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!

View image on Twitter

 

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!

View image on Twitter

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.

Pot-sticker paradise, hot-spring hotel just outside of Tokyo makes for a tasty retreat

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RocketNews 24:

Ask a Japanese person to give some examples of Chinese food, and they’ll likely reply with things like chaahan (fried rice) and the quintessential gyoza (pot-stickers). With their crispy fried outsides and juicy, flavorful insides, you can’t go wrong with gyoza, and many would say that Chinese food chain GYOZANOMANSYU (餃子の満州), based in the Kanto region of Japan, is the leader of them all.

Those wishing to take the gyoza experience a bit further can visit the hot-spring hotel Toumeikan in Gunma Prefecture, managed by GYOZANOMANSYU, and for a mere 5,900 yen per night (roughly US$59) you can stay in one of their cozy Japanese-style rooms, take a relaxing soak in the onsen hot springs, and get your fill at their breakfast buffet. Located deep in the mountains of Gunma, yet within a two- to three-hour drive from Tokyo, makes this a great place for a weekend getaway. Albeit one involving lots of garlic and chives.

Being located in the mountains means the area gets a bit of snow in the winter, so a word of caution to those making the trip by car – you may need to bring chains. If you’re not confident enough driving in the snow, it might be best to opt for public transportation instead, or to wait for spring.

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After the long drive, what better way to unwind than by taking a soak in the onsen? The water is beautifully clean and the temperature just right for relaxing, and you can move freely between the indoor tubs and the outdoor bath (called rotenburo). You’ll want to make sure to wash yourself down first before hopping in, though, as is custom before entering the baths in Japanese onsen.

You’ll probably be hungry once you’ve finished your soak, so it’s GYOZANOMASYU to the rescue with some piping-hot gyoza to fill your belly and a cold beer to cool you off. Of course, you’re not just limited to dumplings – there are other Chinese dishes aplenty to satiate your cravings, and you can eat and drink your fill for around 1,500 yen ($12.50).

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The breakfast buffet, which is included in the cost of your stay, includes various Chinese-style side dishes, a salad bar, rice, soup, and more.

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If you’re looking to get away for the weekend, relax, and eat some great food without breaking the bank, Toumeikan may be just the spot.

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A delicious way to celebrate the Year of the Sheep — cute sheep bread!

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RocketNews 24:

As we follow the Chinese zodiac here in Japan, we too are celebrating the Year of the Sheep this year. Not surprisingly, that means we’ve seen an abundance of sheep-themed products for the New Year, including some in edible form. Famous bakery chain DONQ is just one of the many companies that offered such sheep-related food items, and their selection of sheep breads was so cute, we simply had to share them with you. Just take a look at the pictures, and we think they’ll get you in the mood to start off the Year of the Sheep in good cheer!

Headquartered in the city of Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, DONQ has been in business for nearly 110 years, with over 120 stores across Japan. Befitting a chain spread across the country, they sold a variety of sheep-shaped breads in different areas of Japan over the New Year’s holiday, and while they’ve now finished selling these breads, the different creative designs certainly make for entertaining viewing. So, here are pictures of the baked sheep goodies from DONQ according to the area where they were sold:

●Hokkaido Area: “Fluffy Lamb Bread” and  “Happy Red and White Sheep Bread Set
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The set of two sheep breads in the center, done in the traditionally lucky colors of red and white, contained strawberry cream cheese and custard cream respectively, and was priced at 389 yen (US$3.25). The slightly smaller white “lamb” breads surrounding the red and white sheep contained custard cream and sold for 260 yen ($2.16)

●Kanto Area: “Chinese Zodiac (Eto) Bread Sheep
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These fellas, who look like they’re sleeping blissfully, were melon breads filled with custard cream and cost 281 yen ($2.35) each.

●Tokai Area:  “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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These cute sheep-year breads with googly eyes were made from melon bread and priced at 238 yen ($1.99).

●Kyoto/Hokuriku Area: “Fluffy Sheep
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These soft-looking sheep breads were filled with chocolate cream inside and sold for 303  yen ($2.53).

●Kobe Area: “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)” and “Osechi Cuisine Bread
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In the front here we have smiling sheep breads that were filled with chocolate cream, priced at 238 yen ($1.99). The set of New Year’s osechi cuisine-themed breads in the back cost 562 yen ($4.70) and included snapper-shaped bread containing custard cream, melon bread in the shape of a traditional hagoita wooden paddle, crispy prawn crackers and bread filled with chestnut and sweet potato paste.

●Chugoku/Shikoku Area: “Mr./Ms. Sheep 
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These sheep shaped creations contained custard cream and sold for 281 yen ($2.35). The chocolate legs look precious!

●Kyushu Area: “Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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These adorable round sheep with a white cookie-like surface were priced at 281 yen ($2.35).

There were also two beautiful sheep breads from Johan, another bakery chain belonging to the DONQ group:

● (Johan) Kanto Area: “The Dream Pursuing Sheep 2015
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This artistic bread was made from a cocoa flavored base bread filled with raspberry jam and chocolate cream and was priced at 260 yen ($2.18).

●(Johan) Nagoya Area: Chinese Zodiac Bread (Sheep)
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And the last of the sheep breads from the DONQ group this year is this soft-looking creation filled with custard cream, which sold for 260 yen ($2.18).

So what did you think of all the darling little sheep in baked and edible form? They look absolutely sweet, and judging from the descriptions with all those custard and chocolate creams, we’re sure they tasted plenty sweet too. The time for New Year’s bread may be over for this year, but we’ll certainly be looking forward to lovely zodiac breads from DONQ again next year, when it will be the Year of the Monkey. Until then, we wish you a splendid Year of the Sheep!