5 Things to do this Spring in Japan

Are you thinking of what to do in Japan these Spring holidays? Look no further. Of course I talk mainly of Nagoya in central Japan. In case you don’t know. Nagoya is the major city in between Tokyo and Osaka. It is the home of the Toyota Motor Corporation, and the famous blue Central JR bullet trains. Land prices here rival that of Tokyo and London, and it’s one of the richest cities in the world. It’s also a convenient base for travellers. So, if you’re going to be in Japan and looking for travel ideas, start with these. Oh, and here’s one little trivial point to mention. The Spring holidays start mid-Winter (end of January), and finish in early Spring (early April). Don’t ask me why, just go with it.

For each below, there are links that include How to Get There information.


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1. Plum blossoms

Plum flowers typically bloom in about the last week of February and last until about mid-March (depending on the species and the weather). These flowers have more petals than cherry blossoms, last longer, and have more vibrant colours. These flowers used to be the most revered until a Kyoto poet captured Japanese hearts for the cherry blossoms. Plum flowers can be enjoyed at many major parks, including private botanic gardens like Nabana no Sato, the Nagoya Agricultural Centre, and Higashiyama Park (at Higashiyama Koen Station, Higashiyama Line).

Plum flowers
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2. Osaka Sumo Tournament

The Osaka Sumo Tournament is a little unique. It’s the only sumo tournament where the wrestlers need to walk through the public areas between the fighting mound in the centre of the stadium, to the changing rooms out back. So you can get close enough to get clear photos of the wrestlers just before and after their bouts. The tournament runs from the second Sunday of March for fifteen days until the fourth Sunday. Tickets are available online and can be picked up at the venue from special machines; don’t forget your purchase code and info. Learn more about the sumo here at the Going to a Sumo Tournament post.

Osaka Sumo
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3. The Naked Man Festival

Don’t worry, they’re not all men; they’re not completely naked; and it’s not so much a festival that you have to take part in… unless you really want. It’s held annually on the 15th of January in the lunar calendar (usually between mid February to early March). In 2015 it was held on the 3rd March (Gregorian Calendar). The festival attracts about 13,000 participants (males from about 6 or 7yo, to those about 70 or 80. You’ll even see tattooed gangsters playing their part as members of the community, too. You’ll have to bump your way through a crowd of perhaps 150,000 to 200,000 spectators of mainly excited women and girls. The festival is also known as the Hadaka Matsuri (“hadaka” is ‘naked’, and “matsuri” is ‘festival’).


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4. The Fertility Festival

Like the Naked Man Festival, this festival traces it’s roots to ancient Japan and is held with strong religious connections. It basically is a large wooden phallus being joyously carried through the Tagata township. On the internet it’s also known as the penis festival. It’s held on the 15th March each year (Gregorian Calendar). See here for specific info on the Tagata Fertility Festival.


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5. Cherry blossoms / Sakura

Of course, no mention of Spring and Japan is complete without mentioning the delicate and fleeting petals of a tree that bears no fruit, yet covers almost every temple and shrine and park in the country for about one week. The image below was taken at Nagoya Castle. You can get there via the subway Meijo Line, at the Shyakusho-mae Station in downtown or central Nagoya. The castle is also a museum and has the Nagoya gymnasium which hosts the July summer sumo tournament. There are some specific things you can do in this fleeting time, typically one week, and it involves friends, alcohol, bad decisions, and can be day or night. Learn five things about hanami here (hanami literally means “flowers-see”).


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Bonus: Tado Horse Festival

The Tado Horse Festival is held in the Golden Week holidays, the end of April and early May. It’s held in Tado, a small township just outside of Kuwana city, which itself is outside of Nagoya. The festival typically attracts about 120,000 spectators. It’s major.


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5 Things: A holiday to Vietnam

Everyone dreams of a “once in a lifetime holiday”, though in truth, many take several of these in their lifetimes, and even annually. This post isn’t for the newbie or veteran holiday makers so much, but for those who haven’t been to Vietnam yet. I have to begin with a caveat, everyone travels differently, and so the following account is based on my own personal experiences. Without further preamble, here are 5 Things about going to Vietnam.



A Vietnam Airlines aeroplane in Nagoya airport. It seems the hostesses had better English than the JAL ones.

 

1. Getting there is easy.

It really is. Do I need to say anything more on this? Ok, so for me to fly from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was double the price than going to South Korea or Taiwan, but I’ve already done those countries. For most people, you need to apply for a visa in advance at the Vietnamese embassy long before you fly. For certain countries who were not involved against Vietnam’s struggle for independence (including the Vietnam war), they can just arrive in Saigon and Hanoi and get a landing visa. Japanese citizens can get a landing visa, but I had to post my passport to the consulate in Tokyo a couple of months before I flew. Like many flights to and from Nagoya in the off-peak time, the flight was empty. The photo below shows that in a row of six seats, five three were empty.



The flight and food was nice, but notice the paperback in-flight entertainment system?

 

2. Plan your trip.

Don’t do what I did, and just have a vague idea to go to a scuba diving company, and then make up the rest as you go. For me, the flight from Nagoya Japan to Saigon was too short for me to work out other things I could have done whilst I was there. I kind of missed out, but still filled my time and leisurely way. No regrets.



May be it’s the wine talking, but diving at Nha Trang sounds great!

 

3. No real language barrier

Compared to Japan, I think travelling in Vietnam is perhaps easier. I’ve heard lots, and lots of stories of how travellers to Japan ask for directions, but the train station staff reply in Japanese believing the traveller will understand him. In contrast, the waitresses, some taxi drivers, have better English than some Japanese-English teachers. The hotel staff learn French and English, and are very good at English (I’ve not tested their French). So, for first timers, I think Vietnam is a better welcome to Asia than Japan.

Staff at a hotel in Vietnam.

Staff at a hotel in Vietnam.

 

4. There are lots of things to do

This is where you realise that you don’t have enough time for the itinerary you want to have. Hoi An has the lanterns (wish I knew about that), Hanoi is a backpacker magnet for it’s rustic charm and refusal to be dragged into capitalism. Nha Tang turns out to have a seedy reputation, but the diving is good, especially for my limited level of experience.



Vietnam is a pretty good diving destination. For general travelling, perhaps it’s safer to go there than to the Philippines and Thailand at the moment.

 

5. Watch out!

On my first day there, the concierge at the hotel said, “don’t go walking along the beach front after midnight”. Sensible advice, I thought. On my second day, a pair of German girls told me how another German girl had her bag snatched in Saigon, as she was walking along the street by a guy on a scooter. She lost her passport, credit cards, and smart phone. On day three, a pair of English girls said that a Canadian girl also had her bag snatched also by a guy on a scooter, and she lost her passport and credit cards. On day four, a German guy at the Nha Trang airport wouldn’t tell me why, but he was getting out of the country post haste. On day five, as I was walking along the street I heard a guy saying to probably a Vietnamese lady “they took my camera, they took my money, they took my…”. On day six, in my hotel room I discovered my toothbrush was missing! (True story). I stayed in my hotel room all morning peering out the window. The point is, leave your credit cards, passport, surplus money, and other key valuables in your hotel room safe. Oh, and choose a hotel that explicitly states that each room has a safe. When you’re out walking, keep the strap of your shoulder bag over your opposite shoulder, and keep the bag in front of you. With a backpack, have one strap over one shoulder, and also have it in front of you, too. Don’t wear anything that might suggest you’ve got money (no jewellery or Louis Vuitton labels), and only carry enough money for what you need for your morning or afternoon adventure. I’ve heard of people using dummy wallets in their back pockets as a means to protect a little money pouch in the front. It seems bag snatchers work in pairs on a single scooter. The rider comes in slow and close to the nearest person to the road, and the other guy whisks the bag off of shoulder of the victim.


Probably mum, son, granddad, youngest son.

 

Bonus. The people are friendly

They are. They will help you and the English speaking ones are normally very happy to talk to you. Just ask them questions and learn about their life and country from their perspective. I’ve seen lots of travellers ask about things, and then answer their own questions (and merely reiterating stereotypes), but not letting the local talk. Ask your question, wait (they might need time to process your language), and then they’ll start talking, perhaps tentatively at first. But ask more questions about their responses. They’ll warm to you.



Beautiful (and tacky) souvenirs and cheap clothing in Ben Thanh Markets in District 1, Saigon.

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Another #CameraPixo issue published

Thanks again to CameraPixo for accepting and publishing another of my photos in their Exploring Landscapes issue. No Editor’s Award this time (see Poem of a Cacophonous City, & other blogposts), but there’ll be another time. This time is Railway Lines Silhouetted on page 53. This photo is available for licensing via my PhotoShelter Portfolio, Railway Lines Silhouetted.

Railway Lines Silhouetted, in Camera Pixo, 23 Feb 2015

Railway Lines Silhouetted, in Camera Pixo, 23 Feb 2015

Buy this photo 2015 (long) for JapanesePhotos.Asia

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Internet Neutrality

It’s so, so arrogant of the Americans to make laws that will impact upon the rest of the world’s access to the Internet. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown remarked that so much of modern life present and the future will be dependent on the internet, access and equal access to it is fundamental to society. The modern internet was created by CERN in Europe, and by Sir Tim Berners Lee, so tell the Americans to get their hands off our internet.

 

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#POTW Hieu in an ao dai

It has been quite a while since I’ve had time to do a Photo of the Week (POTW), and I apologise. Life gets a bit wild, busy, hectic, stressful, loaded, crazy, fun, and more. This photo was taken last year with a great model, Hieu, in Vietnam. For this others, and more like it see Hieu’s gallery in my PhotoShelter portfolio, and my agent’s website.


A young Vietnamese lady wearing an ao dai.

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Street & tourism model call in Osaka or Kyoto

NB: The shoot is in Japan, and only open to anyone (aged 20 and older) in the Osaka area. The shoot can be scheduled for the afternoon or evening of the 23rd or the morning of the 24th January. Please note that the payment is in yen, not US dollars or other currency. This is reposted from the Model Mayhem model call.

Wanted: male and female models or couples (gay and straight) for (outdoor) traveller / tourist type of photos, and candid-like street portraiture. Clothing should be nice, simple, but of tourist-like appearance. Photos will be similar to this and further below.

Theme: Candid street portraits and traveller / tourism
Location: Streets and tourist areas of central Osaka (TBA), or Gion Kyoto.
When: 23rd Jan (afternoon or evening), and 24th Jan (morning only)
Required: Models will sign a model release to allow the photos to be used for commercial purposes.
For general model call information, see Model Call or Contact me here or via JapanesePhotos.Asia for more information.

General advice: Please where full length heat-tech or thermal underclothing, and no clothing with brand logos or print designs. Please do not bring large or heavy bags; you can keep them in a train station locker.

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Model shoot, Osaka Japan

The theme of the shoot is for a “morning routine” and “business travel”.

The shoot will show the model partially dressed, but not completely nude nor overly erotic (negotiable). The shoot will be in a hotel room in the Umeda area (already booked), and the model is welcome to bring a friend to sit and watch (or read a book). There is a shoot list, but always in the past I ask the model to suggest some of her own ideas for posing in the shoot. Since this is a low-budget shoot, please bring your own wardrobe and do your own makeup. The theme of the shoot will be “early morning routine” and “business travel”, so please bring appropriate attire. The model will be asked to sign a model release to allow the images to be used commercially. See here for more general information about model calls, JapanesePhotos.Asia/blog/model-call/ (モデル求人: 日本語).

Payment is negotiable depending on previous experience (see the Model Mayhem announcement). The shoot is in Japan, and only open to anyone (aged 20-40yo or so) in the Osaka area. The shoot can be scheduled for the afternoon or evening of the 23rd or the morning of the 24th January.

For examples of my previous work see the various portfolios via my website at JapanesePhotos.Asia which includes portraiture, nude, semi-nude, lingerie and more. Direct questions to me at JapanesePhotos.Asia/contact.html.

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