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!


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: Sanja Matsuri

photo credits: Yoshikazu TAKADA

The festival of the three temples

The Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) is one of the most famous festivals, largest and "wildest" festivals in Tokyo dedicated to the Shinto religion. The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who founded the Sensō-ji temple.

The Sanja Matsuri is held on the third weekend of May at the Asakusa temple and the sumptuous parade involves three mikoshi (portable temples), dances, traditional music and lasts about three days.

Like most Japanese festivals, the Sanja matsuri is also a religious celebration dedicated to the spirits of the three men, founders of the temple. This festival seems to have been born in the 7th century and is also known as "Kannon Matsuri" and "Asakusa Matsuri" and with a different shape than today.
The modalities in which today's Sanja Matsuri is organized were established during the Edo period when in 1649 the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu commissioned the construction of the Asakusa temple.

If you happen to be around Asakusa during the festival days, you can feel an atmosphere full of energy. People flock to the streets surrounding the Sensō-ji temple to the sound of flutes, whistles and taiko (traditional Japanese percussion).

photo credits: Atsushi Ebara, Yoshikazu TAKADA

The Mikoshi

The main attraction of this festival is the three mokoshi belonging to the Asakusa temple. These three elaborate temples in black lacquered wood have the function of being a miniature and a portable version of the Asakusa Temple. Decorated with sculptures and golden leaves, they weigh about a ton and are transported by long poles held together by ropes. For each mikoshi there is a need for about 40 people for safe transport and during the day, around 500 people participate in the transport of each temple.

The "parade" of these mikoshi is perhaps the most important moment of the day and the streets are crowded as they pass. As they are also transported, they are agitated and made to bounce strongly, because it is said that this leads to intensifying the power of the Kami inside and that it helps to increase luck in the respective neighborhoods.

While the three main mikoshi are the most important objects in the streets during the Sanja Matsuri, there are about 100 other smaller mikoshi scattered in the neighborhood on Saturday. Many of these temples are also transported by women or children.

photo credits: KMrT, Leo U

Day after day

The Sanja matsuri, is a festival that lasts several days and begins on Thursday with an important religious ceremony. This function requires the priest responsible for the temple to perform a ritual that makes the Kami of the three founders of the temple move from within into the three mikoshi. The latter will then be the protagonists of the parade that will last all weekend in Asakusa.

By opening the three small doors of the mikoshi the three spirits are invited to enter the miniature temples where they will stay for the duration of the festival. The interior of these mikoshi is also concealed from the public by a thin cotton curtain.

photo credits: Yoshikazu TAKADA

But the actual parade begins on Friday, known as Daigyōretsu (大 行列) which literally means "great parade".
The famous procession goes down via Yanagi Street and continues to the Nakamise-dōri up to the Asakusa temple. This festival is also well known for the sumptuous costumes of the participants, but also for the geishas and city officials who wear hakama, traditional Japanese clothes.
In the evening, six mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods are sent in procession on the shoulders of several dozen people.

photo credits: Hong Seongwan, Yoshikazu TAKADA

The following day, Saturday, about 100 mikoshi belonging to the 44 districts of Asakusa gather at the Kaminarimon and then leave on parade via the Nakamise-dōri in the direction of Hōzōmon. Once here they pay their respects to Kannon, the goddess of Mercy. Later, the mikoshi are taken to the Asakusa temple where the Shinto priest blesses them and purifies them for the coming year. Once the ceremony is completed, these small portable temples are transported back to their respective neighborhoods.

However, the most important event of the Sanja Matsuri takes place on Sunday. It is in this day in fact that we can see the parade of the three mikoshi belonging to the Asakusa Shrine. They march along the Nakamise-dōri to arrive at the Kaminarimon on Sunday morning. These three mikoshi enclose the three spirits of the three founding men of the Sensō-ji temple and, during the final day of this festival, they come to visit and bring blessings to the 44 districts of Asakusa.
When evening arrives, the three mikoshi find their way back to the Asakusa temple creating another great procession that lasts until late at night.

photo credits: ageless foto, Yoshikazu TAKADA

Yakuza Show

This festival of monumental size, also allows to mix fringes of the population that usually remain very detached. It is indeed common to find the Yakuza performing in fundoshi, without shame or fear, proudly showing their tattoos. In the eyes of a westerner, not accustomed to Japanese culture, this could almost seem like a comic scene. However, don't dare to laugh if you don't want bad luck to hit you!

photo credits: Hong Seongwan, syasya_akemi


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


Japan Travel: Tokyo Rainbow Pride

Spring is here and the Golden Week celebration is upon Japan. This is a significant point in time for the people of Japan, but it is especially so for the LGBT community residing there because it is when this year’s edition of Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP2019) will be held as well!

Photo credit: tokyorainbowpride.com

Tokyo Rainbow Pride originated from the very first LGBT movement in Japan was held 25 years ago on 28 August 1994. Back then, around a thousand people gathered to march with the rainbow flag from Shinjuku Central Park to Shibuya’s Miyashita Park in the Tokyo Lesbian & Gay Parade. Since then, it has gone on for almost every year, eventually changing its name to Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) in 2007.

With the theme of “I Have Pride”, this year’s TRP is slated to be the biggest of all, with a record number of 52 groups having pre-registered for the event. Furthermore, the main event, the colourfully flamboyant parade, is free for all to participate in this year. The parade will start at 2 p.m. on Sunday, 28 April, and it is a 3km march in the area of Harajuku and Shibuya, so if you’re going to be in Tokyo this weekend, do watch out for the crowds, or, better yet, show your support and join in!

Photo credit: mainichi.jp

After the Parade concludes, the Pride Parade After-Party/Pride Carnival will begin, lasting through the night at Aisotope Lounge in Shinjuku Nichome, Tokyo’s own gay district. This is, however, not the end of the festivities.

The full run of TRP2019 starts on 27 April and lasts all the way until 6 May, ending with the Pride Recovery Party at TRUNK(HOTEL). It is without a doubt that there will be many more activities which celebrate love being held during this entire week. The full list of events can be found here: tokyorainbowpride.com/week/

Companies like PlayStation, AIG, Visitaly, SEGA, Spotify, BuzzFeed Japan and many others are supporting the event as sponsors and partners as well and looking at how much the event has grown over the years, it can be said that support for the LGBT community and sexual minorities in Tokyo, at least, is growing. And that, for sure, is a heartening thing to see in today’s world.

For more information, visit Tokyo Rainbow Pride’s official website tokyorainbowpride.com

 

Photo credit: tokyorainbowpride.com


Japan Travel: Character Cafes

Japan is the richest land when it’s about magical places, in every sense! Even stopping for a snack can become a unique experience when you immerse yourself in a fantasy world like that of the "Character Cafes" scattered throughout the territory. What are these places? Particular types of themed cafes that allow customers fond of comics and animation to savor incredible kawaii dishes in a room totally inspired by a specific character.
There are temporary concept cafes that open about every two months, but fortunately, there are also permanent ones and they are a fundamental step for anyone who wants a bit of sweetness.

Fantastic Character Cafes and where to find them

PomPomPurin Café

photo credits: dangonews.com, straitstimes.com

Entering the PomPomPurin Café is like entering the room of this sweet big dog, a famous Sanrio character. You are welcomed by the yellow and brown of the furnishings, a quiet and relaxing place where you can enjoy sweets, drinks and specialties of various kinds. Inside the café there are "photo corners", dedicated points to take a picture with your favorite pudding! There are also limited edition goods that can only be purchased at the in-house shop.

photo credits: thechibirain, littlemomiji, klawsbykatya, xxakira0412xx

Official Website: http://pompom.createrestaurants.com/jp/
Address:
TOKYO: 〒150-0001 Shibuya, 1-7-1 Jingumae, CUTE CUBE HARAJUKU 3F
OSAKA: 〒530-0012 Kita, Shibata, 1−1−3 Hankyu Third Avenue South Building
NAGOYA: 3 丁目-32-6 Sakae, Naka Ward, Aichi Prefecture 460-0008
YOKOHAMA: Yokohama City Nishi-ku 2-1-5. YOKOHAMA SOTETSU SQUARE

Final Fantasy Eorzea Café

photo credit: favy-jp.com

Final Fantasy Eorzea Café is a small sanctuary for all fans of the famous Square Enix game FFXIV. Eorzea takes its name from the region where the video game takes place. Its interiors are beautifully decorated and the café in Akihabara also has a bar where you can order alcoholic beverages.
The food and drinks served at the bar are constantly changing, just like in the game! By ordering different drinks you can receive a collector's coaster and the restaurant has a point collection system with which special goods can be won, in addition to those that can be purchased at the dedicated sales corner.
Reservations must be made at least two hours in advance if you wish to find a place in this space.

photo credit:japantravel.com

Official Website: https://www.pasela.co.jp/paselabo_shop/ff_eorzea/
Address:
TOKYO: 2F, 1-1-10 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku,
OSAKA: 4F Pasela Resort, 1-4-27 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-fu

Cinnamoroll Café

photo credit: sanrio.com

Cinnamoroll, a white puppy with long ears, blue eyes, and a curly tail, is one of the most adorable characters of the Sanrio brand. The environment of this café creates an extremely relaxing atmosphere thanks to its delicate colors and its irresistible dishes. Here it is possible to taste the Omu rice, the Stroganoff fillet, the special Shortcake and some seasonal dishes. There is also a shop with limited edition goods.

photo credit: rainbowholic, Japan Italy Bridge, rietiru 

Official Website: http://www.cinnamorollcafe.com/shinjuku/
Address: Shinjuku Marui Annex 3 Chome-1-26 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022

Gudetama Café

photo credits: digjapan.travel, picsunday.com

Gudetama is a lazy egg who thinks that everything is mendokusai (a pain) and never has any motivation. And he is the protagonist of the cafe located on the seventh floor of HEP FIVE, a shopping center near the Umeda station in Osaka. Recognizable thanks to its designs, this café offers an exquisitely evolving menu that reflects the lazy and unmotivated nature of its character, in an environment that combines all the shades of pastel yellow with large plush toys by Gudetama in its classic lazy poses.
Cups, magnets and gadgets of various kinds are available to be purchased to bring with you the memory of the most lethargic experience ever!

photo credits: gudetamacafe_hepfive, cafe_shirokuma

Official Website: http://gudetama.createrestaurants.com/jp/info.html
Address: 〒530-0017 Osaka, Kita-ku, Kakuda-cho 5-15, HEP FIVE 7F

Peter Rabbit Garden Cafe

photo credits: japantravel.com, blog.we-are.com

Through the winding streets of Jiyugaoka in Tokyo, a small garden café is hidden, inspired by the stories told in the world of Beatrix Potter whose protagonist is Peter Rabbit. The atmosphere inside the cafeteria is very welcoming and inviting. The blue and white checkered tablecloths cover every table that is decorated with the author's books that you can read and draw on and, sitting next to the customers, you can find the stuffed animals. The wooden floors and furniture give warmth to the environment while various photographs are hung on the walls. On the shelves we find flowers, woven baskets, gardening tools and small objects that evoke images of the picturesque English countryside. Every dish on the menu is carefully designed and, of course, there is a small section dedicated to souvenirs if you want a small piece of sweetness to keep as a souvenir.

photo credit: nemui_ohirune_shitai, luv_barbie_pink, lolitandthecity, curetofficial

Official Website: http://www.peterrabbit-japan.com/cafe/
Address: 1 Chome-25-20 Jiyugaoka, 目黒区 Tokyo 152-0035

Pokémon Cafe

photo credit: digjapan.travel, jw-webmagazine.com

Have you ever dreamed of shouting "Gotta catch'em all!"? You may not be able to do it literally, but the most loyal fans will find joy at Pokémon Café. Opened in 2018 and associated with the Pokémon Center DX, this restaurant is spacious and bright, furnished with simplicity and minimalist decorations, with wooden floors and large tables.
As in any self-respecting character café, Pokémon-themed food and drinks are available, in addition to the seasonal menu available only for a limited period of the year. The unique gadgets always attract collectors. In fact only here is it possible to find poke-thermos, Pikachu stuffed animals in a cook version and the famous Pokéball-shaped cups! Unlike other cafes, online booking is required in advance as the seats are highly sought after.

 

photo credit: nane0v0, xx.asu.pika.025.xx, hanrutmoe

Official Website: https://www.Pokémoncenter-online.com/cafe/
Address: 2-1-2 Nihombashi | Nihombashi Takashimaya SC East Bldg. 5F, Chuo 103-0027, Tokyo

Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory

photo credit: tripadvisor.com, trip101.com

A solitary sign with 3 small painted Totoro signals the existence of this small café in the quiet neighborhood of Daita, hidden among many plants and tree trunks. Adorable puffs inspired by the famous Studio Ghibli creature are served in various flavors. From traditional vanilla and chocolate to seasonal matcha, white peach and Adzuki beans. But if your stomach demands something more, just go up to the second floor, to the Toto Café where tasty pasta dishes are served with iced coffees.

photo credit: onetheycallbela, eliseaki, cooki3zz

Official Website: http://www.shiro-hige.com/main/
Address: 5-3-1 Daita, Setagaya 155-0033, Tokyo

Shirokuma Cafe - Polar Bear’s Café

photo credit: tripzilla.com

Shirokuma-san, the big polar bear who stars in the manga written by Aloha Higa and owner of a bar that welcomes animal and human friends, is also the inspiration for this cozy café. Lots of masterfully modeled bear-and-panda shaped dishes will inspire customers to take lots of photos, captivated by their beauty and tenderness. The restaurant is cozy and guests can pose for many souvenir photos with adorable cartoon characters, while children can have fun in the corner dedicated to them, full of toys and a television! Do not miss the small shop where you can find soft stuffed animals, notebooks, t-shirts, bags, stationery and bento boxes.

photo credit: chillintokyo.wordpress.com, airvarie

Official Website: http://www.shirokumacafe.net/.en/
Address: Tokyo-do Shinjuku-ku Takadanobaba 2-1-2 TOHMA takadanobaba 1F

Alice in Wonderland Café - Alice's Fantasy Restaurant

photo credit: materialicious.com, yanderette

Five restaurants inspired by the Lewis Carroll novel have permanent locations in Japan.
Each of them is extraordinarily engaging and transports visitors to the different scenarios of Alice's world. There are five themes to choose from: the maze, fantasyland, the fantastic book, the magical land, and the old castle. The menu is strictly inspired by British cuisine. To enter the wonderland it is necessary to book online or you can do it in person by going to the restaurant a few days before.

photo credits: samuelponce.cl, satokomorimoto, mydreamsofdisney, kiki_0_0

Official Website: http://www.alice-restaurant.com/
Address:
ALICE IN LABYRINTH (GINZA, TOKYO) 104-0061 東京都中央区銀座8-8-5 太陽ビル5F
ALICE IN FANTASYLAND (UMEDA, OSAKA) 530-0012 大阪府大阪市北区芝田1-8-1D.D.HOUSE1F
ALICE IN FANTASY BOOK (SHINJUKU, TOKYO) 160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-6-2 T-wingビルB2F
ALICE IN MAGICAL LAND (NISHI-SHINJUKU, TOKYO) 160-0023 東京都新宿区西新宿1-5-1 新宿西口ハルクB3
ALICE IN AN OLD CASTLE (IKEBUKURO, TOKYO) 171-0022 東京都豊島区南池袋2-16−8 鈴和ビルB1

Vampire Cafe

photo credit: dd-holdings.jp, ginzavampire

A macabre atmosphere, red velvet curtains, and luxurious chandeliers catapult customers into Medieval Europe, into a real "vampire house". Inside the café, there is even an altar, a coffin and a cross struck by a beam of light to allow total immersion in the gothic world of the legends concerning the creatures of the night. Of course, the menu is also thematic: dishes and cocktails with unique names belonging to the Italian and French cuisine and are served by staff in a vampire costume.

photo credit: prtimes.jp, ginzavampire

Address: 7F, La Paix Bldg., 6-7-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Moomin House Cafe

photo credits: yelp.com

The Moomin, despite belonging to the Finnish tradition, have also found a way in Tokyo to welcome fans into their world. The environment recreates the natural woods in which the Moomins live, giving the café that relaxing and timeless aspect whose goal is to allow everyone to have a place to get together and where they can witness many fun moments. Big puppets live in the café and keep company to the lucky visitors who are able to sit next to them. The dishes are tasty and as always perfectly presented to pamper the heart of those seeking a moment of tenderness.
The most famous menu is the "Souvenir Moomin House Pancakes" because the pancakes are served at the table along with ceramic figurines as a souvenir to take away with them.

photo credit: moomincafe.jp, japantravel.com, moomincafe

Official Website: https://benelic.com/moomin_cafe/
Address: 1F Tokyo Soramachi, 1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Square Enix's Artnia Cafe

photo credits: sweetkammi.wordpress.com

Located in Shinjuku, Artnia mixes its being Square Enix's official goods store with the café whose dishes are based on the company's prestigious game series. Inside, it’s divided into 3 areas: the "Fancy Area", the area dedicated to the merchandising of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, the real "Café & Bar" that occupies most of the space and the splendid "Luxury Area” located behind the bar and designed in black granite. This luxurious area is a real museum containing replicas of the sagas, statues, works of art and jewels, but it is the fountain that rises in the center to be the real attraction of Artnia. It contains a red crystal suspended inside a waterfall that pours into a pedestal with all the spheres of Materia of various colors.

photo credits: favy-jp.com

Official Website: http://www.jp.square-enix.com/artnia/index
Address: 1F Shinjuku East Side Square, 6-27-30 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Maid Café

photo credits: cat.m.mayberry, theginger1nch, maidreamin

Better known as "Meido Kissa", the maid cafes are places where customers are served by Victorian-style waitresses, with their clothes full of lace. These maids have the specific task of satisfying customer requests, so the customers are called "Masters" if they are men, or "Princess" if they are women. These places are mostly concentrated in Akihabara and are always full of extremely accurate details. Once inside, a Maid will accompany the visitor who can only stay for 1 hour to the table and will have to choose whether to drink, eat or another of the available proposals. Moreover, the waitresses interact continuously with the customers and if these are not very talkative, then they will start to do ballets and sing little songs. They are very fun and carefree environments, for a more original break than usual!

photo credits: wheresmy_dang_food, ranamajid007, pegsfordays, debydraws, m00nvixen

Some of the most popular Maid Cafes:
At-Home Café, 1-11-4 Sotokanda Mitsuwa Bldg. 4-7F, Chiyoda 101-0021 Tokyo, https://www.cafe-athome.com/info/
MAIDREAMIN, head store: Sumiyoshi BLDG.6F 3-16-17 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 101-0021 https://maidreamin.com
MELCAFE, 4 Chome-9-9 Nipponbashi Naniwa-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka http://mel-cafe.com


Japan Travel: Ginza

Ginza: expensive, elegant and luxurious

Located in Chuō, Ginza (銀座) is Tokyo's most famous shopping area. This luxurious district was once part of the ancient Kyobashi district, which, together with Nihonbashi and Kanda, formed the core of Shitamachi, the original center of Edo-Tokyo. Built on an ancient reclaimed swamp during the 16th century, Ginza owes its name (Silver Mint) to the establishment of a silver coin mint (Silver Coin Mint) on this land in 1612.

photo credit: wikimedia.org

A devastating fire destroyed much of the area in 1872. Following this incident, the government decided that reconstruction was to use fireproof bricks to erect new buildings, and the roads should be improved and enlarged. At the same time, they should be able to connect Shimbashi station to Tsukiji. This new version of Ginza was designated as a "model of modernization" and the Irish architect Thomas Waters was given the responsibility of designing the area. In the following year, a long western-style shopping street rose with two- and three-storey Georgian brick buildings reaching from the Shinbashi bridge to the Kyōbashi bridge.

However, the high cost for both the purchase and the lease of these new buildings prevented their long-term occupations and at the same time, an issue regarding the climate arose; such buildings were not suitable for the weather conditions unique to Tokyo. To add to the issues, the design of this area contrasted with the traditional Japanese style, and as such it was not quite appreciated by visitors who were much more interested in an Edo-style town and rather than something "similar to Broadway", as described in the words of the English tour guide writer, Philip Terry.

Despite stylistic problems, Ginza managed to flourish as a symbol of "civilization and enlightenment", becoming famous for its rich shop windows. In the period between the two world wars, the habit of spending time and walking through Ginza, even with no purpose, grew very popular. As time passed, most of the European-style buildings have disappeared. Among those remaining is the Wakō building, originally built by Kintarō Hattori, with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower and its luxurious gold objects inside.

photo credits: japantimes.co.jp

Not only shopping

A key stop for shoppers in Ginza is definitely Ginza Six. Opened in the spring of 2017, it is the largest shopping complex in the district. In addition to numerous cosmetic and fashion floors, there are floors dedicated to food and interior design, a large Tsutaya bookstore specializing in art publications, a pleasant rooftop garden and a Noh theater in the basement.

No less famous is the store of the chain Mitsukoshi. While this store opened in 1930, its history dates back to 1673, when it was first established. It offers products and services on twelve floors. Fans of the brand Uniqlo will find satisfaction in this 12-storey building which offers the widest range of products in the world of this brand.

Ginza, however, is not just limited shopping. For Kabuki representations, the best place is found in this part of town. It is the Kabukiza Theater. Do not miss a trip to the Yurakucho Gado-shita Dining as well. It is one of Tokyo's most interesting dining options, located under the sky train tracks, north and south of the Yurakucho station (In Japanese: Gado-shita, "under beam"). Dozens of restaurants are integrated into the brick arches below the Yamanote line which extend for over 700m. Here you can taste world-famous Japanese cuisine, or sip special wines in the luxurious French wine shops.

photo credits: harv.world


Japan Traditions: Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri

One of Japan's most famous matsuri is the Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri held in the city of Nara on the fourth Saturday of January.

photo credits: matsuritracker on flickr

Le Origini

On the top of the third hill of Mount Wakakusa we find the Uguisuzuka Kofun, a keyhole-shaped tombstone.
Legends say that in the past if the mountain was burned by the end of January in the new year, it was possible to repel deaths returning from their graves. On the contrary, if the mountain was not burned by the end of January, a big period of misfortune layed before the city of Nara. As a result, the stories tell that people passing by Mount Wakakusa began to ignite the mountain without permission.

 

photo credits: smartus & matsuritracker on flickr

Following this, there were some incidents where the fire from Mount Wakakusa came to approach the boundaries of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temple repeatedly. Because of this, in December 1738, the Nara magistrate's office (Bugyosho) prohibited people from burning the mountain. However, the arson fires continued at the hands of anonymous people and on some occasions approached the nearby cities and temples. To avoid similar dangers, the city of Nara established a rule to allow people to burn the mountain with the participation of representatives of the Todaiji and Kohfukuji temples along with the Nara Bugyosho at the end of the Edo period.

photo credits: toshimo1123 on flickr

The Yamayaki festival (burning mountain) comes from superstitions to calm the spirits of the dead at the Uguisuzuka Kofun located at the top of the mountain, so the Yamayaki could also be considered as a moment of service in memory of the dead.

Modern history and present day

Since 1900, there have been a series of changes related to Wakakusa Yamayaki Matsuri. Firstly, the time was shifted from day to night and even its date moved to 11 February (Day of the Empire), although during the period of World War II, the celebrations were held during the afternoon. Later, in 1910, the organization passed into the hands of the prefecture of Nara.

 

photo credits: karihaugsdal on flickr

After the end of the war, the Yamayaki once again became an evening event together with a fireworks display of over one hundred fireworks.
During the fifties, the date of the Yamayaki was moved to January 15, the "Coming of Age day", while in 1999, due to the implementation of the so-called "Happy Monday System Act" (law that moved some public holidays on Mondays) , the festival was celebrated on the Sunday before the "Coming of Age day".

photo credits: toshimo1123 & nwhitely on flickr

Since 2009 we find the combination that still exists today, where the event is held on the fourth Saturday in January with a fireworks display of hundreds of fireworks.
On this matter, this is the only event in Nara that uses the Shakudama fireworks that have a diameter of over 30cm. An absolutely magical fireworks display that we guarantee will always remain engraved in your memories.

Mount Wakakusa

Mount Wakakusa is 342 meters high and 33 hectares wide and is covered with grass with delicate slopes. Here you can see deers, seasonal flowers and plants, like the traditional Japanese cherry trees in spring and the fantastic autumn colors typical of Japan. Also from its top, it is possible to see the whole panorama of the city of Nara with all its historical part.

 

photo credits: 158175735@N03 & mashipooh on flickr

Mount Wakakusa is surrounded by many UNESCO world heritage sites such as the temples Todaiji and Kohfukuji and the spring forest of Mount Kasuga, so be very careful to avoid accidents such as spreading the fire.

The parade

Led by the sound of shell horns played by the mountain priests of the Kinpusenji Temple, more than 40 people face the solemn parade through the park, wearing the traditional costumes of the representatives of the temples of Kasugataisha, Todaiji and Kohfukuji and of the officers of the judiciary office of Nara in the Edo period.

 

photo credits: toshimo1123 & katiefujiapple on flickr

The event begins with the Gojinkahotaisai, the sacred fire acceptance ceremony held at the Tobohino park, on the site of the Great Round Bonfire. In this ceremony, the sacred fire is transferred from the Great Round Bonfire to the torches. Following this, the parade will take the sacred fire to the Nogami temple. Once arrived at the Mizuya temple, the sacred fire brought by time Kasugataisha will be transferred to a series of torches. Once at the Nogami Temple, at the base of Mount Wakakusa, the sacred fire forms another great bonfire.

 

photo credits: katiefujiapple on flickr

During the parade, the fire is accompanied by constant prayers in the first place for the safety of the Yamayaki. The fire is then transferred back to the torches, accompanied by the songs of the priests of the temples Todaji, Kohfukuji and Kinpusenji. At this point, the parade moves towards the big bonfire in the center at the base of the mountain where it is lit, thus giving birth to the spectacle of light and heat.

photo credits: nara-park.com

Access

Mount Wakakusa is about a 10 - 15 minute walk from the Todaiji temple and Kasuga Taisha. The mountain can also be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara station in about 35 minutes or from JR Nara station in about 50 minutes. Alternatively, you can use buses departing from both the station and Kasuga Taisha for a small fee.
If you are in Japan during this period, the next Yamamaki will take place in a few days, January 26, 2019. Do not miss it and we’ll wait for your stories!

photo credits: ks_photograph