J-Pop and Going on a HYPERJAPAN Tour

Way of the Samurai(photos by Ken Francisco)

Our inaugural HYPERJAPAN J-Pop and Go! tour was a great reminder that even going back to places that I’ve visited a dozen or more times can bring unexpected experiences, new surprises and untold amounts of fun! Working with the folks at HYPERJAPAN, we created a tour for people with as much energy as a Japanese anime character. We trounced from Buddhist temple to maid cafe, from the insanity of the Robot Restaurant to the quietude of a traditional Japanese garden. We learned about geisha culture from one of the world’s foremost experts and we were taught Zen meditation from a Buddhist monk but we also dressed up in kimono for a samurai sword lesson and slept in a capsule hotel! Although you’ll read about the Japan as the land of contrasts in any and every guidebook, there has surely never been a tour where these contrasts are juxtaposed so vividly. If you’re interested in the full spectrum of Japanese culture, 10 days on this tour will have knowing more about Japanese pop culture than most people who stay for 6 months.

Men at work

KaraokeHiroshima Bay

Luckily I don’t need to ramble on about how good everything was because Kenneth Francisco – a skilled photographer and a passenger on the very first tour – has been kind enough to let us use his images for an exploratory journey through a few highlights of this great tour. Arigatou Ken!

MarioKiyomizu, Kyoto

Manga and Maids

At our visit to the maid cafe (pictured above) we sang songs, performed “magic” to enhance the deliciousness of our cute and cuddly meals and even had a birthday celebration for a very embarrassed young man! But in Kyoto we got to experience old Japan by visiting several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and rubbing elbows with many kimono clad locals. Walking through the romantic old buidlings in the geisha district on a quiet and warm spring night was the highlight for a couple who came on the tour for their honeymoon. For a few others, the maid cafe and capsule hotel came in with the top ranking!

Tour leader, Tyler


Romantic Dear

Life size anime

Miyajima Tori

In these shots Ken has caught me explaining sankinkotai with the picture of a samurai and also managed to find a couple of romantic deer whispering sweet nothings to one another on Miyajima island, the home of the massive floating Torii gate – although that only applies when the tide is in! But my personal favorite is Ken posing with Goku from Dragon Ball Z.

Osaka Castle

okonomiyakiCup noodles

We had great weather throughout this tour, as can be evidenced by the clear views from Osaka castle (above) and of Mt. Fuji (below). The shot on the left shows our okonomiyaki being grilled right in front of us in Hiroshima while the picture on the right is from the Ramen Museum in Osaka, where we got to design and make our very own Cup of Noodles to take home with us as a souvenir. I can’t speak for the rest of the group but mine were delicious! ;)

Fuji from Hakone


Tsukiji fish market

Conveyor belt sushi in Kyoto is always a favorite on my tours but it couldn’t top the amazing stuff we had at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo! Our small group took up the entire restaurant.

Serious tour leader time

Karaoke tour leader time

Lets sing!

Bullet Train Bento

Showing my serious, and not-so-serious, sides above; no trip to Japan is completely without one crazy night of karaoke and a delicious bento box on the bullet train!

Deadly ladies


I lost

Here we are learning the techniques of the samurai and looking very good in the process. These girls would give Uma Thurman a run for her money any day! Just ask Jeff, seen above before and after his bout with his spouse.

Capsule Hotel


Zen moments in Kyoto

Crazy Robot Restaurant, Toyko

And what better way to finish off than with pictures from three of my own personal favorite experiences from this great and varied tour. Here’s our capsule hotel, our Zen meditation session and the crazy but hilarious visit to the Robot Restaurant!

More HYPERJAPAN J-Pop & Go! to come….



Sumo Wrestling History

sumo wrestling history Sumo Wrestling History

While Sumo, Japan’s national sport dates back 2000 years, it didn’t begin to flourish as a spectator sport until the early 1600s.  Sumo is a full contact sport, where 2 wrestlers, known as Rikshiki compete to force one another out of the ring. While sumo has evolved throughout the centuries, today’s sumo still retains some of the traditions of ancient Japanese tradition.

Today’s rishiki still perform pre-bout ceremonies that are steeped in the tradition of Shinto, Japan’s native religion. Shinto traditions include ceremonies and rituals as opposed to a definite belief system or code of ethics; sumo was performed during festivals to entertain the gods.

Symbolic References to Shinto

  • The canopy that is above the ring resembles the roof seen on a Shinto shrine.
  • The sand covering the clay of the ring is a symbol of purity.
  • Each corner of the canopy has four tassels. Each tassel represents the four seasons.
  • The purple bunting around the roof represents the drifting of clouds and season rotation.
  • Cuttlefish, chestnuts and kelp are placed in the ring, as well as prayers for safety.
  • The referee uniform closely resembles a Shinto priest’s traditional robe.

The Sport of Sumo Wrestling

Only the bottom of the rikishis’ feet can touch the floor. The first rikishi to have any other part of his body touch the floor or that exits the ring, loses.

Practice sessions begin right before and during major tournaments. During these practice bouts in the makeshift ring, the winner remains in the ring until another rikishi beats him. After a bout ends, all the rikishi rush into the ring, in the hope of becoming the winner’s next opponent.

Sumo Moves


Tip opponent’s right ankle with the right leg or left ankle with left leg and then push him down.


Pull opponent down to the ring using his head, shoulders or neck.


Grip the opponent’s head using both hands and twist him down.

The Bout Begins

As the actual bout begins, the two rikishi spend a few minutes before their match scaring away demons by lifting their legs high in the air and then stomping. Each rikishi also throws salt into the ring and around his body. This practice is done to protect him from injuries.

After the Final Bout

The bow twirling (yumi-tori) ceremony is performed by a rikishi who has a makushita, the third highest, rank. True fans of sumo will remain seated until this ritual is completed.

A Cultural Experience

Sumo wrestling history offers insight into the Japanese culture. Because many of the aspects of sumo remain the same, sumo is more than just a sport; it offers a living example of the traditional Japanese culture.

When and Where

There are six major tournaments a year. These tournaments take place in cities all over Japan.

The tournament sites and months are:

  • January – Tokyo
  • March – Osaka
  • May – Tokyo
  • July – Nagoya
  • September – Tokyo
  • November – Fukuoka

The 5 Most Beautiful Places in Japan: The Perfect Japanese Honeymoon

Planning a romantic getaway after marriage does not necessarily mean going to traditional favorites. Japan has some of the most scenic and beautiful places in the world, particularly during the spring, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Matsushima Bay

For beach lovers or those who enjoy scenic views, Matsuhima Bay is an excellent place to visit on a honeymoon. The bay offers beautiful ocean views and is known for the pine islets that dot the shores and provide stunning greenery to the backdrop of the ocean.


Tokyo is one of the largest cities in Japan and it offers some of the best attractions for visitors. Take a day to explore the popular shopping areas of Ginza and Shinjuku. Catch a traditional show at a Kabuki Theater. Explore the cultural heritage by visiting the temples at Asakusa.

Tokyo has a wide range of activities to appeal to any honeymoon couple, regardless of personal hobbies or interests.


Kyoto is the former capital of Japan and one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Kyoto features stunning Zen gardens, amazing architectural features and ancient temples that give a peek into the history of the country.

kanagawa japan Kanagawa

Kanagawa is located in the middle of Yokohama and Kamakura prefectures, so it is a short distance away from Tokyo. That distance from the city provides the opportunity to see the beautiful nature and scenic views of Japan while visiting the temple with one of the largest Buddhist statues in the country.

Kanagawa not only features a large Buddhist temple, but also views of Mount Fuji and Hakone, which provides the opportunity to enjoy the hot springs, or onsen.

Shiretoko National Park

Shiretoko National Park is found near Hokkaido. It is an isolated peninsula, which provides the opportunity to see some of the unspoiled land and wild creatures that are native to Japan. Animals that are commonly seen in Shiretoko include bears, fox and deer.

Japan has a wide range of activities and stunning destinations that are perfect for honeymoon couples. The best place to enjoy a honeymoon in Japan will depend on personal interests because it is possible to find everything from shopping and cultural temples to unspoiled land that still has native wildlife.

Japanese festivals – Tug O War

Intrepid tour leader Richard Pearce likes to get involved in Japanese culture stuck out there in rural Japan. Here is one of his latest little adventures….A tug o war – Japan style….




At the invite of the town council, myself and a group of English teachers headed to Misasa, a beautiful spa town, to take part in a particularly special festival. Think tug-of-war, crazy Japanese style!

The name “Misasa” (三朝町) literally translates as “three mornings”.  This stems from the belief that if one was to spend three mornings in the town’s famous hot springs, all ailments will be cured. Nestled in a mountainous river valley, Misasa is one of my favourite places in this beautiful country. Bubbling, steaming spas, young couples wondering the streets hand in hand dressed in robes and wooden slippers, wonderful traditional architecture dating back hundreds of years, dragonflies skimming across the surface of the numerous natural springs… it all makes for a very ‘Japanese’ experience. The town’s festival is equally as special.

Ready for battle

Ready for battle

The Hanayu Festival has taken place every May for more than a hundred years and is essentially a time honoured battle of East v West. On the east of the river that bisects the town, are the farmers and other agricultural workers. On the west, are the other businesses owners, merchants and tradesmen. The festival takes place over two days, culminating in the grand finale, a tug of war, on the evening of the second day.

More than rope

More than rope

The rope however, is no ordinary rope. Constructed in two parts from branches of an unknown (to me!), freshly harvested tree, the final rope weighs a massive 4 tons and stretches about 80 metres! One of the most refreshing aspects of Japanese life, from an Englishman’s point of view, is the absense of the ridiculous health and safety culture we have in the West. Of course basic safety precautions are met, but if you take part in an event where injury is a possibility, you do so at your own risk. If someone is injured, no one thinks of suing whoever they possibly can. You just brush yourself down and deal with it.

Big rope

Big rope

On day one, not really knowing what to expect, we rocked up to the festival area to help make the rope. On arrival, we were all presented with a large cup of sake with which we were advised to drink with a pinch of salt. I was informed by the gentlemen pouring them out that they were for “health and safety purposes”. Now that’s more like it!! After a few hours of bashing and twisting, made less strenuous by the application of health and safety fluids, the ropes were ready. By sliding sturdy branches under it, the beastly rope was hoisted on to our shoulders and carried to their temporary resting places. Being tall is definitely not an advantage with this task, as the marks on my shoulders suggested. The scariest part of the whole process was when the ropes were dropped to the ground. Dropped at the head end first, it’s a matter of getting it off of your shoulders and getting out the way as quickly as possible. I escaped with a minor scratch down my back, much better than some unfortunate souls. However, no one will be seeking legal action.

Making the rope

Making the rope

On the second evening, after enjoying some grilled meat from the festival stalls and an impressive firework display, it was time for the main event. The two ropes were dragged into position and with great effort, joined together. Due to the huge bulk of the rope, the tug-of-war is more of a drag-of-war. On the starters mark, the battle commenced. About 20 minutes later and after much to-ing and fro-ing, my team, the east, emerged victorious. Traditional belief is that the east will have a good and productive year. I presume, for the farmers, the opposite is true. Exhausted, exhilarated and not a little bit sweaty, it was time to head to the hot springs to soak in the soothing waters and reflect on the evening’s exertions.

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A great experience and a great festival for the spectator.

Dr. Kanji – Japanese language master of mystery

Dr KAfter a long absence, the mysterious Dr. Kanji returns with musings about the Japanese language and comments on its use and evolution in the modern Japanese language that we can read, write and hear today ….but who is this doctor of the Chinese character?

The mystery of Dr Kanji is on a par with the whereabouts of Lord Lucan, who shot JFK and the man behind the mask of wrestling legend, Kendo Nagasaki. Perhaps we will never know….We hope to pick up the kanji comments from Dr Kanji every-now-and-then, but today the doctor talks about one popular character from early spring.

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One of the most popular events of the Japanese calendar is the coming of the cherry blossom or ‘sakura’. The tradition of ‘Hanami’ or flower viewing parties has been around for hundreds of years dating back to the Heian period (794-1185) when haiku would be written about the beautiful sakura petals. Although the blossom itself has not changed, the kanji character has evolved over the years.

Current kanji for sakura – 桜

Old kanji for sakura – 櫻

This old character consists of three parts – The characters for wood, shell and woman are all represented here.

In ancient China, people compared the beauty of cherry blossom fruits to that of a shell necklace around a women’s neck which is how the old kanji was created.

The most common sakura in Japan is that of the Somei Yoshino variety. Although it rarely produces fruit the pale blossom is considered the most beautiful and was developed as a hybrid plant by gardeners in the old Somei village (now part of Tokyo) during the Edo Period (1603-1868). The blossom front sweeps from the south through to the north from February in the subtropics to May in Hokkaido but the peak on main land Japan is in late March and earl April.

Another great insight to the crazy world of the Japanese language from the mysterious Dr. Kanji…until next time….we hope….

Northern festival madness

Japan is not known for doing things by halves. Having developed one of the world’s most technically advanced and super efficient high speed rail networks and taken the experience of going to the toilet to a whole new level it should come as no surprise that when Japan puts on a festival it’s like no other show on earth. Our Mark Johnson reports on his recent trip to Japan which saw him head up to northern Japan between tours to see how they celebrate in Tohoku.

5th August, 2012

I’m wandering the streets of central Aomori (northern Tohoku), it’s 7pm and 32 degrees centigrade and I’m surrounded by a few thousand people lining the streets 5-10 people deep for as far as the eye can see in every direction. Amongst the chatter I can hear distant chants and the looming sound of taiko drums. Welcome to the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, one of the largest and best known festivals in Japan.

Being Japan there is no pushing and shoving and everyone is patiently waiting in anticipation of what it to follow. As the drums roll closer I soon catch a glimpse of the first brightly lit float in the distance edging around the corner. This marks the start of a three hour long parade of the most colourful exotic floats, costumes and festivity and one of the highlights of the festival season in the north.

The intricately decorated floats with imposing demonic faces each the width of the 4 lane street loom high above the spectators whilst the drums and chanting pound through the air creating an electric atmosphere. The floats keep coming and coming until eventually my camera battery dies from lining up too many pictures and taking too much video footage. The drumming is accompanied by flutes, chanting and trance like dancing and the crowd are actively encouraged to join in. The spectacular array of costumes change with every group and every now and then out of nowhere a random Elvis will appear to cheers and laughter.

Many of Japan’s best loved anime characters including Anpanman and Doraemon are represented as well as some of Japan’s biggest brands and sponsors of the event: Asahi, Kirin, 7-11, Panasonic, Hitachi and so on. This year many of the floats carry messages of goodwill to the people of Tohoku, a poignant message in the year following the tsunami and earthquake in 2011.

About Nebuta:

There are many theories surrounding the origin of the festival but the most likely explanation is that it was born out of the Tanabata festival (imported from China in around 755) celebrating the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi who according to the legend were separated by milky way. Tanabata meaning 7th night is celebrated in July or August depending on whether you are using the lunisolar or Gregorian calendar. The giant floats depict scenes to scare off the enemy, take up to a year to build and are decorated with lights and coloured paper. Costs run in to millions of yen and the whole community get involved. As always visitors from overseas are made especially welcome and are invited to join in with the fun. It is even possible to take part in the parade with prior arrangement.

The idea of enduring 30+ degree heat every day for some may seem like hell on earth but for those that are brave enough to visit Japan during the summer months; as well as consistent sunshine, one of the world’s most spectacular displays awaits. Most events are followed by equally impressive fireworks and feature an array of colourful street food ranging from barbequed squid on a stick to octopus dumplings and chocolate bananas. The festival spirit in Japan is something that really can’t be missed during a summer visit.

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The surrounding area hosts several festivals over a two week period (end of July through to beginning of August). As there is so much going on in the area it is quite easy to catch more than one festival during your stay. Hachinohe Sansha Taishai festival is said to be Japan’s biggest float festival and the Neputa festival in Hirosaki with it’s gigantic 22m high floats is equally impressive. Although most of the festival action is at night there are lots of events during the day too. There’s also plenty to see nearby including Hirosaki with it’s beautiful castle, Fujita Gardens (immaculate gardens with a stunning backdrop and tea house) and a walk through the samurai district.

Summer festivals are a great add-on to a group tour or self-guided trip or simply a reason in itself to visit northern Tohoku – one of the lesser visited, but none less impressive areas of Japan.

As we have said throughout this blog, festivals are a great cultural event to experience in Japan. There are thousands of festivals that take place throughout Japan all through the year, but the summer time definitely has more than its fair share.

I thank Mark for sharing this with us and I can’t wait until next year…..first though we have the autumn festivals not to mention the winter ones and then the spring festivals….Japan does love its festivals and so do we!

Blog your way to Japan

2012 has been a huge year for us in the UK. Continued medal success at the London Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and of course the best is yet to come….InsideJapan Tours’ 12th birthday!

To celebrate this and all the good things about the number 12, we have joined up with Virgin Atlantic to give away an amazing trip to Japan  and invite you Blog to Japan!

We want people to show us what they can do with photo, video and words with their blog. Give us 12 good reasons as to why you be going to Japan in the most innovative, imaginative and exciting way and we will be sending you to Japan for two and a half weeks.

If you have always wanted to go to Japan, then this is your chance!

The winners will win a trip that will take them from the Tokyo Metropolis to the old Imperial capital of Kyoto, a crazy cultural festival in Osaka, the chance to reflect at a  Buddhist temple lodging on sacred Mt. Koya, the serene Miyajima Island, the stunning Kamikochi national park and more. All of this will happen at a time of year when the mountains and temple gardens are lit up by red and gold autumn leaves and the temperature very pleasant. The winner will also have a whole host of cultural experiences included adding to this adventure of a lifetime which would usually cost you in the region of £4000pp.

As the winner, all we ask is that you blog each day during your trip providing us with inspirational posts full of exciting video and provoking images giving us an insight into the country, culture and people as well as your first experience of this unique destination.

What you need to do….

So, all you need to do is blog 12 good reasons as to why you and your blogging partner should be travelling to Japan. For example, what are your preconceptions of Japan; why have you always wanted to go; Have you have always liked sushi and sumo; Perhaps you  are a fan of Tadao Ando and his architecture or you like Enka folk music or maybe you are into Hayao Miyazaki anime. Give us something interesting and show us what you can do.

Once you have created your blog, send a link to blogtojapan@insidejapantours.com  between now and August 31st and you will be one step closer to travelling to Japan.

InsideJapan Tours will pick their top three blogs from the entries sent in. We will ask you for your proposal as to what you will be able to provide for us with on this trip in terms of content. InsideJapan will then put the vote to fans on the InsideJapan Tours Facebook page to help pick the winner.

Keep an eye on the InsideJapan Tours Facebook page or follow @insidejapan on Twitter to keep an eye on what is going on.
Please have a look at the details here – http://www.insidejapantours.com/blog-to-japan

Have a look at Travelllll.com  or perhaps take a look at Vimeo for a few ideas. Don’t expect anything quite as good as this, but I love this Japan video and wanted an excuse to add it to the blog.





Family festival fun and remembering the tsunami

This is the final instalment from Uday and the Kanitkar family who travelled to the Tohoku region for the ‘Big Three’ festivals in August this year. By the way, we haven’t mentioned that before the family had headed north for the large dose of festival action, they had already been in the cultural capital of  Kyoto for the massive Gion festival. These guys wanted festivals and they got festivals and much more.

For anyone wanting to experience Japanese culture at its best, amazing Japanese hospitality and something you won’t find anywhere else in the world, then this is the way to do it. Having partied at the Kanto festival in Akita, enjoyed the fun and hospitality of the Neputa festival in Hirosaki, they headed to Aomori for the huge Nebuta festival and then on to Sendai for Tanabata. Along with the festivals, they also discovered some of the harsh realities of the Tohoku tsunami which hit the region in March 2011.

The Nebuta festival in Aomori was massive! Words will not do it justice, so it is better described in pictures.

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Having had another fantastic time in Aomori, we headed to Sendai for the most famous Tanabata festival in Japan. There were lanterns everywhere beginning at the Railway Station and just a ten minutes walk away was a covered arcade where at least a thousand colourful lanterns were hanging off the ceiling creating a very festive atmosphere.

People were out shopping and partying dressed in all kinds of colourful clothing. Food stalls were everywhere and we wondered around not finding any trace of the disaster that I had seen on the news four months ago.We had lunch at the Date-no-gutan restaurant at the mall above the train station in Sendai which offers the local delicacy, Beef Tongue, in different recipes. After we took our first bite all the reluctance and hesitation was gone -We were quite happy to have tried something new and tasty.

We checked in at the Tenryu-Kaku Ryokan for yet another delightful experience in Japanese style living and amazing variety of food. The room was well appointed, spacious and offered some beautiful views of the river below and amazing views of the sunset.



On our second day we decided to do a day trip to the Matsushima Bay Area and I am glad we did. As soon as we got out of the train station on our way to the ferry terminal at Shiogama evidence of Tsunami damage was all around. Heaps of cars and debris was noticeable, boats washed inland lay where the tsunami had carried them.

Matsushima bay offered some very picturesque views from the ferry as we lazed through all the little island outcrops with scenic vegetation while snacks, sake and beer kept flowing. By the time we got to Matsushima I stood on the jetty feeling nice and tipsy for a few minutes trying to figure out the controls on my camera.


We walked down Matsushima Kaigan Street enjoying all the delicious sea food at the stalls along the road.  GodaidoTemple and ZuiganjiTemple are very beautiful places to visit with a relaxing atmosphere and beautiful landscape.


After taking in enough of pretty Matsushima, we walked up to the Tourist Information office to see what else we could do. We asked the very friendly and helpful lady there if we could visit the Tsunami hit areas. For 6000 yen, she arranged a taxi to take us there, show us around and bring us back in abut 90 minutes. We had not really witnessed any of the huge tsunami damage that had filled our TV screens in the west until now.

We got into the taxi and half an hour later we were in Okumatsushima smack in the middle of the disaster zone. The taxi driver took us to what was his little township of 90 houses along the beach and listened in horror as he narrated how he managed to grab his two children, wife and run up the hill behind their house, seconds before the Tsunami washed away all 90 houses, some as far as half a kilometre away inland from where they stood.

Clearing crews were busy trucking away debris. Only the foundations of houses remained in place with Asian style toilets open to the sky. Large trees lay snapped like twigs, Steel poles lay bent like match sticks, the clock at the train station had stopped at 3.48pm when the Tsunami struck, ghostly houses damaged and empty with owners dead stood along the roads. Schools, Hospitals, factories lay wrecked and deserted.

We stood there contemplating a twenty foot tall wave of water many miles long and many miles deep approaching us at 300 km/hr. I still shiver with the thought of its savage force and my heart goes out to the thousands of victims who are still struggling in Tsunami Shelters trying to bring some sense back into their lives having lost everything and loved ones in a blink of an eye. With a stoical approach they go about their business rebuilding whole towns.

Despite the huge devastation and size of this disaster, the people that we have met up and down the Tohoku region have shown little sign of misery and despair. In fact these wonderful people have been more generous and kinder than we could have ever imagined and shown us an amazing region in a very special country. Arigato!

Having spoken with Uday since his trip, it certainly sounds as though this trip was one which will live in their memories for ever and for all the right reasons. Uday’s blog pieces have focused on the family’s time in Tohoku, but they visited many other stunning places in Japan. It is obvious though that it was their experiences in this rural region, the positivity from the festivals and the warmth of the people that they met that will have a lasting impression on their lives.

More family festival fun

An earlier post featured Uday and his family who travelled to the Tohoku region in summer to witness some of the biggest festivals in Japan. After supplying some great photos from their time at the Kanto festival in Akita, Uday has followed it up with a look at the Neputa festival  in Hirosaki – not to be confused with the Nebuta festival in Aomori….which they also went to!
Here is what he had to say;

After having a great time in Akita enjoying the Kanto Matsuri and a day trip to the Samurai town of Kakunodate and Lake Tazawako a little further up we left for Hirosaki further up north to witness the Neputa Festival – a scaled down version of the bigger Nebuta festival featuring large paper figurines on giant floats.

Hirosaki is a nice little town worth visiting for a couple days. The town is known for its Castle and Park where we spent a few hours just taking in the beautiful garden and what remains of the historically important castle – Although much was destroyed by fire, One of the two castle gates is still well preserved and worth visiting. Just a short walk away from the castle is the Fujita Kimen Tei-en house and garden which is well worth a visit for its well kept garden and traditional Japanese style home interiors.

The Neputa Matsuri floats were being prepared for the parade as we walked back to our hotel.

Later that evening all we had to do is step out of the hotel and stand by road side to watch the parade in full procession right in front of the hotel. The parade begins with giant size Taiko drums, followed with wooden floats of different shapes and sizes.

People of all ages participate dressed in all kinds of costumes. There was even an Elvis with one of the floats.

While we stood there, as (what has now become) usual, Japanese hospitality had to surface and extra chairs popped out for us to sit on. There we met Yoko who was very friendly, spoke English well and went to great lengths of explaining the meaning of some of the colorful characters on the wooden floats.

The hospitality had to extend into dinner at a noodle place right after the festival was over with Yoko and her friends and once again we returned to our hotel quite amazed at the free flow of hospitality and friendliness as in other parts of Japan.

After another day of festival fun, the next day we were booked to go to Aomori to see the much bigger Nebuta Matsuri…

I continue to be jealous of Uday and his family adventures of some of great festivals of Japan, but we hope that there will be another installment featuring the aforementioned Nebuta festival and the Tanabatta festival in Sendai to come soon. It is great to read about their adventures in rural Tohoku and hear about the random acts of kindness that fortunately happen all over Japan, making it the best country in the world to visit. I can’t think of many other places in the world that you would be taken out for a meal by a  stranger and more to the point,  where they expect nothing from it apart from your enjoyment of their country. I am very happy to hear that Uday and his family were able to experience it…..aaaaah…..Japan…what a great place!

Festival fun and matsuri madness for the family!

I often get jealous of the things that our customers do. We arrange for people to have drinks with a Geisha, spend a day with a master sword smith, hike with wild bear in the alps, dive with Manta Ray in the tropics and snow board perfect powder in the north to name a few things. During the summer, Uday Kanitkar and his family travelled to Japan taking in Tokyo and Kyoto as well as travelling through the Japan Alps, but the highlight (for me!) was when they travelled to the Tohoku region for the ‘Big Three’ festivals as well as some extras.
With the region suffering earlier this year because of the great tsunami, the Kanto festival in Akita, the Nebuta festival in Aomori and the Tanabatta festival in Sendai promised to be bigger than ever. These are huge festivals and Uday and is family have been kind enough to share a few photos from the Kanto festival and have written something for our blog.
Here is what they had to say….

We returned from what some may call “A trip of a Lifetime” to Japan starting 15 July 2011 and ending four weeks later when we flew out on 13 August  leaving behind a dreamland and clinging on to a treasure of memories, souvenirs, photographs and videos of our experiences in Japan.
A self guided travel plan was put together by InsideJapan Tours for our little group of three, my wife, 15 year old daughter and me, which included a long list of things to do and places to visit starting with Kyoto and taking us through Nara, Osaka, Mount Koya, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kanazawa, Shirakawago, Takayama, Tokyo, Akita, Kakunodate, Tazawako, Hirosaki, Aomori, Sendai, Matsushima, Odawara, Hakone, Kamakura and ending with a second stay in Tokyo.
There is just so much to share that I could write a book about our experiences, which I do not intend to undertake. Instead I shall try to limit to some of our experiences that really stand out as unique to Japan. Japan had been on my list of must visit destinations for many years now and so we choose to go while the country is still struggling to regain its health after being devastated by the triple disaster. We began with a two week visit to the central and southern parts of Honshu Island and later extended it to include all of the northern part which is Tohoku. Looking back, I am now convinced that our trip would have been very incomplete without visiting Tohoku mainly because we got to witness the major festivals of Tohoku during our visit starting with the Kanto Matsuri (festival) in Akita, Neputa Matsuri in Hirosaki, Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori and the Tanabata Festival in Sendai.
The following pictures have their own story to tell….

Me and my wife Bubbles posing with a Kanto (Lantern Mast)

The whole street is lined with Kanto Masts on both sides as far as you can see

The Masts are carried on shoulders, hips, forehead and hands in single or formations of two three or four Masts in tandem which is quite a thrilling sight to watch.

Extensions are added to the poles as they are lifted higher and higher until it the bamboo poles can take no more

Looks pretty frightening as the bamboos bend precariously to the limit. Yes and sometimes the poles break and come crashing down. No damage is done because they are made of paper and bamboo.

I tried lifting one with little success because they probably weigh between 30 and 40 kilograms. One fell straight on me leaving a few drops of wax from the candles lights inside which I still preserve on my video camera.

Just in case you are wondering what is inside the lanterns take a peak like I did. Real lighted wax candle inside.

The whole town gathers to watch the festival like this Sumo Wrestler who happened to be in our neighborhood.
We met some amazingly friendly people in Akita during the festival and as everywhere else in Japan we became friends instantaneously and had a wonderful party with our Akita friends.

My daughter Kavita was gifted a picture of a current teen Idol by the little girls in less than 15 minutes of having met these wonderful people

The evening had to end in Dinner, Japanese style at a local restaurant.

The Kanto matsuri sounds amazing – Very jealous! It is nice to see that they had a great time in Akita…..and what about the rest of Japan?! I think that this is a pretty good guide as to how much the Kanitkar family enjoyed their time in Japan along with the cultural experiences and the the people that they met. It certainly sounds as though you had your fair share of cultural experiences and the summer festival season. Thank you for sharing this with us. Now I look forward to reading about the rest of the trip….only joking of course.



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