JAPAN: Tokyo/ Ginza (Vampire Cafe)

The Ginza district in Tokyo is a popular upscale shopping area filled with numerous internationally renowned department stores, boutiques, restaurants and coffeehouses. In fact, it is recognized internationally as one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world, attracting visitors and regulars alike. Unlike another popular destination in Tokyo, Shinjuku, Ginza is not known for its themed restaurants and cafes. However, there is one themed restaurant I am aware of where people have been dying to go!

I am referring to the Vampire Café located on the seventh floor of the La Paix Building which has been drawing patrons for over a decade. As you exit the elevator, your spine will tingle as you enter the realm of the night crawlers. The interior of the restaurant is dimly lit and the décor is black and blood red throughout. The floor of the hallway leading from the entrance is painted with blood plasma cells. There is Baroque music piped in and the walls and interior are covered with crucifixes, spiders, skulls and candelabras. Even Dracula’s coffin is prominently placed within the restaurant. Tables are divided by curtains and restaurant staff are summoned by the ringing of the bell. The host resembles The Count himself and the female servers are dressed as Vampire Maids whereas the male servers are outfitted in tuxedos.

VIP Seating

VIP Seating

The entrees and the drinks are all vampire themed albeit a bit on the pricey side for what you get, but then again, this is Ginza. The fare offered is a mix of French, Italian and Japanese cuisines. An average course will run you between ¥3,000 to ¥4,000. A night out at the Vampire Café for two people can easily exceed ¥10,000. Some of the courses come with all you can drink options available for a set number of hours. It is a great opportunity to try drinks like the Iron Maiden: The Virgin’s Fresh Blood or the Dracula: The Count’s Power. If you choose, you can also order food a la carte. The only downside for foreigners visiting the café is that the menu is in Japanese only.

All in all, it is one of those unique experiences that you will want to live through at least once in your lifetime. The clientele are generally people celebrating a special occasion or those seeking a unique date night destination. The Vampire Café is open between the hours of 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM.

Address:             La Paix Building 7F 6-7-6 Ginza Chuo-ku Tokyo

Phone:               03-3289-5360


Japan: Tokyo/ Ueno (The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts)

During the month of August, the Japanese observe an annual Buddhist event called, Obon. This is the time when many return to their hometowns (furusato) and join their family members in commemorating their ancestors. The general belief is that each year during Obon, the deceased ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Although Obon customs vary greatly from region to region, traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits, Obon dances (Bon Odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at home altars (Butsudan) and temples.

At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are placed into rivers, lakes and the sea in order to guide the spirits back to their world.

Having said this, this time of year is an excellent choice to feature an exhibition on ghosts and that is exactly what The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts has done beginning July 22 – September 13, 2015! The exhibition, Urameshiya: Art of the Ghost Featuring Zenshoan’s Sanyutei Encho Collection of Ghost Paintings, is housed in the Main Gallery 1,2 and highlights the collection of Sanyutei Encho, a Japanese author and Rakugo performer of the late Edo and early Meiji eras. For those who are unfamiliar with Rakugo, it is simply a form of Japanese verbal entertainment or storytelling. The solitary storyteller is seated on stage and conveys a long and usually complicated satirical tale using only a paper fan and a small piece of cloth as props. The story typically involves dialogue between two or more characters.

Encho was recognized for his ghost stories and for his penchant for collecting paintings and various artworks featuring ghosts and supernatural creatures. Throughout his life, he commissioned works on these themes from artists of the day, including paintings by Shibata Zeshin and Iijima Koga. Following his death on August 11th 1900, incidentally, many of these pictures were left to Zenshoan, his family’s temple located in Tokyo’s Yanaka neighborhood.



The exhibition begins with items from Encho’s career: portraits, playbills, and various personal items. From there visitors are treated to a nice collection of scroll paintings featuring what else, ghosts! Finally as you approach the end of the exhibit, you are greeted by some of the more popular ghosts from Japanese lore including Oiwa, the young bride disfigured, poisoned and thrown off the edge of a cliff by her unfaithful husband and Okiku, the unfortunate servant who was thrown down a well after refusing the advances of her samurai master.

Ghost Beneath the Full Moon

Ghost Beneath the Full Moon

A Ghost in front of a Mosquito Net (1906)

A Ghost in front of a Mosquito Net (1906)

By: Iijima Koga

By: Iijima Koga



The exhibit runs from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily except Monday, when the museum is closed. Admission is ¥1100 for adults and ¥700 for students aged Senior High School level and older. Advance tickets can be purchased at a discounted rate.

The museum is located 10 minutes from Ueno Station. There are also other notable places worth seeing around Ueno Park such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, etc., so you can essentially completely book up a day visiting the area.

Address:          12-8 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-8714, Japan

Web page:              http://www.geidai.ac.jp/museum/information/information_en.htm

Japan: Chiba (Chiba Port Tower/ 千葉ポートタワー)

Since their construction, the Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Skytree have been drawing crowds, both locals and tourists, for their magnificent bird’s eye views of Tokyo. But did you know that there is another tower where you can glimpse very unique views of Tokyo Bay and even Mount Fuji on a clear day?

The Chiba Port Tower constructed in 1986 stands at approximately 410 feet tall and offers 360° panoramic views of the area. Located in Chiba Port Park and rather close to the Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art, the tower was constructed to commemorate Chiba Prefecture’s population exceeding the 5 million mark. The exterior of the tower is covered with mirrored glass, which reflects the sun and makes the tower appear blue during the day.

The tower has four stories. The middle portion of the tower is hollow, which provides an interesting perspective during the elevator ride. When you enter through the first floor, you will find a souvenir shop selling items unique to Chiba along with an exhibition room, theater and a children’s room. Visitors take the elevator from the first floor to the fourth floor observation deck. The third and second floor can be accessed from the fourth floor via a stairway. There is an elevator located on the second floor, which will take visitors back to the first floor.

The second floor contains a special wall painting called Aqua Fantasy, painted with special luminous paint. After the sun sets, the painting is illuminated by black light and the objects in the painting appear to be three-dimensional. There is also an area called Lover’s Sanctuary, with seats set together in close pairs near the windows. Couples can purchase a heart-shaped lock and after writing their names on it, fasten it onto a window grate for all time. In a way, it is reminiscent of the lover’s bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts, where couples toss the keys into the River Seine after attaching their locks to the bridge.

The third floor houses a coffee shop called Café La Plage. The shop can accommodate 50 people and it can be reserved for weddings and parties.

The main observation deck is located on the fourth floor. From here, visitors can see the Chiba Marine Stadium, Mount Tsukuba and the Chiba Zoo to the North; the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line to the South; Narita Airport, Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art and Chiba Port Square to the East and finally, Haneda Airport, Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Disney Resort, Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower to the West.

From the middle of November to the end of December the exterior of Chiba Port Tower is decorated with 3,000 Christmas lights, which form a large Christmas tree.

The tower is somewhat underrated hence it is cheaper to access its observatory than its more formidable neighbors, Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree and the views are quite nice if you overlook the Keiyo Industrial Zone.

You can access the Chiba Port Tower via the JR Keiyo Line, exit Chiba Minato Station. From that point, your destination is merely 15 minutes on foot.


Pont des Arts, Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

Mt. Fuji in the distance

Mt. Fuji in the distance


Tokyo Skytree

West View

Rainbow Bridge

Web page: http://chiba-porttower.com/

California: Manzanar (Japanese Internment Camp/ マンザナール)

Many of us are familiar with the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan on December 7th, 1941 through what we have been taught in history classes and even through Hollywood’s rendition of what occurred on that day. According to President Roosevelt’s speech it was , “ a date which will live in infamy ….”

But what occurred in the United States during 1942, in retaliation for the attack is something that is not often discussed. While the U.S. condemned the Nazi regime for operating concentration camps in Europe between 1933-1945, they too established what they called “Internment Camps” through Executive Order 9066, issued February 19, 1942. The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States was the forced relocation and incarceration during World War II.

Of the 127,000 Japanese Americans living in the continental United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, 112,000 resided on the West Coast. Approximately 80,000 were Nisei (second generation, American-born Japanese with U.S. citizenship) and Sansei (third generation; the children of Nisei). The remainder were Issei (first generation, immigrants born in Japan who were ineligible for U.S. citizenship by U.S. law).

Under Executive Order 9066, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. The Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first of ten camps established where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II.







Manzanar, located on the west side of U.S. Highway 395, approximately 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was home to the Paiute Indians prior to the arrival of the Japanese Americans in March of 1942. The town of Manzanar was established in 1910 by ranchers and miners who abandoned it by 1929 after Los Angeles purchased the water rights to virtually the entire area.





The camp site stretched 6,200 acres with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acres. The residential area was only one square mile and consisted of 36 blocks of hastily constructed barracks measuring 20×100’. A single family, regardless of size resided in a 20×25’ partition within the barracks. These partitions had no ceilings eliminating any chance of privacy. Each residential block also had a communal mess hall, a laundry room, a recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank. There were school facilities, chicken and hog farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, a cooperative store, other shops and even a camp newspaper. Camp residents had to wait in one line after another for meals, at bathrooms and at the laundry room Thirty four additional blocks on the camp site were designated for staff housing, camp administration offices, warehouses, a garage, a camp hospital and 24 firebreaks. The camp perimeter enclosed by five-strand barbed wire, had eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police. Sentry posts were positioned at the main entrance.


An all American game of baseball at the camp

An all American game of baseball at the camp

Summers at Manzanar were generally hot, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F. The winters brought occasional snowfall and daytime temperatures often dropped into the 40 °F range. Due to frequent high winds, dust was ever-present. Those living in the barracks often awoke being covered from head to toe with a fine layer of dust. They had to constantly sweep dirt out of the barracks.

Monument at Manzanar Cemetary

Monument at Manzanar Cemetery


On November 21, 1945, the WRA closed Manzanar, the sixth camp to be closed. Although the camp residents had been brought to Manzanar by the United States government, they had to leave the camp and travel to their next destination on their own. The WRA gave each person $25, one-way train or bus fare and provided meals to those who had less than $600. Although many left the camp voluntarily, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. As such, they had to be forcibly removed once again, this time from Manzanar.

One hundred forty six Japanese Americans died at Manzanar. Fifteen of them were buried there but only five graves remain as most were later reburied elsewhere by their families.

It is important to note that as WWII progressed, many of the young Nisei volunteered or were drafted to serve in the United States military. Japanese Americans served in all the branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the United States Merchant Marines.


The nation’s highest award for combat valor, the Medal of Honor, was conferred upon only one Nisei during the war. Twenty-one members of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team received Distinguished Service Crosses during or immediately after their service. However, in the 1990s, after a study revealed that racial discrimination had caused these soldiers to be overlooked, their awards were upgraded to Medals of Honor. On October 5, 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion, as well as the 6,000 Japanese Americans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war.

In 1980, under mounting pressure from the Japanese American Citizens League and various redress organizations, President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the decision to put Japanese Americans into internment camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The Commission’s report, titled “Personal Justice Denied,” found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and concluding the incarceration had been the product of racism, recommended that the government pay reparations to the survivors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on “racial prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

In 1992, Manzanar became a National Historic Site. It is a painful reminder of the incarceration and violation of civil rights of Japanese Americans during World War ll. It also serves to educate and raise public awareness of the continuing struggle of all persons when their Constitutional rights are violated.

The Manzanar site is open from 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM (April 1 – October 31) and 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (November 1- March 31). Admission to the site is free of charge.

Web page: http://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm

Japanese Temples

Along with Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples number in the hundreds of thousands in Japan. Every town has at least one temple while Kyoto alone boasts having more than 2,000 temples and shrines. Many of these historic religious buildings, some built over 1200 years ago, are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites or Japanese National Treasures.

The Hachijuhakkasho-meguri (The 88 Temple Pilgrimage) is Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku. Today, an estimated 100,000 people annually, make the pilgrimage either by tour bus or on foot.

Although it is impossible to detail each and every temple in Japan, here is just a small sampling to give you a preview of what lies in store.

Kyoto City:

Kyoto, located in the central part of Honshu Island served as Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868. It is now the country’s seventh largest city with a population of 1.5 million people and the capital of the Kyoto Prefecture.

Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was spared from air raids during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today as a result.

Ginkakuji Temple

Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion) is located in the Sakyo ward of Kyoto City. Originally initiated as a retirement villa and gardens in 1460 for 8th shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, it was converted into a Zen temple after his death. The temple was nicknamed the Silver Pavilion as it was Yoshimasa’s intention to cover the structure in a silver-foil overlay. However, since the construction was halted during the Onin War, these plans were delayed indefinitely. The current appearance of the temple in its “unfinished” state is said to be the way Yoshimasa himself last saw it.

Yoshimasa became a Zen Buddhist monk in 1485. After his death in 1490 the complex was renamed Jishoji after Yoshimasa’s Buddhist name and converted to a Buddhist temple.

Today, visitors can tour the Silver Pavilion along with half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden (Ginshadan: Sea of Silver Sand).

Photo courtesy of Dingy

Photo courtesy of Dingy


Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple (Gold Pavilion) officially named Rokuonji dates back to 1397. Originally purchased as a mountain villa by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu it was transformed into a temple after his death according to his wishes.

All of the temple buildings with the exception of the pavilion were burned down during the Onin War. Rebuilt, the temple was burned down again in 1950 by a 22-year old monk trying to commit suicide. He survived and was sentenced to seven years in prison but was released due to mental illness.

The present structure dates back to 1955, when it was rebuilt yet again. The reconstruction is said to be a copy close to the original, although some doubt such an extensive gold-leaf coating was ever used on the original structure.


Kiyomizu Temple

Established in 798 in the eastern part of Kyoto City is the Kiyomizu Temple. The temple takes its name from the Otowa waterfall located within the complex. Kiyomizu means “clear or pure water” in Japanese.

Since its foundation, the temple has burned down countless times. A majority of the buildings you see today were rebuilt during the early Edo period (1600s). The temple’s Main Hall was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1994. The Main Hall has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars that extend out over the hillside, which offers remarkable views of the city. Visitors to the temple find it beautifully dressed with cherry blossoms in the spring and stunning changing momiji leaves in the autumn months. The site is particularly popular during festivals when booths selling traditional holiday foods and souvenirs fill the grounds.

In 2007, the temple was selected as one of the 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World designation although it failed to be designated.


Photo courtesy of Christopher Mann McKay

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mann McKay

Ninnaji Temple

Ninnaji Temple which was also known as the Omuro Imperial Palace, is another UNESCO World Heritage site located in Kyoto. The temple was founded in 888 by the reigning emperor at the time and over the many centuries, a member of the Imperial Family always served as the temple’s head priest. This tradition ended in the late Edo period.

Due to the many fires that ravaged Kyoto, none of the temple’s original buildings survived. The oldest buildings in the complex only date back to the beginning of the Edo Period. The highlight of the complex is the Goten, the former residence of the head priest. Its palatial buildings are connected by covered corridors and surrounded by lovely rock gardens and ponds. Ninnaji is also famous for its late blooming cherry trees called Omuro Sakura. When Kyoto’s other cherry trees are nearing the end of their blooming season around mid-April, visitors can still enjoy the beautiful fragrant blossoms of the cherry trees at Ninnaji.






Ryoanji Temple

Ryoanji Temple (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is located in northwest Kyoto and is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple houses Japan’s most famous rock garden and attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat’s villa, it was converted into a Zen temple in 1450. The temple grounds also include a spacious park area with a pond, located below the temple’s main buildings. The pond dates back to the time when the site still served as an aristocrat’s villa and features a small shrine on one of its three small islands that can be accessed over a bridge. In addition to wonderful walking trails, the park also offers a restaurant which specializes in Yudofu (Blocks of tofu simmered in hot water along with vegetables, consumed with ponzu and yuzu kosho). The food is served in attractive tatami rooms that look out onto a traditional Japanese garden.

The temple is also the final resting place for the late Hosokawa emperors. Their tombs are grouped together in what is referred to as the “Seven Imperial Tombs.”




Sanjusangendo Temple

Sanjusangendo, a temple located in the Higashiyama District of Kyoto was completed under the order of Emperor Go-Shirakawa in 1164. The temple complex was destroyed by a fire in 1249 and only the main hall was reconstructed in 1266.

The main deity of the temple is Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara or the Thousand Armed Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The main statue of the goddess, listed as a National Treasure of Japan, was created by the famous Kamakura sculptor Tankei (1173 – 1256). Arranged on both sides of the statue are one thousand life-size statues of Kannon ordered in 10 rows and 50 columns. Of these one thousand statues, 124 are from the original temple, rescued from the fire of 1249, while the remaining 876 statues were constructed in the 13th century.


Sanjusangendo (Kyoto)


Nara City:

Nara, located in the Kansai region of Japan is the capital city of the Nara Prefecture and the former capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Bordering the Kyoto Prefecture, the city is home to eight temples, shrines and ruins designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective name of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.” These structures include, Todaiji, Saidaiji, Kōfukuji, the Kasuga Shrine, Gangoji, Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and the Heijo Palace.

Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple, located in what seems today to be the outskirts of Nara, was founded in 759 by a Chinese priest named, Ganjin. The temple was the former residence of Prince Shin-no, the son of Emperor Tenmu. Ganjin was invited to Japan by the emperor and had a monumental impact on Buddhism in that country.

There are a number of small trails on the temple grounds that cut through thick overhanging foliage. Ganjin’s grave is located at the end of one of these trails, and the surrounding flora gives the area an ambience of serenity. The temple also has a large bell from the Heian period, a chapel, sleeping quarters once used by monks in training, and a small house used for collecting the entrance fees to the facility.

Toshodaiji Temple (Nara)

Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple (Great Eastern Temple) located in Nara Park dates back to 728 and is famous for housing the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha (Daibutsu). It is said that the 52-foot statue was constructed with the help of more than 2,600,000 people and required eight castings over three years to complete. The hall where the statue is stored, called the Daibutsuden, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice. The current structure finished is 1709 is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor. The original complex also contained two 320-foot pagodas which were destroyed by an earthquake.

Today, visitors can see deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, freely roaming the temple grounds. The temple sells special “ shika senbe” or crackers to feed the deer for around 150 yen.


Photo courtesy of Bobak Ha'Eri

Photo courtesy of Bobak Ha’Eri

Kofukuji Temple

The Kofukuji Temple established in the same year that Nara became the capital of Japan in 710, served as the family temple of the Fujiwara clan, the most powerful family during the Nara and Heian Periods. At the height of the Fujiwara clan’s power, the temple complex consisted of 150 buildings. Today only a few buildings of great historic value remain, including a five story pagoda which stands at 160 feet, making it Japan’s second largest pagoda.

For a fee, visitors can access the Kofukuji’s National Treasure Museum and the Eastern Golden Hall. The museum exhibits the temple’s great art collection including one of the most prized Buddhist statues in Japan, the three-faced, six-armed Ashura.


Nagano City:

Nagano City originated as a small town in the Kamiminochi District built around a 7th century hilltop temple, the largest wooden building in eastern Japan. Today the city is the capital of the Nagano Prefecture and the 1998 host of the Winter Olympic Games.

The city is home to the historic battlegrounds of Kawanakajima and Matsushiro Castle. Nagano retains a historical atmosphere, preserving many old samurai residences, temples, and gardens of the feudal period.

Zenkoji temple

Zenkoji Temple has been revered for over 1400 years as Japan’s primary center of the Buddhist faith. Founded before Buddhism in Japan was split into several different sects, it currently belongs to both the Tendai and Jodoshu schools of Buddhism, and is co-managed by twenty-five priests from the former school, and fourteen from the latter.

The temple houses the first Buddhist statue to come to Japan, the hibutsu (secret Buddha). The commandments of the temple require the absolute secrecy of the statue, prohibiting it to be shown to anyone, including the chief priest of the temple. However, a replica of the statue (Maedachi Honzon) is displayed publicly once every six years in spring, during the Gokaicho ceremony.

Zenkoji draws 6 million visitors annually and is one of the last few remaining pilgrimage sites in Japan.



Zenkoji 11

Iwakuni City:

Iwakuni City is a castle town shaped by two eras of military presence, the samurai and the U.S. Marine Corps. The city, located in the southeastern part of the Yamaguchi Prefecture is a small city consisting of only 150,000 people. During the Edo Period, Iwakuni used to be one of the feudal domains of Japan. Its former mountain-top castle was reconstructed in the 1960s and counts as the city’s other tourist attraction. The city is best known for its structurally unique Kintai-kyo Bridge. The bridge is beautiful year-round but attracts the most visitors during the cherry blossom season, in early April.

Youkouji Temple

Youkouji Temple was a sizeable complex constructed in the year 1309. In 1600, Hiroie Yoshikawa drastically reduced the temple’s land by erecting numerous samurai houses in the area. Historically, the temple has been shrouded in mystery with not many facts being made known to the public.

These days, visitors can enjoy the changing of the leaves in autumn of the countless momiji (Japanese maple trees) that have been planted around the temple.



Photo credits:  Rocky Andoh