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









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

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JAPAN: Nagasaki (Shinchi Chinatown)

Having previously covered Japan’s Chinatowns in Yokohama and Kobe, it is now time to focus on the third Chinatown located in Nagasaki City’s Shinchi District.  Shinchi Chinatown, is Japan’s oldest Chinatown, established during the 17th century. This was possible because even during the Edo Period (1603-1867), when Japan was isolated from the rest of the world, the port of Nagasaki remained open to foreign trade with China. It is estimated that there were 10,000 Chinese residents, mostly merchants from Fujian, residing in Nagasaki City during this period. These residents were restricted to living in the hills of Nagasaki and it wasn’t until 1859 when Japan opened its doors to foreigners that they transferred to the Shinichi District forming the Chinatown we know today.



Today, Nagasaki’s Chinatown is a collection of over 40 restaurants serving the signature Nagasaki noodle dishes, champon and sara udon as well as confectionary shops and souvenir stores. The restaurants are typically open between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM for lunch and from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM for dinner.





There are four vermilion lacquered gates erected in each of the four corners of Chinatown.  They were constructed by craftsman from Fuzhou, China who wanted to develop Nagasaki’s Chinatown to rival those located in Yokohama and Kobe. Each gate is adorned with a sculpture of a god representing the four directions.  The Azure Dragon can be found on the east gate, the White Tiger on the west gate, the Vermilion Bird on the south gate and the Black Tortoise on the north gate.













Shinchi Chinatown is a popular tourist attraction and particularly crowded during the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, the largest Chinese New Year celebration in Japan, held in February.   It is estimated that there are as many as 15,000 lanterns decorating the streets during the festival attracting tourists from all over Japan and abroad.






The Chinese culture has also influenced other events held year round in Nagasaki. Among these is the Shoro Nagashi (the Spirit Boat Procession) which takes place on August 15th, during the Bon celebrations in Japan and the Nagasaki Peiron Championships (Dragon Boat Championship) which takes during the last weekend in July in the Nagasaki Harbor.

You can easily reach Shinchimachi Chinatown from JR Nagasaki Station by taking the No. 1 tram to Tsukimachi .  From that point Chinatown is merely 2 minutes on foot. Trams run every 10 minutes.




Address:             12-7 Shinchimachi, Nagasaki 850-0842, Nagasaki Prefecture

Web Page:


Japan: Kanagawa/ Yokohama Silk Museum (横浜 シルク博物館)

Many people have heard about the Silk Road, an ancient trade route between Rome and China, but few realize that the port of Yokohama in Japan also played an important role in the silk trade.

After closing its doors to foreigners for nearly three centuries (with the exception of the Chinese and the Dutch), Japan once again welcomed foreign trade in the mid 1800s. The port of Yokohama opened in 1859 as a modern trading town engaged in exporting Japanese silk, tea, rice and seafood with raw silk comprising 25-40% of total Japanese exports. Today, the city is recognized as the birthplace of Japan’s modern culture.

Raw silk was produced primarily in the northern Kanto region and sent to Hachioji, which is part of the Greater Tokyo Area. From there it was transported to Yokohama on horseback and later by railway. Today, Japan is ranked fifth in the world after China, India, Brazil and Uzbekistan in the production of raw silk.

Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there is a museum dedicated to the silk industry in Naka-ku, Yokohama. It opened in March of 1959 in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the opening of the port of Yokohama. The two story museum housed in the Silk Center International Trade and Sightseeing Building illustrates the history of silk, displays silk garments from Japan and around the world and introduces visitors to silk producing technologies which include live silkworms.

The first floor of the museum is divided into several zones consisting of: the Wonder Farm (which illustrates the life cycle of the silkworm), Hall and Library. The library contains over 5,000 books on the subject of raw silk, weaving and dyeing, designs, colors, accessories, manners and customs of people, statistics, etc. ( The books are in Japanese only.) There is a gift shop which offers numerous silk related products for purchase including silk scarves and other silk products, books and foods containing silk. The gift shop is located near the entrance of the building therefore visitors can shop there without actually having to pay an admission to the museum.

The second floor of the museum is devoted to the history of silk in Japan and displays several garments which were reproduced to represent the use of silk during various points in history. You will also find a range of modern kimonos and displays on how silk is woven and died.

The museum is open daily (except Mondays) from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. It is closed on National Holidays and between December 28th -January 4th.   Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥200 for students and ¥100 for young children.

The Yokohama Silk Museum is relatively close to the Yokohama Doll Museum (10 minutes on foot) making it easy to combine a visit to both locations during a day visit to Yokohama. To access the Silk Museum, use the Minatomirai Line (exit Nihon-odori Station). From that point, your destination is merely 5 minutes on foot.

Address:             Silk Center, 1, Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama, 231-0023

Web page:

Japan: Kanagawa/ Yokohama Doll Museum

The city of Yokohama is the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture and the second largest city in Japan after Tokyo.  Located less than half an hour south of Tokyo by train, it is a great destination for those looking for a great day trip away from Tokyo.  The city has numerous gardens, parks, museums and amusement parks to choose from, therefore you will certainly find something to please even the most finicky among your travel group.  The Yokohama Doll Museum, for instance, is a wonderful site seeing spot and a timeless place that brings together people of all ages.

The Museum is one of the largest doll museums in Japan with 1,300 rare dolls from 140 countries on display. It introduces visitors to the doll making method and offers them the opportunity to actually see and touch the various tools and materials used in the process. Not only are visitors introduced to the craftsmanship of Japanese doll making but the craftsmanship of Western doll making is also compared and contrasted, offering an interesting perspective into the various regional techniques, etc.

The dolls come in all shapes, sizes and materials. You will find dolls on display representing various celebrities, sportsman and politicians as well as traditional Japanese dolls and dolls from countries like New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Spain and so much more. The Japanese dolls are categorized into dolls used for prayer, play and for display. There is a nice collection of Ichimatsu Ningyo, Japanese antique dolls dressed in spectacular kimonos that became significant pieces presented as wedding gifts during the early 20th century.  In 1927, fifty-eight of these dolls were sent to the United States as gestures of good will during the Friendship Doll Exchange campaign.

Each year with the coming of spring, the museum brings out its hina dolls in celebration of Hinamatsuri. Hinamatsuri otherwise known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day is celebrated on March 3rd and involves an elaborate display of dolls representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period all arranged on tiered platforms.

The museum is constantly updating their doll collection and organizes various temporary exhibits throughout the year, therefore there is something new and different to see with each visit. When you are done viewing the various dolls on display, make your way to the puppet show theater or grab a bite to eat at the café.

The museum is open daily between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:30 PM. (Closed on Mondays, year end and New Year holidays.) The entrance fee for adults is ¥400 and ¥200 for children.

Location:             18 Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi 231-0023

Web page: 

JAPAN: Regional Dishes (Kanto & Chubu)

In part  three of our adventures with kyodo ryori (郷土料理) / Regional cuisine, we visit the Kanto and Chubu Regions of Japan.


The Kanto region consists of seven prefectures and is very densely populated.  Tokyo and Yokohama, two of Japan’s largest metropolises are located within the Kanto region. The Chubu region, next door, is comprised of nine prefectures including: Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu, Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata.


The Kanto dialect is the standard Japanese taught in schools. As the political, economic and cultural center of the nation, the region sets the pace that the rest of Japan tries to follow.

Known for its beautiful mountains, Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps, Chubu is divided into three distinct sub regions: Tokai, Koshinetsu, and Hokuriku. Three sub regions mean three different dialects and the food culture is different for each region as well.

For instance, in rural communities in Nagano and Gunma, you will find something called Inago no Tsukudani.  Inago is a type of grasshopper that is stewed in sweetened soy sauce. In many souvenir shops within the area, you will find this delicacy packaged to bring home to your loved ones and friends as omiyage (souvenirs). Other regional fare popular in Nagano (Shinshu) is Oyaki and Soba.

Inago no Tsukudani

Inago no Tsukudani



Soba Noodles

Soba Noodles

Oyaki is basically a flour dumpling stuffed with vegetables seasoned with miso and soy sauce. The type of vegetables used vary with specific areas within Nagano.

Nagano is synonymous with soba noodles. Anywhere you go in Japan, the locals will tell you that you haven’t sampled soba until you have had Shinshu Soba! The area’s highlands are perfectly suited for growing buckwheat which is then ground and mixed with fresh, clean water flowing from Nagano’s mountains and the taste is quite remarkable if I say so myself!

But getting away from some of the more “exotic” kyodo ryori, other regional food items associated with the Kanto and Chubu regions include: Hoto (udon noodles stewed in a miso-based soup with vegetables such as kabocha, potatoes, mushrooms and sometimes meat), Monja Yaki (a savory pancake similar to okonomiyaki but much runnier. It is eaten directly off the grill using a special metal spatula.), Masuzuhi (associated with Toyama, it is sushi rice steamed in bamboo leaves with trout placed on top), Sauce Katsudon (pork cutlet, breaded and fried placed on top of rice with special with Worcestershire sauce), and Tekonezushi (Cuts of red-meat fish, such as skipjack tuna or bluefin, are placed in a soy-flavored marinade, then arranged on top of vinegared rice. This is garnished to taste with slivers of green shiso leaf, ginger root or nori seaweed.)



Monja Yaki

Monja Yaki



Sauce Katsudon

Sauce Katsudon



This list is by no means an all-inclusive list of kyodo ryori associated with these two regions but an introduction and a mere starting point for discovering all the wonderful delicacies the Kanto and Chubu regions have to offer.  So go forth and be adventurous! Have you heard the term, have chopsticks, will travel?

Japan: Yokohama (Berrick Hall/ ベーリック・ホール)

Yokohama was once a small fishing village having little contact with foreigners until the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity which opened Japan to foreign trade following the Sakoku Period (Japan’s period of isolation). Once the Port of Yokohama opened on June 2, 1859, the town quickly became a base for foreign trade in Japan. Foreigners initially settled in the Kannai area and later occupied much of the Yamate district overlooking the city. Today, the Yamate area is known for having the largest number of foreign residences in Japan.

Among these foreign residences is Berrick Hall, a Western-style building constructed in 1930 by architect J.H. Morgan. The building was the residence of British trading merchant, Bertram Berrick. It later served as the dormitory for the St. Joseph’s International School. Today it is open to the public and often used as a venue for weddings.

The original house where the Berrick family lived was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The current residence was constructed in the same location in 1930. The architect, J.H. Morgan also constructed the Yokohama Christ Church.

Visitors pass through a gate and follow a looping footpath leading up to the main entrance. Although this is considered a foreign residence, visitors are asked to remove their shoes when entering the home. A typical Japanese custom which helps keep the house clean. To the right of the entrance you will find the living room. To the left is a reception area which connects to the dining room. Beyond that, you will find the palm room or the sun room with its checkered floor and wicker chairs.

Following the art deco style cast iron staircase to the second floor, you will find a number of private rooms including Berrick’s room which contains his working desk and an old fashioned typewriter. Other rooms include Mrs. Berrick’s room and their son’s room.

The Berrick family lived in this house from 1930 to 1938. They relocated to Canada in 1938 as the threat of World War II grew imminent. Bertram Berrick passed away in Vancouver ten years later and his family donated the Yokohama house to the Society of Mary who managed the St. Joseph International School. The home was converted into a dormitory for the school in 1956. The school closed its doors in 2000 and Yokohama City took possession of Berrick Hall in 2002. The city refurbished the home and opened it up to the public as a cultural asset.

The home is open between the hours of 9:30 AM and 5:00 PM. It is closed every second Wednesday of the month and during the New Year holiday. The residence is accessible via the JR Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line, exit Ishikawacho Station.

Address:           72 Yamate-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama.

Web page: