Date: 2012.06.17 | Category: 未分類 | Response: 0

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I found Katufumi Studio (apparently in kanji, it’s Katsufumi) after hours of research on the internet. There are plenty of maiko henshin, transformation in English,  studios in Kyoto, especially along the street leading up to Kiyomizu-dera, but I wanted something different and dare I say, less touristy? So I went with Katufumi Studio. Katsufumi-san is apparently a former geisha (or geiko, in the Kyoto dialect) and she provides maiko henshin services. As a form of respect for the maiko and geiko, Katsufumi-san states clearly on her website that you aren’t allowed to take a stroll in the streets after you are made-over, as the kimonos and obis bear the ochaya’s (tea-house) crest, and you may be mistaken for a maiko or geiko from that ochaya. Her office (where the makeover takes place) is next to a hall where performances by the maiko and geiko take place each spring and personally, I liked the ‘no strolling in public’ part of the package as the maiko and geiko put in a lot of effort and time in their training to become what they are, and it is disrespectful if you go traipsing around town masquerading as one of them.

There was some DRAMA before we got to the studio. We got lost, and my Japanese is not fantastic at all. I learned Japanese through watching anime, movies and from Utada Hikaru’s albums. We wandered around the Kitano Tenmangu for over an hour before we finally found the studio. THANK YOU TO ALL THE NICE JAPANESE PEOPLE WHO HELPED US. There were some problems communicating but I am so grateful for your graciousness.

Katsufumi-san’s studio was small and warm (it was rather windy and chilly in Kyoto), so it was a welcomed respite from the chill. Katsufumi-san and her assistant (or is it her daughter?), Aya-chan, were friendly but they don’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Japanese. I know a few phrases and quite a number of words but once the words are strung up in a sentence….er….I need to infer. But we tried to communicate the best that we can. After all, art and culture unite people, yes?

We had to select which kimono we wanted to wear, and let me tell you, I was spoilt for choice. I didn’t know which one to take! They are all gorgeous. I decided on a salmon-pink one but later on, I changed to a formal black kimono. A woman can only restrain herself for so long when faced with beautiful pieces of art. I gasped when Aya-chan laid out the black kimono for me. Kireii, I said, to which both Katsufumi-san and Aya-chan thanked me. I touched the fabric with reverence as it was truly beautiful and finely made.

The obi are kept in the little cubby holes, and the kimono are stored in the individual drawers below.

We had to clean off our make-up and wear the robes given to us. Then our hair was wrapped in a hairnet, and Katsufumi-san got to work. First, she applied a little bit of oil to our face to smooth the skin. She told us that the oil she used is the same oil used by sumo wrestlers to dress their hair. The oil gave a warm sensation as she massaged it on my face. Next she put a bit of wax over my brows to conceal the brow-hair so that they won’t show through the white face paint.

My naked face.

Putting the hair in place before any makeup goes on.

The white face paint is essentially white powder mixed with water into a smooth paste. And there are two paints, one is pale pink, and another is white. The pale pink paint went onto my eye and cheekbone area, while the white is applied to the rest of my face, including chest and back (where the two-pronged, or sometimes three, mark is made at the nape).

There was a slightly cooling sensation as the paint dried. After that, Katsufumi-san proceeded to line my eyes with red and black cake liner. She explained that in Japanese culture, red and pink colours are considered attractive. She artfully blended the red cake liner onto my eyes and faded it out to pink on the outer corners, and lined my top lashline with the black. Once she was done, she painted on my brows.

I then put on the undergarments before donning the kimono. I read somewhere that as a maiko (apprentice geisha) progresses in her training and becomes more senior, the lesser red she wears and the more subtle her kimono becomes. I toyed with the idea of being dressed as a geiko, but the maiko have more vibrant colours in their kimono (and ironically, I went with a black formal kimono, hahaha) so I decided on the maiko makeover instead.

As Aya-chan dressed me in my kimono, tying and tugging her way through, I felt… beautiful. I really did. I felt like a princess being dressed by her attendant. I began to stand, walk and sit differently. Even the way I placed my hands on my lap was different. I felt more feminine and aware of my movements. My normally feisty self became… demure? As Aya-chan put the darari-obi on me (and the darari-obi is GORGEOUS), I decided. I want to do this again! Hehehe. :)

Demure position of hands on my lap.

Normally, women who go for the maiko henshin can opt for a half-wig if their fringe is long enough, and honestly the half-wig looks better, as your hairline will be higher. But since my fringe is short, Katsufumi-san put the full wig on me (and the hairline is low, so I think I look a bit strange). I have a big head so I think she had to do some adjustments before the wig fitted my head properly.

Next, came the kanzashi. As she put the kanzashis in my friend’s wig, I pointed out one that I recognised, which was the ‘ogi bira-bira’. Both Katsufumi-san and Aya-chan looked pleasantly surprised! ‘Sugoi!’ they said. Yes, my hours of research on the internet came in useful after all, LOL.

I have to point out that my friend’s kimono is an autumn kimono, while mine is a winter one, so the obi is thicker and heavier. In addition, the kanzashi varies according to the season. Since mine is a winter kimono, I got to choose between a few kanzashi. I chose the kanzashi meant for January.

Since my lips are painted with red rouge and the size is smaller and my natural lips, I had to try to smile with my eyes, or as Tyra Banks would say, SMIZE. I was smizing like my life depended on it, and hoped that my eyes came to life in the photos.

Ta-da! All dressed up (and nowhere to go). :)

We were told to pose maiko-style under Katsufumi-san’s direction. Under the weight of the wig and kanzashis plus the kimono and obi, it was HARD. My knees started trembling after a while. It wasn’t easy, and I have full respect for all the maiko and geiko out there who have to bear the weight of the garment, and perform!

My favourite is the dance pose and as I said before, it wasn’t easy maintaining the pose as I am not trained as a maiko. I am an impostor. Hehehe.

Showing off my darari-obi and the maiko makeup on the nape

I love my kimono

I also had a chance to put on the okobo sandals, which ARE NOTHING LIKE WEARING HIGH HEELS. I had to balance myself properly. And my feet are big so I had to squeeze into them. Apparently, the okobo sandals alone cost 120,000JPY! They are more expensive than a pair of designer shoes!

The okobo: definitely not like wearing high heels!

In fact, Katsufumi-san told us that the entire costume costs about 1.5million yen. Oh my. But that is the cost of a work of art. I remember reading a guide book and one of the writers said that purchasing a quality silk kimono can cost up to 10,000USD. An ex-colleague of mine also told me that women buy the kimono to be kept as heirlooms (besides being worn as a garment).

The okobo: definitely not like wearing high heels!

In fact, Katsufumi-san told us that the entire costume costs about 1.5million yen. Oh my. But that is the cost of a work of art. I remember reading a guide book and one of the writers said that purchasing a quality silk kimono can cost up to 10,000USD. An ex-colleague of mine also told me that women buy the kimono to be kept as heirlooms (besides being worn as a garment).

Katsufumi-san with my winter kimono. What a beautiful piece of art.

I really enjoyed the maiko henshin experience at Katsufumi Studio. While the price is steep when compared to the other studios in Kyoto, at the very least, I know that I am wearing something authentic with history behind it. Katsufumi-san and Aya-chan were also gracious hosts, in addition to being beautiful women. I would very much like to experience it again. :)

Date: 2012.04.07 | Category: Yokohama | Response: 0

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I visited Kamakura today. Kamakura is famous for many shrines and temples.

Visiting shrines and temples is one of the exciting things to do in Kamakura.

I like this shot at Kenchoji temple known us first ZEN temple in Japan.

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Date: 2012.04.01 | Category: Must-try in Japan, Tokyo, WASHOKU - Japanese Foods | Response: 0

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Sweet & Presentable, fruit in Japan is just so nice. When you nibble a piece of strawberry, you will know how they spend their time & efforts to produce it. I would like to share with you its fruit eating experience here in Japan. Eating is believing.

There are a few ways that you can fully enjoy the masterpiece of seasonal fruit. I visited Takano Fruit Parlour, 5 mins walk from the Shinjuku station, Tokyo a month ago and I was astound to see a variety of fruit displayed and packed so beautifully. The shop was so amazing that I am actually salivating here at my computer as I type.

Strawberry is in season now here. It is said that they were originally brought over from Holland. And most of fruit were introduced to Japan from the outside world after Japan signed treaties with some Western countries ending its seclusion policy around the end of 19th century.

Some fruit is treated like jewelry. I assume that the staff would put on the gloves when they touch the muskmelon.

After I finished strolling around the fruit gift shop at B1, I took an escalator to go up to 5th floor. This floor made up of two sections. One is a fruit parlor(all-you-can-eat restaurant) and the other is a fruit bar(cafe).

In order to visit the all-you-can-eat restaurant, You have to come with female guests.

Fruit feast here consists of fruit cakes, juice, parfait etc …. It is true that even fake food could make my mouth watering.

I didn’t see many people at a buffet corner.

I admit I was sneaky to take a photo of these. This is all because I wanted to share with you.

I ordered a strawberry cup glass with a cup of coffee at 1365 yen including tax.

Again, eating is believing. I am sure you will have a sweet one.

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*My recommended fruit restaurants

TAKANO FRUIT PARLOR 高野フルーツパーラー <Japanese only>

SEMBIKIYA 千疋屋 <English language>

Date: 2012.02.24 | Category: A Japanese Life in Japan | Response: 0

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A Japanese baby makes a first visit to a shrine after 100 days in Toyama prefecture. We chose Imizu shrine where we had a wedding ceremony 2009. A shinto priest held a purifying ceremony for us. Parents pray for his or her healthy growth in front of a deity.

At the same time, A-first-eat ceremony was also held on the 100th days to pray for his or her baby not to have a difficulty on eating. Some people prepare the meal on their own, but we asked a restaurant chef to prepare for a special meal.

Congratulations for my son, Yota :)
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Date: 2012.01.20 | Category: Must-try in Japan, Tokyo, WASHOKU - Japanese Foods | Response: 0

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For most tourists, there are two main purpose of coming to TSUKIJI fish market, the biggest fish and seafood market in the world.  One is to watch the tuna auction normally starts at 5:20 and ends at 7am. The other is to have a good Sushi or Sashimi meal. Tsukiji fish market, consists of two sections, the inner market and the outer market, is one of the most recommended sightseeing spots in Tokyo.

Here are 5 sushi restaurants where I saw people standing in line from the early morning in the inner market. The queue was as long as that of Disneyland. If you have a difficulty in choosing the restaurant, you can refer the following list. But remember you may have to stand in line for a few hours!

Clockwise from left to right:






If this is a normal magazine, the story ends here, but EXJ doesn’t end. I understand that everyone wants to have a good meal when traveling. Above all, I like to go to a popular restaurant among locals, not tourists! Here is another tip for you to find a good restaurant at TSUKIJI market.

” FOLLOW fishermen who are food specialists as they know the area best!! ”

When you walk around the area,  you will see many people eating outside around the area. They are having a breakfast before they go to work. What a great breakfast they have every morning!

I got off at Tsukiji station of HIBIYA subway line Exit 1. After 2 mins, you can see the advertisement above. If you would like to watch the bidding, better to go very early in the morning. It is also worth visiting this super famous market for your gorgeous breakfast :)

Have fun eating SUSHI breakfast!

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Date: 2012.01.08 | Category: Must-try in Japan, Transportation | Response: 2

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Last year, I recommended Willer Express which is one of the leading budget bus operators in Japan for those who are on the tight budgets. Willer Express can offer a variety of good deals, especially Japan Bus Pass which allow you to connect with major cities across Japan at an incredible price.  However, it takes so long. If you don’t have much time to reach your destination, you can jump on a high-speed train which boasts of its speed, precision and safety. Yes!  the bullet train, SHINKANSEN!

When you are planning to visit a few places during a shot period, Japan Rail Pass could help you reach destinations much faster than riding on the bus. This pass is only allowed to purchase outside Japan. This is the special deal only for the foreign travelers who come to Japan.

By the way, when you become a Shinkansen traveler, you can try your luck during your journey whether you can have a chance to see very rare Shinkansen…….. Doctor Yellow which is a special train, used for track inspection to make sure that all the Shinkansen trains operate safely. This train can check the tracks for distortion and the overhead lines for wear with the maximum speed of 270km per hour!

It is believed that Doctor Yellow would bring you the happiness if you are very lucky to find them which exist only 2 in Japan.

As for the safety of the Shinkansen service, once they find some problems during the inspection, specialists are supposed to rush to the spot right away. But most of the problems are found in advance thanks to the 3,000 workers who check the tracks thoroughly every night after the normal operations.  Since the Shinkansen started their operation in 1964, there has been NO casualty.

Even if you can’t find Dr. Yellow, just standing at the platform might amaze you as the high-speed trains whizz every 5 – 10 mins in front of you. Japanese train services are well known for their punctuality just like the Japanese people. LOL

I hope you would have a fast & safe journey in Japan bringing you the Happiness for your life!

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Date: 2011.12.19 | Category: Japanese Inns, Something Funny, Tokyo | Response: 0

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I don’t recommend that you read this article if you are looking for traditional Japanese hotels like Ryokanor Minshuku during your trip in Japan as this article wouldn’t give you useful tips.  However, if you are curious to know what Japanese culture look like or to save your money, this CAPSULE inns would become one of the most unique & reasonable experiences for the travellers, mostly for males,  from around the world.

CAPSULE inns have been in Japan since 1979, originally started in Osaka region, western part of Japan. Personally, I have stayed at a capsule hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo, once 10 years ago.


As I heard there is a popular capsule hotel among foreign travellers in the garish neon of Shinjuku’s streets,  I have decided to visit there to see what the things are going on. From JR Shinjuku Station east exit, it took me about 10 minutes on foot to reach the hotel even though they said it takes only 5mins. This capsule hotel is located just in front of the Shinjuku City Office (Shinjuku Kuyakusho).  


When you reach the place, you need to take the elevator up to the 3rd floor for check-in. I found the sign that WiFi is available.

When you get out of the escalator, you need to take off your shoes to leave them in the locker before you proceed to reception counter.  

For those who booked the hotel in advance, you tell them your reservation number there. They can accept your stay as long as the rooms are available even if you didn’t make a reservation. 


After filling out the personal info, your key will be given to you. This number is used for your locker & capsule room number.


Locker room is available on your left side of the reception. You need change your clothing there and leave your personal belongings. If you can’t put them all into a rather small locker, you can tell the staff so that they can keep them. Inside your locker, bath towels are prepared for you.

As I heard, a lot of foreign travellers seemed to stay here :)


Then you proceed to see the waited-capsule room! My room was at 7th floor! Please be quiet in the shared floor.

Here I am!  Do people really sleep here? Yes, they do. Please make yourself comfortable as much as possile in the limited space. I bathed in the Hot Spa at the 3rd floor, which was quite comfortable to refresh my body.  

This is how you can see the direction of outside.

I stayed in the cheepest room which was not equipped with electrical outlets to recharge my iphone battery and Internet connections. Depend on the availability with the additional fee of 500 yen, you can upgrade your room.

This capsule hotel is available only for men. But there are some capsule hotels where ladies can also stay. I paid 2700 yen per night.   

I hope you would have a good night!!

Capsule hotel Website (Men Only) 
Address : 1-2-5 Kabuki-cho Toyo Bldg 3F, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

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Date: 2011.12.05 | Category: Festivals, Events, Religions | Response: 0

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Festivals are held all year around in Japan. Most of  them are related with Japanese religions such as Shintoism and Buddhism. Along with the religious ceremony, the things you can’t miss are unique stalls which sell a variety of items like food, toys and special games. When I was a child, I used to walk around the streets lined with them. I loved it. The things has remained unchanged since my old days. Let’s see what you can get here.


I would recommend that you buy something to nibble at food stalls. Some are easy to carry around. Here are my favorite items. All look so yummy. A Beef Skewer usually costs 500 yen or so.


Flour-made pancakes called Okonomiyaki with rich seasoning sauce are very popular, which reminds me of a trip in Hiroshima. They come in different servings wrapped around a chopstick. They are called Hashimaki.   

Takoyaki, flour-made dumpling balls, are local delight in Osaka area. But you can always find them at the festival streets.

This is also a common sight when walking around the street. If you want to know what kind of anime characters are hot among Japanese kids, you can drop by this stall. A mask costs around 1000 yen.  

These masks are popular among foreigners as they look something Japan? Actually they are deities of Japanese Sintoism.


These are popular festival games for children to scoop up. You use a very thin paper scoop, which easily tears when it gets wet. You scoop goldfish, Turtles, bouncy rubber balls etc. If you can scoop them, you can bring some of them back home.   


Not only RINGOAME, an apple coated with thin candy, but also Banana chocorate have been popular desserts since old times.    


Baby KASUTERA, bite-sized sponge cake, are a must-try.


Would you like to buy Celebrity photoes? Japanese kids also love shooting game.   

It is all up to you which stalls to choose. I hope you would have a great walk during the festival in Japan.

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Date: 2011.11.17 | Category: WASHOKU - Japanese Foods | Response: 0

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When you are on a tight budget, I recommend Willer Express as transportation. If you want to continue to be on a tight budget on food, why don’t you visit fastfood restaurants with a Japanese twist?  Resonable & Tasty, Japanese fastfood restaurants have always tried to outdo one another in serving delicious dishes.


Let’s explore one of my fav nationwide Japanese restaurants chain, NAKAU, which serve a variety of bowl dishes!! This is the place where you can be in a frugal frame of mind.


Buy a ticket at the vending machine near the entrance.


Insert money first, then choose 店内 or 持帰り. 店内 means to Eat-in while 持帰り means to Take-away. The word 押す means to push. Then choose the item you will be having.  I had KATSU-don, a rice bowl topped with a deep-fried port cutlet & delicious stirrd egg.

Don’t forget to press this buttom if you have changes.


A cup of hot green tea was served by a staff, which is free in Japan. Then pass your tickets to the staff.   


It took only 1min to be served as there were few guests in the restaurant.  

I love Miso soup.


You can sit either on counter seats or table seats.

Believe it or not, a rice bowl topped with beef costs only 250yen (about US$3). Because of its price, rice bowls have been loved most by the Japanese people. Reasonable & tasty, why don’t you have a good meal at reasonable price in Japan? You can save some money at NAKAU !

【Words to note】 1. 和風牛丼 Beef rice Bowl  2. 親子丼 Chicken & Egg rice bowl 3. かつ丼 Deep-fried pork cutlet and Egg rice bowl 4. うどん Udon noodles

【Words to note – sides】 並 normal serving ミニ mini 大盛 large  特盛 extra large Japanese language only


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Date: 2011.11.03 | Category: Must-try in Japan, Practical info, WASHOKU - Japanese Foods | Response: 0

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Sushi became so popular worldwide as one of the Japanese food. Each portion consists of a bite-sized serving of vinegered rice and a topping.  Here is a list of toppings which, I hope, would help you order what you eat. If you find something that look delicious, why don’t you order them in Japanese language at the restaurants! Anyways, have fun, Sushi!

*Photos for your reference only.

Welcome to Sushi items Menu  A – Z

- A -

AJI - horse mackerel -

White fish available between summer and autumn.

AMAEBI – sweet shrimp -

Melt-in-your-mouth shrimps with a sweet flavor

ANAGO – sea eel -

The shape of Anago is similar to Unagi (eel), but different in taste. Less fatty and more rich in flavor. It can be prepared and eaten after the special seasoning sauce is smeared onto it. There are many traditional restaurants which boast their seasoning sauce as a secret recipe. In Hiroshima, Anago is famous.

- B -

BAIGAI – ivory shell -

Crunchy in texture. It could be tough to chew. But many Japanese like its texture.

BURI – premium yellow tail -

In Japan, sometimes different names are given to one fish according to its size. Buri and well-known Hamachi are both yellowtail fish. But different in taste.  Close to tuna belly in texture. Caught in winter, Buri in Himi of Toyama prefecture is very famous. Delicious.

- E -

ENGAWA – flounder fin

Crunchy in texture. Sometimes served with half-broiled like the photo above. Simple & Nice.

- H -

HAMACHI – yellowtail -

One of the most popular white-meat fish to be eaten. Quite firm texture with subtle sweetness. Usually Hamachi are cultured fish.

- I -

IKA – squid -

Quite chewy, but tasty with a subtle flavour.

IKURA – salmon roe -

The word of Ikura stems from the Russian language, ikra, meaning fish egg. In Japan, Ikura means Salmon egg. Wrapped in seaweed paper containing salmon roe. Some people don’t like their texture.

INARI – fried bean curd -

- K -

KATSUO – Bonito -

KAWAHAGI – filefish -

Soft texture with a subtle sweetness.

KOHADA – gizzard shad

The more you chew, the richer its taste becomes. With its vinegared taste, you can have this after you eat rich flavored sushi so that it can help rinse your mouth.

- M -

MAGURO – tuna -

When you call it maguro, it generally means the red lean part of tuna fish. Toro (Tuna belly) is popular among sushi lovers. There are about 7 types of maguro fish in the world. Honmaguro, blue-fin tuna, is considered most premium. My favorite sushi item.

MENEGI – chive buds

Usually sliced raw fish is an ingredient for sushi, but this is one of the kinds of leek. Crispy texture.

MIRUGAI – gaper clam -

Cruncy texture close to above-mentioned Baigai.

- N -

NEGITORO – minced tuna belly roll -

NODOGURO – sea perch -

- S -

SABA – mackerel

vinegared flavor and firm texture. Japanese eat raw mackerel.

SAKE – salmon -

The most popular, I guess,  item overseas, but not in Japan. It is rather recent to see salmon items at Sushi restaurants. Sometimes, smoked or half-broiled. Less fishy smell. I became fond of it after I had come back to Japan from overseas.

SANMA – pacific saury -

Fatty sanma come into season in autumn. Nice flavour.

SHIRAEBI – white shrimp -

Local delight in Toyama prefecture available only between April – Nov. Tasty.

- T -

TORO -Tuna belly -

Different types of Maguro tuna, called Chutoro (Left) & Otoro (Right), According to the increase in fatty content, the way you call will be changed like Chutoro (medium tuna belly) or Otoro (fattiest cut tuna) .Due to melt-in-your moth texture with a delicate softness.

TAI – sea bream -

TAKO – Octopus -

TAMAGO – egg omlete -

Sometimes served without rice. It is said that when the taste of eggs is good, the rest is also good.  Good for those don’t eat raw fish.

TEKKAMAKI – Tuna rolls -

TOBIUO – flying fish -

- U -

UNAGI – eel -

UNAKYU HOSOMAKI – eel & cucumber roll

A type of Maki-mono sushi wrapped in seaweed paper.

UNI – sea urchin -

Gold color creamy Sea urchin was taken from a round prickly shell. Sea urchin is in lay between summer and autumn, which is the best season to eat. I like it.

- Z -

ZUWAIGANI – snow crab -

Snow crabs, king crabs and hairy crabs are well-known.

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