Archive for March, 2020

Top 5 Regions for Tea in Japan – Learn the Authentic Japanese Culture

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

Japanese tea

 

Japan is renowned for its tea and has had a proud tea tradition for the past 1500 years.  The country produces hundreds of unique varieties and grades of tea throughout its regions. Tea is considered the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan and it is integrated heavily in Japanese culture. It is often served with or at the end of the meal for free. It is also a central element of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony.

The Major Tea Growing Regions in Japan are:

  • Shizuoka (40.3%)
  • Kagoshima (19%)
  • Mie (6.9%)
  • Kyoto (3.48%)
  • Fukuoka (3.46%)

Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Mie are the 3 largest producing prefectures and constitute about 70% of the total tea-growing acreage in Japan. A wise tea man has once said: “Kagoshima is the earliest, Shizuoka makes the most and Uji makes the best-tasting tea”.

 

The production of tea in Japan

Tea undergoes the following processes before being sold on the market:

  1. Harvesting fresh tea leaf
  2. Processing fresh tea leaf into crude tea in tea-growing regions
  3. Blending crude tea into final processed tea (refined tea) in allocated tea consumption regions

 

The Types of Tea

Tea is produced in a number of different regions in Japan, generally limited by climate. Japan’s climate is humid and ranges from cool and temperate in the north to subtropical in the south. Therefore, Japanese tea is generally classified according to their type of cultivation, processing method and regional origins. In other words, the same green tea has different names based on how it is made. Please see the “tea index” for explanations of the different kinds in the below paragraph!

 

Shizuoka Prefecture

Tea Plantations in Shizuoka

 

Shizuoka Prefecture is the largest tea producing region and they are responsible for producing 40% of tea in the whole country. This is due to the fact that this prefecture is surrounded by very rich volcanic soil and an abundance of freshwater. The tea here has a very distinct flavor but it varies in taste depending on where you purchase it from due to the differences in temperature. Some of the tea leaves are exposed to more sunlight while others are covered in a mist until early afternoon. As the plantations are neighboring Mt Fuji, a stunning view of Mt Fuji can be witnessed in the backdrop on a beautiful sunny day. A lot of people would usually go to this spot for a photography session during Spring when the sky is blue. The tea masters there, AKA ”cha-shi”, have been using a leaf picking technique that will help them sort out the price of tea based on the characteristic of the teas that they harvest. The leaves are steamed over vapor, helping to maintain their freshness before they get sold into the market. While you are there, you can also participate in this process and learn about the process of tea leaves.

 

 

Kagoshima Prefecture

Sakurajima Kagoshima

 

Kagoshima is the second-largest producer after Shizuoka, producing 19% of unprocessed tea. Some of the best Sencha (roasted tea) and Bancha (a lower grade form of sencha but harvested at a later period, making the flavor more intense) are grown here. The soil here is very fertile as Kagoshima is surrounded by volcanic and ocean surroundings, an excellent area to produce tea leaves that are rich in taste. Sencha and Bancha taste can be enjoyed hot or cold, boosting someone when in need without keeping them up all night.

 

Mie Prefecture

Mie

 

Mie is located on Honshu, the largest island of Japan. Kabuse-Cha (tea that is covered with a black sheet for 7-10 days before harvest) is produced heavily in Mie prefecture. The flavors of the tea are very unique. The black sheet gives a pleasant umami taste, and the tea stems are a beautiful green color. It is unique as it is slightly more savory than usual tea. When drinking the first cup, you can somehow taste dashi like flavor. However, with the second cup, the tea gives you a refreshing taste that goes hand-in-hand with Japanese confectionary.

 

 

Kyoto Prefecture

Uji - Capital of Matcha

In Uji City, matcha products are produced and they are considered as one of the highest quality teas in Japan as it is rich in flavour. Though, it doesn’t just stop there with matcha as you can frequently see it in other products too, from desserts, soba noodles, bread and even beer! It is very versatile, resulting in a very unique experience for those matcha lovers!

 

Matcha

Matcha is the central element for a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Green tea enthusiasts would love this, as the tea is served in a tranquil tatami matt (bamboo flooring) room that is surrounded by beautiful scenery. You get to acquire “zen” while you are served with matcha (green tea that is grounded into a fine powder then whisked with a small bamboo whisk and hot water, resulting in a bitter rich tea), and are taught how to sip it the Japanese way. As one drinks it, you get to counterbalance the bitterness of the tea with the sweetness of the Japanese sweets that are often provided. The leaf is fully consumed upon drinking, making it a drink filled with antioxidants.

 

Kyushu

Kyushu tea culture

 

Fukuoka is the main production region for Gyokuro Tea in Japan, accounting for half of the volume nationwide. Even if the prices are steep, tea lovers would always appreciate a good cup of Gyokuro anytime! Yamecha is also produced here as the tea plantations are produced in the basins of Yabe and Hoshino Rivers.

On the other hand, Saga prefecture is famous for its Ureshino tea. Depending on individual preferences, the tea is either pan-fried to bring out its rich flavor, or steamed to bring out its full aroma. The tea here is so fragrant that the locals would use the tea extract as a part of their ingredient for their pork-filled hotpots, known as “Cha-Shabu”. The reason being, due to the high levels of Vitamin C in tea, when it’s infused in the hotpot, it would help to eliminate odors and break down the fats, resulting in one feeling refreshed after consuming the broth.

Our 8 Day fully escorted tour of Kyushu visits Ureshino and you can learn about the process of tea making.
See Kyushu Escorted tour>>

I hope you’ll enjoy a wonderful tea experience when you’re in Japan.

 

Tea Index

Sencha (Japanese Green Tea)

The most common first flush (also known as shincha) and a second flush of green tea that is grown in full sunlight. The quality of sencha varies on origin, time of harvest and leaf processing technique. It is steam pressed for a pleasantly bitter taste with mild grassy fragrance.

Fukamushi Sencha

A deep steamed sencha that requires a long time in the steaming process rather than normal for processing green tea.

Bancha (Mature version of Sencha)

A lower grade form of sencha but harvested at a later period, making the flavorless aromatic but Japanese people still love it due to its robust flavor.

 

Hojicha (Roasted Green Tea) 

It is a form of Bancha. It is roasted over charcoal at a high temperature of 200 degrees C and immediately cooled, giving rise to a rich toasty flavor.  Through roasting, caffeine is sublimated and it becomes less bitter, resulting in a suitable drink for all ages.

 

Genmaicha (Brown rice Green Tea)

Made with either rustic Bancha or superior Sencha with soaked and steam brown rice that is roasted and popped. It is often mixed with a small dose of Macha to make the tea look more appealing. It is very popular due to its nutty “popcorn” flavor.

 

Tencha (Grown mainly to make matcha)

The tea leaves are covered up in the tea plantation to prevent them from exposing directly to the sun for a certain period of time (this is done to reduce bitterness). After steaming the leaves (without being rolled), it will be grounded by traditional granite stone wheels that result in a smoother creamy matcha powder that’s rich in umami.

 

Matcha (Powdered Green Tea)

Primarily used in tea ceremonies. It has its unique way of preparation and taste. It is used extensively in the making of Japanese tea and other savory dishes. Really high in antioxidant as you consume the whole leaf when whisking the matcha into hot water.

 

Gyokuro (The highest grade of Japanese green tea)

It is made only with the first flush leaves and due to its early budding period and being grown under the shade for a 3 week period, the leaves tend to be bright green as the chlorophyll content has been increased, giving the tea a really fresh smooth grassy flavor with floral and sweet elements complimenting it. If you like the taste of seaweed, you would really enjoy the taste of Gyokuro.

 

Kamairi (Pan Fried Tea)

In Saga Prefecture, the Kamairi tea has been a popular hit. Unlike most Japanese teas, they are not steamed, but roasted and rolled instead, pan-frying it so it results in a less astringent, refreshing and mild taste.

 

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Nagasaki Travel Guide – 10 Spots You Must Visit in Nagasaki – Kyushu

Friday, March 27th, 2020

 

Nagasaki Facts

Nagasaki is a cute and historical port city on the northwest of Kyushu island. It takes about 2 ½ hours to get to Nagasaki from Fukuoka Station by JR Train.  Nagasaki has been a well-known tourist spot for domestic Japanese tourists. On the other hand, Nagasaki is still a hidden jewel among foreign tourists. It is worth it to take the time to explore there!

 

Little History of Nagasaki 

When I traveled to Nagasaki, I personally loved the atmosphere of Nagasaki because of its cultural diversity. Although I am Japanese, I felt as if I was somewhere else in some ways. I think this interesting feeling was coming from the history of Nagasaki as a gateway to international trade. Nagasaki played a very important role as an international trading port for many centuries. Back in the 16th century, Japan restricted international relationships with other nations except for Portuguese, Dutch at Dejima Wharf in Nagasaki. Dejima was the only port to connect the outside of Japan. Portuguese and Dutch gave great cultural influence to Nagasaki such as the city architectures, food and religion. Surprisingly, the famous Japanese Food “Tempura” is originated in Portuguese words “Quatuor Anni Tempora”!! In addition, since opening the international trade with Portuguese, Nagasaki has been the centre of Japanese Catholicism. Catholicism in Japan is about 0.35% of the population, but about 4.4% of the population in Nagasaki believe in Catholicism. Interesting!

The academic part is done now. Ok! Let’s go through 10 Spots You Must Visit in Nagasaki!

 

1. Battleship Island (Gunkanjima Island)

Battleship Island

 

Battleship Island is a small island (480m x 160m) that is listed in UNESCO World Heritage that located approximately 17 km from Nagasaki Port. The island used to serve as a coal mine, and had approximately 5300 people on it! The density of the population on the island was highest in human history… But these facts don’t tell us why is it called “Battleship Island”, right? The name came from the fact that this tiny island was built taller and taller to hold that much population, and looked like a battleship “Tosa” served for WW1st. That is interesting!

It used to be banned to travel to this historical ruin, but now it is open for the public. There are guided tours that you can join with an English guide.

Contact us for further information>>

 

2. Mt Inasa

Mt.Inasa

 

Mt Inase is a great lookout to overview the entire Nagasaki Habour and City. This mountain is only 333m that you can access the summit by ropeway, bus or on foot. There are plenty of resting spots and cafés on the way to the summit. It will take only 1 hour to get there for hikers. So, it may be a great idea to go for hiking on the way up and coming down by ropeway.

Ropeway admission

  Adult Student Children 
One way 730 Yen 520 Yen 410 Yen
Return 1250 Yen 940 Yen 620 Yen


Nagasaki Ropeway Information
Download PDF>>

3. Nagasaki Peace Park 

Nagasaki-Peace-Park

 

Nagasaki was atomic-bombed on the 9th of August, 1945 that killed 73,884 people and caused 74,909 injuries. The Nagasaki Peace Park was established in 1955 to commemorate the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The centre of the park is hypocentre where you only see a simple black monolith. I am not a spiritual person normally, but the silence, space and the simple monolith made me feel something with the wind blowing behind me. This is definitely the must-go place in Nagasaki. 
Admission Fees: 200 Yen

 

4. Glover Garden

Glover-Garden

 

This is the old mansion built for Thomas Blake Glover who is a Scottish merchant who contributed to modernise Japan’s shipbuilding and coal mining industries. Glover Garden is the oldest western building in Japan. The epic part of this site is the garden. It offers you the great overlooking of the Nagasaki harbour, and western and Japanese styles mixed garden. So, grab Bento (lunch box) from a convenience store and enjoy the picnic there!

Admission fees: 620 Yen

 

5. Dejima

Dejima

 

Dejima in Japanese means of “Exit Island”. This artificial island was established as a special district for the trades with Dutch and Portuguese. Dejima was the only place that opened to the rest of the world during Japan’s two centuries of isolation.  Now, Dejima has been restored to demonstrate old Dejima. So, once you step in Dejima, you will be able to timeslip to Edo Era. It is a really cool spot!


Admission fees:
General: 520 Yen
High School Student: 200 Yen
Primary Student: 100 Yen   

 

6. Sofuku-ji Temple

Sofukuji Temple

 

This is another interesting part of Nagasaki! This temple was built in 1629 by Chinese traders from Fujian Province. As the Chinese Temple, the Sofuku-ji temple is the oldest in Japan. The gate in the image was themed to demonstrate the gate to heaven. There are so many Buddhist accessories that were created by sophisticated Chinese Buddhist sculptors. When you enter the complex, you would notice a big difference from other temples in Japan. 

Admission Fees: 300 Yen

 

7. Urakami Cathedral 
Urakami Cathedural

 

Urakami Cathedral is located within a short walk distance from Nagasaki Peace Park. This is one of the largest Cathedrals in Japan. Of course, Japan is super well-known for Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines, however, there is also some history for Catholicism. Have a visit to Urakami Cathedral and learn the history of how local Nagasaki residents were hiding to believe Catholicism under the religious restriction of the government in the past. It stands as one of the most iconic places of Nagasaki.

Admission Fees: Free

 

8. Shimabara Castle 

Shimabara-Castle

 

In 2006, the Shimabara Castle was listed as one of the 100 best castles in Japan by the Japan Castle Foundation. The Fun thing about this castle is you can try Ninja & Samurai Cosplay! (Dressing Ninja and Samurai armours) It is great fun for adults too as there are not many places that offer dressing armors. The inside of the castle is a museum that exhibits the history of Christian Samurai in Nagasaki. 

Admission Fees;
Adult: 540 Yen
Kids: 270 Yen

9. Confucius Shrine 

Confucius Shrine

 

The Confucius Shrine was built in 1893 by the Chinese society of Nagasaki. This is called the shrine, so people expect just another normal shrine. Bun it is much more than a normal shrine! It is the shrine with a well-designed museum. In addition, I liked the little garden with a bridge over the pound as it looks similar to our culture but I can see the difference between us. The Chinese also have the beautiful garden culture and the Confucius Shrine in Nagasaki is well-maintained from the 19th century. So, it is worth it to explore!


Admission fee;
660 Yen (Including admission to the museum)

 

10. Kujuku Islands (99 Islands)

KujuKu-Islands

 

Kujuku in Japanese means of ninety-nine islands. But the fact is that there are 208 small islands in this area. These islands are located near Sasebo which is about 1 hour and a half from Nagasaki Station by JR train or private bus. There is an observation tower where tourists can enjoy a stunning view. There are also several boat tours operating frequently. You would have to take another 1 hour and a half to get there from the Nagasaki CBD, but the breathtaking experience is guaranteed! 

 

Dive into Kyushu

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The 8 Packing List Tips for an Unforgettable Japan Trip

Friday, March 27th, 2020

 

When going on any trips anywhere, travel preparation can be a little stressful and overwhelming especially when it comes to packing. Things that you would need to consider when it comes to packing are things like the type of clothing items to bring, whether it will be suitable for the weather, essential items to personal items, travel guidance, medications and a few things to be cautious and make sure the items are not prohibited or restricted items when entering through custom on to your holiday destination.

Japan is a great travel destination for anyone and everyone. One of the few places you must travel to if you needed to pick somewhere. Written below is an 8 packing list tips for you to consider when packing for your travel to Japan.

 

1. Japan Travel Essentials

Packing up


Remember all your basic everyday items, such as your travel documents, ID, wallet, and money.
• Passport (be sure it has 6 months or more left before it expires)
• Visa (if required – see Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more information)
• Proof of airline tickets/reservations/boarding passes
• Customs forms and documents
• Verification of hotel reservations
• Transportation information and tickets (JR Passes, Suica, etc)
• Credit cards, cash, traveler’s checks, and other currency
• Identification documents, such as your driver’s license (International License)
• Maps and guide books
• Translation guide and/or travel apps on your smartphone
• Travel Insurance


2. Luggage and Bags


Lightweight luggage, the portable bag would be good to have as your checked or carry-on luggage for the trip. This can save you cost, space and weight when traveling between places or uses of public transport. A comfortable backpack is ideal for quick day trips around in Japan while storing your luggage’s behind. There are a few other services which can assist with travelers who have much luggage with them especially when traveling on transport such as in a shinkansen, bus, trains, etc., you might want to consider a service called ‘Luggage Forwarding’ or place them in ‘Coin Lockers’.
• Checked suitcase (if needed)
• Smaller carry-on luggage
• Purse, backpack, or day bag
• Garment bag for nicer clothes
• A laptop bag or briefcase
• ID tags for all your bags, with your name, home address, and hotel address listed


3. Clothing


Packing your outfit can be difficult as we can never know what to expect of the weather which is always a good idea to do some background research on the time period you are traveling to Japan or anywhere in the world.

Pack as minimum as possible and bring only basic items as you can layer and change up your outfit during the trip. Have about a week’s worth of clothes as that should suffice for trips lasting a week or more, as you can re-wear your clothing or just go around and shop for new clothes which allow you to bring new items back from a holiday. Most of the populated areas and cities in Japan have laundry services in hotels or coin-operated laundry in town that tourists can use so there is nothing to worry about.
Japanese style is modern and unique compared to other countries. But do avoid highly revealing clothing as it will seem unappropriated to Japanese custom especially being a tourist going to visit the shrines and temples.
• Undergarments x 8
• Socks x 8
• T-shirts
• Sturdy pair of walking shoes
• Dressy shoes
• Jacket
• Glasses/sunglasses
• Jeans, khakis, or light/dark pants x 2
• Shorts or a light dress or skirt x 2
• Long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts x 7
• PJ’s or sleepwear
• Formal/business wear (if there is any special occasion you are expected to attend e.g fine dining, wedding or business conference)
• Mittens, scarf, hat (if visiting in winter or colder destinations)
• Jewelry as desired/required by the type of trip – avoid bringing if you can (You can find nice and cute accessories in Japan)
• A hat or visor for when it’s sunny
• Swimwear

 

4. Toiletries and Personal Care


Make sure when packing your toiletries in your checked baggage that it to comply with airline regulations and customs to your travel destination. Don’t sweat toiletries too much – they are easy to pick up at convenience stores or hotels and especially in Japan, you can find anything and everything in Japan.
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Dental floss
• Eye drops
• Contact lens solution/contacts/glasses
• Comb/brush
• Nail clipper/file/tweezers kit
• Razor(s) and shaving needs
• Cosmetics
• Feminine care needs
• Cologne/perfume
• Creams and ointments, you might need
• Hair ties, bobby pins, or headbands

Packing Medicines

5. Medical and First Aid


You can easily purchase key first-aid items at convenience stores in Japan. However, basic wound-care items are always good to have with you while you travel. Check to make sure your prescription and over-the-counter medications are permitted in Japan and carry them with you.
• Bandages, gauze, and wound-care items
• Over-the-counter medications like painkillers, cough medicine, motion sickness pills, and vitamins
• Prescription medications – you may have to pre-certify the medication a month or more before your travel
• Any medical equipment or devices you may require (g., hearing aids)
• Copy of your medical history and medication information, either on your smartphone app or on a sheet of paper in your wallet/purse in case of emergency
• Emergency contact information

 

6. Electronics


Bring your smartphone and associated chargers, plugs, and gadgets for your trip to Japan, and keep in mind whether you’ll want to access them during the flight.
• Smartphone and charger
• Portable music player
• Headphones
• Portable power bank
• International adapter(s) for plug-in devices (Japan uses the 100V standard vs. the U.S. 120V standard, though the plugs look similar and many devices will work without issue)
• SIM card(s) to use your smartphone for calling and data while traveling (check with your wireless provider and plan)
• Camera and accessories
• Laptop/tablet/e-reader/other computer devices and associated cords, adapters, and accessories

 

7. Miscellaneous


Pack a few of these extra items to have with you “just in case”.It is always handy to have them with you or if not purchase them while on your trip.
• Stain remover pen
• Wrinkle release spray for clothes
• Portable sewing kit
• Glasses repair kit
• Tissues
• Pens and paper/notebook
• Deck of playing cards
• Spare batteries for electronics

 

8. Travel Items for Plane/Other Transit


Some flights to and back from Japan can be very long. Consider packing the following items to help with the plane ride and other long travel transit times once you land.
• Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
• Sleep mask
• Antibacterial wipes and/or hand sanitizer
• Travel/neck pillow
• Sleeping pills or motion sickness pills
• Updated airline apps
• Updated media content on your devices
• Book(s)/magazines/reading material or e-reader and associated cords

 

Summary 

Japan Holiday Featured

I recommend that from the lists above, write down the things you really do need and make a list of your own so when it comes to packing you can just tick them off as you go.
I hope the lists made things easier for you when packing to Japan or anywhere else on your travel itinerary. Especially those who are last-minute packers, it will surely help a lot.

 

Make Your Journey Easier

Japan Rail Pass

Get Your Kyushu Basics covered – Land of Fire

Friday, March 27th, 2020

 

Beyond Japan’s Golden Route
Kyushu may be lower on travelers’ radar going to Japan, but this volcanic island abounds with century-old temples, natural hot-springs and gourmet treasures. It’s time to put it back on the map!

 

Accessing Kyushu


Kyushu is the 3rd largest island of the Japanese archipelago and is located south of the main island of Honshu. It is extensively connected to the main island by rail and air.

The bullet train goes as far south as Kagoshima city, and Kyushu is an area well serviced by the rail network. It is included in the Japan National rail pass, and in several regional passes to fit your travel needs best!

See Japan Rail Pass Page>>

 

By rail

The bullet train goes as far south as Kagoshima city, and Kyushu is an area well serviced by the rail network. It is included in the Japan National rail pass, and in several regional passes to fit your travel needs best!
See JR Kyushu Pass>>

By air
Most airports in Kyushu are serviced from Korea. Fukuoka International airport is the major hub of the island. It is 1,5 hr flight from Tokyo.
All airports are accessible with domestic flights.

 

By boat 

From Yawatahama or Usuki cities in Shikoku, ferries travel to Beppu daily. A great way to see Japan from a different angle! Yawatahama and Usuki are both historical picturesque small towns.
See Details>>

From Osaka, you can take a ferry from to Beppu city, while Oita city is accessible from Kobe.
Kitakyushu is also accessible from Osaka or Kobe by ferry.
Information about Ferry>>

Ferries from Busan also connect Kyushu to South Korea.

 

Kyushu Facts

Takachiho_Kyushu

 

Kyushu has been part of Japan since as early as the 3rd century and is one of the most volcanic regions of the country. Mt Aso, located in the central Kyushu region is the most active volcano, creating breath-taking sceneries – think Takachiho gorge- and giving birth to many hot springs.
Beppu city, located on the East short is famous for its “hells”, hot springs of various colours spread throughout the city, while Ibusuki in the South offers volcanic sand baths.

Saga prefecture is famous for its beef and world-renowned Arita pottery art, while Kagoshima prefecture is believed to be the most ancient location for Jômon era artifacts. Kagoshima prefecture is also home to Sakurajima, an amazing volcano standing in the bay of Kagoshima city.

Being the closest point of Japan to the rest of Asia, Kyushu has always been the entry point for many foreign trades and has a rich history of crossed influences. Nagasaki was once a Dutch trading harbor, and much Dutch-influenced architecture can still be found In the city. Hui Ten Bosch, a theme park located in Nagasaki prefecture close to Sasebo city, celebrates the ties between the two countries with life-sized copies of old Dutch buildings.

 

Travel to Kyushu with JTB in a small group and discover its secrets!

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Temples and Shrines: Understanding the 2 main Japanese religions

Friday, March 27th, 2020

 

Japan has a long tradition of different religious beliefs coexisting, and even merging, creating a unique spiritual landscape.
During your trip, you will come across many temples and shrines. While it may all look similar to unfamiliar eyes, some basics will help you gain understanding and enjoy your travels further.
What are the main differences between Shinto and Buddhism? Let’s take a look!

 

Shinto – Gods that created Japan

Fushimi Inari Shrine

 

Shinto is the native religion of Japan. It is based on the worship of kami (deities) that embody natural phenomenons (fertility for example) or location (a specific rock or tree). It is a form of animism where there is no hierarchy between divinities. Some are prominent though, like Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, or Mt Fuji.
One of the main kami represents a fox, Inari Ôkami, and is found all over Japan. Inari is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea, and sake, of agriculture and industry.
Shinto shrines (jinja 神社 in Japanese) can be recognised by their bright red colour, and use of large red gates – known as torii.

 

Famous Torii @ Fushimi Inari

Famous Torii – Fushimi Inari

 

Buddhism – From the silk road to Japan

Kiyomizu Temple

 

Buddhism arrived in Japan around the 5th century from China, through the silk road and Korea. As in other parts of Asia, there are many different Buddhist schools, that embody different practices and approaches. Japan is famous for the Amida and Zen Buddhism, but smaller schools still exist to this day.
Buddhism is a philosophy based on the idea of finding a way to break out of the reincarnation cycle samsara. How we reincarnate in the next life is the product of our actions in life (good or bad). A Buddha is someone that has broken free from samsara and has reached nirvana, the state of liberation.
A bodhisattva is a compassionate being that postpones becoming buddha in order to help humanity. There are many bodhisattvas worshiped in Japan, the most famous of them is Avalokiteshvara – or Kannon in Japanese. Kannon has many different forms, but the most famously depicted with a thousand hands to save as many souls as possible.

 

Good luck and wishes – Omikuji and Ema votive tablets

Temples and shrines usually offer omikuji, small sheets of paper thought to predict luck. You can usually draw one at random for around 100 jpy. If the draw isn’t so lucky, you can tie the paper on a thread or a tree to undo the bad luck.
Ema are wooden tablets, where visitors can write their wishes and tie them in the hope they will be fulfilled. They are also usually available at both shrines and temples.

 

Omikuji

Omikuji

 

Common figures in Buddhism

 

Jizô


Jizo


When walking around, and visiting temples (tera 寺 in Japanese), you are likely to notice statues wearing red bibs or hats. This is Jizô (Ksitigarbha in Sanscrit). Jizô is one of the main four bodhisattvas in East Asian Buddhism and is very present in Japan. He is thought to protect the soul of deceased children or lost pregnancies, as well as protecting travelers and pilgrims. Jizô is found along many paths and roads all over the country.

 

Niô

Nio

Arriving at a temple, the visitor usually walks through a large gate, before entering the main area. Two statues guard the gates: they are Niô or the two demon guardians of the Buddhist law.
They symbolise all creation as the right statue’s mouth is open, forming “a” sound, and the left-hand statue’s mouth is open in an “n” sound. They are the first and last letters in Sanskrit, like the alpha and omega.
A temple gate

 

Multifaceted religious practices


Many temples and shrines display elements from both religions, like the famous Sensôji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district neighbouring a large Shinto shrine. Because Shinto was made State religion during the Meiji period (1868-1912), a number of practices and rituals integrated Shinto symbols. A lot of Japanese visits both shrines and temples and syncretism is an inherent part of Japanese religious practices.

 

Is it worth buying a Japan Rail Pass for my Japan trip? – Answered

Friday, March 27th, 2020

 

 

The Japanese train network is very famous across the world, and the Japan Rail (JR) Pass makes your travel so much easier. But the question here is: “Is it worth buying the JR Pass for my journey?”. So, let’s talk about whether or not you can save money by purchasing a JR Pass!   

 

How much does a Japan Rail Pass Cost?  

 

First things first! We should be looking at the cost of your JR Pass. Here is a simplified price table that is shown in Aussie dollars, but please keep in mind that the prices shown on the table are approximations. The prices vary depending on the currency exchange rate. “Green” class is equivalent to a premium economy class on an airplane. It entitles you to ride on the higher class cars on all JR trains where available.

  Ordinary Pass Green Pass 
  Adult Child Adult Child
7 Day Pass  $380 $190 $510 $260
14 Day Pass  $620 $310 $850 $425
21 Day Pass  $800 $395 $1,100 $550
*All prices are approximations and will differ depends on the exchange rate.

Hmmm… It seems to be a little expensive… But, is that really expensive against what you get in return? Let me go through some cases where it is and isn’t worth the money.

 

How will I save money with a JR Pass? 

 

The answer to this question is very simple: “The more you ride, the better value you get!” It sounds easy to do, right? But maybe in some cases, like if you are traveling one to two weeks in Japan, you would wonder how many JR Trains you need to ride to make up for the money spent on the JR pass.

Case 1: When you should buy the 7 Day JR Pass
If you land and depart from Narita Airport, and you want to explore Tokyo and Kyoto.
Narita to Tokyo Return = $80
Tokyo to Kyoto return =$370

Total = $450

Ordinary JR Pass = $380

The ordinary JR Pass covers every cost from the airport to the Tokyo CBD. So, it is definitely worth it to buy JR Pass.

 

Case 2: When you should buy the 14 JR Pass
If you land and depart from Narita Airport, and you want to visit Tokyo to Hiroshima via Kyoto and Osaka.
Narita to Tokyo Return = $80
Tokyo to Kyoto =$180
Kyoto to Osaka = $20
Osaka to Hiroshima = $133
Hiroshima to Tokyo = $250
Total=$665

Ordinary JR Pass = $620

By stopping at a few major cities in Honshu Island, you would make up the value of the JR Pass. It means that the more you enjoy Japan, the more value you are getting out of your JR Pass!

 

When should I not to buy JR Pass? 

 

I would NOT recommend that you purchase a JR Pass if you are only traveling within Tokyo and it’s surrounds, or between Kyoto & Osaka. You are probably already aware that the further you travel with your JR Pass, the more value you will get out of it.

Let me tell you an example from my experience.
My friends stayed in Tokyo for 6 nights, and when they were planning their holiday around Tokyo, they asked me whether or not they should buy a JR Pass. Their itinerary was as below:

Day1: Cairns -> Narita Airport (Arrive at 7 pm)
Day2: Sightseeing in Tokyo City
Day3: Visiting Mt Fuji via Odawara
Day4: Tokyo Disneyland
Day5: Sightseeing in Tokyo City
Day6: Nikko
Day7: Tokyo sightseeing & Departure from Narita Airport (at 10 pm)

They were thinking of buying a JR Pass because they wanted to experience the Shinkansen Bullet trains, and wanted to get unlimited train journeys. In their case, they would not get the value they would pay since the travel distance didn’t meet the break-even point.

 

Let’s calculate this case!
Narita to Tokyo return = $80
JR Network rides =$30 (Max use)
Tokyo to Odawara (Gateway to Hakone) return =$110
Tokyo – Omiya – Nikko = $115
JR Network rides =$30 (Max use)
Total = $365

 

Although they took a decent long-distance trip from Tokyo, it was just under the break-even point. So, it was not worth it for them to buy JR Pass. If that is the case, joining a day tour to Mt Fuji-Hakone or Nikko would be a much more cost-effective and efficient way to visit those destinations.

 

Conclusion

The important fact for you to get the best value from the JR Pass is to: “Visit and enjoy as many cities as time allows you!”. The JR Pass definitely gives you great access to most cities in Japan by Shinkansen and local JR lines. But if you stay within and around one city, you can save money by purchasing a SUICA and topping it up when needed.

I hope this article will help you understand whether or not it is worth buying a JR Pass. If you have any questions regarding JR Pass, our “JR Pass explained” video will likely answer your questions.

Happy travel to Japan!

 

Japan Rail Pass

Japan Rail Pass – Explain How It Works

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Konnichiwa! (G’day in Australian)

If your local bookie was taking BYO betting markets, I’d be confident in placing a monstrous bet that you have already heard about or researched the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). In the case that I am wrong and I’ve bankrupted myself, at least I’ll sleep well knowing that after reading this you will have an arsenal of information on how you’re going to make your way around Japan!

 

What is the JR Pass?

Japan Rail Pass

What if I told you that the JR Pass got you unlimited travel on a few busses and a ferry?

In theory, I wouldn’t be wrong, but funnily enough, the passes really give you access to the uber-precise Japanese railway system. You can scoot all around Japan with these encompassing passes, however, it’s worth knowing a little bit of how the Japanese rail behemoth is structured before we get into details.

 

In 1987 The Japan Railways Group took over the operation and infrastructure of government-owned rail networks. Fast forward and we now have 6 different JR passenger railway companies that offer 29 different JR passes. 

 

These 29 passes come in all shapes and sizes, such as a 1-day Kansai area pass or the big kahuna, the 21-day national pass. Each pass is designed to give your itinerary and budget the flexibility and freedom of choice it deserves. There are also two styles of travel, Ordinary and Green, or maybe better represented as the economy and business class.

 

Navigating your way around 29 passes can be quite difficult if you haven’t been to Japan or have a preternatural knowledge of railway systems. For this reason, the cooperating areas of JR Central, East, Kyushu, Hokkaido, West and Shikoku have created the JR National Pass, the ultimate tool for getting you from A to B.

 

The JR National Pass gives you access to:

 

  • Any JR listed lines (including Shinkansen Bullet Trains, express, limited express, rapid and local trains)
  • Free seat reservations on applicable services
  • Ferry from Miyajima-guchi to Miyajima Island
  • JR listed Busses
  • Tokyo Monorail
  • Aomori Railway services between Aomori and Hachinohe
  • IR Ishikawa Railway Line between Kanazawa and Tsubata

 

It’s amazing how seven bullet points can impart the incredible value of one humble rail pass! However, the budding skeptic inside you is probably thinking ‘what’s the catch?’

 

There are only two catches…..

 

The JR National Pass DOES NOT give you access to:

 

  • Privately owned rail lines
  • Travel on NOZOMI and MIZUHO class Shinkansen on the Kyushu, Sanyo and Tokaido lines

 Nozomi

 

 

Look It’s not ideal, but before we start cursing the JR Corp, let’s explore these exclusions a little further.

 

The fact that you cannot travel on the NOZOMI or MIZUHO class Shinkansen is not exactly a huge disadvantage. You still have access to 19 other types of Shinkansen, so do not despair! The benefit of the NOZOMI and MIZUHO Shinkansen is that they have fewer stops and, what a surprise, you arrive at your destination sooner. 

 

The next catch is the private railway lines and this is a doozy, probably one the most commonly misconceived aspects of the JR pass. Unfortunately, not all railway lines are owned by The Japan Railways Group. My brain hurts looking at this, no matter how many times I lay my eyes on it. But these are lines owned by JR where you can use your JR Pass.  This is really pertinent for travel within the cities of Japan as most have plenty of private railway lines. 

JR Stations in Toyko

 

To get on these private lines, you will need to get yourself an IC Card. These IC cards are pre-paid, tap-on-tap-off cards that allow you access to most private lines. Metro and subway travel is really quite inexpensive, so it’s not the end of the world. Make sure to check out my article about IC Cards and how to choose one that’s right for you.

 

See, not so bad after all. 

 

Recapping all of this:

  • The JR National Pass gives you access to all JR networks across the country
  • You cannot use private railway lines
  • There are 29 passes to explore
  • You cannot use MIZUHO or NOZOMI class Shinkansen
  • You can reserve seats, free of charge!

 

Who should get the pass?

The JR National Pass is a really awesome tool for getting around the numerous cities of Japan, this much is the fact. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need one. I know, I know. I talked about all this value and how great and flexible the JR National Pass is and now I’m saying you don’t need one? But hear me out. 

 

Firstly, this is the current pricing for the JR National pass;

 

 

Green Class

Ordinary Class

 

Adult (12+)

Child (6-11)

Adult (12+)

Child (6-11)

7-day

$517

$259

$387

$194

14-day

$836

$418

$616

$308

21-day

$1088

$544

$789

$394

(*Prices are approximation)

 

Like many other passes around the world, there is a point where you meet or exceed the initial outlay for the pass. This is a super important calculation that will give you insight into how much value you will get from your pass. 

 

The first part of the calculation is the outlay, which will vary depending on where you actually purchase the pass from. The second part of the calculation is factoring in your itinerary. To do this we need to head over to our best buds at HyperDia.

 

Whilst you are planning your Japan itinerary, this website will be your best friend! Aside from timetables and routings, it also gives you approximate costs. This is the most important thing right now, given that our quest is to find out if you need a JR National Pass. 

this ticket costs 14,140 YEN inclusive of a seat reservation. You can opt-out of this seat reservation process at the station to make it a little cheaper, but considering it is free as part of the JR National Pass, let’s compare apples to apples. 

 

Doing a bit of quick maths, you can see that if you were to purchase a 7-day JR National Pass and you were to travel from Tokyo to Osaka return, you would hit your breakeven point! This means that anything else that you do, say a day trip to Himeji Castle or Naoshima Art Island, is completely free! (don’t you love that word, I certainly do)

 

However, on the flip side of this coin, if you were only traveling from Tokyo to Osaka one way it makes no sense to get a National JR Pass. It would save you almost 15,000 YEN if you purchase a sector ticket when you get to Japan. 15,000 YEN…..Imagine the possibilities….

 

HACK – When doing your calculations, my suggestion is only taken into account the Shinkansen travel, not the applicable JR metro/subway travel. JR travel within the cities is really inexpensive, around ¥200 per journey, if even that. Make your calculations off the Shinkansen travel and if you are traveling enough to make your money back on a pass, reap the benefits of free travel on the other JR lines and services.

 

The key to all of this is a thorough research of your itinerary. Information is king!

 

Recapping all of this:

  • Make sure to fully explore your itinerary and how you will connect it
  • Channel your inner Big Shaq and do the quick maths
  • Only take into account the Shinkansen travel when calculating

 

How to purchase the JR Pass?

 

Alright! You’ve decided that your itinerary warrants purchasing a JR pass, now for the wallet deflating task of actually purchasing a JR pass. 

 

There are many vendors of the JR pass worldwide, and like many other products online, some are reputable and others are not so much. 

 

The safest option of ordering yourself a JR pass is through JTB, Japan’s largest travel and tourism organisation. Founded in 1912 by a joint venture between the corporate sector and the government, JTB and its constituents have a wealth of knowledge and experience in their specialty, Japan.

 

See JR Pass Page>>

 

IMPORTANT- When you purchase a JR National pass online, you are actually purchasing an exchange coupon, not the physical pass. These are only valid for 3 months from the date of the issue! So if you’re planning on going in 12 months’ time, sit down and relax, you have plenty of time. 

 

Recapping all of this:

  • JTB is the preferred supplier of JR passes (See More Details>>)
  • JR exchange coupons are only valid for 3 months from that date of issue!

 

Getting the JR Pass?

Paint a picture in your mind, you are in Japan with your JR exchange coupon in hand, silently daydreaming of all the incredible places that it will take you. Now, you wake from this and realise that Japanese train stations and airports are like labyrinths and you don’t actually know where to go, or how to get your JR pass!

 

The first step of this process is you entering the country and getting your temporary visitors (TV) permit from immigration. Whilst there are many passports that entitle you to the TV permit, there are also plenty of nations whose passports require them to get a more complex visa for their visit. If you are in doubt about your visa situation, please contact your nation’s department of foreign affairs to check if you require a complex visa for entry into Japan.

 

Once you have cleared immigration and have a TV permit in your passport, it’s time to go to a JR office to get your pass;

HACK- if you are at the airport and you don’t intend on using your JR pass straight away, save yourself some time and hold onto it and get it redeemed at one of the train stations. Airport locations can have lengthy lines as every man and his dog wants to redeem their pass straight away!

 

Actually redeeming the JR pass is deceptively easy. Once at the train station, the attendant will run you through the process and issue your actual JR pass. You will need to fill out a small form that contains a pertinent piece of information, your first day of use.

 

JR passes are valid for calendar days rather than an hour based system, this means that if you redeem your JR pass at say 5 pm and use it on the same day, this will count as an entire day rather than the pass is valid from 5 pm to 5 pm.

 

Back to the first day of use, if you do not intend to use your pass from the airport you can future date your JR pass so that it is active from a specific date. This will give you maximum use of the pass!

 

HACK- You have access to both the Narita Express and the Tokyo Monorail as a part of your pass. The Narita Express is quite an expensive service, YEN3300 per way, so sometimes it is worth using your pass to include this if your itinerary permits. On the flip side of this, going from Haneda airport on the monorail or the Keikyu line is quite inexpensive and, unless you have other travel planned on that day, it is not worth using a day of your JR pass for.

Our other article explains whether or not it is worth it to buy a JR Pass for you. 
Read: Is it worth buying a Japan Rail Pass for my Japan trip? – Answered

Also, if you have questions about JR Pass, our official video will likely answer your questions. 

JR Pass Explained Tile

 

Conclusion

Hopefully, now you are a little bit more confident about what the JR Pass is, how it works and whether or not you need one. The JR Pass is an awesome tool for some people, but for others, it may not really be worth your while. It is super important that you think about what your plans are whilst you are in Japan before you dive headfirst into a sizeable monetary investment that is a JR Pass. 

 

Happy travels!

Japan Rail Pass

5 Best Tokyo Family Friendly Parks – Great for Culture & Nature Lovers

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

 

 

Japan is not a budget destination to many regards, and even a local like me easily agrees with that. When traveling with your family, spendings in Tokyo can add up quickly. Let me introduce to you 5 great parks in Tokyo for a lovely family time!

 

Ueno Park 

Ueno Park

 

Ueno Park is one of the oldest parks in Japan, and it was established in 1873. Ueno Park is called “Ueno Forest ” among Japanese people because of its abundant greenery. You will find a variety of historical and cultural facilities in the park. So this is the perfect park for all traditional Japanese culture lovers!

Why visit?

  • Ueno Toshogu
    Ueno Toshogu is a shrine that was built in 1627 to worship “Ieyasu Tokugawa” who established the Edo Era in the 16th century. Although nearly 400 years of time has gone passed, the building still stands strong and attracts visitors from all around the globe. This golden building is truly amazing.
  • Museums & Zoo
    There are a number of museums in and around Ueno Park. I personally love the Tokyo National Museum that showcases Japanese traditional arts, antiques, and Samurai’s arms. I always love to visit museums when I am on holiday because museums get me to see the great inventions of the places. If you are after authentic Japanese history, this is the place for you.
    If you are more into animals, Ueno Zoo is the place for you. Three adorable pandas are waiting for your visit! You may find it strange to see a traditional five-story pagoda in the zoo, but it has been there since 1631 and is registered as an important cultural property of Japan.
  • Cherry Blossoms & Autumn leaves
    Ueno Park is famous as one of the best spots for Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo. It is so famous that in peak season, millions of Japanese tourists visit this beautiful park for ‘hanami’, or cherry blossom viewing. Ueno shows another face during Autumn with vibrant red, yellow and oranges leaves. I just enjoy a cup of coffee while looking at this beautifully colored park. It is worth stopping for a while if you are around

Admission Fee;
Ueno Toshogu: Free

Tokyo National Museum
Adults: 620 yen
University Students: 410 (310) yen
High/Junior High/Elementary School Students and persons under 18 and over 70: Free

Ueno Zoo
600 yen (adults 15-64 years old),
200 yen (children 12-14 years old).

 

Showa Kinen Park

Showa Kinen Park

 

If your idea letting you kids burn off some energy, Showa Kinen Park is the perfect spot you are looking for! This park is located near Tachikawa Station which is 35 mins away from Shinjuku Station by JR Chuo line. It is well-known as the largest park in Tokyo so that it may be difficult to see everything within one day. Let me show you what fun is there for you!


Why visit?

  • Play with the kids!
    Why don’t you hop on a massive trampoline and jump on the largest hammock in Japan with your kids? In Showa Kinen Park, you can! The playground is so much fun and even adults can enjoy it.
    Also, cycling is the easier and nicest way to see this very large park. Many bicycles are available for rental at the park entrance at a very reasonable price. This is one of the most enjoyable activities for young kids in Tokyo!
  • Cherry Blossom & Autumn Leaves
    Showa Kinen Park is not as famous as Ueno Park or Sumida River for Cherry Blossom and Autumn Leaves, but 1500 cherry blossom trees make the park brightly pink in the spring, and thousands of trees like maple and Ginko trees colour the park with vibrant red, orange and yellow in Autumn! You will experience the beauty of nature during these seasons. There is so much more space than in any other parks of Tokyo CBD. So grab a bento (lunchbox) from a convenience store nearby and enjoy a picnic!
  • Japanese Garden
    Once you get tired of cycling or hopping on the trampoline, have a rest in the Japanese garden where you will find true peace of mind. In this well-maintained garden, you will enjoy the silence of Japanese culture. Each of the four-season greets you with different plants and colours, curated for you by the Japanese gardeners. There is a Bonsai Exhibition right next to the door as well. It is worth spending some time there to explore over 100 years of vegetal arts.

Admission Fee;
adults: 410 yen,
Elementary and Junior High student fees at 80 yen

 

Shinjuku Gyoen Park

Shinjuku_Gyoen_Park

 

Shinjuku Gyoen Park is called the oasis of Metropolitan Tokyo because it is located in the middle of the concrete jungle “Shinjuku”. This park has a stunning traditional garden with a cute tea house. The park used to be a Samurai family’s mansion that was turned into the National park after WWII. It is only 10 min walking distance from Shinjuku station, so why not visiting when you are nearby Shinjuku.

Why visit?

  • Traditional Gardens
    There are two Japanese gardens; one of them was established as the mansion of the Samurai family in 1591. You will feel the tradition and history behind this garden. Surprisingly, this park does not only have Japanese gardens but also a French formal garden and an English landscape garden. It has plenty of large open spaces to escape the massive crowds in Tokyo. Grab a cup of green tea and refresh yourself on the lawns!
  • Cherry Blossom and Autumn Leaves
    Shinjuku Gyoen Park is the most famous spot for enjoying Cherry Blossom as even the Japanese Prime Minister holds a cherry blossom event there every Spring. When you see hundreds of pink trees with high-rises at the back, you will understand why Gyoen Park is so popular. It is a great instagrammable spot!
    Autumn is another best season to visit when the leaves change. There are a number of different trees that change how the park looks with red, yellow and orange leaves. It is worth spending hours to take pictures of the Japanese gardens during this time because the garden is designed to look beautiful in Autumn.

Admission Fee;
Adults: 500 Yen
Students 250 Yen
Children (junior high school students /15 and under) Free

 

Mt. Takao 

Mt_Takao

 

Did you know that you can do HIKING in the largest city in the world? Tokyo’s hiking spot is about 1 hour from the major areas of the city by train. Mt Takao is very popular for family hikers because it is only 599m high and walking track is easy for even kids! It will be a great get-away from the busy urban side for one or a half-day.

Why visit?

  • Hiking, Lift or Cable Car?
    You choose how you want to get to the summit of the mountain! For bushwalking lovers, hiking is a great way to enjoy the beautiful nature of Mt Takao. The recommended course is called “Inari Course” which is 3.1km long and it takes about 70 minutes to get to the summit. If you are used to bushwalking, this will be easy-peasy for you!!
    Don’t worry if you are not a confident walker because you can take either Lift or Cable Car to get to the top. Life is like a ski lift, so I am sure kids will love it. (Neither JR Pass nor SUICA is accepted for Lift and Cable Car).
    Downhill requires so much less fitness level, so why not enjoying Tokyo’s best air when you go down!
  • Yakuo-In Temple
    Most of the Japanese visit Mt Takao for the Yakuo-In Temple. This temple was established in 744 on the orders of Emperor Shomu as a base for Buddhism in eastern Japan. Even in the recent era, monks are there to practice every day. I have taken my Aussie friends to Mt Takao. They loved hiking but more they loved was this temple because it offers a serene and calm surrounding and authentic atmosphere around it. Yakuo-In Temple is also famous as a temple that protects you from traffic accidents. So, it is great to buy the family amulets for a souvenir!
  • Takao Onsen (Hot Spring)
    After hiking or walking around Yakuo-In Temple, soaking your body in the hot spring is a great way to finish the Mt Takao day trip! Takosan Onsen is located right next to “Takaosan Guchi Station”. There are six types of hot spring baths in the facility. Once you get soaked in the outdoor rock bath, your family has achieved a major Japan Experience bucket list item.

Admission fee;
Lift & Cable Car (the same price applied)
One way Adult: 490 Yen
One way Child: 250 Yen
Return Adult: 950
Return Child: 470

 

Kasai Rinkai Park 

Kasai_Rinkai_Park

Take the Keiyo Line for 15 minutes from Tokyo Station, then you will arrive at Kasai Rinkai Park which welcomes visitors with Tokyo Bay as a backdrop. You will see that this park is very popular among Japanese Families. This well-maintained park gives you a nice break from busy cityscapes and has some walking trails, large lawn areas, beaches, and a famous observation building.

Why visit?

  • Sea Life Park
    I’m sure that you already know that the Japanese love Tuna! Yes, we really do, so this aquarium built a massive doughnut-shaped tank where many tuna swim around. Going there and see so many Japanese kids around the tank saying that “Looks Yummy!”. They are definitely Japanese!!
    The other side of the aquarium offers educational experiences with touch tanks for kids. It’s fun for adults too!
  • Sea-Bird sanctuary
    Kasai Rinkai Park is famous for the aquarium, but 70% of the park is designated as a sea bird sanctuary to preserve the bay habitat. Osprey, Great Egret, Grey Herton, a total of 157 species of wild birds inhabit along the boardwalk. If your kids are active, they will love the boardwalk to explore the bird sanctuary.
    Tip: you may see more active birds when low tide, so it might be a good idea to check the tidal change before the visit if you are really chasing birds!
  • Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel
    This Ferris wheel reaches 117m high which is the highest point you can get by Ferris wheel in Japan. It takes 17 minutes for one round so that you can enjoy the surrounding scenery. When it is clear, Mt Fuji shows its appearance in the west, and Tokyo Sky Tree is on the north side. If you are lucky, you might see fireworks and Cinderella Castle together from Disney Resort which is right next to this park!

Admission Fee: Free

Admission Fee
Aquarium; Adult: 700 Yen, Under 12: Free
Ferris Wheel: 700 Yen (No Kid’s price applied)

 

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Top 5 Basic Etiquette Tips When Visiting Japan

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

 

Every country has its own social rules of conduct that you would need to follow and what is considered acceptable might be unacceptable to others. In Japan, there are several customs and rules that is best to be aware of and avoid doing them when traveling around in another foreign country such as Japan. The things that you may do and behave while traveling in japan could offend people and it is possible that no one will tell you about these things because Japanese people tend to be shy and do not like confronting people about it.

 

1. Food, Drink and Dining manners

In public areas, eating or drinking while walking is frown upon in Japan. You can carry your take-away food or drinks in a secure bag to consumers later but just not on public transport such as their trains and buses. There is some exception such as long-distance travel on the Shinkansen -trains which some does allow you to eat and drinks or another occasion is when finishing your drink while standing at the vending machine.

Chopsticks
Chopsticks are the essential utensil used in Japan, there are some do’s and don’ts when using them in japan. One point is to never leave your chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice or to pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks. These actions are seemed to associate with funerals ritual and the dead. Do not play with your chopsticks (e.g. spearing, hitting them on the table, waving them around, etc.) as this is considered rude table manners.

Dining manners
For most customs slurping is considered rude table manners but for the Japanese, it is considered a sign of appreciation for your meal especially when eating noodles and soupy dishes. Picking up bowl to finish the last few pieces or soup is also perfectly acceptable in Japan. Avoid pouring any soy sauce on white rice but instead, use the small condiment dish to hold your sauce. It is also polite to say ‘Itadakimasu’ once before eating or drinking, and ‘Gochiso sama deshita’ to your host or the restaurant’s staff after finishing your meal as it shows a sign of respect and greetings. There is a no-tipping in the social customs of Japan. Leaving cash after your bill on the table at a restaurant will often result in Japanese people coming after you to return it. You will also notice a tray when making your payments, this is a tray to place your money rather than giving it to them directly.

 

2. Shoes Off Manners

Shoese Off!

 

One of the golden rules when traveling to Japan is to learn when and where to take off your shoes.

Japanese people ALWAYS instruct you or have signed up to let guests and foreigners know when to take their shoes off. If you are traveling and are unsure, take notice of shoes lined up outside the entrance doors.

Private homes, hotels, restaurants, shrines and anywhere that is indoor in Japan, will mostly expect you to remove your shoes before entering and there should be a pair of slippers is provided for you to wear instead. The behind reason is that you are tracking filthy dirt from the outside into the house which is a sign of disrespect and the matter of cleanliness Japanese people are it is best to follow the golden rule.

When entering the loo (Toilets/Bathrooms), you must exchange your slippers for the toilet slippers and when exiting the loo, you just slip back into your original slipper and leave the toilet slipper. Make sure to remember to exchange as it will be concerning and mortify the Japanese if you are seen walking around in the toilet slippers.

 

3. Visiting temples and shrines manner

Cleanese  yourself

 

Japan is very known for its heritage sites and many religious temples and shrines.  When you are visiting these religious sites it is expected that you are to speak quietly in a low tone manner in the main halls, do not enter into places that are blocked of and definitely do not disrespect the statues and gods that are inside the religious sites and be mindful of what you are wearing when visiting these religious sites, nothing that is revealing or clothing like you are heading off to a club or beach.

Another ritual that must be done when entering shrines is the water cleansing source of any shrine. Some shrines would have instructions for you to be aware and follow but others do not. Use the ladles provided to pour water over your hands to rinse them, and pour water into your hand to use to rinse your mouth (please spit the water out on the ground, not back into the water source) this is believed to cleanse your body before entering the sacred place.



4. Public Areas

Ques are long in Japan

 

When traveling around Japan, it would require you to commute mostly on public transports given its convenience and most efficient way to get you from point A to point B.
Respecting the people and your surroundings is important in Japanese culture. Having to be silent and quiet during your commute is very normal. It is rude to be speaking loudly on trains and buses as it is viewed to be disturbing other fellow passengers.

Lining up and queuing in japan is a big thing in japan that you would see very often from catching public transport to restaurants and even shopping malls. Everyone who does line and queue up happens to wait patiently and in an orderly fashion. Places that require you to line up or are populated with people usually have marked lines indicating where you should be standing and waiting.

Another thing to consider is sniffles and coughs and being sick in general. Blowing your nose in public is viewed as rude and gross as mentioned before Japanese people are all about cleanliness. When you are in Japan it is common to see a lot of people in surgical masks that may have printed pictures to stylish masks or different kinds of patterns are worn by people to help prevent any germs or used as protective gear when contacting or being surrounded by others.  

 

5. Learn the Basic Japanese Language

Learn Japanese

 

 Leaning the common polite words and phrases to help you navigate around Japan would be very useful but also show the Japanese people your interest and love for their culture. Although English is a common language, knowing the basic language of the place you travel is a language etiquette. Do not assume that people will somehow understand you just because they speak a little English. There are some gesture and body language that you can use when trying to communicate with others but there a are few hand gestures and body language which can seem as rude and disrespectful to others.
So, getting to know and learning the few basic things would help you along the way when traveling around Japan.

 

 

5 Reasons I Hate Ramen

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

 

 

It is well known around the office that I don’t care for ramen. Sometimes I get asked how I can claim to love Japanese food when I am not a fan of what is arguably one of Japan’s most well known and loved noodle dishes. So I jumped at this chance to explain my position and perhaps convert others to my way of thinking. 

 

1. The broth is too salty

Udon Master

 

I enjoy the subtle flavours of Japanese dishes. Ramen, however, regardless of which soup base or variety you consume, has, in my opinion, an overly strong salty taste. From the miso variety popular in the northern city of Sapporo to the tonkotsu variety of Fukuoka in the south, all of them have a less than subtle taste. Instead, I crave the chewy delicious soba noodles found across Japan. These noodles are made primarily from buckwheat and can be eaten in a soup broth or dipped into a light sauce. The flavour is delicious and you have more control of how strong that flavour is.  A place that is well known for these noodles is the Nagano region of Japan. You can try them while on a ski holiday at one of the famous ski fields or participate in a cooking class to make your own from scratch. 

 

2. Ramen doesn’t come with a lot of toppings

 

For those who like ramen, I think that the appeal is mostly the noodles and the soup. Sometimes a particular ramen dish might be known for the toppings such as pork, black fungus or egg, however, there is just not enough! You might already be aware that the ramen you eat in Japan originates from China. There is another noodle dish found in the southern city of Nagasaki that is also of Chinese origin and in my opinion far superior. It is called Champon and is a soup noodle dish with a variety of colourful ingredients on top including vegetables, seafood and pork.  When in Nagasaki also try the castella (sponge cake introduced by the Portuguese) and kakuni (sliced soft stewed pork served in a bun)! I could spend the whole day eating in this port city. 

 

3. Eating Ramen in summer is too hot

Nagashi Somen

 

For those who have visited Japan in the summer months, you will know it can be quite hot and humid. While it can still be a good time to visit if you are interested in summer festivals and fireworks, the last thing you feel like doing is digging into a steaming hot bowl of ramen. Luckily Japan has the answer to your noodle cravings, nagashi somen. This fun slightly tricky to eat dish is a summertime Japan speciality. The noodles flow through running water, diners catch the noodles and dip into sauce to eat. There are many places you can try this in Japan. I would recommend the lesser-known spot of Takachiho in Kyushu. You can visit the spiritual heart of the Shinto religion, view the spectacular Takachiho gorge and sample delicious noodles. 

 

4. Ramen is not very portable

Yakisoba at a street stall

 

But what about the instant varieties I hear you say. Yes, they are convenient and when you purchase a pack at one of the ubiquitous Konbini (convenience stores) found across Japan they even have hot water so you can cook them on the spot. However, where to sit, where to put your rubbish? Have you tried walking in a crowded place while eating instant ramen? While at one of the many Japanese festivals (you should definitely visit at least once if you get the chance) the noodle dish I recommend is yakisoba. This stir-fried savoury noodle dish is cooked in huge batches and often comes with an egg and seaweed flakes. With no hot soup base to spill in a crowd, this is very much the friendlier portable noodle dish. 

 

5. The lines are just too long

People linling for Ramen

 

I know there are many people out there willing to line up for extended periods of time in order to get a seat at the most popular ramen places, I am just not one of them. I am always way too hungry to wait in line for more than a few minutes and certainly wouldn’t wait for ramen. Once again, I have an alternative to suggest. Udon noodles are delicious and there are lots of chains throughout Japan offering a self-serve style where you choose your noodles then pick from a variety of toppings and side dishes. You can decide whether your noodles are in soup, without soup or even in curry at some places. These restaurants offer quick service, the food is very tasty and there is rarely a huge wait to get fed. 

 

Summary 

Have I convinced you that ramen is not as fantastic as everyone says? If not, I still wish you the best in your gastronomic travels in Japan. Please enjoy your ramen adventures, maybe even join a ramen cooking class so you can recreate the dish at home.  I won’t be seeing you there of course, but if you still have room for more food I would highly recommend sampling some of the other delicious and varied noodle dishes of Japan. 

 

 

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Harajuku: forget kawaii fashion, welcome to vintage heaven

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

 

 

Tokyo is well known as a shopping paradise. With a large variety of shops and long opening hours, you have many hours of fun ahead. The plethora on offer can be overwhelming, and if you are not looking for the obvious, a little guidance is crucial. Let’s have a look at where to find great vintage shops in Harajuku!  

 

Behind Harajuku: ‘Ura Hara’ area

‘Once known as the Lolita heaven in the second half of the ’90s, Harajuku has evolved into a multi-faceted fashion destination. The main avenue of Harajuku – Omotesando – is famous for its high-end brands.
‘Ura’ means ‘behind’ or beyond’ in Japanese, and behind the glossy Harajuku windows, many smaller streets filled with boutique vintage shops await!

See my track (Google Map) >>

 

First stop: Harajuku street

Get off the Yamanote loop line at Harajuku Station, and make your way down the crowded Takeshita street.
You are headed towards Harajuku street, the edgy little sister of Takeshita street, famous headquarters of crepe shops and teenage fashion boutiques. At the end of Takeshita street, cross Meiji Dori and enter this small, quieter, vintage shop heaven.
Don’t forget to look up as shops may be on the upper floors!
To visit: BerBerJin, Laboratory Vintage or Furugiya Playback.

 

Second stop: Cat street, the hip spot

Kimono Shop

At the end of Harajuku street, turn right at the lights at Jingumae 2 chome intersection, and follow the narrow street until you find the Deus Ex Machina Tokyo shop. Stop here for a coffee break, and enjoy the great atmosphere of the shop filled bikes and art prints. After your break starts walking down the famed Cat street. There are many vintage shops all along the way, and you can explore the many small side streets that offer plenty of options.

If you are looking for vintage jeans, retro Ts and kimonos, CHICAGO is a chain of thrift shops that have great options. One of the main shops is located on the side of the Ralph Lauren Omotesando shop. 2nd Street Harajuku deserves a visit as well.

For traditional Japanese dress, Kimono Kabukis is a specialized boutique in the area, and you can also find second-hand kimonos at an outdoor booth on the corner of La Foret Harajuku department store on weekends.

For more affordable finds, Jumble store or Brand collect are large thrift shop chains with contemporary brands, both Japanese and International.

 

From Harajuku to Shibuya

Shibuya

Crossing Omotesando and entering the second part of Cat Street walking towards Shibuya, you will find the famous RagTag, specialising in high-end options. RagTag is great for finding the likes of Comme des Garçons, Y3 or Sacai, and many international couture brands. The 3rd floor is dedicated to bags and high-end accessories.

Stop by Candy Showtime where you can witness traditional hard candy making, with many different intricate designs, from traditional to popular manga characters.
Further down Cat street, the Flamingo shop will welcome you for more vintage goodies.

The end of Cat street will bring you to Shibuya where you can keep on shopping in the many department stores, or stop for a well-deserved lunch or dinner.

 

Hunting for vintage treasures in Harajuku

Come and follow the guide for a vintage shopping tour of Harajuku! Walk the hip neighborhood’s small streets and find that unique piece to take home.

 

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Tips and tricks for finding a hotel room in Japan for your family

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

 

If you’ve had a search for family rooms in Japan, you’re probably becoming more and more exasperated trying to find something that will suit all of your requirements. Before we get started, it’s important to understand a few cultural differences that will explain the headaches that you have been getting:

Hotel Sizes

Japanese hotel rooms are smaller than what we are used to in Australia. Fair enough given the massive difference in population vs land mass between our country and theirs! Chances are, if you’ve found a super cheap hotel room that will sleep 4-5 people, it is probably too good to be true and one of the main reasons is that is is a very small room! To be fair, there are some lovely family hotel rooms in Japan, especially Tokyo, pictured here is the Keio Plaza.

Bedding

You might have come across a twin share room that is 2 x single beds for your family of 4. If your kids are under 6 then this is why! It is very common for Japanese parents to share a single bed with their child under 6 so that is what all online searches are going to produce for you. I’d warrant to say that Aussie parents probably don’t want to sleep in a single bed with their child, so it’s best to check with the experts about what the bedding situation is before confirming your reservation! Further to this, it is important to understand that, more often than not, the bedding in a triple or quad hotel room will all be single beds (sometimes king single beds).

Apartments & Interconnecting Rooms

Multiple bedroom apartments and interconnecting rooms are going to be few and far between in Japan. We can certainly search for these for you but in the likely case that there aren’t any available, we could recommend that you request adjacent rooms or have a look at a few of the other options that we will talk about below!

 

Western Hotel Rooms in Japan: Is it really possible to fit a family of 4 in a 15m2 room in 2 x semi-double beds?

Mimaru Hotel

The short answer is no; while this may be OK for a lot of Japanese families, it’s certainly not an ideal situation for an Aussie family! What is a semi-double bed, you ask? It’s basically a king single bed. There are many new hotel chains popping up with multiple options for families traveling from overseas and one that we can recommend is the hotel chain Mimaru. Mimaru offers studio apartments with a self-contained kitchen in Tokyo, Kyoto, and *coming soon Osaka! They can sleep up to 5 adults and also offer a large number of interconnecting rooms!

 

Japanese-style Inns (Ryokan): are these a good option for my family?

Ryokan-hakone_aura_tachibana

Most definitely!! Once you move outside of larger cities, why not take the opportunity to try a traditional ryokan. We highly recommend booking a ryokan stay in hot spring towns and rural areas; highly recommended cities to do a ryokan stay are Hakone, Kawaguchiko, Takayama, Miyajima, and Beppu (to name a few). In most places, you will be sleeping on futons on tatami (mattresses on bamboo flooring), though please feel free to ask us about Japanese/Western combination rooms where you would have a Western bedding section & a Japanese bedding/sitting room section! At a traditional ryokan, you can expect to be looked after like royalty and you will generally have access to relaxing hot springs (onsen) on-site with full course Japanese cuisine served for breakfast & dinner! As you are traditionally sleeping on the floor in a ryokan, and housekeeping put away the futons during the day so that you have a space to relax,  they generally can fit many more people in one room.

 

Machiya: Living like a local!

Machiya

If you’re wanting to experience a Japanese house with multiple bedrooms, a self-contained kitchen and easy access to local attractions. Please ask us about Machiya that we can offer in Kyoto, Kanazawa & Takayama. These 1-3 bedroom houses are perfect for your large family and actually don’t always cost an arm and a leg for the additional space. Centrally located with local support offered, you can really have an authentic experience and feel like you’ve moved to Japan for a short while!

 

Contact JTB, the Japan Specialists, to assist with your family trip to Japan.

If any of the above accommodation options seem like a fit for your family, please don’t hesitate to contact us at JTB to find the perfect accommodation option for your trip to Japan. We can tailor-make an itinerary to suit your needs!

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