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Winter in Japan

Winter in Japan

In this article, we will introduce some traditions perpetuated during winter in Japan.

Celebrating the Winter Solstice in Japan

Winter solstice (called Toji in Japanese), is the shortest day of the year. In ancient times, Japanese people would see this day as a time when the sun’s power is getting weak and bad luck will rise. To reverse it, they developed traditions to bring good luck back.

It is said that taking a yuzu scented bath on this day brings good health. Indeed, Yuzu is packed with Vitamin C, which will make you stronger against cold weather. Rubbing yuzu against your skin in the bath would also heal it from the cold. Finally, it is said that the scent of yuzu keeps devil forces away.

Kagami Mochi

Eating Mochi with Oshiruko: Kagami Biraki celebration

It literally means “Breaking the mirror”. This event usually takes place on the 11 of January, and consists of breaking the Kagami Mochi.

From New Year’s Day to January 7th, it is believed that Toshigami visit people’s homes. Toshigami (年神, 年 meaning year and 神 deity) are considered as spirits of the ancestors.

It is said that the souls of Toshigami live inside the Kagami mochi. By eating it, you will be endowed with their power. Eating Kagami-mochi will bring good health for the coming year.

After breaking the Kagami-mochi, it is often eaten with shiruko. This is because the azuki beans (red beans) represent talismans to dispel evil spirits.

Oshiruko

It is a tradition that was introduced to Japan from China, during the samurai era. It is believed that the red color of azuki beans has the power of dispelling evil.

In other words, eating oshiruko and kagami mochi together will protect you from evil spirits and give you strength and good health for the new year.

Hatsuyumei

The first dream of the year: Hatsuyume

Hatsuyume (初夢) is the first dream you have after the beginning of the year. It is said that it is auspicious to have a dream of “Ichi Fuji Ni Taka San Nasu” (一富士二鷹三茄子), or first Mt Fuji, second a hawk and third eggplants (this is why you can see those represented on the Kagami mochi included in the box)

This is the so-called best 3 good dreams. Here, we will explain what each dream is about.
■ Ichi Fuji – First, Mt Fuji
Mt. Fuji sounds like 無事 “buji” meaning “safe”. Dreaming of the high and beautiful Mt. Fuji will give you luck and strength to achieve your goals.
■ Ni Taka – Second, a hawk
A hawk catching its prey with its sharp claws is a suggestion to seize your chance. It is a year that will lead to the realization of your dreams.
■ San Nasu – Thirst, eggplants
In the past, eggplants were an expensive vegetable that only rich people could eat on New Year’s Day. It represents savings and prosperity of descendants.

Included in the Peko Peko Box

Included in the Peko Peko Box will be a Kagami Mochi, oshiruko paste as well as some yuzu syrup to make a hot drink. Dont forget to subscribe to receive your box.

Winter in shop drink: Yuzu sirop
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The year of the Tiger

Year of the Tiger

2022 is coming, led by none other than the Tiger! Are you ready for this new year?
This article will introduce everything you need to know about the year of the tiger: why it became the 3rd sign of the Zodiac, the personality of the people born that year, what to expect for your goals.

Why did the Tiger only got 3rd place?

One day, Buddha told all the animals: “The first 12 of you who will come to me on the New Year, will in turn become king of the year”.

The ox, who knew it was slow, departed during the night. It would have finished first place if the rat, who was on its back, didn’t jump in front of him at the last minute. Therefore, the rat became the 1st animal of the zodiac and the ox second.

The tiger was the fastest of all, but having left only at dawn (when the cow had already left since the beginning of the night), he could not catch up and find himself in 3rd place.

A second legend says that at the beginning, it was the lion who held 3rd place. But as he was acting badly, Buddha decided to punish him by removing him from the zodiac. And chose the tiger instead.

What to expect from people born in the year of the Tiger?

People born during the year of the tiger have positive personalities and a strong spirit: they don’t avoid challenges and even tend to go towards them. They are not afraid to make mistakes and to fail. They prefer to have a try at something rather than just avoid difficult situations.

People born during the Year of the Tiger are good in society and have entertaining personalities. They have a strong leadership spirit and bring people together.

What to expect during this new year?

The year of the tiger can be a challenging year. But have confidence in yourself to accomplish your goals. The year of the ox was a period to get prepared, take our time to reflect. During the year of the tiger, it is time to take action.

Be careful, however, not to be too impulsive and be sure to listen to the advice of those around you.

In a word, 2022 will be synonymous with novelty, growth and changes. It is a time to give the best of ourselves.
We hope that you will have a great year 2022, and that the spirit of the Tiger will guide you to accomplish great things!

Chogosonshi-ji Temple

Chogosonshi-ji Temple

Located on Mount Shigi in Nara, Chogosonshi-ji is often overlooked. But it is a great place to visit if you have some time in the area.

It is said that 1400 years ago, during his war with the Mononobe clan, on the year of the tiger, on the day and the hour of the tiger, Prince Shotoku went to pray Bishamonten on the mountains of Nara. Bishamonten is one of the 7 Gods of Luck. He is depicted as a warrior, wearing armor and is considered as the god of war. After winning the war, Shotoku established the temple in gratitude. 

The temple is known for its gigantic tiger papier mache statue (the world biggest one). It makes it a great place to visit during 2022, the year of the tiger.

Included in the January box

This ceramic tiger statuette will be included in your New Year Box. Subscribe now to Peko Peko Box so you dont miss it.

Year of the Tiger
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Halloween in Japan

Kokeshi

Spooky season is just around the corner, and you may be wondering, how does Japan celebrate Halloween? We will answer your question in this article. And don’t forget to check out Peko Peko shop or to subscribe to Peko Peko Box. For Halloween, enjoy our 9% OFF discount on everything! Use code HALLOWEEN2021 at checkout.

Halloween in Japan

Halloween grew in popularity after Disneyland Tokyo held a Halloween event in 2000. Soon, it became quite popular among young people all over the country.
In Japan, people don’t trick or treat, but mainly enjoy creating their own costumes and showing it off on the streets. For many cosplay (costume play) amators, Halloween is the perfect opportunity to show off their creativity. There are a few places in Japan where people parade, the most known one being at Shibuya crossing.

Shibuya crossing attracts around 60,000 to 80,000 people every year, coming to enjoy a crazy night. After some accidents caused by the drunk mob, drinking on the streets of Shibuya during Halloween became forbidden in the past years.

Around Halloween, attraction parks such as Disneyland in Tokyo and Universal Studio in Osaka hold Halloween events, and it is a good place to enjoy the spooky season.

Fuurin Red - Halloween in Japan

4 and 9, bad luck numbers

In Japan, 4 and 9 are two unlucky numbers. Why? Because of how they sound. 4 in Japanese can be pronounced “shi”, which is the same sound as the word for “death”.
9 is pronounced “kyu” or “ku” which sound just like the word for “agony” or “suffering”.
Some hospitals don’t have rooms numbered 4 or 9 as it is considered bad luck. It is also said that yakuza put 444 on their license plate to show that they are not afraid of dying.

For our Halloween sales, we offer you a 9% discount on all Peko Peko website… will you dare using our promo code HALLOWEEN2021 ?

Other bad luck superstitions in Japan

There are a lot of superstitions in Japan, as in any other countries. Here are some of our favorites.

Hearse are, quite obviously, a symbol of death. In Japan, if you see a hearse, you should hide your thumb in your palm. Indeed, in Japanese, the thumb is called “oya yubi” which means the “parents finger”. By hiding it, you protect your parents from passing away too soon.

As breaking a mirror in the west is seen as a bad omen, breaking a comb in Japan is said to bring bad luck. Some explain this superstition as comb were in the past quite expensive and it would have been a loss to break one.

Everyone knows tatami, Japan’s traditional floor mats. It is said that stepping on the sides of the tatamis can bring bad luck to one’s family.

Finally, you should pay attention to how you sleep. Indeed, in Japan, sleeping facing north is considered bad luck and brings death, as during funerals, dead bodys are placed facing the north.

Manekineko Red and White
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Hokkaido Safari

Hokkaido safari: fox

This summer, we want to take you on a Hokkaido safari to discover all the beautiful animals that you might be able to see when travelling to the northern island of Japan. 

If you want to know more about Hokkaido, don’t forget to subscribe to Peko Peko Box before August 30th to receive your Hokkaido box: subscribe here.

Bears

Shiretoko peninsula is one of the most beautiful places you could visit in the north of Hokkaido. It was added in 2005 to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. From Utoro port, you can embark on a local fisherman’s boat in hope to spot brown bears in their natural habitat. Shiretoko has one of the densest populations of brown bears in the world and concentrates 80% of the brown bear population of the island of Hokkaido.

It is estimated that you have a 90% chance to see them! Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t great this day and we felt into the 10%, as we weren’t able to see brown bears, even after a 2 hours cruise. But our guide, Fred, provided us with those photos.

Hokkaido safari: bears

Fox

Hokkaido foxes are as famous as the brown bears. It is one of the mascots of the land. Also known as Ezo Red Foxes, they can be seens quite easily, walking around. They are usually bigger than the fox that you may see on the mainland of Honshu.

Hokkaido safari: fox

Salmon

In the Shiretoko National Park is Sakura no taki, a small waterfall where we can see cherry salmon jumping upstream during the summer months. Cherry salmon go down to the sea to grow bigger and come back up in July and August to lay their eggs. It is so impressive to watch them try to jump and go up this waterfall.

Hokkaido salmon

White tailed eagles

These beautiful raptors can be found all year long in Hokkaido. White-tailed eagles can have a wingspan of more than 2 meters and they are known as the fourth largest eagle in the world. They are quite aggressive birds and children are watched closely when being out in areas where those birds are seen. Indeed, when fishing is not going well, white tailed eagles can attack small deers, pet animals, or, more rarely, children.

Hokkaido white-tailed eagles

Red-crowned crane

They are one of the most majestic and elegant birds you could watch. Living exclusively in Hokkaido, they can be distinguished by the red spot on their heads. It is a loved bird in Japanese culture as you can see many of its representations on paintings and prints. It also became a symbol of peace after the bombing of Hiroshima.

If you want to enjoy this Hokkaido safari longer, don’t forget to subscribe to Peko Peko Box before August 30th.

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Peko Peko Box 1st Anniversary

Peko Peko Customers

We started the Peko Peko Box adventure one year ago, in August 2020! It is crazy to think about everything we have accomplished in one year and most of it is thanks to your support. Thank you!

How did Peko Peko Box started?

We are a travel agency based in Japan. For many years, we helped thousands of people enjoy the country we love. In early 2020, the Covid-19 crisis gave globetrotters a hard time. Visiting Japan became impossible! To keep the travel spirit alive and help local economies we decided to help you travel to Japan from home by creating our Peko Peko Box.

Peko Peko Box values

Care

Peko Peko box items are carefully selected by us before being packed and shipped with love.

Authenticity

Peko Peko items are 100% made and/or designed in Japan. We won’t send you mass-produced products from convience stores.

Support

Peko Peko supports small businesses and local regions all across Japan.

Experience

You don’t just receive awesome items with our box, you also come with us on a journey through Japan.  We include our meet the locals magazine and videos on our YouTube channel.

Our community

Anniversary Deals

To celebrate our 1st anniversary, we have got a special discount on the Spirit of Japan box, the first box we created, a year ago! Get it for 42$ instead of 49$ ! Offer available only during the month of August

For all purchase on the Peko Peko Shop (Spirit of Japan purchase is not included in this offer) and for all new subscription during the month of August, receive as a gift this beautiful tenugui. Tenugui is a staple to have. It is found in every japanese household. It can be used as a light towel, dishcloth, as a decoration to display on the wall or can be suspended to cover open shelves

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Immerse yourself in the Ainu culture in Hokkaido

Ainu Culture

During our stay in Hokkaido, we wanted to know more about Ainu culture. So we went to an Ainu village on the shores of Lake Akan. With 36 houses and around 120 residents, the village aims to perpetuate the traditions and culture of Ainu and to present its handicrafts. Some of these products will be included in the September 2021 Hokkaido-themed Peko Peko box. Subscribe before August 31st to get it!

Ainu Culture

Who are the Ainu?

The Ainu are the indigenous population of the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese archipelago. Ainu means “human”. Ainu culture is very different from Japanese culture, with its own legends, beliefs, dances and rituals, languages ​​and songs.

The Ainu used to live in close relationship with nature, usrviving by fishing, hunting and farming. Thus, they developed beliefs that gods and spirits visit our world in various forms and therefore are found all around us, in the natural world. They can be found in mountains, wind, animals or plants. The Ainu have a great respect for nature and it reflects in their crafts, songs and dances.

Dances and songs are very important in Ainu’s daily life. Whether it is joy or sadness, they express their emotions through dances and songs, which can be found at any time in all parts of society, whether for family celebrations, with friends or even at work.

Ainu people

Ainu embroidery

One of the Ainu crafts that immediately caught our attention is embroidery. Indeed, we can see very particular shapes. For example the “moreu” (the spirals) and the “aiushi”, the thorns pattern. These patterns may differ from region to region and from family to family, as they are traditionally being passed down from mother to daughter. These designs are known to ward off evil spirits.

In your Peko Peko Box, you will find a pouch with designs inspired by Ainu embroidery. Part of the profits for this item go to an association that promotes the preservation of Ainu culture.

Ainu Culture

Interview of Ayano Maeda, Representative Director of Hokkaido Potluck

Where and by whom is this pouch made?

Given their reduced numbers, Ainu people are unfortunately unable to produce enough pouches at scale. Therefore we ask a dyeing workshop in Kyoto where craftsmen print on the pattern on fabric before sewing the pouches one by one.

We heard that some of the profit made from the sales of your products goes to the Ainu people?

Ainu crafts were originally used in daily life, they weren’t for sale. Therefore, they have never been mass-produced. Even if they can be considered as works of art, the price at which they are sold is not worth the producer’s time. Currently, the number of Ainu people who have inherited Ainu know-how for crafts such as woodworking, weaving, and sewing is decreasing, and in order to preserve the traditional techniques, they need to teach their crafts to future generations. Therefore, a part of the profit made from the sales of the Ainu pouch included in the Peko Peko Box is given to the Nibutani Folk Art Association.

Subscribe to Peko Peko Box to read the full interview and get your Hokkaido box to know more about Ainu culture.

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Obon Matsuri

Obon

In August, Obon festivities take place all over Japan. It is a time to honor and pray for the spirits of one’s ancestors. During this period, spirits come back to earth to visit their relatives. 

During Obon festival, incense is used to pray for ancestors’ spirits. In the Peko Peko Box of July 2021, we have included lotus incense, so don’t forget to subscribe before June 30th, 2021.

Obon

How to celebrate Obon?

Obon is a Buddhist festival that has been celebrated in Japan for over 500 years. It is held on the 15th day of the 7th month of the solar calendar, which corresponds to mid-August of the lunar calendar. The Obon festivities take place over three days, generally from August 13th to 16th. During Obon festivities, everything stops. Many stores are closed and Japanese people usually take time off to visit their families. Trains are therefore generally crowded, as are hotels. It is not the best season to travel to Japan.

During those festivities, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the spirits of the ancestors, dances are organized to welcome the spirits (dances styles varies depending on the region of Japan), families gather and make offerings on the tombs of the ancestors. Offerings usually consists of flowers, sake, and snacks and drinks that they used to enjoy. At the end of the festivities, lanterns are put in rivers and lakes to guide the spirits back to their world.

In Kyoto, on the last day of Obon is held Gozan no Okuribi. Giant firewoods are arranged in the shape of kanji characters and set on fire, on top of the mountains around Kyoto.

Obon dance

Lotus incense

In the Peko Peko Box of July 2021, we have included lotus incense. During Obon festival, incense is used to pray for ancestors’ spirits. We have selected a lotus scent incense as lotus flowers bloom during summer, in July and August. The best places to enjoy them are Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Mimurotoji Temple in Kyoto or Tozenji Temple in Nagano. Enjoy this refreshing scent of lotus flowers as part of your summer daily routine. 

Subscribe now to Peko Peko Box so you don’t miss our next box!

Lotus flower incense
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What is Kamakura bori?

Kamakura Bori are made by carving patterns in wood, then lacquering it with layers of color. You can admire the details of the engravings in bowls, plates, chopsticks … We will tell you more in this article about the techniques and the origin of this traditional Kamakura art.

Kamakura bori

The origins of Kamakura Bori

Busshi (sculptors of Buddhist statues) invented Kamakura bori techniques around 700-800 years ago. At that time, Buddhism had just been introduced to Japan and many temples were being built in Kamakura. As a result, artisans of the city developed this technique to produce the items necessary for the decoration of these new temples. During the Edo period, Kamakura Bori artisans diversified their craft to also produce everyday objects. In the Meiji era, anti-Buddhist movements led to a decrease in the number of artisans practicing this art. Today, a few craftsmen remain and continue to perpetuate this tradition of lacquer engraving.

Kamakura bori

The techniques: carving and lacquering

Items are made by carving into the wood and then lacquering it with layers of color. The wood used varies but we often find Ginkgo or Katsura wood. The designs (often animals, flowers, or arabesques) are first carved into the wood. Then, the lacquer process begins. It can take one month to finish one item. Indeed, it takes time for lacquer layers to dry. Kamakura Bori are very resistant. And they can be passed down from generation to generation.

Craftsmen often left the marks of the tools as-is on the design. They do so to accentuate the patterns. They also use a black powder in curves to accentuate the relief of the design. Craftsmen often collaborate to create pieces, as each of them has their specialty: engraving or lacquering.

Sansuido shop in Kamakura

Where to buy Kamakura Bori items in Kamakura?

If you want to bring back a beautiful carved lacquered item with you, we recommend the Sansuido store. It is a shop located between Komachi Dori shopping street and Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū shrine. There, Goro Koizumi, the owner, will greet you. He will introduce his shop to you with pleasure, in English!

You will find very beautiful pieces from very affordable prices like chopsticks or small plates or bowls. As well as more substantial objects as plates with more elaborate designs. You will undoubtedly find your happiness there!

If you want to discover more about Kamakura, you can purchase our Travel to Kamakura box. It will transport you to this beautiful destination through carefully selected local shop items.

Sansuido shop in Kamakura
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Kamakura Hokokuji Temple

If you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy some quiet time, why not visit Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura? Located slightly out of the way, in a residential area, this is probably one of the most beautiful places in the city.

Hokokuji and its bamboo forest

It is said that Hokokuji Temple was founded in 1334 by Tengan Eko or Uesugi Shigekane, under the patronage of Ashikaga Ietoki. It belongs to the Rinzai Buddhist sect.

Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura

The main building dates from 1920, having been rebuilt after being destroyed in a large earthquake. But, you don’t go to Hokokuji to admire its buildings. Indeed, the temple nickname is the “Bamboos Temple”, because of its magnificent bamboo groove located in its center.

Kamakura Hokokuji Temple
Bamboos forest

Many of you might know the Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto. But, we can assure you that this one is much prettier. The dancing light between the green stems soaring towards the sky creates a magical atmosphere.

To reinforce this mystical atmosphere, you may notice the caves that can be seen in the rocks overlooking the temple. It is said that this is where the ashes of the lords of the Ashikaga clan have been scattered.

Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura
Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura

Enjoy a cup of matcha

In the bamboo forest, there is a small tea house. There, you can enjoy a cup of matcha tea, hot or cold depending on the season. The tea is served with Japanese sugar confections which counterbalances the bitterness of the matcha very well.

Kamakura Hokokuji Temple
Enjoy a Matcha drink

Entrance to the temple costs 300 yen. And you will need to add another 500 yen to enjoy this cup of matcha.

While waiting to be able to visit Kamakura Hokokuji Temple…

If you cannot travel to Japan and Kamakura at the moment, we suggest you discover this magnificent city through our Kamakura Box. It contains a selection of objects and snacks that will transport you there, without leaving your home! A magazine is also included in the box. We can learn more about the contents of the box and the craftsmen who participated in it.

Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura
Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura
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What is shakyo?

Are you looking for a relaxing experience to do during your stay in Japan? Do you want to reconnect with yourself? Look no further, we have the perfect activity for you: shakyo.

What is shakyo?

Shakyo (写 経) literally means “to copy the sutras”. It is thus an activity practiced to copy by hand the Buddhist scriptures.

The practice of shakyo appears in Japan in the 7th century and quickly became very popular. It was originally practiced to disseminate Buddhist scriptures and spread this religion. But, little by little, it started to be practiced out of religious beliefs to become an activity allowing anyone to find its inner peace. We now practice it to purify ourselves both physically and mentally.

Experience shakyo
Experience shakyo

How to practice shakyo?

The sutra most used in the practice of shakyo is called the “Hannya Shinkyo” or in English the Heart Sutra. It is often chosen because it is one of the simplest and shortest sutra.

If you’ve never practiced Japanese, don’t worry. You don’t need to read or understand it to enjoy this activity. You will be given a thin piece of paper under which you will place the sutra. Then, you will only have to draw the lines, following the sutra under your paper. Take advantage of this moment to relax, take your time. More than copying the scriptures nicely, it is the reflection on yourself that is the most important.

Experience shakyo
Axel practicing shakyo

After you have copied the sutra, write on your sheet a wish you want to come true, along with your name and the date. Then, you should go lay your work in front of the Buddha altar.

Where to practice in Kamakura?

If you are in Kamakura, you can experience shakyo at Hokaiji Temple. Built in 1335, this beautiful little temple belongs to the Tendai Buddist sect. It is not far from the famous Hachimangu Shrine and the shopping street, making it a very convenient stopover. So you should definitely add it to the places to visit in Kamakura. There, you can ask to practice shakyo.

Inside Hokaiji Temple

To assist you in your daily life, hoping that it brings you peace and joy, we have included in our Kamakura Box a tote bag illustrated with a sutra.

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Best things to do in Kamakura

For our March Peko Peko Box, we are taking you to discover Kamakura. Located less than an hour south of Tokyo, Kamakura is a coastal city in Kanagawa Prefecture. It became the political center of Japan at the end of the 12th century and until the 14th century after the shogunate settled there to rule the archipelago. Sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, Kamakura is known for its many temples and shrines.

Best thing to do: Enjoy Mt Fuji view from the beach

Kamakura’s sandy beaches draw crowds during the summer months, with many Tokyoites coming to spend their weekends there. In winter, when the horizon is clear, you can enjoy a magnificent view of Mount Fuji from the beach.

Mont Fuji at sunset
Mont Fuji at sunset from the Kamakura beach

To access the beaches, we recommend that you take the charming, scenic Enoden train from Kamakura Station to Enoshima Station.

Enoden train
Enoden train at Kamakura Koko Mae station

Best temple to visit: The great Buddha of Kamakura

One of Kamakura’s must-sees is its bronze statue of Buddha Amida, which stands at Kotokuin temple. Built in 1252, it is 11.5 meters high and weighs over 120 tons. It is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, surpassed only by the Todaiji temple statue in Nara.

The statue was originally located inside a large hall. However, after it was destroyed, the monks decided to leave the statue in the open air.

The great Buddha of Kamakura
The great Buddha

Best shrine to visit: Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū

In the center of the city, from Kamakura Station, you can follow the dankazura, a 450-meter-long pedestrian path lined with 177 sakura, and leading to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shrine.

Founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, it is the most important shrine in Kamakura.

It was enlarged and moved to its present site in 1180 by its descendant, Minamoto Yoritomo, founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government.

Best shrine to visit in Kamakura: Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū
Entrance to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū

The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the protective god of the Minamoto family and of the samurai in general. Indeed, Hachiman was considered the protective kami of the warrior class.

It is said that Hachiman was guided to the shrine by doves. This is why you will find many representations of this bird. As for example: on the plaque at the top of the main building, the “hachi” character is drawn with representations of doves.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū
Hachi character is drawn with representations of doves

Best place to relax: Hokoku-ji temple and its bamboo forest

One magnificent temple that should not be missed while visiting Kamakura is Hokoku-ji. Slightly out of the way, it stands in the middle of a residential area. It is often called the bamboo temple. Indeed, its main attraction is the magnificent bamboo forest hidden behind its walls. No less than 2000 bamboos stand there. A magical place.

Best place to relax in Kamakura: the bamboo temple
Best place to relax in Kamakura: the bamboo temple

In the center of the forest, a tea house where you can enjoy a matcha drink and some sweets for 500 yen, while admiring the light playing hide and seek between the bamboos. A great place to relax for a few minutes.

Matcha tea at Hokoku-ji
Matcha tea at Hokoku-ji

Want to know more about Kamakura?

To find out more about Kamakura, subscribe to Peko Peko Box.

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Kumade Market: Celebrate the New Year in Tokyo

Kumade

The kumade market is a Japanese New Year tradition taking place during the month of November. Kumade are beautiful Japanese handicrafts. They are mostly found hanging in shops and businesses. But these are not just decorative items. In this article, you will get to know more about kumade.

What is a Kumade?

A kumade is a bamboo rake. But then, what has it to do with the New Year? Well, kumade is said to “rake good fortune” for the coming year. To do so, kumade are decorated with many symbols to attract prosperity, happiness, and luck to their owner. It is mainly business owners that buy kumade before the end of the New Year, to make their business successful for the coming year. The size and price of kumade varies, the smallest cost 2000 or 3000 yen (19 to 28 dollars), and the larger ones 50,000 yen (480 dollars) or more and can weigh up to 150kg.

Kumade Market
Kumade Market

The meaning behind Kumade

You will find many lucky symbols on the kumade. For example, koban coins, the currency used during the Edo period, or rice barrels, symbols of abundant harvests and therefore prosperity. There are also often small statuettes of turtles or cranes. It is in fact said in Japanese culture that these two animals live 10,000 and 1,000 years respectively. They are therefore a symbol of good omen and longevity. Two other animals are also often represented. First, sea bream. Pronounced “tai” in Japanese, the sound of its name resonates with the word “omodetai” meaning “to celebrate”. Finally, the owl, pronounced in Japanese “fukuro”. And “fuku” in Japanese means “happiness”.

At the end of the year, people bring back to the shrine their old kumade. Old kumade are burned. Large boxes are thus installed in front of the kumade market to collect them. Being a talisman, it is indeed a bad omen to simply throw your old kumade in the trash. Each New Year, therefore, you have to buy a new kumade, preferably bigger than the one you had the previous year because it is a sign that your business is prospering. On the contrary, if the acquired kumade is smaller, it is not a good omen.

Kumade Market
Kumade Market

Kumade Market: Ootori Shrine in Asakusa

Several kumade markets take place in Tokyo during the month of November. We went to Ootori Shrine in the Asakusa district as it is where this tradition started. Two or 3 markets take place during the month. The first one is called Tori no Ichi. It takes place on the first rooster day of November, according to the lunar calendar. The second market, Ni no Tori, takes place on the second rooster day of the month, 11 days later. Depending on the year, there may be a third market (called San no Tori). The market is open all day, 24 hours non-stop. During each market, more than 100 stalls line up. Each stand tries to be the most creative one by selling the most nicely decorated kumade. All around the shrine, there are also food stalls, in the spirit of the Japanese matsuri.

A special ritual follows the biggest sales. To signify that the deal is closed, the seller and the buyer clap their hands several times following the rhythm of 3,3,3 and 1. This ritual is tejime.

If you are in Tokyo during the month of November, the kumade market is definitely somewhere to go. And why not buy a little one to bring back home?

Kumade Market
Kumade Market
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What is Kagura?

Kagura masks

During our stay in Joge, we had the chance to assist to a Kagura performance. But what is Kagura?

Kagura (神楽) literally means the entertainment for the gods. It is told in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the old chronicles relating the origins of Japan, that Amaterasu, the sun goddess, had hidden in a cave after a fight with her brother. In consequence, the world, deprived of its light, became dark. So the other gods decided to perform in front of the cave to get her attention and make her come back to the outside world. This story explains the meaning behind Kagura dance and its origin.

The particularity of Joge’s Kagura

The climax of the representation was when 2 snakes appeared on the stage. The snake’s bodies are 18m long and take inspiration from traditional lanterns. Each snake is controlled by only one man, which makes it quite impressive. Indeed, physical strength is necessary to control the snake body for about 30 minutes.

Okinaza : the old wooden theater

The kagura performance was held in the Okinawa. Erected in 1925, during the Taisho area, the Okinaza is a traditional playhouse where theater performances were taken place. There are very few of those original buildings remaining in Japan. On the ground floor are the stage and seating area. A balcony is going around the theater with more seating space. However, no seats are to be seen as people were used to sitting directly on the floor, on small cushions. 

The Okinaza is a witness of the prosperity Joge once had as a town on the Silver Road. As many people were going through the town, entertainment was a necessity, and the old wooden theater is here to remind us of this area. 

Okinaza
Okinaza lanterns

Where to watch a performance?

If you want to see a more complete Kagura performance, you can go to our Youtube channel. You can also purchase our Travel to Joge box, to discover the best of the local souvenirs of the town such as yoshu cake, tsuchinoko manju, lucky charm, senbei, antique plates, hand made bowls…

Kagura performer
On the stage
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Japan countryside getaway

Joge street

If you are looking for a Japan countryside getaway, not too far from Kyoto or Hiroshima, then, Joge town is perfect for you.

From Kyoto or Hiroshima, take the Shinkansen to Fukuyama station before renting a car that will bring you in a 1h drive to the village. You can also drive directly from Hiroshima to Joge. It will take you around 1h45.

Joge-machi was located on the “Ginzan Kaido” or “Silver Highway” which, during the feudal era, delivered silver from the continent to Kyoto and Osaka. In Joge-machi, you can take a walk to admire the historical buildings, see a Kagura performance, a Shinto ritual ceremonial dance, buy some antiques, experience Japanese budô and also meet local producers. In addition, while walking the streets of the village, you can still feel the spirit of the Edo area. A real time-travel.

Day 1 –  Traditional Japanese village

For the first day of this weekend away from the city, leave early in the morning to arrive near Joge just in time for lunch. Don’t go to the city center yet and aim for the mountains. A little road, stuck between a stream of water and the side of the mountain, will bring you to Shuroan, a delicious restaurant owned by a really nice couple. While the wife will show you around, the husband will cook for you a delicious lunch set with seasonal and local ingredients. The food is delicate, the seasoning subtitle. 

After lunch, you can ask to take your tea in a pavilion overhanging the river. Calm and serenity surround you. If you have time, why not take a nap?

Later on, after lunch, head to Tenryo Joge, a traditional Japanese inn where you will be spending the night. There, the friendly staff will welcome you as well as advise you on what to do in this picturesque town. Our recommendation: rent an antique kimono for the afternoon. While walking around town, take amazing pictures in kimono in front of the city white walls, in the Okinaza, the only wooden theater left in the Chugoku region, or in the antique shop. Also, discover the story behind the thousand of dolls displayed there and get a taste of the old Japan.

Day 2 –  Japan countryside getaway

For this second day of your Joge adventure, enjoy your morning in the machiya garden before heading to Bingo Yano station. This station is a veritable treasure and you will find there a lot of nicks-nacks, masks, figurines, and other unidentified objects. Also, on the platform, don’t miss the small jinja with the Hotei-san statue, the divinity of contentment and happiness, carved in a woodblock. In addition, if you are lucky enough, there are only 6 trains a day, you will see the one-car train passing through the station and on to the rice fields. An image that seems to be out of a Giblie movie.

Also, the station is themed around happiness and good fortune. Indeed, the train line name is Fukuensen 福塩線 and if you change the character in the middle while keeping the same pronunciation, Fukuensen becomes 福縁線 with means the good fortune line.

In addition, the station is taken care of by a really nice couple. And for lunch, they will make you a udon like no other: the fukuen udon (good fortune udon), named after the train line. In fact, the recipe has been carefully thought of by Sato-san, the station master. It consists of a udon soup with 3 mochi : a ume (plum) mochi, a kibi (millet) mochi and a yomogi (mugwort) mochi. In fact, the rond shape of the mochi symbolizes good fortune.

After lunch, have a drive in the rice fields around. The scenery are just breath taking!

What to bring as a souvenir?

Before leaving, what to get as a souvenir from Joge town? We recommend some Yoshu cake, Tsuchinoko Manju, Senbei, Fukuen lucky charm, antique plates,… Get all those souvenirs and exclusive interviews of Joge people by getting our Travel to Joge box.

Also, if you are interested in a Japan countryside getaway, you can contact Cocolo Travel for a personalized travel plan.

Senbei and ofuda, Satou-san
Sato-san introducing senbei and ofuda,
Takahashi-san introducing scented bags
Takahashi-san introducing scented bags
Sayaka-san
Sayaka-san introducing kimono fabric bowls
Miyoko-san introducing tsuchinoko manju
Miyoko-san introducing tsuchinoko manju
Yoshu cake factory
Maebara-san introducing yoshu cake
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Japanese bento in Joge: HOME Kitchen

Bento Home Kitchen

In the center of Joge town, among the white walls houses, one of the best places to have lunch is HOME Kitchen, a small shop that offers great Japanese bento. The homemade cuisine and the warm welcome will make you want to come back the next day!

What are Japanese bento?

In western countries, for a quick cheap lunch, we have sandwiches. In Japan, they have bento. A bento is a lunch box, a lunch plate. You can buy them at convenience stores, supermarkets, or specialized shops. It usually consists of some rice and several side dishes such as meat, fish, vegetables, pickles, eggs. Some Japanese bento can also consist of only one main dish.

A shop that makes you feel at home

Noai Ohata, Home Kitchen owner
Noai Ohata, Home Kitchen owner

Noai Ohata, the owner of HOME Kitchen, is an active young woman, mother of three. Every day is a busy day for her, dropping off her children at school before heading to the shop to start cooking. Through her cuisine, Ohata-san wants her customers to feel as they are eating their mum’s dishes. Opened in 2016, the shop is a real success. Bento are ready at 11:00 and often sold out a little after 12h.

During our stay in Joge, I could tried 3 of her bento. First, the Keema curry bento, delicious ground meat well seasoned but not spicy, topped with a fried egg and some local vegetables. Very flavorful. Then, the ebi chili omurice. Omurice consists of fried rice topped with an omelet, while ebi chili, a dish with Chinese influences, consists of stir-fried shrimp with chili sauce. A delicious combination.

Keema curry, japanese bento
Keema curry bento at Home Kitchen

Finally, one of my top recommendations at the shop, the karaage. Karaage is a side dish you will often find in Japanese bento. It is a Japanese-style fried chicken. At HOME Kitchen, I tasted one of the best karaage ever in my life. The chicken was crispy yet tender and it had a little twist unlike any other. On top of the karaage were some green flakes. At first, thought it could be herbs, but it was nori, Japanese dried seaweed. It was surprising but it gave to the karaage a delicious saltiness.  

Karaage, japanese bento
Karaage at Home Kitchen

Get to know more about Joge

If you want to get to know more about Joge town order our November box. Not only will you receive the best souvenirs that Joge city offers, you will also discover more about what to eat, what to see and who to meet when you go there (orders opened until October 31st, 2020).