new special Halloween treats.
Here’s Wattention’s pick from this season’s lineup.

Halloween Bunny Parfait (1,810 yen)

bunny parfait
Image Credit: PR Times
This parfait brings you all the best Autumn has to offer! Nicolas House in Harajuku is known for the best bunny themed sweets in Japan such as bunny cream puffs and cakes. The Halloween parfait is a combination of choux cream, maple jelly, kabocha(Japanese pumpkin) cream, ginger jelly, marron cream, purple pumpkin ice cream, chocolate sauce and a bunch of other ingredients. If a cute Halloween is your thing, head on over to Nicolas House!

Dates: Sept. 20, 2016 – Oct. 31, 2016
Hours: 10am – 8pm (last order at 7pm)
Location: Harajuku
Address: 4 Chome-26-5 Jingumae 426 building 1F-2F, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo-to 150-0001

“Matthew the ghost” cake (2,800 yen)

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Image Credit: PR Times
The Osaka Bay Tower Hotel is bringing Halloween to their restaurant with this specially made ghost cake. The cake features plenty of fruit toppings and a white marshmallowy ghost filled with cake and strawberries. Who says Halloween can’t be sweet. You need to make a reservation 3 days beforehand, pickup available.

Dates: Oct. 1, 2016 – Oct. 28, 2016
Hours: you can decide a pickup time yourself
Location: Hotel Osaka Bay Tower lobby
Address: 552-0007 Osaka-shi, Minato-ku Benten 1-2-1

Halloween Gateau Nantes (389 yen)

Image Credit: PR Times
Image Credit: PR Times
Introducing a Halloween cake made in the traditional Fench way. The main features of a cake made in the “Nantais” way are plenty of sugar and almonds. Bretonne added plenty of pumpkin paste, pumpkin seeds and white chocolate. Now this French style cake got Halloween’d.

Dates: Oct. 1, 2016 – Oct. 31, 2016
Hours: 10am – 8pm (Sun – Thurs) / 10am – 9pm (Fri – Sat)
Location: Bretonne shop, Osaka Hankyu Umeda department store
Address: 30-8350, Osaka-shi, Osaka, Kita-ku, Kakuda-cho 8-7 Hankyu Umeda head office underground first floor

Purple Pancakes (1,400 yen)

Image Credit: PR Times
Image Credit: PR Times
Don’t let the purple scare you. The color comes from plenty of sweet purple potatoes combined with a delicious custard cream. Raspberry sauce and blueberries complete the overall spooky look of this dessert. Be sure to add Eggs’n Things to your Halloween must-do list.

Dates: Oct. 1, 2016 – Oct. 31, 2016
Hours: Depends on the location
Location: Check all Eggs’n Things locations here: http://bit.ly/1hqLxKi(Japanese only)

Shiseido Halloween Chocolate Parfait (1,620 yen)

Image Credit: PR Times
Image Credit: PR Times
The Shiseido Parlour has been offering quality food since 1905 and continue to do so. This year’s featured Halloween item is a chocolate parfait topped with candy. The parfait’s base consists of chocolate and pumpkin cream. This parfait is only available at the stores in Nihonbashi, Yokohama and Nagoya.

Dates: Oct. 1, 2016 – Oct. 31, 2016
Hours: Depends on the location
Location: Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Yokohama Takashimaya, Yokohama Sogo, Nagoya Central Towers 12F
Address: Check all locations here: http://bit.ly/2dnqeNr

Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

In Fukui there are two well known temples, Daianzenji and Eiheiji, that differ very strongly from each other. Eiheiji Temple belongs to the “Soto Zen” school of teaching and its name literally means temple of eternal peace. The founder, Dogen Zenji, adopted Zen practices from China and applied them to his own “way of the Buddha” in Japan. In 1244 he built a mountain temple near Fukui City with the help of one of his most devoted followers, the samurai Yoshishige Hatano. Even though the Rinzai school was more popular with samurai at the time, the Soto school was more straightforward and easier to understand for most people. Because of these reasons Eiheiji and Soto Zen became the “to go” practice for the common folk.

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A Temple School

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More than an actual temple, Eiheiji is a temple school training monks from all over Japan. The strict teachings recorded by Dogen Zenji in his books attract more than 200 trainees who all live in the temple. They each have just one tatami mat measuring one by two meters on which they have to eat, sleep and meditate (zazen). The Soto Zen school teaches that every activity should be a religious practice, so talking and reading is never allowed in the priest’s hall. Because of the strictness and sanctity of most of the halls you are not allowed to take photos or even visit the trainees’ daily living quarters.
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Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

What do priest trainees eat?

PillarWith more than 200 people living under one roof there must be a very complex system for cooking, right? On the contrary, the monks prefer to keep the sober lifestyle dictated by their teachings and still use the same kitchen, Daikuin, as during the old days. Of course most of the equipment has been updated to keep up with the times. These modern appliances are a great help to the eight monks who have to make all the meals every day for everyone else. The cuisine at Eiheiji is strict vegetarian and prepared with local ingredients. Meals are always sober and plain. “Upon flowing into the pure ocean of dharma, there are no such discriminations as delicacies or plain food; there is just one taste, and it is the Buddha dharma, the world itself as it is.”

The kitchen building is a three-story cooking complex with some interesting features. There is a shrine dedicated to swiftness and protection from fire. Praying here will give you the strength to deliver meals quickly and to warn everyone in case of fire…which hopefully won’t happen if you prayed hard enough. The nearby wooden pillar is as old as the temple itself and it’s said that if you rub it three times you become better at cooking. Rub it six times to become better at flattering.
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Holy places

Every hall, room and space in Eiheiji is a place of worship. Even when going to the bathroom one has to respect the rules written in the Senjo, a special chapter in the Soto Zen book stipulating rules for going to the toilet. Some of the other important places include the official entryway with statues of the Four Heavenly Kings who protect the Buddha (sadly, no direct photos allowed of the deities), the main temple called “Hatto” and the mausoleum of the founder Dogen Zenji. This mausoleum is officially called “Joyoden” and not only houses the ashes of Dogen Zenji but also the ashes of several of his successors. They are respected as if they were living teachers. There are living quarters near the mausloeum for the priests who are assigned to maintain this holy area. The framed kanji character means “shouyou”, roughly translates to “receiving the sun”, and was written by the Emperor Meiji.

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Stay overnight

If you want to experience Eiheiji life or start a training like Steve Jobs wanted to do, you can! You can do short overnight stays but if you want to sign up for the real deal you have to be affiliated with the Soto Zen Sect or prove your conviction. Of course there are also day courses to practice zazen Eiheiji style. If you’re interested you can read all about it here.
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Information

Hours:4am – 5pm (5:30am – 4:30pm during winter)
Admission: 500yen
Location: near Fukui City
Access: Timetable for Eiheiji Liner bus
Address: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji, Yoshida District, Fukui Prefecture 910-1228
TEL:0776-63-3102
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/shritemp/eiheiji.html

Five Fantastic Fukui Facts

You might not have heard of Fukui but there are many amazing things in this lesser known prefecture. Let WAttention introduce you to some fantastic facts that you can use in your next conversation about Japan.

1) Fukui has one of the few 8K Planetariums in the world

The recently opened shopping complex “Happiring” features a brand new planetarium with an amazing 8K screen. Only a handful of planetariums in the world offer this experience.
Besides the regular screenings the planetarium itself is a fun interactive environment.

Location: Seiren Planet Fukui
Hours: 10am – 6:30pm (Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun) / 10am – 9pm (Fr & Sat) / Closed every 2nd Wednesday of the month
Admission: 400yen (adults) / Dome Theater 600yen (adults) , 500yen (high schoolers), 300yen (children)
Address: 1-2-1 Chuo, Fukui City
Access: right next to JR Fukui Station
URL: http://www.happiring.com/english/
Planetarium

2) Dinosaurs are everywhere!

The largest dinosaur excavation site in Japan is in Fukui. In fact, they were able to keep digging from 1989 until 1993 and still found dinosaur fossils. Even today they are still trying to find new fossils. Of course the city is extremely proud of its dinosaur museum which is considered 3rd best in the world. The scriptwriter for the movie “Jurassic Park” even came to the museum to give a lecture.

Location: Katsuyama City, Fukui
Hours: 9am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm) / closed every 2nd and 4th Wednesday
Admission: 1,200yen (adults) / 1,000yen (high school and college students) / 600yen (primary/secondary school students)
Address: 51-11 Terao, Muroko, Katsuyama, Fukui 911-8601
Access: from JR Fukui Station, go to Katsuyama on the Echizen Railway Eiheiji Katsuyama Line (1hour). There is a bus from Katsuyama station to the museum (10min).
URL: https://www.dinosaur.pref.fukui.jp/en/ & http://www.fuku-e.com/lang/english/feature/feature-dinosaur_museum.php
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum(1)

more here
inside Fukui Station

Outside Fukui Station
Outside Fukui Station. (They move and make sound too!!)

3) The Matrix+Fukui=…?

Glasses! Fukui has tons of glasses and in fact, they make about 10% of all the glasses in Japan. The brand Sabae was the first company to start using a light titanium frame for glasses and even now about 96% of all the frames in Japan are made by Sabae. These Japanese frames from Fukui are such top notch quality that Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, from the movie “The Matrix” allowed a pair to adorn his face.

Glasses

The people of Fukui are proud of their glasses.
The people of Fukui are proud of their glasses.

4) Amazing Cherry Blossoms

The Asuwa River that runs right through Fukui City has a cherry blossom riverbed of 2km long with about 600 trees. Every spring visitors come from all over Japan and even deem it one of Japan’s finest spring views. It’s also included in the list of 100 best cherry blossom viewing spots in Japan. When the trees are in full bloom there is a festival and illumination at night.

Asuwa Rivre Cherry Blossoms

5) Rich History

As a first time visitor to Fukui I was surprised myself to discover how much history is packed into one prefecture. The ruling Matsudaira clan of Fukui produced the first Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and was the main target for famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. On top of all that, Ichijodani had a rich culture well advanced for its time. There are streets from the Edo period that are still intact with picturesque storefronts and traditional goods. I’m sure that if you explore Fukui yourself you will find many more Fantastic Fukui Facts.

History

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Special Edition Halloween Snacks

Not only people like to transform during Halloween, food does too! Japanese like to be in touch with the seasons and want their food to reflect that. Resulting in some amazing special edition snacks you can only get during Halloween!

Lipton Tea – Halloween version

Colder times mean warm drinks. Lipton knows this and treats us to some very delicious looking limited edition teas. The new crème brûlée tea got a Halloween makeover and is ready to parade with the blueberry muffin and apple pie tea. Even the tea bags are into trick-or-treating.

Lipton Tea
[Edited] Image Credit: PR Times

Sapporo Otoko Ume Sour

Popular beer brewer Sapporo brings us this “manly” plum drink for Halloween called “Otoko Ume Sour”. During ancient times eating a plum was believed to ward off evil. If you prefer to be one of the monsters instead, Sapporo has made a fun application to turn your photo into a traditional Japanese demon here.

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Image Credit: PR Times

Pie no Mi

This popular puff pastry is all dressed up and ready for Halloween. The inside is still the traditional chocolate filling, but here’s an editor’s tip to make this snack more appropriate for the season. Heat the individual pastries in the microwave for a few seconds and you have yourself a snack with a warm chocolate filling that is sure to keep the chills away.

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Image Credit: PR Times

Pumpkin Bran Flakes

Jack the Pumpkin King, Jack-o’-Lantern,… Everyone has heard of the famous pumpkins from Halloween. No wonder this orange vegetable is a crucial ingredient in any October-themed snack, or in this case, breakfast. Kellogg’s keeps it traditional with their Pumpkin Bran Flakes.

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Image Credit: PR Times

 

Koala’s March

A staple in Asian supermarkets overseas, these koalas never disappoint in deliciousness. Every individual cookie has a special chocolate imprint with a funny character. This special Halloween edition features new designs, so be sure not to get spooked when you open your package. This snack is also seen as a lucky item.

koala
Image Credit: PR Times

Choco Pie & Custard Cake

These classic Japanese snacks still taste the same during Halloween but their covers are definitely different. Both choco pies and custard cakes are individually wrapped and ready to surprise you with their special October design. Can you discover how many different types of wrapper designs there are?

 

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[Edited] Image Credit: PR Times

Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

The Asakura clan (朝倉氏) was one of the most powerful clans in Fukui during the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603). Ichijodani is the name of the city they built. At its height, Ichijodani had over 10,000 residents and an advanced culture.

Map

Background History

The Sengoku period was a time of civil war in all of Japan. The last ruler of Ichijodani, Asakura Yoshikage, was an adept ruler who kept peace in the city. Because of this, Ichijodani became a refuge for people fleeing unstable areas in conflict. Warlord Oda Nobunaga seeked to unify Japan and captured Kyoto (then the capital) in an attempt to rule the country (1568). The Asakura clan was called upon to drive Nobunaga from Kyoto, thus creating a conflict. Oda Nobunaga’s answer was a siege on the Asakura domain and in 1573 he burned down the whole city.

Luckily, in 1967, Ichijodani’s secrets were revealed during a large scale excavation. The city turned out to be much grander than anyone ever expected and is one of the only ruins in Japan with this much detail. You can visit the site and see a reconstruction of the village houses.

maquette

guideThe Asakura Ruins offer a very handy virtual guide that shows you how the original buildings would have looked by using a real time camera. Just point the guide to a location and a virtual reconstruction will begin. This guide costs 500yen and is available in both English and Japanese. This is very useful as most of the area is barren and you need a lot of imagination to picture the buildings.

You can also choose to have a real guide tell you all the stories of Ichijodani. I would suggest to take both the virtual guide for the experience and the real guide for the secret stories and enthusiasm.

Restaurant Review: Ichijodani – Restaurant

Near the Asakura ruins is a modern restaurant that is very much in touch with the seasons. Ichijodani Restaurant changes its menu every time new local ingredients are at their peak. They then turn them into Japanese-style dishes with a Western touch. After a visit to the ruins this restaurant is a must visit.

A 7-course menu starts at 3,500 yen. We’ll take you through their current, delicious, offering.

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Italian inspired stuffed Shiitake

The starter already made a great impression. This Shiitake was stuffed with cheese and a topping of sweet basil. It’s difficult to tell if this is a Japanese dish or an Italian but it was delicious nonetheless.
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Salmon with Citrus

The appetizer made a combination that I never think would have worked, fruit with fish. It took a while to get to the salmon pieces at the bottom so at first you’d think this is a fruit dish. On my way down I recognized salmon roe, edible flowers, pomegranate and lemon jelly.
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Steamed Onion

Personally, I am not a fan of onions. But this onion truly changed my mind. I was told that Japanese onions taste a lot sweeter than their Western counterparts and the story seems to be true. The taste of the broth had completely seeped into the onion and transformed the flavor to something different. The kelp bag it was served in was also edible.
Onion in Konbu

Light soup with Steamed Egg

This cup had so many little details inside that it was difficult to eat it, but sadly, it was delicious. The vegetables well precisely cut into maple leaves to visualize the season and the mushrooms gave it that autumn taste. The eggs were very fluffy and did not get soaked by the soup, I wonder how they did that.
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Chicken with Red Fruit

When they first brought out the plate it looked like a strange modern art painting. Upon closer inspection (and taste) you could see that the different sauces were used as “paint” for this abstract piece. Red fruit, vinegar, and a sauce reminiscent of sauce hollandaise.
The only negative point; it was difficult to eat this chicken without a fork and knife.
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Japanese Pumpkin Curry

Of course this seasonal favorite couldn’t be forgotten. Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, has a sweeter taste than the Western pumpkin and a tougher skin, making it fairly difficult to use for Halloween carvings. But luckily kabocha makes for better food than decoration, adding a special flavor to the curry. The pickles on the plate give it that extra touch.
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Dessert

For dessert we had coffee and a fruit jelly. As a surprising detail, the grape had a part cut off so it would have a flat surface to balance properly on the jelly. That’s how much detail and thought was put into every dish.
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The Restaurant

Besides serving delicious food, the interior is extremely beautiful in its simplicity. The wooden theme gives a relaxing and cozy atmosphere. There is a big hardwooden table where large groups of guests can sit together.
Interior

Information

Hours: 11am – 6pm
Price: Courses are at 3,500yen / 5,500yen / 7,000yen
Tel: 0776-37-3712
Access: 21min walk from Ichijodani Station. Parking available
Address: 10-48 Kidonouchicho, Fukui, Fukui Prefecture 910-2153
URL:www.1jyoudani.jp (Japanese only)

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Autumn guide for Japanese trees

Study up before your autumn walk with this handy guide! Japan has many trees native to its soil that you won’t find anywhere else. The peak for the changing of colors is different for every region, so be sure to check one of our “Ultimate maps of foliage destinations” before planning your trip?

Trees that turn RED

Maple
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The maple tree has inspired Japanese art, gardening and even poetry for hundreds of years. Possibly the most iconic tree for autumn, it can turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and even purple. More than being a tree, it represents peace and serenity. The maple can be so important that a whole garden is centered around it.

Japanese Sumac
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Also knows as the Chinese lacquer tree because their sap is used to make lacquerware. The trees can grow up to 20 meters tall and the fruits can be used to make dye. Be careful of this tree, its sap may cause rash and other allergic reactions

Wax Tree
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Can alse be called the Japanese Wax Tree. It’s a flowering plant species with long leaves and it can grow up to 8 meters tall. Their sap is also used to make lacquer but its not as toxic as the Japanese Sumac. In moderation its fruits are edible but they still contain an amount of toxic.

Japanese Rowan
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These are mountain bushes of the flowering plant species native to Japan. They produce small fruits that are perfect for birds but are more of an accessory fruit for humans. In Japanese this tree is called nana-kamado, “seven (times in the) stove” because it never burns up completely and can be reused up to seven times as firewood.

Burning Bush
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In actuality, this plant is more of a herb than a bush. The Hitachi Seaside Park in Ibaraki mass planted the Burning Bush for decorative purposes. The seeds are used in the Japanese kitchen as food garnish called tonburi. The texture is similar to caviar and it’s a delicacy in Akita prefecture.

Rhododendron
Rhododendron
The colors of the Rhododendron continuously change during the year, making it a favorite for the season-loving Japanese. This flower was originally imported from China hundreds of years ago but slowly made its way into the Japanese garden. Depending on the type of plant they can shed their leaves in autumn.

Trees that turn YELLOW

Maple
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The iconic Japanese Maple not only has the ability to turn red, but also yellow and purple. See “Maple” under “Trees that turn RED” for more information.

Ginkgo
Ginkgo_s
The Ginkgo is considered the second most popular autumn tree right after the Maple. Possibly the earth’s oldest tree as fossils of its leaves, dating back 270 million years, have been found. They turn the brightest yellow out of all the trees. Tokyo has even declared it their symbol tree.

Japanese Larch
Japanese Larch
The second most yellow tree on the Japanese landscape is the Japanese Larch. It can grow at altitudes of up to 2,900m and is the only conifer that changes color and loses its needles. Besides being planted in parks, it is also an excellent tree for bonsai.

Poplar
Poplar_s
There are many different types of Poplars but they’re mainly grown as decorative trees. They can grow tall very fast and multiply at an amazing speed. Besides its beautiful yellow leaves during autumn, Poplar wood was a common used material for painting blocks and musical instruments.

Japanese Elm
Japanese Elm
Japanese elm is commonly planted as a street tree do decorate the roads. There are many variations of the Elm inside Japan but it always has a thick, lush top with a thin trunk. They are green to dark green in spring and start changing colors as early as summer. It is one of the strongest trees against any sickness.

Trees that turn BROWN

Japanese Beech
Japanese Beech_s
Native to Japan and one of the country’s most dominant trees in forests, the Japanese Beech can be seen everywhere. It can grow very large, up to 35m in height. The bark is very smooth with a greyish color and the top of the tree grows in a nice, large round bush. Young Japanese Beech leaves and seeds are edible.

Oak
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A common tree all over the world, the Oak also makes an appearance in Japan. More than for the aesthetics of the leaves, the Oak was used for its wood. Nonetheless, the shape of the leaves give a beautiful accent to the autumn scenery.

Chestnut
Chestnut_s
Most easily recognizable by the nuts, the Chestnut tree is probably the first tree that pops into your mind when thinking about autumn. A popular activity in Japan, and probably all around the world, is to collect the delicious chestnuts and roast them on an open fire.

Japanese Zelkova
Japanese Zelkova
The Zelkova is a species of flowering plant native to Japan, Korea, Eastern China and Taiwan. Mostly used as a decorative plant it is an excellent tree to use for bonsai. To identify a Japanese Zelkova, look for a short main trunk, low branching and an overall vase-shape. This tree is quite sensitive to colder temperatures.

MoCHA, the stylish cat café

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Image credit: PR Times

Japan has many cat cafés, but this chain takes it up a notch. MoCHA, reminiscent of the French word for cat “chat”, is a stylish chain in Tokyo providing both cats and visitors with a relaxing atmosphere. Cat cafés are often built to be cosy, making MoCHA unique with its trendy interior.

How does it work?

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Image credit: PR Times

Cat cafés all around Japan mostly have a similar system; you pay a set entry fee for a certain time limit (this may or may not include a drink) and you’re ready to go! Most often shoes are off limits, but this can depend on the café. The management will also ask not to pick up the cats or disturb them. These furry hosts get many visitors on one day and would like to be able to relax when needed.

Rules at MoCHA
-Don’t chase the cats
-Don’t hold the cats
-Don’t feed the cats any human food. If you want to feed them, you can buy some treats at the café
-Photos are allowed, but turn off your flash
-Don’t speak in loud voices

What makes MoCHA different?

The main concept of MoCHA is to provide a serene, healing space. MoCHA thought about both cats and humans while designing the interior. Wooden trees, fake bird cages, ladders and plants provide plenty of entertainment and relaxing space for the cats while being a treat for the human eye. Instead of regular chairs and benches there are relaxing sofas and reclining chairs.

Mocha2
Image credit: PR Times

All that’s left to feel completely at ease is a kitty on your lap, and MoCHA has about 15~20 of them at every café! You can learn their names and favorite foods from one of the photo books. These adorable cat dictionaries also have baby pictures of when they were just a kitten.

Cat themed drinks

Besides offering the basic café drinks, MoCHA also has an “all you can drink” option for 350 yen. Some hot drinks come with a kitty-shaped marshmallow or snack.

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Image credit: PR Times

Starting September 2016, MoCHA is collaborating with professional marhsmallow maker “Yawahada”, creating treats based on the café’s three most popular cats, all coincidentally named after delicious food! Wasabi: a female black and white Siberian, Azuki(sweet red beans): a female calico Munchkin, and Kinako (roasted soybean flour): a male light-cream tabby Scottish Fold. For the paws you can choose between vanilla, chocolate and black tea.

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Image credit: PR Times

Information

MoCHA Shibuya

Shibuya
Image credit: PR Times

Hours: every day from 10am – 10pm (last entry at 9:30pm)
Admission: 200 yen / 10 minutes (1h stay is 1,200 yen)
Location: Asoruti Shibuya building, 8F
Access: 5-min walk from Shibuya Station
Address: 32-12 Udagawachō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0042
Characteristics: The café is like a big lounge, watching over Shibuya
URL: http://catmocha.jp/shibuya/

MoCHA Ikebukuro West

Ikebukuro West
Image credit: PR Times

Hours: every day from 10am – 10pm (last entry at 9:30pm)
Admission: 200 yen / 10 minutes (1h stay is 1,200 yen)
Location: Near Ikebukuro Westgate Park, there is a seven eleven store on the 1st floor
Access: 1-min walk from Ikebukuro Station West Exit
Address: 1 Chome-15-6 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tōkyō-to 171-0021
Characteristics: Natural materials such as wooden trees and soft ambient light give this café its relaxing atmosphere.
URL: http://catmocha.jp/ikebukuro/

MoCHA Ikebukuro East

Ikebukuro East
Image credit: PR Times

Hours: every day from 10am – 10pm (last entry at 9:30pm)
Admission: 1,800 yen general admission
Location: Sanke building 4F
Access: 3-min walk from Ikebukuro Station East Exit
Address: 1 Chome-22-5 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tōkyō-to 170-0013
Characteristics: Relaxing lounge style
URL: http://catmocha.jp/ikebukuro2/

MoCHA Harajuku

Harajuku s
Image credit: PR Times


Hours
: every day from 10am – 8pm (last entry at 7:30pm)
Admission: 200 yen / 10 minutes (1h stay is 1,200 yen)
Location: Cross Avenue Harajuku 3F
Access: Right next to Harajuku Station Omotesando exit
Address: 150-0001 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingūmae, 1 Chome−14-25
Characteristics: Refreshing green carpets, wooden trees and fake bird cages for the cats to rest
URL: http://catmocha.jp/harajuku/

Modern kimono styling

The kimono is a timeless garment that can be passed down from generation to generation. While there are many different types of kimono styles have changed over the years. The traditional During the early 20th century the kimono got funkier patterns and became more modern. Nowadays mainstream fashion takes inspiration from kimono and even Harajuku fashion uses some traditional Japanese spirit.

Combine kimono with boots instead of sandals
Combine kimono with boots instead of sandals

What’s happened for sure is that kimono styling became more free. People aren’t afraid to wear patterns that are out of season and will mix and match their traditional style with modern accessories. Wattention reports some of the creative ways kimono lovers have made the traditional garment their own.

Artists always say “you have to know the rules of anatomy before you can break them”. The same can be said for kimono. Once you know what parts make a kimono you can replace them with parts of your own.

 

Be Cute

Obi have received an upgrade and come in different styles, such as this adorable cat obi. On her obijime (obi belt) she attached a brooch accompanied by a cute Nyanko Sensei strap, a character from the manga “Natsume’s book of friends”. Her zori are quite traditional but the Miffy tabi socks make them modern for a stylish cute look.

Miffy

Be Creative

Just like with any outfit, you can mix and match freely with the kimono. “Objime are so expensive” this girl said, “so I replaced it with a cute ribbon I found.” Another creative example is the use of a simple lace scarf to add just that bit of artistic flair to your kimono. One thing’s for sure, creativity stands out. And in the world of kimono, everything is possible!

Creative

Be Cool

This men’s yukata has a unique look with Nekomata (demon cat) embroidery. On the front the Nekomata is doing its signature dance and is relaxing with a pipe on the back. It’s difficult to find unique yukata like this so many people have them custom embroidered. If you’re good with a needle you could try embroidery yourself or attach some cool patches. The kimono is your canvas.

Nekomata

Be Fun

Because we were near the area of Ueno Zoo, famous for its giant panda, this girl said she decided to wear her panda obi. Matching the kimono to an event or location you’re going to can be interpreted as part of the “seasonal” rule, where you have to match your colours to the seasons. The inside of the obi is a popular place to store your cellphone, so she made sure her cellphone strap was visible to complement the obi.

Panda

Have Fun

Your kimono can say anything you want it to say and can be worn whenever you want. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it!

Bracer by yoroikatchu.com
Bracer by yoroikatchu.com

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tokyo Edo Week : Wattention reports

 

Last week Tokyo organized a new event called the Tokyo Edo Week to promote traditional Japanese dress. There were definitely more people out in kimono than usual and Wattention was there to catch them all on photo.

The stands were laid out like a traditional festival with places to sit in the middle. There were kimono shops, kimono photo studios (even a samurai one) and accessory shops. The highlight of the event was the main stage where performers showed tricks and kimono makers showed their latest creations.

Edo week 1

The workshops were given in both English and Japanese, making it easy for foreigners to participate. With easy to understand instructions everyone was able to create a beautiful souvenir to take home. The ladies here are using traditional materials to make beautiful hairpins.

workshop

sake2Guests in kimono received one of these traditional sake cups made from cypress wood. The smell of the wood was amazing and it makes for a beautiful souvenir. You could use the cup to try some of the vintage sake brought all the way from Nara. This sake is brewed with a traditional recipe, ensuring that you could drink the same sake as they did during the Edo period.

After having drunk sake from the cypress wooden cup, the smell became even stronger and sweeter.

Sake

On the main stage there was a kimono show, the miss Tokyo Edo beauty peageant and a sword demonstration. All three events were very entertaining to watch. It was very interesting to see furisode (long sleeve kimono) in one single color.

kimono

The sword show was a mix between modern dance and acted fights. It all seemed very serious at first but at the end everyone broke down in a synchronized dance. The actors looked like they were having a lot of fun on stage.

show

Our last stop before it became completely dark was the Kabuki experience stand. There were various masks on display showcasing all the different types of makeup a Kabuki actor can use. The choice depends on the type of role and character.

kabuki

The Tokyo Edo Week was a great event to revive traditional Japanese culture. I was happy to see many happy foreigners at the event who enjoyed the food, workshops and shows. Here’s to hoping they organize a second edition next year.

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7 Japanese autumn activities

 

Every country has its own quirks regarding the seasons, Japan is no exception. Here are some activities that almost every Japanese person loves to do when the leaves turn color.

 

1 ) Tsukimi (moon viewing)

Dating back to the Heian era (794 – 1185), the concept of moon-viewing has evolved with time and adapted to modern customs. Instead of lavish banquets people love to gaze at the moon with a small snack. Officially Tsukimi is somewhere around mid-September, but you can celebrate the full moon on your own anytime you like. Read our article about how to celebrate Tsukimi for more information.

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2 ) Gathering Chestnuts

Go wherever the chestnuts may fall and, if allowed, bring a portable barbeque. The smell of roasted chestnuts on an open fire immediately means autumn. Invite some friends for a chestnut hunt and share the delicious harvest. Semboku city in Akita prefecture has the largest breed of chestnuts in all of Japan. One of its annual champion chestnuts weighed an impressive 66gr!

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3 ) Harvest Rice

Now is the time for to come off the fields. Whether its done manually or by machine, rice harvesting is hard labour requiring lots of man-hours. If you live in the countryside and see someone with a rice field, just ask if you can help them. They will be very grateful and you can get one step closer to understanding Japanese rice culture. Read more about traditional rice harvesting in our article here.

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4 ) Grill some Sanma

Sanma or “Pacific Saury” is a typical autumn fish. In early autumn this fish is at its most delicious and is often grilled until crisp on a small fire. At one point this fish smelled so good that it caught the emperor’s attention.

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5 ) Take an autumn walk

Nothing beats admiring the falling leaves than doing so up close. Japanese people are very active and love taking walks in parks or the countryside. Instead of a regular walk, why not go autumn leaf hunting? The creative Japanese loves crafts and will gather the most beautiful fallen leaves to press and conserve. If you need inspiration, here are Wattention’s top 3 leaf viewing spots in Japan.

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6 ) Eat some Satsuma Imo (roasted sweet potato)

It may sound like a simple sweet, but roasted sweet potato can be a godsend on a cold day. You can find potato sellers with their carts near parks, outside the city and even in your regular convenience store. Holding this steamy snack will warm up your hands and your body.

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7 ) Attend a school’s sports festival

Chances are you’re over the age to participate in one, but those still attending school have their annual sports festival this season. Many parents go see their children compete in various events and love to film it to preserve for future generations.

Most festivals usually start around 8:30 am with a parade showing all the different participating teams divided by either neighbourhood, class, geographical area, or school. It’s basically like a mini-Olympics.

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Katana Fair and Samurai dining

Go on a journey back in time to two of the most iconic periods for samurai; the Sengoku and the Edo period.
Diamond Dining is offering a unique dining experience for Japan’s history-loving women called Rekijo(歴女). The event is split into two areas, Sengoku and Edo. If you and your friends love Japanese history or you want to meet a Rekijo, this event is made for you!

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Sengoku Area

The Sengoku period (戦国時代) was from 1467 – 1603. The name literally means civil war era because of the many internal conflicts that were going on in Japan at the time. Local lords battled each other for more territory and army campaigns were a common occurrence. During this dark time genius strategists and powerful samurai were born. Some of the most famous samurai and swords have been incorporated into the dishes served in this area. The armors of Date Masamune, Yukimura Sanada, Keiji Maeda and Kenshin Uesugi welcome you to your private dining chamber.

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Heshikiri Hasebe (Sweet Potatoes in bamboo /780 yen
This dish is based on one of Nobunaga’s stories. One time he sensed an enemy hiding behind wooden planks and he pierced him right through the wall with his sword Heshikiri Hasebe. Oda Nobunaga lived from 1534 – 1582 and was one of the most powerful lords of Japan. He almost succeeded in completely unifying Japan before he was assassinated.

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Date Masamune nabe (2,980 yen)
This luxurious nabe is meant to mimick famous warlord Date Masamune’s hospitality. The beef is imported from Sendai. During his life (1567 – 1636) Date Masamune was the lord of Sendai and turned it into a prosperous city. He was very loyal to the military government but everyone feared his power. Because of his missing eye he was nicknamed “the one-eyed-dragon”.

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Tsurumura Kuninaga (830 yen)
This dessert is based on a famous white sword with a white scabbard. It is said that the sword stayed perfectly white even after hundreds of years. Its first owner possibly lived during the 13th century but it’s confirmed that the Date family possessed the sword somewhere during 1716 – 1736. The strawbberies mimick the blood that would have marked the pure white sword.

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Mikazuki Munechika (880 yen)
Regarded as one of the “Five Famous Swords of Japan”, this blade has a strong curve typical of a katana and a crescent pattern. The dish resembles the famous crescent curve and contains seasonal pike fish.

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Ichigo Hitofuri (1,280 yen)
This blade is the only tachi(long katana) made by Awadaguchu Yoshimitsu. The dish aims to mimick the alterations that have been made to the straight temper line of the blade to fit every new owner. Beltfish (a member of the cutlass family) and ginger are the main components.

And more…

The Edo Area

The Edo period (1603 – 1868) comes right after the Sengoku period and is a time of relative peace. Japan is united under the Tokugawa family, a military government with the Shogun as leader. Schools and roads are built, art flourishes and the population rises. It is only at the end of the Edo period that Japan is in turmoil again and the samurai rise again in a period known as the Bakumatsu (1853 – 1867).

Ikedaya Affair House

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In 2015 Diamond Dining already held the “Ikedaya fair” and thanks to the success it’s back again. Based on the “Ikedaya affair (1864)”, a famous event where Kyoto’s special police force, the Shinsengumi, managed to stop plans to deliberately burn down Kyoto. Members of the Shinsengumi will lead you to your table and serve your drinks.

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1) Kashuu Kiyomitsu
This sword belonged to the captain of the Shinsengumi’s first troop, Okita Souji. This sword was said to be used during the Ikedaya affair where its tip broke off. Contains cranberry and grenadine.
2) Yamatonokami Yasusada
Forged in the early Edo period, this sword had many owners but its most famous one was Okita Souji. Okita used this very lethal sword after Kashu Kiyomitsu broke at the Ikedaya affair. Contains calpis and lemon soda.
3) Nagasone Kotetsu
Belonging to Kondo Isami, the Shinsengumi’s commander, this fake kotetsu blade was probably the most famous. Made by Minamoto Kiyomaro, one of the best smiths of the era, it bears a fake signature. Contains mango and pineapple.
4) Izuminokami Kanesada
Shinsengumi’s vice captain Hijikata Toshizo, nicknamed “demon vice captain” was this sword’s owner. Made by the 11th generation Kanesada and a very popular sword. Contains white wine and raspberries.

Edo Shinsengumi Area

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When you enter the dining area it will feel like you entered the Shinsengumi’s headquarters. Statues of Kondo Isami, Hijikata Toshizo and Okita Soji welcome you before being lead to a private dining area.

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Horikawa Kunihiro (850 yen)
Inspired by the demon vice captain’s wakizashi (accompanying smaller katana). Contains pickled radish and a tartar of avocado. Hijikata was said to love pickled radish. One famous story tells of him taking a bucket of pickled radish with him after his host told him to take as many as he likes.

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Yamatonokami Yasusada (650 yen)
The are rumors that Shinsengumi first troop captain Okita Souji had a sweet tooth, but that’s not what this dessert is based on. One of the most feared swordsman of the Bakumatsu, the red bean paste and sweet potato’s color mimick his many assassinations.

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Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki (1,980 yen)
This beef nabe carries the name of Sakamoto Ryoma’s sword, the famous reformer of Japan. Containing miso, sweet sake and vegetables this was said to be Sakamoto Ryoma’s favorite dish made by his wife Oryo. Can be ordered by two people. Be careful to not let this nabe get too close to any of the Shinsengumi dishes as they were sworn enemies.

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Kashuu Kiyomitsu (680 yen)
Sushi roll bearing Okita Souji’s family crest and decorated with flowers.

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Nagasone Kotetsu (680 yen)
The commander of the Shinsengumi liked “tamago fuwafuwa”, literally meaning “fluffy eggs”. This is a kind of egg soup that became popular during the Edo period. The dish is decorated to resemble Kondo Isami’s family crest.

Information

This special event will run from Oct. 1, 2016 – Nov. 31, 2016

Sengoku Area

Hours: 5pm – 0am (Mon – Thurs) / 5pm – 3am (Fr – Sun)
Location: Shinjuku Kabukicho T-wing building 4F
Access: 3-min walk from Shinjuku station
Address: 160-0021 Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-6-2 T-wing building 4F
TEL: 03-3209-2277
URL: http://www.diamond-dining.jp/shop_info/sengoku-buyuden/(Japanese only)

Ikedaya Affair House

Hours: 5pm – 11pm (Mon & Sun) / 5pm – 4am (Tue – Sat)
Location: Musashino Hall 6F
Access: 2-min walk from Shinjuku station
Address: 160-0022 Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Shinjuku 3-27-10 Musashino Hall 6F
TEL: 03-5360-7644
URL: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/g465407/(Japanese only)

Edo Shinsengumi Area

Hours: 5pm – 0am (Mon – Sat) / 5pm – 11pm (Sun & Holidays)
Location: Shinjuku building B1
Access: 1-min walk from JR Shinjuku station West Exit
Address: 160-0023 Tokyo Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, 1-4-2 141 Shinjuku building B1
TEL: 03-3347-2207
URL: Http://R.Gnavi.Co.Jp/g600187/(Japanese only)

Don’t forget to pick up one of the free tsuba(Japanese sword mounting) gifts you get with each dining experience!
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Source: PR Times

Tokyo’s Top Halloween Parties

Tokyo has the most wicked Halloween parties in Japan. Here is Wattention’s pick to ensure you have a ghostly night out.

 

Shibuya Halloween Party

We have to start with possibly the biggest event in all of Tokyo. Every year there is a big informal event in the Shibuya area during Halloween and things can get very crowded. The famous crossing will turn into a flash mob of crazy costumes and scary monsters. Almost all the nearby clubs participate, turning Shibuya into one massive Halloween mob. Don’t miss this event!

Date: There is no set date for this event as it is unofficial, but seeing as Halloween is on a Monday this year the event will most likely be held on Saturday Oct. 29, 2016.
Hours: be sure to check Shibuya in the evening
Location: all around Setagaya street

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Image Credit: PR Times

VAMPS Halloween Party

The country’s largest live Halloween event makes a stop near Tokyo. In collaboration with karaoke chain Joysound you will be able to sing along with the artist’s lyrics using your smartphone. The organization warns that if you don’t come in a spooky dress, the ghost will haunt you more.

Artist appearances include; VAMPS, Atsushishi (Siam Shade), AKi, Shinya (Dir En Grey), Yutaka Hee Yatake (Golden Bomber), Kanon Wakeshima, Silent Siren and more…

Dates: Oct. 28 – Oct. 30th , 2016
Hours: doors open from 3:30pm, event starts at 5pm
Admission: 9,300 yen (tax included)
Location: Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Hall 9, 10 and 11
Address: 〒261-0023 Chiba Prefecture, Chiba, Mihama Ward, Nakase, 2−1
Access: about 30-min from Tokyo Station
URL: http://hwp2016.vampsxxx.com/index.html (Japanese only)

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Image Credit: PR Times

Ueno Halloween

A Jack-O-Lantern in the central fountain, costume parades and trick or treating. It’s Halloween in Ueno park! With an expected attendance of about 30,000 visitors the park will be swarmed by monsters and ghouls. Participate in the Halloween stamp rally and costume competition, watch the parade (Oct. 29) and scare anyone who isn’t in costume. Enjoy the open air performances and visit the various food stands. If you prefer your Halloweens under the light of the moon and beneath the trees, this is your place to be.

If you have little ones who can’t be out late at night, the park has plenty of child friendly activities during the day on Oct. 29 – 30.

Dates: Oct. 17 – Oct. 30, 2016 (most events are Oct. 29 – Oct. 30)
Hours: 11am – …
Admission: Free (2,000 yen to participate in the Costume Parade Competition)
Location: Ueno Park Fountain Square Halloween Village
URL: http://ueno-halloween.com/ (Japanese only)

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Image Credit: PR Times

Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival

If you want to show your love for that one fictional character, head to Ikebukuro! Professional and amateur cosplayers will all make an appearance during this two day event. Join the cosplayer parade, watch demonstrations by pro cosplayers and visit the various shops that have special Halloween discounts. If you are into crafts you can buy something at the Halloween&Cosplay craft market. Photo spots are scattered around Ikebukuro in the various parks and malls, discover them all!

If your cosplay is too large to carry around all the time or you need a relief from your everyday average Joe clothes, you can deposit them in one of the lockers in Sunshine City (500 yen). Dressing rooms are also available at the same location.

Events
11am: Opening Ceremony
12pm – 5pm: Stage Events
1pm – 2pm : Cosplay karaoke (only on Oct. 30)
1pm ~ : Open stage

Dates: Oct. 29 – Oct. 30, 2016
Hours: 10am – 6pm
Admission: Free
Location:  East Ikebukuro (Ikebukuro Station East Exit)
URL: http://ikebukurocosplay.jp/ (Japanese only)

 

Matchmaking Halloween party in Shibuya

Halloween is all about getting scared, but this party is all about love. The “let’s love Halloween party” in Shibuya’s FLAME is limited to 200 people, providing the best environment to get to know new people. When the party starts everyone has to wear a mask, if you don’t have one there will be a limited amount available at the venue. Even if you end up without a new boyfriend or girlfriend, the organization hopes you will make new friends.

Events
6:15pm – “find your partner” game
7pm – costume competition

Date: Oct. 29, 2016
Hours: 6pm – 8pm (entry from 5pm)
Admission: Men 5,100 yen / Women 3,200 yen
Location: Shibuya FLAME TOKYO
Address: Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Maruyama-cho, 2-4
Access: 5-min walk from JR Shibuya Station
URL: http://www.partyparty.jp/cmp/halloween/ (Japanese only)
Order tickets here: http://bit.ly/2dhXUup

You need to be between 20~38 years old to participate.

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Image credit: PR Times

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tokyo Yosakoi

Before Halloween, Ikebukuro has another big event coming up the Tokyo Yosakoi contest.More than a Matsuri, it’s a big dance competition.

Yosakoi is the name of the modernized Awa Odori, traditional summer dance. Thanks to the popularity of Yosakoi traditional Japanese dance is practiced by young and old all over the country. Most university and college students have a team with their own unique costumes and choreography. Every year the Tokyo Yosakoi contest in Ikebukuro attracts about a hundred teams.

History of Yosakoi

yosakoiThe Yasukoi dance is not as old as many other Japanese matsuri. It all started in the city of Kochi with the idea to reform traditional Japanese dance and to boost economic growth after the second World War. Yasukoi literally means “come at night” in the local dialect of Kochi prefecture.
The original Yosakoi song was written by Takemasa Eisuka who gave the rights to the public. This song combines a yosakoi melody, children’s song and a folk song from Kochi. Yosakoi dance teams are free to compose their own music but it must contain these elements but swapped with a folk song from your area. This music is either live or prerecorded and plays from a jikatasha, a colorful truck with speakers or a stage for musicians.

clapperAnother requirement is that the dancers must use a naruko, small wooden clappers that make noise when the dancer moves. Almost every competition has this requirement. Traditionally they are black and yellow but nowadays teams paint them in their own colors.

Costumes don’t have to be based on traditional Japanese clothing, as long as they have a connection with folk culture.

Examples of dances

Participants of last year’s Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

The dancers will compete on nine venues around Toshima: the main site in front of Ikebukuro Station’s west exit, Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park, Mizuki Street, Azeria Street, Yonshotengai, Sunshine Street on the east exit side, the plazas in front of Mejiro and Sugamo Stations, and Otsuka Station’s north exit area.

Dates: Oct. 8 – Oct. 9, 2016
Hours: dancers start around 11am
Location: around Ikebukuro
URL: https://www.yosakoitokyo.gr.jp/ (Japanese only)

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History of Halloween in Japan

 

Those who have been living in Japan for a long time know that Halloween is a fairly new holiday. In fact, it’s not an official holiday at all. The first ever Halloween event was held in the year 2000 at Tokyo Disneyland. Japan imported the concept from America and made it their own in a very grand way with large scale Halloween parades and flash mobs. Japanese love scary stories, so why did it take so long for Halloween to set ground?

It all started in…

the year 2000. Tokyo Disneyland made its first Halloween event in order to attract more visitors during the autumn season. The concept was taken from the other Disneyland parks worldwide that already had a Halloween event. Soon Universal studios in Osaka followed and every year the events grew. Before theme parks started these events Halloween was mostly celebrated by foreigners only. After all, Japan already has August as “scary month” when they celebrate O-bon.

The West celebrates Halloween because on October 31st the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest. People wear masks to scare the bad ghosts and eat pumpkins as a symbol of good harvest. In Japan there is a similar story regarding the barrier between the two worlds but, in contrast to the West that wants to scare away the ghosts, Japan welcomes their ancestral spirits. So before Tokyo Disneyland started Halloween, Japanese felt no need to celebrate the dead outside of O-bon season.
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Then came the merchandising

When big stores saw that Halloween was rising in popularity at the theme parks, they quickly jumped on with a line of Halloween goodies of their own. Pumpkin keychains, plushies and snacks made their way to stores. It’s no surprise that Japan, the country that brought us cosplay, was quick to embrace the dress up aspect of Halloween. Premade costumes were being sold and cosplayers got one more big day to show off their talents. From grand scale events such as the annual flash mob in Shibuya to small local parties, Halloween had made its way into the hearts of Japanese.
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Not so scary

At its core, Halloween isn’t that scary of a holiday for the Japanese. The real scary ghosts come out during O-bon, making Halloween more of a “kiddie version” haunted event. Of course now there are big zombie themed events and truly scary experiences. But at its core, Halloween is an imported holiday from America meant to entertain. Just like Valentine’s Day Japan took something from abroad and made it their own. However, no one can argue that Japan might be the best at throwing big Halloween parties.

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Pink Halloween at New Ginger Museum

The New Ginger Museum in Tochigi is peculiar in itself, being a museum dedicated to a certain type of ginger so it comes as no surprise that it’s holding a peculiar Halloween event, Pink Halloween. And while pink is a very popular color in Japan (especially in spring with all the sakura blossoms), this color theme was chosen in honor of young ginger or shinshoga.

Naturally pink ginger
Naturally pink ginger
Young ginger contains pink pigment that makes the pickled ginger naturally pink. The taste of young ginger is also mild and the flesh is tender which is perfect to eat with sushi.

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Image Source: PR Times

The already pink interior of the museum will become even pinker with matching Halloween decorations. A Halloween costume competition will be held for both adults and children to decide who is the spookiest. Participate and win one of the ginger-themed prizes.

If you’re not that good with costumes, there is also a quiz. Show off your ginger knowledge and receive a free gift. While you’re breaking your head over the questions, sign your kid up for the “little monsters class”.

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Image Source: PR Times

The museum also have a café with beautiful pink and ginger dishes. If pink is your thing, make a daytrip to Tochigi and spend a full day in Halloween cuteness.

About

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Image Source: PR Times

Dates: Halloween event from Sept. 14, 2016 – Oct. 30, 2016. Closed on Monday, Tuesday and public holidays
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Café last order at 5:30pm)
Admission: Free (Pink Halloween contest admission is 500 yen)
Location: Tochigi
Access: About 2h by train from central Tokyo
Address: 328-0034 Tochigi Prefecture, Tochigi Honcho 1-25
URL: http://shinshoga-museum.com

Tokyo Edo Week

 

The kimono is making a comeback with a modern twist and both young and old are wearing it more than ever. Tokyo wants to encourage you to try this timeless garment by organizing the Tokyo Edo Week during September 22nd~25th at Ueno Park.

Edo currency-Image edited from: edoweek.com
Edo currency-Image edited from: edoweek.com

The goal of this event is to show Japanese culture to the world in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The whole venue will be modeled after a street from the Edo period (1603-1868) and you can even pay in traditional Edo currency. If you don`t have a kimono to show off , you can rent one at the event. Everyone who comes dressed in kimono will get a free limited gift at almost every stand. If you bought a kimono or yukata but don’t know how to put it on, use this tutorial made by Tokyo Edo Week.

Tokyo Edo Week is the world`s biggest festival that celebrates traditional Japanese culture. Here are some of the festival`s highlights!

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Go Kimono Shopping

Various kimono designers from all over Japan will be displaying their latest creations as well as recycle shops with unique vintage kimono. If you would like to know more about kitsuke (着付け), the art of kimono dressing, you can see a demonstration by one of the attending kimono schools.

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Kimono Exhibition

If you`re not into trying a kimono yourself, you can visit one of the antique kimono exhibitions or the unique Kabuki exhibition. This interactive ICT event will be open for free to the public for the first time.

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Amazing Crafts

Now that you’ve completely immersed yourself in the world of kimono, it’s time to admire some traditional crafts. The Edo period was an amazing time for craftsmen as they enjoyed a relative nationwide peace at the start and were influenced by foreign crafts at the end. The result of years of perfection can be seen in crafts such as glassware, hairpins, kokeshi dolls, traditional dyeing techniques and more. Why not take home a piece of Edo?

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Image Courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Meet Miss Sake Tokyo

The Tokyo Edo Week includes a special appearance by none other than the real Miss Sake. Ando Yumi proved she can be  Japan’s sake ambassador with both brains and beauty. Who knows, this might be the only time in your life that you get to meet a real Miss.

See Japanese Sword Arts and Plays

To top it all off, there are many amazing performers coming from all over Japan to show their talents. For those who like excitement there are samurai sword performances, a ninja show and even a DJ. If you like to have a more relaxed atmosphere, attend one of the traditional plays or comedy shows.

 

Enjoy Edo-style food with top class entertainment

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

The food stands are well equipped to give every visitor a taste of historical Japan. Try some Edo classics and Western-inspired food while listening to a shamisen, classic Japanese three-stringed instrument, performance.

Not only food, but also sake is available at the Tokyo Edo Week. Micro breweries and local sake brewers worked hard to bring you the best they have to offer.


 

It would take a while to sum up all of the amazing activities the Tokyo Edo Week has to offer, but we hope these highlights convinced you to visit. Check out the Edo Week website for more information.

Event Information
Date: Sep 22 – 25, 2016
Hours: 11am – 8pm (22nd to 24th, last entry 7:30pm), 11am – 6pm (25th, last entry 5pm)
Where: Ueno Park Takenodai Square
Admission: Free (but you need to buy tickets for the food stands and the kimono exhibition).
URL: https://edoweek.com

5 Japanese Summer Survival items

The Japanese summer is very hot and humid, but don’t lose hope! Here are five items to ensure your victory over the heat.

 

1) Japanese sunscreen

Japanese are very keen on keeping their skin light, so their sunscreen is made to answer their needs. When you buy sunscreen in Japan you may notice that it has a more gel-like consistency than the sunscreen you’re used to. This is because they are made to be as light and effective as possible so you can apply layers again and again during the day without it being noticeable. On top of that, many of the regular sunscreens can also be used on the sensitive skin on your face. So lather on that sunscreen and protect your skin!

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Many sunscreens might have descriptions like “water gel” and “water”, but that doesn’t mean they are water-resistant. The water aspect only refers to the consistency of the product.

 

2) Air conditioning

Almost every home is equipped with one and you will soon notice this magical device is a lifesaver. Providing heat in the winter and a cool breeze in the summer, the air conditioners in Japan can’t get enough love and praise. You can decide the strength and direction of the breeze so you can relax in comfort. If you don’t have an air conditioner at home then you can make it a sport to hope from store to store until you make it home to your air conditioner-less environment and you can always buy an electric fan that will do the job just fine.

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3) Strange ice cream

Japan has its fair share of strange ice cream and it’s both surprising and refreshing at the same time. The land of the rising sun has many unusual flavors such as wasabi, napolitan pasta, fish and many more. Other very Japanese ways to cool down while indulging in sweets are with kakigori (shaved ice) or a slice of watermelon.

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4) Deodorizing sheets

All the heat and humidity will make you sweat, so luckily you have these deodorizing sheets. These amazing sheets look and feel like wet wipes but take care of your sweat, prevent you from sweating more and leave a nice scent. How amazing is that! You can buy these in different scents and brands at the convenience store or drugstore. Be sure to try these when you come to Japan.

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5) Mosquito repellent

Every summer Japan gets visited by an insane amount of mosquitoes. If you plan a day out hiking or anywhere where it’s green, be sure to carry some repellent. You can buy these in a pharmacy, drug store or convenience store. Besides the type to spray on your body, there are other products to keep mosquitoes away from your living space. Try a “mosquito pad” or a “mosquito coil”. To make things extra cute, you can put your mosquito coil inside the traditional “ceramic mosquito coil pig”. When lit, the smoke will escape from its nose.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Teru Teru Bōzu

 

A てるてる坊主 (teru teru bōzu) is a small doll used to pray for good weather.  Teru (てる) means “shine” as in sunshine, while bōzu (坊主) refers to a Buddhist priest. It is believed that when you hang these dolls facing outside you will get good weather the next day. Teru teru bōzu became popular in the Edo era (1603-1868) and are used by children the day before important events or festivities.

There is a custom that if it doesn’t rain the next day after hanging the teru teru bōzu its head is washed with sacred sake and the doll is sent into a river to be washed away. Rivers are believed to connect to the afterlife, so sending the teru teru bōzu down the river is similar to candles and lanterns floating down the rivers during Obon. This way the doll is guided back home and the spirit is laid to rest.

Let’s make a teru teru bōzu together so you can avoid rain on that important day. You will need: tissue, pens and glue or tape.

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After making the doll, you can sing the teru teru bōzu song to add more power to your prayer.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

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Youkai Manual – Bakeneko & Nekomata

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Youkai are creatures from Japanese folklore and myths. They have existed for hundreds of years and continue to live on in popular culture. Friendly and evil, youkai come in many forms.

In this article we will talk about the Bakeneko and its grown up and more powerful version, the Nekomata. Cats have always walked the fine thread between good and evil all over the world. This might be because their glowing eyes, nocturnal lifestyle and attitude have a flair of the supernatural.

Bakeneko (化け猫)

The origin story of the Bakeneko is a sad one. According to old beliefs in ancient Japan a cat older than seven years would attempt to kill its owner. As cats became more and more domesticated the decision of how long a cat was allowed to live came along with the decision of a possible adoption. It is said that bakeneko are vengeful cats that came back from the dead, cursing their owner.

Bakeneko looked like regular cats but had the ability to shapeshift into humans, dance and speak the common tongue. Their favorite food is poison and lamp oil. Drinking lamp oil might have seemed strange to the people at the time but you can’t blame the cat as the oil used for the lamps was fish oil. During the Edo period (1603 – 1886) people believed that cats with long tails could bewitch humans so they decided to crop them. Age is also important for a Bakeneko, the older the cat the more powerful it is.

In general, Bakeneko are always up to no good. However, there have been encounters of Bakeneko getting along with their human family if their transition to a Bakeneko was peaceful.

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Nekomata (猫又)

Also known as the “forked cat”, they are a variety of the Bakeneko but far more powerful and evil. Once a Bakeneko gets an extremely long tail and reaches an old age the tail will split in two and a Nekomata is born. They start to walk on two legs and speak the human tongue. Even though they imitate humans, Nekomata feel superior in every way. They find great pleasure in tormenting humans and creating chaos wherever they go. Their powers include creating fire, controlling the dead and shape shifting.

The City Nekomata are evolved versions of domesticated cats. Because of this they have better knowledge of humans and know what tricks to use on them. For a long time some courtesans were believed to be Nekomata in disguise because of their bewitching looks. They used this beautiful human form to lure victims to their deaths. Today, in modern Japan, cat-like features are still associated with a mysterious type of beauty.

The Mountain Nekomata first appeared during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), much earlier than their city counterparts. Nekomata were creatures that lived deep in the mountains and would feed on humans. They were described to be the size of a big dog with piercing eyes and long sharp claws. There is fossil evidence of a prehistoric form of tiger having lived in ancient Japan, so maybe the mountain Nekomata is not a creature of legend.

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Demons cats during the Edo period

During the mid-Edo period many stories about Nekomata and Bakeneko were published in newspapers. A famous story is that of a samurai family in 1708. Their house was taken over by an evil spirit and the haunting only stopped when the family’s cat was killed. Looking at the cat they saw it had two tails. Because the Edo period was the peak of ghost stories, people stayed away from mountains because they already had plenty of ghost stories surrounding them. This made the belief that cats could turn into demons popular again. It seems that people of the Edo period preferred scary stories.

Nekomata art became popular. With the connection between Nekomata and courtesans, some portraits of cats wearing beautiful kimonos spread in the form of prints. Other drawings were published in the “Hyakkai Zukan” (The Illustrated Volume of a Hundred Demons) created by artist Sawaki Suushi.

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Neko Musume (猫娘)

Neko Musume roughly translates to “cat girl” or “cat daughter”. Although they have no connection to Bakeneko or Nekomata they are considered to be supernatural beings. They are believed to be half-cats or humans possessed by a cat. During the 1850’s a story of a Neko Musume became popular. The girl was named Matsu and she was frequently spotted running on all fours. She would move like a cat and wash herself like a cat. Later more stories of human-animal hybrids spread but the Neko Musume was the first of its genre.

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In popular culture

In modern times the Nekomata and Bakeneko changed into cuter versions of their old evil selves. The legend of demon cats still lives on with manga, anime, movies and books. There is even a mountain in Toyama prefecture called Nekomata Mountain and a Nekomata Peak in Fukushima prefecture. Probably the most famous depiction of a Neko Musume is in the manga “Gegege no Kitaro”. But she is not the only popular character that borrows powers from a cat. I’m sure you can think of many examples of fictional characters with cat-like abilities.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

What’s up with Watermelon

 

Watermelon (Suika スイカ) and Japanese summer go together like fireworks and yukata. This refreshing fruit is in season from June to August and is best eaten during beach parties or while relaxing on your porch at home. But no matter where you decide to eat it, its taste means summer.

A fancy gift

Fruit in Japan is very expensive and the watermelon is no exception. Some of the most famous watermelons auction for 350,000 yen a piece during the first days of harvest. And then there’s a special type of black watermelon grown in Hokkaido that retails for around 5,000 yen apiece. But why is fruit so expensive?

Unlike the West, fruit is not an everyday item in Japan and therefore it is considered a luxury product. Gift giving is a Japanese tradition and is meant to show appreciation or build a relationship. The importance of gifts is not to be taken lightly and there are luxury stores dedicated to fruit gifts. Combined with the fact that Japanese farmers only want the best fruit, removing the bad or misshapen fruits from the general market. This means fewer fruits actually make it to the store and this increases the price.

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You want it round or square?

Japan gained international watermelon fame with the introduction of the square watermelon. The reason why farmers decide to grow their fruits in square glass boxes is so that it would fit better in refrigerators. This type of watermelon quickly became a product of luxury instead of a product of convenience. Nowadays you can also find watermelons in heart shapes, with a face printed on them or even in the shape of a human face! A square watermelon is not a common sight in supermarkets, so be prepared to pay at least 10,000 yen for a regular sized one.

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Suikawari (スイカ割り) – the art of smashing watermelons

If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is a summer game where a blindfolded person attempts to smash a watermelon with a stick. Everyone takes turns and the first person to crack the watermelon open wins. Usually a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground.

Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the “Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)” established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.

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You want some salt with that melon?

Japanese fruits is generally sweeter than the fruit most people are used to. But this is not the reason you will sometimes see Japanese add salt to their watermelon. There are three possible reasons for adding salt to a watermelon. Firstly, it is used to increase the already sweet taste of the fruit. Apparently adding salt to something sweet increases your taste buds’ reception to any sweet flavor. Secondly, summer is a very hot and humid season in Japan and your body craves salt because of excessive sweating. The warmth actually makes you crave salt and the addition of a cool watermelon makes it all the more refreshing. And finally, watermelons in Japan are almost always iced or cooled making them nice and refreshing. However, the cold temperature removes some of the sweet flavor and it can only be resurrected by using some salt.

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We hope you get to enjoy many watermelons during your summer in Japan!

Youkai Manual – Yuki Onna

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Youkai are creatures from Japanese folklore and myths. They have existed for hundreds of years and continue to live on in popular culture. Friendly and evil, youkai come in many forms.

To cool down from the summer heat there is no story better than that of Yuki Onna (雪女). There are many variations and stories of this snow woman but she’s almost always a peaceful creature. She usually wears a snow white kimono and can be found in snowy areas. Yuki Onna are always beautiful, attracting many men with their supernatural looks. Her hair is the blackest of black and their skin the whitest of white. When she walks in the snow she leaves no footprints.

Here are some of the most popular Yuki Onna stories;

 

The first Yuki Onna

A monk first wrote about the Yuki Onna during the Muromachi period (1333 – 1573). He wrote of his travels in what now is Niigata prefecture and his encounter with the snow woman. He left his house on a snowy morning and saw a beautiful woman with a supernatural air. She was very tall with white skin and her long black hair fell from her shoulders. Before the monk could say a word to her she vanished. Later he was told this was the region’s “Snow Spirit”.

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An unusual love story

During a blizzard, a young woodcutter met Yuki Onna in the woods. He thought she would take his life, but instead, Yuki Onnna spared his life because he was young and beautiful. She made him promise never to speak of her and told him If he breaks his promise, she will kill him. Some years later, he met a girl named Oyuki (snow), they were happily married and had many children. However, Oyuki never seemed to age. One night, the husband spoke to Oyuki and told her that she reminded him of a young girl he met in a blizzard many years ago. Just then, Oyuki revealed that she was the Yuki Onna he met in the woods. Enraged that he broke his promise, Oyuki tried to kill her husband but gave up because she loves him and he is the father of their children. She melted and disappeared before the man’s eyes.

There is another story about a man married to a Yuki Onna. On a cold night the husband proposes his wife to enjoy a hot bath to warm up. His wife refuses many times but eventually she becomes unable to refuse. The man lets his wife enjoy her bath and does some work around the house. Hours later his wife still hasn’t left the bath and he goes to check on her only to find the bathtub filled with icicle shards that are slowly melting.

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Not all Yuki Onna are friendly, proven by many stories from different Japanese prefectures. Parents warn their children not to go outside during heavy snow or they will be eaten by the snow woman. First she freezes her victims and then sucks out their souls.

In some legends she actively hunts and terrorizes humans, blowing down their homes with icy winds and blizzards. In other stories she tricks humans to come close to her and strikes.

 

Neutral Yuki Onna

There are Yuki Onna who simply meet up with travelers and love to hear their stories. In Niigata prefecture there is the story about an inn where a young and beautiful woman with black hair and a white kimono stopped for a rest. The innkeeper refused to let her go back outside in the cold weather and offered to give her a bed for the night. As he tried to pull her back in her touch immediately froze the man’s body and she fled through the chimney.

 

In popular culture

Yuki Onna and their powers are frequently used in manga, anime and movies. Just like the legends they are young and beautiful women but their attire is often changed to a more modern version. If you ever read about a supernatural woman with ice powers, you now know her origin.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

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Summer and Ghost Stories

All over the world people tell ghost stories. Some are famous worldwide and others are only famous within the country. But why do Japanese people love telling ghost stories during summer? Some have speculated that it is because ghost stories “send shivers down your spine” and make you cool down. However, the real reason is very different.

Ghost season peaks during the summer because Japanese celebrate the “Obon Festival” in the month of August or July (depending on the region). During Obon the Japanese believe that their ancestral spirits return to visit their descendants. The spirits are not here to cause mischief but to celebrate with their family. With so many ghosts visiting from the afterlife there can be no better time to tell some good ghost stories.

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What’s so special about Japanese ghosts?

There is a big difference between Western ghosts and Japanese ghosts. For starters, Japanese people believe that not all ghosts are evil and some can even bring good luck. This is because the Japanese word for ghost, “yuurei (幽霊)” , can also be translated into “specter”, giving it a more neutral meaning. During the 10th century, seeing a yuurei was even considered to be a good omen.

Because of these beliefs, anyone who died could become a yuurei and wander around bringing good luck to people. This changed when Buddhism became more prevalent in Japan and now yuurei could also become malevolent beings. According to Buddhist beliefs, when a person dies he or she has to wait for a proper funeral to be guided into the afterlife. If a person dies peacefully their yuurei becomes a protector for the house, but if they die a sudden and unnatural death the yuurei becomes evil.

 

The Golden Age of ghost stories

403046During the Edo period (1603-1868), ghost stories flourished due to it being an age of creativity and relative peace. These old Japanese folktales were called “kaidan (怪談).” Nowadays people simply use the word “kowai hanashi(怖い話)” or “scary stories.”

The old kaidan almost always contain the following elements; the concept of Karma, vengeance for misdeeds and ghosts of women and servants. Vengeful spirits were much stronger than regular spirits and humans. This gave birth to the many youkai (妖怪), “demon”, stories. These stories served a didactic purpose and gave birth to the image of the “Japanese Ghost” as we know it today; black hair, white funeral clothes and floating bodies.

 

Popular ghosts

Rokurokubi (ろくろっく首). You will most likely encounter this ghost in a traditional Japanese haunted house. They can appear as regular humans, almost always as women, but can stretch their necks to abnormal lengths. At night, the head extends or leaves the body to scare animals, humans and feed on their blood. This creature can also appear as a “youkai”, Japanese creature of folklore, but because it is a vengeful spirit it is mostly seen as a yuurei. 

The Black Hair (黒髪). This is one of the most popular stories in the kaidan.  It tells the story of a samurai who abandons his wife to go on a quest for his master and takes another lover with him. When he returns home after years of absence he goes home to embrace his wife and promises to never leave her again and that he made a mistake. When he wakes up the next morning he discovers his wife had died years ago from sorrow.

Teke-Teke. This is an urban legend, but still considered a ghost. One day a girl fell from the train platform and was cut in half. Now her upper body roams the night.

Sadako (貞子). When talking about popular Japanese ghosts Sadako can’t be left out. The famous ghost from the Ring franchise is based on an old Japanese ghost story about a girl who died in a well. She was pushed down by the suitor she turned down many times.

Kayako (伽椰子). Another popular vengeful spirit from a movie franchise. Kayako first made her appearance in the movie Ju-On and has continued to stay alive in popular culture.

 

Exorcising evil spirits

208702With so many ghosts around, there must be some sort of professional to help the people in need. If you ever encounter a Japanese ghost remember that your holy water, crucifix or spellbooks are useless. Yuurei are vulnerable to a different type of object and that is…paper!  These strips of paper are inscribed with Buddhist sutras and called ofuda (御札). If this doesn’t work you can go to a Shinto shrine where they will perform a purification ritual.

 

Ghost Hunting

Ghost Hunting is also best done during the summer when Obon comes around. But if you want to be 100% sure you will encounter a ghost you can visit a haunted house or take a “trial of courage”. In both cases it won’t be real ghosts but dressed up actors. But be honest, it’s a better way to cool down with those chills down your spine than to be haunted by a vengeful yuurei.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

The story of Tanabata

July brings Tanabata, one of Japan’s most well-known festivals. Many people recognize the pieces of paper with wishes hanging from a bamboo tree. But do you know why this “star festival” is celebrated and why we write on colorful pieces of paper? The origin of this summer tradition can be traced back to the story of two (literally) star-crossed lovers.

Once upon a time…

There was a princess named Orihime. She was a weaver who made beautiful pieces of cloth by the heavenly river, also known as the Milky Way. Because Orihime spent most of her time weaving, she became very sad and felt that she would never find love. Her father, who was God of the Heavens, knew of a good young man who lived just across the Milky Way. His name was Hikoboshi, a cow herder. The two fell in love instantly. But their love for each other was so deep that they neglected their duties. Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi’s cows wandered the heavens.

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The God of the Heavens became very angry and forbade the two lovers to be together. But he was also the father of Orihime and loved her deeply, so he arranged that they could meet up once a year if Orihime returned to her weaving. This day became the 7th day of the 7th month.

Finally, the long-awaited day arrived, but the Milky Way was too difficult for both of them to cross. A flock of magpies saw Orihime’s sadness and made a bridge for her so she could cross and reunited with her lover. It is said that when it rains on Tanabata, the magpies do not come and the lovers have to wait another year.

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Why Paper Wishes?

When Tanabata first arrived in Japan from China in the Heian period (794 – 1185), aristocrats in the imperial court would write poetry while gazing at the stars to celebrate the lovers. It wasn’t until the Edo period (1603–1868) that Tanabata was celebrated by all the people of Japan. It was during this period that the tradition of writing wishes on tanzaku, brightly colored pieces of paper, and hanging them from branches of bamboo became part of the celebration.

People started using a tall and straight bamboo to hang the strips of paper with their wishes, hoping that their hopes and dreams would be sent to the heavens.

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Picturesque Matsumoto (8) – The Strange Ice Cream of Matsumoto –

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During our visit to Matsumoto City in Nagano prefecture, Wattention staff found some very interesting ice cream flavors. Please enjoy these unique finds when you make a trip to Matsumoto and don’t forget to check out our other articles for more sightseeing spots.

 

1) Cream Cheese

Found during our hike in Kamikochi, this ice cream can be purchased in a souvenir shop at the main bus terminal near Kappabashi bridge. It tastes very refreshing during a warm day and the cheese flavor is not too overpowering.

Cream Cheese Ice Cream

2) Wasabi

We all know it as that green spicy substance served with sushi, but did you know it also makes great ice cream? Don’t be afraid to try this frozen green treat as even non-wasabi lovers will be able to handle it. There is no hint of the sharp wasabi flavor, you’re only left with a nice and mild green taste. Available at the Daio Wasabi Farm.

Wasabi Ice Cream

3) Miso

This was the weirdest but also the most surprising flavor in all of Matsumoto. Miso is made from fermented soybeans and is a staple in the Japanese kitchen. Producing that uniqe Japanese umami flavor, miso is becoming loved all over the world. But we never would have thought about putting it in ice cream! The flavor is very unique and reminiscent of sweet and salty English fudge. Only available at the Ishii Miso Brewery.

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Picturesque Matsumoto (7) – The Bizarre World of Yayoi Kusama –

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At the forefront of the artistic avant-garde movement stands Matsumoto-born artist Yayoi Kusama. She has had many successful exhibitions abroad but her permanent museum is in Matsumoto City.

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Born on March 22nd 1929, Kusama started painting at an early age. Her parents did not agree with her choices and after a short time studying in Kyoto she left for New York in 1957 without notifying her family. Here she spent almost twenty years surrounded by prominent avant-garde artists such as Donald Judd and Eva Hesse. In this environment she felt inspired to create large artworks, installations and happenings. Kusama has even been said to be an inspiration for Andy Warhol. In 1973 she moved back to Japan and her mental health started to deteriorate. She voluntarily admitted herself into a mental hospital in Tokyo and she still lives there today. During the day she commutes to her art studio just across the street.

Recurring themes of Kusama’s artwork are polka dots, mirrors and organic shapes. She creates large exhibits that the visitor can interact with or walk through. Most of the exhibits in the Kusama Yayoi museum bring the visitor into her world.

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15Information

Access: A 12-min walk or 5-min bus ride from JR Matsumoto Station
Hours: 9am – 5pm, closed on Mondays (but open on National Holiday-Mondays) and from December 29th – January 3rd.
Admission: 410 yen (Adult), 200 yen (University Student), FREE (elementary / junior high students and senior citizens)

Picturesque Matsumoto (6) – Matsumoto Castle –

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Matsumoto Castle is one of the oldest original castles still remaining in Japan. Besides being designated as a “National Treasure of Japan” and its beautiful surroundings, the castle holds an immeasurable historical value for Japanese and the global audience alike.

The castle used to be known as Fukashi Castle but during the Sengoku era, then it was moved to another location and renamed as Matsumoto Castle in 1582. Minor keeps, gates and moat were being added and finally the castle’s main keep was completed somewhere between 1593-1594.

Because of its black wainscoting and roof decorations that seem to be flaring out, the castle was nicknamed “Crow Castle.” Most of the original surroundings are still preserved but the gates and defensive measures have been upgraded to fit the standards of the modern world.

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Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle(平城 hirajiro). Its complete defensive structure consists of an extensive system of interconnecting walls, moats and gatehouses. Inside the castle wall, there lived about a hundred Samurai families, all loyal to the lord of the castle.

One of the castle’s secrets is that it has a hidden floor. From the outside it seems like the main tower only has five stories, but it actually has six. The hidden annex area was used to hide weapons and gunpowder.

Castle Interior

The castle has a very interesting structure with wide passages and steep staircases. There are holes for defending the castle with bow and arrow all around the castle. These holes were later narrowed down for the use of guns. The wooden construction for the foundation floor curves inwards to follow the line of the stone foundation. Truly a historical architectural marvel.

Shrine
The sixth and top floor lies 22.1 meters above the ground and could be covered with 16 tatami mats for comfort. This floor was used as the headquarters of the “war lord” if the castle was under attack.

On the ceiling there is a shrine dedicated to Nijuroku-yashin, the 26th night goddess of the month. On the night of January 26th, 1618, one of the young vassals on duty saw a woman dressed in beautiful clothes. She handed him a brocade bag and said “if the lord of the castle enshrines me with 500kg of rice on the 26th night of every month, I will protect the castle from fire and enemy.” The deity is still enshrined in the castle rooftop to this day, and it is believed that because of this reason the castle has been able to survive as the oldest castle of Japan in its original form.

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The Moon-Viewing Room. Currently only two castles, Okayama and Matsumoto, have a moon-viewing wing.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the people of Matsumoto, the castle is still standing and keeps its history alive.

Information

Access: A 15-min walk or a 5-min bus ride from Matsumoto station (JR Line)
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (doors close at 4:30pm)
Admission: Adults : 610 yen (Adults), 300 yen (Elementary School to High School students)
Closed: From December 29th until January 3rd
*Free English volunteer guides are available!

Picturesque Matsumoto (5) – Ukiyo-e Museum –

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Ukiyo-e, also known as Japanese woodblock prints, became a cultural phenomenon during the Edo era (1603-1868). But now they are admired around the world and many Ukiyo-e enthusiasts spend time and money to collect as many as they can to get their hands on.

One of the passionate collectors was Mr. Sakai, the second richest merchant in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture. His extensive collection included paintings, scrolls and art books. But among which were about 100,000 of pristine Ukiyo-e prints. Thanks to the family’s generosity, the prints have been made available to the general public and the Ukiyo-e Museum was established in 1982 in the city of Matsumoto. There, you can admire and learn everything about Ukiyo-e: from their sense of design to delicate colors, and of course, how they are made.

So, how are Ukiyo-e made? 
The Ukiyo-e prints are the results of a collaborative effort of three artisans; an artist, a woodblock cutter and a printer. Unlike the modern machine-made prints, these prints require several woodblocks, sometimes dozens of blocks to produce. So, let’s look at the process of making an Ukiyo-e print step by step.

Tools
First the artist draws his picture onto a piece of paper, this is later traced to a thin and partially transparent piece of mulberry paper. The picture is then transferred to a piece of cherry wood so the outlines are visible. A carver, called a horishi, uses different tools to cut out the image from the woodblock. This takes special skill and years of training as some lines are very small and intricate. The woodblock cutter also has to make sure he does not break the piece of wood, or he has to start all over again. First, he makes one woodblock to print the outline of the picture in black.
Colors
Ukiyo-e used to be full-black pictures. It is only during the early 18th century that colors were added. This made the process longer and more complicated, but the effects are stunning! Brushes to apply the ink to the woodblock are made from horsehair and smoothed using shark skin. The Baren is a unique tool specially invented for woodblock printing. It is made with thin bamboo ropes and multiple layers of papers sheathed in a bamboo leaf.

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For a picture with many colors, separate woodblocks have to be made for each color used. Once the blocks were made, the printer had a lot of flexibility in changing and choosing colors. Of course the artist designed a main image with specific colors in mind, but now new colors could also be used.

The paper is aligned on the block and the printing happens color by color and block by block. The principle in Ukiyo-e is that you start from the lightest colors and finish with the darkest. However, the outline is always done first.

The print always needs to be aligned perfectly on the block and the printer has to adjust the positioning many times. If the alignment is wrong and the colors are not inside the black outline, then the print needs to be made all over again.

Using the Baren, the printer adjusts the pressure and decides just how much of the color he wants transferred. This results in a gradation effect or lighter imprints of the colors. It’s truly a craft on its own and groundbreaking prints were always collaboration between the artist and the printer.

Ukiyo-e Oiran

These prints were made by the hundreds and were very popular among the general populace of old Japan. Looking at Ukiyo-e prints with many colors, you can really admire the effort and craftsmanship that went into producing these pieces of art.

At the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto you can take a closer look at the process and the tools used to make Ukiyo-e. And of course, don’t forget to admire all the prints, which give you a glimpse of daily life during the Edo period.

Museum Inside

Information

Address: Shinkiri 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, Nagano
Access: A 15-min walk from Matsumoto Railway Kamikochi line Ohniwa station or a 7-min taxi ride from Matsumoto Station (JR line)
Hours: 10am – 5pm, closed on Mondays (open on National Holiday-Mondays, closed on the following Tuesdays)
Admission: 1,050 yen (Adults) / 530 yen (Elementary School to High School students)

The Museum is located beside the Japanese Court and Open Air Architectural Museum (Rekishi-no-sato). 

Picturesque Matsumoto (4) – Daio Wasabi Farm –

You know wasabi as that green thing they serve with your Sushi, but do you know how it’s grown? 32km north from the center of Matsumoto City is a 15 hectares wasabi farm that has been in operation since 1915. Its location and prosperity is no coincidence, as the fresh Alps water provides the most ideal conditions for the perfect wasabi.

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Wasabi is a fickle root and takes a lot of effort to grow. If the leaves are damaged the whole growth process of the plant can slow down. The root needs constant caring since it requires plenty of fresh water. Furthermore, the plant can take up to three years to grow for the flavor to fully develop. This is why some wasabi can be very expensive. But for those who love Sushi with wasabi, it’s worth the wait and money.

During the warmer months with plenty of sunshine, farmers cover the wasabi with black nets so the sun doesn’t damage their leaves. The temperature of the water at Daio Wasabi Farm is kept at a constant 13°C all year.

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But the farm is not the only reason why visitors come to this area. There are beautiful walking trails between the fields where you can take in the fresh air and admire the crystal clear water from the Japanese Alps. Near the farm stands the Daio Shrine which enshrines the spirit of ancient local hero Hachimen Daio. It’s no wonder the farm was named after him.

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All the parts of the wasabi are harvested and processed for consumption. The restaurant and food stalls near the farm offer all kinds of food with wasabi: From the popular wasabi soba noodles to refreshing wasabi ice cream. If that’s not enough wasabi for you, stop by the gift shop and surprise your friends with some wasabi beer, wasabi chocolate, wasabi crackers, etc…

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If you want to spice up your journey, come over to Daio Wasabi Farm where you can try all things Wasabi.

Information

Access: A 10-min taxi ride from Hotaka Station (JR Oito Line). Rental bikes (15-min) are also available in front of Hotaka station for 200 yen/hour.
Admission: Free
Hours: 8:45am – 5:30pm (April – October), 9am – 4:30pm (November – March)
URL: http://www.daiowasabi.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

Picturesque Matsumoto (3) – Narai Juku –

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Walking along this street makes me feel like a traveler from the Edo period (1603-1868). Narai Juku in Nagano prefecture was the thirty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations of the Nakasendo, one of the old five main roads between Tokyo and Kyoto. Back in the day, it took more than two weeks to walk the whole way, naturally, there were many station towns catering to weary travelers. The efforts to preserve Narai Juku street is clearly shown in every detail and the visitors can appreciate the benefits. Electricity cables are hidden, and cars are forbidden during the day.

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In contrast to the famous Tokaido route that runs along the coastline, the Nakasendo goes inland along mountain trails. What’s interesting about this street is that it’s built along a slightly curved road. This technique was often used in olden days so that all the storefronts were visible from travelers when they are looking straight ahead. This made it easier for inns and shopkeepers to advertise. There are still many traditional inns and ryokans in service, giving tourists an original experience.

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Popular souvenirs from Narai Juku were wood products and lacquerware. You can still find these in one of the many shops along the street. There is also a hidden statue of the Christian Virgin Mary at Taihoji Temple. The statue depicts the typical image of the Vergin Mary, caring for a child with a cross. During the Edo period Christianity was forbidden with severe punishments and Christians had to go in hiding for fear of their lives. This statue was most likely discovered by the Tokugawa authorities and decapitated.

Edo style houses line the street and create an air of the past. An interesting aspect of the Edo houses is that even though they have a second floor, no one lived there or held shop. In old Japan, the class system was still very much alive and the Samurai were at the top, right under the government officials of the Shogunate. When a high ranking Samurai would pass the street, people would go upstairs to the balcony to observe. Touching a Samurai’s sword, even by accident, or looking at him in a wrong way could result in a punishment or even death. Of course people did use the second floor for other things, but it was there as a precaution.

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Halfway down the street, you will see a small well filled with spring water. Coming straight from the Japanese Alps and purified by the mountains, this water is not only safe to drink but also is tasty. Since many travelers used to stop at Narai Juku either before or after climbing a mountain pass, pure mountain water was a precious source of energy and strength for the road to come. You can tell how dangerous the mountain path was by looking at two hundred statues of Jizo in a nearby graveyard, which were brought together to commemorate those who died on the Nakasendo.

If you want to feel the atmosphere of a traditional Edo period street, this area is made for you! Take your time to relax and feel yourself falling into a time slip.

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Information

Access: A 3-min walk from Narai Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
The Information Center has free English maps available.

Picturesque Matsumoto (2) – Norikura Snow Wall –

 

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Impressive snow walls will greet you at the top of Nagano prefecture’s Mt. Norikura. Thanks to the stable climate on the mountain, you can enjoy skiing even from May until August. The snow corridor is only open for a limited time from April to June, so be sure to check the days before your visit. On the opening day, the walls can reach an amazing height of 13 – 20 meter and the only way to witness these massive walls of nature is to take a special Norikura Snow Wall sightseeing bus. This bus makes several stops along the way, giving you the opportunity to walk to the top of the 3,026m high mountain from whatever point you choose. The bus takes you about 2,700m up, so from there you still have some walking to do.

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Obviously, seeing the snow walls is at the top of people’s priority list. But the surrounding area is equally beautiful and invites hikers for amazing adventures. During the summer there is a marathon on Mt. Norikura called the “Heavenly Marathon,” which attracts more than 1,000 runners every year. The route up to Mt. Norikura is closed off for private cars, so you can enjoy the quietness of nature. Along the road there are some restaurants where you can stop for a drink or a bite.

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The view from the final bus stop at the top of the mountain already gives you an overview of the snow walls. Wattention staff went to the snow walls in early June so they were already past their peak. But even if the walls aren’t as high as they could be, they are still an impressive sight. Not to mention that it is extremely fun to play in the snow during summer.

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During its peak, the walls can reach an impressive height!
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The rice represents Mt. Norikura’s majestic “Sword” peak.

The bus goes to and from the top about 4-5 times per day and waits at the top for an hour before going down again. The snow walls are a 2-min walk from the bus stop so you have plenty of time to observe this wonder of nature. But if you brought your skis you can spend a longer time at the top and just take the next bus down when it comes. After getting back to the bus terminal you can enjoy a plate of special Mt. Norikura curry.

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The Norikura snow wall sightseeing bus departs every 1-2 hours.

Information

Access: Take an 80-min bus ride from Matsumoto Station (JR Line) to Norikura Station. Then take the Mt. Norikura Highland Shuttle Bus (about 50-min) from Norikura Kogen.
Price: 2,500 yen for a round trip.
Hours: Departures every 1-2 hours.
URL: http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents08+index.htm

You can download this multilingual brochure  from Matsumoto City about Norikura with the best walking routes and hiking tips.

Picturesque Matsumoto (1) – Hiking in Beautiful Kamikochi –

Some of the best hiking trails in all of Japan are in the Japanese Alps in Nagano Prefecture. You can make it as adventurous as you want, climb a high mountain or take a long leisurely walk in the forest. Be prepared for raw nature, as the Kamikochi area is forbidden for personal vehicles. Access is only possible by bus or taxi. Special buses are arranged to take you to Kamikochi.

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Most hikers start from the Bus Terminal near a wooden suspension bridge called Kappabashi (the Kappa bridge). A Kappa is a mythological water creature that lives under bridges. Near this suspension bridge are several hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants. Besides these facilities and the Visitor Center, the whole area is without human interference. The trails along the Azusa river provide you with the most scenic views as you see the Japanese Alps reflected in the crystal clear water. This easy walking route is often very crowded in the summer and the best season to go is from mid May through July.

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Along the way you may encounter some monkeys and various birds. Bears do live in the area but they are rarely spotted along the trails.

Monkeys

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You can get very close to wild monkeys!

There are about ten kinds of willow species in the Kamikochi area. The higher you go the more the landscape changes and the dominant trees shift from willow to Japanese elm and Japanese larch trees. During Autumn these trees turn into beautiful hues of red and yellow, giving Kamikochi a completely different look.

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For the more adventurous hikers there are plenty of mountains to challenge. A popular mountain is Mt. Okuhotaka-dake, the third-highest mountain in all of Japan. In 2016 Kamikochi is scheduled to be open from April 15 to November 15, as it can be dangerous to climb the mountains out of season. If you want to make your hiking trip longer than a day, there are mountain huts along the trails where you can stay for around 8,000 yen per person. No need to bring food or a sleeping bag as bedding and two meals are provided. It is advised to arrive at these huts before 3pm. Of course you can stay in one of the lavish hotels or relaxing ryokans where you can enjoy natural hot spring water. It is advised to make a reservation or check availability beforehand.

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Access

There are many ways to get to Kamikochi. You can start from the nearest city, Matsumoto, but there are even buses from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka all the way to the Kamikochi area.

From Matsumoto Station, Nagano: A local bus takes about 90 min.
From Shinjuku, Tokyo: The highway bus takes about 4h 40min.
From Nagano Station, Nagano: With highway bus takes about 2h 30min.

2 Day Pass for sightseeing in Kamikochi, Norikura and Matsumoto: 
This pass allows unlimited travel by train & bus to/from Kamikochi, Norikura-Kogen, Norikura area and the local bus in Matsumoto within 2 days. This is the best deal if you want to sight-see not only in Kamikochi but also in Norikura and Matsumoto.
Price: 5,150 yen (adult), Children: 2,580 yen (children)
Pass is Available in the Matsumoto Bus Terminal.

Read also: Cool Summer Treks Around Tokyo (1): Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture

Firefly Night in Shibuya

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The beginning of summer means firefly season in Japan and you can participate in Japan’s tradition of firefly viewing through many events throughout June. Fireflies usually gather near clear streams, but if you don´t have the chance to leave the busy streets of Tokyo, you can catch a glimpse of these nature’s little light bulbs in Shibuya’s Botanical Garden FUREAI! The garden will be holding its 12th “Firefly Night” between June 17th and June 21st. The entry for this evening-event is free.

Hours: 5:30pm – 9pm (entrance until 8:15pm)
Address: Shibuya-ku Fureai Shokubutsu Center, Higashi 2-25-37, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Website: http://www.botanical-fureai.com/

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Kanto Matsuri

Designated as one of Tohoku’s top three festivals, the Kanto Matsuri is a sight to behold. The name “Kanto Matsuri” does not mean that it is in the Kanto region, “Kanto” is the name for the wooden poles with lanterns attached to them. Every year from August 3rd till August 6th in Akita City, Akita prefecture, young men parade with poles full of lanterns that can weigh up to 50kg (110lbs)!

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The kanto is eight meters high with 46 paper lanterns shaped like rice bales. The decorative paper streamers on top of the pole, which are often seen in Shinto rituals, drive away evil spirits. Kanto are always in the shape of an Akita cedar tree.

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More than 200 kantos are paraded through the city, turning the streets in the an amazing lit-up spectacle. Some members of the parade perform amazing tricks such as balancing the poles on one hand or on their face. This is because it is actually not allowed to hold the pole with your hands. While ensuring that the paper lanterns do not go out, men try to impress each other by showing off one amazing trick after another.

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The origin of this festival can be found in the more quiet and serene Tanabata festival. In some parts of Japan it is celebrated in August rather than in July because August is closer to the 7th month of the old Lunar calendar.

More Information

Access: 10 min walk from JR Akita Station, Akita City in Akita prefecture
Location: Kanto O-dori
(between the Sanno Jujiro Crossroads and Nichomebashi Bridge)
Dates: Aug. 3 – 6, 2016
Hours: 9:20am – 3:20pm (Day Parade, Aug. 4 & 5), 6:15pm – 8:35pm (Night Parade, Aug. 3 – 5)

Wind Chime Festival : Enmusubi Furin

A fairly new festival in Japan, Enmusubi Furin has proven to be very popular and is refreshing newcomer amidst all the loud and busy Japanese summer festivals. The festival is held at the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine near Tokyo, a shrine dedicated to the God of Marriage.

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The highlight of the festival is of course the “Enmusubi Furin Kairo” (Corridor of Marriage Wind Chimes). Just like the “Wind Chime Lane” at the festival, this “marriage corridor” is filled with wishes for love and a happy marriage. These wishes are written on paper strips and tied to the wind chimes. Every time the wind makes the wish move, the bell chimes for it to come true.

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During the evening there is a beautiful projection of the Milky Way, reminiscent of the Tanabata origin story. After admiring both the wind chimes and the Milky Way, you can observe the beautiful bamboo-shaped ornaments that are on display.

Of course there are stalls with festival food so you can eat while watching the various performances in the court music pavilion. If you prefer a more refined taste, go to the nearby Hikawa Hall where a professional chef is serving a delicious buffet. Or if you have a sweet tooth, buy one of the limited edition sweets at the adjacent Musubi Café.

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The Shrine is in Kawagoe near an area called “Little Edo”, because the streets are still the same as during the Edo period.

Access

Date: Jul. 9(Saturday) to Aug. 31(Wednesday), 2016
Hours: 09:00 – 21:00
Where: 1 Chome-407 Takahanacho, Omiya Ward, Saitama, Saitama Prefecture 330−0803
From Kawagoe: Hikawa Shrine bus stop on the Eagle line or the Miyashita-machi stop on the Tobu line.
From Ikebukuro: Tobu Tojo Line express, 31 minutes (450 yen) to Kawagoe station
From Seibu Shinjuku: Seibu Shinjuku Line Limited Express, 43 minutes (890 yen) to Kawagoe station
From Shinjuku: JR Kawagoe Line Local, 60 minutes (570 yen) to Kawagoe station

The Matsuri Manual : Matsuri Games

 

Japanese summer festivals, or Matsuri, are the main spot during the summer to see yukata, eat delicious food and of course play games. Just like every festival has traditions that have been passed down over the years, the same games have been making a comeback every year due to popularity. Here we will introduce some of the most popular Matsuri games.

 

Water Balloon Yoyo (ヨーヨーつり)

Small water balloons are filled with both air and water, giving them enough bouncy power. The balloons are closed with a rubber string with a loop. To acquire one of these balloons, you use a stick with a paper string with a metal hook attached to the end. The goal is to “fish” the balloon out of the water before the paper string holding the hook disintegrates. After you catch your balloon, you loop it around your finger and bounce it around like a yo-yo.

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Gold Fish Scooping (金魚すくい)

Using a scooper with a thin piece of paper as a net, you try to catch as many goldfish as you can before the thin paper breaks. This game is seen as very difficult and does require some skill. You can take home the goldfish you caught and keep them as pets for years to come. Maybe you can name them after the Matsuri you got them at.

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Senbonbiki (せんぼんびき)

Various items such as snacks, toys or sometimes even coupons are attached to one end of a string. The other ends are collected together in one bundle and you can choose one string to pull. The item that moves at the other end is yours to keep.

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Fireworks (花火)

It might sound unsafe but these small firework sticks are totally fine to play with. Matsuri often go on until late into the night and the sparkles from these sticks bring everyone into a festive mood before the real fireworks are set off.

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Now you have all the knowledge you need to survive the classic summer Matsuri games. So get dressed in your yukata and join the festival fun!

Have you read the other articles in this series?
The Matsuri Manual : Festival Style Guide
The Matsuri Manual : Festival Food Guide

The Matsuri Manual : Festival Food Guide

 

A festival in Japan is not complete without rows of street stalls selling soul food and street snacks before the main event. Here are some all-time Matsuri favourites:

Yakisoba (焼きそば)

This dish of Worcester-sauce flavoured stir-fried noodles with vegetables, pork and topped with pickled red ginger is a staple dish at any festival. Toppings vary according to region.

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Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

Originally from Osaka, these ball-shaped snacks are a festival favorite for sure. Fillings vary for each region but the main ingredients are minced or diced octopus, tempura pieces and green onion. When done, they are sprinkled with their signature takoyaki sauce and topped with bonito flakes (dried fish) and mayonnaise.

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Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

Just like takoyaki, this savory Japanese pancakes come from Osaka in the Kansai region. Nowadays there are many variations of this dish as the name literally means “grill it how you like it.”  The Kyoto okonomiyaki has chopped scallions and the Hiroshima version has noodles, but the basic ingredients are always slices of pork, cabbage, and okonomiyaki sauce. Just like the takoyaki, okonomiyaki is topped with mayonnaise and bonito flakes.

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Taiyaki (たい焼き)

This is a fish-shaped pancake-like pastry most commonly filled with red bean paste. More modern fillings include custard, ice cream and whipped cream.

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Candied Apple (りんご飴)

A sweet treat of apples covered in a sugary and sticky starch syrup and eaten on a stick. Similar to the candied apples eaten in the West.

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Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)

This snack has had a huge popularity boost in the last few years. While it may not seem traditionally Japanese, the bananas are always decorated with fancy colours giving them that touch of “Japanese festival flair.”

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Kakigori (かき氷)

Eaten since the Heian period (11th century) but made affordable for people in the late 19th century, this shaved ice has been Japan’s favorite festival treat to cool down. Flakes are shaved from a huge block of ice and then topped with syrup and condensed milk. Popular flavors include green tea, strawberry, blue Hawaii, cherry, lemon, grape and melon.

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Next in this series: The Matsuri Manual : Matsuri Games

Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

The world might have its seven amazing wonders, but Komatsu has them too!

Located in Ishikawa prefecture, this city has many wonders to discover. Besides being famous for kabuki, there are many more interesting things in this city near the ocean.

1) World’s Largest Dump Truck

Komatsu is not only the name of the city, it’s also the name of the famous producer of construction machinery. At Komatsu no Mori you can go on the 930E, the largest piece of riding industrial equipment you will ever see.

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2) Gold Snacks

Responsible for 99% of all of Japan’s gold production, Komatsu has plenty of the stuff. So much even that they wrap their ice cream in it and sprinkle it on their cakes. You can buy these gold snacks at Yunokuni no Mori.

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3) Amazing Moss Forest

The “Forest of Wisdom” has amazing moss growth that took the locals years to cultivate. Nowhere else will you see such a beautiful green-covered forest.

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4) Breathtaking Stone Caves

Actually, they’re stone mines. But that doesn’t make them any less awesome. These caves are carved into the mountain by hand or with special equipment. The stones the excavated were used to build bridges, castles and walls. Walking in these halls makes you feel like an adventurer about to find the legendary sword of Komatsu.

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5) A Stone Turtle

According to the legends, this turtle wanted to be near the god of the shrine so bad that he crawled all the way there from the ocean. When he arrived, he turned into stone and is now forever with his beloved god. Even though the ocean is quite close to the shrine, it’s still an amazing feat for a turtle.

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6) This Tree

You think we’re running out of wonders, right? Wrong! This fresh tree branch is actually growing from a bona fide pine tree. A completely different type of tree is sprouting from its branches. We can’t wait to see how this will develop. You can find this tree in Rojo Park.

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7) Japan’s #1 Chestnut Sweet

This delicious chestnut snack has been crowned the number one of all chestnut sweets in Japan. And in the world of nutty snacks, that counts for something. We have tried it ourselves and can confirm it is indeed very worthy of its title.

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Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Morning Glory Festival

 

The Iriya Asagao Matsuri,or Morning Glory Festival is celebrated from July 6th to July 8th every year. This event is by far the biggest festival in Japan dedicated to the morning glory flower.

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About 120 producers of morning glories and about 100 festival stalls line Shingen-ji Temple and Kototoi-dori Street. Shingen-Ji is the common name for the Iriya temple, dedicated to the goddess of childbirth and children. The morning glories of Iriya are said to have gained fame around the late Edo period (1603 – 1868). During the Meiji period the flowers from Iriya were deemed so attractive that they became a very popular decorative plant.

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The flowers vanished for a while during the Taisho period (1912 – 1926) and after World War II. But the flowers are back thanks to a dedicated team of locals and nowadays there are about a thousand varieties of morning glories. Together with the the Shitaya Tourism Association they revived the tradition and organized the Asagao Matsuri as we know it today.

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When you visit the Iriya Asagao Matsuri you will get the traditional Edo summer festival feel as you gaze upon the beautiful morning glories.

Access

Date: Jul. 6 to 8, 2016
Area:1-12-16 Shitaya, Taito-ku / In and around Iriya Kishimojin
Access: 1-minute walk from Iriya Station on the Hibiya Subway Line or a 5-minute walk from JR Uguisudani Station.
Hours: 6am – 11pm
URL: http://www.asagao-maturi.com/ (Japanese only)

The Matsuri Manual : Festival Style Guide

In Japan, it is common to attend a summer festival (Matsuri) in a traditional Japanese outfit. Men usually wear a jinbei while women wear colourful yukatas matched with a pair of geta (Japanese wooden clogs) and a drawstring bag called a kinchaku. To complete the picture, a paper fan is a popular choice as the perfect accessory. Of course you are free to wear what you want on the festival grounds. But wearing traditional Japanese clothes at a Matsuri adds to the overall experience.

Yukata

A yukata, or summer kimono, is made of hemp cloth or cotton that keeps you cool during the summer heat. It is much easier to wear than a regular kimono and young ladies may prefer the trendy mini-yukatas. Yukata are not difficult to wear at all and are easy to walk around in.

During the festival season many shops will sell yukata sets at a reasonable price and accessory shops will sell flower hairpins for cheap.

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Of course there are also men’s yukatas. These are less colorful and either have simple patterns or really flashy ones such as Japanese demons or dragons.

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Jinbei

Consisting of a top and shorts, a jinbei cools you down in the summer breeze. They are mostly made of cotton. The more traditional jinbei has a striped pattern with a simple colour such as black, grey or brown.

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Kinchaku

These small Japanese drawstring bags can be made of hemp fabric, cotton or recycled kimono cloth. To be really fashionable, buy a kinchaku with the same pattern as your yukata. Tie a bowknot to close the bag, and carry it by its strings. Since yukata do not have any pockets and carrying a regular purse with a yukata kind of ruins the traditional image, a kinchaku is a must-have.

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Uchiwa and Sensu

Go for a casual uchiwa (round paper fan) or a classy sensu (folding fan). Tuck it in your obi (yukata belt) when not in use. To look like a local, tuck the uchiwa in the back and the sensu in the front of the belt.

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Now let’s all head out in yukata and enjoy the summer!

Next in this series: The Matsuri Manual : Festival Food Guide

Birthplace of the Mibu Wolves

In central Kyoto is a small temple called Mibu Dera with a somewhat special link to Nishi-Honganji. During the late 19th century both places housed, for a short time, the now famous special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. Many people come to see the special Mibu Kyogen (comedy plays), designated as one of the National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties. They attract a big audience during Golden Week, Setsubun and a special weekend in October. But the real majority comes to visit the birth-and final resting place of this band of samurai.

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Mibu Dera

According to the stories, Mibu Dera Temple was established by the order of Emperor Shomu(r. 724-749) but the actual founder was Kaieken, a monk of another temple in the Mibu district in 991. This makes Mibu Dera one of the oldest temples in Kyoto. The entire temple was destroyed by fire in 1788 and while rebuilding they turned the stage for the Mibu Kyogen performances into separate structure.

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The Shinsengumi

People often call the Shinsengumi a group of samurais, but in actuality most of its members were not part of the samurai class. During Edo period Japan you were either born a samurai or earned this status through vigorous efforts. After coming from Edo(now Tokyo) the Shinsengumi settled in Mibu to protect Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan at the time. They did this on a voluntary basis to serve the Shogun, then ruler of Japan, who they revered. This seems noble, but most inhabitants of Kyoto can only remember the Shinsengumi as a violent troupe, causing trouble wherever they went. Due to this behaviour they earned the nickname “Wolves of Mibu”. In modern Japan the Shinsengumi is heavily romanticized in novels, manga and Tv-series because of their loyalty to the way of the samurai and an old system that was facing extinction due to a forced Western influence.

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On the temple grounds there is a small garden area with a commemorative stone and plaque, honoring the members of the Shinsengumi. In this same area is a bust of their commander Kondo Isami, who was beheaded on suspicion of assassinating Sakamoto Ryouma, an important Japanese reformer who changed Japan’s government to a more Western model. In reality, they still don’t know who was actually responsible for the murder.

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Fans leave beautifully decorated plaques near the graves of the Shinsengumi

Yagi-Kei

Right next door of Mibu Dera is the old house of the Yagi family. This is where the Shinsengumi’s core members met and made plans. The entrance to the house has a white and blue banner. This was the color of the Shinsengumi’s uniform and it was considered very flashy during their time period. The kanji on their signature red banner flag is the same as on the back of their haori (kimono jacket), 誠 (makoto), which is short for 誠忠 (seichuu) meaning “loyalty”.

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos inside the house but it is a very interesting visit. Inside, the guide will show you katana marks on the ceiling and wooden beams from real sword fights by the Shinsengumi. You will also get a brief history of the group with details as to what rooms they used in the house.

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Whether you are already familiar with the Shinsengumi or not, the guide gives an amazing tour and it is the perfect opportunity to learn more about Kyoto during the time of the last samurais.

Information

Access: A 8-min walk from Hankyu Omiya Station and Shin Omiya Station (you will see signboards when leaving the station).
Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm
Mibu-dera Admission: Free
Yagi-Kei Admission: 1,000 yen including a cup of matcha and a traditional Japanese sweet.

Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park

The area where an expansion of Komatsu castle used to be is now a beautfiful Japanese style park named “Rojo Park”. The old castle was the residence of the third lord of the Maeda clan’s Kaga Domain, Toshitsune Maeda. For its period the castle was quite unique, the shogunate had a”one castle per domain” policy but Komatsu Castle was allowed to be maintained alongside the domain’s chief castle at Kanazawa.

During the Meiji restoration Komatsu Castle was demolished and its site was sold to a private owner. He wanted to leave the people of Komatsu a vestige of the castle and the area was changed into a park. It is a very popular cherry blossoming viewing spot, with 140 sakura trees in full bloom during spring.

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Besides pine trees and sakura this park has some amazing Japanese wisterias of over a hundred years old. These trees have lived so long that one single tree’s branches can cover a whole walkway with beautiful purple wisteria flowers.

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Walking through the park you really feel at ease. Japanese gardens excel at blending a man-made garden into the natural environment. They are made so that it seems like nature itself built the garden. A good example of this are big rocks placed in waterways and the creation of hilly areas in the garden.

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The park has a beautiful tea house and we were lucky enough to be in the park on the day of a big tea conference. Many people in kimono were in attendance and we got to see real equipment used for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.R_P1060024R_P1060079 R_P1060084

Before you leave the park, don’t forget to say hello to all the Koi fish swimming in the ponds.

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Access

13 minute walk from Komatsu Station

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi

Being established in the year 718 Houshi was once recognized as the oldest hotel in the world before another ryokan in Yamanashi prefecture beat its founding date by 13 years. Still, Houshi has been operated by the same family for forty-six generations giving it an amazing history.

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The ryokan’s hot spring is said to be founded by a monk. While he was climbing the holy Mount Hakusan he had a dream where the mountain’s deity told him about a spring with restorative powers and ordered him to find it for the people of Awazu.

It has 100 guest rooms and a ‘Hanare’, a private guest residence. There are two indoor and two same-sex-only outdoor hot spring baths. Two family baths can also be privately reserved by guests. There are a total of four buildings belonging to the Ryokan; Shinshun no Yakata (early spring building), Haru no Yakata (spring building), Natsu no Yakata (summer building), and Aki no Yakata (autumn building).

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The entrance to the building is very impressive with a beautiful decorative carpet. When you first arrive, you are welcomed with a cup of matcha and a sweet while looking at the inner garden.

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When you stay at a ryokan, food is served in your room and an attendant is there to help you explain the dishes and later to help you make your bed.

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After eating you can visit the amazing outdoor and indoor baths for a nice long and relaxing soak. The water is beautiful and it is not difficult to believe the legend that it has special curative powers given by a god.

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If you want to be truly luxurious, you can stay in the special VIP room where emperors have stayed before. It is a big complex that is more than just one room. But if that is out of your budget, you can still enjoy the view of the thousand-year old garden.

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Other entertainment at Houshi include a bar, occasional Noh plays and a small museum featuring crafts from the region.

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Access

Awazu Onsen, Komatsu-shi
Ishikawa-ken 92383
Website: http://www.ho-shi.co.jp/jiten/Houshi_E/home.htm

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature

Japanese people have always been in touch with nature. This can be seen in the traditional arts and their religion. Both Buddhism and Shinto take lessons from nature and Natadera is a place where both these religions come together in harmony.

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About 1300 years ago, the monk Taichou thought that the universe and earth were gods with all living beings at their mercy. This inspired him to build Natadera, to show the harmony between humans and nature. Life is sacred and nature is a paradise, so nature must be held to be as important as human life. The Natadera temple is the head temple of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism.

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The thousand-handed Kannon is enshrined in Natadera as well as various other small gods. There is also an old Inari shrine on the temple grounds. All the gods lived together in Natadera until the Meiji period, when there were orders to create a clear distinction between Buddhism and Shinto.

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What makes this area quite unique is not only the surrounding nature, but also the strange rock formations that are said to be the remains from ancient undersea volcanic eruptions. An fine layer of moss covers most of the temple area. The water in this area is said to have special properties and drinking it will revitalize your body. The water is so pure that from the plankton in the streams fish were able to grow at lightning speed. Supposedly one of the gods enshrined here was born from the water.

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The main shrine is built inside a natural cave and you need to enter through an elevated construction similar to Kiyomizudera in Kyoto.

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Just like Yamadera, the famous poet Basho Matsuo had paid a visit here and left behind a haiku:

Whiter far
Than the white rocks
Of the Rock Temple
The autumn wind blows.

After visiting the area you can enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant near the main temple. No matter the season, Natadera always has beautiful sights.

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Access

Hours: Open all year from 8:30 – 16:45  (12/1 – 2/28: 8:45 – 16:30)
Admission: Adult 600 yen / Elementary School Student and below 300 yen
Bus: take the bus bound for Natadera Temple from JR Komatsu Station or take the CANBUS from JR Kaga Onsen Station and get off at Natadera Temple. 25 Minutes

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Mythical Creature – Kitsune

 

In the Japanese language kitsune can mean both a regular fox, divine fox or demon fox. They can be found all over Japan and their history goes back to the beginning of Japan itself. But what is a Kitsune and how do you know if you are dealing with a good or a bad Kitsune.

 

Basic Kitsune abilities

Kitsune are shapeshifters, the older a Kitsune gets the more its abilities increase. It is said that when a Kitsune turns 100 years old it can turn into a human. Kitsune can be either male or female, and usually take the form of young Japanese girls, beautiful women and older men. One of the Kitsune’s most well-known abilities is Kitsune-bi (狐火) or fox-fire. This is a red flame produced by a Kitsune by either breathing or wagging its tail. They use this light to guide humans to a location of their choosing.

Kitsune can have as many as nine tails, When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. To kill a Kitsune, you have to cut off all its tails.283442

Good Foxes (zenko 善狐)

These are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails they are always depicted as being white of color. Inari Foxes are said to be particularly fond of fried sliced tofu called aburage. 

These foxes have the power to ward off evil and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. Besides protecting Inari shrines, they also protect the local villages from the evil Kitsune.fox1

Evil Foxes (nogitsune 野狐)

These foxes are also part of the Youkai category, the demons of Japan. There are stories about Kitsune tricking people from all manners of life. They target the bad traits of men such as pride, greed and vanity. For their own entertainment they are able to bring down even the most devout priest. They rarely attack women but prefer to posses them instead. Then, using their fox fire, they lure unsuspecting men to their doom.

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Kitsune Romance

Not every non-divine Kitsune is a trickster. There are many stories of Kitsune falling in love with a human man and choosing to live out their lives in the human world. Most of the stories follow the same pattern: a young man falls in love with a beautiful fox lady and they marry, unknowing about the fox’s real identity. She proves to be a very loyal and good wife. But once the man discovers (mostly by accident) that his wife is a fox, she must flee in order to not be killed by the villagers. The most famous fox wife is Kuzunoha, the mother of strong magic user Abe no Seimei. When fox wives bear children, they receive a part of their mother’s supernatural abilities.208685

When rain is falling on a clear sky Japanese people say two Kitsune are getting married. This is considered to be a good omen.

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How to get rid of a Kitsune

Maybe the idea of having a Kitsune near you is not appealing at all or someone you know is possessed by a Kitsune. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to recognize and expell a Kitsune.

  • Check if your friend’s facial features resemble those of a fox. Are the eyes a different color or do they have whiskers?
  • Try to find the fox tail, if you find it the Kitsune wil be embarrassed and run away.
  • Take the person to a dog. Kitsune hate dogs and when they see one they will flee on sight.

If none of these steps seem to work, bring your friend to your local Inari shrine and they will take care of it. Unfortunately there are no tips to attract a Kitsune in case you wanted a devoted Kitsune wife. Maybe try leaving some fried tofu on your doorstep.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park

Komatsu city in Ishikawa prefecture has a natural forest filled with traditional Japanese houses that let you try all kinds of amazing crafts. Yunokuni no Mori is officially called a “Traditional Handicraft Theme Park”, but it is more than that. Not only do the activities give you the opportunity to make your own unique souvenir, the area in itself is so beautiful that it is worth a visit.

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It is very difficult to decide on an activity once you are in the forest. To be honest, you will want to try them all. There are over 50 traditional handicraft experiences at 11 houses such as; pure gold leaf crafts, making ceramics, try making traditional Japanese paper Washi, glassworks and more. Wattention staff tried two activities in the forest, gold leaf crafts and making Kaga Yuzen ( printed silk).

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Ishikawa prefecture produces 99% of Japan’s gold leaf. These sheets are worked with until they are 1/10,000th of a millimeter thick. This makes them easier to apply to different surfaces and of course you get more worth for your gold. First you decide on what you want to decorate with gold. This can be everything from a box to mirrors and decorative trays. First you apply glue extracted from a tree and then you can rub on the gold in any design you like. There is always someone to guide you while working on your craft so don’t worry, it will always come out good. R_20160520_160516

Next we tried making printed silk. Kaga Yuzen is the specific type of printed silk from Ishikawa and it is on par with Japan’s most famous Yuzen from Kyoto. Again, there is someone to help you with the designs and colors but in the end it’s all up to your creativity. Why not paint a nice handkerchief or T-shirt to take home. Traditionally Yuzen had to be washed in a stream, but luckily you can take your work home immediately (And it’s washing machine safe).

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After trying out various crafts why not enjoy a secret goodie bag full of cakes and sweets. And if you want to have that luxurious feeling, try a gold-covered ice cream or gold sprinkled sundae. (Yes, real gold)

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While strolling through the forest you will see these funny dolls made by the staff. Dont be scared when you suddenly see one sitting on a bench or in the forest.

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All the crafts in the forest are an amazing experience for every age, making Yunokuni no Mori a perfect day out for a family or group of friends.

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Access

Hours: 9:00 to 16:30
Admission: Adult : 540 yen / Junior High School Student: 440 yen / Child (over four years old) : 330 yen.
By train: 3hr from Tokyo via Hokuriku Shinkansen, Hokuriku Line / 2hr 12min from Osaka / 2hr 27min from Nagoya / 25min from Kanazawa (via limited express)
By car: About 20min by car from Komatsu airport / 50min by car from Kanazawa
By bus: There are buses from JR Kaga Onsen station going to Yunokuni no Mori. The trip takes about 35min.

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom

The actual name for this peculiar place is “Koke no Sato”, or “Moss Village”. This is because the whole area is covered by a fine layer of green moss, cultivated over many years. Hiyou Town has been taking care of this moss, cleaning it every day.

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Only 7 families live in Hiyou Town, making it one of the smallest villages in Japan. Moss can only grow in certain conditions making it tough to maintain. The area needs to have enough moisture, not too much light and no stepping all over from humans and animals.

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The nearby shrine is beautiful surrounded by the moss. Visitors are advised to stay on the path as to not damage the moss.

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The Forest of Wisdom is the perfect place to see the famous, untranslatable word “Komorebi”, the rays of sunlight falling in between the trees.

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“The Forest of Wisdom is a place to explore the wisdom along with the eternal culture and nature of Japan.”

The Forest of Wisdom project aims to bring all kinds of culture and wisdom from all over the world together. This mostly happens in the Wisdom House where you can attend workshops and even jazz concerts. The Wisdom House is a refurbished 100-year-old folk house, built using local timber.

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Access

From Kanazawa by train: Take an express train from Kanazawa to Komatsu (15 min) and then take a taxi to Koke-no-sato in Hiyo-machi (20 min).

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki

Believe it or not, Komatsu is a Kabuki City. But why? You might ask this question because when people think about attending a Kabuki play they think about the extravagant theaters in Tokyo and Kyoto. But Komatsu in Ishikawa prefecture has more Kabuki than you might expect.

Komatsu City is a castle town founded by Maeda Toshitsune, third lord of the Kaga clan. Toshitsune was knowledgeable about the arts such as the traditional tea ceremony and at the same time protected and promoted the industry. This made Komatsu flourish, both culturally and economically. A lot of this cultural knowledge was invested in children’s Kabuki plays that are still performed every year.

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Another very important reason is that Komatsu is the location of Japan’s most famous Kabuki scene from the beloved Kabuki play:Kanjincho. This treasured story is about two warriors, Yoshitsune and Benkei. Even though they are seen as legends now, these two people are actual historical figures who existed.

Yoshitsune was a fierce warrior trained by Tengu and Benkei was a warrior monk, said to have been the size of an ogre with equal strength. They became friends and traveled together.

Yoshitsune’s half-brother Yoritomo, who would become the first Shogun of Japan, started chasing the pair out of fear that Yoshitsune might take away his favorable position. Yoshitsune and Benkei disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and headed for the Ataka no Seki checkpoint, where they would be safe after making it through. Togashi, who was the head of the checkpoint did not believe they were monks and asked them to read from their donation scroll. Quick-witted Benkei started reading from a blank scroll and was able to fool Togashi into believing he had a real donation list. After all, Benkei was a real monk and could easily make up the names. But Togashi came closer and saw the blank list, and the truth was revealed. Luckily, he still praised Benkei’s smarts and let them pass.

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Ataka Barrier Ruin facing the Sea of Japan is the setting of this famous Kabuki scene and has statues of Yoshitsune, Benkei and Togashi. Standing in front of these figures really takes you back to the time when this scene actually took place.

The original weapons used by Benkei are kept in the shrine near Ataka, just a short walk from the statues.

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Everywhere in Komatsu you can find traces of Benkei and Togashi.

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Every year in May children perform Kabuki during the Otabi festival. Eight towns have special floats that look like mini-Kabuki stages. The children are in full makeup and are said to perform brilliantly.

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So when you’re in Komatsu, why not try to catch a children’s Kabuki play or visit the local museum about the famous Kabuki play “Kanjincho”.

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

UNESCO world heritage : Nishi-Honganji

Kyoto has many temples and shrines that are famous in Japan and all over the world. But there are many interesting temples that do not appear on the classic tourist routes because they are out of the way of the classic areas you would visit. One of these temples is Nishi-Honganji, the headquarters of one of the biggest Buddhist sects in Japan and a recognized UNESCO world heritage site.

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What makes this site so impressive is not only the size of the buildings but that it is the head temple of the Honganji faction of the Jodo-Shinshu sect. The name Honganji is a collective name for Shin Buddhism, the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in Japan with about 20% of the population identifying as active members. This temple has about 10,000 subtemples across Japan and 200 overseas temples.

The temple was built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, after the sect’s former head temple in Osaka had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga due to the temple’s interference in politics. In 1602, in order to diminish the power of the Jodo-Shinshu, Tokugawa Ieyasu split the main Honganji in Kyoto into two temples, Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji. 

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Nishi Honganji’s has two large structures, the Goeido Hall dedicated to the sect’s founder Shinran and the Amidado Hall dedicated to the Amida Buddha. Amida is the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. The halls of the temple are beautifully decorated and there are even regular services in the temple. If you’re lucky, you can even sit in on one and get a unique Japanese experience.

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In 1865 Nishi-Honganji was also home to the special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. It did not please the priests at all that this violent group of samurai intimidated them and took up lodgings in the temple. While walking on the temple grounds you can imagine this spacious area being used for sword fighting practice.

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The temple grounds are free to enter for everyone and it is a nice place to relax and think about what you are going to visit next in Kyoto. The wooden structure is so beautiful and the high ceiling makes you feel all the more smaller. There couldn’t be a better place to properly meditate than here.

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Access

Free to enter, open every day

The Honganji temples are located a 10-15 minute walk north of Kyoto Station.

Hours:  5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October)/ 15:30 to 18:00 May to August) / 15:30 to 17:00 (November to February)

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Kyoto’s Okonomiyaki

Most people who have been to Japan have encountered Japan’s savoury pancake known as “Okonomiyaki”. The name of this dish literally means “bake it how you like it”, so it’s to no surprise that this dish, originally from Osaka, received a Kyoto twist.

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The restaurant “Isshen Yoshoku” in Kyoto’s Gion district serves only one dish, and that dish is also called isshen yoshoku. The owner started this restaurant to offer a cheap food option near the Gion area. The whole restaurant is decorated with weird statues, slightly inappropriate woodblock prints and mannequins wearing kimonos. According to the owner the kimono ladies are there to trick drunk men to come inside for a late night bite.

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Kyoto’s okonomiyaki is made with a wheat flour based batter cooked like a crepe on a hot plate. Then they add chopped scallions, egg and slices pork, fold it over and cook it a bit more. It is garnished with lots of sauce and strips of nori (dried seaweed).

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After eating your okonomiyaki you can get a commemorative stamp to add to your travel journal.

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Information

Address: 238 Giommachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-Ku, Kyoto 605-0073
Hours: 11am – 3am (Weekdays), 10:30am – 10pm (Sundays and Holidays)

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Restaurant Review : Penguin Bar

Near Ikebukuro’s West Exit is a bar with some very special dining guests, penguins. The Penguin Bar offers you the experience to enjoy a drink and eat some food while watching penguins frolick in the water. Wattention staff went to check out this unusual Penguin Bar.

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The bar itself is not that spectacular, but it’s the penguins who are the main attraction. There is the option to only have a drink, eat from the menu or take one of the bar’s course plans. These plans start at 3,000 yen per person for students and include a 4-course meal with free drinks for two hours. That’s a great deal for a fancy bar in Tokyo!

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The napkins are folded in penguin shapes, which added some cuteness to the whole penguin theme. TV-screens on the ceiling play documentaries about penguins on loop. Don’t worry about coming to this bar if you can’t speak Japanese, the staff can provide an English menu. After ordering your food you are free to go look at the penguins and take photos.

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The portions were smaller than expected but the food tasted very good. Even after leaving the bar I still had a nice taste in my mouth.

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The penguin bar is a nice novelty bar in central Tokyo for the true penguin lovers out there. They offer reasonable dining courses for dates, friend’s night out and parties. Seats at the Bar are limited, so come on time if you want to have an amazing evening with penguins.

Access

Cosmy 1 1st floor, 2-38-2 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Opening Hours : 18:00 – 04:00

Admission fee : 800 yen + one drink per person

Notice: the bar does not serve special dinner plans during Golden Week and other public holidays.

Website: http://www.penginbar.jp/en/

Best Matcha Parfait in Kyoto

Matcha is loved all over Japan and foreigners are joining in on the powdered green tea hype. The delicious multi-layered dessert called “parfait” is very popular in Japan and many cafés have at least one on their menu. Now combine this tasty treat with all the goodness of green tea and you get an amazing Matcha Parfait!

The best matcha – and parfaits – are found in Kyoto at Tsujiri. This shop has been specialized in matcha since 1860. The founder Riemon made many important contributions to the tea industry such as inventing the tea cabinet and enhancing tea flavors. Tsujiri has always used tea from Uji near Kyoto, the best area for green tea in Japan.

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Walking in the Gion area of Kyoto you might miss this small shop as it completely blends into the street with similar facades. On the first floor you can buy take-out sweets and souvenirs. But where we really want to go is the second and third floord, Tsujiri Café. If you can’t read Japanese, don’t worry! The café has English menus available.

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Out of all the amazing parfaits to choose from I decided to go with the current Spring Special parfait and once the parfait came I did not regret my decision for even a second. It was a beautiful creation of variatons of ice cream, matcha jelly, dango, matcha cream, cookies and crunchy flakes.

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Even the coaster was so pretty that I had to take it home with me as a souvenir.

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The interior of the shop is very Japanese and just invites you to sit down and relax.

P1050374P1050376If you are in Kyoto, a visit to this café is sure to delight any sweets and tea lover.

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Access:

573-3 Gionmachi Minamigawa Shijo Dori Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074.

Hours: open every day from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visiting the crow gods of Mt. Takao

50 Minutes from Central Tokyo is a beautiful mountain called Takao. It is said to be the home of crow-gods called Tengu and has many temples scattered on the hiking trails up to the top.

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The main trail takes about 90 minutes to get to the top but you can half this time by taking either a cable car or chairlift to the first temple stop. I recommend walking the whole way because you get to admire the scenery at your own pace and you come across some interesting good luck rituals. Not to say that the cable car and chairlift have an average waiting time of 40 minutes on busy days, the exact same time it takes you to walk the distance they cover. The paths are all paved and even beginners can take on this climb.

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Change the kanji on the wheel to the body part you want healed

The most important temple on Mt. Takao is Yakuoin. This Shinto-Buddhist temple is protected by Tengu and just like the mountain trail it features various rituals for good luck, health and wealth. Yakuoin is believed to have been built in 744 during the Nara period on the orders of Emperor Shomu as a base for Buddhism in Eastern Japan. Over the years Mt. Takao got known as a sacred mountain, but is most famous for being the home of Tengu, long-nosed beings with crow features. They serve as messengers of the deities to ward off evil and protect the good. Their fan sweeps away misfortune and brings good luck.

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rituals

On your way further to the top you will encounter a monkey park, various food stalls and more shrines and temples. Once you reach the top you have a beautiful view of the area. If you have time, visit the visitor center at the top to learn about the wildlife living on the mountain. During the winter period you have the chance to see the famous “diamond Fuji” if you arrive on the mountaintop in the early morning.

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If you’re more adventurous, you can take a different trail back down. The signboards are very easy to follow so you can change routes whenever you see a fork in the road. One of these routes takes you deeper into the mountain forest, along narrow pathways and a suspension bridge.

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After your long hike, congratulate yourself with a meal of Tororo Soba, the local specialty. Tororo is grated mountain yam and it is delicious in combination with the soba and raw egg.

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Access:

From Shinjuku station : 50 min with the Keio Line to Takaosanguchi station, 390 yen

The foot of the mountain is a 10 minute walk from the station and the route is marked with signposts.

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Souvenir Vending Machine

Need a last-minute Japanese souvenir but the stores are all closed? Japan has the answer! Just like there are many different vending machines in Japan such as for drinks, snacks and even vegetables there is now a Japanese Souvenir Vending Machine. Located in a side street of Shibuya, this vending machine sells products such as origami earrings and decorative kimono cloth. If you’re a late-night shopper in Shibuya and someone’s birthday is coming up, this vending machine might just be a lifesaver.4 5

 

Shibuya Scramblers – Stephanie & Nadialine

People from all walks of life from all over the world come to the Shibuya crossing to experience the world’s busiest scramble. In this series, WAttention staff randomly asked foreign Shibuya scramblers what they were doing there and where they are headed for.

Stephanie & Nadialine

From: Denmark

In Shibuya to: see the Shibuya scramble

The Shibuya crossing is: very cool. There are so many people!

Japan is fascinating because: The fashion style is so different from what we see in Denmark. The girls are very stylish and inspiring. Japanese people are very friendly and helpful but we find the mouth masks very fascinating, we would like to buy one here.

After Shibuya we’re: going to Harajuku

Note: 

Stephanie and Nadialine are both vloggers and bloggers and you can follow them here.

http://nadialinevonbach.com/http://stephaniekhayat.blogspot.com/  or on Instagram @NadiaLinevonbach and @StephanieKhayat

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Combini Checkout: Fit To A Tea – A beginner’s guide to bottled tea

The Japanese are great fans of tea and there is tea for the mornings, afternoons and nights, tea to go with oily foods, tea to help you loose weight – whatever it is, you are sure to find your cup of tea at the Combini (convenience stores). Here is a taste of what you can find on the shelves:

Ryokucha (Green Tea)

Ryokucha is a collective term for all green tea that is steamed.  Japanese green teas are steamed giving them a more “vegetative” or “leafy” taste. The most common types of green tea are:

  • Sencha: First round of harvest and the leaves are exposed to the sun
  • Bancha: Low grade tea from the later rounds of harvesting
  • Gyokuro: The highest grade from the first round of harvest. The leaves are shaded from the sun.

Bottled teas are not commonly made with high grade tea, but of course there are exceptions. The most well known green tea is Oi-Ocha from ITOEN. This company was the first to introduce bottled tea to the Japanese market and they currently handle more than 20% of all the tea leaves in Japan.

Hojicha

Roasted green tea which has a more sweet, caramel-like flavor. Hojicha is always made from Bancha, the earlier mentioned low grade tea. The caffeine level in this tea is lower than that of regular green tea, making it ideal to drink during the evening.

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Genmaicha

This green tea contains grains of roasted brown rice and was originally drunk by poor people and the rice was added to serve as a filler and to reduce the price of the tea. When served, the rice in the tea excretes its sugars and gives the tea a nice sweet aroma and a light brown color.

Genmaicha
Genmaicha

Oolong Cha (Oolong Tea)

This is a Chinese tea where they wither the plant under the sun as it is growing. The leaves are then curled, twisted and rolled into a ball. As a final step, the tea is roasted or baked. It’s a black tea with an earthy flavor.

Black Tea
Black Oolong

Mugicha

Also known as Barley Tea. This tea is extremely popular during the summer and has a roasted taste with a slightly bitter undertone. Drink this tea to cool down during a hot day. When you go to a Japanese restaurant during the summer, this tea is most commonly served.

Mugicha
Mugicha

Jasmine Cha (Jasmine Tea)

This tea is most popular in Okinawa but it is also drunk on mainland Japan. Jasmine flowers are added to the green tea to give everything a more flower-y aroma. If you are a fan of scented teas you should try it.

Jasmine Tea
Jasmine Tea

Kocha

Also known in general as “black tea” or “foreign tea”.

Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling Tea

Matcha

Matcha is the highest grade of green tea grinded into a fine powder. The leaves of the tea are infused with the water giving this tea a strong bitter taste. Matcha is served during tea ceremonies or temple visit and needs special preparation. Finding it in a bottled form will be very difficult. However there are plenty of Matcha-flavored snacks at the Konbini. So if you’re on a budget and can’t afford a big tea ceremony or a high class package of matcha, you can always snack on some Matcha sweets.

Others

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Yamadera, the mountain temple

Yama-dera (山寺) literally means “Mountain Temple” and is located in Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture. It sits at the top of at the foot of the steep hill Hōshū-yama and is deemed an important historic site in Japan.

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The official name of the temple is Risshaku-Ji and it’s more than a thousand years old. It’s an important outpost for Tendai Buddhism and a branch of the Enyraku-Ji temple at the top of Mt. Hie in Kyoto. The fire that has been brought over from Mt. Hie to Yamadera hundreds of years ago is still burning in the temple today.

Temple of a 1,000 stairs

To reach the top of the temple complex you have to climb a total of 1,015 stairs. It might sound very tiring but the climb itself is beautiful with amazing nature surrounding you.

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Matsuo Basho, the haiku master was enchanted by the natural beauty of the temple environment. This poem was composed by Basho in 1689 when he visited Yama-dera.

“Calm and serene. (静けさや)

The sound of a cicada. (岩に染み入る)

 Penetrates the rock.”  (蝉の声)

After the long climb you are rewarded with a beautiful view over the valley.

The main hall of the temple sells fortunes and overlooks the valley as well. However, the view is obscured by other temples on the complex and surrounding trees.

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After a visit to Yamadera you can go to the Basho Yamadera Memorial Hall which is on a hill just across Yamadera. The area has beautiful sakura in spring and offers a nice view on the Yamadera complex. Next to the museum is a restaurant where you can enjoy tea and sweets, and maybe while looking at Yamadera you will be inspired to write a poem of your own.

Meisen – The Funky Kimono

The “Meisen” style silk kimono was the most popular garment during the 1920’s and 1930’s when people still wore kimono daily. It is very different from all the other kimonos which always had a “classy” feel to them. Meisen kimonos were worn as every day wear at home and to do daily tasks. The main characteristic of Meisen is its pattern, made by pre-dyed threads. As the fabric is woven the surface decoration appears as a shimmering, soft-edged pattern. Because of the events such as World War I and the Kanto earthquake of 1923 the price of silk fell heavily and the production and popularity of meisen kimono was at its height. Meisen kimono were affordable, durable, smart attire for everyday wear. Their crazy patterns are very similar to current modern art paintings.

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Chichibu Meisen

In Chichibu city, Saitama prefecture, there is a special type of Meisen weaving called Chichibu Meisen. This technique involves first weaving the main color and then loosening the fabric to weave the pattern on top. They even have a museum dedicated to the craft where you can try your hands at this special weaving technique (http://www.meisenkan.com/). Because the fabric has same patterns and same looks on both sides, it can be turned inside out when one side becomes dirty.

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Wattention staff had the chance to try on real Meisen haori (kimono jacket) from the collection of Kimura Kazue, a cheery lady living in Chichibu city. Parts of her collection have been on display around the world and she has appeared in some kimono magazines. If you want to learn more about kimono and all the rules involved, Wattention has a handy five-part starter’s guide to kimono.

Access to Chichibu Station from Tokyo

80 minutes from Ikebukuro station with the Limited Express train to Chichibu station.

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Benibana – Japanese Safflower

The Benibana is grown in Yamagata prefecture in Japan and this little flower can do more than you would think. The inhabitants used the flower’s potential to turn Yamagata prefecture into an important place for luxury goods. Back in the old days the flower was mainly used as dye but now they also turn it into food products. Geisha from Kyoto would paint their lips with Benibana and rich nobles wore kimono dyed with the flower.

With the development of synthetic dyes during the Meiji period the demand for Benibana declined and the industry became much smaller. However, the flower still grows in Yamagata prefecture and the traditional process of turning these flowers into beautiful dye is very interesting.

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How to use Benibana

The safflower is an annual (sometimes biennual) plant. They bloom during the summer and are a beautiful shade of yellow and red. After gathering all the flowers, they are locally processed into a pulpy state called Benibana mochi. From this product the treasured dye can be extracted. Benibana actually contains only 1% of red while the other 99% is yellow. To get the red from the Benimochi, you must boil it so that all the yellow parts can be removed. This Benimochi was also easier to transport than a finished product and it gave the buyer more freedom in what color to use.

The Benimochi was transported by land or shipped by river boat down the Mogami River to the port of Sakata near the Japanese sea. From here it was shipped to Kyoto where it was used in Nishijin textile making and the manufacturing of lipstick and cosmetics. The red part of the flower was the most valued color, so it comes to no surprise that with only 1% of it in the flower it was the most expensive. Today, rouge to paint only your lower lip in a flower shape would cost you 500 yen and a full lips cost about 2,000 yen. It was also possible to get a pink color from the Benimochi. In Heian period, a roll cloth of a deeper red dyeing was said to be equal to a residence of noble men. This tells us that clothes dyed with Benibana were priceless in the old days.

Benibana
photos from Marugotokan Beni No Kura

The ship you can see clearest on the picture bears the marking of an old Benibana store that still exists today. This shop is called Marugotokan Beni No Kura and now helps to promote the local products of Yamagata all over Japan. When the Marutani Hasegawa family still runned the shop as a Benibana storehouse it was the commercial hub for Yamagata-city.

Benibana & Hanagasa Matsuri

The Benibana Matsuri takes place in June or July, depending on the harvest of the Benibana. The collected flowers are processed during demonstrations and Benibana cuisine is served to visitors. Beautiful floats are paraded through the city of Yamagata. Try your hand at lip cream making or fabric dyeing with Benibana.

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The Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri attracts more than 1 million spectators over three days in August and is now considered one of the major festivals of the Tohoku area in Japan. Dancers wearing the same outfit per group and holding hanagasa hats adorned with Yamagata Prefecture’s unique safflowers parade through the main street of Yamagata City. A total of 10,000 dancers participate in this dance every year. The parade is led by gorgeously decorated festival floats. The dancers shout ‘Yassho! Makkasho!’, this not only heightens the festival mood but it is also a phrase from a traditional Yamagata folk song.

The dancing has gradually changed over the years. In the past, dancers would mostly perform synchronized dance moves but today dance performances come in a wide variety, like twirling the hanagasa hats and other creative performances.

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Benibana today

The Benibana flowers serves as the symbol of Yamagata and is an important part of the prefecture’s culture. Students graduating from Elementary and Middle School make paper Benibana and wear them during the graduation ceremony. The dye is still used to make beautiful yellow, pink and red and now the locals even make soumen from the young leaves of the flower. Yamagata truly knows how to use the flower to its full potential, just like their ancestors before them.

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Local mascot Beni-chan
Local mascot Beni-chan

Yamagata Benibana Festival

Address: Shimo-Higashiyama 1360, Yamagata (Yamagata Takase Community Center)
Date: Mid July, 2016
Access: A 20-min walk from Takase Station (JR Senzan Line)

The White Heron Dance

In Japan, the white heron is seen as a special bird because it can move between three elements: air, earth, and water. The bird can also be seen as a sign of good luck and a bringer of good harvest.

Shirasagi-no Mai, which translates to “White Heron Dance,” is an ancient Japanese dance that almost died until its resurrection in November 1968 by the Asakusa Tourist Federation. They did this to celebrate Tokyo’s 100th year anniversary as the capital of Japan. (The previous capital being Kyoto.) The dancers make slow, graceful movements that reproduce the elegance of Heian manners (late 8th to 12th century Japan).

Shirasagi-no Mai is performed twice annually at Senso-ji, in Asakusa, on the 2nd Sunday of April and on November 3rd. The dance is usually performed twice. Once around 10:30am and a second time around 2pm.

The procession is made up of six dancers dressed as white herons, one baton twirler, one bird feeder, and one parasol carrier.


The dance starts really slow with short and strong movements. The music describes the movements and the dancer’s timing is impeccable, it is not difficult to imagine them as birds. During the dance, the bird feeder moves around and throws confetti at the dancers.

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After the dance. The audience hurries to the confetti to pick them up as good luck charms. Then the procession starts again and leaves the stage.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Five things to do at Fuji Five Lakes

Mt. Fuji is closer to Tokyo than you think, and on a sunny and clear day you can even see its top from certain viewpoints in the capital. Take a bus from Shinjuku and you will see Mt. Fuji in about two hours. But what do you do around Mt. Fuji besides admiring its beautiful blue color? WAttention gives you Five things to do at Fuji Five Lakes!

1) Flower Viewing

Spring is the perfect season to visit Mt Fuji. You can’t climb the mountain during this period but you can visit the many flower festivals that generally run from mid-April until the end of May. The three best flower viewing spots are:

  • The Fuji Shibazakura Festival (04/16- 05/29)
  • Grinpa Tulips Festival (04/16 – 05/29)
  • Oshino Ninja Village (04/23 – 05/08)

WAttention staff had the chance to visit the Fuji Shibazakura Festival to see the beautiful pink flowers and the equally beautiful pink desserts. The flowers weren’t in full bloom yet, but this year the image created in the flowers is a dragon.

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Besides flower viewing you can enjoy delicious Mt. Fuji-exclusive food or a relaxing foot bath.

Sweets

Access: Take the Mt. Fuji Explorer bus from Kawaguchiko station to visit all the flower viewing areas. They have regular stops.

2) Go Cave Diving

The Fuji Five Lakes area has many national forests you can explore by yourself or with a guide. A unique location is the cavernous area near Aokigahara forest. The most visited caves are the Wind Cave, Ice Cave and Bat Cave (no, sadly we did not see any traces of Batman). The Wind Cave was used as a natural refrigerator in the old days and also stored silkworms. The cave has a year-round temperature of 0 to 3 degrees C making permanent ice a common sight.

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After a visit to the caves you can stop by the nearby tourist shop and eat some corn ice cream. This sweet treat has a unique flavor and is a must try if you’re into strange flavors. Once you’re all rested up, feel free to explore the surrounding forests which have been untouched for many years. The bus station near the caves has a Tourist Information Center providing maps with ideal hiking routes and viewpoints.

Access: Take a bus from Kawaguchiko Station in the direction of Lake Motosuko and Shin-Fuji Station. For the Ice Cave get off at Hyoketsu and for the Wind Cave at Fuketsu bus stop. The ride takes about 15 minutes one way.

3) Ride a Hippo

Yes, you heard that right. There is a hippo near Mt. Fuji, more specifically at Lake Yamanaka. Actually, it’s not a real hippo. It’s an amphibian bus named after a hippo, but still very amazing nonetheless! The bus first takes you for a short ride in the area and the bus guide will give you some quiz questions about the area, Mt. Fuji and fun facts. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Japanese, the questions are also provided in English, Chinese and Korean.

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The bus drives all the way into the lake giving you a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji. This is a truly unique photo opportunity. The most exciting part of the ride is when the bus drives into the lake, creating a big splash!

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Access: 30 minutes on the Fujikyu Yamanashi bus from Fujikyuko Kawaguchiko Line Fujisan Station bound for Asahi-oka.

4) Enjoy Roller Coasters and Sweets

Next to Mt. Fuji is an amusement park full of Guinness World Record holding rollercoasters. Fuji Q Highland has the 5th longest rollercoaster in the world, the rollercoaster with the world’s fastest acceleration time, one of only two “4th dimension” rollercoasters in the world and the rollercoaster with the steepest freefall in the world. If that hasn’t convinced you to go nothing will. Next to the park is a natural hot spring (Onsen) and a little town that replicates Paris with amazing sweets shops. Artisans from Japan and France have created delicious sweets combinations for you to enjoy.

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Paris

 

Access: There is a special 7,300 yen Fuji Q Pack with a free return bus trip, park entrance fee and a Free Pass for all the rides in the park. Buses leave from Shibuya, Tokyo, Yokohama and Shinjuku station. Depending on where you leave it takes between 100 and 150 minutes to reach Fuji Q Highland.

5) Scenic Train Ride

Last but not least is a brand new Scenic Train that rides around the Mt. Fuji area. The Fujisan View Express takes about an hour to go from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko and makes stops at Mt. Fuji and Fuji Q Highland. Riding this train all the way is definitely worth it. The interior gives a nice old-timey feeling and the windows are big enough to see the surrounding nature – and Mt. Fuji – clearly. If you book the “Sweets Plan” for 4,000 yen you can ride first class while enjoying a specially designed “sweets only” Mt. Fuji bento box. There is a bar on the train with drinks that all passengers can visit.

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Access: Main stations for this train are Otsuki and Kawaguchiko. The train makes three rides every day.

 

Yamagata Sakura Matsuri

During the sakura blooming season, Yamagata shows two sides. During the day you see colorful “pompom”-like tufts of flowers and at night you are transported to a flowery fairy world. Here are some of the best sakura viewing spots in Yamagata.

Daytime Sakura

Yamagata Castle

During the Edo period, Yamagata Castle was the residence of the lord of Yamagata domain. Its formal name is Ka-jō (Ka castle). When the sakura are in bloom the castle area holds a festival with actors and entertainment from the Edo period. You can even spot the official Geisha of Yamagata City. There are approximately 1,500 sakura trees in the park surrounding the castle.

Maiko of Yamagata City
Maiko of Yamagata City

Basho Yamadera Memorial Hall

This hall is built to honor the poet Matsuo Basho. In this area there is a museum about haiku and a restaurant where you can enjoy tea and sweets. The memorial hall is on top of a hill in front of Yamadera, so you can watch the sakura on the hill while enjoying the sakura in the park.

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Yamagata City Hall

From the top floor you have a beautiful view over all of Yamagata city. Including the sakura.

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Nighttime Sakura

When the sun goes down over Yamagata city there are still plenty of sakura to enjoy.

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Mamigasaki River

At night the sakura lane next to the river is lit up and festival stands start selling their food. Be sure to bring something extra to cover up, because it can get quite cold watching the sakura at night. And if you need to re-energize, visit the festival stands to order some konnyaku or dondon yaki ‘ (rolled op okonomiyaki on a stick), the soul food of Yamagata.

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Yamagata castle

We are at Yamagata castle again to enjoy the sakura, but this time the atmosphere is completely different. The lights peeking through the thick coverage of sakura look like little fairies flying in between the flowers. The reflection of the castle wall in the sakure petal covered water  makes you stop and admire the amazing colors.

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If you head deeper into the park you can see the same cherry blossoms from before, or are they? At night, the area is truly different.

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Bloom Period: Mid to Late April

How to get to Yamagata from Tokyo:

Train: 2h 30min to Yamagata Station with the Yamagata Tsubasa Shinkansen

Express bus: 5h 30min from Tokyo Station

Car: 4h 20min Urawa Main Line ⇒ Yamagata zao I.C

From Osaka :
Train: 5h from Shin-Osaka via Tokyo (JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

An online shop with a Café?

Popular online retailer Rakuten has a Café in Shibuya. Besides serving food and drinks that are popular on the site’s main retailing webpage “Rakuten Ichiba”, the staff can give you information about anything on Rakuten from financial to product advice. Free e-readers are available as well as free 1GBPS wifi, in case you want to make a Rakuten purchase.

Location: Ma Maison Shibuya-Koen-Dori Building, 1-20-6 Jinnan, Shibuya Ward.
Hours:
11 a.m. – 11 p.m. (7 days a week)

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Flower hills of Chichibu

Chichibu is located in Saitama prefecture, less than 80 minutes away from the capital by train. Anyone in need of a green escape from the concrete buildings of Tokyo will enjoy a day trip to Chichibu. Surrounded by the lush forests and green hills of Chichibu you are sure to come back to nature. Every spring one of the highlights of Saitama prefecture are the Moss Pink (Shibazakura) hills of Chichibu’s Hitsujiyama Park.

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More than 400,000 Shibazakura plants of nine varieties blossom during April and May, creating beautiful hues of pink. The locals tend to the flowers and make patterns with the color variations. For example, here you can see a heart, smiley and color pattern.

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After visiting the flowers you can go to the nearby market where Chichibu’s mascot Potekuma-kun is greeting you with a stick of Chichibu’s famous Miso Potato. You can try these tempura-battered deep fried potatoes with a coating of miso sauce yourself at one of the stands. Wattention staff rated these potatoes to be very delicious and this is to no surprise as they won first prize in the 5th Saitama B Class Gourmet Grand Prix.

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Golden Week Campaign

From the 23rd of April until the 8th of May there is a special prize campaign in to win some Shibazakura Hill goodies. All you have to do is take the Red Arrow Limited Express Train to see the Shibazakura Hill in Chichibu and show a photo of your train and flower viewing ticket at the local Tourism Office. Be sure to take a photo of your train ticket before you arrive at Chichibu! Because the ticket gate at the train station will take your ticket upon arrival.

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There are some really nice prizes to be won so I highly recommend everyone to participate. And knowing that there are up to a 100 prizes every day the odds are quite good you will go home with a hotel voucher or beautiful Shibazakura Hill hand towel.

Access

Fastest by Limited Express Train: Red Arrow Limited Express train to Chichibu from Ikebukuro Station, 80 minutes

A visit to Yamagata

Yamagata is a prefecture in Tohoku, the northern region of Japan. Famous for its nature, hot springs, fruits, flowers and spiritual places Yamagata is sure to make you fall in love with its charm.

During the Edo Period (1603–1867) Yamagata city was a powerhouse due to its status as a castle town and producer of luxury goods such as Beni (red safflower dye used to make cosmetics and fabric).

Yamagata overview
Yamagata city and countryside

Paradise for foodies

Yamagata has cherry and apple trees everywhere. During the harvest season you can even participate in fruit picking activities. The fruits are yours to keep of course. The rice from Yamagata, Tsuyahime, has been voted as one of the best in all of Japan. And don’t forget Dondon Yaki (rolled up okonomiyaki on a stick) and Konnyaku (plant-based jelly boiled in a soy sauce broth), Yamagata’s soul food! And if that can’t still your appetite, you can always participate in the Imoni festival where they make Yamagata’s famous Imoni (potato stew) in a 6 diameter pot.

Food

Relax and enjoy

If you love Onsen, Yamagata has plenty to discover. Deep in the mountains you can find Onsen towns such as Ginzan and Kaminoyama Onsen. Or if you look to cool down instead of warming up, go skiing in the mountains while watching the famous Yamagata Snow Monsters.

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The spirit(uality) and festivity of Yamagata

Yamadera is a more than thousand year old temple at the top of a mountain. This temple was founded as a branch temple of Enryaku-ji on top of Mt. Hie near Kyoto. The flame that has been brought over from Mt. Hie still burns in Yamadera. Find out more about Yamadera here

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And if you are on a pilgrimage of self-discovery, don’t forget to visit Yamagata’s three sacred mountains: Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono.

On the first weekend of August there is a huge festival called “Hanagasa Matsuri” where hundreds of dancers perform on the street with paper flower-decorated straw hats. This festival is closely linked to the Benibana matsuri and the famous Benibana flower.

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Sakura

The Sakura in Yamagata are beautiful during spring and there are special light ups when they are in full bloom. Yamagata castle holds a special Sakura festival with re-enactments from the Edo period and the Mamigasaki River has beautiful lit up Sakura at night.

From Tokyo :
[Rail] 2h 30min (quickest) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.
From Osaka :
[Rail] 5h from Shin-Osaka via Tokyo (JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line) to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

New Year’s Day celebrations in Japan

After the New Year’s Eve celebrations, it’s the real deal. Japanese people go back to their family home during the holidays and spend time together eating and talking.

Enjoying company and food

You could say that New Year’s in Japan is like Christmas in Western countries. Most important is to get together with your family and enjoy a nice meal together.

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After returning from your first shrine visit people usually read their nengajo, New Year’s cards. If you are with family you get together to share your Osechi, New Year’s lunch box. If you are with friends or on your own you usually share a meal as well. Even if you don’t have a fancy osechi box, almost everyone eats ozoni. This is a soup with mochi and the preparation varies from every region and every family. Try this recipe to make your own ozoni.

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During the first seven days of the new year, there is a “cooking ban”. Traditionally this is to appease the fire god Kohji. This god would get upset if you made fire early in the year and cause natural disasters. Over time this became more of a “rest period” for housewives who worked so hard in preparation for the new year.

Gifts

Besides beautiful nengajo, delicious food and family reunions there are also gifts to be given. If you’re 22 years or younger you’re in luck, you get an otoshidama! This is money in a fancy envelope given by your parents and grandparents. The amount depends on the generosity of your family…and probably also if you’ve been a good kid the past year.

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For adults who no longer receive otoshidama there are fukubukuro. These lucky bags contain secret items worth at least twice the price of what you paid. Every shop makes a limited amount of fukubukuro so people often line up well in advance to get a deal at their favorite shop. If you’re lucky bag hunting, here’s a handy guide. During the fukubukuro period (1st – 2nd of January) you can also find winter sales in many shops. So try your New Year’s luck!

Geisha: Not only in Kyoto

When you think of Japanese Geisha, you probably think of Kyoto and the Gion district.  This is indeed the most famous place to find Geisha, but it is not the only one in Japan. These beautiful ambassadors of the traditional Japanese arts are very reclusive, but sometimes you are able to get a glimp of them. That is, if you know where to find them.

Let me introduce you to some Geisha districts outside of Kyoto.

Tokyo

The old capital of Kyoto has its fair share of geisha, but Tokyo also has a few famous Hanamachi, or Geisha districts. The most well known of these is Asakusa. With its Edo-period flair it is the oldest district still standing in Tokyo after frequent bombings during World War II. The street you have to look out for is Kannonura street, this is where all the Geisha tea houses are located. Just follow the street leading to the back of Senso-Ji temple. The best time to see a Geisha is between 6pm and 8pm when they leave for work to attend banquets.

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Maiko, Geisha in training, at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

Yamagata

Just like Geisha in Kyoto have a different name (Geiko), Geisha from Yamagata are called “Geigi”. There used to be about 150 Geigi from the Taisho period towards the early Showa period. Today there are approximately a little over 10 Geigi working in Yamagata. During the Edo period, safflower from Yamagata was highyl valued and it was used to make lipstick or dye clothes. This turned Yamagata city into an area for culture and luxury goods.

Maiko service is available at restaurants or hotels in Yamagata city including Zao hot springs. You can meet Yamagata Maikos at events such as Kajou Kan-ou-kai (a cherry blossom viewing held at former Ka Castle) in April, Hanagasa Parade Festival in August, and Kaminoyama Float Parade in September.

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Maiko at Ka Castle

Niigata

The Furumachi district of Niigata is considered one of the three most prestigious areas in Japan for Geisha or Geigi, as they are called here. The tradition of Furumachi Geigi was born in the Edo period, when Niigata was the most frequented port near the Sea of Japan. Since Niigata was Japan’s top rice producer, many merchants came to the city. The Furumachi Hanamachi helped welcome  visitors, and it is said that at their peak, there were over 300 active Geisha in Niigata.

Geigi on their way to work

Kanazawa

Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The Hanamachis here are called Higashi Chaya and Nishi Chaya, and they still look like they came right out of the 19th century. In these districts there are still regular Geisha performances and they are more accessible and affordable than the evenings in Kyoto. However, this does not mean that the Geisha are any less professional than their Kyoto counterparts. Kanazawa is actually considered to be the second biggest Geisha area next to Kyoto. A must visit in Higashi Chaya is the special teahouse with a room completely covered in gold leaf paper.

If you are interested in watching a Geisha performance in Kanazawa, you can book a seat on this website.

Kanazawa

 

Osaka

The Hanamachi of Osaka is called Shinmachi. In the old days there were more active Hanamachi in Osaka but currently there is only one. Many of Japan’s famous comedians come from Osaka, so it’s no surprise that the Geisha (or Geiko, as they are called) of Osaka have some special tricks up their sleeves.  The Herahera Odori is an acrobatic dance unique to the Geiko of Osaka and features acrobatic stunts such as handstands. You can still see these dances being performed at some Osaka festivals.

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Shizuoka

Shimoda city in Shizuoka prefecture used to have about 200 active Geisha less than 40 years ago. Now they are facing extinction with only five active Geisha left. In order to stop this decline, Shizuoka prefecture has decided to sponsor students willing to become Geisha and give the active Geisha a government pay. For Shizuoka and Shimoda city Geisha are an important cultural heritage and a symbol of the traditional arts of Japan. But they also hope that the new Geisha will draw more tourists to the city.

Another city in Shizuoka prefecture with Geisha is Atami. Well known as an Onsen town, it also has its own set of Geisha. The ladies working here were called “Onsen Geisha” and were seen as less classy by the Geisha from Kyoto. They are trained in the same arts as the high class Geisha but they serve less exclusive patrons and are cheaper to book for an evening.

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If you would like to know more about Geisha districts, be sure to read our article by the Australian geisha Sayuki. She will tell you more about Geisha makeup and Geisha games. And if you are interested in becoming a Geisha yourself, Sayuki accepts trainees from all over the world, as long as they have perfect Japanese and are willing to stay in Japan for a long time.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Shibuya Scramblers – Liese

People from all walks of life from all over the world come to the Shibuya crossing to experience the world’s busiest scramble. In this series, WAttention staff randomly asked foreign Shibuya scramblers what they were doing there and where they are headed for.

Liese

(Nickname: The Lizard)

From: Belgium

In Shibuya to: see the scramble. Also for some shopping!

The Shibuya crossing is:  Really cool. It’s so busy that I couldn’t even take a photo! By the way, when is the busiest time at Shibuya crossing?!

Japan is fascinating because

There are so many strange things in Japan. I wanted to flush the toilet but when I pressed the button, I could only hear a flushing sound but there was no flushing. (This device in toilets is called Otohime (Sound Princess). Japanese people use it so others can’t hear any sounds from the toilet.) What’s also amazing about Japanese toilet is that the seats are heated.

In restaurants, you can order from a vending machine and eat in separate cubicle-like spaces and on the streets everything is loud and flashy. When we went to visit a gaming center, everyone was so focused on their game. It’s amazing in its own way. An amazing experience for me was to go to Arima Onsen and visit the baths.

After Shibuya I’m: 

I don’t know where we’re going! *laughing* Currently I’m on a big group tour.  Tomorrow I’m going to visit Tsukiji Fish market because it’s moving soon. I would also like to visit Harajuku and the Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku (This hotel was featured in the movie “Lost in translation”)

 

Liese brought her Japan-style jacket from Belgium to wear in Tokyo
Liese brought her Japan-style jacket from Belgium to wear in Tokyo
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Thank you for the interview! We hope you have fun shopping for Japanese fashion

Rescue Cat Café: Asakusa Neko-en

Japan has many themed cafés, but the most popular ones are cat cafés. Takako Saito has been running cat café “Asakusa Neko-en” for 7 years now and there is one thing that makes her café stand out amongst all the others – all her feline companions are rescued cats.
Her love for animals inspired her to be different from the other cat cafés who typically abandon cats after a certain age or focus on one specific type of breed. Saito’s cats are all strays or rescue cats. . Recently she has been taking in refuge cats from Fukushima prefecture as well, after many animals over there had been abandoned by their owners after the Tohoku Earthquake.R_P1020299

The Café has a very nice atmosphere, it feels like you are visiting a friend and her cats. All the furry friends get along really well and react friendly to every touch.

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Visitors come from everywhere in Japan and the world. Wattention met with a couple from Romania who visited the cat café while on their vacation in Japan. “I love cats. That’s why I wanted to come here”, says Michaela. Her friend Alex came along because it was Michaela’s idea, but he said he was also very inspired by the fact that the café only has rescued cats.

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There are plenty of books to read in the Café and there is a big selection of Japanese manga, a television, a selection of cat toys, drinks and snacks. And on top of that, the café has free Wi-Fi.

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If you feel ready to be covered in cats, buy some cat food for 100 yen and let the furry fun commence.

R_P1020332 Saito says she thinks Western people love animals more than Japanese. “Japanese people buy animals in pet shops, which are illegal in Europe. These pet shops give the animals a lot of stress.” In Europe, most pets come from licensed breeders or they are adopted from “accidental” litters.
All the cats in Asakusa Neko-en are de-stressed for sure. And if you want to de-stress yourself, a visit to this cat café is well worth it. If you really get attached to one of the cats you can adopt him/her to take home.

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Hours: 11:00am to 9:00pm
Access: 6th Floor Umamichi Myoukenya Building, 3-1-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo (Katsuta watch shop on ground floor)
Admission for 1 hour: Adults 800 yen, Children (junior high school age or younger) 700 yen
Each additional 30 minutes: 200 yen
4.5 hour special rate: 1,500 yen (weekdays only)
Note: You have to wear socks to enter the café. If you’re not wearing any, you can buy some cute cat socks at the entrance for 150 yen. Stockings are ok.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tottori: The Desert of Japan

Yes, the following photo was taken in Japan.

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This area is called Tottori Sakyu or Tottori Sand Dunes.  These hills of sand are 16 kilometers long from east to west and 2 kilometers wide from north to south. Located in the Northeast of Tottori prefecture they face the Japanese Sea. The ocean wind that blew from the Sea of Japan created these dunes over a period of almost a 100,000 years.

I came here with a group of friends in September. During this time Japan is still warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt, compared to some European countries. A member of our group heard about the dunes and wanted to see them because we were in the area. I was very surprised to learn of their existence as even some of our Japanese friends had not heard of the dunes. Even if you’re more of a “forest and lakes” person, this unique sandy area makes a big impression.

The area really feels like a different country and the locals play into that atmosphere by providing camels – yes, camels – to ride on for a fee. If camels aren’t your thing, you can also ride a horse that is decorated like it came from North Africa.

When you thought you had seen it all, I give you camels in Japan
When you thought you had seen it all, I give you camels in Japan

The dunes are a popular spot for paraglading and sandsurfing or for swimming in the ocean. During the summer, the sand gets nice and warm making relaxing on your beach towel feel like visiting a spa. But what’s truly amazing is the view. The contrast between barren desert and lush green hills in the distance is truly spectacular. The dunes are actually slowly disappearing because of reforestation efforts in Tottori prefecture. Even if it might take a long time before they’re completely gone, don’t miss the chance! You will amaze all your friends by saying your photos of the dunes were taken in Japan.

The Japanese Sea
The Japanese Sea

After seeing the dunes you can visit the local Sand Museum that displays sand sculptures from artists all over the world. The exhibitions change annually so be sure to visit regularly if you’re into sand art. Near the sand Museum is a shop that sells juice made from the famous Tottori pears. Japanese pears are round like apples, and the ones from Tottori  are highly valued.

Tottori pear snacks
Tottori pear souvenirs

The area is truly unique in Japan and a must-visit when you are near Tottori. The area is easily accessible with hourly busses from Tottori Station.

Read also: Picturesque Japan: The Tottori Sand Dunes and check out our Picturesque Japan series for other photogenic places to visit.

Access:

Local Bus : 20 minutes from Tottori Station, take the bus bound for Tottori Sakyu and get off at the last stop.

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Traditional Rice Harvesting in Japan

Rice is a staple in Japan and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. In the Edo, period rice yields were a measurement of a lord’s wealth and when asked about your income you would usually say the amount of rice you receive each year.

To create quality rice, farmers first have to create quality soil. This process begins when the Sakura start blooming and ends when the soil is deemed ready. The rice is then planted and will be ready to harvest depending on the region. I visited a traditional rice farming area in Hyogo Prefecture called Kami-Cho. It has a terraced rice field that belongs to one of the top 100 most beautiful rice fields of Japan. The harvest for this particular rice field starts in early September.

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Before the rice can be harvested, the water has to be drained from the fields. The rice paddies stay very muddy so wearing boots is a must. There are two ways to harvest the rice; traditional by hand or using a machine. Some paddies are too small for the machine so they are always harvested by hand using a sickle. Before you cut the rice, the water has to be removed from the grains so the rice can dry more easily. This is done by “brushing” a stick over the rice. But be careful! If you do this too rough, the rice can fall from the plants and you will have less to harvest.

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In the end, your ricefield should look like this
In the end, your ricefield should look like this
Removing the water
Removing the water
Cutting the rice in bundles
Cutting the rice in bundles

The rice is then tightly bound using a piece of rope or a strong dried long leaf of the rice bundle. The bundles are then placed rice down so the remaining water can drip off onto the ground.

In the end, your ricefield should look like this
In the end, your rice field should look like this.

There are two ways to dry the rice. One is to run the rice through a drying machine and the other is to gradually let it dry in the sun. The second method has been proven to make the rice taste much better, but it’s a very risky procedure because it depends on the weather. If there are long periods with lots of rain, the drying process is affected. A drying machine is expensive, so many small rice farmers have no other option than to dry it the traditional way or to buy the expensive drying machine as a community.

To dry the rice, teamwork is needed. To reach the highest tier of the rice-drying rack one person has to climb up a ladder while the other person throws the bundles of rice. All bundles are hung upside down and then the sun will do its work.

The time it takes for the rice to dry depends on the type of rice and the farmer’s preference. But usually the rice stays on the drying racks longer than one week.

Traditional rice harvesting is really hard work, but it pays off to taste the rice your farmed yourself. Rice farmers are always looking for help, so why not volunteer the next time you see a rice field during Fall?

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

PomPomPurin Café in Yokohama!

If you are a fan of Sanrio’s adorable Golden Retriever character PomPomPurin, then what better way to celebrate than at one of his cafes? Here is an introduction to the latest PomPomPurin Cafe that opened in Yokohama in Kanagawa prefecture, the latest addition to the cafes in Harajuku, Tokyo and Umeda, Osaka.

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There’s no mistaking the cafe as its facade has PomPomPurin’s silhouette awaiting you.

Inside, the Café is divided into two sections with a maritime theme, in line with Yokohama´s history as a port city.

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The furniture is all color coordinated to match PomPomPurin’s custard pudding appearance, and there is also a long cushioned bench lining the wall with fluffy cushions, inviting you to spend a relaxed afternoon while enjoying your meals.
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When you enter the Café you will be welcomed by a statue of PomPomPurin which is also a memory-photo spot for the customers.

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In all of the three Cafés you will find a corner where you can purchase limited merchandise of the characters, like stuffed animals, pillows, pencil cases, pouches, hand mirrors, bags, t-shirts, key charms and much more.
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Choose between food like pasta or curry, desserts like parfait, cakes or pancakes  and drinks like coffee and soda. Every meal and drink comes with its own lovely PomPomPurin design.

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The average price range for food is between 990 yen and 1,490 yen, the desserts start at 500 yen and the drinks are between 750 yen and 790 yen. (All prices excluding tax)

WAttention staff decided for the “LoveLove hot Marshmallow Latte” (790 yen) …

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…and the “Ice on Mango Soda” (750 yen).

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Regarding the food we ordered the “Good Friend Cup de Taco Rice” (1,290 yen (+tax))…

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…and the “PomPomPurin Seafood Doria Plate” (1,490 yen), which is only available at the Yokohama branch. As a present you will receive a new sample of the little mug.
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For dessert we chose the “PomPomPurin marine Frenchtoast” (1,290 yen)…

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…and the “Macaron-chan apricot Pudding” (500 yen), both limited to the Yokohama branch.

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Everything tasted as good as it looked and was definitely worth the price.The specially designed plates, cups and cutlery made the experience a lot of fun!

If you are lucky, PomPomPurin and his little friend will also accompany you while eating.

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PomPomPurin Café – Yokohama
Yokohama Sotetsu Square
Minamisaiwai 2-1-5
Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi

Opening hours: 10:00 ~ 21:00 (last order 20:30)

Access: JR [Yokohama Station] – West Exit: 5min walk
Sotetsu Line [Yokohama Station] 2min walk

Website: http://bit.ly/1cG1z0F

Denbo-in, Asakusa’s Secret Garden

When you are in Asakusa you will notice there are many temples near the Senso-Ji area. One of them is the Denbo-in Temple, the office of Senso-Ji Temple and the residence of the head priest for generations. The garden is one of the few temple gardens from the Edo period in Tokyo.

Denbo-in was a secret garden as even the ruling lords were not easily allowed to visit. This is because Denbo-in Temple was used as Gozen-sho (place the shoguns of the Tokugawa family took a meal or rest when they came to visit). The area was opened as a public park from 1873 until 1930 but is now only open to the public for a certain period every year.

WAttention visited the garden to discover its secrets during its limited opening time. For the 300 yen entrance fee you can visit a small exhibition with ema (wooden plaques) from the Edo period. Photos are prohibited in this area but taking pictures of the garden is ok. The proceeds from this garden will be donated to support the recovery from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

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Typical for this period was the arrangement of ponds on the north and west side of buildings. When you enter the garden you are greeted by flowers and a temple. The ladies who attend to the temple serve free tea to all the visitors just as they would if the Shogun came to visit.

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The view opposite the temple is beautiful. There is a rock beach, a pond with big Koi fish and greenery giving the area a relaxing atmosphere. Even in the center of Tokyo, you can experience this calm area as if you were in the middle of a forest. Although the illusion is broken by the silhouette of modern buildings in the background, the tranquility is amazing.

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You can reach the other side of the pond by crossing a stone bridge facing a small shrine. These ladies in kimono and hakama were taking a stroll in the garden.

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After crossing the bridge you will see a stone staircase leading to a hill from which you have a beautiful view of the garden and the Temple. But before you completely cross the bridge, admire the view of Sensoji-Temple peeking through the foilage.

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If you are in Tokyo during the limited opening period, the garden is well worth a visit, if not only for the privilege that you walked in a private garden usually only accessible for nobles. The small exhibition with Ema and original sculptures from the Edo period is an amazing bonus with the entrance fee. Two things you must see at the exhibition are the original Golden Dragon puppet from the Golden Dragon Dance performed twice a year in Asakusa and the original scroll that tells the story of how Asakusa Temple came to be.

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Access: 6 min walk from Asakusa station, on the temple grounds of Senso-Ji Temple.

Shibuya Scramblers – Jo

 People from all walks of life from all over the world come to the Shibuya crossing to experience the world’s busiest scramble. In this series, WAttention staff randomly asked foreign Shibuya scramblers what they were doing there and where they are headed for.

Jo

From: United Kingdom

In Shibuya to: go indoor climbing with a friend – climbing is my hobby.

The Shibuya crossing is: Crazy and strange! There are so many people! When my parents came to Japan to visit me they got lost on the scramble.

Japan is fascinating because:

I went to an Owl Café with friends, for me it was something strange but very fun. A family member married a Japanese person and I attended their traditional Shinto wedding. That was a nice experience to be able to see that.

After Shibuya I’m:  Going to my friend in Japan where I’m staying and after my Japan trip I will go to Thailand.

We are jealous of your adventurous life Jo
We are jealous of your adventurous life Jo