Japan Australia Pages

Sunday, July 30, 2017

New Tourist Train, the Royal Express in Japan

Royal Express Train
This July a new tourist train, the Royal Express started operations in Japan. The royal blue luxury train is Japan’s newest and biggest tourist train and is operated by Tokyu Corp and Izukyu Corporation.

The train aimed at tourists runs between JR Yokohama Station in Kanagawa Prefecture and Izukyu-Shimoda Station in Shizuoka Prefecture. The eight-car train with a capacity of 100 passengers will take in the spectacular scenery of the Izu Peninsula with the ride taking around three hours. The Izu Peninsula is a popular vacation destination with hot spring resorts and scenic coastal views of the Pacific Ocean. Izu is a stunning location with beautiful nature and this new train will bring further joy to the small communities located along the railroad where it’s running.

Izu Peninsula
The Lost Coast of Izu Japan

The new train has been designed by Eiji Mitooka, who also designed the famed Seven Stars luxury express train for Kyushu Railway. It is easily recognizable by the gold line running along the side of its royal blue carriages. The train is decked out with a dining car as well as a multipurpose car designed for wedding ceremonies, exhibitions and small concerts. Sounds like a lot of fun!

Royal Express Train
Source: Japan Today

The tickets for this incredible new train are limited and are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. You can find various travel packages using the irregularly operated train on offer now in Japan.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MUJI Hotel to Open in Ginza in 2019

Muji Hotel Ginza Tokyo
MUJI one of Japan’s most popular brands will open its first hotel in Tokyo’s posh Ginza district in spring 2019 ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

MUJI is a Japanese retail company which sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods. Its natural and simple design has made its products popular with not only the Japanese but with people from all over the world. MUJI designs are distinguished by their minimalism with emphasis placed on recycling and the avoidance of waste in production and packaging. It maintains this minimalist approach with a no-logo, or no-brand policy.

The new hotel will be located in a beautiful tree-lined street just a short two-minute walk from the Tokyo Metro Ginza Station. The 10-story building will be home to MUJI’s new global flagship store with the store to occupy one basement floor up to part of the sixth floor. The rest of the building space will be dedicated to a hotel overseen by the company.

Muji Hotel Ginza Tokyo
Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The tentatively named Muji Hotel will be the first of its kind in Japan and will be decked out with all that MUJI furniture and amenities we just love. There are also plans to open two hotels in China in the near future.

The building will be constructed by publisher The Yomiuri Shimbun and real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan Co., MUJI hopes the hotel will become “a place where customers can thoroughly experience MUJI product lineups.”

Official Website 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sacred Island of Okinoshima

Munakata Taisha Okitsu Shrine
The sacred Japanese island of Okinoshima in south-west Japan received UNESCO World Heritage listing last week on July 9, 2017.

The island was submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List back in 2009.

The culturally important island chronicles the progression of traditional worship rituals from the 4th to 9th centuries, which were conducted to pray for safe sea voyages.

Okinoshima is part of Munakata City in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, and is situated midway between the south-western island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula.

Okinoshima is located between Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula

The entire island is considered a Shinto kami (god) with various religious sites and shrines dotted across it to appease the gods to protect the surrounding waters, which served as an important trade route in the region between China and Korea. The sacred island is off limits to women and male visitors must strip naked before going ashore. The island’s main shrine, Munakata Taisha Okitsu Shrine is carefully maintained by a single male employee.

Munakata Taisha Okitsu Shrine
Munakata Taisha Okitsu Shrine

The shrine located in the southwestern portion of Okinoshima was established in the mid-17th century as a sacred natural site. The shrine has gone through several repairs and rebuilding phases over the centuries with the current structure remaining in pretty much the same condition since the Showa Period (1926-1989).

The island covers an area of 97 ha (240 acres) with its highest peak reaching an elevation of 244 m (801 ft). Okinoshima is not currently open to the public and can only be viewed from a distance offshore.

Okinoshima from the sea
The sacred island of Okinoshima from the sea

Official Website

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Japan’s Amazing Bike Vaults

Eco Cycle Underground Bicycle Parking
Tokyo is one of the world’s great cities offering a huge diversity of attractions and experiences with pretty much something for everyone. One thing that it does lack is space, with over 13 million people living in Tokyo, space is at a premium. Many people rely on public transportation to get around the city, but more and more people are taking to two-wheels to travel. The Japanese Transport Ministry estimates that around 14% of the commuting traffic in Tokyo is on bike. While on the surface biking around may seem like a good idea, it has led to the inconvenience of bicycle’s being parked on already crowded pavements further reducing the already rare and precious space in Tokyo.

Friday Night in Tokyo
Friday Night in Tokyo

One company has come up with an ingenuous solution to help solve this problem by creating high-tech underground bike parking that simply store the bikes 40 feet underground. Dubbed the Eco Cycle, the 23-foot diameter storage facility can house up to 204 bikes. The solution is a win-win for everyone with no more clutter of bikes up on the streets, and owners resting easy with the knowledge that their bikes are locked in a safe place, away from thieves and bad weather.

From street level, an Eco Cycle looks like a small kiosk. In reality, they are gateways to futuristic subterranean parking lots.

The underground storage systems work in a simple but effective way. Place your bike onto the runway, swipe your membership card onto the reader, push a button and stand back as the automated system takes care of the rest. In less than 8 seconds your bike is stored away in its slot, and can be retrieved in around the same time. Membership costs 2,600 yen (USD$25) a month.

Eco Cycle Underground Bicycle Parking
Eco Cycle Underground Bicycle Parking

Another key point of the underground bike vaults apart from being a shelter from bad weather is that they are completely safe from earthquakes, a regular occurrence here in Japan.

Today, there are around 50 Eco Cycle Stations across Japan with plans to expand overseas in the near future.

What do you think about Japan’s high-tech bike vaults? Please leave your comments and feelings below in the comment section.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Traditional Tatami-Style Starbucks to Open in Kyoto

The new traditional Starbucks in Kyoto
Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto is famous for its many tourist attractions ranging from historic temples, colourful shrines, and sublime gardens. Now, it can add a new one to list with the world’s first traditional tatami-style coffee shop under the global Starbucks brand.

The announcement this week by Starbucks Coffee Japan Ltd., the Japanese arm of global coffee giant Starbucks Coffee Co, is already creating buzz over the internet here in Japan, with the store to officially open on June 30, 2017.

Starbucks coffee will be served in traditional “tatami” floor rooms in a 100-year old Japanese-style machiya wooden townhouse.

The new traditional Starbucks in Kyoto
The new traditional Starbucks in Kyoto

The two-story townhouse is conveniently located near the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.

The new shop can be found along Ninen-zaka, a historic street lined with traditional Kyoto shops which leads from Kiyomizu-dera to Kodaiji Temple.

Ninen-zaka historic street in Kyoto
Ninen-zaka Historic Street in Kyoto

Starbucks Coffee Japan Website

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Stay at Kujo Stays

Kujo Stays
We were lucky recently to stay in a fantastic machiya (traditional wooden Kyoto townhouse) accommodation in the heart of Kyoto. Kujo Stays is a set of 4 Japanese style townhouses that gives you a taste of real Japanese style accommodation and lifestyle with their authentic look and feel. Machiya are great because they combine all the advantages of a vacation rental with the authenticity of a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn).

The rooms at Kujo Stays are very quiet, peaceful and comfortable, allowing you to concentrate on the important things in Kyoto which are all the historic temples, colourful shrines and sublime gardens.

Machiya Style Accommodation at Kujo Stays
Machiya style accommodation at Kujo Stays

Located a short 5 minute walk from JR Kyoto Station, Kujo Stays is also conveniently located near a big AEON Shopping Mall. If you are looking for a bit of culture and history, make sure to check out the UNESCO World Heritage, To-ji Temple, which is only a 10-minute walk from the accommodation.

Kyoto Station
Kyoto Station

The temple which served as one of the guardian temples of ancient Kyoto is home to Japan’s tallest wooden 5-storey pagoda, as well as Japan’s most famous flea market which is held on its serene grounds on the 21st of every month.

Toji Temple
The UNESCO World Heritage To-ji Temple in Kyoto

Kujo Stays features rooms with traditional Japanese machiya style décor such as tatami-mat floors, folding screens and hanging scrolls as well as basic furniture such as chabudai (Japanese low tables) and tansu (Japanese chest of drawers), along with Japanese ornaments and decorations such as pottery and ceramics.

Decorations at Kujo Stays
Beautiful Japanese style ceramics and decorations at Kujo Stays

The rooms at Kujo Stays are minimalist and very spacious which is great for families with kids or for those looking for a traditional Japanese experience. The futon bedding is comfortable and safe for children. We didn’t have to worry about kids falling out of beds at all.

Kujo Stays Room
Spacious rooms at Kujo Stays

Along with the traditional Japanese rooms are mod-cons designed to make your stay all that more comfortable. The essentials are all there such as heating, air conditioning, flat-screen TV, FREE WiFi, and private bathroom/shower. We also really loved having kitchen facilities as well as a washing machine to keep on top of the dirty laundry that starts to pile up after a few days of sightseeing.

The kitchen facilities include a microwave, fridge and all the kitchenware necessary to make your stay away from home as pleasant as possible.

I also like the fact the once you have picked up your room key from nearby Ebisu Ryokan, you are free to come and go as you please without the need to drop off the key whenever you want to go out.

The highlight of the stay for me was the beautiful Japanese style Zen garden which can be found in all the Kujo Stays townhouses. Designed by the owners Mr & Mrs Shimamoto, the enclosed courtyard gardens are illuminated at night to create a magical atmosphere.

Japanese style Zen Garden
Japanese style Zen garden at Kujo Stays

The property is managed by Global Network, who also own the nearby Ebisu Ryokan where we picked up the key to our room. Although there are no staff onsite at Kujo Stays, the friendly staff at Ebisu Ryokan are happy for you to stop by with any questions you may have. The staff can speak a multitude of languages including but not limited to English, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and of course Japanese. In fact, the onsite manager is a fellow Aussie who has spent the last 10 years working in both China and Japan, including several years in my hometown of Gifu.

The Owners Mr & Mrs Shimamoto
Yours Truly with Mr & Mrs Shimamoto and the onsite manager

Kujo Stays might appear to be a little more pricey than say your typical accommodation, but it is definitely worth the money for the fantastic location, facilities and spaciousness. I hope you will pay them a visit the next time you are in Kyoto. Just remember to tell them that John from Japan Australia sent you.

Kujo Stays 

Address: 8 Higashikujo, Nakatonodacho, Minami-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-8048
Phone: +81 75-574-7100
Website: https://www.agoda.com/kujo-stays/hotel/kyoto-jp.html

Kujo Stays

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Unifying Power of Karaoke

Unifying Power of Karaoke
I'm usually against stereotypes. I do not like the idea of judging an individual before getting the chance to interact with them properly. However, there is one stereotype that even I, a Japanese-American, am powerless against... Japanese love karaoke.

There are karaoke boxes all throughout Japan, mostly located near train stations and in big cities. Majority of the time they filled with young and elderly people a like. It is a good way to relax after school or work and blow off some of the day’s stresses. But why hasn’t karaoke’s popularity boomed in the Western world as it has in Japan? What is it about karaoke in Japan that makes it so special?

Unifying Power of Karaoke
 Photo by Ed Schipul 

Impress your Japanese friends at a karaoke night & learn Japanese. Try a free class here.

The most noticeable difference between Japanese karaoke and Western karaoke is the structure. In Western karaoke, participants stand up on a stage in front of other bar patrons and sing their (drunk) hearts out. In Japan however, karaoke patrons are assigned a booth (depending on group size), completely separated from strangers and alone with their friends. Hence the difference in names; karaoke bars in the west, and karaoke boxes in Japan.

Not surprisingly, this plays a huge factor in karaoke’s popularity. Knowing that the only people who will hear them sing are their friends, may allow the Japanese to participate without hesitation. In addition, the dark and intimate setting provides the singers the feeling of being able to hide, while many Westerners succumb to ‘stage fright’ knowing that complete strangers will judge them. This leads to probably the biggest difference between Japanese karaoke and Western Karaoke—ideology.

Karaoke Box
Karaoke box. Picture from Wikipedia 

The ways in which the Japanese and the Westerners view the idea of karaoke are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Where Westerns tend to view karaoke as a talent contest for the vocally gifted, the Japanese focus on participating and giving a sincere effort. This can be viewed through the many talent shows that exist, such as American Idol or The X Factor, both of which look for a new star and spend the first couple of weeks ridiculing those of lesser talent. Whereas in Japan, although their actual singing talents are questionable, some Japanese music artists’ albums are able to sell in the millions.

Japanese people do not care if you are a skilled singer or not. They only want you to participate in the fun and enjoy yourself. Karaoke is a good bonding experience. Not only are you in a small setting, where you are able converse with everyone in the room, you are able to show your true self without the fear of being judged based on your singing abilities.

Shimatachi summarized the difference between the ideology of Japanese karaoke and Western karaoke in Japan Pop!: “[...] karaoke must be seen as a positive social development. In short, the Walkman isolates and the boom box domineers—but karaoke unites.” (Shimatachi, 2000) [1].

Obviously, Shimatachi wrote this article in a time where people used Walkmans and boom boxes, but the message remains unchanged. Walkmans, or more recently mp3 players, keep individuals isolated from each other and encourage introverts; boom boxes, or more recently American Idol, encourage the separation of the talented and the less talented.

The success of Japanese karaoke boxes is contributed to the combination of structure and ideology. The unifying power of karaoke to bond and connect with others around them overpowers any fears and embarrassments an individual might have, a leads to an awfully fun Friday night!

Ready to sing in Japanese like a pro? Try a free class here.

[1] Shimatachi, H. (2000). A karaoke perspective on international relations In T. Craig (Ed.), Japan Pop! (pp. 101-105). Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe.].

This guest post has been written by Greg Scott from LinguaLift, a 21st century online language textbook for Japanese and Russian. Take your free class today!

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