Monthly Archive October 2018

ByJason Gatewood
Oct 30, 2018

Fall and Winter Festivals in Tokyo

Just because the leaves are golden (or gone), and the temperature has fallen, doesn’t mean the festival numbers have gone down along with it. As always, you’ll be able to eat tasty yatai street food, purchase cool trinkets, and enjoy being outside in the crowd… Just remember to bring your jacket!

Fall in Japan means it’s time for “Tori-No-Ichi” festivals; literally;  “market held on the day of the rooster” (the old Chinese calendar noted the day of the rooster comes every 12 days in November). Here, all sorts of things are sold to get ready for the busy time at the end of the year and bring luck for the coming year, including kumade rakes, which are blessed charms businesses buy to “rake in cash” by hanging them in their establishments. Some of these ornately decorative charms are over US$1000, but many are priced within reason if you fancy picking one up.

Hanazono Shrine Tori no Ichi

31 Oct-1 Nov, 12-13 Nov, 25-26 Nov 2018

If you have business in the Shinjuku area over the next month, you can’t go wrong visiting Hanazono shrine; wedged literally in the middle of the ward’s government complex. This Tori no Ichi festival is over 400 years old and even though the neighboring Golden Gai and Kabukicho area is as modern as ever, there’s no sign of this old-school fall festival falling out of style.

Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shinjuku San-chome station [M09][F13][S02]; Shinjuku Station [JB10][JC05][JA11][JY17][JS20][OH01][KO01]
Web: (Japanese)

Asakusa Tori-no-ichi

1, 13, 25 Nov 2018

Admittedly not exactly a hop and a skip away from the main action that happens around Senzō-ji to the south, the festival at Ōtori Jinja is still worth the extra walk because of the “shitamachi” factor. Shitamachi is one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods, and you’ll be mingling with

Address: Ōtori Shrine, 3-18-7 Senzoku, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to
Access: Iriya Station [H18]

Okunitama Tori-no-Ichi

1, 13, 25 Nov 2018

The other major place to catch this same festival is in the city of Fuchū, in Tokyo’s western suburbs. There are many stalls in place here and it is also customary to get a “financial fortune” read if you are a business owner or have a venture you wish to embark on in the coming year. For practical purposes, Okunitama is also only a short 5-minute walk from Fuchu station and there’s a huge mall complex in between so you can make a good day of it if you plan right.

Address 3-1 Miya-machi, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo
Access Fuchū Station [KO24]

Smart Illumination Yokohama 2018

31 Oct-31 Dec 2018

Japan’s Second City gets lit with the latest in LED tech, turning the bay shore next to “Elephant Trunk Park” into a digital nighttime art installation. The main festival happens from Oct 31 until Nov 4, but the lights will be on until the end of the year, helping out with winter holiday illumination duty.

Address: Zō no Hana Park, 1-1-1 Kaigandori, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa
Access: Nihon-Odori Station [MM05]

UNU Flea Market: Fall Sake Fest

17, 18 Nov 2018

Remember the coffee festival we reported on in the springtime on the grounds of the UN University’s flea market? This is the same thing, just with sake making the rounds. More than 30 makers of Japan’s signature adult beverage will have their wares out for tasting, so make sure you “pregame” accordingly!

Address: UN University, 5-53-70 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
Access: Omotesando Station [C04][G02][Z02]

Shichi-Go-San Festival

around 15 Nov

You’ll likely notice a lot of well-dressed parents toting along their three, five and seven-year-old children clad in their best kimono around this time. They are heading to area shrines to pray for the children’s future health and good fortune, and also take family photos that will become keepsakes for their generation. Not necessarily a festival exactly, but some local shrines have set up a food and games stall or three to entertain the families waiting; you can simply hang out and people watch for a spell if inclined.

Shichi-go-san festival information

Also, let’s not forget about fall leaf viewing and winter illumination festivals that are popping up around town during this time as well!

— By Jason L. Gatewood

Images: Okunitama Tora-no-Ichi by Jason L Gatewood

ByJason Gatewood
Oct 29, 2018

Go Vegan in Tokyo

Choices for dining out in Tokyo are nearly limitless. You can literally eat your way around the world and dine on almost anything humans consider edible (even the most questionable) here in Japan’s capital. One type of cuisine that has seen a recent boom is vegetarian and vegan food. Although many establishments offer meatless options, they may still include things made from egg and milk in the ingredients which may not agree with some diets. However, finding vegan food is just a matter of getting informed; you can even find options in just about any convenience store if you know what to look for.

An App for That

Chances are you’re already used to tapping through your smartphone to figure out dining options in your home country. Many of the apps you’re already using likely will have Tokyo area restaurants listed. Specialized apps like Happy Cow have you covered. My main weapon when showing my vegan friends around town though is simply Google Maps. Through crowdsourcing, you can find many places that don’t advertise much in Japanese, let alone English. If you’re using an iPhone, Apple Maps sources its locations and reviews from Japanese restaurant listing apps like Tabelog and Hot Pepper in addition to others.

Remember the Basics

Historical gastronomists know Japan’s diet was mainly macrobiotic and vegetable-based in the times before modern conveniences like refrigeration, mass fish farms and open sea trade. Even meat from fish, boar, and other game were considered a rare treat for the average Japanese due to both being restricted religiously (Bhuddists) and simply being poor. The diet mainly consisted of rice, seaweed, radishes, squash, and other savory greens. Before refrigeration, salting and pickling were the main methods used to keep food fresh.

Fast forward to the modern era, and many of these same foods are still eaten as a part of Japanese cuisine. Tsukemono, various pickled vegetables that are eaten with a bowl of rice can be eaten on-the-go as onigiri, commonly found in a triangular form wrapped in seaweed. Meats such as tuna and salmon are usually found in the middle but pickled plum (umeboshi),  and fermented soybean (natto). Another staple of the Japanese diet: soy. Believe it or not, Starbucks had a soy latte option here in Tokyo before you could find it in many places in the States! Soy milk (tonyu), ice cream and donuts are a few common foods found in most stores.

Dining Out

Thanks to increasing inbound tourists to Japan with varied dietary needs along with the Japanese themselves wanting new dining choices, there are lots of places to pig out, sans pork. beef…or any other meat. Here are some of the ones I’ve tried myself over the years:

T’s Restaurant/T’s Tantan

The first time one of my friends visiting Tokyo hit me with the “by the way, I gave up eating meat, so can you help me eat out in Japan” conundrum, I found out about this place. The main shop in Jiyugaoka is well known for its spin on tan-tan men, curry and gyoza dumplings, swapping out soy and veggies for the usual meat that goes in their preparation. The location includes a store where you can pick up some of their dishes in a heat-and-eat version to-go. T’s Tantan locations also serves a small subset of their menu, focusing on their tasty spin on noodle soups. You can find them in both Tokyo and Ueno JR stations.

Address: 2-9-6 Jiyugaoka, Meguro, Tokyo 152-0035
Access: Jiyugaoka Station, Tokyu Toyoko, Oimachi Lines [TY07] [OM10]
Hours: Everyday 11am~10pm
Phone: 03-3717-0831

Vegan Cafe

This very appropriately named cafe located in the Hiroō district does exactly what it says on the tin: serve some of the best vegan spins on Japanese and other world cuisine. I was actually headed to the McDonald’s nearby when I spotted their signboard advertising curry, and decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed! There’s a loco-moco dish and a vegan take on sushi that will create confusion between tongue and brain as well.

Address: 4-5-65 Minamiazabu, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 106-0047
Access: Hiroō Station, Tokyo Metro Hibiya line [H03]
Hours: Everyday 11:30am~9pm
Phone: 03-6450-3020

AIN SOPH.journey/Heavenly Pancake

My day job as a university coordinator and teacher means I come into contact with a lot of young people, and they all usually have part-time jobs somewhere in town; one of them works (worked?) here. Somehow I was able to remember that the next time I had a vegetarian in the party and needed to find a spot close to Shinjuku station. This place serves some great sandwich wraps and other usual vegan fare, but the PANCAKES…I can’t believe there’s no dairy involved. Even though I’m not a vegetarian, I kinda made it my breakfast spot more than a few times.

Address: 3-8-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022
Access: Shinjuku 3-Chome Station, Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin, Marunouchi Lines, Toei Shinjuku Line. [F13][M09][S02]
Phone: 03-5925-8908

— By Jason L. Gatewood


Kawasaki Farm by Jason L. Gatewood

Apple Maps Screengrab

T’s Restaurant Website

ByMark Guthrie
Oct 29, 2018

Thanksgiving Dining in Nagoya 2018

With Thanksgiving being very much a North American holiday, we aren’t really within our rights to expect Nagoya to be celebrate the third Thursday of November in quite the same way as it would be done in the US.

However, like other international traditions such as Christmas, Hallowe’en or Valentine’s Day, there is a distinct feeling that Thanksgiving is growing in stature. Of course, it is not yet celebrated with the same gusto as the aforementioned holidays, but still there are a few places dotted around the city that put on a Thanksgiving spread. Here’s a short list we’ve compiled of our favorites. Please note that most require reservations and any prices quoted may be subject to tax.

Midtown BBQ

Midtown BBQ, perhaps Nagoya’s finest American barbecue establishment, will be returning with their ‘Smoked Thanksgiving’ event. This is what they have to say about it:

“Back by popular demand! This year we will smoking a bunch of whole Turkeys for thanksgiving weekend on November 24th and 25th. Cooked over real fire, with just a little bit of smoke to complement the flavors.

1900 JPY Smoked Turkey Plate
Smoked Crispy Skin Turkey, Smoked Sausage, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Shallot Gravy, Stuffing, Grilled Seasonal Vegetables, Cointreau Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Butter Roll

2900 JPY Smoked Jumbo Plate (more of everything)
Smoked Crispy Skin Turkey, Smoked Sausage, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Shallot Gravy, Stuffing, Grilled Seasonal Vegetables, Cointreau Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Butter Rolls

500 JPY Fresh Pumpkin Pie

We will be serving Turkey from 6pm til we run out!”

They advise that seats are limited, so booking is strongly recommended.

  • Where: Naka Ward, Nishiki, 1 Chome−16−10, Midtown BBQ (map)
  • Contact: / 052-898-5080

Coat of Arms

A regular haunt for us at Japan Info Swap and our friends at More Than Relo, Coat of Arms regularly holds international events, and their Canadian Thanksgiving in October went down a storm. For Nagoya’s American community, they are putting on no less of a top-notch spread with a special turkey dinner from November 22 to 25. You can choose from roasted turkey, smoked ham or half and half accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, baked onion, green peas, homemade stuffing, turkey gravy cranberry sauce and a homemade dinner roll all for 1,900 JPY.

CoA have a new chef, and they say that this year is expected to be even better than last year!

  • Where: 2 Chome-6-12 Nishiki, Naka-ku (map)
  • Contact: (052) 228 – 6155


Shooters Sports bar is so American that, should you cut it, it would bleed apple pie. But at this time of year that pie takes on more of a pumpkin flavor, as Shooters is perhaps the best known place in Nagoya for its Thanksgiving spread. This is what they have to say for themselves:

“Shooters is the longest standing American sports bar in Nagoya and is well respected in the community for having great food and drinks. With the largest seating restaurant/bar venue in Nagoya we strive in making any and all events meet our customers’ expectations.”

Thanksgiving dinner includes turkey with cranberry sauce and gravy, country stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a dinner roll. A kid’s dinner is 1,600 JPY, a small is 2,100 JPY and a regular is 2,600 JPY. If you’re still hungry after all of that you can chuck in a piece of pie for an extra 300 JPY.

The Hilton

The Hilton in Fushimi holds a Thanksgiving buffet every year. At the time of going to publication their menu had yet to be decided, however last year’s highlights included:

Shrimp ceviche
Salmon, apple and avocado salad
Assorted Italian sausage with Hilton special pickles
Pork pastrami and pear compote, with tomato salsa

Sauted lobster
Roast turkey and cranberry sauce
Prawn skewers
Chicken “Kachatra”

Gateau Chocolat Pair Tart
Mont Blanc Brammantier in fruit sauce

The price of the buffet for adults is 5,553 JPY, for children aged four to six years it is 1,197 JPY and fir children between seven and twelve years it is 3,173 JPY. All prices are inclusive of tax.

If you’re looking to crank up the oven and do it all yourself, you can pick up all the trimmings at the Foreign Buyers’ Club, which also has turkeys, but ask most expats in the area, if we’re talking turkey, The Meat Guy is the place to go.

By Mark Guthrie

Image: Pink Sherbet Photography from USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons (modified)

ByMatt Mangham
Oct 29, 2018

Hiroshima’s Ebisuko Festival 2018

Across Japan, Ebisu is one of Shinto’s most popular deities. Deaf and lame, and always laughing (hence the Japanese term ‘ebisugao’ for a smiling face) Ebisu is the god of fishermen and good fortune. The old tenth lunar month was called ‘kannazuki,’ or the month without gods because the entire Shinto pantheon was said to hold an assembly at the grand shrine in Izumo. But Ebisu, deaf as a post, never heard the summons, and as a result was the only shrine god available for petition during this time. And that brings us to the Ebisuko Festival.

In Hiroshima, city merchants have long regarded Ebisu as a critical member of the sales team, and since 1603 the annual Ebisuko Shrine festival has been one of the city’s most beloved events. It’s never been skipped once in all those years. Even in 1945, a scant three months after the atomic bombing of the city, survivors gathered to observe the festival. You can find haunting old footage of a 1937 festival here, with images of area shop owners announcing sales and conducting a roaring festival trade. Locals are apt to call the festival “Ebessan,” indicating their easy familiarity with both the god and his big yearly party.

The shrine itself was once larger, but for many years now has survived as small structure tucked into Ebisu-dori, the easternmost section of the downtown shopping arcade. Presently, it stands between Labi, an electronics store, and the rear entrance to Mitsukoshi department store. For a casual visitor it can be easy to miss, but if you sit, say, on the second floor of the venerable Mont Blanc cafe just across the street and watch a while, you’ll see a regular trickle of local business owners walking up the steps to rattle the ‘suzu’ bell and pay their respects.

It all changes from November 18-20, right in the middle of that month without gods, when as many as 300,000 people visit the tiny shrine and the area adjacent to celebrate. The atmosphere can be raucous. The festival is right on the edge of Hiroshima’s sprawling entertainment district, and there’s a lot of passing back and forth between the two. In former years, local ‘bosozoku’ gangs of young bikers were a persistent and profoundly obnoxious presence, and though the police cracked down on them sharply following an especially bad year in 1999, there’s still a youthful, slightly crude air to the proceedings that only makes it all more appealing. On one of the nights (usually the first) the adjacent portion of Chuo-dori is closed to car traffic and stages are erected for dance, drums and kagura performances.

In front of the shrine itself, you’ll find a large wooden barrel that slowly fills with cash over the course of the festival, as people lob coins, thousand yen bills and even the odd ten thousand yen in to offer thanks and ask for continued fortune in the coming year. Since 1901, the festival has also been known for selling ‘komazarae.’ These are bamboo rakes, in all different sizes, decorated with gold coins, treasure ships and other talismans meant to attract money. Some even say the rake form itself is intended to “rake in” the cash. Wherever you go in Hiroshima, you’ll spot these hung over the doors and behind the counters of restaurants and izakaya all over town.

So, in brief, one of the city’s three big festivals, and an unchallenged fixture of its history for over 400 years. Come check it out, and go home with a great big ebisugao.

Additional Information

Location: Ebisu-dori, behind the large Labi Electronics and Mitsukoshi Department Store.

Time: November 18-20, all day.

Access: There’s lots of paid parking within walking distance, but you’ll find it most accessible to take any downtown-bound public transportation and get off at Hatchobori. From there, walk south to Ebisu-dori.

Admission: Free

Telephone: +81-(0)82-241-6268

noppo3 [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

ByMatt Mangham
Oct 29, 2018

Firewalking at Miyajima 2018

Japan has a slew of fire rituals, the most famous of which being Kyoto’s famous Daimonji Festival. These festivals, leveraging ancient notions of purification and renewal, continue to draw people even in the modern world. In Hiroshima, November offers two chances for visitors to experience ‘Hiwatari,’ or firewalking. The first is at Daiganji and the second at  Daishoin, two old Shingon temples on Miyajima. Let’s take Daiganji first.

Daiganji Fudo Myo-o Festival

Daiganji is located just beyond the western exit from Itsukushima Shrine, which is where you’ll come out if you’ve bought your ticket and walked through. Daiganji’s age is uncertain, but it may be nearly as old as the Shrine itself, and under the old ‘bettoji’ system linking temples and shrines, Daiganji was in charge of carpentry and physical maintenance for Itsukushima. It is also one of Japan’s three most famous temples dedicated to the figure of Benzaiten, goddess of music, wisdom, and eloquence. Her image is open to viewing by the public once a year, on June 17. There are three other Buddhas enshrined here as well, along with a well-worn ‘nadebotoke,’ a wooden image of the arhat Binzuru that the faithful rub in places corresponding to their physical ailments.

In 2006 Daiganji’s Gomodo Hall was rebuilt for the first time in nearly a century and a half to house a new, four-meter tall sandalwood statue of Fudo Myo-o, the fierce Wisdom King who represents (among other things) steadfastness and the destruction of doubt and evil. Each year a festival is held in his honor. In 2018, it will take place on Saturday, November 3. The ritual begins with sutra reading and a goma burning ritual at 13:00. At 14:00, the firewalking begins, led by the priests of the temple. Visitors are welcome to participate but note that you will be required to remove your shoes and walk barefoot. Fortunately (or not), by the time you begin walking the coals will most likely have been trodden to a thin layer of barely warm ash. Still, the ritual is unusual, and afterward, you are welcome to a reception area for celebratory tea and cakes.

Daishoin Hiwatari Shiki

I’ve written about Daishoin here before. The head temple of Shingon’s Omuro sect is located farther up the slopes of Mt. Misen from Itsukushima, and is a fantastic place to explore even when nothing unusual is happening. But twice a year, you can line up with hundreds of other visitors, ranging from the devout faithful to tourists who’ve accidentally wandered in at the right time, to tread a path through burning coals. The ceremony takes place on April 15 and November 15, regardless of the day of the week. In 2018, November 15 is a Thursday, which means that if you can make it you’ll avoid the worst of the weekend crowds.

Daishoin’s firewalk ritual is linked closely to Shugendo, the syncretic mountain religion of the famous ‘yamabushi.’ The ceremony commences at 11:00, with sutra reading and offerings before the main Honden hall. Next, priests launch seven arrows into the sky, which more foolhardy believers will scramble to catch as they fall to earth. Yamabushi blow their conch horns, and the cypress bonfire is set ablaze. After it has burned down, the coals are raked out, and the firewalking begins. As at Daiganji, you’ll need to remove your shoes and, unless you manage to make it to the front of the line, the walk won’t be especially blistering. The ritual is guaranteed by believers to confer both health and luck on those who take part, so loosen your shoelaces and don’t be late.

Additional Information

Location: Daiganji and Daishoin Temples, both on Miyajima

Time: Daiganji: Saturday, November 3, 13:00 to about 15:00. Firewalking begins at 14:00.

Daishoin: Thursday, November 15, the ritual begins at 11:00.

Access: JR Ferry from Miyajimaguchi, 360 JPY round trip for adults, 180 JPY for children. From the Miyajima ferry terminal, Daiganji is a fifteen-minute walk, Daishoin about 25 minutes. English language maps of the island are available free in the ferry terminal.

Admission: Free

Website: Miyajima’s official English website is here, and is very good:

fir0002 | [GFDL 1.2], from Wikimedia Commons

ByMatt Mangham
Oct 29, 2018

Hiroshima Grand Inoko Festival

Inoko Festivals are a familiar feature of autumn across western Japan. With roots in ancient Chinese harvest festivals celebrated in the tenth lunar month (the month of the boar), Inoko celebrations were observed in Japan as early as the Heian period, and over time developed into several distinct expressions, from the festival of the court down to that of the common folk. It’s this latter version that still leads crowds of children in red or blue ‘happi’ through the streets of their neighborhoods each autumn, following the sound of drums as they carry a stone or heavy wooden weight supported by ropes. At each crossroads, the children pause to raise and drop the stone repeatedly, hammering the ground rhythmically as they chant ‘Inoko, Inoko, Inoko Mochi Tsuite, Hanjose, Hanjose!’ This means, roughly, “Month of the boar, month of the boar, make rice cakes and prosper, prosper!” At the end of the procession, the adults in charge pass out snacks and the children go home tired and happy.

The festival has ritual elements associated with harvest, continued fertility, and protection from fire. But if you ask the children what it all means, they’re no more likely to have an answer than a child elsewhere might start to pick apart the strands of Celtic lore and medieval superstition lurking behind Halloween. The point, from children’s perspective, is the noise and the fun and the bag of treats. And that noise and fun, as well as a wish to revive the spirit of childhood on a grand scale, is the impetus for Hiroshima’s Grand Inoko Festival, which was launched in 1990.

In place of the tired grandfather wheeling a drum up and down the street, this festival’s music includes both traditional koto and flute as well as drums and more avant-garde performances. The festivities last longer, and there’s generally a lot more sake around. But most importantly, the stone at the heart of inoko has been reborn as a one and a half ton rock suspended by ropes from 88 bamboo poles, each 13 meters tall and ranged in a circle around the center of Fukuromachi Park, a short walk south of the Hondori shopping arcade. When the chanting begins and that boulder starts leaping up and down as the bamboo thrashes overhead, the child in you will be completely thrilled.

There’s plenty of room for the actual kids, too, of course. On Saturday, November 3, a children’s Inoko parade will kick things off from 13:00, moving through Hondori and Kinzagai. At 15:00, kids and parents are invited to lend a hand at the first raising and dropping of the stone. They can even pose for pictures atop the thing; that’s my own daughter at the top of this article. Children also have the chance to try their hand at making traditional bamboo toys like dragonflies and flutes, or roasting marshmallows on bamboo skewers.

Adults will get funny looks if they ask for a marshmallow, but if you’re hungry, the festival’s food stalls sell udon, wild boar, okonomiyaki, a “specialty grill” and the aforementioned sake, served naturally enough in bamboo cups.

Things wrap up on Sunday evening, with the traditional mochi cakes being handed out at 18:30, and a ceremonial cutting of the ropes at 20:00. On either Saturday or Sunday, the event runs from 13:00 to shortly after 20:00. Whenever you drop by, you’ll find something to do, eat, listen to or watch, and it’s worth rolling it into a day downtown and wandering to and from the festival over the course of a long afternoon and evening. It’s great fun and offers a real sense of community in the middle of the city.

Put it on your calendar! 

Additional Information

Location: Fukuromachi Park, three blocks south of Hondori and one block west of Namikidori.

Time: Saturday, November 3 and Sunday, November 4. 13:00 to about 20:10.

Access: Nearby parking is all paid. The park is in the heart of downtown, so public transportation to Hondori is far and away the easiest option.

Admission: The food stalls charge. Otherwise, this event is free.

Telephone: +81-(0)82-545-7611

Website: (Japanese) (English, limited information)

Photo by author

Oct 29, 2018

Koyo, or Fall Colors in Kobe

Viewing the changing colors of fall leaves or foliage, called koyo in Japanese, is autumn’s answer to spring’s more famous cherry blossom viewing; a traditional opportunity to get outdoors to live in the moment of the season and reflect on the impermanence of it all. Appreciation of the beauty of the changing seasons has been a Japanese characteristic since ancient times, and is even referenced in the novel “The Tale of the Genji;”  one of the world’s first novels, written during the Heian Period (794 to 1185).

Starting in mid September the “koyo front” slowly moves its bands of color south from Hokkaido to central and southern Japan and the end of November where it turns to winter, and many families will head to local parks, or to the mountains and countryside to enjoy the cooling temperatures and spectacular views of changing leaves.

While some people celebrate the leaves much like they do the flower petals of spring, by spreading out a blanket beneath them for feasting and much drinking, it is more common for koyo to be celebrated by taking a short hike or walk through the mountains, or often in certain areas of the city, where the trees can be found.

Sometimes, the trees are further beautified by “illumination,” or the use of lights to create an even more beautiful and striking scene.  Every region and location has its share of scenic spots from which to enjoy the explosion of color fall brings to Japan.

If you are interested in getting out and experiencing this quintessential Japanese tradition we  have collected some options for you.

Kobe’s Chuo ku

Nunobiki Waterfall

There is much more to than enjoy herbs. A walking path winds from the mountain’s base, near the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens,  up and across falls. Nunokibi Falls are a midstream plunge of the Ikuta River and one of the country’s most revered waterfalls, renowned for its water’s purity and high quality. The hike takes about 40 minutes to complete. Another way to tame the mountainside is inside the ropeway gondola. Whether on foot or by ropeway car, the panoramic views of Kobe City and the Seto Inland Sea will be memorable to say the least in fall or whenever you go. 

Fukiaicho, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 651-0058 (map link)

Sorakuen Garden

The Sorakuen Gardens were originally attached to a private residence, but ownership was passed to the city of Kobe in 1941, and the gardens have been open to the public since. Unfortunately, most of the residence itself was destroyed in WWII, only the stables survived to be designated an Important Cultural Property to the people of Japan. The stables were joined by the relocation of two other buildings, the 1902 Hassam House, and a boat house dating from about 1700.

5 Chome-1-19 Nakayamatedōri, Chūō-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 650-0004 (map link)

Tairyuji Temple

Only 20 minutes by car from Kobe Sannomiya Station, another world awaits.  Outside of the hustle and  bustle of the city, the fall colors explode around this 1000 year old temple. 

Futatabiyama-1-3 Kobeko Jikata, Chuo Ward, Hyogo Prefecture 650-0007 (map link)

Kobe’s Kita ku

Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden

The Kobe City Forest Botanical Garden, previously known as the arboretum, is a massive botanical garden and arboretum located near Mount Maya. Despite its close proximity to the city, the “garden” is an oasis of nature where you can immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the forest. There are several hiking course options, all around an hour each to complete.  From the trails you can view most of the garden’s collection of 1,200 trees and shrubs. 

651-1242 Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe, Kita Ward, Yamadacho Kamitanigami, Nagao 1−2

Shiawase Village

Shiawase-no-mura is a comprehensive welfare complex equipped with a variety of facilities designed to support independent living for the disabled and the elderly, and their participation in society.  These facilities make up the developed 70 HA portion of the total 205 hectares of land (506 acres).  Strolling around the various outdoor activities and walking courses is a great way to spend a fall day. 

651-1243 Hyōgo-ken, Kōbe-shi, Kita-ku, Yamadachō Shimotanigami, Nakaichiriyama (map link)

Futatabi Park

Futatabi Park is a small protected area of wild space featuring a walking path around Shiogahara Pond. Besides the stunning fall foliage the park is well known for plum and cherry blossoms, as well as azaleas.  

651-1102 Hyogo-ken, Kobe-shi, Kita-ku, Yamadacho Shimotanigami, Nakaichiriyama, 4-1 (map link)

Kobe’s Suma ku

Zenshoji Temple 

Another temple just outside of town, Zenshoji Temple is a famous for the many old maple trees that dot the mountain behind the temple and its grounds.  It is often referred to as the “Momiji Temple” because the leaves around the main temple are particularly lovely, drawing people to their colors every autumn.  

2 Chome-5-1 Zenshojicho, Suma Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 654-0001 (map link)

Sumadera Temple

Sumadera was founded in the year 886 as a temple of Shingon-shu, a Buddhist sect founded by Kobo Daishi.  The grounds are famous for cherry blossoms and fall colors, but also for pieces of mechanical art, each imbued with its own meaning and significance, are installed  against the beauty of the grounds. 

4 Chome-6-8 Sumaderacho, Suma Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture 654-0071 (map link)

Suma Rikyu Park

Suma Rikyu Park is 20 minutes by car from the center of Kobe, this western style, specifically Victorian garden offers a variety of plants, especially roses and iris, as well as seasonal flowers and autumn colors like plum trees alongside water features like fountains and views of Osaka Bay. 

1-1 Higashisuma, Suma-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 654-0018

Okusama Park

Okusama Park is just to the east of Taikyodan Shinki Shrine, and is famous for fireflies. 54 species inhabit the park due to intensive conservation efforts.  Stroll about the park and enjoy the autumn leaves of the natrual forests, rice terraces, grasslands and not one, but 7 ponds to explore.  

654-0133 Hyōgo-ken, Kōbe-shi, Suma-ku, Tainohata, Wakabayashi (map link)

Kobe’s Nishiki ku

Taisanji Temple

Taisanji Temple was first established  in 716 by the Empress Gensho, the main temple hall, completed in 1293 is a designated National Treasure of Japan.  

651-2108 Hyōgo-ken, Kōbe-shi, Nishi-ku, Ikawadanichō Zenka 224 (map link)


Futabi Image by 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by 663highland (663highland) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Futabi Image by 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Tairyuji Temple Image by 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Botanical Garden Image by 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Shiawase-no-mura from

Zensyouji-kobe By Bittercup (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sumadera I, KENPEI [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Suma Rikyu Park By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Okusama Park from

By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

ByJason Gatewood
Oct 29, 2018

Apps for Learning and Using Japanese

Living in Japan means having to some extent assimilating to one of the most complex language systems mankind has devised, or at least that’s how it feels. The spoken language is a mixture of original Japanese words mixed with ancient and modern Chinese, English, Spanish, and Portuguese loanwords that are used every day, sometimes in the same sentence. The writing system is a mix of Chinese ideograms, two collections of kana, characters used to represent the basic phonetic alphabet, and thanks to a long history of international trade, roman letters, and Arabic numerals. It takes the average Japanese child 8 years of schooling to get to the point where they can read a full newspaper.

Are you ready for the challenge? We won’t focus on trying to get to NHK newscaster levels of fluency fast here; it’s more important to be able to communicate things like “where is the nearest grocery store” and “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Prep Time

I wish there were smartphones and apps when I started down the road to learning Nihongo. The number of books and dictionaries I amassed back in the day is why I have no problem lugging heavy luggage on the Yamanote Line these days. Thankfully, now all you’ll need is your trusty pocket communication device (smartphone) and in most (but not all) cases, an internet connection. Before we get to the learning apps, we’d better make sure we have our device set up with the proper base apps for not only learning but daily life in Japan.

Google Translate

You’re likely already using this app anyway, but perhaps not aware of the various functions it can do aside from typed translations. There’s the handwriting function, very useful if you need to scrawl in some Japanese kanji and don’t know how to type it in kana. You can also use the camera function to take a picture of some text and it will change it on the fly into the language of you choice.

‎Google Translate on the App Store

Google Translate on Google Play


You’re gonna need a good English-Japanese dictionary to refer to whenever you get stuck trying to find the meaning to a word and all its uses, synonyms, and written forms. Both of these come at the low low price of free, and are based on the open-source JDICT project so as words get added to the lexicon, their databases are updated accordingly.

‎imiwa? on the App Store

JED Japanese Dictionary on Google Play

Yomiwa on Google Play

‎Yomiwa Japanese Dictionary on the App Store

Google Keyboard

You’ll need to type in Japanese on your device too. Sure you could use the default keyboard app and perhaps switch it to Japanese, but it won’t have Google’s updated dictionaries but built-in searchability.

Google Keyboard on the App Store

Google Keyboard on Google Play

App-ified Learning

Now with that out the way, we can get down to the business of learning and understanding. The easiest way to learn anything is to break it up into small chunks, then make a daily routine out of ingesting and using the new vocabulary in real situations. Here are a few apps I’ve used on both platforms to both learn and keep my skills sharpened. 

Memrise Context

Memrise Context is always key when it comes to languages. Using the power of prerecorded video of common interactions so you can see Japanese in action, this app will have you remembering those “daily life phrases” in no time. I also liked using the drills in the app due to the gamification add-ons.

‎Memrise on the App Store

Memrise on Google Play

White Rabbit Press

This company has been making materials for Japanese study for a long time. If you’ve studied Japanese in a formal class, chances are you have touched a flashcard pack, reader, or audio CD from them. Their app combines all their expertise into an all-in-one method to help your reading and listening skills improve.

Japanese Graded Readers for iOS and Android by White Rabbit Press

Learning Japanese with Tae Kim

Sometimes you just need to know exactly when a certain grammar rule is used or what verb ending should be used to denote a certain context. This app will explain that not from an English but from a Japanese point of view. I found that by just treating the language as a blank slate with a completely different set of rules and throwing out any relation to English grammar, was I able to simply start using Japanese practically right away.

Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese in the App Store

Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese on Google Play

Let the games begin

Nothing beats rote practice. Back in the ancient times of the late 1990’s I could usually be found scanning index cards and small flash cards on a keyring to help reinforce my kanji and bunpo understanding. But that’s all dinosaur fodder now; we can practice and save the galaxy at the same time on our smartphones because they’ve gameified practice and quiz sessions!

Japanese Dungeon: Learn J-Word on Google Play

‎Learn Japanese by MindSnacks on the App Store

Kanji Quest – study for JLPT in a fun Kanji Game ! – Apps on Google Play

‎Kanji Mnemonics: Learn Japanese fast with Dr. Moku on the App Store

More to come…

There’s more out there in terms of apps and websites to help you get started on your journey into the world of Nihongo. Please feel free to add to this list by letting us know in the comments section!

— By Jason L. Gatewood


“Japanese JHS Japanese Class”, CC BY-SA 4.0

I英辞郎 2009 by takako tominaga, CC BY-SA 2.0

ByMark Guthrie
Oct 28, 2018

Scouting in Nagoya

When Lord Baden Powell published the first edition of ‘Scouting for Boys’, a guidebook of survival techniques he learned during the Second Boer War and adapted for Britain’s youth he sparked a worldwide phenomenon.

Although the Scouting movement has become very different to what he may have imagined it to be (I’m not quite sure what he would have thought about my first day of Cub Scouts, as I’m pretty sure that a Hallowe’en party, bobbing for apples and eating iced buns didn’t turn up in his guides for strengthening the Empire), it continues to go from strength to strength, with the Boy Scouts of America becoming one of the largest youth associations in the world.

English language Scouting for Boys and Girls in Nagoya

Children hands scouting

Today the scouting movement continues to grow and has extended to include both sexes. After a long absence, thanks to the continued expansion of the Nagoya ex-pat community, English language Scouting returned to the city. Boy Scouts of America Pack 758 and The Nagoya Girl Scouts Overseas Troop 20301 are continuing from strength to strength.

Boy Scouts

Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Pack 758 welcomes English-speaking boys of all nationalities from first grade (age 7) and up to 18 to join their adventures. Their scouting program uses BSA materials, uniforms, and advancement. Whether your child is already a BSA Scout or simply interested in joining up for the first time, there is no problem getting involved. Pack 758 are also looking for volunteers and mentors to help with scouting.

Boys, divided into groups known as Tigers, Bears, and Webelos depending upon age, meet once a week in dens of around five members with each den having a leader and an assistant leader who are responsible for making sure that activities are planned and everything runs smoothly. A pack meeting is held each month at which boys receive their badges and meet the other boys from the various dens.

Girl Scouts

The Nagoya Girl Scouts Overseas Troop 20301 meet twice a month on Sunday afternoons and also have monthly weekend outings and activities. Troops include Daisies (5-6 years), Brownies (7-8 years) and Juniors (8-9 years), but children up to the age of 18 are welcome to join (contact Girl Scouts for updated troop info). Girls of any nationality can join but good English is required. If you are interested in getting involved yourself, they too are looking for volunteers and mentors to help out.

The girls use the USA Girl Scouts Overseas program “Discover – Connect – Take Action” as a foundation, with a strong emphasis towards learning practical skills and outdoor activities.

To see what the troops are up to on a daily basis, check out their facebook page here.

Mark Guthrie

Photo: Screengrab -Modified

ByJason Gatewood
Oct 26, 2018

Koyo, or Fall Colors in Tokyo

One great thing about Japan is that the splendor of all four seasons can be appreciated wherever you live. And this heightened awareness of seasonal beauty is complemented nicely by Japan’s plentiful mountains, forests, beaches, and even a desert (!) meaning that a change of scenery is a simple train or bus ride away.

In the autumn season, the trees become an explosion of bright colors signaling that the cold of winter is on its way. Just like in the springtime with “hanami” cherry blossom viewing, the Japanese also enjoy “kouyoh,” or fall foliage viewing throughout the month of November and into early December in some areas.

Ask anyone here in the Tokyo area where to see some good autumn colors, and they’ll tell you places like Hakone; an hour south of Yokohama, Mt. Takao; about 2 hours west of Shinjuku, or Nikko; around 2 hours north of Ueno Station. These places are certainly beautiful and widely-known fall “leafing” spots, but they are also a good distance from the center of town, making them prime candidates for perhaps a daytrip on the weekend (be prepared for crowds!)

However, there are some pretty good spots in town where you can catch the fall colors without having to plan nearly as hard.

Yoyogi Park

Meiji-Jingu/Yoyogi Parkyoyogi_park_fall: This is my personal favorite because it’s a true oasis in between the Shinjuku and Shibuya “downtowns” on the western side of the Yamanote loop. Since the shrine grounds are a sacred place, it’s a very tranquil and serene place. Yoyogi Park is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, and its easily accessible location near Harajuku Station and Meiji Shrine in Shibuya make it popular for many outdoor adventures among Tokyo’s population.

Koishikawa Korakuen

Koishikawa KorakuenKoishikawa_Korakuen_park_fa is situated just to the south of the Tokyo Dome, and is a traditional Edo Era garden that has survived to this day. The period’s architecture along with the bright red maple leaves during peak season will transport you back in time. The park is one of two surviving Edo period clan gardens in Tokyo and one of the oldest and best preserved parks in Tokyo, which is especially impressive considering construction started in 1629!

Inokashira Park

Inokashira Parkbenzaiten_inokashira_park_f is just outside of the Yamanote loop and south of Kichijoji Station, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The lakeside setting lends itself to lounging around and watching the bright yellow oak leaves fall onto its surface. The park contains a small shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, a petting zoo and small aquarium if you have children to entertain, and on the southwest side you will find the Ghibli Museum.   The park’s crowds on weekends and holidays, especially during koyo, bring vendors, musicians, artists and street performers, lending the park a lively atmosphere.

Meguro Riverwalk

Meguro Riverwalkmeguro_river_sakura_tokyo: located just north of Naka-Meguro station on Tokyu’s Toyoko Line and the last stop on the subway Hibiya Line, this tree-lined stream is popular for cherry tree blossoms in the spring; about 800 cherry trees line the river for almost 4kms between Gotanda and Shibuya, but there are just as many colors to be found here in the fall as well. There are lots of fancy shops and hidden eateries around to enjoy in between gazing at trees so take plenty of time and bring your walking shoes.

Ueno Park

Ueno Park: Of course, no inner Tokyo nature article is complete without mentioning the crown jewel in Tokyo’s park system. There are some 8,800 trees, including cypress, maple, oaks, and 800 famous cherry trees to be found here, as well as Shinobazu Pond, a small lake whose central island houses a shrine to Benzaiten, goddess of fortune.  You’ll also find large crowds at this popular park as well, so be prepared.

Rikugien Park

Rikugien Park: This is one of Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese gardens; perhaps second only to Koishikawa Korakuen. Built around 1700, Rikugien reproduces in miniature 88 scenes from famous poems, and is an excellent example of an Edo Period strolling garden featuring a large central pond surrounded by manmade hills and forested areas connected by trails.


 Meijijingu Gaien

The Meijijingu Gaien cultural complex hosts a variety facilities including Jingu Stadium, which is the venue for Tokyo Big6 Baseball League games and hallowed ground for student ball players; besides the golf range, ice skating rink, and tennis courts. The avenue leading to the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, to record the virtue of the Meiji emperor and Shoken empress dowager for posterity, is spectacular—a walk through the tunnel of golden leaves created by 146 gingko trees will not be forgotten.

Mount Takao

Mount Takao: Of course no list of metro Tokyo fall nature spots is complete without the inclusion of this mountain sitting due west at the other end of the Tokyo Metropolis. Thelush landscape which explodes into a sea of gold and oranges at this time will remind you that all of the Capital Region used to look exactly like this, and makes it very hard to remember that the people living around this idyllic setting still have Tokyo addresses! Only 45 minutes by special express train from Keio Shinjuku station; there’s even special discount tickets you can purchase for the cable and lift cars if you do it ahead of time here when getting your train tickets. Inquire at the ticket vendor’s booth for instructions.

— By Jason L. Gatewood

Photo:FoxyStranger Kawasaki [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: “代々木公園の紅葉” by elimo (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified
Photo: By Kakidai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  -Modified
Photo: By Flickr user kanagen  [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  -Modified
Photo: Creative Commons “Meguro gawa sakura.jpg” -Modified
Photo: By Momotarou2012 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: By Katsutoshi Seki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: By Kanchi1979 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: By Jason L Gatewood (own work)