Snow Paradise NAGANO

Steady snowfall and an abundance of ski resorts

Nagano Prefecture is located in central Japan and is surrounded by high mountains known as the Japanese Alps. There are many locations in the prefecture that are perfect for ski resorts and so there are about eighty ski resorts here due to its having some of the largest amounts of snowfall in Japan. One of the reasons why it was chosen as the site for the Nagano Olympics in 1998 includes its various ski resorts with their fine snow, stable snowfall, broadness in area, and landscape.

Children playing on sleds at a kids’ park at a ski resort in Nagano Prefecture.

If you go to an actual ski resort, you will find various courses with the perfect level of difficulty for you ranging from gentle wide slopes for families to courses with steep slopes for experts, medium-distance courses that let you ski for a long time, and kids’ parks where children can enjoy riding on sleds. A feature of many ski resorts in Nagano Prefecture is that the courses set up at the wide bases of mountains where there is plenty of space.

And of course, there are plenty of courses for experts as well as skiing classes. There are even many ski resorts with kickers, boxes, and rails for performing air tricks on skis and snowboards. Statuses on deposited snow and snowfall as well as warnings may easily change so please be sure to check weather conditions ahead of time, check for information on the websites of where you are visiting, and constantly be up to day with the latest news even after you arrive.

With great snow and courses! The representative snowy resorts of Japan.

The snowy resorts of Shiga Kogen area and Hakuba area are becoming very popular in Nagano Prefecture. Each have over ten unique ski areas, let you go to the ski resort of your choosing from the town you stay in, and offer common tickets.

Shiga Kogen Ski Resort (with 19 large and small ski areas)

Ski resort map
Kasagatake and the Northern Alps as seen from the top of Mount Yokote (2,305 meters / 7,562 feet above sea level) at the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Kasagatake and the mountain range straight ahead as seen from the top of Mount Yokote (2,305 meters / 7,562 feet above sea level)

Featuring Japan’s largest ski area spreading 425 acres out with 19 large and small ski resorts and 52 chair-lifts. You can enjoy all of the ski resorts throughout the mountains with one common lift ticket that also lets you board shuttle busses that take you to ski resorts and hotels for free.

The central zone has easy access to locations such as the family-oriented Ichinose area, the unique Shiga Kogen Giant Ski Resort where the giant slalom was performed during the Ski World Cup, and the Nishitateyama Ski Resort. The Okushiga area is for those who would like to spend a time of rest and relaxation. It is known for its quiet and luxurious environment and great snow due to its low temperatures. The Mount Yakebitai zone and Mount Yokote zone offer pleasant views. The view from the top of Mount Yokote 2,305 meters (about 7,562 feet) above sea level is particularly wide and exhilarating.

Hakuba Valley

Powder riding on fresh snow can be enjoyed at the upper parts of Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort.
Powder riding on fresh snow can be enjoyed at the upper parts of Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort.

Hakuba Valley has 11 ski resorts at the base of 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) above sea level – class mountains. A common ticket can be purchased to board all lifts and gondolas. They can let you enjoy skiing and snowboarding at a ski resort with the perfect level of difficulty for you.

Places such as Hakuba Sanosaka Ski Resort and Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort are good for beginners and families with small children as they have gentle slopes. In contrast, places like Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort and Hakuba Cortina Ski Resort offer skiing on fresh snow while taking in beautiful scenery. You can also enjoy the feeling of the fresh snow depending on its condition. The extremely popular HAKUBA47 Winter Sports Park has features such as a full-scale halfpipe and kicker where you can practice doing snowboard tricks.

Enjoying skiing and snowboarding in beautiful scenery.

There are activities that you can enjoy precisely because you have on skis or a snowboard. One of them is taking in beautiful scenery from a snowy mountain.

Ryuoo Ski Park

A beautiful view from the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level
A beautiful view from the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level

Towards the top of the Ryuoo Ropeway at 1,770 meters (5,807 feet) above sea level is the “SORA terrace”, which lets commands a beautiful view from up in the sky and is known as a scenic spot that can be enjoyed all throughout the year. You can even go higher up to 1,930 meters (6,332 feet) above sea level on a chair-lift in the winter. You can feel as if you are sliding into a sea of clouds from the peak of Mount Ryuoo because the sky is often clear even on days with bad weather since you are above the clouds. A huge panoramic view that spreads about 20 kilometers (12 miles) out awaits you on clear days. A long course that runs up to 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) due to differences in elevation is also appealing.

Sugadaira Ski Resort

A beautiful view on a Tour of Mount Neko by SNOW CAT
A beautiful view on a Tour of Mount Neko by SNOW CAT

A snowy resort consisting of 12 ski resorts on mainly three mountains. The scenery that reminds previous visitors of the Swiss resort town of Davos located at the base of mountains is appealing.

There is also a special experience you can enjoy where you a take tour up to near the peak of Mount Neko by a snowmobile known as the ” Tour of Mount by SNOW CAT”. The scenery from an altitude of 2,207 meters (724 feet) is magnificent. The surrounding area is dotted with trees with soft rime, and this beautiful scenery can be seen all the way to the mountain range of the Northern Alps with their cluster of summits that runs through Nagano Prefecture. And of course, you can ski or snowboard on your way back down and enjoy the powdery snow to your heart’s content!

A snowy resort with plenty of attractions besides ski resorts

In addition to fully enjoying skiing and snowboarding, there are plenty of other things to experience! Here is a snowy resort for those who would like to do so.

Karuizawa Prince Snow Resorts

A grand winter paradise with outlets, a hotel, and a ski resort
A grand winter paradise with outlets, a hotel, and a ski resort

Just 1 hour by Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. Karuizawa Prince Snow Resorts, which is located right by JR Karuizawa Station, is a snowy resort where you can enjoy everything from a hotel to hot springs, shopping, and a post station along a former highway. It is also open every year from early November even if there is no snowfall because there are 195 snow-falling machines that spray compressed air and water into the air so as to freeze them and 8 snow-making machines that scrape ice into fine particles. It is known not only in Nagano Prefecture but also throughout the island of Honshu as a ski resort that opens early in the winter.

The hotel offers hot spring baths with high-quality water so you can slowly relax after your trip or long day of playing in the snow. Spreading out in front of the hotel is an outlet mall that is easily accessible. Visitors can freely enjoy their shopping without having to worry about their baggage.

Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort

The Ogama hot spring - a natural monument at Nozawa Onsen
The Ogama hot spring – a natural monument at Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort is recommended for those who want to experience Japanese culture more when they are not skiing or snowboarding. It has long been famous for its hot springs and the hot springs town has developed over a period of hundreds of years. One of the attractions is the 13 public bathhouses known as “sotoyu”, which are managed by the local residents outside the hotel. They can all be enjoyed at low fees and visiting various sotoyu bathhouses is a popular activity as they offer different kinds of water at different temperatures.

It has become a hot springs town where tradition and modern times have come together as young people have been opening up bars and izakayas so people of all ages can enjoy their time here in their own ways.

Nagano Prefecture has many snowy resorts with fine snow and various kinds of courses. Please be sure to enjoy skiing or showboarding in Nagano Prefecture if you plan on visiting Japan in winter.

Let’s warm up your body and soul at a “Kotatsu”, a Japanese traditional heater!

“Kotatsu” is a table with a heater installed underneath and covered with a futon blanket, which warms up your feet when you put them in it. You should try this at places like Japanese inns called Ryokan and Minshuku and Izakaya restaurants.

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What is a “Kotatsu” like?

Kotatsu is a source of heat attached to a low table covered with a futon blanket. It is a heater with a long history which started in the 14th century. Japan has a custom from old times of sitting directly on the floor without a chair. When you use a Kotatsu, you sit directly on the floor and put your feet in the futon blanket. The most popular type when Kotatsu was first introduced was “Hori-Gotatsu” where you sat down and put your feet down into the floor that was hollowed out. The source of heat was a charcoal fire placed on the bottom of the floor. But around the 18th century, “Oki-Gotatsu”, a type that you put on the floor, was introduced. You put a Yagura (a small opening with a frame around it) on the floor and it warms you up from the top. It was in the 1960s when the current popular “Electric Kotatsu” was first introduced.

Hori-Gotatsu where you put your feet in the hole under the table

“Hori-Gotatsu” where you put your feet in the hole under the table

Enjoy the company of your family and friends around a Kotatsu!

Kotatsu creates a family circle because people naturally gather around it as it warms up your body by simply putting your feet in it in a cold winter. The scene with mandarin oranges piled up on top of a Kotatsu is very common in Japan. Satsuma mandarin which grows well in Japan is perfect to eat at a Kotatsu as you can peel it off easily by hand. You can also use a Kotatsu as a table to enjoy a pot dish or drinking with a meal. You’ll find it very hard to get out of a Kotatsu once you get in because it is very comfortable.

Kamakura Guesthouse (a shared space that has a fireside and a Kotatsu)

Kamakura Guesthouse (a shared space that has a fireside and a Kotatsu)

You should try Kotatsu, too!

There are different places to experience a Kotatsu. For example, “Kamakura Guesthouse (photo above)” has a Kotatsu and a fireside (called Irori. A fireplace where you light fire to use as a heater or a stove to cook). It is so comfortable that some people say they want to take it home. Izakaya restaurant “Bane BAGUS Akasaka-Mitsuke” in Minato ward, Tokyo, places tatami mats with 7 Oki-Gotatsu tables in the terrace (reservation available) around mid-October. This is a perfect place to enjoy a relaxing time with your good friends.

Kotatsu seats in the terrace at Bane BAGUS Akasaka-Mitsuke

Kotatsu seats in the terrace at Bane BAGUS Akasaka-Mitsuke

At “Tenro-in Bookstore”, a book café in Ikebukuro area in Toshima ward, Tokyo, you can enjoy reading books while drinking coffee at a Kotatsu. It is not turned on during seasons other than winter, but it is available to use even during the off season which allows you to enjoy the Kotatsu atmosphere all year round. Ikebukuro is a downtown area with a terminal station and you can also find an old shrine nearby. This is a perfect place to take a break during shopping or strolling around.

Kotatsu seats in the book cafe Tenro-in Bookstore

A book cafe “Tenro-in Bookstore”

Many Japanese inns prepare Kotatsu in their guest rooms in winter, so when making a reservation it would be a good idea to check and to choose a room with a Kotatsu if possible. It is guaranteed that once you put your feet in it, you won’t be able to get out of it! Kotatsu is another of Japan’s hidden highlights waiting for travelers to find.

Kamakura Guesthouse (Kanagawa Prefecture)

Directions: 15 min by bus from Kamakura Station or Fujisawa Station or Ofuna Station, get off at “Kajiwara-guchi”, 1 min walk Get off at “Shonan Fujisawa” Station of Shonan Monorail, 9 min walk

Bane BAGUS Akasaka-Mitsuke (Tokyo)

Address: Tsukisekai Building 4F, 3-10-4 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Directions: 1 min walk from “Akasaka-Mitsuke Station” of Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Marunouchi Line

Tenro-in Bookstore “Tokyo Tenro-in” (Tokyo)

Address: 2F, 3-24-16 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Directions: 10 min walk from “Ikebukuro Station” of Yamanote Line, Saikyo Line, Shonan-Shinjuku Line, Tobu Railway, Tojo Main Line, Seibu Railway, Ikebukuro Line, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, Yurakucho Line and Fukutoshin Line

For a Winter Delicacy, Look No Further Than the Zuwai-gani Snow Crab!

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Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

Various Types of Crabs Served in Japan

In Japan, crabs are nationally loved as a fine culinary ingredient. Since Japan is surrounded by seas on all sides, the nation enjoys an abundance of crab varieties, including the Zuwai-gani snow crab, the Taraba-gani king crab, and the Ke-gani horsehair crab.

Zuwai-gani Snow Crab: The Quintessential Japanese Crab

“Zuwai-gani” Snow Crab: The Quintessential Japanese Crab

Among them, a particularly popular variety is the Zuwai-gani snow crab. Characterized by a form that is slimmer than the other crabs, the Zuwai-gani snow crab is loaded with concentrated “umami” (savory taste) that crab-lovers crave, and appeals to the palate with a distinctly sweet flavor note. The Zuwai-gani snow crab dwells primarily on the west coast of Japan, in the Sea of Japan (as far north as Hokkaido, and as far south as Tottori Prefecture), where fishing season for the snow crab opens around November, and harvesting continues until around March of the following year. In some regions of Japan, the Zuwai-gani snow crab is referred to by a name that signifies the local place of origin, such as “Matsuba-gani” and “Echizen-gani”, and some of these local varieties are recognized as luxury seafood brands.

No-Sweat Tips That Make Eating Crab Easy

Use Kitchen Shears to Make Eating Crab Easy

Have a pair of kitchen shears ready. Starting from the main body of the crab, sever the legs. Then, cut the legs into sections at the joints, insert the shears into the shell, and peel off the meat. Although removing the meat from the crab can be cumbersome, there are very convenient tools for this in Japan.

Spoon & Fork Crab Utensil (left), Crab Cracker (center), Peeler (right)

Spoon & Fork Crab Utensil (left), Crab Cracker(center), Peeler (right)

One way to further simplify cutting crabs, is to scoop out the meat from the legs with a spoon & fork crab utensil, a tool specifically designed for this purpose. A peeler and a crab cracker for cracking the shell, are also convenient to have handy.

Crab Cuisine Dining Spots

Yude Zuwai-gani (boiled Zuwai-gani snow crab)

Yude Zuwai-gani (boiled Zuwai-gani snow crab)
Kani-shabu (crab shabu shabu)

Kani-shabu (crab shabu shabu)

All over Japan, there are a vast number of sushi restaurants and Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) dining establishments that serve crab cuisine, including those near fish markets and fishing grounds. One such example is the “Kani Doraku” franchise, whose restaurants offer a wide selection of crab dishes served in an interior that provides traditional Japanese ambience. “Kani Doraku”‘s restaurants can be easily spotted by their signboards featuring a giant crab. There are many other establishments that serve crab cuisine, too many to list here. All we can say is, if visiting Japan during the winter, it is highly recommended to try a Zuwai-gani snow crab dish at least once.

Japanese Elementary School Perks

One of the cool things about teaching at a Japanese elementary school is that sometimes, after work, they prepare food. Granted, it’s not usually a four course meal or anything, but it is quite tasty. On one of the colder days last week (winter is rearing his frigid head) one of the teachers prepared a suiton soup. If you’re not familiar with suiton, the best way I can explain it is that it’s kind of like a dumpling made of flour. On a cold day like this one, a bowl of this hot soup, chock-full of vegetables, juicy meat, and suiton, really hit the spot.

One day this week, one of the staff members diced up some sweet potatoes, cooked them with milk salt and sugar. I wanted to eat ALL of them! I didn’t, but BOY were they good.

So one additional perk about being at a Japanese elementary school is that it’s a great way to learn about Japanese food culture. As I am a foreigner, the teachers always try their best to explain to me the foods that I’m eating. This helps me to build some cool relationships with the teachers and staff around me.

The Joys of Japanese Noodles

Mom always taught me not to slurp my noodles, but the cool thing about being in Japan is that the slurping rule goes completely out the window. If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant that serves any kind of noodles, or if you’ve been to a Japanese friend’s house for a meal, you probably know exactly what I mean.

My problem is that I’m so used to NOT slurping that I haven’t quite mastered the fine art of slurping without splashing noodle juice on myself and everyone around me. As a result, I enjoy that noodle goodness in silence.

Why do Japanese people slurp their noodles? I haven’t figured out the exact reason, but I have three theories. The first is maybe it’s like taste-testing. I remember watching this story about this professional coffee tester and she demonstrated how she tests coffee. She made the loudest slurp I had ever heard. She said she did it because it was the best way to quickly spread flavor and texture to the taste buds. I’m not sure Japanese noodle slurping is that “deep,” but it’s just a theory. My other two theories are a much simpler. Theory Number Two: Those noodles are hot, dude! Theory Number three: Those noodles taste good as hell!

Japan makes some of the greatest dishes on the planet. Let’s take a closer, mouth-watering look at a four of the most popular types of Japanese noodles: soba soumen, ramen and udon.

Soba (蕎麦-そば)

This is probably one of the healthiest of Japanese noodles. Soba is a buckwheat noodle that can be eaten either hot or cold.

The Japan Guy’s Soba Recommendations
Tanuki Soba (タヌキそば)
Raccoon dog soba? Don’ worry, these noodles don’t have pieces of tanuki animal in it. This soba has pieces of fried tempura batter. I usually eat this dish cold and boy is it good!

Tanuki Soba

See the fried bits of tempura batter? Yep, that’s tanuki soba!

Yaki Soba (焼きそば – やきそば)
I can’t say whether or not yakisoba is the healthiest food in the world, but damn all that!  I’ll fight somebody over some yakisoba.  It’s that’s good!  Yaki soba literally means fried soba.  This dish a bit oilier than some of the others on this list and contains cabbage, pickled ginger, and lightly sweet, yakisoba sauce.

Soumen (素麺そ-うめん)

Soumen is the fine, white Japanese noodle, maybe one of the thinnest noodles you will ever see in Japan. I remember trying them for the first time and thinking “Wow, if I wrap three of these together, I could probably floss with them.”

Being as thin as they are makes many of the soumen dishes very light and easy to eat. Don’t let their thin appearance fool you, though. These little guys, when prepared correctly can pack a delicious wallop of Japanese taste.

Though Soumen is primarily eaten cold, there is a dish called nyumen (煮麺 – にゅうめん)which uses soumen noodles in a hot, soy sauce-based broth(I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet, though).

The Japan Guy’s Soumen Recommendation
I don’t have the specific name of a soumen dish for you to try, but I usually eat my soumen cold, topped with spicy ground chicken, red peppers and green onions.

Ramen (らめん)

These Japanese noodles are my personal favorite! Though ramen is originally a Chinese dish, Japan has put it’s own tasty signature on this dish. There are countless types of ramen dishes. Some are your typical types of soup, while others are local specialties or even original restaurant concoctions.

These are the four major types of ramen:

  1. Miso (味噌 – みそ) or soy-bean paste-based broth
  2. Shouyu (醤油 – しょうゆ) or soy-sauce based broth
  3. Tonkotsu (豚骨 – とんこつ) or pork bones/pork belly based broth
  4. Shio (塩 – しお) or salt-based broth

I have tried every one of these types (except for salt) and every one of this is tasty. The cool thing about ramen is that no two shops will make it the same way and they can both be equally tasty.
Popular ramen ingredient additions: pork, bean sprouts, seaweed, kamaboko (steamed, fish-paste cake), and green onions.

Though these four standard types of ramen are wonderful, but there are other ramen dishes that are EASILY just as good.

The Japan Guy’s Ramen Recommendations
Tsukimi Ramen (月見らめん – つきみらめん)
Moon ramen. The way you know if you’re eating tsukimi ramen is if you see a raw egg (the moon) sitting in the middle of it. I know some of you may not be fans of going all Stallone-style, eating raw eggs. But if you stir the raw egg into your soup, not only will you not notice, you’ll might actually like it.

Yummy Tsukimi Ramen

See the yellow ‘moon’ right in middle?

Gomoku Ramen (五目らめん – ごむくらめん)
This is one of those dishes you can’t go wrong with. Gomoku loosely translates to mean a five ingredient mixture. I’m not sure of all five ingredients, or even if it always has to be five, but the gomoku I’ve tried generally has several types of vegetables, chicken, and mushrooms.

Tasty Gomoku Soba

Gomoku the noodles that mix it up. This is actually a picture of the soba version (I eat quite a bit of soba), but the same restaurant has gomoku ramen, too! TASTY!

*Did you also know that there are gomoku onigiri (rice balls) and gomoku sushi?
Now that the weather is starting to cool down quite a bit here in Japan, a hearty bowl of ramen is a perfect fall/winter food.

Udon (うどん)

The thick, Japanese wheat noodle. These are without a doubt the thickest noodles I have ever eaten, but they are so good! Udon noodles can also be eaten hot or cold depending on the dish.

The Japan Guy’s Udon Recommendations
Kitsune Udon (キツネうどん)
Fox Udon?! Again, this might be what you’re thinking. You’re not eating fox meat. This dish is made up of udon and aburaage (油揚げ – あぶらあげ – deep-fried tofu).

Curry Udon (カレーうどん)
Do you like curry? Do you like udon noodles? Well, if you do you’re a lot like me and this dish will be like a bowl of spicy, piping-hot heaven for you (wait, does it get hot in heaven?).  Ingredients: Curry, udon noodles, pork (or beef), diced onions.

Bowl of Curry Udon

The Japanese Breakfast vs. The American Breakfast

Please close your eyes for a second and think about your idea of the perfect, most delectable breakfast you could have. Think about every nuance. Are you eating it at a restaurant that really makes your tummy smile every time you go? Perhaps it’s at your Mom’s house or another family member. What breakfast foods are running through your mind? Please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section.

The American Style Breakfast

When I think about the perfect breakfast, it’s gotta be one thing for me…pancakes. I think about a piping hot, short-shortstack of fluffy, buttermilk pancakes with whipped butter on top and just the perfect complement of maple syrupy goodness streamed on top. Throw in a serving of scrambled eggs and a class of chilled orange juice, and there we have it…breakfast heaven! You could just as easily replace the pancakes with a hearty plate of waffles, or french toast, and I’d still be a happy dude. There is just something about those syrup-based breakfast dishes that reminds of home. It reminds me of waking up at 6:00 am on an early fall Saturday mornings, where my brother Derrick and I would sit and watch the morning cartoon lineup together. Mom (or one my sisters) would wake up a bit later and sometimes ask the magic question. “Boys! Y’all want some pancakes?” Umm…YEAH!! They’d cook up a batch of slamming pancakes (sometimes with eggs if we were lucky) with turkey sausage. AHHHHHhhh…I think I feel a bout of homesickness coming on.

In my head, pancakes, eggs, sausage, and orange juice are the quintessential elements of a perfect, American-style breakfast. But if you ask somebody else, like maybe my Dad, you may get a different answer.
*I’m pretty sure Dad would say grits (like a cornmeal porridge) are a part of an ideal breakfast.

Now if we’re not talking ideal, but just your run of the meal weekday…it was always a heaping bowl of cereal with lowfat milk (Mom always bought 2% milk, and now I’m hooked on the stuff! Thanks Mommy!!). Cereals…I used to eat so many different kinds. As a kid I was more partial to the sugary cereals: The Original Cap’N Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks, Count Chocula (General Mills), Boo Berry (General Mills), Cocoa Puffs, Golden Grahams…pant…pant…Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, Crunch Berries (a type of Cap’N Crunch), Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Berry Kix, Cookie Crisp…I could keep going, but I’ll stop there. During the teenage years, I started to enjoy cereals like Clusters, Wheat Chex, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Bran Flakes, and even started to get more into oatmeal. I won’t lie to you, though, I’m still a huge fan of the kids cereals, it’s one of my unabashed pleasures.

Though I know it’s not big for everybody, in the Ash family, breakfast was always a big deal.

The Japanese-Style Breakfast?

Even in America breakfast can vary from place to place and region. Breakfast menus can sometimes be a product of where you come from. Nowhere have I gotten to experience this more than in Japan.

When I came to Japan, it was so cool to hear some of the other things that people had for breakfast. Everybody had such different breakfast menu ideas. I don’t remember exactly what was common in England or Australia, but it was different from the American style. The Japanese-style breakfast, though, was nothing at all like the American style I was used to.

What exactly does a Japanese breakfast consist of? Well, much like back home, it depends on who you ask, but the standard breakfast that I’ve heard Japanese friends and co-workers mention consists of the following: miso soup (味噌汁), natto(納豆), steamed rice (ご飯 or gohan), and grilled fish (焼き魚 or yakizakana). I remember, when I first got here, thinking “Huh? Fish for breakfast??” It’s quite different from my Georgia-ideal breakfast, but it has really grown on me. Once you’ve gotten used to it, this can be quite a hearty, tasty breakfast, too.

I have heard other people mention eating fruit for breakfast here in Japan and, in rare cases, even cereal or pancakes**.
** Why the freak is maple syrup so expensive in Japan…and soooo thin. I’m not saying I want my syrup to be cane syrup thick, but if it’s going to be that expensive, I want it to really get the job done

Having tried both styles, I have to say that both have their benefits. I think the Japanese style breakfast is FAR healthier and far lighter than the American-style that I like. After eating this type of meal, I feel like I had my fill, but I don’t fell heavy…if that makes sense. After my ideal American-style breakfast, I feel like unbuckling my belt and unleashing my mighty stomach. On the other hand, when you talk about straight up deliciousness, I have to say the American style all day.

The 8 Standards Of Japanese Beauty

Ayase-Haruka-Smiling

One of the great things about being in Japan for as long as I have is that I’ve gotten to have some pretty fascinating discussions about Japan and why certain aspects of the culture are the way they are. A subject that’s been discussed and rehashed, time and time again, is the discussion on what makes a woman beautiful. Before you call me a chauvinist and put my head on a spike, please hear me out. I’ve had these conversations with more Japanese women than I have with Japanese men because it’s intriguing to hear how the conversation on good looks varies from person to person, and how the conversation varies from country to country. Beauty is a topic that pervades every culture and society.

Whenever I overhear, eavesdrop on, Japanese conversations bout aesthetics, my curiosity always gets the better of me. While minor things differ from conversation to conversation, some features, whether it was a man or a woman talking, are mentioned over and over again.

So here’s a list of the most common ones I hear, here list of the 8 Standards of Japanese Beauty:

1. LIGHT/WHITE SKIN

Ayase Haruka Smiling

Ayase Haruka is seen as one of the most beautiful actresses/models in Japan. She is known for having beautiful skin. I think I just drooled a bit…

While smooth, clear skin is considered a fairly universal standard of beauty, in Japan it seems the lighter the skin tone the more beautiful it is.

Where this popularity of lighter skin stems from in Japan is a mystery to me. Could it be historically linked to Japanese geisha? The 19th century, female entertainers who donned kimonos, white makeup and red lipstick accents; the former pinnacle of Japanese beauty and elegance.

Or maybe, in a bygone Japanese era, your skin symbolized they type of family you came from. Darker skin meant you were part of the lower, working class while lighter skin was characteristic of nobility? I am truly guessing here, but anyway…

Regardless of its origin, skin is a HUGE issue for women all over Japan* Pure, white, unblemished skin is extremely coveted here. Donald looks down at the skin on his typing hands… um well, maybe it’s different for guys…
*Not sure how much this standard affects the southernmost areas of Japan i.e.-Okinawa/Kyushu)

If you’ve been here in Japan during the summer, tell me if you can relate to this: You’re walking to the supermarket, it’s 10,000+ degrees outside, and you’re dripping sweat even in your your shorts and tank top. While you’re walking, a Granny Bike Ninja whizzes past you. A Granny Bike Ninja is a slightly older woman (late 40’s/ early 50’s perhaps) who has every piece of exposed skin covered during the summer. She’s wearing gloves that stop at the elbow, pants, sometimes a kerchief/scarf and a giant, black visor…

The reason you see woman so covered up on these hot summer days is primarily for skin protection. You know how tanning in America is considered cool? I don’t think it’s the goal for most women in Japan.

2. THE HIGH-BRIDGED NOSE

I remember having to get a CAT scan once at the Tsukuba University Hospital and as I was about the go in, one of the younger female nurses/trainees got super close to my face and told me “Sugoi! Hana ga takai.” She was admiring the bridge of my nose. I found this pretty interesting because in the U.S. I’ve gotten the occasional “big nose” comment, which I never really minded so much.

What makes a high bridge nose more desirable in Japan? If we just look at Western vs. Eastern cosmetic surgery patterns, we can get a bit of a hint. It’s always fascinating to find out what kind of cosmetic surgery people have done to make themselves more “beautiful.”

It seems that no matter where you go, people want a more “exotic” look. Some people take the word exotic to mean rare, but let’s change the word to “foreign” or “different” in this case. In the U.S. What to people usually have done to their noses? They get a skilled plastic surgeon to hack a their noses to make them smaller while fitting the natural contour of their faces.

In Japan, in Asia, it’s the opposite, and stronger, higher, slightly bigger nose bridge makes you unique, it makes you exotic. I’ve talked to women in Japan who have literally told me that they hate their noses because they’re too small! I guess every society has some type of physical appearance complex to deal with.

3. SMALL/SLIM FACE

After one particular Golden Week holiday (one of the important holidays in Japan), I remember asking a Japanese friend how his vacation was. He had taken a trip to Hokkaido and began to tell me about how good the food was and how beautiful the women were. Curious, I asked him why the women in Hokkaido were so beautiful? “They have beautiful, white skin and slim faces,” he replied. Though it wasn’t an incredibly in-depth discussion about what makes a women pretty here in Japan, I never forgot what said.

The slim/small face comment is one that I’ve heard countless times. So much so, that I would say it ranks as one of the top three beauty comments that I’ve heard.

I remember having a coworker once who I thought was gorgeous, but she was often down on herself because she was slightly heavier than the average Japanese women and had a round face. When anyone would tell her how pretty she was, she would kind of brush it off as something she couldn’t really believe.

4. THIN/PETITE

Do you know the expression “ぼんきゅぼん (Bon Kyu Bon)?” Well in Japanese it’s kind of like onomatopoeia but not exactly. This expression is used when talking about a woman’s body shape. The first “bon” symbolizes a large bust, “kyu” means having a small waist, and “bon” means having a large curve at hips. Bon kyu bon is the Japanese equivalent of an hourglass figure.

In Japan, I think the thin, slim, or petite woman is considered more beautiful the one with amazing curves. Of course there are exceptions and personal preferences, but I think in general this is the case.

This is probably the only standard on this list that’s a bit of a toss-up. I had this conversation with Japanese men and women and it seems that no two people will have the same answer. I recently asked a Japanese friend (woman) “Which is more popular? The hourglass figure? Or the slim/petite one? She said the hourglass figure.

When asking a male Japanese friend the same question, he insisted on the slim/petite physique. It’s kind of hard to tell which is generally more popular.

5. CURLY EYELASHES

Eyelash curler, metal

Every time I see one of these I cringe. I can’t be the only one who thinks it looks like a torture device.How do we know curly eyelashes are a standard of beauty in Japan? Here’s how. One of these days when you’re on the train you may come across a young lady who decides to have a full-blown makeup session on the train ride to work. When she finishes putting on powder, she may pull out a contraption that looks a lot like a torture device. This “device” was made to curl eyelashes into submission.Another thing that I’ve seen (not really a fan, though) is the women wearing the OBVIOUSLY fake eyelashes. Generally it’s younger women who wear them, or who sit on the train and glue them on, but if they look fake, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Again some aesthetic features are universal and eyelashes ( are one of them. It’s why women here, women in the U.S., Europe and countless other countries use mascara to make thicker, fuller, curlier lashes.

6. THE DOUBLE EYELID

Since we’re in the eye area, we have to mention pink elephant in the room, probably one of the biggest ones on this entire list, the double eyelid! In Japanese they say “Futae (二重 – ふたえ) or Futae Mabuta (二重まぶた – ふたえまぶた)” and it’s another one of the big ones on this list. “

Why is the double eyelid a biggie? Well I’ve asked about this one, and the best answer I’ve heard was that having a double eyelid make the eye look bigger. I assume bigger eyes are more beautiful here in Japan.

Japanese women go to great lengths to get double eyelids. Many years ago a student of mine told me that she used to poke her eyelids with a spoon! A frickin’ kitchen spoon! There is also tape and double eyelid glue they sell in Japanese stores. And of course the double eyelid surgery is probably one of the more common procedures that Japanese women (Asian women) will have done.

The eyelid thing is one I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. Personally, I’ve never looked at a woman and been like “Eww! Dude, she’s not cute at all because only has a single eyelid! There’s no way I’m dating her.” Just sounds kind of crazy to me.

7. LONG LEGS

Have you have snuck a peek a Japanese woman standing on train with a pair of amazing legs (it’s okay you can admit it, I won’t tell anybody. Women you can admit it, too). Well I think this is one Japanese women’s best assets. There are Japanese women with great legs!

The way I know great legs are important is because of how many women show them off regardless of the season. I’ve been sitting down, shivering, on the train in the winter and I’ve seen mini skirts short enough to almost show a bit of stockinged butt cheek. Sorry, but you’re not gonna hear me complain about that…not even a little bit :)

8. A POLITE PERSONALITY

They say beauty is only skin deep, but I disagree. A woman with a gorgeous exterior and a rotten core, or an abrasive personality kind of takes her down a few pegs on the ole attractiveness meter.

In Japanese culture, from the outside looking in, it seems as though personality and mannerism play a big role in how “beautiful” you are. An extremely poised/polite/elegant woman (think kimonos, hair pinned up, seiza (sitting on your heels), hands in the lap) is considered to be be more beautiful than say a wild and crazy, or brash one (think party girl, loud, drunk, or even rude).

While these are some of the typical characteristics I’ve heard here in Japan, beauty is relative. What’s attractive to me might not be attractive to you. What’s attractive to you may not be attractive to someone else. How “beautiful” someone is will be a debate that rages on until the end of time.

THE GREEN CAR: JAPAN’S LUXURY RAIL EXPERIENCE

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The Green Car on a Shinkansen is a top-notch travel experience.

The Green Car on a Shinkansen is a top-notch travel experience.

 

The Japan Rail Pass is reasonably priced and can be purchased for either one, two or three week durations. For the price of a round-trip journey by train from Tokyo to Kagoshima, you could buy a three week rail pass valid nationwide (excludes Okinawa). Given that the pass is so reasonable, you might very well consider indulging yourself by getting a “Green Car” ticket. The “Green Car” is Japan’s equivalent of first class, and it provides a truly luxurious touch to your voyages on Japan’s rails. You can purchase it as a supplement to the Japan Rail Pass which allows you to use the Green Car in any train you travel on. If you are just making a single journey, you can buy a single Green Car supplement to your normal ticket as well, giving you full flexibility over how to use it.

Enjoy panoramic views and ample room inside the JR Kyushu Sonic.

Enjoy panoramic views and ample room inside the JR Kyushu Sonic.

 

The benefits of the Green Car are numerous. Firstly, it gives you more legroom than you would find in the business class section of any domestic airline, and a plush seat that has a built in foot rest and reclines up to forty degrees. This will allow you to watch as Japan’s vistas float by your window, or perhaps to catch up on sleep after a busy day of sightseeing. In addition, on scenic routes such as the Sonic, which takes you along the north-eastern coast of Kyushu, the Green Car gives you access to the panoramic viewing windows at the end of the train. Finally, at busy periods such as New Years and the Golden Week holidays in May, Japanese trains often become uncomfortably crowded, especially if you are trying to travel with luggage. The Green Car is an oasis of calm even on the busiest days, allowing you to separate yourselves from the hustle and truly relax and enjoy your vacation. Such is the experience that when the time comes to disembark from the train and do some sightseeing, you may well find yourself reluctant to leave the comfort and class of the Green Car behind. But there is always another journey to be made, and the Green Car will always be available to give your trip an unforgettable note of luxury.

STAYING COOL IN JAPAN: 5 FAVORITE WAYS TO BEAT THE HEAT

1. DRINK MUGICHA BARLEY TEA

Mugicha, also known as Japanese roasted barley tea, is a traditional summer drink in Japan. It is a commonly held view among Japanese housewives that barley tea has cooling properties. This, along with the fact barley tea is full of Vitamin B, fiber, and iron, makes mugicha a beloved symbol of summer in Japan. During the hot summer months, many restaurants will serve barley tea instead of water and it is also readily available in vending machines, convenience stores, and grocery shops.

Mugicha provides cool summertime refreshment.

Mugicha provides cool summertime refreshment.

 

2. USE AN ICE PILLOW AT NIGHT

The concept is simple and surprisingly effective. Keeping your head cool while you sleep has long been associated with an increase in melatonin and most grocery stores in Japan sell several varieties of ice pillows during the summer. These adorable ice pillows come in all shapes and sizes, with animal shaped packs available in smaller sizes for children.

In a pinch, you can also buy an ice pack. They tend to be cheaper than the brand-name ice pillows but also tend to be slightly harder and not as comfortable to sleep on. Nevertheless, either method will work well and keep your body cool.

3. EAT KAKIGORI SHAVED ICE

Kakigori, also known as Japanese shaved ice, comes in two varieties. Festival style kakigori is simple shaved ice with artificial flavors such as lemon, green tea, melon, “Blue Hawaii,” or strawberry poured on top. Most street vendors will use either an electric or hand operated machine that rotates a block of ice over a stationary blade and shaves the ice flurries into the container below.

Green tea flavored kakigori is both sophisticated and cooling.

Green tea flavored kakigori is both sophisticated and cooling.

 

Another variety of kakigori typically served in restaurants is the green tea flavored kakigori,or uji kintoki, which is topped with sweetened red bean paste, ice cream, condensed milk, or tapioca pearls. These kakigori flakes are much thinner than their festival-style counterparts; they turn a street festival food into a sophisticated, traditional Japanese dessert.

4. GO OUT DURING THE HOTTEST PART OF THE DAY

This seems counter-intuitive, but it is by far the best way to beat the heat in Japan. Going shopping, meeting friends for karaoke, or visiting an artsy museum during the hottest part of the day (from about 12 noon to 3pm) splits up the day and gives your body a break from sweating. Even just an hour disruption from the heat and humidity of Japan can be a lifesaver. If you would rather spend the summer outdoors, beer gardens, parks, and botanical gardens typically have ample amounts of shade that allow you to enjoy the atmosphere without the risk of heat stroke.

Temple grounds, parks and gardens often provide ample shade. (Pictured: Jindai-ji Temple, Chofu, Tokyo).

Temple grounds, parks and gardens often provide ample shade. (Pictured: Jindai-ji Temple, Chofu, Tokyo).

5. CARRY AROUND A SUN PARASOL

The Japanese population may be one the biggest spenders per capita on skin care products, much of which are marketed towards reversing the damage of UV radiation. Along with these expensive skin care products, many women in Japan also carry sun umbrellas or parasols. These parasols are lightweight, come in all sorts of chic patterns, and provide an enjoyable amount of shade. Other options include carrying around a small handkerchief to keep sweat off your brow or foldable fan to provide a gentle breeze.

Parasols have long been a favorite way to beat the summer heat in Japan.

Parasols have long been a favorite way to beat the summer heat in Japan.

HOT SPOTS IN KYUSHU

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kyusyu_map.jpgFollowing the extension of the Tohoku Line, Japan Railways will open its new Bullet Train Route in the Kyushu area (the Southwest part of Japanese Archipelago) on March 12th 2011, which enables travelers to experience south western Japan with rich history, nature and onsen, hot springs more convenienly.

The new complete line will be 159.7 mile long betweenHakata and Kagoshima. From Shin-Osaka to the final stop of Kagoshima-Chuo, the traveling time will be 3 hours and 45 minutes, 77 minutes shorter than the current service. The new connecting line makes Kyushu’s historic landmarks and nature within an easier reach:Kumamoto Castle, built in the 17th century has very unique ninja-proof walls. Kagoshima, at the end of the line, is the gateway to Yakushima Island, home to a primeval forest of “Yaku-sugi” cedars dating back thousands of years.

Kumamoto Castle Yaku-sugi

Kyushu was once called the “Land of Fire” for its abundance with volcanoes, which brings remarkable views such as that of Mt. Aso, the world’s largest volcanic caldera in Kumamoto, and Sakura-jima, an active volcano where a rising column of smoke is sometimes observed from downtown Kagoshima. What’s more, the island is blessed with countless onsen, Japanese traditional hot springs: Ibusuki is known for its unique sand bath. Unzen, Beppu, Yufuin and Kurokawa are all beloved onsen resorts in Kyushu.

sakurajima.jpg Mt. Aso

Suna mushi buroTo make your trip easy and reasonable, JR Kyushu offers a discount ticket called theKyushu Rail Pass. It covers either the Northern Kyushu area or the whole Kyushu area, depending on the type you purchase, and can be used for unlimited times for both express and local trains. Please visit here to check out the details!

For Further Information, please visit
JR Kyushu Railway Company

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