JAPAN: Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture (Spa Resort Hawaiians/ Joban Hawaiian Center)

Joban is one of thirteen zones within Iwaki City located in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. The area was renowned for coal mining which began near the foot of the Abukuma mountains in 1883. By 1944, the Joban Mine was the largest mine in Japan and utilized Allied POWs as laborers. As the coal industry declined in the 1960s, the mine’s vice president, Yutaka Nakamura conceived of an idea to open up a resort taking advantage of the area’s hot springs in an effort to generate income from tourism for the city.

On January 15, 1966, the Joban Hawaiian Center was opened becoming Japan’s first theme park. Over the years, the theme park was upgraded and became a full scale resort. Resultantly, the name was changed to Spa Resort Hawaiians (スパリゾートハワイアンズ) in 1990.   Park attendance reached its peak in the early 1970s where attendance exceeded 1.5 million visitors annually.  Today, it still enjoys a steady influx of visitors and is considered among the top ten most popular “theme parks” in Japan.

The Spa Resort Hawaiians is divided into five areas consisting of: The Water Park, The Spring Park, The Spa Garden Pareo, Edo Jowa Yoichi and Vir Port.

The Water Park comprises the main area of the resort where you will find various indoor pools, water slides and the dance stage. A Hawaiian atmosphere is recreated throughout with pineapple plants and other tropical vegetation. The Spring Park is one of two hot spring areas that is fed by spring water from the Yumoto Onsen. Here you will find co-ed lukewarm indoor pools as well as regular, gender separated hot spring baths where swimsuits are not allowed. The Spa Garden Pareo is a water playground with outdoor pools, deckchairs, Jacuzzis and a sauna (please note that this section is closed during the winter months). Edo Jowa Yoichi is a gender separated, large outdoor bath with an Edo period theme. It is said that this is the largest single outdoor bath in Japan. Finally, Vir Port is where guests can partake in Hawaiian dance lessons, enjoy a massage or facial, or take part in water exercises. The resort also has various restaurants and two hotels: Hotel Hawaiians and Monolith Tower.

However, the park’s most popular attraction is its dance troupe known as the Hula Girls. They were the subject of a 2006 film with the same name.  The film was directed by Sang-il Lee and grossed $9.4 million at the box office!

In March of 2011, the resort sustained heavy damage by the East Japan Earthquake and was forced to close. During the closure, the Hula Girls troupe toured Japan performing at earthquake refugee shelters and other venues. The resort reopened on February 8, 2012 with a much larger stage for the Hula Girls show.

Accessing the resort is relatively easy. There are free hourly shuttle buses to/from Yumoto Station. In addition, the resort provides bus service for its staying guests to/from Tokyo (3 hours) and Yokohama (3.5 hours), free of charge. Please note that advance reservations are required for the latter.

Web page:



50, Warabidaira, Fujiwaramachi,

Joban, Iwaki-shi,

Fukushima, 972-8326, Japan









How The Allied Occupation Helped Promote The Popularity Of Tokyo Style Nigiri Sushi


When the Allied forces arrived in Japan in 1945 for what was to be the seven year military occupation, there was little doubt that the country would be changed forever. However, some traditions were retained in an effort to maintain Japanese culture.  One of these traditions was sushi.

The earliest form of sushi in Japan was called narezushi (salted fish).  Fish was stored in fermented rice for long periods of time without spoiling and provided an important source of protein in the Japanese diet. The sushi we are familiar with today is called nigiri sushi.  It had its origins in Edo (Tokyo). A restaurant owner named Hanaya Yohei is credited with having invented this type of sushi during the 19th century.  The Edo people were known for their busy lifestyle and lack of patience, therefore many fast food businesses began cropping up. Nigiri sushi, which was known as Edomaezushi at the time, was a type of fast food, conveniently shaped to be eaten by hand and no longer reliant on the fermentation process utilized by narezushi.


While nigiri quickly became the most popular style of sushi in Edo, it did not immediately dominate the sushi landscape as it does today. There were two events which aided the popularity of nigiri sushi outside of Tokyo: one was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the other was the military occupation of Japan in 1945.  The earthquake caused many people to leave Tokyo and return to their hometowns.  Among these were the various sushi chefs who opened restaurants upon returning home and served Edomaezushi to their clientele. In post-war Japan, many sushi shops were forced to close due to the rice rationing at the time and not allowed to reopen.

Eventually it was impressed upon the American Forces General Headquarters that the sushi restaurants should be allowed to reopen as sushi was an important part of Japanese culture.  When the restaurants reopened however, they had to adhere to one strict rule.  That rule was that the patrons were to bring in their own rice rations for the sushi.  One cup of rice was to be used to make ten pieces of sushi hence the nigiri sushi shrunk in size.  In pre-war Japan, nigiri sushi was three times larger.

Eventually the same system was implemented throughout Japan and Tokyo style nigiri became Japan’s predominant form of sushi.



JAPAN: Saitama (Kawagoe)

If you think that in this day and age you would be hard pressed to find a place in Japan that still retains the ambiance of an old Edo period town, you may be mistaken. Located merely 30 minutes by train from Tokyo is the city of Kawagoe, often referred to as Little Edo or Koedo. Its old wooden houses along with the elegant examples of early twentieth century brick, cement and stone architecture inspired by Taisho Romanticism still draws tourists searching for a taste of old Japan.

Kawagoe prospered during the Edo period due to the over two hundred two-storied kurazukuri warehouses that were used to store goods on their way into Edo via the Kawagoe-Kaido highway. Today, approximately thirty of these ornate, earthen walled storehouses still survive. These historic buildings are conveniently grouped in an area about half a mile north of Kawagoe Station along Chuo-dori, the town’s main north-south street. Some of the kurazukuri were converted into small museums, such as the Kurazukuri Shiryokan, an old tobacco warehouse rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1893. Others serve as shops and restaurants.

Just 15 minutes away from the kurazukuri area are the ruins of Kawagoe Castle. Only one building, the Honmaru Goten, where the feudal lord dwelt, still remains and is open to visitors. The structure dates back to 1848 and contains amazing tatami rooms and a Chinese-style tiled roof.

Other famous landmarks include the Toki no Kane (Tower of Time), a 54-foot bell tower dating back to the 1890s, which was used to warn residents of a fire and the 1,200-year-old Kita-in Temple. The temple contains the only surviving structures from the original Edo Castle which were moved to Kawagoe along the Shingashi River. On the temple grounds you will find 540 statues of the disciples of Buddha and the Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. In January of each year, the temple hosts a Daruma Matsuri, during which time visitors purchase their daruma for good luck. Additionally, there is a Setsubun Matsuri (Bean Throwing Festival) and a Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival).

The Kawagoe Matsuri Kaikan or festival museum houses several ornate floats, some reaching as high as three stories, used in Kawagoe’s annual festival. Behind the museum you will find Kashiya Yokocho, a charming street with fourteen candy stores and children’s gift shops dating back to the early Showa era.

If you happen to work up an appetite after touring Kawagoe, try to sample some of the cuisine the city is famous for including sweet potatoes, unagi (eel) and various Japanese confections.

You can access Kawagoe from Tokyo via the Tobu Line from Ikebukuro Station to Kawagoe Station. Alternatively you can take the Seibu Shinjuku Line Koedo Limited Express train from Shinjuku to Hon-Kawagoe.

Sanya, Japan: Tokyo’s Skid Row

yoshiwara-sanya-map-tokyo-after-1923With every city and with every destination, there is always the good and the bad. But sometimes, the bad really isn’t so bad at all.

Sanya, an area within the Taito Ward of Tokyo, located somewhere between Ueno and Asakusa, just south of the Sumida River, is one such destination. The neighborhood which dates back to the Edo period was once home to lower caste laborers, butchers, tanners and leatherworkers. However, the municipality decided to take it off every Tokyo map after 1966 turning Sanya into Tokyo’s “lost district.”

Since Sanya does not appear on any maps or tourist guides, it is difficult to pinpoint its location as a tourist. The Minami-Senju stop on the Hibiya Subway line is the closest station.

Once you do wonder into the old Sanya, you will find a depressing landscape of vacant buildings and half empty streets. Day workers, the homeless, foreign students and backpackers comprise the population of this unique neighborhood.

During the Edo era, the lower caste who inhabited Sanya were forced to carry out all the “unclean” tasks which the Shogunate needed done, but were not allowed to perform themselves because of their Buddhist faith. This meant butchering, skin curing, etc. The lower caste were also given the responsibility of slaughtering criminals and burying them in mass graves. There is a Buddha statue which can be seen from the train approaching Minami-Senju, which marks the site of the killing fields where more than 200,000 were killed. On the opposite side of the station is the Namidabashi (Bridge of Tears) intersection. The bridge no longer exists but a sign bearing its name was left to remember the crossing leading to the execution grounds.

Despite what conditions appear to be, Sanya is not a particularly poor town. Ordinary people live and work there too. There are many shops, factories and houses where normal life is being carried on.

The flophouses offering dorm style accommodations, which were once filled with day workers have been transformed into cheap doya or business hotels catering mainly to backpackers. You can find a room for as little as ¥1,500 per night.

There are also plenty of cheap eateries serving anything from yakitori to ramen. Nearby in old Yoshiwara, Edo’s Red Light District, you will discover one of the oldest restaurants in Tokyo! Iseya (1-9-2 Nihonzutsumi, Taito Ward) is a small tempura restaurant that has been operating since the 1880s.

In the heart of Sanya you will come across a shotengai (shopping arcade). It is littered with smashed vending machines, passed out drunks and vacant shops. There is a large liquor store and the few open shops cater mostly to the day workers, selling everything from construction gear to clothing at a bargain. Sanya is also dotted with leather factories and old shoe shops, a tradition surviving from the Edo custom of animal-skin handling by the lower caste.

Sanya offers something very different from the other glitzy districts in Tokyo and is continually drawing more and more budget conscious travelers. Just remember to respect the locals when you are there. This is Tokyo’s skid row and the scenery is not very different from the skid row districts of other cities you may be familiar with.

Minami-Senju Station

Minami-Senju Station



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Oita Prefecture, Japan: Fukuzawa Residence & Memorial Museum

When visiting Nakatsu Castle in Oita Prefecture, it is a worthwhile idea to combine a visit to the Yukichi Fukuzawa Residence & Memorial Musuem as well. The property is close to the castle and only a 15-minute walk from the JR Nakatsu Station.

Although not a well-known figure outside of Japan, Yukichi Fukuzawa was undoubtedly one of the most important and influential thinkers of Japan’s modernization period. Born in Osaka in 1835, he was the second son of a low ranking samurai from the Nakatsu Domain in the present day Oita Prefecture. Fukuzawa never really knew his father who died when Yukichi was less than 2 years old. Raised by his mother, he credits her in his autobiography in having had a profound influence on his attitude. He especially noted her benevolence and kindness towards those in the lower classes. Fukuzawa himself was deeply resentful of the disdain and discrimination he suffered. While the class system of Tokugawa Japan is well known, less well known is that within the samurai class there were deep divisions and distinctions between lower ranking samurai and upper ranking samurai.

The family’s poverty also meant that he was not able to go to school until the relatively late age of 14. Fortunately, his father had collected a sizable number of books, so Yukichi was able to study by himself and was therefore able to escape the rigidity of thought that characterized the schools.

In 1853, when Fukuzawa was 19, Commodore Perry arrived in Japan for the first time and demanded that Japan open up to the West. Fukuzawa was sent to Nagasaki to study Dutch and western gunnery, but only stayed a short time before making his own way to Osaka, where he enrolled in the Tekijuku, a school of Dutch learning. During his three years there, he studied physics, chemistry & physiology, and of course, Dutch.

In 1858 he was appointed teacher of Dutch to the Nakatsu Domain and moved to Edo (present day Tokyo). The following year Yokohama opened as a treaty port but upon visiting the foreign settlement, Fukuzawa was shocked to discover that Dutch was not the language of the world, rather it was English. So, with little more than a Dutch-English dictionary, he set about the task of learning a new language.

In 1860 he was invited to join the first mission sent by the Shogunate to the USA, and while only there for three weeks, he was able to get what he considered his most valuable asset, a Webster’s dictionary. Upon his return, he was employed by the government to translate diplomatic documents and in the next year, he was invited to join a year-long mission to Europe.

Fukuzawa Yukichi is variously described as a writer, translator, newspaperman, journalist, teacher, educator and entrepreneur. He was the founder of the prestigious Keio University, and the man who coined the phrases “Civilization and Enlightenment” (bunmei kaika) and “leave Asia, join the West” (datsu-a, nu-o), two of the slogans that drove Japan’s modernization program in the Meiji period. Today, his likeness graces the front of the ¥10,000 Japanese banknote.


He passed away in 1901 in Tokyo at the age of 66. His grave is in Azabu-san Zenpuku-ji Temple, Minato ward, Tokyo.

Fukuzawa lived in the house in Nakatsu until he was 19 years old. It is a registered National Cultural Heritage Site and next to it is the Fukuzawa Memorial Museum. The museum contains manuscripts, first editions and other artifacts from Fukuzawa, including the first edition of Gakumon no Susume (Encouragement of Learning).

In the yard, you will find a storehouse that Fukuzawa himself remodeled to serve as his study space. The Inari Shrine that Fukuzawa experimented with as a youth is also on the grounds.

So when in Oita, take a moment to learn about the man that appears on the ¥10,000 Japanese banknote that is in your wallet.  I am certain you will find it an enlightening experience!


Yukichi Fukuzawa residence








10000_Yenes_(Anverso)Fukuzawa Residence & Memorial Museum

586 Rusui-machi

Nakatsu City

Oita 871 0018

Tel: 0979 25 0063 

Open every day from 8.30am to 5pm.



Photo credits: Rocky Andoh