New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN


Friends, good news! My book is now available to purchase online. Please note that if you purchase the book from the CreateSpace eStore, you can use the discount code (YVW7YCQG) to receive $3 off the list price. Worldwide shipment is available.

Further, is offering a special limited time holiday discount.  Use the following code to receive $10 off the list price at check out:  HOLIDAYBOOK

Thank you so much for your support!

•CreateSpace eStore: Now available

•Amazon Europe:


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.



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.
















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.


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:


JAPAN: Culture (Japan’s Pachinko Addiction)

Traveling through Tokyo on the shinkansen (bullet train) and gazing out at the scenery, I couldn’t help but notice how widespread pachinko parlors were in Japan.






Pachinko is a type of mechanical game resembling a vertical pinball machine that originated in Japan.  The player gets a number of balls by inserting cash or cards directly into the machine. The balls are then shot into the machine by pulling a lever once for each launch from a ball tray. The balls then fall vertically through an array of pins, levers, cups, traps and various obstacles until they reach the bottom of the machine screen. The player has a chance to get more balls to play with if one of the launched balls hit a certain place during the fall through the pachinko machine. The object of the game is to capture as many balls as possible thus remaining in the game longer and increasing your winning odds.


Sankyo mechanical pachinko machine


Modern Sankyo pachinko machine


The arcades and the machines have evolved over the years where the machines now resemble video slot machines and the parlors are more like casinos. For some, pachinko is a recreational arcade game and for many it is a form of gambling. Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, therefore the balls are exchanged for prizes such as t-shirts, pens, cigarette lighters, perfume, cosmetics, candy or coupons to a nearby grocery store at the pachinko parlor. However, you can also elect to take a voucher which in turn can be exchanged for cash at “exchange centers” distinctly separate from the parlor.


Exchange Center

At any given time, you can wonder into a pachinko parlor and find players of all ages and backgrounds transfixed on their machines which pack the narrow aisles. It is estimated that one-quarter of Japan’s over-18 population of approximately 100 million plays pachinko at least occasionally and up to 30 million people play pachinko regularly.



In 1999 the pachinko industry was worth a staggering 30 trillion yen, more than the Japanese motor industry! Further, the current recession doesn’t seem to be affecting pachinko’s prospects. Pachinko is unquestionably Japan’s number one leisure activity.

The first pachinko machines appeared in the 1920s as a children’s game called “Korinto Gemu.”  It wasn’t until the 1930s that they emerged as an adult pastime in Nagoya. During WWII, all of the pachinko parlors in Japan were shut down but re-opened in the late 1940s and the industry has been growing strong ever since.

In the early days, Nishijin and Sankyo were the main manufacturers of pachinko machines.  Today, the Heiwa Corporation, established in Kiryu, Gunma in 1949 is the world’s largest privately owned manufacturer of pachinko and pachislot machines.

So does Japan have a massive gambling habit?  Why not visit a pachinko parlor during your next trip and make that determination for yourself! Also, keep in mind that the Japanese prefer to call it gaming rather than gambling!



Advertising the opening of a new pachinko center

Japan: Iwate Prefecture (Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi Hot Air Balloon Festival)

Located in Iwate Prefecture are the towns of Ichinoseki and Hiraisumi. Ichinoseki borders on the World Heritage site Hiraizumi and is the southern gateway to Iwate Prefecture. Hiraizumi is the 12th World Heritage Site within Japan and was recognized by UNESCO as the first World Cultural Asset in the Tohoku Region due to its well preserved temples, gardens and archaeological sites.

During the Sengoku period (Japan’s Warring States period), the area of present day Ichinoseki was under the control of the Date clan who ruled the Sendai Domain. The town was officially established in 1889 with the creation of the municipality system. Ichinoseki merged with surrounding municipalities in 2006 but still remains relatively small. It is easily accessible from Tokyo via the Yamabiko Shinkansen with the journey taking about 3 hours.

Hiraizumi is merely ten minutes away from the Ichinoseki shinkansen stop. During the reign of the Fujiwara clan (866-1184), Hiraizumi was said to have had rivaled Kyoto in grandeur and sophistication.

In 2012, Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi began hosting a hot air balloon festival in an effort to increase tourism in the region. Understandably, tourism took a major hit following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the towns have banded together to not only lure people back to the area but to also positively impact the moral of their citizens. The festival is held in late October and features hot air balloon classes, rides and a competition.

Whether you want to immerse yourself in the history of the area or enjoy the carefree hot air balloons as they quietly drift off into the sky, a visit to Hiraizumi and Ichinoseki is definitely worthwhile.


Geibikei Gorge, Ichinoseki

Geibikei Gorge, Ichinoseki

One of the many Hiraizumi temples

One of the many Hiraizumi temples



Foggy morning






Hot air balloon class

Hot air balloon class



Ichinoseki Waterside Plaza

Ichinoseki Waterside Plaza


Honda's Asimo balloon

Honda’s Asimo balloon


This year's tournament winners

This year’s tournament winners

Japan: Saitama (Railway Museum)

Railway Museum Saitama

Railway Museum Saitama




Saitama City is home to the largest railway museum in the country. Opened to the public in October of 2007, the three-story, 28,200 square meter museum is Japan’s leading railway historical museum run by the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation. The museum exhibits, researches and studies the materials relating to the rail system in Japan and abroad. Visitors can learn the history and the structure of railways through interactive exhibits, view previously used train cars and learn about operating trains via the use of simulators. The museum features approximately 30 railway cars, numerous train cab simulators, mini trains, video booths, two restaurants, a museum shop and a research room.

When you enter the museum through the main entrance, you will find the world’s only steam locomotive simulator (additional charge of ¥500; reservations required) just to the left of the entrance. The first floor of the museum consists of the Teppaku Library, a Park Zone with miniature operational trains for the kids, the main museum shop, the NRE Restaurant, the Simulator Hall and the Teppaku Playground. The highlight of the first floor is the History Zone which contains several historic carriages and engines, including old Imperial carriages, Meiji era steam trains, the reconstructed Shimbashi Station when it first opened in the 19th century, an early series shinkansen, freight trains and historic electric and diesel locomotives.

The second level includes the Learning Zone, the Collection Zone featuring another library and a collection of Japan railway memorabilia including station signs, uniforms and photographs, a Kid’s Space, another museum shop and restaurant. The main feature of the second level is the Railway Model Diorama, the largest in Japan.

The third floor has a viewing deck and the rooftop features a panorama deck with amazing views of the surrounding area.

Whether you are a train enthusiast or you simply want to learn more about the history of Japan through its railway system, the train museum provides a fun and informative atmosphere for the entire family.

The museum is open daily except Tuesdays from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Admission is ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for junior high school students. Children ages 3 years and up are admitted for ¥200.


Park Zone

Park Zone

The mini Nagano Shinkansen

The mini Nagano Shinkansen

History Zone

History Zone










Railway Museum 031


One of the simulators

One of the simulators

One of the restaurants

One of the restaurants





Railway Model Diorama

Railway Model Diorama

The Collection Zone

The Collection Zone


Kid's play area

Kid’s play area