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Things to do this week in Tokyo September 9 – September 15

‘Embrace the Animal, Strive for the Human’

Until Sat Sep 21, 2013 Vanilla Gallery

Embrace the animalYou generally know what you’re going to get from a trip to Vanilla Gallery, which specialises in work that flirts with the erotic, sadistic and fetishistic. True to form, this solo show by controversial American artist John Santerineross will feature 58 ‘dark magic’ photographs that delve into Greek mythology, religion and the spiritual world. As the title suggests, the contrast between our animalistic, primitive desires and the notions of compassion, love and understanding that make us human is also explored.

Details

Open Until Sep 21 Closed Sun

Time Mon-Fri noon-7pm; Sat & hols noon-5pm

Admission ¥500

Address 4F, 6-10-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ginza Station (Ginza, Marunouchi, Hibiya lines)

Stitch Show Launch Exhibition

Until Mon Sep 16, 2013 Spiral
stitch showArt, design, illustration, handicrafts, and traditional crafts will be on display at Spiral Gallery, in celebration of new book Stitch Show, edited by Junko Yazaki. The launch exhibition will feature a variety of creations and designs by 20 of the craft makers featured in the book.
Details

Open Sep 10-16

Time 11am-8pm

Admission Free

Venue Spiral

Address Spiral Bldg 1F, 5-6-23 Minami-Aoyama, Minato, Tokyo

Transport Omotesando station (Chiyoda, Ginza, Hanzomon lines), exit B1.

The Fashion

Wed Sep 11 – Thu Oct 10, 2013 Ricoh Photo Gallery
b19b78e13bcdf134d1818134a81300e06effb84e_tn482x298The work of six fashion photographers – Terry O’Neill, Jeanloup Sieff, Helmut Newton, Willy Maywald, Sheila Metzner and Bettina Rheims – will be on display at this dedicated photo space. The exhibition will include pieces created for commercials and also for the pages of fashion glossies from around the world, with each shot capturing not only the image of the clothing, but also the personality of the model wearing them.

Details

Open Sep 11-Oct 10

Time 11am-7pm

Venue Ricoh Photo Gallery

Address Ring Cube Building, 5-7-2 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo

Transport Ginza Station (Marunouchi, Hibiya, Ginza lines)

Yebisu Beer Festival 2013

Wed Sep 11 – Mon Sep 16, 2013 Yebisu Garden Place

yebisu beer festivalAfter the summer onslaught of Oktoberfests, here’s an outdoor beer-a-thon that doesn’t feature oompah music, sauerkraut or ludicrously overpriced drinks. It’s held at the sight of a former brewery, and, unsurprisingly, it’ll be strictly Yebisu on tap – if you’re looking for interesting brews, you’d probably be better off heading to the Great Japan Beer Festival 2013 in Yokohama instead. That said, if you get bored of the beer there will be also be a variety of cocktails, iced coffees and snacks to sample in the square.

Details

Open Sep 11-16

Time Sep 11-12 5-9pm, Sep 13-16 11.30am-9pm (last order 8.30pm)

Venue Yebisu Garden Place

Address 4-20 Ebisu, Shibuya, Tokyo

Transport Ebisu station (JR Yamanote Line), East Exit or (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line), exit 1

Michael Rother: the music of Neu! and Harmonia

Thu Sep 12, 2013 Unit
michael rotherGerman musician and Neu! founder Michael Rother will be putting in an appearance at Unit tonight. As the title suggests, the evening will include music from both Neu! and Harmonia, as well as selected solo works, with guest drumming from La Dusseldorf’s Hans Lampe.
Details

Open Sep 12

Time 8pm-11pm

Venue Unit

Address Za House Bldg, 1-34-17 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Daikanyama station (Tokyu Toyoko line).

140 Years of Levi’s

Fri Sep 13 – Mon Sep 16, 2013
140 years of Levi'sMarking 140 years of the iconic blue jeans, the focus of this exhibition will be the brand’s biggest sellers – the 501s, designed in 1890. There will be a gallery displaying images of 501s from around the world, as well as a photo book for fans to buy.

Details

Open Sep 13-16

Time 11am-9pm (Sep 16 until 6pm)

Venue  T-SITE GARDEN GALLERY

Address 16-15 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Daikanyama station (Tokyu Toyoko line).

Hilltop Hotel Beer Garden (2013)

Until Fri Sep 13, 2013 Hilltop Hotel
hilltop hotel beer gardenOchanomizu’s ‘hotel with personality’ houses its summer beer garden in the same space it uses for wedding ceremonies at the weekend. With pews flanking the long tables, it’s like getting drunk in your school chapel, if your school was actually a Butlins holiday camp. The prices are above average (¥840 beers, party courses from ¥5,800, including food and 90 minutes of all-you-can-drink booze), but there’s little about the setting to warrant paying that much.

Details

Open Until September 13 Closed Sat, Sun & hols

Time Mon-Fri 5pm-9pm

Address 1-1 Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ochanomizu station (Chuo, Marunouchi lines), Ochanomizubashi exit.

Intergalactic

Sat Sep 14, 2013 Womb
intergalacticEven if you can’t stand his work with M-Flo (er… guilty), it’s hard not to admire Taku Takahashi’s dancefloor nous. The brains behind web radio station Block.fm also hosts his own party at Womb, propagating a just-don’t-call-it-EDM mix of electro, house, techno, hip hop and all points in between. The latest will feature Yasutaka Nakata, DJ Yummy and the CyberJapan bikini dancers, among others.

Details

Open Sep 14

Time Doors 11pm

Admission ¥3,500 on the door; ¥3,000 with flyer

Venue Womb

Address 2-16 Maruyamacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shibuya Station (Yamanote, Ginza lines), Hachiko exit; (Hanzomon line), exit 3A.

Vietnam Festival 2013

Sat Sep 14 – Sun Sep 15, 2013 Yoyogi Park
Vietnam FestivalSome of Yoyogi Park’s nationally themed fests do a better job of staying on message than others. Although the annual Vietnam Festival can always be counted on to supply ample quantities of bánh mì, 333 Beer and pho, its lineup of live entertainment is rather more schizophrenic: last year’s live performers ranged from V-pop singers Phuong Vy and Dan Truong to homegrown Goth-Loli act Die Milch and Queen tribute band Gueen. Er… just take it as it comes. The festival’s 2013 edition marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Vietnam, so you can expect something a little bit special; watch this space for details.
Details

Open September 14-15

Time 10am-8pm (TBC)

Admission Free

Venue Yoyogi Park

Address 2-1 Yoyogi Kamizounocho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Harajuku Station (Yamanote line), Yoyogi-Koen Station (Chiyoda line), Yoyogi-Hachiman station (Odakyu line)

Body & Soul Live in Tokyo

Sat Sep 14, 2013 Harumi Port Terminal
body & soulDanny Krivit, François K and Joaquin ‘Joe’ Claussell have acquired the aura of elder statesmen on the New York club scene – hardly surprising when you consider that the former two have been rocking the Big Apple’s dancefloors since the 1970s. The trio started their Body & Soul parties in 1996, holding them on Sunday afternoons at the now-defunct Vinyl club in Lower Manhattan. They described the event as ‘like a house party that got too big for someone’s living room’, although you’d have struggled to find a house party that drew such a wide-ranging crowd. While it’s no longer a regular concern, Body & Soul still rears its head from time to time, not least in these annual outdoor parties in Tokyo. Taking place in Harumi Port Terminal, the outdoor Body & Soul Live in Tokyo remains a strictly daytime-only event, starting at 11am and running until 8pm. As ever, visuals come courtesy of New York lighting supremo Ariel.

Details

Open Sep 14

Time Doors 10.30am

Admission ¥6,000 on the door; ¥5,000 adv

Venue Harumi Port Terminal

Address 5-7-1 Harumi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Katsudoki Station (Oedo line), Shin-Toyosu Station (Yurikamome line)

Market of the Sun

Sat Sep 14 – Sun Sep 15, 2013 Tsukishima Second Children’s Park
market of the sunJapan’s largest regular urban farmer’s is kicking off this month, and will feature more than 100 vendors from around the country. In addition to a vast range (more than 50 types) of Western and local vegetables, such as baba eggplant and sanjaku cucumber, each month the market will feature a different seasonal fruit or vegetable. For the first market in September, tomatoes will be the chosen ones, and vendors will sell around 50 varieties from around the globe – including heirloom tomatoes and black cherry tomatoes. Farmers will also hold workshops and let visitors get involved with harvesting, making it a great option for parents hoping to sneakily educate their kids.

After September, the market will be held on the second Saturday and Sunday of each month.

Details

Open Sep 14-15

Time 10am-5pm

Address 1-11-14 Kachidoki, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Kachidoki Station (Toei Oedo Line, exits A4a, A4b)

JATA Travel Showcase 2013

Sat Sep 14 – Sun Sep 15, 2013 Tokyo Big Sight
jataThis annual trade fair of all things travel related is one of the biggest in Asia, featuring more than 1,000 booths representing over 150 potential destinations. This year’s theme is ‘Energy in Japan’, and there will be plenty of hands-on activities for visitors to get involved in, and plenty of opportunities for souvenir shopping.

Details

Open Sep 14-15

Time Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 10am-5pm

Venue Tokyo Big Sight

Address 3-11-1 Ariake, Koto, Tokyo

Transport Kokusaitenjijo Station (JR Rinkai Line) or Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon station (Yurikamome Line)

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What to read: Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

This book is a real page turner!

Mineko Iwasaki was the foremost geisha of her time, to the extent where she became a legend and was invited to entertain the highest levels of world society.  When Arthur Golden wrote his novelMemoirs of a Geisha, he consulted with Mineko but was apparently sworn to silence.  Unfortunately, he then went on to tell people that it was Mineko who had spoken with him about the life of geisha in Japan; Mineko herself was upset that he had twisted what she said and as a result chose to write this book, her own memoirs, to explain to the world what geisha really are, what they do, and her own life story (much of which Golden borrowed for his own book).

I read Memoirs of a Geisha a long time ago, but I remember enjoying it thoroughly when I did.  I was later dismayed to learn that Golden’s story wasn’t nearly so close to the truth as I’d imagined and that in fact he got a number of things wrong.  (Yes, I have always been picky about historical fiction).  I’d heard about Mineko Iwasaki writing her own book, and wanted to read it, but for some reason never actively sought it out.  Then I saw it on the shelf in a charity shop and I was reminded that I really did want to read it and learn something a little closer to the truth than was portrayed in Golden’s book.

This isn’t the best written memoir I’ve ever read; Mineko Iwasaki has a ghost writer, Rande Brown, helping and presumably transforming her story into better English, but she definitely maintains a distance throughout and the book is very simple in tone.  The story she has to tell, however, is far from simple and is completely engrossing.  I did have the sense that Mineko purposely picked and chose which episodes to relate in order to emphasize certain facts about geisha (she splits them into two groups, maiko and geiko) which she knew that Golden got wrong or deliberately changed, but that didn’t lessen my interest in the memoir as a whole.

Sometimes, however, I had trouble believing what she’d said.  For example, she first says that men rarely got very far into the okiya, the house in which a family of geisha lived.  There were prescribed hours men were allowed in, and she uses this to argue that geisha are most certainly not prostitutes.  But shortly afterwards she relates the fact that her older sister did bring men into the house and allowed them to sleep over, that she ran into them in the bathroom, and then was nearly raped by her own nephew in that same house.  If men could not enter the house, why were these men permitted in?

She also begins the book when she is three years old and ascribes to herself adult thoughts and sayings.  I couldn’t believe that a five year old child made the decision on her own to become a geiko, which led me to believe that in fact her parents were willing to sell her like they’d sold her sisters – all of whom became very bitter.  Mineko seems like a much more driven and responsible girl, and since she did end up happy with her life, I wonder if she’s forgiven her parents and thus portrayed them in a much kinder light than she might otherwise have done.  It is possible that at five she decided she wanted to be a geisha, but I would think her parents had a greater role in such a choice than either she knew or wanted to disclose.

Saying those things, I did thoroughly enjoy this memoir even if I took a few of her memories with a grain of salt.  I knew little about the life of geisha and I was happy to be educated.  Mineko is something of a rock star; she was the foremost geisha until she abruptly retired in the middle of her career, sick of the rules and restrictions that she couldn’t manage to change.  She was so popular that no less than seventy other geisha retired within a few months of her, to pay her respect; she wanted to make changes, not endanger the profession, which is what may have ended up happening after her retirement.

As always, it was the little details that thoroughly captivated me.  The clothes Mineko wore – backed up by the amazing photographs in which she looks astonishingly like a painting – the life she lived, the few skills she had as a normal human being.  No one ever taught her any conception of money, for example, until she was in her twenties, so she worked constantly knowing she had to support the okiya but without any real conception of how much she was earning or how much money could buy certain things.

Despite my reservations, this was a truly fascinating book.  I wish more geisha would write memoirs so I could compare and get a little closer to the truth, but for now, I would definitely recommend Geisha of Gion.

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Things to do: This weekend: Koenji Awaodori 2013 dance festival

Sat Aug 24 – Sun Aug 25, 2013 Around Koenji

12,000 dancers pile out on to the streets of Koenji over the two days of the annual Awaodori, undoubtedly one of Tokyo’s most energetic festivals – and one with crowds to match. The awaodori (‘awa dance’) tradition can be traced back to Tokushima in Shikoku, where the story goes that the localdaimyo plied his citizens with booze to celebrate the completion of the local castle in 1586, leading to a citywide outbreak of dancing in the streets. Whatever the accuracy of that tale, the enthusiasm was contagious, and Koenji has been holding a dance of its own for over half a century. While the action starts at 5pm, you’ll need to arrive much earlier if you want to snag one of the best viewing spots.

Details

Open August 24-25

Time 5pm-8pm

Admission Free

Venue Around Koenji

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What to eat: Great summer snacks! Catch them if you can!

It was a little later than usual this year, but rainy season has finally arrived. It marks the return of constant downpours, suffocating humidity, cockroaches and the deafening noise of cicadas. But thankfully it also marks the return of seasonal summer snacks!

All anybody really feels like doing around this time of year is sitting at home listening to the rain hitting the roof, whilst sitting directly under the air con. Therefore, it’s also the perfect time for getting stuck into summer snacks, and man, are there some great ones already on the shelves!

TROPICAL POCKY

snacks_3

This year Coconut Pocky has returned, and it’s brought with it a friend – Tropical Pocky, mango and pineapple flavour. These taste like a typical Hallmark summer, but are worth a try for Pocky fanatics everywhere!

PASSIONFRUIT KITKATS

snacks_2

It’s been a while since KitKat has had any flavours worth talking about, but this passion fruit one is a flavour rare enough to be interesting, but not too weird to be disgusting. It’s a little on the sweet side so I suggest buying them in mini size.

MINT CHOCOLATE ICECREAM AEROS

snacks_1

These really are no different to the mint Aeros that you can buy in the UK. They’ve just added the ‘ice cream’ to make it seem more summery. They are tasty none the less!

CHOCOLATE BANANA TAKENOKO NO SATO

snacks_4

I love banana flavoured things – The faker the taste the better. These don’t disappoint!

WATERMELON ICE LOLLIES

snacks_5

A summer staple in Japan – Watermelon flavour ice lollies with chocolate ‘pips’. They are the perfect refreshing treat and they can usually be picked up cheaply in multipacks from the supermarket.

What treats have you been munching on so far this summer?

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Hiroshima, full of charm in so many ways!

Hiroshima is only a four hour shinkansen (bullet train) ride away from Tokyo so a perfect place to go to on a long weekend. (I do seriously advise you to take a bit of time to enjoy not only the war monument this place is famous for, but also some of the other treasures this area has to offer. Hiroshima ken (prefecture) is the place of two World Heritage sites and the senic Setouchi Region located on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea is full of charm in so many ways.

Hiroshima

Located on the western part of the Honshu mainland, Hiroshima Prefecture has its southern part facing the seto Inland Sea and its northern part surrounded by the Chugoku mountain ranges. The prefectural capital is Hiroshima City, which was left in the ashes in the blink of an eye and left many scarred for life, by the first atomic bombing in homan history during WWII, but achieved a remarkable recovery after the war. Now, this beautiful international cultural city attracts many people from all over the world. serving as a hub of developing cultural and international friendships. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which aims to remind future generations of the horrors of war and appeal for lasting peave, are located in the city itself.

Another peculiar aspect of the city is as many as six rivers flow through the city center. Enjoy going through the city on a pleasure cruiser. From the Motoyasu sambashi (pier), you can take a cruiser to the other World Heritae site in Hiroshima, Itsukushima Shrine. You can also take a nice walk on the walking paths along the Motoyasu River, and relax and have a cup of coffee at one of the stylish open cafes near Hiroshima Station.

Founded by a member of the council of five elders, the five most powerful daimyo (territorial lords) chosen by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to serve his son, Mori Terutomo (1553-1625), Hiroshima-jo Castle is also known as Rijo (litterally meaning “Carp Castle”). Ahukkei-en garden is a beautiful circuit-style garden created around a pond, where you can enjoy shopping at department stores, electronics retail stores to stock up on your favourite Japanese gadgets, and shopping malls in Kamayacho and Hacchobori, the city’s central business district, and Hiroshima nightlife at izakaya and bars lining the streets of the Nagarekawa and Yagembori district.

Streetcars help you get around the city. Check out the Hiroshima Omotenashi Pass, a streetcar daypass and special offer coupons for tourist facilities and restaurants.

Itsukushima Shrine 

Miyajima where the World Heritage Site; Itsukushima Shrine, is located, can be reached from Hiroshima Station by train and ferry in about one hour. The hige red torii gate stands in the ocean, and the magnificent shrine building look as if they are floating on the water. Take a ropeway ride to the top of Mount Misen, or if you have the time and energy, hike up the winding path to the top of this majestic mountain, and you can enjoy the great view of islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

Food

The most famous Hiroshima food item is oyster. You can enjoy not only various dishes with fresh oysters, but also the freshest seafood from the Seto Inland Sea. Okonomiyaki (a sort of pancake) is also one of the best known Horishima foods along with oysters. Unlike the famous Osaka okonomiyaki, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki has layers of a crepe like base, a hige amount of shredded cabbage, meat, noodles and lots of sauce. Anago meshi (conger eel fillets cooked in sweet and salty soy-sauce-based sauce on rice) is another popular dish, which is also popular souvenir, momiji manju, a small maple leaf shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste, will satisfy your sweet tooth. Also, check out Hiroshima’s other newly emerging original dishes, such as gekikara tsukemen (noodles served with an extremely spicy dipping sauce) and shirunashi tantanmen (litterally means tantan noodles with no soup: Chinese noodles topped with a spicy sauce with ground meat and vegetables).

Karuga and Sake

Located in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, Sandankyo Ravine is a famous spot for spectacular autumn leaves. There is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a deep virgin forest. The northern part of the prefecture is also famous for Karuga. Karuga, which means “God’s entertainment,”is a type of Shinto theatrical music and dance, and the style in this region is charachterized by dynamic yet elegant dancing, colourful costumes, and boisterous music rhythms. You can see it at Kagura Monzen Toji Mura, where you can also enjoy hot springs.

About a 30-minute train ride from Hiroshima City to the east will take you to Saijo in Higashi-Hiroshima City. Saijo is nationally famous for sake brewing, along with Fushimi in Kyoto. There are eight sake brewers around JR Saijo Station. You can sample each brewer’s original sake, as well as look for souvenirs. After walking around the area, you can rest and relax and cafes and restaurants in buildings that used to be sake storehouses. There is an annual festival, called Sake, Matsuri, held on a Saturday and Sunday in mid-October, where about 900 brands of sake from all over Japan are offered for tasting.

Towns in Setouchi

Kure is a port town that was developed as one of the world’s biggest military ports. Mitarai used to prosper as one of the port towns in Setouchi in the Edo period (1603-1867), where sailboats stayed waiting for good winds and tides for sailing to their destinations. You can see the buildings and historical sites which retains the atmosphere of the towns’old days.

Takehara, known to anime fans as a “sacret place” of the anime series “Tamayura”, is called “Little Kyoto of the Aki area”, where houses of former wealthy merchants still stand behind white walls lining the street in a quant atmosphere.

Attracting people with its calm and magnificent natural landscape, Tomonoura is one of the main scenic sites in Setonaikai National Park. The traditional fishing method, tai-ami, net fishing for red sea bream, is still actively performed in this srea. A special tai-ami event is held throughout May every year, where the dynamic, spectacular fishing thrills the audience.

Onomichi

Nationally known as a town of slopes, a town of temples, a town of literature, and a town of movies, Onomichi has mountains standing very close to the edge of the ocean and slopes with many stone steps, making it a perfect place to stroll around in a relaxed and leisurely way. Walk along the shopping arcade Chuo Shotengai (Onomichi E-no-machi street) from JR Onomichi Station, and you will arrive at Ropeway Sanroku Sation in Senkoji Park. From the park, you can have a good view of Onomichi Suido Channel and Mukaishima island.

Connecting Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) in Shikoku and Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) over a total lenght of about 60km, Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Expressway also includes Setonaikai-crossing Bicycle Route, Japan’s first bicycle path crossing the strait. Going through the islands in the Seto Inland Sea connected with ten bridges, you can enjoy cycling while enjoying the views from the bridges. You can rent a bicycle at one of 14 rental stations and drop it off at any of the stations. Enjoy cycling without worrying about getting back to your starting point!

There will be a Destination campaign by the JR Group from July to September, 2013, which is a national tourism campaign. Go on a trip to discover new aspects of Hiroshima! If you want to go to other places around Hiroshima, get “the Next 10 Spots”brochure when arriving at Hiroshima.

Access to Hiroshima

Tokyo->Hiroshima: fastest 3 hours and 48 minutes by JR Shinkansen (Nozomi)

Haneda Airport (Tokyo)->Hiroshima Airport: 1 hour and 20 minutes by plane

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Ultimate Japan: 6 must-see destinations

When in Japan, make like a local and head straight for these “pure Japan” spots.

1. Ancient Kyoto

It may be a cliché, but you might just see her on the cobbles of Kyoto.

Why: Let’s face it — most travelers can’t resist the magnetic pull of Japan’s former Imperial capital (794-1869), with its temples, shrines and (dwindling) ranks of geisha.

“Of course, many people from Western countries, like the United States and Canada, like to travel to time-honored cities like Kyoto,” says Mamoru Kobori of the Japan National Tourism Organization.

And lest we forget, the ancient city would have been obliterated by an atomic bomb at the end of World War II had it not been for U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who took it off the list of potential targets because he had fond memories of honeymooning there.

For years, people have visited Kyoto to stay in its old ryokans and eat traditional, multi-course kaiseki meals. But they should also consider exploring the city’s new side.

Entrepreneurs are gutting old teahouses and geisha houses and giving them new lives. Niti, located inside a former geisha house, is a sleek bar and café that seamlessly blends contemporary touches with Japanese tradition.

Tutto Bene, also inside a renovated geisha house, is where locals (and sometimes geisha) go to get their pizza fix.

You can still get the regular options, but more surprising are toppings that range from sardine with eggplant sauce to okura with Japanese shiso sprouts to octopus with rice sauce and basil paste.

Another fascinating stop is The Garden Oriental, an Italian restaurant and bar created inside the former house and studio of celebrated Japanese painter Seiho Takeuchi.

Getting there: Tokyo and Kyoto Stations are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen, which makes the trip several times a day. The journey takes about 140 minutes and a one-way ticket costs ¥13,320.

2. Kumano Kodo pilgrimage

Why: It’s a side of Japan not many tourists see. Monks, retired emperors, aristocrats and regular folk have been hiking this pilgrimage route since the Heian period (794-1192).

The Kumano Kodo, on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2004, is a network of well-marked (in both Japanese and English) and well-maintained trails winding through the forests and fields, villages and towns that stretch across the southwestern Kii Peninsula in the Kansai region.

“It’s not like Kyoto or Nara — it’s a little off the beaten path,” says Brad Towle of the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau.

“The routes lead to inspiring natural sacred sites, and along the way visitors can find isolated hot springs, delicious cuisine and authentic accommodations.”

Arriving at the main ancient shrines and temples may be the ultimate goal, but visiting the “Oji” subsidiary shrines or strolling past towering cedar and cypress trees, water-logged rice paddies and neat green-tea plantations is also immensely pleasurable.

You can take a private dip in the cloudy waters of the Tsuboyu bath (¥750) in Yunomine Onsen. At 1,800 years old, the onsen is believed to be one of the oldest in Japan.

Villagers use the water for soaking, cooking and even drinking.

The geological wonder known as the Kawayu Onsen is also worth experiencing. A hot spring bubbles just below the rocky banks of the Oto River. All you have to do is dig a hole, wait for it to fill up and then plunk yourself down. Voilà — instant personal onsen.

Getting thereJapan Airlines (JAL) flies three times a day between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Nanki-Shirahama Airport, which is a bus ride away from Tanabe City. The one-way flight takes 80 minutes and costs ¥29,170 (¥47,840 for the round trip).

Travelers can also board a high-speed train from Tokyo to Osaka, and then transfer to a local express line to Kii-Tanabe. The one-way trip takes about five hours and costs ¥16,520. Use theTanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau’s website to plan your hike and book accommodations.

3. Amazing Nagasaki

Why: Almost wiped off the map by the 1945 atomic bombing, Nagasaki has been rebuilt into an urban jewel on Japan’s third largest island, Kyushu.

Nagasaki grew from a tiny fishing village into an important port for trade with Europe and China. When the rest of Japan was practically cut off from the world for many centuries, Nagasaki kept its doors open.

These days, visitors come to learn about the city’s history, wander through its small but thriving Chinatown and marvel at the hillside Glover Gardens, which has a statue of Madame Butterfly to remind people of the Puccini opera that was set here.

Nagasaki also has deep Christian roots, with churches like Oura Catholic Church and monuments to missionaries who were executed in the 16th century and became known as the 26 Martyrs of Japan.

The best photo ops are from atop Mount Inasa, which towers 333 meters above the city. You can hike it or ride up on the Nagasaki Ropeway (¥1,200 round trip).

Another popular attraction is Gunkanjima, also known as Battleship Island, accessed via a 50-minute ferry ride.

“This former coal mining community on an island off the coast of Nagasaki Prefecture was abandoned 40 years ago and left to decay,” says Charles Spreckley of custom travel operatorBespoke Tokyo.

“A few years ago it was opened as an eerily romantic, almost apocalyptic tourist attraction.”

Getting thereJapan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines both fly every day between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Nagasaki. The trip takes two hours. Return tickets range from ¥53,000 to ¥80,000.  Travelers can also ride the high-speed JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo to Fukuoka’s Hakata Station and transfer to the JR Kamome limited express train to Nagasaki. The one-way trip takes more than seven hours and costs ¥25,140.

4. Cool Karuizawa

Hot stuff in a real cool place — Mount Asama erupted in 2009.

Why: Because it’s one of the most beautiful places to be in Japan in autumn, because it’s several degrees cooler than Tokyo in the summer and because the thrill of being close to one of this country’s most active volcanoes will give your trip that added edge. The 2,568-meter Mount Asama erupted in 2009 and 2004 (an eruption in 1783 killed approximately 1,500 people).

However, the town’s natural beauty and charm help people to forget about the risks. Emperor Akihito met his future Empress on a tennis court here in 1957. John Lennon and Yoko Ono holidayed in Karuizawa in the 1970s and stayed at the Mampei Hotel.

The town has great hiking, hot springs and bird watching. Yacho-no-mori, or Wild Bird Forest, is home to about 120 species of bird.

Getting there: Karuizawa is a one-hour high-speed train ride from Tokyo Station. A one-way ticket costs ¥5,950. Express buses run from Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Yokohama. Single fares are about ¥3,000. The journey takes around three hours.

5. Pick a festival, any festival (omatsuri)

Strip off and climb on — the wild and racy Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival.

Why: Because Japan, with its centuries of Shinto and Buddhist tradition, has no shortage of them. They’re colorful, fun and they take place throughout the year in different parts of the country.

Where else can you see people riding logs down hillsides or sumo wrestlers trying to make babies cry?

Most people who have lived in this country, or who visit regularly, have their favorite. For Duff Trimble, whose Toronto-based Wabi-Sabi Japan customizes guided tours here, it’s the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival.

“It is likely the most powerful experience I had during my years in Japan — truly epic,” he says.

“I participated in the festival, which might explain my bias, but I believe this would be an amazing experience for anyone. It wraps up so many elements of Japanese culture in one experience.”

Similarly enthusiastic visitors to the July event — which takes place in Hakata, Fukuoka — typically head for the annual street-circuit race of one-ton, 10-meter-tall wheeled floats called yamakasa.

Bonus fact: If you really want to make like a local, avoid eating cucumbers for the duration of the two-week festival.

Apparently, slices of the green stuff look too similar to the emblem of one of the benevolent local gods for mere human consumption.

Getting thereTravelers can take the high-speed JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen from Tokyo to Fukuoka’s Hakata Station. The one-way trip takes five hours and costs ¥22,120. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines both have daily flights between Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Fukuoka. One-way fares start at about ¥25,000.

6. Tokyo’s glorious parks

Why: Because, while most people believe this sprawling metropolis — with its crowded crosswalks and sardine-can trains — is a steel, glass and concrete jungle (or the setting for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner”), it actually has its fair share of green spaces.

The popular ones include Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno Park. But the small, yet stunning Happo-en garden in Shirokanedai is just as impressive.

The 50,000-square-meter park is billed as a reflection of “the natural beauty of Edo Japan,” and is worth seeing in any season, especially spring (for the cherry blossoms) and autumn (for the fiery fall colors).

A hut next to a pond, which is fed by a nearby stream, provides the perfect place for quiet contemplation, and to watch fat carp fling themselves into the air. Happo-en also hosts a Japanese teahouse and two restaurants.

Oh, and a chapel — it’s a popular place for weddings. Staff say they can have anywhere from 18 to 35 marriages a day in the busy spring-to-fall season.

So, along with enjoying the garden’s scenery, visitors can watch newlyweds pose for photos in traditional Japanese attire.

Getting there: Take the Yamanote Line to Meguro Station, transfer to the Namboku Line, and get off at Shirokanedai Station. Happo-en is a five-minute walk away.

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Must see: Manpaku food festival; a paradise for foodies!

The sign at the entrance of the festival grounds

The sign at the entrance of the festival grounds

Sat May 18 – Mon Jun 3, 2013 Showa Kinen Park

Manpaku festival, the place to go if you are a foody!

Manpaku festival, the place to go if you are a foody!

Get an authentic music festival food court experience without the music at this gourmand get-together organised by the folks from Rockin’ On’ magazine. Comparative with the well known ‘Taste of Amsterdam’. Held at the vast Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa, Manpaku features many popular food stalls from the festival circuit, offering tantalising treats ranging from karaage and ramen to a curry made from the recipe used by baseball star Hideo Matsui’s mother.

Details: Open air food festival in its 5th year. Sample dishes from all over the world in one, convenient place.
May 18-June 3, 10:30am-9pm, ¥400-¥2,000.
Tel: manpaku@rock-net.jp.
manpaku.jp/201305

Venue: Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa-shi. Nearest Station: Tachikawa. Tel: 042-528-1751.
Additional Venues
Details: Big food fair with 80 stalls, imported and craft beer.
May 26-June 3, 11am-9pm. Until 6pm on the last day, ¥500(door), ¥400(adv), free(elementary & under).
www.manpaku.jp
Venue: Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa-shi. Nearest Station: Tachikawa. Tel: 042-528-1751.
We went to the Manpaku festival today (Saturday May 25th) and we can really recommend it. It is a lot of fun. See below some of the pictures we took:

IMG_2833 IMG_2834 IMG_2835 IMG_2836 IMG_2837 IMG_2838 IMG_2839 IMG_2840 IMG_2841 IMG_2842 IMG_2843 IMG_2844 IMG_2845 IMG_2846

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Japans treasures: Go

(For an English translation, please scroll down)

master and geisha playing go

master and geisha playing go

wat is go?
Go is een bordspel wat veel in Japan wordt gespeeld. Het is vergelijkbaar met dammen of schaken. Het spel staat bekend om de vele mogelijke strategische spelvormen ondanks dat het vrij simpele regels heeft. Schaakmeeser Emanuel Lasker zegt hierover: “De regels van het Go zijn zo elegant, organisch en rigoreus in haar logica, dat als er een intelligente levensvorm in het universum bestaat buiten de aarde, ze vrijwel zeker een variant van Go zullen spelen!”
De twee spelers plaatsen om de beurt zwarte en witte stukken (stenen genaamd) over vrije kruispunten (dit noemt met punten) over een grid van 19×19 lijnen. Beginnelingen spelen vaker op een kleiner bord van 9×9 of 13×13. Het doel van het spel is om de stukken van de tegenspeler te omringen. Als je een stuk speelt op het bord, dan mag je het stuk niet meer verzetten, tenzij dit stuk door de tegenspeler van het bord af wordt gespeeld. Get spel eindigt pas als geen van de spelers meer een zet kan maken. Het spel heeft geen spefieke regels hoe het moet eindigen. Op het einde tellen de spelers hoeveel stukken van het bord zijn gespeeld en wie er een groter deel van het bord tot zijn teritorium heeft geclaimd om te bepalen wie de winnaar is. Een speler kan het spel ook opgeven en zo de verliezer worden.

de geschiedenis
Volgens legenden gaat de oorspong van het ‘Go’ terug naar Yao en Shun, twee legendarische keizers van het oude China. Hoewel gelijksoortige spelen als Go, waarbij het de bedoeling is dat je de stenen of stukken van je tegenstander omringt met die van jou, door heel Azië werden gespeeld, is het helaas niet te achterhalen waar Go oorspronkelijk vandaan komt. Er is een theorie die zegt dat Go oorspronkelijk werd gebruikt om de toekomst te voorspellen.
We weten echter wel dat de originele vorm van Go uit China komt. Het spel werd met name tijdens de lente en herfst gespeeld. Van oorspong op een veld van 17×17 vakjes, tegenwoordig speelt men op 19×19 vakjes.
In het boek van ‘Sui’ wat werd uitgegeven in de 7e eeuw, staat in beschreven de voorliefde van Japanners voor Go en Sugoroku (een soortgelijk spel) en Bakuchi (gokken), gaat men er vanuit dat Go in ieder geval niet later dan de 5e of 6e eeuw naar Japan kwam. Het lievelingsbord van de keizer Shoumu kun je terugzien in Shousouin, een gebouw waar vele oude kunststukken uit vroeger tijden te zien zijn.

go om geld
Met Go kon serieus geld worden verdiend. Er gaat zelfs een verhaal dat de priester Kanren en meester in het Go een spelletje speelde met de keizer Daigo. De priester won en kon met het geld wat hij van de keizer had afgetroggeld een tempel bouwen!

de grondlegger van het go
Een persoon die een significante impact had op het spel Go was Hon’inbou Sansa. Deze priester woonde in Tacchuu Hon’inbou bij de Jakkou tempel in Kyoto. De invloed die deze man op het spel had, is te vergelijken met de invloed die Sen no Rikyuu had op de thee ceremonie en Zeami had op Noh. (klassiek Japans muziek drama). Nadat de Tokugawa Bakufu was aangetreden, werd deze man uitgenodigd om naar Edo te komen om Go aan de nobelen te leren.

vrije plekken
Rond de Edo periode werd ook het ‘vrije plekken systeem’ ingevoerd. Dit systeem zorgt ervoor dat spelers geen vaste beginopstelling meer hoefden aan te nemen zoals dat hiervoor wel gebruikelijk was. Hierdoor werd het mogelijk nieuwe strategieën te ontwikkelen zoals ‘fuseki’ (start strategie) en ‘joseki’ (de stenen voor beide zijden op de beste plek neerzetten) en werd veel meer een veelzijdiger spel met meer ingewikkelde strategieën.
In het begin van de 20e eeuw werd dit vrije plekken systeem ook in China ingevoerd en is het nu onderdeel van de internationale Go regels.

officiele baan
Tijdens de Edo periode kon je je brood verdienen als professionele Go speler. De Bakufu gaf Go spelers een salaris en liet ze spelen in het Edo kasteel. De beste spelers onder de Meijin (Go grootmeesters) kregen de post van Godokoro. De Godokoro had veel macht, waaronder het recht om een licentie te verstrekken. Vandaar ook dat er serieus gestreden werd in de vorm van Sodo (vecht go) om deze post van Godokoro te bemachtigen.

go en de gewone bevolking
Rond de 15e en 16e eeuw verspreide Go zich onder het gewone volk. Go werd zo populair dat er zelfs Senryuu (grappige haiku) over werden geschreven. Bijvoorbeeld ‘Ik houd van, en haat mijn Go rivaal’.
In het midden van de 19e eeuw was Go zo populair dat er ook meer dan 10 vrouwen hadden met een licentie.
Tijdens de Meiji restauratie stortte het Go establisement in. Alle hoofden van de scholen verloren niet alleen hun salaris, maar ook hun Samurai status.
Pas in 1924 een jaar na de grote kanto aardbeving, krabbelde Go weer een beetje op.

de ‘uitrusting’
Wat heb je nodig om Go te kunnen spelen?
Natuurlijk de ‘Goban’ (het bord), de ‘Goshi’ (de stenen) en de ‘Goke’ (bakje om de steentjes die je hebt gewonnen in te leggen). De spelers zitten tegenover elkaar en spelen over de grid lijnen die ‘Me’ worden genoemd.
Er worden meerdere houtsoorten gebruikt om het Go bord te maken, maar de Kaya boom (Torreya nucifera) wordt gezien als het beste materiaal. Voor de zwarte Go stenen is de Nachiko steen die wordt gemijnd in het Kumano gebied het beste en voor de witte stenen worden witte schelpen vanuit het Hyuuga gebied gebruikt.
Een volledige set bestaat uit 181 zwarte stenen en 180 witte stenen en deze zijn precies genoeg om alle ‘Me’ van het bord te bedekken. Voor het bakje voor de stenen wordt hout van de Morus boom vanuit het Izu schiereiland gebruikt.

Wil je zelf ook eens Go proberen?
Kijk dan eens op http://playgo.to/iwtg/en/
Dit is een website waarbij je op een interactieve manier het spel en alle strategieën je eigen kunt maken. Wil je liever een ‘echt’ bord. Kijk dan eens op http://www.igo-shogi.co.jp” Deze website is wel alleen in het Japans. Hier is nog een alternatieve website met winkels waar je het spel Go kunt kopen in Tokio. Deze website is helaas ook alleen in het Japans.

English:

master and geisha playing go

master and geisha playing go

What is Go?

Go is a board game that is played in Japan. It is comparable with checkers or chess. The game is known for the many strategic moves you can make eventhough it is simple in its rules. Chessmaster Emanuel Lasker refers to it as: “The rules of Go are so elegant, organic and rigorous in its logic, that if there are intelligent life forms out there in the universe (other than us), they will definitely play some form or other of Go.” Two players both place black and white stones on the board across free intersections on a grid of 19×19 lines. Beginners usually play on a board of 9×9 lines or 13×13 lines. The aim of the game is to surround the other players pieces and claim the biggest territory. Once a piece is played, it cannot be moved, unless it is conquered by the opposite player and therefore removed from the board. Go only ends when none of the players can make a move. The game does not have any specific rules how it should end. At the end both players count how many pieces they have played off the board and who has claimed the biggest territory to assess who is the winner. A player can also give up and forfeit the game.

The history

According to legends the game of Go goes back to the Yao and Shun. Two legendary emperors of ancient China. Although games like Go were played all over Asia, it is not exactly clear where the game originated from. Most, however, say it originates from China/ There is even a theory that claims that Go was originally used for divination purposes! All we know for sure is that the original form comes from China, although back then the game was played with a grid of 17×17 and now it is 19×19. In the book of ‘Sui’, which was published in the 7th century, it is written that Japanese have a love for Sugoroku (a game like Go) and for Bakuchi (gambling), because of this publication it is widely thought that Go was introduced to Japan no later than the 5th or 6th century. The favourite board of emperor Shoumu can be seen in Shousouin a building where many ancient artefacts are kept.

Go for cash

By playing Go you could earn a good living. There is even a story that tells of priest Kanren, who was a Go master, who played with emperor Daigo. The priest won and with the earnings he was able to build a new temple!

The founding father of go

One person that meant a lot for Go was Hon’inbou Sansa. This priest lived in Tacchuu Hon’inbou at the Jakkou temple in Kyoto. The influence this man had on the game is comparable with the influence Sen no Rikyuu had on the tea ceremony and Zeami had on Noh. (classical Japanese music drama). After the Tokugawa Bakufu came into power, this man was invited to come to Edo to teach Go to the establishment.

Free moves

Around the Edo period, the free moves system was introduced. This system meant that players no longer had to place their pieces according to a set beginner position, but where able to place they pieces wherever they liked. This meant that a large number of new strategies could be used like the ‘fuseki’ (start strategy) en ‘joseki’ (placing the stones on both sides on the most advantageous spot). The game became much more intricate in its details and more complicated strategies where developed.
In the beginning of the 20th century this ‘free style’ Go was introduced back into China and now it is part of the international rules of Go.

Official job

During the Edo period it was possible to make a serious living as a professional Go player. The Bakufu gave any official Go players a salary and let them play in the Edo castle. The best players among the Meijin (Go masters) received the position of Godokoro. The Godokoro had a lot of influence and power, among which the right to issue licences. In order to obtain this position of Godokoro, many people battled it out by playing Sodo (fighting go).

Go and the commoners

Around the 15th and 16th century, Go spread among the common people. Go became so popular that there were even Senryuu (funny haiku) written about it. For example ‘I both love and hate my Go opponent.’ In the middle of the 19e century Go  became so popular that more than 10 women had licences to practice Go. During the Meiji restauration, Go’s popularity plummeted. All the heads of the Go schools did not only lost their wages, they also lost their samurai title. Only in 1924, one year after the great Kanto earthquake Go reestablished itself.

The ‘gear’

What does one need to play Go? Ofcourse the ‘Goban’ (the board), the ‘Goshi’ (de stones) and the ‘Goke’ (bowl used to place your opponents stones which you have won into) The players sit across from each other and play the different grid lines, called ‘Me’.
 There are several different kinds of wood used to manufacture the Go boards, but according to the experts wood from the Kaya tree (Torreya nucifera) is considered the best material. For the black Go stones the Nachiko stone is mined in Kumano area. The best material for the white stones are shells from the Hyuuga area.
A full set consists of 181 black stones and 180 white stones. These are exactly enough to cover the entire board. For the Goku, the little bowl, the best wood to use is that of the Morus tree that comes from the Izu peninsula.

Would you like to try Go yourself?

Then please visit http://playgo.to/iwtg/en/
This is an interactive website that has many tutorials on Go and teaches you step by step to become a great Go player.

If you prefer the ‘hands on’ experience, you can by your own Go board in Tokyo at these places: http://www.igo-shogi.co.jp” (website only in Japanese) or click here for a list of all Go shops in Tokyo. (also only in Japanese)

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Queensday party in Tokyo, a night to remember!

(For an English translation, please scroll down)
Dit jaar is een bijzonder jaar voor Nederlanders over de hele wereld! Koningin Beatrix doet afstand van de kroon en haar zoon, prins Willem Alexander, zal op 30 april haar plaats op de troon overnemen. Natuurlijk zal deze bijzondere dag niet zomaar voorbij gaan, en uiteraard houdt dit de gemoederen ook bezig in een stad als Tokio waar de Nederlandse gemeenschap natuurlijk meeleeft met het koningshuis.

Om koninginnedag te vieren, vindt er elk jaar een groot feest plaats voor de Nederlandse gemeenschap in Tokio. Ook dit jaar weer trekt NKK (de Nederlandse Kanto Kring vereniging) alles uit de kast om een leuk feest op poten te zetten op het terrein van de Nederlandse ambassade in Tokio. Het is voor de Nederlanders hier zelfs mogelijk om tijdens het feest alles live mee te maken via grote schermen die op het feestterrein worden geplaatst. Het beloofd weer een mooi feestje te worden!

Zie hieronder de flyer die ik heb gemaakt ter ere van deze dag. Mocht je er ook bij willen zijn, stuur dan een mailtje naar kantokring@gmail.com

Flyer for the Dutch queensday party at the embassy on April 30th

Flyer for the Dutch queensday party at the embassy on April 30th

English:

This year will be a very special year for all of the Dutch people around the world! Our queen Beatrix will abdicate her throne and her son, prince William Alexander will take her place on April 30th. Of course this very special day will not go unnoticed and therefore has Dutch people here in Tokyo all excited. How often do you witness the rise of a new king? Our hearts go out to the royal family on this important day.
To celebrate this queensday (the last of its kind as next year will be kingsday) there is always a big party organized for the Dutch community in Tokyo. Like every year this year promises to be spectacular! The party will be held at the embassy grounds and it is even possible to witness the whole event live and up close from big screens that will be places around the grounds. It promoses to be a night to always remember!
If you would like to join us in the festivities, you can send an email to kantokring@gmail.com

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Facebook page

(For an English translation please scroll down)

Bezoek ook eens mijn Facebook pagina! Klik op deze link om er te komen.
Ik zou het op prijs stellen als je even op de ‘vind ik leuk’ knop zou klikken!

My Facebook page is now also available! Why don’t you take a look? Just follow this link.
I would greatly appreciate it if you pressed the ‘like’ button while you’re there!

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