Monthly Archive March 2013

ByRay Proper
Mar 26, 2013

HimakaJima in Sparkling Mikawa Bay

This article, and HimakaJima itself,  caught my attention for various reasons:

  1. Chris Glenn knows where the good stuff in Japan is.
  2. It is a day trip from Nagoya.
  3. It is a day trip to an ISLAND.  I like islands and oceans; though technically this is in a sea.
  4. The seafood is famous, but not so famous that most people have heard of it!

If you are looking for a day trip destination to an island famous for beaches, resorts, sea food, and being close to Nagoya this is it.  HimakaJima is less than an hour from Nagoya, and the food is better, according to Chris, a lot better than many more famous locations.   The most famous offering is the octopus, but he claims the fugu, or poisonous puffer fish is better than that  found in nearby Fukui Prefecture, despite its higher status in popular culture.

From Chris’s article on Japan Tourist

Ask any Japanese where the biggest catch of fugu, the poisonous blowfish is made, and most will tell you Shimonoseki, or around Hiroshima, possibly even Fukui Prefecture on the Japan Sea Coast. Truth be known, the most fugu is caught off the waters of Aichi Prefecture, and one of the best places to enjoy the delicacy is Himakajima, a small island off the coast of the Chita Peninsula in Mikawa Bay,. The Meitetsu Railway company offers day tour packages including a 30 minute train ride from Nagoya Station to Kowa Station, followed by a 15 minute ferry ride from nearby Kowa Port.

For more information read the full article on Japan Tourist: Russian Roulette at Himakajima

Photo Courtesy of Japan Tourist

ByFirst Admin
Mar 20, 2013

Takayama in Gifu Prefecture

Located in Gifu Prefecture, and surrounded by some of Japan’s richest natural areas  just below the famous Northern Alps, Takayama is some what isolated and distant.  This isolation allowed the city to developed its own distinct culture that combines that of nearby Edo and Kyoto’s into a new and interesting way.

Takayama has a very traditional feel to it, and offers a wide variety of  onsen hotels and guesthouses, local restaurants whose dishes are distinctly local; featuring traditional regional and local recipes made with local ingredients.  While visiting  you can see many historic buildings, or shop for local handcrafted arts, etc.

One thing not to miss is Shirakawago, a World Heritage Site located near Takayama.  Shirakawago Village is famous for traditional houses  called A Gasshō-zukuri style of traditional minka homes.  Some  of these traditional homes are hundreds of years old.  This is especially impressive when you consider that the distinctive shape of the dwellings was developed over time to withstand the substantial weight of the heavy snow falls that all but lock in the village in winter; how many tons of snow has a 250 year old home had to bear?  The roof of these homes are said to resemble hands clasped in prayer. From Takayama, day trips to Shirakawago to see its main attraction, Ogimachi, are popular, but  according to Japan Guide, the best way to experience the town is to stay overnight at one of the farmhouses, many of which now serve as minshuku, or guest houses.

One of my favorite cities in Japan, Takayama is particularly famous in the spring because the cherry blossoms really enhance the gorgeous old houses and small cobbled streets. You really need to book ahead if you are planning to travel around the busy times. A couple of friends however rolled up and were able to make themselves understood and were able to stay at the beautiful youth hostel housed in a temple, at very little notice last Obon. Website  (Japanese only, but has map)If you’re wanting to stay in a Japanese guest house (anywhere, not just in Takayama), you might find this link useful:

It takes a little more than two hours on the train from Nagoya, the nearest Major city, and about the same by car. It’s certainly a very beautiful trip as well. From Takayama, there are endless possibilities for hot springs, most featuring outdoor baths that look up into the mountains.

Posted by First Admin in Travel at 06:56 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (4412)

ByRay Proper
Mar 19, 2013

Funky Cool Specialty Bookstores in Tokyo

Another addition to our series on cool neighborhoods in Tokyo; Jinbocho!


Do you have a thirst for books about avant-garde art movements? Insect taxonomy? Early modern maps? Forgotten children’s literature? Obscure occult sects? There are specialty stores in Tokyo devoted solely to these topics, but what’s amazing is that all these specialty bookstores and many, many more are located in a single neighborhood called Jinbocho.

Jinbocho is usually a turn-off for tourists and idle expats since a fair amount of Japanese knowledge is required to browse and read. When I wax lyrical about this neighborhood, I am typically asked, “but are there English bookstores?” The answer is YES, if you know where to find them, or have the patience to scan the alleyways until you see one.

My personal favorite foreign language store is Oshima Shoten, located at Jinbocho’s easternmost corner. Despite its cramped 50-square-foot size, about 1/50 the size of a Barnes and Noble, it is packed from floor to ceiling with fascinating and fantastic English titles you’ve never heard of, and I have never been there without taking something home.

See the full text of this article by clicking through to the original article on Japan Tourist

ByJason Gatewood
Mar 14, 2013

Let’s Tour the Metropolis: Shimo-Kitazawa

Shutter artists in Shimokitazawa

Shutter artists in Shimokitazawa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first in a series of articles that will introduce some of the neighborhoods that make up the Tokyo Metropolis Area. It’s my goal to try to cover areas that don’t get as much limelight in the traveler’s guides, or that have a lot of hidden treasures in them.

Shimo-Kitazawa has been called “Tokyo’s answer to Greenwich Village, Haight-Asbury, Camdentown,” and any other funky, eclectic neighborhood you can think of around the globe. Located west of Shibuya and Shinjuku in Setagaya Ward, many of it’s residents would also tell you that it’s what trendy districts like Harujuku used to be like, before the ‘bubble years’ and commercialization happened. True, Shimo-Kitazawa is a lot less hectic than those other districts and it’s outside of the Yamanote Loop that denotes ‘central Tokyo’ from the outskirts of town (albeit only on a mental level), but that’s what makes this little district so vibrant–spontaneity made it happen in the first place.

Because of it was a semi-rural area at the time, it was spared from Allied bombing raids during WWII. During and after the occupation years, it became an area where surplus American goods could be bought and traded. Then during the 1960’s Shimo-Kitazawa became the home for those wishing to ‘make love, not war’; It’s here that the Japanese hippie movement got it’s legs and many of those same folks who were in that group now own and run a lot of the music bars, live houses, and other assorted businesses that make up the neighborhood. These days, most young people when asked, usually list ‘Shimokita’ as it’s referred to, as a top spot to live and hang out. It’s proximity to Meiji University makes it an ideal ‘college town’, but many well-established Tokyoites call this place home too.

The other reason ‘Shimokita’ is so popular is proximity. It’s the neighborhood surrounding the train station of the same name on both the Odakyu and Keio Inokashira lines. All trains on both lines except limited expresses stop here, making for a smooth, quick journey to/from Shinjuku or Shibuya in under 20 minutes. In fact, Odakyu is moving their operations underground on March 23, 2013 and will also be adding capacity, so this area will be that much sought after in the future.

Shimo-kitazawa tokyo japan may 2010

So what kind of places make up Shimo-Kitazawa?

There are vintage and retro stores galore here. Places like Lotty and High&Low specialize in clothing and are just two of the dozens of shops around.

Cafes and bars small enough to make a mouse claustrophobic are also numerous as well. My two faves? Palazzo because of it’s cheap delicious eats (There’s literally a plate with curry, spaghetti with tomato sauce and hamburger steak… For ¥500!) and great desserts. Open Source Café is where the area’s young technophiles come to nerd out and get work done during the day. They offer all-day wi-fi and power for your laptop, tablet, or phone along with a drink for ¥1000. They also play host to a lot of Tokyo’s tech meet-ups as well.

Lastly, Shimo-Kitazawa has a great underground music and arts scene. It is home to the historic Honda Gekijō theater building along with a large number of dive bars and live houses that play host to almost anyone that can hold a note and pluck a guitar. Places like Mosaic, Garden and Three, are some of the joints where you could be watching the next breakout artist in Japan perform.

If you’re needing a break from the norm of hopping the Yamanote Line looking for something to do one day, make your way westward to Shimo-Kitazawa and indulge yourself in some of Japan’s bohemian spirit.

Shimo-Kitazawa station on the Odakyū Odawara and Keiō Inakashira lines.


By Jason L Gatewood

ByJason Gatewood
Mar 06, 2013

Kanamara Matsuri: Festival of the Steel Phallus in Kawasaki

Kanamara matsuri (El festival del falo de meta...

Kanamara matsuri procession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Japan is known for a lot of things– good food, great electronics, reliable autos, wonderful scenery, and complex traditions  and a rich history that are weaved into its culture. Part of that tradition are the festivals, called “matsuri (祭)” that take placc around the local shrines and temples all over Japan. It was once told to me by a Shinto priest, “Oh, there’s probably a matsuri for anything and everything if you look hard enough.” So it should come as no surprise that there are fertility festivals…and specifically one that pays homage to the almighty “man-sword”.

There are plenty of “Phallus Festivals” in Japan; the main one being Hōnen Matsuri in Nagoya’s Tagata Shrine every March 15. Not to be outdone though, is Kanamara Matsuri: Festival of the Steel Phallus at Kawasaki’s Kanayama Jinja (金山神社). Kawasaki sits smack in between Tokyo and Yokohama, so it’s pretty much a guarantee there will be thousands of people coming from all over the metropolis to check it out.

According to Wikipedia, The Kanamara Matsuri is centered around a local penis-venerating shrine once popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases. This is because back during the Edo period (1600-1868), Kawasaki was the last stop on the Tokaido road into western Japan, and like any rest stop in those days, had its share of “recreational facilites” such as brothels.  It is said that there are also divine protections for business prosperity and for the clan’s prosperity; and for easy delivery, marriage, and married-couple harmony.

These days, the festival is used to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and as a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS research.


Every year,  first Sunday of April (6 March 2013)

  • 11:00 a.m.-11:15 a.m. – The Lighting of the Sacred Fire
    The fire is lit, and the festival kicks off.
  • 11:15 a.m.-11:45 a.m. – Main Ceremony
    The festival ceremony is performed in front of the altar.
  • 11:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m. – The Infusion of Divine Spirit
    Divine spirit is infused into the three phalli- Big Kanamara, Boat Kanamara and Elizabeth (the pink one). Bless them!
  • 12:00 p.m.-12:30 p.m. – The Carving of the Radishes
    Large Japanese radishes are carved into…interesting shapes…
  • 1:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m. – Festival Procession
    The moment you’ve been waiting for- the wee-wee brigade parade around the town. Also, a lot of people wearing fancy dress.
  • 3:00 p.m.-4:45 p.m. – Jibeta Matsuri (Earth Festival)
    The original festival. A straw mat is spread in the shrine grounds, and the drinking party begins!


Train: from Keikyu Daishi line,  KawasakiDaishi Station (KK23), 1 minute walk to the shrine.
Map: (mobile phone friendly)

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