It’s something you will see outside almost every restaurant in Japan. It’s something that comes in useful when you are wondering what’s the difference between soba and udon. Sometimes you just want to poke your fingers into it just to test if it’s real. Yes, it’s plastic food models.
These food models were used to replace drawings which restaurant customers used to help decipher the unfamiliar Western cuisine in late 19th century. Today, they are used more to showcase the restaurant’s dishes and to whet the customers’ appetite. You can often here potential patrons saying “Oishi-sou” (meaning, “Looks delicious!”) when checking out these display food.
So it turns out that there is a shop, Ganso Food Sample, near Asakusa, where you can not only buy food models, but also try making them yourselves! For a mere ¥1,600, you can make your own lettuce and tempura from wax! (Nope, not for eating!)
Now, to the serious stuff… How does one make food models?
Step 1, pour some hot wax into water…
Step 2, spread it out to look like a thin sheet of paper.
Step 3, add some colouring as necessary. Afterall, lettuce ought to be green!
Step 4, now it’s taking shape, roll it up!
And here’s your freshly-made tempura to go with the crisp lettuce! And guess what? They never go bad! Fantastic souvenirs from Japan.
Have you ever seen these carp streamers in Japanese TV or animation and wonder what it is about?
These carp streamers are a symbol of Children’s Day in Japan, a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children. This special occasion falls on 5 May every year, and during this time, families with boys (yes, boys – there is a special occasion for girls on 3 March) will fly these carp streamers (koi nobori 鯉のぼり) from their houses. Carp is a symbol of strength and according to Chinese legend, the carps swim upstream, becoming dragons. Similarly, Japanese parents fly the carp streamers in hope that their children will have a bright future, like dragons.
We had the opportunity to visit Sagamigawa River in Kanagawa prefecture, which is famous for its annual Koi Nobori Festival (Carp Streamers Festival). About 1,200 giant carp streamers are flown over this river, dancing beautifully in the blue skies. They are so huge that you can see them from miles away while walking towards the river! As with all other festivals, there were many stalls selling an array of festival staples – fried chicken kara-age, Japanese “pizza” Okonomiyaki, chilled cucumber, fried noodles yaki-soba, chocolate-coated bananas, shaved ice with syrup, sweet potato sticks… It was a great outing to go with your family or friends, just sitting by the river, eating some festival munchies and enjoying the spring weather.
Another tradition on this day is to display warrior dolls (gogatsu ningyou 五月人形) or the traditional military helmet (kabuto 兜) in the houses. Both are symbols of strength and health for the growing boys. We didn’t have the chance to visit any houses with these on display, but we did come across an old boy with a kabuto.
One of the traditional food eaten on this day is the Kashiwa-mochi. This special rice cake with red-bean paste is wrapped inside an oak leaf, and is readily available at departmental shops on this special day.
Even though Children’s Day is over, here’s a belated greeting from all of us at trippiece! May you stay young at heart!
Name: Sagamigawa Oyoge Koi Nobori (泳げ鯉のぼり)
Dates: 29 Apr – 5 May
Location: Sagamigawa River, near Takada Bridge
Entrance fee: FOC
Getting there: From Hashimoto Stn (JR Yokohama Line), take bus 57 or 59 to Tana Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a 15 mins walk to the riverside.
Website (Japanese only): http://www.oyoge-koinobori.com/index.html
So, it’s the time of the year again – when you have almost a week of public holidays and you can’t really decide what to do with it because the prices are jerked up everywhere and most places are already fully booked or will be really crowded.
Here’s a list of activities in the Kanto region which you can do without hurting the wallet!
1. Koi Nobori (Carp Streamers) Festival
One of the national holidays in the Golden Week is Children’s Day on 5 May. As part of the celebrations, carp streamers are flown for good blessings for the children, especially boys. Enjoy the carp streamers and sakura in this season! Location: Tsuru-uda River, Tatebayashi City, Gunma Dates: 25 Mar – 9 May 2014 Fees: No entrance fee Nearest Stn: Tatebayashi Stn (Tobu Sky Tree line) Information: (Japanese only) Tobu Railway Website
2. Hydrospeeding in Okutama
Spring is the best time for river activities, when the water level is high from snowmelt. Try hydrospeeding (aka riverboarding) down Okutama River! Location: Forest & Water Co, Ltd. / Ome City, Tokyo prefecture Date: Apr-Nov Fees: ¥8,000 (incl guide, equipment, insurance) Nearest Stn: Hinatawada Stn Information:Official Website
3. Cinco de Mayo
Running for its 2nd year in Japan, this festival is dedicated to the celebration of Latin culture in America! Expect good fun, great music, food and drinks from the Americas!
Location: Yoyogi Park, Tokyo (followed by Tennoji Park, Osaka) Dates: 3-4 May 2014 (Tokyo), 5-6 May 2014 (Osaka) Fees: No entrance fees Information: Official Website
4. Fuji Shibazakura (Moss Phlox) Festival
Every spring, Shibazakura blooms in the vast fields at the foot of Mt.Fuji. Don’t miss this spectacular scenery! Location: Fuji Motosuko Resort, Yamanashi Date: 20 Apr – 2 Jun 2014 Entrancefees: ¥500 Nearest Stn: Kawaguchiko Stn Information: Official Website
5. Rainbow Disco Club
One of Japan’s top festival for quality underground dance music! The line-up features some of the top artists in electronic music from all over the world. Location: Harumi Port Terminal, Tokyo Date: 29 Apr 2014 Fees: Pre-sale: ¥6,500; At the door: ¥8,000 Information: Official Website
6. Ascetic Training at Mt. Takao
Climb Mt Takao and experience ascetic training – a meditation session under a refreshingly cold waterfall, and let your worries be washed away. Location: Yakuoin Temple, Mt Takao, Tokyo Date: 3 May 2014 (11:00, 12:00, 13:00) Fees: ¥3,000 (incl teachings, temple duties & instructor) Nearest Stn: Takao-Yamaguchi Stn (Keio Line) Information: (Japanese only) Official Website
7. Sagami Giant Kite Festival(Sagami no Oodako)
An annual event held along the Sagami River featuring some of the largest hand made kites (14.5 x 14.5m & 950kg) in the world! Location: Shindo sports open space, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Date: 4-5 May 2014 Fees: No entrance fee Nearest Stn: Sobudai-Shita Stn (JR Sagami Line) Information: Official Website
8. Caving at Saitama
Spring is here, so put away your winter gear, get out of hibernation and start wriggling that body! Explore some of the caves in Saitama!
Location: Meeting point @ Kitamoto Stn West exit (outside D-Yamazaki) (JR Takasaki line) Date: Everday, rain or shine Fees: ¥11,000 (incl guide, equipment, hot springs entrance, insurance) Information: (Japanese only) Official Website
9. Visit a Farm
Why not take a day trip to Mother Farm for its Spring Festival? Run in the flower fields, pick fruits, and meet the newborn lambs!
Location: Mother Farm Co., Ltd. / Chiba Date: 8 Feb – 25 May 2014 Entrance Fees: ¥1,500 Nearest Stn: Kimitsu Stn (JR line) Information: Official Website
10. Food Nations NikuFest (BBQ Festival!)
We know you are salivating already. This BBQ Festival features the top steakhouses, yakiniku and meat restaurants from all over Japan. BBQ meat and ice cold beer, what better way to spend a spring day? Location: Komazawa Olympic Park, Tokyo Date: 2-6 May 2014 Fees: No entrance fee Nearest Stn: Komazawa Daigaku Stn (Tokyu Denentoshi line) Information: (Japanese only) narinari.com