Hawaii in Fukushima

Unfortunately Fukushima, a prefecture in the northeast of Japan, became world famous due to the accident of nuclear power plants after the big earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

However, Fukushima has not only nuclear power plants but also many attracting places. One of them is Spa Resort Hawaiians, a theme park featuring Hawaii inside of the northern province of Japan. The story of this park is a story of hope.

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In early 1960s, Iwaki city in Fukushima suffered from the decline of coal industry, which was the main industry for the city until that time. In order to create jobs for the workers in the coal mines and their families, Joban Colliery, an operator of the mines, made a very creative and challenging decision.

For coal mining, hot water springing out from the underground of the mines was not more than the nuisance. But the company’s idea was to heat up a dome with the heat of hot water and create a theme park featuring “Hawaii” inside the dome. At first many people including some employees of the company thought it was too unrealistic. But Mr. Yutaka Nakamura, one executive of the company led the company very strongly and made it decide to go ahead.

At that time Hawaii was the most popular foreign place for Japanese and the symbol of the oversea, while foreign trips were too expensive for ordinary Japanese. But they made a Hawaii in only 2 hour drive from Tokyo. Joban Hawaiian Center opened in 1966 attracted many ordinary Japanese dreaming a paradise and it became popular soon.

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In order to make the visitors feel like as if they were in Hawaii, the company recruited several girls in the city none of which had been overseas and gave them lessons in hula dance and other Polynesian dances so that they performed the dancing show in the park like the dancers in real Hawaii. After hard lessons they became the symbol of the park called “Hula Girls”. Their story became a movie in 2006 and made a big hit in Japan.

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Even after foreign trips became much less expensive for ordinary Japanese, the park had been surviving with some new ideas such as making the biggest hot spring in Japan and changing its name to Spa Resort Hawaiians.

Then, the big earthquake happened in the northeast region of Japan in March 2011. And the dome was seriously damaged and they were obliged to close the park in the long time.

However, the employees of the park didn’t forget how they overcame the serious decline of coal mining industry 50 years ago. Hula Girls visited all over Japan and performed their show believing that they could open the park again. One year after the big earthquake they reopened the park and had as much visitors as they had had before the earthquake.

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Again, when I heard a name of Fukushima in foreign countries, in many cases they mention the name related to the earthquake and the nuclear accident. I really hope Fukushima got more attention about the people who have strong mind to overcome many hard times.

Below is the website of Spa Resort Hawaiians (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.hawaiians.co.jp/

How farms in Hokkaido attract visitors

In Japan most of the farmers struggles to continue farming when cheaper vegetables are imported to Japan and also they have difficulty to find their successors. However, in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, there is an area where the farms themselves attract many visitors.

Furano, a basin located in the central Hokkaido, surrounded by high mountains and along with Sorachi river, has fertile soil and there are many farms of potatoes, fruits and flowers.

A photo below is Mt. Tokachi, active volcano east to Furano.

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In Japan this area became famous in early 1980’s when the TV drama series Kita no Kuni kara (From the northern country in Japanese), a drama about a family which moved from Tokyo to Furano and lives in the nature, had been filmed in Furano and became a big hit. The drama series continued in 20 years till 2002. For many Japanese including me Furano is a typical image of the country side of Japan.

And in the drama the symbol of Furano was lavender and in Furano there are many farms which grow lavenders. And the biggest one is Farm Tomita. They open their flower farms to visitors for free and many visitors including foreigners come to the farm and can enjoy some flowers all the year round.

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In late August lavenders were at the end of its season. But we can still enjoy their beauty.

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Website of Farm Tomita (english available)

The farms which attract visitors are not only flower ones. Recently in Furano due to climate change some farmers started growing grapes for wine. And from a window of the cafe, Campana Rokkatei, you can see a fantastic view of vineyards on the hill with Mt. Tokachi on the back.

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Website of Rokkatei Campara (english available)

Of course it’s not only seeing vineyards. In Furano there are several winery as well and in the hotels and B&Bs in Furano, you can enjoy wines made in Furano with nice food in peaceful atmosphere. The chef of the hotel we stayed used vegetables grown in Furano as much as possible and they match with the taste of wine nicely.

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Lastly it’s reported on the news that some part of Furano area was seriously damaged by the typhoon a few days after we visited. We sincerely hope they recover from the damage soon and many people can enjoy the beauty of Furano.

Ainu, the indigenous people in Hokkaido Japan

In Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, there is a people called “Ainu”. Before the Japanese expanded to the north and started living in the island late in the 19th century, they had lived there and had kept their traditional lifestyle based on hunting, fishing and gathering.

Now in 2016, somehow changed, but the Ainu people is still trying to preserve their culture. In Hokkaido there are some of their communities, called Kotan in the Ainu language. And Poroto Kotan located in Shiraoi-town in central Hokkaido is one of such communities.

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In fact most of the Ainu people doesn’t keep the same lifestyle of hunting and gathering as they had in 100 years ago. They have Japanese nationality. And in daily life they live like the other Japanese people live. Nevertheless with the identity as “Ainu” they try to preserve their traditional culture.

For example they have their own language, music and dance. This Poroto Kotan is not only their community but also their museum. And they show their music and dance to the visitors with their traditional clothing.

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Their culture is deeply related to their religion. In their religion all the stuff in nature is considered as gods. For example salmon, one of their main food is called “kamuy cup” in the Ainu language, meaning fish of god. Since it is a god, they treat salmon so respectfully and eat all the parts of its body. In the picture below they hang salmon from the ceiling of their house to smoke and make it to the preserved food for harsh winter.

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Among the animals as gods, bear is the most holy animal for them. In the community they raise 4 bears in the cage. It’s my first time to see bears raised in the place in Japan other than zoo or safari park.

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For the Ainu people the ceremony called “Iomante” was the most important for their culture. In one winter they bring a baby bear to their community and grow the bear with great care as if it’s their own child. But when the bear has grown up in a couple of years, they have Iomante celemony and “send back” the bear to the world of gods with a lot of food and drink. They think a god of bear come down to the world of human with the shape of the baby bear, and thus they treat it very respectfully.

It’s my fist time to meet with the Ainu people while I have learned and heard about them many times. It was so impressive! I believe it’s a key for Japan to be a multicultural society if they can keep their identity and preserve their own culture in the 21st century.

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Below is the website of Ainu museum in Poroto Kotan (English availalble).

http://www.ainu-museum.or.jp/en/

Godzilla is attacking on Kabuki-cho

Godzilla is a series of monster movies which have been made in Japan and the US since 1954.

Now in Japan Shin-Godzilla, a new movie of Godzilla, is a big hit again. While Godzilla was made by Hollywood in 2014, this Shin-Godzilla is a Godzilla movie made in Japan for the first time in 12 years.

In a lot of recent Godzilla movies there were many ones on which Godzilla and other monsters fought and sometimes Godzilla looked like an ally of human being. But this time Shin-Godzilla is coming back to the original concept of Godzilla, fear of a gigantic and unknown monster. In this movie Godzilla is approaching to Japan, especially to Tokyo, and the Japanese were deeply terrified.

I really enjoyed this movie and I respect Mr. Hideaki Anno, a film director of Shin-Godzilla, who is also well known as a creator of the popular Japanese anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, for his challenge to return to the original of the long lasting legendary movie series.

But even before Shin-Godzilla was published, Godzilla had arrived at Tokyo. See a picture below.

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This is the picture of the intersection at Kabuki-cho, an entertainment district in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Maybe it was taken from too much distance. Let’s go closer to the center of the photo.

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Now you can see Gozilla’s face from the top of the cinema building. He looks like gazing and roaring against something with his mouth wide open. Then let’s see there is what beyond his gaze.

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So he is gazing the board of “I love Kabuki-cho”. In fact that cinema building with Godzilla was built at the place where Shinjuku Koma theater, former cultural center of Shinzuku, was located in the past. And back then surrounding Shinjuku Koma theater, there were many bars, gentleman’s clubs and adult shops, like the chaos in Tokyo.

Tokyo’s local government has been trying to “clean” Kabuki-cho many times and now making another campaign to make it cleaner for Tokyo Olympic in 2020. However, as long as I can find, there are many such kinds of bars and shops newly opened maybe by the people who love Kabuki-cho as well as money.

Even Godzilla might not be able to destroy the desire of human being who try to earn money on night life…

Hot summer and shaved ice with fruits

Like other areas in the world, in this summer it’s incredibly hot in Japan. But Japanese have many ways to feel cooler.

For example, in Yanaka, a traditional shopping area close to our home, they had Hyakkoi festival. Hyakkoi means cool in a dialect of eastern Japan. They put big blocks of ice on the street so that visitors can feel cooler by seeing and touching them.

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However, on some days it’s too hot to walk around on the street even with seeing the ice. In such case we can “eat” ice as shaved ice as well.

Shaved ice with fruit flavored syrup, called Kaki-gori in Japanese, is a traditional sweet in summer in Japan. Normally they use an automatic ice shaving machine and pour artificial flavored syrup to make Kaki-gori. I like the taste of such Kaki-gori since I was a child. But in some shops they serve more special Kaki-gori and its special taste helps us to feel cooler.

In Yanaka, Himitsu-do is one of such shops. Even though it’s so hot outside, people makes a long line to eat their special shaved ice, Kaki-gori.

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At Himitsu-do they use specially ordered ice and shave it by hand with a traditional ice shaving machine. Compared to normal shaved ice for Kaki-gori, their shaved ice is very soft and it melts on tongue once we put it in our mouth.

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And their specialty is syrup. As mentioned above, it’s normal to use artificial flavored syrup. But at Himitsu-do they pour smashed real fruits with special syrup. It perfectly matches with manually shaved ice.

They have a variety of menus such as strawberry, melon, pineapple and green tea. So we can enjoy not only its taste but also its color. A photo below is shaved ice with strawberry and milk.

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After eating Kaki-gori shaved ice at Himitsu-do, we can feel much cooler and continue walking around for shopping in Yanaka in summer.

Sado, golden island in Japan

Long long time ago, Japan was known by the West as a legendary golden island. And many sailors who looked for gold such as Christopher Columbus headed to Asia. But it was true that Japan was a golden island in the sense that Japan produced a relatively big amount of gold at that time and Sado, an island northwest of Niigata city, had one of the biggest gold mountains in Japan.

We can go to Sado island only by ship. If we use a car ferry on which we can bring our own cars, it takes 2.5 hours from Niigata port to Ryotu port, main port in Sado island. But if we use a smaller jetfoil ferry, it takes only 1 hour.

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Sado Kisen (Ferry Service to Sado Island)

Apart from Japanese main 4 islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu), Sado is the 2nd biggest island in Japan next to Okinawa’s main island. And it has approx. 56,000 population. The people in the island are proud of the beauty of its sea and its peaceful atmosphere. The sea is so clean that we can get a lot of abalones in the shallow sea.

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However, in the 17th century, when Sado golden mountain produced its biggest amount of gold and there was a “Gold Rush” in the island, there were more population and Sado was one of the most active cities in Japan at that time.

Sado golden mountain is located in the western part of the island. In the 17th century at first they used a method of open pit mining to find gold. And finally the top of the mountain had been cracked as a “V” shape.

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Then they drove a lot of tunnels throughout the mountain. Soon the tunnel reached under the sea level so they needed to drain water in order to continue digging. Now in the old tunnel there are a lot of dolls which shows us how to dig gold at that time. IMG_0559

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Sado golden mountain had been producing gold almost 400 years and had been an important fiscal source for Tokugawa shogunate. Now the people in the island try to register it on World Heritage of UNESCO and maintain old tunnels and equipment as a museum.

When you visit the mountain, you might be interested to get some gold with you. But are you afraid of expensive prices of golden jewelry? Don’t worry ! Here you can eat a lot of food with gold dust such as gold ramen noodle and gold ice cream.

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Please visit Sado, golden island in Japan and clarify with your own eyes if the legend of golden island was true.

Sado Kinzan (Sado golden mountain)

Tagitsu-ya, teppan-yaki in Nippori Japan

The word “Teppan-yaki” is becoming common worldwide. That’s the style of Japanese cuisine to use an iron griddle to cook food. But in Japan the food cooked in the griddle is not only meat but also Japanese savory pancake such as Okonomi-yaki. And Tagitsu-ya is a popular restaurant of teppan-yaki in Nippori Japan.

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Okonomi-yaki, Japanese savory pancake includes the word “Okonomi” which means as you like in Japanese so you can add a variety of ingredients as you like. For example, the Okonomi-yaki below is the most poplular menu “Buta-tama” which includes pork, egg and cabbage.

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In the eastern area of Japan it’s normal that customers cook Okonomi-yaki on their griddle by themselves while in the western area of Japan chefs normally cook and serve to customer’s tables. But rarely in Tokyo at this restaurant the chefs cook Okonomi-yaki for us, because they want the customers to enjoy the best of their menu.

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Also they have Negi-yaki, another type of savory pancake. While Okonomi-yaki includes cabbage, Negi-yaki includes a lot of green onion. That’s why it looks more green than Okonomi-yaki. The Negi-yaki below includes beef sinew on the top.

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In Japan Okonomi-yaki is a cheap food for ordinary people. Thus in each area of Japan they developed different styles of Okonomi-yaki. And the other types of Teppan-yaki have a variety as well.

When you visit Japan, please enjoy several Teppan-yaki restaurants to check the difference of each type of Teppan-yaki.

Halal food in Nippori and Halal Navi

Nippori is an area more diversified than other areas in Tokyo. And there is a certain amount of Muslim population.  For Muslim it’s very important to know if a restaurant or a shop serves halal food or not. Halal means that the food is allowed to eat in accordance with the Islamic law.

There are several restaurants to serve halal food. For example Cous Cous is a Tunisian restaurant which serves halal food. A photo below is cous cous in Tunisian style, which is one of  popular menus.

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Among south Mediterranean cuisines there is much diversity. In Tunisia it’s allowed to drink alcoholic beverage. For example this is Cedratine, sweet and strong distilled beverage made from citrus fruits and produced in Tunisia.

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Halal food is served not only in restaurants but also in shops. Around Nippori station there are many shops to sell halal food. For example, the shop owned by Nepali sells Asian halal food.

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In accordance with such an increasing potential demand of halal food, ROI, a startup in Japan started an smartphone application called Halal Navi to search halal restaurants in Japan.

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On the other hand it’s true that Islamic culture is not understood well in Japan and some Muslim people feel difficulty to live in Japan. I hope the service such as Halal Navi will help them to get accustomed to the life in Japan.

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How Pokemon Go works in Nippori Japan

Finally in Japan, where Pokemon was originally developed, Pokemon Go has been released on past Friday, July 22nd. And of course I have already installed it.

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Our home area, Nippori Tokyo is located relatively in suburb of Tokyo. Nevertheless, I can find a lot of Poke Stops around my home. Compared to my birthplace Shizuoka, the density of Poke Stops in Nippori, where we can get items to proceed Pokemon Go, is much better.

I understand that in the world of Pokemon Go the places for Poke Stops are randomly selected. And in Nippori, typical popular shops in Yanaka Ginza street, which is a main sightseeing spot here, are selected for Poke stops. For example, this tempura shop with a cat on the roof is selected as a Poke Stop. The cat is a symbol of Yanaka Ginza street.

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I think it’s useful to attract more attention from visitors on Nippori as long as such a funny place is selected as Poke Stop. However, I have a little concern on another kind of Poke Stop.

Now this is also a Poke Stop.

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This is Hongyou-ji temple near our home. In Nippori there are a lot of temples and shrines. And not only temples but also sometimes specific statues of Buddha are selected as Poke Stops.

I’m not so religious, but even for me as a Japanese I have a complicated feeling when I find a Pokemon inside the temple and get monster balls from the Buddha statue. And I’m wondering how such religious places are selected as Poke Stops in the US.

Anyway Pokemon Go has just started in Japan. And I’m still motivated enough to try to find another Pokemon in the town!

Machu Pichu in Peru, Nachu Pichu in Nasu Japan

Machu Pichu is a famous historical site of Inca empire in Peru, where a lot of tourists come from all over the world. However, in Nasu Japan, in Tochigi prefecture approx 150km north of Tokyo, there is a place called “Nachu Pichu”.

Nasu itself is a popular sightseeing place in Tochigi prefecture which is famous for cool highland climate and Nasu mountains. And Nachu Pichu is located inside Nasu Alpaca farm.

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As you may know, Alpaca is an animal domesticated mainly in South America including Peru. Alpaca was not well known among Japanese until recently. But Nasu Alpaca farm started breeding alpacas in 1999 for the first time in Japan.

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According to their website, they imported 200 alpacas from Peru in 1999. At first due to change of environment and lack of knowledge about diseases of alpacas, many alpacas died. However, they made continuous effort to cure their diseases and finally they successfully increased alpacas up to about 400.

In this season we can see alpacas sheared. Every year this farm invites professionals to shear alpacas from Peru. And when they shear them, they create a kind of art on body of alpaca called “Art Paca”. For example an alpaca in the center of a photo below has a moon on his body.

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And now everyone, this is Nachu Pichu.

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At a first glance, it looks nothing but a pile of stones. And obviously alpacas in front of Nachu Pichu don’t care it neither. However, this is not just a humor of the employees of the firm. According to the sign next to the mountain, a diplomat from Peruvian embassy in Japan who visited the firm named it Nachu Pichu (Pichu means mountain in quechua, official language in Inca empire.) In order to connect it to Inca as much as possible, they play melancholic Andean music around it as well.

In spite of bold naming it seems Peruvian people loves this firm in Japan. SPAR, Peru Alpaca Breeding Association, certified it as the firm which breeds the most friendly alpacas in the world.

In fact the alpacas there are so friendly that we can touch and feed them.

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When you visit Nasu, please visit the firm and check how Japanese learnt the way to breed alpacas from Peru.

Below is the website of Nasu Alpaca Farm (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.nasubigfarm.com/index.shtml