Lovely Uji

I was going to leave a comment in response to Harry’s post about the autumn sumo events. But then I realised I had too much to say, so have turned it into a post instead :)

Basically, I’m so happy to hear the sumo is going to Uji! This is because a) sumo is awesome and b) I love Uji, so hopefully this will encourage more people to make the 20 minute trip out of Kyoto. When my friends and family came to visit me in Kyoto, I always took them to Uji. You could combine a morning in Uji with a trip to Nara or Fushimi Inari Shrine for a great day trip. Continue reading

Good cheap food in Japan. I can’t get enough!

Many people have the misconception that Japan is an expensive place – Wrong!

Those who have spent time in Japan, know that the country is generally cheaper than the UK for many things and especially eating out. This blog has already seen comments made on Okonomiyaki which is one of my favourite foods in Japan and very cheap to eat. In fact, you may have noticed that there has been plenty of references to Japanese food, but that is because it is SOOO tastey and we miss it!

In the city, towns, villages, mountains and on the coast, there are usually plenty food options on offer and this is definitely the case in Tokyo which has an estimated 60,000 plus restaurants. There is plenty of choice whatever your taste buds are tingling for. The food doesn’t cost much, it is pretty good quality for the price and it is usually brought to you with the speed of western fast food burger joint and the quality service of a…… well, not a western fast food burger joint. I thought I would mention some of the popular eateries that you will find throughout Japan to get you tempted.


Continue reading

Sumo in Autumn – secret tournaments for those in the know!

Sumo in Japan generally means one of two things; either timing your trip for one of the 6 major tournaments each year, or waking up at the crack of dawn to attend early morning sumo training at one of the sumo stables in Tokyo. However visitors to Japan this autumn have some extra opportunities to catch some sumo action. October is a great month to be in Japan, but does not have one of the 6 major sumo tournaments, making it tough for sumo fans to get their fix. However this year’s Autumn Sumo Tour stops off at some major points on the Japan tourist trail, rather than the usual backwater towns in far-flung locations that the tour often focuses on. If you are in Japan in late October then chances are you will not have to go far out of your way to enjoy some sumo. Himeji, Hiroshima and Yokohama are all on the hit-list, and if you are spending time in Kyoto then there is an easy day trip available. Here’s the schedule: Continue reading

What Makes a Holiday in Japan So Good? (Part III)

Hi, back again.

4. Japan is not dependent on overseas tourism

What makes Japan stand out from the rest of Asia and many other countries around the world is that the tourism industry is overwhelmingly domestic; Japan is not relient on dollars from overseas visitors. The great thing about this is that it means that everything you see in Japan is as the Japanese want it. Very little is changed/altered or laid on especially for foreigners. So when people say they want to see ‘The Real Japan’, the answer is it’s all around you – there is no ‘fake’ Japan out there! Japan gets along very happily and local hotels/restaurants do not need to have people out onthe streets beckoning in foreign tourists; there is no need to charge ‘foreigner price‘ to those form overseas; the food you get in restaurants is just the way the Japanese like it – they dont have a separate ‘foreigner menu’ listing 5 dishes whilst the locals get to enjoy all sorts of other delicacies! In short, when you come to Japan you get to see it as it is, and I think that is just great.

Bringing Japan Home

I seem to have a slight obsession about festivals in Japan – but that’s ok, because they are awesome. They have the best food, the best fireworks, the best random costumes, and the best atmosphere. They bring together families and communities, allow people to dress up in their best Yukata, and showcase the best and occasionally worst of the Japanese people letting their hair down.

Having been back in the UK for a couple of years now, it’s been a while since I got my festival fix and I often lament the fact that we British just don’t seem to have the same community events that come naturally to the Japanese. Whilst we are drowning in the British ‘summer’ over here, the Japanese are sitting on hot beaches, watching stunning fireworks, eating amazing food and generally having themselves a good time.

But being back in the UK doesn’t mean I have to miss out completely of course. There is always so much going on here if you look for it, and other people looking for the same thing. There’s over 19,000 Japanese living in London, and almost 40,000 in the UK which means that Japanese culture and influence is easily found. Indeed, the flashiest restaurants are often Japanese and Japan still keeps a rather exotic image to many people. We’ve talked about Japanese restaurants in London before, and here in Bristol, we have a number of great Japanese restaurants also – so there’s always the chance for a spot of sushi at lunchtime – as some of my colleagues know well!

And to top it all off, in London next month, they’re holding what is claiming to be a proper Japan Matsuri, with food stalls, crafts and even Nodojiman – a popular Japanese ‘X-Factor’ type TV show – you have to sing in Japanese and entries close soon – so best get in there quick!

So, no excuses for those missing a bit of Japanese culture – the festival is on next month, it’s sure to be a soggy september here in the UK, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put on our finest yukata, snack on some dango, and warm up our voices for some karaoke – maybe see you there!

And finally – a little more Nodojiman to get you in the matsuri mood.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Day

On this day 64 years ago Hiroshima experienced the most horrific effects of war when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city by American forces during World War II. Every year on this day the Peace Bell is rung at 8:15am, the time when the bomb was dropped, and sirens are sounded all over the city.

Atomic Bomb Dome

Atomic Bomb Dome

What is so special about the ceremony, which is held in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims in the Peace Park, is that as well as paying respect to the victims and their families it also looks to the future and emphasises the importance of peace. The Peace Declaration is read out by the Mayor and sent to every country in the World.

The ceremony is open to the public and friends of mine who attended said that the citizens of Hiroshima could not have been more welcoming and actually thanked them for coming. Some people who visit Japan often bypass Hiroshima expecting it to be quite a depressing and sombre place but this is certainly not the case. The Peace Park and memorial museum do highlight the sickening realities of nuclear weapons but at the same time they are peaceful and reflective places to visit. You will find that this reflective atmosphere is confined mostly to the peace park and the rest of the city is modern and lively with the people of Hiroshima having a positive outlook on life. I have visited Hiroshima many times and witnessing the horrors of the past juxtaposed with the vibrant modern city that stands today demonstrates the amazing resilience of the human spirit.

Symbols of Peace - Paper Cranes

Symbols of Peace - Paper Cranes

What Makes a Holiday in Japan So Good? (Part II)

Hi, I’m back with part two, which confusingly starts with number 3 on the list…

3. SOOOOOO many places to eat and drink.

For many people, wherever they go in the world, food and drink form a pretty important part of their holiday; they certainly do for me! Japan’s dense population means perhaps more restaurants in any given area than anywhere else on earth. Wherever you look in Japan there are places to eat, especially in the cities; at ground level, way up high in skyscrapers, down below in the underground stations and shopping malls. I reckon you would find it hard to be more than a minute’s walk from a bar/restaurant/cafe anywhere in Tokyo, with the possible exception of the middle of the Imperial Palace grounds. But seeing as how these are off limits if you tried this your next meal would probably be prison food – I bet the Japanese even do THAT well! (Did you see the naked gaijin swimming in the palace moat?) What I love about eating out in Japan is not only the sheer variety of things to eat, but also the fact that (in contrast to what many people’s impression of Japanese food) many of these places are simple,  casual and relaxing. Some of my favourite eating experiences in Japan have been at ‘restaurants’ that are smaller than the kitchen of many restaurants back home and some of them not much bigger than a decent sized cupboard! Another great thing is that a lot of Japanese cuisine is not intended to be a full meal, more like something to snack on whilst enjoying drinks. This means that eating out in Japan is not confined to the 3 standard mealtimes! There is no better way to top off an afternoon of sightseeing in the heat of summer than with an ice-cold beer and a few sticks of chicken or pieces of sushi. Yes holidays are about sightseeing, but they are also about enjoying yourself, kicking back and relaxing. I reckon Japan provides more refreshment options than any other country – would you agree?IMG_2113

Anyone for Cricket….in Japan

Cucumber sandwiches and sushi under Mt. Fuji for tea

Cucumber sandwiches and sushi under Mt. Fuji for tea

With the Ashes in full swing and England looking as though they are doing alright against the Australian tourists (please stay fit Freddie), it is really good to see the popularity of this great English sport on the rise.

Who would have thought though that in a country renowned for the sport of sumo and more popular sports such as baseball and football that the gentleman’s game of cricket is becoming increasingly popular in the Land of the Rising Sun.

I say it is becoming popular, but there are still only 62 mens and 12 womens teams in the whole of Japan, a country with a population of 120 million plus but it is gradually establishing itself with the efforts of the Japan Cricket Association funded by the International Cricket Council.

The Japanese teams such as University of Tokyo and Waseda University do not have the history of Gloustershire and Somerset County Cricket but they do have plenty of enthusiasm for a game.

The game of baseball which is Japan’s most popular professional sport with teams such as Hanshin Tigers, Yomiuri Giants (boo!) and Chunichi Dragons (yeah!), international baseball superstars such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui sees millions of fans supporting this more modern, less gentrified version of the original game of cricket.

Although cricket greens are probably going to be a bit short on supply in Japan, I think that Japan is the perfect place for cricket as an alternative to baseball. The gentleman’s game is perhaps more suited to the Japanese temperament relying on steady disciplined teamwork in both attack and defence. There is also no room in cricket for un-gentlemanly behaviour which comes across so readily in the crude game of baseball.

Cricket is by no means near being a main stream sport in Japan, but I hope that Japanese cricket will continue to be inspired by the skill and professionalism of players such as Freddie Flintoff and Andrew Strauss as they show up the Australians in this summer’s Ashes. Ganbatte England!

Kyoto for Free! (part three)

Hello everyone. Here is the final part of…

The Big List of Stuff to Do for Free in Kyoto!

Admittedly, I was hoping to have 15 items on this list. But alas, I only got as far as 13 (unlucky for some?) Sorry about that, but please enjoy the list and feel free to add a comment.

11. Try Nishiki Market

Peckish? Or just curious about all those strange Japanese ingredients and unidentifiable vegetables? Take a stoll through Nishiki Market which runs parallel with Shijo Street in the city centre. Befriend the kimono clad old ladies giving out free food samples. It’s also worth checking out the basement food floors of the big department stores such as Daimaru and Takashimaya for more food giveaways

12. Pop into Kyoto Handicraft Centre

OK, so if you go here, you probably will end up buying something… it is an excellent one stop shop for Kyoto souvenirs. But you can watch Kyoto craftsmen at work for free and the friendly English speaking staff will happily help you try on a kimono, where as a real kimono dress-up experience is pretty pricy.

I get the chance to try on a wedding kimono

I get the chance to try on a wedding kimono

13. Go Hiking

Daimonji mountain (otherwise known as Mount Nyoigatake), with its huge ‘dai’ 大 kanji burnt into the hillside, looms over the east of the city. It’s an easy and priceless hike over this mountain. The path starts behind Ginkaku-ji (the silver temple) and takes you up to an amazing view spot just about the kanji character.


Daimonji Mountain in the distance and the view from the top

Daimonji Mountain looms in the distance and the view from the top

What do you think? Any further suggestions for free things to do in lovely Kyoto?

What makes a Holiday in Japan so Good?

I know that Japan is great. Most of the bloggers and commentators on this site know that Japan is great. And I know from a succession of friends, relatives and friends-of-friends who have returned from a trip to Japan, THEY know it’s great! And whilst everyone has their own favourite destination, or favourite Kyoto temple, or special restaurant, I think there are a few factors that anyone who has been to Japan will agree make a visit to Japan so good. I shall present a few of them over the next few days for the benefit of those planning a trip, or thinking about one…

1. No tourism hassle

I’ve never been to the Pyramids in Egypt.  I have certainly heard stories of how amazing they are, but this is usually coupled with stories of the locals pestering you to buy a rug/hat/postcards from them, “you have ride on my camel, 10 dollars”, locals who won’t get out of the way of your ideal shot until you pay them etc. I’ve been in plenty of countries where you walk down the main street looking to choose a nice spot for dinner, but you daren’t stop and read a menu board for risk of being swamped by over-zealous touts; “you come my restaurant, special discount for you, that place no good, you like it here, come come” etc – you may have experienced the sPyramidsame? Japan however has NONE of this. With its amazing customer service standards the customer is king and will be looked after as such, but will never be pestered into parting with his money unless he wants to. Souvenirs are available of course, like everywhere, but there’s no hard sell, there’s no sense of “we must make money out of these people”, just a freindly smile, a bow and perhaps a polite “irasshaimase” (welcome!) Travelling in Japan is a joy, and it is sometimes easy to forget this when you are there, so next time you are in Japan taking in the sights or looking for dinner, have a quick think of what that experience would be like in most other countries of the world.

2. Everything works

The trains work. The subway works. There are vending machines on every street corner – they work (some even sell booze!). Popular restaurants in busy places might have a queue snaking out the door at lunchtime – the queue works. You need a taxi? I doubt you’ll have to wait 30 seconds – taxis work. And if you try out some of those weird looking buttons on your electronic toilet seat – yep, they’ll work too, so be careful! And after you’ve finished playing with the buttons, wash your hands - the hand dryer works. Everything works so well in Japan, you’ll be looking around your home country when you get back thinking “now why doesnt THAT work here…?”

Come back soon for the next installment…


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