Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Matsusaka City Mie Prefecture

Matsusaka Back Street
I have never lived longer in any one place, since leaving home, than I have in Matsusaka. My wife and I have often spent three or four years in one location before moving on to a new place, but this is our ninth year in Matsusaka city, Mie, JAPAN.

Actually, coming here was a twist of fate so to speak – we never planned on it, but we consider ourselves blessed that it eventuated. Mandy and I were working in Toyota city, in Aichi prefecture. Yep, that’s the place famous for the Toyota automobile company. That year, our recruitment company lost its contracts with the local Board of Education to a competitor. We were worried about what would happen next.

Our company’s manager gave us three options: resign from the company and take our chances with the incoming company; look for another job in another place with another employer, or stay with the company and go to a rural town called Matsusaka. We had never heard of it, but we liked the idea of living in a rural area. Hence, we moved to Matsusaka and have never regretted it. So what's so good about this place you ask. Lots.

Situated on the east coast of Honshu (the main island), between Nagoya and Osaka, Matsusaka has a temperate climate. It rarely drops below zero degrees Celsius in winter, and almost never reaches forty degrees Celsius in summer (the highest temperature in 2014 being thirty-six degrees Celsius.) Surrounded by the sea on one side, mountains on the other, and blessed with numerous rivers, the city has a very natural environment. There are many large, grassy parks and recreational areas for families.
Mie Map
Mie Prefecture

The city is small enough to have a slow pace and quiet atmosphere, but big enough to be convenient for shopping, eating out, going to the cinema, and engaging in other various pursuits. It's also home to 'Matsusaka-gyu' (Matsusaka beef), which might just be the most delicious beef I have ever had the joy of eating. Matsusaka's locally-grown green tea is also quite popular in Mie Prefecture.

Matsusaka Green Tea
Matsusaka Green Tea

Something else the city is famous for is Matsusaka ‘Momen’ – Indigo Dyeing Cotton. Many goods are made with this unique, blue-striped fabric, and its production dates back over five hundred years. Many consider Matsusaka Momen a national treasure.

The city's population is just over 167,000 people. The folks in Matsusaka city are very warm and friendly. Interestingly, the area near Matsusaka castle used to be a samurai community, back in the 1800's. The city has tried to preserve that historical atmosphere, as evidenced by traditional cobblestone streets, old-style buildings, and with exhibits in local museums. Sadly, Matsusaka castle is little more than ruins these days, but even that has been preserved as much as possible, and visitors and residents can still tour the site and its gardens, and view the rock walls at the base of the castle.

Matsusaka Samurai Area
Matsusaka Samurai Area

When Mandy and I first moved here, it was spring, and the castle grounds were emblazoned with Cherry Blossom trees. We walked along the castle walls, and gazed out over Matsusaka city, just as the Daimyo (feudal lord) Gamo Ujisato and his samurai did.

The castle was actually built in 1580 by Gamo Ujisato, who was the son-in-law of the powerful warlord, Oda Nobunaga. At the time, Matsusaka was covered in pine trees, hence the city's name, which literally means 'slope covered with pines'. Matsusaka became part of Mie Prefecture in the Meiji restoration period (1868 – 1912).

View from Matsusaka Castle
View from Matsusaka Castle

The city was officially established in 1889, twelve years after a fire destroyed Matsusaka castle, and effectively modernized in 1933. The surrounding areas of Mikumo, Ureshino, Iinan and Iitaka (where my wife and I live) officially became part of Matsusaka in 2005. Railways, highways and a seaport make Matsusaka city easily accessible.

Matsusaka City
Matsusaka City

The local ferry takes passengers to Centrair (Chubu) Airport in Nagoya in just forty-five minutes, and also visits other surrounding cities and towns including Tsu (the capital of Mie), and Ise (south of Matsusaka). Ise, just an hour away by car, is the location of the country's second-oldest and yet most famous Shinto Shrine, Ise-Jingu. (Ise is also quite well known for its Ise-ebi – Japanese spiny lobster, as well as its beautiful beaches.)

My wife and I live in what may be referred to as a 'garden of Eden', a traditional, mountain village in the Iitaka area of Matsusaka. It's a typically rural area, with lots of rice fields, green tea fields, farms, mountains and rivers. Our home sits under open skies, right beside a river, and surrounded by mountains on three sides. We get to experience all four seasons here in their full glory. On the Gold Coast in Australia, for example, we never enjoyed the sight of cherry blossom trees, autumn foliage, nor snow of course.

In spring every year, many Cherry Blossom trees bloom in Japan, and the street on which we live is lined with them. In fact, we are lucky enough to have one in our back yard. The river becomes our 'private beach and pool' in summer, and a large number of fireflies light up the night sky. Autumn is an explosion of color, with all the changing leaves and different-colored trees, and we usually get a good snowfall each winter. Not having experienced snow in Australia, a good snowfall brings out the child in us both.

Matsusaka Back Street
Matsusaka Back Street

The neighbors look amused to see two foreign adults throwing snowballs at each other and kindly smile at our poor attempt at building a snowman. The local children are much better at it and like to show us how. We also enjoyed skiing for the first time here in Japan. Snowboarding is something that we yet have to try, hopefully in the near future.

All year round we can see monkeys and deer (and the occasional snake!), hawks and black kites floating in the sky, fish swimming in the crystal clear mountain river, and a myriad of delightful insects, both beautiful and annoying (stink bugs, wasps). The butterflies are glorious, the dragonflies amazing, and the hornets/wasps leave us alone. During our very first summer here, we managed to get a dragonfly to perch itself on our raised finger and stay for at least a few minutes. We feel very close to nature here.

Soon spring will come around again, which we are really looking forward to, although my favorite season is summer – Matsusaka beef on the barbecue, beer in hand, warm sunshine and swimming in the mountain river! It’s simply divine.

Kind regards,

Chris

This guest post and images have come from a good mate of mine in Japan, Chris Ryall. Like myself Chris is an Aussie in Japan and has lived here for over 16 years. Chris is also a writer and has his first novel on its way. Please take a look at Chris's work on his website CJ Ryall

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pizza Cioccolata Donuts

Brooklyn Donuts
Mister Donut Japan has released a new line of marshmallow and chocolate pizza donuts. The new selections are part of Mister Donut’s Brooklyn series of hybrid sweets inspired by the hip, cool eateries of Brooklyn, New York.

The new donuts are called Pizza Cioccolata and pay homage to Brooklyn’s large Italian community.

The small palm sized pizza donuts are topped with chocolate, marshmallows and strawberry sauce.

The pizza donuts come in two varieties, Pizza Chocolate and Pizza Strawberry

Pizza Chocolate 


The Pizza Chocolate donuts are topped with toasted marshmallows and feature a chewy chocolate base with chocolate ganache filling and chocolate sauce. The whole thing is covered in a generous dusting of white icing sugar.

Pizza Chocolate Donut
Pizza Chocolate
 

Pizza Strawberry 


The Pizza Strawberry donuts feature strawberry chocolate sauce topped with a drizzling of white chocolate. The donuts are available for 194 yen (USD$1.65) at your local Mister Donuts.

Pizza Strawberry
Pizza Chocolate
 

The Taste Test 


The big question is how do they taste?

The first thing that grabs your attention is the cute packaging. The pizza donuts come in packaging that is very reminiscent of a takeout pizza box. We love it!

The Pizza Chocolate tastes really good. The donut is very flat much like a pizza and the chocolate is deep and rich. The consistency of the donut is very reminiscent of pizza dough with its chewy texture and the marshmallows a perfect match for the cheese found on any pizza.

The Pizza Strawberry is a lot sweeter than the chocolate above but is still very good. We liked the red strawberry chocolate sauce which reminded us of the red tomato paste found on pizza.

Pizza Chocolate Donut
Pizza Chocolate Donut

Pizza Strawberry Donut
Pizza Strawberry Donut

The Pizza Coiccolata Donuts were an interesting experience and we highly recommend you give them a try if you are in Japan. Hurry as they will only be available for a limited time.

Mister Donut Japan Website

Brooklyn Donuts
 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ninja Day in Japan

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Today, February 22 is Ninja Day in Japan. Yes, we actually have a “Ninja Day” here in Japan.

The day is unfortunately not an official national holiday but a campaign spearheaded by the ninja cities of Iga and Koka to promote ninja culture and the region.

Iga in Mie Prefecture is considered to be one of the homes of ninja and historically a ninja stronghold. Koka in neighbouring Shiga Prefecture is home to a rival ninja clan the Koga ninja, who were based in the area.

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend checking out the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum in Iga. It is dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu and is a lot of fun.

Why is February 22 Ninja Day? Well, it is basically a play on words. In Japanese, the number two is pronounced “ni” which sounds like the “ni” in “ninja” (忍者). February 22 (2-22) has a lot of twos, so this is a good a reason as any to make this day officially recognized as “Ninja Day”.

Another reason could be that the date is reminiscent of famous Japanese anime character Ninja Hattori Kun’s catchphrase “nin nin”. Japan loves it puns and word play.

Both Iga and Koka will be holding special events and activities to celebrate Ninja Day and promote ninja culture.

How do you plan to celebrate Ninja Day?

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Image Source

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections
Starbucks Japan have just released their seasonal cherry blossoms selections. This is something that we at Japan Australia look forward to every year. It is a sure tell sign that spring is on its way. The Japan only “sakura” (cherry blossom) food, drinks and goods are a great prelude to the upcoming cherry blossom season in Japan.

Japan Travel Advice recently published a Cherry Blossom Forecast for 2015 so we can all start planning our “hanami” parties.

This year we have the piping hot Caramel Sakura Chocolate Latte, icy cold Caramel Sakura Chocolate Frappuccino, and Sakura Chiffon Cake to choose from.

Both the sakura drinks feature a drizzling of rich cherry and caramel sauce and are topped with shavings of cherry-flavored white chocolate. Sounds good doesn’t it?

You may remember that last year Starbucks Japan released a Sakura White Chocolate Latte with real sakura petals and leaves as well as a strawberry flavoured topping and pink strawberry infused whipped cream. It was really good!

Last year we also wrote about some of our favourite flavours of spring in Japan

Starbucks Japan shelves will also be stocked with limited edition “Bliss” line sakura themed tumblers, glasses, mugs and gift cards in pale pink and other colours of spring. Around March they are planning to release their “Brilliant” line of products in more vivid hues of hot pink.

The cherry blossom selections are available from February 15 for a limited time.

Which sakura goodie do you want to try?

Starbucks Japan Website

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections
 

Starbucks Cherry Blossom Selections Tumblers

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

National Foundation Day Kenkoku Kinen no Hi

National Foundation Day
February 11th is a National Holiday in Japan called National Foundation Day (建国記念の日) Kenkoku Kinen no Hi in Japanese. It is a day which celebrates the foundation of Japan and the accession of its legendary first Emperor Jimmu to the throne in 660BC.

Customs on National Foundation Day include raising the Japanese flag and reflecting on the meaning of Japanese citizenship.

The History of National Foundation Day 


The origins of National Foundation Day can be traced back to the foundation of Japan by Emperor Jimmu in 660BC.

The first National Foundation Day was celebrated in 1872 during the Meiji Period. In its original form, the holiday was created by the Meiji Government and called Empire Day (紀元節) Kigensetsu in Japanese. The aim of the holiday was to focus national attention on the emperor for the purpose of unifying the county. This was important after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate to legitimize the rule of the imperial family.

The first Empire Day was officially celebrated on the 29th of January 1872. According to legend, Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month on the Chinese lunar calendar. This day corresponded to January 29th on the modern Gregorian calendar.

The date was later moved as many still used the Chinese lunar calendar resulting in Empire Day falling on what most considered to be New Year’s (oshogatsu). The Meiji Government in response to this moved Empire Day to February 11th.

Empire Day featured large parades and festivals and was considered one of the four major holidays of Japan.

After World War II the holiday was abolished and a commemorative holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966. The day was stripped of its overt references to the Emperor, but was still a day for expressing national patriotism and love of the nation. Coincidentally, the first draft of the post-War constitution was approved by General MacArthur on February 11th 1946.

What will you be doing today to celebrate Kenkoku Kinen no Hi?

National Foundation Day

Monday, January 12, 2015

Coming of Age Day Japan

Coming of Age Day
Coming of Age Day or seijin no hi (成人の日) in Japanese is a special ceremony that is held on the second Monday of January to mark the transition of young Japanese into adulthood. It is held to congratulate young boys and girls who will reach the age of 20 (二十歳) during the current school year. Twenty is considered the beginning of adulthood in Japan, and is the age when you can legally vote, drink and smoke.

The day is also a national holiday in Japan. If you are out and about in Japan, you’ll see many young people dressed in their finest clothes.

Girls will dress in a furisode (振袖), a colourful kimono with long sleeves, traditionally only worn by unmarried women. While boys will wear either a formal suit or traditional dark kimono with hakama.

Coming of Age Day
Image Source
 
To mark this special occasion there are special coming of age ceremonies (成人式) held in the morning at local city offices and prefectural offices throughout Japan. After the ceremonies, young adults and their families will often visit their local shrine, or a large shrine such as Meiji Jingu in Tokyo to celebrate. Once the formalities of the day are out of the way, the young adults will often celebrate further by going to parties with friends or going out drinking.

The History of Coming of Age Day 


Coming of Age ceremonies have been held and celebrated in Japan since at least 714 AD, when a young prince donning new robes and hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood.

The National Holiday was first established in 1948, and was held every year on January 15. This changed in 2000, when the day was changed to the second Monday of January as a result of the Happy Monday System.

We are happy for the change as the Happy Monday System (ハッピーマンデー制度) moved a number of national holidays in Japan to a Monday, creating more three-day weekends for us to enjoy.

Coming of Age Day is a fun day and a great chance to see some young Japanese people dressed in beautiful traditional clothing.

HATACHI (二十歳)
Image Source

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hatsumode at Kogane Jinja in Gifu

Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
This year we made our first shrine visit of the New Year (hatsumode) at Kogane Jinja in Gifu City. Hatsumode (初詣) is the Japanese tradition of visiting a shrine or temple during the first few days of the New Year. This is usually around January 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

The main purpose of hatsumode is to pray for health, happiness and success for the year ahead.

Kogane Jinja (金神社) is one of Gifu’s most famous Shinto shrines and is conveniently located in the city center. The shrine was founded way back in 135 and has long been considered a place to pray for financial blessings in Gifu.

Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu City

This year we chose Kogane Jinja because we wanted to avoid all the crowds at Gifu’s main shrine, Inaba Jinja as well as pray for a financial successful year. This is important to us as we recently had a baby and we need all the financial help we can at the moment with just me working to support the family.

Kogane Jinja has been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions with the current structure built in 1988. The shrine has a nice feel to it and is always a popular place in Gifu to pray as it is so conveniently located to the downtown area.

The enshrined god at Kogane Jinja is the goddess, Nunoshihime-no-mikoto, who is the wife of Inishiki-Irihiko-no-mikoto, the god of Inaba Shrine.


the Main Shrine Gate at Kogane Jinja
The Main Shrine Gate at Kogane Jinja

We made our hatsumode at Inaba Jinja last year, which you can read about on this post.

The New Year’s period is always the busiest time for Kogane Jinja, with an estimated 150,000 worshipers visiting the shrine over the three-day period (January 1st ,2nd ,3rd).

Here are a few customs and traditions we followed for our hatsumode at Kogane Jinja:

Osaisen 


Osaisen (賽銭) is the custom of offering money to the gods at the shrine for good luck. Simply throw a small coin (5 yen is best) into the saisen-bako (賽銭箱) donation box, bow twice, clap twice, pray to the gods for a happy and prosperous year and bow once again as you finish. Why is a 5 yen coin the best? Because go-en (5 yen in Japanese) means chance, fate or destiny, and is considered lucky and to bring about good fortune.

Osaisen at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Osaisen at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu

Omikuji 


Omikuji (おみくじ) is another common custom when visiting a Shinto shrine in Japan. You can buy an omikuji at many different locations around the shrine for 100 yen. It is basically a fortune written on a small piece of paper. There are typically twelve different kinds of fortune you can receive ranging from good to bad. Don’t worry if you receive a bad fortune, simply tie it onto the special rack or tree on the shrine grounds, and this will ensure that the prediction will not come true. Remember to keep it if you receive a good one.

Omikuji at Inaba Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Omikuji at Inaba Jinja Shrine in Gifu City

Hamaya 


Hamaya (破魔矢) is a decorative wooden arrow sold at shrines to ward off misfortune and attract good luck. It is traditionally only available during the first few days of the year. They are sometimes also called ‘demon-breaking arrows’. Each shrine has its own unique design and they make a very cool decoration for your genkan (entrance at home) or souvenir. Traditionally, they are placed at the north-east and south-west corners of the house to protect against evil spirits. It is believed that these parts of the house are the most susceptible to evil influences. This year is the Year of the Sheep, so hamaya will feature a wooden wishing plaque called an ema (絵馬) with a sheep.

Hamaya from Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Hamaya from Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu

Ema Wooden Wishing Plaque
Ema ~ Wooden Wishing Plaque from Kogane Jinja Shrine

Amazake 


Amazake (甘酒) is one of my favourite New Year traditions at a shrine in Japan. It is a sweet traditional Japanese sake that is usually drunk to celebrate a special occasion such as the New Year.

A great way to finish off your hatsumode is by drinking a cup of steaming hot amazake by the bon-fire at the shrine.

Kogane Jinja Homepage


Kitsune at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Kogane Jinja

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