Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chunichi Shimbun Gifu Fireworks

Held on the last Saturday of July, the Chunichi Shimbun Gifu Fireworks is one of the largest and best fireworks displays in all of Japan. Fireworks are a great summer tradition here In Japan with many firework festivals taking place around Japan in July and August. Fireworks are called Hanabi (花火) in Japanese, which literally means fire flower. The fireworks are just that as they beautifully light up the summer night sky.

The Chunichi Shimbun Gifu Fireworks takes place in Gifu City (岐阜) over the famous Nagara River with Mt Kinka and Gifu Castle as a backdrop. The fireworks last around 90 minutes with approx. 30,000 fireworks set off. The best seat in the house is along the river bank where the fireworks are launched.

This is the must see summer event in Gifu along with the Ukai (Cormorant Fishing). Gifu City is packed on the day with people visiting from all over Japan. The atmosphere is electric with huge lines of street vendors selling all kinds of Japanese festival food and people out and about in their beautiful yukata (summer kimono).

Make sure you arrive early to reserve a good spot and bring along your seating mat. I recommend Nagaragawa Park which is at the northern end of the Nagara Bridge.

Here are a few photos from the festival last year

The Nagara River with Mt Kinka and Gifu Castle in the background
The crowds at the Chunichi Shimbun Gifu Fireworks
Festival Food and Beautiful Yukata
Fireworks ~ The star of the night
Fireworks over the Nagara River


WHAT: Chunichi Shimbun Gifu Fireworks
WHEN: Saturday July 26
TIME: 7:15 pm to 8:45 pm
WHERE: Nagara River bank (between the Nagara Bridge and Kinka Bridge)
ACCESS: Special buses run from JR Gifu Station and Meitestu Station

Chunichi Fireworks Festival

Friday, July 18, 2014

How-to: Business Etiquette in Japan

Whether you’ve moved to Tokyo for a new job or your company is expanding overseas, there are a few cultural differences in the workplace you should familiarize yourself with. The Japanese pride themselves on being gracious and building strong relationships, and exchanging gifts is just one of the many ways these ties are built.

The biggest difference in Japanese business etiquette is that it’s a lot more formal than Western cultures. Unless you are working with the imperial family, most Japanese business persons understand the cultural difference and won’t judge you too harshly. That being said, here are a few things you may want to avoid:

1. Disrespecting business cards 

Exchanging business cards is an extremely important part of Japanese business etiquette. It’s a way to show individual identity in a society where the group is usually more important than the individual. Always have plenty with you and when you accept someone else’s, take it with both hands, bow slightly from the hips, and offer thanks. Gently place the card in your wallet as-is because writing on them, bending them, or altering them in any way is as offensive as a slap in the face. It’s considered courteous to have your business card in your native language on one side and in Japanese on the other. You can include up to four languages on your business cards before they become too cluttered. When exchanging business cards, always present yours to the most senior person first, and then go on down the hierarchy. While you’re at it, you should probably avoid…

2. Ignoring the hierarchy 

In Japan, status is kind of a big thing. When it comes to meetings, there is usually an exact order of how and where everyone is sitting, with the senior executive or manager at the head of the table. Make sure to ask someone ahead of time in order to avoid the awkward embarrassment of sitting in the Vice President’s chair. If you are exchanging gifts, always present the most senior person with their gift first, and make sure that person has the most expensive gift. And since we’re on that topic…

3. Forgetting to bring a gift 

As a show of respect and friendship towards your new or potential business partners (or co-workers) you should always bring a small gift to the first meeting. Gift-giving in Japan is more about the ceremony than the gift, and the wrapping almost counts for as much as the contents. While the most important gift-giving ceremony is at the beginning of the first meeting, it’s common and a good idea to always stock up on items from your home country to bring as gifts for every large meeting. Have them wrapped at a local store so you can be sure they are wrapped properly. Also send a thank-you gift as well, something for the entire group or department like a fruit basket or collection of sweets. If you want to send gifts to Japan after you’ve returned to your home country it’s a good idea to consider using a gifting service that has locations in-country so you can send things like fresh flowers and fruit, and be assured it arrives on time and in perfect condition.

Following these few tips should help you to avoid any irreversible faux-pas. Japan is a beautiful country rich with culture and tradition, and once you get used to the nuances you will soon find yourself enjoying them.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

10 Tips to Survive Summer in Japan

Summer in Japan is very hot and sticky with the mercury rising to the mid and high 30C levels with very little relief at night. Popular destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka can get extremely hot during this season. You can escape the heat by heading to places like Nikko, north of Tokyo or the cooler Japan Alps in the heart of Japan. Alternatively you can follow these handy tips below to survive a Japanese Summer.

10 Tips to Survive Summer in Japan

1. Air Conditioned Shopping Malls 

Escape your hot house or apartment by visiting one of the many shopping malls scattered around Japan. They offer air conditioned comfort with lots of cool shops to visit, or just sit down and enjoy the coolness of being inside out of the hot sun. We normally do this during the hottest part of the day which is usually from about 2 pm to 5 pm.

Japanese Shopping Mall in Summer

2. Kakigori (Shaved Ice) 

Japanese shaved ice is a popular dessert during the warmer months in Japan. Kakigori is usually flavoured with a syrup and sweetened with condensed milk. Some of our favourites include Ichigo Milk (Strawberry Milk), Blue Hawaii (Soda) and Matcha (Green Tea) with Anko (Sweet Azuki Beans).

Ichigo Milk Kakigori

3. Take a Cool Bath 

Try taking a cool bath with some Japanese cooling bath salts. These can be picked up from any Drug Store or Supermarket in Japan, and when added to a bath of around 38C start cooling your body from the moment you leave the bath. The bath salts contain cool things like mint and menthol and come in summer aromas like mint, fresh forest, lime, grapefruit and orange. Popular brands are Bath Cline and Babu Cool.

Cooling Bath Salts

4. Ramune 

Ramune is a Japanese carbonated drink that reminds me of lemonade from back home. It has a distinctive bottle design which is made from glass and sealed with a marble. Ramune is very refreshing and is a modern symbol of summer in Japan. You can find it sold at convenience stores and supermarkets, as well as at all the summer festivals and fireworks in Japan.

Fuji-san Ramune

5. Body Wipes 

Body wipes or body sheets as they are sometimes called here in Japan can be a life-saver. They are basically a moist deodorising wet tissue that cools your body and takes away that unpleasant sweat. Some of them even leave you with that refreshing tingling feeling! You can pick them up at any Drug Store or Supermarket here in Japan. A favourite of mine is the Gatsby Ice Type.

6. Summer Room Wear 

Japanese summer room wear like a traditional Jinbei (甚平) are great for keeping cool. A traditional Jinbei is made of breathable hemp or cotton. They are usually worn as a type of nightwear or house wear, but in recent times have become a popular clothing item to wear out during the summer. Jinbei can even substitute for a traditional yukata (summer kimono) during a summer festival.

Japanese Summer Yukata

7. Furin Wind Chime 

Furin is a type of Japanese glass wind chime that has been popular since the Edo Period in Japan. Furin are the sound of summer for me and are traditionally hung up during the summer months, usually near a window or outside to catch the breeze. It is believed that the soothing sound of the chime keeps you feeling cool.

8. Cold Noodles 

Japanese love their noodles and summer is no exception with lots of cold and chilled noodles on offer. A summer favourite of ours is Hiyashi Chuka (冷やし中華). The dish consists of chilled ramen noodles topped with cold ingredients and a special sauce. Popular toppings include tamagoyaki (cooked egg), cooked cold chicken, ham, cucumber, and tomatoes. The sauce is made from a combination of water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. A delicious dish to help cool you down.

8. Use an Ice Pillow at Night 

Ice Pillows are great and can be purchased very cheaply at most Drug Stores in Japan. You keep the ice pillow in the freezer during the day and then take it out at night, wrap it in a thin towel and use it as a pillow at night to stay cool. Temperatures in Japan during the night are still very high and uncomfortable and it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. Using an ice pillow definitely helps and I recommend them if you have never tried them.

10. Cold Tea 

Japanese drink a lot of different kinds of tea and have a cool summer tea which is very refreshing. It is called Mugicha (麦茶) and is a tea made from roasted barley. Mugicha is a lot more refreshing to drink than water and is believed to help you survive the heat of summer.

Do you have any great tips to beat the heat in Japan?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tanabata Star Festival 2014

Tanabata (七夕), also known as the “Star Festival” takes place every year on the 7th day of the 7th month here in Japan. In Japanese, Tanabata (七夕) means evening of the seventh; (七) = seventh and (夕) = evening. The Japanese festival originates from Chinese legend, and celebrates the meeting of the two stars, Altair and Vega. According to the legend, the Milky Way, a river of stars that crosses the sky, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only one night a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunisolar calendar. It is a fabulous story that was popularized in Japan over 1,300 years ago!

The date of Tanabata varies depending on the region of Japan and is usually held at either July 7th or August 7th. The celebration is held at night and colourful Tanabata Festivals are held across Japan. One of the biggest and most famous is the Tanabata Festivals of Hiratsuka near Tokyo in July and Sendai in August.

A popular Tanabata custom in Japan is to write wishes on small pieces of coloured paper tanzaku and hang them on a specially decorated bamboo trees or branches (wish trees) in hope that the wish will come true. The bamboo trees or branches are usually placed in the backyard or entrances of houses and are set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day.

Tanabata Decorations in Hida Takayama

Japanese snack companies also like to join in on the festivities with several of them releasing Tanabata themed snacks. One of our favourites is the Tanabata themed Koala no March (コアラのマーチ), which is a limited edition version only available around this time of the year.

Koala no March Tanabata Version

There are numerous Tanabata Festivals around Japan during summer organised by local merchants. They are usually held at major shopping streets or districts which are decorated with colourful streamers and decorations.

Some of the most famous Tanabata Festivals are:

Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival (Kanagawa Prefecture) July 4-6 

The Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival held in the Kanto region of Japan is one of the largest in Japan. It features several blocks of streets decorated in gorgeous Tanabata decorations as well as street performers. The action starts just outside of JR Hiratsuka Station.

Hiratsuka Tanabata Festival 

Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival (Aichi Prefecture) July 24-27 

The Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival held in Ichinomiya City, Aichi Prefecture is the largest in the Chubu region of Japan. It centers on the 500 meter long Honmachi Shotengai shopping arcade approach to Masumida Shrine. It features a parade through the shotengai, stalls and colourful streamers and decorations.

Ichinomiya Tanabata Festival

Sendai Tanabata Festival (Miyagi Prefecture) August 6-8 

The Sendai Tanabata Festival is the most famous and largest Tanabata festival in all of Japan. Held in Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, it features the famous kusudama ball of paper flowers made from Japanese paper (washi) as well as many other decorations.

Sendai Tanabata Festival 

Hida Takayama Tanabata Festival (Gifu Prefecture) August 6-7 

The Hida Takayama Tanabata Festival in the picturesque Hida Takayama sees the famous old streets of Sanmachi lined with Edo Period houses decorated with Tanabata streamers and wish trees.

How are you planning to celebrate Tanabata this year?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mister Donut Matcha Doughnuts

Popular Japanese doughnut chain, Mister Donut has released a limited edition range of Matcha Green Tea doughnuts. The Matcha doughnuts will be available from May 15 until the end of July, with Mister Donut offering six different styles of Matcha doughnuts to choose from.

The doughnuts include the Pon de Matcha Choco, Krantz Ring Matcha Choco, Nama Choco Matcha Pie, Waff Matcha Choco, and Misdo Bits Matcha Mix.

Here is a little more about each Doughnut:

Pon de Matcha Choco 

The Pon de Ring is Mister Donut’s signature doughnut and one of their most popular varieties. This version of the Pon de Ring called the Pon de Matcha Choco is coated with delicious Matcha chocolate. The doughnut has a mochi-mochi (chewy) texture and is a taste sensation. The Pon de Matcha Choco is 140 yen.

Pon de Matcha Choco

Krantz Ring Matcha Choco 

The Krantz Ring Matcha Choco is vanilla flavoured with a soft cake like texture. The Matcha chocolate goes really well with the vanilla Krantz Ring doughnut. The Krantz Ring Matcha Choco is 140 yen.

Krantz Ring Matcha Choco

Waff Matcha Choco 

The Waff Matcha Choco is a new item on the Mister Donut’s menu and is a tasty treat. It has a light chewy texture with a buttermilk flavour, and is also coated with Matcha chocolate. The Waff Matcha Choco is 118 yen.

Waff Matcha Choco

Nama Choco Matcha Pie 

The Nama Choco Matcha Pie is crispy on the outside with thick and soft nama chocolate on the inside. The Nama Choco Matcha Pie is 151 yen.

Nama Choco Matcha Pie

A look inside the Nama Choco Matcha Pie

Misdo Bits Matcha Mix 

Misdo Bits Matcha Mix is a selection of bite-size doughnuts that you can enjoy. It’s a great idea as it allows you to try a variety of doughnuts at the one time. The doughnuts include Pon de Matcha Ball (Pon de Ring), Matcha Old Fashion Ball, Matcha Churros (coated in Matcha Chocolate), Pon de Golden Ball, Angel Ball (filled with Whipped Cream) and Strawberry (filled with Strawberry Cream). You can try these in three different serving sizes with a Small (6 pieces) costing 237 yen.

Misdo Bits Matcha Mix

Selection of doughnuts in the Misdo Bits Matcha Mix

The Taste Test

Japan Australia is fan of Matcha so we had to give these new doughnuts a try. We headed down to our local Mister Donut but could only find three of the six styles available. We were able to pick up a Pon de Matcha Choco, Krantz Ring Matcha Choco and Misdo Bits Matcha Mix. What did we think?

The Pon de Matcha Choco was really good with a nice light and chewy texture. The Matcha chocolate was tasty but not as strong as we would have liked.

The Krantz Ring Matcha Choco was OK but not one of our favourites. The doughnut was thick and dense and was not as easy to eat as the Pon de Matcha Choco above.

The Matcha Bits Matcha Mix was our favourite of the three with a great selection of doughnuts. We really liked the Matcha Churros, which was light and sweet with that great churros texture and the Strawberry was a surprise hit with a chewy texture and sweet strawberry cream and corn flakes filling.

Pon de Matcha Choco

Krantz Ring Matcha Choco

Misdo Bits Matcha Mix

Some more Mister Donut favourites we've tried:

Mister Donut Croissant Doughnuts

Hello Kitty Halloween Doughnuts

Mister Donut Calpis Doughnuts

Mister Donut Website

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mos Burger French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage

Popular Japanese burger chain Mos Burger has just released a new doughnut burger that is an interesting creation. Called the French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage, the burger or doughnut is a kind of cross collaboration between Mos Burger and Mister Donut. Mos Burger has used the famous Mister Donut French Cruller Doughnut as inspiration for its doughnut pastry like bun for its latest burger.

Japan is certainly no stranger to unique burger creations, especially in recent times with such beauties as the Ramen Burger and Black Ninja Burger.

The concept behind this cross collaboration is that Mos Burger and Mister Donut would both swap menus, and try to come up with some new products based on popular items offered by the other chain. This unique collaboration has been given the nickname “Mosdo”. “Mos” is short for Mos Burger, and “do” is from the nickname of Mister Donut (Misdo).

The creators at Mos Burger come up with the Mos Burger French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage as well as the Mos Burger French Cruller with Berry and Chocolate. Both of these creation use Mister Donut’s popular French Cruller doughnuts as inspiration with the creators at Mos Burger coming up with their own original doughnut pastry bun.

The Mos Burger French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage certainly does look interesting and is unlike anything we have seen before. Sandwiched in between the original French Cruller buns is a spiral-shaped chorizo sausage, hot chilli sauce, lettuce, onion, tomato and mayonnaise. The burger costs 390 yen (USD$3.80) and will be available for a limited time until early July.

The Taste Test 

Japan Australia was intrigued enough in order to head down to our local Mos Burger to try this unique creation out. We ordered the French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage and we weren’t disappointed. The burger was actually pretty good and the flavour combinations awesome. The spicy chorizo sausage was one of the best we’ve had in Japan and went well with the spicy chilli sauce which had a distinct Mexican flavour to it. The doughnut buns were good and not sweet as we expected them to be. They were very light and flakey which unfortunately made it difficult to eat the burger without the buns breaking up all over the place. This was the only let down of the burger.

If you don’t mind getting your fingers a little dirty then definitely give this new burger a try.

French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage

A little peak inside the French Cruller with Chorizo Sausage

Mos Burger Japan website 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa Tokyo

Asakusa is probably the most popular place in Tokyo for foreign and Japanese tourists alike. Located between the other tourist hotspots of Akihabara and Tokyo Skytree, Asakusa is a great place to visit for its temples, shrines and traditional shopping streets.

Every year in late May the Sanja Matsuri (Three Shrine Festival) is held, and is regarded as one of the top 3 Shinto festivals in Japan. The festival celebrates the 3 founders of Senso-ji , the well-known temple in Asakusa. Participants carry mikoshi (little portable shrines) around Asakusa, while they chant, sing and play instruments.

It’s a really exciting festival and because there are so many mikoshi everywhere, you are guaranteed to see some authentic Japanese celebrations. Hang around and eventually one of the music performance trucks will come around, playing all sorts of old-style Japanese festival and folk music.

The mikoshi make their way around town, eventually passing down Nakamise-dori, the touristy shopping street that runs down from Senso-ji. It gets super crowded here, but the atmosphere is great, with everyone dancing, drinking and chanting. Almost 2 million visitors come to see the festival every year.

There are countless mikoshi teams who come to Asakusa every year to show off their teams power. The entire neighbourhood seems to have joined in as well, with kids playing musical instruments and grammas pushing the performance carts. The Sanja Matsuri is highly recommended for anyone who wants to see a real, fun Japanese festival.

This guest post is from Matthew, a blogger and writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He has lived cheaply in Japan for over 5 years and writes for Cheapo Japan, a travel guide dedicated to budget travel in Japan. You can read more of his work at www.cheapojapan.com

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