Lake Biwa (琵琶湖 or Biwa-ko) in Shiga Prefecture is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, and thanks to it being located just northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto, it is steeped in mystery, wonder, and is full of wonderful things to see and do. Named for its resemblance the lute-like musical instrument ‘biwa‘, it has long been a popular holiday and day trip destination for Japanese. Below are just a few things to see when isiting this beautiful region
Hikone Castle is one of only 12 Japanese castles still with its original keep, and one of only four designated as a National Treasure (the highest designation for cultural properties in Japan); as such it is one of the main draws to the Lake Biwa area. Built in 1603, following the Battle of Sekigahara, it was saved from the great dismantling of Japanese castles during the Meiji era by the Emperor Meiji himself, who visiting the rejion fell in love with its beauty.
Today most of the building has remained intact exhibiting many interesting architectural structures including a structures that can be easily destroyed for protection in case of an attack upon the keep. There are also several turrets which can be seen from inside as well as a large bell that is still rung several times every day to tell the time.
Another castle town with a long history, Nagahama was once home to the famed military General Toyotomo Hideyoshi, and one of the city’s attractions is a recreation of the castle from which he built his illustrious career.
Between the 17th and 19th centuries the city grew as a post town, and in 1900 a bank, which incorporated both Western and Japanese architectural features, was built. Its plastered walls were painted black and it soon became known as the “Black Wall Bank”. It still stands today, and the area in which it is preserved remains as Black Wall (Kurokabe) Square, a delightful sightseeing area.
Within this area you can find, not only buildings that illustrate the historical importance of the area, but also many great handicrafts stores – particularly glass blowing – at which you can make your own for a fee. There are also some lovely temples – Daitsuji in particular – and if you like beer, the local brew, Nagahama Roman Brewery, is pretty decent.
Perhaps you didn’t come all that way to Lake Biwa to spend all your time on shore like a landlubber. If that is the case, a particularly beautiful way to spend your time in the area is on one of the many boat cruises around the lake. Probably the most popular is the ‘Michigan’, a paddle steamer on which you can spend a whole day soaking in the sights – if not the water – of Lake Biwa. (The website can be found here, though bear in mind this is not an endorsement by JIS, it’s just for information purposes.)
From the ship windows and decks you can enjoy the beautiful lakeside vistas and the mountains to the west, stopping off at Okishima, the largest of all the islands on Lake Biwa; Chikubushima, with its rich religious history and beautiful views; and the beautiful Takeshima, an island that appears to change shape depending on the angle from which it is viewed. In addition, there is a commentary provided while on board as well as a yoshibue flute concert.
If there is one problem with the boat day trips, it’s that you may not have all the time you like to enjoy the Chikubushima island. At just 2km of coastline it may not seem worthwhile heading out into the centre of the lake just to see it, but it is in fact one of the must see spots in the area.
A half hour ferry trip from Nagahama, as a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site the island is an absolute treasure trove for those who love nature as well as gorgeous shrines and temples. In the southern part of the island you can find Tsukubusuma Shrine, said to have been established in 420. Once there you can purchase two small clay discs on which you should write your name and wish, and then attempt to hurl them through a torii gate below (as you do so, try to ignore the hundreds of other such, poorly cast discs that litter the area as evidence of the task’s difficulty).
Another important place of worship is Hōgon-ji, Shingon temple said to date from 724 with a striking three tiered pagoda that ranks with the Enoshima Shrine and the Itsukushima Shrine as one of Japan’s Three Great Benzaiten Shrines.
If the above excursions seem like, well, not enough of an excursion for you, a great experience – if you are relatively fit and have a little bit more time – is to cycle around the lake. With a circumference of around 230km, Biwa-ko is quite a ride, but it is also a staggeringly beautiful one – perhaps one of the great rides of Japan.
Whether you ride counter-clockwise (keeping the lake on your left at all times) or clockwise (making the most of the prevailing winds) there is plenty to see along your route. Whether it is taking in the stunning view from the top of the Rainbow Bridge, wandering around Ishiyama Temple where Murasaki Shikibu is thought to have begun writing The Tale of Genji, or enjoying the beaches of Makino, there are plenty of stops along the way. In fact, if you have a few days, you can even stop at any of the cities mentioned above.
Image: flickr.com – by collideous – CC 2.0 – Modified
Image: flickr.com – DSCF0035.JPG by Hideki Yoshida – CC 2.0 – Modified
Image: flickr.com – Nagahama by go.biwako – CC 2.0 – Modified
Image: flickr.com –瀬田川リバークルーズ（なぎさ公園付近) by 淳平 筈井 – CC 2.0 – Modified
Image: flickr.com –Chikubu Island (Chikubushima) by go.biwako – CC 2.0 – Modified
Image: flickr.com – by collideous – CC 2.0 – Modified
Tokyo has Tokyo Tower and the popular Skytree, Osaka has the Umeda Sky Building but what about Hiroshima? Say hello to the newly opened Orizuru Tower!
Owned by Hiroshima Mazda Co., the main attraction of the 13-story building is the observation deck at the top. Refurbished and redesigned by the Hiroshima-based architect, Hiroshi Sambuichi, the Tower and deck offers views not only of the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park below, but also the mountains surrounding Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima. It’s a nice place to go for a date and when I visited in the late afternoon, the sunset was spectacular.
It’s location right on the edge of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park has been somewhat controversial as both the local residents and commercial developers of the city struggle to maintain the balance between the sacred area and the desire for yet another tourist attraction which will bring revenue.
Orizuru Tower opened to the public back on July 11, 2016 but the official opening was only a few weeks ago on the weekend of September 23rd, 24th and 25th. At this time it was open for free and more than a few locals turned out to take advantage of the deal. The lines were long and some people waited for up to five hours.
I must admit I was a little miffed because I had paid the usual and very hefty 1700 yen to go in mid July. At that price it has been mainly overseas tourists who have been visiting, as more than a few people (both Japanese and expats) I’ve spoken to, have simply refused to pay that amount of money. Children are not much cheaper unfortunately with 12-17 years paying 900 yen, 6-11 years paying 700 yen and 4-5 years paying 500 yen respectively. For a family outing it makes it an expensive one and with little kids and not much of interest for them, I would suggest going elsewhere.
For an additional fee of 500 yen if you purchase your tickets on the first floor, or 600 yen if you wait until the 12th or 13th floor, you also make a paper crane from specially designed paper. The staff are happy to assist you and when you’ve finished your creation, you can drop it into the 50m tall ‘Orizuru Wall,’ which can be seen from the outside. I was already broke from the 1700 yen entrance fee and have made my fair share of cranes with Japanese students in the Peace Memorial Park so I didn’t opt for this.
If you don’t feel like paying anything at all, you are welcome to visit the first floor for free and this is where you can wander around browsing a selection of local products. There’s also Akushu Café where you can sit down and enjoy a drink or small meal either inside or out on the terrace. Takeaway versions are also available.
All in all, although the view is nice, there are other views that are cheaper or even free in Japan. I guess if you live here you can go once and say that you’ve been, but if I was simply visiting Hiroshima, I don’t think I would pay to go.
For more information on Orizuru Tower, check out their website, www.orizurutower.jp which is available in Japanese, English and French.
Photo by Jade Brischke
Have you ever wanted to take the kids to Italy for the day? How about showing them the cultures of France, Germany or Korea? While, thanks to technology, the world is getting smaller, it could be argued that living in Japan it is difficult to show our young families the world beyond these shores. This is perhaps the reasoning behind the Little World Museum of Man, an amusement park in Inuyama, Aichi that looks beyond the borders and across the seas to the great wide world out there.
At Little World Museum of Man (リトルワールド or ‘ritoruwārudo’), the world truly is your oyster. Along a two and a half kilometer (about 1.5 miles) walk you get to experience interesting cultures and exciting peculiarities from all around the world. From India to Peru, from Taiwan to Italy, there is barely a part of the globe that is not represented in this fun open air museum of an amusement park.
Along the path you will find a collection of unique regional villages featuring over 30 authentically recreated houses, buildings and cultural structures, many of which have been relocated from their original sites around the globe, shipped to Inuyama, and expertly recreated here. Particularly impressive are the Nepalese Buddhist Monastery, the mud huts of the Burkino Faso Kassena compound, and the German Bayern village.
As extraordinary as viewing these buildings is, there is much more to the park than a two and a half kilometer wander through the architecture. In fact there is plenty of interactive entertainment to take part in.
Many ‘countries’ have their own regional restaurants, folk craft souvenir shops, and attractions. This means that you can taste Turkish treats, indulge in Italian edibles, or gorge on German goodies; or you can even dress up in the local costume of some of the most sartorially interesting nations on Earth.
Of course, this being a Japanese amusement park there are also plenty of souvenir shops to pick up trinkets on your way round, and as a way of keeping younger children interested (and perhaps out of the gift shops) you can take your Little World ‘Passport’ everywhere you travel, and if you collect enough stamps you may be in for a small prize at the end of your trip.
If all the traveling by foot is too much for you, you can always take the Little World Bus around the course, getting on or off at any stop you wish, and if you are too tired, why not sit down in front of the stage area and watch an ever changing line up of performers from all over the world playing music, performing dances and acrobatics.
Image – via Facebook – Modified Image http://www.littleworld.jp/english/exhibition/lw_en_map.pdf – Modified
Fed up of the usual, humdrum dinners out? Do izakayas bore you to tears? Do sushi restaurants have you tearing at your hair? Do the countless Italian and French restaurants of the capital lull you into a sleepiness that would make Rip van Winkle blush?
If so, then you need to find something with a difference, something that has a little creativity. With that in mind, check out some of the more interesting, unique and downright unusual restaurants that Tokyo has to offer.
I hope you aren’t hungry, because the diners aren’t here for the food. With little more than conbini bentos and canned beer on the menu at exorbitant prices, this isn’t so much a dining experience, but more a sensory explosion. Your 7,000 JPY gets you a cabaret show of insane proportions, with dancing, scantily clad women battling robots (pictured) – neon tanks, and giant cyborgs. Get your glow-sticks out and get involved. It’s certainly a night to remember.
Is the freshness of the fish on your plate a constant concern? It need not be at Zauo. Simply dangle your rod and bait into the moat below your table and wait for the fishies to bite. Once you’ve landed your fish, with the crowd going wild, it’ll be grilled to perfection and served to you directly.
Do you find prison theme restaurants a little tame? Do you crave a little extra blood in your terror? Alcatraz ER is a prison restaurant with a difference, in that it takes it to a terrifying-prison-hospital level. Yes, that may not be the most P.C. of things, but you may have to check your sensibilities at the door at this restaurant with blood streaked walls and creepy waitresses that serve… lets call it a suggestively carved sausage, and cocktails in life-sized mannequin heads.
This is a must visit restaurant if you are a lover of Capcom video games such as Biohazard, Phoenix Wright or Monster Hunter. With game related paraphernalia adorning the walls, there are themed foods, and the waiters will, at least once during your meal, perform a short skit related to the the game/food you have ordered.
Maid cafes? Pah! In Tokyo they are ten-a-penny. Maidreamin’s Digitized Cafe and Dining Bar, however, brings something of a Sci-Fi twist to the tried and tested recipe. Looking just like a real-life video game, there are trampolines, interactive displays and coloured cubes hanging from the ceiling that change colour and emit sounds when the maids hit them.
It is said that the best waiters are those that you don’t even notice are there. The same could be said for ninjas, and at Ninja Akasaka those two roles are one and the same. With magic shows and ninja tricks being performed as you eat, perhaps the greatest temptation is to not pick up your shuriken-shaped food and throw it at your dining partner.
Right now, ’tis the season to get spooky, and it of course goes without saying that Vampires and halloween go together like ripe young flesh and fangs. Vampire Cafe is the flagship restaurant of Diamond Dining company (famed also for Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant based on the Lewis Carroll stories and Criston Cafe based on, well, Jesus Christ) and has been going for 15 years. This longevity is perhaps down to great attention to detail – the carpets are patterned with red blood cells – and an innovative menu including delights such as desserts presented in a chocolate coffin.
When a restaurant combines the words ‘luxury’ and ‘oasis’ in its name, you expect big things. Fortunately, on that front, LUXIS Aqua Restaurant and Bar doesn’t disappoint. Dimly lit by sparkling chandeliers, sitting in huge comfy chairs, this is somewhere to dine in sumptuousness. But the luxuriousness aside, the greatest draw is the immense floor-to-ceiling aquarium – schools of fish, sea turtles and, apparently, sharks. Find yourself an evil side kick an BINGO! You’re in Bond villain territory.
In his great comedic play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare calls music the food of love. Now, I’m not in the habit of contradicting the bard, however for me the food of love is, well, food. There is nothing better for the heart and the soul than having a wide selection of grub to get stuck into and for me, to paraphrase another great British literary William, variety is the spice of life.
Of course Nagoya doesn’t quite have the international culinary diversity of London, New York, or even Tokyo. However, if you know where to look you can find some really excellent international restaurants. And luckily for you, we at Japan Info Swap know precisely where to look.
If there is one thing that the Monglians knew – other than brutal domination – it’s food, so much so that in Japan Jingisukan (Genghis Khan) is pretty much the standard name for barbecued lamb. There are a few decent places around Nagoya, but it’s only at Sakae’s Mongol Shinkiro that you dine in a room styled like a yurt whilst wearing traditional Mongolian dress. Cosplay + lamb = a good night out.
Italian restaurants are ten-a-penny in Nagoya, but this is, in my opinion, by far the best. With pizzas to rival Solo and Cesare in Osu, a pretty decent wine menu, and an ever changing specials selection, Seconda Bambina (part of the Bambinba chain) is as close to a genuine Italian restaurant as you are likely to find. It has a lively yet intimate atmosphere, and it’s a really enjoyable night out. In fact, it is such a favourite of mine that it is where I recently proposed to my girlfriend. She said ‘yes’, by the way.
Casablanca claims to be “Nagoya’s one and only authentic Moroccan restaurant”, and as I do not know of another one, it is hard to dispute those claims. What I will say is that the food is as close to that I had when visiting Marrakech a few years back, with the tagines being particularly good. The riad styled restaurant also has belly dance shows in which a fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate?) few can take part.
On first sights Sagarmatha Momo House doesn’t look like much – just a counter and a few tables, your average ‘Indian’ restaurant run by Nepalis. But its actually the best Indian food I’ve had in the city. Whopping great big naans, a wide range of curries, and the best samosas I’ve had since leaving Birmingham, England seven years ago. On top of that the staff are more than accomodationg, particularly if you are in a large group.
There are a few well known American restaurants around Nagoya: TGI Fridays and Shooters in particular. But whether it is due to the clinical nature of the former, or overkill of the latter (I dread to think how many nights I’ve ended up there) for an American diner I prefer The 59s. The food is top notch, they have a huge screen on which to watch big sporting events, and their bar is stocked with tonnes of international beers. Most importantly, however, the atmosphere is always buzzing!
Image: http://blog.esot.jp/?eid=123 – Screengrab – modified
Image: https://tabelog.com/imgview/original?id=r2242154866227 – Screengrab – modified
Image: http://www.casa-nagoya.com/ – Screengrab – modified
Image: https://nagmag.jp/the-59s-the-doubled-up-burger/ – Screengrab – modified
Image: www.jin-system.net/sagarmatha – Screengrab – modified
Hiroshima, or more precisely, Saijo, is known as one of the best sake brewing areas in the whole of Japan. Located in the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, approximately 40 minutes from Hiroshima Station, Saijo is not only the administrative center of the city of Higashi Hiroshima, but THE place to go if you are looking to sample some sake.
The town is also home to Hirodai, or Hiroshima University, and although there are a number of interesting sightseeing places around including the keyhole-shaped, Mitsujo Burial Mound, the most popular reason for visiting is to learn about and to try some of the sake on offer.
The normally sleepy town is fairly quiet for most of the year, but the population swells during October when the annual Saijo Sake Festival is held. University students, older locals and foreigners alike rub shoulders as they consume copious amounts of sake, all in the name of festive cheer. Tickets are 1300 yen if you pre-purchase them or 1600 yen on the day. With over 900 types of sake from around Japan, as well as the ones on offer from Saijo, my advice is to work out which ones you want before you begin drinking, as you will no doubt be unable to do so after a few cups. Also, don’t try to drink all 900 types; it will not end well. You have been warned!
If you miss the festival and still want to try a tipple or two, never fear. Free, guided tours are available on the 10th of each month and run for approximately one hour, between 10 and 11am. You can of course ask if it’s possible to make this at a more convenient time on the same day or if you want a tour on another day, reservations are possible. These do come at a cost, however, and you will need to contact the tourist information center located within Saijo Station.
The monthly sake tours focus on Sakagura-dori or, ‘sake storehouse road.’ This is the main street where the breweries are concentrated and is the paved road to the left of Saijo Station exit. The street is characterized by the red chimneys and white walls of the breweries and on a beautiful autumn day with clear blue skies, it truly is picture-postcard perfect. Eight of the breweries are open to the public, including the famous Komotsuru Sake Brewing Company, which has been awarded the top honours a number of times at the National Research Institute of Brewing’s Nationwide New Sake Awards.
If you’d prefer to skip the tour and are quite happy to do your own thing, you are welcome to pick up free maps of the local area from the information center and do your own walking tour. The staff speak English and are more than happy to assist you or recommend some alternative things to do in the area.
Sake is made from rice and water and both should be pure for high quality alcohol. Although any sake in Japan is good, the sake from Saijo has been recognized as some of the best. The town has been fortunate to have been blessed with some of the most pure water in the area and thus, it is a prized ingredient in producing the local types. At the breweries you will not only be able to taste-test the sake, but you will also be encouraged to try the water on its own. Saijo is also lucky enough to have a number of wells scattered throughout the area around the station and it is a common sight early in the morning to see locals bringing their containers to the well to fill with water to take home and drink.
If you enjoy sake, or you have yet to try it, I would highly recommend a trip to Saijo to familiarize yourself with a quintessential part of Japanese culture and indeed, part of Japanese life itself. Kanpai!
As October slips into November, though the weather is still yet to step into its wintry chill, it is once again time to begin thinking about Christmas presents for the kids. While you can still order G.I. Joes and Barbies from online stores back home you may find that your child’s tastes in toys have changed during their time in Japan. Finding toys and games to suit their new tastes may be difficult, so we have come up with a short list of toy stores in and around Tokyo that should fulfill your needs.
Of course everyone knows the old American favorite, Toys R Us, and the Japanese variety is also an immense store stocked to the rafters of every kind of toy you can think of.
Address: Aqua City Odaiba, 1 Chome-7-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 135-0091 (map link)
Address: Sunshine City Alpha B1, Ikekuro 1-3-1-1 Higashiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo-to 170-0013 (map link)
There are 80 Kiddyland stores around the country, but the perhaps the jewel in their crown is their flagship store in Harajuku. With five stories of fun and games the Harajuku branch of Kiddyland, in the area for over 60 years (though with a slight location change), is perhaps the quintisential toy shop in Japan. It sells everything you would expect with the latest exclusive Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma products found nowhere else. They also occasionally hold special events, particularly around Christmas and Halloween.
Perhaps the largest of all Tokyo’s toyshops, Hakuhinkan is something of a central nerve of Japanese kawaii eccentricity. Were a bomb to go off you can imagine that 25% of the country’s cuteness and craziness would be lost. As the headquarters for the Licca-chan Club, Japan’s very own Barbie, it is worth a visit for the cultural introduction into this world alone, not to mention the two floors of restaurants and the 8th story theatre.
Yamashiroya is six floors absolutely jam packed with toys, novelties, figures, model kits, character goods, plushies and games as well as a multitude of anime and Japanese toy brands. The store is so chock-a-block with toys there isn’t a whole lot of room to squeeze round the isles – not ideal if you have young children in a push chair – but it is a whole lot of fun.
Tokyu hands is a wonderful catch all department store in which you can find all manner of active stuff for kids. Whether it be handicrafts, facepaints or bikes, you can find it in Tokyu Hands. There are a few dotted around the city including one in the main Tokyo Station, so check the website for details of your nearest store. The stores in Ikebukuro and Shibuya are best known for toys.
A trip to a Japanese toy store would not be complete without picking up one of the many characters that populate our television screens. As such Tokyo Character Street in Ginza is perhaps the ultimate place to shop for TV struck kids. Located on the basement floor of the First Avenue Tokyo Station, Tokyo Character Street is an underground avenue of stores run by 15 TV companies, shop after shop of character after character. Whether it is Doaraemon dolls, cuddly Hello Kitty or Domo-kun and Doraemon dongles to hang from your Snoopy cell phone cover, here you can find it all.
Those play peddling behemoths are all well and good, but what about seeing a bit of history? Toys Terao’s prime location of Nakamise-dori in front of sensoji temple has enabled the family running this tiny store to continue business for 5 generations and nearly 130 years. The small shop is such a toy selling institution that it was profiled recently in The Japan Times.
By Mark Guthrie
This post is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as an endorsement by Japan Info Swap or the H&R Group K.K..
As the name “Kita-Nagoya-shi” implies, Kitanagoyashi is a city to the north of Nagoya. Because it is located only about 10 minutes by train on the Meitetsu Inuyama line and has a population of around 85,000, this city has become known as a “bedtown,” or suburb of Nagoya.
Ladies Clinic/Child Health=Yellow
Atsumi Chiropractic Clinic – あつみカイロプラティック院
Branch of medicine: Chiropractic (Backbone and Pelvic Specialist)
Address: 3-29-2 Mirokujihigashi, Kita Nagoyashi
|*Saturday reception hour in afternoon is 13:00-15:00. Closed on Sunday and holidays.|
– 15 min walk from Tokushigenagoyageidai subway station, on the Meitetsu Higashiyama line.
– There are 3 car spaces for parking.
– English speaking doctor available.
Ladies Clinic/Child Health=Yellow
*Featured image source: http://atsumichiro.com/access.php