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Joyce Lam

Joyce Lam

Articles (8)

9 things you didn't know about cherry blossoms

9 things you didn't know about cherry blossoms

We've all been waiting for it – hanami that is. But how exactly did these blossom viewings get started? According to Nihon Shoki, the earliest chronicle of Japan, the first hanami banquet dates all the way back to 812. Cherry blossom viewing was originally exclusive to the imperial court and other elites, but it quickly started spreading among the samurai class. After shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune encouraged people to plant these beautiful trees all around the country in the 18th century, hanami gradually became an entertainment fit for commoners as well. Obviously eagerly anticipated during the cold blaze of winter, the cherry blossoms symbolise spring in Japan, and sakura-themed products take over store shelves nationwide long before the first blooms appear on trees. That you probably knew – but read on for a few less obvious hanami facts. RECOMMENDED: Your ultimate guide to cherry blossom season in Tokyo

Where to find free wi-fi in Tokyo

Where to find free wi-fi in Tokyo

Despite being a forerunner in the realms of robot dogs and 3D printers, Tokyo has been woefully lacking in the wi-fi department. Luckily, with a push to improve the city’s telecommunication infrastructure by the big 2020, Tokyo is finally catching up with the rest of the world and you no longer have to stand outside a 7-Eleven every time you want to connect to the internet. JAPAN CONNECTED-FREE WI-FI APP This mobile app allows you to search for free wi-fi spots and connect to different networks with one simple click (you will need the internet to do the initial registration so prepare for this beforehand). With this app, you can connect to wi-fi spots in various commercial areas, at airports and train stations, in buses, convenience stores and in other cities around Japan. In Tokyo, this includes major tourist spots as well as lesser-known locations. The list is regularly updated and the service is available in 13 display languages. Note that the map requires an internet connection to be displayed, but the list of free wi-fi spots can be viewed offline. www.ntt-bp.net/jcfw/en.html CONNECT AT TRAIN STATIONS JR East Free Wi-Fi: Available at all stations along the Yamanote line, at other major stations as well as at the JR East Travel Service Center in Narita and Haneda airports and Tokyo, Ikebukuro and Shinjuku stations. tinyurl.com/TOTjr-wifi Tokyo Metro Free Wi-Fi: Available at 210 subway stations. For a map and instructions on how to connect, visit tinyurl.com/TOTmetro-wifi

How to catch a cab in Tokyo

How to catch a cab in Tokyo

Although Tokyo’s taxis are not as famed as London’s black cabs or New York’s yellow motors, they’re still extremely easy to spot – and you never have to wait much longer than a minute before you’ll see one heading towards you. Drivers are dressed in clean-cut uniforms (sometimes with a hat) and offer polite communication with a mouthful of keigo (‘respectful language’).   You can hail a taxi by waving your hand from the sidewalk and the driver will pull up neatly alongside you, the door opening automatically. If it’s vacant, the light on top of the car will be off, but they’ll also display a red light in the front of the car with kanji for ku-sha or ‘empty car’ (a green light means occupied).   Not all drivers are fluent in English, so to be on the safe side, we recommend you write down the address you’re going to in Japanese beforehand. A landline number for the destination is also helpful as most taxis are equipped with a GPS that can locate a venue using the phone number.   Once you have reached your destination, you can alert the driver by saying, ‘Koko desu’ (‘It is here’). Taxis accept both cash and credit cards, and some also accept Suica and Pasmo cards (just be sure it’s charged up beforehand). You will always get a receipt and it’s advisable to keep it in case of any lost property – it makes the search a lot easier. Finally, don’t worry to close the door after you get out of the car – the driver will close it automatically.   FARE Fares within the 23 wards in Tokyo

Japan to Russia on a five-hour ferry

Japan to Russia on a five-hour ferry

Stretching 1,000km in length, Sakhalin is visible from the northernmost tip of Hokkaido on clear days and, at their closest point, the two islands are only 40km apart. Once belonging to Japan, Sakhalin is still known to many Japanese as ‘Karafuto’, but the island was seized by Russia towards the end of WWII and bitter territorial disputes between the two countries have seen it stagnate. In spite, or perhaps because of this, the island has developed a distinct culture. It’s by no means your usual holiday destination – in fact, residents are far from throwing their arms open to tourists. But I was intrigued enough to board the 5.5-hour Eins Soya ferry from Hokkaido’s Wakkanai port to Korsakov. With hardly no information available online, I arrived with no particular plan at all and quickly realised this was not the best idea. Want to follow in my footsteps? Here are my top tips for a smoother landing in Russia’s bewildering far east.

How to rent a car in Japan

How to rent a car in Japan

It’s easy to get around Tokyo and Japan’s other major cities by public transport. But if you’re looking to explore rural areas where buses might only run twice a day, or you're visiting hard-to-reach spots like some of the destinations in our 'Torii gate tour', or you just feel like taking a weekend trip beyond Tokyo without having to cram into a train, then a rental car is the way to go. It’s also a cheaper option if you’re travelling in groups. Many visitors assume it will be too difficult to rent a car if they can’t speak Japanese, but while the process is more complicated for some nationalities than for others, it’s far from impossible. Here’s what you need to know… The legal stuff To be legit, apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is valid for one year, before arriving in Japan. Note that Japan only recognises permits that conform to the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. Also, the law stipulates that drivers from France, Switzerland, Germany, Monaco, Slovenia, Belgium and Taiwan cannot use an IDP and will need a Japanese translation of their original licence instead. Japan Experience provides a translation service for ¥6,500. If you aren’t sure which rules apply to you, take a look at the Japan Automobile Federation’s website (www.jaf.or.jp/e/). If you’re planning to live in Japan, you can consider switching your foreign driver’s licence to a Japanese one by applying to a local licence centre, though be warned that you may have to take an aptitude

Tokyo’s secret attractions

Tokyo’s secret attractions

It's our job to tell you all about Tokyo's top spots, of course. Take a look at our Area Guide page and you'll find the best things to do in all the most popular areas from Shibuya to Koenji. But because we know you also want to experience the city like a local, you'll also find a wealth of lesser-known 'hoods on the list including Oimachi and Takadanobaba. Now, we bring you a list of 12 'secret' attractions; things we've discovered by chance or because an insider told us to check them out. They may not make it into the major guide books out there, but that's what makes them so much more special.

Go on a torii gate tour

Go on a torii gate tour

When you're planning a journey around Japan, the theme of your travels can take on many forms. You can hunt down hot springs, try out the beautiful hiking paths or just hop on a train for the sake of tasting all the ekiben meals found at train stations. For something slightly different, we've put together a list of Japan's top torii gates, which are traditionally found at the entrance of Shinto shrines to mark the boundary between the human and spiritual worlds. We've even bucked the red and wooden trend to bring you torii gates in all shapes, sizes and colours – and given them each a nickname update. Got some better names? Tell us on Twitter.

See more on a local train

See more on a local train

Japan is famous for its bullet trains. Even within Japan, they create a constant buzz among trainspotters (it's a serious hobby, believe us). We can understand the allure, of course, but have you ever thought about how much more you could see if you chose to travel on a slower, local train instead? We have, which is why we've compiled this list of interesting local lines to try, complete with extra ideas for sightseeing in the area.   Minato line The modern graphics you’ll see at stations along this line in Ibaraki are unusual for a local train. They’re the result of a tie-up between railway operator Hitachinaka Seaside Railway and art project MMM (Minato Media Museum), which aims to improve the atmosphere of this under-populated area with modern art. The train runs through 14.3km of fields and tunnels, ending at Ajigaura Station, which is just a short walk from Ajigaura beach. It’s also close to Hitachi Seaside Park (en.hitachikaihin.jp), where you can catch the blooming of 4.5 million baby-blue Nemophila flowers in early May every year.Where to catch it Between Katsuta and Ajigaura stations in Ibaraki Prefecture. www.hitachinaka-rail.co.jp Choshi Electric Railway From Choshi Station in Chiba, this train takes you to the eastern tip of the Kanto region, where you can enjoy a perfect view of the sunrise at Inubosaki Lighthouse. The railway nearly closed down after a decline in passengers, but since collaborating with a local soy-sauce factory to promote nure-senbei (soft rice

News (10)

10 things you didn't know about Hachiko, Japan's most loyal dog

10 things you didn't know about Hachiko, Japan's most loyal dog

You undoubtedly know about the Hachiko statue, Shibuya's de facto meeting spot. And you probably know a little bit about how the pup waited patiently at Shibuya Station every day for his owner to come home from work, even after his master passed away. The story continues to inspire Japan to such an extent that another statue was erected in 2015 at The University of Tokyo’s campus, causing the country to shed even more tears over the bittersweet tale. Since we can't help getting swept up in the emotion, we decided to create our own ode to Hachi with a list of little-known facts about man's best friend ever. Photo: Odate City Office 1. He has some deep country roots In contrast to him being a symbol of Tokyo's most fashionable 'hood, Hachiko was not originally from Shibuya, or even Tokyo for that matter. He was born in Odate City in Akita Prefecture on November 10 1923 to father Oshinai (named after the area they lived in) and mother Goma (which means 'sesame'). The newborn pup was sold for ¥30 (a sizeable sum at the time) to Hidesaburo Ueno, an agricultural scientist at the University of Tokyo who was looking for a pure-bred Akita-inu ('Akita dog'). He was put on an express train and arrived in Tokyo 20 hours later. Ueno named the pup Hachi after the number eight, which is considered lucky in Japanese – the 'ko' was added later. Odate City is fiercely proud of being Hachiko's (and the Akita breed's) furusato (hometown), and loves to show it. Not only is there a Hachiko statu

Final Fantasy avatar stars in Louis Vuitton's new ad campaign

Final Fantasy avatar stars in Louis Vuitton's new ad campaign

Louis Vuitton has cleverly brought the worlds of high-end fashion and video gaming together in their Spring/Summer 2016 'Series 4' campaign, which stars the pink-haired character, Lightning, from cult Japanese video game 'Final Fantasy'. Louis Vuitton's creative director, Nicolas Ghesquiere, teamed up with Japanese video game developer Square Enix and their artist Tetsuya Nomura to create Lightning's first foray into the world of fashion. In an interview (yes, apparently she has a mind of her own) with The Telegraph, Lightning had this to say about her new role: '[Before,] my clothes were nothing more than armour to stay alive; “dressing up” was a concept I’ve never had. Perhaps that makes me an unseemly choice as ambassador. But this experience has opened my eyes. Fashion isn’t something you’re taught or given, it comes from your own taste and your own choices. It displays the essence of who you are to the people around you.' Ghesquiere, in turn, described her as 'the perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman and for a world where social networks and communications are now seamlessly woven into our life'. We're not entirely sure whether Louis Vuitton and 'Final Fantasy' fans share the same tastes, but one YouTube commentator pointed out that '"Final Fantasy" characters are made with a perfect blend of elegance, charm and beauty, rendered on realism'. Another called Lightning 'Goddess of Death. Queen of Fashion'. So it's likely Louis Vuitton will attract at least a few otaku

Ten unique places to take a selfie in Tokyo

Ten unique places to take a selfie in Tokyo

Out of interesting Instagram ideas? Here are 10 original photo-taking spots in Tokyo that are bound to garner a few likes.  1. I♡Kabukicho sign Don’t judge this area by all the host clubs and their male employees sporting long bleached hair and shiny suits. Okay, do judge it, but also embrace it. Kabukicho is full of interesting restaurants, bars and sights and it’s hugely entertaining just to walk around and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Tokyo’s red-light district. We officially declare the ‘I ♡ Kabukicho’ sign a hot selfie spot. Hayashi Building, 1-14-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku (Shinjuku Station).           2. ‘Reflectscape’ art installation You’re mistaken if you think this is just another random sculpture. Look into the installation’s mirror and you’ll find yourself journeying up a flying highway to the top of Tokyo Skytree. Named ‘Reflectscape’, the artwork is designed by art students as part of the Geidai Taito Sumida Sightseeing Art Project. Find it at Oyokogawa Shinsui Park, just a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Skytree Station. 3-4 Azumabashi, Sumida (Honjo-Azumabashi or Tokyo Skytree stations).   3. Nanako cat statue If you’ve had enough of the waiting crowds around Shibuya’s Hachiko statue, or if you’re just more of a cat lover, you can now meet your friends at Nanako instead. Found just in front of Muji at the Shibuya Seibu department store, this maneki-neko (Japan’s famous ‘beckoning cat’) statue is just as lovable as her pup friend and makes for a more unique

Haneda is voted 3rd best airport in the world. Yes, really!

Haneda is voted 3rd best airport in the world. Yes, really!

Earlier this year, Tokyo was proudly named the most liveable city in the world by Monocle, and she continues to make Tokyoites proud with Haneda Airport recently being named 3rd best airport in the world in the 2015 Airport Survey by travel website The Guide to Sleeping in Airports. Also, if you've got a long layover, Haneda came in 7th on the site's list of 'best airports to sleep in'. In the survey, which attracted over 25,000 responses, airports were rated based on four Cs: comfortability, convenience, cleanliness and customer service. Airports in Asia dominated, taking the top five places, with Singapore's Changi Airport coming out tops, followed by Seoul's Incheon. According to the website, Haneda is 'tidy, efficient, modern and generally just really pleasant' and it is preferred to its sister Narita because of its close proximity to the city centre. It is also a little special for having a hotel for pets – why are we not surprised?

Why this jaw-dropping Shiseido ad has gone viral

Why this jaw-dropping Shiseido ad has gone viral

On October 15, cosmetics giant Shiseido released a new ad on YouTube and it's already had over 5.8 million views. We'd say that's pretty successful. They've long been known for producing memorable ads using famous film stars and singers, but this one simply features a bunch of (very pretty) high school girls with the aim of showing us the true power of makeup. So what's so special about it? We don't want to give too much away because the real surprise comes at the end, but the video titled 'High School Girl?' (note the question mark) begins with a woman standing at the door to a classroom (note the picture she's holding) before zooming through the class of cute high school girls. At this point you might be thinking, 'Wow, are Japanese schools really this relaxed?' They're all kind of just chilling out, looking a little sulky. One student is even strumming a guitar. You might also be thinking, 'Wow, they have really smooth skin.' Next, the camera focuses on one girl who is paging through a book. The next clue to the twist in the ad comes in the words written on one of the book's pages. It's in Japanese, but it says: 'Did you notice the guys in this classroom?' We'll leave out what happens next – you need to watch it for yourself for the full impact – but the final statement of the ad is this: 'Anyone can be cute.' (We're a little doubtful about this statement – we can't imagine this kind of ad working elsewhere in the world.) Naturally, social media has exploded with commentar

Submit your emblem design for the Tokyo Olympics

Submit your emblem design for the Tokyo Olympics

Preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are not off to a smooth start what with Zaha Hadid's stadium design being scrapped and the emblem design becoming embroiled in a plagiarism scandal. After rounds of heated debate about whether the logo designer Kenjiro Sano copied the 'T' mark from Belgium's Theatre de Liege logo, the emblem was scrapped in September – and now it's time to tidy up all the mess. The good news for other designers out there is the Tokyo 2020 Emblems Selection Committee has resolved to launch an open competition this time around. Between November 24 and December 7, you can submit your design via the special webpage – and the only rules are that you need to be older than 18 and a resident of Tokyo (or, if you are submitting as part of a group, then your group representative needs to comply with these rules). It seems they are welcoming entries from foreigners living in Tokyo too: Yukihiko Nunomura, Tokyo 2020's chief operating officer, told Japan Times that 'foreign people living in Japan have a different viewpoint of Japanese culture and Japan's merits to Japanese people, so we thought it would be a good idea to have a more diverse input into what the new logo should be'. If you agree with the vision of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – 'achieving personal best, unity in diversity and connecting to tomorrow' – and think you have a good idea to bring this vision to life in a single logo, be sure to read through all the guidelines and triple check that your entry is

Japan's Good Design Award 2015 winners announced

Japan's Good Design Award 2015 winners announced

Japan’s annual Good Design Award event is known for being one of the most distinguished design evaluation systems in the world – their ‘G Mark’ symbol is like the holy grail for designers across all industries. Since 1957, they have been awarding products that are more than just nice to look at; these items enrich our lives and encourage advancements in society – be it a pen, a house, a car or a bionic arm. Approximately 1,200 awards are given out each year, with the results announced at the beginning of October. This year, a whopping 1,337 designs out of 3,658 submissions have been honoured with the Good Design Award. Out of those, 100 have been put on the shortlist for the Grand Award whilst 33 other products, including instant glues, correction tapes, bakery scans, Narita's new Terminal 3 and Muji's 'Wood House' were awarded the Long Life Design Award. One our favourites has to be the HACKberry 3D bionic arm by Exiii (pictured above). Although the motorised hand was already invented years ago, it hasn't been commercially viable until now. The company has reduced the cost to a tenth of the original price by using a 3D printer and making all data and sources available online. Want to see more? Check out the website and don't miss the Good Design Exhibition held from Oct 30 to Nov 4 at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. In the meantime, here are a few more goodies… Bakery scan by Brain Co., Ltd. for automatic checkout   'Mass of Wood' house by Yoshiaki Amino   Hakone's 3000 ser

Tokyo’s train stations use theme songs to put a jingle in your squashed journey

Tokyo’s train stations use theme songs to put a jingle in your squashed journey

Originally posted March 25 2015 Once upon a time, a simple bell was used to signal train departures in Japan. This evolved into an electric buzzer, and later a computerised melody – first used in Tokyo in 1989 at Shinjuku and Shibuya stations. But have you noticed that the melodies are actually sometimes based on popular songs? Here’s a list of eight to look out for (listen to them and other station jingles here). Now if only they’d hire some station DJs… Ebisu Station (Yamanote line)Remember that old classic film The Third Man? Well, at Ebisu Station your journey is made all the more pleasant by the very catchy theme song: ‘The Third Man Theme‘. The song became well-known in Japan after being used in an advert for Ebisu beer (the area was named after the beer). Taste the beer for yourself at Yebisu Beer Museum or drink like a local at Ebisu Yokocho. Musashi-Koganei Station (Chuo line) Especially apt if you’re visiting the area for cherry blossom viewing, this station plays a version of ‘Sakura Sakura’, a popular Japanese folk song. Tamagawa Aqueduct in Koganei was once famous for the sakura trees that lined the water channel, and Musashi-Koganei Station was built especially for people who came to view the flowers every spring. Hence the theme song. These days, you can view the cherry blossoms at Koganei Park. Komagome Station (Yamanote line)The Yoshino sakura species originated in the Komagome area, so this station has also chosen to woo you with ‘Sakura Sakura’, although

Ever wondered why onigiri are triangular? (Plus, unwrapping for dummies)

Ever wondered why onigiri are triangular? (Plus, unwrapping for dummies)

Originally posted March 12 2015 The staple ‘cheap eat’ of Japan, the onigiri is a snack, a fast food, an easy lunch. It’s the equivalent of that peanut-butter-on-white bread sandwich your mother used to put in your school lunchbox every day. Combining filling white rice and salty nori (seaweed), the onigiri is everyday soul food. But why are they triangular? And exactly when did the Japanese start making these rice balls? WHY THE TRIANGLE?Onigiris actually come in four different shapes but the triangle is the most common. Legend has it that travellers moulded rice balls into the shape of a mountain as a way of asking for protection from kami (spirits), which were believed by Shintoists to live within every element in nature. A more practical consideration is that the triangle shape is more space efficient and thus easier to carry around. WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER SHAPES? DiskOften seen in the Tohoku and Chubu regions, these are rounded but flattened in the middle, making it easier to grill or wrap in leaves. It is more common to have grilled onigiris in Tohoku than in other parts of Japan. RoundThe real rice ball, made by rolling in between the palms and most common in Kyushu and in parts of the Chubu region. Since it is simple to make, it became popular among commoners in the Showa period. Sand bagMost common in the Kansai region, the sand bag-shaped onigiri is a bulky pillar of rice. It is believed to have originated from the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where they called it ‘omusubi’

A graffiti love letter to Tokyo

A graffiti love letter to Tokyo

Originally posted May 8 2014 Japanese people generally like to keep things nice, neat and clean, so graffiti is not something the country (or, at least, the government) likes to boast about. The word ‘graffiti’ translates as rakugaki – a word also used for the kind of scribbling a kid does during boring school lessons. This form of art might be underappreciated in Japan, but someone out there is attempting to make their mark by spraypainting Tokyo’s streets with an eccentric, free-spirited scrawl that says, simply, ‘Tokyo is Yours’. We’ve spotted the three magic words in Harajuku, Shibuya, Meguro and Shimokitazawa. Bold on billboards, in a corner next to vending machines, on a wall near one of those designated smoking areas. The artist may not be the next Banksy, but the message is simple and straightforward. Even those not fluent in English get it. Tokyo is Yours. Oh yes, yours. We don’t know who the intrepid spraypainter is, or exactly what their motive is, and Google doesn’t reveal much information either. And given the strict vandalism laws in Japan, the artist will probably never sign off their work in public. But we’d like to imagine it is a kind of modern ode to the greatest city on earth. We’ve curated a selection of our favourite ‘Tokyo is Yours’ images, sourced from the internet... Photo from TokyoFashion.com       Photo from TokyoFashion.com       Photo by Lee Chapman (@tokyotimes)       Photo from Mahorama       Photo by @ILLkunn       Photo from TokyoF

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