Tag Archives: summer

Mugicha – The Best Japanese Beverage for Hot Days

It was extremely hot this summer in Japan.

This year, I rediscovered how wonderful mugicha – Japanese barley tea – is to keep good health and survive a torrid summer.

While most people buy iced tea or sodas in pet bottles at convenience stores and from vending machines, some bring their favorite drink in their own bottles.

My husband and I have been the latter since we decided to improve our physical conditions. We reviewed our eating and drinking habits.

I decide to eat and drink like the time when I was small – when our diet was not yet fully westernized. I had tried lots of different methods like macrobiotics and caloric restriction, but they didn’t last. I gradually come to think “back-to-basics” should be more important.

One of the simplest efforts was switching from consuming trendy, convenient drink to classic mugicha. It’s sugar & caffeine free, easy to make, and extremely cheap – less than 200 – 300 yen (approx. $1.5 – 2.5) for one package which contain around 30 tea bags. Moreover, it tastes great – mild and aromatic and can be taken any time.

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Simply soak one tea bag in cold water and keep it in a fridge for a while. At home I microwave it for 1.5 min, as I’m trying to avoid cold drink as much as possible.

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When  I go out, I always bring it in my favorite Tiger’s “Mujuryoku” bottle, which helps me keep away from the temptation of Starbucks. By the way this bottle is super light and practical! If you are seeking for any good gift / souvenir in Japan, it’s definitely one of my recommendations.

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Since we started changing our diet, both my husband and I succeeded in reducing weights, and I came to think that mugicha might be one of the factors that supported it.

I never imagined this common and non-trendy tea has so many effects and was amazed to learn it. According to the mugicha industry’s website, it helps protect the inner wall of the stomach and prevent diabetes-related disease, includes p−coumaric acid, improves blood circulation and has antioxidative effect.

Looking into the Japanese history, it has been consumed before green tea. It is said that “mugiyu” (original mugicha) already existed in the Heian Period (794-1185). It had been a drink for high-class people before the Edo period (1603-1867) when young girls become to selling mugiyu on the streets. These mugiyu shops were very popular until the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Nowadays, mugicha is rarely served in the restaurants but still very popular as summer drink in the households. You can buy the tea bags and pet bottled products are available in the super markets.

North Japan for Summer Travel: Experience Magical Nights, Mistique and Nature

According to statistics published by Japan Tourism Agency, the top six destinations for foreign visitors from January to March, 2014 are Tokyo (48.7%), Osaka(24.7%), Kyoto (18.0%), Kanagawa (11.0%), Hokkaido(10.5%) and Fukuoka (10.5%).  Although these places – most of them are urban areas – offer lots of attractions, you should not miss Japanese countryside where poetic sceneries, traditions and mysteries are still alive, especially if you expect something really Japanese, like things described in Kurosawa’s films or Miyazaki’s animation world. If you’re looking for summer destinations where you can feel deep Japan, I would recommend the Tohoku region (north part of mainland Japan) consisting of 6 prefectures – Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima. Not only because you can escape from the heat, but you can experience the best part of Japanese summer festivals. There are three great festival in Tohoku, namely Aomori Nebuta Festival, Akita Kanto Festival and Sendai Tanabata Festival, all of which take place in early August. In addition, you can enjoy the dynamic nature and high quality hot springs.

Above all, my favorite destination is Aomori prefecture where I used to live for two years.


Charms of Aomori

Aomori Prefecture is located in the very north of mainland Japan. It takes a bit more than three hours by bullet train from Tokyo.  Aomori is not small like Tokyo, so it’s impossible to make one day trip. I would recommend at least 3 days to fully enjoy this area. And what attracts me is its state of chaos: There is beautiful nature as represented by Shirakami-sanchi, world natural heritage site as well as traditional festivals and events,  interesting folk beliefs. On the other hand, there exist military facilities and rare energy related facilities such as nuclear reprocessing plant, which are still controversial. It’s one of the best places to learn what’s hidden behind Japan’s buoyant image of developed country. I try to introduce some of their charms in this article.

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(Big tree in Shirakami-Sanchi)

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(Lake Towada)

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(Beautiful Sunset in Asamushi)

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Festivals

Don’t miss it if you come to this area in summer. Festivals in Aomori is like an explosion of passion in a very short summer in the north. You’ll be dazzled by fever, lights and music – It’s just like a dream. Among lots of festivals (e.g. Hachinohe Sansha Taisai, Kuroishi Yosare etc.), the most famous one is Nebuta. Nebuta has lots of variations in themselves, but the followings are well-known. It’s interesting to compare three different Nebuta, to see how their style and atmosphere is different from each other.

Aomori Nebuta Festival
http://www.atca.info/nebuta_en/
Date: August 2-7
Place: Aomori City
Huge lantern dolls Nebuta parade on the street with ‘haneto‘ jumping dancers, ‘baketo‘ performers and musicians, shouting “rassera, rassera, rasse rasse rasse ra…” originating from ‘dase‘ meaning ‘hand over’  to request candles, sake or candies.  You’ll notice lots of bells on haneto’s outfits. As they jump so hard, these bells easily fall out. It is said that you’ll be happy if you can catch or pick them. You can rent an outfit and join as a dancer as well!

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On the last day, they will float their Nebuta on the sea. Then we will realize this festival are related with the custom of lantern floating which will send the dead spirits and our impurity to another world.

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Hirosaki Neputa Festival
https://www.city.hirosaki.aomori.jp/kanko/matsuri/neputa_1.html
Date: August 1-7
Place: Hirosaki City

Fan-shaped Neputa (here, it’s called ne’pu’ta) parade along the Iwaki River, with the slow shout ‘yah-ya-doh’ in the old castle city, Hirosaki. While Aomori nebuta is dynamic and cheerful, Hirosaki Neputa conveys dignity and elegance.

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Tachineputa Festival
http://www.tachineputa.jp/ (Japanese)
Date: August 4-8
Place: Goshogawara City
Tachineputa means ‘standing Nebuta’. You’ll be amazed to see that Neputa in Goshogawara  is gigantic. They shout provocatively, Yattemare! Yattemare!’ (beat them! or go for it!) with masculine dance and music, which creates cool impression compared to other two.

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Planet of the Apes?

Wakinosawa Village in Shimokita Peninsula is famous for Japanese monkeys and deer. They come down to the village to find food due to deforestation. The damage caused by monkeys are serious. They eat what the villagers grew and even what’s stored in their house. When I visited there, I felt as if it was a real life version of Planet of the Apes. The number of monkeys on the street were apparently bigger than that of villagers. In the village, like a weather forecast, the village announces the information on where monkey appear several times a day.

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Hot springs

Aomori has a variety of hot springs. My favorites are Sukayu, Furo-fushi Onsen and Asamushi Onsen.  In addition, Aoni Onsen is a romantic place as shown below…

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However, the most striking and coolest hot spring I ever visited in my life is the one which is located in Osorezan (Mt. Osore) in Shimokita Peninsula. Osorezan is famous as a spiritual place. In this area, it has been said that people go to this mountain after their death. Many people visit itako (necromancers) to communicate with the dead people while they gather in the festival seasons in July and October. It is not really well-known that there is a hot spring in this place. So, it is not crowded and the quality of hot spring is just nice. If you are planning to visit this mountain, don’t forget amenities and towels!

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They have so many other attractions that I can’t mention all at once. I will try to introduce more some other time 🙂

Kaidan: Cooling Off Without Air Conditioning

Summer in Japan is really hot and humid.  Yet there is a cool way to refresh without air conditioning in Japan – enjoying kaidan (ghost stories).

It sounds like a joke, but ghost stories seem to have a cooling effect scientifically. The mechanism is, people get tense when they feel fear, which causes the peripheral blood vessel to contract. It impedes the blood circulation.  The body surface temperature goes down as a result.

With or without this evidence, kaidan has been popular as summer-time entertainment since the old days. It may be partly because of bon, a Japanese buddhist custom in summer. During the bon period, it’s believed the ancestors’ spirits come back to this world.  Actually lots of Japanese summer festivals such as tanabata, toro-nagashi  and okuribi derive from or related to this belief. So people might feel the dead souls somewhat closer than other seasons.

There is another view on the origin of kaidan as summer entertainment.  In 1800s,  a famous kabuki  scriptwriter Tsuruya Nanboku IV wroted stories for natsu-kyogen (kabuki theatrical  productions during summer) including a splendid play entitled “Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan”. At that time, summer-time productions were played by young actors with lower price because the top actors took vacation. To attract the audience during summer, kaidan , which had been played in spring or autumn till then, was played with novel settings. It is said that kaidan was established as a Japanese summer tradition since then.

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Traditional Kaidan Stories

When I was small, my grandma used to tell me ghost stories. I was so scared but I learned the lessons behind such as the sin of betrayal at the same time. Some of my favorites are:


Traditional Ghost Arts

For most Japanese people, the typical image of ghost is not like Casper but a sad, beautiful woman wearing a white kimono. When I was a kid, I truly believed that ghosts had no legs, but later I learned this was a creation of Maruyama Okyo, a famous artist in the past.

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Oyuki” by Maruyama Ôkyo (1733-1795) – Found at: http://eee.uci.edu/clients/sbklein/GHOSTS/html/edoghosts/pages/oyuki.html. Via Wikipedia.

If you’re interested in appreciating the traditional ghost arts, it’s worth visiting Zenshoan temple in Yanaka, Tokyo in August.  Every summer, they exhibit Encho‘s (famous rakugo storyteller in 1800s) collection of ghost paintings, one of the best of this kind in Japan.

Zenshoan’s Location
https://plus.google.com/112728337418675952578/about?hl=ja