Event

Welcoming Spring: April Festivals in Japan

By Contributor Diego Rojas

Warmer temperatures are starting to thaw out the snow, and the intensity that comes with the winter festivals is fading. Locals around the country are getting set for one of their favorite seasons, spring! As warmth fills the air, a new round of matsuri or festivals takes over people’s minds and hearts.

Bringing out portable shrines for spring
Bringing out portable shrines for spring from Flickr cc by Kimon Berlin

Spring’s colorful festival line-up includes the drama of men shooting arrows from galloping horses, life-size puppets dazzling crowds with their performances, and shirtless men running under fireworks to honor the gods. These April matsuri will take you around central Kanto to Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Gifu, and Tochigi prefectures. The festivals are the perfect opening act for the cherry blossom season.

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Art and Design

Cherry Blossoms in Literature and Art

We’ve already elaborated on the origins of hanami and shared how to have your very own Japanese cherry blossom viewing party. Now let us dig a little deeper and explore some of the art forms that prominently feature these tiny pinkish-white flowers and their enchanted onlookers.

Cherry Blossom Viewing on the Hill of Tenjin Shrine in Yasui by Hiroshige Utagawa, 1834
Cherry Blossom Viewing on the Hill of Tenjin Shrine in Yasui by Hiroshige Utagawa, 1834 – People enjoy viewing cherry blossoms with music, dance, food, and sake

Cherry blossoms, or sakura in Japanese, last for just a few days in full bloom before withering and falling to the ground,  raining white petals all across Japan. On the one hand, the flowers are celebrated as heralds of spring and nature’s revival after the cold winter. On the other, their transience has a melancholy element, which elevates them to a “painful” sort of beauty. This translates well into the Japanese philosophy of mono no aware, an expression often clumsily translated into English as “the pathos of things”. These contradicting aspects of the sakura season have long been food for thought influencing exceptional Japanese literature and art.

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How To

Top 5 Myths About Japan & Why I Should Have Traveled There Before

I was the very lucky winner of Odigo’s #trip2tokyo contest from the RISE Conference in 2015 and finally visited Japan for the first time last December. During my stay, I kept asking myself: “Why the fudge didn’t I come here before?!”

#trip2tokyo winners arrive at Haneda Airport
#trip2tokyo winners arrive at Haneda Airport photo by Nathan Hosken

Tokyo was on my travel bucket list for a while, but somehow I never made any arrangements actually to go. I wasn’t alone: I did a little research, and it turns out Japan is one of the top countries most people want to visit but never do. Why is that? Well, I think people have a lot of preconceived ideas about Japan. We think that it will be expensive, that we will get lost or that we will have trouble communicating with people. But I came to discover these ideas are simply untrue.

Feeling the Tokyo energy at Takeshita Dori
Feeling the Tokyo energy at Takeshita Dori photo by Nathan Hosken

Let me tell you, Tokyo has a certain energy that can’t be explained. Tokyo’s an eclectic combination of ancient traditions and modern trends. Tokyo has a very unusual and organized chaos because of the large numbers of people in the streets. The city is big and yet you can still find silence. Spaces might be crowded, but somehow you don’t feel invaded. The dynamics of the city are actually a very beautiful thing to observe.  I don’t want to seem excessive, but the most fitting word I can use to describe Tokyo is: Magical.

So here are a few myths I debunked during my trip:

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How To

Earthquakes: Being Prepared When You Visit Japan

By Odigo Content Assistant, KATHRIN KECHT

Japan lies along the Ring of Fire, an area located around the Pacific Ocean with a lot of tectonic activity, making it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This was not news to me when I first came here in 2006. Yet the thought of experiencing a natural disaster never really crossed my mind. Having spent most of my life in Munich—where thankfully, nothing on the level of a natural disaster ever happened—earthquakes were something you only hear about on the news. Even after traveling through Japan and, later on, living for a few years in Sapporo, I had never experienced an earthquake of any significance. Maybe I was lucky, but I came to believe that earthquakes aren’t that common in Japan after all. I was lulled into a false sense of security and it slipped my mind that disaster could strike at any time. That was until the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake and the largest ever recorded in Japan.

Marking the Anniversary with Paintings of Hope
Marking the Anniversary with Paintings of Hope – “Onagawa town ten years later. I want to get back the same beautiful town as before.” by Mituski Abe Onagawa Elementary School, MIYAGI — Art from the IAEA Imagebank

This year marks the fifth anniversary of that event, an instant that changed life in Japan forever. As we approach March 11th, a little preparedness and vigilance in remembrance of that day is probably in order.

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My Japan Is...

My Japan is…Full of Surprises

In an ongoing series of mini-posts we ask our most passionate Odigo writers “What is your Japan? ” in words and photos.

By Odigo Contributor and Professional Travel Writer JESSICA KOZUKA 

My Japan is full of variety and surprises. It’s predictably unpredictable and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

You can find my Japan in:

1. Festivals

Japan loves matsuri, or festivals, from tiny local gatherings to major national attractions. You can mark the passing of the year by the festival calendar, and yet never run out of new matsuri to check out, making them at once a novel and familiar experience.

 

Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival from Flickr cc by Alex Hurst

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Food and Drink

The Evolution of Ramen

BY ODIGO CONTRIBUTOR AND FOOD BLOGGER SIMONE CHEN

A typical scene in Japan: people hunched over steamy bowls, audibly slurping, united by their love of ramen. For a dish that can take days to prepare, consuming a bowl of the stuff takes mere minutes. In this short amount of time to achieve a ramen high, have you ever stopped to wonder about the dish’s history?

Pondering a bowl
Pondering a bowl — photo by Y_Koyuki

From its humble beginnings as a quick and cheap food for laborers, ramen has evolved into a cultural phenomenon and become a national icon of Japan. Now, all over the world, ramen’s popularity has exploded and this humble soup and noodles dish keeps drawing fans back for more.

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Event

How To… Sumo

BY ODIGO CONTRIBUTOR PATRICK ST. MICHEL

Unlike many seasonal sports, the venerable, homegrown Japanese wrestling spectacle that is sumo can be seen throughout the entire year! Big-deal tournaments, not to mention smaller local events, take place almost every month all across the nation. Sumo is a go-to symbol of Japan, but the rules and intricacies might not be as clear. Odigo is here to help shed some light on all things sumo, and when you can catch this sport live.

Sumo Mural in Tokyo at Ryogoku
Sumo Mural in Tokyo at Ryogoku – Photo by Nathan Hosken

Sumo has been played for centuries, with mentions of the heavyweight sport popping up, well, as long as Japanese history has been recorded. Historians say that sumo originated from ancient Shinto practices.

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