A Bit of Japan in Canada: Square One Shopping Centre

At this point, I don’t remember when or how exactly my obsession with all things Japan came to be. I just know that it wasn’t something that I had in common with anyone else. No one I knew shared my interest. I was all alone.

Not that that really bothered me. I have always been kind of quirky and loving Japan was just one of those things offbeat about me. (THAT is something that a lot of Japan otaku (nerds) have in common. We seem to like to think we’re the only ones. Hahaha. Like we think it makes us special or something.)

Being alone in my interests did have its drawbacks though (apart from being made fun of or being called a “weeaboo” or something similar – which also never bothered me). The main hurdle was that finding source materials, information, programming, etc. was really difficult. Back then, someone like me – being from a small town – didn’t have much at the local video store or library to choose from. Once the Internet became a thing, it got a little easier, but due to lack of interest and awareness, it took many years before there was the cornucopia of online content there is now.

But it wasn’t until the last few years that Japanese things became trendy and started to spill out into the real world. Before, when I wanted to buy import items, I had to shop online, pay exorbitant markups as well as shipping, or travel quite a distance to the few and far between shops available that had only a handful of products. I used to use Ebay quite a bit for music CDs (I am aghast as what I paid for a few of my import albums), and J-List.com for trinkets and character goods. There was also a cool service called Flutterscape (now defunct) that would act as a middleman for people in Japan who could pick up items for you and mail them out. Again, pretty pricey.

Finally, ‘all things Japan’ is gaining in popularity. It’s much more mainstream now. I think that’s partly due to the increase of Japanese anime being shown overseas and in part due to the availability of information about really any aspect of Japanese culture now on the Internet.

Anime seems to be a gateway into interest in Japan. (That’s always been the case, probably, but it’s much more prolific now than it was when I was young.) It’s not uncommon to run into a kid in North America who loves anime. When I was younger, it was seen as something dorky. Now it’s normal. Maybe we’ll get into that deeper at some point, but for me, it was the opposite. I was interested in Japan and found anime through that.

Back then, I never would have thought my local mall would become a place to grab some goods from Japan or an authentic Japanese meal or snack. I thought I’d always have to hunt for that kind of thing. It’s so easy now.

More and more places are popping up all the time – and Japanese styled shopping experiences seems to be the newest trend and copycats are also on the rise (as you’ll see in the descriptions below).

square one1

We briefly mentioned Square One in our Kariya Park video since it’s a destination for tourists and locals alike and is just a few hundred metres down the street from the park.

It’s the largest shopping mall in Ontario and the second largest mall in the whole country – although as Jason points out in Part 1, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta is only bigger in square footage, not in the number of retail stores.

Currently, there are only 6 options in Square One for shoppers looking for the Japanese shopping/dining experience but our fingers are crossed this is an upwards trend.

We introduced the first 3 in Part 1 and the rest in Part 2. They are listed below along with some more relevant information.

Part 1

Miniso

Miniso is a “variety store” which combines the aesthetics popular in stores such as Muji, Uniqlo and Daiso.

From their Canadian website: miniso.ca

MINISO is not just a brand name but also a way of life. In an economy polarized by luxury brands and low-quality counterfeits, shoppers are divided into two extremes and opposing consumption pattern. MINISO delivers on this unmet demand in Canada and provides shoppers with good quality products and aesthetically pleasing designs. Affordability and competitive pricing is also a key principle in MINISO’s philosophy. Through the development of quality products and living goods, MINISO strives to become a global leader in providing excellent products for a better life.

Driven by simplicity and nature, MINISO aims to continually improve and innovate the processes for designing and manufacturing quality goods at honest prices, while considering the environment, energy saving, recycling and resources. Under the scale of global procurement, MINISO sources the best materials from all over the world while ensuring the health and safety of products and materials.

miniso logo

*CONSPIRACY: It’s actually a Chinese company “pretending” to be Japanese. ??? Maybe because the popular view of products from China being cheap and from Japan being better quality? The sign/logo itself is written in English and Japanese (although in Japanese, it reads as “Meisō”) but not Chinese (outside of China). Regardless of where it originated, they do sell a lot of Japanese products (snacks, etc.)

On their website, it states they are a Japanese based company:  miniso.com/EN/Brand

MINISO, a Japan-based designer brand, was co-founded by Japanese designer Mr. Miyake Junya and Chinese young entrepreneur Mr. Ye Guofu in Tokyo, Japan, with the former serving as chief designer.

There is actually a very interesting article outlining the dubious aspects of the company.

Even with the controversy, their expansion is a success and their stores are very popular. They do carry Japanese snacks and much of their packaging is in Japanese. We’ll leave it up to you whether or not you consider it a Japanese store or not.

Miniso was founded in 2013 and in 2017, they opened their first Canadian location. There are currently 48 stores in Canada.

17 in Ontario (1 in our city, 2 in Mississauga, 1 downtown)
14 in BC
11 in Quebec
5 in Alberta
1 in Nova Scotia

There are only 3 locations in Japan listed on their website (but only 4 of the 48 in Canada, so there may be more).

 

Muji

Muji is a company that carries items for everyday life – clothing, cosmetics, home goods, furniture, etc. – that are simple and basic yet good quality.

muji

From their website: www.muji.com/ca

MUJI, originally founded in Japan in 1980, offers a wide variety of good quality products including household goods, apparel and food.
Mujirushi Ryohin, MUJI in Japanese, translates as “no-brand quality goods.”
MUJI is based on three core principles, which remain unchanged to this day:
1. Selection of materials
2. Streamlining of processes
3. Simplification of packages

MUJI’s products, born from an extremely rational manufacturing process, are succinct, but they are not in the minimalist style.
That is, they are like empty vessels. Simplicity and emptiness yield the ultimate universality, embracing the feelings and thoughts of all people.

Japanese site: www.muji.net/store

muji logo

The company (Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd.) was founded in 1979 and they opened the first independent Muji store in 1983. They operate several other branches of the company such as hotels, home design, camp sites and they even made a car at one point.

Although they opened their first international store in London back in 1991, Muji stores didn’t come to Canada until 2015. (The first store was the downtown Toronto location and it was recently renovated and is now the biggest store outside of Asia.)

There are now 5 locations in Ontario. Only 3 in BC.
476 in Japan.

 

Uniqlo

Uniqlo is a Japanese brand clothing store.

uniqlo

From their Canadian website: www.uniqlo.com/ca/en

UNIQLO is a new Japanese company that ensures it provides casual clothes for all kinds of people.

uniqlo logo

The basis for the company we now know as Uniqlo first started as a men’s clothing store in 1949. In 1984, they opened a unisex casual clothing store called “Unique Clothing Warehouse”. It wasn’t until 1988 that the name Uniqlo (a contraction of Unique Clothing) was born.

The first Canadian stores were opened in 2015.

There are now 7 stores in Ontario and 4 in BC.
835 in Japan.

 

Part 2

Tsujiri

Tsujiri is a café/shop that sells matcha drinks and sweets.

tsujiri

tsujiri.ca
tsujiri-global.com

TSUJIRI was founded in 1860 by Riemon Tsuji who was renowned for his spirit of “YUWA”, meaning “continue to innovate and sustain the tradition”. His statue was built in Kyoto, Japan to honour his contribution to the Japanese tea industry. Mr. Tsuji has refined the cultivation of Gyokuro (the highest grade of Japanese green tea) and his method is still being used to this day. He is also the inventor of the tea box that preserves the longevity and freshness of the tea leaves during transportation, making fresh tea from Kyoto available to other Japanese cities a century ago. In 2010, CHAHO, which means tea ship in Japanese, were first established outside of Japan to carry on our founder’s spirit and to serve fresh tea to our customers worldwide. Welcome to TSUJIRI CHAHO.

tsujiri logo

6 stores in Canada (3 Toronto, 1 Mississauga, 1 Edmonton, 1 Richmond) – 3 more opening soon

I can’t find any information on Japanese locations. Only one shows on the map on their website, in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka.

Japanese website: www.tsujiri.co.jp

I found a chain of shops called Tsujiri (Uji, Gion Kyoto, Osaka and Ginza) but the logo isn’t the same. www.kataoka.com/tsujiri/shop

From what I understand (I think…), Kataoka is a company that serves as a go-between for importing overseas brands to Japan and exports their own brands worldwide from Japan, Tsujiri being one of them. The description of their Tsujiri brand is very similar to the overseas Tsujiri stores.

From the Kataoka website: www.kataoka.com/en/business/original

Tsujiri was founded in 1860. The founder, Tsuji Riemon, invented the tea chest and perfected a method for making Gyokuro green tea. These innovations enabled Tsuji to revive the good name of Uji tea, which had been threatened with disappearance amid the upheavals that ended the Tokugawa Shogunate. Today Tsujiri continues the tradition of Tsuji Riemon’s passion for perfecting great tea. With assured skill and commitment to quality, Tsujiri continues to deliver a delightful variety of excellent teas today.

In the video, I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t have any of my favourite treats available that day. Lucky for me, when I was at the mall a few days ago, they had them! Kinako Daifuku are thin layers of mochi wrapped around a delicious dollop of kinako-flavoured mousse, with kinako flour sprinkled on top. They also have matcha-flavoured ones, which I’ve never tried but look just as yummy, as well as traditional daifuku, which are usually filled with red bean paste and a strawberry.

 

Sansotei  Ramen

sansotei

www.sansotei.com

Sansotei is inspired by traditional ramen from various regions in Japan.  We source the highest quality ingredients both locally and direct from Japanese suppliers.  Sansotei was founded in Toronto, Canada in 2012 with our first location in the heart of the city. 

sansotei logo

There are currently 9 locations (2 outside of the GTA), and 1 more opening soon.

 

Sukoshi Mart

A store that carries “a little bit of everything” – snacks, character goods, cosmetics and some art prints.

www.sukoshimart.com
There isn’t much on their website. Their Facebook page is better maintained.
www.facebook.com/sukoshimart

sukoshi logo.png

Currently 2 locations (Kensington, SQ1) – Royal Bank Plaza opening soon – STC was a pop-up but permanent location is opening soon

Sukoshi Mart is not a Japanese company but it carries good from Japan (and Korea) including snacks and character merchandise. It’s a good place to get items that are hard to find or can only be ordered online from overseas.

square one2

We hope you enjoyed our little virtual tour!  What Japanese stores are available near you?

 

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The Top 5 Phrases You NEED to Know When Travelling in Japan

Fact: Being an English-speaker is a privilege.

When someone from a non-English speaking country wants to travel elsewhere, they will probably need to have at least basic English speaking abilities. It’s hard to get around otherwise. They may run into a few people here and there that speak their native language, but signage and written assistance, etc. will all be in English (or in our case, French as well as English).

Conversely, it seems that wherever we go in the world, the possibility of having others be able to speak to us in our own language is high. Many signs are written in English and, in areas where it’s not spoken as much, odds are there would be something like information pamphlets written in English. If we were to run into trouble (get sick or hurt), there are often English speakers available to help out.

There is no “universal language” (yet) but English is the closest there is to that. And yet, they say that English is one of the hardest to learn as a second language.

For the people who slogged through years of learning English, just think how good it must feel to have that go the other way and interact with someone who made the effort to learn their language!

This is especially true in Japan. English language education starts in grade school and continues throughout a student’s educational years. I don’t know if it’s due to the academically focused way they have of teaching it or due to the complete rearrangement of grammatical sentence structure, but I’ve heard Japanese people find English learning especially difficult. That’s why they seem to be so happy when the tables are turned and they can see that you have put some time into learning their language.

 

Our channel was made specifically to show how it’s easy to travel around in Japan without being able to speak any Japanese (in part due to those very reasons) but we are still encouraging you to learn a few simple words.

By making that effort, you show a huge amount of respect. You’ll also be making things just a little bit easier for yourself. It IS easier to get around when you can say a few things (even if it’s not entirely necessary) and locals will often treat you with added kindness when they can see you trying, no matter how bad your accent is or if you stumble over or mispronounce things.

We have made a short list of phrases that we think EVERYONE should learn in the language of the country they are travelling to, no matter where in the world that may be. Our list is universal and doesn’t require any “fill in the blank” extra vocabulary. (Yes, there are other extremely helpful things, like “where is the toilet?” or “may I please have a coffee” or “how much is this?” but you would have to learn various words to fill in with as well as need to be able to understand the responses.) This list is the simplest, need-to-know phrases that don’t require any extra knowledge or learning.

list.JPG

This list is shortened for Japanese because a few of those phrases are conveyed by one word. Lucky you!

As with any language, I’m sure, some of these phrases/words require a little explanation or further translation to understand the deeper cultural meaning behind them.

hello konnichiwa.png

Like we said in our video, there is no actual equivalent to a plain old “hello” in Japanese. In English, no matter the time of day or situation, you can greet someone with hello. It can also be used to grab someone’s attention (entering a shop with no employees visible or waving your hand in front of someone’s face if they appear to be not listening to you or lost in thought). It’s also the greeting you give when answering the phone. Definitely not the case in Japanese! They have different words altogether for those situations.

Greetings (or aisatsu) are a bit different in Japanese. They are specific to times of the day and different situations. There is also politeness level to consider, but that is much more advanced stuff that not only do I feel unequipped to explain, but is also completely unnecessary here. We’re keeping it basic.

When a non-Japanese speaking person is travelling, it’s good enough to just learn to say ‘good afternoon’ and use that as a standard greeting. If you were a native speaker and greeted someone early in the morning or late in the day with kon’nichiwa, you’d probably be given strange looks or the person might possibly formulate ideas about you. “What a lazy bum! Did she just wake up now and think that it’s still afternoon?” Haha. But as a gaijin who probably only knows a few words, no one would think anything of it. They’d just be pleased you were trying out the bits you know.

If you do want to learn all three of the standard time-related greetings, here they are for your reference.

Good morning.     Ohayogozaimasu / おはようございます
(Pronounced like the state of Ohio, with the ubiquitous ‘gozaimasu’ suffix attached.)
Note: You CAN just say ohayo but it’s quite casual. (You can get away with inappropriate casual with your “gaijin pass”.)

Good afternoon.     Konnichiwa / こんにちは

Good evening.     Konbanwa / こんばんは

thank you arigato.png

There are several different formulations of domo arigato gozaimasu that can be used and the different combinations infer different levels of politeness.

To say all three words sounds very polite and respectful, making you sound very grateful. Similar to ‘thank you very much’.

Domo arigato -or- arigato gozaimasu would be like saying ‘thank you’. Perfectly polite and to the point.

Just arigato by itself is still polite but just slightly more casual, sort of like ‘thanks’.

Domo alone is much more casual and maybe like ‘thank ya’ or ‘THX’.

Just note that you can’t say gozaimasu by itself. It doesn’t carry any meaning. It would be like saying ‘ing. It’s just a word ending.

For the simplest way to thank someone, show appreciation and politeness, arigato gets the message across clearly. (Pronunciation tip: It’s not AIRY-gato It’s ah-ree-gato.)

excuse me sumimasen.png

One of my favourite aspects of Japanese (and any language, if you think about it) is the underlying connotation of words. One word can mean different things, depending on the situation. That is especially true of the next word. It’s basically a 4-for-1. (It’s also how we fit all we wanted to teach you into only 5 phrases! 😉 ) Not just for this reason but also because of the frequency of usage, if you learn only ONE word in Japanese, sumimasen should be the one.

We explained it in detail in the video but I want to clarify a few more things.

The main translation of sumimasen is ‘excuse me’ and the apology idea is sort of baked right into that. It’s very similar to how Canadians are stereotyped for saying sorry all the time, even when the other person is at fault – except the Japanese have us beat.

The secondary translations, which include sorry, thank you, and please, have the ‘excuse me’ underneath them.

There is another word – shitsureishimasu / 失礼します – that also translates to excuse me but isn’t really used in casual settings. It has a higher level of politeness. In my mind, it’s better translated to “pardon me”.

There is another word to say sorry in Japanese – gomen nasai / ごめんなさい – but that is more formal or for a more serious offense. “I apologize” rather than a simple “sorry”.

Likewise, there are other words for please – kudasai / 下さい and onegaishimasu / お願いします – but they don’t have the undertone of apology. I would personally use kudasai/onegaishimasu before an action takes place and sumimasen after someone has already gone out of their way for me.

We did mention in the video that you would use sumimasen to call attention to a waiter, but didn’t make note of just how often that’s done or how necessary it is. At many establishments, you HAVE to yell out sumimasen when you want to order something or  to call the staff over to you. It’s considered impolite for them to hover around you or interrupt your conversation so they will leave you alone until beckoned.

One more note – sumimasen is sort of a magic word when you need to approach someone to ask a question. I saw an example on a TV show a few years ago where an English-speaking girl did an experiment. She wanted to ask directions and first, approached people out on the street saying ‘excuse me’ in English. Almost everyone ignored her or brushed her aside and hurried on. When she tried again, approaching people with sumimasen instead, they stopped to listen even though she continued on in English.

It’s not at all that people in Japan are rude. They are actually generally very eager to help out. It’s more that English, right off the bat, can be too intimidating for them.

Keep that in mind if you ever need assistance from strangers when you’re travelling in Japan. Sumimasen will take you a long way.

understand wakarimasen.png

Wakarimasen is fairly straightforward. It means “I don’t understand” but people will also take it to mean “I don’t speak Japanese” when coming from a foreigner.

One of our viewers made a good point though. (Shout out to Ranerdar!) If you say wakarimasen, the person who is speaking to you may just think that you don’t understand the idea of what they are saying rather than the actual words. They might try to rephrase it or say it more slowly. If you want to make it clear you don’t speak Japanese at all, you can say “Nihongo o wakarimasen / 日本語を分かります”, meaning “I don’t understand Japanese”. No room for error with that.

okay ii desu.png

We went through a bunch of examples where you would use ii desu ka in the video but didn’t explain that it also means “Can I?” or “Really?” / “Are you sure?”

If someone were to appear to offer you something and you aren’t sure if you can take it, use this phrase.

Imagine that you’re at an izakaya (Japanese style pub) and someone gestures for you to help yourself to what they’re drinking, you would want to say, “really?” Or you’re in a shop and they have delicate looking items you want a closer look at. You would ask “can I?” if you want to pick it up. If you’re walking past a food stall at a matsuri (festival) and the vendor offers you a sample, you’d say “are you sure?” All of them translate to ii desu ka.

speak english eigo hanasemasu.png

Our bonus phrase – Do you speak English?Eigo o hanasemasu ka – wasn’t included in the ‘official’ list of Top 5 Must-Know phrases due to its difficulty but there is an easy get around if you can’t remember it or have a hard time pronouncing it. You CAN just say Eigo? (English?) and the person will get the idea. (It’s pronounced like the waffle brand, Eggo.)

other phrases.JPG

We said we may make another Useful Phrases video at some point… Either way, we will at least throw up some of those fill-in-the-blank questions (Where is [something]?), along with some of the common vocabulary words to insert, in a future blog post.

pronunciation.JPG

One final thing to note: You may notice that some of the words we used, such as the desu from ii desu ka, sound like there isn’t a u at the end. It sounds like it’s pronounced as ‘dess’. Technically, it’s still there but really clipped.

Other than the letter N, Japanese syllables as always vowel or consonant-vowel. (A-Ri-Ga-To) And -u and -i sounds in the middle or end of words are often almost slurred over. Sumimasen can often sound like s’mimasen. The word shitsureishimasu (mentioned earlier) is a hard word for English speakers to pronounce. (When I took Japanese in university, we sometimes had a one-by-one “speaking check” at the end of class to make sure we were pronouncing certain difficult words properly and that was the first one.) It comes out sort of like ‘sh’ts’reishimass’. Even now I have a hard time with it.

Ganbatte! / がんばって!(Do you best!) But don’t worry too much over it. Even with poor pronunciation, you’ll probably be understood and your Japanese speaking listeners will applaud your effort.

Happy learning!

 

Here’s our bonus video explaining why foreigners – or gaijin / がいじん / 外人 – aren’t held to the same standards as native Japanese when it comes to customs and etiquette and are given a lot of slack when we make mistakes. We have the “Gaijin Pass”.

Something to note: Gaijin literally means “outside person” and, in some instances, can be taken as derogatory. Fellow foreigners will call each other gaijin but when Japanese native people refer to us, they are more likely to use gaikokujin / がいこくじん / 外国人 which translates closer to “foreign country citizen” and is seen as more polite.

 

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The BEST Japan-Related Channels on YouTube

As promised, here is the “exhaustive list” of YouTubers we follow. (This is an excerpt from a (much) longer article. Read the full blog post on the BEST Sources of Inspiration for Planning a Trip to Japan and watch the video.)

Instead of just listing who we’re subscribed to, I’ve tried to edit this list into people who I think have good information on either planning your own trip and travel tips, or show places or activities you might want to consider. It includes a few who are now inactive for various reasons (quit YouTube, left Japan, etc.) but made worthwhile videos in the past that still deserve to be seen.

japan-guide
Only in Japan/Only in Japan GO
Simon and Martina/simonandmartinabonus
Kyde and Eric
Rachel and Jun
TheUwagaPies
Internationally ME
Life Where I’m From
Sam in Tokyo
MaaikeInJapan
Letters to Japan
Tokyo Cheapo
JapanesePod101
Tofugu
TokyoStreetView
SUPERGENKI
Discover Kyoto
Micaela
Mimei
Gimmeabreakman
OzzyAwesome
Starlet Shay

Tokyo Creative/Tokyo Creative Travel/Tokyo Creative Talk (a “conglomerate of influencers”, many of who have their own channels including:)
Abroad in Japan
Sharla in Japan/Sharmander
Tokyo Lens
OkanoTV
Kim Dao/kimdaovlog
Tokidoki Traveller
BunnyTokyo
Sherry Y
LovelyLyzKelly
Dogen
The Anime Man
AkiDearest
LeSweetpea
(There are a bunch more but I don’t “know” them or they don’t seem to have Japan content.)

Channels that are new to me:
Paolo from Tokyo
TokiYuYu
InMyShoes
Cakes with Faces
hijessicaanne
Ann Lu
TabiEats
Japanesquest
Japan Experience
Rambalac
Planetyze
Jennifer Julien
Peter von Gomm JAPAN

Channels that have Japan series but aren’t exclusively about Japan:
Thomas & Tracey
Yellow Productions
Pixielocks
Merete
Currently Hannah
IkuTree
thisNatasha
catguts
Abbie Bauer
Flying the Nest
PeachMilky/PeachMilky Vlog
Taylor R

Older channels that are no longer uploading:
Happy in Japan
Japanagos
Tokyocooney
RogerSwan
meaphe
jeshii
japanarchist
Experience JAPAN with YUKA

And, obviously, if you haven’t already subscribed to OUR CHANNEL… now is your chance!

youtube2.jpg

 

The BEST Sources of Inspiration for Planning a Trip to Japan

DISCLAIMER: This post is horrifically long. I seem to have an inability to sum up. 😆  If you are unable to read the entire thing, that’s okay. This is the expanded version of what’s in the video so at least watch that.  It’s less than 5 minutes long! 😅
(The following post after this will be a copy of the YouTube channel links listed below for easy access.)

It could be said that I know a little bit about Japan… 🤔🤓

I’m definitely not an expert or anything but I think it’s a fair assessment that I know more than the average person. I’m sort of like a “jack of all topics” – I know a lot of random facts and trivia about numerous aspects pertaining to Japan. (The only area I know nothing about at all is government and politics. 😴) Some subjects I know just a bit, others quite a lot of information – but I’m not a master in any one area.

I remember a specific conversation when I was rambling on and on about something, vomiting out tidbits of information, and the person I was talking to stopped me and asked where I find all this stuff out. He hasn’t been the only one. Once I get started, I can be hard to dissuade and most people get that glazed look after a few minutes and start questioning how I retain all that info. My mind is generally a sieve, except when it comes to Japan. I think that can be attributed to 2 things. 1) I’m obviously very passionate about it. 2) I tend to read or watch the same bits over and over. It sticks because I’m interested and I keep hearing/seeing the same things.

Even with all the knowledge I have, it doesn’t mean that I automatically know where the best places to see and things to do would be. Everything is interesting to me – even the most mundane, everyday things others would find boring. If I could spend every day from morning to night for the rest of my life exploring every corner, I still would never be able to do it all. My problem is more figuring out what things and places would be the MOST worthwhile and how much I can realistically pack into the time we have.

For our first trip, I consulted guide books, which can be great, especially for a first-timer. But once you’ve familiarized yourself with what they offer – the basics – for someone returning again and again, you’ll need more. (They all seem pretty similar to me, although I haven’t used too many personally.) Guide books are also expensive and will become outdated fairly quickly.

So where does someone like me go for inspiration when planning a trip to Japan?

I rely on the following 4 online sources to gather fresh new info and ideas:
NHK World TV
YouTube
Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr
japan-guide.com

sources4.jpg

NHK World TV

One of the largest television and radio broadcasters in Japan is NHK. NHK World is their station for viewers outside of the country. It’s mostly all English programming but they have other languages available as well. (Since I speak English, I don’t have too much info about what else is offered.)

Although they do have some drama/sitcoms, the majority of their content is made up of documentary style shows and news. I have a voracious appetite for knowledge about any and all aspects of Japan (except politics, like I mentioned 😆) so these shows feed that. I am endlessly entertained, so even without trip-planning on my mind, I watch many of them all year round.

My favourite show (not just from NHK but for all television) is called Japanoloy Plus. It’s been on the air since 2008 – first as Begin Japanology and then re-branding in 2014. Each week, the host – British-born but longtime resident of Japan, Peter Barakan – explores a new topic, outlining the history and cultural importance, and interviews experts in the area. Even the most seemingly-boring episodes have been interesting in some ways. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, but some of my favourites, more than five times.

Another great show is Tokyo Eye. As you can guess from the title, it focuses on interesting aspects of Tokyo, aimed at people who are new to the city or visiting. I like how they highlight little-known areas and hidden gems.

#Tokyo (“Hashtag Tokyo”) is a fairly new show. Similar to Tokyo Eye, in that it’s Tokyo-centric, it highlights what travellers to Japan are interested in by tracking social media hashtags. It’s a good starter to grab quick info and tips since each episode is only 15 minutes.

Journeys in Japan is also very helpful for gathering ideas. Every episode features a different area of the country and follows that week’s host around while they take part in various activities and learn about what makes that place unique. I don’t think they’ve left a single corner of Japan undocumented. It’s nice to see places I know I’ll never personally have time to get to.

Core Kyoto is another show I really like. Kyoto, being the ancient capital, is steeped in tradition and therefore, this show keeps the cultural aspects as the focus as different topics related specifically to Kyoto are examined.

Other worthwhile shows I watch include:
The Mark of Beauty
Seasoning the Seasons
Japan Railway Journal
Kabuki Kool
Trails to Oishii Tokyo/Trails to Tsukiji

There are many more! You can watch NHK World either online directly from their streaming website or on their app. You can watch live or select one of their previously-aired episodes from the “programs” tab.

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YouTube

YouTube is an endless source of content involving sightseeing suggestions and travel tips for Japan. You can find videos on anything you might be interested in. I subscribe to many channels who regularly upload videos introducing new-to-me destinations and experiences, so that in itself provides a great deal of inspiration. I also search out videos about various spots I’ve heard of and want more information or a different view on. For every place and activity, there are bound to be several videos about it. Not every video will be useful and not every useful video will have everything you need, but with several to choose from, odds are you’ll be able to get a good grasp on what you need to know.

There are 2 types of Japan vloggers – the first is someone who lives in Japan and lives that life daily and the second is someone who lives elsewhere in the world but has travelled to Japan and shares their trip in video form.

There are also 2 types of videos that can help you with your planning. The first type are full of advice on things like steps to getting you to Japan, what to pack, how to buy tickets and passes, what to think about and what to be aware of. The second type is a virtual tour of a certain destination or an activity.

Some of the people I subscribe to, I have been following for years. Others I came across recently while doing research. Some channels are exclusively Japan-related content and some are more general but have specific series of Japan travel videos.

Instead of just listing who I’m subscribed to, I’ve tried to edit this list into people who I think have good information on either planning your own trip and travel tips, or show places or activities you might want to consider. It includes a few who are now inactive for various reasons (quit YouTube, left Japan, etc.) but made worthwhile videos in the past that still deserve to be seen.

(I’m also on the lookout for new content to watch so if I’ve left off someone you think should be on the list, let me know!)

japan-guide
Only in Japan/Only in Japan GO
Simon and Martina/simonandmartinabonus
Kyde and Eric
Rachel and Jun
TheUwagaPies
Internationally ME
Life Where I’m From
Sam in Tokyo
MaaikeInJapan
Letters to Japan
Tokyo Cheapo
JapanesePod101
Tofugu
TokyoStreetView
SUPERGENKI
Discover Kyoto
Micaela
Mimei
Gimmeabreakman
OzzyAwesome
Starlet Shay

Tokyo Creative/Tokyo Creative Travel/Tokyo Creative Talk (a “conglomerate of influencers”, many of who have their own channels including:)
Abroad in Japan
Sharla in Japan/Sharmander
Tokyo Lens
OkanoTV
Kim Dao/kimdaovlog
Tokidoki Traveller
BunnyTokyo
Sherry Y
LovelyLyzKelly
Dogen
The Anime Man
AkiDearest
LeSweetpea
(There are a bunch more but I don’t “know” them or they don’t seem to have Japan content.)

Channels that are new to me:
Paolo from Tokyo
TokiYuYu
InMyShoes
Cakes with Faces
hijessicaanne
Ann Lu
TabiEats
Japanesquest
Japan Experience
Rambalac
Planetyze
Jennifer Julien
Peter von Gomm JAPAN

Channels that have Japan series but aren’t exclusively about Japan:
Thomas & Tracey
Yellow Productions
Pixielocks
Merete
Currently Hannah
IkuTree
thisNatasha
catguts
Abbie Bauer
Flying the Nest
PeachMilky/PeachMilky Vlog
Taylor R

Older channels that are no longer uploading:
Happy in Japan
Japanagos
Tokyocooney
RogerSwan
meaphe
jeshii
japanarchist
Experience JAPAN with YUKA

(Maybe someday I’ll organize this list further and provide a brief description of what each offers… If I ever find the time.)

And, obviously, if you haven’t already subscribed to OUR CHANNEL… now is your chance!

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Pinterest/Instagram/Flickr

Once I’ve got a few ideas from NHK and YouTube, I move over to social media apps that are mainly pictorial. Having information on a potential places to see and things to do isn’t enough for me. I want to see as many different people’s views as possible.

Instagram is great because of the location tags and hashtags that link similar posts. When you search one thing, through those links, you can find other similar things. It’s a rabbit hole of inspiration.

Flickr is good too and gives me ideas on photo composition for my own future shots and unique perspectives I might not have seen before. I like to look something up and scroll through as many pictures of it as I can, saving my favourites. In our past trips, I’ve used photography from Flickr to annotate my itineraries as well as for inspiration for our own photography.

I hoard shots from both Instagram and Flickr and then link them on Pinterest (as well as finding more pictures there). That’s where I organize the images I’ve collected in ways that make sense to me. I group things into boards based on location or subject. I plan everything out including where we’ll go, what we might to eat, what we want to buy, and various activities we could do.

On my personal account, I have 50 boards for various Japan-related topics, including one that was just inspiration for our last trip. Since we’re going for so long this time, I knew one board would be too chaotic to handle the entire trip. I wanted to expand on each and every aspect. That’s why I started a dedicated JapanWithoutJapanese account and will have many boards to organize it all. (There are 17 already and I’ll be adding to it as I get deeper into planning out the details.)

 

Japan-Guide

The most useful online tool I’ve come across thus far is japan-guide.com. It’s way better than a guide book because it’s frequently updated, with new destinations added often, much more comprehensive and, best of all FREE! It’s easy to navigate and each location includes photos and maps as well as how to get to there, hours of operation, what costs are involved, a brief history or facts about the cultural significance, and maybe suggestions on where to stay nearby. I love how they often say whether or not you can use your JR pass to get there. One of the best parts of each location write-up is how, at the very top, they let you know right away if there is any construction going on and which parts are affected. (It sucks going to a place you’ve dreamed of seeing for years, only to find half of it to be covered up by scaffolding. It’s great to know ahead of time if you should skip it and use that time for something else.)

If you sign up for an account (for free), you can save the locations you research into a wishlist or mark whether you’ve been there before. You can interact with other members in the forums to seek further advice or to help out fellow travellers.  There are also articles about many topics that are interesting and packed with information.  They even do seasonal cherry blossom and autumn colour watches where they track and report on where and when blossoms/foliage are at their peak.

As noted in the YouTube section, they have an accompanying account where they post the best videos (in my humble opinion) that are not only super helpful and informative but beautifully shot and edited.

I can’t say enough good things about japan-guide. My only complaint is that I didn’t discover it sooner.

 

The following two sources I didn’t include in my list because I don’t find them quite as helpful/don’t use them as often, but I will still mention them here as a bonus.

Blogs – Other people’s blogs can be good. A simple Google search can bring up some helpful posts. I’ve done that here and there as well, but I don’t use general online searches as much as searching within the services I mentioned.

Facebook groups – I also joined a few Facebook groups dedicated to planning trips to Japan. There can be some interesting tidbits in them but I have yet to find anything super helpful or get any answers for my very specific questions. Depending on your level of knowledge and experience with travelling in Japan, groups may or may not be useful for you.

 

One more thing to be aware of:  If you are searching for information from the general public (as in NOT an official tourism board or travel company – and even then…) BE SMART! Double check the facts from multiple sources to make sure it’s correct. If several different places are saying the same thing, you’re probably okay but if you only watch one person’s video or read one blog post, you might be getting something slightly (or completely) inaccurate.

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These sources are all wonderful and I recommend you utilize them as well if you are planning your own trip to Japan. That said, everyone plans in their own way and what works for one may not for someone else. Try it out and see what is best for you. My one piece of advice is to do your research!  Yes, absolutely ask questions of people who have experience in Japan, but ultimately only you will know what will interest you, at what pace you want to travel and what you are able to achieve. Only you know how much information you want to equip yourself with beforehand vs. how many things you’d be comfortable with just winging it.

It can be daunting to plan a trip, no matter the length, but in my experience, the planning, learning and anticipation are half the fun.

You can do it!  がんばって!

 

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Sakura at Kariya Park (Finally)

After a late start to spring and unseasonably cold weather, the sakura (桜 / さくら / cherry blossoms) have finally bloomed across the Greater Toronto Area. We began getting alerts early last week that flowers were out at High Park, Trinity Bellwoods, and outside Robart’s Library at U of T. We’ve been using Instagram to see when peak bloom time is happening (searching a location and selecting most recent posts) and, on our earliest day off together, decided we’d better make our way over to our favourite local spot – Kariya Park – to see if the trees were in bloom there as well.

This past Wednesday, we got up early and drove the 40 minutes into Mississauga. We wanted to get there around 9am to beat the crowds and catch some nice morning light. Even that early, there were a bunch of people there already – and to our surprise – of the 30 or so sakura trees at Kariya Park, only ONE tree was in full bloom.

kariya sakura 3.JPG

As it turns out, there is only a single somei yoshino variety of sakura there. These are the most famous ones that have 5 pinkish-white petals per blossom. That’s what most people think of when cherry blossoms come to mind. There are, however, many more varieties and they all have individual characteristics and bloom at differing times.

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somei yoshino sakura at Kariya Park

I’m not sure exactly which particular variety the other trees in the park are but I’ve at least narrowed down that the majority of them fall into the yaezakura category – they have larger, pink, multi-petal blossoms. They all had tons of buds ready to pop out at any second! (By the time this post and video are online, they will likely be at their peak.)

 

There is also one very tall weeping cherry (shidarezakura) by the second largest pond. It was also not yet in bloom this week, but should be very soon.

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Even with just the buds, the trees were still lovely, giving the park a nice pink hue. And the single yoshino sakura was gorgeous! Three other photographers had the same idea we did and had staked out spots around the tree, taking shots from every single angle. (I felt kind of lame with my iPhone while Jason and the other photographers had “fancy cameras”. I still think I managed to get a couple of nice shots.) Take a look at our JWJ Instagram (for Karen’s ) and Twitter (for Jason’s) accounts to see our Kariya sakura photos.

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Our main reason for visiting the park during sakura season was to have our own little hanami picnic. Hanami (花見 / はなliterally means “flower viewing” in Japanese and refers to the tradition of having an outing specifically to view flowers (mainly sakura), which usually consists of sitting under the trees and having a party. The word hanami also applies to the entire cherry blossom season.

Every year in Japan, hoards of people flock to public parks, lay out tarps under the sakura branches, and eat snacks and drink. I’m not sure how much blossom appreciation actually happens but it looks like a great time regardless.

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hanami at  Ueno Park in Tokyo – picture taken April 2015

The tarps are always the ubiquitous blue and snacks often include bento (lunch boxes) and traditional Japanese sweets and the drinks are almost always alcoholic. (These hanami parties can get a bit rowdy!) However, even though we DID bring our tarp with us, we didn’t sit because it’s been raining a lot lately and the ground was soaked. I was also too lazy to cook and prepare us some bento, so I just bought some onigiri (rice balls) at the mall food court. We didn’t have alcohol either – because A) it was only 9 in the morning and B) you can’t drink in parks in Canada. (You can in Japan though!)

I did pack our onigiri into a bento box. Just because I have one. LOL. (My friend Ames bought me a really cute Totoro one as a gift and I was happy to finally be able to use it.) And, although it wasn’t alcoholic, we did a taste test of a sakura-flavoured (??) cola I bought at a local Asian grocery store.

Jason surprised me by doing something completely unexpected when we were discussing what sakura flavour actually is. Make sure to watch for that! Haha. I guess that’s what happens when you make spur-of-the-moment, unplanned videos.

Our video also turned into a mini-tutorial on how to open an onigiri. It would seem straightforward but it’s more complex than it looks. Back in 2010 on our first trip, I thought I had understood how to do it but had never had one before and totally screwed it up. (There’s a video of that on my personal channel.) And even now, Jason didn’t realize the technology and thought that goes into onigiri packaging – and opened his own for the very first time.

onigiri
onigiri from the mall – WAY more expensive than in Japan

An onigiri is a ball of rice with some sort of filling inside it, usually molded into a triangle shape. Most of the time, it comes wrapped in a piece of seaweed to keep the sticky rice off of your fingers. The ingenuity comes from the way that it’s packaged. If the seaweed were touching the rice for a long time (while it sat on a shelf in the store before you buy it, for instance), it would become limp and soft. No one wants that! Part of the appeal is the crispy wrapper. Therefore, there is a layer of plastic in between the rice and the seaweed which is peeled away with the outer layer after you break the seal. It’s brilliant!

It’s definitely one of my favourite snacks but it’s so hard to find around here and so expensive. In Japan, they are sold at every single convenience store, there is an endless variety of kinds, and I’ve never paid more than 170¥ for one. (They are usually only around 100-120¥.) There is only one store that I know of that even sells them here, they only have 2 kinds, and they are $3.99 each. Crazy.

I think onigiri will be the very first thing I eat when I get to Japan. 🍙

 

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Super Hype Mix for Japan, vol.1 – Planning Stage

Now that our plane tickets are booked and the general idea for our itinerary is nailed down, I’m beginning to switch my focus to the specific details of what we’ll be doing at each stop and the times of arrival and departure in various places. I get ideas and inspiration from several different sources (more on that another time). Many of those have information about their own methods of trip-planning, which I make use of as well. They all have the same sort of basic outline – decide on dates, book flights and accommodations, buy passes and admission tickets, exchange money, etc.  Of course that’s necessary. And obvious. These are the concrete things you must do. What I’m surprised by is the lack of abstract preparation advice. No one really goes beyond that. They may make mention here and there about what to expect once you arrive but I have yet to come across any suggestions of how to put yourself in the right frame of mind emotionally before your trip begins.

As time gets closer to my departure from regular life to the extraordinary, I inevitably attempt to fully immerse myself in everything related to where I’m headed. This time will be no different. I’ve already been spending a lot of time watching Japanese movies and listening to Japanese music as well as reading books about or taking place in Japan and that will surely increase as time goes on. More than just idea and information gathering, doing this purely for entertainment gets me excited about finally being there.

A huge part of trip preparation for me is creating a playlist. I see playlists as a soundtrack for my own life experiences. To go on a trip without one would leave me feeling unprepared. It’s often a completely ignored aspect of trip planning but something that should be on everyone’s to-do lists, in my opinion.

While researching my own playlist, I found one website that touched on exactly what I was thinking and talked about the importance of cultivating a playlist for you to listen to once you head out. Music can put you in the right frame of mind as well as solidify your memories. Often, you only need to hear a song to be transported back to a certain time and place. If you prepare, you can select which songs should be associated with which moments.

However, something thing I’d suggest is to create a playlist for the actual planning process. Whether it’s songs that you will potentially use in your final trip playlist or something different altogether, I find it really helpful to have specific music to listen to during my planning to hype myself up and keep me focused while I plod through the mental effort of amassing information, collecting ideas, narrowing things down, organizing, and detailing. It makes it more of a fun activity rather than an overwhelming chore.

playlist

Here are some of the tunes I’ve been listening to while I sit at my computer, hour after hour, trying to put this epic adventure together:

(Sidenote: Most of these songs are specific to Tokyo rather than Japan in general, but that’s what was available that fit the feel I wanted. If I were to write my own music, it would be more encompassing.)

Local Natives – Wide Eyes

Oh, to see it with my own eyes

When I was researching my Japan trip in 2015, I came across this song in someone’s video on YouTube. A perfect selection, if you ask me. It’s not Japan-specific but it speaks about the desire to see the places you dream about for yourself. I liked it so much, I sought out the entirety of Local Natives‘ discography and am now a fan.

The Bird and the Bee – Love Letter to Japan

From the west to the east I have flown to be near you
I have come all this way to be close, to be here with you …
… I am yours, I am yours
For as long, for as long as you will have me

THIS. WHOLE. SONG.
I don’t know her, but I feel like she gets it. The obsession. The longing. Yes. This is a fellow Japan-lover.

PUFFY – Tokyo, I’m On My Way

Tokyo, I’m on my way
I’m going to be in love

This was the very first song I picked for my original Japan Trip Playlist way back in 2010. Back before we started getting in trouble for using copyrighted music, I put this song in my own video of our flight taking off. When I hear it, it still holds that excitement of bouncing in my seat in anticipation of finally being on my way.

Pizzicato 5 – Non-Stop to Tokyo

Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop to Tokyo

The Japanese lyrics are mostly to do with having a summer vacation fling, but since the only English lyrics are “non-stop to Tokyo” and our flight IS non-stop to Tokyo, it seemed fitting.

Humpe Humpe – Yamaha

Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Suzuki, Sony
Minolta, Kawasaki, Sanyo, Casio, Toshiba

My cousin introduced me to this song years ago. It’s just a bunch of Japanese name brands sung over and over, so as a song, it’s complete nonsense and it’s totally 80s but I love it.

The Pinker Tones – Tokyo

Oh, why don’t we go to Tokyo?
Come on, come on, come on
Let’s go

Yes. Let’s!

Geno Samuel – City Lights of Tokyo

Longing for the bright lights and the city sights of Tokyo

I feel like I live in a perpetual state of that.

PUFFY – Tokyo Nights

Tokyo nights
I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love

Even in Japanese, the lyrics don’t make much sense. It’s just a fun song that you can apply any meaning you want. Have a great time being crazy in Tokyo!

Tita Lau – Tokyo (Go Japan Go)

It got a little crazy down in Tokyo

That’s probably something a lot of people who’ve been there can relate to. And people who haven’t, can probably imagine.

Juno Reactor – Tokyo Dub

Tokyo, out of my head you flow
From my heart to my soul
Watch the energy flow

Those are the only lyrics of the song and they repeat over and over throughout the (very long) song.
A lot of songs about Tokyo talk about the fast pace, bright lights, and chaos. This song however is chill and relaxed, but it’s still got a nighttime, almost… high-tech (??) vibe. Like a robot in a club, maybe? Haha.

Plastics – Copy

Copy people
C-O-P-Y
Copy this and copy that …
… Tokyo Copy Town

For as ridiculous as this song seems, it says a lot. I’ll let you derive your own meaning out of it, as I have. (I take it as a positive though, rather than something bad.)

Teriyaki Boyz – Tokyo Drift

I wonder if you know how they live in Tokyo
If you seen it, then you mean it
Then you know you have to go

Lyrically, a pretty shallow song but it’s still fun and will, of course, always bring to mind scenes from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. I love it when tidbits of Japanese culture are shared with the mainstream masses.

The Presidents of the United States of America – Japan

Everything is rockin’ out of control
When we hit Japan

Like a lot of other songs I came across (and skipped), this song highlights a band’s experience touring Japan, but unlike others, it’s in an excited, positive way.
I like to sing along with the repeated “when we hit Japan” part.

Yoshida Brothers – Kodo (Inside the Sun Remix)

♫ 

There are 2 Yoshida Brothers songs in this playlist. I chose them because I love the way the brothers blend traditional Japanese sounds (tsugaru shamisen, in their case) with modern beats.
I highly recommend picking a few songs that are instrumental only, that feed your hype through their vibe. I also recommend picking a few songs that are from Japan, rather than strictly about Japan. Yoshida Brothers would be a great choice because they have that iconic Japanese sound.

The Wombats – Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)

If you love me, let me go back to that bar in Tokyo

Japan can be an escape for some people. And I’m also looking forward to leaving behind regular life for awhile to be there. There are many reasons I picked this song, but none of them are very profound. I just really like it.

Pharoah Sanders – Japan

♫ 

This is another purely instrumental song, no lyrics at all, but this one has a completely different feel. Slow and peaceful. When I first heard it, I immediately thought of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. (The bells in the song sound like the bells attached to the pilgrim’s walking stick.) That’s something I’d love to do someday. This time around, I’ll be able to visit one or two of those temples, so at least that’s something. For now.

Thompson Twins – Tokyo

Tokyo, why can’t I ever say no?  Tokyo

I can’t say no either. (Although, I think they are maybe unable to resist something different than me. LOL.)
Honestly, I picked this song because it’s classic 80s. And I love the 80s.
BTW, if you’re interested in seeing what Tokyo looked like back then, there is an amazing series of videos on YouTube from a guy who digitized his old home movies.

Yoshida Brothers – Rising

♫ 

The other Yoshida Brothers song I chose. Isn’t it great?!

Kyu Sakamoto – Sayonara Tokyo

Sayonara, Tokyo

Well, that’s a pretty self-explanatory choice. (You knew that sayonara means goodbye, right?) I’ll be very sad to leave at the end of our trip and this song has that melancholic feel.
I also wanted to include a song by Kyu Sakamoto. You may have heard the SUPER famous song Ue o Muite Arukou, which is known in the west as Sukiyaki. It’s been covered many times over the years. That’s him!

Kay Cee Jones – Sayonara

The time has come for us to say sayonara
My heart will always be yours for eternity
I knew sometime we’d have to say sayonara
Please promise that you’ll be returning someday to me

I realize she’s talking to a person but I’m talking about Japan.

 

Bonus Track:
I came across this song on two separate people’s Japan trip videos on YouTube when researching in 2015 and I loved the feel of it and gave my own meaning to “the importance of elsewhere”. Then I listened to the lyrics and realized it’s about a drug trip, not travelling. Hahaha. But it’s still a great song and I still link it in my brain to that jet-setting idea.

Lack of Afro – The Importance of Elsewhere

 

What songs make YOU think of Japan? What songs would you put on your own travel playlist?

 

If you’re having trouble loading all the videos links or if you want to listen to all the songs continuously, I made a public playlist on our YouTube channel.

See you next time.  また かい。

A Bit of Japan in Canada: Kariya Park

entrance

Kariya Park is a Japanese-style garden right in the heart of Mississauga, Ontario (not far from Toronto). It’s located just down the street from Square One Shopping Centre, less than a five minute walk.

 

We visited in early December to give you a tour. Maybe not the best time to shoot a video outside but we wanted to practice taking footage and editing before we leave for Japan. (I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THE AUDIO! This is why practice is needed before we go, so we know what NOT to do once we’re in Japan. Please bear with us and we’ll get better, I swear.)

Kariya Park was opened in 1992 to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the twin-city relationship between Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and Kariya, Aichi, Japan. The city of Kariya is located 15km southwest of Nagoya.

nagoya map.JPG

It was created as a collaborative effort between Canadian and Japanese designers and therefore has the authentic feel of a garden one would find in Japan. Within the park, you can see many trees, plants and flowers indigenous to Japan such as peonies, maple, ginko, sweetgum, redbud, and sakura trees as well as Kariya’s official flower – the purple Rabbit-Ear Iris (杜若/かきつばた/kakitsubata in Japanese).

kakitsubata.jpg
Rabbit-Ear Iris – picture from Wikipedia

I was at Kariya Park last week and noticed that the irises that flank the walkway to the entrance are currently in bloom.

 

The park covers 7.5 acres and is enclosed with a high wooden wall so the city noise is dimmed (although there is an elementary school on the other side which can get a bit louder when the kids are out for recess). A gravel lined path runs in a circular shape around the perimeter with three more lines crossing the middle.

 

There are 3 ponds of different sizes inside the pathway. The smallest one in the middle has a cute little waterfall and a plank wood bridge in a staggered pattern (although it’s currently drained of water). The second largest pond is on the left-hand side of the park and is flanked with a stone lantern and bench. The largest of the ponds has a curved wooden bridge at the narrower end and then it opens up to reveal the main feature of the park – the pavillion.

 

The pavillion is a Japanese-style wooden structure with curved roof tips and is made up of two separate roofs joined together in the middle – symbolizing Kariya and Mississauga – where a bronze bell hangs. The bell was cast in Japan and donated to the city of Mississauga in 2001 for the 20th anniversary. It’s the same sort of style of bell you would find at a Japanese temple (梵鐘/ぼんしょう/bonshō) but it’s decorated with maple leaves,  the logo of the City of Mississauga, and the Rabbit-Ear Iris to symbolize Kariya.

 

 

There is a repeating motif found throughout the park. It’s the merging of wild goose in flight (kari) and infinity symbol (ya).

 

There is also a large stone statue of two friends sitting together, another gift to the city from the twin city of Kariya for the 20th anniversary. It’s really cute and we seem to have taken quite a few pictures with it over the years.

 

 

For the 30th anniversary of “twinning” in 2011, a large art piece was installed. It’s a mosaic of 6,750 individual pictures of past exchanges between people of Mississauga and Kariya, and together they form the image of a giant paper lantern called a mando. Mando Matsuri (Festival) is held annually in Kariya and is an important cultural event there.

 

 

For such a small area and considering it’s proximity to traffic and commerce, there is quite an abundance of wildlife to be seen in the park. Birds of many kinds and squirrels are almost always present as well as ducks, geese, turtles, and fish in the ponds.

 

We have a personal affinity for the park because we used to live in the apartment buildings right across the street and would pop over frequently to enjoy the tranquillity. It really is lovely in any season. We also had our wedding pictures done here. (There is actually a sign at the entrance of the park that says permits are required for photography but… we didn’t realize that at the time. Oops!)

 

 

Kariya Park is open daily from 7am until 9pm (or dusk, whichever comes first).

Since the park isn’t as well-known, it’s a great alternative option for sakura (cherry blossom) viewing rather than highly popular areas like High Park in Toronto.

sakura
Comparison of crowd traffic: High Park on the left and Kariya Park on the right
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As of last week, the buds on the sakura trees are just starting to appear but it’ll be at least a few more weeks before we can expect some blossoms.

It’s a lovely spot to go and enjoy a few serene moments to escape the fast pace of the city and we recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japanese design, enjoys nature, or just needs a break – especially during spring when the trees have their leaves and the flowers are in bloom.

 

There is a Mississauga Park in Kariya as well, although we feel like we got the better end of that deal. LOL. Their pavillion is a concrete structure that replicates a smaller version of Mississauga’s City Hall and they have a giant metal “sculpture” of a maple leaf. We’ve also heard their is a statue of a bear in a canoe (SO Canadian, eh?) but we haven’t seen pictures of that one.

If we have time while we are in Japan, it could be cool to swing by Kariya and check it out.

 

References for this post:
City of Mississauga – Kariya Park
Blog TO – Kariya Park
justinpluslauren.com – Kariya Park
insauga.com – Mississauga Park
ohmatsuri.com – Mando Matsuri in Kariya
video that we mentioned in ours explaining how some trees were knocked down
drone footage of the park

our 360° tour of Kariya Park

 

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