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48groups pilgrimage January 19, 2014

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On my most recent Japan trip I visited Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. Seeing as that’s three out of the four 48 Groups locations, I couldn’t very well do that and not stop by hallowed ground, right? Here follows impressions and directions to sating your AKB/SKE/NMB thirst while on the move in Japan. (more…)

A week in Tokyo August 28, 2013

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Harajuku signage

Back in June, I had a “short, relaxing break” in Tokyo. This was my fifth time in Japan, my fourth in Tokyo, having stuck entirely to Kansai and Kyushu on my last trip. Seeing the Japanese capital again after 4 years, it’s interesting how much has changed – and not changed – both in the city and myself.

On the one hand, nothing much has changed. This is still the same Tokyo I’ve found my way around several times before. Convenience stores and vending machines still sell my favourite bottled green tea. I still know the Yamanote line like the back of my hand. Suica is still the way to travel, Ueno station in rush hour is still a nightmare. My favourite haunts of Ikebukuro, Shibuya and Akihabara remain largely the same. And unlike much of the western world, there are still physical record stores you can browse CDs and DVDs in. On the other hand, it’s amazing how much can change in 4 years, like the entire Radio Kaikan building being demolished or the Japanese population finally embracing the smartphone revolution.

I spent the days walking around my favourite parts of the city, doing the things I love and, unlike previous travel-rushed trips, just experiencing life as a Tokyo-ite. (more…)

Saitama and the Bonsai museum August 27, 2013

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Omiya Bonsai Art Museum

Toro is a small town in Saitama prefecture, about 30 mins from Tokyo. It’s a peaceful little place: station, supermarket, 100 yen shop all within a few metres of each other and then just sprawls of houses. But in amongst this is a little gem: the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum.

Bonsai

My friends tell me that years ago after the Second World War the bonsai craftsmen of Tokyo were forced out of the city centre, I think by a combination of rebuilding, expansion and rising property prices. They decamped to Omiya in Saitama (just up the road from Toro) and the area is famous for many stellar bonsai dealers. Hence the opening of a small but plush and very technologically furnished (in terms of touchscreens and the like).

I didn’t really know that much about bonsai, so I didn’t know what to expect when my friends suggested visiting. To the ignorant foreigner ‘bonsai’ just means those little dinky trees about the size of a bowl. But bonsai actually means miniaturising and taming any tree into a smaller vessel. Certain trees work better than others of course, but I was stunned at the variety of species, colours and patterns. Most were the size of my iMac, some even larger, but all showed tremendous craftsmanship through the use of gentle wiring, careful pruning, repotting and applying just the right amount of light and water (I learned all this from the display videos, though not much since everything – even the signage – was in Japanese).

The well-furbished interior showcases how bonsai has been used throughout the ages to bring nature into the Japanese home, and this is supplemented by an outdoor garden with further trees that are in preparation. You can’t take photos anywhere other than a small area of the garden, so I can’t show you much of the museum, but it’s definitely worth your time. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum has a 300 yen entrance fee and a tearoom on the first floor with a great view of the garden for you to maintain that zen feeling at the end of your visit.

Thanks to my friends’ local knowledge, I also got to visit one of the local bonsai dealers, one of the few that would allow visitors to browse their collections without necessarily purchasing. Again there were some stunning specimens retailing for upwards of hundereds of thousands (probably millions) of yen.

Not many people head out to Saitama, but it’s a nice place. And if the hustle and bustle of tourist-trap Tokyo is getting you down, a trip to the bonsai museum in the perfect antidote.

Yokohama August 26, 2013

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Yokohama bay

Just a 30 minute train ride from Tokyo, Yokohama’s one of those places that I’ve always wanted to visit. Not for any particular reason other than its prominence in numerous Japanese media (a famous chapter in Honey and Clover for instance). Well, okay, maybe this time for one particular reason.

It was well worth the visit because Yokohama is a really beautiful city. From the modern architecture of Minato Mirai to the peaceful harbour-side Yamashita Koen and the bustling Chinatown (pretty much like any other Chinatown), there’s variety in both scenery and activities (including a famous ferris wheel) that makes Yokohama the perfect date spot. In fact, that’s what it’s known for – I hadn’t realised it before this trip, but all my friends were surprised when I said I was taking a day trip to Yokohama by myself. I thought they were exaggerating about it being made for couples, but it’s somewhat true – there were couples EVERYWHERE.

Couple

Yokohama’s easy to get to from Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro and costs about 500 yen one way. I rode the Keihin-Tohoku line from Shibuya all the way to Motomachi-Chukagai so I could stop off at Minato Mieru Koen, a spot immortalised in Studio Ghibli’s recent Kokurikozaka Kara (From Up on Poppy Hill).

Kokuriko-zaka Kara no hata

Kokuriko-zaka Kara

I then had a pleasant few hours stroll through the city centre, Chinatown, Yamashita Koen and Minato Mirai, before heading to the Nissan Stadium for an afternoon of AKB. (^_^;)

Yokohama Chinatown

Yokohama

Yokohama Stadium

Yokohama bay

The one thing I didn’t get to do was the Cup Noodle Museum in Minato Mirai. I guess I’ll save that for my date next time. (^_^)

More from Yokohama in this Flickr set.

Meguro and the Parasitological Museum August 25, 2013

Posted by ayasawada in Culture, Science, Travel.
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Meguro Parasitological Museum

Ever wanted to visit a parasite museum? Of course you have. There’s only one in the world, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s in Tokyo in the pleasant southern suburb of Meguro. A friend of mine happens to live there (as does Danny Choo) and mentioned the museum to me as a local curiosity. Given my day job as a science writer, I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity to see it. (more…)

Perfume World Tour 2nd: Dreams are made of this July 10, 2013

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OMG this is really happening! #prfm

Sometimes good things happen. And sometimes AMAZING things happen that make you feel suddenly connected and belonging to your life and your world.

After the miracle of Singapore, I vowed to see Perfume, my favourite Japanese group, again someday. But I was stunned when just two months later the group announced a European tour. They would be coming to Cologne, Paris…. and London.

I intended just to go to London, but my friend Andy (who I met at the Singapore live) and I got a bit nervous that the London tickets would sell out really fast (which they did). The Paris tickets went on sale immediately, so we got a couple of those just in case. When we managed to get London tickets too, Andy shrugged and said, “It would be rude not to go to Germany too…” :P

What followed was a whirlwind. Twelve months ago I thought I would never see Perfume perform live. If you’d have told me then that a year later I’d have seen them not once but FOUR times in four different countries, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you’d have said I’d also have met them in person, I’d have laughed in your face.

ALL THESE THINGS CAME TRUE. (more…)

AKB48 Super Festival June 23, 2013

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AKB48 Wonda advert

So, clearly I’m quite into AKB48 and on my recent trip to Japan I decided to indulge somewhat in what it’s like to be an AKB fan in the motherland. It was a thrill to be there, particularly around Akihabara, seeing the members plastered on every billboard, every public transport TV, appearing on numerous TV shows and hearing their songs playing across the streets and in stores all week. ^^ (more…)

A Japanophile in New York July 23, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Books, Food, Games, Manga, Personal, Travel.
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It’s a common habit of mine that no matter where I go on holiday, I always end up drawn to the Japanese stuff. New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, was no different.

As one of the most famous and most cultured cities in the world it’s no surprise NYC caters well for the Japanophile. So where should you visit if you find yourself in the Big Apple in need of a Japanese fix? (more…)

Kirishima National Park August 14, 2011

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Kirishima is a pretty area of parkland about 40 mins drive north of Kagoshima in Kyushu. It’s part of the ‘Kirishima-Yaku’ National park that includes the island of Yakushima and forms one of the biggest national parks in Japan. It’s also considered “one of the finest volcanic hikes in Japan”, at least according to my Lonely Planet guide, and was used as a location for the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (thank you Wikipedia). (more…)

Koshien July 17, 2011

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Koshien

Among my many ambitions is to visit the hallowed ground of Koshien Stadium in Osaka, home of arguably Japan’s most famous baseball team: the Hanshin Tigers. I finally achieved this last month.

I can’t really say I’m a baseball fan. It’s not shown in the UK so I don’t really understand the rules, yet alone the complicated stats and tricks that make it fascinating. My real reason for visiting is what it represents: a dream, or rather the goal of a dream. Every year, Koshien hosts the finals of Japan’s National High School Baseball Championship, and it’s that dream is immortalised in numerous baseball manga and anime, not least the works of Mitsuru Adachi. Having become a fan of Adachi-sensei in the last few years through Touch and Cross Game, a trip to Koshien represents a pilgrimage of sorts to me. (more…)