Japan

Japan: Nagasaki (Lantern Festival) 長崎ランタンフェスティバル

Nagasaki City (長崎市) was home to Chinese sailors and traders during the 15th – 19th centuries and today boasts having the oldest Chinatown in Japan.  Known as Shinchi Chinatown, Nagasaki’s Chinatown exhibits a Chinese flair not felt in any of Japan’s other major cities.   Shinchi Chinatown with its 40 plus restaurants serving the signature Nagasaki noodle dishes, champon and sara udon, confectionary shops and souvenir stores, draws visitors from all over Japan. However, each year more people flock to Chinatown for one event in particular.  This event is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival (長崎ランタンフェスティバル).

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival was originally organized by the Chinese residents of Nagasaki to welcome the Chinese New Year. Arguably the largest Chinese festival in Japan, it takes place on the first day of January on the Lunar Calendar and continues for 15 days (With additional days added in February). Spread out across several city blocks and with seven different venues for viewing various performances throughout the day, the festival draws over one million visitors to the port city. Approximately 15,000 Chinese lanterns decorate Shinchi Chinatown and the surrounding areas and there are various events scheduled throughout the festival which should not be missed. These events include the Chinese Lantern Ornaments, the Mazu Procession, the Emperor’s Parade, the Dragon Dance, the Chinese Lion Dance, the Chinese Acrobatics and the Erhu Event. If you plan to arrive by train be sure to pick up a copy of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival program at the station!

There are various locations for viewing the lanterns but if you are pressed for time, try visiting the top venues: Chuo-koen, Minato-koen and Shinchi Chinatown. By far, these locations have the most elaborate displays of lanterns.

Do dress warmly for the event as the cold breezes off the ocean can chill you to the bone.

Location(s):                      Shinchi Chinatown, Chuo Koen, Tojin Yashiki, Kofukuji, Kaji-ichi, Haman-machi Arcade, Koushi-byou (Confucian Shrine)

Web Page:                        http://travel.at-nagasaki.jp/en/what-to-see/62/

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Japan: Tokyo/ Omotesando/ Gluten-Free (Natural Cream Kitchen)

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If you have food allergies like I do, you know how daunting traveling may be, particularly when it comes to overseas travel.  But, a great man once uttered, “Nothing is impossible,” and indeed with growing food allergy awareness, traveling with food allergies is becoming much easier than it used to be.  The only caveat is that you must do your homework ahead of time, which many of us who have allergies are accustomed to doing anyway.

In this new blog post, my purpose is to introduce you to a wonderful little café located in Omotesando, which offers all natural, gluten-free items on their menu.

Natural Cream Kitchen opened in spring of 2015 and bills itself as an “additive free sweets café.” However, sweets are not the only things offered on their menu. Here you will find delicious items such as chicken and roast beef entrees, meatloaf, pasta, sandwiches, quiche and salads.  Their drinks menu includes soft drinks, herbal teas, beer and wine! They even have a brunch menu featuring oatmeal and omelets among other items!  Everything is prepared using natural ingredients, no sugar and no additives.  Their tarts, breads and cakes are created with rice flour and sweetened with amazake  (a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice) and sugar beets. Their signature roll cakes come plain and in chocolate cake flavors and are available in sizes up to 50cm (19.6 in). For Christmas you can order the Christmas cake version. Oh, and did I mention their sweets sampler tower?

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You can choose to dine in the cozy café decked out in a bright and soothing décor or take your food out. There are large vases filled with white flowers, white washed tables and chairs, exposed white brick walls and a giant chandelier comprised of eating utensils.

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The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, able to answer any questions you may have regarding the menu (provided you speak Japanese.)  Even if you can’t speak Japanese, the menu has pictures of the items available so you can just point to what you would like to order.

Whether you have food allergies, are health conscious or just want to try delicious tasting foods, Natural Cream Kitchen should be on your list of places to visit when in Tokyo! The café is open Mon-Sat from 10AM-8PM, Sun & Holidays 9AM-8PM. It is easily accessible via the Meiji-Jingumae Station (Chiyoda, Fukutoshin Lines) or the Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda Lines).

 

Web page:                        https://naturalcreamkitchen.com/

Location:                           GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

End of Year Book Giveaway!

As the year draws to an end, I want to end things on a good note and offer my followers one last chance to win a copy of my new book, A Blogger’s Guide To Japan.

Enter to win here (Contest ends in 7 days):

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/5eea692de107900b#ln-fo

Good Luck & Happy Holidays!2016-11-11_10-26-52

Japan: Kyoto (Kyoto Railway Museum/ 京都鉄道博物館)

Earlier, I had written about the Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (鉄道博物館)/ The Railway Museum) located in Saitama City.  Operated by the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, it is the largest railway museum in Japan. Today, I would like to introduce you to another amazing railway museum. It is one of Japan’s three great railway museums alongside The Railway Museum in Saitama and JR Central’s SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya.

Located in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, the Kyoto Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (京都鉄道博物館/Kyoto Railway Museum) opened to the public on April 29, 2016. It sits on the former site of the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which came into existence in 1972.  The museum is owned by West Japan Railway Company (JR West) and is operated by the Transportation Culture Promotion Foundation.

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Covering an area of 30,000 square meters, the museum is divided into several exhibition areas, including a 20-track roundhouse built in 1914 and the Nijo Station Building, relocated from the nearby Nijo Station in 1997. The exhibits include 53 retired trains, ranging from early steam locomotives to more recent electric trains and a shinkansen (bullet train).  Many of the exhibits were inherited from the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka which has since closed. Visitors will also find displays with railway uniforms, tools and other railway related items from the past.  The museum is home to one of the largest railway dioramas found in Japan.  It contains miniature trains which crisscross an intricately detailed landscape , all operated by a single skilled machinist. There are also a variety of interactive exhibits enabling visitors to drive a train via a simulator or perform the duties of a train conductor. The museum even has a restaurant located on the second floor where patrons can glimpse nice views of the passing trains along the JR Kyoto Line and the Tokaido Shinkansen.  For an additional fee of ¥300, visitors can take a one kilometer journey on a train powered by a steam locomotive.  The typical journey lasts approximately ten minutes.

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Located only 20 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station, the Kyoto Railway Museum affords the ideal opportunity for visitors to appreciate Japan’s steps toward modernization through its railway history.

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The museum is open daily between the hours of 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. (Closed on Wednesdays and from December 30 to January 1.)

Web page:         http://www.kyotorailwaymuseum.jp/en/

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JAPAN: Manga Cafes (Manga Kissa / マンガ喫茶 )

The term manga refers to a comic book/ cartooning style which was developed in Japan in the late 19th century.  It is an art form that is easily recognized around the world today where it has enjoyed an increasing trend in popularity. As a matter of fact, many young people outside of Japan have been introduced to Japan and Japanese culture through manga.

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Even with its increased popularity around the globe, nowhere is manga more popular than in the country where it originated. As a matter of fact, Japanese people of all ages read manga as the subject matter includes a broad assortment of genres ranging from action-adventure to sports and games. Today, manga represents a major part of the Japanese publishing industry with sales over $5.5 billion!  Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that manga has contributed to another growing Japanese trend, the manga café.

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The manga café or manga kissaten (referred to as manga kissa by locals) is a type of café offering an extensive manga library.  Some cafes provide internet access, video games, TV, and snack and beverage vending machines as well. Patrons are typically charged by the amount of time they stay at the café.  Most cafés have pricing plans starting at ¥100 – ¥400 for the first 30 minutes with additional time charged in increments of ¥1 for each 10-15 minutes spent thereafter.

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The cafés offer two types of seating, private booths and open seating areas. The majority of these private booths are rather narrow with only enough space for a desk, chair/ reclining chair/ flatbed. There are some cafés which offer larger booths, big enough to accommodate two people.  Naturally, these tend to be more expensive to rent.

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Certain manga kissatens allow their patrons to stay overnight and have become a popular low budget accommodation option for many.   These cafes are open 24-hours and offer such amenities as showers, blankets, slippers, and free drinks for as little as ¥1,500 per night. Some even offer women-only sections.

To use the manga café you will need a photo ID or passport.  Most cafés require a membership, which you can readily obtain on the spot. You will be asked to choose your type of seating and time plan for your intended stay and given a receipt with your seating number printed on it. When it is time to leave, present your receipt at the check-in counter. You will be charged for your seating type, time spent at the café and any extra charges you may have incurred.

Manga kissatens can be found in most major cities all over Japan.  Many are located in multi-level buildings situated along the side streets near train stations. So the next time you travel to Japan, why not check into a manga kissaten and drift off into a world created by one of the popular Japanese manga artists like Hideaki Sorachi, Eiichiro Oda, or Akira Toriyama?

Japan: Tokyo (Shinjuku Gyoen/ 新宿御苑)

Once having served as a feudal lord’s residence, Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo’s largest and most popular parks.  It is home to more than 20,000 trees, including approximately 1,500 cherry trees, which make it a popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) destination from late March to late April. The park is also nice to visit during autumn when the leaves change. The spectacular fall colors typically appear from mid-November to mid-December.

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Shinjuku Gyoen, which spans 58.3 hectares is comprised of three different types of gardens. The oldest is a traditional Japanese landscape garden, which features the Taiwan Pavilion, constructed on the occasion of the Showa Emperor’s wedding.  During the first two weeks in November, a chrysanthemum exhibit is held here with beautiful floral displays and temporary pavilions erected around the park’s grounds. You can also find a traditional Japanese tea house here.

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The park’s other main gardens include a formal French garden and an English landscape garden. The remainder of the park consists of forested areas, lawns and several structures including a restaurant, an information center and an art gallery. There is also a beautiful greenhouse with numerous tropical and subtropical flowers on display. The park was almost completely destroyed during World War II, but it was eventually rebuilt and reopened to the public in 1949. It is not uncommon to walk around the park and find various artists creating beautiful water color images of the scenery.

Shinjuku Gyoen also has three gates. The Shinjuku Gate and the Okido Gate are both just a five-minute walk from the Shinjukugyoenmae Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line. The third gate, the Sendagaya Gate, is located five minutes on foot from the JR Sendagaya Station on the local Chuo/Sobu Line.

The park is open from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM Tuesday through Sunday, except during cherry blossom season and chrysanthemum season, when the park is open seven days a week.

Web page:         http://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/

Japan: Tokyo (Madame Tussauds Wax Museum)

In an earlier blog post, I had written about Madame Tussauds Wax Museum located in Hollywood, California. (https://wordpress.com/stats/insights/traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com )  During my recent visit to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit Madame Tussauds in Tokyo.

Madame Tussaud or Marie Tussaud was born as Marie Grosholtz in 1761 in Strasbourg, France.  She eventually settled in London and by 1825, opened the first wax museum on Baker Street. Today, the museum is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying life-size waxworks of royalty, historical figures, film and sport stars and famous murderers. The wax figures were once roped off from visitors but today the public can get up close and personal with the celebrities, dress up in costumes and take pictures!

If you are unable to visit the original London attraction, do not worry, Madame Tussauds has opened up branches in various countries including China, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States and Japan.

The Japanese museum opened on March 15, 2013.  It is located at DECKS Tokyo Beach in Odaiba, approximately 32 minutes by train from Tokyo Station. The museum has over sixty wax figures of world leaders, celebrities, music stars and other television and news personalities on display. You can mingle and have your photo taken with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, President Barack Obama, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, you name it.  The museum also features various Japanese personalities such as Prime Minister Abe, skater Mao Asada, television personality Matsuko Deluxe and the famous rock band, XJapan, just to name a few.

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Nelson Mandela

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Lady Gaga

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Marilyn Monroe

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Audrey Hepburn

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Meryl Streep

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Michael Jackson

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Elvis

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Madonna

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Yu Darvish

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Matsuko Deluxe

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Akiko Wada

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Danmitsu

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Yuko Oshima (AKB48)

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Odaiba is accessible via the Yurikamome Line from Tokyo Station, exit at the Odaiba Kaihin Koen stop. DECKS is just a short walk from the station.

 

Web page:         https://www.madametussauds.jp/tokyo/en/

Location:            3F Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall, 1-6-1 Daiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo