Sagicho Festival at Oiso, Kanagawa

We were going to Oiso on January 11th 2015 to see a Sagicho Festival 左義長 or Dondo Yaki どんど焼き  (a kind of bonfire festival) that was held on Oiso Beach in Kanagawa. We met at Shinagawa station and went by the 3pm train to Oiso Station. The beach weren’t so far from the station (about 15 minutes walk) and nearby the beach entrance, we were greeted by locals with some soup and snacks to warm up our bodies. As it was near the beach, it was really windy and cold for most of us! According to the locals, this is the first time they have seen foreigners at this event! They were just as surprised to see us, as we were to visit this secret festival! We felt really honoured to be there!

At 6pm, we started to heard to the beach. There were many pyramid-like structures made from grass and decorated with lucky charms from the past year. The locals will bring their old charms from the previous year and decorate it here over the new year. We waited there until they lit the fire to the structures. We were given mochi (rice cakes) to on long bamboo sticks which we can use to BBQ the mochi around the fire. Just imagine, instead of marshmallows, we were BBQ-ing mochi. It was the first time for most of us and it was fun!  It seemed like a pretty small-scale festival, and there were not many food stalls unlike the other big festivals. There were only 3 yatai (food stalls) but it was the locals’ hospitality and warmth that completed the festive mood!

The real fun began when the festival started. With the fire, it became pretty warm (of course) and there were so many people gathering around to pray and to join in the festival. After the fire was kindled, some men wearing only the traditional loin cloth went into the water to do pull some kind of rope, which I think was attached to the mikoshi (portable shrines that are common in traditional religious festival). When they are done, they head back to the shore, singing and drinking sake. It was a pretty interesting sight to behold! I cannot imagine how they actually withstand the cold weather and water!

That’s pretty much what happened in the festival. It was hard for us to really understand the background and history since all the information are only in Japanese and the locals couldn’t speak English. Nevertheless, it was one of those times when experience transcends the language barrier. Just being there, experiencing the festival, interacting with the locals and taking it all in was really fun!
Here are some photos of our journey ☺

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By Marco TJ.

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The many faces of Tokyo

Everyone’s image of Tokyo is that big metropolitan city, sky-scrappers, anime town, insanely-crowded scramble crossing, shopping, eating, partying… Over the weekend, we embarked on a trip like no others before! We had boarded the JR Yamanote Line, the famous loop line that goes around city, and explored the city in depth! We plunged into the quiet residential neighborhoods, walked down the narrow streets, peered into tiny little shops, went into the enclaves and experienced a different side of Tokyo!

We bought the JR Tokunai Pass which cost only 750 yen and gives you unlimited rides on the Yamanote line, making it a cheap and fun way to explore the city! So off we go!

Here is a map from JR East, with recommended attractions along the Yamanote Line.
Here is a map from JR East, with recommended attractions along the Yamanote Line. Reading on, you may noticed that we didn’t visit any of the above places at all, with the exception of Harajuku, where we went with the sole purpose to search for Japanese youths in the Coming-of-Age kimonos.
Off we go!
Off we go!

Station #1: Nippori Station

This area is said to be reminiscent of the old Tokyo, with its narrow streets, old houses, shrines and temples. We arrived at 9:30am, a little too early for the shops, but we could enjoy walking down the quiet narrow streets, something different from the hustle and bustle of the big city. We walked down Yanaka Ginza Shopping Street, which was lined with shops and bakeries.

Walking down the narrow street of Yanaka Ginza Shopping St.
Walking down the narrow street of Yanaka Ginza Shopping St.
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It’s quite rare to find a shop selling items from bamboo-weaving!
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This little shop customizes the hanko, the stamp bearing your last name, with cute little characters!
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Nippori is also famous for its stray cats.. Perhaps that explains this cat-themed shop?
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Notice how this bakery claims that their oven “is made of volcanic rock from Mt. Fuji”? Now, that’s got my curiosity!
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Another shop selling beautiful Japanese crockery
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A tiny little temple (shrine?) found along the streets, wedged between two houses. It’s quite rare to see such temple in the big city!

Station 2: Ueno / Okachimachi 

With the shops beginning to open for business, we left behind quiet little Nippori and headed to Ueno, where we walked along the tracks to Okachimachi. Along this stretch is the famous Ameyoko-cho, which was bustling with shoppers. There is a strange combination of shops… Don’t be surprised to find the fresh seafood stand next to the the handbag bargain shop, where everything goes for ¥3,000, or the kebab stand next to the sportswear shop. It seems like there is a shop for everyone!

A vast difference from Nippori, this area is bustling with activity! The maze of shops should be able to keep the shopper in you entertained for an hour or two!
A vast difference from Nippori, this area is bustling with activity! The maze of shops should be able to keep the shopper in you entertained for an hour or two!
Kebab shop with the aroma of roasted meat
Kebab shop with the aroma of roasted meat
You can also find shops selling dried products...
You can also find shops selling dried products…
All kinds of fresh seafood!
Or all kinds of fresh seafood!
And if you are hungry, you can choose to have some seafood on the spot!
And if you are hungry, you can choose to have some seafood on the spot!

Station 3: Harajuku 

We went halfway round the Yamanote Line to Harajuku.. not in search for fancy cosplay or the latest fashion trend in Tokyo, but in hopes of seeing some of the youths from the Coming-of-Age ceremony at the Meiji Shrine. The vibes from the temple grounds seem to be a world’s different from the busy Takenoshita-Dori on Harajuku, famous for its crepe stands, shops filled with Tokyo fashion, and cosplayers. It seems like a really strange juxtaposition to have the temple and shopping street right next to each other.. but I had to remind myself that anything is possible in Japan!

The Meiji Shrine is busy with people praying for the New Year! We joined in too to receive our blessings. ^_^
The Meiji Shrine is busy with people praying for the New Year! I joined in too to receive our blessings. ^_^
Entrance to the Meiji Shrine, with New Year blessings.
Entrance to the Meiji Shrine, with New Year blessings.
On the way to the Shrine, we see these lanterns, sake and wine barrels donated by various companies for the new year!
On the way to the Shrine, we see these lanterns, sake and wine barrels donated by various companies for the new year!
Beautiful young ladies clad in the Furisoude (long-sleeved kimono) for the Coming-of-Age Ceremony. Congratulations!
Beautiful young ladies clad in the Furisoude (long-sleeved kimono) for the Coming-of-Age Ceremony. Congratulations! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.) 
We also chanced upon a wedding ceremony in the shrine! How lucky!
We also chanced upon a wedding ceremony in the shrine! How lucky! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.) 

Station 4: Takadanobaba

We headed to Takadanobaba, an area populated by the students of Waseda University.  Walking along the streets, I noticed that the roads here are wider, compared to Nippori and Ameyoko-cho. The shops are also busier, with restaurants catering to the student population.

As it was a public holiday, we couldn’t go to the university canteen for lunch. However, we did find many small shops with relatively cheap food for lunch!

Walking along the wider and newer Waseda Dori, the street leading to Takadanobaba Station.
Walking along the wider and newer Waseda Dori, the street leading to Takadanobaba Station.
We settled for Monjayaki and Okonomiyaki for lunch in a small shop called Mu no Shison
We settled for Monjayaki and Okonomiyaki for lunch in a small shop called Mu no Shison
Our okonomiyaki after it's done!
Our okonomiyaki after it’s done! (Photo courtesy of Neelu.)

Station 5: Sugamo

Also known as the Harajuku of old grannies, this area is known for its shops catering to the older generation. Here you can find the famous Aka-Pants (red underwear) shop, meant to bring good fortune to the wearer! Also, there are plenty of traditional Japanese snacks, such as the Shio-Daifuku, a salted mochi.

The entrance to Jizo-Dori shopping street.
The entrance to Jizo-Dori shopping street.
A temple outside Jizo-Dori, dedicated to the 6 Jizos... I'm not quite sure about the history.. >_<
A temple outside Jizo-Dori, dedicated to the 6 Jizos… I’m not quite sure about the history.. >_<
Can you make a guess what this is???  So... it turns out that the mascot for this area is Sugamon, a duck named after the area. And it is said that if you touch Sugamon's butt, it will bring you and your family blessings and good health! So... instead of having people chase after Sugamon, they have encased Sugamon's butt here for everyone! How... strange!
Can you make a guess what this is???
So… it turns out that the mascot for this area is Sugamon, a duck named after the area. And it is said that if you touch Sugamon’s butt, it will bring you and your family blessings and good health! So… instead of having people chase after Sugamon, they have encased Sugamon’s butt here for everyone! How… strange!
Bringing in the new year!
Bringing in the new year!
The famous Aka-Pants shop!
The famous Aka-Pants shop!
Handmade Japanese snacks
Handmade Japanese snacks
Shio-Daifuku (Salted mochi..?)
Shio-Daifuku (Salted mochi..?)
Kokeshi (Japanese dolls)
Kokeshi (Japanese dolls)
Traditional umbrella shop
Traditional umbrella shop

Station 6: Shin-Okubo 

Stepping out of Shin-Okubo station, I had to do a double-take as it felt like I was in Korea! Known as Little Korea, the street was lined with shops selling K-pop merchandise, Korean cosmetics and Korean restaurants! And we could also hear the passers-by speaking Korean. It certainly felt different from the usual Japanese neighbourhood!

Wide streets of Shin-Okubo lined with Korean shops!
Wide streets of Shin-Okubo lined with Korean shops!
You can find all sorts of Korea-related shops here!
You can find all sorts of Korea-related shops here!
Countless K-pop celebrities merchandise!
Countless K-pop celebrities merchandise!
We ended the day with a meal at the Korean restaurant, served by Korean staff. Definitely feels like we are in Korea!
We ended the day with a meal at the Korean restaurant, served by Korean staff. Definitely feels like we are in Korea!

Although we only covered 6 out of the 29 stations, it was interesting and insightful to see a different side of Tokyo! I’ve always believed that walking is the best way to explore the city and what better way than to start with the neighbourhoods along the Yamanote Line?

Thanks to everyone who stayed with me from the beginning to the end! It was a great day!
Thanks to everyone who stayed with me from the beginning to the end! It was a great day! (Photo courtesy of Amani.)

 

The World of Ramen and Cup Noodles

A few weeks ago, we visited the Cup Noodles Museum and Ramen Musuem in Yokohama. To get there, it is just a short 30 minutes train ride from Tokyo city to Minato Mirai Station, followed by a short walk through neighboring attractions such as the World Porters Shopping center and Cosmoworld.

First stop, Nissin Cup Noodles Museum! Nissin is a famous household brand, not only in Japan but also in many Asian countries! Over the years, Nissin has come up with many different flavours, including Tom Yam, Clam Chowder, Cheese Curry, Chicken Gratin.. and the list just gets whackier!

This is just a portion of all the products Niisin has made!
This is just a portion of all the products Niisin has made!
The History of Nissin
The History of Nissin

Though small, the Cup Noodles Museum was a fun and slightly inspirational. The museum explains founder Momofuku Ando’s experiences and troubles before the success of the cup noodles. And as we all know, the revolutionary 3-minute cup noodles is a part and parcel of everyone’s lives – as a late-night supper, post-drinking snack, a quick lunch, or just a comfort food that reminds us of the typical Asian noodle soup!

Immensely satisfied with our packs of cup noodles!
Immensely satisfied with our packs of cup noodles!

Of course, making our own personalized cup noodles was the best part of the trip. It costs an additional 500 yen, but we could make our own cup noodle from scratch, design the “cup” and take it home… to eat (although it seems like such a shame to eat this truly only-one-in-the-world ramen >_<)! There’s also a food court on the fourth floor, with yummy noodles from all over Asia.

Ta-Dah!!! Our creation!
Ta-Dah!!! Our creation!

Next, we headed over to the Ramen Museum in Shinyokohama. The interior is made to look like Japan during the Showa period. It provides pretty interesting information about the history of ramen and how different ramen originates from different areas in Japan! At the end, there are about 7 shops where you can try the different kinds of ramen!

Piping hot bowl of Ramen to end the day!
Piping hot bowl of Ramen to end the day!
This is definitely the trip for ramen-lovers!
This is definitely the trip for ramen-lovers!

By Erika Ozaki