We’re back again to give you a few more good apps to try out on your smartphone or tablet to make life a bit easier here in the Metropolis for you. For more iphone apps, and android apps for living in Japan, click those links.
As we’ve said many times before, garbage day in Japan can be a bit… Tedious. Worse yet, different items are collected at different times weekly, bi-weekly, and sometimes monthly and quarterly. You could set up reminders or calendar notifications, but what happens if your collection dates are interrupted by Golden Week or New Year’s holidays? That’s a lot of manual set up that needs to be done every year. Just download this free app and not only are those things taken care of, but you can also be reminded on your Apple Watch as well.
– Get the app (iOS App Store only)
Jokes about dodging the NHK fee collection guys aside, the network still remains one of the best media outlets to get info about Japan in English. Their app delivers streamed video content as well as news articles on cultural, world and domestic affairs in English. The latest update has also added real time emergency bulletin notificaitons about earthquakes and tsunami activity.
– Get the app via their website
Most of the time in Tokyo, getting a taxi is usually a no-brainer, just go out to a busy street and look for a cab with the
空車 sign and flag it down. But if you happen to find yourself in a
dead zone taxi wise, just pop this app open and access 54,000 cabs hooked into the Japan Taxi Network, on-demand. Just as in Uber, you can use your device’s GPS to pinpoint where you are and where you want to go and hail a car. Plus you get the option to pre-calculate the fare and pay through the app itself if you have Apple Pay or Android Pay all set up.
– Get the app: Android iOS
Everybody poops, right? Our lovely country seemingly has a large amount of resources tied up in making sure your time in the john is the best you can experience. Of course it should come as no surprise then to know there’s a website that crowdsources information about the best places to do your business whilst out and about. This app is all about getting the lowdown about the nearest bathroom and ensures you don’t encounter squalid condtions or the dreaded squatty potty, and can drop a deuce in peace. Or you can choose to explore restrooms unknown and add them to the database to help all your fellow Tokyoites find a proper loo.
– Get the app via their website
One thing you’ll come to notice after awhile is the sheer amount of bookstores and reading materials there seem to be in Japan. The literacy rate here has been one of the highest in the world for decades and with that many people able to read, It’s no wonder the pubishing industry churns out more books, newspapers, and other reading materials to keep people informed and entertained. If you are a avid reader, you may be a little envious at the sight of all the books that you can’t read due to the language barrier. Sure there are bookstores that specialize in selling books in English and other languages, and Amazon’s Kindle service is also highly recommended as well, but sometimes you might want to simply borrow a book in the local library or just need a place to stretch out and study. This begs the question: What do Japanese libraries have to offer native English readers?
Some libraries either have a large amount of foreign language books due to a partnership with a university or other local libraries in the area that allow for cross-collection lending. For example residents of Minato Ward can borrow from Temple University Japan’s library by using their online catalog and then submitting a lending request that will have the publication sent to the nearest branch where they can check it out. Other university-city library cooperatives exist as well; it wouldn’t be a big surprise that the university in your area allows local residents to borrow books from their facility as well. This is good because most academic institutions in Japan also participate in an inter-library lending scheme with other libraries, which could also be accessable by you as a local resident.
In the Tokyo area, most municipal libraries of the 23 wards as well as the Kawasaki, Yokohama, Chiba and Saitama city libraries participate in such a scheme; others may also.
Many libraries in Japan lend out movies on DVD. While many of them may be pedestrian public service videos on proper earthquake preparedness or how to cook the perfect bowl of tonkotsu ramen (I’d check that one out in a heartbeat!), don’t be shocked to see a few first-run Hollywood movies in the mix too. If you’re looking to save money on date night and need a good flick to watch, your local public library might just have your hook-up.
Some may also wonder if the same vibe that exists in the libraries back home also can be found here. A lot of misinformation can be found on the internet stating that libraries in Japan only allow those with library cards enter the building or that you can’t bring your own study materials into the building and spend time there. I’ve personally never had any of these experiences, in fact quite the opposite where the librarians would go out of their way to help me to a free table or even let me use a free power outlet to recharge my mobile phone while I read something. Not saying this is the norm and should be expected, but as long as you treat the library in the same manner as the ones you have in your home country, there shouldn’t be any issues.
Depending on where you live, your local library may double as a community center and even offer local government services. Many also offer conference room rentals which you can use to host group meetings for business or a hobby as well. Because of this, there sometimes will be a bulletin board with postings of the different hobby groups meeting in the rooms looking for members. It’s a great way to meet others, and learn something new from your new neighbors. Or, perhaps you may want to start one yourself?
Let’s not overlook the fact we’re in the 21st century and there are those of you out there who may have immediately clutched your Kindles or other e-reader and cocked a very sceptical glance at the title of this article. Hey, I write for digital publications, so I hear ya; actual bound books are so last millennium! Be that as it may, libraries have made the leap into the electronic lending arena around the world and Tokyo based Overdrive is one of the companies at the forefront of the technology. They’re in the process of working with libraries around Japan at the moment but since they’re a Rakuten company, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads across its new home market.
There’s plenty more on offer in your local library, but remember the first rule is likely that you’ll need to live in the area the library serves. Make sure you have proper ID (Zairyu Card with current address in the area served) and you should be well on you way to toshokan bliss.
Japan’s history is one that is rich in character, deep in intrigue and littered with interesting characters. From the pre-history Jōmon period to today’s modern hyper-technological age, dynasties have come and gone, innovations have shaped the world, and many a great man and woman have imposed their personalities on the land.
But perhaps none have been so influential as the man who took a war torn land of disperate, battling domains, bent them to his will, and cemented the idea of how the world sees Japan. That man is the great warrior and shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Though the reign of the Tokugawa bakufu over Japan is synonymous with the capital city it developed, Edo (later Tokyo), their story in fact begins in Okazaki Castle in what is now Aichi Prefecture. Born as Matsudaira Takechiyo in 1542 (it was standard practice for samurai to change names at significant moments in their lives), Ieyasu was kidnapped at the age of five by the neighboring Oda clan, rivals to his father, a minor warlord ruling over Okazaki province.
At the age of nine he was released into the holding of the Imagawa clan, where he was given an education – both academic and military – suitable for a nobleman.
Following the death of his father and his coming of age, at 13 Ieyasu became head of the Matsudaira clan and, under the instructions of the Imagawa, set about battling his one time captors, the Oda. However by the time he had changed his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu (in doing so, claiming connection to the ancient Minamoto clan, more on which later) in 1567, he had switched loyalties and joined forces with the powerful Oda Nobunbaga, and together they battled, expanding their wealth, power base and their reputations for fearsome combatants, with Nobunaga becoming the most powerful of Japan’s samurai warlord ‘daimyos’.
Though their bond was strong and mutually advantageous, the Oda and Tokugawa relationship was put to the test in 1579 when Ieyasu’s wife and his eldest son and heir, Nobuyasu, were accused of a plot against Nobunaga’s life. The discovery of this plan lead to Ieyasu having his wife executed and his son commit ritual suicide, cementing both the Oda-Tokugawa alliance as well as his reputation for merciless retribution.
Although Nobuyasu’s plot was unsuccessful, three years later Nobunaga was eventually murdered by his closest aide, Akechi Mitsuhide. Though Ieyasu raced battle Mitsuhide’s troops, by the time he returned to the Mikawa region, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, another mighty daimyo, had already defeated Mitsuhide. Though he once took up arms against battling with Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, astutely understanding which way the ind was blowing, eventually allied himself with the powerful daimyo, and moved out to the Kanto region, taking over the small port town of Edo. Following the coming battles for conquest, the victorious Hideyoshi would become the most powerful warlord in Japan, effectively making him the nation’s ruler.
As his health faded with old age, Hideyoshi convened five of the most powerful daimyo to, as the “council of five elders”, rule the nation as regents until his young son, Hideyori, came of age. The idea of the council had been that these powerful men opposed each other with such vehemence that they would be unable to agree sufficiently to form alliances strong enough to challenge Hideyori’s ascension. However, following Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, the squabbling regents eventually settled into two camps: the increasingly powerful Ieyasu on one side, and everyone else on the other under the leadership of Hideyori loyalist, Ishisa Mitsunari.
In 1599 Ieyasu’s army took Osaka Castle, residence to the young heir Hideyori, by force. Enraged by this perceived act of treachery Mitsunari planned to have Ieyasu killed, but hearing of the plot Ieyasu’s men turned on Mitsunari. In order to escape, Mitsunari, with the assistance of Ieyasu, disguised himself as a woman and hid within a palanquin fleeing the castle. It is unsure as to why Ieyasu helped his greatest rival cheat death in this way, though it is thought that, in the battle he knew was to come, Ieyasu preferred to face Mitsunari rather than one of the council members, who would have had greater legitimacy.
Two great forces now formed: the Western Army, lead by Mitsunari, and the Eastern Army, under Ieyasu, and following skirmishes along the way, the two great forces met on October 21, 1600 on the rice fields of Sekigahara, in modern day Gifu Prefecture.
With 75,000 men to his opponent’s 120,000, things initially looked bleak for Ieyasu. However, he was known for being a master tactician, and had prior to the battle made arrangements for certain members of the Western Army to turn on Mitsunari and fight for the East. It was this ability to encourage treachery in others, as well as the foresight of arming his forces with the 19 cannons taken from the same Dutch ship that had brought with it the first western samurai, William Adams, that assured victory for Ieyasu.
And to the victor…
The title of ‘shogun’, military dictator of Japan, was one reserved only for those who could prove a direct lineage to historical royalty. However thanks to his foresight in changing his name to Tokugawa – in doing so claiming an unsubstantiated connection with the Minamoto clan – the honor of the title was bestowed upon him by the Emperor in 1603, giving him absolute unrivaled power in the country.
Two years later, Ieyasu abdicated in favor of his son, Hidetada, as a way of ensuring a smooth transition and creating a lasting legacy. However, this did not mean that Ieyasu retired from public life. In fact as ‘oshogo’ (retired shogun) he continued as de-facto ruler of the country, and set about planning massive reconstructions of the nation. In Edo, the city in which he was now settled, he supervised the construction of Edo Castle – a massive project that would become the largest castle in the country – as well as the building of Nagoya Castle and the reconstruction of Kyoto’s Imperial court. As the nation blossomed under his control in relative peace (Hideyoshi continued to be a thorn in Ieyasu’s side until he was killed in 1615’s Summer Siege of Osaka), Ieyasu expanded Japan’s reach of influence by increasing trade with England, in part due to the influence of the aforementioned Adams, while diminishing the power of the Spanish and Portuguese, who he had angered with his 1615 Christian Expulsion Edict.
Tokugawa Ieyasu died 1617, aged 73, and posthumously deified as Tōshō Daigongen, the “Great Gongen, Light of the East”. Whereas the death of the previous unifiers – Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi – had seen other damiyos battling to claim power for themselves, through his forward planning, his cunningness, and his merciless treatment of those who would oppose him, not only did Ieyasu’s heir continue to rule over Japan, but his antecedents held power for more than 250 years after his death.
This time, the Tokugawa era, came to be considered not only a time of peace and prosperity for the nation, but also the cementing of the notion of the samurai way of honor, loyalty and artistic endeavor. It is somewhat ironic that the man who ushered in this era was brutal, cunning, and used treachery to attain his ends. But as the Japanese saying goes, you can’t make omurice without breaking a few eggs.
By Mark Guthrie
Without a little advance planning, midwinter in Japan can seem bleak, especially in the city. Which is precisely why it makes good sense to get out of town. Whether you head for an onsen to drive out the chill, or light out for a winter festival, it’s a good time of year to see what the countryside has to offer.
One of Hiroshima Prefecture’s strangest offerings will be taking place on February 4th at Akiota’s Osorakan Snow Park, a ski field on the slopes of Hiroshima’s highest mountain. It’s the World Igloo Building Championship, and while the world at large may know little about it, this is the sixth year that Akiota’s Tourism Association has sponsored the event. It began in 2013 with 43 teams, made up of citizens from eight different countries, taking part. It’s grown a little each year since, but still offers competitors a reasonable chance at becoming a World Champion.
If you want to participate yourself, you may want to keep this one on file for next year. Slots fill up early for teams. But in many ways, this event is even better as a spectator. You’re free to wander the competition area, sipping at something hot, enjoying the efforts of others and offering encouragement, without doing any of the backbreaking work.
There are actually two competitions that occur side by side. In the Speed Building section, the horn blows at 11 am, and teams plant their flags and work frantically to assemble an igloo in the shortest time possible. They needn’t be elegant, but they must be built in accordance with the rules imposed by WICA, the World Igloo Championship Building Association. In years when the snowpack is icy, cutting and packing the blocks (WICA supplies the necessary tools) can be a sweaty job, even in the snow. The first team to get a pass from the judges goes home as champions.
In the Artistic competition, things proceed at a more leisurely pace, although if anything the level of competition is even higher. The designs range from glowering faces to fairy castles to birthday cakes, with colored snow and other props a standard feature of the finished structures. Teams have four hours in which to complete their igloos, after which the judging takes place.
For the winning teams, there is of course the sheer glory of being the best in the world, but they also go home with 50,000 JPY and a locally made wooden plaque. Second and third place prizes are also awarded, as well as prizes in other categories, like costuming and team flags.
And of course, the entire thing takes place at a ski area, so if you want to hit the slopes at any point, no one’s stopping you. Ski and snowboard rentals are available, and families with small children can play in the “Family Hiroba” area in front of the Miyabata resthouse. At the end of the day you’ll get home late, cold, tired and happy. What more could you ask for in the first week of February?
By As6673 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ah, flea markets, where you learn what you’re really made of. Do you walk out empty handed, or do you go home with the sack of mismatched chess pieces, a tattered sombrero and an embalmed porcupine fish on a stick?
In and around Hiroshima, the term “flea market” covers a lot of territory, from housewives with boxes of stained baby clothes and old exercise routines on VHS to exquisite handmade jewelry and antiques, often sold side by side.
At their best, these markets offer not only bargains, but a chance to interact with locals in a festive, very family friendly atmosphere. The folks manning the stalls range from one-time participants clearing out their closets to professional dealers, and there’s often food and drink for sale, along with a corner for performances. You truly never know what you’re likely to stumble across, so get out there and take a look.
This is one of the bigger markets in town, held regularly on the former grounds of Hiroshima University. Emphasis here is on the “matsuri” portion of the event’s name; the organizers really do try to create a festive atmosphere. The website informs me that the market on February 11 will be the 342nd one held, so these folks know what they’re doing. A wide variety of vendors are on hand selling just about everything you can think of short of functioning military ordnance. If you’re on the hunt for something in particular, be warned that the gates open at 7:00, and other avid buyers arrive early to snap up the best of what’s on offer.
Time: Sunday, February 11, from 7:00. Postponed until the following day in case of rain.
Place: 1-1 Senda-machi, Naka-ku Hiroshima city. The old Hiroshima University Campus.
Website: http://sendawasshoi.web.fc2.com/ (top page displays the date of the next market)
The site of a former amusement park, Kure Port Pier Park is located on the Hiroshima Kure Road, a toll road running along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. The park, usually called “Portpia,” is now host to a series of events, including a number of markets that are worth a visit. In February, for instance, there will be a “Dynamic” market on the weekend of February 10-11, dealing in antiques and clothing. On February 24, another market will also showcase antiques and children’s clothing, along with other handmade items and goods for “daily life.” It will run alongside a local fruit and vegetable market on the same day, which offers other specialty food items as well.
Time: “Dynamic Market,” Saturday and Sunday February 10-11, 9:00-16:00.
“Rakuichi-sai” clothing and antique market, Saturday February 24, 9:30-16:00
Fruit and Vegetable market, Saturday February 24, 9:00-14:00
Place: 2-3 3-Chome, Tennoohama, Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Accessible by car (approx. 25 minutes from downtown Hiroshima) or the JR Kure Line (get off at Portpia Station)
Daisho-in Temple on Miyajima, dating to the 9th century, may seem an unlikely spot for a flea market, but the head priest has allowed vendors into the temple grounds in order to revive the old island market that was long a feature of life here. The larger market is held on the first of each month, and quite a few vendors set up stalls in the temple’s forecourt to sell goods ranging from old kimonos and books to handmade jewelry and folk crafts. There are also occasional performances, and English interpretation is available if needed. If the weather is cooperative, the combination of the setting and the eclectic, always interesting array of stalls makes this a good stop on any trip to Miyajima. A smaller version of the market, called the Okagesama-ichi, is held Saturday to Wednesday from March to early December. And Daisho-in is always worth a visit.
Time: Tsuitachi-ichi Market. The first of each month, rain or shine. 10:30-15:00
Okagesama-ichi Market, Wednesdays to Saturdays, March through early December, unless preempted by temple events. 10:30-15:00
Place: Daishoin Temple, 210 Miyajima-cho Hatsukaichi-shi. A twenty minute walk from Miyajima’s ferry terminal, up the hill from Itsukushima Shrine. Pick up a free map at the terminal if you think you’ll have trouble finding it.
Here in Japan, the image of the hardworking, tie-and-collar, briefcase toting salaryman is still alive and well; my daily commute aboard some of Tokyo’s most notoriously crowded trains is chocked full of them (including myself I suppose.) But just as in the rest of the developed world, the place where work is getting done is changing in Nippon as well. Whether they are road-warriors taking meetings and making client visits on the go, or full-on digital nomads, “Japan Inc” has started to acknowledge the role of the mobile worker. That’s a good thing because that also means the places where mobile work can be done and the attitudes towards it are growing positively as well.
It’s always been a common sight to see workers busily toiling away on their PCs in places like Mister Donut or McDonald’s, but amenities like wifi and power outlets used to be hard to come by; it’s no wonder inventions like portable hotspots and smartphone power packs came into their own over here. Recently the tide has started to change though and at least here in Tokyo, there are many places now that are mobile-worker friendly. Here’s a few of my favorites in no particular order:
These were just a few I know of, let us know your favorite spots in the comments!
Usually the minute you land in another country, you can head over to the nearest mobile phone kiosk or even convenience store in the airport and score a prepaid SIM to pop in your phone that will give you a phone number to be contacted through while visiting. However, thanks to one of Japan’s more arcane telcom laws from the last century, visitors to the country cannot have access to any
permanently connected voice phone lines. In other words, unless you are a citizen or maintain a long-term visa, you can’t obtain traditional voice service on your cellphone. Don’t worry thought; we’re going to use 21st century methods to get around this old 20th century technicality.
There’s still a need for the traditional phone number, even in this age of instant messaging and email; business between strangers is usually conducted through telephone conversations, and doesn’t require the knowledge of what network is connecting the other end; it’s universal, thereby necessary in many cases to have.
You can still pick up a prepaid SIM card almost anywhere electronics are sold; online, at airports and even vending machines. However it will be a data-only card, and the phone number attached is just to provide access to the network. If you visit the shops and see prepaid voice SIMs, do know that the sales people will then ask to see your Japanese ID card to verify identity. Don’t worry though; this is more than enough for the next steps. Usually SMS service is included using the given number to send and receive text messages as well; do make sure SMS is included in your service as a text message will be needed to verify things in our next steps.
With our data connection we can use Voice over IP technology— the tech behind the power to use the open internet as a telephone system. If you are fairly technical there are ways to even use a device or your PC to enable your home phone to connect to the service. For our purposes, we’ll just stick to using apps on our smartphone to get us up and running.
We need a provider and luckily there are many to choose from. Take a trip into Google Play or Apple’s App Store and simply type
050 Japan and you’ll probably see dozens.
050 is the number code that all VoIP communications receive, and when you sign up for one of these services, you’ll get a number in this range that will look like
A good example of this type of service is NTT’s 050 Plus or Brastel’s 050 Free. Simply sign up with a credit card, download their app and use. One other thing: incoming calls in Japan are free to take, so if you simply need a local number to be contacted on, you’re good. If you want to place phone calls to local numbers, you’re also OK but make sure you do some comparative shopping to see which one of these services offer the best deals.
If you really want to make things dead simple, Skype is still there. The Microsoft owned messaging app has been around for years and still offers some of the best deals for getting a local number in different countries. If you already use Skype in some capacity, you should check out their Skype Local Number and Skype Out services to see if it fits your needs. Here in Japan, you’ll get a 050 just as in the other examples, so the same rules and limitations apply as well.
To be fair, you really truly only need a local number for things like filling out official residence and leasing forms, applying for a bank account and so on. I personally keep a 050 number for business contacts to call me on and to give out in an official manner. For 95% of everything else, I use instant messaging apps to talk to pretty much everyone, including workmates.
Japan has one of the highest smartphone users per capita metrics in the world, and the overwhelming majority of them choose to use Apple’s rig, the venerable iPhone. Every iPhone user has Apple’s messaging apps, iMessage and FaceTime built in by default. If you are in Apple’s ecosystem, this means you can simply input your Japanese contact’s number or email address into the phone book on your Apple device and check if you get the FaceTime and iMessage section to light up. If you do, then you can simply give them a call or text them without incurring anything more than internet data charges; and they can connect with you just by using your regular phone number. You may need to teach your Japanese counterparts how to use FaceTime and iMessage though; This is LINE country after all…
Japan’s swiss army knife app, LINE is single-handedly the #1 app used on smartphones by far here. When doing business these days, it’s not uncommon to be exchanging business cards, then LINE contact QR codes. Of course, LINE offers in-app VoIP and video conferencing like most other messaging apps, and there’s no faux pas in telling your new Japan contacts to contact you via the app. Some businesses also use LINE to communicate to their clients, customers, and internally too. LINE is also available for every mobile phone and PC OS so there’s no lock-in here. LINE is the messaging app that started the whole sticker craze, and now it can do anything from call a taxi to order food and clothing, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself using it more than you thought.
Of course, these methods are by no means exhaustive so if you have a tip you’d like to share with us, tell us in the comments section below!
Japan is unquestionably home to an overwhelming number of convenience stores, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know 99% of them have ATMs inside them. The four largest chains operate their own finance subsidiaries to help facilitate those transactions rather than partner with a local bank as is the norm in most other places. Technically this makes them banking institutions in their own right, and 7-Eleven has taken advantage of their position as Japan’s largest operator of “conbini” to turn their ATMs into bank branches. Internet-only banking has been around in Japan for around 10 years now; they don’t have physical branches, but accessible via the web or smartphone application to open and make transactions on the account. 7-Eleven Japan’s 7-Bank takes the concept one step further by providing access to all accounts via their ATM network in their over 18,000 locations throughout Japan. I recently opened an account with them and was pleasantly surprised to find that 7-Bank is a trendsetting bank in Japan for many reasons.
The biggest draw for me was hearing how I could conduct business in English online. It may seem pretty strange to hear, but there are very few banks that have bilingual websites for accessing your account. (Thank goodness the ATMs in Japan can be flipped to show English for the most part.) The only other bank I’ve ever encountered where English can be the lingua franca is Shinsei Bank, and they have been my go-to main bank for about 10 years now for many of the same reasons. But 7-Bank also knows Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Portuguese. Not only the website but all posted correspondence is in whatever language you choose. Brilliant! Of course this also goes for the customer service hotline operators as well.
Not only will you find 7-Bank ATMs in any 7-11 store, but also Ito-Yokado, Sogo and Seibu department stores, Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera shops, and just hanging around in train and subway stations too. Money withdrawals are fee-free in the middle of the day (7am~7pm) but incur service charges of ¥216 all other times.
7-Bank is one of very few banks in Japan offering a debit card that deducts payments from your account. It does seem strange coming from another country where Visa and MasterCard branded debit cards are the norm, but Japan has yet to really embrace it yet and many banks don’t offer them. 7-Bank offers JCB branded cards that are accepted in 99% of all places taking credit cards in Japan, but there are a few places that don’t (I’m looking at you Square register users!) As for overseas acceptance, check with JCB to find out if it can be used in your travels; the Cirrus network is used, meaning it should be available wherever MasterCard and Discover can be used, but the devil is in the details. Even if the JCB sticker isn’t on the cash register where you’re headed, you should have no worries locating an ATM to withdraw cash.
Fairly recently 7-Bank entered into a partnership with a few remittance service companies to give customers the convenience of being able to wire funds overseas. With Western Union being one of those services, it should be no problem to make sure you have enough money in your bank account back home to make sure those nagging bills are getting paid and loved ones can be helped if needed.
Pretty much every store in Japan has a way of collecting loyalty points that can later be cashed in for goods and services. 7-11 has the Nanaco service whereby you load a prepaid card up with cash and use it to purchase items, gaining points in the process. You can choose to have your new debit card also function as a Nanaco card for these purposes as well. In addition, the card will also award points based on any transactions taking place in the account. From receiving salary pay and deposits, to buying groceries and paying bills, Nanaco points will accrue. The points themselves can be redeemed for goods and services at any 7-11 group store or restaurant.
Simply go to their website (PC or mobile is OK) and select your language of choice. Fill out the online form and make sure you note your particular visa status. 7-Bank will then send you an envelope so you can mail them copies of your ID and utility bill in your name to verify your address. You should then receive your card and account opening paperwork in the post within 5 days if all goes well. The entire process took me 2 weeks from start to receiving my debit card in hand.
The mobile app isn’t just a recreated version of their website; it is very useful when checking your account on-the-go, in those few places and times when a 7-11 ATM isn’t around. The usual transactions can be handled through the app, and customer service is just a tap away as well. There’s also the added convenience of a lightweight budget planning function as well. Each time a transaction occurs, the app tries to categorize it based on the place and amount debited or added (“Grocery” for supermarkets, “Transport” for when you buy Shinkansen tickets, etc) These are all editable and can be used to figure out the answer to burning questions such as, “Did I really spend all that money on the izakaya last month?”
It may seem strange to say this, but if you’re just landed in Japan and looking for a good place to stash your funds, 7-Bank may be the right fit for you; they’ve certainly made it convenient enough! The only downside — that strange feeling you may have when using your 7-11 debit card to pay at a Lawson’s or FamilyMart.
If you fancy spending a day or two checking out the beauty and serenity of some of Japan’s finest Buddhist temples, it’s worth heading to the Kansai region. There are over 2000 temples in Kansai, many of them UNESCO listed heritage sites attracting yearly visitors from across the globe.
The oldest part of Japan, Kansai is rich in history and culture. The earliest people arrived in the region around 10,000 years ago. Buddhism was introduced by Chinese travellers in the 6th century and spread throughout the country. It’s Japan’s second most popular religion after Shinto.
Here are five of the best temples to visit in Kansai…
Situated on Mt. Otowa, Kiyomizu-dera (meaning ‘temple of clear water’) is one of Kyoto’s biggest tourist attractions and is renowned for its wonderful architecture and views across the city. A shrine to the goddess Kannon, it was originally built during the 8th century. Most of its current building dates from the 17th century, when it was refurbished following a great fire.
Kiyomizu-dera is popular for its Hondo (central hall and main building), a dramatic overhanging building supported by the surrounding forest and featuring a 13-metre-high stage. You can also find the Jishu-jinja shrine to finding love, popular with young visitors, and the Otowa Waterfall where tourists queue up to drink the spring water which is believed to bestow good luck.
Admission price: Adults 300 yen, Children 200 yen
The Todaiji temple is one of the major tourist attractions in Nara prefecture. A Kegon temple built by Emperor Shomu in the 8th century, it is said to have been created as a way of asking the gods for eternal peace and freedom from disaster.
This glorious temple is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside, you will find the famed Daibutsu – the bronze ‘Great Buddha’ statue. At an incredible 18 metres tall, it’s the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan and one of the largest bronze statues in the world. It is believed that the Daibutsu is praying for the people of Japan to be joined together by the virtue of kindness.
Admission price: Adults 500 yen, Children 300 yen
This is the must-see temple if you’re a fan of statues. This 120-metre-long building – the longest wooden structure in Japan – houses over 1000 life-size statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Seated right at the centre is a gigantic Buddha statue with 20 pairs of arms and 11 faces.
Built in the 12th century, Sanjusangen-do (meaning ’33 columns’ referring to the 33 columns within the building structure) is another of Kyoto’s most popular tourist attractions and is located only 15 minutes from the train station.
Admission price: Adults 600 yen, Children 300 yen
One of the oldest and among the seven Great Temples of the Heian period, Kofukuji is a Hosso sect temple and was built in the 7th century under instructions of the wife of a statesman called Kamatari, to pray for his recovery from illness. Located at the entrance of Nara Park, it features an impressive 45-metre-tall five-story pagoda that can be seen from all around the park.
Admission price: Adults 600 yen, Children 200 yen
Enryakuji is situated at the top of Mt. Hieizan in Shiga prefecture. It is one of the most sacred Buddhist locations in Japan and a place where monks frequently travel for enlightenment. It is actually a series of small temples divided into three areas on the mountain – East Pagoda, West Pagoda and Yokowa. These areas can be covered in around an hour on foot following a 10-minute cable car journey to the summit. A tourist favourite due to the breathtaking views is on offer.
Admission price: Adults 700 yen, Children 300 yen
In the eastern suburbs of Nagoya, not far from the transport hub station of Ozone, lies Tokugawa Park, an oasis of serenity that is often overlooked by tourists and locals alike. That it is so overlooked is a shame, yet it can be very much a blessing, meaning as it does that when you visit you may have the place pretty much to yourself, and it retains its peacefulness and tranquility.
Following the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu uniting Japan in the early 17th century, those who bore his family name found their wealth and power grow exponentially in the coming years. Family members of the Owari Tokugawa, to which Ieyasu had the closest links, became the most senior of the Tokugawa houses as it governed the Owari Domain from its center of power, the newly built Nagoya Castle.
With years of prosperity cemented, in 1695 the retiring Owari lord Tokugawa Mitsumoto looked to build a vast residential retreat away from the castle grounds at where he could live out his days in comfort. The location for this rural getaway spanned some 44 hectares, and takes up much of what is now known as Ozone.
In the 1930s the then head of the Owari clan, Tokugawa Yoshichika,decided that “the time had come to present the property to the community”. However, one stipulation for the return, through The Tokugawa Reimeikai Foundation, was the creation of a museum and public park. Though the park was mostly destroyed during the bombing raids of World War 2, it was reopened in 2004, and this area has become Tokugawaen, or Tokugawa Garden.
While just a fraction of what the park had once been, Tokugwaen is a beautiful representation of how samurai life may have looked. Though the Ryosenko Lake is no longer large enough to hold a 16 oar boat as it had been in its prime, it still forms the centerpiece of the garden, and it is filled with large, multi-colored koi carp that are so tame that they come to the waters edge to greet visitors.
Feeding the lake are tributary streams and creeks, the trickling of which adds to the serenity as you wander along sun dappled paths, duck beneath overhanging branches and explore stone footbridges that lead to small waterfalls and beautiful rock formations.
Throughout the park there are enchanting gardens of various seasonal flowers, making it a charming area around which to perambulate no matter the time of year. However, it is perhaps most popular in both the autumn, when the maple leaves turn a vibrant red, and from February to April, when the park comes alive in all shades of pink with the blooming of at first the plum blossoms and then the cherry blossoms. Rather than being a site for raucous hanami parties, it is instead an idyllic spot in which to enjoy the colors of the spring season in peace.
At the southern end of the park you can find Tokugawa Art Museum, Japan’s fourth oldest privately-endowed museum, and while it may not be one of Nagoya’s most famous, it offers an insight to the world of the samurai rulers like no other.
With most of the artifacts on display donated by the Tokugawa family along with the park grounds, the museum’s exhibits offer the visitor a perhaps unrivaled understanding of the shogun Ieyasu.
The exhibits include ten National Treasures amongst the priceless collection of art objects, furnishings and heirlooms, as well as swords, armor, Noh costumes and lacquer furniture. However, perhaps the most important artifacts in the museum’s collection are the extremely rare sections of the early 12th century illustrated Tale of Genji, some of the oldest of their kind remaining in Japan.*
For visitors interested in literature, there is a further wealth of information in the nearby Hosa Bunko library that houses a huge collection that has been passed down through the generations of the Owari Tokugawa family. The most fascinating part of this is the more than 3,000 volumes of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s very own personal library.
As well as these excellent permanent exhibitions, there are also various seasonal exhibitions throughout the year, making it a spot to which you can return again and again.
*Being one of the earliest remaining depictions of this epic tale, the Genji exhibit is only available to the public for one week in November.
By Mark Guthrie