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Kasajizo
Kasajizo

North-European living the Japanese dream in Osaka.

Area of Residence
Osaka-shi, Osaka
Area of Interest
Osaka
Blog Title
Oh! Saka!
Blog URL
https://www.city-cost.com/blogs/Kasajizo
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Home is where the mansion is

If you do not plan on staying under a bridge when you come to Japan, you are going to need a roof over your head. Preferably with four or more walls to hold up that roof. The housing market in Japan is extremely varied; you can find buildings ready to fall apart at the slightest breeze up for hundreds of thousands of yen just because they are a convenient walk away from a main station. On the other hand some new buildings, literally built yesterday can go for very cheap because of a slightly dark neighborhood or a mild inconvenience. So, it is very important to look carefully when choosing your future home. In many countries moving in an apartment is a breeze. Your realtor finds the site, you sign a few contracts and suddenly you are standing in the empty living room, surrounded by boxes and holding a lonely spatula. In Japan, the process can be horribly daunting. There are bumps and traps around every corner and one misstep can cause your favorite apartment to go to the Jones's who just coincidentally were looking at exactly the same apartments as you were. You must not let them win! There are a few things to know when looking at apartments in Japan and we are going to look over them right now. Mind you I am no expert; all my experiences come from getting help from very skilled negotiators and people more adept at life than I can ever be. Back in the old country the act of procuring an apartment for rent is ridiculously easy. Like mentioned above, it is basically signing a few papers, bing bang boom. No problem. Imagine my surprise when the same level of trust wasn’t being offered when I, a bright eyed ALT landed in Narita. Looking at the apartment Naturally, before you sign ANYTHING, you need to look at the place you are planning on getting. But it does not stop there. You need to really really look. Because around any good looking view, any beautifully feng sui creation lies a ton of cheap options and cut corners. Why do you think you are getting this apartment so cheaply anyway. You cannot expect them to gold plate your walls and not make you pay for them. Which is why you need to know about all the little things that make your perfect apartment not-so-perfect. For example, flooring. Is it scratch proof (or at least do inevitable scratches show easily), is it even or does it bulge somewhere? What about creaking? Are you going to be waking up everyone in the household every time you go to the bathroom at 4 in the morning? Walls are another thing too. Is the wallpaper going to fall apart after the first year? Where can I hang my Matisse painting? What kind of curtains can I hang (not IKEA?), How is the kitchen fan? Does the stove come with a CO2 detector? Also, where is the fire extinguisher located? Also, how is the traffic outside? Am I going to be listening to the sweet symphony of twenty motorcycles touring the neighborhood every Sunday? I actually had a big scare on my first day of moving in. We opened the balcony door and a high-pitched noise coming from the neighboring metal working company filled the apartment. My blood pressure dropped when I realized I would have to live with this noise every day for years to come. Luckily the noise never came again, and the neighborhood has been relatively quiet since, but MAN did I feel utterly helpless for a few days afterwards. These are but a few questions that come up with every single apartment visit. And they are important questions too. Try going online and printing out a list of things to check out. You will be surprised at the things you forgot to mention. Choosing a good realtor This one is a bit harder in practice. The realtor is a creature that thrives on making you feel secure and friendly, but underneath that mask may be a ruthless salesperson who does not care about your well being as long as he or she gets a sale. I am not a good judge of character, but as luck would have it, my SO is as cunning as a Wall Street stock broker. So if you are not one yourself, find a friend or relative (or even your kind boss) with the ability to make any office worker sweat with fear as they might lose a sale. Someone who does not get emotionally attached and is ready to haggle for the smallest of things. It is nerve wracking to be sure, and I am not able to do it, but it is immensely entertaining to watch from the sidelines. Which brings me to the next thing, negotiation. Having a strong Japanese speaker on your negotiation table can and will be a huge help in getting that perfect apartment five minutes away from your favorite train station. It can mean the difference between settling on a 15 year old house with holes in the ceiling (for ventilation?) and a choice between any apartment in the building that was literally built yesterday. (By the way, it is a wonderful and totally not a horror-film terrifying feeling, knowing that you are the only people officially living in a 9 floor apartment building. And then hearing knocking on the walls…) Negotiation Of course you are supposed to pay for living in the apartment of your choice, but how much are you willing to pay and how low is the house owner willing to go before giving up on you entirely. It is all liquid and can really depend on which realtor company you talk to. For example, on the first apartment I rented in Japan, the realtor initially said there would absolutely no problem with me signing up for the contracts. Two days later they called and said I had been declined. My trusty army of negotiators came by the office and sat at the big table discussing and discussing before a decision had been made. The name on all the renting would be on my SO’s father’s name, and it would be officially his ‘summer house’, even though he never even stepped foot in the prefecture the time we were there. But more importantly, we (I say we, but let’s be honest here) managed to get a nice discount on the first few months of rent for the apartment. Partially because the company got all awkward about having said yes in the beginning. For our second apartment, we got a really good realtor who seemed to want to do everything for us. He was kind, gentle, had all our interests in mind. Imagine his face when we informed him that his rivaling company had offered us a discount on the commission fee for the exact same apartment. I’d like to think his heart shrank a few sizes as he saw his salary decrease by a few ‘man’ just because of one phone call. These are just a few things to think about when looking for apartments. Other things include: Having a Japanese speaker Getting a guarantor Remember: there is always room for a discount Location is everything Have fun apartment-hunting!

  • Living
  • Money
  • Transportation
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

City slicker, Country bumpkin or both?

It is time to talk about the differences between living in the city and living in the countryside. There are merits and demerits to both places and it takes a certain mindset to live in each one. I have had the pleasure of living in both the countryside and the city and somewhere in between as well, so I have plenty of conflicting opinions that some might agree with and some might think are completely out of this world. Now, I am not one to talk negatively about anything for too long. Everything has a balance of plusses and minuses, so while we complain about everything, let us at least find a silver lining and try to think positively for a while. The Countryside 1. You need a car Let’s face it. If you live in the countryside proper, you most likely need a car to survive. The distances between places is just too great and the only thing in between your apartment and the nearest mall is rows and rows of rice paddies. There is barely even a Lawson in walking distance. Driving in Japan can be really ‘mendokusai’ for us foreigners, especially because many of us need to take a driving exam to be eligible to drive here. EVEN if you already have a license in your home country. And it is pretty strict too! Although if your home country is part of the list of exempt countries, you may skip 90% of the exam. I was extremely lucky to be from one of the countries on the list. I can honestly say I have no idea why, but I am very grateful. HOWEVER, the positive spin to all this madness is right around the corner. For example, when you need to transport something big and heavy, there is always a car available. I remember being able to transport my 40 inch TV in my small kei-car from the AEON mall located in the city next to mine. I also made a 6 hour trip to the neighboring prefecture to get a washing machine someone was getting rid of for 100 yen. The gasoline cost was about 3000 yen, so it worked out pretty well. 2. Lack of support Get sick? Need to go to the clinic? How are you going to do that when the nearest doctor is tens of kilometers away? 3. The bugs! If Japan is famous for anything, it is the bugs! The summer heat brings all the bugs to the yard! My first apartment was built across the street to a farm. Beautiful in a way, albeit extremely dusty. Come summer, apparently no one bothered to tell the ladybugs that a house had been built on top of their homes. So they clung to the walls of the apartment building like the scarab beetles from The Mummy. Wonderful. The City 1. The bridge of death and other noises The city has a lot of sights and sounds. Mostly sounds though. And not all of them pleasant to be perfectly honest. Hearing the crunching sounds of rubber tires on paved roads bec1.omes as normal as cicadas in the summer. Some of the sounds you hear every day you can kind of tune out. People talking, the ding-dong of the train announcements and even the ‘ikakadesuka’ from tellers becomes white noise after a while. However, there are sounds that are almost impossible to ignore. For example trains going over a bridge you have to walk under. It truly is the sound of the deepest parts of hell and a topic for a whole other article. 2. All the people! Oh yes. One of the densest countries in the world has a lot of people. Big surprise. Good thing about living in the city includes convenience. And what better way to display that convenience than by doing Amazon Prime Now. I think most of us have ordered a DVD or book from the internet sometime in our lives, so I will spare the details. Depending on where you live, the delivery can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Where I grew up, deliveries always took forever to arrive, if they arrived at all. Some countries just don’t qualify for receiving the Back to the Future Box Set until someone invents instant teleportation. And even then, my country will probably be the last on the list to get the technology. Sigh. Anyway, this new service from amazon, called Prime Now is very simple. You can order a number of products, from food, alcohol, electronics and many other and get it delivered to your house in a few hours. Yes, a few HOURS. You can even see the delivery person’s location on the app via GPS and some magic. Since the warehouses need to be in a certain close proximity from you, the area that qualifies for these Now deliveries are mostly in the larger cities. And the pure glee I get from ordering the stuff and getting it a few hours later never gets old. This alone almost makes living in the city bearable. Another good thing about the city is the variety of places you can go. This is nowhere near as obvious as when you need to find a doctor. Let’s say you live in the countryside. You go to the local doctor and he is completely unacceptable for some reason or another (there are plenty of reasons to reject a doctor by the way), so where else can you go? If you want someone else to see you, you need to search for a long time to find one suitable and probably they live in another prefecture or something. In the city, however, chances are that another doctor shows up the next day. There are clinics for every possible illness around every corner in the big cities and if you find someone you don’t like, you can just go next door (a bit of an exaggeration, but sometimes this is the truth). This applies to almost any service in Japan by the way. Not just doctors. Massage place, yoga place, gym, coffee shop, you name it. There are at least twenty other places in walking distance to where you are sitting right now. That is the main good thing about being a city person. The convenience in the number of people. Of course it will get a little overwhelming. Especially if you are in a hurry or something happens. During that time, all those people who make your life convenient suddenly seem to have the sole mission to get in your way and make you late. Whether you prefer the city or the countryside or whatever gray area exists in between, be assured that Japan has plenty of it. You may have to sacrifice some comfort to get your dream home, but it should be worth it in the end. What do you think? Are you a city person or a country lover?

  • Living
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

'B-kyu' is A+ in my heart

Think about your most favorite food. The food that makes your mouth water at the thought of it, even though you already ate a full meal. The kind of food that is readily available, is fairly easy to make and does not cost an arm and a leg. That is the kind of food I want to talk about today. We are not talking about food like foix gras or kobe beef at a fancy restaurant here. Have you ever been at a fancy restaurant, eating kobe beef, foix gras, salad grown in the Emperor’s private garden all the while drinking (most expensive wine in the world) and all you can think is “oh, I could really go for some takoyaki right now”? If you think about food that makes the brain spring to life and explode with delight and excitement, more often than not it is B-kyu gurume. The term “B-kyu gurume” itself is pretty vague. From what I can gather, the term centers around food that is “common”, “not luxurious” and “cheap”. If a food can check off all these, then it can be classified as B-kyu gurume. And let me tell you, there is a LOT of food that goes into this category. Cheap, delicious ramen? B-kyu. Takoyaki at a festival booth? Definitely B-kyu. Mom’s home cooked omuraisu? Oh yes! Burritos from a converted WV van in an alleyway somewhere deep within Demachiyanagi in Kyoto? That one is a definite yes. In fact, I would be eternally grateful if someone could find this place for me again, I went there five years ago and I had the best burritos I have ever tasted, but I the place disappeared after that like some sort of magical destiny burrito place. What can be said about B-kyu gurume anyway. We have entire magazines and TV shows that pride themselves on making the most luxurious, fancy and, let’s be honest, ridiculous looking dishes, only to be yelled at by Gordon Ramsay by not using the right kind of garnish for this specific plate. So I love the term B-kyu gurume, since it is a kind of a stubborn challenge to the luxurious food that gets all the praise. Sure, it IS delicious most of the time, hence the price, but the term A-kyu gurume does not really exist, except when contrasting the B-kyu variety. (Am I making sense here?) Anyway, here are my top three B-kyu gurume dishes in Japan that deserve all my praises. 1. Omuraisu This dish has a special place in my heart. You cook some carrots, onions and whatever vegetables you like on a pan. Once those are thoroughly cooked, you dump a bunch of freshly cooked rice on top. Slather as much ketchup on the whole mess until you can’t take it anymore. Pile it on a plate. Then take some eggs, mix a little cream, stir and put it on a pan for a few seconds. When the bottom seems cooked, but the top is still a bit runny, gather up the pancake and dump it on top of the rice mountain like a little blanket. Draw some creepy eyes with the rest of the ketchup (mandatory) and serve. Or if you don’t feel like cooking, you can go to POM (Restaurant link) 2. Takoyaki In Osaka, I hear that a family will be violently evicted from their house, never to set foot again in the city if they fail to purchase a takoyaki cooking machine within 2 months of their arrival. ...Ok, maybe not, but it IS a staple for a family in Osaka nonetheless. Or so I’ve heard anyway. And it is not surprising. Takoyaki is delicious. Take some cut octopus, put it in dough, cook it in one of those half-ball shaped hot plates and you are good to go. Slather some sauce on top and maybe some green seaweed dust if you are feeling adventurous and you are good to go! 3. Sara-Udon This one surprised me when I first saw it, but DAMN if it isn’t one of my favorite dishes ever. Mostly because it is so easy to make, even I can do it. Just cut some chicken, fry whatever vegetables you have laying around the fridge, mix the sauce and pour the whole stew on top of dry noodles (I think they are fried, but who knows). The resulting goop has to be illegal, it is so delicious. And I feel good for getting a week’s worth of vegetable into my body in one go. Of course we are aware of the food called B-kyu gurume. We consume it almost every day, since we are stingy bastards who don’t go to fancy restaurants every day. But the fact that there’s a specific term for it, and not just “cheap food” or something, makes me want to appreciate B-kyu gurume for what it is. And whatever you do, don’t google it on an empty stomach.

  • Living
  • Food
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

Cool Japan: Literally!

Summer is coming! You can feel it in the air. The cold wind is mixed with long strands of hot air dancing, stroking your face and making you feel oddly violated. Coats get put in the closet along with wool sweaters, scarves and those gloves that you can use smartphones with. It is a wonderful time of the year, until it´s not. Now, I come from a fairly cold country. Our summers consist of slightly less outpouring from the sky and maybe the wind takes a small rest. I personally never put my coat in the closet, since you never know when it is going to start raining again. (And don´t get me started on umbrellas). So it is not surprising that a person, who grew up in a country whose data centers are cooled by opening the window, is not very knowledgeable about anything above 25 degrees Celsius. And when said person moves to a country, like Japan, where (NUMBER OF PEOPLE) die every year from heatstroke, things get interesting. This may sound like common sense to most people. These are things you learn in the first grade and you do them without thinking about them. To those people I say this: Try digging your car out of the driveway through a meter of snow at 10 in the morning before the sun is up and then drive on slippery ice for two hours because the roads don’t get salted only to find out your classes were cancelled not because of the snow, but because the teacher is sick. And to those who DO know both: Well, aren’t you clever. So here are a few tips and tricks to keep yourself cool during the summer, courtesy of a few years living in Japan and mostly thanks to a very patient SO. 1. Cake blocks. You know when you buy cakes in Daimaru or whatever cake shop and they pack it with a bag of frozen gel to keep it fresh? Wrap a few of those bad boys in a towel and put it around your neck for instant cooling comfort. 2. Cooling bedding Get yourself bedding with cooling properties. Pillow covers, blankets and things made out of poly-whatever materials that are cool to the touch. I never used to use them until they were forced on me, and now I cannot live without them. 3. Water spray When you are in USJ or somewhere where there are a lot of people, sometimes you can find one of these places that spray water in a fine mist over everything. This is surprisingly cooling, especially if you are walking through crowds looking for the shortest way to the Spiderman ride. I saw one of these in my school once, and after basking in the cooling mist for a while, I realized that it was there to water the plants… 4. Avoid the top floor This one came from my realtor when we were apartment hunting. He informed me that getting an apartment on the top floor would result in hotter summers and colder winters. Something to do with the sunlight hitting the roof and the heat going directly to your apartment. I didn’t listen at the time (when do I ever) and I have no frame of reference, but he was probably right. Top floor was totally worth it though! 5. Keep hydrated. Really hydrated! This is a big one. Back in the old country, you are never more than a few meters away from a clean water source. Not that you need it that much, since the temperature doesn’t really go over the legal limit. HOWEVER, in Japan, I have been known to keep two or three water bottles with me AT ALL TIMES. I have been experiencing symptoms of mild dehydration and heatstroke without even knowing about it. Talk about dangerous! Take my advice. Drink when you can. Not when you are thirsty. If you are thirsty, it is already too late. (**I am not, nor have I ever been a doctor**) Although the sheer amount of vending macines in Japan provides a certain peace of mind that you can at least get something to drink at any given time. Provided you have 100 yen on you. 6. Fans and circulators vs air conditioners. My fan runs at a maximum 35W. My air conditioner runs max 2000W. Any questions? 7. When freezing water in a bottle ,freeze it only half full and on its side (making sure the ice does not block the mouth of the bottle). Then when it is frozen, put water in so that it fills the bottle up. The water will cool and you will be happy. 8. GAMAN The word Gaman in my language actually means “fun”. Although there is nothing fun about being a sweating mess laying on the sofa trying to muster up the energy to change the channel, but every movement provides friction in the air particles which increases the temperature by a few nano-centigrades. You know the old saying (atsui neeeeeeeeee). What people are doing there is not try to be annoying. They are sharing their suffering. Misery loves company and all that. When you hear people saying that, why not just join in? When you can’t beat them, say “atsui nee” until winter comes. So in a few months, when you’ll be able to cook an egg on the sidewalk at night, just remember these few tips. I know this information is fairly useless for many of you, but for those few who, like me, are discovering the wheel in more aspects than one in life, I hope this will help. And if it doesn’t help, try to Gaman.

  • Living
  • Food
  • Osaka

Bloom-boom: The Sakura of Kansai

Let’s talk flowers. Flowers represent beauty in many if not all cultures around the world. Imagine living in the 1500s. What colors do you think would be around you? I always imagine brown, brown and even more brown with a small serving of brown. You know, wood houses, muddy roads, people wearing old linen or hemp. So where and when would people see colors? In spring when the flowers bloom of course. The harsh winters have made people so miserable that any new color is a blessing. So, suddenly, overnight, the weather starts improving. The bees are waking up and the trees lose their depressing, bare looks and then, without warning, the world explodes in yellows, reds and greens. This, I imagine, applied to Japan too, only a little bit more magical. The blooming cherry blossom`s pink color is a wonderful change from the normal background colors. Becoming popular in the Heian period, flower viewing was the inspiration for many haikus, wakas and many other forms of art, which the time period is known for. Just like most things to do with Japan, the basic principles are very simple but the depth of it is overwhelming. I mean, it is just a picnic under a tree, right? Well, yes and no. It depends on how deeply you are willing to get into the meaning of the whole thing. My favorite allegory to do with flower viewing and the sakura trees especially is that life is extremely fragile and temporary. Just like the sakura themselves, life comes and goes and we really do not have any sort of control over it. So we should just sit down and enjoy it while it lasts. Know that it will go away soon, so you appreciate it now before it goes away…… or something like that. The modern version of flower viewing are pretty similar to the old style, I guess. Go under the tree with food and alcohol and have a mini-party until it gets too cold or uncle Taku gets too drunk, whichever comes first. I love the fact that the news stations have a blooming-forecast, starting in Okinawa (where it is warm) going up to Hokkaido. It always reminds me of some sort of terrible event that is sweeping the nation. Who will be next?!? …anyway Best places to “flower view” in Kansai I have two favorite places in Osaka and one in Kyoto which I would say are the perfect places to “view” the flowers in a nice environment. First one, as always, is Osaka Castle Park. It is really big, so you do not have to worry about being crowded that much. It also has a beautiful view of the castle itself from many different angles. The park, like most places in Japan is very clean and I would say very safe considering its size. There are always some runners around, even at night, so… you know… safety in numbers and all that. The second place I would recommend is Sakuranomiya. See! It even has Sakura in the name. You can access it one station away from Kyobashi station on the JR Osaka loop line. Nothing compares to a large river with pink sakura trees going all along the riverside lit up at night. That is Sakuranomiya. The third entry on this list is the classical tourist destination. The Kamo River in Kyoto. It may not have “sakura” in its name, like Sakuranomiya, but its friendly atmosphere and the wide, shallow river makes it one of my favorite places to visit in all of Japan. I do not know what it is about Kyoto, but the atmosphere there is just so much different than any other city in Japan I have ever been in. Actually, I am pretty sure I know why. The lack of high-rise buildings and the forest-covered mountains on every side gives a certain natural aura that calms the heart in a very special way. Every time I go there, I can feel my blood pressure dropping down to pre-anxiety levels. It feels good.  If you have not been there before, do yourself a favor and make the trip. You will not be disappointed. If this year will be your first flower viewing experience, please remember to take it slow, drink responsibly, eat healthily and for Pete`s sake, enjoy the flowers!

  • Living
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

How I stopped worrying and love Japan

So you`ve decided to move to Japan. Great stuff! Japan has a lot to offer and is full of rich culture, be it historical or anime in nature. But beware. There are many traps and pitfalls everywhere you go. You might be lulled into a false sense of security and before you know it, disaster strikes like an angry Charizard. Surely all of us who have lived and loved in another county have gotten into some hard times. This is a normal part of the experience and should be embraced rather than ignored or feared. What does not kill us makes us stronger and all that. I am by no means a master expat; I have only lived in Japan for about 4 years in total and I am constantly being challenged by the cultural and sociological differences that are inevitable when living over 8000km away from your own homeland. The advice I give here is merely based on what little information I have gathered (I majored in Japanese culture in university, albeit a “C student”), mixed in with a lot of predetermined ideas and a lot of help from a very patient Japanese significant other. If that is a recipe you can get behind, by all means read on. You might not think this information is relevant right now, when you are just entering the country for the first time, but it is better to be prepared. The Honeymoon period “Yes, this is Japan! I am finally here. Everything is perfect. I love everything. Even the bad things are good. The food is amazing. The people so friendly and polite. I could stay here forever.” Sound familiar? This is exactly my line of thinking when I first came to Japan. There`s a thing called “the honeymoon period", which describes the feeling above. Total euphoria and a complete disregard to any negative thing for the country. It varies from person to person, but can last from a few months to a few years. It happens to most of us and is pretty nice on its own. The problem comes when the period ends. When all the little negativities and problems arise and your perfect country doesn`t seem so perfect anymore. Although it`s really hard to give advice on how to deal with the inevitable collapse of this utopian idea in our heads, I just wish more people were aware of this so they could mentally prepare themselves. Which brings me to my second thing: Take it slow Sometimes, being reluctant can be beneficial. I understand the idea of wanting to try everything at once and loving it so much that you want more and more and more. Especially if you are her for a limited amount of time. However, just like with cake, which can be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted in your life, too much too fast can lead to some major misfortunes. Just.. I don`t know.. Try to see the whole picture before rushing into things you might regret. Try not to join the local Judo Dojo, only to be surprised they make you clean up everything and barely allow you to practice. (Uneducated anecdote) Heinlein's Razor So the guy in the train was pushing you. The group of girls in the coffee shop were staring and probably gossiping about you. Everyone is giving you the cold shoulder. Everyone seems to be against you; seem to despise you with their eyes. And it`s probably because you are a foreigner and different, right? Wrong! (probably). Let us look at it from another perspective. How many people do you look at on the train and think “hey, this guy is different” or “why is he wearing that?”. Is there any malice in those thoughts? Probably not. But you`ve been looking at them and judging them with your eyes, probably giving them the creeps. And then they forget about the whole incident in the next five minutes. Because that`s what happens. The guy on the train? Super late to an important meeting with the Big Boss. The group of girls? Wondering where to go during Golden Week. The cold shoulder people? Been doing unpaid overtime for the past thirty years and just want to get this document faxed as soon as possible. Everyone is simple, busy, neutral individuals who in 90% of instances are thinking about themselves. Realizing that, we can just ignore their unmannerly stares and continue on with our own lives. It`s a country with 127 million people. You`re going to get all kinds a number of times. Micro aggression. This is a big one (even though it has “micro” right in the title.). The waiter at the restaurant brings you an English menu, even though you speak perfect Japanese and the menu has like 1/3 of the information the Japanese version has. People at the supermarket get flustered when you arrive, forget you said “no” when they asked you if you need a plastic bag, try to speak what little English they can, even though you just spoke to them in your “pera-pera” Kansai dialect. The umpteenth time someone compliments you on your chopstick skills, asks if you can eat wasabi, asks if your country has four seasons, asks if you can read the simplest kanji, tells you your nose is long, tells you you are soooo tall ad nauseam. In short, it is the little annoyances in the day that later combine into a giant Katamari of aggression that takes you down a dark path. We don`t want that. The solution? Develop the memory of a goldfish and just let the little things slide. I know it is not as easy as it sounds, but let us be perfectly honest. There are 127 million people here. I am not going to prove to them all that, yes, other countries also have 4 seasons (although mine only has 2 as far as I remember). There are a bazillion other tips I can give to you. Here are a few runner-ups: Go to a Batting center and release the built up stress by pretending the ball is your boss. Go to an onsen or sento and let your worries melt away. Find the good parts of Japan and embrace them. I try to find at least one thing I am grateful to have in Japan. It`s not hard. (Today I am grateful for the half price deep-fried stuff in the supermarket after 10 P.M.) Learn the language. I am only conversational level and it helps me tremendously. I just wish I had learned more in school. You are going to make mistakes. It happens and you can learn from it. Do not sulk. Don`t believe the internet. Not even me. The internet is full of angry individuals with poo-brains. Watch Doraemon. He is fun, educational and I feel he clearly represents the sociological status of Japanese society at the given time. (Last week, Nobita created a country in his living room and had border patrols and when his mom tried to enter illegally, the guards shot her. Then his friend became a fugitive in the new country to escape his mother`s wrath). In any case, just remember to be aware of your mental state and keep an open mind about everything. Keep yourself safe and try to have fun. Good luck and Welcome to Japan!

  • Living
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

Cake and flowers. What could go wrong?

Romance is important to the continuation of the species. (For more information, write to your local congressman).  Western countries are no strangers to Valentine’s Day. With the flower giving and the red color and the awkwardness. But Japan took it a step further (where have I heard that before?) and made White Day as well. White day seems to have come from a confectionery company, originally marketing marshmallows and later white chocolate, as a way to increase Valentine’s Day sales. And man, did it work! I treat White Day as a sort of “Take-Two” for romance. I am prone to making mistakes, and it`s good to be able to re-do gestures without the faux pas that are inevitable in an international relationship. Japan has literally everything to offer if you look closely enough, so there is no shortage on things to do eat and talk about. So here are three ideas that pop up in my head when I think about Osaka and Valentine`s Day. (This applies to White Day as well.) 1. Osaka Station Osaka Station is a world of possibilities. It`s got everything under the sun for you to do. There is a plethora of restaurants to choose from in any level of romance you are looking for. The price goes up as well, I guess. Maybe making a home cooked meal is the way to go instead… You can meet your beloved in a romantic waiting spot outside Daimaru, in a place called “Toki no hiroba”. It`s the perfect place for a dramatic meeting, just like in the movies. 2. Nakanoshima If you are in Osaka anyway, take a stroll through the Dochika underground and come up on the end, you might be tempted to walk a bit further down and to the left to Nakanoshima. About five minutes from either Yodoyabashi station or Kitahama station (Keihan line) is the Nakanoshima Rose Garden. It is a lovely place to just walk around on a cold February afternoon………. Actually it is better to go in May when the roses are actually in bloom, but who can deny a good walk through a garden anyway, regardless of color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway, and you are supposed to be focusing on your date! It`s a simple idea and best of all, it`s free! 3. Make cake in the rice cooker Back in my home country, the oven, used for baking, cooking giant roasts and the like, is a staple in every building. It was actually built into the wall of my kitchen. In Japan, this is not so. You may have to shell out some tens of “man” to get a decent oven for something more than just heating toast. Instead of a cool oven, I have a very cool rice cooker. (I got it instead of a PS4 during last New Year`s Aeon gift card bonanza). The recipe I found on the internet explains a very simple way to make a chocolate cake. Well, things did not go as planned. The recipe said to use the normal rice cooker settings, but I guess I have to look at the manual a bit more closely. Oh well, lesson learned.  I will be making this cake again on the 14th (and possibly next month too) and I really hope I don`t burn the house to the ground. 4. Flower language I am not afraid to say it. I would love to receive flowers some time in my life. I don`t think it has happened so far, as my memory fades with each year. I think everyone, even the most tough, hardy sailors would be at least a bit happy receiving flowers. In the olden times, people used flowers to communicate, just as we do these days with emojis. If you send someone a text saying “I am so looking forward to meeting your parents” and put a smiley face on the end, the message would be read as the truth. But if you put an eye-rolling yellow guy, a beer glass or even a sarcastic thumbs-up, guess what, you will be sleeping on the sofa for the rest of the week. It`s a mistake we all must face some day. During some ancient period, people sent flowers. The way it goes is you write a message to your long distance lover. This message is as vague as possible. But the real key is the flower that comes with the message. If the flower is, for example a violet, it represents “honesty”, but if the flower is an orange lily, it would mean “revenge!”. And of course if you send a cactus flower, you are looking for something more than a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. Wink wink.  The saying goes “you can`t go wrong with flowers”. Let me tell you, you can go completely wrong with flowers! So, a friend of mine (I must make it perfectly clear that it was not me**) brings his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers, selected because they are pretty, rather than what they mean. Yellow chrysanthemums look nice, right? WELL, it turns out, this genius gave his girl some funeral flowers! That was a nice conversation to have (not that I was there, of course). Whatever you decide to do during Valentine's and White day, remember to have fun. Make your lovey-dovey intentions clear and you will not be disappointed with the results. But what do I know. I`m still learning which flower is which. **I lied. It was me

  • Living
  • Food
  • Osaka

Whose food is it anyway?

A country`s food culture is like a window into the heart of the people who live there. You can tell a lot about people from what they eat. Italians like to have longwinded conversations, much like the spaghetti they eat, Russians have heavy personalities, like stroganoff, and Americans are like tater tots. You can`t just have one. And if it wasn`t obvious before, I just made all that up. I am a simple man. I come from a small country with a rather limited food culture (amongst other scarcities). So my knowledge is limited in the culinary aspects. If someone tells me a food comes from some country, I will believe that with all my might. I will take that information to my grave. So imagine a 20-something man in his first ever ALT teaching job in an Elementary school. Bright eyed, full of hope and wonder, wanting to make a difference in the world of children. “Let`s do self-introductions” the homeroom teacher shouts and everybody thinks that is a great idea! The kids want to know what strange and weird and possibly horrifying likes and dislikes this Non-native, but still somehow innocent looking enough English teacher has. “What Japanese food do you like?” They shout in unison (because I made them to) and I answer with full confidence “I like Ramen!”. …Silence in the classroom. The longest three seconds in this new teacher`s life. Oh-emm-gee, have I said something to offend? Have I possibly struck a sensitive cord that will inevitably result in my expulsion? Has the Japan dream died before it started? …no. Of course not. But I did get a room full of 10 year olds explaining to me that Ramen is in fact not Japanese, but Chinese instead. So I learned a valuable lesson that day. Until I went on Wikipedia and read that ramen is a Japanese cultural icon! Now I don`t know what to think anymore. So here I want to explore some staple food of Japan, find out its origins and whether it can be considered Japanese food (Read: What I can and cannot say in front of 10 year olds) 1. Ramen (Definitely Japanese) As I said before, it most definitely is Japanese food, gosh darn it. Whatever the kids these days say. It IS true, however that the noodles themselves come from China. The word Ramen even comes from the Chinese word “lamian”. Now I don`t think I need to sing its praises or anything; I`m sure we all have a small, emergency ramen stash (or in my case, an entire full cabinet) but that`s just the instant stuff.  The thing about Japan however, is whenever they get something new, they do not mess around with it. It is either fully in or out. So they took ramen, put it through its paces and created local varieties with flavors complementing the area. Don`t think you need to visit every small inaka town in Japan to be able to taste the variety however. (Well, you can, and if you do, please write an article in City Cost for each one). For example, on the 10th floor in Kyoto station, you can find a Ramen street, a collection of ramen shops from different areas of Japan. I recommend “Ramen Todai” since I love everything to do with pork. (The vending machines also have English language support).   2. Tempura (possibly Japanese) Before the Portuguese came to Nagasaki in the 16th century, the Japanese “tempura” was just deep fried food, without any eggs or even flour (sometimes rice flour). I don`t know about you, but the batter made from flour and eggs are what makes tempura the irresistible delicacy that it is. Never mind what is inside the batter. If the crunchy, oily stuff on the outside isn`t there, I wouldn`t touch it with a ten foot chopstick. 3. Curry (absolutely Japanese *terms and conditions apply) So I come to my Junior High School one day and half the school is missing. I ask the remaining teachers and they inform me that there`s a school trip. Kasajizo: Where did they go? Teacher:To the countryside. Kasajizo: Why did they go there? Teacher:To make curry. Kasajizo: Why curry? *teacher shrugs and walks away. Need I say more? (I also have a stash of curry roux in my other cabinet) Never mind the fact that the Japanese curry we know today was not available in supermarkets until the 60s. Today I think a household in Japan without at least one packet of curry roux is extremely rare. In short, Japan can call any food they want Japanese if they want. There is a certain separation from “Traditional” Japanese food, called Washoku and the western one called Yoshoku, but how far you have to look back for a food to become “traditional” requires a level of research that is beyond me. Post script: For the sake of weirdness, here is a picture of the strangest drink I have ever bought. Orange juice with rare cheese flavor. And yes, it tasted just as you would expect. Disgusting.

  • Food
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka

New year`s eve in review

The end of the year is apparently the biggest holiday of the year in Japan. People compare it to the western Christmas, as people go and visit their families and friends, drink, have fun and sing “ashita ga aru”. I have had some varied experiences when it comes to New Years in Japan. My first time in Japan, I was in university, I was in a strange country and ready for anything. So naturally I decided to go clubbing. I am not now, nor have I ever been the clubbing type of person, and I have no idea why I decided to go. The alcohol was expensive, the music was loud and I was an hour away from anywhere called home. Despite everything seemingly working against me, I actually had a pretty good time. I got mildly drunk, danced until I got self-conscious and had some deep, meaningless conversations with friends I don`t talk to when I am sober. All in all quite a successful night. I guess one of my biggest culture shocks happened that night too. After the countdown (big screen in the dance-hall and everybody dancing), we went outside to get a bit of fresh air. Right next door, there was another bar or club, but they had this big, wooden bowl and a cartoon-sized hammer just whacking a blob of mochi in the middle of the corridor. I was gaping in awe of this sight. I had never seen anything like this before in my life. So these mochi-people, seeing this foreigner wide-eyed stare, offered the hammer to me and for the first time in my life, I whacked mochi with all my might. And let me tell you, it was wonderful. I have GOT to get me one of these bowls! 2015-2016 was pretty interesting too. There I was with my partner in Osaka. We decided to go to Osaka Castle to witness the countdown light show. We went walking to the park and I thanked multiple deities that someone invented “Kairo”, the self-heating bags that you can keep in your pocket or glue to your clothes to keep warm. It was freezing cold, and it did not help that we had to stand outside, waiting for the countdown to begin. So we wait and wait and wait. Finally people start to count down. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Yay! Nothing… The normal lights of the castle turn on and life continues as if nothing had happened. No light show, no nothing. It. Was. Cancelled. Oh well, we went to the shrine next to the castle and did the whole “first visit to a shrine of the year” thing. There were people playing drums there and another group of people were giving out free hot soup. You know the feeling when you are really thirsty and finally get to drink a glass of water and it tastes like honey from the heavens? That is exactly what the soup tasted like. We were freezing by that time, so a hot cup of tonkatsu soup was just the right thing to kick start the body back from hibernation and get our good feeling back. We thought about waiting to see the first sunrise of the year. We thought about it for exactly one second before running inside to warm up. This New Year`s eve was a little different. One major difference is that, due to some … family matters … we cannot really celebrate. In Japanese tradition, when a family member passes, you are encouraged not to celebrate anything for a few months afterwards (even up to a year). That means, no shrines, temples, weddings, and no major celebrations. In light of these new circumstances, and looking back at our failures in the last seconds of 2015 what with Osaka Castle not lighting up and all, we did not make the same mistakes again. We refused to be fooled by cancellations and promises of lights when there are none. This time, we acted like the middle-aged couple we aren`t and stayed home. No going out in the freezing cold. No standing in line for 45 minutes to pray for luck and wealth to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and a definite no to all crowded areas. It was bliss! We stayed home all night watching endless comedy shows on TV and ate cakes. (That doesn`t count as celebrations, right?) Doing that, we managed to relax, save money (since we didn`t take any expensive trips) AND hopefully we gained some holiday weight. Who knows what next year will bring. There are plenty of events and shows in between Christmas and New Year`s eve. Light shows, concerts, dinners with distant family members whose name you conveniently fail to mention because you have no idea what it is. The possibilities are endless. Whatever will happen, one thing will be guaranteed. It will be interesting. It wouldn`t be Japan without a little bit of surprise.

  • Living
  • Food
  • Osaka

The grievances of 2016 that weren`t

This year has been a remarkable one. With celebrities dropping like flies and America`s political biosphere on fire, it is good to look back and reflect on all the good and bad things these past 365 days have brought. Of course, living in Japan is a whole other story. When you stay here for long enough, the outside world starts to look like some distant memory; nothing can touch you. For some, this means the stress of war, turmoil and new presidents (not necessarily talking about Trump here. Iceland also got a new president this year, albeit one with less fabulous hair). Some people come to Japan to run away from their problems. The problem is that this country is not free from its own problems. Troubleshooting in a completely different environment is not for the faint of heart, and many well-meaning individuals buckle under the pressure and leave within a few months. There is a term I often refer to when discussing the expat experience: The Honeymoon Period. For those not familiar with the term, The Honeymoon Period is the time period in the beginning of your stay somewhere unfamiliar, where everything seems perfect. The flowers smell fresher, the air is cleaner, the people more polite, trains on time and the food. Oh my Glob, the food! Like an explosion of feel-good senses burst from your brain and permeates everything you see. Even the homeless people seem to be smiling. Now, as we hopefully know by now, all good things come to an end. It is sad but true. You wake up one morning and you find an uncooked rice in your bowl of gyudon. You drop your change from the conbini because the teller put the coins on top of the receipt again. Some kid yelled “Why Japanese people!” at you for the three-thousandth time and something inside you. Just. Snaps. This is when the honeymoon period ends. The time it takes differs between people. For some it takes only a few months. For others, a few years. The most common timeframe I`ve heard is two years. It seems that the second or third year for expats is the hardest one. I guess it has something to do with starting to see patterns in life. You`ve experienced the same things before, the veil of freshness drops and your brain starts getting bored. And when it gets bored, it starts focusing on the negative parts in life. And that`s when you`re in trouble. For myself, I have no idea where I am on the “honeymoon-period-curve”. I am on my third consecutive year in Japan, but my fourth in total. I have experienced some hardship and annoyances during that time, but never have I gotten close to saying “well, it has been fun. I`m leaving. See ya never!”. So for the difficulties of 2016, I would only count the minor grievances as a collective, rather than one big event. And even then, these annoyances don`t add up to me wanting to pack my bags.   So, without further ado, I present the top 5 gripes of 2016 in no particular order. 1. The amount of people (hito-gomi). There are so many people in Japan. There are so many people in the cities. There are so many people in my train station. Why can I not get a seat on the train at 7:30 on a Wednesday in the most populated station in West Japan? Why is everybody pushing me? Why is that person running? What does he know that I don`t? Don`t you dare steal that seat. I saw it first! What`s that smell? Why is a school baseball team taking the train now? Despite all that, I actually really like riding trains. 2. Polite versions of already polite enough words There`s the plain form, there`s the polite form, there`s the super polite form and probably twenty more forms. I barely mastered using the desu-masu forms, and the teller in the Disney store just asked me something I couldn`t understand. I say “eh?” and the teller replies “puresento?” like I`m a damn fool. Even now, I cannot recall what she actually said, but I know it was not a “masu” form of any word I know. Or maybe it is. Now, the real reason I don`t understand is because I haven`t bothered to learn as much as I should have. That doesn`t make me feel any better, you know! 3. The lack of sleep Japan has such variety. There are so many things to do here. Everything is available almost any time of the day. 24/7 entertainment. Why would you want to leave? Why would you want to sleep? So what if you have to wake up at 6:30 to dance in front of hundreds of 6 year olds. You can survive on 3 hours of sleep and coffee. There is no escape. Sleep or boundless entertainment. Choose one and regret the other. 4. The variety Why buy this when you can buy that? This place has a discount, but this place uses point cards. If you sign up now, this place offers a free takoyaki machine with your purchase. Options, options, options! Sometimes I wish for a world that has just ONE STATE APPROVED TOILET PAPER TYPE. And then I remember that I actually like takoyaki. Oh well. 5. The weather It`s too sunny. It`s too cloudy. It`s too rainy. It never snows! It`s too cold! Why can`t it be summer in wintertime and winter in summertime? Why is the weather not like it used to be back home? What? It`s because I`m not home? What`s this nonsense? Now, as you may have noticed, these are extremely minor annoyances. Barely worth mentioning. And all of them can be summed up to my own personal view of the world. My own failures as a person, my own inexperience and my own irrational, egotistical ways. And that is the way of the world. We all get upset sometimes that the world doesn`t revolve around us. And that`s quite alright. As long as we recognize and deal with our feelings in a productive, safe manner (Batting center!), it`s alright to feel the way we feel. If you start feeling overwhelmed and alone, just remember that there are options (options, options, options!). We all get into a slump every once in a while. As Doctor Seuss said, there are plenty of ways to “unslump” yourself. 2016 is coming to an end. The next year will promise another four seasons and a whole lot of reasons to leave the country. It also gives us just as many reasons to stay. So let`s rejoice and count our lucky stars we`re not celebrities.

  • Living
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  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
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  • Mannoya Yakiniku

    Good yakiniku

    I am a meat eater. I love a good piece of beef, sizzling on a grill and eaten so rare you can almost hear it moo. I am also a control freak in the kitchen. If I am cooking, you had better not get in my way. This is why I love going to Yakiniku places. Especially Mannoya. If you are unfamiliar with yakiniku, you basically order a plate of raw meat, expertly cut in front of you, and then you put it on a coal grill right on your table. You get to choose how to cook, where on the grill to place your meat, how long to cook it and everything. Of course the chefs are there, just on the other side of the counter if you have any questions about the food or need any pointers. It is great. The people working in Mannoya are some of the friendliest people working in the food business I have ever encountered. You can see the honesty in their eyes, they are not there for fake friendliness. They are actually having fun at their job and that makes the atmosphere so much better. Speaking of atmosphere, the restaurant itself naturally gets a bit stuffy what with all the smoke coming from the grills. If possible, I recommend putting your clothes in the laundry right after you come home, so as to not infect anything with a smoky smell. I have been to this restaurant twice and I intend to go there more often. I hope you will too. The restaurant is fairly reasonable; you can order many levels of quality meat. If you have a smartphone, you can sometimes download the app called Mannoya (萬野屋), and get nice coupons, such as free namul or a free drink! It sometimes disappears from the app store and comes up again, so hopefully you can get it when it`s available.

  • Chichiri

    Nom nom nabe

    I went to this Izakaya with full confidence that it would be a mediocre experience. I`ve been to “that kind” of Izakaya many times and there is always something wrong somewhere. Usually it`s the mandatory appetizer for 300yen that you finish in one bite. Often it`s the 10% service charge on top of the usual 8% tax. At least there was no service charge this time. Sometimes your experience becomes all the more enjoyable because of the poor expectation you had in the first place. This is what happened at Chichiri near Kyobashi Station. It was a cold evening, so naturally we ordered one of those big pots that`s stuffed with vegetables, meat and soup. I was pleasantly surprised at how full I actually became. I finished the nabe and had completely forgotten I had ordered ochazuke as well. Oh well. A beer and a half later, I was very content with life and almost fell asleep at my table. Good thing you have your own little concave where you can close the door and lock yourself out from the world. All in all, Chichiri was a satisfying experience, although some of it had to do with my initial low expectations. You can find Chichiri right outside Kyobashi station in Osaka. The neighborhood is fairly good if you are looking for reasonable food and drink with a lot of salarymen.

  • Fujiko · F · Fujio Museum

    Doraemon for all

    There seems to be a museum for just about everything and Doraemon is no exception. Doraemon is universally loved in Japan and is the staple in which every cartoon cat in Japan is compared against. Actually the museum is dedicated to manga artist Fujiko F. Fujio, but it might as well be called the Doraemon museum, since he is most famous for making that. Not to discredit his other works, because it is also lovely. When you get there, you are presented by a timeline of cartoons from around the world, when they are from in their own time. Of course, since Doraemon is from the future, he is shown right at the end. That is a nice touch, I think. The museum is very organized, and it is very hard to get lost. You see some original drawings by Fujiko F. Fujio and see the manga-making process, step by step. Outside the museum, you can find statues and sculptures of the characters from the Anime and Manga. You can even walk through a “Dokodemo Door” if you are so inclined, although it didn’t teleport me anywhere. Oh well. The café was pretty interesting as well. We ordered tea you mix yourself. Both bottles are clear, but when you mix the tea, it changes colors! It was like magic! To get there, just take a train to Noborito Station in Kawasaki and take the Doraemon-themed bus to the museum. It is totally worth it. Unfortunately, English support is pretty limited in this Museum. But even so, you can still find plenty of things to enjoy.

  • Kaiten Sushi Nippon Ichi (Yodobashi dining)

    Simple Sushi

    Imagine this: You are in Yodobashi Camera. You have spent the last two or three hours traversing the numerous isles and shelves. Suddenly your stomach starts to gurgle and you realize you haven`t eaten anything all day. So you elevate yourself up to the eight floor, only to find a plethora of restaurants and options. Overwhelmed and irrational from hunger, you are tempted to pick the closest restaurant and gorge yourself. Forget that thought, because you are going to Nihon Ichi. It`s a lovely, simple sushi restaurant that can fill you up for only a fraction of the cost of other restaurant options. The cheapest plates go for around 100 yen, and naturally others are more expensive. I am a big fan of squid and octopus, so I usually eat my weight in each every time I go there. The atmosphere is lovely. The workers there are friendly and willing to assist you. Of course you can take food from the conveyor belt, and there`s nothing wrong with that, but I usually order from the tablet on the table. That way I can make absolutely sure that the food I am eating is as fresh as possible. If you use the reservation website called E-Park, you can sometimes get coupons for something delicious as well as reserve a table in advance. Although you probably won`t need it. I whole heartedly recommend this place. It usually costs me just under 800 yen and I think that`s quite reasonable.

  • Osaka Castle Park

    Osaka Castle Park

    When visiting Osaka, one of the first destinations should rightfully be Osaka-Jo Park. Take the JR Osaka Loop line and only four stops later it´s like you´re transported somewhere in the countryside. Trees everywhere and a magical looking castle in the middle. The castle has a long history of being built and destroyed throughout history, but the current castle and castle grounds look magnificent and attract hundreds thousands of tourists every year with new events going on regularly. Osaka-jo Hall is a large multi-purpose arena which holds concerts and many events. Last summer they had Disney´s Frozen-on-ice, a figure skating musical which was extremely popular. I urge you to visit on a day when no idol group like Arashi or Hey Say Jump are playing. Unless you enjoy walking through a crowd of middle-aged women fawning over their favorite Johhny`s. Recently, the park´s popularity has increased, since the release of Pokemon Go. On a hot summer´s night, it was not uncommon to see large groups of people (including myself) sitting near the castle itself, catching Arbok´s and Psyducks. Now that the weather (and the game`s popularity) has cooled down, I suppose there are less people around. I wouldn`t know. I am inside, drinking hot chocolate.   Keep an eye out for the fat, orange cat that likes to walk around the castle. I named him Hideyoshi. What are you waiting for? Go explore this enchanted place!

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