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The Timeless Lake Biwa Canal

  • Posted by:
  • January 28, 2016

biwa1Hydroelectricity, a green source of power, is electricity generated by hydropower (the production of electrical power using the gravitational force of flowing water).  It is one of the most widely used forms of global renewable energy. Lake Biwa Canal (琵琶湖疏水) or Biwako Sosui is the canal that supplied Japan with its first ever hydroelectric power generator. Lake Biwa Canal was constructed during the Meiji Period to transport  freight, passengers, and water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. It also provided electricity for the trams in Kyoto.

Lake Biwa Canal circa 1902. | C.H. Graves

The Meiji Restoration followed by the transfer of Japan’s capital city to Tokyo greatly impacted the growth and economic boom Kyoto was initially experiencing. The city soon suffered a decrease in population and industrial progress. Kitagaki Kunimichi, the third Prefectural Governor of Kyoto, ordered and supervised the construction of Lake Biwa Canal to gain back some economic stability for Kyoto.

Biwako_inclineThe Lake Biwa canal waterways run from the vicinity of the Buddhist temple Mii-dera in Ōtsu, Shiga, all the way to its end destination near Nanzen-ji (a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto). The tunnels wind through mountains and in between the two cities. The canal has two routes: Canal No. 1 or Dai-ichi sosui and Canal No. 2 or Dai-ni sosui. Since there was a-36 meter  difference in elevation between the dam that went upstream and its end destination, an inclined plane was built to allow boats to travel on land using a flat car where the boats were placed. Lake Biwa Canal served from 1895, and operation of the 9 ft track gauge incline stopped in 1948. Some parts of its structure has been preserved and now serve as a tourist attraction and the area is famous for its beautiful cherry blossom trees.

Incline railroad and cherry blossom trees. | Moja

The development of Japan’s railway station and roads made Lake Biwa Canal obsolete by the 1940s. But the canal’s history and beauty remains a unique Japanese asset. In 1996, the canal was designated a Historic Site. Since 2008, even if the waterway is not used so much to generate electrical power, it is still used for water supply, fire-fighting, and irrigation purposes.

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Staying Connected While in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • January 25, 2016

Japan is a pioneer in mobile phone technology: they conceptualized incorporating features such as cameras, internet browsers, games, GPS navigation, and music players.

Today’s modern world has made it essential to stay connected using our mobile phones and the internet. It’s always important to be able to keep in touch with family and friends whenever travelling abroad. Since it can be quite expensive to use the roaming feature of your current local service provider, you’ll save money in the long run if you use Japanese Wi-Fi or mobile phone service providers.


Will your mobile phone work in Japan?

Voice – There is no GSM (Global System for Mobile) network in Japan, so GSM-only mobile phones will not work in Japan. Most recent models of mobile phones are generally compatible with Japanese mobile phone networks (3G UMTS 2100 MHz, 3G CDMA2000 800 MHz, or LTE band 1). Cellphone units that are 3G and 4G are compatible with one or more of the Japanese mobile phone networks using international roaming via your home-based service provider or using a prepaid SIM card from a Japanese service provider.

Data – mobile phones that can be used for voice can also work for receiving and sending data like emails, text messages, and surfing the web. You can stay connected either through your home-based service provider (check rates with your local service provider) or using a rented/prepaid SIM card.

Toshihiro Gamo

Free Wi-Fi in Japan

2743087579_9d211d513a_zFree Wi-Fi is growing in Japan. It is a convenient way for many tourists and visitors to stay connected. You can also try using the Wi-Fi with SSID (access point identification number) “0000FLETS-POTAL” to access an internet connection. This Wi-Fi service is provided by many business establishments including shop owners to show “Omotenashi” or hospitality to customers from other parts of the world. Free Wi-Fi in Japan using SSID (access point identification number) “0000FLETS-POTAL” has about 50,000 Wi-Fi spots in the NTT East area, all of which use high-speed and high-quality optical fiber. It covers eastern Japan from Hokkaido to Tohoku and Kanto regions, so service is available in Tokyo as well as other major tourist areas such as Sapporo, Yokohama, Yamanashi,and Nikko. You can use free Wi-Fi up to twice a day for 15 minutes at a time.

ORAZ Studio

There are also “free Wi-Fi cards” distributed at tourist attractions in the NTT East area. You can use the Wi-Fi service as much as you want for 14 days.



The free, easy-to-use “Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi” app is a must for anyone planning a trip to Japan. It is a wonderful way for many travelers to access numerous free Wi-Fi spots with different SSIDs in places like airports, stations, and various commercial facilities that are connected with this app. It is available in English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, French, Spanish, and German (as of February 2015) and it is very simple to use. Install the app, go to a Wi-Fi spot that works with the app, and just tap “Connect”. The number of connections permitted and the maximum length of use varies for each service provider.





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Toranomon Hills: Tokyo’s Latest Landmark

  • Posted by:
  • January 21, 2016

Toranomon means “the gate of the tiger.” The name is derived from one of the outer gates of Edo Castle called Toranogomon.

14408587882_31b88882d9_zTokyo is already a mega-city, but it still continues to grow rapidly, especially in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games. Toranomon Hills, a high-rise complex tower, is meant to symbolize a Tokyo of tomorrow.

Toranomon Hills (虎ノ門ヒルズ ) or Toranomon Hiruzu, is one of Japan’s newest skyscraper complexes built by Mori Building, a Japanese property management firm. Toranomon Hills opened on June 11, 2014 and is located in the Toranomon  district of Minato, Tokyo around the new Loop Road No. 2, a surface artery that will connect the Shinbashi and Toranomon districts. Tokyo’s latest landmark has 52 floors and is 247 meters high. It is Japan’s second tallest building to date.

Toranomon Hills photographed by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

14408765784_7e14f2dedd_zToranomon Hills houses offices, residences, shops, restaurants, and an Andaz hotel. In line with Japan’s kawaii culture, Toranomon Hills has a character mascot named Toranomon, a cat-type business robot from the 22nd century Tokyo.

Toranomon. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

14409895455_d6642a0038_zAndaz hotel inToranomon Hills  is aptly called “Andaz Tokyo”. A luxury hotel from the Hyatt Group, it is considered the first of its kind in Japan. It specializes in Japanese-style hospitality and prides itself in tailoring its services to the personal and individual needs of its guests, making you feel like you were in your own home. There are also shops and restauramts located on the 1st to 4th floors. One of Toranomon Hills’ unique features is the 6,000 square meter outdoor space with shops and restaurants having open-air terraces facing a lawn area called the “Oval Plaza.”

Toranomon Hills. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

Toranomon Hills was the solution to the long time plan of building an arterial road between Toranomon and Shimbashi as part of a loop road around central Tokyo. Building a skyscraper above the road and relocating displaced residents became the answer. This futuristic development befits such a modern city as Tokyo.

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The Intricate, Stylish Kanzashi and Tsumami Zaiku

  • Posted by:
  • January 18, 2016

Kanzashi are ornamental hairpins that crown the look of traditional Japanese kimonos. The term kanzashi  is also synonymous to folded cloth flowers that traditionally adorn tsumami kanzashi as well as the technique used in making the cloth flowers.


The origins of kanzashi can be traced back to the Jōmon period when people wore them in their hair using a single rod or stick. Kanzashi was considered to have mystical powers to ward off evil spirits. The Nara period saw a variety of Chinese cultural influences that were introduced to the Japanese culture. During the Heian period, it became fashionable for women to wear their hair long and tied low in the back rather than putting the hair up traditionally. Kanzashi became a general term for any type of hair ornament. The Azuchi-Momoyama period saw a further change in hairstyles such as nihongami (typical Japanese hair) and the taregami (long and straight). Both hairstyles had more use for hair ornaments. During the Edo period, the kanzashi became even more popular as hairstyles became more elaborate and complicated.

Kanzashi for maiko (geisha apprentice) with pine, bamboo, plum. | Kanawa Kuniko

Artisans of the Edo period began to produce more finely crafted kanzashi to accentuate the kimono and various hairstyles. Aside from just being beautiful accent pieces, Kanzashi were even made to be defensive weapons and oftentimes indicated the status of a woman. Kanzashi artisans usually apprentice for five to ten years to establish themselves as independent professional artisans of tsumami kanzashi in Japan. Tsumami kanzashi has been officially designated as a traditional Japanese handcraft in the Tokyo region since 1982.

Tsumami zaiku are typically made with small pieces of square cloth that are pinched and folded using fingertips and pinchers, much like making origami. The folded cloths are combined to form ornaments. There are two basic pinching techniques: “ken-tsumami” (sword pinching) and “maru-tsumami” (round pinching). Flowers are a typical shape made by tsumami zaiku but other shapes can be created with the technique depending on ones creativity and imagination.

Want to make your own kanzashi? Check out this video tutorial of a kanzashi tulip by MyInDulzens – Handmade Flower Craft:


Click image or here: https://youtu.be/TYSF8v7sLrg

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KCP Fall 2015 Students Visit Yamanashi

  • Posted by:
  • January 14, 2016

Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県) in Chūbu region, Honshu, Japan, is a popular destination for its beautiful scenery. Yamanashi is easily accessible by road and rail. Some of the more popular places to visit in the area are Mount Fuji, the highland resort of Kiyosato, Kōfu city, Senga Falls, the Fuji Five Lakes, the Kuonji Temple in Minobu, and the Koshu wineries.

Yamanashi Prefecture’s natural topography is ideal for hiking, mountain climbing, and simply enjoying Japan’s unique scenery. Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, and Mount Kita, the second highest, are both located in Yamanashi. There are several onsens (natural hot springs) in the area as well as the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park and parts of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and the Minami Alps National Park.

Join KCP’s Fall 2015 students in pictures as they visit Yamanashi Prefecture!


KCP Flickr


KCP Flickr


KCP Flickr


KCP Flickr


KCP Flickr

For more photos of the Yamanashi trip, visit KCP Flickr.

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The Princess Daruma Dolls of Matsuyama

  • Posted by:
  • January 11, 2016

Ningyō (人形) are traditional Japanese dolls that come in various forms — from babies and imperial court personalities to warriors and gods. Many of the dolls have a long standing tradition in Japanese culture and history, and each one has a story. Ningyō is made today for shrines, festivals, souvenirs, and gift giving.

dolls1Daruma dolls are one of the many traditional Japanese dolls. They are spherical in shape with red bodies, white faces, and no pupils. They typically represent Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. It is customary to paint one of the doll’s pupils at the beginning of New Year and make a wish, and if it comes true, to paint the second pupil. Daruma dolls are supposed to bring good fortune, prosperity, and fortitude to reach goals.

Similar to the daruma doll is the hime-daruma, “hime” meaning princess. It originated from Matsuyama and is still popular in the area. The doll signifies the legendary Empress Consort Jingu who, according to history, conquered Korea. As the story goes, Empress Jingu along with her husband Emperor Chūai stopped by a hot spring at Dogo while on their way to Korea. Empress Jingu discovered that she was pregnant, so she had a doll made and offered it to the local gods in prayer for the health and  safe delivery of her child. She was said to have carried the child for three years, after which a son was born who later became Emperor Ōjin. Isaniwa Shrine, the site where Emperor Chūai and Empress Jingū bathed in Dogo Onsen, still stands today.

Hime-daruma. | Akinori YAMADA

dolls2Hime-daruma dolls were originally made of wood, but the dolls today are made with either brocade or papier-mâché. The papier-mâché dolls are usually painted bright red resembling conventional daruma dolls. The faces are made of white bisque ceramic, painted by hand, with charcoal black eyes and red lips. The hair can either be artificial or painted on. They are often given as gifts to pregnant women for a safe delivery and quick recovery. The brocade dolls come as a couple and represent Empress Jingu and Emperor Chūai. The female dolls are usually dressed in red brocade, while the male wears blue or gold. The dolls are often given as wedding gifts. Hime-daruma dolls are lightweight and make wonderful souvenirs from Matsuyama, Japan.

Katsuhito Noshi,mayor of Matsuyama, presents daruma dolls to President Van Rompuy, Brussels. | President of the European Council

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Lucky Charms for the New Year

  • Posted by:
  • January 7, 2016

Superstitious beliefs are a big part of Japan’s culture. Most Japanese folklore has roots that can be traced to local customs and are meant to offer practical advice from lessons learned throughout Japan’s long history.

Lucky charms are a huge part of Japanese religion and culture. Engimono are lucky charms often given out at New Year events at temples and shrines all around Japan. These lucky charms offer wishes for good luck in harvest, business, health, love, and the like. Many engimono have been passed down over the years. Engimono make popular souvenirs or gift items from a particular area of Japan.

Here are some more examples of popular Japanese lucky charms:

charm2Omikuji –  these paper fortunes are sold at most Japanese temples and shrines. About half of the omikuji predict bad fortune. It is customary to leave the fortune behind by tying it at a designated spot at the temple or shrine. If one receives a good luck paper fortune, it should be kept.

Omikuji. | Andrew

emaEma – these are wooden wish boards found at Shinto shrines. It is from an old Japanese custom of donating horses to shrines. People purchase an ema, write their wish on it, and hang it at a designated area. Wishes from other people make interesting reading.

Ema. | i_yudai

Ehomaki – this is a “lucky direction sushi roll.” Setsubun tradition dictates that one must eat an entire uncut thick sushi roll in silence while facing a lucky direction. There is aspecific direction that is supposed to be lucky, and it changes every year. This was originally an Osaka tradition that quickly caught on with other parts of the country because it was a fun thing to do.

charm1Akabeko – a traditional Japanese craft that originated in Fukushima Prefecture. They are traditional children’s toys that are believed to prevent illness. The toy’s origin can be traced to the story about a cow from the 9th century that helped build Enzoji Temple. According to the legend, the cow became a stone Buddha once the temple was completed.

Akabeko. | Kanko

kitkat1KitKat – a popular chocolate bar in Japan and other countries. In Japan, KitKat chocolate bars have more than 400 flavors. The term KitKat is synonymous to the word “kitto katsu”, meaning “a sure win.” The red packaging of the chocolate bar has also added to the lucky image of the product since red is a lucky color. KitKat is also a popular gift for students during examinations.

KitKat. | jpellgen

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Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage

  • Posted by:
  • January 4, 2016

The New Year in Japan begins with Shichifukujin Meguri (七福神めぐり), a traditional pilgrimage to pray for good luck for the whole year. Many Japanese participate in the pilgrimage to visit seven local shrines and temples in honor of the Seven Lucky Gods of Fortune. This can be a daunting task in midwinter, but many welcome the tradition in the hopes of having a blessed year.


The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神/Shichi Fukujin) are well known in Japanese mythology and folklore and are popular subjects for figurines or carvings. These Japanese divinities are derived from native religious beliefs and traditions derived from Shintoism, Taoism, or Buddhism. Many of the deities in Japanese folklore and all of the Seven Lucky Gods, except for Ebisu, originated from China (with some Indian influence).

The New Year crowd at Meiji Jingu Shrine. | Nokton

12472716165_edfcc2dcf8_zThe Seven Lucky Gods are a familiar sight not just during the New Year, but all year round. Benzaiten is the goddess of everything that flows, Bishamonten the god of fortunate warriors and guards, Daikokuten the god of wealth, Fukurokuju the god of wisdom and longevity, Ebisu the laughing god, Jurōjin also represents longevity, and Hotei as the Laughing Buddha.

Ukiyo-e print of the Seven Lucky Gods. | Stuart Rankin

Shichifukujin Meguri or the the Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage is not exclusive to the New Year, but it is said that the gods arrive with gifts for the deserving in their treasure ship towards the beginning of the New Year, making January the traditional time for the pilgrimage. Participating in the Shichifukujin Meguri is a wonderful opportunity for many visitors to see various shrines and temples all around Japan. There are several recommendations for the pilgrimage with suggested sites to visit.

8694882133_a91a11310d_zThe pilgrimage tradition’s main objective since the Edo period is to collect stamps called shuin (朱印), from each of the seven temples or shrines that you visit along the entire course. The shuin are stamped on a piece of decorative cardboard called shikishi (色紙) and are available at any of the participating temples and shrines. The stamped shikishi should then be placed in your house to bring you good fortune for the entire year.

Shuin. | Christian Kaden

The Seven Gods of Fortune pilgrimage is a wonderful cultural experience that should not be missed whenever in Japan for the New Year.

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Sendai Hatsu-uri: A Shopper’s Paradise

  • Posted by:
  • January 2, 2016

Who wouldn’t love getting a great buy on sale? In the United States, Thanksgiving is a much anticipated holiday, and not just because of its actual meaning and cultural relevance in American society. It also marks the day-after nationwide sale at most stores across the country. Hordes of people flock to their favorite stores, some lining up the day before the sale to get that much coveted item at a discounted price.

In Japan, the New Year is considered the most anticipated and important holiday. The long celebration runs from December 31 to January 3. During this period, all sorts of ceremonies and customs are practiced.


The crowd during Sendai Hatsu-uri.

Something similar to the Black Friday sale is “Sendai Hatsu-uri.” From the first burst of sunlight on the 2nd of January, early bird shoppers flock downtown ready to shop until they drop. In Japan, the 2nd of January is supposed to be a lucky day for doing things for the first time in the new year and is called “kotohajime.” Other examples of activities done for the first time in the new year include “hikizome” (first playing of an instrument), “kakizome” (first time to write calligraphy in the new year), “hatsuni” (first shippimg of stores), and “sendai hatsu-uri” (first shopping, first sale).


Screengrab of YouTube video of Sendai Hatsu-uri. | とうほく復興カレンダー

Sendai Hatsu-uri can be traced back to a book entitled “Sendai Nenchu-gyoji.” It was published during the the Bunka and Bunsei eras (1804–1824). Sendai Hatsu-uri has been a tradition for over 200 years and today is a popular event that attracts both local and foreign attention. The big sale event also includes traditional Japanese drum performances, lion dances, free drinks, and more. The lively atmosphere is catchy and has the vibe of a full blown festival. Shoppers try to zoom in on lucky bags that contain items more expensive than their actual tag price. Sendai Hatsu-uri  is a unique Japanese traditional event with both sellers and shoppers praying for a blessed New Year for one and all!

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Shōgatsu: Japanese New Year

  • Posted by:
  • December 31, 2015

The Japanese New Year or Shōgatsu is probably the most important holiday in Japan. Many businesses close during this time so people can spend time with their families.

2156745461_446ffc88cf_zShōgatsu is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd of January since it was officially celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar in 1873. The traditional Japanese New year is still on the same day as the contemporary Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese New Years.

Most Japanese mark the arrival of the New Year with traditional Japanese New Year food such as osechi and other customs such as kadomatsu (bamboo-pine arrangement placed at the entrance of the home), otoshidama (give money to children) and hatsumōde (first trip to a shrine or temple in the New Year).

Otoshidama. | John Nakamura Remy

On New Year’s Eve, Japanese Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to signify the 108 human sins, as well as to get rid of the worldly sins made during the year just passed. The Japanese stay up until midnight to listen to the 108 chimes, then they generally eat a bowl of hot toshikoshi-soba, brown noodles in broth. The tradition of Nengajō, a Western-like custom of giving holiday greeting cards to relatives and friends, is observed. Japanese greeting cards are sent to post offices before the end of the year where they are kept until New Year’s Day. On this day, the post office delivers the cards all at the same time.

Bōnenkai and Shinnenkai parties are all the rage during Shōgatsu!

11691908943_fdf8b3cb86_zBōnenkai (忘年会 literally ” ‘forget the year’ gathering”) is a Japanese drinking party held at the end of the year among close friends or groups of co-workers. Its main purpose is to forget the troubles and woes of the past year and to look forward to starting fresh for the new year by consuming quite a lot of alcohol and getting drunk. There is no specific day to celebrate bōnenkai, but it usually happens every December. Bōnenkai celebrations are often sponsored by a business office or a company for their employees.

Visiting Ikegami Honmonji Temple, Tokyo. | Jun Takeuchi

Shinnenkai (新年会, literally “new year gathering”) is the Japanese tradition of welcoming the New Year by yet again drinking alcohol. It is also usually celebrated amongst the company of co-workers and friends in January. Shinnenkai is also not a traditional part of the shogatsu celebrations. Shinnenkai is very similar to Bōnenkai in that it began during the same time period and is also sponsored by the employer. Shinnenkai celebrations are marked with wishing each other good fortune and luck for the New Year.

Happy New Year to one and all!

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