Halloween Has Arrived in Japan

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shopJapan is a land of contrasts in many ways. For example, modern buildings, bright neon lights flashing, and huge colorful-gaudy ads almost side by side with quiet and serenity in temple courtyards, simple raked sand in Zen gardens, and delicate ikebana flower arrangements.

Japanese people are very aware of the seasons and have special foods, events, and decorations to mark the changing seasons. They also love bright and cute ads and decorations, with idealized cartoon characters or animals, so the Halloween concept fits right into this, with its bright orange and typical icons that arrive at the end of autumn, as do the beautiful changing colored leaves.

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rusksWhen we were in Japan in September and October 2010, and again in 2011, we were surprised to see quite a lot of Halloween-type ads and store decorations pop up in late October—all the typical and traditional ones we see in the USA, such as witches, brooms, plastic pumpkins, skeletons, and ghosts. We saw them mostly in big department stores, like Daimaru and Esta, and as a theme and color scheme for boxes of gorgeous chocolates or cookies, or elaborately-decorated cakes. But at that time our friends and the students told us that the holiday as a whole was not popular or common and that in fact most don’t really know the meaning of Halloween.

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However, this year (2017) in October we saw way more evidence of Halloween—in the big stores, in coffee shops, in flower shops, in bakeries, in hotel lobbies, at the airports even. Most are bright and cheerful, some cute, and a few a little incongruous—for example, a model witch with a big blue breast next to a pumpkin with a religious quote written on it!

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checkinThere are much bigger displays of Halloween items with banners, often linked to the autumn colors and the autumn theme. We also saw many real—not plastic—pumpkins, some beautifully carved.

Our Japanese friends tell us that kids don’t do much with Halloween yet, that it’s more for students and young adults who like to dress up and party. For example, in Nagano on October 3ist (actual Halloween day) we saw a young woman in a long party dress posing for photos by lying on the road in between traffic light changes! It was quite cold and she was bare-shouldered.

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kidmenuSo, it seems that Halloween beckons in Japan, and I wonder how long it will be before Japanese kids dress up as princesses and goblins and run around asking for “trick or treat”? Some of the shops at Nagoya Centrair Airport were offering a kind of trick-or-treat, so maybe the seed is sown?!

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Our Most Recent Trip to Japan

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Conference dinner

October-November 2017

We have been to Japan a number of times over the years and have enjoyed each visit tremendously. Over the next (many) months I plan to start documenting all the various trips and adventures, but for now I will focus on our most recent trip, in October-November 2017.

To start with here’s a brief summary of what we did and where we went. There are a lot of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy.

First, we went to Nagoya where Rod attended a JRS meeting (Joint Rumen Symposium—with Japan, Korea and China), held at the Centrair Airport—a surprisingly good venue or a scientific meeting. On one of the conference days, a long-time Japanese friend, Kazu Yoshizaki, who teaches at a university n Nagoya, came to take me out for an afternoon. We visited a few of the temples on the 88-temple trail on the Chita Peninsula.

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Viv at Temple 88

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Viv and Kazu

After the meeting, a good friend Naoki Fukuma (aka Max) guided us around the area north of Nagoya for a few days. We went by train to Takayama, where we visited the Hida Folk Village, stayed at a traditional Japanese Inn, and had great traditional meals.

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Rod and Viv on old street in Takayama

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Max and Rod—dinner in Takayama

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Rod and Max at Hida Folk Village

Max then hired a car to drive us to Kanazawa. On the way we stopped at the mountain town of Shirakawago for a soba lunch and to visit the Gassho Folklore Park.

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Observation point in Shirakawago

The drive from Shirakawago to Kanazawa was truly amazing—along what’s called the White Road. A curving mountain road that swoops and dives along forested hills covered in glorious autumn colors and ribboned with more waterfalls than we’ve ever seen in one place!

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Stunning scenery

Kanazawa has the famous Kenrokuen Garden and the Kanazawa Castle, which we really enjoyed.

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An old fountain in Kenrokuen Garden

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One of the huge castle gates at Kanazawa Castle

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Rod near one defensive wall with Kanazawa Castle in background

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Viv and Yutaka enjoy a glass of Chardonnay at St Coursair Winery

Then Max put us on a shinkansen train to Nagano and he returned to Hokkaido. The next few days in Nagano we were guided by another Japanese scientist, Yutaka Uyeno, who was happy to share the special places around here. The main sight is the Zenkoji Temple, perhaps the most famous in Japan. He also took us to lunch at St. Coursair Winery, which had a surprisingly good Chardonnay. This was followed by a walk up to Naena waterfall, also in hills decked in autumn colors.

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Rod and Yutaka at Zenkoji Temple

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At Zenkoji Temple

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Naena Falls and autumn colors

Yutaka very kindly drove us back to the airport in Nagoya to catch the plane to Hokkaido, where Max met us again.

We spent the next few days in Obihiro with Max, and visited his university there and met his lab.

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Max’s office at Obihiro University

He drove us around the surrounding countryside, in the area called Tokachi, the bread basket of Japan. It was fun to see all the different types of crops being harvested, noticeably sugar beets and burdock. One day we could also visit the Sugar Beet Museum in Obihiro.

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Harvesting sugar beets in Tokachi

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A huge mound of sugar beets

Max also took us to Lake Shikaribetsu, formed long ago by volcanic activity, and to a Hokkaido winery called Tokachi Wine Castle.

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Lake Shikaribetsu

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Max’s car—he’s just bought hot coffee in tins from a vending machine

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Tokachi Wine Castle

A new and different event for us was to attend one of the special horse-racing events there, called Banei Horse Racing. Every meal, every day there was a wonderful feast.

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At the Race Track in Obihiro

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A special place for soba noodles in Tokachi

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Genghis Khan lunch in Tokachi

Lastly we caught a train from Obihiro to Sapporo for the last few days. One day another good friend, Satoshi Koike, and his wife took us to Lake Shikotsu and the Chitose Aquarium, where we learned a lot about salmon. Dinner was at a Yakiniku (roasted meats) restaurant, a first for us.

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Satoshi and Chikako at Shikotsu Lake

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Rod with bear at Shikotsu Lake Visitor Center

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Chitose Aquarium

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The lab party begins

On the final day Rod and I gave a presentation to the students in the lab of Satoshi and Dr. Kobayashi, followed by a great lab party.

Then the long trek home! Thanks to all for a wonderful time.

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Lab members at the party