Tokorozawa city; nature, history and anime!

Totoro-forest

By Sarah Nishina

Sayama Hills

I arrive at the Seibu Tokorozawa train station with the theme song of one of my favorite anime movies, in my head. I heard this area inspired Hayao Miyazaki, the creator of popular anime movies for its mystical forests, delightful characters and the slow life of Japan. Miyazaki also spent several years living in the area.

After a short 30 minute ride from Ikebukuro, I change trains at Nishi-Tokorozawa Station for a short ride to Shimo-Yamaguchi station. I step away from the station and I immediately feel at ease and take a lovely breath of fresh air. First on the journey is the magical forests of Sayama Hills.

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I walk for about 20 minutes through local residential areas, vegetable gardens and pockets of forest to the Sayama Hill Flora and Fauna Interaction Centre.

For anime fans, you can visit the forest that served as inspiration for iconic anime movies. Pop into the center and one of the guides (I was told they have English & Spanish speaking staff on most days.) will give you a map and show you photos pointing out all the spots you might want to see.

My guide shows me around the surrounding area. I walk up the hill, known as Arahata Fuji (mini Mt Fuji) and can see the real Mt Fuji in the distance, Seibu Dome, Tokorozawa City and on a clear day, Tokyo Sky Tree.

I enjoy listening to the birds, crunching acorns under my feet and being in nature as I realize I am only 30 mins away from the big smoke! A perfect place for a picnic and day out under the trees.

Access: 20 mins walk from Shimo-Yamaguchi Station on the Seibu Shinjuku Line.
Hours: 9:00-17:00
Closed: Mondays and Public Holidays.
URL: http://www.totoro.or.jp/totorofund/index.html

Aircraft Museum

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Who recalls saying, “ I want to be a pilot!?” As I walked out of the Koku-Koen Station on the Seibu Shinjuku line, my eyes were drawn to a blue and white plane in front of me. I find out it is the YS-11 carrier, the first national aircraft developed and manufactured by Japan after the war. I keep walking towards the trees to a beautiful park with lots of open space and people having picnics and playing. This is the place to visit for all those who answered yes.

I enjoyed watching a group of elderly men nurturing their inner child as they flew their model airplanes high in the sky. Huge smiles all around. I have a chat to one of the men and he asks me if I noticed the train station design when I arrived. I nod my head side to side. He tells me it is designed to look like a “Henri Farman” biplane from 1910. He continues to tell me it was the first official powered aircraft in Japan. He tells me a few times to focus on the clock above the station entrance when I walk back. We shake hands and he touches the ground, telling me this is the first runway in Japan. This isn’t just a beautiful park! We are standing on Japan’s first airfield. (1911)

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On the side of the park is the Tokorozawa Aviation Museum. The main hall has airplanes, helicopters, and engines which you can sit in, touch and get close to. There is a variety of interactive activities including a flight simulator and spacewalking experience. Fun to be had by the whole family.

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The museum shop sells a good variety of toys/model planes. I wanted to buy one and go out to join the old guys! Will keep that for my next visit.
After all the fun there is a spacious coffee shop on site but I decided to simply grab an ice-cream and walk outside in the park to explore more.

On the opposite side of the park, I find a lovely Japanese garden and tea house. I enter into a little oasis, happy not to have to remove my shoes, I find a quiet little corner overlooking the garden. I order tea and choose from one of four beautifully presented traditional Japanese sweets. Feeling extremely peaceful I go outside to enjoy the gardens.

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I walk back to the station remembering the man’s words. I spot the clock and can see that the station is indeed designed like a biplane. The clock represents the propellor. How fantastic!

Airplane fans will surely enjoy this area of Tokorozawa.

Aviation Museum
Access: 10 minutes walk from Koku-koen Station on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line.
Hours: 9:30 – 17:00 (entrance until 16:30)
Closed: Mondays and New Year’s Holidays. Open Mondays if a National Holiday.
URL: https://tam-web.jsf.or.jp (unfortunately the English website is still under construction)

Tea Room Saishotei
Hours: 10:00 – 16:00
Closed: Mondays and New Year’s Holidays.

Retro Pub Hoping

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As in most places, I explore, my rule of thumb is to always venture the back streets. Walking a little further than “Propellor Street” which may feel like the place to eat, but knowing there is always something better around the corner, I continue on.

I find a little street called Sakazuki Yokuchou (shot glass street) Keep an eye out for the old movie signs from the seventies. I walk to the end and the last shop on the left draws me in. I am welcomed by a tall and happy chef/owner to sit at the counter.

A bit difficult if you have no Japanese as the menu has no photos or alphabet. If you are adventurous and can eat anything, simply say, “omakase kudasai.” (I leave it up to your choice.) You won’t be disappointed.
Go back in time, enjoy a cold beer or warm sake and enjoy making new friends.

Cool Japan Forest

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Coming early 2020, coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics is the development of COOL JAPAN FOREST. I was very lucky to be taken around the construction site and be shown the future plans for the area. The entire area will be named Tokorozawa Sakura Town. Kadokawa, one of Japan’s leading publishing houses and the local city are creating COOL JAPAN FOREST. Focus will be on the following six concepts.

CULTURE
This will be the focus building, designed to look like a rock. It will showcase Japanese main culture and subculture. Spread over five levels there will be open space libraries, workshop spaces, anime museum, and cafes.

EVENTS
An open space and various pavilions for anime and comic events.

FOOD
Take time out from walking around the huge “forest” to sip on some local craft beer and a bite to eat at the local food-to-table stalls and fresh produce market.

HOTEL
Still under lock and key as to which character or theme will feature in the 33 room hotel. I was told the design of the hotel and rooms will be anime/manga theme.

OFFICE SPACE Tokorozawa Campus
All of Kadokawa’s Tokyo offices will be unified as one within Cool Japan Forest.

SHOPS
There will be a mosaic of shops based on comics and anime.

BOOK MANUFACTURING & LOGISTICS PLANT
These buildings will hold the latest digital technology. Systems will be in place to process book ordering to speedy manufacturing and shipping. Printing will be state of the art and available for small batches and on demand.

Doors will be open to the world to share in this exciting new and unique concept: a first for Japan. It will bring the local community together to be part of a world-class development to showcase Japan and its unique culture. Perhaps you would like to visit Tokorozawa check out this exciting new development!

20 Tokyo Cherry Blossom Spots 2018

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Cherry blossom season is here and just in Tokyo alone there are numerous parks and gardens where you can admire the sakura. As any Tokyoite will tell you, along with gardens, parks and temples, cherry trees can also be found in residential areas, lining busy streets, or outside the city in the wild. Wherever you go to see the short-lived gentle blossoms it will be well worth the time and effort. The whole city is brimming with some excitement and happiness that only happens around this time.

We rounded up 20 places around Tokyo and the greater Tokyo area where people go to see cherry blossoms. Some of them are very famous and are must-see spots, while others are a bit less crowded.
For the cherry blossom forecast for 2018 for the whole of Japan check our article that also showcases famous sakura spots around the country.
If you want to have a cherry blossom picnic or hanami, you can read more about it in our article that also explains about the history of hanami and its significance for Japanese people.

1. Chidori-ga-fuchi moat

One of the most picturesque sights in Tokyo is the moat of the Imperial Palace. Beautiful both in daylight and illuminated at night, this place attracts enormous crowds and there are lines forming for the best photo point. The water is surrounded by cherry trees and if you rent a boat you can glide under them. However, be prepared for long lines at the boat pier.

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Chidori-ga-fuchi in the Imperial Palace

The closest station is Kudanshita and the boat pier is open from 9:30 am. If you want to go inside the palace the gates are open from 9 am to 5 pm, whereas the street overlooking the moat is open all the time, but the cherry trees are illuminated until 10 pm. Admission is free.
If you want to do a hanami picnic like the Japanese do, that would not be possible around Chidori-ga-fuchi and the neighboring Yasukuni shrine. But the nearest picnic spot would be the second place on this list.

2. Kitanomaru park

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Kitanomaru park is the northern part of the Imperial Palace Gardens and it is a good place for a hanami picnic, close to the popular Chidori-ga-fuchi cherry blossom viewing spot. This park has over 300 cherry trees and the entrance is free. If you want to make a full day of activities, The Science Museum and the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo are located here as well. For a cherry blossom view combined with a temple you can check out the nearby Yasukuni Shrine.

3. Yoyogi park


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Yoyogi park is huge and fun at all times and cherry blossom season is no exception. It has around 500 cherry trees of the most popular somei yoshino variety and the entrance is free. Yoyogi is especially loved by young people because is it good for parties and picnics. Please have in mind that it will be more crowded on weekends.

4. Inokashira park

Inokashira pond at night
One of the most famous cherry blossom spots in West Tokyo is Inokashira park in Kichijoji. The cherry trees are beautifully reflected in the pond and are also illuminated at night. In this park there are several cafes, a small shrine, and a local zoo that also make great spots to visit. A popular activity is taking a boat to the pond, but if you are a couple be warned that there is an urban legend saying that if you go on a romantic boat ride here you will soon break up!

inokashira pond boat

The park entrance is free, but the Zoo requires an entrance ticket of 400 yen for adults, 200 yen for seniors and 150 yen for students aged 13-15. Tourists from overseas get a small discount and can get a ticket for 320 yen. The price for renting a boat depends on the type of boat you rent, the cheapest being the row boat, then the pedal boat and the most expensive is the most iconic for Inokashira – a pedal boat in the shape of a swan. Read more about boat renting fees and the Inokashira Zoo.

5. Koganei Park

koganei park sakura

This is the second biggest park in the Metropolitan Tokyo Area with around 1 700 cherry trees of many varieties. On 31st of March and 1st of April from 10 am to 8 pm a cherry blossom festival is taking place in Koganei Park near the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum. There will be food stalls, music performances and various cultural events like a tea ceremony. This is an excellent place for a picnic because it has a lot of space and convenient facilities like children playgrounds, public toilets, an area where you can do barbecue and so on. The entrance to the park is free, but the Edo-Tokyo museum requires an entrance ticket.

6. Meguro river

cherry blossoms on meguro river

One of the most popular cherry blossom spots and an Instagram favorite is Meguro river. It is lined by around 800 cherry trees and small cute restaurants on both sides. Since it is a river, there is no spot for a hanami picnic, but it is perfect for a stroll. The further down you walk, the less crowded it gets and you can get a really good photo if you stand on one of the bridges on the Meguro river. In the evening, the cherry blossoms are lit up by beautiful pink lanterns.

meguro river sakura

7. Sakuragaoka

Sakuragaoka-cho is a winding street near Shibuya station in Tokyo that is lined by cherry trees. It creates a beautiful scene as if taken right out of some manga or anime. This is a regular street so it is not possible to have a hanami picnic here. However, that means it won’t be too crowded and you can enjoy a scene from daily life, just filled with cherry blossoms.

8. Ueno park

Ueno park is one of the largest and oldest parks in Tokyo. It has around 1 200 cherry trees and therefore it is very popular during cherry blossom season. If you want to get a good picnic spot, it is advised to avoid weekends and get there early to claim your spot. In Ueno park a sakura festival is taking place, which means a lot of stalls with delicious food. The whole area is famous for its museums and galleries you can visit, and Tokyo people especially love Ueno Zoo. During sakura season you can see both zoo animals and cherry blossoms in the zoo, pandas being the favorites.


9. Shinjuku Gyoen

This beautiful garden has many breathtaking views and also boasts a greenhouse, a Japanese teahouse, restaurants etc. Although it is a garden, laying down a picnic blanket is allowed too. Shinjuku Gyoen has over 1000 cherry trees and over 60 types of them, and the views are the most beautiful near the pond. Despite its big size, it can get crowded due to its popularity.
Admission to this garden is only 200 yen, and although it is normally closed on Mondays, during cherry blossom season and some time after (25th of March to 24th of April) it is open every day.
Hours: 9 am to 4:30 pm
More information on their website here.


10. Sumida River

A beautiful river lined with cherry trees that also offers good views of Tokyo Sky tree. You can either take a walk down the river or take a boat ride. The nearby Sumida park is also a recommended spot. The Sumida river cherry trees are lit up at night until 10 pm.


Maria Asukaさん(@1755maria)がシェアした投稿

11. Rikugien Garden

This is one the oldest gardens in Japan, built between the 17th and 19th centuries for the feudal lords. It is very beautiful in all seasons and during cherry blossom season it is especially popular because of the weeping cherry tree variety.


Admission is 300 yen.
Hours: 9:00-21:00 during cherry blossom season.
At night the cherry trees are illuminated.

12. Hamarikyuu gardens

These gardens in Shiodome are at the mouth of the Sumida River in Chuo-ku. They have a rich history dating back to the 17th century when they were part of the Shogun’s villa and later they were reopened as public gardens. Some of the more unique attractions here are a big collection of bonsai trees and scenes of cats chasing ducks that some visitors were lucky to witness on several occasions.


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Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (last admission 4:30 pm)
Admission: 300 yen
Check this Japan National Tourism Organization website for more information.

13. Koshikawa Korakuen garden

This is a famous garden wonderful at all seasons. It boasts a very famous 50 year old cherry tree of the shidarezakura type that looks like a weeping willow. One of the best views here is seeing cherry trees near the lake in the center of the park.


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Admission: 300 yen
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm

website

14. Mt Takao

If you want to get out of Tokyo, you can see cherry blossoms on Mount Takao which is very close to Tokyo. You can hike and see many shrines and temples as well, and an amazing vista of Tokyo sprawling in the distance.


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15. Komazawa Olympic Park

This park was built for the 1964 Olympics and is located in the Setagaya area of Tokyo. It is open from 9 am to 9:30 pm, and from 7:30 am to 9 pm on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays. In spring it is full of cherry trees and it’s a good spot for viewing cherry blossoms.


みこまるさん(@mico_run)がシェアした投稿

16. Shiba Park

Shiba park has around 200 cherry trees, but many different varieties. It is a popular place for a hanami picnic and for taking Instagram pictures. It is a great location to view cherry blossoms near famous landmarks like Zojoji temple and Tokyo Tower and therefore it is considered an excellent photo spot. This park is always open and cherries are lit up at night. Admission is free.


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17. Monzen Nakacho

This is one of the less known cherry blossom spots and chances are it won’t be too crowded. It will offer views similar to the more popular Meguro river (Naka-meguro spot) and Sumida river, but with less people around. The river here is lined with cherry trees and they are lit up with lanterns at night up until 9 pm. Admission is free and it is always open.


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18. Asakusa Denpoin Garden

This little gem of a garden is hidden behind Senso-ji temple in Asakusa. It has short working hours and it is open only two times a year, so it is not well known and it might not be very crowded.
Admission is only 300 yen.
Hours: 9 am – 5 pm


てっつーさん(@iron9415)がシェアした投稿

19. Zenpukiji Park

One of the more secret places on this list, but still well-known by local people. This park has a river and a pond and it is located in Suginami-ku, to the west of Tokyo. There are about 700 cherry trees in the area known as Zenpukuji River Green Space and they go on down a 4 km walkway along the river. A good place for photos is Ozaki bridge.
Entry to this park is free and it is open 24/7.


hrn__11さん(@hrn__11)がシェアした投稿

20. Gotenyama Trust City

There is a cherry blossom festival in Gotenyama Trust City in Shinagawa. It is recommended for its activities, variety of cherry tree types and because it is not among the most popular places it might not be very crowded.

Time and Date:
Friday April 6th, 2018 – 11 am – 8 pm
Saturday April 7th, 2018 – 11 am – 8 pm
Sunday April 8th, 2018 – 11 am – 4 pm (*some events will run until 8 pm)
Access: 5-minutes free bus ride or 10-minute walk from Shinagawa Station via the JR Line 


Masaya Ishimaさん(@mmsssyyyy)がシェアした投稿

The more time you have, the more parks you can visit. If you cannot hop from park to park, try at least visiting one place. Wherever you go to see the cherry blossoms this spring I am sure you will feel the bittersweet emotions of the falling cherry blossoms. And if you barely missed the blooming time of the sakura this year – don’t despair! You can travel to the north of Japan to see the later blooming cherry trees.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

Winter Minshuku at Yamagata

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By Yan Qiao Chew

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Having traveled to Yamagata several times in recent months, I can confidently say that I’m (almost) a local! On this third visit to the prefecture, I felt as though I was going home. In winter, snow covers the expanse of land in Yamagata and I was feeling super excited — I had never really seen such heavy snow before and this time was definitely an eye-opener.
Stretching across the horizon, the vast, smooth white canvas was beautiful, a sight I wanted to share with everyone. This trip, we would be staying at Irori Minshuku, a place I experienced during my first trip to Yamagata which you can read about here.

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It was refreshing for me to go back and see that things had changed since the last time I was there. While traveling to the minshuku, we were greeted by layers and layers of thick snow walls; it felt as though we were inside a white-colored maze. Our driver even missed a turn to our accommodations because the snow was about 3 meters high and we could not see anything aside from the sky or tips of trees. Nevertheless, we arrived safely.

FOUR best winter-stay experiences and SIX must-try activities

The snow removal machine

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It is incredible how one piece of equipment can help to ease the lives of residents in northern Japan during winter season. The machine helps to create paths by collecting snow and tossing it up and to the side. The high piles of snow on both sides form the so-called “snow walls”. The square boxes that you see in the photo were carefully carved out using a spade by the owner’s son.

2) The awesome meals at Irori Minshuku

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The dinner and breakfast at Irori definitely pack a punch, making me crave more every single time. The dish layout is spectacular at every meal, with small portions of an overwhelming food variety. The vibrant colors and different textures helped whet our appetites, and needless to say, the food was mind-blowingly good.

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3) Kotatsu

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Love feeling warm in the winter? Then you cannot miss out on Japan’s most deadly winter “weapon”, the kotatsu! This magical item will immobilize you and not let you out of its grasp. The kotatsu is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Below is a heat source often built into the table itself. Once you enter it on a cold winter’s day, the heat will prevent you from leaving, and the soft blanket will carry you away to a cozy heaven where you can sleep the day away. The ultimate combination is snacking on mikan (みかん, Japanese Mandarin) and sipping on hot green tea, which will have you going “Ahhh~”.

4) Illumination

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After dinner, we were treated to gorgeous night illuminations. Normally, the owner would surprise guests by revealing the illuminations behind the curtains. However, because we had already experienced it once, we joined the owner in making the wall of candles together. Guests can either enjoy the sheer beauty of the illumination wall, a work of art made through the combined efforts of man and nature, or join in the fun of creating it! After which, you can say kanpai to a job well done and go to bed feeling accomplished.
This wonderful experience only happens at IRORI Minshuku, and the true beauty of the illuminations will only be revealed after all the lights in the house are switched off.

Other activities to occupy your time while having a home stay

A) You can participate in the Kasedori Festival that takes place annually on 11 Feb in front of Kaminoyama Castle in Yamagata. In recent years they have opened up to foreign participants and welcome people from all over the world.

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B) Winter barbecue is another exciting thing to try. While locals may scoff and think that grilling meat surrounded by snow is crazy, the piping hot food helps to warm cold bodies up. What’s more, the sizzling meat is juicy and delicious, so why not?

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C) For Singaporeans who are stuck with hot and humid weather all year round, we definitely do not mind the cold as much! Hop on a snow banana ride or make some rounds on a snowmobile.

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D) Visit Mt.Zao (蔵王山)for snowboarding or simply enjoy the majestic and spectacular views from the mountain top. You will discover great sights and sounds all seasons.

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E) Visit Ginzan Onsen Street (銀山温泉)for its famous, photogenic streets. Piles of snow add on to its enchanting scenery, and you can truly feel the nostalgia as you stroll around. Drop by a cafe for an afternoon cuppa while admiring the view outside the window.

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F) The climb up to Yamadera (山寺) will be challenging but you will be able to burn lots of calories! You will be rewarded for the effort with an epic panorama of the surrounding landscape.

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Be sure to have the proper footwear and check the weather forecast before making your way there.

To find out what it’s like to stay at a Minshuku in Yamagata in different seasons, make sure to check our Summer and Autumn article.

KAWAII KABUKI: A new Hello Kitty performance

kawaii kabuki

In the PUROLAND theme park dedicated to Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters there is no end to the cute things, and there has been a recent addition. On March 10th 2018 the Kawaii Kabuki show debuted in the Märchen theater inside PUROLAND. Both “kawaii” and “kabuki” are buzzwords for Japanese speakers, but for those who don’t speak the language these can be simply translated as “cute traditional Japanese theater”. It is a unique collaboration between a Kabuki troupe and the Sanrio characters, resulting in a cute and modern Kabuki show. The story draws inspiration from the old Japanese story of Momotaro or “Peach Boy”, while still retaining the cuteness and dance routines of the Hello Kitty performances.

Kawaii Kabuki performers and their creators
The characters with the show creators and a representative of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

A quick guide to Kabuki

Kabuki is a classical dramatic performance with its origins in the Edo period (1603 – 1868). It remains one of the most popular traditional styles of Japanese drama today and features characters wearing old-style costumes, such as elaborate kimono or samurai armors and a wide variety of props representing different things. Special wigs are used to signify that a character is a demon, for example. The language spoken in a Kabuki play is an old form of Japanese, so even native speakers require an audio guide relaying a translation in modern Japanese. Kabuki is symbolized by the traditional black, red and green stripes, as seen in the curtains of the Kabuki theaters, while white, black and red colors are used in the distinctive make-up worn by the actors. The performance involves dance, with specific slow-motion dramatic movements accompanied by musical instruments such as the shakuhachi flute, or the shamisen, a traditional string instrument.
You can check out this YouTube video to see how the Sanrio Puroland characters were rehearsing these special kabuki movements for their performance. Be warned that it is very cute!

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The story of Momotaro (Peach Boy) x Hello Kitty

Momotaro is an old Japanese folk story of a boy born from a peach that was found by a childless couple who became his parents. He becomes a brave warrior who sets off on a quest to “Onigashima”, or the Demon Island where he fights powerful demons or “oni” in Japanese. In the Kawaii Kabuki performance, Kitty assumes the role of Momotaro. She also goes all the way to the Demon Island, but there is a twist in the way she conquers the demons. Without much spoilers, let’s say that she used the guiding principle of her character – ‘be good friends with everyone’.

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momotaro hello kitty 1

What is Kawaii Kabuki?

The Kawaii Kabuki show is a blend of the old and the new and a mix of dance and dialogue. The characters donned on traditional costumes and the armors are made with the utmost attention to detail. A single hiragana letter can be seen on the armor plates of some of the characters, representing the first sound of their name. For example “し”(pronounced “shi”) stands for Cinnamonroll (pronounced as Shinamon Roru in Japanese). The kimonos also bear symbols representing the character’s name or things they like, for example Kitty wears a kimono with apples or Badtz Maru has X and O on his kimono, which reads “batsu” and “maru” in Japanese, just like his name. Along with the detailed aesthetics, the dance routines are also elaborate and perfectly synchronized. The story is easy to follow, even for people who don’t speak Japanese, especially if they are already familiar with the story of Momotaro.

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demon island

This Kawaii Kabuki performance is just one of many that Puroland offers. You can also enjoy various restaurants and cafes inside, each of them with special cutely presented food and drinks, and a dreamy interior design. You can even meet and have your picture taken with Kitty. Puroland also sells the biggest variety of Sanrio characters-themed goods in their gift shops. You can read our Puroland article to find out more about the whole place.
A day in Puroland is a day in another world, so visit it anytime you need a big dose of cuteness!

Puroland sweets

For more information on the Kawaii Kabuki show please see Sanrio Puroland official website
For more cuteness, check out Puroland’s Instagram account, Twitter account, Facebook profile and Youtube channel.

Puroland

Sanrio Puroland

Hours: Weekdays: 10:00-17:00, holidays: 10:00-18:00
Address: 1-31 Ochiai, Tama-shi
Phone: 042-339-1111
Website: http://en.puroland.jp/

If you haven’t had enough cuteness, here is one more behind the scenes videos of the Hello Kitty troupe applying their make up before the show.

Scroll down for more photos from the Kawaii Kabuki performance.

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The Badtz Maru character plays the villain
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A demon appears!
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Kitty taking the lead
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A heartfelt twist in the story
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Kitty’s boyfriend, Dear Daniel, in a Kabuki costume and with Kabuki make up

WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

White Day in Japan – the second Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day in Japan is uniquely one-sided with women giving chocolates to men. However, men are not off the hook, because exactly a month later, on the 14th of March, Japan celebrates White Day and this time women receive gifts.

What is White day?

A response to Valentine’s Day and a chance to even out things between men and women, White Day was established in 1978 and it falls exactly a month later, on March 14th. This is the chance for men to reciprocate the Valentine gifts and it is believed that true gentlemen double or triple the worth or amount of the gift they previously received. The name originates from one of the first marketing campaigns for this holiday when a Fukuoka company marketed marshmallows as the perfect gifts for White Day. The day was even called Marshmallow Day at first, before being changed to the broader White Day.

white day gifts

Following that, white chocolate became a favorite, although nowadays men seem to give all kinds of chocolates. The general notion is that white as a color is also the color of sugar and therefore everything sweet. If not the sweets, at least the packaging is expected to be white and very cute. Some men are even getting closer to the Western tradition of Valentine gift-giving with opting to gift not only sweets, but also lingerie, jewelry, flowers and so on. You might be wondering why they don’t go for the ever popular romantic Valentine date as a gift, but that date, for the Japanese, almost always happens on Christmas Eve.

white day macarons

Who can be your White Day sweetheart?

Another aspect of Valentine’s Day that differs from the West is the type of chocolate given, or more specifically the person that receives it. There are three types of chocolate gifts on Valentine’s Day and White Day often follows the same pattern. “Honmei choko” or “true feelings chocolate” is a gift-giving that is the most similar to the Valentine’s Day as celebrated abroad. This chocolate is either luxurious or home-made and is reserved for your true love/partner only.

a couple exchanging gifts

Then there is “giri choco” or “obligation chocolate” that is given to various men in a woman’s life – mostly co-workers, but also male friends and family members. The last one and most recent is “tomo choco” or “friendship chocolate” that is exchanged between friends, usually women. White Day mostly reciprocates the “true feelings chocolate” and sometimes also reciprocates the “obligation chocolate” in the office. It is very common for “obligation chocolate” to be a big box bought by everyone and shared among the co-workers. Many Japanese people nowadays are trying to either not observe the “obligation chocolate” custom or downplay it, because they say it is just too much pressure.

different chocolates

Today, White Day has spread to other countries as well and it is celebrated in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. South Korea also celebrates Black Day, a month after White Day, on the 14th of April and it is for single people that didn’t receive any gifts on Valentine’s Day or White Day. On Black Day they usually meet to comfort each other and have fun, usually wearing black and eating noodles in black sauce.

black and white chocolates

Fun fact: by coincidence, March 14th is also the anniversary of International Marriage Day in Japan. Marriage between a Japanese national and a non-Japanese person was first officially permitted by act of law on March 14, 1873.

Read all about how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan in our article here.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

Cherry blossom season in Japan: the love of the ephemeral

cherry blossoms and sake 1
Short-lived, fragile, pale pink cherry blossoms have become a symbol of Japan as the Japanese are madly in love with this season and everything it represents. It is precisely because the gentle cherry blossoms easily and quickly wither and fall that they are loved so much. It is a notion called mono no aware or ‘bittersweet awareness of the impermanence of things’. This mindset is the belief that this impermanence needs to be cherished and not mourned. A similar thought expressed in English and often quoted is “Don’t cry because it’s over, be happy because it happened” – first found in the writings of German poet Ludwig Jacobowski and widely spread later by Dr. Seuss.

cherry blossoms along the river

The sheer quantity of cherry trees planted in Japan testifies to this love. When the cherries blossom people stop looking down and look constantly up; salary-men normally in a hurry, now stop in the middle of the road to take a picture. The cherry blossoms also fade away beautifully – first with blossoms slowly raining through the air, or as one famous anime feature film beautifully put it “the cherry blossoms fall with a speed of 5 cm per second.” The last stage of perishing of sakura ends with pinkish carpets on the streets and water surfaces covered with pink blankets, all rivers flowing pink and taking the petals away.

cherry blossom river

Cherry blossom glossary

If you are in Japan for the cherry blossom season, you will hear a lot of unknown words that have already permeated the English language spoken by expats. Here are the essential ones.

sakura 桜 - the Japanese word for cherry blossoms
hanami 花見 – literally meaning “flowers” + “looking/viewing”, nowadays it is understood as “viewing cherry blossoms while sitting under the trees”
ume 梅 – a species of tree related to both plums and apricots that blooms in early spring
yozakura 夜桜 – night illumination of cherry blossoms
somei yoshino 染井吉野 – the most popular cherry tree species in Japan
sakuramochi 桜餅 – a Japanese sweet made of sweet pink-colored rice cake (mochi) with red bean paste (anko) inside, and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom (sakura) leaf
hanami dango 花見団子 – sweet rice flour dumplings, always a group of three on a skewer, one pink, one white and one green dumpling

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Hanami history: How long have the Japanese been in love with cherry blossoms?

It would seem that admiring cherry blossoms in Japan has been going on since forever, but almost every cultural practice in the world has an origin. The Heian period in Japan (from 794 to 1185) heralded a lot of cultural changes and one of them was the events organized to admire the cherry blossoms. During the Nara Period (710-794) the ume, or Japanese plum, had been the preferred spring blossom. Both the tree species and the custom of admiring plum spring blossoms had originated from China. The notion of Mono no aware, or ‘bittersweet awareness of the impermanence of things’, also originated in the Heian period and it is one of the reasons why the fragile cherry blossoms are so beloved.

cherry blossoms

In the Heian Period, members of the aristocracy started organizing hanami parties under the cherry trees. It was very common to read poetry under them, lamenting but also cherishing their delicate blossoms. People would also drink sake and eat food. Some customs from those original parties are observed to this day, while some have faded away. A major change has to do with the participants themselves. In the Heian Period the cherry viewing parties were exclusively for the Imperial Court, but later on, commoners started joining the practice, reaching its peak during the Edo Period (1603 and 1868 ).

cherry blossom in the past
Postcards from the early 20th century, from The New York Public Library

Cherry blossoms and hanami today

Today, not everyone reads and writes poetry under the cherry blossoms, but everyone looks forward to having a picnic under the pink flower-clouds. Hanami events are very lively, with people bringing food and drinks, playing games and instruments, singing and having fun. There are also food stalls offering delicious, take-away food on the spot. Bigger parks sometimes have a stage with musical events, with some performers going around the park in groups to entertain people. The most common color seen during hanami parties, besides the pink of the blossoms, is the blue of the tarp sheets that people sit on. The parks and gardens have specific spots designated for picnics, so make sure to locate them before settling somewhere. It is very common to eat bento lunch boxes containing sushi, sakuramochi (sweet pink-colored rice cake (mochi) with red bean paste (anko) inside, and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom (sakura) leaf), hanami dango (sweet rice flour dumplings) and many other sakura flavored foods and drinks. Read more about it in our hanami treats article.

cherry blossom picnic food

When night falls, a lot of parks and gardens illuminate their cherry trees and this custom is called yozakura. The landscape is particularly beautiful around lakes, ponds and rivers as the cherry blossoms are reflected in the water. Another way to enjoy the cherry blossoms is taking a boat ride down the many rivers that are lined with cherry trees. Some of the popular places for a river cruise are Sumida river and Meguro river in Tokyo, Ogawa river in Osaka and Matsukawa river in Toyama, among many others. For a more personal cherry blossom viewing on water, people rent small rowing boats and enjoy the cherry blossoms around ponds and lakes. The most iconic locations in Tokyo where you can do this are Chidori-ga-fuchi the Imperial Palace and the Inokashira Park pond in Kichijoji Western Tokyo.

chidori ga fuchi pond day and night
Chidori-ga-fuchi in the Imperial Palace

night time illumination of cherry trees

The meaning of sakura in Japanese society

As early as February many food and drink products get a cherry blossom-themed makeover in Japan. In anticipation of the cherry blossoms, hunting for the new seasonal special has become a bit of a pastime for many in Japan. Coffee shops start offering cherry blossom flavored drinks and sweets, while famous brands launch cherry blossom flavored versions of their products or at least, create a new cherry blossom packaging.

cherry blossom flavored foods and drinks

Spring and cherry blossom season signify new beginnings in Japan. All the school graduations usually take place during March with the new year beginning in April, thus very often the school entrance ceremonies take place when the cherry trees are in full bloom. New beginnings in spring are not for students only, companies hire the majority of their new employees during this season too. For people living in Japan, the sight of cherry blossoms invariably brings up memories of starting a new school, a new job, moving into a new apartment. These memories filled with sunlight, pink blossoms, and cheerful picnics are a bottomless source of the feeling of mono no aware – just as the cherry blossoms come and go, years come and go, children grow up, life milestones occur, and for those transient moments of happiness, no matter how short, we should be happy.

cherry blossoms and a student

cherry blossoms 3

To make sure you don’t miss this year’s cherry blossom season, go over to our article with 2018’s predictions for the blooming and full bloom date accross major cities in Japan.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

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Answer our survey to be able to win one of these original Japanese character pens or one of these cool notepads featuring dragon art from Nikko, Japan.

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Another 3hr trip – Shinjuku & Iidabashi

cherry-blossoms-at-Sotobori-Park

1-azul

How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

From Shinjuku to Iidabashi·Kudanshita 新宿・飯田橋・九段下

With spring just around the corner, this is the right time to take a flower viewing trip! If you happen to be Shinjuku, the most ideal place is the Iidabashi and Kudanshita area, which is a 5 to 10-minute train ride away. Some of the must-sees include: the moat of the Edo castle with plenty of cherry blossoms, shrines filled with legendary stories Our recommended walking course starts from JR Ichigaya Station, with the first stop being Sotobori Park.

1-yellowSotobori Park 外濠公園
Sotobori is the remains of the outer moat of the Edo castle. It was commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty in 1636 as the final construction of the castle. The moat is now transformed into a scenic park with a 2 km walking path between JR Yotsuya Station and JR Iidabashi Station. This curvy, stone lantern dotted path has a nice historical feel to it. Although known for a display of vivid shades of green all year round, it is most visited in spring when cherry trees stretch their branches into the moat and their petals are blown around by the wind. The park is quite crowded during the flower viewing season so take the chance to visit when you can.

Sotobori-Park

Access: 5-minute walk from JR Iidabashi Station, 5-minute walk from JR Ichigaya Station, 5-minute walk from JR Yotsuya Station
Address: 2, Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://www.kanko-shinjuku.jp.e.xm.hp.transer.com/spot/vi-40/article_396.html

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Ushigomebashi-bridge
2-yellowUshigome Mitsuke & Ushigomebashi Bridge 牛込橋
Sotobori Park ends at the West Exit of JR Iidabashi Station, but this marks the entrance to the Ushigome neighborhood. During the Edo period, Ushigome Mitsuke used to be one of the roads approaching the gate of the Edo castle. For security reasons, guardhouses were set up to check on pedestrians crossing the Ushigomebashi Bridge. The other side of the bridge used to be a samurai residence area, can you imagine that?

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3-yellowTokyo Daijingu Shrine 東京大神宮
Tokyo Daijingu Shrine was built in 1880 to worship Amaterasu, a deity related to the divine origin of the emperor, and other deities enshrined in the Ise Jingu Shrine. Tokyo Daijigu Shrine functions as a “yohaiden,” or hall for worship from afar in Japanese, for pilgrims who were not able to travel all the way to Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie Prefecture. As the shrine is the first in Japan to hold a Shinto wedding ceremony, it is especially popular among women wishing to get married.

Tokyo-Daijingu-Shrine-torii
Tokyo-Daijingu-Shrine-wishes

Access: 5 mins.-minute walk from JR Sobu Line Iidabashi Sta.
Address: 2-4-1, Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://www.tokyodaijingu.or.jp/english/index.html

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4-yellowNellie’s Book Store ネリーズブックストア

nellies

Not far from Tokyo Daijingu Shrine is Nellies English Books, a unique bookstore that provides a wide range of English language teaching materials. It recently published a 416-page English guidebook on Japan. For English readers with a heart for exploration, this is a must-have!

Hours: 10:00 – 18:00, Closed on Sat & Sun
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Sobu Line Iidabashi Sta.
Address: Kenkyusha Fujimi Bldg. 3F, 2-11-3 Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://nellies.jp/indexen.html

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5-yellowTsukudo Shrine 築土神社
Walk in the direction of Nigohanzaka from Tokyo Daijingu Shrine and you will come across a rare sight: a western architecture with a cross on it. Built in 1937 as the first seminary for Tokyo Lutheran Church, the building’s significance lies in that it is the only western chapel in Japan before World War II. From here, it might be a little bit difficult to spot Tsukudo Shrine, whose entrance is located next to a modern building called Kudan Airex Building. Tucked away from the bustles of the city, the shrine is as cozy as a secret garden. However, as the head of Taira-no-Masakado, a samurai who died in a battle in the Heian period (794-1185), is enshrined here, the shrine has quite a few ghost stories to share.

Tsukudo-shrine
Tsukudo-shrine-torii

Access: 10-minute walk from Iidabashi Stations (Sobu Line and Chuo Line, Namboku Line, Yurakucho Line)
Address: 14-21, Kudan-kita, Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://english.tsukudo.jp/

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Yasukuni-shrine
6-yellowYasukuni Shrine 靖国神社
After touring Tsukudo Shrine, walk pass Kitano-Maru Square until you reach Yasukunidori. Continue for another 5 minutes with Nippon Budokan arena on your left-hand side and you will see a gigantic torii gate that marks the entrance of Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine is one of top places for cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo and attracts tons of visitors in spring. The walk to the main hall takes about 10 minutes, you will surely remain entertained with full-bloomed cherry blossoms along the way.

Access: 10-minute walk from Ichigaya or Iidabashi stations (Sobu Line and Chuo Line, Namboku Line, Yurakucho Line) 5-minute walk from Kudanshita Station (Tozai Line, Hanzomon Line, Toei Shinjuku Line)
Address: 3-1-1 Kudankita Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/

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7-yellowHoraiya Honten 宝来家

Horaiya Hoten is a confectionary shop that has been making and selling traditional Japanese sweets since 1868. Located next to the premises of Yasukuni Shrine, the 130-year-old shop has a different menu every month, with flavors that reflect the change of season. Drop in for a feast for the eye and taste buds!

Horaiya-Honten-exterior

Horaiya-Honten-close-up

Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00am-6:00pm, Sat 10:00am-4:00pm, Closed on Sun
Access: 10-minute walk from Iichigaya Sta. (Sobu Line and Chuo Line, Toeishinjuku Line)
Address: 2-4-15 Kudanminami Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://wagashi.houraiya.co.jp/(Japanese)

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8-yellowKudan-imoaraisaka さかぐち
Another shop worth mentioning is a rice cracker shop called Sakaguchi. Take the Yasukuni-dori, walk in the direction of Ichigaya Station and you will be greeted with this specialty store. Lovers of rice crackers beware, as there are no other branches, you have to visit in person for a taste of these crunchy snacks. Choose from a variety of flavors from the display cabinet or pick up all the 10 flavors of their star product “Itoguchi Arare” for your friends back home.

Sakaguchi-entrance

Sakaguchi-products

Hours: Mon-Fri 9:30am-7:00pm, Sat 9:30am-5:00pm, Closed on Sun
Access: 10-minute walk from Iichigaya Sta. (Sobu Line and Chuo Line, Toeishinjuku Line)
Address: 2-4-15 Kudanminami Chiyoda-ku
URL: http://www.stage9.or.jp/sakaguchi/(Japanese)

Another 3hr trip – Shibuya

Shibuya-crossing

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Shibuya is a well-known bustling entertainment district in Tokyo. For first time visitors, the seemingly chaotic pedestrian scramble in front of the station can be quite daunting. But for locals who are used to the traffic conditions, Shibuya is a rare gem that incorporates elements from both east and west. It never fails to enthrall and amazing discoveries are everywhere. The deeper you venture into the streets and alleys, the more fascinating the history and culture. Read on to discover a Shibuya you never known before!

1-yellowKUNOICHI NINJA CAFÉ 忍者茶房
Kunoichi-Ninja-Cafe

Just as the name Kunoichi (the Japanese term for female ninjas) suggests, this, is a place where visitors can learn about the history of ninja arts from the viewpoint of a female practitioner and experience wielding a katana sword or throwing shuriken. At the café, you can enjoy delicious Japanese cuisine and desserts.
*Services are subject to change in May

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Konnoh-Hachimangu-Shrine
2-yellowKonnoh Hachimangu Shrine 金王八幡宮
The shrine has been in Shibuya for a long time and its history can be traced back thousands of years. Both the Shaden and the Shinmon were built in 1612 and are well preserved. The main deity worshiped here is Emperor Ojin (from around the second century) and it is said that prayers about work are often answered. If you are tired of the Shibuya crowds, this is a great getaway to relax the mind and immerse yourself in history.

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3-yellowHen na Cafe 変なカフェ
Newly opened in February, this is the Japan’s first coffee shop where you can enjoy coffee freshly brewed and served by a robot barista. It became a global sensation overnight after debut its. For Japan, a robot-loving society, more and more shops run by robots are expected in the near future. Get your cup of filter drip coffee, Americano, chocolate or matcha flavored latte served by a single-arm robot here!

henna-cafe
henna-cafe-robotic-waiter

amarillo-line-left4-yellowToguri Museum of Art 戸栗美術館

One of the few porcelain museums in Japan is actually right here in Shibuya and definitely worth a visit. The museum stands on the land formerly owned by the Nabeshima clan and houses a collection of 7,000 works from China and Korea as well as Imari and Nabeshima, made in Saga Prefecture. As the northwest part of Kyushu was known as Hizen Province in the past, the porcelain made in the area is also referred to as Hizen porcelain.

Toguri-Museum-of-Art
Toguri-Museum-of-Art-exhibition

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5-yellowNabeshima Shoto Park 鍋島松濤公園

Nabeshima-Shoto-Park

The park was once a villa and Japanese tea garden owned by the Nabeshima family in today’s Saga Prefecture. Originally called “Shotoen,” the park was opened to the public in 1924. The extensive park is a delight to the eyes, with thickly planted cherry blossom trees, maple trees and a nostalgic water wheel next to the pond. The picturesque view almost makes you forget that you’re still in the heart of Tokyo.

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6-yellowGallery TOM ギャラリーTOM

Gallery-Tom
Located in a quiet and not-so-busy area of Shibuya, Gallery TOM is a private art museum founded in 1984 to help visually impaired people experience art through their sense of touch. The gallery is a manifestation of Japanese thoughtfulness and attention to details. Stop by for a whole new experience in art!

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7-yellowHMV Record Shop Shibuya HMV レコードショップ渋谷

Udagawacho is home to the world’s leading record street. If you are a fan of vinyl records, this is where you have to be! HMV Record Shop and many other record specialty shops are just behind Shibuya’s Tokyu Hands Store. Who knows, you might even bump into famous DJs on a treasure hunt to find rare records.

HMV-Record-Store-Shibuya-exterior
hmv-record-shop-shibuya

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8-yellowShibuya Niku Yokocho 渋谷肉横丁

Known as Japan’s largest meat-themed park, Shibuya Niku Yokocho has gathered 26 restaurants specializing in all kinds of meat cuisine, ranging from chicken, deep fried meat tempura, sushi made with fresh beef, and even horse meat. Eager carnivores, get ready to go restaurant hopping and eat plenty of meat!

Shibuya-Niku-Yokocho-Hormon
Shibuya-Niku-Yokocho

Cherry blossoms forecast for 2018 and best spots across Japan

Sakura map 2018 waSHUSEI

Cherry blossom season in Japan is a well-known experience on a lot of people’s bucket list. The whole country transforms into a magical “Blossomland” and not just parks and gardens, but even city streets are awash with soft pink. The cherry blossoms are short-lived, staying on the branches for an average of 10 days, or 2 weeks if the weather is gentle, and less than 10 days if there are strong rains. This is one of the reasons people love the cherry blossoms so much and a big reason to plan your trip carefully. There are no guarantees, but there are usually quite accurate forecasts about the cherry blossoms first opening, full bloom, and falling. We based our map for the forecast for cherry blossoms in 2018 on the Sakura Weathermap website and their latest forecast which came out on March 1st, 2018. There are several other sources like the Japan weather association or the Japan Meteorological Corporation that you can also check.

Cherry blossoms forecast for 2018

Due to the geography of Japan, the cherry trees blossom in an upward wave starting from Okinawa in the middle of January and blooming last in Hokkaido at the end of April, beginning of May. So technically, if you wanted to, you could start traveling from Okinawa in January and revel in cherry blossoms for three whole months! We have compiled a list of the predictions for the opening date of the cherry blossoms and their full bloom date for several major areas in Japan. We also highlight the most famous or recommended spots for cherry blossom viewing in each area.

1. Naha, Okinawa – Yogi Park

The earliest cherry blossoms can be seen in Okinawa, as early as January. You can find cherry trees wherever you go in Okinawa, and many of them are of the stronger pink variety, contrary to the more famous pale pink one. If you are in Okinawa’s capital, Naha, Yogi park is a good choice for a cherry blossom viewing spot where 400 cherry trees are lined along the river.
There are other spots in Naha like Manko park and Sueyoshi park. If you venture outside of Naha, the Nakijin castle ruins in Nakijin village have a beautiful cherry blossom trees grove with a view of the ocean. There is also the Nago central park in Nago city which boasts a 2 km walk to the castle that is lined with cherry trees.


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2. Kagoshima, Kyuushu – Yoshino Park

first bloom: March 19th, full bloom: March 26th

As a southern city, Kagoshima is lush with all kinds of vegetation, and cherry blossoms too are not a rare sight. They bloom in March and one of the many places to see them is Yoshino park in Kagoshima city. This park is admission-free and it is open until 5 pm. After the cherry blossoms wither and fall, it is full of other flowers too, so don’t hesitate to visit on any other day.


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3. Fukuoka, Kyuushu – Fukuoka Castle Ruins – Maizuru park

first bloom: March 19th, full bloom: March 25th

In the middle of Maizuru park in Fukuoka, you can find the remains of the Fukuoka castle that used to be the biggest castle in Kyushu during the Edo period. It is a great sightseeing spot any time of the year and in spring it is full of blooming cherry trees. If you climb the remains of the main citadel you will get a good bird’s eye view of the castle ground covered in pink. This park never closes and there is no admission-fee.

Fukuoka castle

4. Hiroshima – Hiroshima Castle

first bloom: March 23rd, full bloom: March 30th

It’s always great when you combine a sightseeing spot with the seasonal changing of landscapes at any time of the year. Hiroshima castle is one of many such sights because in spring the cherry trees planted around it bloom and give it a new look. There are around 450 cherry trees and a lot of space for sitting down and admiring them. There is no admission fee for most of the castle grounds, except for the main keep that requires a 370 yen admission fee. Be careful of the closing time which can vary, but it’s usually 5 or 6 pm.
When in Hiroshima, you can also see cherry blossoms around the Peace Memorial Park, the Shukkei-en garden and in Miyajima.



5. Shizuoka – Shimada city cherry blossom tunnel

first bloom: March 19th, full bloom: March 26th

The Shimada city cherry blossom tunnel in Shizuoka creates a nostalgic experience combining cherry blossoms and a ride on an old-style steam locomotive train. The pink view is made up of very old Yoshino type cherry trees. You can also see the special Kawane Cherry Blossom Festival from March 25th to April 9th.
The ride on the train starts from Shin-Kanaya station and it takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach Senzu station, but you can take a shorter ride. The price depends on the distance you are going to ride and since the train is very popular, you are advised to make reservations in advance. Please check the Oigawa Railway website for more details.

oikawa railway cherry blossoms

6. Kyoto – Kyomizudera temple

first bloom: March 23rd, full bloom: March 30th

Kyoto is one of Japan’s gems of history and beauty and as such, it is romantically gorgeous in every season. Cherry blossom season is no different. The whole city has a large number of cherry trees in every possible park, garden, temple and sightseeing spot. Admission fees correspond to the place itself, and very often it is free! You can decide to do a photo-walk through several temples and UNESCO heritage sites and see them in their pale pink glory. One of such spots is Kyomizudera temple, perched on a hill, it overlooks Kyoto and offers a breathtaking view anytime of the year. The temple complex is surrounded by vegetation, and a lot of it is cherry blossoms. You can also rent a kimono or a yukata and completely immerse yourself in the cherry blossoms gazing experience. Although this temple is extremely popular with both overseas and domestic tourists, don’t let the crowds put you off, because Kyomizudera is well worth the visit. If you visit before sunset you can also wait around until the night falls to see the illuminated cherry blossoms. Please refer to the temple’s official website for more information.
Just a heads up, the Main Hall is currently under renovation, but you can still visit the surrounding buildings in the complex which are easily accessible.

Kyomizudera Temple Kyoto

7. Nara – Nara park

first bloom: March 24th, full bloom: March 30th

Nara park offers a lot of space to enjoy the cherry blossoms in spring. It also houses the most popular Nara attractions like the Todaiji temple, Kofukuji temple, the Nara National Museum among others. This park is famous for the hundreds of free-roaming deer that are a symbol of Nara. Best of all, the park is completely free of charge so you can spend some change on buying rice crackers for the deer!

Nara park deer

8. Osaka – Kema Sakuranomiya park

first bloom: March 22nd, full bloom: March 29th

One of the best cherry blossom spots in Osaka and Japan in general, this park does not have the word ‘sakura’ in its name for nothing. It has nearly 5 000 cherry trees going for several kilometers down the Okawa River. The park is vast, with a lot of space for a picnic. You can either take a walk along the river or a cruise down its waters. The cherry trees are also illuminated in the evening. The park is open 24/7 and free of charge.
When you are there, you can also admire the cherries on the grounds of Osaka Castle which is not far from Sakuranomiya park and boasts thousands of cherry blossom trees of its own.

sakuranomiya park osaka 1

9. Tokyo – Ueno park

first bloom: March 22nd, full bloom: March 29th

Tokyo is a great spot for cherry blossoms, they can be found practically in every park, every temple and even in urban areas where they fill the streets on both sides.
A very iconic place for cherry blossom viewing is Ueno park. This huge park has it all – a lot of space designated for hanami (花見 – cherry viewing) picnics, space to stroll around, food stalls, temples, museums and much more! A downside to all popular places is, of course, the crowds that gather there, so you might need to show up early to get a good hanami spot.
This year the cherry blossoms in Tokyo are earlier than usual, so be sure to catch them!

ueno park sakura

10. Kanazawa – Kanazawa Castle

first bloom: March 30th, full bloom: April 4th

On the opposite shores from Tokyo is Kanazawa, where cherry blossoms will bloom just a couple of days after Tokyo. One of this city’s famous tourist spots is its castle, which is actually a reconstruction of the old castle and unlike other castles, it doesn’t have a main keep. It features close to 400 cherry trees which are illuminated at night. The park grounds are open from 7 AM to 6 PM and the entrance is free. There is only a small fee of 310 yen charged for entering the castle. Nearby you can find Kenrokuen Garden which is also full of cherry trees and beautiful in its own right.
For more information you can check the official Kanazawa Tourist Information Guide.

Kanazawa castle cherry blossoms

11. Aomori – Hirosaki Castle

first bloom: April 23rd, full bloom: April 27th

The colder the region, the later the cherry trees blossom, which means that in Tohoku, cherry trees never blossom before April. This year, in Aomori,cherry trees are predicted to start blooming around April 24th and be in full bloom by the 28th of April. One of the best spots to visit during this time is Hirosaki castle and Park home to the oldest Yoshino type cherry tree in Japan which is more than 130 years old! This park has approximately 2,600 cherry trees and around 50 different species. The water in the moats around the castle gets covered with cherry blossom petals, which makes for a beautiful boat ride. The blossoms are illuminated at night and the entrance to this place is only a 100 yen!

Aomori castle

12. Sapporo – Moerenuma park

first bloom: April 30th, full bloom: May 4th

The last region in Japan to see the cherry blossoms is the northern island of Hokkaido. In the capital city, Sapporo, the cherry trees are expected to blossom on the last day of April and be in full bloom by the 4th of May. Hokkaido is famous for its vast natural landscapes, but if you are in its capital we recommend Moerenuma park. It is a huge park built on reclaimed swampland no one originally wanted, and has been turned into a beautiful space with fantasy-like geometrical sculptures and landscaped hills. The park has one section called the Cherry Blossom Forest and during this season it explodes in pink. This park is free of charge, easily reachable by one city bus from the center of Sapporo and it is open from 7 am to 10 pm, with the last admission at 9 pm.
This is a beautiful park to see any time of the year, check outour article about Moerenuma park to learn more and see what it looks like in summer.
For more information about the park go to their website.

Moerenuma Sakura forest


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

Valentine’s Day in Japan: what to expect?

red string is a symbol for love in Japan
The red string of destiny is a common metaphor in Japan for lovers’ fate

As with every other imported holiday, Japan puts its own twist on Valentine’s Day as well. If you are used to a variety of romantic gifts such as chocolates, candles, jewelry, special dinners, flowers and so on, you might be surprised that in Japan it’s chocolate only. In fact, chocolate companies make half their annual sales during Valentine’s season. But what Japan lacks in variety of Valentine’s Day gifts, it makes up in variety of chocolates. Around this time all shops and department stores are well stocked with chocolates, so even if you are not buying them as a gift, it’s worth buying them for yourself, as you can get your hands on limited edition varieties.

The history of Valentine’s Day in Japan

Unlike the Valentine’s Day celebrations in the West, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is not for couples exchanging gifts, it’s actually only the women who give chocolate to men. Before you start wondering if there is some sinister plot here, the anecdotal explanation is that when the holiday was imported in Japan it had the misfortune of being wrongly translated. At the time when not many people expressed feelings freely this giving of chocolates as a love confession was more than welcome. Decades later it’s part of Japanese culture and looks like it’s here to stay. But don’t think men are off the hook so easily. They have to prepare for a day called White Day.

black and white chocolates

What is White Day?

A response to Valentine’s day and a chance to even out things between men and women, White Day was established in 1978 and it falls exactly a month later, on March 14th. This is the chance for men to reciprocate the Valentine gifts and it is believed that true gentlemen double or triple the worth or amount of the gift they previously received. The name comes from one of the first marketing campaigns for this holiday when a Fukuoka company marketed marshmallows as the perfect gifts. Following that, white chocolate became a favorite, although nowadays men seem to give all kinds of chocolates. The official statement nowadays is that white as a color stands for sugar and therefore everything sweet. Some men are even getting closer to the Western tradition of Valentine gift-giving with opting to gift lingerie, jewelry, flowers and so on. You might be wondering why they don’t go for the ever popular romantic Valentine date, but that date traditionally for the Japanese happens on Christmas Eve.

white day gifts

Not all valentine chocolates are equal

The choice of chocolates that companies put out for Valentine’s Day is astounding, but there are also choices the gift-giver has to make. For starters, it is really important whether you are going to buy the chocolate or buy ingredients and tools to make chocolate from scratch. It doesn’t matter if you are a good cook or not, the stores have everything covered so that anyone can make chocolate. What matters is how much effort you want to put in your chocolate gift and usually hand-made chocolates mean a lot of love and attention.

handmade chocolate

That being said, you probably understand that this chocolate is not for everyone. But then again, Valentine’s is only for your significant other, right? Well, in Japan, yes and no. You give chocolates to more people and according to that the Valentine’s Day chocolate can be separated in three categories: honmei choco, giri choco and tomo choco. Let’s break down these chocolate conundrums one by one.

three different chocolates

1. Honmei choco (本命チョコ)

This translates as “real chocolate/real love chocolate” and as mentioned above it will probably be either hand-made or very luxurious and expensive. As the name suggests, this one is meant for the person you love or are in a relationship with and it is the closest custom to Valentine’s Day as it is known in the West. This year’s Valentine’s Day KitKat’s new unique ruby colored chocolate is said to be the most sought after.

handmade sweets

2. Giri choco (義理チョコ)

This translates as “obligatory/duty chocolate”, that is chocolate you give on Valentine’s as an obligation or a duty to men other than your love interest or significant other. These men are most often work colleagues or male family members. It’s a social obligation that probably came about because of the aspect of Japanese culture that values inclusion and a lot of people must have felt excluded if they didn’t get any chocolate. This obligation chocolate is the reason why honmei choco keeps getting more luxurious to set itself apart from giri choco which is usually store-bought and cheap, or a box of smaller chocolates passed around the office for everyone to take a piece.

chocolate heart

However, a lot of women dislike this outdated practice, rejoicing when Valentine’s Day falls on the weekend. Some bosses have recently formally banned obligatory chocolate and this year the luxury chocolate brand Godiva even ran an advertisement advising people to stop buying obligatory chocolate and preserve the special meaning of true feelings chocolate only. Who knows, maybe this custom is slowly on its way out of the culture.

assorted chocolates

3. Tomo choco (友チョコ)

The most recent type of Valentine’s Day chocolate giving is tomo choco or “friendship chocolate”. In the same vein of not excluding anyone, girls started giving Valentine’s chocolates to their girl friends just for fun. You can never have too much chocolate, right?

chocolate present

Finally, it’s common wisdom that opposites make a whole, so let’s not forget single people. Both on Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day it has been getting more and more popular to make singles’ parties on Valentine’s Day around Tokyo. So there is something for everyone to look forward to during Valentine season!

love in lipstick


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Ninja ID: zoria

The Kanaya Hotel -Refinement born from a clash of cultures-

kanaya-hotel-in-the-snow

The cedar trees that encompass Nikko in Tochigi prefecture have witnessed countless stories unfold throughout the history of the city. From early Shinto pilgrimages to the construction of the sumptuous Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and pinnacle of the blend of Shinto and Buddhist architecture. It is also here where a tale of clash of cultures, architecture, art and Japanese hospitality was born with the founding of the Kanaya Hotel, the longest running hotel catering to foreign guests which opened in 1873.

The Kanaya Hotel: entering a world of a bygone era

I take a bus at Tobu Nikko Station and after only five minutes, I find myself at the beautiful Shinkyo Bridge, and just in front of it, I see the Kanaya Hotel, my destination.

As I make my way up a hill the chilly winter air nips at my cheeks. I come to see a peculiar Japanese-style lamp adorned with red-orange wooden carvings and a neat lettering reading: KANAYA HOTEL. It doesn’t particularly stand out, but it feels as though I’m trespassing into the whimsical setting of a popular novel full of complex characters trapped in the distant past.

kanaya-hotel-lamp
kanaya-hotel-sign

kanaya-hotel-front

As I reach the main entrance, I take a look around what looks like a Western-style building with Japanese accents that puzzle me for a moment. As a Westerner, I feel a vague feeling of familiarity, and yet at the same time there is something original and unique here. As I walk through the revolving wooden doors I’m transported to world a hundred years ago.

kanaya-hotel-reception

Despite the general appearance of a luxurious mountain lodge, I can’t help but notice Japanese elements such as the intricate and colorful woodcarvings that adorn the doors, or the vermilion handrails overlooking the lobby that could have been easily found inside a Shinto shrine.

I’m told that the wall behind the counter is made out of Oya stone, an igneous rock found in the area made out of lava and ash that became a popular construction material in Japan during the Meiji period. Adorning the wall, hang two pictures of key figures in the history of Kanaya Hotel: American Missionary James Curtis Hepburn and English writer Isabella Bird.

The Kanaya Hotel circa 1921
The Kanaya Hotel circa 1921

The origins of the legendary hotel

The legend goes that James Curtis Hepburn visited Nikko back in 1871 and stayed at the house of a musician belonging to the Toshogu Shrine, Zenichiro Kanaya. It’s said that Hepburn, for seeing the touristic potential that Nikko would have among foreigners, suggested Kanaya to open a hotel exclusively for foreign guests.

Zenichiro Kanaya following Hepburn’s advice, opened the Cottage Inn in 1873 exclusively for foreigners. In 1878, the explorer and writer Isabella Bird stayed at Kanaya’s Cottage Inn for twelve days as part of her journey from Tokyo to Hokkaido, which she documented on her book “Unbeaten tracks in Japan”, published in 1880. In this travelogue, she gives a detailed account of everything she saw and experienced during her stay, and even provides insight into some of her thoughts, including this one, which I’m sure more than one foreigner visiting Japan has shared:

“I almost wish that the rooms were a little less exquisite, for I am in constant dread of spilling the ink, indenting the mats, or tearing the paper windows.” – Isabella Bird in “Unbeaten tracks in Japan” describing her room.

The Kanaya Hotel History House is now a museum and is located next to Cottage Inn Restaurant & Bakery.
The Kanaya Hotel History House is now a museum and is located next to Cottage Inn Restaurant & Bakery.

It’s worth noting that Bird did not stay at the current building that houses the Kanaya Hotel, but at the The Cottage Inn. This was a traditional Japanese house and the origin of the Kanaya Hotel, popularly known by the travelers of the time as “The Samurai House”. Today it’s a museum that remains open to general visitors as Kanaya Hotel History House.

With the opening of Japan to the world during the Meiji period, the number of foreigners in Japan increased rapidly and Nikko became the preferred location for foreign dignitaries and expats. Naturally, the Kanaya Hotel became the go-to place among the foreign community and quickly gained prestige. The Kanaya Hotel became the home away from home for distinguished figures such as the Prince Arthur of Connaught from England, American author Helen Keller and even the scientist Albert Einstein.

Art and history in every corner

As I walk through the red-carpeted hallways and up lavish staircases, stopping here and there to look at the black-and-white pictures of all the distinguished guests, I can’t help but imagine their ghostly silhouettes floating back and forth through the same hallways.

kanaya-hotel-stair

The hallways of the Kanaya Hotel are filled with commemorative pictures and exhibits from guests that have visited the hotel.
The hallways of the Kanaya Hotel are filled with commemorative pictures and exhibits from guests that have visited the hotel.

On every corner of the hotel I discover a work of art with a unique story, from lamps dating back to the Meiji period and century-old encyclopedias, to antique tableware and elaborate mirrors. Perhaps my favorite piece is the fireplace made out of Oya stone found inside the hotel bar. It’s rumored to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which also prominently features Oya stone. I couldn’t help to picture myself in front of the fireplace with a scotch on the rocks in hand and a a good book in the other.

The Bar “Dacite” is named after the scientific name for Oya stone.
The Bar “Dacite” is named after the scientific name for Oya stone.

After roaming through what felt like decades of history, I finally get to see the room where I’ll stay the night. At first sight, I’m comforted by the warm, elegant feel, but I soon notice the elements that make this hotel unique. The ceilings have Japanese frames reminiscent of tatami rooms, the designs of the windows with their sliding doors, and interestingly a steam heater, which are a rare sight in Japan.

kanaya-hotel-room

After some time relaxing in my room, enjoying the cozy warmth of the steam heater, I hear a chime. I look at my clock and realize it’s 6 pm. I later learn that announcing dinner time with a chime is an old tradition at the Kanaya Hotel. Back in the day, a gong was used to announce the meal times. I head over to the dinning hall, and marvel at the intricate decorations and grow with anticipation at the thought of what will surely be an unforgettable meal.

The dining hall’s column capitals  are adorned with more original woodcarvings by renowned local artists and even antique tableware is exhibited here.
The dining hall’s column capitals are adorned with more original woodcarvings by renowned local artists and even antique tableware is exhibited here.

Local delicacies with a French twist

I taste a delicious trout with steamed vegetables, which evoke French cuisine, but with a local touch. The Kanaya Hotel is renowned for its unique Western cuisine and even non-guests come all the way here to enjoy a luxurious dinner.

fish-meal

entree
desserts

The next morning, after a refreshing bath and a delicious omelet in the dining hall, I keep exploring the hotel before heading out to town. Despite the fact that most visitors come to Nikko during summer to escape the heat, I find that Nikko is especially charming during winter. I head to the roof where I find an old ice-skating rink and an outdoor pool. There is also a viewing platform with the epic name: “The palace of the Dragon King”, which offers breathtaking views of Nikko and its snow-covered mountains.

view-from-the-top-of-kanaya-hotel

A city trapped in another time

Having visited Nikko and its magnificent Toshogu Shrine in the past, this time I decided to focus on the city itself, simply strolling through its streets and exploring other historical buildings. Perhaps, still under the spell of the Kanaya Hotel, I start to find Nikko-bori everywhere I go and I keep returning to the beginning of the Showa era with the countless curio shops and art galleries.

niko-streets

curious-shops

NIKKO BUSSAN SHOUKAI deserves special mention. It’s a historical building filled with a wealth of Nikko-bori treasures that doubles as a souvenir shop and a restaurant serving local specialties.

souvenir-shop

nikkobori-art
souvenir-shop-interior

After encountering so many Nikko-bori throughout my trip, I decide to try my hand at carving my own at Murakami Toyohachi Shoten carrying countless masterpieces. The results I’m afraid, are quite disappointing.

fish-drawing
carving-fish

I declare my try a failed attempt and instead settle on simply admiring the amazing creations of Nikko artisans displayed in the shop, painstakingly carved mostly from cedar, into beautiful plates, drawers, jewelry boxes, mirrors and more.

nikkobori-art-store

After spending the night at the Kanaya Hotel and strolling the streets of Nikko, I realized the histories of the hotel and the city are inseparably intertwined. Both the city and the hotel seem to desperately try to bring you back to a bygone era of a unique kind of refinement that was born from a clash of cultures.

The Kanaya Hotel
https://www.kanayahotel.co.jp/eng/

Matsumoto Castle: One of the best preserved castles

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

You can’t leave Nagano without visiting Matsumoto Castle! This black and white, six-story castle is a magnificent site with the Japanese Alps in the background. Being one of the oldest castles in Japan–built in the 16th century–it has survived the Age of Warring States, Meiji Period (when castles were ordered to be destroyed), and time.

matsumoto-castle-from-afar
matsumoto-castle-entrance
matsumoto-caste-interior

With the help of an English-speaking tour guide, you can enjoy an exploration of the castle that is so well-preserved. You might think that the ruler lived in the castle, but did you know that they had their own residents in the courtyard? The castle was a mere symbol of strength and only when attacked would the ruler move into the castle to defend it from being burnt down by the enemies.

Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm)
Access: 10-min ride on the Matsumoto Tour Bus “Town Sneaker”
URL: http://www.matsumoto-castle.jp/lang/

Koshu Yume Kouji: Perfect gift shopping destination

Koshu-Yume-Kouji

Just a quick walk from the Kofu station is a reproduction of the jokamachi (castle town) from the Meiji (1868–1912), Taisho (1912-1926) and the beginning of Showa period (1926). While you may think that the buildings consititue a museum, it’s actually a place where you can find souvenirs showcasing Yamanashi’s great produce and local businesses. From cute boutiques stores to shops selling wine, grapes and other treats, it is a very charming shopping area that gives you a taste of Kofu’s historical townscape.

streets-near-koshu-yume-kouji

historical-building-koshu-yume-
building-by-night

Access: a minute walk from Kofu Station North Exit
URL: http://koshuyumekouji.com/en/

Takeda Shingen: Based in the Mountainous Fortress

takeda-shingen-statue

Located in front of the Kofu train station, you can’t miss the magnificent warrior statue! As though overlooking the well-being of the Kofu City, he seemed to be like a fatherly figure for locals. Tour guides lite up with pride when talking about Yamanashi’s local hero. It was Lord Takeda Shingen, one of the most respected military leaders in Japan and a general of Kai Province (Yamanashi today) during the Warring States period (1467–1603). Known for his tactical skills, he is also famous for the criminal and civil code he put into place, which some say Tokugawa Ieyasu referenced for the base of his government when unifying Japan under one rule. Though Lord Takeda did not rule over a large part of Japan, the mountain ranges encompassing his territory gave him a strong fortress.

takeda-shrine-board
takeda-shrine-outside

There are many kinds of shrines throughout Japan, but few of them are dedicated to a leader who has passed on over 300 years ago! Built on the original grounds of the home his father built, which three generations of Takeda clan ruled over for 63 years, you can still see remains of the original outer structures as you stroll through Takeda Shrine. During late March and early April, you can enjoy a thousand cherry blossom trees that line the main road leading from Kofu Station up to the shrine (about a 30-minute walk). It was truly a beloved leader who lives on in the spirit of the locals.

wall-kofu-city
takeda-shrine-torii
Takeda Shrine
Address: 2611, Kofuchu-machi, Kofu-shi
Access: 8-min bus ride from Kofu Station

Lumiere Winery WITH Restaurant Zelkova: Established in 1885

wine-town-yamanashi

winsery-from-yamanashi
While in the land of grapes, you have to pay a visit to Lumiere, a family-owned winery established in 1885. Not only do they provide English tours of their vineyard and facilities, but you can do wine tasting at the winery shop where there are products from around the prefecture. You can enjoy a variety of wines over a meal of fine French cuisine with a Japanese twist using local ingredients, giving you a full Yamanashi pallet experience.
wine-tasting
wine-barrels-in-yamanashi
vineyards-lumiere
Hours: Restaurant: 11:30am – 2pm (lunch), 5:30pm – 8pm (dinner)
Closed: Mon & Tue (Jan-Mar), Tue (Apr-Aug & Dec)
Address: 624 Minami-noro, Fuefuki-shi, Yamanashi
Access: 15 min by taxi from Yamanashi-shi Station
URL: http://www.lumiere.jp/en/

Fuefuki city: The Fruit Kingdom

grape-picking-in-yamanashi

With the ocean breeze blocked by the mountains, Yamanashi Prefecture is blessed with more sunny days. Combined with rich soil and abundance of clean water, the prefecture is known for its delicious produce.
Among the most famous are grapes and peaches. To get a juicy sample, head to Fuefuki City, which is known to produce the most grapes and peaches in Japan.

grapes-in-fuefukishi
peaches-in-Yamanashi

The city is also known for their wine and onsen, making it a perfect destination to unwind. At Miharashien, you can indulge in a 40-minute all-you-can-eat fruit picking session while surrounded by a beautiful view overlooking local farms with the mountain range in the background. In the spring, the whole area turns into an ocean of pink as the peach and cherry blossoms bloom simultaneously.

fuefukishi-landscape

If visiting in mid-October, you can make it just in time for the latter grape season. Hunching down in search of the perfect cluster of grapes, you’ll be able to enjoy different types of grapes that you have never eaten before–each having their unique signature flavor.

Hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Access: 15-min car ride from JR Isawa-Onsen Station
Address: 240 Ichinomiyacho-Tsuchizuka, Fuefuki-shi, Yamanashi

Shosenkyo Gorge: Complete immersion with nature

shousenkyou-2

Just outside Kofu City is the Shosenkyo Gorge, which is said to be the most beautiful gorge in Japan. As you walk along the hiking pathway (built during the Edo Period), you can’t help but marvel at mother nature’s power to have created such a sanctuary as the Arakawa River rushes through the narrow valley with many large, granite formations that come in interesting shapes.

 Kakuenpo: highest cliff where it is said that the monk Kakuen meditated on.

Kakuenpo: highest cliff where it is said that the monk Kakuen meditated on.

Based on how much you want to walk, you can either take the two and half mile course from the Nagatoro Bridge at the entrance of the gorge or the half mile course from the Greenline Shosenkyo bus stop. Once at the end of the trail, there are several stores selling crystals processed from the area.

shousenkyo-gorge-gondola
shosenkyo-gorge-in-autumn-and-bridge

Make sure to head on over to the Shosenkyo Ropeway, which takes you to the Panoramadai Station at the top of Mt. Rakanji-yama. Once at the top, a beautiful shot of Mt. Fuji and the Southern Alps awaits you!

Access: 20-min drive from Kofu Station
URL: http://www.shosenkyo-kankoukyokai.com/en/

Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine: Shrine Fit for Mt. Fuji

kitaguchi-hongu-fuji-segenjinja-shrine

Today, people head to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, but originally pilgrims started their hike from Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine, where the goddess of Mt. Fuji is worshipped. When traveling in Japan, you will come across many temples and shrines, but this can easily become your favorite! Walking up the peaceful path lined with enormous cryptomeria trees and moss-covered lanterns, you feel as though you have stepped into a different realm. In contrast to the surrounding deep forest, the large, red torii gate and the intricately carved shrine is stunning.

kitaguchi-hongu-fuji-sengenjinja-shrine-interior
kitaguchi-hongo-main-shrine
dragon-fountain-at-shrine
Address: 3-14-8 Kamiyoshida, Fujiyoshida City
Access: 15-min walk from Fujisan Station
URL: http://sengenjinja.jp/english/index.html

Nakamachi Street: Untouched by time

nakamachi-street

Walking along this street you will feel like stepping into a different era! The black and white buildings known as namako-kabe storehouses, clay walls lined with tiles that are plastered, were built to protect the town after a large fire in 1888 that burnt down many buildings in the area.

nakamachi-street-facades

Here you’ll find traditional handcraft shops, cute cafes, restaurants serving local specialties, a museum and wells with clean, natural groundwater that anyone can drink from. This street beautifully illustrated the community spirit of Matsumoto, which culturally thrives from the rich natural environment surrounding it.

water-in-matsumoto-city
historical-facade-nakamachi-street


URL: http://nakamachi-street.com/en/

The Holy Waters of Oshino Hakkai

oshinohakkai

Before the pilgrimage, many would stop to wash themselves in water sources fed from Mt. Fuji. One such spot was Oshino Hakkai Spring, where there are eight ponds fed by the snow melted from Mt. Fuji that filtered down eventually resurfacing 80 years later.

oshino-hakkai
oshino-hakkai-transparent-waters
oshino-hakkai-transparent-waters-far

As a result, the humanly-unaltered water is so transparent that you can see every detail. Regarded as sacred, its beauty is truly mesmerizing. With the area designed to look like a traditional Japanese village and the iconic mountain in the background, you will feel like you are stepping into the shoes of a pilgrim.

Hours: 9am – 5pm
Admission: 300 yen
Address: Shibokusa, Oshino-mura, Minami-tsuru-gun
Access: 15-min bus ride from Fujisan Station on the Fujikyuko Line, get off at Oshino Hakkai Stop

Setsubun and mamemaki: where to go to chase the demons out

soybeans for mamemaki 1
If you find yourself confused as to why suddenly local supermarkets and convenience stores are stocking up on baked soy beans and showcasing them along with some demonic creatures, don’t be, there is a whole tradition connected to it. February 3rd is Setsubun, a traditional festival marking the end of Winter and the first day of Spring according to the old lunar calendar. At this crossroads of seasons it is believed that evil spirits or “oni” roam around, so people have to throw roasted soybeans at an imaginary oni or someone wearing an oni mask while you shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” meaning “Demons out! Luck in!” to usher in the good luck.

bean-throwing ritual

soybeans for mamemaki

Among the setsubun activities that you cannot miss is to eat eho-maki, the most representative setsubun food. Eho-maki is a big sushi roll meant to be eaten whole and in silence while you are thinking of a wish and facing a lucky direction. Every year a different direction is believed to be auspicious and this year it is south-south-east. You should also eat the soybeans, but not all of them, rather the same number of beans as your age so that you have a good health during the year. This is all meant to bring good fortune and chase out the evil spirits lurking around. Of course, you can buy everything you need and do it at home, but you can also go and experience the tradition firsthand in any local shrine or temple. Just have in mind that the more well-known the place, the bigger the crowds.

eho maki and setsubun candy

Below, we introduce a couple of popular and interesting places to experience Setsubun in the Tokyo area.

1. Setsubun festival 2018 in Tokyo Tower – combined experiences

By attending the Setsubun Spiritual Cleansing Ritual and Mamemaki inside the Main Observatory of Tokyo Tower you will surely make the most of your day. Along with enjoying the view and visiting Tokyo Tower, you can experience this traditional ritual performed by priests from the nearby Zozoji temple, starting around 10:45 am and ending around 11 am. If by any chance you miss it or opt for Zojoji temple instead, the ritual there is held from 12 am to 1 pm the same day. Tokyo Tower will also offer sales of 333 Ehomaki rolls (¥1,000 tax included, comes with tea) to be eaten for good fortune. Participating in these rituals won’t cost you a thing, you only need to pay for the usual admission ticket for the main observatory at 150 meters height. So why don’t you enjoy Setsubun on top of Tokyo?

Tokyo tower and Zojoji temple collage

Address:4 Chome-2-8 Shibakōen, Minato-ku, Tokyo-to
Admission: for Main Observatory for adults 900 yen, junior high school students and primary school pupils: 500 yen, children 4 years old and over400 yen

2. Sensou-ji in Asakusa

Another great place to experience Setsubun is Sensou-ji in Asakusa. You can spend the rest of your day sightseeing in this Tokyo hotspot of culture and history and participate in the Setsubun rituals in one of the oldest temples in Tokyo. In Sensou-ji they don’t tell the demons to get out, they only tell luck to get in. That’s because they believe that the temple is already clean of demons. Here, you can see the dance of the Seven Lucky Gods from 2:30 pm and then see celebrities and athletes throwing not only soybeans but also candy and various prizes to the crowd from 4:00 pm. The sacred rituals are scheduled from 11:30 am and 1:30 pm followed by bean-throwing at 2 pm and 4 pm respectively.
To have a glimpse of the atmosphere, take a look at a video of last year’s Setsubun in Sensou-ji shared on social media.


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Address: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo-to

3. Naritasan Shinjoji temple in Chiba

This is a beautiful temple and a sightseeing spot in its own right. On the 3rd of February it will hold three bean-throwing ceremonies: 11 am, 1:30 pm, and 4 pm, each lasting for about 5 minutes. At this temple they don’t say ”Demon out” either, only “Luck in!” because it is believed that this temple’s deity is so merciful that it wants to give even demons a chance to repent and reform.

Shinshoji temple Chiba

Address:Chiba Prefecture, Narita, 1

4. Gojoten shrine in Ueno

This shrine is definitely not as big and famous as the ones mentioned before, but we recommend visiting it on Setsubun for its rare ceremony. In Gojoten shrine located in Ueno there is a ritual named Ukera-no-shinji (うけらの神事) and it is actually a short drama performance, a custom remaining from old times. This year the event will start at 3 pm and will be followed by a bean-throwing ceremony. Also unique to this temple, following the drama performance, is buying special ukera-mochi, which is mochi, a rice cake made out of sticky rice, mixed with the plant okera or ukera as an older form of the same word.


A post shared by えりな (@eeeerinaaa) on

Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Uenokoen, 4−17

5. Shimokitazawa parade – Setsubun on the streets

For something different try experiencing Setsubun in Shimokitazawa and their famous Tengu Parade. It starts at Shinryuji temple at 2 pm and then spills through the Shimokitazawa shopping streets enveloping the whole neighborhood with its atmosphere. Tengu are long-nosed demons from Japanese mythology so people participating in the parade wear Tengu masks. The parade will be back at the temple to do some more bean-throwing at 4 pm. Unlike the other Setsubu events, this one starts a day before, on the 2nd of February at 8 pm in the evening at the north exit of Shimokitazawa station. The main parade is the next day.

Shimokitazawa tengu matsuri 1

Shimokitazawa tengu matsuri 2

Address: 2 Chome-36-15 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo-to

Shimokitazawa being the bustling youth neighborhood that it is, we suggest you stick around and enjoy its atmosphere some more by ending the night drinking at some izakaya or Japanese pub. You chased the demons out, you deserve it!

oni mask


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.

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Tokyo’s strawberry dessert heaven

berries-tart

Entering the ANA Intercontinental Hotel Lobby for the Strawberry Sensations Festival was beyond my expectations. The lobby was filled with the aroma of strawberries, probably because 150,000 strawberries were used to make all the desserts. There was a tower of 6,000 macaroons made from real strawberries standing at the center of the lobby. I enjoyed adoring all the sweets they had on display, including fresh strawberries in cute wooden crates. A woman was playing the harp while many people took pictures of what I could only describe as a small piece of heaven. After enjoying a little bit of champagne, everyone went upstairs for the actual tasting.

strawberry-tower-cake
strawberry-champagne-glass

I was in immediate disbelief at what was before my eyes. There were perhaps about 100 types of desserts to choose from, all arranged so beautifully that I felt almost guilty for taking one and ruining the perfect harmony that each plate of desserts had to offer.

strawberry-desserts-buffet
strawberry-and-matcha

The most impressive was the strawberry macaroon. I’ve never been a fan of macaroons, but that may be because the ones I had eaten before were all made in America. They were always dry, artificially colored and flavored, and too sweet to enjoy. But at the Strawberry Sensations Festival, I was shocked at how soft the inside was, and how the taste of real strawberries was the main flavor.

strawberry-macaroons

I’ve never had such an amazing macaroon in my life, especially one that didn’t leave me thirsty. All the desserts were amazing as well, not too overpowering of strawberry-flavor, just the right amount. Many of the dishes used the strawberries as a whole (not mixed into the dough/cream) and gave a fresh taste to my palate. Some of these desserts that included whole strawberries were the dorayaki, shortcake, mont blanc, and berry tart, to name just a few.

strawberry-cake
strawberry-cream-puffs

cute-strawberry-desserts

The desserts that did mix the strawberries into the food (such as the vanilla-strawberry cream, cream puff, strawberry fondue or waffle cone) had such a light flavor of strawberry that I could taste its authenticity, as opposed to the artificial flavors I’m used to having in the States. Every single strawberry that I had was consistently sweet and never lost its flavor, even with the addition of the accompanying sugars.

assortment-of-strawberry-desserts

A few of the shocking dishes were still quite delectable. There was a ham and strawberry pizza that did not taste like a dessert at all because the flavor of the strawberry crust was very subtly incorporated into the whole. The other strawberry oddity was a wrap of spinach and cheese. I think the salty flavors were stronger than the strawberry bread, and so it didn’t upset my taste buds. It was just shocking to see pink-colored bread and discover that it was savory instead of sweet. Perhaps this was made on purpose as a mind-game. Personally, I preferred the sweet strawberries over these salty strawberry treats but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

I especially enjoyed the white strawberries. Just the arrangement of the white strawberries in a glass bowl and on a 3-tier plate gave me the impression of elegance, luxury, and refinement. The white strawberries really looked like jewels that were on exquisite display.

white-strawberries

I realized for the first time that food can really be a beautiful art that people can enjoy. I had never tried a white strawberry before this day, so to have finally tried one is a complete rarity that not many outside of Japan can experience. The difference was quite extraordinary! I was expecting a subtle and sour flavor, but to my surprise, it was delicately sweet with a pinch of tartness to it. It was honestly like a magic show of flavor happening. The burst of tartness was really something that I’ve never experienced with fruit, let alone any food. It’s an experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget for the rest of my life.

white-strawberry
white-strawberry-desserts

Strawberry Sensations Festival

Date: From 1 January to 31 March 2018
Place: Restaurants and bars at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel
Cost: Each restaurant and bar offers different desserts individually priced, there are also unique tasting courses, for example, the “Strawberry Afternoon Tea” at the Atrium Lounge features several strawberry-themed desserts for 4,500 per person if reserved online.
Address: 1-12-33 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo, 107-0052
Access: One-minute walk from Tameike-sanno Station (Exit 13) on the Namboku and Ginza Subway line.
URL: Visit the hotel’s website here.

WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Christine Nguyen
After graduating from the States, I came to Japan to teach English. I studied abroad in Yamaguchi for one year and loved it so much that I wanted to return to live here. When people ask me why I love Japan, it’s very hard for me to answer with a quick response. There’s so much- Where do I even begin? I love how considerate, generous and respectful the people are. I love the attention to detail Japan has to everything. I love the sound of the language, as well as the written combinations of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. I love the nature that Japan has to offer, especially the beautiful moss that grows in old places. I love the food, skill and care given to each dish. I love the feeling of cleanliness, heritage, and advancement that Tokyo encompasses. I love how Japan values quality, whether it be from a stationery set to a bag, you can easily find a good one anywhere.
But besides my love for Japan, I also have other things that I’m passionate about. I love to paint using watercolors, especially that of sweets(you can see my paintings on instagram). I also enjoy playing piano, especially Joe Hisaishi songs. I also really enjoy studying Japanese!
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Ninja ID: nguyen

Understanding Sento culture

Have you ever visited a sento?

Take a minute to answer our survey and win a unique present from Japan

sento-cover

Sento is a public bath often found in urban residential areas. Unlike onsen, which use natural hot spring water, sento has a more utilitarian role in Japanese society, and before private bathrooms became the norm in Japan, it was the most common way to take a bath after long day at work.

If you have ever visited one, you might have encountered unfamiliar situations or wondered about some of the culture associated with this kind of establishments. We want to know about your experience! So please help us by answering this brief survey. Three of the people who answer it will receive one of these original pens in the shape of a Japanese character!

pen

You have until February 10th to submit your answer.

Japanese Manholes: Art Under Your Feet

By Alicia Quintard for 47Regions

There is so much to see in Japan. You can look up at the skyscrapers of Tokyo, look in the distance to see the peak of Mount Fuji, look on every side of Kyoto’s ancient cobbled streets. But did you know that there is a whole lot to see right under your feet?

Tiled manhole cover in Kawaguchi city. Photo
Tiled manhole cover in Kawaguchi city.

Japanese manhole covers aren’t everyone’s idea of typical Japanese art, but they’re certainly worth discovering. Creative and unique sewer covers can be found in most of Japan’s 809 cities and 47 prefectures. Each manhole design has been chosen to represent a certain aspect of the area in which it’s located, whether that be the environment, the history, and traditions, or the people. Some towns even have several different designs in the same city; you can go on your own art tour from street to street!

A manhole cover in Sapporo, in Japan's Northern island Hokkaido.
A manhole cover in Sapporo, in Japan’s Northern island Hokkaido.

The most elaborate manhole covers are finely detailed and even colored. The process of decorating them goes back to decades ago, in an effort to make the sewage system more appealing. That’s truly an example of finding beauty in even the dirtiest of places! In their essence, Japanese manholes reflect some core values of Japanese culture; respect (of people and the environment), attention to details and presentation, and bringing opposing elements together. If you walk around the streets of Tokyo, it is not uncommon to see an old shrine lodged in between big modern buildings. These contradictions are what a lot of today’s Japan looks like, and it reflects the rich history of the country. The traditional and the modern coexist, and it’s probably one of the reasons why Japan is such an interesting country to visit (and why there is an endless list of things to see).

Manhole cover from Hakodate, Hokkaido featuring squids
Manhole cover from Hakodate, Hokkaido featuring squids

Along the same lines, Japanese manholes are bringing beauty to sewers. Tourist and Japanese people alike love to discover the many designs while visiting various regions. The idea of collecting manhole cover pictures is so popular that the Gesuido Koho Platform Group even released manhole cards, not unlike sports cards. Each card contains a picture of the cover design, the geographic coordinates, and an explanation of the design. Since the project launched in April 2016, more than 220 designs from 46 different prefectures in Japan are available for collecting, and more than 1 million cards have been issued to date. The cards are handed out by local city offices. They certainly make great collections and the hunt for the cards creates great adventures around the country.

Kawaguchiko manhole, with Mount Fuji, Kawaguchi Lake, and a nearby bridge.
Kawaguchiko manhole, with Mount Fuji, Kawaguchi Lake, and a nearby bridge.

The manhole craze doesn’t stop there. People online are dedicating entire blogs to collecting manhole cover pictures, some having gathered around 6,000 pictures! Furthermore, some tour companies even offer bus tours that take people around to see several manhole covers (and collect the cards of course), and there is even a yearly manhole summit open to the public. If these activities aren’t your style, don’t worry; you won’t have any problems encountering your fair share of manhole covers wherever you end up going.
Sanrio Puroland, an attraction park in Western Tokyo run by the well-known Sanrio co., has used the popularity of manhole covers to promote their park in the hopes of attracting more tourists. Each year, over 1.5 million people visit the park, home of famous character Hello Kitty and other Japanese friends. In late 2017, Sanrio Puroland unveiled 10 new Hello Kitty manholes near the park. Talk about designer manholes!

New Hello Kitty manhole covers in Tama, Tokyo.
New Hello Kitty manhole covers in Tama, Tokyo.

So as you embark on your Japanese adventure, don’t forget to look down once in a while. You might see some street art worth seeing and capturing with a picture or two!

Have you fallen in love with Japanese manholes? If so, you are like Kevin and Steven, two Irishmen who have lived in Japan for years. Just recently, they’ve started their own screen printing company with the motivation of putting the beautiful Japanese manhole covers on t-shirts for the world to see. If you’re looking to wear your love of Japanese manholes on your chest, 47Regions has got just the project for you. There are currently 6 designs to choose from, and the t-shirts are available in a wide selection of colors and sizes. If you’re interested, please check out the project here. You can also check out @47Regions on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

japanese-manhole-ocver-tshirts

Learn more about the history behind specific manhole covers by checking out this article.

Check out the interesting variety of manhole covers around Shibuya here.

Travel back in time to Kawagoe, the little Edo. A day trip for art and culture lovers.

01 tower bell

Have been to almost all major tourist attractions in Tokyo and have no idea where else to go? If you want to escape from Tokyo’s hustle and bustle, visiting Kawagoe in suburb Tokyo will be a good choice. 35 minutes from Ikebukuro and you’ll feel like traveling back in time to the Japan of 150 years ago. Known as the little Edo, the nostalgic streets of Kawagoe exude a charming atmosphere of Edo, or old Tokyo. From old establishments boasting over a hundred years of history to modern stores offering the trendiest products, Kawagoe is a mix of new and old, past and present, and always offers something new and exciting for everyone at anytime.

Kawagoe discount pass premium: your best deal when visiting Kawagoe


If you want to travel in Japan as much as you like without paying a huge traffic bill, taking advantage of discount travel passes is a must! Tobu Railway’s “Kawagoe discount pass premium” and “Kawagoe discount pass” offers unlimited train travels between Ikebukuro Station and Kawagoe Station, as well as special discounts at participant stores in Kawagoe’s old streets.

On top of the above benefits, the premium pass includes unlimited city travel by Tobu buses within designated area. At only 950 yen, “Kawagoe discount pass premium” will get you to all major tourist attractions in Kawagoe. It is the best discount travel pass for visiting Kawagoe!

2-tobu-pass-and-discount-

You can buy a discount pass at the central no.1 ticket gate of Tobu Tojo Line. The ticket makes a good souvenir because it is designed to mimic a traditional festival costume.

In Japan the day gets dark at around 4pm in winter, so it’s better to head out earlier so that you have enough time to explore Kawagoe. Today I got up early and from Ikebukuro I took Tobu Tojo Line’s express train bound for Ogawamachi. Though it was morning rush hour, the train wasn’t as crowded as the always packed Yamanote Line trains. The train ride was far more comfortable and I could even take a seat and relax.The ride was very smooth, with comfortable seats, power outlets and free Wi-Fi connection. Eventually, after a while of looking out the window, I dozed off and before I knew it, I was already at Tobu Nikko Station.

08 riding the bus

From Kawagoe Station you can take a bus to the Ichibangai bus stop of Kawagoe. Get on the bus from the rear door. Just show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” to the driver as you get off.

09 bus stop
09 near the bus stop

Get off the bus at Otemachi station. Turn left, walk along the alley, soon the famous Bell of Time will be at sight.

Today’s art and culture trip in Kawagoe will start from the Bell of Time in the center of the old streets. Let me show you around!

Stop one: put on a kimono and take a leisure stroll along the historic old streets

The most exciting thing about visiting Kawagoe is the kimono experience. Put on a kimono and take a walk along the historic old streets is such a memorable experience that you’d feel like becoming an actress featuring in a historic drama and have your graceful appearance pictured at any corner of the streets.

Today I made a reservation for Coedo Vivian kimono rental shop, which is probably the oldest of its kind in Kawagoe. An all inclusive service from hair styling to kimono and accessories to getta wooden shoes costs only 2,160 yen. You may wear the kimono from 10am to 5pm. The price is rather reasonable in Japan.

14 kimono experience
14 trying on kimono
14 trying on obi belt

If you couldn’t decide which color suits you best, ask the kimono dresser for her professional advice.

15 ready to stroll the streets of kawagoe in kimono
15 kimono in the winter

Wearing a kimono in winter can be a bit cold. To keep warm you may bring a big scarf and a few heat packs just like I did. Get changed and we are ready to explore the old streets!

16 clock tower with kimono

The Bell of Time has undergone earthquake-resistant renovation in January 2017.

17 the streets of kawagoe

Walk from the Bell of Time to Ichibangai shopping streets you will see rows of historic Japanese warehouse buildings. These houses were designed to be fire resistant because a major fire disaster struck Kawagoe in the Edo period. Then the houses have been preserved to modern days. To preserve the precious Edo period cityscape, the Japanese authority has designated the area as Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings.

Every building has its own characteristic. From Japanese gargoyle roof tiles to black facades, it was like every bit of the buildings is telling its own story.
Every building has its own characteristic. From Japanese gargoyle roof tiles to black facades, it was like every bit of the buildings is telling its own story.
Wear a kimono and walk on the historic streets. Really feel like traveling back in time to the Edo period.
Wear a kimono and walk on the historic streets. Really feel like traveling back in time to the Edo period.

In Japan it’s a recent trend to put old houses to new uses. For example, you would see many old houses being turned into grocery stores or cafes, which you may not know what kind of shop it is simply by looking from outside. So it is also a nice surprise in your trip.

21 kawagoe streets 02
21 kawagoe streets 01

Take a closer look you will find a few western style buildings from Meiji or Taisho period standing among Japanese style ones without looking out of place. They seem to fit into the nostalgic atmosphere rather well.

Vintage canvas bags made by Japanese craftsmen.
Vintage canvas bags made by Japanese craftsmen.
Every store signage has its unique characteristic. Even a sewage cover looks like a designer's creation.
Every store signage has its unique characteristic. Even a sewage cover looks like a designer’s creation.

24 turtle house

Tired after a long walk? Why not stop for some desserts? Kameya is a famous Japanese confectionery shop with a history of about 230 years. Its main store is right on Ichibangai shopping street, and its Motomachi store has a limited edition turtle-shaped dorayaki pancake which not only looks nice but also comes with many flavors such as red bean, chestnut, and yam paste. I bought a yam paste dorayaki and started eating it in front of the shop. What a great experience!

Show you “Kawagoe discount pass premium” for a 5% discount!
Show you “Kawagoe discount pass premium” for a 5% discount!

Stop two: all kinds of local yam cuisine you can imagine

27 torokko meal

In Kawagoe you’ll find a variety of yam sweets sold almost in every corner of the streets. Even there are restaurants serving specialty yam meals. It is because Kawagoe was a prosperous river transport hub. Planting yam became popular as river transport got more and more convenient. As time went by, yam has become a specialty product of Kawagoe.

28 torokko exterior

For example, restaurant Torokko serves a yam-themed mini Kaiseki cuisine that includes 10 dishes such as yam rice, stirred tofu with yam, fried yam with grated radish, udon noodles with baked yam, and yam croquette. Every dish has yam in it. Really amazing that a vegetable as simple as a yam can become so many different cuisines while maintaining yam’s unique flavor. Don’t forget to show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” for a 5% discount and enjoy Kaiseki cuisine without paying a huge bill. And I reccomend you to make a reservation by phone or by mail three days in advance.

Restaurant Torokko is run by a local pottery store with a long history. A variety of pottery products are available for sale at the store. Dine and buy some souvenirs to bring home.
Restaurant Torokko is run by a local pottery store with a long history. A variety of pottery products are available for sale at the store. Dine and buy some souvenirs to bring home.

30-ceramic-int-and-ext

Next to the restaurant is a pottery workshop featuring atmospheric black tiles and white wall. If you’ve got some spare time, why not try your hands at pottery making and painting?

Stop three: recollect Japanese nostalgic sweets.

32 sweets

Walk from Ichibangai street to Candy Alley (Kashiya Yokocho), you’ll find several small shops that will remind you of your childhood. You know, it’s one of those small shops around the corner selling everything from candies to toys.

33 sweets

Check out how an amezaiku (a kind of traditional Japanese candy craft artistry) artist shapes malt syrups into various cartoon characters.

34 buying sweets 01
34 buying sweets 02

This Edoya store is located right at the entrance of Candy Alley. The pink exterior aroused my curiosity, so follow me and check it out.
Look at the shelves! So many different items! These candies are long sellers all Japanese people familiar with.

35 buying sweets interior

Check out these whistle candies, pop rocks candies, coke candies, juice and jelly candies. The store has got everything you can think of. There are even vintage toys that you seldom find in other shops. It’s really a one-stop shop for all kinds of candies and toys.

Put any sweets you want into a plastic jar and have it weighed for price.
Put any sweets you want into a plastic jar and have it weighed for price.
Japanese traditional toys, Kewpie dolls and “Menko” card games.
Japanese traditional toys, Kewpie dolls and “Menko” card games.
38 ame candy01
38 ame candy 02

Located in the Candy Alley, Tamariki candy shop boasts more than a hundred years of history. As I walked into the shop, a group of primary school students flooded in and everyone was buying candies with great enthusiasm. I suppose they are here on a school field trip. Anyway they are cute!

39-ame-candy

Look at these colorful hand-made candies! The store owner recommended me this pack of Okinawa black sugar candies that was invented a hundred years ago.

40 rice leaf 01
40 rice leaf 02

This Inabaya Honppu is famous for its hand-made yam donuts. Their signature products are hand-made Japanese traditional confectionery such as purple taro yam buns and yam yokan dessert.

Buy more than 1,000 yen and show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” to get a free hand-made yam donut.
Buy more than 1,000 yen and show your “Kawagoe discount pass premium” to get a free hand-made yam donut.

Stop four: a delicious combination of shrine and cafe

43 omusubi exterior

Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine is famous for giving good luck for love. There is a café named Musubi in the building next to the shrine. Since some ingredients are prayed before putting to use, every bite of food you eat is as if instilled with Gods’ and Goddess’ blessings.

44 cake

The café serves light meals and afternoon tea. All cakes and confectioneries are so delicately prepared. Because the shrine next door is known for giving good luck to marriage, the café serves berry mousse cakes decorated with a macaron, berries, and white chocolate. The cake looks like a bridal hair accessory and is so cute that I almost don’t know how to eat it! The sweet and sour berries and white chocolate mousse go so well with other. I could taste the different layers of ingredients inside it. A cake and a sip of hot tea, what a great duo to warm my body!

The café also has a savarin cake made from Kawagoe’s famous sake label “Kagamiyama”. The cake blends sake mousse with crushed Japanese kaki. It is a delicate cake for grownups.
The café also has a savarin cake made from Kawagoe’s famous sake label “Kagamiyama”. The cake blends sake mousse with crushed Japanese kaki. It is a delicate cake for grownups.

Enjoy an afternoon tea party with Gods and Goddesses. Maybe it will bring you happiness and good luck in love!

47 fishing for omikuji
47 torii gate
47-shrine

A visit to Hikawa Shrine is not complete without fishing up a fortune-telling paper strip hidden in fish-shaped containers and praying for good luck in love.

48 omikuji nagashi
48 omikuji

You may also try “Hitogata-nagashi“. You float a paper doll down a river so that all bad things are gone with it.

Stop 5: the night stays alive with its Taisho Roman glitter

50 taisho roman

Then I took a bus to Taisho-roman Street. As the name says, here you may see many buildings built in Taisho period and preserved until now. Everything from architecture style to signage exudes an exotic atmosphere.At night it was drizzling and the night sky of Kawagoe was kind of misty and illusory.

51 taisho roman 01
51 taisho roman 02

Most shops on Taisho-roman Street are about to close. By chance I passed by a Japanese confectionery shop that is still open. Being a food lover as I am, I have to drop in and have a taste!

The shop is called Iseya. Since its opening in the early Showa period, the shop owners have insisted on hand-making all products. The current owner is the third generation to run the shop.
The shop is called Iseya. Since its opening in the early Showa period, the shop owners have insisted on hand-making all products. The current owner is the third generation to run the shop.

53 sweet

The appearances of yam yokan dessert and baked dango sweet rice dumplings may not look as impressive as those modern pastries, but the flavor is for sure real stuff handed down from generation to generation. After eating, I have refueled my energy and ready to take a bus back to Kawagoe Station.

Through a day trip in Kawagoe, I have had many precious memories. Kawagoe is such a lively place where new and old coexists. Every turn at a street corner may bring you new discoveries. If you like traditional Japanese cityscape, historic buildings, and a slower-paced life, I promise you will fall in love with Kawagoe, just like I did!

Information
Travel information for Kawagoe
http://www.tobujapantrip.com/en/area/ikebukuro_kawagoe/access.html
Tickets and discount passes
http://www.tobu.co.jp/foreign/tojo/en/discount/
Route map of Tobu Bus
http://www.tobu-bus.com/en/kawagoe/
Café Torocco
http://touho-yamawa.co.jp/en-us/

Fuji Five Lakes in Autumn: Stunning Colors of Japan’s Foliage (Part 1)

Fabulous view of autumn colors from Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway
Fabulous view of autumn colors from Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway

Mt. Fuji puts on a new look every season. Fall is a great time to visit the Fuji Five Lakes (Yamanakako, Kawaguchiko, Saiko, Shojiko and Motosuko) because you get to observe the Japanese custom of viewing autumn colors. While here, take the time to explore Mt. Fuji and be awed a dazzling display of autumn colors around this World Cultural Heritage Site. Autumn is the perfect time to enjoy nature’s blessings in Japan.

We took a direct bus to Kawaguchiko from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal
We took a direct bus to Kawaguchiko from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal

If you want to visit the Mt. Fuji area from Tokyo, you can either take the train or a direct bus from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal to Kawaguchiko. Relax for about two hours on the bus before arriving at Kawaguchiko Station, a bustling station in the area.

Autumn leaf viewing around Kawaguchiko

Cruise Kawaguchiko on Ensoleille
Cruise Kawaguchiko on Ensoleille
Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway reaches the summit in three minutes. Once a top, one is greeted with a spectacular view.
Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway reaches the summit in three minutes. Once a top, one is greeted with a spectacular view.
Limited edition goods are on sale at this tea house at the mountain top
Limited edition goods are on sale at this tea house at the mountain top

Areas around Kawaguchiko and Yamanakako are known for tourism, due to their convenient access and transportation. Mt. Fuji Pass, for example, gives you unlimited rides on nearly all the buses operating in the Fuji Five Lakes area. This time, we decided to get a bit closer to Mt. Fuji by taking a pleasure boat called Ensoleille around Kawaguchiko. After the refreshing cruise, we took Mt. Kachikachi Ropeway to the top of Tenjosan, which measures 1,075 meters above ground. The panoramic view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. Shades of autumn came in stark contrast with dark greens of conifer trees, looking like a scene straight out of an oil painting. This autumn version of Japan is only available to visitors taking the ropeway.

Kawaguchiko Autumn Leaves Festival is worth a visit
Kawaguchiko Autumn Leaves Festival is worth a visit

The Autumn Leaves Festival is a must see at Kawaguchiko. On a sunny day, the majestic Mt. Fuji comes into view with leaves in the color of red and gold. Consisting of 60 gigantic maple trees on a long path, the Maple Corridor lights up after dark, invoking a fantasy atmosphere totally different from day time.

Lots of fun places to visit around Kawaguchiko and Yamanakako

A view of Mt. Fuji from Oshino Ninja Village
A view of Mt. Fuji from Oshino Ninja Village
Black dango looks as mysterious as a ninja
Black dango looks as mysterious as a ninja

Besides nature, there are a bunch of recreational and entertainment facilities on the way to Yamanakako. Visiting these places will definitely make your trip more memorable! The Oshino Ninja Village, for example, gives you a once in a lifetime chance to dress up as a ninja. You can also enjoy ninja shows and try making your way through a trick house.

Lisa and Gaspard Town at Fuji-Q Highland is a popular check-in attraction on social media
Lisa and Gaspard Town at Fuji-Q Highland is a popular check-in attraction on social media
Limited edition Mt Fuji cookies in purple and yellow sweet potato flavors
Limited edition Mt Fuji cookies in purple and yellow sweet potato flavors
Limited edition purple sweet potato panini
Limited edition purple sweet potato panini

For those looking for excitement, Fuji-Q Highland is the place to go. There are quite a few Guinness World record breaking roller coasters as well as the Lisa and Gaspard Town, a popular check-in attraction on the social media. Get your hands on limited edition Mt. Fuji cookies in purple and yellow sweet potato flavors or a purple sweet potato panini to quench your hunger.

Board the amphibian bus to explore the area
Board the amphibian bus to explore the area
What about fried chicken black as lava?
What about fried chicken black as lava?

Among the Fuji Five Lakes, Yamanakako is the closest to Mt Fuji and the largest. A rare but beautiful phenomenon called Diamond Fuji can be viewed from here. Last time we took the Ensoleille to cruise the lake, but this time, we have opted YAMANAKAKO NO KABA, an amphibian bus that takes visitors deep into the woods before diving into Yamanakako. Learn about the wild life of Yamanakako by listening to the tour guide, who is good at keeping audience engaged. For those who don’t understand Japanese, free audio guide is provided in multiple languages, including Chinese, English, Thai and Indonesian.

The “Yuyake no Nagisa, Fall Foilage Festival” at Yamanakako is romantic and charming
The “Yuyake no Nagisa, Fall Foilage Festival” at Yamanakako is romantic and charming

The Asahigaoka Lakeside Park at Yamanakako holds the “Yuyake no Nagisa, Fall Foilage Festival” every year, featuring a 600 meter long maple corridor with falling leaves as the red carpet. The gradient of yellow, orange and red leaves is visually pleasing and romantic.

Capsule Hotel—smart and economical accommodation

The CABIN & LOUNGE HIGHLAND STATION INN is not far from the station.
The CABIN & LOUNGE HIGHLAND STATION INN is not far from the station.
The hotel provides full amenity and a comfortable semi-double bed, which is a bit larger than a single one.
The hotel provides full amenity and a comfortable semi-double bed, which is a bit larger than a single one.
Hotel guests receive free admission to Fujiyama Museum. How about ordering a photogenic Mt. Fuji dessert and upload the photo to your favorite social media?
Hotel guests receive free admission to Fujiyama Museum. How about ordering a photogenic Mt. Fuji dessert and upload the photo to your favorite social media?
Hotel guests can enjoy Fujiyama Onsen with a discount price
Hotel guests can enjoy Fujiyama Onsen with a discount price

We have decided to make CABIN & LOUNGE HIGHLAND STATION INN our home for one night. Opened in April 2017, this capsule hotel is not far from the station and easily accessible. The room is quite comfortable, equipped with full amenity and a semi-double bed, which is a little bit bigger than a single bed.
All hotel guests are entitled to free entry at Fuji-Q Highland and Fuji-Q Highland Free Pass discount. For hot spring lovers, discount price also applies to Fujiyama Onsen. Worried about transportation? There is free shuttle bus operating from Fuji-Q Highland to Fujiyama Onsen. Hotel guests can also visit the Fujiyama Museum for free. The museum houses various paintings of Mt. Fuji and sells a wide variety of Mt. Fuji themed goods—even the dessert at the coffee shop was designed in the image of Mt. Fuji, a spiritual symbol of Japan.

Buffet at Highland Resort Hotel and Spa
Buffet at Highland Resort Hotel and Spa
Seats facing Fuji-Q Highland feature a grand view of roller coasters
Seats facing Fuji-Q Highland feature a grand view of roller coasters

If you are a gourmet, you can’t ignore the buffet at Highland Resort Hotel and Spa. There is a wide array of Japanese, Chinese and western dishes to satisfy your palate. You can either pick a seat facing Mt. Fuji to feel its presence or a seat facing the Fuji-Q Highland to see people screaming away on roller coasters!

We used Mt. Fuji Pass to access the following attractions:
–Kawaguchiko pleasure boat Ensoleille (free ride upon showing the pass)
–Mount Kachikachi Ropeway (free ride upon showing the pass)
–Fuji-Q Highland (free entry upon showing the pass and access to one attraction for free)
–Fujikyu Bus (unlimited rides on designated buses touring the Fuji Five Lakes area)

Fuji Five Lakes in Autumn: Stunning Colors of Japan’s Foliage (Part 2)

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

A day with the family in the snow!

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Located on the southern slope of Mt. Fuji in Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture at an altitude of 1,300 m, Snowtown Yeti is a ski and snowboarding resort offering a myriad of fun activities for each member of the family. Whether you are an experienced skier or just a beginner, the park offers four different runs, with different degrees of inclination, averaging between 11 to 25. Choose the appropriate run according to your level and hop on a lift or the magic carpet back to the top and slide down as many times as you want.

Snowtown Yeti is the perfect weekend get-away due to its proximity to Tokyo, easily reachable in two hours and a half via a direct bus departing Shinjuku Station, as well as buses from the nearby Mishima, Gotemba and Fuji Stations. Besides exciting slopes for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, the resort features day care facilities and a playground area in the snow for those families with small children, as well as a restaurant offering warm meals and a souvenir shop carrying everything from ski gear to unique mementos from the park.

Snowtown Yeti has one of the longest ski seasons in Japan, since it opens its doors in mid-October and this season it will stay open until April 8th, offering as well unique opportunities such as skiing at nighttime.

Two of our WAttention Ninja from the Philippines got the opportunity to experience a full day of skiing and snowboarding with their children at Snowtown Yeti and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Melissa Borja

Our family had a great time at Snowtown Yeti! The Fujikyu Direct Linerbus that took us to the resort departed on time at 7:30am and we arrived at the resort a few minutes before 10am. I noticed that the ski wear and gear were clean and almost new. I was glad because we did not bring anything except our goggles and gloves! The dressing room was spacious too, which made it very convenient for me when I dressed up my baby. We were lucky to visit on a sunny day and the view of Mt. Fuji was stunning and perfect for an Instagram post!

The area on the left side of the slope is for beginners like me and my husband, while the rest of the slope is for the more advanced skiers like my daughter. Everyone in my family enjoyed our day at Snowtown Yeti because there was something for everyone. After skiing, we had a warm lunch at the restaurant which is equipped with wifi. In the afternoon, we had fun sleigh riding and played in the snow with our baby girl until it was time to board the bus again at 4:20 pm. Before we headed home, we managed to sneak in some shopping for “omiyage” at the resort souvenir store.

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My whole family was really excited for this trip to Snowtown Yeti! My kids’ face lit up as soon as Mt. Fuji came to view. I really liked that the rental station, the lockers, changing rooms and toilet are all conveniently stationed under one roof. While some people prefer a ski-in, ski-out resort, I prefer this resort’s layout in that I can easily navigate through the other facilities of the resort without worrying about slippery pavements and walkways. The signage and maps around the resort were also easy to understand. The restaurants and shops are spacious and provide a wide range of choices for lunch and snacks.
My wife skied mostly in the beginner slope, while me and my daughter navigated the more difficult slopes. I was glad there was also an area where kids and beginners like my son can practice. The Children’s Playroom was still closed at the time of our visit, but we were glad that the area for sleigh-riding was already open. After skiing, we sleighed to our heart’s content. We had such a great time, that we almost lost track of time, so we rushed to the bus bound for Tokyo just in the nick of time!

Edward Borja

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Sample schedule using the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus from Shinjuku Station
schedule

Snowtown Yeti

Open: Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., weekends and public holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., all-night skiing 3:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning (available on certain days).
Open mid-october to early April of every year.
Address: 2428 Aza Fujiwara, Suyama, Susono-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture 410-1231
Phone: 055-998-0636
Website: http://www.yeti-resort.com/en/
Access: Take the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus near Shinjuku west exit, in front of Kogakuin University.
Price: Yeti Liner Package (Yeti direct liner bus + rental ski + 1 day ticket) Adult 9,000-9,500 JPY, Child (6 to 11) 7,000-7,500 JPY. Please check Snowtown Yeti’s website for all-night skiing rates and other pricing information.

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

Skiing and Snowboarding on Japan’s most iconic mountain

skiing-cover

Located two and a half hours away from Tokyo, Snowtown Yeti is a ski and snowboard resort found on the southern slope of Mt. Fuji at an altitude of 1,300 m. Although it offers breathtaking views of the iconic mountain, people come here to slide down its four different runs, featuring an inclination range between 11 degrees and 25 degrees for those who feel more adventurous.

The park is easily reachable by a direct bus departing Shinjuku Station, as well as buses from the nearby Mishima, Gotemba and Fuji Stations. Snowtown Yeti is the first ski resort in Japan to open its doors around mid-October when the slopes are covered with man-made snow; this season, the park will remain open up until April 8th. At the store, visitors can find all they need in order to spend a fun day in the snow, from ski and snowboarding rental gear, to goggles and hats, available for sale.

The park also offers a restaurant to cozy up with a heartwarming meal and a souvenir shop. And in some select days, the park also remains open through the night for those wanting to join an all-night skiing experience.

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

Fredrik Follaug

The bus ride to Snowtown Yeti was really comfortable and convenient, since it takes you directly from the middle of Shinjuku to the slopes of Mt. Fuji. The staff at Snowtown Yeti was very kind and helped us find everything we needed for a good trip. The winter gear we rented was of a good quality and they had many different colors available to choose from. The shop had a great variety of gloves, goggles and hats; lots of different souvenirs and most importantly: a good variety of candy!
The security lockers were very handy as you could place your valuables inside and enjoy skiing without worrying. The weather was really good for skiing the whole day, and the view from the top of the slope was really beautiful, as you could see Mt. Fuji with all its beautiful colors of late autumn. The snow on the slope was really good despite it being man-made, so smooth that it was like skiing on the clouds, and I had no trouble at all maneuvering through the crowd of people on the slope. The slope itself was good for skiers of all levels and we actually became friends with the Japanese skiers, who were very kind and stroke up a conversation with us on the lift to the top of the slope. They were also crazy good at snowboarding, doing so many different tricks and jumping all around. I had a wonderful time at Snowtown Yeti and I would love to come back again.
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I was really excited to go skiing at Mt Fuji as it was my first time skiing in Japan and I had heard nothing but good things about it. The place easily lived up to the expectations, as the snow was really good, the equipment flawless and when we arrived we were already at the top ready to ski down!
The slope was perfect for both inexperienced and experienced skiers alike. There was also a restaurant with good and relatively cheap food as well as multiple stands with delicious treats and a nice little cafe. We also enjoyed looking around in the small shop where you can buy ski equipment and souvenirs, in all shapes and forms from clothes to sweets.
The view was also really beautiful, although we went at the begining of December, there hadn’t really fallen any snow yet, but I can only imagime how beautiful the scenery must be later in the winter.
I could definitely see myself going there again with a couple of friends when more slopes are open for skiing. If you are in Tokyo and looking for a close and good ski experience it is definitely worth checking out Snowtown Yeti ski resort, you won’t regret it.

Jens Evald-Schelde

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J3-Yeti-christmas-tree

Sample schedule using the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus from Shinjuku Station
schedule

Snowtown Yeti

Open: Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., weekends and public holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., all-night skiing 3:30 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning (available on certain days).
Open mid-october to early April of every year.
Address: 2428 Aza Fujiwara, Suyama, Susono-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture 410-1231
Phone: 055-998-0636
Website: http://www.yeti-resort.com/en/
Access: Take the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus near Shinjuku west exit, in front of Kogakuin University.
Price: Yeti Liner Package (Yeti direct liner bus + rental ski + 1 day ticket) Adult 9,000-9,500 JPY, Child (6 to 11) 7,000-7,500 JPY. Please check Snowtown Yeti’s website for all-night skiing rates and other pricing information.

Check out the report of another group of Ninjas who visted Snowtown Yeti last February. Or if you are travelling with kids, then check out the report from this Filipino family and learn about their day in the snow.

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

Another 3hr trip – Shinjuku

shinjuku-view

another-3-hrs-trip-red

How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

 

Shinjuku 新宿

An average of 3.47 million people use Shinjuku Station every day, making it the world’s busiest station according to the Guinness World Records. Apart from being the place where JR lines, private lines and subway lines converge, Shinjuku is also known as the administrative center of Tokyo due to the presence of the majestic Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. You will have no trouble finding fancy restaurants and fun entertainment in this town which never sleeps. Visiting Shinjuku will definitely make your trip more enjoyable and memorable.

1-yellowShinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal バスタ新宿 / Shinjuku Service Center

Although Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal is a transportation hub for express buses heading all over Japan, it also has a variety of restaurants offering a satisfying choice of food and clothes shops where you can kill time before your departure. If you have trouble finding a coin locker, the Shinjuku Service Counter on the third floor is there to help, offering luggage delivery and storage services. After stowing away your luggage, it’s time to stroll around and enjoy the last three hours of your trip in Tokyo.

Shinjuku-Expressway-Bus-Terminal

Hours: 6:30-23:00
Access: JR Shinjuku Station South Exit
Address: Located inside the Tourist Information Center Tokyo at the third floor of Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal. 5-24-55 Sendagaya, Shibuya.
URL:http://www.sagawa-exp.co.jp/ttk/english/servicecenter/basta.html

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Tokyo-Metropolitan-Government-Building-Observatories

Hours: 9:30-23:00 (the South Observation Deck is open until 17:30 and the North Observation Deck is open until 23:00)
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station West Gate Exit. Take the elevator headed for the observatories on the first floor of the first building after arrival.

2-yellowTokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories 東京都庁展望室

One of the must-dos in Tokyo is to take in the city’s aweinspiring, magnificent skyline. Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower both offer great views but Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is the place where you can enjoy the city’s horizon for free. Measuring 202 meters in height, the observatory decks offer a glimpse of Mt Fuji on a clear day between December and February. It might be a good idea to wave goodbye to the iconic mountain before departure!

Address: 2-8-1 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku
URL:http://www.yokoso.metro.tokyo.jp/index.html (Japanese)

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3-yellowShinjuku Gyoen 新宿御苑

Established over 100 years ago, this park was an Imperial garden before being opened to the public following World War II. Shinjuku Gyoen combines three styles of garden: French Formal, English Landscape and Japanese Traditional. It is a marvel of the perfect blend of Japanese and Western aesthetics and really worth a visit. From cherry blossoms in spring to the soft greens of summer, Shinjuku Gyoen is an ideal place to enjoy the change of seasons.

Shinjuku-Gyoen
Hours: 9:00-16:00, Closed on Mondays (If Monday is a holiday, then it is closed on the following day)
Admission: Infants free of charge, elementary and junior high school students 50 Yen, adults 200 Yen
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station South Exit or 5 minutes’ walk from Tokyo Subway Marunouchi Line Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station Exit 1
Address: 11 Naito-machi, Shinjuku
URL: http://fng.or.jp/shinjuku/ (Japanese)

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Hanazono-Shrine
4-yellowHanazono Shrine 花園神社

Hanazono Shrine was known as the protector of the district long before Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Edo Period. Before its relocation, the historic shrine was housed at the site of today’s Isetan Shinjuku Department Store. Due to a stage being built inside during reconstruction after a fire, entertainment shows and traditional dances began to take place here in the Edo Period. The shrine is a popular place to pray for good business and prosperity. Why not try your luck here?

Access: 7 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit
Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku
URL: http://www.hanazono-jinja.or.jp/mt/top/ (Japanese)

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5-yellowNatural Hot Spring Thermae-yu 天然温泉テルマー湯

Enjoy Izu’s Jindai-no-yu natural hot spring right in the bustling heart of Shinjuku. This is a great place to relax the mind and body for travelers. Known as the beautification spring, the mild water is high in quality and can soften the skin. There are six other relaxing facilities including carbonic acid bath and sauna to choose from. Not a bad idea to soak in before flying off.

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Hours: 11:00-9:00
Access: 9 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit
Address: 1 -1-2, Kabukicho, Shinjuku
URL: http://thermae-yu.jp/ (Japanese)

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SAMURAI-MUSEUM

Hours: 10:30-21:00
Admission: Free for children under 3, 800 Yen for 12 and under, 1,800 Yen for adults
Access: 8 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit

6-yellow SAMURAI MUSEUM サムライミュージアム

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Japan? Many people associate Japan with samurai, a culture that is not only confined to history books but still alive in modern Japan. The Samurai Museum introduces the authentic samurai spirit through a display of relics, armors and all sorts of items. A free 60 to 90 minute guided tour is recommended for those with more time. Put on a samurai helmet and costume for a photo shoot and get blown away by a reenactment of a sword fight.

Address: 2-25-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Url: http://www.samuraimuseum.jp/en/index.html

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7-yellowGodzilla Head ゴジラヘッド

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Godzilla’s debut , the Shinjuku Toho Building has installed the giant head of this monster on its outdoor terrace. Passers by on the ground can take a picture of Godzilla breaking its way through high-rise buildings—a nice souvenir to look back on!

Access: 5 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit
Address: 1-19-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku

Godzilla-Head

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Shinjuku-Omoide-Yokocho
Access: 6 minutes’ walk from JR Shinjuku Station East Exit or West Exit
URL: http://shinjuku-omoide.com
6-yellow Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho 新宿西口思い出横丁

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, a bunch of old, low story buildings occupying the prime location of Shinjuku, is the best place to observe the life of office workers in Japan as they come here after work for a drink to unwind. It is a trip down memory lane for many because of the well-preserved atmosphere of the Showa Period (1926-1989). The eateries and bars here provide mouthwatering cuisine and a place of communication between travelers and locals.

Another 3hr trip – Shinagawa

shinagawa-view

another-3-hrs-trip-red

How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

 

SHINAGAWA 品川

Shinagawa was a post station (a place for travelers to rest and resupply) on the Tokaido, the main road taking travelers from Tokyo to Kyoto in the Edo period. Although known as a town which provided lodging to weary travelers in the past, the Shinagawa of today plays an important role in the transportation and commerce sectors. Discover a different side of the city by taking a stroll along the Tokaido highway while you imagine a Japan without high technology, or walk a bit further to enjoy the scenery of Tennozu Canal.

1-yellowMaxell AQUA PARK SHINAGAWA マクセルアクアパーク品川

The park features the world’s first touch controlled aquarium and a gigantic underwater tunnel where you can watch all kinds of fish dancing around you. The 360-degree stadium, equipped with water curtains, lights and sound, is where the dolphin show takes place. Jumping dolphins and splashes of water may be just what you need to make your trip more exciting and vigorous.

Maxell-AQUA-PARK-SHINAGAWA

Hours: 10:00-22:00
Access: 2 minutes’ walk from Shinagawa Station Takanawa Exit
Admission: High school students or older 2,200 Yen, elementary and middle school students 1,200 Yen, children 4 years and over 700 Yen. *Extra charges apply to attractions and performance shows
Address: 4-10-30 Takanawa, Minato-ku
URL:http://www.aqua-park.jp/aqua/en/

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Shinatatsu-Shinagawa
2-yellowShinatatsu Shinagawa 品達品川

Just next to Shinagawa Station and below the railway tracks of the Keikyu Line lies Shinatatsu, an alley lined with seven distinct ramen shops and five donburi rice bowl dishes. Whether you’re a big fan of tonkotsu or shio, the different flavors are guaranteed to satisfy picky eaters. Before hopping on a train, don’t forget to enjoy some delicious slurping here!

Hours: 11:00-23:00 (Hours vary from store to store)
Access: 1 minute’s walk from Shinagawa Station Takanawa Exit
Address: 3-26-20 Takanawa, Minato-ku
URL:http://www.shinatatsu.com/index.php (Japanese)

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3-yellowGotenyama Garden 御殿山庭園

Gotenyama was a notable spot for cherry blossoms viewing during the Edo period and it also served as a hunting ground for the Tokugawa Shogunate. For those interested in art, its beauty is captured by ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai in the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The garden belongs to Gotenyama Trust City, and is home to four hundred cherry trees, attracting tourists from both Japan and abroad every spring. In summer enjoy hydrangea, in autumn, red leaves and gingko, and in winter camellia hiemalis flowers. Enjoy a cup of tea at the tea house and let time pass you by in this colorful, aromatic garden.

Gotenyama-Garden
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Shinagawa Station Takanawa Exit
Address: 4-7-36 Kita Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku (inside Tokyo Marriott Hotel)

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Shinagawa-juku
4-yellowShinagawa-juku 品川宿

Shingawa-juku was one of the post stations along the Tokaido (a road connecting Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period). It is located between present-day Kita-Shinagawa Station and Aomono-Yokocho Station. Although the area sustained fire damage in the past and is not as crowded as it used to be hundreds of years ago, a stroll through this nostalgic neighborhood is still charming.

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5-yellowTennozu Isle 天王洲アイル

Located in Tokyo Bay, Tennozu Isle is popular among Tokyoites as a holiday resort. The area is home to a variety of cultural establishments such as art galleries and theatres surrounded by water and green spaces. This is the ideal place to encounter Japanese art and culture. There are also chic shops and restaurants on the waterfront for you to explore. Visit Tennozu Isle and indulge in a relaxing atmosphere in the middle of the bustling city of Tokyo.

Tennozu-Isle

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Shibaura-Chuo-Park
6-yellow Shibaura Chuo Park 芝浦中央公園

A calm oasis nestled in the middle of busy streets, Shibaura Chuo Park is where wild nature joins in perfect harmony with the skyscrapers of Tokyo. If you happen to visit between May and mid- October, you’ll have the opportunity to see roses in full bloom.

Hours: 7:00-17:00 (January to April, October to December) 6:00-19:00 (May to September)
Access: 10 minutes’ walk from Shinagawa Station East Exit
Address: 1-2-28 Konan, Minato-ku
Url: http://shibaurachuopark.com/shibaura-chuo-park (Japanese only)

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7-yellowSHINAGAWA SEASON TERRACE 品川シーズンテラス

The open terrace on the second floor of Shinagawa Season Terrace commands an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, with cherry blossoms blooming in the background in spring and vivid autumn leaves adding a touch of nostalgia during fall. You can also take in a gorgeous view of the tower in the evening with all its lights on. If you are a lover of Japanese drama, don’t miss the chance to visit this actual shooting location.

SHINAGAWA-SEASON-TERRACE

Access: 6 minutes’ walk from Shinagawa Station Konan Exit
Address: 1-2-70 Konan, Minato-ku
Url: http://shinagawa-st.jp/en/

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Tozenji-Temple
Access: 11 minutes’ walk from Shinagawa Station
Address: 3-16-16 Takanawa, Minato-ku
6-yellow Tozenji Temple 東禅寺

This temple has a history that dates back to the Edo period. In 1859, one year after Britain and Japan signed a treaty of commerce, the British Embassy was opened in the temple precinct. However, the temple was attacked by locals who fiercely resisted foreign intrusion. It is said that sword cuts and bullet marks still remain in the pillar of the Okushuin and the genkan. History comes to life when you step into this magnificent temple.

Another 3hr trip – Ikebukuro

ikebukuro-view

another-3-hrs-trip-red

How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

 

IKEBUKURO 池袋

With over 2.5 million visitors per day, Ikebukuro Station is one of the busiest transportation hubs in Tokyo. Thanks to all the people passing through, Ikebukuro is as lively and bustling as Shinjuku and Shibuya. Expect to encounter a mosaic of traditional Japanese culture, history, fashion and subculture in this place. The best way to learn about this vibrant location is to pay it a visit and see it for yourself.

1-yellowSouth Ikebukuro Park 南池袋公園 / Racines FARM to PARK

A seven minute walk from Ikebukuro Station’s East Gate Exit takes you to an oasis tucked away in the middle of a bustling city. Enjoy a moment’s zen at South Ikebukuro Park and have a hearty brunch at Racines FARM to PARK, a café owned by a popular restaurant called Racines Boulangerie Bistro. It’s not a bad idea to fill your stomach before embarking on a three hours walk!

South-Ikebukuro-Park
South Ikebukuro Park 南池袋公園
Hours: 8:00-22:00
Access: 7 minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station East Exit
Address: 2-21-1 South Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Racines FARM to PARK
Hours: 8:00-22:00 (Weekday) 9:00-22:00 (Weekend and holiday)
URL: http://racines-park.com/ (Japanese)

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2-yellowToden Arakawa Line 都電荒川線 / Toden Zoshigaya Sta. 都電 雑司ヶ谷駅

Toden Arakawa Line is the only remaining streetcar line in Tokyo, travel ing between Minowabashi and Waseda. If you are at South Ikebukuro Station, walk towards Higashi Ikebukuro Station and you’ll soon see Toden Zoshigaya Station. Watch as the cute-retro streetcar roam slowly through the streets of modern Tokyo, and if time is on your side, we strongly recommend that you take the tram and experience a different facet of Tokyo.

Access: 13 minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station East Exit
Address: 3-25 South Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

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3-yellowKishimojin-do Temple 鬼子母神堂

Located in the heart of Zoshigaya, Kishimojin-do Temple is where locals visit to pray for a safe childbirth. The main building was constructed in 1664 and has undergone several renovations that have left traces of history on the architecture. The trees along the stone paved path connecting Toden Kishimojin Mae Station and the Buddhist temple are 400 years old and as intriguing as ever.

Kishimojin-do-Temple

Access: 15 minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station East Exit or get off at Toei Arakawa Line Kishimojin Mae Station.
Address: 3-15-20 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

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SK-Y-CIRCUS-Sunshine-6-0-Observatory-SKY-CIRCUS-and-VR
4-yellowSKY CIRCUS Sunshine 60 Observatory SKY CIRCUS サンシャイン 6 0 展望台

Built in the 1970s, the skyscraper Sunshine 60 is symbolic of Japan’s economic boom. This historical landmark has witnessed many changes in Tokyo over the past decades. Today, it’s not only an observatory with an extraordinary view, but also an entertainment space offering a full sensory experience through virtual reality technologies. Fly through the skies of Tokyo and get transported to the future!

Hours: 10:00-22:00
Access: 8 minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station Exit 35 or walk for 4 minutes from Toei Arakawa Line Ikebukuro 4-chome Station
Address: SUNSHING CITY Sunshine 60, 3-1-1 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Url: http://www.skycircus.jp/english/

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5-yellowRINGO Ikebukuro RINGO 池袋店

The taste of RINGO’s apple pies is one of a kind. The apple pie has a crispy crust, melt-in-your-mouth apple filling and rich custard cream with the perfect blend of sweetness and flavor. The rich dessert is a harmony of taste, smell and feel for your senses. No wonder there is always a long line in front of the Ikebukuro store, which is the one and only branch in Tokyo.

Hours: 10:00-22:00
Access: Ikebukuro Station East Exit
Address: JR Ikebukuro Station 1 F, 1-28-2 Minami Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Url: http://ringo-applepie.com/(Japanese)

RINGO-Ikebukuro-RINGO

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6-yellow Edogawa Rampo Memorial Center for Popular Culture Studies, Rikkyo University / 立教大学江戸川乱歩記念大衆文化研究センター

Edogawa-Rampo-Memorial-Center-for-Popular-Culture-Studies,Rikkyo-University
Hours: 10:30-16:00 (Wednesdays and Fridays unless on holidays)
Access: 7 minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station West Exit
Address: 3-34-1 Nishi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku
Url: http://www.rikkyo.ac.jp/research/institute/rampo/ (Japanese only)
Taro Hirai , (Pen Name Edogawa Rampo) is widely regarded as the father of Japanese mystery novels. He was greatly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and adopted a pseudonym based on the Japanese phonetic pronunciation of the American writer’s name. He moved into a house next to Rikkyo University in 1934 where he lived until his death in 1965. Renamed as the Edogawa Rampo Memorial Center for Popular Studies, Rikkyo University. His library has around 20,000 books and documents and is now open to the public every Wednesday and Friday. Though located a bit far from the house, the Main Dining Hall of the university, built in 1919, is also worth a visit for travelers looking for a local experience.

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7-yellowSEIBU Tourist Information Center Ikebukuro 西武ツーリストインフォメー ションセンター池袋

SEIBU Tourist Information Center Ikebukuro is operated by staff who speak English, Chinese and various other languages.They are dedicated to providing travelers with timely assistance and travel information about Ikebukuro and Seibu Line. Before departing for Narita Airport, you can get the Skyliner Value Ticket with special discount price here and transfer at Keisei Ueno Station or Nippori Station.The Skyliner train goes from downtown Tokyo to Narita Airport in as little as 36 minutes, so you have plenty of time to shop around at Ikebukuro Station, which is adjacent to Seibu Department Store and Tobu Department Store.

SEIBU-Tourist-Information-Center-Ikebukuro
Hours: 8:00-18:00 (Ticket counter: 8:00-15:00)
Access: 1F Ikebukuro Station East Exit
Url: visit website

My second minshuku experience with an intense autumn workout in the rice field

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by Chew Yan Qiao

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There is a Chinese saying [一次生,两次熟] which means ‘foreign at first, but familiar the second time around’. If you’ve read the article I wrote previously, you will know that it was my first experience with minshuku. Coming back the second time, it already felt nostalgic and welcoming. Although it was a different minshuku, the omotenashi from the locals was real and heartwarming.

Homestay experience

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My stay this time was with the Ikarashi elderly couple, who are the 5th generation owners of the 150-year-old house. Looking at the interior, you could already feel the historical presence and authenticity of the old house. They had the pictures of their first three-generation owners hung up on the walls, evidence of their legacy.

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The use of wood to construct the house gave it a homely vibe and I seriously would not have minded staying for another few more days if I could!

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The rooms were as I imagined them. With the pictured traditional sliding door, the interior was pampered with furnishings from a hundred years ago, left by their ancestors. I was so kandō (感動, touched) simply looking around at my surroundings; It was as though I was appreciating pieces of artwork that had lived for many years and had stories to tell.

Food is my one and only…

The dinner — I was blown away multiple times. I simply could not understand how they could prepare so many dishes! Just take a look at the goodness below↓↓↓

At the start, six little dishes were placed in front of us and we thought it was more than enough for our dinner, but NO… our hostess Mrs. Ikarashi brought out not one, not two, but four more little bowls… that’s right, four more awesome dishes, so we had 10 dishes in total! By the time we were finished, I had developed a second stomach to fill all the food. Although the dishes may seem simple, the seasoning was perfect and resonated well with my taste buds.

This is only just the opening spread = Mad skills
This is only just the opening spread = Mad skills
Dinner ended on a good note and we just had to rest and wait for the food coma to hit!
Dinner ended on a good note and we just had to rest and wait for the food coma to hit!
Next morning’s breakfast
Next morning’s breakfast

We had to wake up early as we had a tight schedule, but Mrs Ikarashi had already prepared breakfast and was waiting for us to eat. While we were still full from last night’s amazing dinner, I had to finish up the grand variety of food displayed in front of me no matter what.

The presentation was so beautiful and appetizing. The miso soup warmed my belly, the white fluffy rice called my name; the egg yolk from the sunny side up was waiting to burst in my mouth, the crispy grilled salmon was inviting me to savour it and the crunchy sound from the pickled eggplant was music to my ears. (Sorry, these descriptions are the only way to bring out the emotions I felt at the time.)

A great breakfast gets you going for a great day ahead!
A great breakfast gets you going for a great day ahead!

Harvesting experience in Japan

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Do you know why Japanese people always say ‘itadakimasu’ before their meals? In layman terms, it is a simple phrase to give our gratitude to those who have made the meal for us, to those who have worked hard to harvest good crops, for good weather so that farmers can have good harvest in year and for everything else that helps make it possible for food to be laid in front of us.

This was my first time experiencing farming and I was extremely excited and it was a rare opportunity to get my hands dirty. What’s more, I would get to enjoy it in my favourite country too!

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With the help from Iide Town staff, we went to help the Suzuki family’s rice field which is about a 5-min drive from our minshuku. We had 6 volunteers altogether (my Thai friend, 4 Japanese culinary institute students and I) helping out. The Suzuki family taught us the know-how on harvesting crops such as the correct techniques to cut the crops and how to
tie them up together.

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Although we were amateurs, the Suzuki couple were really helpful, giving us tips and advice. Between the six of us, it took us almost an hour to clear four out of the 100 rows of rice crops in the paddy. Later, I asked our guide how long would it take for Mr. Suzuki to clear one entire field, and he replied saying that if it is a pro farmer, just 6 hours would be enough. My jaw dropped with amazement and in my head, I was already saluting him.

Nevertheless, it was a great workout for the whole body (especially for the core muscles). Sweating it out during the nice autumn weather was awesome and I felt that I had lost an inch off my waist!

Onward to the next season!
Overall, this trip was really fun and enjoyable. Albeit short, it was very fulfilling. The journey that I had will not be forgotten and I’m already looking forward to my winter trip next year. Be sure to look out for it and do check out our website for more write-ups about Yamagata!

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農家民宿いからし本家
Nōka minshuku ikarashi honke
Minshuku Ikarashi Main House
89 Shirakawa, Iide-machi, Nishiokitama-gun, Yamagata, Japan 〒999-0432
☎ +81 238-77-2088
Price: 1 Night 2 meals (includes farming experience activities ), 6,800 yen
For reservation: info@iikanjini.com
www.iikanjini.com/tomaru/

Check out my previous write-up on my summer trip experience
http://www.wattention.com/articles/minshuku-experience-in-yamagata

Religious Encounters and Culinary Surprises in Shingu

By Rozemarije Zijlmans

It’s said that the Kumano gods first descended to earth at the gigantic white, greyish rock that sticks out of the Gongenyama mountain. From this sacred spot, marked by the small red Kamikura Shrine, they set forth and dispersed into the region.

Gotobiki sacred rock watching over the Kumano region.
Gotobiki sacred rock watching over the Kumano region.

Located at the foot of the mountain is the town of Shingu, our destination for the next two days and home to several sacred sites. It soon becomes obvious that the Gods have left their footprints everywhere around here.

Shingu (39,000 inhabitants) is situated in a mountainous area with plenty of rivers. It is the centre of the Kumano faith, which worships nature (rocks, trees, waterfalls, etc.) and combines Shinto religion with Buddhism. The faith was unique as it was open to everyone, including women and non-believers. As a result, it spread rapidly throughout Japan.

The Kumano gods were worshipped at three important temples (Grand Shrines) that together are called the Kumano-sanzan. From the ninth century, the imperial court and the aristocracy visited these religious sites, followed by the samurai and later, commoners. A popular pilgrimage route came into being: the Kumano Kodo.

In 2004 the Kumano Kodo and the Kumano-sanzan were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honor also given to another pilgrimage route, the Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Shingu and the Kumano-gawa river seen from the ruins of the Shingu (Tankaku) castle
Shingu and the Kumano-gawa river seen from the ruins of the Shingu (Tankaku) castle

It’s pouring rain the day we arrive at Shingu. This doesn’t seem to bother the dozens of men with bare upper bodies, clad only in white trousers. They snort while sliding back and forth in their wooden rowing boats on the banks of the dark green Kumano-gawa river. With their eyes squeezed, they spy their opponents. Today is the annual festival of the Hayatama Taisha Grand Shrine, one of the three Kumano Grand Shrines. The festival ends with the Mifune boat race that every single boat aspires to win.

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Shingu's-man-power-rowing
Boats at the Mifune boat race
Boats at the Mifune boat race

After the starting shot, roaring men push off the boats; the sound of gushing river water, hitting the prows. Within seconds the battle on the water is in full swing. They must make three rounds around a small island in the river. A crowd of spectators rushes by car or on foot towards the finishing point.

It has become quiet and a small boat appears on the river. It carries the red and gold portable shrine (mikoshi) bearing the divine spirit of the temple. Calmly the boat makes a couple of rounds around the island before it anchors.

The divine spirit enshrined at Kumano Hayatama-taisha is transferred into a mikoshi (portable shrine) which is loaded onto a ceremonial boat.
A mikoshi (portable shrine) is loaded onto a ceremonial boat.

In the twilight, the mikoshi is carried to an open space surrounded by trees and filled with people dressed in white. A solemn ritual is conducted; full of mantras, crackling fire and burning incense, all dedicated to the gods of the Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine.

Passing by the shrine earlier that day, we purified the sins of our previous lives. And while I am listening to the humming priest, for a moment, this place feels truly divine.

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Ritual-for-the-Kumano-Hayatama-Grand-Shrine-fire

When visiting the other two Grand Shrines, one can attain the grace of the gods in their present life at the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine, and find salvation for future lives at the Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine. And when this circuit has been completed, all sins are forgiven and passage to heaven is ensured. How wonderful!

The Kumano Hayatama Grand shrine where the 1000-year-old sacred conifer (nagi) tree can be found
The Kumano Hayatama Grand Shrine, where the 1000-year-old sacred conifer (nagi) tree can be found

But not for us; not yet. We still have too many items on our Shingu to-do-list. The second morning we take the opportunity to have a closer look at the giant rock Gotobiki-iwa. Our cordial, aged guide takes us for a steep climb via stairs that are carved out of the mountain. It’s cold, slippery and when we reach the top we’re trembling.

But we are rewarded with a fabulous view. It stretches beyond the city, glimmers across the water, towards the East, where the sun rises. Where the very first sun of the new year rises and that is reason enough for an annual celebration.

Every year, on February 6th, over 2,000 people crowd into this exceptional place. At the Kamikura Shrine a fire burns; a present of the gods. Torches are lit by the fire and after 15 minutes, the gate opens and everyone sprints forward. On bare feet or wearing straw sandals, they storm down all 538 uneven steps as fast as they can. The first one downstairs gets a prize.

However, it wasn’t always like this, originally, the burning torch was carried into the village, towards the hearth in the kitchen of every home and the food that was prepared on these flames was the best meal to start the new year.

The steep path made out of natural stepping stones towards Kamikura shrine
The steep path made out of natural stepping stones towards Kamikura shrine

And speaking of meals, Shingu provides not only a spiritual experience – you can also attain a culinary nirvana at any of the wide range of restaurants located in the city. This is because the area was once an industrial hub, made prosperous through forestry (cedar and cypress lumber), whale hunting, and providing services for the many pilgrims who visited. In addition, Shingu was home to many writers and intellectuals, who loved to debate over an excellent meal.

Here is just a taste of the many special places we visited. First, sushi at Jofuku-sushi. Be sure to try the fresh-caught tuna with the local citrus sanzu and salt, while in the charming restaurant Kaki no Ate, filled with Japanese antiques, you can taste chrysanthemum sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. For the oldest restaurant in town, head down to Shikaroku, where for over a hundred years, people have been tucking in the smoked eel, soft as butter, served with rice.

Sanma sushi a traditional Kumano dish served at Jofuku-sushi.
Sanma sushi a traditional Kumano dish served at Jofuku-sushi.

The wrapped sushi at Kaki-no-Ate looks like a present
The wrapped sushi at Kaki-no-Ate looks like a present

Unagi (eel) and rice; a successful recipe for over 100 years
Unagi (eel) and rice; a successful recipe for over 100 years

To end the feast, something completely different: shaved ice (kaki gori). Never before did I experience such delicious, feather-light shaved ice like the one at Naka-kooriten. In the summertime, this teeny tiny ice shop attracts over 500 customers a day. Don’t miss out on it.

Having fun with the sushi chef at Jofuku-sushi, Shingu
Having fun with the sushi chef at Jofuku-sushi, Shingu

This was just a taste of all the wonderful food, impressive religious sites and breathtaking nature surrounding Shingu area, truly the land of the Gods.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Rozemarije Zijlmans
In 2015 I gave up my job at an international airline to move to Tokyo and to start free-lance writing. Experiencing Japan is a present for life, that I would like to share with others. I hope that my article will be a little gift for you.
MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

 

Ninja ID: roze

September Giveaway! Pair ticket to Fuji Q Highland!

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🎉Win FREE tickets to FUJI Q Highland!🎉

Japan’s most famous amusement park at the foot of Mount Fuji.

LUCKY WINNER will get two FREE PASS INVITATION ticket to Fuji Q Highlands which can transform to ONE DAY FREE PASS at the gate. There are around 40 different attractions available for every age.

ABOUT FUJI Q HIGHLAND
Experience the thrill of 40 different rides, with some of the fastest, steepest and scariest rollercoasters in the world, including the recently opened Dododonpa, the fastest roller coaster in Japan. Visitors can also enjoy “Thomas land”, filled with rides for kids, a variety of shops and restaurants and of course, great spots for breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji.

The expiration date for tickets: 2018.3.31


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Click link below to Apply for GIVEAWAY

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WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED TO THIS TICKET

Coin games and coin attractions, rollerskating, Special events like (attack on titan etc.), Super Scary Labyrinth of Fear, Fuji-yama Onsen.


 

 

Another 3 hr trip – Ginza

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How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

GINZA STATION

 

Unlike most streets in Tokyo, which are nameless and often curve off, the ones in Ginza are laid out like a grid. Every street has a name as well as a history worth investigating. Besides being awe struck by impressive business complexes and international fashion brand that line the main streets, why not take a stroll to discover the best that Ginza has to offer?

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1-redOrigin of Ginza
The name Ginza originated in the Edo period as a site for silver coin mint. In Japanese, Ginza literally means the “place where silver is minted”. The monument that marks the origin of Ginza can be found on the east side of Chuo-dori.

Access: 2-min walk from Ginza-itchome Station (Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line)
Address: 2-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

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2-redNoritake Ginza Store
Noritake, a leading Japanese ceramic company with more than 100 years of history, is loved by people all over the world for its chinaware. Visit the Noritake Ginza Store to get a glimpse into the dedication behind their artistic collections and see how beauty is defined through dinnerware.

Noritake-Ginza-Store

Hours: 11am – 7:30pm
Closed: around new years
Access: 2-min walk from Ginza Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hibiya Line, Marunouchi Line)
Address: Bunshodo Bldg. 2F, 3-4-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.noritake.co.jp/eng/
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3-red Namiki-dori
Namiki-dori is a shopping street that features a red granite path bordered by tall lime trees. Feel the authentic atmosphere of Ginza on this iconic street lined with high class fashion flagship stores.

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4-red Mikasa Kaikan
After passing the Harumi-dori, you will see Mikasa Kaikan, an old restaurant complex that serves as a Ginza landmark. Dedicated to introduce authentic western cuisine to Japan, Mikasa Kaikan first opened in 1925 and has had a branch in Ginza since 1947. Choose from all kinds of cuisine, including Japanese, Italian and more, here.
Mikasa-Kaikan

Hours: Vary by restaurant
Access: 3-min walk from Ginza Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hibiya Line, Marunouchi Line)
Address: Mikasa Kaikan Honten, 5-5-17 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: https://www.mikasakaikan.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
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Ginza Shiseido Building
The headquarters of Japanese cosmetic maker Shiseido is also located on Namiki-dori. This modern architecture cleverly incorporates the tsubaki (camellia) motif symbolizing Shiseido and embodies the company’s sense of aesthetics and beauty.
Hours: Vary by store
Access: 6-min walk from Ginza Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hibiya Line, Marunouchi Line)
Address: Shiseido Head Office, 7-5-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

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6-red S. Watanabe Color Print Company
Founded in the Meiji period, this old standing woodcut print store collects works by famous ukiyo-e masters like Utagawa Hiroshige as well as modern artists. Get your hands on not only rare collections but also reasonably priced art as a gift for friends back home.

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Hours: 9:30am – 7:30pm (Mon-Sat), 9:30 – 5pm (national holiday)
Closed: Sunday
Access: 4-min walk from JR Shimbashi Station
Address: 8-6-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.hangasw.com/map/index.html (Japanese only)
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7-red Ginza Konparu-dori
Walk to the very end of Namiki-dori and wander back on Konparu-dori, a nostalgic street where geishas used roam, to immerse in a different atmosphere. This street got its name in the Edo period, when the area was home to the estate of the Konparu School of Noh Theater. Today, Konparu Festival is held on August 7 every year. Compared to Namiki-dori, Konparu-dori is lined with shop smaller in scale, but equally rich in traditional and personality.

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Ginza-brick-town-monument
red A monument commemorating Ginza’s past as a brick town
In the old days, Ginza used to be a large brick town that extended for as long as 10 kilometers. Although most brick buildings were destroyed by a fire caused by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, there is a monument to remind people of the past.
Access: 6-min walk from JR Shimbashi Station
Address: 8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

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9 Konparu-yu
Konparu-yu is a sento, or public bath house, with rich cultural heritage. In the Edo period, Tokyoites loved hot baths and that love has contributed to the making of sentos in the middle of busy commercial districts today. When founded in 1863, Konparu-yu was a wooden establishment. Now it has taken up the space of a modern building. The old fashioned bathhouse has tile paintings of Japanese carp fishes and a wall painted with Mount Fuji—something you don’t come across every day.
Konparu-yu-sento

Hours: 2pm – 10pm
Closed: Sunday, national holiday
Admission: 460 yen (adults), 180 yen (elementary school students), 80 yen (preschool children)
Access: 5-min walk from JR Shimbashi Station, 5-min walk from Ginza Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hibiya Line, Marunouchi Line)
Address: 8-7-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www002.upp.so-net.ne.jp/konparu/index.html (Japanese only)
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Irizake-no-Mikawaya
10-red Irizake-no-Mikawaya
Located on Konparu-dori, Mikawaya is a one-of-a-kind shop selling condiments that most people in the Edo period would recognize. Irizake and Ninukijiru are popular food seasonings among Japanese women, who are keen to learn the secret of Japanese cuisine and want to give more variations to their cooking rather than just using soy sauce and miso paste as main ingredients. There are a lot of counter-style restaurants on Konparu-dori serving oden, yakitori, sushi and various Japanese street food. How about giving your taste buds a tasty treat?

Hours: 11am – 8pm
Closed: Sunday, national holiday
Access: 7-min walk from JR Shimbashi Station
Address: 8-8-18 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.ginza-mikawaya.jp/ (Japanese only)

Another 3 hr trip – Tokyo

shibuya

another-3-hrs-trip-red

How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

TOKYO

Explore Japan’s Wall Street


Not many people know that the financial district, considered the hub of the Japanese economy, lies just a stone’s throw away from Tokyo Station. While it’s mainly a business area, visitors can still spot well-established old shops that have inherited traditions and ways of living from the times when Tokyo was still called Edo.

1-green Start at Tokyo Station / Yaesu Shopping Mall
Yaesu Shopping Mall, directly connected to Tokyo Station Yaesu exit, is an underground shopping mall boasting close to 180 top-class shops and restaurants. If you walk away from Tokyo Station all the way across the shopping mall, you will reach Chuo Dori Avenue. To your right, lies Ginza, to your left, Nihonbashi. Since the Edo period, Chuo Dori Avenue has long been considered Tokyo’s most prestigious street. Continuing along this avenue, you will see a lot of high-rise buildings, but you can still find many shops with a long history. One historic and imposing building stands out in particular, Nihonbashi’s Takashiyama Department Store. We will return, so for now, let’s keep moving along. Five-minutes walk.
tokyo-station-yaesu-exitHours: Differ by facility
Access: Direct access from Yaesu Central Entrance, Yaesu South Entrance and Yaesu North Entrance of JR Tokyo Station.
Address: Floor B1 & B2, 2-1 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.yaechika.com/english/index.php

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haibara
2-greenHaibara / Shugyoku Bunko Gallery
Haibara is a store with a chic, black and modern facade and decorated with a noren, a traditional Japanese shop curtain that somehow suits it well. Surrounded by taller buildings, this washi or traditional Japanese paper seller has been in the area for more than 200 years. The store’s hand-made beautiful stationery products made with washi are certainly eye-catching. The history and culture of washi paper that Haibara has cultivated is showcased to the public at its Shugyoku Bunko Gallery. 12-minutes walk

Hours: 10am – 6:30pm (Mon-Fri), 10am – 5:30pm (Sat-Sun)
Access: Direct access from Nihombashi Station Exit B6 (Tokyo Metro Ginza Lina, Tozai Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Address: Tokyo Nihombashi Tower, 2-7-1 Nihombashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.haibara.co.jp/en/

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3-greenKabuto Jinja Shrine
If you continue walking on the same direction you will reach Nihonbashi. Then, turn right at the intersection in front of you. After passing the highway, you will find yourself at the Kabuto-cho area, home to Tokyo’s financial district and filled with banks and securities companies. This area is also considered the birthplace of Japanese banks. Here you will find Kabuto Jinja, a small shrine frequented by people working in the financial industry. One-minute walk
Kabuto-Jinja-Shrine

Access: 6-min walk from Nihombashi Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Lina, Tozai Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Address: 1-12 Nihombashi Kabuto-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
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Tokyo-Stock-Exchange
4-greenTokyo Stock Exchange
Located to the south of Kabuto Jinja Shrine is TSE Arrows, a space offering information about the stock exchange as well as tours that anyone can join. See the economy in motion as Japanese companies trade in real time. Guided tours in English are offered twice per day. Six-minute walk

Access: 5-min walk from Kayabacho Station Exit 11 (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line), 7-min walk from Kayabacho Station Exit 7 (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line), 5-min walk from Nihombashi Station Exit D2 (Toei Asakusa Line)
Address: 2-1 Nihombashi Kabuto-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.jpx.co.jp/english/
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5-greenKabutocho・Kayabacho Machikado Museum
Traditional festivals have long been held in this area. But even if no festivals are scheduled when you visit, this musem’s year-round exhibition features the wonderful mikoshi and floats used during the festivals.10-minutes walk
Hours: 8:30am – 8pm
Access: 2-min walk from Kayabacho Station Exit 12 (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Tozai Line)
Address: 15-3 Nihombashi Kabuto-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://chuoku-machikadotenjikan.jp/tenjikan/kabutocho_kayabacho/
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8-greenNihonbashi Takashimaya department store
The final spot on this tour is the previously mentioned Nihonbashi Takashimaya department store. This famous building is an interesting blend of European elements and Japanese construction methods and has been designated an important cultural property. From the marble colonnade at the entrance to intricate decorations, there is much to admire. The store’s duty-free counter and tablet assisted, multilingual interpretation service make your shopping experience more comfortable. 10-minutes walk

Hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm (restaurants open until 9:30pm)
Access: 5-min walk from JR Tokyo Station (Yaesu North Entrance)
Address: 2-4-1 Nihombashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Url: https://www.takashimaya.co.jp/tokyo/store_information/index.html

Another 3 hr trip – Asakusa

asakusa

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How to Make the Best of 3 Hours in Tokyo

It is the last day of your trip and you have three hours left before departing for the airport. Don’t know what to do with the time? WAttention did the homework for you. Here is a three-hour itinerary that will leave you entertained, refreshed and with lots of memories of Japan!

 

ASAKUSA

 

Senso-ji temple, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist spots, teems with tourists all year round. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and spend some quiet time in the area, stroll through the park that lines the Sumidagawa River, or go across it and tour temples, shrines and the old sweet shops of the Mukojima area.

1-yellowAsakusa Culture and Tourism Center
A tourist information center located inside a unique building in front of the Asakusa Kaminarimon Gate. The building is designed by Kengo Kuma, one of Japan’s best-known architects. The building’s ceiling and interior are quite interesting so don’t consider skipping a visit. The night view of Asakusa from the observatory on the 8th-floor terrace also comes highly recommended.
asakusa-information-center

Hours: 9am – 8pm
Access: 1-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line)
Address: 2-18-9 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://tic.jnto.go.jp/detail.php?id=1078
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The Sumida Park covering the east bank of the Sumidagawa River is a waterfront oasis. It’s known for its cherry blossoms, and except from that season, it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds and relax. Let’s continue upstream along the river.

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sakurabashi-bridge
2-yellowSakurabashi Bridge
Sakurabashi is a unique pedestrian bridge crossing the Sumidagawa River. Approximately 170 meters in length and forming a unique “X” shape, it connects both banks of Sumida Park. The bridge features an original sculpture based on a design by well-known Japanese painter Ikuo Hirayama. Cross the bridge and head toward the east bank of the river.

Access: 15-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line), 15-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 1-5 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
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3-yellowChomeji Temple and Sakuramochi While continuing upstream along the east bank, take a look at the old night-light that once doubled as a lighthouse for boats crossing the Sumidagawa River. You will then find Chomeji Temple, made famous by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He held the natural spring water inside the temple in high regard, saying it granted drinkers a long life. But, perhaps more famous than the temple itself, are the sakuramochi sweets sold in front of its gates. Sakuramochi are rice cakes wrapped with the pickled leaves of cherry blossom trees from the embankment of the Sumidagawa River. The pickled cherry tree leaves perfectly match the sweetness of the anko or red bean paste and the sweet is as popular now as it was back during the Edo period.
Chomeiji-templeHours: 8:30am – 6pm
Closed: Monday
Access: 12-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 5-1-14 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://sakura-mochi.com/ (Japanese only)

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kototoi-dango
4-yellowKototoi Dango
Sweet tooths can stop by another shop carrying a local specialty: “Kototoi Dango”. This business started inadvertently after a local gardener made some dango (sweet rice dumplings) which became really popular. Customers are served white, black and yellow dango on a plate, instead of the more common way of skewered on a wooden stick. Hurry, however, as the dango often sell out by 3pm.

Hours: 9am – 6pm
Closed: Tuesday
Access: 11-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 5-5-22 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://kototoidango.co.jp/index.html (Japanese only)

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5-yellowKofukuji Temple A temple with a Chinese-style gate is on left-hand side. It belongs to the rare Buddhist school of zen called Obaku. The temple features a unique stone statue called Seki no Jijibabason that is believed to prevent the common cold.
Access: 11-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 5-3-2 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://ko-fukuji.wixsite.com/kofukuji/home
Kofuku-ji-Temple

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Kawahara-no-Abe
6-yellow Kawahara no Abe Facing Kofukuji Temple is Kawahara no Abe, a restaurant offering a popular and generously sized tendon (tempura over rice bowl). Do not miss out on a new popular dish from the area, the Mukojima Burger (take-out only). Perfect for munching on while walking, small shrimp and lotus root fritters are stuffed in a grilled onigiri (rice ball). Please note credit cards are not accepted.
Hours: 11:30am – 3pm, 5pm – 10pm

Closed: Wednesday
Access: 11-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 5-24-2 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: https://www.facebook.com/%E6%B2%B3%E5%8E%9F%E3%81%AE%E3%81%82%E3%81%B9-226270354070266/ (Japanese only)

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7-yellowAoyagi Seike Keep walking to then find a Japanese sweets shop located inside an elegant building. The sweets here, inspired by the four seasons, are great with a cup of matcha green tea. Monaka, a Japanese wafer sandwich filled with sweet bean jam, and sweet chestnut jellies are the must-try items on the menu. The latter keeps well, which makes it an ideal souvenir.
Aoyagi-Seike

Hours: 9am – 7pm
Closed: Sunday, national holiday
Access: 12-min walk from Hikifune Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 2-15-9 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://www.aoyagiseike.jp/en/

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Mukojima area

Mukojima

Renowned as a popular spot for flower viewing and natural beauty, this area has been beloved by writers and artists since the Edo period. Their presence in the area sparked the construction of several ryotei, or luxurious Japanese restaurants, where rakugo performances and haiku poetry meetings would be held, giving birth to a legion of geisha to entertain guests. During the Edo period Mukojima was a lively geisha quarter filled with high-class Japanese restaurants. Next to Aoyagi Seike is a ryotei where you can indulge in high-class dining.

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Mimeguri-Shrine
8-yellowMimeguri Shrine
Further beyond lies Mimeguri Shrine, traditionally associated with local farmers who used to visit and pray for rain. A must-see here is the torii gate with three columns called Sankakuishitorii. This is extremely rare and gives the place a special and mysterious power.
Access: 8-min walk from Tokyo Skytree Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 2-5-17 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

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9-yellowUshijima Shrine
This shrine, located in a corner of Sumida Park on the east bank of the Sumidagawa River, has a Miwa Torii. The ultimate torii gate, this unique gate features two smaller torii gates on each side attached to the main central one. The shrine also features a popular cow statue known as nadeushi, said to heal your ailments if you caress it. Inside the shrine you can also see many koma ushi, protective stone statues of cows, instead of the more usual koma inu, or lion-dog commonly found outside shrines and temples.
Access: 7-min walk from Tokyo Skytree Station (Tobu Skytree Line)
Address: 1-4-5 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Ushijima-Shrine

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Sumida-Park
10-yellowSumida Park
The park spans both sides of the Sumidagawa River; however this side of the river and the Asakusa Temple side have completely different atmospheres. Featuring a splendid Japanese garden with a pond, this area originally housed the residence of the Mito Tokugawa family, who belonged to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Visitors can contemplate this unusual, yet harmonious landscape combining a traditional Japanese garden and the modern Tokyo Sky Tree.

Access: 5-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Skytree Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Address: 1-2-5 Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Url: http://visit-sumida.jp/spot/6133/ (Japanese only)

From here, visitors can head back to Asakusa Station by crossing either the Azumabashi Bridge or the Kototoi Bridge, or continue in the direction of the Tokyo Sky Tree.

How Its Made: Beginner`s Guide to Sake

How Its Made: Beginner`s Guide to Sake

Despite being called a rice “wine”, sake has more in common with beer as it is brewed through a double fermentation process. Making quality sake involves 4 key ingredients Rice, water, kōji and yeast.

Age-old records are written around 4 – reveal that pasteurization and the process of adding ingredients to the main fermentation mash in three stages were established practices since the late 15th century.

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Sake Process: Polishing

The brewing process begins with polishing the rice to remove proteins and bran.

Washing

Next, the nuka left on the polished rice is washed away and the rice is soaked.

Streaming

The ice is then steamed to make k ji mai ( 麹米 ), shubo-mai ( 酒母米 , yeast starter) and moromi ( 醪 , mash).

Pressing

After 18-32 days, the fermented mash is pressed to separate clear sake from kasu ( 粕 , lees).

Moromi

More Koji, steamed ice and water are added to the shubo and left to ferment to make moromi.

Yeast Starter

Shubo is made by mixing steamed rice, water, koji and pure yeast it aids the fermentation process of the mash.

Koji

Koji kin is added to steamed ice to produce koji which is then added to the yeast.

Filtration

The sake is then filtered, pasteurized and starts to develop its flavor.

Aging

It is then placed in cold storage where it matures before it is bottled.

Table Rice vs Sake Rice
Table Rice vs Sake Rice

The Rice

There are about nine basic kinds of specially grown rice that are used to make sake and each of them produces a unique flavor. The king of these sake rice breeds is Yamada Nishiki Rice which gives a fragrant, well-blended, soft flavor. The best grains are grown in Hyogo and Toyama. To produce aromatic sake, rice needs to be polished between %50 to %70. The more polished the rice, the more delicate it becomes, and the higher the grade of sake it produces.

Hot vs Cold Sake
Hot vs Cold Sake

Water

Water makes up almost 80% of sake and helps develop its one-of- a-kind taste. Breweries often source their water from nearby springs, mountain runoffs, springs, etc. The water is either kōsui ( 硬水 , hard water) or nansui ( 軟水 , soft water) and they can affect the sort of flavor profile that the sake will take on.

Koji & Yeast

Yeast has a big influence on how a sake will taste and smell. There is a wide variety of strains, but the most common ones are #7,#9 and #1801. #7 is commonly used in complex sake like Junmai and Honjozo for its subtler, earthier rice aroma while #9 and #1801 are popular for their floral and fruity flavor and fragrance.

20% of rice sake used for brewing is turned into a mold called kōji-kin. Kōji-kin converts the starch in rice into sugar through the process of fermentation. This affects the depth of umami flavor in sake.

In harmony with the seasons: Kangetsusai

kangetsusai

The beauty of the full moon that occurs in the middle of fall has been admired by the Chinese since ancient times. This “middle of the fall” moon is scheduled by the old Oriental lunar calendar that was in use before the Gregorian calendar was introduced and is equivalent to modern August. In ancient East Asia, August was regarded as the month when the air became the clearest and people started enjoying the full moon on the 15th of this month. The actual date of this ancient 15th of August can be translated into modern 27th of September this year. In Japan, traditionally, the full moon after the “middle of the fall” was also admired as “the moon after” or “the moon reminiscent of the fall”, and it was even regarded as unlucky not to celebrate both moons in some areas of Japan. is year, “the moon after” happens on the 25th of October. It is likely that ancient people were already aware that the moon and tidal changes are strongly related to life forces.

kangetsusai

In harmony with the seasons: Choyo no Sekku

choyu-no-sekku

The “yang” of the “yin-yang” concept is thought to become too strong and hence inauspicious on dates which are odd-numbered in both day and month. The sekku, or seasonal festival, became an event to counter this threat. Within these days, September 9th is known as the Choyo no Sekku as it is the day when the number strongest in “yang” is doubled. It has long been believed that when the power of the nature becomes too overbearing, the life of mankind is endangered. In order to avert that danger and pray for a long life, chrysanthemum flowers are soaked in water or sake and drunk for its blood-cleansing properties. In a time when most illnesses were thought to be caused by impurities in the blood, the chrysanthemum was a type of precious kampo medicine that only the royalty could afford. One of the rituals carried out during the Choyo no Sekku is to place a wad of silk on top of chrysanthemum flowers and to use the parts that absorbed the flower’s dew to wipe one’s body to cleanse oneself. The folksong, “Kikudoji”, used frequently in noh performances, is inspired by the eternal spirit of the chrysanthemum when it bursts into full bloom. In fact, during the Heian era, ladies from the nobility would wipe their faces and bodies with chrysanthemum dew in the hopes of staying young. For the peasants, it was a day to enjoy the chestnut. We now know the chestnut as being a health food rich in vitamin C, and well-balanced in terms of protein and fat. People in the past knew this from experience and eating this in the hopes of longevity on day of the Choyo is a festival tradition that cannot be missed.

In harmony with the seasons: Tanomi Festival – Early September

tanomi-festival

Tanomi Festival – Early September

The “Tanomi Festival” later became the “Hassaku Festival”—written in a different kanji character to mean festival for ‘pleading’—among merchants and samurai warriors, and evolved as a rite to foresee if riches would be amassed and a clan would be secure in the future.

In the old days, Japanese farmers used to go around the homes of friends and acquaintances on Hassaku, the first day of the eighth month of the year in the old calendar, carrying the first ears of rice harvested on that day to pray for a good harvest and to thank the Gods for being able to grow rice. These actions were called “Tanomi”. A time of year that has been noted in history as when typhoons had been feared, this period coincides with the two hundred and tenth day since the beginning of spring. Since the days when natural disasters were considered to be curses of the higher beings, people had prayed so damage would be minimal, and they buried offerings of money hoping for the safety of their family members. Such customs began to spread throughout the country, and they included the festival of the wind, hoped to appease the God of the wind. Over the years, these festivals became integrated and later led to the Hassaku festival, which eventually started to be observed throughout Japan.

Moerenuma Park – Natural Art & Artistic Nature

Tetra Mound
Tetra Mound

Not really seeing where the bus was going, and then awkwardly wandering into a parking space, trying to find Moerenuma park, I ended up crossing a bridge and the first landmark greeting me was an impressive glass pyramid. That is when I knew for sure I was at the right place.

Moerenuma-Park

Let me take you a bit back. Moerenuma park in Sapporo might be a misleading name and the green spot on the map doesn’t really help. If you think it’s just another park and opt to skip it, I’d say you’re missing out. It’s a landscape art paradise, the dream project of Japanese-American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, who sadly did not live to see the opening of the park. Built on top of a former landfill site and surrounded by a marsh (hence the name, ‘numa’) it is a success story going on to win many awards. The park’s construction began in 1982 and it was completed in 2005. It is completely free of charge and open to the public year round.

Inside the pyramid
Inside the pyramid
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zoria-inside-the-pyramid-at-moerenuma-park

The glass pyramid is a homage to Noguchi’s friend I.M. Pei, who designed the glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre Museum. It’s nicknamed “Hidamari”, which means “sunny spot” in Japanese. We had a great time taking photos inside, capturing the sunlight and playing with the shadows. There, you can visit the gallery dedicated to Noguchi, where you can also have a drink or a snack and head to the top of the pyramid for great views of both Sapporo and Moerenuma park. And we realized we were in for a treat. From the Tetra-Mound to the little pond and perfectly planted tree groves, we couldn’t wait to get down and explore it.

view from the top of the pyramid
View from the top of the pyramid

icecream-in-moerenuma-park

The vast park features nature and art in perfect harmony,with the landscaped Mount Moere, the Tetra Mound, The Sea Fountain and the art sculptures that are actually playgrounds nestled secretly between the greenery until you discover them. Although you see the outline of the park from the top of Hidamari, there’s still a lot of surprise and discovery, that’s why you need a map to walk around, mouth gaping open and losing track of time while taking hundreds of photos, all of them perfect. According to the official website this park changes in synch with the seasons, so in spring the cherry blossoms are in bloom and in winter you can ski on Mount Moere. Visiting in summer, we were welcomed by a the green Eden, lush nature and a cool breeze.

 Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere

There was something serene and laid back in the way everyone relaxes in this park. First of all, it’s so spacious, crowds are never a problem. Secondly, you’re free to do anything you like. People were cycling, running, walking their dogs, parents playing with their children, couples taking photos, guys skateboarding under the Tetra Mound… You can dip your feet in the shallow pond called Moere Beach, have a picnic, play music and just truly enjoy the shared public space. You can rent a bicycle and use it in the park, but be careful, it’s only until 5 PM despite the park being open until 9 PM. Moreover different activities in the park have different working hours, so make sure to check the Sea Fountain show times, the pond etc.

zoria-on-playthings

As the day was ending and families were leaving the park before sunset, we got to see another face of Moerenuma – quiet, empty, almost eerie, beautiful. If you are a photo enthusiast, I recommend staying until the end, getting some nice clean shots and having the whole park to yourself as the gold of the sun dissipates across it and melts away. The best treat are the playthings, which are such beautiful sculptures that you cannot believe children were playing with them just moments before. But in the late hours before closing they can be all yours. You can forget your own age and get lost in the colourful labyrinth of fun, with new sculptures peeking around the corner.

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playthings-sunset

playthings-at-moerenuma-park

As darkness fell upon the park we knew it was time to leave. The five hours we spent there flew by as if it had been merely an hour. If you are on your first visit to Moerenuma park you might be torn between exploring all of it or just lying down, relaxing, taking it all in. I wish I could go there all the time, do all my work there, but for now I’ll just have to hope to visit it again some time. But you, don’t skip this park if you are in Sapporo!

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sunset-morenuma-park

Moerenuma Park

Admission: free
Hours:
Apr.29 – May 9:00-19:00
June – Aug. 9:00-20:00
Sep. – Nov.3 9:00-19:00
Nov.4 – Apr.28 9:00-17:00
Closed first Monday of each month and every Monday from Nov.4 to Apr.28
The Sea Fountain Operates from Apr.29 to Oct.20
Access: From JR Sapporo Station, take the Sapporo Municipal Railway (Toho Line) to Kanjo-Dori-Higashi Station (approx. 25 minutes). Get off and take the Higashi 69 or 79 Chuo Bus to “Moerenuma Koen Higashiguchi” bus stop (east entrance). It’s roughly a 10-minute walk to the park’s Glass Pyramid from there.
URL: http://moerenumapark.jp/english/

WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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Thanksgiving for food in Japanese Itadakimasu and Gochisousama

Thanksgiving For Food in Japanese

thanksgiving

The words for this article are those used to give thanks before and after meals.

” 食への感謝の言葉〜「いただきます」と「ごちそうさま」”

”Tanatsumono, momonokigusa mo Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso. Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito”

Itadakimasu – いただきます

The first half of the phrase reads: “Tanatsumono, momonokigusa no Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso.” This is similar in meaning to the phrase “itadakimasu” that is said before eating a meal. Specifically, it means that the harvest from the fields is a blessing from the sun, which I gratefully partake.”

Gochisousama -ごちそうさま

The second half of the phrase reads: “Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito.” This is said to give thanks after a meal, like the phrase “gochisousama” used nowadays. “Toyouke no kami” refers to the god of food. “Gochisousama”, when written in kanji characters, infers to the action of running about and is meant to recognize the effort of the person who prepared the meal. In other words, it means, “Be it morning or night, I give thanks to god for providing my meals.” This complete phrase was recited by an 18th century classics researcher, Motoori Norinaga, and it is still currently chanted in shrines before and after meals.

Words of thanks

These days, the long phrases starting with “tanatsumono” and “asayoini” are not recited, but most Japanese would say “itadakimasu” before eating a meal and “gochisousama” at the end. It seems there is no equivalent for such phrases in English, but these phrases that come naturally for any Japanese when partaking in food is an expression of thanks towards nature for its bounty.

Though old-fashioned, these phrases embody an important aspect of the Japanese mindset. To reflect this history, I have expressed these words in old-style hiragana called hentaigana. This form of writing can only be deciphered by experts of Japanese classical literature nowadays, but this text, which evolved from kanji into its current typology, has a beautiful form. Each word connects to the next, and this makes it necessary to control the flow of ink from the brush, and control of one’s breath to be slow and even. These are words of thanks, suitable to decorate the dining table.

Hiyashi Chuka: the best ramen for summer…and winter?

hiyashi-chuka-2
During the hot and humid days of summer, this chilled ramen dish is a welcome change from regular ramen. The cold noodles are served topped with a variety of ingredients such as strips of tamagoyaki (玉子焼き, egg omelet) and thin slices of cucumber, tomatoes, and ham which are tossed together before it is eaten. Some study says cold ramen is the most popular noodle dish among others for summer in Japan.

Hiyashi Chuka
Looks delicious…

These days you might see signs hanging from your favorite Ramen shop wall saying “Hiyashi Chuka Hajimemashita”. Fear not, this only means they’ve started serving cold ramen. During summer, Hiyashi Chuka is so popular that you can get it from every convenience store offering a different taste, and these signs have even inspired the creation of a song.

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Hiyashi Chuka 5
Yummy yummy

“Hiyashi Chuka” literally means “Chilled Chinese” but despite what the name suggests, this cold ramen is a dish invented in Japan and it even has its own official day; July 7th, recognized by the Japan Anniversary Organization. The love for these chilled noodles even sparked the creation of the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association, an organization that was born out of an interesting anecdote.

hiyashi-chuka-7

In 1975, a jazz pianist named Yosuke Yamashita went to a ramen shop during winter and ordered Hiyashi Chuka, but the ramen shop owner told him they didn’t have any because it was winter and Hiyashi Chuka is served only in summer. Yamashita gets furious and yells:

なぜ、冷し中華は冬に食えないのか! 生ビールもアイスクリームも食えるのに! この差別はなくさなければならない!

“Why!, why can’t I eat Hiyashi Chuka in winter?, we drink cold beer and eat ice cream in winter after all, we have to end this kind of discrimination!”. It was this desire to eat Hiyashi Chuka during winter that drove him to create the Japan Hiyashi Chuka Fans Association and promote the dish by organizing events and spreading information about this delicious summer (and winter, Yamashita would argue) treat.

Source: News Postseven (Japanese)

What is your favorite noodle dish for summer? Let us know by answering our survey.

Stroll through Ikebukuro’s Picturesque District

ikebukuro old town shop

Only a 15-minute walk separates you from the bustling inner city of Ikebukuro and its nostalgic old town, Zoshigaya. Wander through the myriad alleys and discover the wonder of secluded spots, all of which look like illustrations lifted from a picture book.

Tabi-Neko Zakka shop 旅猫雑貨店

Find the perfect souvenir

souvenir shop in ikebuuro old town

This adorable shop is the perfect place to buy authentic Japanese souvenirs for people back home! In line with the store’s slogan, “Let’s enjoy Japanese lifestyle,” the owner collects popular traditional toys and fun general goods that are certain to brighten your day. One of its hottest sellers are kamifusen (Japanese paper balloons), which come in different shapes/characters. For cat lovers, this is the perfect place to find Japanese feline-themed items!

Hours: 12pm – 7pm weekdays, 11am – 6pm weekends and national holidays Closed: Mon (opened if a national holiday) & Tue
Address: 2-22-17 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Chiasma Coffee キアズマ珈琲

Enjoy your coffee in peace

charisma cafe ikebukuro

From the decor to the jazz playing in the background, this coffee shop provides a tranquil ambiance making it the perfect spot to relax. Inspired by his grandfather’s coffee shop, the owner has created a vintage-like space with a modern touch. With beans that have been carefully selected and roasted in-house, the result is a cup of top-quality drip coffee. To go with your coffee, indulge in some mouth-watering homemade cakes!

cafe charisma owl mug ikebukuro tokyo
cafe charisma ikebukuro sandwhich
Hours: 10:30am-7pm Closed: Wed
Address: 3-19-5 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Kishimojin-do Temple 鬼子母神堂

Temple with several historical landmarks

temple in zoshigaya

The greenery surrounding Kishimojin-do leaves you wondering if you are still in Tokyo! Famous for enshrining Kishimojin, goddess of child care, many have visited to pray for the safe birth and growth of their children. Ironically, Kishimojin was originally an evil goddess who ate children, but after her son was hidden away, she reformed and became the deity she is today. This is why the name of the temple includes the kanji character for demon ( 鬼), but without an extra stroke to symbolize the removal of her horns.

statue demon Kishimojin-do Temple
owls at Kishimojin-do Temple
Address: 3-15-20 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Toden Arakawa Line 都電荒川線

Take a trolley ride through charming Tokyo

Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In addition to walking, there is no better way to enjoy Ikebukuro’s old town than with a ride on the Toei Streetcar (Toden) Arakawa Line. With Tokyo’s advanced train system, this one-and-only remaining streetcar service is a hidden gem; the oldest section still operating today opened in 1913. Enjoy the charming scenery as you ride through neighborhoods of both historical and cultural importance.

URL: visit Toden Arakawa Line’s website here.

Taste of Mt. Fuji: a short hiking adventure

View from the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko

You don’t need to climb all the way to the top of Mt. Fuji to experience the beautiful alpine nature and breathtaking landscapes that Japan’s tallest peak has to offer.

The iconic volcano is easily accessible with the Fuji Five Lakes Sightseeing Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), which departs from Kawaguchiko Station and takes visitors through a lush forest and all the way up to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, which is the highest point on the mountain that is reachable by car and where most hikers start their ascent to the top.

The area features the Komitake Shrine, where a special festival is held annually at the start of the climbing season on July 1st. Visitors can also find the Unjo-kaku tourist facility, the perfect place to purchase souvenirs and have a heartwarming meal. Holders of a “Highlights Fujisan-Go” ticket, can get 10% off their meals here.

From there, visitors can either start the long ascent to the top or enjoy a short hike to Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station and admire the changing landscape as trees begin to thin. You can also get glimpses of Lake Yamanakako as well as a great variety of flowers. It is an easy and beautiful hike, perfect for a short excursion to Mt. Fuji with friends or family.

Three of our WAttention Ninja had the opportunity to join the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course) and hike from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station to the 6th Station. This is what they had to say about their trip.

Ivonne Pereyra

Our adventure began with a train ride from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station. It was a long ride, but my friends and the beautiful landscape made it so much more enjoyable. At Kawaguchiko Station, signs in English made it easy for us to find our way to join the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), which took us all the way to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. When we arrived, it was a littler cooler than I expected because of the higher altitude, but I had come prepared! A light jacket was more than enough for the occasion. We then hiked up to the 6th Station, which was a little tiring but also worth the effort with the beautiful scenery along the way. After returning to the 5th Station, we bought souvenirs and soaked up the breathtaking landscape surrounding us. Before we knew it, it was time to take the bus back to Shinjuku Station!
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We got up early to take a train at Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station, where we joined the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course). It was really fun to learn about the area while enjoying the astonishing landscape. When we got to the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, we decided to have lunch at a restaurant inside the Unjo-kaku, where we stocked up on the calories with delicious chicken karage. Afterwards, we took the easiest route and hiked up to the Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station. At one point, we thought we would never reach our destination, but we had fun together as we sang and took many pictures along the way. Surprisingly, the hike back to 5th Station went so much faster! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we wanted to make sure we bought some souvenirs before heading back to Shinjuku. Our trip came to an end with a two-hour bus ride back to Shinjuku Station, which was very comfortable and enjoyable with AC and free Wi-Fi.

Hina Alvarez

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Julie Dricot

Our train ride from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko Station was enjoyable with the scenic view along the way. When we arrived at Kawaguchiko Station, we then joined the Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-Go” (AM Course), where our tour guide shared many interesting historical facts about the area, and for those who don’t speak Japanese, a GPS-based automated multilingual guidance system explained the sights in English, Chinese and Thai. All the way up to Fujikyu Unjo-kaku, located on the Fuji Subaru Line 5th station, we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of Mt. Fuji! Upon arriving at the 5th Station, we took our time to explore the area, including Komitake Shrine where we witnessed an incredible view overlooking the beautiful landscape of the area. We then took the easiest route up to Fuji-Yoshida Trail 6th Station. Though we quickly got tired, it was so much fun and rewarding when we finally reached our destination. I’m glad to have experienced this with my friends and would highly recommend it to people seeking an adventure around Mt. Fuji.
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Sample schedule for a day on the Fuji-Goko Bus Tour (AM Course) and a short hike from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station.
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Fuji Five Lake Sightseeing Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-go” Mt.Fuji 5th station observation route (AM course)

Available dates: Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays from April 22nd to November 19th, 2017 (Except from May 3rd to 5th)
Cost: Adults 2,800 JPY, Children 1,400 JPY for either the AM or PM course.
Adults 4,500 Children 2,250 JPY for both the AM & the PM courses.
Address: Kawaguchiko St.
3641 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0301
Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station
Fujisan 8545-1 Narusawa-mura, Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0320
URL: Visit this website to make an online reservation *Reservation closes 30 min before departure, however if there are available seats, you can buy your tickets at the ticket counter.


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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

Ikebukuro East Exit: where pop culture thrives

ikebukuro east exit

Ikebukuro’s east exit is the perfect spot for everyone – whether you are an anime lover, a passionate shopper or a trendwatcher looking for the next best electronic device – this area will not leave you wanting for more!

A butlers-café : SWALLOWTAIL 執事カフェ スワロウテイル

Not just another maid café
butlers cafe in ikebukuro east exit
Ever wonder what it would be like to have a butler? Well, now is your chance to fulfill that fantasy! At this unique café, you will be served by male staff dressed as Victorian butlers. Their impressive attention to detail will leave you supremely satisfied and absolutely amused. Since taking photos inside the café is not allowed, stop by the gift shop across the street to buy a souvenir for memory’s sake. If there is a cancellation, you may be able to make a walk-in reservation, but to ensure that you do not miss this unique opportunity, it’s best to book a spot online.

butler in butler cafe ikebukuro tokyo
ikebukuro cafe look interior
Hours: cafe 10:30am – 9:20pm Closed: Can vary by the month. Check online for further information.
Address: 1F Showa Bldg., 3-12-12 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL: Visit A butlers-café : SWALLOWTAIL’s website here.

HACOSTADIUM Cosset Ikebukuro ハコスタジアム コセット池袋本店

Cosplay wonderland for a day
cosplay paradise photo studio
This rental photography studio takes cosplay (dressing in costume) to an entirely new level! Reserve a spot online (in Japanese only) or walk-in without reservation (if space is available). After checking in at the 6th floor, head to the changing room where they have space for you to do your hair and makeup. If need of a costume, don’t worry, there is a cosplay store on the 2nd to 4th floor of the building! Once changed, head down to the 5th floor where the fun begins! No videotaping is allowed, but you can take photos in any of the ten sets. If available, you can also ask the staff to take your photos. You may have to share with other customers, but this is the perfect way to observe authentic cosplay.

different scenarios cosplay
alice cosplay
Hours: 10am – 8:30pm
Address: Animate Sunshine 5/6 F, 3-2-1 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL: Visit Hacostadium’s website here. (only in Japanese)

Alice in an old castle 古城の国のアリス

Enter a captivating magical place
alice in the old castle themed restaurant ikebukuro
With an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland theme, this restaurant takes you into a whole different magical realm! From glamorous chandeliers to giant playing cards, it is as though you stepped into the Queen of Hearts’ enchanted castle. The floor is divided into five themed sections: the red bedroom; the queen’s crystal ball; the magical mirror dress room; the ocean temple; and the mermaid cave. Be sure to make reservations.

seat at alice in the old ikebukuro
food at alice in the old castle themed restaurant in ikebukuro
Hours: 5pm – 11:30pm (Last Order 10:30pm) weekdays, 4pm – 11:30pm (Last Order 10:30pm) weekends and national holidays
Address: Suzukazu Bldg. B1, 2-16-8 Minamiikebukuro,Toshima-ku

animate アニメイト 池袋本店

Wonderland for anime lovers
animate main store in ikebukuro

If you are looking for anime related goods, a visit to animate is an absolute must! This nine-story building, the largest anime merchandise store in the world, is a virtual mecca for anime aficionados. There are three floors for manga (comic books), two floors for anime merchandise, and a floor for CDs, DVDs and games. The store also holds exhibitions, talk shows and autograph events featuring popular voice actors. If you are interested in trending manga, stop by the 2nd floor to be truly in-the-know. Be prepared to spend a whole afternoon at animate time will fly!

Hours: 10am – 9pm
Address: 1-20-7 Higashiikebukuro,
Toshima-ku

 

Ikebukuro West Exit; A taste of art and culture

bridge ikebukuro red west exit culture
Considered to be Ikebukuro’s central location for decades, the west exit has deep roots in the district’s history and culture. With the establishment of a rail line in 1914 (present-day Tobu Tojo Line), Ikebukuro became a hub for educational institutes, starting with Rikkyo University; even to this day, there are several prep and vocational schools in the vicinity. With the introduction of additional rail lines during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods, the formerly farmland district morphed into a thriving urban area. To enjoy architecture from that time, stop by Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, a former girl’s school that was designed in 1921 by the legendary American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

During the Meiji period, an artisan village called Atorie Mura, nicknamed “Ikebukuro Montparnasse” after the 1920’s art district of Paris, brought many Japanese artists and writers together. Destroyed by air raids during WWII, its history and spirit live on in art galleries and events around town. Venture over to Morikazu Kumatani Art Museum to get a taste of works from an artist of that time! In addition to art and architecture, music also plays a key role around the west exit. From the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre to “live houses” (small concert venues), you are sure to find any sort of music that matches your taste. Take a breather to soothe your soul by checking out west Ikebukuro’s historical and modern artistic sides!

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo ホテル椿山荘東京

Relaxing Oasis

hotel chinsanzo tokyo ikebukuro

If you don’t mind a little walking, head over to Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, a 35-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station. After a cup of tea while taking in the superb view from the hotel’s lobby lounge, Le Jardin, head down and marvel
at the luxury garden oasis, which blooms throughout the seasons. With its firefly events and beautiful hydrangea in early June, not to mention its colorful crape-myrtle from July to August, you can take a stroll through the narrow lanes and explore the many Japanese objects placed throughout the surroundings. It’s a quiet place of peace within a bustling metropolis, inviting you to dream away the daily city grind.

Hours:Le Jardin 9:30am –10pm (Last Order)
Address: 2-10-8 Sekiguchi, Bunkyoku
URL:Visit Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo’s website here.

Rikkyo University cafeteria’ Daiichi-Shokudo立教大学 第一食堂

Time travel to the Taisho period

rikki university

Rikkyo University, one of the six leading universities in Tokyo, was founded in 1874 and is well known
for its exterior of red brick buildings and a chapel. This historical location makes it worth a visit and invites you to take a rest at the main dining hall of the institute. Completed in 1919, the cafeteria is located in the main building of the campus, which acts as the symbol of the university. Among other campus buildings, it has been selected as an Historical Building of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The hall, with its high ceiling, black wooden beams and dark stucco walls, takes you right back to the middle of the Taisho period , feeling the lively atmosphere of the past. After sampling some typical Japanese dishes (at very reasonable prices), set off for your next adventure!

rikki university outside trees
rikki university outside
Hours: Mon – Fri 8:30am – 5:30pm; Sat 10am – 5:30pm
Address: 3-34-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre 東京芸術劇場

Enchanting Concert Hall

concert hall ikebukuro tokyo

The high ceiling and fabulous glass facade are bound to catch the attention of all passersby, especially when beautifully lit up for the evening. Though opened in 1990 (reopened in 2012 after renovation), the modern architecture and interior are exactly what you would expect from Tokyo’s central theater – elegant and enchanting. From classical music, theater and dance, this concert hall offers a variety of performing arts. Make reservations online or visit the box office on-site to get a chance to see the Concert Hall, where a magnificent pipe organ (said to be one of the world’s largest) is on display!

Address:1-8-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre’s website here.

The secret ice world underneath Mt. Fuji

icicles mt. fuji fugaku fuketsu
Located about 20 minutes by bus from Kawaguchiko Station, inside a forest formed by the ashes of Mt. Fuji’s past eruptions over a thousand years ago, a mysterious opening in the ground greets visitors into a different world. It’s the Fugaku Fuketsu Wind Cave, a 201-meter long lateral cave that maintains an average temperature of three degrees Celcius year-round. The cave was used until the Showa Period as a natural refrigerator to store seeds and silkworm cocoons. It features large icicles that are formed by water seeping through the porous rocks, as well as solidified lava moulded into a variety of shapes.

A 20-minute walk away is the Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave, featuring two tunnels that wrap around a pit creating an annular shape. It also has impressive ice pillars that can reach up to 50 centimeters in diameter and 3 meters high in April. It was designated in 1929 as a natural monument by the Ministry of Education of Japan. The two caves and the Lakes Kawaguchiko, Siako, Shoji and Motosu are convenientely connected by route buses serving different areas and offer three lines, the green line, the red line, and the blue line. Visit this website to find out their schedules and a route map.

Two of our WAttention Ninjas got to experience a tour of the caves and the surrounding Aokigahara Jukai Forest, and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Jake Reiff

The Aokigahara Jukai Forest, at the base of Mount Fuji is home to the Wind and the Ice caves. These caves literally sent chills down my spine as they can be quite cold, so I would recommend visitors to bring a light jacket. It is a refreshing way to cool down on a hot day. Both the Wind and Ice Caves feature natural icicles that are formed from the ground up, however the Wind Cave has an extra exhibit that showcases how past generations used the caves as natural refrigerators. We joined an English tour where we learned a lot about the caves and took a walk in the Aokigahara Jukai Forest. In addition to the various activities that are available at the destination, the Green Line bus ride offers incredible sightseeing and photo opportunities such as Lake Kawaguchiko, Lake Saiko, and Mount Fuji itself. The lakes are surrounded by lush green trees and resemble a miniature beach because of the people who set up tents on the sand shore. Almost every store on the way has Mt. Fuji themed items such as cookies, clothes, candy, etc. Gifts for family and friends that are exclusive to Japan will not be difficult to come by.
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Our trip started at Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal, where we rode a highway bus to Kawaguchiko Station. We then took the scenic Green Line bus where we could see breathtaking landscapes of the still snow-capped Mt. Fuji and the peaceful lakes around it. We then joined a tour to visit two caves created from solidified lava from Mt. Fuji’s past eruptions. Even though it was quite hot outside, surprisingly the caves remain cool throughout the year. The Wind Cave has a horizontal shape while the Ice Cave has a vertical shape, but both have huge icicles formed by water that filters through the rock. I was particularly impressed by the beautiful landscape surrounded by the two caves. The Aokigahara Jukai Forest is filled with lush nature, offering great photo opportunities. A must for any nature lover visiting Japan!

Franklin Balseca

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Sample schedule for a day visiting the Fugaku Fuketsu Wind Cave and Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave shibazakuraschedulefinal

The Fugaku Fuketsu Wind Cave and Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave

Open: from May 9th to June 15th, from 9am to 5:15pm, for other periods, please refer to the official website.
Entrance fee: Adults 350 JPY, Children 200 JPY
URL: http://www.mtfuji-cave.com/en/
Guided Nature Tour:
-1 hour visiting one of the caves and a walk around Aokigahara Jukai Forest is 10,000 JPY
-2 hours visiting both caves and a walk around Aokigahara Jukai Forest is 15,000 JPY.
-Tour available in five languages: English, Chinese, German, French and Korean.
Guided Nature Tour fax reservations:
0555-85-3497
Guided Nature Tour e-mail reservations: fujikankou@an.wakwak.com

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

Guide to marvelous Summer Festivals!

fireworks festival summer japan
From firework festivals, shrine events and dance parades; among the hundreds of events going on during the hottest time of the year, here are some suggestions for you!

Asakusa Summer Night Festival – Toro Nagashi

Follow the flickering paper lanterns floating down the river!

Toro Nagashi was first held in 1946, in memory of those who died in World War II. After a pause in 1965, the event came back to life in 2005; since then, it has become a popular annual summer event. Besides writing down the names of loved ones who have passed away, recently people also inscribe wishes on the paper lanterns and release them into the river. Attendees can light a lantern for 1,500 yen and watch the warm sea of shining lights from the riverbank.

toronagashi festival

Date: Aug 12, 2017 (Sat) Hours: 6:30pm – 8pm
Viewing Spot: Sumida Park Shinsui Terrace between Azumabashi and Kototoibashi Bridge
Access: 3-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tobu Skytree Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line)

Fukagawa Hachiman Festival

Immerse yourself in one of Tokyo’s biggest summer festivals!

In addition to the Sanno and Kanda Festivals, the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival is one of the major Shinto annual events remaining from the Edo period. It is held on a large scale every three years (most recently in 2014), when the imperial carriage of Hachiman, the god of war, is carried through the streets together with 120 large and small portable shrines. The highlight of the event is a parade of more than 50 large portable shrines. Also called “Mizukake Water Festival,” the carriers, shouting “Wasshoi Wasshoi!” (Heave-ho in English), are splashed with water by those cheering along the roadside.

fukagawa hachiman matsuri festival water

Date: Aug 11 – 15, 2017 (Fri – Tue) Hours: 9am – 9pm
Address: Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, 1-20-3 Tomioka, Koto-ku Access: 3-min walk from Monzen-nakacho Station (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line, Toei Oedo Line)

Sumida River Fireworks Festival

Be enchanted under the sparkling night sky!

Japanese fireworks displays are popular for their kaleidoscopic colors and spectacular designs, and the one along Sumida River is no exception! Boasting a total of 22,000 fireworks and attracting about one million visitors yearly, this summer event is one of Tokyo’s biggest. Its history dates to 1733, when it was held in memory of the many victims of a severe famine. Since 1978, it has been an annual event, and people look forward to it with great anticipation year by year. Don´t miss the chance to see one of the most breathtaking fireworks displays in all of Japan!
fireworks sumida river tokyo hanabi
Date: Jul 29, 2017 (Sat) *In case of stormy weather, the event will be held on July 30th (Sun)
Hours: 7:05pm – 8:30pm
Viewing Spot 1: Between Sakurabashi and Kototoibashi Bridge
Viewing Spot 2: Between Komagatabashi and Umayabashi Bridge
Access: 10-min walk from Asakusa Station (Tobu Skytree Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line)

Roppongi Hills Bon Dance Festival

Wear yukata and join the folk dance!

The Bon dance is a folk dance for greeting the spirits of ancestors. People line up in a circle and dance around a high wooden stage (yagura in Japanese). Feel free to jump in and follow the steps of the yukata-clad leaders on stage! The choreography is very simple, which makes it easy to learn quickly, even for those with “two left feet.” Glowing lanterns add to the traditional atmosphere and stalls abound to provide a variety of refreshments and snacks.

dance folk roppongi summer festival

Date: Aug 26 – 27, 2017 (Sat – Sun) Hours: 5pm – 8pm
Address: Roppongi Hills Arena, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Access: Directly at Roppongi Station – Exit 1C (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line); 4-min walk from Roppongi Station –
Exit 3 (Toei Oedo Line)

Immerse in Japanese culture and experience yukata

buying yukata
With the amount of foreign visitors to Japan increasing each year, it’s becoming more common to see tourists immersing in Japanese culture and wearing a traditional kimono or yukata, especially when the hot, humid months make it more comfortable to explore around in these light, cotton garments. Whether you decide to buy or rent your yukata, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

Main building 4F kimono floor
Shopping in a World of Class and Tradition

Founded in 1673 under the name of Echigoya, Mitsukoshi was known for specializing in kimono fabrics. In 1904, it became Japan’s first department store. The building houses historic objects from throughout the centuries, and provides a unique and authentic Japanese shopping adventure in Tokyo’s Nihombashi area. Before summer approaches, Mitsukoshi opens its annual yukata display in preparation for the season’s festivities. This year’s yukata theme is “flowers”; garments with fresh, tie-dyed floral prints in a variety of colors are on sale, including masterpieces from Chikusen and other renowned brands. While the wide selection of yukata and accessories may feel overwhelming at first, don’t worry: Friendly, knowledgeable assistants are eager to lend a hand in selecting the perfect yukata just for you. From colors and patterns to accessory combinations, they provide expert professional advice, making the shopping experience smooth for those who have no familiarity with yukata and/or may not be sure what looks best on them. If you are still unsure about your selection, do not hesitate to try on the yukata to see how it actually
mitsukoshi
looks. The attentive staff knows exactly how to dress you based on your body type – and you will be amazed how quickly and gracefully they move! During the process, feel free to ask questions; they are more than happy to give you helpful tips. This surely is the most authentic way.
Hours: 10:30am – 7:30pm
Address: 1-4-1 Nihombashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku
Access: 1-min walk from Mitsukoshi-mae Station
(Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hanzomon Line)

Rutile

Traditional Yukata experience in Asakusa

rutile yukata rental service tokyo
Rutile, a yukata rental store in Tokyo’s cultural center Asakusa, invites you to stroll through the narrow sidewalks of the area while wearing Japan’s traditional summer garment. After submitting an online reservation, you can discuss about the additional services available once at the store. In addition to selecting your favorite yukata from a wide range of designs, they also provide hair styling, makeup and photo shooting services for a small extra fee. The streets of Asakusa provide the perfect setting for your traditional yukata experience. Enjoy firework festivals, discover hidden places, take a ride in a rickshaw or taste the many goodies sold at food stalls in the area. Rutile offers a special discount of 500 yen in addition to their reasonable prices for those who upload a photo to their private SNS accounts and mention the store during their experience.
Hours: 10am – 7pm
Address: A One Building 5F, 1-33-8
Asakusa, Taito-ku
Access: 3-min walk from Asakusa
Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line)
URL: http://rutile.shop/index.html

Yukata Hanabi

Take off in Japan’s traditional summer garment

Only 30 seconds away from Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya Station, start your yukata experience at Yukata Hanabi! Providing you with the best service, professional makeup and hair artists will take care of your fresh summer look. You can rent the yukata of your choice for a total of three days, which will relieve you of having to worry about the shop’s closing hours. It is also possible to purchase your favorite yukata for a reasonable price. Fully dressed, take to the streets of Shibuya and make your way to the many firework
hanabi yukata
and summer festivals around town! When you like Yukata Hanabi’s Facebook page, you will be rewarded with a 500 yen discount on your total fee.
Hours: 10am – 6pm (Sat & Sun) Opened when firework festival falls on a weekday
Address: Yushin Building 1F, 3-27-11 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku
Access: 30-second walk from Shibuya Station – New South Exit
URL: http://www.yukatahanabi.com/

Find out the best summer festivals to wear your yukata in this article.

A Relaxing weekend around Lake Kawaguchiko with your family

DAY 2


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Start your day with a well-balanced breakfast on the top floor of Highland Resort Hotel & Spa and enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji from large panorama windows. Get ready and make your way to the Fujikyu Highland Station on the Fujikyuko Line, and get off at Kawaguchiko Station or you could also take the free touristic bus connecting the hotel to Kawaguchiko station.

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After exploring the vicinity of the station, set off for a 46min walk to the northern shore of Lake Kawaguchiko. A stunning view of cherry blossoms embracing Mt. Fuji awaits you.

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After a 43min walk back to the eastern shore, hop onto the Kachi Kachi Yama Ropeway, which will take you to Kawaguchiko Tenjo-yama Park.

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Starting from the foot of Mt. Tenjo at Kawaguchi-Kohan Station, the ropeway takes you to the summit at Fujimidai Station within three minutes. Enjoy a superb view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko, and if you are lucky, even the Southern Alps!

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Mt. Tenjo (1,075 meters) is the setting of the Japanese folktale, “Kachi-kachi Yama” by Dazai Osamu, in which a rabbit outwits an evil tanuki (Japanese raccoon) by setting him on fire and letting him drown in a river. In theme with the story, the ropeway as well as the observation area is decorated with cute cartoon characters of the rabbit and tanuki.

These pictures are from before the restoration.

The observatory facility, with its souvenir shop and heart-shaped bell, is under construction until summer. The pictures shown here are from before the renovation.

If you only purchased a one-way ticket, enjoy the 45min hiking trail down Mt. Tenjo, and pass the Nakabadaira observation area, which features a monument of Osamu. During summer season (mid-July through the beginning of August), you can enjoy a hundred thousands of hydrangea flowers blooming in a dozen different colors.
After arriving at the foot of the mountain, make your way back to Kawaguchiko Station and take the train to Shimoyoshida Station.

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From there, signs will lead you to the Arakurayama Sengen Park, which houses the five-storied Chureito Pagoda. The pagoda is located about 400 steps apart from the Arakura Sengen Shrine and was built in 1963 as a peace monument. Surrounded by cherry blossoms, with Mt. Fuji in the background it’s the perfect photo spot!

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Read about convenient accommodation and shops near Mt. Fuji by clicking HERE

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

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

Convenient accommodation and shopping options near Mt. Fuji

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CABIN & LOUNGE HIGHLAND STATION INN

Are you traveling on a low-budget? Then we have the best solution for you and your friends! Whether you plan an exciting hiking adventure, or you want to have fun at Fuji-Q Highland, the Cabin & Lounge Highland Station Inn provides you with a comfortable accommodation for a reasonable price! This recently opened capsule hotel is just a minute walk from Fuji-Q Highland Station. The Hotel is divided by a women’s and a men’s floor, which is only accessible by a security card.

The floors have their own lounge, and the cabins are equipped with comfortable semi-double size mattresses, USB and power outlets, as well as dimming lightning and free wi-fi.

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The lobby lounge on the first floor is the perfect place to relax as you plan your next adventure with the large selection of guidebooks and pamphlets available.

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For guests who plan to visit the Fuji-Q Highland on the same day as checking in into the Hotel, the entrance for the amusement park will be free of charge!
Around the hotel’s vicinity includes a convenience store, karaoke, restaurants, a camera and mobile phone shop, the bus stop, and a climbing equipment rental shop.

LA MONT MOUNTAINEERING GEAR RENTAL SHOP

The La Mont Mountaineering Gear Rental Shop right next to the Cabin & Lounge Highland Station Inn, equips you with the best and necessary equipment for your hiking adventure.

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The friendly staff gives advice on how to correctly use walking sticks, as well as how to choose the right hiking boots or jacket for you. They also provide women and men clothing in a variety of colors.

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At the sales corner, you can even buy barely used goods for a fair price.

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The shop also provides a powder room for women to get ready for their hikes, as well as lockers where you can store your luggage! Next to the entrance is the guidance counter for foreign tourists, which provides you with information about the area.

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If you are not able to visit the store itself, a convenient rental service is available online. Choose your preferred outfit, pay the rental fee, and have it delivered to your house.

FUJISAN STATION HOTEL

Footsteps away from the Mt. Fuji Station

If you have decided to visit the Mt. Fuji area, but haven’t a clue where to stay for the night, FUJISAN STATION HOTEL is a great option, as it is only two minutes’ walk away from Mt. Fuji Station.

FUJISAN-STATION-HOTEL

The hotel offers single, twin, double and triple rooms to cater to single travelers as well as family groups. Although designed in the modern style, FUJISAN STATION HOTEL preserves a great mountain atmosphere. Also available are guest rooms with a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji.

FUJISAN-STATION-HOTEL-room

The hotel has a nice restaurant with a spacious, open air feeling. Enjoy the breakfast here with a stunning view of nature.

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The hotel staff is ready to help guests with tourism information. A variety of pamphlets are available in the lobby for those who want to do some homework before setting off.

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FUJISAN-STATION-HOTEL-reception

With its convenient access and excellent service, FUJISAN STATION HOTEL is the place to relax at your own pace and explore the Mt. Fuji.

FUJISAN STATION HOTEL

Address: 2-7-12 Matsuyama, Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture
Access: Two minute walk from Mt Fuji Station
URL: http://www.fujisanstation-hotel.com

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

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

A Relaxing weekend around Lake Kawaguchiko with your family

DAY 1


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Make your way straight to Fuji-Q Highland amusement park by taking the Fuji-Q Highway Bus – Resort Express from Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Shibuya Station (Mark City), or directly from Haneda Airport. The amusement park is located in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, on the foothills of Mt. Fuji! The comfortable bus ride takes 1hr40min to your destination, and free wifi is also available.
As you get closer to Fuji-Q Highland, a stunning view of Mt. Fuji can be enjoyed from your seat! To experience this area to its fullest, a stay of two days is recommended, and the Highland Resort Hotel & Spa, which is located right in front of the gates of Fuji-Q Highland, is the best to relax after an exciting day.

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A marvelous view of Mt. Fuji or the thrilling rides of Fuji-Q Highland are guaranteed from your room. Choose between Japanese-style rooms, the popular character rooms (such as the Lisa and Gaspard Rooms or the Thomas Rooms that feature items from the character’s adventures), or indulge in the luxury of the Grand Executive Floor, where the rooms are designed to be in perfect harmony with Mt. Fuji which is majestically displayed in front of the panorama window.

This room resembles Lisa’s apartment in the Pompidou Centre, the institute of culture in Paris.  ©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
This room resembles Lisa’s apartment in the Pompidou Centre, the institute of culture in Paris. ©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
 A reproduction of Gaspard’s apartment in Paris. ©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
A reproduction of Gaspard’s apartment in Paris. ©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre

A room at the Grand Executive Floor with a view at Mt. Fuji.
A room at the Grand Executive Floor with a view at Mt. Fuji.

Start your adventure in the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park at the Ferris wheel and be ready for the impressive view of Mt. Fuji, which awaits you on the top!

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Besides the many thrilling rides and haunted houses, get on a 4D flight simulator “Fuji Airways”, chairs surrounded by a large screen, and engage in a flight around Mt. Fuji! Experience the sacred mountain during all the four seasons thanks to footage of drones and motor paragliders carrying 6k cameras. The ride even features an original orchestral work named “Mt. Fuji,” by famous composer Joe Hisaishi.

Fuji Airways
Fuji Airways

Another popular attraction is the Thomas Land, which is themed after the British children’s book series, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends!

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited

This family friendly theme park is designed for all to have a good time! Get on a train ride with Thomas or one of his friends, ride the mini roller coaster or climb through a 3D maze, among many other exciting attractions!

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited

Don´t forget to take a picture at the Thomas’ Monument and try out the many different snacks and dishes at the cafés and restaurants, which are cutely shaped in the form of Thomas and his friends!

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited

Even if you are not aware of the characters yet, you will definitely fall in love with them in no time!
Stroll through La Ville de Gaspard et Lisa, located right in front of the park’s entrance, and meet Gaspard and Lisa, two famous French picture book characters. With traditional French architecture and a small replica of the Eiffel Tower, this space offers visitors with a lively European atmosphere.

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre

The two-tiered merry-go-round provides the perfect view of the entire town. Stop by at the cafe BRIOCHE, and get your hands on some cutely designed breads and pastries! The most popular item is the custard filled bread shaped like Mt. Fuji.

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre

At the souvenir shop, purchase park-limited, as well as official Gaspard and Lisa themed items. On the second floor, you will find a reproduction of Georg Hallensleben’ atelier, the creator of Gaspard and Lisa. Learn more about the characters, or watch the animated seriesin a small cinema.

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre

If you are craving sweets, make your way to the patisserie and get your hands on pastries in the shape of Mt. Fuji or cookies in the design of Gaspard and Lisa.

©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre
©2017 Gullane (Thomas) Limited
©2017 Anne Gutman & Georg Hallensleben / Hachette Livre

Subsequent to La Ville de Gaspard et Lisa, the Fujiyama Museum houses a collection of paintings focusing on Mt. Fuji by prominent modern artists. The mountain has been a graceful yet majestic motif for artists throughout all centuries, and this museum owns a collection of traditional and modern paintings. See the works of the famous ukiyo-e artist, Hokusai Katsushika, as well as Hiroshige Utagawa and Yayoi Kusama. You can also purchase some unique Mt. Fuji souvenirs, relax at the café or participate in craft workshops.

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After your adventure filled day, unwind at Fujiyama Onsen (hot spring) next door, which provides free admission to hotel guests of Highland Resort Hotel & Spa!

Continue to DAY 2

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

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 picture-perfect Fuji Shibazakura Festival

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Small flowers with five heart-shaped petals in various shades of pink and purple cover the ground of a wide open area. Their different colors come together to weave a beautiful tapestry. As if that idyllic, almost surreal landscape weren’t enough, the picture-perfect view is crowned by Mt. Fuji, with its peak half covered in snow. This is what awaits visitors at the venue of the Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival, which draws both locals and visitors to its enchanting view every spring, making it a great starting place to explore the Fuji Five Lake area.

A two and half hour ride away on the express bus from Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal, the venue for Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival features more than 800,000 moss phlox flowers, also known as Shiba-zakura in Japanese (meaning “lawn cherry blossom”). Besides snapping calendar worthy pictures, visitors can enjoy a variety of delicious local dishes at the Mt. Fuji delicious food festival, located in the food area of the venue. Unique souvenirs such as limited-edition green tea boxes and an endless supply of Mt. Fuji-themed products are also available for purchase at the souvenir store.

Recently, two of our WAttention Ninjas had the chance to visit the Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival, and this is what they had to say about their trip.

Rozemarije Zijlmans

We took a comfortable bus ride from Shinjuku Station to the Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival, where we met a stunning landscape: a carpet of pink, purple, lilac and fuchsia flowers. Like the cherry blossom, shiba-zakura bloom in five petals, but they grow rather quickly, covering the ground like a lawn with thousands of flowers.
Without a doubt, the best spot for a coffee or tea break is the Fujiyama Sweets Sakura Café, serving sweets that look pink and delicious. We tried the Cherry Blossom-cheesecake, while enjoying the view. Next to us, on the panorama plaza bridge, people were trying to fit two Mount Fuji in their picture; the real one and a miniature one made out of shiba-zakura flowers.
We then took the Shiba-zakura Liner bus which dropped us off at the small, wooden station of Kawaguchiko. From there it was an easy walk to the Kawaguchiko lakeside where we got on board the pleasure boat “Ensoleille” for a pleasant trip around the lake before coming back to Tokyo.
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The Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival held in Yamanashi Prefecture is an unbeatable experience. I was impressed by the view of thousands of flowers covering up the whole ground. The festival also offers a variety of seasonal food and souvenirs to browse and enjoy. Sake fans can enjoy buying a Mt. Fuji-shaped bottle or a local wine brewed in the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. I also liked the sakura mochi (rice cake), wrapped in stunning festive boxes, as well as other Japanese food and drinks. After enjoying the beautiful view, we hopped on the Lake Kawaguchiko sightseeing cruise to leisurely soak up the scenery. Yamanashi Prefecture has a variety of different foods to be tried, including Hoto, a thick noodle dish that is perfect during a chilly spring day. The beauty and charm of Shiba-zakura, and Lake Kawaguchiko in general, is a stunning snapshot of the dream-like nation that is Japan.

Taylor Bond

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Sample schedule for a day visiting the Fuji Shiba-zakura festival and a cruise on Lake Kawaguchiko. shibazakuraschedulefinal

The Fuji Shiba-zakura Festival

Open: from Saturday April 15, 2017 until Sunday May 28, 2017 from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: Adults 600 JPY, Children 250 JPY
Address:212 Motosu, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Minamitsuru-gun,Yamanashi-prefecture
URL:http://www.shibazakura.jp/eng/
Bus Reservations:http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/highway/detail/id/1/
Phone: 0555-89-3031

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

WAttention NINJA meeting

What is WAttention Ninja?

You may already know Ninja from comic books and animations, right?

What you might not know is that unlike the Samurai who live for battle, the majority of Ninja were informants, whose primary job was to collect intelligence.

WAttention is now recruiting foreign students and residents who want to collect and spread information about Japan as WAttention Ninja.

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The Perks!

The perks of becoming a WAttention Ninja are endless!
・Go on interview trips around Japan for FREE
・Meet people you wouldn’t normally get to meet and try unique experiences
・Participate in numerous events and conduct backstage interviews
・Visit up-and-coming cafes and go to pre-opening restaurant receptions
・A variety of awards (certificate, original Ninja products, etc.)

Join us for our first WAttention Ninja Meeting

tabealetters
WAttention Tokyo, a free magazine for foreign visitors to Japan invites you to our first WAttention NINJA meeting! Meet other like-minded travelers and bloggers and chat with WAttention staff at a Cafe in Harajuku, Tokyo.

What’s on the agenda?

-A chat about your interest and ideas about sharing Japan’s charm with the world
-A survey to improve the quality and reach of our magazine and website
-Free snacks and soft drinks
-All participants will receive an original tote bag!

Notes:
-Please pay for your own transportation fees from your home to/from the venue in Harajuku, Tokyo.
-We will take promotional pictures during the event, so please join only if you agree to have your picture taken for this purpose.
-Please understand that due to limited space, we might not be able to invite all of our applicants.

Apply by filling out the following form:

Touring the best of Mt. Fuji Five Lakes area in just one evening

View from the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko
View from the north shore of Lake Kawaguchiko

Calmed waters inhabited by koi fish and swans, adorable thatched roof cottages, open fields carpeted with tulips or sunflowers and serene torii gates nestled in the forest, these are just some of the sights found in the Fuji Five Lakes area with the iconic Mt. Fuji at its center. The most convenient way to reach the area from Tokyo is on the Holiday Rapid Fujisan No. 1, which departs Shinjuku station and takes passengers directly to Kawaguchiko without the need to transfer to any other train or the need to pay any express rates. At Kawaguchiko, there are sightseeing bus tours that offer visitors the opportunity to make the most out of their time by taking them to the most iconic spots in a comfortable bus including transportation and admission fees as well as an automatic audio guide in English, Chinese and Thai.

There are two different courses available, both starting from either the Fuji Q Highland Highway bus terminal or Kawaguchiko Station. The “AM” course is a morning tour that goes to the 4th station of the Fuji Subaru line for impressive views at the observatory, then on to the 5th station where visitors can grab a bite and visit the nearby Komitake Shrine. Passengers have the option to stay in the area to explore or come back to Kawaguchiko station.

The “PM” course takes visitors across Ohashi Bridge for postcard views of Mt. Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko and then heads to Lake Yamanakako where tourists get off the bus and board a boat shaped like a giant white swan to cruise its calmed waters. The bus then passes Hana-no-Miyako Park, where depending on the season, enthusiast photographers can snap a picture of fields covered in flowers. Passengers also visit Oshino Hakkai Village, with its traditional houses and clear ponds. The tour ends with a visit to Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja shrine, a sacred place that marks the beginning of one of the routes to climb Mt. Fuji.

Three of our WAttention Ninja had the opportunity to experience the PM course and this is what they had to say.

Janina Karlman

I felt so relaxed when we arrived at Kawaguchiko, like we had just found a refuge from Tokyo’s big city life. First we strolled around the streets, took a lot of pictures, especially near the Lake Kawaguchiko where the cherry blossoms greeted us with their presence!
Later, we visited a Kimono rental shop, where the professional staff helped us with both hair and kimono and the final result was stunning! Afterwards, we headed back to the bus station to join the “Fuji Five Lakes Sightseeing Bus Tour”. The tour was in a comfortable bus, with friendly staff and an audio guide in several languages, to help those whose Japanese is not so great (like me). We did so many fun things, like getting on a big Swan-shaped boat across Lake Yamanakako, we walked around Oshino Hakkai Village, where locals asked us if they could take our picture because we were wearing kimono. I felt like a rockstar. But my absolute favorite place of the tour was the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed the sacred atmosphere of the shrine.
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The day started well as we enjoyed the view of the countryside and the beautiful nature on the train ride from Shinjuku station to Kawaguchiko. We walked around the lake enjoying the fresh air and the wonderful natural landscape. We then stopped by a kimono rental shop, where we picked out a kimono to wear for the day. Afterwards, we joined the sightseeing bus tour, which took us to the nearby Lake Yamanakako, where we boarded a swan-shaped boat. We took a seat at a sofa in the corner of the boat and sipped coffee, which we bought at the bar of the boat as we enjoyed the calmed 20 minute ride. We then headed to Oshino Hakkai Village. What a beautiful place! with its small ponds and crystal clear water. Here, I felt like a model because lots of people wanted to take our picture with the cherry trees in the background. Finally, after a few more minutes in the bus, we arrived at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine, where we enjoyed the beautiful nature and the peaceful atmosphere it gave the shrine.

Dagmar Warnecke

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Marie-Louise Straub

The day started at Shinjuku station where we took the Holiday Rapid Fujisan No.1 to Kawaguchiko. We arrived approximately two hours later and had some time to explore the town and its beautiful lake. We especially enjoyed taking pictures of cherry blossoms. After a small lunch and visiting a kimono rental shop to dress up for our tour, we joined the PM course of the “Fuji Five Lakes sightseeing tour”. Our first destination was Lake Yamanakako, where we enjoyed taking pictures of koi fish swimming near the pier of the “Swan Lake” pleasure boat. After the wonderful boat ride, we went back on board the bus and headed to Oshino Hakka Village, where we spent time at a nice little stream bordered by cherry trees taking pictures. The bright colors of our kimonos matched perfectly with the cherry blossoms. Our last destination was Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine in Kitaguchi. The road was lined with cedars that led to the shrine, it was impressive and gave us the opportunity to take more nice pictures. After spending time at the shrine and buying omikuji, fortune-telling paper strips, the bus took us back to Kawaguchiko.
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Sample schedule for a day using the Fuji Five Lake Sightseeing Bus Tour
schedulefujifivelakes

Fuji Five Lake Sightseeing Bus Tour “Highlights Fujisan-go”

Available dates: Saturdays, Sundays and National Holidays from April 22nd to 19 November, 2017 (Except from May 3rd to 5th) and National Holidays from April 22nd to 19 November, 2017 (Except from May 3rd to 5th)
Cost: Adults 2,800 JPY, Children 1,400 JPY for either the AM or PM course.
Adults 4,500 Children 2,250 JPY for both the AM & the PM courses.
Address: Kawaguchiko St.
3641 Funatsu, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru District, Yamanashi Prefecture 401-0301
Fuji-Q Highland Highway Bus Terminal
5 Chome-6 Shinnishihara, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi-ken 403-0017
URL: Visit this website to make an online reservation for the AM course and this website for the PM course. *Reservation closes 30 min before departure, however if there are available seats, you can buy your tickets at the ticket counter.
Kimono rental:Kimono Rental Kotobukiya
Phone: 0555-72-2911 (available only in Japanese)

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

Enjoy viewing Mt Fuji from Lake Yamanaka in winter

A view of Mt Fuji from Lake Yamanaka
A view of Mt Fuji from Lake Yamanaka

Mt Fuji has long been regarded as an emblematic symbol of Japan. It is an object of worship and source of artistic inspiration for Japanese artists and poets. Over the past centuries, the sacred mountain has become a must-visit destination for both locals and foreigners. Visitors can unveil its mystique charms either by appreciating it from afar or by climbing to the top. Join WAttention editors as we set off from Tokyo to discover the multifaceted beauty of Mt Fuji!

Holiday Rapid Fujisan No. 1
Holiday Rapid Fujisan No. 1

Mt Fuji straddles the border of two prefectures, Shizuoka and Yamanashi. Popular attractions include the five lakes located on the Yamanashi side—Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Motosu, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji and Lake Yamanaka. To discover the richness of Lake Yamanaka, WAttention editors hopped on Holiday Rapid Fujisan No. 1 (operating on weekends until June 25) headed for Fujisan Station from Shinjuku.

Fujisan Station
A two-hour ride from Tokyo takes you directly to Fujisan Station. The roof of a shopping center linked to the station is a secret spot only the locals know about. Buy a taiyaki, or Japanese fish-shaped cake with red bean paste filling, from the souvenir store next to the station and enjoy it while appreciating Mt Fuji. You can also get a souvenir ticket in the shape of Mt Fuji here and bring it home with you as a keepsake.

Fujisan Station
Fujisan Station
Get a souvenir ticket in the shape of Mt Fuji at Fujisan Station
Get a souvenir ticket in the shape of Mt Fuji at Fujisan Station
Japanese fish-shaped cake tastes all the more delicious with a spectacular view of Mt Fuji.
Japanese fish-shaped cake tastes all the more delicious with a spectacular view of Mt Fuji.

Shinobi-no-sato Ninja Village
The village’s Japanese garden is in perfect harmony with Mt Fuji in the backdrop. If time permits, take the time to soak your feet in the outdoor foot bath area overlooking this magnificent garden. As the name of the theme park suggests, you also get to push through hidden doors, shoot star blades and see real ninjas in action. Come and experience the secret world of ninja for yourself!

A view of Mt Fuji comes in sight with traditional Japanese garden at Ninja Village
A view of Mt Fuji comes in sight with traditional Japanese garden at Ninja Village
Have a foot spa while enjoying the spectacles of the garden
Have a foot spa while enjoying the spectacles of the garden
Ninja show is also something you don’t want to miss
Ninja show is also something you don’t want to miss
Too many taste bud tempers to choose from at Ninja Village
Too many taste bud tempers to choose from at Ninja Village

Lake Yamanaka Swan Cruise
View Mt Fuji from different angles on a swan-shaped cruise that takes you around Lake Yamanaka, the largest of the five lakes surrounding Mt Fuji. While on the boat, don’t forget to get one of the Mt Fuji cookies. For those not so much into cruises, get a picturesque view of Mt Fuji with the elegant swan cruise, blue skies, white clouds and clear waters in the background.

The swan cruise puts a smile on every face
The swan cruise puts a smile on every face

Get a bite of Mt Fuji from the shop inside the boat
Get a bite of Mt Fuji from the shop inside the boat


Fuji-Q Highland
Fuji-Q Highland is a renowned amusement park with several Guinness World Record breaking roller coasters. For those who are brave enough to ride on top of the roller coasters, don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking Mt Fuji before you drop speed fast.
Next to Fuji-Q Highland is a theme park featuring cartoon characters Lisa and Gasper. This unique place offers a truly authentic French atmosphere with Lisa and Gasper at every corner and every turn. Fans would not want to miss Les Rêves Salon de thé, a gorgeous French style café where afternoon tea can be sampled, and the gift shop which sells Lisa and Gasper goods.

Fuji-Q Highland offers the perfect dose of adrenaline rush
Fuji-Q Highland offers the perfect dose of adrenaline rush
The one and only Lisa and Gasper Town in Japan is located on the way to Fuji-Q Highland
The one and only Lisa and Gasper Town in Japan is located on the way to Fuji-Q Highland
Lisa and Gasper is at every corner of the town to welcome you
Lisa and Gasper is at every corner of the town to welcome you
Limited edition goods
Limited edition goods
Enjoy afternoon tea at Les Rêves Salon de thé
Enjoy afternoon tea at Les Rêves Salon de thé
The elegant afternoon tea menu makes one feel as if one is in France
The elegant afternoon tea menu makes one feel as if one is in France

Hotel Mt Fuji
Located on a hill overlooking Lake Yamanaka, the hotel offers an unobstructed view of Mt Fuji from its courtyard. On clear summer mornings from December to early March, the rising sun shines off the surface of Mt Fuji, giving it a unique red color. For a limited time from mid-October to late February, you can see the sun shine at the peak like a diamond. February is a good time of the year to visit because the weather is relatively stable and, if lucky, you get to see both views of Mt Fuji. Free shuttle bring guests to the firework display venue Lake Kawaguchi during winter.

Be greeted by a view of red Fuji from the guest room
Be greeted by a view of red Fuji from the guest room
Breakfast is tastier with Mt Fuji in view
Breakfast is tastier with Mt Fuji in view
The hotel boasts a view of Mt Fuji
The hotel boasts a view of Mt Fuji
Check out the sunset and sunrise time at the front desk
Check out the sunset and sunrise time at the front desk

Oshino Hakkai
Oshino Hakkai is a natural treasure consisting of eight ponds fed by clear spring from Mt Fuji. You can get great views of Mt Fuji here on a clear day. If luck is on your side, you can see a marvelous image of Mt Fuji reflected on the surface of a pond called Kagamiike. Without a doubt, Oshino Hakkai is the perfect place to encounter the mysterious power of nature.

Oshino Hakkai and Mt Fuji together is photogenic from every angle
Oshino Hakkai and Mt Fuji together is photogenic from every angle

WAttention editors recently visited Hatsushima, the nearest island from Tokyo, on an interview trip. We boarded ile de Vacances Premier from Atami and were amazed by the stunning view of Mt Fuji on the way. Soaring seagulls under the blue skies and clear waters, coupled with Mt Fuji, is as beautiful as a poem. Japanese people always ask for the direction of Mt Fuji when touring an area within the viewing distance of the sacred mountain. This is because Mt Fuji has so many different faces, changing its character every minute.

Setting sail for Hatsushima from Atami
Setting sail for Hatsushima from Atami

Mt Fuji sits serenely in the background as waves break on rocky shores at Hatsushima. This picturesque view can be compared to the Grave Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese artist of the Edo period.

Mt Fuji comes into view on the way to Hatsushima
Mt Fuji comes into view on the way to Hatsushima
Hatsushima also has a nice view of Mt Fuji
Hatsushima also has a nice view of Mt Fuji

Island Resort is an on-island resort with many leisure activities, such as tropical plant viewing, ocean spa, outdoor camping and various adventure courses. Get a cocktail while sunbathing at Asian Garden R-Asia, or experience the rush of adrenaline by walking on SARUTOBI’s six-meter high suspension bridge—an enjoyment suitable for all ages.

Island Resort is an on-island resort with many leisure and entertainment facilities
Island Resort is an on-island resort with many leisure and entertainment facilities
Tropical plants are in full bloom at Asian Garden R-Asia
Tropical plants are in full bloom at Asian Garden R-Asia
Sipping a refreshing cocktail when sunbathing
Sipping a refreshing cocktail when sunbathing
SARUTOBI adventure begins!
SARUTOBI adventure begins!
Experience the thrill of walking on a suspension bridge six meters high
Experience the thrill of walking on a suspension bridge six meters high
Jump from the top and slide to the ground
Jump from the top and slide to the ground

The camping area offers a majestic glimpse of Mt Fuji. Yellow rape flowers, pink cherry blossoms and snow-capped Mt Fuji from a fantastic landscape in early spring. This is the ideal destination for those into glamping activities.

Great view of rape flowers, cherry blossoms and Mt Fuji
Great view of rape flowers, cherry blossoms and Mt Fuji

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

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

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

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

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

Aagje Kessels

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

Jan Siegrist

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Jenny Teer

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

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

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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Japanese Gardens in Changing Times

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In the past, gardens were created by the upper-class of society and can be classified into three main groups:
1. Gardens representing a naturally scenery for aesthetic pleasure and later for strolling through
2. Dry landscape gardens
3. Tea ceremony gardens
Japanese gardens are meant to mimic natural landscape in a miniaturized form.

The history of garden design goes back about 1,000 years ago. The first form of gardening was seen in sacred places, deep in the forest containing natural objects like trees, mountains or rocks with extraordinary and rare shapes. These places marked with pebbles, white sand or rope ties were used for ceremonies to honor gods or sacred spirits which are believed to live in or come to these areas.

Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)
Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)

Chinese culture, especially Buddhism started influencing Japanese garden design in the 6th century. Since then, the style of this practice changed throughout the centuries and Japan developed its own special form of gardening. The ancient capital of Kyoto contains more than half of Japan´s historical gardens.

Different garden architecture throughout the centuries

Nara Period (710 – 794) 
Nara used to be the capital of Japan and during the end of the 8th century, Japanese garden culture sprouted and gardens for the higher society were built. These early gardens featured a pond with an island in the middle surrounded by shorelines and stone settings.

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Heijo Palace Site (Nara)

Heian Period (794-1192)
With the dawn of the new era, the capital moved to Kyoto. The upper class started building large gardens at their palaces and villas using a layout inspired by the Chinese concept of feng shui. The gardens located on the south side of the villa focused on large ponds and winding streams connected by bridges, which were passable by boats; as well as islands and pavilions which reached over the water. These royal gardens were first and foremost mostly places for amusement and ritual worship.
One specific feature in these gardens was an empty place covered in gravel. Since the emperor at that time was the chief priest of Japan, white gravel or sand was an element for purity. In this certain area gods were invited to visit and religious ceremonies, as well as welcome dances for the gods were performed.

The late Heian Period was determined by a new style of garden architecture which made its way to Japan, called Pure Land Buddhism or Amidism. This architecture represented the Buddhist paradise. These Paradise-Gardens were equipped similar to their predecessor, but much bigger and more colorful. The stream which flows through these gardens separates the earth and the afterlife in a symbolic way and the bridge symbolize exactly this chapter in life. The ponds instead were usually designed in the character for heart ‐心.The gardens were mainly used for meditative strolling, chanting sutras, and to receive guidance into spiritual life. These Paradise Gardens are the forerunners of the stroll gardens.

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Motsu-ji Temple (Iwate)

Kamakura (1185–1333) & Muromachi Period (1336–1573)

With the beginning of the Kamakura Period the power possessed by the aristocratic court was taken over by the military regime (将軍 shogun), which supported a new form of Buddhism called Zen. Due to this new movement, garden architecture changed and became more simple and compact.

The biggest change in gardening and towards minimalism were new designed dry landscape gardens (枯山水 karesansui), connected to temple buildings with the main purpose to support monks during their meditation exercises and for spiritual improvement. The accurate raked white sand represents water and precise arranged rocks are a symbol for islands. These gardens only consisted of elements like rocks, gravel and white sand. The garden is not accessible and mostly viewed just out of one angle representing an ideal landscape or a philosophical concept.

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Erin-ji Temple (Yamanashi)

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Tenryu-ji Temple (Kyoto)

Azuchi – Momoyama Period (1573 – 1603)

New gardens and cities were created when the Japanese feudal lords (大名 daimyo) and their robust castles were the center of power and culture. The gardens during this era had one or more ponds surrounded by a riverside out of small stones. Natural stone bridges and stepping stones, artificial mountains and more combined the design of a promenade garden with typical elements of Zen. They were located right next to the castle, where they were meant to be seen from above and combined the design of a promenade garden with typical elements of Zen.

A new concept of garden architecture was introduced, the tea garden (路地 roji). These gardens were meant to resemble the spirit of wabi (侘び), rustic simplicity, utility and calmness. The tea house is small and made out of wood with a thatched roof. A paper roll with an inscription and a branch was the only decoration allowed. The narrow garden itself was regularly watered to stay humid and green. Except a cherry tree bringing color during spring, other flowers in bright color were not allowed. The visitor was supposed to meditate before the tea ceremony starts, and bright and flashy colors would have distract the visitors’ attention. The entrance and the tea house were connected by a small path made of stepping stones, with benches to wait for the ceremony, while stone lanterns light the way and a wash basin out of stone was used for the ritual cleansing of hands and mouth.

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Daigo-ji Temple (Kyoto)

 

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Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)

Edo Period (1603-1867)

During the Edo Period, the Tokugawa clan, who became the Shogun, took over the power and moved Japan´s capital to Edo (today’s Tokyo). The minimalistic garden design from the Muromachi Period changed back into the landscape architecture of recreation and extravagance. Large strolling gardens (回遊式庭園 kaiyu-shiki teien) were designed featuring ponds, islands and artificial hills as well as elements of tea gardens.

Another new form of garden design was the tsuboniwa (坪庭 / tsubo is the size of 3,3m²), an inner garden or small courtyard garden created by the urban population. These could not be entered and provided a piece of nature and fresh air featuring decorative elements like stone lanterns, water basins out of stone, stepping stones and some plants meant to be viewed from a porch or from inside the house.

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Meiji Period (1868-1912)
With the Meiji Period came the age of modernization and the re-opening of Japan to the western world. A new law of the year 1871 opened old private strolling gardens and abandoned gardens from the Momoyama and Edo period to the public.

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (Tokyo)

Modern Japanese gardens (1912~)
Due to westernization western style city parks were designed featuring new elements like flowerbeds and open lawns. After World War II government agencies took over the task of building gardens instead of the private people. These new gardens are meant to be consistent with the architecture bringing landscape design to a different level.

“The White Gravel and Pine Garden “ Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)
“The White Gravel and Pine Garden “ Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)


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

사이타마에서 일본의 과거와 미래를 엿보다

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도쿄에서 근교에 위치한 사이타마 현 사이타마시는 인구 1,270,000 명의 일본에서 9 번째로 큰도시입니다 . 이곳은 도시의 활력과 전원 풍경이완벽한 조화를 이루고 있습니다 . 사이타마에 오셔서 일본의 전통과 현대가 어떻게 공존하고 있는지 감상하시기 바랍니다 !
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일본의 미래를 만나다
사이타마 시는 사이타마 신토신역과 고층 건물들이 하늘을 가득 메우고 있으며 , 30,000 명을수용할 수 있는 수퍼 아레나 와다양한 쇼핑몰이 밀집한 코쿤 시티 (COCOON CITY) 가 있습니다 .

Latest Fashion News
All in COCOON CITY
코쿤 시티는 사이타마 신토신역 근처에 위치한 메가 복합 쇼핑몰로 3개의 대형 쇼핑몰과 2개의 넓은 주차장으로 이루어져 있습니다. 이곳 코쿤 시티에서는 누구나 쇼핑과 엔터테인먼트를 즐길 수 있습니다. 지역의 맛집과 패션의 모든 것을 코쿤 시티에서 만나 보세요.

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미소노 : 개발 지역

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사이타마 시에서는 지난 몇 년 간 도시의 넓은 지역을 좋은 환경으로 바꾸기 위해 많은 노력을 기울여 왔습니다. 우라와 미소노역 근처의 320 헥타르에 달하는 미소노 지역은 현재 스포츠, 건강, 환경 및 자원에 초점을 둔 미래 소도시로의 개발을 위해 한참 작업이 진행 중에 있습니다. 미소노 윙 시티 는토지 자원의 생산적사용과 생활의 질 개선을 통해 보다 활기찬 지역으로 만드는 것을 콘셉트로 공공 부문뿐만 아니라 민간 부문 참여의 활성화를 위해미소노 도시 디자인 센터(UDCMi)가 설립되었습니다.이 공사는 1994년부터 진행되어 2021~2026년 경 완공 예정입니다.

COCOON CITY

일본의 전통 생활 방식 체험하기

도시의 즐거움뿐만 아니라 , 사이타마 시를 걷고 여행하다 보면 수 많은 역사 , 문화 유산들을 만날 수 있습니다 . 일본의 사이타마는 풍부하고 다채로운 전통을 즐기기 위한 최고의 경험을 선사합니다 .

무사시 이치노미야 히카와 신사

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2,000 년이 넘는 역사를 자랑하는 이 신사는 일본에서 가장 오래된 신사 중 하나입니다 . “이치노미야”라는 이름에서 알 수 있듯이 무사시 지역에서 가장 유명한 신사로 오미야 역시 이 신사에서 비롯된 이름입니다 .

주소 : 사이타마현 사이타마시 오미야구 다카하나초 1-407
오시는 길 : JR 오미야역 동쪽 출구와 도부 노다선의 기타 오미야역에서 도보 약 15 분

히카와 당고 가게

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히카와 신사를 향하는 길에 위치한 이 곳은 오랫동안 지역 주민들의 사랑을 받아온 가게입니다 . 그 중 가장 인기 메뉴는 미타라시 당고와 달콤한 간장 소스에 찍어 먹는 그릴 모찌 볼 구이 , 튀긴 만주 과자입니다 . dangoahorasi
콤한 간장 소스를 뿌린 당고2 개에 200 엔

주소 : 사이타마현 사이타마시 오미야구 다카하나초 2-130
오시는 길 : JR 오미야역 동쪽 출구에서 도보 약 10 분
운영 시간 : 9:00-18:30, 월요일 휴무

마스야 우나기 레스토랑

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우라와에는 입에서 살살 녹는 장어 요리 식당이 많이 있지만 , 이 곳 마스야는
120 년의 전통을 자랑하는 우라와에서 가장 유명한 식당입니다 . 이 식당만의 비법 소스는 다른 곳에서는 맛볼 수 없는 특별한 장어구이 맛을 선사합니다 .
운영 시간 : 11:00-14:45 ( 마지막 주문 ) 17:00-20:45 ( 마지막 주문 ), 일요일과 주말에는 19:45 이 마지막 주문 시간 .
월요일 휴무

미누마 쓰센보리 공원

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숲으로 둘러쌓인 이 지역의 중앙에는 일본에서 가장 오래된 미누마 쓰센보리 공원이 있습니다. 대나무 숲과 푸른 잔디로 뒤덮인 이곳에서 대자연과 일본의 역사를 만끽할 수 있습니다.

오시는 길 : JR 무사시노선의 우라와역에서 도보 약 5 분

오미야 분재 마을에가다
사이타마 기타구 본사이초는 오미야 분재 미술관에서 도보 몇 분 거리에 있으며, 1923년에 간토 대지진 이후 도쿄의 몇몇 원예사들이 이 곳으로 이주해 정착하면서 지금의 분재 마을이 되었습니다. 최근 분재 정원 수가 30개에서 6개로 줄었지만 이 곳은 여전히 일본 분재 문화의 중심지입니다.


일반 상식 정보!

오미야 분재 미술관 직원이 전하는 감상 팁에 의하면 초보자의 경우 분재를 밑에서 바라보며 잘 다듬어진 분재 가지 들을 감상할 수 있다고 합니다. 이일반 상식만으로도 친구들에게 분재에 대해 자랑할 수 있습니다!
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오미야 분재 미술관
2010년 3월에 개장한 이 박물관은 분재 문화 보존을 목적으로 건립되었습니다. 현재 일본 유일의 공공 분재 미술관으로 전세계에서 분재에 관심이 있는 이들이 방문하고 있습니다. 박물관 내에는 외국어 가이드 서비스를 통해 분재 감상법을 자세하게 알려 줍니다. 일본 문화를 보다 깊이 알고자 하는 분들께 오미야 분재 미술관을 추천합니다.

제 8 회 사이타마 세계 분재 컨벤션
분재는 미적 아름다움뿐만 아니라 저렴한 가격으로 귀여운 인테리어 효과까지 낼 수 있어 전 세계에서 사랑 받고 있습니다 . 4 월 27~30 일에 열리는 세계 분재 컨벤션에서는 분재 예술의 최신 트렌드를 한 번에 만나볼 수 있습니다 .
투르드프랑스 , 사이타마 크리테리움 Le Tour de France SAITAMA CRITÉRIUM
투르드프랑스에서 이름을 딴 이 크리테리움에서는 사이타마 신토신에서 네 차례 경주를 개최 , 투르드프랑스에 참가한 최정상 라이더뿐만 아니라 전세계 전문 라이더가 참가하고 있습니다 . 사이타마에서 투르드프랑스의 뜨거운 열기를 경험해 보시기 바랍니다 !

https://issuu.com/wattention/docs/korean-saitama

WAttention at NATAS 2017

WAttention promotes Niigata rice at NATAS Travel 2017, Singapore’s largest travel fair

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From February 17th to 19th WAttention Singapore participated in NATAS Travel 2017, organized by The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS). During three days, we promoted WAttention, gave out free samples of Niigata rice and conducted research to find out whether or not people recognize it as the best rice in Japan.
登録方法の説明
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We initially thought about starting out by talking about Niigata because we assumed that most people hadn’t heard about it. However, because WAttention’s booth attracts lots of Singaporeans who like Japan, there were lots of people who said they already knew or had already tried Niigata rice before we even talked about Niigata rice being the best brand in Japan.

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Our survey about Niigata rice ends at the beginning of March and we are looking forward to the results!

Hatsushima, an island full of adventure


A thrilling escapade away from bustling Tokyo


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

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

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

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

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

Santiago Basterra

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

Samuel Estribi

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Sample schedule for a day in Hatsushima Island
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Hatsushima Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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Sagamiko Resort, fun comes in many forms

With so much to do at Sagamiko Resort, the fun is guaranteed

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If you ever find yourself undecided or at an impasse with your friends over what to do on weekends, consider this: nobody will have to compromise if you go somewhere that offers something fun for everyone like Sagamiko Resort. Located in Sagamihara city in Kanagawa prefecture, this amusement park is just 50 minutes away from Shinjuku station by train. It offers a variety of attractions divided into different areas. On Pleasure Forest you will find around 30 different attractions including a Ferris Wheel located at the top of a mountain with amazing views of the surrounding area. At Wild Cooking Garden you can make use of the BBQ facilities to enjoy a relaxed meal with friends on a sunny day, and even if it’s raining, you’ll be able to cook your BBQ inside the indoor facilities. And at night, the Illumillion decorations turn the park into a colorful wonderland as six million color light bulbs create a breathtaking landscape.

For people who want to get in touch with nature, Sagamiko offers Paddington Bear™ Campsite, with different kinds of lodging options and everything you might need to enjoy a night outdoors, as well as mountain bicycle courses and one of Kanto area’s largest radio-control car courses.The park also offers the on-site Ururi onsen, with an open-air bath, bedrock bath, a restaurant and resting areas among other facilities.

Three of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of fun at Sagamiko Resort and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Kerstin Thies

The first thing that amazed me was the view on the mountains all around the resort. It was a nice alternative to the bustling streets of Shibuya and the tall skyscrapers in Shinjuku. Since we arrived at lunch time, we had a barbecue lunch at the campsite and we even got to try a dutch oven where we cooked a tasty chicken. One of the highlights of the trip was the mirror maze, since it was something I had not done before and made me and my friends laugh a lot. But by far, the most amazing thing was the decorations once it got dark. The whole park was illuminated by pink, red, gold, blue and green lights in all shapes and sizes. There was even a field of glowing flowers and a light show. Soon after watching the show and taking pictures, we went to Ururi onsen. It was my first time in an Onsen and it was a great experience. It felt great to soak in the hot water after being on the move all day. I left Sagamiko Resort with a softer skin and a lot of beautiful pictures and memories.
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We started our day with a delicious BBQ lunch, where we got to test our cooking skills. After our tummies were full, we went on to the attractions. The mazes were a lot of fun, especially the mirror maze. It was challenging and confusing at the same time but we had a lot of fun. We then visited the Ferris wheel which offered an amazing view. As the sun was setting, the “Illumillion” show started and the whole park lit with many beautiful colors, it was such an amazing sight. After a nice walk around the park, our bodies were tired so we decided to go to the onsen. It had many different kinds of baths with different temperatures to fit everyone’s preference. After an hour-long, relaxing bath my skin was very soft and my body felt really good and filled with energy. We then rode a direct bus from the park to Shinjuku, which was very convenient for us. This was an amazing experience, and I made really good memories.

Maren Steine

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Romina Bonilla

I had an amazing day at Sagamiko Resort with my friends. We arrived around lunch time and we headed straight to the BBQ area, where we had a delicious meal and even got to use the dutch oven, which I had never used before. We then spent a few hours enjoying the many attractions that the park has to offer. My favorite one was the Ferris wheel because of the amazing view. At night, I was impressed by the beautiful lights that decorate the park. We also had the chance to soak in the onsen and I was surprised to feel that my skin was very smooth and relaxed. I would definitely like to come back soon, I highly recommend it for anyone looking to have an amazing time!
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Sample schedule for a day in Sagamiko Resort
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Sagamiko Resort

Open: Open daily except Thursdays from 10:00am to 9pm on weekdays and from 9:30am to 9pm on weekends. Operation hours vary according to the season.
Address: 1634 Wakayanagi,Midori-ku,Sagamihara,Kanagawa 252-0175
Phone: 042-685-1111
Website: http://www.sagamiko-resort.jp/(in Japanese)
Access: Get on the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku station bound for Otsuki and get off at Sagamiko station. Then, get on the bus no. 1 bound for Mikage and get off at Pleasure Forest Mae. You can also take a direct bus from Shinjuku bus terminal to Pleasure Forest. (Operates only during Sagamiko Illumillion display season).
Price: Park admission 1,700 JPY for adults, 1,000 JPY for children and 1,000 JPY for pets
Free pass including park admission and unlimited rides to all attractions is 3,900 JPY for adults and 3,100 per children.

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
fuji-q-resorts-

A Peek into Japan’s Past and Future in Saitama

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The highlights of Saitama City’s booming skyline include Saitama Shintoshin Station, high-rise skyscrapers, Saitama Super Arena with seating capacity of 30,000 and COCOON CITY, a cluster of shopping malls offering pretty much everything you can imagine.
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Landscape in transformation

The fields of Saitama City’s Minuma-ku commands a great view of the fast growing Shintoshin, which means “the new heart of the city” in Japanese. Believe it or not, you can actually feel the metamorphosis taking place right here. Take the walking trail recommended by locals to view this city in a refreshing new way.

Latest Fashion News All in COCOON CITY
COCOON CITY is a mega shopping complex close to Saitama Shintoshin Station. Consisting of three large shopping buildings and two spacious parking areas, the mall offers all kinds of shopping options and entertainment activities to make sure everyone has a great time. For a glimpse into local cuisine and fashion, you can
not go wrong with COCOON CITY!

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Misono: A Developing District

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In recent years, The Saitama City Government has made great efforts to transform vast areas of land into welcoming landscapes. The reformation of Misono, a 320 hectare area neighboring Urawamisono Station, is in full swing and will turn the area into the next sub-city centre in on time, with a focus on sports, health, environment and resources. The concept behind Misono Wing City is to make productive use of land resources, improve quality of life and create a more livable community.To bring the project to fruition and integrate suggestions from both the public and private sectors, Urban Design Center Misono: UDCMi was set up. Construction work was carried out from 1994-2014 and will be finished between 2021-2026.

COCOON CITY

Experience Japan’s Traditional Way of Living

Besides bustling excitement, Saitama City is full of remarkable historical and cultural
heritage which you can discover through walks and excursions. There is no place better to enjoy Japan’s rich and colourful tradition.

Musashi Ichinomiya Hikawa Shrine

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With more than 2,000 years of history, this shrine is one of the oldest in Japan. As its name “Ichinomiya” suggests, it is the top shrine in the Musashi area. In fact, this is the shrine that gave Omiya its very name.

Address:1-407 Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama-shi, Saitama Prefecture
Access:15-min walk from JR Omiya Station East Exit and Kita Omiya Station
on the Tobu Noda Line

Hikawa Dango Shop

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Located next to the path leading to Hikawa Shrine, this shop has won the heart of locals for years. Mitarashi dango, or grilled mochi balls dipped in sweet soy sauce, and fried manju confectionery are popular options.dangoahorasi
Dango in sweet soy sauce two for 200 yen

Hours:9am – 6:30pm (Closed Mon.)
Address:2-130 Takahana-cho, Omiya-ku, Saitama-shi, Saitama Prefecture
Access:10-min walk from JR Omiya Station – East Exit

Masuya Unagi Restaurant

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Although there is no lack of restaurants in Urawa offering melt-in-your-mouth eel dishes, Masuya is the most famous because it has been around for over 120 years. The secret sauce gives the fish a special grilled flavor you can’t get anywhere else.
Hours:11am – 2:45pm (last order time) 5am – 8:45pm (last order time) 7:45pm is the last order time on Sundays and weekends (Closed Mon.)
Address: 7-1-3 Kishi-cho, Urawa-ku, Saitama-shi, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 6-min walk from JR Urawa Station – West Exit (Keihin Tohoku Line, Utsunomiya Line,Shonan Shinjuku Line)

Minuma Tsusenbori Park

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At the centre of this lush area is Minuma Tsusenbori, the oldest lock in Japan. The space, covered with graceful bamboo stalks flowing and green grass, is both beautiful and historic.

Visit Omiya Bonsai Village
Saitama’s Kita-ku Bonsai-cho is within a couple minutes walk distance from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum. In 1923, a group of gardeners from Tokyo moved in after the Great Kanto Earthquake, laying a solid foundation for today’s bonsai village. Although the number of bonsai gardens has dropped from 30 to six in recent years, the place remains the centre of Japanese bonsai culture.


Trivia information!

According to the staff at Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, beginners should try looking at the bonsai from the bottom up for an amazing outline of branches. This is fun trivia, bound to impress your friends!
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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum
Opened in March 2010, this museum aims to preserve the tradition of bonsai culture. As the only public bonsai art museum in Japan, it welcomes bonsai beginners from all around the world. The multilingual voice guide explains how to appreciate bonsai and is invaluable for those who want to know more about Japanese culture.

The 8th World Bonsai Convention in Saitama
Bonsai is celebrated all over the world not only as an aesthetic piece of art but also as an affordable, cute interior design feature. The World Bonsai Convention, slated to be held from 27-30 April, is a great chance to check out the latest trend in bonsai art.
Le Tour de France SAITAMA CRITÉRIUM
Named after Le Tour de France, this closed circuit race has been held in Saitama’s Shintoshin four times, attracting top riders who have participated in Le Tour de France as well as professional riders from across the world. Experience the excitement and adrenaline rush of Le Tour de France by visiting Saitama!

Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

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Blossoms cascade like a waterfall from the top of one large benishidare (weeping cherry blossom) tree, leaving a stream of petals on the ground. During its nocturnal light-up period, this sakura is especially beautiful; all will be moved by such a magical sight.


Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

Hours: 6am – 6pm
Admission: 300 yen (free for junior high students and younger)
Address: Sakurakubo 91, Taki, Miharu-machi, Tamura-gun, Fukushima
Access: 30-min by bus from JR Miharu Station
URL: http://www.tif.ne.jp/lang/en/sightseeing/topic.html?id=41&category=4

Kitakami Tenschochi – Iwate

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About 10,000 sakura (dating back more than 90 years) form a magnificent, 2-km long tunnel along the Kitakami river. Enjoy the intertwined someiyoshino (hybrid sakura), yamazakura (mountain sakura) and yaezakura (double cherry blossom) from the sightseeing carriage at a leisurely pace.

Kitakami Tenschochi – Iwate

Hours: 24/7
Address: Chiwari 10, Tachibana, Kitakami-shi, Iwate
Access: 12-min by bus from JR Kitakami Station, get off at Tenshochi bus stop
URL: http://www.kitakami-kanko.jp/english/events.php?itemid=47

Matsushima Bay – Miyagi

Sakura in Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park and Matsushima

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Saigyo Hoshi, a renowned Japanese poet during the 12th century, expressed his love for cherry blossoms, as evidenced by his famous poem, “let me die under the blossoms in spring”. From Yukari no Koen (Yukari Park) you can see the wonderful contrast of the bursting blossoms of someiyoshino cherry trees with green pine trees and the blue waters of Matsushima Bay, considered to be “one of the Three Views of Japan.”

Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park

Hours: 24/7
Address: Inuta 10-174, Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi
Access: 5-min by car from Matsushima Kaigan Station
URL: http://sendai-travel.jp/places/saigyo-modoshi-no-matsu-park/

Matsushima Bay – Miyagi

Hours: 10am – 4pm
Admission: Between 1000 yen – 1500 yen for a cruise
Address: Chonai 98-1, Matsushima, Matsushima-machi, Miyagi
Access: 10-min walk from JR Matsushima Kaigan Station
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/miyagi/matusima.html

Nebuta Matsuri

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

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

Hanagasa Matsuri

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

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

Waraji Matsuri

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

Tanabata Matsuri

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

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

Kanto Matsuri

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

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

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

Wanko Soba

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

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

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Negi Soba

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

Inaniwa Udon

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

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Reimen

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

Shiroishi Umen

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

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Yamagata castle (Kajo Park)

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Kajo Park covers the site of the former Yamagata Castle and has a beautiful variety of sakura. Take a walk around the castle moat enclosed in sakura, and watch how the trees brush the surface, painting the water with swirls of pink petals. At night, the illuminated park castes a magical light on the flowers.

Yamagata castle (Kajo Park)

Hours: 5:30am – 10pm
Admission: Free
Address: Kajomachi 1-1, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata
Access: 10-min walk from JR Yamagata Station
URL: http://yamagatakanko.com.e.db.hp.transer.com/spotdetail/?data_id=395

Look for sweets made by locals with plenty of love

Expect a vibrant spring and summer after the long and formidable winter!
Be amazed by Tohoku’s sweets and fruits.

Babahera

The sight of ice cream being sold under colorful parasols on the streets may be reminiscent of tropical countries and seaside resorts, but here in Akita prefecture, the sight of little old ladies selling ice cream on a regular roadside is commonplace.
This ice cream is called Babahera, a specialty of Akita. “Baba” refers to an elderly lady, while “hera” is the spatula that they use to shape the pink (strawberry flavor) and yellow (banana flavor) ice cream into a flower with practiced ease.

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Cherry Parfait

A variety of Yamagata’s delicious cherries top this luxurious parfait. Dig deep to discover the different unique ingredients that make up this multi-layered treat and compare the various cherries. The only time to enjoy this piece of art is during the cherry season, which usually starts in June.

Sansa Matsuri

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

Nature and worship “A journey of rebirth”


In The Realm of the Gods at Dewa Sanzan

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

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The Three Mountain Blessings

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

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

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

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

Stepping to Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono

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

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

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

Hagurosan

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

Gassan

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

Yudonosan

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

Mountain and sea delicacies that you can’t get in cities

Local dishes you’ve never had before!

Today, restaurant chains are so popular that there seems to be no diversity in the food and experience wherever you go. But this is not true in Tohoku, where food is reflective of local weather conditions and the region’s rich cultural heritage. Prepared to be greeted with an array of unique dishes that you have never heard of nor seen before. Time to challenge your taste buds!

Shark

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Your jaw might drop at the thought of eating shark meat, but in Miyagi prefecture they use every part of this marine mammal. Prepared in a multitude of ways, such as sashimi or shark fin soup, shark meat’s endless possibilities will surprise you.

Tuna Steak

The number one place to find tuna in Aomori prefecture is Fukaura Town, where natsu maguro (summer tuna) is available for a long period every year. This tuna has an exquisite taste both raw and cooked, and is most commonly found as part of a “tuna steak bowl.”

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Hoya (sea squirt)

Hoya looks like it’s part of another animal, but it’s actually a species of its own. The sea squirt is also called “sea pineapple” because of its thorny appearance, but its taste is anything but tropical. Being described as “the flavor of the ocean,” expect a surprising mix of sweet, salty, sour and sharp.

Hokki (surf clam)

The flavor of this ocean critter is said to reach its full potential when lightly cooked. In Miyagi prefecture, the favored way to eat hokki is as hokki meshi, a rice dish with thin slices of hokki.

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Shojin Ryori

This all-vegetarian Buddhist cuisine is part of monks’ daily lives. Buddhism teaches not to hurt any living creature and Shojin Ryori is an extension of that belief. Even so, this cuisine’s menu is not as meager as you might imagine. From pickled and braised wild mountain vegetables to bowls of miso soup with silken tofu, centuries of Shojin Ryori culture in this area has led to a variety of flavorful dishes. Yamagata’s three holy mountains are a famous pilgrimage spot and the abundance of mountain vegetables makes it a top location for experiencing the life of a Buddhist monk.

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Himemasu (landlocked sockeye salmon)

You don’t have to travel to the ocean to find fresh salmon. Himemasu can be found inland, making it a sweetwater fish with a different taste from saltwater salmon. Lake Towada is the top spot for this fish, where it is mainly served as sashimi to bring out its sweetness and soft texture.

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Discover the warmth of Japan’s No.1 rice


Japan’s best rice
from Niigata


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Rice is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. The rice cultivated in Japan (also known as “Japonica rice”) has a rounded, oval shape, is very sticky and features a slight sweetness. After making the effort to come all the way to Japan, don’t you want to sample the most delicious rice available? “Japan’s rice” is said to be produced in Niigata Prefecture so, for Japanese, Niigatamai (Niigata’s rice) is a very attractive brand. If you are familiar with Niigatamai, you’re already well on your way to becoming an advanced Japanese chef!

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WAttention events

Hirosaki Castle – Aomori

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This is one of Japan’s three major sakura spots. The castle, as a backdrop to the flowers, provides the area with a reminiscent image. Not to be missed during full bloom are the flower petals on the castle’s outer moat, resembling a flower carpet. While the castle tower is under renovation this year, the beauty of the sakura stays unchanged.


Hirosaki Castle – Aomori

Hours: 9am – 5pm (paid area, closed from Nov. 24 – Mar. 31)
Admission: 510 yen (adults) and 160 yen (children) for full access to all paid areas
Address: Shimoshirogane-cho 1, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori
Access: 9-min by bus (Konan Dote-machi loop line) from JR Hirosaki Station, get off at Shiyakusho Mae (City Hall) bus stop
URL: http://www.hirosakipark.jp/en/

Skiing on the slopes of Mt. Fuji

The ultimate Japanese winter experience

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

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

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

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

Lucas Vandenbroucke

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

Simon Brodard

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Ricard Roddy

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

Snowtown Yeti

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

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

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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Survey: January Giveaway

This campaign has ended. Thank you for all of your submissions!

Got three minutes? Please answer our survey about your preferences of WAttention media. We will choose five winners who will receive a prize free of charge including overseas shipping! After you answer our survey, you will receive a referral code in your email which you can share with your friends to increase your chances of winning.

The prize

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One of these five split toe socks made in Japan. They are all unisex, one-size fits all and have cool Japanese motives! Stay warm this winter in style and win your pair! *Please note that you will not be able to choose the design of the socks if you win.

WAttention Channel


Published on Apr 11, 2016
The White Heron Dance in Asakusa, Tokyo.
Filmed on April 10th 2016



Published on Apr 7, 2016
Thank you for all your be autiful photos.
The Wattention Summer 2016 Photo Contest is now open for entries.



Published on Apr 6, 2016
WAttention reports on the Samurai & Ninja Show in Asakusa.
Want to experience all the classic highlights of Japanese culture and history but only have around an hour to spare? Then this show is the one for you. Check out our full report.



Published on Apr 6, 2016
Sanrio character PomPomPurin is 20 years old! For this celebration Sanrio placed huge, fluffy – and huggable- ads of the character in Shibuya station. Wattention staff tested the big, fluffy pudding dogs and found them to be extremely soft and adorable.



Published on Mar 30, 2016
See what crossing the Shibuya Scramble feels like in this 360° video. Look around using your cursor or finger.



Published on Feb 1, 2016
All Japan Robot Sumo Tournament & International Robot Sumo Tournament 2015
The All Japan Robot Sumo Tournament has been held annually since 1989, with Ryogoku Kokugikan as its venue. Since 2014, the International Robot Sumo Tournament is also held on the same day.

Restaurant Review: Harukiya Ramen

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Cravings for ramen

Last night, I just couldn’t fall asleep. As soon as I tried to close my eyes, a bowl of Harukiya’s ramen appeared in my mind. That’s just how much I love this ramen shop in Ogikubo.

Harukiya has been around since 1948, and is renowned for being one of the most traditional “Tokyo ramen” shops out there.

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Harukiya’s menu is very simple. It consists of ramen, chashu ramen, and won-ton ramen, all with the same noodles and soy-based soup that is made out of niboshi (dried sardine), broth and vegetables.

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True, this soup may not be as thick and strong as today’s most popular type of ramen, tonkotsu (pork bone broth), but the delicateness of Harukiya’s version of Japan’s beloved noodle bowl, is something few other ramen shops can compete with.

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Photo credit: Harukiya

Restaurant information:

Name: Harukiya

Price range: 1,000 yen

Location: Kamiogi 1-4-6, Suginami, Tokyo

Access: A 3-min walk from Ogikubo Station (JR Chuo Line and Marunouchi Line)

Website: http://www.haruki-ya.co.jp/english/

Editor’s pick: Memories of Matsuko

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“Memories of Matsuko” by director Tetsuya Yamada (also known for “Kamikaze Girls”) tells the sad life of goodhearted and cheerful, but oh so clumsy Matsuko. We follow her through the eyes of her nephew, who tries to figure out who she was, after Matsuko has passed away.

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Matsuko starts her adult life as a schoolteacher, but soon gets herself involved into trouble she cannot control, which eventually brings her to the darker sides of modern Japan, ranging from hostess clubs to yakuza and even prison.

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“Memories of Matsuko” is a sad story with an optimistic, sometimes even cheerful approach. Whenever Matsuko’s life changes for the worse, you will see her cheerfully dancing and singing in a musical scene. It is during these moments that I feel the Japanese nature of this movie, as Japanese tend to hide their inner feelings, be it without singing and dancing.

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Personally, I was especially moved by Matsuko’s “funny face”. This face was her only way to make her strict father smile as a little girl. Seeing her still making the same funny face more than 20 years later, after for example being treated like garbage by her Yakuza boyfriend, makes Matsuko sympathetic and pitiful at the same time. Details in Matsuko’s character like this, kept me caring for her even after the final credits had rolled.

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While making the most crazy and drastic developments, “Memories of Matsuko” manages to avoid plot holes, resulting in a fantastically well-paced story. If you are in for an engaging movie that takes you to many different sides of modern Japan in little more than 2 hours, this has to be your pick!

Movie details:

Title: Memories of Matsuko (Kiraware Matsuko no Issho)

Director: Tetsuda Yamada

Language: Japanese (English subtitles available)
Year released: 2006 (Japan)

Runtime: 130-min

Genre: Drama

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Situated in Fushimi-ku, about 2km south-east of Kyoto station, the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is said to originate from the Hata clan’s worship of the god of rice and sake in the 8th century. As centuries went on, the god also became known as the one to ensure prosperity in business. People often call it “Oinari-san,” and is the head shrine of no less than 30,000 Inari branch shrines nationwide today.

3The Fushimi Inari-taisha has drawn countless businessmen to worship here, especially at the first prayers of the New Year. After all, Oinari-san is the god of prosperity. Visitors may be overwhelmed by over 5,000 orange-colored torii gates standing on the approach that were donated and inscribed by worshippers thankful for their prosperity.
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The shrine is also characterized by dozens of statues of foxes, which are considered to be messengers of the god. In Japanese mythology, foxes can be both a force of good and a force of evil. However, the foxes from Fushimi Inari are good-natured and divine. A fox’s power is determined by how many torii gates there are on the shrine’s property. It is said that messenger foxes have to jump over all their shrine’s torii gates every day, thus becoming stronger. The more gates a shrine has, the more a fox has to jump. Fushimi Inari has the most gates of all the Inari shrines, making the foxes here the strongest.

The sanctuary consists of several buildings, including the Sakura-mon Gate and Go-Honden Shrine, followed by a 4km tunnel trail with thousands of torii gates that stretches to the top of Mt. Inari. These tunnel gates have become very famous as they’ve been featured in movies such as “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

4Additionally, there are small restaurants and shops along the street to the shrine, where you can try the shrine related dishes such as kitsune udon (fox udon), a noodle soup topped with pieces of fried tofu that is said to be fox’s favorite food, and inari sushi, fried tofu wrapped around sushi rice. Of course you cannot leave without buying a fox-themed souvenir.
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Access

A 5-minute ride from Kyoto Station to JR Nara Line Inari Station and a short walk from Keihan Electric Railway Main Line Fushimi-Inari station

Low on Cost, High on Design

Introducing the new LCC Terminal at Narita

Running to catch your plane at the new budget terminal at Narita will be a breeze – after all, the terminal which opened this April is designed around a running track.

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With 2 distinct track designs; the blue track for departures and the red track for arrivals; it currently serves 12 domestic routes and 7 international ones, plied by Vanilla Air, Jetstar Japan, Spring Japan and Jeju Air. 

 

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And if the simple yet stylish look of the terminal reminds you of designer label MUJI, that’s because all the furniture is from minimalist MUJI. The furniture is also traveler friendly – cushioned benches without cold metal armrests getting in the way of the weary traveler’s rest. 

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One thing to note, though, is that unlike Terminal 1 and 2, there is no direct access by train, so you’ll have to allow time to take the shuttle bus to the budget terminal from Terminal 2. Or if you don’t have much luggage, it’s a 500m walk. 

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While the international gates are connected directly to the main terminal building, you’ll have to cross a bridge 15m off the ground to get to the domestic gates, but this walk makes for a great photo opportunity of the runway and the docked planes.

 

Assuming that you have more budget for shopping – having saved on your airfare – there is no lack of shops at this terminal, with shops lining the 680m international gates and a café there as well. There is also a bookshop, convenience store, and shops run by Vanilla Air and Jetstar Japan selling original goods. 

 

Pix5For those catching early flights, the budget terminal boasts the largest airport food court in Japan with over 400 seats open from 4am, with 7 stalls such as Nagasaki Champon Ringer Hut, Botejyu, Freshness burger, udon and sushi to name a few. The food court itself is accessible 24 hours a day for travelers to lounge around.

 

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So are you tempted to take a trip from the running track to the runway yet?

 

Photos courtesy of Narita International Airport Corporation.

Editor’s pick: ICHIGENSAN The Newcomer

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This novel was published in Japan in 1996, and was one of the first novels to be written in Japanese by a Westerner. In one of the original reviews, a Japanese journalist mentions that the Swiss writer, David Zoppetti, “writes better than 99 percent of all Japanese”. Now that is a big statement to make, and indeed, his beautifully flowing sentences make me as someone who writes in Japanese as well, feel jealous to say the least.

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The novel tells the story of a young exchange student in Kyoto. He finds it hard to integrate with the local culture as he is always judged by his appearance. Japan is generally known as a culture that does not easily open up to foreigners, which can especially be said for Kyoto. In Kyoto, even Japanese outsiders have a hard time becoming part of the local society. As to this day, Kyoto still has many restaurants that do not accept “Ichigensan”, or outsiders, which is also the title of this novel.
Life in Kyoto becomes harder and harder for the protagonist, but then, he meets a blind girl, who treats him as a normal person, as she can obviously not judge him by his foreign appearance.

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From “Ichigensan” the movie, released in Japan in 2000.

If you are dreaming of studying or working in Japan, this book will give you a realistic and honest impression on what living in Japan as a foreigner is like. In case you already live here, I’m sure you will identify with many experiences of the main character, and understand his frustrations.
Read it in Japanese if you can, as it will allow you to enjoy beautiful sentence structures and accurate metaphors that burst in character and creativity. For example, I remember I couldn’t help but laugh when the main character’s kitchen is described as “a place that makes even the most experienced cockroach want to commit suicide”.
The novel was made into a movie in Japan in 2000, but sadly no subtitled version has been released at the moment of writing this article.

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Novel details:

Title: ICHIGENSAN The Newcomer (Ichigensan)
Author: David Zoppetti
Year released: 1996 (Japanese) 2011 (English)

Nightlife at Yokocho’s in Tokyo

How and where you should have your beer in Tokyo

 

Being a vibrant city, Tokyo is full of bustling entertainment districts, but where and how do the locals take their beer after a hard day of work?

If mingling with the locals at small pubs and bars is your thing, head over to one of Tokyo’s many Yokocho’s, which are narrow alleyways full of quality drinks and simple but delicious food awaiting you.

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In this article, I will not introduce any specific Yokocho, but give you an impression of what kind of bars, pubs and restaurants you can expect in general.
(A list of some Yokocho in Tokyo can be found at the end of the article.)

Yakitoriya

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Without a doubt, Yakitoriya are the most common type of bars at Yokocho’s. You will recognize them by the smoke that comes from the charcoal grill on which the Yakitori skewers are grilled. In most cases, a crowded counter is faced towards this charcoal grill. While consuming a beer or shochu, mostly male customers will be enjoying a conversation while their skewers are sizzling on the grill. Skewers come in a large variety such as chicken breast, chicken leg meat, chicken meatloaf, chicken skin, gristle, gizzard and even beef tongue and entrails.

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Izakaya

You might know Izakaya as big dining style restaurant bars, but the Izakaya at a Yokocho are usually much smaller, simpler and more old-fashioned. Their coziness gives them an undeniable charm, and they often have rare sake bottles collected from all over the country for you to pick out. The dishes served here might not be culinary masterpieces, but you will be able to taste the character of the bar owner that prepares these dishes like a caring mother does for her children.

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Tachinomiya

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If you just want a quick drink or bite, a Tachinomiya, or a stand and drink bar, is your pick. The alcohol and food here is usually very cheap, and you don’t have to gather energy to stand up if you want to leave!

If this does not sound romantic enough to you, think again. I for one, would chose picking at some edamame (boiled and salted soybeans) from a wooden board that is balanced on empty beer cases on the side of a small alley with a highball cocktail in my other hand over a luxury French restaurant anytime!

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Ramen and gyoza

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Every good Yokocho has a small eatery that serves quality ramen and gyoza, but do you know why? In Japan, after a session of bar hopping, the night is often ended by slurping a good ol’ bowl of ramen, maybe together with some gyoza. Once you also get strange cravings for ramen after a night of drinking, it’s time to start considering yourself Japanese!yokocho10

Snack

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 Don’t think that bars that say “snack” are simple snack bars where you can have a light meal. Snacks are drinking bars with a woman host called “Mama” that entertains guests and listens to their problems and worries of life. Many Japanese salaryman have one particular Snack they visit regularly to have their favorite Mama cheer them up. Snacks are an interesting phenomenon in modern Japanese society, but are not really a place for tourists to visit, especially without any knowledge of the Japanese language, so be careful!

Spot information:

  1. Omoide Yokocho

 Location: Nishi Shinjuku 1, Shinjuku
Access: A 1 minute walk from the West Exit of Shinjuku Station (JR Lines, Subway Lines, Odakyu Line, Keio Line)
URL: http://www.shinjuku-omoide.com/english/index.html

  1. Ameya Yokocho

 Location: Ueno 4-9-15, Taito
Access: A 3 minute walk from Ueno Station (JR Lines)
URL: http://www.ameyoko.net/ (Japanese only) 

  1. Ebisu Yokocho

 Location: Ebisu 1-7-4, Shibuya
Access: A 2 minute walk from the East Exit of Ebisu Station (JR Lines, Saikyo Line, Shonan Shinjuku Line)
URL: http://www.ebisu-yokocho.com/top.html (Japanese only)

  1. Harmonica Yokocho

 Location: Kichijoji Honcho 1-1-2, Mushashino
Access: A 3 minute walk from the North Exit of Kichijoji Station (JR Lines and Keio Inokashira Line)
URL: http://hamoyoko.com/ (Japanese only) 

  1. Nonbe Yokocho (Tateishi)

 Location: Tateishi 7-1 Katsushika
Access: A 3 minute walk from Keisei Tateishi Station (Oshiage Line)
URL: none available

 

Fun Dining in Ikebukuro

Game for a Japan-only dining experience?

In addition to the regular tourist must-eat menu of sushi, ramen and tempura, why not go for a unique dining experience that will allow you to get a taste of Japan’s traditional martial art, kendo ( the ‘way of the sword’) or Japanese pro-wrestling? Or get a taste of Japanese “kyushoku” (school meals) and fulfil your dream of eating snacks for your main meal at a restaurant specializing in dagashi, or snacks that all Japanese grew up munching on.

Get into the kendo spirit

This bar transposes the way of the sword, or kendo, into its operations. Its name “Zanshin” refers to an important state of mind in kendo where the practitioner does not lower his guard even after scoring a point in a match.
When the bar is open, the shop hangs a sign saying “keiko (practice) is ongoing”. Of course, the players here are swigging beer or alcohol instead of swinging bamboo swords. There’s a full set of kendo armour on display and the plasma screen here shows kendo matches. There’s even a kendo goods retail corner for players to stock up or for people inspired to start kendo!

 

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Shop info:
Zanshin Ikebukuro Japanese Sports Bar
Address: 2-26-10 Actiole Minami Ikebukuro 3F, Toshimaku, Tokyo
Tel: 050-5570-4898 (reservations)
03-6907-0310 (enquiries)
Hours: Mon-Sat: 5pm – 12pm; Sun & Public Holidays: 4pm ? 11pm
Mon-Fri: 11:30am – 2pm
Fill up on nostalgia here

Ever wondered what school meals in Japan taste like? Or ever wanted to pig out on snacks instead of a proper meal when you were a kid? Now, you can fulfil both these desires here at the Dagashi Bar. School meal staples such as ‘soft noodles’ and curry, or fried bread with various fillings and coatings are recreated as in the good ol’ days, and over 100 types of both old and new dagashi (Japanese snacks) are available here. The snacks are also incorporated in its main menu, such as in okonomiyaki, pizza, salad or tempura.

 

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Shop info:
Dagashi Bar
Address: 1-13-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-5458-5150
Hours: Mon-Sat: 6pm – 4:30am
Sun & Public Holidays: 5pm – 12pm

 

Hearty menu that packs a punch

This is a showa-styled bar that serves up supersized portions of food fit for a pro-wrestler while airing wrestling videos. Apparently TV dinners in the showa era consisted of a staple of pro-wrestling at 8pm on Friday nights. Expect super long sausages, towering stacks of onion rings and a giant rack of ribs (called ‘Antonio Ribs’). As the name suggests, this chain is opened by Antonio Inoki, who was a former professional wrestler and politician. Dishes here are named after his signature wrestling moves, you can buy his originally-produced sake and there’s even a museum in the restaurant where you can learn about his past glory. You don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this place, just a sense of fun!

 

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Shop info:
Antonio Inoki Food Business Project
Address: 5-17-13 Shinjuku OW Bldg 7F
Tel: 03-5155-7680
Hours: Mon-Thurs, Sun: 5pm ? 2am; Fri, Sat, eve of Public Holiday: 5pm – 3am

toco. is a great place to go!

Stay in a traditional Japanese house in a historical district from 2,700 yen.

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For backpackers that have had enough of capsule hotels, toco. provides the experience of staying in a traditional Japanese house ? complete with tatami mats and futon ? without busting your budget.

Located in Iriya, a historical area in downtown Tokyo, you have easy access to everything going on in the city, but can enjoy a more laid-back life as well by soaking in the nearby public bath house or having dinner at some of the local restaurants.

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From the facade of its main entrance, toco. looks like nothing more than your average Tokyo building. The simple but cozy bar at the entrance where local people come to mingle with international visitors like yourself, isn’t anything to shout about either.

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However, once you exit the building from the back, you will be amazed by the sight of a 90-year old traditional residence with a spectacular Japanese garden right before your eyes.

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toco. is one of the few spots in Tokyo where time seems to have stood still, and the best thing is that you are not just here for sightseeing, you are actually staying here for the night! As you lay down on your futon in this historical residence, you may feel like you are one of those Dutch or Portuguese that were the first westerners to visit Japan.

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The rooms here are mostly dormitories where you can stay for between 2700 yen and 3000 yen, and chose from either bunk beds or a traditional Japanese tatami room with a futon on the floor.

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Interested in staying here? Be quick as toco. is usually booked full!

 

Hotel information:

Name: toco.

Price range: 2,700 yen – 3,000 yen

Location:Shitaya 2-13-22, Taito, Tokyo

Access: A 3-min walk from Iriya Station (Hibiya Line)

Website: http://backpackersjapan.co.jp/english/

A Yen for cheap clothing

Whoever still thinks Tokyo is expensive should go to Notoya in Itabashiku

Nevermind the cheaper yen, prices at Notoya have always been rock bottom – and we’re talking a yen for cheap clothing, literally!

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Tokyoites living in other wards have been known to go all the way to Shimo Akatsuka in Itabashi ward to shop at this establishment.

Founded by a former clothing wholesaler some 50 years ago, this shop attracts around 1,500 customers a day on average and over 2,000 customers a day during the weekends and holidays.

Shopping here is like a treasure hunt ? you never know what gems you may find.
This is a good place to buy super cheap basics such as socks and stockings for under a 100 yen, and 100 yen T-shirts are a staple here.

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For 500 yen, you can get a branded item at just a fraction of its listed price elsewhere.
And if you’re lucky you may be at the store just as it holds it one yen time-limited sale!

How can Notoya afford to keep its prices so low? The key can be said to be volume and variety. Goods here move fast, meaning that new stock comes in frequently, so you continue to indulge in a fast fashion lifestyle!

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The customer base here varies from young ladies to mothers shopping for their children. Bags together with bedding and baby clothing can be found on the second floor. Children’s clothing is big business here as fast fashion is a good fit for children who seemingly outgrow their clothes overnight!

Shop info:

Address:
〒175-0092
2-2-6 Akatsuka Shinmachi Itabashiku Tokyo
TEL: 03-3939-0860
Hours: 10am – 8pm (Closed Tues)

Welcome to Wisteria Lane in Japan

Catch Japan’s “May flower” in full bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park

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Catch Japan’s “May flower” in full bloom at Ashikaga Flower Park

 

When it comes to flowers, Japan has much more to offer than just cherry blossoms. In particular, the month of May is most known for the Japanese fuji or wisteria.

 

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The Japanese have treasured this pastel-colored flower throughout their history, making it the subject of traditional paintings, poetry, dances and family crests.

 

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Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture is perhaps the most famous of all fuji gardens.

Here you can walk through tunnels of fuji in pink, purple, blue, white and yellow, and with the special evening illuminations, these petals will glow like showers of stars trailing from the sky.

 

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The oldest and largest fuji in Japan also blossoms here, hovering over nearly 2,000 square meters off the park grounds.

Don’t miss this chance to catch the magical sight of Japan’s magical fuji – other than Mount Fuji!

 

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Tourist Attraction Info: 
Ashikaga Flower Park
Address: 607 Hasama Town, Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, 329-4219 Japan
Access: A 13-min. walk from Tomita Station (JR Ryomo Line)
Tel: 0284-91-4939
Hours 7am–9pm
Closed: None
Price: Varies depending on the blossoming of the flowers
URL: http://www.ashikaga.co.jp/english/index.html
English tours available: No

Getting Wifi in Japan can be SIMple

Comparing 4 prepaid SIM cards for tourists in Japan

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One of the first things that everyone does upon touchdown (other than releasing their seatbeat) after a flight, is to turn on their mobile phones – and then try to latch onto free Wifi to update their online status on Facebook, Twitter, Google+  or to message their safe arrival on Watsapp, Line or WeChat, etc.

 

And as free Wifi isn’t that common throughout Japan yet, your best bet would be to get a data SIM card for convenient and reliable Wifi access. While renting a mobile router was the only option until recently, the good news is more carriers such as NTT and Softbank have started to offer data-only SIM cards targeting tourists.

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Broadly speaking, there are 2 options when it comes to getting a data only SIM card – those you order in advance (which can be picked up at the airport, your hotel or a specified address in Japan), and those that you can buy in the airport/department stores in Japan.

And within that differentiation, another two options: a SIM card that needs online activation (ie: you need to hunt for free Wifi first) or one that doesn’t.

Data SIM cards that do not require online activation are recommended over those that do. After all, if online access were so easily available why would there be a need for data SIM cards in the first place?

So-net (http://www.so-net.ne.jp/prepaid/en/index.html) offers LTE SIM cards at major airports such as Narita, Haneda and Kansai International Airport to name a few, as well as some retail outlets.

 

Others such as Iijmio’s (https://t.iijmio.jp/en/index.html) Japan Travel SIM card are available at Bic Camera or at Blue Sky, the airport convenience store, for example.

eConnect (https://www.econnectjapan.com/products/sim/) can be ordered online and delivered to a specified address in Japan, as well as b-mobile (http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/).

I found eConnect the most convenient as it did not require online activation. However, it’s not the cheapest option, and you have to pay for the delivery fee. But, it’s probably worth the peace of mind.

All SIM cards will require you to set up the Access Point Name in order to get a Wifi signal.

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Once the APN information data is entered correctly, the Wifi sign will magically appear and your social network signal flickers back to life! And with all that settled, you can finally focus on your vacation and on not checking your office email. 😉

 

Here’s a comparison table of the above-mentioned SIM cards.

             
  Prepaid SIM Card brand b-mobile Visitor SIM eConnect Japan Japan Travel Sim powered by iijmio Prepaid LTE SIM  
  Carrier NTTCommunications NTT Communications IIJ so-net  
  Sales Points Online Online Bic Camera, Blue Sky Narita Airport, Kansai International Airport, Shinchitose Airport, etc  
  Online Activation No No No Yes  
  Voice/Data Data Data Data Data  
  Duration Data: 1 GB (until limit reached) 3GB for 30 days 2GB for 3 months 1GB, or 2.2GB for 30 days; 3GB for 60 days  
  Cost 3,686 yen 3,780 yen Open Price 3,000 yen (1G) 4,000 yen (2.2GB) 5,000 yen (3GB)  

 

Wakayama’s workaholic cats

Cat-ch Tama the station master and her apprentice, Nitama

Cat-ch Tama the station master and her apprentice, Nitama

Note: Tama Station Master passed away on June 22 2015, one month after this article. Tama was 16 years old.

What do you do if a train station in the countryside is threatened with closure due to declining ridership?
Hire a cat as the stationmaster!

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Show me your ticket nyaow!

This idea was a huge success for Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line in Wakayama prefecture. The station is now a major tourist site, and was renovated to become cat-shaped in 2010.

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How a cat can change a railway company’s fortune!

Inside the station, there is a cat themed cafe, and even a small Tama museum. A Tama train that features 101 cute illustrations of our hard-working station master is on the tracks as well.

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The insides and outsides of the Tamaden, or Tama train.

Tama, the stationmaster will soon turn 16, so be quick if you want to see her on duty before she retires! Don’t worry though, Tama’s apprentice, Nitama is currently learning how to take over this busy job.

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Tama, exhausted after a long day of checking tickets.

How was Nitama recruited for this role? In 2012, Nitama was saved from a car accident. Due to her similarities in appearance with the then already famous Tama station master, Wakayama Electric Railway decided to recruit Nitama, … after carefully reading her resume, of course.

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Nitama’s educational background impressed the people at Wakayama Electric Railway.

Nitama is usually on duty at Idakiso Station, but also at Kishi Station when Tama takes a day off on or in case she catches a cold.
After Nitama’s arrival, Tama station master was promoted to the status of Ultra Station Master, while Nitama proudly inherited Tama’s former status of Super Station Master.

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Tama’s speech on Reasons And Diagnostics Nitama’s first day of work, left everyone in tears.

Spot information:

Station Names: Kishi Station and Idakiso Station (Kishigawa Line in Wakayama Prefecture)

Tama Station Master Working Hours: From Tuesday to Friday (10am – 4pm) at Kishi Station

Nitama Station Master Working Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Friday (10am – 4pm) at Idakiso Station. Saturday, Sunday at Kishi Station

URL: http://www.wakayama-dentetsu.co.jp/images/wakayama_eng.pdf

A staff cafeteria high in the sky

Enjoy your less than 680 yen meal with a 100 million dollar view!
tochoshoku

Standing 243 meters tall, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, or Tocho as the Japanese like to call it, is still Shinjuku’s tallest skyscraper. With an unparalleled view on Tokyo’s skyline, the free observation deck on the 45th floor has become a popular tourist spot in Shinjuku. However, the vast majority of visitors are missing another tourist spot hid in the same building.

At the 32nd floor, you can find the staff cafeteria, and guess what, it’s open to the public! If you want a lunch with a view, there’s no need to head for chic and pricy restaurants, as this staff cafeteria provides simple but good typical Japanese lunches so cheap you won’t even find them without a view!
Restaurant Information:

Name: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building 32nd floor

Location: Nishi Shinjuku 2-8-1, Shinjuku

Access: A 10-min walk from the West Exit of Shinjuku Station (JR Lines, Subway Lines, Odakyu Line, Keio Line)

Website: http://www.tokyo-jinzai.or.jp/eng/index.html

Kyo Karakami by Maruni Stationery

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What is Kyo Karakami?

Simply put, Kyo Karakami refers to a type of woodblock print, using hand-carved printing blocks made from magnolia wood with traditional patterns from days of old. The characters for Karakami mean “Tang Chinese paper”, harking to the origins of the beautifully crafted paper that came from the Tang Dynasty during the Nara Period. As the production of Karakami started in Kyoto, the capital during the Heian Period, the paper has since been referred to as Kyo Karakami.
This paper, which brings out the beauty of brush calligraphy best, was first used by aristocrats to write letters or poetry, and also began to be used for fusuma shoji (paper screens for sliding doors). Through the centuries, it became popular with the nobles, samurai warriors, tea ceremony practitioners and finally, with the merchants during the Edo era.

Karakami Gift

While not everybody may be able to appreciate the texture of karakami via calligraphy, almost anyone, from young to old, can experience the joy and satisfaction of making your own printing block creation with Maruni’s Karakumi Gift sets. With this, anyone can create their own patterned paper greeting cards.

Sophisticated yet easy to use, all that is needed is a desire to send a heartfelt greeting made by hand.

Kyo Karakami Stamp ‘Four Seasons’ A・B Rakkan Set

$85.00

See in store


Kyo Karakami Stamp Kit 1 ‘Kichijousou’

$29.00

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Kyo Karakami Stamp Kit 2 ‘Onami’

$40.00

See in store

Kyo Karakami Stamp Kit 1 “Kanae” Lucky items

$65.00

See in store


Kyo Karakami Karabaco (Small) Peony Tang Grass

$53.00

See in store


Kyo Karakami Karabaco (Large) Metal Lines

$71.00

See in store

Diamond Fuji – The best free sight in Tokyo

The only catch is…you can only catch it twice a year!

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The only catch is…you can only catch it twice a year!

The only sight more spectacular than Mount Fuji on a clear, cloudless day is a view of “Diamond” Mount Fuji, preferably also on a clear, cloudless day.

This term refers to a phenomenon which occurs twice a year, when the sun is aligned with Japan’s highest mountain, resulting in a glorious moment during sunrise or sunset when dazzling rays of light seem to be erupting from the peak of Mount Fuji.

One of the best places to catch this view for free is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Observatory. If you missed the earlier sighting on Feb 2, you can catch it from there next on Nov 10.

Info:
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Observatory
Address: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, 2-8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
South Observation Deck: 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (until 10:30 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month)
North Observation Deck: 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol.01: Otome Road

[WAttention X FIELDS Research Institute] 
Explore the fascinating world of Japan’s subcultures with insights from the inside

What You Oughta’ Know About Otome Road – Mecca of the FUJOSHI 腐女子

In a nutshell: Otome Road is to the Fujoshi what Akihabara is to the Otaku.

It’s the Yin to the Yang of Otaku culture (though some may argue that Akihabara-loving Otaku also includes those of the fairer sex).

First things first, fujo…what?

If that didn’t make any sense to you, fret not. The term Fujoshi isn’t as well-known as Otaku, which has elbowed its way into the Oxford dictionary to refer to a person obsessed with a certain (sub) culture, often to the detriment of their social skills.

So why should you care about this breed of beings, the Fujoshi? Because this is a global trend that taps into and reflects the psyche of nearly half of the world’s population, and is the sort of thing that once one is made aware of, can change the way you see everything. Yes, just like the blue pill and the red pill in the Matrix. So are you ready to enter this new dimension?

What is Fujoshi?

This literally means “rotten female(s)” and was a term slapped on women who drew or read manga portraying two male leads in a romantic relationship, which comes under the genre of “Boys’ Love”, or BL. This genre exists in some form all over the world, not just in Japan.

But one unique feature about BL is that it is written and drawn by women, for women. This is available in the form of specialized magazines and single-book publications, and quite often self-published spin-offs called Dojinshi. In fact, BL-type fan fiction makes up quite a majority of Dojinshi.

Now, why would any heterosexual woman be interested in two men in love or making love? Understandably the idea would make the general public somewhat squirmish.

But you’ll find that most of the Fujoshi paying pilgrimage at “Otome Road” — a nickname for a 200 meter-odd stretch of road in East Ikebukuro – are just regular romantics who desire a few things that only the BL genre seems to be able to fulfil.

WAttention’s Tor Ching Li spoke with two BL experts, BL researcher Junko Kaneda (42 years old) and freelance essayist Iku Okada (35 years old) on why Fujoshi love Boys’ Love.

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Why girls love Boys’ Love

Both Kaneda and Okada started off as fans of shonen manga (young boys’ comics), that are usually either sports or action-based, compared to shojo manga (young girls’ comics) which broadly speaking focuses on saccharine sweet, pre-teen heroines.

At the age of 9, Okada accidentally bought a fan fiction version of a manga series she was following, “Saint Seiya”, and her eyes were opened wide to the world of BL where the male protagonist’s obsession with defeating his opponent crosses the lines from hate to love…

“If you think about it, the strong feelings that the hero has towards his nemesis – constantly thinking of what he is doing and how to bend him to submission – is quite similar to the emotions of love,” said Okada.

BL explores the fantasy that the male protagonist’s hatred actually stems from a forbidden love for his nemesis – which is quite a deep hypothesis, psychologically speaking!

For Okada, even buddy couplings like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or rivals like Batman and the Joker are interpreted as having romantic undercurrents.

“It’s another layer of enjoyment,” she says.

Today’s BL genre started off as fan fiction of shonen manga in which such sports rivalry or battles is a major theme.

“Usually you only see the characters fighting or playing sports, don’t you want to see them in other situations such as having a meal, going on a hot spring trip or at least wearing other clothes?” said Okada.

For Kaneda, her preference stems from being able to see two male characters together – without clothes.

“Simply put, I love the male form,” said the straight-talking Kaneda.

In that sense, BL offers twice the value in that respect compared to regular couples, indeed.

Men adopting a submissive position

But the physical aspect of BL aside, there is also the psychological realm of BL – it is a relationship that women will never be able to experience for themselves or imagine themselves in, hence it remains a complete and perfect world of fantasy to be enjoyed voyeuristically.

Take, for example, one of Kaneda’s favourite BL which depicts a salaryman in his 50s is pinned down by the sexual advances of his young male subordinate.

“BL gives women the chance to see men in a submissive state, being the one to say ‘No! Stop! It’s embarrassing…’ or be pleasured, instead of the normal manga when men are the one taking the lead and proving their manhood – even if in real life, they don’t quite do so!” says Kaneda.

In a male-dominated world – and society like Japan – this twist will give most ladies some pleasure.

And therein lies the key to why girls love Boys’ Love: A world removed from reality where anything is possible, and love is as free and freewheeling as their fantasies.

Is 801 (yaoi) the same as BL?

Now that you know the basics of BL, some of you may have heard of such material being referred to as “yaoi” overseas. This term stems from the phrase used to criticize to fiction writing, “yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi”, or no climax (“yama” or mountain in Japanese), no punch line or point (“ochi”) and no meaning (“imi”). The abbreviation of this word grouping can be represented by the numbers 801 that sound like the first syllable of each of these words, which is why if you see a shop or café in Ikebukuro with 801 on the signboard, it’s probably a BL-related business.

In the late 70s, female manga artists of dojinshi – who would be labelled Fujoshi – were criticized as producing manga that was poorly constructed with no climax, no point and no meaning – but in self-deprecating humour the BL circle adapted this term as a reference for their genre.

Indeed, there is a difference between yaoi and BL that even many self-proclaimed Fujoshi are not aware of. Yaoi actually refers to an often more sexually explicit spinoff of a mainstream manga series, while BL is a story featuring original characters which is often a single book, not a series.

It is common for yaoi dojinshi to get spotted by publication companies who then commission them to author BL, and some of them even move on to mainstream manga from there – one such example is hit manga artist Yoshinaga Fumi who started off self-publishing BL Dojinshi and now has some of her works licensed internationally.

And so both yaoi and BL have evolved to be properly constructed stories for a discerning audience in a competitive BL market, where budding dojinshi can even publish their work online for free viewing.

Nevertheless, if you find the distinction between yaoi and BL confusing, don’t worry; no-one will blink an eyelid if you use the terms interchangeably as they are all drawn by women, for women’s enjoyment.

 

Profiles:

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Kaneda Junko

Sociologist and researcher in yaoi, BL and dojinshi. Born in 1973 in Toyama Prefecture. Graduated from Tokyo University’s Faculty of Law, and enrolled in the Faculty of Literature. Withdrew from the Tokyo University Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences with doctoral credits. Conducts research in yaoi from the perspective of gender studies and sociology.

DSC_0122

Okada Iku

Essayist, Editor.

Born in Tokyo, 1980. Authored “Haji no Oii Jinsei (Mine Has Been a Life of Much Margin)” and a regular on TV news program “Toku-Dane!” (The Scoops) as a commentator.

http://okadaic.net/

(This article was written with the facilitation of Fields Research Institute, which conducts research in entertainment.)

What’s in a Sakura Hotpot? A horse, of course!

Well, a horse of course…

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Well, a horse of course…

Amongst the many delicacies (or some would say, strange) foods that is eaten Japan, is horse meat, otherwise known as ‘sakura’. This moniker probably comes from the bright red colour of the flesh.

A full course of horse?

While some cultures may balk at the thought of eating a creature as handsome as the horse, here in Japan it is gaining popularity even amongst the ladies as a ‘beauty food’ for being low in fat, high in protein and iron – and great in taste.

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Kyushu and Nagano prefectures are famous for their horse meat production and cuisine. Specialty horse meat restaurants such as Bakurou have also galloped onto the scene in Tokyo as well, offering horse meat hotpots (sakura hotpots), sashimi, yakiniku and innards as well.

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Caption: Horse yakiniku

As in most foods in Japan, the best way to eat horse meat is raw. The sakura sashimi is dipped in soy sauce and grated ginger or garlic, as you prefer. How does it taste like? The texture (depending on the part) is firm and it’s probably best described as a clean, fresh taste.

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Horse innards stew is also a popular dish at izakayas. It’s been one of the signature dishes at大統領(Daitouryou)izakaya at Ueno for decades, which specializes in grilled innards on sticks – speaking of innards…but that’s another story!

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Horse innards stew

 

WANTED: Used In Japan Goods

Why tourists are now first in line to bag second-hand branded goods in Japan

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Why tourists are now first in line to bag second-hand branded goods in Japan

The secret is out – Japan is the place to buy first rate second-hand branded goods. And the Chinese are already flocking in to get their hands on the best bargains – especially bags.

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Let’s face it. Japan has a branded bag fetish. Though Japan has a population half that of the United States, Japan has twice the number of branded bag retail shops compared to the U.S.

As with the emphasis on seasonal foods, fashion goes out of season quickly here, and so many branded bags end up in second-hand shops even though they’ve only been used a few times. Secondhand shops for more common items are often called ‘recycle shops’, so you can shop on the pretext of saving the earth!

Here we’ll introduce a few second-hand branded goods shops in major shopping areas in Tokyo.

 

SHINJUKU

Komehyo takes up 8-storeys in Shinjuku with one whole floor dedicated to branded bags, from Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and Prada? you name it, they have it. This is the largest second-hand department store in Japan and is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

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IKEBUKURO

Daikokuya is also a nationwide chain of second-hand department stores. In Ikebukuro alone, there are 5 outlets. Here, you can get a Prada bag for around half price!

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GINZA

These second-hand shops are even springing up in glitzy Ginza! In fact, Rokoshira is based in Ginza and offers the branded goods you can find along Ginza at a fraction of the price.

 

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So, are you ready to for some environmentally-friendly shopping today?

Shop Information:

Name: Komehyo
Location: 3-5-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 1pm – 9pm, closed first Wednesday of every month
Website: http://www.komehyo.co.jp/store/shinjuku/shinjuku_f05

 

Name: Daikokuya
Location: Several throughout Ikebukuro, Tokyo
Hours: Depends on store
Website: http://www.e-daikoku.com/
Name: Rokushira
Location: Asano 3rd Blgd B1F-2F 2-4-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 11am ? 8pm
Website: http://rokoshira.jp/

 

A day out at Tokyo Station

Experience Tokyo and more at Tokyo Station itself

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Experience Tokyo and more at Tokyo Station itself

Tokyo station is a starting point for many a Shinkansen train journey by the foreign traveler, but the station – which celebrates it centenary this year – is also worth setting aside time for a visit by itself even if you aren’t train bound anywhere.

Needless to say the facade of the station is grandiose – after a 50 billion yen renovation that spanned 5 and a half years – but the shops inside give a quick taste of the modernity and quirkiness of Tokyo and Japanese culture as a whole.

Ramen Street

For ramen lovers, Tokyo Ramen Street boasts a collection of 8 famed ramen stalls in Tokyo, with various bases from shio, shoyu, fish, to pork broth and even cow’s tongue ramen.

The ramen street has been attracting long queues since Day 1, and if you are pressed for time, this is a good place to try several types of ramen in one place!

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Tokyo Okashi Land

This is first such concept shop of its kind in Japan ? a gathering of antennae shops of Japan’s three most famous confectionary and snack makers: Calbee, Glico and Morinaga. These shops offer Tokyo Station limited edition snacks, as well as the chance to eat freshly-fried Calbee potato chips, potato chip sundaes, freshly-made Glico chocolate confectionary and recipes on how to use Morinaga snacks in various recipes. Leave calorie counting at the entrance!

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Tokyo Character Street

26 specialty shops selling character goods from popular manga, such as Naruto or One Piece at the Jump Shop, or from TV shows from various broadcast stations are gathered here. Of course, you can find shops selling a broad range of all-time favourites such as Hello Kitty goods, Rilakkuma, Pikachu and Ultraman, as well as Kabuki goods for fans of Japanese theatre.

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Tokyome+

On the first floor of the Yaesu North exit, Tokyome+ is any tourists’ dream collection of Tokyo’s best omiyage. Here you can find anything from regular favourites such as Tokyo Banana and newly popular confectionary such as rusks or caramel rolls, and traditional delicacies such as sushi and stewed foods eaten since the Edo era.

Even if you’re not catching a train, do not fret. Entry into the station is possible if you buy a station entry ticket at 140 yen.

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Address:Tokyo Ichibangai, B1, Tokyo Station Yaesu Central Exit, B1

Photo source: Tokyo Station Corporation

Sorry, what’s the name of your station again?

Funny names of Japanese stations (you may want to avoid staying at)

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Funny names of Japanese stations (you may want to avoid staying at)

Japan’s train culture is highly developed. It has the world’s busiest train station (Shinjuku), the world’s most high tech trains (Shinkansen), and station staff trained (no pun intended here) to pack commuters neatly into already packed carriages.

But some train station names don’t seem so well thought through, with unintentional puns that are enough to make one stop in their tracks.

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Sorry, would you mind spelling that out for me again?

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Can’t help feeling a bit intimidated reading this sign for the first time. (omaeda=Hey you punk!)

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You can’t help but wonder if the people who liver around here are also…(hage=bald)

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Wait…are you serious? Is this REALLY what the station is called? (maji=seriously?!)

Photo Sources: corobuzz.com, date-yanagawa.info