Saturday, October 30, 2010
It’s hard to find a person anywhere who doesn’t like animals. Naturally, it’s the same scenario in Japan. In the English speaking world we tend to live in places that allow for keeping large dogs and perhaps a few cats. The love of cats and dogs is shared in Japan but it’s no secret that the average Japanese home is somewhat smaller than that of anything we’re used to. A smaller home means keeping smaller pets.
Probably one of the first pets a Japanese child is introduced to is the beetle. Particularly popular among young boys, beetles are hunted, collected and even sold. Some rare varieties of beetle can sell for staggering sums. The beetle is an ideal pet for Japanese children. Its small size makes it suitable for any home, and their abundance in nature makes them cheap (in most cases).
Other miniature pets that are extremely popular are hamsters and turtles. Again, due to their size they can be kept with a minimum of fuss. These critters are more expensive than beetles but are still relatively cheap. Hamsters typically sell for something around 3-5000 yen, and baby turtles sometimes as cheap as a few hundred yen.
Just as in many other countries around the world cats and dogs are probably the most popular pet. Miniature dogs tend to be most common (again, due to living space), but can fetch some high prices. Even a tiny chihuahua can sell for hundreds of thousands of yen. Cats are a popular choice also. Due to their wild nature, they don’t need to spend a great deal of time indoors which is ideal when you don’t have a lot of space or are busy. Stray cats are often adopted in Japan but pedigree varieties, like their canine counterparts, sell for lofty sums.
A trip to a Japanese pet shop is quite the experience. There are all manner of species available; birds, reptiles and even small monkeys can be found. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of pet shops in Japan though is the range of pet supplies and accessories one can find. Treats, toys, clothes and even goggles for your pet do a healthy turn-over in Japan. A recent government survey found that growth in pet-related expenses for Japanese families has exceeded regular family expenditures.
The pet-industry in Japan is big and is getting bigger. Small dogs in sweaters may sound odd at first but for their owners doggy fashion is no laughing matter.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The title maybe somewhat misleading for a blog about Japan, but there is a good reason for this.
Since the 2004/2005 period, the Korean pop culture has been on a roll in Japan. It was in this period that Japanese TV stations began screening Korean TV drama shows subtitled in Japanese. The first big Korean hit was Fuyu no Sonata (Winter Sonata). The show had already been a success in Korea and its popularity in Japan caused an explosion of Korean actors, singers and culture to burst onto the Japanese scene. The Japanese have named this the “Hanryu boom” (Korean culture boom).
During the height of the boom there was a rush on all things Korean. Japanese people flocked to Korean restaurants, traveled to Korea in greater numbers and idolized Korean TV personalities and singers. The most popular being the actor Bae Yong-Jun who is affectionately known in Japan as “Yon sama.” Yon sama can still be seen on billboards and magazine covers throughout Japan. It would be fair to say that a large number of Korean actors and singers earn a significant portion of their income in Japan.
The Hanryu boom may have peaked but it is still big business. TV and music aside, there are tons of great Korean restaurants and shops in Japan. Japan’s Korean population, both immigrant and Japanese-born, is sizable. This makes for communities of Koreans throughout the country. The largest and most famous Korean community in Japan is Shin Okubo in Tokyo. Only a short distance away from Shinjuku, the town is packed with Korean shops and restaurants. Signs written in Hangul almost outnumber signs written in Japanese. If you enjoy Korean food, Shin Okubo is a must visit. Other areas in Tokyo like Akasaka also have small Korean towns. The Korean community in and around Osaka is also a large well-established community.
So if you don’t have time in your schedule to hop over to Korea while you’re in Japan, there’s no need to worry. The popularity of Korean TV, music and food in Japan means that a small taste of Korea is not hard to come across.
Monday, October 18, 2010
At the stroke of midnight, it arrives and while you are asleep it takes you to the destination. No, I am not talking about any magic carpets or Cinderella's pumpkin carriage; I'm talking about the overnight bus.
This overnight bus, also called the highway buses, could be the alternative way of going to places here in Japan.
Japan is not one of those places where you just “go to” for a 3-4 day vacation. It is somewhere you visit once and try to see the most out of. And when trying to do so, I hear many people say how everything is so expensive in Japan, and how the transportation fee is so expensive, too. So for those people, I suggest this highway bus.
There are some disadvantages too, but if you are looking for something cheap to travel around Japan, I highly recommend it.
Since they have dense networks, there are many routes going all over places. The bus covers most of the major cities in most prefectures, but usually many of the buses leave from Shinjuku station or Tokyo station. (If you are staying in the Yokohama area, there are a couple of buses that leave from Yokohama station as well)
The prices are very cheap also. For example, if you take the bullet train to Osaka, it may cost you somewhere from 14,000 yen but if you take the bus, it is somewhere from 4,500 to 6,000 yen. You could save yourself the cost worth one way on the bullet train!
If you are planning to actually see many places in Japan, I 'HIGHLY' recommend you use the high-way bus!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
When you think of burgers, names like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy’s probably spring to mind. These are the American-based companies that have popularized the hamburger and its many varieties around the world. Since the dish’s origins in Germany many years ago, the burger has traveled to every continent and has spawned many variations.
The burger may be something of an American icon, but the dish is also immensely popular in Japan. The dish gained popularity in Japan after World War 2 due to the number of American servicemen stationed throughout the country. By the 1960’s “hamburger-steak”, a beef patty with no bun and often served with demi-glace sauce, had become a regular fixture in restaurants and households throughout Japan. In 1971 Asia’s first McDonald’s store opened in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Japan’s love for McDonald’s quickly developed. Only the United States has more McDonald’s restaurants than Japan. At the time of writing, there are over 3,500 McDonald’s across Japan.
Probably the first true Japanese variant of the burger was the previously mentioned hamburger-steak. However, up and down the country there are all sorts of Japanese burgers. One of the most famous is the Sasebo burger. The city of Sasebo lies on the island of Kyushu. A US naval base was established there in the 1950’s. As a result, the city soon adopted burgers into its local cuisine. The Sasebo burger is famous throughout Japan. The burger typically consists of at least one burger patty, lettuce, tomato, omelet, ground chicken, mayonnaise and a variety of vegetables. There are however numerous variations of the burger throughout Sasebo city.
The burger business is a big business. Each year the major burger vendors; McDonald’s, Burger King, Lotteria and Mos Burger spend huge amounts of time and money developing and promoting new burgers to the Japanese public. The public appear to love it. McDonald’s in particular regularly changes its seasonal menu. Earlier this year McDonalds promoted a series of regionally themed American burgers which were a massive hit. Right now they are releasing a series of new chicken burgers with flavors such as; carbonara, German sausage and cheese fondue.
Clearly, the Japanese have really taken to the burger and have developed it to some remarkable extremes. Some may not be “traditional”, and some may not be the best tasting, but Japan has certainly been creative with this humble dish.
From this month if you’re arriving to Japan (to Tokyo in this case), then there’s a chance that you may be arriving at Tokyo’s newly opened international terminal.
The new terminal is part of Haneda airport’s expansion program which began some six years ago. In addition to a new terminal, a new runway is currently under construction. When completed at the end of this year, Haneda airport will be able to handle over 400,000 take-offs and landings per year. It currently handles around 285,000.
An official opening ceremony for the new terminal was held last week. The grand opening revealed a unique feature; a shopping and viewing area called Edo Komichi, an area resembling a traditional Edo-era Japanese street-scape. Waiting travelers can also pass the time in a full range of duty-free stores restaurants.
The addition of a new international terminal and runway has been applauded by many frequent travelers in and out of Tokyo. Until now, international travelers have had to make the journey to Narita in neighboring Chiba prefecture which could take at least an hour from downtown Tokyo by express train.
Currently, international flights from Haneda go to Asia, Hawaii, North America, the United Kingdom and France. More slots are expected to be added soon.
Haneda airport is located in Tokyo Bay and is accessible by monorail or the Keikyu railway line. Both lines will take you into the heart of the city within thirty minutes.
To take a further view of the new terminal, check out this video!
It’s often remarked how clean and organized Japan is, and for the most part, this is true. However there is an interesting, less tidy culture of street scape and architecture still present in Japan’s larger cities. It would be fair to say that in every major Japanese city there are dozens, perhaps even hundreds of “kitanai” restaurants.
The term kitanai literally means dirty or unclean. That’s not to say that the previously mentioned restaurants are dirty and unhygienic, it’s more a comment on their general appearance than anything else. Although in some of these establishments, it may be a good idea to concentrate on the food only completely ignoring the aesthetics. So why mention these seemingly unsavoury eateries? The answer is that they are often delicious, not to mention cheap, quirky and cheerful.
Just recently on Japanese TV a “kitanai restaurant award” was the feature of a popular show. The show’s hosts travelled all around Tokyo visiting and sampling the cuisine of Tokyo’s best kitanai restaurants. The eventual winner was a Thai themed izakaya situated under the train tracks of the JR lines. The decor of all the contest’s finalists was shabby to say the least but all agreed that the food and manner of the hosts was top rate.
Naturally, you’d expect to find such places in the older quarters of town. Tokyo’s shitamachi area, the alleyways surrounding Tokyo station and older parts of Shinjuku are great places to start on searches for such places. Make sure your Japanese skills are ready for a good workout as most of these places obviously don’t see a lot of tourist customers.
So if you’re ready for a culinary and sensory adventure, keep an eye out for interesting little eateries along Japan’s less trodden paths. Search hard enough and you may find veritable diamonds in the rough.
It’s common knowledge that Japan is at the forefront of the gaming world. Brands such as Nintendo and Sega are known all over the world. Ever since Nintendo released its first game Donkey Kong in 1981, video games and their associated characters and sub-cultures have been an integral part of Japan’s economy and modern identity.
The video game industry is so deeply-rooted in Japan’s post-war image that certain locations in Japan are even defined by it. Take Akihabara for instance. Of course you can buy all manner of electrical goods in Akihabara, but the town is considered a Mecca for gamers worldwide. On the release day of a new game or game console, huge lines forming on the streets of Akihabara is a common scene. However, it’s not just new games and hardware that Akihabara is famous for. Fans of retro games from the 1970’s and 80’s often scour Akihabara for popular games and game consoles of that era. The town has dozens of such stores dotted along its back-alleys. Then there’s the entire back-catalog of action figures, collectible cards and so on based on popular game characters themselves; a thriving industry in itself.
About a thirty minute train ride from Akihabara is Odaiba. Here the gaming giant Sega has created the theme-park “Joypolis.” Joypolis is filled with new and classic Sega games and characters. The company’s flagship character, “Sonic the hedgehog”, and his supporting cast are plastered on every wall.
True game freaks make a trip to the annual Tokyo Games Show though. Each September the giants of the Japanese gaming industry assemble on Makuhari-Messe just outside Tokyo to showcase their latest developments. It’s considered one of the most important gaming events in the world. Execs and fans from around the world come to the Tokyo Games Show to see what Japanese gaming companies will unleash in the year to come. This year 3-D gaming devices are the buzz of the industry. The industry’s major players, Nintendo and Sony, are all releasing 3-D consoles next year.
One thing’s for sure. Japan is a gamers’ paradise. Whether you’re a casual player, or a hard-core gamer, exploring the history and locales of the gaming industry in Japan is great fun.
Outside the USA, Japan has the next largest music industry in the world. It’s no wonder then, that the Japanese music business is a colorful array of genres and characters. Rock, pop, hip-hop, visual-rock and Enka are just a few of the many musical styles that thrive in Japan. Perhaps the most successful, or rather the best-selling artists in Japan though are the boy’s and girl’s bands.
At any given time it seems as though there are always two or three incredibly popular boy and girl bands in Japan. Right now the most popular boy’s band appears to be “Arashi.” You can’t go anywhere in Japan without seeing all or one of their members promoting a product or starring in an upcoming TV show. The female equivalent of Arashi would have to be “AKB48.” AKB48 is no ordinary girl’s band though. They are more of a team of 48 teenage girls who regularly compete to be the leading representatives on the group’s music singles, music-videos and TV appearances. Between them, Arashi and AKB48 dominate the TV, radio and TV commercial air time. They are almost industries in themselves.
The idea of cult-like boy’s and girl’s bands is nothing new in Japan. Years ago “Morning Musume” were the female super group that dominated the charts and media of Japan. Though not as large in numbers as AKB48, the band held regularly auditions for new talent. Many former Morning Musume stars have furthered their careers in the entertainment industry. On the other hand popular boy bands of the past probably never became bigger than SMAP. SMAP was formed by the music industry giant “Johnny’s Entertainment” (the same agency that manage Arashi) in the early 1990’s, and have been one of the most succesful bands in the history of Japan’s music industry. Musically they are somewhat quiet these days, but on TV and film, the members of SMAP are still going very strong. Turn on the TV and you’ll still see a SMAP member promoting a product or acting in a drama.
Who knows who the next big band will be? For now the teeny-boppers of Japan seem to be engrossed in the movements of Arashi and AKB48. It seems as though they’ll be around for at least another year or two at least. If SMAP is anything to go by, they could continue well into the future.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Each year thousands of Japanese holidaymakers head to island resort locales such as Guam, Saipan and Hawaii. These three locations account for the bulk of Japanese travel overseas. Like anyone else, people just want to get away from it all and soak up some rays on an idyllic sun-drenched beach. Places like Guam and Saipan are only a three hour flight from Japan and are relatively cheap to get to. In these tough economic times however, even cheap package tours to Guam can be out of reach for tired workers in need of a getaway. Luckily Japan has no shortage of seaside resorts towns of its own. One such resort area is only two hours away from central Tokyo by local train.
Situated on the upper half of the Izu peninsula lies the town of Atami. It’s long been a popular spot for residents of the greater Tokyo area and when a shinkansen (bullet-train) station was added there, even more people came. The town is nestled between steep forest-clad hills and a beautiful harbor. Beautiful yellow-sanded beaches are also dotted along the town’s coastline.
During the days of Japan’s bubble-economy period dozens of huge condominium complexes were built along the hillsides overlooking Atami. These days a few condominium buildings have been closed down but most still stand and are available at prices vastly cheaper than those of when they first opened. Some are even available for reasonable nightly rates. Most hillside hotels and condominiums command a spectacular view of the harbor and town.
Just across from Atami lies the island of Hatsushima. A ferry leaves for Hatsushima every hour. It’s a pleasant twenty minute journey. Once on the island you can enjoy the abundant local seafood, visit the resorts, or just take a walk around the island’s circumference. It only takes an hour or so. The more adventurous may want to take a boat out to the larger island known as Oshima which is famous for its hot-springs and wildlife.
The entire Izu peninsula in summer is somewhat sub-tropical in appearance. It really is hard to believe that you are only an hour or two away from Tokyo. With such a location within easy reach, you’d have to wonder why people would want to spend their time and hard-earned money flying to Guam or Saipan.