Takehara – a beautiful town near Hiroshima

Takehara Historic District

If Kawagoe is Tokyo’s Little Edo, Takehara is Hiroshima’s Little Kyoto – these kind of titles are easily given to smaller cities near metropolitan areas. In this case though, it’s the town’s tourist department that calls Takehara the „Little Kyoto of Aki Province“. While this may set expectations too high, Takehara still is a pleasant day trip from the busy city of Hiroshima. Takehara’s beauty is in the well-preserved historic part of the town. This warehouse district is a remnant of Takehara’s important role as a port town and centre of the salt industry. In more recent history, it benefitted from being the setting of NHK’s morning drama Massan.

Masataka Taketsuru and Rita TaketsuruIronically, it was this drama – which I never watched because NHK dramas only air on the prohibitively expensive JSTV outside Japan – that brought me to Takehara. The drama is based on the lives of Masataka Taketsuru and his wive Jessie Roberta Cowan (later Rita Taketsuru) and was the first morning drama with a non-Japanese actress in the leading role (Charlotte Kate Fox). Taketsuru was born in Takehara and while studying in Scotland decided to found a whisky distillery in Japan, abandoning the family’s legacy – his family owned a sake brewery. Taketsuru didn’t start his whisky distillery in Takehara however, so the port city is merely the birthplace of the man who founded Japan’s first whisky industry.

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Class trip to Kawagoe – Back to Edo

D2 Kengaku Kawagoe 022

It must’ve been ages since I wrote about an upcoming class trip to Kawagoe (川越). At the Naganuma School (Tokyo School of Japanese Language), cultural events are part of the school’s curriculum and a welcome change to daily Kanji tests and the dreaded Unit Test. When the teachers announced that the next trip would be to Kawagoe, I said that I’ve just been there. Kawagoe is still somewhat of a hidden gem, a town that’s not on everyone’s radar, especially for tourists. Back then, places weren’t rated according to their Instagramability, because there was no Instagram ;-).

When you arrive at Kawagoe Station, the town looks pretty much like any other Japanese city. Certainly not like „Little Edo“, Kawagoe’s nick name. The place where you want to be are the Warehouse District and the Candy Alley next to it. This is the historic part of the town, the remnants of a once important commercial town that supplied goods to Edo (Tokyo). Trade creates wealth and the wealthy merchants built their buildings to last. Made out of clay and heavy roofs, these buildings along Kurazakuri Street are fireproof – unlike ordinary wooden buildings in Japanese cities which were prone to fire.

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Nagi Shokudo: Relaxed vegan eatery in Shibuya

Nagi Shokudo Set menu

When in Tokyo, I like to try out different vegan or vegetarian restaurants in addition to my mainstays. Nagi Shokudo (なぎ食堂) isn’t located that far from Shibuya Station but far enough that the bustling noise that everybody associates Shibuya with sounds merely like a whistle. But that’s the way most of Tokyo is, once you leave the busy main streets.

 

So I left the busy part of Shibuya behind walked up and down while being baked in the Summer sun – and missed the restaurant on my first try. Nagi Shokudo is not located at street level but a few steps below. There’s no big sign and the restaurant is partly obscured by a plant. 

 

Nagi Shokudo is supposed to be quite busy during lunch hour but I was lucky and the restaurant was empty when I arrived (but it was full when I left). The restaurant has a very laid back, casual atmosphere and they serve various Asian-style food depending on the day. Their lunch set was delicious with rice, soup and vegetables. A great place for lunch and highly recommended!

 

Nagi Shokudo is open from 12 to 4pm (last order at 3pm) and 6 to 11pm. They close at 4pm on Sundays. Menu and website are in Japanese and English. [ Map ]

 

Nagi Shokudo 2

Nakagin Capsule Tower – A modern monument

Nakagin 1

For all its traditional temples and shrines, apartment buildings in Japan are usually rather plain and not built to last decades. The Nakagin Capsule Tower is different – it’s one of the few remaining examples of Japanese Metabolism, an architectural movement that depicted towers with plug-in capsules. The movement remained largely theoretical and even though the Nakagin Capsule Tower was built, it never reached its full potential.

 

Architect Kisho Kurokawa’s building consists of two towers with 140 fabricated capsules. Each capsule was fitted with utilities before it was shipped to the tower and could be removed and replaced without affecting the other towers. This was akin to upgrading a software or a piece of hardware: Just swap it out for an updated unit and take advantage of better materials or utilities. Capsules were supposed to be mass produced, lowering the price of a new one. Unfortunately, it never happened.

 

Nakagin 3

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Okunoshima – Japan’s Bunny Island

Okunoshima Rabbits
Bunnies! Of course you can get your fix of bunny-shaped cuteness in one of Tokyo’s bunny cafés, but the number one location for fans of the cute animals is a small island in Hiroshima Prefecture: Okunoshima. I went there this year as part of my Summer trip to Japan and while I was not chased by rabbits, there were many close encounters of the furry kind.

I stayed in Onomichi and took the Sanyo Main Line to Mihara where I switched to the Kure line bound for Tadanoumi. The train sign depicts the ocean and a friendly rabbit waving at visitors. From there, it’s just a short walk to the ferry terminal. Chances are that there are other people going to Okunoshima. At the terminal, you can buy rabbit food. Note that you can’t buy rabbit food on the island and there’s also no convenience store on Okunoshima. First ferry leaves at 7:45, the last ferry heads back to Tadanoumi at 7pm.

Okunoshima bunny standing Read the rest of this entry

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.

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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