What I do and don’t have in Japan

March 10th, 2012

I was thinking about life is different when you’re not living in your home country and it got me to thinking about things I no longer have now that I’m in Japan and a list of things I do have. There are a lot of things and the list could go on forever but I thought I’d write down a quick list while it’s fresh in my head.

What I no longer have since I moved to Japan

  • an HD TV because I don’t care
  • Xbox and DS games in English
  • Taco Bell
  • new shoes that fit (I’m a size 14 and order Vans from the U.S.)
  • a car – not needed here
  • a garbage disposal
  • my brother always around
  • a weekly bowling league
  • Income taxes with the April 15th due date!
  • Papa Murphy’s Pizza
  • a big back yard

Here’s a list of things I do have in Japan. Some are the same as the U.S. but most things I probably wouldn’t have in the U.S.

  • an amazing view both downtown and on the country side
  • a microwave that bakes
  • a fridge/freezer with an ice scooper, scoopin’ ice like a boss yo!
  • postal service that delivers mail at 9pm
  • naughty ‘maid delivery service’ flyers in my mailbox every once in a while (wtf? how is that legal?)
  • $4-8 Ramen (not that $0.10 ramen that helped me survive during the University days)
  • a pure bred Chihuahua (we’re a long ways from Mexico)
  • oatmeal, but expensive oatmeal
  • my new mega awesome Japanese family that we visit with often
  • Dell customer service! They happened to have only 3 English keyboards in Japan (so they said)  for my model and they came to my house and fixed my laptop right up.
  • a small full size bed instead of the standard futon (we had a Queen, but it took up THE ENTIRE ROOM – for real)
  • keyboards with keys in strange places and Japanese characters (so I buy my laptop aborad)
  • a cell phone that takes photos with an extremely loud camera snap noise!
  • a vpn and an unlocked iPhone

Feel free to add to the list and include your experiences below!

Visiting Kyoto Japan (Travel Guide)

March 9th, 2012

Visitors to Japan have always valued the long and rich cultural history of this beautiful island nation. While big cities such as Tokyo are filled with innovation and modern touches, visitors hoping to enjoy a true Japanese experience often head to Kyoto. Located in the Honshu province, Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for more than a thousand years, and still contains many of the most beautiful architectural and cultural treasures in the country. The city manages to combine modern touches with centuries of beauty, and there are a few places that no visitor should miss. If you are planning a visit to Kyoto, be sure to plan your trip in advance to ensure you enjoy the many sights that Kyoto has to offer.

Kyoto Geisha Girl

Kyoto Geisha Girl

Kyoto is home to seventeen World Heritage sites, listed as the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. There are fourteen sites within Kyoto’s city limits, with three in nearby cities. The sites within Kyoto are Daigo-ji, Nijō Castle, Nishi Hongan-ji, Tō-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Ginkaku-ji, Tenryū-ji, Koke-dera, Kinkaku-ji, Ryōan-ji, Ninna-ji, Kōzan-ji, Shimogamo Shrine, Kamigamo Shrine. A visit to any of these sites is a trip back in time, and visitors should be sure to visit at least a few of these sites.

Kinkaku-ji - Kyoto Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji – Temple of the Golden Pavilion

Part of the allure of visiting Japan is the history of the rulers of Japan, and Kyoto is home to the famed Imperial Palace as well as two Imperial Villas. Each site is home to gardens and tea houses that let visitors step back in time. While visiting these sites is a beautiful experience any time of year, many visitors choose to visit during the colorful spring cherry blossom season and autumn when these sites take on new life. Current members of Japan’s royal family member still make visits to these sites, and official functions take place there several times a year.

Visitors who are hoping to experience traditional Japanese culture often enjoy taking part in Buddhist meditation sessions, and visitors can choose from a number of sites such as Taizo-in and Shunko-in which offer Zen meditation sessions along with teaching visitors about the meaning and importance of meditation.

Kyoto Japanese Gate

Of course, Kyoto is probably most famous as a place to view cherry blossoms during the spring. Within the city, Arashiyama, Daigoji, and Ninnaji are the most popular places to view the spring blossoms, and visitors should be sure to bring a camera to capture the beauty of the season. The Philosopher’s Path that reaches from Nanzen-ji to Ginkaku-ji includes not only beautiful cherry tress but also temples and shrines. Just a short distance from the Philosopher’s path is the Heian Shrine garden, home to cherry trees with bright pink blossoms. Many visitors also enjoy a trip to see the famous cherry tree found in Maruyama Park, where vendors set up booths at night, creating a street-fair type atmosphere.

Kyoto Sakura Cherry Blossoms

Beautiful Sakura Cherry Blossoms

These are just a few of the places that you will want to visit while in Kyoto. Many people find that they enjoy walking tours of the city, leisurely strolling through thousands of years of history and beauty. Kyoto is also home to numerous art and history museums, a worth stop for any visitor. No matter where you venture in Kyoto, you will find that there is always something to see. Here are some great travel guides for Kyoto Japan. Learn more about what Kyoto offers and plan your trip by visiting this Kyoto Tourism Council site.

Inaugural World Tea Farms Festival

February 23rd, 2012

Schedule this in your calendar and experience some Asian culture because there’s an upcoming event that’s worth checking out if you’re in the area. It’s a 2-Day Festival of a Thousand Tea Farmers and Tea Lovers in the Kyoto Prefecture featuring all you can drink (tea) from around Asia. (Click here to download the PDF flyer for directions, info, and contact information)

There will be tea from India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan (Wazuka, Shizuoka, Yame, Kyoto, Nara, and many more!). You can enjoy all the teas of Asia at one festive venue.

Date and Time:
Saturday March 10, 2012 and Sunday March 11, 2012 from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
If you miss it, you can always make your own Japanese tea at home.

Green Tea Wazuka Town (click for map), Soraku District, Kyoto Prefecture
Address: 35 Hazama, Shirasu, Wazuka Town, Soraku, Kyoto, Japan
* Shuttle bus to event location will be available from JR Kamo Station (click for map)

Admission Fee:
FREE (that’s always a nice price!)

Matcha Tea

Event Itinerary

Tasting and Sale of Teas

  • You’ll get a chance to taste and buy tea from Asian tea farms from India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, and all over Japan. Even though Admission is free, make sure to bring some Yen just in case.
  • There will also be a nice exhibition of photos focused on tea producing areas including an exhibit of local costume.

Tea Culture Seminars

  • Calligraphy, Zen meditation, yoga, Shogi, tea ceremony, Rakugo, art

Food Court

  • Unique tea inspired meals include: Matcha Curry, Green Tea Sweets, Sushi, Ochazuke (rice with tea), and much more.

Evening Reception Party
Saturday March 10, 2012 from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at the Nara Royal Hotel.
Price: 6,000 円 (All invited)
World cuisine buffet, cocktails, everything made with tea. Gourmet experience with entertainment, attractions, and encounters.

How to get to Wazuka
Wazuka is surprisingly near to Kansai

Getting to Wazuka by car:

  • From Kyoto take Route 24 to Route 163 at Kamo (about 90 minutes)
  • Nara is about half way from Osaka (about 20 minutes)
  • On the way to Nara on Negoya National Highway (about 80 minutes)
  • Convenient from Kamo (about 15 minutes)
  • Route 24 from Nara to Kamo (about 30 minutes)
  • Route 163 from Ueno to Kamo (about 30 minutes)

Getting to Wazuka by train:

  • From JR Kyoto station: Take the Miyakoji Kaisoku Naraiki line from JR Kyoto to Kizu Station. Transfer to JR Yamatoji Kaisoku line to Kamo Station (approximate journey time: 45 minutes)
  • From JR Osaka station: Take the JR Yamatoji Kaisoku Line to Kamo station (approximate journey time: 65 minutes)
  • From JR Nara station: Take JR Yamatoji Kaisoku line to Kamo Station (approximate journey time: 14 minutes)

They will be operating a shuttle bus from JR Kamo station to Wazuka. But if you prefer to take a taxi, the taxi fare is about 2,000 yen.

If you’re bringing your children along, here’s a site with helpful tips when visiting Kyoto with kids.

Inaugural World Tea Farms FestivalDownload the full PDF flyer here!

How to get free accommodation in Japan

February 5th, 2012

Are you traveling to Japan to check it out? Have you planned on where you’ll be staying? You can always stay an overly priced hotel, a capsule hotel, or stay at a inexpensive hostel, but did you know there’s also a way you can score some free accommodation while visiting Japan? This method has been used before, and I have linked to some proof at the bottom of this article. I haven’t done this myself but I have a handful of friends that have.

There is one website I suggest registering with.  It’s called Couch Surfing and on it’s most basic level it’s a bit like a “dating site” for travelers (although it doesn’t mean real romance is included).  There’s a nominal fee to get your address verified and I recommend doing this if practical.

The idea is that you create a profile and browse the profile of other members.  Some members profiles will indicate that they are able to host you for free during your stay, others might not be able to host but may be available to meet up so you can meet new people and get some local insight.

The site works based on feedback so therefore if you host people or they host you then you both get an opportunity to leave feedback.  A series of good references on your profile makes it easy to attract the next host.

The Couch Surfing community is big in Japan however it’s not easy to get hosted by Japanese people.  They often find it difficult to host because

  • their rooms are too small
  • their housemates aren’t comfortable with strangers sharing
  • many Japanese tend to work crazy hours and just aren’t available
  • a lot of rental contracts forbid guests staying there
Couch Surfing

Couch Surfing

A lovely couple, Martin and his wife, registered with Couchsurfing back in December 2008 and hosted a lot of guests in their apartment in Thailand before flying to Japan in April.  If you can also host then it looks good to other members but if not then a sincere email to the potential host should be enough to encourage them to host you.

When they visited Japan they flew during the cherry blossom time and found that many hosts were booked out for months in advance. They got lucky and spent some time staying with westerners who lived there. They spent about 5 nights with one host close to Kyoto and attended a Couch Surfing picnic in Kyoto too.  During that picnic they were able to meet a lot of english-speaking Japanese friends who were happy to take them around the city in their spare time. In Tokyo they got to see some great parts of the city after meeting a Couch Surfer there.

They kept a detailed diary of our adventures here:

You’re going to love Japan. It’s always handy to have a Japan travel guide when you go. Japan can be one of the best holiday’s you’ll ever have, and one of the most interesting. Doing some Couch Surfing will help broaden your experience when traveling internationally. To explore more about the country and culture it’s always a good idea to brush up on some Japanese language so you can get the full experience.

Vivienne Westwood – Big in Japan

January 8th, 2012

This article about trendy Japan fashion was contributed by my friend John from the UK.

The first time I stumbled across the unusual fashion of Japan I was young, impressionable and in a local Waterstones. From what I can remember I was looking around, for a fantasy novel no doubt, when all of a sudden my attention was grabbed by a multi-coloured book entitled FRUiTs.

Peeking inside I was surprised to find a collection of photographs, seemingly taken on the street, of people dressed in clothes bright enough to make a circus clown seem drab. 10 years later I found this book was a collection of the best photos taken from Japan’s premier fanzine “FRUiTs.”

The idea behind the magazine was to document the growing explosion in street fashion within the Tokyo suburbs and because of my recurring recollections of the event I decided to track down a copy and I ordered it for myself. In doing so I hoped that I might rekindle some of those long lost feelings that kept hampering me and maybe explain part of the reason why I have such a fascination with everything oriental.

Once it arrived the thing that struck me most about the book was just how much of the fashion was inspired by the UK.

Book named FRUITS

You see, many of the clothes were actually created by eccentric British designer Vivienne Westwood –the 70 year old woman with the bright red hair – and she was featured on almost every page.

Then it hit me. That was the reason why I was so entranced by the book. You see the images were both so foreign and familiar to me at the same time. Vivienne Westwood was deeply inspired by the Punk movement of the 60s it seems and you can see it in the edgy nature of her clothes. The FRUiTs on the other hand are also edgy but have swapped the political machinations of the punk movement for bright colours and a cool look. That I realised, was why I found it so unusual.

Vivienne has her own theory on why the Japanese are so fond of her clothes though, she said: “The young Japanese love to wear the latest thing and when they come to London they head for my shops as part of what they want to find in Britain.”

Vivienne Westwood Fashion Models

Two models wearing Westwood’s GOLD collection made exclusively for the Japanese market.

It seems funny, then, that Japanese fashion is inspired by a stereotypical or idealised view of the West – if Vivienne’s statement is anything to go by – but the more and more I look at Japanese fashion the more I see the western influence. Perhaps it has something to do with the American occupation following WWII.

One thing I know for sure though is that my knowledge of Japanese fashion is extremely limited and I want to know more. I want to know if any of you have had experiences with FRUiTs or if you know a modern Japanese brand that isn’t inspired by the west. If so then we’d love to see them below. Sayonara!

Vivienne Westwood Sites:
http://www.vanmildert.com/vivienne-westwood-222.phtml (UK)
Vivienne Westwood Amazon.com collection