Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mount Tsukuba Plum Festival

The Mount Tsukuba Plum Festival runs from February 17 to March 21. This is the 34th time the festival is being held. The plum orchard is 4.5 hectares in size and it has a thousand plum trees. You can enjoy the lovely fragrance of the plum trees while taking in a scenic view of Tsukuba. Tsukuba's famous toad oil will be on sale on Sundays and you can drink plum tea and participate in a stamp rally every day during the festival. The city-run parking lots cost 500 yen for cars and motorcycles. There is also a shuttle bus available.

On February 18, 24, 25, and March 3, there is an express bus from Tsukuba Shrine to Makabe Doll Festival (Makabe Station) leaving at 12:00 and 13:30. You can catch a return bus at 12:45 (to Tsukuba Shrine), 14:05 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 15:10 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 16:00 (to Tsukuba Shrine), 17:15 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 18:27 (departs from Makabe Gym and goes to Tx Tsukuba Station). The fare from Tsukuba Shrine to and from Makabe is 200 yen. The fare from Makabe to Tx Tsukuba Station is 800 yen. The bus stop at Tsukuba Shrine is at 筑波山神社大鳥居下 and it is a five minute walk from the plum orchard. (Official schedule)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doll's festival in Tsuchiura!

Okay, so there are “hinamatsuris” in Tsukuba, Makabe, and in Kasama…. How about the one in Tsuchiura?

I didn’t know about this until today, but the Hina Doll’s Festival in Tsuchiura has started last Saturday. The dolls are on display in 45 businesses along the streets in front of the Tsuchiura Station, Kamitakatsu Kaizuka Furusato Rekishi Hiroba(historical park), and in Komachi no Yakata (park dedicated to the legends of Ono no Komachi).

Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri
Feb.17(Sat) to March 4(Sun)

The participating businesses besides Rekishi Hiroba and Komachi no Yakata are all within walking distance of JR Tsuchiura Station. There are only two free temporary parking lots, one with room for 20 cars (available only on weekdays) and the other with room for 15 cars (available only on weekends) during the festival, so try to get there extra early if you want to go there by car!

Tsuchiura Tourist Association
3rd Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri flyer/map(pdf)

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Doll's Festivals taking place in Tsukuba

It's Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) season!

As RrFish and Shaney posted, big events are being held in Kasama and Makabe. If you feel they are a little bit far from Tsukuba, you have another option.

There is an old-fashioned Japanese house named "Sakura Minkaen" in Chuo park in the Tsukuba center area. Tsukuba city is displaying old traditional Hina dolls made from about 80 years ago at the Sakura Minkaen.

Period: From February 16(Fri) to March 4 (Sun) , 2007
Time: From 9:30 to 16:30
Closed: Wednesdays, National holidays
Website (in Japanese)

Sakura Minkaen is located behind the rest house in Chuo Park, near Azuma Elementary School. They hold tea ceremony events and exhibitions there sometimes.

Tsukuba Wiki
Google Map

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ten Hours, One Piece of Paper

What could you do with 10 hours and one piece of paper?

Satoshi Kamiya (at first I wondered whether this was his real name) would fold the paper 1361 times and come up with this.

I wondered whether that was his real name because "kami" means paper, so it just seemed a little too convenient. However, this wikipedia article seems to confirm that it is his real name (of course, the kanji for "kami" does not mean paper in his name).

If you are interested in origami, you might want to have a look at his website or think about buying his bilingual book.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Old Tokyo maps online

Yahoo! Japan is featuring old Tokyo maps online (Japanese):

You can switch between maps of Tokyo from the Edo era (about 180 years ago), the Meiji era (about 120 years ago), the present, and satellite photos.

If you can read Japanese, it is amazing to discover what many famous places today were in the past. And you can understand that many mansions of daimyos (feudal lords) which were located in the center of Edo city were abolished at the end of the Samurai age and their lands were redeveloped into fundamental public facilities for a modern capital city such as government office buildings, military bases, universities, hospitals, business districts, parks and so on. It is one of the reasons why Japan could reform itself to a modern nation so quickly.

If you would like to know why there were so many daimyos' mansions in Edo city, see this wiki article.

FYI, the lot for the Tokyo campus of the University of Tsukuba, the former Tokyo Higher Normal School, was a mansion belonging to MATSUDAIRA Yorinobu who was president of a government bureaucrat training institution, and a descendant of TOKUGAWA Mitsukuni's younger brother. Tokugawa is also known as Mito Komon.

Enjoy some time travel!

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

How to Eat Sushi

Here is a video that will help you learn how to eat sushi properly.

Of course, most of what they say is not true -- on purpose. It's a comedy sketch. If you can tell the difference between what is real and what is not, this video is hilarious.

It reminds me of one of my Japanese friends who used to make up ridiculous things about Japanese culture and try to pass them off as true. He would say them with a perfectly straight face, so I almost always believed what he said -- at least the first few times. After a while, I could catch the twinkle in his eye and know that he was just making things up, but it certainly kept me on my toes!

(Thanks to Bouncing Red Ball for the link.)


Friday, February 02, 2007

Two “one of a kind” Doll Festivals taking place in Ibaraki

March 3rd is the day of Hinamatsuri, or Doll(Girl)’ s Festival, and there are two very unique Hinamatsuris in Kasama City and in Sakuragawa City.

The one in Kasama City is called “
桃宴 or Touen ( Tou means peach and En means feast).” The dolls are all earthenware dolls created by local potters, and they are displayed in the pottery shops, galleries, and other local businesses. You are sure to enjoy the 雛人形 or Hina Dolls you've never seen elsewhere! Touen is from February 1(Thur.) to March 4(Sun.), and 32 businesses are participating this year. Many of these dolls are for sale, and participating local restaurants have special menu during Touen. You can go to the following websites for more information, or you can stop by at the tourist information office by the JR Mito Line Kasama Station. Kasama is only 30 to 60minutes away from Tsukuba by car, depending on the roads you are going to take, or about 1.5 hours by train. If you are going to take the train, get on the JR Joban Line train and switch to JR Mito Line train at the Tomobe Station. Kasama is about 10 minutes from Tomobe, and the cost is 820yen each way from JR Arakawaoki Station. There’s a free bus going around the central Kasama City, and it stops in front of the station.

Websites for Touen (Japanese)


list pf participating businesses (Japanese)

Another unique Hinamatsuri is in Sakuragawa City and is called “Kura no Machi, Makabe no Hinamatsuri,” since it’s been held in the former Makabe Town area of Sakuragawa City. It starts on February 4(Sun) and ends on March 3(Sat). I think the festival period’s been always from Feb.4th to March 3rd every year, regardless of days of the week. I hear some people visit the town early to catch a sneak preview of the dolls :-)

This event was originally started in 2003 to cordially entertain the visitors who come to the town in the cold weather to the see the ( kura), or the traditional warehouses Makabe is known for. This is only the 5th year of Makabe’s Doll’s Festival, but the festival has already become a huge success! People came in large tour buses last year and got very crowded on weekends, so I think it’ll be the same this year. Please note that you won't be able to see many Hina Dolls on display if you go there on Wednesday since many stores will be closed on Wednesdays.

Makabe is only 30 to 40-minute drive from Tsukuba, and there are many free parking lots in town if you don’t mind walking a little bit. There are some pay parking lots for this event, but I had a trouble parking there last year(My advice to you is “leave home early"). You can also take the bus from Tsukuba Center Bus Terminal. Buses to Makabe leaves from loading zone 1, and takes about 45 minutes to get to真壁町民体育館(Makabe Chomin Taiikukan) or真壁駅(Makabe Station). It costs 800yen each way.

Makabe no Hinamatsuri Official Website(Japanese)
Bus schedule from Tsukuba Center to Makabe(Japanese)

There are absolutely no public trash cans, so the visitors to the festival are asked to bring a bag to bring back the trash. Believe me, you will need a bag because you may choose to eat something there or your kid may keep blowing his/her nose!

The pictures from the last year's Hinamatsuri.
Click for a bigger image.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Capture Go as Communication

The title of today's post may not seem to make a lot of sense. I am writing about the game called "Go", and in particular a simpler variant of the game called "Capture Go". Now does it make more sense?

Yasutoshi Yasuda (安田泰敏) is a 9th level master of Go. He has developed a method to teach all people -- children, elderly people, disabled people -- in many countries how to play Go and to learn to improve their communication skills through the game. His students start by learning to play Capture Go, and then, if they are interested, they can continue to learn how to play the full version of Go.

Yasuda-sensei is very famous for his work in this area. He has written some books, two of which are available in English.

Go as Communication (Read a sample of this book.)

Let's Play Go (Read a sample of this book.)

You can find out more information by doing an internet search of his name and the names of his books.

And now, for the good news!

Yasuda-sensei is coming to Ushiku!

On Sunday, February 25 from 1pm to 4pm, there will be a Capture Go Festival in Ushiku at the Social Welfare Center (Onabakecho 859-3, map). Everyone is welcome, and I have been assured that foreign people are especially welcome. The point of the event is to bring people together through the game of Go, in order to improve communication and understanding, so it will make the event even more successful if foreign people show up.

The deadline for signing up for this event is February 10. Call 029-873-2111 to register (in Japanese).

You can get more information about Go at Wikipedia.

Just to be clear, this event is not specifically designed for foreigners, so there will not be any official language support (such as English interpretation). However, the whole point of the event is to promote communication, so I think that if you go, people will try to communicate with you (as long as you make it look like you want to communicate with them).

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Winning Lottery Numbers for New Year's Cards

The winning numbers for the new year's postcards were announced yesterday.

First Prize

(Five big prizes: trips, computers, DVD player, digital camera)

Second Prize

Special gift from the local region (last four digits)

Third Prize

Commemorative stamps (last two digits):

Take your post card to any post office to claim your prize between January 15 (today) and July 17, 2007. If you are claiming first or second prizes, you will have to show some ID.

See the official page to confirm the numbers. Read the Tsukublog post on new year's cards if you are not sure what this post is about.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ten Japanese Habits Worth Emulating

I read a top ten list by a Tsukuba blogger that I thought was really interesting, so I thought I would share it with you.

Ten Japanese Habits Worth Emulating by Filipinos - Part One
Ten Japanese Habits Worth Emulating by Filipinos - Part Two

I found it interesting because I learned some things about life in the Philippines and I was also able to see Japan through the writer's eyes.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Emperor's Birthday

Today is the day we celebrate the current Emperor's birthday. Emperor Akihito was born in 1933, so I guess that makes him 73 years old today. The former Emperor's birthday was on April 29, and this date is still a public holiday, although it has been renamed "Green Day".

In Canada, we celebrate the birth of our Queen on (or before) May 24. This date is actually Queen Victoria's birthday (May 24, 1819), and not the birthday of our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth (born April 21, 1926). May 24 is considered Queen Elizabeth's "official" birthday. I usually call this day "Victoria Day", but it also has other names. In Ontario, we sometimes call it "May Two Four" because "Two Four" is slang for a case of twenty four bottles of beer, which is the usual amount of beer that people buy for a party. After the long, cold winter, Victoria Day weekend gives people a chance to go outside again and relax. In Canada, it is common for people to have cottages or trailers, but they are often not winterized, so the Victoria Day weekend is the first time that people go to their cottages or trailers in the year. There is a lot of cleaning to be done on that weekend, but we try not to let that interfere with the party spirit. In other parts of Canada, this weekend is apparently known as "May Long" or "May Run". (I have never heard these terms before, but I just found them on Wikipedia.)

I always assumed that monarchs were expected to have an official birthday that didn't move around, so I was surprised to find out that December 23 is the current Emperor's actual birthday. I like the fact that everyone gets a holiday on that day, and that the previous Emperor's birthday has also been preserved.

You can read more about the Emperor's birthday and Victoria Day on Wikipedia.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Yuzu Bath

Today's post is kind of late, but I'm down with a cold (flu?) so I wasn't planning on doing one at all. I went to bed at 6pm (!) but then someone just called me, so I woke up. Now I am waiting for the water to boil so I can make myself a nice, hot drink and go back to bed. I hope I can dash off this message in the time that it takes for the water to boil!

Today is the winter solstice, known as touji (冬至) in Japan. Apparently, on this day, you are supposed to take a bath with yuzu (柚子) floating in the water order to stave off colds for this season. (Now you tell me!!) Yuzu is a small, yellow citrus fruit from Japan that is quite sour (there is also a band called ゆず, but I don't think having a bath with them would have the same effect). This practice is called yuzuyu (ゆず湯), literally "yuzu hot water".

It's too late for me, but I hope this information helps you stay healthy this winter solstice!

(The water just finished boiling, so I'm going back to bed now!)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Outdoor Daruma Market

An outdoor daruma market called "Doro Ichi" or "Daruma Ichi" (どろ市 or だるま市) is held in Tsukuba on December 28 every year. The market starts sometime in the evening, perhaps around 7pm. (Sorry, I couldn't find an exact starting time anywhere online.)

Daruma are Buddhist figures that represent the Bodhidharma and they are used to help people achieve their wishes. They are usually red, but also come in other colours. Their eyes are white, and when someone wants to use a daruma to help their wish come true, they paint in one of the eyes black and place the daruma in a high position in their house. When the wish comes true, the other eye is painted in. When a family is finished with a daruma, they must return it to the temple where they bought it to be burned in a ritual bonfire at the temple (usually) once a year. It is not usually acceptable to own more than one daruma at a time.

Tsukuba's Doro Ichi is held near Yatabe Elementary School. They sell all kinds of daruma and other New Year's decorations. It only happens on one day a year. This is a very good place to pick up some unique souvenirs for your friends and family back home. The market usually starts around 3pm and continues on into the night.

The term "Doro Ichi" literally means "mud market" and has two possible linguistic origins. One is that traditionally December was the month when "dorobo" (thieves - literally "mud sticks") were most active. The other theory is that it had to do with the muddy roads of December and that when people went shopping on such roads, they tended to get muddy.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Forty Seven Samurai

December 14 commemorates the same day in 1702 when forty-seven ronin (浪人, masterless samurai) avenged the death of their master by beheading the court official who had forced their master to commit suicide. The ronin were later forced to commit ritual suicide for their involvement in the murder. Not a particularly happy story, but one that is known by all Japanese people, so a good cultural point to read up on. See the article on the forty-seven ronin in Wikipedia.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Kanji Day

December 12 is Kanji Day. The kanji that represents the current year is announced at Kiyomizudera (temple) in Kyoto on this day every year.

Two years ago, the kanji was 災 (wazawai), which means "disaster", because of the huge earthquake in Niigata that happened that year. Last year, the kanji was 愛 (ai), which means "love". I believe the choice of that character had something to do with the Expo held in Aichi and the marriage of the imperial princess, Norinomiya (now known as Sayako Kuroda). This year, the kanji is 命 (inochi), which means "life" because of the birth of the imperial prince's son, Hisahito, and also the lose of life due to bullying.

What kanji (or word) represents this year for you?

Read a short satirical commentary on the practice of choosing a kanji to represent the year. Funny stuff.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

New Year's Cards

In many Western cultures, there is a custom of sending Christmas cards to friends and family. In Japan, there is a custom of sending New Year's cards, usually in the form of an "official" post card from the post office.

The post cards that are sent at New Year's are called nengajo (年賀状) or nengahagaki (年賀はがき). They are often quite colourful and decorated, and usually feature an image of the animal that represents the Chinese zodiac symbol for that year. 2007 is the year of the wild boar, or pig. In Japanese, the wild boar is known as "inoshishi" (猪). People send these cards to friends, family, and business colleagues. Companies sometimes send them to clients.

Around this time of year, the post office starts collecting all post cards that look like "nengajo" and saves them up to be delivered on January 1. I think there is an official opening and closing date for this service (perhaps December 15 to 24), but I will have to confirm that later when I have access to the internet in Japanese. Usually the post cards arrive all at once on that day, and if you receive more than one, they may be bound with an elastic. If you receive such a post card, it is polite to send one in reply immediately if you have not already sent one to that person.

If you look at the bottom of official nengajo (ones that are issued by the post office), you will see a series of numbers. These numbers are your ticket to a lottery that is held in January. The prizes range from commemorative stamps to major household appliances. The lottery will be held on January 14, 2007, so remember to check for the winning numbers at the post office or online.

The winning numbers have been announced in the January 15 TsukuBlog post.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Long Living Tsukubans

In Japan, there is a special celebration for people who turn 88 years old. It is called "beiju" (米寿) and it is made up of the characters for "rice" (米) and "long life" (寿). The word is said to come from the fact that the character for rice can be broken down into three parts that spell out 88: 八十八 (eight, ten, eight).

In Tsukuba 361 people turned 88 this year (121 men and 240 women). Also, 14 people turned 100 (1 man, 13 women). There are 15 people who are over 100 years old living in Tsukuba (2 men, 13 women).

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