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Young German woman who made several trips to Japan, did one year Working Holiday and started living in Japan again since Oct' 2016. Love music, cats, traveling and food.

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Chuo-ku, Sagamihara-shi, Kanagawa
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Yoko Lost in Japan ♥
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Cool Japan: Taking Awesome Photos with Trick Art

Japan is a country with many amazing things. Not only because of this more and more tourists come to Japan every year. They want to experience the traditional and modern specialties on their trips. One of these modern facilities is appearing in more and more cities in Japan: Trick Art Museums. Isn’t it cool to take some awesome photos on your trip? Here we go!   Trick Art Museums are a perfect combination of art and amusement. The two-dimensional paintings in these facilities are created with an optical illusion technique which will make them look like 3D art. The human instinct normally wants to judge and observe things as they are, but trick art makes this complicated. On the first view of photos taken with trick art, the brain can’t decide if you are really touching a giraffe or are close to being eaten by a shark, because they look so realistic (if you are a good actor). So the art work can lead the brain to make mistaken judgments about what the eye observes. Isn’t this amazing?   While visiting a Trick Art Museum you can experience many art works with this effect. Furthermore, some pictures will be seen in a different way if you change the angles of view. You should try it out and will definitely be impressed. Some other works have a hidden puzzle – for example finding animals in a landscape or guessing what will be seen in the lamp reflected from the table when you turn off the light. Our brain can make amazing things, you just need the chance to find this out. You can experience the illusion in a magical room which makes one of you look bigger or smaller. Or maybe let your friend look like your mirror image. The imagination knows no limits. Mainly the Trick Art Museums are split into several areas, so you can experience more than one topic at each facility. They all have their unique art works, however some might be similar. So, even if you visit more than one Trick Art Museum in Japan, you can always find something new. Normally, you will find a description to all art works in Japanese, English and sometimes Chinese. Some of these also include a sample picture with a pose you could make. However, you are free to choose whatever you want. Also, staff members are really helpful and teach you about the right angle for taking the perfect photo. If you want to visit a Trick Art Museum make sure you go there in a group, at least two people, so one can take the photo and the other one can pose. If it is not so crowded, staff members can help you, but it is recommended to take the photos by yourself. So don’t forget your camera or smartphone. The entrance fee varies between the locations, but mostly you have to pay 700 ~ 1300 Yen for adults. Students until middle-school-age pay a bit les and children up to three years are free of charge. Some Trick Art Museums in Japan Because the most tourists come to Tokyo, the easiest to reach would be the Tokyo Trick Art Museum in Odaiba. You will find it in Decks Tokyo Beach Island Mall on 4th floor. Enjoy taking photos at the Edo Area or meet Japanese monsters at the Haunted Mansion. At the Trick Art Gallery you can find art work with animals, but also parodies of famous masterpieces.  Just opened in September 2016, the Yokohama Trick Art Cruise is a new highlight of your visit to the harbor city. For sure, most of the art works inside have a harbor-theme. You can sit on a sofa with a seal, steal the treasure of a skeleton pirate, and go diving. There is a jungle area, too. The location inside the Yokohama Landmark Plaza is a good one, because it is just next to popular shops such as the Pokemon Center, JUMP Shop und Ghibli Store. Another museum is the Takao Trick Art Museum located at the foot of Mr. Takao close to Takaosanguchi Station. It already opened back in 1996 in the west of Tokyo which makes it one of the oldest Trick Art Museums. Here you can find a lot of Egypt-themed art works. Take cool photos at the Floating Palace or with animals at the Nature Park of Pharaoh. After or before your visit to Trick Art Museum Takao you can enjoy the nature of the mountain area. The Trick Art Pia Nikko is the largest site of these kinds of museums in Japan. It is divided into different corners including objects from famous world paintings and sculptures. You have the chance to take photos in a waterless aquarium, a cage-less zoo or inside an Egypt-themed area. Furthermore the Trick Art Pia Nikko is located close to the famous theme park Edo Wonderland.   Here I have a list of Trick Art Museums in Japan Tokyo Trick Art Museum (Odaiba) Trick Art Museum Mount Takao (Tokyo) Yokohama Trick Art CruiseArtrick Museum Yokohama Daska Trick Art Museum Atami   Trick Art Museum Kyu-Karuizawa Trick Art Pia NikkoYufuin Trick Art Meikyukan Museum (Oita) Nasu Trick Art Pia (Tochigi)   Trick Art Museum NagoyaTrick Art Museum Matsushima

  • Living
  • Education

Eating out with fun – Character Cafés in Japan

Japan is a country with many crazy things. And Japanese people often turn totally crazy when it comes up to different characters. Thinking of companies as San-X and Sanrio which are making tonnes of money with their characters like Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and Co. Many people collect merchandise and want to have everything of their favorite characters. But also another idea in the money industry came up: why don’t we make special food with characters? For sure, character cafés also became a big hit, especially when they are only opened for a limited time. I am a big fan of themed cafés and love to visit them. Unfortunately they are often kind of expensive. However, sometimes the bigger problem, especially with time-limited character cafés, is to get inside. At some cafés you have to line up for hours, get time-tickets on the same day for a later time, or have to make a reservation already some weeks before going there. Today I will introduce you to some of the cafés that already finished, cafés that are running right now and cafés that will come in the future. The past character cafés In the past I visited a lot character cafés. One of my favorites was the Pikachu to Pokemon Ongakutai Cafe (ピカチュウとポケモンおんがくたいカフェ) which was opened for a short time in summer 2015 in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. We visited it on a Saturday and the actual waiting time was 4 hours – and yes, I expected it! But don’t worry, we didn’t needed to line up for 4 hours. We got a time ticket and could go shopping or do anything else until our time was coming. They offered three main dishes, three desserts, two small dishes and four drinks – all designed in Pokemon style. Prices ranged between ¥ 500 and ¥ 1,580. We had a Melon Soda, a Pikachu Parfait, a Pokeball Pizza and a Banana Cake Omelette. Everything was really delicious and the staff members also entertained us by dancing to a Pokemon song.  Another character café I recently visited was the Korilakkuma Café(コリラックマカフェ)in Harajuku, which was opened from December 2016 to the middle of February 2017. For this café you needed to make an online reservation which already made you pay a fee of ¥ 648 for each person. However, we got a small gift while our visit then. So, I book seats for January, in the middle of November. Especially at such limited-cafés weekends and holidays are booked out very quickly. The café was designed beautifully and filled with plush toys. We had two character drinks, two main dishes and one sweet dessert. Everything was very delicious and I enjoyed my stay there very much. The current character cafés Some cafés are opened for a long time. One of these is the Hello Kitty Café I visited at Himeji. A café with super cute design and a few different dishes. Definitely worth a stop by while visiting the famous Himeji Castle. There is another Café de Miki with Hello Kitty in Tokyo, too. You can find it at Odaiba. A more traditional one is the Hello Kitty Tea House (はろうきてぃ茶寮) in Kyoto. Here you can find maccha drinks, different main dishes and traditional sweets. Also the atmosphere is very special for a café within Kyoto’s famous tourist areas.  A time-limited character café which just opened this month is the Gudetama Café (カフェ ぐでたま×デザート王国) in Yokohama. In combination with a sweets buffet restaurant you can choose one of size Gudetama dishes, one Gudetama drink and furthermore have an all-you-can-drink-and-eat possibility with pasta, potatoes, salad and sweets. It costs ¥ 1990 for adults for one hour. However, the collaboration will only last until May 7th. One more long-time character café is the PomPomPurin Café in Harajuku, which is situated at Takeshita Street and was opened in 2014. You can also take a look inside the café auréole d’ange in Osaka which is cooperating with Rilakkuma since September 2016 which has changing seasonal dishes. The upcoming cafés For sure, there is no end to character cafés. Especially if they are time-limited there is always space for a new one in the future. So not much time will pass until a new Pokemon, Rilakkuma, Hello Kitty café will be opened.   One I am looking forward to go is the Detective Conan Café which will be in Harajuku from March 30th to May 31th 2017, because I couldn't visit it in 2016. This time it is situated at the same place as the Korilakkuma Café and has the same reservation system. Already now all weekends and Golden Week holidays are completely booked out. There will be even more Detective Conan Cafés all over Japan. That’s it! I hope you enjoyed my article. How about you – have you ever visited  ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------If you are interested, here are the links to all the cafés:- Café de Miki with Hello Kitty // Hello Kitty Tea House Kyoto- Korilakkuma Cafe // auréole d'ange in Osaka- Gudetama Café (Osaka and limited time cafe information)- PomPomPurin Café- Detective Conan Café

  • Food

Sakura-time at Starbucks 2017

As every year Starbucks Japan released their sakura products just two weeks ago. This year they have the Sakura Blossom Cream Frappuccino and the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte. For sure I tried them and they tasted really nice. As their name says they are creamy, topped with a maple sauce-flavoured whipped cream, pink-colored chocolate flakes and small pink rice cracker balls. A pretty nice combination in my opinion. I personally like the Sakura Blossom Cream Latte better than the Frappuccino. The prices rank from ¥ 530 to ¥ 650 for the Frappuccino and ¥ 430 to ¥ 550 for the Latte. But if you want to try them hurry up. The sakura products are limited until March 14th. Furthermore they also have a Sakura Chiffon Cake which costs ¥ 380. However, for me, the taste was not so special. It is topped with a salty cherry blossom what felt a bit strange while eating. Japan really has interesting food combinations, doesn’t it? Who wants to have one of the sakura goods like tumblers, cups, glasses and more should be quickly. Many things of the first line “Harmony Collection” are already sold out. On March 1st the second line “Purity” will be released. How about you? Did you try any of the Starbucks Sakura products?

  • Food

Frozen Fantasy at Tokyo Disneyland

As many things are seasonal changing in Japan, also Tokyo Disney Resort has changing events all over the year. At the moment the special event “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” is hold at Tokyo Disneyland. I visited there on February 11th and want to give you a small impression what is so special right now.  According to the name “Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Fantasy” this event is themed to the famous Disney movie Frozen and you can find a unique parade, decorations, food and more of it. Notice, the event is only held from January 13 to March 17 this year. 1) Frozen Forever – the highlight of this year’s event. At nighttime a projection lights up Cinderella Castle with famous scenes out of the movie telling a story about Anna and Elsa. Music is played and snow will fall down while even fireworks are shown in the air. 2) Frozen Fantasy Parade – Disneyland is well known for its parades and certainly there is a special parade while this event. See Anna, Elsa and their friends driving through the park on big floats and enjoy the atmosphere. 3) Anna and Elsa’s Winter Greeting – a show for only children. The villagers of Arendelle will teach them a dance and later Anna, Elsa and Olaf join them to perform the famous song “Let it go” together. 4) Food and merchandise – Japan is famous for themed-food and for sure there have to be some themed food at this event. A special buffet is offered for ¥ 3,090 which is quite expensive. But don’t worry there are some other cheaper food sets and snack available inside the different restaurants all over Disneyland. And don’t forget to take a look into the merchandise shops – many new goods of Frozen characters have been released for this event. 5) Decoration – all over the park you can find decoration referring to Frozen. Find Olaf smelling on flowers or little snowmen playing around. Keep your eyes open! If you are a fan of Frozen you should definitely try to go there and be a child for one day (^_~) Ready for a photo spam? Here we go!

  • Living
  • Food
  • Money
  • Chiba

Japanese Food Experience: KIT KAT MANIA

When you are at the supermarket, have you ever noticed there are different sorts of KitKats? Did you even notice they change seasonally? Actually, Japanese people are really crazy for KitKat and there are not only a few different sorts, there are MANY different sorts. Let’s take a look at the KIT KAT MANIA.  KitKat was introduced to Japan in 1973, but as we know the Japanese people, it didn’t stay with a normal milk chocolate taste. Japanese people are creative when it comes to food and sweets and so within the over 40 years of KitKat in Japan more than 300 versions have been released. But how could KitKat become so popular in Japan? At least one reason is its name itself. KitKat is often pronounced as “kitto katto” in Japanese which sounds like “you will surely win" (きっと勝つ kitto katsu). Because of this the chocolate snack is seen as a lucky charm. Many people use it to get cheered up for university entry exams. Even special versions of KitKat are sold for this season of the year when special words are printed on the chocolate.  The regular versions of KitKat There are some versions of KitKat you can find all over the year in Japan. These are the regular milk-chocolate KitKat and a bitter chocolate version. For sure, it wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn't a Maccha KitKat version which looks pretty good in green and really tastes like green tea. Another version you can often find is strawberry KiKat. The new KitKat Luxury Every Day also seems to stay for a longer time. Mainly these packs with 12 chocolate bars inside are available at supermarkets and drugstores and cost around 200 to 400 Yen.  The seasonal versions of KitKat Japan is famous for the time-limited products which are only sold within specific times a year. For sure, this also goes with KitKat. Every year they have new ideas and release new products changing with the seasons. But take care, mainly you can have them only once and soon after the seasonal change they disappear – and won’t come back.  However, as example for an always-coming-back version you can see Pumpkin KitKat around two months before Halloween. There are some sorts of Yaki-KitKat which you can bake inside the oven, coming up regularly with different tastes.  Some seasonal versions are: Rasberry, Vanilla Ice, Sweet Potato, Baked Cheese Cake, Ginger and even more... Fun fact: the Japan Post is releasing a special designed KitKat every year for New Year’s greeting. However, it’s just a special look for the regular milk chocolate KitKat. The regional versions of KitKat Here you can find another reason why KitKat is so popular in Japan. The tradition of Omiyage lets people buy regional-limited products on their trips – why not to choose a regional KitKat? But don’t worry, you don’t need to travel everywhere to try the regional versions. Sometimes you also can find them at duty free shops and Don Quijote stores.  The regional versions mostly include some special products of the area, just like apples from Shinshu area, Maccha from Uji or Momiji from Hiroshima. Mainly it is a box of 12 KitKat Minis which costs 800 Yen (+ tax). Sometimes smaller packs with five chocolate bars are also available. Here you can see the recent regional versions which you also can find on the Nestle website. But don’t worry, there are even more versions. Tokyo – Rum Raisin Yokohama –Strawberry Cheese Cake Shizuoka & Kanto area – Tamauya Honten Wasabi Nagano – Shinshu Apple Tochigi – Tochi-Otome Strawberry Kanto Hokuriku area – Azuki Sandwich Kyoto – Itokyuemon Uji Maccha Kyoto – Itokyuemon Roasted Tea Kobe - Kobe Pudding Hiroshima – Momiji Manju Kyushu – Amaou Strawberry Kyushu & Okinawa – Purple Sweetpotato Kyushu & Okinawa – Green Tea of Kumamoto Also added to the local souvenirs are the Sake flavoured KitKat and Strawberry Cheese Cake KitKat which have a special box design. The last one looks like Japan’s famous Mount Fuji. You mainly can find these at the Kanto area. The airport versions of Kitkat Especially for foreign tourists, there are big boxes of KitKat which you only can get at the airport. These include ten smaller boxes each with three KitKats inside. That’s why it is perfect to take it home and present them to friends. Sure, sometimes you also can find them at other places. One example, which versions you mainly find at Haneda airport, you can see on the picture below. There they have Japanese Strawberry, Hokkaido Red Bean, Sakura Maccha and Uji Green Tea. Lately, they also added Hokkaido Melon with Mascarpone Cheese which is pretty delicious. So, take your chance to get these boxes at the airport. KitKat Chocolatory From 2014 the KitKat Mania went on with special shops which only sell exclusive KitKat versions. By now there are nine KitKat Chocolatory stores all over Japan, however four of the stores are located in Tokyo. The other you can find in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. At these stores you can find KitKat Sublime versions, special fruit versions and gift boxes. They even have an online shop. Check out the website here. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - How about you – are you going with the KitKat Mania in Japan? Have you tried different KitKat versions? Which do you like best?

  • Food
  • Shopping

TOP 10 Japanese dishes as a non-seafood-eater

I don’t like sea food. It is simply because I don’t like the taste and the consistency of the most things out of the water. Most of my friends know about this, but if I tell other people in my home-country that I’m living in Japan without eating fish and other seafood they are shocked. They don’t believe a life without seafood is possible in Japan. But it is – it is even pretty easy for me, because there are a lot of other dishes I love to eat. Therefore, in this article I present you my TOP 10 favorite Japanese dishes as a non-seafood-eater.  # 01 Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) Okonomiyaki is often called the “Japanese pizza”. Actually, it is a pancake-like main dish with the main base made out of cabbage, flour and eggs. Literally the name means “grill what you like” so you are free to include any ingredients. I often mix the main base with carrots, corn, cheese, ham, mochi, … It’s your choice!! On top you put a special Okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. If you order it at a restaurant, take care they are not putting Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) as topping if you don’t eat fish. Did you know there is even a Hiroshima version of Okonomiyaki? The way of grilling is a bit different and they even at soba noodles. Pretty delicious!!  # 02 Tonkatsu (豚カツ) Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish originated in the 19th century. It consists of a deep-fried pork cutlet and is often served with shredded cabbage, rice and miso soup. Sometimes you also find it in sandwiches or combined with curry. I also like the Katsudon (カツ丼) version, when the Tonkatsu is mixed with egg laying on a bowl of rice.  # 03 Yakisoba (焼きそば) Yakisoba is a pretty easy Japanese dish consisting out of fried soba noodles. Especially if you want to have a quick meal at home, Yakisoba is fine for it. Here you also can freely mix what you like. I often add pork, cabbage, green paprika, bean sprouts and carrots. All is grilled in a pan and flavored with yakisoba sauce. I rarely eat Yakisoba outside, only at summer festivals like fireworks. If you buy it there, also take care of Aonori and Katsuobushi. # 04 Oyakodon (親子丼) Coming from the name “parent and child bowl” here you mix chicken meat and egg with some other ingredients. All is cooked and then served on top of a large bowl of rice. Oyakodon was invited in a Tokyo restaurant in 1891. # 05 Ramen (ラーメン) Many people say Ramen are actually coming from China. Some other says it is invited in Japan. But who cares – most important is that this soup with noodles and other ingredients such as pork, green onions and boiled egg is delicious. In Japan you can find a lof of different sorts of ramen especially regional versions. As a non-seafood-eater you have to take care with this dish. Some restaurants make the broth out of fish. For me this is still ok, because it doesn’t really taste like fish when it is mixed with soy sauce or miso. But if you already have a problem with this, ask the restaurant stuff first. They also often put Nori and Wakame as topping, so tell them you don’t like it. # 06 Udon (うどん)Udon are thick wheat flour noodles which are often served as noodle soup. However, there are many ways of serving this dish. You can have them cold or hot with different toppings. I like to eat them as Kitsune Udon with deep-fried tofu or as cold Zaru Udon. Also eating Udon with curry is a great combination. # 07 Curry (カレー) So, here we are with the Japanese curry which is one of the most popular dishes in Japan. Here you can find many different ingredients, too, starting with the meat where pork, beef and chicken are common. Also potatoes, onions and carrots are often added. Normally you eat curry with rice, but there are even some other versions nowadays with Udon or bread. If you want to eat Curry at a restaurant, I totally can recommend CoCoIchi, a super famous curry chain restaurant. # 08 Omurice (オムライス) Omurice is a great combination of Western and Japanese cuisine. On the one side you have a Western omelette which is filled with Japanese fried rice. The taste of the rice can differ, but often it is flavored with ketchup. Also as topping ketchup is common, but also other sauces can be used. # 09 Gyoza (餃子) This time there is no question that Gyoza originally come from China, however, taste and consistence are slightly different to the Chinese original. Gyoza are dumplings often filled with meat and vegetables. In Japan you can pan-fried, steamed, boiled or deep fried versions. # 10 Soba (そば) One of the main dishes in Japan are Soba, buckwheat noodles. You can find them in a variety of settings: as inexpensive fast food at train stations, but also as expensive specialty in restaurants. They are served in wide variety of hot and cold dishes coming close to the Udon versions. This was the list of my TOP 10 Japanese dishes as a non-seafood-eater. I hope you enjoyed it. For sure there are even more such dishes in Japan – Yakiniku, Yakitori, Karaage, Kyudon, Pizza, Burger, … - but the list is already long enough. Are there dishes or ingredients you don’t like or can’t eat? What are your favorite Japanese dishes? 

  • Food

Super Ukiyo-e Exhibition in Tokyo

Have you ever heard about Ukiyo-e (浮世絵)? It is a famous art genre of Japan between the 17th through 19th centuries and you probably already have seen some of the wooden print pictures.  Last Friday, on 28th January, a new exhibition opened in Tokyo which is called スーパー浮世絵 江戸の秘密 Super Ukiyo-e: The Edo Code. Here you don’t find an ordinary exhibition with framed picture on the wall. For this exhibition around 20,000 Ukiyo-e prints have been digitized and animated. They are presented in videos on big screens in single rooms and give you an impression of the old Edo area. You can see busy people at Nihonbashi, the different fashion of Edo residents through the year and how it looks like at a Kabuki theater. Even ghosts and monsters will appear. Fuji will be covered behind big waves and Geisha and Oiran will walk through the streets next to you. The exhibition is stretched over 3 floors and you can spend some time watching the animated art while sitting on small stools. Even photography is permitted so you can take memories of the exhibition with you back home. The location is just a few minutes from Kayabacho station. Day tickets costs 1600 yen, but you can save a few yen if you buy tickets at Lawson. A restaurant is opened together with the exhibition, too, but it is a bit pricy. How about English? At the website you find some English translations and also at the beginning of the exhibition the opening words and introduction are written down in both languages. Later this changes: audio and picture descriptions are only available in Japanese. You have the chance to visit this exciting exhibition until 21st May 2017.Take a look to the official website for more information. Here are some more impressions of the exhibition.

  • Education
  • Tokyo

Universal Studios Japan on Christmas Eve

As I mentioned in my Christmas theme post before, we went to Osaka as a short trip for Christmas. On our second day there we visited the Universal Studios Japan (USJ). For sure many other people had the same plan, so the theme park was pretty crowded this day. But how is it like to be at USJ at Christmas time?   Our first way brought us to the Harry Potter area. To enter, you need to get a timed entry ticket first for which we had to line up. Luckily, we could already enter the area around half an hour later. The magical village Hogsmeade was decorated with Christmas ornaments and it looked very beautiful with the fake snow on the roof tops. However, this was the only “Christmas special” at Harry Potter area we could see. We lined up for an hour to ride the Hogwarts rollercoaster, bought a souvenir, took some photos and went back to the main area. Around the park Christmas music was played around you all the time what really brought you into Christmas mood. The buildings had Christmas ornaments on their walls, too, and for sure, a huge colorful Christmas tree was set up in the park. Some unique Christmas dishes were offered at the different restaurants (however, we went to the Minions restaurant). Four special Christmas shows were held all around the day. We first watched “Santa’s Magical Surprise" which was held at the big stage close to the Christmas tree. The USJ characters like Elmo, Hello Kitty and Snoppy were preparing everything for Santa together with their friends. The show includes a lot of music and watchers were animated to dance. The around 25 minutes show was really fun. In the evening the shows “The Voice of an Angel” and “Joy of Lights” were held. Indeed, people were already waiting and reserving places for theses shows up to three hours before. That’s pretty crazy. We have been to a restaurant before the start of the first show, because it was cold and we were exhausted. When we came out to watch the show, the waiting crowd was so huge, we hardly could see anything. I have a good video camera, with this we could at least guess what is happening at the stage. At the end, the Christmas tree was lightening up with a firework – this was very touching moment. But we decided there is no meaning in watching the next show from such a distance. It was a great and memoriable day we spent at USJ on Christmas Eve, however, if you have a chance you should go there on another day. We just rode one rollercoaster (at Harry Potter area), because most others had waiting times of over two hours. But we could enjoy the some shows and Minions stuff. The Christmas event is held for several weeks before Christmas and even some time after. So it’s enough time to visit it on non-holiday-days.____________________________________________________________________________ If you want to see more of out day at USJ - I uploaded a video on my Youtube channel. English subtitle is available.

  • Living
  • Osaka

FURUSATO MATSURI - Experience Traditions of all over Japan

Every year in the beginning middle of January a special festival is held in Tokyo. The FURUSATO MATSURI (ふるさと祭り) is a festival about traditional perfomances and food from all over Japan. I visited it last year and want to give you some information. Because the festival is located at Tokyo Dome where is a lot of space for presentation. Inside you will find several stalls selling you a variety of food and drinks from the different Japanese prefectures. You have the chance to try Yakimanju from Takasaki and Oyakodon from Akita at one place – isn’t this great? Japanese people love to travel around and eat regional food, that’s why food is very important within this event. Another big point are the festivals (matsuri) held in the different areas of Japan. Some of these are present every year and the schedule is changing nearly every day while the event (the reason I visited the festival for two days). You can see a part of famous festivals like the Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭り) in which a colorful lighted float is carried through the stage area including music and dancers. However, also other festivals are presented often connected to dance performances. If you don’t have the chance to watch a certain festival at the origin area, maybe you at least can get a feeling of it in Tokyo. My personal highlights are the prefecture mascots meeting up at the festival. Often you need to travel to all these areas to have a chance to meet the mascots - but now you have them all at one place. Be sure they appear only on a few days while the festival. With some of them you even have the chance to take a memorial photo. So, if you come to be in Tokyo around the festival time, I totally recommend going there. The ticket prices around ¥ 1,600 on weekend and ¥ 1,300 on weekdays. There is also an evening ticket for ¥ 1,100 which allows you to enter after 4 p.m., but be sure you gonna miss a part of the program with this. Better visit the Furusato Matsuri on a weekday, because it is a little bit less crowded. The festival is held from 7th to 15th January this year. I made a video about my visit to Furusato Matsuri. You can watch it with English subtitles on YouTube. The video of the second day I visited the festival will follow soon on my YouTube account.  For more information you can visit the Official Website (Japanese) or the English Website of the festival. Have you ever been to such events? 

  • Living
  • Food
  • Tokyo

Japanese New Year – between traditions, events and shopping

The beginning of the New Year is celebrated everywhere in the world. And every country has its own traditions. For sure Japan has its special ways to celebrate the beginning of a New Year, too. It’s one of the most important times in the year, where a lot of Japanese workers have days off and can spend their time with family. Get to know some of Japan’s traditions in my article today.  Traditional food around New Year in Japan Do you have special food you always eat around New Year? In my home country Germany lately people come up with making food on raclette grill for New Year’s Eve and eating carp on New Year’s Day.  In Japan you also have some food which belongs to the New Year’s time. Starting with Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば) or also called year-crossing noodle. These buckwheat noodles are likely to be eaten on New Year’s Eve and should bring long life as well as health and energy for the upcoming year. The costume and name with this is a bit different from area to area.Also very important food in Japanese New Year is Osechi Ryōri (御節料理) which normally is served in bento-like wooden boxes. The dishes inside the Osechi each have a special meaning. For example: Kuromame (黒豆), simmered black soybeans, are standing for health and sake steamed shrimps go for a long life. Earlier house wives made Osechi Ryori by themselves, however, now it’s also common to buy a prepared box at special shops or departments. Countdown Events at New Year’s Eve What would be New Year’s Eve without an amazing firework? But wait – stop! In Japan – the country famous for their colorful and beautiful fireworks in summer – is exactly like this. When all other countries around the world start the New Year with wonderful artworks in the sky, Japan traditionally starts it in silence. If you want to see a firework on 31st December, it might get hard to find one, but probably you are lucky around Odaiba, the American base in Yokosuka or Tokyo Disneyland.  However, for people who don’t want to sit at home with their families and watch the famous music program Kōhaku Uta Gassen ( 紅白歌合戦) on TV, there are also some countdown events around the big towns. In Shibuya the famous scramble crossing was closed for cars this time, so people could celebrate around there. Some musicians hold New Year’s Eve concerts, just noticing Ayumi Hamasaki who’s Countdown Live concerts are sold out every time since more than 10 years. For sure, you also can celebrate into the New Year in theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland or Universal Studios Japan which are opening their doors over night for this special date. Just prepare to get your tickets for this as soon as possible. Another alternative is the Chinatown in Yokohama. You can hear firecrackers blow up the silence, around Kanteibyo Temple lion dancers make their performances and locals sell food and drinks on the street. The first shrine visit of the New Year At Buddhist temples the New Yyear starts with 108 bell rings which are symbol for the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief. With the bell ringing it is believed to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling. This process is called Joyanokane (除夜の鐘). The reason you can find big crowds of people at shrines and temples around midnight. Many connect this event with the first shrine visit of the year, which is called Hatsumode (初詣). Normally, you should make your prayers for the New Year within the first two days of January, but still after this time at least famous shrines like the Meiji Jingu are still crowded. It is a good time to get new Omikuji (御神籤), fortune telling papers, which will tell you how the New Year will be going for you. And don’t forget to get new Omamori (御守), Japanese amulets which will protect you. Let’s go shopping! Hatsuuri and Fukubukuro So, enough traditional things now. Certainly also department stores want to make money around this time. Some shops are still closed on 1st January (for sure, not all), but latest on 2nd January the famous Hatsuuri (初売り) starts. At the so called “first sale” of the year many shops give pretty big discounts. Some other sell Fukubukuro (福袋) which are lucky bags, filled with unknown items but mostly worth twice or three times the money you have spent for them. Many people line up at department stores early in the morning to get started into the New Year with the best bargain.  And even more… For sure there are even more Japanese traditions about New Year, but it will get too much to write everything down here. Just saying words like Otoshidama (お年玉), Nengajo (年賀状), mochi making and Kadomatsu (門松). Probably topics for next year. With this, I wish you all a happy New Year! あけましておめでとうございます!Have you ever spend New Year’s time in Japan? What are you experiences? 

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  • Cafe Gram

    Very delicious pancakes!

    I went to Cafe Gram in Harajuku im December because of the recommendation here with a friend. We've been there around 1.30 pm and not many costumers were there, but already some waited for the premium pancakes at 3 pm.We were ok with the normal menu and passed on the premium pancake - I try to taste them another time. I ate the chocolate fondue pancakes with a lot of fruits. It was really delicous and I enjoyed it so much! The staff there was pretty nice, too, and tried to speak some English. We even got a heart on our receipt which was really cure. Other Cafe Grams opened all around Japan. I will visit the one in Machida soon.

  • Aogaki (青柿)

    Traditional Japanese restaurant Aogaki

    We have been invited to the New Year's Meeting of my Japanese husband's family and went to the Japanese styled restaurant Aogaki (青柿) which is located around 10 minutes by foot from the station Aobadai (Denentoshi line). The restaurant is a big building with bamboo trees outside and Japanese styled walkway. The staff is wearing kimono. Our group of ten people had an own room with tatami floor, flat chairs and tables. We had a menu with many different dishes. All were very delicous and it took over two ours to have all the food. After the staff was informed that I don't eat fish and seafood they made an extra dish for me with steak which was pretty soft. All the dishes were beautiful decorated. However, as you might can expect, it is not cheap inside. I don't know how much we had to pay in the end (because we were invited), but I think ¥ 5,000 for each person must be the minimum. We have been there for lunch time. I was told the dinner plan is even more expensive and it's normal to spend between ¥ 15,000 ~ ¥ 20,000 at night time. So if you plan to go there, take a lot of money with you. 

  • Shizuya (しづや)

    Shizuya – modern stylish hostel in Kyoto

    In October 2016 I made a short trip to Kyoto, just staying for one night. However, when I finally set a date and wanted to book an accommodation, the one’s I stayed before were already booked out and most other alternatives quite expensive. I suddenly found Shizuya via Newly opened in April 2016 the inside of this hostel looks pretty modern. There is a female only area and a mixed area. You can decide between dormitory room, private room, double room, Japanese style room and more. I ended up with the only room left: a small private room with a sleeping space reminding me of a capsule hotel. But hey, you are just there for sleeping? Anyway, it was a pretty unique style! There is a shared bath area, which was clean and also looked modern. The shower room was equipped with everything needed. Hairdryer and towels are provided inside your room and you have free internet access. They have a large common room and a small kitchen. However, there is also a restaurant belonging to the hostel just next door. Only negative thing: the futon was a bit thin, so if you like to sleep on a soft mattress like me, you will probably have a little pain in the back next morning *laugh* The hostel is only a 10 minutes walk away from Kyoto station, hidden in a narrow alley. It’s pretty quite there and good atmosphere for relaxing. I recommend it for short stays of single travelers. Website: Note: The website is only in Japanese. I also spoke with the staff in simple Japanese, so I don’t know about the English language skills.

  • Koraku-en (後楽園)

    Koraku-en - one of Japan's best gardens

    The Koraku-en (後楽園) is one of the best known sightseeing spots in Okayama and ranks within the three best gardens of Japan (日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien). The garden was already commissioned in 1687 by feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa. Construction finished 14 years later in 1700 and is still remaining in its form except some small changes. The garden was used by the ruling to entertain their important guests, but also was opened to the public occasionally. In 1884 the garden became property of Okayama Prefecture and was completely opened to the public. With 130.000 m² Koraku-en is a large landscape garden, including many Japanese elements, just like ponds and streams, koi carps, plum, cherry and maple trees or tea and rice fields. You also can find tea houses, small pavilions and bridges. Okayama castle, which is just situated next to the garden, can be seen in the background. Take some time to walk through the whole area and enjoy the whole scene.   Koraku-en is around 1.5 kilometers east from Okayama station. You can walk there within 25-30 minutes or take public transportation. The entry fee is 400 yen, however there is also a combination ticket with Okayama castle if you plan to visit both the same day. So, if you come up to be in Okayama one day, don’t miss to visit Koraku-en!

  • Tottori Sakyu (鳥取砂丘)

    Sand dunes of Tottori

    Did you know that Japan has a small desert? You can find it at Tottori prefecture. Actually, the Tottori Sakyu (鳥取砂丘) are the biggest sand dunes in Japan and even the biggest attraction of this area. From North to South the sand dunes have a length of 16 kilometers along the coast, from East to West it is 2 kilometers. In the middle you can find an around 50 meter high hill build of sand from where you have a great view to the Sea of Japan. The sand dunes formed already over thousand years ago. It’s said that sand was transported through the river Sendai-gawa to the shore and the form is continually changing. In 1995 the Tottori Sakyu were designated Natural Monument of Japan. For tourists there is a special entry to the dunes, where you also can find restaurants and souvenir shops. However, you don’t need to pay any entry fee to enjoy a walk around the sand. For sure, it’s also possible to take memorial photos riding on camels for which you have to pay. Paragliding and sand boarding is offered by local companies, too. From the center of Tottori City it takes around 20 minutes by bus to go to Tottori Sakyu. The bus normally leaves every hour from the bus center in front of Tottori station. On weekends, public holidays and while summer holidays the Kirin Jishi Loop Bus is driving there, too.

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