Kanji 101

Socrates said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know”. This is how I feel when it comes to learning Kanji. Though I’m Japanese and have been using Kanji for the past few decades, every now and then I make new discoveries and fascinating finds in the world of Kanji.Child Kanji

Just like Egyptian hieroglyphics, many basic Kanji comes from the shapes of actual objects. When you see them, you can kind of guess what they mean. For example, this is the Kanji for children: “子” (By the way, this Kanji also represents something small or a cute)

You can separate this Kanji into two parts.
The first part is “一”, which means first, beginning, or number one.
The other is “了”, which means the end.
Child Kanji4So the Kanji for child represents a beginning as well as an end. Children often remind us of how life begins, and at the same time how short life can be and that someday we all have to face our end.

“子” is also the Kanji for the year of rat in the twelve zodiac symbols. Interestingly enough, the year of rat marks the beginning of the circle. Some might agree that rats are small or even cute. Walt Disney knew the positive feelings regarding rats and mice when he came up with Mickey Mouse. Many years later, Disney is still going strong with the kids in Japan. Perhaps there is some kanji magic there.

Ok, here are some Kanji quizzes for you. Can you guess what these mean?Kanji Quiz1. 字
子 is underneath a roof. A new child is born and he needs a name. What do you use to write his name?

2. 学
It looks like 子 is wearing a crown. What would a kid have to do to be King of Knowledge?

3. 孫
There is 子 on the left side and 系 (lineage, connected thread) on the other. In your family’s lineage, your child is related to many people in different ways. The answer lies in one of these relationships.

There are around 2000 kanji for general use in Japan. Some are basic and simple, others are so complicated that they would make you dizzy. Of course, every now and then I would encounter an unfamiliar Kanji and have to look it up in a dictionary. It is quite a challenge and takes a long time to learn all the Kanji, but personally, I think they are very beautiful and interesting.

Here are the answers: 字 means a letter or font, 学 means learning and 孫 means grandkids.

Tokyo Shopping Spree : Animal goods

Walt Disney knew the power of animals. There is something special about their cuteness, their innocence and their playfulness, which make us smile and warm inside. Whether it’s a trip to a zoo or spending some time at an animal cafe, we all need some animal fix when we are down. But for those who don’t have time to interact with the actual animals, WAttention team found cute animal goods to cheer you up.

Great for tongue-in-cheek gifts!

Rabbit Pouch
Rabbit Cheek Pouch (3,996 yen each)


Keora Keora Bear i-Phone cover (3,672 yen each)

All available @rooms SHOP
http://www.hpfrance.com/Shop/Brand/roomsshop.html

Panda Pandemonium!

pandaruma
Panda Daruma (1,944 yen)
A bear-y cute twistgiven to a traditional doll.
@Yu Nakagawa

panda donut
Panda Donut (290 yen each)
Too cute to eat the hole thing.
@siretoco factory

pandama2
Pandama (540 yen each)
This sweet panda couple comes from long-established Japanese confectionery maker, Funawa.
@Miyage Kasen


Ueno Panda Set (1,300 yen)
How about a family of panda sweets for your own folks?
@Waraku Beniya

panda bento
Panda Bento (980 yen)
The perfect pick for a bento at Ueno Zoo.
@Zenmai

All available @ecute Ueno
http://www.ecute.jp.e.yc.hp.transer.com/ueno/shop.html

Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part2

A Great Escape

Visiting a museum is a great way to appreciate art, culture and history, but let’s not forget that it also gives us the wonderful opportunity to relax and escape from our busy everyday lives.

The Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is just the right place to do so. Located in the Chiba prefecture, the museum boasts not only the world’s greatest art collection, but also the prefecture’s natural surroundings.

028_R

We had the privilege of visiting the museum on a steamy summer day. Though it was excruciatingly hot, thanks to the surrounding forest, as soon as we stepped into the museum’s vicinity, the air was much cooler and refreshing. Unlike many museums in the city, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art offers an abundance of natural settings for us to explore.

A winding trail that goes through the forest provides some much needed foliage to protect us from the harsh sunlight and blazing heat. Walking along the path was such a nice treat for both our feet and our soul.

309_R

Inspired by Monet’s paintings, the water lily pond is a favorite spot for many visitors. Flowers open in the early morning and close in the late afternoon, these short-lived white flowers are a must-see in the early summer. Several benches around the pond offer comfortable seating for those who want to appreciate the beautiful scenery.

173_R192_R

Behind the pond is a path that is adorned by a Weeping Cherry and Magnolias in the spring and is a popular spot to enjoy flower viewing. In fact, every April, it is packed with people who love to capture the perfect Sakura photos.

⑮Weeping cherry

“Some come here to take photos and others visit here to sketch the authentic beauty of nature. I’ve seen families having a picnic here as well,” said Ms. Hayashi, the PR manager at the museum. The museum is an oasis for over 500 plants and flowers, for a wide variety of wild birds and insects, and for visitors to come back to again and again.

Wisterias in May, Hydrangeas in June, autumn leaves in the fall and a silvery sky in the winter. Nature always shows us the best side of the season and never fails to give us great joy throughout the year.

239_R⑱Autumn Leaves2

People visit museums for different reasons. Some go there to admire the infamous art collection, others visit there to reflect on their own thoughts. This museum offers both and even more.

Forget about the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in nature. Enjoy the great escape from your everyday lives. Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is a perfect place to rejuvenate.

Read other articles in this series: Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part1

Information
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Address: Sakado 631, Sakura, Chiba
From Tokyo Station: 67 minutes expressway bus ride or 60 minutes train ride (JR Sobu Line) to JR Sakura Station and 20 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
From Narita Airport: 30 minutes train ride (Keisei Line Limited Express) to Keisei Sakura Station and 30 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
Hours: 9:30am ~ 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Closed: Mon (except for national holidays, then closed the following non-holiday), New Year’s holiday, during exhibit changes
Admission: 1,000 yen (Adults), 800 yen (College students and people over 65 with ID), 600 yen (Elementary, middle and high school students)
Admission varies depending on the exhibition.
URL: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/

Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part1

The Perfect Harmony of Art, Architecture and Nature

The world is full of visual clutter and sometimes we get overwhelmed by information overload. It is only in an ideal environment one can appreciate the true color of what they are looking at.

①Exterior picture

Only about an hour train ride from the Narita Airport and Tokyo Station stands a hidden oasis that houses the private collection of the DIC corporation. Known as the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, this is a perfect place to immerse yourself in impressive artwork, beautifully designed architecture and Chiba prefecture’s natural settings.

Undeniable Artistic Insight

An array of paintings by Rothko. An immense room adorned with a Frank Stella collection. These are just a few of the world-famous works of art at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art. Established as a manufacturer of printing ink in 1908, DIC has cultivated numerous materials and finished products that bring “color” and “comfort” to people’s lives. The selected works here are a true reflection of DIC’s sophisticated taste.

509_R

Take the time to embrace your natural reactions as each of the art pieces carries a different meaning and message. “Depending on the time of day, season, and even your mood, the artwork looks totally different,” says Ms. Hayashi, a PR manager at the museum. Besides their impressive permanent collections, special exhibitions are held throughout the year. So make sure to check what they are showing before you visit.

④Room106

In the Best Possible Light

543_RThe artworks are displayed with meticulous care, as each exhibition space is designed with a particular piece in mind. Room sizes, ceiling heights, wall colors, lighting and even the floor materials change to complement the art in the most compelling way. DIC knows that how people perceive art is at least as important as the art itself.

A great example of a remarkable blend of art and architecture is at the entrance, where an open atrium beautifully frames the statue of Venus by Aristide Maillol. Natural light through the mosaic glasses and the soft light from the ceiling creates a feeling of grandeur, giving the best first impression to visitors.

Spectacular Surroundings

Within its sprawling 10 hectares, there is a crescent-shaped pond that is home to white swans and a nature trail that winds through Chiba Prefecture’s indigenous green forest. The plants and flowers, even the outdoor furniture have been carefully chosen so that you can appreciate nature’s expansive palette throughout the year.

004_R⑲Chinese swans_

Inside the museum both the restaurant and tea room offer spectacular views of the surrounding nature. The restaurant “Belvedere”, which means beautiful view in Italian, serves casual Italian cuisine while the tea room provides Yamamotoyama Matcha, a premium green tea brand from Nihonbashi, and seasonal Japanese sweets made by a well-established Japanese confectionery store in Kanazawa.

⑫Restaurant Belvedere398_R

Yes, this is a museum, but Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is more than just a place to appreciate art. In the next article, we will explain why this place made a lasting impression on us.

Read also about their current special exhibition: Léonard Foujita and His Models

Information
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Address: Sakado 631, Sakura, Chiba
From Tokyo Station: 67 minutes expressway bus ride or 60 minutes train ride (JR Sobu Line) to JR Sakura Station and 20 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
From Narita Airport: 30 minutes train ride (Keisei Line Limited Express) to Keisei Sakura Station and 30 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
Hours: 9:30am – 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Closed: Mon (except for national holidays, then closed the following non-holiday), New Year’s holiday, during exhibit changes
Admission: 1,000 yen (Adults), 800 yen (College students and people over 65 with ID), 600 yen (Elementary, middle and high school students)
Admission varies depending on the exhibition.
URL: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/

Looking for a Great Local Restaurant in Japan? PlanB to the Rescue!

PLANB-mainimg-e

PlanB is a new website which offers a dining concierge service for those who are looking to get the best dining experience. A PlanB concierge will listen to your specific needs, propose dining options and make the reservation for you!

WAttention signed up as a PlanB concierge recently. With many years of publishing travel magazines, we have in-depth knowledge and information only locals know. We are here to help you get the best and truly authentic experience in Japan!

How PlanB works

Dialog with WAttention Tokyo _ PlanB
Everything is done in an easy-to-use PlanB messaging system.

On their website, you can see a list of helpful and knowledgeable concierges. The concierges all have different experiences and specialties. You can also see their reviews from other users. After registering with the service, you can select the one you like and tell them your preferences and requirements.

Step-by-step: As easy as 1-2-3!

customer

Customer A

My husband and I are planning on climbing Mt. Takao this coming October for our wedding anniversary. We want to end the day with some nice authentic Japanese food with exquisite service near there. Any recommendations?
Congratulations on your anniversary! We will select restaurants that are perfect for this occasion.
Here are our selections! What do you think?
squarelogo-wattention

Concierge (WAttention)


Restaurant Am_165239_R
Located at the foot of Mt. Takao, Restaurant A specializes in char-grilled chicken. You will be seated in a traditional Tatami room with a picturesque view of a Japanese garden.
Link: http://www.restaurant-a.com/
Restaurant Bm_104018_R
This restaurant serves a traditional Japanese course menu, using only fresh ingredients that are in season. They also offer a selection of premium local sake, which complement the meal.
Link: http://www.restaurant-b.com/details
Restaurant Cm_159039_R
Surrounded by the bamboo garden, this secluded restaurant offers a quiet and serene atmosphere as well as exquisite Japanese kaiseki meals.
http://www.restaurant-c.com/en/#

customer

Customer A

Wow, thanks! All of them seem so nice!
We absolutely love the Japanese garden of Restaurant A. Can you book a table for us on Oct. 25th at 7pm?
Absolutely.
We just made a reservation for you on Oct. 25th at 7pm!
squarelogo-wattention

Concierge (WAttention)

customer

Customer A

Thank you so much!

A few days later…

customer
Customer A
5stars
“We had a wonderful evening! The food was excellent and the service was superb. We would recommend this restaurant to anybody. Thanks WAttention for making our anniversary memorable.”

It’s that simple! With PlanB, you can easily get top-notch recommendations and reservations from local dining experts in Japan. That’s why, if you ever need failproof dining plans, PlanB dining concierge services are truly worth a try.

Click here to check out PlanB’s website

Disappearing Treasures: Fujino-yu in Yoga

Fujino-yu Facade

Not to be confused with the popular cardio exercise or spiritual practice from India, Yoga is an upscale residential district in the Setagaya ward. Tucked away in the backstreets is the Fujino-yu bathhouse which has been in operation for over 50 years. Its old-fashioned exterior is more than enough reason to stop and take a look. Just in the few minutes I was waiting outside I saw curious couples, amused passersby, and inquisitive students who came over to take a closer look.

Fujinoyu_front

Welcome to a one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse
“Back when public bathhouses were experiencing a boom, many building owners built cookie-cutter public baths on the first floor. But I wanted to create something different, something unique” says the owner Mr. yamaguchi, who has a keen eye for art and design. He used to create woodblock art, some of which you can see on the walls of the bathhouse. It is because of his unique vision and sense of design, this one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse came into existence.

IMG_2901_R

Unlike other polished tile bathhouses, Fujino-yu has a warm and nostalgic atmosphere. Everything from the front counter, shoe boxes, lockers, doors and lounge chairs are all made out of wood.

Fujino-yu_front deskIMG_2867_RIMG_2868_R

The wood theme continues in the wet area, where a Cypress wood bath and a unique wood pavilion become the focal point of the bathhouse.

IMG_2889_R

Another notable interior decoration are the ceramic tiles with Iris paintings. A Japanese bathhouse typically has a grand painting of Mt. Fuji on the wall, but here, an elegant drawing of Irises welcomes you at the jet baths. On May 5th (Children’s day), many people take Shobu-yu, an Iris bath to wish for longevity and good health. At Fujino-yu, everyday is a Shobu-yu day!

IMG_2897_R

Mr. Yamaguchi says that though the number of people who frequent Sento bathhouses has significantly declined, more and more young families and students are trying out Sento and enjoying the experience.

However, with this shift in demographics came a new dilemma.

Sento is a place to learn how to share and respect
Since we live in the era of abundance and cheap disposable items, we rarely have an opportunity to share things with others. But at a Sento bathhouse, we not only share the facilities, but we also share the water and even the atmosphere. Visiting a Sento bathhouse is a prime opportunity to learn how to share and respect each other.

IMG_2882_R

“When it comes to sharing, a little foresight and empathy goes a long way,” says the owner. For example, you don’t want to disturb the water, let alone swim in the water, because people are here to relax. You don’t want to get the floor soapy because other people have to walk on it. What’s normal in your household might not be the norm in a public area. You are here to witness and respect subtle and often unspoken social rules at Sento.

With that said, don’t hesitate to fully enjoy the Sento experience. If you have a question ask the person behind the counter or one of the regulars. More often than not, they are willing to answer any questions you might have and strike up a friendly conversation. What better way to learn about Japanese customs and values than to share stories and quality time together.

Owl prints
The owner’s art works are on display in the lounge area.
Owl decorations
There are many owl ornaments and decorations.

Our lifestyles have been modernized and our mindset has changed. But at Fujino-yu, things have remained the same for a long time. Inside those well maintained wooden baths sits the chance to teach great values and subtle etiquette to a new generation of Sento guests.

Information

IMG_2901_RFujino-yu
Address: Tamagawadai 2-1-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 7-min walk from Yoga Station (Tokyu Denentoshi Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 11pm
Closed: Friday
Admission: 460 yen

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers
Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

WISE OWL HOSTELS, a special nest for night owls

When it comes to traveling, choosing the right accommodation is very important. So how do you choose the perfect place out of the sea of luxurious hotels, traditional inns, capsule hotels and airbnb hosts?

There’s now a place in Hatchobori you should give a hoot about.

IMG_2753_R

Location: Close vacinity to Tokyo sightseeing spots
The newly opened “WISE OWL HOSTELS” is a perfect central hub for sightseeing around Tokyo. Ginza, a high-end shopping district, Nihonbashi, a business area with the Edo flair, and of course, Tsukiji, the renowned fish market are all within walking distance.

IMG_2750_RWhen you get out of Hatchobori station, you’ll see an abstract wall mural created by an up-and-coming painter, Jun Inoue, on the side of the building. This place used to be a dingy old office building, but with a few innovative ideas and fresh designs, it is now a hip and modern hostel complex.

 

 

 
Facility: A cozy little nook for a good night’s sleep
Inside is minimalistic yet well designed. Compared to other typical youth hostels, WISE OWL HOSTELS has a sophisticated and grown-up feel to it. Each bed is compartmentalized with wooden walls for privacy and Simmons mattresses are provided for comfort.

IMG_2775_RIMG_2777_R

What they emphasize is not the amount of sleep, but the quality of sleep guests get. Because we all know that when you are traveling abroad, time is precious and you want to make the most of it. Would you rather sleep or go out and experience an exciting nightlife? WISE OWL HOSTELS suggests the latter.

IMG_2768_R

For those who are planning on staying in Tokyo for longer than a month, there is a spacious and upscale service apartment on the 6th floor.

Food and Entertainment: Under one roof
There are two in-house facilities worth mentioning. Located on the first floor is a “Fukurou (Owl)” restaurant. They serve Yakitori (chicken on a skewer) and Oden (winter hot pot) as well as a variety of local Japanese sake. Sharing a lively conversation with a Japanese businessman over a cup of artisan sake is an experience you can only get in Japan.

IMG_2758_RIMG_2789_R

If you are a night owl and want to mingle with the local club goers, just head downstairs to the “Howl.” A unique sound system designed with custom made vacuum amplifiers and speakers make this place stand out from the rest. It’s sure to satisfy music aficionados.

IMG_2796_R

IMG_2795_RIMG_2799_R

 

For better or for worse, your accommodation plays a key role in making your trip memorable. Everybody has different priorities and preferences when it comes to choosing where to stay. But if you are one of those short sleepers, why not try the WISE OWL HOSTELS. Afterall, the name alone suggests that it’s a wise choice for a night owl like you.

Information

WISE OWL HOSTELS
Access: 30-sec walk from Hatchobori Station
Tel: 03-5541-2960
URL: http://www.wiseowlhostels.com/

Beautiful and Elegant: the Cut Glassware Shop Hanashyo

After 170 years, a century-old glass cutting method has been revived in Nihonbashi!

Edo Kiriko Store

Edo Kiriko, one of the finest glass cutting techniques in Japan, was established in 1834 by Kagaya Kyubei, who owned a glassware store in Edo (the city now known as Tokyo). He started adding intricate designs to glass products by using just an emery grinder. His designs were so elegant and beautiful that anybody who took a look at them were instantly captivated.

Edo Kiriko InsideThrough Edo Kiriko’s technique and its popularity quickly spread throughout Edo, unfortunately the manufacturing base moved to other locations and the Kiriko stores gradually disappeared from where it started.

But now, after 170 years since its inception, Edo Kiriko has finally returned to its original roots and opened its doors to many Kiriko admirers.

A newly opened Edo Kiriko store, Hanashyo, is not a typical glassware store. Its mission is to promote not only the products but also Japanese culture. Visitors can see how the Kiriko designs are engraved into glassware at an in-house studio or join a Sake tasting seminar using a Kiriko sake cup. Hanashyo aims to become the cultural hub for both Japanese and foreign tourists, where they can see, touch and experience this century-old Japanese craftsmanship.

Edo Kiriko

 

The pinnacle of Japanese elegance and craftsmanship, the Edo Kiriko products make a great gift for your friends at home!

Information

Hanashyo SignEdo Kiriko Hanashyo
Hours: 10:30am – 6pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 11:30am – 5pm (Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays), closed on Mondays.
Access: 2-min walk from Shin-Nihombashi Station (JR Sobu LIne), a 3-min walk from Kodemmacho Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line), a 6-min walk from Mitsukoshimae Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line).

Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

shimotakaido_sento_009_R

It’s 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse doesn’t open for another half an hour. Yet, there’s already a few people waiting outside to be the first ones into the hot fresh water tubs.

“This is quite typical. The regulars want to be the first ones in, especially on weekends.” The proprietor Mr. Kondo, a third generation Sento owner says as he opens the shutter door a little early. Even before stepping inside this bathhouse, I could tell that this is a place adored by the locals.

shimotakaido_sento_002_R

Tucked away in a quiet residential area in Setagaya-ku, the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse has been welcoming the locals for more than 50 years. Despite its humble exterior, the bathhouse offers a wide range of baths: the onsen (hot spring), jet baths, a charcoal bath, water bath, standing showers, a sauna, and last but not least, the electricity bath.

2_shimotakaido_sento_008_RThe interior is clean and bright and the high ceiling lets in alot of air and light. Both the male and female locker areas have plenty of space to relax (there’s even an outdoor sitting area for the guys!). Not only that, they have a massage chair, coin operated hair dryer and refrigerators full of beverages. With all these amenities available for you to pamper yourself, it’s no wonder people line up outside before the doors open.

The hot spring bath is everybody’s first choice since it’s at 39 degrees (102.2℉), not too hot nor too cold, just a nice comfortable temperature. Regulars tend to congregate in this bath and chit-chat. But my favorite is the jet bath which has multiple jets aimed right at the common sore muscle areas: shoulders, backs and feets. Then there’s the mysterious and most shocking one of all,the electricity bath, with its low level of electric current running through the water. When you go in, you feel a little tingling on your skin. Some people might find it relaxing, I on the other hand, am not so sure about it…

Tsukimi-yu_Retro
You can try an old-fashioned scale and hair-salon-style hair dryer.

2_shimotakaido_sento_019_RWith all the different pools, you can spend quite a long time in the bath. But the reason people keep coming back to Tsukimi-yu is not only the facilities, but also the sense of connection they get. Most of the early sento-goers are well over 70 years old. They talk, they care and they even wash each others backs. Back in the lobby, everybody gathers around a short table near an old TV like one big family.

It reminds me of the Japanese phrase “Hadaka no Tsukiai (socializing naked)” which literally means a relationship with nothing to hide. The sento culture embodies this sentiment and brings people closer together.

Even a new sento goer like myself was immediately welcomed and I felt right at home at the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse.

 

Information

shimotakaido_sento_002_RTsukimi-yu
Address: Akatsutsumi 5-36-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 6-min walk from Shimotakaido Station (Keio Line, Tokyu Setagaya Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 12am
Closed: Tuesday
Admission: 460 yen

 

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

shimotakaido_sento_007_R

In my previous article, I pointed out the struggles and hardships that Sento bathhouses face. Sadly, many of them cannot figure their way out of their predicament and are forced to close their decades-long business. There’s no quick fix to this problem, but I believe the best way to help them out is to simply go and enjoy the bath and be a good patron. So here is how to do it.

What to Bring
Though many bathhouses offer towels and shampoo for an extra charge, we all have our own favorite brands when it comes to washing ourselves. Bring along your toiletries, a wash cloth, a bath towel, change of clothes and enough money.

Check List
□ Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner and soap)
□ Wash cloth and bath towel
□ Hair tie (for long hair)
□ Plastic bag (for putting a wet towel and laundry in)
□ Money (460 yen plus little extra for refreshments)

Many of the Sento bathhouses open around 3 in the afternoon. I like to go there right after it opens so that I can be in fresh and clean water.

1 Keep Your Shoes at the Entrance
Just like in most Japanese houses, you take your shoes off at the entrance. Place your shoes in an open shoe box and lock it by pulling out the wooden key.

shimotakaido_sento_013_R

2 Pay the Admission Fee
460 yen is the standard rate for Sento around Tokyo. Some bathhouses offer a steamy hot sauna service for an extra charge. Facilities are separated by gender, make sure to go to the appropriate side: 男 for Male and 女 for Female.

Otokoyu_Onnayu

3 Strip Down
After taking off your clothes, put them and other belongings in the locker. The locker key usually comes with a water resistant wristband so you can wear it while taking a bath. Now let’s go into the bath area.

4 Clean yourself
Grab a stool and a basin and find a spot where you want to wash yourself. Japanese people usually wash themselves while sitting on a stool. But if you prefer standing, some facilities offer shower rooms.

2_shimotakaido_sento_013_R5 Taking a Bath
Once you’re clean, rinse the stool and the basin well and put them back to where you found them. Check the water temperature before you go in, since it can be very hot sometimes. Keep your towel and hair out of the water to show that you wanna keep the water clean.

6. Warm Up and Unwind
From a jacuzzi to a water bath, some facilities offer a wide variety of baths. It’s fun to try them all, but be aware that taking a bath can be very exhausting. Don’t force yourself to stay in the water too long.

7. Get Dressed and Cool Off
When you’re ready to get out, wipe your body with your wash cloth so as not to get the locker room wet. Get dressed and cool off. Bathhouses usually have a lobby area where you can get drinks and icecream. Take your time and relax, even mingle with the locals.

 

So, it’s not that dissimilar to your normal shower, right? Aside from that there are bunch of naked strangers around, the only difference is that the bath is bigger and fancier. Once you try it you’ll get used to it, and perhaps, you will become fond of the Sento experience.

In the next article, I will introduce my local Sento, Tsukimi-yu.

Sushi You Cannot Get at a Restaurant

Sushi on the Go

Travelling Sushi Bag Cover
Turn your suitcase into a giant sushi with this easily attachable nylon cover. Not only will it make spotting your luggage easier, but watching it come around the baggage carousel will fill you with the same anticipation of picking up your favorite sushi off the conveyor belt! Choose from a topping of shrimp, egg, salmon, tuna, mackerel, octopus, or salmon roe.

Where to Buy:
MEETSCAL Store (shibuya PARCO)
Address: Udagawacho 15-1 Shibuya Parco Part 1 1F, Shibuya
Hours: 10am – 9pm
URL: http://www.parco.co.jp/en/about/store/

Sole food

Sushi Socks
This is sushi for the sole. These fun socks look so much like the real thing you`ll be tempted to dip your toes in soy sauce.

Where to Buy:
ecute UENO
Address: Shinbashi 4-27-2, Minato
Hours: 9am – 8pm (Mon-Fri), 9am – 5pm (Sat), Closed on Sundays and Holidays)
URL: http://www.ecute.jp/ueno/ (Japanese)

Sushi for ears

Sushi earrings
Those tiny earrings are made in imitation of sushi by Japanese traditional textile, Chirimen (crepe). So cute and delicate!

sushi earing1

Where to Buy:
Tokyu Plaza Ginza
Address: Ginza 5-2-1, Chuo
Hours: 11am – 9pm
URL: http://ginza.tokyu-plaza.com/en/

Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse

001_R

I know that many travelers come to Japan hoping to have an authentic Onsen (hot spring) experience, soaking in soothing hot water is truly relaxing and rejuvenating. It’s true, an Onsen is a blissful joy and you should definitely try it at least once, but there’s an alternative. For many busy Japanese people and travelers, there is an easier way to get a similar hot bath experience.

Sento, a local public bathhouse.

A true local experience
In the olden days, many Japanese apartments didn’t come with a private bath. Tenants often had to go to a nearby Sento bathhouse not only to get clean but also to socialize with neighbors. The Sento was and still is a social hub where different generations come together and talk about their everyday lives. Though most modern apartments and houses now come with a private bath, there is something special about going to the local Sento, seeing your neighbors and being part of the community.

On a verge of extinction
Unfortunately, Sento bathhouses are on a sharp decline. During the past few decades, the number of Sento baths around Tokyo has dropped from over 2500 to around 600. There are many factors for this decline but a few major reasons are a) there are less people using a public bath, b) facilities are deteriorating rapidly and the renovation cost is enormous, c) utility costs (water and gas) are getting more expensive and d) owners are getting old and they don’t have a successor who can take over the management.

Number of Sento Bathhouses
Statistics by Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other resources

Preserving by taking a dip
You might say this is just part of economic progress, an evolution from a poorer time, and that change is inevitable and necessary. But as one of many naive Sento enthusiasts, I would like to do something about it.

002_R

So here’s the deal, I’ll highlight these one-of-a-kind bathhouses before they disappear. Hopefully I can shine some light on the realities and struggles they face and introduce some of the innovative solutions they’ve come up with. And you can try them out, give them a reason to stay around.

So be willing to expose yourself to a cultural experience and in the process bear witness to the naked truth. If we don’t contribute to keeping these landmarks relevant they will disappear and the stories of everyday life will wash away down the drain of history.

In the next article, I will explain the rules and proper etiquette of the Sento bathhouses, such as what you should bring and how you should act around naked strangers. So stay tuned.

Experience the world of Shakuhachi

Despite its simple structure, Shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, conveys the full range of tones, melodies and emotion. The following event is a rare opportunity to listen to the Shakuhachi virtuoso, Akikazu Nakamura.

002_R

Akikazu Nakamura’s Seventeenth Recital
The world of the komuso shakuhachi
―The Myoan Shinpo school, the evolution of Sanya―

003_R
Akikazu Nakamura’s shakuhachi performance is highly praised not only in traditional Japanese music komuso shakuhachi, but also in jazz and rock. Its musicality is also well-recognized among artistic scenes of contemporary improvisation.

Komuso (monks of nothingness) pertains to the order of monks who were known to travel throughout Japan while practicing meditation through the playing of shakuhachi. They are characterized by their unique head covers that resemble an overturned basket, said to be a sign of suppression of self ego that also helps focus the attention of the listener away from the player’s emotions and desires, towards the enchanting tune of the shakuhachi.

Now you can enjoy the same meditative and calming effects through this recital of shakuhachi zen music on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. It will be performed by Akikazu Nakamura who is considered the leading musician for circular breathing, multiple stopping, overtones, and the ancient Japanese breathing technique Missoku. He has performed in 40 different countries, 150 different cities, and continues to play around the world.

In this concert, the shakuhachi virtuoso will bring back to life the ancient and mysterious music of Komuso and its mystical world. Enjoy the fascinating play of tones and silences by Akikazu Nakamura.

Information

Akikazu Nakamura Disc
Date: Tuesday, July 5th
Time: 7pm(doors open at 6:30pm)
Location: Yomiuri Otemachi Hall
Access: Otemachi station Exit C3 – Toei Subway Mita Line
Tickets: 4,000 yen (Presale), 4,500 yen (At the door)

For presales or inquiries, feel free to contact Office Sound Pot by email at [email protected] or by telephone at 03-5374-8373 (domestic) or 81-5374-8373 (international).

The Town of Sawara, Where Time Stands Still

More often than not, many travelers get stuck at the airport. Whether it’s an inconvenient layover or a flight cancellation, many find themselves in a situation where they have plenty of time on their hand but nothing to do. For those who have time to spare at Narita Airport, WAttention has the perfect itinerary that is sure to entertain!

Sawara_003_R
Picturesque scenery of Sawara

Stepping into the past
Only a 45 minute train ride from the airport lies the town of Sawara. At first glance this quaint old town seems like nothing out of ordinary, but once you step inside you’ll be amazed by its rich culture and history. From a century-old sake brewery to an old-fashion boat ride, the city is full of treasures from the past. It will come as no surprise that the area is known as an “open air museum.”

Authentic architecture
Old wooden houses line the main street of Sawara and set the tone of the town. Many of the houses are well over a hundred years old. Among them is the house of Tadataka Ino who drew the first map of Japan using surveying instruments. He walked far and wide to accurately survey the true shape of Japan.

You will have the rare opportunity to see inside these historical houses as some stores are still in business, including the Toraya confectionery shop and the Fukushin Kimono store.

In 1996, the town was designated as an important preservation district of historical buildings, the first designation in the Kanto region.

Producing Quality Sake
The town is in close vicinity to the Tone River, the second longest river in Japan. Thanks to an abundant supply of fresh water, Sawara flourished as a sake town producing a wide variety of sake. Tokun Brewery, one of the two remaining breweries in the area is open to public and still producing high-quality sake.

Sawara_012_R

The View from the River
Riding a boat on the Ono River is one of the best ways to enjoy a scenic view of Sawara. The boat moves at a leisurely pace giving you more than enough time to appreciate the atmosphere and all the architectural details. As you glide down the river, you’ll be able to get a good look at several traditional wooden bridges that span across the river.

Sawara_001_R

Sawara_014_R

Visiting Sacred Ground
The Katori Jingu Shrine is a well-known “power spot,” a place that gives spiritual energy and helps visitors rejuvenate. But you don’t have to be a believer of power spots to appreciate this sacred ground. The shrine holds many treasures and its main building is now a designated cultural property.

Sawara_002_R
The shrine’s vermillion gate.

So there you have it, just a short train ride from Narita Airport, this “open air museum” offers you an experience you weren’t expecting to have with your “spare” time. It’s a little-known town among travelers but you certainly won’t forget it. Next time you are near Narita, why not enjoy a little time travel?

Information

Access: 10-min walk from Sawara Station (JR Narita Line)
From Narita Airport 2 Station, take JR Sobu Line or Narita Line to Narita Station, then take JR Narita Line to Sawara Sation.

House of Tadataka Ino
Address: Sawara-I 1900-1, Katori, Chiba
Hours: 9am – 4:30pm
Admission: Free

Tokun Sake Brewery
Address: Sawara-I 627, Katori, Chiba
Hours:10am – 4pm
Admission: Free

Katori Jingu Shrine
Address: Sawara-I 1697-1, Katori, Chiba
Hours: Always open
Admission: Free

Nihonbashi Information

Nihonbashi, a place where the traditions of old Japan are still alive. Take advantage of the helpful information center and convenient shuttle bus service to explore the city.

Check out the latest information on Nihombashi here:
http://nihombashi-tokyo.com/

Operated by Monthly Nihombashi, a community magazine that knows Nihombashi inside out, the site is packed full of local history, people, shops and more.
Available in English, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Korean and Japanese.

Metrolink Nihonbashi

Free Shuttle Around Town

001_R

Get from Tokyo Station to all the main sites mentioned in this article using this free shuttle bus service. The buses run from 10am to 8pm every 10 minutes and you can track the location of the next bus online
http://www.hinomaru.co.jp/metrolink/nihonbashi/ (Japanese only)

Shuttle Map
  1. Tokyo Sta. Yaesu Exit
  2. Gofukubashi
  3. Subway Nihonbashi Sta.
  4. Subway Mitsukoshi-mae Sta.
  5. Mitsui Memorial Museum
  6. JR Shin-Nihonbashi Sta.
  7. Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-chome
  8. Nihonbashi South
  9. Nihonbashi 2-chome
  10. Nihonbashi 3-chome
  11. Subway Takara-cho Sta.
  12. Kyobashi 2-chome
  13. Kyobashi 1-chome

Nihonbashi Information Center

For Savvy Sightseeing

006_R

Speak to the multilingual concierge staff available here to get insider tips on where best to shop, eat and sightsee to make the best of your Nihonbashi trip. The souvenir shop here stocks everything from food to modern accessories inspired by Edo chic, and the Ippin Café serves up green tea and traditional snacks from popular historical shops, perfect for a quick pick-me-up.

005_R

004_R

Special Offer for WAttention Readers
Present a copy of our newest magazine at the Nihonbashi Information Center (COREDO Muromachi 1, B1) to receive a set of coupons that will entitle you to offers such as a 5% discount at KIYA, 8% off at Hashicho, a free gift at Hakuza, etc. at all 33 shops in COREDO Muromachi.

Spot Info

info用外観写真
Nihonbashi Information Center
Address: COREDO Muromachi 1
Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-2-1 Chuo
Hours: 10am – 9pm

Centuries of Craftsmanship : Ninben

004_R
Stock Up On This
Established in 1699, Ninben has been known as the leading brand in dried bonito flakes for centuries. Stock made using the fermented bonito is said to be origin of Japanese flavors. Now you can recreate these flavors at home with handy flavored-soups and seasonings here, which also make great souvenirs. See how the professionals shave bonito into flakes at live demonstrations here.

003_R
Nihombashi Kezuriba: See bonito blocks being shaved here and enjoy the fragrance of fresh bonito flakes.

006_R

001_R
Mazefuri (furikake) seasoning powder set of 3: 1,850 yen

Nihonbashi Dashi Bar Hanare
Experience real “UMAMI”

002_R
Located at COREDO Muromachi 2 is a newly opened restaurant, Nihonbashi Dashi Bar Hanare, where you can get savory cuisine full of seasonal ingredients and flavor.

Shop Info

ninben-store
Ninben Original Nihonbashi Store
Address: Nihonbashi Muromachi, 2-2-1 COREDO Muromachi 1 1F, Chuo
Hours: 10am -8pm (same rest days as COREDO)
URL: http://www.ninben.jp/

ninben-store2-1
Ninben Nihonbashi Dashi Bar
Address: Nihonbashi Muromachi, 2-3-1 COREDO Muromachi 2 1F, Chuo
Hours: 11am -11pm (Last order 10pm)

Centuries of Craftsmanship : Nihonbashi Saruya

002_R
Get Picky
This is the only handmade toothpick specialty store not only in Japan, but in the world, with a history dating back over 300 years.

The toothpicks come in a special box made of Paulownia.
The toothpicks come in a special box made of Paulownia.

These individually-carved toothpicks are made from high-quality fragrant wood and used for eating wagashi during tea ceremonies or as an auspicious gift.

003_R

Shop Info

logo-saruya
Nihonbashi Saruya
Address: Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-12-5, Chuo
Hours: 10am – 6pm (closed Sun, Holidays)

Centuries of Craftsmanship : Haibara

005_R

The Write Stuff
Now run by the 7th generation owner, this washi (Japanese paper) specialist has been along Nihombashi for over 200 years. The exquisite paper products here will make you feel like rediscovering sensory pleasures of writing.

001_R
Chiyogami Paper Box 864 yen (tax included)

008_R
Uchiwa Fan with Stencil-Dyed Paper 4,806 yen (tax included)

003_R
Haibara Notebook: 1,512 yen (tax included)

006_R

Shop Info

haibara_slide_01
Haibara
Address: Nihombashi 2-7-1 Tokyo Nihombashi Tower, Chuo
Hours: 10am – 6:30pm (5:30pm on weekends)

Bunmeido Nihombashi Café – Fit For Royal Tea –

002_R
Adjacent to the cafe is the Bunmeido Gallery where works of Shinsui Ito are displayed.

Bunmeido started in Nagasaki Prefecture over 100 years ago and is the most famous castella cake maker in Japan. While this cake is said to originate from Castilla, Spain, no doubt the Japanese have perfected the recipe to rich and moist perfection. Head to the Nihombashi Café for a taste of this confectionery which is also served to the royal family of Japan.

001_R
Bunmeido Cocktail in classic Japanese kiriko glass: 630 yen (tax included)

001_R
Bunmeido Premium Castella: 880 yen (tax included)

004_R
Freshly Baked “Mikasa” Pancake: 780 yen (tax included)

Shop Info

bunmeido-logo-small
Bunmeido Nihombashi Café
Address: Muromachi 1-13-7 Nihombashi, Chuo
Hours: 11am – 11pm

Centuries of Craftsmanship : Kuroeya

006_R

Lasting Lacquerware
This lacquerware shop harks back over 300 years to the Edo era, and preserves techniques from the Kuroe Village in what is now known as Wakayama Prefecture, famed for its lacquer production. A piece from here will last for generations to come.

Kuroeya_008_R
Wine Cooler, 15,000 yen
Kuroeya_002_R
Hand Mirror, Red
Kuroeya_001_R
Ornamental Plate

Shop Info

Kuroeya_007_R
Nihonbashi Kuroeya
Address: Nihombashi 1-2-6 Kuroeya Kokubun Bld 2F, Chuo
Hours: 9am – 6pm (closed weekends, holidays )
URL: http://kuroeya.tokyo/

Omotenashi Nihonbashi

004_R
Get a taste of authentic Japanese cultural activities such as tea ceremonies and geisha performances, as well as tours led by international tour guides.

016_R
Time to Geisha

See a geisha performance and try traditional games
Approx. 60 min.
5,500 yen


014_R
Kimono Rental & Dressing

Walk around Nihonbashi in a traditional kimono
Fitting from 10:30am to 3:30pm, return by 6pm
5,500 yen


008_R
The Way of Tea

Discover the world of tea ceremony
Approx. 60 min.
5,500 yen


003_R
Best of Japan Gourmet Tour

Taste food from across Japan
Approx. 90 mins.
from 1,000 yen


fukutokujinja2_R
Culture Experience Tour & Lunch

Find out about local tradition and culture
Approx. 150 min.
From 5,500 yen


013_R
Origami Workshop

Make your own paper crane
Approx. 30 min.
500 yen


fukutokujinja2_R
Design Your Own Hanko!

Make a name stamp in Japanese
Approx. 60 min.
2,000 yen

Info

案内所スタッフ小
OMOTENASHI NIHONBASHI
Nihonbashi Information Center
Address: COREDO Muromachi 1, B1
Tel: 03-3242-2334 (English, 10am – 7pm)
Hours: 10am – 9pm
URL: http://www.nihonbashi-info.jp/omotenashi/

Tastes of Tradition

For an affordable taste of Edo flavors passed on through the generations, stop by for lunch at one of these classic shops that preserve the methods of old.

SUSHI

Sushi as we know it today first developed in the Edo era as a type of fast food, eaten while standing at a street stall.  Sushi in the old days was also made in bigger sizes then, unlike today’s delicate servings.

Janoichi Honten
Real Edomae Sushi

鮨_R
Edomae sushi doesn’t get more authentic than this. Janoichi, now run by the 5th generation, has been feeding the hungry tradesman working at the fish market since over 120 years ago. Come here for a luxurious dinner or try the value-for-money set lunches.

外観_R

[ Shop info ]
Address: Nihombashi Muromachi 1-6-7, Chuo
Hours: 11am – 2pm (lunch), 5pm – 10pm (dinner)

YOSHOKU

Literally meaning “Western Food”, this type of Western-influenced Japanese cooking – using foreign ingredients such as Worcester sauce and ketchup – started during the Meiji Restoration.

Taimeiken
Egg-cellent Choice

L1180119_R
Omurice is a dish of tomato sauce-flavored fried rice wrapped in an omelette – hence the name which is a combination of omelette and rice. Taimeiken, founded over 80 years ago, is one of the most famous yoshoku restaurants in Tokyo.

たいめいけん  外観1-1_R[ Shop info ]
Address: Nihombashi 1-12-10, Chuo
Hours:   11am – 8:30pm (last order)(Mon-Sat) 、 11am – 8pm(last order) (Sun, National Holiday)
*For first floor dining

SOBA

Buckwheat noodles are known one of the three main foods of the Edo era, in addition to tempura and sushi. These thinly sliced noodles can be eaten either cold and dipped in a broth or served in hot soup.

Nihombashi Yabukyu
Soba So Good

IMG_0689_R
This soba shop has been serving up soba at the very same location since 1902 and is now run by the 4th generation. Savor the fragrance of buckwheat noodles, accented by the smoky flavors of its bonito broth.

IMG_0999_R[ Shop info ]
Address: Nihombashi 2-1-19, Chuo
Hours: Mon-Fri: 11am – 3:30pm (last order)(lunch), 5pm – 22:30pm (last order)(dinner)
Sat: 11am – 3:30pm (last order)(lunch), 5pm – 9pm(last order) (dinner)

Mikado Coffee – Pioneering Coffee Connoisseur –

Humble Origins - Mikado Coffee started its long history as a coffee stand in 1949
Humble Origins – Mikado Coffee started its long history as a coffee stand in 1949

Mikado can be said to be a pioneer in the third wave coffee movement, roasting imported coffee beans in house to suit the local tastes since 1948. They take pride in good acidity in their brew, balanced with body and aroma.
Left: Mikado coffee is mild and smooth, perfect for your everyday cup of joe.  Right: A signature menu, Moca ice cream.
Left: Mikado coffee is mild and smooth, perfect for your everyday cup of joe.
Right: Coffee float (brewed coffee topped with a swirl of their signature Mocha ice cream).
mikado2

Shop Info

Mikado_Storefront
Mikado Coffee – Main Store
Address: Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-6-7, Chuo
Hours: 7am – 7pm (Mon – Fri), 8am – 6pm (Sat), 10am – 6pm (Sun, Holidays)

COREDO:Explore Japanese Culture

noren3

Located in the center of Nihonbashi, COREDO – referring to the “core of Edo” – is a modern shopping complex with traditional and modern Japanese products and services that convey the essence of Japan.

The Best of Japan All Under One Roof

Nihonbashi was known as the starting point of any journey from Edo, where people would set off for Kyoto or other parts of Japan along the five main highways that converged here. Today, all the traditional manufacturers and brands are brought under one roof and given a modern touch at COREDO in Nihonbashi.

SUSgallery

(COREDO Muromachi3, 2F)
Cool Containers
コレド店写真 (1)_R
These one-of-a-kind tumblers made of titanium are specially designed to have top-notch insulating properties, keeping the temperature of their contents – be it freezing cold beer to steaming hot beverages – stable for long periods.
Made in Tsubame City in Niigata Prefecture, famous for its fine production of cutlery and kitchenware, the modern designs add a touch of luxury to daily life.

Simply

(COREDO Muromachi 3, 3F)
Advanced Aprons
IMG_2127_R
The simple waist-down apron used in the Edo era has evolved, 140 years on, to become a fashionable yet functional item popular with the ladies. Simply presents a selection of these stylish workwear garments. The denim collection is Japan-made and is available as a couple outfit – great for encouraging teamwork in the kitchen!

DSC_0077_R
Unique aprons starting from 4,000 yen

Hashicho

(COREDO Muromachi 3, 2F)
Perfect Pairings
hashi
Choose from over 1,300 types of chopsticks from all over Japan, made from various types of wood and different cuttings and designs at this chopstick specialty shop. Prices range from 300 yen for a pair up to a staggering 1 million yen gift set from Fukui prefecture.
Product caption: Chopsticks and chopstick rests from all over Japan are available here.

Chopsticks and chopstick rests from all over Japan are available here.
Chopsticks and chopstick rests from all over Japan are available here.

Nihonbashi Dashi Bar

(COREDO Muromachi 1, 1F)
Try Dashi Here
_59A9220_R
If you don’t think you’ll have time to make dashi broth at home, try some here at the Dashi Bar of bonito flake and stock specialist Ninben. One cup of bonito dashi broth costs just 100 yen, and there are also more hearty soups available for lunch, with ingredients such as root vegetables, fish or chicken going for 360 yen at this standing bar.

Tomato, cream and miso flavored soups are also available from 150 yen, depending on size. (※ prices include tax)
Tomato, cream and miso flavored soups are also available from 150 yen, depending on size. (※ prices include tax)

Kyo-tsukemono Nishiri

(COREDO Muromachi 1, 1F)
Pick Your Pickle
東京コレド室町_DSC_7407_72_R
Kyoto tsukemono (pickles) are famed as the best in Japan, and Nishiri is one of the most renowned brands for it. The COREDO Muromachi store is its first footprint in the Kanto region. Come sample a wide range of freshly pickled seasonal vegetables here, and savor a healthy pickled vegetable sushi boxed lunch with miso soup for a special and refreshing treat.

Pickled vegetable sushi set, 1,300 yen
Pickled vegetable sushi set, 1,300 yen

HAKUZA NIHONBASHI

(COREDO Muromachi 1, 1F)
Go for Gold
_D2I1934_R
Coming from Kanazawa City, which is famous for its tradition in gold leaf production, HAKUZA NIHONBASHI continues to glitter with gold-leaf covered cakes, rice crackers, face masks and fashion accessories, to name just a few. HAKUZA innovated the world’s first pure gold-platinum leaf. Give your loved ones a taste of gold with their edible gold-leafed souvenirs, and rest your feet at the tea corner.

Gold Leaf Mask, 4,500 yen Acrylic bangles, starting from 5,000 yen
Gold Leaf Mask, 4,500 yen
Acrylic bangles, starting from 5,000 yen
Omotenashi Nihonbashi

Nihonbashi Information Center
COREDO Muromachi 1, B1

Read more about the activities you can try at Omotenashi Nihonbashi: http://wattention.com/omotenashi-nihonbashi

002_R

Shop Info

info用外観写真
COREDO Muromachi 1
Address: Nihonbashi Muromachi 2-2-1 COREDO Muromachi 1, Chuo
Hours: 10am – 9pm (shops), 11am – 11pm (restaurants)
URL: http://coredo.jp.en

Nihombashi Takashimaya

_DSC0347-修正済み2_R2

Marking the Passage of Time: Classic Takashimaya

When you visit the Nihombashi branch of Takashimaya, you are entering more than just a store. You are stepping afoot onto an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Built in 1933, the building exudes elegance of the Showa era – a “modern-style building reflecting an oriental taste.”

Intricate design details aside, the shopping experience is also carefully curated with original shops and all the major luxury brands. Satisfy – or rather, enlighten – your palate here with classic dishes harking to the Edo era such as unagi and sushi to modern fusion gourmet. True quality is, after all, timeless.

takashima-details2

Watch Out For This

Takashimaya Watch Maison

_DSC0446-修正済み_R2_DSC0589-修正済みTakashimaya has embarked on a new venture last year with the launch of the two-storey, around 8,600 sq ft Takashimaya Watch Maison, just across the street from the main store, dedicated exclusively to watches. Housing over 80 brands such as Omega, Jager-leCoultre,Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Longines, Seiko, Casio and Citizen, the largest watch boutique on the streets of Japan and the world today – and perhaps for time to come.

Sushi Made By Craftsmen
Sukibayashi Jiro Nihombashi Store 7F
すきやばし次郎 盛り合せ_DSC0502-修正済み_RThis famous dining establishment is sure to satisfy any craving for an authentic sushi meal, combining the freshest seasonal catch with seasoned sushi-making skills. The interior décor may be simple but the gems served up are divine.
Japanese Craftsmanship
WAGOTO 7F

_DSC0465_R2
Add a touch of Japanese chic to your daily life with a handcrafted lifestyle item made by the best craftsmen. Choose from eating utensils, tea sets or decorative items.

Tetsubin
Japanese Classic Style: Tetsubin Add iron to your water with this modern pink iron kettle. 8,000 yen

Services For Foreign Tourists

DSC0545-kitty-card
The following services are available for foreign tourists:

  • Tax Free Counter 2F
    Apply for tax exemption for items purchased here
  • Foreign Exchange 2F
    USD, Euro, RMB and other foreign currencies available here
  • Hello Kitty Shopper’s Card (for 5% discount) 2F
    Present your passport to receive this cute limited-edition discount card
    *Excludes some goods

Shop Info

takashimaya001_R2
Takashimaya Nihombashi Store
Address: Nihombashi 2-4-1, Chuo
Hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm
Phone: 03-3211-4111
URL: http://www.takashimaya.co.jp/tokyo/store_information

Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

DSC_6296_R

Mitsukoshi: Accessible & Authentic Japanese Culture

Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihombashi may be proud of a grandiose Renaissance-style façade, but Japan’s first department store dating back to the 17th century is actually very accessible, with authentic and affordable culture available to anyone who walks through their hallowed doorways.

For example, taking center stage in the main hall on the first floor is a resplendent wooden statue of the Goddess of Sincerity, which took ten years for a master craftsman to make and completed in 1960.

And at the front entrance, you will notice two grand lions which were installed in 1914, modeled on their counterparts

found at the Trafalgar Square in London.

With its Art Deco façade and historic features such as the only surviving theatre organ from the early Showa era at the 2nd floor balcony of the Central Hall, marble made from fossils used for its interior walls and floors, and a special restaurant that retains interior designs with distinctive elegance, it is not surprising that Nihombashi Mitsukoshi was recognized as an Important Cultural Property this May. And unlike some classic European department stores, Mitsukoshi is not about wealth, but culture.

This is the same ethos that makes Nihombashi tick even today. People in the mercantile

area were defined by craft, not birth. And Mitsukoshi, with its roots as a kimono fabric specialist, continues this emphasis on culture consciousness.
ライオンとおかみさん_R
Ms. Kiyoko Kondo, the okami or chief service manager, at Mitsukoshi Nihombashi makes sure all guests are well taken care of in the way of omotenashi, or Japanese hospitality.

From Echigoya to Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi was known as Echigoya in the Edo era and was the first to introduce the concept of selling kimono fabric at labeled prices and at any length the customer desired. This “customer first” philosophy is carried on to the present day.

DSC_6451_R

Own a Piece of Japanese Culture

Add a touch of Edo class to your life with these items that combine timeless style with lasting quality.

DSC_6475_RIt’s a Wrap!
Discover the versatility of furoshiki cloth which can be folded into a cute bag or used as a wine bottle cover or carrier.

DSC_6425_RFit to a Tea @ Fukujuen (Main Building 5F)
Sample a cup of green tea at this Kyoto-based tea specialist which has a live demo counter and specialist on hand to advise you on the perfect brew.

DSC_6354_RCulture In A Box
The depachika, or food basement 1 floor, is an eyeful of Japanese food culture, which puts as much emphasis on how the food looks, tastes and is presented and packaged.

DMA3D花弁当_R
Hana bento 1,200 yen
Furoshiki
from 10,000 yen
Main Building 4F

Furoshiki is a multi-functional cloth that can be used to wrap items or add accent to your living space.
DSC_6554_R
Japanese silk folding fan
8,000 yen (Main Building 4F)
Keep cool while looking hot with this sakura-motif silk folding fan.
DSC_6517_R
Chiso Silk stole
18,000 yen
Main Building 4F

Steal some hearts with this delicate silk stole with floral prints made in Kyoto.
DSC_6559_R

Modern [email protected] Teshigoto Corner
(Main Building 5F)
Traditional craftsmanship is given a modern form with items curated by Tokyo Teshigoto, a project to promote local handiwork.

DSC_6535_RDSC_6538_R
Silver lacquerware sake cups made of jade
from 15,000 yen each
The reflection of the moon seems to float on your sake in these fascinating silver cups, combined with different materials such as lacquerware.
DSC_6525_RDSC_6532_R

Urushi glass paperweight
20,000 yen each
Enjoy the play of light with these reflective glass paperweights engraved with classic Edo Kiriko motifs.

Foreign Customer Service Counter (Annex 2F)
Visit this counter for a tax-free procedure on the day of purchase. Free wi-fi is also available here. Present a copy of WAttention to the counter staff to get a free gift (offer lasts until Aug. 31, 2016)!

Shop Info

mitsukoshi-exterior
Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store
Address: Nihombashi Muromachi 1-4-1 Chuo
Hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm

*All prices listed are exclusive of tax.

URL: http://www.mitsukoshi.co.jp/int
Blog URL: http://mitsukoshi.mistore.jp/store/nihombashi/wa/

Nihombashi Walkabout

Nihombashi is best explored on foot, and preferably in traditional Japanese garments for a taste of the heart of Edo. Take a virtual tour around Nihombashi with the 26th Chuo City Tourism Ambassador, Ms. Asami Kure.
Ms. Kure clinched the 26th Chuo City Tourism Ambassador prize to become Miss Chuo in 2007. She now serves with a smile as Team Leader for the Sales Operation Division at the Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store.

Navigating Nihombashi

Get a glimpse of what Nihombashi was like in its past glory and present grandeur at these historical sites.

1: Nihonbashi Bridge
First built in 1603 by Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate who unified Japan, this symbol of the area has been rebuilt 19 times. The original bridge was made of wood, but the current bridge is made of stone and features statues of mythical creatures on the parapets.

R__DSC0669-a_R
*The kimono and obi in this feature are products of Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

2: The Road Origin Marker of Japan
Located right in the middle of Nihonbashi bridge, this continues to mark the official starting point for Japan’s highways.

R__DSC0741_R

3: Nihonbashi Fish Market Memorial Plaque
Before Tsukiji Fish Market, there was the Nihonbashi Fish Market. This stone plaque commemorates the first fish market in Nihonbashi that was run by some 30-odd fishermen from Osaka.

R__DSC0778_R

4: Nomura Securities
The headquarters of Nomura Securities was built in the 1930s and features a “Japanese-style modernism” design.

R__DSC0691_R

5: Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store
Built in 1914, this renaissance-style white brick building had an extension added in 1935 to reach its current form. It was also where the first escalator in Japan was introduced.

R__DSC0801-a_R

6: Bank of Japan (the Old Building)
This neo-baroque style building shares the same designer as the grand old dame, the Tokyo Station. Completed in 1896, it was modeled on the National Bank of Belgium and is designated as an Important Cultural Property.

R__DSC0879_R

7: Mitsui Memorial Museum
Opened in 2005, this museum houses many valuable Japanese and Asian works of art. The western-style structure created in the early Showa era has been designated as an Important Cultural Property.

R__DSC0937_R

8: Fukutoku Shrine
Also called Mebuki Shrine, this shrine is said to have been around since the late 9th century and visited by famous shoguns.

Fukutoku Shrine 2

9: Nihonbashi Nakadori
A 50m stretch lined with restaurants, cafes and shops with a modern twist to traditional Japanese culture, this road recalling the pavements of the Edo era is pedestrian-only on weekdays and holidays from 11am to 8pm.

R__DSC1109_R

The Nostalgic Charm of Nihombashi

nihonbashi_R
“Hiroshige Toto Meisho” Utagawa, Hiroshige. Edo era – from Japan National Diet Library

Heart of Edo

The phrase “hi sen ryo,” or a thousand gold pieces a day, was used to describe the streets of Nihombashi – or the amount of money that changed hands each day in this flourishing merchant district in the Edo era.
As the nexus for the Edo Five Routes that connected to all the major areas of Japan, traders, artisans and samurai from various parts of Japan gathered here to exchange goods and ideas.

The streets were vibrant with refined craftsmen selling their wares, major retailers, restaurants and a fish market, and culture thrived along with the booming economy that was driven by the influx of transient workers who created a demand for various services and goods.

"Nihonbashi bridge in Edo" Katsushika, Hokusai 1831 - 1835
“Nihonbashi bridge in Edo” Katsushika, Hokusai 1831 – 1835

Ms. Miki Sakai, Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi told WAttention this spirit of abundance and enjoyment of high culture continues in Nihombashi till this day.
She added that, “Over the past 10 years with the advent of an ‘Edo Boom,’ interest in Nihombashi has revived.”

Boom Town

With around 80 shops selling goods and services in the Nihombashi area spanning over 100 years old, whiffs of the Edo era can still be experienced when walking along the streets.

And new developments such as COREDO Muromachi and late night dining options have also given Nihombashi a new lease of life at night.
“The area is now really packed on weekends, whereas it used to be quiet before,” said Ms. Sakai.

The concept of eating out has its roots in the Edo era. As many single men had come to Edo to find work, they would eat out, and the fish market at Nihombashi became the gourmet hub for the locals, who enjoyed various Edo era fast foods such as sushi, soba, tempura and eel.

Today, locals and tourists alike head to Nihombashi for a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine, seasoned with a dash of nostalgia.

Ms. Miki Sakai

Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi, a monthly community magazine focusing on Nihombashi history and culture, in circulation since 1979
Ms. Miki Sakai
Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi, a monthly community magazine focusing on Nihombashi history and culture, in circulation since 1979

Monthly Nihombashi Editor’s Pick!

Tokyo Bay Cruising Nihombashi Cruise
The Nihombashi river cruise goes right through the Nihombashi district. Offering rare opportunities to go under the many bridges and peek into deeper allyways, this is a pleasant way to discover the different side of Nihombashi not possible on the main street.

[ Information ]
Access: A 3-min walk from Mitsukoshimae Station (Ginza Line and Hanzomon Line), a 5-min walk from Nihombashi Station (Tozai Line and Toei Asakusa Line)
Price: 1,500 yen (45 min), 2,000 yen (60 min)
Hours: Departure time varies depending on the route and date.
URL: http://ss3.jp/nihonbashi-cruise/index.html (Japanese)
*Reservation is required

Bar Hopping in Osaka

Tokyo is not the only city that never sleeps in Japan. Osaka, the neon lit metropolis also offers a plethora of nightlife experiences. From classic bars to specialty bars, live houses and a whisky gallery, your choices are infinite.

Classic Bar

Bar Augusta Tarlogie

Bar Augusta Tarlogie1_R

Behind the unassuming façade lies a whiskey bar brimming with character – and bottles of rare whiskeys, both Japanese and international.

While entering a small bar like this can be daunting for first-timers, veteran bartender and owner, Mr. Kiyomitsu Shinano, is ready to welcome you in refined English. Here, no effort is spared, from the preparation of hand-carved ice-balls to the choice of water used to mix drinks – spring water from Scotland for Scotch whiskeys and Japanese spritzers for local whiskeys.

Recently, visitors from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia have come to sample various Japanese whiskeys, and the stock here is extensive with around 20 different labels.

Order a rare Japanese whiskey – such as a 1980’s Nikka Miyagikyo single malt – that might set you back several thousand yen for a shot, or the frothily refreshing signature cocktail, Augusta 7, vigorously shaken up with passionfruit liquor, lemon and pineapple juice.

The menu is minimal, with just finger food such as nuts, cheese or parma ham, but the conversation with Mr. Shinano is sure to be free flow.

[ Information ]
Bar Augusta Tarlogie
Hours: 5pm – midnight
English Menu Available
Credit Card  OK
Access: 4-min walk from Hankyu Umeda Station

River Cruise

Kitahama Rumba

Kitahama Rumba3_R
Enjoy a riverside meal of tapas with wine while enjoying the breeze on the open air terrace of this Spanish restaurant and bar that overlooks the Tosaborigawa River. From here you can also get a view of the Osaka’s most famous bridge, the Naniwabashi Bridge, and the illumination of the Osaka City Central Public Hall. For an unforgettable night out, book a river cruise that sets off from the nearby pier.

Kitahama Rumba2_R

This is one of the restaurants that makes up the Kitahama Terrace. The riverbank is officially opened from end-March, when all the eateries open their terraces for dining.

Kitahama Rumba4_R

[ Information ]
Kitahama Rumba
Hours: 6pm – 12 midnight (last order 11pm)
Cuirse Hours: Depart at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm
English Menu Available (partial)
Credit Card  OK
Access: 1-min walk from Kitahama Station (Keihan Line, Sakaisuji Line) or a 2-min walk from Naniwabashi Station (Keihan Line)

Live House

Billboard Live OSAKA

Billboard1_R

Entertainment brand Billboard – internationally known for charting the top artists and songs around the world – brings you its selection of the hottest international and domestic artists. Catch acts ranging from Jazz and J-Pop to reggae and rock, live on stage at this centrally located underground theater.

Expect fine dining to accompany your first-class performance, with a gourmet seasonal menu and a drink selection featuring original cocktails and a wide array of whiskeys and wines. Seat choices range from bar stools and standing room in the casual area, to table and counter seats, to spacious box seats with an excellent view of the stage.

Access couldn’t be easier, as the landmark Herbis Plaza Ent building is directly connected to underground public transportation.

[ Information ]
Billboard Live OSAKA
Hours: 11am – 10pm (Weekdays), 11am – 8pm (Sat & Nat. Hols), 11am – 7pm (Weekdays with no shows scheduled), Closed Sun.
English Menu Available
Credit Card: Accepted
Access: 3-min walk from Nishi-Umeda Station (Yotsubashi Line)

Bar

Rooftop Bar OO

Rooftop bar1

Rooftop bar2

If you’re with a crowd that can’t decide whether they want to go clubbing, have a good restaurant meal, or chill at a bar, this is the perfect place to go.

Away from the throngs of tourists at Dotonbori, find an international party crowd here on the 7th floor of the New Japan Sauna complex. Rest your feet at one of the plush sofas at the lounge area (and even play some board games!) or watch what’s on the 500-inch projector screen outdoors by the pool – great for watching sports matches at!

Events are held regularly with DJs mixing up house, club, hip-hop, trance and the lot to keep party people on a constant high. Otherwise, the usual BGM makes for a relaxed resort atmosphere.

The menu features seasonal buffets (eg: oysters in winter) and an extensive a la carte menu serving pizza, pasta, salads and bites that go with beer.

[ Information ]
Rooftop Bar OO
Hours: 6pm – 3am (Closed Tues)
English Menu Available
Credit Cards Accepted
Access: 4-min walk from Midosuji Line Namba Station

Specialist Bar

SUNTORY WHISKEY HOUSE

Suntory1

If you haven’t already discovered Japanese whiskey, this is the place to do so. Suntory, recognized as one of the top whiskey makers in the world, originated from Osaka, and this three-in-one concept store is the first of its kind, combining a Whiskey Gallery, Whiskey Dining WWW.W and Whisky Bottle Bar.

Suntory2
Whiskey Gallery

Whisky Dining WWW.W is the only dining establishment in Japan where you can try five popular types of Suntory Japanese Whiskey in one set. You can also savor the much sought-after Hibiki 21 Years Old that clinched the International Spirits Challenge Trophy 3-years in a row. The Roast Beef Cutlet Sandwich is a must-try, or choose from a wide array of dishes created to go with whiskey.

Suntory5
Whiskey Dining WWW.W

Suntory3

*Note: Whiskey is not sold over the counter here, though bottle-keep services are available at the Whiskey Bottle Bar.

Complement your whiskey collection with tasteful furniture or household accessories made from the over century old white oak used to make whiskey casks, only available for sale at this gallery. Study the history of Suntory’s award winning whiskey at the displays here as well.

[ Information ]
SUNTORY WHISKEY HOUSE
WHISKEY DINING WWW.W
Hours: 11:30am – 2pm (lunch)
5:30pm – 11pm (dinner)
English Menu Available
Credit Card OK

WHISKEY GALLERY
Hours: 11am – 8pm
Access: 5-min walk from JR Osaka Station, Midosuji Line Umeda Station

Toshichi Onsen

Toshichi-Onsen2

Toshichi Onsen is situated in the Towada Hachimantai National Park, which lies between Akita prefecture and Iwate prefecture. Sitting at an altitude of 1,400m, it is the highest hot spring in Tohoku region. It is said that its name came from the name of a logger, Toshichi, who discovered the hot spring. In this area, there are some open-air baths where you can take a bath and feel the fresh mountain air at the same time. Many climbers and skiers visit here every year. Towada Hachimantai Hot spring Resort including Toshichi Hot spring is designated as one of the Public Hot spring Resort in Japan.
Toshichi-Onsen-300x188Toshichi Onsen Saiunso It is a ryokan which stands around the summit of Mt. Hachimantai. Toshichi Onsen Saiunso has some open-air baths from which you can enjoy breathtaking view of both Mt. Iwate and Mt. Hachimantai.  The spring water is milky white and it contains sulfur that is effective in treating neuralgia, digestive disorders, diabetes, hypertension, various skin conditions, poor circulation, etc.

[ Information ]
Address : Kitanomata, Matsuoyoriki, Hachimantai,
Iwate Phone : 090-1495-0950
Hours: 8AM – 6PM
Admission: 600 Yen
Web: http://www.toshichi.com/index.html (Japanese only)

Fly me to the ONSEN

fly-me-to-the-onsen
“To an onsen!”
This was what most WAttention readers said when asked where they’d like to go when they visit Japan. There are more than 2,400 formally registered hot springs all over Japan.
The number will double if you include private onsens or those that are currently being drilled. So you’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to which onsen to visit. You can go to practically any part of Japan to enjoy an onsen.

What is an onsen or a hot spring?

Onsen technically means either a place or phenomenon where hot water springs from the ground. According to “the hot spring law”, onsen water must have temperatures of above 25℃ in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and South Africa, above 20℃ in European countries like Italy and France, and above 21 ℃ in USA. The water must also have at least more than one of 18 compounds, including manganese, ion and radium salt, to qualify it as a hot spring. Often in Japan, the springs have much higher levels of such compounds than required.

Read also: Japanese Bathing For Beginners

Each onsen location offers different water types and qualities – such as carbonate springs, sulfur springs or intense salt springs – but a common characteristic among them is the rich content of minerals in the water that is known to be beneficial for health; it can give you smoother skin, ease stiff shoulders or even aid in slimming. The medicinal value of these hot springs have been recognised since ancient times, and have been known to alleviate symptoms like nerve-related pains, excessive sensitivity to cold, diabetes, ringworm and so on. Traditionally in Japan, many who hope to cure chronic diseases often immerse themselves in therapeutic baths called “tooji”, and stay for longer periods at such spas.

Charming open-air hot springs – “roten-buro”

Can you imagine dipping yourself in an open-air hot spring bath – with the wind rustling past and sunlight bathing you – as you soak in the surrounding scenic beauty? This is a quintessential “roten-buro” experience, whether you’re enjoying the lush greens of summer, the splendid bright colours of autumn, quiet snow scenes in winter or a night bath under a starry sky. Relaxing in a hot spring bath and falling in love with the scenery around you makes for a memorable experience.

Japan is blessed with many hot springs, each with a distinct characteristic. Here are some of the more popular places:

turunoyuTsurunoyu (crane’s hot water), a part of Nyuto hot springs (Akita Prefecture), is situated in a deep mountain and earned its name from an old local folklore as a place where cranes used to go to nurse their wounds. This is a very popular place because visitors love the unspoiled natural beauty of the mountains while relaxing in the milky hot spring with a sulfurous content. Many foreign travellers come here from all over the world.

 

kuroneiwaburoKuroneiwa-buro (Shizuoka Prefecture) is located by the sea and has an open atmosphere. It is a wonderful spot to enjoy the scenery of the vast ocean spread right in front of you while you soak in the hot spring. The scent of the ocean and sound of waves add to the sense of relaxation. It’s a mixed bathing place, but don’t worry! You can wrap a towel around yourself when entering the bath. The hours between 19:00 and 21:00 are allocated exclusively to ladies.

 

shirahoneShirahone (Nagano Prefecture) is a public open-air hot spring at the confluence of two rivers – the Yuzawa and the Yukawa. Surrounded by a forest of broadleaf trees, the autumn scenes are simply breathtaking, creating a heavenly experience when bathing during this season.

 

 

Mixed bathing is a part of time-honoured Japanese culture

You may be astonished and even feel repulsed, but don’t be, because this has been a common custom since the Edo period (1603-1868). Public baths have served as social gathering places, where everyone – including men and women, old and young – enjoyed each other’s company. In those days, hot springs were meant for locals who knew each other very well, and would uninhibitedly scrub each other’s back while enjoying local gossip. Mixed bathing in modern days is the legacy of this custom in agrarian Japan. Many historic hot springs, such as Houshi Onsen (known to be 1,300 years old) and Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen are meant for mixed bathing.

lamp-no-yado_R
Lamp no Yado Aoni Onsen
R_P1050718
Houshi Onsen

One good aspect of mixed bathing is that the whole family or a couple can take a bath together. Nowadays, the tendency to prefer mixed baths is getting popular among young women. Some would say that they felt shy in the beginning, but with their boyfriends nearby, they felt very safe. Others don’t enjoy hot springs when they have to be separated into single-sex sections. “Going to an onsen on a weekend is a special occasion for us. We enjoy bathing in an onsen together.”

Enjoying a dip together with friends in an onsen to chat or to enjoy the view would definitely make for a memorable holiday.

Reserved open-air onsen, gaining popularity

For those of you who find bathing with total strangers totally unacceptable, there is a solution! You can reserve an area in a hot spring – either open-air or indoor – exclusively for you and your loved ones. Many inns and hotels offer rooms with these exclusive onsens.

Here are a few inns and hotels that offer private open-air onsen:

Farmer’s Market @ UNU

One of the best ways to enjoy traveling abroad is to engage with the local culture; live like the locals and eat like the locals. By doing so you can experience the real, unfiltered lives of local people. What they say is unrehearsed, what they wear is everyday clothes, not high fashion or traditional costumes but outfits they feel comfortable in. The stories they tell you will be about their own lives and families. They might even share their sorrows and concerns.

When you engage with the locals, you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for that culture. The destination you visited and the souvenirs you purchased become more meaningful and important because they remind you of the people you met and experiences you gained.

While there a many fascinating tourist spots you can visit in Tokyo, there are also numerous local favorites as well. One of them is the Farmer’s Market @ UNU which is held almost every weekend. Stalls of fresh produce and regional delicacies crowd the open area in front of the United Nations University. Farmers, crafters, and food vendors from all over Japan gather here to sell their specialties.

Farmer's Market is held every weekend at UN university.
Farmer’s Market is held every weekend at UN university.

Many locals come here to get regional goods. They are fresher and perhaps cheaper (depending on what you buy) than those at the local supermarkets. You can even sample some of the food before purchasing.

A variety of tomatoes are out for anybody to try.
A variety of tomatoes are out for anybody to try.
Colorful display of fresh fruit right from the farm.
Colorful display of fresh fruit right from the farm.

Asking questions is always a nice icebreaker as most of the vendors are happy to answer any product related questions. They might not be able to answer you in perfect English, but their earnestness and sincerity always translates their good intentions.

 Adjacent to the Farmers Market is the Antique Market where you might be able to find century-old treasures and rare items. The Antique Market is held every weekend as well.
Adjacent to the Farmers Market is the Antique Market where you might be able to find century-old treasures and rare items. The Antique Market is held every weekend as well.

For those who are staying at a hotel in Tokyo, I recommend some fresh fruit or ready to eat vegetables to try out. I have nothing against restaurant-prepared food, but what better way to appreciate local delicacies than tasting fresh produce harvested that morning.

Tokyo offers many things. Temples, which give you a glimpse into a long gone history, fashion that can show you the current and emerging trends, but a local marketplace filled with regional cuisine invites you to experience the real, here and now everyday life of normal people and a few curious tourists.

Farmers Market @ UNU is open every Sat. and Sun. from 10am to 4pm.
For more information visit http://farmersmarkets.jp/

Japanese School lunch

April marks the beginning of the school year. New students with fresh uniforms head off to school with excitement and a little bit of nervousness on their faces. Seeing them reminds me of my school days and fond memories from the past: endless talks with my friends, exciting school trips, club activities, and last but not least, the school lunch.

Typical lunch meal includes, main dish, salad, soup, rice or bread, fruit, and milk.
Typical lunch meal includes, main dish, salad, soup, rice or bread, fruit, and milk.

For those who are not familiar with the Japanese school lunch program, here is a brief history and a quick rundown of what it entails.

In order to meet the increasing needs of growing children many of whom weren’t able to get nutritious meals at home, the Japanese school lunch program started more than 100 years ago. At the beginning, it was just a simple meal such as a couple of rice balls and pickled vegetables or soup. The services were limited to certain regions and were only available for impoverished or malnutrition children. Gradually, the idea of feeding children healthy and nutritious meals gained a support from the Ministry of Education, and so the School Lunch Law was enacted in 1954 and the school lunch service became its nationwide program.

Nowadays, the school lunch is a very important part of the school curriculum where they teach healthy eating habit, nutritious values, and food production and distribution (a.k.a. Shokuiku).

Each primary school has a nutritionist who decides what goes on the menu. Each meal is well balanced and proportioned. In fact, I receive a monthly menu from my daughter’s school which lists not only the meals, but also the ingredients and calorie intake (some schools list where they get the ingredients from).

A detailed menu listing for April. The ingredients are categorized by food groups.
A detailed menu listing for April. The ingredients are categorized by food groups.

Many times, meals are prepared at school and delivered to each class in pots and trays. One of the major differences between a Japanese school lunch and a Western one is that the students serve their own meals.

A group of students who are in charge of serving (they take turn), wear white caps, aprons and masks.
A group of students who are in charge of serving (they take turn), wear white caps, aprons and masks.

Once everybody has their own meal, they sit down and eat with their classmates. Even the teacher eats the same meal as the students. Sharing a meal definitely nurtures the bond between students and teachers and is a key part in building close relationships. You gain insight into other people’s personal lives: food preferences, favorite subjects, family matters, and secret crushes. For me, school lunches were always full of laughter, smiles and happy bellies.

Rules for eating school lunch: wear a hat, apron and mask when serving, wash your hands before, show gratitude for those who prepared the meal, don’t be picky, don’t eat one thing at a time, put back the empty plates and trays nicely.
Rules for eating school lunch: wear a hat, apron and mask when serving, wash your hands before, show gratitude for those who prepared the meal, don’t be picky, don’t eat one thing at a time, put back the empty plates and trays nicely.

People tend to remember the good old school days by their triumphant moments: winning a sports championship, passing exams, going to the prom or even their graduation ceremony. But I remember them by everyday, mundane, yet very special school lunches. Memories of eating my favorite school lunch (it’s a toss-up between curry rice and deep fried bread) in the classroom will remain in my heart for a long, long time.

I hope those new students find joy in their school lives. If not, well, at least a hot nutritious meal is waiting for them at lunch time.

Seasonal Spring Sweets

Seasonal Sweets, pleasing to the eye as well as the palate

Many Japanese people are masters at incorporating seasonal flair into their everyday lives. Be it an Ikebana arrangement of fresh flowers, meals cooked with ingredients fresh from the farm or practicing seasonal traditions. There’s something poetic about celebrating a new season and to be in sync with nature.

But for people like me who live in a metropolis such as Tokyo, it’s really hard to appreciate nature, let alone find it. Taking a subway to work, all I see is the concrete wall of a dimly lit tunnel. Working at the office with windows that are fixed shut, I sit in an air conditioned room all day long. At the supermarket, most staple vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions, and even tomatoes are available all year. City life is easy and convenient, yet unfortunately it has made us lose touch with nature.

So what can a city girl do to get a sense of the spring season?

Find seasonal sweets! Here’s a selection of sweets that are currently in season.


 Toraya2

Caption: From left, Kumoi no Sakura (Half size) 1,944 yen, Taori Sakura 486 yen, Haru Dokei 519 yen, Sakura Mochi 411 yen

Toraya

One of the oldest Japanese confectionary shops in Japan, Toraya was the favorite purveyor of sweets for imperial palace and feudal lords. Its confectionary creations are simple, yet they speak the language of season elegantly. There are about 80 shops throughout Japan.

Cozy Corner2

Caption: Sakura Mille crêpes 410 yen, Sakura Cake 410 yen

Cozy Corner

Cozy Corner opened its first shop in Ginza in 1948, since then it’s been expanding the number of stores and selections. The cakes are generously-sized and reasonably-priced, Cozy Corner is a favorite choice for many Japanese families celebrating special occasions.

KIHACHI

Caption: Sakura Roll Cut 562 yen, 14cm 2,160 yen, 28cm 4,320 yen

Patisserie KIHACHI

KIHACHI started as a restaurant with the philosophy: the best ingredients, communication, hospitality and originality. This concept must have resonated with their customers, as KIHACHI now owns cafes and patisseries, many of which are located at major department stores.

So why not bring a little taste of the season to your table (and tummy)? Even if you can’t find the time and location to explore nature in your busy schedule, these sweets definitely bring you the joy as well as the flavor of the season. Happy Spring!

Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part Ⅱ Shirakami Sanchi

Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku - Part II

Precious heritages of the Shirakami Sanchi

A number of beech forests around the world have lost much of their ecological diversity due to the formation of continental glaciers some two million years ago; however, the beech forests and primeval plant population survive in Japan because continental glaciation did not occur here. Moreover,the Japanese didn’t cut down beech trees for centuries because they served little purpose to them.

After World War II however, Japan’s beech forests were logged gradually. This situation threatened wildlife habitats, so an active conservation movement to preserve the forests was begun. This movement garnered so much attention from the world that in 1993, UNESCO recognised the value of beech forests and declared the 16,971 ha area of Shirakami Sanchi as a World Natural Heritage Site. Today,the precious beech forests of Shirakami Sanchi remain almost entirely undisturbed.

shirakami-sanchi

This is an area of wilderness with no access trails or man-made facilities,and more than half of the heritage site comprises of deep valleys with steep slopes. Numerous kinds of plants grow in this precious beech forest, while various species of animals call this place home, despite the high altitude. Having escaped glaciation, these 8,000 year-old forests are home to 500 plant species that have been identified as those generally seen in alpine and sub-alpine zones, of which 108 have specially protected status.

There are threatened and semi-endemic species present, such as Ranzania japonica, Hylotelephium tsugaruense, and Tipularia japonica.

Ranzania_japonica_4
Ranzania japonica

The beech forests have played a vital role in the ecosystem for thousands of years. All mammals found in the Tohoku region exist in Shirakami Sanchi, including the black bear and Japanese serow. There are 87 bird species currently identified in the area, including the Golden eagle and Hodgson’s hawk eagle. There is also a particularly rich insect population, with 2,212 recorded species.

Black bear and Japanese serow
Black bear and Japanese serow

Read also : World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

The outstanding beauty of Juniko

Juniko
Juniko

Juniko, which literally means “twelve lakes,” consists of 33 lakes and ponds scattered across a 780 ha area of beech forests in Shirakami Sanchi. These were created by a big earthquake of about 300 years ago. It is said the name Juniko comes from the fact that the twelve lakes can be seen from the top of a mountain.

gr16_07_R_R

Aoike Pond, part of Lake Juniko, is known for its inky-blue beauty and clarity. The fallen beech trees lurking beneath the surface appear as ever-changing illusions. Oike, the largest of all ponds, is made up of two (eastern and western) ponds and Wakitsubo Pond is designated as one of the best water sources in Aomori Prefecture. Other drawing points here include 0’kuzure and the Nihon Canyon, a breathtaking gorge with steep, rugged rocks that are huge and dynamic.

Nihon_Kyanion_R

Please note that if you prefer touring all 33 ponds,it will take a full day and you would need a car. However, visiting the major ponds and forest area along the hiking trail will take just about an hour.

“Resort Shirakami” train

kumageratrainIf you travel to Tohoku, riding a train on the Gono Line is recommended. The line, stretching 147.2 km, was first opened in 1908 between Noshiro (now Higashi Noshiro) and Noshiro City (now Noshiro) as a branch of Japan National Railways’ Ou mainline. In 1936, the railway line fully opened when the final section between Mutsu Iwasaki and Fukaura was completed. Today, the railway line is known for providing one of the most scenic views in Japan.

Debuting in 1997 at the same time as the Akita Shinkansen, the Resort Shirakami is a train that operates in three configurations, named the Aoike, the Buna and the Kumagera. These limited express trains run from Akita along the Gono Line to Hirosaki, and then turn around before continuing northward along the Ou Line to Aomori. The train trip offers alluring vistas of the Japan Sea and the Shirakami Sanchi highlands, as well as expansive panoramas of the Tsugaru Plain. Specialty bentos (lunch boxes) are popular among passengers and if you are lucky, there will be local events taking place. You can also stopover to enjoy a soak in an onsen.

As the train trip is popular, seats may easily be sold out during some periods of the season, thus making a reservation in advance is recommended.

More information for Resort Shirakami or Gono Line:
https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/joyful/shirakami.html

More attractions around Shirakami Sanchi

There are a lot more attractions to draw tourists along the Gono Line.

Ajigasawa, situated on the west coast of Aomori Prefecture, connects the Sea of Japan in the north and Shirakami Sanchi. There are rich beech forests along the headwaters of Akaishi and Nakamura rivers to provide a freshening breeze. The town has highly-reputed onsen facilities and fried squid is a popular local food there.

Kikusui-breweryNoshiro in Akita Prefecture has a unique background, known as the “the town of basketball,” thanks to the success of the Noshiro Kogyo High School team. You will see a hoop at Noshiro Station. The town is also famous for its pine forest, which is one of the largest in the country. For sake lovers, there is a Kikusui Brewery that uses an old railroad tunnel.

How to get to Aomori

japanmap AomoriTo Shirakami Sanchi
It is a 5-hour train ride from Tokyo via Hachinohe (Tohoku Shinkansen Line) to Hirosaki Station on the JR Tohoku Line, and a 50min. bus ride from Hirosaki Bus Terminal to Tashiro. Alternatively, it’s 3 hr 55min. from Tokyo to Akita by Akita Shinkansen Line, then 50min. from Akita to Higashi-Noshiro station by JR Ou Line, and 33min. from Higashi-Noshiro to Akita Shirakami by JR Gono Line.

To Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center
A 5min. walk from Nishimeya Murayakubamae bus stop. The Nishimeya Murayakubamae bus stop is approx. 50min. by Konan bus (to Tashiro) from the Hirosaki Bus Terminal near the JR Hirosaki Station.

To Lake Juniko
From the JR Juniko Station on Gono Line,it’s a 15min. ride by Konan bus bound for Juniko. The Juniko Yogyojo bus stop is in front of the Juniko Visitor center.

Special thanks to: APTINET AOMORI Prefectural Government, JR East, and JNTO

Say It With Origami

Origami_envelopes

When spring arrives in Japan it means a new school year, gatherings with friends, and end of the business year. This provides lots of opportunities to show your gratitude and congratulations to those in your life that have achieved amazing things in the past year. A traditional way to show this appreciation is to tuck money or a nice note into a little decorated envelope. I came across a great origami solution from Paper Crane ORIGAMI that you can use to make your very own pocket of praise. This is how to make it.

Crane Envelope

Origami_process1

① Place the colored side up and make creases as shown.

② Fold both corners to the center mark.

③ Flip to the other side. Fold both edges to the centerline.

④ Unfold the right triangle.

⑤ Bring the edge of the triangle to the centerline.

⑥ Bring the edge to the crease line.

Origami_process2

⑦ Fold the upper layer to the right. Then bring the edge to the centerline.

⑧ Fold the tip in so that the zigzag line is prominent.

⑨ Repeat step 4 to 8 on the other side.

⑩ Fold the bottom up.

⑪ Make creases as shown.

⑫ Fold along the creases so that the bottom is pointing up.

Origami_process3

⑬ Fold the bottom to the side.

⑭ Open the bottom and flatten it.

⑮ Make creases as shown.

⑯ Lift the bottom tip of the square and fold along the creases.

⑰ Fold right flap to the left.

⑱ Fold the tip to create the head of a crane. Insert a little note and fold back the top.

*Originally created by Susumu Nakajima

You can also use decorative paper or Japanese washi paper to make this envelope. This simple yet elegant envelope is a perfect little addition for showing your gratitude for someone special.

We live in a digital age and it’s a lot quicker to send a text or email if you want to say something. But there is something special about giving and receiving a letter or even a small note. The time and thought people put into a handwritten, or in this case, a handmade envelope is so apparent that it carries a deeper and stronger meaning.

You don’t have to be a master at origami to make this. All you need is a little bit of time and willingness. A small envelope goes a long way to make a lasting impression on somebody.

About Girl’s Day And Hina Dolls

Hina Doll_1

Here in Japan, we are about to celebrate the girl’s day known as Hina-Matsuri on March 3rd. Families with daughters usually display decorative “Hina” dolls in their homes as a way of wishing for good health.

Hina dolls come in a variety of sizes, kimonos and accessories. Some are just Emperor and Empress dolls in a glass case, others include the entire imperial family along with their belongings on a seven tiered alter.

Hina Doll_4

I remember staring at these dolls for a long time and soaking in every little detail when I was little. I was mesmerized by their intricate kimonos and decorations, and their quiet and calm expressions. Interestingly enough it never occur to me that these dolls look nothing like us.

For instance, they tend to have exceptionally fair skin, ghostly white to be quite honest. The empress’ lush black hair is tied back in a way that is bigger than her face. The crimson red lipstick and high eyebrows are something you never see in everyday life. Their cheeks are so full they could be considered chubby. And if you take a really close look at her face, you’ll see she has black teeth! Slightly different from what we now consider beautiful isn’t it?

Hina Doll_3

It is said that these features are the beauty standards of the Heian period (794 to 1185). In the Heian period food was scarce and a plump face was a clear indication of wealth and plenty, and usually meant a healthy and fertile body. Slit eyes helped to emphasize plump faces and long lush hair symbolized maturity. It seems strange to us today but blackened teeth were a popular cosmetic trend at that time. (There might have been some hygienic purpose for it.) I guess as we progress in time our needs and wants change and so does what we consider beautiful.

So what are the beauty standards of today? Maybe modern dolls can give us some answers.Two popular dolls come to my mind; Licca-chan and Blythe. (Of course, Disney princesses and Barbie dolls also have a strong fanbase in Japan, but I will stick to the Japanese products.) They both have big sparkling eyes with long eyelashes. Their rosy cheeks tell us they are young and healthy. Their faces are round but not overly plump. Oh did I mention they both have blonde hair?

After WWII, Japan was enormously influenced by the US and our aesthetic standards changed dramatically. Bigger eyes, a tall nose, slender bodies, and of course white teeth became a popular barometer for beauty among Japanese ladies. These trends are still strong nowadays. Make-up techniques that make the eyes appear bigger are in style among girls. Even plastic surgery is now well accepted. Bleached or dyed hair is everywhere. Being fat or even a little chubby is a big no-no, like in most places in the world, the skinnier the better.

Yet, even today, the Hina dolls express something beautiful and alluring. Despite the standards of aesthetics constantly changing and mass media telling young girls what they should look like, we can still appreciate the beauty of the Hina dolls.

Perhaps it’s their content expressions and century-old dignity that assure us there is something more important than looks. Confidence, kindness, wit, elegance, smarts, strength, health and a whole range of different qualities make people unique and beautiful.

The standards of beauty will evolve with time, what’s popular might change tomorrow. We sometimes get fixated with how we should look like, but as long as girls grow-up happy and healthy, and be able to define their own beauty, the dolls have achieved their purpose.

Taste of Northern Tohoku

The rich land and sea of Tohoku produces great delicacies all year around. Indulge in fresh gifts of nature during the harvest season, as well as great local dishes to warm up to in the crisp winter!

NOODLES
Slurp varieties of unique local noodles

Don’t forget to try unique and delicious local noodles! To eat like the locals, don’t hesitate to slurp loudly!

wanko-soba
Wanko soba
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-2
Morioka rei-men
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-3
Miso-curry-milk ramen

SWEETS
Fresh ingredients turn into mouthwatering sweets

Rich and fresh dairy products and fruits of Northern Tohoku are made into delicious sweets. Try anything with the region’s seasonal specialty – apples!

Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-6
Cheese cake from Koiwai Farm
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-7
Sake jelly
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-5
Apple pie

MEAT
The rich land nurtures great local meats

Get ready to be blown away by locally-grown meats of Northern Tohoku! From savory beef to flavorful chicken, the fertile land has the best meats to offer.

Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-10
Iwate wagyu-beef
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-11
Sasuke buta-pork
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-1
Hinaijidori oyakodon

SEAFOOD
Rich bounty of the sea turns richer in cold season

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, fresh seafood is abundant in Northern Tohoku. Tuna from Oma in Aomori is regarded one of the best in Japan!

Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-8
Scallop
Taste-of-Northern-Tohoku-9
Nokke-don at Furukawa Market in Aomori

Yokote Kamakura (Snow Huts)

Yokote Kamakura
Yokote Kamakura, Snow Huts in Yokote, Akita Pref.

Playing in snow huts is a popular pastime in winter for children living in the heavy snowfall areas. They make snow huts called “Kamakura ” in which they play games and eat traditional delicacies.

Yokote City in Akita prefecture is known for the Kamakura, and the locals have been celebrating Yokote Kamakura Festival for more than 400 years. The festival is held every February where about 100 snow huts and a number of snow creations are built on Kamakura-dori Street, in front of Yokote City Hall branch office and at Yokote-jo Castle. A wide range of events are held during the festival including Kamakura making and mini-kamakura illuminations.

Access:
(1) The JR Ou Honsen Line to Yokote Sta., and then walk 10 min.
(2) 3 min. by bus from JR Yokote Sta. to Yokote Chiikikyoku-mae Bus Stop.

kamakura-day

kamakura-night

Sapporo Snow Festival

Snow Sculpture Festival2_R
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido

The festival, the biggest in scale of this kind, started in 1950, and has become one of the most popular events in winter for now. Approximately 230 snow creations and ice sculptures are exhibited at three sites, mainly at the Odori Site with enormous snow creations and many attractions, at the Susukino Site with fantastic ice sculptures, and at the Tsu-dome Site with the huge playground where children and adults can play in snow. http://www.snowfes.com/english/index.html

Snow Sculpture Festival_R

Snow Sculpture Festival4_R

Snow Festival3_R

Access:
(1) The JR Hakodate Honsen Line to Sapporo Sta.
(2) About 50 min. by bus from Shin-Chitose Airport to Sapporo Eki-mae Bus Terminal.

Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part I Aomori

Discover the beauty of Nothern Tohoku

The best way to travel to the Tohoku region is to take advantage of the Shinkansen (bullet train). It will take just 3 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori station in Aomori prefecture, which is best known for its marvellous Nebuta Festival, one of the Japan’s most famous and beloved festivals. It also has distinct cultures rooted in local communities, as well as an abundance of seafood and sansai (mountain vegetables). It is also an all-season resort: in spring, beautiful cherry blossoms bloom; in summer, verdant forests and lakes are found; in fall, leaves turn brilliant red or yellow; and in winter, snow blankets towns and mountains ranges.

Majestic nature and Exciting Festival

The northernmost prefecture on Honshu island, Aomori is endowed with abundant nature, including the well-known Mt. Hakkoda, Lake Towada, a large dual crater lake surrounded by beech forest with wild animals, and Oirase Stream, a striking mountain stream with over a dozen waterfalls. Also, the Shirakami-Sanchi (Shirakami Mountains), a World Natural Heritage site, is spread across 130,000 hectares on the border between Aomori and Akita prefectures.

Facing both the Japan Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Aomori is blessed with various seafood which never fails to draw gourmands. Its most popular attraction is the Nebuta Festival, which brings in about 3 million visitors each year. For history enthusiasts, the Sannai-Maruyama Ruins – the largest archeological site of the Jomon Period (about 10,500-300 BC) – is a recommended destination.

sannai-maruyamaSannai-Maruyama Ruins

cooltrekoirase5Oirase Stream

Things to do in Aomori

Enjoy spectacular view of rich nature

Aomori has a number of tourist spots, including outstanding natural sites such as Mt. Hakkoda and Lake Towada. Roads for buses and cars, as well as climbing routes and paths have been improved in recent years. Mountain cable cars are built so that children and the elderly can explore them too. However, note that it is a heavy snowfall area and you need to wear suitable winter clothing.

hakkodaMt. Hakkoda

Experience the tradition through festivals

Nebuta Festivals are celebrated in several northern regions, mainly in Aomori prefecture. The Aomori Nebuta Festival, which is celebrated annually from August 2-7, is the most recognised. Over 20 gigantic three-dimensional Nebuta (papier-mache dolls) depict ancient warriors, legendary creatures or Kabuki characters that illuminate the night with bright colours. Today, the Nebuta floats are made of a wood base,carefully covered with Japanese paper and lit from the inside with hundreds of light bulbs. Quite a few spirited dancers (called “haneto”) in native Nebuta costumes, surround the floats and dance to the tune of flutes and beating of drums.

For those who missed the Aomori Nebuta Festival, there is an exhibition hall, Neputa No Yakata, that displays three floats all year around in Goshogawara city. Situated 25km west of Aomori city, Goshogawara is another site of the Nebuta Festival – this one is called “Neputa.” It is said that the name came from the local direct “neputai,” which literally means “sleepy,” and the festival itself is a “sleepless festival” that prays for safety and a good harvest.
The 3 displayed Neputa, at 22m high and weighing of 16 tons, will be moved for 1.5km around the city from August 4-8. There is also a studio where visitors can see the work in progress and have a hands-on experience. Visit the official website (in Japanese) at www.tachineputa.jp.

In Hirosaki city, a central part of Tsugaru district, crowd-pleasing events include the Hirosaki Neputa Festival (characterised by 60 small and large fan-shaped floats) and Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. Throughout the year, there are several flower festivals held in different cities throughout Aomori.

nebutaAomori Nebuta Festival
P1070284-760x507
m_105215_R

Where is the most famous Onsen in Aomori?

There are a number of onsen (hot springs) with good reputation and high spring quality in Aomori. Koganesaki Furofushi Onsen is one of the most popular and is often featured in magazines and TV programs. Its name “furofushi” means “immortality” in Japanese. Bathers can see the wild waves of the Japan Sea while soaking in their outdoor spa, with a view of the distant horizon and a splendid sunset. For more information about the onsen, please visit www.furofushi.com.

hot-springKoganesaki Furofushi hot spring

Taste the season’s best

Enjoying local delicacies is a must during your journey. Aomori is known for its abundance and high quality seafood. Ohma tuna, one of the best grade tunas, is caught at Ohma Port facing the Tsugaru Strait that connects the Japan Sea with the Pacific Ocean. These tunas feed on fresh Pacific sauries, sardines and squids, and are sold almost exclusively to high-end sushi restaurants. Other seafood like squids and scallops caught in adjacent sea are also tasty.

Aomori Prefecture is Japan’s largest apple producer – there are approximately 60 kinds of apple varieties, thanks to its significant difference in temperature and improved cultivation methods,which are shipped seasonally. You can try apple picking in several farms, but there is a charge.

kaisen-donhotate

How to get to Aomori

From Tokyo to Aomori
From JR Tokyo station, take the Tohoku Shinkansen (Northern Shinkansen) “Hayate” to Shin Aomori station. Hayate is the fastest train category on the Tohoku Shinkansen and it takes 3 hours 20 minutes to there.

Peach, Plum or Sakura Pink: Which is the prettiest of them all?

Though it’s still a bit cold outside, if you look around, you will see a bunch of fuchsia-colored flowers and pastel pink petals opening up. Those pink flowers tell us that spring is fast approaching and warm weather with bright sunshine is just around the corner.

You might wonder if it already is Sakura (cherry blossom) season.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but these guys are Sakura’s close cousins: the plum or peach blossom.

Plum

Quite often, Sakura being considered the national flower of Japan, gets the most attention. There are countless poems, songs, stories, designs and yes, people’s names in honor of Sakura. But interestingly enough, sakura, plum and peach have a lot in common, and sometimes they are very hard to distinguish at first glance.

So what are the differences?
Here are some pointers you can use to identify them.

For Plum Blossoms
– There is no stem
– Round petals
– Blossoms one flower per knot

For Peach Blossoms
– Stem is short
– Pointy petals
– Blossoms two flowers per knot

For Cherry Blossoms
– Stem is relatively long
– Elongated split-end petals
– Blossoms in a cluster form

Generally speaking, plums bloom earlier than its counterparts. But depending on the climate and location, flower seasons vary. In the Tokyo area, plum blossoms can be enjoyed in mid-February. Then comes the peach blossoms in March and cherry blossoms start to bloom in late March to early April.

So let’s test your powers of investigation!
Can you identify them correctly?

Flower A
Peach

Flower B
Plum2

Flower C
Cherry

Here is the answer
Flower A: peach, Flower B: plum, Flower C: cherry

Were you able to answer them correctly?

So the next time you spot a pretty pink flower, take a closer look at it and see what it is. Sakura, plum and peach blossoms, they are very similar, yet they are different. Each of them has unique characteristics and its own beauty. Early or late, they are all waiting for the best time to blossom.

Join the Kase-dori Festival and bring in a prosperous year

If you happen to visit Yamagata prefecture during February, don’t miss the Kase-dori Festival held in Kaminoyama City.

DSC_4447_R
Participants wearing straw coats dancing around the neighborhood.

Yamagata, one of the northern prefectures of Japan, is known for its snow laden climate and great ski resorts such as the Zao Onsen Ski Resort. The average temperature during February hovers somewhere around zero degrees (32℉), so I think you would agree that going outside without a decent coat or warm clothes is probably a bad idea, right?

_DSC1093_R
Half-naked young men waiting to become Kase-dori.

Well, the people who are participating in the Kase-dori Festival would beg to differ. Because, the main participants of this 350-year-old festival are wearing nothing but a simple straw coat called a Kendai and a loincloth underneath.

They are dressed as Kase-dori, a bird-looking creature that carries the spirit of God. The bird symbolizes a few different things: fire prevention, good harvest, and good fortune.

DSC_4370_R

The festival begins at Kaminoyama Castle where a group of Kase-dori dance around a bonfire. Then, they start making their ways into the neighborhood. Spectators bring a bucket of water and sprinkle (or dump) it on the Kase-dori to pray for fire prevention and a prosperous year. The outside temperature is slightly above freezing, getting a shower of ice cold water would be, well, excruciatingly cold I imagine…

DSC_4480_R
Spectators drenching the Kase-dori with water.

And don’t forget, if you see a strand of straw falling off from a Kendai, tie it in your hair (if you have a dark hair) or give it to a nearby girl who has a dark hair. Because the legend says that those who tie the straw from the Kase-dori in their hair will have a lifetime of lush and radiant hair.

At the castle and throughout Kaminoyama City, there are numerous stalls selling regional food and Kase-dori related goods. The locals, both kids and adults participate in the festival.

Dancing with the Kase-dori, trying out the local flavors, or dumping a bucket of water on a mythical creature, taking part in a regional festival like this one, is a great way to experience the local culture.

DSC_4401_R
Kids help out as well, selling Kase-dori charms and goods.

[ Information ]

Address: Motojonai 3-7, Kaminoyama, Yamagata
Access: A 12-min walk from Kaminoyama Onsen Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Date: February 11, 2017
Hour: 10am to 3:30pm

Are Oni really evil?

February 3rd is known as Setsubun, which marks the beginning of spring. On this day, many Japanese people throw roasted soybeans at Oni chanting “Oni ha soto, fuku ha uchi (out with evil, in with fortune)!” to welcome a new season.

Setsubun_003

So what is Oni, anyways?
An Oni is a mythical creature quite similar to an ogre, goblin, demon, troll or anything that has an evil spirit. They are typically portrayed as bigger and stronger than humans, having two horns, sharp teeth, wild hair and bulging eyes, and carrying an iron club with spikes. Their skin color could be red, blue, or sometimes green. And most of them just wear a tiger skin loincloth. Oni appear in many Japanese folktales.

For example, in the story of Momotaro (Peach Boy), the main character, Momotaro goes on a journey to fight with a band of marauding Oni. With a help of his animal allies, he is able to defeat them and bring back their treasures to his hometown where he lives comfortably for the rest of his life. Issun Boshi (One-inch Boy), Kobutori Jiisan (The old man with a big wen), Ise Monogatari (The tales of Ise), there are more than enough stories to tell the same trope; An Oni steals from human and sometimes eats them. An Oni is savage, evil and mean. If you defeat them, you will live happily ever after.

Then it’s no wonder people want to throw beans at them…

This stereotypical portrayal of evil is quite alarming to me. Just because they look a certain way, that doesn’t mean they would act a certain way. So I would like to share one of my favorite Japanese folktales: Naita Aka Oni (Red ogre who cried)”

So here it goes…
———————————————————————————–

Once upon a time, there was a red ogre and a blue ogre who lived in the mountains. The red ogre wanted to be friends with the villagers, so he put up a sign saying “Home of a kind ogre. Everybody is welcome. There are snacks and tea.”

The red ogre waited for a while, but nobody came. He was puzzled and upset and grew very sad.

One day, the blue orger visited the red ogre. Seeing how sad his friend was, the blue ogre came up with a plan. “Why don’t I go to village and terrorise the people. Then you come in and ‘rescue’ them from me. That way, the villagers will know how kind you are.”

An Oni sculpture by Seibo Kitamura at Inokashira Park Zoo. This action packed sculpture is titled “The crisis of humanity”.
An Oni sculpture by Seibo Kitamura at Inokashira Park Zoo. This action packed sculpture is titled “The crisis of humanity”.

The plan went extremely well. The red ogre became a hero and the villagers weren’t afraid of him anymore. He was very happy spending time with his new human friends.

After some time, the red ogre realized he hadn’t seen the blue ogre since that day. So he decided to visit him. The blue ogre’s house was locked and there was a letter on the door.

“My Dear Red Ogre,
If they find out that you are a friend with the blue ogre, they will not trust you anymore. So, I have to go away now. I hope you live happily with your new friends. I will not forget you. I’ll always be your friend. Take care. Goodbye.
Blue Ogre.”

The red ogre read the letter and wept. He cried and cried. The red ogre and the blue ogre never saw each other again.
———————————————————————————–

Yes, there is evil in the world and it’s important to recognize it. But we cannot find it by looking for certain stereotypes and appearances. The true evil we’re tossing out with our roasted soybeans might be the ones within ourselves.

Setsubun_001

So, let’s get rid of our bad thoughts and welcome in the fresh new season of spring!

Abashiri Ice Breaker Cruise

Abashiri is a major tourist destination in winter. Its shores by the Okhotsk sea are the southernmost point where the ocean freezes.

Ice creuise2_R

icebreaker cruiseOne of the most popular attraction is the Drift Ice Sightseeing Icebreaking Ship Aurora that takes passengers out amid the outstanding whiteness of the ice. Departing from Abashiri Port, a highlight of the trip is when blocks of ice strike the bottom of the boat and cause its entire body to shake as the Aurora ship proceeds at a constant speed of 3 knots. But don’t worry! The boat is very safe and sturdy, and the sailing is overall very smooth.

ice-breaker-cruise2_R
ice-breaker-cruise_R
ice-breaker-cruise4_R

Be astounded by the sight of drift ice stretching across the ocean horizon and see the ice shift and churn while being greeted by sea birds and seals. Recommended for all nature and scenery lovers.

Seagull resting on the ice
Seagull resting on the ice
Seagull (Umineko)
Seagull (Umineko)
Black-tailed gull (Kamome)
Black-tailed gull (Kamome)

The 491-ton, 3,000-horsepower ship usually operates from late January to March. Hope for fine weather as the ships do not sail when the weather is bad.

[ Information ]
Address: Minami 3, Higashi 4-5-1, Abashiri city, Hokkaido
Fare: 3,300yen (Booking required)
Phone: 0152-43-6000
Web: ms-aurora.com/abashiri/en/

 

Shop For Antiques At The Setagaya Boroichi Fai

Meg1

Do you have a keen eye for antiques?

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

Meg2

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

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

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

Meg3

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

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

Meg4

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

Meg5

Caption: How about a Manekineko for a souvenir?

Meg6

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

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

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

<Information>

Date: Jan. 15th & 16th

Hours: 9am to 8pm

Fee: Free

Access: Setagaya Line Kamimachi Station

URL: http://www.city.setagaya.lg.jp/setagaya/11000/11004/d00125000.html (Japanese)

Furano Ski Area

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


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

Read also: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts


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

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

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

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

7 Great Winter Activities in Northern Tohoku

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-2

1. Get sporty

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

Read also:
Top 4 Central Japan Resorts

2. Get festive

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

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-3
Yokote Kamakura Festival
Access: Yokote is 1 hour on JR Ou-honsen line from JR Akita station

3. Walk in Nature

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

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-4
Trekking in Shirakami
Access: 1 hour bus ride from JR Hirosaki station

4. Indulge in Great Winter Food

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


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

5. Warm up in Hot Springs

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

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-6
Tsurunoyu at Nyuto Hot Springs
Access: Approx. 1 hour bus ride from JR Tazawako station

6. Submerge in Local Music

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


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

7. Witness the Vast Nature

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

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

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-8

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-9

Memorable-Winter-in-Northern-Tohoku-11
Tsugaru Shamisen performance

Kakizome: The First Writing Of A Year

Happy New Year!

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

So what is your New Year’s resolution?

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

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

Brush-pen-760x505

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

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

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

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

Here are some popular auspicious words you can try!

希望:Hope

平和:Peace

旅:Journey

夢:Dream

喜:Happiness

Kanji_Dream-760x505

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

Writing-760x505

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rake In Luck And Good Fortune With The Kumade

You might have heard of the Japanese term ”Wabi Sabi,” which is often used for describing the Japanese view of aesthetics: appreciation for simplicity, modesty and imperfection.

Many of the well known Japanese designs such as withered old tea houses, traditional textiles and naturally glazed pottery often reflect Wabi Sabi aesthetics.

But when it comes to decorations relating to prosperity and fortune, spartan simplicity is thrown out the window and the “more is better” mentality takes over. After all, everybody wants all the luck they can get, right?

One of the best “more is better” design examples is the Kumade. These are bamboo rakes, yes rakes, likes the ones you use on the leaves, but smaller and just for decoration. They represent “raking in” heaps of success, wealth and good luck. Many business owners purchase Kumade around this time of year. These extravagant decorations come with different sizes, adornments and prices. Handheld size Kumade are around 1,000 yen to 2,000 yen, but larger ones range from 10,000 yen to 50,000 yen, or even more.

A large Kumade is full of good luck symbols. The larger they are the more expensive they get.
A large Kumade is full of good luck symbols. The larger they are the more expensive they get.

Let’s look at some designs and the meaning behind them.

NewYearsFortunes_006

Here you can see Otafuku (Goddess of Mirth), a smiling white face which brings in good fortune.

Seven Lucky Gods in the middle are each representing different types of good luck such as good health, longevity, wealth, knowledge, happiness, art and beauty. The Lucky Mallet sits next to the seven gods. The mallet appears in the story of “Issun Boshi (One Inch Boy)“ where it grants the boy’s wish. Rice barrels are for a good harvest season. And the Koban (Japanese oval gold coin) symbolize, of course, money and fortune.

NewYearsFortunes_008

The Crane and Turtle are also popular in Kumade decorations. As represented in a Japanese saying “a crane lives 1,000 years and a turtle lives 10,000 years,” they both symbolize longevity. In fact, the saying is not too far fetched as both the crane and turtle live much longer than other animals. The Red snapper is hidden under the bamboo leaves. Ebisu, one of the seven lucky gods is always depicted holding a red snapper under his left arm, thus the fish became a symbol of good fortune.

NewYearsFortunes_003

The Owl, a symbol of wisdom in Western culture, holds a special place in Japanese people’s heart as well. The Japanese word for an owl is “Fukurou,” which not only includes the word “Fuku (happiness),” but also can be translated into “Fu (no)” “Kurou (suffering).”

The next year being the year of the Monkey, a lot of monkey dolls liven up Kumade as well.
The next year being the year of the Monkey, a lot of monkey dolls liven up Kumade as well.

So there you have it. Kumade are packed full of symbolism and eye candy. They are often displayed near the entrances of offices and restaurants. When you happen to see them, try finding as many symbols of good luck you can. It’s like a little treasure hunt.

Japanese arts and crafts may be better known for their Wabi Sabi aesthetics. But like many other cultures in the world, Japanese culture is multifaceted and diverse. Simplicity might bring peace and quiet, but embellishment might bring festivity and liveliness. Both are essential parts of Japanese design and I find the juxtaposition very interesting.

Niseko Ski Resorts

Being called as the “St. Moritz of the Orient”, Niseko has about 100 years of history as a ski town. The perfect powder snow and its long ski season which lasts until early May have lured skiers every winter. From late 1960s, commercial ski areas such as Niseko Moiwa, Niseko Annupuri and Niseko Higashiyama were opened one after another. The resort is internationally renowned while the number of Australian tourists has been increasing these years. For people who want to try all the slopes, Niseko all mountain pass is recommended.

Ski_R

Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu
Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu is the biggest ski resort in Niseko and stretches from Niseko Annupuri’s summit (elevation 1,308.5 m) to its base. Foreign skiers are increasing especially in this area. English speaking instructors provide ski and snowboard lessons to all level of skiers.
Address: 85 Niseko, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Phone: 0136-58-2021
Web: www.grand-hirafu.jp/winter/en/

niseko_ski2

Niseko Village Ski Resort
Niseko Village Ski Resort is a world-class ski area which combines adventure and nature with superb facilities and amenities with English speaking staff available. It has a long 5,000-meter slope, and is rather suitable for intermediate or advanced skiers.
Address: Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko Cho, Abuta Gun
Phone: 0136-44-2211
Web: www.niseko-village.com/english/winter/

Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area
Located in the quasi-national park land, the Niseko Annupuri International Ski Area is family-oriented and attracts skiing beginners. Experienced skier can also enjoy its runs including a 565 meter champion course and 250 meter challenge course.
Address: Higashiyama Onsen, Niseko Cho, Abuta Gun
Phone: 0136-44-2211
Web: http://annupuri.info/winter/english/
niseko21
[ Transportation]
By train: Take Ishikari Liner from Sapporo to Otaru, transfer to Niseko. (90min. 2,100 yen). From Dec. to Feb., “Niseko Express” goes between Sapporo and Niseko (Reservation required).

Take taxi or bus from Niseko station to all ski areas for 15 min. By bus: Take ski bus (Chuo or Dounan) to Niseko ski area from Sapporo station. (3 hr. – 3hr. 45min. 2,300 yen. Reservation required)

By car: 2 hr. drive from Sapporo to Niseko (via Route 230).

[ Address ]

204 Yamada, Kutchan-chō, Abuta-gun, Hokkaidō 044-0081

Let’s welcome the New Year with a Japanese Nengajo

As the end of year approaches, we reflect on what happened this year; our triumphant moments, embarrassing accidents, endearing memories, new relationships, and sad goodbyes. Whatever happened, we can look forward to starting over in a great new year.

So what do the Japanese people do to welcome a new year? Well, there are many customs surrounding the New Year, but today, I would like to introduce the Nengajo, a traditional New Year’s Card.

Just like Christmas cards in other countries, the Nengajo is a great way to show appreciation for your coworkers and mentors who have been kind to you in the past year. It is also a perfect opportunity to correspond with friends and relatives who you might not have seen or talked to for some time.

The standard size for a Nengajo is the same as a postcard, but there’s a wide variety to choose from. Let’s look at some designs.

Nengajo_Many

pp

Nengajo_Traditional
From traditional to modern, elegant to Kawaii, the design options are infinite!
Nengajo_Catalog
Stationery stores usually have a few volumes of Nengajo catalogs. You can add your own photos and personalized messages.
Nengajo_Magazine
There are several magazines which offer design templates for those who want to make their own Nengajo.

Thanks to the hard work of the postal service, the Nengajo almost always arrives on New Year’s Day. If you are thinking of sending a Nengajo, make sure to mail them by Dec. 25th with “Nenga” printed in red ink below the stamp.

Also, if you look at the address side of Nengajo, you’ll notice there are several numbers at the bottom. These are special “Nenga lottery numbers” with which you might be able to win some prizes. The winning numbers are announced on Sunday, Jan. 17. So don’t forget to check them out in a newspaper, at the local post office or the Japan Post website.

Nengajo
The numbers at the bottom might bring you some good luck!

Although the origin of the Nengajo is unknown, Japanese people have been sending them since the Edo period. Unfortunately, because of easier and faster ways of communicating, people are sending less and less Nengajo every year. But there’s always something special about seeing them arrive on New Year’s Day. Reading the personalized handwritten and warm wishes from family and friends will certainly bring joy to many Japanese people.

Getting the bundled stack of postcard-sized Nengajo is a gift for the eyes and for the heart, and a nice way to send off last year and receive a happy new year.