Valentine’s Day in Japan

Japanese Valentine’s Day is not like the others. Valentine’s Day is the day for Japanese women to get creative and present gifts to men. Back in the 1950s, the act of women confessing their feelings was considered radical and taboo (and sometimes still is). Valentine’s Day was established so that it was acceptable for women to take a risk and confess their feelings in Japan. There is a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentine’s Day, which sees Japanese women preparing the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy readymade chocolate in shops. However, women do not only give chocolate to their lovers, they also give chocolate to their male colleagues, bosses, close male friends and even their father and brothers. This is called Giri choco with no romance involved. It is a practice that’s intended to show appreciation to co-workers, and is given just for friendship or gratitude. Men will then return the favour a month later on White Day (14th March).

valentine 2
valentine3

This phenomenon has caused stress to many people about Valentine’s Day especially at work! According to our Japanese travel consultant Midori, it is an unspoken rule in Japanese society for girls who give out chocolate to their lovers and co-workers, to expect gifts of 3 or 4 times the value of the presents they gifted in return on White Day. It gets stressful to buy chocolates for co-workers as you have to worry about mixed signals and can’t buy chocolates that are too cheap as it could be seen as an insult to the person who receives it. Also, it is common for guys to compete on the amount of chocolate they receive on Valentine’s Day as it indicates their popularity among females. People in Japan are protesting against this unspoken custom and it is becoming more and more common for corporate offices to enforce a ban on obligation chocolates.

Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament Finals this weekend(Sumo Basho)

With the January Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament Finals approaching, what do you know about sumo wrestling? Is it just two humongous Japanese men wrestling each other to the end? What is sumo about?

Sumo wrestling dates back to between the third and the seventh centuries when bouts were performed as a way to pray for bountiful crops or to predict whether that year’s harvest would be good. In the Nara period (710-794) and Heian period (794- 1192), Sumo became an event conducted at the imperial court, and bouts were performed in front of the emperor.

Sumo in the ancient time

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and it requires years of strict training to become a wrestler at a stable, Heya. The Heya is where the wrestlers live and train and a wrestler will stay with the same stable throughout his career. Rikishi (力士), is what a professional sumo wrestler is known as in Japanand the name reflects the strength and toughness expected combined with a gentlemanly samurai image. Professional Sumo is divided into six ranked divisions, starting from the lowest divisions Jonokuchi, Jonidan, Sandanme, Makushita, Juryo to the top rank Sumo wrestler division Makuuchi. Only 42 wrestlers can be ranked as Makuuchi and the ranking position is defined by their performance in previous tournaments.

Sumo Basho Sumo Grand Tournament Japan

The official professional sumo tournament (Honbasho, is a six tournament system established in 1958. Tournaments are called basho, last for 15 days, and only sumo wrestlers from the top two ranked divisions (Makuuchi and Juryo) are qualified to participate.  Makuuchi is the only division that has live coverage on national TV and has bilingual English commentary. There are five ranks within Makuuchi: Yokozuna, Ozeki, Sekiwake and Komusubi, ranked from the highest to the lowest.

Top Ranking Division – Makuuchi

Yokozuna in a New Year ceremony

Yokozuna is the highest rank a sumo wrestler can reach within the Makuuchi Division, and he wears a rope around the waist during the dohyo-iri ring entrance ceremony. The ceremony is held before the competitive bouts of the day. One interesting fact about this rank is retirement, as opposed to all other sumo ranks, Yokozuna cannot be demoted.

Chankonabe

  Sumo wrestlers are enjoying their Chankonabe weight-gaining mealChankonabe

This is usually eaten by the sumo wrestler as part of their weight gain diet. The dish contains a dashi (broth made from kelp and smoked skipjack tuna), fish or chicken broth with sake or mirin to add flavour, but the bulk is made up of large quantities of protein sources such as chicken, fish, tofu, or sometimes beef, and vegetables. It is very protein-rich and usually served in massive quantities, with beer and rice to increase the calorific intake. The Chankonabe served during the sumo tournaments is made exclusively with chicken, the idea being that a Rikishi should always be on two legs like a chicken, not all fours!

You can add a Sumo experience and Chanko lunch in Tokyo to your itinerary.

Take part in the Sumo wrestler’s daily life and have Chankonabe, their weight-gain lunch with them. You can witness demonstrations by retired Sumo wrestlers with their stories of its history, practice and tournaments. It is also possible to try on a Sumo costume and challenge a sumo wrestler to match!

You are always welcome to give us a call on 020 8543 8133 or email info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk for more inspiration to your journey to Japan.

 

@singaporeliciouz

5 Street Foods in Osaka You Must Try

5 Street Foods in Osaka You Must Try

Osaka is the birthplace of many delicious local cuisines and you should not miss out on the street food in Osaka.

1. Takoyaki

@mirwuku

This is the famous grilled octopus ball with flour and egg based batter filled with octopus slices, pickled ginger and green onion. Takoyaki sauce and other toppings such as mayonnaise, powdered nori seaweed and dried bonito fish flakes are added to complete this popular street snack.

2. Okonomiyaki

@Okonomiyaki_Turuya

The famous Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake dish, made with shredded cabbage and a whole range of other ingredients such as squid, prawn, octopus or meat. It is usually served with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito fish flakes and powdered nori seaweed.

3. Kushikatsu

Kushikatsu is a Japanese dish of deep fried skewered meat and vegetable. The Kushikatsu are usually dipped in a sauce before eating. However, there is a rule though, double dipping is big “no no” in a shared sauce container.

4. Kitsune Udon

Kitsune Udon by tokyodollnl

The broth of Kitsune Udon, the dashi stock is made from scratch with dried bonito flakes and kombu seaweed.  People usually eat the soup udon with toppings like narutomaki(fish cake) and spinach.

5. Horumon

@supersusie_t

Horumon is the grilled beef, pork or poultry offal originated in Osaka. This dish is usually served in teppan-yaki style (iron pan grilled), Kushi-yaki style (grilled skewers) or barbecue style (Yakiniku) that influenced by the Korean.

Where to go for Osaka street food

Shinsekai Area

Address: Ebisuhigashi, Naniwaku, Osaka 556-0002, Osaka Prefecture
Info: http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/facilities/cat37/post_300.html

Dotonbori Area


Address: Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan
Info: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/regional/osaka/dotonbori.html

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You are always welcome to ring us at 020 8543 8133 or email info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk for more information.

The MUST GO Lavender Farms in Hokkaido

The MUST GO Lavender Farms in Hokkaido

You may have discovered some of the beautiful lavender farms in England and France, however visiting lavender farms in Hokkaido is one experience you should fulfill when visiting Japan during the summer months.  The best time to go is in July as it is the flower blooming time for lavender in Furano. Don’t miss out the lavender ice cream sold at the Farm Tomita, they are cool and delicious! They also serve Yubari King melon flavoured soft ice cream, a famous top grade melon in Japan which was sold at auction for 3 million yen (about £21,500) for a pair this year.

Lavender Farms in Furano, Hokkaido

      
The colourful rainbow at Farm Tomita in Furano
Credit: Farm Tomita


Lavender East, Furano


Lavender ice cream
Credit: Instagrammer @fujita_k

Nakafurano Lavender Festival

There is a Nakafurano Lavender Festival in July each year. Spend a couple of days in the area and watch the spectacular 400 years old traditional hand-held firework celebration ceremony.


Credit: Nakafurano Town

For more travel inspiration please feel free to call us on 020 8543 8133 or email info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk

Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan

Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan is going to be held from 20th September to 2nd November!
20 nations will gather in Japan for the rugby’s world most important event that holds once every four years! Japan is the first Asian country to host such grand tournament in Rugby. We are very excited and cannot wait for all these big sporting events that are happening in Asia… 2017 Japan Formula 1 Grand Prix, 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic, 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan, 2020 Tokyo Olympic and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic etc…

The venues of the Rugby have all been announced and are as follows:

  • Sapporo Dome, Sapporo City
  • Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Iwate Prefecture/Kamaishi City
  • Kumagaya Rugby Ground, Saitama Prefecture/Kumagaya City
  • New National Stadium Japan, Tokyo
  • International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture/Yokohama City
  • Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka Prefecture
  • Toyota Stadium, Aichi Prefecture/Toyota City
  • Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka Prefecture/Higashi Osaka City
  • Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium, Kobe City
  • Hakatanomori Football Stadium, Fukuoka City
  • Kumamoto Prefectural Athletic Stadium, Kumamoto Prefecture/Kumamoto City
  • Oita Stadium, Oita Prefecture

The pool draw results are out today 10th May 2017 at Kyoto. 20 qualified teams have been divided into four pools of 5 teams to play against each other.

The Draw

Pool A Pool B Pool C Pool D
Band 1 Ireland New Zealand England Australia
Band 2 Scotland South Africa France Wales
Band 3 Japan Italy Argentina Georgia
Band 4 Europe 1 Africa 1 Americas 1 Oceania 1
Band 5 Play-off winner Repechage winner Oceania 2 Americas 2

 

Discover the UNESCO Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

Immerse yourself into the folk lives of UNESCO Shirakawa-go and Gokayama villages

Best view from the Ogimachi Castle ruins view point

The historic village of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. The 114 farmhouses are famous for preserving the traditional Gassho-zukuri style houses with the iconic A shaped thatched roofs built without nails, some of which are more than 300 years old.

The wisdom in gassho-zukuri design

Houses in this style is usually 18m long and 10m wide. The farmhouses are usually have 4 floors and the thatched roofs are sharp like 45 degree or more steep than that to withstand the weight of heavy snow in the winter. The name of the design is related to the Buddhism influence in Japan where it is called Gassho in Japanese because the thatched roofs looks like the hands in prayer. The Gassho-zukuri style roofs are reattached once in 40-50 years and even today three or four roofs are reattached each year with the cooperation of the whole village.

The main houses to visit in the Shirakawa-go village

Several Gassho-zukuri houses have been designated as important cultural properties and are open to the public.

Wada House (和田家) is the biggest house in the area, there are still people living in this house but 1st floor and 2nd is open to public, while Nagase House(長瀬家) and Kanda House(神田家) are also welcoming visitors and even serve hot teas in the house. It is recommended to choose one of the three houses to visit.

Wada House – image source from internet


Hot tea is served in the Kanda House – image source from internet


Nagase House Exhibition – Image source from internet

Myozenji Temple 明善寺


The biggest Gasho construction with 5 stories in the village built in 1748.
The roof of the main hall, the kitchen, the bell tower arch and all built with thatches in gassho-zukuri style and has an important status in the village. It is now open as museum to show the local folk living utensils with a welcoming fireplace at the ground floor. The temple is also raising the silkworm at the roof loft and it is interesting to visit.

Spring/Summer time is a great time to go as you can also see cherry blossoms and many blooming flowers in the area.

Here is a clip that I found on Youtube and it is perfectly showing the beauty of Shirakawa-go village in Spring time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77-KPx9PR5Y

Transport and Accommodation:

Take a Nohi Bus from Takayama, Kanazawa/Toyama bus centre to Shirakawago

The Gifu and Kaetsuno bus companies also go to the area and you can speak to our Japanese native experts to arrange. It is always good to book with us as we can provide english speaking guides along your journey and they are always happy to help.

Accommodation stay in the farmhouse transformed minsuku for the night is also an excellent experience if you have time to spend in the village.
On a special note, winter is another excellent time to go to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama villages. There will be lights up in the winter so it is worth it to stay the night in the winter season to experience the fairy tale like scene from the beautiful village. Make sure you book early for this as it is really popular and the accommodations in the village are filling up very quickly.

Lights up in Shirakawa-go village in winter
Source from the internet

Always welcome to give us a ring at +442085438133 or email us at info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk

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Top 5 places to admire cherry blossom in Tokyo

Cherry Blossom is in full bloom in Tokyo now!
Here are top 5 places to admire Cherry Blossom in Tokyo voted by the local Japanese.

1. Meguro River 目黒川(Full Bloom)

Cherry Blossom are standing along the Meguro River from Setagaya-ku, about 8 km through Meguro-ku, Shinagawa-ku. It is a very nice walk from Nakameguro station to Meguro station. There are approximately 800 Japanese yoshino cherry blossoms are blooming on both sides of the river along the river, from Ikejiri Ohashi Bridge to Kamogawa Bridge (Shinagawa Ward) under Tokyu Meguro Line. Although there is not a big park, it is possible to enjoy rough walking along the river. Night Cherry Blossom viewing is also very popular in this area.

Address: 3-1 Higashiyama, Meguronto Shimoeguro

Transportation: [Train] Tōkyū Tōyoko Line/ Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Nakameguro station and walk 2 minutes/
JR Meguro Station and walk 5 minutes

Price: Free

 

2. Chidori-ga-fuchi 千鳥ヶ淵公園 (Start Bloom)

It is one of the significant spot for cherry blossoms in Tokyo. It is located in a place between Chidori-ga-fuchi on the west side of the Imperial Palace and the British Embassy, ​​and about 170 cherry blossoms is blooming, including Yoshino cherry tree and Yamazakura. Many visitors walk pass the park every day, including businessmen who stop by work and couples who enjoy cherry blossoms. The reflection of cherry blossoms on the surface of the water is absolutely splendid.

Address: 1-2 Kojimachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo/ 2 Ichibancho

Transportation: [Train] Tokyo Metro Tozai Line, Hanzomon Line, Toei Shinjuku Line to Kudanshita Station and walk 5 minutes

Price: Free

 

3. Rikugi-en, Bunkyo-ku 六義園の桜 (Half Bloom)

The 5th Tokugawa Shogun built the Toyko’s most beautiful Japanese landscape garden more than 70 years ago. The cherry blossom landmark of Rikugien is about 15 m in height and about 20 m in width, and blooms are like a waterfall where light-red flowers lying down. Is is also worth seeing in limited light up time.

Opening time: 9:00~17:00
Cherry Blossom Light up period  (till 16/3 – 6/4/2017) closes at 21:00, no entry 30 minutes before the park close

Address: 6-16-3 Honkomagome, Bunkyo, Tokyo

Transportation: JR Komagome Station and walk 2 minutes

Entry price: 300 Yen (Standard ), 150 Yen ( Aged 65 above )

 

4. Koishikawa Kōrakuen Garden 小石川後楽園の桜 (Full Bloom) 

This is one of the oldest and best preserved parks in Tokyo starting to be built in 1629 in Edo Period. The design of the garden is hugely influenced by the West Lake of Hangzhou. You can enjoy a variety of cherry blossoms, including Yoshino cherry tree and rare curcuma in Tokyo. The park is also popular with maple tree viewing in autumn.

Opening time: 9:00 – 17:00
18/03/2017 – 05/04/2017: 9:00 – 18:00 (No entry 30minutes before the park close)

Address: 1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo, Tokyo

Transportation: [Train] Oedo Line -Lidabashi station and walk for 3 minutes

Price: 300 Yen (Standard), Free (Children)

 

5. Ueno Park (Night view) 上野恩賜公園 (Half Bloom)

The Ueno Park is known as a cherry blossom viewing spot from the Edo period, and people can fully enjoy nature throughout the four seasons. It is said that the cherry blossoms were transplanted from Yoshino mountain by Amemi Amami, and there are more than 1000 cherry trees gives incredible color to the garden, lining at its central pathway. The park attract large numbers of hanami parties.

Opening time: 5:00~23:00

Address: 5-20 Uneokoen, Taito, Tokyo

Transportation: [Train] JR Ueno station by Ginza Line, Akagi line, Hitachi- Tokiwa, Akita Shinkansen, Hibiya line, Hokurika-Shinkansen, Joban Line, Joetsu Shinkansen, Keihintohoku Line, Odoriko

Price: Free

 

You’re always welcome to give us a ring at 020 85438133 or email info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk for more information.

Cherry Blossom Varieties You will see in Japan right now

Which cherry blossom varieties are blooming right now?

It is almost in the middle of the cherry blossom blooming period.

There are forecast from the Japan Weather Association indicated that next week is going to be full bloom in Kanto (e.g. Tokyo), Chubu (e.g. Nagoya) , Kansai (e.g. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara), Chugoku (e.g. Hiroshima) and Shikoku area (e.g. Matsuyama)

There are 3 main variety of flowers is going to be fully bloomed next week and you will see them everywhere in Japan.

1. Somei Yoshino (Yoshino Cherry)

Average blooming period in Tokyo: early April

Cultivated during the Edo Period in Tokyo, the Somei Yoshino is by far the most popular cherry tree in Japan. Somei Yoshino trees has delicate, single white, sometime pink, 5-petaled blossoms.

 

2. Yamazakura (Hill Cherry)

Credit: livejapan.com

Average blooming period in Tokyo: early April

The yamazakura (also known as Wild cherry) is the most common cherry tree variety of Japan that actually grows wildly in nature as opposed to cultivars such as the Somei Yoshino. Its blossoms are slightly pink and have five, relatively small petals. The Yamazakura’s fresh leaves develop at the same time as the blossoms.

3. Shidarezakura(Weeping Cherry)

Average blooming period in Tokyo: early April

Weeping cherry trees have drooping branches and are among the most common and beloved cherry trees in Japan. There are two types: trees with blossoms of five petals and trees with blossoms of more than five petals. The latter are called Yaeshidarezakura and bloom about a week later than the 5-petaled ones.

What are you waiting for? Go check out cherry blossoms in Japan if you are there!

Always welcome to give us a ring at 020 8543 8133 or email us at info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk to plan your cherry blossom trip to Japan for 2018.

 

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Top 3 foods you must bring to Hanami (Cherry Blossom picnic)

With the cherry blossom months approaching, people in Japan are excited to be preparing their annual hanami party (picnic party). Most people start to check the cherry blossom forecast to find out the best time and place to have a picnic under the full bloomed cherry blossom tree and prepare the food to bring to the party. It is a tradition for people to gather for food, drinks, dance and playing games while enjoying the scenery and letting the natural floral fragrance refresh people senses.

There are 3 foods that you must not miss out on and they are traditionally accompanied with sake and  green tea.

1. Hanami Bento (Lunch box/picnic food)

Inside the Hanami Bento, it is normal to find items like makizushi (sushi rolls), inarizushi (sushi rice stuffed in fried tofu pouches, tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet), or kamaboko (pink and white fish cakes)

2. Hanami Dango

The Hanami Dango is made with glutinous rice flour and 3 dangos are usually served in a skewer in pink, white and green symbolising the three main spring colours in Japan.

3. Sakura Mochi

Kanto Style (e.g. Tokyo)

The Kanto style sakura mochi is made with rice flours and red bean paste wrapped in a salted cherry blossom leaf.

Kansai style (e.g. Kyoto) 

While, Kansai style sakura mochi is made with glutinous rice flour with red bean paste inside and wrapped in a salted cherry blossom leaf.

Start preparing for your hanami party and enjoy a lovely time under the cherry blossom trees with your friends and family!

Related article:

Check out Cherry Blossom Blooming forecast for 2017 in Japan

5 Spectacular Places to See Cherry Blossom in Japan

 

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You are always welcome to give us a ring on 020 8543 8133 or email info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk for more inspiration.

 

Cherry Blossom Forecast in Japan 2017

Cherry Blossom Forecast in Japan 2017
29/03/17 Updates

Are you wondering when is the best time to visit Japan for it’s cherry blossom season?
Check out the Forecast table below for more information for your journey.

Geography Facts: Japan is made up with 4 main islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu( listed from north to south)

Region First Bloom Full Bloom
Hokkaido
Sapporo 2 May 6 May
Hakodate 29 April 4 May
Honshu- Tohoku (Northern)
Aomori 23 April 29 April
Akita 17 April 22 April
Morioka 19 April 25 April
Yamagata 14 April 19 April
Sendai 7 April 14 April
Fukushima 8 April 12 April
Honshu – Kanto (Eastern)
Tokyo 21 March 2 April
Choshi 30 March 6 April
Yokohama 25 March 2 April
Mito 31 March 10 April
Utsunomiya 31 March 9 April
Maebashi 30 March 8 April
Kumagaya 28 April 5 April
Nagano 13 April 18 April
Honshu- Chubu (Central)
Kofu 29 March 3 April
Niigata 8 April 14 April
Toyama 4 April 9 April
Kanazawa 2 April 8 April
Fukui 3 April 9 April
Nagoya 28 March 6 April
Shizuoka 31 March 7 April
Gifu  28 March 6 April
Honshu – Kansai region ( Western Central)
Tsu 1 April 7 April
Osaka 29 March 5 April
Hikone 3 April 9 April
Kyoto 29 March 6 April
Kobe 29 March 6 April
Nara 31 March 5 April
Wakayama 29 March 6 April
Honshu – Chungoku region (Western)
Hiroshima 27March 5 April
Okayama 31 March 8 April
Matsue 1 April 8 April
Tottori 1 April 8 April
Shimmonoseki 29 March 6 April
Shikoku
Takamatsu 31 March 8 April
Tokushima 30 March 7 April
Matsuyama 30 March 6 April
Kochi 29 March 6 April
Kyushu
Fukuoka 25 March 4 April
Oita 3 April 10 April
Nagasaki 30 March 7 April
Saga 1 April 9 April
Kumamoto 1 April 9 April
Miyasaki 4 April 11 April
Kagoshima 4 April 11 April
Okinawa 14 January 8 Feburary

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Our expert has hand-picked and put together a tour to some of the best spots to see Cherry Blossom in Japan.
Check out our Cherry Blossom tour!
Remember, you can always tailor-made your journey to Japan with us.

As always, you are welcome to give us a ring at 020 8543 8133 or email us info@japanlinkstravel.co.uk to arrange your journey to Japan with us.