Aug 27, 2014

Matsumoto Castle: You 'll never regret going to see it!

Hi everyone!

Last weekend my husband and I went to Matsumoto City by car. The purpose of our visit was, needless to say, the famous Matsuoto castle (松本城、城、pronounced [jo:], means a castle). What else? Well, actually, there are some other minor touristic spots in this city but the castle is the only place worth a long trip.

Believe me, even if there are not many things to see, you'll never regret going there to see the magnificent castle.  

Photographed from the outside of the moat surrounding the castle keep

If you are interested in traditional Japanese architecture, you should never miss Matsumoto Castle, one of the four castles designated as Japan's national treasures, along with Himeji Caslte, Inuyama Caslte and Hikone Castle.

Many other castles were burnt down during World War II or demolished after the feudal system was abolished in 1871. Wooden structures need to be constantly maintained, but most ex-feudal lords who lost their privileges no longer had enough money to keep the gigantic buildings. As a result, many castles, except for the lucky four, deteriorated over time or got heavily damaged due to typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters. In later years they were restored but are too new to be national treasures.

By the way, do you know every Japanese castle has a nickname? Himeji Castle is called the White Heron Castle due to its pure white exterior, and Matsumoto Caslte is the Crow Castle because, as you can see, it is all black outside.

The same keep from a different angle   

Matsumoto Castle was originally constructed in 1504 by the Ogasawara Clan. Its owners had changed many times In 1590 the Ishikawa Clan, the owner of the castle of the time, began the construction of the castle keep, or "tenshu-kaku" (天守閣) in Japanese. It was believed to be completed in 1593 or 1594.

This is the main gate of the castle Taiko-mon (太鼓門), built in 1595. You need to pay the entrance fee of 610 yen for an adult, 300 yen for elementary school and junior high school students (6-15 years old) to enter the castle keep.

When there are too many visitors, entry to the castle is limited and you might have to wait more than one and a half hours. If you plan to stay overnight near the castle, I suggest that you come back next morning when the gate opens at 8:30 a.m.

When you go through the gate, you'll notice the huge rock on your left hand, called Gamba-ishi (玄蕃石), a symbol of the power and authority of the ruler, because it required so many laborers to quarry such a big stone (3.69 meters high and 22.5 tons) from a mountain and carry it to the castle site.

Can you see the small triangular and rectangular shaped holes on the black wood wall? They are for firing guns and bows when attacked by enemies.

After Taiko-mon, you go through another gate called Kuromon (黒門), adorned with the family crest of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉), the liege-lord of the Ishikawa Family. It is widely believed that they made Matsumoto Caslte black modeling after Hideyoshi's Osaka Caslte to show their loyalty to him.

When entering the castle, you have to take off your shoes. You are given a plastic bag so that you can put your shoes in it and carry them around. Don't leave your shoes at the entrance!

In the castle, various precious items related to the the castle are displayed such as rifles and armors.

While many castles restored after World War II are constructed of concrete, the Matsumoto Castle is made of woods as you can see.  

The stairs are narrow and steep. Sometimes you have to wait when other people are going up and down the stairs.   

Usually the lords and their families were not living in the keep. They moved in to the castle keep only in wartime. The space where the lords stayed is surrounded by blinds and a little nicer than other areas. 

This is the view from the keep. Isn't it nice? If you like hiking and trekking, there are so many famous mountains and plateaus near Matsumoto City, such as Kamikochi (上高地) highland and Yarigatake (槍ヶ岳)peak.  For more information about mountain activities, visit the site of the National Parks Foundation. Click here (in English). 

Kamikochi highland
(Photo from National Park Foundation)
Matsumoto Castle is located in the center of the city, only 10 minute-walk from Matsumoto Station.

address: 4-1 Marunouchi Matsumoto City
tel.: 0263-32-2902
Open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Dec.29-Jan. 3.









Aug 1, 2014

Transvestite culture in Japan

Hi everyone!

The rainy season was over and super humid disgusting summer has come. I really hate Japanese summer which seems getting hotter and hotter every year. Last Saturday on the 26th when  1,889 people were rushed to hospital due to heatstroke and 11 died. Isn't it awful?

Sorry, I didn't mean to complain about the weather. Today's post topic is transvestite culture in Japan. 

What intrigued me was a news report I saw on TV last week. A 27-year-old man got arrested for sneaking into a shop in an attempt to steal money and setting fire before leaving the place. But strangely, the person shown in video breaking in the building was a "girl." Yes, as you guessed, she was a man dressed as a woman. According to the report, he was an employee at a "cross-dressing maid cafe" in Akihabara, the Mecca of otaku.

A cross-dressing maid cafe?! I never knew such a thing even existed. I checked on the internet and found out there are at least several cafes or bars with transvestite waiters in the Tokyo area.

"Male maids" at Newtype, a cross-dressing cafe in Akihabara
where the arrested man might have worked 
Interestingly, those cross-dressers are not necessarily gays. Of course some may be, but many say they just love wearing women's clothes and they are romantically and sexually attracted to women rather than men. Some lady maids even brag that they are popular with women as they understand girls better and have common topics with them. 

That is a big difference from gay bars in Shinjuku 2-chome area, where cross-dressers are either homosexual or at least bisexual with high probability. In Akihabara cross dressing may be a kind of cosplaying, and that's why even young girls and heterosexual couples can casually go to a transvestite cafe.

New Type
Address: 3rd floor of Isamiya Diahachi Bldg., 3-7-12 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03)5577-5565 
Hours: Tue.-Thu., Sun. & holidays, open 6-11 p.m.; Fri., Sat. & day before national holidays, 6 p.m.-6 a.m.;  

There are books, photo albums and DVDs of men in girl clothes. 

女々男子∞【めめだんしエイト】 (~オールカラーハードカバー写真集~)
Photo album "Meme danshi eight" featuring eight cross-dresers

ゆりだんし (myway mook)
another photo album "Yuri danshi"
ここまで可愛くなれる! 男の娘メイクBOOK (SANWA MOOK)
"Otoko no ko Make Book"
make-up book for crossdresers
Traditionally, Japanese have appreciated androgynous beauty. In Kabuki, a classical dance-drama established in the 17th century, performers are all men. Many kabuki fans often say that male actors can be more womanly than real women because men are always pursuing ideal female beauty. The photo below is of Tamasaburo Bando, a famous female-role actor (onnagata, 女形)and living national treasure. 
Legendary onnagata actor Tamasaburo Bando
Even in strolling troupes that have both male and female performers, good-looking young actors are often expected to play female roles. Believe or not, this lady is also a man, and straight.

Actor Taichi Saotome 

Cross-dressers can find their places to live in the world of TV as well. The most famous transvestite TV personality these days is definitely this big man-lady Matsuko Deluxe, who can be seen anywhere, on TV, in publicity on trains, etc. Everybody loves his (her?) sharp tongue.

From here I'll write in Japanese. 


窃盗(せっとう): theft
目的(もくてき): purpose
忍び込む (しのびこむ): to sneak into
事件(じけん): incident、case


防犯カメラ(ぼうはんー): a security camera
映像 (えいぞう):video picture

女装(じょそう)する: to wear women's clothes
店員(てんいん): an employee of a shop, restaurant, cafe, etc.



必(かなら)ずしも~ではない: not necessarily
異性(いせい): people of the opposite sex


昔(むかし):ancient times
中性的 (ちゅうせいてき): androgynous 
美(び): beauty
もてはやす: to praise
傾向(けいこう): tendency


伝統芸能(でんとうげいのう): traditional performance art
歌舞伎(かぶき): kabuki
演(えん)じる: to play
役(やく): a role


役者(やくしゃ): an actor/actress
大衆演劇(たいしゅうえんげき): popular drama (a genre of Japanese theatrical art)
しばしば: often

Jul 9, 2014

Four Tokyo Vegetarian restaurants recommended by the Japan Vegetarian Society

Hi everyone. How have you been?

I'm not a vegetarian, but some of my foreign friends are vegetarian or are trying to reduce meat and fish intake. They sometimes ask me if I know some good vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo and my answer is always the same: "Sorry, I don't. Japan is not a vegetarian-friendly country."

That's true. I don't know why, but even though Japan is basically a Buddhist country (strict speaking, more than 70 percent of Japanese don't believe in any religion), vegetarianism has never become a big movement.

The other day I checked the website of the Japan Vegetarian Society to see if there are any places vegetarians can in, and I was surprised to find much more vegetarian restaurants than I had expected.

If you can read Japanese, look at the list of  vegetarian restaurants or places serving some vegetarian dishes throughout the nation.  Click here. (All written in Japanese.)

From their list I picked up  several places that even I feel like visiting.

Chaya Mactobiotics

It is more like a cafe rather than a restaurant. Very fashionable, cozy atmosphere. All the dishes they offer contain no meat, no eggs, no dairy products, no refined white sugar and no MSG.


They have three branches in the center of Tokyo.

* in Shinjuku
On the 7th floor of Isetan department store, 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; tel. 03-3357-0041 (reservation available only for dinner ) , Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., closed when the department store is closed.

* in Yurakucho
On the 2nd basement floor of Hibiya Chante, 1-2-2 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; tel. 03-3500-5514 (reservation dinner only) , Open 11a.m.-11 p.m. (Tue.-Sat.), 11-a.m.-10 p.m. (Mon. & Sun.)

* in Shiodome
On the ground floor of Royal Park Hotel the Shiodome, 1-6-3 Higashi Shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel. 03-3573-3616 (reservation dinner only) , open daily, 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.

Loving Hut

Vegan Chinese. No alcohol available. They have Chinese/Eglish speaking staff and also Wi-Fi for international devices (it is important, isn't it?). Be careful of their open hours. Mondays through Fridays, they are open for lunch and tea only.

Dim Sum Set (lunch only), 1,000 yen including Taiwanese tea

On Fridays, they have dinner buffet only, 5:30-9 p.m., 2,000 yen per person; on Saturdays, lunch buffet only, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 1,500 yen per person. 


They are holding a Vegan Dim Sum cooking class as well. The fee is 10,000 yen for one group (max 5 persons) , which means you'd better find friends to go with.  Reservation is required 3 days to 1 week in advance. For details, ask the staff. 

It seems like they sometimes close the restaurant on an irregular basis for various events. Check their bilingual website. Click here.

Address: 2nd fl. of Okada Bldg., 1-54 Kandajimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; tel. 5577-6880

Eat more greens vegetable cafe and bakery

New York style vegan cafe situated in my favorite Azabu-juban area. I have passed in front of this cafe many times but never eaten there. Next time I'll definitely have their vegan pumpkin pie, which looks so yummy. 

イート・モア・グリーンズ - 料理写真:ヴィーガンパンプキンパイ
Vegan pumpkin pie, 730 yen
 I checked all the menu items on the internet ( Click here). They have a wide variety of salads and pastas perfect for lunch, but I find their cakes and donuts more appealing! 

Vegetarian Taco-rice of black rice and black soybean, 1,280 yen
One negative information about this place. I read in a restaurant review that this place does not prohibit smoking and there are a few smokers.  

Address: 2-2-5 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel. 03-3798-3191, open 11a.m.-11 p.m.

Itosho (いと正)

This Michelin's one star restaurant offers traditional Japanese shojin ryori (精進料理) originally developed for Zen Buddhists priests. Located on the calm backstreet of the fashionable Azabu Juban area, and having three private rooms only, Itosho has been secretly loved by politicians and celebrities.

Itosho is not a cheap place but it is worth trying if you can afford. They have only one lunch course consisting of 11 small dishes (6,000 yen), and three dinner courses -- 8,000 yen (11 dishes), 9,000 yen (13 dishes) and 10,000 yen (13 dishes including homemade aperitifs).

The entrance of the restaurant. A little difficult to find. 

vegetable tempura using fresh ingredients from Takayama

This conger eel sushi is actually made of tofu and gobo

Sitting on tatami mats.
Dishes are put on the small table called for a single person.
You can ask for low chairs (not shown in the photo).
Address: 3-4-7 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel. 03-3454-6538. Open 12-3 p.m. for lunch, 5:30-9:30 p.m. for dinner, closed occasionally. Private rooms only. Reservation is necessary. 

Jun 23, 2014

Tomioka Silk Mill will get registered as a world heritage of UNESCO!

Hi everyone!

Good news for us! 富岡製糸場(Tomioka Seishijo) Tomioka Silk Mill factory in Gunma Prefecture will soon become the 18th world heritage of UNESCO in Japan.

Est Cocoon Warehouse ©Tomioka Silk Mill

I have never visited the factory, but almost all the people who have learned Japanese history at school know that the Tomioka Silk Mill played sigificant role in modern industrialization in this country.

The factory was built in 1872 by the Japanese government under the supervision of French silk engineer Paul Brunat. Equipped with silk reeling machine brought from Europe, it enabled mass production of quality raw silk, one of the most important exporting items of the day. 

The silk reeling factory, planned by French ship carpenter Edmond Bastien, is 140 meters long, 12 meters wide and 12 meters high, the biggest of its kind in the world at that time.  


At first they had difficulty hiring female workers because of  a stupid rumor that Western people were sucking the blood of girl workers. They say someone who saw French engineers drinking red wine must have misunderstood and spread this rumor. How strange!

Anyway, about 400 girls, mostly daughters of former samurai families who had lost their privileged social status due to the abolition of class system, were collected from all around the country to work there.

Their working conditions were not bad at all. They worked 8 hours a day, had a day off on Sundays and 10 day-holiday in summer and winter. They were well paid as well. Most skillful workers were paid 25 yen, while the first salary of elementary school teachers and police officers was 8-9 yen.  (1 yen of the day is equivalent to 20,000 yen today.)


Unfortunately the business went into the red only eight years late, and the factory was sold to a private company. 

The silk production continued till 1987, when the factory was finally closed down because of the declining demand for silk and the competition against cheap imports from China.

Today the well-maintained silk mill and its related buildings in the site are the property of Tomioka City.  

Outside of the reeling mill ©Tomioka Silk Mill

Inside of the factory ©Tomioka Silk Mill
I heard Tomioka Silk Mill has been very busy with a lot of tourists since the designation of world heritage was announced. I'll probably wait for a couple of years until this boom calms down, but if you don't mind going to crowded places, why don't you visit there?  For more information, check the factory's official website (in English) .  Click here



富岡製糸場(とみおかせいしじょう)  Tomioka Silk Mill
世界遺産 (せかいいさん)  world heritage
登録する (とうろくする)  to register 


技術 (ぎじゅつ) technique
導入する (どうにゅうする)  to introduce
近代化 (きんだいか) modernization
貢献する (こうけんする) to contribute


工場 (こうじょう) factory
最初 (さいしょ) at first
西洋人 (せいようじん) Western people
生き血 (いきち) blood (of a living person)
吸う (すう) to suck
噂 (うわさ) rumors
苦労する (くろうする) to have difficulty


全国 (ぜんこく) whole country
労働者 (ろうどうしゃ) workers
労働条件 (ろうどうじょうけん) working conditions
意外にも (いがいにも) unexpectedly
最も (もっとも) most
熟練した (じゅくれんした) skillful
職人 (しょくにん) artisans
月給 (げっきゅう) monthly salary


警察官 (けいさつかん) police officer
初任給 (しょにんきゅう) the first salary
給料 (きゅうりょう) wage


残念なことに (ざんねんー) unfortunately
赤字 (あかじ)  deficit
民間 (みんかん) private, nonofficial
閉鎖 (へいさ) close down
操業 (そうぎょう) operation
富岡市 (とみおかし) Tomioka City
管理する (かんりする) to manage

Jun 18, 2014

Useful Japanese expressions 5: Osusume wa nan desuka? (What would you recommend?)


Hi everyone! This is the photo of the Nagasaki Champon that I had when I visited Nagasaki City in Kyushu Island. It is a noodle dish with fried pork, vegetables, seafood, etc., created more than a century ago, inspired by a Chinese dish. You don't have to go all the way to Nagasaki only to eat this regional cuisine, though. At a nationwide chain restaurant Ringerhut they offer tasty Nagasaki Champon for less than 600 yen.  

When you know what you'd like to eat, there'll be no problem. You only have to say,

長崎ちゃんぽんください。 Nagasaki Champon kudasai. (Nagasaki champon,please)

But when you go into a restaurant that you happen to find and you are given a menu written all in Japanese with no photos on it, what should you do?

Today, I'll teach you how to deal with such a situation.

First of all, tell them that you can't read Japanese.

すみません。日本語が読めません。 Sumimasen. Nihongo ga yomemasen.  (Excuse me, I can't read Japanese)  

Sumimasen means "excuse me" or "I'm sorry", or even "thank you" depending on the context.
Nihongo: Japanese
Yomemasen: can not read.

Then ask them their recommendation. That's probably the easiest.

おすすめは何ですか。 Osusume wa nan desuka?  (What would you recommend?)

Osusume means recommendation, and "nan desuka?" is "What is?"

If there are ingredients you cannot eat, say as follows:

豚肉は食べられません。 Butaniku wa taberaremasen. (I cannot eat pork.)  

Butaniku is pork, and taberaremasen is "I cannot eat." You can replace butaniku with other ingredients such as 肉(niku, meat), 魚(sakana, fish) and 卵 (tamago, eggs).

When you don't feel like having what they recommended to you, you can say like this:

他はありますか。 Hoka wa arimasuka? (Do you have any other suggestions?)

"Hoka" means "other things," and "arimasuka?" is "do you have?"


Jun 14, 2014

Fukushima is still alive. See this Youtube video!

Hi everyone! I haven't posted in a while. 

A few weeks ago my Japanese friend now living in France visited me and we had dinner together. It was so much fun and we talked a lot -- what's going on in France, her romance with a Korean boy and Fukushima's current situation.  

She told me how she felt shocked when a French woman angrily said to her, "Tell me what Japanese people think of Fukushima. You know, our life is now facing a great danger due to Fukushima's radiation. They don't feel guilty or sorry for that?" 

I don't know how much Fukushima's tragedy caused by a natural disaster is affecting this woman's daily life, but if someone living in France becomes ill due to the nuclear contamination happening in Japan, we who live in this country should be all dead long time ago.

I'm not saying you don't need to worry at all, as I'm not a specialist on this matter. But I want to say this. Contrary to the popular belief, Fukushima is not a ghost town. While some areas near the nuclear power plant are still restricted to enter, people in other parts of the prefecture are leading normal lives.  

I would like to show you a YouTube video that proves this. Fukushima people of all ages and occupations are dancing to Japanese girl group AKD48's "Koisuru Fortune Cookie (Fortune Cookie in Love)." Since this song was released last year, making a dancing video has been a mini-boom here and this is one of them. Hope you'll watch it and realize Fukushima is still alive despite the devastating earthquake, tsunami and on-going nuclear problem.

If you are interested in the original version by AKB48, watch this. I'm too old to be interested in this type of music, but I find it cute.

And here is the video uploaded by the Sanriku Railway Company (Iwate Prefecture) , commemorating the restart of the service of 36.6 km-long Minami Riasu line in three years after the earthquake. The disaster was so huge that it is taking longer than we expected to recover from the damage, but their lives are getting back to normal little by little. By the way, we should not forget that the restoration of the railway service would have been impossible without the financial support from Kuwait. Thank you Kuwait!



大地震 (だいじしん)  bit earthquake
起きる (おきる)  to occur
津波 (つなみ) tsunami
亡くなる (なくなる)  to die


福島 (ふくしま)  Fukushima
原子力発電所 (げんしりょくはつでんしょ) nuclear power plant
原発 (げんぱつ) = 原子力発電所
立ち入り禁止 (たちいりきんし)  no entry allowed


外国 (がいこく) foreign countries
誰も (だれも) ~ない  no one
住む (すむ)  to live
違う (ちがう) incorrect


区域 (くいき)  area
以外 (いがい) outside of
普通に (ふつうに) normally
生活する (せいかつする) to live
残念 (ざんねん) sorry


証拠 (しょうこ)  proof


去年 (きょねん) last year
曲 (きょく)  song
恋 (こい)  love
流行っている (はやっている) be popular
恐ろしい (おそろしい) scary
場所 (ばしょ) place

May 14, 2014

Recommended short trip from Fukuoka: Yanagawa, a small river town full of charm

Hi everyone!

Since my husband is from Kagoshima, the southernmost prefecture of the Kyushu Island, I have visited south Kyushu many times, but I had never had chance to go to Fukuoka located in the northeastern part of the island, until last month. My impression? It was lovely!! If possible I seriously want to live there at least for a couple of years.

What delighted me the most was foods. Despite being the biggest city on the island, Fukuoka is blessed with nature's bounty. In the center the city, such as Nakasu and Tenjin, there are so many restaurants, bars, food stalls called "yatai" that offer you great local foods using fresh ingredients.

I'm sure Fukuoka would be a nice place to live, but I have to say there are not too many touristic spots to see. Tourists usually take an excursion to Dazaifu City known for the famous Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine dedicated to the deity of learning. It is not a bad idea at all, however, I personally prefer Yanagawa (柳川), less than an hour by car from central Fukuoka.

Look! Isn't it nice? Called "town of water," Yanagawa has a 470-km network of waterways that were originally irrigation ditches.


To explore this small lovely castle town, taking a cruise by "donkobune" dinghy is the best way.  It is very relaxing and enjoyable.

You don't need to make a reservation in advance. Find a boat at a landing place and ask a boatman if you can ride, saying 「乗れますか (Noremasuka?)」 meaning "Can I (or we) get on?

If s/he says "Yes," get on the boat and pay the fee to a lady who comes to collect money. We paid 1,000 yen per person for a 40 min. cruise, but the fee is different depending on the company and the length of the boat trip.

There are no fixed departure time for the trip. Normally the boat leaves when about 10 people get on board. We waited for other people to join the trip for nearly 15 minutes but no one else came for some reason. As a result, my husband and I became the only passengers on the boat. I thought we were just lucky, but the same thing may possibly happen if you go there on a weekday, when there are fewer tourists.

This is our boatman. While deftly maneuvering the boat, he explained the history of the town, the buildings seen from the boat, etc., but I could not understand only a half of what he said because of his mumbling voice. 

He occasionally sang songs to entertain us. Actually, singing seemed like an obligation to all the boatmen, but not all of them are good singers. Our boatman was ok, not great though. 


Every time the boat goes under the bridge, all the passengers have to put their heads down. Some bridges are dangerously low, but don't worry, I have never heard of fatal accidents.

The specialty of Yanagawa is unagi or freshwater eel, grilled after being dipped in the sweet soy sauce. It is served with steamed rice in the square lacquered box like the photo below. The yellow thing is thinly sliced egg. I don't remember exactly how much it was, but it was around 2,500 yen with a bowl of soup.

If you still have time, why don't you visit Ohana (御花), why don't you visit the residence and garden of the feudal daimyo family, the Tachibanas? The white house below is the guest house built in 1910. The admission is 500 yen. 

To go to Yanagawa by train, take the Nishitetsu Tenjin Omuta line (西鉄天神大牟田線)from Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station (西鉄福岡駅), and get off at Nishitetsu Yanagawa station (西鉄柳川駅). About 45 minutes by super-express train (特急). 









時間があれば、「御花」で柳川藩主立花家の邸宅と庭園 の見学はいかがでしょうか。


Apr 30, 2014

The view you must NOT miss in Kyushu 1: a magnificent wisteria tunnel of Kawachi Fujien

Hi everyone!

I just came back from a short trip of Kyushu Island, the southernmost (westernmost?) of the four main islands of Japanese archipelago.

A coupe of days before the trip, I happened to see a breathtakingly beautiful photo in a book of a wisteria tunnel, entitled "One of the superb views you must see in Japan."

I instantly decided to visit there, as I happened to have a plan to stay one night in Fukuoka City, which is not too far from the private wisteria garden, named Kawachi Fuji-en (河内藤園).

Located in the midst of mountains of Kitakyushu City, the wisteria garden is not openly advertized, because the garden's owner is worried that too many visitors may cause the damage of the trees, even if they don't do any harm intentionally.

Even so,  this hidden touristic spot is becoming known in recent years by word of mouth, and I heard that it is very busy when the wisterias are at their best.

Well, do you want to know how I liked it?

Unfortunately, the day I visited was a bit too early and only about 30 percent of flowers were in bloom.

The entrance fee differs from 300-1,000 yen depending on flowering situation of wisterias, and they charged us only 600 yen.

But look! Not too bad, is it?

In the 6,100 sq.-meter garden 22 kinds of wisterias have been planted. There are two wisteria tunnels, 80 meters and 220 meters respectively. 


This is the inside of the wisteria tunnel. Since wisteria clusters start flowering from the top, two thirds from the bottom were still in bud, but their best time will come very soon -- maybe in a couple of days if the weather is nice. 

If you are luckily planning to travel in the north part of Kyushu island in May, you'll see the wisterias in profusion like the photo below.


If you want to have a picnic under the flowers, bring your own food into the garden. Don't expect to buy something on the spot. There are no shops, no cafés and no vending machines near the garden.

There are some rules you have to follow
1) Don't touch the trees or stand on the roots.
2) Don't leave your garbage.
3) Don't bring your pets into the garden.
4) Don't take photos using tripods on the paths including tunnels, but you can use them at the grand trellis.

Address: 2-2-48 Kawachi, Yahatahigashi-ku, Kitakyushu-shi, Fukuoka Prefecture
tel: 093-652-0334
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

If you have a car with GPS, you will have no problem, but it is hard to get there by public transport. If you don't want to rent a car, take a taxi from JR Yahata Station, and ask the driver to come back later, since it is almost impossible to hail a taxi near the garden.

Here are useful expressions

1) 河内藤園までお願いします。  Kawachi Fuji-en made onegaishimasu  (To Kawachi Fujien please)

2) X時ごろまた来てもらえますか。 ~ji goro mata kite morae masuka?  (Would you please come back around X o'clock?)

From here I'll write in Japanese.


先日 (senjitsu)  the other day
九州 (Kyushu)
旅行 (ryoko)  travel


北九州 (Kitakyushu)
市 (shi)  City
河内藤園 (Kawachi Fujien)  Kawachi Wisteria Garden


偶然 (guzen)  happen to (know)
決める (kimeru) to decide
残念(zannen)なことに unfortunately
見ごろ (migoro)  best time

数日後 (sujitsu go)  in a few days
満開 (mankai)  be in full bloom
計画(keikaku)する  to plan
検討(kento) する to consider


藤園 (fujien)  wisteria garden
宣伝 (senden) する to advertise
絶景 (zekkei)  a superb view
訪れる (otozureru)  to visit
大勢 (ozei) many


ただ but
難しい (muzukashii)  difficult
カーナビ GPS
~付き (tsuki) equipped with
借りる (kariru) to rent
乗る (noru)  to take

Apr 24, 2014

Gotemba Premium Outlets: huge mall you can enjoy shopping and Mt. Fuji!

Hi everyone!

As everybody knows, Mt. Fuji is a symbol of Japan. I was very happy when this perfect shaped volcano was officially registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year.

Mt. Fuji, 3,776 meters high, is the highest mountain in Japan, and can be seen from many parts of Tokyo when the sky is clear. If you have a chance, however, try to see it from somewhere closer and you'll understand why this mountain has been so special to Japanese since ancient times.  

Do you want to stand on the summit of Mt. Fuji? Of course it is possible. Actually more than 200,000 hikers (in recent years about 300,000) including not a few foreign tourists and not-very-young people try to climb every year, and many of them succeed to reach the top.

But remember, you need to have stamina and be properly clothed and equipped. You can go up to the fifth station of the mountain by car, but from there you have to climb on foot. There are neither cable cars nor rope ways that take you to the top.

Moreover, Mt. Fuji is basically open to the general public only in July and August, which means most mountain huts are closed for the rest of the year. Even in mid-summer the temperature near the summit often goes down to 0℃.

Some experienced mountaineers climb in the off-season when the mountain is covered with snow, but it is very dangerous for amateurs to do the same thing. Even if you have problems in the mountain, no one will help you.

So, for the time being, why don't you enjoy shopping at Gotemba Premium Outlets mall, situated on the foot of the Mt. Fuji? I took these two photo below in late March from the mall. Aren't they nice?

On the vast site area (403,100 sq.meters) of this shopping mall, there are 210 stores where you can buy all the items at a 25~60 percent discount all year around. The stores include many high brands such as Armani, Chloe, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Issey Miyake, Paul Smith, Ferragamo and Valentino. You can find a shop list on their English site here.

You may think it is a bit too far to get there from Tokyo, but it takes only 70-80 minutes by car. If you don't have a car, you only have to take a direct bus from major stations (Tokyo, Shinjuku, Shinagawa, Tama Center,  Chofu, Yokohama, etc) . The fee is different according to the bus company but usually around 3,000 for a round trip per adult passenger, and a reservation is required. For further info. about how to get there, click here.

Gotemba Premium Outlets
Address: 1312 Fukasawa, Gotemba-Shi, Shizuoka
Hours:  March-November,10 a.m.- 8 p.m.
          December-February,10 a.m.-7 p.m.
          Closed on 3rd Thursday in February.



富士山 (ふじさん) Mt. Fuji


世界自然遺産(せかいしぜんいさん) World national heritage
登録 (とうろく)する  to register


以前 (いぜん)  before
年間 (ねんかん) annually
登る (のぼる) to climb
増える (ふえる) to increase


お年寄り (おとしより) old people
簡単 (かんたん) easy
登山 (とざん) mountain climbing
体力 (たいりょく) stamina
装備 (そうび) equipment
必要 (ひつよう) necessary


一般の (いっぱんの) ordinary
登山者 (とざんしゃ) mountaineers


雪 (ゆき) snow
山小屋 (やまごや) mountain huts
閉まる (しまる) to close
危険 (きけん) dangerous


御殿場 (ごてんば) Gotemba
ふもと foot 
眺める (ながめる) take  a look


高級 (こうきゅう) ブランド high brand
含めて (ふくめて) including


詳しくは (くわしくは) for further information
ウェブ website
調べる (しらべる) check