Yosakoi Soran Festival in Sapporo
Sapporo’s Yosakoi Soran Festival proved to be a conundrum at first.
Yosakoi, meaning “Come at night,” is celebrated throughout the country and it’s hard to imagine another city matching the passion displayed by those in Sapporo.
JapanTravel is about granular content, so how could a broad description of this energetic experience suffice? It seems antithetical.
Then, in an instant, it hits me.
Standing along the streets lining Odori Park in the center of the city, any semblance of cynicism is obliterated by the sheer joyfulness exuded by the dancers as they feverishly move in unison to a modern version of the Awa Odori, a traditional summer dance.
It’s in that moment where, for a split second, my eyes lock with one of the festival’s participants and we smile warmly at one another and then, the moment is gone.
And what’s more granular than that?
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri - Odori Park
Odori Park is a block wide stripe that cuts over the east side of the city - each block then has its own massive snow sculpture that is a recreation of a world famous monument or a diorama of something in Japan.
You wander up and down the park looking at the sculptures that start at one end and those made by the organizers, and sponsors but gradually become those of overseas guests for a competition and then those made by Sapporo residents.
All of them are very impressive for their details or unique ideas.
My favorites were a Gundam and the tree spirits from Princess Mononoke.
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
Hakata Gion Yamakasa is Fukuoka’s most well-known and exciting festival.
If you’re in Japan in July, or are planning on coming to Fukuoka, I would advise timing your stay to witness this amazing matsuri.
With a 750-year history behind it, this powerful festival is a feast for the eyes.
The celebration is said to originate from a Buddhist priest named Shoichi Kokushi who, in order to defeat a plague, spread holy water in the streets.
From this event the tradition developed and now during the festival water is splashed on participants in the streets.
Gozan no Okuribi (Mountain Bonfire)
Tears flowed freely down his cheeks, as he sniffed away quietly.
Around us, people exclaimed excitedly over the sight ahead of us while cameras clicked continuously.
His quiet sobbing made my heart quenched and I was almost moved to tears.
The old man was crying from his heart, as he stared intently at the blazing character atop the Daimonji mountain.
It’s July in Japan and for the city of Kyoto, that means the Gion Matsuri.
This year the event is split in two, the Saki Matsuri (July 17th: Yama Hoko Grand Parade) and the Ato Matsuri (July 24th: Yama Hoko Grand Parade & Hanagasa Flower Hat Procession).
The following floats are shown in this photo story: Abura Tenjin Yama, Arare Tenjinyama, Ashikari-yama, Ayagasa-hoko, En-no-gyoja-yama, Fune-hoko, Hachiman-yama, Hakurakuten-yama, Hashi-Benkei-Yama, Houka-hoko and Houshou-yama.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri
Rhythmic drumming pulses through the atmosphere, thick with anticipation.
The airy melody of a flute wafts between the beats of the drum.
The chants of cart-pullers drift across crowds of spectators, abuzz with excitement.
They have gathered to witness one of the greatest spectacles in Japan - the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri.
a Odori is the name of Tokushima's very own street dancing festival, a joyful spectacle showcasing the spirit of Tokushima’s people and a must-see for visitors to this corner of Shikoku.
Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri is an exciting festival in which people carry "mikoshi" or portable shrines to bring good luck to their businesses.
During the festival the area around Asakusa's Sensoji Temple is filled with hundreds of people.
There are drums and people playing the flute as well as people yelling from time to time.
The other significant part of interest is the amount of different food stalls where you can purchase many different foods, desserts and drinks of course.
The weather was very hot this year, so the people involved in the festival were caked in sweat and dust.
Aoi Matsuri Kyoto
The Aoi Matsuri is one of the oldest and most celebrated festivals in Japan.
So much so, the word “Matsuri” originally referred only to the Aoi festival.
Full of pageantry, the festival transforms the usually tranquil parklands into a big costume party, with people dressed in Heian period (794-1185) court regalia parading from the Imperial Palace.
Full of pomp and occasion, it culminates at the Shimagamo Shrine, where the townsfolk celebrate with dancing and games, like archery competitions and horse races.
It is where formality is infused with folklore and laughter.
Get ready, because the Kanda Festival (Kanda Matsuri) is one of the really big ones, and it only comes around once every 2 years.
The two-day festival in mid-May features distinct events on Saturday and Sunday, which are deeply tied to the festival's history.
Skytree and Sumidagawa Fireworks
Fireworks have a long history in Japan and are an integral part of many summer festivals.
The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in Tokyo dates back to the Edo period and is one of Japan's most famous fireworks displays.
Matsuyama Castle doesn’t actually look too different from other Japanese castles.
Built of stone and wood, their white plastered walls with distinctive curved black tiled roofs, stamp the castles with the same corporate look.
Matsuyama Castle, however, perched on 135 meter high Mount Katsuyama, means you can enjoy rather splendid and different perspectives of the Castle as you clamber up any one of four trails, than if you were to take the rope-way or chairlift.
Among Japan's famous historical sites, its castles are certainly some of the most unique.
Both architecturally and culturally, the castles of Japan are unlike any others you can find throughout the world.
Unfortunately, due to fires and wars, many of Japan's castles have had to be completely reconstructed.
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture is one of the few remaining originals, and is also one of Japan's most scenic, making it an easy choice to visit.
The sun was shining and there was a cool breeze in the air - the perfect day for a morning stroll.
And what better place to go for a wander, than around Hiroshima Castle? Located just north of the city center, the castle stands elegantly atop a small rise, surrounded by a wide moat.
A 1.5km walking trail weaves past the reconstructed ninomaru outer wall and around the moat, providing a number of excellent angles from which to view the castle.
With happy tourists snapping away, kids learning to ride their bikes, locals perched on benches engrossed in books, birds singing and the castle standing proudly in the background, it was a beautiful way to spend part of the day.
Castle in Matsue city was intended to be the highlight of my visit to Shimane prefecture and thus my friends were keeping it for a later date.
But...being a fan of castles and Japanese history I just could not wait and insisted on seeing it early.
To my pleasure, after a few of “onegai shimasu” they gave up their initial plan to wait before taking me to see this grand attraction of their home prefecture.
So on a one sunny weekend morning we left Izumo, bound for Matsue city; the capitol of Shimane prefecture.
It only took me ten minutes of walking from JR Osakajokoen until I finally saw the tip of the castle from Osaka Park.
Yet it was enough to amaze me.
Even from afar I could see that the castle boasted impressive gold ornaments and intrinsic detail, making it aesthetically pleasing to the eyes.
Nagoya Castle is one of Nagoya’s most prized gems and it is so obvious why.
It is an extremely popular spot for cherry blossom viewing but is still poignant without.
It truly is an astonishing piece of architecture and is simply breathtaking.
It is nice to appreciate it for a while before frantically snapping a camera at it.
If you have come to Japan to travel from another country, this is the type of place you want to show people once you get home to give them a taste of Japanese splendor.
The presence of the castle can easily satisfy any oriental cravings.
Himeji castle is the biggest, the most visited and definitely the most famous castle in Japan.
For years the castle was being restored but now, finally, the restoration is coming to an end; we can finally admire its full beauty without any cover! So take a little break from your daily life and go see this masterpiece of architecture.
Popular Genki Sushi chain offers a budget meal which you can order in a fun and easy way.
This high-tech Shibuya sushi shop has no waiters, yet service is fast.
Sushi Yamazaki, Tsukiji Fish Market
When you go to Tokyo's fish market, you surely don’t just want to look at things, but you want to try the sushi coming directly from the market, right? Where else if not here?
A few articles ago, I mentioned having family visiting from California.
One of their top requests was to eat the best sushi in town.
I was a little nervous about responding because I am definitely not a sushi expert.
Despite having lived here for four years, I consider dining at the local sushi-go-round pretty fantastic on an empty stomach.
So, my first response was “You’re going to be in Japan, so you’re already going to be eating the best sushi in the world!” But, then I did a little research on the web and came across Sushi Iwa located in Ginza, Tokyo.
A Michelin-starred restaurant, it was the ultimate sushi experience for us all, hands down!
Have you ever heard of a store that had to close down because they were too popular? The name of such a store is Rokurinsha Ramen.
They actually had to close down their original 2005 Osaki store because it became too popular, to the detriment of local residents in its residential neighborhood.
Because of complaints from the locals, they were forced to close up but could fortunately relocate to a more central location (and have since expanded across Tokyo, including back to their original Osaki premises!).
When you are in Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido, the overwhelming number good restaurants can make choosing the right one a daunting task.
Here is one restaurant that you must put on your list.
I was really glad that the manager at Enishiya, the guesthouse I was staying at, recommended this to me.
Hungry for something but not quite sure what? Want to sample a lot of different specialties without having to restaurant hop? Head to Kagomma Yataimura, a collection of food stalls just steps from Kagoshima-Chuo station.
Kill Bill Inspiration at Gonpachi
If the pictures of this restaurant look familiar to you, then you’re probably a Quentin Tarantino fan.
Gonpachi, the restaurant at 1-13-11 Nishi-Azabu in Minato-ku, served as the inspiration for the ‘House of Blue Leaves’ in Tarantino’s 2004 film, Kill Bill, and, as a result, it’s a particularly popular destination for foreigners.
Torikou, Yakitori Restaurant
Nogizaka Torikou is a premium restaurant located near Nogizaka and Roppongi, that specializes in authentic Japanese, high quality yakitori.
If you are a fan of yakitori, you will be hard pressed to find a better environment and larger selection in Tokyo.
Often when you travel to a foreign country you find yourself disappointed with its resemblance to home.
There is something entirely unexotic about going to a restaurant and finding a bottle of Heinz ketchup on the table.
Osaka is the kind of town that Anthony Bourdain, the host of the TV show No reservations would love to visit.
It has fantastic street food, an in your face approach to humor typified by manzai and a way of life known as kuidore, which literally means eat yourself to ruin.
Situated in the kitchen of Kansai with access to the freshest ingredients by land and sea, the people here will go to great lengths for the best ingredients and flavors, without regard to anything else.
If Bourdain was in Osaka today, chances he would drop in to Takanotetsu, a unpretentious diner filled with locals eating their waistlines to ruin with Osaka’s equivalent of Hamburgers or Hot Dogs, being Takoyaki, or what the owner calls pizza balls full of flour, octopus, and everything except the kitchen sink, while being washed down with mouthfuls of your favorite beer or something stronger.
In Kiyomizu-dera they sell a charm which says “avoid traffic accidents”, and another charm which says “You will avoid traffic accidents and your family will be happy”.
They were both 400 yen each.
I wondered; why would you want to buy the first one, when your family will be happy, at no extra charge?
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a picturesque shrine that you’ll often see in Japan photobooks and guides.
It’s particularly photogenic and famous because the shrine grounds are home to thousands of red torii gates (called the Senbon Torii), which frame the trails behind its buildings.
The trails lead follow a 4 kilometre stretch up to Mount Inari and can take hours to explore in-depth.
When Tokugawa Ieyasu set up the Bakufu government (Shogunate) in Edo, Hie-jinja was enshrined inside of Edo Castle (modern day Imperial Palace) as a guard against evil spirits.
In 1659, the fourth Shogun Ietsuna moved it to its current location.
Hie-jinja is also known as San-no-sama, and has a big biennial festival (San-no Matsuri) on June 15.
People visit this shrine wishing for a happy marriage life, the blessing of children, and a safe delivery.
The Pair of Monkeys seen at the shrine symbolizes those wishes.
The Shinkansen Experience
Shinkansen are no ordinary trains.
Nicknamed ‘bullet trains’ for good reason, JR’s shinkansen are the fastest and best-known services in Japan, and just seeing one zip past is impressive.
If you are travelling long distances in Japan and need to get around the country, they are much better than airplanes.
Mt. Fuji is the iconic image of Japan presented on numerous pictures and prints, so it is a place I consider a “mandatory” visit.
On my first visit to Japan, I bought a 1-day bus pass to visit Mt. Fuji for ¥10,000.
It promised, "Proceed on by an air-conditioned bus for a 2.5-hour ride to Mt. Fuji, heading up to a height of 7,607 feet (2,305m) above sea level on the mountain.
Your first stop is the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center, offering astounding views of the entire region and an informative museum” That sounded tempting!
Sakura at the Osaka Mint
Want to know where to see one of the fullest collections of cherry blossoms in Osaka? I would surely recommend you to go to the Osaka Mint.
The Osaka Mint is one of my favorite places to view cherry blossoms (Sakura).
It has a Sakura walk-through (To-ri-nu-ke) in its compound, which is open for only one week annually to the public for Sakura viewing.
The walk-through is normally open on the second week of April every year depending on the cherry blossom forecast.
In 2014, the walk-through will be open from 11 to 17 April.
The featured flower is "Matsumaekotoitozakura", it has 40 to 45 petals and changes from crimson to pink after blooming.
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