Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo: See the 2012 Schedule

It's spring, and you know what that means: cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossom in tokyoAlso known as sakura, the pink flowers are a national symbol for Japan despite being short-lived every year.

The Japanese Weather Association also predicts when the trees will bloom each year, so that people can plan hanami parties with friends and family and relax under the blossoms.

The JWA makes predictions for each of Japan's 47 prefectures, but here are some of the major blossom dates on the 2012 calendar:

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Japanese Martial Arts Styles Explained

If you're a fan of Japanese martial arts styles and want to learn more, there's a wiki that's a gold mine for you. Gottsupedia, as it's known, is a repository of Japanese martial arts – especially aikido – along with their histories and specific techniques.

Aikido-picFor example, here's a snippet on the Yoshinkan school of aikido:

Yoshinkan's emphasis on basics and instilling them in students through repeated drills is a direct product of the difficulties encountered when Yoshinkan first began teaching exceptionally large groups, such the Tokyo police. … Ueshiba did not give exact instruction, instead he would show a technique and let everyone figure it out saying "That's fine, that's fine" to everyone's way of doing it. 

The entire wiki is the work of just one guy, so there's not much yet in the way of collaborative editing or fact-checking, but the 193 articles on hand show that the one dude is pretty serious about his stuff. 

via Gottsupedia. Thanks, Cook Ding.

You probably won't get in a fight in Japan

But you should know what to do if you meet the Japanese police. Read the Guide to Police in Japan.

Hello Kitty’s Japan Guide

Hello Kitty is popular with small kids – and the occasional college-age girl – but who knew the Japanese character could make a good introduction to Japanese culture that appeals to all ages?

IMG_0108A new book, Hello Kitty's Guide to Japan, features lots of friendly illustrations that are put to good use: regions of Japan feature their iconic qualities, such as Niigata's rice fields and sake.

What's more, there are solid explanations of nuanced parts of Japanese culture – even Buddhist funerals!

The book is bilingual, with writing in English and Japanese, which makes for good cross-cultural sharing across small kids. It also makes for good fodder for Japanese-English conversation partners.

Quoth Japan Subculture, which reviewed the book:

This book is not childish at all, read it and you will learn much about Japan and its people, children, youth, adults and elderly people. And there are absolutely no pictures of green tea KitKats or high-tech toilets. We expected this book to be awful—it turns out to be awfully entertaining.

You can grab a copy at Japan's domestic airports – except Narita, sadly.

via Japan Subculture

Need more Japan books?

Check out the Japan Books section of the Konnichiwhoa Mini-Shop. You'll find books on Japanese design, decoration, history and even crime. 

Manhole Covers in Japan: Unexpected Art

Wherever you are in Japan, there's sightseeing to be done on the street. Literally.

4947983_248f53b941Manhole covers are used as works of public art all over Japan. Patterns and even painted colors are used to create local images that can be seen by locals and visitors alike.

The variety of images is impressive. Nature makes a big appearance, as trees and birds are especially common throughout the nation's prefectures. Cherry blossom trees are especially frequent. Also appearing are dragonflies, deer, cranes, and other animals that are either locally common or well-known in the national mythology.

There's also a high number of firefighter-themed manhole covers. Those covers give firefighters easy access to water in case of emergencies.

via Kuriositas

Thanks to OpenCage for the cover image!

Things to Do: Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe

Good Luck Trip, a magazine publisher, has put out a new issue of its free guide to Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, and it's accessible online for free too. The guide is pretty long (over 50 pages) and full of stuff to do if you decide to leave Tokyo.

Osaka has historically been known as a town of commerce, and even today one of its major draws is shopping. The neighborhood of Tennoji is recommended as a shopping area, but the guide leaves out America-mura, a rather un-American area that's the center of the city's fashion. The guide also dedicates a page to basically advertise Yodobashi Camera, which is actually a national chain and not unique to Osaka at all.

Naturally, Kyoto is known for its cultural tourism. Options include the tea ceremony, Zen meditation, a Maiko dress-up session, and of course tons of temples. Don't miss the old-school Gion district.

Kobe is a great town for a mix of the above two environments. It's more relaxed than Osaka, but still has some big-city energy and lots of international cuisines. I can hardly recommend a better place to eat churrasco (aka Brazilian BBQ) than here.

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