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Welcome to the Instagram blog! See how Instagrammers are capturing and sharing the world's moments through photo and video features, user spotlights, tips and news from Instagram HQ.

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Location Feature, Japan, meoto iwa, wedded rocks, 夫婦岩, landscape, shinto,

The Romance of Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩), the Wedded Rocks

For more photos and videos from the wedded rocks, explore the 夫婦岩 / The Wedded Rocks location page.

Off the coast of Futami in Japan’s Mie prefecture, two large rocks jutting from the sea are tied in eternal embrace. Known as meoto iwa (夫婦岩), the “wedded rocks” comprise a shinto site symbolizing the union of Izanagi and Izanami, the divine couple that gave birth to the Japanese islands and the kami (spirits) that inhabit them. The rice-straw ceremonial rope, or shimenawa (注連縄), that binds the rocks weighs over a ton and must be replaced multiple times a year as it deteriorates in the wet sea air.

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hashtag highlight, user feature, Japan,

Joining “The Wall Club” (#ザ壁部) with @ka_nai

To see more photos from “The Wall Club,” browse the #ザ壁部 hashtag and follow @ka_nai on Instagram.

"One of my followers once told me that all the photos I take on Instagram are of walls, so I decided to create a hashtag for it." This is how Tokyo Instagrammer Hisayuki Kanai (@ka_nai) came up with the idea for a unique hashtag to chronicle his wall photos: #ザ壁部, literally meaning “The Wall Club” in Japanese (the English equivalent of the hashtag is #straightfacades). Until very recently, the hashtag project became the center of his life as he searched for good walls to shoot whenever he went out.

"For me, taking wall photos is not meant to be ‘photography.’ I capture walls because it is something I can find anywhere to design a square frame in interesting ways," explains Hisayuki. "The trick to shooting wall photos is to just shoot straight!" he adds. "It takes a lot of patience aligning the camera in perfect parallel with the wall."

Hisayuki’s work quickly caught the imagination of other community members and the hashtag is now widely used by many Instagrammers across the world. “I’ve actually been thanked by other strange people like me who like to take photos of walls but didn’t know what to make of it,” he says.

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local lens, user feature, Japan,

Local Lens: An Authentic View of Tokyo with @airnude

In this series, local Instagrammers show you their favorite places to shoot around where they live. To explore more of Tokyo, follow @airnude on Instagram.

"Being born and raised in Tokyo, there is no other charm about this place than all the stories I can find in it," says Tokyo Instagrammer Suguru Azuma (@airnude). For Suguru, these stories are mostly about his memories. “I like to shoot all over Itabashi Ward and Ikebukuro District. I haven’t really thought about why, but, come to think of it, these are areas around my hometown that I was able to explore by foot when I was in elementary school.”

Suguru finds inspiration in things that remind him of his childhood days. He often captures honest, everyday scenes which to others may seem trivial. Sculptures peeking out of a neighbor’s house that terrified him as a child, a wall of an elementary school that his friend used to attend, a parking lot where a friend’s house used to stand—these are some of the nostalgic locations that Suguru likes to shoot in old suburban areas of Tokyo.

Suguru also likes to discover simple, unembellished sceneries in huge entertainment districts like Shinjuku-Kabukicho, Shibuya, Harajuku and Ueno. “In these places, there is a high chance you will run into something unexpected. Tokyo has the modern, cosmopolitan areas as well as the old, traditional places like my hometown. I like to keep a mix of photos from both sides of the city,” he says.

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current event, Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan,

The 2014 Sapporo Snow Festival Begins in Sapporo, Japan

To see more photos and videos of this year’s snow festival, explore the さっぽろ雪まつり SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL, 大通公園 (Odori Park), つどーむ and すすきの (Susukino) location pages.

The 65th Sapporo Snow Festival (さっぽろ雪まつり) began yesterday in the northern city of Sapporo, Japan. The week-long festival is one of the biggest winter events in the country, displaying hundreds of snow statues and ice sculptures in three venues across the city. Millions of visitors from around the world gather to marvel at the towering snow art and the elegantly shaped figures made of ice.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces, local construction companies, guest teams from abroad and local volunteers spend up to one month completing their projects. In addition to featuring trends and icons from the previous year, this year’s snow sculptures also showcase famous architectural structures such as the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daula in India and Malaysia’s Sultan Abdul Samad building.

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location feature, cats, Cat Island, Japan, 田代島, Tashirojima,

A Visit to Japan’s Cat Island: Tashirojima (田代島)

For more photos and videos of Tashirojima’s cats, explore the 田代島 location page.

Off the Oshika Peninsula on the eastern shore of Japan sits Tashirojima (田代島), a small island that is home to about 100 people and hundreds of cats. “Cat Island,” as Tashiorjima is commonly called, was once home to a fishing industry and about 1,000 people, but the population has steadily declined and aged since its peak in the 1950s.

The island’s cats—believed to bring good fortune by locals—are Tashirojima’s biggest draw these days. Feline fanatics that are lucky enough to make the journey can also explore the island’s many cat shrines and cat-shaped stone monuments.

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hashtag highlight, charaben, Japan,

Inside the Bento Box: Exploring the Art of Charaben (#キャラ弁)

To see more photos of beautifully decorated bentos, browse the #キャラ弁 hashtag.

For many Japanese people, having home cooked bentos, or boxed meals, for lunch is a part of everyday life. Often parents will wake up early in the morning to prepare and pack the lunches into individual bento boxes for the whole family before they go to school or work. In recent years, the daily endeavor to prepare a balanced and appetizing meal has evolved into an artistic talent. These have taken the form of “charabens" (キャラ弁), short for "character bentos."

Charabens are bentos that are arranged to resemble famous characters, animals or other cute icons using the ingredients of the meal. Charaben making originally started as a way to encourage fussy kids to eat everything in the bento, including vegetables. Nowadays, with more cooking ideas and specialized tools at hand, this elaborate style of bento creation has become a hobby for many mothers. The bentos are increasingly sophisticated with rice balls shaped into rabbits, eggs baked to form stars and seaweed carved out into kids’ favorite manga characters. Skilled charaben are also beginning to gain recognition for their craft as many mothers have taken to writing blogs and cookbooks about their work, producing new cooking utensils or even entering charaben cooking contests.

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current event, wakakusa yamayaki, Japan,

The 2014 Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival (若草山焼き) Takes Place in Nara, Japan

To see more photos and videos of Wakakusa Yamayaki, browse the #山焼き hashtag and explore the 奈良公園 (Nara Park), 若草山 山頂 and 若草山 location pages.

On the fourth Saturday of January, the annual Wakakusa Yamayaki (若草山焼き), or “Roasting of Wakakusa Mountain” festival, takes place in Nara, Japan. As the name suggests, the festival is celebrated by setting fire to the dry grass of Wakakusa Mountain, creating a hill of fire. The event begins with a dazzling fireworks show, immediately followed by a lighting ceremony held at the foot of the mountain by Shinto priests. The spectacle of fire emitted from the top of the 342-meter (1,122-foot) mountain can be viewed throughout the city of Nara and from parts of neighboring cities. Many local and visiting Instagrammers gather to capture the fireworks and blazing hillside as the fire spreads throughout the mountain.

The tradition of Wakakusa Yamayaki is thought to have evolved over hundreds of years since it began before the Edo period (1603-1867 CE). Though the exact origin of the event is unclear, several theories exist. According to one theory, Todaiji (東大寺), Kofukuji (興福寺) and Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the three great temples of Nara, started the hill burning as an act to calm the spirit of an ancient burial mound on the peak of the mountain. Another theory claims that the mountain was burned due to a boundary dispute between Todaiji and Kofukuji.

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User Feature, coffee, Japan, latteart,

Exploring Cafés in Japan with @tukanana

To see more photos of Japanese coffee shops and beautiful latte art, follow @tukanana on Instagram. You can also find more photos and stories of his experiences on his blog.

Over the past few years, cafés have become a place of craftsmanship and artistry in Japan. New coffee shops that roast their own beans and serve them in their own brewing styles are emerging across the country. Many locals have embraced the coffee culture, including Tokyo Instagrammer @tukanana. A fan of Japanese cafés for nearly ten years, he goes to as many as four coffee shops daily to enjoy various types of coffee and the different atmosphere of the shops.

"Japanese cafés are great because each of the shops has their own personality which reflects the seasons as well as the area of their location," he says. "Also, there is a good selection of cafés to choose from to find the one that best matches your taste."

@tukanana makes his selection of cafés based on a holistic evaluation of location, appearance, interior and menu. While many of his photos focus on just the coffee, he always likes to share at least one photo that captures the total atmosphere of the shop. “I look at many magazines and works of other good photographers, which makes it easier for me to picture the kind of shot I want,” he says.

To see more photos and videos from coffee shops in Japan, explore the following location pages:

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current events, Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館), Japan,

The 2014 Grand Sumo Tournament Begins at Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館)

For more photos and videos from the Grand Sumo Tournament, explore the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館) location page.

Another year of the Grand Sumo Tournament began a week ago at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (両国国技館) in Tokyo, Japan.

The tournament, called honbasho (本場所), is a series of six seasonal tournaments, each of which lasts 15 days. The opening tournament in January, known as hatsu basho (初場所), as well as the third tournament in May (natsu basho – 夏場所) and the fifth tournament in September (aki basho – 秋場所), all take place at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan sporting arena. During the tournament period, Sumo wrestlers compete once a day to win a majority of the matches, which will ensure their promotion to a higher wrestling rank and their advancement to the next tournament.

The honbasho tournaments are the only opportunities for sumo wrestlers to gain their rights and ranks as professional wrestlers. For them, winning the tournaments is the most significant goal of their wrestling careers.

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artthursday, Japan, site of reversible destiny,

Exploring the Site of Reversible Destiny (養老天命反転地) in Gifu, Japan

To see more photos and videos of the park’s abstract mazes and other extraordinary constructions, explore the Site of Reversible Destiny - Yoro Park (養老天命反転地) location page.

This week, we visit the Site of Reversible Destiny - Yoro Park (養老天命反転地) in Gifu, Japan, an exploration park created in 1995 by contemporary artist Shusaku Arakawa and poet Madeline Gins.

Just as eccentric as the name sounds, the park contains structures such as mazes, paths, mounds and hallows, which are designed to be physically disorientating. The two main areas of the park, the “Critical Resemblance House” and the “Elliptical Field,” take visitors through perception-bending courses with gigantic maps, unnaturally arranged furniture and strangely shaped buildings.