Friday, May 28, 2010

Beer Gardens

With the temperatures gradually rising, thirst develops accordingly. Lucky for beer enthusiasts Japan is soon to enter "beer garden season."

Years ago, an effort to curb Tokyo's "heat island effect", which is particularly bad in the summer, was initiated by the Tokyo metropolitan government. The idea was to create "green spaces" on the city's many rooftops. Many large hotels and department stores created green spaces (of sorts) by turning their rooftops into beer gardens. The term "garden" may be a stretch of the imagination, but venture out of the city and you may find some do have actual gardens.

Beer gardens are a seasonal phenomenon and typically open for business sometime in mid/late June and close in early September (colder parts of the country may have a shorter run). The peak of the season is in late July when fiercely hot and humid summer conditions drive many an office worker to end the working week with a trip to the beer garden.

Typically one orders their drinks and snacks at a separate counter. Orders are then processed and delivered to your table soon after. Some do have waiter service, and some, if you're lucky, are even self service. Nomihodai (all you can drink) and tabehodai (all you can eat) plans are also common place.

In Tokyo, you don't have to search too hard to find a beer garden in the summer. All the popular districts have them and they are usually situated on department store rooftops. Popular Tokyo beer gardens include:

Keio Department Store Beer Garden, Shinjuku.

Lumine Department Store Mexican Beer Garden, Shinjuku.

Ginza Matsuzaka Rooftop Beer Garden, Ginza.

Ebisu Garden Place Beer Hall (open year-round)

As you'd expect, beer gardens can be very popular so you may want to make a reservation if you're thinking of going on a weekend. Larger gardens such as the Keio dept stores are often big enough to handle the weekend crowds.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Internet Cafe in Japan

When you arrive in Japan, one thing you may be wondering is -how to get Internet?

In Japan, it is quite easy to find places with Internet access. Internet cafes are the most commonly used places where they come in many shapes and sizes. The level of service and privacy may exceed your expectations! Depending on the Internet cafe you go to, not only do they have Internet access, but they also offer comics, magazines, DVDs, TV, and video games. Some areas even have drinks, microwave, and showers. You may also request pillows and blankets.

Most Internet cafes are open 24 hours, thus it is common for people to stay overnight. You may think the price is expensive if you stay overnight, but the price is quite reasonable ranging from 1500 to 2500 yen. Depending on the room you stay in (public/business/couple/private rooms), the price would vary, but it is still much cheaper than staying at a hotel. Staying in a public booth which is the cheapest cost around 400 yen per hour or 1000 yen for 3 hours.

Staying at an Internet cafe may be a great idea if you are looking for a decent and cheap place to stay for two or three days in Japan. Popeye Media Cafes, well-known Internet cafe, are probably most recommended where you could easily find them in every major train stations.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Walking in Tokyo

Tokyo is well known for its size and subsequent efficient public transportation system, but unknown to many visitors is the fact that Tokyo is a great city to walk around.
It’s true that you’re never far away from a train or subway station in Tokyo, but if the weather’s fine, why not consider walking to your points of interest? Not only will you get some great exercise, but you’ll experience Tokyo “between the stations.” You don’t have to venture too far from any popular train station in Tokyo to find yourself in quaint neighbourhoods or traditional shopping districts.
Here are a few examples of easy and interesting walks in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
1.) Shibuya to Shinjuku

Both locations are among the most popular for both Japanese and overseas tourists in Tokyo. A seven minute ride on the Yamanote line will do the trick, but why cram yourself into a busy train and then face the prospect of navigating the station upon arrival when you can walk? Both locations are situated along the arterial route called “Meiji Dori.” Follow that road and you can’t fail. Better still, following Meiji Dori will take you through Yoyogi and Harajuku. Adventurous types may want to explore the adjacent streets of Meiji Dori which contain stylish residential areas, high-fashion shopping and even Yoyogi Park and Meiji Jingu shrine. Give yourself 40 minutes to walk between Shibuya and Shinjuku, or longer to allow for stops and shopping. Southbound walkers to Shibuya can add an extra fifteen minutes walking time to reach Ebisu.

2.) Ginza/Tokyo station area.

Tokyo station maybe your first experience of downtown Tokyo. A 4-5 minute walk outside of the central Yaesu exit will bring you to a large street named “Chuo Dori.” From here you can turn left to Nihonbashi or right towards the famous shopping district of Ginza. Ginza is only a 10-12 minute walk from this point. Once there, you’ll find that Ginza is not only a haven for shoppers but an extremely pedestrian-friendly area. The busiest areas are even closed off to traffic on weekends. Don’t fancy Ginza? On the opposite side of Tokyo Station are the Imperial Palace and grounds as well as Hibiya Park. Both are only minutes away on foot from Tokyo Station’s central exit.

Walking in Tokyo is a rewarding and invigorating experience. With the advent of GPS enabled mobile phones, it’s never been easier too. Don’t just limit your experience of Tokyo to what’s around the stations. Take a walk and see a different view of the city!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Veggie Sweets and Desserts

When you are on diet and wish to lose some pounds, don't you want to still eat some sweets? Well, how about cakes made out of vegetables?

Patisserie Potager is a very popular vegetable confectionery that opened at Nakameguro in 2006; it is also the first specialty veggie bakery in Japan. Every day you would see many women in line waiting to try out these healthy sweets. There are a variety of cakes made out of different organic vegetables, which include tomato, pumpkin, avocado, carrot, asparagus, and beet. Some of their well-known cakes are "Green soybean cheesecake", "Green asparagus and vanilla mousse", "Gobo chocolat" and "Tomato short cakes".

Owner Aya Kakisawa focuses on using less sugar and makes full use of the vegetables' taste. She taught herself vegetarian and macrobiotic cooking before opening the bakery and not only cooking, but she also works in supporting farmers and providing nutrition education.

Many customers find the desserts very delicious and satisfying. The price is reasonable too! If you are looking for something healthy and sweet to eat, I would definitely recommend going to this cafe!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japanese school uniform

School uniforms, which are called "seifuku" in Japanese, are common in public and private schools in Japan. In the majority of middle and high schools, it is required for students to wear school uniforms, which consist of military style uniform called "gakuran" for boys and sailor outfit as the standard uniform for girls.

Gakuran, normally black or navy, were based on military outfits from the Meiji era, which were inspired by European naval uniforms. The buttons are usually designed with the school emblem as a symbol of respect to the school. Sailor outfit called "sera-fuku" were inspired by the British Royal Navy and usually includes a white blouse, pleated skirt, and a ribbon; there is a summer version and a winter version. A school uniform ranges from about 50,000yen to 80,000yen.

School uniforms are extremely popular especially among girls. It is common to wear school uniforms outside of school as a fashion. Even girls who attend schools where school uniform is not compulsory purchase and wear school uniforms as a fashion trend known as "Nanchatte seifuku" (just kidding uniform). Conomi located in Harajuku is a popular store right now where you can purchase various styles of school uniforms. Girls enjoy customizing their uniforms by selecting different colors and prints.

If you want to try out a school uniform just for fun, you can even rent a school uniform for free when taking purikura (depends on the game arcade)! :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cheap Izakaya

Travelers and people new to Tokyo are often shocked by a very high cost of living. Past-times such as drinking a few beers and having dinner with your friends can become more and more unaffordable.
The financial crisis has left a severe dent in Japanese citizen's spending power. Even a highly developed food and drinking culture such as the Japanese does not prevent workers and salary men from adjusting their life-styles to their financial means. However, a recent development in Tokyo's Izakaya industry is cause for hope for all students, low-budget travelers and all people living on a tight budget. As a result of the dwindling spending power and reduced bonuses in the Tokyo work force, extremely cheap izakayas have popped up all over the downtown Tokyo area. It does not matter if you are in Shinkuju, Harajuku, Shibuya and many more major hubs, you can be confident to find eateries with cheap yet tasty food and beers ranging from a stunning price range of 50-180 Yen per beer.
These places have traditionally been a haven for poor university students but are now frequented by businessmen as well. With very little money to spend on personal leisure activities such as after-work drinks, 50 yen a beer is an affordable price. But how do these places manage to keep their prices so low? The answer lies in location and buying in bulk. Food is acquired locally from where the izakaya is located and bought in big quantities.
Unfortunately the Japanese economy is only slowly recovering from the past financial crisis and is already to slipping into deflation. Bad news over all but good news for people who love going to izakayas that don't leave deep holes in one's wallet.

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