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In tune with the times

Posted by pakin On January - 11 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Tokyo’s Shibuya district sheds its youth image as the professional crowd moves in

Long known as one of the fashion centres of Japan, particularly for young people, Tokyo’s Shibuya area is shedding its image as a “young person’s town,” as the growing number of mainly information technology companies and ongoing redevelopment bring in more and more working adults.

From the 1970s to the ’90s, Shibuya Koen-dori avenue was a centre of youth culture, characterised by the vogue “DC Brands” of Japanese designers and the Shibukaji (Shibuya casual) fashions worn by young people.

Now, however, department stores and commercial facilities have begun large-scale renovations with adult customers in mind.

Marui City Shibuya, a fashion building facing the avenue, reopened as Shibuya Modi on November 19.

Before its renovation, the building’s shops offered clothing mainly for young people, but it now targets adults of refined taste.

Its stores include HMV, which features books and miscellaneous goods classified by themes such as “travel and cuisine”, a luxury karaoke store and a kimono speciality shop.

“We’ll make the building a place that offers lifestyles that go beyond generations and is suitable for today’s Shibuya,” Marui Group president Hiroshi Aoi says,

Seibu department store’s Shibuya branch reopened its renovated fifth floor for women’s clothing in late August.

The floor features an enhanced line-up of clothing aimed at executive women in their 40s and 50s, including high-quality one-piece dresses and jackets that cost from 100,000 yen (Bt30,300) to less than 200,000 yen.

Sales during the three months after renovation increased by 50 per cent from a year earlier.

Shibuya Parco, from which Koen-dori is believed to derive its name (Koen is park in Japanese, parco means park in Italian), has led youth culture since the 1970s with its innovative advertising.

The building is also slated for renovation, to attract people of working age.

Shibuya encompasses many schools and used to attract crowds of young people, while the number of companies in the area was relatively small.

In the 1990s, an area called Shibuya Centre-gai attracted attention as a gathering place for many juvenile delinquents called “teamers” and young girls called “ganguro,” who sported tan makeup, bleached hair and platform shoes.

In response, Tokyu Corp, which operates railways that terminate at Shibuya Station, has promoted the construction of complex buildings to lure adults with high purchasing power to Shibuya.

In the 2000s, such complex buildings as Shibuya Mark City, Cerulean Tower and Shibuya Hikarie opened in quick succession, and many IT firms began to gather in Shibuya.

According to a survey by Video Research, people younger than 30 accounted for 44.2 per cent of those who visited the area around Shibuya Station during a specific period in 2006, while those aged 30 or older accounted for 55.7 per cent.

However, in 2014, those younger than 30 decreased to 39 per cent while those aged 30 or older increased to 60.9 per cent.

A total of eight complex buildings, including offices and hotels, are scheduled to be opened mainly by Tokyu Group between 2018 and 2027.

Many people are interested to see how Shibuya will become more adult-oriented in the future.

Busan Christmas Tree Festival

Posted by pakin On December - 25 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

The Busan Christmas Tree Festival, Busan’s annual winter event, is being held in the Gwangbokro area of Jung-gu District.


Now until January 3, Busan, South Korea

The Busan Christmas Tree Festival, Busan’s annual winter event, is being held in the Gwangbok-ro area of Jung-gu District. Adding a more festive atmosphere are concerts, a tree of wishes, street performances, love coins, a photo and video contest, and much more.


Now to January 10, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Families with children, youths and young adults visiting Malaysia will love the “Illusion” exhibition at Petrosains science exhibition centre in Kuala Lumpur. The exhibition, brought in from the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, explores science in an interesting way, combining it with art, technology and illusion to appeal to all ages. Curated by psychologist and author Richard Wiseman, and researched by magician and escapologist Paul Gleeson, the exhibition challenges the perceptions and gets visitors to use their senses to understand how the brain works. Expect magic with psychology, optical illusions with scientific reasoning, and confusion with clarity!


Now until January 24, Jeollanam-do, South Korea

The installation of a 120-metres-high and 130-metres-wide Christmas tree, which made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 2000, is among the highlights of this festival at the Boseong Green Tea Plantation, one of South Korea’s popular tourist attractions. Also featured are activities like the giant Christmas tree, a themed street, a galaxy tunnel, illuminations of Botjae and Dahyanggak, a photo zone, resolution stairs, and hanging wish cards. The landscape is also special, graced with a romantic and magical ambience of falling snow created by the arrangement of LED lights.


Now to February 14, Hong Kong

Udderbelly Festival made its international debut on Hong Kong’s iconic waterfront skyline this month as part of the second year of the hugely successful Great European Carnival with a bellyful of exciting, eclectic and affordable entertainment! It includes some of the very best shows and artists from London, Australia, the Edinburgh Fringe and also local talent from Hong Kong. Just like on London’s Southbank and in Edinburgh, you can come and enjoy circus, dance, music, beat -boxing and family shows, as well as comedy and cabaret over the weekends and holidays.


January 17 to 26, Kalibo, Philippines

Ati-Atihan is a nine-day exhibition of costume and dance and feast in honour of Santo Nino (Infant Jesus), in the island and town of Kalibo, Aklan. Soot-black painted faces, feather headdresses, and animal bones create an arresting visual impression. Drumming and dancing break out at dawn and continue on until the festival ends three days later at a masquerade ball. A mass outdoor procession follows a sacred image of Santo Nimo from the Kalibo Cathedral to Pastrana Park. Don’t miss the masquerade ball. The creativity and colour of the traditional costumes are matched only by Brazil’s Carnival and Papua New Guinea’s Mt Hagen Cultural Festival.


January 23, Nara, Japan

Visit Nara and watch Mount Wakakusayama burning. This annual festival is quite an enigma. People have celebrated it for centuries, but its origin is not clear. When the grass on the hillside of Mount Wakakusayama is turning brown in January, the local folks will set fire to the mountain. The flames can been seen from anywhere in Nara. Temples and local communities draw visitors for the festive activities and the fireworks.

In the Spirit of Isaan

Posted by pakin On December - 3 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Jim Thompson Farm reopens on Saturday for five weeks of rustic beauty

The Thai winter is now officially here and once again Jim Thompson Farm is celebrating by throwing open its gates to the country’s most popular ecotourism attractions. This year’s Farm Tour, on the theme “Mang Moon Boon Khao”, gets underway on Saturday and honours the Isaan rice culture.

Popular with city dwellers looking to get out of Bangkok for the weekend, the annual visit to Pak Thong Chai district offers a wonderful opportunity to commune with nature. Along with beautiful scenery, it features orchards, mulberry plantations, fields of flowers, nurseries, hydroponic vegetable production and an education in how rice is interwoven with the people of Isaan.

“There are a lot of things to explore this year including the cosmos fields and the pumpkin patch,” says Yuttapong Matwiset, Isaan Culture Adviser at Jim Thompson Farm. “However, the highlight is on rice and its relationship with the people of the Northeast.

“Visitors will enjoy exploring the circle of life and the spirit of the Isaan plain through a series of rice-related traditions,” Yuttapong continues.

“The farm offers a hand-on experience through activities and food, making it ideal for a family trip.”

Over the last 12 years fewer and fewer Thai people have been observing the customs and traditions passed down from previous generations. While change is of course an inevitable part of any culture, this fading out of activities once so dear to the agricultural way of life leaves in its wake a strong sense of nostalgia and a hankering for a calmer, more spiritual, lifestyle.

A day at the farm satisfies that hunger.

The spirit of the Isaan people is interrelated with the circle of rice, which begins in the early part of the rainy season when local folk celebrate the rocket festival. The idea of firing rockets to the sky is to “leave” a message in heaven for the Rain God to pour the rain on the earth so that rice growing can begin.

Isaan farmers always mark the important moments throughout the circle of rice. When the very first ears of rice emerge from the ground in the 10th lunar month, the villagers hold a merit-making rite known as boon khao sak to appease their dead relatives and ask their spirits to bless the rice field and ward off insects and pests.

The series of merit-making rites continues through the summer with the largest boon phawed ceremony taking place when the rice has been harvested and the farm work is complete. People will celebrate the end of the circle by spending a day and night listening to 13 chapters of Lord Buddha reincarnation.

“Jim Thompson Farm presents demonstrations of these rice-related ceremonies in a very authentic atmosphere giving visitors a rare opportunity to experience them,” says Yuttapong.

The celebrations take place around Isaan Village, home to several traditional Thai houses looking out over the rice fields. Visitors are guaranteed breathtaking views as well as an authentic experience of the Isaan way of life.

And there’s plenty to enjoy in addition to the cultural shows including a field of pink cosmos covering more than 50 rai. Here too, visitors can also walk alongside the kitchen garden and admire row after row of organic vegetables or even pick fresh vegetables from the plots if they want to take them home.

At Jim Thompson Village visitors will be introduced to the distinctive silk production processes of the renowned Jim Thompson brand from start to end. They will learn the lifecycle of silkworm and how the little creature makes this natural fibre and also see the processes of silk reeling, yarn dyeing, silk weaving and fabric printing.

And, at Jim Thompson Market, visitors can buy vegetables, fruits, trees, pot flowers, fresh produce and processed products from Jim Thompson Farm, as well as silk fabrics and other products from the Jim Thompson brand.

Last but never least is the opportunity to be photographed with one of the farm’s biggest stars – Boonlai the buffalo

Beauty in shades of blue

Posted by pakin On November - 19 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Kamuimisaki cape at the edge of Hokkaido’s Shakotan Peninsula offers a wonderful view of the sea

REACHING THE tip of Kamuimisaki cape on the north-western edge of the Shakotan Peninsula in Hokkaido, can only be achieved on foot and involves walking carefully along a narrow path that looks and feels like a mountain ridge, rising as high as 80 metres above sea level. Buffeted by the wind, it takes me a full 20 minutes to reach the cape, which looks out over the crystal-clear Sea of Japan, a beautiful shade of azure that has become known as “Shakotan blue”.

From this viewpoint, the horizon appears slightly curved at both ends testifying to what we already know – that the Earth is round. And even through it took about an hour from the centre of Shakotan by car, the spectacle is well worth the trip.

The sea offers not only this impressive view but also a variety of seafood. The town is famous for nama uni don (raw sea urchin roe atop a bowl of rice). I was there, however, just after the fishing season, which is limited to June through August.

Even so, a Japanese restaurant I visited for lunch still offered steamed sea urchin roe, and I enjoyed the kaisendon sashimi bowl decorated lavishly with northern shrimp and seasonal salmon roe. The sea urchin roe melted in my mouth, and I could taste its subtle sweetness.

Forests account for 80 per cent of the town. The rains that fall on the highlands are soaked up in the mountain areas, and the nutrient-laden rivers flow into the sea. This process is believed to help the growth of seafood and seaweed.

In 2010, Japan Tobacco Inc began a 10-year project called JT Forest Shakotan to help the conservation of these mountains. JT subsidises the costs of forest management within the reach of three rivers running through the town, including the Bikunigawa.

“Ill-maintained forests are recovering,” Hideki Matsui, the 68-year-old mayor of Shakotan tells me.

“I want to scientifically prove that mountains foster the ocean.”

Experts on forests, rivers and seas have already started investigations in their various fields.

“I hope they will collect enough data soon so that we can properly explain to children, who will be responsible for the next generation,” Matsui continues.

Forests not only nurture the abundant sea, but also are helping the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. About 2,000 trees including Japanese larches were cut down, sent to disaster-hit areas such as Miyagi Prefecture and used as foundations for temporary housing units in May 2011. The workings of nature help human beings, showing the importance of protecting nature.

The next day, I visited a traditional-style fishermen’s lodge in the centre of the town that was originally built for those involved in the herring fishing industry, once the pride of the town. The streets are littered with the houses, now abandoned, that once accommodated fishing boat owners, their families and their crews.

In 2008, residents in the town began activities to preserve these houses as sightseeing spots. Local volunteers including Noriichi Bessho, 67, renovated the lodge and named it Yamashime Banya.

A public interest corporation subsidised the costs of renovation such as for replacing the flooring.

The facility was opened to the public until late September, hosting events such as shamisen lute performances. It is currently closed in preparation for further restoration work, but should reopen around May next year.

“I feel regret if tourists just eat sea urchin roe and leave town. I want them to know the history of Shakotan,” Bessho says.