26 March 2013

Hidden Tourist Spot in Northeastern Tokyo ★ 'Yagiri-no-Watashi' in Katsushika Ward

It was as if we travelled to the past.
A torn flag was flattering high up in the sky. 
It is Tokyo, not in a rural area.

'Yagiri-no-Watashi' (Yagiri Ferry Crossing) is a hidden tourist spot in northeastern Tokyo where Japanese people gather for a a little ferryboat crossing from Tokyo to Chiba prefecture in Edo River.
It was an important transportation for local people which has 400 years of history and it is now only used for sightseeing.

There was no tourist information desk or ticket counter near the pier but the hand written signs tell you everything what you need to know - pay 200 yen for adult and 100 yen for child to the boatman, don't dive, don't smoke on a ferryboat.
There were no foreign tourists and hardly any young Japanese people when we were there at the pier.
It is a poplar tourist attraction for relatively older generation who grew up with a particular Japanese novel, movie and song.

The story of famous novel, 'Nogiku no Haka' (Grave of Wild Chrysanthemum) is based in this area; the ferryboat often appears in the most beloved series of Japanese movie, 'Otoko wa Tsurai yo'(It's Tough Being a Man); and the popularity peaked in 1980s when a song, 'Yagiri-no-watashi' has become the Japanese number one hit song in the era.
Maximum of 30 passengers squeeze in a little boat. 
It is approximately 10 minutes journey to cross the river.
There is no tour guide on the boat and passengers only hear the gentle slap of the oar by the boatman in the tranquil water of Edo River.
 There is no safety net at the pier. Children like its fragile look.
 The sign of historic meaning of 'Yagiri-no-Watashi' stood at the river bank in Chiba prefecture side.
The above is a wharf  in Chiba prefecture side.  
It brings us back to memories of good old days.
A painting of 'Yagiri-no-watashi' in a temporary public toilet.
After a ferryboat ride, we strolled back to the main tourist area in Shibamata, Tokyo. 
The working class neighbourhood of Shibamata is always lively with people with dozens of souvenir shops and eateries along the road leading to the temple, Taishakuten.
Yagiri Ferry Crossing is perhaps the only remaining human-powered boat in Tokyo and 'the Shibamata Taishakuten area and Yagiri Ferry Crossing have been selected by the Ministry of the Environment in their choice of ''100 Best Places of Delight Sounds in Japan''.'

It is truly worthwhile to see the untouched downtown Tokyo.

23 February 2013

Japan's No.1 Flip Book ★ Tekken's 'Parapara' Manga

The guy in above picture is called 'Tekken'.
He is a Japanese comedian and an outstanding artist for the flip books.

Tekken created an emotional 3 minute flip animation titled 'Pendulum', 'Furiko' in Japanese, for the British rock band Muse last year.

The model of the 'Pendulum' is an average middle class Japanese family and the story describes ordinary days for ordinary Japanese people.

... the happiness, anger, sadness, forgiveness, regrets, praises, compassion, compromise, thankfulness ... all you could experience through the lifetime.
A three minute video with 1038-page flip book along with the swings of a pendulum reminds you something which may have been forgot.

The life in the 'Pendulum' is not irrelevant to you all in and outside Japan.

16 February 2013

'Yuru-Kyara' ★ Town Revitalization with Animal Suite Mascots

Kuma-mon (A black bear mascot from Kumamoto Prefecture; the picture from Kuma-mon official site: http://kumamon-official.jp, Japanese only)

On the day after the Valentine's Day, an article caught my eyes; "'Hikonyan' received the record high 228 chocolate gifts on the Valentine's Day across the country. One was even from Germany. 'Hikonyan' said he would eat all chocolate and he is planning to send the thanks gifts in return on the White Day." in the major national wire news and newspaper. 

Who is 'Hikonyan' and why he is so hot?

The big wave of the animal suite mascots has been nationwide and it is gaining the popularity throughout the country. 

These giant mascots are called 'yuru-kyara' (a registered trademark), literally means, 'yuru' is a shorten word of 'yurui', meaning 'loose' and 'soft', and 'kyara' comes from an English word 'character'. 

The hot guy on the Valentine's Day in the article was one of those 'yuru-kyara' mascots, 'Hikonyan' as below.
Hiko-nyan (from Hikone City in Shiga Prefecture; a white cat wearing samurai helmet with yellow horns; http://hikone-hikonyan.jp)

Those mascots are created by local governments and regional business groups as for PR tools to attract the tourists and to boost the local economy. Most of the mascots are characterised with local attractions such as castles and landscape and the images of local specialities. The mascots even have their own accounts on Facebook, Twitter, blogs with many followers and they often appear in media coverage.

'Yuru-kyara' mascots are often cute, cuddly, but unsophisticated. They are friendly, approachable and people seek healing from a stressed-out society.

There are hundreds of 'yuru-kyara' mascots and here are some:
Fukka-chan (from Fukaya City in Saitama Prefecture; the character is associated with a local speciality, 'naga negi' or long leek. http://www.fukkachan.com)

Takino-michi Yuzuru (from Minoh City in Osaka Prefecture; with an image of local speciality, citrus fruits and the name 'taki' - waterfall - came from the local tourist attraction; wearing samurai costume with a sword on the belt; http://www.yuzuyuzu.jp)

The annual yuru-kyara Grand Prix has been held since 2007 and 'Bari-san', the chicken from Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture won the 2012 Grand Prix. 'Yuru kyara' mascots show up in many places and we even encountered in Tokyo the other day.
'Yuru kyara' turned from a merely artless design character to the proud local brand.
They dance, they sing and ... kids love them!


14 February 2013

All-You-Can-Eat ★ Strawberry Picking in Chiba

Have you done enough winter sports with kids this year?
Are you looking for something different to entertain kids comfortably in cold winter?
Then, the strawberry picking in greenhouse may be a way to go.
Most of the Japanese strawberry farmers grow the strawberry plants in greenhouse, called 'vinyl house'.
The season for strawberry picking starts as early as January and it ends before the 'Golden Week' Holidays (late April) depending on the area.

Chiba is one of the most popular strawberry picking destinations for the people living in Tokyo.
It only takes a few hours by car, crossing to the other side of Tokyo Bay by driving the underwater Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line. 
The further to the south you go in Boso Peninsula, the fresher the air gets.
Here is a place my family went for strawberry picking. (Michi no Eki Tomiura Biwa Kurabu: http://www.mboso-etoko.jp/navi/e/, In Japanese: http://www.mboso-etoko.jp/top/ichigo/index.html)
Most of strawberry picking requires the booking in advance so that all the guests are guaranteed to pick enough strawberries in any rows in a greenhouse.
Pick, eat and keep eating in a given time because you are not allowed to bring them back home.

The average admission fee for the strawberry picking is about 1,500 yen per head and it is 'pick-your-own' and 'all-you-can-eat' system for 0.5 hour (the charge and conditions vary depending on the place and the season).

The greenhouse owner will give you a small disposal plastic container at the greenhouse entrance. 
One side of the container is filled with sweetened condensed milk and the other is an empty space to spit the caps of strawberries.
People don't spit on the walkway between the strawberry rows so it is always clean.
This greenhouse offers 5 different types of strawberries in one place.
One is sweeter than the others, one is rounder than the others, etc.
Kids can learn so much from visiting the farm.
After we filled up our tummies with a lot of strawberries, we had a little walk along the river. 
The sky was crispy clear and the air was so fresh.
The field of fully bloomed rapeseed blossoms was just beautiful.
The contrast of yellow flower, blue sky and green tree is the indication for the arrival of spring.
Returning to the tourist information centre after strawberry picking, my daughter had a lesson for strawberry jam making.
It was an easy-quick cooking lesson for kids but the taste of the jam was brilliant!
Why not pick your own red, plump and juicy strawberries in all-you-can-eat farms in Chiba?!

14 January 2013

The World Famous Japanese 'Plastic Food Display' for Kids

It is so real.
It looks more real than the actual food!

Many restaurants in Japan decorate so-called the 'food samples' or 'plastic food display' outside the front of them so that the customers know exactly what the restaurants serve before going inside.

The art of 'plastic food display' is recognised highly professional that the Japanese craftsmen devote for lifetime.

But now, you and your kids can even make it at home with a special kit, 'Sample-n'.
The 'Food Sample' shop, 'Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya' (http://www.ganso-sample.com/, Japanese only) locates in the shopping mall, 'Tokyo Soramachi' (http://www.tokyo-solamachi.jp/english/pdf/floorguide_en.pdf), under the Tokyo Skytree which attracts a lot of tourists as for souvenirs.

A package of food sample kit, 'Sample-n', for a strawberry parfait contains silicon whipped cream, plastic glass, plastic fruits samples, colour sprays, syrup and instruction (Japanese only) as below.

Children may need some help from grown-ups when they use hot water but it is pretty simple and it won't take long to make it.
My 9 years old daughter completed almost everything by herself within 30 minutes.
It turned out pretty good!

I would love to make Spaghetti Bolognese's 'Food Sample' and see if I can trick my family:-))