Category Archives: Japanese culture

Yoshino Ramen Chronicles: Yottenka

To be honest, ramen isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when most people think about traditional or authentic Japanese food. Even if its origins are from China, the current version of ramen in Japan is something that has evolved over time to reflect the tastes and customs of the people eating it and making it. Or at least, that’s how it feels when I visit Yottenka in Yoshino Town. It’s a small, stand-alone wooden shop, attached to old truck beds, and with a wooden water wheel in front. Inside is the kind of warm atmosphere that is difficult for visitors to Japan to discover on their own. Shelves of comic books, a box of local fruit, a counter facing the kitchen, and a well-worn center table. In addition to standard flavors like miso, soy sauce, and salt ramen, they have a special sesame ramen, a spicy beansprout ramen, and even chilled ramen for hot summer days.When I went there for lunch the other day, I ordered the miso ramen and gyoza set. The noodles seemed to absorb the flavorful miso soup, as did the slice of pork, which slowly softened as I saved it for last. The gyoza came out hot and fresh, smelling of garlic as I dipped each bite into the spicy red oil. I said “gochisosama” to kind old man and exited the shop with a full stomach.

In the parking lot, a flock of chickens wandered from one end to the other, sometimes seemingly a bit lost, and other times letting out a cock-a-doodle-do. Places like this shop are why I enjoy living in the countryside. 

Vegan Cooking in Southern Nara

The city of Uda covers a vast amount of space in southern Nara prefecture, and includes mountains, rice fields, and many other crops. In the heart of its Oh-Uda area is a large souvenir shop, an onsen hot spring bath, and a traditional townscape. There are some unique restaurants and cafes in this townscape, and I had the pleasure of visiting one just the other day. Kyujitsu-Daiya, or “holiday schedule”, is a vegan cafe and restaurant located in that townscape. In addition to not using any animal products, they make the effort to use organic vegetables, and even organic coffee. It is a warm and cozy environment located in a traditional Japanese house, with a number of quiet, unique spots for guests to sit and eat. I sat in a floor seat facing the win dow of a small garden, and after I’d read a few pages in my book, the owner brought out my lunch and explained each item. It included a hamburger patty made from garbanzo beans and lotus root, a sweet potato salad made from apples, tofu okara, and soy milk mayonnaise, a bowl of brown rice, and soup made from homemade miso. It’s the kind of meal that makes you want to take your time and enjoy every bite. After my lunch, I had a hot cup of hot organic coffee while I sat by the window and continued reading. In a more touristy location, I might not have been able to take my time and enjoy such a quiet place. Homemade miso, local vegetables, I felt like I had a nice chance to appreciate the beauty the countryside has to offer, especially in southern Nara.

Here is Kyujitsu-Day’s instagram account. I recommend pairing a visit to Kyujitsu-Daiya with some other sightseeing in the area. Uda City has lots of beautiful landscapes and historic sites. One is Murou-ji Temple, which is famous for its huge pagoda. In the past, we have offered some programs at Murou-ji Temple that allow you to experience some rarely seen sides of this historic site, so please keep an eye out for more!

Warming Up at Hasedera Temple

Many famous shrines and temples in Japan have an “omotesando” street, a street with many traditional foods, souvenirs, snacks, etc. that leads everyone up to the entrance. Hasedera Temple in Sakurai City, Nara is no different. After my first visit to the temple yesterday, I strolled down this street and enjoyed the sights, smells, and sounds of all of the local specialties unique to southern Nara. As the short season of colorful leaves comes to an end, the days become a little cloudier and colder. Thankfully, there were a few local dishes that helped keep me warm.

Somen noodles originate from an area called Miwa in Sakurai City, so Miwa Somen is a popular choice for people who visit this region. Though ramen, udon, and soba are well-known abroad, somen noodles are very popular in Japan. They are thin, light, and versatile, as they can be served chilled as a cool summer meal, or in a warm broth with other ingredients in the cold winter days.

I also found a quick, warm snack in kusa-mochi, or “grass mochi”. It is made by mixing mochi with wormwood leaves, giving it a crisp flavor and soft, green color. They are filled with purple anko bean paste, which is common in other traditional Japanese sweets as well. Though you can packages of kusa-mochi in some grocery stores or souvenir shops, my favorite way to eat them is hot off the grill.

The owner of the shop spoke with me while cooked up a few pieces for me. These small treats may not make it into a Michelin guide or travel documentary, but for me, this is what the Japan experience is all about.

Sitting on a bench outside the shop, eating kusa-mochi, and drinking bancha tea, I felt like I caught a glimpse into how locals appreciate daily life.

On this same street is also a gallery called Hase-kura, or “Hase Storehouse”. In addition to displaying many original creations, this gallery also offers a program for visitors to design their own hand-made lantern. Visitors can take their time cutting their own traditional words or designs for the lanterns, and can easily take it home with them as their very own personal gift. If you are interested in giving it a try on your next visit to Hasedera Temple, please check out the page below for more program information (sorry, we currently only have information in Japanese).

No. 452 Hand-made Lantern Experience near Hasedera Temple

Eating, Listening, and Coming Together in Shimoichi

Fields of persimmon trees. Farms. Big, slow clouds, and some nice wind. That was what I expected on my first visit to Shimoichi Town last weekend, and well, that was what we had. My only prior knowledge of this peaceful, mountain town was what I had translated for the Anpo Persimmon making experience. We will have the English version up soon, but for now, here is the Japanese page. On the drive up the windy roads, I finally saw Guesthouse Apricot!

My destination in Shimoichi Town was “Yoshino Hirohashi Smile Village”, a former school, now turned into a wonderful place to hold local events.  This time, the event was the Manabiya Music Festival 2019, with musical guest Nao Kodama.

Prior to the main event, many of us were nourished by the local vendors outside the building, serving up a perfected shrimp ajillo, fried chicken, konyaku, and local specialties like persimmon leaf sushi, chagayu rice porridge, and kusamochi.  As you can see in the photo above, I never pass up a chance to have some chagayu rice porridge. All in all, there must have been close to 100 people there, with many children participating in toy-making workshops before the concert.

Nao Kodama’s musical performance was superb. She soothed when she was soft, and she rocked when she rocked! Sun spilled in through the old school windows, and the smooth, sliding lap steel guitar must have beckoned neighborhood cats to come watch from outside. Sitting alone on the stage, she was a fresh, new presence in a school some might have considered forgotten. For me, the beauty of this event was how it found a new use (music) for a former school, and through this, introduced local food and culture to the many visitors who came that day. In addition to helping preserve the culture, it brought people together in an area with fewer and fewer residents. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of it.

If you’re interested in visiting Guesthouse Apricot, which is very close to this school, please feel free participate in one of their events, or contact them as well!

Making Anpo Persimmons and Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Picking Persimmons and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Staying in the Mountains of Shimoichi and Making Persimmon Leaf Sushi

Hot Water, Tea, and Bamboo

The warm evenings of summer are in the past, and as the sun sets earlier and earlier, nights get cooler and cooler, I find myself searching for more and more ways of warming in nights and mornings.

I put the water on to boil and choose a clay bowl. I scoop out some green matcha tea with a bamboo chashaku, and spread just a little bit at the bottom of the bowl. Add the hot water, and it’s time for the chasen, a small, bamboo tea whisk that I quickly swish in tiny circles inside the bowl. The matcha tea mixes in the hot water, forming a thin layer of froth on the surface. I set the tea whisk aside and enjoy my bowl of green warmth.

There are many tools involved in Japanese tea ceremony, and those were just a few. However, among them, the chasen tea whisk is often considered to be a symbol of tea ceremony. The tea whisk is instantly recognizable, with its bamboo handle and fine teeth, fanning out in precise, straight lines, and then beautifully bending back to the inside. It is masterful work that looks simple. It is the art of design at its best. All from just one piece of bamboo.

Going back hundreds of years, Nara has produced many of Japan’s (and the world’s) chasen tea whisks. We have a program that actually allows you to make your own tea whisk with a master craftsman. As nights get colder and winter feels longer, wouldn’t you like to have your own tea whisk to make yourself a warm bowl of matcha tea?

Making a Bamboo Tea Whisk Experience

Surrounded by nature and historical monuments – on-location photo shooting in Nara.

Day by day, I find more and more signs that spring is on its way.

How are you doing?

Today, I’d like to introduce a new program that makes you long for spring.

The new program is an on-location photo shooting experience, which will add a new way of enjoying Nara Park and its surrounding area.

Change your clothes into outfits such as Japanese bridal garments or Western-style wedding dresses for women and formal kimono with Haori topcoat and Hakama pants or tuxedos for men. Then, let’s go to the best seasonal spots for photo shooting!

A couple of women or men, or even a single person are all welcome!

Traveling the spots by car and photo shooting with a professional camera operator and a make-up artist will be an exquisite experience.

Various kinds of outfits are available for you. So, just bring yourselves to experience this full-fledged photo shooting.

Below are a few of the locations for this photo shooting.


Ukimi-do is a very popular spot for shooting.

The photos always reflect good old Nara in every season.



Collaboration with lovely deer.

Nara is the only city you can take photos with deer!



A shot like a moviescene.

Panoramic view on Wakakusa-yama hilltop!


We will bring you to the best spots for each season.

Photo shooting in the season of cherry blossoms is quite popular!

Please make a reservation early!

In autumn, the scenery will be beautiful red leaves.

Kimono best matches with autumnal leaves.


This on-location photo shooting is provided by Photo Studio Watanabe, which has a thorough knowledge of photo shooting spots in Nara and has been favored by Nara people for more than eighty years.

The photos will be handed to you as digital data. The number of photos will be 100 to 150 (depending on the plan).

In other places, you can hardly find such a wide variety of locations, from old historical spots to natural spots such as Wakakusa-yama hill and Nara Park.

You can visit various spots without fatigue because a car for the on-location shooting is available for this experience!

After the experience, please share your lovely photos with us!

Please make a reservation from here –

A winter delight in Nara – Making a kaleidoscope

Winter has come to Nara.

Morning mist in winter makes up the Nara Park beautiful, but winter also brings us the intense cold.

What can we offer to make you visit and enjoy Nara in spite of this winter chill?

Here comes a new program in which you can enjoy in a warm room!

In this program, you make a kaleidoscope on your own in a lovely cafe “Kaleidoscope cafe Siloam”. Colorful beads, pearls, and other variously shaped parts will make your kaleidoscope unique and original.

You will be amazed at how fascinating it is. It is far beyond the toys we enjoyed in our childhood.

Here’s my experience report of this program.

“Kaleidoscope cafe Siloam” is located in a cozy town at the west end of Todai-ji temple.

Here are the materials.

The first step is to assemble the inner parts of the kaleidoscope.

Even if you are not so confident in your handicraft skill, you don’t need to worry. The master will steadily instruct and assist you.




First, I assembled the mirrors which make the central part of the kaleidoscope.


I was not so good at assembling that the master kindly assisted me…



Then, I joined the mirror parts and the tube together, which will make the main body of the kaleidoscope.




This process will affect how the kaleidoscope patterns look. Extra care is needed!


After finishing the main body, I put the beads and other parts into the body, which make the patterns.




However, it was not an easy task to choose from so many beautiful beads, pearls, and other parts!

In case you feel difficulty in choosing, please ask the master and madame for the proper parts.

They will kindly give you good advice!

For those who don’t have enough time, a shorter plan is available, in which you can experience the kaleidoscope making from this phase!




Let’s take a glance inside!!







The motif is Nara in Winter!




I can’t help praising myself for the beautiful patterns. They change their expression every time I turn my kaleidoscope.

Because it’s self-made, you can enjoy yourself by guessing which beads or parts compose the patterns.

I want to make another one with different colors!

 After you finished your kaleidoscope, please have a relaxing time with a cup of coffee and its rich aroma.

This program includes the fee for one drink!



While enjoying your coffee, you can also appreciate more than 200 artistic kaleidoscopes for sale.

Looking into the ever-changing patterns of the kaleidoscopes is so fun that you might lose track of time.

Talking with the frank madame and master is also fun.

I recommend strolling Todai-ji temple after you leave the cafe.

Daibutsu-den hall is about 10 minutes walk from the cafe, and Nigatsu-do hall is about 15 minutes walk.

Furthermore, you can find Isuien park and the former residence of Irie Taikichi (a photographer who devoted his life to shoot photos of Nara) near the cafe. This cozy town is perfect for strolling around.

Please come and enjoy this experience during winter!

Please make a reservation for this program at

Sumo and Tea Ceremony (Japanese cultures originated in Nara)

Nara has a long history and is renowned for having three World Heritage sites; “Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area,” “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara,” and “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” Because of its long history, various Japanese cultures originated in Nara, and here are some programs for you to experience them.

Sumo Premium Tour

It is believed that the first bout of Sumo took place in Nara between “Nomi no Sukune” and “Taima no Kehaya,” who was living in current Katsuragi-city, Nara. In 1990, Kehayaza Sumo Museum was built in Katsuragi-city.

“Sumo Premium Tour” offers you various exciting experiences related to Sumo at “Kehayaza.” The highlight of the tour is a full-sized Sumo ring called “Dohyo,” where you can try Sumo wrestling. Also, enjoy a traditional song “Sumo Jinku,” which is unique to Sumo and usually performed at the Grand Sumo Tournament. This museum houses more than 12,000 materials such as books related Sumo, “Banzuke” rankings, and “Hoshitori-hyo” matches and results.

* Please check our hands-on experience program
Sumo Premium Tour with private transfer

Tea Ceremony at Jiko-in Zen Temple

The tea ceremony, one of the exceptional Japanese culture, teaches the beauty of simplicity “Wabi and Sabi.” It was also born in Nara, so it is said.
A custom of drinking tea has existed since ancient times, but the current style of the Japanese tea ceremony was established in the 15th century by “Murata Juko” of Nara. In the 16th century, many tea masters surged including renowned “Sen no Rikyu” while the tea ceremony blossomed, and various schools of the tea ceremony evolved. One of the schools was “Sekishu-ryu” based in Yamatokoriyama-city, Nara, which was started by “Katagiri Sadamasa”, a feudal lord of this area. In the Edo period (17th-19th century), this school became the official style of the Tokugawa shogunate, and thus favored by the feudal ruling class of Japan at the time.

In this tour, you will attend an authentic tea ceremony at Jiko-in Zen Temple that was founded by Katagiri Sadamasa. The whole grounds of Jiko-in Zen Temple was designed as one tea-ceremony house. Once you step into an approach to the temple grounds from the first gate, you are guided to a drawing room where you can see a pristine, manicured garden. There are also small tea rooms that make you feel like you’ve slipped back in time. All necessary settings for inviting people to the tea ceremony are here. It is a precious place, and rare even in Japan, where you can be in the scene staged by the great tea master from 300 years ago to find peace.

* Please check our hands-on experience program
Tea Ceremoney at Jiko-in Zen Temple with Private Transfer