10 reasons to do a farm stay in Japan

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

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

10. All the wide open spaces

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

9. Fresh air! 

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

8. Fresh produce; no preservatives

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

7. Child- and family-friendly activities

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

6. Animals!

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

5. Explore nearby mountains or forest

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

4. Experience new farm activities

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Tea picking experience | picture source

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

3.  Unplug and unwind

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

2. Support ecotourism and help the environment

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

1. Opt for a long and authentic farm experience

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

 Try a farm stay in Japan next time!

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore

August 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

Here comes the second part of our Fireworks Festivals Schedule! All big Events In & Around Tokyo for August are featured in this article.  Get your Yukata ready!

Tokyo

The 34th Koto Fireworks Festival

Date: August 1st (Monday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm
This fireworks display will be held along the Arakawa River. In case of light rain, the event takes place. In case of stormy weather, the fireworks display moves to the next day, August 2nd (Tuesday).
Visitors last year: 350,000 people
Number of fireworks: 4,000
Access: Tokyo Metro Tozai Line –> Minami-Sunamachi Station, Exit No. 2A or 3 (15min walk)
Address: Arakawa・Sunamachi Mizube Koen, 8-22 Higashi Suna, Koto-ku

63rd Todabashi & 57th Itabashi Fireworks Festival

DSC_0486Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival features two festivals which are very close to each other and count as one. The Arakawa river separates those both places, Toda City belongs to Saitama Prefecture and Itabashi belongs to Tokyo. Therefore you can enjoy the festival from both sides of the river. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: Itabashi Area 520,000 / Todabashi Area 420,000
Number of fireworks:  12,000
Access & Address:
① Todabashi Fireworks Festival (Arakawa Kasenshiki, Todabashi Joryu, Japan National Route 17, Toda-shi, Saitama)
JR Saikyo Line -> Toda Koen Station (20min walk)
② Itabashi Fireworks Festival (Arakawa Kasenshiki, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo)
JR Saikyo Line -> Ukima Funado Station / Toei Mita Line -> Takashimadaira Station・Nishidai Station・Hasune Station (20min walk)

41st Edogawa-ku Fireworks Festival & 32nd Ichikawa Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

DSC_0487Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival features two festivals which are very close to each other and count as one. It is located at the border of Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 1,390,000 (Edogawa-ku 900,000 / Ichikawa-shi 490,000)
Number of fireworks:  14,000
Access & Address:
① Edogawa-ku Fireworks Festival (Edogawa Kasenshiki, Toritsu Shinozaki Koen, Kamishinozaki 1-25, Edogawa-ku)
Toei Shinjuku Line -> Shinozaki Station (15min walk); JR Sobu Line -> Koiwa Sation/ Keisei Line -> Edogawa Station (25min walk)
② Ichikawa Summer Nights Fireworks Festival (Ozu 3, Ichikawa-shi, Chiba )
JR Soba Line -> Ichikawa Station (15min walk); JR Sobu Line -> Motoyawata Station (30min walk) , Keisei Line -> Konodai Station (20min walk)

Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival

DSC_0193Date: August 20th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival acts as a charity at the same time, concentrating on the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Kumamoto Earthquake. Popular artists will perform as well. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 21st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 1,000,000 people
Number of fireworks:  12,000
Access: JR Sobu Line -> Sendagaya Station・Shinanomachi Station・Yoyogi Station; Tokyo Metro Lines -> Gaienmae Station・Aoyama-Itchome Station・Omotesando Station・Kitasando station; Toei Oedo Line -> Kokuritsu-Kyogijo
Address: Meiji Jingu Gaien, Minato-ku, Shibuya-ku, Shinjuku-ku

Movie City Chofu – Summer Fireworks Festival (34th Chofu Fireworks Festival)

DSC_0464Date: August 21st (Sunday), 6:50pm – 7:50pm (*Paid seats are available)
Since Chofu is the movie city of Tokyo (many movie production companies are located in this area) the fireworks festival comes along with music out of popular movies.
In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 380,000 people
Number of fireworks:  8,000
Access: Fuda Area: Keio Line -> Chofu Station (25min), Keio Tamagawa Area: Keio Line -> Keio Tamagawa Station (10min walk)

Kanagawa

2016 Yokosuka Fireworks Festival

DSC_0151Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 7:45pm
150 booths are set up to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 223,000 people
Number of fireworks:  5,000
Access: Keikyu Line -> Yokosuka Chuo Station (25min walk)
Address: Umikaze Koen, Mikasa Koen, Yokosuka-shi

70th Atsugi Ayu Summer and Fireworks Festival

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm ~
In the end of the Ayu Summer Festival, about 10,000 fireworks will turn the sky into a mood-enhancing play of lights and colors.  While watching the fireworks you can taste local dishes which are prepared by the 400 booths which are set up around the area. In case of stormy weather, the event will be postponed.
Visitors last year: 180,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: Odakyu Odawara Line –> Hon-Atsugi Station – North Exit (15min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kasenshiki Sansen Goryuten, Atsugi-shi

42nd Southern Beach Chigasaki Fireworks Festival

DSC_1129Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:20pm
Booths are set up to try local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 80,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: JR Tokaido Main Line・Sagami Line –> Chigasaki Station – South Exit (20min walk)
Address: Southern Beach Chigasaki, Chigasaki Kaisuiyokujo, Nakakaigan 4-12986, Chigasaki-shi

36th Miura Kaigan Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

Date: August 9th (Tuesday), 7:30pm – 8:15pm
The fireworks will be set off from the sea and you can enjoy the view while sitting on the beach. 90 booths selling local food are prepared. In case of rainy or stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, August 10th (Saturday).
Visitors last year: 105,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: Keihin Kyuko Kurihama Line –>Miurakaigan Station (3min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kasenshiki Sansen Goryuten, Atsugi-shi

75th Tamagawa Fireworks Festival

Date: August 20th (Saturday), 6:30pm – 8pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and will be held along the Tama River. 200 booths are set up to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 308,000 people
Number of fireworks:  6,000
Access: Tokyu Den’entoshi Line -> Futako-Shinchi Station (15min walk – Kawasaki Area), Oimachi Line -> Kaminoge Station (8min Tokyo Area)
Address: Tamagawa Kasenshiki, Futakobashi  ~ Daisan Keihin Doro, Takatsu-ku, Kawasaki-shi

66th Shonan Hiratsuka Fireworks Festival

Date: Friday August 26th (Friday), 7pm – 8pm
In the end of the Ayu Summer Festival, about 10,000 fireworks will turn the sky into a mood-enhancing play of lights and colors.  While watching the fireworks you can taste local dishes which are prepared among the 400 booths which are set up around the area. In case of stormy weather, the event will be postponed.
Visitors last year: 140,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: JR Tokaido Main Line –> Hiratsuka Station – South Exit -> 10min Bus ride into Sukaminato direction until the last stop (5min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kako, Shonan Itako, Hiratsuka-shi

42nd Kanazawa Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday), 7pm – 8pm
This fireworks display will be held in front of Tokyo Bay. About 20 booths are set up to enjoy local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of rain, the event takes place. In case of stormy weather, the fireworks display will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 280,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,500
Access: Kanazawa Seaside Line –> Uminokoen-Minamiguchi Station・Uminokoen-Shibaguchi Station (right in front); Keikyu Main Line -> Kanazawa-Bunko Station (20min walk)
Address: Kanazawa-ku Uminokoen, Uminokoen 10, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama-shi

45th Sagamihara Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday), 6:45pm – 8:15pm (*Paid seats are available)
About 200 booths are set up to enjoy local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of stormy weather, or floodwater of Sagami-river, the event moves to the next day, August 28th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 200,000 people
Number of fireworks:
8,000
Access: JR Yokohama Line –> Sagamihara Station – South Exit -> Bus No. 17 into Suigotana direction via Tana Bus Terminal until the last stop (5min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Takatabashi Joryu, Suigotana, Chuo-ku, Sagamihara-shi

Chiba

Teganuma Fireworks Festival 2016

DSC_1196Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks will be set off at three different areas which are located close to each other. For example, the first venue features characters loved by kids, and the second one shows a fantastic fireworks display set off on water. Booths are set up at the Akibo area to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 410,000 people
Number of fireworks: 13,500
Address & Access:
① Kashiwa Spot 1 (Teganuma Shizen Fureai Ryokudo・Kita-Chiba Dosui Visitor Center  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line –> Kita-Kashiwa Station (25min walk); Kashiwa Station – East Exit (40min walk)
② Kashiwa Spot 2 (Teganuma Shizen Fureai Ryokudo・Michi no Eki  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line -> Kashiwa Station – East Exit -> Bus Platform No.5 -> Tobu Bus into Shonan direction -> 20min ride until Oi (20min walk)
③ Abiko Spot (Teganuma Koen  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line -> Abiko Station – South exit (10min walk)

The 890th Anniversary of the foundation of Chiba-City
Makuhari Beach Fireworks Festival 2016 (38th Chiba Fireworks Festival)

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and it is popular for reading special messages like marriage and birthday slogans while setting up the fireworks. Booths are set up to enjoy delicious festival food during the event. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 300,000 people
Number of fireworks: 15,000
Access: JR Keiyo Line –> Kaihin-Makuhari Station (15min walk)
Address: Makuhari Kaihin Koen, Mihama 1, Mihama-ku, Chiba-shi

56th Sakura Fireworks Festival

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and will be set off from the water. Booths selling local food are set up. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 160,000 people
Number of fireworks: 16,000
Access: Keisei Main Line –> Keisei-Usui Station (30min walk)
Address: Sakura Furusato Hiroba (Inbanuma Kohan), Usuita 2714, Sakura-shi

40th Nagareyama Fireworks Festival

Date: August 20th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and is also called “Nagareyama Sky Musical”. Booths selling local food are set up. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to August 26th (Friday).
Visitors last year: 165,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: Ryutetsu Nagareyama Line –> Nagareyama Station・Heiwadai Station (5min walk); Tsukuba Express -> Nagareyama Central Park Station -> Free Shuttle Bus until Ryutetsu Nagareyama Line –  Nagareyama Station
Address: Edogawa Tsutsumi, Nagareyama 1~3, Nagareyama-shi

69th Kisarazu Port and Fireworks Festival

Date: August 15th (Monday), 7:15pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks display will be the highlight of the Kisarazu Port Festival. 500 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food, as well as playing festival games. In case of rainy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 16th (Tuesday).
Visitors last year: 120,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: JR Uchibo Line –> Kisarazu Station (15min walk)
Address: Kisarazu-Ko Naiko, Naka no Shima, Kisarazu-shi

Saitama

33rd Asaka Festival (Saika-Festival)

DSC_0471Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 8:15pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks display will be the highlight of the Asaka Saikasai, which takes place from Friday August 5th until Sunday August 7th. 300 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food and playing festival games. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 280,000 people
Number of fireworks: 9,000
Access: Tobu Tojo Line –> Asaka Station (5min walk)
Address: Camp Asaka Atochi, Asaka-shi

38th Tatara Festival & Fireworks Festival

Date: August 7th (Sunday), 7:45pm – 8:30pm
The highlight of the Tatara Festival will be the fireworks display. 160 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food, as well as playing festival games. In case of rain, the fireworks festival will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 160,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: Saitama Rapid Railway Line –> Minami-Hatogaya Station (15min walk)
Address: Kawaguchi Autorace, Aoki 5-21-1, Kawaguchi-shi

Higashi Matsuyama Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday); 7pm – 9pm
30 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food. In case of light rain, the fireworks festival takes place. In case of storm and rain, the event moves to August 28th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 90,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: Tobu Tojo Line –> Takasaka Station (15min walk)
Address: Tokigawa  Riverside Park, Ooaza Takasaka 700-1, Higashi-Matsuyama-shi

Saitama City Fireworks Festival 2016 (Higashi-Urawa Omagikoen)

Date: August 11th (Thursday); 7:30pm ~
The light up of the garden due to the fireworks offers a beautiful sight. 250 booths are set up to enjoy local dishes. In case of light rain, the fireworks festival takes place. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to August 12th (Friday).
Visitors last year: 80,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: JR Musashino Line –> Higashi-Urawa Station (20min walk)
Address: Omagikoen Area, Midori-ku, Saitama-shi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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

The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots

Get your cameras ready! Wattention staff visited Hokuto in Yamanashi prefecture and listed up the most photogenic spots in this area.

  1. Hokuto City Akeno – Sunflower FestivalDSC_0663

600,000 sunflowers will welcome you at the Sunflower Festival in Hokuto City. Surrounded by Mount Fuji, the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group and the Southern Alps, the scenery is breathtaking and counts as one of the best photo spots during summer.

Information
Date: July 23rd – August 21st
Hours: 8am – 5pm
Admission: free
Access: About 20 minutes by taxi from Nirasaki Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
Address: Akeno Sunflower Field,  Asao 5664, Akeno-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0201 Yamanashi
URL: Hokuto Sunflower Festival 2016


2. Sun Meadows – Kiyosato Terrace

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The Kiyosato Terrace located at 1900m altitude is usually known as a popular ski area during winter season, but in summer you can enjoy the beautiful view of Kiyosato Highland, Mt. Fuji and the Southern Alps while relaxing on the huge bed-like sofas together with a delicious drink or dessert available at the Kiyosato Terrace Café. The Panorama Lift which takes you to the terrace has a total length of 1100m and the altitude difference from ground to top is about 330m.

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The price range for food and drinks is between 200 ~ 500 yen and the Sky Waffle for 500 yen is our recommendation!

Information
Date: May 28th – November 6th
Hours: 10am – 3pm (weekday); 9:30am – 3:30pm (Weekend, public holiday and during summer season)
Admission: Lift ticket (both ways) – 1,300 yen (adults), 700 yen (children)
Access: About 20 minutes by taxi from Nirasaki Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
Address: Sunmeadows Kiyosato Ski Area, Nishiide 8240-1, Oizumi-cho, Hokuto-shi, 409-1501 Yamanashi
URL: Sun Meadows – Kiyosato Terrace


3. The Red – and Yellow Bridge of Hokuto

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The red bridge named “Higashizawa Ohashi” and the yellow bridge named “Yatsugatake Kogen Ohashi” are surrounded by beautiful nature and especially during autumn season they offer a stunning photo scene when the trees show their beautiful autumn colors.

Information
Higashizawa Ohashi – Red Bridge
Address: 8240-1 Nishiide, Oizumi-cho, Hokuto-shi, 407-0311 Yamanashi

Yatsugatake Kogen Ohashi – Yellow Bridge
Address: Higashiide, Takane-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0024 Yamanashi  (Prefectural Road No. 28)


4. JR Koumi-Line and the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group

The JR Koumi-Line runs along the Yatsugatake Volcanic Group and offers a beautiful view of the surrounding nature and the mountains.

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JR Koumi-Line connects Hokuto in Yamanashi with Komoro in Naganao Prefecture. It runs 78,9km through the mountains with 31 stations. The best place for trainspotting is the Kobuchizawa Big Curve, where the train turns and you can get an unobstructed view of the sky and mountains. Or get on the train itself at Kobuchizawa Station and be fascinated by this unique panoramic view.


5. Suisha no Sato Koen (water wheel village park)

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This beautiful little park is surrounded by paddy fields and shows you the original rural life of Japan’s countryside. If you are lucky you can even spot Mt. Fuji.

Information
Hours: open all day
Admission: free
Access: About 10 minutes by taxi from Hinoharu Station (JR Chuo Main Line)
Address: Mukawacho Mifuki 2573, Hokuto-shi, 408-0301 Yamanashi
URL: Rural Water Wheel Park

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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

Enoshima Island Spa

Enoshima Island Spa (Enospa) is located on Enoshima island, only 1 hour away from the center of Tokyo. This resort prides itself as a holistic health therapy center, a retreat to heal the body and mind from the stress of daily life, and for good reason! Healthy food made from fresh local ingredients, massage sessions, hot springs and heated pools with amazing views, this place has it all!

Soak in the spacious indoor hot springs or spend time in their heated outdoor pool with a view of the ocean and Mt. Fuji and check out the cave pool that features a cafe and bar. Swimsuits are required in the pool areas, and are available to rent at check-in.

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Certified medical physicians and instructors also provide supervision and instruction to ensure the best use of hot springs, exercise, and meals. Different exercise, yoga and meal programs are available for guests, regular members, and athletes.

enospa

Information

Enospa – Enoshima Island Spa
Address: 2-1-6 Enoshima, Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture
Access: 15-20 min. walk from Katase-Enoshima station
URL: http://enoshimaislandspa.com/

Beer and Soul Food @ B-1 Grand Prix Shokudo

The annual B-1 Grand Prix started as an event aimed to promote Japan’s regional dishes though now the focus has shifted to a more holistic approach, promoting the local towns and cities instead of just the food. Even though this event was credited for starting the B-kyu gurume (B-grade gourmet) boom that swept the nation, the “B” in B-1 actually stands for Brand, with each region bringing their own brand to the table. And the quality of what they’re bringing is definitely not B-grade!

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The B-1 Grand Prix Shokudo Aki-Oka Caravane in Akihabara is the first certified place to serve award-winning B-1 dishes within Tokyo so you can enjoy 16 delectable local dishes from 16 different prefectures, all within a 3-minute walk from Akihabara station! Prices range from 300-700yen.

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As if that’s not enough, their summer beer event lets you drink all the alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks you can drink in 1 hour for 980 yen.

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This year’s local cuisine beer garden will continue until Sep. 30.

Information

B-1 Grand Prix Shokudo Aki-Oka Caravane
Address: 15-1 Kanda Neribeicho, Chiyoda Tokyo
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-9pm Sat-Sun, Holidays 11am-8pm
Access: 3 min. walk from Electrical Town Exit, JR Akihabara station
URL: http://www.jrtk.jp/b-1gp/index.html (Japanese)

Scenic Food Spots: Shiretoko Kaigan Shokudo

Good food in a picturesque place is one of the best luxuries in life and Shiretoko Kaigan Shokudou in Shari, Hokkaido gives you exactly that. Looking out to the Okhotsk sea, indulge in awe-inspiring ocean and sunset views all summer long.

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Opened in July, 2015, this restaurant offers seafood freshly caught off the coast of Utoro as well as rice, vegetables and other ingredients from Hokkaido.

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Have some fresh seafood on top of soft fluffy white rice.

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Or try delicious Hokkaido beef, crab or shellfish slow-grilled over hot charcoal in rustic robatayaki style.

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If you want something more exotic, they also have “kumadon” (bear meat rice bowl) on the menu.

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This restaurant is open every day until Oct. 17, 2016. They plan to open again during ice floe season (end of January – February).

Information

Shiretoko Kaigan Shokudou
Address: 361 Utorohigashi, Shari, Shari District Hokkaido
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm Dinner 6pm-9pm
Access: http://shiretoko-hotel.jp/meal/ (Japanese)

In Harmony with the Seasons: Festivals

text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
In Japan, various shrines and temples hold summer festivals during the months of July and August. The origins of these festivals stem from a way to soothe the tired souls from farming labor, and to pray for protection from illness, as well as a ceremony to remember the deceased.
One of the joys of the summer season is visiting the temple and shrine grounds during these festive days when rows of shops would be lined up. Many of these shop owners were traveling businessmen who used to be called “Jusanyashi” and moved
between various prefectures selling their wares. The items sold include medicine, tobacco, toothpaste and other rare items that came from overseas. In the olden days, there were known to be 13 such items, hence the naming of “Jusanyashi”, referring to this number. There would also be manzai comedians or singers selling their acts to entertain the crowds at the festival. Before the days of newspapers and mass communication, these people were the main source of news for the locals, who head to the festival to fulfill their curiosity.

Now, this custom remains in form with different goods being sold, leaving some stalls such as goldfish fishing, mask shops and candied fruits that still continue to delight the children.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently, teaches at Tama Art University.

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

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

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

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

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

hokuto-flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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

 


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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

 

Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

The common soba (buckwheat noodles) is made from buckwheat flour mixed with wheat flour that acts as a “tsunagi” or binding agent that keeps the dough together. Only soba restaurants with the most skilled craftsmen are able to produce Juwari soba, which consists entirely of buckwheat and Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi is one of them.

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No need to hide
You can see for yourself how skilled their soba craftsmen are through the big window that looks into the kitchen.

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Even in the peak of summer which is said to be the hardest time of the year to produce soba, they were able to roll and fold the dough evenly, their quick and precise cuts producing uniformly thin soba noodles.

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Water worth fighting for
The secret of Sanbuichi’s soba lies in the spring where they got their name and water from. Sanbuichi Yusui is arguably the most famous spring in Yatsugatake. Legend says that Takeda Shingen, an exceptionally famous samurai warlord divided the flowing water into three using this triangular stone in order to settle a feud among his farmers over the spring water.

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The water comes from the snow and rain that falls on the peaks of Yatsugatake which then filters through the ground, emerging as pure water filled with healthy minerals. The water flows throughout the year, neither drying out during summer, nor freezing over during winter.

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Soba so good
We tried their Juwari Soba Tenmori, which consists of Juwari soba and a side-dish of crispy tempura of season vegetables and shrimp. The tempura batter is thin enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the fresh vegetables. Dip them lightly in fine-grained salt for a subtle flavor. The soba is fragrant and has just enough chewiness in them. Put a bit of wasabi on the soba before dipping them in the tsuyu (dipping stock).

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Afterwards, pour some soba-yu (hot water mixed with buckwheat flour) into the leftover tsuyu and drink it like a soup. It’s believed to give you longevity.

Don’t forget to visit the farmer’s market shop adjacent to the restaurant where you can pick up vegetables and rice from the surrounding fields, some Shingen mochi (with a picture of Takeda Shingen on the packaging!) or some buckwheat flour and tsuyu to make your own soba-yu at home.

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Noodle flavor rate: ★★★★★
Freshness of ingredients:★★★★★

Restaurant information

Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi
Price range: 1,000 yen – 5,000 yen
Location: 292-1 Nagasakacho Koarama, Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture
Access: A 10-min walk from Kai-Koizumi Station

Read about other interesting spots in Hokuto City:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots

What’s up with Watermelon

 

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

A fancy gift

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

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

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You want it round or square?

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

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

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

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

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You want some salt with that melon?

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

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

In Harmony with the Seasons : Natsu no Doyo

The eel is rich in protein and Vitamin A, all essential elements for a healthy constitution.text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The eel is rich in protein and Vitamin A, all essential elements for a healthy constitution.
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The word “doyo” refers to the 18 days before the end of a season, and occurs four times a year. Within that period, the natsu no doyo no ushi no hi – which occurs before the beginning of Autumn – is a day the Japanese associate with the eating of eel, or unagi. But this tradition is actually not that old. One version of its origin is that Hiraga Gennai, a multi-talented scientist, inventor, author etc. from the Edo era in the 18th century, started this trend.
Apparently this idea for a doyo no ushi no hi came about after an enterprising owner of an unagi restaurant approached Hiraga for help to create some publicity for his shop. Hiraga, who was known to have restored a static electricity generator from the West, was interested in electricity and studying electric eels at the time. According to ancient Eastern divination, summer was thought to be related to the “fire” element which is countered by water. In the same way, water is represented by the color black. Hence it was thought that
black objects could counter the element of fire. The word “doyo” in the phrase doyo no ushi means water. So came the belief that on the day of the ushi, black objects are eaten to ward away evil. This was the basis on which eating black eel on a hot summer’s day would help to counter fatigue in the summer.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

In Harmony with the Seasons : Obon

This dish is soba noodles and a variety of gourds seasoned with soy sauce and rapeseed oil, with a generous portion of hemp seeds scattered around. Soba has the power to cool your body, and hemp seeds to warm your body, it is said.text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
This dish is soba noodles and a variety of gourds seasoned with soy sauce and rapeseed oil, with a generous portion of hemp seeds scattered around. Soba has the power to cool your body, and hemp seeds to warm your body, it is said.
text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
As the height of the summer approaches, Obon season gets underway. Large and small fireworks, Tanabata festivals, Shoro-nagashi festivals, and numerous folk dance gatherings… crowds in Yukata (casual Kimono) flock to shrines and temples to enjoy summer funfairs. Street stalls offer games like ‘catch the goldfish’. Old-fashioned penny candies glimmer magically under the flickering lights of the stalls.
Obon is the week when the souls
passed away are supposed to come back to spend time with their family or descendants. The festival takes many forms – there is even a masquerade dance which carries on till dawn.
Vegetables with stick legs are prepared for the souls to ride on between worlds. Cucumber is prepared for the arrival trip, and eggplant is for returning to heaven, loaded with souvenirs. The sticks are made of hemp stalk core, which is also used as candlewick.
Seasonal dishes will be prepared in welcome. Strong smelling herbs like garlic are avoided as they deter the spirits, just as in the story of Dracula.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Summer With A Bang! – Top 3 Runners-up Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

From breathtaking patterns in the sky to exhilarating festival parades, summer brings out the passion in Japan. And if our selection of top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan wasn’t enough for you, these 3 other selections are up to par!

Toyota Oiden Matsuri Fireworks Festival
Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture

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This up and coming festival features collaborations with the Japan Fireworks Artists Association, a synchronised “melody fireworks” show with cylinder fireworks, a wide starmine display and a 30 meter tall Niagara Falls programme.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 13,000
No. of spectators: 360,000
Date: Jul. 31, 2016
Time: 7:10pm – 9pm
Address: Yahagi River, Shirahama Park area
Access: Take the Shinkansen to Nagoya, change to the JR Chuo Honsen line to Maetsuru, and take the Meitetsu to Toyota City Station. A 10-minute walk from the station.

Fukuroi Enshu Fireworks
Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture

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A popular programme in this display is the “Japan’s Most Popular Melodies Starmine”, a fireworks display synchronised to popular tunes held by the lake. One of the few musical fireworks in Japan, it is also representative of the Tokai area (Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefecture).

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 25,000
No. of spectators: 410,000
Date: Aug. 6, 2016
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Address: Haranoyagawa Water Park, 3164-1 Aino, Fukuroi City
Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to the JR Tokaido Line Aino Station, and walk for 20 minutes to the venue.

Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition
Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture

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The Tsuchiura fireworks competition is said to be where the starmine firework technique began, making it the go-to place to catch the most advanced technical displays; impressing all viewers as they burst in a harmony of colours and shapes.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 20,000
No. of spectators: 700,000
Date: Oct. 1, 2016
Time: 6pm-8:30pm
Address: Sakuragawa river banks (in the vicinity of Ohashi school)
Access: From Tokyo Station, take the JR Joban Line to the Tsuchiura West exit, and walk for 30 minutes, or take the shuttle bus from the station.

Yamagata Adventure (3) – Summer Sweets Hunting

Tendo-City is not only famous for its delicious cherries and Shogi (Japanese chess) production, but also it’s a heaven for sweets lovers as well! After visiting the Oh! Show! Café located on the grounds of OHSYO FRUITS FARM, we visited two more places which serve delicious desserts to die for!

1. Akatsuka Ice Production – Ice Café ‘Kosui’

Akatsuka Ice Production was founded in 1908. They began producing ice products by using natural spring water from the Amayobari Mountain near Tendo-City.

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During the past 120 years, they have became one of the leading ice manufacturing companies by expanding their products which include ice cubes in all sizes and forms, as well as ice balls!

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Kosui started as a street stall and opened its own café in 2016 so that customers can enjoy the freshly made ice sweets even on rainy days. Kosui is popular for its ‘Kakigori,’ a dessert made of shaved ice which is popular in summer. Syrup and condensed milk are used as a topping to add flavor and sweetness to the shaved ice mountain.

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Since all the ingredients are provided by nearby farms and suppliers, the list of flavors changes by season. The selection which is available right now is shown on the wall, but according to the Café´s pamphlet there are many more varieties throughout the year.

There are two options for ordering a Kakigori dessert. The normal one is made out of shaved ice and the sweet topping. The special one comes with soft serve cream hidden inside the mountain of shaved ice!

My recommendation would be the special Kakigori, since the shaved ice won’t melt so fast due to the soft serve cream inside.

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The process of creating a Kakigori dessert. The topping consists of Strawberry sauce and purée, as well as sweet condensed milk.

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Closeups of the Sweet Strawberry Milk, Cherry Milk, Kiwi Yogurt and Brown Sugar Syrup Azuki Bean Milk Kakigori dessert.

Information

Akatsuka Seihyo – Ice Café Kosui
Hours:
May- September: 10:30am – 4:30pm (Monday to Friday), 10am – 5pm (Sat, Sun and Holidays), Closed on Tuesdays
October – April: 11am – 4pm (Monday to Friday), 10:30am – 4:30pm (Sat, Sun and Holidays), Closed on Tuesdays
Tel: 023-653-2446 (9am – 5pm)
Price: 200 yen to 600 yen
Access: A 15-min walk from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: Kabushikigaisha Akatsuka Seihyo, Higashi-Honcho 3-6-40, Tendo-shi, 994-0026 Yamagata
URL: http://www.akatuka-ice.com/enjoy_ice/


2. Fruttier Fruit Bar

Fruttier is famous for its fresh fruits and its fruit desserts. The name “Fruttier” is a shortened version of the phrase “Fruits Communicator.”

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The most popular dessert is called Pontiti, a fruit punch like dessert in which a variety of freshly cut fruits are mixed together creating a perfect harmony. No colorings, flavors, preservatives are added, you can enjoy the freshest and purest flavor! The cute Pontiti characters welcome the visitors behind the counter of the Fruit Bar.

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Besides all the yummy parfaits, home-made juices and fruit shakes, you can also buy actual fresh fruits and the Pontiti fruit dessert (Mango 4,320 yen, Melon 4,320 yen, Fruit Pontiti 324 yen).

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We ordered the Cherry Parfait, with chocolate flavored whipped cream and the Fruit Mix Parfait with Kiwi Purée topping.

Information

Fruttier Fruit Bar
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Closed on Monday)
Tel: 0120-45-6651
Price: 308 yen – 928 yen
Access: A 10-min walk from Tendo Station (JR Yamagata Shinkansen)
Address: Fruttier Fruit Bar, Mikkamachi 1-4-2, Tendo-shi, 990-0036 Yamagata
URL: http://fruttier.com/fruitbar/

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 Matsuri Manual : 8 types of fireworks you need to know

One of the highlights of Japanese summer are the fireworks. There is just something about going to a fireworks festival (hanabi taikai) and seeing the summer night sky being lit up with breathtaking patterns that makes your summer experience in Japan feel complete. And these fireworks will definitely not disappoint! Here we will introduce the types of fireworks that you can look forward to in seeing. See if you can find your favorite!

Chrysanthemum・ 菊先

A spherical explosion of coloured stars with a short burn time, followed by crackling.

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Willow・ 柳

Similar to the chrysanthemum but the flame trails extinguish gradually, creating a willow tree-like effect.

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Bee・ 蜂

Emits a high-pitched sound while twirling in random directions for a truly attention-grabbing display.

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Thousand Wheel・ 千輪

An explosion comprising many small spherical fireworks bursting into a collage of colours and hues.

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UFO / Saturn・ 土星

A combination of hanabi that form the shape of planet Saturn before slowly dissipating.

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Smile・ スマイル

A combination of fireworks that form a smiley face – always a great hit with children!

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Niagara・ ナイアガラ

Long, flowing, brilliantly illuminated fireworks that resemble the Niagara Falls in America.

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Starmine・ スターマイン

A continuous firing of hanabi in a collage of shapes and colours to create patterns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Information

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

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

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 of Tanabata

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

Once upon a time…

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

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

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

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Why Paper Wishes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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It only takes 2 minutes to cook the Soba noodles

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

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

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

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

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Information

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

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Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima Resort Hotel

Get yourself pampered with some of the best hot springs, food and sights that Nagasaki has to offer

Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima Resort Hotel is located on an island facing the sea of Nagasaki and is surrounded by picturesque ocean views. Only a 30-50 minute drive away from Nagasaki Station, it is also accessible from various tourist spots in Nagasaki.

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Sunset view
This sprawling resort complex is facilitated with four different kinds of hotels, two natural hot springs, and a plethora of different dining options.

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Enjoy the superb panoramic views from open-air baths.
Enjoy superb panoramic views from the open-air baths.
Cuisine is also a big draw here since Nagasaki specialty seafood and meats are available at the Japanese and buffet restaurants. The summer barbecue and other dining options ensure that everybody’s tastes are met.

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You will never run out of things to do either. Getting tired of their extensive hot spring and sports facilities? Swim at the beach during summer or rent a bicycle to go around. Get a guided tour of iconic Gunkanjima, or take a taxi tour to see the night view of Nagasaki, one of the best night views in the world.

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Gunkanjima
Accessible, comfortable and downright beautiful, all in all this resort offers the best package to give you a relaxing and healing vacation.

Information

Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima
Location: 1-3277-7 Ioujima-machi Nagasaki City, Nagasaki, Japan 851-1201
Access: About 40 min. by free shuttle bus from Nagasaki Station (reservations required)
URL: http://www.ioujima.jp/en/

2016 Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise Information

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Hop on board this definitive Tokyo summer experience!

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

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

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

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

Reservation

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

Cruise Information

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

Yukata Rental Information

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

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

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

(All rates including tax)

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

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

 

1) Cream Cheese

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

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2) Wasabi

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

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3) Miso

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

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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.

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… 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:

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Picturesque Matsumoto (4) – Daio Wasabi Farm –

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

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

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

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Wasabi

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

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

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

Information

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

Picturesque Matsumoto (3) – Narai Juku –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Information

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

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

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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

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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

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In Harmony with the Seasons : Kashou Day

The blessings may have been believed to be greater with sweets that depicted the beauty of nature. These customs were introduced to the Imperial Court after the Muromachi period.text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The blessings may have been believed to be greater with sweets that depicted the beauty of nature. These customs were introduced to the Imperial Court after the Muromachi period.
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
Prior to the Meiji period, a custom had been observed in Japan to eat sweets on the day marking Kashou. Legend has it that the custom originated with the backdrop of an epidemic that had been going around in 848 during the Heian era. Emperor Ninmyo had renamed the period Kashou and performed a ritual with an offering of 16 pieces of beautiful sweets as he prayed for the good health of his people on the 16th day of June.
While there seem to be various views on where this number 16
came from, the 16th of June in the old lunar calendar seems to fall under a full moon, or the sixteenth day of a lunar month during the peak heat of summer. Perhaps the people at the time offered prayer on the night that was brightly lit by the moon when the world was believed to be linked with the other universe, offering delectable sweets to try to ward off evil that would come from the sixteen directions of the worlds. Confectionaries had been believed to soothe the violent souls of beings from the other world.
These types of festivals were conducted in all parts of Japan during those ancient periods when the curses of vengeful spirits had been believed to cause an illness or a disaster.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Picturesque Matsumoto (2) – Norikura Snow Wall –

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information

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

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

Picturesque Matsumoto (1) – Hiking in Beautiful Kamikochi –

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

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

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

Monkeys

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You can get very close to wild monkeys!

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

Mountains

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

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Access

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

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

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

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

Bar Hopping in Osaka

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

Classic Bar

Bar Augusta Tarlogie

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

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

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

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

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

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

River Cruise

Kitahama Rumba

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

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

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

Live House

Billboard Live OSAKA

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

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

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

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

Bar

Rooftop Bar OO

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

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

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

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

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

Specialist Bar

SUNTORY WHISKEY HOUSE

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

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Whiskey Gallery

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

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Whiskey Dining WWW.W

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

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

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

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

Kanto Matsuri

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

Wind Chime Festival : Enmusubi Furin

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

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

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

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

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

Access

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

The Matsuri Manual : Matsuri Games

 

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

 

Water Balloon Yoyo (ヨーヨーつり)

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

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Gold Fish Scooping (金魚すくい)

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

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Senbonbiki (せんぼんびき)

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

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Fireworks (花火)

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

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

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

The Matsuri Manual : Festival Food Guide

 

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

Yakisoba (焼きそば)

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

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Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

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

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Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

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

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Taiyaki (たい焼き)

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

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Candied Apple (りんご飴)

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

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Choco Banana (チョコバナナ)

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

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Kakigori (かき氷)

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

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Next in this series: The Matsuri Manual : Matsuri Games

Summer With A Bang! – Top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

Summertime in Japan isn’t complete without watermelons, shaved ice, wind chimes, mosquito coils and last but not least, fireworks of massive proportions!

It’s a great reason to put on a summer yukata, throng the streets and look up into the night sky for an hour or two.

Here are some of the top few heart-stopping, jaw-dropping fireworks festivals in Japan.

The Oomagari no Hanabi All Japan Fireworks Competition
Daisen City, Akita Prefecture

– Japan’s No. 1 Fireworks Competition –

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With an ideal backdrop of two mountains and a riverfront, Oomagari is where top firework technicians stage their best musical fireworks show to compete for the coveted Prime Minister’s Award for fireworks. Now into its 106th year, this offers one of the widest starmine displays.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 15,000 – 20,000
No. of spectators: 80,000
Date: August 27, 2016
Time: Day fireworks: 5:30pm~  Night fireworks: 6:50pm~
Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Oomagari Station, 30 minutes’ walk from the station to the venue.

Nagaoka Matsuri Great Fireworks Festival
Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

– Historic Fireworks –

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The fireworks festival here has a painful past – August 1 was when Nagaoka City was practically razed to the ground during a World War II air-raid 71 years ago. These shells are launched in commemoration of the lives lost then, and a celebration of recovery.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 20,000
No. of spectators: 960,000
Date: August 2 and 3, 2016
Time: 7:20pm – 9:15pm
Access:  Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to JR Nagaoka Station, and walk for 30 minutes, or take the shuttle bus from the station.

 

Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture

– Fireworks Frenzy –

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The Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival boasts the most number of fireworks for such displays. Surrounded by mountains, the display is particularly dynamic in terms of sound. The 2km-long water starmine here is another treat for the senses.

Event information:

No. of fireworks: 40,000
No. of spectators: 500,000
Date: August 15, 2016
Time: 7pm onwards
Access: Take the JR Chuo Main Line to Kami Suwa Station then walk for 8 minutes from the Kami Suwako West Exit

For more festivals in & around Tokyo: July 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

July 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

Summer means Hanabi Matsuri (花火祭り) season in Japan, and refers to great Fireworks Festivals held throughout the country. During the hot and humid summer, the festivals lighten up the mood and provide a sparkling colorful night sky.Unbenannt-22
Japanese people tend to wear traditional Yukata (light summer Kimono) to turn this event into a special occasion during the year. If you feel like experiencing a Hanabi Matsuri while wearing the traditional summer outfit, you can already get cheap Yukata sets starting at 6,000 yen, including Yukata, Obi (sash) and Geta (wooden clogs).

Read also: The Matsuri Manual : Festival Style Guide

We summed up all the big Fireworks Festivals in and around Tokyo for July 2016 in the following article.

Too many festivals, too little time? Check out our 3 top picks: Top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan 2016

Tokyo

The 39th Sumida River Fireworks Festival

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Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7:05pm – 8:30pm
The oldest fireworks display of Japan comes back to Tokyo’s Sumida river. At two spots you can enjoy a huge spectacle of colours. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, July 31st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 950,000 people
Number of fireworks: 20,000 (1st Spot 9,350 / 2nd Spot 10,650)
Access & Address:
Tokyo, Taito-ku and Sumida-ku
① Spot 1 (Sakura Bridge Karyu ~ Kototoi Bridge Joryu) Tokyo Metro Ginza Line –> Asakusa Station (15min walk)
② Spot 2 (Komagata Bridge Karyu ~ Umaya Bridge Joryu ) Toei Asakusa Line Toei Oedo Line -> Kuramae Station (5min walk)

50th Katsushika Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

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Date: July 26th (Tuesday), 7:20pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
For Japans oldest fireworks display, all the fireworks supplies are made in Japan, and not imported. Therefore the colours of the fireworks are simply held in an orange-red style. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, July 27th (Wednesday).
Visitors last year: 630,000 people
Number of fireworks: 15,000
Access: Keisei Kanamachi Line -> Shibamata Station (10min walk); JR Joban Line -> Kanamachi Station・Keisei Line -> Keisei Kanamachi Station (20min walk)
Address: Katsushika-ku Shibamata Baseball Stadium (Edogawa Kasenshiki), Shibamata 7-17-13, Katsushika-ku

The 38th Adachi Fireworks Festival

Date: July 23rd (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and will be held along the Arakawa River. The event will be cancelled in case of rain.
Visitors last year: 550,000 people
Number of fireworks: 13,500
Access: JR Joban Line –> Kita Senju Station (15min walk); Tobu Isesaki Line (Tokyo Skytree Line) –> Kosuge Station・ Gotanno Station・Umejima Station (15min walk)
Address: Arakawa Kasenshiki, Adachi-ku (Held between Nishiarai – bridge and Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line – railway bridge)

Hachioji Fireworks Festival

Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7pm-8:30pm
This event will take place in the Hachioji Citizen Ball Park. In case of stormy weather the event will move to Sunday, July 31st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 100,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,300
Access: JR Chuo Line –> Nishi Hachioji Station (15min walk); Keio Takao Line –> Yamada Station (15min walk)
Address: Hachioji Shimin Kyujo, Daimachi 2-2, Hachioji-shi

Tachikawa Festival – Showa Memorial Park Fireworks Festival

Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7:20pm-8:20pm (*Paid seats are available)
Food booths and festival related booths will be set up inside the park. After 6pm you don´t need to pay any entrance fee for the park. In case of stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, July 31st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 360,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: JR Chuo Line –> Tachikawa Station (15min walk)
Address: Minna no Harappa , Showa Kinen Park, Midoricho 3173, Tachikawa-shi

Kanagawa

Yokohama Sparkling Twilight 2016

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Date: July 16th / 17th (Saturday / Sunday), 11:30am-8:30pm, Fireworks display: 7:30pm-8pm
During this weekend you can not only enjoy the fireworks display in the evening, you can also see the parades, live shows, and live music events, as well as a rescue live demonstration by the fire brigade. The Sparkling Parade features mikoshi (portable shrines) from every district of Yokohama, including Chinatown. Enjoy the restaurants and bars along the beachside of Yamashita Park, providing food of  the oldest and best-known places of Yokohama. The combination of music and fireworks provides a sparkling – final to the event. In case of light rain, the event will take place, in case of stormy weather it will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 380,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: Minatomirai Line –> Nihon Odori Station・Motomachi/Chukagai Station (3min walk)
Address: Yamashita Park, location towards the sea, Yokohama-shi


2016 Kurihama Perry Festival and Fireworks Festival

Date: July 16th (Saturday)
The festival is dedicated to the opening of Japan to the world and the friendship between Japan and America due to US naval officer Matthew Perry in 1853. In case of bad weather, the Hero Show takes place in the arcade and will be changed into a Sign and Handshake event. The other events will be cancelled or resecheduled.
Access: JR Yokosuka Line –> Kurihama Station (17min walk); Keihin Kyuko Line –> Keikyu Kurihama Station (15min walk)

Event schedule:
Yokosuka Kaikoku Bazar
Hero Shows and Band performances, as well as refreshment booths are set up.
Location: Kurihama Shotengai Harodo Dori
Time: 10am – 3:40pm
■ Memorial Ceremony for US naval officer Matthew Perry’s arrival
This event commemorates Perry’s arrival at Kurihama to arrange the opening of diplomatic and trade relations between Japan and the US.
Location: Perry Park
Time: 2pm-2:40pm
Japan – America Friendship Perry Parade
The Parade features a fleet of black ships on the water, groups of people dressed in ancient costumes, drum and fife bands, dancers, etc.
Location: In front of Perry Park; In front of Keihin Kyuko Kurihama Station
Time: 4pm – 5:30pm
Kurihama Fireworks Festival
In case of bad weather the fireworks display will be held on the following day, July 17th (Sunday).
Time: 7:30pm – 8:10pm (*paid seats available)
Visitors last year: 90,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,500
Location: Perry Park, Kurihama Kaigan, Kyu Nichiro Ganpeki, Yokosuka-shi

68th Kamakura Fireworks Display

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Date: July 20th (Wednesday), 7:20pm-8:10pm
Kamakura´s fireworks display is special, since the fireworks will be set off from boats, while you sit on the beach and watch this beautiful event. At some point the fireworks are also released underwater, where half of the explosion happens underwater, and the other half above the water.
In addition to that, festival booths are set up and sell tasty local foods to enjoy during the fireworks display. In case of rainy and stormy weather, as well as high waves the event will take place on the next day, July 21st (Thursday).
Visitors last year: 140,000 people
Number of fireworks: 2,500
Access: Yokosuka Line –> Kamakura Station (15min); Enoshima Dentetsu Line –> Yuigahama Station ・ Wadazuka Station (5min walk)
Address: Yuigahama beach ・ Zaimokuza beach, Zaimokuza, Yuigahama, Kamakura-shi

51st Hayama Beach Fireworks Display

Date: July 27th (Wednesday), 7:30pm-8pm
Hayama beach is wide and beautiful and the perfect spot to enjoy this fireworks display, which will be set off from the sea. Festival booths are set up, so don´t worry about an empty stomach. In case of stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, July 28th (Thursday).
Visitors last year: 32,000
Number of fireworks: 1,100
Access: JR Yokosuka Line –> Zushi Station -> Bus Platform No. 3 –> 15min ride until Morito Kaigan (1min walk); Keikyu-Line –> Shin Zushi Station –> Bus Platform No. 2 -> 15min ride until  Morito Kaigan (1min walk)
Address: Morito Beach, Horiuchi, Hayama-machi, Miura-gun

Chiba

Funabashi Festival – Funabashi Port Water Park Fireworks Display

Date: July 27th (Wednesday), 7:30pm-8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The highlight of this fireworks display will be the image of Funabashi’s PR character “Funaemon” in the night sky . Booths are set up to buy local dishes. In case of light rain, the event takes place. In case of storm it will move to the next day, July 28th (Thursday).
Visitors last year: 80,000 people
Number of fireworks: 8,500
Access: JR Sobu Line –> Funabashi Station (25min walk)
Address: Funabashi Harbor Water Park, Funabashi Fishing Port area, Funabashi-shi

38th Urayasu Fireworks Display

Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7:30pm-8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks display adapts to the music and provides a nice atmosphere. You can also enjoy local foods while watching the fireworks. In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 150,000 people
Number of fireworks: 6,500
Access:  KeiyoLine -> Shin Urayasu Station; Tokyo Metro Tozai Line –> Urayasu Station (A shuttle bus departing from both stations is planned)
Address: Urayasu-shi Comprehensive Park, Meikai 7-2, Urayasu-shi

Sanmu City Summer Carnival

Date: July 30th (Saturday), 3pm-8pm
This event has a Brazilian flair and you can see street performing artists as well as Samba Dances all day long. Up to 10 booths are prepared to enjoy local dishes as well. In case of rain, only the fireworks display will move to the next day, July 31st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 17,000
Number of fireworks: 1,000
Access:  JR Sobu Main Line –> Yoko Shiba Station –> 30min bus ride (Hasunuma Junkan Hasunuma direction) -> Minamihama stop (5min walk)
Address: Hasunuma Seaside Park, Hasunuma ho, Sanmu-shi

Saitama

68th Ogawa Tanabata Festival Fireworks Display

Date: July 23rd (Saturday), 7:15pm-8:30pm
The city center is decorated with Tanabata themed decorations. Regarding the legend, the festival celebrates the reunion of the deities Orihime (star Vega) and Hikoboshi (star Altair) who are separated by the Milky Way. Only once a year, on July 7th, the lovers are allowed to meet. Traditionally, on this day you can write down a wish on a paper strip called Tanzaku, and tie it to bamboo branches. Beside the fireworks display, 150 booths are set up to buy local dishes, as well as goods of the Festival’s Character “Stamu-chan”. In case of rain, the event takes place on the next day, July 24th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 220,000 people
Number of fireworks: 1,800
Access: Tobu Tojo Line –> Ogawa Station –> 20min bus ride (Park Hill direction) -> Saitama Dentokogei Kaikan stop (the venue is right there)
Address: Sengenyama Miharashi no oka Koen, Ogawa 1440, Ogawa-machi, Hiki-gun


21st Ageo Fireworks Festival

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Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7pm~
Enjoy local foods while watching this popular fireworks display. It is famous for reading marriage and birthday slogans while setting up the fireworks. In case of rain, the event moves to August 6th (Saturday).
Visitors last year: 160,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: JR Takasaki Line –> Ageo Station -> Tobu bus 20min bus ride (Heiho direction) -> Heiho stop (3min walk); (* There will be a shuttle bus from Ageo Station-West Exit -> last stop (10min walk))
Address: Heiho Arakawa, Heiho 2606-1, Ageo-shi

2016 Saitama Fireworks Festival “Odawa Park”

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Date: July 30th (Saturday), 7:30pm~
400 booths are set up to enjoy a lot of Japanese local dishes, as well as experiencing the traditional summer festival of Japan. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, July 31st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 100,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: Tobu Noda Line –> Omiya Koen Station ・ Odawa Station (15min walk)
Address: Around Odawa Park, Saitama-shi, Kita-ku・Omiya-ku・Minuma-ku

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

Morning Glory Festival

 

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

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

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

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

Access

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

The Matsuri Manual : Festival Style Guide

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

Yukata

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

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

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

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Jinbei

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

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Kinchaku

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

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Uchiwa and Sensu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Access

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

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

Gion Festival: A matsuri of “moveable art museums”

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A Kyoto summer without the Gion Festival would be like imagining the ancient capital without all its beautiful art and architecture. Fortunately, at this festival – one of Japan’s three biggest – you can gaze upon a procession of towering two-story floats so elaborately decorated with ornate tapestries they’re called “moveable art museums”!

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Centered around Yasaka Shrine and the nearby streets just west of the Kamo River in Kyoto, this month-long festival (July 1-31) includes parades, mikoshi (portable shrine) processions, theatre and music performances, as well as the displaying of these beautiful floats, known as yamaboko. The two yamaboko parades are the highlight of this annual festival, as 23 of them appear for the parade on July 17th, as well as 10 more for the one on July 24th. 

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Be especially amazed at the larger hoko variety of these floats, having massive two-meter tall wheels, and weighing up to 10 tons. With entire musical ensembles sitting on the second story, it’s no wonder these hoko require up to 50 people to pull! And in case you’re wondering what’s on top, these long spear-like poles are raised to appease the gods of disease and calamity, which was the original purpose when this festival began as a purification ritual in the 9th century. 

Yet the true beauty of these gigantic floats is in the detail of the woven fabric, dyed textiles, and vivid colors of the the artwork that adorns these yamaboko. Seeing them on the street isn’t close enough? Head to the Yoiyama evening festivities starting three days prior to both parades, where these floats are stationed for you to gaze upon leisurely. Of course, with the appetizing aroma from food stalls nearby, along with crowds of celebrating festival participants, you just might get drawn away into the evening excitement!

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Gion Festival:
Dates: Jul. 1 – Jul. 31, 2016
Time: Hours vary depending on the events of the day.
Yamaboko parades on July 17, 9am – 11:30am; July 24, 9:30am – 11:30am.
Yoiyama festivities take place on July 14-16, 6pm-11pm; July 21-23, 6pm-11pm.
Access: JR Tokyo Station to JR Kyoto Station via Tokaido Shinkansen, Kyoto Station to Shijo Station via Kyoto City Subway Line. Festivities (including the parades), and the Yasaka Shrine are located along Shijo Dori, connected to Shijo Station. 

Chichibu Soul Food & Shrine Tour

Just 90 minutes by train from Tokyo lies the bucolic town of Chichibu, that with its abundant nature consisting of mountains and rivers, makes for a pleasant day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of life in the metropolis.

One of the best ways to get to know a city is by its local cuisine. In Chichibu, Miso Potatoes are the soul food of the locals.

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Miso potato, a Chichibu soul food.

Potatoes are dipped in tempura batter and fried, then dressed with a sweet and salty miso sauce. Locals eat this around once a week, either buying them from the supermarket or making them at home.

Chichibu townsfolk love their miso, and are also famous for their miso marinated pork. Misoyaki butadon, or grilled miso marinated pork slices on rice, is a must-try while there.

As Chichibu is not a rice-growing region, it is famous for its soba, and there are many soba shops in town. At some soba shops you can even find the yakimiso butadon on the menu, so you can try both local specialties in one sitting.

If you are lucky, you may find stalls selling wild honey – with a bee or two soaked in the honey jar! These honey combs are harvested from the forests of Chichibu, and eating the bees is said to boost your body’s vitality!

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Honey bees in honey, a Chichibu specialty.

Chichubu Town is very walkable, so it is recommended to walk off your lunch by heading to the historical “powerspot”, the Chichibu Shrine, which was established hundreds of years ago and is one of the oldest shrines in the Kanto region.

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The many carvings on the shrine pavilion recall the World Heritage Site of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture.

The shrine pavilion was reconstructed under the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Edo era. And a famous sculptor at the time, Hidari Jingoro, who worked on the Nikko Toshogu Shrine also worked on this shrine, incorporating the same techniques and style – even parodying the famous “See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil” monkeys with a trio that are depicted with their eyes, ears and mouth wide open!

 

 

 

 

Toshichi Onsen

Toshichi-Onsen2

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

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

Kyoto’s Okonomiyaki

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

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

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

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

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Information

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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.

Others

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Benibana – Japanese Safflower

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

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

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How to use Benibana

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

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

Benibana
photos from Marugotokan Beni No Kura

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

Benibana & Hanagasa Matsuri

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

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

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

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Benibana today

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

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Local mascot Beni-chan
Local mascot Beni-chan

Yamagata Benibana Festival

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

Yufuin Hot Spring – Meien to Meisui no Yado Baien

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Oita in northeast Kyushu is sometimes referred to as the “Onsen Prefecture”, and this resort located in a sprawling 30,000 square meters garden with two hot spring sources is abundant in nature. Amidst the colorful plum trees and brooks teeming with dancing fireflies, stay in luxurious individual detached houses—many of which have private open-air baths. Or for a scenic change, the simple thermal spring and sodium bicarbonate saline spring public onsens boasts one of the best views of Mt. Yufu in the north. For music and movie lovers, come in the summer when Yufuin hosts a number of such festivals.

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Access:
Take the Oita Kotsu bus from Oita Airport to JR Yufuin Station, or take the JR Limited Express Yufu train from JR Hakata Station to JR Yufuin Station. A 5-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://yufuin-baien.com (Japanese)

Lake Toya Hot Spring – The Lake View Toya Nonokaze Resort

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with private view spa: Yes

With views of Nakajima Island and Mt. Yotei (also known as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji) across the serene lake waters, and active volcano Mt. Usu in the south, Lake Toya is perhaps the most scenic spa resort in Hokkaido. Enjoy the balance of tradition and convenience with their wide selection of Japanese-Western style rooms, all of which face the lake, and some of which include a private view spa. Along with the top floor public spas, featuring chloride spring, sulfate spring, sodium bicarbonate saline spring, the private onsens are perfect for catching the evening fireworks shows on the lake between April and November.

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Access:
Take the JR Rapid Airport Train from New Chitose Airport to Minami Chitose, then take the JR Limited Express from Minami Chitose to JR Toya Station. A 15-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://en.nonokaze-resort.com/

Noboribetsu Hot Spring – Takinoya

bath

Private-use hot springs: No
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Surrounded by the lush greenery of Shikotsu-Toya National Park in southwestern Hokkaido, Noboribetsu is heralded as one of the world’s most extraordinary hot spring resorts, boasting nine types of water. With four of these—salt/saline spring, iron-rich ferruginous spring, radium spring, and sulphur spring—sourced from the nearby Jigokudani Valley, Takinoya is an ideal hide away for physical healing. The three onsens here come with a variety of beautiful backdrops, including rich forestry and a beautifully manicured Japanese garden. Though lively in the spring and summer, winter also makes for a great quiet escape, under the gentle cover of snowfall.

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food

Access:
Take the JR Limited Express from New Chitose Airport to JR Noboribetsu Station. A 10-min. taxi ride from the station.

WEB:
http://takinoya.co.jp/ (Japanese)

Kawabaonsen – Yutorian

Experience Japan’s original surroundings at this hot spring lodge just 2 hours from Tokyo

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Kawaba Village in Gunma Prefecture, which is blessed with good quality onsen water, is where the elegant ryokan Yutorian – rich in history and nature – is located. What is unique about this place is not just the fact that the kayabuki building was constructed using kayabuki from all over Japan, and that it comprises “Annex Yuzan” which prides itself for its view from 634 meters above sea level, but the way of getting around via battery-run carts and monorails is also unique. The onsen water here is known to be highly effective in beautifying the skin.

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Spacious suites over 100m2 wide, complete with their own outdoor hot springs.

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A kaiseki dinner at Yutorian featuring local produce in all 11 dishes.

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Address:
Gunma Prefecture
Tonegun, Kawaba Village, Yuhara 451-1

WEB:
http://kawabata-yutorian.jp (Japanese)

Hakone Yumoto Hot Springs – Mikawaya Ryokan

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Collectively known as the “Hakone Seventeen Springs”, Hakone has been a favorite holiday onsen resort for nearby Tokyoites in particular since the Meiji era. For a classical Japanese inn that has been drawing artists and celebrities since 1883, Mikawaya Ryokan best maintains the historic atmosphere here while providing modern amenities like western toilets. Get a rare glimpse of its Meiji style bath with umbrella roofing, or gaze at the stars from the recently renovated large public bath. With the low alkaline hypotonic spring waters and simple thermal spring waters, your stress and fatigue will surely be relieved. Or for some onsen fun, head to water amusement park Hakone Kowakien Yunessun just a 3-min. walk away, where you can take a dip in sake, coffee, wine and more!

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Access:
Take the bus from JR Odawara Station towards Motohakone/Hakonemachi, and get off at the Houraien bus stop. A 1-min. walk from the bus stop.

WEB:
http://www.hakone-mikawaya.com/language/09en.htm

Hida Takayama Hot Spring – Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Just a 50-min bus ride from World Heritage site Shirakawa-go, explore Hida Takayama’s charming townscape at this secluded 17-room ryokan. Hanaougi Bettei Iiyama offers a personal touch, with lovely wooden architecture from local trees, and even assigns a serving lady to take care of you from arrival to departure. And thanks to the spring waters 1,200m underground here, you can soak in the silky sodium bicarbonate saline spring waters in your room’s onsen and the public and private spas. The bi-annual Takayama Festival—considered one of Japan’s most beautiful—makes a trip here in the spring or fall ideal, while the melt-in-your-mouth local Hida beef is delicious all year round.

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Access:
Take the Limited Express Hida train from Nagoya Station to JR Takayama Station, then take the free shuttle bus from the station.

WEB:
http://www.hanaougi.com/english/

Gora Hot Spring – Gora Tensui

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Private-use hot springs: Yes
Rooms with open-air baths: Yes

Take a picturesque ride along the Hakone Tozan Railway to its final stop, Gora, 550m high in Hakone’s mountains. Just a minute walk from the station, this stylish resort welcomes you with a footbath café and bar where you can dip your feet while sipping on a cool drink. Take your pick of eight styles of rooms, as well as two private onsens, including the “Myojin no Yu” microbubble function bath. This frothy spa offers a panoramic view of Mt. Myojogatake, towering at 924m, which lights up with a flaming “大” character and bursting fireworks on Aug. 16 for the Hakone Gora Summer Festival Omojiyaki—an awe-inspiring sight!

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Access:
Take the Hakone Tozan Line from JR Odawara Station to JR Gora Station. A 1-min. walk from the station.

WEB:
http://www.gora-tensui.com (Click on “English” site)

Tottori: The Desert of Japan

Yes, the following photo was taken in Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

The Japanese Sea
The Japanese Sea

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

Tottori pear snacks
Tottori pear souvenirs

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

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

Access:

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

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Gifu

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Gifu: The Land of Clear Waters

Map of Japan and Gifu
Map of Japan and Gifu

Strategically located in central Japan, Gifu-ken (岐阜県, Gifu prefecture) is made up of five (unofficial) regions and is famous for its beautiful mountain towns, clear waters, traditional cormorant fishing and mouth-watering delicacies.

Historical Gifu

Takayama in spring
Takayama in spring

Gifu was so named by the powerful daimyō (大名, feudal lord) Oda Nobunaga during his campaign to unify Japan during the late Sengoku jidai (戦国時代,Sengoku Period). Due to its location, the prefecture was also known as the “crossroad of Japan”. Through the Sengoku Period, Gifu’s powerhouse status was often referred to by the saying “control Gifu and you control Japan.”

Sword making masters forging a new katana in Seki.
Sword making masters forging a new katana in Seki

Historically, the prefecture was (and still is) the centre of katana crafting in all of Japan, with the best swords coming from the town of Seki. Now, the prefecture is also known as the number one producer of fake food models in Japan.

Adorable Gifu

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Minamo, Gifu’s mascot

Like other prefectures, Gifu also has its own yuru-kyara (ゆるキャラ, mascot): Minamo. Minamo is a smiling fairy sprite whose yellow stripes represent the shining sun, while his light blue pays homage to Gifu’s clear streams, within which he lives. He even has the power to unite people and bring them happiness through the things that he does.

Beautiful Gifu

Although tucked deep within a mountainous region, Gifu has plenty of sights to take in, making it a must-go spot for foodies, history buffs, hot spring enthusiasts and nature lovers.

Shirakawagō in winter
Shirakawagō in winter

Shirakawagō (白川郷)is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is famous for its traditional gasshō-zukuri (合掌造), some of which are over 250 years old. Named for their steep thatched roofs that resemble hands pressed in prayer, the A-shaped roofs were developed over many generations and are designed to withstand the heavy winter snowfall. The roofs are made without nails and provide a large attic space that is also used for cultivating silkworms.

Inside a gasshō-zukuri
Inside a gasshō-zukuri

The oldest and largest remaining gasshō-zukuri in the village is called the Wada House. It is still used as a private residence, but part of it is also open to the public and it has many traditional tools on display.

The best way to experience Shirakawagō is to stay overnight in the village in one of the cosy farmhouses. Just make sure to book in advance if you’re considering this stop in your itinerary.

Takayama festival held in spring
Takayama festival held in spring

Often referred to as Little Kyoto, Takayama is famous for retaining its original appearance and is commonly referred to as Hida-Takayama to differentiate it from other places with similar names.

House along Sannomach Street
House along Sannomach Street

Back in the Edo Period, Takayama thrived as a wealthy merchant town. The old settlement is a beautiful sight to behold, with whole streets of houses, shops, sake breweries and coffee houses well-preserved in their original elegant states – especially along Sannomachi street in the southern half of town.

Takayama Jinya
Takayama Jinya

Here you’ll also find the Takayama Jinya (高山陣屋), a former government outpost built during the Edo Period when the city was under the direct control of the shogun due to its valuable timber resources. Designated as a historical landmark in 1929, the building continued to be used as a public or prefectural office until 1969. It is now the last building of its kind and has been restored almost entirely to its original Edo Period state making it a truly one-of-a-kind place to visit.

Rickshaw ride in Takayama old town
Rickshaw ride in Takayama old town

While you’re there, make rickshaw tour of Takayama’s old town as an alternative way of sightseeing. Also, don’t miss the two morning markets held daily in front of the Takyama Jinya and long the Miyagawa River. There are plenty of stores selling local crafts and farm produce for you to buy.

A hot spring in Gero city
A hot spring in Gero city

If you love soaking it up in hot springs, Gero-shi (下呂市, Gero City) is where you want to be. Listed as one of the “Three Famed Host Springs” in Japan, Gero-shi has been an onsen town since the 10th century and is filled with ryokans, public baths and free foots baths. The springs are famous for their smooth water and are nicknamed bijin no yu (美人の湯, springs for the beautiful). The town is surrounded by nature and is found along Hidagawa (飛騨川, Hida River); the river featured in a popular kabuki play, Musume Dojo-ji – a story about a maiden in love with a celibate monk who takes the form of a serpent to cross the river to pursue him.

Mount Haku in winter
Mount Haku in winter

For nature-lovers, one must see site is Haku-san (白山 , Mount Haku). A potentially active volcano, Mount Haku straddles the borders of Gifu, Fukui and Ishikawa Prefectures. It is one of Japan’s Sanreizan (三霊山, Three Holy Mountains), together with Mount Tate and Mount Fuji. The mountain is considered to have three main peaks with the tallest, Gozengamine (御前峰), standing at 2,702m. Because it is very prominent from the nearby coast and appears white even after the mountain range has lost its snow, Mount Haku still appears white, which is one explanation for the its name which means “white mountain”.

A stop along the Haku-san Super Rindo in autumn
A stop along the Haku-san Super Rindo in autumn

Mount Haku is a national park that has seen very little human intrusion, leaving its mountainous greenery largely untouched making it a popular destination for trekking. If you choose to drive to Mount Haku, the Haku-san Super Rindo is a 33 kilometer route that connects Ishikawa and Gifu and passes the magnificent Fukube-no-otaki waterfall.

Delicious Gifu

Amongst the many delicacies that Gifu is famous for, there are three that stand out the most: Hida Beef, the Ayu and sake.

Grilled Hida Beef
Grilled Hida Beef

Hida gyū (飛騨牛) is a specific type of beef that comes from Kuroge Washu (黒毛和種, Japanese Black) specially reared in the mountain town of Takayama. Hida gyū is considered a high-quality meat due to its intensely marbled appearance. Plus, it has to meet strict requirements from various national associations before it can officially be titled Hida Beef.

Japanese Black cattle
Japanese Black cattle

Thanks to Gifu’s expansive natural environment, clear water, rich earth and clean air, the cattle raised here can live a relatively comfortable and healthy lifestyle. This results in beef with an umami-rich, succulent flavour that has a melt-in-your texture which can be enjoyed grilled,roasted or even as shabu-shabu.

Grilled Ayu
Grilled Ayu

A distant relative of trout, Ayu (鮎) is Japan’s most highly prized river fish. This slippery, silvery fish travels a seasonal migration route throughout the year, similar to salmon and can only be found in the clearest and purest rivers, such as Gifu’s crystalline Nagara river. This summer delicacy has a unique flavour that is said to resemble watermelon!

Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River
Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River

The 1,300 year old traditional trade known as Gifu Nagaragawa no Ukai (ぎふ長良川の鵜飼 , Cormorant fishing on the Nagara River) has played a vital role in the history of Gifu City as a means of survival and profitable industry. During the fishing season (May 11 to October 15) many tourists flock to Gifu to watch the elegant fishing birds in action and enjoy the fish that can be cooked by grilling, boiling or even as tempura.

Bottles of Gifu Sake
Bottles of Gifu Sake

Gifu is also one of the leading sake produces in Japan, with over 50 breweries in the prefecture. Thanks to its mountainous region, cool climate and pure, clear water, Gifu has the ideal resources to produce high quality sake. Another important ingredient used in producing premium sake with a well-balanced flavour is the use of Hidohomare rice, which is grown with crystal-clear snowmelt water flowing from the mountains.

Gifu sake is in such high demand in Japan that few bottles ever make it out of the country. So while you’re in town, make some time to savour a cup or two.

Getting to Gifu

The Chubu Centrair International Airport is conveniently located in the city of Tokoname, just 57 minutes from Gifu Station. To reach Gifu Station from the airport, take the Meitetsu Limited Express towards Shinunuma, and then change at Kanayama Station to the Tokaido Main Line towards Ogaki. ¥1,710.

Onsen Oasis: Kinugawa Nioson Plaza

An onsen for everyone, with everyone

Kinugawa is a popular onsen retreat in Tochigi Prefecture, located near famous world heritage site Nikko. In the old days, it was a sacred onsen only for monks and Daimyo  (feudal lords) after their prayers in Nikko. Today many spas, ryokans and hotels are located along the leafy valley of Kinugawa.

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Other than onsens, a wide arrange of activities can be enjoyed here. Take a leisurely boat trip downstream or go whitewater rafting along the Kinugawa river. Also be sure to visit the Tobu World Square, a museum park where famous buildings and world heritages have been rebuilt on a 1/25 scale.

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Tokyo Skytree is huge even when its 25 times smaller!

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Located along the Kinugawa river, Nioson Plaza is a great place for families or couples to stay and soak in an onsen for a one or two day trip to combine with Nikko. The traditional tatami rooms here create an authentic atmosphere, and the romantic view of the river from the outdoor baths while soaking in the 100 percent natural onsen water is amazing.

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One of the outside baths is entered with a swimsuit and is gender free. That means that you can enjoy this great onsen experience as a couple or even with the whole family!

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Another outside bath is a real Japanese riverboat filled with onsen water. How about staring at the boats descending the Kinugawa river from your own boat?

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*Click here for an explanation on how to take a Japanese bath for beginners!


Kinugawa Onsen Nioson Plaza

Location: Kinugawaonsen Ohara 371-1 Nikko, Tochigi

Access: 10-min by taxi from Kinugawa Onsen Station (Tobu Line)

URL: http://www.niousonplaza.com/ (Japanese)

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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Picture Perfect Oirase Keiryu in Aomori

Ashura no Nagare, a photo spot representative of Oirase Keiyu.

The Oirase Keiryu has to be one of the most photographed and photogenic streams in Japan. And for good reason – even if you’re not a professional photographer and the only camera you’ve ever touched is on your smartphone, your photograph will look screensaver-worthy.

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The play of dappled sunlight on the gushing and frothy stream framed by fifty shades of green here – actually it could be 300 shades, as there are that many different types of moss alone – makes it photographic from any angle.

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The flow of the mountain stream is especially rapid during the summer months when water from melted snow flows into this tributary that then flows into Lake Towada, around 14km away from the start of the Oirase River.

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There are several waterfalls along the way, with the widest and most dynamic being the Choushi Waterfall at 20m, located where the Oirase stream begins its flow from the Towada Lake.

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Towada Lake is the largest caldera lake in Honshu, or the main island of Japan, and is also a popular spot for photographers.

Gorgeous in green, the Oirase stream and Towada Lake area – which has designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monuments – is also alluring when azure with autumn colors come October.

ACCESS: JR Tohoku buses run from Aomori Train Station via Oirase Stream to Towada Lake.

 

 

 

A Taste of Sh旬n: Power of Shijimi

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For many Japanese, summer brings to mind the eating of unagi, or eel, on designated days called Doyo no Ushi no Hi, in the hopes of beating summer fatigue with nutrition from the unagi. But there are some people who shun the (expensive) eel for the humble shijimi (freshwater clam), calling these appointed days the Doyo no Shijimi instead.

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In fact, eating these tiny clams in the summer makes more sense as, unlike the eel which is at its fattiest in the winter, the shijimi is at its plumpest from around July till August during its spawning season.  The shijimi is known to be rich in ornithine, which helps to purge toxins from the liver – hence salarymen can be seen slurping shijimi soup when they have a hangover from the previous night’s drinking session.

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Hangover cure, shijimi soup

The shijimi also comes into season in the winter, when the cold waters makes its flesh firmer and sweeter. Unlike other clams that are found in the ocean, the shijimi can only survive in estuaries that are a mix of sea water and freshwater.

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Shimane Prefecture’s Shinjiko Lake produces the most shijimi in Japan. This lake contains a slight amount of sodium in its water, making it a suitable habitat for the shijimi. These crustaceans are added to the local ramen as a topping and its flavors extracted for the soup stock, making this ramen the perfect way to round off a night of drinking.

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It is also often boiled together with rice or thrown into pastas.


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And for those who are a bit more adventurous, there is even shijimi curry, a local dish from Shimane!

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About Shun:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season,” but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season,” refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」 aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

Owara Kaze no Bon Festival

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Owara Kaze no Bon: Enchanting evening wind festival

For a dreamlike festival under the darkness of night, the Owara Kaze no Bon will take you on a time slip to Toyama’s traditional past.

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Unlike many upbeat and celebratory festival dances, this one is much more solemn. Don’t expect any shouting or cheering here, in fact, the streets are silent except for the shutter of cameras as the dancers move gracefully to the melancholic tunes of the kokyu – a Chinese violin rarely used in Japanese folk music – as well as the shamisen and slow rhythmic beat of small taiko drums.

This mesmerizing performance takes place from Sept. 1-3 at the sleepy hillside village of Owara in southwestern Toyama. Both a bon festival welcoming ancestral spirits in the summer, and a ceremony to protect against strong winds (kaze) that damage crops, this celebration has been passed on for 300 years.

However, the festival never fails to bring about a typhoon of tourists, as nearly 300,000 come here to watch 11 local dance units perform on stages, and throughout a 3 km street course over three nights.

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The festival starts from around 3pm (except the third night), and carries on until 11pm. As the sun sets, thousands of crafted paper lanterns pave the path for the performers, dimly lighting the rustic townscape with its peach and golden hues.

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With faces veiled by braided straw hats, the participants move to one of three dances: the older Honen odori dance, or the newer men’s and women’s dance.

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Women dressed in colorful yukata (summer kimono) with traditional black sashes portray the four seasons through their graceful strokes and strides.

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Men on the other hand, mimic farming movements in their “scarecrow dance”, boldly stepping and swaying in their happi coats.

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With the backdrop of latticed-door houses and ancient temples, smaller units simultaneously perform throughout the town. The sight will surely make you feel as though you’ve been transported to another world. So as the summer comes to a close, why not breeze on by for a few nights of otherworldly entertainment?

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Access: A 40-min walk from Etchuyatsuo Station (JR Takayama Line)

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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A Taste of Sh旬n: Time for Tokoroten

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As hot and humid days continues to suppress appetites in what may sometimes seem like a never-ending summer in Japan, cooling, light and slurp-easy foods like the tokoroten provide gastronomic relief.

This is perhaps best described as a jelly-like noodle, made from seaweed and usually eaten with a mix of sweet vinegar and soy sauce, with a sprinkling of seaweed, sesame and Japanese mustard for a refreshing slurp. It can also be eaten sweet with black honey.

 

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Tokoroten in its seaweed stage

After the seaweed has been dissolved in water and congealed into a jelly form, it is pressed out into noodle form.

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Unlike gelatin desserts, the tokoroten has a firmer texture. It is eaten as a summer snack, though as it practically 90% water, it is popular as a diet food as well, used to replace carbohydrate-rich noodles such as udon.

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It’s unique production method of being pressed out via a block device has made it a sort of cultural icon, even replicated in quirky souvenirs. So the next time you spot this at a souvenir shop, you’ll know what it is!

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About Shun:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (5): A Final View of Mt. Fuji

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For one final panoramic view of Mt. Fuji from another angle, we saved our highest ascent for last. And thankfully, hiking isn’t the only way to get 1,075 meters above Lake Kawaguchiko.

By hopping on the newly renovated Kachikachi-Yama Ropeway, we scaled to the top of Mt. Tenjo in just 3 minutes! This mountain is the setting for the famous Japanese folk tale “Kachi Kachi-Yama”, and its cute rabbit and raccoon characters awaited us at the summit.

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And just because we didn’t huff and puff our way up the mountain didn’t mean we weren’t entitled to eat the tanuki (“raccoon”) mochi while marveling at the scenery.

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From the observation platform, we indeed had a spectacular view overlooking both Lake Kawaguchiko to the east, and Mt. Fuji to the south. With mochi in one hand, and camera in the other, we snapped our final goodbye shots of our favorite mountain.

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Off to omiyage shopping!

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without finishing our trip in true Japanese fashion and picking up some omiyage. Fortunately for us, Mt. Fuji’s newly famed Fujiyama Cookie shop is located just next to the base of the Kachikachi-yama Ropeway. Shaped after the iconic mountain itself, and made with natural ingredients found in the Fuji Five Lakes area, only here can you find these cookies available for individual retail, including our favorite, the matcha green tea flavor.

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Azuki topping or white chocolate covered: 130 yen; Plain: 120 yen

And with Fuji-shaped cookies in our bags, and Fuji’s views in our heart, we bid farewell to the Fuji Five Lakes!

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Tip: For all your other omiyage shopping needs before leaving the Fuji Five Lakes Area, go to Gateway Fujiyama at Kawaguchiko Station. Here, you can also get assistance about transportation and attractions in English at the concierge desk.

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Attraction Info:
Kachikachi-yama Ropeway
URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/

Fujiyama Cookie
URL: http://www.fujiyamacookie.jp (Japanese)

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (4): Hot Pink Flower Festivals To Ice Cold Caves

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From the vibrant hot pink Shiba-Sakura by Lake Motosuko, to the cool underground lava and ice caves by Lake Saiko, we explored the hidden and natural majesty of Mt. Fuji that extends beyond the mountain itself.

Pretty in pink

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For a festival of flowers 800,000 in full bloom, the Shiba-Sakura (“moss phlox”) Festival by Lake Motosuko – the Western-most of Fuji’s Five Lakes – is your choice for catching Mt. Fuji with some color contrast. Stretching across six acres of the Fuji Motosuko Resort, you’ll find more of the pink, purple and white shiba-sakura here than anywhere in the Greater Tokyo Area. Just be sure to catch it during its short season from mid-April to the end of May.

Mt. Fuji’s mystical caves

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For a cooler way to enjoy Mt. Fuji’s mystic wonders – 0 degrees Celcius on average to be exact – we climbed down into the Fugaku Lava Cave & Narusawa Ice Cave by Lake Saiko. Formed by eruptions from over a thousand years ago, this 200 meter underground cave with its illuminated icicles had us in awe. Referred to as Mt. Fuji’s natural freezer, there’s no better place to beat the summer heat!

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A “Sea of Trees”

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Literally just above these mystical caves lies the wild forest known as the Aokigahara Jukai “Sea of Trees”. Though it may seem like a typical forest from afar, the roots of these 300-year old trees actually rise above the dense volcanic rock soil from ancient eruptions, making for a mysterious sight. This wondrous forest sprawls over 30 square kilometers to the foot of Mt. Fuji, but even just a quick trek down these trails with our tour guide made us marvel at the tree roots’ peculiar pattern. Be sure to also look up though, at the treetops swaying in the wind as these “waves” are how the “Sea of Trees” got its name.

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Having explored the depths of the Fuji Five Lakes’ natural hidden beauty, join us tomorrow as head back up to the heights – on a ropeway – for one last glimpse of Mt. Fuji’s glory from above Lake Kawaguchiko.

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Tip: Get charged for your trek around these trees with the sweet and savory corn-flavored soft serve ice cream from the Fugaku Wind Cave. (360 yen)

Attraction Info:
Shiba-sakura Festival
URL: http://www.shibazakura.jp/eng/
Fugaku Lave Cave & Narusawa Ice Cave
URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/leisure10.html
Aokigahara Sea of Trees
URL: http://mtfuji-jp.com/special-guides/viewpoints/

Picturesque Japan: Unkai Terrace

Heaven in Hokkaido

Tokyo’s towering skyscrapers – not to forget about the Tokyo Skytree – might take you up high in the sky, but Hokkaido’s nature takes you above the clouds. A 13 minute gondola ride in Tomamu goes up to an altitude of 1,088 meters, which is just high enough to surpass the clouds.

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The Unkai Terrace is located near the endpoint of this gondola, and trust me, you will understand why this terrace was named Unkai, or “sea of clouds”.

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Tomamu has been a popular ski resort since the early eighties. However, the amazing summer view remained a secret only known by the gondola staff until a summer service started in 2005.

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Tomamu in summer and winter

From the Unkai Terrace, you can see one of Hokkaido’s most stunning views, but only if it’s your day. The endless sea of rolling clouds that conjure the illusion of heaven can only be seen if the right amount of clouds appear at the right time of the day.

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As Tomamu is not easy to reach and the gondola and terrace are only open from 4:30 am to 8 am and from 11 am to 2 pm, staying at Hoshino Resort is highly recommended.
Hoshino Resort Tomamu consists of The Tower and Risonare Tomamu, and both feel just as close to heaven as the Unkai Terrace itself!

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If you are in luck and get to see this phenomenon of heaven in Hokkaido, sitting down on the terrace with an “Unkai Coffee” while gazing at the clouds like a lookout staring at the sea from a crow’s nest might very well become the highlight of your trip to Hokkaido, or even to Japan in general!

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Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Oki Islands

Spot information

Name: Unkai Terrace
Address: Nakatomamu, Shimukappu-mura Yufutsu-gun, Hokkaido
Access: From Tomamu Station (JR Hokkaido), call for a pickup bus with the telephone on platform 2 that takes you to the resorts.
Period: From May 16 to October 13 (check the website for time schedules)
Gondola Round Trip Fares: 1,900 yen (adults) 1,200 yen (children)
Official Information: http://www.snowtomamu.jp/unkai_terrace/index_en.html

Aomori Nebuta Festival: Week Long Street Party

Every night this week till Friday, the sleepy streets of Aomori city roar into life with the chants of “ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra-se-ra-se-ra!” and thousands of feet spring off the ground as they dance to the rousing beat of drums – all because the nebuta are in town.

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In fact, the festival from over 400 years ago has its roots in chasing away sleepiness, as farmers of old believed that they were haunted by a sleep demon especially while busy mid-summer season, and so started a festival called “nemu-nagashi” to drive away sleepiness (or “nemu”).

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Nebuta now refers to giant lantern floats of around 7m tall, which are made of delicate washi paper plastered on a metal and bamboo frame. These are manually pushed around the route by participants, and ardent fans of the parade (and floats) can be heard shouting “kochi muite!”, which means “look over here!”. If the shouts are passionate enough, the float leader will signal for the float to face that side of the crowd, resulting in even higher pitched screams and squeals.

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Around a hundred “haneto” dancers wearing woven straw hats decorated with flowers lead the way of each nebuta, shouting “ra-se-ra, ra-se-ra!” to the crowds, who resound with the chorus “ra-se-ra-se-ra-se-ra!”, reminding one of a school sports event – except everyone is cheering for the same team.

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Anyone can take part in the parade, as long as you wear the haneto outfit, and are ready to shout and dance for the two-hour length of the parade. The haneto also carry with them lots of bells which are thrown out to delight the audience.

In the local dialect, participation in the festival is inquired using the verb haneru, as in “Are you going to haneru today?”, which was derived from the Japanese spelling of the haneto costume and the verb haneru which means to “jump”.

Drummers keep the beat of the parade throughout, and one’s heart can’t help but race at the uniform sound of the contingents of drummers spread out between the nebuta.

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During the nebuta season from Aug 2-7, do not be surprised to see fierce-looking goldfish hanging around everywhere, from shops to the train station and along the streets. This is the official nebuta mascot of the festival – the kingyo nebuta, or literally, goldfish nebuta.

The festival, which was designated as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property in 1980, attracts the most tourists of any of the country’s nebuta festivals, and is counted among the three largest festivals in the Tohoku region.

This is definitely one festival for the bucket list, so catch it while you can!

Location: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Dates: Aug. 1 – Aug. 7, 2016
Hours: 6pm – 9pm (Aug. 1), 7:10pm – 9pm (Aug. 2 to 6), 1pm – 3pm, 7:15pm – 9pm (Aug. 7)

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (2): Mt. Fuji By Sea!

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What could be more beautiful than a clear sight of Japan’s most famous mountain? How about seeing its perfect symmetry reflected upon the waters of nearby Lake Yamanakako – the largest of the Fuji Five Lakes. We set out for the perfect view aboard two cruisers that are quite peculiar sights on their own: the Yamanakako no KABA, and the Excursion Ship [Swan Lake].

A bus…that swims?

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If you’ve never been on a bus that drove straight into a body of water…and survived, now’s your chance! Fear not, the Yamanakako no KABA, an amphibious kaba (“hippo”) bus runs both on land and lake. Led by our scout uniform-clad tour guide, who provided lively explanations throughout the ride, this hippo took us on a 10-min. expedition through the lake’s surrounding forestry, before splashing straight into the lake itself. If you don’t mind a little spray of water on your face, this 30-min. adventure makes for a great first encounter with Lake Yamanakako.

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Then, sail like a swan

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From one animal-themed cruiser to another, we hopped off the hippo and headed next to the far smoother and less wild Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]. While no real hippos live around this lake, there are quite a few gracefully gliding swans – the inspiration for this ride. You can even greet them up close before hopping on board, by picking up some feeding bait for 100 yen!

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While the double-deck interior cabin with its sleek wooden design and window-side seating make for a comfortable viewing spot, be sure to head to the balcony to take in the lake’s natural scents and sounds. Sailing along the serene lake, with the cool sea breeze in our face and the glittering sunlight reflecting off the lake’s waters, made for the perfect setting to gaze upon Mt. Fuji in all its majesty.

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So now that we’ve sailed, you ready to soar? Come back next time as we go airborne above Fuji-Q Highland, and see Mt. Fuji from a different angle, even while upside down!

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Tip: For luxury lodging just above the banks of Lake Yamanakako, stay at Hotel Mount Fuji, just like we did. With views of Mt. Fuji from our room, the courtyard, and even the outdoor onsen, it was like a buffet of Mt. Fuji photo spots! Speaking of which, we enjoyed the hotel’s buffet breakfast and its signature fluffy omelets – seasoned with a view of Mt. Fuji.

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Attraction & Hotel Information:
Yamanakako no KABA
URL: http://mtfuji-jp.com/lake-yamanaka/

Excursion Ship [Swan Lake]
URL: http://www.fujikyu.co.jp/en/leisure/leisure16.html

Hotel Mt. Fuji
Address: 1360-83 Yamanaka, Yamanakako-mura, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi
Access: A free shuttle bus is available from the Fujisan-Yamanakako bus stop, reservations required.
Tel: 0555-62-2111
URL: http://www.mtfuji-hotel.com/english

Themed Izakayas To Experience Japanese Culture

It’s all about theme-work! 

Experiencing Japanese summer is not complete without going to themed restaurants and Izakaya (bars). Savory food and refreshing drinks are alluring to start with, but these venues offer great entertainment such as a theatrical display of the past, sumo wrestling matches and shamisen performances.

2) Ikedaya Hana no Mai, Kyoto

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For a feel of history, head to Ikedaya, run by the Mai izakaya chain. This is at the location of the original Ikedaya Ryokan where the Ikedaya Affair took place. This was an armed encounter, nearing the end of the tumultuous warring states era, between masterless samurai employed by the Choshu (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Tosa (now Kochi Prefecture) clans and the Shinsengumi, or the shogun’s special police force in Kyoto.

Recreating the interior of the ryokan from around 150 years ago, there are various photo spots for fans of the Shinsengumi.

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Address: Sanjo Kawaramachi, Higashi Iri Nakajima-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture,
82 Salwa Sanjo building

 

3) Hana no Mai, Ryogoku

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Believe it or not, this is the inside of an izakaya, located at Ryogoku district where the sumo stadium is. From 7pm almost everyday, various events are held such as sumo matches by former sumo professionals, shamisen performances (a three-stringed instrument) and taiko performances.

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A summer dance event held around the sumo ring.

And of course, don’t forget to try the staple diet of champions – chanko! This is basically a hotpot of crab, chicken, pork, fish vegetables – pretty much anything edible goes into it.

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Address: Yokoami 1-3-20Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Fun Around Mt. Fuji (1): A Short Trip To The Fuji Five Lakes Area

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Part 1: Let the fun begin!

Thousands of tourists travel to Mt. Fuji each summer to make the strenuous ascent to its peak.

Others of us just want to have a little fun.

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Which is why I’m hanging in a hammock, rather than strapping on my climbing gear.

Ready to have some fun in the Fuji Five Lakes Area? Follow us in this 5-part series as we bring you onsens, high-flying rollercoasters, panoramic views, and yes, even a Hammock Café, where I’m hanging now. Everything is five times the fun with the majestic view of Mt. Fuji in the background, so let’s get started!

Train otaku, all aboard!ふじっこ号

First things first, you’re going to need to get around the Fuji Five Lakes Area, which is no problem with Fujikyu Railways. And if you’re a train otaku and vintage vehicles get your engines moving, these retro buses and old-fashioned trains will take you for a trip back in time.

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The Fujikyu Limited Express, featuring 58 cartoon characters of Mt. Fuji on its exterior.

Even if you’re like me, simply just wanting to get from point A to B, some of these rides will still stop you in your tracks…like the Fujikyu Limited Express, with 58 cartoon characters of Mt Fuji on its exterior.

Tip: Pick up your “Mt. Fuji and The Fuji Five Lakes Passport [Fujikyu Train Set]” at Otsuki Station to ride unlimited on Fujikyu Railways’ buses and trains for two consecutive days.

And while you’re at the station…

Station-side snacks

Since food is half the fun when traveling, try these two treats, conveniently available upon arrival at Fujisan Station.

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The Fujiyama Taiyaki combines the traditional taiyaki fish shape with Mt. Fuji, and is ready to erupt with steaming hot sweet bean filling! (160 yen)

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With vanilla “snow” on top, and native aobara (“blue rose”) as the mountain base, this soft serve embodies the shape and local flavor of Mt. Fuji. (350 yen)

Now that we’ve got some sugar in our system, where should we explore first?

A sacred starting point

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Even for non-climbers, you won’t want to miss the historical starting point of the Mt. Fuji climb, at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine. This shrine, dedicated to restrain the erupting of Mt. Fuji, is preserved as one of Japan’s largest forest shrines with sacred trees dating back over 1,000 years. For a taste of Mt. Fuji’s ancient heritage and abundant nature, starting here will get your trip off on the right foot.

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Now, off to see Mt. Fuji! Come back for Part 2, and follow us as we catch some spectacular views from sea at Lake Yamanakako.

Tip: If looking for an affordable stay close to Fujisan Station, try the Fujisan Station Hotel, just a 2-min walk away. With rooms starting at 7,000 yen, including breakfast, this newly renovated hotel is equipped with free wifi in every room, and would certainly be my pick if traveling by myself to the Mt. Fuji area.

[Attraction & Hotel Information]

PICA Yamanakako Village (Hammock Café)
Access: There are several bus services per hour from Shinjuku Station (Fujikyu and Keio). Shuttle services are available for those staying at PICA Yamanakako Village (reservation required)
URL: http://yamanakako.pica-village.jp/en/

Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine
Access: Take Fujikyu Railway from Otsuki Station to Fujisan Station. A 20-min. walk from Otsuki Station
URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/

Fujisan Station Hotel
Address: 2-7-12 Matsuyama, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
Access: A 2-min. walk from Fujisan Station
Tel: 0555-24-3300
URL: http://www.fujisanstation-hotel.com/ (Japanese)

A Taste of Sh旬n: River Fish

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Heading to the river to catch unsuspecting river fish (by hand!) has long been a favourite summertime activity in Japan. Other than being a good family-bonding activity while reigniting that long lost hunting instinct in mankind, river fish are also tastiest in summer when their bones are softer.

1) Ayu (sweetfish)

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Grilled salted ayu, or sweetfish, is a staple at summer festival food stalls. When thoroughly grilled, it can be eaten from head to tail. The slightly-bitter intestines lend a nice balance to its sweet flesh, and is safe to eat because river fish only inhabit clean water.

2) Yamame (kind of trout) 

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The yamame is another kind of river fish that inhabits rivers flowing from high mountains, giving rise to its name. 山女. which means mountain lady. This can also be salt grilled, or grilled with miso on a leaf, in Gifu prefecture, where it can be found.

3) Iwana (white spotted char)

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The iwana also inhabits clear rivers and streams, and can be found in places like Kamikochi, sometimes referred to as the Swiss Alps of Japan. You’re unlikely to be able to eat the sashimi of river fish in Tokyo, but if you go to where it is caught, you may be able to.

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Unlike other river fish, the iwana is often used as a flavouring for sake, known as iwana kotsu sake, or literally, iwana bone sake. After grilling, it is dunked in a fish-shaped sake container with warm sake for the fish to impart its char-grilled fragrance and umami of its oil. This is a unique way of consuming sake probably unfamiliar to non-Japanese. You have to try it for yourself to understand why there’s fish in your drink!

 

About Sh旬n:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.

Awa Odori: Japan’s Biggest Dance Festival

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“It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches! If both are fools, you might as well have fun dancing!”

The lyrics to the Awa Odori’s thematic “Fool’s Song” are a fitting invitation to join Japan’s largest dance festival, where it is said that as long as you can raise your hands and move your feet forward you are doing the 400-year-old folk dance.

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Every year on Aug. 12-15, Tokushima city (formerly known as Awa) in Tokushima Prefecture turns into a huge dancing platform. Numerous dancing groups (“ren”) from around the country and even overseas descend upon this usually sleepy small town for this summer matsuri that welcomes the souls of ancestors during the Bon season.

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Men wear what’s called a happi coat, don a headcloth in the stereotypical manner of a thief and dance in exaggerated motions – sometimes the drunk, and sometimes playing the fool, while women cut a much more elegant figure in a yukata and crescent-moon shaped straw hat with graceful rhythmic motions. Selected professional groups perform on elaborate indoor stages during the daytime, and there are temporary outdoor enbujo or performance stages set up throughout the city.

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The highlight of this festival is in the evening when the city center streets start pulsing with thousands of frolicking dancers adorned in colorful yukata uniforms moving as one across parks, closed-down streets and plazas. Feel your pulse raise in tune to the hypnoptic cries of “Erai yatcha erai yatcha yoi-yoi-yoi-yoi!” resounding across the city, accompanied by gongs, beating drums and the tunes of flutes and shamisen.

Choose from paid or free viewing locations to watch and snap this revelry, or several Odori Hiroba (dance plazas) where you can feel the energy as you circle around the dancers up-close, and even an Odori Road along which groups dance their way from stage to stage.

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Yet as the lyrics of the song suggest, the best way to participate in the heated excitement is by taking to the streets yourself and become a dancing “fool”!

Awa Odori

Date: Aug. 12 to Aug. 15, 2016
Location: Dances are performed at various venues including ASTY Tokushima and Tokushima Arts Foundation for Culture.
Time: 11am, 3pm and 7pm (ASTY Tokushima), 11pm, 1:30pm and 4pm (Toushima Arts Foundation for Culture).

Access: JR Tokyo Station to JR Okayama Station via Tokaido Shinkansen, JR Okayama Station to Takamatsu (Kagawa) Station via JR Marine Liner 29, Takamatsu (Kagawa) Station to Tokushima Station via Limited Express Uzushio 13. A 5-min walk from JR Tokushima Station.

Sun, seafood and soy sauce in Choushi City, Chiba

Often bypassed on the way to Tokyo from Narita airport, Choushi City in the Chiba prefecture (which if you didn’t already know, is where Narita City/Airport is) has lots to offer.

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Inubosaki, the tip of the Choushi peninsular, is where the Japanese go to see the earliest first sunrise of the New Year. But there are plenty of other reasons to visit the fishing and onsen town in Chiba Prefecture all year round – especially for some summer sun, sand and seafood.

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For one, fans of nostalgic retro trains will love the Choushi Dentetsu, or Chouden for short. It’s a quaint two-carriage train that connects the JR Choushi station to Inubousaki and other stations running along the cape.

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The nostalgic Choshi Dentetsu
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The Chouden takes you from Choushi Station to Inubosaki.

There are all-day passes you can buy to take the Chouden to travel to various attractions, such as the fishing market and aquarium. Inubousaki is famed for its lighthouse which is still in use, and recalls the peninsular’s historical importance as a trading port.

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Another attraction next to the lighthouse is the Inubosaki Marine Park of which the highlight is the dolphin show.

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For some reason a baby dinosaur greets you at the entrance of the Marine Park…

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A must-try at Choushi is the maguro, or tuna, freshly brought in from their harbours. There are several seafood restaurants right next to the fish market for you to sample the treasures of the ocean at a reasonable price – compared to Tokyo, which is just two hours away by express train.

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The fact that Chiba is the hometown for most of the famous soy sauce brands in Japan such as Kikkoman and Higeta also complements its seafood scene.

And don’t forget to try the arajiru – or fish stock soup – that is famous in Choushi. All the essence of the day’s catch are extracted into the flavoursome miso-based fish soup.

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Of course, after a good meal, what better way to sit back and digest than in an onsen. There are several onsen hotels and ryokans at Inubousaki where you can stay, or just take a dip for the day. Check out www.choshi-ryokan.jp for information on which hotels offer day-trip onsens.

So next time you are on the way into or out of Japan, don’t forget to explore Chiba Prefecture itself!

World Heritage (1): Shirakami Sanchi

downimage_00000368Shirakami Sanchi: Beech Forest Sanctuary Transcending Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ise Grand Shrine: Japan’s Top Power Spot

A Shrine For The Bucket List 

Since days of old, there has been a saying about the Ise Jingu, or Ise Grand Shrine: isshoni ichido wa omairi o, meaning one should worship there at least once in a lifetime. Or, in modern-day speak – a shrine for the bucket list.

 Indeed, since the Edo Period (1603-1868), 1 out of 6 people in Edo (former name for Tokyo) had traveled to Ise at least once. And that was before the days of the Shinkansen (which now takes around 4 hours), when it took 15 days to cover the 470 kilometer distance from Edo to Ise, and the same to return.

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An image of the old day pilgrimages

Consisting of 125 shrines centering around the naikū (“inner shrine”), which is dedicated to the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami and the gekū (“outer shrine”), which is dedicated to Toyouke no Omikami, the goddess of agriculture and industry, it reminded me of Cambodia’s temple complex, Ankor Wat, which also has many temples centered around the main temple.

Why is Ise Shingu so sacred? In Nihon Shoki (“The Chronicles of Japan”), Japan’s oldest historiography, dating back to 720 AD, it is written that 2,000 years ago, Amaterasu Omikami descended from the heavens and selected Ise in present-day Mie Prefecture with its abundant and beautiful nature as her place of enshrinement.

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Toyouke no Omikami was enshrined with the purpose to offer sacred food to Amaterasu, which shows how important Amaterasu and the Naiku are to Shinto religion. Naiku is said to be the home shrine for all Japanese, and while the younger generation is losing interest, it is still a once-in-a-lifetime destination to visit for many people of the nation.

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There is a 6-kilometer distance between Naiku and Geku, so be sure to take the local bus unless you want to try out Edo-style pilgrimage, or have a comfortable pair of walking shoes. Both Naiku and Geku are in densely-wooded hills with the Isuzu river coursing through the complexes.

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Next to Naiku is Okage-yokocho, an old-fashioned shopping street with traditional wooden houses that transports one back to the Edo era. 

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The streets are full of charming restaurants, food stalls and souvenir shops. With the broad variety of products available here you might want to call it the Harajuku of ancient times!

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Although I had little time to visit all the other shrines, I did pass a few on the way. Going around town by bicycle and discovering all these gems would be an interesting activity for those who plan to stay in Ise for a longer time. 

Ise Grand Shrine

Location: Ujitachi-cho 1, Ise, Mie

Access to Ise: From Tokyo Station, take the shinkansen to Nagoya, then transfer to the Kintetsu Express and get off at Iseshi Station.

Tenjin Matsuri: Osaka’s Festival of Fire and Water

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If you are in Osaka tomorrow, you can catch this rare scene of a women-only contingent carrying a 200kg mikoshi (portable shrine) at the Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street. This is the lead up to Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri – one of Japan’s Big Three Festivals along with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and Tokyo’s Kanda Matsuri.

Also known as the Festival of Fire and Water, this is like a two-day buffet spread of festivities including a dynamic street parade, rousing water procession and traditional cultural performances on floating stages, topped off with a dazzling fireworks display.

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The actual festival starts from 4am of July 24th at Tenmangu Shrine with drumming and the opening of the shrine gate, and some rites both at the shrine and on a boat on the river. After which, a parade with over 3,000 participants including drummers, paraders dressed as imperial guards on horseback, lion dancers and umbrella twirlers take to the streets from the shrine.

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After the adrenaline-charged and rowdy street procession, viewers can cool off by the river with serene performances of bunraku (traditional puppet theatre) and noh (traditional masked theater) performed on stages on the boats.

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On the second day of this festival, the excitement goes up a few notches as the Land Procession heads out from the Tenmangu Shrine towards the Okawa River.

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The highlight of this festival is no doubt in the evening when the parade transitions from land to river. The Boat Procession comprises around 100 boats for a 7km course over 2-3 hours, and ends with a fireworks display with over 5,000 bursts.

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This all-in-one matsuri which combines the elements of water and fire, day and night, noise and calm is a great way to experience the over-the-top and bigger-and-better spirit of Osaka over two days.

Tenjin Matsuri:

Date: Jul. 24 and 25, 2016
Time: Various events from July 24 4am-7pm, July 25 1:30pm-10:30pm; Land Procession: July 25 3:30pm-5:30pm; Boat Procession: 6pm-9pm; Fireworks Display: 7pm-9pm.
Address: 2-1-8 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka
Access: A 5-min. walk from Osaka Tenmangu Station (JR Tozai Line)

Photo Credit: (C)Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau, (C)Japan National Tourism Organization

Speedy Sapporo Sightseeing (5): The Green Trail

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

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

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

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Inset: The signature poplar trees of Hokkaido University.

 

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

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

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The interior of the campus cafe

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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A true brew classic.

 

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

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

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Hop on to learn about hop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheers to a wonderful per-foam-ance!

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

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

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

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

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

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Take home a jingiskan set as a souvenir

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

 

4 hotel pools in Tokyo to escape the summer heat

Swimming and sunbathing in Tokyo’s concrete jungle

Now that the rainy season has come to an end, the hot and muggy summer is here to stay for the next few months. Escaping the heat by leaving Tokyo for cool summer retreats is one option, but if you will be too busy sight-seeing (or working if you are a permanent resident), we recommend you at least find some time to cool down in one of these Tokyo hotel pools that are open to the public. Keep on making those crawl strokes to burn the calories you gained savoring local cuisine, have a relaxing sunbathing session with a cocktail while gazing at the overwhelming urban landscapes, or have a romantic night swim with magnificent light-ups. It’s up to you.

1. Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Sky pool

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Located in the middle of Shinjuku’s skyscraper district, Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo’s Sky Pool is about as urban as pools get. How about a romantic evening swim with city lights everywhere around you?

Address: Nishi-Shinjuku 2-2-1, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Access: A 1-min walk from Tochomae Station Exit B1 (Toei Oedo Line)
Hours: 9 am – 8 pm
Price Range: 1,200 – 6,000 (See URL for detailed prices)
URL:  http://www.keioplaza.com/facilities/rate_2015.pdf 

2. Tokyo Prince Hotel Garden Pool

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If sunbathing with Tokyo Tower next to you has always been your dream, Tokyo Prince Hotel’s Garden Pool is all you could wish for.

Address: Shiba-koen 3-3-1, Minato, Tokyo
Access: A 1-min walk from Onarimon Station Exit A1 (Toei Mita Line)
Hours: 10 am – 6 pm
Price Range: 6,000 – 10,000
URL:  http://www.princehotels.com/en/tokyo/swimming-pool

3. Hotel East 21 Tokyo Garden Pool

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Swim like a princess (or prince) in Hotel East 21 Tokyo’s gorgeous Garden Pool that is surrounded by a 19th century European style garden.

Address: Toyo 6-3-3, Koto, Tokyo
Access: A 7-min walk from Toyocho Station Exit 1 (Tozai Line)
Hours: 9 am – 6 pm
Price Range: 6,000 – 13,000
URL:  http://www.hotel-east21.co.jp/en/

4. ANA InterContinental Garden Pool

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Not satisfied with your hotel bathtub? How about a swim through ANA InterContinental’s spacious Garden Pool in the midst of Roppongi’s overwhelming skyscrapers and modern architecture?

Address: Akasaka 1-12-33, Minato, Tokyo
Access: A 5-min walk from Roppongi-itchome Station Exit 3 (Namboku Line)
Hours: From June 27 to July 24 and from September 1 to September 30, 8 am – 7 pm. From July 25 to August 31, 8 am – 9 pm
Price Range: 7,000 – 13,000 (See URL for detailed prices)
URL:  http://www.anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp/e/facilities/pool.html

Picturesque Japan: The Tottori Sand Dunes

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Sand, camels, and…a refreshing sea breeze

Surrounded by rippled sand dunes that sparkle with the reflection of the sun, you mount a camel and gaze upon what looks like an oasis in the far distance. Strangely enough though, you are not in a desert. And yes, you are still in Japan.

While featuring practically everything one expects from a desert, the Tottori Sand Dunes fail to officially qualify as one.

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The total size of the Tottori Sand Dunes is about the same as 140 baseball stadiums. That may sound like quite a lot, but unfortunately falls short to qualify as a real desert. The Sahara Desert for example, is 24 times the size of whole Japan!

Everyone knows that deserts are supposed to be dry. This is due to a serious lack of rain and the absence of a sea or river in the area. The Tottori Sand Dunes, however, are located right next to the Japan Sea (yes, that’s the oasis I was talking about)…another fatal flaw in the pursuit of being a true desert-ness. 

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Though the sand may look dry on the surface, if you start digging, you will notice that this is in fact nothing more than some “desert makeup”, as the sand becomes watery after just a few digs. So, point taken, the Tottori Sand Dunes may look like a desert, but only on the surface, literally.

Still, it is easy and a lot of fun to pretend. You get to experience the whole package including camels and an oasis without having to worry about dehydration! And Tottori, which is the least populous prefecture in Japan, can still pride itself on having more sand than any other prefecture in Japan. 

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: Yakushima

Spot Information

Name: Tottori Sand Dunes

Location: Fukube-cho Yuyama 2164-661, Tottori, Tottori

Access: A 20-min taxi-ride from Tottori Station (JR West).

A Taste of Sh旬n: Eat The Eel Day

Just surviving on somen, shaved ice or salad when your appetite is suppressed by the hot and humid Japanese summer is bound to leave one listless – which is why the Japanese believe in boosting their stamina a couple of times during the summer with the consumption of eels, or unagi. This special day is called the natsu no doyo no ushi no hi, which falls on July 30.

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Before

While the origin of this “eat the eel” day seems to have stemmed from a clever PR campaign by an unagi restaurant back in the Edo era, the eel has been part of the Japanese diet since the 7th century. And the long, slimy sea creature is indeed packed with protein, Vitamin A, Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA, etc.

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After

But most importantly, the eel, when prepared by Japanese chefs, tastes heavenly. The fragrance of grilled eel wafting in the air alone is enough for one to eat a bowl of rice with (as some unagi fans say).

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Scratch and sniff

The most common way of preparing the eel is the kabayaki, where the eel is split down the back, as done in Kanto (eastern Japan/Tokyo), or down the belly, as in Kansai (western Japan/Osaka), then skewered and dipped in a sweet soy sauce-based sauce and grilled.

Why this deviation? Splitting the eel down the stomach – akin to seppuku, or the ritual suicide by the samurai – was deemed inauspicious in Edo, or old Tokyo, which was the seat of samurai power. In the merchant city of Osaka, however, it is considered good to “talk with your stomach open” – that is, being frank and straight speaking.

And there is one more polar difference – in Kanto, the unagi is first steamed, then grilled to remove some of the fat for softer flesh. In Kansai, the unagi is not steamed, and hence more fatty and chewy. So now you have an excuse to try the unagidon (eel rice bowl) in both Tokyo and Osaka!

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In Nagoya, a prefecture situated in between these two perpetual rival cities, the unagi is prepared in an even more elaborate way – the hitsumabushi, where the enjoyment of the unagi is tripled by a step-by-step eating process.

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The unagi comes already finely sliced, and is to be first savoured on its own. Then, you add the condiments of wasabi, sliced spring onion and seaweed, and eat it with that accent of flavours.

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Lastly, tea is poured into the bowl for a luxurious ochazuke (or “soaked in tea”) dish. All the essence of eel and condiments combine for a flavoursome punch that, after the first gulp, almost always draws a sigh of contentment from the diner. (Yes, like that sigh of heavenly relief when the Japanese first dip in an onsen…)

And, while not so common, unagi can be eaten as sashimi – sliced finely like the fugu – in Hamamatsu Prefecture which is famous for its unagi production.

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The natural oils of the unagi give its raw flesh an exquisite rich yet clean taste, with a slightly chewy texture not unlike the fugu.

Saving the best for last, one can’t claim to have tasted unagi without also savouring its “kimo”, or liver.  The creamy yet slightly springy texture and mildly bitter aftertaste (that goes well with sake) makes it a much sought-after delicacy – be sure to order this if it’s on the menu as not all restaurants serve it.

So, let the Eat The Eel Day countdown begin!

 

About Sh旬n:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season,” but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season,” refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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The former Hokkaido Government Building, aka “Akarenga”.

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

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

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

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

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Excuse me, but are you Lavendar by any chance?

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

 

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The Sapporo Star

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

 

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

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

 

Nostalgic Pottering in Yanesen Part 2

Shitamachi roaming by bicycle

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

Nezu Shrine

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

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

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Hebimichi

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

Information:
Location: Yanaka 2, Taito, Tokyo

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Shops near the Aizome Bridge

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

Coffee Ranpo

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

Isetatsu:

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

Shokichi:

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

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Yanaka Ginza

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

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

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Suzuki Niku Minced Cutlets , 200 yen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daimaru at the Sapporo Station 

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

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

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

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

 

Rokkatei Main Store (Sapporo) 

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

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

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

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Enter at your own health risk!

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

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A must-try classic.

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

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

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

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Selling over-the-counter bliss at 260 yen.

Shop Info:

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

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

Asagaya Tanabata Festival, larger than life

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How a traditional Chinese festival became Japanese street art

Orihime and Hikoboshi are two lovers that represent the Vega and Altair star respectively. Normally the Milky Way separates them, but only once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the old lunar calendar, they are allowed to be together for a brief time.
In a nutshell, this is the story behind Tanabata, a Japanese festival that originates from the Chinese festival Qixi.
nl20120701In modern Japan, Tanabata is celebrated by hanging wishes on a bamboo tree. These wishes are traditionally written in Tanzaku, a small rectangular paper used for Japanese poetry. Bring a ladder for urgent wishes, as it is said that the higher the wish is hung on the tree, the greater the chance it will come true!
Wishes hanging in a Tanabata bamboo tree usually come in five colors, representing the five basic elements that make up the world according to ancient Chinese philosophy, resulting in beautifully decorated trees that can teach some Christmas trees a lesson or two.


From as early as July 7 to the end of August, various Tanabata festivals are held throughout Japan.
Renowned for its eccentric decorations, the Asagaya Tanabata Festival in Suginami Ward is by far Tokyo’s most famous festival of its kind.
The shopping arcade and other shopping streets near Asagaya Station will be filled with not only decorated bamboo wish trees, but also papier-mâché ornaments that come in the shape of manga characters, sports heroes, fictive space ships and pretty much anything else one can imagine.

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The over-the-topness of these imaginative creations kind of reminded me of Osaka’s larger than life billboards.

What makes this unique form of street art all the more fascinating, is the fact that most of them are creations of local children.
The Asagaya Tanabata Festival boasts a long history, with this year being the 63 time the festival is to be held. Click here for an impressive collection of the 100 most creative ornaments that have been at display throughout the last 60 years. Together with a selection of WAttention’s favorites of the last few years below, they will make you wonder what the festival has in store for us this year.

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Wait, what model is that smartphone?

 

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Not too hard to guess who this is!

 

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The local hall of fame

 

VIPs from overseas


Asagaya Tanabata Festival

Address: Asagaya Minami 1-35-18, Suginami
Access: In front of Asagaya Station (JR Chuo Line)
Period: August 5 – August 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The 3-in-1 enjoyment of Ukai

“U” get Cuisine

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

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

“U” get Scenery

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

“U” get Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nostalgic Pottering in Yanesen Part 1

Shitamachi roaming by bicycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Without any further ado, let the pottering begin!

Ogyochi

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

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

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

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Ogyochi, 400 yen

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Shitamachi Museum

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

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

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

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Yanaka’s Himalayan Cedar Tree

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

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

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Nennnekoya

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

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

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

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

Summer Illumination at Meguro Gajoen

A display of Japanese lights

Meguro Gajoen is Tokyo’s longest-running wedding venue, and one of the most gorgeous, too. Its resemblance to the bathhouse of Ghibli Studio’s “Spirited Away” has often been pointed out, and we can understand as this Japanese-Western fusion style architecture with exquisite interior feels magical to say the least. With a summer illumination event being held at the venue’s historic building called Hyakudankaidan, it’s time to get spirited away!

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Hyakudankaidan consists of a 99 steps staircase of zelkova tree and 7 Japanese style rooms that formerly functioned as wedding banquets. The walls and ceilings are decorated by a total of 126 traditional Japanese paintings by well-known artists at the time the venue was built in 1935.

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During illumination event “Wa no Akari” from July 1 to August 28, the Hyakudankaidan complex will be illuminated by 12 different types of lights made of traditional Japanese paper such as ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) lanterns,  furin (summer wind-bells) shaped  lanterns and warrior floats in the fashion of Aomori Prefecture’s famous Nebuta Matsuri.

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As taking pictures is allowed, how about showing up in your yukata?

A summer illumination event alone is innovative enough, but making it indoor and Japanese style is what really catches our attention. We have to give Meguro Gajoen credit for using their historical assets this creatively!

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Meguro Gajoen “Wa no Akari”

Location: Shimo-meguro 1-8-1 Meguro, Tokyo
Access: A 3-min walk from Meguro Station (JR Yamanote Line West Exit, Tokyu Meguro Line, Nanboku Line, Mita Line)
Dates: July 1 – August 28, 2016
Entrance Fee: Adults 1,200 yen, Students 600 yen
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Sunday – Thursday) 10am – 7pm (Fridays, Saturdays)
*Last entry 30 minutes before closing.

A Taste of Sh旬n: Catch Some Sliding Somen

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Where I come from (sunny Singapore), it’s summer all year round, and so even if it’s hot and humid in the hawker center, we don’t think twice about ordering a steaming hot bowl of spicy noodles in soup – and likewise it doesn’t come to mind to order something cold to eat. After all, sweating it out over a bowl of spicy, hot noodles all is part of the “shiok” factor (“shiok” best explained as “very superlatively satisfying”).

So I was initially a bit cool to the idea of eating cold noodles laid over ice and dipped in cold broth – with nothing but condiments such as grated ginger and spring onions to go with it. But there’s something about the Japanese summer heat that makes you crave for something cool to eat, and not just for dessert. So, enter the somen.

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This very thin noodle – hand-pulled to less than 1.3mm in diameter – made from wheat flour are a summer staple as many Japanese find it hard to swallow anything else in the sweltering heat. It’s also relatively easy to prepare as it doesn’t take long to boil these hand-stretched noodles, which glide down your throat easily. The flavoring is simple – the noodles are dipped in a light sauce made from bonito flakes. But the taste can be varied by adjusting the condiments, adding sesame seeds, or even mayonnaise!

Somen slider!

Somen sliders are also a favorite for outdoor summer parties – this is where a bamboo slide is set up, ice cold water is flowed through and the noodles are slid down. It’s then a test of hand-eye-and-hungry stomach coordination as diners scoop up the somen before it glides to the next hungry person with a chopstick. And course, machines have also been made to simulate this swimming somen sensation at home!

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About Sh旬n:

Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day.

Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise: The Definitive Tokyo Summer Experience

A cruise like a summer festival

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

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


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

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

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

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Point proven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The other terrace decks were filled with passengers mingling with each other, toasting on the exciting evening and taking pictures together.

While in Tokyo’s everyday life it can be hard to meet new people, the majority of passengers at this cruise are here with the intention of getting to know you. Although calling it a “nanpa-sen” (a boat to pick up girls) – which some Tokyoites do – is definitely not what this event deserves, I do agree that the cruise is ideal to make new friends. Therefore, I personally prefer calling it the “friend-ship” in the hope that foreign residents and tourists alike may have a blast with the locals at this cruise.

By the time the ship had turned around to head back to the city, I was encircled by a group of great new friends myself too.


Tokyo Bay’s summer night cruise is the definitive way to experience a Japanese summer in Tokyo, and provides the chance to make new friends which can otherwise be hard in the city.

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Tokyo Bay Summer Night Cruise Information

Date: Jul. 1, 2016 – Oct. 10, 2016
Price: Adults 2,600 yen (1,000 yen discount if you come in a yukata excluding Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays)  Junior High school and High school Students 1,050 yen Elementary School School Children 550 yen (all tickets include free drinks)
Location: Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal
Adress: Kaigan 1-16-3, Minato, Tokyo
Access: A 1-min walk from Takeshiba Station (Yurikamome Line) or an 8-min walk from Hamamatsucho Station (JR Lines)
Reservation: 03-3437-6119 (Reservation in English is possible)

Picturesque Japan: Engetsu Island

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Japan’s most magical sunset display at Nanki Shirahama

Engetsu Island is a small rock island just off Nanki Shirahama’s coast in Wakayama Prefecture, and it’s almost as if it was created for postcard-perfect photos.

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Nanki Shirahama is a seaside resort with hot springs that look out at white sandy beaches and probably the clearest sea of Japan’s main island. These hot springs are said to be one of Japan’s three oldest hot springs together with Dogo Onsen in Ehime Prefecture and Arima Onsen in Hyogo Prefecture.

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The rock island’s formal name is Takashima, but it is widely known as Engetsuto, which can be literally translated as “round moon island”. This is due to the round-shaped hole in the middle of the island.

To me, Doughnut Island also comes to mind as a valid name, but thankfully it was Japanese politician Masaomi Tsuda’s poem penned in 1887 – in which the island was coined as Engetsu Island – from which the island got its current name, as this is the kind of romantic name it deserves.

With rays of sunlight piercing through the hole, Engetsu Island makes for an incredible sunset display, but here is an impressive collage to convince you that the island looks stunning at any time of the day. Sunset is around 6:30pm in the summer and 4:30pm in the winter.

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Please note that even when the tide is low, walking to the island – which can just about fit into a football pitch – is forbidden because the island is not very stable and sea urchins are lying on the sea-bottom. You might see fishermen at the shore as octopus, squid, crab, sweepers and other fish can be caught.

Since the island’s sandstone rocks have become less stable throughout the years, the island was artificially repaired in 2011 to make it earthquake proof, so hopefully we will be able to enjoy this breathtaking sight for many years to come!

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Tottori Sand Dunes

Spot information:

Name: Nanki Shirahama

Location: Shirahama-cho, Nishimuro-gun, Wakayama
Access: From Tokyo take the Shinkansen and get off at Shirahama Station (around 6 hours from Tokyo, or 2 hours from Shin-Osaka), or take a 1hr 15min plane ride from Haneda Airport to Nanki Shirahama Airport.

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (4): Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

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The Oirase Stream trail, which runs for 14km from Nenokuchi at Lake Towada, is a surreal setting of endless gushing and gurgling streams that course over moss-covered boulders, through an emerald green forest of ferns, Japanese beech and oaks. This scenery is particularly gorgeous, no pun intended, at the Oirase Gorge.

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The boardwalk along the stream is named Bakufu Kaido, or “Waterfall Road”, aptly so for the many waterfalls roaring along this route. Popular scenic spots include the Choshi Otaki Waterfall, Ashuranonagare and Kumoinotaki Waterfall.

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It’s also a good excuse to try the new “long-nosed” Hayabusa Shinkansen which connects Tokyo to Shin-Aomori in a mere 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe Station, and a bus to the Towada Lake Area

Last Cool Trek: Fukiware no Taki in Gunma Prefecture

 

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (3): Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

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This sprawling marshland at 760 hectares is well-loved for its charming wooden boardwalk paths through seemingly endless carpets of flora and fauna. The ‘mizubasho,’ or Japanese skunk cabbage, and ‘nikko-kisuge’ (yellow alpine lily) are the signature blossoms here, though there is no lack of other rare mountain foilage at this strictly protected national park.

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Visitors even have to brush their boots against a special carpet before entering to prevent the introduction of non-native plants to this almost pristine park. At some 1,700m above sea level, it’s also Japan’s highest moor. Oze is made up of the Ozegahara moor, Ozenuma lake and surrounding mountains.

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Trekkers are in close proximity here as there is just one path, with one lane for each direction. Nevertheless, as can be expected of Japan, trekkers are thoughtful and there is often what seems to be a greeting competition to see who can “Konnichiwa” the oncoming trekker first.

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The climb to the wooden path involves descending a few flights of steps, which makes this slightly more challenging amongst the treks mentioned. But come here once, and you’ll be back for moor, so to speak.

Access: From Tokyo Station take a JR train to Numata Station, change to an express bus to Oshimizu station.

Next cool trek: Oirase Keiryu in Aomori Prefecture

 

Aomori’s ancient festival of floats

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Larger than life lanterns at the Aomori Nebuta Festival

Ready to celebrate Japan’s ancient traditions at a matsuri of massive proportions? Grab your geta, and head up to the Aomori Nebuta Festival on Aug. 1-7, one of the most colorful and lively festivals in Japan.

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One of Japan’s Big Three Fire Festivals, this 6-day festival in Aomori city, located along the northern tip of Honshu, attracts over 3 million visitors per year – nearly 10 times the population of the city itself! Above all, locals and tourists flock here to gaze upon the enormous lantern floats (nebuta), decorated as historical and mythical characters.

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Towering as high as 5 meters and weighing up to 4 tons, locals prepare year-round to construct these intricate floats out of traditional washi paper and wire. According to tradition, this festival began by placing lanterns as offerings on the water as a purification rite, but over time the scale of these lanterns grew to their current magnitude. While originally lit by candlelight, hundreds of lightbulbs are now weaved throughout to brilliantly illuminate these multistory lanterns.

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But these visually impressive floats are just half the festival fun. Each night, over 20 of these nebuta parade along to the equally colorful haneto dancers. Draped in vibrant red and yellow sashes, these haneto are known particularly for their loud shouting and wild dancing. With up to 2,000 of them surrounding a single float, moving merrily to the beat of the taiko and tunes of the fue (traditional Japanese flute), they help create one of the liveliest festival parades in all of Japan.

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And the best part is, unlike other parades where you are limited to viewing from the sidelines, here you can actually join in the parade action yourself by renting a haneto costume (about 4,000 yen)! Regardless of experience, anyone with a haneto costume can fall in step to the enthusiastic dancing, and join the throng of thousands shouting at the top of their lungs, “Rassera! Rassera!”

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On the final evening, be sure to catch the boat parade, where the selected prize-winning nebuta are set out to sail on boats down the Aomori Bay. With 11,000 fireworks bursting above, and these gorgeous lanterns lighting up Aomori Bay below, it’s the perfect evening entertainment to say farewell to this summer festival.

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Aomori Nebuta Festival
Time: Aug. 1 Festival Eve 6pm-9pm; Aug 2-6 Nighttime parade 7:10pm-9pm; Aug. 7 Daytime parade 1pm-3pm, Boat parade and fireworks display 7:15pm-9pm
Access: JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Aomori Station via Tohoku Shinkansen, Shin-Aomori Station to Aomori Station via Ouu Line.
URL: Official Site

Picturesque Japan: Feel the suspense in the air with this bridge walk

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Like a crossing out of an Indiana Jones movie, this primitive bridge made out of vines can be found hanging over a roaring river in the Iya region of Tokushima Prefecture, and is a popular summer trek for adventurous nature lovers.

The Iya no Kazura Bashi was built by samurai who escaped into this area over 800 years ago with the intent of it being easily cut to prevent pursuers from crossing. It is now designated as a national important tangible cultural asset – and you’ll be relieved to know the 45 meters long and 2 meters wide bridge is completely replaced every three years to ensure its sturdiness.

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That said, it will still take some courage to cross this bridge when you reach it as each step is shaky and rocky. Look down, and you can see the river coursing through some 15-m below!

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Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Great Seto Bridge

Spot information

Name: Iya-no-Kazura Bashi
Address: 162-2 Nishiiyayamamura Zentoku, Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima Prefecture
Access: Fly into Tokushima, then take the Shikoku Kotsu Bus from JR Oboke Stn, bound for either Kazura Bashi or Kubo, get off at Kazura Bashi Bus stop and walk 5 minutes to Iya-no-Kazura Bashi.

A Lavender lover’s wonderland

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Fragrant fields in the heart of Hokkaido

For the scents, sights, and even tastes of this beloved purple flower, escape the summer heat and head to Hokkaido’s Farm Tomita.

Two hours by train from Sapporo by the rustic Furano valley in central Hokkaido, you’ll find ten different flower gardens and fields here. Dating back over a hundred years to the Meiji Era as one of the original lavender cultivators in Japan, this farm helped put the Furano area on the map as a popular flower viewing site.   

Amongst the ten gardens and fields, the rainbow-like Irodori Field is the most eye-catching with its colorful seven-flower array. 

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The vivid contrast of lavenders, white baby’s breath, red poppies, pink garden catchflies and orange California poppies form a rainbow of flowers that flow along these rolling hills. Blooming only throughout July, with peak season towards the end of the month, you’ll definitely want to visit before these flowers fade!  

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Or for a sight of one of the oldest lavender fields of Japan, walk over to the Traditional Lavender Garden, where Tomita Farm first started. Photos from this field on Japan Railways’ photo calendar helped launch Hokkaido’s lavender farms into nationwide fame back in the 1970s.

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With the Furano valley and Tokachi Mountains in the distance, the sight of lavenders swaying in the wind along these sloping hills make for quite the panoramic view. But plan ahead, for lavender season only lasts from late June to early August, with peak season from early to mid-July.

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Fortunately however, even should you arrive before or after peak lavender season, these fields are filled with a wide variety of other flowers that bloom from spring through autumn. From Iceland poppies to bright marigolds and red roses, these flowers create a colorful carpet across the rural farm landscape.

Autumn Field

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Beyond flower gazing and photo taking, you can also delight in every possible lavender experience at Tomita’s 11 lavender-themed stores, eateries, galleries and workshops. See how Tomita Farm produces their lavender oils, soaps, and award winning perfume at the Distillery and Perfume Workshops, or even create your own lavender scented bookmark to take back home.   

Then to cool off, try their popular lavender flavored soft serve ice cream, or their original “Lamune” drink – a lavender version of the Japanese Ramune soda, only available here!

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Whether admiring its beauty, smelling its fragrance, or tasting its subtle flavor, this lavender wonderland has it all!

Read also: 3 Lovely Lavender Spots Around Tokyo

Farm Tomita
Access: A 7-min. walk from Lavender Farm Station (JR Furano Line)
Address: Kisen Kita 15, Nakafurano-cho, Sorachi-gun, Hokkaido
Tel: 0167-39-3939
Hours: 8:30am – 6pm (vary based on the season and weather)

Hiraizumi: Representing Heaven on Earth

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Hiraizumi, created as a Buddhist heaven on earth over 1,000 years ago, celebrates its third year as a World Heritage site this June. Its temples, gardens and buildings were recognized as a rare example of a cultural legacy that is deeply permeated with a universal longing for peace – but its roots lie in a land ravaged by war.

The UNESCO recognition also came at a poignant time for Iwate Prefecture, which was hard hit by the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, where thousands of lives were lost. This is the first such UNESCO site in the Tohoku area and the 16th in Japan.

Hiraizumi was founded by the Oshu Fujiwara clan in a bid to fulfill their longing for permanent peace and the achievement of the ideal Buddhist territory.

The dramatic rise and fall of the city – once said to rival Kyoto – within a 100 years inspired the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho to compose several now classic haikus after he visited the remains of Hiraizumi town.

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Famous haiku master, Matsuo Basho , on visiting the ruins of Hiraizumi, penned: Ah! Summer grass! All that remains/Of the warriors’ dreams.

So, just what does this heaven on earth comprise of? It consist of five designated sites, the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) within Chusonji Temple, Motsuji Temple, the remains of Kanjizaiō-in and Muryoko-in and Mt. Kinkeisan. Here, we will introduce Chusonji and Motsuji, and Mt. Kinkeisan.

Chusonji Temple

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This is the cornerstone of the UNESCO designated sites. A climb up the Tsukimi-zaka Slope lined with 300- to 400-year-old cedar trees will bring you to the Konjiki-do (Golden Hall) portion of Chusonji Temple. This is the only temple remaining from the 12th century and was built by the founder of Hiraizumi, Fujiwara no Kiyohira to memorialize all living things that died in Tohoku during the power struggle from which he emerged victorious from.

The gold-gilded Konjiki-do within the temple was built as a mausoleum and contains the mummies of four generations of the founding Fujiwara clan.

Motsuji Temple

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The main attraction here is the picture perfect and expansive Jodo garden which has stood for some 800 years. The Buddhist philosophy of Jodo states that it is “expansive without end and everything there is beautiful”. The garden here was created to depict the scenery described in the sutra using the Heian era garden landscaping technique. The center piece here is the Oizumi ga Ike, a pond measuring 180m in the east-west direction.

Mt. Kinkeisan

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This 98.6m high mount located between Chosonji and Motsuji is said to have a golden chicken and rooster, after which it is named, buried at its peak as protectors of the city. When the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho visited Hiraizumi, he sadly remarked that only Mt. Kinkeisan retains its formed after the surrounding temples and buildings were razed to the ground.

Access: Take JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Ichinoseki Station (2 hr. 33 min.)

Restaurant Review: Hiroki Okonomiyaki

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Street-style food in the town of street-style fashion

Though Shimokitazawa is known by many for its street-style fashion, hidden amongst its used-clothes stores and small theater halls is some authentic Hiroshima street-style food at okonomiyaki eatery Hiroki.

P1020359Just a 3-min walk from the station’s south exit, this hole-in-the-wall can be easily overlooked, if not for the lines that form outside at peak lunch and dinner time. But don’t let its humble storefront signage and narrow sliding wooden door entrance deceive you. This tiny restaurant has been serving up some of the best Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki in town for 30 years.

Unlike Osaka-style okonomiyaki (literally, “the things you like, grilled”), Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is made by layering the ingredients, rather than mixing them, plus there is a base of noodles. Starting with a much thinner crepe-like pancake, the chef then grills a generous heaping of thinly sliced crisp cabbage, along with your choice of springy noodles (udon or yakisoba). After stacking up the ingredients over a fried egg, the sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce is brushed lavishly over the top and sides, followed by fine chopped green onions and ginger sprinkled on top.

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The squid, shrimp, scallop and shiso okonomiyaki (1,350 yen)

However, most impressive about Hiroki’s okonomiyakis are what come next: their toppings. Most famous is their squid, shrimp, scallop and shiso okonomiyaki. Carefully selected and imported from the Hiroshima area, these plump and juicy shellfish are so huge that they could be a dish in of themselves. For a hearty and filling street-style meal, this dish won’t disappoint in taste or quantity. Your only problem will be keeping these giant toppings from falling off!

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The oyster okonomiyaki (1,300 yen)

Also, between October and March, you won’t want to miss the seasonal oyster okonomiyaki. Also imported fresh from Hiroshima, the nation’s leading oyster provider with over 450 years of farming history, these rich and flavorful oysters are piled on liberally, combining two Hiroshima favorites in one dish.

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While limited table seating is also available, we recommend grabbing a seat at the counter to watch the chef grill your masterpiece before your very eyes. From the sound of sizzling yakisoba, to the sight of the okonomiyaki sauce caramelizing on the hot teppan, you’ll be in for a full sensory experience.

But with seating only for 16 in this slightly compact, yet cozy joint, be sure to arrive early, as fans of this street-style food will literally line the street to get a taste of Hiroshima soul food here.

Street-style satisfaction: ★★★★★

If you don’t want to leave smelling like okonomiyaki: ★☆☆☆☆

HIROKI
Address: 2-14-14 Honey Shimokitazawa 1F, Kitazawa, Setagaya
Tel: 03-3412-3908
Hours: 12:00-22:00 (Last Order)

Cool Treks Around Tokyo (2): Goshikinuma in Fukushima Prefecture

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Here you can row a pleasure boat in one of the largest lakes in the 800m high Bandai Highlands, Lake Hibara, before embarking on a 3.6km route through the cluster of lakes at Goshiki-numa Park nearby.

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This natural wonder was formed when Mount Bandai erupted on July 15th, 1988. The main lakes in this park are called Akanuma, Bentennuma, Rurinuma, Aonuma and Bishamonnuma. The park is a must-see spot in the Bandai Highlands region.

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Minerals from this devastating eruption tints each of these lakes a different hue, ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue to reddish green, the color of which fluctuates throughout the year according to the weather. The easy trek can be completed in around an hour.

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Access: From Tokyo Station take the Shinkansen to Kooriyama Station (1 hr 20 mins), change to the JR Banetsu Nishi Line to Inawashiroko Station (35mins) then take the local bus to Ura Bandai.

Next cool trek: Oze National Park in Gunma Prefecture

Onsen Oasis: Zao Dairotenburo

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King of Onsens – The Princess Water hot spring

Some hot springs are so good you never forget them. For me, the Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring in Yamagata prefecture is one of those. A decade has passed since my trip there, but I can still remember thinking to myself excitedly, “So this is what a real onsen is like!” as the sulphuric hot spring smell became stronger and stronger and started to permeate the taxi as we ascended the mountain.

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What I saw upon arrival, was beyond my expectations. While famous throughout the country, Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring has managed to resist modernization into a tourist attraction, and I mean that in the very best possible way.

Unlike other man-made onsens that are designed and dugged, this is a natural onsen around which some basic structures have been built to allow people to enjoy it – so don’t expect any saunas, showers or any drink dispensing machines!

All you will find, is the huge crater-shaped natural stone baths located on the top of a mountain hill surrounded by mountain forests. As you soak in the steaming hot, silky smooth, milky water, you realize that people must have come to enjoy this hot spring in the exact same way for centuries.

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The milky water feels like music to your skin, or rather makes your skin sing! This is not is not just one’s imagination, as the water comes from a natural sulfur spring with strong acidity. The water is so good for softening and whitening the skin that it has become known as “Princess water”.

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The Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring is open from mid-April to the end of November. You will be mesmerized by either fresh verdure or golden foliage depending on the time of the year, but whenever you visit, this hot spring and its surrounding nature are well worth you visit and make for an authentic experience you will not forget!

*Click here for an explanation on how to take a Japanese bath for beginners!

Spot information

Name: Zao Dairotenburo Hot Spring

Price: 470 yen

Hours: 6 am – 7 pm (clost from end November to mid-April)

Location: Zao Onsen 832, Yamagata

URL: http://www.joy.hi-ho.ne.jp/ma0011/T-Yamagata01.htm (Japanese)

Picturesque Japan: The Kujuku Islands

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Natural seaside beauty at Kyushu’s “99 Islands”

Nearly untouched by human hands and abounding with intricate islet formations, the Kujuku Islands offers an unparalleled scenic seascape view.

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Scattered along Nagasaki’s coastline for 25 km, the Kujuku Islands (literally “99 Islands”, though generally referring to “many”,) form the most densely concentrated collection of islands in Japan. Together with the Goto Islands and Hirado Peninsula, these 208 islands make up the Saikai National Park, on Japan’s most western border.

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For some breathtaking views of these islands from above, stop by one of the four observation points on the Sasebo hills, including Ishidake Observatory. The picturesque scenery from here made it the prime choice as one of the filming locations for the movie, “The Last Samurai.”

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The view from Ishidake Observatory

Better still, embrace the beauty of the deep blue sea and lush green islands by taking a relaxing cruise along the Kujukushima Excursion Boat Pearl Queen, departing five times a day between 10am and 3pm from the Pearl Sea Resort Tour Boat Terminal.

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This white multi-deck ferry weaves throughout these islands on a 50-minute tour, allowing you to get up close to these uninhabited islands while listening to the scenery explanations in both English and Japanese. With islands on every side, roam about the deck or climb up to the lookout post for the perfect photo opportunity. Throughout Golden Week and the summer months (July through October), you can also watch the sun slowly descend beneath these islands on their Sunset Cruise.

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For water sport lovers, you can also yacht or kayak your way through these calm waters. Or if you’d like to actually set foot on one of these islands, take the Uninhabited Island and Feeding Cruise. See the crater-filled rock walls formed from years of lapping waves, or feed the over 7,000 Red Seabream at the nearby fish farm.

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Whether navigating these “99 Islands” by ship, or marveling at the panorama of these preserved natural wonders from above, the number of scenic views here are as countless as the islands themselves.

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: Feel the suspense in the air with this bridge walk

Spot information

Name: Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort
Address: 1008 Kashimae-cho, Sasebo-shi, Nagasaki Prefecture
Access: 25 minute bus ride from JR Sasebo Station
Kujukushima Excursion Boat Pearl Queen Departure Times: 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm
Uninhabited Island and Feeding Cruise Departure Times: 10:30am, 11:45am, 1pm
Official Information: http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/

A Taste of Sh旬n: Serious about shirasu

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This small fry is not to be trifled with.

The shirasu, or whitebait of sardines, is serious business in Japan. Once the annual fishing ban from January to March is lifted, both fishermen and fish lovers flock to the sea to haul in and eat up hoards of this little translucent fish.

When the weather starts getting warm enough to start heading to the seaside, is when Tokyoites start craving for bowls of shirasu.

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Usually eaten raw or boiled, the shirasu has a delicate taste of the sea that is best brought out with soy sauce and grated ginger. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste fishy – in fact, some may challenge the fact that its raw version has any taste at all! Eaten fresh and raw, the sublime taste of the shirasu and its smooth texture that slides down your throat can be addictive.

Many shirasu addicts make an early summer trip out of town to nearby Enoshima in Kanagawa Prefecture to slurp up whole schools of this fish, and to snap some pictures of the hydrangea in bloom along the way.

The first time I ate shirasu was at Kamakura, but I must confess it was by accident – I mistook it for a chirashi don (mixed sashimi rice bowl) – but it turned out to be a very pleasant error which I was happy to erase any trace of!

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You can try the raw shirasu rice bowl, boiled shirasu rice bowl, mixed raw/boiled shirasu rice bowl, shirasu ramen, shirasu soba, shirasu pizza/pasta etc…and so far the closest state it has gotten to a dessert is a shirasu waffle. Would you like fries with that?

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About Sh旬n:
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節(kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day.

3 Lovely Lavender Spots Around Tokyo

Updated: 2017

Even if you’re not headed to Hokkaido around July-August, there are plenty of places around Tokyo where you can get your fill of purple fields and natural aromatherapy – and the season is just starting! Here’s a list of 3 spots in the Kanto area.

1) Tambara Lavender Park, Gunma Prefecture 

Here you can escape the summer heat at 1,300m above sea level and enjoy 5 hectares of 50,000 lavender bushes of 4 varieties.  There’s a viewing deck from where you can get a view of rolling fields of lavender, and live demonstration of the lavender oil extraction process.

Information:
Period: Jun. 25 – Sep. 4, 2016
Time: 8:30am-5pm
Access: Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to JR Numata Station, and change to a bus headed for Tanbara

2) Lake Kawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture 

The Ooishi Park at Lake Kawaguchiko is where you can get a photo of lavender fields with Mt. Fuji in the background. The annual Kawaguchiko Lavender Festival is held both here and at Yagisaki Park from mid-June to mid-July, to celebrate the blossoming of 100,000 lavender bushes in all.lavander-spot-japan

Information: 

Kawaguchiko Lavender Festival
Period: Jun. 17 – Jul. 10, 2016 at Yagisaki Park
Jun. 17 – Jul. 18, 2016 at Ooishi Park
Access: From Lake Kawaguchiko take a Saiko shuttlebus to Yagisaki Park/Ooishi Park

3) Arakogawa Park, Aichi Prefecture 

This is the largest lavender field in Nagoya City, with 3,000 bushes and over 20 varieties – from deep purple to lighter hues – lining the river banks of Arako for 1 kilometer. The lavender festival here starts from early June.

Information: 
Date: Jun. 11 – 19, 2016
Access: From Nagoya City take the Aonami Line to Arakogawa Park and walk for 3 minutes
Hours: 9am – 4;30pm

Read also: A Lavender lover’s wonderland for fragrant fields in the heart of Hokkaido

Fireworks from a different angle

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High above from the Tokyo Skytree

There aren’t that many places where you can look down at one of Tokyo’s best fireworks shows – but the Tokyo Skytree is one of them.

The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival – Tokyo’s oldest fireworks festival – is often referred to as one of “Tokyo’s big three firework festivals” together with the Tokyo Bay and the Edogawa Fireworks Festival. And the Tokyo Skytree nearby provides an amazing vista of this fireworks show with around 20,000 shots of fireworks over 2 hours.

Of course, looking up in awe at these colorful explosions while sitting along the riverbanks is a classical experience. However, if you want to look at things from a different angle (literally), try viewing it from the Tokyo Skytree, where you can look down on this festival of colors!

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The festival attracts over 700,000 people every year, making it one of the most crowded fireworks festivals in Japan. If you want to get a good viewing spot, make sure to leave your house early and plan ahead.

The 39th Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Date: Jul. 30, 2016
Hours: 7:05pm – 8:30pm
Location: Sumida River

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

With the mercury rising in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, it’s definitely time to drop a few degrees Celsius by taking a hike somewhere in the lush, green hills of Japan.

And while the average tourist may not think of going beyond Roppongi Hills or Omotesando Hills as ‘cool’ places to hang out, we’re talking about national treasures that have become regular pilgrimage sites for trekking aficionados in the know.

In this 4-part series, WAttention will walk you through some of the best highland treks just a few hours out of Tokyo for your fill of negative ions and positive sentiments!

Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture 

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Coined the “Japanese Alps” since 1877 when the breathtaking beauty of the snow-capped Nagano mountain range was discovered by early English explorers, a trip to Kamikochi will leave you in awe of the picture perfect setting—and the convenience of omiyage shops, onsens, ice cream and croquette stalls 1,500m above sea level.

But not to worry, while the shops and facilities are sufficient, the area is not touristy and far from overdeveloped, with just around half a dozen hotels. Private cars are also banned from Kamikochi, in favor of buses or taxis.

Three hours will be sufficient to cover around half of the mostly flat 15km trekking route at a leisurely pace. Geographically, Kamikochi is basically a long plateau in the Azusa River Valley, surrounded by dramatic mountains starting from 2,455m in height.

Recommended for beginners is a start from the turquoise Taisho Pond to Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge where you’ll find cafes, restaurants and cafes nearby for a lunch break. Abundent birch trees add to the alpine feel.

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Kappabashi Bridge, a suspension bridge across the Azusa River, is the main landmark here, and a popular photo spot. In fact, so stunning is the scenery that you’ll find an artist there that has dedicated his life to painting that vista of Kamikochi.

Another attraction is the Imperial Hotel Kamikochi, of the prestigious Imperial Hotel chain, which was previously owned and partly funded by the imperial family. Designed like an alpine resort, sipping a spot of tea at the hotel café is on the wishlist of many a sophisticated Japanese lady. Which just goes to show how Kamikochi is a hiking trek fit for royalty.

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Access: From Shinjuku Station take the JR Chuo Honsen Limited Express “Azusa” (2hours 40minutes) to Matsumoto Station, then take the local bus or taxi to Kamikochi

Next cool trek: Goshikinuma Lake in Fukushima Prefecture

 

Picturesque Japan: The Takachiho Gorge

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Like magic to your eyes
Located on the north edge of Miyazaki prefecture on Kyushu Island, the Takachiho Gorge is without a doubt, one of Japan’s most impressive natural landscapes. With dramatic cliffs, verdant forests, an emerald green river, and not to mention, the Manai waterfall that strikes you like sunlight bursting through the morning clouds, this gorge along the Gokase river is so beautiful it’s magic to your eyes. Paddle your way around with the rental boats available, and be thrilled by the Manai waterfall from up close.

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You can also chose to hike the path along the Takachiho Gorge that lets you look at this breathtaking landscape from above. After passing the gorge, the path leads you to the picturesque Takachiho Shrine that boasts a history of 1,800 years. Be sure to wear the right shoes, as there are quite a lot of stairs to climb along the way.

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If you visit during the summer, enjoy a refreshing meal of ice-cold somen noodles at the tea houses located nearby. These thin wheat flour noodles will come floating your way on a long bamboo flume. Can you catch them with your chopsticks before they flow on to the next customer? The gorge is also lit up with illuminations until 10PM during the summer months.

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Trust me, the Takachiho Gorge won’t dissapoint, and there are many other sites to visit nearby as well, including the mysterious Amanoyasugawara cavern, where according to legends the sun goddess Amaterasu used to retreat.

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To sum it up, if you are making a trip to Kyushu Island, the Takachiho Gorge has to be on your list!

Next in this series: Picturesque Japan: The Kujuku Islands

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Spot information

Name: Takachiho Gorge
Address: Mitai, Nishiusuki-gun, Takachiho-cho, Miyazaki Prefecture
Access: Takachiho can be reached by bus from Kumamoto or Nobeoka while the gorge is located within walking distance from the Takachiho Bus Center.
Boat rental fare: ¥2000 for 30 minutes (Can fit up to 3 people)
Boat rental hours: 8:30 ~ 16:30
Official Information: http://takachiho-kanko.info/en/