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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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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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. 

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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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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5 Reasons Why Drinking in Japan is the Best

When people think of countries and alcohol – most people think of Germany for beer, Russia for vodka, and Scotland for whisky. But that doesn’t mean Japan isn’t one of the best countries to go drinking! Here are 5 reasons why drinking in Japan is awesome. 

 

(1). Low-value all-you-can-drink! 

All-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat drinking establishments are extremely common in Japan. And while buying a single beer from a restaurant may seem expensive, all-you-can-drink offers start from only 800 yen ($8). From anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours, you can drink as much alcohol as you want/can. You also get to choose from a huge selection of beer, spirits, cocktails, and more! This alone is enough reason to drink in Japan!

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(1-hour all-you-can-drink 500 yen [$5])

(2). Some of the finest drinks in the world

Japan is very good at making drinks. The country has spent thousands of years perfecting the perfect recipes for rice-based alcohol such as sake and shochu. Japan is also recognised as one of the world’s 5 great whisky producers. Oh and yes, the beer tastes great, too. 

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(3). Drink in your own private room with instant delivery!

It’s also very common to have your own little Japanese-style room when drinking with a couple of friends. We all known bars can get noisy – but with these little rooms, you can drink merrily while chatting away without interruption. What’s even better, by the push of a button (or maybe a little call to one of the many waiters), you can get all your drinks delivered to you pronto. 

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(4) Variety 

The variety of standard drinks you can find anywhere in the country is overwhelming. Your average convenience store (which are on almost every corner) will have 30+ varieties of beer, 20+ varieties of fruit flavoured alcohol, and a large variety of sake and shochu, too. If you go to a supermarket, there will be even more for you to choose from! 

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(5) Eat while you drink! 

While back in the UK, the “culture’ is to spend the day drinking, then towards the end of the night, order a kebab or a curry. While this is a great way to fit in a couple of extra beers into your poor stomach, it can result in getting very drunk and feeling very ill the next day. 

In Japan, however, we drink, we eat, and we talk. It’s quite common to order smaller plates or snacks over a couple of hours to share amongst your friends as you slowly get drunker and fuller. I usually don’t wake up with much of a headache, either. 

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So yes, now you see! If you like alcohol, you may be surprised to find Japan is just the place for you!

Raw Chicken Sashimi Leaves Man Almost Blind

Japan is famous for eating raw food and making it taste like a slice of heaven. But If you think raw eggs or raw fish is a bad idea, some areas in Japan even specialize in raw chicken sashimi. (Don’t even get me started on puffer fish! Do they have a death wish?!)

As with eating anything raw, there is a very slim chance that you could end up with salmonella or worse. Even though the food that is designed to be eaten raw in Japan goes through incredible procedures and checks to make sure it is properly edible, there is still an extremely slim chance (I think it’s something like 1 in 10,000 eggs that are approved to be eaten raw may still contain salmonella. 

I love sushi and sashimi and I have no quarrels about eating raw food. I’ve tried Japan’s famous Basashi (raw horse meat sashimi) and I’ve even tried a raw chicken side dish. I’m down for eating anything at least once, but I won’t be trying either of them again in any hurry – simply because they don’t taste that great and regular fish sashimi is superior in every way. 

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However, it’s not only salmonella that you have to worry about with raw food. The other major concern are parasites! Occasionally, you will hear on the news that they have been discovered in some part of the country and a lot of the meat/fish had to be disposed of. 

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Roundworm (Toxocara cati) egg – photo taken through a microscope at 400x

Man Who Ate Raw Chicken Sashimi Falls Seriously Ill

The man, who has not been named, became infected by a parasite that lead to him developing growths in his lungs and liver via a disease called toxocariasis, which is caused by roundworm parasites.

He fell ill ten days after eating the raw chicken sashimi, attending Saiseikai Fukuoka General Hospital with complaints about stomach pains that were traced back to a meal that he ate that featured chicken that had been seared but remained raw in the middle, reports the British Medical Journal.

The man was eventually treated and made a full recovery, but the dangers were still clear. If left untreated, the roundworm parasite can lead to blindness.

So, would you risk? 

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Greatest Japanese Magicians Who Performed on Audition Shows (Top 5!)

Magic shows and auditions show have gained worldwide attention in the last decade, attracting talented performers from all corners of the globe. Japan is no exception from that as in the last few years, some of Japan’s most skilled and amazing magicians have been performing on shows such as Got Talent and Penn and Teller. Be prepared to have your mind blown away as these Japanese magicians blow your mind by performing the implausible.  

 

TanBA, the man who eats everything (Penn and Teller)

This wacky magician from Japan does something that should never be tried by anyone ever. He eats razors, balloons, and a ton of other stuff that really shouldn’t be possible. 

 

Taijyi Fujiyama, traditional Japanese magic (Penn and Teller)

I once saw a very similar show during the Chinese New Year celebrations. I don’t know if this magic originates from China or Japan, but it’s a very beautiful routine. Taijyi Fujiyama does the seemingly impossible as he changes through dozens of masks in the blink of an eye. 

 

Hara, a creative and magical light performance (America’s Got Talent)

Hara stuns the audience and the judges by combining traditional magic with light/laser technology to create a show that will both amaze and inspire.

 

Ryan Hayashi, a super-energized coin performance (Penn and Teller)

Ryan Hayashi delivers a super intense coin magic you’ve never seen before. This meme-referencing magician has such control over his hands that he could probably steal every penny in your wallet and you wouldn’t have a clue. 

 

Sora, a mind-boggling underwear performance (Britain’s Got Talent)

Sora and his beautiful assistant perform risque underwear magic (don’t get too excited, though!)

 

The Yokai of Japan: Spirits and Demons of Folklore

Yokai of Japan

The Yokai of Japan are the demons and spirits passed down from generation to generation in Japanese folklore. With anime such as Yokai Watch, the tales of these mythic beings are still as relevant as ever, so I thought I’d introduce some of Japan’s most famous creatures of the dark. 

While in the West, we have stories of vampires and werewolves – in Japan, there are thousands of tales of long-nosed demons and faceless ghosts. Why does Japan have such a rich yokai monster culture? One reason for this is the culture of ghost stories in Japan. Everyone knows a good ghost story will send a cold shiver down your spine – that’s why during the peaceful Edo period, ghost stories boomed as a way of beating the summer heat. 

Here are 6 if Japan’s greatest Yokai! 

(1) Kappa 

The kappa may appear cute in anime and manga, but the kappa of Japanese folklore will keep you awake at night. The kappa the lives in ponds and rivers and has a turtle-like shell. The kappa’s favorite foods are cucumbers and… children. While some stories say giving a kappa a cucumber will save your life, other stories say this will attract them and ensure your death. 

Kappas have a small basin of water on their head if you knock the water out the kappa will be unable to move. If you refill the water, the kappa will be eternally indebted to you. 

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                                                                                  (A sign to keep kids out of the water)

(2) Tengu

Tengu are bird-like demons. They are well-known for their red faces and long noses. Although the tengu was originally a bad omen, during the 17th-century, they became known as a yokai of protection. They are quite foolish and can easily be deceived. Despite having wings, they are known for riding mountain boars.

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(3) Oni 

Oni are another yokai that often appear in anime, as well as Japan’s cultural bean-throwing festival (mame-maki). Often drawn with red or blue skin, these ogre-like demons often carry huge steal clubs around with them. They are several times stronger than a typical human. Oni were originally the souls of evil humans who wander the plains of hell. Even in legend, they rarely come to earth. 

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(4) Spirit Umbrellas and Spirit Items 

According to Japanese folklore, an item that is mistreated may become an evil spirit once it becomes 100 years old. One of the most common items are umbrellas and parasols (probably because they are easily broken and thrown away). They don’t really cause harm to humans, but they are well-known for their tricks and mischievousness. 

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(5) Spirit Fox

Powerful spirits in Japan are often seen as deities and are the protectors of mountains and rivers. During the 4th-century, the fox spirit became a bad omen. Once every hundred years, the fox spirit grows an extra tail. If the spirit reaches 900 years old, its hair will change gold (similar to the nine-tails in Naruto and Pokemon). 

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(6) Yuurei Ghost 

Ghosts (yuurei) are a class of yokai. They come in many shapes and forms, just as they do in the West. Yuurei are the spirits of humans who were tied to the world of living by feelings of revenge of hatred. The most common yuurei are young women who wear white with a white cloth hat. If you don’t keep your wits about you, they could lure and seduce you to your death. 

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The Yokai of Japan come in many shapes and forms. While I only listed 6, there are actually thousands – some that are only known in certain areas. Even today, as ghost stories and horror movies continue to be created, new yokai and monsters are born. Some, like the tanuki are thousands of years old, while thanks to movies, The Ring’s Sadako could also be considered a yokai. You can see them all over Japan in one way or another, so keep your eyes peeled! 

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Yamayaki: Nara’s Mountain Burning Festival

Last month, I went to the city of Nara – and it was amazing! The small city is full of traditional Japanese buildings and temples and as you may be aware, deer roam pretty much anywhere they damn want to. In case you didn’t catch my post about the Beautifull city (as well as Osaka and Nagoya, too) you can find it here

That’s why I was surprised when I found out the beautiful grassy mountain known as Wakakusa that I climbed while I was there was actually created by a controlled fire. The fire is a part of the Yamayaki festival (literally translated as mountain-roasting). The festival takes place each January and begins with the ceremonial lighting of a torch at Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

From there, the group carries the torches along the city, towards Mount Wakakusa, an extinct volcano that rises 350 meters above the city. On a normal day, you can pay 200 yen ($2) to climb the mountain to see a spectacular view of the city. You’ll, of course, encounter plenty of deer on the 20-minute walk to the top of the hill. Since it’s a 40-minute round trip, you should probably take a bottle of water with you – especially if it’s hot.

On the actual night of Yamayaki, fireworks are set off at 6 pm and then the mountain roasting begins. 

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Why burn the mountain?

The tradition which has been continuing since the Edo period is said to help kill insects that are harmful to insects and helps fertilize the former volcanoes soils. The festival is also seen as a ceremony held for spirits and deities but the actual origins are unclear. Some speculate it started out as a dispute between temples, while others say it was done to scare boars away.

These days, however, the festival is a community event that requires the help of many firefighters. Each year, over 100,000 tourists come to spectate the unique event. 

Here is the link to the official website, that includes dates and times of when the event is held.

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Clear Latte by Asahi: Better Than Coca Cola Clear?

I love coffee and I love coffee related products. Luckily for me, Japan also shares an obsession with producing and selling pretty much anything they can fit the delicious little bean into. 

That’s why when I saw Asahi’s Clear Latte, I couldn’t resist giving it a go. 

It’s pretty transparent to me that Asahi is riding the trend of clear drinks (such as Coca-Cola’s clear beverage). And while it’s clear that Coca-Cola Clear is receiving plenty of hype around the world, can the same be said for Clear Latte? 

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On the back of the bottle, we have a little explanation to what the drink is all about. 

After taking out the excess, it became clear. 

A clear but fragrant espresso latte that has a sweet but mature aftertaste. Leaving only the deliciousness of a cafe latte, we have created the ‘clear latte’. Combined with fine spring water, this new latte is a drink you gulp away.  

 

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Clear Latte’s Price ****

While there are a ton of cheap drinks from supermarkets and low-cost retailers, convenience stores charge a little extra for their convenience. That’s why at 109 yen (including tax) from 7/11, I really can’t complain about the price. 

Clear Latte’s Health Rating ***

It’s also pretty clear that the target of this drink is young female workers. With a cool transparent look, almost no calories and a sweet ‘mature’ taste, it could be perfect for those watching their weight. Unfortunately, I really can’t say that a drink that is so sweet and transparent (when it probably shouldn’t be) is actually healthy or not. 

The Taste *

When it comes to summer beverages, how tasty and refreshing it is or isn’t is crucial. Honestly, I think the drink tastes pretty damn awful. If I were to describe the taste, I would ask you to imagine that you just finished drinking a nice bottle of normal coffee latte. Then you realize you’re still thirsty, so without rinsing the bottle out, you proceed to fill it back up with water. Add a slight hint of powdered milk and there you have it! Asahi’s Clear Latte. Rather than being a nice coffee beverage, it tastes more like the sweet, sticky aftertaste left in a bottle when not washed properly. 

 

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Ride The HelloKitty Shinkansen for 300 Yen ($3)?!!

While I’m not a HelloKitty fan (I really have no idea what the whole craze is about), I do still find myself lucky to be able to ride the HelloKitty shinkansen (bullet train) for only 300 yen ($3).

Under normal circumstances, a ride on a shinkansen bullet train while empty your wallet – but that wasn’t the case for me!

Hakata, located in the center of Fukuoka city is a thriving area with a large train station. Here, there is also a shinkansen train station that connects you to southern Kyushu, Osaka, and you could even go as far as Tokyo if you have the money.

However, the train I rode was a simple 8-minute journey to a station called Hakata-Minami (Hakata South). This is the place the shinkansen trains go to ‘sleep’ after a hard day’s work. Fortunately, JR decided to allow passengers to board the bullet trains just as you would a normal train while they make the journey between the two stations. Because of this, you never really know which shinkansen you’re going to get – this time I was lucky enough to get the HelloKitty version.

Here are a few pics I hastily shot.

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Baki Is Back To Blow Us Away! (Netflix Anime)

Some of you martial arts anime and manga fans will probably be familiar with Baki the Grappler. Personally, I really enjoyed it – but it’s been a fair few years, so you might need a little bit of a recap like I did.

“Baki Hanma is an exceptionally strong young man. He spends every waking moment training and fighting so that he may someday surpass the fighting abilities of the strongest being on Earth–his father Yujiro, a cruel man who lives only to fight and hurt people. On his path to becoming the strongest, Baki fights and trains with masters of various fighting styles, always looking for new ways to increase his own strength and fighting technique.”

I always get excited when I hear of 90’s manga being adapted into anime because, for me, the 90’s were the golden era of manga and anime (Dragon Ball Z, Yuyu Hakusho, Hunter x Hunter).

And I have good reason to get excited, too. The anime ‘Kiseijuu’ (Parasyte) [1989] and Ushio to Tora [1990] have both had great anime adaptations in recent years.

 

Will The New Baki Blow Us Away?

Now that Baki has moved to media streaming giant Netflix, can we expect to be awed and amazed? I’m not sure. If you have a look at the trailer, you’ll soon notice how polished and shiny looking these macho fights are – which really destroys any of that sweet 90’s feel.

 

 

If we compare a couple of screenshots from the original anime that aired in 2001, to the one that will air in summer (2018) – we do notice a change in the animation style.

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I will, however, try not to hold this against the anime and will eagerly away for its release this year.

For those of you who haven’t seen the original anime, I found this AMV which gives you an idea of what it’s all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan’s ペットボトル (PET Bottles): What Are They All About?

Japan’s PET Bottles (ペットボトル)

For those unfamiliar with the term PET bottle, it may sound a little unusual. In Japan, however, the word ‘PET’ (ペット) almost always comes before the word ‘bottle’! While some people know why PET bottles are referred to as PET bottles – I’m sure not everyone does. 

A pet… bottle? What’s that about?

No, this isn’t a bottle for your pet. PET/PETE actually stands for polyethylene terephthalate – a recyclable food-grade plastic. PET bottles are quite an amazing invention. In developing countries, the bottle can be used to make water drinkable via solar water disinfection or even filled with sand and used as a building material.

 

Japan’s PET bottle recycling rate is actually putting us Europeans and Americans to shame!

(PET bottles recycle-rate globally)

JapanUSEuropeIndia
72%29%48%90%

 

For those of you who have lived in Japan, this probably won’t come as a surprise. Plastic bottle and can recycling bins are everywhere (one reason for this is because of the sheer number of vending machines that are often accompanied by a recycle bin).

Even in your home, plastic bottles and cans must be sorted into separate bags and put out on a different day than your normal garbage. Depending on where you live, the rules for throwing out your garbage will differ. In some areas, you will be allowed to bag your plastic bottles and cans together, while in other areas you won’t. 

 

Japan’s Unofficial Recycling System

In the larger cities, you don’t need to go far before you see people with huge bags filled with empty PET bottles swung over there shoulder or attached to their bicycles. These are homeless people who often go around picking up cans and plastic bottles off the streets in order to recycle them for a small amount of money. It’s not just picking them off the ground either – it’s not a rare sight to see a homeless people searching through plastic bottle bins that are often placed next to vending machines.

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While Japan may have a good recycling rate for bottles, there are still huge steps that need to be taken with the recycling effort in general. Picking bottles and cans up off the floor is certainly a good thing and sometimes you may even see business men and women cleaning up the streets as a part of a company activity. However, I’m sure there are mixed feelings about (homeless) people emptying bins that are already going to be recycled. What are your thoughts on this?

1966: Japan’s CURSED year where FERTILITY dropped?

Japan’s Fertility Crisis

It’s pretty common knowledge that Japan has a rather unique situation. For most of its history, Japan has been a closed nation.

Since the baby-boom at the end of WW2, the fertility rate (number of children women give birth to) has been slowly dropping to critical levels.

To sustain population levels, a fertility rate of around 2.1 is needed. This means on average, each woman needs to give to two children. This is why Japan’s current fertility rate of 1.39 is seen as a huge problem that will shrink the population in just a couple of generations. This then leads to a society where a small working population is burdened by a large elderly population.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen a chart that shows Japan’s declining birth rate. Have you ever wondered what happened in the year 1966, where the fertility rate dropped a whopping 25%?

 

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The Culprit Behind the Drop in Fertility? Superstition

Much alike to western astrology, where the month we are born is supposed to affect our personality and luck, Japan and other Asian countries have the zodiac calendar. Each year has one of 12 zodiac animal assigned to it. For example, those born in 2018 are born in the year of the dog. If you were born in the year 2000, you would be associated with the dragon. 

Not only does each year have an animal assigned to it, but each year also has one of five elements. This means that the full cycle repeats itself only once every 60 years.

 

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1966, The Year of the Fire Horse

Those born in 1966, would be born under the zodiac animal horse and the element fire. This was considered to be a terrible year for women to be born on. Women born in the year of the fire horse were known as ‘Fire Horse Women’ and were said to be dangerous, headstrong, and bad luck for any husband. So strong was this belief back then, that many women even had abortions in an attempt to avoid having a ‘fire horse’ child. This might sound odd, but for much of Japan’s history, the role of women in society was to be a wife and a mother.

This is why we see such an unusual anomaly in Japan’s fertility rate in the year 1966. What can we expect to see in the year 2026, when the next generation of fire horses arrive? 

 

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Westworld Treats Us To Kick-ass Samurai Sword Fight

Westworld Goes To Japan?

 

I can’t imagine there are many people who don’t know what Westworld is about on some level.

Robots, almost identical to humans are created in order to recreate a wild-west themed park. As the robots grow closer to human consciousness, the peace of the park is turned to turmoil. 

 

In the last few episodes, we’ve been introduced to another area called Shogun World that is set in 17th century Japan.

 

 

-spoilers-

 

 

While there are no spoilers to the overall plot, if you haven’t watched season 2 episode 6 yet, you may want to do that before continuing this article.

 

Westworld Actually Gets It Right?

 

Anyone with even a bit of understanding of the Japanese language and culture is probably aware of how often Hollywood does it terribly wrong. Asian actors who don’t actually know Japanese, unnatural or even mistaken-ridden language, pathetic sword fights – the list goes on.

 

That’s why when someone actually does it right, it looks and feels great on the screen. This time, Westworld has hit the nail on the head by showing us authentic Japanese culture with an incredible (but short) sword fight between two samurai called Musashi and Tanaka.

 

The intense clash features dual-wielding, dismemberment, and even seppuku (a form of samurai suicide that was done to avoid dishonour and shame).

 

Here are a few screen grabs from the honourable duel between Musashi and Tanaka.

 

samura, westworld, japan, shogunworld, shogun worldsamura, westworld, japan, shogunworld, shogun world

 

Cool, right?

 

 

A little later in the episode, we’re also given another little treat. It seems the ‘Shogun World’ is such a large project within the plot of Westworld, they somehow even recreated a beautiful and ancient Mt. Fuji!

 

westworld, samurai, japan

 

Who wouldn’t dream of going to a park like this?

 

Which would you choose? The wild-west park or the shogun world park? I know which I’d choose – I’d just have to learn how to use a katana sword first!

 

Someone has uploaded the fight on Youtube. I’ll link the video but I have no idea if it will be removed or not. 

 

5 Things I Hate About Japan!

Okay, before anyone bites my head off, I’m not trying to ruin Japan’s reputation here. I’m simply making a follow-up post on my ‘5 Things I Love About Japan’ post. Here are 5 things I hate about Japan.

 

 

(1) Work Culture

This one shouldn’t come as a shock, as Japan is infamous for having companies with terrible work conditions. There is a reason why the word ‘karoshi’ (death-by-overwork) exists. A company that has a karoshi-incident often becomes a ‘black company’ – a company with ridiculous unpaid overtime and bad treatment of employees. Of course, most companies in Japan aren’t like this, but long, unpaid hours are still common.

 

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(2) Afraid to Break the Mould

While service in Japan is often considered to be world-class, on occasions, it can be quite inconvenient. Japan goes out of their way to help you in any way they know how. However, if you try to ask for something that they have not prepared for – service can go downhill fast. “No onions? But… such a thing… let me ask my manager if such an absurd request can be done!”

 

hate, hate japan, hate about japan, five things

 

 

(3) Looking Down on Jobs

One thing I don’t like in Japan is that the only acceptable job seems to be a permanent employee position (seishain) at an office. Although it may not be spoken, blue collar jobs are often looked down on. Even contract/dispatch (haken) employees are often seen as not being successful by some people. My opinion is – if you work, that’s enough. The majority of industry in Japan is the service industry (70%) – not everyone will be able to have a comfy office job.

 

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(4) Being Indirect and Ambiguous

Sometimes, you just want to get to the heart of the matter as efficiently as possible, right? In Japan, this may not be as simple as you might think. Especially in business, indirectness often leads to a waste of time and resources. In order for one company not to insult another company, words such as ‘no’ and ‘we’re not interested’ will not be used. Instead, they will say something ambiguous like ‘we’ll take it into consideration’ – you might be tricked into thinking you have a chance, but many a lot of the time this could simply mean ‘no, thanks’.

 

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(5) Cockroaches

We’ve had some pretty heavy topics on the list so far, so for number 5, I thought I’d choose something a bit lighter. In the UK, we don’t have cockroaches at all. In Japan, you may not encounter them very often, but they are there! If you’ve ever lived in an old building with a cockroach infestation, then I’m sure you’ve had the same horrors that I’ve experienced! Luckily, there is a wide array of cockroach killing resources that can be found pretty much anywhere in Japan. They don’t come cheap, but can you really put a price on being cockroach-free?

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5 Things I Love About Japan!

 

Every year, the number of tourists visiting Japan increases – and it really isn’t hard to understand why. Japan has some of the most interesting culture, outstanding customer service, and has both megacities and amazing countryside. These are the five things I love about Japan!

 

 

1. The Food!!

You can’t beat Japanese food. If you’re not enjoying the food in Japan, you’re doing something wrong! There is something for everyone – sushi, ramen, soba, sashimi, onigiri and thousands more. It’s not only Japanese style food that’s delicious in Japan though – there’s also a ton of great burger joints, curry houses, and other international foods.

 

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2. The Mix of New and Old

One great aspect of Japan is the ancient culture. You can’t go far without finding an ancient temple or a shrine to visit. However, if Japan was nothing but temples, that would get pretty inconvenient. What makes Japan really special is a perfect mix of the new and the old. Explore amazing cities full of skyscrapers, while finding tiny little shrines to explore along the way. How awesome is that?

 

love about japan

 

 

3. The Language

While the Japanese language is incredibly hard to learn, it’s also really amazing. A language full of rich vocabulary, onomatopoeia, and words that don’t exist in the English language. For example, “mottainai” – the concept of not wasting things.

 

love about japan, love japan

 

 

4. The Culture

Kimono, festivals, tea ceremonies, hanami, taiko drumming, and calligraphy are some of Japan’s most well known cultural activities. However, Japanese culture is something much deeper. Bowing, exchanging business cards, not talking on the train – many of these manners that make Japan special is all thanks to Japan’s culture.

 

love about japan, japan

 

 

5. The Land and Climate

It’s not only what’s in Japan that makes it a great place, but where it is, too. To the south of Japan, you get paradise-like islands that you can only dream of. In the centre of Japan are large Ghibli-esque forests. And to the north of Japan is a snow paradise. Japan really is one of the few countries to have it all, not to mention the fabulous seasons in Japan, which have had a huge influence on Japanese culture, too.

 

love about japan

 

This was the list of 5 things I love about Japan. There is a ton of other stuff that I’m sure I’ve forgotten, but this time I kept my list quite broad. Why don’t you tell me what you love about Japan down in the comments?

 

For a list of 5 things I hate about Japan, click here.

Million Yen Women: Netflix review

Million Yen Women, A Japanese Drama to Binge?

 

I wasn’t really expecting much when I happened upon Million Yen Women.

On a whim, I gave it a chance without really knowing what it was about – and I’m glad I did because Million Yen Women turned out to be quite entertaining.

And although it does have a rather unrealistic premise, it does manage to pull it off well enough to keep you watching.

 

The Story

 

The drama revolves around a published but failing Author known as Shin. A flashback to one year ago shows when five young women are invited to live with him. No one knows who sent the invitations or why, only that there is a list of rules that must be followed.

 

Each female member must pay one million yen in rent to Shin each month (wow!).
Shin must take care of meals and house chores.
Shin is not allowed to ask the women any questions.
Shin is not allowed to enter any of the women’s rooms.

 

It’s a pretty strange situation, but things get even stranger when the deaths start coinciding with the success of Shin’s latest novel.

I know… it’s pretty far-fetched, but the drama is based on a manga.

Considering how cheesy and cheap Japanese dramas can get when someone decides to get some easy ratings by basing it on a popular manga or anime, it really isn’t too bad.

 

So as long as you take it with a pinch of salt, you should really enjoy it – you might even binge it in a single night.

 

The Cast

 

As for the actors, there might be a few cast members you recognise.

The character of Shin is played by the lead singer of the rock band ‘Radwimps’.

shin, million yen women, netflix 100 man

 

The bad-ass female member of the group is played by Rila Fukushima (Wolverine, Ghost in a Shell).

million yen women, netflix, jdrama

 

Another member is played by Rena Matsui (SKE48, AKB48 idol group).

rena matsui, million yen women, netflix

 

 

So if you’re looking for something to watch, or just want to practice listening to Japanese, I recommend give Netflix’s Million Yen Women a go.

 

Click here to watch the Netflix trailer.

Cultural Appropriation – Or Society Gone Mad?

 

Do you have to be from Hawaii to wear a lei? (one of those colourful Hawaiian necklaces)
Do you have to be Chinese to learn kung-fu?
Do you have to be Italian to be a pasta chef?

Well, then… you don’t have to be Japanese to wear a kimono, either.

 

Cultural Appropriation?

So what exactly is cultural appropriation? A quick google search and you’ll find something like this:

Cultural appropriation is a concept dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.

Basically, it is when the culture of a minority is absorbed into society (a majority culture). However, it’s not quite so simple. If you go to Wikipedia, you’ll also find this quote.

” Cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.

 

Cultural Appropriation in the Media?

I do believe preserving culture is extremely important, but wouldn’t it be going too far to stop people from enjoying another culture?

I don’t think the average person is worried about cultural appropriation, but from time to time, it does pop up in the media.

We had Avril Lavigne with her ‘Hello Kitty’ song a little while back. A few days ago, we had the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest who wore a Japanese kimono dress while performing (Isreal’s Netta Barzilai).

 

Is it really that bad?

While I admit cultural appropriation is a thing and it is something to be careful about, are we not pushing things a little too far now?

Sure, the kimono dress is part of Japan’s culture, but culture isn’t meant to stay trapped in a box. It spreads and it adapts in order to survive. It’s precisely because of culture spreading far and wide, that our countries are what they are today.

If you ask a Japanese person if foreigners can wear kimono or do other cultural related activities, they will reply: “yes, of course. Why wouldn’t they be able to?”.

If it is a real kimono, worn in the correct way, with nothing that is disrespectful to the culture, then I can’t take any of this ‘cultural appropriation’ stuff seriously.

 

cultural appropriation                                                                        (A caucasian with dreadlocks)

Where is Society Going?

Do we now live in a world where we are no longer free to wear what we want? Are we not allowed to show we like something by wearing it? Are we unable to speak freely on the off-chance we insult someone by saying something they don’t agree with? Or are we losing sight of what we are actually aiming for? – a free, fair, and multicultural society that co-exists in peace?

On a final note, I am not an expert in cultural appropriation, and I dare say my knowledge of it is even lacking. I’m still prepared to be swayed on this whole cultural appropriation thing, so let me know your opinion down in the comments.

Airnori Love Wagon: Asian Journey – Netflix Review

Ainori Lovewagon, A Show You Can’t Help But Like

‘Ainori Lovewagon: Asian Journey’ is one of those shows that takes you by surprise – you probably shouldn’t like it, but you fall in love with it.

It has a fairly simple premise with the aim being to find love while travelling together.

Four men and three women travel around Asia in a pink van (known as the Ainori Love-wagon) until they fall in love with another member.

When they fall in love, they ask that member to end their journey and return to Japan with them.

If they say yes, they kiss and go home together.
If they say no, the person who confessed their feelings goes home alone.

ainori, love wagon, lovewagon, confession, netflix

Ainori Has Genuine Moments

There are a few things that really make this reality TV program special.

Unlike much of TV these days, the members are not picked on their good-looks and camera suitability; instead, they pick rather odd characters who have little to no love experience whatsoever.

As a result, you get to see ‘ordinary’ people disagree, fall in love, and genuinely mature into better people.

Yes, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments, like when a member has too much to drink and says too much; and yes, many members feel the stress of having a camera on them 24/7, but there are some really inspiring moments, too.

ainori, love wagon, lovewagon, asian journey, netflix

 

Fighting aside, It really is quite amazing how much some of these characters mature in the short time they appear on the show. And you, the viewer, will feel this, too.

 

The show is also a great way to touch up on your rusty Japanese and get a close-up look at the different social statuses between members of a group.

While it may be different to something like Terrace House, you should definitely give this show a chance.

ainori, ai nori, love wagon, lovewagon, asian journey, netflix

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