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My Favourite Karaoke Chain

I'm a karaoke addict. I used to go there every weekend by myself or with friends, and each session, solo or group, would often range between 6 hours to 10 hours at a time. My longest record of solo-karaoke is 9 hours, from the moment the shop opened to it closing. Having been to most of the karaoke chains in the country, there's one that I always go back to.Ban Ban karaoke tops of my chart of karaoke chains. Its extremely reasonable price is unbeatable. I went there with friends recently, and on a weekday, free time (we sang from 11am to 8pm) and drink bar included, we paid about 500yen per person with the help of the 20% coupon that's often in the local coupon magazines. The drink bar in also included, so there's no one-drink requirement BS.Granted, the ones I go to are in the suburbans. It would cost more if you're in the city, and Ban Ban is rarely in the center of the city. But Ban Ban is indeed nation-wide, and their machines are very updated too. If I have access to a Ban Ban, I rarely visit others. Look up if you have a Ban Ban near you!How often do you go to karaoke, and do you have a favourite chain?

Bring on the Hanami

Flowers are some of my favorite things on this planet. Along with food and good friends, ninety percent of the photos on my computer are comprised of these three simple things. And then a large chunk of these are all date stamped between the end of March and the beginning of April, hanami season. That time of year when the weather starts to shift from super cold and bitter winter winds to that light and gently warm breeze of spring. The days suddenly begin to stretch out and dusk becomes just late enough that you can finally enjoy yourself after work. It's this time of year when everyone begins to peek their heads out of their kotatsu and finally stretch their legs after the winter hibernation. After being holed up for a few months, it's finally time to see friends again, invite people out for drinks.  What better place than under the cherry trees. Now, in my experience there are two kinds of hanami. The more personal private one, where a couple of friends or just a couple  dating will get together and have bento and a drink or two. The romantic feel of the petals floating around while you share an intimate time enjoying each other's company.  Then there is the second larger style, where everyone gets together, brings food and or drinks to share, and each person seems to invite someone. The more the merrier right? More friends, more food, more booze.  So what happens if you get invited to a hanami and no one gives you the deets about what to bring and for how many? Well you can do the smart thing and just ask, or you can be more like me and just wing it.  A good and easy go to would be just about any snack food. No one will judge if you show up with just a bag of (insert favorite deep fried crunchy salty and or sweet item from a nearby convenience store) and an onigiri of your desired variety. This is just incase others were expecting you to bring your bento and you can just play it off as not being too terribly hungry. I've seen beer and a stick of chicken for lunch. This brings me to the next thing to be sure to bring. . If you don’t drink then just ignore this bit, but alcohol, particularly beer and chuhi(fizzy cocktails in a can) are the standard hanami fare. You will even find non-alcoholic beer being had by the non drinkers so that they can fit into the true hanami vibe. Or you know, just bring a bottle of water to cut the calories you are probably going to partake in with that bag of (delicious full fat, savory sweet and most likely too small to fill your tummy snack) and onigiri. Seriously, no one is judging. Except this guy. He thinks it’s blasphemy if your cup isn't full, even if you’ve never met before and are two picnic blanket parties over. He flagged a few of us down and invited us to a few rounds of beer and some mumble-y conversation. Very good fun! It wasn’t the first or only time that I’ve been invited to join other groups enjoying the blossoms. Just don’t forget to bring that bag to share with these guys and gals too. But maybe you are more of a foodie. You’d like to make something to bring and impress your friends and the locals you are bound to meet. Well, Japan loves its food, whether it's celebrities eating food, making food or just walking around a town explaining where all the food is, you will see it on almost every Japanese TV channel. So during hanami season, everything becomes picnic based. The recipes they show can almost always be used in bento for the small group hanami or made in larger quantities to be shared with the many friends and new acquaintances at the bigger parties.  Remember the above mentioned friendly drunk guy, this was his hanami spread. And of course it was shared just like the beer. . Often the ingredients are simple, but presentation has the most impact. No matter your cooking skills, if you put it in a pretty box that matches the season, and you have napkins to go with it, everyone will think you put so much effort into preparing such a wonderful meal, even if you just went to Daiso or some other local 100 yen shop. At the end of the day though, it's not what you bring, but enjoying the company you are with, and the natural beauty that Japan’s spring brings for such a short time each year. So stay out until the moon comes up, or much later, but do enjoy at least one hanami this year.

How to Create a Great Self Introduction

Self Introductions are a big deal in Japan. The first time you meet someone anywhere, you have to introduce yourself, but usually you are expected to give a slightly more elaborate self introduction to everyone when you start a new job in Japan. Introducing yourself in Japanese can be nerve wracking the first several times, but don’t let it cause any problems. If it’s really too hard, someone you work with can probably help or even translate for you at first. You’ll be able to do an introduction in Japanese with your eyes closed like it’s nothing after a good month in Japan, maybe less. The self introduction is something you’ll need to put a minute of effort into at first, but then you’ll have it prepared for all the other times you find out last minute you need it. Most of the time, you’ll be introducing yourself in English, if you’re teaching English at least. Here’s how to prepare an awesome self introduction. Use technology, but only if you’re confident with it and you know it’s available to you. In some schools, you’ll have a huge TV or ‘smartboard’ you can use with a tablet or laptop to show your photos or even video. Students absolutely love being able to see pictures about where you’re from and are more engaged that way. Keep the size of your audience in mind. If you make flashcards on A4 (close to 8 1/2 x 11) paper, it might be big enough for a class of 4o students, but maybe hard to see in back of a classroom. Visual aides are great, but small ones only work for very small groups. Think in terms of what they want to know about you. Name and country are the big ones, and keep it simple by telling students and staff a couple things you like about Japan – or the reason you ended up there. Make them laugh. It’s appropriate to make jokes, although no guarantees your audience will get them. Pay attention to your audience and if they are being silly (asking weird questions), then turn up the silliness by joking back. Get them to interact with you by asking them to guess where you’re from or what your favorite color is. Have a ‘super easy version’ memorized in English and in Japanese. You can add to this as you feel more confident and your students have more ability to understand. After introducing yourself (in English) to ten classrooms, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable with what your students can understand. Gesturing and speaking at a reasonable pace helps for lower level students. Allow questions from students (or coworkers) when you’re done. The point is they want to get to know you. You can get to know them by the questions they ask you. This series of articles is all about questions your students ask you.   Here’s a super easy Japanese profile template: Hello! (Good morning, etc.)                              おはようございます / こんにちわ / こんばんは My name is _________.                              (わたしは)____ です / ともうします。 I’m from ___________.                                  ________ からきました。 I like ___________. (food, color, etc.)             ________ がすきです。 Thank you. (I’m counting on you.)                 よろしくおねがいします。 After you fill in your information, you can use it to read and memorize your self introduction. Good luck and remember to have fun! Profile templates are available here in English (three levels) so you can use them for teaching English lessons and getting to know your students. Templates can be downloaded and printed out on A4 paper, then folded into an eight page zine (instructions included).

Eating An Extremely-Spicy Ramen

I usually complain about how "spicy" food in Japan are never spicy enough, but this experience changed my mind.At the local ramen shop, their latest "extremely spicy ramen" had a choice between 1-10, and with my arrogance, I went for level 5 on my first try, after they have warned me. I thought: "I know what spicy is in Japan and it is nothing!"What arrived at the table was a pool of redness. The rich thick spicy soup covered every single inch of every single ingredient in the bowl, and boy, eating it while it's hot will burn you in more ways than one.I'd like to say that it was delicious, but the truth be told, my tongue was more paralyzed by the hotness to know better. It definitely didn't taste bad, but I just couldn't tell anymore.By the time it cooled down, the noodles was much easier to consume, and eventually, I ate everything in the bowl and drank up a good portion of the red pool too.And the following day, I summoned a demon in the toilet.From that day on, if a ramen shop offers level 1-10, I'd go for 3, maybe 4 max if I know the shop, with the risk of summoning only a minor-demon the next morning.

Indoor Hanami event in Nihonbashi

Spring is almost here! Many people living or visiting Japan are expectant of hanami in this season. But don't you worry about the weather? For me, YES. Everytime I go out for some activity, it rains. I always bring rain to events..when watching professional baseball games, going to Disneyland, driving to the beach... We call such person as Ame-onna (雨女; ame means rain, onna means woman, if the person is male, Ame-otoko 雨男; otoko means man) . When it rained on the day of the event, I would cancel the it (or the event would be cancelled automatically), and wait for another chance, then find something different to do. But what if it rains on the day of hanami? The best season of hanami is too short as the flowers fall very soon, and you might have to wait for A YEAR for the next chance of hanami... If you are Ame-onna or Ame-otoko, and really worried about missing the opportunity, you can visit an "Indoor Hanami" event in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. Last week, I enjoyed hanami with my Ikebana friends."Flowers by NAKED" event is getting famous through social media with its beautiful pictures. NAKED is a group of creators holding many events highlighting projection mapping or other latest technologies. "Flowers by NAKED" is a collaboration of flowers and digital art. Not only visually, it appeals to our five senses using many cutting-edge technologies. (You can search on Instagram with hashtag "#flowersbynaked".)At the entrance, there is a Big book. This book is about three meters high and shows breathtaking beautiful pages of flowers with projection mapping. Also, you can smell the fragrance of the flowers. Don't forget to take pictures and breathe deeply here!Passing by the Big book, there is a wide screen displaying Mosaic of flowers. With the language of flowers, the flowers appear continuously, one after another. Find your favorite one.Then, you will find a ball-shaped object, Dandelion clock, surrounded by shade curtains. Something tricky will happen on this dandelion puffball when you do something... Do and see it for yourself!After the magical dandelion, you'll step into the world of Frozen flowers. They are not actually frozen, but look like they are in ice in some freezing area. The flowers used here are dried (or processed with chemicals) and delicately covered with thin glass. Blue and white lights make the area look really icy. Enjoy the winter before proceeding to the spring room.Then you will walk through Bamboo corridor. This passage is a work collaborated by our Ikebana school headmaster and NAKED, created from SO MANY bamboo trees. (More than 1,400 sheets of sliced bamboo!)  Bent, twisted and tangled bamboo work expresses blowing strong wind that brings us the spring. The huge work is illuminated with colorful lights and we can enjoy the reflections, too.After the spring storm corridor, we finally arrive at Hanami area full of cherry blossoms. Cherry blossom trees spread over our heads (actually they are artificial flowers, not real), and real trees are displayed in a large glass vases, and the thousands of flower petals made from papers are floating at the top, creating the very soft, calm, relaxed but brilliant and gorgeous space that gives us an illusion of being under the fully-bloomed cherry flowers.If you feel like having a sip of a cocktail for more hanami mood under the cherry blossoms, there's a bar featuring Sakura cocktails and sweets. (But remember that you can't sit on the ground as it is very crowded)While you enjoy the drinks, you can also enjoy the elegant dance show with sakura projection mapping. The performance in the storm of cherry petals is worth seeing and taking a video of .Beside the bar, a beautiful sakura-colored dress designed by famous Japanese fashion designer Keita Maruyama is on display.Now we are going to finish this hanami tour, but before the exit, we can leave the flowers which we bloom by ourselves. Stop at the wall on your left and touch the screen, then something happens....At the exit there is a mysterious labo, The secrets behind the garden, which creates this flower event. Honestly, I was not sure they are really related to the event, but some girls were absorbed in taking pictures.Outside the hall, you can enjoy shopping for many kinds of flower-designed goods such as confectioneries, aroma oil, apparel, stationary and ornaments.The weather in Tokyo is still unstable and cold. So should you miss the hanami opportunity, don't be depressed. Visit Nihonbashi for the "Flowers by NAKED" event!This event is held until March 20 (MON) in COREDO MUROMACHI 1, accessible from Mitsukoshimae-station on Tokyo Metro Hanzomon or Ginza line. The ticketing booth and entrance is on the 4th floor and the venue is on the 5th. Opening hours: 10:00 to 20:00 ( admission until 19:30) Ticket for adults: 1400yen, children: 900yen. For details, visit the official page. English available.

Hanami and Cherry Blossom in Gunma Prefecture

There is nothing more beautiful than your Japan life fulfilled with hanami and cherry blossom. Overly exciting and emotional spring days are near us. Picnics are held in kouen (parks) with friends and families. The season for indoor activity is passing and enriching outdoor activities during warm spring days are persuasively encouraging us to have fun. Fully bloomed cherry trees remind us of the fresh, warm, and calm spring seasonal change. Cherry trees in full bloom almost feel like trees covered with snow. Also, it feels like they resemble white snowflakes, but they have warm, beautiful, calm, elegant pink and white petals and with the green natural colors of branches. People are happier outside and children are busy playing in the parks. Children graduate from kindergartens, elementary, and high schools in March. They begin the new school year in April with the new bloom of cherry blossom. (The photo was taken in Maebashi city in Gumma prefecture. Different varieties of cherry trees are carefully planted and grow in the city park.)Often, there are parks within the neighborhood, so that people can enjoy hanami without going too far out the cities. Laid out cherry trees in recreational parks and to have mend all year around. Locals of the city follow officially set calendars for a few days to celebrate and view hanami. There are photographers, lots of people, and food courts which have chocolate covered bananas with sprinkles, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and snacks, etc.(Takasaki Family Park)There are lanterns that are hung out for hanami festivals on the top of the trees. Families with their kids visit the city park and they enjoy viewing hanami. Time to prepare your picnic equipment to get ready to go outside. Thus, children are happier and healthier when they play on the soil with other kids. You will need a picnic basket to carry picnic dishes, forks and spoons, bentos, picnic mats (Cando sells those), sun shades (hats), and oshibori (towels). (Exposure of natural light and the blue sky make for the perfect photo) You may have heard about 'Old Tales of a Cherry Blossom'. "Once upon a time, there lived an old man and his wife with their dog. One time the dog barked with excitement and pushed the old man to dig a hole. The man stared at the ground and started digging. There he hit a hard substance wondering what it might be; the old man saw gold in the ground. The old man and his wife was so surprised and happy that they became rich. But the tale did not continue as it goes; the old man and his wife had greedy neighbors who saw and wanted to get the dog for a few days. The greedy old man and his wife could not find the gold so, they kicked and tortured the dog till death. The gentle old man and his wife heard what had happened and buried their dog. There grew a very beautiful cherry tree and it bloomed so magnificently." The story goes on ..., please read about the story in English from "Tales of old Japan" by A. B. Mitford. (Prunus mume - ume. Maebashi Kouen link in English)Maebashi Koen website includes guidance about surrounding hotels and sightseeing spots Shikishima park, Maebashi park, Gunma flower park, Ogo flower park, Omuro park, Mt. Akagi, Takisawa. ("Make a Way for Ducks",) Maebashi city park offers water fountain viewing, and relaxing spaces, around the park there is stadium and lake park. Also a few minutes (4min) walk from Lake Park, there is a park called Lunar Park if your kids love cars and trains. Lunar Park link -> http://www.lunapark-maebashi.comThe map is here. Extraordinary, Japan saved parks and play areas for kids with beautiful cherry trees.Lit up lanterns in Numata park in Gunma prefecture. Some of the parks in town exhibit doves, peacocks, pigeons, chickens and rabbits. Hanami viewing at Reed College in Portland Oregon USA. Fortunately, there is also Japanese garden in Portland Oregon. You can view cherry blossom worldwide. Go out and explore your area around the town, there may be a lot of things they offer. Sip a cup of coffee you purchased from cafes or convenience stores and view beautiful and magnificent trees that are blooming in spring. Have fun and enjoy Japan. 

O or X?: The Gamer Culture Shock

I love video games, both western and Japanese games. I play everything!At home, I got myself a Japanese PS4, and with the console being region-free, I play games of both languages.There is one cultural gap that really annoys the heck out of me, however...In western games, X is for "confirm/yes" because it is the closest to our right thumb, and O, being the other closest is used for "reject/no".In Japanese games or Japanese versions of the games, however, O is for "confirm/yes" as this symbol is used in the country, and X means "reject/no"!This may not be much for those who don't game, but for someone like me who games every day, the confusion that occurs when I switch games is annoying."Do you want to purchase this item?"*X*Ah curses, this is a Japanese game and I just canceled it!This problem especially in the way when I'm switching between the game and the system's menu. Those who don't game or who don't play games from two languages probably won't encounter this issue, but this is the smallest cultural-gap issue that I encounter every single day.


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