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Getting Hands-On With History in Ishikawa When one talks about experiencing the cultural history of Japan, it usually involves visiting ancient temples or a museum to view an exhibit on Japanese artifacts. But for more interactive learners, it can be hard to appreciate the depth and significance of this history without actually taking part in it. Thankfully, those visiting Japan’s west coast can do just that in Ishikawa Prefecture. At Yunokuni No Mori in Komatsu city, visitors can not only see a slice of Japanese historical culture, but experience it taking shape with all the senses.     History Comes To Life Located just 20 minutes by car  from the famous Kaga Onsen, Yunokuni No Mori is a sprawling traditional craft village nestled among a 100 acre forest. From the moment you enter the village and pass under the canopy of red lanterns, it feels as though you are transported back through time.   One of the first stops visitors will come across is the traditional tea house. Beginning your day in this 300 year old house, sipping matcha while seated around its large central hearth, truly sets the mood for the activities to come. Close your eyes for a moment and breathe in the scent of the tatami mats in the adjoining room, or admire the craftsmanship of the lacquered wooden beams supporting the structure and you will find that these tangible experiences connect you to the past more deeply than any museum ever could. Further inside, colorful transparent umbrellas have been suspended over a walkway, creating rainbows in shadow during midday. Even the most camera-shy visitors will have a hard time resisting posing for photos under its magical, other-worldly light.        What’s There to Do? As anyone with young children knows, it can be difficult if not impossible to hold their attention with history lessons. Thankfully, Yunokuni No Mori has found the perfect solution to keep the entire family happy and entertained. Throughout the village, visitors can take part in activities such as traditional paper making, gold leaf decoration, and preparing handmade soba noodles. These fun and educational crafts are perfect for families and visitors of all ages. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular activities they have to offer.     Soba Making     When asked why they chose to visit Japan, many travelers list “the food” as one of their top reasons. While people all over the world have come to know and love sushi, there are many other traditional foods that are staples of the Japanese diet. For instance, soba; thin buckwheat noodles that are dipped into a salty, savory broth before eating. Served either hot or cold, it’s an incredibly satisfying dish any time of year.   Rather than simply ordering soba in a restaurant, why not try making your own? Located in Yunokuni No Mori’s Hakusan House, it’s the perfect early afternoon activity to set the tone for the rest of the day. Even the most culinary challenged among us will enjoy preparing this easy, two ingredient recipe.     Starting with nothing more than a small amount of buckwheat flour and a large bowl, you will  slowly add water and knead the dough until it takes on a thick paste-like consistency and no powdery bits remain. When properly mixed, it should feel somewhat crumbly, but not dry.   With your soba dough ball prepared, you’ll next begin flattening it with your hands to shape it into a small disk. From here, you’ll use a rolling pin to expand the dough, rolling outwards so that its edges begin to form straight lines.   Once your dough has been stretched and flattened into a large rectangle, fold it over onto itself before moving onto the final step. Using a wooden block as a guide, cut the dough into long, thin strips. Ideally, you want each noodle to be as wide as it is thick.   Don’t overthink it too much though. As you’ll note in the picture below, mistakes happen. Thankfully, this doesn’t make your noodles any less delicious.   In less than 15 minutes from start to finish, you’ll have a fresh batch of soba ready for cooking, and can brag to your friends back home about your new traditional Japanese cooking skills.   The soba making experience costs 2,100 yen for a single portion, or 3,200 yen for two. For a small additional fee, the kitchen staff at Yunokuni No Mori will cook your soba for you to be enjoyed in their dining room.     The nutty taste and perfectly chewy texture of freshly-made soba is made even better by the knowledge that you prepared it yourself from scratch. If you’re not feeling hungry, your uncooked soba can also be packaged to take home and enjoy later.     Traditional Japanese Paper Making Unlike the plain white paper we all know and largely take for granted today, creating the traditional Japanese paper known as washi is equal parts art form and labor of love. Dating back over 1,300 years in Japan, it has played a pivotal role in the development of countless Japanese artworks and is still beloved by many today for its beauty and strength. Though it has since been replaced by Western-style paper for most day to day usage, it has by no means lost its classical charm and appeal.   Today, it is used in everything from origami, to book binding, to wedding invitations. You may never have given more than a passing thought to paper quality before, but hold a piece of washi in your hands and you’ll quickly find that its tactilely pleasing fibrous texture that elevates whatever is written upon it to a status of greater importance.   While washi production from start to finish can be a long, laborious process, visitors to Yunokuni No Mori can skip right to the good part and make their own washi in just under an hour for 1,100 yen. Because the pulp used to make washi starts in a liquid form, once it is poured into a wooden frame for drying, flattened flowers, leaves, and gold foil can be carefully placed inside. After it has dried, it can be framed and permanently displayed inside the decorative washi sheet.      Gold Leaf Decoration   Since its advent in the early 16th century, Ishikawa has become known as the gold leaf capital of Japan. This incredibly thin gold is pounded flat to 0.1 millionths of a meter and made into a decorative foil or powder. Through the careful use of stencils, paint brushes, and a special adhesive, artists can create intricate, luminous designs on anything from jewelry boxes to chopsticks.   While this may seem incredibly complicated at first glance, Yunokuni No Mori’s friendly and talented craftsmen are more than happy to guide you through every step of the process. After designing your custom artwork and applying the adhesive, brushing the glittering gold dust onto its surface feels as though you are painting with magic. With a little creativity and a steady hand, you can head home with your own custom golden souvenir f or 1,200 yen.       Kaga Yuzen Fabric Dyeing Kaga Yuzen style dyeing; notable for its highly-detailed hand-drawn designs, nature motifs, and five signature colors, is a rich cultural tradition in the Kaga region dating back over 500 years. While Kaga Yuzen designs are most well-known for adorning luxury silk kimono, they can also be found on everything from scarves to wall tapestries.     Also on display just outside the house is a piece of silk which has been placed in a stream, being washed in the traditional Yuzen method. The gently flowing water acts as a natural and simple means to remove any excess dye from the fabric.     If these beautiful works have left you feeling inspired, head inside the Yuzen House to shop for fabrics dyed by local artisans, or to create your own unique design with their fabric dyeing experience for 1,300 yen .    Not artistically talented? No need to worry. Using the many nature-themed stencils provided, anyone can create precise, detailed patterns with ease and watch their work of art come to life before their eyes. During the experience, instructors will guide you in the Yuzen method of using seaweed paste to prevent unintentional color mixing and create realistic-looking shading.         Share the Experiences With Friends Back Home With so much to see and do at Yunokuni No Mori, it may be difficult to fit it all into a single afternoon. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to miss out on anything. At the souvenir shop, visitors can find a wide selection of products representative of all of the village’s activities, including music boxes, glassware, baked goods and more.     It’s the perfect way to experience everything Yunokuni No Mori has to offer and to share some of Ishikawa’s traditional heritage with friends and family back home.    Click the link below to see experience fees https://www.yunokuni.jp/mori/experience/?lang=en    Yunokuni No Mori Website: https://yunokuni.jp/mori/?lang=en Address: 3-3 Awazu Onsen, Komatsu, Ishikawa 923-0393   Phone: 0761-65-3456 Hours: Daily from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM Directions: From Kaga Onsen Station, take the Hokuriku Line to Awazu Station. From here, take the bus bound for Natadera to the Kamiaraya bus stop. Yunokuni No Mori is 3 minutes away on foot from here.        In The Mood For a Bit More History?   If your afternoon of exploring the Yunokuni No Mori craft village has you hungry for more Japanese history, you’re in luck. Just 5 minutes away by car, Natadera is an over 1,300 year old Buddhist temple famed for its intricate rock carvings, three-story pagoda, and colorful autumn foliage.     First established in 717 by a travelling monk in search of a goddess who supposedly resided in the area, it features several meditation caves which have been hand-carved into the rock faces. Because of the Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation, these caves are often referred to as “wombs”, in that they are places of spiritual rebirth. Entering the cave is symbolic of the death of your former self. While inside, visitors pray for the cleansing of their spirits from past sins. Upon leaving, they are “born” into the world again; freed from their spiritual burdens.   Exploring the beautiful landscape of Natadera is the ultimate way to end your day in Ishikawa. Spiritually refreshed and with newly-made traditional crafts in hand, you can watch the sunset over the lake with a newfound respect and appreciation for the rich culture that has made Ishikawa what it is today.   Natadera Website: http://www.natadera.com/EN/ Address: 122 Natamachi, Komatsu, Ishikawa 923-0336 Phone: 0761-65-2111 Hours: Daily from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Directions: From Yunokuni No Mori, walk to the nearby Baba bus stop. From here, take the bus roughly 6 minutes to the Natamachi bus stop. Natadera is about 7 minutes away on foot from here.    
Sabae: The City With a Clear Vision of the Future Located along the coast of the Sea of Japan, bordering the country’s western edge, Fukui Prefecture is an area rich in history and artisanal craftsmanship. As you drive along the rocky coastline, through quaint towns dotted with large swaths of rice fields. Life here is reminiscent of Japan of a bygone era without the frenetic pace and tight quarters of Japan’s bigger and better-known cities.   It is perhaps best known as the home of one of the world’s best dinosaur museums; chosen as the site because of the high number of dinosaur bones found in the area. However, the prefecture also boasts another, albeit less widely-known claim to fame. Since 2003, over 90% of the eyeglasses produced in Japan are manufactured in Fukui’s Sabae city alone.       History of Glasses Making in Sabae   Sabae’s seat as the glasses capital of Japan was founded over 100 years ago and was the brainchild of a local resident named Masunaga Goemon. Seeking a way to stimulate the city’s then struggling agriculture-based economy, Masunaga identified a growing demand for glasses throughout the country. Taking the initiative upon himself, Masunaga traveled to bigger cities such as Tokyo and Osaka and invited established glasses craftsmen back to Sabae in order to teach the local residents the production process.   Each shop in the city specialized in a different aspect of the eyeglasses making process, from creating the pieces for the frames, to assembly, to polishing and beyond. In effect, this turned the entire city into one massive glasses factory. By doing so, the city was able to create many more jobs for its residents and produce a greater amount of eyeglasses than it would have been able to under one roof.   As times changed, so too did Sabae’s construction methods. After World War II, when certain resources were scarce, production shifted from primarily metal frames to celluloid; the plastic-like material still seen in many glasses today. In the early 1980’s, Sabae made history by being the first place in the world to produce titanium glasses frames. Its lightweight and durable construction quickly caught on worldwide and cemented Sabae’s reputation as an industry leading center for eyeglasses.     Eyeglasses Production in Sabae Today   Sabae’s eyeglasses production process is a peak example of manufacturing efficiency. Just as each factory in the city specializes in a different aspect of the production process, so too does each of their employees. Like a single cog in a much bigger machine, each employee performs one highly specialized task day in and day out. While this may seem repetitive and boring to outside observers, to Sabae craftsmen known for their patience and attention to detail, it results in highly precise, consistent work.       Visit the Megane Museum   For fans of fashion and history alike, no trip to Fukui would be complete without a visit to Sabae’s Megane Museum (Megane being the Japanese word for eyeglasses). This free museum gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of eyeglasses not only in Sabae, but around the world as well. Throughout the exhibit are display cases featuring glasses dating back hundreds of years, as well as replicas of early glasses making tools. It’s a fascinating look at the advent of a technology many of us take for granted today.       Take Part in an Interactive Experience   For a more hands-on experience, visitors to the Megane Museum can book a guided activity to create a one of a kind souvenir. For just 800 yen , one of the Megane Museum’s skilled craftsmen will guide you through the creation of your own uniquely designed eyeglasses keychain. Or if you’d prefer, for an additional 200 yen, it can be made into a necklace instead.     The roughly one hour experience starts by choosing a frame shape and material that best suits your style.   After carefully tracing the frame, your guide will cut the rough shape out of the material. From here, the finishing touches are all in your hands, as you use a file to smooth away rough edges and a large polishing machine to seal it all with a glossy coat. There is something so satisfying about watching this block of resin transform step by step into its final, polished form. In an era where everything is manufactured in a faraway land, ordered online, and delivered to your doorstep in two days, we hardly ever give a second thought to the things we buy.     Watching something tangible take shape before you and knowing that you created it is a highly rewarding experience and harkens back to a bygone era. Even though you’re only working with a mini replica of actual glasses frames, the highly tactile experience is similar to the real glasses making process and will give you a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the artistry that goes into creating these products.   While the experience isn’t offered in English, your guide will carefully demonstrate every step of the process, so even those with no Japanese language abilities can easily take part. Those wishing for an even more in-depth experience can also take part in the Megane Museum’s other hands-on activity in which you design and build your own wearable frames for 20,000 yen. As this is a much more in-depth workshop however, it can take anywhere from five to seven hours to complete.      Browse the Local Sabae Brands   If hands-on activities aren’t your thing, don’t worry, you can still leave with a handcrafted, made in Japan souvenir. On the first floor of the Megane Museum, Glass Gallery 291, the museum’s in-house shop, features over 2,500 styles of eyewear from over 40 Fukui-based manufacturers. Here, their eyeglasses experts will help you find the perfect frames to fit your face and your own personal style. You can also see photos and autographs from Japanese celebrities who have visited the shop for their own glasses!     While you can leave with your new frames that day, those looking for a complete pair of glasses with lenses included will need to wait roughly one week for their completion. Though international shipping is not available, the frames can easily be fitted with lenses once you  return home. For those fortunate enough to not need prescription glasses, don’t worry. Glass Gallery 291 offers a selection of stylish sunglasses as well.      Before You Go   Before leaving, be sure to stop by the gift shop for some other glasses-themed souvenirs. Located at the main entrance, you can find everything from eyeglasses bookmarks and magnets, to glasses-shaped shortbread cookies.   Near the entrance, you’ll also find a complimentary eyeglasses cleaning machine. Everyone who stops by the eyeglasses museum, regardless of if they buy anything or not, is welcome to a free cleaning and adjustment from their highly-trained staff. All the more reason to make the Megane Museum part of your Fukui itinerary.     Megane Museum Address:  2-3-4 Shinyokoe, Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture 916-0042 Phone: 0778-42-8311 Webpage : https://www.megane.gr.jp/megane-messe/en/museum/ Access : Approximately 15 minutes walking from Sabae Station, or 5 minutes by taxi. Experience: Reservations are required for both the keychain and frames making experience. Please reserve via their website:  https://www.megane.gr.jp/museum/workshop (The booking page is only offered in Japanese, so you may need to use a Google translated copy of the website, like this. )       What to do After the Museum If a long day of learning about the tireless dedication and precision of Sabae craftsmen has left you feeling exhausted, what better way to refresh your mind and body then with a dip in a hot spring? Luckily, the nearby town of Awara is famed for its onsen. At just one hour away from Sabae by train, it’s easily accessible for either a day trip or an overnight stay at one of its many ryokan; a Japanese-style inn where you can enjoy traditional meals and the luxury of bathing in geothermal waters.   If you’re not completely sold on the idea of onsen but want to dip a toe into those waters (both literally and figuratively) be sure to visit Ashiyu. This beautiful building in the center of a small park houses a large public foot bath that is free of charge to all visitors. Anyone who has soaked their feet in a bath after walking many miles in a day knows how calming and therapeutic it can be. As the warm water relaxes your aching muscles, the soothing natural soundtrack of crickets and summer cicadas will put your mind at ease.   The interior of the open-concept building is adorned with wooden furnishings, creating a calming, natural ambiance. There are six different foot baths of varying temperatures available to try, all of which are clearly marked for visitors. Ashiyu also includes a cold water bath; an uncommon sight for public foot baths, but which is perfect when visiting during Japan’s hot summer months.     It’s recommended that visitors bring their own towel to dry their feet afterwards, but small towels featuring the town’s mascot are also available for purchase from a vending machine inside.   Come dinner time, there’s no need to travel far to find a variety of delicious options. Nearby Yukemuri Yoko-Cho is just across the road from Ashiyu and features restaurants specializing in many traditional Japanese dishes such as ramen, yakitori, oden and more. This tiny restaurant alley has the vibes of a close-knit neighborhood hangout spot, with each shop fitting only ten or so seats around a central bar and most preparing food in an open kitchen. It’s the perfect place to sample a selection of Japanese foods while getting to know some of the locals.   For something quick but incredibly satisfying, the ramen at Yokoyama is hard to beat. From 6 PM to midnight, they serve heaping bowls of salty, savory perfection; most for under 1,000 yen. In a town so singularly focused on relaxation, a bowl of shoyu ramen topped with garlic and green onions is the perfect comfort food with which to end your night in Awara.       Ashiyu Address:   3 Chome-413 Hot Spring, Awara, Fukui 910-4104 Access:  From Sabae Station, take the Shirasagi Express train bound for Kanazawa to Awara-Yunomachi Station. From here, Ashiyu is just 2 minutes away on foot. Experience: Ashiyu is open to the public from 7:00 AM till 11:00 PM.   If your next visit to Japan includes a visit to Kyoto, be sure to add a stop in Sabae and Awara to your travel itinerary as well. At just two and a half hours away by train, it’s the perfect day trip or weekend getaway to experience authentic Japanese craftsmanship firsthand.    
Kanazawa: The City of Gold and Geishas In Japan’s Ishikawa Prefecture, the capital city of Kanazawa once rivaled Kyoto and Tokyo in terms of art, culture, and economic resources. While it may not sit upon the same lofty seat of power that it once did, the city has managed to retain every bit of its cultural and artistic charms. From expertly preserved historical buildings to traditional crafts carried into the modern generation, Kanazawa exemplifies what it means to move forward into the future without forgetting your past.      Kanazawa’s Golden History   From the moment you arrive at Kanazawa Station, it’s hard not to feel impressed by this city. Look up and you’ll find a massive glass and steel awning known as the umbrella; symbolic of the city sheltering its visitors from their famously rainy climate. Nearby, a towering red arch representative of the taiko drums the city is famous for expresses a desire to share their art and passion with the world.   Since the early 16th century, this coastal city has been Japan’s leading producer of gold leaf; gold alloy that has been pounded flat to seemingly impossibly thin measurements and applied to decorative crafts to add a touch of elegance. Kanazawa’s passion for gold leaf began when the first lord of the Kaga clan, Maeda Toshiie, ordered the production of gold leaf to decorate the spear tips of his soldiers who would be welcoming delegates of the Ming Dynasty. Today, like a modern day El Dorado, people travel from all over the world to visit this legendary golden city.     The Kanazawa of Today Thanks to the talent and perseverance of their craftsmen, Kanazawa has permanently cemented their position as Japan’s golden city. In fact, 99% of Japan’s total domestic gold leaf is now produced in Kanazawa alone. While gold leaf products can be purchased throughout the city, in order to truly appreciate the artistry that goes into working with this precious metal, it needs to be experienced up-close. At Hakukokan , visitors can see, feel, and even taste the local treasure that is gold leaf.       Hakukokan Gold Leaf Museum   As one of the leading manufacturers of gold leaf in Kanazawa, the Hakuichi company is a shining example of the area’s craftsmanship. Located just minutes away from Kanazawa Station, their main store, Hakukokan, has served as not only one of the largest collections of gold leaf art and products in Kanazawa city for the past twenty years, but as a free museum and activity center for interested visitors as well.   As you descend the stairs to the museum through Hakukokan’s main lobby, you will enter into a glittering gold space, with walls plastered from floor to ceiling in over 10,000 sheets of gold leaf. Each piece has been hammered and creased by hand to create an intricate balance between light and shadow. In the corner of the room on a large raised platform, a life-sized recreation of Maeda Toshiie’s golden armor waits to greet you.   With a push of a button, this shining golden room comes to life as a ceiling-mounted projector overlays scenes depicting Maeda Toshiie’s life onto the armor and walls.   Across from the stage, a viewing window offers visitors a glimpse into the modern gold leaf production process. On the other side of the glass, a worker skillfully operates a large hydraulic hammer which, through many repeated blows, flattens and elongates the already thin gold sheets.   In the next room over, visitors can watch as a craftsman transfers finished gold leaf sheets onto a stack separated by thin pieces of paper. Using bamboo tweezers to move the sheets, the worker must operate with small, precise movements, as the tiniest breeze will cause the thin golden foil to flutter wildly.   Nearby, Hakukokan has brought a modern twist to the centuries old tale of Maeda Toshiie. Standing before a large screen, special motion capture cameras will use your face and movements to create an avatar of you in your very own set of golden armor.     Dance, wave, perform jumping jacks; no matter what you do, the on-screen golden version of you will copy your every move. The exhibit can render up to two people on screen at once, so you can be joined by a friend as well!   If you’re still having a hard time grasping just how thin gold leaf really is, Hakukokan has prepared a striking visual example. On the wall, you will find a large sheet of gold foil, roughly six feet in height. Beneath it,  a 10 yen coin with one small slice painted gold sits on an information plaque.   This tiny bit of gold is the amount it takes to make a gold leaf sheet the same size as the one hanging on the wall.   Armed with a newfound appreciation and understanding of how gold leaf is prepared, it’s time for you to try your hand at working with it yourself.     Exercise Your Midas Touch Though there is no shortage of gold leaf products one can buy in Kanazawa city, what better souvenir than one you personalize and make by yourself? At Hakukokan, visitors can work under the guidance of a skilled craftsman to transform everything from tote bags, to hand mirrors, to chopsticks into customized golden treasures.   There are three gold leaf courses to choose from. From the simple and straightforward Apprentice Course to the more advanced Wizard Course, there is something for visitors of all ages and skill levels. Based on which item you choose to decorate, prices range from 500 to 2,000 yen.   After deciding on an item, you can choose from a variety of stickers that will serve as stencils when applying the gold leaf foil. Depending on the time of year, Hakukokan also offers special seasonal stickers.   After you’ve picked your stickers, it’s up to you to decide on their placement. Choose carefully, as once they’re applied, there is no going back!   With your stickers in place, it’s time to paint on the special adhesive that will bind the gold to the item’s surface. Be sure to cover the entire space within the sticker, otherwise your gold leaf may not adhere.   As you approach the final steps of the activity, your instructor will provide you with one small sheet of gold leaf on a paper backing for each of your stickers. Being careful not to touch the foil, turn the paper over and apply it to the painted area golden side down. With the hardest part over, you can relax as you use your finger to smooth out any air bubbles and ensure that the gold leaf has been pressed firmly against the surface.    As you peel away the paper backing, you’ll see your new design slowly come to life.    Now that the gold leaf has been applied in the desired shape, it’s time to make sure it stays that way. Using a clear varnish, you will paint over the top of the gold leaf.    Once it is dry, your golden design will be permanently set. All that’s left now is to peel back the sticker and reveal your one of a kind, beautiful creation.       Browse the Museum Shop After creating your own personalized treasure, why not browse the shop for some unforgettable gifts for family and friends back home? For the writer in your life, a beautifully decorated gold leaf pen would surely be a hit.   From local sake mixed with bits of edible gold to handcrafted paper fans decorated with gold leaf, you are bound to find something that everyone will love.   Before leaving, be sure to reward yourself for your hard work with Hakukokan’s signature treat; vanilla soft serve ice cream topped with gold flakes and gold leaf.   It may seem intimidating at first glance, but not to worry, it’s completely safe to eat and the taste blends seamlessly with the vanilla ice cream. More importantly, the pictures you take will make you the envy of social media.     Click the link below to see experience fees:    https://enkanazawa.hakuichi.co.jp/experience/      Hakuichi Main Store - Hakukokan Website: https://enkanazawa.Hakukokan.co.jp/shop/hakukoukan.php   Phone: 076-240-8911 Address:  2-1-1 Morito, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 921-8061 Hours: Open daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Directions: From Kanazawa station, either take a 15 minute taxi ride, or take the number 54 bus approximately 30 minutes to the Konocho bus stop. From here, Hakukokan is roughly 10 minutes away on foot.       Get in Touch With Kanazawa’s Traditional Culture Of course gold leaf isn’t the only part of Kanazawa’s artistic culture being kept alive. Less than one hour from Hakukokan is Higashi Chayagai; the largest of Kanazawa’s historical tea house districts. Here, visitors can walk the streets among the restored wooden buildings, looking every bit the same as they did in Japan’s Edo Period. Being able to set foot in these beautiful structures with their sliding wooden panels, ornate lacquered beams, and doorways illuminated by old fashioned lanterns, truly connects you to the past in ways you never imagined possible.       A Taste of History While many of Higashi Chayagai’s historical buildings have since been repurposed as shops and cafes, one of them; Shima Tea House, has decided to preserve their history by serving as a museum.   Built in 1820, Shima Tea House was once considered a modern marvel for having two floors; an unheard of feat in the days of traditional wooden buildings. Here, talented Geishas would entertain wealthy dinner guests with stories, dancing, and musical performances.     Visitors to Shima Tea House can walk in the footsteps of history through its 200 year old tatami mat rooms and experience the sights once reserved for the wealthy few.     You can also try your hand at playing the shamisen; a traditional three-stringed instrument resembling a guitar that Geishas would play during their performances.   In Shima’s central courtyard, a small open air zen garden perfectly complements the building’s dark wooden interior. As you pass through to the tea room, take a moment to appreciate this beautiful green space with its stone lanterns and calming water features.   Upon entering the tea room and taking a seat at its large sunken table, you will be served a traditional Japanese sweet which varies by season. This decorative treat is meant to be eaten before your tea, as the sweetness serves to balance out the strong, bitter notes of the matcha.   While there are several different types of matcha to choose from, their differences tend to be lost on most foreign visitors. Thankfully, the highly-trained tea masters on staff are more than happy to recommend a selection based on personality and characteristics portrayed by each visitor. As you sit sipping freshly prepared matcha and enjoying the views of the courtyard garden, it’s easy to relax and imagine yourself back in Kanazawa’s Edo Period.   Shima Tea House Website: http://www.ochaya-shima.com/english/ Phone: 076-252-5675 Address: 1-13-21 Higashiyama, Kanazawa, Ishikawa , 920-0831 Hours: Open daily from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Admission Price: Entrance fee is 500 yen for adults and 300 yen for children. The price for matcha served with a freshly made seasonal sweet is 700 yen, or for 500 yen, it will be served with a traditional dried confectionery.   Directions: - From Hakukokan: Walk to the nearby Morito bus stop. From here, board the number 50 bus bound for Yanagibashi. Ride for approximately 30 minutes and get off at Kobashicho bus stop. From here, Shima Tea House is roughly 10 minutes away on foot. -  From Kanazawa Station: From the Kanazawa Station bus stop, board the number 12 bus bound for Yuwaku Onsen. Ride for five stops until the Hashibacho bus stop. From here, Shima Tea House is roughly six minutes away on foot.    Enjoy Your Time in Kanazawa City A visit to Kanazawa city is the perfect addition to any Japan travel itinerary. From its cherished past to its golden future, this hospitable city welcomes all travelers to enjoy the wonderful experiences it has to offer.        
Test Your Mettle with this Takaoka Metal Casting Experience Visit any Buddhist temple in Japan and you will undoubtedly come across copper bells, statues, or ceremonial tools. While the sight of such objects could be considered commonplace, it may come as a surprise to learn that the majority of these items originate from one city in western Japan. Though often overshadowed by its gold-working neighbor, Kanazawa, Takaoka city in Toyama prefecture is the undisputed copper capital of Japan. From temple relics to modern kitchenware, let’s take a closer look at the history and artistry of Takaoka’s copper craftsmanship.     Takaoka’s Historical Beginnings Takaoka’s metalworking history dates back over 400 years to Japan’s Edo Period. Looking to bolster this fledgling castle town’s economy, Lord Maeda Toshinaga i nvited seven master metal casters from around Japan to relocate their business to Takaoka in exchange for tax exemptions. Maeda’s invitation was successful, and Takaoka had the start of their soon to be famous metalworking industry.   In addition to pure copper, Takaoka craftsmen worked with copper alloys as well; namely brass and bronze, to produce a wide range of goods. To create everything from Buddhist statues to decorative wind chimes, Takaoka casters employed a method known as “sand casting”, in which dense sand from nearby riverbanks was used to create precise, easily-shapeable molds. Thanks to Maeda’s foresight, Takaoka quickly built a reputation throughout the country for their high-quality metalwork. Their products became so popular in fact, that even during times of war when access to metal was restricted, Takaoka was granted protected status by the government to continue production.     The Takaoka of Today  From its ambitious beginnings over 400 years ago, Takaoka has grown to become the powerhouse of Japan’s metalworking industry. Today, this small city accounts for roughly 90% of the total copperware and 85% of all exterior metal products produced in Japan. Despite the ubiquity of metal goods, most people are still unfamiliar with the work that goes into creating them. For those interested in learning more, a visit to NOUSAKU; a fifth generation family-owned foundry in Takaoka, is a must.     About NOUSAKU   Like many other foundries in Takaoka, this 100 year old factory got its start producing copper alloy goods for Buddhist temples. In time, they expanded their product offering to include other goods such as flatware, wind chimes, and even medical equipment. From the moment you enter the foundry, you will find yourself in a room lined with metal vases. Each of these was created in collaboration with a different Japanese artist. Their differences are a testament to the craftsmanship involved in their creation, and serves to highlight the skill and imagination that goes into each and every piece they produce.   As you round the corner, you’ll find yourself in front of a towering wall of colorful shapes. While at first glance it may look like a rock climbing wall, these are in fact the over 4,000 molds that NOUSAKU uses to produce their many different products. Throughout the day, you may even see an employee remove several of these molds to be used in the factory.   Perhaps most amazing are the small “defects” found in every cup, plate, and bowl. Each slight indentation or bend along an edge is a reminder that the item you’re holding in your hands wasn’t one of thousands of identical pieces rolled off of a conveyor belt. Rather, what you see before you has been skillfully handmade by a local craftsman less than 100 meters from where you’re standing, and is unlike any other.   As you browse the shelves, you’ll find that tin products take center stage at NOUSAKU. While it is often found mixed with other metals to increase its strength, purely tin products can be hard to come by. On its own, tin is incredibly malleable; able to be reshaped by hand even after cooling. This is not only eye-catching, but useful as well. Any single item can be transformed to serve a variety of purposes, such as their most famous product, “KAGO”.   This metallic web is as versatile as your imagination. Laid flat, it can serve as a coaster. Raise the edges and you now have a fruit basket. Fold the front up into a lip and it becomes a decorative cellphone holder. Coming up with new uses for it is as fun as it is practical.     Hands-on Experience All of NOUSAKU’s products are still made using the traditional sand casting method to this day. What better way to experience this time-honored practice than by actually taking part in it? Visitors to NOUSAKU can try their hand at making their very own tin items, including paper weights, small dishes, and sake cups.   Once you’ve chosen an item, one of their talented instructors will guide you through the process. You’ll start with a wooden frame placed on the table before you and a pre-made mold of your item.   Using a special, copper colored casting sand you will fill the space around the mold in the frame. You’ll find this sand feels unlike any other you’re likely to have ever handled. While technically dry, due to its composition, it feels damp to the touch, like sand scooped up from the shore of a beach. It’s this special texture that allows it to hold its shape as a mold and prevents the molten tin from binding with it.   With the frame packed tightly, you’ll find you now have a perfect indentation of your item.   Repeat the process again with another frame on top and your newly created 3D sand mold will be ready for casting.   After the tin is poured into your sand mold, it will need time to cool. While the metal hardens almost immediately, it takes some time to reach a temperature where it’s safe to handle.   Once it has cooled, remove the top frame to unveil your newly created tin souvenir. Dusting away any remaining sand, it’s hard not to feel like an archaeologist unearthing an ancient artifact.     Your instructor will cut away any extra metal bits, then it is up to you to add the final touches, using sandpaper and polishing cloth to smooth it to your desired finish. If you’d like, you can even stamp your initials onto the bottom to personalize your custom artwork!       Tour the Factory After experiencing first-hand the work that goes into metal casting, it’s time to see how the experts at NOUSAKU create the beautiful crafts that have earned them their global reputation. During your guided tour of NOUSAKU’s foundry, you can watch workers operate the large industrial furnaces used to melt massive amounts of copper and tin. With steam rising out of the orangey glow from inside, they resemble miniature man-made volcanoes.   The skill of these workers is evident as they pour the molten metal into molds, handling the dangerous contents with the same ease as someone pouring a cup of coffee.   Across the hall, craftsmen are hard at work adding the finishing touches to these pieces through sanding and polishing.   It can be difficult to picture just how much work goes into this final stage of preparation until you hold both a newly casted and finished vase together. From a rough, abrasive exterior to the silky smooth finished result, you can even feel a noticeable difference in weight once the excess material has been sanded away.   As you watch the process unfold, it feels a bit like watching an artist chip away at a block of marble and seeing the finished statue take shape.     Learn More About Takaoka Experiences   Before leaving for the day, be sure to stop by NOUSAKU’s wall of local attractions, titled, Toyama Doors. These carefully prepared pamphlets features local shops, restaurants, sightseeing locations, and more as recommended by the NOUSAKU staff. Those looking to add a few more stops to their Toyama itinerary couldn’t possibly ask for a better source of information.     Experience This Tangible Piece of History For a city founded on the craftsmanship of metal casters, there is no better way to connect with its history than by experiencing the practice for yourself. Thankfully, NOUSAKU has found a way to do so that is both educational and fun for all visitors. Whether you want to create your own customized tin souvenir or to shop their handcrafted goods, be sure to include a visit to NOUSAKU on your next trip to Toyama.     NOUSAKU Website: https://www.nousaku.co.jp/en/ Address: 8-1 Office park, Takaoka City, Toyama 939-1119 Hours: The workshop experience is offered daily from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The factory tour is not available on Sundays. Admission: The factory tour is offered free of charge. The tin making experience costs between 1,000 and 4,000 yen depending on which item you choose to make. Both experiences are offered in English but require a reservation at least one week in advance.      
Enjoy the Treasures of the Sea in Himi Stretched along the Amaharashi Coast in Toyama Prefecture, the port city of Himi attracts visitors from far and wide for its stunning views of the Sea of Japan and the northern Japanese Alps. Perhaps even more famous than its views however, is the incredible bounty of fresh and delicious seafood that is caught and served here daily. From sushi, to fish cakes, to fisherman’s stew, Himi is a seafood lover’s paradise.     What Makes Himi’s Seafood so Special? Himi’s primary fishing port is located next to the beautiful Toyama Bay. The secret to their excellent quality of fish can be found in the bay’s unique topography.   Just beyond the shore, the sea floor level drops sharply, creating a deep underwater canyon that is often referred to as a “naturally-occurring fish bowl”. As a result, fish can live much closer to land in these nutrient-rich waters.   With a steady food supply, the marine life can grow healthy and large, and their proximity to shore means they can arrive at port shortly after being caught. Of course the freshest and most flavorful fish is that which you can buy closest to the source. For this, we head to Himi Banya-gai; a large, modern fish market located just across the street from Toyama Bay.     About Himi Banya-gai   At mere minutes away on foot from the city’s largest fishing port, it comes as no surprise that Himi Banya-gai is where those in the know come to buy their fish. The name Banya-gai comes from the Japanese word for a fisherman’s hut. While far more welcoming than your average fisherman’s hut, it is every bit as packed with delicious, freshly caught fish.   Let’s take a closer look at what visitors can expect to find on a trip to this seaside marketplace.     Experience the Local Offerings Sometimes referred to as “buri” or “amberjack”, the undisputed king of the Himi seafood scene is the yellowtail. Come winter, it is widely sought after for its fatty, rich meat. Not only tasty, the Himi yellowtail is packed with protein and heart-healthy omega-3’s, making it an all-natural superfood of the sea. With its soft pink hues and delicate texture, it’s perfect served on its own as sashimi, or over locally-sourced rice as sushi.   The broad velvet shrimp; also known as shiro-ebi (white shrimp in Japanese) or glass shrimp, are a small, opaque species of shrimp, prized for their sweet flavor. As the only place they can be found in Japan, the broad velvet shrimp has been dubbed “the jewel of Toyama”. Eaten raw, fried, or stewed, these versatile and flavorful shrimp are a local delicacy and can be enjoyed from spring to late summer. Be sure to keep an eye out for them on your trip to Toyama!   Another Toyama Bay exclusive, firefly squid are a local favorite in spring. Like their namesake; firefly squid create a beautiful blue bioluminescent glow when gathered in large numbers. Unlike the common squid most westerners are familiar with, firefly squid are much less chewy than their larger counterparts and are typically eaten whole. While there are many ways to prepare them, boiling and serving with vinegared miso is the recipe of choice for most locals.   Also calling the deep waters of Toyama Bay home is the long-legged red snow crab. Its sweet and slightly fibrous meat is excellent eaten straight out of the shell, or garnished with miso and served over sushi rice.   Of course, not everyone wants the challenge of cleaning and preparing fish before eating it. Thankfully, those wishing to skip the hard part are in luck, as Banya-gai has plenty of delicious, ready-to-eat seafood to offer. Of these, the most eye-catching is perhaps the custom-made kamaboko at the Sankon Shop. These incredibly detailed, made to order cakes are made out of processed white fish, formed into decorative shapes, and can even be prepared as a gift with a personalized message written on it. In many ways, it’s like the ultimate birthday cake for the seafood lover in your life.   You have used the word fish cake before and now Kamaboko.   If you prefer your fish raw, try another Toyama area favorite, Masuzushi. In what could be described as a sushi pie, pressed fish; typically salmon or trout, is served over a bed of vinegared sushi rice and covered with bamboo leaves. Not only is it delicious, but it’s easy to slice and share with friends as well.   Those who don’t eat seafood need not feel left out either. With over 30 vendors selling products in Himi Banya-gai, everyone is bound to find something they enjoy. In the mood for fresh fruits and vegetables? There’s a shop that sells local seasonal produce. Fancy a drink? You can choose from an assortment of local sake, beer and liquor.   There are plenty of souvenirs for children to choose from as well. Fans of Japanese animation will surely be familiar with Doraemon, the titular star of the long-running children’s series. As the show’s creators, Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko, are both natives of the Toyama area, many of their most popular creations can be spotted throughout the gift shops; their faces adorning everything from snacks, to books, to puzzles.       Working up an Appetite By now, browsing the vast selection of locally-caught fish will have undoubtedly left you feeling hungry. In Banya-gai’s restaurant area, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to whet your appetite. On cold afternoons, there is nothing better than a warm bowl of fish stew. The salty broth and rich flavors are a favorite of local fishermen who awake and board their boats well before sunrise. Chock-full of shrimp, crab, and white fish, and slowly simmered for hours, it’s the perfect seaside comfort food.   Surprisingly, Himi’s fish aren’t the only local food with a legendary reputation. Himi’s cattle; having been raised in the region’s ideal climate and spacious pastures, are known throughout the country for producing beef of exquisite marbling and texture. In fact, it has placed first in several national wagyu competitions. At Banya-gai, you can try this award-winning beef in the form of a hamburger, or to fully experience all of its nuances, lightly seared and served over sushi rice like nigiri.   If seeing just how many mouth-watering choices Himi has to offer has left you with fear of missing out, worry not. Banya-gai also features a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where you can sample the best of Himi’s seasonal selections. Grab whatever catches your eye as it passes by on the conveyor belt, or fill out a request slip for the chef for a made-to-order plate. With plates starting at as little as 100 yen, you can try all of Himi’s local favorites without breaking your budget.       Take in the Sights After a long day of shopping and eating, it’s time for a little relaxation. Take a stroll out towards the bay you’ll soon come across Banya-gai’s natural hot spring foot bath. Soaking your aching feet in these warm geothermal waters while taking in the views of Toyama Bay is the perfect way to unwind.   Afterwards, head across the street, just past the Himinoe cable bridge, to find a massive staircase overlooking the water.   Climb the steps to the top to take in the incredible views of Toyama Bay and the surrounding Himi landscape, and to appreciate the natural treasures this area has to offer.       Enjoy Your Visit to Himi At just over an hour from Toyama city, Himi Banya-gai is a hidden gem for seafood lovers. For the freshest sushi you’ll ever try and unique seafood offerings not found anywhere else, be sure to plan a visit to this wonderful coastal market.   Himi Banya-gai Website: http://himi-banya.jp (homepage available only in Japanese) Phone: 0766-74-2611 Hours: Open daily from 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM Directions: - From Toyama Station: Take the daily Toyama Buri Kani Bus tour that departs Toyama Station and ride until the last stop, which is Banya-gai. Round trip tickets are ¥1,020 for adults. Please visit this link to view the bus timetable.   - From Himi Station: From the station bus stop, take the bus bound for Himi Municipal Hospital. Ride for four stops until reaching Himi Central bus stop. From here, Banya-gai is roughly 8 minutes away on foot.    
Akashi: A Street Food Paradise Just Off the Beaten Track When it comes to travel within Kansai, the lion’s share of attention is typically given to the region’s big three; Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe. While famous for good reason, Kansai’s oft overlooked other cities offer a wealth of experiences for visitors. Located just half an hour west of Kobe along the Seto Inland Sea, Akashi is one such hidden gem. Though rich in both history and sightseeing opportunities, it is perhaps best noted for its incredible food culture. With its close proximity to the sea, it is home to some of the freshest seafood in the region and not to be missed by fans of Japanese street food.   Access to Akashi Station: From Sannomiya Station in Kobe, take the Tokaido -Sanyo Line two stops to Akashi Station. A one-way journey costs ¥ 390.       Uonotana   The central feature in the Akashi culinary experience is unquestionably the Uonotana fish market. Built over 400 years ago in conjunction with Akashi castle; it has stood the test of time (unlike its counterpart) to become more than a mere marketplace, but a highly revered Akashi institution. Throughout its 350 meter long passageway are over 100 shops, most of which specialize in seafood.   Given its location next to a section of the Seto Inland Sea known as the Akashi Straits, merchants in Uonotana are able to provide some of the freshest fish found in Japan on a daily basis. At 11:30 AM each day, fishermen’s daily hauls are auctioned off near the straits and promptly brought to the marketplace where they are sold. The fish are so fresh in fact, it’s not uncommon to see sea breams flopping about on trays, or tiny octopuses attempting to scurry away from their containers where they wait to be purchased.     As you enter the marketplace, each one of your five senses are awakened to the scene that unfolds before you. Bright red and blue banners hung the entire length of the ceiling billow in the breeze that makes its way through the covered passage, carrying with it a mix of smells indistinguishable from one another, but altogether hunger inducing. An array of colorful fish, most of which are entirely unfamiliar to foreign visitors, line either side of the walkway.     In front of each shop, eager merchants with sample trays in hand call out to passing shoppers.     Spend a few moments soaking in the ambiance of it all and you will find that no grocery store in existence could ever compare to the vibrancy and energy of a street market like this. It is for this reason that Uonotana has existed for over four centuries and will continue to do so for many more.   Those somewhat familiar with Japanese customs may know that walking while eating is typically considered a social faux pas throughout the country. If one buys food from a stand, they are expected to eat it then and there, or find a place to sit before enjoying it. In Uonotana, this taboo is cast aside. Many of the foods sold at the various stalls throughout the market place are sold in portions and containers that make them easy to eat while walking. In fact, it’s not uncommon for shoppers to visit several stalls during the lunchtime hours; creating their own on-the-go picnic. Let’s take a closer look at some of the market’s more popular foods.   Uonotana Address: 1 Chome-1-1 6 Honmachi, Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture 673-0892 Webpage : http://www.uonotana.or.jp Access : Approximately 5 minutes walking from Akashi Station. Follow signs for the market from the exit gate which will lead you across the street. There is a covered catwalk connecting the station to the market to help bypass traffic.         What the Locals are Eating   Much like the nearby city of Osaka, Akashi has built a reputation around the quality of their octopus. It seems one can’t go far in the city without running into octopus imagery, from signs outside of businesses to adorable keychains sold in souvenir shops.     The star of the show is the Akashi-dako; a variety of octopus unique to the Akashi Straits. It is known for its short but thick arms; a product of living in the strong currents of the straits. While one may suspect that the meat would be tough or overly chewy, it is in fact quite lean as a result of the extra exercise of battling fast-moving waters, and has a pleasantly sweet taste.     Throughout Uonotana, shoppers can find octopus served in a variety of styles, from bite sized portions coated in sticky, sweet sauce, to tiny octopus lollipops, to whole live octopuses for you to take home and prepare to your liking.   Of course, it wouldn’t be a Japanese fish market without a wide selection of fresh sashimi. Understandably however, raw fish is not for everyone. Those who prefer their food cooked and slightly less on the adventurous side need not worry. Another popular food sold in the market is a type of fried tempura pancake made with ground fish.       Known as satsuma-age, or simply “tempura” in the Kansai area, the fish is mixed with flour and various other ingredients such as vegetables, scallops, octopus to name a few; and fried to warm, chewy perfection. The taste is something akin to the fish sticks many in the west have grown to love and they make a great mid-day snack while shopping.     While on the topic of fried food, another Akashi staple known far and wide across Japan is akashiyaki. A not-so-distant cousin to its better-known counterpart, takoyaki, the Akashi variation is egg-based instead the familiar doughy flour-base of takoyaki. Known locally as tamagoyaki, these egg dumplings are filled with bits of octopus and lightly fried. Substituting flour for egg results in a fluffier texture and arguably, a more satisfying culinary experience.   One of the most famous akashiyaki shops in the city is GO. Found just outside the Uonotana market, it’s hard to miss with its bright yellow sign featuring a gorilla.       Here, akashiyaki are served up on bright red slanted boards with a side of dashi broth for dipping. There are a variety of different fillings to choose from as well, including cheese, shrimp, and kimchi to name a few.       After a hard afternoon of snacking in the marketplace, it’s the perfect hot meal to end the day.   GO Address: 2 Chome-1-4 Honmachi, Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture 673-0892 Webpage : https://www.go-akashiyaki.com Phone: +81-78-913-8205 Access : Approximately 5 minutes walking from Akashi Station.                
Kameoka: A City Rich in History Located just under an hour west of Kyoto, the city of Kameoka is a time capsule in the sense that it has managed to expertly preserve so much of its rich culture and history. From its numerous temples to its well-maintained traditional houses, one can easily get the sense of being in Edo or Meiji period Japan while walking its quiet streets. In fact, particularly motivated visitors can still walk the same road that connected traveling merchants to Kyoto many years ago. In the face of ever-changing and increasingly modernizing times, Kameoka is a shining example of the virtue of remembering where you came from. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the experiences this city has to offer.   Kameoka Station Access: From Kyoto Station, take the San-In Line directly to Kameoka Station. The ride takes about 30 minutes and costs ¥410 for a one-way journey.       Honmachi Café   Without question, the best way to experience a city and learn its history is through the guidance of a local resident. Honmachi Cafe in Kameoka offers that and so much more. Tucked away in a restored machiya ( a traditional townhouse ), Honmachi is part cafe, part museum, and part volunteer tour company all rolled into one.     Much of the machiya’s original charm and style has been preserved, from its sliding shoji doors to its sprawling tatami mat rooms. The cafe feels much more like a home than a place of business; an ambiance that any first-time visitor will appreciate.   From the entrance, Honmachi’s open floor plan stretches across three rooms decorated in traditional Japanese style before ending in a quiet little garden located at the back of the property. Take a seat at one of several large tables and enjoy a cup of coffee and locally sourced dishes while consulting maps and travel brochures.   Once you’re ready for sightseeing, Honmachi Cafe’s guides are waiting to walk you through their city’s cherished history. English guides are available as well, but it is recommended to reserve your desired time about one week in advance through their website to ensure that an English-speaking guide is available that day.       Best of all, in an effort to share Kameoka’s history with as many people as possible, tours cost just  ¥1,500 per hour regardless of how many people are in your group. In order to see as much as possible, plan to reserve two hours of sightseeing.       Honmachi Cafe Address: 51 Honmachi, Kameoka, 621-0869 Kyoto Prefecture Phone: +81-90-1598-5420 Webpage : http://honmachi-cafe.com/ Access : Approximately 15 minutes walking from Kameoka Station. Experience: Reservations are not required for enjoying refreshments or getting information from the cafe. For tours, please make a reservation via their website at least one week in advance. Groups of all sizes are welcome.       Tanzan Shuzo   There are many flavors that have become synonymous with Japanese culture. The slight bitterness of matcha or the delicate taste of fresh sushi are near to the hearts of most Japanese people. Perhaps no other taste is quite so ingrained however, as sake. The origin of this highly revered rice wine predates written history, but it has since become the national drink of Japan and the go-to beverage for toasting special occasions and ceremonies.   Tanzan Shuzo is a family-owned sake brewery in Kameoka that has been in business for over 140 years. Here, visitors can take a guided tour through the brewery’s facilities to learn about the sake making process. Even during the brewery’s “off season” when it is not actively brewing, the distinctive light, fruity notes of sake linger in the air; the building itself having been steeped in over a century’s worth of its aroma.   The “hands-on” learners among us will be happy to discover that the tour concludes in a cozy tatami room where guests can gather around a sunken hearth and sample Tanzan Shuzo’s various sake varieties.     The warm, inviting atmosphere feels more like drinking at home with friends than the standard brewery tasting one would expect. Once you’ve picked a favorite, be sure to stop by the shop near the entrance to take home a bottle for later.     Tanzan Shuzo Address: 7 Yokomachi, Kameoka, 621-0812 Kyoto Prefecture Phone: +81-771-22-0066 Email: info@tanan.co.jp Webpage : http://www.tanzan.co.jp Access : Approximately 15 minutes walking from Kameoka Station. Experience: Brewery tours are only offered during the active brewing season, so please email in advance to inquire about a specific timeframe. Free sake tastings are always available however and do not require a reservation in advance.       Namba Shoyu Jozo   For most westerners, soy sauce is simply sauce sauce; a salty, brown sauce to be used sparingly in stir fry dishes or with sushi. It may come as a surprise then to learn that the over 2,000 year old condiment comes in a wide range of varying tastes, textures and usages. While in Kameoka, why not take the opportunity to expand your palette and learn a bit more about this indispensable component of Japanese cuisine?   Namba Shoyu Jozo is a local soy sauce brewer that has been owned and operated by the same family since 1870. Now in their seventh generation, their lineup of soy sauces (called shoyu in Japanese) has been carefully cultivated over the years to appeal to all audiences. As it turns out, different regions in Japan have different preferences when it comes to their soy sauce. Some areas prefer a thicker, less watery consistency. Other regions prefer a less salty taste. Still others like a touch of yuzu citrus to add an extra kick to their sauce. Namba Shoyu Jozo can provide all of that and more.       Staff members are more than happy to let customers taste test the various sauces and even make recommendations based on their preferences and intended usage.       If your only soy sauce experience to date has been with the tiny packets served with Asian takeaway food, prepare to be shocked by the amount of subtle flavor variations that exist and how much of a difference they can make in regard to the overall meal. Bottles are available in multiple sizes as well, making them the perfect souvenir to pack in your luggage for friends back home.   Namba Shoyu Jozo Address: 30 Tsukinukecho, Kameoka, 621-0813 Kyoto Prefecture Phone: +81-771-22-0204 Access : Approximately 15 minutes walking from Kameoka Station. Experience: No reservations are necessary. Feel free to stop in any time during normal business hours.       Hozu-Gawa River Boat Ride   When it comes time to leave Kameoka and move on to your next destination, don’t miss the opportunity to take the ultimate scenic route. The Hozu-gawa River connecting Kameoka to nearby Kyoto has been a vital means of transportation in the area dating back to the 16th century when it was used to move lumber, rice, and other important resources to nearby cities. With the introduction of the local train line in 1895, the river’s primary cargo changed from supplies to sightseers. Today, this 16km river boat ride between Kameoka and Arashiyama, known as Hozugawa-kudari , is enjoyed by over 300,000 people annually.     The two hour journey is at its most popular in spring and fall, as delicate pink cherry blossoms and fiery autumn foliage accent the landscape respectively. However, with each change of season comes an enticing change of scenery; from dense, lush greenery to snow-covered branches and icy blue waters. Today, the boats are manned just as they were centuries ago, with strong rowers propelling the boat through the river while two crew members use long bamboo poles to navigate around any obstacles in the way.       For a city as steeped in history as Kameoka, it’s the perfect way to end your stay on a traditional note.     Hozugawa-kudari Address: 7 Shimo-Nakajima Hozu-cho, Kameoka, 621-0005 Kyoto Prefecture Phone: +81-771-22-5846 Webpage : https://www.hozugawakudari.jp/en Access : Approximately 8 minutes walking from Kameoka Station. Experience: Tickets cost ¥4,100 for adults and ¥2,700 for children age 4-12. Children 3 and under can ride for free. For groups, private boats that seat up to 17 people can be chartered for ¥82,000. Reservations are not required for groups with less than 10 people.          
Shiga Prefecture: Kansai’s Hidden Historical Gem  When it comes to Japan’s Kansai region, major cities such as Kyoto and Osaka tend to steal the spotlight. While often overlooked by visitors to Japan, the neighboring prefecture of Shiga has a great deal to offer those looking to get more in touch with Japan’s authentic, traditional side. Let’s take a look at why two of Shiga’s cities; Omihachiman and Shigaraki, are more than worthwhile additions to your Japan travel itinerary.       Omihachiman  Founded in the early 16th century, Omihachiman is a small city on the border of Lake Biwa; Japan’s largest lake. In a time before cars and trains, Omihachiman’s well-connected canal system led to great commercial success, as it became a major hub of trading between Tokyo and Japan’s then capital, Kyoto. Though no longer the bustling waypoint it once was, the city still has plenty to offer visitors. From historical remnants, to beautiful natural views, to delicious local foods and more, Omihachiman is a must-see location on your own journey between Tokyo and Kyoto. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the attractions the city has to offer.   Omihachiman Station Access: Omihachiman is easy to reach from nearby Kyoto Station. Via the Shin Kaisoku Express line, the journey takes roughly 35 minutes and costs ¥670 for a one-way trip.       Hachiman-Bori Canal   The canal network that once led to Omihachiman’s economic prosperity now serves as a form of time travel, allowing visitors a glimpse into the former days of Japan’s Edo Period. Lining the canal on either side are houses built of white stone and wood; former homes of wealthy merchants who lived in the area. The area has been so well preserved, in fact, that it is often used as a backdrop for Japanese period pieces. Strolling along the canal’s stone walkways with little sign of the modern era, it becomes easy to imagine yourself as part of Japan’s distant past.    Today, Hachiman-Bori is best enjoyed in the form of a boat cruise. What better way to get into the spirit of classical Japan than by gliding along the canal on a traditional wooden boat, surrounded by historical buildings, as cherry blossoms pass by overhead? In autumn, the trees lining the canal take on their new seasonal colors; creating a fiery passageway of reds, yellows, and oranges.       Himure Hachimangu Shrine     Located just off the Hachiman-Bori canal is Himure Hachimangu; a nearly 2,000 year old Shinto shrine. Once sat proudly atop nearby Mount Hachiman, it was relocated to the base of the mountain in 1590 in order to make room for a newly built (and now no longer existent) castle.   The shrine’s earthy aesthetic, from its wooden structures to its moss-covered rocks, create a welcoming, natural vibe. Set amongst a lush forest backdrop, Himure Hachimangu feels worlds apart from the bustling city metropoles Japan is largely known for. Walking amongst the trees and stone lanterns will naturally invoke imagery that fans of Japanese animation will be quite familiar with.     While here, be sure to grab an omikuji (a sort of fortune card, available in both Japanese and English) from the entrance area to commemorate your trip.   Visitors lucky enough to be here during March 16th and 17th can take part in the annual Omihachiman Sagicho Fire Festival. Each of the surrounding neighborhoods compete to build the best float out of straw, bamboo, and paper. The floats are paraded through the streets before a winner is ultimately decided. After the parade, the floats are burned in a massive ceremonial bonfire while costumed participants dance around the flames.       Lake Biwa    With an area of just over 670 meters, nearby Lake Biwa is not only the largest freshwater lake in all of Japan, but one of the oldest lakes in the world as well. Its massive body of water breaks off into many other smaller rivers and channels, including the nearby Hachiman-Bori canal. While it can certainly be enjoyed with a scenic walk along its shoreline, to truly appreciate its scale, it is best viewed from above. Less than five minutes away on foot from Himure Hachimangu shrine, the Hachimanyama Ropeway awaits to shuttle visitors to the top of Mount Hachiman.   From the summit, sweeping panoramic views of Lake Biwa, as well as the surrounding Shiga prefecture and beyond can be found. To the west, distant mountain ranges stretch onward and disappear past the horizon. If timed correctly, this is a perfect spot to watch the sunset with a loved one. As evident by the numerous hearts and nearby statue of the word “LOVE” in bold letters, many others think so as well.    Tickets for the ropeway cost ¥880 roundtrip for adults, ¥440 for children age 6-12, and is free of charge for children under 6. Tickets can be easily purchased from the vending machine near the entrance. The options are written in Japanese, but going by the written price, it is easy to figure out. In the picture below, the first column is for roundtrip adult tickets for one through five people respectively, and the third column is for children’s roundtrip tickets.         Taneya    After a long day of sightseeing, there is perhaps no better way to unwind than with a bowl of freshly made matcha and Japanese sweets. Thankfully, visitors can find both of these things at Taneya ; a confectionary shop that has been in business since 1872.    Though it now has shops throughout Japan, Taneya’s first location was here in Omihachiman, where it has been specializing in mochi and red bean-based sweets ever since. In their large dining area, visitors will find a traditional irori; a Japanese sunken hearth, where an iron-cast kettle sits steaming over an open flame. The warmth of the hearth and the dark wooden accents of the room make for the perfect inviting atmosphere.    While Taneya has a wide variety of desserts available, they are perhaps best known for their Fukumi-Tenbin; a thin, flaky wafer with red bean jelly sandwiched in the middle. In Japanese cuisine, texture is a key component in the overall dish. Bearing this in mind, Taneya serves the dessert’s wafer and jelly separately, not combining the two until the moment it is to be eaten. By doing so, it ensures the perfect chewy, melt-in-your-mouth texture that their sweets have come to be known for.     Taneya Address: 3 Miyauchicho Omihachiman Himure Village, Omihachiman 523-0828 Shiga Prefecture Phone: +81- 748-33-4444 Webpage :   https://taneya.jp Access : Approximately 30 minutes walking from Omihachiman Station, or take the Chomeiji bus line approximately 10 minutes to Osugicho Hachimanyama Ropeway Guchi bus stop.           Shigaraki    Those who have traveled in Japan before may very well be familiar with the sight of tanuki. This somewhat bizarre animal, resembling a mix between a dog and a racoon, is a well-known symbol throughout the country that has come to represent good fortune. As a result, placing clay tanuki statues outside of businesses has become a common occurrence. While often seen and recognized, not many people know that the majority of these statues come from one place; Shigaraki. Famed for its high-quality clay and incredibly skilled craftsmen, Shigaraki has earned the moniker of one of Japan’s six ancient kilns.   Shigaraki Station Access: From Kyoto Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line to Kibukawa Station. From here, change to the Shigarakikogen Tetsudo Line and ride until Shigaraki Station. A one-way journey costs ¥1,220.       Learn the History   Visitors wishing to learn more about Shiga’s pottery history should first pay a visit to the Shigaraki Tourism Association . The city may be best known for their tanuki, but their history of working with clay extends well beyond cute animal recreations. In the tourism association’s historical pottery gallery, one can see samples of everything from antique vases to large clay pots that were used as burial chambers. It can be hard to fathom how much of the city’s lineage has been based around clay works, but seeing a tangible timeline of their skilled creations helps to put it all into perspective.     After appreciating some of Shigaraki’s finer historical works, it’s time to see what the modern craftsmen of the area have to offer. Grab a map or attraction pamphlet from the information center near the entrance, or ask a staff member for assistance. Once ready to hit the town, the Shigaraki Tourism Association also rents bikes to visitors. Standard bicycles are available for ¥500 per day, or electronically assisted bicycles for ¥1,000 per day.      Shigaraki Tourism Association Address: 1142 Shigarakicho-Nagano Koka City Shiga Pref. Japan 529-1851 Phone: +81-748-82-2345 Webpage :   http://www.e-shigaraki.org/ Access : Approximately 7 minutes walking from Shigaraki Station           Tanukimura   When the emperor of Japan visited Shigaraki in 1951, he was greeted by an army of tanuki statues, proudly holding Japanese flags. The emperor was so amused by the statues that their reputation quickly spread throughout the country. Soon, everyone wanted to own one of the famous statues, and their legendary reputation was born. At Tanukimura (Japanese for “Tanuki Village”), this tradition is still alive and well. Here, visitors can purchase their very own tanuki statue in every style imaginable; from traditional to 1950’s rockabilly.     Those not content to simply look can also take part in a guided pottery class. Here, experts will guide you through the process of sculpting your own clay tanuki. It may seem daunting at first glance, but with careful instruction and gentle assistance from the staff members, even the most artistically disinclined amongst us can create a beautiful (subjectively speaking) tanuki statue.            Unfortunately, the clay tanukis take quite some time to fire in their in-house kiln, so if you are visiting Japan on vacation, you most likely will not be able to take your creation home. That being said, simply making your own tanuki is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and if nothing else, will instill within you a newfound respect for pottery artists.   For younger children who would like to get involved, Tanukimura also offers miniature tanuki sculpture painting. What better souvenir than one you can customize yourself? Best of all, it will be ready to take home that same day.    Of course, being expert pottery craftsmen, Tanukimura creates so much more than just tanuki. In their shop, a wide selection of gorgeous, handmade ceramic goods are available; from plates, to teapots, to vases, and more. As each piece is made by hand, no two are exactly alike, but all are uniquely beautiful. Each tiny “imperfection”; every bump or warble along the edges, is a reminder that what you are holding before you was created by a skilled artist who has devoted their life to their craft, and not simply a factory-created plate sold in bulk. Each piece serves as a tangible reminder of Shigaraki’s proud history.     Tanukimura Address: 1293-2 Shigarakichomaki, Koka, Shiga Prefecture 529-1803 Phone: +81- 748-83-0126 Webpage :   http://www.tanukimura.com Experience :  To take part in the pottery making class, please make reservations online in advance. Access : From Shigaraki Station, take the Shigarakikogen Tetsudo Line to Kumoi Station. From here, it is approximately 10 minutes on foot.           Plan Your Visit With so much historical charm and old-world craftsmanship to offer, Shiga prefecture is sure to be loved by anyone with an interest in Japanese culture. At just over an hour away from downtown Kyoto by public transportation, it’s the perfect weekend outing for your next trip to Japan.      
Feeling Blue in Tokushima: The Heart of Japan’s Indigo Industry  There are few fabrics throughout the world quite as distinctive as denim. This “everyman” clothing has become ubiquitous throughout the fashion industry; finding homes in both the worlds of high-end design and blue-collar work apparel. Fans of the timeless blue fabric may already know that some of the world’s best denim comes from Japan. Its highly renowned quality is due largely in part to the country’s meticulous, traditional indigo production; the dye used to give denim its signature blue hue. For an idea of what makes Japanese indigo so special, let’s take a closer look at this time-honored, traditional practice.       What Makes Japanese Indigo so Special?   The Japanese production of indigo dates back to the 6th or 7th century, during which time it was available exclusively to wealthier members of society. What makes Japanese indigo dye unlike any other in the world is that it is produced as a result of fermentation. Though incredibly time-consuming, this process imbues the dye with several unique properties; including dirt, fire and antimicrobial resistance. Because of this, it quickly became a popular clothing choice of samurai throughout Japan.   In time, indigo became more widely accessible; available to not only the wealthiest members of society, but to commoners as well. However, Japan’s love affair with this deep blue dye never faded. Today, a handful of dedicated craftsmen throughout Japan still create indigo dye using the traditional fermentation techniques.       Indigo Production in Japan     The Japanese method of creating indigo dye is truly a labor of love. Leaves are carefully gathered from the indigo plant and placed under thick straw mats for months on end. In order for the leaves to properly ferment, very specific conditions must be maintained at all times. Workers must perform daily maintenance to ensure that the leaves have proper airflow and stay at a temperature around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.    The entire fermentation process, from the time of picking the leaves to completion, takes roughly one full year. After months of patience and dedicated work, the final result is something that resembles dirt, but with a pungent, vinegary aroma. This product, known as sukumo , serves as the basis for indigo dye.         Tokushima: The Home of Modern Indigo   While sukumo is made in several locations throughout Japan, Tokushima prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, is responsible for over 80% of the total production. Tokushima’s seemingly endless mountainous landscape is home to some of the lushest countryside in all of Japan. This is due largely to its location along the vast Yoshino River. When the river floods (a fairly common occurrence), the surrounding soil is enriched with nutrients from the water. As a result, indigo, a particularly nutrient-hungry plant, has come to thrive on this tiny island.       Try Your Hand at Indigo Dyeing   The traditional style of Japanese indigo dyeing is known as aizome . To witness it firsthand, it is easy to see that it is just as much an artform as it is a means of production. Aizome craftsmen take pride in their work; a fact clearly evident in every finished piece of cloth that passes through their hands.   One such place in Tokushima where you can not only watch indigo dyers in action, but take part yourself, is at Hon-Aizome Yano Kozyo . This independently-owned and operated business has been producing indigo dye since 1986 and gladly welcomes interested visitors.    Their production area is reminiscent of a large car garage turned workshop. To the left, the founder, Yano-san, with his dark blue hands stained from hours of work, stirs large sunken vats of indigo dye; the sharp smell of which is overwhelming when you first arrive. To the right, two women and a young girl work diligently on a small tatami mat sitting area, ironing and folding freshly dyed items, ready for sale. The entirety of the scene invokes a homey feeling. In a time where mass produced goods are the norm, there’s something nostalgic and comforting about seeing things made by hand, and the faces of the people who make them.   Hon-Aizome Yano Kozyo offers a variety of items for guests to purchase and dye themselves, from small handkerchiefs to long, billowy chiffon scarves. Once guests have made their choice, the staff members expertly guide the entire process from design to the dyeing itself. Indigo dyed items are often famed for their beautiful designs, which can be achieved in one of two ways; a tie dye method achieved through tying a series of knots in the fabric, or by painting a design onto the fabric with clear wax to prevent the dye from soaking in.    Preparing your design can feel daunting due to the implied permanence of the indigo dye soon to come, but its best to not overthink it. After all, when it comes to handmade crafts, the beauty is in the imperfections. The minor (or major) flaws add uniqueness to the finished product and truly set the work apart.     After the design process is completed, Yano-san carefully instructs guests on the art of indigo dyeing. Just as the indigo-dyers of hundreds of years past, dyeing today is a manual process, done on hands and knees while leaning over a large metal vat of inky blue indigo dye. After attaching your cloth to a wooden stick, it is slowly lowered into the dye, where it sits for roughly one minute.   On Yano-san’s instruction, it is raised out of the liquid, allowed to drip for another minute, and then the entire process is repeated again for ten times in total.    One might be worried about working in such close proximity to “chemicals”, but as it turns out, the dye used in Yano-san’s workshop is entirely natural. To prove this fact, he will occasionally dip his finger into the vat of indigo dye, and upon emerging, place it directly into his mouth. The dye’s flavor is difficult to describe, but it can be described as an umami taste, and leaves a slight tingle on the tip of your tongue from the wood ash lye used in its production.   Once the dyeing is completed, the fabric will be washed and dried.    The entire process from start to finish takes just under an hour. Guests at Hon-Aizome Yano Kozyo can leave with their beautifully handmade creations that same day, making it a perfect choice for people spending just a brief amount of time in Tokushima.    Guests interested in visiting Yano-san’s workshop should make reservations at least one week in advance. The tour is only offered in Japanese, but English-speaking guests are still more than welcome to take part in the dyeing experience and are encouraged to make reservations via email .       Hon-Aizome Yano Kozyo Address: 771-1253,  25-1 Yakami Enokuchi Aizumi, Itano District, Tokushima Prefecture Phone : + 81 -88-692-8584 Email: yanokozyo@gmail.com Webpage :   http://yanokozyo.com/ Experience : 1~20 persons, booking required, Access : Approx. 25 minute walk from JR Shozui Station           The Luxury Side of Indigo   Appreciators of high-end and locally sourced fashion will enjoy a visit to BUAISOU during their stay in Tokushima. Though only in business for a handful of years, this dedicated team of indigo artisans have built an incredible reputation for themselves, both domestically and abroad. Owning every step of the production from growing the indigo plants to hand-dyeing original merchandise, their “farm-to-closet” business approach has rapidly put Tokushima indigo on the global fashion map.    For the craftsmen at BUAISOU, indigo is more than just a way to make a living. It’s a way of life. The passion and dedication poured into their work is apparent in every item they sell, from work shirts to shoelaces. Their quality craftsmanship has not gone unnoticed, finding their products sold internationally in eight different countries, and forming partnerships with numerous luxury brands around the world.   Those wishing to visit BUAISOU’s farm and workshop to see their incredible work in-person will first need to make a reservation through their website. Please contact them at least one week in advance to plan your visit.       BUAISOU Address: 771-1347, 355-1 Takase, Kamiita, Itano District, Tokushima Prefecture Phone : +81- 50-3741-0041 Webpage : https://www.buaisou-i.com/ Experience : Booking required for all visitors Access: 30 minutes by car from JR Tokushima Station      
A taste of Oita The mall with Everything Many people think Oita is a vast beautiful countryside with rice fields and a couple of cool tall buildings here and there. That is in fact, not the case. Recently, Oita has developed into a booming city. Because of they were provided with money so they could flourish, they built a mall called Tokiwa. It is abut 5~6 minutes away from Oita Station and it holds everything from clothes you need to buy for a wedding to books for cooking specifically Japanese food. It has everything you need at a very reasonable price. It has 8 floors including 2 Basement floors with almost every Japanese food you can think of. Its interior is beautifully designed and they have the most kind staff I've ever interacted with (No Joke). They really go out of your way to help their customers find what they need.       A little bit of Help   There is a wonderful little service desk inside of Tokiwa. Right beside it, they advertise something that it almost a necessary part of life now days. FREE WIFI. Yes, I said it, FREE WIFI. If you are ever in need of some help, be sure to check out this service counter. They treat you (the customer) with the upmost respect and take everything you are looking for into consideration when trying to help. They are very well versed on all of the shops inside Tokiwa. Not only are they very detailed on the stores inside of Tokiwa, they also know the vicinity pretty well so, do not hesitate to ask them questions about the surrounding area! They are willing to care for your needs. The service counter focuses on advertising tax-free shops. Almost all of the shops in Tokiwa are tax-free. Tax-free means less money spent! This counter also functions as a tex redemption counter! It is targeted towards people who are traveling to Japan. If you spend over 5000 Yen with out Tax at any store within the Galleria Takemachi, Sent Portal or any of the shopping areas around tokiwa, you will get all of you tax money back! That is, only if you bring all of your receipts with you. It is a great way to save a little bit of money. If you're ever in town, you should defiantly try it out.   The access way to Tokiwa head department store is you may get off at JR Nippouhon Line Ooita station , and then walk around 7min from Funai Cyuoukuchi (north side).     The Food Basement   If you like shopping for unique products at a cheap price, you should visit the basement in Tokiwa. They stock some of the most high quality foods. Most of it is grown and cultivated in Oita, but they do occasionally have special items from different prefectures in Kyushu. For example, they have many different types of Jam that use locally grown fruits. They also stock other foods such as Manju (a steamed bun with filling inside), sauces and drinks containing fruits and vegetables. I’ve tried the Tangerine juice. It was so delicious, I had to buy more to share with my family!     Two Special little Places And not too far away from Tokiwa, there are two special little places I’d like to share with you. One of them is a cute little tea shop. It sells a wide variety of tea as well as products to make tea. But, thats not all they have. Because they're a tea shop, it’s almost a must for the to have matcha, right? Well, they’ve used they're delicious matcha tea and made a dessert out of it. Match ice cream! They use the perfect amount of matcha so it’s not too overpowering. It’s just right for people who love tea (especially match). The second place is right down the street from the tea store and it was just as fantastic. It is a perfect to have lunch with friends or by yourself. I had a toriten set with a dango soup on the side.   If you're looking for a place that gives you a lot of food, then this is just for you. The overall quality of the food was out of this world. I would eat it every week!         Galleria Takechou There is a shopping street nearby that I suggest you visit! One may think “This a wonderful place were I can buy clothes, food and things for my house!” right? Well, Oita’s shopping street put a little bit of a spin on these normal everyday items.   It is conveniently located 5 minutes away from Oita station by foot and is incredibly easy to locate. If you walk to the end of the shopping street there is an open space to your right. If you turn around, you'll se the Takecho shopping street! The open space is used for a variety events that are held every once in a while. There are events that promote local products of Oita. When there is a music event of some sort, the area is also used as a place where people perform. Surrounding the area are different kinds of restaurants. They're great for when you're worn out or just looking for some munchies.         The ingredients of Bungo Ohno   Within this area, I stumbled upon a very fascinating/unique store. It is towards the end of the shopping street and man do they have some one of a kind items there. The name of the shop is “Daichi no Monogatari”. As you can see, they occasionally sell fresh vegeta-bles right outside the store. The vegetables come from a place in Oita called “Bungo Ohno” and if you haven't guessed yet, this store specialized on a various amount of food items that come straight from Bungo Ohno! They are all locally grown/made products that are sold at a very reasonable price. For example, I found Dried KABOSU peels that were simply amazing! (KABOSU is a fruit grown in Oita. It’s like a combination of lemon and lime). It was very delicious and costs about 480 yen. I made my way to the other side of the shop which seemed to have a lot of sauces and drinks. They had a particular drink that I hap-pen to like! It’s called Amezake. It is a traditional Japanese drink that is made from rice. It typically contains no alcohol (but there are some that contain from 1~8%). I recommend you try it at least once in your life because you’ll get hooked once you take a sip. It’s per-fect for all you sweet lovers out there.     Dessert Central   Speaking of sweets, I'm sure many of you like pancakes, right? You have your typical 3 stack of pancakes with some syrup and butter on top and like most people, probably eat it for breakfast right? Well I'm gonna let you in on a little something very special. Located about 5 minutes away from Daichi no Monogatari, there is a wonderful little restaurant that takes a focus on Japanese Pancakes. When I say Japanese pancakes, I mean nice soft fluffy delicate thick pancakes with variety toppings and different flavors. From December to June they make a special strawberry version that uses strawberries from the Fukuoka Prefecture. They’re most popular flavors are White Macadamia, Fresh Cream and Chocolate Banana. My personal favorite is the Chocolate banana because it’s like a chocolate banana sundae with pancakes! Most of the pancakes come with a gargantuan sized scoop of ice cream. How can it get any better than that! They definitely have some of the best pancakes I have tasted in my life. And that my friends was a little taste of Oita. There are many more interesting places that offer a variety of things. How about coming on over? You never know what you'll find.     Here's the homepage of Tokiwa (English) http://www.tokiwa-dept.co.jp.e.xb.hp.transer.com/   Barae Tea Wakatake (Japanese) http://www.wakatake.jp/   Bungo-Oono Bureau (Japanese) http://bungo-oono.com/      
Oita City Shopping Arcades   Shopping Arcades have everything for everyone!     Explore the bustling city of Oita where adventure and pleasure are ready to welcome you! Oita City is the capital city of Oita prefecture situated in the north of Kyushu Island. Being a capital city means there are tons of things to do and see and surely has something for everyone. The city center is surrounded by shopping arcades, where you can shop in comfort, no matter if it’s raining or blazing hot. The design of the arcades allow sunlight and breeze to filter through its high roof, assure your comfortable shopping experience. The shops along the winding paved road sell various Japanese well-known goods and services, and ensure your shopping experience will be delightful with wide, clean and safe streets.         Galleria Take Machi  Galleria Take Machi is one of the shopping arcades located around the city center of Oita City. The arcade is especially a sight to see with its high, classic ceiling and airy atmosphere. In this particular street, we can find a shop dedicated to introduce Bungo-ono and Usuki, neighboring towns which hold beauty different than any other towns you would ever see. Bungo-ono is blessed with nature; from enchanting cave, dense forest, clean river, a Japanese nature experience worth checking out. Meanwhile, Usuki is famous for its brewery. This is the place where you can taste various kinds of Japanese traditional sake and alcoholic drink. If you feel like you are ready to explore other beauty of Oita however not sure where to go next, it’s worth paying a visit to this neat, little shop.       Tokiwa Department Store   This is perhaps a store where most Oita citizen feels nostalgic to, simply because most of their shopping experiences, as well as their grandparents shopping experiences, are here. Tokiwa has everything; from luxury goods to Oita authentic food. What is most important: it also has tax-free counter! A good news for us to buy souvenirs for our loved ones back home without worrying about tax while still getting high-quality products. In addition, you could also feel the comfortable ambience of where citizens of Oita shop for decades! The access way to Tokiwa head department store is you may get off at JR Nippouhon Line Ooita station , and then walk around 7min from Funai Cyuoukuchi (north side).       Oita delicacies  If you find yourself in need of something good to fill in your hungry stomach after a day of shopping around Oita, no need to look far! Just a few hundred metres from the entrance of Tokiwa, you can find a street where Japanese authentic restaurants are ready to provide you their specialties. Yakisoba, karaage and dango, to name a few of Japanese traditional food which this restaurant provides. So, what are you waiting for, you know you deserve all those Oita delicacies!       Here's the homepage of Tokiwa (English) http://www.tokiwa-dept.co.jp.e.xb.hp.transer.com/   Barae Tea Wakatake (Japanese) http://www.wakatake.jp/   Bungo-Oono Bureau (Japanese) http://bungo-oono.com/    
Jozankei-onsen Jozankei-onsen Japan is famous for its representative hot spring. And Hokkaido can be the best place to go. Among all, Jozankei onsen is listed as one of the top 10 must-visit hot springs in Hokkaido. Departing from JR Sapporo station, it can be reached by an hour-long bus ride. If you plan to stay in Sapporo for a short visit and long for an unforgettable Japanese hot spring’s experience as well, Jozankei onsen can be the best choice.     Jozankei-onsen is a hot spring village which is proud of both the quantity and quality of hot springs. There are 56 sources of hot springs in the Jozankei spa resort. Gushing out from crannies of bedrocks in the riverbank and in the bottom of the Toyohira river, the hot spring contains sodium chloride featuring its colorless and transparency, and mild amount of salt said to be one of the most popular qualities of any of the hot springs in Japan.     Soaking into the hot spring while enjoying the fabulous sceneries of nature, you will soon forget about the busy city life and find yourself relaxed and satisfied. For travelers who came by for a short visit, footbaths can bring you a great experience as well. Such as the hot water of longevity and health of the foot massage. Massaging soles of your feet with peddles at the bottom of the bathtub makes your body comfortable and warm.     Apart from the hot springs, there are other popular scenic viewpoints to be found. Walking further towards the mountainous area, you can find the bright red Futami Tsubashi suspension bridge. Suspension bridge, streams and mountains constitute a beautiful Japanese Ukiyo-e, is the perfect combination of Japanese style and the great nature.     Before leaving, don’t miss the traditional Onsen Manjū (s special sweet made of flour and red bean) and take it as the perfect souvenir to bring home. Established in 1931, Daikokuya has been dedicated in producing Onsen Manjū for more than 80 years. High quality of the material and the best sincerity towards guests make it one of the most popular stores in Jozankei-onsen. Would you like to have a bite after a relaxing bath?     Click here for more information about Jozankei-onsen: http://jozankei.jp/en/      
The Village Surrounded by Mountains The Beauty of Yufuin   Yufuin, located in the east of Oita, is a very beautiful district abundant in nature. It is surrounded by gigantic mountains and has many natural flowing rivers throughout the town.     Overlooking the town is a mountain called “Mount Yufu”. During the spring season, the entire mountain is covered in green! It is a very important symbol of Yufuin.     JR Yufuin station is a main gateway to this city for sightseeing. That station is on “Yufu Kogen Line”.   You can directly come by express train from Hakata station in Fukuoka within two hours. Tourists come from afar just to admire its beauty. Yufuin is also known for its gorgeous rice fields that are on the outskirts of town. April is when they start to water the fields, and around May is when they start to sprout! The rice fields look as if they are straight out of a fairytale when they are watered as Mt. Yufu reflects off on the surface of watered rice fields. It makes for a great photo and it is a great place to relax. Not too far off from Mt. Yufu is a place called “Kinrin-ko”. This lake attracts lots of tourists. When you walk along a path surrounding the lake, you will get to a resting place and a shrine. This landmark is another great place to visit if you want to sit down and enjoy the scenery. That’s not all Yufuin has to offer! Here are some other interesting places you must see in Yufuin.     Yufuin Milch Donut & Cafe   Milch Donut and Cafe is a place only found in Yufuin. Just by their name, you can already tell what they offer. They offer delectable donuts and café. They sell some unique donuts with flavors such as Matcha (Green Tea), Apple, Chocolate and Orange, Strawberry, and many more. They even go as far as to decorating the donuts, almost as if they were a cake. In addition to the wonderful flavors, they occasionally come out with limited a time donuts. Milch also has a cafe right next door where you can finally get that coffee you’ve been wanting. They sell everything from coffee made right before your eyes to freshly squeezed orange juice. Outside is a nice seating area where one can enjoy using the cafe’s free wi-fi or have a nice chat with some friends. If you want to get a “taste of Oita”, this is the place you should visit.       Cheese, Cakes, and more Cheese   There is an interesting place located in the middle of the town called “The Cheese Factory of Yufuin”. The theme for the store is yellow because they sell everything related to cheese such as cheese cakes, cheese tarts, cheese crackers. They even have a “Kabos Cheese Cake”. "Kabosu" is a citrus, which is well-known specialty in Oita Prefecture. Every item they sell contains cheese. You can only find this store in Yufuin, and most of the products sold here are made from products of Yufuin. They are delicious and unique! You can also find some great souvenirs for family or friends. This is definitely the perfect shop for a cheese lover.       The General Store   Close by the cheese shop, you can find a shop suitable to get souvenirs. You can also find some really neat things to treat yourself. It is called “The General Store” selling various items made in Japan including cute little keychains, carefully designed dresses and many T-shirts to choose from. Everything is at a reasonable price. Many of the products are made from very high quality material. You will find a lot of products for women. This store is great for people who want to get unique souvenirs.       Honey Jars with Bee’s inside It?   If you walk a little bit up the road, you will end up at a store that specializes in honey! This shop is called “Bee Honey” and they have the delicious honey! They sell various unique honey. Honey tastes differently in accordance with   types of nectars honey are collected from.   Bee Honey then sells honey collected from nectars of many unique flavors such as orange, blueberry and raspberry. One of their most interesting flavors is ‘Soba”. For those who don't know, soba is a type of noodle made of buckwheat. They create soba honey out of the nectar collected from the flower of buckwheat. Have you ever heard of this kind of honey?   There is another unique product. They have jars of honey with real baby bee in them!! The bee is edible and is supposedly very healthy for you. Not only do they sell honey, but also they have some very delicious soft serve ice cream.   Many of the flavors use honey as well as other products. The “Bee Honey” is a great place to go to if you love honey.   Yufuin is a beautiful place to visit. If you visit Oita, please go to Yufuin and check it out!        Yufu city official web site(JP) http://www.city.yufu.oita.jp/kankou/      
The Natural Wonders of Shakotan Located roughly 90 kilometers west of Sapporo, Shakotan is a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Sea of Japan. It houses the three great capes of Ōgon, Shakotan and Kamui, which form part of Hokkaido’s only marine park. You can reach here either by rental car or by bus, which leaves Sapporo once every day and Otaru four times a day (between April and October).   Cape Kamui One of Shakotan’s iconic sightseeing locations, Cape Kamui guarantees a breathtaking view of the coastline to anyone who visits here. A nature trail connects the entrance to the observatory, and takes about 30 minutes on foot to complete. Be sure to observe the wide variety of flora and fauna that gives life to this nature trail as you stroll along. There are also a number of great  photo-taking spots overseeing the crystal clear waters, as well as the lush greenery, along this pathway.       Once you have reached the final stop – the Cape Kamui Observatory, you are greeted by the  Cape Kamui Lighthouse, one of the earliest lighthouses in Hokkaido. At the peak of the cape, end your walk with a beautiful scenery of the Kamui Rock below.       Local Delicacies At the base of Cape Kamui is Yobetsu, a small fishing town. Here, there are many restaurants selling the famous summer delicacy called Uni-don, or sea urchin rice bowl. One of them is Shinsei, pictured above. If sea urchin is not your cup of tea, you can also try out other kinds of seafood delicacies, made using the freshest ingredients caught in the ocean.       Bikuni, and Cape Ōgon Between Cape Kamui and Otaru is a town named Bikuni, home to yet another landmark of the marine park called Cape Ōgon. The bus stop at Bikuni serves as a souvenir shop as well as a tourist information center, so be sure to grab a few pamphlets of the area. From the bus stop, it takes about 15 minutes on foot to reach the observatory at Cape Ōgon, overlooking Takarajima Island beyond. Takarajima Island is said to be a “power spot”, or that it gives blessings to visitors due to its heart shape.   Here at Bikuni, you can also take a cruise, which takes you on a journey to observe the breathtaking sceneries of Cape Ōgon, as well as the vibrant underwater life. Cruises leave from the port of Bikuni every 50 to 60 minutes, between April and October.   If you need further information of Shakotan and the cruise, do check out the links below: Hokkaido Shakotan tourism Web site http://www.kanko-shakotan.jp/ New Shakotan http://www.tabi-hokkaido.co.jp/~glassboat/    
Amasagimura – Akita, Yurihonjo Akita prefecture, from the Tohoku region has been separated from central japan for a very long time because of its mountain ranges, this led Akita to develop certain specific customs which have been taught from generation to generation until today. One of such customs is kiritanpo-soup. Families in Akita traditionally gather once a year to cook this soup.   Amasagi-mura – A view into an Edo period village Amasagi-mura is a cultural facility build over the ruins of what once was the Kameda castle in what is now the city of Yurihonjo. Amasagi-mura lets you experience what life in rural japan was during the Edo period(1603-1868). The main gate has been reconstructed to resemble the original one and feels like a time tunnel to an old Edo period village. The village has a historical center, where old items from the Kameda clan such as furniture, teaware, paintings and books are displayed. There is also an art gallery and 2 houses where once vassals of the Kameda family lived. There are lots of activities one can take part in, including the weaving of a traditional cloth and preparing traditional foods, one of the most famous ones being kiritanpo-soup.       Kiritanpo – a hot challenge Kiritanpo consists of freshly cooked rice which is slightly mashed and formed around akita cedar skewers. According to the people from the village, only akita cedar is good for making kiritanpo, as rice will stick on other types of wood. These rice skewers are toasted over an irori, which is a traditional Japanese fireplace used for heating and cooking. After toasting, the still very hot kiritanpo has to be separated from the skewers with bare hands, which is a bit of a challenge. Some people say the kiritanpo originated when akita woodcutters used to wrap their leftover rice around the stick and ate these not to waste their limited rice.     The kiritanpo making experience costs around 350 yen and takes around 20 minutes. It is one of the easiest foods to prepare, so anyone can take part of the activity. The chicken soup however, is already prepared by the people from the village. The soup is traditionally cooked a whole day. The room where kiritanpo is prepared is cozy even in winter thanks to the heat from the irori. This, together with the freshly toasted kiritanpo and the delicious soup makes for a fantastic meal in the cold weather of akita. The facility is quite large so it can accommodate large groups of people, so one can have fun making hot kiritanpo together with friends or family and eating  together.     At the end of the day one can buy some local products from the souvenir shop which looks like a castle keep.       Access From Akita station: Take the Uetsu line to Ugo-Kameda station. (Takes around 28 min./500Yen) From Ugo-Kameda station:   5 minute taxi ride.     Click here for the Amasagi-mura village home page. http://amasagimura.com/        
Minoh Park What comes to your mind when someone mentions Osaka? Mouth-watering Takoyaki? Or maybe deliciously seasoned kushikatsu? Indeed, being called “ Tenka no Daidokoro ” (The kitchen of the world) since the ancient times, Osaka is well known for its gourmet street food. Yet unknown to many, Osaka is also host to many wonderful natural beauties. Located in the northern part of Osaka lies Minoh Park, well known for its wonderful autumn leaves and majestic waterfall.   Just 400m from the Hakyuu Minoh station, Minoh Park is voted as one of the top 100 places to go for forest therapy. Near to the quaint historic town of Minoh, the road to the Park from the station is filled with nostalgic shop houses. There is also an onsen (hot spring) for those who wants to rejuvenate themselves after a weary travel.     Entering the park, one is immediately embraced by a twining stream surrounded by maple trees. Minoh Park is famous for being a place of fun for all four seasons. Spring for the fresh verdure, summer for escaping the heat, autumn for the awesome red leaves viewing and winter for hikes. There are many paths to choose such as the regular path to the famous waterfall or the hiking path for mountain lovers.   Despite being a path uphill, the path is well paved such that it is not too daunting for one to take. The sceneries along the way makes the walk really enjoyable. There are also many shops that sells refreshments and souvenirs, so if you are hungry or you want something to remember the trip, you can make a brief stop.   One local food to try in Minoh Park is the famous Momiji Tempura (Red-leaves Tempura).   It is usually sold in packets, and can be purchased at almost every single shop in the park. Dried Maple leaves are coated with batter and fried to perfection, finishing off with a sprinkle of black sesame. The black sesame leaves an aromatic aftertaste in your mouth, and it goes really well with the crispy batter. This delightful snack is bound to make you longing for more.     If you think that the only thing that you can do in the park is to take a walk, you are in for a surprise. The park also has an insect museum, showcasing insects native to the Minoh area. Insects lovers are bound to love this place. There is also a free ashiyu (footbath) besides the museum, so you can take a short break here if you like. Rest houses are also available along the way, so you can always recharge before continuing your journey.   Once you reached the end of the path, you will see the famous Minoh Waterfall. Majestic streams of water pour down into a clear stream. There are benches near the waterfall, so you can actually sit down and enjoy the sceneries if you are lucky enough to grab a seat. With souvenirs shop and various food stalls nearby, you can end your trip to Minoh Park with a happy note.   Visit the official Japanese site here: http://www.mino-park.jp/    
Sansan Shopping Village A town reviving after the Great East Earthquake and Tsunami   Minamisanriku is a town on the coast of Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. On arrival, the first impression is one of a town under fierce reconstruction and rebuilding. At the time of visiting, some six years after the tsunami washed away most of the town, pedestrian footpaths were still relatively sparse, with construction workers offering a helping hand to navigate the roads and kindly giving directions to visitors, and a huge project was underway to create an in-flowing canal to protect against future surges from the waves. This follows a monumental effort to raise the ground level of the entire town by some 5 metres. Evidently, the reconstruction efforts have been an immense undertaking, but the fruits of the workers and volunteers’ labours have finally started to show, with the Sansan shopping village, construction finished in March 2017, becoming a hub of activity and well worth a visit.       Local luxuries at the Sansan Shopping Village The Sansan shopping village sits on a raised flat plateau, comprising 28 different restaurants and shops, housed within two sets of three long wooden houses. The structures are made from local cedar trees, giving a refreshing, clean image to the shopping village. From the high plateau, a wide vista of the sea and coast forms a backdrop, and a sea breeze billows through the open-air food court. Much locally-sourced produce can be found here, from fresh fish and vegetables, to seasonal produce such as oysters and sea urchin*. Several shops selling snacks such as dried seaweed or small dried fish offer tasting selections, so you can try before you buy. The snacks really are delicious, and may go well paired with some of the beers or ales produced in Minamisanriku that can also be purchased here. Arguably the most famous local product is octopus. Whilst large octopus arms can be seen hanging in batches at some stores, for those slightly perturbed by the rows of suckers, or not intending to make takoyaki later at home, the octopus can be tried on-site at Kabo Yamasei in the form of takopurin.   Essentially a quiche with pieces of octopus inside, the flavour of the octopus is subtle, but makes for a delicious snack while wandering around. There are a range of options for a fuller lunch, mostly based around seafood, with the standout choice here being the “ kirakiradon ”. Kirakira means sparkle, or glisten in Japanese, an apt name for the dish: sumptuous sashimi pieces sit atop white rice. The portion size is generous, served with miso soup and tea, and the quality of the seafood is truly top-class. Indeed, the restaurant visited was featured in the Michelin Guide Miyagi 2017. Sitting at the counter seats, one can observe the chef preparing the meals.       Home-crafted gifts More local produce can be found a 5-min walk from the shopping village at the Minamisanriku Portal Centre. There are some locally-produced snacks on offer here, but mostly items such as wallets, bags, and small souvenirs are on sale. These have all been hand-made by residents of the town in an attempt to support the disaster recovery effort. Many of the items are produced from things left over or destroyed by the waves – fishing nets, or tatami mats. The materials have been given new life, and show the perseverance and strength of the locals in overcoming the tragedy. Purchasing items from here will contribute to the recovery of Minamisanriku. Visitors can also learn more about the disaster and reconstruction efforts at the adjacent gallery.       A tale of two tsunamis Through tsunamis, the fate of the town has been linked to Chile, which in 1960 experienced the most powerful earthquake ever recorded, that sent a tsunami across the Pacific Ocean that reached Minamisanriku. In remembrance of that event, Chile gave two Moai statues to the town, and following the 2011 tsunami, another Moai arrived (the first two were washed away and subsequently recovered). This Moai statue can be found a short walk from the Portal Centre, and is unique in being carved entirely from Easter Island stone, and for having painted-in eyes. While a perhaps unexpected sight on a visit to Japan, it stands proudly as a symbol of friendship and strength, and has clearly had a positive influence on the locals who have produced many Moai souvenirs, and wooden Moai statues hidden around the town – see how many you can spot! * sea urchin ( uni in Japanese) season is from the start of May until the end of August, so travel during this time will likely see sea urchin offered in meals. Oyster season is from November to February. The seafood selection also changes with the seasons.   Useful Information https://www.sansan-minamisanriku.com/ Official Sansan shopping village site http://www.kabo-yamasei.com/ Takopurin shop site https://www.sansan-minamisanriku.com/shoplist/benkeizushi/ The restaurant visited for kirakiradon https://www.m-kankou.jp/ Minamisanriku Tourism Association   Access Note: the train tracks were destroyed in the tsunami, so there are two options available, to take a Miyakoh bus direct from Sendai, or to go as far as you can using the train and then switch to the bus (which follows the old railway line route). The train route involves one transfer of trains. The author took a direct bus in the morning, and the train/bus to return to Sendai. Direct Miyakoh bus is faster and easier, but infrequent, so plan your schedule ahead according to the timetable. Click the following websites for further information.   Click the following websites for further information. https://www.m-kankou.jp/access/ http://www.miyakou.co.jp/cms/express/desc/14/  
Hizen-Hama’s Kankousakagura Hizennya: For the Sake of Sake Hizen-Hama Non-Japanese speakers often stick to the main cities such as Tokyo and Fukuoka but miss out on gems such as the tiny Hizen-Hama.     A quaint town nestled near the foot of a mountain, Hizen-Hama, located in Saga prefecture, greets incoming tourists with a rustic train station which opens to a beautiful view of a rising mountain. Before the exit, you will find a rack with very helpful information pamphlets in Japanese and English which include maps, tourism guides, and popular Saga attractions booklets.   A short walk from the station lies the Hizen Hamashuku (Sakaguradoori) road where the modern city fades into a delightful little step back into the past. Hizen-Hama is a historical town from the Edo Period which was carefully preserved. Walking through its antique streets feels like stepping back into a simpler time. Non-Japanese speakers, don’t despair – breaking from the historic setting, it has modern-friendly facilities such as Kashima’s free WiFi for all your translating (and posting) needs.       Kankousakagura Hizennya Sakaguradoori is most famous for having the best of Saga’s sake, one place in particular is the Kankousakagura Hizennya ( 観光酒蔵 肥前屋 ). The beautiful shop’s exterior has a large sake drum. You also see a red bench for visitors to rest after buying their souvenirs or in Japanese, omiyage ( お土産 ). Next to the bench, a helpful sign informs visitors of the history of the place in both English and Japanese.       The entrance has a quirky little treat for fans of Gacha, capsule toy vending machines. At 300 yen each turn, you can win a big bottle of some of their bestselling sake if you’re particularly lucky, but don’t worry, you can at least get some original goods at Hizenya.         The interior has been carefully preserved in the historic style but also plays Showa Period western music and has a delightful little secret in its back room. Its homey vibe matches its energetic and very helpful owner who is always ready to lend a helping hand may it be asking for recommendations or chatting about the area’s history. The shop starts with beautiful displays of the various products that are being sold along with some elegant shochu cups. It then opens up to an open tasting room where one can try the shop’s various sakes and shochus as well as their non-alcoholic “vinegars” which are just as delicious as their alcoholic counterparts. Don’t know how the proper sake drinking etiquette? By the cashier, they offer free informational pamphlets in Japanese and in English on the proper ways of drinking sake.       Behind the tasting room is a photo opportunity area with the giant old sake pots used for mixing and brewing as well as helpful links to the shops’ various social media. Guests are then taken further into the shop to a secret little display which features Showa Period relics such as bottles, wash tubs, books, amongst other things available in Japan at the time. The room next to it is a bar also keeping with the Showa Period theme complete with a small jukebox in the corner.     While the shop’s main lure is its alcohol, families are quite welcome as they also have an assortment of non-alcoholic products such as the non-alcoholic vinegars, cakes, and in their sister location, various snacks both for hot and ready consumption and in nice boxes ready to be brought back as souvenirs.     Be sure to try the Hamaten ( はまてん ), fried breaded balls of fish served with different sauces to suit your taste. They’re a delicious little snack especially when the weather starts turning cold and made fresh in store. During the hot summer days (or adventurous winter ones), there’s the Amazake Sofuto ( 甘酒ソフトクリーム ), a sake-flavoured but non-alcoholic soft serve ice cream which has a delightfully sweet and refreshing flavour served in a cone.     Hizen-Hama may be a small town but it’s definitely a place to stop by and enjoy the historical sites and food. It doesn’t exclude anyone in its offerings making it a family friendly place with a little something for everyone.     Access From JR Hakata Station (Fukuoka prefecture), take Limited Express to Hizen-kashima Station From JR Hizen-Kashima Station, take a local train for one stop or take a taxi (about ¥1200)   Helpful links http://www.saga-tripgenius.com/ http://www.city.saga-kashima.lg.jp/ http://kashima-kankou.com/ http://facebook.com/kankousakagurahizennya/ http://www.hizennya.com    
Tanabe City Shopping Streets   Many streets converge as one - the dynamic central of a historic city Tanabe City Shopping Streets is located nearby the JR Kiitanabe Station of the Kinokuni Line. Within the Tanabe City Shopping Streets, there are 8 main shopping streets, namely the Aoi Doori Shopping Street, the Ekimae Shopping Street, the Kitashinmachi Shopping Street, the Ginza Shopping Street, the Sakaemachi Shopping Street, the Benkeicho Shopping Street, the Minaton-hon Doori Shopping Street and the Miyaji Doori Shopping Street.   Tanabe City is the second largest city of the Wakayama Prefecture, and has a rich history with access to many amazing natural sceneries and hot springs.   Composed of 8 shopping streets, the Tanabe Shopping Streets offers a wide range of shops for travellers. Travellers can find everything they need with comedies from traditional Japanese confectionaries, tasty Umeshu (Plum Sake), trendy fashions to daily necessities. What’s more, travellers can also enjoy the unique townscape of Tanabe City when travelling from one street to another. There are also shrines nearby for travellers to explore if they are interested in Shinto culture of Japan.   Kishuumeshu de Kanpai–A must go duty free Shop for liquor lovers Kishuuumeshu de Kanpai , which means “Let’s toast with Plum Sake from Kishu (another name of Wakayama area)”, is an exclusive shop selling alochol drinks made from plums and apricots. Famous for its unique sweetness and sourness, the plums in Wakayama are considered as one of the best in Japan. Not only does the shop offers a wide selection of plum-and-apricot-made alcohol drinks, they also sell home-made Umeboshi (dried plum) and plum juice as well. Unlike other plums, the plums in Wakayama are not overly sour, and leave a sweet aftertaste after chewing.   The shop also has a duty-free counter, making travellers’ shopping a less of hassle.   At collective duty-free counters 5000japanese yen with tax-excluded is needed.     Hourai Sushi – How about some fresh sushi? Hourai Sushi is a popular sushi restaurant in the area. With the freshest ingredients, the restaurant serves fresh sushi that satisfies travellers’ stomach. Hitohame, a famous seaweed that is used by the restaurant, is a type of huge seaweed that can only be found along Tanabe & Kushimoto coastal in Wakayama.   Seafood lovers will be excited enjoying two of the signature rice bowls of the restaurant,   Soy sauce flavored sliced raw bonito (fish) and salted whitebait rice bowl as well as Cutlass fish rice bowl & Cutlass fish tempura rice bowl (two rice bowls as a set) , both rice bowls are also made with fresh fish caught around Kishu coastal.     Hoshikaya Pottery – Intricate potteries from all over Japan Looking for souvenirs to make your trip more memorable? Then you answer is here. The Hoshikaya Pottery is a pottery shop which sells a wide variety of potteries assembled from all over Japan. From intricately made tea cup to fine crafted wind chime, the shop offers a wide selection of pottery and clay made handicrafts for your perfect souvenirs. The shop also sells colourful bamboo chopsticks, which are much lighter and easier to use. If you are looking for something Japanese to gift or collect, then this is where you need to go.       Tsuji No Mochi –Traditional Japanese confectionaries with over 100 years of history Your trip to Japan would not be completed if you have not tried the famous Wagashi (Traditional Japanese Confectionaries). With over 100 years of history, this shops sells various types of handmade Mochi (glutinous rice balls) and Dangos . Okeshimochi, the most popular Wagashi of the shop, is a type of red-bean-filled chewy rice ball that you will find not enough to have only one. The Okeshimochi has been a traditional Japanese confectionary since the Edo Period of Japan. Interestingly, the shape of the Okeshimochi resembles the hair style of the little boys of that period. Not only the history and the fine taste, the delicate skill of the rice ball’s masters is also one of reasons why the shop has been so popular.   Click here for the official Japanese website of Tanabe City Shopping Street.: http://tanabe-shouren.kiilife.jp/        
Nature in the Hustle-and-Bustle – Muroran At the southwestern part of Hokkaido lies Muroran, a name which originally means “the bottom of a little slope” in the Ainu language. Founded in 1872, Muroran is a busy port city with a population of nearly 100000. Visitors can choose to either take a bus (which takes around 2.5 hours) or use the convenient JR railway system to reach here.     Muroran – A city brimming with beauty Surrounded by beautiful oceans and lush green mountains, Muroran offers its visitors exquisite locations to unwind and enjoy the nature. From the observatory of Cape Etomo built to resemble the bow of a yacht, you can observe the volcanoes on the other side of the sea as well as Daikokujima , an island amidst the blue waters. Cape Etomo is located at the western part of the city and is reachable via the local bus.     Walking along the nature trail beginning from the observatory at Cape Etomo, you can reach the Gin-byobu , or “Silver Paper Screen” in Japanese. It is a huge cliff that appears silver in color in the evening.     The silvery look of Gin-byobu stands in contrast with Kin-byobu , or “Gold Paper Screen”, on the other side of the city. Under the morning sun, this cliff appears golden brown instead.     Located at just a stone throw’s distance away from Kin-byobu is Cape Chikyu, one of the landmarks of Muroran. The breathtaking sceneries of the city as well as those of the Pacific Ocean are absolutely stunning, and it is no wonder that this location is consistently ranked first amongst all sightseeing spots in Hokkaido.   But that’s not all. From the Muroran Port, you can also enjoy a marvelous view of the Hakucho Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Eastern Japan with a length of 1380 meters, or about 4500 feet.   And of course, do not forget the night views of the city! Take one of the sightseeing buses (which operate between June and October), or a cruise (between April and November) to indulge yourself in the signature sceneries of the city at night.       A walk down memory’s lane As one of Hokkaido’s oldest cities, Muroran also offers a wide variety of locations for the history enthusiasts. The former Muroran railway station building, now also serving as the headquarters of the Tourism Association of Muroran, is the oldest wooden construction in all of Hokkaido. Built in the Meiji era, the building houses numerous artifacts related to the history of the station and the railway that runs through the city.       The Bokoi Meshi Bento The Bokoi Meshi is a traditional Japanese bento sold only in selected shops around Muroran, with a limited number every day. Created by the Sekine family, it is the signature Eki-ben , or “Station Bento” of Bokoi Station, yet another of Muroran’s historical locations. At Bokoi Station, you can also purchase many other kinds of souvenirs.     The Sekine family owns a café and souvenir shop at Enrum Marina, located at the Muroran Port. At the museum for seashells on the second floor, you can also look at some of their works as craftsmen specializing in shells.       For more information on sightseeing in Muroran, visit the website below: http://muro-kanko.com/            
A Sake Brewery tour in KIKKOGURA (TANAKASHUZO)   Take a 5 minutes-walk from JR MINAMI OTARU Station where is around a hour from JR SAPPORO station. You may get to the one and onlysake brewery in all over OTARU, the KIKKOGURA of TANAKASHUZO.Settled up in 1899, TANAKASHUZO has passed down its classical brewery skills to the fourth generation. Meanwhile, the KIKKOGURA, which was originally built as the factory where local craftsmen made Sake, has now become more of a multifunctional place where producing, selling and touring are versatile into one. As Japanese culture gained more and more popularity all around the world, taking an amazing tour in knowing one of the national symbols of Japanese culture, the Sake, can be an unforgettable memory in you.       The tour shows you the whole process that how do craftsmen get to the refined finished products. Before bottling, there are several steps to go. First is polishing. In demand of the high quality of the material, TANAKASHUZO insists in using the rice and water bestowed by the great nature of Hokkaido. Since polishing the rice removes the impurities and gives it a smoother taste, all rice used in sake is polished. Then after washing , craftsmen steamed the rice in the steamer. After that comes the critical part of the whole process called Koji, which as well is the secret ingredient to make Sake. Koji bacteria will turn rice starch into sugar, adding a pleasant and sweat aroma to the steamed rice. During this step, steamed rice is separated and laid flat on sheet in a hot and humid room for 2 days.       The next step is called SYUBO. Here in the fermentation tanks craftsmen cultivate the yeast and ferment alcohol. After that they place Koji into SYUBO with steamed rice and water to make it slowly ferment in 30 days. This is called MOROMI. When MOROMI is ready, it is sent to machine to be pressed and filtered. In the end, after the last few steps as storage, bottling and shipment, Sake is finally presented as what it looks like in the store. By the way, in consideration of the increasing number of foreign visitors, all the processes can be seen as videos in an app called “infoGrove” through your mobile phone with Japanese, Chinese as well as English to choose. You don't have to worry about languages.       In the end ofthe tour of Sake brewery, you may also have a taste at 10 different samples of Sake for free in the tasting session. And for the “Foreign Tourist Limited Sake Brewery Walking Tour”, you can also get the original Sake cup as present as well as other fascinating experience to be discovered. (For detailed information, please go visit the Hokkaido Tourist Information Center Sapporo TANUKIKOJI.) It is also a great idea to buy a bottle of Sake as souvenir for your family and friends. Although it is not yet a tax-free shop, the tax-free policy is on the schedule, please ask about it before buying.     For more information please visit the following sites:   田中酒造 TANAKASHUZO http://tanakashuzo.com/ Hokkaido Tourist Information Center Sapporo TANUKIKOJI http://www.tourist-information-center.jp/hokkaido/sapporo/en/
The secret of Usuki is History! What is so cool about Usuki?   Just as the title goes, the secret of Usuki is history. I completely agree with that because the whole town is basically an incredibly well preserved historical site. Usuki is a relatively large city located on the east coast of Oita. The city is known as what is called a “Castle Town” meaning a town was build around the castle of a feudal lord. Usuki is famous for its delicious Soy Sauce and very old Buddha Statues. If you like history, here are some places I recommend you visit.     The Stone Buddha This is THE PLACE for a history lover! The Stone buddhas are a collection of statues that are made from hardened volcano ash. It is said the statues were made in the Heian(794~1185) and Kamakura (1185~1333) era. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly know when or why they were made, but we do know they are old enough to be designated as a national treasure! They are beautifully carved statues that were preserved really well. You can even see some paint left on a few them! Once you are done looking at the statues, you can make your way down to the park were you can view the beautiful Lotus Flowers which are in bloom from Mid July till Mid August. There are also a couple of temples and gorgeous rice fields you can visit as well!       The Famous Soy Sauce In the heart of the city lies a small, yet very classic Japanese soy sauce shop. It is called “Kagiya”and it sells some of the most delicious soy sauce in all of Usuki. Kagiya was built in the year 1600. The building is in the exact spot it used to be and still has a couple of interesting knick-knacks left from the time it was built. The shop focuses on Soy Sauce and Miso. They keep to tradition and make it just like they did back in the 1600’s. Of course the shop has evolved a little bit, to the point where they now   serve food. I recommend you go early! They stop serving after lunch. The shop has   continued to impress us with it’s amazing creations with the use of their products. One of the most popular, most interesting products they’ve managed to create is…. Miso Soft Serve Ice Cream! This was the most amazing ice cream I have ever tasted! As you can tell, it’s not your everyday ice cream. This godly creation is topped with tiny bits of miso crackers, their homemade special miso sauce and miso powder. Kagiya is a place you should visit even if you don’t like ice cream! It has history, amazing food, and a wonderful staff willing to help you out.       Get around Town One way to get around town is by foot. Of course this is a great way to exercise and see the town, but it might take you a while. Don’t worry about that because the Tourist Information Center has set up something just for people like you! If you make your way to the middle of the city, you will find the Tourist Information Center. There, they offer all the information you could possibly need to learn about the history of Usuki. But thats not all…. they also provide free rental bikes!!! Can you believe it? FREE BIKES! They have electric ones that cost a little bit of money. The best part is, you can use it as long as you like (The Tourist Information Center is open from 9AM to 6PM. You have to return it before they close). This is a great way to get around town because you can exercise. It is a incredibly fast type of transportation. It’s also a ton of fun to bike around a city deeply rooted in rich culture and unique history. There is one more important thing I want to mention. Usuki is a incredibly easy city to access! There are several trains you can take to Usuki for a reasonable price. You can take the bullet train from Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka to the northern part of Kyushu. There, you transfer to   a train called “Sonic” and ride into Oita City while enjoying the beauty of the countryside. Once you arrive in the city, you can take a train that goes straight to Usuki. It is a very enjoyable ride! If you are not much of a train person, you can take a plane from Tokyo to Oita. A bus takes you straight from the airport to the city. Once you’re there, you can take a bus straight to Usuki. Because Usuki is so beautifully preserved, there are many historic sites you can visit during your bicycle journey. It’s the perfect way to travel! Usuki has many old buildings that are kept in good shape, delicious food and a beautiful townscape that you can explore to your hearts content with a rental bicycle. If you plan on coming to Oita, you should defiantly check out Usuki during your stay.   Usuki City official tourist web site (ENG) http://www.usuki-kanko.com/        
Hakodate Hakodate is a city and port located in Oshima Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. It was one of the first cities whose ports were opened to foreign trade in 1854, as a result of Convention of Kanagawa, and used to be the most important port in northern Japan. With the great sea sceneries and tasty food, Hakodate holds its hospitality for visitors from all over the world.     Here are some must-visit spots in Hakodate. Tombolo, settled up in the year 2010, is a homemade natural yeast bakery  located in the middle of the slope of Mt. H akodate. Every morning, owner prepares fresh bread made up of wheel, salt and water which are bestowed by the great land of Hokkaido to meet up friends from all over the world. Day after day, the toil is hard but full of happiness. After times of attempts, the return to simplicity became his greatest pursuit. In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, there is a term called the Once-in- a-lifetime encounter which tells people to treasure every meeting, for it will never recur. And as to the owner, the Once-in- a-lifetime encounter with guests is his greatest joy.     Hishii ( ひし伊 ) was first built as a warehouse in 1905. The tea salon Hishii and antique Hishii elegance, which reaches a great balance between Western culture and Japanese culture, is now running as two stores at the same time. Step into the right hand shop, as if entering an old store in Taisho period of Japan. The room is full of traditional handicrafts and Japanese kimono. If you are obsessed with Japanese culture, it is such a paradise that you must not miss. After choosing the one and only object that you like, enter the tea room on the left hand to enjoy the cozy afternoon time. It gives you a fantastic atmosphere of old Europe while looking at the shop assistant making matcha and tasted the hand-made delicious refreshments.       After it gets dark, between the two endless stretches of coastline, there lies a city full of shining lights, like stars in our galaxy. Mt. Hakodate is the best place to enjoy the exotic view of the city. Take a three-minute trip by ropeway up the hill, and feel the colorful heartbeats of Hakodate all year round. In addition, the souvenir shop on top of Mt. Hakodate provides duty-free shopping for foreign travelers. Take your time and enjoy.     Dear friends, why not come to this lovable city and explore more amazing stuffs while you are in Hakodate?     For further information, please check out the following links: Tombolo ( Japanese only ) http://tombolo.jpn.org/ Hishii http://hishii.info/   Mt.HAKODATE ROPEWAY http://334.co.jp/      
Neburinagashikan - Akita Akita prefecture, from the Tohoku region has been separated from central Japan for a very long time because of its mountain ranges, this led Akita to develop certain specific customs which have been taught from generation to generation until today. This time we visited the museum of folklore entertainment of Akita, known in Japanese also as the “Neburinagashikan”, to learn about the Kanto-matsuri.       Inside the museum Before entering the museum, one can already see the gigantic 2 floors high pole with lights on the front window, this is called a “Kanto” in Japanese. After entering the museum there is a big hall to the right, where various Akita festivals are exposed with their respective explanations and models. There is also a constant screening of videos about each of the main festivals. The hall has an open space in the middle such that visitors can try balancing one of the “kanto” with help from the staff.         The kanto training   The staff kindly showed us the most basic technique for balancing the “kanto” starting with the smallest size which small kids start training with. The first and most important step is to balance it on the palm of the hand without applying force and instead moving around walking. Even the smallest “kanto” weights 5 kilograms, which was enough to make me almost run around the hall trying to balance it. The staff also performed for us a bit with skills such as balancing it on top of the forehead. Even inside the hall without wind and using the smallest size “kanto” was already hard. I wonder how much one must train to be able to balance the 50 kilograms, 12-meter-high “kanto” while walking against the wind and showing techniques such as carrying it on top of the forehead.       Other folklore   Although the main reason of our visit was to experience balancing the “kanto”, the museum has an exhibition about other folk entertainment such as “Akita-manzai” on the second floor. The third floor has a whiteboard where visitors can leave a message as well as a “taiko” drum which we gladly tried playing.       Access and price   Only 100 yen for entering the museum! From Akita station west exit (By bus): Take ChuoKotsu Shogunno line ( 将軍野線 ) to Torimachi( 通町 ) (Takes around 4 min) A 1 minute walk from Torimachi     Click here for the Neburinagashikan home page. http://www.city.akita.akita.jp/ciTy/ed/ak/fm/default.htm      
Sabae, Fukui Prefecture   Fukui Sabae – Mecca of glasses   The city of Sabae, despite being a lesser known destination, is situated in Fukui prefecture, a region steeped in the production of traditional Japanese craft such as textiles, lacquerware, pottery and Japanese washi paper. Above all, it prides itself as a sacred place for eyeglasses. With its overwhelmingly huge share of 95% in the manufacturing of MADE in Japan eyeglass frames, eyeglasses have come to be a defining feature for the city’s image. In various locations around the townscape, there are eyeglass motifs aplenty. Sabae holds an esteemed reputation in eyeglasses. This makes uncovering its gems all the more fun.         Eishindo – Fukui sweets and novelty ice cream   Located in the Honmachi-district adjacent to JR Sabae Station is Eishindo, a rustic confectionery shop, dedicated to creating local flavours and simply gratifying people who eat them. While there is a wide selection of cakes and many other individually wrapped Japanese and Western confectionaries, what stands out is the hand-made novelty ice cream exclusive to this shop. Like other localities in Japan, inventing and incorporating local flavours into ice cream was also carried out at Eishindo. The Grated Daikon (Radish) Soba flavour – Frozen grated radish atop a rich soba-flavoured ice cream, refreshingly sweet. The Sauce Katsu-don (Japanese cutlet rice) flavour – Topped off with breadcrumbs, the base ice cream is mildly reminiscent of the sweet sauce. What might have been a distasteful mismatch turn out to be quite delectable.         Sushi restaurant Isami-zushi – Exquisite cuisine with local hospitality A visit to Sabae would be incomplete without having a taste of Echizen crab, a well-known winter delicacy of neighbouring town Echizen. The only place to savour Echizen crab in Sabae is Isami-zushi, a sushi restaurant established for more than 90 years, currently run by 3 rd generation owner Sasaki. Isami-zushi can be reached from JR Sabae Station in just a 5 minutes’ walk. It is a designated shop for genuine Echizen crab hauled up off the Echizen coast by the Echizen Fisheries Association. Isami-zushi serves a crab dish, prepared by boiling, known as sekogani. Female crabs costs from about 2,000 to 5,000 yen while male crabs are significantly more expensive. The price ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 yen, depending on the size. With prior reservation, you can also witness the entire preparation process of the crab carried out by Sasaki-san himself.         Glasses Museum (Megane Museum) – A testimony of Japan’s eyewear craftmanship excellence   Visitors seeking to find out more the rich history of eyeglasses would definitely be fascinated at the exhibition of antiquated eyeglasses here at the Megane Museum. The changes in design over time, from round eyeglasses, to eyeglasses that are secured with strings and eyeglasses that grips onto the temples of the forehead, dubbed the “Zutsuosae-megane”, are displayed at the Megane Museum with detailed explanation by a guide. There is also a section which guides visitors step by step through the incredibly labour-intensive manufacturing processes in the past.   One reason the glasses industry began to flourish in Fukui is that snowy winters and the agricultural economy meant that farmers can improve their livelihood with glasses craftmanship. It was in Fukui where the world’s first light and durable Titanium frame was developed in 1983.   There is also an in-house glasses shop, the Glass Gallery 291, which has a branch in Minami Aoyama, Tokyo. There are about 3000 pairs of glasses displayed for sale, all independently developed and manufactured by approximately 45 companies, of which there are 130 over brands.   It is possible for visitors to visit and buy a frame of their preference at this museum, then have the lenses fitted at their nearby optician. This might be an option for keen foreign buyers without sufficient Japanese language proficiency.       Access Sabae is located near the Sea of Japan.   To get there from Tokyo, take a Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train to Maibara, and transfer to a limited express train. It takes about 3 hours 30 minutes in total. From Osaka, a limited express train “Thunderbird” will take you in about 3 hours.     For further information, please refer to the following websites.   Megane Museum Official Website (English Available)   https://www.megane.gr.jp/museum/   Fukui Sweets Eishindo (Japanese only)   http://www.eishindo.jp/   Sushi Shop Isami-zushi (Japanese only)   http://osushi.jp/      
Kawaramachi, Gifu City Kawaramachi – one of the few standing districts of Oda Nobunaga’s former castle town Located alongside the shores of Nagara River, the district town of Kawaramachi was a paradise for all merchants, owing its prosperity to the open-trade policy, known as Rakuichi Rakuza , enacted by Warring States General Nobunaga Oda. It is now the base of the Gifu City Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat Office and the Boarding Platform. During the summer months, visitors can have a peek at the living testimony of traditional Ukai (cormorant fishing) culture that began 1300 years ago, on board a sightseeing boat. The fishermen who fish using u (cormorant birds) and Kagari-bi (flames) in the night were conferred the official title of Usho (Cormorant Fishing Master) by Nobunaga Oda.         Gifu City Cormorant Fishing Viewing Boat Shipyard -   a rare opportunity to observe the work-in-progress of boat craftmanship Only one sightseeing boat for watching Ukai is constructed by the hand of a skilled boat craftsman each year at this viewing boat shipyard, a short walk away from the boarding platform. This is where you can discover more about the history of Ukai fishing culture, Ukai boat craftsmanship and the steps involved in the construction of a sightseeing boat. Very few boats nowadays are built in the way of traditional craftsmanship. It is still worth a stop-over!           Kawaramachi Izumiya – a restaurant dedicated to serving scrumptious Ayu (sweetfish) cuisine   Designated as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, Ayu, which inhabits the pristine waters of the Nagara River System is a vital part of the region’s livelihood and food culture. One place to experience Ayu cuisine at its finest is none other than Kawaramachi Izumiya. The Ayu Ramen Gozen is a highly appraised lunch set that comes with an exquisite appetiser dish, consisting of funazushi, Ayu rillete, and Italian Grissini baked with Ayu bones. The highlight of this meal is an extraordinary bowl of Ramen in a refreshingly savoury Ayu broth topped with a delicious charcoal-grilled Ayu which can be eaten whole (including the bones). At Izumiya, there are also many Ayu-related food products that one can buy home should one come to fancy this local specialty.       Ryokusuian Kawaramachi – a petite Wagashi shop with Gifu’s iconic Ayugashi   Just like Kyoto is known for its Yatsuhashi, Gifu also has a Wagashi (Japanese sweets) to call its own – the Ayugashi. With its decent selection of dessert treats , Ryokusuian makes a perfect respite from being out and about exploring Kawaramachi. What stands out is Ayugashi: a castella (sponge cake) in the adorable shape of an Ayu with sweet filling in a few flavours such as strawberry and persimmon.           Guesthouse Kiten –   A cosy place of stay close to the heart of Gifu’s cultural district Upon arriving at Guesthouse Kiten, you will be welcomed by the vibes of Japanese modern aesthetics and what’s fascinating is that the interior is designed entirely by the good-humoured owner and his guest volunteers. At Kiten, apart from comfort, it is also where travellers of different backgrounds cross paths and share an intimate social moment, only for a reasonable price starting at 3,500 yen (dormitory bed).       Access to Kawaramachi (provided by Gifu Convention and Visitors Bureau) Take one of the following buses at JR Gifu Station or Meitetsu Gifu Station to “Nagara Bridge”. (takes 15 min, 210 yen/one way)   • Gifu Bus “N80 Bound for Takatomi”   • Other Gifu Bus numbered “N32” to “N86” bound for Gifu Park /Takatomi direction   • “City Loop-line” Counterclockwise direction Get off and walk 5 minutes.   For official information, please refer to this website: Gifu Convention and Visitors Bureau https://www.gifucvb.or.jp/en/01_sightseeing/01_11.html      
Takasaki City and Daruma Dolls Takasaki – city which produces the most Daruma dolls in Japan    While Takasaki city is famous for sight-seeing spots like the 41.8m tall Kannon statue and Lake Haruna, it is also the largest producer of Daruma dolls in Japan. Painted with symbols of longevity - cranes for the eyebrows and tortoises for the mouth and beard - Daruma dolls are considered to bring good luck. One makes a wish when painting the left eye and when the wish is granted, the right eye is painted in. Takasaki Daruma has a long history of 200 years. It first started out on a farm in Toyooka village and it spread to the neighboring Yawata areas. Arriving at Takasaki station, you can already see the prominence of the dolls in this area.             Daimonya – Traditional Daruma Studio  Daimonya, one of the traditional Daruma studios in Takasaki is located at Gunma-Yawata, two stops down the Shinetsu Main Line from Takasaki station. It is a 10-minute walk from Gunma-Yawata station. There, Sumikazu Nakata, a traditional craftsman certified by Gunma Prefecture, and his fellow staff produce various Daruma for all kinds of occasions ranging from the upcoming Japanese general elections to the New Year. Daruma dolls were first made by sticking paper strips to a wooden mold but now, it is produced by machines. The painting however, is done by hand. The master has been painting Daruma dolls of various sizes ranging from 5cm to 74cm, for over 40 years. Daimonya not only produces Daruma dolls in the traditional red color, it produces dolls of various colors and different shapes, including an owl-shaped doll and dolls as security cameras.           Daruma Painting Workshop - Paint your very own Daruma and make a wish  Although you can purchase Daruma dolls at many souvenir shops, why not paint your very own unique Daruma? At Daimonya, you can experience Daruma painting and go on a tour of the studio. Not to fret if you’re a beginner, Master Nakata will guide you along the way.   When I went for the workshop, the master asked, “Are you painting a Daruma as a toy or a Daruma for a wish?” While I did not have a wish in mind, I did not want my Daruma to just be a toy. In reply, he said, “Who are you making it for?” Daruma painting is not something done half-heartedly. One paints it with care and focus. I was told to compare the various Daruma and think of what kind of Daruma face I would like. With my non-existent painting skills, the result ended up quite different from what I wanted.   Sensing my frustration, the master came up to me and explained, “Skill-wise, of course there would be a difference. I have to paint Daruma so that they would be bought, but you, your Daruma is for yourself so whether it is good or bad, you painted it with your heart and it’s your own unique doll, so treasure it.” While my Daruma can never measure up to the master’s, there wasn’t any need to compare in the first place.     WEB: https://www.daimonya.jp/e-top/ https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=51 https://en.japantravel.com/gunma/daruma-no-furusato-daimonya/7137   Other Places of Interest in Gunma: Kannon statue https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=85 Lake Haruna https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=25      
Wajima Morning Market, Noto Peninsula Wajima Asaichi (Wajima Morning Market) – A bustling local morning market in a quiet port city of Wajima   Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture, is a port city facing the Sea of Japan, situated on the Noto Peninsula. It is famed for its durable and exquisitely gorgeous lacquerware and is also home to one of Japan’s three largest morning markets, whose origin dates back more than a thousand years ago. As its name suggests, the market is an exclusively morning affair from around eight till noon. In the morning, the street is lively with locals examining various seafood and fermented foods while amused tourists stream by, browsing through lacquerware shops. Some of the products as expected, gives off the expression as being too luxurious for the average tourist. By early afternoon, the crowd disperses and the bustle of the market fades off. Such a transformation can be indeed quite surprising.         New Furukawa – a homely local bakery stall using Noto’s fresh ingredients           What seems to be an inconspicuous temporary street stall found by turning at the corner of the north-western end of the Wajima Asaichi street is a heart-warming local bakery, perfect for satiating a hungry stomach on an early morning walk. The best-selling Ika no Shiokara-pan, is made with dedication to bring out the flavours of sweetness and umami characteristic to Wajima. The pinkish salted squid, made using sea salt from Suzu peeks out through the top is matched excellently with hot mashed potato, itself unseasoned, and lightly topped off with mayonnaise. Judging by its ordinary-looking appearance can be deceiving, for its fillings packs a savoury punch.       Ryoshinomise (Fisherman’s Shop) Kodawari -   Eat seafood at its freshest with generous servings! Located on the other end of the Wajima Asaichi street, beside a nushiya (Wajima lacquering house), is a local restaurant operated by a family of fishermen. The restaurant uses Wajima lacquerware to serve their seafood dishes. The Ryoshinokaisen-don (Fishermen’s Seafood Rice Bowl), a member of the Noto-don classification, is their signature dish. At the cost of 2,000 yen, you can get a bowl of vinegared rice topped with voluminous fresh and scrumptious seafood chosen from the catch of the day obtained directly from Wajima Port. You will never know what you might get until you ask. Seafood-lovers would be mesmerised with the generous portions, the thickness of each cut of sashimi.           Nuritaro – Have a hand in Wajima lacquering at this nushiya!   Wajima lacquering is a highly-esteemed traditional Japanese craft of applying lacquer onto various wares. It is long-lasting and is adorned with exquisite designs. With such high quality, naturally comes a hefty price tag. Nushitaro offers an hour and a half workshop session for any visitor who wishes to have a shot at makie , a type of ornamental design of Japanese lacquer by sprinkling coloured metal powders. According to the master of this house, 10 grams of metal powder costs about 2,500yen while pure gold is twenty times as expensive as the coloured ones. The master is amicable and makes amusing conversations while giving thorough guidance. He is no stranger to foreign patrons and even celebrities secretly patronise the shop. Patrons can select from a range of lacquerware starting from 1,300 yen (inclusive of workshop participation fee) for chopsticks and up to 15,000 yen for other products such as plates, spoons, hairpiece, tea cups, bowls and wine glasses. While the standard designs for makie depict the beauties of nature, the guests are encouraged to draw to their own liking.       For further information, please refer to the following websites.   Wajima Morning Market Association Official Website (Japanese only)   http://asaichi.info/   The Urushi Amusement Nuritaro in WAJIMA (Japanese only)   http://nuritaro.com/      
Yamadera  Away from the hustle and bustle of the two major cities it lies between, Yamagata and Sendai, Yamadera offers a spiritually refreshing experience to visitors. Although located in the midst of dense forest and mountainous country, it is easily accessible by train, and the base of the site is just a 5-minute walk from the station.       Fuel up with fresh soba noodles   En route from the station you will pass numerous shops selling local souvenirs and quick bites to eat. For lunch there is essentially only one dish – the local specialty, soba (buckwheat noodles). Each restaurant is a soba restaurant, so you may be fine to visit any of the options and see what particular style they have to offer. After a tip from a local, we visited Takifudou. If coming from the station, after crossing the red bridge over the river, it’s a short walk in the opposite direction to the entrance to Yamadera. We tried the soba and tempura set, “tenzaru”, featuring luxurious fresh noodles and a delicate tempura set of seasonal vegetables and prawns. Depending on when you arrive, you may prefer to fill up for some much-needed energy before setting off for the mountain, or reward yourself after the climb and descent, as there are no further places to eat once you pass the toll gate and start the climb.       Rise above the mountaintops   Ascending the 1000 stone steps, you can leave your earthly troubles and desires behind you at ground level, and simply enjoy the journey. The ascent wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the latest video games, indeed it’s hard to believe such a treasure really exists. This other-worldly feel is exaggerated by the numerous stone lanterns and statues you will pass on your way, surrounded by the towering beech trees. Depending on the season, the forest may be completely calm, or filled with the lively sounds of insects. The famous poet Matsuo Basho, who visited in the late 1600s, wrote the following haiku about his time there, “Silence, and penetrating into the rocks — the cry of the cicada”. Indeed, visitors can see a statue of Matsuo Basho and a rock inscribed with this poem at the base of the mountain at the lower temple complex. As you approach the upper levels, the dense forest finally gives away, and you are rewarded for your climbing efforts with a fantastic view of the valley below. If you progress along the mountainside you will eventually reach a wooden hut overhanging the steps below. This is the highest accessible point and offers a panoramic view. If you head back down slightly and venture further back into the mountain, there are more temples to be found, and you may catch a glimpse of a huge, golden Buddha statue sitting inside one of the temples.         Experience the ways of the Tendai Sect   There are many activities you can try relating to priestly activities, such as making a small offering and praying at the temples, copying sutras by hand on paper (found inside one of the temples at the base, simply take off your shoes and head inside). At the upper complex you can also find a unique method of praying, by rotating a large set of beads. On the climb up to the top of the mountain, you will pass a cliff wall glittering with the silver shine of one yen coins – it is more difficult than it looks to throw or place your coin on the cliff edge and having it stay there,! All in all, after a day spent wandering and walking at Yamadera, you might feel physically exhausted in the best sense – the refreshment of having been outside in nature, and having had a feast for the stomach, senses and soul.     Access Take the JR Senzan Line from Sendai station to Yamadera station (50min) or from Yamagata station (20min)      
Onomichi    Onomichi is a small town in the Seto Naikai, Hiroshima. Since ancient times to the present, there is the port of goods distribution of the town, there is also called "Seto area crossroads". On the other hands, the most fascinating place of Onomichi is that its view of the mountains and the sea, but for many foreign tourists here may be a very strange place, but there are many scenes of movies and animation shot at Onomichi before.     Onomichi Hondori Shopping Street    From the Onomichi Station along the coastline, there is a 1.2km long shopping street “Onomichi Hondori Shopping Street”. In this shopping street, there is a wide variety of local specialty foods and goods, the shop of special little decoration, coffee shop, as well as Onomichi's the most famous things “canvas”. What's more, all of the stores on this street are antique building, really full of nostalgic atmosphere. Strolling through here will be very comfortable and relaxing!!     Neko no Hosomichi (the narrow path of cats)   Walking along the direction of the Daiho mountain, there is a well-known path called "Neko no Hosomichi". Neko no Hosomichi is a hipster, young upslope trail leading to the Senko-ji (Senko temple). There are a lots of art galleries, art studios, and cafes. In addition to works of art and hipster stores as well as cafes, as its name implies, "Neko no Hosomichi" of course having many cats leisurely walking, lying and sunbathing. If you are a cat aficionado, you definitely can't miss here!!     Top of Daiho Mountain (Senko temple)    The end of the “Neko no Hosomichi” is the top of the Daiho Mountain. There are one of the most famous temple in Onomichi called “Senko-ji (Senko temple)”. From the top of the mountain, we can not only overlook the very beautiful scenery of the whole Seto Naikai, but also see the simplified and honest architectural style of Onomichi City.   Onomichi is really a tranquil place, as well as a place suitable for relaxation and leisurely walking. Once you have the chance, be sure to come here, having a walk and take life easy.       Setouchi Minato no Yado photo:Tetsuya Ito / by courtesy of DISCOVERLINK Setouchi     At last, I would like to introduce the “Setouchi Minato no Yado” which are regenerated an old private house consisting of two buildings. The “Shimazui Manor” is built in the early Showa and the mansion’s architecture has a Western influence. The “Izumo House” is a trading stronghold of the official of Izumo Matsudaira in the Edo period. These two historical buildings have been renovated and are provided as an accommodation facility, now. The outward appearance has left the appearance of the time, living inside as if back to the construction year, and you can savor and enjoy leisurely. Living and staying in these spaces seem like leaving the era, and we just want to provide a space where you can feel Yado and Japanese culture deeply.   Ononavi : http://www.ononavi.com/cn/        
A Toast to Your Hokkaido Trip!   Just a stone’s throw away from the Minami-Otaru train station lies an enormous building made   of stone and wood – one of the most historical in the region, in fact. In contrast to most other   buildings of its kind, one could expect the fragrance of Japanese sake (or rice wine) all year   round as he or she draws closer to the great monument. It is the Tanaka Sake Brewery   Kikkokura, maker of the famed rice wine founded by Ichitarou Tanaka in the Meiji Era (1899).       Upon entering the Brewery, one can sign up for a guided tour around the building. The tour is   free of charge, and is available all year round. (You can also book a special paid tour from Hokkaido Tourist Information Center Sapporo Tanuki-Koji.) It takes roughly 15 to 30 minutes, between 9 am   to 5:30 pm every day. The tour is guided by the friendly staff at the facility, who is able to explain   the process of making Japanese sake in either Japanese or English.       The major highlight of the guided tour is of course, to learn about the process of making Japanese sake . Shown in the photographs are some of the equipment that Tanaka Sake Brewery uses to make its sake . Tanaka Sake Brewery actually produces its wine all year round, so one might even be able to spot some of the workers diligently operating the equipment!       After the guided tour, don’t forget to sample some of the products available at the shop! Tanaka Sake Brewery uses only the freshest Hokkaido-produced rice and the water of Mt. Tengu to make its wine, thus one can be sure to experience the best of Hokkaido with every sip.       Non-alcoholic drinks preferred? Fret not, as Tanaka Sake Brewery also sells the locally-produced black bean tea, made from Hokkaido-produced black beans. Samples are available at the shop.       The brewery’s signature product is the Takaragawa , pictured above. The brewery also has a wide range of other products, from umeshu (plum wines), to amazake (sweet wines). There’s also different rice wines crafted specifically for different seasons of the year.     If you need further information of Tanake Sake Brewery Kikkokura, do check out the links below: http://tanakashuzo.com/ (Japanese page) http://tanakashuzo.com/ch/ (Simplified Chinese)   http://www.japansake.or.jp/tourism/contents/en/hokkaido/4.html        
Kurokawa Onsen: Kumamoto’s Rejuvenating Resort Nestled on a slope in the Aso province lies a wonderful little escape from the challenges of city living, Kurokawa Onsen. The Kurokawa Onsen is a welcome reprieve from the grind of the city life and is located around three hours away from Kumamoto City by bus.     There are several different ways to get to the onsen, where can only be reached by either a taxi (which can get very expensive), a car, or by bus. Coming from Kumamoto City, there is only one bus which leaves the Kumamoto Traffic Center (the Kumamoto Kotsu Center) at 8:16 in the morning ( 2017 time table ) that goes to the hot springs. However, one can also take a train until the Higo-Ozu station then take a bus to the hot springs.       The Kurokawa Onsen is made up of different ryokans or Japanese inns that each have their own attached hot springs. The hot springs have different kinds of water some with calcium, some sulfur, others just generally more acidic or basic. Their website provides a lot of very useful information about the different hot springs that they have including when certain hot springs are closed for cleaning.       One of the ryokans available is the Wakaba Ryokan which is located near the entrance of Kurokawa Onsen from the highway. Most of hosts at this ryokan are foreigners so they have an English-speaking staff member but all the onsens in the area have at least one English-speaking staff member. Wakaba also has a Chinese speaking staff member on hand if needed. They handle a lot of tourists throughout the year and is often fully booked even during the off-season so booking quickly is a must.       Wakaba is one of the most traditional looking ryokans of the area with Japanese style rooms and two Japanese style fireplaces. If one is looking for a nice mix of Western and Japanese styled rooms, Wakaba also offers two rooms with beds but also a little Japanese style tea table to the side and an en suite shower and toilet. The Japanese style room only have an en suite toilet.       he Japanese rooms have futons on tatami floors for sleeping which truly immerses one in the Japanese ryokan experience.   The ryokan treats its guests to true Japanese hospitality starting from when you open their door.       The staff greets you and offers to take your shoes off as you can put on   your provided slippers which you wear everywhere inside except for inside your room. They then offer to take your luggage up while you sip hot tea by the lit traditional Japanese fireplace. If you’ve opted to reserve a breakfast and/or dinner in advance, one of the members will ask your preference for dinner and/or breakfast time as well as if you would like to reserve a bath.     After, the staff will escort you to your room which has been beautifully set up. They will show you the available facilities in your room and leave you with your complimentary green tea and wagashi, a traditional tea snack. You can change into yukata following the easy instruction attached. If you have trouble with wearing it, you can call a staff member to help you dress.         The little village-like resort has a wonderful Japanese charm to it, arranged almost in a fairytale like manner. The river divides the resort between some of the ryokan and the main village. The beautiful river is lit up with lights during the winter season and in the summer months, is a listening point for Japanese frog songs.         There are many shops for tourists to check out and nearly all can process your tax-free transactions. Shops range from specialty stores like honey or souvenir food shops where you can try traditional Japanese snacks such as senbei, a traditional Japanese rice cracker or some dorayaki which is a sweet pancake-like cake with red bean paste in the center.       The restaurants are dotted along the street and sell traditional Japanese food including some of the prefecture’s specialties – dago jiru, a dumpling soup with vegetables and chicken, pork cutlets from black pig, horse meat, among others. The meals are not too expensive and some even serve dessert that is made from locally produced milk in Aso which is one of the region’s most famous products. However, if you are missing more western style food, there’s a café on Sakura street, above the main street that serves hamburgers and hotdogs. For the adventurous, there is the “Kappo Zake” Bar Hopping pass (available only to those who are 20 years old and above – Japan’s legal drinking age) which one can get from any ryokan reception for around 1500 yen. You can try a cup of sake or shochu and a Japanese style bar snack at up to three of the participating ryokans in Kurokawa from 3 PM to 9 PM.     Lastly and most importantly, the onsens in the Kurokawa Onsen resort have great variety, value, and overall service. They have onsens with different kinds of waters; sulfuric springs, mildly acidic springs, mildly alkaline springs, hydrogen carbonate springs, chloride springs, sulfate springs, ferruginous springs, and stronger acidic springs. Each of the springs have different properties which have skin and health benefits. For first time onsen users, the staff at the onsenare happy to help with instructions or local bathing etiquette. It is important to note that those with tattoos should check in with the staff before joining a public onsen. There are also private onsens if public baths sound unappealing which are around a thousand yen for an hour.   For maximum relaxation, there is the Onsen-Hopping Pass at only 1300 yen per person for up to three different hot springs baths between 8:30 AM to 9 PM. There is an English Onsen-Hopping Guide available.   Overall, Kurokawa has a serene traditional beauty in its resort and the surrounding area which is lined with trees. One of the best weekend getaways easily accessible from Fukuoka or Kumamoto and definitely one of the places you can experience true Japanese hospitality and traditions.     Helpful Links http://www.kurokawaonsen.or.jp/eng_new/      
Historic YAKAGE Yakage Town - a town at once cozy and verdant, modern and rich with history.   Yakage--a scenic town devoted to upholding the festive tradition of Edo Period Japan within the comforts of modernity. Yakage is the quaint home of 14,000 residents along the Oda River, southwest of Okayama. Here, residents and tourists alike can enjoy the town’s historical charm, warm hospitality, and hand-made confections. All year round, Yakage’s verdant landscape flourishes with beautiful seasonal flowers and yields delicious farm-fresh produce. The town celebrates a variety of festivals all year round, such as the Nagashibina festival in March and Daimyo Gyoretsu festival in November.       Honjin Inn - a rare opportunity to tour an Edo period monument   During the Edo Period, Yakage was a popular resting stop for daimyo samurai making their way to present-day Tokyo. The daimyo lord and his guests of honor were permitted to stay in the officially appointed Honjin Inn, while samurai warriors and servants of the lord stayed in a nearby subsidiary inn called the Waki-Honjin. Today, both inns are nationally registered as Important Cultural Properties of Japan, and many visitors come to admire their historical significance and beautifully maintained architecture.         Daimyo Gyoretsu - a fantastic, large-scale remaking of samurai history   Since 1976, the Daimyo Gyoretsu has been the biggest festival in Yakage. A celebration of the Edo Period “Sankin Koutai” samurai procession, the tradition attracts more than 30,000 spectators each year. Nearly 80 participants adorn themselves in the costumes of the Edo period, playing the roles of the Daimyo, servants, princess, and more. As each role parades through the streets, spectators can also observe gun performances and relay races. Held on the second Sunday of November, the Daimyo Gyoretsu is a unique and memorable sight to behold, one that is sure to take you back in time.             Shotengai - a shopping street full of sweet stores, restaurants, and historical sights All along the Shotengai, you are free to simply wander--in and out of friendly cafés, souvenir shops, and cultural monuments. Maybe you will find yourself lodging at the Yakage-Ya Inn and Suites, or renting a walking bicycle at the Yakage Machiya Koryukan, or climbing the tower of the nearby Yakage art museum. On the second Sunday of every month, you may stumble upon the morning market, where local entrepreneurs present all sorts of wares, ranging from fresh fruits to fair-trade African fabrics. Whatever you decide, don’t miss on tasting the local specialties, such as the yubeshi (a sweet made with the yuzu citrus), and the hakka mint, which was thought to be extinct 40 years ago...that is, until it was rediscovered and cultivated to prosperity in Yakage!       Fruitopia - seasonal fruit picking, fresh from the source   No matter the season, there’s always fresh produce to pick or buy at Fruitopia. While Okayama is famous for its grapes and peaches, Fruitopia’s professional growers insist that their pears, oranges, and in-season vegetables are also well worth a taste. Personal Udon-noodle making courses are also available. Please book fruit picking in advance if you would like to experience some of Okayama’s finest produce!     Fruits picking booking information in Yakage : Fruitopia 3974-20 Higashiminari, Yakage-Cho, Oda-gun, Okayama       Beer garden - enjoy a lively summer night out   As the sun sets, the Shotengai comes to life with delicious Japanese street food, lively music, and good beer. What else could we want? Local friends, families, and tourists all come together to relax and unwind in one another’s company. This event occurs from 6-9 pm every Saturday in the summer months.       Yakage-Ya Inn and Suites - lodging with comfort, aesthetics, and a peaceful onsen Ideally located in the historical district, the Yakage-Ya Inn and Suites has been renovated from a 200-year-old house, with each room uniquely decorated in a mix of traditional Japanese and contemporary Western styles. The inn offers a kimono rental service, restaurant meals, and relaxing hot spring baths. Surrounded by the natural beauty of Yakage, a long soak in the natural onsen will nourish your mind and body.       Transportation to Yakage   Access by Train From Osaka ( 大阪 ) After taking the Shinkansen from Osaka to the JR Okayama ( 岡山 ) Station, transfer to the JR Hakubi Line ( 伯備線 ). On this line, get off at Kiyone ( 清音 ) to transfer to Ibara-Line ( 井原線 ), which will stop at Yakage ( 矢掛 ). Travel time from Okayama to Yakage is approximately 1 hour.   From Hiroshima (広島) Take the Shinkansen KODAMA ( こだま ) to Fukuyama ( 福山 ), then take the JR Fukuen-Line ( 福塩線 ) to Kannabe ( 神辺 ). At Kannabe, transfer to the Ibara-Line train, which will stop at Yakage.   Alternatively, after getting to Fukuyama station, take the JR Sanyo-Line to Kasaoka ( 笠岡 ). At Kasaoka station, take a bus to Yakage. Bus travel time from Kasaoka to Yakage is approximately 40 minutes.     Access by Bus: From Kasaoka The only bus service towards Yakage leaves from JR Kasaoka station, run by Ikasa bus company. The bus leaves from bus stop No. 1, costs 740 yen, and takes about 40 minutes to reach Yakage.     Yakage city web: https://www.yakage-kanko.net/    
Takayama Old Town Introduction Takayama – A mountain town that embraces tradition and hospitality     Takayama is a city located in the northern part of Gifu prefecture in Hokuriku area. The city can be reached easily from Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya using JR Railways. From Tokyo and Osaka, use the Shinkansen to Nagoya and transfer to the “Wide View Hida” Limited Express. In total it is about 4h from Tokyo, 3h from Osaka and 2h from Nagoya.   There are also bus services from these and also from smaller cities.   Surrounded by mountains and with a great part of the city still maintaining its traditional cityscape and charm, Takayama is the ideal place to relax from Japan’s busy big cities. Also, all four seasons can be enjoyed in Takayama, with cherry blossom in late spring, fireworks and traditional dances in summer, red maple foliage in autumn and much snow in winter. Additionally, in spring and autumn, Takayama Festival that has recently been added to the UNESCO world heritage counts as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan.      A day in Takayama – an example course   Morning Market and Takayama Jinya. A great place to start your journey through Takayama is the Jinya Mae Morning Market where you can buy local products including fruits, pickles, Takayama Miso, Sarubobo (handmade good luck charms in monkey shape) and more. Many of the products are freshly made and organic. Right next to the Morning Market is the Takayama Jinya which was the office used by local deputy and administrator. If you are interested in the Edo period (1600-1868), this building is highly recommended, since you can have a close look at the architecture and usage of a government building. From here, you can cross the Nakabashi Bridge, from where to both sides you have a great view over the Miyagawa River. It is also an ideal spot for taking pictures of the beautiful scenery.       Walk along the river and Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine Across the bridge, you now have reached the old town of Takayama. This part fascinates with several streets consisting entirely of traditional wooden structure houses. Many stores and restaurants invite to take your time and discover Takayamas diversity, but why don’t you first walk once through the entire street? These streets are busy with tourists throughout the year, so if you would like to find a tranquil spot not far from the Sanmachi, the old town, Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine is ideal. From the old town, you can walk along Miyagawa River towards the north, and after a few minutes you will see a huge Torii (Shrine gate). Once you have reached the Torii, turn right and proceed towards the Shrine. Located just at the edge of a forest, this Shrine has a mystical atmosphere and is normally not very crowded.       Lunch in Honmachi Sanchome Shopping Street If you follow the street back to the Torii and cross the bridge, you are close to the Honcho Sanchome Shopping Street. To get there, you need to go one street further from the street next to the river, and turn left. After only a few minutes you have reached the Shopping Street and can look through stores or have a lunch with local specialties at one of the restaurants. A recommendation is the restaurant “Tenaga Ashinaga,” where you can try two specialties at the same time: Hida Beef and Houba Miso. The former has a reputation for being among the best beef in Japan, and the latter is local Miso with a rich flavor served on a Magnolia leaf. They also have dishes for Vegetarians, and their prices are reasonable (about 1500 Yen for a good lunch including a free drink).       Exploring the Old Town At the end of the Sanchome Shopping Street, you get to the bridge Kajibashi. If you cross the bridge and directly walk towards the right, you will get back to the old town. There you can experience more of the local culture – including food and craftwork.       If you like Japanese Sake, the Shopping Street offers many stores where you can purchase all kinds of Sake (and even non alcoholic “Amazake,” a sweet beverage consisting only of fermented rice and water). Furthermore, many stores offer a Sake tasting: for a price of several hundred Yen (depending on the store and the brand), you can try about 90 ml of a great variety of local Sake. Funasaka Sake Brewery attracts with a wide variety of Sake that can be bought and tasted, as well as with English signs. By the way, did you know that you can easily recognize Sake stores from the outside? In Japan, Sake stores traditionally have a Sugidama (cedar branches in a ball shape) below the eaves, so make sure not to miss these beautiful signs.     Did the walking make you a little bit hungry? Throughout the old town you will see stores selling local Senbei (rice crackers). Located in the northern end of Sanmachi, Hida Mikomaya can be recommended for two reasons. Not only is their quality superb and they offer many different flavors, but you can even make your own rice crackers in a little oven! Closely observe the movements of the Shop owner, and in about 15 minutes and for 500 Yen you can bake 10 rice crackers. Of course the street has many restaurants that offer the whole variety of Takayamas local cuisine, and stores selling traditional Japanese goods such as pottery or wooden handicraft.     Day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage village Shirakawago     If you want you do a day trip, the village Shirakawago is easily accessible and definitely worth seeing. Located in a valley closely surrounded by high mountains, this village consisting of 60 houses built in the Gassho-Zukuri (thatched and steep roofs) style brings you back into old times when people lived still in close relation with nature. If you want to get more information about the history of the village and the building of the houses, you can enter some of the houses for a small fee or visit the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Museum with 26 farmhouses and interesting information about the daily life. Another option is to take part in a guided tour, some of which leave from Takayama and include the bus fee both ways, a guided tour of both Shirakawago and Gokayama (another UNSECO World Heritage village with a similar building style) and a delicious, healthy local meal. For further information visit the homepage of Nohi bus or inquire at the Nohi bus center or any tourist information in Takayama.     Further information and links   Takayama General Guide1 : https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e5900.html   Takayama General Guide2 : http://www.hida.jp/english/     Morning market : http://www.hida.jp/english/activities/sightseeing-information/morning-market   Sake brewery : http://www.hida.jp/english/events/sake-brewery   Senbei Sankoma : http://www.mikomaya.co.jp/shop/shop.html     Shiragawa-go : http://ml.shirakawa-go.org/en/   Nohi bus : https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/    
Shiogama City  Shiogama is a city sitting on the coast of Miyagi, in between Sendai and Matsushima. As an old harbour town, it remains on the forefront of Japan’s fishing industry today, and can claim the title of having the most number of sushi restaurants per square kilometre in Japan. A ferry service connects it to Matsushima, so it is easy to stop off on the way from Sendai before carrying on by sea to Matsushima. As a tourist destination it is less well-known than Matsushima, one of the three great sights of Japan, which is expected, but a shame, as Shiogama has many treats in store for those that do decide to stop by.     Shiogama Shrine   A 10-minute walk from Honshiogama station lies Shiogama Shrine – a Shinto complex over 1,200 years old. Main access to the shrine is by climbing some 200 large stone steps, although there are more gentle sloping paths that will take visitors to the top, located slightly back towards the station. In July, a huge festival known as Minato Matsuri (port festival), that signals the start of the summer festival season takes place, and the mikoshi (shrine floats) which have been transferred by boat across Matshushima bay, are brought up these steps back to the shrine. Once you reach the top, there are several shrines, a garden, and a museum to visit. The museum displays Edo-period ( 1600-1868 ) items, and objects related to the salt- and fishing industries. There are over 300 cherry trees in the grounds, making this a perfect spot to enjoy blossom-viewing in Spring. You may also catch a wedding ceremony taking place here. As well as the aforementioned harbour festival, there are yabusame (horseback archery) tournaments that take place in summer, and a festival to celebrate the salt-making industry, from where Shiogama gets its name, as Shiogama literally means salt furnace.       Local sake with a long history   A short walk from the steps of Shiogama Shrine lies a long street (Motomachi), home to the smaller Okama shrine, where the large wooden cauldrons used for making salt are kept. An ancient salt-making ritual is still performed here every July. Along this street there are several sites of interest. A must-stop is Urakasumi brewery. Founded in 1724, they produce a range of nihonshu (sake), including seasonal and limited editions. For example, the hiyaoroshi , limited to autumn and made from Miyagi’s famous Sasanishiki rice, has a rich, traditional taste. There is a tasting set for 300 yen, where one can sample 3 different types of sake, as well as a plum wine. The staffs are able to make some basic explanations about the drinks on offer in English, and after the sampling is finished, you can take home the engraved tasting cup too.       Sweet treats and fresh fish   This same street is also home to a gelato ice-cream shop. The owner was originally a fruit vendor, but decided to evolve his business into using the range of local fruits as ingredients for the ice creams. There are a variety of flavours, and a premium range. Across the road there is a chocolatier producing a range of chocolate bars and cakes. They use the locally-produced salt in their mixes, and you can even pick up some packets of the salt here. The small, moulded sweets will make for a good present, or a treat on your journey. Shiogama does have a range of eating options available, such as around Honshiogama station or at the Marine Gate Pier, although it would be amiss to not sample such high quality seafood if you are only briefly stopping here. We visited Kameki-zushi ordering the moriawase (assortment) seasonal set. The quality was truly excellent, and it felt like a luxurious treat, and this for a restaurant where even the locals stop by regularly to eat, it is well recommended.       Enchanted by the wonders of this small town   After lunch you could head to the harbour, Marine Gate, to set sail for Matsushima and view the islands, or alternatively, visitors with an afternoon to spare could head to the Sugimura Jun Art Museum. A short walk from the Motomachi street, it is home to a permanent collection of works by Sugimura Jun, who moved to Shiogama following the Second World War, and, enamoured by its people and landscape, stayed there to produce landscapes, portraits and still life paintings. The museum houses the “townspeople’s gallery” showcasing other local artworks, as well as being home to a quirky café. Just like Sugimura Jun, you too may fall in love with Shiogama after visiting.     Access   Take the JR Tohoku Senseki Line to Hon-Shiogama station. Local train, 29min, 320yen.   Useful Links   Shiogama Shrine HP (in Japanese) http://www.shiogamajinja.jp/index.html Urakasumi HP (in English) http://www.urakasumi.com/en/ Gelato, Fruits Laboratory HP http://www.fruitslaboratory.com/ Chocolatier, Cleauventerre HP http://www.cevt-chocolat.com/ Kamekizushi HP (In Japanese) http://www.kamekisushi.jp/ Sugimura Jun Museum HP http://sugimurajun.shiomo.jp/    
Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum (白鶴酒造資料館) Tasty brewery with a tradition – Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum   Hakutsuru Brand is a famous Japanese brand established in 1743. With a long history, the several breweries under the brand’s name has been producing tasty sake (Japanese wine)for a long time. Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum was built in early Taisho period (around 1910) and operated as the Hakutsuru’s HQ’s main brewery warehouse until March 1969,after which it was converted into a museum. The museum is located in the Nada District of Kobe City. Nada district has high-quality natural spring water and cold winters, two of the crucial elements for brewing good sake. For visitors coming by train from either Osaka or Kobe, the museum is within 5 minutes walking distance from Hanshin Sumiyoshi Station, 15 minutes walking distance from JR Sumiyoshi station as well as 25 minutes walking distance from Hankyuu Mikage Station.     Take a tour through the museum to learn about the brewing process of Sake.   The museum has taken effort to preserve the interior of the brewery as close as to how it was like when it was still functioning. Once you step into the museum, you will see numerous okes (Japanese wooden barrels) of various sizes. From normal sizes to enormous ones, these are all items that were used in the production of sake. The museum provides a guided tour on the sake production processes (requires prior booking) in Japanese. However, fret not if you do not speak Japanese, for they also have explanations about the various processes in English. Just scan the QR codes that can be found in the exhibits in the museum, and you will be able to access the explanations in 19 different languages! (English is within one of the nineteen, of course)     As you walk through the museum, you will be able to see the fascinating displays of the old tools used throughout the company’s history. With realistic mannequins employed at some of the exhibits, one would be able to get a clearer picture on how the brewing processes are like. From the process of Senmai (rice washing) to Taruzume (Barreling), each step is explained with careful details. The staffs also shared with us how the processes has evolved through time. It was definitely a very interesting and fruitful tour.         Visit the tax free store and try the free sake tasting! When you are done with the tour of the museum, you can visit the museum’s sake shop. The museum’s sake shop sells a wide range of Japanese wine, ranging from sake to umeshu (plum wine). Not only do they sell alcohol, they also sell cosmetic products made from fermented rice and snacks to go with alcohols. This place also provides tax-free services, so if you are keen to get a bottle of Japanese wine as a token of your visit to the place, feel free to visit the shop. However, please note that this service is currently in the trial phase and changes may apply. This place also provides sampling services of some of their products, so you can try for yourself to see how the Japanese wines differ from the wine in your country.     For all alcohol lovers, this place is a must go if you happen to be in the Kansai area!   Visit Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum’s Japanese Site here: http://www.hakutsuru.co.jp/community/shiryo/      
Chiyo Kotobuki Toraya – Yamagata, Sagae   Sagae is a small town sitting right in the center of Yamagata prefecture surrounded by mountains. To the west of the town sits mount Gassan, which is famous for accumulating so much snow summer the skiing season goes all the way to summer. From the north, melting snow flows into the Sagae River, which serves as an abundant water supply for sake brewing. The region is blessed with rice, water and a climate that make for some excellent sake. The brewery we visited this time is on a very quiet street just 5 minutes from Sagae-station.     Chiyo Kotobuki Toraya – 300 years of history   Toraya was a sake brewery originally founded in Yamagata city in 1696, from which later two other branches opened, one of them eventually splitting and becoming current Chiyo Kotobuki Toraya in Sagae. The small brewery with around 100 years in its current location keep the motto of brewing sake with local roots and striving for top quality.     One particular aspect of the brewery is the rice strain called “Toyokuni”, which they revived in 1990 as a way to promote Sagae. The outstanding characteristic of this strain is its steaks length, being the longest of all strains used for sake brewing.   The company looks even over the rice growing process, often advising and working together with local rice growers, some who even work at the brewery during winter when they can’t grow rice. All of their sake is brewed using Yamagata rice making it true local Yamagata and even Sagae sake. The company has been promoting “Junmai-shu”, which is the original way sake was brewed, since 1960.     Inside the brewery - From polishing to packing     The whole process starts at the afternoon polishing the rice, the highest quality sakes having up to 40% polishing rate using only the very center of the rice. The polished rice however is not thrown away, it has a variety of uses ranging from fertilizer to rice flour. The next step is washing the rice, which is steeped in water overnight for steaming the next morning. In the morning, the soaked rice is steamed in big tanks which later pour it on a conveyor belt and it is aired and divided for different uses. A special mold is then sprinkled over the steamed rice and left to ferment for over 2 days on large trays at around 36 degrees, after which it is translated to big tanks where water and yeast are added and left to incubate at low temperatures. Through a series of additional processes and some time, the mixture becomes so bubbly it needs a machine which constantly breaks the bubbles so it won’t spill out of the tanks.          With most of the structures being made of wood and preserving a traditional Japanese style combined with current machinery necessary for making the best possible sake. The second floor even holds a spacey room used for events where old utensils are still kept.   Also the brewery holds a ceremony each year celebrating when the years new sake is finished around mid-December, when a new pine globe called “sugitama” is hanged on the front of the brewery. The new pine globe represents the new sake and as it changes color through the year it represents the sake maturating.     At the end of the day, one can enjoy tasting some of the delicious sake the brewery offers for free and even maybe buying a bottle as a gift.     Access   From Yamagata station: Take the Aterazawa line to Sagae station. (Takes around 26 min./320 Yen) From Sagae station: A 5-minute walk.   Click here for the Chiyo Kotobuki Toraya home page. http://www.chiyokotobuki.com/      
Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (倉敷美観地区)   Picturesque Historical streets– Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter   Kurashiki is a town in Okayama Prefecture, located not far from the prefectural capital of   Okayama City. The name Kurashiki can be roughly translated as the town of storehouses,testifying to its importance as a rice distribution centre in the Edo era. The most famous part   of Kurashiki is perhaps the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. With a well preserved canal   area and monumental historical buildings, this part of Kurashiki is crowned as one of the   most scenic Merchant Quarter in Japan.       Café in the morning and guesthouse at night – Yuurin-An ( 有隣庵 )   Looking for a place to stay when you are in Kurashiki? Seek no longer! Yuurin-An is a   guesthouse located at the centre of Bikan Historical Quarter. The building of Yuurin-An is a   traditional Japanese house with more than 100 years of history. Here, you can connect with   other visitors or exchange talks with the friendly staffs. Nothing gets more Japanese than   sleeping on the Tatami floor in a Japanese Futon. The staffs here also speaks English, so   you do not have to worry if you cannot speak Japanese. If you want to stay in a traditional   Japan housing and exchange conversations with other local Japanese tourists (as well as   some foreign ones), this is the place to go.       While Yuurin-An operates as a guesthouse at night, it transforms into a cosy café in the morning. From 11am to 5pm, Yuurin-An serves many home-made meals and desserts. They are most famous for their Tamagokakegohan(Rice topped with a raw egg) and Shiawase no Purin (Pudding of Happiness). While eating a raw egg seems unappealing to most foreigners, it is a traditional Japanese delicacy. This place serves the rice dish with their home-made special soy sauce. The soy sauce actually masks the smell of the raw egg and adds a delicious hue of sweetness to the dish, so it is strongly recommended for you to try it here. The pudding served here is also their signature. It is believed that you will taste the taste of happiness after trying the pudding here. The puddings here have cute faces drawn on them, and you can pick which one you would like to have. Although the pudding must be ordered with a drink, the café provides the drink free if you had stayed there the previous night, so be sure to try the pudding if you have lodged here previously.       Finding quality goods with style – Kurashiki Ishou ( 倉敷意匠 )   Located inside the Hayashigenjurou Shopping Building( 林源十郎商店 ) , Kurashiki Ishou is a shop which provides a wide variety of goods. The shop owner used to be in the wholesale business before setting up this shop in his hometown of Kurashiki. Goods sold in this place are exquisitely made with high quality craftsmanship. Stylish handkerchiefs and beautiful porcelain dishes are among the popular choices that tourists make. Many items in the shop are made using local materials, so if you are interested in finding a good souvenir, be sure to visit this shop!     Great designs, great products – Living Design Museum Kurashiki ( 生活デザインミュージアム倉敷 )   On the 2 nd floor of the Hayashigenjurou Shopping Building, is the Living Design Museum Kurashiki. This is a shop which carefully selects their products to ensure that they are of quality designs, so you can be assured that you are getting the best here. Once you climb up the stairs to the second floor, you will be greeted with many shelves displaying a wide variety of products. This shop not only sells handicraft goods and accessories, but also card games like Karuta(a type of traditional Japanese card game) and home-made jam. There is also a café beside the shop, so you can stop for a quick bite before continuing your journey through Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter.     Visit Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter’s Japanese Site here: https://www.kurashiki-tabi.jp/see- kurashiki/          
Takayama Honmachi Sanchome Shopping Street A quality shopping experience in Takayama       Overview of Takayama and the Shopping street     The Hida Takayama region is located in the North of Gifu prefecture and lies between the regions Hokuriku and Tokai. You can get to the city easily from eigher Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya by JR express trains. From Tokyo and Osaka, take Shinkansen to Nagoya and transfer to the “Wide View Hida”, the Limited Express. The total time required is about 4h from Tokyo, 3h from Osaka and a little bit more than 2h from Nagoya. Also, there are bus services from these and also from smaller cities.   Just a few minute walk from Takayama station, and conveniently located near the Kajibashi Bridge in the city center is the Takayama Shopping Street “Honmachi Sanchome.” A multitude of shops and a variety of food can be purchased in this Shopping Street, providing a unique service for foreign tourists in Japan:     In 2016, Takayama Honcho Sanchome Shopping Street introduced a tax-exemption service.   You can just buy your favorite products from 8 member stores, all offering a unique variety of high-quality Japanese products. If you purchase over 5,000 Yen (without tax) in total at the member stores, you can conveniently get a one-time tax exemption at the end of your shopping.      Stores   A great place to start the shopping tour is Imai-Bunbogu, a stationary store located at the entry of the Sanchome-Shopping street, just next to Kajibashi bridge. Over two floors the store offers a great variety of pens, notebooks, and many other products. Especially the “Travel-book” series is very popular among foreign tourists, and Japanese pens attract with their superb quality and functions. Last but not least, the store sells many postcards with beautiful sceneries of Takayama and surrounding areas.        Next, the Kosugi Butsudan store welcomes its visitors with a fulminant fragment, wooden scent when entering the store. “Butsudan” means Buddhist altar in Japanese, but the store sells much more than Buddhist altars: Not only can you buy all different kinds of incense and related products here, but also traditional Japanese dolls or cards.      In the toy store “Aladdin” every children and adults’ dream comes true: A store full with toys and games, this store offers something for everybody. If you are an Anime-fan, why don’t you get a Ghibli-puzzle or a Gandam figure? The store also has a charming selection of post-war Japanese toys, and a guarantee for fun and adrenaline is their huge 4WD Mini Racer (Mini Yonku) racing track.    Food     Popular among foreign as well as Japanese tourists, and located just at the entrance of the Shopping Street, “Kajibashi Soba” offers local dishes. Their most popular dish is Takayama Chukasoba, a noodle-soup specialty from Takayama with an intense, round flavor. Also, make sure to try out their meat dishes such as regional Hida Beef on a rice plate. While Hida beef might not be known that well outside Japans, Japanese people rank it among the best in the country.      Another store to try delicious Hida beef is “Komori” inside the restaurant-complex “EaTown.” Especially if you go there for lunch, you can get a set meal for less than 1,000 yen with rice, salad, pickles and Hida beef (steak or sukiyaki).         Also located in EaTown is the sweets shop “Hiyoko An.” For only 400 Yen you can get a delicious Maccha together with a traditional Japanese sweet, some of which can only be found in this store. Inside EaTown you have free Wifi-access and an Information Center.     For every Sushi-fan, Sanchome Shopping Street offers a jewel ranked even among the Top 30 Sushi restaurants 2017 of famous travel site (worldwide) – Sushi Nob! For a very reasonable price (a good dinner for about 2,000 Yen p.P) you can eat unique Sushi variations that you will not forget soon, such as the Dragon-Roll with avocado, eel and shrimps. The store also offers delicious Sushi suited for vegetarian customers.       Procedure for tax-exemption   In order to get the tax exemption, you might first want to go to Nakada pharmacy located in the center of the Shopping Street. There you can get information about participating stores and a map indicating their location. When buying your products, the store will attach the receipts to an information brochure about the Shopping Street, and once you finished your shopping tour go back to Nakada pharmacy, where you will get your tack back in cash. Please make sure that you use the same passport and credit card for all purchases, and that the total value of products over 5,000 yen (without tax). Also, there is a distinction between the amounts of money spent for General goods and for Consumables, so it is recommended to read the information brochure before starting you shopping tour. The tax-free Counter operates between 9:00 and 19:00h.       How to get there     The Takayama Sanchome Shopping Street can be accessed conveniently within 10 Minutes from JR Takayama station. Exit the station at the east exit and turn left until you get to the first big crossing after about 3 minutes (Takayama Station Kita; Takayama Station Hotel is located here). There you turn right and follow the street until you reach the crossing just in front of the river and Kajibashi bridge. The shopping street is located on the left side, starting with “Kajibashi Soba” and “Imai Bunbogu.”   Useful Information     Address of the Shopping Street: 3-55 Honmachi, Takayama-city, Gifu-prefecture.    PDF-Webpage of the Shopping Street (Japanese): http://www.chusho.meti.go.jp/keiei/sapoin/monozukuri300sha/2017/12takayamahoncho.pdf   This website introduces the shops in EaTown (English version available) http://www.eatown-hidatakayama.com/   The website of Sushi Nob (Japanese): https://hitosara.com/0006071395/   Imai Bunbogu and Imai PenShop (2F) (English, further information and pictures in Japanese): http://bunchan.wp.xdomain.jp/english-page/   Kosugi Butsudan (Japanese):   http://www.kosugi-butsudan.com/index.htm   Kajibashi Soba: Not their official webpage, but with interesting information in English: https://en.japantravel.com/gifu/chuuka-soba-kajibashi-takayama/4182     Aladdin (Japanese): http://www.hidalabo.com/detail/index_164.html   Nakada pharmacy (Japanese): http://www.shiseido.co.jp/sw/navi/shopdetail.html?shopCd=404L34      
Immerse Yourself in Nature at Nagatoro Nagatoro Town – A picturesque retreat   Located about 80 minutes away by train from Tokyo lies the city of Chichibu, a scenic area with beautiful landscapes of mountains, cliffs and picturesque rock beds. You can find many of these magnificent views in the town of Nagatoro, in the north of Chichibu. The entire town is designated as a prefectural nature park and is a relaxing retreat away from the bustling city of Tokyo.     Mount Hodo – Enjoy the seasonal colors through the months   One of the highlights of Nagatoro is Mount Hodo. From Nagatoro station, you can take a shuttle bus that comes every 15-30min (on the weekends) to the foot of the mountain. From there, you can either take the ropeway or hike your way up which takes no more than an hour at a leisurely pace. While Mount Hodo is not the highest peak in Chichibu, you can enjoy the panoramic view of the area, as well as the seasonal colors of the mountain itself. In spring, you can enjoy the sceneries of plums (February to March) and cherry blossoms (April). There are also azaleas blooming in May and Rhododendrons in June. In autumn, the mountain will turn red with maple leaves and in winter (end December to February), enjoy the cheery yellow flowers of robai, known as wintersweet in English. There’s a zoo where you can interact with animals such as monkeys and deer.   Besides these, you can also view the rare natural phenomenon “Sea of Clouds” which occurs on a sunny day in Spring or Autumn, after a rainy day in the hours around sunrise.         Hodosan Shrine – One of the oldest shrines in Saitama Prefecture   Around 1900 years ago, when Prince Yamato-takeru-no-Mikoto was climbing Mount Hodo to offer prayers to the Shinto deities. During the climb, a forest fire suddenly occurred, endangering the lives of the group. However, several large black and white dogs came and extinguished the fire.   Tanks to the dogs, he safely reached the summit and prayed.   This episode is said to be the origin of this shrine.   Today, over a million worshippers visit this shrine every year to pray for safety and good fortune. When you climb Mount Hodo, don’t forget to visit the inner shrine at the summit. There, you can find a pair of dog statues guarding the entrance of the shrine.         Iwadatami Shopping Street – Delicious foods galore   Leading up to the rock beds is the Iwadatami Shopping Street. You can find various shops selling local products such as sweet beans (Mame no Ozawa-ya) and pickled vegetables/miso-pickled pork (Manju-an), as well as restaurants serving local specialties such as miso potato and hand-made soba noodles.         Nagatoro Rock Beds (Iwadatami) – Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the river bank     At the end of the street, you will find a staircase leading down to the Arakawa River and the Nagatoro rock beds, 80m wide and 500m long known as Iwadatami, layered rocks resembling tatami mats. You can hike up the rocks (with rest stops along the way) or ride a traditional Japanese boat down the river while enjoying the natural scenery of the rock beds and cliffs. In autumn, the cliffs will be decorated red and orange with the fall foliage. Why not try out whitewater rafting through the Nagatoro rapids or canoeing or kayaking?     WEB https://www.seiburailway.jp/railways/tourist/english/sightseeing/recommend/chichibu_nagatoro/ https://www.chichibu-omotenashi.com/en/nagatoro.html https://www.chichibu-omotenashi.com/en/about.html#info http://www.hodosan-jinja.or.jp/english/ https://www.instagram.com/hodosanjinja/ http://www.outdoorjapan.com/travel/operator_details/28   Sea of Clouds https://www.seiburailway.jp/railways/roman/dive/unkaienglish/ http://jpninfo.com/71904    
IOUJIMA Ioujima is an island within Nagasaki City and connected to Kyushu mainland by a bridge. Although it may not be the first choice of people travelling in Nagasaki within a few days, it is a wonderful place for holiday throughout the whole year for both local people and tourists.     Transportation There are ways to travel to Ioujima beside driving, that are ferry, bus of Nagasaki or the shuttle bus of Nagasaki Onsen Yasuragi Ioujima Resort Hotel. The shuttle bus is available free of charge if you purchase a 2000-yen cash coupon of the hotel. Therefore, if you are going for the hot spring or barbeque or any other facilities at the hotel, it would be nice to take it, but remember to make reservation of it since there is a chance that could be full especially on weekends. Yasuragi Iouzima Hotel HP (English) : http://www.ioujima.jp/en/access/       Food Since Ioujima is an island which is a bit far away from the mainland, there are not many restaurants. However, the resort hotel provides various dining experiences. There are 3 restaurants running by the resort, Family Dining Uraraka, Olive De Olive and Amimoto Shokudo. Barbeque plan beside the beach is also available in summer if restaurant is too boring for you. If you join the one-day package, which include a lunch buffet and hot spring, the buffet is at Olive De Olive. For Family Dining Uraraka, it has a fabulous dining atmosphere and outstanding view of the sea.   At Family Dining Uraraka, it provides both Western and Japanese cuisine. Steaks, sushi, sashimi, curry rice, etc. are all available here. If you want to try both the steak and sashimi, the following set perfectly fits. It contains Japanese steak and sashimi rice in a set with a small size of both. The steak comes at a hot plate allows a fresh taste of juicy beef. The sashimi rice is a full combo of fresh sashimi with a right amount of rice.       Beach There is a free shuttle bus to the beach offered by the hotel. The beach is fantastic with smooth sand and clear water. In summer, barbeque is available here and it is a really good time for family or friends to have fun.       Onsen and Relaxation There are two hot spring provided here, which are “YUYU” and “SHIMAKADE NO YU”. “SHIMAKADE NO YU” is suitable for a group of friends or family since it provides private saunas and family baths with TV and superb view. It is an individual building with a 3-minute walk from the hotel main building. “YUYU” is on the first floor of the main building and it is famous of its open-air bath and variety of baths like Cypress bath and Charcoal bath. A special one for foreigners is the lying bath. It is quite comfortable when you lie on a plain rock and the hot spring is flowing through your back. You can surely be rejuvenated from the tiring daily life after the hot spring.       Souvenirs There are two shops with souvenirs sold, one is on the first floor of main building, and the other is on the first floor of Umi no Mieru Hotel, where Olive De Olive is located on the second floor. There are plenty of souvenirs like accessories and snacks, but the bathing goods are also popular because it is a resort of hot spring.   Rental bikes are available on Ioujima, which allows a beautiful island views of Ioujima. There are still many other wonderful spots to discover in Ioujima, come and check it out!        
Otaru – A Historical and Beautiful Town Northwest of Sapporo City, Otaru is best known as a city rich in history and scenic beauties. It takes about 30 minutes to reach by car from Sapporo and is easily accessible by both highway bus and train.       Glass Making     One of the must-sees when in Otaru is definitely the many stores selling beautifully crafted glassware. From the Meiji to the Taisho era of Japan, the people of Otaru had to use oil lamps and floating balls, both made of glass, to lead their ordinary lives, and this made the glass-making industry in the area very prosperous.     The streets of Otaru are lined with shops and craft studios making and selling a wide variety of glassware, from dining utensils to jewelry. Don’t forget to also try out making your own glassware from scratch in one of these stores! You can also choose to make small accessories as a gift to your loved ones, such as in the photographs above.         Otaru Canal   As a port city, Otaru is perhaps also known for its thriving shipping and fishing industry. The Otaru Canal, once crucial to the city, is now a popular tourist spot, offering visitors the opportunity to take beautiful Instagrammable photos. You can also ride a boat along the canal and enjoy the views of Otaru to the fullest.         Local Delicacies   Otaru cannot be called a port city without the local seafood delicacies. Do head down to one of the many restaurants along the main street which offer the freshest catch of the day.         Otaru Music Box Museum   The Otaru Music Box Museum is also one of the must-sees in Otaru. Located inside an antiquated building at the end of the main street, this museum houses thousands of music boxes, each with a different melody that is simply pleasing to the ear. There are several special exhibitions on music boxes as well, so do check them out!   If you need further information of Otaru, do check out the link below: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/hokkaido/otaru.html         
Suzaka, Shinshu Nagano   Suzaka –   a town with abundant nature and historical vibes that speak volumes for Shinshu Nagano’s food culture Suzaka is a quiet yet charming city in the Northern Shinshu region of Nagano prefecture, once prosperous in its silk-reeling industry. There are popular tourist spots such as Zenkoji Temple in Nagano, west of Suzaka and Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi, north east of Suzaka. If you take the time to get in touch with the local scene, you might uncover a bonsai specialist or a seal (hanko) craftsman, meet a guesthouse owner who brings together locals and foreigners or a mushroom researcher. Suzaka is the epitome of a cultural city blessed with nature and diligent people. For starters, we look at some representatives of food culture that Suzaka prides itself after, Miso and Fruits.     Shioya –   Take a walk through the history of producing Miso at one of the few surviving producers of fermented foods made traditionally in warehouses. Miso, one of Japan’s “soul food”, has a prominent place in Japanese cuisine. Most of Miso nowadays sold in groceries stores are factory-made and you hardly find miso produced in warehouses and fermented in wooden barrels. Approximately 16 minutes’ walk away from Suzaka station, you would find 300-year-old Shioya, one of the few miso-producers which preserves such traditional methods. As its name suggests, its history is rooted in the trade of salt, a precious ingredient especially in land-locked Shinshu.   Miso is produced at Shioya with these 3 key ingredients: rice malt, salt and soybean. The warehouses aid in ameliorating drastic temperature changes and thus provide an optimum fermenting environment for microorganisms such as koji mold and yeast. Also, the unique make-up of microorganisms present on the walls of the Shioya’s warehouses adds on a complex flavour fashioned only in Shioya. There is a free tour of the facility where visitors are shown the “Miso Warehouse”, the “Shoyu Warehouse” and the “Grain Warehouse”; all of them have converted into exhibition or event spaces where the local community can gather for social activities. For keen visitors, they can also pay a fee of 3,000 yen to experience miso-making and bring home 4kg worth of miso, ready for consumption after laying it for 6 months (reservation required and available only on non-work days). At the shop, there is also a whole range of miso products as well as shoyu and tsukemono (preserved vegetables) to choose from. One special recommendation would be Enoki Miso, imbued with Enoki mushroom for enhancing the “umami” of the miso.   As miso has always been a supporting actor in Japanese cuisine, 11 th generation owner, Taro Uehara, would like to recommend a dramatic way to savour the essence of miso: dipping raw vegetable sticks such as cucumber in miso paste.           Matsubaya – Rustic local cuisine, heart-warming local hospitality. Having seen how miso is made and purchased some, how can we not resist the temptation to try out a local delicacy using Shinshu Miso right away? A short walk westwards of Shioya and just around the corner, there is Matsubaya, a soba restaurant established in 1887 and currently helmed by 5 th generation owner Norimichi Matsumura. Alongside Soba, the Misosuki-don is a formidable contender as one of the signature dishes at Matsubaya. 880 yen for a bowl is more than affordable. If it is really tough to decide, why not get both, each with half portions. Misosuki-don uses Miso in place of Shoyu in the Sukiyaki base sauce. While the ordinary size can easily fill small stomachs, the savoury goodness keep you digging in. Matsubaya’s version of the Misosuki-don is packed with plenty of ingredients: pork slices, shimeji and matsutake mushrooms, shirataki, gobo(burdock) and onion.       Yamahon Sorimachi Farm –   Pick grapes and apples and unwind in the countryside   After satisfying yourself with a hearty lip-smacking meal, let us whizz out into the rural fields of Suzaka on a rental bicycle (available at Kura-no-machi Tourism Center). In the Northern region of Suzaka city, there is a line of orchards along national highway 403 leading towards neighbouring town Obuse. Come autumn, this area would be transformed into fruit haven. One such orchard, also accessible in less than 15 minutes’ walk from Kita Suzaka Station, where visitors can freely come and experience picking grapes and apples is Yamahon Sorimachi farm (grapes are from mid-August to mid-October while apples are from early-September to end-November). A grass patch and wooden benches, coupled with an extensive canopy formed by a mesh of grape vines draping overhead, what an idyllic scene this is. There is a wide range of grape varieties such as Kyoho, Suiho, Niagara and Steuben. But the limelight falls on the two seedless and edible skin varieties, Nagano Purple (first cultivated here in Suzaka) and Shine Muskat.   Further inside the farm’s grounds, you can spot various breeds of apple trees with different shades of red and even golden yellow. The apples are round and shapely, sits comfortably in one palm. After picking your choice, simply weigh and pay for it at the storefront. And if you are craving more, you are free to sample the various varieties or you could buy home more if you like!       For further information, please refer to the following websites.   Shioya Jozo (Salt-House Fermented Foods) <Japanese only>   http://www.shioya.co.jp/   Matsubaya Soba Shop <Japanese only> Blog Page (Local Guide) http://www.suzaka.info/matsubaya/ Listing on Suzaka Tourism Association’s Webpage   http://www.suzaka-kankokyokai.jp/contents/gourmet/56.html   Yamahon Sorimachi Farm <Japanese only> Blog Page (Local Guide) http://blog.suzaka.jp/sorimachinouen   Kura-no-machi Tourism Center   Suzaka Tourism Association Webpage http://www.suzaka-kankokyokai.jp/contents/other/16.html        
Onomichi 尾道 Quaint town overlooking the Seto Inland Sea – Onomichi Onomichi is a town located along the Seto Inland Sea in eastern Hiroshima Prefecture.   The town extends from the mainland across to some of the islands nearby.   They are connected by the bridges of the Shimanami Kaido (Shimanami Sea Strait). There are plenty of ferries and boats operating near the mainland part of Onomichi, adding a nostalgic atmosphere to the city. If you are feeling sporty, you can rent a bicycle and cycle across the beautiful Shimanami Kaido to the Ehime Prefecture of the Shikoku Region. Gateway to Onomichi   are JR Onomichi station and JR Shin-onomichi station by land.It takes 3hours 40min from Tokyo station by shinkansen. And from Hiroshima station to Onomichi station by train it takes around 50 min via JR Fukuyama station. You can also arrive at Onomichi city from Hiroshima airport very easily.     The traditional shop houses of Onomichi Being an ancient port town, the locals had made an effort to preserve the traditional designs of the shop houses in Onomichi. A wide varieties of goods are sold in the shopping streets. From traditional Japanese Clothing to children toys, you are bound to find the good that you are looking for in the shops here. Also, if you are fan of Ramen, be sure to try the famous Onomichi Ramen!         Paint your own sailcloth canvas - Kobou Onomichi Honuno ( 工房尾道帆布 ) One of the specialty goods of Onomichi is the sailcloth canvas. As Onomichi is a port town, the town has a long history of making sailcloth with canvas. If you walk along the streets in Onomichi, you can spot many shops selling exquisitely made canvas products. Some of the shops even allow you to try to paint these canvases yourself. One of that would be the Kobou Onomichi Honuno, a shop located in one the shopping streets.     At Kobou Onomichi Honuno, they sell a wide variety of canvas goods at reasonable price. For those who are keen on trying canvas painting, you can sign up for the shop’s canvas painting workshop. For 500 yen, you get to paint two pieces of canvases using moulds provided by the shop. Even if you are a beginner, you do not have to worry because there would be a staff present during the workshop to guide you. The canvas that you have painted can be brought home, so if you are looking for a memorable souvenir for your trip to Onomichi, why not sign up for the workshop?           The old Japanese houses“KOMINKA”in Onomichi The old Japanese houses“KOMINKA”in Onomichi is also worth a visit. Preserving the looks of the traditional Japanese style houses,   many of the houses are transformed into guest houses and restaurants.   If you are looking to visit an authentic Japanese style house, why not try it here in Onomichi?       Cats are adorable, aren’t they – Neko no Hosomichi ( 猫の細道 ) Another famous attraction in Onomichi would be Neko no Hoshomichi (the narrow path of cats).   Neko no Hosomichi is an upslope trail leading to the senkouji (Senkou temple). As the name suggests, it is a narrow trail inhabited with cats.   As you ascend up the trail, you will spot cat dolls and statues lined up along the side of the path, charming you with their cuteness. If the weather is good, you will spot many cats sunbathing or playing hide and seek with each other. Their adorable faces will definitely melt your heart! For all feline lovers, this place is definitely a must go!     The Onomichi city sightseeing information English web site is here: http://www.ononavi.com/      
A pleasant day trip to OTARU   OTARU is a small harbor city, about half an hour northwest of Sapporo by train. Its beautifully preserved canal area and interesting herring mansions make Otaru a pleasant day trip from Sapporo.   And here are some must go spots to recommend.   Take a five minute walk from Minami-Otaru Station and reach the southern end of Sakaimachi Street, you can find an old-fashioned stone building right on the corner, the main building of Otaru Music Box Museum. It is a large shop where you will enjoy a dreamy world created by more than 25,000 music boxes, including glass music boxes unique to Otaru. On the other side of the street is the Antique Museum holds exhibitions of numerous well-preserved antique music boxes.       The music boxes are popular souvenirs from Otaru and as gifts for your friends and family.   With the nostalgic interiors of the Music Box Museum and its wide variety of music boxes on display, the museum has an exquisite harmony of illusion you won’t enjoy at other places. All of the goods on sale are tax-free. Please take your time to fully enjoy your visit here.   Down the other end of the street is the Taisho Glass Head Store where you can buy a variety of original glass productions and also enjoy creating your original for \2,000 to 3,000 yen. In the glass workshop, you will have an unforgettable experience of the unique techniques of glass blowing with the careful instruction by the professional. One of the biggest happiness brought by glass blowing is to enjoy the beauty of uncertainty, said the professional. Would you like to know the infinite possibilities of glass?     When night falls, oil lamps on the cobbled streets are lit, and the town evokes a gentle, nostalgic mood. Here comes the best time of the day to enjoy the beautiful sceneries along the Otaru Canal. The canal was completed in 1923 and gradually developed as a walkway. It is an ideal place to enjoy a pleasant stroll during the day, as artists present their works to passing tourists, warehouses reflect off the water's surface and old fashioned gas lamps light the path at night creating a romantic atmosphere.   Please feel the charm of the city and make an unforgettable memory here in Otaru.   For more information please check the following sites:   Otaru tourist information http://otaru.gr.jp.e.go.hp.transer.com/ Otaru Orgel Doh   http://www.otaru-orgel.co.jp/english/e_index.html  Taisho Glass Head   http://www.otaru-glass.jp/ Otaru Canal   https://www.city.otaru.lg.jp/kankou/miru_asobu_tomaru/kankosisetu/otaruunga.html      
Beppu: The Wonderland of Hot Springs The “Onsen-Ken”     Oita is a beautiful prefecture blessed with nature, delicious food and some out of this world views of the countryside. But there is one thing that makes Oita stand out from many of the other prefectures. It has the most amount of Natural Hot Springs in the whole entire country! This is one of the reasons why it is called “onsen-ken” which means “Hot Spring Prefecture”. Oita airport is 1 hour 25 min from Haneda airport by air plane and Osaka airport to Oita airport which is around 50 mins. And It takes 1 hour Oita airport to central city of Beppu by bus. Oita station is an hour from Hakata station by train. We are going to introduce the unique hot spring in this article.     Myoban Hot Spring   The Myoban Hot springs are a collection of many different springs in the mountains of   Beppu. They have a variety of family baths as well as baths open to the public. Family   baths are private baths specialized for families or friends. Myoban’s Family baths are in   little quaint huts made out of straw. These are very personalized Hot Springs because you can enjoy relaxing with family or even friends. Myoban also has an outdoor bath with a superb view of the city. It is surrounded by mountains which makes for an incredibly relaxing atmosphere. After you’ve bathed in Myoban’s hot spring, there is a resting area right outside were they sell “Onsen Tamago”. It is a egg boiled in the Hot Spring water! It is   delicious and relatively cheap.         Hyotan Hot Spring   This hot spring is located in a place called “Kannawa Onsen” which also has a different set of onsen. Hyotan Hot Springs is one of the most popular Hot Spring in Oita. This hot spring is different from many others because it has a variety of distinct hot springs unique to Hyotan. For example, outdoor hot spring where you can enjoy the view, the one where you can wash your body while enjoying the hot spring and private hot spring. In addition, they also have two types of sauna (a very hot and a warm one), a waterfall hot spring, and a sand bath! They provide food, drinks and even “Onsen Tamago”. This is the place to go if you like variety.       Takegawara Hot Spring   Last but not least we have Takegawara Hot Spring. This is the local’s favourite Hot Springs in Beppu. The classic olden time style of the hot spring represents all of hot spring in Beppu. This hot spring is very unique as it has a traditional bath house and a sand bath. This is the must-go hot springs that you don’t want to miss out!      
Explore Beppu! A place that look like hell, where you can see the steam coming out from the ground and the smell of sulphur filling the air. Beppu is a town located 15 minutes train ride away   from Oita City. It has been prided itself on being the city of Onsen (hot spring bath) with hundreds of them scattered around the town. Since a world of fascinating stuffs are waiting to be explored. A lot of interesting things to see and experience worth a try!   Outdoor bath in Kitahama Onsen (Termas Spa)  Ever imagine soaking in a hot bath while having sea and mountain as your view? Imagine no more, since Kitahama Onsen in downtown Beppu offers just those heavenly experience! It is a must-try for those Onsen first-timers!       Stroll along Matogahama Beach Located just beside Kitahama Onsen, you can take a stroll and enjoy ocean view in Matogahama Beach. Every summer and Christmas, Matogahama Beach is unusually packed with people and food stands since those are the time for festivals and fireworks! If you visit Beppu in the end of July or in Christmas, Beppu festival is something worth a visit.             Dine in Steam of Hell  Jigoku mushi or literally translated ‘Steam of Hell’ is a restaurant where you can steam your own food into Beppu’s infamous natural steam. The restaurant is located in Kannawa area, just a 10 minutes walk from Sea of Hell (Umi Jigoku) tourist attraction or about 20 minutes bus ride from Beppu Station. Jigoku Mushi offers vegetables and seafood as their staple menu. The fun part is when you put your ordered uncooked food into a wooden rectangle where steam coming out of it. Give it a few minutes for all those natural steam to cook your food, and then you can enjoy your steamed food with varieties of sauce.         Kannawa Information Desk  Kannawa area seems like the place where most tourist flock into, since places which offer’ are mostly located here. Kannawa has a resourceful Information Desk located just beside Kannawa bus stop. Easy way to navigate your adventure around Beppu!     Sand bath in Takegawara Onsen Take your onsen experience up to the next level with sand bath! Takegawara onsen is an authentic Japanese bath house inside a huge wooden traditional house. Warm and homey atmosphere welcomes you inside the building, where decorations showing history of Takegawara Onsen from time to time being displayed. The place, which seems a bit worn down, shows the legacy of Beppu bath house since the old time. You can enjoy both hot bath as well as sand bath for different prices. Sand bath in Takegawara Onsen is surely a wonderful experience, one you wouldn’t want to miss!   Finally access information that Oita airport is 1 hour 25 min from Haneda airport by air plane and Osaka airport to Oita airport which is around 50min. And It takes 1 hour Oita airport to central city of Beppu   by buss. Oita station is a hour from Hakata station by train.     Beppu navi (English) http://english.beppu-navi.jp/      
Sudo Honke Sake Brewery, Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture Sudo Honke –   an 876-year old sake brewery dedicated to their traditional roots and now bathed in the limelight on the international stage Little did one know, there is a sake brewery in Ibaraki prefecture that secured themselves a place in the hearts of many Japanese sake loves from all over the world. In fact, their sake, “Kakunko” had the honor of being served at the G7 Ise-Shima summit in 2016. One reason for the prestigious treatment:   their unwavering dedication to craft the highest quality Japanese sake with the finest local raw materials in a well-preserved natural environment. Nested in the rustic Japanese countryside landscape, the premises of the Sudo Honke dwarves the houses in the surrounding area but maintains a simple façade with a small signage directing sake patrons. The reception building was just like any other Japanese farmer’s humble dwelling.       Philosophy and Concept –   Guardian of respectable traditions and carving their own path Since its establishment in 1140, for 55 generations, the house of Sudo has continued to pass down the teachings of the family which is to “not cut down trees”. The logical way of thinking that good trees translate to good water, then to good soil, to good rice and finally good sake is straightforward, and has been a key anchor in their undertaking of their job as a remarkable sake brewer. The president revealed many of his   experiences to collaborate with sommeliers in inventing the perfect harmony of tastes in a wide range of cuisines, from French to Chinese and of course Japanese cuisine.   Midway through the session, there was just one intriguing thing which caught our eyes and that was a large circular wooden table top. Lo and behold it was a well! The building extension which hosted the room for receiving visiting guests was built over an existing well. The idea that water is essential in sake brewing once again struck us. The level of dedication of Sudo Honke to their craft is just impressive; no wonder they are lauded for their high-quality sake.         Featured Sake during the visit – Sato no Homare, the “Pride of the Village” Every visiting guest participating in the brewery tour can try out 3 types of sake for a price of 500 yen (Tour itself is free but reservation is required). There is a procedure for tasting sake that we got to start with the least strong one. The first three cups fall under Sudo Honke’s signature brand Sato no Homare or “Pride of the Village”. First up, we had the kassei nigori sake which is a cloudy sake consisting of active living yeasts and enzymes. Sipping the sake, it was unexpectedly soft and smooth, finishing with a crisp sparkling. The second cup was the classic that can be matched with all kinds of cuisine and savoured at a different temperature ranges; flavours were well-balanced and easy on the tongue. Definitely likeable to a wide range of tongues. The third one is Sato no Homare’s black label and is made from a traditional technique known as “kimoto” passed down in the family. It has a full-bodied taste.     Ubiquitous feature at a Sake Brewery – the “Sugitama” One interesting feature of a traditional sake brewery is this ball made of Japanese cedar leaves. This is called the “Sugitama” and is hanged outside of the entrance to the brewery as a sign that new sake is in the making. Initially the ball has a lush green colour to it but as it dries up, the colour turns brown. This transformation would then convey the progress of sake fermentation to the people.   There are many other unique characteristics about Sake brewing. You can also learn about the different grades of sake and how to enjoy Sake. So not to spoil the fun, those who are interested do make the trip down to Sudo Honke and immerse yourself in the world of sake! Book yourself an appointment and participate in the brewery tour. With English-speaking staff available, there is absolutely no problem for English speakers. For further information, please refer to the following websites.   Sudo Honke Official Website (Available in English) http://www.sudohonke.co.jp/en/   More details about the Brewery Tour http://www.sudohonke.co.jp/en/tour/            
Sake of Sudo Honke – One of the Oldest Breweries in Japan   Sudo Honke Sake Brewery     Kasama City - an area in Ibaraki prefecture known for its chestnuts and sake. One of the oldest sake breweries in the area is the Sudo Honke, a brewery situated amidst nature. Their traditional techniques have been passed down from generations to generations and they have a long history of over 800 years. In fact, it is one of the oldest breweries in Japan. Their specialty is unfermented sake and they also sell chocolates and cheese online to pair with the alcohol. The brewery is located about 10 minutes away from Tomobe Station via taxi. There, you can take a tour of the brewery and have a tasting of three kinds of sake for 500 yen.         Taste Testing - Pride of the Village   The sake of Sudo Honke are highly recognized internationally, receiving many accolades including trophies from the International Wine Challenge held in London. In addition, their sake (Kakunko) was selected to be served during the 2016 G7 Ise-shima Summit in Mie Prefecture, which is rare because usually, only local products from the host prefecture are chosen.     Sake produced with techniques honed over 800 years. To just visit the brewery without a taste test would be a wasted opportunity. Despite not being as fond of sake as my peers, my curiosity was piqued. And to say it was merely satisfied would be insufficient.     During the tasting, we had the honor of trying an additional type of sake as a bonus. For sake lovers, as you may already know, starting from the mildest one is the standard procedure. The first three, are members of the Sato no Homare label, and it is no wonder that it means Pride of the Village. To start off the tasting was Sato no Homare Kassei Nigori, a sparkling and cloudy sake containing live yeast. This sake, beginning with a soft dry touch, was a delightful sip, leading to a crisp finish with slight effervescence. It is said to enhance the flavors of lightly seasoned foods and complement rich flavors. Next was the most standard of Sudo Honke, the White Label of Sato no Homare. Crisp and well-balanced in both flavor and aroma, it is suitable for pairing with a wide range of cuisines, be it meat or seafood. The third type was Sato no Homare Kimoto which uses the traditional method to create the yeast starter mash. Dry and smooth, this sake has a very rich taste, only made possible due to the long history of Sudo Honke. This is best paired with rich flavors. Last but not the least was Yusura, an elegant sake with a pleasant fruity aroma similar to a plant of the same name. Its flavor is refined and superbly clear, suitable to pair with seafood or lightly flavored meats.   Using only fresh rice harvested from the local fields in Kasama, no longer than 5 months after harvest, the sake produced by Sudo Honke is absolutely exquisite and lives up to its name – Pride of the Village.       Commitment and Tradition So what is the secret to Sudo Honke’s sake, one might wonder.     “Sake, Rice, Soil, Water, Trees. These are the elements of good sake”, explained the president, Mr. Gen-uemon Sudo. “Good sake is made with good rice. Good rice grows on good soil. Good soil has good water. Good water is collected by good trees. That’s why, our family motto is ‘Never cut the trees’.”     Sudo Honke dedicates itself to nature and the environment, to ensure the quality of ingredients needed for good sake. It is not surprising that there are trees of more than hundreds of years old surrounding the brewery, and wells directly connected to the brewery to draw water. To maintain the same quality in ingredients, they have not moved even once during the span of 876 years.     When asked if they had any upcoming new products, Mr. Sudo commented, “Fashion changes all the time, but it does not last. For us, we will continue to make our traditional products which has appealed to many throughout these years.”     WEB 情報 http://www.sudohonke.co.jp/en/ 55 Generations of Sake: One Family's Sacred Art https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXvtOjsubTM        
Obihiro Shopping Street   Perhaps everyone who has worked and lived in a fast pace city may once have ever dreamt or imagined running on the meadow, breathing the fresh air and tasting the food which bestowed by the great nature without pollution. Obihiro, a cute and pleasant city in Hokkaido can be the ideal spot. It is a place being embraced by the great nature and nurturing high quality of food, but also a place where you can experience the traditional Japanese culture which is distinguished from western ones. Why not embark upon a trip of fabulous local delicacies? Here is one of the spots highly recommended: The Obihiro Shopping Street.     First, we come to have a taste of the local representative food: The Pork Rice Bowl. Located in the corner of the shopping street, a restaurant called Hageiten has been attracting so many local gourmands with the history dated back to the year of 1934. The original sauce made by the master of the first generation is said to be the secret of enduring.         Fascinated by Japanese traditional food or snacks? Here is the ideal spot you can find in the shopping street, Ryugetsu has been dedicated to snack making and selling for seventy years. Here, you can not only enjoy a wide variety of Japanese traditional confections, but also find the limited items that you can only buy at this store. Like the Tokachi Dainagon, which is made of selected beans wrapped in the thinly baked dough, perfectly draws the taste of the beans to the maximum.       Founded in 1950, Masuya is a bakery specializing in nostalgic bread and snacks, and the shop offers free tea for those who need a short rest during travelling. If you’ve already had enough fun at the shopping street, why not come to this local bakery which insists to inhabit the essence of Japanese flavor for more than sixty years. It can be so cozy to have a cup of tea while enjoying the traditional Japanese handmade fluffy bread after the whole day’s sightseeing.     At the end of the day, bringing some Japanese-made souvenirs home can mark a great ending on this unforgettable trip. Opposite to the shopping street lies the Fujimaru mall where you can not only buy fresh fish and fruits favored by Hokkaido's great land, but also get some Japanese traditional handicrafts as gifts to bring back. Such as Japanese kimono, tea bowl, wooden chopsticks and exquisite handkerchief.   It is worth mentioning that, whether the goodies are bought in the shopping street or in the mall, as long as the store has a tax-free logo, purchases over 5,000 yen (excluding tax) can be accumulated together for tax-free. In most of the duty-free shops, purchases over 5,000 yen (excluding tax) only within the same store can be granted tax-free, so if you come to Obihiro shopping street, please do not miss this opportunity. Duty free counter is located on the first floor of the Fujimaru mall, the left side of the escalator. The telephone interpretation would be helpful and convenient for visitors who do not speak Japanese.       - Access to Obihiro Hirokouji Shopping Street-   From Sapporo to Obihiro, you can take trains and estimated travel time will be around 2 hours and half to 3 hours. From nearest Tokachi Obihiro Airport, the nearest airport, to Obihiro downtown, you can take direct buses and estimated travel time will be around 40 minutes. Obihiro Hirokoji Shopping Street is located within 9 minutes’ walk distance from JR Obihiro Station, North exit.   Click here for the official Japanese website for further information.   Obihiro shopping street:   http://www.obihiro-hirokouji.com/ Ryugetsu:               http://www.ryugetsu.co.jp/shop/?c=1 Fujimaru:             http://www.fujimaru.co.jp/information/cn.html      
Let’s go to Obihiro Shopping Street Obihiro – ‘The Hometown of Budadon’     Obihiro lies in the centre of Tokachi Plain, making it not only the political and economic centre of the region but also rich in nature, with the Midori-ga-oka-koen Park located just one kilometer away from the city centre, along with boundless outdoor activities. The Obihiro Shopping Street is the main shopping spot in the area, adjacent to the JR Obihiro Station, tourists could easily experience the hustle and bustle of the local atmosphere within 10-minute walk.   Best Place for Souvenirs :Fujimaru Department Store   Fujimaru Department store, heart of the The Obihiro Shopping Street, is an eight-story building that caters to the need of all kinds. International luxury brands are located on the first floor, while a variety of local dairy goods, fresh fruits and vegetables could be found on the basement floor. If you are a fan of traditional Japanese goods, then you cannot miss the fifth floor in which features a variety of Japanese style merchandises, ranging from the typical Kimono (Japanese traditional garment) to delicate Japanese wind chimes and chopsticks. Fujimaru is definitely the best place for visitors to drop by and grab souvenirs for friends. Free WiFi is also available through acquisition at the customer counter on the first and fifth floor.   Fujimaru has recently joined the Tax-Free system, along with four other stores (Ryugetsu, Rokkatei, NEWS CLIP and SHOES PLAZA KARASAWA) in the shopping street. With the total amount of purchase over 5000 yen (excluding tax), visitors can enjoy tax exemption after presenting their passport and receipt to the tax-free counter on the first floor. However, be aware that the products must not be consumed in Japan but be brought overseas.       The Must-try Butadon (Pork Rice Bowl)   Obihiro is said to be the hometown of Butadon (Pork Rice Bowl). A rice bowl covered with flavored grilled pork cut topped with Japanese sweet sauce and pepper, the Butadon is the kind of cuisine that the taste of simplicity makes the perfect match.   One of the most famous restaurants of Butadon named Hageten( はげ天 ) is located near the shopping street. Founded in Showa 9, 1934, the restaurant has inherited the traditional taste that has been popular for more than seventy years. This is an ideal place to have lunch before before starting your journey.       Ryuugetsu- Place to Find Your Own Hokkaido Snacks   When it comes to Japanese sweets of Hokkaido, Ryuugetsu is a must try in Obihiro. Founded in Showa 22, 1947, Ryuugetsu is a specialist in Japanese sweets   by using local ingredients. One of its most best-selling sweets is the sanbouroku (三方六) , a matcha based mille cake, which has won the golden prize in an international sweets competition. Other popular sweets include the tokachidainagon (とかち大納言) , a limited product in the Tokachi area, is a Japanese sweets made from local azuki beans. Most of the sweets are available to try out, so do not hesitate to find out the one that fits you the most.     - Access to Obihiro Hirokouji Shopping Street-   From Sapporo to Obihiro, you can take trains and estimated travel time will be around 2 hours and half to 3 hours. From nearest Tokachi Obihiro Airport, the nearest airport, to Obihiro downtown, you can take direct buses and estimated travel time will be around 40 minutes. Obihiro Hirokoji Shopping Street is located within 9 minutes’ walk distance from JR Obihiro Station, North exit.    Click here for the official Japanese website for further information.   Obihiro shopping street:   http://www.obihiro-hirokouji.com/ Ryugetsu:               http://www.ryugetsu.co.jp/shop/?c=1 Fujimaru:             http://www.fujimaru.co.jp/information/cn.html        
Kii-Tanabe shopping street Kumano Kodo (熊野古道) is a famous ancient trail for religious practice. It was registered as UNESCO World Heritage in 2004. Kii-Tanabe (紀伊田辺) is near to one of its routes. Compared to other places connected to Kumano Kodo, it is easier to arrive in Kii-Tanabe. Information about Kumano Kodo is much more available online. Hence, this time, I want to introduce you Tanabe city shopping street to enrich your trip to Kumano Kodo. When you go out of Kii-Tanabe station, you can see it immediately!! In Tanabe city there is a large shopping street that consists of 8 streets which are joined together to form a commercial place. The access way to get there is from JR Shin-Ōsaka station to Kii-Tanabe station around 2 hours by train and 3 hours by bus. From Nanki-Shirahama Airport to Kii-Tanabe station by plane is around 40min. It is very convenient as you only need 1 min by walking from JR Kii-Tanabe station to one of the shopping street. Cheers with Kishu Umeshu (Plum wine)  Before getting into the shop, please let me tell you some basic information first. Ume (梅), plum in Japanese, is one of the most famous crops in Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県).Wakayama Prefecture not only yields the highest production of plum in Japan, but also is known for good-quality plum. Actually, it is much more common to see Kishu Ume (紀州梅) rather than Wakayama Ume (和歌山梅). Kishu (紀州) is the old name of Wakayama Prefecture. By the way, just to impress, the largest bookstore chain in Japan, Kinokuniya Shoten (紀伊国屋書店), was named after Kishu. Kinokuniya Shoten has its branches in the United States, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and so on. I think that I am getting a little off topic. Let’s go back to the shop. There are a lot of products related to Ume. Here, I want to tell you something interesting such as Ume salt, emergency Ume stock. Moreover, the designs of the product packages are fascinating-because most of farmers are old, the elderly becomes the design theme. What make the designs more special are the slogans. For example, an old couple is the design of the pickled Ume with a lovely slogan “We only use salt and love to make it.” If you visit Kii-Tanabe shopping street, you should come to this Ume shop!! (This shop is also the tax-free counter of Kii-Tanabe. If you have any questions about it, please feel free to come here and ask.) Toyland Yonekura(ヨネクラ) & Suzuya (鈴屋) sweet shop Toyland Yonekura, and Suzuya sweet shop are near to the Ume shop. That is not the reason I put them together. The reason is their nostalgic atmosphere. Toyland Yonekura is a treasure house. You can find a variety of interesting things here!! What impresses me a lot is-the spinning top. If it is the first time you hear it, please regard it as the ancestor of fidget spinner. I know that fidget spinner is pretty popular now, and hopefully it can help you imagine. This spinning top not only can spin, but also can turn it upside down by itself!! Do you want to know more?? Please come to Toyland Yonekura and see in person. It seems that you are in old movies!! So does Suzuya sweet shop. I really enjoy the atmosphere. Suzuya sweet shop has been open for 88 years. The Japanese royal family enjoys many of their sweets. This time, I tried the most popular one. To be honest, sometimes I feel that Japanese sweets are too sweet (That is why they always have tea at the same time). Surprisingly, this one is perfectly sweet. I can have 2 or 3 in a row even without tea. If it is not so convenient for you to visit here, you can buy it online. However, I still beg you-Please come to Toyland Yonekura and Suzuya sweet shop to experience old Japanese style!!     Information about Kumano Kodo(JP): http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/ The website of Suzuya (鈴屋) sweet shop(JP): http://dxcake.jp/ The website of tanabe city shopping street(JP): http://tanabe-shouren.kiilife.jp/  
Nanokamachi Shopping Street Yamagata – ‘Surrounded by mountains’ Yamagata is the capital city of the Yamagata Prefecture located in the Tohoku region of northern Japan. As its name in Japanese meaning ‘mountain shaped’ evokes, the Yamagata city is surrounded by extraordinary mountainous formations. However, downtown Yamagata is completely flat, making it the perfect city to visit and have a stroll. The main shopping street, ‘Nanokamachi’ is just a 20-min. walk away from the main station. Onuma Department Store The Onuma Department Store located at the center of the shopping street is host to a lot of shops selling from luxury goods, brand name cosmetics to traditional foods and ingredients from the region. One can find a special corner for Yamagata products like Tsuyahime-rice, Dadachamame-senbei, Japanese sake and various cherry based products for which Yamagata is famous. For convenience of foreign customers, the department store has a tax exemption counter which serves also other stores from the shopping street. The stores included in the tax exemption scheme are listed on the guide link at the end of the article.   Some of the finest soba noodles at ‘Shojiya’ Soba noodles are one of Yamagata’s most famous specialty food. One great soba restaurant with a long history and fantastic taste is ‘Shojiya’, located at Nanokamachi-Gotenzeki. Gotenzeki consists of a small number of shops preserving an old style and lined up along a small canal. The noodles at ‘Shojiya’ are handmade from buckwheat flour and traditionally served over a wooden plank along buckwheat tea and optionally with side dishes as ‘tempura’ (deep friend seafood or vegetables). The restaurant has a clean and refreshing atmosphere with minimalistic geometric styles. A fantastic place to have a refreshing lunch. Modern looking Japanese tableware One of the most unique shops in Gotenzeki is KEN OKUYAMA CASA, selling Japanese tableware along other products by famous industrial designer Ken Okuyama’s design office. He is famous for being the Design Director responsible for the worldwide known sports car Ferrari Enzo. The store has a modern design while maintaining the old profile of Gotenzeki. The tableware such as the Nambu Tekki Teapot “Origami & Square” stand out because of its combination of traditional Japanese cast iron wares with simplistic styles which evoke origami geometry. They have a great variety of Japanese tableware which will make for a great and modern Japanese souvenir.   Japanese tea and tea flavored ice cream from ‘Iwabuchi-chaho’ Iwabuchi-chaho is a Japanese tea specialty shop with over 120 years of history, it offers the highest quality tea from all over Japan and has a great Matcha flavored ice cream cone which is great for eating while walking around the streets. They also offer a great variety of traditional teapots and teacups. This shop offers tax-exemption at the Onuma department store counter.   Local confectioneries at ‘Juichiya’ Right in front of gotenzeki is Juichiya, a small confectionery which also serves as a café until lunch. They have a great variety of sweets making use of Yamagata’s top-class fruits famous all around Japan. They also have other famous local sweets such as dadacha-mochi and three color monaca. It is a great place to buy souvenirs if one is looking for local sweets.     Access From Sendai station: Take the Senzan Line to Yamagata station. (Takes around 73 min. /1140Yen) Take the express bus to Yamagata station. (Takes around 70 min. / 970Yen) From Yamagata station: A 20-min. walk to Nanokamachi. Take the Yamagata community bus “Eastern route” and get off at “Nanokamachi”. (Takes around 10 min./100Yen)   Click here for the Nanokamachi shopping street home page. http://www.nanokamachi.com/      
Ishinomori Mangattan Museum The Ishinomori Mangattan Museum is located in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture. Walking from Ishinomaki station one can see the manga museum from afar, its particular spaceship like shape makes it easy to spot. At the entrance Ishinomaki’s hero “SEAJETTER KAITO” greets you first to the left and the imprints of many famous manga artists are decorated on the wall to the right. The Ishinomori mangattan museum got it’s name from famous manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori, also known as “The King of Manga”, holding the Guinness record for most comics published.       First floor – Information desk and movie hall Upon entering, the museum staff wearing “Cyborg 009” suits will greet you and gladly help you in a wide variety of languages with the help of “VoiceTra”, a very intuitive voice translation application. They will also gladly hand you pamphlets in English and Chinese.   Although the museum has 3 floors, you only need a ticket for the second floor and the movie hall. The tour starts behind the information desks, with information about Ishinomori. Next you will find the movie hall midway to the second floor, continuing up the ramp towards the second floor there are explanations of how manga is written and small windows which look as if they were from a space ship.     Second floor – Permanent and special exhibition The first area of the permanent exhibition portrays one of the opening scenes from the manga “Cyborg 009” with effects mimicking the heroes abilities. The next room immerses you into the world of “Kamen Raider” with masks from all of the series from the first one to the very latest one. There are also 2 games, one in which you either transform into a “Kamen Raider” and have to actually punch and kick in the air to defeat enemies and another in which you mount a bike to rescue a girl. The next area holds some of Ishinomori’s original handwritten mangas, which are a total must see.      The next room is the laboratory where “Kikaider” was born. A fun game of unlocking a computer can be played next to Kikaider. The last two exhibits consist of the reception desk of “Hotel Platon” and Ishinomaki’s hero “SEAJETTER KAITO”, with dioramas featuring light and sound effects. There is also a special exhibition which changes every few months.     Third floor – Library and cafe On the third floor one will find a manga library and an animating desk with light boxes where the staff will gladly make a short animation from your drawings. There’s also the “Blue Zone”, a café that looks like the cockpit of a spaceship and has a view of the Kitakami river. The whale rice bowl dish is a must try specialty food of Ishinomaki.     The level of detail put on each piece of the museum is really impressive, as is the number of interactive games which are actually fun to play. The museum is always changing with new special exhibitions and activities not only inside but also outside the museum. At the end of the day one can go to the souvenir shop which sells original items only available at the museum. “Ishinomaki no koibito” makes for a delicious souvenir.   *Photos shown here were taken under the special approval for this article.   Not all areas in the museum are allowed to take picture.   When you take picture, please follow the direction in the museum.      Access   From Sendai station: Take the Senseki or Senseki Tohoku line to Ishinomaki. (Takes around 52 min./840Yen) Take the express bus to Ishinomaki. (Takes around 90 min./800Yen) From Ishinomaki station:  A 15-min walk to the museum.   Click here for the Ishinomori Mangattan Museum home page. http://www.mangattan.jp/manga/    
Yamagata City’s charming shopping district A city in the midst of mountains Yamagata, literally meaning mountain-shape, is an especially mountainous region of Japan, and Yamagata City serves as a convenient base to access some of the more remote areas of natural beauty in the prefecture.   It is a relaxed city, well suited for a lunchtime stroll around the quiet streets to soak up the atmosphere of this former castle town, famous in the Edo period for producing red safflower dye, and well-known more recently as Japan’s major producer of cherries.   Sites well worth visiting are the Bunshokan (former government office building and designated cultural asset), Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum, and Kajo Park (the site of the former castle).     A tax-free shopping haven The Nanokamachi shopping district is located a short distance from Yamagata station, home to various shops, and the large Onuma department store.   The basement floor of the department store stands in contrast to the relaxed atmosphere outside, a bustling hub of counters selling food and sweets.   Much local produce can be found here, such as the popular “Tsuyahime rice”, and a variety of nihonshu (rice wine) and senbei (rice crackers).   Of particular interest for visitors is a special kind of tax-exemption counter located on the 7 th floor.   Not only goods purchased within the department store, but several shops within the Nanokamachi shopping district are also included in a tax-exemption scheme.   This union allows visitors to receive tax exemption on Yamagata-city-exclusive stores selling one-of-a-kind items, that without the scheme would otherwise not be able to individually offer tax exemption.   Details about which stores are included in the scheme can be found on the website listed below, but include shops selling locally-produced gifts, everything from sweets, to teas, clothes and craft goods.   From Yamagata to the world The Gotenzeki area located within the shopping district is easily identifiable by the canal running down the street, and stylish buildings complete with the aforementioned safflower plants hanging outside.   Ken Okuyama is an internationally-recognised designer who hails from and still resides in Yamagata city, and has a store in this area selling his designed goods.   As the founder of the company responsible for designing the Enzo Ferrari, and various Shinkansen trains, his items are in high demand, and he has been known to drop in to his store from time to time.   Two doors down stands a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant.   With a fashionable minimalist interior, and extremely tasty noodles all for a very reasonable price, it’s easy to see why it’s popular amongst the locals, and is well recommended for visitors too.   Alternatively, there are several cafes located in this area.   Have a break in this easy-going city Overall, Yamagata City is a great place to stop on a tour exploring the Tohoku region.   With the recently introduced tax exemption scheme, local goods in the Nanokamachi shopping district can be picked up with a tax discount.   The fashionable restaurants and cafes make the district an ideal place to spend a relaxed afternoon before or after heading out into the mountain trails.         Access Sendai station, take Senzan Line to Yamagata Station (rapid: 73min, 1144 ¥ ) Express bus also runs between Sendai and Yamagata (70min, 970 ¥ ) From Yamagata station, take the Yamagata community bus ‘Eastern route’ and get off at Nanokamachi (approx.. 8-10min, 200 ¥ ) Click here for the official Nanokamachi Shopping District guide to stores included in the tax-exemption scheme: www.nanokamachi.com/g/index.html   Other useful pages: www.onuma.co.jp www.gotenzeki.co.jp www.shojiya.jp www.cybele.co.jp