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Japan’s City Office Public Service Announcements: Distinguishable From The Din?

Japan is noisy!  Obviously more so in the urban areas, but even in a quaint rural hamlet your ears are still open to a potential assault from all manner sources.Aside from the usual banal culprits (traffic, drunken yobs, garbage collectors), sources range from the psychotically annoying (e.g. bōsōzoku; emotionally/intellectually stunted blokes with mummy and daddy issues who vent their insecurity by riding around neighborhoods revving the engines of their motorbikes), through slightly less annoying, sometimes useful (vans collecting household goods to be recycled, trucks selling hot potatoes, and all manner of shouting advertisements), ending up at the potentially life-saving (earthquake/weather warnings).  Throw into the mix an election build-up where candidates pitch up outside train stations and drive around housing areas in a bid to out shout their rivals through megaphones, and it can be hard to distinguish that noise which is important from that which is just pollution.For the foreigner in Japan, perhaps some of the country’s most important noise comes in the form of public service announcements, delivered by the local city office through a city-wide loudspeaker system.  At times such announcements are essential, at others, they’re of little interest.  The problem is, to the uninitiated and to the untrained ear, they all sound the same.Listen Closely!Potentially Important City Office AnnouncementsEarthquakeMost earthquakes in Japan aren’t worth getting out of bed for.  If the City Office is announcing them though, you should be on alert!   The language used may differ depending on the city.  Yaizu City (Shizuoka) has produced an English translation of their announcements in the case of an earthquake …A major earthquake is about to occur:  おおじしんです。/  Oo jishin desu.  /  Lit.  Big earthquake.Post major earthquake:  しんど...のじしんがはっせいしました。 ひのしまつをしてください。てれび・らじお をつけ、おちついてこうどうしてください。Shindo … no jishin ga hasei shimashita.  Hinoshimatsu wo shitekudasai.  Terebi, rajio wo tsuke, ochitsuite koudoushite kudasai.An earthquake with a seismic intensity of … has occurred. Please turn off the gas and extinguish all fire sources. Please turn on the TV or radio and stay calm. TsunamiIf you live in coastal areas be especially tuned in to the city’s tsunami warnings.  Again, from the city of Yaizu …Tsunami Warning:おおつなみけいほうがはっぴょうされまし た。かいがんふきんのかたはたかだいにひ なんしてください。Oo tsunami keihou ga hapyousaremashita.  Kaiganfukin no kata wa takadai ni hinanshitekudasai.A Tsunami Warning has been issued. For those near the ocean, please evacuate to high ground.Tsunami Advisory:つなみちゅういほうがはっぴょうされまし た。かいがんふきんのかたはちゅういして ください。Tsunami Chyuihou ga hapyousaremashita.  Kaiganfukin no kata wa chyuishitekudasai.A Tsunami Advisory has been issued. For those near the ocean, please be careful. For the full details of Yaizu City’s earthquake/tsunami announcements visit the link here. The ‘pronunciation’ translation (the bit in italics) was created by this writer and is in no way official!!Other Potentially Important City Office AnnouncementsIn the event/approach of a large typhoon.In the event a dangerous animal is spotted in the area.  Almost zero chance of this happening in Japan’s major urban centers (unless something escapes from a zoo), but it’s a potential hazard in remote/mountainous areas where bears live.  The Japanese for bear - kuma / クマ / 熊.In the event that a suspicious person/perpetrator of a crime is in the area.Slightly Less Important City Office AnnouncementsIn the event of heavy rains (大雨 / ooame)/potential flooding.In the event of a missing person (行方不明 / yukuefumei) (usually someone elderly who is unable to find their way home).In the event that an election (選挙 / senkyo)  is taking place (announcing the day to place a vote).The Best/Worst/Most Forgettable of The RestSome cities use their loudspeaker systems to announce local events.  One such example might be summer time firework festivals (花火大会 / hanabi taikai).This writer has heard accounts of cities making announcements about the dry atmosphere, and thus the potential for fires to breakout.  In my city though, this warning is communicated by groups of volunteers patrolling the area, banging two pieces of wood together.Undoubtedly the most common announcement is that used to tell school children it’s time for them to go home.  Sounds a bit George Orwell 1984!,  I hear you say.  Well, yes! That said, most parents probably appreciate it.  Oh, and Japanese school kids aren’t allowed to wear watches!  The ‘public service’ is called 夕焼け放送 / yuuyake housou / sunset broadcast.  In this writer’s area it can be heard at 4 pm in winter, and as late as 5:30 pm in summer.  It goes something like this …(time)になりました。お子さんたちはお家へ帰りましょう。 … ni narimashita.  Okosantachi wa ouchi ei kaerimashyou.The time is now ... .  Children, go back home!There will be discrepancies between cities in terms of both content and language used for the announcements talked about here.  Finding scripts and definitive lists of the regular city office loudspeaker announcements is also difficult (even in Japanese).  With that in mind, perhaps we could create a useful resource for each other, using your comments below to inform of any announcements you have heard where you live.If anyone out there is troubled by some of Japan’s noise issues, this October 2014 article in the Japan Times makes for an interesting read, and highlights some organisations that are campaigning for a quieter Japan.

Hey Tofu Haters! Japanese Toppings To Add Taste!

Better begin by saying that this writer was one of said haters. For a long time, tofu (とうふ) was, for me, anti-food. Its bland, bordering on soporific, taste was about as inspiring as cardboard and its putrid texture made me wish it was.Annoyingly though, tofu is very healthy, in the kind of way that recounts that oft-asked childhood perplexity,  “Why is the food that's good for you so boring?”. For this writer it’s all about the protein. Tofu packs a solid punch of the stuff. It was recommended as way of beefing up a little, on the cheap. For less than 100 yen I'd get three tubs and wolf them down straight like over-sized pots of yogurt. Japanese colleagues balked at such barbarism and insisted I get some toppings on there.So we've compiled a list of what the Japanese like on their tofu, with an important caveat; despite the myriad ways to prepare and serve tofu, what we're interested in here is minimum time, preparation, and cost. Three tubs, under 100 yen, toppings on, and eat. The Japanese equivalent of boiling an egg, if you will.  The tofu used here is the soft variety (絹/kinu).The Classicsかつおぶし (鰹節) and ネギ (Katsuobushi and Negi - picture 1)A pinch of katsuobushi (aka dried bonito flakes) gives a much needed salty, smoky hue to your tofu.  Add some color with a sprinkle of chopped negi (scallion).ショウガ (生姜) and ネギ (Syouga and Negi - picture 2)We liked this one a great deal.  The fiery ginger (ショウガ) really injected a dose of life into the tofu, with the chopped negi on hand to make sure things didn’t get out of control.  The ginger you want is the prepared kind that comes in a tube, like toothpaste!  Clean and easy!  ミョウガ (名荷) and ネギ (Myouga and Negi - picture 3)Myouga, to the layman, is Japanese ginger (although it’s native to China and Korea as well). Red/pink/purple in color it has the look of something from a Sci-Fi movie, that could kill you. It can’t though, and is actually rather tasty.  It’s not as distracting as the regular ginger. Chop some up with your negi and sprinkle on top.For Something Sharperレモン and しょうゆ (醤油)  (Lemon and Soy Sauce - picture 4)For ultra minimum preparation, the lemon juice you can squirt from plastic lemon-shaped containers will do.  We like the way a slice of lemon looks on the tofu, though.  Points for presentation!  うめぼし(梅干し) and シソ  (Pickled Plum and Shiso - picture 6)Perhaps pickled plum is bit of a misnomer.   Umeboshi appears more as a plum/apricot hybrid that looks like it dropped off the tree some time ago and would be better used to make compost!  Such names also sound rather sweet.  However, umeboshi is anything but. This writer is consistently floored by the one-two punch of saltiness and bitterness. Anyway, chop some up and have it with your tofu.  You never know, they might just cancel each other out.For Something … Weird!ケチャップ, オリーブ油 and シソ  (Ketchup, Olive Oil and Shiso - picture 5)Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but let’s deal with the shiso first of all.  Shiso (once translated as ‘beefsteak plant’), is a herb used across Asia coming from the mint family. Fine!  As for the ketchup and olive oil, well, we’re not making it up.  A few squirts of ketchup, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of chopped shiso, and away you go.  It’s supposed to end up tasting of cheese.  It doesn’t, but it’s actually rather nice.Still Too Much Preparation?If the above are beyond your culinary skills, or indeed, your motivation, then let’s get really basic.ポン酢醤油 (Ponzu shouyu)Ponzu is a citrus-based sauce which, when combined with shouyu, is often used to dress meats or act as a dip.  You can put some on your tofu, too.  It’s essentially an easier version of the Lemon and Soy Sauce above.Shoyu (醤油)  Soy SauceThe ever reliable soy sauce.  Often added to some of the aforementioned Classics.Shio (塩)  (Salt)This is never going to win any awards for originality, but it might just be enough to make tofu palatable for those who are having difficulty.  Maybe spend a little more money than usual on the salt though.If you’ve got any suggestions for our readers, don’t hesitate to comment below, no matter how outrageous!

Counting the Cost: A Weekend Away from Tokyo, in Kyoto

Guidebooks to Kyoto are often at pains to tell readers that spending anything less than five days in the former capital is almost derisory, but hey, for many of us from Tokyo, we don’t have that kind of time.  It’s a weekend or nothing.Are they right, though?  Is a weekend worth it?  This writer speculates that most people would answer with a resounding, “Yes!”, although it may depend on budget and how long we’re willing to spend (in terms of time) getting there.So let’s break it down then.  Just how much money does one need for a weekend in Kyoto?  We look at four types of visitor who might leave Tokyo on the Saturday morning and aim to be back home by the Sunday night.The High RollerThis visitor has enough wealth to reduce the most blinged-up, obnoxious hip-hop superstar, to an insecure wreck.  To put it simply, money is no object.Transport  Private Jet?  Why not?!  Private Fly can charter a small jet from Narita (Tokyo) to Itami (Osaka) from a cool 1,818,462 yen (return)What about a helicopter?  Excel Air Service Inc. rents out AS355s (whatever they are) for a mere 480,000 yen per hour!StayIt used to be that the rich folks would stay in luxury hotels.  Apparently though, they aren’t good enough.  Welcome then to the super-luxury hotel, of which Kyoto got its first last year (2014), courtesy of Ritz-Carlton.  Suites at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto start from 150,000 yen per night.  The Presidential Suite is a heart-stopping 1,000,000 yen per night.  EatSearch for ‘world’s most expensive restaurant’ and you’ll find Kyoto is host to a frequent entry on many of the lists.  Kitcho (Arashiyama), the world’s most expensive Michelin-starred restaurant will get you fed (with a drink) for around 70,000 yen (per person).  Get AroundHire a limousine and driver with Yasaka Taxi for a half-day of sightseeing for 46,820 yen.Total:  2,100,000 - 3,000,000 yenThe Business Exec.Unlike the High Flyer, money is an object but it’s probably someone else's problem.  This visitor is on a very generous expense account with a shiny credit card that is not their own. TransportBusiness class, please!  ANNA’s Premium Class airline fares between Haneda (Tokyo) and Itami cost 34,490 yen (one way).  Over at struggling JAL, things are significantly cheaper, with their First Class return fares (same airports) starting as low as 28,180 yen.StayWhilst the exec. may not be granted permission to stay in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton, perhaps some of the other rooms might be more within budget.  River view, luxury guest rooms are available at 70,000 yen per night.  For something more traditional, how about the ryokan, Gion Hatanaka?  Rooms (inc. dinner/breakfast) from 56,364 yen.EatBusiness execs. can enjoy a dinner buffet with a view (~5,000 yen) at Lounge Orizzonte on the 17th floor of the Kyoto Hotel Okura.  Get AroundTaxi.  As an example, a fare from Kyoto Station to Kinkaku-ji will be around 2,500 yen. Perhaps 10,000 yen will be enough to cover a busy day of sightseeing.  To figure out potential fares anywhere in Japan, have a look at the Taxi Fare Finder website.Total:  99,544 - 153,980 yenThe Salary PersonOft referred to as the salaryman (we’re just more PC here), this visitor’s budget is wide in scope.TransportBy far the most convenient option in this budget range is the Shinkansen.  Every day, an army of corporate Chandlers (the funny one from Friends) zip down to Kyoto on a 14,000 yen reserved seat, one-way ticket (reserved seat prices vary very slightly depending on season).  The growth of budget airlines in recent years has created more options for travel to Kyoto. Booking in advance with an LCC (Low Cost Carrier) like Jetstar could secure your return passage for around 12,000 yen.  From Osaka’s Itami Airport, cheap trains to Kyoto require about 1,000 yen.StayWhere to start?  5,000 yen might fetch a plain room that smells of smoke, in a business hotel.  20,000 yen will cover something rather snazzy in the 4 star hotel range.EatAgain, a broad spectrum of choice here.  2,000 yen will be enough for a full meal (and a drink) at a standard department store eatery.As a bit of treat, 4,000 - 6,000 yen should cover a set dinner at a restaurant with delicious views of the River Kamo.Getting AroundA Kyoto Sightseeing Pass Card should do it.  This covers city buses and subway lines.  2 Day Pass - 2,000 yen.Total:  25,000 - 56,000 yenThe BackpackerOK, perhaps bit of a misnomer as most backpackers have more time to spare than a weekend between work.  For those that want to keep costs to a minimum though, this is the way to go.TransportUndoubtedly the cheapest way to get to Kyoto is by bus.  Willer Express runs a service between Shinjuku and Kyoto Station.  Weekend tickets go for around 5,000 yen.  However, with journey times of nearly 9 hours, it would be better to leave on Friday night on an overnight service (about 8,000 yen).  You could then have a full day in Kyoto and take a day bus back to Tokyo on the Sunday.Discounts (however slight) are available for the Shinkansen.  Buying tickets from a kinken shop (金券ショップ) might shave off a few hundred yen.  JR Tokai Tours (JR東海ツアーズ) run the Platt Kodama (ぷらっとこだま) which will get you on a Shinkansen to Kyoto for 10,100 yen (low season) or 11,400 yen (high season).A non-reserved seat on the Shinkansen costs 13,080 yen.Whilst budget airlines might have cheaper tickets, be sure to factor in getting to/from airports and the time need to check in etc.StayThere a plenty of hostels to choose from in Kyoto.  This writer has had good experiences with K’s House Kyoto where beds in a dorm start at 2,400 yen a night.EatThere are usually outdoor food stalls somewhere in the city (check out Yasaka Shrine) where one can (just about) fill up for dinner for less than 500 yen.Getting AroundThe aforementioned Kyoto Sightseeing Pass Card (1 day - 1,200 yen) is worth considering. Real spend thrifts with a good set of legs can walk between plenty of free sights and attractions in Kyoto’s more central areas.Total:  15,900 - 30,260 yenOne glaring miss in these calculations is entrance fees to temples, shrines and other attractions.  That said, the for the High Roller and the Business Exec. such fees are probably negligible.  Those on lower budgets might want to be selective here (time constraints will also be a significant factor).  Again, for the Backpacker, there is plenty to see and do in Kyoto for free.Also, be aware that with some services (particularly hotels), it pays to shop around as different outlets may offer different prices.We invite you to share your tips for a weekend away in Kyoto.  Log in and comment below.

Buying Import Foods in Kyoto

Yes, yes, we all know that Japanese food is great, but sometimes we just want to get our chops around a taste of home.  Even when we’re in Kyoto, that most Japanese of cities.So it is, that here at City-Cost, we’ve put together a list of import food stores which may well stock some of your favorites from the motherland.YamayaFirst stop is foreign booze stalwart Yamaya (World Liquor System).  There’s one on the first floor of Kyoto Avanti, south of Kyoto station (just across the road).This Yamaya covers some of your snack and accoutrement essentials, as well as having the usual pasta ingredients from Italy and the curry equivalent from India.  We spotted a fine selection of Austrian jams (~325 yen), some big boxes of Cornflakes (a very reasonable ~284 yen), and indulgent bottles of Hershey’s Syrup (~475 yen).Where Yamaya really comes into its stride is when you need alcohol.  This store has wines from Germany, Spain, France and Italy (among others).  There’s a decent selection of bottled beers covering classics like Heineken, Corona, and Budweiser, as well as Eastern European brews whose names can’t be pronounced, and faux, ye olde ales from the British Isles.  Most 330 ml bottles start at around 350 yen.  Look out for the novelty, over-sized 1000 ml beer cans (~700 yen).Those who know a thing or two about the harder stuff, may find something to please among Yamaya’s whiskeys and spirits.  Dig deep though, some bottles here sell for up to 7,000 yen.Access Hours:  10:00 - 21:00JupiterUnderground shopping complex Porta, houses a couple of import food retailers, on the north side of Kyoto Station.  First up, Jupiter; all in all a sound option for a variety of snacks, nibbles, sides, and small indulgences.  Starting with chocolate.  We spotted post-Christmas dinner staple (back home, at least), After Eights, kids’ favorite, Milky Way, and multiple winner of world’s cheesiest advertising (but very effective nonetheless), Ferrero Rocher!Jupiter stocks a good selection of cheeses, although at 500 yen/80 g the prices are as pungent as the odors .  Satisfy yourself instead with the jars of pickles, tubes of Pringles, loads of jams, and boxes of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (600 yen/300 g).The store has a counter selling fresh coffees.  Seijo IshiiWithin the Jupiter vicinity (and part of the Porta experience) is import/posh food regular Seijo Ishii.  It’s only a small branch but it remains a good place to go for bagels (and bentos).  Porta AccessJupiter Hours: 9:00 - 21:00Global KitchenStaying in the Kyoto Station area, on the second basement floor below Yodobashi Camera, you’ll find Global Kitchen.  This is really more of a posh supermarket than a valuable resource for import foods.  Still, it might turn up something to take your fancy, whether it be bottles of Marie Sharp’s super hot sauces, taco building kits, or some pate (496 yen/80 g).AccessHours:  9:30 - 22:00Of the station area’s options, Yamaya (for your drinks) and Jupiter (for food) offer the best choice.  Check them out first, and if you can’t find what you’re after, then try your luck at the others.We found a handful of import options in Kyoto’s central shopping area, around Kawaramachi.Food Market TaveltHeading north after the Kyoto Station area, the first place to check is Food Market Tavelt, on Shijo (basement floor of the Daimaru Bldg. between Gion Shijo and Karasuma Stations).  Tavelt is really just a fancy supermarket.  Still, it does sell Heinz Ketchup (300 yen/570 g), so perhaps not so fancy after all.  If you’ve got the money, Travelt has a fine selection of cheeses.  Granola, jams, and pricey teas from London and Paris, are also available. There’s a Plaza store across the way.Daie ShokuhinWalk north up Kawaramachi and look to your left for the Uraderacho area/裏寺町(nearly half way between Shijo and Sanjo, look for ABC MART ).  As you turn left, on the corner is Daie Shokuhin, a pint-sized store that looks like it’s been around since the days of post-war austerity.  In a space that resembles a grandma’s pantry, we spotted jars of Skippy (peanut butter), pickles, cans of massive dried corn, cookies, and chewy teeth rotters from Haribo.  If you like Hershey’s, there’s plenty of choice here.  Daie also sells fresh coffee. The open-front store is marked by faded UK and US flags.AccessHours: 10:00 - 19:00Meidi-Ya  Further north, on Sanjo (next to the Royal Park Hotel) is a two-story Meidi-Ya. As with all Meidi-Ya, this is a place to come for those who enjoy the finer things in life, including those with a taste for Guylian Belgian Chocolates! Among the savory items we spotted jars of Vegemite (400 yen/220 g), bottles of Lea & Perrins Worcester Sauce (670 yen/290 ml), and some packets of Carr's Water Crackers. Bottles of Hoegaarden (389 yen/330 ml) sit among a limited selection of world beers on the second floor. Meidi-Ya stocks servings of Ragu pasta sauce, and a fine choice of chocolate bars. We particularly enjoyed the massive cans of tinned fruit (orange, grapefruit, mango 500-600 yen).AccessHours: 10:00 – 21:00Wines and Provisions MakiFurther afield, we'd heard about a small business called Wines and Provisions Maki. Maki is about a five minute walk from Mototanaka Station on the Eizan Line.Although small and quiet, Maki stocks a noisy collection of overseas treats. There are big jars of Skippy Peanut Butter (1,500 yen) and we also saw some Lyle's Golden Syrup! A selection of breakfast cereals includes Weetabix and porridges from Scotland. Among the savory items we noted jars of Vegemite, cans of Spam, couscous, and some huge, 5 kg bags of pasta. Maki has a few cheeses in its refrigerator. There didn't seem to be a great deal in terms of alcohol.Access: If arriving from central Kyoto, turn right onto the main road (Higashi Oji Dori/東大路通り) from Mototanaka Station. Maki is on the left after a few meters.Hours: 10:00 – 22:00 (closed Wednesday)As always, we encourage you to share the wealth.  If you know of any import treats available in the Kyoto area, be sure to let us know.  Cheers!For more on getting a taste of home throughout Japan, check out our earlier article: A Taste Of Home: Import Food Shops in Japan.

An Introduction To Surfing In Japan

It may come as a surprise to learn that Japan is a legitimate surfing resource. But it shouldn't. With an east coast exposed to Pacific Ocean swell, and a good transportation infrastructure, there is plenty of potential to find waves. In fact, outside of industry juggernauts Australia, America and Brazil, Japan has one of the world's largest surfing populations. What prevents it from being a destination of choice for the travelling surfer, is expense, language, and a lack of genuine world-class waves. But (hopefully), you're already in Japan so the former will be significantly reduced, and as for the latter, well, with world-class waves come brawling crowds, and/or massive egos, none of which you'll have to deal with in Japan.First of all you'll need some kit!  Buying new surfboards in Japan is an inordinately expensive business. To give you an idea of the costs, take a look at the breakdowns below.Expensive (winter)Top of the range board:  100,000 yen +Fin set (top end):  10,000 yen +Cheap wetsuit (5 mm):  35,000 yenBooties:  6,000 yenGloves:  3,000 yenLeash:  4,000 yenDeck pad:  5,000 yenTotal:  163,000 yenCheap (summer)Basic board set (inc. leash, deck pad):  55,000 yenFin set (basic):  6,000 yenRash guard:  5,000 yenSwimwear/boardshorts:  8,000 yenTotal:  74,000 yenAs you can see, getting kitted out doesn’t come cheap.  Better to go secondhand. Large ‘recycle’ stores often have a selection of surfboards where you could come away with something decent for around 10,000 yen.  Classified sections of expat rags like Metropolis or Kansai Scene may also be an option.Popular beaches will have surfboard rentals where 3,000 yen could get you a board for between 2 hours - half a day.Mainland Japan has a window of 1-3 months when you can surf without a wetsuit. So, if want to be in the water for most of the year, you’ll need some rubber.  A 3-4 mm (thick) wetsuit will cover you for all seasons outside of winter. Given the propensity to urinate inside these things, you may want to go for something brand new.If you're in Tokyo, head to the Ochanomizu area which has a whole street of shops dedicated to surf goods and culture.  Murasaki Sports and Oshmans are nationwide chains that stock surf gear.Where and Getting ThereThere are endless surfing possibilities on Japan's east coast (and some on the west). In the Kanto area check out Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka. For residents of Kansai, the nearest/most accessible surf resource is probably Isonoura, with the Wakayama coastline presenting more distant opportunities. Shikoku is one of the best surf destinations in Japan and has numerous breaks in the Kochi and Tokushima regions.  Further south still, Kyushu receives plenty of waves, particularly around Miyazaki.Unless you’re prepared to move house and relocate to the beach, the easiest way to get to the surf is by car.  Plenty of the country’s premier breaks have parking, outdoor (cold-water) showers, and toilets.This writer’s trip from Tokyo to the beach in Chiba …Journey time:  1.5 hoursHighway fees (return):  4,000 yenGas/Petrol:  1,500 yenParking:  500 yen (winter: free)Total:  6,000 yenUsing trains is another option, and people do take it.  From Tokyo, parts of Chiba and the Shonan region of Kanagawa are legitimate possibilities.  Be sure to check that the break you’re heading for is within walking distance of the station.  Unless you want to be silently hated by a lot of people, don’t try to bring boards on a rush-hour train. Although this writer is unaware of any line that will not accept boards, there will be a length limit (~2 m) and they must be in a bag.  Isonoura is accessible by train from Osaka.Taking trains is fine in summer, when you’ll only need a minimum of kit and can get dry on the beach.  Before you jump on the train in colder seasons though, consider where you might change, and how you’ll carry your wetsuit.  Some popular surfing areas may have club houses that are open to everyone, where you’ll find showers and lockers.  Shonan is one such area.Getting StartedTo the beginner - surfing is really hard.  Initially, at least.  And whilst the sport is ultimately soul affirming, you’ll like have to suffer some soul destroying moments to get there.  But it is emphatically worth it, so don’t give up!Japan offers plenty of gentle waves in which to learn, and popular areas will have surf schools offering lesson during the warmer seasons.  A potential difficulty could be language barriers.  Given the general lack of foreign faces in the surf line-ups, Japan’s surf scene is not such an international one.  Still, it is possible to find schools that, at least, have English information on their websites. The school here is one such example.Rules, Manners, CultureThere are no barriers to entry with surfing.  In fact, many consumers of the culture are happy just to look like surfers.  This is easily done, and one of the best places to do it is the Shonan area of Kanagawa.  Here you’ll find as many surf-themed establishments as there are convenience stores, as well as an extensive network of ocean-front walkways, beaches and parks, perfect for pretending to check out the waves.  In warmer months, Shonan is full to the brim with an army of surf primpers, preeners and posers, half of whom can barely swim let alone surf!Japan’s popular surf spots can get crowded.  In such situations it’s particularly important to observe some unwritten rules.  Take your time; if a surfer looks to be in a better position than you to catch a wave, let them have it.  Wait for the next one.  If someone is up and riding, don’t take off in front of them.  When paddling out, surfers who are on a wave have priority meaning you have to get out of their way (so as not to spoil their ride). For beginners; try to find areas where there are others of your level rather than risk upsetting the experts.Be aware of ‘locals’; surfers who live by and/or are regulars to a particular area. Surf culture dictates that they have priority over waves.  Quite how you’ll spot a local is unclear. Just be sure to be nice, polite, and observe the above rules. Locals in Japan are usually very accommodating and friendly; the unbridled thuggery that sometimes occurs in America, Europe and Australia is unheard of over here.Stay SafeEven when things look calm, the ocean has potential dangers, and there are much better people than this writer to explain them.  Be sure to do the research. Japan’s popular beaches are patrolled by lifeguards in the summer months only. If you’re unsure of your skills, never surf alone!  Oh, and slap on some sunscreen.  Seriously!Other blog posts related to surfing in Japan in my blogSurfing Near Tokyo: In this post I look at popular surf spots around the Tokyo area that can be accessed by train.  OK, so getting to the surf my train isn't the most convenient way to do it (especially in winter) but it might be the only option for those expats who don't have access to a car in Japan.The Hazards of Surfing in Japan: Actually, Japan is a pretty safe place to surf.  The waves here lack a bit of power compared to more popular surfing destinations and shark attacks are extremely rare.  Still, there are one or two things to look out for which I list in this post.The Best Surf Shops in Tokyo:  Just looking like a surfer is half the game here in Japan.  There are plenty of surf shops to choose from in Tokyo, not necessarily for buying boards, more for just getting kitted out with the clothes and surf trinkets!Is It a Shark? Even worse … It’s a Gaijin!: Surfing In Japan:  Localism towards foreigners isn't much of a problem in Japan.  In my experience, Japanese surfers usually just let you go about your business (so long as you're behaving yourself).  It was a bit of an annoying experience then, we I was exposed to my first, and so far only, incident of 'foreigner' based discrimination in the surf line up.Online ResourcesFor a simple weather check, and ocean warnings in English …http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.htmlFor a breakdown of Japan’s surf spots …http://www.wannasurf.com/spot/Asia/Japan/To check a surf forecast …http://www.surfline.com/home/index.cfm

Taco Bell!!

A rumor circulated for the last year about Taco Bell re-entering japan, but finally my wishes have been granted!! Now my only question is... WHERE!?

Buying Books In Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto may be rich beyond avarice when it come to temples and tourism, but what about the simple pleasures of cracking open a good book, in a language you understand?  Here we list the (very predominantly) English language bookstores we could find in and around downtown Kyoto.Note; when on the hunt for foreign language books, look out for the sign 語学/gogaku, which literally translates as language.Book OffOne might argue that there need only be one establishment on this list, and that is the above mentioned Book Off.  The second hand specialist can be hit and miss, at times.  In this case, though, it’s a resounding hit.Located on the 8th floor of the OPA shopping center on Kawaramachi Dori, this Book Off branch is a big operation, in the middle of which you’ll find an aisle almost exclusively dedicated to foreign language literature.  Across three long bookcases, and a few bargain baskets, we list here the genres on offer …music, outdoor, historygame, travel, naturebiography, philosophy, psychologyeducation,  design, art booksinterior, garden, healthchildren, medical, business/computerlanguage, kids books, comics/graphic novelsOh, and a (nearly) complete alphabet of paperback novels (and some hardbacks).Whilst the vast majority of books are in English, we did spot some French, Latin, German, Italian, and Greek materials in the language/linguistics section.Prices start from the Book Off standard of 200-300 yen range.If the books aren’t enough, there is also a huge collection of CDs to leaf through.The only way one could be disappointed here, is if you’re after something, well, brand new. In which case …AccessAvanti Book CenterOn the south side of Kyoto Station, just across the road, you can't miss Kyoto Avanti, a shopping center that probably regrets not being north of the station (where all the action is). It is literally, on the wrong side of the tracks.  Still, it does house the Avanti Book Center, a useful source of new English language books.  Tucked away to one side, a small aisle of books houses a limited collection of paperback novels, but very little in the way of classics. The biography section has the usual suspects; Clinton, Steve Jobs, Sir Alex Ferguson ... . There's a decent looking collection of English language manga.  We spotted Attack On Titan, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Gintama, One Piece, and Rurouni Kenshin, among others.  The Japanese literature section has some Soseki, Murakami, and a brick-sized copy of Shikibu's Tale of Genji (3,000 yen).English teachers will find textbooks including the mind-numbing Pathways series, as well as those from National Geographic, Cambridge, and Oxford University Press.Magazines include Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Vogue, National Geographic, and Eye-Ai.The stationary section at Avanti Book Center has a few greetings cards, but there must be better options elsewhere.Access  Junkudo (1)We spotted a couple of these in Kyoto’s downtown area.The first branch we visited is on Shijo Dori, between Kawaramachi and Karasuma Stations. A sign in English (at the entrance) tells you where the English language books are.  The 2nd floor has a single bookcase offering a few travel guides to Japan, maps, and some coffee table/photo books of gardens, temples etc in Japan.On the 5th floor you’ll find a fantastic selection of texts for learning Japanese, including the standard bearer for beginners, Minna no Nihongo!  Of the novels, shelves groan under the weight of movie adapted lit. like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, and the complete set of Anne of Green Gables.  There aren't many classics, but you can pick up copies of Anna Karenina, and War & Peace!  A very good selection of Murakami sits alongside loads of airport trash from the likes of Dan Brown, Geoffrey Archer, and John Grisham.AccessJunkudo (2)The second branch of Junkudo offers a better selection of paperbacks.  Classics are better served too, with the likes of Conrad, Steinbeck, D.H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky and Dickens all present.  You can find Japanese study texts here, but the branch above is a better option. A whole bookshelf bears the weight of some heavy looking art/photography books.  We couldn’t find any travel guides.It seems hard to find this branch Junkudo on the web; a lot of information lists it as a Maruzen. Whilst there does seem to be a relationship between the two (online at least), physically you’re looking for a sign which reads Junkudo.  Walk north from Kawaramachi Station along Kawaramachi Dori.  It’s on the right-hand side, 4th floor. There is a Family Mart on the 1st floor, fronting the street.KeibunshaMore of a curiosity really, rather than a legitimate English language resource.  It’s a curiosity driven by online rumors and articles that list this as one of the best bookstores in the world. No doubt this proves great advertising, for if you’re in Kyoto and you love books, who isn’t going to check out one of the best bookstores in the world?The problem for an article like this, though, is that there are hardly any English language texts here.  We only spotted, How To Boil An Egg by Rose Bakery, and something called Encounters With The 30s.  Lack of English lit. aside, Keibunsha is gorgeous in a very bookish way.  It’s all rich mahoganies, warm lights, and wall to ceiling, corner to corner books, each one looking like a hand-picked favorite. Keibunsha also mixes it up with a gallery, stationery shop, cafe and other nick nacks to peruse (and buy, one supposes).  All in, it’s a delightful experience (even if you can’t read anything).  So, if you love books, put on your corduroy blazer, slip on some horn-rimmed specs, and get down there.Keibunsha is a short walk from Ichijoji Station on the Eizan Line.  Maps are a little tricky to read as there seem to be no street signs.  Any local can point you in the right direction.AccessOtherPopular boozer (pub) the Pig & Whistle, has a limited collection of used paperbacks (in English) for 200 yen.As always, we encourage you to share the wealth, so let us know of any other foreign language book resources in the Kyoto area.

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