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School’s Out – Let’s Go On A Cultural Treasure Hunt in Tokyo!

Two junior high school students spend their spring break discovering the treasures of nearby Tokyo: their favorite pop culture, updated traditional sweets and special places with good luck!

Moa Maeda

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What do you do when you’re a teenager and school’s out, but you can’t socialize as usual or travel to new places because of the coronavirus? Why, you make your own treasure hunt and learn about Japanese culture at the same time. 

Two students from schools near Tokyo – one in Kanagawa Prefecture and one in Chiba Prefecture – did just that during the spring break between their 1st and 2nd years of junior high school. They created their own challenges and went out searching for answersーwith facemasks, hand gel and social distancing in mind. Here are the fun things they learned.

Gacha gacha machines lined up for the trying.

What’s In A ‘Gacha-gacha’?

Japanese capsule toys, also known as gacha-gacha or gachapon, are now a part of modern Japanese culture. 

Gacha-gacha works by inserting coins into a slot, bringing the machine to life. Turn the wheel in the middle, and it pushes the capsule containing the toys wrapped in plastic behind a flat panel, where one can pick it up.

These gacha-gacha machines, found anywhere from large malls to family restaurants, are an easy source of entertainment for all generations. The contents of the machines range in size, genres, and price. Most of the items are collectible toys that are fully enjoyableーand even “addictive.”

A gacha gacha machine with ¥200 yen treats
A ¥100 yen gacha gacha machine works this way.

For example, gacha-gachas for children to teenagers are likely to have miniature figures, very likely gender-based and character-themed. Age and gender-neutral products include comical miniature copies of everyday objects like air conditioners, Japanese calligraphy sets, telephone booths, documents, and food. There are even useful ones, such as magnets, book covers, key chains, stamps, and so on. 

And most of all, the thrill of not knowing what you get is an exhilarating experience and worth all the spare change!

Moa Maeda

Author: Moa Maeda

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Kiyomasa no Ido natural spring at Meiji Jingu

Find Good Fortune at Meiji Jingu’s Kiyomasa no Ido

One would surely be delighted to visit the long-yearned for wishing well of their childhood fantasies. Kiyomasa no Ido is a so-called “lucky spot,” popular among tourists all year long. Its charms are rumored to be remarkably powerful and to have lasting effects even with just taking a photo of the sacred well. 

The path to the well makes for a great stroll. Fading greenery, blooming pieces of winter, and lingering colors of autumn highlight the scene. The relaxing sceneryーtraditional trees looming over the Japanese cottage and lawn stretched out in a neatly trimmed carpet of golden brown adorned with round bushesーis a delightful one to see.

In the garden at Meiji Jingu
The gardens where the Kiyomasa well is located at Meiji Jingu
In the garden at Meiji Jingu
A tea house in the garden at Meiji Jingu

The most surprising part? This holy spot with lush nature is located in the middle of Tokyo’s most busy streets: Harajuku. You may as well drop by to test your luck on your way to a shopping spree.

Author: Moa Maeda

Strawberry Daifuku

Introducing the Trending Japanese Wagashi

Wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets eaten before a tea ceremony, serve as a sweet introduction as part of tea ceremonies. They are well-known for their various shapes, textures, and flavors. Wagashi has a wide range of ingredients, too, and their color and design sometimes change, depending on the season. 

One pastry that is rising in popularity among the younger Japanese generation is a type of fruit daifuku (sweet soft rice cake), also known on social media as “moe-dan (萌え断) . The word moe-dan comes from the Japanese word moeru (萌える), meaning “strong affection towards you ideal”. 

Traditional daifuku would most likely be made of soft springy rice cake stuffed with sweet bean anko paste. However, this trending daifuku is made of rice cake (mochi) wrapped around one whole fruit with shiro-an (white bean) paste. 

All kinds of fruit daifuku
This is the best way to slice a daifuku, especially one with fruit inside.

This product has attracted hundreds of customers with the beauty of the fruit’s face when cut. The daifuku can be split open by wrapping a string around the middle of the pastry and pulling it in the opposite direction. This new, modern type of wagashi has caught the attention of younger generations, as more and more people start to post aesthetic photos of fruit daifuku on media such as Instagram and Twitter.

Various types of fruit daifuku can be found in shops: ones stuffed with strawberry, kiwi, tangerine, or grape, others with strawberry or chocolate flavored mochi, and then there are ones with seasonal characteristics. 

The fruits are delivered straight from the market, and are still half-frozen when wrapped in the rice cake. This keeps the fruit fresh and juicy with a sherbet-like texture, while the mochi on the outside is soft and sweet. 

Savoring a bite-sized daifuku with a cup of green tea would be a lovely way to enjoy and experience Japanese culture.

Towa Maeda

Author: Towa Maeda

Moa and Towa Maeda are junior high school students living in Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo and Yokohama Japan. Towa attends the Senzoku Gakuen Junior High School, and Moa attends the Shibuya Makuhari Junior High School. They have studied English in Japan since a young age.