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
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 find 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 Osu, Naka-ku (map)
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. 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.
And now, if you can’t make it over to Osu, there is a new branch that has opened up in the Dai Nagoya building, a stone’s throw from the Nagoya Station. It serves up the same great food, and has the added bonus of having an al fresco dining area that looks like you could be sat in a beautiful Italian piazza.
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: 12F JR Central Towers Office, 1 Chome-1-4 Meieki, Nakamura Ward (map)
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 (map)
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 Diavolo e Bambina Due in the MPLAT shopping complex, and at 1,000 JPY for a soup, pizza and drink lunch set, you can’t really go wrong.
Tel: 052-433-9966 / 052-212-5022
When a restaurant is located in the swanky Midland Square building, you tend to expect high quality food, and this is precisely what you get at Pizzeria Isola. The wood-burning oven was designed by Neopolitan craftsmen and all of the ingredients are as fresh as they come. The atmosphere is lively and bustling like a true Naples trattoria, though it offers the Japanese-style course menu, which is perfect for big groups.
Address: Nakamura Ward, Meieki, 4 Chome−7−1, Midland Square 4F (map)
For five years, Piacere Mio has been serving up southern Italian cuisine to the lucky residents of Chikusa. The Italian chef who runs the kitchen certainly knows his way around a pizza kiln, with toppings that bring up reminiscences of warm nights on the Mediterranean. If you are after pizza and are east of the city center, this is where you should head.
Address: Chikusa Ward, Okutecho, 5−16 Morita Bld 1F (map)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
E-mail to email@example.com with the following information:
Winter fun seeking in Osaka is an invigorating blend of the traditional and the modern. Consider the age-old practice of pounding rice to usher in the Japanese New Year. Foods made from mochi, the sticky paste that is molded into rice cakes, are considered a “Food for the Gods” and consuming them during New Year’s celebrations is a way to bring health and wealth to the coming 12 months.
No one knows for sure how old mochi is but there are records indicating the rice food was a centrepiece of New Year’s festivities as far back as the Heian period which got underway in 794 and lasted almost 200 years. You can get help swaying your own impending prosperity at Mizumadera Temple on January 2-3 at the 1000 Times Rice Cake Pounding.
After the rice is soaked overnight it is loaded into a massive mortar where attendees then have a go at pounding the gelatinous glob into the luck-carrying rice cakes with wooden mallets that weight from 10 to 15 pounds. To leave nothing to chance, the mallet-swinging is done to the rhythm of drums that are said to scare away even the boldest of evil spirits still lurking around the new year.
Physical exertion is also a key element to the Namba Yasaka Shrine Festival staged on the third Sunday of January. The shrine, accessible via the Yotsubashi subway line, has had a rough history. All the buildings in the sacred Buddhist temple complex burned to the ground in the 1800s and then were destroyed again during air raids in World War II. In the 1970s the main shrine was reconstructed as a massive lion head 12 metres high and 11 metres wide; inside the mouth is a festival stage.
The lion is thought to have the power to grant wishes which makes it a popular stop during a new year. Japanese myth holds that Susano-o-no-mikoto, the resident deity, once killed a gargantuan snake that paved the way for peace and prosperity. That momentous occasion is lionized by the Tug-of-War Ritual during the festival, a colourful event that Osaka recognised as its first-ever intangible folk cultural property in 2001.
If it is luck you are chasing in the new year, sometimes sacrifices must be made. At the Shitenno-Ji Temple, Doya Doya Matsuri is a fortnight of festivities that comes to a close when hundreds of nearly naked high school boys scramble around the Buddhist shrine while buckets of ice water are poured on them. The “strength water” is expected to harden them for the rigors of the coming school year.
While Osaka students bribe the spirits in search of good grades, the city’s business people are not willing to leave future balance sheets to the fates. In early January merchants in the Osaka Prefecture gather at the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine to try and get on the good side of Ebisu. Ebisu is the God of Wealth among the Seven Gods of Good Fortune – he is the one usually seen wielding a fishing rod.
The Toka Ebisu Festival runs from January 9 until the January 11 with the celebration culminating on January 10 (Toku Ebisu means “Tenth Day Ebisu”). There is a colourful parade staged to please the patron of business, good luck and good fishing with geisha dancing, traditional performing arts and rice cake making. The Toka Ebisu Festival is also a good spot for celebrity spotting.
More than a million people filter through the free festival with many seeking just the right combination of lucky charms to influence the business year ahead. Attendees purchase good fortune bamboo branches from circulating Shrine Maidens pitching the promise that buying branches will cause a business to prosper – especially if those branches are augmented with a few high-priced talismen like money bags and lucky coins. Really, bad luck doesn’t have a chance around Osaka in January.
By Ogiyoshisan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ice skating goes back a long way. Skates made of animal bones from 5,000 years ago have been found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. It is not known when Japanese enthusiasts strapped on their first ice skates but modern skating did not come organically to the country. The Japan Skating Federation organized in 1929 and it was said that “Japan learned skating from the written word.” Skating may not have been a natural recreation in Japan but the people were eager students.
Japanese figure skaters began competing in international competition in the 1932 Olympics and started an inexorable climb up the world rankings. The first artificial ice rink arrived in the country in 1950 and soon there were more than 250 indoor and outdoor rinks across the nation. In 1959 Kazuo Ohashi, a Japanese national figure skating champion four years earlier, built a famous ice slide in Osaka for the Mainichi Broadcasting System Sportland Rink. Skaters would climb stairs to the top and barrel down the course hoping to grab a bit of the wall in self-preservation.
In 1967, the Fuji Kyuko Express Railway Company constructed the largest man-made outdoor skating complex in the world in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. There were five rinks and over 26,000 square metres of ice – about the size of 17 hockey rinks. A typical weekend at Fuji-Q Highland would see about 40,000 people paying admission to glide around the vast expanses of ice.
The passion for ice skating in Japan has not abated since. Even though the temperatures in Kobe and Osaka do not drop as far as other places in Japan there are plenty of places to get your wintry fix. Be sure to abide by the common sense rules posted at the area’s public ice rinks. Here are some to try:
Grand Front Osaka. Who needs ice to go ice skating? You can skate to your heart’s content in downtown Osaka at Umekita Plaza on a surface with no water but special resin plates called “Xtraice.” It still gets cold out there so don’t forget your gloves. The rink in Grand Front Osaka will be in operation until February 18, 2017. Last admission is 8:00 p.m. and there is an admission fee; skates are available for rent.
Naniwa Sports Center. Courtesy of the City of Osaka there is no need to wait until the temperatures plunge to get in your sessions on the ice. The Naniwa Sports Center’s ice skating rink is open year-round. The rink is a full 60 metres by 30 metres, ready to host international competition; it is open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Umie Ice Marina. With the inspiring views of Kobe in the background, skaters take to the ice on the Takahama wharf at Harborland. This is real ice and it is illuminated at night to promote the magic of the moment. There is an admission fee which includes skate rental. Helmets, knee and elbow protectors can all be strapped on courtesy of the rink. The Umie Ice Marina open will be open every day until January 15.