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Japanese Tax Deduction Part 2

If you read the first part of this tax deduction blog and follow the instruction you should get a notification slip about now from the local government office. This slip confirm the deduced amount for each month.Last December, I pay 40,000 yen 'Furusato Tax' and get all the gifts around March, on top of that this upcoming tax year I will get 38,000 yen deduction. All the gifts are great! I got 2 kg of A5 beef steak, 6 unagi and a box of sausage. Good luck and follow my blog :)

Japan's "off" stores - and how they are super helpful!

Before I moved to Japan I was always interested in thrift stores. I love finding a bargain (don't we all?) and I also love being able to get use out of something that maybe someone else no longer needed. Enter Japan's "off" range of stores - Hard Off, Book Off, Hobby Off, Mode Off...the list goes on.You can find all manner of fun things at these stores. Whether it's electronics that you're after, an interesting new book to read (my local has an English language section too - so it's okay even if you don't read Japanese!), maybe even some new threads...you can check out these stores. One of my most loved possessions was a beautiful kokeshi doll that I found at one of these stores - and in perfect condition, no less!I'm convinced that second hand goods in Japan are actually much better than anywhere else I've lived - because there just tends to be a greater level of care, I guess. Either that, or no one brings junk-type things there. If you're wanting to sell stuff to the stores too, you're able to - just bring your residence card and they should be able to sort it all out. We've sold books to Book Off, because we're moving house in a month here and needed to offload some stuff. Less stuff to pack, and earning a few bucks in the process? Winner!The link to the Hard Off website is here and you can check for store locations - they're all across Japan. There are also links on the Hard Off page to all the other "Off" branded second hand stores!

Japan Food Adventure: Crunky Biscuit

I’m a big fan of the Crunky Chrunch Chocolate bar from Lotte. I love the chocolate itself and especially the malt puff inside. Luckily, they are releasing more and more chocolate of this style. Lately I found some chocolate cookies I couldn’t resist buying.  Lotte Crunky Biscuit mainly is a biscuit sandwich consisting of two cookies and and crunky chocolate in the middle. The cookies are very crunchy and delicious and they build a wonderful combination with the chocolate. I am really in love them and often need to eat a second one right after I had one. The box comes with eight individually wrapped cookies, so it is very useful for to go and a nice snack if you are a little hungry. I will definitely buy it again, when I see it in the supermarket.

AoBT 07-Parental Problems (Stick Kid pt. 2)

There have been times since moving here that I've felt disillusioned about the Japanese way of life. It's definitely not a perfect country and I've grown to accept the "that's just the way things are" mentality... for the most part. I've put off writing about this for a while now because it's a touchy subject, but I believe that it is very important and should be discussed. My newest student, "Stick Kid", has had a lot of trouble adjusting to his new environment. He has difficulty concentrating, he has violent outbursts, and he just seems very apathetic about most things. This is normal for most new students. They often test their boundaries and see how far they can push their teachers and classmates. Usually this period lasts about a month before the new child adapts and becomes part of the fold. Stick-kid, however, still is experiencing difficulties. I was having trouble getting answers from the Japanese staff until it was time to make Mother's Day crafts. It was then that I found out that Stick Kid, "Doesn't have a mother." At first I thought that his mother died, but was informed that this is not the case. Rather, it seems like his father took him and his older brother away from their mother. Their mother is from South Korea and after getting a divorce, the father took the boys and came down to where their grandmother lives. While I'm not exactly sure of the situation that led to the father taking the children from their mother, I do know that Stick Kid frequently talks about his mother and how much he misses her. In my opinion, this is probably why he is acting out.   This leads me into a major problem that I have with Japan: The complete removal of one parent after a divorce. In Japanese culture it seems like after a couple divorces, one parent completely disappears from the lives of the children. One of my recent graduates, Wa-chan, changed her last name from her father's to her mother's maiden name. Once that happened, the father stopped coming to all of the school events and when we made Father's Day presents that year, I was told that Wa-chan doesn't have a father anymore and that she could make a present for her grandfather instead. When I asked why the name changed and why the father was completely cut out of Wa-chan's life, I was told, "That's just how it is here." This makes me really sad. As a child of divorced parents, it would have killed me to have been told that I couldn't see one of them ever again.  I realize that this may be a cultural "norm", but it still makes me feel really sad. I feel sad for the parent who is cut out and I especially feel sad for the child. I've been giving Stick Kid extra hugs and head pats. He is a sweet boy and I hope that he adjusts to life in his new school soon.                 sad stick is sad

Free Fun in Matsushima: Oshima Island and the Beach

    If you're looking for a beautiful place to visit in Miyagi and spend nothing but the cost of transit, look no further than Oshima Island in Matsushima Bay.     While there are a few fun and free things to do around Matsushima, including visiting Godaido Shrine and walking through the new landscape taking shape in the forest in front of Zuiganji Temple, Oshima is the closest free tourist site/attraction to Matsushima Kaigan Station (410 yen, 38 minutes from Sendai).     Currently, the path to the island is a little strange as construction around the park across the street from the station is still taking place. Also, the Matsushima aquarium, a decades-old landmark, was torn down a few years ago as it relocated to Sendai and left a strangely unoccupied lot in its place. To get to Oshima, you have to cross by this vacant lot and take a short, narrow side-road toward the parking lot that used to belong to the now non-existent aquarium. In the foreground, landscaping and paving your way to the beach. A little further back, the vast parking lot. To the distant left, the restroom building.    As you get closer, the path grows into a nicely paved walkway, leading to a beach on the right and Oshima on the left. There is a small, picturesque red bridge connected Oshima to the mainland, and unlike the toll bridge the Fukuurajima, this one is short, unmanned and free. The island itself is pretty small but offers an interesting view and a nice quiet place for reflection on slow, off-season days. If you feel the call of nature, you can make use of the small building on the far side of the parking lot that houses public toilets and that includes a changing table as well as a handicapped stall. Getting to the bridge does involve walking up a few stairs, so those with strollers or other mobility issues may have a hard time accessing the space.     Yep. Stairs before the bridge, but if you had a stroller and a bike lock, you could make use of the railing. The view, after the stairs.The island itself has a few small stone benches (the massive rectangle on the left) in scenic spots for visitors who want to stop and reflect.    There is a railing around the island to keep everyone safe, but it is also of course best to not leave small children unsupervised regardless. There is only really one path around the little island but there are also small caves carved into the rock in some places. The caves themselves are not deep enough to get lost in but do make for a fantastic adventure for some visitors, despite their original purpose as places of solitude and private prayer and reflection for the buddhist monks of the area.    If your exploration of Oshima does not provide enough ocean viewing for you, a nice walk around the beach may be right up your alley. The beach itself isn't so much of a tourist beach and is not maintained to those standards, but can still be a good time. It is part of 松島海浜公園 Matsushima kaihin kōen, which bars barbecues, swimming, and fires of any kind, according to the signs posted in Japanese and English along the coast. Unfortunately, the elements washed out the colorful lettering on "prohibited" which can now only be seen upon very close inspection.Still, if you're only looking for a place to put your feet in the water, write in the sand or hunt for seashells, this can be a great place to explore. Remember to keep a close eye on the kids though, as the ocean washes up all kinds of things. Most of the stuff is normal sea refuse, like shells and kelp, a few bamboo poles covered in barnacles perhaps, but usually nothing outright dangerous.Walking wherever this sign used to hang must be even more dangerous now that they have no sign.Still, it's a great place to explore...or just take in the sea.Also, not a bad place for a selfie.So if you're searching for summer beauty in Miyagi but you're strapped for cash, take a little trip to Oshima!

Surfing, Serenity and Stories: The charm of Shimoda

As an archipelagic nation with thousands of islands, it is not difficult to come across water in Japan. When paired with the scenic nature and vibrant culture of Japan, the coastlines can provide some of the best spots in the world. Naturally, everybody has their own favorite spot by the water--mine just happens to be Shimoda. Located at the tip of the Izu peninsula in Shizuoka prefecture, Shimoda is tops in my book for three key reasons: Surfing: Japan has some excellent gems of surfing spots, and the path to Shimoda is lined with beaches, each with different breaks, which means that you can almost always find some place to surf.  Depending on when you go, you will not have to fight for a spot on the break, either.Serenity: So much serenity...Shimoda's combination of hills, beaches, and wonderful climate yield a place that offers much for those seeking to escape the stresses of the urban jungle. Whether it's snoozing on a clean, beautiful beach, or taking a nature walk through the forests, Shimoda has much to offer all travelers. One of the best ways to enjoy the serenity in Shimoda is to stay in a ryokan there. If you do, be sure to select an option that includes dinner. It can be pricey, but the fresh seafood and vegetables (fresh wasabi grown just up the road, too) make for some of the best meals you'll have in Japan. For the serenity, Shimoda is best visited in the late spring time to enjoy the blossoming and fragrant flowers and summer, when you can enjoy the vast ajisai, or hydrangeas, that flank the narrow pathways and trails throughout the town. Stories:As an American living in Japan, I have always felt a deep interest with the heritage of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and it formally began some 150 years ago at the small port town of Shimoda. It was here that Commodore Perry steamed into harbor with his black ships and demanded the opening of Japan's borders, ending the centuries-long policy of sakoku, or closed country. Shimoda has not forgotten its important place in Japanese history; rather, it embraces it, with regular tours of replica black ships around the bay, a small museum detailing the arrival of the Americans, and numerous shops offering themed cookies, prints, and other merchandise for the enterprising tourist. Two essential stops in Shimoda are at the harbor where the black ships make their rounds (my daughter loved the sight of the ships zooming around the bay), and the Ryōsen-ji temple which was where U.S. and Japanese government representatives signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and which served as the first consulate for the United States in the early years of the formal relationship between the two countries. I hope that you'll be able to make it down to Shimoda at some point during your time in Japan. As a recommendation, take the train on long weekends--it is a favorite spot for folks from Tokyo to visit during 3- and 4-day holidays because of its proximity and all of the reasons I listed above, so traffic can be 3-4 times more than normal. Oh, and if you're in the area, be sure to stop by South Cafe--some of the best food and smoothies I've had in Japan (by far!). [South Cafe is located at 〒415-0028 Shizuoka-ken, Shimoda-shi, Kisami, 918−2, and the website is southcafe.net]

Ureshino Onsen「嬉野温泉」

When I think of water in Japan, the first thing I think of is Onsen! Sure, during summer, a lot of people are busy trying to cool off in swimming pools, lakes, rivers, and oceans. There are plenty of those too. Just because it's hot out doesn't mean all the sento and onsen empty out during summer. Quite the opposite in fact. A lot of people have more free time to travel during summer and onsen are still relaxing and a nice excuse to escape into nature. If you can't handle the heat, go into the water for a shorter amount of time, and if there's a cold pool, take breaks in it. This is actually quite healthy and a lot of onsen have either a cold pool or a cold fountain with buckets to refresh yourself in between the hot pools. We recently made a trip out to Takeo Onsen, which is hardly famous, even for people living in Kyushu. Most people will think of Yufuin and Beppu as the popular onsen in Kyushyu, and rightfully so, as the area produces more hot water (over 130,000 tons of water, just in Beppu) than any other place in Japan. I was surprised that even on a weekday, there were visitors to the onsen, and it was sort of set up for foreign visitors as well. From the English announcement at Takeo Onsen Station (on JR Sasebo Line) to the English, Chinese, and Korean announcements on the 30 minute local bus ride to Ureshino Onsen (the last stop). From Takeo Onsen Station, take a bus from the south exit to Ureshino Onsen. From there you can walk (2-3 minutes) down Onsen Street" to Taishoya, a fancy ryokan with onsen. In the big tearoom, you can sit and enjoy the ceramics displayed while waiting for a shuttle bus to their sister hotel, the more down to earth Shiiba no Yu, in the mountains. Staff might bring you a hot cup of Ureshino-cha, the locally grown tea you can see on the way up the mountain. There is also a gift shop selling tea and other local products in the hotel.The view up to Shiiba no Yu is just beautiful, winding up the hill past tea farms, a lush green this time of year. It takes about five minutes, but the shuttle bus runs infrequently, with no rides after 10:00 until almost 15:00. After getting our towels, we parted ways and I walked down a long hallway towards the women's bath. Lockers are provided as well as hairbrushes, hairdryers, face soaps and lotions, etc. for women at least. I heard the men's bath didn't even have a scale.After washing I went straight for the rotenburo, a large pool outside shaded by a roof in a small area, as well as trees. If we look out from the bath, we can see woods and a small river below. I imagine there would be fireflies there if we had gone late enough. The water is 41-42 degrees, so it was a little warm to stay in for very long this time of year, although it wasn't very hot out and there was a cool breeze. There are plenty of rocks perfectly placed to sit with only your bottom half in the water and cool off a bit. I had a hard time just relaxing because it was exciting to be in such beautiful nature.There is also an indoor pool, which I went to next. There were only a few other people in the bath while I was there, on a weekday afternoon. It might get more crowded during weekends and summer holidays, especially in the evening. In under three hours by train and bus from Fukuoka airport, you can be in the Ureshino Onsen area. It will cost you almost 4000 yen each way. There is a shinkansen line (to Sasebo, Nagasaki Line I believe) being built now, and we crossed under the new bridge several times on the local bus. It was really nice to go somewhere new and we were already in Saga City, but I feel like it's not totally worth the trip out this way unless you are visiting Huis Ten Bosch (an amusement park in Nagasaki Prefecture) or something nearby. (Beppu Onsen is The Best in Japan, in my humble opinion.)

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