Yearly Archive 2018

ByMatt Mangham
Dec 28, 2018

Hot coffee on a Winter Day. Hiroshima’s Best Cafes.

It’s January, and suddenly western Japan is a great deal colder than you thought it would be. You want to go out, but you don’t want to go out. What to do? This month I’ll suggest a few possibilities for three things that are always best indoors: a cup of coffee, a good book, and a great movie.

Like the rest of Japan, Hiroshima has seen the rise of a new cafe culture over the last twenty years, while still holding on to a few of its older classics. Naturally, the chains have descended in full force. There’s even a Starbucks on Miyajima now. They’re easy to find if that’s what you like. But there are other, potentially more exciting options available as well.

One cafe that’s been getting a lot of enthusiastic attention is Obscura Coffee Roasters. The shop started with three very earnest caffeine addicts from Hiroshima who made their mark at their Sangenjaya location in Tokyo before bringing their alchemical expertise back home, first to their Fukuromachi cafe and then, in August 2018, to a second shop one block north of the Hondori shopping arcade. 

With beans from Indonesia, Rwanda, Honduras and elsewhere, carefully roasted to perfection on-site and transformed into what many people say is the best coffee they’ve had in Japan, this is the place to go if you’re ready for a serious latte. Obscura is non-smoking, which is good, but the food menu is limited. Think pastries. Obscura is a place for world-class coffee, not lunch. Additionally, some people have arrived with children in tow and been disappointed (or enraged, to judge by some of their reviews) to discover that Obscura doesn’t allow children under ten on the premises. As a father of two, I understand the frustration, but I also support the occasional child-free space. 

Visiting Miyajima, there are a number of coffee options these days, each no doubt with its own charms. But for my money, the best on the island at the moment are the spaces operated by the island’s own Itsuki Coffee. They have a few locations, but the most convenient might be their Sarasvati shop, situated at the bottom of one of the stone stairways up to Toyokuni Shrine, also called the Thousand Mat Hall, and not far from the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine itself. 

Like Obscura, they roast their beans onsite, which can make the space almost dizzyingly redolent of fresh coffee at times, and their bakery serves up excellent (if small) sandwich and scone sets, as well as pasta and a changing menu of cakes. If you ask, they’ll also give directions to their new Tenshinkaku location. Its hours are limited, and it’s not the most easily found spot on the island, but once you arrive, you’ll be able to enjoy a truly excellent cup of coffee with some of the best views around.

Finally, let’s not forget Japan’s older, and justly celebrated, coffee culture. The ‘kissatens’ of yesteryear were worlds unto their own, and a few specimens linger on in Hiroshima. My favorite is the Chamonix Mont Blanc, located on the Ebisu Dori arcade, just across from the south entrance to Mitsukoshi Department Store. Mont Blanc is a Showa era fixture, open at the same location since the 1950s. Rising four floors (though the 4th is used for storage these days) from its ground floor entrance, everything here from the paintings on the walls to the crystal light fixtures to the expansive and classic cafe menu itself seems to have arrived unchanged via time machine. 

A little smoky, a little worn around the edges, what this place delivers is a decidedly non-corporate atmosphere. Score one of the window seats above the arcade and settle in with a coffee and curry rice for a relaxed hour alone or with company, browsing a new book or watching people stream past below, including local business owners pausing to pray at the Ebisu Shrine across the arcade. Both the owner’s English-speaking daughter and her British husband Andy are usually on hand as well, making this an easy stop for anyone with limited Japanese.  

Additional Information

Obscura Coffee Roasters, Fukuromachi Shop

Address: 3-28 Fukuromachi, Naka-Ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0036

Access: From Hondori, walk south from Andersen, the first major intersection east of the Rijo-dori streetcars. Turn right at the second corner, past the Yours supermarket, and you’ll find it on your right.

Hours: 9:00 to 20:00 (closed third Wednesday of each month)

Telephone: 082-249-7543

Website: https://obscura-coffee.com/

Sarasvati

Address: 407 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0588

Access: Continue past the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine until you see a narrow lane to the left. The coffee shop is located at the bottom of a stone staircase leading down from the Five-Storied Pagoda of Toyokuni Shrine, the enormous wooden hall on the hill above Itsukushima Shrine.

Hours: 8:30 to 19:00

Telephone: 082-944-2266

Website: https://itsuki-miyajima.com/

Chamonix Mont Blanc

Address: 3-17 Horikawacho, Naka-Ku, Naka, Hiroshima 730-0033, Hiroshima Prefecture

Access: On the corner across the Ebisu Dori shopping arcade from the rear entrance to Mitsukoshi Department Store. Turn your back to the Ebisu Shrine or Mitsukoshi, and you’ll be looking at it.

Hours: 8:00 to 24:00 every day

Telephone: 082-241-2726

Website: http://o-kyakusama.com/food/monb/

www.Pixel.la Free Stock Photos [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMatt Mangham
Dec 28, 2018

Books and Coffee in Hiroshima

We’ve already talked about where to track down Hiroshima’s best hot coffee in the depths of January, but once you’re in the cafe, you’ll need something to read, surely. You can swipe through Instagramm, sure, but for now we’re shooting for urbane sophistication, and that calls for print.

Unfortunately, Hiroshima still hasn’t been able to keep a decent English language bookstore afloat, and the offerings at many of the large chains can be fairly thin. Used bookstores are often your best bet, though the one used bookstore in town that focuses on English volumes doesn’t seem to have rotated its stock for the better part of a decade.

For bookstores selling new books, the best option in downtown Hiroshima is Maruzen. It’s not one you’ll just stumble across though, since it’s located on the 7th and 8th floors of the Yamada Denki building on the corner of Aioi Dori and Chuo Dori, between the Fukuya and Mitsukoshi department stores. The English-language selection is concentrated at the north end of the 7th floor, left of the elevators. It’s pleasant enough, and the shelves are lined not only with a modest but well-chosen selection of classics and bestsellers, but also magazines and children’s books.

If you’re looking for Japan-themed gift books for people back home, they have an excellent selection of those as well. From here, to enjoy your new purchases with a coffee, you can head back to the ground floor and exit from the south side of the building, which will put you in Ebisu Dori and only seconds away from the entrance to Chamonix Mont Blanc, one of the city’s best surviving Showa era coffee houses. Alternately, there is Tully’s Coffee located right on the seventh floor itself, though seating is limited and slightly cramped.

My favorite stop for used books, not far from Maruzen, is Academy Books in Hondori. Academy has two locations within easy walking distance of each other, but the better of the two is located between Aioi Dori and Parco in the shopping arcade, a little south along from Fukuya Department Store on the arcade’s west side. Look for glass shelves of used books and glass cases displaying vintage Hiroshima Carp memorabilia and more valuable volumes and hanging scrolls. For a book lover, the entire shop is a delight, two narrow floors of tantalizing spines interspersed with boxes stuffed with old postcards, maps, and other treasures.

The foreign language section is on the second floor, near the windows looking out on the arcade. I haven’t asked, but you get the distinct impression that Academy regularly buys up the libraries of recently deceased university professors. Where other used bookstores may have unused, Teddy bear-themed address books or a field guide to the Birds of Indiana (actual finds), here you’re more likely to find the collected poems of Edmund Spenser or a survey of Norwegian ghost stories. If nothing appeals, come back in a week because things change quickly. There’s almost always something worth buying, especially when paperback prices are sometimes under 500 yen.

A little farther afield, in the quirky Yokogawa district, is the appropriately quirky Hon to Jiyuu, or Books and Freedom. This is another rambling, narrow, used bookshop, hard by the railroad tracks just east of Yokogawa Station, in an alley filled with funky little shops and restaurants, a few steps away from the entrance to Yokogawa Cinema. There’s not much in English here, but the shop focuses on fine art and literature, and some of the books are either in English or so focused on imagery that the text is an afterthought.

Like Academy, this shop is worth taking your time with, running your finger along the crammed, creaking shelves to see what jumps out at you. Rest assured, something will. And when you’re done, one of the best things about Books and Freedom is the (small) in-house bar and performance space. There may not be a concert underway when you drop by, but you can sit at the bar and enjoy a coffee or beer and talk with one of the friendly people staffing the place. Don’t forget, either, to wander up and down the nearby streets of Yokogawa when you finally leave. The area is well worth an entire article of its own.

Additional Information

Maruzen Books

Address: Ebisucho 5-2 2, 7-8F, Naka-Ku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, 730-0021

Access: On the 7th and 8th floors of the former Tenmaya department store building, presently a Yamada Denki Labi electronics store on the first floors. Corner of Aioi Dori and Chuo Dori, between Fukuya and Mitsukoshi Department Stores.

Hours: 10:00 to 22:00 (closed January 1)

Telephone: 082-504-6210

Website: https://honto.jp/store/detail_1570062_14HB310.html

Academy Books

Address: 1-7 Hondori, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0035

Access: Look for a narrow storefront with bookshelves and glass display cases on the west side of the Hondori shopping arcade between Parco and Fukuya.

Hours: 10:00 to 20:00

Telephone: 082-247-3118

Website:http://www.academysyoten.jp/

Hon to Jiyuu

Address:  Chome-4-14 Yokogawachō, Nishi-Ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 733-0011

Access: Approximately two blocks east of Yokogawa Station. In a narrow lane of bars and restaurants south of the tracks.

Hours: 2:00-23:00 Saturday to Sunday. (Closed Mondays)

Telephone: 082 233-9239

Juja Han juja_han [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMatt Mangham
Dec 28, 2018

Hiroshima Cinemas

This is one of the best times of year to see a movie. Time off, cold weather outside, and a flotilla of holiday releases all clamoring for an audience. Luckily, Hiroshima is much friendlier to cinephiles than it is to English language readers. There are several large cineplexes, as well as a healthy choice of smaller, arthouse theaters to choose from.

For blockbuster releases, you may want to head to your local cineplex-style theater. There are several in the city, but my favorite is Wald 11, in the Fuchu district’s Aeon shopping mall. With eleven screens, there’s almost always something here worth seeing., even if there is nothing special about the theaters themselves. Wald 11 is a clean, modern and otherwise average cineplex, but there is often something comforting in that. The concession stand has everything you can reasonably ask for, and yet the floors are never sticky, which seems faintly miraculous.

Despite the number of screens, though, don’t wait to see anything you’re genuinely interested in, because turnover is brisk. One problem we’ve had in Hiroshima is that many children’s offerings are only made available in their dubbed versions. Outraged mothers have complained often enough that things are getting better (thanks all!), but a subtitled screening still isn’t something you can count on for family films. I loathe malls, but I loathe this one less than others, and my daughters always enjoy a wander around its three sprawling floors either before or after the show.

The Salon Cinemas and Hatchoza, across the street from one another, are all run by Hiroshima’s Johakyu corporation, which has gone to great lengths to preserve quality cinema in the city. The two Salon Cinemas sit on the top floor of the Tokyu Hands Building downtown, across the main street from Fukuya Department Store. They replaced the much-loved old location near Takanobashi, and are both more convenient and comfortable. Hatchoza is a virtual jewel box of a theater, at the top of the Fukuya building. 

The seating in all of these theaters is more comfortable than your sofa at home, designed by a local furniture company and including kotatsu seating at the rear of the Salon theaters. In the Salon Cinema lobby, the Pearl Cafe stands as a tribute to one of Hiroshima’s legendary ‘kissaten’ coffee houses, a longtime fixture near Hiroshima Station until it shut its doors several years back. Meanwhile, Hatchoza’s stunning interior was designed by the art director of the famous Japanese film ‘Shall We Dance,’ and you can enjoy a glass of wine with your movie. The screenings lean away from giant commercial releases and emphasize smaller films from Japan, Europe, and America, with occasional offerings from smaller film industries. If you love movies, you’ll want to check these theaters out at your earliest opportunity.

Finally, for a funky experience, you can head over to Yokogawa Cinema. One Japanese movie-buff acquaintance of mine recently told me that he loved this place as much for its smell as for the movies themselves, which probably says all you need to know. No, I’ll say more. The smell (and the famously uncomfortable seats) of this erstwhile…ahem…adult oriented… theater are long gone, after a renovation five years ago. Today, the cinema preserves something of its old down-at-heel atmosphere while focussing on a schedule of screenings that would be financial suicide for any cineplex. 

There’s not a lot in the way of foreign language films, but sometimes they’ll try something from abroad. Check the listings from time to time, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I saw Manchester by the Sea there and thoroughly enjoyed it.  They also do a lot of horror movies and small independent films, and regularly play host to a variety of film festivals. An old and well-loved theater, and another mecca for Hiroshima’s cinephile community. Try to drop by, and don’t miss the rest of the surrounding area either. It’s one of the last remaining districts of an older Hiroshima that is fast disappearing beneath apartment towers and shopping developments.

Additional Information

Wald 11

Address: 2-1-1 Osu  4F Aeon Mall Hiroshima Fuchu, Fuchu-cho, Aki-gun 735-0021

Access: 4th floor of the large Aeon Mall, east of Hiroshima Station.

Hours: Earliest showings generally from about 9:00. Check website for schedule.

Ticket prices: Adults 1800 yen, College/High School 1500 yen, Jr. High and Under 1000 yen

Telephone: 082-561-0600

Website: http://kinezo.jp/pc/wald11

Salon Cinemas 1 and 2

Address: 8F Toei Plaza Building,16-10 Hachobori, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi 730-0013

Access: Top floor of the Toei Building across from Fukuya Department Store, look for the Tokyu Hands sign.

Hours: Approximately 10:00 to 21:00. Check website for schedule.

Ticket prices: Adults 1800 yen, College 1500 yen, High School and Under 1000 yen

Telephone: 082-962-7772

Website: https://johakyu.co.jp/

Hatchoza Cinema

Address: 8F Fukuya Hatchobori Honten, Ebisu-cho 6-26, Naka-ku Hiroshima-shi, 730-0021

Access: 8th floor of Fukuya Department Store building, downtown.

Hours: Approximately 10:00 to 21:00. Check website for schedule.

Ticket prices: Adults 1800 yen, College 1500 yen, High School and Under 1000 yen

Telephone: 082-546-1158

Website: https://johakyu.co.jp/

Yokogawa Cinema

Address:  3 Chome-1-12 Yokogawachō, Nishi-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 733-0011

Access: Approximately 3 minutes walk east of Yokogawa Station, south of the tracks.

Hours: Earliest showings generally from 9:30. Check website for schedule.

Ticket prices: General 1700 yen, Couples 2200 yen, College 1500 yen, High School and Under 1000 yen

Telephone: 082 231-1001

Website: yokogawacinema.com

Image by: At by At [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

ByJason Gatewood
Dec 26, 2018

Mobile Suica Makes Getting Around Japan Easier

Back in the day, a journey on any of Japan’s rail lines meant you might need a degree in Japanese cartography and computer science to figure out how to use the ticketing machines found in every station at that time. The old routine went like this: Walk into the station and look at the gigantic map plastered above the machines. Find your destination station on the said map and remember the price next to the station.

Next, walk over to the ticket machine and push the button, pull a lever, touch a screen (depending on the age of said machine) with that price you memorized from before (or double-take the map like I almost always did). Shove coins/bills into the machine and grab the ticket, head to the gates and stick it into the slot and grab the ticket back from the other side…. Better not lose it, or else you’re paying whatever the highest possible fare is on that line when you get to your stop!

Nowadays, IC fare cards like Suica and Pasmo came along and ended that foolishness. Just charge up your card with yen and tap, tap, tap your way around town without stopping. So what’s more convenient and time-saving than this? When you make your phone or smartwatch your IC card. Enter Mobile Suica.

What’s a Ticket Vending Machine (because I can’t remember)

When I switched over to an iPhone 8 and Apple Watch in November 2018, one of the compelling reasons was the ease of the Mobile Suica app that could be used on the devices thanks to the inclusion of the same chips and antennas that are found in the cards and faregates. Apple Pay has been a thing since iPhone 7, but this particular iPhone release allows for a set of contactless near field communications protocols under the term NFC-F, a standard that has been used in Japan since 2004 from Sony.

Conversely, most made-for-Japan Android smartphones, and even most feature phones before them, have had this ability for over a decade now through an app called Osaifu Keitai. Just as Apple made smartphones easier to use and pushed the bar higher, their Apple Pay solution has done the same and the iPhone version of Mobile Suica is one of the outcomes.

Apple Pay + Mobile Suica

To start your journey into the world of mobile transport payments on your iPhone, you’ll need the following:

  • Made-for-Japan iPhone 7 (phones purchased outside Japan won’t work with NFC-F) or any version after and including iPhone 8 (made for any market since NFC-F was standardized at this point) and/or Japanese model Apple Watch Series 2, or any series 3, 4.
  • A debit/credit card already set up in Apple Pay -or- any Japanese debit/credit card issued in the country, even if not able to be used with Apple Pay (more on this later)
  • Physical Suica card (optional). You can actually create a virtual Suica card using the mobile Suica App itself, but since the app is in Japanese, it takes a few extra steps… Chances are if you’re in Tokyo already, you have a Suica card anyway. If not, head over to a JR station and pick one up for ¥500 at the ticket machines.
  • Have the region of your device set to Japan (this doesn’t change the language of your device, just what App Store country you download from.)

If you have all of this ready, go ahead and download the Mobile Suica app from the App Store. The first thing to note is everything’s in Japanese, but for our purposes right now, we don’t need to worry about that.

Next, open up the Wallet app and tap the “+” icon in the upper right corner to add a new card. The next screen should have a new entry, “Add Suica Card”; tap that and follow these directions from Apple to transfer a Suica card into your phone or watch.

How to generate a virtual Suica instead

You can also go into the mobile Suica AP and generate a virtual card, but since the app is only in Japanese for now, please follow this guide from At A Distance if you don’t know Nihongo. I’m hoping the language situation changes because this is the best way to get tourists and expats on their way to Japan all set up to use transport here.

What about Apple Watch?

After you’ve got a valid pass on your iPhone, you can easily move it to your Apple Watch through the Watch App’s wallet function. The cool thing about this is even if you have an iPhone that doesn’t have the NFC-F ability for Mobile Suica, Apple Watch series 3 and 4 do and can be used.

What about us out-of-country Android users?

Since 2010 when the first “made-in-Japan” Android smartphones were released, they were the first to be able to use Mobile Suica. That’s because manufacturers ported the above mentioned Osaifu-Keitai Java apps over from their gala kei feature phone counterparts. (Remember, Japan literally invented mobile payments over a decade and a half ago.)

But what this also meant is that those of us bringing an Android phone into Japan are out of luck here since they are missing a certain microchip and special SIM card to make it work; iPhones have the necessary hardware built in and “it just works™️.” However, if you have a Japanese Android smartphone, and comparable SIM card, then all you need is the Google Play App and just follow the instructions for adding a new card, and if your phone is compatible, then you should see the following screens to add a Suica card.

What’s a Ticket Vending Machine (because I can’t remember)

When I switched over to an iPhone 8 and Apple Watch in November 2018, one of the compelling reasons was the ease of the Mobile Suica app that could be used on the devices thanks to the inclusion of the same chips and antennas that are found in the cards and faregates. Apple Pay has been a thing since iPhone 7, but this particular iPhone release allows for a set of contactless near field communications protocols under the term NFC-F, a standard that has been used in Japan since 2004 from Sony.

Conversely, most made-for-Japan Android smartphones, and even most feature phones before them, had this ability for over a decade now through an app called Osaifu Keitai. Just as Apple made smartphones easier to use and pushed the bar higher, their Apple Pay solution has done the same, and the iPhone version of Mobile Suica is one of the outcomes.

Apple Pay + Mobile Suica

To start your journey into the world of mobile transport payments on your iPhone, you’ll need the following:

  • Made-for-Japan iPhone 7 (phones purchased outside Japan won’t work with NFC-F) or any version after and including iPhone 8 (made for any market since NFC-F was standardized at this point) and/or Japanese model Apple Watch Series 2, or any series 3, 4.
  • A debit/credit card already set up in Apple Pay -or- any Japanese debit/credit card issued in the country, even if not able to be used with Apple Pay (more on this later)
  • Physical Suica card (optional). You can actually create a virtual Suica card using the mobile Suica App itself, but since the app is in Japanese, it takes a few extra steps… Chances are if you’re in Tokyo already, you have a Suica card anyway. If not, head over to a JR station and pick one up for ¥500 at the ticket machines.
  • Have the region of your device set to Japan (this doesn’t change the language of your device, just what App Store country you download from.)

If you have all of this ready, go ahead and download the Mobile Suica app from the App Store. The first thing to note is everything’s in Japanese, but for our purposes right now, we don’t need to worry about that.

Next, open up the Wallet app and tap the “+” icon in the upper right corner to add a new card. The next screen should have a new entry, “Add Suica Card”; tap that and follow these directions from Apple to transfer a Suica card into your phone or watch.

How to generate a virtual Suica instead

You can also go into the mobile Suica AP and generate a virtual card, but since the app is only in Japanese for now, please follow this guide from At A Distance if you don’t know Nihongo. I’m hoping the language situation changes because this is the best way to get tourists and expats on their way to Japan all set up to use transport here.

What about Apple Watch?

After you’ve got a valid pass on your iPhone, you can easily move it to your Apple Watch through the Watch App’s wallet function. The cool thing about this is even if you have an iPhone that doesn’t have the NFC-F ability for Mobile Suica, Apple Watch series 3 and four do and can be used.

What about us out-of-country Android users?

Since 2010 when the first “made-in-Japan” Android smartphones were released, they were the first to be able to use Mobile Suica. That’s because manufacturers ported the above mentioned Osaifu-Keitai Java apps over from their gala kei feature phone counterparts. (Remember, Japan literally invented mobile payments over a decade and a half ago.)

But what this also meant is that those of us bringing an Android phone into Japan are out of luck here since they are missing a certain microchip and special SIM card to make it work; iPhones have the necessary hardware built in and “it just works™️.” However, if you have a Japanese Android smartphone, and comparable SIM card, then all you need is a compatible SIM card and the Google Play App. Just follow the instructions for adding a new card, and if your phone is compatible you should see the following screens to add a Suica card.

Coming Soon

We’ve come a long way already; not only can you ride trains, buses, and taxicabs, but rent bicycles, use coin lockers, play video games and buy groceries with Suica. With it and other regional transit passes becoming another payment method for goods and services, officials are looking at ways to extend the technology. The next step is to make Suica a transit pass app for all of Japan, that’s set for 2021 when the infrastructure behind the pass network [gets a huge upgrade.](https://www.sony.co.jp/SonyInfo/News/Press/201809/18-0925/index.html)

While you can use Mobile Suica on the majority of transport systems nationwide now, it still cannot be used as a commuter pass outside of JR East’s rail lines.; it isn’t possible to create a mobile PASMO or Nimoca, etc., yet. The new update will change that and more to enable even more seamless travel and use around Japan and beyond.

— By Jason L. Gatewood
Images:
courtesy https://appllio.com/google-pay-suica*, Apple Support

ByJason Gatewood
Dec 26, 2018

Japan Brewer’s Cup: The Tournament of Suds 2019

Please read the following in the voice of one of those monster truck TV spots from back in the day:

Thirty-five of the best craft brewers from all over Japan, plus one each from Taiwan and the Czech Republic, and six craft beer importers are thrown in for good measure. They’ll duke it out on the third weekend in Yokohama Osambashi Pier to show who has the best IPA of the day and whose Pale Ale raises the most hell! It’s the Battle of the Brews at Yokohama Cruise…Center. The annual Japan Brewer’s Cup is upon us!!

Ok, that sounded admittedly hokey, but also kind of cool too right? We have talked enough about Japan, and it’s history with beer to know at this point that it’s probably the best place in Asia to hunt down and guzzle your favorite beer in almost every corner of the country. So, of course, it only seems fitting for the masters of microbrew in Nixon gather together once a year and crown the most superior indie suds. For just ¥500 to get in and around ¥500 per drink, you can also be sure this is one of the cheaper options in the beer festival circuit in Japan too.

If you want to see the judging, be sure to come early when the venue opens up; otherwise, you may miss the art of beer judging. Don’t fret if you do though because that amber gold will still find its way into a mug or pint until the sun as long set behind Landmark Tower just across Yokohama Bay.

For More Information:

http://japanbrewerscup.jp/english.html

Osambashi Pier
1-4, Kaigandori 1-Chōme
Naka-Ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa
Japan 231-0002

About a 5-minute walk from Nihon-Odori station [MM05] and 15 minutes from Kannai Station [JK10]

Schedule:

Thu, Jan. 24th, 10 am to 6 pm (Only Judging)
Fri, Jan. 25th, 4 pm to 10 pm
Sat, Jan. 26th, 11 am to 9 pm
Sun, Jan. 27th, 11 am to 7 pm
Entry: ¥500


— By Jason L. Gatewood

Image by Paul Joseph from Vancouver, BC, Canada (08-mar-31) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Gravity Tap” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

ByJason Gatewood
Dec 26, 2018

Rugby World Cup Japan 2019

While most people around the world know the Summer Olympic Games will be here in Tokyo in 2020, we actually have a very large sporting engagement to host a year before that during early autumn 2019, just over eight months from when this will hit the interwebs.

The Rugby World Cup is the world’s third largest sports tournament behind the Summer Games and Soccer World Cup. Japan has hosted both of those other sports before, so this should be like old hat to us (we hope) and give us a chance to test out a lot of facilities that will also be playing double duty in 2020. Not to mention giving a chance for Japan’s burgeoning rugby scene to be front and center during the tourney. Yes, that’s right, Japan has some great rugby teams and storied past.

Japan’s Rugby History

There are some 3000 officially sanctioned clubs in Nippon, and the sport has been played since the latter half of the 19th century when a team organized itself called the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. Later on due to the influence of foreign professors, Keio University along with a host of other prominent colleges started teams and began playing each other. Even the brother of the Showa Emperor, Prince Chichibu, came to love and promote the sport, becoming the president of the Japanese Rugby Football Union. Nowadays you can catch a match between any of the 16 corporate owned teams in the Top League who vie for the Lixil Cup every year.

From September 20 until November 2 of 2019, twenty of the worlds best teams will challenge each other in 40 matches along with the quarters, semis, and final matches. There will be 12 different venues around the country from Hokkaido to Kyushu, with Tokyo Stadium in Chofu and Yokohama International Stadium hosting many games as well as the playoff and final matches around the Kanto Capital Region. The schedule is already posted, so do give the table a look and check out where your favorite team is playing at the venue of your choice.

Getting Tickets

Tickets for the matches can be found only in one location: https://tickets.rugbyworldcup.com/. There are no other official means to purchase tickets at the time of this writing, however, at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, there were ticket agents with permission to sell seats at the venues themselves. It isn’t known yet whether this will be the case for the Rugby World Cup as well, or not, so stay tuned.


— By Jason L. Gatewood

Images: “Japan vs Australia IRB 2008” by Historian is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

ByMark Guthrie
Dec 26, 2018

Day trips from Nagoya – Tajimi, Gifu

Just over the border from Aichi into Gifu Prefecture is the town of Tajimi, an area renowned for its ceramic manufacture, great natural beauty and peaceful streets. Being just 40 minutes by train from Nagoya it is an excellent destination for a day trip

Tajimi’s Famous Ceramics

With clay in the surrounding hills, there has been pottery manufacture in Tajimi for some 1,300 years, evidence of which can be seen the moment you step into the train station to be greeted by an immense ceramic wall. Outside of the station and across the Tokigawa River you come to Honmachi Oribe, a Meiji era street with its black and white wooden houses that has been the center of Tajimi’s ceramics industry since those times.

The street, named after famed feudal-era tea master Furuta Oribe, is home to a number of shops trading in pottery and ceramics, with the local green-glazed Mino-yaki style particularly prevalent. From reasonably-priced souvenirs to more expensive works of art, you can find something for all tastes, and April sees more than 50 producers selling their wares during a ceramics festival.

Some of the old houses have been reconfigured as small museums, and if you want to learn more about the craft, a ten minute bus journey from the station takes you to Ceramic Park Mino. Here you can shop and try your hand at making your own pottery as well as exploring the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art and the Gifu Prefectural Ceramic Museum.

20 minutes by bus from Tajimi station is Tajimi Mosaic Tile Museum, displaying some 10,000 examples of tile production throughout history. However, the most impressive aspect of the museum is the building itself. Designed by Fujimori Terunobu, it is a great example of blending architecture with nature, as it rises like a terracotta anthill from the grounds.

Where: Honmachi Oribe Street: 5 Chome Honmachi, Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture  (map)
Where: Ceramic Park Mino, 4 Chome-2-5 Higashimachi, Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture (map)
Websitecpm-gifu.jp
Where: Tajimi Mosaic Tile Museum, 2082-5 Kasaharacho, Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture (map)

Eihoji Termple

Built in 1313, Eihoji is a serene spot of tranquility, and perhaps Tajimi’s greatest manmade beauty spot. The Zen Buddhist temple sits amongst gardens that reflect the seasons, turning the plump pink of cherry blossoms in spring, the gorgeous golds of maple trees in autumn and elegant snow-dappled whites in winter.

The temple overlooks a large pond in which koi carp glide peacefully below arched bridges, and the air of tranquility is enhanced by chanting of the studying monks in the meditation room situated beside a waterfall that cascades into the pond below.

The temple is found by way of a winding old path through cedar groves and bamboo copses, where you can discover small buddhist Jizo statues. Eventuallt the path leads up through the hills affording stunning views of the area.

Where: 1 Chome-40 Kokeizanchō, Tajimi-shi, Gifu-ken 507-0014 (map)
Websitekokei.or.jp

Tajimi Catholic Monastery

Zen Buddhism is not the only religion represented in Tajimi. Built by German Catholic missionaries led by Father Mohr, the Tajimi Monestary holds an English Mass on the second and fourth Sunday of the month.

The building is striking, and is immediately recognizable for its northern European style and its imposing spire. But perhaps above the architecture, the Tajimi Monastery is best known for its vineyard and wine production. A wine festival is held each November, but the locally produced wine can be purchased all year round and makes for a great souvenir.

Where: 38 Midorigaoka, Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture (map)
Websitesvdtajimi.com
Mark Guthrie
Image: by Kazuhiko Maeda via flickr.com [CC by 2.0] – Modified
Image: by Yuya Tamai via flickr.com [CC by 2.0] – Modified
Image: by たじみ百景 tajimi100k via flickr.com [CC by 2.0] – Modified
Image: by あやがね via flickr.com [CC by 2.0] – Modified
Image: via svdtajimi.com
ByMark Guthrie
Dec 26, 2018

Nagoya’s January Festivals 2019

In Japan, there is always something to celebrate, and around the country, there are thousands of festivals every year. While the summer is the traditional festival season, just because there is a nip in the air and frost on the ground, it doesn’t mean that the celebrations should stop. There are festivals and events going on around Nagoya and Aichi this month (January 2019).

Here are a few that might be worth checking out.

Tenteko Matsuri

In 859CE the rice fields around Niike in modern-day Nishio City were selected to produce the annual offerings that Emperor Saiwa would make to Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. With a decree of such of high importance it was imperative that the harvest was impressive, and this festival, which began as a rice planting ceremony, has become a ritual prayer for a strong harvest.

Today, the Tenteko festival sees six men of the unlucky ages head the parade through the streets in red costumes, the color associated with the gods, reflecting the sacred connection of rice growing. This being a fertility festival, the first three of ‘yaku-otoko’, as the men are known, wear phalluses carved from radishes attached to their rear end, and as they pass from Niike Hachiman Shrine through the streets, they shake their hips to the sound of the beating drums, ‘ten-teko, ten-teko, ten-teko’.

The festival cumulates in the other ‘yaku-okoto’ stirring up a pile of ash into the air, and if the ash lands on you it is said to be good luck; though you may not consider this to be the case if you are wearing something white!

Where: Niike Hachiman Shrine: 103, jinden, niike-cho, Nishio-City (map)
When: January 3, annually
Tel: 0563-57-7840

Touka Shinji and Hosha Shinji

Atusta Jingu is one of Japan’s three most important shrines, along with Ise Jingu and Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. January sees many rituals performed at the shrine, with the hatsumode services at the turn of the year prime amongst them. Following these New Year services come two further ceremonies: Touka Shinji and Hosha Shinji.

Touka Shinji, on January 11th, has its origins in ancient China and was replicated in the imperial courts of Heian period Japan. Today, in the courtyard of Atsuta Jingu, you can see priests resplendent in their white gowns performing rites including the playing of musical instruments and dances, as well as the reading out of a message from the emperor.

While Touka Shinji is a sedate affair, for the lovers of Japanese costume and ritual, Hosha Shinji on January 15 is a little more exciting. This Shinto ritual to pray for a productive year for crops and to exorcize evil spirits sees priests firing arrows at a large target. Thirty-six arrows are shot in all, with each of 12 priests taking three attempts to hit wooden blocks called ‘chigi’, each marked with the kanji character for ‘oni’ or demon, which are placed on the target. Once the final arrow is fired, the gathered crowd race to the target, and a scramble ensues as everyone fights to capture the chigi. The central one is the most sought-after prize, as it possesses the greatest luck for the coming year.

Where: Atsutajingu-Kyu-Cho (Shrine Office) 1-1-1 Jingu, Atsuta-ku (Map)
When: January 11 and 15, annually
Websitewww.atsutajingu.or.jp

Dezome-shiki Firefighters Display

There are very few professions for which ‘death-defying’ is par for the course, but it is safe to say that firefighters certainly fall into that category. As if leaping into and out of burning buildings wasn’t enough, at the start of every January, the members of the Nagoya Fire Department cheat death to entertain the general public at that Dezome-shiki Firefighter Review.

With demonstrations of firefighting equipment for ground, air and sea – including fireboats, helicopters, and fire engines – some 2,000 firefighters perform exciting drills and breathtaking performances.

With its water cannon displays, helicopter-lifts and parades, it is particularly exciting for children, and starts at 10:00 at Nagoya Port, continuing until 11:30.

Where: Garden Pier, Port of Nagoya, Minato-machi, Minato-ku (map)
When: January 13, 2019
Tel: 052-972-3504

Moricoro Park Snow Festival

Nagoya doesn’t often get much snow, but from January 27 to February 25 Moricoro park will see tonnes of the stuff. Two thousand tonnes shipped in from Nagano Prefecture, to be exact.

With a snow play area, trampolines, bouncy castles, and a 50-meter snow slide, this is a great event for your kids to enjoy all forms of fun in the snow. There is also a food market and stage performances as well as snowman art competitions and a kite-making workshop. Admission to the park is free, but the slide and some of the stalls do involve a fee.

Where: Moricoro Park, 1533-1 Otsu, Ibaragabasama, Nagakute-City (map)
When: Weekends and holidays from January 27 (Saturday) to February 25 (Sunday), 2019
Websiteyukimaturi.com

Sagicho Festival

The Sagicho Matsuri began during the Muromachi period (1392-1573) as a ritual to pray for an increased catch for the fishermen living around the port of Morozaki.

Each year on the fourth Sunday of January, the men of the area strip down to fundoushi loin cloths and brave the chilly winter air. On the beach are piled up pyres of New Years gifts and decorations, along with a towering flag bearing a representation of the animal for the Chinese New Year (this year being the Year of the Pig). Once the pile is ready, it is set ablaze, and the loin-clothed men dance around it before dragging burning talismans out into the sea, diving into the icy water as they do so.

Eventually, the immense flagpole is set on fire, representing the festival’s climax. These festivals were once commonplace, but with there being so few fishing families left, there are very few opportunities to see them, making this an essential visit for matsuri completists.

Where: Hayashizaki Morozaki, Minamichita, Chita District (map)
When: January 26, 2019 1:00p.m. – 4:00p.m.
Tel: 0569-65-0711

For more ideas of events and festivals going on in the Nagoya area, check out the always excellent kikuko-nagoya website.

Mark Guthrie

Bariston [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Image: flickr.com by lasta29 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image: via http://www.yukimaturi.com/

ByMark Guthrie
Dec 25, 2018

Getting to know you: Azabu Juban, Tokyo

As one of the most fashionable and exclusive neighborhoods in central Tokyo, Azabu Juban is a fantastic place in which to live or simply enjoy. You can find favorite shopping boutiques, cool little cafes and small independent stores in which you can find something a little different from that of the big chains of some of Tokyo’s more business orientated sectors. The proximity of Hiroo and Roppongi make it one of the more trendy and sought after residential areas of the city.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Azabu Juban. Below are some of our favorites and recommendations.

Festival – Azabu Juban Noryo-matsuri Festival (August)

August sees the area’s annual festival. With a 40 year history, it is one of the most popular in Tokyo, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The traditional Edo downtown atmosphere of the district is enhanced by local businesses setting up stalls to offer traditional goods and foods, including dishes from all over the country. You can also enjoy parades, children’s activities and a variety of music, dance, and taiko drum performances. It starts at 15:00 on each day and goes on until 21:00.

Local Food – Taiyaki at Naniwaya Souhonten

Believe it or not, the upmarket area of Azabu Juban is quite well known for ‘taiyaki,’ a sweet red bean paste-filled fish-shaped cakes originally made for the working classes, is said to have originated here and is ubiquitous at festivals all over the country. You can find some of the best ones at Naniwaya Souhonten, the store at which it is said to have all begun. It has been in business since 1909 and employs traditional ways of making the children’s (and adult’s) favourite, and is well worth trying, though they may spoil you for any substandard taiyaki you might try elsewhere in future

Shopping – Azabu Juban Street

The whole of the Azabu Juban is well known for its shopping, and people come from all over the city to find interesting and eclectic goods in this street with an end-of-Edo vibe. Particularly famed is the areas’ antique markets, and there are loads of back street stores in which you can discover little gems that you are unlikely to find elsewhere in the city. Whether you are into Afro-Indo chic, Italian leather goods, organic foods or even need to pick up something from a 100 Yen tore, Azabu Juban has likely got something for you.

Onsen -Take no Yu

Mention ‘onsen’ hot springs and people immediately think of mountain hideaways and seaside views. However, despite being very much part of the Tokyo metropolis, Azabu Juban has its very own bathing spot. This onsen features a small bathtub for six or seven people and a steam sauna. Meals can be enjoyed in a tatami room, and every weekend you can catch a local variety show. The spring itself is sodium bicarbonate, is blackened thanks to the minimal filtration and is said to be effective for whitening and polishing skin as well as for bruises, chronic digestive disease, and motor paralysis.

Craft Beer – Burger Mania

Not far away in Hiroo, Burger Mania has been going for about five years now and is a great place to indulge in your craft beer (and burger, obviously) longings. The layout is American in style, the staff speaks English, and they have English menus, which makes things a touch easier than some other places. They have six beers on tap plus others by the bottle.  You can get a craft beer tasting set for, and the burgers are pretty great too.

Nissen World Delicatessen

A supermarket in Tokyo with an excellent selection of international foods, wines, and fresh meats. Parking and home delivery available.

Websitewww.nissinham.co.jp/nwd/index.html

2-34-2 Higashi Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Mark Guthrie

Photo: flickr.com “@ azabu juban festival” by ryo katsuma (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ByJason Gatewood
Dec 25, 2018

Furusato Matsuri Tokyo 2019

Like food? Silly question right, of course you like food?! If you are looking for the opportunity to sample dishes from all over Japan, but don’t really have the time on your hands to be bouncing through all 47 prefectures and regions to seek out each individual dish (Or like me, you already have “been there, done that” and want to try that dish again from a long time ago) the “Furusato Matsuri” should definitely be on your list of things to do in the new year.

Furusato Matsuri Tokyo is held annually at the Tokyo Dome in early January. Roughly 400,000 people cycle through the venue, enjoying not only local food from throughout the country but small slices of regional culture as well, in the form of traditional performances and ceremony showcases.

This year there will be a special venues for ramen, sweets as well as craft beer, sake and more to discover as some 300 companies, organizations and bureaus set up shop under the dome. If you’re missing the summer matsuri fun of Japan (or you happen to only be here over the winter months) then this is the perfect time to get your ”washoi” on as we ring in the new year. Oh and don’t worry about the language barrier because this year there is a multilingual smartphone app that will help you out, so keep that battery charger handy!

Access

Tokyo Dome

  • 1 Chome-3-61 Kōraku, Bunkyō-ku, Tōkyō-to 112-0004, Japan ( map link )
  • www.tokyo-dome.co.jp
  • 03-5800-9999
  • 2-minutes walk from Tokyo Metro Korakuen Station [M][N] or 10 minute walk from Suidobashi Station [I][JS]
  • January 11–20, 2019, 10:00–19:00
  • Tickets 1,700 yen / Half-Day 1,400 yen / Evening 1,300 yen

     


— By Jason L. Gatewood

“via Tokyo Dome/Furusato Matsuri website” / Public Domain