Asakusa and Sensouji Temple – Already on Your Japan Bucket List

If you visit Tokyo you’ll probably end up putting Asakusa and Sensouji Temple on your must do list.

Sensouji 浅草寺 is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and it is believed to have been built in the year 628 making it more than 1,300 years old. However, the current structure is not the original. Sensouji has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The temple complex as it stands today was largely rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s after being damaged during World War II.

When you visit your senses will be stimulated by the hustle and bustle of tourists and shopkeepers as the crowd slowly moves down the main strip towards the temple. When you get closer you’ll smell burning incense and see the smoke, and you’ll notice many Japanese paying to get their fortunes (mikuji みくじ) from the temple shop. It really is an exciting and unforgettable scene.

Sensouji remains an important spiritual and cultural center and is estimated to receive around 30 million visitors annually. When local Japanese friends from Osaka came to visit in Tokyo, Asakusa was one of the places that we visited. It’s popular with Japanese tourists and foreign tourists alike.

Today, Sensō-ji continues to be an important place of worship for Buddhists and is also a major tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year.

Pro Tip

There is a pretty decent free observation deck at Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center across the street from Sensouji that doesn’t get much traffic. It’s open from 9:00 to 22:00 as of writing. Here is the view from the top.

View of Sensoji Temple from Asakusa Tourist Information Center
View of Tokyo Sky Tree and the Asahi building from Asakusa Tourist Information Center

The viewing deck is on the 8th floor, offering panoramic views of the city. From the deck you can see the city skyline and landmarks such as Tokyo Skytree and the Asahi Beer building. You can also get food there, but to be honest, I wouldn’t recommended it as there are much more delicious options down on street level.

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center Viewing Deck 8F 9am to 10pm

Access:

To access Asakusa and Sensouji Temple, you can take the Ginza Subway line and get off at Asakusa station.

The journey takes about 15 minutes from Tokyo Station and costs around 170 yen. From Asakusa Station, Sensouji Temple is a 10-minute walk and is extremely easy to spot due to the flow of the tourist traffic and signage. If you can just get to Asakusa Station you can’t miss it.

Also Nearby:

Don’t forget to also check out Hoppy Street if you get hungry after visiting the temple! It’s a short 10-15 minute walk away, and is lined with Japanese izakaya’s with seating spilling out into the street. It’s a fun environment and somewhat kid friendly. Kid friendly as in, some shops won’t care if you bring kids — that’s about as far as it goes.

Don’t miss a visit to Asakusa Sensouji Temple if you’re in Tokyo! Might be fun!

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Visiting the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo

Another item for your Tokyo visit bucket list, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka! Might be fun? I’m sure this will be fun. Ghibli! You know. Totoro, Nausica, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo. Need I go on?

There are no photos allowed inside of the building, but it is OK to take photos of the building from the outside. So, those are the photos you will see in this post.

The most obvious and largest attraction at the museum is this giant replica of one of the robots from Castle in the Sky Laputa. It really is huge, impressive, and all-around great. I want one in my backyard. There was an orderly line to get photos with the robot, with guests helping each other hit the shutter so folks could get their photos together. It’s too big for a selfie stick.

Photo includes humans for scale.

The robot is on the roof, and you can just barely see him peeking his head out from the outside of the building.

See if you can find the giant robot in the photo below!

Hello Mr. Robot.

Aside from the main event the museum has little Ghibli easter eggs everywhere. From tiny details in the stained glass windows, to more obvious characters in unlikely places, like in the image below.

Here are some soot creatures hanging out in a random window at the Ghibli Museum.

These little guys are the soot creatures from the 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro.” In Japanese they are called makkuro kurosuke and are are small, black, furry creatures that live in the attic of the house where Satsuki and Mei, live with their father. They are a central part of the movie’s atmosphere — a really great minor major bunch of critters. I don’t even remember seeing them named in the museum, but here they are! They also appear in another area inside of the building that your kids will love if you’re traveling with them.

There is also a mini theater inside of the museum that runs a short exclusive Ghibli film throughout the day. We saw one about a lump of bread dough that comes to life, obviously, and it really was a treat watching it with all the other fans.

The entire complex is not that large, in a three-story building that covers an area of approximately 3,300 square meters / 35,520 sq. ft., but since the inside is so packed with goodness you can easily spend three hours on site. There are also a couple of places to get food and eat outdoors.

If you you are visiting with small children, there is a park just a short distance from the museum, so you can go there to relax while your kids get dangerous on the park equipment. Perfect!

Exit Through the Gift Shop

The museum’s gift shop, called the MAMMA AIUTO! shop, offers a variety of merch. Some of the items that are typically available for sale at the gift shop include:

  • Toys and figurines of Ghibli characters
  • Posters, prints, and other wall art featuring Ghibli characters and artwork
  • Clothing and accessories featuring Ghibli characters and designs
  • Books and comics
  • Stationery
  • Home goods, such as cups, mugs, and other kitchen items

They even had high-quality figures that cost more than $150 USD when we were there. They even had a replica of the blue pendant that appears in the movie Castle in the Sky that was made by Swarovski. I didn’t buy it.

The selection of merchandise at the gift shop may change depending on timing. They do have a web shop. You can be pretty sure that they’ll have some amazing stuff, so I wouldn’t worry too much about inventory.

OK, But How do I get there?

Here is how to get to the Ghibli Museum from Shibuya.

  1. Take the JR Yamanote Line from Shibuya Station to Mitaka Station [20 min].
  2. From Mitaka Station, you can walk to the museum. [15 min], or you can take a bus [10 min].
  3. Alternatively, you can take the Keio Inokashira Line from Shibuya Station to Kichijoji Station, which is also located near the museum. From Kichijoji Station, you can walk to the museum [15 min], or you can take a bus.

Get your tickets early

The Ghibli Museum is popular, and not very large. You must purchase tickets in advance. In December 2022, tickets went on sale monthly, and the month completely sold out in one to two days. Tickets can be purchased online or at select locations in Japan, including the Studio Ghibli store in Shibuya.

Visit Tips

  • It is OK and a good idea to bring kids, even if they are under 4. They’ll have a great time.
  • Try to leave large backpacks in your hotel as it can get crowded, and there are even some pathways designed so that adults have to hunch over to get through. There is a locker cluster on site.
  • You can have lunch on site, feel free to plan your visit to span lunch hour.
  • The gift shop is modern and accepts most credit cards.
  • There is no “route” laid out, so feel free to backtrack and visit sites more than once. You’ll discover something new each time you run through.
  • Watch as many Ghibli movies as you can before your visit! It will help you recognize things and have more fun.

Check it out! Let me know if there are any questions you have about the museum that I haven’t answered here!

A Quiet Refuge with a View in Ginza, Tokyo – and free!

Ginza doesn’t have to be expensive. In addition to some reasonably priced eateries, and shopping staples like Uniqlo, you can also visit this nice area on top of Ginza Six called Ginza Six Garden.

To get to Ginza Six Garden, just go to Ginza Six and head to the rooftop floor. You’ll need to find the elevator bank that goes up to 13F.

Tokyo is a busy bustling place that can really wear you out. This rooftop garden on Ginza Six is a great place to relax and cool down. As you can see from the photos, when I was there on a weekend there was hardly anyone around. Of course, this is just before Japan will fully reopen to tourism on October 11, but I have a hunch that even after the tourists come back this place won’t be packed.

There are benches to sit on, and the view is pretty good. There are so many buildings around it’s definitely not the best view, but hey, it’s free. You can see Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Sky Tree, the Mitsukoshi building, and other sites. I give the view a 7 out of 10.

If you’re in Ginza and are looking for a place to chill out and avoid the crowds, head to the top of Ginza Six and check out this garden. Inside of Ginza Six you’ll find lots of tourist-appropriate shopping, and some very classy restaurants.

Go check out the Rooftop Garden at Ginza Six! Might be fun!

Another Japanese YouTuber to Learn About Japan From

Tokyo Street Food in SHIMOKITAZAWA (TOKYO)☆ Totoro cream puff♡

Another quality YouTuber that produces content about Japan, in Japan, and with Japanese subtitles.

If you’re wondering what life is like in Japan, or if you’re already in Japan and are looking for things to do, you’re sure to find something on Miki’s channel. I certainly didn’t know about that meat sandwich place in Shimokitazawa. Going to have to check it out!

Looking for more Japanese YouTubers? Check out our other post, “Japanese YouTubers to boost your Listening Comprehension.”

Japanese YouTubers to boost your Listening Comprehension

ならまち花あかりちゃんねる (Naramachi HanaAkari Channel)

This channel features a couple of maiko in Nara. They frequently do live events and react to view comments. They have videos where they introduce some culturally interesting aspect of maiko-life or Japanese traditional arts, and a few where they walk around famous locations in Nara. The production quality is very basic, but they are very good about regularly getting in front of the camera. They realize that they have an international audience and sometimes do videos, or portions of videos, in English.

In this video they introduce some traditional games from Japan

3時のヒロイン公式チャンネル (3 o’clock Heroine Official Channel)

These ladies are famous comedians. Minor celebrities if you will. If you’re really into that Japanese brand of humor you might enjoy this.

Comedy. Here they share answers to questions like, “this is the type of day I wouldn’t want to be my last day alive.” If they get stuck they can ask their mother’s for help.

Ryoya Takashima

Ryoya Takashima is a really professional Japanese YouTuber. He uses high-quality equipment, adds English subtitles to his Japanese-language audio, and gets cooperation from the people to say a few words to the camera at the places that he visits. If you want to get a look at Japan I think you’ll find some enjoyable videos on this channel. He also travels internationally a lot so you can see his takes on countries around the world as well.

Ryoya Takashima goes to Ishigaki Island

NAKATA UNIVERSITY

On Nakata University, Mr. Atsuhiko Nakata enthusiastically explains a variety of subjects in a lecture format. If you are looking to deepen your Japanese vocabulary in some specific subjects, this could be a good channel to watch as in many videos he speaks for more than 20 minutes on the same topic.

Here, Prof Nakata explains the FIRE movement. Financial Independence Retire Early.

Finally, if you’re looking for more, change your YouTube settings and change your location to Japan. Now, your recommendations will be based on things that are popular in Japan. This should help you stumble upon some new content.

Check some of these out! Might be fun!

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Earth Celebration on Sado Island

In 2013 I went to the Earth Celebration festival on Sado Island. It was a wonderful experience and I hope I have a chance to do it again.

Sado Island Main State
People claiming their spots for the main show.

Attending the the Earth Celebration is a real adventure. It’s a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, a musical treat, and a cultural experience.

The main event at Earth Celebration is always a Taiko Drum performance by Kodo, who always deliver an absolutely earth-shaking show. They perform throughout the year in other locations and I would strongly recommend you catch them if you can. I don’t have photos from Kodo’s performance from Earth Celebration 2013 as they asked for no photography during the show… Plus it was dark and we were far from the stage and I didn’t have a zoom lens…

Before Kodo performs you can enjoy other music performances and a variety of food stalls of the usual Japanese festival fare.

"Oni Daiko" which is literally "demon drums."
This was called “Oni Daiko” which is literally “demon drums.”
The man wearing the demon mask was the main performer.
Sado Island Earth Celebration Logo - Warakudaiko groupFlag
Sado Island Earth Celebration Logo Flag
Earth Celebration on Sado Island (2013)
The main shopping strip of Sado.
The main street in town.

Even though Sado Island is off the beaten path, it’s not difficult to get to as Japan has public transport sorted out. The town itself is quaint, but during the Earth Festival there are plenty fo tourists, so many shops and restaurants are open. The town is small so you can walk around the main drag in a single day no problem.

This is a report from a visit in 2013, I’m sure the festival has changed in some way since then, but I’m sure it’s still great. Has anyone been recently? If so do share your experience!

Links:

Earth Celebration Official English Website

Kodo, Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble

Getting to Sado Island on VisitSado.com

Tottori Sand Dunes for an trip out-of-the-ordinary Japan Adventure

Looking for something different to do in Japan? Try Tottori Sand Dunes! Might be fun. This isn’t a location I would recommend to someone who is headed to Japan for the first time ever, but if you are already living in Japan and looking for something new to do, check it out.

People for scale.

The Tottori Sand Dunes (鳥取砂丘 tottori sakyuu) are the only place in Japan where you can see sand dunes. They are indeed natural, and have existed for 100,000 years.

The Tottori Sand Dunes are really the main tourist attraction in Tottori prefecture. Other than the dunes, you can find hot springs and ryokan as you can at most other tourist destinations in Japan.

At the time I went, which was 2006… there were several activities you could do. They had rental boards so you could try sand surfing. You could do paragliding, or ride a camel. There is also a sand museum.

Camel at Tottori Sand Dunes
Camel to ride! Must be lonely being a camel in Tottori…
Sand dune!
I guess parasailing isn’t the proper term, but this. It’s smaller.
Sand surfing!

Getting to Tottori Sand Dunes:

Once you’re in Tottori it’s easy to get to the dunes. They are such a major tourist attraction all the signs and anyone you ask will point you there.

From Tokyo: If you’re coming from Tokyo by train, it’s about 5 hours and 10 minutes. The trip will take you to Himeji on the Nozomi bullet train, and then from Himeji to Tottori station on the Super Hakuto train. From Tottori station you can get to the dunes by taxi or bus.

From Osaka: Coming from Osaka the trip is about two hours and 40 minutes on the Super Hakuto train. It’s a straight shot from Osaka to Tottori with no train exchanges. Easy! Then once you’re at Tottori you can get to the dunes by taxi or bus.

Japan’s Crazy Desert Revealed: Tottori Sand Dune Adventure ★ ONLY in JAPAN


There is even a classic song about Tottori Sakyuu that many Japanese know and love. It’s more popular with the older generation, but still a lot of people know it!

For best results, sing in a karaoke shop in Tottori.

Kaori Mizumori  sings Tottori Sakyu

Give it a shot!

Links:
Tottori Sand Dunes [Wikipedia]
Tottori Sand Dunes [Japan Guide]
Access to Tottori Sand Dunes [Official]

Japanese YouTuber – 小豆島の漁師はまゆう Fisherman Hamayuu!

Well this is unique, and immensely popular.

Ever wanted to learn a ton of fishing vocabulary, see some amazing seafood, or maybe learn something about Shoudoshima? Check out this Japanese YouTuber’s channel – he is a fisherman named Hamayuu and his videos regularly get more than 500,000 views.

Learn about random sea creatures and eat them!

Eat a Huge Squid! Might be fun.

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Ways to move to Japan – International Job Far

If you’re reading this you probably do not need to be convinced that Japan is a great place to spend some time. If you’re thoroughly convinced and want to move to Japan, how should you go about it? One way is to get a job that will sponsor your visa to move to Japan.

Step 1. Get a job. Step 2. Go to Japan. Step 3. ??? Step 4. PROFIT!!!

One straightforward way to get to Japan is to attend a job fair and secure a job offer with a company that will sponsor your visa.

Of course getting a job offer is never easy, but it’s also never impossible — you just have to keep at it. If you’re about to graduate from a solid four-year university, have a practical major that is in demand, and also speak Japanese at a conversational level, you have a shot. A recommended international job fair to attend is the CFN Career Forum.

I attended the Career Forum in Boston in 1999 and got a job in Japan, but that was more than a decade ago, so my personal experience may not be relevant anymore. I see they still bill themselves as a “Career Site for Japanese-English Bilingual Job Seekers” so perhaps the fundamentals are still the same.

“International” Career Fair to Bring People to Japan

As you will see from their website, the CFN Career Forum holds “international” career fairs (they call them forums) several times a year mainly for companies specifically targeting bilingual English-Japanese speakers. Though it may not be explicitly stated, without a doubt most of the companies that attend the forums are looking to catch Japanese-native candidates who studied overseas and thus are now proficient in English.

Due to the typical hiring season in Japan being fixed to March each year, students who studied in the United States, for example, will not finish their studies until May and thus miss the job hunting rush. These job fairs give Japanese companies chance to interview these potential candidates.

If you’re not Japanese, do not be discouraged. Myself included, I know many non-Japanese that landed their first job in Japan through this job fair event. As you will have the opportunity to speak with someone in person, I am quite certain that it will be easier to make a good first impression than it would by submitting a resume to a hiring portal.

Career Forums in Several Cities

As you can see from their website, the Career Forum is held in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Sydney and Shanghai. The first was held in Boston in 1987, so it has quite a history now. If I remember correctly, when I attended in 1999 the forum was only held in Boston, San Francisco, Tokyo, and London. They have expanded!

Yeah but What Kind of Job Could I Get?

You can find a list of companies that participate on their website, the current list is here. As you can see, a lot of large corporate companies attend. You’ll want to have your resume polished! This isn’t the place to find work if you are mainly looking to teach English. In fact, I do not believe any education companies or academic institutions recruit at these events. You’ll likely have the most luck if you are in business or STEM fields and can speak conversational Japanese.

Happy hunting!

Links:

CareerForum.net – https://careerforum.net/en/

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Kisaichi in Osaka – Hike to Kurondo Pond

If you’re looking for a low-key place to get some nature in the Osaka area you might consider a visit to Kisaichi to hike up to Kurondo Pond. The hike from Kisaichi Station to Kurondo Pond is about 1.5 hours. I hiked it with a seven year old and it took about 2 hours each way.

Kurondo Lake
Kurondo Lake (pond?) your destination

To get to the place we started at Kisaichi station, you can take the Keihan Line from Hirakata.

Getting to Kisaichi
Hirakata to Kisaichi, 210 yen (2020)

Once you get going you’ll find many helpful signs pointing the way to the pond, and others pointing the way back to the station. It’s easy to find your way even if you do not read Japanese. Just in case, Kurondo Pond is written くろんど池。

Signs to Kurondo Lake
Many of the signs are written in English
Trail to Kurondo Lake
Part of the trail between Kisaichi and Kurondo Pond

The hike itself was great. It’s got some hills, some stairs, and you’re often near water. It’s got a bit of gravel road, some dirt paths, and sometimes you’ll be climbing over rocks and stepping around tree roots. To be honest, I did the hike in flat Adidas because that’s all I had, but I saw many Japanese in hiking gear with backpacks and poles. I should add that my seven year old indoor kid made it and only complained four of five times, so it’s not actually that demanding — though you will be tired at the end. If you’re prone to get the munchies, pack a snack and bring some water.

We went in early summer and saw a ton of neat bugs. Caterpillars?

Insect near Kisaichi
Bugs! I guess it’s a caterpillar. There were a lot of them.

When you finally make it to Kurondo Pond you’ll find a few restaurants, and of course the pond.

Kurondo Lake
Kurondo Pond!

You can pay to ride a row boat or one of those pedal-driven swan boats. Many families with kids and couples are often out on the pond enjoying the peaceful waters. You can also buy some fish food and feed the large koi that hang out near the pier.

Koi in Kurondo Lake
Koi in Kurondo Pond

One protip. One shop near the pond sells honey collected locally from Ikoma in Nara. At time of writing it was 2000 yen per bottle, so it’s not cheap, but it is delicious. You can also buy this Ikoma honey online.

Ikoma Honey
Delicious honey collected in Ikoma

There is actually a very famous suspension bridge called Hoshi no Buranko in the area that is the reason that most people visit Kisaichi. However, when we visited it was still closed due to coronavirus concerns. We’ll have to get there next time! A local helpfully pointed us to Kurondo Pond upon learning that we were disappointed that the bridge was closed.

Map of Kisaichi Area

Get out there and get some fresh air! Might be fun!

River near Kisaichi

Some relevant links!

Kansai Scene: https://www.kansaiscene.com/2014/08/relax-refresh-explore/

Kurondo Area Website: http://kurondoso.jp/

Hoshi no Buranko: http://osaka-midori.jp/mori/hoshida/hoshinoburanko.html