Experience Japan in Sydney

Experience Japan in Sydney

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Sydney is home to establishments where you can learn about Japanese cultural traditions and language; a Japanese-style hot spring ryokan (inn); as well as shops which stock an eyeboggling selection of Japanese goods. Experience a taste of Japan 8000km away in your own backyard in Australia.

THE JAPAN FOUNDATION, SYDNEY

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Bringing Japan to You

Nestled within the leafy green Central Park building in the creative neighbourhood of Chippendale, lies a welcoming oasis for Japanese language and culture enthusiasts. Here is the home of the Japan Foundation, Sydney – your little piece of Japan in Australia! 

As you walk through the glass doors on the fourth floor you are welcomed by friendly reception and library staff ready to assist. You are encouraged to explore the shelves of over 17,000 novels, manga, textbooks and multimedia, and can stay to relax or study with floor to ceiling views of Chippendale Green stretched down below. The popular Tadoku Reading Nights held at the library are a fun and engaging way to practice your Japan reading skills while surrounded and supported by like-minded people.

Down the hall, classrooms brim with energetic Japanese language teachers and J-Course students (Japanese language classes for adults) from beginner to advanced levels while the gallery offers a contemplative space for members of the public to soak up the latest exhibition of Japan-related works from traditional through to contemporary pieces. 

Whether you have come for an exhibition opening reception; a panel discussion with leading Japanese fashion icons; or to participate in an anime design workshop, you will get an immediate sense of the enthusiasm and pride of the staff and volunteers at the Japan Foundation, Sydney.

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If there was one Japanese-related event to put in your calendar for the year, it would have to be the Japanese Film Festival (web: http://japanesefilmfestival.net) which showcases an immense variety of cinematic delights from 35mm film classics, to newly released critically acclaimed titles. Over the past 20 years the festival has grown  to be one of the largest celebrations of Japanese film  in the world, immersing audiences across Australia in uniquely Japanese settings while offering fresh perspectives on universal themes.

Perhaps you have always dreamed of visiting Japan one day, or just can’t seem to get there enough. Regardless of your situation, the Japan Foundation with its vast resources, events and language courses is pleased to bring Japan here to you in Sydney.

GOJYUAN

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Cypress baths and an authentic Japanese Ryokan in Sydney

Ryokan Gojyuan is an authentic, purely Japanese-style ryokan nestled amongst the rows of houses and cafes in the heart of Sydney’s Balmain. Known not just for providing accommodation, but also a taste of Japanese culture through workshops such as flower arrangement, Japanese calligraphy and more, Ryokan Gojyuan’s greatest attraction is its cypress bath. Owner, Linda Evans, has paid meticulous attention to every detail of Ryokan Gojyuan, but nowhere more than the use of real Japanese cypress. Join us as we go on a quick journey through the history of Japan’s bathing culture, and find out what makes this cypress bath so special.


ABOUT GOJYUAN

Situated on a small peninsula jutting out from Sydney’s bay area is Balmain. There, on a corner of a housing district lined with townhouses from Sydney’s colonial days, stands an authentic, Japanese-style ryokan – Ryokan Gojyuan, opened three years ago after Australian-born owner, Linda Evans, and her husband undertook a complete transformation of their traditional sandstone home.

One question that challenged the couple in their days before opening was that of marketing. Who would want to stay in a purely Japanesestyle ryokan in Sydney? It’s safe to say that question has now been answered, with 80% of guests coming from inside Australia and 20% from overseas, ranging from Australians who have never set foot in Japan to guests from Asia with a rich history of visiting ryokan in Japan. The Ryokan Gojyuan of today is now much loved by a core group of local regulars.

In addition to their initial goal of providing a high level of hospitality that would match that in Japan, their aim was also to recreate the details of Edo period Japan as much as possible, employing the kaizen technique, often used in Japan’s manufacturing industry, to implement ongoing improvements to their service and facilities.

Ryokan Gojyuan offers not just accommodation, but regularly invites Japanese teachers to hold workshops and introduce aspects of Japanese culture, such as: tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Japanese calligraphy, how to fold and tie furoshiki and gifts, origami, Japanese sweets, thread balls, and more.

ABOUT FURO CULTURE

THE FURO OFFERS A WINDOW INTO A TRULY JAPANESE EXPERIENCE THAT OFFERS NOT JUST RELAXATION, BUT A SENSE OF HARMONY AND APPRECIATIONFOR ALL THINGS

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Bathing in furo (traditional baths) is a daily ritual for the Japanese, and an essential tool for washing away the worries of the day. Bathing is also a form of relaxation. The several thousand hot springs across the country and facilities that combine cypress baths, cascading water baths, hot stone baths and more, are wildly popular in Japan. Guests engage in conversation with friends and family as they hop in to take a bath, sometimes having a drink, but always having fun.

As the body is cleansed when it enters the world with its first bath in a tub, so, too, it is after passing on when it is washed before burial. The nobles of the ancient Heian period and onwards would also take baths after moving residence, getting married, after recovering from illness, and to welcome the new year. The significance of bathing, both religious and cultural, is of great importance to the Japanese.

The oldest baths in Japan are the stone baths found dotted around the Seto Inland Sea where natural rock formations created vapour baths. After the arrival of Buddhism in Japan, temples, such as Todai Temple, constructed bathing halls, baths and steam baths, where water was boiled in large iron pots, began to appear. Monks and laypeople alike took baths to cleanse their minds and bodies, sometimes even for medicinal
purposes. Baths later became a commercial trade, and baths where water was poured over heated rocks to create steam grew in popularity. Thebamount of water grew as time passed, and the style changed so that people would enter the lower half of their body into the water while their upper half was exposed to steam, giving way to a type of bath that was enjoyed from the Muromachi period all the way through to the middle of the Edo period by monks, nobles, and warriors alike.

WHY HINOKI?

The house that forms the base of Ryokan Gojyuan is a historical construction with over 150 years of history that was built in 1855. Its construction is a sandstone style common to buildings during the early colonial era. While the sandstone frame and outer walls were left as a legacy of its former past, everything else was transformed into a welcome hall and two guest rooms, with a detached cypress bath and hallway made from mortar and dark timber in a purely Japanese style. A large amount of earth was also moved outside to create a Japanese-style garden complete with a carp pond.

Cypress (hinoki) has the power to refresh and relax. When we go for a walk in the forest and are soothed by our natural surroundings, it is the alpha waves that run through our brains at work. These alpha waves help you to relax, and stabilise the autonomous nerve. The smell of cypress has the ability to dull tempers and
soften strung out nerves. It also promotes good circulation, helps you recover from physical tiredness, warms your body, heals atopy, improves physical abilities, and more.

While traditional Japanese baths themselves are quite expensive to build, Linda understood the importance of cypress to the Japanese and the crucial role it plays in the bathing experience. Yet, while cedar can be found in Australia, cypress cannot, and the most important aspect of cypress is its unique aroma. With a carpenter for a father, Linda knew all too well the importance of using the right timber. High-quality cypress is also
beautiful in appearance and smooth to the touch. Come to Ryokan Gojyuan and try it for yourself.

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TOKYO MART

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For all your Japanese food and sake needs in Sydney

For those who make Japanese food at home, knowing where to buy ingredients is crucial. While stores selling Japanese foodstuffs can be found across Australia, Tokyo Mart in Northbridge Plaza on the north side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a key spot to Japanese expatriates and Australians alike.

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Known for having possibly the greatest range of any Japanese supermarket in Sydney, the sheer variation on offer is a sight for first-time visitors, ranging from high-quality Japanese rice to condiments, sweets, dried goods, fresh food, and a Japanese-operated bakery. With over 20 types of dashi alone, a core ingredient in authentic Japanese cooking, you are sure to find what you need. Their Japanese staff are also on hand to answer questions.

EXPERIENCE THE TASTES OF JAPAN

In addition to its sale of goods, Tokyo Mart periodically holds events where you can try Japanese food and sake. The chance to experience and take home a taste of Japan is a true highlight of Tokyo Mart. Check out the Tokyo Mart Facebook page where information on events isNadvertised approximately one month in advance.

Tokyo Mart also holds monthly 20% discount sales on items of a given category, offering new bargains no matter how many times you visit. Fresh vegetables used in Japanese cooking are also stocked in-store.

Come to Tokyo Mart in Sydney for a Japanese food adventure today!

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Kanazawa

EXPERIENCE THE INTRICACIES OF JAPANESE CULTURE IN A TOWN LINED WITH ANTIQUE SAMURAI HOUSES

Words and Photography: Kazuya Baba

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During the Edo period, under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Kanazawa thrived as a castle town under the exceedingly influential Kaga Domain. It was the most populated city after the three large cities of that era (Edo, Osaka and Kyoto) alongside Nagoya. The streets of Kanazawa still largely maintain their historic feel as they were fortunately spared from any American air strikes during World War II.

Despite the many attractions Kanazawa has to offer, its location on the Sea of Japan side of the country meant that international visitors seldom visited the city since many travellers tended to start their adventures from Tokyo or Osaka, on the opposite side.

However, the situation has changed, with the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen in March 2015, improving access to all the major cities along the Sea of Japan side of the country. With the convenience of the city being located only an hour away from Nagano Station – the entry point to holiday resort destinations popular amongst ski-goers such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Highlands – Australian skiers, and other foreigners alike, have started to flock to Kanazawa for short trips during their extended stays over in Nagano.

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The wonder of Kanazawa can be described in a single sentence; it has all the beauty of historical Japan concentrated into one single place. It is a city with multiple facets of beauty – a samurai town structured around the centrally located castle; a lively town of merchants; and a town of temples to protect the area. Just merely walking through the streets of Kanazawa will give you a sense of how gorgeous the city is.

Alongside Asano River and Saigawa River, which flow through the city, are 3 historical places with well-preserved streets of old known as the Chaya Districts (tea house district). Chaya districts used to refer to red-light districts where geisha and courtesans gathered, however, nowadays it merely notates an area comprising of establishments where geisha experiences can be had. Of the three Chaya Districts, the largest and most glamorous of them all is Higashi Chaya District (East Chaya District). Delicate, lattice-roofed tea houses beautifully line the streets of the district. When night falls, it shows its other enchanting side as the lamps illuminate the streets to bring about a mysterious allure. With an array of stylish cafés and accessory shops scattered around, it can be easy to spend a whole day leisurely shopping and seeing the many sights. Some places also offer geisha experiences aimed at international tourists, which are definitely worth looking into at tourist information centres.

The sight of water flowing freely through the city is another distinctive characteristic of Kanazawa. Water is taken from the upstream flow of Saigawa River and brought down before using the inverted siphon method to funnel it up to the castle. This technology was said to be the highly advanced during its time.

Mud walls and cobblestone streets take you on a trip back in time over at Naga-machi Buke Yashiki District, where middle-class samurai of the Kaga Domain once called home. The district allows you to see how the samurai of the time once lived. A walk down through the samurai town also wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the Tera-machi Temple Area, one of the many temple areas in Kanazawa. As a defensive strategy against farmers rebelling against the ruler of the time, temples were erected in the areas surrounding Saigawa River – giving rise to the birth of Tera-machi Temple Area. In a similar fashion, Utatsuyama Temple Area on the eastern side of Kanazawa Castle, and Kodatsuno Temple Area to the south-east at Kodatsuno were also constructed. Myoryuji Temple, a ninja temple famous for its numerous ninja traps, headlines the list of almost 70 temples in the Tera-machi Temple Area.

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KENROKUEN-EN – ONE OF THE THREE GREAT GARDENS OF JAPAN

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Standing proudly alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Kouraku-en in Okayama, is Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en to make up the Three Great Gardens of Japan. Kenroku-en has rich history as a renowned daimyo tei-en (feudal lord garden) and was constructed throughout many generations of Kaga feudal lords. Located in central Kanazawa, visitors from within and outside of Japan converge on the garden to enjoy the beautiful seasonal scenery.

Kenroku-en is not a “compact style” garden like the ones which are viewable and to be enjoyed from the abbot’s quarters or temples or drawing rooms of castles. Instead, it takes full advantage of the vast area it occupies with a large pond dug into the grounds, tsukiyama (man-made hill), as well as mansions and tea houses dotted around the place. You are able to stroll around to these various attractions in this “go-around-style” garden.

Although the garden was constructed throughout many generations of feudal lords over an extended period of time, the basic vision for the garden stayed consistent all through the years. This was known as the Shinsen Shiso, or the
“Taoist Immortal Vision”. It is the idea to construct a pond to emulate an ocean with an island inside of it to symbolise the immortal island of Taoist belief. The feudal lords were said to have constructed the garden to promote longevity and timelessness.

More details about the origins of Kenroku-en can be found in English on their official website, so it is highly recommended to read up on the history before seeing it in all its glory. The carefully though-out, man-made garden offers a unique sense of charm contrasting with the beauty of Mother Nature’s creations.

HANDS-ON WITH GOLD LEAF AND KIMONO

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The increase of international visitors to Kanazawa in recent times has led to the expansion of various programs for tourists to have cultural experiences relevant to historical Japan. Whilst there are various experiences to be had all over Japan, there are some that are unique to Kanazawa. Noh experiences are one of the more unique ones. The Noh style of Kanazawa was developed from the ceremonial song and dance of the samurai Maeda clan in the Kaga Domain. The style was protected, nurtured and encouraged amongst the masses, leading to the establishment of the Kaga Hosho style. This is why Kanazawa came to be known as, “the town where Noh chants rain from the sky”.

This vast history led to the construction of the Kanazawa Noh Museum to house and display the precious Kaga Hosho Noh masks and costumes. Visitors to the museum can also partake in the actual wearing of a Noh mask during their visit.

Kanazawa is also well renowned for its Kaga Yuzen (Kaga-style dyed textiles) and gold leaf. In fact, almost all of the country’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. Experiences that allow you to don kimono made of dyed fabrics and make your own chopsticks using gold leaf are highly popular. Try out the unique experiences for yourself and take home memories to cherish.
Another spot not to be missed, is the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa.
It is one of the few leading ontemporary art museums in Japan and is located right
next to the Kanazawa Noh Museum, so there really is no reason not to go!

THE RABBIT HOLE OF KANAZAWA FOOD CULTURE

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Last, but certainly not least, is the deep food culture of Kanazawa. Along with the plethora of Kaga grown vegetables (Kaga yasai), Kanazawa is also known for how distinct its food culture is from the rest of Japan. The seafood found around the area is especially worth bringing to the spotlight. The location of the city on the Sea of Japan side of Japan means that it has access to a variety of seafood which cannot be obtained from the Pacific Ocean side of the country, this also leads to a unique foodie experience to be had. Of the unique produce found in Kanazawa, nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) is particularly sought after by Japanese and international tourists alike. It is a white fish with generous fatty deposits, making it utterly delectable.

Nodoguro, along with various other delicious types of seafood, can be found by visiting Omi-cho market in central Kanazawa. Locals visit the market for their grocery needs, however, a large number of tourists also drop by in order to experience life as a local and see all the marine produce on offer. The epicure in you will want to jot down this locale as a spot to check out. You can also taste local produce at one of the many izakaya (Japanese-style pub) located all around the city. Drop by the reception desk of your hotel and ask the concierge for recommendations about which izakaya to visit.

It goes without saying that Nagano provides a great central base to visit Kanazawa, however, now that the city is accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka with a single trip on the shinkansen, why not have a little visit over to Kanazawa on your next stay in one of the major cities of Japan?

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The secret of JAPAN’S RAZOR-EDGED KNIVES

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The secret of JAPAN’S RAZOR-EDGED KNIVES

“A Japanese knife is like the blade of a samurai.” Gaining a reputation for their superb sharpness not just at home in Japan, but also abroad, the secret of their sharpness lies in the near machine-like precision of the craftsmen who make them, and the masterful techniques they apply to their craft.

The roots of Japanese knives can be found in Japanese swords and their same pursuit of high-quality steel in the search for the sharpest possible edge. As swords evolved into the kitchen blades of today, traditional Japanese knives offer traits seldom found in western knives, not just simply cutting ingredients, but also cutting beautifully and leaving the cells of the ingredients intact.

Knives in Japan are made with a painstaking attention to detail, right down to the balance and feel when held. Where it is common in the west to hold down ingredients to cut them, Japanese knives offer the finest cutting experience, allowing you to easily slice through ingredients without applying any pressure.

The knife you use to cut your food also affects the taste. Using a sharp knife keeps the cells of the ingredients intact and leaves a beautiful surface that makes the ingredients shine, and has no negative effect on their taste.

MASTER SKILLS OF THE KNIFE ARTISANS

Hand-crafted knives are unlike those made by machine in that each one is a unique work. The end product is a reflection of the artisan that made it, from their approach to the craft, to their vision and even their individual character. More than anything else, what makes them special are the long years of intuition and experience that go into determining the conditions under which a blade is made, the temperature of the forge, the state of the steel, and more.

Each of the many different types of knives demands different considerations from the artisans that make them. Blacksmith, Mr. Hayao Doi of Sakai Takayuki Edged Tool, which draws on more than 600 years of tradition in the Sakaiuchi style of craftsmanship, says, “When changing the size and the type of the metal (materials) to match the type and size of the knife you are making, there is the right temperature and the right time for each one. It is therefore crucial that the blacksmith is able to trust their instincts to find just the right temperature inside the forge.”

Becoming a fully fledged knife artisan requires training and countless hours of experience. Training involves watching yourmaster closely and attempting to recreate their technique until you get it right. “It’s hard to say at what stage you become a fully fledged knife artisan, but I would say it generally takes around five to ten years to be called a proper craftsman,” says Mr. Doi. “Of course, it takes many more years of training and hard work to become recognised as a truly first-class craftsman after that.”

TREASURABLE BLADES MADE WITH CARE

You need to look no further than one store in Sydney to find knives painstakingly hand-crafted by artisans of the Sakai Takayuki Edged Tools brand. Selling knives and whetstones of the highest quality from Japan, Knives and Stones is the perfect place for those seeking professional wares, offering a wide range of Japanese knives and whetstones for professionals and home cooks alike. These high-quality Japanese knives are well loved by the chefs of popular restaurants in Sydney. Why not make a lifelong companion by making one of these priceless blades your very own?


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