Myriad Winter Festivals in Tohoku!

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

Hachinohe Enburi : Dance Parade for Good Harvest

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

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

Hachinohe: Hachinohe Station (JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kishu Kasedori : Not Your Ordinary Bird

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

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

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

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

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

Kaminoyama: Kaminoyama Onsen Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen)

Aizu Erousoku (Painted Candle Festival)

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

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

Sendai Pageant of Starlight

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

Sendai: Sendai Station ( JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Festival (Snow Lantern Festival)

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

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

Fuji-Q Highland, thrilling rides with a view of Mt. Fuji

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As the quintessential Japanese symbol, Mt. Fuji often evokes quiet and peaceful imagery. That’s why it’s hard to think of it as home to some of the highest, steepest and scariest roller coasters in the world. However, it’s precisely this contrast along with its proximity to Tokyo that makes Fuji-Q Highland amusement park a unique place to visit and a must for all thrill seekers.

The park is located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture and can be reached by the Fujikyu express bus in approximately an hour and a half from Tokyo, Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. Fuji-Q features roller coasters such as Takabisha, with the steepest drop in the world at 121° degrees, Eejanaika, the so-called 4th dimension coaster with endless turns and spins and of course, the Fujiyama, dubbed “the king of coasters” with a maximum speed of 130 km/h and a maximum height of 79 m. However, if heart-pounding rides are not your thing, Fuji-Q offers great alternatives, such as Fuji Airways, a virtual flight around Mt. Fuji in high definition, or Thomas Land, an area filled with exciting rides for small children. Visitors can also enjoy taking on the Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, the Ferris Wheel, or even visit the nearby Fujiyama Onsen, featuring Japan’s largest wooden bathroom with an exclusive pipeline that feeds the facilities with a stream of water packed with minerals. It is said that after soaking for a while in this onsen’s miraculous waters, your skin will feel smooth and beautiful.

Three of our WAttention Ninja had the opportunity to experience all Fuji-Q Highland has to offer and this is what they had to say:

Aagje Kessels

Our day started at Tokyo Station where we took the bus to Fuji-Q Highland. As soon as we got there we couldn’t resist the urge to take a ton of pictures. Honestly, if you have the opportunity to behold such a beautiful landscape as Mt. Fuji, you want to show it off to your friends on social media. We enjoyed everything, from the soaring roller coasters to the cute “La ville de Gaspard et Lisa”, an area that looks like a small French town where you can find many food stalls and nice souvenir shops. The three of us were very scared of the most thrilling roller coasters, but I’m glad to say that we conquered our fear and had the time of our lives. Lastly but definitely not least, we visited Fujiyama Onsen, which offers a great variety of baths. I personally loved the outdoor Onsen, because even though it was quite cold when I first stepped outside, I found that nothing can beat the feeling of dipping into the hot water and instantly feel your body warm up and your troubles wash away.
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We started an amazing day at Tokyo Station, where we rode the bus heading to Fuji-Q Highland. When we got there, we didn’t have to wait long before entering the park. We were already a bit hungry, but we were so excited to get on the rides that we headed straight to the most challenging roller coaster: “Eejanaika”. It was amazing, it was the most intense ride I had ever experienced. After eating a much-deserved lunch, we decided to ride our second roller coaster: “Fujiyama”, which offered amazing views of Mt. Fuji. We also tried other attractions like the teacup ride, and the amazing Fuji Airways, a virtual tour of Japan’s tallest mountain with amazing special effects and a huge screen. We also took the time to walk around Fuji-Q Highland and visit the onsen. We had an amazing day!

Jan Siegrist

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Jenny Teer

As soon as we arrived to Fuji-Q, we took on the most intense rollercoaster: the 4th dimension coaster “Eejanaika”, which turns riders upside down a whooping 14 times and holds the Guinness World record for the most inversions in a roller coaster. I was quite scared at first but when everything was over, I thought the experience was really worth it. After pumping so much adrenaline, we decided to take a break to eat lunch and recharge batteries with a hearty meal of pizza, fries and soup. Our second ride was the “Fujiyama”, the tallest complete-circuit rollercoaster measuring 79 m at its highest point. This awesome ride became my favorite in the whole park. Around 5 pm we headed to Fujiyama Onsen. Since it was our first time in an onsen, we were feeling a little bit shy but I knew I had to change my mind and give it a try. After a while, I became used to it and ended up really enjoying it.
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Sample schedule for a day in Fuji-Q Highland
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Fuji-Q Highland

Hours: Open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 17pm. Operation hours vary according to the season.
Admission: Park admission is 1,500 JPY for adults and high school students, 900 JPY for children. One-day free pass ticket is 5700 JPY for adults, 5200 JPY for high school students and 4300 JPY for children.
Address: 5-6-1 Shin-Nishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture
Access: Take the Fujikyu Express bus at Tokyo Station bound for Mt. Fuji and get off at Fuji-Q Highland. Direct buses also operate from Shinjuku and Shibuya station, while daily night buses from Osaka and Kyoto are also available.
URL: https://www.fujiq.jp/en/
Contact: [email protected]

Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with this useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
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Shirakami Sanchi – Aomori, Akita

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Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, this expansive wilderness is one of the last remaining untouched beech forest in Japan. Shirakami Sanchi, stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, boasts myriad hiking trails leading to breathtaking, panoramic views, along with waterfalls. Escape the heat from the city during the spring and summer seasons when the area turns green.

Access: 55-min by bus from JR Hirosaki Station
URL: http://www.en-aomori.com/scenery-014.html

Oirase Keiryu – Aomori

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Oirase Keiryu, a picturesque stream flowing from Lake Towada, is representative of Japan’s unique beauty. You will never be bored by the enchanting waterfalls and stunning rocks along the 14-kilometer trek between Lake Towada’s Nenokuchi and Yakeyama. Be it the lush greens of summer or brilliant shades of red in autumn, the gorgeous sight itself is well worth the journey.

Access: 50-min by bus from JR Hachinohe Station to Yakiyama (Nearby lake Towada)
URL: http://towadako.or.jp/towadako-oirase/ (Japanese only)

Oga Peninsula – Akita

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The rugged peninsula, projecting west into the Sea of Japan, is home to the Namahage ogres (demon-like characters) in traditional Japanese folklore. Some of the breathtaking vistas include extensive cliff coastlines, the “Godzilla Rock” and a shrine with a flight of 999 steps, said to be built by the ogres themselves.

Access: The trip from JR Oga Station around the peninsula takes about two hours (excluding sightseeing time).
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/akita/ogahantou.html

Tono – Iwate

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Tono – Iwate

Tono is the place to go and see how people live in beautiful harmony with nature, as Japan’s traditional landscape is perfectly preserved here. With old Japanese farmhouses and unchanged rural landscapes, you can discover ancient traditions and folklore in this countryside village beloved by all Japanese.

Tono tourism association office
Hours: 8am – 7pm
Adress: 5-8 Shinkoku-cho, Tono-shi, Iwate
Access: Right outside JR Tono Station (Kamaishi Line)
URL: http://www.tonojikan.jp/Several_languages/english/english.html

Sasagawa Nagare – Niigata

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Breathtaking coastline with a beautiful contrast between the clear blue sea and white sand. The strange name “Sasagawa Nagare” roughly translates to “Sasagawa Flow” and is meant to express the waves brushing the coastline and flowing back between the complex rock formations like a mountain stream. You can gaze upon the rocks towering above the coastline from a leisure cruise.

Access: Area around Kuwagawa Station (Uetsu Main Line)
URL: http://www.sasagawanagare.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

Zao – Yamagata, Miyagi

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Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, this expansive wilderness is one of the last remaining untouched beech forest in Japan. Shirakami Sanchi, stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, _boasts myriad hiking trails leading to breathtaking, panoramic views, along with waterfalls. Escape the heat from the city during the spring and summer seasons when the area turns green.

Access: 55-min by bus from JR Hirosaki Station.

Hatsushima, an island full of adventure


A thrilling escapade away from bustling Tokyo


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There is an island off the shore of the city of Atami in Shizuoka prefecture with the rare virtue of combining adrenaline and relaxation. The Hatsushima island adventure starts at the Atamiko port, where visitors ride either the “Ile de Vacance Premier” or “Ile de Vacance III”, the two high-speed vessels that serve the island with departures several times a day. It’s a 30-minute pleasant ride that gives passengers the chance to admire the breathtaking view of Sagami Bay and feed the sea-gulls that try to catch up with the boat.

Hatsushima offers a variety of amazing outdoor activities such as the Asian Garden “R-Asia”, where you can relax in a hammock and admire a great variety of flowers such as daffodils, the bird of paradise flower, and even early cherry blossoms, allowing visitors to Hatsushima to enjoy the quintessential Japanese flower as early as mid-February!. Inside the garden, adrenaline lovers can also join the SARUTOBI experience, an adventure course featuring bridges, webs and ropes hanging from the top of the trees that you have to complete wearing a special harness.

For lunch, there are many restaurants offering a great variety of dining options and seasonal dishes. For example, from February 4th to March 12th, visitors can taste the time limited Donburi Gassen, a delicious bowl of rice with fresh and tasty fish caught by local fishermen. Visitors can also take a relaxing dip in the ocean bath “Shimano-Yu” and admire the breathtaking view at the ocean pool during summer.

At Hatsushima, you can also get a glimpse of majestic Mt. Fuji on a clear day from the top of Hatsushima’s lighthouse or go underwater for scuba diving, spend the night in the camping site, go fishing or visit the local Maritime Museum. You will never run out of things to do.

Two of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of adventure at Hatsushima island and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Santiago Basterra

To say that my day at Hatsushima Island Resort was thrilling and exciting would not make it justice, it was so much more! The restaurants had such a friendly atmosphere, small and traditional with top notch food and great attention. The miso was delicious! The Sarutobi adventure was my favorite part though, the first course was exciting and good for people who are not used to obstacle courses. Meanwhile, the second course was amazingly challenging, with the zip-line at the end being the cherry on top of the cake as you celebrate having completed the hardest course! Afterwards, the ocean bath was exceptionally tidy, everything was perfect and the water deliciously warm. Special mention to the sakura in the garden which were already blooming despite the fact that it was only February!
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We took a 30 minute boat ride from Atamiko port to Hatsushima island, and as soon as we arrived, we saw the great variety of restaurants offering Hatsushima’s delicious sea food. We got to try the Donburi Gassen, a special, time limited dish made with shrimp, fresh fish, rice and accompanied with miso soup. We then headed to Hatsushima Island Resort to join the Sarutobi experience. The staff was always there to help us put on our safety gear, and there is also a brief orientation where they explain the dynamic of the activity. After that, we were confronted with two courses, an easy one, where you can test your abilities and then a hard one, only for those who feel comfortable going further. At first, it can be a bit scary because of the height and the difficulty level that increases as you go along, but after a while I felt excited and had an amazing time.

Samuel Estribi

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Sample schedule for a day in Hatsushima Island
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Hatsushima Island

Open: Asian garden “R-Asia” 9am to 4pm (varies according to the season), Sarutobi experience 10am to 5pm, Ocean Bath Shimano-Yu 10am to 9pm, Lighthouse from 9am to 4pm.

Address:(Atamiko Port boarding place) 6-11 Wadahama-Minamicho, Atami, Shizuoka 413-0023. (Hatsushima Island resort) 1113 Kamifuruji-no-yama, Hatsushima, Atami, Shizuoka 413-0004.

Phone: Hatsushima Island resort, PICA Reservation center 0555-30-4580

Price: the Asian garden “R-Asia” is 900 JPY, Sarutobi experience is 1,700 JPY for adults and 1,300 JPY for children, the Ocean Bath Shimano-Yu is 900 JPY for adults and 600 JPY for children, Lighthouse is 200 JPY for adults, free for children and the Atami – Hatsushima round-trip high speed boat is 2,600 JPY for adults and 1,300 for children.

Website: http://www.hatsushima.jp/en/

Access: From Tokyo, take the Shinkansen Kodama for Atami Station and then take the bus bound for Atami Port & Korakuen from Bus Stop #8 (15 min). At Atami Port, get on boat named either “Ile de Vacance Premier” or “Ile de Vacance III” to reach Hatsushima.

Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with this useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-
・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
apli

Nebuta Matsuri

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Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Aug. 2 – 7
Highlight: fireworks festival on the final day

Aomori city comes alive every summer to celebrate the Nebuta festival. Historically the festival functioned as a means of keeping harvesters awake as they worked in the fields gathering rice and other produce. As dusk approaches the parade begins and many floats feature illuminated lanterns with various designs and shapes.

Hanagasa Matsuri

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Hanagasa Matsuri Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture
Aug. 5 – 7
Highlight: different types of dances using straw flower hats

The iconic nature of the parade is the use of traditional agricultural workers hats decorated with red paper flowers that represent the beautiful safflower. The parade features all ages, with many young children dressed in traditional yukata. At the end of the festival, everyone is invited to celebrate and join in the last float, dancing the traditional hanagasa dance.

Waraji Matsuri

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Waraji Matsuri Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Named after the traditional straw sandals for traveling, the 300-year-old festival features a huge waraji that measures 12 meters in length and weighs 2 tons. The gigantic waraji is carried in a parade by people who pray for strong walking and safe traveling before housed in a shrine.

Tanabata Matsuri

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Tanabata Matsuri Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Aug. 6 – 8
Highlight: beautiful streamers in the shopping arcades
and fireworks on Aug. 5

The main arcades all through Sendai city are adorned with beautifully hung, crafted spheres made of washi-paper and bamboo, with long streamers hanging down like celestial jelly fish. One can spend hours happily strolling through!

Kanto Matsuri

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Kanto Matsuri Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Highlight: see participants balance 50kg lantern poles

A chorus of bamboo flutes signals the start of the festival and immediately various groups of men hoist the 12-meter bamboo poles hanging paper lanterns into the air. The Kanto festival can best be described as a performance of local groups showcasing their amazing dexterity and remarkable balancing prowess.

Forget ramen – the noodles here are one-of-a-kind!

Wanko Soba

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These soba noodles are for the competitive eater! Stack up your dishes and see who will become the noodle master. These small servings can quickly add up and a popular goal is to reach one hundred bowls of soba.

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This dish uses flat noodles made from soy and wheat and is considered one of the “Three Great Noodles of Morioka.” One defining feature is its miso paste, which is different in every restaurant. Enjoy it with a variety of vegetables and finish by mixing your remaining miso paste with a special egg soup.

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Negi Soba

If you’re not confident in your chopstick skills, this dish is for you! This peculiar soba is scooped with a long, curved green onion and is a specialty of Ouchi-Juku in Fukushima prefecture. To add some flavor, you can actually eat your utensil with your soba!

Inaniwa Udon

This extraordinary noodle is the only one of its kind. Inaniwa udon is thinner than regular udon, glossier than ramen and is typically handmade. This udon is quite chewy, giving it a pleasant texture. It’s no surprise that it’s considered one of Japan’s “Three Greatest Udon.”

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Reimen

Another one of the “Three Great Noodles of Morioka,” reimen is served chilled with a piece of fruit. Don’t get cold feet! The combination works surprisingly well and the soup is designed to taste best when cold.

Shiroishi Umen

There is a tale from the Edo period about a son looking for a dietary food for his sick father. He met a monk who told him about a way to make noodles without oil. His father recovered quickly and the dish was named after the area, Shiroishi. These noodles have a smooth taste from being kneaded with salt water.

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Sansa Matsuri

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Sansa Matsuri Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
Aug. 1 – 4
The charm of the festival lies in a parade where taiko drummers and dancers proceed through the city. The origin can be traced back to a legend about a wicked demon. In summer evenings, locals would dress up in fancy costumes and dance and play drums to scare the demon away.

Nature and worship “A journey of rebirth”


In The Realm of the Gods at Dewa Sanzan

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In many cultures, mountains often have religious significance and are regarded as abodes of the gods. Tohoku has three holy mountains, known collectively as Dewa Sanzan, that is regarded as one of the most sacred sites in the country. Its landscape is defined by the stunning natural beauty of mystical mountains, volcanic lakes, hot springs and farmlands. This is where the soul of Japan lies in its traditional and religious culture, and where ancient mountain worship is still very much practiced. Against this background, we embarked on an epic journey to trace the footsteps of pilgrims who are followers of Shugendo.

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The Three Mountain Blessings

Shugendo is an ethnic religion influenced by Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and spiritual faith. Its main purpose is to strengthen the connection between people and nature, reaching enlightenment in this way. Practitioners preach the teaching that “nature is a manifestation of the gods and we should live alongside it with respect.” Mountains and forests have paramount importance in Shugendo. The Dewa Sanzan mountains of Mt Haguro (419m), Mt Gassan (1984m) and Mt Yudono (1504m) are the centres of pilgrimage in the region. The followers, known as Shugenjas or Yamabushi (mountain monks), have been following the rites of worship for the last 1,400 years. Followers embark on long pilgrimages and practice austere feats of physical endurance of natural elements as an ascetic rite of passage to gain spiritual power. We had the privilege of experiencing the immersive ceremony of Shugendo first hand by visiting the three sacred mountains that represents the present, death and rebirth at Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono respectively.

Praying in the Official Shinto Style at Mt. Haguro
We arrived at Mt. Haguro as dusk was setting in and, after a short visit to Ideha Museum nearby to get an insight of Shugendo and Dewa Sanzan, we entered the sacred site through the torii, a wooden gateway that is found in all sacred sites in Japan. A long flight of stone steps, known as the Ishi-Dan, led down to an enchanting forest with towering cedar trees along the ancient pilgrim route. The 1.7km trail built in 1648 has 2,446 steps leading to the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine at the summit. There are 33 carvings etched on the steps and it is believed that if you can find all 33, your wishes will come true. As we were pressed for time, we could only follow the sacred path as far as the 600-year-old Goju-no-to, the five-storied pagoda, a recorded national treasure. In the gloom of the forest, the ornate pagoda exuded an air of mysticism that lent to the belief that a deity of the forest lives in it.
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro

When we arrived at Sanjin Gosaiden, the main shrine at the summit, we were met by a Yamabushi dressed in his traditional religious garb. He sounded a horagai, a religious conch trumpet, as a welcome and to ward off bad spirits. We were led to the inner sanctum of the shrine. There, a monk dressed in a splendid ceremonial robe with motifs of cranes performed a special ceremony accompanied by a beating taiko drum, followed by space clearing of malevolent energy around us by wafting a pole with white paper strips attached to the end and ringing bells to cleanse the air. He then chanted some mantras in a trance-like voice, which reverberated around the room, sending powerful vibrations into the ambience. We felt blessed and awed as we bowed twice, clapped our hands twice and bowed once again, completing the ritual where we were “spiritually born.”

Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
We stayed the night at a shukubo, a traditional temple lodge owned by a Yamabushi and his wife, who welcomed us graciously by kneeling Japanese style where they sat on the floor with their legs folded behind them. The delightful lodge was immaculately clean and the minimalist décor was the personified tranquility that we badly needed after a long journey. I would highly recommend staying in a shukubo to attain a Zen state of mind. Early next morning, our landlord performed a Shinto ritual prayer to bless us and wished us a safe journey to Mt Gassan and Mt. Yudono.

Stepping to Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono

We headed to Mt. Gassan in howling wind and rain to visit a shrine. The pilgrimage trail was officially closed for the season, but we braved the elements by treading precariously on the path of a slippery, wooden walkway laid across a marshland of dwarf bamboo and grassland.
After twenty minutes’ walk, we reached a small shrine presided by a giant stone rabbit, the guardian of the mountain.

Mt. Yudono
Mt. Yudono
This mountain symbolized the path to death and it was apt that the short journey we took in the inclement weather seemed to convey that message. In the summer, pilgrims could hike to the summit, where the main shrine lies; from there, they could also hike to Mt. Yudono, the last mountain on the holy trail.
Our visit to Mt. Yudono was an epic experience where we were sworn to secrecy by the priest about the ceremony of “rebirth” that we underwent to symbolize being spiritually reborn to start a new journey in life. It is a taboo to divulge the secret of the ritual, but suffice to say that the experience is something I will always remember.

Dewa Sanzan is a pilgrimage, but mere mortals with spiritual interest will find the journey enlightening and soul stirring. Reflecting on my own awesome experience of the religious encounter, I now appreciate why mountains belong to the realms of the gods.

Hagurosan

Access: 40-min by bus from JR Tsuruoka Station, get off at Zuishinmon.
55-min by bus to the summit.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/47/

Gassan

Hours: Closed late September until June
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-
Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to Gassan Hachigome.
URL:ttp://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/48/

Yudonosan

Hours: Closed late September until June Admission: 500 yen
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to
Yudonosan.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/49/

Skiing on the slopes of Mt. Fuji

The ultimate Japanese winter experience

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It’s hard to imagine a better way to experience the Japanese winter than to slide down the slopes of Japan’s most iconic and sacred mountain, Mt. Fuji. Located at an altitude of over 1,300 m on its southern slope, Snowtown Yeti is a ski and snowboarding park that offers visitors four different runs, three lifts and incredible views of the snow-capped mountain.

The park is connected to Shinjuku station’s west exit by the direct Linerbus which takes two hours and half to reach the park. There are also buses from the nearby Mishima, Gotemba and Fuji Stations. Upon arrival, visitors can then rent the necessary equipment and enjoy the thrill of skiing and snowboarding on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Snowtown Yeti features courses for all levels with an average inclination of 11 degrees and up to 25 degrees for a more challenging experience.

The winter season starts early at Snowtown Yeti, as the park opens in mid October, when man-made snow covers the slopes, and the park even has all-night skiing days where the park remains open until early morning.

Three of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of skiing and snowboarding at Snowtown Yeti and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Lucas Vandenbroucke

The trip started off really well, since the bus was confortable and had Wi-Fi connection. When we arrived to Snowtown Yeti, we rented our equipment, which was of a very good quality, and completely water proof. The ski runs where adapted to different levels of skill. The weather that day was great for skiing and snowboarding and we enjoyed a fun day of going down the slopes. We also had time to rest at the restaurant and purchase gear at the shop where you can buy all you need to enjoy a full day out in the snow. I’m glad to have experienced skiing in such a great place, and in the company of my friends.
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I had an amazing day at Snowtown Yeti. The gear we got was comfortable and top notch. There were some restaurants too, where they serve appetizing hot meals. There was also a place where we could buy our own ski equipment like gloves or googles. We had fun enjoying the slopes, which had different levels, for both beginners and advanced skiers. Overall, we had an amazing time and I’m looking forward to come back soon.

Simon Brodard

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Ricard Roddy

The first thing I realized when we arrived is that we were already at the top of the slope, so we didn’t have to wait to get on the ski lift, we were able to start having fun right away. I really liked that you can buy all the equipment you need at the park, since I had forgotten my gloves. That really saved my day! You can find everything you need on site, restaurant, shop, rental gear and changing rooms with lockers. I spent such a good time with my friends, that when we left we wanted to come back again the next day! I would definitely like to recommend this place to anyone who wants to have an amazing day.
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Sample schedule using the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus from Shinjuku Station
schedule

Snowtown Yeti

Open: Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., weekends and public holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., all-night skiing 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning (available on certain days).
Open mid-october to early April of every year.
Address: 2428 Aza Fujiwara, Suyama, Susono-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture 410-1231
Phone: 055-998-0636
Website: http://www.yeti-resort.com/en/
Access: Take the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus near Shinjuku west exit, in front of Kogakuin University.
Price: Yeti Liner Package (Yeti direct liner bus + rental ski + 1 day ticket) Adult 9,000-9,500 JPY, Child (6 to 11) 7,000-7,500 JPY. Please check Snowtown Yeti’s website for all-night skiing rates and other pricing information.

Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with this useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
apli

How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan

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

Write Nengajo

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

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2017 is the year of the Rooster

Eat Soba

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

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

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

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

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Watch a singing competition on TV

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

Visit a Buddhist temple

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

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

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Gudetama lost in Edo!

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

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

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

Gudetama photo
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

Gudetama activities
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

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Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

Gudetama food
Image Credit: atpress.ne.jp

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

Information

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

5 Outdoor Autumn Activities in Karuizawa

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Karuizawa, a small resort town in Nagano Prefecture, is a popular destination thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and luxury resorts. At an elevation of 1,000 meters (3,281 ft) the cooler temperatures result in stunning fall colors. And if that’s not enough, we’ve found five other amazing reasons to explore the town.

5. Shopping

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Cooler weather is great for shopping, particularly when many of Karuizawa’s best shopping districts are outdoors!

An outlet mall is located on the south side of the town, near the Karuizawa Prince Hotel, and is a sprawling shopper’s paradise with more than 200 stores. You can find everything from fashion items, to sports gear and outdoor items here, in addition to multiple restaurants and cafés that are perfect for recharging with a warm beverage.

Kyu-Karuizawa, or Old Karuizawa—about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) to the north—is home to Karuizawa Ginza, an important merchant street that grew during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The shops along the street embrace tourists and is home to traditional cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops selling locally produced jam and honey.

4. Ziplining

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For adrenaline junkies, Karuizawa Prince Hotel offers ziplining through a company called Zipline Adventure on the ski slopes through early autumn.

Tours depart three times a day and run from 90 minutes to two hours (depending on group size and speed). Hiking up the slopes is necessary, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes!

Check out the website for more information, such as height and weight requirements.
www.zipline.jp (Japanese)

3. Hiking

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Nagano is well-known for its natural beauty and there are many paths and trails in the area. The challenging Mount Asama, a 2,568 meter (8,425 ft) active volcano, is one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains. It last erupted in 2009; even so, hikers are required to stay out of restricted areas. The sulfur fumes can be hazardous, so heed the warnings you see on the trail. Every hiker has their own pace, but expect a minimum of six hours for the round trip.

If a volcano doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s also the Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary (Yacho no Mori), home to more than 80 different species of birds, as well as the scruffy kamoshika, or Japanese serow. The park is free to enter, but various nature walks are available with a reservation through the Picchio Visitor Center.

www.tozai-trek.com

2. Onsen

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Karuizawa is home to the luxury ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) operator Hoshino Resort. If you want to splurge, the Hoshinoya Karuizawa resort is probably the pinnacle of luxury in this town. However, there’s a smaller onsen, or hot spring, called Tombo no Yu that caters to day-trippers.

The onsen is located at the base of a forested mountain, with indoor and outdoor baths filled with steaming hot water that is said to rejuvenate the skin and cure everything from nerve pain to hypertension.

Regardless of which hot spring locale you choose, soaking in an onsen is a relaxing way to keep warm on a crisp autumn day!

www.hoshino-area.jp

1. Bicycle Rental to Kumoba Pond

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Cycling is a great way to get around the main areas of Karuizawa. The streets are wide and rental shops dot the town, particularly close to the Shinkansen station. In addition, many of the beautifully designed summer homes tucked away in the tree-dappled valley are best viewed while on a leisurely bicycle ride.

One of the most popular autumn destinations in Karuizawa is Kumoba Pond, a small pond with dozens of Japanese maples planted around it. A footpath circles the pond, allowing visitors to take in the surrounding trees and wildlife. On a clear day, the water reflecting the scarlet and gold of the turning leaves is a sight that’ll take your breath away.


Read the original article on All About Japan: 5 Outdoor Autumn Activities in Karuizawa

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Tori No Ichi: The Good Luck Charm Fair

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

A good luck charm fair

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

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Kumade

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

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Information

Tori No Ichi in Tokyo

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

Autumn Foliage Hunting in Hanno, Saitama!

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

Anime pilgrimage: Yama no Susume

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

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Hanno Ginza shopping street

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

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(C )しろ/アース・スターエンタテイメント/「ヤマノススメ」製作委員会

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Ascending Mt. Tenran for its panoramic views and autumn foliage

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

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An easy autumn hiking trip to Lake Miyazawa

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

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Reminder:

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

Enjoy a lakeside hot spring bath

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

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

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

Other useful information

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

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

Seibu Railway Walking & Hiking Pamphlet (online version)

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

Sanrio Puroland

I guess there are just a few people left who haven´t heard about the white fluffy cat with its big round eyes which enchants her fans since 1974!
In  the western part of Tokyo you can find an indoor theme park dedicated to Hello Kitty and her friends. Opened in 1990, Sanrio Puroland attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year.
If you want to treat your kids to a magical experience, or if you are curious about Japan´s popular characters itself, don´t hold back and immerse yourself into a whole new world full of cute adventures.

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The entrance is a huge hall decorated with lovely artwork featuring the main characters of Sanrio Puroland.

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After entering the park you will be welcomed by one of the many characters which whom you can take a memorial picture with. Further, at the merchandise and souvenir booth located near the entrance, you can transform yourself into one of your beloved characters while purchasing its characters hairband with attached ears.

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Now you will take the escalator and reach Hello Kitty´s magical world.
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Beside having the chance to take a sneak peek inside Hello Kitty´s and Little Twin Stars house, you can also make a trip through Mariland with My Melody´s newest ride attraction.

While Cinnamoroll invites you to an exciting boat ride through the world of Sanrio Characters….

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….Hello Kitty takes you to see her fantastic musical at the “Märchen Theater”.

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It´s a magical place not only for families and children, also couples and friends can enjoy a pleasant day at Santrio Puroland.

Sanrio Puroland Info:
Hours: The opening hours and closing days differ from month to month, please check the website in advance.
Address: 1-32 Ochiai, Tama, Tokyo 〒206-8588
Access: 5min-walk from Tama Center Station, Keio Line
Keio Line: Central Exit / Odakyu Line: West Exit
Tel: 042-339-1111
URL: http://en.puroland.jp/

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Welcome to Mount Oyama and its Afuri Shrine

One sunny autumn day we decided to hike Mount Oyama, located in Kanagawa Prefecture about 1,5 hours from Shinjuku Station. It takes a little while to reach the mountain foot, but the view across the valley featuring Mount Fuji is totally worth it!
The Odakyu Line brings you to Isehara Station, from there it´s a 30min bus ride until “Oyama Cable Station.” Another 15min walk along small souvenir shops selling handmade traditional goods and snacks, brings you to the actual Cable Car Station.

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The wooden plate says “Welcome to Mount Oyama, which brings nature and history together”

We arrived at the station and took the Cable Car until “Afuri-Jinja Station.”

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Ninja ID: nene16

Welcome to Mount Oyama and its Afuri Shrine

The view over the city from Oyama Afuri Shrine is very beautiful and the shrine area itself offers many things to discover.

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The shrine was built more than 2,000 years ago and its name derives from the word “amefuri” which literally means “rainfall” or “rainy weather”. That´s why mostly farmers visited the shrine to pray for rain and a good harvest.

Next to the shrine, a statue showing two children of the post war period caught my eye. The name plate says “Kagayakesugi no Ko” (輝け杉の子) which could be translated as “The children of the shining cedar”. Sugi, the Japanese cedar is the national tree of Japan. You can find it mostly around temple and shrine areas. Therefore, Sugi can also symbolize the country itself and refers to the children of the nation.

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After some research I found out that during World War II on June 30th 1944 the decision was made to evacuate elementary school children between grade three to six of Kawasaki-city (Kanagawa Prefecture). Out of those 7,100 children, 3,200 children were sent to Mount Oyama. Children from nine different schools left Kawasaki between August 21st and 24th 1944. Until the evacuation dissolution due to the end of the war in October 1945, children were sent to different places.

This statue shows these young children during the reconstruction of the country after the second world war, sending gratitude and peace into all directions of the prefecture. It was built as a symbol to commemorate 40 years of the end of the evacuation.

Welcome to Mount Oyama and its Afuri Shrine

The real hike until the top of Mount Oyama starts on the left side next to the shrine. Steep stairs lead you to the hiking trail, which takes about two hours until the summit. Since it is a very tough hike, rugged footwear is a big recommendation.

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On a clear and sunny day, you can even see Mount Fuji in the distance.

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On the top of the mountain, food and beverages are on sale, but keep in mind that it might become very pricey. We bought two bottles of water and two small portions of “Kakigori” (a dessert made of shaved ice) and paid 1,600Yen (about 15US$), which was quite a shock. The best way to enjoy the stunning view is bringing your picnic blanket, prepare a lunchbox and have a nice break surrounded by nature.

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If you are lucky you can even spot deers on your way back to the station.

Enjoy your trip to Mount Oyama!

Information

Access: From Isehara Station (Odakyu Line) it´s a 30min bus ride until Oyama Cable Station; until Afuri-Jinja Station it´s the second stop of Oyama-Cable (Last departure 4:30pm weekdays/5pm weekend/national holiday)
Address: Isehara-shi, 259-1107 Kanagawa
Ranking:
www.ooyama-cable.co.jp (Japanese only)
www.afuri.or.jp (Japanese only)

WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

Kids’ Ninja Village

Togakushi is well-known as the origin of ninja, so we visited the Kids’ Ninja Village, where children and even adults can dress up like a real ninja! Ninja costume rental is available for a reasonable fee (kids: 400 yen, adults: 800 yen). So all members in your family can enjoy an immersive experience in becoming ninja.

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Next, let’s move on to training! The village offers various facilities to enjoy the way of ninja such as shuriken (star-shaped disc) throwing experience, climbing, and a ninja trick house. Moreover, they offer exciting shows related to the skills of the ninja. With such wonderful attractions and shows, you can enjoy being a ninja for a whole day.

For all big ninja fans, please do not miss visiting Ninpohkan where you can see a huge collection of all things ninja. From manga such as Ninja Hattori, to every single ninja character in pop culture, to lego ninja figures, and posters of ninja movies as well as other ninja paraphernalia can be found here. We came to realize just how the legend of the mysterious and enigmatic ninja has permeated Japanese and global culture, from traditional Japanese culture to pop culture.

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Ninja version vending machine!
Ninja version vending machine!

Read other articles in the series:
Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine
Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba

Information

Open: Late April ~ Late November
Open hours: 9.00 ~ 17.00 Closed on Thursdays (open daily for the summer vacation period, mid-July ~ end August)
Access: From Nagano to Kids’ Ninja Village: Take bus Togakushi line no. 70 or 71 to Togakushi-Chusha bus stop → walk around 15 min
Admission fee: Kozaru Ticket (Adults – Elem. School Kids: 450 yen, Kids: 200 yen) *This price does not include attractions fee
Website: http://www.ninjamura.com/english

Tokyo Edo Week : Wattention reports

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Japanese autumn activities

 

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

 

1 ) Tsukimi (moon viewing)

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

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2 ) Gathering Chestnuts

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

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3 ) Harvest Rice

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

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4 ) Grill some Sanma

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

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5 ) Take an autumn walk

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

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6 ) Eat some Satsuma Imo (roasted sweet potato)

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

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7 ) Attend a school’s sports festival

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

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

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Tokyo’s Top Halloween Parties

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

 

Shibuya Halloween Party

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

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

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Image Credit: PR Times

VAMPS Halloween Party

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

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

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

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Image Credit: PR Times

Ueno Halloween

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

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

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

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Image Credit: PR Times

Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival

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

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

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

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

 

Matchmaking Halloween party in Shibuya

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

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

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

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

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Image credit: PR Times

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tokyo Yosakoi

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

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

History of Yosakoi

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

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

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

Examples of dances

Participants of last year’s Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

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

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

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Tokyo Edo Week

 

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

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

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

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

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Go Kimono Shopping

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

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Kimono Exhibition

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

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Amazing Crafts

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

Crafts
Image Courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Meet Miss Sake Tokyo

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

See Japanese Sword Arts and Plays

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

 

Enjoy Edo-style food with top class entertainment

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

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

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


 

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

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

Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon produced by Yumenoya in Harajuku!

Starting Saturday, September 10th, the new Kimono Salon located on the 2nd floor of the “Moshi Moshi Harajuku Tourist Information Center” opened its doors to provide a unique and unforgettable experience to their customers!

Immerse yourself in the world of Harajuku and as you try out fancifully designed kimono. The kimono that they provide feature the traditional Japanese design of the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926), as well as elements from the current trendy Harajuku fashion style! You can choose between different style-options, for example the gothic-lolita kimono, the sweet-lolita kimono, the super colorful kimono, the princess kimono, the classic traditional one and many more!

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The up-coming fashion designer Yuka (有伽), who is also in charge of the costumes for the popular Japanese Wagakki-Band, created these fancy kimono designs.
Get your picture taken in the appointed photo studio which includes a colorful sliding paper door as a photo-background. It was created by art director Sebastian Masuda, the owner of the brand 6% DOKIDOKI who was also the main designer for Harajuku idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s music video “PONPONPON” (2011).

The Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon is the only place in Japan where you can have such a unique experience.

There are 4 different course options available:

The basic course includes the dressing of the kimono and the photo shooting. You will receive a CD with all your photos.

The next course is based on the basic course but includes a full make-up and hair styling make over (different types of wigs are also available).

If you choose the full course, an additional photo album and one edited photo will be included. You can receive your specially made photo album on the following day.

There’s also the full course including an outdoor photo shooting, where you can spend 30 min in full kimono regalia in the streets of Harajuku. Get the J-fashion star treatment as you capture the real Harajuku atmosphere in your pictures along with your eye-catching kimono outfit.

Wattention visited the Salon already last Friday, September 9th, and had the chance to wear one of these magical Harajuku Kimono!

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The models who welcomed us at the entrance looked fabulous and everyone was really friendly.

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Don´t miss this experience during your adventures in Harajuku!

Information

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Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon produced by Yumenoya
Hours: 10am – 6pm
Tel: 03-5770-5131
Access: 5min walk from Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line) – Takeshita Street Exit; 9min walk from Meiji-Jingu Mae Station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line); 13min walk from Omotesando Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line・Hanzomon Line・Chiyoda Line)
Address: Moshi Moshi Box – Harajuku Tourist Information 2F, Jingumae 3-23-5, Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
URL: http://www.tokyo-samurai.com/blank

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

Image_

Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House

After accomplishing a tranquil mind like a ninja, we moved on to the ninja house!

Just across the road from the entrance from Okusha, we arrived at the Togakushi Folk Museum, Togakushi Ninja Museum and the Ninja Karakuri Yashiki (Ninja Trick House) which are all located in same area.

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In the Togakushi Folk Museum, there is an exhibition of tools and items that were mainly used for daily use and farming. We were impressed by the ingenuity of these functional and convenient items.

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Togakushi Ninja Museum was built like a two-story house. While visiting the first floor, we learned the lifestyle of ninja that doubled as farmers. After climbing to the second floor, the atmosphere changed completely. The long history and way of ninja were revealed there. Historical documents, pictures of mysterious techniques and items are shown here to make you wonder about how they can do all of this!

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The Ninja Karakuri Yashiki is the highlight of this place as both adults and kids can enjoy finding their way out of the maze-like building. The Ninja Karakuri Yashiki was built based on tricks used by ninjas, so it is easy to go into the house but difficult to find your way out. In the past, this kind of trick was a great way for ninja to escape their enemies. All rooms seem like normal rooms, but if you cannot think like ninja, you may not find the right direction to reach the exit. The most impressive room in the Ninja Karakuri Yashiki is the room with a sloped floor so we have to walk upward against the gravity.

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In other areas, there are game corners, and a souvenir shop in Ninja theme.

Read other articles in the series:
Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine
Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba
Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

Information
Hours: 9.00 – 17.00 (Last entry 16.30)
*In 2016, opened 23 Apr – 23 May
*From 6 Nov, open only on Saturday, Sunday and Holiday.
Admission: Adults 600 yen, Kids 400 yen
URL: http://www.togakushi-ninja.com/

10 reasons to do a farm stay in Japan

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One of the unique holidays in Japan you can take is a farm stay. Not only it is affordable, it is also a great chance to try something new while being eco-friendly. Also, there are places that cater to only English-speaking tourists as well! Check out the list of farm stays recommended by JNTO here!

If you love nature, green spaces, and crave adventure, a farm stay may just be for you!

10. All the wide open spaces

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You can finally get away from the cramped city life. No crowded roads, no rubbing shoulders with smelly strangers on public transport – you get to roam and explore an entirely new place. Mostly, you get to take a breather and enjoy your vacation at a slower pace.

9. Fresh air! 

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picture source

Most farms are located in suburban areas, away from the city, so fewer cars and transport means less toxic air from factories, exhaust gas and so on. Compared to Singapore’s less hazy seasons, the fresh air in Japan is on a whole ‘nother level. Of course, if you choose a farm with many animals, you’ll have to deal with the smelly poo.

8. Fresh produce; no preservatives

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For some farm stays, you are invited to harvest your own food, or even tasked to harvest some produce for the meals you’re about to eat! This may sound horrendous for the squeamish anti-dirt-under-nails people, but this is how you know your food is fresh. You may even be able to purchase some fresh produce from the farm directly.

7. Child- and family-friendly activities

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A farm stay for children is a great opportunity to teach them about where food comes from and how to work on the land. Also, there are some easy activities where families and children can do together as a group! However, farms do have a age limit and parents are responsible for the conduct of their children. 

6. Animals!

Sure, some of the farm animals may turn up on your dinner plate, but they are lovable creatures that you rarely encounter in the city. Some farms may even have animal-related activities, like horse-back riding, milking, or even helping out with feeding.

5. Explore nearby mountains or forest

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Depending on your farm, you may be able to explore the vicinity. Some farms are near mountains or forests, so you can go hiking and trekking. Just beware of wild animals and always check with your host if the areas are safe.

4. Experience new farm activities

Tea picking experience | picture source
Tea picking experience | picture source

As some farms are interactive, you are literally doing a home stay in a Japanese farm! Not only you can practice some Japanese phrases and learn more about the culture, you can also tick off items from your bucket list and try new activities like staying in a traditional Japanese house, making bamboo chopsticks, tea harvesting, fishing… The list goes on.

3.  Unplug and unwind

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While most modern farm stays offer WIFI in their rooms, you can also choose to unplug and focus on the greenery around you. Have an authentic back-to-nature vacation by packing away your gadgets.

2. Support ecotourism and help the environment

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You may just be helping the environment by doing a farm stay as these travels are often low-impact and eco-friendly. In addition to learning about local culture, you are also supporting local effort to maintain their farms and their sustainable way of life.

1. Opt for a long and authentic farm experience

If you fell in love with rural life, you can always choose to join WWOOF, which is an organisation that helps organic farms to find farm hands. You are usually not paid a stipend, but you will receive awesome farm food and lodging in exchange for your hard work. What’s more, you can choose to sign up for month-long farm stays!

 Try a farm stay in Japan next time!

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore

Winter Activities in Tohoku : World’s Best Sake!

Vital elements to making great sake include fresh water, clean rice, fermentation starter and proper temperature. The Tohoku region, characterized by harsh winters, unpolluted water and dry air, is known across Japan for having the ideal sake-making conditions. Thanks to the dedication of toji (experienced brew masters), Tohoku sake has a time-honored place deep in the heart of sake enthusiasts. Several breweries offer tours from November to March, the best season for sake brewing.

Urakasumi Sake Brewery

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Founded in 1724, this brewery has been tickling the taste buds of sake connoisseurs for nearly 300 years. The establishment offers a wide range of products, including classic sakes, seasonal specialties, plum wine and tasting accessories. Visitors can also enjoy a tour of the brewery, which is followed by a fascinating tutored tasting session.

Information
Hours: Tour starts at 11am & 2pm (15 minutes long)
Access: 7-min walk from Honshiogama Station (JR Senseki Line)
Address: 2-19 Motomachi Shiogama-shi, Miyagi
*Reservation is required.

Dewazakura Sake Brewery

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Dewazakura Brewery is a fantastic place to be if you’re a sake lover. The brewery, based in Tendo in Yamagata Prefecture, proved itself worthy of global praise by winning the numerous top prize in its category at the International Wine Challenge, one of the world’s largest wine competitions. Dewazakura sake is refreshingly light, slightly sweet and deliciously drinkable—even for sake non- aficionados!

Information
Hours: 9am – 3pm
Closed: Sat, Sun and Holidays
Access: 15-min walk from JR Tendo Station (Yamagata Shinkansen & Ou Main Line)
Address: 1-4-6 Hitoichimachi Tendo-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

Other Recommended Sake Brewery Tours

Ryozeki Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 11am or 1:30pm – 3:30pm
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 4-3-18 Maemori, Yuzawa-shi, Akita
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Suehiro Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Access: Take a bus from JR Aizuwakamatsu Station and get off at Yamatomachi Bus Stop. 1-min walk from the but stop.
Address: 12−38 Nisshin-machi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Tohoku Meijo Sake Brewery:
Hours: 10am –4:30pm
Closed: Mon, New Year’s Holidays
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 125 Higashiyama, Jurizukaji-mura, Sakata-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

Running around the Imperial Palace

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

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1. Easy access

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

2. Convenient facilities

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

3. Safety

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

4. Great running course

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

5. Run with others

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

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

Winter Activities in Tohoku : Vintage Winter Rides

Make the most of your winter holiday by getting away with friends and family on transportation methods exclusive to Tohoku. Every winter, local operators run old-fashioned rides that bring Tohoku’s rich cultural heritage to life. Enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere on a stove train, kotatsu train or kotatsu boat as they tour along some of the most scenic routes in Japan.

Stove Train (Tsugaru Railway)

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Equipped with two fully- red potbelly stoves, each train car boasts a warm, cozy atmosphere where travelers can mingle freely while winding through the vast snowfields of the Tsugaru plain. Dried squid, a traditional snack from centuries ago, is cooked on top of the stoves and served comfortably warm. Be prepared in advance, though: The train operates only three roundtrip rides from December to March, so be sure to check the schedule.

Stove Train
Date: Dec. 1 – Mar. 31
Access: 1-min walk from JR Goshogawara Station (Gono Line)
Price: 950 yen (Adult), 680 yen (Children)
*The train operates three round trips per day, so make sure to check the schedule.

Geibikei Boat

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Geibikei, a 2-kilometer gorge surrounded by towering cliffs, is famous year-round for its 90-minute sightseeing boat ride. December through February is an especially popular time to visit because traditional foods, such as hot pot and rice cooked in iron pots, is served on kotatsu, a Japanese wooden table that comes with a blanket and a heater underneath. Huddle around the kotatsu, listen to the guide hum folk songs and immerse yourself in scenic splendor—life doesn’t get any better!

Kotatsu Boat Ride
Date: Dec. 1 – End of Feb
Closed: New Year’s Holidays
Access: 5-min walk from Geibikei Station (JR Oofunato Line)
Price: 1,600 yen (Adult), 860 yen (Children), 200 yen (Infant), Boat ride with meals 3,300 yen – 5,500 yen
*Reservation is required for the boat ride with meals.

Kotatsu Train (Sanriku Railway)

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The Sanriku kotatsu train was forced to shut down temporarily after the railway was severely damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. Reopened in 2014, it not only allows you to relax while enjoying mouthwatering bento lunches—made with fresh sea urchin, abalone and scallops caught from nearby coasts—but also offers panoramic coastal views of Iwate Prefecture.

 

Kotatsu Train
Access: Train starts either from Kuji Station or Miyako Station
Date: Dec. – Mar. Operates on Sat, Sun & Holidays
Price: 1,850 yen (Adult), 930 yen (Children) + 500 yen (Reserved seat fee)
The train operates one round trip per day, so make sure to check the schedule.

Five places to enjoy the Olympics in Tokyo before 2020

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

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

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


2. Buy Tokyo 2020 official merchandises in Shibuya or Ginza

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

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


3. Experience various sport activities at Tokyo Sports Expo

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

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


4. Watch a baseball game in Yokohama Stadium

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

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

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


5. Revisit Tokyo 1964 at Komazawa Olympic Park

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

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

Winter Activities in Tohoku : Snow Activities

Gliding over or schussing through high-quality powder is the ultimate delight for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Tohoku, just a few hours away from Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train), is the perfect destination for those who ache to spend some serene or invigorating time hitting the slopes. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, there are myriad other tantalizing activities on offer to meet every particular fancy.

Zao Onsen Ski Resort (Yamagata)

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At Zao Onsen Ski Resort, you can enjoy magnificent views of windblown juhyo (fir trees) heavily coated with thick, sparkling snow. These legendary “snow monsters” are often grotesquely shaped due to the extreme velocity of the northwest winter Siberian monsoon cutting through. January and February are the best times to see for yourself the weirdest and wildest—even scariest!—of snowscapes in all of Japan.

Access: 40 minutes from Yamagata Shinkansen Yamagata Station by bus

Appi Kogen Ski Resort (Iwate)

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Iwate Prefecture is proud home to several popular winter destinations, including the ever-so-famous Appi Kogen Ski Resort, one of the largest in Japan with 20-odd trails and a total length of 45.1 km. A vacation here, however, is not as exclusive to skiers and snowboarders as one might assume: Appi Family Park, for example, offers gentle slopes for sledding and tubing—as well as a snowman-making area open to “Frosty builders” of all ages!

Access: 50 minutes from Tohoku Shinkansen Morioka Station by JR Hanawa line or bus

Ura-Bandai (Fukushima)

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Skiers, snowboarders and sightseers never get enough of the silky, microfine snow at Ura-Bandai Kogen. Aside from thrilling, well-groomed trails designed to satisfy anyone from “bunny trail” novice to “black diamond” expert, there are also scenic backcountry fields for fans of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The views from the slopes are absolutely breathtaking—like scenes lifted straight off the canvas of a classic landscape painting!

Access: Urabandai Kogen: 30 minutes from JR Banetsusai Line Inawashiro Station by bus

Snowmobile Night Cruise (Zao Onsen Resort, Yamagata)

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See ghostly trees illuminated in magnificent colors every night during the peak winter season. The stark contrast of brilliant white, mystical black and rainbow hues creates a fantasy world you will not want to miss. Hop on the resort’s snowmobile, which is equipped with heating, and experience this amazing spectacle—at minus-10 degrees

Zao Night Cruise
Date: Dec. 23, 2016 – Mar. 5, 2017
Hours: 5pm – 9pm (Last tour starts at 8pm)
Access: 40-min bus ride from JR Yamagata Station
Price: 3,800 yen (Adult), 3,100 yen (Children)
Tel: 023-694-9518
*Reservation is required.

Other Recommended Ski Resorts

Onikobe Ski Resort : 40 minutes from Naruko Onsen (Miyagi) by city bus Located in Naruko onsen village, the ski resort has eight slopes for different levels and a snow park for kids.

Nekoma Ski Resort : 2 hours from Tohoku Shinkansen Koriyama Station by free shuttle (available during ski season,reservation required).
The ski resort attracts a great number of skiers with its fine powder snow and a beautiful view of Mount Bandai’s lakes and marshes.

The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura

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Spend a day in Moegi no Mura, a theme park village located in the Kiyosato Highland of Yamanashi Prefecture. It was started with the establishment of the café “ROCK” in 1971. The president of Moegi no Mura, Joji Funaki, was fascinated by German architecture and musical organs during his study trip in Europe. When he came back to Japan, he had the vision to bring a glimpse of Europe to Yamanashi. Together with six architects and engineers from Canada, the first buildings of the village were built with imported material from North America. The village was established in 1977 acting as a natural resort in the style of a western village for young people to experience the charm of the nature.

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Surrounded by nature in the middle of the woods and having more than twenty different exciting attractions, you can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and visit many shops, restaurants and cafés. Here are a few of its highlights:

Yatsugatake Outdoor Activities

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Here you can get information about nature activities such us trekking, hiking, and Segway tours. For Segway beginners, we recommend the early morning Segway tour which includes a quick training session followed by a guided tour around Moegi no Mura.

Hours: 9am – 5pm
Closing days: Thursday (except during summer season)
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/y.outdoor/?fref=nf

Music Box Museum “Hall of Halls”

One of the main attractions of the village is the Music Box Museum “Hall of Halls” showing antique music boxes and automatic mechanical musical instruments which reach back in time until the 19th century. The collection features antique acquisitions from France, Germany and many other European countries.
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In the left upper corner of the collage you can spot the “Limonaire 1900” pipe organ, which was made for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.  Another highlight of the museum is the “Mozart Barrel Organ” which plays songs composed by Mozart especially for this mechanical orchestra.

Hours: 10am – 6pm (last entrance 5:30pm)
Admission: 800 yen (adults), 500 yen (students) – there is an extra charge of 500 yen during the musicians live and the organ live
URL: Music Box Museum “Hall of Halls”

Mori no Merry Go Round Cafe

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Another popular spot of the park is the Merry Go Round and its café, which is a big attraction among young and old visitors. It´s location in the woods of the village, makes this place very magical. Many Japanese pop stars used this location for their Music Video or CM production, including Ayumi Hamasaki and Bekky.

Hours: 10am – 6pm
Closing days: Thursday (except August to October)
Admission: 300 yen for the Merry Go Round
URL: Merry Go Round

Café “Carole”

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For a tea or coffee break we recommend the Café “Carole” offering healthy lunch plates and home-made cakes. The café has a warm and cozy atmosphere, a bit like sitting in your grandma’s house and waiting for her home-cooked meal. We had a taste of the original Short-Cake with peach filling and the walnut tart, as well as three different kinds of cookies.

Hours: 10am – 6pm (until 5pm during winter season)
Closing days: Wednesday (except during summer season)
Tel: 0551-48-2520
URL: Café Carole

The many crafts shops of Moegi no Mura

For all cat-lovers, the shop “Le Chat Des Bois” focuses only on selling products in shape of cute cats. The products are designed by Japanese designers, as well as imported products from overseas.
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At shop “Ellen”, you can buy handmade goods and accessories for your beloved dog. Dog leads, harnesses and eco-shopping bags are the best sellers among the products. The shop “Sugar Plum” with its old blue Citroën sleeping in the front garden, offers country crafts, fabrics and original eco-shopping bags. The flower garden leads the way to the next shop, the “Fair Heaven”. Here you can purchase your favorite scent in form of body care products, essential oils, aroma bags, herb water, incense or aroma candles. Also many products feature flower prints, like tableware, table clothes, or umbrellas are available as well. Most of the shop owners import the goods from its origin country, and emphasize the image of rural life. When you enter those shops you are embraced by a calming atmosphere that can be found throughout the village.

Information

Moegi no Mura
Access: 12min walk from Kiyosato Station (JR Koumi Line)
Address: Takane-cho Kiyosato 3545, Hokuto-shi, 407-0301 Yamanashi
Tel: 0551-48-3522
URL: Moegi no Mura

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

7 Great Train Passes to Save Money on Transit

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Trains are amazing in Japan, but depending on how far you plan to travel, those ticket prices can start to add up. Fortunately, there are a number of passes you can buy to get unlimited transit in popular tourist areas. Here are seven great picks, with a focus on the Tokyo and Kyoto areas!

1. Japan Rail Pass

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This is pretty much the ultimate pass, and it’s available only for tourists—in fact, you can only buy it before you arrive in Japan! The Japan Rail Pass gets you unlimited travel pretty much anywhere in Japan using JR lines, including the Shinkansen bullet train.

However, you won’t be able to use non-JR trains, and the Nozomi (the fastest version of the Shinkansen on the Tokaido Line) and the Mizuho (the fastest Shinkansen between Shin-Osaka and Kagoshima-Chuo) are also out.

Pass options include a regular Japan Rail Pass or a Green-type pass that allows access to the superior-class Green Cars on certain long-distance trains (including the Shinkansen). Passes are available for seven days, 14 days or 21 days, priced at ¥29,111, ¥46,390 and ¥59,350, respectively, for a regular pass. See below for details and availability.

www.japanrailpass.net

2. Tokyo Metropolitan District Pass (Tokunai Pass)

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A good choice for Tokyo is the Tokunai Pass, which can be used in Tokyo’s 23 wards. It covers almost all areas of the city, coming in at ¥750 for adults and ¥370 for children for a day of unlimited travel.

It can only be used on local and rapid JR East trains, excluding reserved seats. However, be aware that it doesn’t cover subways, so you’ll have to stick to overland travel.

www.jreast.co.jp

3. Tokyo Metro 24-Hour Ticket

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This is similar to the JR Tokunai Pass, but applies to the expansive Tokyo Metro subway system. Just like the Tokunai Pass, it can be purchased either in advance or on the day of travel. Adult passes cost ¥600, while the pass is ¥300 for children.

If you’d like access to more subway lines, you can also get a Common One-Day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway, which allows access to Toei lines as well as those run by Tokyo Metro. These are ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for children.

If you can’t be bothered trying to figure out the difference between all the different lines, you can also just go for the Tokyo Combination Ticket, which gives you a day of unlimited access to the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, Toei Streetcar, Toei Bus (except those with fixed seats), all sections of the Nippori-Toneri Liner and all JR lines in Tokyo. However, you’d better be planning on traveling some pretty long distances in your one day, as this pass goes for ¥1,590 for adults and ¥800 for children.

www.tokyometro.jp

4. Triangle Tickets

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Triangle Tickets are passes for the Tokyu railway lines in Tokyo, allowing unlimited travel in the popular triangle between Shibuya, Jiyugaoka and Futako-tamagawa. The pass is ¥400 for a day, and includes unlimited access to the Toyoko Line between Shibuya and Jiyugaoka, the Den-en-toshi Line between Shibuya and Futako-tamagawa, and the Oimachi Line between Jiyugaoka and Futako-tamagawa.

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5. JR Tokyo Wide Pass

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The JR Tokyo Wide Pass gives you access to a truly wide range of options in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto area, including reserved seats on limited express trains and ordinary cars on the Shinkansen toward Nasushiobara, Sakudaira and even Gala Yuzawa ski resort! While other Shinkansen routes are unavailable, you can still use regular and express trains down to Tateyama in the south of Chiba, Ito City on the Izu Peninsula, and Kofu in Yamanashi. Useable for three days, adult passes are ¥10,000 and children’s passes are ¥5,000.

The JR Tokyo Wide Pass can only be purchased and used by holders of non-Japanese passports.

www.jreast.co.jp

6. JR West Kansai Wide Area Pass

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Similar to the JR Tokyo Wide Pass, this pass offers unlimited access to the Shinkansen, limited express trains and local trains in the Kansai area for five consecutive days—including Nozomi and Mizuho super-express trains between Shin-Osaka and Okayama, though the Shinkansen cannot be used between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto. The price is ¥9,000 for adults, ¥4,500 for children—with a discount for online purchases or purchases from a travel agent overseas!

To be eligible to use the pass, you must be a temporary visitor, and cannot be a resident of Japan.

www.westjr.co.jp

7. Kyoto Tourist 1-Day or 2-Day Pass

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The Kyoto Tourist 1-Day or 2-Day Pass offers unlimited access to the City Bus, Kyoto Bus and Municipal Subway, as well as coupons for selected tourist sites. You can get a one-day pass for ¥1,200 or a two-day pass for ¥2,000. There are also various passes for just the bus or just the subway, which you can look into below.

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Read the original article on All About Japan: http://allabout-japan.com/en/article/2223/

You might also like:
3 Cool Countryside Day Trips from Tokyo
Where Do Old Trains Go?
Tour Ise-Shima with the KINTETSU RAIL PASS

Yamagata Adventure (5) – Safflower dyeing experience

One of the popular spots in Yamagata are Safflower (jp.: Benibana) fields. From these bright orange flowers, you can extract the red coloring pigment carthamin, as well as the yellow pigment called carthamidin. You can create colors like light pink, cherry red, brown red and brown yellow with these pigments. Benibana used to be valued only for its colorful dyes, but since the petals’ numerous health benefits become known to the world, people started adding the flowers to several dishes.

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Our first coloring experiment was to dye a scarf in ikat style. We received a white scarf and were introduced to create a pattern using rubber bands and wooden sticks. Areas with tight knots and folds are meant to stay white after putting the scarf into the dye.

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The result turned out very well.

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The second task was creating a safflower picture while rubbing the petals over a vignette which was attached on a piece of silk.

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You need quite a lot of force to create the deep yellow-orange color.  After doing the same procedure for about 20min we separated the vignette from the piece of silk and put the silk into an alkaline solution to separate the yellow color from the red color.

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The yellow color fades away and the red color remains. The end product was put into a picture frame and is now a nice decoration. The petals can be used for dishes like pickled radish or sweet desserts.

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Information

Shinrin Joho-kan “Morina Tendo”

Hours: 9am – 6pm (Closed on January first)
Tel: 023-651-2002
Access: A 35-min walk or 10-min car ride from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: 2-3-41 Kuwanomachi, Tendo-shi, 994-0022 Yamagata-ken
URL: http://www.city.tendo.yamagata.jp/busiindust/nourin/mori-na_tendo.html

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery

The history of Suntory

Unbenannt-2Shinjiro Torii (1879-1962), a lover of wine and scotch whiskey had a vision to establish the production of those beverages in Japan as well.

In February 1899 he set up his own business called “Torii Shoten” and started the production and sale of wine. His concept was to create western-style liquors that would match Japanese standards.

 

 

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Eight years later, the “Akadama Port Wine” was launched with big success and acted as the foundation stone of Suntory. In 1922, the wine was promoted by the first nude-poster in Japan featuring model Emiko Matsushima, which even ranked first place during the World’s Poster Contest held in Germany.

 

 

 

 

Due to this positive feedback he started to turn his dream of creating original Japanese whisky into reality and invested all his assets to build the first whisky distillery in Japan.
The first malt whisky distillery called Yamazaki, opened in 1923 between Osaka and Kyoto, an area with the most clean water resources in Japan. The Katsura -, Uji – and Kizu river confluence created a misty climate, as well as especially soft water. The variety of temperatures and humidity in this area offer the perfect conditions for the characteristic “Suntory barrel aging” process.

In April 1929 the first Japanese whisky “Suntory Shirofuda (white label)” was launched, but unfortunately flopped. The name “Suntory” was introduced together with the first product and combines the meaning of Akadama (Port Wine) which means red ball and resembles the “sun”, as well as the surname “Torii”.

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Finally, in 1937 the “Suntory Whisky Kakubin (square bottle)” led to success and is to date the top-selling whisky in the whole country.

 

 

 

Suntory Hakushu Distillery

In lieu of the 50th anniversary of Japanese whisky in 1973, the Hakushu Distillery was established. The distillery is located on the foothills of Mt. Kaikomagatake in Japan’s Southern Alps. Fresh and clear water flowing through a rich green environment offers the best conditions for whisky production.

The Hakushu Distillery is open for guided group tours where you have access to the historical museum, the distillery, the whisky aging area and the souvenir shop. The tour provides also an exclusive whisky tasting experience.

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The museum offers language guides in English, French and Chinese. The observation deck on top of the museum provides a beautiful view into Japan´s Southern Alps and its rich green forest.

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After leaving the museum, a short walk leads you to the distillery which gives you a peek into the process of the whisky production.

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Parts of the malting and mashing tank area, the fermentation area and the distillation area are open for curious visitors.

After leaving the distillery, a shuttle bus will bring you to the whisky aging building which is home to hundreds of barrels of different production years. The strong aroma of whiskey fills the whole room and a few minutes are necessary to get used to the strong smell.

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The light red whisky on the left side was produced 4 years ago and the one on the right side is already 12 years old. Within one year the whisky decreases by 1-2% (known as the “angels’ share”) and the color turns darker.

We went back to the main building for the tasting session. Three types of whiskies were prepared in front of each seat.

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Each of them was different in taste and color. The highlight was to create a Highball, a mix of whisky, sparkling water, a lot of ice, and some mint.

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Since the beginning of the 1970´s, mixing whisky with water got very popular, since it matches the traditional Japanese dishes very well.

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The flagship product of the Hakushu distillery, the Hakushu Single Malt Whisky in its green bottle, symbolizes the rich green environment of the area.

The souvenir shop offers a lot of limited products, like special designed glasses, pens and even snacks.

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Suntory is not only selling alcoholic beverages; soft drinks, water and even flowers or health products are in the range of products.

 

Information

Guided Tour (distillery, whisky aging area, the souvenir shop, tasting experience)
Hours: Weekday 10:30/11:30/12:30/13:30/14:30; Holiday 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30
A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
Age limit: 20~
Fee: 1,000 yen (tax included)

Historical Museum and souvenir shop
Hours: 9:30-10:30, 10:30-11:30, 11:30-12:30. 12:30-13:30, 13:30-14:30, 14:30-15:30, 15:30-16:00 (16:00-17:00)
A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
Fee: free

Access: About 10 minutes by taxi from Kobuchizawa Station (JR Chuo Line)
Address: 2913-1 Torihara, Hakushu-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0316 Yamanashi
URL: http://whisky.suntory.com/

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ascending Mt. Fuji

Mt.Fuji

Mt. Fuji is Japan’s most iconic volcano and highest mountain. While visitors can make a trip to the mountain all year round, summer is the only season when you can climb straight to the peak. Before you put on your hiking boots here are some things you need to know.

Mt. Fuji Fun Facts

Mt. Fuji is the 17th World Heritage Site in Japan. There are a total of 19 sites (as of July ’15) — 15 cultural and four natural.

Mt. Fuji is one of the 3 Holy Mountains (三霊山, Sanreizan) together with Mt. Tate and Mt. Haku.

3 active volcanoes make up Mt. Fuji. They are Mt. Hakusan, Mt. Kengamine and Mt. Jojugatake.

300,000 people climb Mt. Fuji yearly, making it the most climbed mountain in the world. 70% of the climbers are Japanese while the remaining 30% are foreigners.

5 lakes surround the majestic mountain: Kawaguchiko, Yamanakako, Saiko, Motosuko and Shojiko. Kawaguchiko is a tourist favourite as it is better developed than the other lakes, and offers the most amenities and attractions.

Mt. Fuji’s climbing season only lasts 2 months each year, making it one of the shortest for any mountain in the world. It starts in July and ends as August finishes.

4 trails lead up to the peak: Yoshida in Yamanashi Prefecture and Subashiri, Gotemba and Fujinomiya in Shizuoka Prefecture. Each trail has 10 stations or mountain huts which provide climbers with provisions and basic rations.

In 2013 Mt. Fuji was recognized as a World Heritage Site at the annual UNESCO conference.

Climbing Notes

by Tomoji Kato (certified guide) Japan Mountain Guides Association, Kojitsusanso

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Climbing Season
Beginners are encouraged to hike during end July to early August due to the stable weather.

Getting up the Mountain
During climbing season there are car restrictions at Yamanashi Prefecture’s Yoshida, Fujinomiya and Subashiri Trail so check for shuttle buses before heading up.

Which Trail to Choose
The most popular trail, Yoshida, takes about 10 hours to ascend and descend while Fujinomiya is the shortest at 8 hours and Gotemba, the hardest at 16 hours.

Physical Preparedness
It is important to prepare physically before hiking up Mt. Fuji as the atmospheric and temperature changes can be challenging for first-timers.

Enjoy the Climb
Climbing Mt. Fuji is not a competition, hike at your own comfortable pace, and take snack and water breaks while enjoying the views.

Some Things to Bring
Pack high energy, easy-to-eat snacks, plenty of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, portable oxygen, climbing shoes, cold wear, rainwear, headlamp and trekking pole.

Tips for Altitude Sickness
Try to walk slowly without raising your heart rate. Drink warm water or tea and if you get a severe headache and start your descent as fast as possible.

Cash Only
Mountain huts along the trail only accept cash. They sell snacks (starting from ¥200), water and have toilets for use (¥100-¥200).

Bring a Trash Bag
You are responsible for your own trash on Mt. Fuji; be prepared to carry your trash along your hike until you descend from the mountain.

3 Faces of Mt. Fuji

While serene Mt. Fuji seems to be an immovable, unchanging giant, it has many hidden beautiful faces that are truly a marvel of nature to behold.

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Diamond Fuji
This rare phenomenon only happens around the winter solstice, during sunrise or sunset. When the sun aligns with the peak of Mt. Fuji, it causes the crown to shine like a diamond.
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Aka Fuji (Red Fuji)
When the skies are clear, the rising sun shines on the eastern face of Mt. Fuji and turns it red. This is usually seen between summer and fall.
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Kasa Fuji (Fuji with umbrella-shaped clouds)
The ever-changing cloud and skyscape above Mt. Fuji creates opportunities to capture once-in-a-lifetime images. Lenticular clouds over the peak are an especially unique sight.

Places with a view

Lake Saiko
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One of the Fuji Five Lakes, the scenery from the western end of the Lake Saiko is one of the most sought after by photographers, campers and trekkers.
Oishi Park

This park offers a stunning view of Mt. Fuji looming above Lake Kawaguchi, especially from mid-June to mid-July when the lavender field is full bloom.

Photo credits: Visitor Use Promotion Office, National Park Division, Nature Conservation Bureau, Ministry of the Environment, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands

Nestled in the highlands between the Yatsugatake Mountains and Minami Alps, Hokuto City in Yamanashi Prefecture is a true jewel worth exploring. Surrounded by majestic mountains from 3 sides and the view of Mt. Fuji to the south, awe-inspiring views abound no matter where you look. Only two hours by train from Tokyo, the alpine weather in Hokuto is considerably cooler, making this one of the best places to escape from the summer heat of the Kanto region.

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Hokuto is blessed with some of the purest, most mineral-rich water in Japan flowing down from the mountains into their many natural springs.

This water lends to extraordinarily tasty vegetables, fruits, and produce. It is also credited for delicious soba, wines, whiskey, and sake that is loved by many connoisseurs.

Beautiful flowers grow in abundance here, evidenced by their many flower fields and gardens.

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In Hokuto you can see a blend of different cultures. Yet, all those different cultures seem to be perfectly at home here, anchored down harmoniously by the sky, the mountains and the surrounding nature.

In the northeast, you will encounter many Western styled houses and facilities. Seisenryo that wouldn’t be out of place in the American countryside, the Blue in Green guesthouse that is reminiscent of a French country house, and Moeginomura that looks like it was taken straight out of a German fairy-tale are all within driving distance.

A few minutes drive to the southwest will take you to a more Japanese area with expansive rice paddies and old-fashioned establishments including the Shichiken sake brewery and confectionery manufacturer, Kinseiken.

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You can enjoy outdoor activities such as horseback riding, segway tours, trail walking, or plain old trainspotting. And being out in the countryside doesn’t mean you can’t have a posh holiday. Go taste-testing in “wine resort” Risonare Yatsugatake or the Hakushu Whiskey Distillery. Hokuto also houses several art museums including the Keith Haring Museum and the Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum.

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So what are you waiting for? Quench your thirst this summer with picturesque views, good food and drinks, and cultural experiences here in Hokuto.

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

Unrivaled Beauty : Apple Fields, Aomori Prefecture

When Japanese think of Aomori, sweet, juicy apples spring immediately to mind. Aomori has such a long history of growing apples that apple fields have become an integral part of its local landscape.

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Hirosaki Apple Park is home to over 1,500 apple trees of 80 varieties and visitors are welcomed to assist with all stages of apple production, including apple picking.

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The park staff also arrange a series of activities throughout the year to show off their deeply rooted “apple pride.”

Apple Picking Experience at Hirosaki Apple Park
Hours: 9am-4:20pm (Aug. to mid-Nov.)
Access: 20 minutes from JR Hirosaki Station by bus, 7 minutes walk from bus stop to park
Admission: Free (The apples you pick will be charged at 320 Yen per kilo)

Revisiting Traditional Architectural Wisdom: Thatching

Thatching is the traditional Japanese craft of building a roof with dry vegetation like straw to achieve warmth and sustainability while also saving energy. In Tohoku, there remain many thatched roof houses that resemble a poetic retreat from the modern day. With stunning mountains as backdrops and beautiful creeks gently flowing, this is the ultimate destination for meditation and relaxation.


Tono Furusato Village

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Often used as a shooting location for movies, the nostalgic looking village also doubles as a tourist attraction where visitors can experience traditional Japanese craftwork like bamboo art and pottery making. The outgoing and friendly staff is dedicated to helping everyone get the most out of their visit.

You can sample home-made sake known as Doburoku at a traditional winter festival, Dobekko Festival.

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Instructors at Furusato Village are known as “Maburitto members,” or “protectors” in the Iwate dialect.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Tono Furusato Village
Village Hours: 9am-5pm (Mar. to Oct.), 9am-4pm (Nov. to Feb)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 540 yen (Adults), 320 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Tono Furusato Village


Denshoen Park

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Traditional farming, authentic culture and local wisdom are carefully preserved at these charming thatched roof houses. Here, you can listen to Japanese folklore, try your hand at making Japanese crafts and savor local specialties.

Oshira-sama is a household deity unique to the Tohoku region. Made with 30 cm long mulberry sticks, Oshira-sama statues usually come in pairs, with the male figure representing a horse and the female a human.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Denshoen Park
Hours: 9am-5pm (Last entry at 4:30pm)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 320 yen (Adults), 220 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Denshoen Park

Edo Tokyo Soba no Kai : One-day soba making lesson

Become a Soba master

Love eating Soba (buckwheat) noodles? You’re not the only one, as these noodles have been a beloved specialty in Tokyo ever since the Edo period. Especially since soba is considered auspicious in Japan.

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If you’re wanting to do more than just eat soba, why not try making it? See if you’ve got what it takes to become a Soba master!
Edo Tokyo Soba no Kai is a soba making school in Tokyo that offers one-day lessons on making your own Soba by hand with English interpreters.

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Learn how to start from ground soba grains and shaping the dough to rolling and cutting. The instructors do a good job in walking you through the steps.

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And of course, afterwards you can enjoy the deliciously fresh soba noodles that you’ve made!

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Prior reservation is required. You can do that in English by sending an email to [email protected]

■Days: One-day classes are offered in English on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
■Hours: 11am–1:30pm; 3pm–5:30pm
■Address: Higashi Tateishi 3-248, Katsushika
■Access: 5-min walk from Keisei Tateishi Station (Keisei Oshigami Line)
■URL: http://www.edotokyosoba.com (Japanese)

Yamagata Adventure (2) – Cherry Picking Challenge & Cherry Parfait Heaven

Yamagata is famous for its tasty cherries and pears. Every tourist who visits Yamagata during early summer season should attend the Cherry-Picking events offered by the local orchards.

We visited OHSYO FRUITS FARM in Tendo-City in the morning, famous for its carefully grown fruit and its café which offers delicious sweets made with fresh fruit in Season.

Unbenannt-7The logo of the company received the “Excellent Design・Brand Design – Award” during the Yamagata Excellent Design Competition in 2015. The overall shape of the logo resembles a playing piece of a Shogi-Game, which is the Japanese version of chess. Tendo-City is not only famous for its cherries, but also famous for its production of Shogi pieces. The “O” marks the shape of a cherry, as well as the “O” of 王将 (ohsyo) which stands for the chess piece “King”.
Furthermore, the owner specifically used a perfect red circle to symbolize the Japanese flag in the hope of becoming the best cherry grower in Japan. The green leaf on top of the logo represents high spirits and work ethic of the company in day to day operation.

We entered the cherry orchard and were surprised to see an ocean full of sparkling red cherries! It is amazing how many cherries can grow on one single tree!

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The cherries grew like a bunch of big grapes as big as a hand!

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The representative director, Mr. Yahagi, explained how to pick the cherries in the correct way, without damaging the branches.

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We tried our best to pick them very carefully. During the cherry-picking event you can eat as much cherries as you like!

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Every fruit looked absolutely flawless without any holes or other damages. The orchards are all covered by nets to protect the trees from birds and other harmful environmental effects.

After filling our picking baskets, we went back to the farms café called “Oh! Show! Café.”

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The design of the furniture is based on the color of the cherries. Even the stools look like cherries. All the furniture is made by a famous local wood furniture manufacturer located in Tendo-City, called Tendo-Mokko. They are famous for formed plywood designs, which are simple and elegant yet very durable.

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We ordered the recommended cherry parfait (700 yen) which is decorated with seven different kinds of cherries.

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The parfait was made of cornflakes, cherry soft cream, red bean puree, whipped cream and of course, cherries! The flavor of the fruit parfait changes every season, featuring peach flavor in August, grape flavor in September and apple flavor in October.

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Beside the fruit parfait, you can also order soft cream which comes in a cup or cone and in different sizes.

In front of the café you have a chance to buy fresh cherries starting from 800 yen for about 250 gram. Depending on the type of cherry, the price goes up to 6,500 yen for 1kg. They come in boxes, so you can directly send them to your friends or family by post, as a nice early summer gift.

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Information

OHSYO FRUITS FARM – Yamagata Sakuranbo Farm
Hours: 9am – 5pm
Price: The cheapest plan without any reservation is called “After 3pm – Cherry Picking” and costs 1,200 yen per person. After 3pm you are allowed to pick and eat as much cherries as you like within 30min.
Date: June 10th – July 18th
Access: Tokyo Station – > Yamagata Shinkansen until Tendo Station (2:35 hrs) -> 15min car ride Tokyo Haneda Airport -> Yamagata Airport (55 min) -> 10min car ride
Address: 1303 Kawarago, Tendo-shi, 994-0103 Yamagata
Tel: 0120-15-0440
URL: http://www.ohsyo.co.jp/index.htm

Oh! Show! Café
Hours: 9am – 3pm (June – August open every day; September – October closed on Wednesday)
Price: 300 yen to 700 yen
URL: http://www.ohsyo.co.jp/kanko/softcream.htm

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Yamagata Adventure (1) – Soba-Making class on the high plateau

Yamagata prefecture, one of the six prefectures in the Tohoku region (the northern part of Japan), offers many exciting experiences you don’t want to miss! This series of articles features all the fun and magical places in and around Tendo City!

Located on the top of a high plateau near Tendo City’s ski resort, the Tendo Cultural Exchange Center offers Soba-Making classes. Soba are noodles made out of buckwheat flour and have a brown-greyish color.

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This area is located on the same altitude as the top of Tokyo’s Sky Tree, reaching 634m

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The Soba master already prepared our workplace and explained the soba making process in detail during the workshop. Even if you are not a master in Japanese, the instructions are easy to understand. It took us about 20 minutes to create Soba from scratch into long and thin noodles.

Unebannt-4The most difficult part was the cutting. The special knife, called Menkiri Bocho (Noodle cutting knife) was a lot heavier than I expected. Adjusting the knife and cutting the dough into thin noodles were very hard. I realized cutting the noodles evenly into long strips is an art form that takes some practice! For creating these long rectangular noodles, the dough had to be flattened and then folded several times before cutting.

 

After cutting the noodles, the Soba Master put them into a wooden tray…

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…and brought them to the kitchen to prepare our lunch.

There are two ways to serve Soba dishes. In summer, the Soba is typically served cold. The noodles are usually prepared on a separate bamboo tray called Zaru. The cold dipping sauce, which is made with dashi (soup stock made from fish and kelp), soy sauce and mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) is served in a cup. In winter, the Soba is served as a hot noodle soup. Compared to the dip sauce in summer, the soup broth has a mild and comforting flavor.

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It only takes 2 minutes to cook the Soba noodles

The Soba noodles cook rather quickly. Once they are cooked, they are rinsed under cold water, then put into an ice bucket to be kept cold.

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The amount of noodles we made (500 grams of buckwheat flour) provides for four dishes.

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You can customize the cold dip sauce with freshly cut green onions and wasabi.

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The hot water that was used for boiling the noodles was put into a pot and brought to the table. This water is slightly white and thick, and supposedly very healthy. After you are finished with your meal, you can add the water to your dip sauce and enjoy it as a warm soup.

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Information

Tendo Kogen Ski Area・Tendo Kogen Family Land
Date: From May until October
Price: 2,500 yen (Making 500g of Soba which provides for four servings)
Additional 500 yen (Soba Master will prepare the noodle at the restaurant area)
*Reservation is necessary
Tel: 023-657-3628
Address: Tamugino 1321, Tendo-shi, 994-0104 Yamagata
Access: A 35-min ride by car from JR Tendo Station
URL: http://tendokogen.or.jp/soba2016/

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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

2016 Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise Information

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Hop on board this definitive Tokyo summer experience!

Tokai Kisen, a company that runs passenger ship tours and routes in around Tokyo Bay, proudly announced the opening of the 66th Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise. Participate in this 2-hour cruise aboard the `Salvia-go`, a passenger ship that can be boarded by up to 1,500 people and drink in the beautiful view of Tokyo’s city lights while enjoying food, beverages, music and good company.

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In addition, you can get a special discount on weekdays if you join the tour wearing a yukata (light summer kimono). Do not worry if you do not have one – there’s a rental service available at the terminal! You can come empty handed and go home filled with fun summer memories.

If you’re not yet convinced, read this review of last year’s event written by a WAttention reporter.

Prior reservation is required so make sure to reserve as soon as possible!

Reservation

TEL 03-3437-6119 (9:00~20:00)
WEB http://www.nouryousen.jp/payment.html (Japanese)

Cruise Information

Dates: Jul. 1 - Oct. 10, 2016
Hours: 19:15~21:00 *boarding starts at 18:50
Location: Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal
Access: 7 min. walk from JR Hamamatsucho Station, 7 min. walk from Toei Subway Oedo line or Asakusa line Daimon Station, 1 min. walk form Yurikamome line Takeshiba Station
Fee: Adults 2,600 yen
High school or Jr High School students 1,050yen
Elementary school students 550 yen
・This fee includes boarding, free-flow drink and tax
・1,000 yen discount for passengers dressed in yukata (weekdays only, does not include Sat/Sun/Public holidays)

Yukata Rental Information

Summer night cruise Yukata rental shop
URL: http://yukata-natsu.tokyo/ (Japanese)
Rental fee:
Prices for renting the yukata and kitsuke (help with putting the yukata on) starts from 4,000 yen.
You can also bring your own yukata and get help with putting it on for 3,000yen.

Package plan:
1. Boarding pass + kitsuke only
4,500yen (weekdays) / 5,500yen (Sat/Sun/Public holidays)

2. Boarding pass + Full Set rental
6,000yen (weekdays) / 7,000yen (Sat/Sun/Public holidays)

(All rates including tax)

Picturesque Matsumoto (2) – Norikura Snow Wall –

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information

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

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

Omotenashi Nihonbashi

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

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Time to Geisha

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


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Kimono Rental & Dressing

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


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The Way of Tea

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


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Best of Japan Gourmet Tour

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


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Culture Experience Tour & Lunch

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


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Origami Workshop

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


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Design Your Own Hanko!

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

Info

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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/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Access

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

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

Visiting the crow gods of Mt. Takao

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

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

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

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

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rituals

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

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

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

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Access:

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

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

 

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

New Year’s Day celebrations in Japan

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

Enjoying company and food

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

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

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

Gifts

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

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

Plan Your Japan Road Trip With Tabirai Car Rental 

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Enjoy coastal drives, scenic mountain routes and get to places where the locals go in Japan with your own set of wheels. If concerns over not being able to read road signs or complicated booking procedures have been your main road blocks to planning your dream road trip, stall no more and check out the best deals at Tabirai Japan Car Rental.

BOOK NOW : http://en.tabirai.net/car/

Tabirai’s English website allows you to search for the cheapest rental prices for your trip all over Japan, covering all the major car rental companies such as Toyota Rent-a-Lease, Orix Rent-A-Car, Nissan Rentacar etc.

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Three reasons why it’s great for foreigners

The Okinawan-based rent-a-car company – founded 10 years ago – provides foreigner-friendly services such as:

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1) English GPS
Don’t worry about getting lost with cars equipped with GPS in English
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2) No Hidden Costs
Only major rental car companies are used and published prices reflect all rental costs, basic insurance, collision damage waiver, car navigation and consumption tax.
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3) Global support
Bookings are accepted in English and via email.

How to book with Tabirai Car Rental

Japan’s most convenient car rental service in Japan is easy to book:

Step 1:
Search for desired dates, vehicle model and location.
Select the area of your departure and search for a car rental office within that area.
Car types are categorized according to the car’s emission and model.
Input your conditions on the search box and press ‘Search’. You will then get a list of cars that match your needs.
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Step 2:
View all available options fitting your set requirements, compare prices and choose a suitable option.
This indicates the car’s emission and model.
These are the option menus for each plan.
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Step 3:
See details of desired vehicle. Cars with baby or child seats are available. Check the shop details here.
This is the plan currently selected.
These are automatic discounts applied to your plan.
Departure and returning offices mean where you hire the car from and where you return the car to.
If you return the car to an office different from where you hired it, you may be charged extra handling costs. Don’t forget to confirm the final cost for your plan because different car rental companies have different rates.
These are extra options available.
Proceed to booking.
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Step 4:
Input your contact details such as name, mail address, phone number and flight.
This is the plan currently selected.
Input a telephone number that can be used to contact you on the day of your trip and in case of emergencies.
Tick here if you would like to subscribe to Tabirai’s newsletters.
After completing the information, click here to proceed to the confirmation screen.
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Step 5:
Complete the booking!
Click here if there is a mistake in the information provided, or if you would like to make any changes.
After confirming everything, click here to complete the booking.
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That’s it!
No membership registration or credit card details are required at time of booking. After the online reservation is made, reconfirmation is not necessary. A confirmation message will be sent from the rental car company.
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So what are you waiting for?

BOOK NOW : http://en.tabirai.net/car/

Other links:
Hokkaido http://en.tabirai.net/car/hokkaido/
Osaka http://en.tabirai.net/car/osaka/
Fukuoka http://en.tabirai.net/car/fukuoka/
Okinawa http://en.tabirai.net/car/okinawa/

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.

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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.

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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.

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Black bear and Japanese serow

Read also : World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

The outstanding beauty of Juniko

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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Countryside Gunma & Snow country Niigata

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

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

Suggested itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

Departing from Tokyo Station.

Day 1: Countryside Gunma

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

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

Harada Farm- Fruit picking all year round

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

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

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

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

Denen Plaza Kawaba – A roadside station that has its all

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

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

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

Yutorian – Escape from city life and unwind in nature

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

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

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Spacious guest room provides guests with utmost relaxation.

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

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

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

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

Day 2: Snow Country Niigata

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

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

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Hakkaisan Yukimuro

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

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

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Kaisando, Saifukuji Temple

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

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

Echigo Yuzawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 2: Naeba Ski Resort – Powder snow paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key takeaways

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

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

Sapporo Snow Festival

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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

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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.

Ski in Japan: Resorts Near Tokyo

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Here are our picks for slopes near Tokyo that will give you a satisfyingly ski-filled day trip and still leave you time to head back to Tokyo in the evening in time to watch the city light up.

Snowtown Yeti (Shizuoka Prefecture)

 

Yeti1English instructor : No
Number of courses : 5
Located on the southern foothills near Mt.Fuji, Snowtown Yeti starts its skiing season from October, perfect for those who can`t wait to ski. This resort is mostly for beginners, and night-skiing is available for those who find the winter daytime too short.

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Address: Fujiwara 2428, Suyama-aza, Susono-shi
Access: Take the Yeti Bus from Gotemba Station to Snowtown Yeti
Web: www.yeti-resort.com/en

Fujiten Snow Resort (Yamanashi Prefecture)

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English instructor : Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
Number of courses : 7
Fujiten Snow Resort makes for a great ground to learn the basics of skiing, and has child-friendly courses as well. You can also enjoy a day of skiing with Mt.Fuji in the backdrop.

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Address: Fujisan 8545-1, Narusawa-mura, Minamitsuru-gun
Access: Take a taxi from Kawaguchiko Station to Fujiten Snow Resort
Web: www.fujiten.net/pc/en

 

Prince Grand Resort Karuizawa (Nagano Prefecture)

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English instructor : Yes
Number of courses : 10
How about skiing in the chic town of Karuizawa? After skiing, you can shop at an outlet mall or enjoy the hot springs in the area. This is the ultimate integrated winter resort near Tokyo.

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Address: Karuizawa-machi, Kitasaku-gun
Access: A 10-min. walk or 1-min. by taxi from Karuizawa Station. Free shuttle bus is also available.
Web: www.princehotels.com/en/ski/karuizawa/index.html

 

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.

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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.

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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/

 

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.
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Tsugaru Shamisen performance

Ski in Japan: Top 5 Central Japan Resorts

Within just 3 hours of Central Japan, you can find slopes to suit any ski level, not to mention a great selection of spas. Our top four picks take you high, where trees freeze into “ice monsters” and the onsens thaw you out at the highest altitude in the country. For sliding and soaking fun in the heart of Japan, start here.

APPI Snow Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private and group lessons available. Advanced booking needed
Number of courses: 21

With the mind-boggling number of courses available, this is the place to go to ski or snowboard to your heart’s content. Slope levels varying from beginner to advanced, plus meticulously manicured slopes and dry light snow makes this the ultimate skiing and snowboarding haven no matter what your level is.

Address: 117 Appi Kogen, Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture
Access: Take the JR Hanawa Line from Morioka Station, there is a free shuttle bus available between JR APPI Kogen Station and the resort buildings.
Web: http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/winter/index.html

Manza Onsen Ski Resort (Gunma Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 9

If ski and spa is your ideal combination, Manza is your most convenient choice. At a 1,800m altitude, enjoy fresh powdered snow and choose from ten relaxing onsens – the highest in Japan – at the Prince Hotel, located right on the slopes.

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Address: Manza Onsen, Tsumagoi-mura, Agatsuma-gun
Access: Take the Seibu Kogen Bus to Manza ski area from Karuizawa Station. Guests of the Manza Prince Hotel or Manza Kogen Hotel can take a free shuttle bus through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/manzaonsen

Gala Yuzawa Snow Resort (Niigata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Yes
Number of courses: 17

With a decent amount of courses, Gala Yukawa is the ideal ski resort for skiers and snowboarders of any level, and is also conveniently connected to the Shinkansen Station. Have a hot bath at hot spring SPA Gala No Yu afterwards to get the most out of this all-in-one ski facility.

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Address: Yuzawa 1039-2, Yuzawa-machi, Minamiuonuma-gun
Access: Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to GALA Yuzawa Station from Tokyo Station
Web: http://www.galaresort.jp/winter/english

Zao Hot Springs Ski Resort (Yamagata Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Private lessons only (advanced booking needed)
Number of courses: 12

Soak in one of Japan’s most famous onsens after a full day of skiing amongst the awe-inspiring juhyo (ice-frosted trees) here. From December to February, the unique weather conditions create these natural wonders – often called “ice monsters” – particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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Address: Zao Onsen 708-1, Yamagata
Access: A 40-min. bus ride to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal from Yamagata Station.
Web: http://www.zao-spa.or.jp/english

Shizukuishi Ski Resort (Iwate Prefecture)

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English Instructors: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 13

Experienced skiers will love the challenging slopes here at Mt. Iwate, home to the FIS ski and snowboard world cup multiple times. If you’re feeling brave, glide down its longest course, which is a good 4.5km long!

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Address: Takakura Onsen, Shizukuishi-machi, Iwate-gun
Access: A 20-min. taxi ride from Shizukuishi Station, or take the free shuttle bus to Prince Hotel Shizukuishi through advanced booking.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/shizukuishi

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.

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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/

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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/
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[ 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

Ski in Japan: Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

While crisp gold and red leaves are still falling across Tokyo, it won’t be long until Japan’s peaks are powdered with fluffy white snow. And with the ski season starting as early as mid-November in Hokkaido, it’s not too early to plan for your winter wonderland trip. In this series, we bring you the hottest resorts for the coolest ski trips, complete with onsens and scenery to accompany your downhill thrills. 

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Top 3 Hokkaido Resorts

Snow and Hokkaido are a natural pair, where feather-light powder falls throughout nearly half the year, and its famed Sapporo Snow Festival crowns the season from Feb. 5-11. So for the full Japanese winter experience, start here on its most northern island, where blankets of white wonder await!

Niseko United

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Number of courses: 60
English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Pick up an All-Mountain Pass for access to all four resorts on Mt. Nikes Annupuri. With a total of 48km of groomed slopes and a course as long as 5.6km, this 4-in-1 spot is great for longer stays.

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Address: Niseko Annupuri: Aza Niseko 485, Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun
Access: Take the Niseko United Shuttle Bus to all our resorts from Kutchen Station.
Web: http://www.niseko.ne.jp/en

Hoshino Resort Tomamu

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 25
Just over an hour away by train from Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport, this resort comes with an open air hot bath facing the lush forests of Tomamu. Give ice skating a go as well as the Ice Village and enjoy its various ice sculptures.

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Address: Naka-Tomamu, Shimukappu-mura, Yuufutsu-gun
Access: Take the shuttle bus from Tomamu Station.
Web: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/winter/en

Furano Ski Resort

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English instructor: Advanced booking recommended
Number of courses: 23
Known for its gorgeous rural landscapes and clear blue skies in the winter, you will not find a more picturesque skiing backdrop than the Furano Valley. After skiing, grab a drink at a snow dome ice bar.

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Address: Nakagoryo, Furano-shi
Access: Take a taxi from JR Furano Station or the direct shuttle bus from New Chitose Airport.
Web: http://www.princehotels.com/en/ski/furano/index.html

 

Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

FURANO MARCHE 

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Furano is well-loved for its wine and cheese. Just a 10min drive from the Furano Prince Hotel is the Furano Marche, where you can find a vast array of Furano fresh produce, such as the various types of potatoes (fresh or boiled and flavored with butter and vacuum packed), souvenirs, food as well as handicraft.

JAM AND THE ANPANMAN AT THE ROKUGOU VIEWING PLATFORM 

 

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After stocking up on souvenirs, we headed to the Kyohsai Farm’s Furano Jam Garden around a 20 min drive away at the base of the Rokugou Viewing Platform. This viewing platform is very popular in the summer months as a place to view fields of lavender. At the jam store, you can try 35 types of jam, many of which are only available here, such as haskap berry jam and pumpkin jam. Right next door is the Anpanman Shop, which stocks a whole array of Anpanman toys, books and snacks, with an Anpanman gallery on the second floor, where if you are lucky, you can even meet Anpanman for a handshake and photo. It is the only Anpanman shop in the whole Japan to have been operated directly by the creator of Anpanman, Takashi Yanase.

 

FURANO OMUCURRY 

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Furano Omurice at Natulux Hotel

Furano Omucurry, or short for omurice curry, is the soul food of Furano–which is also known as the bellybutton of Hokkaido for being right in the middle of the island. It has to meet 6 criteria to be called Furano Omurice, such as using local vegetables, eggs, cheese or wine, serve a local beverage or Furano milk, make sure the cost is kept within 1,000 yen (excluding tax) and display the Omucurry Flag. Each restaurant offers a unique interpretation of the dish. A must try the next time you are in Hokkaido! We tried the omucurry at Natulux Hotel, which is just 3min by car from the Marche.

WINE, CHEESE AND DESSERT

wineWithin close driving distance is the Chateau Furano, Furano cheese factory and Campana della Vigna Rokatei. Sample Furano wine and pure grape juice here…

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Try five kinds of cheese and butter here such as wine flavored cheese and squid ink cheese, or try  your hand at making cheese, bread or pizza here.

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Rokatei is a confectionery maker from Furano, and is a popular choice for souvenirs. It recently opened a store and eat-in cafe in Furano with a stunning view of rolling vineyards. The ice cream Another must-try sweet treat is “Santa’s beard”, which is another Furano creation of half a melon topped with a tower of soft serve ice cream.

Having feasted on the best of Furano classics, we drove to Asahikawa whereby we then took the train, L’EX Super Kamui No.38 back to Sapporo, before taking a plane back to Tokyo, already missing the vast space and fresh foods of Hokkaido.

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano

Hokkaido By Rail & Car: Day 1,2 – Sapporo, Lake Toyako –

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is also referred to as the “The Big Land in the North” by the locals. Blessed with picturesque nature and bounty from the sea and land, it is a favorite getaway destination for the Japanese and tourists alike. WAttention flew in to Sapporo and did a 5D4N rail and rental car tour through the big land. Follow our trip and train details here!  

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L’EX Hokuto No.12

Day 1:
14:48  Board Rapid Airport No. 147, alight at Minami Shin Chitose at 14:51
15:05  Board L’EX Hokuto No.12
16:25 Arrive Lake Toya Station
Rent a car from the station to Toyako Onsen, 15 mins by car

LAKE TOYA ONSEN

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View of Lake Toya from Toya Manseikaku Hotel. In the distance is Mt Yotei.

Lake Toya is one of the biggest lakes in Japan and is a popular onsen resort. It offers views of Mt Yotei, which is fondly known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji for its symmetry.

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View of the fireworks from a cruiseship

Fireworks are held every night on the lake in front of the various hotels lining the lake. In fact, Lake Toya has the longest running fireworks festival, running from April to October.

Mt Usu Ropeway

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View from Mt Usu

Just a 15-min car ride from Lake Toya is the 733-m high Mt. Usu, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan. It erupted four times in the past century, and Mt Usu is a result of one of the eruptions. The G8 Summit was held near here in 2008.

DRIVE FROM LAKE TOYA TO NISEKO

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Lunch at Niseko

 

The ski resort of Niseko is a scenic 2 hour’s drive from Lake Toya, and we had lunch at Niseko Prativo, a semi-buffet style restaurant that boasts a salad bar serving vegetables grown in Hokkaido, and milk from the next-door award-winning dairy farm. From the restaurant you can get a view of Mt Yotei as well. The milk pudding, cheesecake and yogurt drink here were also divine! Not to mention the cheese tarts at Takahashi’s Dairy Farm next door.

SEGWAY

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Segway tour

Now, what better way to work off those lunch calories than to hop on a segway? WAttention explored the surrounding area on these cool segways.

 

After that, we drove back to Sapporo for the night.

Stay tuned for Day 3: Autumn leaves at Sounkyo Onsen, minus 21 degrees Celsius Ice Pavilion, and more!

Here’s the rest of the series:
Hokkaido By Rail and Car: Day 3 – Kamikawa, Sounkyo
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 4: Biei and Furano
Hokkaido By Rail and Car Day 5 : Feasting at Furano

 

The Takaoka Traditional Crafts Tour

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More than anything—yes, even Doraemon—Takaoka is a city of craftsmanship.

In particular, metalworking here dates back to the Edo era, when it was designated as an industrial zone under the ruling Maeda lords. Over 400 years later, the city is still the nation’s leading copperware producer, and its skillful techniques and traditions are revealed in every statue that lines its streets, as well as its modern lineup of accessories and decorations. Below are three names any craft fan or omiyage hunter will surely want to be familiar with.

Kanaya-machi 

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Behold the birthplace of Takaoka’s metal-casting industry. Lord Toshinaga Maeda established this district in 1611 by commissioning seven metal workers, and one walk down its stone-paved streets—which also includes scraps of copper—will give you a nostalgic sense of the city’s origins.

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Enter into one of its many latticework-decorated machiya townhouse shops, and you’ll find boutique displays with one-of-a-kind products, handcrafted by third and fourth generation artisans laboring in the dark factory warehouses hidden just behind the storefront.

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From copper to tin, ceramic to lacquerware, a wide array of decorative items can not only be purchased here, but even handcrafted by participating in a workshop, such as the one offered at Sabo Gallery Otera—a great way to experience Takaoka’s tradition for yourself.

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Nousaku

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What began a hundred years ago as a manufacturing company of brass and bronze butsudan Buddhist altar fittings, tea sets, and flower vases, has expanded to one of Takaoka’s most innovative creators of tableware and home accessories.

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In fact, a meal at any nice dining establishment within the city is likely to be served on one of Nousaku’s malleable tin plates.

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Its KAGO basket line is perhaps its most popular, using 100% tin, making them bendable by hand into a number of shapes to suit any occasion.

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By visiting its factory, you can get a first-hand tour of the creation process, from the initial pouring of molten aluminum, bronze, copper, and tin into the mold, down to the detailing and polishing—a metal-lover’s must see.

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Raden

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Said to have originated in Nara in the 7th century, raden is the decorative craft created by setting lustrous abalone shell into lacquerware, glass, stone or metal. And at Musashigawa Koubo, a team of just five craftsmen design each of these masterpieces in their small workshop, carrying on four generations of the trade in Takaoka.

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Once the abalone shell—a wide variety of which are employed—is polished down to as thin as 0.1mm, it is carefully cut and shaped before inlaid and polished again.

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While originally designed for Buddhist altars, tableware, and traditional Japanese ornaments, Musashigawa Koubo keeps up with the times, handcrafting everything from business card holders to smartphone cases and desk accessories. Though a bit more pricey than your typical omiyage, these gifts are sure to be as treasured in the future as they have in the past.

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Matsumoto Must-Go Day Trips

Matsumoto City is probably most well-known overseas for its historic castle, the Matsumoto Castle, which is over 400 years old and a National Treasure of Japan. Nagano’s second largest city also has lots else to offer, which WAttention will introduce in this 4-part Matsumoto Must sightseeing series. 

MOUNT NORIKURA 

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Around an hour and 15 minutes by bus and train from Matsumoto lies one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains, Mount Norikura, which is the third tallest peak of the Northern Japan Alps at 3,026m. It is a popular destination for enjoying the autumn colors and a popular way to enjoy the mountain is by taking the bus to the summit and walking down to the next bus stop.

NARAIJUKU POST TOWN 

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The wooden “post town” or accommodation in the Kiso Valley for weary travelers who walked thousands of miles between the trade route of Kyoto to Edo continues to provide accommodation for those looking to travel back in time to 200 years ago. Some of the buildings now sell traditional snacks such as oyaki or souvenirs. The houses are built at an angle to each other and not flushed in a line so that all the houses are visible in a row. Just 45 minutes west of Matsumoto by the JR Chuo Line.

 

KAMIKOCHI HIGHLAND

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Known as the Swiss Alps of Japan for its picturesque mountain scenery, Kamikochi is 51km west of Matsumoto and has hiking trails of various levels, the shortest of which can be completed in an hour. Come here for fresh alpine air and river fish. Or stay overnight at some of the accommodation available at this national park and try some river fish, such as ayu or iwana. Private cars are not allowed to drive into the park, but there are buses and taxis that ply there.

 

Training Through Tohoku (1): The Must Do List

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Statue of Sendai’s founding lord, Masamune Date

Tohoku – the northeastern region of Japan’s main island –  is most enjoyable in autumn, when this scenic area is aflame with fall colors, and its famed fruits and seafood are in full harvest. And with the Shinkansen shooting you up to the northernmost prefecture of Aomori in just 3 hours and 20 min, traveling by train is your most convenient choice.

WAttention toured through four of its major cities, from the picturesque port town of Aomori in the north, down to mountainous Yamagata in the south, to bring you some of the best – and sometimes strangest – sites, foods and souvenirs that Tohoku has to offer, in this five-part article series. 

The Tohoku Must-Do List

Home to ancient festivals, historic castle ruins, and even its own traditional music heritage, no Tohoku trip is complete without trying these activities!

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Visit the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum (Aomori)

While the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri – one of Japan’s 3 Biggest Fire Festivals – takes place for a week in early August, you can catch its larger than life floats (nebuta) here all year round.

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With a number of interactive stations, you can touch the washi (Japanese traditional paper) floats, try on a colorful hat that the haneto dancers wear, or even design your own nebuta face.

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“Rassera, rassera!”

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Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum Access: A 1-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Catch a Tsugaru-Jamisen (Shamisen) Performance (Aomori)

The three-stringed shamisen is one of Japan’s most recognizable instruments, but its most popular version, the tsugaru-jamisen is native here, named after the Tsugaru Peninsula in Western Aomori Prefecture. Delight in a 30-min. performance at the iconic A-shaped ASPAM tourist center, offered twice daily.

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ASPAM Access: An 8-min. walk from JR Aomori Station.

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Say hi to Lord Date at Sendai Castle (Sendai)

Behold the statue of founder and now symbolic samurai of Sendai city, Masamune Date – whose helmet is said to be the inspiration for Darth Vader’s – upon the grounds of his castle.

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Though little remains of the castle itself, Mt. Aoba sits 100 m above Sendai City, offering the best panoramic view of this, Tohoku’s biggest city.

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And if you happen to catch him between performances, Lord Date will even take a selfie with you!

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Sendai Castle Access: A 20-min. bus ride (Loople Sendai Bus) from Sendai Station.

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Go fruit picking in an orchard (Yamagata)

Known as the “Kingdom of Fruits”, Yamagata’s sweet sakura cherries, pears, apples and more can be found throughout the country. But there’s no better way to enjoy these at their freshest than by picking them right off the tree.

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One taste and you’ll understand why Yamagata fruits are sometimes referred to as “nature’s candy”. Especially noteworthy is the sekai-ichi apple, (literally “World’s No. 1”).

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Join us for our next article, as we bring you our Tohoku Must Eat List!

Mt. Takao, Tokyo’s Mountain Everyone Can Climb

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Mention Tokyo and psychedelic neon lights, soaring skyscrapers and quirky otaku shops might come to mind, but did you know that Tokyo also has a mountain and a countryside? As someone from the Netherlands – a country with a hill of 300 meters being the highest “mountain” of the country – a real mountain within a city is a fresh concept to say the least.

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Looking at Hachioji city from the top of Mt. Takao


While Mt. Takao’s 600 meter height is nothing to shout about (in Japan at least, though it would be in the Netherlands!) and experienced hikers might yearn for more challenge, Mt. Takao’s densely-wooded environment with picturesque temples on the way is a pleasant and peaceful hike located in one of the largest cities in the world.
While any time of the year is great, I would like to especially recommend autumn, when crimson and gold leaves magnificently color the mountain.

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From Takaosanguchi Station of the Keio Line, all roads lead to Rome, or in this case, the mountain top. There are 3 main hiking courses (with many smaller paths on the way) to take, and a cable car or chair lift can take the less-experienced hiker halfway uphill in a Tokyo minute.

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The full hike takes 1 hour and 30 minutes or more depending on the course of your choice. From the halfway point, expect about 40 minutes of hiking.

Note that in case you decide to enjoy “mountain cuisine” like Takaosan’s famous Tororo Soba on the way or stop by at the Yakuo-in temple (if you do, also check out the Aizendo behind it, which is a small temple that brings luck to your love life!), it will obviously take more time to reach the top.

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Left, Tororo Soba (Buckwheat noodles with grated yam). Right, the Yakuo-in Temple.

The breathtaking view on the mountains (with Mt. Fuji if you’re lucky) and Hachioji (the suburb in which Takaosan is located) from the top is well worth the effort, especially on a clear day. This is also one of the spots from where you can see Diamond Fuji, but only twice a year.
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Mt. Takao

Location: Takaomachi, Hachioji, Tokyo

Access: Takaosanguchi Station (Keio Line)

World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

downimage_00000368Shirakami Sanchi: Beech Forest Sanctuary Transcending Time

With its four distinct seasons and deep valuing of tradition, it is no wonder that Japan ranks among the top of the list of countries with numerous natural and cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Recognized as superb scenic and historic areas of “outstanding universal value”, to not be familiar with these locations is to miss the heart of Japan’s beauty. So join WAttention as we introduce you to these 19 registered spots, worthy of sharing with the world.

A visit to Shirakami Sanchi, one of the world’s largest and last remaining primeval beech forests, is like travelling back in time to nature untouched by mankind.

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Sprawling across northwest Akita and southwest Aomori Prefectures, Shirakami Sanchi is an expansive mountain range reaching as high as 1,243 m, split by six rivers, and accented with steep waterfalls, and interlocking deep gorges. Yet its defining characteristic is its vast virgin beech forest, particularly the central area of 16,971 ha, registered as one of Japan’s first natural heritage sites in 1993.

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Though continental glaciation destroyed most of the world’s beech forests, the lack of such devastation in Japan, as well as the Japanese beech’s suppleness and resistance to heavy snowfall has preserved Shirakami Sanchi through the ages. Yet also responsible for the protection of this wildlife refuge are the Japanese people, whose devotion to nature has kept this ecosystem remarkably unmarred by man’s influences. A walk through its lush foliage therefore is like entering a wondrous forest museum, unchanged by time. And only within this pristine woodlands can you get a rare glimpse of over 500 precious plant species, and incredibly endangered animals, including the Japanese serow, golden eagle, and black woodpecker.

A cool trek under the shade of these towering beech trees in the summer months is the best way to explore this wonderland. For a short leisurely stroll, the popular 3 km hike along the gushing Iwaki River to Anmon Falls, a dynamic three-tier waterfall with each precipitous drop higher and more breathtaking than the previous, can be completed in just over an hour.

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Or for a more strenuous sampling of the region’s landmarks, an 8-hour rugged climb to the highest peak, Mt. Shirakamidake, begins at Aoike pond, whose mysterious blue and green hues change throughout the day.

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As such unaltered treasures become more and more scarce, this irreplaceable relic continues to transcend time, testifying not just to the majesty of Japan’s native flora and fauna, but also Japan’s reverent preservation of such splendor.

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Access: A 55-min bus ride from JR Hirosaki Station (JR Ou Main Line) to the Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center. Get off at Tashiro (Nishimeya-murayakubamae) bus stop.

Read also : Discover the beauty of Northern Tohoku – Part Ⅱ Shirakami Sanchi

Photo Credit: Shirakami Sanchi Visitor Center, Alastair Rae, JNTO

Restaurant Train: Rokumon from Nagano to Karuizawa

Some people in Japan are fans of trains. Some are fans of ekiben, which means bento usually bought at train stations to be eaten on the train.

Now, there is a new breed of fans of restaurant trains – a new kind of sightseeing train that is on track for a boom in Japan. Unlike the shinkansen, or bullet railway, these are usually local trains, which means you can actually enjoy the scenery go past slowly your the window. Shinano Railway, based in Nagano Prefecture, starting running the Rokumon Restaurant Train in July last year. (Shinano is the old name for the Nagano Prefecture.)

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Rokumon Restaurant Train pulling into Nagano Station.

In case you were wondering, Rokumon – which literally means six cents – refers to the shape of the family crest of the Sanada Clan. The ochre hue of the train is a reference to the colour of the armour used by Sanada Yukimura, hailed as one of the most brilliant war strategists in the history of Japan’s Warring States Period.

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The train makes several stops along the way, and those passengers who did not opt for the full meal course (which costs 12,800 yen per peron) can get off. One of the stops is the Ueda Station, where the Sanada Clan’s castle is located. The train does slow down when it passes by the castle, but it’s of a rather humble dimension and easy to miss in a blink.

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Train staff welcoming passengers onboard
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What the dining car looks like from the outside
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There are counter seats and table seats for dining.

This is the bar counter from where drinks are served to the diners’ tables.

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And finally, the highlight of the ride, the meal on board. This was the menu of the day. The meal was prepared using local ingredients by a Japanese fine dining restaurant located in Ofuse, one of the smallest towns in the prefecture. Indeed, one of the aims of such dining trains is to promote otherwise little-known towns and their specialty produce.

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The food tastes as good as it looks and you wouldn’t imagine it was prepared on a moving train.

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And this was the dessert of the day – freshly made mochi with matcha!

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To introduce the lesser-known areas along the Shinano Line, the train makes several stops along the way.

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At the first stop, you can buy local onsen manjyu (buns filled with red bean paste) made specially as Rokumon Train souvenirs, and sample onsen tea and coffee (made with onsen water).

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There are also souvenirs available on the train.  P1010162

In one of the three carriages, there is a play area for children. The wooden balls and in fact, the wooden furniture, are all made from trees grown in the Nagano prefecture.

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There’s never a dull moment during the 2 hour ride. Just as you thought all the food has been served, an attendant comes by to distribute souvenir traditional sweets from the local town.

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And as a treat for the eyes, there is the view of Mt Asama along the way.

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And before you know it, you’re at the final stop – Karuizawa.

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This is certainly one trip where it’s as much about the journey as the destination!

For details on Rokumon:

http://www.shinanorailway.co.jp/rokumon/(Japanese only)

 

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (5): The Green Trail

Hokkaido may be Japan’s largest prefecture but it’s largest city – and capital – Sapporo is easy to get about by foot or public transport. In this 5-part series, WAttention brings you some themed strolls through Sapporo, all within 30-minutes on foot from the train station if all you have to spare is, literally, a couple of hours. 

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Just three blocks from the North Exit of Sapporo Station is the Hokkaido University, a sprawling campus with European-style architecture, a stream running through it and willow trees which will make you forget that you are in Japan.

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During the autumn, it is famous for its 380 m stretch of 70 golden gingko trees. Its poplar avenue is also a popular spot that makes for a pleasant walk.

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Inset: The signature poplar trees of Hokkaido University.

 

You will find both tourists and locals enjoying the picturesque greenery here.

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After your stroll, you can stop by the cafe and souvenir shop by the entrance and have a cuppa under the dappled sunlight terrace.

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The interior of the campus cafe

For some more green therapy, head back to the station and exit from the South this time towards the Old Government Building, also three blocks done the road.

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There is a lovely garden and pond here that you wouldn’t imagine to be in the middle of Sapporo city.

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Here you will also find flowers of the season that makes for a great photo spot.

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This marks the final post of our Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing series. 

 

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (4): The Beer & BBQ Trail

Hokkaido may be Japan’s largest prefecture but it’s largest city – and capital – Sapporo is easy to get about by foot or public transport. In this 5-part series, WAttention brings you some themed strolls through Sapporo, all within 30-minutes on foot from the train station if all you have to spare is, literally, a couple of hours. 

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A true brew classic.

 

Mention Sapporo and beer comes to mind. Especially that Sapporo Classic brew that you can only buy in Hokkaido.
Beer brewing started in Sapporo had in 1876 with the aim of boosting the economy under the Meiji Restoration. And today it continues to play that key role as well as lifting the spirits of Japan.

What better way to understand Sapporo and its eponymous tipple than a trip to the Sapporo Beer Museum.

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Hop on to learn about hop!

A 15-minute bus ride from the terminal right outside the train station takes you right to the museum’s doorstep.

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Entrance to the museum is free. Start your tour from the third floor to learn about how Sapporo Breweries first started as Hokkaido Kaitakushi Beer Brewery, the first brewery under governmental management.

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The red star was the symbol of Kaitakushi, or a movement in the Meiji era to development Hokkaido’s economy and exploit its resources. It continues to be the symbol of Sapporo today, only the colour has changed to gold.

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The museum exhibits various old bottle designs, and explains the fermentation and brewing process, as well as the development of the beer industry in Japan.

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Follow the spiral staircase down – don’t worry it’s not that’s you’re not walking straight – and you’re one floor closer to the beer hall where tasting of various brews is available.

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If you follow a free guided tour, the guide will impart the secret to pouring the perfect glass of beer – remember, the golden ratio of foam to beer is 3:7.

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Cheers to a wonderful per-foam-ance!

And finally, what everyone’s been waiting for – the sampling available at the beer hall on the first floor. Try three types of beers for 500 yen (and choose from a cheese or biscuit snack), or sample the original brew from the Meiji era for 200 yen.

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Triple tipple!
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The original economy revitalizing brew, now available at 200 yen.

At the Sapporo Beer Garden located next to the museum, you can go for an outdoor or indoor barbeque, the local version being the “jingiskan”, where marinated lamb meat is grilled over a dome shaped griddle.

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Outdoor beer gardens available during the summer and early autumn.
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The local BBQ: Jingiskan – a unique mix of seasonings that goes well with beer.

And if you like what you’ve tried, you can buy a jingiskan set for the folks back home!

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Take home a jingiskan set as a souvenir

Watch out for the final course in this Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing series: The Green Trail

 

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (3): The Seafood Lovers’ Trail

Hokkaido may be Japan’s largest prefecture but it’s largest city – and capital – Sapporo is easy to get about by foot or public transport. In this 5-part series, WAttention brings you some themed strolls through Sapporo, all within 30-minutes on foot from the train station if all you have to spare is, literally, a couple of hours. 

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One can’t leave Sapporo without having feasted on at least one seafood bowl overflowing with slices of freshly-caught and sliced raw fish and a mountain of glistening ikura and uni.

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Sample Hokkaido’s seasonal crabs at the Nijo Fish Market, which is around 10 blocks down the road from Sapporo Station’s South Exit, or an easy 20-minute stroll – with some time to stop and smell the flowers at Odori Park.

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This market is said to have begun when fishermen from Ishikari Bay first started selling their catch there over a century ago during the early Meiji Period.

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Today, due to its central location, it is popular with tourists and locals alike for seafood and souvenirs, somewhat like the Tsukiji outer market but with a much wider variety of crabs, sea urchins and ikura.

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Reward your walk here with a seafood bowl or a freshly roasted sea urchin, and buy some frozen seafood here or do that on your way back to the station at Sato Suisan Honten, which is right in front of the Sapporo Station – and where you will see a lot of local housewives sampling the latest offerings.

 

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Here, you can try their ikura in various original flavours – salt or spicy mentai, instead of just the usual shoyu, as well as all their products – including salmon sausages, seafood pate, roasted fish, etc. They’ll help you ice-pack your seafood souvenirs to last your journey, or if you can’t wait that long, buy a handmade onigiri here or bento for the train or plane ride back!

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Next up in this series: The Beer & BBQ Trail

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (2): The Flower Lovers’ Trail

Hokkaido may be Japan’s largest prefecture but it’s largest city – and capital – Sapporo is easy to get about by foot or public transport. In this 5-part series, WAttention brings you some themed strolls through Sapporo, all within 30-minutes on foot from the train station if all you have to spare is, literally, a couple of hours. 

 

 

Mention Sapporo and the colour white comes to mind – snow, ice sculptures, White Lover cookies and the Maruyama zoo polar bear. But the capital of Hokkaido is equally breathtaking, if not more, when coloured by a palette of flowers.

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The former Hokkaido Government Building, aka “Akarenga”.

Start your floral adventure from the former Hokkaido Government Office Building, fondly called the “Akarenga”, referring to the red brick building. This is just two blocks down from the Sapporo Station.

In the spring, one can see the pastel purple blooms of the lilac, Sapporo’s official tree. In the autumn, there is the chrysanthemum festival, and at other times, you can head to the Odori Park for the blooms of the season.

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The Odori Park stretches across 12 blocks, perpendicular to the Sapporo Station. It starts with the Sapporo TV Station at the Nishi 1-chome grid and goes on to the former Sapporo Court of Appeals, another grand old dame – but I digress from our petaled pals.

From the Akarenga, keep on walking in the southward  from the Sapporo station. Along the way, you may find some lovely flowers lining the pathway.

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Excuse me, but are you Lavendar by any chance?

If you’re lucky, you may find a flower festival or competition going on at the park. From 27 June to 5 July, there was Flower Festa 2015 Sapporo, with various flower displays at the Odori Park.

 

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The Sapporo Star

Look familiar? This arrangement depicts the North Star, which is popularly known as the logo mark of Sapporo Beer, but it is also in the Sapporo City’s official city logo mark, taken from the symbol of the pioneers of the Kitanokuni, or Country in the North. collage-2015-07-09 (2)

 

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So if you don’t have the chance to head to Furano for the lavender fields, you can still enjoy blooms of the season just a a few blocks down the road from Sapporo station – and have time to spare to head to the local crab market for some fresh seafood! But that’s for the next installment of this series.

Next up: Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (3): The Seafood Lovers’ Trail

 

Nostalgic Pottering in Yanesen Part 2

Shitamachi roaming by bicycle

Last time we left off at the Nennekoya. Get on your tokyobike as it’s time to potter on! (For part 1, see “Nostalgic Pottering in Yanasen Part 1“)

Nezu Shrine

With a history of 1,900 years, the Nezu Shrine is one of Tokyo’s oldest shrines, and perfectly matches the nostalgic color of the neighborhood. We recommend you get off your bicycle here, so that you can enter the shrine and enjoy its garden.

Information:
Location: Nezu 1-28-9, Bunkyo, Tokyo
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm

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Hebimichi

After passing the Nezu Shrine, you will come to a narrow road with many twists, which is called Hebimichi, or Snake Road. But why is it twisted like this? Apparently, the street used to be a river called Aizomegawa. That river is now long gone, but the street takes the exact same shape!

Information:
Location: Yanaka 2, Taito, Tokyo

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Shops near the Aizome Bridge

Keep-on twisting along the snake road which has many fancy shops to check out, and you eventually arrive at an intersection called Aizomebashi, or Aizome bridge, also referring to the river that used to run through here. 
There are 3 shops near this intersection that absolutely burst in character.
Coffee Ranpo’s owner has a love for cats and jazz, and it shows!
Selling beautiful Japanese paper-crafts, Isetatsu has been around since 1864.
Shokichi is the atelier of Mitsuaki Tsuyuki, a talented artist that creates Japanese puppets. How about having a doll of yourself made on order?

Coffee Ranpo

Location: Yanaka 2-9-14, Taito, Tokyo
Hours: 10 am – 8 pm (closed on Mondays)

Isetatsu:

Location: Yanaka 2-18-9, Taito, Tokyo
Hours: 10 am – 6 pm

Shokichi:

Location: Yanaka 3-2-6, Taito, Tokyo
Hours: 10 am – 18 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)

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Yanaka Ginza

After turning left in front of Yanaka Elementary School, keep going straight and you will arrive at the area’s most famous shopping street, Yanaka Ginza. There is a wide array of local street food (our favorite being Suzuki Niku’s minced cutlets) to try out, and cute shops are at your disposal for window shopping.

Informaiton:
Location: Yanaka 3-8-1, Taito, Tokyo

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Suzuki Niku Minced Cutlets , 200 yen

Like what you see? This was only a glimpse of what Yanesen has to offer. We highly recommend you discover the area on your own pedals!

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (1): The Sweets Lovers’ Trail

Hokkaido may be Japan’s largest prefecture but it’s largest city – and capital – Sapporo is easy to get about by foot or public transport. In this 5-part series, WAttention brings you some themed strolls through Sapporo, all within 30-minutes on foot from the train station if all you have to spare is, literally, a couple of hours. 

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Let’s start this series on a sweet note – Hokkaido sweets.

From melt-in-your-mouth cheesecakes, to fresh cream rolled-cakes, cream puffs, luxurious puddings, fruit tarts to any pastry involving red bean paste, Hokkaido is the Disneyland of Desserts.

After all, with a population of over 800,000 cows (or close to the population of San Francisco), Hokkaido is cream of the crop in the field of dairy products in Japan.

Now, leave calorie-counting behind and rejoice in the fact that you can access the following sweet spots without busting the pedometer.

Daimaru at the Sapporo Station 

Directly-connected to Sapporo Station, the Daimaru basement is heaven for those with a sweet tooth and best avoided by those on a diet. Of course, all the heavyweight confectionery brands are here with their light as air puffs and cream cakes. Watch out for the Daimaru-limited edition sweets and the limited edition creation of the season.

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Beware these tempting and taunting deserts lying in the depths of the Daimaru department basement.

Here you’ll also find one of six Kit Kat Boutiques throughout Japan, with a hot favourite being – unsurprisingly – the butter-flavoured Kit Kat. Well, we are in the land of milk and butter!

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Shop Info:
Opening Hours: 10am – 8pm everyday

 

Rokkatei Main Store (Sapporo) 

When you finally manage to emerge from the Daimaru depachika after finally deciding where to spend your cash (and gain your calories), you would easily have spent a good hour. Fortunately, the next must-visit sweet spot-  the Rokkatei Main Store – is just about a 5-minutes’ brisk walk from the station and just opened on July 5th.

From the South exit (where the clock tower is), cross the main road and turn right and you will see at the top of a grey building the words 六花亭, pronounced as “rokkatei” and meaning literally “six flower pavilion”.  When you approach the lobby of the building you will see a large wooden signboard with the household brand name.

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At the ground floor, you will find a shop selling every product made by this confectioner which started from making butter in the 1930s in Tokachi, a place that  – even within Hokkaido – is famous for its dairy products.

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Enter at your own health risk!

This is why Rokkatei is loved by the Japanese for its butter sand – a butter cookie sandwich filled with white chocolate, cream and raisins. The cream is made from 100% Hokkaido butter made by the confectioner itself.

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A must-try classic.

At the shop, you can buy a variety of confectionery by the piece (starting from 40 yen!) and find your favourite one – though with so many to choose from it would be hard to decide! Takeaway cakes are also available at reasonable prices, starting from around 280 yen a piece.

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At the second floor, there is a cafe where you can indulge in original dessert creations.

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But if you can’t wait for a seat, don’t fret – there is a takeaway counter offering takeaway treats such as soft-serve ice cream with a bitter chocolate biscuit topping, or a crispy pastry filled with fresh cream. You can take these away or eat them while standing at several bar tables provided.

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Selling over-the-counter bliss at 260 yen.

Shop Info:

Address: 6-3-3, Kita-4-jonishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido
Phone Number: 011-261-6666
Opening Hours: 10am – 8pm
URL: http://www.rokkatei.co.jp.e.sy.hp.transer.com/shop/index.html

Next Up: Strapped for time in Sapporo (2): The Flower Lovers’ Trail

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (5): Fukiware no Taki in Gunma Prefecture

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This majestic stretch of interlocking waterfalls is said to be the “Niagara of the Orient”.

Located in Numata City of Gunma Prefecture, the Fukiware no Taki is 7-meters high, 30-meters wide and flows 1.5-km into the Katashina Gorge.

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It was voted as one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls, and in 1936 was designated as a National Natural Monument.

The months from April to June are when the currents are stronger from the melted snow from the mountains. But the waterfall is equally stunning in the Autumn months, when tinted with the color of fall.

The grand sight can be enjoyed from a hanging bridge or right up close to the roaring gorge. Just don’t lose your balance!

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Access: From Tokyo Station take the JR to Numata Station and catch a 45-min bus headed to Fukiware no Taki.

 

Ukai: A 3-in-1 Truly “U”-nique Experience

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To enjoy Japan’s culture, cuisine and scenery, try a Ukai river cruise.

“Ukai” literally means the rearing of cormorants and refers to a traditional fishing method deploying these long-necked aquatic birds to hunt for river fish.

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While fishing might sound like a boring activity at first, this is anything but that. In fact, it is said that Charlie Chaplin, who visited Nagaragawa River in Gifu prefecture on two occasions to see cormorant fishing, kept on exclaiming “Wonderful!” throughout the spectacle.

The 3-in-1 enjoyment of Ukai

“U” get Cuisine

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Ayu hungry yet?: A full course of sweetfish – salt-baked, sweetly-simmered and fried.

The trip starts with a delicious bento lunch – all featuring salt-roasted ayu (sweetfish), which is the fish that cormorants dive, swallow and spit out (but try not to think about that) – aboard a yakatabune, or a barge-style boat.

“U” get Scenery

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While one can take a yakatabune ride along the Sumidagawa in Tokyo and enjoy the city skyline, these manually-steered barges really belong to a river surrounded by verdant valleys, with the natural background music of river birds singing.

“U” get Culture

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Harking back 1,300 years, Ukai was a fishing technique used in China and Japan.

While once a booming industry, it can only be witnessed in 12 locations in Japan today, from around early summer (June) to late autumn (October).

Up to ten cormorants are strung up and skillfully steered by the cormorant master, and when the hunt begins, he wields a burning metal frame in front of the boat. This is used to scare the river fishes to the surface for the cormorants.

At the clack of wooden blocks, the cormorants dive in unison to swallow as many river fish as they can. The string around the birds’ necks prevents them from swallowing fish like ayu or even the occasional unagi, but they get to keep the smaller fishes.

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Master trainers of cormorants belong to a national agency (the Imperial Household Agency), and an important duty of theirs is to make offerings of small trout to the Emperor.

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With prices ranging from around 2,500 yen to 4,500 yen for this 2-1/2 hour trip, it’s definitely worth making a day trip from the city for.

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Here are the venues where cormorant fishing can be viewed today:

-Nagaragawa, Gifu
-Hijigawa, Aichi
-Mikumagawa, Oita
-Fuefukigawa, Yamanashi
-Kisogawa, Aichi
-Ujigawa, Kyoto
-Yodogawa, Kyoto
-Basengawa, Kyoto
-Aritagawa, Wakayama
-Takatsugawa, Shimane
-Nishikigawa, Yamaguchi
-Chikugogawa, Fukuoka

Nostalgic Pottering in Yanesen Part 1

Shitamachi roaming by bicycle

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Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of pottering. It is a so called waseieigo (和製英語), which is a Japanese word created out of one or more English terms. Calling it an English word that only exists in Japan, is another way to explain it.

Pottering (coming from “to potter”) is the same as strolling, except for the fact that it is done on bicycle. While cycling tours can be exhausting and extreme like hiking or trekking, pottering is meant to be relaxing and fun.

Just to make sure you get the idea, left is cycling and right is pottering!

The Yanesen area consists out of three neighborhoods in the Taito and Bunkyo ward, which are Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi. Whilst being located within short distance from the city center, the area has a charming shitamachi (local downtown) atmosphere, with retro shopping streets, laid back residential areas and myriads of temples and shrines to explore.

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Bicycles can be rented at tokyobike gallery, located on a 6 minute walking distance from Nippori Station. It has the facade of an old Japanese-style house with wooden walls and a slanting roof, but the inside is modern and oshare (fancy). tokyobikes are made with the purpose of city cycling, and you can choose out of 3 different models.

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Location: Yanaka 4-2-39, Taito, Tokyo
Price: 1,000 yen
Hours: 11:00 – 19:00 (Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays) 11:00 – 18:00 (Weekends, Public Holidays) Closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays

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Without any further ado, let the pottering begin!

Ogyochi

Starting with sweets is unheard of when one goes cycling, but then again, this is pottering, so why not?
Ogyochi serves a yummy Taiwanese jelly type sweet that you can have together with shaved ice in the summer.

Information:
Location: Uenosakuragi 2-11-8, Taito, Tokyo

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (closed earlier when sold out)

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Ogyochi, 400 yen

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Shitamachi Museum

In the same street as Ogyochi, you will find the Shitamachi Museum, where you can find out how Tokyoites used to go about in older times.

Information:
Location: Yanaka 4-2-39, Taito, Tokyo

Hours: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm (closed on Mondays)

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Yanaka’s Himalayan Cedar Tree

On the corner of a quiet street in Yanaka, next to an old little bakery, stands a giant Himalayan cedar tree!

Information:
Location: Yanaka 1-16-5, Taito, Tokyo

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Nennnekoya

A few blocks further, you will find Nennekoya, a cozy little store/cafe full of cat merchandise, and of course, cats! Finding this store in Yanaka is no surprise, as the neighborhood is known for its many street cats.

Information:
Location: Yanaka 2-1-4 Taito, Tokyo

Hours: 11:30 am – 6:00 pm (Saturdays, Sundays, Public Holidays) 11:00 am – 5 pm (Thursdays, Fridays) closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays

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That’s it for today, but we will be pedaling on in “Nostalgic Pottering in Yanesen Part 2“, so stay tuned!

Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise: The Definitive Tokyo Summer Experience

A cruise like a summer festival

The first question I asked myself after taking Tokyo Bay’s summer night cruise (available from July 1 to September 30) as a reporter, was whether or not I would hop on board again if the occasion arises. Without even a moment of doubt, I knew my answer was yes, but why? Follow my experience find out what it is that makes this cruise so special.

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I was lucky enough to hop on Tokyo Bay’s first summer night cruise of the year, and I have to tell you, viewing Tokyo’s dazzling skyline while being surrounded by yukata-clad girls is far from the worst experience I’ve had in Japan.


There’s something about yukata and a night cruise that perfectly match, creating that same sense of Japanese summer as when looking up at fireworks from the Sumidagawa riverbanks or while dancing a traditional Bon dance at a summer festival. The best way to define this cruise therefore might be “A Japanese festival on a ship.”

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Wearing a yukata on this event gives you a discount of 1,000 yen of the total entry fee of 2,600 yen, so don’t be shy to cash in on your cuteness!

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While more than 90 percent of the ladies came in yukata, it did surprise me that not even half of the guys – including myself I have to admit – had the courage to show up in yukata. That needs to change as a yukata looks just as nice on an ikemen (cool guy).

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Point proven?

By the way, guys were quite out numbered, but this was probably because only ladies in yukata where allowed to join the cruise completely free of charge to celebrate the first day, and hopefully we will see more guys in the future (in yukata, of course!).

The giant and luxury ship that usually functions as a passenger ferry to the Izu islands (a group of picturesque islands that are officially part of metropolitan Tokyo) departed Tokyo Bay at  7:15 pm for a ride of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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Gazing at Tokyo’s towering skyscrapers, massive office buildings, trains passing by on the monorail and cars leaving light trails on the expressway from a romantic cruise-ship at night is overwhelming to say the least.

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With Odaiba’s FCG Building and ferris wheel both colored in gaudy rainbow neon lights coming closer, we passed the Rainbow Bridge after approximately 10 minutes, which was when everybody toasted to Tokyo’s night skyline with Tokyo Tower in the middle while shouting “Yakei ni Kanpai!” (cheers to the night view) as promised.

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By the way, it was only at this point that I learned that no additional fees are necessary for drinks (including beer) as they are included in the price, which makes this night cruise feel almost too cheap to be true, especially if you come in a yukata!

While we continued to make distance from the city, I started feeling cravings for matsuri (festival) delicacies. The wide array of stalls you can find inside the ship have all-time classics as takoyaki and yakisoba as well as kebab and doughnut sticks offering enough choice to satisfy pretty much any soul, and browsing through all these delicacies alone is half the fun!

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Row one from left to right: Takoyaki 400 yen, Cucumber stick 200 yen. Row two from left to right: Seafood Yakisoba 400 yen, Doughnut Stick 200 yen

Heading back to the terrace deck with a boat-shaped takoyaki plate and a beer in my hands, I noticed that the first yukata dancing show had started. From 7:45 pm to the end of the cruise, a total of 3 dancing shows can be enjoyed at terrace deck A.
Guys were cheering at cute yukata girls dancing, kind of in the fashion of an Akihabara idol group. Yes, this cruise is keeping up with today’s “live idol” trend as well!

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The other terrace decks were filled with passengers mingling with each other, toasting on the exciting evening and taking pictures together.

While in Tokyo’s everyday life it can be hard to meet new people, the majority of passengers at this cruise are here with the intention of getting to know you. Although calling it a “nanpa-sen” (a boat to pick up girls) – which some Tokyoites do – is definitely not what this event deserves, I do agree that the cruise is ideal to make new friends. Therefore, I personally prefer calling it the “friend-ship” in the hope that foreign residents and tourists alike may have a blast with the locals at this cruise.

By the time the ship had turned around to head back to the city, I was encircled by a group of great new friends myself too.


Tokyo Bay’s summer night cruise is the definitive way to experience a Japanese summer in Tokyo, and provides the chance to make new friends which can otherwise be hard in the city.

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Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise Information

Date: Jul. 1, 2016 – Oct. 10, 2016
Price: Adults 2,600 yen (1,000 yen discount if you come in a yukata excluding Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays)  Junior High school and High school Students 1,050 yen Elementary School School Children 550 yen (all tickets include free drinks)
Location: Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal
Adress: Kaigan 1-16-3, Minato, Tokyo
Access: A 1-min walk from Takeshiba Station (Yurikamome Line) or an 8-min walk from Hamamatsucho Station (JR Lines)
Reservation: 03-3437-6119 (Reservation in English is possible)

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (4): Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

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The Oirase Stream trail, which runs for 14km from Nenokuchi at Lake Towada, is a surreal setting of endless gushing and gurgling streams that course over moss-covered boulders, through an emerald green forest of ferns, Japanese beech and oaks. This scenery is particularly gorgeous, no pun intended, at the Oirase Gorge.

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The boardwalk along the stream is named Bakufu Kaido, or “Waterfall Road”, aptly so for the many waterfalls roaring along this route. Popular scenic spots include the Choshi Otaki Waterfall, Ashuranonagare and Kumoinotaki Waterfall.

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It’s also a good excuse to try the new “long-nosed” Hayabusa Shinkansen which connects Tokyo to Shin-Aomori in a mere 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe Station, and a bus to the Towada Lake Area

Last Cool Trek: Fukiware no Taki in Gunma Prefecture

 

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (3): Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

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This sprawling marshland at 760 hectares is well-loved for its charming wooden boardwalk paths through seemingly endless carpets of flora and fauna. The ‘mizubasho,’ or Japanese skunk cabbage, and ‘nikko-kisuge’ (yellow alpine lily) are the signature blossoms here, though there is no lack of other rare mountain foilage at this strictly protected national park.

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Visitors even have to brush their boots against a special carpet before entering to prevent the introduction of non-native plants to this almost pristine park. At some 1,700m above sea level, it’s also Japan’s highest moor. Oze is made up of the Ozegahara moor, Ozenuma lake and surrounding mountains.

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Trekkers are in close proximity here as there is just one path, with one lane for each direction. Nevertheless, as can be expected of Japan, trekkers are thoughtful and there is often what seems to be a greeting competition to see who can “Konnichiwa” the oncoming trekker first.

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The climb to the wooden path involves descending a few flights of steps, which makes this slightly more challenging amongst the treks mentioned. But come here once, and you’ll be back for moor, so to speak.

Access: From Tokyo Station take a JR train to Numata Station, change to an express bus to Oshimizu station.

Next cool trek: Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

 

Picturesque Japan: Feel the suspense in the air with this bridge walk

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Like a crossing out of an Indiana Jones movie, this primitive bridge made out of vines can be found hanging over a roaring river in the Iya region of Tokushima Prefecture, and is a popular summer trek for adventurous nature lovers.

The Iya no Kazura Bashi was built by samurai who escaped into this area over 800 years ago with the intent of it being easily cut to prevent pursuers from crossing. It is now designated as a national important tangible cultural asset – and you’ll be relieved to know the 45 meters long and 2 meters wide bridge is completely replaced every three years to ensure its sturdiness.

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That said, it will still take some courage to cross this bridge when you reach it as each step is shaky and rocky. Look down, and you can see the river coursing through some 15-m below!

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Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Great Seto Bridge

Spot information

Name: Iya-no-Kazura Bashi
Address: 162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima Prefecture
Access: Fly into Tokushima, then take the Shikoku Kotsu Bus from JR Oboke Stn, bound for either Kazura Bashi or Kubo, get off at Kazura Bashi Bus stop and walk 5 minutes to Iya-no-Kazura Bashi.

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (2): Goshikinuma in Fukushima Prefecture

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Here you can row a pleasure boat in one of the largest lakes in the 800m high Bandai Highlands, Lake Hibara, before embarking on a 3.6km route through the cluster of lakes at Goshiki-numa Park nearby.

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This natural wonder was formed when Mount Bandai erupted on July 15th, 1988. The main lakes in this park are called Akanuma, Bentennuma, Rurinuma, Aonuma and Bishamonnuma. The park is a must-see spot in the Bandai Highlands region.

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Minerals from this devastating eruption tints each of these lakes a different hue, ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue to reddish green, the color of which fluctuates throughout the year according to the weather. The easy trek can be completed in around an hour.

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Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Kooriyama Station (1 hr 20 mins), change to the JR Banetsu Nishi Line to Inawashiroko Station (35mins) then take the local bus to Ura Bandai.

Next cool trek: Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

Where does this ghost train bring us?

A visit to ghost town, Sakaiminato

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A visit to ghost town, Sakaiminato

Take this ghost themed train to Sakaiminato in Tottori prefecture, the hometown of Shigeru Mizuki, spiritual father of ghost manga series “Gegege no Kitaro”. The “Kitaro ressha” or Kitaro train, which takes the name of the series’ main character, runs on the JR Sakai Line.

Ever since the first entry of “Gegege no Kitaro” was published in 1965, this manga series has received a nationwide popularity, and is still going strong today! Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you will be able to enjoy Sakaiminato nonetheless. For example, try to find all the cute bronze ghost statues (sorry ghosts, I know you hate being called cute) hidden in town.

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If you manage to find them all, hats off, as there are a total of 153 of these to be found in Sakaiminato!
(See them all here http://www.sakaiminato.net/site2/page/roadmap/bronze/)

There is even a ghost shrine in town, and actual ghosts (really!) walk around in Sakaiminato every day. Apparently, different ghosts appear depending on the day, so if you are a true fan, stay at least a week!

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The Shigeru Mizuki Memorial Hall does not just familiarize you with “Gegege no Kitaro”, but also shows the personality of the artist himself, who is not only a manga-ka, but also a ghost specialist and an adventurer. Despite reaching the age of 93, he still continues to work today!

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Sakaiminato is also famous for its fresh seafood. Once you have had enough of ghosts, head over to the fish market and taste some of the super fresh crab, tuna, and especially the Mosa Shrimp, a shrimp only to be found in the area. Modern dishes as Tuna Ramen and Crab Donburi (a rice dish) are also more than worth a try!

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Tuna ramen with a naruto (sliced fish paste) with Kitaro on it!

 

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

With the mercury rising in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, it’s definitely time to drop a few degrees Celsius by taking a hike somewhere in the lush, green hills of Japan.

And while the average tourist may not think of going beyond Roppongi Hills or Omotesando Hills as ‘cool’ places to hang out, we’re talking about national treasures that have become regular pilgrimage sites for trekking aficionados in the know.

In this 4-part series, WAttention will walk you through some of the best highland treks just a few hours out of Tokyo for your fill of negative ions and positive sentiments!

Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture 

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Coined the “Japanese Alps” since 1877 when the breathtaking beauty of the snow-capped Nagano mountain range was discovered by early English explorers, a trip to Kamikochi will leave you in awe of the picture perfect setting—and the convenience of omiyage shops, onsens, ice cream and croquette stalls 1,500m above sea level.

But not to worry, while the shops and facilities are sufficient, the area is not touristy and far from overdeveloped, with just around half a dozen hotels. Private cars are also banned from Kamikochi, in favor of buses or taxis.

Three hours will be sufficient to cover around half of the mostly flat 15km trekking route at a leisurely pace. Geographically, Kamikochi is basically a long plateau in the Azusa River Valley, surrounded by dramatic mountains starting from 2,455m in height.

Recommended for beginners is a start from the turquoise Taisho Pond to Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge where you’ll find cafes, restaurants and cafes nearby for a lunch break. Abundent birch trees add to the alpine feel.

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Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge across the Azusa River, is the main landmark here, and a popular photo spot. In fact, so stunning is the scenery that you’ll find an artist there that has dedicated his life to painting that vista of Kamikochi.

Another attraction is the Imperial Hotel Kamikochi, of the prestigious Imperial Hotel chain, which was previously owned and partly funded by the imperial family. Designed like an alpine resort, sipping a spot of tea at the hotel café is on the wishlist of many a sophisticated Japanese lady. Which just goes to show how Kamikochi is a hiking trek fit for royalty.

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Access: From Shinjuku Station take the JR Chuo Honsen Limited Express “Azusa” (2hours 40minutes) to Matsumoto Station, then take the local bus or taxi to Kamikochi

Next cool trek: Goshikinuma Lake in Fukushima Prefecture