Sakura Sightseeing In Kyoto (1)

See the Eternal City tinted in the delicate pink of Spring and sigh at the fleeting beauty of the sakura. Here are the top spots to for ohanami (cherry blossom viewing).

1)  Tenryu-ji Temple

This is Kyoto’s most famous temple, with the Arashiyama mountains as a backdrop and a Zen garden – Sogenchi-teien – that has been recognized by the Japanese government as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty. The weeping sakura tree at the Tahoden Sanctuary is a must-see.

Tenryu-ji

2)  Ninna-ji Temple

This World Heritage Site is famous for its locally-cultivated sakura trees, called the Omuro sakura,  which  are  shorter  in  height  and  bloom  one  week  later  than  the  mainstream Somei  Yoshino  variety.  See  the  timeless  beauty  of  these 200 sakura  trees,  which  have been enjoyed here for over 400 years.

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3)  Hirano Shrine

See over 60 varieties of sakura trees here, particularly the early blossoming of the Sakigake sakura which  is  said  to  herald  the  start  of  the  ohanami  season.  The  shrine’s  annual  cherry blossom festival is the oldest in Kyoto, dating back to 985 AD.

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4)  Nijo Castle

50  varieties  of  sakura –  including  Satozakura  and  many  rare  types –  are  scattered throughout  this  World  Heritage  Site,  built  as  the  Kyoto  residence  for  Japan’s  first shogun. Evening entertainment such as taiko drumming, koto performances and tea ceremonies accompany the evening “light up” hours.

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Watch out for Part II of this series for more must-see sakura spots!

 

How to ohanami:

-Ohanami involves sitting under a sakura tree end enjoying its natural beauty with a picnic. So bring a mat or sheet to sit on for your ohanami session and a small blanket as it can get cold sitting in the open.

-Check the dates of the local ohanami festival, where plenty of food stalls and some public events or performances will be set up

-Go early if you want to get a good ohanami viewing spot!

-The start of the cherry blossom season varies from year to year, but is generally from late March to mid-April in Kyoto (depending on the region).

 

 

Tokyo Is Yours

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We at WAttention are not huge fans of graffiti, but there are some exceptions to the rule. Though the author (or artist?) behind these taggings is obviously anonymous, “Tokyo is Yours” has been showing up all across Shibuya and beyond, especially along the back alleys.

We personally find it encouraging. How about you?

Tokyo Must Do with Japan Tour Guide

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Get a taste of “real” Japan with sights recommended by Japan Tour Guide, a group in Japan that matches visitors with volunteer guides. (http://tourguide.jp/)

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Today’s Guide: Tomonari Watanabe

Tomonari is a student from the Tokyo University of Science. He guides foreign visitors every weekend in Tokyo, where he was born and raised. To date, he has guided some 300 groups of visitors.

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Spot 1: Kichijoji (10:00am)

Take a stroll around the most desirable town to live in, as voted by the locals. The picturesque Inokashira Park here is famous for cherry blossom viewing and boasts a large pond where you can paddle a boat in. You may even catch some street performers along the river path.

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For a satisfying and affordable meal, try yakitori restaurant Iseya.

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Spot 2: Shibuya (1:15pm)

After seeing how the locals live, see how they play.

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Shibuya is where you can shop for the latest fashion, eat a variety of food and try all sorts of entertainment, such as concept cafes–maid cafes, ganguro cafes (witness extreme makeup!) and even a goat cafe!

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Between Shibuya and Harajuku, there is Cat Street which has many street fashion clothes shops and general shops where you can enjoy window shopping.

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Spot 3: Harajuku (3:00pm)

The most famous place for foreign tourists in Harajuku is definitely Meiji Shrine. Feel purified both mentally and physically while experiencing Shinto, the Japanese traditional religion.

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From the shrine, you can easily access the trendsetting Takeshita Street, which is famous for its clothes shops and crepes. For high fashion, Omotesando Street is just round the corner.

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Spot 4: Shinjuku (5:15pm)

In the skyscraper district of Shinjuku, there are many shopping malls, bars and clubs where you can experience Tokyo’s nightlife. For a feel of Japan’s early post-war days, head to drinking alley Omoide Yokocho. Or visit Hanazono Shrine, Shinjuku’s guardian shrine for some history and culture.

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For dinner, why not treat yourself to Kyomachi Koishigure, where you can enjoy Kyoto’s traditional atmosphere and savor delicious Japanese food and sake.

 

Cat Street

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This is “Cat Street”, called by this name for two reasons. First, it seems that cats seem to like walking this street.

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Many new shops by aspiring fashion designers and up-and-coming fashion lines can be found here.

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Not only new fashion but also cafe or restaurant you can enjoy in this street.

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Rake In Luck And Good Fortune With The Kumade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back popular Japanese limited edition Häagen-Dazs flavors!

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From Häagen-Dazs, two new ice cream flavors, “Kinako & Black Honey” and “Mitarashi Walnuts” are re-release today, December 8, 2015 (Tuesday)! These traditional Japanese flavors were actually once on sale in February, but were so popular that stock ran out immediately. So, if you find the package with the “hana mochi” sign, just grab it.

Omotenashi In A Ramen Bowl

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One of Japan’s biggest assets is its hospitality and the quality of service. Japanese people’s meticulousness and proactive ideas are surely a source of Japan Inc.’s promising brand. In fact, this philosophy is transcended and submerged to a course of day-to-day activities in Japan. Let’s cite an example that shows this trait.

This is a bowl of ramen noodle from TENKAIPPIN, a Kyoto-based ramen chain, known for its super-thick (viscous) soup. This thick soup has got very dense flavor (that’s why customers tend to order a small bowl of rice with ramen so they can dip rice into the soup and eat it.) and they tend to drink it up until the last drop. When the last drop of soup is finished something emerges on the very bottom of the ramen bowl.

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A sentence, “We’ll be looking forward to your visit again tomorrow.” Good surprise is surely one of the core ingredients to gain attention of customers, and ultimately leads to loyalty. But, considering having this thick soup 2 days in row – you might want to consider taking Alka-Seltzer before you hit the next round.

 

TENKAIPPIN

One of the most popular Ramen restaurant chains, famous for its thick soup.

http://www.tenkaippin.co.jp/