Things to Do: MUJI and Japanese Design

19muji-hodge-tmagArticleIf you're curious about product design, such as the work of Apple or Braun, you need to check out Muji, one of Japan's best-known shops. 

It's a company that carries itself with a very specific purpose, but it's hard to describe succinctly. Muji's mission is maybe best described as a philosophy that shuns lust and focuses on honesty and durability in products.

If you're in Tokyo, you can learn more about that philosophy at Found Muji, a new combination gallery/store that brings in things from around the world that inspire what Muji makes:

Housed in the Aoyama-area retail space where Muji’s first stand-alone store opened in 1983, Found Muji takes the company back to its roots.

Found Muji goes back to the source, showcasing traditional, vernacular and often handmade housewares and decorative objects that have inspired a multitude of Muji products, like metal bowls used for curry in India, Celadon pottery from Thailand, enamelware from France or feather dusters from Germany. Part gallery and part retail space, Found Muji reveals the origins of new Muji products, and highlights simple, useful wares from different cultures around the world. 

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Where to Eat in Japan: Restaurant Week!

Tokyo restaurant week 1Tokyo is a great city for eating with the most Michelin stars in the world. Right now, you can take advantage of the opportunity during Japan Restaurant Week, a promotion for dozens of the best restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. 

The cuisines covered are extensive and include Japanese teppanyaki, sushi, kaiseki, Kobe beef, fugu, Italian, French, Chinese, and even a few more past that.

Even though it's called Restaurant Week, it's actually weeks - three, to be exact. 

Another important number is eight. 7 restaurants featured in the Tokyo Michelin Guide are included in the bunch, and one from Osaka.

Participating restaurants offer lunch and dinners at set prices. Lunch is by far the cheapest, when you can eat at some of Japan's finest places for just 2,100 yen.Dinners are more expensive but still a relative bargain compared to what you'd usually pay at these places.

Prices are:
Lunch: 2,100 yen
Dinner: 5,250 yen or 7,350 (depending on the place)

Japan Restaurant Week runs from now through February 19, 2012.

via Japan Restaurant Week

Find cheap restaurants!

Get $3 beers and $7 dinners for a fulfilling evening under $10. Read the Konnichiwhoa Guide to where to eat in Japan.

Things to Do: Hokkaido – Day Trips to Ski Areas Under $100

The Hokkaido branch of JR is offering cheap one-day trips for skiing, snowboarding and hot springs in Japan's northern winter wonderland. For about $75 you can get an inclusive trip of train pass, one-day lift pass, and ski/board rental for some of the world's best snow.

Ice_hotel-in-hokkaido-island-of-japan-05Or for as little as $85 you can get a day at an outdoor hot springs, in the snow, with a buffet lunch.

Some trips also involve a bus trip to the particular destination, but that's also included in the price.

Your options include:

Niseko Hirafu with view of Mt. Yotei: 6,200 yen
(special note: we just covered Niseko!)
Sahoro with view of Tokachi plain: 10,300 yen
Tomamu with 16 courses: 9,100 yen
Furano with courses for all levels: 5,750 yen
Teine, just 40 minutes from Sapporo: 5,850 yen

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Things to Do: Shinjuku – Sushi Making Class in Tokyo

The Tokyo Sushi Academy, whose eight-week, $5,000 sushi master class we covered last week, also offers a one-day class. That class is also heavily discounted this spring, so read on if you want to take a $130 class for just $40.

Sushi_chef_01For 3,000 yen, you'll spend the day learning nigiri sushi, gunkan, and temaki (hand rolls). That means you'll be a decent sushi chef at the end of the day!

There's a good reason to pay attention in class: you'll be making your own dinner! Once you sit down to eat, though, the Sushi Academy will throw in some green tea for free.

The 70% discount only applies for classes on February 18 and March 17, so hit the link below to sign up for those dates.

via Tokyo Sushi Academy

Not in the mood to cook your own food?

It's much easier to eat cheaply in Japan than you think. How does dinner for $7 and a $3 beer sound? Read the Konnichiwhoa Guide for how to find the best restaurants in Tokyo!

Skiing in Japan: The best ski areas in Hokkaido

It's looking like an amazing ski season is underway in Hokkaido. Niseko, an area in northwest Japan 500 miles away from Fukushima, is having great snowfall and is doing good business with Asian tourists. 

Suite_Livingroom_2Japan's snow is legendary. Even regular slopes are comparable to the best untouched wilderness in North America. Last year, the ski season went all the way to mid-May. This season, December's fresh snowfall was the best it's been since 1964. 

What's better, even during crowded holiday periods there are no waits for lifts and resorts keep their Japanese roots despite a constant influx of tourists from major Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore.

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Things to Do: Shinjuku – How to become a sushi master in 8 weeks

Become a sushi master with a $5,000 discount! The Tokyo Sushi Academy is giving a discount of 420,000 yen ($5,400) off its eight-week master course right now.

Blog2863wideaYou'll spend the months of February and March learning cooking techniques, sushi knives, and about each kind of sushi fish in particular.

Even with the discount, it's still not cheap. You'll pay a total of about $6,000 for registration, food costs, knives, and a uniform. 

But if you want to go from zero to hero in sushi, you'd be hard-pressed to find better. Across eight weeks, you'll get to learn things like:

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Things to Do in Shibuya from Morning Musume

Aika Mitsui, a member of famous pop group Morning Musume, has drawn an English-language map of the Shibuya district that's great for those looking to shop and eat at some of her favorite places. Aika-mitsui

On the list are some must-see shops for fashion including 109 (pronounced Tokyuu) and 109-2, which she says are "loaded with ladies clothing!" There's also J-Machree, which Mitsui says is good for bags and clothes at low prices. Interestingly, she also points out the Tokyo shop for American brand Forever 21. 

The map is also heavy on food and snack recommendations. Pasera is recommended for its honey toast, and at DOT the tapioca juice with milk is the item to get.

Maybe the best culinary recommendation for travelers on a budget is Sweets Paradise, which is a bit out of the way but offers all you can eat for 90 minutes for under 1500 yen (about $20 at current exchange rates). Mitsui warns that it might be crowded, though.

The map is drawn by hand, which is convenient in this case because it lets Mitsui's recommendations stand out in what's otherwise one of the most crowded places in the world.

Need to figure out how to get to Shibuya? The trains are easy if you read the Konnichiwhoa Guide to using Tokyo's trains.

via Visit Japan [PDF]

For the full map, check below:

Continue reading “Things to Do in Shibuya from Morning Musume”

Things to do: See where Japan was born

Japan was born in what's now Shimane Prefecture, according to the country's mythology. In 2012, the prefecture will host a Mythology Expo to share its historical roots with the world.

Shimane is one of Japan's most rural prefectures and is a good choice for those looking to go far off the beaten path. Its public transit is limited and train service is much more sparse than the major cities. On the plus side, the access to untouched nature is second to none. Tumblr_lt4wuhUrYr1qaiz7oo1_400

According to histories recorded over 1,000 years ago, Japan's many gods gather at Izumo Taisha, one of the country's grand Shinto shrines, to convene and discuss affairs.

The activities will be split between the prefecture's Exhibition Hall and the Museum of Ancient Izumo.

In the Exhibition Hall, you'll find:

  • A movie theater with a 10 x 50 feet screen
  • Mythological Gourmet featuring local foods and Souvenir Market
  • Walking Tours of Izumo Taisha
  • Appeal of Shimane Stage with traditional Kagura theater and performances by new character Shimaneko (right)

In the nearby Muzeum of Ancient Izumo, you can check out:

  • A mini replica of Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine as it stood during the Heian Period (ended 1185)
  • Land of the Gods photography exhibit
  • Ancient artifacts: 358 bronze swords discovered in 1988 and 39 bronze bell-like vessels extracted in 1996

At the Museum you can also learn to make magatama, beads shaped like commas.

The expo will go on from July 21, 2012 to November 11. It's best to reach the city of Izumo by plane: at least 5 flights leave Tokyo Haneda airport daily. 

via JNTO [PDF]

Special thanks to Greg Ferguson for the Shimaneko pic.

Things to Do: Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing Shibuya's the place that most quickly comes to mind when people think of Tokyo.  Shibuya Crossing is often considered Tokyo's Times Square, with its throngs of pedestrians and stacks of large advertisement screens.  It's also home to a lot of Tokyo's youth culture, with tons of entertainment and fashion crammed into a pretty small space.  


With that in mind, here are the five essential activities for Shibuya, which could easily take care of an entire day of your vacation:


1. Hachiko
When you arrive at Shibuya Station, make sure you take the Hachiko exit.  This will put you in the famous spot pictured here.  The Hachiko area is a popular meeting spot, so you'll see lots of people standing around waiting.  By the way, Hachiko's a dog with a fantastic story – make sure you find his statue!

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Things to Do: A Night Out in Naka-meguro

Naka-meguro, Tokyo. Image by Ko Sasaki for The New York Times. If you need a break from the complete chaos of a night in Shibuya, Shinjuku or Roppongi but still want to see an active part of Tokyo, try Naka-meguro.  A town split by the Meguro River, it's emerged as a hotspot for "see and be seen" types.  Writes The New York Times:

“It’s a hub of celebrities, musicians, designers and comedians,” said Fraser Cooke, who moved to Nakameguro from London
three years ago to work as Nike’s global-brand energy leader. “It’s
tipped as a major hot spot in the design community, more foreigners
live here than ever before, and there’s new restaurants popping up

The Times' travel guides usually have pretty expensive tastes, but the paper's look at Naka-meguro highlights some pretty affordable restaurants and shops.  And it also conveys the neighborhood's unique take on everything, like a coffee shop that turned the back half of an old Citroen into a cafe counter. 

“It’s gotten so that the locals don’t even leave anymore,” said Hideaki Ishii, who runs a clothing shop in the area.  Ishii's quote may be the best sign of all that Naka-meguro is worth the visit, even more than the countless celebs who mention the place when asked where they like to hang out. 

The best travel is about integrating with local people instead of going point-to-point, taking pictures of famous places and seeing nothing else.  Japan offers a really unique opportunity to be amongst the locals – so when in Tokyo, do as the Tokyoites do. 

Read Still Hip After the Blossoms Fade in Tokyo at The New York Times.