Yeah But Have You Heard Of… Kendo?

Jack Richardson (Yamagata)

OK, so you probably have heard of it. Or, at least, you’ve probably heard of it. Kendo is not renowned as the quietest or calmest of pursuits. But deep down below all that screaming and hitting and stamping lies a practice that is meditative, disciplined and suited to just about everyone.

It isn’t too difficult to work out where kendo has its roots. Swords have been used in Japan since the fourth century, and the training with them is known as kenjustu. That’s ‘sword art’ or ‘sword technique’ rather than kendo’s ‘way of the sword,’ but kendo isn’t on the scene just yet. The first kenjutsu schools still in existence were founded in the Muromachi Period, from 1336-1773. These are the ancestors of kendo, and focus specifically on using swords in war and combat.

Kendo, on the other hand, is, and has always been, a sport that’s strongly influenced by its martial art heritage. It’s similar to Western fencing in that regard — it has similar techniques, vocabulary and history, but no-one practices fencing so they can learn to skewer opposing noblemen with rapiers. As such, kendo adds formality and rules on top of already very formalised samurai duelling, as well as armour and swords that won’t slice you in half.

There are two sides to kendo as it’s practiced today. One is kata (‘forms’). Kata are common in many martial arts, and in kendo are practiced without full armour using solid wooden swords called bokken, which are meant to imitate katana. It’s based on kenjutsu techniques, and as such has a wider range of movements and techniques that simply aren’t used in regular kendo. Kata are always practiced in pairs, with a person each taking the student and teacher roles. Plot twist: the teacher always loses, but this is so the student can learn. As with other martial arts, the 12 kata are strictly defined, and are graded on how well students follow the form. It’s something to be practiced over and over again until it enters muscle memory.

‘Regular’ kendo — in my club we called it shiai (‘match’) practice — is still practiced in pairs, but using the armour that you can probably picture even if you don’t know it as kendo bōgu. It’s the stuff that makes you look like a terrifying samurai Darth Vader until you trip and then you turn into an adorable robot thing in a dress and mittens.

Instead of solid wooden bokken, which can and do break ribs, kendoka use shinai — straight swords made of four bamboo slats that are designed to absorb the impact, and leave only bruises if your opponent misses their target. Both of these are attributed to Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato who developed them in the early 18th Century, but the last three hundred years have seen a great deal of development in both. For example, after about 20 years someone decided it might be a good idea to have a grille covering the person’s face, rather than just a piece of stiffened cloth for a helmet.

Where does all this practice come out, then? Well, in the absence of early-modern warfare in which to participate, kendo as a sport is played in matches between two people in a square arena, judged by three referees. The first to two points (or with the most points when time runs out) is the winner, and matches tend to last up to five minutes. You can score points in four areas: men (head), kote (wrists),  (body) and tsuki (throat). There’s a whole shopping list of things that must be done to actually score a point, but the important ones are stamping with the cut, shouting where you’re hitting as you hit, and running past the opponent to create space after your cut. This last one, called zanshin, comes from the idea that, if your cut failed to kill your opponent, it’s far safer to be ten feet away from them when they try to counterattack than standing right in front of them with a blank look on your face.

Kendo is a sport that’s both dynamic and repetitive. You train for hours and hours, slowly making your movements more and more efficient just so you can shave an extra millisecond off your strike when the moment comes. Adapting to this mindset and realising that you’re here to perfect a few simple techniques rather than build a vast repertoire of ways to hurt people can be tough. It forces you to stay (relatively) humble, especially when you’re being demolished by a tiny old lady in her 70s. But you can come for the shouting, too, I suppose.








Family Spotlight: Winter Holiday Fun!

JET Couples and Families share about their winter holiday adventures

Shantel Dickerson (Oita)

This month’s Family Spotlight features winter holiday highlights from four JET families. Take a peek to see what they were up to!

Family 1: Dentons

Heather Denton (Fukuoka)

My family went on a two-week road-trip from Fukuoka to Tokyo and back! We went to Tokyo (ice skated next to Gundam), Chiba (Tokyo Disneyland Resort), Nagano for sledding, Kyoto, Nara, Fukuoka, and Beppu. We were able to experience and see so many things along our road trip!

Family 2: Whites

Chelanna White (Kyoto)

I’m a Kyoto prefectural JET and my husband, Dan, works at an eikaiwa in our ward (Fushimi-ku). You can hardly throw a rock in Kyoto without hitting a historic site! We went to  Seimei shrine with many other people to celebrate hatsumode (初詣), or the first shrine visit of the new year. And, I started a new goshuincho! A goshuincho (御朱印帳) is a special book for collecting stamps at temples. I’m on my second one already, and I’m on my first year. New year, new book!

Family 3: Sevigny

Kim Sevigny (Oita)

It was a magical time for us, the Sevigny family, to be together in Beppu again the first time since 2014. Our three college kids returned home, joining Julia, our 13-year- old, who still lives with us. Highlights included doing a farmstay near Usa, hiking with our Japanese family in Kitakyushu, buying pottery from a local artist in Yufuin, experiencing the jigoku and onsens of Beppu, steaming vegetables for our holiday dinner in Kannawa, and decorating our palm tree with homemade origami ornaments. Our home overflowed with joy and music! Before leaving, the kids all deemed it “the best Christmas ever!”

Family 4: Graun

Adrea Graun (Oita)

After welcoming in 2018 with nabe, friends, and hatsumode at Oita’s Yuzuhara jinja, I was excited for the new year to begin. What seemed like minutes later, I flew, groggily, to Tokyo to meet my cousin, who I haven’t seen in YEARS. We went around for her first trip to Japan. Joined by a friend in Tokyo, we visited Kamakura. We lit incense at the daibutsu, giant Buddha — wowza it’s big — then we popped into Hokai-ji, which I recommend for temple lovers. My cousin enjoyed the idea of fukobukero, thought yakiimo were delicious and in the end, had a Happy New Year in Tokyo!









Sapporo or Bust: Fun and Ice up North

Bailey Jo Josie (Miyazaki)

Even after more than a half century, the Sapporo Snow Festival is still going strong, and this year will be no exception.  

As millions (yes, millions) of people flock to its icy fortitude, it’s hard to ignore the Sapporo Snow Festival. Though it is well-established to Japanese people, the massive event can still take foreigners and JETs by surprise, myself included.

When I first think of Japan, I don’t necessarily think of enormous ice sculptures or even any snow at all. I think of hot and humid summers, of sunshine and cherry blossoms, though it doesn’t help that I live on the east coast of Kyushu island, where it took an entire class of students a while to remember the word “snow”. Obviously, I am wrong in this, but nonetheless, when I tell the folks back home about the snow festival, they can’t believe it because their mindset is that ice sculptures exist in places like Russia, Norway, Canada, etc. I think maybe it’s because of this naïve perspective that the festival in Sapporo is so intriguing.

From the beginning, the festival was a huge surprise. According to the snow festival’s website, the very first event was held at Odori Park in 1950, where the local high schoolers made only six sculptures. With the help of the snow sculptures — which included a bear and a person reclining like a model in a baroque painting — and other activities surrounding the festival, over 50,000 people attended the event. It took another couple of years for the rest of the country to catch on to the event, but by 1965, the snow festival had become so large that a second location was sought after.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the festival was reaching international fame, thanks to the 1972 Winter Olympics held in Sapporo. From here, more sites were added (currently, Odori, Tsudome, and Susukino) and the event has grown into what it is today — a monumental achievement in artistry and ice in the harsh Hokkaido winter.

I absolutely love all the sculptures and the detail that goes into them,” says Lina Orta, a JET alumnus, currently living and working in Sapporo. “For the past couple of years, the festival has added projection mapping to some of the bigger sculptures. These shows are a must-see.”

Though I haven’t had the pleasure of attending the festival, I would like to see it in the next few years. As I said, I live on Kyushu island, so plane tickets to Hokkaido can be very expensive for me, especially since I would have to pay for two tickets (can’t just go have fun in the snow without the husband, you know?) I can find cheap tickets through Google Flights that are below 30,000 yen per person, but that can be a lot if you don’t plan properly, and planning is needed when you consider that the Sapporo Snow Festival lasts 12 days with a ton of things to do.

Like what, you ask? Well, at the original Odori site, there will be a skating rink, a jumping platform for amateur and professional skiers and snowboarders, food vendors, and the chance to marvel at 118 different sculptures. Not only will there be Japanese sculpting teams, but teams from all over the world who participate in the festival; another great reason for JETs to make their way to the event.

“As busy as it gets,” Orta said, “I highly recommend going on the first couple of days while the sculptures are still in their prime.”

At the Tsudome site, there will be a snow slide, where people can ride inner tubes down a large, snowy hill; a spot for “snow rafting”, which is when you ride in a rubber raft that is pulled by a snowmobile; a sled run; a spot to play a hybrid game of soccer and golf — named “Mini Snow Foot Golf”; a snow labyrinth, and many more events. Tsudome is geared more towards families and people who want to do more than just look at the sculptures.

The Susukino site is, more or less, where you can see and touch the ice sculptures and be there as teams actually create them for a grand contest, which you can then vote on. Also, there are a few bars (one had an literal ice entrance last year) and outdoor eating tents where you can warm yourself up with fried food and hot (or cold) drinks before wandering around. This is the site that is geared more towards adults.

The Tsudome site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from February 1 to February 12. The Odori and Susukino sites can be visited at any time, but the official activities at these sites run from February 5 until February 12, which is when the entire festival ends. There’s no use dawdling though; everything will be destroyed the next morning.


All photos courtesy of Lina Orta









New Year in Japan

Jasmin Hayward, Ishikawa

Three current JETs tell CONNECT what it was like experiencing their first New Year in Japan: the highs and lows, the food, the unexpected advertising, and of course, the obligatory shrine and temple visits.

Jessica Scott, Akita Prefecture

I’m a first year JET living in Akita prefecture. If you’re not sure where that is, don’t worry — I didn’t know either when I was first given my placement. Akita is in the Tohoku region on the Sea of Japan side, so we receive a decent amount of snow this end of the world. As a Tropics born and bred girl from the Land Down Under (Australia) where we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s outdoors lapping up the sun; swimming at the beach or in our backyard pools; and melting ice-cubes on our necks to escape the sweltering heat of summer (think 34°C plus), this whole winter experience is entirely new.

I know some of you are probably over the cold, dampness of winter by now, but I’m still struck in awe by the fluffy, white magical wonderland that’s around me.

It was at this time, looking around at the completely foreign landscape before me while the year sprinted its last leg to the finish line, and everyone had jetted back home (shameless pun intended), that I could really take a moment to appreciate all the amazing opportunities 2017 brought me. And, in the spirit of welcoming new experiences and deepening my understanding of this culturally rich country, I decided to celebrate New Year’s the Japanese way: doing hatsumoude the first shrine visit of the year…with a twist.

About a one-hour train ride north of Akita city, is a small town called Oga, home of the Namahage in Akita. Here, you can find a beautiful Zen Buddhist temple called Dairyuji (literally: Big Dragon Temple). The welcoming family of the temple opened their doors to the public on New Year’s Eve to literally ring in the New Year with 108 chimes of the giant bell — a symbolic act to rid us of the 108 human passion — followed by a Buddhist chant at the Dragon Altar at the stroke of midnight, and kicking the year off with a night of social merriment Japanese style, with plenty of beer, nihonshu (Japanese sake) and snacks to go around.

As the train services had stopped running by that point and with no way of getting home, I was kindly allowed to stay over at the temple, which is an experience in itself. In the morning, I assisted with cleaning up to get the temple ready for a busy day of hatsumoude goers before enjoying a soothing cup of green tea in a traditional tatami room, overlooking the spectacular snow scenery of the water garden (known as rakusuitei). Needless to say, the start of my 2018 felt very Zen indeed.

Jess is a first year ALT in Akita City. She frequents Starbucks on the regular and is a language learning enthusiast. She’s also partial to cute (and unnecessary) Japanese stationery.

Laura Pollacco, Kanagawa Prefecture

I spent New Years Eve here in Japan, and seeing as I live roughly an hour out from Tokyo I figured it would be a good place to ring in 2018. That and I had no other idea of what to do. A JET from Fukuoka flew up to spend New Year in Tokyo too, so we made our way to Shibuya Crossing to see the famous countdown.

In some ways, I knew I would hate it; big crowds full of people pushing and shoving isn’t really my thing, but I really wanted to experience the grandness of it all. All those people chanting down to midnight, celebrating and cheering. It was busy when we arrived at roughly 10:20 pm and after going to buy a hot drink we tried to find some other friends to all meet together. This, however, proved to be impossible, the crowds were so thick that moving around was difficult and police had set up pedestrian areas which essentially barricaded people to certain zones of the crossing.

What really surprised me is that there were more tourists and foreigners in that crowd than I had imagined. It was full of them. Most were just there like I was but many were loud and boisterous, shouting and chanting and making full use of drinking outdoors. Generally making idiots out of themselves in their high spirits. My friend and I found a spot and dug in, we had full view of the screen and were well located to feel in the centre of the action. Videos played on the screens surrounding us, I couldn’t really make out what they were about but they helped me pass the time waiting for the countdown. There wasn’t really much else to do.

The one thing that really bugged me though was the marketing of Coca-Cola throughout the entire evening. It was insane; everyone was wearing huge red top hats with the logo, the people on the stage were all pushing forward Coca-Cola bottles like some cheesy advertisement. There were adverts all around for it. It made the whole affair feel like Coca-Cola had bought the rights to 2018. Then, when the countdown began (against the background of the Coca-Cola colours), we all joined in, shouting out, “3..2..1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

Everyone was smiling and cheering, waving their hands and shaking others’ hands. It was wonderful to see so many people in high spirits, all of them looking forward to the year ahead. It was staggering in its sheer magnitude but I wish there had been some music blaring out of the speakers, maybe some fireworks overhead. Instead, there was a small sprinkling of confetti, which felt a little underwhelming for the location and prestige of the event.

After the main event was over, we eventually bumped into the rest of our group and went to find food. This took quite some time and we were all freezing cold, but eventually we ended up in a yakiniku tabehoudai place. This was probably my favourite part of the evening. A warm room with food and fun was definitely a good decision, especially as it gave us something to do for an hour and half.

We then headed towards Meiji Shrine, going first through some beautiful illuminations, and paid our respects. I felt so happy that we were able to fit this Japanese tradition into our evening. I say evening, it was roughly 3:30 am when we arrived there and the lethargy and cold was really seeping into me. I didn’t get back home to Kanagawa till 6:30 am and I was tired, cold, and drained, but getting to watch the sunrise and seeing Mt Fuji awash with the pink of that first light was spectacular. It was certainly a New Year I will never forget.

Laura is a 1st Year JET based in Kanagawa Prefecture. She enjoys martial arts, dancing, photography, singing, and drama. She recently made around 80 teachers dance like penguins in a confidence building seminar.

Edward Portillo, Gunma Prefecture

Before coming to Japan on the JET program, I was a big fan of a show called Journeys in Japan. For one particular episode, the show focused on a New Year’s celebration at a place I’d never heard of before, Koyasan, or Mount Koya. After seeing the show, I decided that I was going to follow in those footsteps and spend the last night of 2017 and the first day of 2018 at that ancient and venerable power spot.

I had spent Christmas at home in America, and returned to Japan with just a day to spare. Most of my December 31st was spent traveling from Kanto to Kansai, riding the Shinkansen to Tokyo, and then to Osaka. Then onwards, south towards Wakayama and the mountain. However, after a storm earlier this fall, part of the railway was damaged, and so I had to take a free taxi from the last stop up to the temple where I’d be spending the night.

After an epic journey, tired, hungry, and cold, I arrived at the temple lodgings, or Shukubo, a bit after 9 p.m. where I found the kindly monks waiting for me. I was taken up to my accommodations, a traditional tatami room, where a delicious Shojin Ryori dinner had been prepared and laid out for me. After tucking into dinner and settling in, I headed down for the temple’s celebration. I was one of several foreigners staying there, but the majority of the visitors were Japanese, and only one of the monks spoke English. However, everyone was very warm and welcoming, including me in all the ceremony that was to follow.

As midnight drew closer, we waited in a side room, watching the NHK on TV, as people trickled in. Eventually, our group of about a dozen was all gathered, and as midnight came, we proceeded to the main hall, where the monks said prayers, and then invited us to place incense and send our prayers as well. I can’t say I understood all of what was going on, but the atmosphere was serene and unique, far from the huge parties, fireworks, and illuminations going on in the rest of the world. Afterwards, we returned to the side room, where we went on with more rituals, such as receiving the first rice of the year from the head priest, touching our heads to the kagami mochi, and drinking special sake. All of this was done in turns, one on one with the head priest, by every person present, which left me a lot of time for reflection, and gave me a feeling that, for at least one night, I was an equal with everyone, instead of an outsider.

After all this, the formality fell away, and colorful, anko filled, new year’s mochi was distributed along with delicious amazake. Then, as a parting gift, everyone received small oranges, which were quite delicious. After watching everyone head out, I prepared to leave when the head priest offered me more oranges, and told me to stuff them in my pocket, with a kind laugh. As I happily munched on the fruit, I also got to talk to one of the locals who had come to visit with his grandmother. It’s always fun to sit and eat with new friends.

Eventually, I went to bed at the early hour of 5 a.m. only to wake 4 hours later and head to breakfast, which was specially prepared osechi ryouri, a traditional meal full of auspicious foods to start the new year right. From black soybeans, kuro mame, to tazukuri, dried sardines cooked in soy sauce, every part of breakfast was meant to have a special meaning such as good health, or abundant harvest.

Full of delicious food, I then set out to spend the first day of 2018 exploring the small town of Koyasan, which can be easily walked from one end to the other in a few hours. First, I visited the Okunoin, where the founder of the temples here, the monk Kobo Daishi, also known as Kukai, is said to be in eternal meditation. After more than 1,200 years, he is still venerated here by the faithful, and surrounded by a cemetery which memorializes great figures such as Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, alongside company memorials for Yakult and Nissan. Next I went to the gate at the entrance to the town, a massive structure for this small place, and the Danjogaran, home to the famous Konpon Daito pagoda. After a long day walking through the town in the crisp mountain air, I said farewell to Koyasan, but it is a place that will stay with me, and a place I will return to one day. For now at least, I am glad I started my year on this sacred mountain.

Edward is a first year ALT. He lives in Gunma Prefecture. He enjoys traveling, video games, and procrastination. You can find his blog at





























Naked and Unafraid: A Hadaka Matsuri Experience

Chris Golden (Miyazaki)

Ah, winter: the bane of seemingly every Japanese person’s existence. Granted, there are worse things out there: earthquakes, tsunamis, freakishly large-but-harmless spiders, and the equally freakish-but-not-so-harmless centipedes immediately come to mind.  But that’s just me. Having experienced winters in places like Baltimore, Seattle, Minnesota, and New York City, where temperatures can easily reach and stay at -22C or lower, seeing Miyazakians wearing huge, puffy jackets and layers upon layers of heat tech on bright, sunny, 15 degree days always makes me chuckle.  Most people in Miyazaki see the temperature gauge drop and immediately pull out the ol’ kotatsu for some cozy avoid-all-cold-experiences time.  But, there are a few brave souls who, every year in January, look outside, think of the cold air, the frigid ocean water, and think “Let’s get naked and jump in there!”  Enter, Japan’s Hadaka Matsuri.

The one I participated in was in Aoshima.  However, there are festivals like it all over Japan around this time of year.  They exist for a variety of different purposes: praying for good luck and blessings, mental and spiritual purification, testing your mettle.  There’s lots of different customs for the festival, depending on where it is. They run the gamut of everything from a moshpit-fight over a wooden figurine, a joust between men holding bamboo poles and a water hose, romps through the streets to the local shrine, a king-of-the-rope climb, etc.  But nearly all of those festivals involve cold water in some way. And all of them involve being nearly completely sans-apparel…

I’ve wanted to do this festival for a few years now. But, between that sans-apparel part and the chubby little man who lives in my stomach and very often screams “CHEESEBURGER!!!” at me, I’d been stricken with very acute but temporary case of selective memory around signup time.  But this year, my mettle won over my personal cookie monster, and I signed up with some friends to take the plunge.

We showed up on the appointed day, and got our special clothes.  That term is funny now when I think about it in context, because “clothes” actually meant a headband, a pendant necklace, a pair of tabi, and the underwear that was around before there was underwear, called fundoshi.  Anyway, we put on the ceremonial clothes and went out for an adventure in purification.

Aoshima’s festival involves a short jog to the beach in front of the local shrine, followed by some warm up exercises to center yourself.  Then, you take a double shot of insanity sauce, and wade into the brisk sea water, squat down until the water is up to your neck, and pray/make a wish/meditate/wait until you see the people ahead of you stand up and turn around before you do so you’re not the first (that part is about 2 minutes).  Then you get out of the water, go directly to the shrine to pray again, then run past another priest and his cauldron of onsen-temperature water, which he will “bless” you with using a special tree branch. To complete the ceremony, you will then jog to Aoshima’s main shopping street, do a pseudo ice-bucket challenge, tag-team some old fashioned mochi pounding, and then head back for a dip in the onsen and some food.

This was a great experience for me.  It was cold, then hot, then cold again, then warm and relaxing (onsen for the win).  Granted, I did forget to make a wish while I was in the water. But there I was, naked and unashamed, being a part of the local community, and experiencing another part of Japan’s rich history and age-old traditions.  If you’re like me and prefer winter over summer, I recommend you try this festival. If you’re not like me and hate the cold, I still recommend this festival. If not for the community, the adventure, and the overall wonderful experience, do it because participating in this festival is apparently worth 1000 normal, any-other-day, fully-clothed shrine visits.  An hour in a fundoshi in the middle of winter for a  sweet, community-building, friendship-deepening (or starting) adventure, and kami-sama’s blessing, and +1000 luck points… that’s a fair trade in my book.

Photos courtesy of  and Chris Golden










Melanie Marino (Osaka)

It may be February, but don’t be fooled – influenza is still rife throughout the land. Continue to take care to avoid it, and keep these tips in mind for next season as well!

Winter: a time of snowball fights, Christmas cheer, holiday shopping, the kotatsu, and unfortunately, the flu. This widespread infectious disease can take quite a toll on daily life, so along with effective treatment, developing a good flu-fighting daily routine is well worth it. Living in Japan may make flu prevention more confusing.

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus. The flu is a contagious disease, spread when an infected person coughs and sneezes.

How do I know I have the flu?

Symptoms include a high fever and chills, muscle aches, soreness, fatigue, headaches, and cold-like symptoms.

Who can get the flu?

Everyone is at risk of getting the flu. However, groups such as children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women, health care workers, and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS are at greater risk of complications.

Several other illness can arise as complications of the flu including, pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, and increased risk from other pre-existing conditions.


Because of the underlying risks associated, prevention is key. The most effective prevention method is the flu shot. In Japan, many hospitals and clinics offer flu shots from October to January. Contact your local health care provider to check availability. The flu vaccine isn’t covered by national health insurance, so the price will vary. Depending on the place of vaccination, prices range from 3000-5000 yen. The vaccine may come in one or two doses. It is recommended to get the shot by mid-December, to avoid hard-hit January and February.

Besides getting the flu shot, there are a variety of other ways to prevent the flu. Practicing good daily hygiene habits such as frequent hand washing, especially before eating and after using the bathroom, brushing your teeth after every meal as well as gargling, wearing a mask, and keeping surfaces and areas you frequent clean can help stop the spread of the virus.

While balanced nutrition and exercise have benefits year round, there are extra benefits to eating a well-rounded diet during flu season. Regular exercise can help prevent the flu by increasing the re-circulation of immune cells, meaning that your immune system will be cleaned and rejuvenated. Experts recommend at least 30 min of moderate exercise 5 times a week, but if that sounds like a lot, 3 times a week can also have benefits.

Before and during flu season, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Green tea is an especially good choice. The antioxidants in green tea boost the immune system, helping fight the flu virus. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible, as they cause dehydration.

Foods known to effectively fight the flu virus include ginger, garlic, onions, and persimmons (kaki). Ginger has been known for centuries to fight viruses, reduce inflammation, and may even have mild pain relieving properties. A great source of ginger is ginger tea, known in Japan as shouga yu (しょうがゆ), tea made with boiled ginger root, honey, and a squeeze of yuzu to add vitamin C. Stir-fry dishes are another good way to add ginger to your diet. Allicin, a chemical compound that fights bacteria, is found in garlic, making it an ideal food to eat when sick. When eating garlic as a remedy for the flu, try to eat at least one clove at a time to get the full benefits. While no specific nutrient seems to be the reason, onions have long been known to ease cold and flu symptoms. Try putting an extra helping in many daily recipes: miso soup, fried rice, scrambled eggs, udon, ramen, etc. Persimmons have high levels of vitamin C, which strengthen the immune system and increase white blood cell production. You can find them at your local grocery store, starting in around October, when the season begins.

Good luck out there, may your winter be flu-free!










February Events Calendar

Baily Jo Josie (Miyazaki)

Block 1

69th Sapporo Snow Festival

1 February – 12 February

Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture


Oyasusukyo Shigakko Festival

3 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only

59th Asahikawa Winter Festival

7 February – 12 February

Asahikawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture


Namahage Sedo Festival

9 February – 11 February

Oga City, Akita Prefecture


Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival

9 February – 12 February

Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture


Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

9 February – 18 February

Otaru City, Hokkaido Prefecture


Inukko Matsuri

10 February – 11 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Iwate Snow Festival

14 February – 18 February

Shizukuishi City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hachinohe Enburi

17 February – 20 February

Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture


Naked Festival

22 February – 23 February

Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Block 2 

Snowman Snow Statue Contest

3 February – 4 February

Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Tochio Snow Festival

3 February – 4 February

Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Aizu Candle Festival

9 February – 10 February

Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Snow and Fire Festival

10 February

Mishima City, Fukushima Prefecture


23rd Ooyama Shinshu Sakagura Matsuri

10 February

Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Minamiuonuma Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Ojiya Balloon Festival

24 February – 25 February

Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Block 3 

Ashikaga Flower Park

22 October – 5 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture


Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival

27 January – 4 March

Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture


Setsubun Costume Parade

3 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Akagi Mountain Snow Festival

3 February

Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Choco-Run 2018

4 February

Midori Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

North Karuizawa Fire Festival

10 February

Naganohara Town, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

36th Iiyama Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Mito Plum Festival

17 February – 31 March

Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Chichibu Whiskey Matsuri

18 February

Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 4 

Sagamiko Illumination 2017-2018

11 November – 8 April

Sagami Lake Resort Pleasure Forest, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Edo-Tokyo 100

28 November – 4 February

Shizuoka City Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Lake Kawaguchiko’s Fireworks in Winter 2018

13 January – 18 February, Saturdays and Sundays

Kawaguchiko City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Yokohama Chinatown Lunar New Year

16 January – 2 February

Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Saiko Ice Festival

27 January – 12 February

Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture


Setagaya Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Setagaya Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Chiba City International Fureai Festival

11 February

Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Tokyo Game Music Show

24 February

Ota Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 5

Geisha Experience

10 June – 24 March

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hida Takayama Winter Light Up

1 December – 28 February

Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Studio Ghibli Layout Design Exhibit

8 December – 11 March

Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Foodpia Kanazawa

27 January – 28 February

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nagoya Ramen Matsuri

2 February – 12 February

Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture


Toyama Nabe Jiman Taikai

3 February – 4 February

Nakaniikawa District, Toyama Prefecture


Echizen Ono Winter Story Festival

3 February – 4 February

Ono City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nenohi Kurabiraki

11 February

Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture


Takasu Snow Festival

17 February – 18 February

Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 6 

Kobe Illumination

11 November – 12 February

Kobe Fruit Flower Park, Hyogo City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

The 67th Nagahama Bonsai Exhibition of Ume Trees with Blossoms

10 January – 11 March

Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 


27 January- 3 February

Nantan City, Kyoto Prefecture


Kawanishi Machinaka Art Museum

18 February – 4 March

Kawanishi City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 


27 February

Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 7 

Exhibition of Buildings of Ghibli 2017

2 December – 5 February

Abeno Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Happy Dream Circus

22 December – 26 February

Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture


Yu Noen Farm Muratake Strawberry Picking

Mid-January – Mid-June

Izumi City, Osaka Prefecture


Owase Ya Ya Matsuri 2018

1 February – 5 February

Owase City, Mie Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Onda Festival

4 February

Asuka Niimasu Shrine, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture


Kumano Otani Festival

6 February

Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 8 

Marugame Castle Stone Wall Light Up in Winter

29 November – 4 February

Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Wan! Park Inu Exhibition

14 December – 6 February

Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nanrakuen Plum Festival

27 January – 4 March

Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

19th Shikoku Sake Matsuri

24 February

Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 9 

Golden Island Zipangu Illumination

6 December – 8 January

Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Kanmuriyama General Park Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Hikari City, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Tottori City Student Exchange Painting Exhibition

13 January – 12 February

Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Chikara-Mochi Eyo (Power Lifting)

4 February

Mimasaka City, Okayama Prefecture


Mihara Shinmeiichi

9 February – 11 February

Mihara City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Rabbit Carnival

18 February

Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hinase Oyster Festival

25 February

Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 10 

Ureshino Hot Spring Matsuri

27 January – 12 February

Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Agano-yaki Valentine Ohoco

1 February – 14 February

Tagawa City, Fukuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Doll’s Festival

15 February – 31 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture


Goto Camellia Festival

17 February – 4 March

Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Japanese Ume Apricot Festival

18 February – 18 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Geniji Temple Reconnaissance Party

22 February

Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture


Ainoura Azagochi

24 February – 26 February

Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 11

Takachiho Kami Akari

1 November – 19 February

Takachiho Gorge, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hitoyoshi Kuma Hinamatsuri

1 February – 21 March

Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

33th Shinwa no Takachiho Kenkoku Matsuri

11 February

Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Kagoshima Ramen Championship

16 February – 18 February

Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Naha Sakura Festival

21 February – 25 February

Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 




























Cool Japan Wonderland-What’s New at Universal Studios’ Cool Japan 2018 

Sabrina Zirakzadeh (Osaka)

It’s that time of year again: the moment that puts the “Japan” in Universal Studios Japan. While USJ’s limited-time event attractions are well-known, in 2015 the theme park decided to launch an event to fill the awkward time between its holiday illuminations and the summer extravaganzas, one with a decidedly regional spin. Every year since, Universal Cool Japan has been a major attraction, one so successful that its initial January-March run was expanded to January-June, yet the crowds are still overwhelming. Universal Cool Japan puts the spotlight on four key pieces of Japanese pop culture every year in the form of rides, 4D attractions, escape games, and more, and 2018 looks to be just as exciting as the previous three years. In fact, USJ has some special surprises in store!

The History of Universal Cool Japan

Universal Cool Japan 2018 logo In 2015, the first Universal Cool Japan event focused on four major pieces of Japanese popular culture: the Monster Hunter and Biohazard (Resident Evil in the West) video game franchises, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the then-new media juggernaut of Attack on Titan. Each had a single unique attraction with some themed merchandise available, with the Attack on Titan area even having a themed food truck. Monster Hunter used a 4D adventure ride format, Evangelion received a 4D movie experience, Biohazard debuted its first puzzle-themed escape game, and Attack on Titan had — well, a let-down. While the first three attractions were popular and enjoyed by many, the walk-through, big-screen recap of key scenes from the anime coupled with a few live action set pieces and a chance for photos with life-sized statues of some of the lead characters was generally seen to be far from worth the average three hour wait time just to get tickets. Luckily, the free photos that fans could take with the giant Titans set up around the Cool Japan area had much shorter waits, and were a big enough hit that they were brought back in 2016 as well.

The second year was much the same as the first, but with the addition of a fifth attraction, the Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu XD Ride. In addition, the Attack on Titan experience was upgraded to a virtual adventure ride, which was still less popular than the other three attractions but got much better reviews. 2017 saw a major overhaul with: Attack on Titan finally giving fans a chance to fight (and get Promotional image for Monster Hunter: The Realeaten by) Titans in a virtual 4D adventure ride, new photo spots and statues going up; Monster Hunter getting an upgrade to build hype for the new Nintendo Switch games; Kyary Pamyu-Pamyu being replaced with a 4D rollercoaster for Godzilla; and Biohazard bowing out to debut an incredibly successful Detective Conan escape room, complete with minor interaction with cast members in the mystery and a new themed food truck.

However, in 2017 the numbers for Cool Japan dropped a bit compared with previous years. This may have been due to the opening of the new Minions park at USJ, but this year, Cool Japan is taking no chances and is ready to strike a chord with all new fans of Japanese pop culture!

The 2018 Attractions

Promotional Image for Detective Conan: The WorldWhile numbers may have declined overall in 2017, the attendance for the Detective Conan experience surpassed that of the Biohazard escape. Perhaps it was due to being more family-friendly, or maybe being a detective lends itself to more immersive puzzles than Raccoon City Studios. Whatever the reason, the Detective Conan escape will be back with new puzzles, new story, expanded challenges, and a full themed restaurant this year. Whether you know the story or not, this is a must-see for mystery fans and adrenaline junkies alike.

For video game fans, Monster Hunter: The Real will continue to run, but with new graphics and layouts related to the Monster Hunter World game and a Promotional image for Final Fantasy XR Ridestreamlined waiting system to combat increasing crowd congestion. In addition, this year will see Cool Japan’s first-ever Final Fantasy event, using USJ’s popular XR virtual roller coaster to immerse fans in the world of Midgar and Final Fantasy VII. This is probably the main attraction for this year’s Cool Japan event, so be sure to get advance timed tickets or be prepared for long lines to get in.

Promotional image for Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4DThe biggest change will be the fourth focus. All previous Cool Japan events catered heavily toward shounen fandoms. This year, however, Cool Japan is debuting its first shoujo attraction — and halfway through the event! Beginning on March 16th, the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Miracle 4D attraction will open, giving magical girl fans of all ages the chance to join the Sailor Senshi in their battles against evil. Having an event themed around a “girl” series, especially one premiering partway through Cool Japan, may seem risky, but USJ cut back on additional attractions to make sure this 4D event (and the other Cool Japan features) get all of the focus and skill of the park’s designers and performers to give guests the best experience possible.

So, what are you waiting for? If you’ve never been to Universal Studios Japan, now is the perfect time to go, and even if you’ve been before, this limited, revamped event is still worth checking out. Get your geek on, join other Japanophiles from around the world, and head over to Universal Cool Japan while you can!

Universal Cool Japan is held in Osaka from January 19th-June 24th, 2018.

















Come On Over to Comic-Con

Chad Grover (Tokyo)

The second ever Tokyo Comic-Con took place from December 1st-3rd, 2017, at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe convention center. Japanese fans and expats alike from across the country arrived in droves to celebrate their love of Western comics, science-fiction, and fantasy series.

Stan Lee on the main stage at Tokyo Comic Con 2017

Special guest appearances included the legendary Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Spider-Man, who is largely credited for his role in helping bring Comic-Con to Japan in the first place. Not one to be outdone, DC Comics also arrived in full force to promote their newest film Justice League, released in Japan on November 20th last year. Both studios brought incredible exhibits for fans to gawk at as well (including the real Batman suit from The Dark Knight). The event was a rousing success, with staff proclaiming that the attendee list exceeded 50,000 people over the span of three days. While this is certainly an impressive turnout, the hall never felt overcrowded and navigation was a breeze, which was an added benefit.

To generate excitement for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi,  which opened worldwide on December 15th, 2017, much of the show floor during the exhibition was dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia (including a life-size model of the famous Millennium Falcon). A wide variety of hobby shops and retailers also set up booths offering goods and merchandise that are unavailable elsewhere. Star Wars has been a global phenomenon since its inception in 1977 and Japan has always made up a significant chunk of its fandom. Creator George Lucas admitted that he was heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai films when he first penned his story, helping the film evoke familiar themes and ideas a Japanese audience could easily relate to. Fans were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters for the Star Wars Cosplay Showcase held on the second day of the event.

Spiderman cosplay invasion!

Cosplay remained the central focus of the show throughout the weekend. While Japan’s other major fan conventions such as Comiket or Tokyo Game Show typically feature costumed characters from Japan-made anime, manga and video games, Tokyo Comic-Con was almost entirely dominated by cosplay from Western properties. In turn, this gave the event more of an international appeal. Attendees were also treated to a cosplay fashion show and group photo sessions, where they could witness the best and brightest costumes the venue had to offer.

Guests of honor from around the world

In addition to cosplay events, several guests of honor from overseas were invited to partake in the show’s programming on the main stage. Those who were patient enough to brave the long line also had the chance to meet each celebrity and receive their autograph. Special guests included actors Karl Urban, of Lord of the Rings and Star Trek fame, and Nathan Fillion from the cult-classic television series Firefly. Mads Mikkelsen, who garnered critical acclaim for his role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in television’s Hannibal, was also present. Mikkelsen recently landed a lead role in legendary Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima’s upcoming title Death Stranding, giving fans another reason to be excited. Actor Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was greeted by a number of fans in attendance cosplaying as the colorful outlaw.

One slight drawback: most of the event’s programming was conducted in Japanese; in other words, if you weren’t proficient in the language, understanding what presenters were saying might have posed a challenge, dampening accessibility for foreigners somewhat. Also, compared to its Western counterparts, Tokyo Comic-Con is not as eventful a convention as the others. Most people who attend Comic-Con in San Diego, California have a variety of options for how to spend their time. Whether you enjoy a particular niche show or are looking forward to the next big summer blockbuster, you can attend a panel of your favorite celebrities to ask them funny questions, hear embarrassing stories and so on; however, this is not yet the case for Tokyo Comic-Con. A great way for the convention to address this next year would be to fly more special guests out to create panels filled with people who share a common thread, beyond autograph sessions and main stage programming.

Back to the Future’s famous Delorean on display in the exhibition room

Despite this, Tokyo Comic-Con enjoyed considerable success for a convention still in its infancy. The number of attendees increased by sixty percent over its inaugural year in 2016, and its celebrities list was similarly bolstered. Is it worth making a trip across the country to attend? Not yet — but given the show’s rapid growth in one year, there may come a time when it’s worth every penny. Tokyo Comic-Con 2018 is currently scheduled for November 30th through December 2nd. If you are a diehard fan of comics and science fiction (or just really enjoy cosplay), and are within the Greater Tokyo Area, you owe it to yourself to check out Tokyo Comic-Con when it returns at the end of the year.

Chad Grover is a 4th Year JET rockin’ the suburbs in Tokyo. He thought Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the best movies released in 2017. You can argue with him over this claim on his Twitter.