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Top 5 spots around Tokyo to enjoy water

Japan is a huge island completely surrounded by water. Especially during the summertime everybody likes to go to the beach and enjoy the ocean. Living in the center of Tokyo makes it difficult to go to a nice beach. The beaches in Tokyo are mostly very dirty and not that beautiful. That´s why I recommend going to the neighboring prefectures. Here are my top 5 places for swimming around Tokyo:1.    TateyamaSouth of Chiba is the small city of Tateyama with many beautiful, nice sand beaches. The easiest way to go there is by car but it is also possible to use the train but it takes around 2 hours from Tokyo station. If you like water sports you should use the chance to rent a surfboard and do a ride on the waves. The area is very popular as a surfing paradise. 2.    KatsuuraAlso south of Chiba in the Katsuura area close to Seaworld in Kamogawa are beautiful sand beaches and great surfing spots. Especially the Moriya and Uhara beaches are very popular for surfing. You can go there by train from Chiba city by the Sotobo Line. From Tokyo station it takes around 2 hours by local train. If you like it more calm and just want to enjoy the beach, I would recommend the small creek very close to Kazusa-Okitsu Station. It is also a nice place if you want to explore the area around the cliffs. Around the big beaches are many small surfing houses where you can stay for a night and enjoy a barbeque in the evening.3. Kisami Ohara Beach in IzuA little bit further away from Tokyo is the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. The Izu has many beautiful beaches and is easy to access from Tokyo by train. If you are renting a car you can go to some less crowded beaches which you can only visit by car. I recommend the Kisami Ohara Beach, south Izu, in Shimoda. The beach is a very beautiful sand beach surrounded by mountains.4.    Tokyo SummerlandIf you prefer to stay in Tokyo you can enjoy some outdoor pools like Tokyo Summerland in Hachioji. It is a huge outdoor waterpark where you can enjoy different water activities like many sliders or floating down a river in a tire. They have indoor and outdoor pools for every age. Tokyo Summerland is very popular among the young generations, that´s why it can be very crowded during summer break and on the weekends. Also note that tattoos are forbidden there.5.    Local water playgroundsMy last recommendation is for the younger generation. You can find many small water playgrounds in most of the areas in Tokyo. Those small playgrounds are mostly for little kids who like to play in the water. The water is usually very shallow and there are often small sliders or other toys for playing in those pools. Unfortunately those pools are mostly open only in August and at special times during the days. You should check out the times of your playground before going there.The Japanese summer is always very hot and long. So please stay cool and get refreshed at one of the nice beaches. Please note that there are often operating seasons for the beaches (mostly end of July to the end of August). Only during that season will lifeguards be working at the beach in the case of any accidents.

Yakiniku party for two

The Japanese display a giddy fondness for the 'insert food here party'.  Said gathering might involve but two people and the title food, however, if you call it a party, it's a party.  Although it's really not.  Anyway, what's in name?  And who cares what it is when it involves yakiniku, the theme of tonight's, errrm, 'party'. Off all the things that Japan has 'borrowed' from other countries, be it language, Zen state of mind, medicine, engineering, green tea, English teachers, cheesy weddings ... the Korean form of barbecuing meat has to be my favourite.  It's typically something I'd go out for (there's a Gyu-Kaku near the crib, and a thousand other yakiniku joints near work).  Sometime's of a Saturday night though, you just can't be bothered to go out.  For those times when the lethargy hits then, you want to get yourself a hot plate combo.  Like this ... ... so that you can have yakiniku from the comfort of a sofa.I've used the hot plate for a number of Japanese classics; yakisoba, shabushabu, sukiyaki, and winter-warmer staple, nabe.  All fine dishes, even when subject to these culinary-stunted hands, but all of them pale in comparison to yakiniku.For tonight's 'party' for two, we hit up the local supermarket and walked out with a bumper-size pack of 牛肉バラカルビ / gyu-niku bara karubi  (1280 g for around 500 yen - fairly cheap), 250 g of ホルモン / horumon (intestines and other normally unwanted bits - 200 yen), and some cuts of American 'prime' beef (331 g - 1,000 yen).  If this sounds expensive, it could have been so much more had any of tonight's beef come from Japan. We flavoured the カルビ with a cheap yakiniku sauce before 'BBQing' it, and finished it off with a one-time-serving packet of ジャン(焼肉んのたれ) which I'm told is much fancier.  For the sake of adding a bit of veg to help 'process' the meat, we threw in some cabbage, pumpkin, and mushrooms.  OK, so the hot plate can't really compete with open flames and hot coals, but it does a pretty sterling job nonetheless, and remains a legitimate yakiniku option.  It doesn't half stink out the apartment though!!NB; the volume of meat in today's yakiniku party was just about too much for us to get through comfortably!

Cold, wet, and windy Kujukuri. Feels like home!

If I can help it, I refrain from the checking the surf forecast for the weekend until some time on Friday. I do this out of fear. If it turns out that there will be no surfing over the weekend, I’d rather not know about it until later. The prospect of work without the reward of surf is more than I can be bothered to bare.    Sometimes you just have to go and give it a try though, even when wind charts are telling you to spend your Sunday morning in bed. It’s a daft form of denial I suppose, especially when it’s going to drag you out of bed at 4 am and into the cold and wet dark. Still, one of my favorite things about getting up for a surf is stealing out of the city on empty highways with a good CD playing in the car. It’s one of the few times I listen to music through speakers. There are indicators I look out for on route to the beach in Chiba which give me some idea of what the ocean will be like. The first is a river seeping into Tokyo Bay. From the bridge I check the surface of the water; if it’s glassy, that’s a good sign. Today it was a little bumpy, but not really giving too much away. Of course, it’s not until you actually lay eyes on the ocean that you know if you’re going to be surfing or not. There is, however, one more advanced indicator that is rarely off; the old geezer that attends to the car park by the beach. This morning he greeted me, “Daijoubu kai?”. A kind of eyebrow raised, Are you alright?. Not a good sign (we still can’t see the ocean at this point). Then he nailed the coffin shut, “Ki wo tsukete ne!”.  Take care, alright!.  Now, he only ever says that when the ocean is rougher than a hangover. So there and then I knew that the surf was likely a no go. (Don't know what he's looking so happy about!)This morning I probably should have turned around immediately and headed for home. I decided to hike around for a bit and get soaking wet, instead. This kind of weather reminds me of home though (even after plenty of years in Japan, it still isn’t home) and it felt nice to be out in it. The scruffy desolation of a Japanese beach outside of season and in grotty weather also has the look and feel of mid-winter seaside resorts back home. In the end, despite getting soaked to the bone, I enjoyed snapping some pics of beach (sorry, this is the Fudodo area of Kujukurihama, by the way). I took these with my pretty out-of-date iPhone (Are they ever in?) and played around with some filters when I got back. Kujukurihama, Chiba on a foul Sunday morning then: (Wind swept)(I snapped this as I was racing back to the car to save from getting any more wet)(The other side of the road that runs parallel to the beach; houses that look like they've seen better days)

Tulipfields around Sakura City

Every year at the beginning of march the tulip season starts in japan. In Sakura City (Chiba prefecture) you can find a huge field full of different tulips from around the world. In the middle of the field is a beautiful windmill from the Netherlands which has a small museum inside. If you going at the end of march to the fields, you might be lucky to see most of the tulips fully bloomed. But every tulip is different and has different blooming time.  I love to walk around the fields and see the big variety of flowers. Also for around 500 Yen you can collect 10 tulips from the fields and bring them back to home. The good thing about tulips is that they come back every year again. For your entertainment you can listen to a school choir or dress up in a typical Netherlands dress with wood shoes. Also you can have lunch at the nearby restaurant and food stands.I visit that place every year because I like the nice atmosphere of the fields in the countryside and it gives me a little feeling of being back to Europe.

Perfect Japanese Karaage { から揚げ }

Make this karaage. Even your Japanese MIL will love it. It's THAT GOOD. Promise.(To be clear, I promise that it's delicious, not that your MIL will like it, or you...)I spent my first year in Japan trying to recreate dishes from Australia as I best I could with the ingredients and utensils available in Japan. This year, I am making an effort to embrace Japanese cooking and it’s a lot of fun! One of the first things I learnt to make was karaage, Japanese fried chicken. Karaage is available everywhere. At convenience stores, restaurants, markets, cafes, you can always count on karaage as a safe option for fussy eaters (like me!).Karaage is a popular dish in home cooking too. The ingredients are affordable, and the chicken pieces are a good size and last well for lunch the next day. Well, when I say ‘last well’ I mean they are just as delicious the next day – I can’t promise that there will be leftovers…A lot of recipes are overly complicated, with extra ingredients and preparation time. My recipe is as simple as I could make it. My husband says it’s his favourite karaage! That boy has eaten a lot of karaage. We spent three years living in Imabari, a town famous for chicken.Honestly, this recipe is so easy and tasty, you should definitely make it. Be sure to make a lot because it’s too easy to eat it all. You’ll find yourself breaking into the container of leftovers and snacking on them cold. Perhaps try my sisters trick – wrap them in foil and shove them to the back of the fridge – though I don’t know if that is as effective at hiding them from yourself as it is from hungry siblings who ignore such a nondescript bundle. Good luck!JAPANESE KARAAGE RECIPEINGREDIENTS:The quantity of ingredients is for 1 cup of cubed chicken. If you use two or three cups of chicken, simply double or triple the recipe.Chicken Breast – 1 cup Potato Starch – 1/2 cupVegetable Oil – to fill an inch in your saucepanSoy Sauce – 1/2 tablespoonGinger – 1 teaspoonGarlic – 1 teaspoonChicken Stock Cube – 1 cubeServing:Salt & PepperLemonIf you're making this outside of Japan, you can try to substitute potato starch with corn starch but it will change the texture of your karaage batter. This is an example of what to look for in the supermarket if it's your first time searching for potato starch. The brand isn't important, just look for the three main kanji. METHOD:Finely grate the garlic and ginger. It should be paste-like in consistency.Place in a bowl with the soy sauce.Cut the chicken into bite-size chunks, about an inch square.Put the chicken pieces into the marinade, mix well, let sit for at least 10 minutes and no more than 30minutes.In a small bowl, mix potato starch and chicken stock cube. You can add salt and pepper to taste if you like.Heat an inch of oil in your saucepan.Coat each piece of chicken in the starch and cook in the oil. Fry for about 4 minutes, rotating each piece while cooking to ensure it cooks evenly.When cooked, remove from the oil and place on a wire rack to drain.Sprinkle with salt and serve with a slice of lemon.TIPS:Use the ginger. Even if you don’t like ginger. You can barely taste it, and it really helps remove the gamey taste of the chicken.Leave some skin on the chicken pieces if you can. It cooks nice and crispy. If you are worried about the extra fat on the skin, well, maybe this recipe isn’t for you, you’re about to fry it in oil after all. I coat the chicken pieces one at a time in the starch. If you tip the starch into the bowl with the chicken and marinade it will have a stronger soy sauce flavour and your chicken pieces will be a darker colour too. Both methods are delicious!Make sure your oil is hot enough when you put the chicken in or the coating will be greasy not crispy. To test the oil, I put my wooden chopsticks into the pot and check that bubbles rise small and fast as the air leaves the wood. Don’t use plastic chopsticks! Duh.Lastly, you must place your karaage pieces onto a rack when you remove them from the oil. If you don’t drain the oil from the chicken straight away your karaage will be soggy. I also put my cooked and drained karaage pieces into the oven toaster to keep warm while I cook the next batch.  Happy Cooking!{ Ashes }P.S. Leave a comment if you make this recipe and let me (and everyone else) know how awesome it turned out! I have faith in you. But uh, don't tell everyone how annoying the cleanup is... Oil. Flour. Everywhere.

Packing Truths I Wish I'd Known Before Moving To Japan

Don't pack it. All the things you think that you need, you don't. This is me packing for Japan. Every. Single. Time. Don't be this way, learn my lessons. I know, I know. You're feeling all the feels about your stuff. You need all the things. You don't know what you'll be able to buy here in Japan, let alone if products will suit you or if clothes will fit you. I'll let you in on a little secret:People live in Japan, if not happily at least successfully, every day. Every thing that you need for your new life in Japan is already here. Why not take the opportunity to embrace the Japanese lifestyle wholeheartedly? Let go of worldly possessions from your old life and start fresh when you arrive. In saying that, there are a few comfort items you may choose to pack...I've travelled between my home country and Japan quite a few times in the past several years. I always over pack. Always. Without fail. I am THE foreigner lugging the biggest suitcase (recently I discovered I was allowed to take two bags and OMGosh...) around the airport. However, over time, my packing priorities have changed. At first, I filled my suitcase with a whole new wardrobe. Why did I do that? Well there is this persistent rumour that foreigners can't buy clothes in Japan. So I packed everything plus doubles of my essentials. Brand new work outfits, gym clothes, party dresses, underwear, pajamas... Guess what? The shopping is better in Japan. Yes, sizing is different, things don't always fit perfectly and you'll need to shop around, but I need to do that in my home country anyway. What space was left in my suitcase I filled with toiletries; toothpaste, makeup, face wash, deodorant, moisturiser, sunscreen, etc. Do you know how much those things weigh? A lot! Know something else? You can buy them all online! Websites like iHerb, Amazon JP, and StrawberryNet are just a few that supply toiletries. That's if you can't buy your favourite brands here in Japan anyway. Better yet, you may discover new ones you love more. Don't go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. You can buy clothes here, obviously, Japan is not a land of naked people. If you wear larger sizes, check out international stores like H&M or shop online at ASOS. Clothes bought in country will suit the climate and for Australians, clothes are so much cheaper here!!! Do pack a couple of loved items or unique pieces to comfort you when you're homesick.You might be wondering, what, if anything, do I pack these days? Here is a my basic list. For my husband (who lives off nothing and believes that even putting butter on your toast with peanut butter is extravagant): ToothpasteJocksSocksDeodorantThe end.According to him...For my baby:Teething gelPain reliefFood sachetsEnglish toys and booksOnly bring these items for immediate use. You can order more from iHerb and Amazon JP, but it saves you needing to tackle the local baby store and drug store amidst settling into a new country.For myself:Pretty shoes (my feet are 28cm, but I buy men's joggers here because they're cheaper and really nice)Briefs (by choice for my comfort, you can buy briefs here, yes in large sizes too)One of each key beauty product; face wash, deodorant, foundation, shampoo and conditioner for curly hair (again, buy more from iHerb or settle in to your new country and try their products, my favourite face wash and foundation are now from Japan) Birth control (yes, you can get it here, but it takes up minimal space in your luggage and is one less immediate hurdle to tackle in Japanese)Cooking supplies! These are my new favourite essential. Pack items that are light, small, and go far; spices, gravy, marinades, powdered soup mixes, rubs, sauces, jelly crystals, etc. If you've got luggage allowance, throw in a couple of plain cake mixed too, cake is awesome in Japan, but not as awesome as people will think you are if you can produce a homemade batch of perfectly risen cupcakes. Snacks. You think you'll share them, but you won't. That 1kg box of Cadbury Favourites you packed to share around the office? I give it a week before you've convinced yourself that your Japanese friends and colleagues are happy with the touristy pens you gave them and that what they don't know they're missing won't hurt them. Go on, slip into your pajamas and eat your treats. That's it.According to me anyway. Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow my blog to hear more from my whitty, informative self. { Ashes }P.S. If you have any packing tips or favourite items be sure to leave a comment below this article. Better yet, note down anything you regret packing. Obviously for me it was clothes. Why on earth did I think I needed so many clothes...

Living In Japan Makes You Fluent In Japanese

What would I have like to have known before I arrived in Japan? Well...There’s this crazy idea floating around – kind of like when you step in dog poop and the smell lingers with you all day… It’s that nasty. The idea is that living in Japan magically gives you fluency in Japanese. Sorry to burst your bubble (how is it in there with the rainbows and unicorns?), but no, it doesn’t. Shall I lecture you about why?No expectations. Japanese people don’t expect you to speak Japanese. In fact, sometimes they are disappointed when you do! So, gestures and single words are enough to survive in daily life. Why study more? A quick look at my weekday routine; walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket at a machine), stop at the convenience store on the walk to work, teach all day in English, converse all day in English with my colleagues (as per the schools request to maintain an 'all English' teacher), walk to the station, catch the train (buy my ticket on the train because it's a small stop with no machine), stop by the supermarket on my walk home, arrive home to my fellow foreign husband with whom I speak English. Now not everyone will live like this, but how many times do I get to use Japanese in a day? I say good morning to my local convenience store staff and comment on the weather, buy my return train ticket from the conductor on the train, and say good evening and again comment on the weather to the supermarket staff. That's it. Each of these conversations can be avoided or completed with minimal Japanese. I have to really push myself to use Japanese even though I live in Japan. How do I learn anything? I spend my weekend with Japanese friends and talk as much as possible to them.  But... On to my next issue...Japanese people can speak English. Whether or not they ‘do’ is another story. But with the people who do want to talk to you, you may have to fight a battle of languages and wills to see which language emerges victorious. Basically, you have 30 seconds to wow them with your Japanese before they decide their English ability is higher and switch the conversation to English. Thus ensues your capitulation into the comfort of speaking English, or an awkward exchange between their English contribution and your stubborn insistence on using Japanese. Good luck…Active listening takes work! Yes, you are surrounded by Japanese all day but it is too easy to tune it out. You actually have to train your brain to recognise Japanese speech as words, until you do that it is no more than background noise like birds or cars driving past.Comfort of fellow foreigners. Because let’s face it, no one will understand your complaints, your humour, and oh boy your sarcasm like your foreign friends will. Try not to fall into the trap of the security and familiarity they offer. Put yourself out there and make some Japanese friends.So if living in Japan doesn’t make me fluent in Japanese, then why in the world am I trying so hard to get there? Because living in Japan provides you with the best opportunity to become fluent. It is up to you to use that opportunity. Just like any other tool, if you don’t pick it up and use it, it won’t do anything for you by itself. Unfortunately this particular tool doesn’t come with a user manual.If your goal in moving to Japan is to achieve fluency in Japanese, you may need to consider making a plan to get yourself actively learning and using Japanese. Here are a few strategies I find have helped me:SHADOWING:This method of study involves listening and repeating Japanese phrases after a recording. Whether it is single vocabulary words, basic greetings, or longer phrases and conversations, repeating after a recording of a native speaker can help increase your speaking speed, improve your listening skills, and also help you pick up on the nuances in tone and accent. You can begin shadowing before you come to Japan to be as prepared as possible to begin speaking when you arrive. I have used the 'Let's Speak Japanese' series and love it!TV:Don't underestimate the power of repetition. When you arrive in Japan, get a TV. There is a fee for owning a TV but aside from entertainment think of it as an investment in your studies too. Every day, listen to the same morning show and the same evening news program. You might surprise yourself with how soon you begin to understand greetings, the weather, locations, and other daily life vocabulary. Not to mention, you'll have conversation topics in common with your colleagues or students because you'll be watching the same TV shows they do.LABELS:Really. Label your house. Label your bathroom products, label your handbag contents, label your pantry contents, label everything. Before you come to Japan learn to read some basic products and items and it will make your daily life so much easier. Don't worry. there will be plenty of vocabulary words remaining for you to master when you get here.Overall, you will have more exposure to Japanese being IN Japan than outside of it. But I think many people arrive with lofty expectations and are disappointed. How hard I'd need to push to live in Japanese is something I wish I'd known before I came to Japan.{ Ashes }

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