Japan Australia Pages

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Step Back in Time at Gujo Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman
Gujo Hachiman is a picturesque Edo period castle town situated along the Yoshida River deep in the lush green mountains of Gifu Prefecture. The riverside town has many claims to fame including its traditional summer Bon dance festival, mountaintop castle, pristine waterways, replica food samples and local crafts. 

Recently, I had the chance to explore this charming town once again on a Samurai & Timber Tour organized by the good folks at Nagoya is not boring and Nagoya City. 

Here are some of the highlights from my visit. 

Old Edo Period Townscape 

Gujo Hachiman flourished as a prosperous castle town during the Edo period (1603-1868) with many merchants and artisans making the town their home in the historic district. The wooden houses and traditional architecture of this part of town have remained relatively untouched since that point in history, creating a feeling that you have taken a step back in time to the age of the samurai. This area is best enjoyed by taking a gentle stroll to soak up the amazing atmosphere and history. In 2013, the Japanese Government designated the area as an “Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings”. 

Gujo Hachiman Historic District
Walking along the historic district

Gujo Hachiman Castle 

Gujo Hachiman Castle is Gifu’s very own “Castle in the Sky”. The mountain fortress is perched high atop Mt. Hachiman, overlooking the castle town below, and when the morning mist rolls in, the castle appears to be floating on a sea of clouds. 

Gujo Hachiman Castle
Gujo Hachiman Castle atop Mt. Hachiman

Gujo Hachiman Castle was originally built in the 16th century with the current structure a 1933 reconstruction. It is Japan’s oldest rebuilt castle made of wood rather than concrete and is one of the most beautiful mountain castles in Japan. 

The approach to Gujo Hachiman Castle
The approach to Gujo Hachiman Castle

The main castle tower
The main castle tower

Stunning view from the top of Gujo Hachiman Castle
Stunning view from the top of Gujo Hachiman Castle 

Gujo Odori 

The Gujo Odori dance festival is one of the three most important traditional Bon dance festivals in Japan. Held over 30 festival nights in the summer from mid-July until September, it is also one of the most accessible. The locals and visitors alike can enjoy dancing until late at night or even until the wee hours of the early morning during Obon in mid-August. Gujo Odori consists of 10 dances and corresponding songs that are easy to learn, making it an event that everyone can join in and enjoy. 

Lanterns for Gujo Odori
Lanterns for Gujo Odori

The traditional dance started over 400 years ago when the local daimyo, Endo Yoshitaka (1550-1632) organized a massive street party to bring all the people of his domain together regardless of rank or social position to harmonize and bond. What a great idea! 

One of the traditional dances at Gujo Odori
One of the traditional dances at Gujo Odori

Gujo Odori performed live by a group of singers and musicians
The music and songs for Gujo Odori are performed live 

The best way to fully experience Gujo Odori is to wear a yukata (light summer kimono) and a pair of geta (traditional wooden sandals). Take some time to explore the enchanting streets of the historic district before dancing the night away with the locals. 

The Water City of Gifu 

Gujo Hachiman is known as the “City of Water” due to its numerous canals, fountains, and waterways, which have been used since the 17th century by the locals for washing rice, vegetables and doing the laundry. The waterways are kept clean by the townspeople with the fresh water a source of pride for the town and its people. 

The Yoshida River running through the town
The Yoshida River running through the town

Sogi Sui Spring 

A local symbol and treasure is Sogi Sui Spring, which has been designated as one of the “100 Best Waters in Japan”. The water for the spring is fed by the surrounding mountains and it is used by the locals for a variety of different purposes. The spring is divided into four sections, each with its own exclusive use. The first pool is for drinking, the second for washing rice, the third for washing vegetables, and the fourth for cleaning tools. 

Sogi Sui Springs
Sogi Sui Springs

Igawa Lane 

Another water spot is Igawa Lane, a 200-meter-long path with a waterway running alongside it. The crystal-clear stream used to be used by the locals for washing and cooling vegetables, but today, it is populated by a variety of koi (carp), which visitors can feed. 

Igawa Lane
Igawa Lane

Yanaka Mizu no Komichi 

This water lane is a symbolic spot of Gujo Hachiman and one of its most picturesque locales. It is the perfect place to cool off in summer and take a leisurely stroll along its stone cobbled path. The name “Hachiman” literally means 80,000 in Japanese, and along this stone path, you will find 80,000 stones that represent the name of the town. 

Yanaka Mizu no Komichi
The 80,000 stone path at Yanaka Mizu no Komichi

Gujo Hachiman Museum 

The best place in town to learn all about Gujo Hachiman is the Gujo Hachiman Museum. Located in a former tax office which dates from 1920, it has informative displays on the town’s spring water, history, traditional local crafts, and Gujo Odori Bon dance. You can even see demonstrations and practice the dances and songs featured in Gujo Odori. The dance is demonstrated several times a day by the staff allowing you the chance to pick up and practice your dance moves before the big event kicks off. 

The Gujo Hachiman Museum
The Gujo Hachiman Museum

Old Gujo Odori posters at the museum
Old Gujo Odori posters at the museum

Interesting exhibits at the museum
Interesting exhibits at the museum

Traditional Crafts 

Silk Screen Printing 

Silk screen printing got its start in Japan in Gujo City. At Takara Gallery, a retail shop and screen-printing studio, visitors can try printing their own colorful tenugui towel, which they can then take home as a souvenir. Workshops are available in English with the kind and friendly staff making the experience one to remember. 


One of the most important items along with a tenugui for doing Gujo Odori are geta. These traditional wooden sandals make the unique sound of Gujo Odori as they scrape the ground during the dance and are an important cultural heritage of Gujo Hachiman. You can pick up a pair at the Gujo Mokuri Geta Shop on the main street to take home or use for the dance. 

Geta at Gujo Mokuri
Geta at Gujo Mokuri

Local Food 

Soba Noodles 

Like most places in Japan, anywhere with good water is bound to have great tasting soba and Gujo Hachiman is no different. At Soba Sho Matsui, the soba noodles are freshly made using the local spring water. We had a choice of two cold soba noodle dishes (wasabi or grated daikon) to enjoy for lunch on the hot summer’s day of our visit. The noodles were cool, refreshing and hit the spot! 

Soba at Soba Sho Matsui
Soba Noodles at Soba Sho Matsui

Hoba Miso 

Another delicacy of this part of Japan is Hoba Miso (beef and vegetables grilled with miso soybean paste on a magnolia leaf). This tasty dish originates from the Hida Takayama area of Gifu. 

Hoba Miso at Shinbashitei
Hoba Miso at Shinbashitei


This local chicken dish features chicken marinated in either soy sauce or miso which is grilled with vegetables on a hot plate. 

Keichan Chicken
Keichan Chicken via Nagoya is not boring

You can try both Hoba Miso and Keichan at the traditional Japanese restaurant, Shinbashitei, which is conveniently located next to the Shinbashi Bridge near the Gujo Hachiman Old Government Building Memorial Hall, which serves as the tourist information center as well as a souvenir shop. 

Shinbashitei restaurant near the Shinbashi Bridge
Shinbashitei restaurant 

Food Samples 

Did you know that Gujo Hachiman is the birthplace of those cool plastic food samples that you see in restaurant windows across Japan? The small town produces over 60% of all food replicas found in Japan, and you can try your hand at making one at Sample Kobo. Here, visitors can buy a food replica souvenir or join a workshop for a hands-on experience of creating a piece of tempura or a cup of ice cream. 

How to Get to Gujo Hachiman 

From Nagoya Station, take the JR Tokaido Line to JR Gifu Station. The easiest way to get to Gujo Hachiman from JR Gifu Station is via a highway bus which costs ¥1,550 (one-way) from Gifu. 

Wrap Up 

Gujo Hachiman is an authentic small town in Japan that offers visitors a rare opportunity to see, experience, and be part of, a traditional way of life that has changed little in centuries. Watch out for our next article where we head to Inuyama in Aichi Prefecture for day 2 of the tour followed by day 3 in Nagoya. If you want to book your own epic Samurai & Timber tour of Gujo Hachiman, Inuyama and Nagoya, visit the Nagoya is not boring website.

Gujo Hachiman
The riverside town of Gujo Hachiman 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Summer Festivals in Japan

Yosakoi Festival
The summer months of July and August are the best time to get outdoors and enjoy one of the numerous summer festivals on offer across Japan. From traditional celebrations such as the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto to spectacular summer fireworks, there is something for everyone to enjoy during summer. 

Known as matsuri (祭) in Japanese, these celebrations have their roots in Chinese festivals from centuries ago. Most matsuri are Shinto in origin with a connection to a local shrine where the gods or spirits known as kami reside. A festival is a time for breaking out the sake, enjoying wild dancing and singing, and getting closer to the gods. It is the only time of the year when the deities can leave the sanctuary of the shrine to be out amongst the people in the streets. 

Festivals typically celebrate the shrine’s deity or a historic event. Portable shrines called mikoshi house the kami when they are brought out from the shrine and paraded for the festival in front of thousands of adoring fans. 

The best way to fully immerse yourself in the matsuri experience is to wear a yukata (a light summer cotton kimono) and geta (wooden shoes). 

Here are a few of the many must see summer festivals to add to your Japan itinerary. 

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri in the northern Tohoku region of Japan. This spectacular summer festival features colorful lantern floats called nebuta which are paraded through the streets of central Aomori every August. The enormous floats are constructed of painted washi paper by local teams and often depict historical figures, famous Japanese samurai, kabuki actors, or mythical creatures. 

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
Photo Credit: Yo3up at Flickr

Gion Matsuri in the ancient capital of Kyoto. This summer festival dates back to 869 and is held over the entire month of July. It is the festival of Yasaka Shrine and was originally held to appease the gods after an outbreak of disease. The highlight is the famous grand procession of elaborately decorated festival floats which occurs on July 17th. 

Gion Matsuri
Photo Credit: Patrick Vierthaler at Flickr

Gujo Odori in the picturesque riverside town of Gujo Hachiman in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture in central Japan. This summer street dance festival is one of the three most important traditional bon dance festivals in Japan. The festival started over 400 years ago in an attempt by the local feudal lord to bring all the people of his domain together regardless of rank or social position in order to enjoy one massive street party. 

Yosakoi Festival
Yosakoi Festival by Kumar nav at Flickr

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri in Miyagi Prefecture. Held in downtown Sendai from August 6th to 8th, it celebrates Tanabata (The Star Festival). Tanabata originates from Chinese folklore and is based on the romantic legend of Hikoboshi and Orihime, two star-crossed lovers separated by the Milky Way. The festival is famous for its thousands of brightly colored tanabata streamers that decorate the city. 

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri
Photo Credit: Yo3up at Flickr

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in Tokyo. Fireworks have been a summer tradition in Japan for centuries. One of the biggest and best is this one along the banks of the Sumida River near Asakusa. It is the oldest fireworks festival in Japan and is held on the last Saturday of July. It is the perfect chance to try some street food with yatai (stalls) selling all kinds of delicious festival food and seasonal snacks such as takoyaki, yakisoba, shaved ice, and chocolate coated bananas.

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Where to get Japanese products in Australia?

Sugoi Mart
Love Japan and all things Japanese, but not in Japan? If you feel like you’re missing out on Japan exclusive items that often seem difficult, if not impossible, to buy in Australia, there is a simple solution for you - Sugoi Mart

There is absolutely no arguing that Japan produces the most amazing, futuristic, inventive and beautiful products. Think cute kawaii Sanrio items, anime figurines, musical instruments, and Starbucks Japan items, and that’s even without mentioning the mouth watering candy and snacks

Japan truly makes the most interesting, weird and delicious snacks and candy to have come into touch with our taste buds. With limited edition and Japan exclusive items from some worldwide brands like Kit Kat, Pocky, Doritos, Kewpie Mayo, Pringles and Boss Coffee. 

Sugoi Mart Japan Kit Kats Variety Pack

Sugoi Mart Japan Kit Kats Variety Pack

We live in an era where getting real deal Japanese products is tough - especially here in Australia. It’s easy to be unsure if it’s an authentic product that is truly from Japan or if it’s a knockoff, you want Hello Kitty, but instead you get Hello Catty. 

Japan is known for its overall supreme quality, originality, authentic and great craftsmanship. To make sure you're getting the real ideal items, and ensure that your Japanese products are actually made in Japan, Sugoi Mart is your one stop shop. It’s the glowing answer to get the real authentic Japan experience that is delivered to all over the world. Sugoi Mart is a bountiful land that allows access to the most exclusive and limited Japanese items that you can’t find anywhere else. This means that Japanese snacks, Japanese Kit Kat and legitimate Anime license products are only one click away. 

Demon Slayer Figuarts Zero Figure: Shinobu

Demon Slayer Figuarts Zero Figure: Shinobu

Well, what Japanese products are available at Sugoi Mart? Firstly, there is a whole host of anime merch, which includes Sailor Moon items, Jujutsu Kaisen character, Demon Slayer characters like Mitsuri and Shinobu Kocho and items from the world famous Ghibli movies, like Kiki's Delivery Service. You can even get a glimpse at the Weekly Shonen Jump, which is one of Japan's premiere manga magazines! 

But, it’s not just anime merch that Sugoi Mart has, there’s Among Us plush, adorable Sanrio characters like Pompompurin, My Melody and Rilakkuma. There’s even the renowned electronic musical synthesizer, otamatone. 

Deluxe Kirby Otamatone

Deluxe Kirby Otamatone

Whilst you’re watching your favorite anime, playing the otamatone seamlessly and searching through Sugoi Mart, you’ll need to be munching on your favorite Japanese foods to keep up your energy! Why not try the Japanese classic ramen noodles, taiyaki and yakisoba sprinkled with furikake seaweed flakes, all washed down with refreshing Japanese classic ramune

Sugoi Mart Deluxe Lucky Bag

Sugoi Mart Deluxe Lucky Bag

There is a sensational amount of Japanese products on Sugoi Mart, and sometimes you just don't know what to get! And the best answer is LUCKY BAGS! Lucky bags are packed full of Japan-exclusive mystery items from snacks, drinks, collectibles, figures, toys, games, plushies, and more! The Lucky Bags are the perfect intro to Japan, whilst still having a flair of excitement and mystery. 

Pocky Grand Party Set

You’ve made your order, what's next? Well, once your order is packed here in Japan it’s shipped through to DHL Express with tracking. Just like that it will arrive in about 3-5 business days to your door! Before you know it you’ll be snacking on authentically delicious Pocky in Australia. Head over to Sugoi Mart and dive into your dream Japanese adventure right on your couch.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Working in Japan: Understanding the Culture

Shibuya, Tokyo
One of the biggest challenges facing expats living and working in Japan is understanding the unique work culture which is deeply rooted in traditional values. The Japanese are known for being workaholics and extremely loyal to their company. They are very dedicated to the job and take every detail of the job seriously. While it is not too difficult to find a job in Japan, fitting into the work environment and hierarchy can be one of the most challenging aspects about working in the land of the rising sun. 

The Group Dynamic 

One of the key components of working successfully in Japan is belonging to the team and working well with others on the team. Most projects are worked on as a group with lots of meetings to discuss the project and make decisions via group consensus. Group harmony (wa) is key. A team-based attitude is important rather than standing out as an individual. Your co-workers are your teammates rather than your rivals. 

Team work
"Team work" by kevin dooley 


Nomunication takes the Japanese word for drink “nomu” and combines it with the English word “communication”. Drinking after work is an important part of the work culture here in Japan and is done to further strengthen relationships and the teamwork mentioned above. Drinking with your co-workers after work to relax and strengthen your bond is an essential part of Japanese work etiquette.

Early one morning in Japan
"Early One Morning" by amirjina

The Senpai & Kohai System 

Japanese society places strong importance on the hierarchical relationship between a senior and a junior. The Senpai (senior) and Kohai (junior) system has its roots in Confucian teaching but has developed its very own Japanese style and is deeply embedded into Japanese culture. It can be found everywhere in society from businesses and schools to clubs, organizations, and associations. Understanding how it works and where you fit into this hierarchy is essential in the workplace.

Overtime and more Overtime 

The Japanese are known for being some of the hardest working people on the planet with long working hours and loads of overtime. It is not uncommon for people to stay at work until 9 or 10 at night. Companies have traditionally looked favourably upon employees who work overtime as they are seen as being more diligent and hardworking. Very often, employees will work overtime because they are mindful of their co-workers and feel nervous about leaving work if everyone else is still working. 

Treat Business Cards with Respect 

One of the key components of working in Japan is exchanging business cards in a formal situation. Like anything in Japanese society, it comes with its own list of rules and procedures which must be strictly adhered to. Some important things to learn include how to accept the business card with both hands, having the right angle in your bow and what to do with the card once you have received it, Common faux pas include stuffing it into your pocket and leaving it behind on the table. Make sure you get yourself a nice business card holder to treat the cards with respect. 

Business card
"Business Card 2012" by katsumotoy

Working in Japan can be an interesting and rewarding experience as long as you keep a positive attitude, understand the work system, and adapt to the new lifestyle.

Shibuya Crossing
"Shibuya Crossing" by Luke Zeme Photography

Friday, May 13, 2022

How to Move from ALT to Teaching at University

English Classroom
The ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) role is a great way to start your teaching career in Japan as a native-level English speaker. ALTs typically work across a wide range of schools from elementary to high school across Japan. There are usually plenty of ALT teaching jobs available every year during the recruiting season for the new school year which starts in April. 

For those who have been in Japan for a few years and are looking to further their career as a teacher, it makes sense to move from an ALT role to teaching at the university level. While this is quite a big step up, it is still possible for most with the right experience and qualifications. 

In this post, I will outline some of the key criteria that you will need to have in order to make the jump from being an ALT to a teacher at a university in Japan. 

1. Get your Master’s Degree 

One of the main criteria for working at the university level in Japan is a master’s degree (related to teaching). This could be in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or Linguistics. Getting a masters is not an easy thing and can take some time, especially if you are working full time and are doing your master’s online. Try and obtain your masters while working as an ALT as the shorter working hours and long vacation time is ideal for achieving this. 

Tokyo University
"Tokyo University of Foreign Studies" by Kimtaro is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

2. Complete a Cambridge CELTA 

The Cambridge CELTA Certificate is a great initial step in gaining the necessary qualifications to work at the university level in Japan. It is the most widely recognised English teaching qualification in the world and is regarded in high esteem by employers. You can complete one in a few months and then start on the process of obtaining a masters. In fact, some universities might accept you with only a CELTA certificate if you are lucky. 

3. Give as many Presentations as you Can 

Presentations gain you points for your application to a university level teaching job. Try and give as many as you can to build your presentation portfolio on your CV. A great place to start is the JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching) Organization which has chapters in most prefectures in Japan and have monthly meetings which are always looking for new and enthusiastic presenters. The content of the presentation can be on anything that is teaching related in any field from kindergarten to adults. 

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

4. Get Yourself Published 

Another way to gain points is via publications in academic journals which you can do by publishing the material that you have created or share your knowledge in a particular field. JALT has a publication called “The Language Teacher Journal” which comes out every two months. It is a great way to get your material out there in the Japan teaching world. A great way to start is to find someone (hopefully a full-time lecturer) who is interested in your work, or who is already working on something similar and do a joint publication. This is the perfect way to get your name out there. Publications can be on a broad range of topics from literature and textbook reviews to teaching young learners. 

Academic Publication
Image by oyajimbo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

5. Network and Attend Conferences 

Sometimes all it takes is knowing the right person. You can network and build connections by attending teaching conferences in Japan. Teachers come and go in Japan, sometimes very suddenly, so if a university is in a pinch and is in desperate need of a teacher in short notice, they might just pass your application, especially if they have met or know you from a professional organization or conference.

You can also find university teaching jobs in Japan easily online. 

English Classroom
"Classroom M212" by barbourians is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Nihongo Master Podcast

Nihongo Master
I recently had the pleasure to be a guest on the Nihongo Master podcast to talk about spring in Japan, one of my favourite topics. 

Nihongo Master is a fantastic Japanese learning website that helps you study Japanese in a fun and interactive way. The e-learning site focuses on helping learners at every level master the Japanese language. 

They have their own YouTube channel and a popular podcast, so you can learn about the Japanese language and culture on the go. 

During my chat with host, Azra, we talked about a wide range of springtime topics including about my experience with spring in Japan, spring in my home of Gifu in central Japan, my tips and advice for anyone looking to travel to Japan in spring, and the best spots to see the cherry blossoms in the Chubu area of Japan. 

You can check out the podcast episode on the following link Nihongo Master S11E9: Wrap Up Japanese Spring with John from Japan Australia

If you are looking to learn Japanese, or just need some extra motivation in order to study, give Nihongo Master a try.

Nihongo Master Podcast

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A Lovely Experience at Ibiza55 Club l Bar

Charming night at Shinjuku
I was strolling in the nicely lit streets of Shinjuku, looking up at the lovely neon lights climbing up the buildings, scanning the people whose work cages were open. The sun was setting down. 

People were laughing. The ambiance was much less stressful than the morning rush. That evening’s haste was much more hopeful, as if people were looking forward to something. 

Of course they were. It was Shinjuku! 

Charming night at Shinjuku
Charming night at Shinjuku

Night came up and I passed by an interesting entrance of a bar/club with vibrant colors. People were rushing to go in from the outside. It had a white frame that said Ibiza55. I went through the ignited frame of lights and went down the stairs to be welcomed by a very friendly owner who seemed to love what he does. 

The entrance of that bar called me in
The entrance of that bar called me in

I love to meet those kinds of people, who find a way to enjoy and love what they do, rather than stoically accepting life’s harshness, those who see a full half in a cup. I marched a few more steps to the bar and ordered a beer. The bar had a colorful neon sign behind it, which made me more aware that I was in Shinjuku, one of the best places to party in one of the most prominent cities in the world, Tokyo. It made me feel blessed. 

Partying in Shinjuku

Enjoying the Shinjuku nighlife

The bartender was an attentive gentleman who welcomed me with a wide smile. I took my reasonably-priced beer, grabbed a sip, and metaphysics started to take its turn. 

I asked myself: Why do people party? What makes it so fun? 

People often look to experience feelings that overwhelm them, that take their hand towards the top. The cognitive is sometimes too much to bear, but “to feel” gives a fluid and organic sense of flow that is unmatched. 

People party to feel. 

There are many hardships in life that make us numb. Long work hours, job politics, conflict resolution and risk management matters. All too serious and too boring. 

People want to live, laugh, and be free. No one wants to be contained, neither in a work cubicle nor for bosses they probably disdain. 

People party to feel free. 

People party to feel free
People party to feel free

Luckily, before my mind became too thoughtful, a lovely woman joined me on my right seat. She was wearing a red dress which I couldn’t take my eyes off. She had an extensive face and a wide smile; the one which had the extra teeth look. Her eyes held some mystery in them. Her hair was falling like waterfalls around her shoulders and back. 

Before my mind went back to labor, I said the first thing that I could think of: 

“Cool bar, huh? Do you come here often?” 

“Yeah,” she said, “Ibiza55 is one of my favorite places to be in Tokyo. Everyone here is just so nice. I feel alive here.” 

Her name was Yoko, and she spoke perfect English (My favorite kind). 

More people joined in. Suddenly, it was 11 p.m. and the bar was almost full. It gave it a cozier feeling. 

Dancing the night away in Shinjuku

Dancing the night away at Ibiza55


People seemed to have forgotten about the worries of their day. Partying seemed like a meditative approach that lets the mind be, which many times and surprisingly, is a great way to find solutions. 

It was 4 a.m. now at the bar and I thought it would be closing soon. 

“When do you close?” I asked the bartender. 

“12 p.m. the next day,” he said. 

Woah, those people surely know how to party, I thought. 

I decided not to leave any time soon. I was in a special place, at a romantic time, and there were many beautiful people around me. I was living and collecting memories that I will never forget. 

I realized that our favorite memories are those stories we collect from time to time, and stories most of the time include people. 

Where are most of the people? 

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