Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to forget

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two symbolic cities of Japan that remind us of the greatest mistake humanity has ever made.

The sad legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Located west of Honshū and facing the sea, Hiroshima (広島市) is the largest port city in Chugoku.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: viaggi-lowcost.info

Hiroshima

Founded by the daimyo Mōri Terumoto in 1589, Hiroshima passed into the hands of various administrations. In 1938 it became a military centre of strategic and military importance throughout the Second World War. No bombing struck the city until that tragic August 6, 1945, at 08:16:08. "Little Boy", the first atomic bomb ever used in a conflict, was launched by the United States over the city causing thousands of victims instantly. However, these increased in the months following the causes of radioactive fallout. Despite the radioactivity, the city was rebuilt in 1949 regaining its industrial importance.
The damage caused by the atomic bomb persisted in the following years and in 1955 the Hijiyama medical centre was established, where to welcome, study and treat the sick. In the early 70's the "Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission" was born to control the land and the air.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: focus.it

Although the city was razed to the ground on that tragic day, only one building resisted bringing with it the sad signs of what happened. We are talking about the Genbaku Dome (原爆ドーム, the dome of the atomic bomb). However, before the war, the palace was the seat of the ancient chamber of commerce, today it is classified world heritage by UNESCO as a testimony to the devastation of nuclear weapons.

photo credits: agrpress.it

Visit Hiroshima

What history has left us must be a warning to the future and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a living example. In this regard, if you plan to visit Hiroshima, one of the milestones is the Peace Park. It includes the Peace Museum and the Cenotaph of the memorial for the victims of the atomic bomb. The latter, built by the architect Kenzo Tange, lists the victims of the bomb whose epitaph reads: "May souls rest here in peace so that hell is not repeated". We cannot then forget the dome of the bomb.
For any information regarding the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum you can visit the official website in English.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: visithiroshima.net

In the city, we can find other interesting museums, such as the Hiroshima Museum of Art. Here the museum displays a vast collection of modern European art, from romanticism to impressionism. Moreover, the Hiroshima MOCA (museum of contemporary art) exhibits the works of Japanese and foreign artists after the Second World War.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: maitreyoda

The Shukkei-en garden and Hiroshima Castle

The Shukkei-en garden was built in 1620 during Shigeyasu Ueda on the orders of Asano Nagaakira, daimyo of Hiroshima han (fief). Used as a residence of the Asano family in 1940, and then given to the prefecture of Hiroshima. Located very close to the zero point of the nuclear attack, the Shukkei-en suffered extensive damage and later became a refuge for war victims. After renovations, it reopened to the public in 1951.

photo credits: thetruejapan.com

A Castle is closely connected to this wonderful garden, it's the (広島城) Hiroshima-jō also called (鯉城) Rijō literally Carp-Castle. In fact, the exterior, completely painted in black, would refer to the image of a black carp. Built in 1590, it became the residence of the lord of the feud, Mori Terumoto. Destroyed by atomic bombing, it was faithfully rebuilt in 1958.
It is currently the home of the Hiroshima history and culture museum surrounded by a public park. From the top of the castle, you can enjoy a splendid view of the port of Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: fr.japantravel.com

To discover all the attractions and wonderful temples that rise in Hiroshima, you can visit the official site of the city (in English).

Nagasaki

Like Hiroshima, Nagasaki (長崎市) is today an important international trading and port centre.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: getyourguide.it

This modern town with a thriving maritime economy developed in the 11th century, expanding rapidly. In 1568 the daimyo Ōmura Sumitada converted to Christianity and made Nagasaki an international port, thus opening it to the influence of Europe. However, when the army chief Toyotomi Hideyoshi came to power, the city turned into a nightmare for Christians. In fact, on February 5, 1597, 26 people who professed the Christian religion were crucified. Christianity was banned and the kakure kirishitan (隠れキリシタン), Christians who professed their faith in great secrecy and clandestinity, spread. It was only with the Meiji Restoration in the mid-800s that religious freedom made Nagasaki the centre of Japanese Catholicism. The city became even stronger from the industrial point of view.

However, this also marked the condemnation of Nagasaki. On 9 August 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the now-famous "Operation Manhattan" by the USA was implemented. "Fat Man", the second atomic bomb, fell on the city.
Being purely an industrial zone and being the bomb less powerful than that of Hiroshima, the victims of the attack were significantly lower. In 1949 Nagasaki was quickly rebuilt and all its economic prestige recovered.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: bbc.com

Nagasaki's wounds

The symbol of the history of Christianity in Japan is the Twenty Six Martyrs Museum which commemorates the 26 martyrs killed in 1597.

photo credits: tropki.com, tripadvisor.it

Of course, as in Hiroshima, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is also a milestone in this journey. A memorial showing the city before and after the bombardment with the aim of pushing people to reflect on what truly means peace and denuclearization. Moreover, exactly in the place where the bomb broke out, stands the Peace Park.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: welcomekyushu.com, wantabi.info

At 20 km from the port, there is Gunkanjima (Hashima Island, the armoured island), the smallest most populated island in the world, or so it was until the 70s. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, the island took on the appearance of a massive battleship. Later, it was completely abandoned, becoming an example of industrial archaeology that attracts ruins enthusiasts!

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: japan-guide.com

Visit Nagasaki

If you are a fan of breathtaking city views, a must is the summit of Mount Inasa (稲佐山, Inasayama) which, with its 333 meters, is located near the centre of Nagasaki. Besides the car and the bus, you can use the cable car to fully appreciate the beauty of the surrounding nature!

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: travel.gaijinpot.com

Naturally, Japan has accustomed us to splendid corners of paradise-like gardens. In fact, in Nagasaki we find the Glover Garden. Located on the hill where Western merchants settled since 1850, it is a real museum where you can visit the buildings of the time.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: japanmeetings.org

Among the many temples, there is something that is not easy to find in Japan. We are talking about the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan (日本二十六聖殉教者堂) or Ōura Church (大浦天主堂 Ōura Tenshudō). It is a Catholic church dating back to the Edo period. For many years it was the only Western-style building inscribed in Japan's National Treasury and is considered the oldest church in Japan.

Hiroshima Nagasaki

photo credits: yitubao.com

Behind the sad story that unites these two cities, there is the great strength of a Nation that has always known how to rise back up. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are historical testimonies that we wanted to remind you of and that too often are considered as distant realities, but which instead must make us reflect deeply, not to forget what happened.


Luxury Ryokans in Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka

Finding the ideal hotel is not at all difficult in Japan, especially if you want to stay in a Ryokan! Modernity will always give you unforgettable experiences, but you can also immerse yourself in the rhythm of the countryside.
Tokyo is an amazing city, always on the move and full of wonders to explore. However, if you want to regenerate your soul for a few days around the big metropolis, then the ryokan are what you are looking for!

photo credits: gorahanaougi.com

When time stops

The ryokan (旅館) is nothing more than a hotel with very few rooms whose style has remained unchanged since the Edo era. From the well-kept aesthetics, in these traditional hotels there is always a garden visible from any point of the washitsu (和室). In this typical essential Japanese room we find the tokonoma (床の間). It’s a small closed and raised window in which we find Japanese parchments, called emakimono, ikebana and bonsai. Here, the floor is strictly composed of tatami (畳), above which lies the futon (布団, literally "rolled mattress"). The only traces of modernity are given by the presence of air conditioning, television and telephone.
Guests of the ryokans are entrusted to the care of an old maid. The latter welcomes visitors by serving them welcome tea, collects orders and accompanies them to the Osen (thermal bath) or Ofuro (bathing in hinoki wooden tubs).

ryokan

photo credits: gorakadan.com

The Ryokans are scattered a little throughout Japan, especially in the inland areas. However, today we will limit ourselves to those that can be reached more easily, located between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka!

Ryokan of the Hakone region

The Hakone region is located along Tokaido, the historic streets of the Edo period and is perfect if you want to move comfortably between Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Moreover, if like me you are madly in love with Mount Fuji, the ryokans that I am about to present offer a breathtaking view!

photo credits: yado-resort.com

The first ryokan is the GORA HANAOUGI in the most famous area of Hakone and surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape.

Address: 1300-681 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigara-shimogun, Kanagawa 〒250-0408
Phone: + 81-460-87-7715
Website: https://gorahanaougi.com/

photo credits: kiwicollection.com

The second ryokan is the GORA KADAN which stands on the grounds of Villa Kan’in-no-miya, the former summer villa of a member of the imperial family in the city of Gora in Hakone.
Address: 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa, 〒250-0408
Phone: +81-460-82-3331
Website: https://www.gorakadan.com/

ryokan

photo credits: ryokancollection.com

Finally the splendid YAMA-NO-CHAYA that rises in a bamboo grove through a suspension bridge.
Address: Tounosawa, Hakonemachi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa, 〒250-0315
Phone: +81-460-85-5493
Website: https://luxury-ryokan.com/

The Ryokan of the Izu Peninsula

The Izu Peninsula is located south of the Hakone region and Mount Fuji. Being less known than the Hakone region, it is a slightly less touristy destination, but one that will not disappoint you!

photo credits: ryokancollection.com

For this area I selected the YAGYU NO SHO, a ryokan where traditional cuisine, baths, hospitality and Japanese architecture blend together.
Address:1116-6 Shuzenji, Izu, Shizuoka 410-2416
Phone: +81-558-72-4126
Website: https://www.yagyu-no-sho.com

Ryokan between the Sea of Japan and the Alps

In the Chubu region, between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps there are two areas of extraordinary beauty. We are talking about Hokuriku and Hida, about 3/4 hours away from Tokyo with the Shinkansen. Are you ready to immerse yourself in the generosity of nature?

ryokan

photo credits: japanish.tours

BENIYA MUKAYU is a place where everything that you have always considered useless, will acquire great value. A place where your mind will finally be stripped and you will find the peace you have been looking for so long.
Address: 55-1-3 Yamashiro Onsen, Kaga, Ishikawa, 922-0242
Phone:+81-(0)761-77-1340
Website: http://mukayu.com

photo credits: jetsetter.com

WANOSATO absolutely deserves our attention. Located in the heart of Gifu prefecture, near Hida-Takayama, it offers the opportunity to live a unique experience, immersed in nature, in tradition and tranquility.
Address: 1682 Ichinomiyamachi, Takayama, Gifu 509-3505,
Phone: +81 577-53-2321
Website: http://www.wanosato.com

Don’t you feel that strong desire to run away from everyday life and take refuge in one of these magnificent traditional hotels? I do. I would leave in this very moment and let myself be pampered by the scents and sounds of my beloved Japan.

photo credits: Masa Angenieux


Tanabata, the legend and modern times

Tanabata: on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month we celebrate one of the five gosekku (五節), the most important festivals of the year. This is also one of my favorite parties because it is extremely romantic.

Tanabata

The Seventh Night

The legend tells of Princess Orihime (the star Vega), devoted daughter of Tentei (the King of the sky) who spent her day weaving on the shores of the celestial river Amanogawa (the Milky Way). However, her heart was sad because she had not yet known love. Then Tentei introduced her to Hikoboshi (the Altair star), a young herder of the heavenly planes who lived across the river. The love between the two exploded immediately, but the passion distracted them from their duties by unleashing the wrath of Tentei.

He divided them by returning his daughter to the opposite bank of the river. Orihime, destroyed by pain, wept a thousand tears. Tentei, struck by his daughter's great love, allowed the two lovers to meet on the seventh night of the seventh month only if they worked diligently throughout the year. The sky, in this special night, must be clear, otherwise crossing the silvery river would be impossible. In fact, if it rained it would swell and the vigor of its waters would prevent the flock of magpies from creating a bridge with their wings to allow the two lovers to hug again.

Tanabata Tanabata

photo credits: Daisuke, せんと

From Shichiseki to Tanabata and the customs of the festival

Tanabata was not the original name of this holiday. In ancient times it was known as Shichiseki, deriving from the reading of the Chinese kanji, from which it originates. In fact, the festival was imported from China by Empress Koken in the Kyoko Imperial Palace in the Heian period. It then spread throughout Japan in the Edo Period and has since become one of the most popular festivals.

Tanabata tanzaku

photo credits: Mark, tototti 

The decorations of the Tanabata

Between July 6 and August 8, according to the region, the streets are filled with zen-washi (paper lanterns) and people wear yukata (浴衣). The latter is a very informal kimono with wide sleeves and flat seams, made of cotton, without lining and therefore suitable for the summer. But the tanzaku (短冊) are the real protagonists of this enchanted night. Strips of colored paper that symbolize the silk threads woven by Orihime and on which prayers or wishes are written. Later these are tied to bamboo branches, considered the main symbol of the Tanabata. In this way, the wind, blowing through the leaves, brings with it the desires and realizes them!

Tanabata Tanabata

photo credits: savvytokyo.com, Hiroshi

As many auspicious decorations appear in the parades during the matsuri. There are Kamigorono (special paper kimonos) that protect against illness and accidents. We can also find toami, fishing nets whose exposure would bring good luck in fishing and in crops. Not to mention the fukinagashi, colored stripes like the fabric that Orihime wove. We then continue with the beautiful orizuru (origami) especially in the shape of a crane, bringing health, protection and long life to families. The kinchaku, small bags that bring good business and wealth. We also have the famous kusudama, oval-shaped ornaments composed of a series of origami sewn and glued together. Then we come to the kuzukagos, garbage bags that symbolize "cleanliness" (understood as purity) and prosperity.

photo credits: savvytokyo.com, Naomi Nakagawa

To each region its date

As we said, the date of the Tanabata varies according to the region. In the Kanto region, The Tanabata of Hiratsuka, in Kanagawa prefecture, takes place between 4 and 6 July. In the region of Chūbu in Ichinomiya, in the Aichi prefecture, it is celebrated between 24 and 27 July. finally, in the region of Tōhoku, in Sendai, in the prefecture of Miyagi, it takes place between 6 and 8 August.

Tanabata tanzaku

photo credits: japancheapo.comEriTes Photo

Even if love is a feeling that always deserves to prevail, during this time of the year the idea of ​​raising one's eyes to the sky and desiring with all one's heart something with the hope that it will come true, is always exciting. Each Tanzaku is special and it is wonderful to read people's dreams and wish them to be heard. This, in fact, is one of the many moments of altruism that can only be shared in Japan.

And you? What dream do you keep in your heart? Whatever it is, find the way to come true! And if you are around Milan, we recommend you to come and celebrate the Tanabata from TENOHA Milan. Ready to hang your tanzaku? We have already done it!

Tanabata

photo credits: timeout.com


Focus on: Japanese street food

If you love Japan you surely love its culture for food and in particular Japanese street food.

yatai

photo credit: jackwilson

Perfumes, colors and flavors mix on the streets of Japan. Whether it's special events or an ordinary day, the traditional street food stalls, commonly called Yatai, offer culinary wonders. Sweet or savory, these delicacies are not normally found in restaurants or have a much more intense taste cooked by the street vendor.

All the tasty on-the-go dishes are particularly cheap, but always of the highest quality. The selection that the Yatai offer often varies between the seasons and also between the regions of Japan. Despite this, the list of delicacies is so vast that I prefer not to dwell on talk: let's start this special sensory journey immediately!

Some of the most famous street food

street food

photo credits: jmettraux

Okonomiyaki

Especially widespread in Osaka it is also known as "Pizza of Osaka". The お好み焼き literally okonomi = what you want, yaki = grilled, is the Japanese version of a classic pancake. However this dish is not sweet but based on cabbage flakes, flour and eggs, with the addition of ingredients like meat and fish. Everything is cooked on a hot plate. There are variations in Hiroshima and Tokyo, but this sort of "omelette" has become famous also thanks to the anime "Ai shite Naito" (愛してナイト), known by us as "Kiss Me Licia". Do you remember Yaeko's father (Licia), Shige-San (for us Marrabbio)? In fact, he was the owner of the okonomiyaki-ya, the typical okonomiyaki restaurant!

street food

photo credits: favy-jp.com 

Wataame

Imagine being able to eat a soft cloud and you will have Wataame or Watagashi (綿あめ), the sweet Japanese cotton candy. This simple delicacy loved above all by children can be found everywhere. In fact we find them at the Yatai, where you can see their realization, or buy it ready-made and packaged in colorful packages and often decorated with manga characters.

photo credits: jpninfo.com 

Yaki Imo

Yakiimo or Ishi Yaki Imo (焼き芋/石焼き芋) is a small authentic autumnal treasure of the Japanese tradition. Made with satsuma-imo, a Japanese sweet potato with a caramel flavor, it cooks in a wood-fired oven and is served wrapped in brown paper. It is easy to identify the yatai that offers this specialty. In fact, if you prick up your ears, you can hear songs that spread through the streets to attract customers!
Long ago, yaki imo ya san (焼き芋屋さん, as they are called roast potato vendors) crossed the city streets with carts. However, today it is easier to see them moving on small trucks.

japanese street food

photo credits: littlejapanmama.com

Crepes

The crepes, originating from France, soon spread also in the Rising Sun. in fact, towards the end of the 1970s, they became the sweet snack on the go, especially in the Harajuku district. The classic batter is cooked on the hot plate and filled with nama kurimu (delicately sweet whipped cream), chocolate, ice cream and fruit, variegated with various syrups, folded into the typical cone shape and served wrapped in paper for easy consumption.

photo credits: nonilo.com

Imagawayaki

Imagawayaki (今川焼き) is a dessert that is often found for sale at festival stalls. Based on the region its name varies in Ooban yaki (大判焼き) or Kaiten Yaki (転焼き). However, "wagashi" (和菓子) is the original name of this dessert that spread during the Edo period. The batter, made from flour, eggs and water, is poured into a special plate and filled with red beans (azuki). Over time, many variations have become widespread that provide a wide variety of fillings. In fact we can find vanilla cream, cream and fruit jams, curry, meat, vegetables and potatoes.

street food

photo credits: italianfoodacademy.com 

Nikuman

These irresistible round rolls stuffed with meat (niku) usually pork (buta) and steamed, are an institution in Yokohama! Their name however varies from Nikuman (肉まん) in the Kanto region to Butaman (豚まん) in the Kansai region. Savored alone or accompanied by soy sauce, they are a perfect snack, a must try!

photo credits: jetsettingfools.com

Ikayaki

Ikayaki (いか焼き, イカ焼き or 烏賊焼, baked or grilled squid) is one of the Japanese's favorite street snacks! They are usually accompanied with soy sauce, teriyaki or a traditional sauce that typically includes rice wine, miso paste, ginger and soy sauce. What makes these squids tender and plump is their quick preparation and are served immediately off the grill.
Finding ikayaki is quite simple: local markets, shrines and festivals always offer this delicacy!

japanese street food

photo credits: zojirushi.com

Yaki Tomorokoshi

In Japan, Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きうもろこし) is one of the seasonal street food that can be found at fairs and during festivals. It consists of a grilled panicle, covered with a mixture of sweet soy sauce and spicy pepper.

photo credits: favy-jp.com

Choco Banana

An extremely simple yet unique dessert: choco bananas are a must for Japanese festivals! Delicious frozen bananas covered with any kind of chocolate and decorated with sugar or hazelnut grains. Serve on a stick, the choco bananas can make us westerners smile thanks to their equivocal shape, but once you taste them you won't be able to do without them!

photo credits: matcha-jp.com

Taiyaki

The paradisiacal scent of Taiyaki (たい焼き) is unique and it is impossible to resist it! Their shape is typical "a pesce" ("tai", stuffed with cream of red beans or cream, but also many seasonal variations such as sweet potatoes and chestnuts!

street food

photo credits: Hayley Casarotto

Takoyaki

Takoyaki (たこ焼き fried or grilled octopus) are fried balls of batter filled with octopus, green onions, ginger and pieces of tempura. They are then seasoned with an Otafuku sauce, minced aonori seaweed, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (dried and smoked striated tuna flakes). It is a specialty of Osaka cuisine, but the sellers of these delights can be found in almost every country.

street food

photo credits: hubjapan.io

Yakisoba

Yakisoba (焼きそば, sautéed spaghetti) are one of the quintessential comfort-foods of Japanese cuisine and one of the best-selling snacks from stalls during festivals! The dish consists of stir-fried noodles with pieces of pork. Accompanied by various vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and onions and seasoned with a special sauce that gives them the typical spicy flavor. On the street you can even find them served in a hot-dog style inside a sandwich and seasoned with mayonnaise and pickled ginger!

street food

photo credits: pellgen (@1179_jp)

Ayu No Shioyaki

The Ayu no Shioyaki (鮎の塩焼き) are pieces of typical Japanese fish grilled and seasoned only with salt. These are then impaled on the skewer and represent a summer must that recalls the peace and energy of the rivers.

photo credits: e-sumida.gr.jp

Kare Pan

Kare pan (カレーパン) is an unusual and tasty snack consisting of Japanese curry wrapped in a slightly sweet, breaded and fried dough. The curry used is very different from what we know here in the West. In fact, it is dark in color and has a more delicate flavor that is well suited to this particular recipe.

street food

photo credits: e-sumida.gr.jp

Senbei

A charcoal grill, rice flour, water and a myriad of flavors are the foundations of Senbei (せんべい). Also known as Japanese rice crackers, nobody can resist. Sweet or savory, the crunchy senbei are of various shapes and sizes and for 300 yen. A must try snack!

photo credits: M's photography

Dango

Outside the Shintoist temples, the dango vendors (団子) peep! These firm, round glutinous rice flour and water dumplings are typically served on a skewer and there are different types. An-Dango are the most popular in Japan based on sweetened anko. Instead, Bocchan Dango are the most famous and aesthetic. In fact, we are used to seeing them almost everywhere online and in Anime. They are available in 3 colors: the first is colored by red beans (red), the second by eggs (Yellow), and the third by green tea (green).
The Chichi dango instead are slightly sweet, while the Goma dango have sesame seeds and can be either savory or sweet. Then we pass to the Kinako dango based on toasted soy flour and to the Mitarashi dango covered with a glaze of sweet soy sauce.

street food

photo credits: Justin C.

Kakigōri

It would be a heresy to define kakigōri (き氷) as a granita: it is something more special, with a soft consistency like snow! The chopped ice is flavored with a fruity syrup (strawberry, cherry, lemon, green tea, grapes, melon, sweet plum) and sweetened with condensed milk. There is an original version of Kagoshima, the shirokuma (白熊, literally "polar bear"), flavored with condensed milk, small colored mochi, fruit (mandarin, cherry, pineapple and raisins) and sweet bean paste (azuki).

street food

photo credits: yutaka.london

Candy Fruits

Candied fruit is among the most widespread on the roads of the Rising Sun. Ichigo Ame (candied strawberries), Mikan Ame (candied Japanese mandarin), Ringo Ame (candied apples) and Anzu Ame (candied apricots) are irresistible. If you are a sweet lover you cannot miss it. Juicy fruits dipped in caramelized syrup and skewered by a skewer to be eaten on-the-go while your eyes are filled with the wonders of Japan!

These street foods are only a hint of all that Japan can offer. However, if you get hungry while you are walking down the street because a good smell has tempted you, then do not hesitate! Run to taste these specialties and let us know what you think!


Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

Every festival in Japan is overly attractive, especially the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri. Traditions so different and distant from ours that they deserve to be lived at least once. Colors, vivacity, and spirituality are mixed in a vortex of emotions that only the Rising Sun is able to offer.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: matcha-jp.com, gaijinpot.com

The intangible cultural heritage of sacred origins

For more than 700 years, Hakata Gion Yamakasa has been celebrated in the Hakata (Fukuoka) district from 1 to 15 July. Designated as "intangible cultural heritage" by the Cultural Affairs Agency, this festival has its origins in the 13th century when a plague epidemic struck the city. The population turned to the Buddhist monk Shoichi Kokusgu to pray for the plague to end. The monk was let up on a platform and was transported throughout the city by sprinkling the streets with sacred water. At the end of the tour, the platform was thrown away and the plague disappeared completely.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: Pascal, otsukarekun

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri: The unmissable demonstration of strength

In the period in which the festival takes place, the frenzy pervades the streets of Hakata discrict. In fact, more than one million people are preparing to attend the celebrations consisting of a chariot race!

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: japanbullet.com, goodlucktripjapan.com

The participants, who in this case are exclusively men, are organized in 7 Nagare (teams): Daikoku, Higashi, Nakasu, Nishi, Chiyo, Ebisu and Doi. On 1 and 2 July, each district carries its own richly decorated cart, the Kazariyama, which remains on display for a week. Thus the Oshioitori is celebrated, that is the purification of the members of the 7 Nagare. After the prayer, these teams then move from the Kushida temple and go to Hakozakihama beach. Here they take sand to applaud the setting sun. Each of them wears a Mizuhappi (a short jacket), a Shimekomi (the loincloth) and a Tenugui (a band on the head that changes color according to the role played).

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: shin7d

Training for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

Consisting of a race with wagons in which the winner will be those who have traveled 5 km in the shortest possible time, the participants must be ready for the grand finale. It begins with the Nagaregaki, the moment in which each team raises its wagon for the first time along the streets of its own district.

The next day is the time of the Asayama and the Tanagaregaki: the elderly receive the respect of the youngest and are able to sit on the Kazariyama transported in the opponents' neighborhoods.
The next day it is still the turn of the Oiyama-Narashi which starts precisely at 3.59 pm. This is a sort of general rehearsal in which the race is timed, thus increasing the tension and the spirit of competition that now begins to meander through the Nagare.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: shin7d, tak_orange

The last 3 days are the most challenging. During Shudan Yamamise the Kazariyama crosses the Naka river entering Fukuoka. During this event, the mayor and city personalities take a 1.2 km ride on the wagon. The penultimate day is that of Nagaregaki, the last training. Finally, on July 15th at 4.59 am Kushida-iri begins. The first wagon fires fast, followed by the second after 6 minutes and all the others every 5 minutes. The 5 km run will decide the winning team.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: tak_orange

Reach Hakata

The festival takes place in the Hakata district of Fukuoka. Kushida Shrine is a five-minute walk from Canal City Hakata or Gion Subway Station. Alternatively, you can reach Hakata station within a 15-20 minute walk. It is convenient to walk 10 minutes from JR Hakata station to the Kushida Shrine. Or you can get there with the Kûkô-sen subway line, get off at "Nakasu Kawabata" station and walk for 5 minutes.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: japancheapo.com, otsukarekun


Japan Folklore: Oni

Oni, yōkai in Japanese folklore

From a benevolent creature to an evil one. This is the slow transformation of the Oni (鬼), the Japanese mythological creatures that we Westerners call "demons", "trolls" or "orcs".

Oni

photo credits: tateandyoko.com

Before the Heian era, the Oni were good spirits able to ward off evil. However, during this era, they were relegated to the role of guardians of hell or torturers of damned souls. An example of this is the aka-oni (red demon) and the ao-oni (blue demon) described in the Buddhist tradition, which take on a negative connotation and become spirits to be kept away. In fact, they are considered as carriers of misfortune or agents of natural disasters.

Their appearance is certainly not reassuring. In fact, they are said to have animalistic and monstrous features, sometimes with many eyes and colored skin (red, blue, black, pink or green). They can also be clawed, wear tiger skin and carry kanabō (金棒, literally: "metal stick", a spiked war bat used in feudal Japan by the Samurai).

Oni

photo credits: forhonor.ubisoft.com

Demon Get out! Luck get inside!

In the Nara era, to avert the disasters that these spirits could provoke, people used to practice oniyarai (追儺), a ritual aimed at driving out the demon.

On the last day of each year, a person used to dress in the demon's clothes and was chased away with peach bows and reeds. Over time this custom turned into the Setsubun celebrations, in which people throw soybeans out of the house saying: "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! "(Oni out! Luck inside!).

Despite being considered evil spirits, in tradition, there are still traces of their benevolent nature. We find these during the parades when some men wear the Oni costume to ward off bad luck. They are also depicted on the tiles of some buildings for the same reason.

Oni

photo credits: tripsavvy.com

The many curiosities of modern culture

Today we meet these demons not only in folkloristic stories and nursery rhymes for children but also as protagonists of proverbs! In fact, it is said that "Even in the eyes of the oni tears arise" (鬼の目にも涙) to indicate that even the hardest heart sometimes feels pity. Another proverb is "The wife of an oni becomes an oni divinity" (鬼の女房鬼神がなる) which refers to our "disciple surpasses the master".

Of course, it was unthinkable not to use such a particular figure in animes and mangas! There are endless references to these spirits, and one of the most famous and well-known is Lamù, the main character of Rumiko Takahashi's manga. But it is not the only one. In fact, even in The Blue Seal by Chie Shinohara the Queen of the Oni is the protagonist. There is also Shutendoji by Gō Nagai whose work title refers to the legend of an oni of the same name.

Among the most played and entertaining horror/adventure video games we cannot forget Ao Oni. Here the main antagonist is a blue demon whose anime adaptation was broadcast in Japan between October 2nd, 2016 and January 8th, 2017. The 13 3-minute long episodes were also streamed in Italy under the title Aooni The Blue Monster (あおに〜じ・あにめぇしょん〜). Despite its simplicity, Ao Oni is terrifying thanks to the background music that gives the videogame the right scary atmosphere!

Ao Oni

photo credits: giantbomb.com


Japan Travel: Odaiba

photo credits: gotokyo.org

Odaiba, the artificial island of shopping and entertainment

The first time I saw Odaiba was thanks to the Natsuko Takahashi animated series, "Tokyo Magnitude 8.0" (東京マグニチード). In the anime, the protagonists go to a robot exhibition on the island, beautifully detailed in its reproduction. At that moment I had the idea to insert in our editorial calendar an article about this place so technological and colorful!

Odaiba (お台場) was born under the Tokugawa shogunate at the end of the Edo period in the form of 6 small artificial fortified islands. The purpose of these islands was to protect and contrast possible attacks against Tokyo by the ships of the Commodore Perry fleet.

More than 100 years later, in the early 1980s, the small islands were joined together to create a huge residential and financial district. The project suffered a major slowdown due to the outbreak of the "bubble economy" in 1991, leaving Odaiba almost completely abandoned. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1990s that the large unified artificial island became one of Tokyo's most famous tourist attractions, with populated hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, shops, and the Yurikamome elevated railway line.

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Two sides of the same island: West Odaiba, East Odaiba

West Odaiba is home to large parks and shopping centers. Among the most scenic, we find the Odaiba Seaside Park which extends on the north coast and where a replica of the Statue of Liberty stands right on its beach. The first of the island's largest shopping centers are located here. It’s the Decks Tokyo Beach in which you can visit Madame Tussaud's wax museum. The second shopping center is Acqua City with its two floors dedicated to catering, various shops, a multiplex cinema, a wedding chapel and the Sony Explora Science Technology Museum: a science museum that explores "light", "sound" and " entertainment. "
(For all information on the museum, you can visit the official website, in English: https://www.sonyexplorascience.jp/english/)

photo credits: anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp

Not far from Acqua City is the Fuji TV Building, one of the most bizarre buildings in Japan. From the ultra-futuristic style. This 25-story building was designed by the architect Kenzo Tange and completed in 1997. Headquarters of the Fuji Television Network, making it particularly attractive is the titanium silver sphere on top of it. Thirty-two meters in diameter, inside this element there is a viewing platform open to the public that offers a complete view of Tokyo and Mount Fuji.

photo credits: gaijinpot.com

Further south lies the Diver City Tokyo Plaza, Odaiba's third-largest shopping mall designed to be the "theatrical space of the city". It is an almost mandatory destination for foreign visitors in Tokyo because it offers a wide selection of Japanese themed souvenirs in many of its shops and as many authentic Japanese restaurants.

If you think shopping malls are enough, you're wrong. And with Palette Town that Odaiba wins everything. Much more than a simple aggregation of shops, it is a real mini city. Its towering Ferris wheel, known as Daikanransha (大観覧車) can be seen all over the island thanks to its 115m of height as an undisputed sign of fun and joy. Palette Town offers numerous attractions whose focus is Venus Fort, the realm of shopping. Venus Fort was opened in 1999 and was designed to take on the features of 17th century Europe, complete with an artificial sky painted on the roof that follows the alternation of day and night as if you were really in the open air.

Just below Venus Fort is the Sun Walk, which offers a collection of shops for pet lovers. Here you can not only eat at the Dog Cafe but even rent a dog for an hour to take it for a walk. Palette Town also includes the technological showcase of Toyota Mega Web, the entertaining lounge for leisure time and one of the most popular entertainment venues for live events: the Zepp Tokyo (ゼップ東京).

photo credits: scottshaw.org, shutoko.jp

Odaiba Est is entirely dedicated to exhibitions and sports.

Of great importance is the Tokyo Big Sight (Tokyo International Exhibition Center), one of the main arenas and convention centers of the nation. It is here where the fencing, wrestling and taekwondo events will be hosted during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Opened in 1996, the Tokyo International Exhibition Center stands out thanks to its iconic Conference Tower made up of four inverted pyramids. The entire Tokyo Big Sight complex has numerous restaurants, cafes, a grocery store and a sales corner dedicated to Big Sight goods.

photo credits: mystays.com

Next to it there’s the Panasonic Center, a showroom for new products and new Panasonic technologies. On the first floor is the Atrium Exhibition where sponsorships of events and all the advertising campaigns of the electronics giant take place all over the world. Also on the same level is the Wonder Life-Box where visitors are presented with the new technologies of the future and the company's latest products. The second-floor houses RiSuPia, an interactive museum focused on hidden mathematics in nature and science. Extremely beloved is the Nintendo Game Front where all the latest Nintendo games are present with the chance to try them! Here is also the Cafe E-Feel for a gourmet break thanks to its wide range of coffees, desserts and light meals.

photo credits: expology.com

In this part of the neighborhood, there is also the Tennis – no – Mori Park, a huge center dedicated to the game of tennis with 48 courts. Also present was the Ariake Coliseum stadium, an indoor sports arena in the Ariake Tennis Forest Park which can hold up to 10,000 people.

photo credits: tokyo20ty20ty.com

Reaching Odaiba

Reaching Odaiba from Tokyo is easy! You can opt for the boat thanks to the Tokyo Water Bus or the Tokyo Cruise. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or just hop on the Yurikamome train, the TWR Rinkai Line or the Japan Railways. However, if you love walking, then don't think twice: the Rainbow Bridge is for you! An 800-meter long bridge that is not opened at night and in case of bad weather or festive events.

photo credits: mywowo.net

Do you think this will be enough to visit Odaiba? There are really many inputs. Like all the rest of Japan, every corner takes on an enormous charm that increases from time to time discovering the complex details that have made it.


Japan Tradition: Kanda Matsuri

The festival held on odd-numbered years

photo credits: dydo-matsuri.com

In the middle of May on every odd-numbered year, the Kanda Matsuri (神田祭) takes place in Tokyo’s Kanda. Together with the Sanno Matsuri and the Fukagawa Matsuri, Kanda Matsuri is one of the three most important Shinto festivals being held in Tokyo. It is also one of the three largest festivals of Japan together with Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri and Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri.

The origin of Kanda Matsuri dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled over Edo, now modern day Tokyo. It is for this reason that Kanda Matsuri is also sometimes known as Tenka Matsuri (Tenka meaning shogun).
The celebration of this festival also doubled as a demonstration of prosperity under the new regime.

photo credits: xin beitou, Atsushi Ebara

At the same time, the Sanno Matsuri took place to celebrate the new political center and its rulers. Because of the long and extravagant preparations, competition between the two festivals grew, and eventually, it was decided to celebrate them in alternate years. Under this new rule, Kanda Matsuri was to be celebrated in the middle of May on odd numbered years , while the Sanno Matsuri would be celebrated in the middle of June on even numbered years.

Today, Kanda Matsuri is celebrated in honour of the gods residing in the Shinto shrine called Kanda Myojin that can be found nestled among modern buildings in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Chiyoda ward. The shrine is dedicated to 3 deities: Daikokuten, the god of good harvest and matrimony, Ebisu, the god of fishermen and businessmen and Taira no Masakado, a revered samurai of the 10th century who was deified.

photo credits: rove.me, bill ben

Celebrating prosperity and good fortune

Like most other festivals, shinto rites are an essential part of the preparations. On the eve of the main procession, the kami (gods) of the shrine are invited to enter the three finely decorated mikoshi (portable shrines) through these rituals. At 8 a.m. on the day of the festival, these mikoshi are paraded through the streets of Kanda, continuing down to Nihonbashi, followed by Otemachi, and finally Akihabara, before returning to the temple at around 7 p.m. This procession is typically accompanied by an immense crowd of people, along with musicians, priests riding on horseback and many other participants wearing colorful, traditional clothes.

photo credits: nlgwest , Kemy Shibata

At the same time, there is a smaller three-hour long secondary procession being held. This is attended by men on horseback dressed as samurai, characters from folk stories, musicians, and dancers who depart from Arima Elementary School in the early afternoon and proceed north towards the Kanda Myojin shrine.

The next day following the festival is dedicated to the procession of mikoshi from various neighbourhoods in the Kanda and Nihonbashi district. Each of them contains an ujigami, guardian deities who, on this occasion, are housed in mikoshi to bless the residents of the area as they are paraded through the streets.

photo credits: Eugene Kaspersky

Many small curiosities

Those who were born and raised in Edo were called “Edokko”. Edokko had a peculiar personality and they were said to be very open and cheerful people. All these characteristics were, and still are, reflected in the Kanda Matsuri, a festival full of energy.

The procession with all its main elements also recalls the celebrations for Tokugawa's victory in the battle of Sekigahara, which cleared the path to the shogunate that led to a long period of peace and prosperity in Japan. Originally, townspeople would dress up and give thanks to the shrine through lavish performances of Noh theater.

photo credits: tokyoexcess.blogspot.it, xin beitou

During the Edo period, the parade with its beautiful decorations would pass by Edo Castle, giving common people a rare chance to enter its grounds.
Most of the original floats, which had been used since the early days of the festival, were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the bombing of WWII.

photo credits: viajejet.com, fastjapan.com