Yearly Archives: 2011

Preparing for the New Year

Christmas decorations come down quickly in Japan to make way for the most important Japanese holiday – New Year’s. Preparations for the end of the year are many and require time. Offices and homes are cleaned, accounts are settled, and

Closing out the year – A winter scene in Ameyoko

There are few places in Tokyo like Ueno’s Ameyoko. A remnant of the from the post-war days when basic food staples like white rice and sugar were in short supply, maintains a tradition of outdoor vendors hawking goods, yelling prices

Kotatsu: A Traditional Way to Stay Warm and Save Energy

Although temperatures rarely fall below 0C in Kanto, winters can seem especially cold in Japanese houses with little insulation. Places without central heating, are often heated by kerosene and electric space heaters, or electric wall unit heaters. Along with allowing

Trip to Eastern Akita (3) – Lake Tazawa and Kakunodate

Lake Tazawa (Tazawako) Leaving Tsurunoyu Onsen, we travelled further into the mountains. After about 30 minutes, we suddenly caught sight of the blue of a lake through the spaces in the trees. As the car left the mountain forest, our

Trip to Eastern Akita (2) – Nyuto Onsen

Following dinner, we set out from Misato-cho for , about an hour and 15 minute drive by car. Our ryokan, a single structure called , maintained a modern appearance amidst the rustic onsen village, situated in a lush forest at

Satokagura: Folk Stage Performance Comes Alive at Saitama Kaikan

If represents Buddhism and high art, and the secular theatre, , and specifically , is the theatre of Shinto and of the countryside. Because of this, it seems fitting that tonight’s performance, while although not held at a shrine, is

Sadogashima (Sado Island)

Sado Island might appear small on the map but its separation from the mainland, as well its diversity of terrain and abundance of nature make it seem much larger than it looks. From the port in Niigata – two hours

New Entries into the UNESCO World Heritage List

Amidst the seemingly endless string of bad news that has centered around the Tohoku region of Japan, a recent decision by UNESCO manages to bring hope and pride back to the citizens of the disaster stricken area. In June 2011,

Tsuyu

Right in between Japan’s multicolored spring and scorching hot summers is a period of about 40-50 days, when the otherwise pleasant summer months become unusually gloomy, wet, and humid. This is tsuyu, Japan’s official monsoon season. (Also called plum rain

Are there electronics that can be used back home?

Japanese electric/broadcast specifications differ from most other countries, which prevents you from using appliances from your home country. Unfortunately, 99% of the products sold in Japan are designed according to Japanese specifications with instruction manuals in Japanese only. Sony Overseas

Atami

Got a free weekend? Hawaii and Guam are too far away, and Okinawa’s too expensive? Shizuoka might just be the place for you then. To be precise, the small and cozy seaside town of Atami. Located just 100km south of

Daikanyama: Shibuya’s Stylish Laid Back Sister

For many first time visitors to Japan, Tokyo is usually defined by the major stations on the Yamanote Line. Shinjuku for department stores and skyscrapers, Harajuku and Shibuya for a glimpse at Japanese youth culture, Akihabara for electronics, games and

Cool Food – A Guide to Japan’s Culinary Summer

You may not have witnessed the subtle change at one of your visits to the conbini or the local supermarket yet, but Japan’s culinary summer has already begun. With food always being an indicator of seasons in Japan, it shouldn’t

Setsuden – What Can You Do?

With the summer months ahead, the time where being inside with an open window leaves you at just the right temperature will soon be coming to an end. In the past, this meant the beginning of the Cool Biz season,

Drunk on Cherries

While you may have heard Japanese friends or acquaintances tell you about Japan’s “unique” four seasons, and while this may come as a surprise to some foreign visitors from countries that count the exact same number, the undeniable beauty of

Back to School Japanese Style

April in Japan not only means cherry blossom viewing and streets flooded with university job hunters, but it also marks the beginning of another school year for Japan’s youngest. Now, most expat families choose to send their kids to international

Shiretoko

Shiretoko is the southernmost point in the northern hemisphere with seasonal sea ice, which makes it the home for a unique and original natural landscape. It is abundant in marine life represented by salmon, as well as a rich diversity

Shirakami-Sanchi

Of the 130,000 hectare of mountainous terrain in Akita and Aomori prefecture, more than 17,000 hectare has been designated as a World Heritage Site. This area remains completely untouched by humans and includes the world’s largest beech forest, as well

Hiraizumi

Shrines and Temples of Nikko

Nikko’s Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮), Futarasan shrine (日光二荒山神社), the 103 buildings of the Rinno-ji (輪王寺) and the ruins that surround it, have all been designated as World Heritage Sites. The most famous of Nikko’s many sights, the Tōshō-gū is a shrine dedicated

Ogasawara Islands

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

This village is famous for its houses with traditionally thatched roofs and its renowned rearing of silkworms. Together with the surrounding mountains and fields, it creates a truly beautiful landscape. Due to the notorious winter snowfalls, this community was occasionally

Sacred Sites in the Kii Mountain Range

The three sacred mountain ranges Yoshino/Omine, Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan and the connecting pilgrimage path have had an immensely important effect on Japanese religious and cultural growth and exchange. This is a place famous as the origin of the special

Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

In Nara, which had been the Japanese capital from 710 to 784, before this moved to Kyoto, you can feel the long lasting effect that religion had, and still has, on the city in the form of Buddhist temples and

Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area

The Horyuji Temple (法隆寺), which was completed in the year 607, is known as the world’s oldest remaining wooden structure. It was also Japan’s first ever designated World Heritage Site and during the time following its construction had a profound

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

The ancient monuments of Kyoto are world famous and one of Japan’s most beloved sightseeing spots. The Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺) as well as Kinkakuji (金閣寺, golden pavilion) in Kyoto City, Byodoin (平等院) in Uji City and the Enryaku Temple (比叡山延暦寺)

Himeji Castle

Representative of early 17th century Japanese castle architecture, Himeji Castle (姫路城) is regarded as one of Japan’s most impressive wooden structures. The beautiful white stucco walls make the building not only beautiful to look at, but also act at as

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Serving as a monument to remind of the powerful and disastrous force of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this site is also referred to as a “negative heritage”. Until the bombing on the August 6th 1945, the building had been

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Serving as a monument to remind of the powerful and disastrous force of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this site is also referred to as a “negative heritage”. Until the bombing on the August 6th 1945, the building had been

Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine

With a history of about 400 years in mining, this is Japan’s most well known silver mine. It is estimated that 30% of the silver that was in circulation during the 100 years between the middle of the 16th and

Yakushima

Covering an area of roughly 500km2 and a circular circumference of 130km, Yakushima (屋久島) is an impressive granite based island. Despite being a comparatively small island, it has an abundance of mountains over 1,000m, and a climate that ranges from

Gusuku Sites and the Ryukyu Kingdom

Located mainly in the southern part of Okinawa’s main island are the remains of 9 Ryukyu Kingdom castles. The native word “Gusuku” can be translated directly as “castle”. The Ryuku Kingdom (琉球王国) was established in 1429 and remained an independent

Sapporo White Illumination

Along with the Sapporo Snow Festival, this artistic light display has become a well known reminder of winter. Now in its 33rd year, the festival grew from one location and 1,000 light bulbs to become known throughout the country. Objects

Sapporo Snow Festival

The Snow Festival is one of Hokkaido’s most famous events, with Sapporo’s main street lined with statues and sculptures made with ice and snow. Every year more than 2 million Japanese and international visitors come to see the spectacle, with

Hachinohe Emburi

This festival is carried out in hope of a successful harvest. Dancers wearing hats representing horse head carry out a very unique and stylized dance, in which they wave their heads back and forth, while singing traditional rice farming songs.

Aomori Nebuta

At this festival, giant models of warriors and lantern decorated floats are taken through the city among powerful shouts. One of the many theories about the origin of the festival is that it is based on the “Tanabata” festival, during which

Akita Kanto Festival

This festival originated from the ancient tradition of fending off the evil spirits of the summer, in hope of better health and crops. Participants parade through the streets with giant bamboo sticks to which an uncountable number of paper lanterns

Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

This parade centers around floats, lavishly decorated with flower arrangements, and the accompanying dancers, dancing to Hanagasa Ondo folk songs, with their trademark red flower hats in hand. Over the three days of the festival, more than 1 million spectators

Sukagawa Taimatsu Akashi

Counted as one of the three largest fire festivals in Japan, this powerful and magnificent festival lights up the late fall season. Started to mourn the lost soldiers of Sukagawa Castle, which fell over 400 years ago, the festival consists

Kanda Festival

This festival takes place at Kanda Myōjin (神田明神, Kanda Shrine), which has a history going back 1300 years. Alongside the Sannō festival and the Fukagawa festival, this event makes up one third of the three great Edo festivals. Moreover, together

Trip to Eastern Akita (1) – Misato Town

Situated one hour from Akita Airport by car, a trip to , with its expanse of fields and green mountains that stretch out as far as the eye can see, is enough to release anyone from the oppression of the

Sannō Festival

This is one of the three major Edo festivals (江戸三大祭). This historic festival centers around Hie Shrine (日枝神社), the patron shrine of a wide area of central Tokyo which includes the Tokyo Imperial Palace compounds, and is meant to express

Big Float Festival of Sawara

Sawara no Taisai (佐原の大祭, The Big Float Festival in Sawara) is a traditional festival that dates back more than 300 years. The festival takes place twice a year, once in July in the Honjuku area (the east side of the

Kawagoe Festival

The Kawagoe Festival (川越まつり) is a brilliant, gorgeous festival that takes place in what is often referred to as “Koedo” (小江戸), or Little-Edo, a town known for its many, well preserved, old fashioned Japanese ware-houses and businesses from several centuries

Torinoichi

Torinoichi (酉の市) is the religious festival of Otori Shrine that takes place every year on the Day of the Rooster (酉の日, Tori no hi) in November. The festival flourished around the Kanto area during the Edo Period, with the celebration

Chichibu Yomatsuri

This festival, with a history of over 300 years is designated as part of Japan’s “Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties”. On the 2nd and 3rd, cars and floats decorated with paper lanterns parade the city. Some of these have performance

Takayama Festival

This festival takes place in spring and autumn. Several hundreds of people dress up in traditional Japanese attire and dance and parade through town to old Shinto songs led by lion dancers. Designated as one of Japan’s “Important Intangible Folk

Hamamatsu Festival

This festival celebrates the birth of the first son in the last year. With more than 1 million visitors, it ranges as one of the largest festivals in Japan. During the day, there are a number of kite flying competitions

Owara Kaze-no-bon

Matching their dance with the sentimental mood of the folk song “Etchu Owara” (越中おわら節), the dancers at this festival dance in a more subdued and elegant manner, while parading through town. On occasion, spectators are also welcome to join the

Kakegawa Festival

The fall festival in Kakegawa (掛川祭) is famous for its performances, “yatai” floats, and lion dance. The Grand Festival takes place only once every three years, the next being in 2012, with performers from each town dancing in procession. The

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