Author Archives: Blossoming Japan

About Blossoming Japan

Blossoming Japan is a website that covers the latest in trends, culture, fashion, movies and art from Japan, as well as reintroducing Japan's classical icons to younger generations in the world.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Kenzo Tange –

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Since moving to Tokyo and getting into photography I started to become a lot more interested in architecture.
My main reason for this is that good architecture creates a great backdrop for street photography.
In Tokyo, there is an abundance of great architecture.
And what’s amazing about Tokyo is the continual building and demolition of the city’s buildings, which seems to happen effortlessly, while everyday life continues as normal.
Take the renovation of Shibuya station for example.
I’m constantly in awe at how all the metro lines continue to work and work punctually with the enormous renovation work that’s been taking place all around the station.

‘Life through bars’ – Laurence Bouchard (this was shot on the grounds of the Tokyo Metropolitan building which was built by Kenzo Tange).

Another thing about Tokyo as a city is the divide between day and night.
It’s almost as if the city completely transforms in the evening.
I’ve heard some people say that they think Tokyo is an ugly city – maybe because of all the overhead telephone poles and wires.
Of course the city is no ‘Rome’ but I think it has its own distinct charm and hidden away are some beautiful backstreets which take you back to a retro atmosphere from the Showa period.
Nombei yokocho (which translates as Drunkard’s Alley) in Shibuya is such a street.

‘Come what may’ – Laurence Bouchard (this was shot outside Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo).

One Japanese architect I’d like to highlight in this blog is Kenzō Tange who won the Pritzker prize for architecture in 1987.
Tange can be regarded as one of the most significant architects of the twentieth century and combined Japanese styles with modernism.

The first building I’d like to talk about is The Yoyogi National Stadium which is famous for its’s suspension roof design.
The stadium was completed in October 1964 to house swimming and diving events in time for the 1964 summer Olympics.
The 1964 Olympics were scheduled for mid-October to avoid the city’s midsummer heat and humidity and the September typhoon season.
Apparently the previous 1960 Olympics in Rome, held in late August, experienced very hot weather.
Considering the fact that Tokyo is most probably even hotter now than in 1964 due to a significant increase in high-rise buildings it seems strange that the 2020 Olympic Games are scheduled for August.
Anyhow, enough Olympic digression.
Below is a photo of a mother and son playing on the grounds of Yoyogi stadium with the stadium as a backdrop.

‘Generation gap’ – Laurence Bouchard (this was shot outside Kenzo Tange’s Yoyogi Stadium in Tokyo).

The next building I’m a big fan of is Kenzo Tange’s St.Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo – just across the road from the Chinzanso Four Season hotel.
The cathedral was completed in 1964.
It’s interior is equally immense but I don’t any photos to include here – a good reason for you to pay a visit and see for yourself!

‘Faith’ – Laurence Bouchard (this was shot outside Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo).

The last building I would like to write about is the Tokyo Metropolitan building (or ‘Tocho’ as Tokyoites refer to it) in Shinjuku.
The building was designed to resemble a computer chip, while also evoking the look of a Gothic cathedral.
Apparently the inspiration for Tocho came from the Notra Dame in Paris.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photos that focus on the main building.
My interest has been in the lines and columns of the building.
Tocho was completed in December 1990 and cost a whopping \157 billion of public money.
It’s completion coincided with the end of the bubble era.
Because of the timing of it’s completion, there’s an urban myth that the building cast a kind of bad feng shui over the capital and, when finally completed, the bubble economy burst.
I’ll leave you to make what you like of that myth.

‘Time’ – Laurence Bouchard (this was shot outside Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Metropolitan building in Tokyo).

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I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- International Uncertainty –

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Looking at current events around the world these days doesn’t inspire a lot of hope.
In fact, the world seems on the bring of constant disaster.
Of course, it has been that way for several months, with North Korea’s seemingly uneding missile launches.
But new threats appear to be emerging all the time.

A few days ago, President Trump announced that the U.S. would officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
This goes against the previous American policy of putting our embassies in Tel Aviv for the last couple of decades.
The announcement, as expected, led to violent protests and bloodshed.
As of this writing, two people have been reported dead due to the riots.

North Korea is the constant threat, and it is impossible to predict what will happen there.
This is easily the most dangerous brinksmanship since the height of the Cold War.
However, it could be argued that the leaders of both sides during that time were (at least) fairly rational.
Who knows if the same could be said today.

There are also plenty of other concerns.
Terrorism from ISIS and other groups will likely continue.
Iran might restart its nuclear program due to the Trump administration’s unwillingness to honor the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.
Uncertainty reigns supreme.

But we should not lose hope.
We should always work hard to make things better.
I strongly believe we should do the same here.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Reflecting on my time in Japan –

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With my time here in Japan nearly coming to an end, I take a moment to look back on what felt like a quick 6 months living in this beautiful country.
Coming in, I really had no gauge of what to expect, going from a sheltered and guided student lifestyle (by professors, peers, and institutions), to a more independent and responsibility-bearing working life.
It wasn’t an easy transition initially, but I gradually eased into the daily grind, and it soon became a comfortable routine.
This seamless transition was helped by many of the friendly people I met along the way, and especially my co-workers who created a very welcoming and fun workplace environment (both at the hospital, and here at English Avenue).

There are far too many highlights to list here, but all the trips that I was fortunate enough to take around Japan definitely will be long-lasting memories.
The many friends from Australia that came to visit me here gave me even more reason to explore both inside and outside of Tokyo, but I never thought I’d take on the role of a tour guide (I went to Hakone 4 times…).
Another obvious highlight, is the many amazing and unique (and sometimes questionable) culinary experiences I had, ranging from Kyoto’s elegant Kaiseki-ryori, to a not-so-glamorous local “horumon-yaki” izakaya.
Although much of my time here was spent reconnecting with old childhood friends and distant relatives, the new friends that I have met here have also given me reason to call Tokyo my second home.

Finally, having many of my misguided and misinterpreted preconceptions cleared up about Japan’s socio-political climate and Japanese people’s philosophy on life, has been an eye-opening experience.
While I was relatively confident that I had a fairly good grasp on Japanese culture and identity as a Japanese person myself, being raised abroad in a Westernised country had biased and clouded my perspective.
Although the amount of time I spent in this country was not enough to fully experience Japan in its entirety, I feel more confident (relative to before) to be able to spread the true word about this great country, back in Australia.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Typhoon –

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In October this year there were a couple of late typhoons which hit Tokyo two successive weekends in a row..
While for many this was an unwelcome interruption to their normal weekend plans, I was actually quietly happy but I’ll get into that later.

‘A score to settle’ – Laurence Bouchard.

Before coming to Japan I wasn’t familiar with typhoons or even the word ‘typhoon’.
I was more familiar with other terms such as ‘hurricane’ and ‘cyclone’.
It made me wonder about the difference between a hurricane, a typhoon and a cyclone.
I learnt that the only difference is the location where the storm occurs.
In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term “hurricane” is used.
The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a “typhoon” and “cyclones” occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

‘Neon dreams’ – Laurence Bouchard.

In the USA hurricanes are given names, whereas in Japan they are given numbers.
The last typhoon here was Typhoon 21 – being the 21st typhoon to hit the country this season.

‘Pretty in pink’ – Laurence Bouchard.

In the USA hurricanes were originally named after saints.
For example,  a hurricane called Santa Ana hit the USA on the 26th of July 1825.
Later, latitude-longitude positions were used but, as you can probably imagine, this naming method proved confusing during radio communication.
Then in 1953 weather forecasters in America started using female names.
In 1979, this was changed to include both female and male names.

‘Typhoon 21’ – Laurence Bouchard.

These days hurricane names are determined by the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.
Also, if a past storm was particularly devastating like 2005’s ‘Katrina’, then a vote is taken to decide whether to retire the name because it would be inappropriate to use it again.

There is also some interesting research that suggests hurricanes with female names are deadlier than those with male names.
The idea is that the general public do not take female named hurricanes as seriously as their male counterparts.
However, this research has been widely refuted in some recent scientific papers.

‘Tarpaulin memories’ – Laurence Bouchard.

So that’s a bit of hurricane name history.
Now let’s get back to what I like typhoons.
I’m not sure why but I’ve always liked a good storm – snow storms are my favorite.
I like the way storms can transform cities.
Areas which are normally teeming with people like Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo or Times Square in New York become empty as the crowds thin.
On top of that, all the neon and light are reflected in the drenched streets creating something magical.
So whenever a typhoon hits I can’t wait to get out and capture it with my camera.
Until next year typhoon season is over but I really hope we get a snowstorm this winter!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Ishigakijima –

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I recently went to Ishigaki island which is part of the Yaeyama island group.
Ishigaki is the second largest island after Okinawa honto (the main island) and is situated south west of Okinawa honto.

I’d been to Okinawa honto – the main island – 3 times and, although I really liked it, I was looking forward to visiting a smaller island.
One of the problems I found with Okinawa honto was the traffic – especially around Naha but also north of the island where the motorway finishes which can lead to a bottleneck effect.
The other problem with the main island is it’s sheer size which can lead to too much time in the car.

Fortunately, in Ishigaki, traffic jams and size weren’t a problem.
After we’d landed we were able to pick up our hire car and take a relaxing drive to our hotel.
We chose a hotel on the south west side of the island called ‘Fusaki Resort Village’ for two reasons.
The first being that the sun sets on this side (west side of the island) the second was because this hotel had a really cool pier.

Fusaki Resort Village pier.

The hotel was great!
The only thing that bothered me was the pool wasn’t cool but felt more like a very warm bath.
I didn’t ask the hotel why so hopefully it was a temporary problem.

However, the beautiful pier more than made up for the warm pool.
And, at sunset, the pier really came into its own.
At the end, they had a bunch of chairs so a lot of guests would come with some wine or beer and enjoy the beautiful sunset.

Fusaki Resort Village pier.

What I loved about Ishigakijima is it’s size.
Unlike the main island (Okinawa), it’s fairly easy to see most of the island and relax at the beach / pool on a 3/4 day trip.
I think with the main island it’s better to select a part and just concentrate on that rather than trying to cover other areas.

Anyhow, back to Ishigaki.
On the second day we drove up to the beautiful Kabira Bay – a truly breathtaking bay if there ever was one!
It was only a 30 min drive with no traffic jams!

Kabira Bay.

After visiting Kabira Bay, we drove to Yonehara beach to do some snorkeling.
The snorkeling was great but it was a very natural beach with no hotels which meant no parasols to escape from the sun – and the sun was HOT!
For this reason, we just snorkelled and then found (maybe) the only cafe on the beach to shower and enjoy a shaved ice drink (Kakigōri / かき氷).

Yonehara beach.

On the third day, we took a trip to Taketomi island.
It was a short ferry ride (about 10 mins) from Ishigaki port to Taketomi.
Taketomi is a small island which has very few (if any) cars.. it’s all bicycles or the more traditional water buffalo taxis.
This makes for a very peaceful experience.
My wife and myself opted for bicycles and got an island map and set about seeing the sights.

The first place we headed was Taketomi town centre to see the Nagomi tower.
The tower provided a good view and had a steep set of stairs but wasn’t anything to write home about.
The thing I liked most about the town centre was all the different ‘Shiisaa’ figurines on the roofs.
Shiisaas are traditional Ryukyuan clay decorations – often seen in pairs and kind of resemble a cross between a dog and a frog.
They are believed to ward off evil spirits.
Usually the left of the pair has a closed mouth to keep good spirits in, whereas the right one has an open mouth to repel bad spirits.

Shiisaa on a traditional house in Taketomi.

After the town centre, we cycled to nishi pier as I’d seen some photos of this pier and wanted to stop there.
It was indeed a really beautiful white concrete pier which stretched out into the turquoise blue sea..
That and the rolling white clouds on the horizon made it a perfect rest point.

Nishi pier.

Next up was Kondoi beach for a swim as all the cycling had left us feeling a bit sweaty and in need of some refreshment.
Kondoi beach was truly stunning.
It had beautiful turquoise water and was relatively shallow.
It also had a picnic area with showers and toilets and you could rent a parasol to get some respite from the sun.

Kondoi beach.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the beach before cycling back to the port to board the boat for Ishigaki.

Kondoi beach.

After arriving back at Ishigaki port it was getting close to sunset so we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
On the way, we passed this beautiful mangrove tree all alone where the tide had gone out.
I had to stop the car and get a few photos..

Against all odds.

One for the underdog.

In the evening, we caught a taxi to the port again to enjoy some Okinawan live music.
Before we did, we stopped off at a small izakaya.
We noticed the chef cooking some fish over hay – something I’d never seen before so we tried it and it tasted delicious.
We also ordered Goya Champuru which always seems to taste better in Okinawa.
After, we enjoyed a few awamori cocktails while watching some live Okinawan music.
If you ever get the chance, visit Ishigaki and enjoy this beautiful, charming island.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Tokyo from a Gaijin’s Eye –

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Japan has a significantly high and ever increasing number of expats with over 2.2 million long term and permanent foreign residents.
With a dwindling local population and increased demand of highly skilled talent, the expat traffic is set to rise even more drastically.
Being the heart of the nation and host to the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is already positioning itself to be Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
But the key question is, how do foreigners feel about living in Tokyo?
In this blog, I am trying to reflect the sentiments of the expat community in Tokyo.

What do expats love about Tokyo the most?

There are way too many things to be mentioned, so I picked up my favorite ones below.

Cleanliness: Most of the developed world is generally very clean, but Japan takes cleanliness to a completely new high.
The dedication and passion of Japanese people for clean and tidy surroundings is profoundly infectious.
Where else in the world will the staff come and pick up your garbage in the middle of a sumo game or while watching festivals at local streets?!

Safety: As a foreigner, one’s biggest concern abroad is one’s safety and in this area too, Japan scores very high over many countries.
Crime rate is almost nil and it is highly unlikely to hear from an expat that he/ she was robbed, discriminated or harassed.

Humility: Yes the Japanese have sometimes difficulty in English communication but that does not hinder them from being the super kind humans and good Samaritans.
Each expat will narrate to you hundreds of stories – from extremely friendly treatment at shops and restaurants to locals going out of the way in helping strangers.
“Gaijin sama” – that’s the polite word Japanese people use for a foreigner.
And to me the word “sama”, meaning ‘our dearest guest’, is quite literally a everyday humbling experience.

Customer service: Many expats swear by it and are always in awe of the magnificent customer service experience.
Whether it is a fancy cafe or a salon or even government offices, attention to detail and complete customer orientation in almost every business is totally unrivaled and is simply mind boggling.
Also, what makes the Japanese hospitality very unique is that nobody ever expects or gives a tip, even for extremely high quality of service.

What do expats do for socializing?

As a foreigner, a large share of socializing opportunities come from the after work team get-togethers Nomikai.
These help both the locals and foreigners get personal and understand each other better.
Also, there are plenty of ways for socializing with other expats.
Networking sites, forums and meet up groups in several areas of Tokyo allow Gaijins to share their Japanese experiences and learn from each other.
I am part of a few of these forums and have become friends with people of several nationalities.

Recreation and entertainment

Tokyo is always super busy and bustling with action.
There are all kinds of events happening all year round – seasonal public events, grand traditional festivals, global food festivals, carnivals, concerts, shopping sale and sports events that can keep expats busy all the time.
If you have locals in your group, there are the Izakaya (restaurants) dinners followed by crazy Karaoke sessions.
If you like gaming, there are the maddeningly loud pachinko gaming centers which will take you to a different world.

The Not so pleasant things

This list is not a long one.

One thing that foreigners struggle the most to deal with in Japan is cultural differences.
These differences lead to miscommunication and trust gap at the work place.
The polite and humble Japanese style is contrastingly different from the straight-to-the-point Western business style.

More English usage would be nice, especially in written form.
With complex kanjis to decipher, most Gaijins have to resort to translation of literally everything they put their eyes on!
On a different note, many translations end up being completely irrelevant to the subject and also extremely hilarious.

Final word

My friend asked me recently about my overall impression of living in Tokyo.
My answer to her was – ‘My love for it is growing deeper each day’.
This is probably what many foreigners feel too and almost certainly they never would have imagined this before arriving to Japan.
I think I am very blessed to experience it all.
My heart goes Arigato Gozaimasu to the great times I have had here and I hope to enjoy this for a long time to come.
Sigh!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- My quick getaway to Misaki/Jougashima! –

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I’ve only lived in Tokyo for 2 months, but even I know that we all sometimes need to get away from the hectic hustle of the Tokyo lifestyle.
One warm and sunny afternoon, we (my friends and I) spontaneously decided that we wanted to escape Tokyo for a day, and set out on a day trip to Misaki and Jougashima in Miura peninsula.

The reason we chose Misaki/Jougashima was because it is not overpopulated with tourists, and is also not too far or expensive to make this day trip.
There is actually a great value day trip package called the “Keikyu Misaki Maguro Ticket”.
It includes a round-trip from Shinagawa station to Misaki-guchi station (only on the Keikyu local line), unlimited use of local buses in the Misaki/Jougashima area, a free “Maguro lunch” from a selection of 30 restaurants, and 1 of 8 leisure activities (onsen admission, aquarium ticket, bicycle rental for the day, “maguro souvenir ”, glass-making souvenir, short ferry cruise ), all for just over 3000yen.

We had a relatively slow start to the day and ended up leaving Shinagawa station around noon, and arrived at Misaki Port (a short bus ride from Misaki-guchi station) around 13:30, where we ate our “Maguro lunch”, which was delicious!
After lunch, we walked around the town and immersed ourselves in the atmosphere of a traditional fishing port (which is well-known for having a big tuna market, which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to see).

We then headed for Jougashima (which can be accessed by a short bus trip or ferry ride), where we had planned to do a short hike along the coast (Yama-michi course).
However, this trail was closed off, so instead we walked along the rocky shoreline of the coast.
To our delight, this shoreline had very interesting rock formations all along it, which resembled “waves of rock”.

With the final destination of the walk being Jougashima Park, we stopped off at a rock formation called “Umanose Domon”, but there were also many small inlets and caves along this walk.
We then made our way to Jougashima Park, where we found some very interesting looking “slanted trees”.
As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the final destination, which was an onsen at Hotel Keikyu Aburatsubo-kan Shio-sou (bus fare there, and onsen admission was included in the Misaki Maguro Ticket).
All in all, it was a very beautiful and relaxing day , and very inexpensive!