Monday, June 29, 2009

Popular Magazines in Japan

Step into any bookstore in Japan and you will surely see a dizzying array of colorful magazines filling the racks. The girl’s and women’s magazines would be especially eye-catching. Since Japan is famous as a trend-setting nation where fashion trends are transmitted globally, the abundance and quality of fashion magazines in the country is outstanding. Today, I will recommend several popular women's magazines that strongly influence the market.

Seventeen – Seventeen is a popular teen magazine, specifically targeting junior high school or high school students. Given this student-based target audience, magazines like Seventeen offer tips on how to fashionably tweak school uniform outfits, or how to enjoy a fun, low-cost date with your partner.

nonno– This is another popular magazine, this time targeting women in their university years. The nonno style combines and nimbly balances cuteness and casualness, thus catching the attention of many young women. In between its stylish fashion spreads, the magazine also gives advice in love and school life, so it can be widely enjoyed by many readers. Every now and then, free supplements (such as small accessory pouches, card cases, etc) are enclosed so they add to the fun of the magazines too! Nonno’s main rivals are magazines such as Mina and Sweet, which target the same audience and are recommended as well.

CanCam – This magazine targets university students and young OL's (the common nickname for “Office Ladies,” basically meaning women who work in supporting roles at offices). This magazine is so successful that many of the magazine’s exclusive models are now charismatic celebrities who have become brands in themselves. The magazine also features many brand-name items within their carefully planned fashion themes. Each monthly issue is very thick in size, making it worth every yen. CanCam’s sister magazine, ANEcan, is also well-worth a read! This sister publication targets women in their late 20s who still want to remain young-looking and fashionable even if they have moved up to higher ranks at the office.

These three magazines may be the three staple publications for young women in Japan, but they don’t even begin to represent the variety and amount of women fashion magazines in the country. Magazines dedicated to Harajuku-style fashion, Japanese Gal fashion, Gothic-lolita, housewives styles etc. can be found in book stores and convenient stores too. With such variety to choose from, you will surely find the magazine that fits your personal fashion style.

Although most of these magazines do not come with English versions, plus they might cost slightly more than Western publications, flipping through one would allow you to see and understand the latest trends in Japan. These magazines would also make great souvenirs for your fashion-savvy friends as well!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Miyajima Part Two -Itsukushima Shrine-

You can never describe the beauty of Miyajima without mentioning Itsukushima Shrine!

Despite being a shrine, the most famous structure out of the many in the Itsukushima Shrine area is the Ootorii (The great guard frame). This Torii is widely known as one of Japan's most important cultural assets and is now the 8th generation gate, after being rebuilt numerous times since it was first constructed in 1875. It is 16.6 meters in height, weighs approximately 60 tons, and is made out of camphor tree wood that is about 500 to 600 years old—an age that can surely be felt firsthand through the gate's aura. Since the Ootorii is so large in size, and is painted in a bright, catchy vermillion color, you can even see it from the ferry to Miyajima island.

When the tide is low, you can walk from the main shrine to the Ootorii and pass under the great gate. On the other hand, when the tide is high, you can pass under the gate on sightseeing boats. I recommend researching when the tide is both high and low in advance so that you can enjoy the great gate in many ways. However, regardless of time, the Ootorii of Itsukushima Shrine is definitely a great piece of art that one should see at least once in their lifetime.

The main shrine is also an outstanding construction that is both splendid and exquisite. Walking down the shrine's wooden aisles makes you feel as if you have slipped back in time. Also, because the shrine is built along the shore, when the tide is high, it seems as if the whole building is floating on water. It's not uncommon to see water squirting out of the small crevices between the wooden boards that make up the aisles of the shrine. Numerous twists in architecture seen in the shrine protect the structure from the force of water, however, nature is no doubt strong. Like the Ootorii, the shrine has been rebuilt numerous times due to damages from natural disasters, but is still loved and respected by many people today.

Another aspect that makes the atmosphere of the Itsukushima area special is the presence of wild deer that dwell around the shrine. Deer that roam around the Miyajima area are very well adjusted to humans, and often come close to tourists looking for food. Deer being deer, they could be stubborn and uncooperative at times, but the way they match the scenery of Itsukushima Shrine and the surrounding constructions give an outstanding and unforgettable flavor.

Itsukushima's shrine has a history of over 1400 years, and out of thousands of other beautiful sightseeing spots, is definitely one of the most recommended places to visit in Japan. Once you see it, the powerful vermillion of the Ootorii is permanently seared into your head and you will never forget the beauty of the area.

But despite all I've said, it's nearly impossible to put Itsukushima Shrine's allure in words! So do yourself a favor and visit Itsukushima, and you'll understand why it's registered as a World Heritage Site and is loved by thousands of people all over the world!!

*Entrance fee to the Itsukushima Shrine is JPY 300 for adults, JPY 170 for high school students, and JPY 150 for elementary and junior high school students. Opening hours are 8:30 AM to 5:00PM.

Miyajima Part One -Omotesando -

A mere 10 minute-ferry ride from Miyajima Station will bring you to an island just off the coast of the Seto Inland Sea. That small island is Miyajima, also called Itsukushima. Chosen as one of the Nihon Sankei (Three Most Beautiful Spots of Japan), the island's beautiful scenery will surely satisfy any visitor.

As soon as you get off the ferry, turning right will first take you to Omotesando, a small shopping avenue (yes, it bears the same name as the popular fashion street in Tokyo, but of course it's something different.). There, hundreds of souvenir shops are located. Today, I'll introduce to you some of the most interesting don't-miss-sights that you can enjoy in Omotesando!

First of all, I recommend you to see the giant shamoji (rice scoop). In the 18th century, a shamoji was created in Miyajima as a souvenir for visitors and selling them helped the residents of the island economically. Ever since, Miyajima has been the most famous place in Japan for shamoji. In Miyajima today, the world's largest shamoji is displayed in the middle of Omotesando! That shamoji, also called the "Ooshakushi" (Giant Rice Scoop) is 7.7 meters wide, 2.7 meters tall and weighs 2.5 tons. It is said to have been created from a 270 year old zelkova tree, and has been placed in its current location ever since Miyajima was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1996. The shamoji symbolizes not only the classic traditions of Miyajima, but also the hope to carry on the torch for future, making the giant rice scoop a well respected icon in the area. I'm sure you'll surely be surprised to feel how much power the shamoji truly exudes.

After left feeling astonished from the large shamoji, there is one more aspect that I recommend -gourmet!!-. First up, oysters! As you walk across Omotesando, you will see numerous shops that are grilling fresh oysters on nets and the scent that fills the air naturally attract customers! Buy one, pick it up with a toothpick and brace yourself for the great taste! Another gourmet I recommend is Anago (conger). They are also grilled on nets and are then dipped into a special sauce. The best way to enjoy it is to put them atop rice bowls and enjoy them as a domburi. You can find many anago-don diners in Omotesando as well, so don't hesitate to judge for yourself!

Omotesando is only a tiny part of the ways to enjoy Miyajima, but now that you know, it's definitely a must-visit location!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Specialty Foods Around Japan

If asked what my favorite pastime was, I would unhesitatingly say, "eating!" Alright, so it's not the most cultured hobby out there, but food is, after all, the source of all energy and happiness!...No? Anyhow, I've previously shared some of my favorite types of Japanese foods on several occasions, such as onigiris and sakura-mochis (link to previous posts). Today, allow me to further introduce some other famous kyodo ryori, or regional specialty dishes, especially those outside the Tokyo region.

Starting from the top of Japan, if you ever find yourself in Hokkaido, don't miss Sapporo ramen and locally-made raw caramel. Sapporo, being the birthplace of miso-flavored noodles, offers the true original miso-ramen in addition to the equally popular Sapporo curry ramen. Next up, the Hanabatake Bokujo's raw caramel has stirred up quite the consumer sensation in recent years. It's not too milky, not too sweet, chewy and soft, yet not sticky—in other words, just right. Aside from the small boxes of caramel pieces, you can also find ice-cream covered with warm melted caramel. Once only available in Hokkaido, the farm company has recently opened up specialty stores in Tokyo as well, but if possible, I'd still recommend you head up to the farm to get the freshest tastes.

Moving down south into Tohoku region, Miyagi Prefecture's Sendai City might as well be a mandatory spot for gyuutan (beef tongue) lovers. Originating in Sendai in 1948, gyuutan is now a staple in all Japanese barbeque joints around the country. The thin pieces of meat are grilled to perfection within minutes, and you can enjoy the unique chewy texture of the meat in salt (tanshio) or sauce (tare) flavors.

From east to west, we'll jump from meat to more meat, as you hit Nagoya, Aichi and their famous miso-katsu. This dish is basically the renowned Japanese pork cutlets served with miso sauce, which gives it a refreshing and uniquely local twist. Also don't miss the local tebasaki, or chicken wings, which are marinated in a slightly sweet sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. If you're looking for something aside from meat, Nagoya is also famous for their fresh eel atop rice, in the form of savory unagi-dons.

Moving further west, stop by Shikoku's Kagawa Prefecture for a bowl of refreshing sanuki udon. This udon takes the namesake of the Prefecture's previous name of "Sanuki," and is loved for its thick, slightly stiff yet chewy texture. This type of udon is arguably the most popular in Japan, and can be eaten hot or cold, dipped or in soup, and has also spread all over the country.

While I'd love to go on, I'll stop here before I start drooling over my keyboard! Stay tuned for more kyodo ryoris in the future!

Monday, June 22, 2009


Monjayaki is a dough-like food made of flour, dashi (broth), vegetables, and any fish or meat. The ingredients are first finely chopped, diced, and well-mixed together before being grilled on a hot plate. Perhaps it's easier to describe monjayaki as the more liquid, runnier version of okonomiyaki.

Monjayaki is mainly served in the Kanto area and not many Japanese people know of its existence and how it is made outside the Kanto area. While it is major in the Tsukishima area (Tokyo), it is almost never seen in the Osaka area, where okonomiyaki is a prominent delicacy.

The monjayaki itself looks quite grotesque with a dark brown and mushy glob mixed with the variety of ingredients. Although it may not look too appetizing, the taste is truly magnificent! It's one of those uniquely Japanese foods such as; natto (fermented beans), karinto (fried brown-sugar stick), uni (sea urchin), which look grotesque yet have the taste of wonder.

There are two types of traditional monjayaki, the sauce monja and the shiro monja. In sauce monja, sauce is mixed with the batter itself and grilled on the hot plate, whereas shiro monja is a type of monja which only mixes salt in the batter itself. Shiro monja's "shiro" means white, referring to the image of "salt."

If you are challenging enough and don’t mind how your food looks, I guarantee you will love this! Start "monja-ing" today, because this tastes absolutely GREAT!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake-like food where many vegetables, fish or meat are mixed. While described as pancake-like, it's not a dessert and is eaten for dinner or snack. There is not an "official" type of okonomiyaki—the word “Okonomi yaki” speaks for itself, since “okonomi” means “whatever you like” and “yaki” means “grilled” so in other words, it's simply grilled pancake with whatever you like.

One thing most okonomiyaki have in common is the sauce. Usually most okonomiyaki are eaten with mayonnaise and tonkatsu or okonomiyaki sauce, with some shredded red ginger and aonori (dried seaweed flakes).

Okonomiyaki also differ by areas in Japan. The two major area-based okonomiyaki are the Kansai area version and the Hiroshima area version.

Kansai Area:
Kansai okonomiyaki is a traditional pancake type where you mix everything in one bowl and grill it at once. The batter is made of flour, grated yam, dashi (broth), eggs, shredded cabbage, and mixed-in ingredients usually contain green onions (chives), meats, octopus, squid, or dried shrimp. In recent years there are more modern types of okonomiyaki which include kimchi, cheese or even mochi inside. Okonomiyaki is quite a symbolic meal in the Kansai-Osaka area and could even easily be called the “soul food” of Osaka.

Hiroshima Area:
Hiroshima's okonomiyaki has just about the same ingredients as the Kansai version, but instead of mixing everything together, they layer it. They first grill the batter, then the cabbage (3 to 4 times the amount of the Kansai version), then the pork or whatever other ingredients you favor. Then the grilled ingredients are wrapped with noodles and eggs like a Western omelet. The order of cooking might slightly differ by area, but Hiroshima people believe that this is the true way to make okonomiyaki.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle, also known as Osaka-jo, was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and is located in current Osaka's Chuo-ku. This modern-day landmark played a major role during the Azuchi Momoyama Era in the sixteenth century. The castle is built on a landfill platform, supported by cut rocks. This way of building is called "Burdock piling," named after the similar looking Japanese burdock plant. The castle itself is eight stories high, and today the inside has been transformed into a museum with artifacts and weapons on display.

Now, the castle is open to the public and anyone can enter with tickets. As you walk into the castle, you're greeted by a super-modern lobby, which resembles that of high-class hotel rather than a museum. While sleek and beautiful, the lobby left me with a mixed feeling of regret and yearning for a traditional atmosphere, but I also admit I welcomed the I-can-definitely-use-the-restroom-here relief! (I can't help feeling that restrooms at historical locations tend to be quite dirty...)

The view from the top of the castle on the 8th floor is breathtaking, and makes you imagine what Toyotomi Hideyoshi may have been thinking as he looked down at the city from there.

Osaka Castle is located in the middle of Osaka-jo Koen (Park) and is a leisurely 15-20 minute walk from Osakajokoen Station or Tenmabashi Station. It may sound long to walk for 15 ~ 20 minutes, but the park is filled with beautiful greenery and many other things to look at, so you'll be there before you know it!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Umi no Hi -Marine Day-

Surrounded by the colorful lights and handsome buildings of Tokyo, it's sometimes hard to forget that Japan is an island nation. However, I can't begin to stress the importance of the ocean borders on the country's culture, environment, economy and agriculture. So influential are Japan's oceans, that the nation celebrates "Marine Day", or Umi no hi every summer.

Established as a national memorial day in 1941, it was further declared as a public holiday in 1996 as a day of gratitude to appreciate the benefits reaped from the ocean and pray for the sea-faring nation's further prosperity. In other words, another reason for the people of Japan to kick back, relax, and take a break from the sweltering heat of Japan's summers.

If you visit Japan during Marine Day, which falls July 20th this year, expect to encounter crowds trying to take advantage of a rare three-day weekend. Appropriate to the holiday, many people rush to beaches, aquariums, pools, or depending on where you are in Japan, certain cities and towns will throw big festivals and extravagant firework displays.

In Tokyo, don't miss the city's biggest water attraction at Shinagawa Aquarium, where you can greet the local dolphin, seal and otter stars in addition to all the other fascinating sea creatures housed in the aquarium's 1,800 tons of water. This year, right in time for Marine Day, a new jellyfish section is scheduled to open, where four different species and nearly 100 jellyfish will call home. Also, from Marine Day weekend onwards, the aquarium will extend their opening hours to accommodate the projected increase of visitors.

Being a modern holiday, there are no traditions or official ceremonies associated with this Marine Day. Therefore, along with the rest of the nation, choose your own way to celebrate the shores that have shaped modern-day Japan.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Toshimaen [Wiiii]

Just by taking the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station, you can take yourself to one of the most famous amusement parks in Tokyo! That amusement park is called Toshimaen and it is definitely an enjoyable place to spend the upcoming summer days!

As I mentioned, Toshimaen is an amusement park - so of course there are rides and attractions that can be enjoyed! However, there is something much better in Toshimaen that I truly recommend to you – the abundant pools! There are giant wave pools, pools with rapids, pools with waterfalls, pools for competitive swimming, and regular pools that can be enjoyed by people of all ages – with families, friends, and even with your loved one!

There is more than swimming to amuse yourself with at Toshimaen - enjoy the water slides! The water slides are called "HYDRO POLIS". Toshimaen possesses four types of water slides which are also the biggest slides in the prefecture. One type of water slide is the thrilling type. It does not have a snake-shaped path, so you fall straight down with full speed from a height of 22 meters! Other types of water slides to be enjoyed are a tube slide and others that wiggle left and right. Although it takes quite a lot of climbing to get to the top of the water slides, it will fill your heart with excitement.

The water slides here at Toshimaen are among the most famous and most popular water slides in Tokyo; so they are definitely worth experiencing! Why not go to Toshimaen and start your summer off with a splash!

*Entrance fee for the swimming pools at Toshimaen is JPY3800 for adults, JPY2800 for children 110cm and above in height, and JPY1800 for children 110cm and lower in height. Please keep in mind that people with noticeable tatoos will not be accepted into the pool.

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