As all the locals and expats know, Hiroshima is beautiful in all seasons, but it is especially beautiful in autumn. The weather is cool, the oysters are plump and juicy and the scenery is picture-postcard-perfect.
Of course, like everywhere in Japan, Hiroshima has a number of places known for their autumn leaves both within the city and further afield. The leaves outside of the city usually arrive much earlier than in Hiroshima itself, so there’s still a chance, even now, to see them if you missed them elsewhere.
One of the best places to go is of course Miyajima, but as we all know here in Hiroshima, crowds of people flock there on the weekends and particularly during this season. Despite that though, there are still quiet places to be found on the island, especially if you go off the beaten track and explore a little. If you’re looking for photo opportunities, the red bridge at the entrance to Daisho-in Temple is spectacular with the surrounding red, yellow and orange foliage and this area is much quieter than the popular Momijidani or Maple Valley. The contrast of the temple buildings and leaves also offers a slightly different take on the average autumn nature photos.
If crowds really aren’t your thing though and you want somewhere completely different, where are the alternatives?
Two of my favourite places, both within Hiroshima City and therefore, easily accessible, are Mitaki Temple and Shukkei-en Garden.
Although Mitaki Temple is another popular place, depending on when you go, you may be lucky enough to have it all to yourself, especially if you go during the week.
It’s easy to get to from Hiroshima Station, just take the Kabe Line to Mitaki, or change trains from the Sanyo to Kabe Line at Yokogawa Station. Mitaki is the stop after Yokogawa or if you’ll feeling adventurous, you can actually walk from one side of the river to the other and then up to Mitaki Temple.
Once you get to Mitaki Station, it’s a 20-minute walk to the Temple and it’s well sign-posted.
The other great place is Shukkei-en Garden, which is an easy walk from Hiroshima Station or can be accessed via the streetcar from downtown. The fine and sunny weather and clear, blue skies of autumn ensure that the leaves are spectacular during the day, but for a real treat, head to the garden after dark when the autumn leaves are illuminated. It will cost you a little bit of money for the entrance fee (260 yen for adults, 150 yen for high school and college students and 100 yen for children), but believe me, it is well worth it.
So yes, it may be the middle of November already, but there’s still time to see the leaves in Hiroshima and to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather before winter arrives. Don’t forget to take your camera! Enjoy!
The holidays are full of symbolism and tradition that fill us with warm memories and nostalgic sentiments. Though Christmas tends to be a Western holiday, some of those traditions have made their way to other countries, and Japan is certainly full of opportunities for nostalgia and celebration!
The lights, gift-giving, decorations, and Christmas music aren’t the only ways to get into the holiday spirit this December. For people in Kobe, there are also a couple of delicious opportunities to sit down to a proper Christmas meal!
Offering an assortment of French fine dining delights, the Kitano Club of Kobe is a must-visit for formal engagements throughout the year. The lavish ambiance and decadent food options, however, make it a particularly appropriate location for your Christmas dining experience.
Located on the mountainside, the Kitano Club Terrace restaurant is the perfect locale to appreciate the romantic and glittering lights of Kobe while you enjoy the festive holiday atmosphere. Each year, the restaurant features a special set Christmas menu that will surely give you your chance to taste the season!
For three evenings, you and your guest can choose between two separate times for holiday weekend dining. Seating is limited, so be sure to call well in advance if you’re interested! Reservations are accepted until all spots are filled, and they’re already filling up fast. The price might seem a bit high, but this restaurant is world class with food and presentation to prove it. Diners here also get to choose a holiday gift of either a Christmas cake or macaroon set.
Where: Kitano Club Terrace Restaurant, 1 Chome-1-5-7 Kitanochō, Chūō-ku, Kōbe, Hyōgo Prefecture 650-0002
When: December 20 (Monday) to December 22 (Thursday): 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., December 23 (Friday) to December 25 (Sunday) *two times* 1. From 5:00 p.m. & 2. From 8:00 p.m.
Price: ¥33,000 for two people (¥16,500 per person) including tax and service charge
Website (Japanese): http://www.kitanoclub.co.jp/restaurant/christmas/
For something equally festive and delicious, but not quite as expensive, enjoying your Christmas meal at the Garden Place Soshuen is a wonderful option. This restaurant serves up gourmet Italian dishes with hints of Japanese elements that give the experience of dining here a fusion, multicultural feel. This historic, three-story building features different themed rooms on each floor to grant guests a new perspective and ambiance.
For Christmas, the restaurant transforms into a festive space where a special seven-course holiday meal is served. This special is only available for the evenings leading up to Christmas day, so reserve your table early!
Where: The Garden Place Soshuen, 5 minutes on foot from Mikage Station on the Hankyu Kobe Line, 4-7-28, Sumiyoshi Yamate, Higashinada-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture
When: December 23 (Friday) From 5:30 p.m., December 24 (Saturday) & 25 (Sunday) From 5:00 p.m.
Price: Per person – ¥11,880 including tax and service charge
Reference Website (Japanese only): http://soshuen.jp/top/restaurant/christmas
Oh the weather outside might be frightful, but a warm bowl of ramen is so delightful. With Japanese winter in full swing, the warm and delicious reasons to leave the house are even more tempting. One of those belly-warming delights is a hot bowl of ramen! Unlike some noodle dishes in Japan, ramen comes in a wide variety of options that can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned ramen-enthusiast.
Have no fear, though, we’ve put together a quick guide to dissecting common ramen distinctions and how to order them so you can courageously leave your kotatsu this winter and order a steaming bowl of noodley deliciousness.
One thing you may notice when making a visit to a ramen shop is that many ramen shops are set up with vending machines for ordering. This can be efficient, but also quite stressful if you don’t know what to look for! Here are the main categories that ramen is often divided into: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, and tonkotsu (pork).
Shio-flavored ramen is the oldest version of the soup with ties to the dish’s Chinese roots. Shio soups usually have a lighter broth base and are distinct by the sea salt flavor.
Shoyu bases have been popular in the central region of Japan, mostly surrounding Yokohama in the Kanto region, but they can be found and enjoyed across the country. This flavoring offers a distinctly Japanese soy sauce tanginess that pairs well with chicken, seafood, and even pork or beef-based soups.
Miso-based ramen dishes are relatively new to the ramen game, but worth a try, especially in the colder months! The heartier, thicker base pairs well with heavier and more flavorful toppings like pork belly or even sweet corn.
The options for ramen broth are either thick or thin, and this depends on which type of broth base you want.
The most widely recognized broth base is tonkotsu, which is a boiled pork bone broth. This broth is a bit thicker and is characterized by a milky golden color and pairs well with colder weather!
Other common broth bases that are on the thicker side use animal bones like chicken, beef, and seafood, and have various flavor differences from the pork version!
There is also the option to try a lighter broth, which is usually made from seaweed or dried seafood!
Though ramen connoisseurs would have you believe it’s the flavor of the base and the thickness that determines a good bowl of ramen, the toppings are perhaps the most fun!
The most popular meat topping is tender, sweet soy sauce simmered chashu pork. This meat can range from the leaner cuts of pork loin to more fatty cuts like pork belly.
Kakuni is similar to the more common chashu, but it is characterized by its red braising cooking technique and appearing in larger chunks on top of the noodles.
Bacon is also used often as a topping, and this can be sliced and added to the broth in cooking or cut up and fried for a crunchy and flavorful noodle topping.
Shredded pork comes from braised pork shoulder and is a good option for those who don’t necessarily want large chunks of pork in their soup.
Ground meat is a flavorful option to add as a topping because the meat is usually stir-fried with other seasonings and vegetables to create a unique burst of flavor.
Seafood is another popular option, especially in the winter season when fishing is at its peak. Try lightly simmered mussels, scallops, crab, or shrimp on top of your lighter broth base for a wintery delight!
Eggs are a popular topping for ramen dishes all across Japan. Choose from traditional soft boiled (hanjuku) or soy sauce marinated soft-boiled for more tang (ajitsuke tamago), or even the more custardy and flavorful onsen tamago that are cooked in Japan’s natural hot springs.
Fresh veggies like scallions, cabbage, corn, spinach, and enoki mushrooms are common across Japan to add some extra flavor and a fresh crunch to your bowl.
You could also try out some stir-fried vegetables that usually include carrots, onions, and bean sprouts and pair well with miso ramen.
For extra crunch, you could try some wood-ear mushrooms that have been rehydrated and sliced as common ramen toppings.
It is also increasingly common to see a few sheets of seaweed (nori) placed on top of your bowl for a salty punch of sea-like flavor.
Located between the Dojima and Tosabori rivers, the island of Nakanoshima is a gorgeous sight to behold any time of year. This historical epicenter of Osaka’s commercial and administrative culture is especially impressive to see on clear winter nights when holiday lights send a glowing reflection across the water. To get the best view of this glimmering island, it’s best to hop on board one of the impressive Nakanoshima river cruises for a full tour around the lit-up bridges, buildings, and tree-lined streets.
Tours only last around 25 minutes, so you can use one to start or end your evening on a high note! This river cruise is marketed as “the next generation style cruise” due to its inclusion of state of the art wireless headphones that cancel out background noise to give riders a unique entertainment experience. The music changes from traditional Japanese instruments to natural background sounds to better accompany the atmosphere of the Nakanoshima island. While other evening cruises on the river offer tour guides and some music, these personalized headphones on the Nakanoshima River Cruise make for quite a unique viewing and listening experience.
The cruise runs every hour and half hour through December 25 between 5:00 p.m. & 9:00 p.m., and tickets are made available for purchase only on the day of the tour, starting one hour before the first departure time. So head out to the docks one evening this December to reserve your seat on this cruise for a truly unforgettable time on the river!
Where: Fukushima (Hotarumachi) pier – Dojima River – Fukushima (Hotarumachi) pier 1-1-20, Fukushima, Fukushima-ku, Osaka 553-0003
When: Cruises run until Sunday, December 25 with departures at every hour on the hour and half hour between 5:00 p.m. & 9:00 p.m.
Price: Adults (Junior high school students and older) – 900 yen, Children (Elementary school students and younger) – Free for one child when accompanied by adult. 400 yen is required per child for more than 2 children. Tickets can be purchased at the boat dock up to one hour before the first departure time on the day of the tour. No advance reservations necessary.
Website (Japanese): http://www.ipponmatsu.co.jp/module_news/detail.php?id=468
Reference Website (English):
Extra Information: Persons with the Osaka Amazing Pass can show their pass to get on board for one free ride on the cruise.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, the Japanese are most proud of their sake and rightly so. However, while sake is one of the most recognisable totems of Japanese culture, outside of the country, you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who regularly drink it. Yet, when it comes to Asahi Super Dry and Kirin, it is a different story altogether. Pretty much every sushi or noodle bar worldwide is stocked with the famous brews
Asahi and Kirin are of course two of Japan’s biggest brewers, which means that vast quantities of beer are made in factories all over the country. you can find them both here in Nagoya and, for absolutely no charge, you can take a trip around.
In operation since 1962, Kirin Beer Nagoya Factory is the oldest beer factory in the Tokai area, but that doesn’t mean that it is a relic, by any stretch of the imagination. Its old factory (which is actually in Kiyosu city, 5km from Nagoya station) has since been renovated so visitors may watch the unique brewing kettles for boiling ingredients.
The 75 minutes tour features a couple of videos with an augmented reality wide screen showing of the brewing process, in particular explaining what is so special about “ichiban shibori” (the first press). You can sample the freshly squeezed wort that is used in making the beer, and if that hasn’t quenched your thirst, the tour concludes with 20 minutes of tasting, with up to three free glasses of beer.
Around three hundred people take this tour daily, with coach trips coming from as far as China and Korea to see how the famous beer is made. However visitors wanting to see the factory in motion must visit on weekdays and non-holidays, as the factory closes on Saturdays and Sundays. Should you visit on one of these days, you will instead be shown an interesting film of the factory in full flow.
The tour itself takes approximately 55 minutes to complete, where you learn about the beer making process and history of the Asahi company. You can witness the marvel of modern machinery, and hide your jealousy of the official beer tasters whose job is to sip two bottles of beer every day.and at the end you are shown to the bar. There you have twenty minutes to test three of Asahi’s main draft beers: Asahi Premium, Asahi Black and, of course Asahi Super Dry. Like the Kirin tour there is a three drink limit, however anecdotal evidence shows that this is not always strictly adhered to
There are of course many beautiful castles all around Japan, but perhaps there is none so famed for its majesty as Hyōgo Prefecture’s Himeji Castle. Designated as one of Japan’s first UNESCO World Heiritage Sites in 1993, the castle, also known as Shirasagi-jō (“White Heron Castle”) due to of its brilliant white exterior and resemblance to a bird taking flight, is the largest and most visited castle in Japan.
In recent years it has been partially obscured by scaffolding while it was being renovated, but in March 2015 the works were completed and it now stands just as resplendant as it did at its original inception. As such, it makes for a must-visit site for anyone spending time in Japan.
Located at a strategic point along the western approach to the former capital city of Kyoto, Himeji Castle dates back to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. Following various restructuring, and changinging hands to the famous feural era general Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it was completely rebuilt between 1602-1609 after it was given to Ikeda Terumasa by the shogun Tokagawa Ieyasu as a reward for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara.
For over 400 years Himeji Castle has remained standing, even throughout the extensive bombing of the area during World War II and the catostrophic disaster of the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
Thanks to its expansive gardens the castle is particularly popular during the ‘hanami’ season as thousands of visitors flock to enjoy the cherry blossom trees that line the outer routes of the castle. However, at any time of the year visitors can walk around the grounds and up into the castle keep itself, which is a staggering example of feudal era design.
Although it was never besieged, Himeji Castle has a multitude of defensive walls and turrets and is made up of over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys connected by a series of gates and winding paths and visitors can wander and admire the beautiful, prototypical Japanese archirecture and imagine what it would have been like to live within its walls that are little changed over the last four centuries.
The six storey castle keep (including the basement) is of course the greatest of draws. From the outside, on the top floor, we can see a pair of Shachigawara, the mythical tiger-headed fish that are in place to protect the castle from fire, something that would have been a major concern for the wooden structure. The keep, 30m high (and 90m above sealevel) is supported by pillars with a two metre diameter from the ground to the sixth floor, an advanced technique for the time.
It is not just the building itself that makes the visit worthwhile, but also the breathtaking view from the top of the castle is a sight to behold as you take in sprawling city of Himeji below. From there it is not difficult to imagine how powerful the Ikeda clan would have felt, knowing that any potential attackers would have been daunted by the task of capturing the castle that is a perfect mix of strategic positioning and aesthetic design.
The city of Himeji itself, the castle aside, has much to recommend it.
Engyoji Temple, about 8km northeast of Himeji Station on Mount Shosha, is set in an enchanting cedar forest and has gained recent fame following its use in the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai. It is accessible by a ropeway gondela.
Opened in 1992 to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Himeji City, Kokoen Park consists of nine gardens of varying size that are divided by the ruins of Himeji Castle’s West Mansion and the residences of the local samurai and allies. Thanks to its Edo era beauty it is often used as a location for historical dramas and visitors can even experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony within the grounds.
While Himeji has plenty to offer visitors, animal lovers may wish to steer clear of Himeji City Zoo, which could be regarded as ‘not one of Japan’s best’ or ‘truly depressing’ depending on how diplomatic you are being. Instead you should head for Himeji Central Park, which includes a safari park, amusement park, pool and skating rink.
Photo: flickr.com “CIMG2506 – Himeji” by Jordi Marsol (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: flickr.com “016” by Bryant Wong (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: flickr.com “DSC_9663” by Koji Haruna (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
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 die hard fans who continue to enjoy it today, 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.
The kabuki stage is perhaps like nothing you have seen before. Particularly unusual is the ‘hanamichi’ (flower path), a pathway that, as you can see from the above picture, leads from the back of the theatre, through the audience. It is from here that characters often emerge and depart, and it is regularly a place from which a soliloquy will be held. The stage often includes various mechanicalfeatures such as ‘sari’ trapdoors, ‘mawari-butai’ revolving sections, and ‘chūnori’ installations, from where an actor will be assisted in flying out across the audience on wires, often during battle scenes.
Keshō, kabuki makeup, is the most recognisable characteristic of kabuki. On a white foundation, facial lines are exaggerated to produce almost animalistic features. The color of the make up is traditionally denotes the character’s nature with red used to indicate passion, heroism and other positive traits; green, the supernatural; purple, nobility and the colours blue or black pointing out the bad guy.
The mie pose is another important trope of kabuki, in which the actor holds a strong, dynamic stance to establish his character. At this point his house name is often called out by regular audience members, much in the same way sports fans will sing a star player’s name.
In fact the audience is perhaps more boisterous than you would expect. For a start, many of the audience members will be seen eating ‘bento’ lunch boxes, drinking or eating snacks. Also, much like in the traditional forms of Shakespeare theatre, the audience will often call out to the stage and, in some of the more relaxed forms, the actors will interact with their fans, in some instances helping themselves to audience members’ food from the hanamichi.
Kabuki continues to be popular in Japan, and while it can be expensive (some tickets are upwards of 20,000 JPY, a far cry from its humble beginnings as an entertainment for the masses) there are three main theaters at which we can catch a show in Tokyo.
Kabuki-za in Ginza is the main kabuki theatre in Tokyo. Opened in 1889 by Meiji era journalist, Fukuchi Gen’ichirō, it has been run by the Shochiku Corporation since 1914. Performances are staged most days, and tickets are sold for individual acts as well as for each play in its entirety.
Located between Tsukiji Market and Ginza, Shinbashi Enbujo is something of a younger sister to the more famous Kabuki-za. Originally built in 1925 to house performances of local ‘geisha’, today it sees performances of a variety of acts, including, of course, kabuki.
Kokuritsu Gekijo is Japan’s national theatre, and as well as kabuki shows various traditional Japanese theatrical performances within its three halls. Kabuki is mainly shown in its largest halls, with the likes of Noh and bunyu on its smaller stages.
Meiji-za in Hisamatsu-chô dates back to 1873, and has undergone a variety of misfortunes ever since – burning down in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, bombed out during WW2, rebuilt in 1950, and again burned down again seven years later. In spite of these mishaps, it continues to put on shows periodically throughout the year.
For details of where and when shows are being performed, check out the Tokyo Kabuki Guide at www.tokyokabukiguide.com
Photo: wikipedia.com “Oniji Ōtani III (Nakazō Nakamura II) as Edobee in the May 1794 production of Koi Nyōbo Somewake Tazuna” (Public Domain) -Modified
Photo: wikipedia.com “The July 1858 production of Shibaraku at the Ichimura-za theater in Edo.” by Utagawa Toyokuni III. (Public Domain) -Modified
Minato Red Cross Hospital – みなと赤十字病院
Branch of Medicine: General Hospital
Address: 3-12-1 Shinyamashita, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 231-8682
Monday to Friday – 8:30-11:00
Closed Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays
– Bringing a translator is recommended as some doctors speak English but many staff do not
– Appointment not required
– NHI accepted
Ladies Clinic/Child Health=Yellow
While vaping, the alternative to smoking which its advocates claim to have none of the adverse affects of tobacco, is taking much of the world by storm, it seems that Japan is quite slow to catch up with the phenomenon.
While IQOS smoking devices – a hybrid between regular cigarettes and electronic cigarettes that uses real tobacco refills, but instead of burning that produces smoke and tar, heats it to produce tobacco-flavored vapor – are readily available on the market, many people are concerned by the use of tobacco and prefer to continue with their e-cigarettes and vaporisers. However, finding these products, still quite heavily regulated in this country, can be hard.
Below are a few vendors in Tokyo at which you can shop. Be aware that stores in Japan will be unlikely to sell E-Juice with nicotine.
In partnership with LA Vaping Ape, this Shibuya store sells all kinds of apparel including starter sets, mechanical MODS and VV MODS. They stock a variety of e-liquids including ‘Murica brand baked apple pie flavour.
At Samurai Vapors you can pick up all sorts of hardware including MODS, tanks, atomisers, and highly rated starter kits from Joytech and ELEAF. There are many Japanese brands of e-liquid, and you can also pick up some of the artisan-boutique liquids from Five Pawns.
Vape House has a chain of stores in Harajuku, Shibuya and Kinshicho. As well as providers of the equipment they aim to be hangouts where vaping enthusiasts can gather in their stylish ‘bar’. The Harajuku store has some English speaking staff.
This Sanno based vaping store has a huge selection of products and brands to choose from. The store itself is quite small, but its edgy, arty vibe is very much aimed towards the younger vaper. Check out their Facebook page for their latest offers on some really edgy accessories.
For a further list of vaping stores in the city, you could check out this reddit post compiled by an employee of Vape House.
As well as brick and mortar establishments, you can find plenty of online stores. Some of the below are powered by Rakuten, while others are small independent stores.
NTT Higashinihon Kanto Hospital – NTT東日本関東病院
Branch of Medicine: General hospital, dentistry, emergency room
Telephone: 03-3448-6112 (International Division), 03-3448-6000 (Emergency Room, after hours)
Address: 5-9-22 Higashi-Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 141-0022
Monday – Friday 8:30 – 11:00 / 13:00 – 15:00
Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.
– Languages spoken: English (Chinese website is available, however patients are asked to bring a translator for languages other than English and Japanese)
– Appointment not necessary
– NHI Accepted
Ladies Clinic/Child Health=Yellow