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Shinjuku Bars – Golden Gai time trip to old Japan

Do you know which bars you want to go to in Shinjuku?
If not, even if you do, take “Golden Gai” into consideration.

This Golden Gai is a small area in Kabukicho, Shinjuku with a bunch of bars and attracts so many tourists abroad.

新宿ゴールデン街

What is the Golden Gai?

The Golden Gai is a small area with more than 200 shanty-style bars. These bars were built after world war 2.

The size of each bar is within 10 and 15 square meters.
So the capacity is usually around 4-5 people.

Many of the bars were owned by celebrities.
There are so many celebrities as a customer too.

They used to welcome only regular customers but these days some bars are open to new customers too!

Origin of Golden Gai

The Golden Gai originates from the black market from the post world war 2.
They were originally located at east side of Shinjuku station, instead of the current place.

Below is a picture of the black market in Shimbashi(, not Shinjuku, sorry!).

闇市

However, the General Headquarters, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ), demanded that the black market is abolished.
As a result, they moved to the current place and many of them turned into bars and some became illegal brothels.

After the prostitution prevention law in 1958, those illegal brothels went out of business.
Consequently, that resulted in many bars opened.

新宿ゴールデン街

During the 1980s, there was a real estate bubble in Japan.
So developers were interested in Golden Gai too.
A group of people gathered and decided to go against the developers and to preserve the area.

Sadly, the bar of the leader of the anti-developers group was set on fire.
However, that did not stop them.
The leader, who now lost his bar, opened a bar with the exact same location but without the roof, showing his determination.
That attracted people into their protesting action.

As the real estate bubble ended, so did the interest in the area of the developers.
Yet, this time the area became like a ghost town because the closed bars which resulted from the developers pressure left untouched and because the depression kept away customers.

Luckily, the area has been regaining the vibrant since the 2000s.
Now it attracts tourists from Europe and America.

Famous Things Based on Golden Gai

You might recognize this Shinjuku bars area from the things below. Yes, chances are you might have already seen this area!

Yakuza (TV game)

The city is based on Golden Gai

Jump – Madonna

The music video was recorded in Golden Gai

Hatsumode: Japanese First Shrine Visit

What is Hatsumode?

Hatsumode is the first shrine visit, which many people do between on the 1st and the 3rd in January.

photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson Kanda Shrine: Hatsumode via photopin (license)

History of Hatsumode

In the past the head of families went to their local shrines on the new year’s eve, wising for a better luck for the next year, and stayed there overnight.
This is said to be the origin of hatsumode.

Some people also say that the first shogun, Yoritomo Minamoto, visiting the famous shrine in Kamakura, “Tsurugaoka Hachimanguu”, in 1181 marks the start of hatsumode.

神護寺

TSURUGAOKA HACHIMANGU

Until the Meiji era, people went to their local shrine.
However, starting from the Meiji era, the train system was introduced into Japan and this made it possible for people to go to a far but famous shrines/temples.

People usually took a train to their destination shrines/temples and took a tour around the place.
Even some train companies, such as Keisei line and Keihin Kyuukou line were born purely for the hatsumode transportation.

日本の蒸気機関車史

Rules of hatsumode

There are no rules about hatsumode.
Like, no matter when you go to the shrine, if it is the first visit, it is counted as a first shrine visit.
You don’t have to go between 1st and 3rd in January.

Also, you can go to as many shrines/temples as you want.
Some school of religions believes that the more places you go to, the better your luck will be.

What to do when you go to hatsumode

1. You purify your hands and mouth water provided this way.

手水舎

2. You make a money offering, pray and bow

初詣のお賽銭、いちばん多く出すのはどの地域? 最高金額は注目度47位の……

お賽銭とは?

 

3. You buy some charms, which helps you have good lucks by absorbing every bad lucks for you!

青島神社

4. You return charms which you bought the previous year if any.

The charms last year are supposed to be full of bad lucks because they protected you from bad lucks by taking all bad lucks for you.

The returned charms are burned away.

スナライム

Where are the famous hatsumode destinations?

No.1 Meiji Shrine(Tokyo)

There were 3.17 million hatumode visitors

明治神宮

No.2 Narita-san Shinsho-Ji(Chiba)

There were 3.09 million hatumode visitors

成田山新勝寺

No.3 Kawasaki Daishi(Kanagawa)

There were 3.07 million hatumode visitors

平間寺

No.4 Senso-Ji(Tokyo)

There were 2.91 million hatumode visitors

浅草寺

No.5 Tsurugaoka Hachimangu(Kanagawa)

There were 2.5 million hatumode visitors

 

鶴岡八幡宮

No.6 Sumiyoshi-Taisha(Osaka)

There were 2.39 million hatumode visitors

住吉大社

No7 Atsuta Shrine(Aichi)

There were 2.3 million hatumode visitors

熱田神宮

 

No.8 Hikawa Shrine (Saitama)

There were 2.1 million hatumode visitors

氷川神社

 

No.9 Dazaifu Tenmangu(Fukuoka)

There were 2  million hatumode visitors

太宰府天満宮

No.10 Ikuta Shrine(Hyogo)

There were 1.5 million hatumode visitors

生田神社

 

Japanese New Year Cards 2019

What is Japanese New Year Cards?

Quote: 年賀状2019無料テンプレートTOP

Japanese new year cards are greeting letters people send to each other celebrating the New Year.
Christmas cards are the equivalent of this custom.
Instead of on the Christmas day, Japanese send cards on the New Year days.

You send these cards to whoever you want to except for those whose family died in the previous year. In this case, people in this family has to send the special letter to everyone who they are supposed to send new year cards notifying the loss of one or more of their family members.

 

Below is a notification card of some family member loss.

Quote: E関心

(When I was in elementary school, there was even a class for making these letters from creating the design itself to actually writing some messages on it.
This custom was one of the most exciting things in the year while I was in elementary school and junior high school, expecting someone I secretly liked to somehow know my address and send a card, which never happened sadly. haha)

Fewer and fewer people send these nowadays and they just send greetings through some kind of messenger app or SNS.
But its peak time, there were as many as 4.1 billion cards sent in 2008.
In 2015 the number of cards sent dropped to 3 billion.

History of Japanese New Year’s Cards

The custom of greeting of the new year to people you know existed in as early as the Nara era (710 – 794)
In the Heian era (795 – 1185), the noble people started sending letters to, instead of actually visiting in person, those who they could not see because they live far away from each other.

 

Below is the new year’s greeting letter in the Edo era.

Quote: ASCII.jp – 年賀状の歴史

The custom of sending new year’s cards became rapidly widespread when the Meiji government started selling cards, following the British postal culture. Because it cost so much less, only 5 percent of what letter cost, people started sending new year’s greetings with cards.

 

Quote: 年賀状博物館

 

However, the first ever sold postcards in Japan looked still like a letter.
It could be folded in half in order to prevent people from access to the content.
The notice on the right of the card says something like it might be possible for others to see the content, but it is much cheaper.

Quote:年賀状博物館

Japanese New Year’s Cards 2019!

Every year the new year’s cards have its year’s Chinese Zodiac sign.
It is the year of boar, which in China is pig I heard.
So the new year’s cards will look like this!

Quote: 2019年賀状デザイン無料テンプレート「しめ縄とかわいい猪」

Let’s send Japanese new year cards to your friends!

Traditional Japanese New Year Clothing

photo credit: 內斯特攝影 Nextphotography 5Z0A0892 via photopin (license)

Some of you already know what the traditional Japanese clothing is.

Yes, Kimono!

Some people love wearing kimono during a new year’s holidays and going to shrine visits or meet with their relatives!

If you think Japanese people still wear kimono, the traditional Japanese clothing, often, you might be disappointed. There are not so many times people that wear this wonderful traditional clothing nowadays.

The only time people are willing to wear is during summer festivals, new year’s days, college graduation ceremony, funerals, and weddings.

History of Kimono

Kimono: with Chinese Influence

Kimono, like almost all the traditional things in Japan, has a huge influence from China.
This is the Han clothes in China.

漢服

This is the clothing the noble people wore in Nara era (710 – 794) in Japan and it is said to be influenced by the Han clothes above.
It looks similar, right?

和服

Kimono: Traditional Japanese Clothing

In the Heian era (794 – 1185), because Japan decided not to send people to China, the Japanese culture was developed without Chinese cultural influences.
And Kimono too developed on its own way.

十二単

 

In the Edo era, the normal people started enjoying Kimono too. Before this era, it was too expensive for the normal people.
This kimono, called “Kosode”, is the basis of the current kimono.

小袖

In this era, the fashion leaders were Kabuki actors and high-rank prostitutes.
Since people had opportunities to see what they wear through paintings called “Ukiyoe” and “Nishikie”, the people started to dress gorgeously like them.
People’s desire to dress nicely was so fierce that even the Shogunate could not control it.

浮世絵

 

江戸後期から明治時代にかけての日本の古写真の出所が明らかに

Kimono No More

After the shogunate was over and that means the country started to become open to foreign countries, western style clothes were introduced and men started to wear them.
However, women, on the other hand, still wore kimono.

Women started to abandoned kimono only after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.
At the time, because kimono makes it hard to move around, lots of women in kimono died.
I remember when I was in elementary school, my teacher told me a story about this.
There was a lady who wore kimono and no underwear. She was at some department store on the second floor or something when the earthquake happened.
There were rescue people telling her to jump off from the window onto the mat they placed under her.
Yet, she refused to do it because she was embarrassed if she had jumped off, everyone could see her without underwear.
Sad story…

Kimono Now

Even though kimono looks beautiful and traditional and many still want to wear, it is hard to wear kimono because it is expensive.

So nowadays, people wear kimono only for weddings, funerals, and some other special occasions like new year’s visit to the shrine by renting them.

和服

Yukata, a part of kimono, is more affordable and many, especially women, are willing to wear them to summer festivals.

和服

What is Chiba prefecture Japan famous for?

Facts about Chiba

Chiba is located on the east of Tokyo.
It has the 6th largest population in Japan.

People say that Chiba and Saitama are rivalries. Read this post on this rivalry in detail.

There are various aspects in Chiba depending on where you go.
Let’s find out what Chiba prefecture is famous for.

What is Chiba famous for?

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

It is strange that they call it “Tokyo” Disneyland when it is actually in Chiba, isn’t it?

The reason this is called Tokyo Disneyland is when this was built, it was the first Disneyland being built outside of the US.

Therefore, the target was not restricted only to the Japanese. As such, it is named as Tokyo Disneyland instead of Chiba because Tokyo is known internationally so much better.

Narita International Airport.

成田国際空港

This is the entrance to Japan from abroad.

I am sure many people have been here and I am sure that many people were surprised at how far it is from Tokyo and expensive it is to get to Tokyo.

It has been the Japanese international hub airport for over 40 years, but the initial construction plan has not been and will not be over.

This is because the government at the time decided to build the airport without explaining to the local people.

As a result, the locals protested against the construction so hard that some radical locals, which consisted of more than 1000, revolted against the police.

三里塚闘争

This is one of the exhibitions at a museum in Narita airport showing what the protesters wore

Narita temple

大本山成田山

This is one of the most popular temples in Japan with regard to the first visit temple visit of the year.
It is crazy that as many as 3.11 million people visited this place in 2018 for the first 3 days of the year. And this has the second largest visitors all over Japanese temples/shrines with that regard.

【2014初詣は成田山へ】 参道激混み、総門にたどり着くまで1時間! でも苦労した分、きっとご利益があるはず

This temple has a history of more than 1000 years.
Because of the location, close to Narita International Airport, it attracts many people from abroad too.

From the Meiji era to the end of WW2, the charm of this temple was very popular among the Japanese army. They believed that the charm would save them from a bullet.

Now that the war was over, the time capsule wishing for peach was buried under the triple tower in 1984 and it will be opened in the year of 2434.

成田山新勝寺

Mother Farm

This farm was made by the same person that created Tokyo Tower and one of the main newspaper companies in Japan, “Sankei Newspaper”.

He named this “Mother Farm” in memory of his mother. His family was a poor farmer and she often said: “Ah if we had even one cow, that would make our life easier”.

There are so many things going on in this place.
You can see and touch many animals, you can see beautiful flowers, also you can enjoy an amusement park.

 

Mother Farm

Funassyi

It is an unofficial character of one of the cities in Chiba prefecture.

A person tried to advertise his city called “Funabashi”.

Therefore, he decided to be creative and to mix the city name and its famous product, pear, which is “Nashi” in Japanese.

That’s where “Funassyi” came from.
He made this character on PowerPoint with only 30 minutes.

He is so popular that he appeared on TV shows with celebrities.

ふなっしー – UNIVERSAL MUSIC JAPAN

Peanuts

yes, peanuts.

Kujukuri Beach

This means 99 li beach.
The origin of the name is from over 800 years ago. At the time, the Shogun ordered to put arrow every 1 li, and they ended up with using 99 arrows.

This place now attracts many surfers every year. And this will be the competition venue for surfing in the coming Tokyo Olympic in 2020.

 

九十九里浜

What is Saitama? Japanese view on Saitama explained

What is Saitama?

The word “Saitama” became famous thanks to anime One Punch Man, where the main guy’s name is “Saitama”. I assume sadly the word probably may be known by more people as anime character than as a prefecture in Japan.

However, that unpopularity doesn’t disappoint people from Saitama because they are used to being said that nobody cares about their prefecture.

Facts about Saitama

It is north of Tokyo, the capital of Japan. This is a bed-town of Tokyo, and as such, this prefecture has the 5th largest population in Japan.

Wikipedia

I attached the top populated 5 prefectures in Japan with its area (the unit of the area is km^2).

 

Wikipedia

What is Saitama from the Japanese point of view

One would probably assume that since it attracts so many people as a living place, Japanese people must have good opinions about the prefecture.

If you thought so, you will be surprised.

I, myself, am from Saitama and went to University in Tokyo, and met so many people from all over Japan there.
When I told them where I am from, there was always at least one person, who is not from Saitama, saying some negative things about out prefecture. This may sound kind of mean or rude especially if you were told something like this by a person you just met.

What are the images/views on Saitama that many Japanese people have?

1. There is no sea

 

Wikipedia

Surrounded by a sea as an island nation, it is unfortunate for a prefecture to not have the sea.
There are only 8 prefectures out of 47 that are not bordered by the sea.
I am not sure if other 7 prefectures are made fun of because of this fact, but Saitama is.

2. There is nothing to do.

There is no famous sightseeing spot in there.
Luckily, these days Kawagoe city and Chichibu city became a little hot tourist destinations thanks to many historical TV shows and anime.

Before, it was difficult to recommend to a friend a vacation in Saitama.
We do not have great nature spots, attraction parks, nor sightseeing spots.
It is just a bed-town of Tokyo…

3. Not cool, ugly

 

A celebrity in Japan once teased the prefecture by saying “da Saitama”, which translates to “uncool/ugly Saitama”, just because the word “uncool/ugly” rhymes with the prefecture name. This becomes its widespread impression since then.

Afterward, people see it as uncool or ugly, unfortunately.

4. There is no famous souvenir/product

I think almost every prefecture has their famous products.
Kyoto has Yatsuhashi,

Honke Yatsuhashi Nishio

Osaka is famous for takoyaki,


photo credit: 5thLuna Takoyaki via photopin (license)

Hokkaido is famous for Royce chocolate,

 

ROYCE’

and so on.

When it comes to Saitama, I am not sure what they are…
Sure we have lots of green onions and sweet potatoes…

MACHI LOG

 

Saitama Prefecture

Hmm, now I see why people think it is uncool/ugly…

Summary

We are so used to this nothing-to-do-place, so we accept that people make fun of Saitama for those things or rather we start these.
However, there are some things that we cannot give up.

Rival prefecture? Chiba Prefecture

They both belong to the Kanto area in Japan.
Kanto has two big prefectures, Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is.

But it is difficult to decide the third popular prefecture in the area. There are two candidates, namely Chiba and Saitama.

People from different prefectures like to ask questions like, “After all which prefecture is the No.3 in Kanto?”

Let’s compare!

Saitama Chiba
Population 5th 6th
Location Next to Tokyo Next to Tokyo
Famous tourist destination Nothing really… Tokyo Disneyland
Famous tourist destination Nothing really… Tokyo Disneyland


photo credit: vicjuan IMG_1166 via photopin (license)

 

Famous product

 
MACHI LOG

Saitama Prefecture

 

 
Photo Credit: yoshing_BT Flickr via Compfight cc

 

It looks like Chiba wins because it has Tokyo Disneyland.

But still, we Saitaman want to believe we are the No.3 in Kanto.

Best Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival in Japan

What is Sakura festival (cherry blossom festival)?

Sakura festival (cherry blossom festival) is also referred to as hanami in Japan.
It is a huge spring event in Japan.


photo credit: inefekt69 Okazaki Canal – Kyoto, Japan via photopin (license)

People have cherry blossom festival several times per year.
They gather with their friends, coworkers, and families under or near sakura (cherry blossom).
The whole point of Sakura festivals is to just enjoy drinking and eating outside.

This is a very nice excuse to meet up with old friends too.

Photo Credit: runslikethewind83 Flickr via Compfight cc

When are the dates for sakura (cherry blossom) season?

Sakura festival usually happens between in the middle of March and at the beginning of April in Tokyo.
That means in southern part it might starts and ends earlier.
On the other hand, in the northern area, like Hokkaido, its period is later.

So the sakura (cherry blossom) usually lasts for two weeks.
This short lives of the sakura give Japanese an impression of how transiently beautiful life is.

History of Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival

The origin of the Sakura festival, called “hanami”, dates back to the 8th century.
Back then, it was an event only for the nobles.
Only around 300 years ago, when it was the Edo era, did it become an event to the normal people too.

In the Edo era, the cherry blossoms in Ueno Park was with the best reputation in all over Edo, which is now Tokyo.
As a matter of fact, this park still attracts many people for the Sakura festival destination during the season.
This is actually one of the best places in Tokyo (maybe in Japan too!).

Some people know that you can see Sakura, cherry blossom, in Washington DC, the United States. These cherry blossoms were sent from Japan in 1912 as a proof of the friendships.

Photo Credit: afagen Flickr via Compfight cc

Where are the best spots??

There are many places all over Japan where you can get to see Sakura, cherry blossoms.
I don’t dare to say which is the best place, sorry!
Instead, here are the places that you can enjoy sakura!

Goryokaku – Hakodate in Hokkaido

Photo Credit: yanoks48 Flickr via Compfight cc

Hirosaki city in Aomori Prefecture

Photo Credit: Iyhon Chiu Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Shinjuku-gyoen, Shinjuku in Tokyo

Photo Credit: Rice Tsai Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Nowadays, people even enjoy sakura, cherry blossom, at night with light up

photo credit: かがみ~ 弘前公園 via photopin (license)

photo credit: HAMACHI! Sakura night walkers Classic Chrome via photopin (license)

Sakura festival can be still beautiful even when they are falling off.


photo credit: bluefish812 DSC_3168 via photopin (license)

“Kawagoe Matsuri” – Summer Japan Festival in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

5 facts about the festival, “Kawagoe Matsuri”


photo credit: Tokutomi Masaki 川越まつり 2016年10月15日 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Tokutomi Masaki 川越まつり 2016年10月15日 via photopin (license)

1. It happens on the third weekend of October in Kawagoe city every year.
2. It has more than 360 years of history
3. It attracts about one million tourists during the 2 day period.
4. It is designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property
5. It is registered as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

5 facts about Kawagoe city, Saitama Prefecture

1. The name, “Kawagoe” means “over a river”.
The origin of the name dates back to the Heian era, which was from the 9th century to the 13th century.
It stemmed from the fact the place was surrounded by rivers and you had to cross the river to get to the city.

2. It has a population of about 350,000.
This is the third largest in the Saitama prefecture and 67th in all the cities in Japan.

3. It is famous for sweet potatoes.
The famous “Candy Street” sells many treats related to sweet potatoes, such as sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato coffee, and even sweet potato beer.

4. It is famous for the old style buildings that it reserves from the Edo era, which was from the 17th century to 19th century.
This attracts around 7 million tourists every year.
Even the Japanese emperor took the Sweeden King, who visited Japan at the time, to Kawagoe, Saitama in 2007.

photo credit: yuki_alm_misa 蔵造りの町並み via photopin (license)

photo credit: Froschmann : かえるおとこ ricksha via photopin (license)

 

5. This has so many ramen shops and is one of the most competitive ramen places in Japan. Among them is a very famous ramen store, “Gan-ja”, that pioneered a style of ramen called “tsuke-men”. Now “tsuke-men” is everywhere all over in Japan.


photo credit: Tokutomi Masaki iPhone5s 米沢ラーメン愛愛 2013年10月19日 via photopin (license)

History

This festival, “Kawagoe Matsuri”, started in the Edo era, which was from the 17th century to the 19th century.

In 1645, one of the executives of the government came to Kawagoe and started ruling this city as a feudal lord.
He helped the city recovered from the large wildfire that burned almost everything in the castle town.

Three years later, he donated several portable shrines and drums to the local major temple.
The next year, carrying portable shrines became a religious service and this became the origin of the festival.

Access to Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

It’s just 30 minutes travel by train from the center of Tokyo.

Summary

Now, why don’t you see the sight that reserves hundreds of years ago in person?

Let’s head to Kawagoe festival!

Festivals in Japan

What are they?

It is said that there are around 300,000 festivals every year in all over Japan.
Some of them started long time ago and some started relatively recently.
Each festival has their own origin and theme, and some festivals are so famous that they attract people from other prefectures or even from other countries.

Festivals by seasons

Spring

Spring means a fresh start to Japanese probably because spring is the season that we plant rice.
As a matter of fact, school starts from April, fiscal (financial) year also starts from April and so on.

As such festivals in spring started to pray to gods (yes, we have a lot of gods in Japan) that they will be given an abundant harvest in the fall. So in some festivals they actually do rice-planting, and in others they mock one.
One of the famous festival of actual rice-planting is “Otaue-shinji” in Osaka.

Summer

There are three types of festivals in this season.
One is for getting rid of infectious diseases. In the past, infectious diseases were going around big cities like Kyoto and Osaka in summer and it was believed to be because gods were giving divine punishment.
That’s why those festivals were meant to appease gods.

Another type of festivals is for getting rid of pests and typhoons.
In summer, a lot of pests are active and there are so many typhoons that can cause huge damage to farmers.
So in rural areas where people farmed, their big concern in summer was (has been) to getting rid of pests and typhoons.
That’s why they have festivals to pray gods that they would not have bad impacts from those pests and weather.
The famous festival of this kind is “Nebuta matsuri” in Aomori prefecture.

Photo Credit: satoagg Flickr via Compfight cc

The last type of festivals is memorial service to the spirits of ancestors.
It is said that at this time of the year, the spirits of the dead are coming back.
And this festival is to welcome them with bright fires so that they will not get lost.
The famous one of this kind is “Gozan okuribi” in Kyoto.

Photo Credit: kubotake Flickr via Compfight cc

Fall

In contrast to Spring, fall is when we reap the harvest.
There are many festivals for thanking gods for the abundant harvest by providing them with the newly harvested crops.
The most famous festival for this is “Kannname-sai” in Ise shrine in Mie prefecture.

Winter

There are not so many traditional festivals in winter because it was hard to survive winter in the past so they tried not to waste their energy and stay inside to wait for the spring to come.
However, nowadays there are many winter festivals in order to attract tourists. One example of such is “Yuki matsuri” in Hokkaido prefecture.

photo credit: かがみ~ さっぽろ雪まつり Sapporo Snow Festival 2015 via photopin (license)

Summary

Festivals have different outlooks depending on their locatoins and seasons.
Now, why don’t you come see these in Japan in person?