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The Fruits of Chiba

chibafarming_picmonkeyed

By Richenda Elledge

Chiba Prefecture is adjacent to Tokyo and runs southeast of the Kanto Plain. It is often thought of as a suburb of the sprawling metropolitan of Tokyo, where many commuters take arduous return trips to and fro work on a daily basis. Besides suburban life, the prefecture has much to offer for Tokyoites, interested in going beyond the confines of Tokyo City. One area of interest would be to sample the agricultural output. The prefecture boasts Japan’s overall second-highest agricultural output for vegetables. Some of the major produce that this prefecture produces are peanuts, carrots, daikon, tomatoes and a variety of fruits. In this article, we explore a variety of fruit-picking and farm excursions.

Fruit and vegetable harvests:

kawatsurastrawberrypickStrawberry Picking

Kawatsura Farm is usually open for strawberry picking between middle of December until early May.The farm has been growing strawberries since 1964. Located in Sammu city, (eastern part of Chiba), visitors will find strawberries grown in a beautiful environment. It takes about 1 hour from Tokyo station by express train to get there. The farm encourages visitors to try their out their strawberries without milk and sugar, and essentially enjoy the natural goodness from the fruit. http://www.kawatsura15.com/e/index.html

pear2Fresh Pear Harvest

Chiba is one of Japan’s largest producers of pears. Pears are grown throughout the prefecture taking advantage of the ideal soil and climate coupled with the advanced cultivation techniques of long-established orchards. When the harvest starts, many farmers open shop and offer their pick for direct sale along National Route 464, dubbed Omachi Pear Street. The various breeds of pear from Chiba available between early August and mid October are popular for being juicy and fragrant.

yokotafarmSweet Potato Digging

Yokota Farm near Narita Airport offers a variety of farm-harvest activities. With strawberry picking in the Spring, there are also sweet potato, peanuts and potato digging, tomato and vegetable throughout the year. And handy for the urbanites, the farm has a cafe and farmer’s market shop, and also offers some craft-making courses. They also offer a tractor-pulled wagon ride, which is ideal for young children. http://yokotafarm.jimdo.com/

Other agriculture-related attractions:

duckparadeMother Farm

Mother Farm, spanning over 2.5 million square meters entertains visitors with a wide variety of agriculture-related interests; such as interaction with animals, a sheep show, and activities like milking and harvesting seasonal crops. http://www.motherfarm.co.jp/en/

tateyamaFlower picking

Tateyama Family Park: You can enjoy gathering poppy (from early in December till early in May), gerbera (throughout the year), and antirrhinum (from November until May) all the year round in the 5,000 sq. meter-wide flower garden for a small cost. There are also some workshops that take place; such as herb wreat making, herb soaps and incense making, and flower dyeing. Also, it is possible to make ceramic ware by hand at the atelier. http://familypark.jp/

Other interesting places in this prefecture:

andersenparkAndersen Park: Andersen Park is a 28.5-ha wide park that is comprised of the Children’s Kingdom with Japan’s largest athletic fields and a park that has a petting zoo and a reproduction of the place where Andersen, a famous Danish children storyteller lived, called Fairy Tale Hill. The park also has a children’s art museum where children can make things freely and experience the joy of making things. http://www.park-funabashi.or.jp/and/index.htm

mt_nokogiri2Mt Nokogiri is located in Awa, Chiba. The entire mountain is inside of the Nihonji Temple. At the top of the mountain, visitors can see a wonderful landscape of Tokyo Bay, Boso Peninsula, and Miura Peninsulan. From the famous cliff spot, Jigokunozoki, visitors can see the bottom of the cliff from a large rock face that perches off. There are over 1,500 Buddha statues decorating this mountain location.

sawaraSawara, also known as Little Edo, houses many classical style buildings. Because of the unique look of the place, and Katori Shrine which is close to Sawara, it is a very popular travel spot in northern Chiba. At Ono River, which runs through the middle of Sawara, visitors can enjoy classic Edo-style boat rides. Many of the Edo style buildings are now used as restaurants, hotels, gift shops and food stands. Another unique feature of Sawara is the sake breweries. There are a couple of sake breweries which can date back to over 300 years, in the area, and which offer free factory tours.

yorovalley2Yoro Valley is the valley of Yoro River located in the Boso Peninsula. There are many riverside walkways placed along the river and the walking course of Awamata falls is particularly well know and offers great hiking, and sights of waterfalls and beautiful mountain trees. There are many hotels, hot springs, and gift shops in the area. Many tourists visit this valley during the summer or autumn seasons to enjoy the lush greenery of summer or browning autumn leaves.

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Spring into the Cherry Blossoms!

flowerblossom31

By Richenda Elledge

One of Tokyo’s best times of the year and event has arrived. Cherry blossom season with all its glorious hanami parties and beautiful scenery is a time not to be missed. The Japan Meteorological Agency has officially declared that cherry trees are blossoming and the first cherry blossoms were even spotted as early as Monday at Yasukuni Shrine.

That said, they are expected to come into full bloom throughout Tokyo from the weekend, and the full-blooming day is expected to be on April 1st. Here are some of the best locations for viewing sakura in Tokyo.

yasukuni2Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine is a Shinto Shrine in Chiyoda. This is one of the most famous locations and hordes of locals and travelers head here for cherry blossom viewing.

Much like the groundhog in the US, it’s also the go-to location to gauge the cherry blossom blossoming schedule.

imperialpalace3Imperial Palace Grounds

The Palace Gardens are especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season.

The Japanese Imperial Palace Gardens are open to the public daily except Mondays and Fridays. The entrance is free.

shinjukukoenShinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen has over 20,000 trees, including 1,500 sakura trees.

What makes this location so popular is its variety of cherry tree species that bloom from March to the end of April.

uenoparkkUeno Park

Ueno Park has around 1,000 sakura trees, most of which line the main path through the park. The area also offers plenty of space for hanami parties.

Of course, another good thing about Ueno is that there are other attractions in sight; such as the wide variety of museums and the Ueno Zoo. The grounds are also a delight to meander through.

yoyogiYoyogi Park

Although the number of cherry trees is small, the family-friendly setting of this park makes it a popular destination. Thus Yoyogi Park remains one of Tokyo’s most popular locations for families and friends to congregate for hanami. In addition, it’s in a very central part of Tokyo, a mere stone’s throw from Harajuku and Omotesando.

p1050922Nakameguro River

This author’s favorite spot, this location is a little different, in that the cherry trees dot the Meguro River and really don’t offer spaces for hanami parties per se. However, the restaurants and cafes that line the river all come out with food and drink stands in a festival setting. The festivities start from early in the day and end late into the night.

midtownnightTokyo Midtown & Roppongi Hills

For an urban Cherry Blossom viewing, Roppongi actually offers a great place for this enjoyment. Tokyo Midtown is a convenient spot. Its gardens feature eight different kinds of cherry trees and 150 in total, many of which are lit up at night. And of course, the complex has come up with promotions and decorations to match the occasion.

rhillsThe annual cherry blossom light-up at Roppongi Hills lights up the sakura trees in the Mohri Garden and along the Sakura-zaka slope. There are also festivities to mark the occasion with its Spring Festival that will showcase light performances and Springtime menu in a variety of restaurants located inside the complex. Some craft making sessions are also on offer.

skytreeblossom2Sumida River

About 1,000 trees along the Sumida River are lit up from 5 to 9:30 pm during the bloom period. Furthermore, the close proximity of Tokyo Sky Tree means cherry blossoms can be viewed along with one of Tokyo’s major landmarks. This has in turn  increased the popularity of this location.

inokashiraInokashira Park

Inokashira Koen straddles between Musashino and Mitaka in western Tokyo. Many cherry trees are planted around the pond, which makes this a charming spot to enjoy the blossoms while riding a boat out in the pond (available for rent). The park also has a petting zoo and a small aquarium.

chofuJindai Botanical Garden Chofu

Out in Chofu, Jindai Botanical Garden has over 60 different kinds of cherry trees, all of which burst into bloom around the end of March. The park offers free guided tours and as a botanical garden, the green surroundings, sculptured grounds and other plants compliment the cherry blossoms. To mark the occasion, special concerts will be held on March 28 and April 5.

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Omiyage Japan Style

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By Richenda Elledge

If you are looking for a modern omiyage (souvenir in Japanese) to give to friends back home, the list can be exhausting. Usually what comes to mind are Japan-made knives, plastic key chains and magnets in sushi or ramen motif, chopsticks, daruma dolls, yukatas, and Maneki Neko (beckoning cat) figurines. There are some favorites of locals that make great souvenirs as well. Here is a quirky selection of items used by locals that would make cool omiyage:

iwako1Iwako Puzzle Erasers

You may have come across interesting looking erasers at shops like Tokyu Hands, or even passed out as rewards at your neighborhood children’s dentist. These are usually puzzle-type erasers, where you can take sections apart and put them back together again. Much loved by local kids and adults for decades, these low-cost items (usually JPY60 for one eraser or JPY378 for a small pack) make an original and quirky gift without breaking the bank.

iwako31A little history: IWAKO was founded in 1968 (formerly known as Iwasawa Kogyo). Asking why erasers always have to be rectangular, IWAKO started making erasers with different shapes. While this manufacturer makes a variety of plastic products, they are perhaps best known for their high-quality puzzle erasers. IWAKO erasers are made entirely in Japan and they are tested to be safe, following international toy safety guidelines. Interestingly, every year, two hundred groups of children visit their factory in Saitama Prefecture to see their production line as well as to input ideas for new creations.

For more info and extensive list of their products: http://www.iwako.com/IWAKO/

tshirtfactory1Customised T-shirts

My T Factory makes original and customised T-shirts on the spot. They have a few branches in Tokyo, in places with high concentrations of visitors; such as Ueno, Harajuku and Shibuya. There are tons of designs to choose, which they will then print onto a t-shirt then and there, along with personalised names or message. Designs vary and Japan motifs are just one of many different kinds.

myt2A great choice (and affordable since the starting price is JPY2480 for a printed end product), not only for souvenirs but as presents for any occasion. Offering a wide selection of sizes, including children sizes, they also do personalised dog clothing. For more details and address: http://www.myt-factory.com/index_en.html

frixionlightFriXion Erasable Pens

Generally speaking, Japanese-designed stationery are like no other, and the range of stationery choices in paper, pens, stickers and notebooks found in Japan are unrivalled. Leading stationery maker, Pilot Corporation makes a series of pens, felt-tips, highlighters and coloring pencils under the FriXion name and they are truly unique. These pens (starting from JPY100 for a basic model) have become a staple in many people’s pen cases. They are highly effective erasable pens with heat-sensitive ink. The way it works is that the heat generated by the friction of rubbing the special eraser (installed at the end of each pen) causes the ink to become clear. FriXion ink “erases” due to Pilot’s exclusive thermo-sensitive ink technology. When rubbing, the ink heats up to over 65°C and becomes invisible. FriXion pens have a special erasing tip which allows the paper to be heated quickly without damaging it. An interesting tip ideal for youngsters: one can write a secret message on a piece of paper, by first writing the secret message then erasing it. Reveal the message by placing the paper in the freezer for a few minutes. The ink will reappear at temperatures under -12°C. Neat! Probably best not to use on legal or official documents.

11996519225_b5ebb7f9cc_zKit Kat with a Japanese Kick

Nestle launched its first boutique in Japan for one of its major product lines, Kit Kat. The KitKat “Chocolatory” store located within the Seibu department store in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, stocks exclusive varieties of the chocolate bar created in collaboration with Japanese chocolatier, Takagi.

11994724216_df8fb45f3c_zAccording to Nestle, 650 KitKat fingers are consumed every second around the world and, in Japan, the brand has been the country’s favourite chocolate since 2012. Its success has been fuelled by the launch of hundreds of unusual and innovative special edition flavours to meet Japanese consumers’ experimental tastes and sense of style. KitKat fans in Japan have been able to choose from varieties including Purple Potato, Cinnamon Cookie, European Cheese, Bean Cake and Wasabi - unwrapping sticks of pale green, delicate pink and lilac chocolate that look and taste very different from those anywhere else in the world. Flavors found only in Japan: Roasted Tea, Strawberry Cheesecake, Rum Raisin, Apple, Green Tea, Mandarin and Lemon, Azuki Red Bean Toast, and Wasabi.

Other listings of more traditional omiyage covered by the media:

https://www.pinterest.com/ristini/souvenirs-from-japan/

http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/6328/Essential-Tokyo-souvenirs

http://muza-chan.net/japan/index.php/blog/must-have-souvenirs-travel-tips

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Apps for Tokyo Life

tokyoartbeat1tokyomapwalks22goodnite2

By Richenda Elledge

Communicating and getting around Japan can be a challenge for foreign residents at times. However, many apps are available that make every aspect of living in Japan easier. Not only for language assistance, there are plenty of apps for finding restaurants, art exhibitions, giving guided tours, and hailing a taxi at a touch of a button. Here are some Japan-specific apps that are useful for residents and travelers alike.

Wining and Dining Apps:

goodnite33Goodnite Tokyo

iPhone and Android

Goodnite is an app that locates Tokyo’s club events, bar locations, and karaoke shops based on the user’s GPS location. Users can also share events and locations with Facebook, Twitter, and LINE friends to arrange a fun and memorable night in Tokyo. For more information: http://goodnite.jp/tokyo/

quchy2Quchy

iPhone

Quchy offers a platform to keep track, organize and recommend favorite restaurants and shops, in a flashcard sort of fashion. Users can search nearby pressing the arrow, or search any city in the world to add any business to their collection. Like a deck of cards, restaurant listings are collected in card form with the ability to add personal notes and photos.

Also, users can collect friends’ recommended cards. The more recommendations users post, the more the user’s “expertise” increases. The app is compatible with Facebook to easily recommend great places to friends. For more information: http://www.quchy.com/en/about

teepee1TeePee Guide

iPhone

A lifestyle app, the TeePee Guide publishes more than 40,000 spots like restaurants, shops, hot springs, and leisure facilities that have been featured on TV or magazines. Four genres are covered: “Eat,” “Stay,” “Shop,” and “Play,” and the app is useful for a variety of situations like dating, traveling, and searching for souvenirs and gifts. No network connection is required for offline use. However, with the phone’s GPS function, users can easily search from their current position. Easily share information using Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail and also to post and view photos and comments. In addition, the app shows driving directions to desired location by connecting with car navigation including Internavi LINC, internavi Pocket, NaviCon, NAVIelite and navico. For more information:  http://teepeeguide.jp/

sooshi1Sooshi

iPhone

Sooshi is all about one of the most delicious foods, and is not only a sushi restaurant finder but also serves as an informative guide.

The app is put together with  hand-drawn photorealistic illustrations of food and cooking utensils and it gives a high aesthetic appeal. It informs on: what sushi is, how to prepare sushi and where to find the best sushi places via the phone’s GPS. For more information: http://getsooshi.com/

cookpad1Cookpad

iPhone and Android

Cookpad is Japan’s most popular recipe-sharing site with web usage surpassing 40 million active monthly users and mobile app downloads of over 20 million.

While the app is currently only in Japanese, the company has recently launched an English-language website of its popular Japanese counterpart.

For more information: https://itunes.apple.com/app/kukkupaddo-no.1reshipi-jian/id340368403

For the English website (not app): https://cookpad.com/en/categories/japanese-recipes

Daily Life Helpers (like language aids, information providers):

pocketbook1Pocketbook Appendix

iPhone and Android

Pocketbook Appendix is the English version of “Techo-no-furoku (手帳の付録)”. This app is essentially a compilation of reference tables quite commonly found inside diaries and pocketbooks. The free version of the app contains Japan-specific information such as age conversions table (which is useful as it also lists the year in Heisei while listing the specific animal for the specific year), Japan postal charges and public holidays, as well as the time difference of other countries from Japan and also lists the prefectures. There are other more universal, non-Japan specific conversion tables for length, distance, weight and temperature included. For more information: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocketbook-appendix-free/id417002893?mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.co.technosquare.android.gappendix&hl=en

What? Nothing about Japanese studying apps or translators! This blog article would never end listing the English-Japanese dictionaries and Japanese language learning apps that are currently available (Google Translate, Iniwa, and  JEDict to name a few)  but here is one that is more unique:

waygo1Waygo

iPhone and Android

Waygo is a visual-based translator and dictionary for Chinese, Japanese and Korean that works offline and can translate text from photos taken from the camera photo. There is also a live mode where the user points the phone camera at the text and it will translate it. For more information: http://www.waygoapp.com/

safetytips1Safety Tips

iPhone and Android

Developed in collaboration with the Japan National Tourism Organisation, this app gives users earthquake and tsunami warnings issued in Japan. It provides various functions useful for both foreign tourists and residents in Japan. After registering desired location (a maximum of five is allowed), notifications regarding Earthquake Early Warnings will be sent to the user for earthquakes with a seismic intensity of 4 or greater.

The app also provides details regarding evacuation procedures, communication cards written in four languages (Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese), as well as links to other sources of information that may be necessary during disaster situations (such as contact information of embassies and nearest tourist centers). There are also explanations regarding the intensity of an earthquake (according to the seismic intensity scale). For more information: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/essential/emergency/safety_tips.html

nhkworldtv1NHK World TV and NHK Radio

iPhone and Android

NHK operates international television, radio and Internet services. Together, they are known as NHK WORLD. NHK WORLD provides both domestic and international news to the world and to serve as a vital information lifeline in the event of major accidents and natural disasters. It also broadcasts many aspects of Japanese culture and lifestyles, recent developments in society and politics, the latest scientific and industrial trends, and Japan’s role and opinions regarding important global issues. The aim is to foster mutual understanding between Japan and other countries and promote friendship and cultural exchange. The broadcaster provides two apps, one for radio and another for TV. NHK World TV enables users to watch its channel on the iPhone or iPad, while the radio streams live radio and audio clips. For more information:  http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/app/info/index_en.html

Travel & Exploration Apps:

tokyoartbeat1Tokyo Art Beat

iPhone and Android

TokyoArtBeat.com is a highly-reputed art and design events calendar. It is a free bilingual website listing hundreds of events each month. The team launched an official Tokyo Art Beat app where users can find events near their location and get directions and details for those events. It also lists a popular list to show the hottest events in Tokyo. It is compatible with Twitter, Facebook, email and SMS to bookmark and share the events. Users are able to browse through hundreds of exhibitions happening in Tokyo, sorted by media, area, time period and popularity. For more information:  http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/tablog/entries.en/2010/02/introducing-the-tokyo-art-beat-official-iphone-and-ipod-touch-app.html

tokyomapwalks1Tokyo Map and Walks

iPhone and Android

Both a lite (free) and full version are available for this app. The lite version of Tokyo Map and Walks offers a detailed and fully functional city map to assist the exploration of the city and locate sights. A useful app for travellers and residents new to Tokyo,  users can search for street names and businesses and bookmark locations. Walking tours included in this app are: the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Asakusa, Ueno Park, Yasukuni Shrine, Kitanomaru Park, Shibuya, Ginza and Takanawa.

While the Lite version does not provide navigation assistance during the tour (this function is disabled), users are still able to use the city map or learn about the tour sights visited by the walking tours from the sight descriptions and photos. The paid version includes detailed tour route maps and turn-by-turn directions to guide you from one sight to the next. For more information:  http://www.gpsmycity.com/apps/tokyo-walking-tours-20.html

sentomap1Tokyo Sento Map

iPhone

For travellers and residents who are interested in experiencing public baths Japan style, this app locates the nearest communal bath house in Tokyo by location and allows users to mark those already visited. While it is in Japanese, it is quite easy to use the search function for the locations and get addresses and directions. For more information:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tokyo-sento-map/id844039424?mt=8

Transportation Apps:

japantaxi1Japan Taxi

iPhone and Android

Japan Taxi App enables users to order a taxi with direct control and GPS function of the smartphone. It covers 47 prefectures, 22,007 cars from 123 taxi companies. Other functions include: fare calculation as per the local taxi company’s fare system, corresponding to the location, the ability to save favorite locations, and storage of past history information. For more information:  http://japantaxi.jp/

uber1Uber

iPhone, Android and Windows

Global private driver service provider, Uber, provide private taxis to customers in over 50 countries. Tokyo is one of the locations under its coverage. The app allows users to request a ride and get picked up within minutes, and the on-demand service means no reservations required and no waiting in taxi lines. The app also enables users to compare rates for different vehicles and get fare quotes in the app. In addition, customers can use PayPal or add a credit card to their secure account, thus enabling a cashless transaction. For more information: https://www.uber.com/cities/tokyo

tokyorailmap1

Tokyo Rail Map

iPhone

Tokyo Rail Map showcases a comprehensive map of the metropolitan Tokyo rail & subway system.

The app displays a clear and concise route map, and also offers the ability to do route planning and specific station lookup, as well as an overview of the train lines and transit options.

It also offers GPS support to find the user’s closest station. For more information:

http://urban-map.com/home/

trainsjp2Trains.jp

iPhone

Further to the previous listing, trains.jp app covers a wider scope. The app covers over 1,300 stations and 110 lines in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. It displays train routes and access information including travel time, distance, and price. This version has all the route information included, so no network connection is required - perfect for visitors from overseas or iPod touch users. For more information: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/trains.jp/id344946340?mt=8

tokyometro1Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists

iPhone and Android

Despite the app’s actual name, it would probably be useful for anyone that need directions on the subway in Tokyo. Provided by Tokyo Metro, this app enable users to search transfer information for the Tokyo Subway network (both Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway). This app is available in English, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Korean and Japanese, and informs which stations have free wifi. For more information:  http://www.tokyometro.jp/en/tips/connectivity/smartphone/index.html

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Tokyo’s Fantastical Dining

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Theme Restaurants in Tokyo

By Richenda Elledge

Tokyo is a mecca for gastronomical delights, from award-winning Michelin-starred restaurants to fusion izakayas and street vendors. The restaurant business is one of the most competitive industries in the city. Some Tokyo eateries have taken a more creative route, and have created special themed places. Here are a few — and by no means is this the entire list — that are truly quite out of this world.

alice21Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant
This theme restaurant chain is about Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The atmosphere of the restaurants is very cute and friendly; a suitable place for families. There are several branches around town including areas like Ginza, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and two in Shinjuku, and they all have different names such as Alice in a Labyrinth (Ginza) and Alice in Magical Land (Shinjuku).

Customers are immersed in a sense of fantasy and surrealism and the design of the interior is centered around images and descriptions straight from the novel; such as, playing card dining tables, giant tea cup booths, a magic forest, and heart-shaped chandeliers. And of course, the menu matches the theme with dishes labeled after the story characters. Dishes include the Cheshire Cat Tail Pizza and Burgundy-style Braised Beef Cheek in Queen of Hearts Red Wine Sauce. Even for non-fans of Alice in Wonderland, these restaurants are a feast for the eyes. http://www.alice-restaurant.com/

selfkitchenSelf Kitchen, Higashi Nakano
Located in Higashi-Nakano, the owner here rents out the professional-grade kitchen and living room-like area for anyone who needs a space for their culinary activities. Pick and choose ingredients from the impressively stocked fridge and well-equipped kitchen. The charges are for usage fee and the ingredients used. Drinks are available to order, and non-cooks can also amuse themselves with a variety of games, reading material and the pinball machine. http://profile.ameba.jp/oyaji-seihin/

alcatrazer1Alcatraz E.R.
Very creepy and one of Tokyo’s most crazy theme joints, the Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya is styled after a hellish, prison hospital. Not for children, nor the squeamish, this eatery is definitely unique and one-of-a-kind — the kind that can only exist in a city as unique and “different” as Tokyo itself. Brace yourselves, the menu includes human intestines (actually a long sausage in a kidney dish) and various impossibly spicy delectables, while drinks include the Nounai Hassha (“brain buster”), which is a vodka-based cocktail in a life-size mannequin. Venture there at your own risk.  head. http://alcatraz.hy-system.com

christoncafeChriston Cafe
Not for the spiritually-sensitive, the Christon Cafe in Shinjuku is decorated with a wide range of religious paraphernalia. This theme restaurant offers Asian-European fusion food. It is operated by the Diamond Dining, which operates other theme restaurants; such as King of Pirates (Daiba), Vampire Cafe (Ginza). http://www.diamond-dining.com/shops/christoncafe/

ninjaNinja Akasaka
One of the more popular attractions for travellers, the Ninja Akasaka is a ninja-themed izakaya. The restaurant’s interior involve cave-like passageways, bridges, ponds, and gardens. The restaurant’s signature ninja-inspired courses include Shuriken (star-shaped blades) grissini, vegetables Mont Blanc, ninja-style kurage (fried chicken), and special stone-boiled soup. Since it’s tourist-friendly, the establishment also offers vegetarian or halal-friendly courses for customers. This well-known establishment has been visited by celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Lady GaGa.

The customers are also entertained by the staff whom are dressed in the appropriate Ninja attire. To top it off, an illusionist visits each table to perform magic tricks and the staff get properly into character, sneaking around the corridors as if preparing to assassinate a target. http://www.ninjaakasaka.com/

robotRobot Restaurant
Large robots, motorcycles, and carts carrying scantily-clad women run across a brilliantly bright floor and female dancers in various sexy costumes dance away. That pretty much sums up the theme of the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Despite the fact its name includes the word “restaurant”, the establishment is primarily a place to watch the live show over drinks and consume an optional bento dinner. Nevertheless, since its opening, it has garnered popularity from customers who describe it with words like “shockingly good fun”, “a wide ride” and “surreal entertainment”. The waiting room is already another world, surrounded by mirrors and bright colored lights. More than half of the patrons are estimated to be foreign visitors. The show starts with women in costumes starting a glamorous dance set to a taiko (Japanese drum) performance. Next, a performance that includes a marching parade and motorcycles, and a spectacle involving large robots run for about ninety minutes. During the latter half of the show, large robots appear one after another. The charge for the show is 6,000 yen and the bento box is 1,000 yen. http://www.shinjuku-robot.com/

Animal-themed cafes:
It may have started with felines but it certainly did not end there in Tokyo. Cat cafes are indeed very yesterday and here are two of the more unique animal cafes.

goatcafeSakuragaoka Cafe (Goat Cafe)
There are a plethora of animal cafes around town particularly cat cafes, but one of the most eclectic choices is Sakuragaoko Cafe, which houses two resident goats, Sakura and Chocolat. Customers can interact and even sign up to take one of the goats for a walk. Located in Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya district, besides the goats, the cafe offer a decent food and drinks menu. The cafe itself also has a calm, laid back atmosphere,  encouraging chilling out and long conversations over coffee. The lights are low and the seating is comfortable and in lounge style. The restaurant opens for long hours extending to 4am and offers both lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday. Wifi is also available. No website but here is the address and phone: 〒150-0031 東京都渋谷区桜丘町23−3 篠田ビル (just paste this into Google for map, it’s a stone’s throw from the train station) Tel: 03-5728-3242

owlcafe2Fukuro No Mise (Owl Cafe)
Gaining popularity since the first owl cafe opened, there are now a few owl cafes around Tokyo. Fukuro No Mise, located in Tsukishima station, was the first to offer this idea back in 2012. Only open for a few hours each day, entry into the establishment goes by a system where several one-hour time slots are offered on the given day. Only a small number of people are allowed to enter at each time slot, and unfortunately reservations in advance are not allowed, which means queuing up before the cafe opens is suggested. At the given time slot, customers have one hour to interact with the owls while consuming the included drink. No food is served at this establishment, the experience is really all about the owls. As the rules are given in Japanese, it is useful to be able to converse in Japanese; although English is available on Fridays. The cafe is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. http://ameblo.jp/fukurounomise/

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Winter Wonderland: Ice skating in Town

Winter Wonderland: Ice skating in Town

Santa spotted at the Yokohama Red Brick Art Rink

Santa spotted at the Yokohama Red Brick Art Rink

By Richenda Elledge
This winter has gotten cold fast. And with the festive season upon us, ice skating is an ideal pastime for this time of the year. In addition, there is nothing better than to ice skate outdoors in Tokyo. With that in mind, some outdoor ice skating rinks crop up in super convenient locations in town every year during wintertime. Anyone is welcome at these rinks, whether it’s families or couples, beginners or pros. Also, most rent out skates, which offer flexibility to coordinate a day out with ice skating as one activity on a full itinerary. Here’s a summary of some of the best venues in town, including both winter-only outdoor rinks and year-round, indoor facilities. This list is by no means inclusive but lists some of the venues that are close to the center of town. Please note that gloves are required at most venues.

Seasonal Outdoor Rinks

Akasaka Sacas

Ice Skating at Akasaka Sacas

Skating at Akasaka Sacas

Now until Mar 6, 2015
Every year, Akasaka Sacas hosts one of the largest outdoor rinks in Tokyo and is one of the best lit places for nighttime skating. Every winter, The Rink at Akasaka Sacas features skating classes, shows, festivals, and other skating events. Entrance is 1200 yen for adults and 600 yen for elementary school age children . Skate shoes rental fee is 500 yen. For more information: http://sacas.net/index.html?pSctoyo

Illuminated night skating at Midtown

Night skating at Midtown

Tokyo Midtown
From Jan 7 to Mar 8, 2015
Sponsored by Diners Club International, Tokyo Midtown hosts a large-scale outdoor ice skating rink in the Midtown Garden area. The venue can accommodate about 200 skaters. Entrance is 1,500 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for children. For more information: http://www.icerink-tokyo.com/index.php

Toshimaen Skate Rink

Amusement Park skating at Toshimaen

Toshimaen

Now until Mar 1, 2015
A bit further out than Roppongi, this venue is in Nerima Ward. The ice skating rink is right next to the Toshimaen Amusement Park. Re-entry is allowed for the day ticket, which offers flexibility for families out for the day and wish to combine the excursion with a trip to the amusement park or dining out in the neighborhood. Entrance is 2,100 yen for adults and 1,600 yen for children, which includes entry to the park, skate rink fee and rental skates. For more information: http://www.toshimaen.co.jp/event_iceskate/index.html

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

Narrative is this year's theme at Art Rink

Narrative is this year's theme at Art Rink

Now until Feb 22, 2015
Located at the Red Brick Warehouse’s event plaza, an outdoor skating arena called “Art Rink” offers patrons the opportunity to ice skate while enjoying the scenery of the Minato Mirai area. What’s really interesting about this venue is that it fuses this festive outdoor activity with art appreciation. Every year, a selected artist collaborates with the Red Brick Warehouse and uses this ice skating rink as a personal canvas. This year’s Art Rink theme is “Narrative” by renowned artist, Shunpei Minakawa. Entrance is 500 yen for adults, 400 yen for elementary and junior high schoolers, and 300 yen for kids over the age of 3. Skate rentals are standard at 500 yen. For more information: http://www.yokohama-akarenga.jp/artrink2014/

Year-round rinks

Meiji Jingu Ice Skating Rink

Meiji Jingu Gaien Ice Skating Rink
Meiji Jingu Gaien Ice Skating Rink

This indoor ice skating rink is open to all, from beginners to professionals, and is open all year round. It is conveniently located in the Aoyama and Sendagaya area. Ice skating classes are offered all year round. Entrance is 1340 yen for adults and 930 yen for children. Skate rentals are 510 yen. There is a discount price for after 3pm entry. For more information: http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/english/ice-skating.html

Practicing at Citizen Plaza

Practicing at Citizen Plaza

Citizen Plaza Ice Skating Rink

Within the Citizen Plaza entertainment complex in Takadanobaba, this is a full-scale, international competition-sized rink that can accommodate also ice hockey and other sports. The rink is open to the public except for early morning and evening hours. Entrance is 1340 yen for adults and 820 yen for children. The complex also houses a bowling alley, tennis courts and an indoor golf range. For more information: http://www.citizen-plaza.co.jp/service/skate/
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Christmas in Tokyo

rhills3

Illuminations around Town

By Richenda Elledge

Christmas is a very special time in Tokyo. Many places have beautiful illuminations that come alive in the evening as the days become colder and darker. Around town, one can enjoy the glittery and sparkling winter wonderland as trees, buildings and open areas are decorated with millions of colorful lights. Even landmarks like Tokyo Skytree or Rainbow Bridge flaunt the festive lighting. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to share a moment with your significant other or loved ones gazing at the amazing sights that can be found around town. Not a conclusive list, here are a few in the major areas of Tokyo.

Tokyo Midtown and Roppongi Hills
midtownIn Tokyo Midtown, the Starlight Garden, is the main attraction and takes place at the back of the complex where the park is located. It is a light show set to music that runs continuously every day. While it gets rather crowded, it is possible to get good views due to its size and because the show runs several times an hour, everyone comes and goes pretty quickly. In Roppongi Hills, a Christmas marketplace takes place along with the Whisky Hills event. The old-world style market houses stalls that sell draft and bottled German beers, mulled wine, sausages, schnitzel, soup and pretzel vendors, as well as craft workshops selling European style-ornaments and decorations in a cozy European village setting.

ginza-2Ginza
Ginza boulevard turns into a sparkly and beautiful open space at Christmas. Almost every store has some sort of holiday display and the street is lined with Christmas trees and lights. One of the most outstanding display is from Mikimoto. It’s a nice, festive stroll and that runs until January 6, while many others end right after Christmas to make way for the Japanese New Year. Also not to be missed are the elaborate light displays at Bulgari and Cartier.

Tokyo Skytree
The Tokyo Skytree and the surrounding area go into Christmas mode with the connecting pathways between Tokyo Skytree and Oshiage stations decorated with tons of LED lights. Projection mapping shows add to the festivities, which will take place from December 12 and paint the lower part of the world’s tallest TV antenna white, gold, green, red and orange. In addition, German-inspired Solamachi Christmas Market which offers a good selection of seasonal sweets and mulled wine adds to the charm.

marunouchi2Marunouchi
Marunouchi Naka-dori is one of Tokyo’s most popular illumination spots. The street and trees are decorated with hundreds of champagne-coloured, low-energy bulbs, enabling the  display to be eco-friendly as well as stylish. The area will stay lit until midnight every day in December.

nakameguro2Nakameguro Blue Cavern
Called “Ao no Dokutsu” ( which translates to “Blue Cavern”), this year’s illumination show along the Meguro River gives the area a mysterious, bluish glow until Christmas Day. Thousands of blue LEDs reflect off the water’s surface to create an immersive light-up experience. A nice movie can be viewed here: http://nakameguro-aonodokutsu.jp/

Other places of interest are:
Yebisu Garden Place (http://gardenplace.jp/special/1410baccarat/)
Yomiuri Land Jewellumination (http://www.yomiuriland.com/)
Canyon d’Azur – Caretta Illumination (http://www.caretta.jp/event/topics.html#Illumination_2014)
Tokyo Dome City Winter Illuminations (http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/illumination/2014/)
Tokyo Tower Christmas Illumination (http://www.tokyotower.co.jp/index.html)

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Blog Entries from 2011: Tenugui, Japanese Handkerchief

Please note that the blog entries from this point below were published back in 2011 and earlier. The information contained in them may not be relevant as of today. Thank you for your understanding; and we look forward to you continued readership of our current articles. Please let us know if there is any information you’d like us to write.

tenugui

Tenugui is a piece of dyed cotton cloth, about the size of 35 cm by 90 cm.  Tenugui means ‘the thing to wipe hand’, and the main use is as a hand towel, but it can be used for anything, such as wrapping, and interior accessories.

Tenugui has been used for more than 1000 years in Japan.  In the Edo period, the variety of designs increased.  Many people designed their own Tenugui, to show their taste.

tenugui

In the left picture is a popular traditional pattern, called Kamawanu.  There was an huge hit of this design in the late Edo period, after a leading Kabuki acter Ichikawa Danjuro Ⅶ (市川団十郎) wore it on his stage.
The motifs are a sickle (鎌, kama), a circle (輪, wa), and a Hiragana (Japanese letter), Nu (ぬ).  Kamawanu means ‘I don’t care’ or ‘never mind’ in Japanese.  The motifs don’t have much meanings on their own, but they act as a word game.

Tenugui shops are in shopping centers and major stations.  There are specialized stores, too.
In Daikanyama is a specialized store, whose name is Kamawanu.  You will find Tenugui of more than 200 traditional and modern designs here.  Take time choosing a Tenugui of your taste :)

Kamawanu (かまわぬ)

Location: Daikanyama
Open Hours: 11:00-19:00
Website: http://www.kamawanu.co.jp/shop/daikanyama.html (Jap)


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Hinamatsuri, Girls’ Festival

hinamatsuri

On March 3rd, a festival called Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) is held.  Hinamatsuri is a festival for girls, and is celebrated by displaying a set of dolls, Hinaningyo (雛人形)

The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period.  People believed the dolls possessed the power to trap bad spirits into itself.
Hinamatsuri originates in an ancient Japanese custom called Hina-nagashi (雛流し), literally ‘doll flowing’, in which straw or paper Hinaningyo, believed to take away bad spirits with them, are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea.

hinamatsuri

Today, in most homes, the dolls are not flowed, but just displayed.  The dolls are representing the Emperor, Empress, and their merry men, dressed in Kimono of the Heian Period (794-1185).

The arrangement of the doll differ by area, but the popular way of setting the dolls are to place them on a stair-shaped stage.
On the top stair is placed the Emperor and Empress.  On the next is the three court ladies.
With the dolls, many instruments used in the palace life, such as drawers and oxcarts, are usually displayed.

Families generally start to display the dolls around mid-February and take down the platforms immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls out past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter!

hinamatsuriThere is a customary drink for the festival called Shirozake (白酒), a sake made from fermented rice.  There are also customary foods, Hinaarare (雛あられ), a colored , bite-sized rice crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce, and Hishimochi (菱餅), a diamond-shaped colored rice cake.  Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司), Sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with eggs, shrimp, and a variety of ingredients, is often eaten.  A salt-based soup called Ushiojiru (うしお汁) containing clams still in the shell is also served.  Clam shells in food are a symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.

Chirashizushi and Ushiojiru are usually made in each family, but are purchasable at supermarkets.  Hinaarare and Hichimochi are in supermarkets as well.  Hinaningyo are quite expensive, but paper dalls or fabric dolls are available at reasonable price.  If you have a girl, why not celebrate Hinamatsuri starting this year :)


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TEL:03-6459-2230
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Experience Japanese Culture - Tea Ceremony, Kimono, Making Sushi

experience

Though many explanations are made in foreign languages, it is difficult to actually experience Japanese culture.  However, there is a NPO which helps you do so.  This NPO, Institute for Japanese Cultural Exchange and Experience, holds various programs for foreigners, where you can expereince the traditon of Japan, with a multilingual Japanese instructor.  There are guides in several languages, such as English, Chinese, and French.

experience

One popular program is Kimono dressing.
In this program, you can actually wear Kimono.  If weather permits, participants may walk in a nearby park to fully experience life wearing a Kimono.
Before wearing Kimono, participants would explore many aspects of the Kimono, for example, the traditional skills of  Japanese dyeing and weaving. Participants will also understand the versatility and specific features of the Kimono. Even if one’s shape changes (or a Kimono is given to another person), the same Kimono can be worn with just some minor adjustments.

experience

Another program is making Sushi.
In this program, participants will learn to make various types of Sushi: Maki Sushi (rolled Sushi), Gunkan Maki (rice wrapped with a strip of seaweed and topped with ingredients), and Nigiri Sushi (rice topped with a slice of raw fish).  This program will be held at the participant’s home, as Sushi is a typical diet often made in Japanese homes.

There are more unique programs, such as experiencing tea ceremony, calligraphy, Origami (paper folding), and a tour watching the morning training of Sumo wrestlers.
For more information, visit the website below!

Institute for Japanese Cultural Exchange and Experience
http://www.ijcee.com/e.html (Eng)


Higherground Co.,Ltd.
2-8-3 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
TEL:03-6459-2230
HP:http://www.higherground.co.jp/
TOP PAGE: http://livingtokyo.net/

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