Tokyo

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

New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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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, Amazon.com 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
https://www.createspace.com/6595032

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Bloggers-Guide-Japan-Kristine-Ohkubo/dp/1539033112/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480353733&sr=8-1&keywords=A+blogger%27s+guide+to+japan

•Amazon Europe: http://www.sysmod.com/amazon.htm

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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Duke & Duchess of Cambridge

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Lady Gaga

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Audrey Hepburn

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Meryl Streep

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Michael Jackson

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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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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

 

Japan: Tokyo (Yasukuni Shrine / 靖国神社)

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During my most recent visit to Japan in early September of 2016, I had the honor of visiting the most controversial Shinto shrine in the Asia-Pacific region. Located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, the Yasukuni Shrine was founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869 and commemorates those who lost their lives fighting for their country.  Whenever a Japanese leader visits the shrine, it provokes protests across the region as well as public controversy in global media.

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Statue dedicated to a war lord

In the Shinto religion, the souls of the deceased become kami (deities) and there are over 2 million kami listed in the Yasukuni Symbolic Registry of Divinities.  Most of the names on the list are those of soldiers. However, the list also includes the names of women and students who worked in factories for the war effort and were involved in relief operations in the battlefield. Further, the list is not exclusive to people of Japanese descent. Yasukuni Shrine also honors the souls of 27,863 Taiwanese and 21,181 Koreans.  What creates controversy is the fact that the list also includes the names of 1,068 war criminals, 14 of whom are considered A-Class.

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Memorial to Patrol Boat Crew Members

The shrine sits on 6.25 hectares and includes several structures. Among these is the Haiden (the main prayer hall where worshipers come to pray) and the Honden (the main shrine where Yasukuni’s enshrined deities reside). The Honden is also the building where Shinto rituals are performed and it is generally closed to the public. The building located on the right side of the Haiden is the Sanshuden (Assembly Hall). Located directly behind the Sanshuden is the Tochakuden (Reception Hall). The Symbolic Registry of Divinities is stored in the Reijibo Hoanden, which is located directly behind the Honden.

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There are several different gates (torii) located on both the causeway and shrine grounds. When moving through the grounds from east to west, the first torii visitors encounter is the Daiichi Torii. This large steel structure was the largest torii in Japan when it was first erected in 1921. It marks the main entrance to the shrine and measures approximately 25 meters tall and 34 meters wide.

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Daini Torii

The second gate is The Daini Torii. It was erected in 1887 and is the largest bronze torii in Japan. Immediately following the Daini Torii is the Shinmon. This 6-meter tall hinoki cypress gate was first built in 1934 and restored in 1994. Each of its two doors bears a Chrysanthemum Crest measuring 1.5 meters in diameter.

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Shinmon

Lastly there is the The Yushukan Museum. It contains various artifacts and documents relating to Japanese war casualties and military activity. The museum was established in 1882, and is considered to be the first and oldest war and military museum in Japan.

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Memorial to Tokko Pilots

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Memorial for War Widows and their Children

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150 lb. Bronze Cannon from Fort Tenpozan in Kagoshima

Controversial or not, the shrine is a wonderful, tranquil place to visit despite its association with wars.

 

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My Amulet Purchased at the Shrine

Web Page:                    http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/english/

Address:                       3-1-1 Kudan-kita,Tokyo,Japan

 

Japan: Hachioji Geisha

Even if you have never visited Japan, you must be familiar with Japan’s geisha culture. With their distinctive white face, red lips and elaborately decorated hairstyle, the geisha remain an enduring symbol of Japan. The word geisha means performance person.  The geisha are the entertainers of Japan and their existence can be traced back to the 1600s (Edo period).  To become a geisha, it takes years of training. Geisha typically begin their training as early as sixteen years of age and are called maiko (geisha in training). The maiko receive extensive coaching in singing, dancing and playing traditional Japanese instruments as well as the use of proper customs and social skills.

It was estimated that Japan had over 80,000 geisha at one time, today that number has dwindled down to 1,000 – 2,000.  The geisha can primarily be found in Japan’s cultural capital of Kyoto.  They continue to work in traditional teahouses as they have always done, entertaining and charming their clientele with their highly cultivated skills. But you do not have to travel to Kyoto to see the geisha.  Hachioji, in western Tokyo, also has its own geisha culture.

Hachioji City is often overlooked by many people living in central Tokyo, but it is more densely populated than central London and has a vibrant city center.  Easily accessible by the central JR Chuo Line from Tokyo or Shinjuku stations, the city is renowned for its traditional Japanese festival, the Hachioji Matsuri (八王子まつり).

The three-day festival is held in the beginning of August and includes a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) and nineteen dashi (floats), music and dance performances and over three hundred food and gift stands. It is the largest festival in Hachioji.  The festival also features performances by Hachioji’s geisha.

The geisha culture at its peak had 200-300 geisha working in over 30 restaurants in Hachioji, which was a busy transportation route to Edo (Tokyo). Today, there are less than 20 geisha working in the city. The geisha house in Hachioji is known as Yukinoe okiya, where 54-year-old geisha, Megumi is the okaasan (mother).

The geisha also participate in a series of geisha parades held in September.  The women, dressed in their traditional kimonos, dance and play music as they weave through the streets just north of Hachioji Station.  The parades are usually held between 6:00 to 9:00 PM and last 30 minutes.

So whether you are interested in learning more about the geisha culture or if you want to experience a traditional Japanese summer festival, take a quick trip to Hachioji.  Hachioji Station is just 51 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Chuo Line.

Web page:         http://www.hachiojimatsuri.jp/

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Hachioji Matsuri

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Megumisan helping a young geisha get ready

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