Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Shirakawago Light Up Event

Shirakawago has a special place in my heart with its beautiful scenery and traditional old farmhouses. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Gifu Prefecture’s must-see travel destinations and is famous for its collection of thatched roof houses built in the gassho-zukuri style.

The historic village is home to 112 of these gassho-style houses with the traditional thatched roofs resembling the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. Some of these historic houses are more than 250 years old with the unique architectural style developed over generations to withstand the heavy snow fall during winter of this remote region of Japan.

The small village is home to only about 1,700 people but around 1,700,000 visitors come every year, especially around the time of the beautiful light-up event in January and February. This magical illumination event turns the village into a winter wonderland straight out of a fairy tale.

The Shirakawago Tourist Association has partnered with Japankuru Funding, a crowdfunding service to create a community made guidebook for the Shirakawago Light Up Event, which runs every weekend from January 19th, 2019 to February 17th, 2019.

The guidebook will help people attending the event have a better time and enjoy the experience further by providing tourists with key information such as where to eat, what to see, what to do and how to best enjoy Shirakawago.

If you are interested in helping the project, visit the Shirakawago Light Up Event Guidebook page and help the community create this useful resource.

Image from the Shirakawago Tourist Association

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Super Cheap Tokyo Book Review

Super Cheap Tokyo Budget Travel Guide
Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities on the planet with its mix of the traditional, from historic temples and colourful shrines to the ultramodern, with neon-lit skyscrapers and pop culture. Tokyo has it all. With so much to see and do in Tokyo, it can be overwhelming trying to plan a travel itinerary without the right travel guide.

The Book’s Content 


Super Cheap Tokyo is the ultimate budget travel guide to exploring Japan’s capital on a shoestring budget. The travel guide covers the greater Tokyo metropolis and the surrounding Kanto region on the cheap. Unlike other Tokyo guides, this book shows you exactly how, where and when you can save money.

The book covers a wide range of money saving tips such as how to grab a traditional Japanese meal for only $3, buy clothes in the fashion mecca, Harajuku for under $10, and how to spend next to nothing on a day’s hiking or relaxing in a Japanese garden.

Inside the book you will find:

Budget food – a comprehensive list of low-cost restaurants, take-outs and supermarkets.
Budget shopping – the best tax-free shopping, shopping hot-spots and 100-yen stores.
Highlights and itineraries – based on discount subway and train passes, so you can explore while keeping the costs down.
Tokyo’s hidden treasures – walking routes to all the hot spots and must see places to visit.
Cheap accommodation – the best and cheapest hostels, budget hotels, family-friendly hotels, internet cafes, overnight spas and more.

Super Cheap Tokyo Budget Travel Guide

My View 

Why I really like this book? It is compact and easy to use with all the information and tips at your fingertips. I like how the book provides a quick guide on how to use it and some useful information about Tokyo before moving into the travel guide and covering the must-see places. Each area of Tokyo is broken down into a brief intro, a little bit of history about the area, things to do, and getting around, before moving into budget food and shopping.

Shibuya Preview

Tokyo offers countless tourist attractions to visitors, and this book gives you plenty of great travel options to explore without breaking the bank.

It is easy to use with colour maps making it easy and stress-free to get around. The maps use landmarks and walking routes to help get you around and include convenience stores, cheap supermarkets, 100-yen stores, budget accommodation and tourist information. The book covers all the best of the region including the highlights of Tokyo such as the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Skytree, Harajuku, Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ueno, Akihabara, and Odaiba, as well as the Kanto region with Mount Fuji, Kamakura, Yokohama, Nikko, Hakone along with many other off-the beaten-track spots.

Shibuya Map
Shibuya Map

The colour photos in the book add to content giving you a glimpse of the amazing places that you will visit.

This book is perfect for backpackers, budget travelers, families on a tight budget, students and those who just want an amazing time, without blowing all their cash in a day.

About the Writer 

The author, Matthew Baxter is a travel writer living in Tokyo. Having traveled across the country for several years, without much money, he has built up an extensive knowledge of budget travel in the Land of the Rising Sun. He now writes professionally for several websites and publications, such as the Japan National Tourist Association, Japan Visitor and All About Japan. He is the author of Super Cheap Japan.

Super Cheap Tokyo is all you’ll need for a fantastic budget holiday in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region. This book gives you some great money-saving tips all in an easy-to-use travel guide. There is no better time to come to Tokyo and Japan than now.

Super Cheap Tokyo is available now from Amazon.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette
Japan is a country filled with ancient traditions and customs that can baffle anyone who is new to the country. The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, with the modern culture absorbing influences from Asia, Europe and North America. Traditional Japanese culture has its roots in ancient China, a regional powerhouse that strongly influenced Japanese traditions and customs first through Korea, and later via direct cultural exchanges with China. For a long period of time during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868), Japan adopted a period of isolation from the outside world, which allowed its own culture to flourish and develop with out influence from outside forces.

The Book’s Content 

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is one of the first books to explain in great detail why the Japanese think and behave the way they do. Veteran Japanologist, Boye Lafayette De Mente unlocks the mysteries of kata – the cultural forms that shape and define Japanese etiquette, character and world view. Kata is responsible for creating the unique traits and talents which distinguish the Japanese people. It remains the key to understanding Japanese customs, business etiquette and daily communication and interactions.

The book covers a wide range of topics from “The Art of Bowing” and “Importance of the Apology” to “The Compulsion for Quality” and “Exchanging Name Cards”. The author delves deep into the complexities of Japanese culture by exploring the origin, nature, use and influence of kata in Japanese life.
Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

My View 

Why I really like this book? In seventy short, clear essays and 224 pages the book explores Japanese history, daily life and the collective Japanese psyche to help explain the ancient culture of Japan and its own unique way of thinking. Long-term foreign residents of Japan will find this book illuminating and thought-provoking as it provides detailed insights into many of the country’s interesting traditions, customs and etiquette. It is the perfect read for anyone interested in working for a Japanese company to better understand the work culture, business etiquette and why things are the way they are.

The black and white photos in the book add to the mystery of the content and help to break up the text-heavy pages.

This book is great for anyone looking to get deep under the surface of Japanese culture and better understand this fascinating country.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

About the Writer 

The author, Boye Lafayette De Mente first went to Japan in 1949 as a member of a U.S. military intelligence agency, and was involved with the country for more than six decades as a student, journalist, editor, lecturer, and writer. He is the author of more than thirty books on Japan, including Japanese Etiquette and Ethics in Business and How to Do Business with the Japanese.

The book has been completely revised and expanded by Geoff Botting, who has lived in Japan for over a quarter century, witnessing Japan’s economic bubble, its bursting, and the changes that came in its wake. He is a freelance translator and a print and broadcast journalist specializing in business.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette offers an informative and eye-opening look at a unique culture and helps you better understand the rationale behind Japanese behavior. This book gives you a good understanding of Japan’s traditions, customs and etiquette which are useful to know whether you are just visiting the country as a tourist, or planning to live in Japan as a resident.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette is available now from Tuttle Publishing.

Japan: A Guide to Traditions, Customs and Etiquette

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Fuchu - The Mystery City of Tokyo

Fuchu Tokyo
Fuchu is a hidden destination in Tokyo that is off the beaten track and full of mystery. Located a short 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku and downtown Tokyo on the Keio Line, this charming city will surprise you with all its history, shrines, temples, and fascinating spots to explore that offer you a taste of the real Japan. In fact, it might be Tokyo’s best kept secret.

Fuchu is a town with a long history and cultural tradition dating back to ancient times when it was the capital of Musashi Province (Tokyo, Saitama & Kawasaki and Yokohama in Kanagawa). The area prospered during the samurai age as the region’s center of politics, economy and culture and as a post town on the Koshu Kaido, one of the five routes of the Edo Period.

Fuchu now prides itself as a rugby city with two teams, the Top League’s Suntory Sungoliath and local rivals, Toshiba Brave Lupus based in the city and with its location close to Ajinomoto Stadium (Tokyo Stadium). Fuchu has gained a reputation as a “Sports Town” with many sports teams basing themselves in the city. Ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, both England and France will hold their training camps in Fuchu.

Let’s take a look at some of the places that make Fuchu a must-see destination for anyone looking to avoid the tourist hoards and sample a taste of authentic Japan.

Baba Daimon - Zelkova Tree Street 

An oasis of greenery in metropolitan Tokyo, Baba Daimon no Keyaki Namiki is a zelkova tree lined street, which is a National Natural Monument of Japan. The canopy of trees that form a tunnel over the road are believed to have been donated in 1062 by the samurai general Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (head of the powerful Minamoto clan), and his son, Yoshiie as a prayer of thanks after victory in military campaigns in Mutsu Province (Tohoku Region). Fuchu is famous for horses and this street was the place where the samurai would run their horses to choose the best ones for their samurai warriors. Today, a total of about two hundred trees create a scenic environment that is not only a symbol of Fuchu, but a beautiful entrance to the city.

Baba Daimon - Zelkova Tree Street
A statue of Minamoto no Yoshiie | Photo: John Asano

Okunitama Shrine 

At the end of the zelkova tree street you will find Okunitama Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Okunitama, the god protecting Musashino Province. The shrine is one of Tokyo’s oldest, reportedly established in 111 AD and is a power spot worthy of a visit as one of the five major shrines of Tokyo along with Meiji Jingu, Yasukuni Shrine, Hie Shrine and Tokyo Daijingu. The shrine holds a famous festival every May called the Kurayami Festival (Darkness Festival), which draws 750,000 visitors from across Japan. The festival is one of the three oldest festivals in the Kanto region and features large taiko drums and eight elaborately decorated mikoshi (portable shrines) that house the gods during the festival.

Okunitama Shrine
The main shrine gate at Okunitama Shrine | Photo: John Asano

Mikoshi portable shrines at Okunitama Shrine
Mikoshi portable shrines at Okunitama Shrine | Photo: John Asano

Furusato Fuchu History Museum 

Located on the grounds of Okunitama Shrine is the Furusato Fuchu History Museum, which is dedicated to the history of the area. The exhibits inside provide you with a sample of the long history of Fuchu and its role during the time it was home to the provincial government office of Musashi Province. If you are lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of Fuchu City’s mascot character, Fuchukoma.

Furusato Fuchu History Museum
Fuchukoma - the mascot character of Fuchu City | Photo: John Asano

Koanji Temple 

Koanji Temple is a small but fascinating Buddhist temple full of charm and little surprises. The historic temple was built in the 12th century with the temple grounds containing a well that is believed to have been used by the legendary samurai warrior, Minamoto Yoshitsune, who stopped by this temple on his way to battle. The most striking part of this temple is the architecturally impressive two-storied main temple gate that is flanked on either side by beautifully carved Nio Guardians. Don’t let them distract you too long as rows of jizo statues (the protector of children, travelers and women) to the side of the gate as well as the colourful lanterns of an annex to the main temple are just two of the many charms of this temple.

Koanji Temple
The main temple gate at Koanji Temple | Photo: John Asano

Rows of Jizo Statues at Koanji Temple
Rows of jizo statues at Koanji Temple | Photo: John Asano

Sakeza Nakakyuu 

One thing that I have learned in Japan is that anywhere there is a temple or shrine, you are likely to find quality water and Fuchu is no different. The best thing about quality water is that it produces quality rice, which in turn makes for great tasting sake. Sakeza Nakakyuu is a sake brewery in downtown Fuchu that sells a great range of local sake as well as a place where you can sample some of Fuchu’s finest. The café in the old kura (warehouse) has an authentic old time ambience, but head up the steep stairs to the second floor, where you can enjoy a range of different sake from the brewery.

Sakeza Nakakyuu
Sake bottles at Sakeza Nakakyuu | Photo: John Asano

Suntory Sungoliath Rugby Grounds

The Suntory Sungoliath rugby team along with the Toshiba Brave Lupus are two local rival teams in the top league of Japanese rugby union based in Fuchu. The Suntory Sungoliath’s are as you might have guessed owned by the Suntory beverage company and proudly where the Suntory Premium Malts logo on their team uniforms. The team trains out of the Suntory Sungoliath Rugby Ground in Fuchu which is a modern facility that several teams will use as their pre-camp for the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Suntory Sungoliath Rugby Grounds
Suntory Sungoliath | Photo: John Asano

Café +64 

Café +64 is a little taste of down under in Fuchu that was started by New Zealand Rugby Union player, Michael Leitch and his Japanese wife. Specializing in breakfast and brunch, I felt like I was back home in Melbourne with meat pies, all-day breakfast and flat white coffee on the menu.

Café +64
Cafe +64 | Photo: John Asano

Fuchu Kyodo no Mori Museum 

An open-air museum in the heart of Fuchu dedicated to the famous history and culture of the area. The main building houses some interesting exhibits about the local history as well as a planetarium, but the best part is heading outdoors to enjoy the gardens and architecture of the buildings of the open-air museum. The grounds are home to several different buildings from Fuchu’s time as a post town on the Koshu Kaido during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The buildings are spectacular in all the seasons, offering you a different view from plum blossoms in spring, hydrangea in summer and Japanese maples in fall.

Fuchu Kyodo no Mori Museum
Edo Period building at the Fuchu Kyodo no Mori Museum | Photo: John Asano

Musashi Fuchu Kumano Shrine Kofun Ancient Tomb 

The remains of an ancient tomb have been restored here creating a mysterious spot to visit in Fuchu. The tomb is unique with a rectangular base topped with a rounded mound. There is a small two-storey museum located near the tomb that houses pictures and artifacts from the ancient site. Don a helmet and pick up a flashlight and you can explore a replication of the ancient tomb but take care as the entrance is narrow and the tomb is tight.

Musashi Fuchu Kumano Shrine Kofun Ancient Tomb
Musashi Fuchu Kumano Shrine Kofun | Photo: John Asano

Dai Tokyo Sogo Oroshiuri Center (Great Tokyo Wholesale Center) 

A wholesale market in Fuchu that sells just about everything imaginable in one place. Built in 1966 by the chairman of a successful telescope company, this market hosts a large number of shops selling everything from food to fashion. This is the ultimate one stop shopping with cheap prices that you will not find at your local supermarket. The best time to visit is first thing in the morning for the best quality meat and fish on offer.

Great Tokyo Wholesale Center
A sample of fresh fish at the Great Tokyo Wholesale Center | Photo: John Asano

Sumomo Plum Festival 

Every year on July 20th, the humble Japanese plum (sumomo) gets its hour in the sun at the popular Sumomo Plum Festival at Okunitama Shrine. The legend of the festival traces its roots back to samurai leader Minamoto no Yoriyoshi and his son, who stopped at the shrine to pray to the gods for victory in battle. Minamoto presented a plum as an offering to the gods and it must have worked as the Minamoto Clan were victorious in their military campaign trouncing their rivals. Today, eating a plum at the festival is said to keep away both sickness and evil spirits. The approach to the main shrine building is lined with a variety of food vendors selling all kinds of delicious summer festival food and sweets.

Sumomo Plum Festival
Sumomo plums at the Sumomo Plum Festival | Photo: John Asano

Sumomo Kakigori
Sumomo kakigori (shaved ice) | Photo: John Asano

If you are interested in getting off the beaten track and exploring Fuchu City for yourself, visit the Fuchu website for more information http://www.kankou-fuchu.com.e.adc.hp.transer.com/ 


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto Book Review

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto
Living in central Japan, Kyoto is one of my favourite places to visit with its deep history and traditional architecture. Kyoto is considered by many to be the cultural heart of Japan with its ancient shrines, temples and Zen gardens.

The city has managed to survive many of the wars that have affected Japan and even a lot of its modernization in certain areas, giving us a time capsule of Japan’s rich architectural and cultural history.

The Book’s Content 

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto takes you on a journey via over 500 photos of traditional Japanese architecture and gardens spanning the centuries. The book features a variety of traditional Japanese houses, from aristocratic summer villas, temple residences, and merchant townhouses, to ryokan inns, private retreats and tea houses.

The book covers Kyoto’s traditional houses from every period of the city’s history and their associated outdoor spaces, which come in many forms from courtyard gardens and picturesque stroll gardens to “dry landscape” stone gardens and “borrowed scenery” gardens that make use of distant landscapes.

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto Cover

My View 

Why I really like this book? The beautiful photos make the book almost feel like a photo album, but it doesn’t stop there as the informative text turns the book into a fascinating historical study of Kyoto.

The book is split into six chapters with each exploring a style of traditional Japanese house which include aristocratic villas, temple residences, merchant townhouses, traditional ryokan inns, private retreats and tea houses.

It is easy to read and flick through with its compact size and the beautiful images really show you all the finer detail of Japanese architecture and garden design. I like how each house has a brief description under the name telling you about its location, when it was established and who it was built for, or its owner. The text is very informative and tells you all you need to know about each of the fascinating houses. The detailed map at the very end of the book allows you to pinpoint where each house is located in reference to the other in Kyoto.

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto Kinkakuji

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto Inside

I checked out the new hardcover edition which is a smaller and more compact version of the original book, which is perfect for me as a traveller and photographer on the go. This new edition also contains a new forward by architectural historian, Matthew Stavros, which places these exquisite houses within the broader context of Japanese history.

About the Writer 

The author, Thomas Daniell is a practicing architect, originally from New Zealand, who has been living and working in Kyoto since the early 1990s. He is a contributing editor for the architecture journals Mark and Archis and is widely published.

The vibrant collection of photographs is from Akihiko Seki, a photographer born in Tokyo, who has spent over 20 years working outside of Japan. Since taking early retirement, he has traveled with his wife and cameras throughout Japan and Asia. He is the photographer and author of Asian Resorts and also photographed and co-authored Ryokan: Japan’s Finest Spas and Inns.

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto is a great collection of exquisite classic Japanese houses and garden styles that will serve as a lasting inspiration to anyone interested by Japanese architecture and design.

Houses and Gardens of Kyoto is available now from Tuttle Publishing.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Ume Sake Kit Kat

Ume Sake Kit Kat
After the success of Sake Kit Kat back in 2016, Nestlé Japan has announced the release of an all-new Japan-exclusive Kit Kat for Fall 2018! Ume Sake Kit Kat - Plum Wine Kit Kat is made with Nanko plums from Wakayama Prefecture.

The new Kit Kat has been developed with the help of former Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata, now an accomplished sake connoisseur and acclaimed sake brewery Heiwa Shuzou in Wakayama.

Heiwa Shuzou was founded in 1928 in a valley in Wakayama where the temperate climate and high-quality soft spring water produces top-notch sake. The brewery not only produces sake, but a range of special fruit-flavoured sake made with locally grown fruit from Wakayama Prefecture.

Wakayama Prefecture located south of Osaka on Japan’s main island of Honshu produces about 40% of Japan’s plums (ume) and is known for its delicious tasting fruit. Only Wakayama’s best local Nanko plums, considered the best in Japan have been used for this new Kit Kat giving it a superior flavor. The plums are known for their soft pulp and extremely rich flavor.

Heiwa Shuzou uses these Nanko plums to produce their “Tsuru-ume Suppai Umeshu”, a delicious plum wine made with a sake base rather than the traditional shochu base.

Plum wine, called Umeshu (梅酒) in Japanese, is a popular summer/fall drink made with plums (ume) and shochu, a white distilled spirit usually made from rice, barley or sweet potatoes.

Ume Sake Kit Kat

The new Ume Sake Kit Kat highlights this special combination with (梅酒) ume-shu on the packaging, which perfectly describes the unique blend of ume (梅) plums and sake (酒).

Ume Sake Kit Kat
Ume Sake Kit Kat

According to Nestlé, the new Kit Kats delicately balance the sweet, deep flavor of ripe Japanese plums with white chocolate, giving them a strong aroma and a refreshing aftertaste. The description on the Kit Kat box reads, “The fragrant taste of sake, wrapped in the gentle sweetness of white chocolate. Enjoy the rich satisfying flavor of sake”.

Ume Sake Kit Kat

Ume Sake Kit Kat will go on sale at souvenir stores around Japan from mid-September with each nine-piece pack selling for 700 yen (USD$6.40).

Nestlé Japan https://www.nestle.co.jp/ 

Credit: Nestlé Japan

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tokyo Geek’s Guide Book Review

Tokyo’s Geek Guide
Tokyo is ground zero for Japan’s famous “geek” or otaku culture – a phenomenon that has now swept across the globe. In fact, many people are now visiting Japan not only for its famous temples and shrines, but in search of geek hot-spots such as high-tech Akihabara and trendy Harajuku in Tokyo.

Japan’s geek culture comes in many forms, from Japanese manga in bookstores and anime cartoons on TV to giant Gundam transformer toys and video games.

The Book’s Content 

Tokyo Geek's Guide is a comprehensive Japan Travel Guide for those interested in this subculture and Tokyo’s geeky underworld. The book provides a detailed run-down on each major Tokyo district where geeks hang out. Covering 11 of Tokyo’s best geek neighbourhoods (Akihabara, Jimbocho, Harajuku, Shibuya, Shimo-Kitazawa, Shinjuku, Nakano, West-Tokyo, Ikebukuro, Roppongi and Odaiba), this is the most extensive guide to the best places for geeks in Tokyo.

Tokyo’s Geek Guide

The book provides full details of the iconic shops, restaurants, cafes and clubs in each of the geek hot spots, including directions to each location, maps, urls, and opening hours. If that is not enough, 400 fascinating colour photos bring you around Tokyo on an unforgettable trip of Japanese manga, anime and geek culture.

Insider tips are also provided from interviews with geeks on the street and local otaku experts to give you the best insider tips and insights from those in the know.
Tokyo Geek's Guide Page 4

Tokyo Geek's Guide Page 5

My View 

Why I really like this book? It dives right into everything otaku from the start and covers all the bases for everything that you need to know. It takes you on a tour for the best places for restaurants, cafes, shops, clubs, museums, manga, anime, video games, toys, cosplay, festivals and events in Tokyo.

The book is easy to read with its compact A4 size and soft cover. The bright and colourful pictures throughout the 144 pages show you all the things you can do, see and enjoy in the world of otaku culture in Tokyo.

About the Writer 

The author, Gianni Simone is the Japan correspondent for Vogue Italia as well as a regular contributor to The Japan Times. His writings have also appeared on Flash Art and CNN Travel websites and in Zoom Japon and San Francisco Arts Quarterly magazines. Residing in Yokohama with his family, he has around 25 years’ experience living and working in Japan.

Tokyo Geek's Guide is the ultimate guide to Japan’s otaku culture. If you are interested in Japanese manga, anime, gaming, cosplay and idol culture at its very source, this is a must have book for you.

Tokyo Geek’s Guide is available now from Tuttle Publishing.

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