Thursday, November 25, 2010

Toei Kyoto Studio Park: Ninja vs. Samurai

"Japan is all about the side trips."
--Marie, an Australian girl who taught English in Japan

"Welcome to my shop," said the ninja to his victims.

Me and a ninja doing an attack pose

Me with a samurai

"Meet ninjas and samurai!" the headline screamed from the guidebook, Kyoto's Greatest Travel Tips. I'd picked it up from a pile of books at my hostel. The book happened to fall open on that page, which described the Toei Kyoto Studio Park.

It was a guidebook aimed at children, but no matter. I didn't know the Toei Studio Park even existed before I came to Japan. But once I saw that headline, I was hooked!

When I travel, I try to have a balance of must-see places with other places that I'm personally interested in. Some destinations are so famous that you have to go. Kyoto is a requirement for any Japan itinerary. The Toei Studio isn't. Yet I always get more into travel when going to a place I feel like I've "discovered."

The Toei Studio is that curious phemonon: a tourist trap without tourists. Maybe it was because it was raining that day. More likely, it's because the studio isn't prominently listed in guidebooks. This is really strange. When I tell other other travelers about the studio, their reactions are like, "That sounds so cool! I'd have gone there if I'd known about it!"

I joke that the Toei Studio is a Japan-land. Every clichéd image of Japan is there: giant robots, Power Rangers, and sword-wielding warriors. I kept expecting Godzilla to stomp through and blast some buildings with his radioactive breath.

Super Sentai mecha

The Metal Heroes

2-story tall statue of Masked Rider, the world's ugliest superhero

Of course it's all totally fake, which is a nice lesson in how travel can shatter stereotypes. The only place in Japan that had all the iconic figures of Japan was a theme park.

My favorite section of the park was where they did a live studio demonstration of how a scene gets filmed. I have an avid interest in filmmaking, so it was fun to see the Japanese approach to shooting movies.

Director talking to a ninja

Although the presentation was entirely in Japanese, it was easy to see what was going on. A fight scene is like a dance, with careful movements and precision timing. Safety is the first priority. It's up to the actors' skill at performance to make it look dangerous.

The director choreographed the fight sequence, even taking up a stick against the ninja to show what he wanted. Then he had the actors run through the scene a few times until they had it down. At the end of the presentation, the audience got to watch the finished fight scene!

Director fighting with a ninja

Ninja fights samurai!

The studio park is meant for children, but I felt like an excited 10-year-old boy while wandering around the historical village set. Where could I become a samurai superstar?

That's when I saw the Costume Photo Corner. For a fee, I could wear a costume and get a professional photograph. The hardest part was choosing a costume! I was overwhelmed by the wide selection of traditional clothes I could wear. I rejected a lot of awesome suits. Mainly because I felt a Japanese guy would look cool in that, but I'd look like an idiot. After a lot of consideration, I chose a costume.

I never realized how complicated Japanese garments were. Two young Japanese women assisted me in wrapping and tying the layers of robes properly. I felt like an emperor being dressed by servant girls.

The photo assistants really micro-managed my pose as if I was a mannequin. They'd move my fists a millimeter in one direction or another. A girl tilted my head for the best angle toward the camera. At one point, I wondered if they'd pull at the corners of my mouth, to adjust my smile!

The actual photo-taking lasted less than 10 seconds. Then the girls were ripping the clothes off me. I didn't even get their names.

Meet the new samurai superstar!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kobe: Where's the Beef?

"I am totally willing to drop serious money on a bomb-ass steak."
--Steven, a Taiwanese-American engineer in Kyoto

My Kobe beef steak

This review grabbed me:

"A-1 has a relaxed atmosphere and serves thick slices of Kobe beef. The teppanyaki steak (broiled on a hot plate) is cooked in a spice, wine, and soy marinade and served with charcoal-grilled vegetables and crisp garlic potatoes."
--Fodor's Japan 2009

Ding ding ding!  We have a winner! 

Is it worth it to travel a long way, just for the food?  Yes!  Japanese food will never taste the same for me again.  Once you've eaten "the real thing," nothing else compares. Kobe beef was available all over Japan, but I felt I had just had to eat it in Kobe.  The only way to get the complete experience.

As usual, I got lost coming out of the train station. Finally, I got my bearings and found A-1.

A-1 restaurant

The surprising thing was how the place didn't feel Japanese at all. The wooden counter and bar stools could have come from any pub in the world. It actually felt more like a pub than a dark, smoky steakhouse.

I pulled up a seat at the bar. The cook, wearing a pristine white uniform, came over and silently handed me a menu. The struggle was to avoid staring at the prices. Was that the cost of a steak, or one week's rent in Thailand?

"Should I spend the money or not?" was a recurring dilemma for travelers. Certain things should only be done right, or not at all. This was one of those times. Like that famous Gucci slogan: "Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten."

After I told him my order, the cook unwrapped some Kobe beef and carefully slid them onto steel prongs. Then he laid the meat on the grill. Very efficient, tidy movements. He could have been a surgeon.

Preparing the meat.

Kobe beef on the grill

The fun part was when the cook switched the steak into a frying pan and proceeded to flambée it to hell.  Flames exploded up into the air.  The mark of a real pro: without changing expression, he knew exactly how many millimeters to lean his head back so he didn't lose his eyebrows.


He picked up various bottles and poured the delicious liquids all over the steaks. By now, the aroma was reaching my nose. Immediate thought: when will the food be done?!

Soon, was the answer. The cook faced me and signaled with his hands that I should put on the napkin like a bib. The napkin had long narrow strips that I used to tie it behind my neck. Now I was ready.

Cook with steak platter

The cook deftly slid the steak off the frying pan into a black sizzling platter. He turned around and set the platter down in front of me. The oil and juices crackled, popping off into my bib. Steam carried the heady smells to my nose.

I picked up my chopsticks. There's always a moment of fear when taking the first bite of an expensive meal.  Did I just waste my money on crappy food? 

Picking up the steak with chopsticks

As I bit down into the steak, it was soft and chewy. Just as my teeth met each other, the sauces hit my tongue. Light, savory, with a hint of sweetness. Delicate and balanced mix of flavors, totally different from steak sauces I've tasted in America.

This was one satisfied diner.

Fortified with a good meal, I was ready to explore Kobe. What struck me was how international it felt, for a relatively small city. Cafés, European restaurants, and live music joints were the norm. So cool that it almost made me forget Taipei.

Then it hit me: Kobe was a smaller, friendlier Hong Kong. Both cities have big ports. All that trade lent a cosmopolitan character to both cities. They have lots of foreign-oriented places for expats to hang out.

Walking among the colonial houses felt like a trip through Europe-land. There was a British House, a French house, etc. They seemed dressed up as Japanese stereotypes of what those countries were like.

French house

British house

At nightfall, I headed into Chinatown. I'd heard that Yokohama has the biggest Chinatown, but Kobe's was supposed to be better.

Buddha statue

Entrance gate

Having lived in China before, visiting Chinatowns are now a weird experience for me. These communities have their own separate character, totally apart from the motherland. The average street in China has a household goods shop with brooms and buckets on the sidewalk, a DVD shop with pirated movies, a "hair salon" that's really a whorehouse, etc. Not charming at all.

Kobe's Chinatown shuts down relatively early.  I got there around 9 P.M. and the place was deserted, like a Chinese ghost town. Night markets are really unique only to Taiwan. I strolled around and had the whole area to myself. That's one thing you'll never find in China: quiet.

Temple and red lanterns

Kitschy and tacky fun, like other Chinatowns. This was the China only seen in postcards. Kobe had the only other clean Chinatown I'd seen, besides the one in Singapore.

Cooks at a food stall

When I walked away, I marveled at how Japan had so many cool cities. It wasn't all about Tokyo.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Big O: Osaka

" . . . the Japanese are the world's champion modifiers. Only the most serious restauranteurs refrain from editing some of the authenticity out of foreign cuisines . . ."
--Fodor's Japan 2009, pg. 90

Two girls posing in Dotonbori, a nightlife area.

A rock band sets up near JR Osaka train station.

Chika and me at Shinsekai, a local area.

"Where's the coolest place in Osaka?" I asked Chika, a Japanese girl who lived in the city.

She thought for a moment. "America-mura!" she said. (Translates into Americatown.)

Imagine that "wah-wah-waaah" sound in comedy shows when a joke falls flat. That's what I heard in my head.

"What do mean, Americatown?" I said, flabbergasted. I didn't travel all the way to Japan to see U.S. culture.

"Do not worry," Chika said. "It is still Japanese!"

That reminded me of something I read in my guidebook, how the people can take foreign things and make them Japanese.

"Okay, let's go," I said at last.

Indeed, we wandered into a land of luxury department stores that could've been anywhere in the world. The local effects were in the little things: a snack bar that served Coke and okonomiyaki, an American flag fluttering in the wind as everyone chatted in Japanese.

Two girls eating at a snack bar

An American flag outside a trendy clothing shop

In that moment, Japan seemed very much like America. As different as the two countries are, both are able to absorb outside influences and yet hold on to their national identities. Japan received most of its culture from China, via Korea. But no one would ever confuse Tokyo with Beijing.

Turn to the United States. French fries are Belgian, hamburgers are German, and pizza is Italian, and yet now they are stereotypically American foods. Fried chicken is so old, it traces its origins back to Europe and Africa.

A loud rumbling noise jolted me out of my thoughts. I turned and saw a monster truck roaring by. Just in case everyone around didn't hear him, the driver revved the motor once again with feeling.

Monster truck

I had to laugh. The louder the engine, the bigger the jerk.

"What is funny?" Chika asked.

I pointed at the monster truck growling away from us. "In America, my friends and I make fun of people who drive big trucks and noisy motorcycles."


"We joke that the drivers try to look big, because they are so small," I explained. I held my index finger and thumb an inch apart, in that gesture that is universally understood by girls.

"Ah!" Chika held a hand over her mouth and giggled.

Salarymen eating at a Japanese curry fast-food restaurant

"You were right," I admitted to Chika. "America-mura is still very Japanese."

"I know, I live in Osaka!" She lowered her voice. "We should not stay here too late."

Perplexed, I asked, "Why is that?" Japan was one of the safest countries I've ever visited.

"At night, it is dangerous. Some bad people sell cocaine," she said.

I laughed. "Now that sounds like America!"

Zuboraya, a restaurant famous for serving fugu (poison blowfish)

Photo: Three boys get onto a bullet train

Photo: The Hikari Rail Star bullet train (shinkansen)

Inside Information

Getting into town

Most trains arrive at JR Osaka or JR Shin-Osaka station. Shinkansen (bullet trains) usually go to Shin-Osaka. They're two different stations, so double-check to make sure you arrive at the right one.

From there, you have to take the "Loop Line" to your final destination. Be careful, the Loop Line is super confusing! It looks deceptively simple, but it's not. The different lines don't always stop at every station. This happened to me when I changed trains on it. I seemed to be going further away from the city. When I called my Osaka hostel to get directions, the guy said, "You're almost back in Nara!"

Where to stay

If you have a choice between basing yourself in Kyoto or Osaka, choose Kyoto. That's the best advice I can give. The quality and quantity of budget accommodation is much better. There are also more things to see in Kyoto. Osaka is more of a place to do business.

The good news is that Osaka has really cheap budget hotels, centered around JR Shin-Imamiya station. The bad news is that it's a really poor, ugly area. You won't get a positive impression of Osaka if you stay there.

The budget hotels are all roughly the same. The customers are primarily factory workers and low-level salarymen. For this reason, the room rates are shockingly low: around 2,500 yen (US$30) a night for a private room. Probably the best hotel deal for a major city in Japan.

Lucky for you guys, a nice new hostel opened up in Osaka about a month after I left. It's called Hostel 64. A funky designer hostel, close to Dotonbori and all the nightlife. I really wish I could've stayed there!

I stayed at Lemon House. The price and location were great, but the rooms were appalling! Way too cramped and messy. It's a "gaijin house" meant for long-stay foreigners, who are studying in Japan or looking for jobs. I did meet some nice people, but I wouldn't stay there again.

I've heard good things about Capsule Hotel Asahi Plaza Shinsaibashi. What you give up in space, you make up for in location since it's in the middle of all the action. Like all capsule hotels, it's strictly men-only.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nara: The Moment of Truth

"If you think Kyoto is great, Nara is even better!"
--Daniel, a Polish exchange student

Todaiji Temple

Deer in front of Todaiji entrance gate

Close encounters with deer

The "path to enlightenment" was behind the Buddha's butt. One of the wooden support pillars had a small hole in it. According to legend, the hole was the same size as the Buddha's nostril. If you could crawl through, you would be granted eternal wisdom.

Daibutsu Buddha statue

There was a nice ring of truth. The Buddha had to sneeze me out as human snot! Then I would have shown that I was worthy of his knowledge.

I got down on my hands and knees, then shoved myself into the Buddha's nose. The opening was too narrow for me to lie on my stomach. I twisted around onto my left side and used my feet to try to push myself through. Then all motion stopped.

Shit, I was stuck!

First Revelation: Panic

My feet flailed against the floor. I wanted desperately to push myself forward. Unfortunately, I was lying sideways and my shoes couldn't get enough traction into the ground. How could I be so stupid?!

What if it took an emergency crew to get me out? Worse, what if it was covered by the TV news? "Another silly gaijin got stuck in the hole at the Todaiji Temple," a reporter would say. "Once again, we have proof that the Japanese diet is superior to the American diet."

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Second Revelation: Adapt

I quit using my feet. Needed to use my brain. I wiggled in different directions, to get an idea of how much free space I had. The answer was none. I'm way too big for small holes. This problem happens a lot.

Assessed the situation. Time to check for visibility. I turned my head up to try to look ahead of me. Before I could do it all the way, the back of my head smacked against wood that was laid there in the year 752. Can't move and can't see.

Maybe I could shrug my shoulders to move forward? I tried as hard as I could. Moved about two millimeters. At this rate, Japan would go through ten prime ministers before I got out.

Kokufuji Temple

Third Revelation: Improvise

All I had left were my hands. Correction: make that one hand. When I crawled in, my right hand was at my side. This deep into the hole, my right hand was pinned to my waist. Totally useless!

Had to use the one hand still at my disposal. I felt for the opening, with my hand flopping around like a dying fish. Just banged against more and more walls. Where the hell was the end of the tunnel?

Fortune teller booth at Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Fourth Revelation: Overcome

Finally, I felt my fingers curl around the edge of the opening. I pulled. Nothing. I was really wedged in tight! Come on, I summoned my dance muscles. The muscles that can power me through a whole night of clubbing.

Then I felt my shoulder scrape against the ground. I was moving! I pulled harder, and tried to use my right elbow to give myself an extra push.

My head cleared the hole and sweet sweet air poured into my lungs. Free at last! I kicked away from that wooden womb and crawled into the world totally reborn.

The Enlightened One emerges!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kyoto: The Temple Remix

"If you go Kyoto, you gonna be sick of temples!"
--Hiro, a staff member at Hostel K's House Tokyo Oasis.

Me at Kinkakuji (a.k.a. Golden Pavilion)

Me and Steven at Ryoanji Zen Rock Garden

Me at Fushimi Inari Shrine

I was struggling to get that perfect shot. I couldn't get a good photo with the Silver Pavilion! I'd spent half an hour asking passing Japanese tourists to take a photo of me, with the pavilion in the background. Every time, the resulting photo was awful. The framing was off, I'd be too small to be recognized, or something else would be wrong.

In the book Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, the author mentions a study of how Japanese and Americans take photos differently. Two groups of students--American and Japanese--were given cameras. Their assignment: take pictures of your best friend. The Americans would shoot close-ups, emphasizing the individual's identity. In the Japanese photos, the best friend would be tiny, with the background more dominant. Environment over the individual.

Back to me at the pavilion. I was on the verge of giving up. No matter how many times I tried to be a director, the shots wouldn't come out right. Time to quit.

Then I noticed a Japanese girl in a kimono. She'd been waiting for me to see her. She held out a digital camera, gesturing for me to take a picture of her and her friends.

If I can't get a good picture, I'll help someone else get one, I reasoned. I aimed the camera. I waved my hand for the girls to move closer together. They shuffled toward the center. Slowly, I moved forward, filling the frame with their beautiful kimono-clad figures. Tapped the shutter button.

Kimono girls at Silver Pavilion

With a flourish, I showed the camera screen to the girls. Their smiles of delight made it all worthwhile. Then they huddled together and discussed something. A decision was reached. One girl beckoned me to stand with them.

I couldn't believe my luck! I gave my camera to a woman standing nearby. Before she could start backing away (and making us shrink in the photo), I told her to take the picture from where she was already standing. She did. Success!

Me with kimono girls

We bowed to each other and parted ways. It wasn't until I left that this thought occurred to me: why didn't she ask one of the other guys hanging around to take her photo?

The fleeting friendships are one of the sadder parts of travel. I'll meet someone cool, then they'll be gone the next day. This happens a lot in "transit" cities like Hong Kong, which people use as gateways to somewhere else. And if it's an expensive gateway city without signature sights, it's even more serious. In Tokyo, I had new hostel roommates every night!

Luckily, Kyoto was filled with things to see. For many travelers Kyoto is Old Japan. So my new roommates were there for a whole week, the same as me. What a big break!

Steven, Christian, and Ken at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant

Christian was of Indonesian Chinese origin, but grew up in the states. I cheered up when Ken and Steven said they were Taiwanese-American. I love Taiwan! We spent the most of the first night chatting about partying in Taipei.

We ended up eating our way through Kyoto together. It was basically a crash course in Japanese cuisine.

Breakfast: Noodles

Paying the noodle lady

Soba noodles with a side order of inari

Lunch: Sushi

100-yen sushi. Gotta grab those bargains!

Ordering sushi via touchscreen

Ken ponders his sushi plate.

Dinner: Yakitori

Various kinds of chicken yakitori and Asahi beer

Me chowing down on yakitori

Snack: Giant rice crackers

Giant cracker vendor

Choose your flavor.

It's a cliché to say that foods are better when eaten in the original country. Like how Chinese food in China is better than a Chinatown in the West. This is blasphemy for me to say, but I have had good Chinese food outside of China. I actually think the Chinese food in Malaysia is even better, because they use Southeast Asian spices and Indian curries.

However, the Japanese food in Japan is on a whole other level above what's served anywhere else. Everything is just so much better: the rice, the noodles, the seaweed, even the soy sauce is amazing.

The noodle joints are really basic. An old woman will boil a pack of noodles for under a minute, scoop the noodles into a bowl, add some broth, and it's done. So simple, yet the food is so fantastic.

When people talk about how expensive Japan is, the first thing that springs to my mind isn't the $100 Kobe beef steaks. It's a steamed bun I ate in Kyoto.

The 400-yen steamed bun.

It cost 400 yen (US$4.25). In China, you can get a steamed bun (包子) for less than 1 yuan (US$0.15). The Japan price is outrageous! According to my calculations, you could buy about 28 Chinese steamed buns for that. Curiosity got the better of me. I just had to know what a 400-yen steamed bun tasted like. The verdict: good, but not that good.

To avoid bombarding you guys with every temple I saw, I'll just write about my favorite one: the Kiyomizudera Temple. Temples in Kyoto are surprisingly small and ornate. Quite a contrast from their giant, flamboyant counterparts in Beijing or even Nikko.

The Kiyomizudera was big and had lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Best of all, it's cheaper than the more famous temples. The admission fee was 300 yen (US$3.19), about half the price of other temples in Kyoto.

Girls washing hands before entering the temple.

Guys ringing bells.

The main building was a huge wooden structure against a mountain. Along the main balcony, people crowded the rails to get their photos taken with the vast backdrop.

Kiyomizudera main balcony

Pagoda with city in background

In that complex is the Jishu Shrine, where there are two "love stones," placed 18 meters apart. The saying is, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will find true love.

Girl trying to find the stone with eyes closed

Instead of doing that, I relied on the good old hostel magic.

Jumi played bass guitar in a rock band. She had also studied abroad in Melbourne, so she spoke English with a fun Australian accent.

Jumi and me at Sandal Wood hostel

Trusting Jumi's excellent fashion sense, I asked her where I could buy a cheap kimono. I thought that would be the ultimate Japanese souvenir, having a kimono to use as a bed robe.

She suggested I hit the Kobo-san Market, which was held on the 21st of every month at the Toji Temple. Jumi said it was a famous shopping area for antiques and traditional Japanese crafts. She said a lot of people sold secondhand goods at low prices.

Toji Temple and moat

The scheduling was tight, since I was supposed to move to Osaka on that day. Had to do some last-minute improvising. I checked out of the hostel in the morning, stashed my backpack in a locker at Kyoto train station, then went to the Kobo-san Market. My new plan was to go to Osaka after visiting the market.

Usually I hate disrupting my plans, but I'm glad I made an exception this time. Kobo-san Market was my favorite attraction in Kyoto! It was full of local color and local people. If you're going to visit Kyoto, I highly recommend timing your visit so that you can be there on the 21st of the month.

This woman vendor was really loud and aggressive! Surprising for a Japanese.

Scene from Kobo-san Market

Ceremonial dolls

Vendors cooking okonomiyaki

I kept my eyes open for any kimonos. The first stall I went to had some cool kimonos, but they cost 3,500 yen (US$37). I decided not to rush and buy something right away. I've done that at other markets in the past. Later I'd see the same product at another stall for a cheaper price. Then I'd kick myself for being impulsive.

In the back of the market, I finally found what I was looking for. A table piled high with secondhand kimonos selling for only 1,000 yen (US$10.55)!

Secondhand kimonos for sale

I dove right in, picking out the coolest designs I could find. Narrowed it down to three finalists. I tried them all on. They all fit okay. Then I took a deep breath and forced myself not to get excited and buy them all immediately. I closely examined each kimono, looking for holes, loose threads, etc.

Only one passed my inspection. That's the one I bought. Ah, I couldn't wait to get home and wear my new samurai pajamas!

Inside Information

Where to stay

I stayed at the Sandal Wood Hostel. The owners are super-friendly and play in a rock band. The hostel itself is comfortable and homey, it feels like staying at a friends apartment. The common area is spacious, but the rooms are small and just okay.

Backpacker Hostel K's House Kyoto is the most famous branch of this chain. Other travelers have reported that it's really nice. The big advantage is that it's close to the main train station. Book early, as they're often full.

Getting around

The best way to get around the city is by bus. The subway system isn't as extensive as the bus network. Kyoto train station is the central bus stop. Pick up a bus map from the Tourist Information Center on the second floor of the train station.

It's best to buy stored-value cards from machines at the train station. Then you'll avoid fumbling for exact change to pay for bus fares.

These three buses go to most of the famous attractions. Source: Kyoto Prefectural Government Welcome to Kyoto site.

100 RAKU Bus
To Higashiyama, Heian Shrine, Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

(East route): From Kyoto Station the bus goes to the Higashiyama area such as Sanjusangen-do Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Yasaka-jinja Shrine. Then, it goes to the Okazaki area such as Heian-jingu Shrine, Eikan-do Temple and Nazen-ji Temple and goes to Ginkaku-ji Temple. Then it comes back to Kyoto Station.

101 RAKU Bus
To Nijo Castle, Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine, Kinakaku-ji Temple

(Central route): From Kyoto Station the bus goes to Nijo Castle, Horikawa Imadegawa where Nishijin Textile Center is located, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kinakaku-ji Temple and Daikoku-ji Temple. It finally goes to Kitano Tenman- gu Shrine, Kinkaku-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple. It finally goes to Kitao-ji Bus Terminal and then comes back to Kyoto Station. At Kitano Hakubai-cho, Bus Route 101 connects to the Keifuku Railway bound for Arashiyama.

102 RAKU Bus
To Ginkaku-ji-Kinkaku-ji Temple (Silver and Gold Pavilions), Daitoku-ji Temple

(North route) From Ginkakuji-michi the bus goes along Imadegawa Street to Kyoto Imperial Palace, Nishijin Textile Center, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Kinkaku-ji Temple. It finally goes to Daitoku-ji Temple and then comes back. At Kitano Hakubai-cho, The bus connects to the Keifuku Railway bound for Arashiyama. At Demachiyanagi-eki- mae, it connects to the Eizan Rilway bound for Kurama.

What to buy

It's really worth arranging your schedule to be in Kyoto for one of its temple markets. Temple markets are great places to get cheap kimonos and other fun traditional items as souvenirs.

The most famous is the Kobo-san market at To-ji Temple, held on the 21st of each month.