Plain Talk


Easy Day Trips From Tokyo: Mito by Patrick Hattman

Fifty years ago, Japan witnessed the start of a new television series called Mito Komon. A jidaigeki or period drama, it debuted in 1969 to rave reviews and achieved such viewer popularity that it lasted for 42 years into 2011. The show was based on the life of Tokugawa Mitsukuni, a high-ranking Edo Period official whose domain was headquartered in Mito.

A typical script for the program centered around the travels of Tokugawa Mitsukuni throughout his domain- usually in disguise - and the eventual revelation of his identity to dispense justice to unsuspecting offenders and lessons in morality to the wayward.

While the program's enduring popularity probably made the city of Mito more famous in recent decades, most Japanese already knew that Mito possesses a wealth of historic sites and an abundance of natural beauty to impress any visitor. And with the city just a 65-minute express train ride from Tokyo's Ueno Station on the JR Joban Line, Mito can be a rewarding day trip for all who call Tokyo home.

*Things to See and Do*

Designated as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, Kairaku-en was completed in the early 1840s on the orders of Tokugawa Nariaki. The park contains more than 3000 ume or plum trees. They bloom in early spring, providing viewers with a dazzling display of pink, red and white blossoms. Kairaku-en also includes extensive stands of cherry trees for blossom viewing later each spring, as well as towering groves of bamboo and cedar. The park is a simple 15-minute bus ride from the south side of Mito Station.

An architectural highlight of Kairaku-en, Kobuntei is a three-story wooden structure comprising 10 rooms built by Tokugawa Nariaki as a retreat from Mito Castle and the administrative affairs of the domain. He used Kobuntei as a place of entertainment. The aesthetic qualities of the interior make a tour worthwhile, with many beautifully painted screens and various artifacts from the time, and the view of the park and surrounding areas from Kobuntei is also memorable.

Established as a domain school in 1841 by Tokugawa Nariaki, Kodokan was an institution of learning to prepare students mentally, morally and physically for their role in life. Additionally, it was a training facility for resisting and repelling a potential invasion of foreign powers in the late Edo Period. A tour of the Kodokan includes the remaining grand structures, and guides describe those as well as some other important cultural properties found on the grounds. The Kodokan is just a short walk from the north exit of Mito Station.

Lake Senba:
Situated just to the east of Kairaku-en, Lake Senba is a man-made body of water that provides various sorts of leisure activities for the inhabitants of Mito and its many tourists. Also, it has become an important habitat for numerous kinds of birds, particularly waterfowl.
Encircling it is an exercise path equally divided into lanes for those on foot and others riding a bicycle. For those wanting to get out on the water, rowboats and swan boats are available. At night, the lake's fountains are brilliantly illuminated, giving off vibrant colors.

Tokiwa Shrine:
Dedicated to the Tokugawa family and illustrious members like Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Tokugawa Nariaki, Tokiwa Shrine is located adjacent to Kairaku-en on the park's northeast border. The shrine presents itself as a place to experience and remember some of the Tokugawa legacy through the architecture of the structures located there, among other cultural assets found on site. And for those looking for a bit of peace and quiet from crowds at other spots mentioned above, Tokiwa Shrine might be just the place for a brief rest.

Plain Talk


My Temple Retreat at Eiheiji by Carol Kavanagh

As an English language teacher in Tokyo, I try to travel as much as I can during the school holidays. This winter break was no different. I wanted to experience something to help me escape from the intense, city life that Tokyo throws at you. I decided a temple stay in Fukui would be the perfect way to spend my Christmas and so I booked an overnight visit at Eiheiji temple for Christmas night. This Buddhist temple dates back to 1244 and is a glorious, hidden gem, high in the misty mountains.
It was the afternoon when I arrived on Christmas day and I was greeted by a pleasant, English speaking monk. He demonstrated how to act and meditate and how if I looked like I was failing at this and lacked concentration, another monk would hit me with a long stick on my shoulder. This was not for discipline but to simply encourage me to try harder.
After two back to back zazen meditation sessions, my legs were numb and my mind panicked with the realization of what it must be like to be paralyzed from the knees down. I managed to escape a stick to the shoulder which wasn’t the case for a poor fellow tourist. My whole body jumped when I heard the sharp, brisk stick behind me. I sat up straighter and had a determined facial expression with lips pursed and eyebrows frowning while I pretended to be fascinated by a marking on the wall in line with my eyes. After the meditation, I received a delicious vegetarian dinner prepared by some of the 150 practicing monks. I ate alone and said a prayer of thanks before and after my meal.
After dinner it was time for more zazen meditation and at this stage my legs were starting to panic from the thoughts of being crossed for another forty minutes. I managed to struggle through the last meditation of the day and rewarded myself with a soak in the private bath. I was exhausted after my bath and fell into a deep sleep.
I woke to the sound of the morning bell at four twenty in the morning and quickly made myself look relatively decent for the meditation and morning mass. I chanted with the large gathering of monks as best I could, failing to pronounce words properly but my enthusiasm made up for it. Afterwards, I was given a tour of the temple and then I was directed back to my room for breakfast. Tiredness hit me like a brick and I managed to take a peaceful nap before checking out at nine.
I thanked the lovely monk who made my stay so welcoming, who in turn gave me a book on zazen meditation as well as a small notepad as a gift. I felt so grateful when I left. The rain was falling slowly as I walked past the five hundred year old cedar trees and down the narrow street toward my bus stop.

滞在中、お世話になった僧侶にお礼をのべると、お返しに座禅の本とメモ用紙のプレゼントをいただいた。 去る時は本当に名残惜しかった。樹齢500年の杉の古木を通り過ぎ、バス停へと続く細い道をくだったところで、雨がそろりと降ってきた。

Tokyo Fab



The samurai, members of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan, began as provincial warriors before rising to power in the 12th century with the beginning of the country’s first military dictatorship, known as the shogunate. The samurai would dominate Japanese government and society until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to the abolition of the feudal system. Despite being deprived of their traditional privileges, many of the samurai would enter the elite ranks of politics and industry in modern Japan. More importantly, the traditional samurai code of honor, discipline and morality known as bushido−or “the way of the warrior”−was revived and made the basic code of conduct for much of Japanese society.
Although some might think the samurai code has died out, we can still find influences of the samurai code which plays a major role in many fields including business, politics, sports, and other aspects of Japanese life. Even though you don’t see samurais walking around in modern Tokyo, this festival could be a rare opportunity to witness samurais in real life.
With fun themes such as ‘samurai’, ‘ninja’ and ‘wa-Japonesque’, the ‘Samuai Fes’ will showcase ‘Tate Japanese Sword Fight Performing Arts’, ‘Iaijutsu-combative quick-draw sword technique Experience’, ‘Try on Samurai Kacchu Armor’ and more. Join the festival and find out about mystical samurais, and enjoy eating and drinking tasty Japanese vendor food and drinks while you are there!

Date: 2/28 (Fri), 29 (Sat) and 3/1 (Sun)
@ Ueno Park - Closest Sta. Uno Sta.

For more information, visit



Some people know February 22nd as ‘Cat Day’. In Japanese, the noise of a cat is pronounced “nyan” instead of “meow” and 2 is “ni” in Japanese, so 2/22 is “ni-yan ni-yan ni-yan” day thus the day of the cat. However, Japan Ninja Council claims otherwise! Instead of “ni-yan ni-yan ni-yan”, it is “ni-n ni-n ni-n” day, which makes 2/22 a “Ninja Day”!! "Nin" initially meant to ”persevere," but over time it developed the extended meanings "conceal" and "move stealthily." “Sure cats are cute, but Ninjas could be cute, too!? Even if Ninja day cannot beat cat day, perhaps people can celebrate both!” they say. Also cats are everywhere in the world, but Ninjas are unique to Japan, which is more reason to celebrate this ‘Ninja Day’ in Japan!
From 2/2 to 2/22, Ninja campaigns will be held all over Japan from Hokkaido to Saga including the Ninja festival, Ninja shrunken tournament and more! Visit their website and find that special Ninja event near you!

Illustration by Kyomaruya

For more details and concert schedules, please visit



Tokyo Voice Column


Valentine's Day in Japan: It's Now A Chance For Guys To Impress a Girl by Patrick Hattman

Valentine's Day in Japan appears to have its origins in the late 1950s as some department stores wanted to promote the sale of chocolates. However, unlike the countries where the holiday originated, Valentine's Day in Japan was for women to give chocolate to men, particularly "giri choco" or an obligatory gift of sweets to co-workers and classmates, as a couple examples, and not so much to men they had personal affection for.

In 1978 the idea of White Day came about for each March 14 - exactly one month after Valentine's Day. White Day was established as a business idea to get men to buy women sweets and, more recently, other gifts. In the past couple of decades, though, it has become more common for men and women to break with tradition and give "honmei choco" or love chocolates on the designated holidays.

And yet even more change seems to be happening rapidly with both holidays and, perhaps, not so surprisingly in the Internet age. Some more adventurous guys, for example, are taking advantage of how males traditionally give chocolates on Valentine's Day outside of Asia and they are doing it themselves in Japan. This concept of "gyaku choco" or reverse chocolate giving is a sure way to make some women happy on February 14.

In fact, it could also be a way to help alleviate the stress many women feel on Valentine's Day when they have to hand out chocolate as a duty and still worry about offending someone in their various circles. So, guys, get out there, don't be shy, and impress some women by showing affection with gifts galore this Valentine's Day. And who knows, the women might return the favor a month later, if they are interested!


Strange but True


Circus without Animals?

A German circus which banned the use of live animals in its acts, has welcomed them back into the ring three decades later, this time as hollograms. Founded in 1976 Circus Roncalli was one of the first circuses in the world to phase out the use of live animals, back in the nineteen nineties. The projections are around 105ft wide and 16ft tall, feature herds of elephants, galloping show horses and even the traditional fairground goldfish. The crowds can also enjoy stunning acrobatics, and clowning around, safe in the knowledge no animals were harmed for their performance. The show is made possible by Otoma and BlueBOX technology, which maps exactly where the series of 11 ZU850 laser projectors need to shoot to create a convincing almost solid picture. It allows the vast holograms to closely interact with the crowd, and for human visitors to learn about conservation and preserving animals for future generations. The use of live animals in circuses has been the subject of wide spread debate over the last three decades, particularly after a lengthy campaign from animal rights group PETA.

A Dream Job for Anima Lovers!

Do you love animals and want to spend more time cuddling them? Well an animal sanctuary is currently on the hunt for people to come and hang out with their pigs and give them hugs, belly rubs, talk to them and feed them cookies. Sounds like good fun, right?! But before you go planning to spend all your free time volunteering with the piggies at Cotton Branch Farm Sanctuary, it's worth noting that the position is actually based in the US. Cotton Branch is located in South Carolina… Volunteers don't need to go through any kind of orientation but must be 18 years or older, or if between 16 and 18 then you'll need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, "no exceptions". And if you can't actually go and cuddle the pigs, then you can always help the sanctuary by making a donation. The farm offers various different options for supporting them, including a one time donation, becoming a monthly partner or sending them something they need from their Amazon Wishlist.



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