Monthly Archive July 2017

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Jul 31, 2017

World Beer Summit in Nagoya

With all that is happening in the world today I think we can all agree that a summit is needed.  A beer summit, perhaps with “beers from around the world + the best music = so happy” as its theme.  If such a thing were possible it seems likely we could sort these issues post haste, and luckily, such a beast does exist, right here in Nagoya, as “World Beer Summit” kicks off August with a “glug glug!”

Join most of Nagoya to enjoy outdoor music featuring performances by a variety of artists on stage, and more importantly, the chance to sample beers from the Czech Republic, America, Japan, Belgium, Germany, Taiwan, England, Scotland, France, Denmark and Italy.  Most fun, you also get to vote for the best beer prize, and as everyone knows voting is your social responsibility; soooo a little pressure there.

World Beer Summit in Nagoya

August  4th to 14th , 2017
Hisaya Hiroba in Hisaya Odori Park
Free; charges apply for food and drinks
https://www.tv-aichi.co.jp/beer/2017/index.html (Japanese)

ByMark Guthrie
Jul 31, 2017

Really Seeing The Sights: Observation Decks Around Nagoya

Whether you love or loathe the hustle and bustle of the big city, there are no two ways about it: Nagoya 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. All around the city there are high-rise buildings that you can access, and from their observation decks you can take it all in.

Midland Square

At 247m (810ft) Midland Square is the tallest building in Aichi prefecture and the 7th tallest in Japan. Between the 42nd and 46th floors is the Sky Promenade, an open air observation deck some 220m from the ground. Feel the wind whistle around you (on days when the weather allows it) as you get a near 360 degree of the city, taking in sights such as the JR Central Towers, Nagoya Castle and Nagoya Port. Depending on the season it is open in the evenings until 21:00 (January and February), 22:00 (March to June and October to December) and 23:00 (July to September) and from 7pm, every half an hour a fine mist is sprayed which refracts the cityscape’s lights offering an enchanting display

Nagoya TV Tower

Closely resembling the Eiffel Tower, Nagoya TV Tower is the oldest of its kind in Japan. At 180 meters high the tower is one of Nagoya’s most iconic structures and has two main observation decks at 90 meters (the indoor Sky Deck) and 100 meters (the outdoor Sky Balcony). Both decks provide 360 degrees view of Sakae including Oasis 21, Sunshine Sakae and the Nagoya cityscape. While the tower ceased to transmit TV signals in 2011, it remains a popular tourist destination part in thanks to its nightly illuminations.

Higashiyama Sky Tower

As part of the sprawling Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens complex, the Higashiyama Sky Tower dominates the landscape in the west of the city. The building itself is 134m tall and sits atop a hill in the centre of the grounds meaning that its its observation deck and restaurant at 100m commands an amazing view of the park, the western part of Nagoya as well as Mt. Ontake, Mt. Ibuki and the Central Alps mountain range,

Nagoya Port Building Observatory

The only word to describe the Nagoya Port Building Observatory is, well, ‘interesting’. It really has to be seen to be understood. However, despite its unorthodox structure and the fact that its observation deck is relatively low at 53m, the view is well worth the trip out to the south of the city. The whole port area has been redeveloped and you are afforded sites of the city – beautiful when lit at night – as well as right out to sea. After taking in the view you can check out the Nagoya marine museum (Nagoya Kaiyo Hakubutsukan) on the 3rd floor.

Chubu Centrair Flight Deck

The Chubu Centrair Flight Deck is very much unlike the other aforementioned observation decks. While it is nowhere as high as the city decks, this is a 300m long observation deck at Chubu Centrair International airport, and rather than gaze down on the streets below you are afforded the opportunity to marvel as the planes take off a mere 300m away. On clear days it is possible to see shoreline of Mie prefecture, ships sailing to and from the Nagoya Port and at dusk the sunset beyond Ise Bay.

 

By Mark Guthrie

 

Image by Christoph Rupprecht (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

ByJade Brischke
Jul 26, 2017

The World Friendship Centre: Peace and Friendship in Hiroshima

Hiroshima is the kind of place that you cannot visit or live in without being influenced by its history and peace-related message. As August is the month of the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, it is also the perfect time to find out more about and/or get involved in peace organisations and activities within the city.

One such organisation that I discovered before even stepping foot on Hiroshima soil was the World Friendship Centre.

Often labelled as a ‘home away from home,’ I found the Centre whilst researching places to stay before moving into my apartment. I wanted somewhere cosy yet close to downtown and also somewhere that was okay with me staying long-term (I stayed for a month). Google led me right to it.

Not only is the World Friendship Centre a place that offers cheap, comfortable and convenient accommodation to travellers, but it also provides a wealth of other activities and opportunities for those who are interested in learning about peace and the history of Hiroshima.

For those living here, we often have trouble finding space to fit all our relatives and friends when they come to stay and the Centre is a God-send in that respect. It’s one of the few places that also provides breakfast in the price and believe me when I say you will not be hungry afterwards.

If you want a life-changing experience, book one of their hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) stories where you can learn firsthand what it was like to be in Hiroshima on the day the bomb was dropped. In years to come there won’t be anyone left who survived, so this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that should not be missed. Although it’s usually guests of the Centre who book these, if you ring and let the staff know how keen you are to meet a survivor and hear their story, they are usually more than happy to accommodate your request.

The Centre is run by a team of dedicated volunteers and was founded by in 1965 by a woman named Barbara Reynolds who wanted to provide a place where people from all over the world could meet to talk about peace.

The staff also conduct Peace Park tours and have English lessons nearly every single day of the week. Once a month on a Saturday they have a ‘Fun in English,’ program where people from different parts of the world share their story with an activity such as cooking included as part of the afternoon.

For me, perhaps the best thing about the Centre was that it got me involved in an organisation that not only promotes peace and is thus, vital to Hiroshima, but also gave me the opportunity to meet new people. Without them I wouldn’t have had such a smooth transition into my life here. Expats know that making friends can be daunting in a new place and that you do need to put yourself out there and make the effort to establish contacts and friendships. If you are interested in more information, check out their website below for my details.

The World Friendship Centre

http://wfchiroshima.com/english/

Photo by www.wfchiroshima.com/english/ (used without permission) modified

ByJade Brischke
Jul 26, 2017

Keep c(K)ool and Kampai! Beer Gardens in Hiroshima

When rainy season finally ends and the nights are hot and steamy, there is nothing better to do on a summer’s night than to sit outside. If you combine this with the great company of your friends, good food and drinks aplenty, you are guaranteed to make some wonderful summer memories.

Luckily, Hiroshima has all of the above in one convenient location. Where am I talking about? Beer gardens!

Yes, beer gardens are perhaps one of the key symbols of summer and can be found in every major city in Japan. Hiroshima is no exception, with each one advertising their beer of choice and food and drink deals to ensure you have a great night out.

Most of them are located downtown or around Hiroshima Station and have rooftop locations for a fantastic view over the city. Some are more upmarket than others, but prices are fairly similar no matter what. It’s standard to have plastic chairs and tables so don’t expect anything too fancy. Remember, it’s a beer garden!

Unfortunately, no matter where you go, the price for women is always cheaper than men. Ladies, that’s great news for you, but a little unfair for all the men out there. School-age children are about half the price of adults and under elementary age kids are free.

Hotel Granvia right in front of Hiroshima Station on the north side is very popular and has a fantastic view over the city. The all-you-can-eat and drink is buffet style and features predominately Italian and other Mediterranean-style food. Open from 5.30pm-10pm, it can get mighty busy and reservations are recommended. Men are 3600 yen and women 3400 with Sapporo and Ebisu the two beers on tap.

Also located near Hiroshima Station is the Fukuya Ekimae Panorama Beer Garden. It’s not as fancy as Hotel Granvia and the food definitely has more emphasis on the easy-to-cook-and-serve (I’m talking the fried variety here), but the view is a definite winner and it’s more open.

If it does rain, there’s also a lot more seating available (500 in fact) than Hotel Granvia where my friends and I spent the night huddled into a very cramped and hot space with the rest of the people sheltering from the rain. Asahi is the beer on tap and prices are much cheaper with men at 3000 yen and 2700 for women. Ladies, if you go on a Tuesday it’s only 2300 yen and for everyone on a Carp game day you can get 200 yen off. Best of all, it’s open from 5pm-10pm giving you that whole extra half hour to drink… I mean, eat.

Fukuya Hacchobori located in downtown Hiroshima also serves Asahi beer and prices and hours are the same as the Fukuya at Hiroshima Station. If ‘Viking’ style buffet courses aren’t your thing, why not pay a little extra (3300 yen for men and 3000 yen for women) and enjoy a BBQ course instead. Oh, and women also get a 200 yen discount on both Monday AND Tuesday each week. The rooftop is large and open and the sunset from the top here is worth the money alone.

The nearby Mitsukoshi Beer Garden is also extremely popular due to its Ebisu and Sapporo Beer on tap and the combination of both Mediterranean food and Japanese teppan dishes. Men are 3100 yen and women 2900 and opening hours are between 5.30pm-10pm.

Last of all, if you’re looking for something a little different, why not head to the SOGO Beer Garden where every night they have 100 Kirin Frozen drafts on offer. If you miss out on them, don’t worry, as there’s still plenty of Kirin to down. Men are 3000 yen and women 2800, but if you arrive before 6pm during the week, women only pay 2500.

This list is by no means exclusive; there are a number more, but these are the most popular ones. Check out one or all of them and make up your own mind which is your favourite.

Keep c(k)ool and kampai!

 

Photo: flickr.com “Asahi Beer” by Dave (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ByJade Brischke
Jul 26, 2017

Ice, Ice, Baby… The best Ice Cream in Hiroshima

With the sun beating down and the humidity at almost 100%, summer in Hiroshima can be almost unbearable for those who live here. Many people find that they don’t feel like eating and with their energy levels at a low, all they can try to do is keep cool. Luckily though, Hiroshima has plenty of places that serve a food that will not only make you shiver with excitement (and cold), but one that is usually packed full of sugar for an instant energy boost.

Yep, I’m talking about ice cream.

Perhaps the most famous ice cream shop in Hiroshima, not only due to its downtown location, but for the sheer size of its ice cream, is Polar Bear. I’m talking mammoth sized (not polar bear sized!) ice cream, which can be served in either a cone or a cup. A single serve is more than enough, but if you want two flavours and a double cone, it’s a popular choice for couples or those who want to share.

The number one flavour is the green tea and if you don’t go early, it tends to run out by early to mid-afternoon. The mango deserves an honourable mention. There is limited seating inside and you will often find large groups outside clustered around the store front, trying desperately to eat their ice cream before it melts. It’s definitely a challenge during the hotter months! Polar Bear is a must-try at least once, but be warned… the line is often very long, extending not only down the street, but also around the corner. Be prepared to wait.

My place of choice, however, is Milkissimo, located in the Roji Dining Food Court in the big Aeon shopping mall in Fuchu. This place actually serves gelato which is less fatty than ice cream because it uses whole milk, rather than cream. Generally, it’s also lighter, smoother and softer than ice cream too. The sheer range of flavours alone is enough to attract even the hardest-to-please and again, you can choose from a cone or a cup, with up to three flavours available per person.

Best of all, apart from the all-year-round flavours, seasonal ones are also available. Summertime is perfect for fruity options and there are plenty to choose from including pineapple, mango, assai banana and passion fruit, with a sorbet-like consistency that is light and fluffy and not so heavy for when you’re already feeling weighed down by the heat.

There are plenty of other places to explore and to find ice cream and gelato in Hiroshima; these are just two of the best. Of course, if ice cream isn’t your thing, there’s also the option of かき氷 (kakigouri) or shaved ice, with flavours such as green tea, strawberry and lemon. Whatever you do, just remember to keep cool this summer with lots of ice, ice cream, baby!

The Best Ice Cream in Hiroshima

Polar Bear

Located just off Hondori, with the closest streetcar stop being Tatemachi.
Open every day 12pm-8pm
730-0032 Hiroshima Prefecture, Hiroshima, Naka Ward, Tatemachi, 5−2 キャッスル立町 (map link)

 Milkissimo

Located in Aeon Mall, Fuchu in the Roji Dining Food Court 1F. Closest train station is Tenjingawa.
Open every day 10am- 10pm
Aeon Mall, Fuchu 2 Chome-1-1 Ōsu, Fuchū-chō, Aki-gun, Hiroshima-ken 735-0021 (map link)

Photo by Kristen Taylor (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kthread/4942207014/) [CC BY 2.0 or CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jul 24, 2017

Meet Kobe’s Sister City – Seattle, Washington

The idea of international “sister cities” began in 1947 as a way to promote friendship and cross-cultural understanding after World War II. There was also an economic component to the concept to encourage trade and tourism. In the 1980s the Japanese government created the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations to encourage the development of sister cities.

By that time Kobe was a veteran hand at forging these civic familial relationships. In 1957 Kobe made its first such bond with Seattle, Washington in the United States. The matchmaker was an American named Clifton B. Foster who proposed the idea to the Kobe Public Relations Office. The Kobe mayor contacted the Seattle mayor and an official ceremony was held in Kobe on October 21, 1957 to welcome a delegation from Seattle and launch the partnership.

It was the first official sister city for Seattle, which now has 21 sister cities, as well. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the relationship and contingents of Seattle officials will be much in evidence around Kobe this summer. And vice versa in the United States.

What Do Sister Cities Do?

Over the decades the two cities have organized many cultural exchanges and events co-ordinated by the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association. Gifts from the people of Kobe have created the Kobe Terrace Park in Seattle’s International District with Japanese pine and cherry trees shading a stone lantern. In 1975 the Kobe Municipal Arboretum opened a “Seattle Forest” section with 40 species of trees common to the American Northwest.

Other gifts from Seattle to Kobe include totem poles outside Kobe City Hall, the Oji Zoo, and the Municipal Arboretum; gas lamps at City Hall and in Meriken Park; the Rock of Peace on Port Island; and a bronze statue of an otter named “Prince Williams” in the Suma Aqualife Park. When you see porcupines and bobcats at the zoo, they are creatures from the Kobe-Seattle alliance. Similarly, the ancient sturgeon fish and otters at the Aqualife Park are courtesy of Seattle. The rhododendrons that bloom each summer in the Kobe Municipal Arboretum are specimens donated by Seattle.

The sister city relationship between Kobe and Seattle has spilled over into the institutions of the two port cities. The Port of Kobe and the Port of Seattle have enjoyed a formal relationship for 50 years. The Seattle YMCA and Kobe YMCA have engaged in a partnership even longer. The Seattle Yacht Club and Suma Yacht Club have had maritime exchanges since 1981.

One of the highlights of this six-decade alliance is the Jazz Exchange Program. Every year the winner of the Kobe Jazz Vocalist Queen Contest travels to Seattle to entertain at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. The competition is staged in Kobe’s Shinkaichi neighborhood, the birthplace of Japanese jazz. In the fall two Seattle musicians, one adult and one student cross the Pacific to show off their chops at the Shikaichi Music Street Jazz Vocalist Queen Contest.

Today Kobe now has sister cities on four other continents: Marseille, France, Riga, Latvia, and Barcelona, Spain in Europe; Brisbane in Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in South America; and Incheon, South Korea in Asia.

Photo by Rattlhed at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jul 24, 2017

The Singular Summer Pleasures of Kawadoko Dining

There has always been something seductive about waterfalls. There is the metronomic sound of the water tumbling into basin pools and the mesmerizing sluices of water cascading down rock cliffs. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright built one of his most famous houses atop a waterfall in the woods of Pennsylvania. So why not combine one of people’s favorite things – waterfalls – with another favorite thing – eating?

There is a restaurant in the Philippines at the base of a spillway where diners can enjoy a casual meal with water flowing under their feet and being splashed by pounding water. Japan does not go that far but you can find many Kawadoko restaurants in Kyoto, a region well-lubricated by rivers, including one that serves meals atop an entrancing hydro-spectacular.

Kawadoko means “place at the river” and Kyoto’s Kamo River is the summer capital of waterside dining. The Kamo spills out of Mount Sajikigatake on its way to joining the Yodo River and continuing to Osaka. Outside of the rainy season it is a benign water course that can be walked across on stepping stones in some places.

A Restaurant Row Unique in Japan

But most of the walking is done on pathways carved on the riverbanks of the Kamo. Those banks are lined with restaurants and bars, many dozens of them. The weather heats up in Kyoto in the summer and the dining establishments build large wooden platforms where diners can eat and drink in the cool of the water’s edge. The proprietors are said to have begun this practice in the early days of the Edo period in the early 1600s and the tradition has survived to become one of Kyoto’s signature tourist attractions, known as Kamogawa Noryo-yuka.

Although there are individual variations among the more than 100 Kyoto restaurants taking part in Noryo Yuka, most adhere to the accepted rules of the game. The decks are open from May 1st until September 30th and food is served outdoors only during daylight hours. If it rains, and in evenings, serving takes place indoors.

Diners can choose among restaurants that offer Western style tables and chairs or traditional low tables where kneeling is necessary. Most of the decks are narrow affairs extending towards the water so patrons will be eating in close quarters. In such cases it is appropriate to consume the food mindfully without making noise or imposing on a neighbor. The playing of musical instruments or singing on the decks is forbidden. Anyone can dine on the decks but the popularity of Noryo Yuka usually demands an advance booking. Do not make such choices lightly as canceling a reserved table on the appointed day of the meal is considered poor manners.

Kawadoko Dining Beyond the Kamo River

Kawadoko is not confined to the Kamo River. Kibune is a picturesque mountain village northeast of the city. The higher elevations and energetic waters of the Kibune River deliver a double dose of relief from the hot and humid Kyoto days. The Hirobun erects its wooden decks directly above cascading waterfalls. A thatched roof, paper lanterns, tatami mats and low slung wooden tables complete the kawadoko experience.

Takao is a small village tucked into a forested mountain valley one hour north of Kyoto by bus. Its Kozanji Temple lays claim to starting tea cultivation in Japan. The Kawadoko in this natural setting takes place along the Kiyotaki River.

By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jul 24, 2017

No One Does Beer Gardens Like Japan

It’s summer. It’s hot. And for many that means only one thing – beer gardens. The summertime treat, however, does not have its origins in cold brews quenching parched summer thirsts.

Five hundred years ago in Bavaria the brewing of beer was legal only between the feast of St. Michael on September 29 and feast of St. George on April 23. It was not a religion thing but a prohibition born out of practicality. Authorities were concerned that the heat from brewers’ coal-fired kettles could catch fire in the dry summer conditions and burn down their towns. Besides that, the discerning Bavarian taste buds knew that lagers fermented at temperatures no greater than 55 degrees Fahrenheit produced the best ales.

What to do? Drinking no beer in the summer was not an option. Brewers tunneled deep into the ground – 15, 20, 25 meters deep – to create storage cellars. To keep beer brewed in the winter cold, ice was packed on top. To further protect the precious brews, trees were planted over the underground cellars to provide shade to keep the sun from heating the earth. In the summer the brewers set up tables and dispensed the beer directly to customers in these sylvan paradises.

Local innkeepers were not happy with this competition and in 1812 King Maximilian forbid brewers to sell any food beyond bread with their beer. Instead, patrons brought their own food to the beer and the beer garden was born. By the late 1800s, beer gardens were popular in Japan as well. They remain an anticipated summer highlight across the nation today as restaurant and department store rooftops, parks, and hotels transform into beer gardens.

Beer Gardens, Japanese Style

With many foreign traditions, Japan borrows and then puts on its own spin. Beer gardens are no different. Long tables and communal imbibing proliferate as they do elsewhere but a Japanese beer garden is a feast unto itself. Western beer gardens typically charge by the glass and usually at the same rate as the indoor tap. Where’s the celebration in that? A Japanese beer garden usually charges one flat rate.

The key words are “tabehodai” and “nomihodai” – all you can eat and all you drink. And the food found at a Japanese beer garden is not the typical pub fare only meant to stir your thirst. The peanuts and pretzels are swapped out for entree-style menu items – seafood, sushi, grilled chicken, fried rice and so on. Now that is a summer treat.

The Kansai region abounds in summer beer gardens at many price points. Shop around as some have no time constraints for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink festivities and others have bookings for 90-minutes or two hours. Japanese beer gardens vary greatly in size, from just a few dozen patrons to many hundreds at some of the large hotels. Some are self-service and others offer table service. Check for the different themes brewed up for the beer garden – Mexican, Tahitian, Hawaiian and other exotic locales are popular; some feature live entertainment. Many special events are also held where advance reservations will be required. The pours at Japanese beer gardens stop in late September and early October so now is the time to grab hold of a frosty mug. Cheers.

By H.L.I.T. (Sapporo Bier Garten) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jul 24, 2017

The Lighthouses of Kobe

Being an island nation, lighthouses are an important feature of the Japanese landscape. The history of Japan’s lighthouses meanders back more than one thousand years when signal fires, the “Noroshi,” were lit during the day and bonfires, the “Kagaribi,” were built at night to signal to fishing boats on the ocean. These days the Japanese coast is one of the best lighted in the world.

The safety beacons are administered and maintained by the Maritime Safety Agency, a department of the Japanese Coast Guard. Lighthouses in Kobe City and the islands in the Seto Inland Sea are the responsibility of the Kobe office. Most of the mechanized lighthouses go about their job unnoticed unless one is a mariner trying to get a read on the coast line. But others are cultural touchstones, objects of civic pride that harken back to a different age.

The Granddaddy of All Japanese Lights

Japan has 67 lighthouses still operating from the days of their construction in the Meiji era from 1868 until 1912 when the country opened up to trade with the West. Kobe boasts a functional lighthouse even older – the only pre-Meiji lighthouse still active in Japan, in fact. The Ozekishuzo Imazu Light is located in the eastern part of the city, constructed by the Ozeki Brewery in 1810 to protect its ships coming and going in the port. In those days a keeper had to light the two oil lamps every night in the eight-meter tall building constructed on a square stone base. Today the continuous green light is automated. The ground has long since transferred from an industrial harbor to a small craft pleasure boat cove. The light is little relied upon but the Coast Guard continues to classify the 200+-year old light as an official navigation aid.

Kobe has its own Meiji-era lighthouse but it is inactive. The Wada Misaki station was established in 1871 at the west end of Kobe Harbor and a hexagonal cast iron pyramidal tower erected in 1884. It was painted red with white trim and a wooden keeper’s cottage was built at the base of the 12-meter light. When the historic beacon was taken out of commission it was removed to the Suma seaside park as a monument where it is enjoyed today. Now a series of 20-meter cylindrical concrete towers, accessible only by boat, handle the duties of illuminating the entrances into Kobe Harbor through the breakwaters.

A standout among these sentinels is the Kōbe Breakwater One East End Light. While most its fellow lighthouses are painted red, this tower is whitewashed with three oversized Japanese characters painted in black – an inscribed blessing to the port to guard it against typhoons. The Kōbe Breakwater One East End Light is one of the region’s oldest operating lights having received its commission in 1931.

The most photographed historic navigation aids in the city are perched in Kobe Harborland. Old Shinko No. 5 Pier Signal Tower rises 46.3 meters from a handsome rusticated stone base to display flags that guided ships in and out of the harbor. The flags represent Kobe to incoming ships and also prayers for those vessels heading out to sea. When it was constructed in 1921, the signal tower was hailed as the finest in all of Asia; it continued at its post until 1990. Also at Harborland is the red-capped Mosaic Watch Tower that watched over cargo ships coming to dock beginning in 1914.

By Oilstreet (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMark Guthrie
Jul 18, 2017

Experience a Taste of Traditional Japan at a Tokyo Ryokan Guesthouses

Sometimes, when living in the capital, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of globalization. Of course there are neon kanji signs flashing wherever you look, but you are never far away from a Starbucks, a McDonalds, an Italian restaurant or an Irish bar. In fact, despite living in Japan’s heartland, daily life can lack that, well, Japaneseness.

With this in mind, if you want to experience the real, traditional Japan, it can be quite difficult to do so. And still, in this most cosmopolitan of cities, there lies a haven of the old world: the Japanese guesthouse, or ‘ryokan’. These traditional Japanese inns generally include features such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local cuisine, where guests absorb the tranquility of the location, relax in ‘yukata’ summer kimonos, and soak their bodies in ‘sento’ or ‘onsen’ spa baths.

While many of these ryokan tend to be in rural tourist destinations, there are still some amazing places in the capital at which you can spend the night and enjoy that little slice of traditional Japan. Below are a few of the more interesting ones.

Homeikan

From its wood and glass-fronted exterior to the ornamental garden, when it comes to traditional, you really can’t go far wrong with Homeikan. Deisgnated as an ‘important cultural property’, it boasts two large communal baths in each of the three buildings, including a mineral bath, and a private ‘family bath’ is an option. The rooms themselves are all wood and paper as you might expect, but closer inspection shows beautiful detail in the carpentry. To enhance the relaxation of your stay a massage service is available, however be aware there is no entertainment in the local area, such as restaurants or bars, and you would have to trek 2outs to Ueno or Ochanomizu if you want a more lively evening.

  • Where: 10-5 Hongo, 5-chome, Bunkyo-ku  (map)
    12-9 Hongo, 5-chome, Bunkyo-ku  (map)
    23-5 Hongo, 6-chome, Bunkyo-ku  (map)
  • Contact: 03-3811-1187
  • Websitehomeikan.com

Sukeroku no Yado Sadachiyo

Another Ryokan well known for its tranquil atmosphere, Sadachiyo (to give it its shortened title) has just 20 rooms of varying size. While from the outside with its stained wood and rickshaw it looks like a classic old guesthouse, however it is slightly more modern than Homeikan as each room has its own private bath. With that said there are also two communal baths to choose from, one made of stone and one of wood and the rooms retain their Edo-period charm as they are decorated with wood block prints and antiques. A traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner is available but comes at an additional cost.

  • Where: 2-20-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku  (map)
  • Contact: 0120-081-099
  • Websitesadachiyo.co.jp

Kamogawa

Just three minutes from the famous Senso-ji temple in Asakusa, Kamogawa ryokan is hidden away from the hustle and bustle along the cobbled streets and old stores. However, this is a guesthouse with all mod-cons such as en-suite baths, free wifi access, and TVs. The communal baths are open 24 hours a day, and may be reserved for privacy if you are not keen on sharing with other guests. The rooms are light and airy, which is great for those who find the dark stained wood of some hotels a little oppressive, and in a nice touch breakfast comes with a choice of Western or Japanese cuisine which is perfect for those who can’t quite face rice and fish in the morning.

Andon Ryokan

If you wish to forego tradition for unusual, Andon Ryokan is, well, quite something else. Claiming to be Tokyo’s first designer ryokan, the concept was developed by artist and architect Masayuki Irie, and the result is a phenomenal combination of classic Japanese facilitates – the communal baths, tatami floors, the yukata kimonos – with modern Japan – the pop art on the walls, the western breakfasts, the cosplay photoshoots on the building’s roof (and yes, that is a thing).

Mark Guthrie

Image by Henry Burrows (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image by Akuppa John Wigham (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via flickr.com (modified)

Image via http://www.sadachiyo.co.jp/en/ – Screengrab

Image via http://www.f-kamogawa.jp/english/index.html – Screengrab

Image via http://www.andon.co.jp/eng/bath.html – Screengrab