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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Mark Guthrie
Perhaps one of the first things you realized about domestic life in Japan was that everything you knew about laundry had suddenly changed. In Japan the washing machines are much smaller, and use only cold water. Yikes! To really blow your mind… Japanese folks also do not generally separate colours… maybe the first few times, but after that it all goes in the soup.
While automatic clothes dryers are standard in most ex-pat homes, the rest of Japan has to make do with a shared solution; it’s called the sun. We line dry here, it works…really! Some people do have electrical dryers, but they are unusual, and from what I hear they do not work very well as they tend to be combinations washer and dryer units.
Since you might not be familiar with cold water washing we thought it might be good to give you a quick overview! One good point of using cold water rather than a warm or hot is that you save on your power bill; another is that you prevent about 400kg of carbon pollution that would have been created. Line drying saves about 12,000 JPY a year, and over 1,200kg of carbon. Between the two, that is a tremendous savings and a great thing for the environment.
The basic problem is… clothes get cleaner in hotter water. Decreasing the wash temperature hampers your cleaning and stain removal power, which falls quickly with each drop in temperature. Since hot is not an option for us here, we must overcome the cold.
Happy washing everyone!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 –www.seijoishii.co.jp/shop
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.
An international supermarket in Tokyo. Parking available. Home delivery available for purchases from 10,000 JPY.
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 is a supermarket chain with a large international store in their Kita Aoyama branch. It also has a French delicatessen.
Specializing in Latin foods and music DVDs.
Tel: 03-6408-0748, 10:00 – 19:00
Specializing in Indian food products online shopping.
Image: flickr.com “Come On William, Let’s Go to Costco and Take Pictures“ Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified
Each prefecture in Japan has different rules and requirements for driver licensing. For the most accurate information please contact the licensing center in your area directly. You can find your local center by clicking this link, where we have prepared a list for you.
Foreign license conversion in Japan can be divided generally into two groups, depending on what country issued the foreign license.
Please note that this article may or may not be fully updated, but it should be generally correct. If you want the most updated information on this topic, you should jump right now to japandriverslicense.com that site will be fully updated basically all the time.
The first group includes license holders able to convert their foreign licenses directly to a Japanese license. For this group, conversion is a shorter bureaucratic paperwork process that takes a couple of weeks and one to two visits to the License Center. If your license was issued in one of these countries;
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, or USA (only Maryland [from Jan 2016] or Washington [from Jan 2017] )
If the license is valid (not expired, etc.), and you can prove residency in that country for a minimum of 3 months after license issuance you are not required to take either the written test or road test to convert your license.
The second group includes license holders who require both a written and a driving test in order to get a Japanese driver’s license.
Valid foreign license holders from countries not listed above who can prove a minimum of 3 months residency in the country that issued the license, after it was issued, may be allowed to convert their license only after filing paperwork, taking a short written test, and passing a driving test on an enclosed course at the Testing Center in your prefecture.
Now that you have determined what group you are in, let’s take a look at the process using this flowchart:
Now that you have the overall picture, let’s go a little deeper.
To start the process, both groups of license holders need to obtain an official translation of their foreign driver’s license from an approved source. This is most commonly done through the Japan Auto Federation (JAF). We can coordinate this translation for you as part of our paid services. If you are interested in purchasing this, or any of our other services, please see our website.
After you obtain your official translation, you must go to the Licensing Center that serves your area with, at least the following (each area has slightly different requirements and procedures):
The application procedure at each License Center varies; but they all inspect your documents to make sure that you have lived in the country that issued your license for at least three months after your license was issued, and that all of your documentation is up-to-date and complete. There may be other steps required. Contact your local center for information!
Standard eye test; you should point in the direction that the arrow is pointing (your local center may be different but probably not). Once you pass the eye exam:
The written test for license conversion is much simpler than the test given to people getting their first license. The test itself is available in English; however, the instruction session just prior to the test will most likely be in Japanese. The main point of the Japanese explanation to understand is that in Japan X means false and O means true, and that when you have completed the test you may leave the room (again, your local center may be different). The best way to study for the test is to read the Japan Auto Federations book, in English, “Rules of the Road.”
Read more about the written test, or take a practice test here
Once you pass the eye exam and written test, you will be scheduled for your driving test. The test is not usually given on the same day you apply; you will probably have to come back to the testing center. Most likely; it will be a testing block period, rather than a specific time. You may be able to change this schedule on the spot or over the phone later. You will usually also receive a map of the driving course, which you will be required to drive from memory on test day. If the chance is offered, take the opportunity to walk the driving course before you leave, it will help you to memorize it.
Read more about the driving test here
If you do not speak Japanese it may be difficult to get through these steps, and but not impossible. Most centers require that you bring someone with you who can speak Japanese.
Depending on the driving center, you may be required to pay an additional car rental fee. Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting. When your turn comes, you will be required to get in the car and drive the prescribed course with an examiner, who will speak only in Japanese. It is necessary to memorize all the turns and elements of the course in advance as you will not receive instructions from the proctor.
If you make a “major” mistake you will fail on the spot. Whether or not you passed, you will be instructed to go inside and wait for the results with the other test takers. If you were not successful, you’ll be given a paper with your next scheduled opportunity to try again. If you are successful, you should receive your new license that day. This will entail paying more fees, getting your picture taken, and filling out forms.
Read more about taking the driving test, or see our guide to common street signs in Japan here.