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News from
February 2006

February 1st
Itfs been raining for 3 days in Kyoto. It is warm because of the rain but I can use some sunshine now. Itfs supposed to stop raining tomorrow but the temperature will drop, they say. That doesnft make me very happy but the spring is almost there!
I just read on the internet news that Tokyo gave up the first place of being the most expensive city (the highest prices of commodities) after 14 years. (By the way, the city with the highest prices of commodities, according to this research is now Oslo, Norway! I know there are many different researches on this topic and they might have different results. This research was done by a British group called EIU.) Also Osaka/Kobe, last yearfs second place winner (loser?) is now in the fourth place. Well, I hope this news brings lots of tourists to Japan, especially to KYOTO! See, Japan is not an expensive place to visit anymore! Itfs very much a [tourists-friendly] city. Please come to Kyoto!! (Junko)
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February 2nd
Setsubun is a festival on February 3rd, one day before the start of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. It will be celebrated throughout Japan this year, too. The most commonly performed setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted soybeans around the houses and at temples and shrines. When we throw the beans, we are supposed to shout, [Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!] which means [Devils out, Happiness in!].

February 3rd
Risafs friend sent us an invitation code for g-mail! Yes, G-MAILcsomething which has been troubling us for weeks now. It all started since we started receiving g-mails (quite a few everyday) to our inquiries-mail account. The problem is that we canft read those g-mails and canft reply to them either. None of the mails we have sent to those g-mail addresses have been delivered. Anyway, we thought if we make our own g-mail account, it might workcbut the problem was that g-mail is not very friendly to everyone and you need to get an invitation code from your friend to make your own account. Fortunately, Risafs friend, Sachiko (Thank you very much, Sachiko!) sent us the invitation. Well, the story doesnft end here. We were so happy about our new g-mail account today (itfs like getting new clothescahhh maybe not that happy) thinking we can finally contact those people who showed interest in our sitecit turned out itfs not that easy. Even from our g-mail account, we canft send mails to those people!!! Our mails didnft get delivered for some reason. Now I realize it probably isnft g-mailfs problem. Itfs just wired that all those blank strange mails are from g-mail accounts. G-mail keeps troubling us. (Junko)

February 6th
The Minamiza theater (the big building on the left-hand side of the photo) is the birthplace of [kabuki] and the landmark of Kyoto City. It is the oldest theater (built in 1615) in Japan. There were seven theaters built in 17th century, but six of them collapsed due to the fire, the flood and the economic decline. The Minamizafs kabuki performances have been designated as an important property. In the present day, not only kabuki plays but also concerts and rakugo, which is a traditional comic storytelling, performances are held there. I think itfs a great way for tourists to touch and know the local culture through the plays. Please ask us if you are interested in the plays!

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This is just an asidecthere is a soba [buckwheat noodle] restaurant called Matsuba just next to Minamiza. It is very famous for nishin [herring] soba. They still follow the recipe invented in 1882. Why donft you try the traditional taste after enjoying at Minamiza?  (Risa)

February 7th
At about 3 pm today, I was working very hard (as usual!) looking at my computer screen and papers and stuffcthen for some reason, I looked up and saw a rainbow through the window! I know rainbows are not too rare in some places but I donft think I have seen many rainbows in Japan. So I got really excited and took a picture of it.

February 8th
What day is coming next week? Yep, it is St. Valentine's day. It is extremely popular in Japan, and it is memorized as a day when girls are allowed to express their love to boys by giving chocolate. Not so many people here know what St. Valentine's day is for western people. St. Valentinefs day was introduced into Japan by chocolate companies.
From 1930 to 1960, a couple of confectionaries tried in vain to induce Japanese people to present chocolate on the day. Then in the 1970s, big chocolate companies joined the market, and St. Valentinefs became a special event especially for young people. There is another type of chocolate called [giri-choco]. Women working in offices present the chocolate to their bosses and workmates to show their thanks of every day life. Do you think Japanese guys are lucky to receive lots of chocolates from girls? What do you guess March 14 is for? I will let you know when the day is approaching.)

Every department store is holding a big event for St. Valentinefs day all over Japan at the moment. Once you enter the venue, you might be fascinated by hundreds of chocolates from France, Belgium, Switzerland, the States and, of course, Japan etc. (Risa)

February 9th
Itfs sunny and beautiful outside but the air is freezing. According to the news, we have a very harsh winter all over the world this year. I donft know if it influences or not, but a bad flue is going around Japan at the moment. Look at the picture below. You can see lots of red and pink districts. The prefectural health department has issued the flue warning [the last updated on Feb 7]. I was pretty surprised at the figurecI really didnft know the flue has spread out across Japan.

February 20th
Kyoto is famous for its beautiful vegetables which we call Kyo [Kyoto]-Yasai [Vegetable]. I went to a supermarket yesterday and found field mustard sold at the vegetable corner. We call it [Hanana] in Japanese, and it is one of Kyo-Yasai. The colors of the vegetable, yellow and green make me feel spring is coming. The taste? It is a bit bitter and spicy but I like it so much. I can hear someonefs voice, saying [you are a vege lover so you like anything we call vegetables]. As Junko said in the news on February 17, spring is nearly there!
This is the list of Kyoto Vegetable.

Spring: Hanana, Kyoto bamboo shoot etc
Summer: Kamo eggplant, Manganji pepper etc
Autumn: Murasakizukin soybeans, Tanba chestnuts etc
Winter: Kujo spring onion, Mizuna leaf, Shogoin radish etc
P.S. If you want to have a different experience in Japan, how about farming? I have a farmer friend in a rural area only 40 mins away from Kyoto city. I will organize a tour to plant rice or harvest rice/Kyoto vegetables there. (Risa)

Well, actually I asked Risa to take one as her desk is by the window...how lazy am I? Anyway, isnft it beautiful???...except for the construction machine...and the dark skycyeah, it is pretty. (Junko)

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Yes, I have caught a coldc I am lucky I have a good workmate. Junko kindly bought me a bottle of hot lemonade and told me [Vitamin C and sleep are essential to clear up the flue]. I will faithfully follow her advice. Thank you, Junko!!!!!!!!!(Risa)

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February 10th
I have an itchy finger! I will tell you more on Monday but here is what my finger looks like today! (Junko)

February 13th
Socmy finger! As you can see in the picture, between the top joint and the second joint is red and puffy. Itfs because I have [Shimoyake] or chilblain. The reason why I wanted to write about this is because my friend from the States had no idea what it was while it is very common to get Shimoyake in the winter. Well at least when I was a kid, all the kids have one of these. It is caused by exposing your skin to cold for a while. This very good friend of mine, Vinh is from Boston and he has no idea what chilblain is! Yes, Boston is much colder than here. They get lots of snow every year!!! Why donft they get Shimoyake in Boston then??? I think I figured it out. Itfs because IT IS COLDER here. I mean technically itfs colder in Boston but they have really good heating system everywhere and lots of people drive everywhere (in other words, they never walk outside). I got chilblain probably just from walking to the station on the way to work every morning. Kids get them because they play outsidec(donft know about kids nowchopefully they still play outside and be active) Anyway, I just wanted to say that chilblains itch and you are lucky if you donft have one! (Junko)

February 14th
We have funny weather in Kyoto today. I was happy it was absolutely sunny and beautiful this morning but itfs now dull and greycIfm sure it starts raining pretty soon.

Our boss took us to a restaurant/bar near our office last night. We couldnft choose what to order so we asked the staff what she recommends. [Tomato Oden] was her answer. Oden is a popular Japanese hotpot dish especially in wintercbut Tomato Oden????? Our boss suddenly remembered it was featured in a TV program the other day. We decided to order and try it. Soon after, it was served to our table. It looked just a whole tomato but there were minced meat inside. We were pretty impressed by the taste. Yes, it was very delicious. We should have taken the picturecbut sorry we forgot to do that!
Lots of thanks to our wonderful boss; He paid for the dishes and drinks. Thank you!!!!!! (Risa)

February 15th
My friend and I went to have a Thai massage last Saturday ? the same place in the news on January 23. This poor friend of mine, Emi canft do computer work for more than 10 minutes because she gets very bad stiff shoulders. The last time we were having the foot bath, the massage menu caught our eyes. By the time we left there, we already decided to make an appointment for the massage. Look at the picture below. Emi had the massage to alleviate her severe pain. I asked her how it was after the massage. She said she shoulders much less of the burden than before. Wow, the massage did help! The place called [INISIE] is located near the famous shrine, Kitano Tenmangu. I will highly recommend you to go there and heal your tired body after the sightseeing. (Risa)

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Afterward, we pick up and eat the number of beans corresponding to our age. One of the other celebrations is eating Maki Sushi, a special rolled sushi. Specially in Western Japan, lots of people face a lucky direction- the direction changes every year. South-southeast this year- and try to eat the rolled sushi without saying a word. Those who can accomplish the sushi (it is about 20cm long) are promised good luck with the business, study, and freedom from illness. Why donft you try this tomorrow????? (Risa)

February 16th
Baika [Japanese apricot] Festival will be held at the famous Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu on February 25. The shrine enshrines Michizane Sugawara, who is worshipped as the god of study because of his great learning during his time. It is said that he loved Japanese apricot blossoms and he composed lots of waka poems about the flower. There are about 2000 Japanese apricot trees at the shrine, and they start to bloom in unison soon.

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February 25 is the anniversary of his death, and so many people will visit the shrine to see the ceremony. There will be a lot of street stalls around the shrine on that day, too. How about dropping by the festival if you are in Kyoto at the time?
*One more info is the Japanese apricot garden will be open to the public this weekend until around March 20. Donft miss it! (Risa)

February 17th
Itfs been raining a lot lately here in Kyoto, but it finally cleared up today. Itfs supposed to rain again Sunday night so we should get outside and enjoy the sun before that. I can really feel the spring is almost therecor maybe I am just imagining it. People say that it will get cold again but I refuse to believe that.
Herefs the news of the day. We added another ryokan to our site! The new ryokan is called [Motonago], located in one of my favorite area in Gioncreally a beautiful area with stone-paved, little paths. It is fun just strolling in that area, stopping at the little shops here and there. The ryokan is really sweet, pure Japanese style, with super nice staff. You can really, truly enjoy the ryokan experience in Kyoto at this ryokan. Please check out their page. You can find it in southeast area in our map! (Junko)

February 21st
Risa and I like to talk about spring because we are very sick of the cold weather by now. SocI am going to talk about spring again. The other day I found spring at a super market near my house. They sell lots of alcohol too and there it was! Strawberry Chu-hai!!! Do you know what Chu-hai is? Itfs a yummy drink made with Shochu (distilled spirit) and soda. We usually add different flavor to it, sometimes with fresh juice, most of the time just with flavored sweetener. Anyway, you can find lots of different flavored canned Chu-hai in Japan as they are very popular among girlscand some boys. And I found Strawberry flavor one! Itfs a new limited flavor for the spring season! When you come to Japan, please try some of our yummy Chu-hai! (Junko)

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February 22nd
The goddess of Weather has fulfilled our wish. Itfs like spring today!

The day for girls is coming next week. On March 3, we celebrate Hinamatsuri, the Dollfs Festival. This is a day to pray for young girlsf growth and happiness. The festival is also called Momo no sekku [Peach Festival] because March is the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. Most families having a daughter(s) display Hina-ningyo [special dolls for Hinamatsuri] - Look at the photo.

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There are the prince and princess on the top. The next step contains three court ladies, followed by five musicians, two ministers, and three servants. There are also tiny pieces of furniture, small meal dishes, and other things. As you can see, the dolls are dressed in costumes from the Heian period (794-1192). As an aside, Kyoto became the capital of Japan on 794. The Hina-ningyo are taken out only once a year for this day. We say if the dolls are not stored soon after the festival, the daughter will be doomed to marry late. A daughterfs parents or grandparents will give her a set of Hina-ningyo before her first Hinamatsuri. Some girls are given the dolls that belonged to their mother or grandmother. In my case, my grandfather bought me a set of Hina-ningyocbut I havenft seen them for agesc (Risa)

February 23rd
Junko and I were walking to the station after work yesterday. Then, we found a van parked on the side of the road. It brought me back my childhood memories. When I was little, I often saw the van selling quite a few kinds of bread. They drove around the town, playing the advertising jingle. Every time I heard the song, I asked my grandmother to buy one. It is known as Roba no Pan [Donkeyfs Bread]. Do you imagine where the name comes from? The cart was pulled by a donkey until 40 years ago. Itfs pretty simple, right?

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As you see the photo, the donkey is still their trademark. But, there are only 3 vans nowc If you come across the van, you are very lucky!
P.S. I thought the Roba no Pan is fairly famous and known by everyone, but Junko didnft know it. I checked the website and found it was founded in Kyoto about 80 years ago. Socit might be another Kyoto institution?????? (Risa)

February 24th
Finally it stopped raining. We had lots of rain last week and this week. The sky is so beautiful right now so I took a picture from our office.

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Itfs not really a new piece of information but I just read on the internet that Lisa Marie Presley got married in Heian Shrine. Her new hubby is not a Japanese guy, so I wonder why they picked Kyoto or Heian Shrine to get married in. Maybe she was out of ideas after many marrigesc(Junko)

February 27th
Did you have a nice weekend? My friend and I went to Imperial Palace on Saturday. There is a tiny Japanese apricot garden, and the blossoms have just started to bloom. Look at the photos below. They are cute, expected to be in full bloom in a week or so. It is said that people in Nara Period preferred Japanese apricot blossoms to Cherry blossoms and composed lots of Waka poems about them. As it was a beautiful day on Saturday, there were a lot of people + dogs at the Palace. They looked they enjoyed the sunshine and totally relaxed. [Spring has finally come!] -  Everybody was excited about thatcbut winter is back again today. (Risa)

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February 28th
I had a busy but fun weekend. I did a lot and I have no time or space to write everything so I pick onecwell, my friends from Nara and I went to a club in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto. Itfs called Metro since it is located in the subway station (Some peopleclike me???...would say itfs not technically a subway since itfs a Keihan Line/local train that goes underground in that area). This club is really nicely decorated with retro furniture. The reason my friends came all the way from Nara was because they had a Drag Queen show at Metro! Those Drag Queens werecnice! Good job queens! If you love Drag Queen shows, and if you are lucky, you may get to see one at Metro while you are in Japancand if you are not a big fan of Drag Queen shows, Metro is a fun place to go to anyway. (Junko)