Experience Japan in Sydney

Experience Japan in Sydney


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.




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.


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.




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.


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.


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!





In Japan, Irezumi (tattoos) are strongly associated with the Yakuza. However, outside of Japan, they are highly regarded as pieces of fine art in photo exhibitions for example. How has the tattoo developed in this way and what has caused this negative image? Furthermore, what does the future hold for tattoos?

Photography: Naoto Ijichi


What are the main differences between Western tattoos and Japanese tattoos? In contrast with Western tattoos, where one symbol or image acts as the main focal point, Japanese tattoos can cover the back, the entire arm and sometimes even the whole body. The style of covering the whole body is deeply intertwined with Ukiyo-e, the traditional art which Japan proudly introduced to the world.

In the Edo period in the middle of the 19th century, Ukiyo-e painter Kuniyoshi Utagawa released a series of Ukiyo-e prints based on the themes in the Chinese novel, “Water Margin”, which became popular in Tokyo.

As this tale was already well-liked, Kuniyoshi Utagawa’s dynamic method of creating these prints was enthusiastically accepted by the people of Edo just like a famous contemporary movie would be today. Many of the characters in these Ukiyo-e prints had tattoos and one of the most popular characters featured a tattoo of 9 dragons on their back. People who loved the “Water Margin” ukiyo-e prints and other works by Kuniyoshi then used these characters and paintings as a base when getting their own tattoos drawn.

It should also be noted that it wasn’t the Yakuza who originally liked tattoos, it wasthe regular citizens of Edo, such as firefighters and couriers who would remove their clothes during the course of their work. Due to this, Irezumi and Ukiyo-e flourished as part of the day to day culture and life of Edo’s town folk.

However, it was not Japan that first sawn Irezumi as a work of art but the West. In fact, amongst the foreigners who came to Japan at the end of the Edo period or after the Meiji restoration, there were a number of royal officials who were attracted by the beauty of Irezumi and got them drawn as a memory of their visit, as well as Britons who studied the art and then became famous tattooists upon their return home. Like ukiyo-e, the tattoos were seen in the eyes of foreigners as an exotic part of Japan’s beauty.



How did something which was a mainstay of the people of Edo’s culture become seen as a symbol of the Yakuza and taboo in Japan?

One of the reasons was that the Meiji government put a ban on the art. After the country opened up by way of the Meiji Restoration, the government of the day wanted Japan to be a civilised country in line with European countries and the United States. Some foreigners regarded irezumi as barbaric so legal restrictions were imposed on tattoo engravers and their customers. That regulation continued for more than 60 years until Japan was defeated in World War II and the newly enacted Japanese Constitution came into existence.

On the other hand, there were still people who wanted tattoos despite the regulations in place. As a result of this, tattoo engravers secretly
continued working and, from that underground setting, the image of tattoos being thought of as “illegal” and “anti-establishment” was born.

Then in the 1960’s, a large number of Yakuza movies started to be produced and this gave real impetus to further develop the idea of “Yakuza = irezumi” as an overt image. In fact, in the 30 years which spanned from 1963 to 1993 there were 1,057 Yakuza movies produced in Japan and the majority of the main characters had tattoos. It was not only the movies, but also their publicity posters which featured the inseparable images of Yakuza and tattoos and it’s thought this also left a very strong impression in the minds of everyday folk. Illegality was another reason why tattoos remained hidden. Even after they became legal, the media continued through movies to portray them in a sinister way and this may have contributed a lot to the notion of “irezumi = Yakuza”’ which still exists in Japan today.


Following that, from the 1990’s until present day the styles and shapes of western tattoos began to permeate Tokyo and these tattoos became a part of youth culture. Yet in public bathhouses and in new places like beaches and pools, widespread pressure to enforce regulations and forbid tattoos continues to build.

The existence of the Yakuza has also become threatened due to the influence of the Anti-Organized Crime law and the custom of paying a high amount of money for new tattoos is decreasing rapidly.

Even if we start to break from the status quo, the image of irezumi being associated with the Yakuza and evil remains firmly rooted in people’s consciousness. Conversely, the concept of irezumi being acknowledged as art is gaining strength in many developed nations outside of Japan. In the United States, for example, there are travelling roadshows which showcase this while in Australia, there are exhibitions which focus on the art of tattoo photography. Even though the art was born in Japan, the perspective of recognising it as something associated with wrongdoers instead of considering the artistic value is unique to the country.

In 2020, the Olympics will be held in Japan. As one can imagine, there will be a lot of athletes with tattoos coming to Japan as well as tourists visiting from foreign countries. The Japanese government is trying to welcome these people, but at present in public bathhouses for example, measures requiring all tattoos to be covered by a patch still remain in place.

Despite the differences of opinion regarding the appreciation of tattoos as art between Japan and other countries, will the view of them as a “Yakuza symbol” one day diminish and will they ever be accepted as a form of art in Japan?


Kian Forreal, Tattoo Artist

Interview: Taro Moriya



Starting out as a tattoo artist in his home country ofCanada, Kian’s passion for Japanese culture steadily drew him into the world of Japanese tattoos until, after many long years of practice, he was awarded an honorary name as a traditional Japanese tattoo artist. Kian now runs a tattoo shop in Sydney where he passes on the ancient art of wabori right here in Australia.

The location is Surry Hills, one of Sydney’s inner-city neighbourhoods lined with traditional, Victorian-style houses. Here, in the room of a large multi-tenant building can be found Kian’s tattoo shop – Authentink Studio. As you open the door, you are ushered into a world of its own where a row of workstations set up like simple beds host nine to ten artists working quietly to create colourful art on the backs, arms, and You will find no seedy atmosphere in this studio with its high ceiling and clean facilities. Rather, it looks almost like a high-end massage parlour at first glance, but the photographs of tough-looking Japanese men baring all with their full body tattoos tells of Kian’s roots.

“It all started with punk rock.”

Kian spent his impressionable teen years growing up in Toronto, Canada in the early 1980s. Like many teenagers of the time, Kian was baptised in the aggressive, monotone sounds of punk rock with its anti-establishment lyrics. The mohawks, the ripped slim jeans and worn leather jackets all led to an interest in tattoos as an aspect of punk fashion.

The path to becoming a tattoo artist was a natural one. While beginning in the western style, Kian’s passion for Japanese culture steadily drew him towards the traditional Japanese wabori style of tattoos. “Japan was a land of great mystery to me at the time. I travelled to Japan and bought all these thick, heavy books on wabori, and just studied as hard as I could.Resources like the Internet weren’t around back then, so it was hard to find information, but I think this only served to deepen my curiosity.”

After training and homing his skills in Canada, Kian moved to Europe where he set up base in Spain and started working as a tattoo artist while travelling the world. Kian first travelled to Japan in the 90s, coming back once every few months thereafter to learn more about wabori while building relationships with Japanese tattoo artists.

It was in 2013 that Kian was awarded the honoraryntattoo name “Horisumi” in recognition of his 20 years experience as a tattoo artist at the time. It is an extremely rare honour for non-Japanese to be awarded with such a title.

But what is it about wabori that attracts Kian the most? “The traditions of Japan in nature, legends, and the four seasons can all be found condensed in full bodysuits.”

Kian is now based in Sydney where he has been running a tattoo shop for four years. Paying the utmost care to the details of traditional Japanese art and techniques, Kian uses only tools and supplies such as needles, ink, and pigments that are all of the highest quality from Japan.

For self-professed craftsman Kian, there is no end goal in sight.

“I want to keep going on to create more and more full bodysuits, gain even more experience, and keep getting better right up until the day I die.”




All eyes on this café in Harajuku – the birthplace of “kawaii culture”

Photography: Kazuya Baba

Omotesando in Shibuya is one of the most wellrenowned shopping streets in all of Japan, famous for being the home of Omotesando Hills – a large shopping complex filled with a plethora of brands from all over the world, including the Australian brands “Ugg” and “Helen Kaminski”. While it is also known for its up-and-coming boutique stores, notable salons as well as its appeal from people of high society to trend-conscious youth of today, it also crosses through Harajuku – the birthplace of kawaii (cute) culture. Harajuku is where the trendy café, “Workingholiday Connection”, who borrows its name from a popular way holidaymakers make their way to the shores of Australia, has set up base.



The first thing which must be ordered at this café is the coffee. The coffee beans procured to brew this coffee are roasted by Japanese barista, Shoji Sasa, who was awarded as the Best Barista in the 2012 Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide Awards and later went on to become a Barista Association judge. The coffee beans are handpicked from different countries depending on the season and the strict brewing methods adhered to at the café to maximise both the flavour and characteristic notes of the coffee, making for a truly Australian cup of coffee. Drop by this café if you’re hankering for a little taste of home in Japan.


The signature menu item at Workingholiday Connection is the pancakes. The “ORIGINAL MANLY PANCAKE” is a fluffy, creamy creation made using ricotta cheese imported from Australia. The Japanese chef who came up with this tasty treat upon returning home was trained in Japanese-style cuisine in Japan before jetting off to Australia on a working holiday and becoming the head chef at the famous pancake café – Bills, in Sydney. Free-range eggs are generously mixed into these pancakes to add a hint of egginess akin to French toast. The berry bombastic “VERY VERY BERRY PANCAKES” are also a popular choice amongst restaurant-goers.


As the name of the café suggests, it is run by the Japanese Association for Working Holiday Makers and all members of staff have working holiday experience. Staff members are either Japanese people who have returned from overseas experiences in Australia and other various countries, or foreigners who have come to Japan on a working holiday. There are virtually no language barriers at the café thanks to this diverse makeup of staff. The café itself aims to help people realise how going overseas to study abroad or go a working holiday can help to broaden one’s horizons, which is the main purpose for employing youthful staff members with experience from all over the globe. It’s a great place for people to gather first-hand insights about working holidays. For people out there looking for one of the best trendy café experiences in the country, drop by Workingholiday Connection the next time you’re in Tokyo.

An Aussieinspired café. Come and relax for a while!
Yuichi Hirota, Manager




Level 2 YM Square
4-31-10 Jingumae
Shibuya, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6434-0359
Sun – Thurs:
11am – 8pm (last orders at 7pm)
Fri –Sat:
11am – 9pm (last orders at 8pm)