Photographer Takashi Yasui captures the mystique of Kyoto

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Japan is captured in spellbinding fashion by photographer Takashi Yasui in this photo series. Training his lens on well-known sights such as the Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizudera shrines, Arashiyama bamboo forest, and Gion geisha district of Kyoto, the founder of the RECO photography collective portrays them in new light and a heightened artistic sensitivity to the country’s undeniable mystique.

My name is Takashi Yasui, I’m 35 years old, and live in Osaka, Japan. Basically, I take photos in Kyoto so I call myself a “Kyoto Photographer.”  About five years ago, when my niece was born, I started taking family portraits; that’s how I got into photography.

About 4 years ago I installed “Instagram”on my iPhone and began to follow photographers from all over the world. This had a big impact on me: I met a lo of Instagrammers in Japan, leaned about photography, how to shoot, how to edit, how to find a location, composition, perspective, and things like that. Recently, I met few talented photographers from the US, Canada,  and France, and was exposed to their take on shooting. It really helped me to grow as a photographer. Now, photography is a more of a pleasure, it is a passion for me.

I’m shooting with Fujifilm X-T10, X-M1 with XF14mmF2.8 R, XF35mmF1.4 R. Editing with Lightroom, using VSCOfilm presets.

More info: takashiyasui.com | reco-photo.com | facebook | twitter500px | instagram (h/t: designtaxi)

HondaJet makes its first flight in Japan as it nears full-scale production in the US

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RocketNews 24:

After several decades of research, development, and testing, the HondaJet is almost ready for delivery. But even though the business class jet, which the Japanese media has referred to as the “realization of the company founder’s dream,” is nearing certification through test flights in the United States, it hadn’t actually made an appearance in the skies of Japan…until this week!

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It was apparently the dream of Soichiro Honda, engineer and founder of Honda, to have his company produce a jet. In fact, it’s been over half a century since the founder proclaimed that the company was entering the aircraft business in 1962. The first significant steps in producing aircraft were taken in 1986, and since then, the company has spent countless hours on research, development, and design in the United States, where the HondaJet has been developed and will be manufactured, partly in conjunction with GE.

Though the jet has not yet finished certification, it has made numerous flights in the United States with potential customers and orders are already being accepted. Despite its airworthiness and the sort of high-tech features you’d expect from Honda, the HondaJet never actually flew in Japan until April 23, when it landed at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

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The jet holds up to seven people and sells for 4.5 million dollars in the United States. It also apparently has 17 percent better fuel efficiency than most other jets in the same class, so just drop that little tidbit, if you’re having trouble justifying the cost to your spouse or board of directors! But you’ll have company if you decide to order now. Honda reports that it’s gotten over 100 orders between North America and Europe and it expects to start making deliveries in the US “soon.”

For those of you in Japan right now, you can catch the HondaJet on display at Sendai Airport, Kobe Airport, Kumamoto Airport, Okanan Airport (in Okayama), and Narita Airport in Tokyo on various dates over the next two weeks. You’ll be able to view the aircraft parked and catch some flight demonstrations as well.

If you’re ready to buy a HondaJet of your own, you can find a list of dealers here. Sadly, they only list North American and European locations, so if you want one in Japan, it looks like you’ll have to import it yourself!

Universal Studios to open theme park in Okinawa

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RocketNews 24:

For folks in the Kanto area, theme parks tend to mean Tokyo Disneyland, and for people in the Kansai area, they mean Universal Studios Japan, or USJ for short. But what about Okinawan residents? We suppose they could just fly to Osaka or Tokyo if they get bored with their beautiful beaches and old-lady idol groups, but they don’t have much actually in the prefecture.

However, it looks like things are going to change for theme-park-ride-starved Okinawans: It was revealed today that USJ is planning to open a second park on the tropical island!

Of course, things are still in the very early planning stages for USJ Number 2, and a location hasn’t even been decided yet. But there are a few details that have been released.

First, it looks like the theme park will be smaller in scale than USJ in Osaka–which seems sensible. Okinawa’s population is just over 1.4 million, while there are over 18.7 million people in the Osaka metro area–not to mention all the theme park lovers coming from farther out.

Unfortunately, that smaller scale will bring another downside for Harry Potter fans: The themes won’t include movies! Obviously, we don’t know what themes will be included, but Okinawans can always hope they change their mind.

▼And USJ Osaka just built a new Jurassic Park area too!

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As for why USJ has chosen Okinawa, where you would think the beaches, castles, hiking, and diving would be enough to keep anyone busy, it seems that USJ is looking to expand. It turns out that they’re simply running out of room in Osaka and started looking elsewhere, including outside of Japan. In the end, they decided on Okinawa thanks to the government’s enthusiasm and offer of support. What exactly that support would be is unclear, though we imagine it’s easier to build a theme park when the locals actually want it built there!

Obviously, Okinawa has a much smaller population than the mainland, but they do see plenty of tourists. In 2013, for example, 6.4 millions tourists visited Okinawa, and while we’re sure beaches are great, we can only imagine beaches and roller coasters are an even bigger draw! And with plane tickets from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Okinawa coming in at just over 30,000 yen (a bit more than US$247), we can see this working out as a great destination for people who want to get away–but not too far away.

▼Even minions need a vacation sometimes!

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But before you start strapping on your sandals and getting in line, we should point out that Glenn Gumpel, the CEO of USJ, emphasized that this was all still in the planning stage.

Taco Bell to tackle the Japanese market

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RocketNews 24:

With perennial favorites such as Mos Burger, CoCo Ichibanya, Hotto Motto, and more, Japan has no shortage of tasty casual dining establishments to satisfy any craving. Yet many a foreign resident has surely at one time found himself longing for something more–the kind of guilty satisfaction that can only result from a visit to our favorite not-quite-Mexican joint, the peerless Taco Bell.

According to recent reports, the American fast food chain will soon be reentering the Japanese market, following up on its previous, disastrous, attempt almost three decades ago. Is this the beginning of a Mexican food renaissance in Japan, or simply the beginning of the end? We asked our foreign writers currently residing in Japan for their opinions, which proved to be mixed, to say the least.

■ American male, 31 
“I don’t really have an opinion either way. It’s not that I dislike Taco Bell. I just never ate there in America. Now if it were Chipotle instead…

■ Australian female, 38
“We don’t have Taco Bell back home, so I’d like to give it a try just once. I guess I want to see how bad it is lol.”

■ American female, 28
“I often ate at Taco Bell when I lived in America. The flavor is so-so, but it beats anywhere else on price. Then again, I can’t say I’m thrilled about the news just yet. That will depend on the menu. I’ll be really disappointed if they don’t have my favorite burritos, tostadas, or nachos.”

■ British male, 32
“I have to admit I’ve never actually eaten at Taco Bell – as far as I know they closed the few branches that were in the UK. Would I try it? Probably not. We cook Mexican food in our house all the time and to be honest I try to stay away from fast food meat if I can.”

■ Canadian male, late 30s
“I’m happy, but also a little worried. Taco Bell is very low-priced in Canada, and they also serve Dr. Pepper. On the other hand, I could go for some Japan-inspired wasabi tacos.”

■ American male, 36
“Mexican food has never really been my strong point, even though I’m from the taco mecca itself, southern California. But I’m happy about the news!

It’s not fine dining by any means, and there are plenty of tastier places. But sometimes you feel like just going all out, and Taco Bell gives you the best bang for your buck. There really aren’t many opportunities to eat Mexican food in Japan, so even if I myself don’t end up going to Taco Bell, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, I guess that’s nice.’

If what my Canadian coworker said about wasabi tacos were to come true, though, I would have to give them a try. Taco Bell doesn’t tend to worry too much about tradition, so I could see it happening.

On a slightly different note, I wonder how Japanese people will refer to Taco Bell when it opens.

You know how people refer to McDonald’s differently depending on if they’re from Kantou or Kansai? In Kantou it’s ‘Makku,’ whereas down in Kansai it’s ‘Makudo.’ The pronunciation of Taco Bell is actually different depending on which coast of the U.S. you’re on: if you go to the west coast, where Taco Bell is all over the place, the trademark bell logo is really visible. That’s perhaps why the pronunciation becomes ‘Taco BELL,’ with the emphasis on the second word. On the other hand, if you go to the east coast, where Mexican food isn’t as widespread, you’ll see less of the bell logo and more pictures of the taco menu itself. As a result, the accent falls on the first word, becoming ‘TACO Bell.’ The more you know, right?

As a west-coast native myself, I tend to prefer the ‘Taco BELL’ pronunciation, but I get the feeling Japan is going to shorten it to ‘Takobe‘ either way…

And here’s what our female writers had to say about the reemergence of the not-quite-Mexican chain:

■ British female, 26
“I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t have a lot of interest in the matter lol.”

■ Singaporean female, 28
“Personally, I don’t really care for Taco Bell. They did business in Singapore for a while but ended up losing out to McDonald’s and KFC, so I feel like they’re not going to last long in Japan unless they make some big changes to the menu.”

■ American female, 34
“I’m so happy I could die. I’m not proud of it, but I love Taco Bell.”

■ American female, 42
“Taco Bell is decent. I guess I’m happy seeing as there aren’t many Mexican restaurants in Japan, or else they’re really overpriced. To be honest, when I was living in San Diego, there were so many good, cheap Mexican restaurants that I never felt the need to go to Taco Bell lol. And there were the famous fish tacos…”

Perhaps with the exception of American female, 34, and English female, 26, none of our writers seemed to fall squarely into either camp. This is perhaps to be expected, considering that a meal at Taco Bell tends to leave one with mixed emotions. “I feel full… but I think I regret this decision.”

Given the lack of affordable Mexican restaurants in Japan, Taco Bell’s advance may be a step in the right direction. Personally, we’d like to see Japan take its own spin on the cuisine. Korean-Mexican fusion bulgogi tacos have proven a big hit in America, so wasabi tacos or even some other variation could certainly grab the world’s attention. As our American female, 28, noted, we’ll have to withhold judgement until we see the menu.

Seniors in Osaka less than thrilled at government offer to review their pension spending habits

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RocketNews 24:

There are certain privileges that come along with adulthood. For example, if I decide I really want to eat a bag of cookies for dinner or stay up until sunrise playing video games, there’s really not a whole lot any other person can do to stop me (even if my body is likely to eventually break down in protest of the unhealthy lifestyle).

Likewise, one you hit the age where you stop getting an allowance from your parents and start earning a legitimate paycheck, you’re generally considered to have earned the freedom to spend your money however you want. And just like you wouldn’t take kindly to someone trying to reinstate a bed time for you, seniors in Osaka aren’t too crazy about a government offer to check up on how they’re spending their government-administered pensions.

It may not be Japan’s biggest city, but there are a couple of things Osaka can claim to be number one in. Aside from its reputation as producing the tastiest takoyaki octopus dumplings and funniest comedians in the country, Osaka also has more seniors receiving a government-administered pension than any other municipality in Japan. As of last November, members of some 117,500 households in Osaka were eligible to receive such funds.

Given such a large pool of recipients, there’s obviously a lot of money being circulated as part of pension payments in Osaka. As such, the government would prefer that seniors use their pensions responsibly, and to that end recently proposed a new wrinkle to the system, in which recipients could opt to receive 30,000 yen (US$252) each month not in cash or as a bank deposit, but in the form of a prepaid debit card.

Planners saw two potential benefits to such a system. First, recipients wouldn’t have to carry so much cash, providing them with extra convenience and more time for things other than running to the bank or ATM. Second, the Osaka government would be legally allowed to access the card administration company’s data and review what the cardholders were buying. This information would then be put to use in providing financial counseling to the cardholders, helping them to make smarter spending decisions.

Deciding to do an evaluative test of the system, case workers in Osaka started spreading the word in early February that the city was looking for volunteers willing to give the card-based system a try. Obviously, not everyone would be instantly on board with the idea, so they set what they felt was an achievable goal of less than two percent of the eligible household, hoping to find 2,000 volunteers.

They got five.

“The number was less than we had expected,” commented a spokesperson for the city, in a display of overwhelming understatement.

Still, the city isn’t ready to scrap the idea just yet. Instead, Osaka has extended the volunteer recruiting period until March 24, and is considering carrying out a six or 12-month trial even if it’s unable to round up 2,000 interested seniors. However, officials have expressed concern over the ability to properly evaluate the system’s effectiveness without significantly increasing the number of users.

In retrospect, it’s not too hard to see why Osaka received such a tepid response. It’s only been within the last 20 years or so that credit cards have become commonly accepted at Japanese retailers, meaning that pensioners have likely had their whole lives to get used to using cash, making them unlikely to see any benefit in eliminating it. There’s also the implied stigma to consider. In the words of Kansai University of International Studies sociology professor Ryu Michinaka, “Accepting the prepaid cards is the equivalent of being labeled as someone who can’t manage his own finances.”

 

 

Black Mont Blanc: The most loved ice cream in Japan you can only buy in Kyushu

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RocketNews 24:

Usually when people talk about “culture shock,” we think of moving to another country–but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. It can be anything from moving from one prefecture to another or even just moving into the city from the country or vice versa.

Of course, you can’t get much more “city” than Tokyo, so, of course, many Japanese people moving here from more rural areas might experience a bit of culture shock. And today we’ll be looking at one such example for one of our Japanese writers who came to the metropolis from Kyushu! Hint: it involves delicious ice cream.

▼We’ve marked Kyushu on the bottom-left and Tokyo on the right.

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Of course, moving from Kyushu to Tokyo isn’t exactly the same as, say, moving to Japan’s capital city from France or Germany, though it certainly does present a host of new things to learn. For Takashi Harada, one of our writers for the Japanese side of RocketNews24, there was naturally a lot to get used to, least not the ocean of people inhabiting the city. But one of the biggest differences for him was the food–to be specific, the lack of a certain ice cream bar.

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Called “Burakku Monburan,” or “Black Mont Blanc,” the ice cream bar (pictured above) is one of the most popular in Kyushu. Unfortunately for homesick Kyushu natives living elsewhere in Japan, the dessert is sold almost exclusively on the mostly-rural island. However, it seems that the ice cream bar is so popular and so common in Kyushu that most who live there never even consider that it’s not really available anywhere else.

In fact, according to our writer, the ice cream is a bit like local “soul food” and everyone from child to adults eat it. So, when Takashi stopped by a local convenience store in Tokyo, he was taken aback to find it wasn’t on any of the shelves. It’s not quite as bad as being allergic to fish in Japan, but it was a bit of a shock to our writers, and we can imagine that it would be enough to ruin your night if you’re really looking for some comfort food after moving halfway across the country!

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It would be like if Garigari-kun suddenly disappeared from all the convenience stores!” he explained. While that might not mean much to you if you’ve never had one of Japan’s most popular popsicles, it would certainly be a shock to most Japanese people.

By now, you’re probably wondering what makes this Black Mont Blanc ice cream bar so special, but it’s apparently just vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate and cookie crumbs. That’s…actually, that sounds really good, even if it is still freezing in Tokyo right now! But it’s not just the ice cream itself–the bar was first produced 45 years ago, and we suspect its long life has been part of cementing its popularity. Kind of like an edible security blanket.

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Now, we mentioned above that it’s almost exclusively sold in Kyushu. Apparently the manufacturer has started branching out a little bit, and you can now find it at limited stores. For example, it’s available at Summit in Tokyo, some 7-Elevens in the Kansai area, and you can buy it online, too.

Around Japan in 22 days…on a bus!

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RocketNews 24:

One of the hardest parts about visiting Japan is deciding where to go, especially if you have only a limited time. Obviously, everyone wants to hit up Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, but that often means missing out on places like Nara and Aomori. If only there were a way you could get on a bus and just let someone take to every prefecture in the country…

Well, if you have about US$5,000 and 22 days, pack your bags, because that’s exactly what Club Tourism is offering this year!

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Exactly 22 days on a bus might sound like hell–and as someone who’s taken Greyhound from LA to Atlanta and from Miami to Colorado, I can say that it most definitely has the potential to be just that–but it looks like Club Tourism might have a way to make this work.

To begin with, the bus looks quite a bit nicer than your average Greyhound bus–or even the regular night buses in Japan. For one thing, the bathroom even has flowers in it!

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For another thing, the package comes with the greatest amenity ever: Hotel rooms! While most folks traveling by bus usually also find themselves sleeping all night on the bus as well, it looks like Club Tourism will be setting everyone up with a clean bed–and laundry service! That makes the price tag, which is between 500,000 and 700,000 yen (between about US$4,300 and $6,020) depending on the plan, seem a lot more reasonable.

But what exactly does the trip entail? Well, for the first tour, the bus leaves from Kyoto on May 9, right after everyone pops over to Jonan Shrine to pray for a safe trip. From there, the bus travels towards the Sea of Japan and heads up to Hokkaido, and then back down towards Osaka. Touring through every prefecture in Japan, the bus will stop at famous sightseeing places with guides offering explanations along the way. Of course, that also means listening to historical explanations about every major sightseeing spot in Japan for 22 days straight, so you may have to seriously consider how much patience you have!

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Of course, there is one prefecture that you can only get to by plane–Okinawa–but after that, it’s back to the Kansai area, where the bus makes its final stop. On the last night, it looks like the tour finishes with a giant party and in the morning all the passengers get a certificate stating that they’ve been to every one of Japan’s prefectures. No word on whether or not they offer massages for sore butts though…

Club Tourism has posted a full itinerary covering every day of the trip, though it looks like the itinerary and tour are both Japanese only. But if you’re studying Japanese, this would certainly be a great way to get a history lesson and some really intense Japanese practice!

If you’re interested in learning more about the tour, be sure to check out Club Tourism’s website. And once you’ve finished seeing all of Japan, maybe you’ll also want to book a seat on their space tour as well!