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Friday, November 27, 2015

Festival of Lights in Osaka 2015


The Festival of Lights in Osaka is taking place again this year from this Sunday.

Festival of Lights in Osaka 2015, Japan.

This nighttime illumination spectacle is an annual event in Osaka, and showcases the exuberant love of brightness and glamor that Osaka is known for.

The theme this year is "Hikari no Myuujiamu" (i.e., "Museum of Light") which, in spite of its name, has nothing archivally stuffy about it, and is outdoors.

The Festival of Lights in Osaka consists of two main spectacles:
The Osaka Hikari no Runesansu ("Light Renaissance") 2015. This event is all about water and light, and is subtitled the "Art Festival of Light on the Water". It extends from the area around the Osaka Municipal Hall to Nakanoshima Park, and covers six stations: Yodoyabashi, Kitahama, Temmabashi, Ooebashi, Naniwabashi, and Kitashinchi.

Light Renaissance 2015 takes place over a two-week period, from December 12 to 25, 2015, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. every evening.
There is a special "preview" lighting period that takes place from this Sunday, November 29, until December 11, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
There is also a special "closing" display between Saturday December 26, 2015, and January 17, 2016, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The Midosuji Illumination 2015 is the other spectacle that forms part of the Festival of Lights in Osaka 2015.

Midosuji Illumination 2015 happens on Osaka's big main Midosuji Avenue, from the Hanshin Intersection all the way to Namba Nishiguchi Intersection, covering the following 12 stations: Osaka, Kitashinchi and Namba (all on JR lines), Umeda (subway, Hankyu and Hanshin), Nishi-umeda, Honmachi, Shinsaibashi (all subway), Yodoyabashi (subway and Keihan), Oebashi (Keihan), Osaka Namba (Kintetsu, Hanshin) and Nanba (subway, Nankai).

The dates are Sunday November 29 2015 to Sunday January 17 2016, from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.


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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Japan Cat Network

One day during our recent trip to Japan, my daughter and I rode the train to Okinashima Station in Fukushima. Then we began walking past tended fields and open spaces, under what seemed an enormous, infinite sky.

Japan Cat Network.

On the ground were scattered seed pods and leaves, and nearby grew autumn blooms and some daikon poking out of the dirt. We stopped in surprise when we saw a sign warning us about bears. A car sped by and the wind kicked up, but mostly it was quiet.

Beware of bears in Fukushima.

We appeared to have covered some distance. Looking ahead, I noticed an old house and wondered aloud, "Is that the place?" I was joking, but turns out it actually was our destination: The Japan Cat Network.

Japan Cat Network.

Every month I make a donation to The Japan Cat Network, a pet rescue organization. When we decided to come to Fukushima I was able to come for a visit, and we were greeted warmly by the staff of volunteers. They graciously invited us inside and took us on a tour. We went upstairs where the cats inhabit three bedrooms.

Japan Cat Network.

The cats are divided by temperament and special needs. Each bedroom has a twin-size bed with a sheet draped over it in a way for the cats to have a quiet, dark place to hide. There are open cages, wooden cubbyholes, raised cat walkways, toys, food, and catboxes for each group of felines. The windows have been built onto and screened so the cats get to enjoy "the outdoors" in safety. We were thrilled to pet the cats and spend time with them.

It was readily apparent that the volunteers are fond of their charges - there is no question that all the cats are loved and cared for. Even if a cat is not adopted, I imagine she would live a happy life in the shelter. And one more thing - I had packed a special bag for the cats when I left the States. I brought blanket fabric, a can opener (a cat's best friend if ever there was one), Dawn dish washing soap (per request), two big bags of cat treats, and a grommet tool set (to make cat hammocks, I was told!) I was happy to help, and I was relieved to walk unencumbered on the way back to the station.

Japan Cat Network.

Japan Cat Network
3285-1 Osada, Notsukekami
Inawashiro, Fukushima
Tel: 0242 23 9339

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nara Toyoko Inn


Nara Toyoko Inn, just opposite Kintetsu Nara Station in Nara, is a cheap and extremely well-located hotel for visitors to this historic city.

Nara Toyoko Inn, Nara, Japan.

Opened just this year, Nara Toyoko Inn offers a complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a desk and a mini fridge.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find hotel accommodation in the major tourist areas in Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nara and Osaka, so please book early and try to aim for weekdays rather than weekends for stays in these cities.

Nara Toyoko Inn
16-1, Nishi-mikado-cho
Nara 630-8225
Tel: 0742 85 1045

See our reviews of other Toyoko Inn hotels in Fukui, Osaka Umeda Higashi and Kenkyugakuen, Tsukuba.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ajinomoto Stadium


Ajinomoto Stadium opened as a multiple use stadium as Tokyo Stadium in 2001 in the western suburb of Chofu in Tokyo. It sold its naming rights in 2003, the first stadium in Japan to do so, and is now known as Ajinomoto Stadium.

Ajinomoto Stadium is the home of J-League soccer teams FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy. The 50,000 capacity ground also hosts other sports including rugby and American Football as well as music concerts and popular flea markets. The stadium is one of those earmarked for use during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics soccer tournament.

Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo.

The stadium has various green features including a solar-power generating roof, plants growing in the walls to reduce carbon dioxide and two wind power installations for outdoor LED lighting.

Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, Japan.

There are two other, smaller sports grounds near the stadium, the 3,060-seat Aminovital Field used mainly for lacrosse and American Football and the 800-seat West Field used for soccer and track and field.

Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, Japan.

Ajinomoto Stadium (Tokyo Stadium) is a five minute walk from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line from Shinjuku Station. Cross over National Highway 20 by pedestrian bridge to get to the stadium. Keio buses 調33, 飛01, 武91 and 境91 all run close to the stadium.

Ajinomoto Stadium
376-3 Nishimachi
Tokyo 182-0032
Tel: 042 440 0555

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Asuka Station


Asuka Station, Nara Station, Japan.

Asuka Station, on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line, is the main point of access for visitors coming to see the temples and tombs of Asuka.

Asuka Station, Nara Prefecture.

On the left as you exit Asuka Station is a large Tourist Information Center (Asukabito-no-kan) with free maps and information pamphlets as well as a range of souvenirs on sale. There are toilets and an ATM here, too. The station building has a few coin lockers.

Tourist Information Center, Asuka Station, Nara Prefecture.

To the right is Asuka Rental Cycle a place to hire bicycles for getting around the sights, which are spread out over a large area. The cost of cycle hire is 900 yen for the day on weekdays and 1,000 yen on weekends and public holidays. The company also has rental shops at Kashihara Jingu-mae Station, Kameishi and Ishibutai. To the left just past the Tourist Office, Kotorin also has rental bikes at a slightly cheaper rate.

Straight ahead are the buses which shuttle to and from Asuka and Kashihara Jingu-mae stations via some of the sights in Asuka.

Bicycle Hire, Asuka Station, Nara Prefecture.

Trains to Abenobashi in Osaka take about 40 minutes by Limited Express. To Kintetsu Nara Station, change at Kashihara Jingu-mae and Yamato-Saidaiji stations. Journey time is about 45 minutes.

To Kintetsu Nagoya Station change at Kashihara Jingu-mae and Yamato-yagi stations. Journey time is about 2 hours, 20 minutes. From Asuka to the terminus at Yoshino is 36 minutes by Limited Express.

Asuka Station bus to Kashihara Jingu-mae.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Japan News This Week 22 November 2015


Japan News.
The Cult of the Toto Toilet
New York Times

Japan's economy falls back into recession again

Japanese women suffer widespread 'maternity harassment' at work

Retracing forced laborers’ journey, Koreans finally bring their loved ones home from Hokkaido
Japan Times

A New Look at Japan's Unit 731 Wartime Atrocities and a U.S. Cover-Up
Japan Focus

Last Week's Japan News on the JapanVisitor blog


Average Age at Time of First Sexual Intercourse by Country:

Malaysia: 23
China: 22.1
Japan: 19.4
Italy: 18.9
France: 18.5
UK: 18.2
USA: 18
Iceland: 15.1


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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Meoto Daikokusha


Meoto Daikokusha is a sub-shrine of Kasuga Taisha (Kasuga Grand Shrine) in Nara. Meoto (夫婦) translates as "husband and wife" or "married couple."

Meoto Daikokusha ema, Nara.

Set in a thick cedar forest to the south of the main Kasuga Taisha Shrine buildings, Meoto Daikokusha enshrines married Shinto deities and is popular with couples hoping for a happy marriage.

There are many heart-shaped ema (votive plaques) on display at the shrine praying for a happy union or for success in the match-making process of finding a suitable and loving partner.

Meoto Daikokusha ema, Nara, Japan.

Just behind Meoto Daikokusha Shrine is Akachichi Shirochichi Shrine, a shrine for prayers for curing women's diseases both above and below the waist.

Supplicants can also write their wishes for finding a partner on wooden rice paddles at the shrine. This symbolizes the act of providing sustenance for a married partner.

Meoto Daikokusha, Nara, Kansai, Japan.

Meoto-iwa - two rocks joined by a shimenawa holy rope - as if in matrimony, are a fairly common sight in Japan.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Higashimuki Arcade Nara


The Higashimuki covered arcade (shotengai) is a lively shopping and entertainment area running about 250 meters south from Kintetsu Nara Station to the Naramachi district in Nara.

Higashimuki Arcade Nara.

Higashimuki is a great place place to spend some time shopping for traditional Nara souvenirs and crafts - especially if it is raining, as you are completely under cover from the elements.

The larger businesses are located closer to Kintetsu Nara Station and shops tend to become smaller and more local as you walk south towards Mochidono Center-gai another covered arcade and the Naramachi merchant district.

Recommended shops in the Higashimuki arcade include Mafu Okai Higashimuki-ten which specializes in beautiful hemp bags and Shop Tabi-ji Higashimuki for brightly-colored design tabi boots and socks. Both shops have another branch in Nara.

Higashimuki Arcade Nara.

The Daiso chain 100 yen shop also has a large branch in the arcade on the right as you walk south.

Other more traditional stores on Higashimuki sell Nara's signature round fans, eggplant and cucumber tsukemono pickled in sake lees known as narazuke, fine, silk kimono, green tea and Buddhist statues. Yamazaki-ya is particularly famous for its narazuke pickles.

There are lots of places to eat and drink on Higashimuki including the usual fast-food chains, the Lion Spice Indian restaurant and a fair smattering of izakaya and upmarket cafes.

Higashimuki Arcade Nara.

Places of note include Cafe Fluke, located in a restored Edo Period building, for delicious desserts and tropical fusion food and Osyaberinakame, a long-standing kissaten serving hearty meals, ideal for a filling lunch.

Ichijyou Higashimukidoriten is a popular lunch and night-time izakaya specializing in seasonal fish and Nara sake. Genkishin Ramen serves tsukemen, noodles dipped in a separate bowl of sauce.

Higashimuki Arcade Nara.

Higashimuki arcade developed after the opening of Kintetsu Nara Station in 1914 and has become one of the city's main shopping thoroughfares.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Harushika Brewery & Sake Tasting Nara


The Harushika Brewery Shop in the Naramachi district of Nara has become as popular with foreign visitors as a must-do experience as eating tuna at Maguro Koya. In fact it's possible to do both one after the other as they are not so far apart, especially if you are on a bicycle.

Harushika Brewery & Sake Tasting, Nara.

At Harushika Brewery Shop you can pay a small fee and then sample a variety of Nara's famous sake along with traditional Japanese tsukemono pickles pickled in sake lees (a by-product of the brewing process). As the fount of Japanese culture, Nara can lay claim to being the first place that sake was produced, in a commercial, somewhat mass-produced way by 8th century standards, at least.

Harushika Brewery & Sake Tasting Nara.

The sake tasting lasts about an hour and is conducted by English-speaking guides dressed in happi coats, who explain the different grades of sake and try to answer any questions visitors may have. You will also receive a small Harushika sake cup as a souvenir and can purchase bottles of sake, pickles and sake-flavored ice-cream wafers at the shop.

The sake sampling experience has become very popular among both foreigners and Japanese visiting Nara.

Harushika Brewery Sho
24-1 Fukuchiin-cho, Nara 630-8381
Tel: 0742 23 2255
Hours: 8.15am-5.15pm; closed for Obon in August, New Year and around the 11th of the month.
Admission: Free (small fee for the sake sampling)

Access: The Harushika Brewery Shop is located on the same street as the Imanishike Shoin Traditional House in Naramachi, a little to the east nearer to Fukuchi-in Temple and the main road that runs south from the Nara Hotel.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Maguro Koya Nara


Maguro Koya, serving delicious maguro tuna done in a variety of ways, has become something of a big hit among foreign visitors to Nara.

Maguro Koya Nara.

Located in a small street directly north of Kintetsu Nara Station, Maguro Koya concentrates on one item - maguro - but does it so well that the small restaurant receives reservations from hotels all over Nara reserving a seat for their foreign guests. I have met people from Shanghai, Tel Aviv and New York at the counter - and it will be the counter where you will be politely asked to sit if you come alone. The tables are for groups of two or more people.

Maguro Koya has become such a must-go-to place that the menu is now written in English, Chinese and Korean as well as Japanese.

Maguro Koya, Nara.
Maguro done in soy sauce; Photo by paxdomini
There are a number of extremely good value teishoku (set meals) to choose from which include rice, pickles (tsukemono), miso soup and maguro done how you want it - fried like karage, boiled in soy sauce, on skewers like yakitori or raw.

Maguro Koya is presided over by the cheerful, friendly master-san with occasional help from his wife. Maguro Koya has been going since 1977, which was also probably the last time it was cleaned, but when asked the guests like it that way.

To get to the restaurant walk north up the continuation of the Higashimuki arcade, then past Sakura Burger (another popular Nara eatery), Hotel Ashibi, Nara Hakushikaso Ryokan and Maguro Koya is on your left.

Maguro Koya
6 Hanashiba-cho
Nara 630-8266
Tel: 0742 23 3766
Hours: 11am-9pm

Maguro Koya Nara.

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