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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/

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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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New Bakery in Ebisu: Crossroad Bakery

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In the last couple of years, we have seen many high-quality bakery cafes open up in Tokyo. With the TV-show famous City Bakery (Sex and the City) adding to the already sophisticated french-style versions and popular mall types (such as Aux Bacchanales), there just seems to be a fancy sit-down style bakery in almost every part of Tokyo.

At the foothill of Daikanyama, in Ebisu, a swanky new bakery has opened. Crossroad Bakery (http://crossroadbakery.com/) offers all-day breakfast as well as other carb-loaded delights. The new shop is located just a few shops from the popular Blacows burger restaurant, and is a few minutes walk from Ebisu station. An eat-in section accompanies the bakery, which offers a wide variety of bakery items for takeaway.

img_20160928_114446Items on the menu include: the usual burgers and sandwiches, but also offers other items not so commonly seen in Tokyo — the Philly Cheese Steak and various stews and fondue served in fresh bread bowls. There is also a dinner menu with main dishes, and appetizers that include guacamole, chili and popcorn shrimp.



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Photo Log: Brick End Stand Yokocho Opens

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Here is a photo log on the recent opening of Brick End Stand Yokocho at Ebisu Garden Place. Brick End consists of a small cluster of eateries at one end of Ebisu Garden Place. Right beside the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, it faces the museum’s modern cafe, Maison Ichi. Here is a collection of photos highlighting this new commercial nook.

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Located at the opposite end from the Sky Walk in Ebisu Garden Place, the businesses located in Brick End lies in a small and narrow lane that leads pedestrians towards the Meguro direction. Situated right beside the photography museum, customers are likely to be nomikai (afterwork drinking) patrons from the adjoining office building or from the museum. There are already a selection of restaurants and bars at Ebisu Garden Place, on its ground floor, basement floor as well as the top floors of its office building, but Brick End makes a welcome addition.

There are five different establishments: Aalaap Lene Waala,  KakuUchi, The Great Burger Stand, Music Bar Berkana and Moze No Yorimichi. The list includes a curry eatery, burger joint, Japanese eatery, music bar with craft beer and cocktails, and another drinking and snack place. The individual places are pretty small and cozy given the narrow surroundings.

For more information: http://gardenplace.jp/special/brickend/

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New in Town: The Ginza Place Opens

ginza-place

Located right on Ginza 4-chome crossing, the Ginza Place has opened in Ginza, Tokyo. The development replaces the former Nissan Gallery building, and features a number of shops and eateries. It also has the new Nissan Gallery, as well as a flagship Sony showroom. There are five restaurants and cafes in the property.

The 11-storey building is constructed with 5315 aluminium panels to give it a stunning, modern look. There are balconies on the 3rd and 7th floor of the building, which overlooks the Chuo and Harumi Avenues. The development was designed by Klein Dytham Architects and constructed by Taisei Corporation.

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