Penis Festival Japan

Kanamara Matsuri, or "steel phallus festival", is a yearly festival in Kawasaki, Japan. Having visited the festival I have to say I was intrigued. It takes place in spring on the first Sunday of April. The festivities are not like the ones you usually see at shrine festivals in Japan. 

It takes place at the penis shrine, a shrine that provides blessings of business success, fertility, mariage and marital peace, and safe, easy delivery. Nevertheless, at the festival itself you'll mostly just stumble upon phalli mikoshi, candy, and many, many people. I don't want to spoil too much so if you get off the train at Kawasaki-Daishi Station, just follow the people towards the shrine and you'll see what I mean soon enough!

I think, if you have the time and happen to be in Tokyo in the beginning of April, definitely pay a visit to this festival since it is a unique opportunity. However, I do feel like the festival was commercialised and lost a lot of it's original purpose. Many people walk the streets drunk, some tourists dress up in very revealing outfits and you can buy goodies everywhere. But I guess that happens almost everywhere nowadays. So if you visit, try to remember some of the traditional meaning of the festival, look it up on the internet or ask Japanese people about it, so it doesn't just become another festival day like any other :). 

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14 things to know before visiting Japan!

14 things to know before visiting Japan!


Japan, the land of traditions. So you're visiting Japan and are ready for an amazing trip, but after all the stories about polite Japanese people you become a bit worried.... What is okay to do and what isn't? What should you avoid doing when eating? In this blog I will tell you about the most important things to take into account when visiting Japan. I've asked my Japanese friends for advice so that I wouldn't miss a thing, so here we go!


1. Don't stick your chopsticks (straight) in a bowl of rice while taking a break from eating
This is one of the most common things foreigners do (and I do it myself at home sometimes as well). Although it is very easy to just stick your chopstick into the rice, please try to avoid it! The name for this is tsukitate-bashi. At funerals a bowl of rice is placed at an altar with chopsticks in the standing up straight in the center. Therefore it's very impolite to do this at any other occasion since it will remind Japanese people of funerals. 

2. Don't pass on food from chopsticks to chopsticks
This is another funeral related tradition. However, at funerals it is not the food which is passed on, but the bones of the cremated deceased person. 

3. Tips are not necessary
Although things are changing in Japan, giving tips is still an uncommon practice. At some smaller bars and where young people work (for example at hostels), tipping sometimes happens, but usually at the normal Japanese bars and restaurants tipping is absolutely not necessary. People simply just don't do it, so by not tipping you can avoid uncomfortable situations. 

4. Paying the bill at the counter
Not really something that has to do with impoliteness, but more of a tip I'd like to give you. Often when going for dinner somewhere, you'll get the receipt at the table. Since in the Netherlands you almost always pay at the table I made the mistake of waiting or asking if you can pay but then being directed to the counter at the entrance. In Japan, you just take your receipt and walk to the counter to pay. Nowadays it's a practice I try to do in the Netherlands as well. It saves time waiting and is quite convenient actually!  

Of course, these are only the most important things. If you want to know more about dining etiquette, check out this page for example:

In public

1. Don't be loud!
Japanese are very calm and quiet people. They generally talk in this way too. Even though we, the Dutch, and many other cultures are used to speaking more loudly, it can be considered very rude in Japan. Of course it is difficult to talk in a more quiet way, especially if you're enthusiastic about all the awesome things you're experiencing, but try to be aware of the way you and your friends are talking, especially in public places like the subway, restaurants, etc. 

2. Don't eat or call while in public transport
Eating or calling over the cellphone should definitely be avoided when in public transport. While eating is generally alright on the shinkansen or long bus rides (try to avoid smelly food or food that makes a lot of noise though), it is not okay to eat on the subway. The same is true for making phonecalls, although I feel like these should be avoided in all kinds of public transport. 

3. Wearing a (surgical) mask 
Although it might feel weird to you, it is very normal and considered polite to wear a mask in Japan when you're feeling sick. In the hard-working society this can be a way to still come to work without putting co-workers at risk of becoming sick too. However, the mask can also be used to prevent yourself from becoming sick. If you want to know more about these surgical masks and why people wear them, check out this article: . 

4. Responding to irrashaimase
Okay, to be fair, this doesn't really have to do with politeness or etiquette I believe, it's more of a funny addittion. When I was in Japan I went shopping sometimes (doh...!) and I was always greeted by several shop employees calling irrashaimaseeeee, which means something like "can I help you" although it is just meant in a welcoming way. It took me weeks to figure out how to respond to this. Although I'm a bit ashamed to say this, the first couple of times I just responded by saying Irrashaimase back to the shop employees which means that I was responding to a loud "Welcomeeeee" by saying "Welcomeeee" haha. Then I thought maybe to say Arigatou, which means thank you. But after observing other people in the shop I realised it is perfectly normal to say nothing at all! Just let the people welcome you like they welcome everyone and continue your shopping like nothing has happened :) 

Conversations/Visiting a Japanese person

1. Take off your shoes before entering someone´s house
This is very important. Keeping on your shoes is a definite no-go. Houses are kept very clean, so shoes don´t belong there. This rule is also important for temples, in many changing rooms in shops, or in more traditional restaurants. A way to know whether you should take off your shoes is buy looking around. If you see a small elevation in the floor with for example tatami, you should definitely take off your shoes, if you see pairs of shoes without there owners, that could be an indicator too ;) but usually the elevation in the floor is the main cue. 

2. Use "name"-san when talking to someone
When you meet someone and adress this person, or adress another person when talking about him/her, use the honorific -san. This is the most commonly used, so also the most safe one to use. There are other ones like -chan and -kun for close friends or family, or -senpai/-kohai for colleagues or fellow students. However, -san is used in a way like Sir/Madam and therefore a polite way to address anyone new. Using -san is also the easiest way since it's used for both men and women. Therefore, really try to use it. The Japanese have many many honorifics for all kinds of relationships, so not using one is quite strange and I think kind of implies that you both are totally equal. -san provides the safest option for avoiding this. Never introduce yourself with the honorific -san though! To use -san, you simply put it behind someones last name, however once you get a little bit more familiar, it is fine to use it with the first name as well. So, for example, Löwenhardt-san or Hannah-san are both fine. 

3. Try to avoid sarcasm
This is really something I experienced first-hand. I'm used to being sarcastic since it's quite a common practice in the Netherlands, however in Japan being sarcastic can totally be taken the wrong way. Japanese friends please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there is not such a thing as sarcasm in Japanese language. Therefore really be careful with making sarcastic jokes for example. I have offended people in this way because they took it seriously, which really wasn't my intention. Luckily I was able to explain it, but it's better to avoid these situations in any case. 

Onsen etiquette

1. Always wash yourself properly
The most important things when visiting an onsen is to really really wash yourself before going in. These bath houses are kept as clean as possible, by the owners and the visitors. When you go into a bath house, it is obligatory I would say to first spend some time washing yourself. Not just 2 or 3 minutes, but really for at least 5-10 minutes. Wash every part of your body and if you have long hair, tie it up. It is perfectly normal to bring soap, towels, shampoo, a toothbrush or other things with you to clean yourself. 

2. Be aware of the rules for tattoos
Tattoos are still a taboo in Japan unfortunately, do to their association with the Yakuza (Japanese maffia). Onsen are one of the most traditional places and I think especially because of that and because of the nakedness still very strict in their tattoo rules. Nowadays there are some onsen which you can enter with tattoos, however, be aware that in most you can't so you'll probably have to ask or read the signs before going in to avoid any uncomfortable situations. 

3. Go in naked
Yes, just do it! It's an onsen, and the best way to experience this, and probably even the only way, is to go in naked! Nothing to worry about, the (wo)men there are used to being there and seeing each other naked. It maybe takes some time to get used to, but just focus on the bath and on being there, not on possible thoughts in your head. Going in with bathing clothes really doesn't happen, maybe at some very big 'onsen' or spa houses, but there you won't get the proper traditional experience.

Well, these are in my opinion and my friend Yusuke's (see picture below!) opinion the most important things you should no when visiting Japan. Don't stress, however, people are super nice and friendly and if you do make a little mistake you always have you foreign looks to make up for them so you will be forgiven!



Experience Japan like a local

Experience Japan like a local


Everyone knows Japan is a special country with many, many things to do. Since experiencing new things is one of the most exciting things while travelling, I want to give you some recommendations on things you absolutely shouldn't miss while travelling through Japan. Since most things are easy to google, like temples and festivals, I will go into other things I experienced as fun and local. This time these recommendations are more city-related, some other time I will write a blog about which places to visit to see some stunning nature. 

Absolute number one for me (even though I was vegetarian while in Japan). Almost every region/city has a local dish, which makes Japan a Walhalla for food lovers. From okonomiyaki in Hiroshima (or Osaka as some people there claim) to miso paste in Nagoya, snakes in the southern islands of Japan and tofu in Kyoto. Some things might sound strange and not so delicious maybe, but you should definitely try it out. The Japanese really know what to do with their ingredients and are for example one of the best in making delicious fermented food. The best way to find out what the local dish is, is to ask locals of course. So get in touch with them, or ask at your hotel/hostel. Often you can just find it at restaurants in the streets, or at markets. Temple markets are often a great place to find delicious local dishes. 

* One thing I do want to say is that you shouldn't eat everything in my opinion. On Okinawa (one of the southern islands) they sell whale meat, which is absolutely terrible in terms of animal wellbeing. There are more of these examples so please don't just eat anything :). 

2. Try Purikura with your friends
In my opinion, purikura is disturbing but amazing. While in Europe, we can take pictures in a small photobooth with at most black and white or sepia colouring, in Japan there is a variety I can't even explain. These purikura machines are often found in arcades, where sometimes there is even a whole floor dedicated to them. You can choose themes ranging from model style photos, to cute photos, to gothic photos and so on. But what do the machines do then? Well, they don't just change the theme colour, like we are used too. They actually change your whole appearance. How they change you depends on the theme, but the main things are that they create huge anime-like eyes and silky-smooth skin.

When choosing a machinge, you put in 200-400 yen, depending on the theme, you go in alone or with friends and some pictures are taken. The real fun comes afterwards when you have about 15 minutes to edit the photos. Usually two people can edit at the same time and different photos. Backgrounds can be changed, make-up can be added, extra icons, text, eyes can be made bigger or smaller, it really is disturbingly funny. However, do take some time to do this since finding your way through all the options (which are shown in Japanese) can be quite a challenge as well. In the end you can pick a sheet type and the photo's will come out of the machine. 

BUT, THERE IS MORE! Sometimes, in certain arcades, you can even borrow clothes to wear in the purikura, like pokemon onesies, school-girl outfits, or proper anime clothes. Often it is free, but sometimes you have to pay for it. They provide dressingrooms and there are sometimes even mirrors to sit in front of so you can really make the most out of it. I don't understand why though, since you can add all the make-up afterwards. One thing to keep in mind however, is that if you are only boys, you can't enter. You need to have a girl with you, I have no idea why. 

3. Go to an arcade and play some games (or watch people play)
Similar to number 2, I would suggest to go to an arcade. Japan is known for its gaming industry, which is also illustrated by the high amount of game-addicted people. While it is rather a problem, I would still suggest to go to an arcade an try out as many games as you want. The prices are quite fair; last time I paid 100yen and played left4dead on a huge screen for 40 minutes. But it's also just really fun to try out all the amazing games they have. Taiko no Tatsujin for example, is one of the most popular games in Japan, and people are even waiting in line to play it sometimes. You can choose all kinds of songs and drum on the beat, so a kind of guitar hero for the drums. Here you can see a video of an amazingly good Japanese person playing it (watch from around 1:00):

Don't worry, there are always different levels, so everyone can play :)

4. Join a tea ceremony
One of the more traditional cultural things is experiencing a tea ceremony. This tea ceremony is all about the preparing of matcha, a japanese type of green tea and is often accompanied with food. In Japan these ceremonies were first performed in buddhist monastries. Nowadays they also take place in people's houses on special occassions and in formal and informal settings. Experiencing such a ceremony, however, is hard since you will often have to be invited by someone. What you can do if you're just visiting Japan briefly, is join a more touristy type of tea ceremony. A woman dresses in Kimono can explain you everything about the ritual and about the making of the tea, you can try it yourself, drink it and eat some sweets on the side. It is really fun to experience and learn about it. One of the best cities to join a tea ceremony is Kyoto, where they often happen.

5. Visit a second hand store 
 Japan really really is amazing for their second hand shops. They have so many and also so many types. You can find second hand electronics stores, second hand clothes stores, second hand book stores, second hand home appliance stores, second hand CD stores and so on. There are really so many that you just have to look around a bit, or google and you can find one. However, I want to tell you about my favorite, the -OFF chain. The most famous one is BOOK-OFF where you can find many great books for great prices, sometimes they also have CD's, clothes and other things, but this one is mainly about books. For hardware they have HARD-OFF. I bought my IPod here for around 35 euro's and it still works great. They also have camera's, CD's and many other things. Nowadays they also have a special name for the clothes shops, called MODE-OFF. I have bought many great clothes here, like shirts, dresses, skirts, all for around 100-200 yen (make sure you find the 100yen corner where the amazing treasures are often found). And then there is HOBBY-OFF, GARAGE-OFF and HOUSE-OFF. Well, these are my favorites but there are many more so just google and check it out! 

6. Visit at least one of these three: Izakaya, Maid Cafe or a Cat Cafe
I would suggest you to visit all of them, but if you don't have a lot of time, at least visit one. Izakaya's are amazing places to visit with friends and again, they come in all types and shapes. They are kind of pubs where you can go drinking and have some nice small dishes for a good price. Sometimes they even offer all you can drink I believe. In the modern ones you get a kind of booth with your friends and you can press a button so the waiter comes to get your order. You can order typical japanese dishes and drinks, which are truly great. In a more traditional izakaya you either get a booth with tamatim where you sit on the ground or on small pillows, or you just sit at a bar or table in a bar. These are also really fun, but often don't have a menu except for on the wall and it is always in Japanese writing, which makes it hard to order if you don't speak Japanese or don't have a Japanese person with you. Izakayas are a great option for a night out if you like your late-night snacks or if you want to try some small dishes :). 

Maid Cafes are quite a special thing. As the name already suggests, they are cafes in which girls dressed at maids are at your service. Throughout the time you are there, they serve you your special drinks and food (usually ice-cream). However, they don't do this in a normal way. The cafes are often themed which means that you can order and do all kinds of funny things. In the cafe I went to with a group of guy friends, we had to make the noise of a cat when we wanted to order. When we got our drinks the girl would perform somekind of special love-spell on the drinks so it would be ready for the person. We were also able to take a picture with the girls for a certain price. Well, it's a weird concept, but if you want to find out about the weirder side of Japan, this is a good way to go. I have seen all types of people in these cafes, even business men. However, do pay attention that you go to one where the woman seem to be treated nicely. This is hard to find out but there might be some info available on the internet about it. 

Cat cafes also speak for themselves. Here you pay a price to enter which often includes a drink and then you can sit with the cats for a certain amount of time. You can pet them, play with them and feed them sweets. They are really popular in Japan and therefore easy to find. Make sure that if you find one, you check whether the cats are treated well and have enough space before you decide to put money into the business.. 

Also something Japan is known for; karaoke. This especially is amazing with Japanese friends. Some love it, some don't, but if they do you'll have an amazing night. You'll get a booth with your friends and often this is accompanied with unlimited drinks for around 3500 yen, and then....... it's just another great night of singing! Make sure you try your hardest, since your Japanese friends probably will :). 

8. Last, but DEFINITELY not least, visit a SUMO MATCH!
This is truly one of the best best best ways to experience the local sports culture. Sumo competitions are super interesting and fun to watch. However, it can be hard to get tickets. There are only several big competitions a year and the best tickets can sell out really fast. Don't let this discourage you though, it's really possible to visit these matches, just make sure you check in advance when to be where and where to buy the tickets. 

Well, if you have any more off-the-beaten-track recommendations, let me know! I'm really curious :). And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask! 


Summer Sonic Japan

Summer Sonic Japan


Summer Sonic is one of the biggest music festivals in Japan, if not the biggest. It is held every year, this year on the 18th and 19th of August. I don't know why, possibly because Japan is quite big, but it is held at the same time in two of the major cities; Osaka and Tokyo. It is outdoor

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18-08-2018 to 19-08-2018
Everything about Japan!
The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan

The wonders of Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan



So I've been a little bit absent lately... Well that was because I was finishing my studies (omg!! after 6 years of university it's suddenly over.....) and preparing for and having my job interview in.. JAPAN! However, in this blog I will tell you something about the place where I had the interview, namely Picchio (pronounced as pikio) Wildlife Research Center, a place of beauty and wonder. 

Picchio is a conservation and eco-tour center located only one hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen, in the beautiful resort town of Karuizawa. Karuizawa is a small town with around 20.000 residents, however depending on the season the numbers can drastically increase. In the late 1800s it was introduced as a summer resort by Bishop Alexander Croft Shaw and it started to attract an increasing amount of expats living in Tokyo. From around the 20th century the resort life in Karuizawa really started to increase. Many (rich) people choose the town as a getaway from the busy life and hot climate in Tokyo, exchanging it for a much cooler and quieter area. Since then it has hosted many famous writers and other people such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Nowadays it's still a getaway for the rich such as politicians and celebrities, and while driving around town you can see many beautiful second houses hidden all throughout the hills surrounding the city center.

Another thing Karuizawa is famous for is that they are the only city in the world that hosted the olympic games twice, once in 1964 when it hosted the horseback riding event and once again in 1998 when it hosted the curling event. Furthermore, it's simply a beautiful town as well and truely shows Japanese countryside if you're in the outskirts. The town is surrounded by forest and mountains, with the most famous one being Mount Asama, the most active volcano of Honshu. 

So, what is Picchio and what do they do in Karuizawa? The center has operated since 1992 and focusses on (bear) conservation and education through eco-tours and kids activities. They also do research (for example, following the bear's migratory paths) and surveys of the animals in the area. The bear conservation programme they conduct is a unique one in its field. The town of Karuizawa, with its increasing size and tourism, has had an increasing problem with the Asian Black Bears. The bears often came down to the urban area, looking for garbage or crops to eat, which concerned the local people. Karuizawa has been working on ways to reduce this problem, to protect both the 

bears and the people. They have educated the people about how to keep the bears away, introduced special bear-proof garbage bins and they continue to keep track of the whereabouts of the bears 24/7. Every day and night one of the bear-team specialists goes out with a huge antenna to check where the bears are through their radio collar signals. Furthermore, when the center gets a call that a bear was accidentally caught in a wildlife trap, or when a bear has entered a bear trap (a harmless cage), the team heads out to identify, measure and release the bears. In the case of a bear trap capture, the bear-dog specialists head out with their dogs to scare the bears away. These dogs are amazing and have been trained for years to chase the bears, but not attack them so that they are only chased away from human settlements without being harmed. Furthermore, the staff makes a lot of noise by shouting and sometimes even fireworks, so that the bears will also be more scared of people in the future. 


Next to this big conservation programme, the center offers a wide variety of tours. At the main visitor center at Hoshino resorts, some of the tours offered are: a flying squirrel watching tour (CUTE and so much fun), a wildlife night drive, a nature watching tour, a bird watching tour, a mountainbike tour and in winter even an amazing stargazing tour.  At the visitor center in Prince Resort, in addition to some of these tours, a lot of kids activities are offered as well. While I was there, I was able to join the flying squirrel watching tour, something I'll never forget. We had a short lecture about these animals, during which you could see the passion and enthusiasm of the guides about these animals. The lecture was interesting and fun at the same time. After that we went out to check one of the sleeping spots of the squirrels, where we watched with binoculars until the cute little animals came out and we were able to see them float in the sky. What an amazing experience! :) 


The staff of Picchio are people with a huge passion for nature and wildlife. They work night and day to try to build a bridge between the people and their surrounding nature. They aim to connect Japanese and foreign people with their environment more and to make them see the natural wonders as well. Therefore the tours are an amazing way to get to know the lower Japanese alps and all its beautiful plants and wildlife. Takign a tour also supports the center financially, and since the center needs a lot of employees to sustain all this hard work, they are always happy to receive donations to help with their bear conservation project. I would definitely recommend visiting this place to walk around by yourself on one of the beautiful trails surrounding the visitor center, but also to take an additional tour and learn more about the plants and wildlife. If you don't have a chance to visit Japan, help them out with their conservation efforts in other ways. 

To learn more about Picchio check out their website, or if you have any questions just ask below!