The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW

The Battle of Kawanakajima in Yonezawa City– or How I Spent my GW
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.
The battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen on the left and Kenshin on the right. Woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Japan is a country rich with a storied history. One of the most famous periods of Japanese history is the Sengoku period (戦国時代) or the Warring States Period. The Sengoku Period lasted from 1467 until 1603, when Japan’s political powers were unified under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

This is a period of Japan’s history that paints romantic pictures of noble samurai lords, fighting under the code of bushido, trying to unify and bring about a better Japan. The demon king Oda Nobunaga, the one-eyed dragon Date Masamune, god of war Uesugi Kenshin… this era has only been further romanticised thanks to the wildly popular game and anime series ‘Sengoku Basara’. Looking beyond the lore and the colourful modern adaptations, the Sengoku period produced one of the most famous rivalries in Japanese history—that of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin.

Takeda Shingen hailed from the Kai province (modern day Yamanashi prefecture) and called ‘The Tiger of Kai’ due to his military prowess. Shingen’s demon-faced and furred helmet is an enduring piece of Sengoku imagery. Uesugi Kenshin came from the Echigo province (modern day Niigata prefecture) and was as famous for his administrative skills as he was for his honour and military expertise.

Shingen and Kenshin’s most famous battle was the Battle of Kawanakajima, fought along the Kawanakijima plains, located in what is now Nagano prefecture. However, the battle of Kawanakajima is actually five different battles fought in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564. The most famous of the battles (which is often used as the climax for many Japanese samurai films and games) was fought in September 1961. It is this battle that is reenacted every spring in Yonezawa City in Yamagata prefecture as part of their Uesugi Kenshin Festival. It was this reenactment that I was lucky enough to participate in.

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The Sapporo Snow Festival 2014: Retrospective

The Sapporo Snow Festival 2014: Retrospective

The Sapporo Snow Festival
By Renata Janney

snow1The yearly trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival in February is the biggest trip organised by FuJET. Each year JETs head for the coldest prefecture in Japan for snow sculptures, skiing and various other activities. If you haven’t gone on this trip, it is highly recommended – maybe next year?
snow2About 29 ALTs, my husband and I included, participated in the FuJET trip to Sapporo’s Snow festival in mid-February. We went to Hokkaido together by ferry, which, for land lubbers like me, was a new experience! After I got used to the rocking and the endless black night outside our windows, I had a good time! Both our ferries to and from Hokkaido had restaurants, onsen, TVs, and one even had a karaoke lounge! It might have taken a long time, but it was nice to travel in style.

Once we arrived in Sapporo and settled into our hotel, we had our only combined activity in Sapporo – an all-you-can-eat meal at the Sapporo Beer Hall! Though I wasn’t interested in the beer, I got to try out Genghis Khan – lamb and vegetables cooked on your table. After the dinner, however, everyone could do what they want. A lot of people took advantage of the ski slopes near the city, or visited the chocolate factory in Sapporo. Our hotel was only a few blocks from the main site of the Snow Festival, so Tyson and I visited the sculptures throughout our weekend. There were some huge sculptures of palaces, but I really loved the smaller snow sculptures of everything from hinaningyou (traditional Japanese dolls) to Totoro! We were also really close to the Maruyama Zoo! I loved seeing some of the Hokkaido wildlife there, as well as some cute polar bears and the tropical bird exhibit.

Tyson and I also went to the town of Otaru, a port city about one hour from Sapporo. While it was a lot busier than I thought it would be, I loved seeing the lanterns they had strung out over the canals. Tyson and I also had a fun time getting lost and we ate at a kaisendon (sashimi over rice) restaurant off the beaten path.

In case you couldn’t tell, one of the best parts of this trip for me was the food! Hokkaido is famous for its ramen, and Tyson and I had the opportunity to eat in Ramen Alley, a small street with 17 ramen shops. The area is also famous for its crab, and I got to try a lot of crab dishes – one of my favorites was crab miso soup!

snow3To sum up, Tyson and I had a great time in Sapporo! The town has a very different vibe from other Japanese cities, since the area was only settled in the 19th century. I was worried about the cold and the snow, but as long as I bundled up I stayed warm! If you have the chance to visit the festival, I recommend that you take it!

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 11- Ramen Alley

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 11- Ramen Alley
Japan is big on there “Top 3s” and “Best” places. Ask anyone where to find the best ramen and you’ll undoubtedly be told that you need to go to Sapporo. There you will find ramen alley, a narrow little passage in the Susukino district with 17 different ramen shops lining either side of the alley. 

ramen_alley2So you’ve decided you want to try some ramen at the eponymous ramen alley. What are the different shops and what are they known for? What are their hours? How can I eat all of the ramen to be had?! Check out the map below and the following descriptions to get a quick overview as to what the stores have to offer. (Vegetarians, please note that all of the shops use pork and/or chicken bones in the production of their broths.) Check out the official Ramen Alley website, too!

ramen_alley_map

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FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 10- Food

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 10- Food
うまいッ! おいしい !
If you have turned on the TV even once during your time in Japan, you’ve heard these phrases uttered by Japanese TV personalities as they dine upon some local delicacy or another. Japan loves their food and Japanese people especially love to brag about what their prefecture is famous for. Going to Hokkaido, one of Japan’s most geographically distinct locations, what is there to eat? Hokkaido is big and has quite a low population density. As such, it has an unparalleled agriculture culture. Hokkaido produces more wheat than any other prefecture and produces 50% of all of Japan’s milk. So, with all this milk and veggies– what is Hokkaido famous for?

Seafood

Kaisendon-- Fresh seafood bowl
Kaisendon– Fresh seafood bowl

Yeah, we’ve got milk and veggies but Hokkaido also happens to be a giant island with lots of fresh seafood to be found. Hokkaido is particularly famous for uni (sea urchin), ika (squid), ikura (salmon roe), hotate (scallops), and of course– kani (crab). Much of Hokkaido’s seafood can be best enjoyed in don(a bowl)– with the fresh seafood served on a bowl of rice. Such famous bowls include uni-ikuradon (sea urchin-salmon roe bowl), nama-uni donburi (raw sea urchin bowl), and kaisendon (seafood bowl). You can sample all of these bowls at Sapporo’s Nijo Market, where you can customise your seafood bowl– and eat it too. Nijo Market is open from 7.00 to 18.00 for the shops and 6.00 to 21.00 for the restaurants. Also, let’s not forget about the kaki(oyster)! Oysters are in season this time of year and you’ll be able to find plenty of fresh oyster restaurants and stalls. Even though we are staying in Sapporo and there will an over-abundance of seafood available, try and hold off for your kani and kaisendon until you are in Otaru, which is held in far higher regard by foodies for its quality of seafood. Read more

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 9- Skiing&Snowboarding

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 9- Skiing&Snowboarding
Snow, snow, and more snow? What else is there to do with it besides make snowmen? Well, some folks long long ago decided to strap their feet to pieces of wood and slide down it. And so, we have skiing and snowboard. With its over-abundance of snow, there are several ski resorts to meet your snow-sliding needs. Today, we will be looking at the two main ski resorts with Sapporo as a base point– Teine Ski Resort and Niseko Ski resort.

Ski & Snowboard Resort, Sapporo Teine

The closer of our two ski resort is Mt. Teine. Teine is renowned for being one of the venues of the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. From Sapporo station, it takes 10 minutes to reach Teine station via express train or 15 minutes via local trains. Once at Teine station, you can bus or taxi to the ski resort. With a maximum incline of 38 degrees and a high point of 1,023m, Teine has a variety of slopes that will suit everyone from very beginners to slalom experts. The slopes break down to 35% beginner runs, 40% intermediate, and 25% expert. (On a side note for beginners out there, slopes are classified by colour in Japan. Green means a beginner run, red is intermediate, and black is expert.) Teine is broken up into two zones, the Olympia and the Highland zones.

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