A Guide to Japanese Vinegar

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Unless you specialize in Japanese cooking, the chances are that when you get here, you won’t have a clue what 60% of supermarket products even are. 

It’s not only that the food culture is different, but the fact that it is all written in difficult Japanese characters that won’t be in your textbooks. 

That’s why today, I’m going to tell you about a few types of vinegars. 

Why to care about vinegar

I used to think vinegar was just for fish and chips or a flavour of crisps, but that really isn’t the case. As with most countries, there is a wide variety of 酢 (su) that can be bought in most supermarkets. Each has different uses and different health benefits. 

Some even say that vinegar can:

・Reducing cholesterol

・Weight management

・Blood sugar control

・May help prevent cancer

・May improve heart health

 

While in Japan you can buy many fruit-based/balsamic veneger, I’ll be sticking to the tradtionally Japanese ones. 

Grain vinegar (穀物酢)

This is your standard and most popular vinegar in Japan. Usually made from rice or corn, this vinegar can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  

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Rice vinegar (米酢)

As you can guess, rice vinegar is made from rice. It is said to have the ‘sweetness’ of rice and goes well with typical Japanese dishes, including being used in salad dressings. 

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Sushi vinegar (すし酢)

Ever wondered why the rice in sushi is so much better than the rice you normally make? Because it has vinegar in it! When the switch has clicked on your rice cooker, open it up and add some vinegar. The trick is to lite fan the rice while you mix it. Blowing air on the rice helps dry out excess moisture, leaving you with distinct but soft grains of rice. 

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Black vinegar (黒酢)

Black vinegar is made from matured rice and is high in amino acid. It can be used in most dishes and is said to help fight fatigue. 

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How to Survive the Japanese Summer

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Summer in Japan is hot, sticky, and almost umbearable.

Last year saw the mercury rise to over 40 degrees – and while there are plenty of places that get hotter – few seem to be stickier. 

With near maximum levels of humidity, simply stepping outside will cause you to break out into a fully-blown sweat. If you have a long commute or walk to your hotel, say hello to the shower the second you get back.

Why is the Japanese Summer so Awful?

There are a lot of reasons why summer in Japan may feel a lot worse than what you’re used to. Here are a few reasons:

1. Lots of walking (tourism, commuting, etc.)

2. Heat island phenomenon (higher temperatures in cities due to human-related factors such as the overuse of air conditioners on a large scale).

3. Hot nights (In mid-summer, Japanese night temperature can be nearly 30 degrees – meaning sweaty beds and hot mornings.

4. High humidity (really high)

How to Prepare for the Heat

Apart from the obvious ways (plenty of water, suncream, and hats), Japan has come up with quite a few handy ways that help us battle on through the day.

Cool sheets/wipes (bought at most 100-yen stores, these body wipes give your skin a cool sensation)

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Cooling body wash (similar to above, makes your skin feel cool for 20-minutes after the shower)

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Cool Technology – “Cool tech” is the opposite of “heat tech” – a design in clothes and bedding that help keep your body cool and often has a “hinyari” texture.

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Ice blocks – put them in your freezer, get them out when you’re too hot or when you go to sleep. (Also available at most 100-yen stores.)

Hand fans (uchiwa, sensu) – A traditional one, but helpful nonetheless. (Also available at most 100-yen stores.)

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Sports drinks – cheap 2l bottles of sports drinks can be bought in most supermarkets at a decent price. Of course, there are more expensive ones such as Sweat (yup).

Parasol (higasa) – the parasol is back, and not only for women! Japan is trying to push the use of the parasol on men too (by coining the phrase “bidanshi” [parasol gentleman]). And if you’re really cool, you’ll get the hat version.

In Summary

In summery, the summery Japan can be summed up into this:

It’s hot (maybe not as hot as some places), but high humidity and hot nights don’t let up – so it’s best to prepare with a few cooling products.

5 Delicious Types of Japanese Mushrooms

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Before I came to Japan, I hated mushrooms. Big, weird-tasting white things that look like the last place they’re meant to be is on your plate. However, while I’m still not a fan of the mushrooms back in the UK, there are plenty of Japanese mushrooms I’ve grown to like.

When you first come to Japan, most people have no idea what anything is or how to use it. That’s why I decided to make a little guide to some of Japan’s most popular fungi.

1. Shiitake

In hot-pots, fried, in soups – this large mushroom with a solid texture is the boss when it comes to Japanese mushrooms. Don’t be afraid to serve this bad boy in thick slices to really get the taste. As with most mushrooms, it’s considered incredibly healthy, too.

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2. Shimeji

Versatile, cheap, and found in pretty much every supersmarket across the country, Shimeji mushrooms should definitely be in your food. Shove some of these soft little fellas into a frying pan with some veggies and soy sauce for a quick and healthy meal.

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3. Eryngii

Eryngii mushrooms go by many names and aren’t only limited to Asia. This fun guy has only recently been introduced to Japan but is growing ever more popular. Large with a good texture, the Eryngii (King Trumpet) mushroom contains vitamin D, niacin, and riboflavin.

…Fun guy, get it?

 

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4. Enokitake

The poor man’s shrooms. Why? you can usually buy them for around the same price as a bag of moyashi (30 – 50 yen). Thin, white, and a great little budget mushroom to add to pretty much anything when you don’t have a decent variety of ingredients. They don’t have much of a taste but are an essential ingredient of hot-pots.

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5. Matsutake

The truffle of Asian mushrooms. Fetching between $1000 – $2000 per pound, few of us have eaten this luxury old mucker. Just like with truffles, hunting for these scrubby-looking nuggets of gold isn’t to be taken lightly. It has a distinct spicy-aromatic odor and grows on the roots of trees. If you do get your hands on a matsutake, don’t wash them (only wipe them down) and prepare them in a way that preserves the aroma (e.g. steaming/wrapping them in tinfoil). 

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Matsutake mushrooms on white background

No More Hangovers With Ukon no Chikara (The Power of Turmeric)

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While it may be very different from how it is in the UK, Japan nevertheless has a massive drinking culture. Not only do most companies simply recommend binge drinking; they organize it – book it – and make it almost impossible to turn down. 

Then it should come as no surprise that a country like this has a huge market for hangover-free magic cures (preventative-cure?). In fact, if you go into one of Japan’s bazillion doraggu sutoa (drug stores), you can find a huge variety of little drinks, gels, and powders that will (apparently) leave you not feeling like a grape that’s been left out in manatsubi (a day in the middle-of-summer).

One of, if not the most popular is known as ‘Ukon no Chikara‘ (literally: the power of turmeric). Turmeric, for those who don’t know (virtually everyone?), is a relative of the ginger plant and is supposedly meant to prevent futsukayoi (a hangover).

Types of Ukon no Chikara

There is now quite the range of Ukon no Chikara products you can purchase over the counter. From the original, to ‘Ukon Super’, to a variety of fruity flavors, and even a variety of forms (liquid, powder, jelly).

Each variety contains a different amount of different varieties of the turmeric plant (spring ukon, fall ukon, purple ukon), as well as curcumin and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve never really heard of but I presume do something. 

Does it actually work?

The drink is recommended to be taken around 30 minutes before you start smashing back the beers from the nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink), but it can also be taken in the morning or during drinking. 

I have tried it from the little bottles and from the jelly, and yes, it does work to an extent it is worth buying (of course, being responsible/prepared and drinking plenty of water (or sports drinks) before/after drinking also works). 

I’m not even sure if they sell the jelly version anymore since I haven’t seen it in years, but it worked wonders. Perhaps sucking the jelly out of a little plastic sachet just isn’t appealing as drinking it from a small aluminum bottle? 

At the end of the day, if you know you’re going to be in for a long night of drinking, give your sorry future-self a break and spend a couple of hundred yen on something that’ll ease your pain come the morning. 

Shopping at Costco In Japan

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What is Costco?

Costco is an American multinational corporation which operates a chain of membership-only warehouse clubs. As of 2015, Costco was the second largest retailer in the world after Walmart, and as of 2016, Costco was the world’s largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken, and wine.

For a yearly membership fee of 3850 yen (that can be canceled and refunded at any time), you can access any of the large Costco warehouses that sell a large variety of products in bulk. 

Value for money in Japan

From my experience so far, unless you have a very large family you need to provide for, many of the products on sale will not appear to be that cheap if you’re already used to shopping and value supermarkets and drug stores. 

However, at least in Japan, it’s not all about getting things cheaper, but getting things you can’t always get. Costco Japan is basically a warehouse version of the foreign importer and coffee specialist, Kaldi. It’s not cheap, but there is a ton of imported products that you really can’t find anywhere else. 

That doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of great bargains to be had, it just means you should chose your purchases carefully and try to work out the size-to-cost ratio. 

Some of the best buys you can find in the warehouse are the freshly made goods. Large pizzas, whole-cooked chickens, American-size muffins and desserts, family-sized breads… these tend to be great value for money and are often things you can’t find in your typical Japanese supermarket on t the same kind of scale (yes, most supermarkets in Japan don’t even have muffins). 

My favourites

Cheese – you can never have too much cheese [disclaimer; you can have too much cheese]. It’s always good to pick up a large block of cheese from Costco as they are much cheaper than buying several small blocks from your local store.

Potato smileys – a 2 kg bag of potato smileys for less than 900 yen really can’t be beaten. They can quickly be heated up as a snack or shoved in the oven with something else and will last us for months.

Whole chicken – A whole chicken, cooked, seasoned, and still warm for around 700 yen? I think you’d struggle to find that anywhere else. 

Large pizza –  if you’ve lived in Japan, you probably know how ridiculous the takeaway pizza prices are. That’s why a family-size pizza rich with toppings for 1200 – 1500 yen is a great deal. 

Bread – Japan’s bread game is weak, so pick up a large, unsweetened loaf of one of the types of bread they have to offer ranging from 400 – 800 yen. 

In conclusion 

Costco in Japan may not end up saving you any money and the crowds and maneuvering the overly large trolleys may be stressful, but otherwise, it’s a great place to find the food you may be missing from home, or when you want to have a feast at home. 

Enjoying the Japanese Inaka (countryside)

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For many long-term residents of Japan, the novelty of tourist traps, temples, and overcrowded places has long been lost. Even though I was passionate about much of Japan’s unique culture, in recent years, I’m much more interested in the country itself than anything else.

What I mean by this is the unfamiliar and often stunning nature that Japan has to offer when you step of the old beaten path. 

As someone from the UK, when I visit one of Japan’s incredible number of parks, I’m always slightly disappointed by the hard, dusty ground where never mind a good picnic spot, it’s hard to even find an adequate patch of grass. 

That’s why when I found a quiet paradise not far from where I live (near Hakata in Fukuoka city), I was pleasantly surprised. The nature-preserve is carefully maintained, and depending on the season you can see many of Japans iconic flowers blooming with spectacular views from all around. Unfortunately, though, I was too late for the sakura bloom and too early for the ajisai (hydrangea) bloom.

Here are a few quick pics I took.

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inaka, nakagawa, japan, fukuoka, fukuoka parks, nakagawa parks, kyushu, green pia, green pia nakagawa,
inaka, nakagawa, japan, fukuoka, fukuoka parks, nakagawa parks, kyushu, green pia, green pia nakagawa,
inaka, nakagawa, japan, fukuoka, fukuoka parks, nakagawa parks, kyushu, green pia, green pia nakagawa,

Even out here, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, there was some interesting aspects of Japanese culture that could be seen on a couple of safety signs. 

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Above is a sign that says “Danger!! No swimming. It is forbidden to swim in the dam”. This is pretty normal, what is interesting is the picture of a kappa (Japanese folklore water demon) pulling someone into the depths. These old signs can be found all over Japan and I’m always fascinated by references to Youkai (Japanese demons). 

Below is a sign warning against fires, depicting a sad little bunny that may lose it’s home in a wildfire.

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The Lies (and Truths) About Manners in Japan

Japan is full of kind, helpful, and loving people – but if you dare to eat while walking or you forget to really slurp your noodles, then you shall be hated by the entire nation and will be forbidden from ever entering the country again.

Or at least, this is what most of the internet would have you believe. In reality, the old woman who pointed you to your hotel won’t suddenly look at you with the scorn of god if you don’t reply in keigo-level politeness. Here are a few things to be mindful of – but that you don’t need to worry about too much.

Tabearuki (walking while eating)

Walking and eating is generally considered to be bad manners. Recently, it has even been in the news as busy streets like Kamakura had forbidden the act. Obviously, walking down an incredibly busy street with all your hands full of food isn’t a good idea, anyway. Neither is dropping crumbs all over shop displays. In reality, however, it’s not uncommon to see people eating and walking, and if you don’t cause a mess or get in other people’s way, you should be fine eating and walking with your chocolate bar or whatever.

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Slurping Noodles

Slurping or not slurping your noodles – do whichever comes most naturally. You don’t have to force yourself to do one or the other. Neither is it a complement to the chef – but excessively loud slurping will even annoy the typical Japanese person.

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Incorrect use of Chopsticks

While there are social etiquettes on how to use chopsticks, as a foreigner, incorrectly using them won’t give anyone a heart attack. Sure, stabbing the top of a bowl of rice with chopsticks so they stand vertically may resemble a funeral-related tradition, but why would you stab your food?

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Trains and Phones

Talking on the phone will on the train is bad manners and will get you some strange looks. Generally, it’s good to be fairly quiet on the train. Eating and making calls is generally a bad idea, but if it’s an extremely important call – you can try to quietly take it.

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Not offending people in Japan isn’t as hard as many say it is. As a foreigner, most of your ‘mistakes’ will be forgiven. And when it really comes down to it, most people in Japan are just getting on with their own busy life and don’t really care that much about what you’re doing. As long as you are respectful and typically good-mannered, there isn’t much you need to worry about – so relax and enjoy your holiday.

However…

Unfortunately, it’s not the people who worry about manners to the point of researching it before they go who are typically the ones who need to worry about their manners. If you do any of the following, you should maybe try be a little bit more careful when you’re in Japan.

  • Talk to the person standing next to you like they’re on the other side of a football pitch.
  • Litter, make a mess, or don’t tidy up after yourself.
  • Cause a ruckus, make a scene, shout, drink too much.
  • Smoke in non-smoking areas.
  • Ride bicycles in areas where riding bicycles isn’t allowed.
  • Not following rules such as correct rubbish disposal.
  • Playing music in public or using earphones that excessively ‘leak’ sound.

The list goes on. It’s not really anything to do with Japan, but it’s just common sense when out in public (no matter where you are). So, be mindful and respectful around others and you should be fine in Japan.

…That is, unless you forget to take your shoes off.

Must See Anime 03: Ushio to Tora

I do admit that Ushio to Tora is neither an iconic classic nor a bandwagon anime of recent years. I’m not here to introduce the classics that everyone has already seen, but rather to persuade you to watch something you may have overlooked.

What is Ushio to Tora about?

The story follows the travels of a boy called Ushio. One day, Ushio unleashes a powerful demon when he removes the Beast Spear that was trapping the demon known as Tora. The cursed spear offers speed, agility, and strength in exchange for the user’s soul – but there a few who can actually master it. Ushio appears to have good compatibility with the spear, which is the only thing keeping him from being eaten by Tora.

As the two travel and grow stronger as Ushio learns to master the Beast Spear. Soon, their relationship goes from wanting to kill each other to becoming a fierce team to fight demons and humans alike… while, of course, still comically trying to kill one another.

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Why do I recommend it?

Do you sometimes wish they made anime just like they did in the nineties? Do you wish you could re-watch classics like Yu Yu Hakusho for the first time again? Well, Ushio to Tora is probably the closest thing you can get to a new-nineties anime.

The manga itself ran from 1990-1996, while the anime ran from 2015-16. The drawing and animation won’t win any awards, but it does stay loyal to the style of the decade while still having a modern feel to the animation. As for any good Shonen anime of the time, a decent number of episodes (39) were produced, making it not too long, but but too short, either

Battles, comedy… and just like every other nineties Shonen anime (Dragon Ball, HxH, Yu Yu etc.), his hair grows longer when he powers up. What else do you need to hear to give it a chance?

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Scatman John accepts Best New Artist Award, Japan 1995

Do you remember the insanely catchy tunes of Scatman John in the 90’s? However, it wasn’t just the West where Scatman John became a huge hit – in 1995, he won the Best New Artist award in Japan.

Scatman John’s biggest hit, Scatman’s World sold over 6 million worldwide, over 1.5 million of which were sold on the other side of the planet in Japan, where he even appeared . In fact, even 23-years later, Scatman’s World is the 17th best-selling album by a foreign artist, putting the album above by Michael Jackson
(Bad), Queen (Greatest Hits), and just below the Beatles (Let It Be).

Even today, if you take the time to listen to the lyrics of Scatman’s songs, you’ll see they’re just as relevant as they were a quarter of a century ago. So, why am I talking about Scatman John all of a sudden? Well I happened upon a YouTube video of Scatman John accepting his award in 1995.

There are a few reasons why I find this interesting enough to share. It’s great to see what Scatman John was like, but it’s also interesting to have a glance back to the past and see what Japan was like during the decade I was born. Linguistically, it’s also fun to see professional/live interpretation (although some of the nuances were certainly lost).

Despite being diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998, against the advice of his doctors, Scatman John continued to bring music to his fans all around the globe. In November 1999, he passed out live on stage.
One month later, he passed away at the age of 57.

When is 5G Technology Coming to Japan?

What actually is ‘5G’?

5G stands for ‘fifth generation’ (of mobile communications networks). 5G is rumoured to be 10-100 times faster than the current 4G networks that we use on our phones to browse the internet and watch online videos. Such a huge increase in speed is expected to lead to being able to load 4K videos on your phone, as well as paving the way for a potentially unlimited number of technological advancements such as automated cars.

While 4G works on the frequency spectrum ranging from 2–6Ghz, 5G
will work on the frequency spectrum of 30–300 GHz, creating much faster speeds for a much high number of devices.

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Is 5G safe?

From a health perspective, the long-term effects of constantly being exposed to such forms of radiation is unknown, but many consider such low frequencies to have little to no effect on the body.

From the perspective of a government, however, such huge amounts of data could lead to data leakages, spying, and a bunch of other problems. Which is why the USA and a bunch of other countries are outlawing HUAWEI 5G over concerns that the Chinese government could force the third largest mobile phone company to hand over sensitive data.

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When is it Coming and Will it Work?

Japan is considered to be one of the first countries to implement 5G technology on a country-wide basis. The country hopes to have implemented most of the systems by 2019 – just in time for the Olympic games, which would allow many people to watch the events in 4k (incredibly high-definition) TV.

Changing from 4G to 5G is no simple task. 5G runs on much higher frequencies than 4G, which means it is harder for 5G signals to pass through buildings. This means large upgrades to the current 4G structure will be required to provide a stable service for the whole country. Not only this, but the government is urging communication companies not to use Chinese equipment when rolling out the service. SoftBank, one of Japan’s top three phone companies currently has around 1/3 of it’s 4G network running on HUAWEI equipment.

What is Kampo medicine (漢方薬) and does it work?

What is Kampo medicine?

If you’ve spent a bit of time and visited one of the thousands of drug stores that are scattered all over the country, then you may have seen, or at least unknowingly seen some of the vast arrays of kampo-yaku that fill the shelves. The medicine is known for being a ‘natural remedy’ (生薬) as the medicine is mainly made of raw herbs and minerals that contains no artificial chemicals. 

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What does 漢方薬 (かんぽうやく) mean?

If you’re studying Japanese and you’re studying kanji, the chances are you’ve seen these kanji before – or at least you should have.

The first Chinese character is 漢 and means ‘Chinese’ or ‘from China’ (as well as a few other things). As you may have realized, it’s the same kanji used in the word kanji 漢字 (Chinese characters).

The second character is also a fairly common one that can mean person 方 (かた), however, in this case, it means something more similar to ‘method’ like in the word 方法 (ほうほう) which also means ‘method’. 

The last character is 薬, which means medicine and is pronounced kusuri (くすり) on its own but as yaku (やく) when combined with other characters. 

This means we can consider “healing method from China” as a fairly literal and accurate translation of kampo-yaku

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The theory behind the science

Kampo medicine is built up around the idea that certain natural attributes of plants can cause reactions within the body, helping to heal your ailments and restore your health. While there are people who strongly believe in the effects of the medicine, and those who believe it’s all nonsense, there has been strong scientific evidence that supports the use of kampo medicines. While kampo can be used to restore balance to the body and mind by giving it natural supplements to improve how the body works as a whole, it cannot be compared to modern medicine that is used to directly target disease, infections, and other ailments. 

In conclusion

Kampo medicine that is obtained from plants, minerals, and animals can be bought over-the-counter or gotten from specialist hospitals and pharmacies from almost anywhere in Japan to cure a wide variety of ailments. However, kampo medicine is based on the idea of creating balance and healthiness throughout the entire body, which will then help to cure or ease ailments over time. For this reason, it’s hard to compare kampo to modern/western medicine, but that does not mean it can’t be used in conjunction with other medicines – as more and more doctors are recommending. 

Golden Week – When, How Long, and Why?

What is Golden Week?

If you’re living in Japan, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the once-in-a-lifetime super 10-day Golden week holiday this year! For those who don’t know much about it, Golden week refers to the last week in April/first week in May where several national holidays are all lumped together. 

The term ‘Golden week’ was apparently coined by the film industry in the 1950s when revenues spiked due to most of the country having time off work and school. During this week, you should expect restaurants, museums, and other recreational activities to be crowded and full of customers. However, there’s no need to start stocking up on tinned goods – most of the service industry (hotels, convenience stores, supermarkets, etc.) will be open for some or even all of the duration of the holiday.

When is Golden Week and why is it Special this Year? 

This year’s ‘super’ golden week will be from the 27th of April until the 6th of May. Teachers, students, and office workers will likely get a whopping 10-days off, but you check with your company first. 

Why so Long?

As well as the usual national holidays (Showa Day, Greenery Day, Constitutional Memorial Day, Children’s Day), this year Japan also gets days off when the emperor abdicates the throne and when his son, the crown prince succeeds the throne. 

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How to Cope?

While the idea of 10 days of is the highlight of the year to many, for some people, it means a lower wage or even longer and busier work hours. To help counter this, the Japanese government is thinking about giving extra funding to daycare centers, as well as paying for some employees to have their days off compensated. The government is also considering what the best way to deal with services that cannot easily take days off, such as garbage collection/disposal, hospitals, and nursing homes, etc.

For those planning to visit popular tourist areas, you should expect long delays and queues, and many companies to be closed or running on Sunday hours. For those visiting or leaving Japan, expect hotels and plane flights to be at peak prices (although flights into Japan during the start of Golden week may not be too bad since most of the people will be leaving, not returning at this point). 

Other than that, think ahead, make reservations where possible, and enjoy a whopping 10 days off! 

 

 

Buying a car and vehicle insurance in Japan

I recently bought a car and insurance in Japan. At first, it can seem quite daunting and quite confusing, but with the right information – it should go quite smoothly. Here are a few things I learnt that may be useful to you.

 

What’s different about buying a car in Japan?

  • Many people buy from and sell directly to used-car dealers. It’s very rare to see a car for sale on the roadside (there isn’t even a place to park on the roadside).
  • There are two main types of cars. Your standard car and your Kei-car. Kei-cars are small with small engines, but are cheap, have low tax/insurance, and have great mileage.
  • Standard cars have a white registration plate, kei-cars have a yellow one.
  • To buy a car, you may need a juuminhyo (a certificate from your city hall with your name and address on it.
  • Even if you go in with cash, it could take over a week until you actually get the car. 
  • There are services to get the car driven to your house when you buy it. 
  • You may need to inform your kanrigaisha or landlord, the company/person responsible for the building you live in that you bought a car. 
  • By law, you have to have shaken on your car. This is not insurance but is similar to a very expensive MOT that must be done every year for old models, once in five years for a brand new car, and every two/three years for cars in between.
  • Most cars in Japan are automatic. 

 

What insurance to go for?

We went to a place called “Hoken no Madoguchi”, which isn’t an insurance company, but a company who explained how the insurance works and gives a few recommendations with a discount.
You’d be surprised but there are a ton of options you can add/remove from your insurance to alter the price, so if you know Japanese or have a Japanese partner, it’s worth a visit.
Even if you’re a native Japanese speaker, it’s unlikely you’ll know what each and every option does (there’s a surprising amount).
For example, one option is to insure you for repairs that surmount the cost of the car you hit. 
What this means is… if you crash into a car worth $1000, but the owner loves this car and chooses to repair it for $1500. Since $1500 exceeds the value of the car, your insurance will only pay out $1000, leaving you with a $500 bill to pay. 
If you wish to, you can choose to increase the amount your insurance will fork out, regardless of the value of the car.
Vandalism insurance, medical insurance, third party insurance, theft insurance, maximum and minimum payouts… the list goes on. You can make your insurance incredibly cheap (but with less coverage) or incredibly high (with incredible coverage). 

 

All about Toukyuu.

Toukyuu decides how expensive your insurance will be. It is the equivalent of a no-claims bonus. You start at around tier 6, each year you will raise a tier and the price will drop. Make a claim, and the cost will rise. Apparently, if you drop to tier 4, insurance will sky-rocket.
So unless you have a few tiers to spare (e.g. you’re on tier 25 and dropping down to tier 20 won’t hurt too much), then it’s best to avoid making a claim where possible. 

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Visit Dazaifu City and Tenmangu Shrine near Fukuoka!

As the nights in Japan grow longer and the air has a feel of chilliness, the season of oden, crabs, and New Year traditions approach. 

However, just because you may need a scarf and a pair of gloves, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great time. One beloved pastime of the Japanese people is going to view the autumn (fall) colours. There are a ton of places all over Japan you can do this, but if you’re talking about the prefecture of Fukuoka, many people will tell you to visit Dazaifu. You can get to Dazaifu via bus, train, coach, or by car. The train takes less than an hour if you head from the center of Fukuoka city (e.g. Hakata). 

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Why visit Dazaifu?

Dazaifu is home to Fukuoka’s most famous temple known as the Tenmangu Shrine. It is said to have over a thousand plum trees that in spring turn a beautiful pink colour (considerably more so than Sakura trees). It’s also got a great little (and very old town) that is full of tourist shops and places to explore that had the same vibe as Kyoto or Kamakura. At the temple grounds, they also hold events and festivals. When we went, there was a flower festival and a performer. There’s a Japanese garden, a nice little train to walk, and even a theme park all right next to the temple!

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So if you’re ever in Fukuoka, make sure to check this place out!

 

I just tried Japan’s new Pringles noodles and they are…

Pringles Sour Cream Noodles?

While at my local Aeon supermarket, I happened upon the new Pringles instant noodles (sour cream flavor) that I had briefly seen an article on a few weeks ago. Naturally, as a huge fan of sour cream flavored crisps who has a weakness to Japan’s huge variety of gentie (limited/seasonal) special flavors, I couldn’t not buy them? 

If I recall, they were about 140 yen (£1/$1.2) which for instant noodles (instant yakisoba) is fairly on the expensive side. UFO, which I personally think are one of the highest quality instant noodles that are readily available in most supermarkets, usually costs anywhere between 100-140 yen. So straight from the get-go, they’ve got to be quite amazing to keep selling (especially since many of the unusual flavors tend not to sell and quickly get reduced to less than a 100 yen). 

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How did they taste?

As soon as I opened the powdered pack of flavorings, there was an immensely strong smell that was pretty much identical to the smell of a bag of sour cream crisps (chips). At first, I really enjoyed the taste and even thought I could eat these again. Unfortunately, though, that was not the case. I try to avoid buying oomori (extra large) instant noodles because I end up far too full. The ones I had bought were indeed extra large and by the time I was at the end of them, I was finding them pretty sickly to say the least.

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Conclusion?

Being a little expensive while getting a little sickly towards the end, I’d only recommend them as a one-off purchase to people who really enjoy Pringles. The quality of the noodles is average and there was no dried veg or meat in the noodles either. If you just want something nice, stick to UFO.

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You Can Now Make Your Own KitKat in Osaka

The Origins of KitKat and How It Came to Japan

KitKat’s history dates to the United Kingdom in 1935, when the York-based confectionery company Rowntree introduced the bar — originally called “Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp” — as the perfect complement to a working man’s cup of tea. In 1937, the snack was renamed “Kit Kat Chocolate Crisp.”

In the 1950s, the bar arrived in Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand; in 1973, it finally made it to Japan. (The Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle acquired Rowntree in 1988. Eventually, Kit Kat became KitKat, and it is now sold in more than 100 countries. It is licensed by Hershey’s in the United States.)

Yet the story of how Japan made the snacking staple entirely its own begins in 1990, in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, known for its skiing, hot springs and beer. KitKat’s marketing team believed the island’s souvenir shops — in fact, souvenir shops nationwide — could stand to diversify their snack offerings.

“Wherever you went, you could only find rice cakes,” said Takuya Hiramatsu, a spokesman for Nestle Japan. “But people got kind of bored with traditional rice cakes.”

The company introduced a strawberry-flavored KitKat exclusively in Hokkaido — and after it took off, tried more limited-edition varieties. The more they introduced, the more popular the bars became. The KitKat makers leveraged local products into exotic flavors.

In time, exotic and strange KitKats began appearing all over, including on Honshu, the nation’s largest island. There, in Shizuoka prefecture, the candy-makers offered Tamaruya-Honten brand wasabi KitKats; in the Kanto region, adzuki bean sandwich KitKats; in Hiroshima, KitKats flavored like momiji manju, a locally produced pastry made of rice and buckwheat.

“I lived in Hiroshima when I was young,” Maki said. “So I knew people in Hiroshima love momiji manju so much — that it’s a soul food. I wanted to develop a business with that.”

The snacks live up to their packaging in bold, bright colors. Citrus flavors have a sharp, acidic twang; “matcha green tea” has bitter overtones; “Shinshu apple” tastes a bit like cider. The wasabi variety tames the heat in favor of flavor.

“It’s wasabi plus sweetness, which would not work at all if not [for] an amazing bit of chocolate engineering on Nestle’s part,” wrote the Snacktaku snack blog in a 2013 review. “That trademark burn has been transformed from feeling to flavor. You do not feel the heat. You taste the heat.”

Nestle gives several reasons for KitKat’s success in Japan. Giving sweets as gifts is a national custom, and the country has deep pride in its local culinary traditions and industries.

Not least, the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kittokattsu, which means “you will surely win,” a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales. In 2009, the company created “KitKat Mail,” a partnership with Japan’s postal service that allowed students to send KitKats as good luck charms before the country’s high-pressure January university entrance examination. Some KitKat wrappers contain blank spaces for students to scribble in heartwarming messages.

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Ryoji Maki, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan, left, and Nestle Japan spokesman Takuya Hiramatsu show off their wares. (Jonathan Kaiman / Los Angeles Times)

 

These Days, You Can Make Your Own KitKat

Just when we thought KitKat mania couldn’t go any farther, Nestle opened a made-to-order chocolate shop this October at Namba Station, in the Chuo ward of Osaka, on Japan‘s Honshu island.

The premium KitKat Chocolatory isn’t just any chocolate shop that you would travel to see.

Inside, you can build the KitKat of your dreams and watch it harden before your eyes thanks to a blast of liquid nitrogen.

Like a Willy Wonka Factory for KitKats, guests can use a touchscreen pad to make their dream candy, choosing from five types of chocolate for the base.

The chocolate options include basics such as milk chocolate alongside wildcard flavors such as matcha or a strawberry-flavored white chocolate.

The nine toppings are marshmallow, pineapple, cranberry, mango, green raisin, almond, cashew, macadamia, and shredded coconut. Each bar will set you back about US$6-9.

Can’t decide? Try the chef’s selection, where the chocolatier suggests the perfect toppings to pair with your base chocolate of choice — just like a wine pairing at a posh restaurant.

There are now more than 300 varieties, including cheesecake, wasabi, green tea, sushi, and yuzu. The brand also collaborated with Sanrio on a special Hello Kitty KitKat collection in 2006. Nestle intends to keep adding to its flavor roster –  An all-natural pink KitKat made from “ruby” cocoa beans was released in 2018.

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The Japan Times Satoyama Contest Winning Photos are Amazing

The Japan Times Satoyama Photo Contest 2018 results are out (chosen by readers) – and the photos really do look quite spectacular! 

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Location: Hoshi-toge, Niigata Pref.

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Location: Itoshima-shi, Fukuoka Pref. (where it doesn’t snow very often). 

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Location: Nantan-shi, Kyoto Pref.

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Location: Kamiyamaguchi, Hayama-machi, Kanagawa Pref.

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Location: Maruyama-Senmaida, Mie Pref.

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Location: West Part of Yamagata-shi, Yamagata Pref.

For more information about the winners and their photos, click here

Japanese Cafe Introduces Robots Controlled By Physically Disabled Staff

Japan is the world leader when it comes to robots. Whether that is crazy tourist traps like this…

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Or if it’s Japan’s beloved robots like ASIMO or Pepper. 

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This time, Japan has once again upped its level of ridiculous restaurants you can visit. A cafe will open in Tokyo’s Akasaka district in November featuring robot waiters remotely controlled from home by people with severe physical disabilities. The cafe, which will open on weekdays from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, will deploy OriHime-D robots controlled by people with conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neuron disease.

The robots stand slightly short at 1.2 meters tall and weighing 20 kilograms and transmit video footage and audio via the internet, allowing their controllers to direct them from home on tablets or computers. At an event marking the OriHime-D’s debut in August, a robot controlled by Nozomi Murata, who suffers from autophagic vacuolar myopathy that causes muscle weakness, asked a family if they would like some chocolate.

“I want to create a world in which people who can’t move their bodies can work too,” said Kentaro Yoshifuji; chief executive officer of Ory Lab. Inc., and the developer of the robots.

 

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Yoshifuji suffered from a stress-induced illness during childhood and had difficulty communicating. With his experience of social isolation, he started developing robots at Waseda University to help connect people, according to the company’s website.

Smaller OriHime robots that are 21.5 centimeters tall and weigh about 600 grams have been introduced by about 70 companies for telecommuting. They can also be used remotely in classrooms by students who cannot attend school due to illness or other reasons.

Ory Lab. aims to set up a permanent cafe featuring OriHime robots and increase adoption by companies in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“Everyone should have the freedom to work in the way they like,” said Masatane Muto, an ALS patient and one of the organizers of the project, which also involves the Nippon Foundation.

“I want to send out the message toward 2020 that you can show hospitality even if you have disabilities,” Muto said.

 

Isn’t it nice to hear about robots creating jobs for people, rather than ‘stealing’ jobs from people? 

15 Interesting Facts About Japan – But Are They Really True?

I happened upon an interesting article written by a professional travel blogger known as Alex Waltner. Alex lists through 15 interesting facts about Japan – but are these facts actually correct? I thought I’d go through the list and add my own two cents!

1. THERE ARE MORE SENIORS THAN KIDS

Yes, this is true. Due to an aging population and a decreasing birthrate, Japan is becoming a country of the elderly. And yes, Japan does sell more adult diapers than children’s.

2. HAS ONE OF THE WORLD’S LOWEST CRIME RATES

Japan is considered to be an extremely safe country. People don’t worry about walking home alone, nor do they worry about leaving their valuables on display. However, the keyword here is ‘low’! While crime isn’t common, it still happens and you should always keep your wits about you in a foreign country.

3. MOST VENDING MACHINES IN THE WORLD

I’d never actually heard this said as a fact before, but I do believe it. Thanks to the low crime rate mentioned above, vending machines can be safely put on the streets even in extremely remote areas. They really are pretty much everywhere!

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4. JAPAN CONSISTS OF 6852 ISLANDS

You might not think it, but Japan is made up of a huge amount of islands – most of them are pretty tiny. 97% of the country’s landmass is made up of just four islands.

5. TO CLEAN IS A PART OF THE EDUCATION IN MANY SCHOOLS

This is true. As a student, I’ve cleaned classrooms many times in Japan. 2-3 students will clean the classroom after each day on rotation. Once or twice a year, the whole school will work together and clean pretty much the whole school.

6. JAPAN HAS A PENIS FESTIVAL

I’ve been to this festival since I used to live 10 minutes away from the area it takes place. Most of the festival-goers are foreign tourists and the actual festival doesn’t have too much of a history compared to traditional Japanese festivals. It’s more of a gimmick to draw in tourists.

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7. MORE THAN 1500 EARTHQUAKES A YEAR

This is certainly true, and I’m sure there are many more small earthquakes. Kagoshima, the prefecture I used to live in has the highest earthquake rate in Japan. The reason for this is the volcano, Mt. Sakurajima which is located off the coast of Kagoshima city. The volcano erupts on a daily basis, causing mini-earthquakes every day (they need a machine to be detected). The larger, more devasting earthquakes are far less common.

8. TO TAKE A POWER NAP AT WORK GETS MORE AND MORE COMMON

I’ve never seen this or heard about this, but I’m sure there are some companies in the country that encourage napping during breaks, I guess. However, it’s certainly NOT TRUE that sleeping during working hours is considered as “being committed” and “hardworking”.

9. FRUIT IS ONE OF THE BEST GIFTS

Yeah, I guess this is true (although pretty relative). Some fruit is very expensive and has been packaged with the intention of being given as a gift.

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10. MORE THAN 3000 MCDONALD’S RESTAURANTS

Japan loves fast food and fast food chains, so it comes as no surprise Japan is the number 2 McDonalds country besides America.

11. TO SLURP UP THE NOODLES IS CONSIDERED POLITE

This is NOT TRUE. While slurping noodles is fine and many Japanese people do it, it is NOT considered as ‘manners’. Slurping is simply done to cool the noodles while you eat them. It’s perfectly acceptable to do it, but don’t think for a second that you have to do it to be polite.

12. MANY JAPANESE EAT READY-MADE BREAKFAST OR DINNER FROM A SUPERMARKET

Japan is the country of the bento. Delicious ready-made meals sold at pretty every supermarket and convenience store in the country. They are delicious, cheap, and saves time – so why not?

13. THERE ARE CAFES WHERE YOU CAN PAY TO CUDDLE

While they certainly aren’t common, they do exist.

14. IT’S FORBIDDEN TO BATHE IN HOT SPRINGS AND ONSEN WITH TATTOOS

Due to Yakuza gang links, it is generally forbidden to enter hot springs with a tattoo. However, there are a number of onsens that permit them. Covering them up is also another option.

15. IN JAPAN, YOU BOW INSTEAD OF SHAKING HANDS

Japanese people do occasionally shake hands, but bowing is far more common. Bowing is much more versatile than shaking hands and is used when greeting, apologizing, when saying thank you, and much more. Bowing is so far ingrained into the Japanese people that they will even bow while talking on the phone. Check out the image below to understand the three levels of bowing.

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Family Fun in Fukuoka: What to see and where to go!

If you’re planning to spend a bit of time in Kyushu, chances are you’ll end up visiting Fukuoka city at some point! Tenjin and Hakata are great places to go shopping and to find some delicious places to eat – but where should you go for a family day out? Keep reading to find out! 

 

There are 2 main places you’ll want to visit in Fukuoka city, and since they are fairly close to each other, you can easily visit both in a single day. 

Ohori Park

Ohori Park is probably Fukuoka’s number 1 tourist spot. It is a large park that has a large pond in the middle. For 600 yen ($6) you can ride around the lake in a boat for 30 minutes. For those who lack confidence in arm stamina, swan boats are 1000 yen ($10/30min) and for 1600 yen ($16/30) you can ride a family-sized swan boat.

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Half the pond is filled with huge carp and is fishing prohibited, while in the other half you’re allowed to fish to your heart’s content. 

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There is also a Japanese-style garden you can check out, as well as the remains of Fukuoka castle. While there isn’t much left of the castle apart from some huge walls, there are some great views to be seen. Located in the park there is also a cafe and a children’s play area.

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Fukuoka Tower and Beach

Not too far from the park is Fukuoka tower (you can see the tower in the distance, but those with young children may be better catching a train or a bus). For a somewhat expensive price (we gave it a miss) you can go to the top of the tower to see stunning views of Fukuoka from high up above. There is also a small department store around here, but the main attraction is definitely the beach. 

Click here to visit the English website for Fukuoka tower.

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Towards the beach is a big fancy church and a few restaurants and shops. While the beach doesn’t have the beautiful white sands you may be hoping for, it is probably the most accessible beach if you’re staying in the city. 

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8 Buildings That Show Imaginative Japanese Architecture

Limited space and high land prices have prompted Japanese architects to think well outside the box. From vegetables sprouting from rooftops to buildings seem to float on water – Japanese architecture is some of the most imaginative in the world. Here are some of the most innovative structures Japan has come up with.

House NA in Tokyo

Sou Fujimoto’s wall-less home, House NA, is a three-story house divided into staggered platforms. It has enough room for a library, a roof terrace and even a garage.

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Garden and House, Tokyo

Ryue Nishizawa’s Garden and House squeeze five single-room stories into an area four meters wide.

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Bird’s Nest Atami in Shizuoka

Hiroshi Nakamura’s Bird’s Nest Atami takes a traditional tea house 10 meters up into a 300-year-old camphor tree while keeping it entirely separate on a steel trellis.

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Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shimbashi, Tokyo

The Japanese tapped into the idea of micro-living long before the tiny house movement became fashionable. In the 1970s, Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower broke new ground with its 140 minuscule capsules plugged into a central core. They contain compact apartments, storage areas, and office space. This particular building even briefly featured in the film ‘The Wolverine’.

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Church on the Water in Shimukappu-mura

Two overlapping cubes connected by a curved staircase shape Tadao Ando’s Church on the Water. Religious icons are replaced by stark concrete walls and a spectacular lake view

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Tower of Winds in Yokohama

Japan’s first interactive structure is Toyo Ito’s perforated, aluminum-clad Tower of Winds. It changes color thanks to wind-and sound-sensitive lamps and neon rings.

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Jikka in Shizuoka

In Shizuoka, architect Issei Suma challenges domestic design to create a retirement home out of teepee-shaped wooden huts. The complex is made up of five structures which contain a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, storage areas and a spiral-shaped swimming pool.

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Leek House in Machida, Tokyo

Among Japan’s most innovative domestic designs is the surreal Leek House by Terunobu Fujimori, with its rows of sprouting leaks in the roof.

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Source: cnttravel