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Results are in for the Recruit Sumai Survey

recruitsumai-chart1

The latest Recruit Sumai survey on favorite neighborhoods to live in the Kanto region has been published. The top five neighborhoods in the ranking are: Kichijoji, Ebisu, Yokohama, Meguro and Shinagawa. Last year, the top winner of this questionnaire was Ebisu, which toppled Kichijoji, a long-standing top contender from previous years. Other places in the top ten include Nakameguro, Shibuya and Tokyo station area. The popularity of the JR Yamanote train line is noticeable within the results.

The ranking, which takes place annually, is based on a survey conducted over the Internet for several days in January, and respondents pick their top three choices of where they would most like to live according to train stations. For the 2017 survey, a total of 3,996 people living in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures between the ages of 20-49 submitted their responses.

It seems Kichijoji is mainly blessed by attributes such as shopping streets, department stores and Inokashira Park. For results of the survey, follow this link for the pdf file (in Japanese): http://www.recruit-sumai.co.jp/press/upload/sumitaimachi_2017_kanto.pdf. Visit Higherground (http://higherground-rent.com/) for apartment listings in Ebisu, Meguro, Nakameguro, Shibuya, and Shinagawa.



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Automate washing clothes with the Laundroid

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Hate doing laundry? Very soon this task could be automated. In a recent article published by Bloomberg (written by Yuji Nakamura & Hiroyuki Nakagawa), a Japanese company has created a “laundry robot” called the Laundroid.

laundryrobot31According to the Bloomberg article (here is an excerpt): Shin Sakane, head of Seven Dreamers Laboratories Inc, received 6 billion yen ($53 million) from partners, including Panasonic Corp., last month to advance “the Laundroid” — a robot Sakane is developing to not only wash and dry garments, but also sort, fold and neatly arrange them. The refrigerator-size device could eventually fill the roles of washing machine, dryer and clothes drawer in people’s homes. Sakane (aged 45), whose earlier inventions include an anti-snoring device and golf clubs made of space materials, said the funding will bring closer his dream of liberating humanity from laundry.

Sakane wouldn’t disclose how Laundroid works, but patents show that users dump clothes in a lower drawer and robotic arms grab each item as scanners look for features such as buttons or a collar. Once identified, the clothes are folded using sliding plates and neatly stacked on upper shelves for collection. The goal is to eventually get the price of the full version to less than about JPY300,000.laundryrobot2

Users will still have to do some tasks, such as partially buttoning shirts, ensuring clothes aren’t inside out, and bunching socks before putting them inside the machine. That’s because even the best machine-learning applications can’t figure out how to fold a pair of socks. At the moment, each item takes about 10 minutes to fold, which Sakane attributed to the time necessary to scan each part of the clothing and communicate via Wi-Fi with a central server. He is working to get it down to 3-to-5 minutes, but said the robot was designed to be used passively while users are doing something else or out of the house.

Photo credits: Akio Kon, Bloomberg

For the entire Bloomberg article: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-01/robot-inspired-by-a-space-odyssey-will-relieve-you-of-laundry



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Enjoying Springtime in Tokyo

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Toyohara Chikanobu (1838–1912)

There are two seasons that are truly wonderful in Tokyo: Spring and Autumn, and this blog focuses on the former. Spring is arguably one of the best times, and after an often miserable Winter with its dry air and lack of greenery, the warmer weather is a godsend (unless you are a heavy sufferer of Kafunsho (pollen allergies). The warmer weather, of course, also brings the cherry blossoms and the happy, joyful people under them.

Spring brings the Sakura

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Flickr, Reginald Pentinio

Without a doubt, cherry blossom (Sakura) season is a major highlight in Japan. It is interesting to note that sakura trees grow extensively in the East Asian region, and exist in China, Korea and Taiwan. However, the way the trees are often presented in Japan is special. Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is a well-loved tradition and custom where friends, family members and sometimes even coworkers go out to eat and drink all together under the trees to look at the gorgeous cherry blossoms. Click here for a previous blog about viewing the cherry blossoms here: http://livingtokyo.net/uncategorized/2015-03-25/cherry-blossom/ and visit this site for a few more listings: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/tourists/attractions/fourseasons/sakura.html.

Commons, Jun of Kanagawa

Creative Commons, Jun of Kanagawa

For Tokyo, on average, cherry blossoms start to bloom around the 25th of March and should be in full bloom by the first few days of April. It seems for this year, 2017, the blossoms may arrive a little earlier in Tokyo, and the latest (the fifth) forecast shows possible start date of March 19th. The blossoms usually last about a week. Warmer weather sooner will bring the blooms earlier, while colder weather will delay the blooms; but it is always hard to gauge especially for travellers who need to plan ahead. A good site for tracking the Sakura forecast for Japan is by the Japan Meteorological Corporation : https://n-kishou.com/corp/news-contents/sakura/news2017.html?lang=en#section01

Spring palate bamboo, greens and pink

Joi Ito from Inbamura

Creative Commons, Joi Ito from Inbamura

Spring brings an assortment of new greens to the kitchen table. In Japan, people enjoy bamboo shoots, spring cabbage, asparagus, wild greens from the mountains, as well as certain types of clams and seafood. Unlike other countries that associate strawberries as a summer fruit, strawberries are widely available and considered seasonal in Spring as well.

Young bamboo shoots are used in cooking during the spring and summer seasons. It is usually served with rice or seasoned with a sauce, or can be eaten boiled with a topping of bonito flakes. Another seasonal delight are new potatoes, which give a distant flavor compared to the old spud.

Creative Commons, Katorisi

Creative Commons, Katorisi

The red sea bream (tai) is also considered best in Spring, and is popular as sashimi (raw fish) or stewed. Squid, although available all year, also becomes sweeter in this season.

It won’t be Spring without seeing pink-colored sticky rice cakes (Sakura mochi)  for sale in stores. Do note that the pink hue does not come naturally from cherry blossoms, but is rather colored to celebrate the season. This extends to other Sakura-marketed products and even the Sakura frappuccinos at Starbucks. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the pink blossoms from the cherry trees really don’t have much of a scent or taste; and even if some species do, it would be weak at best (unlike jasmine blossoms, which give off a strong scent, for example).

Creative Commons, Katorisi

Creative Commons, Katorisi

Spring mountain vegetables are prevalent from the later part of winter onwards. Called Sansai, they are essentially wild, edible vegetable from the mountainous areas of Japan. For more details visit: https://gurunavi.com/en/japanfoodie/2016/03/sansai.html?__ngt__=TT0ce0dba30001ac1e4ac20aFjAUoGt4r8gMJP83v-BonA

Springtime festivals and events

There are countless festivals taking place in Spring time, many of which are centered around the cherry blossoms, and provide food and drink at the same time. One of the major ones occur along the Meguro river in the Nakameguro area, where neighboring restaurants and bars come out with a food and drink stand selling items like sakura champagne and gourmet sausages. There are, however, other festivals of interest and here are a few listed below.

firewalkingThe Firewalking festival at Mt Takao : At the festival on March 12th, believers first pray for the safety of family, traffic and body and then follow yamabushi (Shugendo practicing monks) to walk barefoot over the sacred goma fire that is smoldering and still partially burning. The sight of yamabushi monks bravely walking through the flame while chanting is the event’s highlight. Visitors may also participate in the barefoot walking after the fire has been put out, and by that time, the actual temperature of the path they would walk is only slightly warm. For more info: http://www.takaosan.or.jp/english/index.html

uenoparkhanamiThe Ueno Sakura Matsuri: Ueno Park, is the host of one of many sakura matsuri that take place at the end of March or beginning of April (when the blossoms bloom). Ueno Park is especially welcoming for hamami, as people take up spots by the sakura trees. For this festive occasion, expect plenty of food stalls but also huge crowds. Nevertheless, Ueno Park is one of the best places to take a stroll with the cherry blossom trees.

yabusameYabusame at Asakusa: Yabusame is a type of horse-mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery. An archer shoots three special “turnip-headed” arrows at three wooden targets, while riding on a sprinting horse. This style of archery has its origins at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Taking place on April 15th, 2017, the free event lasts one hour from 11am. It is best to arrive early to grab a good viewing spot.

azaleaBunkyo Azalea Festival (Tsutsuji Matsuri): Located at Nezu Shrine, Bunkyo Ward, azaleas bloom for about a month. Home to about 3,000 azalea plants, the shrine will have Taiko drum and folk dance performances, usually around Golden Week. For more details (in Japanese): http://www.nedujinja.or.jp/main/k4.html

sanjaThe “Yakuza” Festival (Sanja Matsuri): Held in May, centered around the Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine area (5-min walk from Asakusa station), the Sanja Matsuri is considered Tokyo’s biggest festival. It has a reputation for being somewhat wild and lively displaying many elaborate portable shrines (mikoshi). The festival lasts three days and attracts over 2 million visitors. Festivals featuring mikoshi tend to have an energetic intensity about them, as they’re essentially about feats of strength and endurance; and the Sanja Matsuri is considered one of the major ones in this respect.



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Hina Matsuri: An Early Spring Tradition

19th century Ukiyoe by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892)

19th century Ukiyoe by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892)

Every year on March 3rd, Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) is celebrated in Japan. As one of five major seasonal festivals in the country, ceremonies and special dishes are prepared to ensure good fortune. It is easy to spot any Hinamatsuri celebration since it involves the display of elaborately crafted dolls representing the Imperial Court. In the old days, there was a broader tradition that involved making simple paper dolls called hitogata for religious purposes. The hinamatsuri gradually became a time to give thanks for the health and development of young girls. Over time, the intricately crafted artisan dolls came into flavor.

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Creative Commons, Katorisi

Dolls in The Imperial Court

The most alluring aspect of the Hinamatsuri is, of course, the intricately crafted dolls (Hinakazari). These are displayed on a red-carpeted, platform called Hinadan, which represents the court of the Imperial household. The top level displays the Prince and Princess (this pair of dolls is the most basic of displays, called the Dairi Bina, which is often displayed inside a glass casing). In the full setting, the royalty are waited upon by the court ladies, musicians, and other attendants who sit on the lower levels along with decorations such as sake cups and elaborate chests of drawers.

From sometime in February, households with young daughters will display the ornately dressed figurines prominently, where they can be admired by family members and guests. However, once the festival is over the dolls and decorations are promptly packed away (superstition dictates that leaving them out too long will harm a daughter’s chances of marriage).

Creative Commons (flickr), Takashi .M

Creative Commons, Takashi .M

Families often buy a new set of dolls when the first daughter is born, while others pass down the Hinakazari from one generation to the next. In the past it was not uncommon for new brides to take their set with them when they married. Undoubtedly, the hinadan represented one of the most splendid and valuable possession in the home and was cherished not just by girls, but the entire household.

Events and Activities with Hina Matsuri

Creative Commons, Midori

Creative Commons, Midori

In the days leading up to March 3 it is common for children to celebrate hinamatsuri by holding parties and enjoying such treats as hina-arare (multi-colored sweets made from rice and sugar), chirashi-zushi, clam soup, and red and white rice cakes called hishi-mochi. Traditionally, sprigs of peach blossoms are displayed along with dolls at these gatherings.

There are also exhibitions held across Japan that showcase the Hina Matsuri dolls, many are antiques created and preserved as historical relics. In Tokyo, there are also many displays for Hina Matsuri, and there are a variety of exhibitions in town. Below we list a couple of major exhibitions that are held annually.

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Meguro Gajoen

At the Meguro Gajoen: this location in Meguro hosts a large, extensive display of Hina Matsuri dolls at its historically relevant and well preserved Hyakudan Kaidan (a series of seven extravagantly decorated rooms linked by a 99-step staircase that has great historical value, and is worth a visit in its own right). Throughout the year, the Hyakudan Kaidan hosts a number of exhibitions and events. The area would otherwise be closed to the public. For more info, visit: http://www.megurogajoen.co.jp/event/hinamaturi/

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Keio Plaza

At Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo: Every year, through February and March, the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo celebrates the Hina-matsuri festival. The main lobby, and other locations around the hotel, will showcase 6,500 handmade hanging silk dolls. In addition, a variety of bonsai are displayed to compliment the festival. For more info, visit: http://www.keioplaza.com/offers/events1601_01.html

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Creative Commons, S Kitahashi



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Japanese Koshu: Wineries to watch

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Recently Decanter Magazine published an article on Japanese wine, specifically from Koshu in the Yamanashi Region. Here below is an excerpt of the article.

Decanter: Japan may be better known for its sake, but its national grape, Koshu, has been picking up awards for several years, mostly under the radar. Decanter’s Tasting team has selected five wineries to watch out for following a recent tasting hosted in London by Koshu of Japan. (Visit the Decanter website for the selected five wineries.) It is surprising to see that such a new style over here in the West has been around for a long time in Japan, with our top five wineries all being founded in the five decades spanning the 1880s to the 1930s.

japanese-wine31About Koshu from Yamanashi Prefecture

Koshu is a native Japanese grape variety that has been grown domestically for centuries, but only used for winemaking since 1874. It now covers 480 hectares of vineyards in Japan, with 95% grown in the Yamanashi prefecture, in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

About the Viticulture

During the growing season, typhoons can bring a lot of rain which threatens the bunches with rot. This is countered by training the vines high above the ground on a pergola system to encourage airflow. Some vineyards even adorn individual bunches with hats that protect them from rain; an incredible display of attention to detail!

About the Flavour

A delicate and aromatic grape variety, Koshu produces refreshing still and sparkling wines that display distinctly Eastern flavours such as yuzu and creamed rice. Suffice to say, thanks to the high acidity and lightness of this variety, it is a perfect pairing for Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi.japanese-wine

For the entire article: visit http://www.decanter.com/wine-reviews-tastings/japanese-koshu-wineries-354235/

For more info on Koshu wine, visit Koshu of Japan, an organization established in July 2009 by fifteen Japanese wine producers from the Yamanashi Prefecture.



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Toss Away Your Demons

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Dividing the Seasons with Setsubun

Setsubun (節分, せつぶん) literally means “seasonal division” is celebrated on February 3rd every year. Setsubun is the day preceding risshun, which is the first day of spring according to the old Japanese or lunar calendar. The idea of Setsubun involves cleansing away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come.

Artist: Sheila Harrington of eachdayisacelebration.com

Artist: Sheila Harrington of eachdayisacelebration.com

Called Mamemaki (bean throwing), the ritual involves throwing roasted soybeans either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask, while saying “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and then slamming the door. These soybeans are called fuku mame or fortune beans,

wooden-setsubun-mask

Source: Daderot, Creative Commons

The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Also people can be healthy and happy if they pick up and eat fuku mame the number equal to their ages. Also, eating fortune sushi rolls called eho-maki is a Japanese custom on Setsubun.

Mamemaki is still common practice in households, and widely celebrated at schools and kindergartens with children. In addition, many people attend a shrine or temple’s Spring festival for an event. At major temples and shrines, Japanese celebrities often participate in mamemaki by tossing the beans at the revellers.

Setsubun at Sensoji

Setsubun at Sensoji

For Zozoji Temple, famed for its association with the long line of Tokugawa shoguns and for its proximity to Tokyo Tower, will have a bean flinging ceremony. Also, a similar event will be held at Asakusa’s famous Sensoji Temple.

For more on the subject visit Best Living Japan’s compilation here: http://www.bestlivingjapan.com/best-of-setsubun-february-3rd-read-go-and-make/

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Reuters News: Tokyo office boom fades with more space, fewer workers

REUTERS/Yuya Shino/File Photo

By Junko Fujita | TOKYO (Mon, Jan 16th, 2017)

Commercial property prices in Tokyo, a bellwether for Japan’s market, look to have peaked as the capital faces a glut of new offices even as the number of office workers is set to decline.

The property market had rebounded in the past three years as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, with ultra-low interest rates, drew in investors attracted by the wider gap than in other developed markets between returns on property and borrowing costs.

Also, as Japanese companies regained confidence, they sought more space, helping drive down office vacancy rates in the capital. Rents have been rising since 2014.

But office rents are now expected to start falling as early as next year as new space comes on to the market, analysts and commercial property owners say.

“Tokyo’s office space is almost full, but if the economy turns negative, some tenants may reduce their space or move to a cheaper location,” said Masashi Saio, section manager at the real estate department of Nippon Life Insurance, which owns office buildings nationwide.

“If that happens, owners of office properties may have to cut rents. We expect a large supply of office space that could affect the balance between supply and demand,” he added.

Between 2018 and 2020, when Tokyo is due to host the Olympic Games, the capital expects to add 2 million square meters of new office space - equal to more than 8 percent of its total as ofmid-2016, said Shunji Kobayashi, senior manager at the real estate research team for Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.

“Newer space may be filled, but there will be vacancies in older properties,” he said. “Demand for new office space is not expanding because financial institutions are not growing their space like they used to.”

Worries over falling rents are already feeding into property firms’ share prices, with the performance of the Topix real estate index .IRLTY.T ranking 26th out of 33 sub-indexes last year.

Mitsui Fudosan (8801.T), one of Japan’s largest property developers, is already marketing space in its Tokyo Midtown, a10-year-old office and retail complex in Roppongi, which is expected to become almost one-third vacant, a Tokyo-based broker said.

Yahoo Japan Corp (4689.T) last year moved from the complex to the newly built Tokyo Garden Terrace, developed by Seibu Holdings Inc (9024.T). And Fast Retailing Co (9983.T), which operates the Uniqlo clothing retailer, also plans to move some of its operations out of the complex to a warehouse in a cheaper location.

MORE OFFICES TO LET

Tokyo’s office vacancy rate has fallen in almost every month since June 2012, from 9.43 percent to 3.61 percent, said Miki Shoji, a broker, and office rents rose 10.6 percent over that period, though that increase was tempered by the prospect of so much new office space coming onstream.

The vacancy rate is expected to rise again, to around 6percent - more than the 5 percent level considered healthy - and that will push down rents from 2019, said Kobayashi at SumitomoMitsui Trust.

CBRE, a global real estate research firm, predicts Tokyo’s prime office rents will fall 1 percent in 2017-18, and some new office towers will open with vacancies.

With an average annual office rent of $160 per square foot, Tokyo’s Marunouchi financial district ranks sixth among global business centers, some way behind Hong Kong’s Central ($290) and London’s West End ($262), according to CBRE.

Predictions of falling rents have already slowed property deals, with the value of office property transactions falling 28 percent to 1.3 trillion yen ($11.37 billion) last year. Urban Research Institute, a think-tank affiliated with Mizuho Trust & Banking Co, reckons this is because prices have risen too high for investors to justify future income.

Office deals made up less than a third of all transactions last year, down from 41 percent in 2015, according to Urban Research.

Meanwhile, firms are still on the move.

Trading firm Mitsui & Co (8031.T) is due to move into a new headquarters building in mid-2020, leaving Nippon Life, the owner of its current offices in the upmarket 22-floor Marunouchi Garden Tower, to find new tenants.

As co-owner of its new headquarters, Mitsui & Co will also have to find tenants for part of the twin-tower office and retail complex that will add 360,000 square meters of new space.

The other owner, Mitsui Fudosan, is also developing a35-storey building in Hibiya, near the Imperial Palace, to be completed by next January, as well as a 31-storey tower due in the same year in Nihonbashi.

Nippon Life must also secure tenants for a 28-storey office tower due to be completed in August 2018 in Hamamatsucho.

While the office space mounts up, the Tokyo government expects the capital’s workforce will have declined by nearly a tenth in the 25 years to 2035 as Japan’s population shrinks.

($1 = 114.3600 yen)

(Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)



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Hand-Drip Green Tea has arrived

Source: http://www.tokyosaryo.jp/

Further to the string of green tea chain shops around town that serve up delights such as matcha tea lattes and accompanying red-bean sweets, a new style of tea shop has arrived. Recently, Tokyoites are being offered a hand-drip green tea shop (slated to be the world’s first).

Source: http://www.tokyosaryo.jp/

Located in Sangenjaya, Tokyo Saryo recently opened at the beginning of January 2017. At the shop, detailed attention is given to the brewing temperature and brewing time, to provide, according to Tokyo Saryo, the best balance in aroma and flavor for a proper tea experience. According to the company, packaged green tea drinks and instant types fall short in maximizing the aroma and depth that can be derived from the tea leaves; and by this method operated by the shop, the richness and complexity of the tea leaves can be enjoyed.

The menu is simple, offering a two-tea sample along with accompanying sweets ideal for pairing with the tea at a cost of JPY1,300 (including sales tax). And similar to the high-end coffee brewing experiences found at some high-end coffee chains (or high-end Starbucks), the teas are meant for discussion and contemplation. For more information, visit: http://www.tokyosaryo.jp/

Source: http://www.tokyosaryo.jp/



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Cat Walkway? How convenient for their walkabouts!

For the latest architecture and design news, there is no better place than Dezeen Magazine. Here we share a photo of a Tokyo-based home that has a special walkway for the owner’s cat! For the article, visit: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/11/06/graphic-designer-house-studio-tokyo-japan-cat-walkway-do-do/

catwalkway1



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Famicon Stationery Coming Your Way this December

famicon-accessoriesFrom Spoon & Tamago: Famicon Stationery Lets Adult Gamers Relive Their Childhood

An interesting blog post from creative site Spoon & Tamago featuring another great Omiyage (souvenir) from Japan. I think this will appeal to adults in their forties as they relive this childhood icon through these super cute products.

Here is an excerpt. For the whole article, visit: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2016/11/28/famicon-stationery-lets-adult-gamers-relive-their-childhood/#more-38889

famicon-accessories-3Stationary company, San-Ei is releasing a line of items inspired by the 1980s video game console, Famicon by Nintendo. San-Ei’s lineup of Famicon-inspired items includes pencils and pens, clear folders and memo pads that all can fit snug into the Famicon tote bag. There’s also a ringed notebook that’s designed to be the exact same length and width as the original. The items are set to go on sale December 23 but many of them are available for pre-order through Amazon.



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