Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo

If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter you may have noticed that I’ve bene living in Sapporo for the past few months. Well, we had some friends in town so we decided to visit Shiroi Koibito Park, a theme park built around the famous Shiroi Koibito biscuits that are Sapporo’s most well-known souvenir.

Shiroi Koibito Park was much more interesting than I expected. Then again, my expectations were pretty low because I tend not to like commercial theme parks…

For my friends and family, which included a six-year old and a three-year old, the highlights were…

Making your own Shiroi Koibito Cookies!
You can sign up to make your own Shiroi Koibito snack! You get to wear a bakers cap and work with the staff to make a cookie. At the end you even get to package your cookie in the real Shiroi Koibito packaging. Pretty cool!

Factory Peeping
You can also view the Shiroi Koibito factory in action from above. This is probably the most interesting thing for adults at the park.

白い恋人 factory

A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Candy Labo Candy Maker Peeping
You can also watch the candy makers at Candy Labo do their thing. The candy-making process is pretty showy so our kids had a great time.


A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Making candy at Sapporo 白い恋人パーク

A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Otherwise the Park is okay. A visit will probably take about three hours if you participate in the Shiroi Koibito making activities. There were a lot of foreign tourists there when we visited on a Saturday in January, so I expect that most of the staff are probably English ready. If you’re in Sapporo with a some extra time on a wet day you might consider a visit to Shiroi Koibito Park!

They also have Clione. Why.


More Information:

Rabbit Island: Okunoshima

If you’re near Hiroshima, or if you just love rabbits and want to make a trip to Japan to see more of them, consider going to Okunoshima! 大久野島

We made Okunoshima the destination for a two-family with kids trip and it was a good time. It’s basically an island rabbit petting zoo where the rabbits run free and come and go as they please. Great for the kids! The location is also interesting enough to keep the adults busy as well. You can also swim in the ocean as there is a nice beach, and there are also historical spots to check out. The island was a secret location used to produce and test poison gas during WWII. Apparently rabbits were used as test subjects. Now it’s a rabbit paradise!

You can get to Okunoshima by taking a 15 minute ferry from Tadanoumi (忠海). Tadanoumi is about 30 minutes from Mihara (三原) on the Kure Line, and Mihara is about 30 minutes from Hiroshima on the bullet train (Kodama), or about 1.5 hours from Hiroshima on regular trains.

Mihara is known for octopus, otherwise not much is going on there really. We travelled to Mihara and arrived at about 5pm after spending the day sight-seeing Hiroshima. We stayed the night in an inn in Mihara, and then left the next morning at about 8am to take the 30 minute train to Tadanoumi to catch the 9:30 ferry to Okunoshima.

You can find the Tadanoumi to Okunoshima ferry schedule here. Click to enlarge. It may change over time, but this is current as of July 2014.


After spending the better part of the day with the rabbits we left the island on the 2:30 pm ferry. The return ferry was MUCH smaller than the ferry going out to the island. The ride is only 15 minutes, but if you’re traveling with young children get to the ferry port early so you can be sure to get a seat. We travelled straight back to Osaka the same day we left Okunoshima and were home by about 7 pm. It wouldn’t be easy, but you could probably day trip Okunoshima from Osaka if you got an early start!

An elderly man working the ferry stop at Tadanojima started chatting with me and asked how I found out about the island. He then said that this year (2014) they have been getting a large number of foreign guests, especially from Northern Europe. He says they mostly claim to have simply discovered the island on the web, and have come to see the rabbits. That’s a pretty maniac trip if you ask me! From Northern Europe to see some rabbits?! I posted some links to media coverage of Okunoshima at the end of the article if you want to see what hype is being created.

The island itself is a good time. You can’t miss the rabbits, they are everywhere. You can buy food for the rabbits on the island, but you can also bring your own cabbage, lettuce, or carrots to feed them. We even saw one guy carrying a huge bag of rabbit food that he brought in himself… Probably to save money.

  • The rabbits are so used to people that' it's easy to get up close.
  • Waiting for the ferry to Ookunojima at Tadanoumi.
  • This man working the ferry at Tadanoumi explained that there have been a lot of tourists from Northern Europe visiting the "bunny island' Okunojima this year (2014).
  • Trains going in both directions arrive on the same side of the station at Tadanoumi.
  • Tadanoumi station! Note the rabbit. Ookunojima island is probably one of the only reasons people from out of town come to this station.
  • Mihara is the "octopus town."
  • The island is mostly void of traffic other than the island buses and other small working vehicles.
  • You can also take a dip in the beach if you bring your gear.
  • harvey's photo
  • It's easy to become a bunny celebrity with some rabbit snacks that you can buy on the island, or some carrots or cabbage that you bring from home.
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • The abandoned power plant.
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • Waiting for the ferry to Okunojima on the Tadanoumi side.
  • The ferry heading to Okunojima from Tadanoumi is pretty large. The return ferry was much much smaller.
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • harvey's photo
  • 忠海 (tadanoumi) 大久野島 (Ookunojima)

Planning to visit Okunoshima? Here are some tips:

– Bring human snacks. There is only one real restaurant on the island and their service is incredibly slow. It took us about 30 minutes to get our food, and the beers came out like 20 min before the edamame. Guess they are on island time. At lunch time the place gets very crowded, so plan to eat early if you’re going to eat there!

– Rabbit Poop. There is a lot of rabbit poop everywhere, so consider wearing shoes instead of sandals if it’s not too hot. So, you know, you don’t get rabbit poop on your feet.

– Rent a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle to get around the island. It’s a pretty significant walk from one location to the other, so a bicycle is a good way to get around.

– Bring a stroller. If you’ve got kids, bring a stroller. The walk ways are nice and smooth, so it’s great for wheeling around. The ferry boats are also big enough to take your stroller over on.

Okunojima – Wikipedia
Okunojima Rest Villiage Official Site – This is the largest and only hotel on the island.
Buzzfeed – Pics of Bunny Island
CBS News on Okunoshima Island

A medley of fan films…

Meiko Kaji – Urami Bushi

I recently re-watched Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, and noticed the old-school Japanese song that plays during the credits.

Did some Googling and learned that it is “Urami Bushi” by Meiko Kaji. (Life is almost too easy with Google…) Meiko Kaji was a singer and actress and appeared in more than 100 films.

Here is a clip of Kaji Meiko (梶芽衣子) singing Urami Bushi (怨み節) after apparently not singing on TV for more than 20 years. This song, Urami Bushi, was the theme song for the Female Convict Scorpion movie, known as さそり (sasori) in Japanese.

Here is a relatively tame clip from the TV show… It was hard to find. Most are not so tame.

Here is a pretty sweet Meiko Kaji fan Tumblr.

Earth Celebration on Sado Island 2013

This summer I went to the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, a three-day festival centered around the amazing taiko-drumming of Kodo.

Sado Island (佐渡島 sadogashima) is the home of Kodo (鼓童), the most well-known taiko drumming group in Japan, and probably in the world. I had seen Kodo perform indoor concerts, once in Kobe and once somewhere else, but this was my first time going to Sado for the festival.

The festival was excellent. Foreigners frequently attend this festival so it’s easy to gather information and figure out how to get there. The English festival website is well done, check it out.

Before I get into babbling about the festival, let me introduce you to Kodo.


You can see many more Kodo videos on this YouTube channel here.

Imagine what these drums sound like live. It’s like precise and rhythmic thunder. Truly amazing and totally mesmerizing. Also notable are the physiques of the players themselves. Those guys are ripped. Anyway…

The festival itself is an extremely family friendly environment. Many people brought their children and even babies to the event. Our group included my family, which included a 1-year old and my wife, another couple and their 3-year old and 1-year old, another adult, and mother with a 5-month old and a 3-year old. I also saw a dude walking around with a ferret, and regular teenagers and seniors as well.

There are also classes and workshops available each day where you can learn to dance or to beat a taiko drum. Most of the workshops require reservations and fill up months in advance of the festival, so if you want to participate in one be sure to plan ahead. We did not take part in any of the workshops this time.

There was a main stage on the festival grounds that had schedules performances throughout the day. There wer also countless food stalls and shops selling the usual “hippie” fare. If you’ve been to a flea market or outdoor crafts festival in Japan you will be familiar with the bags, hats, drums, and other trinkets that are for sale.

The Kodo performance, which is the main event each day, starts at around 6:30 PM and ends at about 9:00 PM. Most participants purchase their dinner on the festival grounds and bring them to the concert area to eat while waiting for the show to start. No photography is allowed during the Kodo performance, so I don’t have any to show. The other photographs and videos here are from the other not Kodo performances during the festival. There are plenty of Kodo photos and videos around the web if you want to see the performers in action!

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… I shall share tips for concert survival!

  • Bring a towel, it’s hot during the summer and you’re going to sweat.
  • Bring a large towel or something to claim your space and sit on during the main event — everyone does.
  • If you’re trying to save money, bring your own water. Water is for sale at about 100 yen a bottle at the festival site, but you know, every yen counts.
  • Bring a hat. It’s hot.
  • Sandals are nice to have, but if it rains the grounds get very soggy so prepare to have muddy feet.
  • Plan EARLY! Lodging options and event reservations fill up months before the festival, so plan ahead.

If you’re already convinced, in 2014, Earth Celebration will be held August 22 (Fri) through 24 (Sun). Start making plans! Many people who attend this festival go year after year, so go as soon as possible so that you can go again if you want!

Here are some photos that I took during Earth Celebration 2013. Enjoy! Hope you get a chance to attend the festival!

Full gallery here.

Related Links:
Earth Celebration 2013 English Link

Japanese Olympic Vocabulary


Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been announced it’s time to beef up your Olympic vocabulary!

Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
国際オリンピック委員会 こくさいオリンピックいいんかい kokusai orinpikku iinkai Tokyo Olympic Committee
開催地 かいさいち kaisaichi place where an event will be held
五輪 ごりん gorin Olympics (lit. 5 rings)
夏季五輪 かきごりん kaki gorin summer olympics
安定した財政 あんていしたざいせい anteishita zaisei stable financial affairs
開催能力 かいさいのうりょく kaisai nouryoku the ability to conduct the event
招致委員会 しょうちいいんかい shouchiiinkai bid committee
立候補 りっこうほ rikkouho announced as candidate
招致演説 しょうちせんぜつ shouchiennzetsu bid speech
電子投票 でんしとうひょう dennshitouhyou electronic voting
汚染水 おせんすい osennsui polluted water

The Olympic Moment

It should also be noted that in the hit Anime flick AKIRA, the Olympics were set to be held in 2020 Neo Tokyo. Coincidence? I think not.


News in Slow (as in speed) Japanese

News in Slow Japanese
Foreign languages sound fast when you are new student, and Japanese is no exception. The news is an excellent learning resource, but dang those newscasters talk fast! “News in Slow Japanese” is a blog, podcast, and YouTube series that aims to give you a “slow news” resource to aid your language learning.

Here, go ahead and sample their wares…

The caster uses vocab and sentence structures that you will commonly encounter when listening to Japanese news, and you even get a partial vocab list on the side. Good stuff.

When I was first learning Japanese back in 1993 I had very little exposure to slowed down language. I think my teacher did this on purpose. She had us watching Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, and all the rest at normal speed even when we were in our first year of Japanese. I am sure she was careful to enunciate carefully to us all in class, but I do not recall her slowing anything down.

Similarly, in my 4th year of Japanese class in university I distinctly remember one assignment where we had to fill in the blanks of a rather long scene from Wings of Honnêamise. I wore that VHS tape out rewinding it so many times. Neighbors in the dorm also complained that I had the volume up way too high, as I didn’t have a rig to plug headphones into my TV… Those were the days… You all won’t have to suffer through that… Or if you do at least it will be on DVD, or digital.

I think mixing this slow news into your studies is a great idea, as long as you are also listening to a healthy dose of natural language.

Anyhow, once you are used to unnaturally slow Japanese you’ll be ready to tackle this unnaturally FAST Japanese. This is a comedy skit that is funny because everyone is speaking a million miles an hour.

Enjoy! Let me know how you get on!

– @JapanNewbie

Sale on Japanese Films at

Hey Everyone,

Public Service Announcement.

Best Buy is having a sale on some of the Criterion Collection movies, which includes some Japanese classics by Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.

For example, I see Floating Weeds (浮草 Ukigusa) by Yasujiro Ozu, and Ikiru (Live) by Kurosawa, on DVD for just $9.99. That’s a steal! I also see some Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Crazed Fruit, and the like for $19.99.

Going to use this opportunity to stock up on some quality films that I have yet to see.

Review: Kanji Solitaire for iOS

Kanji Solitaire

Hello everyone!

I have been playing with @tuzen’s Kanji Solitaire App for iOS over the past week. This app is a great idea, and a much needed fresh approach to kanji study. There are lots of kanji Apps out there, but none like this.

Kanji Solitaire App is a kanji puzzle game where you slide kanji around the board to make two-character kanji combinations. This is difficult in itself, but to win the game you also have to end up using all of the kanji, which is the puzzle aspect.

The Good:
Even if you are just haphazardly sliding kanji around trying to find a match you’ll still learn something. Every time a match is made the app will show the hiragana, kanji, English, and also pronounce the word.

The nature of the game is such that you will often see 4 or 5 words that use the same Kanji per game. For example, in a game I just fired up I used 「草」to make the following: 草木 草花 下草. That’s a lot of 「草」, and repetition is great for practice.

You get kanji, hiragana, English translation, and the audio of the Japanese word.

The app is smooth! It works on iPod, iPhone, iPhone 5, iPad. No technical issues there.

The Bad:
I let my wife, who is a native Japanese speaker, play with the app for a while, and after some time she figured that even if you couldn’t find the kanji matches you could kind of just start at an edge and work your way to the middle. That’s what you’ll need to do in order to use all the pieces and solve the puzzle in most cases anyway. However, this isn’t all bad. Even if one uses this method the game is still educational because you will still be seeing a lot of kanji pairs and building your random Japanese vocabulary database.

The Personal Qualms:
I think the most productive way to play this game is to use the “hint” feature liberally. This way you see the hiragana and the meaning first, and then can look for characters that match. Once you find a match, you can see the kanji, the Hiragana, and the English translation.

The App is universal, but when playing on an iPad you only get the same 4/4 square to work with which leaves a lot of blank space on the screen. It might have been fun to be able to work with a super 6×6 or 7×7 spread! @tuzen mentioned that he has updates planned that will better use the space.


@tuzen was kind enough to answer a few questions over email about the app and it’s development.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your Japanese background. Are you a programmer? A student of Japanese? Both? How long have you been at Japanese and how would you describe your level?

A: I studied both Japanese and computer science in college, and the Japanese department let me study in Japan after three years. During my exchange in Japan, I switched from speaking Japanese a few hours a week, to speaking English only a few hours a week. That made a huge difference in my conversation skills, but not my reading. I describe my level as Intermediate even though I’ve been casually studying well over a decade.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Kanji Solitaire?

A: I noticed native Japanese speakers could guess characters that they had probably never seen before, but they couldn’t really explain the trick. So I spread out my flashcards over the floor looking for these patterns. It was a mess and there were too many cards, so I crafted a small chess program to help match patterns. After a while, that program became the game.

Q: What level Japanese student do you think Kanji Solitaire is best for?

A: The ideal player enjoys puzzle games and already knows hiragana, basic grammar, and a few kanji. I found that for these intermediate students, there are not as many choices as there are for beginners.

Q: For me the most difficult aspect of this game is that some of the words that can be created are really “dictionary” words that are rarely used in daily life. How do you feel about this? I have to say though, they -are- indeed real words so I shouldn’t complain.

A: The original goal was to find the patterns in the pronunciations, and so we match the whole dictionary. That said, there are many rare words I avoid using in puzzles, especially in early levels. I plan to continue to gather usage frequency data to improve puzzles.

Q: Do you have any plans for future updates?

A: Yes, I’m always thinking about the feedback from users, and I have pages of ideas to try. Right now I’m working on level 1 for new users, so that difficulty ramps up more slowly.

Q: What was your favorite part about creating Kanji Solitaire? What was the most difficult?

A: I really enjoy how much kanji I’ve learned. The challenging part is to keep the game elements super fun and long lasting. There are a lot of kanji, and the goal is to help keep everybody learning.

If you’re looking for another way to study Japanese, give this a shot! This app won’t teach you kanji from scratch, but it will do a great job of building your vocabulary and getting you familiar with the different Kanji combinations.

That’s a wrap. If you’re looking for another way to increase your kanji powers, you should give this app a shot.

Kanji Solitaire

Get Kanji Solitaire on the App Store today:


Kanji Solitaire Facebook page

Here is an interactive Kickfolio thing you can use to try beta 1.3!

Here is a screen cast of Kanji Solitaire from version 1.0. The app has been updated since then.

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