Monthly Archive October 2015

Oct 27, 2015

Kansai Culture Day 2015

kansai_culture_dayOn “Bunka no Hi,” or “Culture Day,” in Kansai hundreds of museums and art galleries throughout the Kansai region offer free admission! Take advantage of free admission to over 500 museums, galleries and cultural attractions within the 10 Kansai prefectures.



Kansai Culture Day 2015

Saturday November 14, Sunday November 15 (depending on location other dates may apply )

Oct 22, 2015

Second Family Nagoya


Second Family English is a helping-hand for Japanese and international families living in and around Nagoya. We offer a range of learning and lifestyle support services including cultural events, child-minding, Australian penpal programs, educational excursions, lessons in English, and social hangouts.

As our name suggests, we offer care and support like a family to you and your loved ones. We often host social events for like-minded families or individuals to meet, greet, and make friends. Our aim is to create a safe and friendly community where you can feel at home.

Second Family membership is 750 yen per family per month.


ByMark Guthrie
Oct 20, 2015

Nagoya Meshi Expo

Nagoya Meshi copyIn Japan, the cuisine of a local region is something of which to be particularly – sometimes fiercely – proud, and Nagoya is no exception to this. Nagoya food (Nagoya Meshi) is hugely varied and diverse cuisine, encompassing the traditional ‘washoku’ as well as the more modern ‘yōshoku’. Whether it is the delicateness of chicken sashimi, the spice of Taiwan ramen, or the salty miso katsu, there is something in the Nagoyan menu to suit all palettes. It is perhaps this assuredness and pride in the city’s fare that was behind the idea of the Nagoya Meshi Expo.

What is the Nagoya Meshi Expo?

The Nagoya Meshi Expo is an annual celebration of the huge array of food for which the city is famed. Now in its fifth year, it has expanded to include up to 307 stores and restaurants all over Nagoya. The plan is that you can purchase discounted meal tickets either at one of the dozens of ticket centres or at a convenience store ticketing machine, which can be exchanged for some great food at participating stores. For example, one ticket can get you a meal set from Yamachan of tebasaki, kushi katsu and a highball; two ebi furai with a drink from Enshu Mikawaya or a yaki niku pizza and a soft drink from Napoli Pizza.

With tickets costing 1,240 JPY for two and a set of five for 3,000 JPY, it’s not too bad a deal. Then, should you particularly enjoy what you have eaten, and it is one of the 31 competing stores, you can show your love by voting online for it to be awarded with the much coveted prize of ‘Nagoya Meshi of the year’.

Why should you try the Nagoya Meshi Expo?

Whether you have been in the city for a short time or are here for the long haul, there is a good chance that there is something in Nagoya’s wide selection that you don’t know. In that way, it is a great opportunity to discover something new: a new restaurant perhaps, a different part of town, or even a new favourite dish. While you can’t possibly try them all (very few people can stomach 10 deals a day), there is still plenty of time to get out and try something.

Nagoya Meshi Expo details

Nagoya Cuisine

Below is a by-no-means complete list of the types of food for which Nagoya is famous, but merely a sample of our favourites.

Tebasaki – Perhaps Nagoya’s most famous food, these deep-fried chicken wings can be salty, spicy or lathered in sauce. Check out the JIS Guide to Tebasaki.

Nagoya Cochin sashimi – The Nagoyan Cochin chicken is held in particularly particularly high regard – think the Kobe beef of poultry. It’s so succulent and fresh that you can eat it raw.

Ebi Furai – Deep fried bread crumbed prawns. Some of them can be gigantic, up to 30cm. Check out the JIS Guide to Ebi Furai.

Hitsumabushi – Many parts of the country serve ‘unagi’, or eel, but Nagoya’s grilled eel is particularly special. Check out the JIS Guide to Hitsumabushi.

Miso katsu – While white miso is favoured throughout most of the country, Nagoyans are immensely proud of their red miso sauce. Slathering it on top of a fried cutlet, or dipping ‘kushi’ skewers into it is about as Nagoyan as you can get.

Taiwan ramen – Despite the name, this dish is as Nagoayn as Ichiro. And like the baseball superstar, it packs a big hit. This is a seriously spicy noodle dish.

Ankake pasta – Of course, spaghetti is an Italian thing. Mixing it with red weiner sausages, bright coloured vegetables and a spicy, sticky sauce is definately a Nagoya thing.

Doteni – Its English name of ‘offal stew’ does little service to this red miso stew that is perfect for warming cold bodies on chilly winter nights.

Ogura toast – This thickly sliced toast served with a sweet red bean paste is often found as part of the Nagoya cafe ‘Morning’ tradition, usually coming with coffee or tea.

Curry udon – Mixing Japanese curry sauce with udon noodles is such a straghtforwardly delicious idea that it seems crazy that Nagoyans had to even come up with it. But they did.

Misonikomi udon – Another udon dish peculiar to Nagoya the chicken, egg and onion of the soup is brought to life by the red bean miso, and is believed to have been an original of the warring era Takeda clan, becoming another spoils of war for the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu.


Mark Guthrie

Photo: -Modified
Oct 16, 2015

Sightseeing in Kobe

Kobe_port_towerIf you find yourself in the Kansai region, the lovely port city of Kobe offers interesting history, colorful culture, architectural marvels, and delicious cuisine!  Here are a few sightseeing options in Kobe!

Anyone hungry for a taste of the rich historical culture that Japan has to offer will certainly enjoy a visit to the Ikuta Shrine. A short walk from Kobe-Sannomiya Station, the Ikuta Shrine is possibly one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. It was founded in the 3rd Century by Empress Jingu, and is dedicated to the god Wakahirume. The Ikuta Shrine was a pivotal location during the Genpei War, and its history is retold in traditional Japanese Noh Theater. Performances of the plays, Ebira and Ikuta Atsumori, can be seen during the annual fall festival, Akimatsuri.
Google Map

Kobe Port Tower

Perhaps you’d rather take in your culture from a birds eye view. If that’s the case, then a stop at Kobe Port Tower ought to be in your plans. Built in 1963, this hyperboloidally shaped lattice marvel stands 108m over the port, allowing for stunning panoramic views of both the city and the sea. The Kobe Port Tower is located near the Kobe Maritimes Museum, and it’s only a short walk to the Hanshin Earthquake Memorial Park. At night the tower is lit in a rainbow of colors, truly a feast for the eyes.
Google Map

Kobe’s Chinatown, Nankinmachi

Another unique destination worth adding to your sightseeing activities is Kobe’s renowned Chinatown. Kobe’s Chinatown, or Nankinmachi, was founded in 1868 at the beginning of the Meji Restoration, and is one of the first designated “foreign” neighborhoods in Japan following the end of the 200 year old isolationist foreign policy.

Nankinmachi is touted as the most colorful of the Chinatowns in Japan, boasting festive streets lined with interesting little shops, mahjong clubs, and delectably adventurous dining opportunities. If you can find the right street vendor, I recommend the deep fried scorpion on a stick; it tastes just like shrimp. But even if arachnids aren’t to your taste, the delicious varieties of steamed and fried dumplings, known as gyoza, are sure to satiate your appetite for the exotic.
Google Map

Nunobiki Park

When you’ve tired of the bright city lights and noisy, bustling crowds, or if you’re a connoisseur of nature’s flare for sublime aesthetics, then take the train to Shin-Kobe Station and make your way to Nunobiki Park. The interior of the park creates the illusion of having left the city for the tranquility of a quiet mountain grove.

Despite being located fairly close to downtown, visitors to Nunobiki Park report feeling like they are much farther away. But the tranquility of the park is just the beginning of this location’s charm. Tucked away in the corner of the park is the breathtaking Nunobiki Falls. Considered to be among Japan’s “divine” waterfalls, Nunobiki Falls is frequently a muse for Japanese poetry, and it is mentioned in the Tales of Ise.
Google Map

So, should you find yourself in the Kobe City area, know that your sightseeing opportunities are plentiful. Whether your looking for historic sites, modern culture, natural scenery, or exotic cuisine, Kobe has all you could desire and then some.

Photo: Kobe port tower11s3200" by 663highland. Licensed CC by 2.5 via Commons modified
ByMark Guthrie
Oct 14, 2015

Japan’s Best Onsen Towns


As temperatures around the country fall, now is the perfect time to indulge in the Japanese pastime of onsen. Best described as a hot spring bathing spa, onsen is a long held tradition in Japan and the near endless supply of geothermal springs is the one positive aspect of living in a nation of constantly shifting tectonic plates. Below are some of the most highly regarded onsen areas in the country.

Kurokawa Onsen, Kyushu

The island of Kyushu is known for being perhaps the best area for onsen, and Kurokawa Onsen is probably the pick of the bunch. Located around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Mount Aso, it is a beautiful town that has retained its traditional charm and resisted the big money lure of the concrete and neon spa hotels you find elsewhere. Kurokawa Onsen is particularly well known for its ‘rotenburo’ (outside baths) next to rushing rivers, such as the Yamamizuki bath, considered one of the best riverside baths in Japan .

Beppu Onsen, Oita

Another Kyushu based onsen area, Beppu, in Oita prefecture, is one of the country’s best known, and produces eight different springs. One of the most remarkable things about the onsen in Beppu, aside from the fact that you can see the steam rising up all over the city, is the variety of bath types. Rather than just having hot water onsen, Beppu also boasts steam baths, hot mud baths and sand baths where bathers are buried in naturally heated sand. If you want to try out the latter, head to Takegawara Spa. It was constructed in 1879 and is perhaps Beppu’s most famous bathhouse. Though be warned, the building is partially surrounded by a red light district.

Kusatsu Onsen, Gunma

Located in the mountains of Gunma at 1200 metres (4,000 ft) above sea level, Kusatsu Onsen is probably Japan’s most popular spa, and has been listed in Japan’s Top 100 Onsen at number one for the last 12 years in a row. The high quality water, as much as 32,300 liters of it being discharged every year making it the greatest quantity in Japan, is said to cure all diseases bar love sickness. The unique bathing method of jikanyu (where bathers sit in 48 degree water for exactly three minutes) and yumomi (stirring the water with long planks for cooling the temperature of the water, also serving as an important pre-bathing exercise) are customs that have been passed down since the Edo period.

Hakone Onsen, Hakone

If you want an onsen with a view, you can do no worse than gazing out over Mount Fuji as you soak in your spa. It is perhaps more down to its stunning view and its close proximity to Tokyo that makes the spa town of Hakone so popular, but what a view it is! Of course not all spas in the area have the advantage of being in eyeshot of the nation’s most enduring symbol, but if you can find one – particularly during the time of the magical Diamond Fuji – there is possibly a no greater Japanese experience.

Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido

Noboribetsu is considered to be the best onsen in the northern island of Hokkaido. Part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, there are nine different kinds of water including various minerals such as iron, salt and sulphur. The latter is considered to be particularly good for the skin, but doesn’t leave you smelling so fresh (as a suggestion: don’t plan a long train journey directly after a sulphur bath. Your fellow passengers will not appreciate it).

Okuhida Onsen, Gifu

This one comes with a personal recommendation. Set up in Gifu Prefecture’s Northern Japanese Alps, the spa valley of Okuhida is a beautiful little spot famed for its outdoor rotenburo baths. There are a variety of bathing types, both segregated and mixed (some prefectures do not allow mixed bathing, though Gifu is not one of them), with five water sources feeding the towns along the valley. The largest, and oldest, is Hirayu Onsen, and is said to have been discovered in the 1560s by Takeda Shingen’s troops as they crossed through the Okuhida region.

Dogo Onesen, Ehime

If you are looking for an onsen with artistic pedigree, Dogo Onsen is the one for you. Mentioned in Japan’s oldest history book, the Nihon Shoki, it also pops up in Shikibu’s he Tale of Genji, Soseki’s Botchan and is the model for the bathhouse in the Ghibli anime Spirited Away. The main onsen is the Dogo Onsen Honkan, a wooden structure, dating from 1894. The interior of the Honkan is a maze of traditional stairways and rooms and the old-fashioned baths are furnished with granite stone and marble walls. Beautiful and historical combined.

Gero Onsen, Gifu

Just one and a half hours from Nagoya, Gero is a lovely town that is worth the trip for onsen lovers and ranidaphiles alike. Due to the city’s name sounding like the Japanese sound for ‘ribbit’ (in Japan frogs say ‘gero gero’), there are homages to frogs everywhere, but that is not why most people come. In a dramatic setting amongst the mountains of Gifu and with waters that are said to be particularly good for relieving neuralgia, skin complaints and rheumatism, Gero is an onsen town so old that it was famed in the 10th century and mentioned as being one of Japan’s top three in a document from the Muromachi period. Depending on the time of year you can bathe riverside, and all around the city there are small foot baths (ashi-no-yu) for free use.


Super Sento Options

Onsen in Tokyo

Tokyo has plenty of places you can get to if you are unable to escape the city! Below are a list of the ‘super onsen’ in the Tokyo area. So if you can’t get away to one of the places above, any one of these are a perfectly adequate place to enjoy the onsen experience.

  1. Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba: Old Edo recreated for your bathing pleasure)
  2. Asakusa ROX Matsuri-yu in Asakusa:  Onsen bathing with a magestic view of the Tokyo Sky Tree
  3. Edo-yu in Ryogoku: Another Edo period spa offering bedrock baths, sauna and massage treatments
  4. La Qua near Tokyo Dome: Highly recommended spa treatments.
  5. Yudokoro in Kasai: Features the largest outdoor bath in Tokyo.

Onsen in Yokohama

Manyo Club Onsen in Yokohama’s Minato-Mirai district called 万葉倶楽部 Manyo Club in English is located a short 5 minute walk away from the Minato-Mirai line’s Minato-Mirai  Station.  The “super sento” carries all the amenities of a fine countryside hot springs hotel but with dramatic views of the Yokohama seaside.

Onsen in Nagoya

Canal Resort is in Nakagawa-ku, and is a super sento.  It probably would not be considered among the “best” of Japan, but its available and very nice!

Onsen in Kobe

Arima Onsen is a hot spring town within in Kobe with a 1,000 years of history behind.  Located away from the city center, on the other side of Mount Rokko, it enjoys a natural setting with a mountainous feel to it,, despite its proximity to Kobe and Osaka.

Onsen in Hiroshima

Yunoyama Hot Spring is s a traditional hot spring with over 1,000 years of history, it has even been designated an intangible Folk Cultural Asset of Japan.

Rules of Onsen

Like many aspects of Japanese culture there is etiquette to consider when visiting an onsen, and if you wish to impress your hosts it is best if you follow the rules. Before you head to the onsen, check out some of the how to’s, do’s and don’ts of the onsen experience.

Mark Guthrie

Photo: “Kurokawa Onsen, Kyushu” by David McKelvey (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

Photo: via by anjuli_ayer  (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

Photo: via by Christian Kaden  (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

Photo: via by Takanori Ishikawa  (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

ByMark Guthrie
Oct 14, 2015

Yokohama Day Trip – Five Fun Things for the Family


Despite being the second largest city in Japan, the port city of Yokohama sometimes gets dismissed as a satellite town to the ever sprawling metropolis of Tokyo. And while it is true that the capital’s close proximity can cast something of a pretty big shadow, and that by comparison it has something of a ‘charming town’ vibe, Yokohama has plenty of wonderful things to see and do. With this in mind, being just a 30 minute train journey from Tokyo Station, it makes it the perfect location for a family daytrip.

Hakkeijima Sea Paradise

A manmade island built at the tip of Yokohama Bay, you can spend an entire day at Hakkejima Sea Paradise. Admission to the island itself is free, so you can wander the grounds, have a picnic in the park and take long, leisurely strolls at no cost. However, there is a good chance that you won’t want to miss out on the action. For a start there is the three-story high aquaruim that, with more than 100,000 creatures, is Japan’s largest collection of sealife. Then there are the amusements including Japan’s first surf coaster that swings out over the water and Blue Fall, a 107m vertical drop ride. For the peckish and those wanting to pick up souvenirs there are plenty of restaurants and stores in which to wander.

Minato Mirai 21

Created where Yokohama Exotic Showcase was held in 1989, Minato Mirai is another area packed to the rafters with things to see and do. One of the standout attractions is the Cup Noodle museum that features a restaurant selling noodles from around the world, and two workshops in which you can design your own original cup noodle, or the particuilarly child-friendly Chicken Ramen factory where kids can make their own ramen.

West of JR Sakuragicho Station, you can find Nogeyama Park and Nogeyama Zoo with about 1,500 animals of 90 species. Younger children will enjoy Anpanman Land and KID-O-KID Borneland, an educational  indoor play facility where children and parents can learn as they play. For the older child, it’s well worth checking out the Nippon Maru and Yokohama Port Museum and the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum exhibiting all sorts of technological marvels including rocket engines, futuristic fork lifts and a deep sea submersible research vessel.

Yokohama Redbrick Warehouse

After all of that child’s play, you will probably be just about ready for a bit of lunch and retail therapy, which brings us nicely to Yokohama Redbrick Warehouse. Built between 1899 and 1905, the bonded warehouses were part of the Meiji era harbour construction that, as part of Japan’s modern port, welcomed the world for the first time. Today they act as a large dining and shopping complex and exhibition center for all manner of cultural events. There is also a large grassy area upon which to lounge on sunny days. 

Yamashita Park

If the kids aren’t tired out from the theme parks, then you can take them down to Yamashita Park. Famed for its views of Yokohama port, this seaside park – Japan’s first – is a 700m stretch of greenery in which people of all ages come for recreation. Alongside the park is the gigantic ocean liner-cum-maritime museum Hikawa Maru that ran theYokohama-Vancouver/Seattle line from 1930 housing all manner of VIPs from Charlie Chaplin to the Imperial family. Next to the Hikawa Maru is Yokohama Marine Tower that, with a 100m high 360 degree panoramic viewing deck, is ideal for watching night fall over the city.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Yokohama’s Chinatown is not only the largest in Japan but also in Asia, and there are roughly 250 Chinese-owned/themed shops and restaurants throughout the district, the highest concentration of which are centered on a 300 square metre area. While it is a great place to visit at any time of the day, it is in the evening when things in ‘Yokohama Chukagai’ really livens up.

There are all manner of stores selling bric-a-brac and Chinese cultural items, but it is the food that is the biggest drawer. With dozens of restaurants, mostly offering discount set courses it is a great place to eat. If you don’t want a full meal there are plenty of stalls and standing restaurants, including one claiming to be the purveyors of the world’s best nikuman: a bold claim. Chinese New Year is a particularly lively time to visit.

Mark Guthrie

Main photo by “sealab 2009” by Clint (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified

Dolphin Photo by Patrik Jones [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Minato Mirai Image by Kakidai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Red Brick Building Image by FoxyStranger Kawasaki [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Yamashita Park image by ootahara (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Chinatown image by そらみみ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Oct 09, 2015

Hattori Daily Farm in Kanagawa

Hattori Dairy Farm Since 1969 the Hattori Daily Farm in Kanagawa has raised dairy cows on green pastures not that far away from Tokyo.  Hattori Farm is a bit of working dairy a bit “dude ranch” where you can come learn and even touch the many animals they raise, you can even try your hand at milking a cow!

The  10 ha/24 acre farm features 100 head of Holstein and Jersey Cattle, in addition to stocks of sheep, horses, pigs, and even rabbits.  From the big red barn to the John Deere tractor, the farm is designed to evoke images of  Europe or the United States.

Hattori Daily Farm

243-0307 Kanagawa ken, Aikawa-machi, Aiko-gun 6087 (Google map)
TEL 046-281-0917

ByMark Guthrie
Oct 08, 2015

Five Great Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo

Sushi1When you first arrived in Japan you were no doubt asked, possibly on a daily basis, “what Japanese food do you like?” and, knowing very little else, your reply would have likely been “sushi”. Of course Japanese food is varied and wondrous, but there is no doubt that sushi is king. But where should you go to get really good sushi? There are around 5,000 sushi restaurants in Tokyo alone and it’s tough to choose, particularly as taste in sushi often comes down to personal and individual preference. Below we have tried to compile an eclectic list of some of the best – known or otherwise – sushi bars in the capital.

Sukiyabashi Jiro

Of course we couldn’t start the list without Sukiyakibashi Jiro, perhaps the most famous sushi restaurant in the world. Chef Jiro rose to international attention following the critically acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a movie that documented his quest to perfect the art of sushi. Despite not being held in quite the high regard by Japanese as it is by the foreign media, the three Michelin star restaurant is notoriously difficult to get a reservation thanks to the disparity between its immense popularity and limited seating spaces. As President Obama did when he visited with Prime Minister Abe, having a Japanese speaker with you is imperative.

Sushi Yoshitake

With just seven seats this three Michelin star restaurant is even smaller than Jiro’s, but it is perhaps even more popular for Japanese as the dining experience, at two hours, is around four times the length of its famous competitor. Despite being less traditional than most, with creative preparations of the like one would find in a high end French restaurant, Sushi Yoshitake is considered by some to be the perfect modern sushi dining experience. So popular is it, a six-seater branch has recently opened in Hong Kong

Tsugu Sushimasa

As the name reflects, Tsugu Sushimasa is a family run restaurant handed down from generation to generation (‘tsugu’ means to inherit), and it is perhaps thanks to this that the tradition of sushi is held in such high regard. While most sushi bars prepare their rice with rice vinegar, or ‘shirozu’, here they use a red sake vinegar called ‘akazu’ that was the vinegar of choice during the Edo period, a time when sushi was becoming the dish we know today. While this adds a different aromatic hue to what you may be used to, it still tastes great. It tastes of history.

Sushi Katsura

Just because most top places require a green-light from your bank manager before dining, great sushi doesn’t have to be expensive. Sushi Katsura is in the heart of the world famous Tsukiji fish market which means the seafood has gone from sea to plate in no time at all, but it is still relatively well priced. With dinner sets costing a reasonable 5,000 JPY per head, it is the lunch menu – 9 pieces of nigiri sushi and 1 maki sushi – costing just 950 JPY that will have your accountant nodding with approval. For those with a slightly bigger appetite, the 1.5 person set includes a further two extra pieces of nigiri sushi for an additional 100 JPY.

Sushi Dai

Do you ever wake up with a hankering for fresh fish? If so, you can do no wrong in heading over to Sushi Dai for their breakfast sushi. Also in the Tsukiji fish market, the seafood at Sushi Dai is so fresh that sometimes you’ll find your morning meal still wriggling on the plate. But this is a good thing. Thanks to its location and opening times, this is the perfect place for breakfast after a morning sightseeing around the market. But don’t turn up desperately hungry, as queues can be up to two hours long, even at the crack of dawn.

How to eat sushi

Worried that you may show yourself up when eating at one of these great places? Then check out this great video on how to eat sushi the ‘right’ way.

Mark Guthrie


Main photo: “IMG_9367” by Jim & Claire (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified