news

News from July to September, 2008

September 30th

Toji

A special autumn exhibition started at To-ji temple Homotsukan treasure house on Sep. 20th. The theme of the exhibition is faith in Kukai or also known posthumously as Kobodaishi. He was a monk, scholar, poet, artist and a founder of Shingon Sect of Buddhism. The designated National Treasure [Tengai] canopy, which is enshrined in Mieido-do Hall, a reconstruction of Kobodaishifs house, is now on public display in the temple grounds for the first time in 15 years. The canopy is said to have been made in the late 9th century, and itfs approximately 1.4 meters in diameter and 5 to 10 centimeters in thickness. Itfs been about 1100 years since it was made, but it still remains in its original form and colors. Itfs amazing, isnft it? The exhibition will run until November 25th, so why donft you visit there if you get a chance? (Risa)

September 29th

kaiseki

How was your weekend? I had a great one with my best friend, Ayano. We went to Gero Onsen (Hot springs) in Gifu Prefecture for the weekend. It has been known as one of the three major hot springs since Edo Period, so itfs quite famous. (The other two are Kusatsu in Gunma and Arima in Hyogo) It took about 5 hours on our way because we didnft take an express train, but I didnft feel that long. We were planning to read a book and have a nap on the train, but we carried on our conversation until we got to the ryokan. Obviously, we did the same on our way backc! We didnft do anything special, but we fully enjoyed our trip. Wefve travelled together quite a few times before, but I always find it easy and cosy to travel with her. I feel itfs nice to have such a friend! Hope you had a good weekend, too. (Risa)

gero

September 26th

An art exhibition eIntenf started at Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art on September 19th. The exhibition was first founded by Tenshin Okakura, who was a Japanese scholar contributing to the developments of art, in 1896. This is the 93rd exhibition after the revival in 1914, and you can see 118 works, including Okakurafs and other award-winning paintings, etc, there. The exhibition continues till October 5th, so why donft you visit the museum if you are interested in Nihonga, Japanese-style paintings? Have a great weekend! (Risa)

September 25th

We had a public holiday, Autumn Equinox Day on Tuesday. I went to Kobe and saw an old friend in university. We donft have frequent contact with each other, but we are still good friends. He just quit his job in Fukuoka and came back to his hometown last month. I thought he was looking for another job, but he looks like he wants to start his own business. He told me his vision for the future in vivid detail, and he looked really happy. I think itfs not so easy, but I do hope it works out ok! (Risa)

September 24th

Meguro isn't the first port of call for visitors to Tokyo. I doubt it would sneak into anyone's top 10 on the circular Yamanote train line, maybe not even top 20. There is however, one little gem tucked away just off the busy intersection of Meguro Avenue and the flyover of Shuto Expressway No. 2: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. The museum was originally built in 1933 as the residence of Prince Asaka and his wife, Princess Nobuko, the eighth daughter of Emperor Meiji. It was built to the Art Deco style very much in vogue at the time and in 1983, the building was rechristened under its new moniker and re-assigned as a museum. The bold geometric patterns, motifs and eccentric curves can be taken in whilst enjoying the exhibition displayed in the museum at any given time. Currently showing are the intriguing sculptures and drawings of Katsura Funakoshi. Funakoshi's androgynous head and upper-body pieces are liberally scattered all about the former residence of Prince Asaka- in the Great Dining Hall, the princesses Living Room and even in the Library. Once you've finished with the art space and the art, there's stil the gardens outside that give the museum it's 'Teien' tag ('teien' is the Japanese for 'garden'). A very pleasant place to while away an afternoon. (Guy)

September 22nd

How was your weekend? Saturday, I met a friend, Sachiko and went out for shopping, coffee, and dinner. When we first met about 4.5 years ago, we didn't expect we would get along so well. We worked at the same office for only a week or so, but we became really good friends after all. We usually meet and catch up on recent news once a month, but we always have lots of fun. We are planning to go to Nara for a change next month, and I look forward to it. I have less opportunities to meet new people these days (compared to school days), but I feel lucky I still make a few GOOD friends every year. (Risa)

September 19th

The Kyoto City Tourist Association has produced a revised English edition of the Kyoto City Map. This is the third edition of the English language map which introduces the main tourist areas and accommodation facilities. New features include no-smoking precincts, where smoking in the street has been subject to fines since June, and extensions to the Tozai Line of the subway line, etc. It is available at the Kyoto City Tourist Information Office in JR Kyoto Station Building, the Kyoto City Tourist Association, and at major hotels. I recommend you to get the revised edition once you arrive in Kyoto. It would be very useful when you do sightseeing/shopping. (Risa)

September 18th

Living in the Japanese countryside in Yamagata, I got more than a few curious glances and a collection of suspicious eyes, squints or cold hard stares thrown my way over two years. It goes with the territory- white foreigners are so few in Yamagata City that if I saw a new face, I too would be gawping, thinking, 'Well who the hell is that?!' I expected Tokyo to be different. More foreigners, less looks, or so I calculated. For the most part, it is different. The experience of moving to a big conurbation in Japan has been like moving to another new country all over again, and that goes for the stares too. There have been one or two goggly eyes and sniggers when I've been out jogging, however. I put this down to my jogging clothes- principally, a Montedio football shirt. Montedio, or 'God of the mountain' (I suspect) is the 2nd division football team of Yamagata City ('Mountain Shape' City). They're on a par with Leyton Orient or Bristol Rovers or someone buried in the English third tier divison, confusingly named League One. On the front of the shirt is the word Haenuki, which translates to 'True-born' or 'Native', which I am quite clearly not. Perhaps it is the sight of a foreigner sweating profusely and doing a very bad impression of a jogger, perhaps it is the sight of a foreigner wearing the team strip of such a lowly football team, or perhaps it is because he wears a shirt bearing the patently misleading word 'True-born', for whatever reason, people look at you different in Tokyo.(Guy)

September 17th

My friend, Akiko is leaving for Australia today. I met her for dinner on Sunday night, and we had a good long talk. It's the first time for her to go abroad for a longer period of time, so I believe she has lots of worries about her new life there. But, at the same time, she is very looking forward to it. I remember clearly the day I left for New Zealand about 6 years ago. I was feeling the same way as Akiko is now. Itfs not an easy decision, so I think she had inner conflict over quitting her job and going abroad, etc...but, I am very proud of her decision. I don't think making decisions without thinking is good, but I don't like to regret what I didn't do, either. I know Akiko was thinking about it for more than five years, so I believe that's what she really wanted to do. I hope she makes the most of every minute and enjoys her new life in Australia! Good luck, Akiko! (Risa)

September 16th

cake

How was your weekend? I had a great one. Our friends held a birthday party for me and Hisako on Saturday. (Sept. 11th was Hisako's birthday and 12th mine) They cooked dinner and prepared a birthday cake while we were waiting for them at a nearby cafe. It really was a nice surprise, and I had a wonderful birthday thanks to them. I will never forget the day.

Also, I want to say thank you again to all my friends who sent me a birthday card/message. Thank you once again, Nachi, Hiromi, Hisako, Ayano, Sachiko, Akiko, Tomoe, Alan, and Guy etc! (Risa)

card

Sep. 12th

Hello, this is Takashi here. I came back from Alaska today. Somehow I ended up posting todayfs news here. It was really busy in Alaska, as Chartered flights came in. However, I had good time with my workmates. They helped me a lot. Also I got to know a lot of new people there. You know what? In addition to the office job, I did a guide job. Every time I did that, I was so nervous that I sweated a lot while holding a microphone, but at the end I always had fun. Can you guess what I had for lunch today? Tonkatsu!!! It was so good that I had 2 bowls of rice. Maybe that was too much. I didnft miss Japanese food, but it was truly good. (Takashi)

September 11th

chocolate

When I went to a convenience store to buy my lunch, I bought a packet of chocolate at the same time. There was no special reason I picked it up, but guess how much they are. It is 10 yen (less than 10 cents) each. I believe most prices of commodities have risen in the past few decades, but I feel itfs amazing the confectionary company keeps the price for about 30 years. Although they raised the price due to the oil shock once in the past, their sales decreased a lot. Why? I guess the biggest reason was the productfs been targeted at children especially. According to their website, they bring new flavoured products every year. http://www.tirol-choco.com/collection.html If you find them at a shop while travelling in Japan, why donft you buy them for your children, nephews or nieces??? (Risa)

September 10th

Getting around Tokyo must rank as one the biggest hindrances for foreign travellers visiting the city. To start with, the city is more like a metropolis. It's vast. I've read many guide books that describe it as actually six or seven mini cities, all linked by a complicated network of transport services, operated by different companies and with different names that mesh together this great, wheezing, smoking, flickering capital. Once you find yourself in the right area, then you have to wrestle with an address system at odds with any the West came up with- less street names, more chomes and machis. A new friend of mine recommended that I buy a map of Tokyo as soon as possible- not just a paper fold-out one but one of those A-Z mini map books. I picked up one written mostly in Japanese but with a smattering of English here and there. Never again will I struggle with directions in Japanese- now I stop listening and merely offer my map book, thumbing at the pages imploringly. Better, I bought a bike. It's now cool enough to ride the 25 minute journey to work in Meguro from Oimachi, and in my first short journey, I felt like I'd seen more of Tokyo than in a week on the trains and down on the subway. There are a few websites that offer help for cyclists in Tokyo and plenty of rental shops- why not pick up a map book and get pedalling! (Guy)

September 9th

I feel so stiff in my left shoulderc I went to do yoga to stretch my body for a third straight day, but it didnft have any effect this time. So, I called a few massage places, but they all are closed today!!!!! What should I do??? Sorry, I canft think of anything related to Kyoto/Japan because of the stiff shoulder todayc Ifm so sorryc (Risa)

September 8th

How was your weekend? I went out for dinner with my old workmates on Friday night. We catch up every few months, but we always get together at the same Izalaya (Japanese style bar & restaurant). Why? I canft find any special reasonsc There are a lot of other restaurants/bars in the same area, but we just feel cosy there. I believe everybody has such a place, too. We talked a lot, laughed a lot. I hope you also had a good weekend! (Risa)

September 5th

I guess you are sick of my news/diariesc Here is something new and different!

Hi there! I should introduce myself. I'm Guy, I'm from England and I've been living in Japan for two years and a bit years. Until recently, I was living in the countryside in Yamagata, Tohoku (north Japan). I moved to Tokyo about a month ago. Being a foreigner in Japan, you can't help noticing how things are different to back home- the way people speak and act, the buildings, the food... Since moving to Tokyo, it's been interesting to notice how different the city is to the countryside. In any ways, it's been like moving to a whole new country, one with it's own customs and way of life and I feel like I've rewound two years. There's lots of new new things to observe. Also, there's lots of things that are absent- no mountains in the city, never an empty street, and, strangely, there seem to be fewer old people out and about. Today I was at my desk and suddenly realized one more recent absence- the screeching of cicadas outside my window. The hot topic at the moment seems to be the weather. It's finally cooling down, and I expect up in Yamagata it's already cooled down even more. There might even been a touch of yellow, a dab of red blushing the leaves on top of Mt. Zao. Autumn is coming, and all across the JR train stations advertising boards welcome travellers to travel north to see splendid autumnal colours in Akita, Miyagi, Aomori, all of the prefectures in Tohoku except Yamagata, a notable absence. It's one absence I'm glad of in Tokyo- long may it stay quiet, tranquil and unspoilt.

I believe itfs interesting to read a post by a non-Japanese living in Japan for a while. Hope you enjoyed it! (Risa)

September 4th

When you plan a trip to Japan on holiday, where would you like to visit? Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo? I was reading an article in the newspaper the other day, and I found that Shiga Prefecture has attracted tourists from all over Japan these days. Why? Hikone Castle & Hikonyan, the castlefs mascot character (see the below picture) is the answer. According to the recent survey, the number of visitors to Shiga was 47 million in 2007, which is the highest ever. If you plan to come to Kyoto, why donft you visit Shiga at the same time? Itfs close enough, and you can have a different experience there. (Risa)

hikonyan

September 3rd

Look at the picture below. More than 300 Mikaku Daruma, a famous Daruma doll with a fortune slip are placed all around the precincts of Sanpouji Temple, and it creates a unique atmosphere. The Mikaku Daruma is five centemeters tall, and each Daruma doll has a slightly different face. They are intended to be taken home by their purchasers. However, starting about 10 years ago, a number of dolls have been left at the temple. The temple treats the abandoned Daruma dolls with care as they clean them about once a year. The true reasons visitor abandon the dools remain unknown, but the chief priest thinks visitors may have avoided taking home fortune slips telling them they will have bad luckcand itfs better for them to leave their misfortune at the temple and go home with a refreshed mind. That makes sense, doesnft it? (Risa)

daruma

September 2nd

Ifm sorry I didnft post any news yesterday. How was your weekend? I went to see my grandmother on Sunday, and there was her sister, too. Do you know what day it is on September 15th this year? The answer is Respect-for-Senior-Citizenfs Day. The public holiday traces its origins to 1947, when Nomatanimura in Hyogo Prefecture proclaimed September 15th Aged Peoplefs Day. The day was established to show respect for the contribution elderly people have made to society. Its popularity spread all over Japan, and it became a public holiday in 1966. Have you seen your grandparents lately? If not, why donft you visit them? (Risa)

August 29th

August is nearly over. How time fliesc It is said that autumn is the best season for eating, reading, sport and art, etc. The weather is getting a little more bearable, so I think itfs about time to get out of air-conditioned room and start something new! Hope you have a good weekend. (Risa)

August 28th

Do you like vegetables and fruit? And, how much do you eat every day? Ifm not a vegetarian, but I love them except starchy ones so much. According to a survey, people who eat lots of veggies and fruit have a smaller risk of a cancer. I googled on the Internet and found that South Korea has been the country with the highest per capita consumption of vegetables in the world for long years. 694.87grams! I gain and lose weight easily without noticing, so I think I should be more careful about what I eat every day. (Risa)

August 27th

Ifve been thinking about my next holiday these daysc Though, I am not sure when it is. One of my friends is going to Perth, Australia on her working holiday from next month, so it would be nice to visit her. OrcNew Zealand again? I lost my old host father in April, so I feel I should visit his grave, too. I can go to the both countries? No, itfs not practical. I have check the flight schedules etcc, but I havenft made my decision yet! (Risa)

August 26th

Itfs about a week since Takashi left for Alaska. I talk to him almost every day, but hefs been doing great there. Ifm sure hefll come back with interesting stories, so check out this news section on a regular basis. Hopefully every day though!

When I went to buy my lunch today, I noticed there is no more buzzing of cicadasc It was very loud only a week ago, but itfs gone now. I think crickets will start to sing soon! (Risa)

August 25th

How was your weekend? I hope you had a nice one. My good friend, Ayano came to stay with me on Saturday. She just came back from Cambodia & Laos last week, and her stories and pictures made me feel like going off a trip too! I think there are a few months to go until I get a long holiday, so we made a trip plan to an onsen (hot spring) for next month instead. We have already booked a ryokan in Gifu Prefecture, and we are looking forward to it! (Risa)

August 22nd

I talk about autumn too much, I guessc I went to the supermarket yesterday and found lots of autumn food there, i.e. pears, figs, Matsutake mushrooms, saury, salmon, and bonito etc. Speaking of autumn food, what brings to your mind? Every country has a different eating habit, and I find itfs very interesting to know the differences. If I didnft work in the travel industry, I would have chosen a culinary career, I think. (Risa)

August 21st

I woke up feeling chilly last night and shut the window. It was the first time since summer started. As I mentioned before, I admit I am very sensitive to the coldcbut, I am sure that summer is gradually drawing to a close. Have you enjoyed your summer so far if you live in the Northern Hemisphere? I hope you will enjoy the rest of summer too! (Risa)

August 20th

I received postcards from friends for the second successive day. One was from Laos and the other from Hokkaido. I knew they were travelling, but I didnft expect them to send me the postcards. Actually it was really a nice surprise. I was very happy to know they were thinking about me even on their vacation. Thank you! (Risa)

August 19th

Do you know the penetration rate of the Internet in your country? According to the development of the Internet, online shopping is getting more and more popular here in Japan. I was watching the TV program the other day, and the reporter said lots of people (especially women) are kinda addicted to the Internet shopping. 15,000yen mangoes ($150.00), 10,000yen pound cake ($100.00), and 7,000yen bread ($70.00) etc. Even those expensive products are sold outc Can you believe that? (Risa)

August 18th

How was your weekend? Takashi went to see the Daimonji-yaki on Saturday and he said it was great. He was at the office this morning, but I forgot to ask him if he took a picture or not. Sorry about that.

Itfs still very hot here in Kyoto, but I feel the promise of autumn at the same time. When I looked up at the sky yesterday afternoon, it was already an autumn sky. Also, I feel the air is getting drier little by little. Autumn is definitely my favourite season, so I canft wait for it to come! (Risa)

August 15th

How are you today? Itfs already Friday today and Obon is nearly over. Time flies, donft you think? My workmates and I had dinner last night. The restaurant features vegetables that grown in Kyoto, especially leeks. We ordered various types of dishes and all of them were really delicious. It was the first time for me to eat sweet fish even though I had chances to have it before. Also it was the first time in a couple of years that I had baked taro. I really enjoyed the meal and had a good time. By the way, I have news today. I am off to Alaska from the 18th for about 3 weeks. Until I come back, I hope you are all well. (Takashi)

August 14th

Kosuke Kitajima won another gold medal in the menfs 200-meter breaststroke today! He already captured 3 medals (2 gold & 1 bronze medals) in the Athens Olympic and 1 gold medal in the Beijing Olympic, so this is the 5th one for him. I think itfs very difficult to keep his motivation high for 8 years, but he made it. Congratulations on a fantastic victory! (Risa)

August 13th

It is an gObonh period in Japan now. Obon is a Buddhist custom to worship the sprits of ancestors. On this occasion, family members come back to home to visit and clean the family grave. Also, during the Obon period, a dance festival called gBon-Odorih is held at many places. From the young to the old, people gather at a temple or school ground (if it is very big event), they dance along the song. Bon Odori just reminds me of a man in my neighborhood. Every year, he sang songs along the music and after the Obon, he lost his voice. There are Bon-Odori at various places, so I hope you can join them. (Takashi)

August. 12th

I told you I might be able to show you the pictures of fireworks in Uji, but Hiroko decided not to go as she was too tired on Sunday. I am sorry about that.

Itfs been too hot and humid here in Kyoto. The temperature goes up to 36 degrees every day. On the other hand, I got a call from a workmate a few days ago. He said it was snowing in Alaskac The weather has been so strange lately. I am wondering if something is happening to the eatherc(Risa)

August 11th

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games began. I watched the opening ceremony on TV. It was interesting because except Greece and China, countries marched into the stadium in order of the strokes of first Chinese character of each country name. For example, the first character of Japan is a four-stroke letter, and they came in the 23rd out of 204 countries. I have just heard that Kosuke Kitajima won the Gold Medal in the 100m Breast Stroke. He won the same game twice in a row. Isnft that great? Also, he established the new World Record. I am a bit behind in this yearfs Olympics, so I will catch up by watching news later today. (Takashi)

August 8th

Itfs already Friday. Can you believe that? Fireworks displays are held here and there in Japan this weekend. If you are staying in Kyoto at the moment, I think you have 2 options; Biwako Fireworks today or Ujigawa Fireworks on Sunday. There are some more in Osaka, but I think itfs easier to go to Shiga or Uji from Kyoto. One of my workmates, Hiroko is planning to go to the one in Uji, so I might be able to show you the pictures next week. Hope you have a great weekend! (Risa)

August 7th

While I was on the train, I saw an advertisement of summer special bus tours for [ Daimonji-Yaki ] on the 16th. One of the bus tours can take you to have traditional Kyoto cuisine, to Kodaiji temple to see the light up and finally Daimonji- yaki. It costs you 6,500yen although the prices vary from tour to tour. This bus tour attracts me because I missed Daimonji-Yaki last couple of years. Also it would be nice to have Kyoto cuisine that night. In addition to these bus tours, some hotels have a special plan at the Daimoji-Yaki night; you can go up to the rooftop and the view would spread in front of you. I read an article that you can see all the five letters from the rooms on the 10th or higher floor at Hotel Granvia Kyoto. I plan to go to see Daimonji-Yaki. It's just a week awayB (Takashi)

August 6th

I see kids coming back from [Rajio Taiso] on my way to work every morning. Itfs about 7:10a.m or so. [Rajio Taiso] refers to the warm-up exercise pretty popular in Japan, but its origin dates back to 1928. One of the government offices instituted it following the example of the United States. I didnft like to get up early when I was a kid, but I believe it helps them keep regular hour even on their school holidays. I havenft done it for ages, but itfs amazing I still remember the order of exercise correctly. If you are interested, you can see how itfs like on TV. Check out the program from 6:30a.m on NHK educational channel. (Risa)

Aug. 5th

How are you today? I had a relaxing weekend. I met my friend and went to the gym. I think I did have too much exercise, so I had sore muscles. On Sunday, while I was watching TV I saw interesting news. On Aug. 3rd, there was an event in Yosano Town, which is in the north part of Kyoto. The event was a volleyball competition, but not held indoor nor on the beach. It was in the field in which lotus roots were grown. People dived into the mud and soaking wet. It did look really fun and exciting!!! Everyone seemed to be having fun in getting wet. I must have been a good way to get cool although you would get dirty with mud. (Takashi)

August 4th

café kosci

How was your weekend? I had a very busy day (went to three hospitals(!) and then had dinner with a friend) on Saturday, so I wanted to spend my Sunday relaxed. I took a yoga lesson in the morning, and then I caught up with a friend at a café [Café Kosci]. The café is my recent favourite, and I often go there these days. The owner, who was originally a baker, opened the café, so you can enjoy bread hot from the oven there. Another reason I like the café is there are quite a few books/magazines there. I guess you wouldnft get bored even if you go there by yourself. Why donft you go there if you are sick of chain coffee shops? (Risa)

café kosci

August 1st

bbq

I had a BBQ using gShichirinh with my friends last weekend. gShichirinh is a cooking stove made of clay. You can use it for baking fish and etc. We lighted and heated charcoal first and put them at the bottom of it. When the charcoal is ready, you put a toasting net. To control the heat, you can open/close a hole on the side of Shichirin. Most of my friends were eating beef, but I ate chicken wings and pork. The heat of the shichirin was ferocious, but it was interesting to have BBQ in an old style. I hope you have a good weekend!! (Takashi)

July 31st

Vietnam

I went to the Vietnamese restaurant [Tiem an HUONG VIET] I mentioned in the news on June 16th with friends last Saturday. Itfs a bit pricey, but I think I understand why itfs so popular. Every dish we ordered was delicious, so I would like to try different dishes next time. I found the information in English, so please have a look if you are interested; http://r.gnavi.co.jp/fl/en/k612800/

Vietnam

There are a few tables outside too, so I guess it would be nice to have dinner on a cooler night. One advice from me. Donft forget to make a reservation since space is limited! (Risa)

July 30th

ryokan

Last week, I visited gKikokusoh. I really liked the friendly and peaceful atmosphere of the ryokan and people working there. It was the first time for me to see the landlord and landlady, so I had a good chat with them. The landlady showed me around the ryokan. You can see the beautiful garden in the photo above. I saw it in the day time and I would like to see it at night as well.

ryokan

Here is the photo of one of the rooms at the ryokan. Itfs on the upstairs, but it is possible to look down the garden out of the window. The wooden building makes you feel relaxed and I think you would admire the delicate works around the ryokan. I hope you will have a chance to stay there. (Takashi)

July 29th

thunder

We had huge thunderstorm with big thunderclaps yesterday. It started raining around noon. We expected it would stop soon, but it actually didnft. It got worse soon after my workmates, Nakajima-san and Takashi went out for lunchcand, Takashi was soaking wet from top to bottom when he got back to the office. He had an umbrella, but he said it was useless. The thunderstorm lasted until 7p.m., and we had a cooler night thanks to the rain last night. No air conditioner or fan needed for the first time in a few weeks. That was nice! (Risa)

July 28th

hanabi

How was your weekend? It was really hot in Kyoto. But I got a good vibe of summer 2 days in a row. On Friday, I saw fireworks out of the window at home. Please have a look at the colorful one in the photo above. First, I heard the noises and when I opened the window, amazing sight came into my view. It was like a surprising gift, as I didnft know there was an event that day. In addition to this, the next day, fireworks were done around the same time, which was 8pm. I was walking home and I stopped again and again to take photos and movies. People were outside watching the magnificent fireworks. Later I leaned that the event was held at gKokusai Kaikanh and that was for inviting people to Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg. I wonder who else saw the fireworks last weekend. If you didnft see them, youfll have chance as there are more summer events coming. (Takashi)

July 25th

Yesterday was Midsummer Day of the OX called [Doyo-no-Ushi] in Japanese. Japanese people have a custom to eat grilled eel –UNAGI - to survive the hot summer on that day since Edo Period. There are several theories about the origin of this custom. According to the most widely believed theory, Hiraga Gennai, who is well known as a pharmacologist, student of Western studies, physician, author, painter and inventor (I didnft know he was good in so many fields!), popularized the custom. Itfs said itfs good to eat something stating [U] on that day since ancient times, so he made a suggestion to the owner of Unagi (eel) restaurant to put a sign [Doyo-no-Ushi] that day. Did you eat grilled eel yesterday? Anybody? (Risa)

July 24th

I had my first gym experience with my half sister last weekend. The gym we went was really good and clean. There were a number of fitness equipments such as bicycles, running machines and more. We had no idea where to start, so we asked one of the instructors in order to get some idea. It was interesting how required exercises differ from person to person. In my case, I would like to strengthen the muscles of legs, so I used the machine which I can push or lift some weights. Also I did the exercise which is like climbing steps. It was tough, but fun at the same time. The atmosphere of the gym was good with soothing music and good lighting system. But I wish the swimming pool were a little bit bigger. However, itfs on the top floor of the building, so you can feel the sunshine and fresh air. I think I will get a membership of the gym and tell you how it goes. (Takashi)

July 23rd

Gion Matsuri is over, and what do you think the next big event is in Kyoto? The answer is [Daimonji-yaki] on August 16th. It is one of the ancient festivals of Kyoto, and five huge bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding Kyoto city. It is said that the spirits of deceased family members visit their family during O-Bon and go back to the spirit world on the 16th. Starting at 8 p.m., the giant bonfires are lit. Three of the fires form huge Japanese characters, and the rest two form shapes (boat and shrine gate). The most famous and the first to be lit is Daimonji-yama. The other four fires are lit at five to ten-minute intervals, and all the characters/shapes can be seen by 8:30. If you are planning to visit Kyoto during that time, you should hurry to book a hotel/ryokan ASAP! (Risa)

July 22nd

How was your weekend? It was really hot, especially on Marine Day. I heard that the temperature rose to 37.5C in some place in Kyoto. I had my half sister at home for 2 days from Saturday. We went to the movies on Saturday. Although I watched Indiana Jones once, we went to watch it. It was the second time for me, but still good. We had a hamburg for dinner and did some fireworks when we got home. We had only small ones, but it was just great to enjoy the atmosphere of the summer. Shefs going to have summer vacation but she must study to prepare for an entrance exam next year. I hope Ifll be able to see her more often during the summer vacation. (Takashi)

July 18th

This yearfs rainy season ended in Kansai region on Wednesday, and we had beautiful hot weather yesterday. Takashi and I went to see the Yamahoko procession (parading of decorated floats) around lunch time. We just saw some parts of the parade, but there were so many people waiting for the 32 floats to come under the flaming sun. As Takashi mentioned in his post yesterday, I will put a few pictures to share the atmosphere with you. Enjoy! (Risa)

GION GION GION GION GION

July 17th

ringo

Do you know what I found at the food stalls the other day? You can see lots of apples with a stick in the photo above. These are candied apple called gRingo-ameh. These apples are coated with candy and crunchy outside. In addition to this, the apple inside is juicy and crispy. This is one of the most popular foods at festivals in the western Japan. In the eastern Japan, on the other hand, candied apricots seem to be favored. It seems like the eastern Japanfs cooler climate is more suitable to apricots. Thatfs the reason why these are not that famous in the western Japan. If you find a candied apple, please try one!!! Risa will post photos of Gion Matsuri parade tomorrow. (Takashi)

July 16th

gion

Do you know what you see in the photo above? Risa and I went to see the Gion Festivalfs floats after work. We knew it rained before we left. When we set off, it wasn't raining at all. While walking along the food stalls on Karasuma Ave. down to Shijo, it started to rain. We expected it'd stop soon, but it didn't and what annoyed us was it started pouring down. We saw people at the food stalls hurrying to gather ingredients under the tents. The rain was so bad at that time.

gion

There are some stalls where you can try gKingyo-Sukuih which is scooping goldfish. It rained so hard that lots of raindrop went into the tank. I thought the water in the tank would flood out the goldfish. We sheltered for a while, but it seemed like it would continue raining. So, we decided to keep going. On the western side of Shijo Ave., we saw some floats like the one in the photo below. Those floats were really gorgeous with lanterns. Especially when it gets dark. We could have seen more if it hadn't been raining. However, I had really good impression of the festival; its passion, atmosphere. I just liked it even though I got soaking wet.

gion

The festival will be its full swing on the 17th. The floats will start its journey from "Shijo-Karasuma" at 9am and the first float called "Naginata-boko" cuts the rope on Shijo Ave. so that about the other 30 floats can follow it and continue their journey to "Karasuma-Oike". At "Shijo-Kawaramachi", you can see the great turn, for the floats DO NOT have a steering wheel. What people do is to hold one side of the wheels with ropes, and then put boards so that the other side of the wheels can slide on those. It's a lot of work and worth watching. I'm sure it's one of the best scenes. I hope you can visit Kyoto during the festival or Matsuri. (Takashi)

July 15th

BAGEL

It was my Saturday brunch, green tea bagel and cheese & raisin scone. I went to a bakery [Browny Bread & Bagels] located in Kitaoji area, though itfs not so close to my place. The bakery is especially famous for bagels, and people order them on the Internet from all Japan. Ifve heard that they sometimes have to wait for 6 months or so until they receive the bagels. Yeah I think the bagels are quite delicious, and I understand why they are so popular. I feel Ifm pretty lucky to live close enough. There are still so many kinds of bagels Ifve never tried, so I will go back there again sometime soon! (Risa)

July 14th

monjya

How was your weekend? Last Friday, I ate "Monjya-yaki" for the first time. Its contents are quite similar to those of "Okonomi-yaki", but much lighter or watery. Risa and I ordered a seafood monjya and mushroom monjya. It was really interesting to see the chef cook them. He cooked the main ingredients first, and then added tons of cabbage. Then he started to chop them finely with rhythmical sounds on the plate. After mixing the ingredients on the plate, he made a circle with chopped seafood/cabbage, and poured liquid of flour and some kind of soup.

When the liquid inside the circle started to be cooked, the chef mixed it with the cabbage which surrounded the liquid. He spread the mixture all over the plate very thinly.

monjya

It was ready to eat when the sheet of mixture was slightly burnt. We used a tiny little steel spatula to scrape the sheet from the plate. You can see it in the photo below although itfs just a tip of how to eat. (Takashi)

monjya

July 11th

I should have written a little earlier, but July 7th is Tanabata in Japan. It is a star festival derived from the Chinise star festival called Qi Xi. It cerebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, separates the lovers, and it is said that they are allowed to meet only once a year on July 7th. In the present day, we generally celebrate this day by writing wishes on tanzaku, small pieces of paper, and hanging them on bamboo. I saw quite a few bamboos here and there in the town last week. I think little kids wrote their wishes and decorated them. I didnft check the sky on Monday night, but I hope you could see the Milky Way then! (Risa)

July 10th

As I said, Ifll show you a few more photos from the beach party last weekend. It was a multi cultural event. Not only I saw people form different countries but also there were shows such as belly dancing, Brazilian dance and Hip Hop live. (The singer in the photo holds performance often in tottori city.) Also there were a lot of food stalls there; Thai, Italian, American and Japanese. Especially, Japabese food stalls were selling typical food for an event like this (Yaki-soba, Tako-yaki, Okonomi-yaki, Oden and etc).

It seems really easy to do belly dancing like you can see in this photo. But when I tried, I had no idea how to move my waist a little at a time. These dancers were really gorgeous and they attracted people from all over the beach. It was very interesting to see what I had not seen before. I hope you can see the photos alright. (Takashi)

July 8th

Takashi sounds like he had a great weekend in Tottori. My weekend was busy but nice too. I went to a Turkish Restaurant [Istanbul Saray] for dinner with a friend on Sunday. Ifd been interested to eat there for ages, but it was the first time for me to go there. We ordered a few dishes and shared them. Every dish was very delicious, but I especially liked the appetizer. I will definitely visit there again sometime soon. The restaurant is located in the downtown Sanjo area, but I guess itfs a bit hard to find. Please feel free to ask me if you want to know any more details. Here is the URL of the restaurant; http://istanbul-saray.com/index.html (Sorry I couldnft find the English version!) (Risa)

turkish

July 7th

umi

How was your weekend? I had a great time in Tottori. There was a big beach party in Kozomi, which is about 20 mins away from Tottori city. The party started on Friday. Some of my friends stayed 2 nights on the beach. I got there Saturday afternoon and I was surprised to see the number of tents standing along the shoreline!! Also tons of people were lying down in the lodge. They must have had a late night and had alcohol the night before.

tentIt seemed like a lot of JETs gathered to have a blast. I came across a friend who I hadnft seen for 2 years. It was superb to find him from the crowd of people. It was really hot there all day and I got badly suntanned even though I put sunscreen again and again. My friends and I played volleyball, Frisbee, went for a swim to the little island. When it was getting darker, people went to the main stage to dance, have meal and drinks. The loud music echoed throughout the beach and you could hear the sounds wherever you were sitting. I could catch up with my friends having some drinks and we danced till we dropped to the knees. While we were dancing, some people were doing fireworks on the beach. Probably we went to sleep around 4AM. Although I was tired, it was really fun to hang out with my friend and relaxing to lie down feeling the cool sea breeze. Ifll post more photos later this week!! Have a good week. (Takashi)

July 4th

One more news about Gion Festival. Nikai-bayashi, or a musical accompaniment practice, started last Friday at the community hall of Hoka Boko, one of the floats for the Gion Festival. The unique [Kon-Chiki-Chin] sound echoed through the neighborhood. I think most Kyoto people get the feeling that summer has finally started, hearing the sound. Do you know how many floats are at the festival? I will attach a good map, so you can count them. Sorry itfs a bit too small thoughc (Risa)

Gion

July 3rd

How are you today? Ifm really excited at going to the beach party in Tottori on Saturday. Itfs held each year by local JETs and a lot of people join every year. This is the first time for me to go there, so I really cannot wait. This event also features the protection of the environment. Everyone must remind themselves of reducing garbage during the weekend, and minimize the impact to the earth. I will bring a reusable products and my-hashi (chopsticks) so as not to produce unnecessary waste. Next week, I will let you know how the party went. It is a bit early, but I hope you have a nice weekend. (Takashi)

July 2nd

The Gion Matsuri is coming up soon! Itfs an annual festival and is said to be one of the three big festivals in Kyoto. Actually it spans the entire month of July, but the main dates are July 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th. The downtown area is closed for pedestrian traffic only on the three nights from the 14th to 16th leading up to the massive parade on the 17th. The streets are lined with night stalls selling food, toys and golden fish, etc. You will see many boys and girls wearing Yukata, a casual type of Kimono, walk around the area and enjoy themselves if you visit then. How about making a plan to come to Kyoto during that time? (Risa)

July 1st

How are you today? Itfs already July. Can you believe it? gJulyh makes me daydream about the beach, beach soccer/volleyball, fireworks, and watermelons. Last weekend, I went to buy a new swimsuit. So, I would love to go surfing if I have a chance this summer. Itfs been a while since I last went surfing, so I really canft wait!! In some places, beaches were opened last weekend. I saw kids jump into the water although it seemed a bit cold. In my hometown (Takeno), today is the day to open the beach for this summer season. Also the beach you can take dogs will be opened soon. It will be fun to go out for swimming if you come to Japan in summer. (Takashi)