Monthly Archive June 2018

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 29, 2018

Symbolism of Japanese Flowers

Cherry Blossom Tree

Every season of the year, Japan comes into bloom with different flowers. Whereas you’re likely familiar with cherry blossoms, you may not know that there are also Japanese apricots, violets, chrysanthemums, and more. Beyond being beautiful, each one of these flowers has a special meaning in Japanese culture. This is useful to know if you want to give a gift of flowers or even something that features the image of a flower. In fact, it may help you express a sentiment better than you could with words.

Cherry Blossoms

The most important flower is the cherry blossom, the national symbol of Japan. Called sakura, it is an embodiment of wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy of accepting, and even finding beauty in, imperfection. The cherry blossom is especially important in the Shinto religion, where it symbolizes renewal and the temporary nature of life. After all, cherry trees only blossom for a short time between March and May.

Chrysanthemum

The chrysanthemum flower in Japan is called kiku. Associated with the imperial family, it features on the Imperial Seal of Japan, the 50-yen coin, and Japanese passports. A longstanding tradition has been to make kiku flowers into dolls representing historical figures.

Kiku blooms with vibrant red and purple flowers as well as with white flowers, which mean death. You’ll frequently see white kiku at funerals and on graves. The flowers are also edible and brewed into tea to promote a long life.

Lotus

The lotus is an important flower because, although it is rooted in the mud, it grows a long stalk to reach the top of the water, where it appears to float. Its ability to do this symbolizes enlightenment and purity in Buddhism. To add to the meaning, there is the fact that drops of water are unable to penetrate the flower; instead, they slide off the petals, signifying detachment.

Japanese Apricots

Also called Japanese plum or ume, Japanese apricot trees are some of the first to bloom, right at the end of winter. With their flowers, you can express faithfulness and a pure heart. The blossoms also mean elegance.

Camellia

Another late-winter flower, you may recognize the pink, red, and white blossoms of the camellia — they appear on traditional Japanese patterns. Called tsubaki in Japanese, the flowers symbolize humility, admiration, and discretion. They feature more in art than as gifts due to the delicateness of the flowers. Plus, the blossom is not the only part of this plant used in Japan: the seeds can be turned into oil and the leaves into tea.

Violets

In Japanese, violets are called sumire, which means ink container (because of the shape of the flower). Violets are a common gift, as they are an ideal way to show appreciation for a family member or friend and to express sincerity or love. It helps that violets grow just about everywhere — from the mountains to the plains and even in urban areas.

Knowing the symbolism of the flowers that play a role in Japanese celebrations, art, literature, and even movies will help you understand the culture on another level. Once you know what flowers mean, you’ll start noticing that they appear everywhere.

By Picturetokyo at English Wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMark Guthrie
Jun 27, 2018

Getting Away in Japan: Fukui

Despite being located within Japan’s ‘Snow Country’ and facing out into the Sea of Japan, Fukui Prefecture doesn’t quite attract the hordes of tourists that other more famous parts of Japan gets. However, that means that when you visit there are less people to with whom you must share the dramatic scenery, crystal clear waters, ancient history and exciting parks that this delightful part of Japan offers.

Here are a few of the top spots that you should check out in Fukui Prefecture.

Crystal Beach and Mizushima Resort

Crystal Beach, also known as Suishohama, is perhaps Fukui Prefecture’s most beautiful, accessible beach, and that is certainly saying something in this area of natural coastline beauty. With crystal clear waters and powdery white sand it is the image of idylic, and its calm, gently undulating waves makes it ideal for bathing. While rarely overcrowded, it has the full amenities that you require of a beach resort, and it is perfect for beach lovers of all ages.

If you want to head to a beach that is a little more secluded, hop on a ferry to Mizushima Resort, an uninhabited island on the tip of the Tsuruga Peninsula. Perhaps Fukui’s best kept secret, ferries to the island take about 10 minutes from Irogahama Pier, and it is very much worth the trip.

Tojinbo

Further along the coast, northwards from the beautiful beaches, the scenery becomes a whole lot more dramatic. Tojinbo is a one kilometer stretch of jagged, rugged coastline carved down the centuries by the punishing relentlessnes of the Japan Sea, forming towering hexagonal statuesque rock piles, a unique geological formation that can be seen in only three spots around the world and nowhere else in Japan.

Walk along this area of outstanding natural beauty through trails 30 meters above waves that hammer through chasms, and clamber down to the very water’s edge. Though be warned, the area was named for a monk who tumbled into the ferocious seas to his untimely demise.

At the end of the trail, past the obligatory restaurants, is a path to a small fishing village and then on to Oshima Island, but for those wanting a more relaxing experience – or wish to keep a more respectful distance from the bluffs – there is a boat tour that takes 30 minutes, but does not run at times of high or rough tides.

Eiheiji

One of the two main Soto Zen Buddhist temples in Japan, Eiheiji was founded in 1244 by the great monk Dogen, the key bringer of Soto Zen Buddhism to Japan. Today a training monastery with more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence, as of 2003 Eihei-ji saw 800,000 visitors and pilgrims visit each year, though there has been some decline in the years since.

The large temple complex is made up of more than 70 buildings and structures, most of which are connected  by covered walkways, enabling monks, nuns and visitors to manouver around its many areas, protected from the heavy snow seen in the region from December to March.

While access is allowed to many of the beautiful old structures, unfortunately much of the temple does not permit the general public. However, those with Zen Buddhist experience may, with prior arrangements made, remain on the grounds as participants and be treated as religious trainees.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Religion isn’t the only way in which Fukui has historical relevance. The area is one of the most fertile areas for dinosaur research, with the country’s most prolific excavation site found in Katsuyama City.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is dedicated to dinosaur research and education and is considered one of the top dinosaur museums in the world.

With the museum covering four floors, visitors can find more than 40 dinosaur skeletons on display including examples of the local Fukui-raptor and Fukui-saurus, both of which were found nearby and all have superb explanations in both English and Japanese. Other highlights include several life size animatronic dinosaurs, such as an incredibly life-like Tyrannosaurus Rex that greets visitors as they enter.

Shibamasa World

If the Dinosaur Museum is interesting for both kids and adults, Shibamasa World is aimed squarely at the younger generations.

This huge amusement park has got everything to entertain your family of all ages, with a Viking ship, rollercoasters, go-karts, laser rifle clay pigeon shooting, a motorboat cruise, archery, a toddler’s fun house and much, much more.

Perhaps the biggest attractiuon is the pool and water slides, one of which – The Monster Slider –  is claimed to be the biggest of its kind in the world, and new this year sees the coming of The Monster Wing, which looks absolutely terrifying.

Camping at Shibamasa World is available, however you will need to book in advance.

 

For further information on Fukui Prefecture, check out the Tourist Board’s website here.

Getting Away in Japan

This article is part of a Japan Info Swap series about traveling around Japan. Check out the others in the series here.

By Mark Guthrie

Photo by G Witteveen  (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flickr.com -Modified

Photo by http://www.suishohama.com

Photo by M Reza Faisal  (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flickr.com -Modified

Photo by Tak H.  (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flickr.com -Modified

Photo by Hideya HAMANO  (CC BY-SA 2.0) via flickr.com -Modified

Photo  via http://shibamasa.com/pool/pool.html#monster-Modified

ByJason Gatewood
Jun 27, 2018

What Conveniences are on Offer at Your Local Convenience Store?

The ubiquitous conbini that you look to whenever you need to buy a beer, dish soap, hot meal, or even an emergency necktie (because you may or may not have spilled ramen on the one you had on before) is definitely the answer to many a prayer in most Japanese neighborhoods. Open 24/7/365, these little stores may become the place you associate with more in your part of Japan. But like all things here, there’s more to your local bodega than just food and beverage sales. Allow me to clue you into some of the other things you can do at the convenience store that you may not have known about before.

Buying and paying for furniture (and almost anything else off the internet)

Cash is still king in Japan, and unlike the West, the e-commerce boom didn’t really change the status quo all too much over here. The banking industry already had everyone using ATMs to perform bank-to-bank wire transfers to receive and make payments. This is why many people here have no idea what PayPal or Western Union is! But what about those who still need to pay for things in cash? Usually when you buy something online here, There’s an option for settling payments at a convenience store in cash! So those of you who were worried about needing a credit card to buy something on Rakuten, Amazon, or even pay for Netflix access, now you know!

Shipping and Receiving Packages

So you’ve made your purchase but now you worry that you’re never going to catch the takkyubin guy when he delivers the goods in a day or so. No need to worry so much, because in many cases you can have your order shipped to the local convenience store as well! This comes in handy for those of us who have that “salaryman” schedule where what time we are supposed to knock off the job and the actual time we head home don’t always match. That service is a two-way street too; you can send things from the conbini elsewhere too. One big lifesaver for me is being able to have my luggage forwarded to the airport in this way— I pack my big bag up three days before departure and have it sent to Narita or Haneda. That way I don’t have to lug it all over Tokyo’s transport system and can also go straight from work if needed. I just need to drag the bag 1 block to my local FamilyMart.

Those stamps you need to pay for government stuff

The dreaded Shunyuinshi (収入印紙), AKA “that thing I keep forgetting to get BEFORE I go renew my visa”, are the little stamps needed to show officials of government institutions that you’ve paid some fees. You’ll need to affix them to documents that renew immigration papers, drivers licenses, marriage and family certificates and more. For years I thought the only place other than the markets inside of these offices allowed to sell them were Japan Post offices. But later I found out pretty much all convenience stores sell them too. Thank goodness, because the line for the one store inside Shinagawa Immigration is always super long.

The “everything” kiosks

Have you seen those ATM looking things in the conbini? Usually it’s called “Loppi”, “K Station”, “FamiPort”, or otherwise. (Seven Eleven has their kiosk service built into their Multi-Copy Machine!) This is the terminal where you can search for and buy anything from concert seats to plane tickets. Usually if you are completing payment from an internet site, you have to use one of these to print out a payment slip to give to the cashier so you can pay. I still tend to buy highway bus and amusement park tickets using the kiosks. Many venues in Japan such as the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka only sell tickets in this manner. Much to the chagrin of many a foreigner here, the machines are all in Japanese. A good way to study or an easy way to help the store staff practice their English with you perhaps?

Skip buying a printer…and a fax machine too

There are countless jokes about why Japan for all its technopunk lustre seem to be holding on to the daily use of facsimile machines. My first job I had here, I was supposed to fax my weekly lesson plans to my assigned schools and the district office before the week started and also fax my attendance records at the end of every week and month’s end. Most of my colleagues plunked down money for a fax machine; I made use of the local Seven-Eleven’s Multifunction Copier for years. It also doubled as my printer, photo developer and scanner. Before, I plugged my USB drive into the machine, but now there are smartphone apps and a website that allow you to transfer files to get into or out of your digital world. Of course this is the same for all flavors of convenience stores, so check the one near you to see how it works.


— By Jason L. Gatewood

Images:

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 26, 2018

8 Popular Attractions Near Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture

Mount Fuji

A visit to Japan won’t be complete without a trip to the one of the most famous natural beauties in the world, Mt. Fuji. It’s majestic cone has its magical allure from all angles that is why crowds are drawn to the different attractions surrounding it so that they can view it from there. And of course, who wouldn’t want to come closer and traverse along the foot of the mountain to experience it’s charm.

Mt. Fuji also known as Fujisan is the 7th highest peak in the world, the 2nd highest peak of an island that is volcanic in nature in Asia and the highest mountain in all of Japan. It has been the inspiration of numerous photographs, paintings, poetry and art since time immemorial. It is one of the three holy mountains in Japan along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku and was added in the World Heritage List as a Cultural site in 2013.

This beloved symbol of the country is snow capped for around 5 months every year so there are a wide variety of activities that tourists and locales can enjoy all year round including skiing in the winter and lounging by the lake in the spring. Here’s a list of some of the attractions that you’d surely enjoy when visiting the areas near Mt.Fuji.

Lake Kawaguchiko

There are three important attractions within the area of the lake that you shouldn’t miss. You could enjoy the view of the mountain itself and the Sakasa Fuji or the “upside down Mt. Fuji” from the Tozawa Campsite. You can ride the Mount Kachi Kachi Ropeway to access the top of the mountain and view the mountain and the city right below it. You can also visit The Kawaguchiko Music Forest, a museum with music boxes, one of the biggest mechanical organs in the world and 720 species of roses in June.

Arakurayama Sengen Park

If you keep seeing a pagoda in most of the photos of Mt. Fuji, this is the place where the photo was taken. It is located before you reach Mount Arakura in Fujiyoshida City of Yamanashi Prefecture. It is also famous for its cherry blossoms where a cherry blossom festival takes place when the flowers are in bloom.

Shibazakura Festival

Shibazakura means “lawn cherry” or the moss phlox that resembles cherry blossoms covering the ground. These small flowers that are normally in red, pink, purple or white blooms from April to May and is native to North America. The 8 different types are showcased during the festival within the park grounds. Visitors can also choose from the different photography spots to take the best shots and munch on or take home different sweet treats that they sell as souvenirs.

Oshino Hakkai Springs

There are 8 springs composed of the meltwater that were stored in the mountain and filtered through the lava for more than a decade. It became a Natural Treasure in 1935 and was designated as a World Heritage Site together with the mountain in 2013. There are respective admission fees for different age groups and you can also dine at the restaurant within the site. You can choose the soba that is a Oshino speciality or the “Houto”, a noodle dish that is miso based and is part of the Yamanashi local cuisine.

Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen – Jinja Shrine

1900 years ago, an ancient Japanese emperor declared to worship the mountain spirit of Mount Fuji from the north so a small shrine was erected in the area. Three goddesses of the mountain are worshiped in this shrine that became the center of the religion known now as Fuji-ko. People started to begin their pilgrimage here during the Edo Period. The shrine also became the starting point of the Yoshida Ascending Route consisting of climbing roads to reach the mountain and was designated as a Mt. Fuji World Cultural Heritage Site asset.

Fujiten Snow Resort

How would you like skiing while the backdrop is Mt. Fuji? They have slopes for all levels that consists of 7 courses and 4 lifts and the “Chibikko Island” for kids that has the largest sledging slopes in the region where they can ski and play in the snow safely. They cater to pros and families alike so everyone can have fun during the winter season from early December to late March.

Fugaku Fuketsu Wind Cave and Narusawa Hyoketsu Ice Cave

A bit closer to the majestic mountain are two popular caves that have provided cold storage for the residents in the area when modern refrigeration and water services weren’t available yet. These caves were predominantly used to preserve silkworm cocoons and seeds. With an average temperature of 3 degrees celsius all year long, you’ll see icicles, ice walls and ice pillars anytime except for specific dates that may vary due to the weather and conditions of the caves.

Fujisan World Heritage Center

The center is home to everything about the great mountain so if you’re interested to learn more about it and not just in parts as you visit the rest of the attractions, then this is a must see place for you. Located in the Yamanashi Prefecture, the building site is around 27,600 square meters and houses a south and north hall that focus on culture and nature respectively. The north hall also includes a seminar room, restaurant and shop. The site also includes a nature observation path.

Mount Fuji and its impressive grandeur has provided such wealth to the cities and towns surrounding it. Tourists and locals flock these attractions depending on the season and weather and have thrived in their own popularity as much as the mountain itself. There are a lot more attractions around the mountain that you can always discover when you visit the country and for sure it’s going to be another beautiful adventure that the mountain has provided for the world to enjoy.

By https://www.flickr.com/photos/reggiepen/ [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 26, 2018

8 Most Popular Street Food to Try in Kobe’s Chinatown

Nankinmachi

Kobe’s Chinatown also widely known as Nankin-machi is one of the three Chinatowns in Japan. Its popular name comes from the words Nanjing or Nanking as Chinese immigrants are referred to as the people who come from Nanking, a city in China, regardless where in China they come from and “machi” meaning town. It plays a significant role in the development of Kobe’s cultural landscape as the Chinese influences has seeped through their very own strong identity.

Although it was destroyed during the wars and Great Hanshin Earthquake, it has risen from the rubble and continued its colorful and bustling atmosphere to satisfy the tourists and locals in their quest for souvenirs and of course, the distinctive Chinese cuisine. The elaborate and colorful gates are as inviting as the aroma coming from stalls of street food and rows of restaurants that serve lunch and dinner to their hungry and curious clientele.

If you are a tourist who travels for food, this is the best place for you to explore and simply try out their delicacies. Some of these might be all too familiar as they are also served in other Chinatowns around the world but since it’s in Japan and in Kobe, no less, there will always be the intermingling of tastes and flavors in every bite.

Butaman (Steamed Pork Buns) – Roushouki

All you have to do is ask where Roushoki is and most likely anyone will be able to lead you to it and of course the long line outside the shop is a dead giveaway in itself. They are that popular because of the Butaman or steamed pork buns. They started selling these bite sized buns back in 1915 and more than a hundred years later, their buns are still all the rage in this part of town.

Gua Bao (Taiwanese Hamburger) – Tanfachie

It’s a bit like a steamed bun only that the buns are slit in half to create a bed in the middle for the most tender pork and generous helping of pickled vegetables and is eaten like a hamburger. This Taiwanese hamburger has the most authentic taste as the chef faithfully replicated the distinctive taste of the gua bao that he came across when he visited Taiwan.

Xiǎo lóng tāng bāo (Steamed Soup Dumplings) – Daidoko

The fact that their dumplings are juicier than the typical xiǎo lóng bāo or soup dumpling will tell you that it’s definitely not something that you should miss or skip. Nope. Not a chance. This shop with the usual long lines signifying popularity used to be popular for their Black Butaman or Black Steamed Pork Buns that are equally gorgeous and delicious. But in November 2016, the shop released these succulent mounds of soup and minced meat that not long after gained a strong fan contingent in the area.

Gyoza (Chinese Dumpling) – Gyoza Daigaku

Locals from all corners of Kobe and even farther come just for these small pockets of awesomeness. What’s not too familiar is dipping it in miso sauce that is a heavier and more flavorful sauce compared to regular soy sauce. Tourists will be in for a surprise when they taste this interesting but satisfying combination.

Dandan Noodles (Spicy Sesame Ramen) and Xiǎo lóng tāng bāo (Steamed Soup Dumplings) – Yunyun

Everybody loves the steaming soupy goodness of steamed dumplings. Why not? They’re delicate, flavourful and a joy to eat as you have to go through a procedure to enjoy it. And it’s even lovelier to have a bowl of Dandan noodles that are hand cut and served with sweet chili sauce. If you’re craving these, just don’t visit on Thursdays as that’s when they’re closed for the week.

Chukka Niku-Chimaki (Chinese Sticky Rice Dumpling with Meat) – Ryuho

You can eat and walk around with it just like steamed pork buns and they’re just as appetizing and flavourful, too. Their rice comes straight from Shiga Prefecture that is known for their high quality rice. If you have no time to go to their stall while in Kobe and still want to try it out, you can purchase their dumplings online and a few quick guidelines are available for you to follow when you’re ready to eat it.

Panda-man & Butachan-man (Animal Shaped Steam Buns) – Rokumeiso

Kids and kids at heart will surely adore these cute animal shaped buns that are maybe too cute to be eaten really. The panda shaped steamed buns are filled with bean paste (which you can eat for dessert) and the butachan-man are the pig shaped steamed pork buns. The shop also sells dim sum combo meals including twelve different kinds of dim sum treats that you can eat in the shop or order for takeaway along with your cute buns.

Peking Duck Wrap

You can enjoy this in different stalls in Nankin-machi. Some of the stalls in this list also sell it so when you buy their popular treats, you might as well grab a wrap and try it too if it’s available. Peking duck is an absolute favorite among locals and tourists as you can just walk around and eat while sampling other treats.

Street food teaches us a lot about a city, town or country’s rich culture and history since you can taste the different influences and their own homegrown flavor in every bite of food that you try whether be it in a restaurant, a sidewalk stall or a cart. Nankin-machi may not be as huge and bustling as other Chinatowns around the world but it has concocted delicacies that have created huge following from all over Kobe and in the Kansai region so it’s a must to come and visit so you can learn and enjoy their history in every bite.

DVMG [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 26, 2018

The Most Popular Temples and Shrines in Kobe

Ikuta Shrine

Japan is a melting pot of several religions in the East. There are religions that have immigrated from different parts of Asia and there are those that originated within the country. Some of them are still existing today and pilgrimages still take place regularly to worship their deities. Others are left with structures like temples and shrines to remind the present of their significance in the past.

Temples and shrines are popularly visited by tourists and even locals especially in Kobe to relax and learn about the historical significance of the place just like when they visit castles and museums. People also come to these exclusively to worship and pay homage to their gods and goddesses that are predominant in religions in Asia. Specifically in this city that has a touch of foreign influence, these sacred buildings still stand amidst those that are already Westernized and some are even located in the city center so they are accessible to everyone.

Most of these structures have inspired artists, poets, painters and different people with creative inclinations for centuries. They are depicted in paintings that also showcase the beauty of the surroundings around them like trees, cherry blossoms and mountains. In modern times, they are present in movies, anime, manga and in works of famous photographers. You might be familiar with some of these on the list from the various literature and art pieces that you’ve come across.

Ikuta Shrine

It is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in the country that was founded sometime in the 3rd century A.D. by Empress Jingū for the god Wakahirume. Situated in the downtown area of Kobe, everyone can visit this astounding and sacred place everyday and for free. Noh plays such as the Ikuta Atsumori and Ebira that retell parts of the Genpei war are shown near the shrine regularly. These are also performed annually at the Autumn Festival of Ikuta or the Akimatsuri.

Yuzuruha Shrine

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. You won’t have to worry about your dogs getting thirsty if you travel with them because there’s a designated water fountain for them.

Sumadera Temple

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. This Shingon-shu temple, also called Joya-san Fukusho-ji, was built in 886. If you love mechanical art, you’ll enjoy watching the pieces like marionette clocks that are displayed inside.

Minatogawa Shrine

The Battle of Minatogawa was somewhere around the grounds of this Shinto shrine. The god enshrined in this sacred place is the spirit of a military commander, Masashige Kusunoki. The site is one of the Fifteen Shrines of the Kenmu Restoration that are dedicated to the events and individuals involved in restoration. It was an effort of Emperor Go-Daigo to bring back the civilian government after 150 years of military rule.

Sannomiya Shrine

Right in the district of Chuo-ku or downtown area of Kobe stands a shrine built for the female diety, Takitsuhime no Mikoto, one of the three Munakata Sanjoshin or Munakata Three Female Deities who are known as deities for safety in traffic. She is also known to bring good luck in business and work among others, and blesses people with wisdom. There is a vermilion gate that also enshrines two deities, a Japanese zodiac chart or junishi on the floor, a chozubachi washbasin from the Edo Period and a cannon from the Kobe incident.

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

One of the hundreds of shrines dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a politician and scholar who was exiled by his rivals unjustly. Because of the tragic circumstance that he experienced, his vengeful spirit was said to be the catalyst of a number of disasters. To appease him, these shrines were built and are still maintained today. Since he is also associated with Tenjin, the Shinto god for education, students flock to this shrine during exam periods and seasons of school trips.

Taisanji Temple

This temple’s architectural style is a beautiful mix of Japanese and Chinese influences. Its main hall is the only official national treasure in Kobe that was completed in 1293. It is also known as Sanshinzan Taisan-ji and is built for the Tendai sect. In 716, the temple was established upon Empress Genshō’s instruction.

Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar

To veer away from the Japanese temples, this is the only Sikh temple in Kobe. It doesn’t look like a temple at all as it is simple building that is similar to a house. This atmosphere is common with the other temples of Sikhism. It is a two floor structure and the upper floor is the actual temple with a central altar and a carpeted floor. Similar to other Asian religions, there is a deity that they worship and prayers and offerings are made. It is a 15 to 30 minute walk from the Shin-Kobe Station.

Visiting these historical and religious sites is a great way to learn about spirituality, traditions and beliefs.

DVMG [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJustin Hanus
Jun 26, 2018

Popular Beaches in The Kansai Region

Japanese Beach

A lot of people love going to the beach because as they say, they need a dose of vitamin sea. Unfortunately, not a lot of countries have the best beaches and sea views that people can enjoy either by swimming or just lounging around in the sand or in comfy lounge chairs. People have to travel far and wide to have fun at the beach and make the most of their summer.

Japan is surprisingly one of the countries where the autumn and winter season is more popular for tourists because of the ski slopes and cherry blossoms but actually has lovely beaches that you could also spend your summers in. The Kansai region has some breathtaking expanse of beaches that could rival the likes of beaches in tropical countries.

You can set up a mat and a beach umbrella and just lie around on the sand with friends with refreshments on hand and go swimming in between. Kids could create sand castles and adults could engage in watersports. You can even enjoy the sunset with your loved one and you just might forget that you’re not in Fiji, Bali or Hawaii when you visit these locations on the list.

Kotohiki Beach (Kyotango City, Kyoto)

It is part of the Tango-Amanohashidate-Ōeyama Quasi-National Park and was designated as a Natural Monument and Place of Scenic Beauty. The sound of its golden white sands was selected as one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan by the Ministry of Environment in 1996. Also known as Kotohikihama, it is perfect if you want to relax especially during off peak season. You might want to explore the outdoor rotenburo or rock hot springs perched on the beach.

Taganohama Beach (Awaji City, Hyogo)

If a quiet, secluded and less crowded beach on an island sounds appealing to you, then this small pocket of white sands is perfect for you. Crowds usually flock to the more popular beach on the opposite side of the island so this haven with its majestic sunset is the best hideaway far away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. You can either drive or cycle to this location since public transportation is limited.

Kada Beach (Kada, Wakayama)

A laid back atmosphere with fewer crowds is always a place where you can quietly relax and enjoy a good barbecue lunch with your friends and family. Kids can frolic in the shallow waters while you sit back and enjoy the sun. Even if it’s a bit far away from the city center, it still has amenities like showers and shops serving meals so you couldn’t go wrong in choosing this peaceful location when all you want is just a simple trip to the beach.

Nishikinohama Beach (Kaizuka City, Osaka)

It’s also popularly called the Nishiki Beach. You can pop this on your list of must see beaches but schedule your visit between the 8th of July to the 31st of August. The harmony of the two predominant colors, the white of the sands and green of the pine trees in the nearby forest has been famous for sometime and was chosen as The Best 100 Examples of Greenery in Osaka. Beachgoers can enjoy sumptuous barbecue while marveling at the pretty landscape and cool breeze.

Kotobikihama Kakezu Beach (Kyotango City, Kyoto)

One of the Top 100 Must-See Shorelines in Japan is famous for its singing sand that is actually the squeaking of the sand crystals when you step on it. The name means “Koto plucking sand” also because of the distinctive sound. It is one of the cleanest beaches in Japan as visitors are not allowed to smoke and trash is nowhere to be seen. Despite it being a favorite to locals and tourists, it’s not as crowded as other popular beaches so you can still enjoy the peace. The beachside eateries offer seafood breakfasts and there are loding houses that you can spend the night in if you want a longer vacation.

Tarui Southern Beach/Rinku Minamihama Bathing Beach (Sennan City, Osaka)

It’s an artificial beach across the sea from Kansai International Airport with white sand and palm trees and a good view of the access bridge. There’s a swimming area and beyond it is an area great for marine sports like wind surfing. Anglers or fishing enthusiasts come here often as it is a must visit spot for them. After a day of shopping at the nearby shopping malls, it’s refreshing that you are able to dip your tired feet in the water right away. It opens in early July.

Jinoshima Beach (Arida City, Wakayama)

You can swim or take a trip to an island. Pretty much what you do in tropical countries but it’s not anywhere there. It’s in Wakayama and a good ten-minute walk away from Hatsushima station where you’ll also find Hatsushima harbor and as a result you can take a ferry to the island. Be sure to visit between the 9th of July and the 21st of August so you can enjoy the sun, sea and sand.

Keinomatsubara Beach (Minami Awaji City, Hyogo)

If you happen to be in Japan with your loved one and are planning to propose during this trip, head out to this beach as its moniker “The Proposal Highway” would give you an idea that it’s undoubtedly the best place to bend a knee and slip that ring on her finger. Make sure you wait until sunset when you pop the question so that you’ll have a dramatic backdrop courtesy of one of The Best 100 Sunset Views in Japan.

You can set up a mat and a beach umbrella and just lie around on the sand with friends and go swimming in between. Kids are able to create sand castles and adults can engage in water sports. You can even enjoy the sunset with your loved one and decide to propose there.

By Nishikinoakira [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

ByJason Gatewood
Jun 26, 2018

Splish, Splash, Sploosh!: Your Guide to Tokyo’s Waterparks

When the air outside is thick with humidity, cicadas begin their endless chirping, the stores start stocking endless varieties of flavored bottled water and teas, and all the kids start sporting “playground tans”, Tokyo Summertime has finally come. We are the enviable environment to enjoy a trip to the beach, but sometimes we’d like to cool off a bit closer to town. Good thing there are several great water-parks around the metropolis we can take advantage of!

Here’s our guide to some of the best waterparks to take a beat the heat and catch a few thrills at the same time:

Tokyo Summerland

Located less than 2 hours away from Shinjuku in the city of Akiruno, this sprawling amusement park has rides like roller coasters and a Ferris wheel but is well known for its water park.
Both outdoor and indoor sections, outfitted with various water slides, fountains, and pools that can keep visitors entertained for the whole day. And when that isn’t enough, a hotel is also available.

Water park schedule:
Tokyo Summerland is open year round, except during the winter season where it is closed from December through February.

Ticket Prices:

Entrance Fee Free Pass Summer Entrance Fee Summer Free Pass
Adults (Ages 13-60) ¥2,000 ¥3,000 ¥3,500 ¥4,500
Children (Ages 7-12) ¥1,000 ¥2,000 ¥2,500 ¥3,000
Infants/Senior Citizens(Ages 2‐6 / 61 and over) ¥1,000 ¥1,500 ¥1,800 ¥2,000
  • Regular Period: March to June | October to November
  • Summer Period: July 1 – September 30
  • Admission Ticket: This ticket includes Admission + use of Adventure Dome (Indoor Pool) +Adventure Lagoon (Outside Pool, opens during summer season only) + Water slides (excluding DEKASLA).
  • Free Pass Ticket: This ticket includes use of facility available with the Admission ticket + use of DEKASLA (opens during summer season only) + unlimited ride on rides (excluding some part of rides, coin-operated rides).*

Access:

  • JR Chuo Line [JC] or Keio Line [KO] to Hachioji Station. Transfer to city bus services that offer direct access to the amusement park from there.
  • Map Link
  • 600 Kamiyotsugi, Akiruno-shi, Tōkyō-to 197-0832
  • Tel: 042-558-6511
  • www.summerland.co.jp

Yomiuri Land Water Amusement Island

Located about an hour away from central Tokyo is one of the larger and well-known amusement parks, Yomiuriland. The park offers over 25 types of attractions including modern thrill rides and water fumes as well as kid-friendly rides.

The park also opens its water park in the summer time. The water amusement island which is also know to locals as WAI offers several pools including an Anpanman-themed kids’ pool and various sliders featuring the Giant Sky River which stands at 24.5 meters and has a 386 meters downhill runway, navigable only with the use of a four-seater inflatable ring.

Special Events are also held throughout the summer including various shows, synchronize swimming performances, and summer water races.

Water park schedule:
July 01 to September 10, 2017 | 9:00 – 17:00.

Ticket Prices:

Pool admission (Amusement park + Pool admission) 1-Day pass with pool (Amusement park + Pool admission + unlimited rides)
Adults (ages 18 – 64) ¥3,200 ¥6,000
Junior and senior high school students ¥2,500 ¥4,800
Children (ages 3 – elementary school) ¥2,100 ¥4,400
Silver (ages 65 & above) ¥2,000 ¥5,300

Access:

  • Keio Line [KO] Keio-Yomiuri-Land Station.
    From there, cross the street and board the “Gondola Sky Shuttle” to get to the the park gate.
  • Odakyu Line [OH] Yomiuri Land-Mae Station.
    Transfer to buses bound for Yomiuri Land.
  • Address: 4015-1 Yanokuchi, Inagi-shi, Tokyo 206-8725
  • Phone:044-966-1111
  • Website: www.yomiuriland.com

Toshimaen Water Park

This park located in Nerima ward a includes a vast assortment of carnival rides in addition to that water park having 26 water slides and 6 different pools.

  • Open July 15 to September 4, 9:00 – 17:00

Admission

Admission Admission + Rides Admission + Kids Rides Water Park Only
Adult (15yrs old +) ¥1,000 ¥4,200 ¥2,900 ¥4,000
Children A (height more than 110cm) ¥500 ¥3,200 ¥3,000
Children B (height less than 110cm) ¥2,400 ¥2,000

Access:

  • Seibu Ikebukuro Line[SI] or Toei Oedo Line [E]to Toshimaen Station.
    About a 1-minute walk from the station.
  • Map link
  • Address: 3−25−1 Koyama, Nerima-ku, Tōkyō-to 176-8531
  • Phone:03-3990-8800 | 03-3990-4126 (Toshima Hotspring)
  • Website: www.toshimaen.co.jp

Tobu Super Pool

Located north of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture, Tobu Dobutsuen-Koen consists of an amusement park, a zoo area, and leisure pool complex which is open during the summer season. The pool area has many slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool with giant fountains.

Water park schedule:
July 22 to September 9, 9:30 – 17:00

Ticket Prices:

Admission Fee Pool Admission (Admission + Pool 1-Day Pass(Admission + Unlimited Rides + Pool)
Adults (Junior high & above) ¥1,700 ¥2,400 ¥4,800
Children (ages 3 & up) ¥700 ¥1,100 ¥3,700
Seniors (ages 60 & above) ¥1,000 ¥1,700 ¥3,700
Ride Ticket (1 ride) ¥300 – ¥1,000

Access:

  • Direct service is available via Tokyo Metro’s Hanzomon line [Z] and Hibiya line [H] that continue onto the Tobu Skytree line [TS] to Tobu-Dobutsukoen Station. From there, shuttle service is available to the park.
  • Map link
  • Address: 110 Suka, Miyashiro-machi, Minami Saitama-gun, Saitama
  • Phone:048-093-1200
  • Website: www.tobuzoo.com

Showa Kinen Park: Rainbow Pool and Water Playland

Once home to a prewar airfield, Kokuei Shōwa Kinen Kōen (国営昭和記念公園 ) is a massive park located in the western Tokyo suburb of Tachikawa and is considered as a paradise for families as it offers a wide range of activities to choose from – cycling, boating, playing sports, picnicking, flower and plant viewing, or just simply relaxing.
During the summer season, the park opens its Rainbow Pool and Water Playland. Nine different pools, water slides and wave machines are on offer here.

Water park schedule:
July 17 to September 4 | 9:30 – 18:00.

Ticket Prices:

Pool Rates Group Rates Sunset (entry after 14:00) Pool Passport
Adult (ages 15 or older) ¥2,500 ¥2,100 ¥1,250 ¥6,700
Children (elementary & junior high school) ¥1,400 ¥1,100 ¥700 ¥3,400
Young children (ages 4 & 5) ¥500 ¥400 ¥250 ¥900
Maternity (Pregnant Ladies) ¥500
Silver (ages 65 or older) ¥700
  • Maternity – please present Mother & Child Handbook
  • Silver – please present ID confirming age
  • Rates includes park entrance.

Access:

  • JR Chuo Rapid Line [JC] bound for Ome to Nishi-Tachikawa Station.
  • Map link
  • Address: 3173 Midori-cho Tachikawa City, Tokyo 〒190-0014
  • Phone:042-528-1751
  • Website: www.showakinen-koen.jp

— By Jason L. Gatewood

Images: Tokyo Summerland via YouTube

 

ByJason Gatewood
Jun 26, 2018

Let’s Tour Tokyo: Kichijoji

It’s been awhile since I last introduced a part of Tokyo you may not be so familiar with, so this time we’ll head westward from Shinjuku to visit the Kichijoji (吉祥寺) district. This area is centered around the junction of the JR Chuo Line and Keio Inokashira Line at its namesake station, and is mostly in the city of Musashino, with a little bit bleeding over into Mitaka city as well. Long an area popular with those wishing to have access into central Tokyo (express trains on both lines whisk you to Shinjuku or Shibuya in only 20 minutes), recently it has become a boon to young adults and foreigners alike because of the nearby universities and access to affordable apartments in the area.

History

It all goes back to the old Edo Period practice of making the best of a bad situation… Especially if you’re rich and powerful. The old Kichijoji temple was actually located in what is now Suidobashi, the area where the Tokyo Dome stands today. There was a big fire, and the people living there were burned out of their homes. Instead of rebuilding them where they stood, the Shogunate government built homes intended for daimyo; the class of people that ruled over other lands outside of Edo but had to have their families live under the shogun’s nose to keep them from betrayal. The disheveled residents were working under Kichijoji land grants, so when two samurai in the clan were able to open up lands in what is now eastern Musashino city, the former residents relocated. The Tamagawa aqueduct turned the swampy grasslands into a farmer’s paradise in just a few years. Since they had an affinity for their old area, they dubbed the new lands “Kichijoji”

Shopping & Entertainment

Immediately to the north side of the station complex lies “Sun Road and “Harmonica”, a large collection of covered shopping streets packed with almost every chain store, restaurant, and cafe that Japan offers. There are larger anchor stores as well, such as electronics giants Yodobashi Camera and Yamada Labi. Don Quixote and Tokyu have branches here as well. The train station itself is one huge interconnected mall as well. There are a fare number of izakaya, cabarets, and small concert “live” houses as well, attracting many to come here to find a more intimate setting for drinks and conversation instead of Shinjuku or Shibuya.

Parks and Museums

With Inokashira Park located immediately south, Kichijoji is a fun place to enjoy the spring and summer months. The park has a huge explosion of pink sakura blossoms during Hanami season, and the lake sports paddle boats and canoes. There’s even a petting zoo and a few small cafes ion the grounds as well. Also of note, the Ghibli Museum is a 15 minute walk from the park, and on a beautiful day, is easier to trek to than taking the shuttle bus from Mitaka station.

Access

JR Chuo [JC] and Keio Inokashira [IN] lines to Kichijoji Station. [JB02][JC11][IN17]

Map link


— By Jason L. Gatewood

Images: Jason L Gatewood