Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Stay at Kujo Stays

Kujo Stays
We were lucky recently to stay in a fantastic machiya (traditional wooden Kyoto townhouse) accommodation in the heart of Kyoto. Kujo Stays is a set of 4 Japanese style townhouses that gives you a taste of real Japanese style accommodation and lifestyle with their authentic look and feel. Machiya are great because they combine all the advantages of a vacation rental with the authenticity of a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

The rooms at Kujo Stays are very quiet, peaceful and comfortable, allowing you to concentrate on the important things in Kyoto which are all the historic temples, colourful shrines and sublime gardens.

Machiya Style Accommodation at Kujo Stays
Machiya style accommodation at Kujo Stays

Located a short 5 minute walk from JR Kyoto Station, Kujo Stays is also conveniently located near a big AEON Shopping Mall. If you are looking for a bit of culture and history, make sure to check out the UNESCO World Heritage, To-ji Temple, which is only a 10-minute walk from the accommodation.

Kyoto Station
Kyoto Station

The temple which served as one of the guardian temples of ancient Kyoto is home to Japan’s tallest wooden 5-storey pagoda, as well as Japan’s most famous flea market which is held on its serene grounds on the 21st of every month.

Toji Temple
The UNESCO World Heritage To-ji Temple in Kyoto

Kujo Stays features rooms with traditional Japanese machiya style décor such as tatami-mat floors, folding screens and hanging scrolls as well as basic furniture such as chabudai (Japanese low tables) and tansu (Japanese chest of drawers), along with Japanese ornaments and decorations such as pottery and ceramics.

Decorations at Kujo Stays
Beautiful Japanese style ceramics and decorations at Kujo Stays

The rooms at Kujo Stays are minimalist and very spacious which is great for families with kids or for those looking for a traditional Japanese experience. The futon bedding is comfortable and safe for children. We didn’t have to worry about kids falling out of beds at all.

Kujo Stays Room
Spacious rooms at Kujo Stays

Along with the traditional Japanese rooms are mod-cons designed to make your stay all that more comfortable. The essentials are all there such as heating, air conditioning, flat-screen TV, FREE WiFi, and private bathroom/shower. We also really loved having kitchen facilities as well as a washing machine to keep on top of the dirty laundry that starts to pile up after a few days of sightseeing.

The kitchen facilities include a microwave, fridge and all the kitchenware necessary to make your stay away from home as pleasant as possible.

I also like the fact the once you have picked up your room key from nearby Ebisu Ryokan, you are free to come and go as you please without the need to drop off the key whenever you want to go out.

The highlight of the stay for me was the beautiful Japanese style Zen garden which can be found in all the Kujo Stays townhouses. Designed by the owners Mr & Mrs Shimamoto, the enclosed courtyard gardens are illuminated at night to create a magical atmosphere.

Japanese style Zen Garden
Japanese style Zen garden at Kujo Stays

The property is managed by Global Network, who also own the nearby Ebisu Ryokan where we picked up the key to our room. Although there are no staff onsite at Kujo Stays, the friendly staff at Ebisu Ryokan are happy for you to stop by with any questions you may have. The staff can speak a multitude of languages including but not limited to English, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and of course Japanese. In fact, the onsite manager is a fellow Aussie who has spent the last 10 years working in both China and Japan, including several years in my hometown of Gifu.

The Owners Mr & Mrs Shimamoto
Yours Truly with Mr & Mrs Shimamoto and the onsite manager

Kujo Stays might appear to be a little more pricey than say your typical accommodation, but it is definitely worth the money for the fantastic location, facilities and spaciousness. I hope you will pay them a visit the next time you are in Kyoto. Just remember to tell them that John from Japan Australia sent you.

Kujo Stays 

Address: 8 Higashikujo, Nakatonodacho, Minami-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-8048
Phone: +81 75-574-7100
Website: https://www.agoda.com/kujo-stays/hotel/kyoto-jp.html

Kujo Stays

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Unifying Power of Karaoke

Unifying Power of Karaoke
I'm usually against stereotypes. I do not like the idea of judging an individual before getting the chance to interact with them properly. However, there is one stereotype that even I, a Japanese-American, am powerless against... Japanese love karaoke.

There are karaoke boxes all throughout Japan, mostly located near train stations and in big cities. Majority of the time they filled with young and elderly people a like. It is a good way to relax after school or work and blow off some of the day’s stresses. But why hasn’t karaoke’s popularity boomed in the Western world as it has in Japan? What is it about karaoke in Japan that makes it so special?

Unifying Power of Karaoke
 Photo by Ed Schipul 

Impress your Japanese friends at a karaoke night & learn Japanese. Try a free class here.

The most noticeable difference between Japanese karaoke and Western karaoke is the structure. In Western karaoke, participants stand up on a stage in front of other bar patrons and sing their (drunk) hearts out. In Japan however, karaoke patrons are assigned a booth (depending on group size), completely separated from strangers and alone with their friends. Hence the difference in names; karaoke bars in the west, and karaoke boxes in Japan.

Not surprisingly, this plays a huge factor in karaoke’s popularity. Knowing that the only people who will hear them sing are their friends, may allow the Japanese to participate without hesitation. In addition, the dark and intimate setting provides the singers the feeling of being able to hide, while many Westerners succumb to ‘stage fright’ knowing that complete strangers will judge them. This leads to probably the biggest difference between Japanese karaoke and Western Karaoke—ideology.

Karaoke Box
Karaoke box. Picture from Wikipedia 

The ways in which the Japanese and the Westerners view the idea of karaoke are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Where Westerns tend to view karaoke as a talent contest for the vocally gifted, the Japanese focus on participating and giving a sincere effort. This can be viewed through the many talent shows that exist, such as American Idol or The X Factor, both of which look for a new star and spend the first couple of weeks ridiculing those of lesser talent. Whereas in Japan, although their actual singing talents are questionable, some Japanese music artists’ albums are able to sell in the millions.

Japanese people do not care if you are a skilled singer or not. They only want you to participate in the fun and enjoy yourself. Karaoke is a good bonding experience. Not only are you in a small setting, where you are able converse with everyone in the room, you are able to show your true self without the fear of being judged based on your singing abilities.

Shimatachi summarized the difference between the ideology of Japanese karaoke and Western karaoke in Japan Pop!: “[...] karaoke must be seen as a positive social development. In short, the Walkman isolates and the boom box domineers—but karaoke unites.” (Shimatachi, 2000) [1].

Obviously, Shimatachi wrote this article in a time where people used Walkmans and boom boxes, but the message remains unchanged. Walkmans, or more recently mp3 players, keep individuals isolated from each other and encourage introverts; boom boxes, or more recently American Idol, encourage the separation of the talented and the less talented.

The success of Japanese karaoke boxes is contributed to the combination of structure and ideology. The unifying power of karaoke to bond and connect with others around them overpowers any fears and embarrassments an individual might have, a leads to an awfully fun Friday night!

Ready to sing in Japanese like a pro? Try a free class here.

[1] Shimatachi, H. (2000). A karaoke perspective on international relations In T. Craig (Ed.), Japan Pop! (pp. 101-105). Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe.].

This guest post has been written by Greg Scott from LinguaLift, a 21st century online language textbook for Japanese and Russian. Take your free class today!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Japanese Film Festival in Australia 2016

Japanese Film Festival 2016 in Australia
The Japanese Film Festival (JFF) in Australia 2016 celebrates its 20th anniversary with a huge national tour of Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, shining a spotlight on the best of Japanese culture from October 14th to December 4th.

With each city’s program carefully curated by The Japan Foundation, Sydney, the 2016 Festival will present exciting new films direct from Japan, including comedy, samurai and yakuza action, manga adaptations, high school romance and much more.

Highlights of the 2016 Festival include CREEPY, the latest film from Japan’s leading horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure) about a former detective who investigates the case of a missing family all the while obvious of the dangers close to home, CHIHAYAFURU PART I and II based on the popular manga series of the same name, and a fascinating documentary which captures the unique culture of the world’s largest seafood market, TSUKIJI WONDERLAND.

The popular JFF Classics program will also return to Sydney this year, featuring social films from post-war independent directors Tadashi Imai and Kaneto Shindo. The free program will include Imai’s BLUE MOUNTAINS, a two-part film where school teacher Yukiko, played by Setsuko Hara, attempts to introduce democracy into her classroom at a time when feudal ideologies still ran strong, and Shindo’s 1952 docudrama CHILDREN OF HIROSHIMA, a heartfelt film telling the stories of children affected by the bombing incident in World War II.

JFF Program Coordinator, Margarett Cortez, said “We’ve scoured Japan for the best of both classic and modern Japanese cinema and we're thrilled to celebrate our 20th anniversary with such a diverse program. From special events and classic films from the fifties on, to works by female directors and rising indie filmmakers, there really is something for everyone in this program”.

The Festival will also host a number of special event screenings, including pop culture days in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, foodie film screenings and special guest screenings.

The program is available via www.japanesefilmfestival.net

• CANBERRA - 14 to 23 October 2016 at Capital Cinemas, Manuka
• ADELAIDE - 21 to 30 October 2016 at at Mercury Cinema
• BRISBANE - 26 to 30 October 2016 at Event Cinemas Brisbane City Myer Centre
• PERTH - 2 to 6 November 2016 at Hoyts Carousel, Cannington
• SYDNEY - 17 to 27 November 2016 at Event Cinemas George Street
• MELBOURNE - 24 November to 4 December 2016 at Hoyts Melbourne Central & ACMI Cinemas
 • SYDNEY CLASSICS - 8 October to 6 November 2016 at Art Gallery of NSW Free admission. Tickets are issued at the Domain Theatre one hour before.

 *** Competition Time *** 


Japan Australia in conjunction with the Japan Foundation Sydney is offering the chance for one lucky reader to win a FREE double pass, which is valid for any Japan Film Festival film screening in Sydney and Melbourne. To enter the competition, please leave a comment below in the comments section on the following topic, “What is your favourite Japanese movie of all time and why is it your favourite?

The winner will be selected at random on November 11th and announced on this blog.

Note: Please comment using a recognized profile such as Google or WordPress, etc, Anonymous comments will not be eligible. We need to be able to contact the winner to pass on their details in order for them to receive the prize.

Good luck and I look forward to reading your entries.

Japanese Film Festival

Japanese Film Festival 2016 in Australia

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Halloween Choco Pumpkin Fries at McDonald’s Japan

Halloween Choco Pumpkin Fries at McDonald’s Japan
McDonald’s Japan has joined the Halloween party by introducing some pumpkin flavoured treats to celebrate the scary season. The “Halloween Choco Potato” released to mark its 45th anniversary in Japan features golden McDonald’s French fries covered in a pumpkin and chocolate sauce.

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s have released chocolate covered fries in Japan. Earlier in the year, they created some huge media buzz with their “McChoco Potato”, French fries covered in a double chocolate sauce of milk chocolate and white chocolate. While they were only available for a limited time, the concept is now back for Halloween, with an all new addition of pumpkin added to the chocolate mix.

The Taste Test 


We at Japan Australia are always game to try something new, so headed to our local McDonald’s to test them out. How were they? Surprisingly very good! The flavour combination of sweet & savoury work really well together and the fries tasted really good. It wasn’t too sweet with the mild and subtle sweetness from the chocolate combining well with the saltiness of the fries, which was balanced nicely with the savoury fruity pumpkin sauce. A real winner in our books!

Halloween Choco Potato Box
The Halloween Choco Pumpkin Fries come in a cute Halloween box

Halloween Choco Potato Box and Sauce
The sauce is served separately in a plastic snap pack sachet

Halloween Choco Potato Sauce
When squeezed the two sauces drizzle out together


Halloween Choco Potato
The colours and flavours of Halloween

The Halloween Choco Pumpkin Fries are available for a limited time until Halloween at McDonald’s restaurants across Japan and cost 330 yen (USD$3.28). You can also purchase them for an additional 60 yen as part of any set deal. Hurry before they vanish like a ghost from the menu forever.

Recent Unique Menu Items from McDonald’s Japan

Tsukimi Burger (Moon Viewing Burger) 2016

McChoco Potato Chocolate Fries 

McDonald’s Japan Website

Halloween Choco Pumpkin Fries at McDonald’s Japan

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Simor Intellectual Network

Simor Intellectual Network
Simor is a great tool for you to connect with native and non native Japanese speakers. It allows you to connect with like-minded people from all over the world. In Simor rooms, you can find a Japanese room where people instantly share their interests, questions, answers and thoughts on Japanese culture, language, food, cities, and more.

What is Simor? 


Simor is an online intellectual network located at Simor.org. Registration and all the services that the Simor team provides are forever free and there is no premium account. You connect for free and share for free with people who have the same interest as you. It is really easy to connect to the network via either your Facebook or Linkedin account.

The platform allows you to build a network of intellectual peers across various topics that interest you, including Japanese. You can add friends and colleagues to your network and follow them as they post, questions and answers.The Japanese room allows you to connect with native speakers or others learning the language. The rooms are a lot of fun and are both informative and interactive.

Sharing with like minded ones


It is easy to log into the Japanese room and find new people who have a love for Japanese culture, language, food, etc. An innovative chat room instantly connects you efficiently to new people and your favourite content.

Simor Intellectual Network


Smart Profile


Unlike other social networks where "About" is age, gender, or nationality related, on Simor, "About" is your knowledge on different subjects. Creating your profile is quick and easy and it is fun to discover all the different rooms available that interest you.

Simor Intellectual Network


Simor has launched into the top 50 universities in the USA and starting today (October 1st, 2016) it gives access to Facebook and Linkedin users.

Share your brilliance with the world at Simor.org

Simor Intellectual Network

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tsukimi Burger 2016 McDonald’s Japan

Tsukimi Burger 2016 McDonald’s Japan
The seasonal Tsukimi Burger is back for autumn 2016 in Japan with a brand new addition to the “tsukimi” family.

The Tsukimi Burger (月見バーガー) is named after the famous Japanese tradition of tsukimi (月見) or moon viewing, which is a festival honoring the bright autumn moon.

The Tsukimi Burger has been around for a few years now, first making its first appearance way back in 1991. It has been a popular seasonal favourite ever since and comes back every year in some form or the other. Check out last year’s edition of the Tsukimi Burger. It traditionally contains a beef patty, smoky bacon, a poached egg and a special Aurore sauce made up of ketchup mixed with Japanese mayonnaise. The poached egg in the burger is said to resemble the autumn moon with the egg yolk representing the bright autumn full moon and the egg white the white sky.

This year it is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the brand new “Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger”.

The Tsukimi Burger 


The Tsukimi Burger is the original and some say best version of the burger. It contains a juicy beef patty, smoky bacon, a poached egg and special sauce all in sesame topped buns.

The Tsukimi Burger


The Cheese Tsukimi Burger 


The Cheese Tsukimi Burger is the best in our opinion and is pretty much the same as the original above, with the addition of cheddar cheese, which makes it better.

The Cheese Tsukimi Burger


The Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger 


The brand new Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger is similar to the original but contains a slice of ham instead of bacon, cheddar cheese, and is inside buttery, fluffy, round moon-shaped buns made with fresh cream.

The Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger


The Taste Test 


We at Japan Australia are huge Tsukimi Burger fans, so just had to try the brand new “Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger”. How was it? It was OK! The addition of ham instead of bacon was a minus in our opinion and the buttery soft fluffy buns were good, but give us the original sesame topped buns any day of the week. Overall it was good, but we think we will just stick to "The Cheese Tsukimi Burger" from now on as it is definitely the best in our humble opinion.

Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger Set
Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger Set

Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger Box
Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger Box


A look at the Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger
A look at the Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger

Under the skin of the Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger
Under the skin of the Full Moon Cheese Tsukimi Burger

The Tsukimi Burger series is available from August 31st until the first week of October at McDonald’s restaurants across Japan. Prices for the burgers vary depending on the region of Japan.

McDonald’s Japan Website

The Tsukimi Burger Lineup for 2016
The Tsukimi Burger Lineup for 2016

Sunday, September 11, 2016

TABICA: A Day with a Bushido Master

TABICA Tour
Are you looking for a truly unique Japanese experience? If you answered ‘yes’, then I have just the tour for you. TABICA is a Japanese tour company established in 2015 with the vision of “connecting people by trips”. They offer fun and unique cultural experiences that allow you to “dive into the life of locals” and experience the real Japan. Each tour is accompanied by an English interpreter, who helps break down the language barriers between foreign tourists and Japanese local hosts, who are monks, geisha, farmers, chefs, bushido masters and many more.

Some of the many tours on offer include; a day with a Buddhist monk at a temple, a day with a bushido (Japanese sword) master at a dojo, a day working with organic farmers, and a day with a soba making master. The tours are located at various places around Tokyo, all within one hour of the Tokyo Metropolitan area.

Shibuya Scramble Crossing in Tokyo
Shibuya Scramble Crossing in Tokyo

I was recently invited along to participate in their “A Day with a Bushido Master” tour, which I accepted with open arms as a huge samurai culture and history fan.

After a brisk 90 minute ride on the Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) from Gifu, I arrived in Tokyo, where I made my way to the TABICA office located just off the famous Takeshita-dori street in Harajuku, Tokyo.

Takeshita-dori Street in Harajuku
Takeshita-dori Street in Harajuku

The TABICA staff is available to meet you at their office, or in front of Harajuku Station. The tour heads off as a group with an English speaking interpreter, who is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the subject matter leading the way. They also speak excellent English which is a big relief especially if you can’t speak a lot of Japanese, or are new to Japan, as a first-time visitor.

We arrived at the dojo (training hall) located near Kudanshita Station on the purple Hanzomon Metro line in the early afternoon. The dojo is located on the second floor of an old building and is full of authentic samurai armour, swords, tsuba (samurai sword guards) and pictures. The oldest piece of samurai armour dates from the 17th century and once belonged to a famous samurai in the Kanto region of Japan.

Samurai Armour from the 17th Century
Samurai Armour from the 17th Century

First, we get dressed in our traditional Japanese clothing, which is called keikogi (稽古着) and is the uniform used in martial arts or bushido training. It includes a hakama (袴), the clothing of a samurai, gi (着) and obi (帯). This isn’t as easy as it sounds and actually takes a little bit of work with all instructors on hand to help get us dressed appropriately. You certainly feel the part if not look it in these traditional bushido clothes.

Dressed in Traditional Japanese Martial Arts Clothing called Keikogi
Dressed in Traditional Japanese Martial Arts Clothing called Keikogi

Second, we learned the correct way to enter the dojo and start the training. This is very important in Japanese culture and is called aisatsu (formal greetings). To learn how to do these greetings properly would take a full day’s training. Not much fun, so we did a short condensed version that teaches you the basics to get started. Bow to enter the dojo. Enter the dojo with your right foot, if you are standing on the right side of the room and left foot, if standing on the left side. This is very important and is done as to not step on the kami (god) of the dojo. Bow to the master and then bow to Amaterasu (the sun goddess), who is famously enshrined at Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. The goddess can magically visit the dojo via a mirror which is placed in a small shrine on the wall of the dojo. This shrine is called the showmen, and is usually at the front of the dojo.

Samurai Armour and Swords in the Dojo
Samurai Armour and Swords in the Dojo

There are many different styles of sword fighting in Japan that have been passed down from generation to generation and from master to master. This school teaches Iaido (居合道), which is a modern Japanese martial art that focuses on the quick drawing of the sword, a resolute attack, and a smooth withdrawal.

The first thing to learn with the swords is how to draw them from the sheath and hold them correctly. This luckily isn’t too hard to learn and can be picked up quite quickly. You learn which part of the sword is best for striking and how to wield the sword in both hands. The key is 80% of the gripping power is in the left hand, while 20% is in the right, which is mainly used for guiding the sword. You also learn the correct stance with right foot forward, well balanced posture with lose shoulders and relaxed hands.

Practicing Kata or Set Movements with the Sword
Practicing Kata or Set Movements with the Sword

There are also many different kinds of sword strikes or cuts, so we learn the basic two of straight cut (makko giri) and diagonal cut (kesa giri) using practice swords.

After practicing the two different strikes via kata (set movements), it was time to put the strikes into action and actually cut something with real swords. Away went the practice swords and out came the shinken, a razor sharp sword. You get to practice the strikes by cutting wet tatami (straw) mats, which have been soaked in water for several days. They actually smell quite fowl, but do a good job of simulating the limbs of a human body.

Surprisingly it doesn’t take much effort to easily cut through the mats with the razor sharp swords and is like slicing through butter with a knife.

Cutting Tatami Straw Mats with the Sword
Cutting Tatami Straw Mats with the Sword

Last of all after working up quite a sweat, it was time to watch the master and his instructors in action. Sitting on the wooden floor of the dojo and watching their precise, graceful and powerful movements was a treat and something that I will soon not forget. It is easy to tell that they have been practising this art for many years and have a great knowledge and experience in handling the swords.

The Iaido Instructors in Action
The Iaido Instructors in Action

I really enjoyed my interactions with the instructors and the sword master, Mr Sakaguchi during the tour. It was great to be able to find out the history behind the samurai armour and various tsuba on display. The master also visits Gifu on a regularly basis as Seki City in the Mino region of Gifu Prefecture is a famous sword-making area, that has been producing high-quality blades since the 13th century. Mr Sakaguchi has a great sense of humour, telling us funny stories as well as many Japanese proverbs (kotowaza), which originate from samurai culture and samurai swords. Most of our interaction is in Japanese, but he throws in a little English now and then, which always brings a laugh.

Training with the Bushido Master
Training with the Bushido Master


Mr Sakaguchi, the Bushido Master
Mr Sakaguchi, the Bushido Master

I highly recommend this tour if you like me have an interest in traditional Japanese martial arts and samurai culture. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

If you are interested in joining a TABICA tour, check out their website, or contact them via email (info-en@tabica.jp). Tell them John Asano from Japan Australia sent you and you are bound to receive the VIP treatment.


TABICA Tour



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