Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Illuminations in Japan 2014

Nabana no Sato Winter Illuminations
One of the highlights of winter in Japan for me is the spectacular winter illuminations that decorate the Christmas period. Around this time of year, a lot of places put on spectacular night time illuminations. The illuminations usually start in late Autumn and finish around the end of December, but some last until early February. Most are FREE and definitely worth checking out as they are a highlight of winter in Japan.

Some of the most popular and spectacular Winter Illuminations for 2014 include:

Kobe Luminaire 

Kobe Luminaire in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture is a light festival, which is the original and most famous in Japan. The illuminations run for twelve days in December and are turned on for a few hours each evening. They are truly spectacular with each light individually hand painted. Kobe Luminaire started after the Kobe Earthquake in 1995 with the hope to give courage and inspire the people of Kobe. It was such a success that it has continued as an annual event. This year’s theme is “Kobe, City of Dreams and Light”. Kobe Luminaire will run from December 4-15.

When: December 4-15 
Times: Monday to Thursday (6 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.)
             Friday (6 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
             Saturday (5 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
             Sunday (5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.)

Official Website

Image Source

Kobe Luminaire
Kobe Luminaire

Nabana no Sato 

Nabana no Sato is a theme park dedicated to flowers located in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture. It has one of Japan’s finest winter illuminations that run for about 5 months from late October to late March. The park is covered in more than 8 million LED lights with the highlight, the spectacular light tunnel. This year’s theme is “Niagara Falls”, with a huge scale illumination of Niagara Falls, which is stunning at about 20 meters in height and 120 meters in width.

When: October 25 2014 – March 31 2015
Times: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Admission: Standard ¥1,500 Winter ¥2,000

Official Website

Nabana no Sato Winter Illuminations
Nabana no Sato


Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its gassho zukkuri farmhouses. This place has been famous for years due to its thatched roof farmhouses, but the beauty is raised to an even higher level when the houses are lit up in the snow. Spotlights illuminate the snow covered thatched roofs which makes this place look like Santa’s village in the North Pole. It is truly spectacular. This year it will run from mid January to mid February.

When: January 17, 24, 25, 31 February 1, 7, 14
Times: 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Official Website

Shirakawa-go Winter Illuminations

Sapporo Snow Festival 

The Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, is an annual snow festival which is a winter favourite. It is one of the largest winter events in Japan, and is also known as the “Sapporo Yuki Matsuri”. The festival is held each year in early February with dozens of large and amazingly elaborate ice and snow sculptures. The event will be held from February 5-11 in 2015 with the amazing ice sculptures lit at night creating a winter wonderland.

When: February 5-11
Times: Odori Site ~ lit daily until 10 p.m.
             Susukino Site ~ lit daily until 11 p.m.

Official Website

Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival

Some spectacular spots around the Tokai Area (Gifu/Aichi/Mie) of Japan are:

Kiso Sansen Park 

Kiso Sansen Park located in Kaizu City, Gifu Prefecture, is a popular urban city park. The park first opened in 1987 and is the largest urban park in Japan. Every winter from early to late December they have a spectacular winter illumination consisting of about 500,000 lights that decorate the park. This year’s theme is ‘Winter Lights Story’.

138 Tower Park

138 Tower Park located in Ichinomiya City, Aichi Prefecture, is one of the best public parks in Japan. It features a spectacular 138 meter high observation tower with dual arches. From mid-November to late-December the park is decorated with around 500,000 lights creating a spectacular winter illumination. This year’s theme is “Merry Christmas”.

138 Tower Park Winter Illuminations
138 Tower Park
Tokyo has quite a few seasonal illuminations spots including:

Shinjuku Southern Terrace, south of JR Shinjuku Station – November 12, 2014 to February 25, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Ginza, Christmas trees along Chuo Street and store illuminations – November 15, 2014, to December 25, 2014 from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Roppongi Hills, Christmas Illumination Event – November 4, 2014 to December 25, 2014 from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Tokyo Midtown, Midtown Christmas featuring the “Starlight Garden” – November 13, 2014 to December 25, 2014 from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Odaiba, has the “Daiba Memorial Tree" in Odaiba Kaihin Park – November 13, 2014 to March 15, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Tokyo Dome City, 'Promenade of Light' one of Tokyo’s best with over 2.2 million lights– November 6, 2014 to February 15, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Marunouchi, the entire district lights up with champagne lights along Naka-dori Street – November 13, 2014 to February 15, 2015 from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Most places in Japan will have some kind of winter illuminations, so wherever you are in Japan, you will be able to enjoy this winter tradition.

Winter Illuminations at Nabana no Sato
Winter Illuminations at Nabana no Sato

Sunday, November 16, 2014

American MaleWhore in Tokyo Interview

We are lucky to have the privilege at Japan Australia to interview John Box, the loveable (OK, likeable) main character of the new book, American MaleWhore in Tokyo: The Great White Host. John moved to Tokyo to become a host and live out his version of the modern day American dream. I’m sure many of us have thought about living this dream, but John has actually gone ahead and taken the plunge as a male host in Tokyo.

WARNING! This interview is intended for people who like a laugh and don’t take the world too seriously.

Japan Australia: How long have you lived in Japan? 

John Box: On and off for like seven or eight years now. Every once in a while I philander, but she always takes me back.

Japan Australia: What brought you to Japan? 

John Box: Originally, it was money. I was in need of a job and interested in travel and happened upon an ad in the Village Voice (NYC). Fortunately, there was an outbreak of SARS at the time and only one other dude showed up for the interview. He was like 80 so I got the job.

Japan Australia: So you were the last man standing so to speak. This is your second time in Japan, right?

John Box: Yes, this last time around, it was money and sex. As you’ll find in the book, it struck me that what I really wanted to do with my life was to get paid by chicks to drink, flirt, and do the deed with them. To become the Great White Host.

Japan Australia: What fascinates you most about Japan? 

John Box: Good question. At first it was the booze in vending machines. Unreal! Then it was the used high school girl panties in vending machines. Holla! Now – and this is gonna be a little anti-climactic – it’s probably the TV dramas. They are mind-bogglingly awful. And they just repeat the same crap over and over and over and over. I think that’s the reason why the suicide rate is so high here. Really awful TV.

Japan Australia: How did you get into the writing caper? 

John Box: I kept a journal during my first tour in Japan and it turned into a self-proclaimed smash hit. It’s called Memoirs of a Douchebag and it was a finalist for the 2007 Literary Agents, Publishers, and Book Critics Can Eat a Log of Shit Award.

Japan Australia: Did you make that award up?

JB: No.

Japan Australia: Really?

JB: Yeah, really.

Japan Australia: Seriously? 

JB: Okay, fine. I made it up.

Japan Australia: How come you were only a finalist and not the winner? 

JB: Next question please, John.

Japan Australia: Which writers inspire you?

John Box: Hemingway, Heller, and Vonnegut. And to an extent, Tucker Max. The fact that his writing while occasionally funny is for the most part garbage yet he still rakes in the bucks was without a doubt a big motivator for me.

Japan Australia: I love the cover of the book. Who designed the cover and why did you choose it? 

John Box: Thank you very much! I love the cover as well. Partly because I love the design and more partly because there’s a picture of me on it. It’s based on the cover for my first book, Memoirs of a Douchebag, the design for which was created by a good friend and colleague at Skull & Bones Publishing. I can’t recall his name, but I think he based the background on a White Stripes album. You gotta love brother-sister bands. Keep it in the family, ya know?

Japan Australia: Thank you for your time today, John! 

John Box: No problem. I was pleased as punching a puritan when I found out you’d be interviewing me and it’s been a great experience. Thank you very much for having me!

If you want to hear and find out more about John Box, get your hands on a copy of American MaleWhore in Tokyo. The book is an explicit and groin-grabbingly entertaining story that sheds light on a little known world here in Japan.

American MaleWhore in Tokyo is available in paperback on Amazon and Kindle.

It is also available on Createspace.com

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Top 5 Autumn Colour Spots in Gifu

Autumn Colours at Gifu Park
Gifu Prefecture in the Chubu region of Japan is a great spot to enjoy the colourful Autumn leaves in Japan. We are lucky to be surrounded by mountains in Gifu which means lots of trees, especially beautiful Japanese maple trees. This is a post we shared on the fantastic website, Cheapo Japan, a guide to getting the most out of Japan on a budget.

The best time to view the fall foliage is typically early November to early December. Here are my top 5 spots to see the Autumn leaves in Gifu.

Gujo Hachiman Castle 

Gujo Hachiman Castle perched atop Mount Hachiman in Gujo Hachiman is worth a visit just alone for its beautiful castle, but the colourful Autumn leaves make this experience even more enjoyable. Every Autumn the surrounding grounds of the castle come alive with ablaze of colours. The Autumn leaves contrast beautifully against the white walls of the castle. You can also enjoy the foliage at night when the trees are illuminated from sunset to 9pm.

Address: 659 Hachiman-cho, Yanagimachi, Gujo, Gifu Prefecture 501-4212
Best Time: Early to Late November
Admission: FREE to the surrounding area, 310 yen to enter the castle

Autumn Colours at Gujo Hachiman Castle
Autumn Colours at Gujo Hachiman Castle

Yoro Park 

Yoro Park on the western edge of Gifu Prefecture near Mie Prefecture is a picturesque place situated between the stunning Yoro Mountains and Ibigawa River. The main attraction of the park is the famous Yoro Falls, ranked among the top 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan. The park and surrounding area has an impressive collection of Japanese maple trees which make it a breathtaking spot to enjoy the autumn leaves.

Address: 1298-2 Takabayashi, Yoro-cho, Gifu Prefecture
Best Time: Late November to early December
Admission: FREE to Yoro Park

Autumn Colours at Yoro Park
Autumn Colours at Yoro Park

Oyada Maple Valley 

The Oyada Maple Valley in Mino City is considered one of the best locations in Gifu to appreciate the autumn leaves. The valley which includes Oyada Shrine is surrounded by around 3,000 Japanese maple trees, some more than 1,000 years old. The contrast of the vermilion reds, apricot oranges and golden yellows of the trees against the traditional carvings of the shrine is magnificent. It is a sight not to be missed in Autumn.

Address: Oyada, Mino City, Gifu Prefecture
Best Time: Mid November to early December
Admission: FREE to the shrine and surrounding valley

Autumn Colours at Oyada Maple Valley
Autumn Colours at Oyada Maple Valley

Ena Valley 

The Ena Valley in Ena City is a must see location in Autumn. The red and yellow of the beautiful maple leaves create a mesmerizing reflection in the emerald-green water of the river. The best spot to enjoy this breath-taking sight is from a sightseeing boat on the water. Make sure to take a soak in the hot spring bath to continue the fabulous view. I recommend the early evening to see the sun setting in all its glory.

Address: Okudo, Oi-cho, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture
Best Time: Early to Mid November
Admission: FREE to the valley

Gifu Park 

Gifu Park located right under Mount Kinka in Gifu City is where samurai warlord, Oda Nobunaga made his famous palace and home. The park is stunning in Autumn with the whole park coming alive in brilliant red and yellow colours. Gifu Castle at the summit of Mount Kinka is also spectacular when surrounded by Autumn colours. There is a Chrysanthemum Flower Show held every year from late October to late November.

Address: Omiya-cho, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Best Time: Mid to Late November
Admission: FREE to the Gifu Park (Gifu Park picture)

Autumn Colours at Gifu Park
Autumn Colours at Gifu Park

Autumn Colours Forecast 2014 in Japan

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Top 5 Autumn Colour Spots in Tokyo and Kanto

Mount Takao
Tokyo has an almost endless number of spots for viewing autumn leaves, from quiet neighbourhood parks to large Japanese gardens. Even after living in the country for over 5 years I am still coming across new spots, and hope to find even more this year. Plus it’s not just central Tokyo, as the mountains in west Tokyo and nearby Saitama have a large number of easy to access spots.

Here are my top 5 spots in and around Tokyo. 

Mount Takao 

Mount Takao is one of the most well known mountains near central Tokyo, and is the best mountain to go for autumn leaves. This mountain, as well as many of the surrounding ones, is covered in golden and red leaves. I had a great time hiking up to the top, then coming halfway down to enjoy a beer and all-you-can-eat food in the beer garden. There is a large selection of routes, so it’s good for any age or type of hiker. There is also a cable car that can take visitors half way up.

Access: Take the Keio line to Takaoguchi station.
Best Time: November
Admission: FREE

Mount Takao
Mount Takao

Takahata-Fudoson Temple 

While this place seems to be reasonably well known to local tourists, it didn’t have any foreign tourists. The whole complex, with its stunning pagoda surrounded by autumn trees and hill forest covered in golden and red leaves, is well worth the journey. There are also some great shops for souvenirs, stalls selling traditional Japanese sweets such as Taiyaki and lots of little temple buildings and gardens to explore.

Address: 733 Takahata, Hino-shi, Tokyo 191-0031
Best Time: November to early December
Admission: FREE

Takahata-Fudoson Temple
Takahata Fudoson Temple

Inokashira Park 

A great place to see how the Japanese crowds like to enjoy autumn colours. This famous park gets full of all kinds of performers, dancers and artists, as well as stalls trying to sell all kinds of trendy souvenirs. Inokashira Park is therefore a great place to see beautiful red and golden leaves in a casual, but fun atmosphere.

Address: Kichijoji, Tokyo
Best Time: November to early December
Admission: FREE

Showa Kinen Park 

This former military base was turned into a massive park during the boom years, and the amount of money really shows. I have been here many times, both for autumn leaves and cherry blossoms, and always run out of time! It really is one of the biggest parks I have ever been to, but could better be described as a ‘park of parks’. There is a traditional Japanese garden, a few forests, modern gardens and much more. All these sections, as well as the outside promenade, are filled with stunning autumn colours.

Address: 3173 Midoricho, Tachikawa, Tokyo 190-0014
Best Time: November to early December
Admission: Adults 410 yen, Children 80 yen

Showa Kinen Park
Showa Kinen Park

Heirin Temple 

This place really took me my surprise! This temple is not well known outside Japan, but it should be. Get away from the tourist buses and explore a real temple during the autumn colour season at Heirin Temple. There are lots of little temple buildings and mini Japanese gardens, plus a large forest to enjoy. All the areas are full of golden and red leaves, with different varieties of trees, so you will have a good chance of seeing something good.

Address: 3 Chome-1-1 Nobitome, Niiza, Saitama 352-0011
Best Time: November to early December
Admission: FREE

Heirin Temple
Heirin Temple

Matthew Baxter 

Matthew is a blogger and website designer who has lived and travelled in Japan for over 5 years. He writes the Japan budget travel guide Cheapo Japan, a website dedicated to showing tourists how to enjoy Japan without burning all their money away. Please check out http://www.cheapojapan.com/ for lots of super useful tips and guides.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

McDonald’s Japan Halloween Burger

McDonald's Japan Halloween Burgers
McDonald’s Japan has joined the club by releasing a black burger for Halloween. Hot on the heels of the recent Black Kuro Burger from Burger King Japan comes the new Ika Sumi Burger from McDonald’s.

McDonald’s own dark burger is just in time for Halloween. The burger is called the “Ika Sumi Burger” or Squid Ink Burger, and is its Goth burger to rival that of Burger King.

They have also released a new chicken burger which features Camembert cheese, and a new McFlurry with pumpkin sauce.

Here is a brief description of each Halloween menu item.

The Ika Sumi Burger (Squid Ink Burger) 

The Ika Sumi (Squid Ink) Burger features two beef patties, cheddar cheese, and crispy fried onions, with a special yellow smoky & spicy Chipotle sauce. The burger also contains a black squid ink sauce. All this yumminess is contained within buns dyed with black sesame seeds. The black for Halloween is meant to represent a black witch, which plays mischief on the burger.

You can pick one up at your local McDonald’s Japan restaurant for 370 yen (USD$3.40).

Halloween Ika Sumi Burger
Halloween Ika Sumi (Squid Ink) Burger

The Camembert Chicken Burger 

The Camembert Chicken Burger is the second Halloween burger and features a chicken fillet, lettuce and creamy white Camembert cheese sauce. All within standard white buns. Very scary! The white of the burger (buns and cheese sauce) is meant to represent a white ghost, with the burger dressed up in a white ghost costume.

This burger also sells for 370 yen (USD$3.40).

Halloween Camembert Chicken Burger
Halloween Camembert Chicken Burger

Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry 

The third item on the Halloween menu is the Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry. It features pumpkin sauce in the regular oreo cookies & cream vanilla ice-cream Oreo McFlurry. You can try it for 276 yen (USD$2.55).

Halloween Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry
Halloween Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry

The Taste Test 

Of course, we had to give one of these a taste. It is almost Halloween after all. We headed to our local McDonald’s and ordered a Squid Ink Burger. I know what you are all asking. How did it taste? Well…..it was pretty good. The burger looks awful, but tastes just like a regular McDonald’s burger. The first thing that hits you is the smell of the fried onions as you open up the box. The ika sumi sauce tasted alright and wasn’t too overpowering. The burger had a good spiciness to it due to the Chipotle sauce. The buns were a slight disappointment. Yes, they were dark, but I wouldn’t call them black. Maybe a dark shade of brown is a better description.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but it is not something that I would be ordering again.

McDonald’s Halloween menu will be available until the last week of October.

Halloween Ika Sumi Burger Set
Halloween Ika Sumi (Squid Ink) Burger Set

Halloween Ika Sumi Burger Box
Special Halloween Box for the Ika Sumi Burger

Halloween Ika Sumi Burger Buns
The black or as I say dark brown buns of the burger

Inside the Halloween Ika Sumi Burger
A peep inside the burger

McDonald’s Japan Website

McDonald's Japan Halloween Burgers

Monday, October 13, 2014

Winner of Japan’s World Heritage Sites Announced!

Thank you to everyone who entered our competition for a chance to win a copy of the book Japan’s World Heritage Sites by John Dougill.

There can only be one winner, and once again we used the traditional method of selecting a lucky person by randomly drawing a name out of a kabuto (samurai helmet).

I’m pleased to announce the winner is…..

*** Lola ***

Congratulations Lola, you will be contacted shortly so we can collect your details to pass on to the publisher.

Commiserations to those who did not win. Don’t worry as Japan Australia will be announcing another competition very soon. Stay posted!

Selecting the lucky winner from the samurai helmet
Selecting the lucky winner from the samurai helmet

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature
Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature by John Dougill, published by Tuttle Publishing is a great guide to Japan’s amazing collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is a must have book for any fan of travel in Japan and for people who are looking to explore the must see tourist destinations and attractions in Japan.

Japan is rich in both natural and cultural wonders, and UNESCO has registered 18 natural and cultural sites in Japan. The sites span the north of the country to the south, from the subarctic of the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido all the way down to the Ryukyu Kingdom in subtropical Okinawa.

I love exploring Japan and have been lucky in my over 10 years of living here to have traveled around most of the country. When I visit a region in Japan, one of the first things I look for are its World Heritage Sites. You could call me a temple, shrine, castle and garden explorer as these are typically the places that you will find me in. Japan has these in abundance as well as natural wonders which will leave you speechless.

This book at 192 pages outlines the World Heritage Sites of Japan with large colour photos and detailed text explaining what makes each site so special. It is filled with more than 350 colour photos, illustrations and maps. It is the perfect coffee table book to provide you with an introduction and outline of Japan’s World Heritage Sites. The description of each site contains practical information for the visitor as well as lush photographs and detailed maps. The book is an excellent guide for travel planning in Japan, or as a resource to use while exploring the country.

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature Cover

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature Back

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature Inside

From Mount Fuji to ancient Kyoto, readers of the book are introduced to temples, shrines, castles, gardens and the natural wonders for which Japan is famously renowned.

The author, John Dougill describes each World Heritage Site in detail, explaining why they were singled out by UNESCO. Dougill traveled the length of the country to visit all of the sites in Japan to research the book and describes his journey in detail in the book. Some of his favourite sites include:

Mount Fuji, Japan's tallest and most sacred volcano, it is considered the sacred symbol of Japan.
Himeji Castle, a monument from Japan's long feudal history. Also known as Egret Castle, because it looks like a bird taking off in flight.
Horyu-ji Temple, the world's oldest surviving wooden structure - a center of Buddhist learning that still serves as a seminary and monastery.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial, or Atomic-Bomb Dome - one of the few structures to partially survive the atomic blast in 1945.
The Ogasawara Islands, a remote archipelago of over 30 islands - that is home to rare wildlife and spectacular scenery.

This is the perfect book to keep at home and plan your next trip in Japan, inspire you to visit the country, or just to sit back in your comfy chair and let it whisk you away for a journey across the country.

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature is the perfect book for anyone interested in the must see attractions and sites in Japan. You can check out the book yourself on Amazon.com

*** Competition Time *** 

Japan Australia has a FREE copy of Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature to give away to one lucky winner, courtesy of Tuttle Publishing.

For a chance to win, please leave a comment below on the following topic, “What is your favourite World Heritage Site in Japan? And why is it your favourite?

We will select a winner at random and announce the result after the closing date.

Entries close on Sunday, 12 October 2014.

Note: Please do not comment as Anonymous, use a profile such as Google or WordPress, etc, so we can contact you if you are the lucky winner. We will also announce the winner in a future blog post, so stay tuned to Japan Australia.

Good luck and I look forward to reading your entries

*** Competition Has Just Ended ***

Japan’s World Heritage Sites: Unique Culture, Unique Nature

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