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Morinaga Pineapple Caramel

For the first time I saw Morinaga Caramel in Okinawa Pineapple flavor, so I gave it a try.It was good, like the regular caramel, but with a nice pineapple taste that sort of lingered. My husband said it tastes the same as the normal caramel flavor - the pineapple isn't overpowering for sure.I got this for 108 yen including tax. Have you seen this or any other local Morinaga Caramel flavors?

An indication of just how safe Japan is!

My husband sent me a link to this story today, which really made me grateful for living in Japan and the safety I feel here.Someone borrowed this person's bicycle without asking - but upon returning it, they wrote a lengthy note explaining about how they really needed the bike, and to please forgive them and accept this token as a thank you. It was a watermelon (and you know how pricey those babies can be here!)It got me thinking - have you ever had an experience that really gave you that "wow!" moment about how safe/polite/respectful Japan seems to be on the whole?When we first moved here I remember seeing kids of only about 5 or 6 years old on the train alone, and thinking to myself "oh my gosh, are they lost? Where are their parents?!" because you simply couldn't do that back home where I am from. I've also had plenty of people I know that have left iPads, iPhones and so forth on the train by accident - and they've always been returned. I feel like anywhere else in the world, that would be a case of "sayonara expensive electronics!"...but not here!I would love to hear your experiences!

Dealing with summer: 3 ice cream chains around Japan!

Ugh, this heat! I feel like no matter how many Japanese summers go by, I still feel like I'm melting and ill-equipped to deal with the weather when it rolls around. Some people tell me you just end up acclimatizing to it - but I think they're liars!If there's one good thing about summer, it's that I feel 100% more justified to eat ice cream whenever I feel like it. Here are three ice cream chains that I've come across many times throughout the past few years in Japan - they'll give you some quick help (and happy tastebuds) when it comes to cooling down.CremiaEvery time I go past a Cremia it's hard to resist getting a cone. The whole deal with their soft serve ice cream being so special is because the milk fat percentage they use is higher than your regular stuff - so as their name might suggest, their stuff is creamier than anything else I've ever tasted. It's also made with Hokkaido Milk, the good stuff! Definitely worth a try if you come across one - they feel super indulgent!Blue SealBlue Seal is a family favorite of ours, probably in part to do with the fact that we used to live very close to one of their stores. As the sign says, born in America - but it has really become a bit of an icon here (particularly down in Okinawa). Our favorites are the more unique Okinawan flavors of Beniimo (purple sweet potato) and Chinsuko, the popular Okinawan shortbread style cookie. Both are delish, and I like that they're not your standard flavors you can get here there and everywhere.Baskin RobbinsIf you're from the States or one of the other countries that has Baskin Robbins stores, you might be asking "meh, what's so special about Baskin Robbins?" I think that here in Japan, Baskin Robbins is cuter than anywhere else in the world (that goes without saying for a lot of things - Japan, you knock it out of the ball park when it comes to cuteness!)I love that they have cute offerings like this on their everyday menu - as well as having awesome seasonal offerings that are just as adorable. Halloween last year was a prime example of just how cute their stuff can be!Hopefully you're all surviving the heat in your neck of the woods in Japan - like I said, it's all the more reason to indulge a little!

Books what I have read to me help me understand Japan: AA Gill is away

I consider myself something of a “reader” and I’m interested in the pages being turned by others so to this end I’m going to try and put together a small series of posts about books that I’ve read about Japan in order to have prepared for and / or help me to better understand Japan (or at least get some other perspectives on living and travelling here). However, despite a fondness for a bit of a read, as will soon become abundantly clear, I’m no literary critic so please forgive me as I try and fumble through my opinions on the following texts, the first of which is "AA Gill is away", by AA Gill.  Oh, and the grammatical error in the title of this post was made with purpose.AA Gill (Adrian Anthony) was a British writer who, during his peak was probably one of the most widely read columnists in the land with his critiques in the Sunday Times sparking laughter, anger, emphatic agreement and equally emphatic opposition. AA Gill didn’t hide his opinion and when he wrote it down he amplified it tenfold. Whether you agree with him or not, what can’t be disputed is the unique way he handled the English language. So unique in fact, that Gill himself admitted to at times just making words up. Personally, he was a great influence on me. I love the way he makes scholarly prose accessible like a tabloid newspaper. And he really is laugh out loud funny. Technically that “is” should be a “was”. Gill died in December 2016 after suffering from what he described as “the full English” of cancer.“AA Gill is away” is actually a collection of travel articles written by Gill. The book was first published in the U.K. in 2002 by Cassell & Co. I have a paperback edition published by Simon & Schuster Paperbacks in 2005. I bought it from the books section that used to be on the top floor of the Tower Records in Shibuya. I wasn’t looking for it, back then I was a fan of anything “travel” and was also drawn to it by its simple black cover. (A reflection of Gill’s humor, perhaps?)Among the articles in “AA Gill is away” is one entitled “Mad in Japan” written about a trip to Tokyo Gill took in September 2001.In "Mad in Japan", after an initial, and unusually gentle, comparison between the Japanese and the British (island nations and all the rest of it) Gill launches into his typically brutal observations bringing regular readers back to familiar territory. Of the Japanese, “ … after ten minutes in the land of the rising sun, you realize the Japs are off the map, out of the game, on another planet. It’s not that they’re aliens, but they are the people that aliens might be if they’d learnt Human by correspondence course … “.  Of course, one can’t make such extraordinary claims without backing them up. (Although how many of us have been guilty of the occasional lapse into lazy “weird Japan” social media contributions?). And back them up he does, in his own way. Falling victim to Gill’s vicious pen are the toilets (“... twenty-first-century bogs and thirteenth-century bog roll.”), and the plastic food displays (“Only a Japanese person could see a plate of propylene curry and say: “Yum, I’ll have that.”). But these can really be taken or left behind, they are of little importance. What Gill gets his teeth into are the people and Japanese society as a whole;“How come Japan has such commercial success but still manages to be a socially weird disaster? Because, have no doubts, they’re not happy.”.I think until I had read this line, I’d never really thought of a nation’s populace being collectively unhappy. I mean, we see nations at war on the TV and are shown lots of images of people looking unhappy (to say the least, and very understandable) but one always has the feeling of hope, that this will end, that things will get better. Gill seems to be saying of the Japanese that they are an unhappy collective by default, or nature even. The key reason for this he thinks is religion. He’s critical of Shinto for lacking “the most rudimentary theology” and that oft used turn of phrase about the Japanese being born Shinto, married Christian and buried Buddhist, Gill states has the consequence of the Japanese believing “everything and nothing”. I’d have to agree here. I’m not religious myself but this pic n mix approach to theology, from a distance, looks like playful habit, like putting out a mince pie for Santa’s reindeer at Christmas, rather than getting to the crux of anything spiritual. Not that I see anything wrong with this and nor would I cite it as causing the Japanese be miserable (which I don’t think they are).One wonders how Gill would see the role of religion (or lack thereof) in Japanese society now at time when increasingly vocal atheist intellectuals, lead posthumously by Christopher Hitchens, are proscribing less religion as a cure to the world’s ills (sometimes citing Japan as an example of how good things could be).  Still, it’s a lack of religion, or at least genuine spirituality, that is at the core of Gill’s further biting observations about the Japanese and their society; the lack of individuality where a person’s only self worth comes in the form of a job but that same job existing in a culture of work that is based on a fear of shame.In one of Gill’s more interesting observations about Japan he is informed that there is, “worryingly”, no indigenous word for the female orgasm. “Worryingly” sets the tone for the following passages about Japanese attitudes towards sex, femininity and a male-dominated society. He attacks the vanity of the Japanese male; “Hairdressing, waxing, face-packing, ear-grouting and general pandering and pampering to aesthetic hypochondria are multimillion-yen businesses.” But this pales in comparison to his anger at the treatment of women in Japan which he writes is on display in the “dehumanizing view of women in manga”. Now, anyone who’s kept at least one ear to the news in Japan over the last couple of years will have heard the term “womenomics”, prime minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign to address gender inequality. How this is getting on, I would be lying if I said I knew. There are those who will likely see it as empty promise as there are those who will likely cite success stories. One thing that we can be sure of though, is that womenomics has done nothing to address the distressing treatment of the female characters in manga. If Gill were able to come back to Japan today, 16 years on, he would see little change in the nation’s comic books.  Earlier this month, Japan passed a new law regulating underage schoolgirl dating services which now prohibits girls younger than 18 from being employed by “JK businesses”. (JK - joshi kosei - high school girl). That it’s taken until 2017 for the powers that be in Japan to even “regulate” such a nefarious industry should send a shiver down our spine. Gill made a similar observation in 2001 in what he described as “the violent sexualising of their youth” when talking about the behaviour of younger girls in Japan. The consequence of this, he cites, is that “they consume; they shop with myopic concentration.” And this is true to a certain extent - the Japanese do love a good shop. It had never occurred to me that in a certain demographic of shopper the reason behind it might be so depressing.By the end of Mad in Japan we’re hoping / thinking that maybe Gill might surprise us and say something positive about Japan. He doesn’t. In fact he arguably saves his most brutal observation for last;“You never feel love here. They have obsession, yearning and cold observation - even beauty and devotion - but nothing is done or said with the spontaneous exuberance of love … “.Clearly Gill only spent a short time in Japan (he openly admits in the book’s introduction that he doesn’t stick around) and I’m fairly sure that most people who’ve spent a good bit of time here could categorically show this "lack of love" to be untrue. I know that I can. And anyway, I think I can detect a sense of genuine care and concern in Gill’s words here, although I would speculate that he wouldn’t want to admit to this. Gill thrived on getting his readers wound up and seemed not to care about seeking sympathy or agreement.  “Mad in Japan” is only about twelve pages of a book, but it’s possibly the most unique twelve pages I’ve read about Japan, anywhere. I don’t agree with half of what AA Gill says and I know he’s trying to wind me up, but none of this stops him being laugh out loud funny. All of “AA Gill is away” is a great read. Just take it with a pinch of salt.I’d really like to know what books about Japan you’ve read and if you’ve got any recommendations.

My summer tips

 Summer is hot. Yeah i know that sounds like an obvious statement. Something people don’t really have to point out, but it is something many people who come to Japan will and do point out. I don't think its because Japan is any warmer in summer than many other places. The difference is that most people are coming from developed countries to a supposedly technologically advanced society only to be confronted with no insulation and wall units in most houses. Stores that leave their doors and windows open for the “breeze” (there isn’t one in high humidity) and the only place to get some relief seems to be on the trains where the air blasts so high you almost need a jacket if you stay on for too long. But after living here for a few years without central cooling and now living on a low budget, there are a few things that I do in summer to beat the heat. First and foremost I have stopped worrying about being sweaty. If you can get comfortable with that, you can be comfortable in Japan. It’s taken me several years to reverse the cultural stigma of ‘a lady does not sweat, she glistens’ I do not glisten. I drip. I melt. I don’t care. That being said, when I do only just ‘glisten’, I feel so super sticky I could probably climb up a wall like spiderman. Touching anything irritates my skin and being naked would be worse, but I always wear loose clothing that doesn’t cling, shower often and have invested in the ‘サラサラsarasara’ (smooth) wipes you can find almost anywhere. I recently came across a UV cutting spray that is fantastic. I am not sure about its UV blocking abilities, but it is a godsend as an anti ‘ベタベタ’, betabeta spray. ’(sticky) The can is ginormous so I’m not concerned about it running out after the first use. That happened to me with another spray i had tried from a different brand. Set me back a whole 1300 yen and couldn't even cover my whole body. This one held up to multiple uses on myself and my son while out and about and it only costs about 800yen. I also didn’t burn, so it must help with UV protection, however i wasn’t chancing it and had other sunscreen on as well. Now my son doesn’t seem to mind the heat but boy do I worry about him in it. His face lights up like a stop light after only five minutes outside. In order to protect him from heat stroke while we bike around town, I have been using a frozen ice pack pillow purchased from daiso for 200 yen. It doesn’t get hard when frozen so I can comfortably shove it behind his back and strap him in his seat. On outings when I end up staying out longer than the pillow can stay cool, I stop at a convenience store and purchase frozen bottles of water and tea. By the time we get to our destination, the frozen drink is a lovely slushie consistency and my two year old is guaranteed not to get over heated.  Doesn't he look content in the 37 degree weather? The last thing that I do to ward of heat and not kill my electricity bill is go to places with air conditioning on full blast instead of staying home and blasting my own. Malls, restaurants with drink bars, or cafes that don’t mind if you stick around for hours. Joyfull, Gusto, Flying Garden are just a few of the ‘family restaurants’ that have an all you can drink service. They are also child friendly. One small fee and you can sit and enjoy coffee tea, soda, whatever your heart desires while totally mooching off the cooled restaurant's air conditioning. I’m partial to Flying Garden because they have an awesome selection of loose leaf teas but Joyfull is certainly the cheapest. This isn’t a total list of everything you can do in summer here, but just a few things that I do.

Japan By The Water: family friendly Yuigahama Beach, Kamakura | KANAGAWA

Last week we had the very great pleasure, thanks to City-cost, of staying in the We-Base Hostel in the historic, tourist and coastal city of Kamakura for a couple of days. The timing was perfect as this month, today in fact, and every year on the third Monday of the month, we celebrate Umi no Hi or ""Ocean Day" in Japan.  We-Base Hostel is located just a minutes walk from Yuigahama beach and as I had my two youngest children with me, we spent a lot of time down by and in the sea. I had been to other beaches in the Shonan area of Kanagawa prefecture, but it was my first time to Yuigahama. And I was sufficiently impressed.The beach was much nicer than I had expected, although in saying that it is nothing spectacular either. It is a large beach and very well organised. It is suitable for relaxing on the beach, playing with sand, swimming, water sports and a casual stroll. Dogs are allowed. It is for the most part clean on the beach front, but we did see a surprising amount of rubbish on the boardwalk and footpaths. It is not rocky which is always a bonus! As the tide comes in quite a lot of sea debris is brought in with it, such as seaweed, twigs and sea shells. Of course, this isn't dirt per se, but you do need to take care where you walk as it washes up on shore. The beach has a reputation of being "Showa style" as there are a number of beach huts from the Showa period. I was personally glad of this retro style and the shade afforded both in and beside the various cafes and restaurants on the beach. People from all walks of life seem to diverge on this large beach and there is really relaxed, cheerful and friendly atmosphere about the place. We visited on a weekday so as you can imagine it was quieter than on the weekend. However, the locals say that even on the weekend you can enjoy the beach in relative comfort in the early morning; that the crowds only really start to descend from 11 am. The first time we visited it was mid afternoon and there were lots of people relaxing on the beach and quite a few in the water. There were a couple of surfers and lots of windsurfers at this time of day. The sand was too hot to walk on, especially for my 4 and 2 year old, unless we were in the shade. So we only visited in the morning after that.  In the morning there is a great buzz in the air with all the surfers out to catch the morning waves. And between them and all the dog walkers, the area feels quite social even in the early morning. There was literally a wall of surfers for as far as the eye could sea. The area seems to catch quite a strong breeze. In the afternoon it was hot and afforded little refreshment, but in the morning it is a lovely refreshing breeze. The sea was borderline cold at 7 am, it was heavenly for my Irish DNA, but it is lukewarm by about 9 am, which suited the kids better! We particularly enjoyed our morning visits to this beach. There aren't many facilities for families with babies, but I do think it is a nice beach for children from the age of two years up. Especially as the beach huts are very convenient and offer the chance to get out of the sun and enjoy some refreshments. You can buy swimming rings and other air floats to use in the water in nearby shops (beach and sea front). There is a great selection of cafes and restaurants on and near the beach, offering everything from Apple tart to Zucchini! There are skateboard ramps right on the beach. There is a small park beside the beach, Kamakura Seaside Park, with a few pieces of playground equipment. Finally, Yuigahama Beach is very accessible by train, taking less than two hours to get to from Shinjuku station (access details and map below). Yuigahama Beach DetailsWebsite: https://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/kamakura-kankou/0602beach.htmlSeason: July 1st to  August 31stCharge: The beach is free to use. You can hire / purchase beach paraphernalia. Lifeguards: ◎during the official season onlyFirst Aid Station: ◎in one locationLook out post: ◎ in one  locationToilets: ◎in two locations plus two more sets of portaloos. One wheelchair accessible toilet.Showers: ◎in three places. They are free.Beach houses: ◎ 17 in totalSmoking area: ◎Parking: ◎for up to 200 cars at Yuigahama Underground Parking; the entrance is beside Kamakura Seaside Park. The car park costs 520 yen per hour during beach season (July to August).  Access By train: Yuigahama beach is accessible from a few train stations. One of the closest is Yuigahama station on the very quaint Enoden line. You can get the Enoden line from the larger Kamakura station to the East or Enoshima station to the West. From Kamakura station to Yuigahama station takes only a couple of minutes and from Enoshima station it takes only 20 minutes. Hase Station on the Enoden line is also within walk-able distance; it takes about five minutes. You can even walk from Kamakura station to the beach too. It takes approximately sixteen minutes on foot. By car: 6 kilometers from the Asahina Interchange of Yokohama Yokosuka Road on route 204. 

Turning Japanese : Paperwork

My family is currently in the very long waiting period to know if my husband and children will receive Japanese citizenship. It is a long process mostly because it takes time to get everything together and then for everything to be reviewed. We started last year in August, turned all the paperwork in at the end of March, and now it’s July.  Application form (with 2 photos 5cm x 5cm)Reason why you want to become a Japanese citizen (hand-written in Japanese by the applicant)ResumeWritten oathDescription of your relativesDescription of how you make your living in JapanMaps of the vicinity of your residence and workplaceDescription of your business (If you or your family member is a business owner)Financial statementsBusiness licenseCompany registrationDiplomaDomestic family documentsProof of citizenship (birth certificate)Certificate of employmentCertificate of residence cardCertificate of tax payments (with hold slip, income tax returned record)Certificate of your assets (bank deposit, real-estate, securities)Driving recordOthers upon requirement This is the list of documents I found when doing a small search online. Doesn’t look like too much at first glance, but if you begin the process of trying to collect everything it becomes almost daunting. But it’s not impossible. If you have had to go to immigration for a visa renewal, it’s about like that, however your caseworker is likely to be nicer than the immigration office staff. The troublesome part is collecting everything from other people. The ‘description of your relatives’ isn’t just writing down names, but also copies of birth certificates and contact information. If your family doesn't happen to live in Japan, or aren’t very cooperative, this can be extremely time consuming and difficult. You will have to go to the city hall, possibly multiple times and multiple towns depending on if you have moved or not. Because of our particular situation, we also needed documents from my husband’s ex-wife. Be prepared for a very large scavenger hunt. But once it is complete, the only thing you have to do is wait. Good luck on anyone else’s adventures and wish us luck on ours. 

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