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Hi! I’m Tracy, and I love Japanese idols!

In Japan, irrespective of age or sex, people love Japanese idols who “give dream and hope to fans.” So if you have a chance to come to Japan, remember to spend some time and get to know more about the “idol culture” here!


Top Japanese Idols at the AKB48 Theater

AKB48 theater(in) Japanese Idols

AKB48 is the most famous group of Japanese idols and is one of the highest-earning musical performing groups in Japan. The group is formed with its own theater and a concept of “idols you can meet”, so fans can always see them live in their own theater and at “handshake events.” If you want to watch high-quality performance, you should definitely pay a visit to the AKB48 Theater!

At the AKB48 Theater, you can see cute and sweet girls singing and dancing in a small area. Imagine—the “National Idol” is performing in front of you only a short distance away! And you don’t have to worry if you cannot get the show ticket, because the live show will be broadcast on the screens outside the theater. Do not forget to check the live schedule before you go!

AKB48 theater(out) Japanese Idol

AKB48 Theater Information

Website (English) ||| Facebook (Japanese) ||| Instagram ||| Youtube

Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit), 8F of Don Quijote Akihabara (click on the Google Map below for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Weekdays 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., Sat-Sun-Holidays 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Estimated Price for Show: ¥3,100(male), ¥2,100(female) *by random lottery, pre-registration is necessary



Before going to join the Japanese idols at AKB48 live, you can come here to enjoy a meal in an “AKB48 world.” The original menu here is based on the favorite foods of top AKB48 members with toppings of characters designed by themselves.

AKB48 cafe-food Japanese idols

There are monitors in the cafe which are always playing music videos of AKB48, so you can enjoy your meal while listening to their songs! The decorations here are also full of AKB48 style and signatures of members are everywhere in the cafe.

AKB48 cafe japanese idols

If you became a fan of AKB48 after that, you can just go to the official shop near the cafe to buy souvenirs. Stationery, T-shirts, key chains—there are all kinds of items here which you may want! Photos or names of members are printed on the goods, so you have a chance to bring a souvenir from your favorite Japanese idols home!

AKB48 CAFE&SHOP Information

Website (English) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate) ||| Online shop (English)

Nearest Station: Right next to the Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit) (click on the Google Map below for walking directions)

Hours of Operation (Cafe): Monday – Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., Friday & days before holidays 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm, Sun-Holidays 10:00 am – 10:00 pm

Hours of Operation (Shop): Weekdays & days before public holidays 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., Sat-Sun-Holidays 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.


Meet Underground Japanese Idols

After the boom of “AKB48,” Japanese girls started joining different groups to give performances at the Japanese Idol headquarters of the world, Akihabara! Since most of them have yet to make a debut with a group, they can only give performances in underground venues, so they are called “Underground Idols.” As of this writing there are thousands of underground idols giving performances in different live houses of Akihabara. Here are the five best Underground Japanese Idol Live Houses!




Being the biggest permanent theater in Akihabara, there are performances given by different Japanese idols everyday. Unlike the original type of theater, audience in AKIBA CULTURES THEATER keep sitting while watching the live. Come here to experience a new type of live performance!


Website (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter Performance Information (via Google Translate)

Nearest Station: 4-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit); B1F of AKIBA CULTURES ZONE (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Weekdays 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Sat-Sun-Holidays 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.

Estimated Price for Show: ¥2,000 – ¥4,500 *One ¥500 drink will also be charged


Dear Stage

There are 3 floors for the Dear Stage. You can watch performances on the 1st floor, relax in the maid cafe on 2nd floor, and enjoy an alcoholic drink or two in the bar on the 3rd floor. Dear Stage is also the headquarters for the popular idol group Dempagumi.inc (でんぱ組.inc).

Dear Stage Japanese Idols

Dear Stage Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Nearest Station: 5-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit) (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday 6:00 p.m. – 10:50 p.m., Sat-Sun-Holidays 5:00 p.m. – 10:50 p.m.

Estimated Price for Show: ¥1,000 – *Only drink fee is charged, and “MyDearStage” membership registration (free) is required to enter the 2F and 3F.



P.A.R.M.S Japanese Idols

As the permanent theater of the production company “Alice Project,” you can meet the upcoming idol group “Kamenjoshi (Girls with masks)” here. Curious about their faces? Come here to join the 3:00 p.m. free live shows on Saturday, Sunday and holidays!

P.A.R.M.S Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Nearest Station: 3-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit),; 7F of PASELA RESORTS (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday 5:30 p.m. – 19:05 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. – 9:35 p.m., Sat-Sun-Holidays 10:30 p.m.  – 13:40 p.m. & 14:45 p.m. – 16:10 p.m. & 6:00 p.m. – 8:50 p.m.

Estimated Price for Show: ¥2,500 (pre-registered),¥3,000 (walk-up) *¥1,500 “Food & Drink Ticket” is included, plus one ¥500 drink will be charged



TwinBox AKIHABARA Japanese Idols

Being a live house locating in the Akihabara Electric Town, TwinBox is equipped with high-quality monitors and audio equipment. They also occasionally have 500 yen live shows!

TwinBox AKIHABARA Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Nearest Station: 6-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit); B1F of Box’R AKIBA Building (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Depending on the performance time

Estimated Price for Show: ¥1,500 – ¥3,000 *One drink will be charged



KamiTower Japanese Idols

The KamiTower is full of amusement. From “Kami Space” on the 3rd floor with near-daily performances to the maid cafe to the game center, you could probably spend a whole day in the KamiTower!

KamiTower Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Nearest Station: 2-minute walk from Akihabara JR Station (Electric Town exit); 3F of KamiTower (The entrance is in the right hand side of the game center) (click on the Google Map for walking directions)

Hours of Operation: Depending on the performance time

Estimated Price for Show: ¥1,000 – *One drink may be charged

So you can see that there are many places where you can go to see Japanese idols, and it’s not hard to do! You should go and see, it’s lot’s of fun!

February 1, 2017 0 comment
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Karaoke in Tokyo FI

Hi, I’m Tracy! I love karaoke!

It’s Friday night, you’re out with friends, and one of them brings up a crazy idea: “Hey! Let’s go to KARAOKE!!” We all love Karaoke, but can we tell the difference between the different types of karaoke shops? Which one offers more English songs? Which one offers a student discount? Which one doesn’t smell of “teen spirit”?

For those of you who love Karaoke and can actually tell the difference between the establishments, go forth and sing your heart out. But for those of you can’t, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in our comprehensive guide to the most popular karaoke spots in Tokyo.


Utahiroba (歌広場)

UtaHiroba watermark tokyo karaoke shopsOne of the most popular karaoke chains in Tokyo, Utahiroba can be easily identified by its logo—a big smiling pink face, usually wearing yellow gloves.

Utahiroba is regarded as one of the cheapest, major chain karaokes in Tokyo and many of their stores stay open 24hrs depending on location. Their food menu is quite extensive as well and you can expect the usual fried snacks and dishes that you can easily get at any low-end izakaya.

Utahiroba Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥140 – ¥500 every 30 minutes, with all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) (depending on time of day and day of the week)
  • ¥1,000 – ¥1,980 for free-time (Open – 8:00pm / 11:00pm – 5:00am), with all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Making a reservation in advance can get you a discount of 10% off the room charge
  • Lunch Pack: ¥580 with a meal, all-you-can-drink (non-alcoholic) and 2-hour karaoke (Prices are different depending on branches) *Only for entering rooms before 2:00pm


Karaoke-kan (カラオケ館)

KaraokeKan_watermark tokyo karaoke shopsKaraoke-kan is another popular karaoke chain, with branches across Japan. Famous for its appearance in Lost in Translation with Bill Murray (the Shibuya branch, 6th floor), Karaoke-kan is one of the most recognizable karaokes in Japan due to their big blue neon signs with its name in red.

Karaoke-kan offers a variety of rooms, from VIP to party rooms, as well as an extensive variety of food and snacks including everything from “Italian” pizzas to Japanese snacks and desserts. A few of their locations even have a darts bar separate from the karaoke rooms if you want a break from hitting the high notes.

Karaoke-kan Information

Website (via Google Translate) |||  Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| YouTube

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥100 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥1,800 for free-time (11:00pm – 5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches



BigEcho_Watermark tokyo karaoke shopsBIG ECHO is yet another popular sight on the streets of Tokyo. BIG ECHO offers a variety of services that a lot of chains seldom do. For example costumes for cosplay, free Wi-Fi, and popular anime songs for the anime lovers out there.

They also offer a large selection of rooms and often do “Colabo Rooms” (コラボルーム)where the entire room is themed in styles of popular anime, J-Pop or K-Pop groups, and even baseball teams.

BIG ECHO Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator(via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥100 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥3,500 for free-time (Open – 7:00pm / 11:00pm – Close) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1 drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Showing a coupon with your smartphone can get you discounts (10% off room charge for 1-drink course, 5% off total bill for all-you-can-drink course)
  • Party Course: From ¥2,000 with a food course and 3-hour karaoke (Prices may be different depending on branches) *Order of minimum 1 drink or all-you-can-drink is required *Reserve in advance can get an extra 5%off discount


Shidax watermark tokyo karaoke shops

SHIDAX is known to be a bit more upscale compared to the former three, and rightly so as SHIDAX specializes in more than just karaoke.

SHIDAX is a bit pricier, but you pay for what you get, as the food and drinks are of a higher quality. Rooms are also nicer, with less tobacco burn stains on the tables and comfier couches. That being said, SHIDAX caters more to a Japanese audience, therefore you might not be able to find your favorite underground title from your home country here.

Shidax Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook(via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,200 – ¥2,500 for free-time (Open – 7:00pm) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches



Cote D'Azur watermark tokyo karaoke shops

This is another somewhat expensive, fashionable karaoke, with well-furnished modern rooms. The food menu here is restaurant quality.

From ‘Ladies Rooms’ to ‘VIP party rooms’ and even children play rooms with karaoke machines inside, Cote D’Azur can cater to a girls’ night out or husband and wife with children in tow. And when you want a break from singing you can always go throw some darts and even play billiards.

As with Shidax, Cote D’Azur caters to a more Japanese audience, so English song selections are rather limited.

Cote D’ Azur Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (Japanese)

Average price:

  • ¥70 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,000 – ¥2,300 for free-time (6:00pm – 5:00am / 11:00pm –5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Early bird discounts with a reservation in advance
  • Show a coupon with your smartphone and get discounts (20% off room charge for 1-drink course, 5% off total bill for all-you-can-drink plan or free-time course)
  • Party Course: From ¥2,500 with a food course and 3-hour karaoke (Prices maybe different depending on branches) *Reserving one week prior can get a ¥500 discount



Having 3 branches in the upscale districts in Tokyo – Roppongi, Ginza and Shinjuku, FIORIA is a restaurant provides luxury private rooms and high-quality food that fit your wants. Rooms are all furnished with different themes such as Botanical Saloon, Star Dust Saloon and Grotto Saloon.

My most recommended room is the SPA Saloon in Roppongi branch, where you can sing your favorite songs while enjoying a warm footbath. FIORIA is the most costly one in these 10 karaoke shops, but the food and environment worth the price with no doubt.

FIORIA Information

Website (Languages can be changed at the top right corner)

Store locator (Japanese; use the “English” button on top to switch languages)

Average price: From ¥3,500 for 2hours (depending on courses)


PASELA RESORTS (カラオケ パセラ)Pasela Resorts akihabara showa-dori tokyo karaoke shops

PASELA RESORTS has been rated highest in customer satisfaction among all Japan karaoke shops for 2 years. As what its name stated, PASELA RESORTS are furnished like tropical resorts and amenities are well prepared—just like what hotels do.

Akihabara Showa-Dori branch is definitely the most special one that rooms are designed in an early Showa style, where you can enjoy karaoke in retro Japan rooms like Sento (Japanese communal bath house) and old-style train.

Besides making you feel like being in a resort, “Colabo Rooms” of popular anime are also one of the most attractive points here. Listen, all fans of “Monster Hunters”, “Evangelion”, “Sengoku Basara”, “FF Series” and “Hakuoki”, coming here to take lots of photos and “Check in” on Facebook is a must-do in Japan!


Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥600 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1,500 – ¥2,800 for free-time (11:00pm – 7:00am / 10:00pm –5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches



Manekineko tokyo karaoke shops

Another popular karaoke chain in Japan! MANEKINEKO is the cheapest karaoke chain in the morning time. Guess how much is it? It’s only 10yen (≈$0.09USD) every 30minutes! If you are going to burn off your calories or blow off your steam in the morning, come to MANEKINEKO!

MANEKINEKO Information

Website (via Google Translate)

Store locator (Languages can be changed at the top right corner)

Average price:

  • ¥10 – ¥500 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥500 – ¥2,500 for free-time (8:00am – 8:00pm / 4:00pm – 12:00am / 10:00pm – 5:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Only for ten first-come groups in each time slot *Time slots may be different depending on branches



round1 tokyo karaoke shopsRound1 is the amusement shop chain of the highest sales in Japan. Being a multi-purpose entertainment center, Round1 offers sport games like bowling, billiard, as well as karaoke. Round1 caters to families that you may bring your kids here to karaoke and game center after doing some exercises.

Round1 Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Facebook (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter(via Google Translate)

Store locator (Japanese)

Average price:

  • ¥200 – ¥600 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • ¥1000 – ¥2,200 for free-time (Entering between 6:00am – 1:00pm / 1:00pm – 6:00pm / 6:00pm – 1:00am / 1:00am – 6:00am) (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Until 6:00am of the next day *Order of minimum 1drink is required *Time slots may be different depending on branches

Tips to save your money:

  • Morning free-time discount: Weekdays ¥580 (Entering between Open – 11:00am), Sat-Sun-Holidays ¥880 (Entering between 5:00am – 9:00am) *Until 6:00am of the next day *With all-you-can-drink *Order of minimum 1drink is required
  • Weekdays free-time campaign: ¥780 (Entering between 11:00am – 1:00pm) *Until 6:00am of the next day *Order of minimum 1drink is required


Karaoke Adores (カラオケアドアーズ)

adores akihabara tokyo karaoke shops

Adores is one of the largest game center chains in Japan. The 2 karaoke shops under the company is similar to the Round1, where you can play arcade games, UFO catchers and sing karaoke in one-building.

The Akihabara branch is a little different from the other game centers in Akihabara that it is the only game center equipped with karaoke rooms. 6 concept rooms including “Princess Rooms”, “Gothic Rooms” and “Live Stage Rooms” are offered, catering to not only karaoke singers, but also the cosplayers who want to take beautiful photos in the rooms.You can also borrow free cosplay costumes of idols, maids or popular anime here!

Karaoke Adores Information

Website (via Google Translate) ||| Twitter (via Google Translate)

Monzennaka-cho branch (via Google Translate)

Akihabara branch (via Google Translate)

Average price:

  • ¥90 – ¥800 every 30 minutes (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink may be required
  • ¥1,400 – ¥3,500 for free-time (depending on time of day and day of the week) *Order of minimum 1drink may be required

Tips to save your money:


The times you’ve wandered into a strange karaoke building only to find out they don’t have or offer certain services are over. Go forth, and “rock the mic” at which Karaoke fits you best.
Happy Karaoke-ing!

June 12, 2016 0 comment
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Shrine Entrance FI, Tokyo, Japan

I was nervous the first time I visited a Shinto shrine in Japan. I mean, I have a passing familiarity with Western religion, so I generally know what is and isn’t acceptable in a church or synagogue. But a shrine? I didn’t know what to do, what to say, and I had Ricky Bobby-esque anxieties about what to do with my hands. I certainly didn’t want to make anyone angry by bowing or clapping at the wrong time, or by accidentally treading on sacred ground. Heck, I didn’t even know what the sacred ground looked like, much less how to avoid trampling it.

If you’re reading this, you are probably in a similar situation. You’d like to visit one of those magnificent Shinto shrines that you have heard about, but you want to be careful to do it the right way and not give offense. And not only are we here to help, we got some expert help ourselves! For this article, we visited the Shinagawa Jinja in Shinagawa and were expertly assisted by Negi-Sama Suzuki, a Shinto priest.


Can you take pictures at a Shinto shrine? Many shrines have beautiful architecture and artwork, and it would be a shame not to snap a memento, right? In general, it is acceptable to take photos on the temple grounds using small cameras or smartphones. There are some areas where photos are not permitted (such as the inside of the shrine itself), and those areas are labelled with the international “no photos” sign.

Also, shrines would prefer if you didn’t show up with professional equipment (TV cameras, tripods, etc.). Such things tend to get in the way of other visitors and detract from the shrine’s peaceful atmosphere.


Arriving at the Shrine

Shinagawa Shinto Shrine Entrance Tokyo Japan

So you’ve entered the shrine and the first thing you see is a long, flagstone path with torii gates at regular intervals. And now you have to make your approach to the shrine proper.

The first thing you need to know (and Mr. Suzuki was especially quick to point it out, so it must be a pet peeve of his) is that you are not supposed to walk in the center of the path. The center of the path is reserved for the kami (gods and spirits) only, like a spiritual fast lane. I saw no gods coming and going during my visit, but I doubt that I would want to be in their way if they decided to return (or depart) while I was there.

The next thing you need to know is to bow at each torii gate. If you spend any time at all in Japan, you will be doing quite a bit of bowing when talking to other people. However, the shrine bow is a little different; every time you bow, you want to bend your body all the way to 90 degrees (see the video if you are unsure how to do this). Please note that this isn’t a Bruce Lee movie or a martial arts competition; there is no opponent to keep your eye on.


The Purification Fountain

Purification Fountain Shinagawa Shinto Shrine Tokyo Japan

At Shinto shrines, you will usually see a purification fountain somewhere in the vicinity of the shrine itself. Many people skip these, but it might be good to have a surprise up your sleeve if people think you’re just another out-of-town visitor.

First, you’ll pick up the ladle with your right hand and fill the cup in the fountain. Now back up! You don’t want to commit a faux pas like I did in the video and allow water to drain back into the fountain. So with the water in the ladle, first wash your left hand (allowing water to spill into the drain below), then your right hand. You will then put water in your left hand and use that to wash out your mouth (spitting into the drain next to the fountain). After that, you will wash your left hand again. If there is any water left after all of this, tilt the ladle upwards to drain, then replace it where you found it for the next person.


The Main Shrine

The main shrine will be the largest building on the grounds. Depending on your timing, there may or may not be a line leading up to the shrine area.

When you get to the front, the first thing to do is bow (remember, 90 degrees). You then put your monetary offering in the box (10 yen is okay, but you can do more if you like) and ring the bell one time. Now you bow twice, clap twice, and pray (the folded hands being similar to the Christian tradition). Once you are finished, you bow once more and then back away. Be careful not to turn completely around; apparently the gods find the view of your posterior offensive, and may be inclined to give it a good kick if no one is looking.

Another thing you will see at a Shinto shrine is an Omikuji fortune box. For 100 yen, you can select one fortune. At larger shrines (such as Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa) you would be able to get one in English, but in smaller places you will only get one in Japanese (this is where having a Japanese friend comes in handy). If your fortune is good, keep it! If it is bad, you can tie it to the nearby tree or other designated place and leave your bad luck behind.


Smaller Shrines

Shinto shrines usually house more than just the one main shrine. There are many smaller shrines on the grounds of the Shinagawa Jinja, each dedicated to a kami or some other aspect of human concerns (such as the fox shrine for business). These smaller shrines have coin boxes for offerings, so be sure to have yen ready when you stop (10 yen is an appropriate amount to offer).

Offering Box Shinagawa Shinto Shrine Tokyo Japan

Most shrines are simply of the bow-and-pray-and-donate variety, though there are some that require a little more from the visitor (such as the coin washing shrine in the video).



Omamori Shinagawa Shinto Shrine Tokyo Japan

At the end of your visit to the shrine, you can buy an omamori at the administrative building. Omamori are small charms devoted to one aspect of human concern or another, offering protection for the holder. Some are for protection from illness, protect travelers, and success in business, while others have more practical goals (such as the round “bumper sticker” that protects your car from accidents). Omamori are not particularly expensive (500 yen and up) and are wonderful souvenirs of your visit.


And Other Things You Might See

Beyond the shrines, there is another feature you might notice about the Shinagawa Jinja and similar shrines. These shrines have large mounds, studded with small shrines, leading to a larger shrine on top. These are fujizuka, and are stand-ins for Mount Fuji. In the past, climbing Mount Fuji was a religious devotional rite, but some worshipers grew old or infirm and were unable to complete the journey. Fujizuka were established at many shrines to enable worshipers to complete the rites that they would otherwise be unable to perform.

If you visit a shrine around the New Year, you will find it to be very crowded. You have encountered everyone at hatsumōde, their first trip to the Shinto shrine in the New Year. It’s a great time to go to the shrine, so don’t let the long lines put you off of your visit! The Shinagawa Jinja conducts blessings, mochi poundings, and sells many omamori and omikuji.

Shinto shrines are also the focal points for matsuri festivals. If you’re in town at the right time, you can join in the festivities and help carry a mikoshi shrine! See our Matsuri How-To article for details.

One thing I found surprising about shrines were the large number of food and game booths on the temple grounds during festivals. I had visions of Jesus making a whip of cords and laying a beatdown on money-changers and dove-sellers, but this is normal for shrines during festivals. Feel free to enjoy yourself without fears of spiritual wrath!

I hope that we have made you a little more comfortable with the idea of visiting a Shinto Shrine in Japan. I’d like to close by thanking Negi-sama Suzuki and the Shinagawa Jinja for helping us out. So get your camera and coins ready and be sure to visit a shrine during your trip to Japan!


Shinagawa Jinja Shinto Shrine Information

Shinagawa Tourism Association website

Nearest Station: Shimbamba Station on the Keikyu line


Estimated Price: Donations (10 yen per shine is appropriate); Omamori can be purchased for 500 yen and up

“Why Go?”: See a beautiful and accessible example of a Shinto shrine; climb a fujizuka if you don’t have time to go all the way out to Mount Fuji. Get an omamori and omikuji as a memento of your trip!

March 11, 2016 0 comment
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Matsuri Featured Image, Tokyo, japan

If you’re in Japan for any length of time, you’ll see it. Period costumes. Beautiful ladies in equally-beautiful kimonos. Perhaps someone dressed as an oni, scaring children into behaving. Packs of drunk Japanese people in festival clothes yelling, bouncing, and carrying some huge object down the street. And streets lined with food booths. You’ve wandered into the middle of the big street fair/party known as a matsuri!

Everyone seems to be having a good time. But what about you? Finding yourself in the middle of all of this might be a bit awkward. Is there something you should be doing? Or maybe something you are supposed to be wearing? Are you supposed to help with carrying that huge object?

Don’t worry! I’ve been to more than a few matsuri, so I can help! So let us eat, drink, and be fat and drunk, because it’s time to get in on the block party to end all block parties! And if you’re lucky, you might even get press-ganged into carrying a mikoshi!

Portable Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

In this article, I’m going to use my local dual-matsuri as a guide. The Kita-No-Tenno-Sai Matsuri (Shinagawa Shrine) and the Minami-No-Tenno-Sai Matsuri (Ebara Shrine) combine yearly to form one giant sprawling matsuri (hereafter called the Shinagawa Matsuri) for everyone to enjoy!


What is a Matsuri?

Matsuri” is just the Japanese word for “festival.” As opposed to holidays, matsuri are not held on specific dates throughout Japan–each neighborhood schedules and holds their own matsuri. Matsuri are usually held anywhere from late spring to fall, and it is possible to attend several matsuri throughout the year.

There are many large and famous matsuri. The larger festivals are usually visitor-friendly, but you should go with a Japanese friend in order to get the full experience. But the smaller ones–that’s what we’re getting at. No big touristy stuff for you!

Matsuri Preparation

Not all matsuri are the same. Yes, there are common elements, but thinking that each one is a carbon-copy of the other is sort of like thinking that Halloween, Christmas, and St. Patrick’s Day are all celebrated the same way. Each neighborhood does their matsuri their own way–what may be a central element in one festival may be completely missing from another. Even for the smaller ones, having a Japanese friend (preferably a local) will help you navigate the peculiarities of a matsuri.

But even if you don’t have a Japanese friend, don’t worry! Matsuri is a fun time, and everyone is in a good partying mood. If nothing else, you can always come sample the food booths and people-watch. Just be friendly and not only will you have a good time, you’ll probably make new friends!

Matsuri, Tokyo, Japan

The Mikoshi

Many matsuri are centered around neighborhood Shinto jinja, or shrines. During the Shinagawa Matsuri, mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines that look like miniature temples) are carried throughout the neighborhood. Shrines house the kami (gods or spirits) for the duration of the festival, and the locals celebrate matsuri by carrying the shrines through the streets, drumming and chanting and bouncing the whole way. In between bouts of eating and drinking, that is.

Portable shrine, Tokyo, Japan

And for the Shinagawa Matsuri, “portable” is used in the very loosest sense of the word. These shrines are huge and very heavy, and they require a dozen or more people to carry. And you could be one of those people!


Getting Dressed for the Occasion

If you’re just going to matsuri to people-watch or for the food booths, you don’t need to wear anything special. You can come just as you are! You’ll see plenty of adults and children (and more than a few pampered dogs) in festival clothes or kimonos, but it’s not required.

Kids in matsuri clothing, Tokyo, Japan

But if you want to help carry a mikoshi, you’ll have to get dressed for the part. Please note that you cannot just jump into the mikoshi-carrying mix–if you want to participate, let someone in festival clothes know (either through your own language skills, that of your Japanese friend, or the tried and true “point at my own chest and make the up-and-down shoulder-lifting motion”). If it’s okay, they will likely lend you a hanten (a light jacket) to wear.

If you are really lucky, you may be able to borrow a full set of festival clothes, called matsuri-issho. These clothes consist of a light jacket (known as a hanten), a pair of trousers, an undershirt, and a pair of tabi boots. The hanten is held in place with a sash, and there is a small man-purse (or just a purse, for the ladies) for your money. I live in Shinagawa, so I bought my own set of matsuri-issho (pictured). But if you’re just visiting, a borrowed hanten or matsuri-issho will be just fine.

Matsuri-issho, Festival clothing

Carrying the Mikoshi

Now that you are properly attired, get ready to get in there and lend your back to the cause! A few cultural notes–

  • Be sure to ask before joining a mikoshi carry in progress. Most matsuri are rather casual affairs, but some mikoshi have significant religious significance and are not to be touched by outsiders. In truth, there are very few mikoshi under that sort of restriction, but it pays to be sure.
  • In the past, women were strictly forbidden from touching certain mikoshi. This is not completely true today; some places are fine with it, some places are not, and other places allow women to touch some shrines but not others. As always, check with the locals before touching a mikoshi.
  • Other traditions may apply in different areas. My wife remembers a time when people were not allowed to look down at a mikoshi (“looking down on a god from above”) during the Shinagawa Matsuri. Windows over street level had to be closed and bridges over rivers were cleared when a mikoshi passed underneath on a boat. Other locales may have similar traditions, so please be observant and do as the locals do.

Once you get in, brace yourself! Mikoshi can be very heavy. Most people simply shoulder the load, but I always wuss out and use a towel to cushion the wooden beam. Also, you want to stand as straight as you possibly can and keep the wooden beam on your shoulder. Not only is this the easiest way to carry your part of the load, it also prevents back injuries. This may be easier said than done–I am 5’8″, which is about average Japanese size. If you’re one of those really tall people, make sure you get in next to people who are about your size.

A few other things might happen during your stint as a porter of the gods. At the Shinagawa Matsuri, people yell, “Washoi!” when carrying the shrine. The closest translation to English would be something like, “Heave ho!” and is used as encouragement to your fellow mikoshi carriers. Feel free to join the chant!

Another thing you may encounter is a difference in mikoshi-carrying styles. The Shinagawa Matsuri uses the Jōnan-style carry, in which mikoshi carriers lift from both the parallel and perpendicular beams that support the mikoshi palanquin. The mikoshi generally travels forward, but often stops and bounces, moves from side to side, and sometimes may go backwards. In other places, you might encounter the Edomae-style carry, in which the mikoshi carriers stay on the parallel beams and move forward at a measured, marching pace.

There are other styles, but these are the two most commonly seen in Tokyo. I am looking forward to one day seeing a Kenka Matsuri, such as the one in Nada. Kenka means “fight” or “conflict”, and in a Kenka Matsuri, mikoshi shrines “fight” by crashing into each other. Exactly how this honors the gods is somewhat mysterious, but it appears that even spiritual beings enjoy a good demolition derby. You may want to stay away from these; people get injured and even killed while participating in a Kenka Matsuri.

Another thing that might occur is something I call the “bouncing challenge.” In the bouncing challenge, the person on the other end of your beam will bounce his end up and down, which will cause your beam to smash up and down into your shoulder. This is painful! The only thing you can really do is hold on tight and keep your shoulder to the beam to lessen the impact. Once they stop, you can respond in kind, but you may want to consider that you might not know that other person, nor how they will take a dose of their own medicine. Best to just leave well enough alone.

Finally, you do not need to carry the mikoshi for the full duration of its travel. You can take breaks, rotating responsibility for the load with other participants. Just be sure to give nearby revelers an indication that you intend to bail–it’s considered bad form to just leave your part of the carry without warning, suddenly shifting the weight to someone else’s shoulders. Once you’re out, you can rub your sore shoulders, walk along for awhile and then rejoin, or move on and do something else. If you borrowed a hanten, be sure to return it before you leave


…and the Rest of It

Even if you don’t get the chance to carry a mikoshi, there is still plenty to do at a matsuri. There are lots of people to see, kimonos to admire, and many kinds of carnival-style games for children and adults. Street entertainers perform at some matsuri–I have seen trained monkeys, taiko drum players, Vegas-style street magicians, and even a karaoke contest. Stick around and watch, and have some coins ready for when the hat gets passed around.

And then there is the food. There are so many good things to eat during matsuri, and you’ll want to try them all. You can choose cultural favorites like chilled cucumbers or grilled squid on a stick, old standbys like karage (fried chicken) and shaved ice, or even chow down on imported ideas such as pizza pockets and cotton candy. My personal favorite is the yakkitori-style meats, such as steak and salted pork. And you can wash it all down with one of the many nearby beer stands.

Matsuri food stalls octopus, Tokyo, Japan

Octopus, Matsuri food stall, Tokyo, Japan

Meat on a stick, Matsuri Food stall, Tokyo, Japan

So there you have it–a basic how-to guide for enjoying a mikoshi matsuri in Japan! There may be regional or neighborhood differences for each matsuri, or maybe even a restriction or two. But matsuri time is supposed to be a good time, for both the locals and for visitors. So get your pocket money and your camera ready, get out there, and have a great time!

Shrine during a matsuri, Tokyo, Japan


August 28, 2015 0 comment
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If you are reading this that means that you are either interested on making friends or you already have some Japanese friends and you are interested in how to handle your first time going out with them. You might just be looking for someone else’s opinion on the subject matter. In any case, let’s look at the ways you make Japanese friends over the course of your staying in Japan.

First things first, usually(not always), native Japanese people that have lived for the entirety of their lives in Japan are usually the ones that can become the best ones to have, if you can cross the line from “known person” to “friend” Japanese in general do not enjoy quick change, but rather gradual change over a long period of time. This means that to become their friend, you must first be their acquaintance for some time.

Here is the first rule, make sure that you understand the cultural differences when a discussion have on topics such as politics, laws and regulations, etc. In your home country it might be an okay thing to do, discuss your opinion and have a productive conversation with that person on what you agree and disagree (sometimes strongly disagree) and end it with a simple toast. In Japan, These types of talks among friends are almost nonexistent, and are downright avoided whenever they are brought up in a conversation. The best suggestion any can give you on how to talk about controversial topics is this: avoid them if at all possible. Unless you’re new found Japanese friend is the one that sparks up a conversation with you, in that case you are more than welcomed to take apart of it, but make sure that you consider his point of view and not completely disagree with his opinion, but rather make it more like a suggestion. In Japan, Japanese are people that like to create harmony within their groups, and making the conversation seem less like an “I agree” or “I disagree” and more like a “I see your point, but…” is a much better way to avoid any chances of offending them and possible create a stronger connection.

Another rule that to follow up with is the whole “lose face and give face” subject. Lose face just means that you have lost some of your dignity or were put to shame usually by someone else’s actions that are directed towards that person that has lost “his face.” Gaining face occurs when you make someone look good. For example, let’s say you are playing gulf with a potential business partner. You are known for being quite good at gulf, but that person someone how manages to beat you, you probably let him win. That is called “giving face” to that person, increasing the chances of striking a business deal in the process. If you want to make Japanese friends, it is something to be aware of. It is not a good thing when someone loses face, that includes discussing a topic and bringing in facts that outright disregard his or her statements.

Having a Japanese friend is a great thing that should be cherished, especially for someone that wants to explore Japan or those of us that want to stay in Japan for a long time and wish to fully immerse themselves in Japanese culture, or those of us that just want to create friendships all over the world. If you are truly wish for a Japanese companion, remember to keep the things I mentioned in mind.

I hope that this helps!

Enjoy ~

Image source: Nicole Abalde

May 8, 2014 0 comment
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