A visit to the Ghibli Museum

The director Hayao Miyazaki has been called `the god of anime` and `Japan`s most successful film-maker`.  He`s been compared to Walt Disney, has won an Oscar and has even earned the respect of my two nieces.  Yet he is not well-known in the UK or US.

The Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.

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Save Japan with super kawaii T-Shirts from Uniqlo

Check out these great T-shirts from Uniqlo. The company will donate approximately 100 million yen (£750,000) from the sales of these T-shirts to the Japanese Red Cross who are helping recovery efforts in Tohoku.

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Summer Festivals + Yukata = Romance?!

Here is the latest blog piece from one of the InsideJapan team in our Nagoya office. The very talented Tomoko san gives us the background on wearing the traditional Japanese yukata. You may think that there is more to wearing the yukata, but Tomoko san tells us how it actually is….it is a good way of attracting other people! I recommend you read on…

Japan’s hot summer has come and the festival season has started! When it comes to summer festivals, Japanese girls love to think about ‘what to wear?!’ The perfect answer is yukata!

Yukata is a light cotton kimono and it is often used as nightwear at Japanese style accommodation. It also comes in a wide variety of colours and designs as a summer outfit. Kimono in general is not an everyday outfit for most Japanese these days, and we tend to wear it only at formal occasions. However, yukata is one of the most informal kimono and relatively easy to wear. Every summer all department stores set up a special section for yukata to attract customers, especially young girls.

Why young girls? It is because yukata is believed to make Japanese girls look more beautiful and attractive! Summer festivals are a good excuse to ask boys out and it is a great chance to impress boys with your different and beautiful look dressed in yukata! In fact, this kind of romantic situation is often depicted in manga and TV dramas in Japan.

I must confess that I am one of the girls who has been greatly affected by those romantic manga, I have tried out the ‘festivals + yukata’ formula in my twenties. Although yukata is relatively easy to wear, you still need practice and preparation! I took a yukata wearing lesson and bought a fashion magazine featuring make-up and hairstyle for yukata to get ready for a big day out to a festival. Obviously putting on a sleeveless summer dress and sleek sandals must have been much easier, but I desperately wanted the magical charm of yukata! My efforts paid off and the ‘festivals + yukata’ formula did a bit of trick to me!..but just for a short period of time. The summer magic did not last long in my case…

Yukata is also something that men should try. It adds charm to men and makes you look more mature and cool! I sometimes see couples wearing yukata at a festival, looking at each other rather than watching beautiful fireworks up in the sky, and saying how pretty / cool to each other. Surely that is one of the enjoyments of summer festivals?! Boys and girls, let’s get dressed in yukata and enjoy the hot summer festivals in Japan!

Nice advice Tomoko san! Seeing girls and guy dressed in yukata at festivals is one of the highlights of the summer along with all the food stands and huge fireworks displays. A Japanese festival is a great cultural experience – There really is only one Japan!

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

With the final of this year’s Tour de France approaching this weekend (Cavendish for the green jersey!), carbon guilt mounting and the last ditch attempt to get fit before summer holidays all in our mind right now, time is ripe for getting on your bike. Being based here in Bristol, first official cycling city of the UK, we are all aware of the feeling of getting on your bike in the city: constant punctures, raging car drivers, and dodging noise-cancelling-headphone-wearing pedestrians who don’t appreciate the big white painting of a bike on the path. (Sound bitter? Not me – I just haven’t got round to fixing that puncture yet…).

Japan is a great place to see by bike, whether it be in the cities, out in the countryside, or across the water. You can have a day tour of the backstreets of Tokyo and Kyoto by bike, explore the countryside around Takayama or even take a full tour of some beautiful areas of southern Japan if a couple of days just isn’t enough.

My most recent trip back to Japan took me across the Shimanamikaido – a 60 kilometre long toll road that connects Japan’s main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku, passing over six small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Admittedly I only had time to cycle a small part, but the views and journey still made it a stunning ride.

After cycling the Shimanamikaido - a little windswept.

The bridge is elevated high above the Seto Inland Sea, with amazing views of the islands around you, as well as Honshu to the north and Shikoku to the south. The actual bike route is separate to the cars, with a smooth easy (-ish, there are a number of hills involved..) course suitable for beginners and experienced cyclists alike. And dotted along the route are a number of places to drop off your bike, should the weather or other reasons cut your ride short.

The best reason to cycle this area of the country though is for the sights you see as you make your way along. The small islands were only connected by the bridge just over 10 years ago, so a sense of provincial life still readily emanates. People warmly greet you, there are some amazing local restaurants, and some stunning yet random sights en route.  So many random sights, I will have to include that in another blog entry. For now, you can just have a pretty picture of the view and imagine crossing the line in the maillot jaune.

P.s. This article is dedicated to my dad who has spent the last two weeks enjoying watching the Tour de France live every afternoon now he is retired. I won’t tell mum!

January Is The New April

Beautiful cherry blossom in spring, dramatic leaves in autumn – why travel to Japan at any other time?! Admittedly the hanami ‘cherry blossom viewing’ parties in April are great fun, and the weather is lovely and warm in November, but for me (this week at least) January is my new favourite month in Japan.

Whilst it is dull and overcast here in the UK, probably raining and with everyone nursing new year hangovers, in Japan it is crisp and clear, with everyone welcoming in the new year with animated festivals and a touch of retoxing. From the traditional 1st January visit to the shrine, to the grand Archery contests and slightly less grand naked-men-sake-drinking contests, January is filled with festivals springing up all over the country to forget the last year and welcome in the next.

And if the idea of naked men throwing water on themselves and drinking sake doesn’t attract you, then perhaps the idea of very large almost-naked men pitting themselves against each other is more up your street. In 2012, the sumo tournament runs from 8th January to 22nd January in Tokyo and is a sight you really shouldn’t miss if you are around to witness it. The bouts only take place in Tokyo three times a year – six weeks in total – and two of them are in January. It’s just looking better and better.

If the talk of naked men hasn’t stopped you reading already, then the next reason to travel in January could be for you. Powder. The snow kind. All skiers and snowboarders know that Japan is one of the top destinations for snow in the world and January is peak season. However if you visit mid-week, chances are you will have those iced mountains all to yourself as the Japanese are hard at work at their desk. Sunny days of skiing followed by relaxing in the hot spring waters of the onsen – bliss.

And for those of us who may be worried about missing the January sales at home, there’s no need to be. As January is ‘off-season’, chances are you can get a bargain at some of the top hotels, or some amazing upgrades by travelling when no-one else is. Keep this reason on the DL though or else all customers will want to travel in January and then I will have to find a new favourite month (as well as make December in the IJT office very busy during Christmas party season).

Temperatures can be up to 10 deg C in Tokyo so pretty much at UK summer levels, and rainfall is lower than any other time of year: skies are blue and you have amazing views of Mount Fuji from the capital – what more could you want?!

Picture taken in January (or very close to around then...) Not from Tokyo...

At Last – A Reason to Rejoice

The Japanese people were delivered a sporting achievement to fill their hearts with pride and joy in the early hours of Monday morning. After all of the troubles and woes of the past months, it offered a much needed release and allowed expression of sheer elation, as the women’s national team triumphed at the football World Cup. The country needed a morale booster after months of coming to terms with the tragic tsunami events – its footballing women provided it in the most admirable of fashions.

Although ultimate victory was not totally implausible, the Nadeshiko (pink carnation) as they are nicknamed, overcame the odds in the tournament as underdogs against firstly the footballing powerhouse of Germany, and then the American team. They showed more than just grace and beauty – renowned characteristics of the flower – as they catapulted themselves to the peak of the women’s game with a remarkable victory over the favourites and twice previous winners, the US.

Although not as fervently supported as the Samurai Blue, Japan’s women’s team way surpassed the achievements of their male counterparts last year. They became a focus of positivity and optimism, carrying the hopes of the country for the past weeks and galvanising the true solidarity of the Japanese people in times of adversity.

My Tokyo neighbours more than adequately demonstrated the excitement the Nadeshiko generated – screams of encouragement and vocal sighs of relief with the ebb and flow of the entire match, then squeals and shouts of delight when the final penalty was fired into the roof of the US goal.

People across the country watched deep into the dawn hours – in bars, community halls or from living room cushions – and rejoiced as enormous effort, dedication to the task and teamwork brought the national team the ultimate prize – the label of World Champions.

Sporting achievement brings people together, as does adversity. The victory of the women’s football team was a gleaming example of how the Japanese always rise to overcome the hugest of challenges by being unified and dedicated. Japan is unified and dedicated – the future of Japan is looking rosier, for now, the future of its football is looking distinctly carnation-pink.

Written by IJT tour leader, Steve Parker

Photo highlights from Essential Honshu tour


First night dinner at Tanuki, a traditional izakaya in Asakusa.

Tsutenkaku tower looms above kushikatsu restaurants of Shinsekai, Osaka.

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Why I’m getting married in Japan

Posted on by jimbojapanam

InsideJapan Tours are pretty proud of how much we know about Japan and we think our passion shows through in what we do. We are very lucky to have been able to open up the door of Japanese discovery to other people and we are happy to say that those people return full of admiration for Japan, having developed a  new found passion for the country and people. Some of our customers are already incredibly drawn to Japan and  have developed a healthy obsession for the place. Sarah Gatecliffe is one of those people and is a huge pleasure to deal with.

Having travelled to Japan in 2010, Sarah and her Fiance will be travelling to Japan in May 2012 to get married – That’s how much it means to them! I asked Sarah as to why they had decided to get married in Japan and here is what she said:

Not content with just having one wedding I have decided to have two, both to the same man I assure you. After a ceremony here in my native England I will be jetting 6000 miles and hopping 9 time zones east to Japan, a country I fell in love with even before I stepped foot off the plane last year.

Ever since I can remember, Japan has had this kind of hold over me, like an itching curiosity that couldn’t be scratched until I saw it with my own eyes. Over the years I have scoured the bookshelves and travel magazines in the hope of reading something I don’t know about Japan, something new, no matter how small.

I don’t know what it is about Japan, but I am completely obsessed! But I’m not alone. When I booked my last trip at least 99.9% of people have replied with the same ‘I’m so jealous, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan’, when being told where I was going next. And I can’t pinpoint why people want to go anymore than I can for myself. We all have an image in our minds of Japan; Tokyo’s circuit board of neon, temples tucked away behind towering skyscrapers or the last remaining geisha of Kyoto flitting between the teahouses of Gion like heavily painted butterflies.

Gion and Geisha

As soon as my fiancé and I started planning our wedding, I knew Japan was going to be our honeymoon destination. But after being together 8 years I wanted to do something special, something which we would remember for the rest of our lives and be a talking point at dinner parties; note: We don’t get invited to dinner parties but just in case we do. After doing some research I discovered that Inside Japan can arrange for couples to have a wedding blessing in Japan. Perfect! Hundreds of couples get married abroad every year; Mexico, Las Vegas and the Caribbean, so why not Japan?

Like most Japanese brides who choose to marry in traditional Shinto ceremonies, I will be wearing a white kimono and the wataboshi, a type of hood which is said to hide the horns of jealousy. Following our ceremony we will have the customary photographs before being whisked away as newly (Japanese) weds for a fantastic wedding dinner at the Granvia hotel where we will be staying. From the ceremony we will continue to explore Japan including the ancient capital Nara, the hauntingly beautiful bamboo groves of Arashiyama and a day trip to Japan’s animation Mecca the Studio Ghibli Museum.

If you have never considered Japan as a holiday destination then I would put those brochures to the Mediterranean away and contact Inside Japan. Even before the tragic events of March 11th Japan did nothing but welcome my fiancé and I with open arms and provide us with the best hospitality. You will never visit such a visually stimulating and fast paced metropolis like Tokyo or sample fresher produce found down Kyoto’s Nishiki dori. Japan is a truly inspirational place and is perfectly safe to visit. Just ask Lady Gaga…

Sarah is definitely up there on our top ten Japanophiles list (we haven’t really got a list, but if we had one, you would be there) and her enthusiasm for the country is obvious to everyone which is fantastic. Sarah has even promised us a review and photos of her Japanese wedding which we will be  really keen to see. Watch this space.

Good luck to you both and thank you for your love of Japan!

Enjoying the journey. From Matsumoto to Takayama.

Posted on by Superfatsamurai

The professionalism of the average Japanese bus driver always takes me by surprise. It's nice to know that I am in good hands on the windy, snowy roads that lead from Matsumoto to Takayama.

Passing by the entrance to the famed Kamikochi, some great views of the Japanese Alps can be had.

As is always the case in Japan, each season offers something different. Something special.

As you curve and climb through the various hills, small hamlets and villages sweep by. It makes for a nice glimpse of life in the mountains, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

Although I love the mountain vistas, the rural areas are just as captivating.

The massive snowfall that this area sees each year means that rivers are plentiful. For much of the journey running water flows beside the road.

In addition to nature, there are great feats of engineering. Long tunnels and massive damns abound.

Going Green in Japan – Tip #9: Recycle

Posted on by KyotoKid

In Japan plastic, paper, PET bottles, aluminium and glass are collected and recycled by law.

Look for the recycling logo on PET bottles in Japan

It’s easy to recycle while you are travelling through Japan. Public rubbish bins (trash cans) found in train stations or outside convenience stores are separated into containers for different materials. Most are labelled in English so you know what to put wear – failing that, ask a Japanese passerby.

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