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Six takeaways from the buffet of endless surprise: Japan

On the platform at Shinagawa Station. Photo by Shawn Choy

Performers at the Sansa Odori Festival. Photo by Samantha Branson


SUITS & BOOTS CO. CREATIVES

STRATEGISTS

MICHAEL Hopes to make headlines for a living. Hopes you’ll like your campaign tagline.

CHRYSTAL Analytical brain plus theatrical background. Expect dramatic results.

SHAWN He sees, he directs, we’re just glad we’ve got him to make your campaign a work of art.

CANDY Serves a treat of insights and opportunities. Plus sugary pies.

SAMANTHA OCD. Can’t let go of old stuff. Also an outrageously creative designer.

CAROLANNE Superstar Playmaker. Orchestrates thought flow, drives a Mini.

CONTENTS FOOD & CULTURE A-maze in Tokyo

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SIGHTS Uncover an Old Black Market

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FASHION Nail Capital of the World

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ALTERNATIVE Have a Break, Have a Wasabi Kit Kat

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FESTIVALS Wake Up, Morioka!

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TRADITION Omamori From Kyoto

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FOOD & CULTURE | TOKYO

A-MAZE IN TOKYO Getting lost and doing so alone could very well be the perfect recipe to discover this vibrant Japanese city that has more to offer than manga, sushi and sashimi. STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS

Carolanne Chan

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Tired of planned itineraries and rigid schedules, I woke up to a Saturday morning in Tokyo with no plans, except to seek alternative experiences and go where my feet would take me. The outcome? Splendid. I uncovered what could possibly be the best tonkatsu in the city, teleported to Europe, and even had a swing at baseball. My afternoon started off at Tokyo’s hip-and-happening Harajuku, but I found myself irked by the throngs of people there and drawn to nextdoor Omotesandō, an upscale and quieter neighbourhood.

01 Tsukiji Outer Market

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Harajuku may be the place to see, but Omotesandō is the place to be seen. This posh shopping street boasts an international spread of high-fashion, luxury boutiques. Here, immaculately dressed Japanese donning the fashion du jour sashay the avenue, or nibble on French macarons at the al fresco cafés. Zelkova trees that line the uphill walk provide much needed reprieve from the sweltering summer heat, and add a charming and romantic touch – in fall, its leaves turn a stunning hue of orange and red. No wonder the area’s fondly dubbed the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo.


FOOD & CULTURE | TOKYO

Delish Tonkatsu: Maisen

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A random turn into a peaceful lane yielded an impressive find. Housed in what used to be a bathing house, Maisen’s main outlet at Omotesandō is a humble and homely restaurant offering what I thought was the best tonkatsu I have ever eaten. Maisen’s simple exterior may be unassuming, but once in, I was waltzed into gastronomical paradise. The staff swiftly seated and presented me with a menu, radish, clean chopsticks, a wet towel and cold green tea. As I waited eagerly for my tonkatsu, I observed how efficiently and seamlessly the restaurant operated. Then, I was served. Their tender and succulent pork cutlet, wrapped in crispy and savoury breadcrumbs, drizzled with sweet (or spicy, you choose) and thick tonkatsu sauce, is to die for. When paired with a hot bowl of Japanese rice, fresh julienned cabbage and miso soup, I was sent to gastronomic heaven. 03

MAISEN 4-8-5 Jingūmae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. http://www.mai-sen.com

Trust only the Japanese with the best tonkatsu.

TIP

Order the perennial favourite, the kurobuta (black) pork, and don’t miss the refreshing yuzu sorbet - some patrons left before they were dished this delightful dessert! Not yet sated? Enjoy more of Maisen’s tonkatsu and croquettes at its take-out counter just outside the restaurant or at counters located across the city. Popular on its to-go menu: the tonkatsu sandwich.

02 Sweet and succulent kurobuta pork cutlet, cooked to perfection. 03 Witnessing snippets of Maisen’s action from my seat at the bar counter. The patrons, mostly Japanese, wait patiently to be served.

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FOOD & CULTURE | TOKYO

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A Little Europe: 246COMMON (Food carts & Farmer's Market)

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246COMMON Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. 3-13 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku, Tokyo http://www.246common.jp

04-05 Some of 246COMMON’s pretty food stalls. 06 Omotesando’s Farmer’s Market

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With my tummy filled, I was ready for more adventures. Then, I chanced upon a little piece of Europe. Tucked away in a cozy corner atop Omotesandō, 246COMMON is a modern, dynamic mix of fusion food stalls offering affordable Japanese, American and European fares, fresh coffee and bread, and small shops selling pretty kitchen and home items. The relaxed vibe was irresistibly inviting. I quickly armed myself with sake, rested under a big umbrella and basked in the atmosphere: Japanese wheel their Tokyo bicycles in as they holler “konichiwa”, Europeans and Japanese huddle in small groups, engaged in quiet conversations, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, Japanese curry and barbequed meat lingering in the air, the insouciant arrangement of idiosyncratic vans and carts... It was not only a treat for the stomach, but also a feast for the eyes.

TIP

Go early to grab the freshest of produce (think red, sweet Japanese tomatoes). Otherwise, visit mid-afternoon for coffee, sake or beer and food, when crowds are fewer. Do note the different opening hours of each store.


FOOD & CULTURE | TOKYO

Architectural Beauty: New Coffee Steppers

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246COMMON excited me – certainly there must be more undiscovered gems in and around Omotesandō. The aroma of coffee wafting through the air led me to an unattractive, grey building that looked more like a covert ad agency than a legitimate café. A huge tree stood strangely outside. I hesitated for a moment, but one foot in to New Coffee Steppers and I was in love.

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NEW COFFEE STEPPERS Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 3-20-13 Jingūmae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo http://www.littlenap.jp

Its contemporary style channelled elegant Japanese Zen and European minimalism. Wood, silver and red aluminum form its architectural theme. While admiring its modern interiors, I wondered how lovely it would be to have something similar back home to while a weekend afternoon away quietly.

TIP

Don’t expect a wide array of cakes, but surprise yourself with excellent coffee, a good collection of books on botany and a great place to unwind. Outdoor under the tree on a wooden bench is perfect.

07 The café’s non-descript exterior. 08 The café’s beautiful interiors. It was surprisingly empty on a Saturday afternoon.

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FOOD & CULTURE | TOKYO

Bat it! The Home Run The skies were turning dark, but I continued wandering and soaking in Tokyo’s city vibes. It was so rare that I had a day like this all to myself. Slowly, I found myself amidst Roppongi. Neon signs lighted up the streets. A particular store at a corner of a stretch of two-storey Japanese shophouses caught my attention. Colourful lights sparkled from within. It was an arcade! The games were unique and novel – Billiard Bowling, anyone? Amused, I ventured further onto the second floor and could not believe my eyes. There was a baseball-batting arena! Cheers from excited arcade-goers filled the floor, as they bat baseballs of speeds between 90 and 120km/h in the individual cubicles.

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After some observation, I decided to have a hand at it (one game costs only 300¥) - I had never played baseball before. It was exciting at first, then frightening, then adrenaline-pumping, and then, it was so much fun. Successfully batting just one ball straight into the air was exhilarating!

NOTE

I was unable to identify the arcade, as there was no English signboard. But explore the back lanes of Roppongi, there are many interesting arcades.

One go wasn’t enough. I ended up staying for almost two hours, batting the night away, before returning to my hotel with sore arms, but feeling sorely satisfied with my day.

GETTING THERE

MEIJI-JINGŪMAE

New Coffee Steppers Maisen

Find more indie shops and cafés here

Many vintage, youthful stores to explore here

Omotesandō Station

OMOTESANDŌ << To Meiji-Jingūmae and Harajuku stations

09 Bright Lights at Shibuya. Photo by Samantha Branson

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246COMMON

To Roppongi Hills >>

Take the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku and walk, or the Tokyo Metro Ginza, Chiyoda and Hanzōmon lines straight to Omotesandō station.


SIGHTS | TOKYO

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UNCOVER AN OLD

BLACK MARKET

The many quirks of Ameyoko reveal another side of the Japanese capital. STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS

Shawn Choy

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01 Ameyoko from Okachimachi Station 02 Vendors along Ameyoko

Nestled in between Ueno and Okachimachi stations is a busy market street with a rather fascinating history. Running directly alongside the tracks of the JR Yamanote Line, Ameyoko is a hodgepodge of shops selling anything from footwear to cosmetics to fresh seafood. The milder and much quieter Okachimachi Market lies along the other side of the tracks.

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SIGHTS | TOKYO

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Ameyoko is short for Ameya-Yokochō, which reads ‘Candy Shop Alley’ in Japanese. The origin of this name is uncertain. Some believe the market is named after the numerous candy shops that used to occupy the area in the early 20th century. However, in the days following World War II, Ameyoko was also part of a thriving black market for imported American products. Leading others to believe the name stemmed from a shortened form of “America” instead. While there still exists a few shops selling US military surplus items today, you can be certain that Ameyoko has long put its black market past behind. A real gem amongst all the bright lights of modern Tokyo, Ameyoko brings to surface a hint of the old days. As you weave through the throngs of market-goers, you are immediately assaulted with a cacophony of noises. Coarse voices holler over the constant chatter and footsteps of the crowd, and even over the deep, low rumble of trains passing on the tracks overhead. Vendors along Ameyoko are notably more active and aggressive in touting their products than in other Japanese markets. They are still polite though, just louder. Much louder. And if you speak Japanese, you could definitely have a go at haggling with the vendors unlike most other markets in Japan. You might just leave with a bargain or two.

03-05 Vendors along Ameyoko

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SIGHTS | TOKYO

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In another show of aggressive marketing, several shops hold unscheduled “time sales” throughout the day. It is difficult to miss a time sale as its start is marked by a sales assistant holding up a sign and yelling out at the top of their lungs. A loudhailer and a tall stool are often used to make the sales assistant even more visible and audible. During these time sales, shops offer further discounts on their goods. To reap the benefits of a time sale, customers have to make their purchase before the time limit, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. This gives “impulse purchase” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? Ameyoko offers a completely different experience from the metropolitan bustle of Ginza, the youthful buzz of Shibuya or the old-town calm of Yanaka. A plethora of shops aside, the

amount of visitors everyday also makes the market a prime spot to people watch. The market starts coming to life at around 11 in the morning and it only gets busier from then, eventually culminating with the manic hours of the late afternoon. Most shops close by seven in the evening and by eight, the market returns to quiet. Visit in the late afternoon to fully experience its distinctive atmosphere, but do note that many shops are closed on one or more Wednesdays a month. Traversing the entire stretch of the market takes about an hour, perhaps two if you really take the time to soak it all in. The organised chaos of Ameyoko challenges perceptions of what a Japanese market should be, and indeed, it is the unexpected that makes for memorable experiences.

INFO

Shops open between 10 and 11 a.m., and close at around 7 p.m. Most shops remain closed on selected Wednesdays.

GETTING THERE

Take the JR Yamanote Line to Ueno or Okachimachi station. Exit the stations and cross the street.

06-07 A time sale in progress.

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NAIL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

FASHION | TOKYO

With over 5,000 nail salons calling Tokyo home, a manicure should be on every girlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s to-do-list in the land of the rising sun. STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS

Samantha Branson

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FASHION | TOKYO

The practice of decorating one’s nails extends back to the third millenium BC in China, where a mixture of beeswax was used, and later on with henna dyes in ancient Egypt. Despite its roots, nail art today is dominated by the scene in Tokyo, where over 5000 nail salons ply their trade. Tokyo, however, is not so much the new kid on the block as it is the one who lives in the penthouse suite and drives a Ferrari. With girls sporting assorted crystals, chains, 3-dimensional characters and food sculptures all on their fingernails, Tokyo’s nail artists have redefined the manicure. To put it simply, Tokyo is the place to get your nails done.

DISCO NAIL TOKYO For a girl who is satisfied with a t-shirt and shorts combo, I’m not one to spend on fashion. But when I visited Tokyo, I had to get my nails done at Disco Nail salon. Disco Nail was to me a Tumblr site which featured mind-blowing nail

designs and it was only before my trip to Japan that I came to learn that it was an actual physical nail salon with original nail art. As such it was as if the stars had aligned on my fingertips and I knew that I had to get my nails done by Nagisa Taneko, the owner of Disco Nail. A true nail art visionary, Nagisa, 31, is known for her unique and sometimes borderline creepy nail art. Her work floods social media sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram and she has styled nails for renowned fashion magazine,Vogue. Although barely an ounce of data can be Googled about Nagisa, the Internet goes crazy everytime she drops a new manicure on her Tumblr site. Her style can be described as intriguing, kitchsy-crazy, and takes inspiration from a multiplicity of sources, such as eggs.

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Perhaps the appeal is also in her exclusivity. The month’s notice to book an appointment at Disco Nail resembles that of Michelin Star restaurants.

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01 Disco Nail’s logo designed by Nagisa. 02 Inside the Salon

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FASHION | TOKYO

MEETING NAGISA What should have been a 10–15 minute walk from the Shibuya metro station felt like an eternity as I was jumping out of my skin with excitement. It also literally took longer due to the fact that I got lost but was helped along the way by a local who knew the exact location of the nail salon.

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I was welcomed by Nagisa, who then led me to a cushioned armchair, and gave me five nail art albums to pick designs from. It didn’t take me long to decide on a combination of two sets. She began to shape and file my nails before applying the gel on them. Disco nail only offers gel manicures which last longer than regular nail polish – my manicure lasted just over a month. The gel is hardened on each nail when exposed to ultraviolet light. “You like seashells?” Nagisa asked me, as she rummaged through her containers full of nail ornaments. I smiled and nodded, my instant liking for ornamental marine life established purely by excitement. She placed and arranged miniature seashells, gemstones and shiny nail tape strips deftly using a pair of lilac tweezers. The design coming together on my nails was intricate and nothing short of awesome.

03 Nagisa at work.

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FASHION | TOKYO

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A photograph of my nails went straight up on my Instagram feed the second they were finished with, complete with the hashtag #disconail. Where a full hour was required for my nail art, Nagisa’s work can definitely be held in the same esteem as high fashion. She is but one of the many nailists (the Japanese coined term for nail artists) in Tokyo who treat every nail as a canvas, ever ready to come up with a new masterpiece. 05

I went back to Singapore with true art on my nails.

INFO

To book an appointment at Disco Nail, visit their website. Nagisa’s nail art rates start at ¥9,450 ($120) per hour. For more affordable nail art, visit http:// beauty.hotpepper.jp/nail/. The site is a Japanese beauty services directory, which is easily navigable with the automatic Google Translate service on Google Chrome.

DISCO NAIL Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 1-14-9-3F Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo http://www.disco-tokyo.com

MAKE THE BEST OF YOUR EXPERIENCE

Always make an appointment for a manicure, walk-ins are considered uncourteous in Japan. Also, be sure to arrive on time for appointments. It is good to have a rough idea of what design you want. You can even bring along ideas or “inspiration” for your nail artist. Depending on the intricacy of the design you select, it can take up to three hours, so do factor this in when selecting a design. Do note that additional items such as crystals and other 3D ornaments usually cost more, and can be rather expensive, so do check with the nail artist before they are applied.

04-05 Some of Nagisa’s latest designs.

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ALTERNATIVE | TOKYO

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HAVE A BREAK, HAVE A WASABI KIT KAT Explore a whole new world of flavours and innovations in the Japanese Supermarket. STORY

Michael Chin

It pays to stay near a supermarket when you travel. Bottled water, instant noodles and of course, last-minute buys for friends you’ve been too merry to remember – there’s a sense of assurance you feel when you’re near these essentials. But you wouldn’t normally expect to find any fun in a supermarket. Shopping and grocery shopping are after all, two vastly different propositions. Well, not in Japan. The Japanese Supermarket is commodity meets creativity; convenience store meets amusement park.

01 Kit Kat Display Photo by jpellgen on Flickr (used under a Creative Commons license)

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ALTERNATIVE | TOKYO

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CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES The first thing that strikes you is the sheer variety on offer, especially when it comes to tid-bits like Pretz. On top of mundane flavours like Pizza, Corn and Cheese, you’ll find an assortment of flavours. Think Edamame, Takoyaki, Ume. Seaweed Wasabi. Giant Okinomiyaki. Fancy Kit Kat? No not Green Tea Kit Kat. Not when there’s Wasabi, Passion Fruit and Sweet Potato. Not where you can find exotic flavours like ‘Hojicha Roasted Tea’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria Grapes’. You can’t help but wonder about the kinds of flavours we’d have in Singapore if we had half their imagination. Chendol Kit Kat, anyone? Such is the range of brands and flavours on show; you could overlook the STAR WARS Pocky – each biscuit stick a light saber; encapsulated in its own wrapper and packed into boxes printed with either Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. The Yoda in your head will say a gimmick it is just, yet no force can stop you from grabbing at least one.

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LOSE YOUR SENSE & SENSIBILITY The Japanese supermarket awakens the child in you. Then it brings out the worst in that rascal. “I MUST get this Disney whipped cream. You just KNOW it’ll taste great with grapes”. “OH MY GOSH. They have Honey Yoghurt Caramel Corn. I’m going to hyper-ventilate”. You’re reminded why your parents never gave you too much pocket money. And it doesn’t help that some items are cheaper than in Singapore. A bag of 12 Japanese Kit Kats (any flavour) sells at just 298¥ ($3.80) against $9 at Japanese specialty stores in Singapore. But beware: the combination of big savings and cool packaging is lethal enough to numb common sense. My friend wanted to buy Japanese cream butter just because it was 80% cheaper than in Cold Storage.

02-03 Satisfied shoppers with their loot. Photos by Samantha Branson

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ALTERNATIVE | TOKYO

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A REAL TASTE OF JAPANESE AWESOMENESS Beyond discovering new flavours and bargains, you’ll also experience fascinating bits of Japanese society and culture. In particular, you stand to witness the Japanese spirit of innovation at its simplest and best.

"You stand to witness the Japanese spirit of innovation at its simplest and best."

Take the square watermelon for example. Many people know it exists. But few know that it is in fact the brainchild of Japanese farmers, who grew their melons in boxes so that they wouldn’t take up so much space on supermarket shelves.

In some supermarkets, if you purchase a mango or any other easily damageable fruit, the staff will place it inside a blownup plastic bag to cushion any potential impact.

We all know that the Japanese go the distance to make their customers happy. And in the Japanese supermarket, you’ll see they’re not just good at customer service, but pretty creative at it too.

04 Square Watermelon Photo by liddybits on Flickr (used under a Creative Commons license)

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You might also encounter refrigerated lockers that help keep your food chilled and fresh should you want to hang around for long. But hospitality’s not the only virtue that the Japanese use innovation to help uphold. They innovate for efficiency too.


ALTERNATIVE | TOKYO

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Whether it’s instant ice cream that come in great flavours like Black Sesame and Matcha, Instant Sushi Roll Makers or Home Automatic Takoyaki Ball Machines; Japanese innovation helps people go from hungry to oishi with minimum time and effort. The Japanese have even found a solution to the age-old butter-or-jam breakfast conundrum. They call it Dispen-Paks: capsules that dispense two spreads evenly at a time. And if you’re more of a pancakes kind of person, they come in butter-honey too. So that’s the Japanese Supermarket for you. Fun, original and surprising, it is a jungle of Japanese variety, creativity and reality. You’ll find cool alternatives to typical souvenirs and shopping – edgy but simple samples of Japanese imagination and innovation that you can taste.

SUPERMARKETING TIPS

Go after 8 p.m. and have dinner there. Packed meals go for halfprice then. Just 199¥ for Sashimi. Budget at least an hour and 3,000¥. You might try to buy everything. And you’ll need time to put stuff back.

Try the Instant Ramen. Forget the boring cup noodles in your luggage. This one’s restaurant-­ standard. Family Mart does not count. Find a big supermarket like Jusco, Seiyu or Daiei for much, much more variety.

05 The chilled drinks section at a Japanese supermarket. Photo by JanneM on Flickr (used under a Creative Commons license)

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FESTIVALS | MORIOKA

01 A young girl awaits the start of the parade. Photo by Jonathan Tan

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FESTIVALS | MORIOKA

WAKE UP, MORIOKA! A quiet town waking to the beat of the taiko drums, Morioka is home to the Sansa Odori Festival every summer. STORY

Chrystal Ng PHOTOGRAPHS

Jonathan Tan Shawn Choy

Travelling in from Tokyo to Morioka, I was not expecting much of a change in surroundings until I looked out of the windows as we rode past green fields in the Yamabiko Shinkansen. My impression of Japan was one of the bright lights and big cities that never slept a wink. Yet little did I know that just two and a half hours away from the one of the busiest cities in the world, held a town in the Iwate Prefecture overflowing with charm and culture as well as one of the five biggest summer festivals in Tohoku. You could say that when I first got off the train I was skeptical. How could such a small town of less than 400,000 inhabitants be the centre of attention for 4 days in the summer? Morioka is the capital of the Iwate Prefecture but it looked nothing like Tokyo or Osaka.

Streets were scattered with residents walking their dogs leisurely, children were rarely carried but let out to play as their parents chatted behind them. The pace was different from Tokyo, where we first came from. No rush, no intense pushing or shoving, just the sound of the breeze beating lightly against the windows of the coach we were on. Greenery was abundant; skies were a clear baby blue and the temperature hovered between the ranges of 20 to 30 degrees Celsius. Our local guide, Miyuki kept us occupied with snippets of Moriokaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s history as we made our way to Chudori Street where the Sansa Odori Festival was held. The Morioka Sansa Odori Festival is held from August 1 through 4 annually and it is one of the Five Great Festivals of Tohoku. It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest taiko drum festival in the world.

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FESTIVALS | MORIOKA

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Legend has it that the Sansa dance started when the god of the Misuishi Shrine punished a demon. The demon swore by placing his hand on a rock that he would never do bad deeds again, leaving a print on the rock. Locals celebrated by dancing around the rock. This was how Sansa originated, as well as the name “Iwate,” meaning “rock hand.” After a ten-minute walk from the coach to Chudori Street, this quaint Japanese town started to sing a different tune. People dressed in colourful yukatas filled every single nook and cranny of the sidewalk. Little girls were dolled up in candy coloured pink and red yukatas with their hair curled and put up in fancy dos, while little boys wore yukatas with prints of fish and traditional Japanese geometrical patterns that were in more subdued blues and greys.

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I asked a little girl if I could take a picture with her in my broken Japanese and before I knew it, Haru and I became fast friends. The streets filled up by the minute. People were craning their necks to take a peek at the red lanterns that marked the finish line of the Sansa Odori parade.

02-03 Young women and children from the community parading down Chudori Street. Both photos by Shawn Choy

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FESTIVALS | MORIOKA

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I was hesitant to be at the end, but a local told me that this spot had the best views of the dancers. 6 p.m. hit and my watch started to let out a beep, but before I knew it, loud taiko drums paired perfectly with the gentle whimper of the Japanese flutes and girls singing what sounded like â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Sakkora Choiwa Yasseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; shrouded the incessant beeping noise I was trying to stop. Before we knew it, the parade was right under our noses. Standing at the edge of the sidewalk, I was privy to the life of the party. As the sun set, locals old and young started to sing out and dance the Sansa for good luck, while calling out to each other in sputters of Japanese and the local dialect. Looking lost, I tried to weave my way out of the crowd but a lady beside me took my hand and taught me how to do the Sansa. I was surprised at their openness and friendliness. Tokyo folk were never this, patient or chummy to strangers.

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"As the sun set, locals old and young started to sing out and dance the Sansa for good luck, while calling out to each other in sputters of Japanese and the local dialect." We started dancing together and very soon I found myself in the middle of a crowd of Sansa dancers in brightly coloured Japanese costumes, with no airs and only laughter. Her little gesture made me feel well at home; and from a lost tourist, I found myself being slowly but surely knitted into her community. Just hours ago, the city girl inside of me was filled with a sense of uncertainty and tussled with being in a small town, yet now I find myself falling in love with Morioka and her people. It made me realise that I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need the bright lights to guide me home, but just a hand to take me into a big heart in a small town with a whole lot of love to give.

INFO

Morioka is 2 and a half hours north of Tokyo by Shinkansen. A cheaper alternative is by bus, which takes about 7 and a half hours from Tokyo.

04 Performers playing the taiko drums till nightfall. 05 Lanterns are carried to mark the end of the parade. Both photos by Jonathan Tan

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TRADITION | KYOTO

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OMAMORI FROM KYOTO In Kyoto, a metropolis that retains the rich culture and heritage of the Japanese, temples and shrines are embedded along the streets, yet every one of them exudes their own charm. STORY & PHOTOGRAPHS

Candy Tan

Omamori are Japanese amulets commonly sold in temples and shrines. The word mamori means ‘protection’, and omamori is the honorific form of the word ‘to protect’. Usually, the omamori is a brocade bag containing small items, like a prayer. However, various temples and shrines have their own historical backgrounds, thus designs of the amulets will differ, making each amulet special. For example, the omamori of the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is a charm modeled after its iconic red torii gates, but Kiyomizu-dera Temple’s omamori has the Otowa Waterfall embroidered at the back of the brocade bag. Generally, an omamori provides blessings and overall protection. However, some may have a specific focus such as traffic safety, warding off evil, education and success in studies, prosperity in business, long-lasting love and marriage, peace and prosperity of a household, and so on. Now you know which omamori to get for your family and friends as a souvenir the next time you visit Japan!

01 Omamori from Kiyomizu-dera Temple. 02 Various omamori from different shrines and temples in Japan. 03 Omamori from Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine.

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TRADITION | KYOTO

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KIYOMIZU-DERA

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple means ‘Pure Water Temple’ and this name is derived from the clear waters of Otowa Waterfall. The fall is divided into three streams of water, which are believed to have different benefits each, namely: longevity, success at school, and fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams would be considered greedy, as none of the benefits will come true. Another highlight of the Kiyomizudera Temple is the main hall. Built on a wooden stage, supported by wooden pillars, it reaches a height of 13 meters. And it is constructed without using a single nail at all. But there is no need to worry when you are enjoying the view up there, as this structure has been standing around for 380 years!

GETTING THERE

Take bus number 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station. Alight at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. It is a 10-minute walk to the temple. Or take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo station. The temple is 20 minutes away on foot. 04 ‘Fake’ geishas at the temple. 05 Entrance of Kiyomizu-dera Temple 06 Otowa Waterfall, at the base of the temple’s main hall.

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TRADITION | KYOTO

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FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA Inari is the Japanese god of agriculture and industry, and of general prosperity, thus companies and individuals typically pray for business prosperity at Inari shrines. It is believed that foxes are Inari’s messengers, thus the fox is also another iconic omamori design available at the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Usually, a torii gate is located at the entrance of a shrine as it symbolizes the transition from secular ground to a sacred place. However, Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine has thousands of vermilion torii gates, which were donated by companies and individuals to express their gratitude to Inari after praying for prosperity. The torii gates form a covered hiking trail behind the shrine’s main ground, starting with two dense, parallel rows of gates called Senbon Torii, which means ‘thousands of torii gates’. However, as it takes two to three hours to complete the hiking trail, you can consider walking mid-way to the Yotsutsuji intersection, which takes about 30 to 45 minutes, and you can enjoy the view of Kyoto city from there.

07-09 The torrii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.

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GETTING THERE

Take the JR Nara Line and alight at Inari station. The shrine is just outside the station.


fin.


Early morning at Tsukiji Outer Market. Photo by Samantha Branson

Raining evening along Teramachi. Photo by Shawn Choy


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