Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri

Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri 06

This is one of the big three festivals in the northern Tohoku region, the other two being the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri and the Akita Kanto Matsuri. They are all held around the same time (early August) too, so you can enjoy all three by taking a three-day holiday. Large and small floats (neputa) are carried and pulled through the streets of Hirosaki.

The neputa are mostly fan-shaped with themes ranging from mythology, beautiful women and history. You can see the floats in daylight, but it’s the evening when they look the best as they are illuminated from within.

Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri 05

Just like at any other large festival, Japanese people reserve their spot hours in advance. If you don’t mind standing, you’ll have no problem finding a good spot to take some nice photos. The floats pass Hirosaki Station and the noise of the festival can be heard from the distance. Read the rest of this entry

Inakadate Rice Paddy Art 2015: Star Wars & Gone With The Wind

Starwars rice art2
Inakadate is a village in Aomori Prefecture and a population of 8000. Since 1993, the people of Inakadate began creating rice paddy art to promote tourism and revitalize the area. Over time, the artworks became more elaborate and for two months each year, Inakadate becomes a tourist hotspot in Aomori. Rice paddy art is created at two fields and this year’s topic were two famous Hollywood movies: Star Wars and Gone With The Wind.

I started my trip in Hirosaki on the 5th of August. Hirosaki Station is the terminus of the Konan Railway Line, connecting Hirosaki with Inakadate and Kuroishi. From April to November, the train stops at the seasonal Tamboato Station which is located next to the first rice field. From the station you can easily see the tower built for the festival:

Rice art tower

Rice field art is best viewed from a vantage point. In the case of Inakadate’s rice art, the planting of the rice is planned beforehand using a computer. The tower located next to the rice field is the only way to truly see the artwork – from the ground, you’ll only get a vague idea about the picture:

C3-PO ground Read the rest of this entry

Tokyo Movie Meet-up: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Toho Cinemas

After a long time, I could finally make it to another movie meet-up, thus saving the latest Mission Impossible flic from its fate of being seen on the small screen. This was also the first time of me being to the new TOHO Cinema in Shinjuku. The new one is a proper multiplex cinema with big screens, IMAX and great sound systems and has become the prime location for the meet-up group – previously, a cinema in Kawasaki was used for IMAX screenings.
Unlike with some other films, Japan didn’t have to wait several months to see the fifth installment in the Mission Impossible franchise. Rogue Nation is as good as the previous one with plenty of action and a good piece of humor, something that’s amiss from the current James Bond films. In that way, I like the MI movie more than the latest JB ones.
The last movie I watched at the old TOHO was an obscure Korean movie shown with Japanese subtitles. The new one is of course all about the blockbusters and current Japanse films. Mission Impossible is obviously one of those films best enjoyed on the big screen. The best part about the new TOHO – besides the upgraded tech – is the building: There is a big Godzilla on top of the building, threatening to eat Tom Cruise. Eight years ago me and my friends were having a little late night competition trying to get the best angles to make the little Godzilla statue look more threatening. Well now Tokyo has finally the Godzilla statues it deserves and needs right now!
If you have never been to a Japanese movie theatre before: Foreign films are usually not dubbed except for kid’s movies.


Naoshima – Island of Art

Benesse House  Naoshima  17
A while ago, I posted about the 007 Museum in Naoshima. Of course it’s not the only tourist attraction on the island and it’s not even close to be the most popular one. Naoshima is known as the “art island” and has several art museums with exhibits by various well-known artists. The island is also well prepared for tourists with a shuttle bus connecting the various art sites and the port.

First, I bought a ticket for the Chichu Art Museum. There is a reserved ticket system in place for that particular museum during peak times when lots of visitors are expected. Outside those times, you may buy a ticket on the day by getting a waiting number. The time when you are able to buy the actual ticket is printed on the ticket. In my case, I had lots of time going to the other museums.

Benesse House Museum

Opened in 1992, Benesse House Museum is a facility consisting of four buildings, integrating a museum and a hotel. Some exhibits where created specifically for this museum and thus can only be seen in Naoshima. Tadao Ando is the architect of both the Benesse House and Chichu Art Museum. While I enjoyed the works inside the museum, I did like the works of art outside around the museums premises and Naoshima’s shore more. Here you can find Niki de Saint Phalle’s colorful sculptures.

Benesse House  Naoshima  27 Read the rest of this entry

Aozora – Free ebooks in Japanese language

Furuhon 06
In order to become fluent in Japanese and reach the level of a native speaker, you have to leave the textbook behind at some point. The school I went to (Naganuma) handed out copies of newspaper articles at the advanced level. Another great resource is Aozora (blue sky), a free online library similar to Project Gutenberg.

Aozora was founded in 1997 and archives books for which the copyright has expired under current Japanese law or were released by the copyright holder into public domain. Some works may disappear in the next few years if the U.S. can force Japan into “harmonizing” their copyright law and extend the length of copyright to protect the interests of big publishers. Some classic works still sell well after all. Project Gutenberg and other online archives are facing a similar threat as copyright term extensions are in discussion for other trade agreements too.

What can you find at Aozora.gr.jp? Books, and lots of them. All works have been scanned in and are published as text files. This will come in handy if you are using an electronic dictionary on your smartphone or PC. Many of the greatest writers both from Japan and foreign countries are represented with their work. Read the rest of this entry

Tokyo German Village – Winter Illumination

Tokyo German Village  08
Tokyo German Village is a park in Chiba, located about two hours from central Tokyo. The park offers facilities for families, flower events, a souvenir shop and German food. It’s not an educational place meant to teach you German – in many ways it’s very much a Japanese park.

Winter is time for the illumination festival when the whole park turns into an LED wonderland. Illumination festivals at parks like Tokyo German Village (Tokyo Doitsu Mura 東京ドイツ村) are usually more impressive than the festivals in central Tokyo. The festival lights and motives also change every year, encouraging people to visit the park at least once a year.

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This year’s Winter Illumination Shangri-La started on November 8 and will continue until March 31. The lights are switched on from 4 to 8 pm, last entrance is at 7.30 pm. Until early January, a shuttle bus will run from Sodegaura Station (Uchibo Line) to Tokyo German Village. The whole trip took me about two hours, but it was well worth it! Read the rest of this entry

Taking the Highway Bus in Japan

Inside Willer Express Theater Bus
Trains in Japan are excellent but pricy, especially long distance ones. If you are lucky enough to stay in the country for more than one month, travelling by bus is the cheapest option to explore the country. Also, as fewer overnight train services are offered, buses become the only way to travel at night (unless you have a rental car, of course).

I used both trains and busses during a three-month trip to Japan, visiting three great festivals in Northern Tohoku (Aomori Neputa Matsuri, Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri, Akita Kanto Matsuri) and the cities Osaka and Takayama. For Tohoku and Osaka, I used the Japan Bus Pass by highway bus company Willer Express.

Neputa Matsuri  Aomori

The Bus Pass is Willer’s equivalent to the Japan Rail Pass but is more flexible. You can travel either three or five days of your choice within two months from purchase. It’s exclusive to short term tourists of Japan i.e. if you are a resident of Japan, you can not buy the pass. Reservations have to be made beforehand and if you plan to do a round trip on the same day, one of the buses has to be a daytime bus. You can cancel a reservation up until a day before and make a new one.

Willer Express offers a variety of buses and the pass is valid on all except the premium ones. I used the theater and relax bus. Read the rest of this entry

Omnibot: The wonderful world of Tomy’s Robots

Just like any other kid, I liked toy stores. One German toy store called “Spielwahn” in particular seemed magic to me. That store didn’t sell action figures, Barbie or board games but a range of games and robots by the Japanese manufacturer Tomy. Since then, I have a soft spot for that company which even to this day continues the tradition of quirky toys, most of which will never make it outside Japan.

Omnibot book

This book is the Omnibot fan book and was published in 2007 by Mycom, coinciding with the release of Tomy’s humanoid i-SOBOT. The pictures on the cover are not in scale as the i-SOBOT is merely 16cm (6.5″) tall, about a quarter of the size of the Omnibot 2000 pictured on the left. The quite agile successor to the Omnibot range came out in 2007 and that particular toy store in Germany had long been replaced by a shoe store by then.

Going back to that 80’s toy store, the Omnibot was the king of robots at that place. Its shape resembled R2-D2 and the complicated buttons on the front promised many features. Simple programs could be put on cassette tape and the robot was also able to carry light items using the supplied tray. Also in the box was the remote control which is essential to using the Omnibot. The robot was released in multiple colors, although the white one is the most common. But what about the black Omnibot? Read the rest of this entry

Art Aquarium in Fukuoka

Over 2.5 million visitors across Japan have seen the special exhibition Art Aquarium which features goldfishes in small and big tanks illuminated with changing lights. I have been to the exhibition two years ago when it started in Tokyo. The exhibition is now in Fukuoka and in Osaka. The Osaka exhibition’s tanks vary from the ones shown here.

Japanese people love good illumination shows as can be seen every year in December. The Art Aquarium features both video projections and lighting, with the latter changing color after a few seconds. Thus you can see every tank in different colors.

The tanks itself are also impressive. The exhibition starts with a few smaller tanks which can only be enjoyed if you knee down. Different breeds of goldfish swim in the tanks and while the smaller ones only house a couple of fishes, the biggest contains almost one thousand! Lighting changes between seven colors.

Art Aquarium

Some of the works combine aquariums with Japanese motives such as the four distinctive seasons.

More photos: Read the rest of this entry

Space Station Osaka: A Gaming Bar

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A while ago I stayed in Osaka for New Year’s and was unsure where to spend the evening. So I decided to check out Space Station Osaka, a video game bar in the Americamura neighborhood of Osaka. You can get drunk while playing Atari, Nintendo and Sony games.

The free magazine which mentioned the bar didn’t include a map or a good photo of the place, so I was wandering around trying to find it. There is a small sign in front of the stairs which leads to the bar.

Inside is a row of flat screens and classic consoles. The bar has both the NES and the Famicom, Super NES and Super Famicom, Mega Drive, Dreamcast and more recent consoles such as the Wii and PlayStation 3. There was even an Atari VCS in a corner, although I can’t imagine someone playing it.

Space Station  Osaka  09

I picked the Dreamcast first because mine is broken and Jet Set Radio is one of my favorite games. The bar doesn’t have a great selection of Dreamcast games yet. Unsurprisingly, many games were for Nintendo 8-bit: Retro game shops are full of Famicom games. Read the rest of this entry


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