Not being a speed demon myself it is hard to relate to the fast and furious aesthetic, but I definitely see it on the streets of Tokyo; for better or worse! If that is your thing, you are in the right place for it, and this is your event! The Tokyo Auto Salon is one of, if not the largest custom car show in Japan. It is sponsored by NAPAC , the “Nippon Auto Parts Aftermarket Committee,” so you can imagine the (spoiler alert) spoilers you will be exposed to…also perhaps… tires? I don’t know, as I said, not my thing.
Jan 14th – 15th, 2017 09:00 ~ 17:00 (Jan 13 is invitation only)
Regular Entry (January 14th/15th) JPY2,000 (Adults), 1,700 (JHS, HS student), Elementary and below: Free
photo by screenshot from www.tokyoautosalon.jp/2017
The cold weather at this of year is the perfect opportunity for embracing the Japanese spirit and heading to an onsen or hot spring. Although there are options within the surrounding area and of course, to the north, those people who dislike the cold may be looking for an alternative. That alternative is Matsuyama.
Matsuyama is located on the island of Shikoku, south of Hiroshima, which means temperatures are usually a little warmer. Although it is on a completely different island, the fast and efficient “Super “Jet” high speed boat that runs between Hiroshima and Matsuyama means it is possible to do as a day trip.
The high speed boat leaves from Hiroshima Port (starting at 7.30am) and takes approximately an hour to Matsuyama. There is also the option to catch it from Kure which means it leaves later than from the Port by about 23 minutes. The full timetable and prices can be found on the website shown below.
Matsuyama is filled with plenty of history and is most famous for its castle perched on top of the hill overlooking the city. The other famous attraction is of course, Dogo-onsen, the oldest in Japan and the inspiration for the onsen in Hayao Miyazaki’s famous anime, ‘Spirited Away.’
Perhaps the most famous story associated with the onsen is the legend of the white heron. The story goes that it bathed its injured leg every day in the hot water that came from a rock. It was soon restored to health and after it flew away, the story of the healing water began to spread.
The onsen’s water supply is from a total of 17 springs that rise through cracks in the granite 200-1000m underground. The temperature sits at a comfortable 47 degrees Celsius and the alkaline water is said to provide relief for a range of ailments from simple muscle pain to digestive illnesses.
Four types of bathing are available and these range in price from 410 yen (adults), 160 yen (children) to 1550 yen (adults) and 770 yen for children. The opening hours are from 6am until either 10 or 11pm depending on which bath you have chosen.
To get to the onsen from the ferry terminal a bus is available to Dogo Onsen Tram stop. This takes 40 minutes and costs 600 yen one way. The onsen itself is then a four minute walk from here.
Although the trip is easily done in a day, it is a little pricey. The ferry doesn’t come cheap but for the short time it takes to arrive and the reward of the onsen, it is still highly recommended. Why not take some time off during the new year and head to Matsuyama for a day of history and relaxation at the oldest and most famous onsen in Japan.
When it comes to winter sports, Japan is a little bit ice crazy. Hosting the Winter Olympics in 1964 (Sapporo) and most recently in 1998 (Nagano) has helped fuel a love for all things snow related.
Although Nagoya may not be a winter wonderland like Sapporo or Nagano, however that doesn’t mean that its residents are any less enamored with the colder sports. There are plenty of places in the area at which we can enjoy the slopes, but with the city having bred some of the world’s top ice skaters, including the Junior World Champion Kanako Murakami, and World Champions Miki Ando and Mao Asada, it is perhaps not surprising that there are some pretty decent rinks in the area.
Why not get your skates on and spend a day gliding gracefully (or at least attempting to do so) with family and friends?
This 56m x 26m indoor rink in Osu is where Asada Mao, Ando Miki, Onda Mie and
Ito Midori all learnt their trades.
A 60m x 30m indoor rink in Minato ward.
This 60m x 30m indoor rink in Minami ward occasionally closes due to competitions being held. It is advisable to contact the rink to confirm opening.
A 60m x 30m indoor rink in Nagakute.
A 60m x 30m indoor rink in Toyohashi.
An open-air rink in Nishio. Discount tickets can be found on their website
When one thinks of Japanese high art, alongside haiku, ukiyo-e, and the movies of Yasujiro Ozu, kabuki is most probably one of the first mediums to come to mind. However, much like the plays of Shakespeare, that some 9,000km away were beginning to gain popularity at around the same time, Kabuki, the classical Japanese dance-theatre known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers, is an art form that was created to entertain the masses.
In fact, to the guys who started the Kabuki Cafe in Nagoya’s up-and-coming area of Endoji, it still is, very much, just that.
Kabuki dates back to 1603 when Izumo no Okuni, a Shinto priestess, began performing a new style of dance drama in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto. From there the art form grew into short comic plays depicting daily life. Female actors performed both male and female parts with ribald and suggestive themes that grew to be instantly popular, a popularity that was in part thanks to the ‘red light district’ locations of the theatres and the fact that many of the performers were available for prostitution.
One place in which kabuki did not enjoy popularity was with the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate, who prudishly disapproved of the playlets’ indecent nature and the mixing of the social classes in its theatres, and thus onna-kabuki, women’s kabuki, was banned.
However, in the place of onna-kabuki sprung up wakashū-kabuki with the roles played by young boys, but as the performers were still prostitutes, this too was soon outlawed, and replaced in the mid-1600s with the modern style of yaro-kabuki, with adult male actors playing the roles.
In this time, with the shift of performers’ gender, and feminine-looking male actors called onnagata playing the women’s roles, the emphasis of the performances moved from dance towards drama. Despite the fact that the ‘onnagata’ were too part of the sex industry (with many shows breaking into chaos when audience members fought over the affections of particularly attractive onnagata), kabuki continued to thrive and became formalised during its ‘golden era’ between 1673 and 1841 to resemble the art form we recognise today.
In June 2016 the Nagoya-za Kabuki Cafe opened in Endoji, a still somewhat traditional shopping arcade a stone’s throw from Nagoya Station. Though Kabuki has something of a conservative image, the idea behind the Kabuki Cafe was to bring it back to its traditional routes as entertainment not for the artistic elite, but for the masses.
Much like the Edo period Kabuki theatres, Kabuki Cafe is a raw, raucous experience. It is, as they say,” a rock and roll kabuki experience!”
Patrons, who sit on floor cushions called ‘zabuton’ are permitted to bring in their own food and drink (although alcoholic and soft drinks are served at the bar), and are encouraged to purchase them from the many restaurants and bars in the Endoji area.
With almost two hours of performances, there are various acts including ‘samisen’ displays, the crashing of ‘taiko’ drums and great battle scenes that fly out over the audience’s heads. There are even question and answer sessions where the stars explain their show and even perform off-the-cuff skits. At the end you may even get to meet and chat with the stars of the show.
Although performances are in Japanese, the plots of the stories are so well acted out that even non-Japanese speakers like myself would have no problems taking part.
It is a fun evening for all of the family that is reminiscent of pantomime shows and music hall where crowd participation is very much encouraged. Bring the kids, bring friends and enjoy the show.
Image: https://nagmag.jp/app/uploads/2016/07/IMG_9072-117-1200×630.jpg (Screengrab) -Modified
Image: wikipedia.com “The July 1858 production of Shibaraku at the Ichimura-za theater in Edo.” by Utagawa Toyokuni III. (Public Domain) -Modified
Image: Mark Guthrie (own work)
Image: http://nagoya-za.com/about.html (Screengrab) -Modified
While Japan is well known for its glorious food, no matter how much you love sushi, tempura, or shabushabu, there is a good chance that you will find yourself craving food from back home. For me, it’s pizza. I’m totally hooked on the circular discs of cheesy joy.
Fortunately there are loads of fantastic pizza places around our fair city of Nagoya, and below we have listed a few of them. Keep in mind that this is just for information purposes, and that Japan Info Swap does not endorse any of them.
Nestling amongst the crazy clothing outlets of the Osu shopping arcade you will found Pizzeria Trattoria Cesari, perhaps the best known pizzeria in the city. Part owned by Pasquale Makishima, Cesari was opened in 1993. What makes it so famous is that Makishima, who trained in Naples, won the prestigious World Pizza competition in 2010, something that surprised the Italian pizza press at the time. The pizzas are cooked in a wood fired kiln oven, and the restaurant is recognised by the Association for Genuine Neapolitan Pizza, one of only 23 restaurants in Japan to be so. It is advisable to book ahead as lines can be looooong!
Address: 3-36-44 Sakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya, 460-0011
Okay, this is kind of a cop out entry as it is actually the sister restaurant to Cesari, and is in fact next door in Osu. However, there are two good reasons why it gets a separate entry: one is that, while Cesari is more of an upmarket restaurant, Solo is laid back, much like any drop in restaurant you are likely to find around Italy. The other reason is that it serves the best pizza in the world. Sound like hyperbole? It’s not. 32 year old chef Mayo Ota has been working with Makishima since she was 19, and in 2014 she won the coveted first place in the World Pizza championships, the same prize her boss had won four years previously. It’s a dynasty well worth checking out.
Address: 3 Chome-32-8 Sakae, Naka Ward, Nagoya, 460-0011
There are various restaurants set up by the famed Italian chef around Nagoya (the one in Kanayama is particularly pleasant to sit outside of on a sunny Spring day), but perhaps the pick of the bunch is the one on the 12th floor of the JR Nagoya station. The restaurant is centred around its open Neapolitan kitchen, and is fine Italian dining in the extreme. Either choose their deluxe lunch buffet for 2,380 JPY, or go in the evening and enjoy the lively atmosphere as you await your mochi-mochi light pizza to arrive.
Address: JR Central Towers Office, 1 Chome-1-4 Meieki, Nakamura Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture 450-0002
There are various Italian restaurants called Bambina around Nagoya (mostly part of the Sora group), but don’t let the fact that this one is called ‘seconda’ fool you into thinking that it’s not in the top bracket. If you are a fan of the authentic Italian dining style: a lively atmosphere where you are virtually sitting in each other’s laps, then you’ll like it here. The pizzas cooked in their stone baked oven are simple and classic, and there is an extensive menu to choose from, though their special boards sometimes throw up something a little on the different side to keep regular diners on their toes.
Address: 3 Chome-23-14 Meieki, Nakamura Ward, Nagoya
Another member of the Sora Group, there are two Diavolo e Bambinas in Nagoya. The original one in Meieki is a stylish classic Italian restaurant whose wood burning stove can get a little busy (get your orders in quickly!). But even if you have to wait, the pizza, the calzone in particular, is definitely worth it. However, if you happen to be in Kanayama you can find the new Diavolo in the recently opened MPLAT shopping complex, and at 1,000 JPY for a soup, pizza and drink lunch set, you can’t really go wrong.
Address: 11-17, Meieki 3-chome, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya
Address: MPLAT, 1-1-18, Jinshan, Atsuta-ku, Nagoya,
Formerly Da-Carlo, Trattoria Pizzeria Acquario can be found in Tsuramai. It is a delightfully open, slightly kitsch restaurant that, although they do a great lunch set for under 1,000 JPY, lends itself perfectly to evening dining. While the décor leans closer to the Japnese idea of American style restaurant than Italian, the pizza is certainly of the European variety. Check out the video on their website to see chef Dario perform not only dough tossing tricks, but also the fine touches they add to get the crusts perfectly crisped in their stone baked oven.
Address: 4-7-1 Chiyoda, Naka-ku, Nagoya, 460-0012
Web: Yelp Review
By Mark Guthrie
Until this year I had never heard of Ohnan Town and even now when I mention the name to local Japanese people I’m often met with blank looks or a shake of the head to say they’ve never heard of it. It’s true; it’s a very small place, but I guarantee that once you’ve been there you won’t forget it. It’s the kind of place you will want to return to again and again. Ohnan is, in one word: charming. It personifies the concept of “omotenashi” or Japanese hospitality, and one of the best places to experience this is Gohongi Cafe.
The three-year old cafe is owned by a husband and wife team whose house IS the actual cafe. By this, I mean that you can sit in their tatami dining room to have a drink and/or pizza. The place actually began when the husband decided to create a garden for his wife on the side of the hill at the back of their house. Planted with flowers that are particularly beautiful in spring, passing visitors to the area soon stopped to look. The couple started serving tea and people suggested they open a cafe to serve lunch. In the meantime, the husband had also built a hearth to bake pizza for his grandchildren and so Gohongi Cafe was born.
Although cake and coffee is served there, it’s really the pizza that the place is famous for. Four toppings are available: salad, Weiner (hotdog sausage), shrimp and bacon, and tuna, shrimp and mayonnaise and at a bargain price of just 1000 yen, they’re the perfect size for two people to share. If you’re a fan of Totoro, the character from Hayao Miyazaki’s famous anime, ‘My Neighbour Totoro,’ then you’re not alone. The husband loves the character so much that you’ll find various decorations scattered throughout the cafe, house and in the surrounding gardens.
The place is considered to be a part of underground culture in the area and is therefore a bit of a secret spot known only by locals. Thus, a visit means you really have experienced the heart of Ohnan. The cafe is open weekends and holidays from 10am until 5pm and they also have a Facebook page and blog that are updated regularly. Any changes to their regular opening opens can be found there.
Although little English is spoken by the couple, their kindness and hospitality will ensure you are always welcome and they will do their best to answer any questions you may have too.
For a lazy lunch or just a place to sit and recharge with a coffee on the weekend, Gohongi Cafe is the place to go.
Weekends and holidays from 10am until 5pm
Ohnan town is located in Shimane Prefecture which can be found about an hour’s drive north of Hiroshima. Buses are available from both Hiroshima Station and Hiroshima Bus Centre, but if you have a car you won’t be at the mercy of public transport which is, of course, much more infrequent than in bigger towns and cities.
Buses leave from the Shinkansen side of Hiroshima station and Hiroshima Bus Centre. For Ohnan, you get on the bus toward Hamada and get off at Mizuho IC. From there you can catch a local bus to Ohnan’s tourism hub Craft-kan for more information. For detailed transportation information, please contact Ohnan Town at email@example.com
Hiroshima Shinkansen Entrance (2010 yen)
Hiroshima Bus Centre (1930 yen)
Ohnan Town Bus (200 yen)
Craft-kan closed on Tues.
Photo credit to Gohongi Cafe Photo Collection.
If you’ve exhausted all the cat cafes in Hiroshima and you’re looking for something new, why not head to the owl café, Owl de Base instead? Located one street back from Hondori and just around the corner from Parco, it’s located on the fourth floor and can be a little difficult to find. The big sign is actually above your head on the front of the building and if you don’t look up you might miss it. Once you find it though it’s well sign-posted going up the stairs with lots of photos of the ‘staff,’ aka the owls.
More expensive than the cat cafés, it costs 1500 yen for one hour and if you want to feed the owls it will cost you an extra 300 yen. You pay up front and also have unlimited drinks from a machine in the front of the café. If you’ve never been to an animal café you will be pleasantly surprised by how peaceful they are in comparison to normal cafés. Although there is quiet music playing, the only sounds you will hear are the occasional squeak from one of the owls or the flapping of their wings.
The owls are spread out around the café and are securely tied to their perches so they don’t fly away. Above each owl is a sign with their name, date of birth and any extra information about them. Not all owls are suitable to feed, so make sure you look for the word, “OK,” written in red. If you’re not sure, the staff are more than happy to help. Although no English is spoken, like in most places in Japan the service is friendly and they will do their best to ensure your time there is enjoyable.
At the end of your hour you will have the chance to hold your favorite owl. The owls range in size from very tiny to very, very large and you will be provided with a glove to protect your hands from the sharp claws. The staff will also show you how to hold the owl so they’re comfortable. Owl de Base is fortunate to have a number of falcons and hawks too, so if you’re keen on birds of prey (of which owls are included surprisingly!), then definitely check them out.
The café has a range of owl-themed products, from earrings to notebooks and I guarantee that if you love owls then you won’t go home empty-handed. For a relaxing way to spend a morning or lazy afternoon, Owl de Base is a fun place to hang out with a coffee and your new feathered (and very cute!) friends.
ミシマビル ４F, 1-33 Fukuromachi, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0036
Japan is a cash-based economy, so it is a good idea to bring enough cash for initial expenses when you relocate here. The simplest way to cover this need is to bring real cash or travelers checks with you. As the exchange rate is much better in Japan than in other places overseas it is best to wait to exchange them here.
The best rate I have found for conversion is using a discount ticket seller such as Daikokuya. They do not charge any fees and only make a profit in the exchange rate, which is usually as good or better than banks.
Alternatively, you could open a Japanese bank account shortly after arriving and send an international transfer to yourself. For large amounts of money, this tends to be the safest and least costly way to move funds to Japan. If you intend to utilize this option be sure to check in advance whether or not your foreign bank account can send funds to a Japanese bank account, as some cannot.
If they can’t send funds, you can still send money using a remittance service. Basically, a remittance company has a bank account in the US where they receive the funds domestically before they sending them to your account in Japan on your behalf. Examples are below:
Since 2002, XE Money Transfer has processed more than $10 billion in global payments and served thousands of businesses and individuals.
Since 2000 OFX has managed over 1 million transfers, totaling in excess of AUD $100 billion. This service is recommended on a blog called Tokyo Cheapo and the link they provided (used here too) should allow you to waive the transfer fees normally charged on each transaction.
To decide which is best for you, check what your bank charges for international transfers (if they even offer it) and what their exchange rate is like. If you want to use a remittance service, it takes around a week or longer to set up and it is easier to do before you come to Japan, so we recommend to set it up as early as possible.
Whether you love or loathe the hustle and bustle of the big city, there are no two ways about it: Tokyo is an amazing place. There is so much going on, and so much to take in. It is a mass of contradictions and a striking hodge-podge of contrasting styles, of the traditional and the futuristic.
There is perhaps no better way to take all of that in, than from the air, as Tokyo has one of the most breathtaking cityscapes in the world. All around the city there are high-rise buildings that you can access, and from their observation decks you can take it all in.
There is no other place for us to begin than with Japan’s tallest structure. At 634m Tokyo Skytree became the worlds tallest tower and the second tallest building when it was constructed in 2012. As such it has the two highest observation decks in the country. The top deck is 450m high and the lower deck is at 350m, the latter of which boats wide windows, a restaurant, cafe and shops. From both decks you are afforded an unrivaled and unobstructed view of much of the Kanto region.
The focal point of the Roppongi Hills complex, the 238m tall Mori Tower is startling for its bold, glittering design, and easily embodies the glitz and glamour of the Roppongi district. On cold or windswept days, views of the city can be taken from the 52nd floor, but the sight is best taken from the open air Sky Deck on the roof of the building that offers panoramic views of the city.
At 240m high, when completed in 1978, Sunshine 60 was not only the tallest building in Japan, but also in Asia. Part of the adjoining Sunshine City complex, the building is 60 stories (hence the name), and on the top floor there is an observation deck from where you can take in the view. However, being in Ikebukuro, it isn’t the most central of buildings meaning the views are not quite so devastating, though they are impressive nonetheless.
The building that took the crown for the tallest building from Sunshine 60 is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, in 1991. Also referred to as Tocho, it stands at 243m, although on the 45th floor of each of the two towers the observation deck is some 41m below that. Still, being in the centre of Shinjuku it affords some quite spectacular scenes including Meiji Jingu, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree and Mount Fuji on clear days. Also, it’s open late giving you the opportunity to see the city at night. Oh, and it’s free entry!
Short but sweet is possibly the best way to describe the Bunkyo Civic Center. Although only 146m high (to put that into perspective, stand three of them on top of each other and you still can’t top the Skytree), its location makes for perfect viewing. From the 25th floor of this building once rather accurately described as a ‘giant Pez candy dispenser’ by The Japan Times due to the way the observation deck juts out, you can see quite breathtaking views of Mount Fuji behind the skyscrapers of Shinjuku on one side, and the Tokyo Skytree on the other.
Before the construction of the Skytree, Tokyo Tower was perhaps the emblem of the city. When completed in 1958 it symbolized the rebirth of Japan as a post war economic power, and is inspired by the Parisian Eiffel Tower, which it stands a good 13m taller than. It is so tall, in fact, that it is painted orange and white to comply with air traffic regulations, and is the second tallest structure in the city. The tower has two observation decks, a main observatory at 150 meters and a special observatory at 250 meters, although at the time of publication (January 2017) the upper deck is closed for renovations until the summer.
One of the most memorable and exciting aspects of traveling or living among a different culture is exploring the cuisine. While going to an authentic restaurant may be enough to get your foodie fix, sometimes the most excitement and delight comes from the challenge of preparing the dish on your own. Japanese food is hailed internationally for its flavorful, fresh, and varied styles, and skilled and novice chefs alike can struggle with replicating the unique dishes. Sometimes having all of the right ingredients and an authentic recipe isn’t enough to get a Japanese dish to taste just like the real thing. That’s why Taro, owner and head chef instructor at Haru Cooking Class in Kyoto, started his class for visitors to Japan and interested participants to combine their love and curiosity for Japanese cuisine with the right ingredients and proper demonstration and instruction.
Taro teaches a maximum of six guests per class, so the participants can receive one-on-one instruction and feedback. Allow for around three to four hours if you make a reservation because Taro takes time to thoroughly explain not only each ingredient and step, but also the specific cultural significance behind all components of the Japanese dish in preparation. To save on some time, Taro prepares some of the dishes beforehand, but don’t worry because this process will be explained and you will have ample opportunity to put your Japanese chef hats on and practice!
There are two different options for cooking classes: vegetarian or non-vegetarian with Kobe beef. Both options involve demonstration and participation in cooking several courses of authentic Japanese food including soups, side dishes, and the main dish, which you of course get to enjoy when you’re through! Another option for the cooking class is to add on a trip to the Nishiki market with Taro to see where he buys his ingredients and truly get a feel for the whole cooking process! If you decide you want to join in on the market tour, though, you’d better make your reservations early in the week because Taro only takes one group out per week and it’s first come, first serve. Taro teaches just one cooking class per day starting at 2:00 p.m. so plan ahead to get a taste for this exciting cultural experience.
Northeast of the Imperial Palace, 166-32 Shimogamo Miyazakicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 606-0802
Cooking Classes: one per day, 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Nishiki Market Tour: one per week, 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Non-vegetarian: 7,900 yen per person, 10,900 yen per person for double portion of Kobe beef
Vegetarian: 5,900 yen per person
Nishiki Market Tour: 4,000 yen per person plus cost of cooking class to follow
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