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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