Haneda Airport’s awesome sea bream ramen restaurant is the perfect way to end your trip in Japan

Make Japan even harder to leave by finishing your vacation with one of the most unique, satisfying ramen meals in Tokyo.

When traveling, the last day of your vacation usually ends up being the least enjoyable. By the time you get up and pack, there’s usually not time to do anything really fun before heading to the airport.

That can be especially frustrating if you’ve come all the way to Japan, and even more so if making your way to the airport means having to skip having lunch or dinner in Tokyo, the greatest city for dining out on the face of the Earth. But if you’re flying out of Haneda Airport, we’ve got good news for you, because the complex is home to one of the most memorably unique ramen restaurants we’ve found in quite some time.

We’ll get the one bad point out of the way first. Ramen restaurant Hitoshinaya is located in Haneda Terminal 1, not the International Terminal. However, the two buildings are just three minutes apart by train, and there’s also a free shuttle bus that runs between them, so a side-trip to Terminal 1 isn’t prohibitively time-consuming as long as you give yourself a little leeway.

While the most common types of ramen in Japan are soy, miso, or pork stock, Hitoshinaya’s specialty is something special: ramen with its broth made from tai, or sea bream. On our visit, we ordered the Tai Dashi Tai Kunsei Ramen (Sea Bream Broth with Smoked Sea Bream Raman), plus a side of ochazuke (usually meaning rice with green tea, but here referring to seasoned rice to pour ramen broth onto). The combo set us back 1,278 yen (US$11.70), which is just a bit on the pricey side for ramen, but the classy surroundings made it seem like a fair price, and if you’re looking to cap your Japan travels with a meal here, a shade over 10 bucks is definitely an affordable luxury.

After a five-minute wait, our order was ready, and we took a moment o admire its elegant presentation.

While the piece of smoked sea bream was the first thing to draw our eyes, we also spotted mizuna (potherb mustard) along with slices of red pepper, tomato, and sudachi, a refreshing lime-like Japanese citrus fruit.

Ramen-tasting always starts with the broth, though, so we scooped up a spoonful and took a sip. Hitoshinaya’s sea bream broth is also seasoned with kombu kelp, resulting in a rich, refined flavor, free of the heavy greasiness found in some varieties of ramen.

Ramen culture traditionally pairs certain thicknesses of noodles with certain broths, but having never had sea bream ramen before, we weren’t sure what to expect. Hitoshinaya uses moderately thick noodles that are straight, smooth, and a little on the soft side, allowing them to soak up plenty of the broth’s flavor.

Leaving the biggest impression on our taste buds was the smoked sea bream. While we’ve enjoyed Japanese tai as sushi and sashimi on numerous occasions, this was our first time to ever eat it as a ramen topping, and the enticing aroma only adds to its deliciousness.

Once we’d finished all our noodles, it was time to pour our remaining broth onto rice (an option also offered by Tokyo’s poisonous blowfish ramen restaurant).

▼ The ochazuke is additionally flavored with kombu, thin-sliced nori seaweed, wasabi, and fragrant leaves of mitsuba herb.

If we have one regret, it’s that since we only have one stomach, we didn’t get to try Hitoshinaya’s other star menu item, the Roasted Smoked Sea Bream Ramen. Given the restaurant’s location, odds are a lot of customers won’t be able to come back anytime soon (though we should mention that Hitoshinaya is outside the security checkpoint, meaning that even non-passengers can easily et there), so we recommend going with a friend so that you can order both types of ramen and share. And when the time does come to hop on your flight home, at least you can take heart knowing that it actually is possible to find great ramen overseas too.

Restaurant information
Hitoshinaya / ひとしなや
Address: Tokyo-to, Ota-ku, Haneda Kuko, 3-3-2, Terminal 1 North Wing 2nd floor
東京都大田区羽田空港3丁目3−2 第 1 ターミナル 北 ウイング2F
Open 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (non-ramen breakfasts available from 5:30 a.m.)

Photos ©SoraNews24

Japanese town suffers population decline, turns its local elementary school into an aquarium

Yes, those really are sharks swimming around in the school pool.

For years, areas outside of Japan’s big cities have been dealing with the problem of population decline, with fewer births and few employment opportunities leading to abandoned housing and the closure of facilities, including schools.

In an effort to deal with the problem, regional groups are constantly coming up with clever solutions, including NPOs set up to assist new residents and the offer of free homes, but for one enterprising group of thinkers in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, their solution has been to turn the defunct local elementary school into an aquarium.

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Called the Muroto Schoolhouse Aquarium, the new sightseeing spot is located in Muroto City on the Japanese island of Shikoku, and is housed in the old school buildings of Shiina Elementary School, which closed in 2006 due to a low number of young children in the area.

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After being left abandoned for over a decade, the old school is now teeming with life again, only this time it’s fish and marine animals that can be found around the school grounds.

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The three-storey school building reopened as an aquarium on 26 April, coinciding with Japan’s nine-day Golden Week holiday period, during which time they received over a million visitors. With more than 15,000 people people visiting the aquarium each day, locals say the new site has brought a new sense of vitality to the sleepy rural town.

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The first floor of the old school building now acts as a reception area for guests, while the second floor is home to a number of tanks, including a huge circular tank of mackerel in the middle of one of the old classrooms.

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An old washbasin once used for rinsing calligraphy brushes and brushing teeth (schoolchildren in Japan often brush their teeth after eating lunch) has now been converted into a seawater touch pool filled with starfish and sea cucumbers.

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The third floor is an “exhibition zone” containing skeletal specimens and books about marine life, while outside in the school swimming pool, sea turtles, sharks and fish can be found, making for an unusual sight.

Since the above video was posted online, it’s received 3 million views on Twitter, with viewers leaving comments like:

“Those are hammerhead sharks in there!”
“To combat the depopulation problem they’ve created a breeding farm!”
“Omg this is like a dream I had when I was at school.”
“When I was in elementary school, we kept crocodiles at the school, no joke.”
“At our school we kept koi fish in the pool when it wasn’t being used, but I’ve never seen sharks in a school pool before!”

▼ Those really are sharks inside the school pool.

Muroto hopes that the Schoolhouse Aquarium will increase visitors and revitalise the area, and their project seems to be doing just that. The aquarium shows that abandoned schoolhouses still have a lot of life left in them, even after the children have left, and if you’re looking to stay overnight in one of them, there’s a place where you can do that too!

Source: Net Lab
Featured image: Twitter/@INO_R18

Muroto Schoolhouse Aquarium / むろと廃校水族館
Address: Kōchi-ken, Muroto-shi, Murotomisakicho, 533-2
Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily

Drinking party breaks out on Tokyo Station platform as Shinkansen delay strands travelers

Booze fans pass the time in a quintessentially Japanese way, while their younger counterparts opt for a more athletic method.

Despite a well-deserved reputation for reliability and punctuality, Japan’s trains do sometimes encounter problems and end up running behind schedule. This can even happen with the Shinkansen bullet trains, the pride of operator Japan Railway.

On Sunday afternoon, a Shinkansen train left Tokyo station at roughly 12:20, heading north along the Tohoku Shinkansen line, and things were fine until about an hour and a half later. After it pulled out of Sendai Station, though, an undisclosed mechanical issue caused the conductor to stop the train, which in turn shut down the entire line while a team of inspectors investigated and rectified the problem.

That process ended up taking over five hours, which left plenty of travelers stuck at the station while they waited for service to resume. Things were especially crowded in Tokyo Station, where Japanese Twitter user @Thrill_Junky snapped this photo of the congested conditions near the Shinkansen ticket gates.

Up on the platform, though, the atmosphere was decidedly more jovial, where a group of older men decided to bust out the booze and snacks they’d intended to consume on the train and have a drinking party right there on the ground.

Because Shinkansen seats always have trays, it’s common for alcohol-appreciative travelers to crack open a cold one (or two) as they zoom about the high-speed rail network. These gentleman had stocked up accordingly, but with no refrigerator to keep their libations chilled, they came to the conclusion that the only sensible thing to do was to drink them before they got too warm.

Meanwhile, further up the line in Aomori Prefecture, stranded Shinkansen travelers waiting on the platform of Hachinohe Station were provided with some surprise entertainment.

Among those who suddenly had time on their hand was a college gymnastics team, and instead of using that empty space to plop themselves down in a drinking circle, they instead popped off a series of back flips.

Shinkansen service was finally resumed at around 7:30, but the examples shown here serve as a reminder that when travelling, just because you’re not making progress towards your destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

Sources: Twitter/@Thrill_Junky via Jin, Mainichi Shimbun, TBS News, NHK News Web
Featured image: Twitter/@Thrill_Junky

Coca-Cola’s new limited-edition Japan travel destination bottles highlight history and culture

Company breaks with tradition by letting Nagoya Castle bottle shine in gold.

This week saw the anticipated release of Coca-Cola Clear in Japan, which confused our minds but pleased our palates in our taste test. The transparent soda isn’t the only eye-catching offering from the soft drink giant this month, however.

Last year, Coca-Cola introduced a line of regional slim bottles, baring beautiful artwork saluting cities and regions including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Yokohama. With thirsty travelers getting ready to make their way across the country during summer vacation, the company has announced six new designs that collectors and Japanophiles won’t want to miss.

Up first is the Sendai bottle, featuring the city’s feudal samurai lord Date Masamune, in the same horseback pose as his statue that greets visitors to the largest city in the northeastern Tohoku region.

While every design in the series is rendered only in Coca-Cola’s traditional red and white, Nagoya’s new bottle is bold in gold with its depiction of the kinshachi, a mythical creature that adorns the uppermost roof of Nagoya Castle.

Connecting Chiba Prefecture with Tokyo, the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line expressway, which runs straight across the bay and offers breathtaking unobstructed views, is the subject of the Chiba bottle, which also gives a nod to the coastal prefecture’s renowned surf spots.

The national high school baseball tournament has been a highlight of summer in Japan for decades. The championship game is always played at Hyogo Prefecture’s Koshien Stadium (roughly halfway between Osaka and Kobe), and the venue serves as the inspiration for the fourth new bottle.

And for even more baseball, there’s the Hiroshima Boya bottle, which bears the adorably determined likeness of the mascot of Hiroshima’s professional baseball team, the Carp (whose colors, like Coca-Cola’s, are crimson and white).

And last, Coca-Cola gets cultural with its Meiji Restoration (Meiji Ishin in Japanese) bottle, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the 1868 event in which the emperor was restored to power over the shogun, ending Japan’s centuries-long feudal period and ushering in modernization as the country opened to the outside world. Seen on the bottle are politically progressive samurai Saigo Takamori and Sakamoto Ryoma, both key figures in this turning point in Japanese history.

▼ The 250-mililiter (8.5-ounce) bottles are priced at 125 yen (US$1.15), and go on sale June 25.

Each design will primarily be offered in and around its respective city/region. The Meiji Restoration bottle will be offered in west Japan, in recognition of Saigo and Sakamoto’s respective birthplaces of Kumamoto and Kochi Prefectures, and since Kochi is on the island of Shikoku, don’t forget to pick up Coca-Cola’s Shinto shrine pilgrimage/anime girl bottle too while you’re there.

Source: Coca-Cola via Narinari
Images: Coca-Cola

Popular anime declares “Boys can be princesses too,” prompts apology from Japanese resort hotel

Pretty Cure encourages boys who feel like it to wear dresses and be princesses, hotel apologizes for not being progressive enough.

As Japan’s most popular currently airing magical girl anime series, Pretty Cure is generally pretty formulaic in its storytelling. Villains appear, and the protagonists change from their ordinary schoolgirl personas into their brightly costumed, superpowered alter egos, with the power of friendship often being the deciding factor in saving the day.

But PreCure (as the series is known to fans) is also willing to deal with social issues, and in recent years the series, which is primarily marketed to young girls, has been challenging ideas about gender roles and identity. The concept that girls can be heroes has always been one of the show’s core themes, and the franchise also seems OK with women loving other women in a romantic sense.

However, the latest episode of Huggto! PreCure (the newest arc of the franchise) takes time to espouse the belief that boys, too, shouldn’t be constricted by traditional gender roles. One of Huggto! PreCure’s supporting cast members is Henri Wakamiya, a blond-haired half-Japanese, half-French boy who’s sometimes depicted wearing a dress, as in this preview for Huggto! PreCure’s 19th episode, which aired last Sunday.

Not everyone is supportive of Henri’s fashion choices, though. His classmate Masato, for example, berates him for “looking like a girl,” eventually prompting Henri to fire back with “So what? I’m dressed the way I want to dress. Putting restrictions on your own heart is a waste of time…and of a life.”

However, during the course of episode 19, Henri winds up getting captured by a monster, while still wearing his dress. When the PreCure girls come to save him, he laments “Wait, doesn’t this mean I’m like the princess in this situation?”

To which Hana Nono, a.k.a. Cure Yell, responds:

“That’s OK! Boys can be princesses too!”

Nono’s words were powerful enough that they’ve prompted an apology from the lakeside Ike no Taira Hotel in Shirakaba, Nagano Prefecture. For the last few years, the hotel has been offering a PreCure-themed hotel room, aimed at families traveling with young kids who are fans of the anime. The hotel also has a Kamen Rider-themed room, decorated with artwork from the popular live-action martial arts franchise, and in one of its commercials, the hotel proudly touts “For girls, Huggto! Pretty Cure, and for boys, Kamen Rider Build!”

However, on June 12, two days after Pretty Cure declared that “boys can be princesses too,” the Ike no Taira Hotel issued an apology through the official Twitter account of its mascot character, Pota.

“Recently, we have received complaints that the statements made in a TV commercial for our character-themed rooms has made some people uncomfortable. We regret offending our customers, and deeply apologize.”

While the tweet doesn’t mention PreCure specifically, the timing makes it difficult to see the hotel’s message as referring to anything other than its tie-up with the magical girl anime. In a follow-up tweet, the hotel also said it will be taking the ad out of circulation, and will bear in mind the feedback it received in designing future advertisements.

Online reactions have been mixed, with some applauding the move and others saying it’s an overreaction to baseless complaints, as the hotel doesn’t seem to have had any policy barring families with boys from staying in the PreCure room. Still, the hotel wants to make doubly sure that people know it supports young boys who find Pretty Cure’s sparkling aesthetics (and the merchandise that comes with a stay in the room) alluring.

Meanwhile, the hotel is mum about all the legal trouble Kamen Rider has been getting into lately.

Source: Twitter/@ikenotaira via Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/プリキュア公式YouTubeチャンネル

“Ghost photo” shows Kyoto’s breathtaking Fushimi Inari Shrine can be bone-chilling at night

And that flash of light isn’t even the scariest part of the snapshot.

In the span of a few years, Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine has gone from being relatively unknown to foreign travelers to being one of their favorite destinations in Japan. And its popularity is well-deserved, as wandering through the hillside tunnels of thousands of Shinto torii gates makes for a beautiful, unforgettable experience, especially if the late afternoon sunlight is filtering through the gaps in the torii.

However, Fushimi Inari can feel a little less inviting once the sun goes down. Just like many Western horror tales are set in or around secluded churches, Japan has a long tradition of ghost stories that take place at rural shrines. The higher you climb along Fushimi Inari’s pathways, the farther you get from the light of the city, which can make it feel like the world of the living is also growing distant, which brings us to a creepy snapshot taken by Japanese Twitter user @mcoscam.

“I was taking photos at Fushimi Inari Shrine at night, and I ended up with this freaky one…So scared I’m about to cry…”

“What happened?” asked a shocked commenter, to which @mcoscam replied “That’s what I want to know!”

Following the ghostly streak of light its farthest point from the lens, it seems to stop at a hanging lantern, or perhaps the brightest part of the reflection of the camera’s flash. Somehow this light source then got smeared in an undulating arc when the image was captured. That’s got to be what’s going on, right? After all, ghosts aren’t real…

…is what we keep trying to convince ourselves as we look at this subtly startling portion of @mcoscam’s photo, which escaped our notice until another Twitter user shared a zoomed-in version.

Once again, though, this looks to be a trick of the light, though one with a connection to local religious customs. See, each of the torii at Fushimi Inari is paid for by a donor, often a business looking to curry favor with Inari, the Shinto god of commerce. Torii are added as donations are made, which means that adjacent gates may actually have been installed several years apart from each other, and so their paint, metal fittings, and other components will be in different states of weathering and/or disrepair. As a result, the surfaces of the torii tunnels don’t reflect light uniformly, which can cause irregular shapes like the “silhouette” seen in the photos above.

So as spooky as @mcoscam’s photo may be, this probably isn’t concrete proof that the shrine is haunted. As a matter of fact, some of @mcoscam’s other photos from that night show that Fushimi Inari has a unique beauty after dark, which we also saw when we took a look at its midsummer Motomiya Festival.

Still, if you decide to plan your trip to Fushimi Inari for early enough in the day so that you’ll be done before sundown, we won’t blame you.

Source: Twitter/@mcoscam via Hachima Kiko
Featured image: Twitter/@mcoscam
Top, insert images ©SoraNews24

Japanese taxis now being driven by ninja, bodyguards armed with concealed water pistols

Two awesome reasons to skip Japan’s train network and take a taxi instead.

In Japan, the rail network is efficient enough that you really have to have a compelling reason to take a taxi over a train, so when does that choice make sense? If you’re headed to a destination that’s far away from the nearest station, obviously. Or if you’re travelling in a large group, splitting the cost of a cab can be more economical than each person buying a train ticket. Oh, and if you want a ninja to assist you in getting from Point A to Point B, once again, a taxi is the way to go, provided it’s operated by Sanwa Kotsu.

Yes, the Yokohama-based taxi company is back again with a new set of themed cabs, one of which is the Ninja Taxi. While the vehicle itself is standard-spec, your driver will be dressed head to toe in the garb of Japan’s mythical shadow warriors, and will also pepper his speech with period appropriate classical Japanese vocabulary, making the ride a treat for history buffs and linguistics fans alike.

On the other hand, if you prefer your personal protector to project a more contemporary, yet no less capable, aura, Sanwa is also offering what it calls an “SP-style Taxi.”

In Japanese, “SP” is used as an abbreviation for “security police,” and refers to the security details that accompany high-ranking politicians and other VIPs on their way to and from meetings with other power brokers. The SP-style taxi driver, appropriately, is armed at all times, as underneath his suit is a shoulder holster with a concealed pistol. Granted it’s a water pistol, but should a squirt gun battle break out on the way to your destination, you’ll be in good hands (plus you’ll get to feel a little like the emperor of Japan).

Both services launched on June 11, just in time for the start of the summer travel season, and serve as successors to Sanwa’s previous kabuki and horseback archery-themed taxis. However, even Sanwa isn’t quite playful enough to convert its entire fleet into ninja and SP cabs, so you’ll want to contact the company and request a pickup in one of the special taxis, which you can do through its website or with the help of your hotel’s front desk staff.

Related: Sanwa Kotsu English website
Source, images: Press release