Monthly Archive January 2018

ByMark Guthrie
Jan 23, 2018

Tokugawa Garden and Art Museum in Nagoya

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.

A samurai’s retreat

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.

A hidden oasis of calm

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.

An Unrivaled View of a Shogun

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.

Lacquerware inlaid with the Tokugawa family crest

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.

Tokugawa Garden and Art Gallery Details

*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

Image by Catherine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

Image by Catherine (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

Image by Adam Jakubiak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

Image by jpellgen (@1179_jp) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

ByJustin Hanus
Jan 23, 2018

8 Popular Historic Sites in Kobe

Ikuta Inari Shrine

Places brimming with history exude that magical charm tourists cannot resist. It’s always on our list of must do’s when traveling to visit castles, temples, shrines, museums, churches and every single historical site that transports us back to the past. We marvel at the architectural craftsmanship and ingenuity of the men and women from centuries ago who built and lived around these works of art. It’s something, like shopping, that we never miss out on on our trips to places we’ve never been to before.

Japan, especially Kobe, is lush with history and cultural influences due to the amalgamation of the east and west as foreign trade was opened in the 1800’s. This port city now is dotted with the remainders of the communities that were set up by the Westerners as well as the preserved local sites that have survived and thrived despite the signs of the times. Tourists and locals continue to enjoy the beauty of the past and learn history at the same time. The list below is of the different popular sites everyone should visit when in Kobe.

Ikuta Shrine

If you love to watch historical plays, visit this prestigious shrine and be enthralled with the Noh plays, Ebira and Ikuta Atsumori, retelling the Genpei war during the late-Heian period. The shrine is the actual site of this war including the lands around it which was once still a part of the structure. The plays are performed every year during the Autumn Festival called Akimatsuri.

Kobe Kitano Museum

In 1898, this museum was built as the American consulate building. Today, now houses art works that displays the Kitano Ijinkan-gai and the masterpieces of the artists from the Montmartre district of Paris. It is also one of the most prominent buildings among the line of Western infrastructure that have been preserved for decades.

Yuzuruha Shrine

It’s history with a modern twist. Why? The shrine houses the symbol of soccer for Japan. Soccer players flock here to pray for good luck. It’s a typical shrine but its serene walking paths and pink cherry blossoms will give you the kind of peace you’re looking for in places of worship. For people who travel with dogs, you won’t have to worry about them getting thirsty after walking around with you because there’s a designated water fountain for them.


This Shingon-shu temple, also called Joya-san Fukusho-ji, was built in 886. Famous historical figures drew inspiration from the charming cherry blossoms and the vast grounds in writing poetry such as waka, haiku and even Chinese poems. If you love mechanical art, you’ll enjoy watching the pieces like marionette clocks that are displayed inside.

Nankinmachi (Chinatown)

There seems to always be a Chinatown in most cities in Asia and even the world. Kobe has one too which dates from 1868 when the city opened its port to foreigners. The Chinese who arrived in the area were called “people from Nanking” hence its name today. It is now the center of Chinese culture and activity in the Kansai region. Tourist flock to shop, dine and simply savor the fusion of cultures that this neighborhood has to offer.


Situated right at the foot of the Rokko mountain range, this city district was were the foreigners built their offices and houses when they arrived after the port was opened for foreign trade. The Ijinkan, as the mansions are called, are well preserved and were turned into museums for the public to enjoy and learn from. For a reasonable fee, you are able to view the original furniture and household artifacts that were once used by the residents. After visiting the museums, you can take a stroll and perhaps rest a bit and have coffee and pastries in one of the cafes in the area.

Kazamidori no Yakata

You will never miss the weathercock that proudly sits on a steeple in one of the buildings along Kitano-cho, thus, it’s also called the Weathercock Mansion. The rooster doesn’t only indicate the direction of the wind but also wards off evil spirits and promotes the Christian doctrine. Another name for it is the Old Thomas Residence. This brick colored structure is now considered an important cultural property of the country.

Arima Onsen

Tourists and locals alike love to take a dip in the hot springs in Kobe. It’s been famous for centuries as it has been mentioned in documents dating back in the 8th century A.D. Famous monks in the history of Japan, like Gyoki and Ninsai who lived five centuries apart were known to visit Arima and in fact the latter was completely enamored with the area so he helped in developing it. Other famous figures such as Hideyoshi Toyotomi spent some time here. Today, there are already more than 20 hotels and inns for everyone to choose from and relax in.

Photo by tak1701d (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMark Guthrie
Jan 22, 2018

Samurai Beauty at Inuyama’s Urakuen Garden Near Nagoya

One of the most interesting aspects of the samurai era is how they managed to marry a continual warlike state, enforced by a barbarous ruthlessness with an appreciative joy for the beauty in simplicity of their art forms. Today the city of Inuyama near Nagoya still manages to perfectly illustrate this duality.

Overlooking the city is Inuyama Castle,a Japanese National Treasure and one time home to the feared warlord Oda Nobunaga, the first of the country’s three great unifiers. But just a stone’s throw from that monument to the violent power that the Oda clan held over the region, is a stunning representation of the beauty and transience that the samurai, and the Oda, could demonstrate: Urakuen Japanese Garden and its adjoining Teahouse Joan.

History of Teahouse Joan

Designated a National Treasure in 1936, Teahouse Joan was designed by Oda Urakusai, younger brother to the warrior Nobunaga, and was first built in Kyoto in 1618 in the grounds of the Kyoto temple Kennin-ji. Urakusai, a great enthusiast for the tea ceremony who would renounce his own violent past, was a disciple of Sen no Rikyu, Japan’s most famous tea ceremony master, and in accordance with the strict rites and aesthetics of the Tea Ceremony, the teahouse is of a simple design. It has low, wooden shingle roofs and clay-clad bamboo lattices, and peering inside you can see a number of unique ‘fusuma’ paper sliding doors, as well as an ancient lunar calendar. Classic, elegent, strikingly simple, it is considered by many to be a masterpiece of teahouse architecture, and one of Japan’s three finest teahouses.

Urakuen Japanese Garden

Befitting of the home of such a charming representation of a nation’s cultural heritage, Urakuen Japanese Garden garden is designed with the aesthetic of the tea ceremony in mind. Named after Urakusai himself (the name roughly means Uraku’s gardens) like the teahouse Urakuen it is imbued with the concept of beauty in simplicity. Wandering along the stone-paved paths that cut through bamboo groves, you can feel the calmness and serenity that is associated with one of Japan’s most famous art forms.

Also at Urakuen

As well as the Joan Teahouse there are other buildings of interest within Urakuen. Based on designs of another Urakusai teahouse, Genan Teahouse is a restored building created in the ‘teishudoku’ form. If you want to actually take part in a ceremony for yourself (unfortunately this is not possible in Joan, due to its National Treasure status), Koan Teahouse is open for seasonal tea parties. For visitors all year round, at Syodenin Shoin, a building in which Urakusai spent much of his later life, you can enjoy drinking green tea on the veranda and eat delicious Japanese sweets unique to Urakuen, all served on locally made china.

Urakuen Japanese Garden Details

  • Where: Within the grounds of the luxury Meitetsu Inuyama Hotel. 1, Gomonsaki, Inuyama-City, Aichi (map)
  • When: The garden and teahouse is open 9:00 to 17:00, seven days a week (though times may vary by season
  • Website:
  • Admission: 1000 JPY for the garden, or 1300 JPY including access to Inuyama Castle. Guests of the Meitetsu Inuyama Hotel are entitled to a 200 JPY reduction.


By Mark Guthrie

Image by Bong Grit (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via 

Image by Yuya Tamai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

Image by Yuya Tamai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via (modified)

ByMark Guthrie
Jan 20, 2018

Sake Tasting in Tokyo


Sake, of course, is famous around the world for being Japan’s national drink. Though the drinking of Chinese alcohol is thought to predate recorded history, it is believed that sake as it is currently known – made up of rice, water and ‘kōji’ mold – dates from around the Nara period (710 to 794), and then later used for religious ceremonies court festivals as well as drinking games.

Originally the production of sake (actually called ‘nihonshu’ in Japan, with ‘sake’ being a term to cover all alcoholic drinks) was the preserve of the government, but later it was made by temples and shrines. Nowadays there are many breweries, or ‘kura’ around the country (in 2007 there were approximately 1700 kura making around 10,000 different types of sake), so getting acquainted with it can be tough for the uninitiated. Thankfully, while the Tokyo area isn’t particularly famed for its sake production, you there are many places at which you can give it a taste.

Meishu Center – Minato-ku

The Meishu Center is probably one of the best known nihonshu tasting spots in the city. Although it has the appearance of a busy standing bar, it is in fact a sake promotional center that offers tastings. A tasting glass starts at 200 JPY, choosen from around 100 types of sake from about 40 breweries. The menus for tasting sets come in both English and Japanese, and you can even tell staff your preferences and let them compose a menu just for you.

Kozue – Shinjuku

If you want to drink sake in a bar with real ‘wow’ factor, then it has to be Kozue. Located on the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, it is probably head and shoulders – and then some – above the rest. Of course you are going to pay for this view, as well as the ambiance of the sleek hardwood interiors (think 10-20 times what you might pay in Meishu Center), but the list is pretty extensive, and always changing, with different kura being showcased each month.

Hasegawa Saketen – various locations

If you are looking for ease of access, the famous sake exporter Hasegawa Saketen is pretty handy, with seven locations around Tokyo. Predominantly set up as sake shops as opposed to bars, there are plenty of different types of nihonshu to try (if not quite so many as in Meishu Center). Each place has a slightly differing atmosphere – the location in Tokyo Skytree certainly feels like a store, while the outlet in Kameido has got a definite bar vibe.

Kuri – Ginza

Perhaps the complete antithesis to the Park Hyatt’s Kozue, Kuri sake bar in Ginza is just about the drink. There is a simple food menu to accompany your brew, but this simple and highly unpretentious bar takes its sake seriously. At any one time you can find up to 150 bottles with helpful sommeliers to assist you in composing your tasting flight.

Sasahana – Ginza

Also in Ginza is Sasahana, one of the more fashionable, yet stylish places to sample sake in Tokyo. The restaurant is mix of classic Japanese design with a flash of contemporary ostentation, and this is mirrored in the sake menu with dozens of mainstream labels nestling in amongst more interesting, artisan brands.

Sawanoi – Oume

While it is all well and good popping out to a bar to sample the nihionshu delights, it is quite another thing to check it out at its source. The Sawanoi brewery in Oume has been making nihonshu for more than 200 years, so you can be assured that they know what they are doing. Okay, at a 90 minute train journey from central Tokyo, it isn’t the most convenient of places at which to wet your whistle. However the tour is pretty interesting (though an English pamphlet aside, entirely in Japanese) and after it is finished you can sit in their riverside garden bar and sample – at retail price – their products.



Mark Guthrie

Image: “Sake Tasting groucho (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified

ByMark Guthrie
Jan 20, 2018

International Supermarkets in Tokyo


Japanese food is celebrated the world over, and you are perhaps lucky to live in a country in which the cuisine is held in such high regard. However, sometimes you just hanker after something that tastes of home. Fortunately, some supermarkets cater in particular to those wishing to purchase international foods.

While products on sale at these stores are often imported and thus come at a substantially higher cost, they are increasingly popular with both locals and ex-pats alike.

COSTCO Wholesale Japan

You probably all ready know this membership only giant grocery store carrying imported and Japanese goods. Low wholesale prices and bulk quantities. Ample parking. There are a few locations dotted around (though not in) Tokyo.

Seijo Ishii

Seijo Ishii can be found in many cities, often in or around central train stations and carries products from all over the world, including French cheese, Australian wine and American candy.

Full store listings –

Kaldi Coffee Farm

An international supermarket that sells much, much more than coffee. There are many locations around the city as well as online shopping.


There are something like 70 branches in Tokyo. Find one nearest you here.


Meidi-ya is a nationwide departments store selling gourmet foods including a wide array international goods. There are plenty of stores around Tokyo, and the Hiroo store in Shibuya offers an English speaking service.

National Azabu

An international supermarket in Tokyo. Parking available. Home delivery available for purchases from 10,000 JPY.

Nissen World Delicatessen

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

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

Kinokuniya International Store

Kinokuniya is a supermarket chain with a large international store in their Kita Aoyama branch. It also has a French delicatessen.

B1 3-11-7 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku

Mundo Latino

Specializing in Latin foods and music DVDs.

Tel: 03-6408-0748, 10:00 – 19:00

3F. Ochiai Bldg., 1-12-12 Higashi Gotanda, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo

 Spice Home

Specializing in Indian food products online shopping.


Mark Guthrie

Image: “Come On William, Let’s Go to Costco and Take Pictures Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified