Marvellous Mingei : Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu

Mingei, meaning the art of the people, is a style that is born from the local people’s everyday lifestyle, making it a product of nature and tradition. Items made in the Mingei style of Matsumoto are familiar, comfortable, simple yet beautiful, and the passage of time just adds uniqueness to their character.

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This philosophy clearly shows in the Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu. Located within a stone’s throw away from Matsumoto Castle, this classic hotel is a convenient and comfortable time capsule. Step into its elegant interior and let yourself be wrapped in the romance of vintage Mingei that is unique to Matsumoto.

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The guest rooms are comfortable and beautifully furnished.

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In their restaurant [I;caza] (which charmingly means “Let’s go” in Nagano dialect), you have the choice between their fantastic Japanese or Western fare.

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Don’t forget to visit the clean and pleasant bathing area to complete the experience.

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Check out our Matsumoto articles for all the fantastic things to do in the area.

Information

main_松本ホテル花月Address: 4-8-9 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
Access: 15 min. walk from Matsumoto station
URL: http://www.matsumotohotel-kagetsu.com/index-english.html

Save on transportation and admission tickets with the Mt. Fuji Tourist Pass

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From the adrenaline-packed roller coasters at Fuji Q Highland, to the pacific waters of Lake Kawaguchiko reflecting the iconic shape of Mt. Fuji, the area surrounding Japan’s most iconic mountain is filled with sightseeing spots for you to discover.

The best way to explore them all while saving on transportation fees and admission tickets is to plan ahead and purchase the Mt. Fuji Pass, which includes all local buses in the area as well as Fujikyu Railway trains. The pass also gives you access to popular spots such as Fuji Q Highland, the Pleasure Boat Cruise “En Soleil” on Lake Kawaguchiko, and a ride on the Mt. Kachi Kachi ropeway just to name a few.

Holders can choose between 1-day, 2-day and 3-day passes according to their travel plans and are eligible for endless discount privileges at more than 12 facilities such as Fujiyama Onsen hot spring and the Oshino Ninja Village, as well as several restaurants and shops.

Three of our WAttention Ninjas had the opportunity to explore Mt. Fuji area using the Mt. Fuji Tourist Pass and this is what they had to say about their trip.

Hjalte Hellenberg

Taking the first steps towards Mt. Fuji seemed confusing without a guide, but we had a precise plan of what to visit and how to get there, we just had to follow our itinerary and everything turned out to be very easy. I can’t decide what was my favorite of all the places we visited, the boat trip on Lake Kawaguchiko, the Oshino Ninja Village, the incredible view atop Mt. Kachi kachi Ropeway or the cool rollercoasters of Fuji Q Highland.
The buses and the trains that we rode along the way offer amazing sights themselves, and are easy to use, with helpful signs in English at stations and bus stops.
A shoutout to the Japanese people for their kindness, to Mt. Fuji and Mt. Kachi kachi Ropeway for their beauty, to the Oshino Ninja Village for inspiring young ninjas and to Lake Kawaguchiko for its peacefulness! I would love to come back to the area sometime and even attempt to climb Mt. Fuji itself!
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The Mt. Fuji Pass gave us the opportunity to discover new places, admire awe-inspiring landscapes, explore a great lake and enjoy ourselves at an amusement park where we could have spent a whole day. I really liked the fact that while we already had a clear plan for which trains and buses to take, it still felt like a relaxed trip, where we had the freedom of enjoying the sights at our pace, without a guide telling you every minute what to do next.
The different attractions added variety to our sightseeing itinerary making the whole experience feel like an epic adventure, combining perfectly peaceful landscapes at Lake Kawaguchiko or the ropeway at Mt. Kachi kachi Ropeway, with the thrill at Fuji Q Highland and the fun activities at the Oshino Ninja Village. Even though the weather didn’t allow us to admire Mt. Fuji in all its glory, we had an amazing time and enjoy the attractions to the fullest.

Yann Barbaras

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Andreas Stabursvik

We took an early train ride from Shinjuku to Lake Kawaguchiko, in which we were able to admire the beautiful landscape and take some pictures. When we arrived to Lake Kawaguchiko we first headed to the Mt. Kachi kachi Ropeway, offering great views of the lake and the surrounding nature, despite it being a cloudy day. We continued our journey by local bus, getting off at the Oshino Ninja Village, a fun attraction where you can learn “the ways of the ninja”, ideal for kids. Lastly but not least, we visited Fuji Q Highland, an amusement park filled with record-braking roller coasters and La ville de Gaspard et Lisa, an area that looks straight out of a French village. Since our pass included not only admission to the park but also one attraction, we decided to try Fujiyama, which left me speechless. With both transportation and admission tickets included in our pass, I cannot think of a better way to enjoy our trip and I’m looking forward to visiting the area again.
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Plan your trip in advance and consult the bus and train timetables and learn more about Mt. Fuji Pass and all its benefits by visiting this website.

Sample schedule for a day visiting various attractions using the Mt. Fuji Pass
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The Mt. Fuji Pass

Cost:1 day ticket: Adult 5,500 JPY, Children 2,750
2 day ticket: Adult 8,000 JPY, Children 4,000
3 day ticket: Adult 10,000 JPY, Children 5,000
URL: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
*Adult (Junior High School or older)
**Child (Elementary School)

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Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with these 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

A full day of adventure at the Yoshida Fire Festival & Fuji Q Highland

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The Yoshida Fire Festival held every year on August 26 and 27 is considered by many Japanese to be one of the great three unique festivals in the country. It takes place at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine located in Fujiyoshida City at the foot of Mt. Fuji. It features 3 meters tall firewood bonfires that are set on fire along 2km of the city’s main street.

While its origins remain unclear, currently the festival is held to pray for public welfare and peace, as well as to prevent Mt. Fuji from erupting. It also marks the end of the climbing season to Mt. Fuji.

If you ever happen to visit during the end of August when the festival is held, we recommend you head over to Mt. Fuji area early in the morning to enjoy the many other attractions the region has to offer. A good option is to spend the day at Fuji Q Highland, an amusement park offering some of the most thrilling roller coasters in Japan, including the recently opened DODODONPA, Japan’s fastest roller coaster shooting up to the speed of 180k/h in just 1.56 seconds. Fuji Q Highland also offers VRT experiences, areas for kids, and a variety of shops and restaurants.

Three of our WAttention Ninjas got to experience this unique itinerary that blends centuries old traditions and the thrill of roller coasters, and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Jackie De León

We took the bus at 9:55 from Shinjuku Bus Terminal, which was right on time. Our arrival station was really close to the entrance. First, we passed through La Ville de Gaspard et Lisa, with great decorations that made it feel like we were in a little France made for kids. The roller coasters were so much fun, but definitely not for the faint-hearted; meanwhile, the water rides proved to be the best way to fight the suffocating heat of Japanese summer. We left the park at five and took the bus for Mt. Fuji Station. We encountered a flaming cultural display: the Yoshida Fire Festival. We saw people running around with lanterns and piling lots of firewood. For a few moments, wherever you look, we saw torches lighting up the way. The experience is definitely worth it.
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
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Our trip took us to the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park and the Yoshida Fire Festival, both of them exciting in its own unique ways. I really enjoyed the bus ride from Shinjuku Bus Terminal for its impressive sights along the way. The attractions in the amusement park were also amazing with the roller coasters really worth the wait, my favorite was the newly opened DODODONPA, with exhilarating speeds of up to 180 km/h. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit cloudy and we couldn’t see the Mt. Fuji, but that didn’t stop us from going to Fuji Airways, a flight simulator that takes you soaring through the skies around Japan’s tallest mountain. Afterwards, we made a short trip to the Yoshida Fire Festival. I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of different traditional food, challenging me to try them all. The highlight of this festival was when they set fire to piles of wood in the middle of the street. It felt amazing to stop and take a look downhill, only to see a long line of fire with what seemed to be an endless stream of people on both sides of it.

Thierry Kohler

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Ana Rita Cavalheiro

Despite having to wake up early, we took advantage of the comfortable bus ride to get some extra sleep and arrived well rested at Fuji-Q Highland .The park was not crowded, which made our experience a lot more enjoyable. We couldn’t go to all of the rides but we got to experience the exciting Fujiyama and DODODONPA, as well as the temporary exhibition about the manga series “Black Buttler”, which allowed fans like me to immerse ourselves in the world of Black Buttler, and offered hilarious photo oportunities. We then took a train to attend the Yoshida Fire Festival, at first, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was captivated to witness the traditional ritual and the hundreds of torches that were lifted up and turned the streets into glowing paths. Also, the small tents along the side walk, the delicious food, drinks and original snacks gave life and excitement to the festival. I felt a bit sad for not being able to follow the whole procession of the festival, but inspired me to do some research and learn more about this tradition and its meaning.
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To fully enjoy all the attractions and natural spots surrounding Mt. Fuji, it’s a good idea to stay overnight and turn a one-day visit into a longer trip. The Fujisan Station Hotel offers comfortable and affordabe modern guest rooms, including free breakfast and wifi access in a great location, just a 2-minutes walk away from Mt. Fuji Station and offering easy connectivity to Fuji Q Highland and the Lake Kawaguchiko area. For reservations and more information, visit their website here.

Sample schedule for a day visiting Fuji Q Highland and the Yoshida Fire Festival held at the end of August every year.
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The Yoshida Fire Festival and Fuji Q Highland

The Yoshida Fire Festival
Dates: 26 and 27 of August
Entrance fee: Free
Address: Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja Shrine, Kamiyoshida, 5558, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture
Access: Take a 5-min train ride on the Fujikyuko Kawaguchiko line from Kawaguchiko station to Mt. Fuji station
URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/

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 these 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

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
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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 these 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

5 Odd Omamori

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

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

Pet Charm

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

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PC Charm

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

A photo posted by max takano (@maxtakano) on

Manga/Anime Character Charm

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

Omamori

Married Couple Charm

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

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

A photo posted by risou (@risou_racco) on

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

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

Unique Christmas Desserts

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

Snowglobe Dessert (1,200 yen)

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PR Times

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

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

2016 Kid’s Dream Cake (5,400 yen)

Christmas Cake
PR Times

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

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

Christmas Doughnuts (190 yen ~)

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PR Times

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

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

Christmas Tree Pancake Parfait (1,790 yen)

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PR Times

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

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

Christmas Trifle (800 yen)

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PR Times

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

History of Christmas in Japan

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

What you will probably see during Christmas in Japan

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

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

First a bit of background history:

Christianity (and foreigners in general) used to be banned

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

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Japan was open for Christmas business

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune

History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have strawberry shortcake for Christmas

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

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

History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have fried chicken for Christmas

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

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


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Gundam and Japan: ode to the statue

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

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

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A hit since 1979

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

Get your Gundam on

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

Tokyo Gundam Project

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

The Statue’s Legacy

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

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Winter Solstice in Japan

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

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

Yuzu Bath (ユズ湯)

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

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

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

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Pumpkin and other Solstice food

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

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

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Lucky Day

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

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Why are Japanese homes so cold during winter?

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

Japanese homes are built for summer

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

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One room at a Time

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

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

The idea of “Warm yourself first”

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

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

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Keeping the warmth

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Winter Illumination at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture

Not even 2 hours away from Tokyo by train you can watch Japan’s No.1 Illumination Show at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture. 3,5 million warm and sparkling lights will surround you at this spectacular event during the cold days. Enjoy different carefully prepared themes to walk through. This event is divided into three main events:
1. “Collaboration of lights and flowers”  (October 22nd – middle of November);
2. “Flower Parks’ Christmas” (end of November – end of December),
3. “New Year Illumination” (beginning of 2017 – February 5th).

We visited the park in the middle of November and had the chance to see the first event of the season as well as some Christmas elements.

First you will enter a big hall full of flowers and decorations that you can purchase. The flowers and decorations match the current season so during winter you can see hundreds of red shining poinsettias, cute Christmas decorations and many more.

After entering the actual park, you will see booths selling delicious hot amazake (a traditional sweet, non-alcohol drink made from fermented rice). Warm up yourself before exploring the park. Aside from that, several food stands as well as a restaurant with a nice garden view provide local specialties.

Enjoy the compilation of pictures of the most beautiful spots

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Wisteria trees are decorated with thousands of LED lights to enjoy these beautiful flowers even during winter.

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Red roses and water lilies out of LED lights offer beautiful picture spots.

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Take a stroll through the lavender garden with its LED wisteria flowers.

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Flowers placed inside big lanterns out of glass on the pond.

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A Christmas tree made from LED lights, as well as more water lilies.

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The rose garden features hundreds of color-changing LED roses.

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A huge wall with changing themed illuminations, all related to winter and Christmas.

If you liked the pictures, don´t hesitate and plan your next trip to the Ashikaga Flower Park!

Information

Illumination Period: October 22nd – February 5th
Hours: 3:30pm – 9pm (weekends & national holidays until 9:30pm) [closed on December 31st]
Admission: 800yen (adults); 400yen (children)
Address: 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga-shi, 329-4216 Tochigi
Access: 13min walk from Tomita Station (JR Ryomo Line) [Take the JR Utsunomiya Line from Ueno Station into Koganei direction and get off at Oyama Station (1h15min; 1,317yen). Change the train and get on the JR Ryomo Line into Takasaki direction until Tomita Station (32min; 583yen).
Tel: 0284-91-4939
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.ashikaga.co.jp

Ninja ID: nene16


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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 Kotatsu Trap

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

Anatomy of a Kotatsu

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

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

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

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Mikan + Kotatsu = …

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

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

Don’t fall asleep-!…too late

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

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tobu Treasure Garden in Tatebayashi (Gunma Prefecture)

The Tobu Treasure Garden located in Gunma Prefecture about 55km away from Tokyo, can be reached within only 1hour from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) and is perfect for a day trip during spring, summer or early autumn. It´s especially popular for its beautiful Rose Garden, the moss phlox flower fields and the Blue Garden.

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The entrance buildings are made out of bricks and resemble an English residence covered in rose bushes.

After entering the park you will be welcomed by a fountain and a small canal which leads you to the Sakura-Tunnel, entangled by hundreds of small pastel pink roses.

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After strolling through the tunnel you are inside the Rose Garden and the English Rose Garden.

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Enjoy looking at many different kinds of roses blooming in dozen of shining colors.

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Relax in the shadows of white roses which bloom during May and June.

The main spot of the park features the pink moss phlox flowers fields.

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Beautiful pink and white moss phlox flowers in front of blooming cherry blossoms. (Please refer to the image of the pamphlet ;D)

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The next path leads you to the Brilliant Garden which features many colorful flowers arranged to a nice pattern. The lavender blue is one of the main colors for this theme.

 

 

Take a break in the Victorian House and enjoy some delicious food, buy souvenirs at Koruri’s or purchase original Treasure Garden goods at Mary´s Room.

Besides taking a visit to the park, you can also knot the tie with your beloved one in the chapel next to the park. You can book the full wedding-service and enjoy your special day surrounded by nature in the middle of a beautiful garden ambience.

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The St. Peter & Paul Church was built and based on an original church from England and offers the best and most unique wedding location in this area.

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A big rose window, typical curch stained glass windows, a pipe organ, pews and much more will let you experience a typical proper western wedding ceremony.

Tobu Treasure Garden Info:
Hours & Admission for 2017:
☆Moss phlox Festival: March 25th (Saturday) – May 7th (Sunday); 9am – 5pm (last entry 4:30pm)
Admission: 600yen – 1000yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 200yen – 400yen (primary school students)
☆Rose & Garden Festival: May 8th (Monday) – June 30th (Friday); 9am – 5pm (las entry 4:30pm)
Admission: 1000yen – 1800yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 400yen – 800yen (primary school students)
☆Autumn Rose & Garden Festival: Early October – Early November; 10am – 4:30pm (last entry 4pm)
Admission: 800yen – 1000yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 200yen – 400yen (primary school students)
・July – September & Middle November – March closed due to maintenance
Address: 1050 Horikou-cho, Tatebayashi-shi, 374-0033 Gunma
Access: 15min walk from Morinji-mae Station (Tobu Isesaki Line) – 80min from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) station; 10min taxi ride from Tatebayashi Station (Tobu Isesaki Line) – 60min from Asakusa Station (Tokyo)
Tel: 0276-55-0750
URL: http://treasuregarden.jp/en/

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

WATTENTION AUTUMN TRIP REPORT

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Never underestimate Japan.

It’s a mistake to confine yourself to the sprawling, labyrinth-esque borders of Tokyo on a visit to Japan. The incessant gleam of neon lights has a sedative effect that easily, and willingly, captures travelers, but make no mistake; as electrifying as the bustle is, it can nevertheless act as a prison as well. To spend a vacation enjoying the Tokyo mirages, without escaping to the other prefectures surrounding Japan’s capital city, would leave a visitor undeniably, and yet naively, happy. People just are not aware of the quiet and unassuming magnificence of the lesser known areas Japan has to offer.

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Just a few short weeks ago, I myself was one of them. Naturally, traveling to other areas in Japan was on my itinerary. Of course I would visit Kyoto. Of course I couldn’t leave Japan without setting my sights on Fuji. It would be criminal to have lived in a country as alien to America without having a first-hand encounter with a ryoukan, a traditional style of housing, akin to a bed-and-breakfast.

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These are the places in Japan to escape Japan, the kind of safe haven that is pure without the crowds of tourists seen pulsating like a hive in Tokyo or Kyoto. Each prefecture surrounding Tokyo, while not distinctly well-known on their own, possess an unbelievable amount of charm and splendor that make traveling there well worth it. With mountains, beaches, waterfalls, and anything a traveler’s heart can desire, these areas on the outskirts of Tokyo are a dream simply waiting to be explored.

Ninja ID: james.blonde8

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

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Enclosed by the Japanese Alps, (an embarrassing moniker according to the local tour guide, as he directs our focus to back to the manicured vineyards of Koshu grapes and the glimpses of Mt. Fuji in the distance) Yamanashi can be accessed easily from Tokyo, and yet traveling there seems worlds away. The air is crisp, chilled by the high altitude, and the only haze comes from the thin trails of fog still crawling in the mid-morning atmosphere. Yamanashi is a prefecture that at gives the impression of a safe-haven that has remained pure and natural. It bears fruit in a variety of seasons, attracting visitors who desire to pick their own harvest. It has a variety of waterfalls, such as the Ootaki Waterfall near Kofu City, gorges, and onsen, and wildlife as varied as bears and boar.

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Seeing Fuji is indescribable. Like some fictitious beast breaching through the clouds, Fuji-san is unavoidable and commands all attention. Our group stayed at the viewing point, on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, for over an hour, watching in a trance-like awe as the sun set behind the mountains. Around the area, there are many sites and experiences based upon Fuji. Iconic locations, such as Chureito Pagoda, while originally intended to honor the souls lost in WWII, have reached notoriety for having picturesque views of Fuji on a clear day. While the clouds covered Fuji on the morning we went, the sight was nonetheless impressive.

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Even the air itself in the Minami-Izu Peninsula is saturated by the ocean; warm sea-breezes, soured with the taste of salt, course through the fields of pampas grass lining the shore, tossing back hair and loose hats alike. This power is strong enough to be harnessed as energy, and so even the views from Mt. Omoro are littered with wind turbines that, oddly enough, seem to fit in with the landscape. From the summit, seven surrounding islands, such as Ooshima, can be seen on a clear day. Known for their tangerines, the entirety of the area possesses a still excitement, like the charged energy that foretells a storm.

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Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

While in Japan, there are a seemingly unlimited amount of temples and shrines to visit; the Inozaki Cape, though small, offers stunning views and a peaceful solitude that comes from the alienating intensity of the wind. A trip to the Ishimuro-jinja there oddly begins to mimic “Jurassic Park.” The path down is covered by an expansive, leafy overpass that winds past weathered buildings long since abandoned; it is all too easy to imagine that one of the large spiders stretched across the high branches preying upon a visitor who strays too far from the route. To fully experience the site, visitors much trek down a steep staircase and walk out across the ocean to a lone-standing rock; from there, surrounded on every side by infinite views of the sea, and separated from others by a noise-stealing sea breeze, it feels as if you are on the edge of the earth.

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This area also boasts the opportunity to onsen on the beach. The beach, already the epitome of relaxation, is close enough to natural hot springs that visitors can enjoy submerging themselves in the hot water while enjoying ocean views. The beaches in Minami-Izu are worth spending hours experiencing, and while locals may know of their existence, many visitors are completely unaware of what they might be missing out on. Green cliffs, such as the ones seen in Cape Aiai in Yusuge Park, that jut off the coasts are incredible to see, but especially incredible to view at sunrise or sunset.

Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

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Yokohama is the haven in Kanagawa prefecture that Tokyo citizens often escape to for a day-trip when their everyday life becomes overwhelming. The port city, located only a mere 45 minutes from Tokyo’s city center by train, boasts a variety of activities, sightseeing opportunities, and nightlife for any visitor to enjoy. In Minato-mirai, right along the water’s edge, visitors can easily walk from the Cup Noodle Museum to the Cosmo World amusement park to the Red Brick Warehouse shopping center, all within a few minutes of each other.

Yokohama’s Chinatown is impeccably clean, yet still retains the vibrancy that comes with vendors calling out their fares and the sight of various types of meats hanging bare in the windows. While undoubtably impressive during the day time as well, the neon landscape of Chinatown after the sun goes down is something that should not be missed.

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Beyond the Beaten Track : Finding Japan’s Lesser-Known Magnificence

Of course, no trip to Japan would be complete without spending time in Tokyo. In actuality, there is never enough time a person could spend in Japan’s capital city to let them do and see everything; the city, brimming with its own unique wards and sections, could take weeks, or even years, to successfully navigate in its entirety. For instance, the stark contrast between a modern, eccentric area such as Harajuku, a mecca for pop fashion and desserts as sugary as the clothes people wear, and a traditional relic such as Asakusa, which is supported by the ancient frames of the old market that gives visitors a taste of what life in Tokyo might have been like in the past, gives visitors a full spectrum of Japanese flavor. While the connotation that goes alongside with the Tokyo name might not include a rich historical background, the market area of Asakusa, which has an expansive layout of outdoor stalls that direct traffic towards an ancient temple, is among Japan’s finest. Here, guests can enjoy a rickshaw ride or sample local flavors, all while experiencing a view of the SkyTree as well.

On your next trip to the Tokyo-area, don’t confine yourself to only the hypnotic energy of Shinjuku or Shibuya; while exciting, Japan has more to offer than only these experiences. Without ever straying too far from Japan’s capital, visitors can travel to warm beaches, onsen mountain retreats, vineyards, and almost anything else imaginable. Make the move to explore the Japan less traveled, and I guarantee you, you will never regret it.

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WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Taylor Bond
Taylor Bond is a freelance writer and photographer. By day, she writes, but by night, she visits as many tabehodai restaurants as she can find. Despite what her visa says, her true ambition in Japan is to become a professional eater.

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Cheap all-you-can-drink Umeshu

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

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

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

Information

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Dragonball themed Café at Tower Records Café – Omotesando

The next time-limited café for November opened its doors in the beginning of the month. The popular anime series “Dragonball” celebrates its 30th anniversary, therefore the Tower Records Cafe branch opened three Dragonball themed café’s in Tokyo (Shibuya and Omotesando) and Osaka (Umeda).

The dishes and drinks feature the motives and characters of the anime designed by Akira Toriyama.
While enjoying your food you can listen to the original soundtrack and watch parts of the anime via a big screen.

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The menu includes two main dishes, two desserts and four drinks. We decided for the “Trunks and My Special – Plate” which comes with grilled pork, fried rice, egg and salad (1,500yen (tax included)); the “Majin Buu‘s Sweets Plate” with light berry cream, sponge cake, frozen fruits, chocolate, cookies, marshmallows and ice cream (1,200yen (tax included)); …

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… the “Planet Namek x Piccolo Soda” which is kiwi soda topped with grape sherbet and fresh cream (750yen /tax included) and the “Shenlong Soda”, melon soda topped with mango ice cream (800yen (tax included)).

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Everything was very delicious and it´s a MUST-GO for every fan!

Don´t forget to bring home some souvenirs as well!

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The original soundtrack, anniversary plates and coasters, T-shirts, bags, hoodies and much more are on sale!

We had a lot of fun and definitely plan to visit the other two cafe´s as well!

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Information

Date: November 1st (Tuesday) until November 30th (Wednesday)
Hours: 11am – 10pm (L.O. 9pm)
Tel: 03-5778-9491
Access: 6min walk from Harajuku Station – Omotesando Exit (JR Yamanote Line); 2min walk from Meiji Jingumae Station Exit 5 (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Fukutoshin Line); 8min walk from Omotesando Station Exit A2 (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Hanzomon Line, Ginza Line)
Address: Imon Building 2F, 6-3-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
Ranking: ★★★★☆

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

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

Kapibara-san theme Café at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando

Another limited-time café came to Tokyo in the beginning of November and enchants its guests with cute dishes featuring Kapibara-san a fluffy capybara and his friends.

Located on the 5th floor of Tokyu Plaza’s Omotesando Building, the Tokyu Hands Café is holding a special collaboration event with a carefully made menu featuring cute dishes in the shape of Kapibara-san.

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The place is nicely decorated with panels and stuffed animals, …

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…as well as cute welcome messages at the entrance.

The collaboration menu covers two main dishes, one dessert and two different drinks. Of course you can also choose out of the normal menu.

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We decided for the Teriyaki-Chicken Sandwich plate (1,380 yen including tax), the apple pancakes (1,280 yen including tax) and the Marshmallow Latte (700 yen including tax).

Everything was really delicious and carefully decorated!

After enjoying your meal how about spending a relaxed evening at the Starbucks Terrace on the 6th floor and view the illuminations and the sunset over Shibuya?

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Information

Date: November 1st (Tuesday) until November 30th (Wednesday)
Hours: 11am – 9pm (L.O. 8:30pm)
Tel: 03-3478-0717
Access: 4min walk from Harajuku Station – Omotesando Exit (JR Yamanote Line); 1min walk from Meiji Jingumae Station Exit 5 (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Fukutoshin Line); 7min walk from Omotesando Station Exit A2 (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, Hanzomon Line, Ginza Line)
Address: Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku 5F, 4-30-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
Ranking: ★★★★☆
tokyu-hands.co.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

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

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

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

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Buy or Make your Nengajo

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

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

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

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Sending Nengajo

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

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

Win the lottery!

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Kappabashi: Home of Japanese Knives

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Just a short walk away from Asakusa, Kappabashi is a great place to spend an afternoon among a joyful chaos of stores specializing in all sorts of kitchenware, and a must-visit destination for visitors looking to pick up world-class Japanese knives.

Over 100 Years of History

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Kappabashi Dogu-gai (Kappabashi Kitchenware Street) has been a center of commerce related to tools for over a century, and is one of the best places in Tokyo to find cool (not to mention useful) souvenirs. The two main streets are stocked to the brim with everything from super-realistic food samples to ramen shop signs, pots big enough to make curry for 100 people, dainty sake cups, chopsticks in every color of the rainbow… and knives.

Kamata Hakensha: Knives Galore

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Located around the middle of Kappabashi, this little shop is heaven for both amateur and professional cooks, as it stocks a huge range of Japanese and Western-style knives, each individually checked (and sharpened!) by the owner. The staff speak decent English and are really good at helping you find the right knife for your needs and ability.

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From the window you can watch Seiichi Kamata (the owner and third-generation craftsman) engraving names on the knives (a rather cool touch, especially if the blade is a gift) or restoring the razor-sharp edges of the implements used by top chefs around the city.

With almost four decades of experience, his fingers can detect the slightest imperfection in the metal, invisible to the naked eye. During a recent visit, he spoke of the intense training his son (the fourth generation) underwent under both his tutelage and that of the master knife makers in Sakai City, Osaka, in order to ensure that he too will gain this level of craftsmanship.

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As many of the knives are completely handmade, they’re priced accordingly. However, the shoo does have a nice range of light but sturdy stainless steel kitchen knives that are very reasonable, as well as other unusual choices (my favorite being a pair of scissors with a cherry blossom motif).

Be sure to check out the Japanese-style knives decorated with flowers, leaves and dreamy wave patterns, which look almost too pretty to use!

www.kap-kam.com


Read the original article on All About Japan: Kappabashi: Home of Japanese Knives

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November Lucky Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

3 Historic Fan Shops in Kyoto

Kyoto’s rich history even extends to its many shops and these shinise, or historic shops, are some of the Kyoto’s oldest. In fact, these three fan shops are among Japan’s most historic, with some dating as far back as the 17th century!

3. Aiba

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Aiba has been continuously selling traditional Japanese fans since 1689. Although they specialize in more traditional styles, the shop continues to be innovative. One of the more modern styles they’ve created is a transparent fan that gives the suggestion of delivering cool air while remaining quite stylish. These round fans were historically used within the Imperial Court during the Edo Period. They’re artfully crafted, featuring natural scenery, people or poetry, cast in block print, dye or raised cloth.

Aiba is situated in downtown Kyoto between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori on quiet Yanagi no Bamba Street.

www.kyoto-kankou.or.jp

2. Miyawaki Baisenan

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Established in 1823, Miyawaki Baisenan specializing in the iconic Japanese folding fan. You can shop to your heart’s content on the first floor, but don’t miss the second floor, which features an exhibit on the history of Japanese fans. Baisenan sells fans for every occasion, from the purely utilitarian fans that start at ¥743 (US$7), to the more indulgent sandalwood fans that can go for as much as ¥43,532 (US$410). Even if you’re not there to make a purchases, Miyawaki Baisenan offers a fascinating look at the history of fans, and the many varieties that exist from region to region.

Miyawaki Baisenan is situated north of Shijo-dori, on Rokkaku-dori.

www.nytimes.com

1. Sakata Bunsuke Shoten

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This shop had its start in 1808, specializing in folding fans. The fans at Sakata are strictly for decor, ceremonies, or entertainment, so you won’t be pulling one of these works of art out of your pocket when you’re roasting on a crowded train. Sakata Bunsuke Shoten exhibited at The International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925, meaning these well-made fans have been held in international high-regard for nearly 100 years. Sakata keeps things interesting, releasing a new design each year in a continued effort to blend modern design with Japanese tradition.

Sakata Bunsuke Shoten is located at the corner of Gojo and Yanagi no Bamba street.

eng.trip.kyoto.jp


Read the original article on All About Japan: 3 Historic Fan Shops in Kyoto

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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!

Five Fantastic Fukui Facts

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

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

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

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

2) Dinosaurs are everywhere!

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

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

more here
inside Fukui Station

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

3) The Matrix+Fukui=…?

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

Glasses

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

4) Amazing Cherry Blossoms

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

Asuwa Rivre Cherry Blossoms

5) Rich History

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

History

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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

Restaurant Review: Ichijodani – Restaurant

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

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

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Italian inspired stuffed Shiitake

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

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

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

Light soup with Steamed Egg

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

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

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

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

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

Information

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tokyo Shopping Spree : Animal goods

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

Great for tongue-in-cheek gifts!

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


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

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

Panda Pandemonium!

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

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

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


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

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

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

Autumn guide for Japanese trees

shutterstock_697681822 (1)Study up before your autumn walk with this handy guide! Japan has many trees native to its soil that you won’t find anywhere else. The peak for the changing of colors is different for every region, so be sure to check one of our “Ultimate maps of foliage destinations” before planning your trip?

Trees that turn RED

Maple
Maple2_s
The maple tree has inspired Japanese art, gardening and even poetry for hundreds of years. Possibly the most iconic tree for autumn, it can turn beautiful shades of red, yellow and even purple. More than being a tree, it represents peace and serenity. The maple can be so important that a whole garden is centered around it.

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

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

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

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

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

Trees that turn YELLOW

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

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

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

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

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

Trees that turn BROWN

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

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

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

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

My Neighbor Totoro Café in the heart of Tokyo

Hidden in the backstreets of the popular fancy Shimokitazawa Area, a small cute café called Shiro-Hige´s Cream Puff Factory attracts their customers with self-made cream puffs and cookies shaped in the silhouettes of the characters appearing in the movie “My Neighbor Totoro”.

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The entrance welcomes you with selected Totoro merchandise and the whole ambience feautures the charm of a cozy, friendly and warm home.

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On the first floor you can visit the little shop selling cookies and cream puffs for take-out.

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The filling of the cream puffs come in different flavors, two standard ones (custard & fresh cream, chocolate cream) and some which are limited to the current season (caramel banana cream: January – April; strawberry cream: January – June; green tea cream: May – August; peach cream: July – September; chestnut & chestnut cream: October – December; raspberry & cream cheese: September – December).

We went up to the second floor and where happy that a lunch and dinner menu is available as well, beside their speciality, the cream puffs.
We ordered the steak lunch together with custard & fresh cream cream puffs. (The cream puff must be ordered together with a drink.)

food

It was really good, and we couldn´t stop taking pictures of the cute Totoro-shaped goodies.


Information

Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory
Hours: 10:30am – 7pm (Closed on Tuesday)
Tel: 03-5787-6732
Access: 3min walk from Setagaya-Daita Station (Odakyu Odawara Line)
Address: 5-3-1 Daita, Setagaya-ku, 155-0033 Tokyo
URL: http://www.shiro-hige.com/ (Japanese only)

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

Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba

Togakushi Soba Yamaguchiya

On the way back from the hill, we visited Yamaguchiya Soba restaurant. They specialize in making Togakushi Soba with a unique concept. The recommended menu is Ninja Soba (cold soba with shredded radish, vegetable tempura and original walnut soba sauce). Moreover, they have a ninja menu for ladies called the Kunoichi Soba that comes with a Japanese dessert. Both menus are ninja-themed with edible components such as shredded radish that represents ninja smoke bombs.

Ninja Soba Set
Ninja Soba Set
Kunoichi Soba Set (Ninja Soba set for ladies)
Kunoichi Soba Set (Ninja Soba set for ladies)
Soft serve ice cream
Soft serve ice cream

Mr. Yamaguchi, the owner of Yamaguchiya and ninja master, told us that the secret to make delicious Togakushi soba are premium ingredients and pure water. He also said that in training to be a ninja, energy is extremely necessary so food that contains a lot of energy but can also be easily digested and healthy such as soba, is the best menu for ninja.

Currently, Mr. Yamaguchi is an instructor for ninja training as well. Some ninja trainees are not local Japanese, and some even came all the way from Europe to explore the way of the ninja with different purposes. The key to be a ninja is not complicated techniques, high power or good items but ability to adapt all ninja skills. Moreover, those skills are for defend and protect ourselves not for attack others.

Ninja pose with Mr. Yamaguchi
Ninja pose with Mr. Yamaguchi

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 (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

Information

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TOGAKUSHISOBA YAMAGUCHIYA
Opening Hours: 9.00 – 17.00
Address: 3423 Togakushi Chusha Nagano city, NAGANO Japan.
TEL: (+81)26-254-2351
URL: www.togakushisoba.com

Modern kimono styling

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

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

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

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

 

Be Cute

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

Miffy

Be Creative

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

Creative

Be Cool

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

Nekomata

Be Fun

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

Panda

Have Fun

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

Bracer by yoroikatchu.com
Bracer by yoroikatchu.com

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tokyo’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.

Halloween party 1
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

History of Halloween in Japan

 

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

It all started in…

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

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

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

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

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Pink Halloween at New Ginger Museum

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

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

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Image Source: PR Times

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

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

new ginger
Image Source: PR Times

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

About

museum
Image Source: PR Times

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

The life of a Harajuku Shop Girl – Choom

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I’ve been an obsessive follower of Japanese street fashion for many years now so when I was given the opportunity to work at 6%DokiDoki, one of the most established brands in Harajuku and adored by fans worldwide, I jumped at the opportunity.

I am currently studying Japanese at university and an integral part of that is the year abroad in Japan. I chose to go to Tokyo because for me, it’s the only choice if you want to be a part of the fashion scene. The opportunity came about suddenly and quite randomly, first I was chosen to be a part of their show at the Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival then all of a sudden I was asked to be a Shop Girl. I was so thrilled!

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After a shaky start I quickly fell into step with my co-workers. Not only was this my first real job (I know, I know) but speaking the language was definitely tricky at first. After a few shifts and a lot of patience on behalf of my co-workers (thank you!!) I could communicate so easily with them and customers.
So a typical day at work would start not on the day of my shift, but actually the day before. I would message my manager and we would discuss what I would wear so then I could plan my accessories, foot wear and make up. The next day I would arrive about 30 minutes prior to when my shift would start. I was lucky to have lived about 15 minutes from Harajuku by train so the commute was never too bad. The only issue I would ever encounter would be tourists staring and shoving cameras in my face, so if you’re ever in Harajuku don’t be that person! You might be met with a very irritated shop staff! Once I arrived, I would finish my make up and put any final touches on my outfit.

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We have a schedule of things to do during our shift aside from helping customers and it always starts with taking pictures to post on social media and writing a bit about what we were doing and wearing. I didn’t know what I should say most of the time so I usually wrote about the weather, how very British of me! Other tasks on our schedule were cleaning the shop and restocking items that had been sold, so normal things any shop staff does. The only difference would be I’d be teetering over in my sky high platforms while sweeping up. I think a lot of people found it amusing for us to be cleaning up in over the top outfits and often took pictures of us outside the shop. I’m so worried somewhere on the internet someone has captioned a photo of me as ‘pink platform wearing cleaning lady in Harajuku.’

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Our customers were people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. I talked to both Japanese and non-Japanese customers and they all loved the bold, over the top cuteness of 6%DokiDoki. You could always tell when a new customer came in because they always exclaimed, ‘this is crazy’ or ‘this is amazing’ as soon as they walked through the door. There were always those that said they ‘could never wear something like that’ and asked me if I wore this kind of clothing every day. Sometimes I managed to coerce them into trying out some clothes and accessories by explaining how it could work with a simple, not very alternative outfit. I think it’s nice adding a little kawaii into people’s everyday lives!

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Obviously being a ShopGirl had its perks! Aside from the usual things like assisting customers we sometimes had photoshoots for both TV and magazines in the shop. Since 6%DokiDoki is so famous for its consistently outlandish and typically ‘Harajuku style’ it was a hotspot of interest to others. The shop also had diehard fans who loved everything about the fashion and the staff! It would be so lovely to turn up for work to find someone had left a gift for the staff. It really helped me to understand how much people appreciate the effort we went through to maintain the shop’s ‘sensational lovely’ image and the looks we created to promote the brand. I remember one day in particular when a customer came to the shop wearing a look I had done in my previous shift and I was so overwhelmed! Not only are we shop staff but people saw us as fashion inspiration too which is so cool!

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The experience I had as a Shop Girl was one to remember. My time both in and out of the shop was so fun and it made my year abroad memorable!

5 Ways to Unwind at the Phoenix Seagaia Resort

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Miyazaki City is associated with blue seas, surfing, mangoes, golf, honeymoon trips and spiny lobsters! There are many delicious things to eat, many beautiful landscapes to enjoy and many activities to try—and the Phoenix Seagaia Resort offers the best of Miyazaki all in a single sprawling location. Here are five great reasons to visit!


5. Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort

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The Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort is located in the center of the vast Phoenix Seagaia Resort. The hotel is 154 meters (505 ft) tall and has 743 rooms, most of them with an ocean view.

Sheraton puts an emphasis on comfortable sleep, and has developed the “Sheraton Suite Sleeper Bed” together with mattress-maker Sealy in order to provide the best sleeping conditions for guests. All the rooms are equipped with this bed, which embraces your body. A great hotel offers not only great views, but also great conditions for your comfortable sleep!
trip101.com

4. Miyazaki Phoenix Zoo
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A popular spot for families is the Miyazaki Phoenix Zoo, which isn’t too far from the hotel. There are 1,200 animals from 100 different species.

In the African-themed part of the zoo you can see zebras and giraffes up close. Some of the daily events include a walking demonstration by the elephants, marching goats, a show with flamingos and interaction with the smaller animals. The zoo opened in 1971, and one of its most famous attractions is the flamingo show, where 70 birds perform together.
trip101.com

3. Shosenkyo Onsen
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Japan is the land of onsen, or hot springs. There are a seemingly endless number of hot springs here, but Miyazaki City’s Shosenkyo Onsen has an elegance you won’t find almost anywhere else.

Located in a pine forest adjacent to the Phoenix Seagaia Resort, the opulent bath gives off an air of ancient royalty. There are three types of baths at Shosenkyo Onsen. Which baths guests can access depends on the package they’ve booked at the hotel. The baths are said to be great for nerve pain, sore muscles, joint pain, stiff shoulders, muscle pain from exercise, bruises, sprains, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, cuts, burns and skin disorders.
trip101.com

2. Phoenix Country Club
2. Phoenix Country Club
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On one of the Top 3 courses in Japan (and in the Top 100 in the world!), the Phoenix Country Club is surrounded by pristine pine groves. The gorgeous emerald course is as fun to play on as it is to marvel at its beauty. And the clubhouse is just as inviting!

Step inside the elegant clubhouse, renovated in 2002, and you’ll enter a world fully dedicated to the greats of the sport. The sophisticated, soft lighting highlights tournament memorabilia, including photos of past champions, caddie bags signed by Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, and other historical trinkets.
www.seagaia.co.jp

1. Pokémon Scavenger Hunt

The Phoenix Seagaia Resort is also offering a unique event for Pokémon fans and their parents: a quest to search for over 200 Pokémon at the seaside hotel. Participants are given a “mysterious book” (actually a tablet computer in disguise) that lets them record Pokémon hidden around the resort, including some from the latest X and Y games. When certain markers are found and scanned, the Pokémon will appear as pages within the book. They’re even hidden around the hotel rooms!

The best part for slightly older Poképals: there’s no age limit, and the hotel even recommends that parents or guardians participate too—to help the kids out, of course!
www.animenewsnetwork.com


Read the original article on All About Japan: 5 Ways to Unwind at the Phoenix Seagaia Resort

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How to celebrate Tsukimi in Japan

Like with hanami (flower-viewing) and yukimi onsen (snow-viewing in a hot spring) the Japanese make it a habit to sit down together and marvel at the signs of passing seasons. However, unlike hanami that can turn rather boisterous with much drinking and celebrating, tsukimi (moon-viewing) is a solemn and quiet affair. Perhaps it’s the chill of the night wind, colder now as summer dissolves into autumn. Or perhaps it’s that deep, inexplicable feeling of longing that people get while gazing at the moon’s achingly beautiful glow. Whatever the reason, enjoying the Tsukimi Festival in Japan is a wonderfully poetic experience that shouldn’t be missed!

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The festival’s tradition in Japan dates back to the Heian era where it became a tradition for court nobles to celebrate tsukimi by throwing lavish banquets on boats or nearby a pond that reflects the moonlight with music performances and poem recitals dedicated to the moon. Rabbits are also a recurring theme because when Japanese people see the face of the moon, they see the shape of a rabbit pounding mochi, thus rabbits are believed to be inhabitants of the moon.

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Nowadays, in most Japanese homes, people would put susuki (pampas grass) and seasonal produce, such as persimmons, chestnuts, as well as tsukimi dango (rice dumplings) in a place where the moon can be seen, as an offering to the moon as well as a sign of gratitude for a good autumn harvest.

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Traditionally celebrated on the 15th of the 8th month of the old calendar, in 2016 this Jugoya (fifteenth night) falls on September 15th. This year, you will also be able to celebrate it the Heian way, with musical performances under the moonlight in Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. From gagaku (ancient imperial court music and dances), to koto performances, to piano and saxophone renditions of Japanese songs, this event is sure to delight every artistic soul.

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Not all tsukimi traditions are as serious and solemn, though. Many food joints including fast food chains and udon shops provide special tsukimi menu items which are often just their regular fare with an added egg on top as the yolk resembles the shape of a full moon.

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And as expected for the land of kawaii, the Japanese will pounce on any excuse to prettify their food with cute bunnies.

Morozoff O-tsukimi Cream Cheesecake
Morozoff O-tsukimi Cream Cheesecake

Consider us moonstruck!

Event Information

Sankei-en Garden Moon-viewing Event
Dates: Sep. 15 – 19, 2016
Hours: 6:15 – 8:15pm
Location: 58-1, Honmoku Sannotani, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Access: 10-min bus ride from JR Negishi Station
URL: http://www.sankeien.or.jp/en-about/index.html

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

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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

What’s in Kyushu? Vol. 2 Saga Prefecture

Although Saga Prefecture (佐賀県) is the smallest in Kyushu, it played an important role in Japan’s history as a hub for trade and transmission of culture between the Japanese archipelago and mainland Asia. Rich in nature, a large portion of the region is covered by forested and agricultural lands. As such, one can expect high quality produce such as Saga beef, strawberries and mochigome 糯米 (sticky rice). One other speciality of Saga is ceramics from the towns Karatsu, Imari, and especially Arita.

View over Oura rice terraces in Karatsu. Photo by Agustin Rafael Reyes
View over Oura rice terraces in Karatsu. Photo by Agustin Rafael Reyes

Saga City (佐賀市)

As with every Japanese city, its castle is one of the main attractions. Sadly, the Saga Castle was destroyed by fires during the Saga Rebellion of 1874, where only the gate known as Shachi-no-mon survived. Originally built on a plain instead of a hill, Saga castle was surrounded by a wall. The main keep of the castle was reconstructed by Naomasa Nabeshima during the late Edo period and and is the largest wooden structure in Japan. It is now home to the the Saga Castle History Museum. Nabeshima lived simply and encouraged people to do the same, so as to prevent the Saga domain from falling into debt. This is evident from the design of the castle keep / museum.

Saga Castle: From JR Saga Station, take the bus from Gate No. 3 at
Saga Station Bus Center and alight at Sagajo-ato stop.

As you wander around the city, much of its history can be seen it its buildings, from old samurai residences to “kurazukuri-style” (warehouse style) buildings from the Meiji era, forming part of the Saga City Cultural Museum (佐賀市歴史民俗館). For example, the firdst floor of the Former Koga Bank (旧古賀銀行) is now a cafe and concert venue, while the Former Nakamura House (旧中村家), now converted into a restaurant with traditional bento set meals!

Who can resist? Photo source
Who can resist? Photo source
Saga City Cultural Museum: From Saga Bus Station, take the bus going towards Katatae-intersection and alight at Gofukumoto-mach stop.

The Saga International Balloon Fiesta is annually between end of October and early November in Saga City. For 2015, 20 hot-air balloons from 20 countries will be participating in Asia’s largest hot-air balloon competition. It’s the perfect opportunity for photography enthusiasts to capture amazing shots of the many hot-air balloons against a backdrop of clear, blue sky and vibrant, green grass.

Balloon Saga Station: A temporary station will be opened. It is 1 min away from the launch site in Kasegawa Riverside.

Kanzaki City (神埼市)

Catch a glimpse into Japan’s past by visiting the archeological sites at Yoshinogari Historical Park (吉野ヶ里歴史公園), which showcases reconstructed settlements from the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD). Thought to be the remains of “Yamatai”, an ancient country in present-day Japan, unique pit dwellings from this period can be seen. Do not miss the Minami Naikaku, which is enclosed by defensive walls and moats. Within it lies lies the Ruler’s Residence.

A typical pit dwelling from Yayoi p
A typical pit dwelling from Yayoi period. Photo source
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Jewellery making experience. Photo by kenta-low

Apart from the reconstructed settlements, one can spend the day visiting a museum dedicated to the ancient forest that covered the area, or try your hand at stone carving and how to use a bow-drill to start a fire.

Yoshinogari Historical Park: From JR Saga Station, take the JR Nagasaki Honsen Line to JR Kanzaki Station. From there, it is a 15 min walk to the ruins.

Karatsu City (唐津市)

Karatsu is full of natural and scenic locations, such as the beautiful Japanese black pine forest arc known as Niji-no-Matsubara (虹の松原). The pine trees were initially planted by the first lord of Karatsu clan (Terasawa Hirotaka) along the coastline as a counter-measure against the strong winds and tides.

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Inside the Rainbow Pine Grove. Photo by tomosang
Niji-no-Matsubara: From JR Karatsu Station, take the JR Chikuhi Line to Niji-no-Matsubara Station.

The small town of Yobuko (呼子) is well-known for its fresh squid, which is usually eaten raw. The Yobuko Morning Market is one of the three major morning markets in Japan. With over 40 stalls on weekdays and more during the weekends, visitors can eat their hearts out with the large selection of fresh and dried seafood, vegetables and fruits.

The Nanatsugama Caves (七ツ釜) are seven large caverns carved out by the raging waves of the Sea of Genkai. The largest of them has an opening of 3 m and a depth of 110 m. Ferry services are available to bring visitors up close to the caves, while there is a lookout and walking trail above.

A natural wonder. Photo source
A natural wonder. Photo source
Yobuko Morning Market: Take a bus from Karatsu Oteguchi Bus Center and alight at Yobuko stop. The market is approx. 2 mins walk away.
Nanatsugama Caves: From Karatsu Oteguchi Bus Center, board the Showa Bus bound for Yobuko via Minato. Alight at Nanatsugama stop and walk for 20 mins.

Arita (有田)

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Late Edo period Arita porcelain. Photo by Paul Atkinson

Home to one the the world’s most famous ceramics, Arita-yaki (有田焼), originally a type of blue and white porcelain with a pattern drawn on a white background. New styles such as the Kakiemon introduced colours and resulted in vibrantly-colored porcelain, which appealed to the Europeans in Nagasaki. Hence, Arita-yaki was exported to Europe from Imari port and both styles were called Imari-yaki (伊万里焼). Nowadays, there is a distinction between both styles, which are named according to the place where they were produced.

Many of the attractions are also related to pottery, such as the now-defunct Izumiyama Quarry (泉山磁石場) where the discovery of kaolin stone (raw material for Arita-yaki) led to the development of this region as the centre of porcelain production. Take a look at this beautiful video about Arita-yaki, where the quarry can be seen in the first 30 seconds of the video.

Izumiyama Quarry: Take the Arita-cho Community Bus at Arita Station on the
JR Sasebo Line, alight at Hakujigaoka stop, and walk for 5 mins.

Dedicated to the influential Korean potter Ri Sampei (the father of Arita porcelain), the Tozan Shrine / Sueyama Shrine (陶山神社) is famous for having both its torii gate and komainu (guardian dogs) made out of… PORCELAIN! Built at the foot of a mountain, you can expect to have an amazing view of the town, as well as blooms of cherry blossoms, azaleas and altheas (the national flower of Korea).

Tozan Shrine: Take the Arita-cho Community Bus at Arita Station on the JR Sasebo
Line, alight at Fudanotsuji stop, and walk for 5 mins.

Further away from the town center lies the Arita Porcelain Park (有田瓷器公園), an interesting porcelain-related theme park which contains a reproduction of the Zwinger Palace in Dresden, Germany. Some of ceramics exhibited in the gallery were produced during periods of export boom (the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji period). One noteworthy exhibit is a 1.82m high flower vase exhibited during World Exposition in Vienna in 1873.

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A well done replica of the Zwinger Palace! Photo by PIPIQ Lai

Apart from Arita-yaki, visitors also have the opportunity to tour the sake brewery and have a taste for yourself!

Arita Porcelain Park: From Arita Station (JR Sasebo Line), take a 8 mins taxi
ride to the theme park.

Tips:

  • Check out this link for all events happening in Saga prefecture.
  • Download Doganshitato, a Saga travel support app (in English) to aid in your planning!

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Read the original article on WAttention Singapore.

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/

Winning Flavors: 5 Lucky Japanese Food Items

From lucky-sounding snacks to food that was shared with the gods, the Japanese believe some foods can ward off failure and ensure success. Lucky or not, these food items are delicious and comforting, so try and eat them when you’re studying for an exam or preparing for a big game. Who knows, you might just get a little extra luck!

1. Katsudon

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Comforting and filling, the hearty katsudon has been the classic “winning” food in Japan for decades. The reason why it’s considered lucky is straightforward – “katsu (カツ)” as in “cutlet” is pronounced the same way as “katsu (勝つ)” as in “win”.

2. Omusubi

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The humble Japanese rice ball is said to be especially auspicious, originating from farmers who sought the favor of the mountain gods. The farmers would form the rice in the shape of a mountain and would bring them on their journeys to the mountains to share with the deities.

3. Pasta

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Comparatively new and hip on our lucky food list is pasta. The shape is fortuitously long like soba, but most importantly, pasta sounds like pass-da!, as in “I passed the exam”!

4. Slimy textured food

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Perhaps slightly harder to stomach for foreigners, this food group includes the infamous natto (fermented soybeans), tororo (grated mountain yam), and okra. Supposedly filled with health benefits, they’re considered lucky because the onomatopoetic Japanese word for slimy is “neba-neba”, which sounds a lot like “never, never (give up)”.

5. Kit Kats

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Pronounced “kitto katto” or “kitto katsu”, it means “sure to win” in Japanese. A lot of people swear on the lucky powers of Japan’s many-flavored Kit Kats, but look out for the special “exam season” version, which would usually be on sale in January and February with messages on them in Japanese to cheer you on.

Honorable Mention: Koala no March

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The Japanese word for falling can also mean failing, and since koalas don’t fall off their trees even when they sleep, these adorable cookie puffs featuring koalas with delicious chocolate filling should give you a steadfast grip on your dreams!

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi Shrine

After taking an approx. 1,5 hour trip by Shinkansen from Tokyo, we arrived at Nagano Station. This time our destination is Togakushi which is located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. Togakushi is the birthplace of the mysterious Togakushi Ninja. Our first stop was Togakushi Shrine which is mainly related to the sun goddess Amaterasu in Japan mythology. The shrine consits of 5 shrines called Okusha, Chusha, Houkousha, Kuzuryusha, Hinomikosha. However, this time we focused only on Chusha, Okusha and Kuzuryusha.

 

Chusha Shrine
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The first thing we saw in front of Chusha Shrine was a gigantic Torii, a traditional Japanese gate which can commonly found in front of shrines. Moreover, there are 3 enormous trees that made us feel like we received power from nature as we drew close. Following Japanese traditional etiquette when visiting shrines, we washed our hands with the crystal clear water from the pond. This is a symbol of cleaning up body and mind before entering a spiritual place like the shrine.

 
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The most impressive thing about this shrine was Omikuji (fortune draw) which normally shows good or bad luck. Omikuji is usually just numbers written on a paper, but this shrine gives your fortune in the form of a letter. After telling our age to the shrine, we got a specially selected Omikuji, a letter that was supposedly given by the deity of the shrine. Usually, people should draw this omikuji only once a year and carefully keep it and refer to it throughout the year as a letter from the god.

 

Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
In the main hall of Chusha, there was another must-see spot, which is the painting of the great dragon, one of the deities worshiped there. Apart from that, we also enjoyed seeing pure water fall in a well-known nature power spot for monks to make their physical and mental training and for normal people to escape from their busy daily lives.

 

Okusha Shrine

The next stop for training our mind as a ninja was Okusha. The approach to Okusha is around 2 kilometers from the entrance. In the past, no matter they were great people or farmers, everyone had to leave their horses near the entrance and walk step by step to the spiritual shrine as equals. On both sides of the path, you can enjoy ancient cedar trees that have been standing for more than 400 years to welcome visitors and clear your mind as you walk down the green pathway.
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Afterwards, we arrived at the red Zuijinmon. In winter the ground will be covered by white snow, providing a gorgeous contrast to the color of the gate. We passed through this historical gate to enter another natural pathway ringed with cedar forest.
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Finally we saw Okusha up on the hill with the scenery of Togakushi Mountain as its backdrop. Some folktales said that Amaterasu, mighty goddess of the sun hid her body in the cave on this location so other gods and people held the celebration to bring her out. Since the god of this shrine, Amaterasu, is known as the major deity and the goddess of agriculture as well, the symbol of the shrine is crossed sickles which represents the relation between the shrine and agricultural life of the people throughout its long history.

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A short distance from Okusha, there is Kuzuryusha built for the nine-headed dragon deity Kuzuryu, where people commonly pray about the weather. Furthermore, the deity is also believed to be the god of teeth and the god of love. Even now, people still offer food and fruits to the Dragon God in the forest.

Read other articles in the series:
Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba
Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

Information

Access: From Tokyo to Nagano: Shinkansen Hokuriku Line, Bus
Chusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) from bus stop no.7 (in front of Nagano Station) to Togakushi-Chusha
Okusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) to Togakushi-Okusha
*In the winter during ski season, the bus will not stop at Togakushi-Okusha

URL: http://www.togakushi-jinja.jp/

 

 

What’s in Kyushu? Vol. 1 Fukuoka Prefecture

Recently, the southern parts of the Japanese archipelago has seen a spike in the number of tourists visiting. What is so attractive about Kyushu (九州)? Shrouded in tranquility, each of the seven prefectures of Kyushu has something special for everyone, from lively open-air food stalls in Fukuoka to hiking up a volcano in Kumamoto or go onsen-hopping in Oita. Stressed out individuals can find some peace and quiet in this laid-back yet beautiful region, with relaxing hot spring baths and majestic mountains.

Fukuoka, c1950. Photo by Rob Ketcherside
Fukuoka, c1950. Photo by Rob Ketcherside

First on the list is Fukuoka Prefecture and its two main cities – Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Fukuoka, the most densely populated prefecture in Kyushu,  has about 5 million people in an area seven times the size of Singapore! Closer to Seoul than to Tokyo, the Fukuoka prefecture is a quirky mix of traditional Japan and the modern West.

Fukuoka City (福岡市)

Photo by Brian G. Kennedy
View of Fukuoka City, Photo by Brian G. Kennedy

Fukuoka City (福岡市)

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Hakata ramen. Photo by J.G. Wang

Present-day Fukuoka resulted from the merging of the port city of Hakata and the castle town of Fukuoka. Thus, some of you may be familiar with Hakata ramen, which comes from Fukuoka. What is so unique about it? The soup uses pork bones and boiled under extreme heat, thereby releasing the characteristic flavour that comes from the bone marrow. The noodles are very thin but firm. Although portions are small, diners can always order extra noodles cheaply – this kaedama system is unique to Hakata ramen.

The most notable underground shopping street in Kyushu is none other than Tenjin Underground City (天神地下街). It is a stretch of European style space filled with various shops of fashion, gourmet, books and more. A unique experience in Fukuoka is definitely eating at one of the approximately 150 yatai (屋台, open air food stalls) in the city. They sell food items from ramen to oden, gyoza, tempura and more.

Try to be early as the area gets crowded, but the stalls remain open till after midnight. Tenjin yatai is popular with tourists and have their menu in English, phew! Micaela Braithwaite is a popular YouTuber living in Fukuoka city, and here is her take on eating at a yatai, where you can get friendly with the locals! Other famous yatai areas include Nakasu 中州 (near Nakasukawabata Station) and Nagahama 長浜 (near Fukuoka City Fish Market).

Tenjin Underground City: Connected to Tenjin station and Tenjin-Minami station.
A replica of the three machiya houses. Photo by Norio NAKAYAMA
A replica of the three machiya houses. Photo by Norio NAKAYAMA

Museum-lovers will enjoy spending time at the Hakata Machiya Furusato-kan (博多町家ふるさと館), which occupies three traditional Japanese townhouses known as machiya. Housed within this folk museum are buildings and artifacts that reflects a Hakata neighbourhood during the Meiji era. In the Exhibition Hall, you can find everyday objects and crafts of the Hakata people, while the Machiya Hall is an example of old architecture. Elsewhere in the museum are old photographs, recordings of the unique Hakata dialect and artisans available to demonstrate their crafts. Get a gift from the shop selling Hakata ori (folk woven textile) or Hakata dolls to remember your stay!

The nearby Kushida Shrine (櫛田神社) has a long history and is fondly regarded by the people of Fukuoka as “Okushida-sama” (お櫛田様, the god of immortality in Shinto). The locals come to the shrine in the belief that “Okushida Sama” will bless them with long life and prosperity in business.

Prominently located in the shrine yard is the symbolic gingko tree, with two monumental tablets of the Mongolian invasion at its foot. It is most well-known for holding the summer festival Hakata Gion Yamakasa (博多祇園山笠) each year.

Kushida Shrine: From Tenjin Station, take the Kuko Line (K10) to Gion Station and
walk for 5 mins.

Located within the giant entertainment complex Canal City Hakata (キャナルシティ博多) is a “Ramen Stadium” that offers the local favourite Hakata ramen, as well as seven other shops with noodle dishes from all over Japan. Known as “a city within the city”, visitors can stay in the two hotels (the Washington Hotel and the Grand Hyatt Fukuoka) while enjoying the many attractions such as the huge shopping mall, Fukuoka City Theater and the artificial canal that weaves across the complex!

Interior of Canal City Hakata. Photo by tomosang
Interior of Canal City Hakata. Photo by tomosang
Canal City Hakata: From Hakata Station / Tenjin Station, take the 100 yen loop bus
to Canal City Hakata. OR Take the subway to Nakasu Kawabata Station and walk for
5 mins.

Kitakyushu City (北九州市)

Kitakyushu was once a flourishing port, playing an important role in the international marine trade. Remnants this legacy can be seen in the Moji Port Retro Area (門司港レトロ倶楽部). Take a walk along the promenade to take in the view of the Kanmon Strait. Situated all over the port are countless Western architecture such as the wooden Mojiko Station and the Moji Customs Building. Learn about history of the Kanmon Strait at Kaikyo Dramaship, or ogle at retro locomotive and drive a mini-train at the Kyushu Railway History Museum.

Moji Port Retro Area. (https://flic.kr/p/74zY9r)
Moji Port Retro Area along the Kanmon Strait. Photo by Spaceman Spiff
Yaki curry at Cafe Dining Bear Fruits (http://wp.me/pBmXM-2OF)
Yaki curry at Cafe Dining Bear Fruits. Photo by sleepwalkingintokyo

Two local favourite dishes to try is “yaki curry” (焼きカレー, baked curry rice), and fresh fugu (blowfish)! Fugu is so popular that during the annual Fugu, Lights and Hina Dolls Festival, the glow from blowfish lanterns light up the area while the crowd can enjoy blowfish hot pot and even blowfish fin sake tasting.

Also catch the banana auction which is unique to Mojiko!

Moji Port Retro Area: From Hakata Station, take the JR Kagoshima Line and alight
at Mojiko Station. Explore the rest of the sights by foot.

History buffs can spend some time at the castle town Kokura (小倉), which is the starting point for Nagasaki Kaido (長崎街道, an ancient road that leads to Nagasaki Port). The famous Kokura Castle is an imposing structure with one unusual feature – the fifth storey of the castle keep is larger than the fourth. There is a karakuri puppet (からくり人形, mechanized Japanese traditional puppets) theater on the third storey, with many amazing puppets on display. Although small in comparison with the castle, the lush greenery of the Kokura Castle Japanese Garden makes it a wonderful place for a stroll.

Gorgeous Kokura castle at sunset. Photo by frickr_stock
Gorgeous Kokura castle at sunset. Photo by frickr_stock
Kokura Castle: From Hakata Station, take the JR Kagoshima Line and alight at
Nishi Kokura Station. The castle is 8 mins walk away.

Pop over to the “Kitchen of Kitakyushu area”, also known as the Tanga Market (旦過市場), for some fresh seafood and produce. Shoppers can collect stickers in exchange for vouchers, movie tickets and more. It’s an interesting way to keep the business going! After all the fun, head over to nearby Murasaki River to enjoy the lovely view.

The market also provides stalls for the Wasshoi Hyakuman Summer Festival (わっしょい百万夏まつり), where visitors can check out the “Boat Heaven” expo held at Moji Port, followed by amazing Yamakasa floats at the “Summer Festival Roundup” and the Hyakuman Odori dance consisting of 10,000 participants. Of course there’s always the fancy display of nearly 3,000 fireworks in every Japanese festival.

Tanga Market: The market is accessible by monorail to Tanga Station. OR Take a bus
to Nishitetsu “Tangabashi Quest” stop.
bd09181e90ac244e5f005cdbd280b91a
The most popular dish is Unaju! Image source

Those eager for some delicious unagi (eel) dishes should make a visit to Inaka-an (田舎庵), a quiet yet posh restaurant specializing in fresh eel caught from nearby rivers that flow into the local Buzen and Ariake Seas. Top on the menu is “Unaju”, a dish consisting of juicy grilled eel drizzled with a sweet-and-spicy sauce and placed on top of fragrant Japanese rice.

Other goodies include the tangy Yuzu Karashi Mentaiko (柚子風味辛子明太子, spicy cod roe is seasoned with yuzu fruit), and Unagi Chazuke (鰻茶漬, eel with green tea rice gruel). Both dishes are available from grocery stores and are recommended souvenirs to take home from Kokura!

Inaka-an: From Hakata Station, take the JR Kagoshima Line and alight at Kokura
Station. The restaurant is 5 mins away on foot.

Make plans for an exciting day of fun at the world’s first space theme park, Space World. The rides range from mild to thrilling, where the heart-stopping “Titan V” leaves you craving for more. Like every theme park, there are family-oriented shows in the “Galaxy Theater”, or a cooling water ride in the hot summer.

Space World, illuminated. Photo by kobori88
Space World, illuminated. Photo by kobori88
Space World: From Hakata Station, take the JR Kagoshima Line and alight at
Spaceworld Station. The amusement park is 5 mins away on foot.

Dazaifu City (大宰府市)

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All that remains today… Photo by m-louis

Although original established as an administrative centre for Kyushu in the 7th century, Dazaifu also played a significant role in Japan’s diplomatic negotiations with foreign countries and defended Western Japan.

A lingering memory of the city’s administrative legacy can be seen in the Government Office Ruins (大宰府政庁跡), which showcase the remaining stone foundations of the government offices. The scale of the ruins gives us a glimpse of the enormity of Dazaifu’s administrative centre.

Dazaifu Government Office Ruins: Alight at Tofuromae Station and take a bus
(3 buses every hour) to Dazaifu-seichoato bus stop.

Today, the city lies in the outskirts of busy Fukuoka City and serves as a quick getaway for locals and international visitors. An icon of the city is the famous Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (大宰府天満宮), which houses the deity for academic excellence, Sugawara Michizane. Students from all over Japan come to the shrine to pray for passing the entrance examinations or academic achievements.

Beautiful plum trees around the shrine. Photo by RW Sinclair
Beautiful plum trees around the shrine. Photo by RW Sinclair
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine: From Hakata Station, take the JR Kagoshima Line to
JR Futsukaichi Station. Walk 10 mins to Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station and take
the Nishitetsu Dazaifu Line to Dazaifu Station.

That’s it for now, stay tune for upcoming posts on the remaining 6 prefectures of Kyushu! Follow us on Instagram, like us on Facebook or read an issue of our magazine!

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore.

A quick guide to Halal Japanese Cuisine in Tokyo

The struggle is over. What was thought to be extremely difficult – finding Halal Japanese cuisine that is both allowed and prepared according to the Islamic dietary guideline – is no longer the case as meticulous and attentive Japanese restaurants step up to the demands of a group of visitors they have long neglected. As more Muslims are drawn to the land of the rising sun, Wattention brings to you a myriad of choices, perfect amalgamations of Halal and Nippon cuisine, that will satisfy every single, each and one of your cravings!

1. YAKINIKU

Did you know, that prior to 1872, there was a 1,200 year ban on meat eating in Japan?It was not until the Meiji Period that the restoration government sought to remove this centuries-old social taboo against meat. As meat lovers went on to experiment and perfect their craft of preparing meat, we now have the fortune of enjoying Japanese BBQ, or more fondly known as “Yakiniku”!

Gyumon

Unassuming entrance
An unassuming entrance | Photo Source

Ready yourselves for a battle of speed as we huddle over an arena of charcoal grills, protected by extractor systems to whip away the wonderfully distracting smell and smoke, equipped with the longest tongs and eagle eyes to swoop in at the finest meat that is marinated in perfection.

Isn't this tempting!
Need I say more!? | Photo Source

One of the most-raved about Halal Yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo, Gyumon prides itself for its generous portions and succulent, delicious beef Yakiniku. This traditional and cosy restaurant even offers its diners a crash course on understanding their food!

Gyumon 3
Cow-tography 101 | Photo Source
Mouthwatering halal dining
DIY – You can be the next Asia’s masterchef! | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: 3 Chrome-14-5 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Toyko
  • Average Price: JPY4000~
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 5pm – 4am; Sun & Pub Hols: 5pm – 11pm
  • Halal Status: Certified by Malaysia Halal Corporation Co. Ltd
    *Reservations recommended!

Sumiyakiya Nishiazabu 

This BBQ restaurant rose to fame when former Prime Minister, Mr Mahathir bin Mohamad visited and tried their Halal Yakiniku. A family-ran business, the restaurant came up with the idea of a Halal menu when they noticed a gap in the market that dedicated to Halal service. Since then, they have worked closely with professionals to learn how to prepare food in accordance with the Halal traditions.

Sumiyakiya 1
Korean style BBQ, Japanese style ingredients! | Photo Source

Using  ‘F-1’ Yakiniku (Herb-fed crossbred between Holstein cattle and Wagyu), Aomori Shamo chicken and Herb-fed Chicken from Brazil,  Sumiyakiya ensures that all their Halal meat used for your BBQ is Halal-certified. A unique (and healthy!) feature of Sumiyakiya is that their choice of cattle are herb-fed, and their Halal meats are marinated with plenty of herbs – as their slogan goes: “Herbs do more than simply adding flavor and color to your favourite dishes!”

Sumiyakiya 2
Cosy setting for family and friends | Photo Source
Sumiyakiya 3
All set to feast! | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: 3-29-16, Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY2000~ (Lunch); JPY4000~ (Dinner)
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Fri: 1130am – 3pm, 6pm – 1130pm; Sat: 6pm – 1130pm (Closed on Sun & Pub Hols)
  • Halal Status: Malaysia Halal Corporation
  • Official Website: http://sumiyakiya.com

2. TEPPANYAKI

Teppanyaki, which literally means “grill on an iron plate”, should definitely be on your food-to-try list in Japan! The strong emphasis on the freshness of ingredients, coupled with the performance aspect of the chef’s preparation, it will be both eye-candy and mouth watering experience!

Saishoku Teppan Ippin

Founded by La Copakku Japan, Saishoku Teppan Ippin aims to provide its diners with a ‘healthy and beautiful’ dining experience. As a pioneer in the Halal Teppanyaki industry, the restaurant has worked relentlessly to create a Halal menu to allow its Muslim diners to indulge in true Japanese culinary.

Ippin 1
Spoiled for choices? | Photo Source

Armed with skilled chefs, stashes of organic vegetables and premium selection of meat, Saishoku Teppan Ippin challenges its diners’ taste buds to a waltz they will never forget.

Ippin 3
Soaking in the atmosphere | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: Langs Daikanyama 2F, 2 Chome 13-16, West Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY1000~ (Lunch); JPY3000~ (Dinner)
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 1130am – 3pm, 5pm – 11pm; Sun: 5pm – 11pm (Closed on every 3rd Sunday of the month)
  • Halal Status: Certified by Nippon Asia Halal Association
  • Official Website: http://ippin-halal.jp

3. SHABU SHABU

This bubbly dish got its name from the ‘Shabu Shabu’ sound supposedly emitted when ingredients are stirred in the hotpot. Finding its roots in Japan, it is one aspect of the traditional Japan cuisine a faithful tourist should not miss!

Hanasakaji-san

Named after a fairy tale, Hanasakaji-san beckons with quiet dignity; its simple and almost too-well-hidden entrance indicates its food’s quality with utmost confidence. A short-walk from Shibuya station, hungry diners after a day’s shopping can find comfort for their tummy at this lovely restaurant.

Hanasakaji 1
Hanasakaji-san’s special Halal stew! | Photo Source
Hanasakaji 2
Beef Shabu Shabu | Photo Source 

While Hanasakaji-san is not exclusively Halal, they are thoroughly committed to providing an authentic Japanese experience for their Halal diners. Taking extra steps such as keeping their Halal meat in a separate freezers from non-Halal meat, designating utensils for Halal diners which are kept separate from non-Halal diners and even serving non-alchoholic wine and champagne, the restaurant is faithful, helpful and genuine to its Halal diners.

Hanasakaji 4
Eat till your heart’s (tummy’s) content! | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: Sakura Build B1f 3-22 Sakuragaoka Shibuya Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY4000~
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Fri: 1030am – 3pm, 5pm – 12am; Sat: 5pm – 12pm (Closed on every Sun)
  • Halal Status: Certified by Malaysia Halal Corporation Co. Ltd
  • Official Website: http://hanasakaji-san.jp/
    *Reservations recommended!

4. RAMEN

The origins of Ramen are unclear – however, Ramen has become such a popular dish in Japan that anyone who dreams of slurping down the best of these piping hot noodles would necessarily associate it with Japan. As Ramen is extremely affordable and can be found effortlessly all around Japan, it makes an ideal dining option for any traveller!

Naritaya

It is not uncommon for Ramen shops to use pork broth as the soup base or chashu for the Ramen toppings. But fret not, fellow Muslim travellers! Naritaya, who opened just earlier this year, is pioneering the Halal Ramen revolution so that people from all around the world can share in the enjoyment of Ramen.


Welcoming customers from all walks of life | Photo Source

In its carefully thought-out Halal menu, Naritaya does not use any pork or alcohol in its preparation of food. Ingredients for their Ramen include noodles made from domestic wheat produced at its very own noodle factory, refreshing chicken broth as its soup base, and toppings such as the usual nori seaweed, seasoned bamboo shoots, green onions and boiled egg.


Halal Ramen – First of its kind! | Photo Source

Embracing the internationality of its diners, the Japanese-ran Naritaya also has instructions in English plastered on its walls on how to eat their personalised Ramen. Naritaya even has a prayer room for its Muslims diners, including an arrow on the ceiling pointing to Mecca. This thoughtful Ramen stall sure deserves a thumbs-up!


Step-by-step Guide | Photo Source

Prayer Room | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: 2 Chome 7-13 Asakua, Taito-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY1000~
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Fri: 11am – 10pm; Sat & Sun: 8am – 8pm
  • Halal Status: Certified by Japan Islamic Trust

T’s Tan Tan

As farmers’ markets become a regular feature on Tokyo’s urban landscape and diners choose to be increasingly health-conscious, we see more vegetarian restaurants and more places offering vegetarian menus to cater to the change in taste. Priding itself for using “smile veggie”, T’s Tan Tan uses only fresh vegetables and soy-meat to create a range of delicious Japanese-Western fusion dishes, including the unique vegan ramen!


Bestseller! T’s Shoyu Ramen | Photo Source
T's Tan Tan 3
For spicy-flavour lovers! Shiro TanTan | Photo Source

Located at an inconspicuous corner in JR Tokyo Station, favourable reviews rave of T’s Tan Tan creative and amazing vegan ramen, which is topped with soymeat, beansprout, green onion, seasoned chinese bamboo shoot and seaweed. I don’t know about you, but soymeat sure sounds enticing for eat-clean-foodies like us!!

T's Tan Tan 4
Tokyo’s first vegan ramen! | Photo Source

Simple interior to house hungry customers | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: Keiyo Street, Tokyo Station, 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY1000~
  • Opening Hours: Daily: 7am – 11pm
  • Halal Status: Not Halal certified, but welcomes Muslim diners (Vegetarian Restaurant)
  • Official Website: http://ts-restaurant.jp/tantan/

5. KAISEKI

Kaiseki refers to a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner that originates from the 16th century tea ceremony rituals. A culinary art form of the highest degree, it shows off the chef’s skills and techniques in preparing a meal that would utterly tantalize their diners’ taste buds.

Minokichi

Minokichi was founded in 1716 by Jurobe Satake, descendant of the highly respected Akita Satake Samurai Clan, and has a rich history in preparing the Kyoto Kaiseki cuisine. It While based in Kyoto, Minokichi has devoted to designing Halal menus for at least one of its branches in Kyoto, Osaka, Yokohama and Tokyo.

Minokichi 3
Exquisite food models by the Shop Entrance | Photo Source

The Muslim-Friendly menus encompass a myriad of Kyoto dishes, including traditional Japanese appetizers of  seasonal dish,  beef shabushabu, grilled fish, halal tempura, assorted simmered vegetables and more! All ingredients are meticulously prepared to ensure that the food does not include pork or alcohol. If you are craving for a slow-paced, finely detailed and delicious meal, this is your to-go!

Minokichi 5
Kyoto Kaiseki in a Box! | Photo Source

Instagram-worthy Food! | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: Spice Ikebukuro Tobu 15F 1-1-25, Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY3000~ (Lunch); JPY7000~ (Dinner)
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 11am – 11pm; Sun & Pub Hols: 7pm – 10pm (Closed on New Year’s Day & 3rd Wed of February and Aug)
  • Halal Status: Certified by Kyoto Council for Sharia and Halal Affairs
  • Official Website: http://www.japanese-kyoto-cuisine.com/
    *Reservations 2 days in advance required!

Kusumoto 

Located in the heart of Nishi-Azabu, a quaint and serene location that homes small restaurants and bars, Kusumoto aims to provide Muslims living or visiting Japan a taste of authentic Japanese food. Serving a brilliantly designed Halal Kaiseki, the restaurant only allows dine-in during dinner. Nevetheless, one can still order their beautiful Bento boxes for lunch delivery to your door-step!


Bento delivery for lunch on a restful day! | Photo Source

Dinner Dine-in | Photo Source

The beautiful restaurant is extremely committed to its Halal standards – all cookwares for halal menu are completely labelled and kept in specific places whilst all ingredients used for the Halal menu, even right down to the details such as  their seasoning, are Halal certified! If you are ever shopping around the Roppongi Hills area, be sure to check out this chic diner~

In a nutshell:

  • Address: 3-23-5, Nishi-Azabu, Minatoku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY2000~ (Lunch – Bento Delivery ONLY); JPY10,000~ (Dinner)
  • Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 6pm – 11pm; (Closed on Closed on Sun & Pub Hols)
  • Halal Status: Certified by Nippon Asia Halal Association
  • Official Website: http://www.tokyomuslim.jp
    *Reservations required! 5 days in advance for lunch delivery; 2 days in advance for dinner

6. FINE DINING

Kozue

Throwback to the olden days with traditional amber wood and handmade pottery and waitresses in kimonos – then past forward again to the modern times where you dine in a quiet restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooks the Tokyo Skyline. That interplay between Japanese traditional and modern culture is exactly what Kozue sells.

Kozue 3
Pamper yourself to luxurious scenery and food | Photo Source

Breathtaking scenery | Photo Source

Resting on the 40th floor of Park Hyatt hotel, one can even see amazing views of Mount Fuji on e a clear day. While the restaurant may be pricier than most other Halal options, it continues to be highly recommended by online Muslim travel guides. As expected of a luxury brand, the service is known to be top-notch. The waiters and waitresses explain with much patience and details the ingredients used to prepare each dish – all of which that retains the traditional element despite the restaurant’s setting – as they serve the exquisitely designed dishes to their customers.


Sashimi – Perfectly sliced! | Photo Source
Kozue 2
Yonezawa Sirloin wrapped in Hoba Leaf | Photo Source
Kozue 5
Doesn’t this look too pretty to be eaten? | Photo Source

In a nutshell:

  • Address: 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
  • Average Price: JPY3000~ (Lunch); JPY10,000~ (Dinner)
  • Opening Hours: Daily: 1130am – 230pm (Lunch); 530pm – 930pm (Dinner)
  • Halal Status: NIL
  • Official Website: http://tokyo.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/Kozue.html
    *Reservations required!
    *Dress Code: Smart Casual (Sportswear/ Beachwear not allowed)

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore.

No Beef with Kobe: Eat, See, Enjoy!


picture source

I took a day trip with K-san (unnamed for privacy) to Kobe during my week-long Japan vacation. We took the direct JR line (around 50 minutes) from our Osaka accommodation to Kobe’s central station, Sannomiya Station. Check out Japan Guide for a detailed travel guide between Osaka and Kobe!

Wagyu immediately comes to mind when Kobe is mentioned, and I am so excited because we planned to visit a good wagyu restaurant, and do some leisurely sightseeing. The area leading to our first stop, Mt. Maya, was covered in beautiful sakura blooms lining a river. There were also many sakura trees outside the Art Center of Kobe. Appreciative remarks about the sakura made by the hanami viewers could be heard as we enjoyed our walk through the area.

Tsubaki flower on the rail
Tsubaki flower on the rail

After many kirei desu ne (綺麗ですね, it’s so beautiful) the pair of us finally reached the bottom of Mt. Maya. Mt. Maya is one of the smaller peaks of the Mt. Rokko chain, and is highlighted for its scenic and natural beauty! There were already a few hikers heading up the mountain before us.

A word of advice: wear comfortable shoes! The bottom steps of the mountain were oddly shaped so it can be difficult to climb. The hike up to the waterfall was steep but I really enjoyed the serenity of the place. Hiking never really appealed to me, but the experience is really meditative. You either introspect, admire nature, or talk to your companion. I highly recommend this for either pairs/couples or individuals. 🙂

Can you feel the energy from the waterfall?
Can you feel the energy from the waterfall?

The waterfall we saw wasn’t that majestic or big, but still beautiful nonetheless. Visitors and hikers alike were quietly talking amongst themselves, keeping the peace of the place. Perhaps they are bathing in the negative ions of the waterfall!

We decided to climb a little higher towards the observation platform, which promised a skyline of Kobe city. The platform was also surrounded by sakura trees! Few people were in this area so we could take as many pictures as we liked at our leisure.

 

 

shrine
A hidden shrine on the way up to the observation platform
sakura kobe
More beautiful sakura await at the observation deck!
kobe skyline
The Kobe skyline. The air was so fresh and rejuvenating! Singapore was so hazy when I left. ):

Finally, it was time for our lunch reservation at Wakkoqu, a restaurant famous for quality Tajima wagyu! You definitely have to make an early reservation either at their website or call them directly because they are very popular. They also have English speaking staff and a website in English, so reservation is fuss-free and easy. Do double-check that you have chosen the right store as they have two locations.

The A4 wagyu steak that went into our bellies. :D
The A4 wagyu steak that went into our bellies. 😀

We were ravenous for some yummy wagyu after our workout, so we ordered the Lunch Wakkoqu Course: 150g sirloin, six kinds of grilled vegetables, soup of the day (potato soup), salad, rice and Japanese pickles, dessert, and coffee. I think “heavenly” is the best adjective here.

IMG_2855
In midst of preparation. Can’t wait!

We could not stop gushing about how scrumptious the food was. The course started with the potato soup, which was creamy but light with small bits of potatoes. Meanwhile, the chef brought out the A4 sirloin, while we were served the salad. We were rather disappointed that the sirloin was divided between the both of us instead of being served one each.

The chef prepared the sauces and condiments-salt, pepper, garlic, mustard, and soy sauce-before grilling the garlic and the steak. If you have eaten good quality steak before, you will know that each piece of meat just melts in your mouth. The first piece was sprinkled with salt and pepper, the conventional way of eating steak. I really loved the meat juices that melded with salty flavour. The next piece was paired with pepper and garlic. The sweet garlic and fragrant pepper really complemented the steak. This must be what people call a medley of flavours dancing in your mouth. The third piece was quite unusual-soy sauce and mustard. I really loved the spiciness of the mustard but I felt that the soy sauce was a little underwhelming. Out of these three styles, I preferred the very first. Of course, you are always welcome to eat the steak in any way you like!

IMG_2858
Beansprouts and wagyu fat!

The chef had also cut the strip of fat and cooked it with some beansprouts. It was delicious because of the added beef flavour but I probably would have just liked it the same attached to some meat. Even so, the different textures of the wagyu can really be enjoyed to the fullest. I really want to go back.

After the starters and main course, we were served some delightful yuzu sorbet and coffee. The portions were slightly small but the food was certainly delicious. Gochisousama deshita! (Thank you for the meal!)

 

IMG_2871
UCC Coffee Museum Tasting: Blend coffee (left) and 100% Brazil origin coffee (right)

We headed to the UCC Coffee Museum on a whim as it was in the area. Unfortunately, coffee tasting was over so we didn’t get any. I am slightly disappointed because UCC’s drip coffee smells really good and the kokumi (こくみ, richness or depth of flavour) is just rightnot too acidic or bitter.

Different parts of the coffee seed
Different parts of the coffee seed

So now you know, coffee tasting is held at specific times! The museum’s website (in Japanese) explains that for the month of April 2016 visitors can compare blend coffee (Brazilian base) and 100% Brazilian coffee at 4 designated times.

If you miss the coffee tasting, you can always either buy some from their cafe or the museum shop. Coffee aficionados should definitely visit at least once, even if to try the coffee or out of pure interest for the  technical details of coffee plant seasons to the interactive exhibits.

 

The coffee belt of the world. The red line is the equator.
The coffee belt of the world. The red line is the equator.

There were so many interesting facts I never knew about the coffee plant, i.e. the flowers of the coffee plant are white. You can challenge the quiz they have in the museum to get a Dr. Coffee Certificate. Not to worry, they have the questions in English as well.

I think the most interesting fact I’ve learned that day is about the coffee belt. The coffee plant is grown only between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, which points to warmer countries – but does not include Japan! The coffee plant is also rather sensitive to climate changes, so coffee may become scarce in the future. 🙁

 

What volume of coffee beans can be harvested from a single coffee tree? Click the photo for an answer!
What volume of coffee beans can be harvested from a single coffee tree? Click the photo for an answer!

 

Want More Kobe? 

These were some of the places we wanted to visit but couldn’t fit in our schedule. They shall be on our itinerary for our next trip to Kobe!

1. Nunobuki Herb Gardens

Nunobiki Herb Garden Glasshouse | Source
Nunobiki Herb Garden Glasshouse | Source

This place comes highly recommended by nature lovers due to the sheer volume of stunning flowers in the greenhouses. The area is really big so I reckon I can easily spend a hour or two strolling in the flower fields.

2. Handmade Nada Shop

aa5個_パッケージ_ロゴ
Chewy Crunchy Cacao | Source

Like its namesake, the pastries are all handmade! This shop serves delicious pastries and sweets which you can either get as a takeaway or indulge at their cafe area. The images on their website looks irresistible! Give me some now!

3. Rokkosan Pasture and Kobe Cheese House

The cute sheep you'll get to see at the farm | Takuya
The cute sheep you’ll get to see at the farm | Takuya

You should definitely visit this place if you love animals and nature! You can pet them at designated parts of the farm. There are also many hands-on activities where you can make ice cream, butter or engage in wool craft. You can also observe the cheese-making process at their factory.

  1. Mt. Rokko
The night view from Mt. Rokko | Charlie Brown
The night view from Mt. Rokko | Charlie Brown

I didn’t get the chance to scale Mt. Rokko but someday, I really want to see the nightscape in person at the top of this mountain! You can also build a musical box at the Rokko International Musical Box Museum, or enjoy a leisurely walk through the Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden.

  1. Kobe Animal Kingdom
Rock eagle owl | No
Rock eagle owl | Noppawat Charoensinphon

This place is basically an interactive zoo suitable for animal lovers and families. Their main feature though, is the largest collection of owls! Seasonal flowers also grace the zoo making it one of the highlights for visitors.

  1. Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum
Hakutsuru Brewery Museum | Source
Hakutsuru Brewery Museum | Source

Sake is known to be a Japanese alcoholic beverage but do you really know how it’s made? In addition to observing the sake-making process, you can also acquire some special sake at their museum shop!

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore.

Diary of a Japan Tour Guide: Anghela in Harajuku and Haneda Airport

Japan Tour Guide (JTG) is an online portal that aims to match volunteer Japanese guides with visitors coming to Japan.
Read about their tours put together for tourists by these friendly local guides in this regular column! 

I’m Satoru, a 3rd year university student and I am a staff of Japan Tour Guide.
This time, I guided Anghela, a university student from Barcelona to Harajuku and Haneda International Airport by myself. She has a cousin who is currently in Japan to study and Anghela said it was one of the reasons why she visited Japan this time so that she could meet her.

As she was busy while in Japan, I divided the whole guide into two parts. For the first part, we mainly went to the Monster Café in Harajuku. We met at Sugamo at first, where a Japanese summer festival was being held at the time and headed to Harajuku Station before long.

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Monster Café located in Harajuku is really popular among foreign tourists because you can eat very Harajuku-style dishes and see stuff which is available only there!!

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When you order something, you can use this cute device and the cake the staff brought us was so unique and amazing.

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I was happy to hear that Anghela was satisfied with the experience in Harajuku.
If you have opportunities to visit Harajuku, Monster Café is definitely one of the places you must see!

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When it comes to the second part, we went to Haneda International Airport on another day.
Some of you reading this may wonder why of all places I chose the airport for the guide. Against your image of a typical airport, Haneda International Airport is different from the others in terms of that you can see and touch very Japanese stuff and spend a good couple of hours there.

Let me introduce some of them.

1. The replica of the famous bridge Nihonbashi.
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This bridge was first constructed in Tokyo in the Edo period (about 400 years ago) .
It has been rebuilt 19 times and has been contributing to the prosperity of Tokyo for a long time.

2. Japanese style resting place
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Crossing bridge, you can see such a beautiful resting place on the right side. Since there is a famous Japanese cafe which serves green tea and sweets near this resting place, I think it good to order take-out and eat them while sitting here.

3. Great view from the observation deck
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From the observation deck, you can see such an amazing view for free!! Since the planes waiting for departure are so close that you can see every detail and the ground illuminated by many colored lights is beyond description.

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That is just a small look into one of the many adventures you can have with Japan Tour Guide.
We are looking forward to guiding you around the city and showing you the ins and outs of Japan!

Furugiya – Second-hand clothing shops in Tokyo

If you have been to Tokyo multiple times and have gotten bored of shopping along Ginza or Harajuku, it’s time to venture onto an alternative shopping experience; it’s time to explore vintage shopping.

Furugiya (vintage or second-hand clothes) shops are fairly common throughout Japan, but Tokyo has some of the best shops, with the best selection of items. Depending on the type of store, you may find regular second hand clothes, previous season’s designer items or designer vintage pieces, at a fraction of their original prices.

During my visit, I went to the stores along Harajuku Street near Tokyu Plaza, Ura-Hara area behind Omotesando and Shibuya.

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Pigsty at Urahara. The owners actually started out in Osaka before opening their 2nd branch in Tokyo.

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This street behind Omotesando leads to a few unique Americana vintage shops and the famous Ragtag.

The stores around Harajuku have a strong flavor of American culture, where you can find items from American brands such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Some of the stores also carry a huge stash of southwestern printed items for all your bohemian needs.

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Rama, a store on Harajuku street filled with Americana vintage goods.

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Berberjin is another store along Harajuku street. They have an online site too.

Two must-see stores around Harajuku would be Jumble Store and Ragtag. Both stores are part of a larger chain and have online stores which you can browse before visiting. Jumble Store carries quite a range of items, from Dickies jeans to the latest designer labels such as Dior Homme and Balmain. However, going through the racks to find a designer item of your size will require time, effort and patience. If you only wish to find designer items, Ragtag would be better. Their store only carries famous labels; both mid-level priced as well as designer.

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A 2-storey standalone Jumble store in Harajuku

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For truly vintage items, I recommend Kodona and Sullen around Shibuya. Both stores are rather hard to access, but contain true gems. Carefully curated and extremely popular, both stores have to change their inventory frequently to keep up with demand. During my visit, I found beautiful vintage Christian Dior, Kenzo and Burberry pieces that were still in good condition.

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Kodona.

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Kodona’s décor blends and enhances the pieces that they have in the store.

Before becoming too excited, here are some pointers to note when visiting:

Check: Check the pieces carefully. Some stores will have labels indicating defects or issues with the products. Do not be too excited about the discount given. Also check the stitching and condition and make your own judgment.

Ask: If unsure about an item, do ask the owners. They will be able to provide valuable information, such as the age of the item, condition of the item as well as care methods. They will also be able to provide you styling advice if you are unsure about a vintage item, but absolutely cannot do without it. They should also be able to provide advice on whether alterations should be done or not.

Enjoy: The entire process feels like a treasure hunt. Even if the item is not in your size, enjoy finding beautiful and interesting clothes while digging through the racks.

Decide: Most items are unique and there is only one. Decide if alterations can be done and if you truly would like the item. If you let it go, you probably would not find it again. So, choose wisely.

 

Contributed by Dwight Tan

Read the original articles on WAttention Singapore.

Kewpie and Veggie Buddies Cafe

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Another awesome place to have lunch in Shibuya! Kewpie and Veggie Buddies Cafe just opened in Shibuya for a limited period of time until September 23. The cafe’s concept is to deepen your love of vegetables. And it’s definitely working for us!

Their mouthwatering lunch items include a wonderful Egg & Shrimp Cobb Salad (available from Aug 24 – Sep 8) and an energizing Chicken and Grapefruit “Power Salad” (available from Sep 9 – 23).

Egg & Shrimp Cobb Salad
Egg & Shrimp Cobb Salad
Chicken and Grapefruit "Power Salad"
Chicken and Grapefruit “Power Salad”

While their dinner menu offers Romaine Lettuce Grilled Caesar Salad and Fresh Vegetables with Colorful Mayo Dip 4-ways
Romaine Lettuce Grilled Caesar Salad
Romaine Lettuce Grilled Caesar Salad
Fresh Vegetables with Colorful Mayo Dip 4-ways
Fresh Vegetables with Colorful Mayo Dip 4-ways

They also have some cute Kewpie and Veggie Buddies merchandise, so make sure to check it out!

Information

sub9Kewpie and Veggie Buddies Café
Hours: 11am – 11pm (last order: 10pm)
Access: A 10-min walk from JR Shibuya Station
Address: 2F Royal Garden Cafe Shibuya, 4-3 Udagawacho, Shibuya
URL: http://www.kewpie.co.jp/event/yasai_cafe2016/tokyo/index.html (Japanese)

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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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picture source

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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picture source

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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picture source

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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picture source

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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picture source

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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picture source

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

Ginza Cozy Corner’s monthly cake-set

Japanese people love food. They’re willing to line up for hours to enter popular restaurants and cafés, and they value taste as well as the appearance of the dishes. Therefore, cooks and pastry chefs are always making new improvements on their creations whether it is the taste or the arrangement of the menu to satisfy the high expectations of their guests.

Ginza Cozy Corner is one of the most popular pastry factories in Japan, establishing its first shop in January, 1948 in Tokyo´s Ginza district. Throughout the decades, the company has opened 400 shops, including cafés, restaurants and take-out shops all throughout Japan.

A cake set which comes with 9 delicacies is one of the highlights of Ginza Cozy Corner’s take-out shops. The variety and taste changes monthly and features a different theme each time.

Until July 31st, the cake set theme was Alice in Wonderland, celebrating the new movie that was recently released in Japan. The cakes come in a beautiful designed box. If you have a long way to your destination, don´t worry, they will put ice packs inside the box, so that the cakes will stay fresh until you arrive.

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The artwork is very pretty and promotes the little cakes very well.

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Each piece features a character or item of the fairy tale and was additionally decorated with little plastic parts contributing to the atmosphere.

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1 Tea jelly (Earl Grey)
2 Tea with milk pudding
3 Banana fresh cream & raspberry jam tart
4 Lemon fresh cream & tea cake
5 Pistachio fresh cream & apricot jam tart
6 White chocolate fresh cream cake
7 White chocolate mint fresh cream tart
8 Raspberry cream swiss roll with strawberry jam
9 White chocolate fresh cream & raspberry jam tart

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Now we’re all set for a Mad Tea-Party in the world of Alice!

Starting August 1st, the new line of cakes features a refreshing summer theme, which seems to be a big hit during these humid hot days!

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The name of the product is “Petite Selection - refreshing cool fruits” and contains the following delicacies: 1 Lemon Tart, 2 Mango Pudding, 3 Kiwi Tart, 4 Peach Jelly, 5 Strawberry Mousse, 6 Soda Jelly, 7 Fruit Tart, 8 Passion-Mango Mousse, 9 Blueberry Tart.

Get your cake set at your nearest branch of Ginza Cozy Corner!

Information

Ginza Cozy Corner – Shinjuku Station South Exit Branch
Hours: 9am – 11pm
Period: Aug. 1-31
Price: 2,268 yen (tax included)
Access: JR Shinjuku Station – South Exit within the ticket gate area.
Address: 3-38-1 Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, 160-0022 Tokyo
URL: Ginza Cozy Corner

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 Story Behind Japanese Manhole Covers

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Japan has no shortage of beautiful and cute things. From face packs to sweets and stationary supplies, Japan takes great care in designing everything to be visually attractive.

Another thing that Japan is famous for is their artistically designed manhole covers. Municipalities strive to outdo each other in designing the best cover, all while showing off the character of their city. These beauties have captured the eyes of many people, both in Japan and overseas and it has already spawned a cult of its own. Photobooks and websites dedicated to chronicling the many designs and the places to find them can be found online.

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Why does Japan put so much effort in designing their manhole covers?

According to some sources, in the late 1980s, there was a Construction Specialist from the Public Sewer Division, Ministry of Construction who advocated the use original designs for each municipality in the hope that it would improve the image of the sewage industry and make it more appealing to the general community. Everyone seemed to think that that’s a great idea. Almost every year competitions are held for the best manhole covers. Municipalities and their organizations have been competing with each other since then to design the best manhole covers. And now you have one more thing to look out for when you come to Japan!

Uncovering their history

Here are the top 3 manhole covers with the most interesting backstories:

momotaroOkayama City
This cover depicts Momotaro, the popular hero of a Japanese folklore that is said to have originated from Okayama Prefecture. In the legend, he was born from a giant peach and journeyed with 3 animal companions to defeat an evil ogre. It is thought that this story started as a legend about Kibitsu-hiko-no-mikoto, a legendary prince who slayed the ogre, Ura. The prince is enshrined as a deity in several shrines within the prefecture.
phoenix (2)Fukui City
This cover shows two phoenixes. One theory states that the city chose that as their symbol due to their history of having “risen from the ashes” multiple times after being hit by air raids, floods, and earthquakes. Another theory states that it stems from the city’s history of recovering from an earthquake only to again be hit by a big fire and the two phoenixes symbolizes the two-fold recovery.
B86C3EE5-9C47-4CB8-B6A3-F18230FD854COsaka City
Elaborate water and sewage systems existed in Osaka since centuries ago. They were constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi along with Osaka Castle, and some are even still in use today. This cover was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the modern sewage system. It depicts water, the city’s flower – sakura, and Osaka Castle which can be considered the origin point of today’s sewage system.

Also read about our own personal favorite, the manhole cover that has a hidden Hachiko in it.

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

5 Japanese Summer Survival items

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

 

1) Japanese sunscreen

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

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

 

2) Air conditioning

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

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3) Strange ice cream

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

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4) Deodorizing sheets

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

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5) Mosquito repellent

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

A Visit to the Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku

Wattention staff visits the Kawaii Monster Café in Harajuku!

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This café is exactly what Harajuku stands for: crazy – psychedelic – cute – strange – spooky!

The layout of the café resembles the belly of the chopstick monster. The belly symbolises Harajuku, it creates its own crazy culture by swallowing all the world’s fashion trends and turning it into Harajuku Fashion.
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The concept of the restaurant was made by the Diamond Dining group – owner of the Alice in Wonderland theme restaurants, and Sebastian Masuda – owner of the 6% Doki Doki boutique and creator of the layout for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu´s Number one hit “Pon Pon Pon”.

While entering the café you will walk down the tongue of Choppy the monster.

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The doors open and you are in front of the cake shaped Merry-go-round called “Sweets Go Round”.

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The café is divided into four differently designed areas – “Mushroom Disco”, “Milk Stand”, “Bar Experiment” and the “Mel-Tea Room”. We were welcomed by two cute “Monster Girls” in crazy outfits and were guided to our seats in the “Milk Stand” area.

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The “Milk Stand” area features huge neon animal heads and milk bottles hanging down from the ceiling.

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The “Mushroom Disco” is a forest of mushrooms and huge flowers, with private seat areas.

 

We received the summer lunch menu and decided to go for the Colorful Pop Burger.

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The menu includes a salad, a drink, the main dish and a mini-parfait. You can choose to upgrade your dessert or drink by paying some extra money.

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While waiting for the food, a 10-minute show by the Monster Girls started in front and on top of the merry-go-round!

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The Monster Girls are wearing specially made crazy costumes in all different styles. Their stage names were Candy, Dolly, Baby, Crazy and Nasty. All of them speak English, and Chinese and Korean services are available as well.

After leaving the café you will reach the merchandise area where you can purchase a lot of Kawaii Monster goods!

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It was an interesting experience to immerse yourself into this crazy and unique world of Harajuku.

Read also: Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 9 for a more in-depth review of the subculture behind the cafe.

Information

Kawaii Monster Café

Hours:
Monday to Saturday Lunch Time 11:30am – 4:30pm (Last Order 4pm); Dinner Time 6pm – 10:30 (Last Order 10pm)
Sundays and Public Holidays Lunch Time 11am – 8pm (Last Order 7:30pm)
Entrance Fee: 500 yen per person
Address: YM Square Building 4F, 4-31-10, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Access: A 7-min walk from Harajuku Station (Omotesando Exit)
URL: http://kawaiimonster.jp/pc/

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

Godzilla in Shibuya

If Godzilla were to really appear in Shibuya, we at WAttention would definitely run for our lives (or maybe not, depending on our next publishing deadline).

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Thankfully, this one is pretty harmless, even though he appears to be wrecking havoc on Shibuya Parco.

In lieu of the new Japan-made Godzilla movie, “Shin Godzilla”, Parco Shibuya had this made on their wall prior to them temporarily closing for renovations in August.

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Our only question is: why the “R”? Is it more tasty-looking? Does Godzilla has something against the “R”s of the world? Perhaps we will never know… Watching the movie and standing next to this huge wall-relief of Godzilla ripping the R off of Parco’s wall is as close as we want to be to the famous yet terrifying monster.

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ramen Notebook : Cold Ramen by Ramen Specialist – Ishiyama Hayato

What better way to cool down than with a bowl of ramen that “gives you the chills”? In Japan, ramen doesn’t have to be served hot and the possibilities are endless. Here are some selected shops that pride themselves in offering cool, chewy noodles with delicious clear broth. Slurp the summer heat away!

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Cold ramen (Hiyashi ramen) 900 yen

Beefy goodness from Yamagata
Taiboku @Oyama

Quality beef bones from Yamagata Japanese Black Wagyu are simmered over low flame for 12 hours every day to make a richly flavored but transparent broth. The key in making a good broth lies in the right combination of cooking time and temperature, said the shop owner, who is from Yamagata, the birthplace of cold ramen. Their roasted beef is a must taste. While most ramen shops top off their noodles with pork slices, Taiboku uses beef that is roasted over low heat until the meat is tender and almost melts in one’s mouth. Once the noodles are cooked, they are quickly poured into ice cubes for immediate cooling. Chewy noodles nestled in beefy goodness is heaven in a bowl.

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Taiboku
Hours: 11:00~15:00 and 17:00~23:00, closed every Monday
Address: 60-15 Oyamahigashi-cho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo
Access: Two minutes’ walk from Oyama Station

 


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Cold ramen (Hiyashi ramen) 800 yen

Cold Tonkotsu Ramen from Kyushu
Saga Ramen Midori @Asakusa

Following his apprenticeship in a 59-year-old ramen restaurant in Saga of Kyushu, the Midori owner traveled to Tokyo to open his own joint, specializing in tonkotsu ramen. He made sure that pork thigh bones are cooked for 36 hours to render a delicate but intense broth. Unlike the usual thick tonkotsu broth, Midori’s broth is light and comforting, perfect for a hot summer’s day. The noodles are thicker than Hataka style ramen but silky smooth and cooked just to the right softness. Though served cold, the bone broth doesn’t gel and comes with a rich aftertaste.

midori-gaikan
Saga Ramen Midori
Hours: 11:30~14:30, closed every Wednesday
Address: 4-24-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: Five minutes’ walk from A2 Exit Tsukuba Express line Asakusa Station

 


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Yamagata Mizu Ramen 900 yen

Cold Ramen Alfresco Style
Pour café @Ginza

It’s hard to imagine that this classy café in Ginza has ramen on their menu. What’s more surprising is that they are one of the few that serves “Yamagata Water Ramen,” a chilled bowl of soy sauce base ramen that originates from Yamagata. Using dried fish, scallop, and mushroom as a base for broth is quite common in the northeast region of Japan. The taste is very different from the typical tonkotsu or chicken soup because the broth is first frozen into blocks and then taken out of the fridge right before serving. Decorated with green onions, boiled eggs, bamboo shoots and tasty pork, the ramen is definitely an enjoyment for both the palate and the eyes.

midori-gaikan
Pour café
Hours: 7:30~23:30 Monday to Thursday, 7:30~25:00 Friday, 9:00~23:30 Saturday, 9:00~18:00 Sunday and holidays (ramen is served after 11:30)
Address: 1-14-9 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Access: Two minutes’ walk from Ginza Ichome Station

 


ishi
Author
Ramen Specialist – Ishiyama Hayato
Ishiyama has authored more than 20 books on ramen and interviewed more than 2,000 ramen restaurants. He set up a ramen research club while in college and visited more than 7,000 ramen joints across Japan’s 47 prefectures—eating two bowls per day. Follow him for the latest ramen updates!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ishiyamahayato

 

Teru Teru Bōzu

 

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

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

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

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


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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.

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Youkai Manual – Bakeneko & Nekomata

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

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

Bakeneko (化け猫)

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

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

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

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Nekomata (猫又)

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

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

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

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Demons cats during the Edo period

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

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

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Neko Musume (猫娘)

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

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In popular culture

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Youkai Manual – Yuki Onna

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

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

Here are some of the most popular Yuki Onna stories;

 

The first Yuki Onna

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

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An unusual love story

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

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

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

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

 

Neutral Yuki Onna

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

 

In popular culture

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Summer and Ghost Stories

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

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

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What’s so special about Japanese ghosts?

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

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

 

The Golden Age of ghost stories

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

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

 

Popular ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Exorcising evil spirits

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

 

Ghost Hunting

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Combini Checkout: A beginner’s guide to Onigiri

Whether it be for a outdoor picnic or a quick lunch break at your office desk, the Japanese rice ball, onigiri or omusubi is filling, convenient, and can pack a whole lot of flavor. It has been in the diet of Japanese people for so long, they say you can tell a person’s character by their choice of onigiri!

For the same reason, any decent Combini (convenience store) in Japan will have at least one dedicated rack with a variety of onigiri. Here are some of the most common types and the personalities that favor them:

1. 鮭 Shake/Sake

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Salmon that is grilled with salt then shredded, it should always be perfectly seasoned and not dry. People who favor this filling tend to take things slowly. They are also deliberate, strong-willed and steadfast in their principles.

2. ツナマヨ Tuna Mayo

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Sometimes also called シーチキン (Sea chicken), the tuna should not be overwhelmed by the mayonnaise, and the mix should be creamy and slightly tart. People who like this filling are said to be of pure heart and possess inner beauty, but also have a tendency to be hard-headed.

3. 昆布 Kombu

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Shredded Kombu (edible kelp) that is cooked in a soy sauce based mixture until tender, it should taste slightly salty and sweet. People who like this filling are said to favor simplicity. They avoid complications and prefer things (and relationships) that are straightforward.

4. 明太子 Mentaiko

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Mentaiko or spicy cod roe, is sometimes mixed with karashi (mustard), mayonnaise, egg or other ingredients. People who choose mentaiko are tuned in to new trends and are up to date. They also tend to be good at fashion, cooking, and/or socializing.

5. 梅干し Umeboshi

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Salty and sour pickled plum, it is sometimes cut up and mixed in with the rice. People who prefer umeboshi in their onigiri are said to be faithful and reliable. They also tend to be extremely detailed and prefer to do things properly.

Other types of onigiri

焼きおにぎり Yaki onigiri – Rice basted with sauce and grilled without filling.
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おかか Okaka – Dried bonito flakes seasoned with soy sauce.
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赤飯 Sekihan – sticky rice steamed with adzuki beans, tinting the rice with a reddish color.
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Also check out our other Combini Checkout articles:
Combini Checkout: A beginner’s guide to bottled tea


WAttention Ninja Writer Profile

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Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

Ninja ID: ID001-M

Q-POT Café attracts guests with their new Sailor Moon themed menu

After the popular “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” exhibition which was held until June 19th in Mori Tower in Roppongi, Q-POT Café located in Omotesando follows the hype by creating a new menu featuring the different characters of the popular Anime and Manga series.

Q-POT is more known as a jewelry brand, producing jewelries and accessories in the shapes of cookies, chocolates, and other confectioneries. A majority of their fan-base are girls who are into Lolita Fashion. For those who don’t know, this fashion style is based on Victorian clothes, featuring a knee length skirt or dress with a petticoat underneath, a frilly blouse, knee high socks, and a headdress.

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Wattention staff visited the Café on Saturday, July 9th. For now, entering the café requires you to make a reservation online. Be prepared since during this reservation process you already need to decide what you would like to eat, as well as where you would like to sit. The payment needs to be made in advance as well.

We ordered the “Pink Sugar Heart Parfait” together with the “Gift of the Moon Fairies Tea”, which comes as a set for 2,500 yen (tax not included).

DSC_0607aaThe parfait consists of a star shaped sugar paste on the top, Chibi-Usa´s accessory made of a heart jewelry shaped strawberry jelly, strawberry sorbet, a heart-shaped cookie, fresh fruits, strawberry cream, fresh strawberry purée, peach jelly, cornflakes and custard sauce. You will also receive the special designed Chibi-Moon coaster as a present.

The Tea represents the colors of the three cats, Luna, Artemis and Diana who appear in the anime. The upper part of the drink filled with fresh cream and milk comes in shape of Artemis, the white cat. The ears and the moon sign are made of white chocolate. The blueberry and cassis purée in the lower part of the drink resembles the color of Luna. If you mix the two colored ingredients together, they turn into the same color as Diana, the daughter of Artemis and Luna. Now you can enjoy a delicious blueberry milk drink.

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Specially made Sailor Moon merchandise is also available in the store.

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If you make a purchase over 15,000 yen at the Q-Pot store, you will receive one of these limited “Sailor Moon x Q-Pot” fans as a present, perfect for the hot and humid summer in Japan.

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You are welcome to take a picture together with Tuxedo Mask´s silhouette.

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The special designed mug featuring the lovely cat family can be purchased in the café. The tail of Artemis forms a Q which acts as the handle.

The Café consists of different rooms, each featuring a different theme.

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On the picture you can see the Whip Strawberry room and the Religieuse room.

Information

Q-POT Café – Sailor Moon Menu Period
Hours: 11:30am – 7:30pm (Last Order: 7pm), Closed during New Year
Tel: 03-6427-2626
Price: 1,950 yen to 3,900 yen (tax not included)
Access: A 3-min walk from Omotesando Station B2 Exit
Address: Kita Aoyama 3-10-2, Minato-ku, 107-0061 Tokyo
URL: https://www.q-pot.jp/shop/cafe/?eng=1

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Kamakura Ajisai – Hydrangea Tour (4) : Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu

The last stop during our Ajisai-Tour, after visiting the Tokei-ji, Jochi-ji  and Meigetsu-in, was the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu (鶴岡八幡宮), the most significant Shinto Shrine in Kamakura area. We reached the shrine within 30 min after leaving the Meigetsu-in.

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We entered the shrine from the back side and were welcomed by beautiful Hydrangea flowers.

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The shrine was built by Minamoto Yoriyoshi (988-1075) near the seaside in Yuigahama in 1063. Then, in 1191, the first Shogun of Kamakura, Minamoto Yorimoto (1147-1199) moved it to its current position.
The location of the shrine is meticulously calculated, with Mt. Hokuzan on the north and Nameri River on the east, making Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu the geographical and cultural center of the city.

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Interestingly enough, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu used to be a hybrid of a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine until the Meiji government started the separation of Buddhism and Shinto. The new law “Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order” was enacted in 1868which forced the shrine to sell or even destroy Buddhism-related treasures and buildings. With that said, the remaining buildings still hold cultural importance and are designated as important cultural properties.

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The Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu was dedicated to Hachiman (八幡), the tutelary god of warriors. He acts as the divine protector of Japan and its inhabitants, as well as the Imperial Family. The dove is the symbol and messenger of the Hachiman.

You can purchase a variety of fortune bringing talismans, as well as… DSC_0443

… an o-mikuji, a strip of paper that predicts your fortune. You can also receive an English explanation of your o-mikuji.

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If you receive a bad fortune you can leave your bad luck at the shrine by putting the paper strip into the red box, which is located in front of the Ema wall.

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The view from the main shrine to the lower worship hall, the main gate and the alley of cherry trees.
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Preparations for the O-nikku-kensenko-kosha-sai, a special festival and consecration held on June 12th, were in full progres

On the right side of the shrine grounds there is a little park with a pond, where water lilies, kois and turtles can be spotted.

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The white flags can be purchased at the shrine. You can write down your prayer and put it on the little island.

After leaving the shrine grounds we headed to the beach. We strolled through the Komachi street, where coffee shops, souvenir shops and restaurants providing Kamakura’s specialties are located right next to each other.

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We arrived at the beach perfectly in time for the beautiful sunset.

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Information

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu
Hours: 5am – 8:30pm (Apr. – Sep.) 6am – 8:30pm (Oct. – Mar.), 24 hours (January 1st – 3rd)
Access: A 10-15 min walk from JR Kamakura Station – East Exit (JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line, JR Yokosuka Line)
Address: Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, 2-1-31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura-shi, 248-8588 Kanagawa

The Kamakura Walking Course:

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Little Mermaid themed Sweets Buffet at Keio Plaza Hotel

Since the sweets buffet events are very popular among Japanese young women, the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku adds to that trend and prepares a special menu every month. The buffet’s main theme for this summer is the “Little Mermaid” and between June and August you can enjoy refreshing desserts and cakes. For June a range of blueberry flavored dishes are prepared, for July special peach flavored desserts are planned, and the main flavor for August’s menu will be mango.

Wattention staff tried out the buffet on Sunday afternoon at the Hotel’s restaurant “Jurin.” The beautiful ocean-themed decoration and the LED board which highlighted a selection of desserts raised our spirits.

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Colored roses, blue and green candles, as well as hydrangea flowers which represent the rainy season in Japan are used for decorations.

We entered the restaurant and were guided to our table in front of the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the garden.

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The event starts at 3pm, so we had the chance to take a closer look at the already set up buffet and take some pictures.

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We received an explanation about the buffet and the time limit, as well as the drink menu.

The all-you-can-drink menu is in Japanese, but the staff will explain everything in English as well. You can choose between a variety of coffee, iced beverages and juice. Regarding the tea menu, a self service counter is set up to prepare your own pot of tea.

At 3pm we were allowed to enter the buffet and lined up in front of the mouth-watering delicacies.
DSC_0124Everything is carefully prepared, looks cute and tastes delicious.

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Round shaped rusk and Danish pastry with blueberry filling.

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Cold and iced desserts are served as well.
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From left, Mermaid Blue Sky Gelee, Pasta in Tropical Soup, Blue Soup and Honey Tiramisu.

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Rare cheesecake tart.
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Blueberry waffle sandwich and rice flour role-cake.

Beside desserts, you can choose a variety of savory dishes as well, like sandwiches, mini burgers, pasta, fried chicken, fries or variations of bread.

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DSC_0038Everything was very delicious and we had the chance to experience new flavor compositions as well. We are excited for the next month buffet!
You will receive a point card during the payment.

The card is valid for one year. If you collect 5 stamps, the next sweets buffet is for free! This is a really good deal and made us want to come back for the next buffet.

Information

Jurin – All Day Dining (Sweets Buffet – Little Mermaid)
Date: June until August
Time: 3pm – 5:30pm (Last Order 5pm)
Price: 3,800 yen (Adults), 2,600 yen (Children between 4-12 years old)
A reservation is recommended. Tel: 03-3344-0111 (English & Japanese OK)
Address: Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, Main Tower 2F, 2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku,
Shinjuku
Access: Shinjuku Station (West Exit – JR, private railway, subway) -> 5min walk; Toei Oedo Line –> Tochomae Station (Exit B1)
URL: Sweets Buffet
URL: Restaurant “Jurin”

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Kamakura Ajisai – Hydrangea Tour (3) : Meigetsu-in

Our next destination after visiting Tokei-ji and Jochi-ji is Meigetsu-in (明月院) which is popular for its Hydrangea and flower garden. We left Jochi-ji and reached the temple grounds of Meigetsu-in after a 10 minute walk.

The little hike leading to the entrance of the temple was already covered by blooming Hydrangea flowers and fresh greenery.

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A romantic temple of flowers, rabbits and the moon

We reached the Meigetsu-in, paid 500 yen entrance fee and lined up to enter the Hydrangea garden.

Once you step inside, you will know why it´s called Ajisai-dera, the Hydrangea Temple. There are more than 2500 Hydrangea shrubs all featuring beautiful blue colors known as Meigetsu-in blue. They are in full bloom during the rainy season in June.

Meigetsu-in was built by Uesugi Norikata (1335-1394) in 1383. It used to be a part of a larger temple complex named Zenko-ji (禅興寺), which was then abolished during the anti-Buddhist movement after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, leaving Meigetsu-in as an individual temple.

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Every corner of the temple grounds is decorated with beautiful Hydrangea flowers. Even Hydrangea ema are available during this time. Ema (絵馬) are little wooden plaques, on which you write your own wish. Then you hang them on a board, where the specific god of the temple or shrine receives your wish.

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Inside the temple grounds you can see several small statues of rabbits, as well as real rabbits kept in cages. This is because there is a deep rooted connection between the temple´s name and the moon. Meigetsu means “harvest moon” or “bright moon.”  When you gaze at the moon, some see faces, others see figures or hands. But here in Japan, people see a rabbit pounding a rice cake.

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Beside the beautiful Hydrangea flowers, you can enjoy a stroll through the bamboo forest, as well as a cup of green tea in their Japanese style teahouse. Completing the Zen atmosphere of the place is the austere serenity of the Karesansui (枯山水), a traditional Japanese dry landscape garden.

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Information

Meigetsu-in
Hours: 9am – 4:00pm (8:30am – 5pm in June)
Admission: 300 yen (500 yen in June)
Access:  A 10-min walk from Kita-Kamakura Station (Shonan-Shinjuku Line and Yokosuka Line)
Address: Meigetsu-in, 189 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, 247-0062 Kanagawa

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Kamakura Ajisai – Hydrangea Tour (2) : Jochi-ji

In the previous article, we visited Tokei-ji, a peaceful temple, which used to be a safe haven for women. Now on to our next stop, Jochi-ji (浄智寺).

It is located near Tokei-ji and it takes you 4min by foot to go there.
Since the outside scenery was so beautiful, covering so many kinds of Hydrangea, we decided not to enter the temple grounds and focus on the surrounding area.

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The entrance to this temple has so many different shades of green, turning this place into a mystical relic that takes you back in time.

Jochi-ji is a Buddhist Zen temple and was founded in 1283 by Hojo Munemasa (1253-1281) and his son Hojo Morotoki (1275 – 1311). The temple grounds used to be much bigger, including 11 buildings with 500 people living there. Due to the Great Kanto earthquake of September 1st 1923, nearly every building collapsed and the remaining ones you can see now are all rebuilt after the disaster.

The entrance of Jochi-ji features a Shoromon, a two-storied combination of a gate and a belfry, which holds a bell that is close to 7 centuries old.

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All these beautiful Hydrangea flowers are situated around the entrance of the temple grounds.

Information

Jochi-ji
Hours: 9am – 4:30pm
Admission: 200 yen (Adults), 100 yen (Primary and Middle School Students)
Access:  A 8-min walk from Kita-Kamakura Station (Shonan-Shinjuku Line and Yokosuka Line)
Address: Jochi-ji, 1402 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, 247-0062 Kanagawa

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

Kamakura Ajisai – Hydrangea Tour (1) : Tokei-ji

On Saturday, June 11th, Wattention staff visited Kamakura to take a look at the beautiful Hydrangea flowers. Rainy season in Japan comes together with these flower blossoms and the shrine and temple areas in Kamakura where they grow attract thousands of people wanting to test out their photographic talents.

Our tour for this day: Tokei-ji -> Jochi-ji -> Meigetsu-in -> Tsurugaoka Hachimangu -> sunset view at the beach of Kamakura.

The tour starts in Kita-Kamakura . We left the station and headed to our first stop, the Tokei-ji Temple (東慶寺) which was just a 4min walk away. We paid a 200 yen entrance fee, and stepped onto the sacred ground.

Historical Importance and Natural Beauty

Tokei-ji was founded by nun Kakusan Shido-ni in 1285 after the death of her husband. During this period of time, it was common practice for women to become a nun after their husband’s death.

Back then it was easy for men to divorce their wives, but unfortunately women usually could not divorce their husbands. Tokei-ji temple became a safe haven for many women, sheltering abused wives who fled from their husbands to break ties. The temple authorizes the women to be officially divorced after having stayed there for three years.

During the Edo Period (1603-1868) about 2,000 women entered Tokei-ji to seek shelter and this tradition continued for almost 600 years. Due to a new law which got approved in 1873, the temple had to hand over its authority to handle divorces. Now the Court of Justice takes care of these matters. In 1902 Tokei-ji changed from a nunnery into a monastery. Up till then, men were not allowed to enter this place.


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You can enjoy a variety of Hydrangea flowers, which come in different colors and shapes.

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Behind the temple buildings is a graveyard. Many celebrities are buried there, among them are Oda Mikio (1905–1998), the first Japanese athlete who won a gold medal at the Olympic Games 1928 in Amsterdam for the “triple jump event,” and Daimatsu Hirobumi (1921-1978) a politician and the trainer of the Japanese Woman Volleyball National Team during the Olympic Summer Games of 1964.
We were surprised that this temple was not very crowded. After your stroll you can also buy some souvenirs and talismans, as well as enjoy a cup of green tea in the garden while viewing the Japanese iris.

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Let´s head to the next stop, Jochi-ji temple!

Information

Tokei-ji
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (Mar. – Oct.), 8:30am – 4pm (Nov.-Feb.)
Admission: 200 yen (Adults), 100 yen (Primary – Middle School Students)
Access: A 4-min walk from Kita-Kamakura Station (Shonan-Shinjuku Line, Yokosuka Line)
Address: Tokei-ji, 1367 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, 247-0062 Kanagawa

Ninja ID: nene16


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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

Eat Vegan and Gluten-free in Shibuya

Whether you are a full-time healthy eater, gluten intolerant, or just looking for a quick way to cleanse yourself after eating that mouth-watering spicy ramen or sinfully good burger, this tiny cafe and juice bar tucked away in a backstreet in Shibuya should be your next destination!

WAttention staff tried their house salad, priced at 1,000 yen. The volume is overflowing and judging by the colorful array of vegetables, this bowl is jam-packed with much-needed vitamins and minerals.

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And since we love sweets (proven by this, this, and this article), we also tried their gluten-free muffin made from almonds, raisins, coconuts, chia seeds and oranges and we were not disappointed! Apparently they change the flavor of the muffins every few days or so since we previously had one with walnuts and bananas.

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They are also well known for their cleansing cold-pressed juices and smoothies, even providing cleansing courses where you can buy a set of bottled juice to drink in 1-5 days.

Sky High Aoyama
Hours: 10am – 7pm(12am – 5pm on Sundays)
Address: Aoyama TN Building 2-3-4 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
URL: http://skyhigh-tokyo.jp/

Firefly Night in Shibuya

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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

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

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

1) World’s Largest Dump Truck

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

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2) Gold Snacks

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

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3) Amazing Moss Forest

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

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4) Breathtaking Stone Caves

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

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5) A Stone Turtle

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

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6) This Tree

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

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7) Japan’s #1 Chestnut Sweet

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Mythical Creature – Kitsune

 

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

 

Basic Kitsune abilities

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

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

Good Foxes (zenko 善狐)

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

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

Evil Foxes (nogitsune 野狐)

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

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Kitsune Romance

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

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

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How to get rid of a Kitsune

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

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

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Restaurant Review : Penguin Bar

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

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

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

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

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

Access

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

Opening Hours : 18:00 – 04:00

Admission fee : 800 yen + one drink per person

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

Website: http://www.penginbar.jp/en/

Best Matcha Parfait in Kyoto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Access:

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visiting the crow gods of Mt. Takao

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

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

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

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

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rituals

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

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

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

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Access:

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

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

 

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Souvenir Vending Machine

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

 

Shibuya Scramblers – Stephanie & Nadialine

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

Stephanie & Nadialine

From: Denmark

In Shibuya to: see the Shibuya scramble

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

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

After Shibuya we’re: going to Harajuku

Note: 

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

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

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

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

Ryokucha (Green Tea)

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

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

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

Hojicha

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

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Genmaicha

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

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Genmaicha

Oolong Cha (Oolong Tea)

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

Black Tea
Black Oolong

Mugicha

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

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Mugicha

Jasmine Cha (Jasmine Tea)

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

Jasmine Tea
Jasmine Tea

Kocha

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

Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling Tea

Matcha

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Secret Spot – Meguro Sky Garden

This secret garden in the middle of Tokyo is the perfect hideout during Golden Week.
Enjoy the view over Tokyo in a relaxed atmosphere above the busy city-life.
Meguro Sky Garden is located in Ohashi, Meguro-district, just one train stop away from Shibuya station.

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The garden opened in 2013 and won the Good Design Award because of its special shape. It is built on the roof of the Ohashi-Junction, which connects the express highways Central Circular Route C2 and the Shibuya Route 3. Even though the park is located directly on the top of the highway, you cannot hear any sounds of traffic at all!

The garden is divided into different areas that you can enjoy, such as the garden of four seasons, the community space, the amusement area or the chill-out area.

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The loop-shaped garden area is about 7000m² wide and 400m long, while the elevation differs from 11 to 35 meters above the ground.

Here you can see the view of modern and traditional Japanese elements which are set up next to each other.

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You can also enjoy viewing beautiful flowers, trees and plants all year round.

Thanks to the big number of benches and green areas, you can help yourself to a nice picnic or view the cherry blossoms during spring time.

On a clear, sunny day you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, as well as Tokyo Tower from the top of the park.
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Garden details:
Address: Meguro Sky Garden
1 Chome-9-2 Ohashi,
Meguro, Tokyo 153-0044, Japan
Opening hours: 7:00 ~ 21:00
Entrance: Free
Access: It is a 3min walk from Ikejiri Ohashi Station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line.

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

Detective Conan Café in Shibuya

Detective Conan celebrates his 20th anniversary as an Anime in 2016!

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Detective Conan follows the story of a talented and renowned high school detective named Shinichi Kudo. He got in the way of a criminal syndicate, known only as the “Black Organization” who attack him and force him to swallow a drug called “APTX4869”, that transforms him back into a child. He assumes a fake name: Conan Edogawa and while keeping his true identity hidden, he continues to solve cases.

To celebrate the new movie, Detective Conan: The Pure Black Nightmare (released on April 16th), Detective Conan Cafés were opened in various locations throughout Japan (Nagoya・Hiroshima・Tokyo・Yamagata (until May 8th) , Osaka (until June 19th)).

WAttention staff visited the one in Shibuya, Tokyo.

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You should plan some extra time for lining up, especially during lunch and dinner time because it might be crowded.P1020514

The front of the Café is features the main characters of the Anime.

At the takeout stand you can buy éclairs wrapped and shaped in the image of the “APTX4869”, the drug which transformed Shinichi into a younger version of himself.

After entering the Café you can take a commemoration picture at the photo spot with Conan and his rival Kaito Kid.

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The windows at the back of the Café have “Mori Detective Agency” 毛利探偵事務所 (Mori Tantei Jimusho) written on them, just like in the Anime.
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The whole theme of the Café is inspired by London, the home town of Sherlock Holmes, another famous detective character created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Detective Conan chose the same name as the author of the detective whom he admires so much.

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The walls are covered with pictures of the characters.

The time limit for staying at the Café is about one hour.
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The menu is divided into savory dishes, sweet desserts and drinks. Every dish is connected to the Anime.

We decided to order “Danny’s Special Chicken Curry” together with “Haibara & Ayumi´s homemade Black Curry”.

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Every savory dish comes with a 2.5 dimensional figure which you can collect and also purchase in the merchandise store in front of the Café.

For dessert, we ordered the “Tropical Strawberry Parfait”….

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…and the “Conan Caffè Cappuccino”, which is designed with either Conan´s or Kaito Kid´s silhouette.

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As a present you will receive a specially designed coaster.

After eating, you can buy limited merchandise at the official “Conan Café Shop”.

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There is a variety of goods that you can choose from. Your purchase will be then put into a limited paper bag with the new movie’s commercial image and the logo of the Café.

 

Café details:
Café Manduka (Detective Conan Café + Detective Conan Official Shop)
Lumine Man Shibuya 1st floor
Jinnan 1-22-11, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo 150-0041
Opening period: April 8th ~ May 8th
Opening hours: Café 11:00 ~ 24:00 (last order 22:30)
Shop 11:00 ~ 21:00
Access: 2min walk from JR Shibuya Station – Hachiko Exit.
Website: http://www.conancafe.jp/en/

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 White Heron Dance

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

An online shop with a Café?

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

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

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Flower Festival in Tachikawa’s Showa Kinen Park

This year’s Flower Festival in Tachikawa’s Showa Kinen Park invites you to come and see hundreds of tulip fields in a variety of types and color. You can admire these flowers until May 22nd (Sunday).

WAttention staff visited the park on a Saturday and was overwhelmed by its beauty and colors.
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The little pond and stream contribute to the calm atmosphere, which helps you relax while being surrounded by nature.

The flowers match each other very well and create a harmonic play of colors.

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After strolling around and enjoying all the pretty tulip fields, this special photo-spot in the shape of a house is sure to be a great memory of your trip.

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Another flower field full of poppies is in full bloom as well.

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Visiting Showa Kinen Park during Golden Week makes for a perfect day trip, not just for couples or friends, but also for families. Entrance will be free on April 29th, and on May 5th it is free for elementary and middle school children as well as for their guardians. To explore the whole park we suggest to plan a full day to see all the attractions, playgrounds, events, flower fields, etc.
It is also possible to rent bicycles, unicycles, pedal boats or rowboats. At the BBQ Garden, you can hold your own grill-party, as well as play disk golf,  petanque, croquet, lawn bowls and much more.

Food stands and restaurants are located in nearly every area of the park, where you can enjoy Japanese food and snacks as well as the limited time tulip soft cream.

Park details:
Showa Kinen Park
3173 Midoricho, Tachikawa
Tokyo 190-0014
Opening hours: 9:30 ~ 17:00
Entrance fee: Adult (over 15) 410yen
Children (6 to 14) 80yen
Senior (over 65) 210yen
Access: From Shinjuku Station by JR Chuo Line (Express Train) about 25min until Tachikawa Station, 10min way to Akebono gate
Website: http://www.showakinen-koen.jp/event/httpwww-showakinen-koen-jpp5370/

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

Green Mall in Shibuya

This building covered in greenery is Shibuya Modi, a mall that has everything. Here you can drink a coffee with your friends, go shopping for clothes and afterwards go for karaoke. There are multi-language touch screen panels inside to help you if you don’t speak Japanese.

Access: 〒150-0041 1-21-3, Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Geisha: Not only in Kyoto

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

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

Tokyo

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

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Maiko, Geisha in training, at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

Yamagata

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

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

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Maiko at Ka Castle

Niigata

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

Geigi on their way to work

Kanazawa

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

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

Kanazawa

 

Osaka

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

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Shizuoka

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

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

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Shibuya Scramblers – Liese

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

Liese

(Nickname: The Lizard)

From: Belgium

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

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

Japan is fascinating because

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

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

After Shibuya I’m: 

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

 

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

Tottori: The Desert of Japan

Yes, the following photo was taken in Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese Sea
The Japanese Sea

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

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Tottori pear souvenirs

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

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

Access:

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Denbo-in, Asakusa’s Secret Garden

When you are in Asakusa you will notice there are many temples near the Senso-Ji area. One of them is the Denbo-in Temple, the office of Senso-Ji Temple and the residence of the head priest for generations. The garden is one of the few temple gardens from the Edo period in Tokyo.

Denbo-in was a secret garden as even the ruling lords were not easily allowed to visit. This is because Denbo-in Temple was used as Gozen-sho (place the shoguns of the Tokugawa family took a meal or rest when they came to visit). The area was opened as a public park from 1873 until 1930 but is now only open to the public for a certain period every year.

WAttention visited the garden to discover its secrets during its limited opening time. For the 300 yen entrance fee you can visit a small exhibition with ema (wooden plaques) from the Edo period. Photos are prohibited in this area but taking pictures of the garden is ok. The proceeds from this garden will be donated to support the recovery from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.

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Typical for this period was the arrangement of ponds on the north and west side of buildings. When you enter the garden you are greeted by flowers and a temple. The ladies who attend to the temple serve free tea to all the visitors just as they would if the Shogun came to visit.

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The view opposite the temple is beautiful. There is a rock beach, a pond with big Koi fish and greenery giving the area a relaxing atmosphere. Even in the center of Tokyo, you can experience this calm area as if you were in the middle of a forest. Although the illusion is broken by the silhouette of modern buildings in the background, the tranquility is amazing.

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You can reach the other side of the pond by crossing a stone bridge facing a small shrine. These ladies in kimono and hakama were taking a stroll in the garden.

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After crossing the bridge you will see a stone staircase leading to a hill from which you have a beautiful view of the garden and the Temple. But before you completely cross the bridge, admire the view of Sensoji-Temple peeking through the foilage.

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If you are in Tokyo during the limited opening period, the garden is well worth a visit, if not only for the privilege that you walked in a private garden usually only accessible for nobles. The small exhibition with Ema and original sculptures from the Edo period is an amazing bonus with the entrance fee. Two things you must see at the exhibition are the original Golden Dragon puppet from the Golden Dragon Dance performed twice a year in Asakusa and the original scroll that tells the story of how Asakusa Temple came to be.

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Access: 6 min walk from Asakusa station, on the temple grounds of Senso-Ji Temple.

A night view of suburban Tokyo from Sakuragaoka Park, Tama City

Think about night views in Tokyo and what first comes to mind is the city center’s impressive skyline of towering skyscrapers. However, this time around, let’s have a look at Tama, one of Tokyo’s more suburban areas. The night view here might not be as spectacular as in Shibuya or Shinjuku, but it is a charming one nonetheless.

This picture was taken from Yuhi no oka, or Sunset Hill, located within Sakuragaoka Park of Tama City.

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The clear, open sky from this hill, gives you a free, relaxed feeling. It might be called Sunset Hill, but I find the view at daytime just as wonderful.
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Despite the hill’s name, you cannot see the actual sunset from here, but the view on Tama City’s residential areas lightening up at dusk is well worth your visit.

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To view the sunset from Sakuragaoka Park, Asobi no hiroba, or children playground, is the best location. It is nearby on a 2, 3-min walk from Sunset Hill.

On a winter day with a clear sky, you can get a peek at Mt. Fuji lurking behind the other mountains from here.004_MYP3834151218

With a lack of city lights, it can be hard to see Mt. Fuji at night, but if you look at the right time at dusk, you will be able to enjoy a very alluring sight.

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This is a panorama shot of the view on Tama City at dusk taken from Sunset Hill. You can see a lot of different Tokyo’s suburban areas from here.

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At the foot of the hill is Kawasaki Boulevard, with Tama River streaming behind it.

The high buildings on the left are located around Seiseki Sakuragaoka Station of the Keio Line. After crossing the bridge on the middle of the picture you can reach Nakagawara Station, also from the Keio Line. The tower on the far right of the picture is Skytower West Tokyo (informally known as Tanashi Tower) of Nishitokyo City.

I zoomed-in on Tama River. You can see how the river’s bridges are lit-up during the evening.

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This picture was taken from the foot of Sunset Hill looking upwards.
As there are no lanterns here at night, it can get quite dark, so be careful when ascending or descending.

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The contrast between city lights and Sunset Hill’s green somehow warms the heart.

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Sunset Hill is divided into three parts, each part getting higher. I recommend you have a look at the view from each part of the hill as it gradually changes. For this blog, I started with pictures taken from the lowest part of the hill, and ended with pictures from the highest point. There are benches on each part of the hill, so you can enjoy the view at ease.

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As this is a popular park, it can get crowded. If possible, visiting during a weekday is recommended.

I focused this blog on Sunset Hill, but Sakuragaoka Park itself is a great park full of beautiful nature. If you have the chance, combine your visit to Sunset Hill with a stroll through some bits of the park. As the name (Sakuragaoka literally means cherry blossom hill) hints, the park’s myriads of blossoming sakura trees during spring are truly mesmerizing.

Sakuragaoka Park

Location: Renkoji 5,Tama,Tokyo

Entrance Fee: Free
Open: Every Day

Access: From Seiseki Sakuragaoka Station (Keio Line), take the Keio Bus headed for Hijirigaoka Danchi and get off at Kinenkan-mae

URL: http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index065.html

The entrance to Sumida River, Kachidoki Bridge

An international expo was scheduled for Tokyo in 1940, whose main venue would have been in Tsukishima. This expo was planned to celebrate Japan’s 2,600th anniversary. According to historical document “Nihonshoki” written in the Nara era (710-794), Japan’s first emperor Jinmu took the throne 2,600 years earlier in 660BC.

Before the year this expo was scheduled, the Sumida River had to be crossed by boat in order to reach Tsukishima. To make it more convenient to access, Kachidoki Bridge was built and completed in 1940.

The bridge was completely designed and constructed by Japanese staff only, in order to showcase Japan’s advanced technology to the world.
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However, when the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the expo was cancelled. While still under construction, Kachidoki Bridge was already known as “the entrance to Sumida River”, given its downstream location. Today, the Tsukiji Bridge, which will be even further downstream, is under construction and will be completed this year.

Together with the Eitai Bridge and the Kiyosu Bridge, Kachidoki Bridge is recognized as an important cultural property of Japan.

At the time Kachidoki bridge was under construction, marine transport was still more important than land transportation, which is why it is a moveable bridge. It was often referred to as “The No.1 Moveable Bridge of the East”. As today marine transport is no longer common in Tokyo, the bridge is not moveable anymore today.

Kachidoki Bridge is part of Harumi Street. This street goes on all the way to Ginza 4-Chome, where you will find famous landmarks such as Kabuki-za (Tokyo’s Kabuki theater) and department stores such as Ginza Mitsukoshi and Wako. A walk from Ginza to Kachidoki Bridge might be a nice thing to do on a sunny day!

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On the bridge are four rooms which were used for control operations, surveillance and as a dormitory for the staff.

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It is surprising that such a large steel-frame constructed bridge was capable of moving up to 70 degrees within 70 seconds!

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From the Kachidoki Bridge, you can see the Tsukiji Bridge on your right, Tokyo Tower in the center, and the Tsukiji fish market on your left. The Tsukiji fish market will move to its new location in Toyosu by November this year. However, the shops surrounding it will remain as they are.

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Kachidoki Bridge at night, shining in blue and green colors.

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If you look at Kachidoki Bridge from the right angle near Tsukuda Bridge, you can see Tokyo Tower standing behind it.
Due to the Sumida River Terrace (a waterfront terrace along the river), Kachidoki Bridge’s surroundings are pleasant to go for a walk. Behind Tsukuda Bridge you look at Chuo Bridge, with Tokyo Skytree standing in the back.

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Kachidoki Bridge shining at dusk with Tokyo’s skyscrapers in the backdrop.

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At the bridge’s Tsukiji side, you will find the Kachidoki Bridge Archives Museum.

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The building of this museum used to be Kachidoki Bridge’s transformer station.

You can enter for free, and observe generators, switchboards and old photos of the bridge opening and closing. Although you might feel tempted to push the switchboard’s buttons, please be aware that none of the objects here can be touched.

Kachidoki Bridge Archives Museum
Location: Tsukiji 6, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Entrance Fee: Free
Open: Tue, Thu – Sat
Hours: 9:30am – 4:30pm *During Dec – Feb 9 am – 4 pm
Holidays: Dec 29 – Jan 3
Nearest Station: Tsukijishijo Station, Kachidoki Station (Toei Oedo Line)

Kachidoki Bridge Archives Museum (Japanese)

http://www.kensetsu.metro.tokyo.jp/kachidoki/kannai.htm

First Brush With Geisha Culture

Before I became a geisha I was lecturing in Japanese Studies at university, and making anthropological documentaries for broadcasters like National Geographic Channel or Channel 4 (UK), or writing.

After I became a geisha, and then decided to continue working as a geisha at the end of the first year, I sometimes had qualms about the wisdom of completely abandoning my academic career.

That dilemma was nicely resolved a year after my debut. I had gone to visit the President of Keio University, my alma mater, to ask if we could organise a banquet for foreign students. Instead, Mr Anzai asked me to lecture at Keio on Geisha Studies.

My geisha mother had warned me many times never to mention the word “education” in front of the older geisha. Education was a sensitive issue as many of the older geisha were primary school graduates, and it is only recently that many new recruits to the geisha world are university graduates.

So what on earth would be the reaction of my older geisha sisters to the thought of an actively practising geisha lecturing at university? I could not even begin to imagine what would happen. But, as with everything else I did as a geisha in Asakusa, I asked for and received permission from both my geisha mother, and from the geisha office. As it happens, not one single time either then or after, did a single geisha make any comment at all about me lecturing. And as the last lecture that I did each term involved all the students coming to a banquet in Asakusa as the customers, many of the geisha I worked with in Asakusa met my students. Now, that I have my own independent geisha house and work with geisha from all over Tokyo, geisha from almost all the districts have met my students. And geisha from Asakusa still regularly attend my banquets.

So it was that I became the first geisha ever to be employed as a lecturer, and my classes were the first time that any Japanese university has ever had lectures on “Geisha culture.” In the end this is something that is very positive for the geisha world. My students are all fluent in several languages and will leave their elite universities for elite international careers. I hope the hundreds of students I have taught by now have fond memories of their time studying geisha culture and will become customers in the future. And teaching Geisha Culture at university helps to concrete the idea of Geisha Culture as a legitimate and serious subject in the minds of bureaucrats and educationalists.

I like taking my students out of school for a third of their classes. They meet an older geisha to hear about the old days in Shimbashi and Yanagibashi, go to see geisha dances in Kyoto or Tokyo, watch my trainees have their dance classes with one of the senior geisha, and tour a geisha district and tea-houses and meet with the tea-house mothers.

And they also get to do “hangyoku henshin” (maiko transformation) or dress up as little geisha themselves (hangyoku is the Tokyo word for maiko, or young geisha). I mostly dress them with the help of my current trainee geisha, but they have to learn to do their makeup themselves.

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First they put on a layer of wax called bintsuke abura, that protects their skin from the white makeup. The white makeup is a kind of talc these days, mixed with water.

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Before the white paste is painted on the girls put a bright pink color around their eyes and cheeks leaving the bridge of their noses white. This color is like blusher and gives texture to the face. The white layer covers the pink and it takes some practice to get the right amount of pink so that it shows through the white not too brightly but is still visible.

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Next comes a splash of vermilion red directly on the upper eyelids to lengthen and accentuate the black Asian eye. The eyebrows also are colored in charcoal black but have touches of red at both ends.

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The geisha’s whole look displays little touches of red in her undercollar, in the tie-dye splashes of red in her obijime ties, and in her makeup. The startling contrast of red, white and black, makes any Asian woman look beautiful. Next comes thick black eyeliner, and lastly the distinctive deep red pout of the geisha mouth.

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It takes all day long to make up and dress my students. In the photos here we were lucky to enlist the help of a tea-house mother in Otsuka district (Tokyo) who kindly allowed us to get dressed in her tea-house, and one of my older geisha sisters in Otsuka helped us out for the day.

I have enough kimono to have several trainees in my geisha house wear a different kimono every month of the year so there is no problem having enough kimono for all my students. But some things I need to borrow and one of my wonderfully cooperative older geisha sisters in Mukojima district lends me the seasonal hair ornaments that I don’t have enough of each term for the students.

The girls get ready one by one and take a walk around the geisha district while waiting for the last ones to finish dressing. We can’t wait too long….girls who are not used to wearing kimono have a lot of trouble staying together and neat!

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Finally, towards evening, when all the girls are ready we take the final photo…here you can see the Otsuka geisha and tea-house owner in front of the tea-house with my young students. How do they look?

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Sayuki welcomes new trainees in her Yanaka-based geisha house that have a strong interest in traditional Japanese culture, perfect Japanese, and long-term residency. Please see www.sayuki.net for more information. And anyone can book a banquet with Sayuki, her geisha sisters and her trainees through the contact form on the web-site.

Ginza’s Past and Present in Photos

Ginza is one of the best places to go shopping in Tokyo, especially in January as many of the department stores here will have a bargain sale in the second half of this month.

The Kabukiza Theater also has a special program to mark the beginning of the New Year.

So why not head down to Ginza and check out these historical buildings that hark back to to the late 19th century and early 20th century?

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The Kabukiza Theater is one of the most famous Kabuki theaters in Japan. Surrounded by modern buildings, it creates an interesting contrast between Japan’s past and present.

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This is a postcard from somewhere between 1925 and 1945, and shows us what Kabukiza Theater looked like before it was bombed during the end of WWII.

The Kabukiza Theater was originally constructed in 1889.

It has been reconstructed after a fire in 1921, after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, after the WWII bombings in 1945, and recently in 2010 because it was starting to show its age.

The phoenix design on the noren (curtain) at the entrance is Kabukiza Theater’s crest. This legendary bird originally from China, stands symbolic for happiness.

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At night, the theater will be elegantly lit-up. Faced to the busy Harumi-dori street, it can get quite busy during rush hours here.

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If you walk along Harumi-dori street towards Ginza station, you will reach the famous Ginza 4-chome (yon-chome) crossing.

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On the right side of this crossing is department store Ginza Mitsukoshi, and the building with the clock on the left side is Wako, also a department store. These department stores have stood symbol of Ginza’s luxury image since the thirties.

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This photo was taken somewhere between 1932 and 1941. As you can see, both department stores were already at their current locations.

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Today, Ginza shines with stylish lights at night, thus managing to look hip while maintaining its original charm.

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This is the crossing of Harumi-dori street and Chuo-dori street.
You can see Matsuya Ginza at the end of Chuo-dori street on the right side of this photo.

Matsuya Ginza is also one of Ginza’s historical department stores, but today boasts a modern style architecture, which is beautifully illuminated with LED at night.

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The following photo taken between 1920 and 1930, you can see how trams used to pass by in Ginza.

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While you will probably be busy shopping in Ginza, sometimes, try to stand still and imagine what the area was like in the old days. Doing so will really allow you to appreciate the area for sure.
Spot Information

Kabukiza Theater

Location: Ginza 4-12-15 Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit 3 of Higashi Ginza Station (Hibiya Line, Toei Asakusa Line)

URL : http://www.kabuki-bito.jp/eng/contents/theatre/kabukiza.html
Ginza Mitsukoshi

Location: Ginza 4-6-16, Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit A7 of Ginza Station(Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line and Hibiya Line)

URL: http://goo.gl/0Wqy43
Wako

Location: Ginza 4-5-11, Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit B1 of Ginza Station (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line and Hibiya Line)

URL : http://www.wako.co.jp/en/index.html

 

Matsuya Ginza

Location: Ginza 3-6-1 Chuo, Tokyo

Access: Directly connected to Exit A12 of Ginza Station (Ginza Line, Marunouchi Line, and Hibiya Line

URL : http://www.matsuya.com/visitor/en/m_ginza/

About Geisha Districts

Every tourist equates Japan with geisha. But most are hazy about where geisha actually are. They might know Kyoto has geisha, but many don’t know that Tokyo does too.

Actually there are probably 30 or 40 geisha districts still in Japan, generally defined as being a place where there is a geisha office (kenban) coordinating the activities of a number of individual geisha houses.

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Kyoto has five districts, Tokyo has six official districts and a scattering of places where there are individual geisha houses. But throughout Japan there are districts from Niigata to Nagasaki.

People generally think of Kyoto geisha as most traditional because Kyoto itself is old. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you consider that geisha, in their current form, have only been around for around 400 years. From that perspective Kyoto geisha and Tokyo geisha are equally old.

There are many reasons to have a geisha district. Often they sprang up around shrines because of the number of tourists coming to visit. “Pray, pay and play” was the traditional form of tourism. Kamishichiken (seven tea-houses) district in Kyoto got its start from its seven tea-houses near to a shrine. Asakusa’s geisha district has survived because of its proximity to the Asakusa Kannon temple, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist sights. Other districts are near a castle, like Nagoya or Morioka. These are generally high class districts because of their high class clientele and because their clientele were living nearby permanently. Other districts were near hot springs, another type of domestic tourism. But these were generally lower class in the old days because their clientele were short-term and temporary.

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Yet other districts emerged along the main roads of Japan at the posting inns where customers would stay overnight. In many of the 52 stops on the road from Tokyo to Kyoto there was a geisha district, usually also lower class because of the transient nature of the clientele. My geisha mothers used to say whenever I was not up to scratch that I was no better than a Shinagawa geisha! Thinking of all the high rise office buildings in Shinagawa today it is hard to imagine a geisha district there, or to recall that Shinagawa was the first stop on the road to Kyoto from Tokyo. Shinagawa no longer exists as a geisha district and Oi Kaigan, which follows it, has now lost its geisha office. The next stops on the old Tokyo-Kyoto road, Yugawara, Atami, and Hakone, also have rather lower standards than town districts. The geisha mostly work without being in the white makeup and traditional attire of geisha, and some of their geisha houses send out both geisha and “companions” (kimono-dressed hostesses without any of the skills of geisha), sometimes even interchangeably, something absolutely unthinkable for high class districts that have very rigid rules about what a geisha is and does.

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Another key reason for a geisha district to exist is because it was the center of a certain industry. Fukagawa, on Tokyo Bay, was the centre for the lumber industry, and as lumber began to be transported by truck instead of by boat, the businesses on the waterfront declined and the geisha disappeared.

I was lucky to win the Endeavour scholarship from the Australian Government shortly after I became a geisha. The Australian Government funded my research on geisha, and this allowed me to travel to practically every geisha district in Japan, visiting the geisha offices and meeting geisha and tea-house owners, and building relationships with geisha all over the country.

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Later I was invited back to many of these districts for banquets to perform with the local geisha, or I was able to invite geisha to visit Tokyo and attend banquets with my customers. Most geisha only usually appear at banquets with geisha from their own districts. And most geisha think that whatever happens in their own district is the norm for geisha everywhere. Few geisha have a wide overview of geisha all over Japan and are able to see their own district objectively. Thanks to the Australian Government support I have been really fortunate to be able to see and work with geisha from many districts around Japan and to continue those relationships. And more than anything get some real insight into different ways of doing things, and which districts are more successful.

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Geisha life – Funds and Games

Two months ago I wrote about my new trainee Sae (find this article here). She has proven to be hard working and reliable. She wakes up early to clean the geisha house and to sew the collars that we need to regularly change on our under kimonos. She attended kimono sewing school for a while so has actively taken on the role of sewing in my geisha house.

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After three months she has learned a range of banquet drinking games, and is able to help at banquets. And now she is currently practicing her third serious dance piece which she learns from one of the most senior geisha in Tokyo. She has been attending drum lessons as well and can already perform the first song in the repertoire.

In the old days, young trainees came into geisha houses as early as four years old, as did my own geisha mother, and were supported fully by the geisha house. My own geisha mother was a distant relative of a distinguished Asakusa geisha, but of a poor branch of the family from northern Japan. At just four years old she was put on a train for distant Tokyo to start her training as a geisha.

Girls in the old days were contracted and could not leave their geisha houses until the debts incurred in the purchase of their kimono – and lesson fees and all the tools they needed to purchase to become geisha – were paid for. But that doesn’t work so well these days when young girls come in at the earliest in their late teens, and who can leave at any time they want. And most geisha houses these days are not large establishments where there are scores of young geisha, and one runaway would not be missed, but are in houses, like mine, with one, two, or just a couple of trainees.

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In the old days, geisha facing their debut and all the expenses associated with that very solemn ritual at the start of their geisha life, might have had a “danna”, a sponsor who financed all the expenses of the debut, and who may or may not have had a romantic interest in the debuting geisha. Needless to say, the geisha world these days is dramatically different to former times and the burden of financing geisha debuts often falls upon the geisha house or on the geisha training and on her family.

In my own case, I trained in a very conservative district where it took a whole year of training before I could go to my first day of work, and I was in a staggering amount of debt when I debuted. I would arrive at the geisha house and my geisha mother would say “I just had a set of undergarments made for the day of your debut, and I have put $1000 on your debt account”. As I was choking, she would fix me with a stern eye and say, “You do want to be a geisha, don’t you? Not just any geisha, but an Asakusa geisha?” I had a very strong incentive and desire to become a geisha, but most girls these days, and their families, do not want to incur debt before they can even start work.

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I have been lecturing part-time at university since I became a geisha which gives me a little extra income beyond and above my income as a geisha. When I first started teaching at university I used to joke that Keio University was my danna. But more seriously, most geisha cannot lecture at university as I did, and it takes a long time in training before a geisha can teach dance or music for extra income as many of the senior geisha do. And of course geisha trainees have no income like this in the crucial period before their debuts. One of the real problems of the geisha world today is that there is nothing to take the place of a sponsor to finance the early days of a geisha career when the expenses are enormous and there is not yet enough work coming in to pay for those expenses.

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In the sumo world, many sumo wrestlers are sponsored by companies, and even appear on television commercials. But in the secretive geisha world that has not happened.

One of my dreams is to have a company sponsor one of my trainees, paying for her financial support in the first year before they are able to properly support themselves. Such a sponsor would pay a certain amount of money each month in support, and perhaps could even be paid back in banquet attendances after the young geisha gets through her first year, for example. If there are any companies out there reading this, do keep this in mind!

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But perhaps there are also other ways to do things in the digital age.

A girl recently wrote to me on the net asking if she could be of help to my geisha house. I am deeply grateful to even be asked this. It is so nice to know that people are interested in geisha and what I am doing and in helping to protect geisha culture.

I wonder if some of the fans of forums about geisha might not be able to collectively sponsor the training of a young geisha. In return she could write a blog, update them about her daily life, or post photos. Or even meet them if they travelled to Japan.

In my career as a geisha, I have tried many new things – initially always with the permission of my geisha mother and the geisha office – aimed at trying to ensure that geisha culture survives the modern era. But I have not yet solved the dilemma of how to help young geisha through the crucial first year of training.

It will take another six or nine months for Sae to become competent enough to be more than a trainee at banquets attended by older geisha from whom she must learn.

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How wonderful it would be if we could find new sources of support for new geisha – like a group of geisha supporters around the world, connected by the internet – helping to sponsor a young girl and help her on her way to achieving her dream of becoming a geisha.

 Sayuki welcomes new trainees in her Yanaka-based geisha house that have a strong interest in traditional Japanese culture, perfect Japanese, and long-term residency. Please see www.sayuki.net for more information. And anyone can book a banquet with Sayuki, her geisha sisters and her trainees through the contact form on the web-site.

Up And About Carrot Tower

Sangenjaya to the west of Tokyo is a popular suburb for locals to hang out.

The Chazawa-dori street connects Sangenjaya to Shimokitazawa, another neighborhood with interesting local culture nearby. Along this street, you will find many cozy shops, restaurants and cafes.

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On Sunday from 1pm to 5pm, the first part of this street starting from Sangenjaya Station becomes a car-free zone, or pedestrian heaven as the Japanese call it. How about spending your Sunday in this heaven of the locals?

Sangenjaya Station can be reached either by the Tokyu Den-entoshi Line or the Tokyu Setagaya Line, the latter one being one of Tokyo’s only two tram lines left today.

While the Setagaya Line has only few stations, you will be able to appreciate its nostalgic atmosphere for sure.

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Directly connected to Sangenjaya station is Carrot Tower, a 124-meters tall skyscraper that lends its name from its orange-colored exterior.

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The 26th floor of Carrot Tower functions as an observatory deck with a free seating area.

With comfortable tables and seats available near the window, people tend to stay here for a long time, so it can be quite hard to find an empty spot. Especially in the weekends, it is advised to arrive early!

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A view at the Setagaya Line tracks from Carrot Tower

The free seating area is faced to the west, allowing you to see Kanagawa Prefecture’s residential areas and Mt.Fuji in the backdrop on clear sunny days.

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An amazing horizon line at dusk

Even when cloudy, the view here is full of life. The long road on the left is Setagaya-dori, which starts in Sangenjaya and goes on to Komae, a residential area in the outskirts of Tokyo.

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If you care for French & Italian fusion dining with a view, you can do so at Carrot Restaurant located on the same floor. Only guests at this restaurant have the privilege to enjoy the view from the east side of this observation, which is faced towards Tokyo’s city center. I hear that you can look as far as Tokyo Tower or even Tokyo Skytree!

Sangenjaya is a great area for walking around and exploring Tokyo’s local culture.

Take for example the Sankaku-chitai, or triangle area, which can be reached by crossing the street from Carrot Tower.

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Sankaku-chitai with Carrot Tower in the backdrop.

This area originally developed as a black market after World War II. You can still catch a glimpse of Tokyo’s yesteryear here, with small restaurants and bars standing side by side in narrow alleys.

Located on the same side of the street as Carrot Tower is Suzuran-dori, another alleyway that might not have the same scale as Sankaku-chitai, but is definitely just as lively, cozy and nostalgic!

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Carrot Tower

Location: Taishido 1-1-4, Setagaya,Tokyo

Access: Sangenjaya Station (Tokyu Den-entoshi Line, Tokyu Setagaya Line)

Entrance Fee: Free

Open: 9:30AM-11:30PM

Holiday: Second Wednesday every month, New year holidays

Lake Tama, a relaxing lake in the outskirts of Tokyo

Have you ever been to Lake Tama?

It is located in Higashi Yamato city, the outskirts of Tokyo and takes about one hour from Shinjuku by train.

Still, this beautiful wide lake is a great place to enjoy nature and is well worth the effort of getting there.
While Maruyama Reservoir is the official name of this artificial lake that dates back to 1927, it is best known as just “Lake Tama”

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The general view at Lake Tama

The architecture on the left is the intake tower of the reservoir.

The mountain range in the backdrop is Okutama. Lake Tama’s crystal clear water originates from these mountains. Lake Tama’s water is used as Tokyo’s drinking water.

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This footpath is actually a dike

Visitors can cross the lake by this dike, and of course bicycles can cross the dike as well.
On the right, you can see the Seibu amusement park, which is located near Lake Tama.

 

With its sophisticated design, Lake Tama’s intake towers are said to be the most beautiful in Japan.

Their design is called Neo Renaissance style.

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Directly connected to Lake Tama is Sayama Park.

This spacious green park belongs to Higashimurayama city, and makes it hard to believe that this is still a part of Tokyo!

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When I went here in autumn, the park’s leaves were just changing their colors, making my stroll through the park a truly mesmerizing walk.

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I came back to Lake Tama at sunset.

On a sunny clear day like this, you can see Mt. Fuji from here too!

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The surface of this calm lake reflects almost like a mirror.

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The gradation colors at twilight create a mysterious sight.

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The intake towers with a starlit sky. While Tokyo’s strong lights make it hard for the stars to come up, you can still see some here.

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However, Seibu amusement park was shining much more brightly than the stars!

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Until April 10, 2016, illumination event “illumi ju” is held every day after 16:00 PM

While Lake Tama and its surrounding have so many charm its easy to spend the whole day here, make sure you bring your bento and drinks as there are no cafes or restaurants in the area!

Lake Tama

Nearest Station: Seibu-Yuenchi Station (Seibu Tamako Line)
Entrance Fee: Free

Tokyo Skyline Views From Roppongi Hills

From Ropongi Hills’s observatory deck, you can enjoy an amazing panorama of Tokyo’s urban landscapes. The view of Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree together, and the view at Shibuya and Shinjuku are some of the best Tokyo has to offer!

This observatory deck has two floors. You have the indoor observatory at the 52nd floor, and the Sky Deck, which is located on the building’s rooftop.

Today’s first shot was taken from the 52nd floor. This angle, with Tokyo Tower in the front and Tokyo Skytree in the back can only be taken from Roppongi Hills.

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With large windows, the spacious 52nd floor’s indoor observatory is ideal to enjoy the view at ease. Many exhibitions are held here throughout the year as well.

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This panorama shot was taken from the Sky Deck.

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While an additional fee of 500 yen (300 yen for children) is required to enter the Sky Deck, as you can see it is more than worth your money! The long bridge on the right sight is Tokyo’s famous Rainbow Bridge, which leads to Odaiba.

From the Sky Deck, you will be looking at the scenery like this.

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As Sky Deck is located on the rooftop, be sure that you’re not dressed too cold or warm depending on the season.
For safety reasons, you can only take your camera and mobile phone to the Sky Deck. Other belongings (including hats and caps) have to be put in the coin locker at the 52nd floor before you take the elevator up.

Did you know that Roppongi Hills was selected as a Lover’s Sanctuary? The scenery would indeed make for an amazing date!

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On this side, you can see the skyscrapers of Shinjuku and Shibuya in the distance.

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The next shot was taken from the 52nd floor at twilight. Tokyo gradually begins to light up.

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Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree from the Sky Deck at night.

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Another panorama view from Sky Deck, this time taken at night. There are 2 towers, 2 ferris wheels and 2 bridges on this shot, can you find them all?

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The Shibuya direction with Mt.Fuji in the backdrop taken from Sky Deck at dusk.
Mt. Fuji can only be seen on clear days from November to February, let’s hope you get lucky!

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Whenever I come to Roppongi Hills’s observation deck, I can never chose which direction to watch at twilight. With two floors and literally breathtaking sights at each corner of the observatory, this is truly a spot you keep wanting to come back to!

Spot Information

Location: Minato 6-10-1 Mori Tower Roppongi Hills Tokyo, Minato
Access: Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Roppongi Station (directly connected to Roppongi Hills), or a 6-min walk from Toei Oedo Line Roppongi Station.

Hours: Weekdays and holidays 10:00 am–11:00 pm (last admission at 10:30 pm) Fridays, Saturdays, days preceding holidays 10:00 am–1:00 am (last admission at midnight) Sky Deck hours: 11:00 am–9:00 pm (last admission at 8:30 pm)

Entrance Fees: Adults 1800yen, age 65 and above 1500yen, students (high school, college, and university) 1200yen, children (from four years to junior high school students) 600yen

Additonal Fees for Sky Deck: Adults 500yen, children (from 4 years to junior high school students) 300yen

URL: http://www.roppongihills.com/tcv/en/index.html

Illumination at Keyakizaka-dori Street Roppongi Hills

During the winter, illumination shines everywhere in Tokyo.
Even on the most cold nights, the illumination is there to keep one’s heart warm.

Keyakizaka-dori Street in Roppongi Hills has 1.2 million shining LED lights, and Tokyo Tower – also beautifully lit-up – can be seen in the backdrop.

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The illumination here comes in two colors, “Snow & Blue” and “Candle & Red”. The illumination’s color changes over time, allowing you to enjoy two different illuminations at one spot!

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On the day of my visit, the almost full moon was also shining in the distance, eager to join the illumination.

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From this angle, it is as if the illuminations are like stars in the universe, encircling the moon. A rare shot of natural and artificial shots shining together.

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As one of the most romantic illumination spots Tokyo has to offer, Keyakizaka is ideal for a winter date.

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Along Keyakizaka-dori – which is a slope though not very steep – a wide arrange of luxury shops are available for quality shopping. This shot is taken from a lower point looking up at the slope.

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If you spot a hidden heart,  you can engage in an interactive activity with your smartphone! Hidden hearts are very scarce and only lit up for 5 minutes every hour, but if you succeed in finding one, something cool will happen!
Find out more here.

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This photo is taken from a pedestrian bridge. Looking at illumination from above provides a fresh view.

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The warm red illumination and light tracks of passing cars together make a stunning collaboration on this shot. On the day this  shot was taken, it was very windy and cold. Be sure to put on warm clothes when you go to see illumination in Tokyo.

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Att Roppongi Hills, many other illumination events can be enjoyed as well until December 25. Find out more on the official website.
I would also like to recommend the observatory at Roppongi Hills during this period for an illuminated skyline view, which I will introduce in my next entry.

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Keyakizaka-dori Street Roppongi Hills Illumination

Location: Roppongi 6,Minato, Tokyo
Access: Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Roppongi Station (directly connected to Roppongi Hills), or a 6-min walk from Toei Oedo Line Roppongi Station.

Period: November 4 2015- December 25 2015

Hours: 17:00 PM–23:00 PM

Fee: Free

Azuma Bridge: A Bridge Of Crimson Thunder

Although Asakusa is without a doubt best known for the Sensoji temple, allow me to introduce another landmark in the area: Azuma bridge.

Azuma bridge is located on the opposite side of Sensoji temple, but can be reached from Asakusa Station within 3 minutes. It crosses over the Sumida river, with Taito ward on the west side of the river, and Sumida ward on the east side.

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With the headquarters of Asahi Breweries, or Asahi Beer Tower – the golden colored skyscraper designed as a beer glass – in the backdrop, Azuma bridge makes for a popular photo spot.

The “Asahi Sky Room” located on Asahi Beer Tower’s 22nd floor, is a cafe where you can enjoy a freshly tapped beer while gazing at Tokyo’s skyline.

The black building with the golden object on top it is Super Dry Hall, “Super Dry” being Asahi Breweries’ most popular brand. The golden object on top is said to represent the burning soul of Asahi Breweries, and was designed by French designer Philippe Starck in 1989.

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The traditional Japanese patterns on Azuma bridge are called “Raimon”, which stands for thunder in Japanese. These patterns and the bridge’s crimson color come from the Sensoji temple, as the Kaminarimon gate is literally translated as thunder gate, which also boasts the same color.

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Of course, looking up at the impressive skyline from Azuma bridge is a must. However, do not forget to also look down and check the bottom of the bridge and see its unique design patterns.

I have a weak spot for well designed bridges, and consider photographing them my life work.

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At the western side riverbanks near the bridge, tourist boats depart for city cruises. This popular tourist attraction allows you to enjoy Tokyo’s urban landscapes along the Sumida river. Find out more here!

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The other side of the river functions as the embarkation point of Yakatabune, or traditional Japanese houseboats. On board a Yakatabune, you can enjoy refined Japanese cuisine together with the scenery. Find out more here!

Of course, you can also go for a stroll along the river’s pedestrian paths. I personally like to head downstream as there are many beautiful bridges in this direction.

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The area shines even more at night, enlightened by myriads of street lights and lights from surrounding skyscrapers that are reflected in the river.

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But even at night, Azuma bridge still boasts the same elegant crimson color.

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The following picture was taken on a clear day with a full moon. Within 15 minutes after the sunset is the best time for taking pictures.
009_LET0657141203 Located in front of Asakusa is the long-established department store Matsuya Asakusa. The Art Deco style exterior of this 1931 department store was restored in 2012. Its classy lights at night perfectly match the architecture. You will find this department store on your way back from the Azuma bridge, so how about some quality shopping here?

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Keep in mind that the Azuma bridge is only one of the many exciting activities and must-see spots to enjoy in and around Asakusa. That being said, I hope this article will be useful for planning your visit!

Spot Information

Azuma Bridge
Location: Kaminarimon 2, Taito, Tokyo
Access: 3-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Toei Asakusa Line)

What do geisha do?

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There are all kinds of misconceptions about what a geisha is and what she does. Geisha are traditional entertainers. “Gei” means “art” in Japanese and literally means “person of art”. We are dancers and musicians, much like opera singers or ballet dancers. Geisha also perform on the big stage. Usually each district has a large performance once a year: a big production featuring different music and dance each time and coordinated with the help of all the music and dance teachers that teach the geisha.

But most geisha entertainment is private. We go to tea-houses where customers have dinner, and sit with the customers during their meal, performing for just half an hour or so halfway through the dinner.

If you think about it, in the days of Bach or Mozart, they didn’t sit around in a garret composing music as they pleased, and they didn’t live on social welfare either. They had to perform their music and usually they did so at the houses of nobles. In other words it was a kind of private entertainment. And one assumes they must have had some social skills as well or they would not have been invited back.

For whatever reason, this kind of private entertainment turned into large scale public entertainment in the West. But in the geisha world, geisha entertainment has always remained mostly private.

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And apart from banquets we accompany our customers in all kinds of ways. Geisha sometimes dance at weddings while the bride is changing, or even attend funerals to help because geisha can be relied on to be discreet and well mannered with guests.

Often geisha are invited on mass to the first day of the sumo wrestling tournaments, or the first day of the kabuki traditional theater. Or even to the opening of new department stores or businesses.

Last week I had a banquet on Friday night in Tokyo with overseas customers and then travelled to Kyoto to attend the Gion Higashi geisha district’s annual dances on Sunday. A customer of mine arranges tickets for me for these dances each year. The geisha in Gion Higashi entertain his Kyoto clients when he is in Kyoto, and he supports them by buying tickets each year to their performance. These kind of long-term reciprocal favors are the very basis of the geisha world.

Of course, tourists always want to know about how far geisha will or won’t go.

Geisha traditionally would stop being a geisha if they got married, so all geisha are single are hence available, something that adds greatly to the romance of the geisha world from the customer’s point of view.

It is very possible that a geisha might fall in love with a customer, and of course, geisha encourage that hope.

But like any professional, a geisha’s romantic relationships are entirely her own business.

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Maple Hunting In Tokyo: Ueno Park

Autumn colors in Ueno Park

As autumn approaches its peak, Japan’s leaves gradually dye in deep red, yellow and orange colors.
While widely renowned for its cherry blossoms in spring, Ueno Park is also ideal for viewing autumn leaves.
In urban Tokyo, it is hard to find a spot for viewing autumn leaves this spectacular, and you can enter for free!

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The green near the park’s fountain is a great place to relax in the soft autumn sun.

Near this fountain is Tokyo National Museum. Many other museums are  located within Ueno Park as well. How about some art after your walk? From October 27 to December 6, Tokyo National Museum opens its garden for autumn leaf viewing. Find more information here.

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The following photos were taken at Ueno Park’s Suribachiyama hill.

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You can see how the sun is shining directly on the leaves, which makes the colors more bright and flamboyant.
As they catch sunlight more easily, trees that stand on a hill are usually the best to enjoy autumn leaves.

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Green and golden leaves creating a photogenic contrast.

 

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A close-up of maple silhouettes.
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Myriads of autumn leaves completely coloring the Suribachiyama hill.

The park’s avenues were colored with refreshing Ginkgo foliage.

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With a backdrop this colorful, it is almost as if Saigo Takamori is about to come to life.

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Fallen leaves covering the ground make for a romantic view, but watch out as it can be slippery!

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Ueno Park

Best period for autumn foliage: Mid November – End November

Location: Ikenohata 3, Taito, Tokyo

Access: A 2-min walk from Ueno Station (JR Lines, Hibiya Line, Ginza Line)

All About Geisha Banquets

Life as a geisha is often busy with organizing events, and as usual, this week I am busy with organizing banquets for the week ahead. Banquets are the main thing that geisha do, but it seems customers are often not really sure what a banquet involves. So what is a banquet?

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The average banquet is a leisurely two hour dinner at a traditional Japanese tea-house. Cuisine is usually fresh seasonal ingredients, with a lot of fish, but there are some wonderful vegetarian options, and meat can be prepared on request.

Tea-houses are usually exquisite traditional buildings often with little gardens, and every corner of the tea-house is beautiful.

Customers usually arrive first and order drinks, and then the geisha make their entrance all together.

The price for a banquet depends on the ratio of customers to geisha. One customer and ten geisha would be very expensive indeed, but ten customers and one geisha would be very affordable. Usually it would be best to have at least a minimum of one geisha for every five or so guests. I always ask my customers to tell me their numbers and the maximum budget they want to pay per person and I give them some options within their budget. I try not to turn anyone away. Sometimes there are ways to make banquets work even for smaller budgets.

Halfway through the meal the geisha do a performance, usually around half an hour long, with a variety of instruments: shamisen and singing, drum, and flute, and the geisha dance. The music is always different to match the season.

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And then if the customers would like to, we play traditional drinking games.

The banquet I am organizing now is an overseas client who comes to Japan every year for his birthday with different friends and family each time. I still need to get a birthday present, and organize a birthday cake. And I have arranged tickets for him for the annual geisha dances in one of Kyoto’s geisha districts, a lovely opportunity to enjoy a geisha performance on the big stage.

I often say that coming to a banquet is to experience the best of Japanese architecture in the beautiful tea-houses, the best of Japanese cuisine, and sake, the best of Japanese painting in the art on the walls, and pottery, and flower arrangement in the decorations. One can see the loveliness of the geisha kimonos, and the artisanship in our accessories. And experience Japanese music, and of course, dance. There is really nowhere else that one can get such a total Japanese cultural experience at one time in one place.

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Now with internet, one can find banquets advertised, but some caution is needed. Much of what is advertised are not real banquets…geisha prices don’t alter so how do they do it? Sometimes restaurants hire one maiko to go around every room in the restaurant spending only 10 or 15 minutes in each room. Other times customers are all together, 30 or 40 of them, in one large room. There is even one company advertising as geisha girls who have never trained as geisha at all!

But the internet has made other things easier. Traditionally first-timers were not welcome at tea-houses. But now if foreign customers book with me online I become the introducer and the tea-houses will accept even first-timers.

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Anyone can book a banquet easily by contacting Sayuki on www.sayuki.net.

Sayuki has some extra tickets for the annual geisha dances in Kyoto on Sunday, Nov 8. Contact [email protected] for further information.

Tokyo Skyline Views From Bunkyo Civic Center

The best season for viewing Tokyo’s skyline is from November to February. The air can be so clear that on a sunny day you can see as far as Mt.Fuji. Tokyo has countless observatory decks with great views, but with slated windows that suppress reflection, the Bunkyo Civic Center has to be one of my favorites, and you can enter for free!

Just look at this breathtaking view of Shinjuku’s towering skyscrapers with Mt. Fuji in the backdrop.
The tallest building located on the right side of Mt.Fuji is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

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Next, let’s have a look at the view of Ikebukuro. The highest building here is Sunshine City, which also has a good observatory that is currently being rennovated. It is scheduled to reopen in Spring 2016.

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You can also enjoy a great view of Tokyo’s new landmark tower, the Tokyo Skytree.

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With Shinjuku on your west side and Ikebukuro and the Tokyo Skytree on the east, you can enjoy an unparalleled panorama view from the Bunkyo Civic Center that is definitely worth a visit.

Things get even more exciting as the sun sets. The silhouette of Mt. Fuji in the back of Shinjuku’s urban landscape is simply stunning.

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The first 15 minutes of twilight are the most spectacular, so be sure to arrive at the observation deck before it gets dark.

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At night, the skyscrapers become extra glamorous with their flashy lights, but Mt. Fuji stays its dignified self. Behold this amazing panorama of nature and civilization.

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And here’s a look at the heavy traffic on Kasugadori street heading for Ikebukuro during rush hour.

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The Tokyo Skytree takes on a different charm at night with its colored illumination.

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Bunkyo Civic Center

Entrance fee: Free
Hours: 9am – 8:30pm
Holidays : December 29 – January 3, 3rd Sunday in May
Location; Kasuga 1-16-21, Bunkyo, Tokyo
Access: 1-min wak from Korakuen Station (Marunouchi Line, Namboku Line), 1-min walk from Kasuga Station (Mita Line, Oedo Line)

Life inside the Flower and Willow World

Becoming a geisha

In my geisha house I will be taking a new hangyoku (maiko) trainee in this month. What kind of girls become geisha trainees in this day and age? Usually they are girls who are attracted by the Japanese arts: girls who like kimono and who would like to learn Japanese dance. But recently I get applicants who have lived or travelled overseas and found themselves unable to answer questions about Japan, and who then start to realise that they have little understanding of their own country’s traditional culture.

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I would like my trainees to know some English or at least be interested in learning, and who want to perform overseas. There is increasing interest in geisha by foreign tourists and I am very keen to introduce geisha culture abroad. All of my five trainees to date have been able to travel overseas to perform at least once. We have been invited by a customer to perform in Russia next May, so I am hoping my new trainees will be performing in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I also get applications from girls all over the world from the US to Africa: girls who have been brought up on anime and who are obsessed with the idea of becoming a geisha. I would not discriminate on the basis of the color of a girl’s skin, but the simple fact is that being a geisha is a “talking” job. Geisha must be charming, amusing, very good at listening and able to anticipate their customers every want: they must be absolutely fluent in Japanese or it would not work. After me, there have been several foreigners who tried being a geisha in the countryside where just being able to meet a foreigner is already a novelty for the local customers. All of them were married, and thus none of them could have worked as geisha in Tokyo where the rules are very much stricter. And, except for in Yugawara, they have now all quit. In the eight official geisha districts of Tokyo (those with geisha offices), where the customers are much more sophisticated, no foreigner has debuted. So it is not so easy to become a geisha in Tokyo.

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My two new geisha prospects this month are both excellent candidates. One is a girl in her late twenties who has had an international career in the arts between Tokyo and New York and who wants to experience a more Japanese lifestyle. And the second is a 20 year old girl who went to school to learn to sew kimono, and who now wants to experience Japanese dance.

New trainees must concentrate on Japanese dance first and foremost. My trainees will learn directly from one of the most senior geisha in Tokyo, and also from an official dance school master. They must be able to perform several dances perfectly before they can attend banquets. They will also learn drum, some tea ceremony, and shamisen. And they will be in kimono all day every day for their lessons as they must learn to move gracefully in kimono; an art in itself. It will be a very busy 3 months in the autumn learning their first dances, and then they will be experiencing banquets for another few months as trainees. As my geisha house is independent I work together with geisha from every district in Tokyo, and my trainees have a great opportunity to work alongside a range of different geisha.

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Young geisha in Tokyo wear furisode long-sleeved kimonos, but they have deep tucks sewn into the shoulders and sleeves to symbolise childhood. Kimonos need to be re-sewn for my new trainee hangyoku (maiko). And we will be busy collecting all the personal items that they must acquire to be able to start work: name cards with her geisha name (my girls all have names including the character “sa” from Sayuki), hand towels with her new geisha name to distribute to customers and her older sisters, bags and sandals, accessories and hair ornaments.

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I remember my own debut, in Asakusa, in December, 2007. I had to walk, as the first white geisha to ever debut in Japan, fully made-up and dressed in a million-yen antique kimono of my geisha mother, with the hakoya-san “bag carrier” of the geisha office, through all the crowded streets of Asakusa to deliver my hand towels to all the people I would be obliged to in the future: customers, older geisha sisters, owners of the shops that carry geisha goods. It was terrifying. But in the end it is the customers who came forth to encourage and support me that made it all worthwhile.

Customers these days are changing. There are less and less of those that are very familiar with the geisha world, and increasing numbers of first-timers and foreigners. I do hope that my new girls experience the same encouragement and support from this new generation of customers.

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Sayuki welcomes new trainees in her Yanaka-based geisha house that have a strong interest in traditional Japanese culture, perfect Japanese, and long-term residency. Please see www.sayuki.net for more information. And anyone can book a banquet with Sayuki and her trainees through the contact form on the web-site. 

Iris in Wonderland Japan: What did you eat this summer?

 

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In summer in Japan, you will sometimes find bento boxes of grilled eel rice in convenience stores, with a poster stating the “doyo no ushi no hi”.

Apparently, this habit of eating eel on the “doyo no ushi no hi” has been around since the Edo era. This is because the Japanese believe that the eel, rich in protein and nutrients, will help fortify the body against the summer heat.

“Doyo” refers to the 18 days before the change of every season. “Doyo no ushi no hi” refers to the “day of the ox of the seasonal change period”.

There is also another interesting version behind the custom of eating eels on the “doyo no ushi no hi”, which is the fact that the eel is actually least oily during the summer, unlike late autumn when it stores more fat to last the cold winter, causing a dip in eel sales during the summer months.

So apparently, an eel restaurant hired a scientist, inventor and intelligentsia of the day, Gennai Hiraga – who was studying electricity and its production by the eel – to come up with a way to encourage eel eating during the summer. Hiraga then made a sign saying “Today is the doyo no ushi no hi” and hung it outside the eel restaurant. As a result, business boomed, prompting other shops to do the same. Over time, this became a custom.

There is another saying that because “ushi” when written in hiragana form looks like two eels. Hence eating eels on the day of the ox will help to chase away the remaining summer heat.

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In addition, there is a belief that eating foods beginning with the sound “u” on days of the “ushi no hi” will help protect against summer fatigue. Hence, other than eating eels, other foods such as beef (ushi) or udon (wheat flour noodles), plums (ume) or gourds (uri) are also auspicious to eat.

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One of the reasons I love Japan is for the deep sense of cultural traditions, carried on from times long past. This preservation of culture is to me, amazing.

Though the younger generations may gradually forget such traditions, be it the “doyo no usho no hi” or other customs, I think taking the effort to find out the story behind them is always fascinating – especially how the way people thought in the past!

Did you try eel this summer?

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Iris in Wonderland Japan: Cool Cafes To Chillout At

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I like cafes, drinking coffee, and especially cappuccino.
During my freetime I like to chill out at a quiet cafe and enjoy a leisurely brunch or dessert while surfing the web, reading a book or listening to music, and am happy to do this even on my own.
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In Tokyo, one can find cafes with character to relax in peace and quiet while savouring the delights on their menu.
So whenever I have some time to myself, I try to discover a cafe with ambience and try their brunch! In particular, I love Egg Benedicts…
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…and sandwiches!
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In cafes in Tokyo, one can enjoy the company of friends, or chilling out by yourself, unwinding from the daily toil.
Here are a couple of my favorite cafe hangouts:
Bondi Cafe
1-19-7 Tomigaya, Shibuya, La Foret Tomigaya 302
–> I like the decor here that transports one to Bondi beach in Sydney!
 
Viron
Tsukada Bldg. 1-2F, 33-8 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
–> The baguettes here are made from flour flown in from France, and it shows in the wonderful taste and texture that is sure to leave you satisfied!
 

Iris in Wonderland Japan: Summer Fireworks

Hi, my name is Iris Woo and I’m Malaysian Chinese, born and bred in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

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This is my first blog entry on my journey to chase my dream to become a singer in Japan.

Now, what do you crave most on a hot summer’s day? Something icy perhaps?

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Shaved ice, Malaysian style.

In Malaysia where I come from, we eat shaved ice called “ice kacang”, also called “ABC” – maybe because it has a little bit of everything on top, from red beans to agar, palm sugar syrup, sweetcorn and coconut milk!

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In Japan, the shaved ice doesn’t come with so many toppings. But while simple, I find it to be also very refreshing. I was surprised to hear that Japanese have been eating ice in the summer since the Heian Period. That’s amazing!

In tropical Malaysia, it is summer all year round. But in Japan, there are many types of festivals to celebrate summer. My first experience of summer fireworks festival in Japan was a real eye-opener!

Firstly, in Malaysia, we often have traffic jams like this:

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But in Tokyo I witnessed an amazing “human jam”. That said, it was a happy and excited crowd, moving in anticipation towards the great fireworks show to come.

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It was fun to walk along the streets with so many stalls selling various snacks.

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Like everyone else, I bought some street food to eat while enjoying the fireworks.

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It was a great experience for me to see how the Japanese enjoy summer in traditional summer yukata. And I had fun wearing one myself!

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