Korankei Stop

In the Spring, the Japanese enjoy seeing the first cherry blossoms bloom. In the Winter, they look forward to the first snow and now that Autumn is here Nagoyans celebrate it like many others by watching the leaves change color.  Every city has their favorite spot, and in Nagoya that spot is Korankei. Located near Toyota City, the home of Toyota Motor Corporation, traveling here by car is straightforward and doesn’t take more than an hour from Nagoya by the highway.  The community in this town has embraced these visitors by setting up beautiful shops and stands, as well as offering parking (for a small fee).  The town is extremely pleasing to the senses. From the colors of the shrines, temples, and buildings to the smell of the fresh country air, everything is organized to welcome thousands without sacrificing the small Japanese town atmosphere.

A short walk from the parking lot takes you over the first of many bridges, which is not necessary to cross if you want to enjoy the festival game stands or snacks that litter the boardwalk.  The most famous of the bridges is red and most visitors choose to take pictures of it or of it, while also capturing the beautiful leaves change colors and the river that runs all around.  From there, you can reach the center of Korankei’s festivities where they hold activities, sell delicious local foods, namely deer, and boar.  From here, you can continue north to a large building resembling a temple, enter the village museum, or go further into nature and the suspension bridge, that bounces as you walk.  Wherever you choose to go, the beautiful colors of the rainbow accompany you for a wonderful time.

Kyoto in the rain



Kyoto station’s Christmas tree!

On the morning of the 23rd, a national holiday in Japan, we took a train out to Kyoto. The train ride went smoothly, and with the exception to the heavy rain, we had a pleasant stay. We started out with something to eat before heading over to see the castle.  The meal was some quality beef from Miyagi-ken! The restaurant is actually a chain one, and can be found near most Japanese stations. There is actually one near where I live. The name is however, on the tip of my tongue.


Beef dishes can be expensive in Japan

Nijo Castle in Kyoto actually doesn’t look like a castle. Traditionally, this is how most castles in Japan looked like due to the influence of Buddhism. Nobunaga and other warring state generals changed how Japanese castles look. This castle definitely felt more like a temple or a shrine than a warring castle. However, the interiors were very similar!



What a shape?!

It was a very rainy day, but the castle grounds were still as beautiful as ever. The rain was making it difficult to shoot on this day, so I didn’t take many shots. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited inside Nijo Castle. The walk from the JR station can be a bit far, but there was a subway nearby.


Small store, big on culture.

Afterwards, we stopped by the Kyoani shop, located just below the actual studio! The rain was really heavy about now, and I was slightly disappointed about its size. However, there were rare things to be found here. Particularly posters and board games from older series! However, 50% of the store was made up of Free merchandise. I haven’t seen the show yet.


I love chain Pizza restaurants! Especially, all you can eat ones. The wacky Japanese flavors and side menus!

We headed to the covered shopping area afterwards. Turns out there was a convenient station right by the Kyoani store. I didn’t have to get wet anymore and all we could eat Pizza was available before Blitz had to head home and get ready for work the next day.


Kyoto Tower at night

On our walk back to the hotel and Kyoto station we got to have one look at the illuminated tower. I don’t usually stay the night in Kyoto and this was probably my second time ever seeing it. Quite a wet and eventful day with a lot of eats and sights. The prices were reasonable for what we did and see. The castle didn’t cost much and we got to enjoy a sweet sake drink with small amounts of alcohol. The next day we would begin our roadtrip to Western Japan! Note: All pictures were taken with an iPad on this day.


Breakfast for the next day!


Our rental car. A Honda Fit!

The Umaru Food Pyramid

Umaru, the new sloth in town, is ready to bring back trends set by our old friend Garfield. Sporting the same orange, hate of Mondays and methods of lazing about, I decided to give her diet a try.


Here we have her 6 basic food groups.

  1. Meiji Bamboo tip shaped cookie and chocolate biscuits
  2. Calbee Potato Chips, a classic brand. I couldn’t find any sour cream, so I got the soy sauce, avocado and wasabi roulette version.
  3. Mets Cola. Now this one was tricky, Umaru usually gets Cola and her color scheme leans more towards Coca Cola than Mets Cola. However, I felt like sticking with a Japanese brand I haven’t tried yet. Let’s see how this gamble plays out.
  4. Squid! Store brand (undried) squid. These are squid tentacles preserved in some kind of sour vinegar like substance. Truly Japanese inside and out.
  5. Cheese sticks. More like store brand cheese strips. These resemble the cheese sticks you can get back home. Although a lot thinner, they taste just as processed.
  6. Finally, the Glico pudding. There was plain and coffee flavor. Let’s try coffee.

All the snacks were just a smidge over 1000 yen (~$10 CAD) at the Ministop convenient store. Now, let us take a look at the real deal.


Umaru suggests that we mix Potato chips, which are usually salty with the chocolate cookies, sweet, sweet chocolate cookies and cola. So after launching episode 5 I decided to put her experiment to the test.

These Mr. Potato chips taste like dried seaweed, but slightly thicker, the wasabi is quite strong, otherwise it just taste more like soy sauce most of the time. Don’t get me wrong Japan knows how to do soy sauce chips. Instead of just tasting like processed salt it has a distinct Japanese saltiness to it!

As expected, the highlight of the snacking would be the bamboo shoot chocolate cookies. These cookies in itself are a perfect balance between dry cookie and milky chocolate. They’re neither too small nor too big for your palettes. The flavor absolutely melts in your mouth like nothing else.

The cola helps wash all the dryness away. However, something about this cola was lacking. It tasted like a diet soda, but a lot more watered down than I expected. Considering it typically sells at a higher price than Coke I expected more. It was not a satisfying wash down. Also the warm weather caused the soda to be a less than adequate coolness.


After phase one came phase two. Squid and cheese mix. Now I got to say this was certainly a strange combination. The squid was soft but not as soft as in Asian cuisine. It was chewy enough, but also came with a tinge of sourness.  Using the cheese right after added a hit of saltiness to it.  Again, nothing special if you’ve eaten squid or cheese before. It’s hard to imagine them as snacks, but in Japan they make a unique combination of sour and salty.  Washing it down with soda did little to relax my taste buds which could still taste the sourness after a few hours.  In the end I decided to throw them together with the chips and the chocolate remains. This way I had a 4 way battle royale for my taste buds.


If I had to choose a winner, I would definitely say it was the Bamboo Chocolate cookies. Just having those was enough to make my snacking moment a wonder.  If you haven’t, I definitely recommend you try them or their mushroom shaped chocolate cookie counter part. I’ve tried the pudding before, but today I’ve had enough sweets, salt and sourness for the day. I’m saving it for another day. So there we have it. If you’re into strange snacks, or happen to be a chibi midget girl, be sure to give this combination a try.


Edit: I ate my pudding!


Kiso Valley in Nagano

Between Nagano, Nagoya, and Gifu lays a volcano responsible for over 50 deaths in 2014.  It was a tragic event, and some may say Mt. Ontake’s eruption a precursor to Mt. Fuji’s future eruption. However, only several dozen kilometers away, lays a cultural Easter basket of homes belonging to an era bygone.


I had a chance to make my way up to this rice paddy dominated area, to take in the beautiful river, mountains and even waterfalls. Kiso Valley is famous for it’s long hiking trail, which runs through all that nature and a beautiful town. Tsumago and Magome are town’s very closely linked by trails, while Narai, the richer and bigger town, is further North closer to Nagano.


Lined along the trail are sweet shops which serve a variety of ice cream in regular flavors and green tea flavors. Snacks and drinks are also available, but my favorite shop, felt like an old cafe from the 80’s with a small arcade table with the game Invaders built in.


We were fortunate enough to be able to drive through all the areas including the waterfall. There was no shortage of parking, but the hot weather made walking through certain parts rougher. The waterfall areas were much cooler, and allowed us to enjoy beautiful photography shots with a cool breeze.


Many of the towns in the area are sleepy, but had enough car traffic to warrant an Aeon supermarket in one of them. Although smaller, it was pretty much an Aeon in essence. The most beautiful scenery came from the setting sun, which illuminated everything in an euphoric glow.


Nagoya’s World Summit of Cosplay 2015


Make way established international events, this stealthy, but growing trend is breaking its way to become one of the biggest annual events in the 21st century. The 12th annual World Cosplay Summit took place on August 1st. While certainly, there have been events that fade to fad-om, this summit is here to stay.  Nagoya is not a city known for much, except for Toyota and former military production centers.  However, the former mayor has made it important to put Nagoya on the map, as the 3rd biggest city in Japan, Nagoya finally has an event Osaka and Tokyo would die for.DSC02599

Beginning with only 3 countries in 2003, the World Cosplay Summit has risen to 26 countries as of 2015. When the WCS finally hit 7 competing countries in 2005, they began to hold Championship events for prizes.  Brazil and Italy are tied for 1st with 3 wins each respectively, while Japan comes in a close 2nd.  France and Russia have one title respectively. I had the chance to see Italy win in the previous years and had to agree, they deserved the title for their brilliant performance in 2013.


Who’s turn was it to win this year? Anime, manga and video game themes filled the Oasis21 lobbies and Osu parade. Most were just fans dressed up, but the professionals stood out with their homemade, colorful and in some cases gigantic weapons and armor. What contestants wore looked better than anything one could buy from any shop, these people were professional tailors and prop makers at heart.  I had a chance to cosplay in 2013 and this year as well, but my store bought clothes came nowhere close to their heart-filled efforts. This years event was slightly different from last year, as it would finally be held indoors with air conditioning.  Previously years had contestants wear their costumes in 35 degrees weather and in humid conditions, which combined with stress and exhaustion is quite dangerous! However, if people didn’t want to pay for tickets they could still watch it outside for free.


The most popular winners in previously years had cosplayed and performed as the Legend of Zelda characters.  The cosplayers, had to put on a play which best represented the characters they were dressed as. Creativity,dress, authenticity, and design were key in winning.  Therefore, it was no surprise that another Legend of Zelda team won this year. This time it was from the Legend of Zelda’s Majora’s Mask. However, the biggest surprise this year was that the winners this year would be a latino country! Before they announced the winners, Mexico had secured the Nico Nico Live stream award. Then they were in tears as their name was read out for they had won Mexico’s first ever WCS grand prize.  They were filled with unbelievable joy for they were not only the North American champions, but the World champions as well!

DSC02574DSC02587My favorite performers were different, I preferred the Gurren Lagaan performance by Hong Kong. They combined real life and manga flawlessly, their battle and costumes lit up the room. The way they brought people back to the series won them loudest cheers. As I exited my press seat and the building, I learned that there were many fans happy to pose with them outside.  I didn’t have the chance to take great pictures outside the actual event, but I did take many at the Meijimura cosplay event one week before hand and the Osu parade. This year, it was incredibly more crowded than previous years for anime, manga and games continue to rise in popularity in Japan and world wide!



Himeji Castle challenges Sun as second brightest object in the universe

Not too far away from Osaka, lies a castle of such grandeur people just could not turn a blind eye to it. This is literally the brightest castle in existence but thanks to the government green tarps, we were saved from a renegade castle after our favorite sense. It was put under a 6 year renovation project, which made exterior photos as likely as a non-hobbit Elijah Wood.  For half a decade one could only enjoy the large spacious interior and exterior, erected by a Shogun with a little too much dosh and a lot to compensate for.

Unfortunately the tarps have fallen, and just in time for Golden Week, when thousands upon thousands of tourist flocked like pigeons to Himeji Castle for photos. But wait, why does every photo online looks the same you ask? Because everyone has found a favorite spots, and it’s all on the same power line (another pigeon reference). These photographers made sure to upload hundreds of photos in those exact same spots.  But of course, mine are not the same as theirs. Behold the beauty of my super HDR, heavily contrasted edits with my old software. The castle itself blended its azure whiteness with the white clouds that day, making it the second brightest thing in our universe.  The many tourist who didn’t have their cameras destroyed by the imminent bright flashes of beautiful destruction made off with their vision only half in shambles and their memory cards full of postcard duplicates.

I came away with a replica castle that day. One that was oddly not white but Bronze. Some guy in the factory asked, “Sir, what is this castle known for?” and the manager responded with, “if you have time for questions, you have time to forfeit your lunch time”, and so rather than one that looked authentic, we got a gift that looked like it too had been under construction for 6 years.

Serious note: The trip took 4 hours from Nagoya, with a 1 hour pit stop at a beautiful service area stop at Lake Biwa.  I had some omelette rice, before making my way there.  Parking at the castle park was 600 yen for 3 hours, which was more than enough time to see the Castle.  Entrance fee was 1000 yen, and included entry into the castle itself.  The line ups are long so either go late or early, or bring a fan because you’ll be waiting outside for a long time. The castle will be open until 7 P.M. this summer only!

Video rental culture in Japan

CFTRnHhUsAEIBZ-Remember the nostalgia of heading to Blockbuster or a rental store with your friends and looking for that new game or movie release? How you could fight over the one movie you oh so wanted? Well it’s a culture that’s still alive and kicking in Japan. And this week I rented my very first blu-ray, how many people can say that in this digital age of download? Well, millions in fact!

Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, have completely displaced media rental culture in first world countries and many others, so why does a first world country like Japan still thrive on with rentals? And why did I have to wait almost 15 minutes to return a video in downtown Nagoya? Well here’s a little back story. Downloading and streaming movies online, have a bit of a stigma in Japan. People in Japan trust their big corporations and businesses and are even thankful for their practices. They believe it’s the life stream of a capitalist economy that can keep people’s lives comfortable.  The distrust here against the big and rich is small compared to countries overseas. Therefore, corporations and politicians vouching for the big businesses and even their strange and backwards rules and regulations that they want to enforce is quite common here. A law was passed recently to make download or upload of copyrighted material illegal with heavy fines and jail time as punishment.

The movie industry in Japan has done a lot to scare people away from downloading films with loud campaigns that can be seen on TV or at the movie theaters. It’s so loud that even legal downloading on the Playstation Network, XBOX Live, and iTunes has been lagging behind other countries. Strangely enough, they place blank cds and dvds in front of the rental checkout counter to passively encourage you to make copies of your rental for backup or re-watching.  Making copies has been an ingrained culture in Japan, since their invention of the VCR. Japan gave us the VCR, to record and copy, and at one time frightened Hollywood, that it would cut into their profits, which actually has done the opposite and help it grow into what it is today.

The same does not apply for video games though. Video games are protected in another way.  In the US and Canada, lending your friend a video game is something common. You own the commodity you purchased, you’re free to do with it as you please. But in Japan, it’s technically against the law to lend video games to a friend. You can resell them, but not lend them. The same applies in stores. You can buy video games but you can not rent them. Some places have received the rights to rent out games from certain publishers, but even so they’re very small in numbers. People still go to the arcade and buy used games, but almost never rent.

So, as you can see renting culture for movies, and just movies is strong. Would it be strong for games if they were on the list? I believe they would be, I mean who wouldn’t want to try a game before buying it. Downloading a demo would be nice, considering Japan has one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. But people still turn to rent videos, and buying video games. The best part about renting in Japan is that it is fairly cheap with coupons. I got my blu-ray version of Interstellar for 216 yen. Which is just about $2.

The process of filling out an application for was easy and quick as well. Returning the video, isn’t as simple as it was overseas. You have to hand it to them and they have to scan to see if it is late. If it is late you have to pay on the spot. No dash and dine. It’s funny what small changes in laws can do to a country, and it also explains the digital divide between Japan and the West.