Monday, June 27, 2011

Gift ideas... to bring home to your friends and family

I know I said I would finish my blogging, but I thought of one more post I wanted to get out there. Before I left for Japan, I did a blog post with a list of what I had purchased to bring to Japan- I went back and updated that list with comments.

When we were in Japan, we also purchased some gifts for ourselves, friends, family, and co-workers to bring back to the States- here is what we purchased... hopefully it can give you some ideas of what you can give as gifts back home!
  • Make sure to check out this post to see some of my favorite items I brought back with me. When we were deciding on what to bring back with us to the States, most of our gifts were specific to the individual, but for some general ideas, the items are listed in this post
  • I also did a Japanese food post on some of my favorite snacks and drinks in Japan
  • I also have some additional items I need to buy when I visit Japan the next time at the bottom of this post
Just about any of the items listed in the links above and below can be found at any grocery store in Japan. Whenever possible, I will add a hyperlink (from to show you what the candy/packaging looks like. I've been seeing that the packages on Amazon don't accurately reflect the packaging in Japan, but it'll give you a general jist of what the brand looks like....

  • Japanese candy- Mitsuya Cider is a popular drink in Japan, and they have the hard candy versions- they are delicious! They come in various flavors- regular, grape, white cider, etc. Everyone loved trying the different flavors, and every single flavor was awesome
  • Japanese osenbei- Japanese rice snacks are widely popular in Japan. Lots of flavors and sizes to choose from
  • Jyagalico- If you've been reading my blog, you probably read my post on these snacks-turned-instant-mashed-potatoes. As a snack AND mashed potatoes, these were delicious! We tried several flavors, but we loved the "Salad" and "Cheese Curry" flavors the most (as a snack), and loved the "Salad" flavor for the instant mashed potatoes
  • Chips- Japan has many unique flavors (beef consomme, corn chowder, Japanese curry to name a few) of chips and salty snacks
  • Gummi snacks- These gummi snacks are widely popular in Japan, and I love how true-to-flavor they are, and they are very soft
  • Umeboshi-flavored snacks- Umeboshi are Japanese picked plum, and I love the flavor and it's distinctly Japanese. I am currently eating an umeboshi-flavored gum by Lotte and it is good! I can't find anything ume-flavored here in the States, but I will warn you that not it wasn't the most popular flavor amongst my co-workers (more for me!)
  • Melon-flavored snacks- You will see that melon-flavored anything (candy, soda, ice cream, etc) are popular in Japan, so pick up some melon-flavored candy, gum, gummi candies, etc!
  • Mints- Japan has so many mint flavors that aren't just the ol' peppermint, spearmint, cinnamint, etc. They have fun flavors like Apple Ginger Ale, Blueberry Mint, Mandarin Orange, etc. 
  • Bisco- Quite possibly one of my favorite Japanese cookies ever! These are little cream-filled sandwich cookies with either a white creamy filling (kind of reminds me of the cream filling in Oreos but not as sweet) or a strawberry cream filling. They are so SO good~!
Japanese chocolate snacks- Yep, there were so many of them that people liked, I'm giving it its own category
  • Koala no March- These are koala-shaped cookies with either a chocolate (green packaging) or strawberry chocolate (pink packaging) insides. I used to eat these as a child, but they're still popular in Japan (and was very popular among my friends)
  • Kinoko no Yama- These snacks are similar to the "koala no march" snacks, but instead they have a cookie-based stem and a chocolate top. (Kinoko means mushroom in Japanese.) We just ate this last night, and wished we had purchased more
  • Pocky- These chocolate sticks can be found easily at Asian grocery stores in the States, but you can find so much more variety of flavors in Japan. Strawberry, coconut, mint, nuts, and all are yummy
  • (There are other ones out there but I'm getting a blank on it right now. Japanese chocolate cookie snacks are so good, you can't go wrong)
Japanese stationery
  • Pilot FriXion pens, markers, highlighters- These went over really well, and this is one of the gifts I purchased for the husbands of friends. I purchased them at Tokyu Hands, which are department stores located all throughout Japan. What I love about these pens are the erasers- Yes, erasers! The "eraser" is at the top of the pen and it erases unbelievably well. My friends were in awe, and loved the pens! They also write very well, come in different "tips" (0.3- extra fine, 0.5- very fine, 0.7 fine), and come in a variety of colors
  • (The stationery in Japan is unbelievable- items you just can't find here in the States. There is a large stationery store in Ginza called Itoya, and it has 2 floors of just stationery and stationery supplies- I wish I could have taken more pictures at Itoya, but I only took a few... If you're looking for something fun and unique, definitely check this stationery store out. You can also check out Tokyu Hands department store, and other smaller stationery stores will have good selections as well)
Japanese beauty items
  • OXY Charcoal face wash- This was another gift I purchased for the husbands of friends. So far, the reviews have been positive. Both my uncle and 17yo cousin use it, so I figured it'd be a safe bet for male friends
  • Salon PAS- These are pain-relieving patches that you adhere to your skin. Since I had a sprained ankle, I would take a shower at night and then apply the patch prior to bed. It has an eucalyptus scent to it, but man, does it ever feel good and helped with the aching. You can find these at any pharmacy in Japan
  • VS Vidal Sassoon Premium Care Shampoo- My favorite shampoo in Japan
Japanese housewares
  • Bento box- Most Japanese pack their lunch for school or work, and they all have bento boxes. Some even come in sets where you can purchase corresponding bento box, chopstick/chopstick holder, and a small bag to carry it all in. Very Japanese! They range from cute animated designs for children to more sophisticated designs and colors for adults
  • Oil guard splatter screen- We love this and use this regularly at our home. I love how it can wrap around your saute pan and won't get grease everywhere. You can buy various sizes and heights- perfect for any kitchen and all cooks
  • Chopsticks
Japanese clothes
  • Tutu-Anna socks- The Japanese sure knows their socks, and there are so many cute pairs here. They have stand-alone shops, and they're also located in malls
  • UNIQLO clothes- I thought this store was only in Japan, but apparently there is a store in NYC as well. This is similar to USA's Gap clothing store. In Japan, they are considered reasonable prices for quality clothes
  • Cell phone charms- Darin didn't feel truly Japanese until he purchased a cell phone charm. You will see that every.single.Japanese have charms dangling from their cell phones. Darin only has 1 on his phone, but this is abnormal- most people have at least 4-5 charms
  • Miyazaki gifts- We went to Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli Museum, and it was fantastic. Even Darin, who had no notion of his films or animation, truly enjoyed it. One of Miyazaki's most famous characters is a mythical creature called Totoro. You can purchase hand towels, charms, plush dolls- just about anything with the Totoro character. Miyazaki is very famous in Japan, and his characters can be found at many large department stores and toy stores
Sumo-inspired items
  • Sumo statue- Perfect for your boss or co-workers (read: desk toy) or just a fun and cute decoration for your home. Darin and I saw this at the Nakamise Shopping Street at Sensoji Temple, and I am still kicking myself for not buying it. I love the sumo wrestler with one of his legs up in the air. I bet I won't be able to find it the next time I go (which won't be for a long time), but if you're looking for one, it is there. I remember it being in a glass enclosure on one of the corner shops at Nakamise Shopping Street. This specific store also sold these cute Japanese dolls, as well as small samurai dolls as well.    If anyone is able to get ahold of it, I will pay you back!
  • Sumo Tenugui- We loved the sumo print on this tenugui (handkerchief)
  • Sumo "cap"- We thought this cap was hilarious, and any boy (or even adult) will think it is funny. We saw this particular one at Toy Park in Ginza

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Next time... Japan

I am sad to say that this will be my final post on our Japan trip. It was an amazing trip, and we created a lot of wonderful memories while we were there. It will be difficult to top this trip, but we know we need to return because our "next time..." list is quite big. I will be continuing to update this list as I think of things to do, places to eat, and what to buy...

  • Hanami- Cherry blossom sightseeing (March/April)
  • Yomiuri Giants (Tokyo baseball team)- Tickets can be bought here (Season: May-August)
  • Matsuri- Festivals (July-August)
  • Hanabi- Personal fireworks
  • "Pukikura"
  • Obon festival (August) Completed Aug 2016
  • Eat at kaitenzushi Completed Aug 2016
  • Tokyo
    • Shibuya- Shibuya 109, Hachiko statue, Shibuya Crossing watch from Starbucks
    • Ikebukuro- Toyota Amlux Showroom, Animate, Sunshine City, Tokyu Hands (pet shop, Nekobukuro cat cafe), Namjatown
    • Asakusa- Sensoji Temple- Big rides, food stalls- fresh senbei, soft serve, kakigori
    • Tokyo Imperial Palace and Gardens
    • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
    • Roppongi, Odaiba
    • Tsukiji Fish Market- Fish auction, Sushi Dai restaurant
    • Ueno- Yamashiroya toy store
    • Loft shopping
    • Private tea ceremony
    • Coconuts Toy Shop (Nakano)- vintage toy shop
    • Tokyo Sky Tree (Sumida, Tokyo)
    • Ginza- Alice in Wonderland restaurant (need reservations), Hakuhinkan Toy Park
  • Takayama- Hida beef sushi @ Kitchen Hida
  • Kamakura- Daibutsu, Hase temple, Beach
  • Hakone- Get Hakone Free Pass, go to an onsen, Owakudani's black eggs
  • Miyajima- Mount Misen, Anago Meshi restaurant
  • Nara- Himeji Castle, deer, Tonkatsu Ganko
  • Osaka
  • Beppu- Hot sand soak
  • Hokkaido
  • Kyoto- Arashiyama bamboo groves, Togetsukyo Bridge, Rent kimono for a day, Grill Miyata's kobe beef dinner (200g)
  • Fukuoka- Round 1, Sweets Paradise (3-4 hours by train from Tokyo)- amusement complex, purikura
  • Onsen
  • Ryokan
  • Festival/omatsuri
  • LOVE Hotel
  • Fujikyu Highland amusement park (near Yamanashi)
  • Kawachi Fujien Wisteria Garden
  • Menchi katsu- Breaded and deep-fried Japanese ground meat cutlet
  • Grill Miyata (Kyoto)
  • Tenya- Tempura fast food chain
  • Katsuya- Katsudon
  • Ekiben
  • Crab Cream Croquette
  • Tonjiru (pork miso)
  • Ramen
    • IVAN Ramen- A former NYer opened a popular ramen restaurant in Japan
    • Ichiran Ramen
    • Ichiroku Ramen
    • Tsukemen- Tsubaki (椿) in Ikebukuro
  • Yakitori from Ebisu (near Kichijoji)
  • Taiyaki from Roppongi area
  • Omoide Yokocho- Try yakitori
  • Kaitenzushi- Conveyor belt sushi
  • Sushi Dai- Fresh sashimi at Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Japanese fruits (summer)- momo, sakuranbo
  • Gyuan steak restaurant (Ginza)
  • Satou Steakhouse restaurant (Kichijoji)
  • Izakaya (Roppongi area)
  • Kakigori (snow cones)
  • Lotteria chicken sandwich with black pepper mayo
  • Tea- Sakura, Matcha Milk
  • Rokurinsha (tsukemen)
  • White "Adult Sweetness" Kit Kat
Need to buy
  • Japanese train jingles (Hakuhinkan Toy Park- Ginza, Yamashiroya- Ueno, Tokyu Hands)
  • Furin
  • Shuugi Bukuro
  • Studio Ghibli Museum posters
  • Plastic Sumo Caps (Ginza's Toy Park)
  • Daiso- Japanese ceramics
  • Ginza Itoya stationery store- lots of cute stationery here
  • Totoro posters (large)
  • Tokyo Giants t-shirt, baseball cap
  • MI Paste tooth enamel paste
  • Una KOOL  mosquito bite medicine
  • Pilot pens with erasable tops
  • Daruma
  • Japanese fan
  • Japanese cooking splashguard (metal/foil)
  • Kotatsu- This is a low coffee-table like table covered by a futon or heavy blanket. Underneath the table is an electric unit, and the blanket "traps" the heat inside. I've only seen this in Japan, and I really want one!
  • Yukatas
  • Snacks/Food
  • Gift ideas for friends back in the US
    • Umeshu (drink)
    • Erasable pens (Pilot FriXion- darker colors show better)
    • Japanese Stationery
    • Japanese travel coffee mug
    • My favorite osenbei
    • Exfoliating bath towel
    • Tenugui/handkerchiefs
    • Kokeshi doll
    • Maneki neko
    • Japanese pottery (mug, plates, etc)
    • Starbucks Narita Airport tumbler
    • Tokyo Banana
    • Souvenir ideas #1 and #2 and #3
  • Bring the maximum amount of luggage, even if you don't fill it up completely- When we traveled to Japan, we checked 3 total items (2 suitcases + traveling backpack) and brought 2 carry-ons. However, we could have taken up to 4 checked bags and 4 carry-ons total between the 2 of us. Since half of the checked bags were gifts for family, we thought we'd have so much empty room to bring back gifts so we didn't even bother checking in 1 more suitcase- BIG mistake. We really struggled to bring everything back and had to do some creative packing just so we could avoid extra luggage fees. Lesson learned- bring total amount of checked luggage. Even if it's not full, you'll avoid potential extra luggage fees or overweight limit fees
  • Sleep aid- I struggled for the first week due to the time change. Eventually, I went to the Japanese pharmacy to get some OTC sleep aid medicine. I will talk to my doctor and see if Ambien would be a good solution for me (for my next international trip)
  • Bring dri-fit or easy wicking clothing- Japanese don't have dryers and hang dry everything. Since we'll do laundry at my relatives' homes, it is imperative to have clothes that can dry easily (b/c it doesn't dry quickly when there is so much humidity)
  • Bring extra snacks/bars for when you're hungry (at night, on the go, etc)
  • Bring your passport shopping- then your purchases can become tax free
  • Get a global plan or rent Wifi device- Useful to communicate to Japanese family (via LINE)

Thanks for reading, and until then... Sayonara!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Some of my favorite things I brought back with me from Japan...

When I left for Japan, I wrote down a few things I wanted to bring back with me. However, when I got there and started shopping, I realized how many more things I wanted to bring back to the States.

Well, want to see what I ended up bringing back with me?

Japanese rice bowls and pottery
My first and most important thing I wanted to bring back was Japanese ochawan (Japanese rice bowls) and Japanese pottery. There are many beautiful designs, and while my local Asian grocery store carries them, they're: a) $$, and b) not a good selection of sizes nor designs. I was worried about carting them back to the US, but I wrapped them well in Japanese newspaper and made sure they were carried on (and not checked). I even purchased more than I needed in the event some would break during travel, but all of them held up great. Here are some pictures of what I purchased:
Japanese/Asian Tea was my 2nd most sought-after item- I can't find any good Japanese tea at our local Asian grocery store

Green tea

Barley tea

More Japanese tea leaves and tea bags

Japanese candy- So good (and not super sweet)

Japanese air-dry hangers
I tend to air-dry a lot of our delicate clothes (polos, nice work pants, etc), so we have several collapsible wooden racks in our laundry room to dry them. In Japan, everyone air dries their clothes so there are a lot of options when it comes to accessories to do so. I really liked this one since it takes minimum space- great for smaller clothing such as socks, etc

They even come in fun shapes

Erasable pens and markers (Pilot FriXion pens)
Naomi introduced me to this, but these pens are magnificent, and their erasing capabilities are fantastic. It looks like you never wrote on the piece of paper at all, the erasers work so well. I have never seen these pens here, but when I looked them up online, of course Amazon carries them. When I looked at this link, the pen designs look a bit different, but they are called the "FriXion" pens by Pilot. We purchased ours at Tokyu Hands, and they had various pen sizes (0.3, 0.5, 0.7) and colors- and even erasable markers and highlighters.

Japanese puzzle art
When I was a child, my aunt and I would buy puzzles and work on completing them together. Once they were complete, she would adhere a glue on top of the puzzle and then frame it to hang on my walls in my room. This is very popular in Japan, and puzzles come with the glue inside. Darin, knowing this, picked out a Japanese anime puzzle we could work on together (and naturally, the glue was already included inside) and once completed, we'll frame it.

Japanese ornament- I wanted one small ornament to commemorate our Japan trip, so I saw this cute Hello Kitty wearing a kimono and had to buy it

Oshibori- Before any meal at a restaurant, you will be given an oshibori (wet towel) to wipe your hands clean before eating. My mom, even in the States, would still give us oshibori before we ate out. It's even better if the towel is nice and warm (just run the towel under warm water, fold, and insert into the tube). This is also a good item to take with you on long car rides, amusement parks, etc. (Sorry Wet Ones wipes, you just don't cut it.)

Japanese notebooks- My uncle gifted these notebooks to Darin, wishing him luck on his studies to learn Japanese

A "spouted" ladle- My mom has one of these at home, and when I eventually moved into my first apartment in college, I couldn't find this kind of ladle anywhere. Since I love making soups, I really like how this ladle has a "spout", making it easier to pour liquids into a bowl or thermos without spilling. When I saw this in Japan, I bought 2

Japanese Cooking Chopsticks- These are similar to normal chopsticks but are longer in length. These are meant for cooking- the long height of the chopsticks prevents oil/food "spurts" from hitting your skin or fingers

Bento-sized tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mayo- Perfect for lunch boxes!

Jiji lamp hanger- Since Darin knows how much I love Miyazaki films (including Jiji from "Kiki's Delivery Service"), he saw this and surprised me with it. It's Jiji and you attach it to a lamp or ceiling fan trigger

Japanese mugs- More Japanese pottery!

Onigiri holder- I love onigiri (rice balls), and now I can pack them in my lunch without having to worry that they will get smushed

Osenbei (rice crackers)- Most typical flavor is soy sauce, but I loved the flavored ones we tried. From L-R: Curry, Wasabi, and Black Pepper

Cute Japanese socks- Too cute to pass up! (These are from "Tutu-Anna")

Yes, we filled an entire IKEA bag full of Japanese snacks- most were gifts for friends and family, but we kept some of it for ourselves too

Tenugui- Japanese hand towel Darin got gifted. He loved the sumo pattern

Cat handtowels/washcloths- These are just simple handtowels with a little black cat peeking out from the top. I saw my sister and my aunt had this, and I was on a mission to find it! With the constant running around we did, I just never managed to find these towels, but my aunt gifted them to me the last day we were with her

I love how the cat just peeks out

Friday, June 24, 2011

Japan- What I'm glad I packed (and what I wish I had packed)...

Now that we're back and reflecting on our 3 weeks in Japan,  I thought it would be helpful to write a post about what items I'm glad I packed, and what I could have lived without.

What I’m glad I brought:
  • Weekender Convertible backpack- A lot of the subways have escalators, but with Japan's power-saving mode, I noticed quite a few of them were turned off while we were in Japan. Thus, with all the transfers, going up/down subway stairs, walking from train station to the hotels, this saved me Darin from holding the luggage and gave us spare hands to carry more bags. However, we definitely learned to pack lighter items in the backpack. While this backpack could fit a ton, carrying 20-25# of weight on your back for long-distances wasn't fun nor easy.
  • Wheeled SPINNER carry-on suitcase- We took our Samsonite 4-wheeled "Spinner" suitcase and another 2-wheeled suitcase, and the 4-wheeled suitcase was so easy to wheel around and took hardly any effort to move. Going forward, I will definitely invest in 4-wheeled "spinner" suitcases. We carried our "heavier" items in our wheeled carry-on suitcases, and it wasn't a pain at all (until we hit a flight of steps with no escalators), but that was far and few in between. 
  • Packing Cubes- These were great- Kept my clothes neat and organized (I put pants/shorts/shirts in large cube, undergarments/socks in small cube) and almost wrinkle-free. Especially by week’s end with all the traveling and packing/unpacking at different hotels, usually my bag is a mess as I’m just throwing things in there just to pack and get out the door. The cubes kept everything neat and organized, and I was able to find clothes easily. 
  • Laptop battery that can take a full charge- I could blog and watch movies on long shinkansen train rides (since most don’t have power outlets)- huge lifesaver for me! Most of our trips were 2-3 hours away so it was just enough time for a fully charged battery on my laptop.
  • Sneakers- Not the most fashionable, but we were able to walk for 12-14+ hours a day. Our feet were tired, but no blisters!
  • Adapter- All of our electronics were 2-pronged, but we brought a 3-prong adapter just in case. Remember- Japan only has 2-prong electronics outlets!
  • Lactaid- So many dairy products I love
On the plane
  • Scarf- Light enough to carry but just warm enough to take the sting of a slightly chilly plane cabin. And cute accessory to boot!
  • Layers, layers, and layers- I wore a thin lightweight long-sleeved tee with a zippered cardigan. Perfect for layering
  • Yoga pants (= elastic waistband) = comfy for long plane rides
  • Hand lotion, chapstick- Airplanes cane be drying, so having some hand lotion and chapstick really helped
  • Tissue paper- I got some Puffs To Go, and glad I had it on hand
  • Neck pillow- Best.investment.for.the.plane.ever. My neck didn't get a "kink" at all
  • Headphones, Y-splitter- This way, Darin and I could both watch a movie together
  • Small pad of paper + Pen- I could jot down notes and feelings in the moment
  • Travel first aid kit- I purchased this in the travel section at Target for $1.00, and am glad I bought it just in case. This is handy since trying to translate medical terms at a Japanese pharmacy may be difficult
  • Socks
  • iPad/Books/Magazines
  • iPhone and iPad chargers (many seats now have USB ports)
  • Blanket!
  • Gum and/or mints
  • Olay or Neutrogena face-cleansing wipes
  • Pen/paper
  • Eyemask
  • Meds (Advil, Immodium AD, Tums)
  • Appropriate clothes- Clothes you can wear in your hometown may not be appropriate for Japan. You don't see halter tops, strapless/tube tops, spaghetti strapped tops/tanks, low-cut v-necks, anything that exposes your skin. All my tops were modest, including my sundresses. You also don't see a lot of bright colors 
  • Extra clothes- We did our laundry at my sister's home in Nakano and she didn't have a dryer (most Japanese homes do not). Thus, we made sure to bring extra clothes since drying times can vary dependent on the temperature- so we brought 10 days' worth of clothes and washed around Day 8/9 so we could enough clothes to last us including drying time. Sometimes, we changed mid-day since we were tired, sweaty, and dirty. Thus, we'd leave in the morning and return around 4/5pm, change, shower, and put on clean clothes to head out for dinner and the rest of the evening... thus, we noticed we were running out of clothes much quicker since we only packed 1 outfit/day. Definitely will remember to pack more pants/shorts and tops next time we go there. Japan does have laundromats which include dryers so that is also an option if you don't want to pack a lot of clothes
  • Lightweight jacket- The evenings were cool and breezy, perfect for occasional rain/drizzle
  • Cross-body bag- Large enough to hold essentials, small enough for trains and not be too heavy; Loved being hands-free
  • Extra camera battery (charged at all times)- Very handy as I could easily switch it mid-day without worrying I couldn't take any more pictures
  • Japanese Yen- We used credit cards anywhere they took it, but mainly used JPY as Japan is still very much cash-based
  • Handkerchief/small towel- Many bathrooms don’t have paper towels or a dryer, so this is a must!
  • Cosmetic case: Eyeglass cleaner towelette, Shout Wipe, Chapstick, Hand lotion, Tums/Meds
  • Olay Face Wipes- So refreshing when feeling sweaty
  • Umbrella- Definitely a must in Japan
  • Watch- Normally I don’t wear one on a consistent basis, but this was really handy to have considering all the bus and train schedules 
  • 2 cameras- Point & Shoot and SLR- SLR was great for taking pictures, and the point and shoot was great for restaurants and shops (as it’s way less obtrusive). We also both wanted the freedom to take pictures as we saw them so we each had a camera on hand at all times
  • Allergy medicine- I only brought enough for 1 Allegra/day, but with my allergies acting up so much while I was in Japan, I should have brought enough to take 2x/day (morning and night)
  • Sharpies, Highlighter- Great to map our route for the day and mark up the maps
  • Comfortable shoes- For us, they were mostly tennis shoes. Yes, we looked like a tourists, but we didn't get any blisters despite the 12+ hours walking per day. Nowadays, some tennis shoes look less like sneakers and more like trendy shoes, so I also purchased a pair to match some of my nicer tops and bottoms with and still have comfy shoes. If flip flops and/or flats work for you- go for it! I am a high-heel fan and didn't pack any (but then again, we weren't planning to go to any uber-fancy restaurants)- if space is tight, pack a pair of nice flats (that may double as a walking shoe if you'd like)
What I wish I had brought:
  • HDMI cable- We brought a laptop filled with movies and TV shows, and if we had this cable, we could have connected it from laptop to the hotel TVs to watch it on the larger TV screen
  • A 2nd laptop- Since I blogged for 1-2 hours when we had some downtime, I know Darin was itching to use the laptop to check his email, etc... 
  • Long LAN cable- Many hotels offered free wired internet, but the cord was so short that I felt restricted to sit at the desk (when all I really wanted to do was relax in my bed and surf the web, write emails, blog, etc.)
  • Ambien/Advil PM- I had such difficulty adjusting to the time zone change that I eventually had to go to a Japanese pharmacy for a sleep aid (another option is melatonin)
Keep in mind- Whatever you forget to bring with you can easily be purchased in Japan.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review of Japan Travel Guidebooks...

Before we left for our trip, I did a whole blog post on the best travel websites and guidebooks that helped me in researching for our trip.

I went back and did an update on the guidebooks purchased, as well as any other updates that I found necessary to do.

Feel free to go back here to see if the guidebooks (and other travel info) was a success or a bust....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interesting things I've learned in Japan so far, Part 2...

I know I already did an "Interesting things..." post already, but I've picked up a few more facts that I thought was interesting.

Smoking in restaurants
When we went there, restaurants had smoking and non-smoking sections. Even though we only sat in non-smoking sections, we could, at times, smell the smoke lingering. This was really off-putting for me- guess we got spoiled here in the States where all restaurants are no smoking. If the smell of smoke was too strong, we left and looked for other places to eat.

Metric system and military time
In the States, we're used to miles, ounce, Fahrenheit... in Japan, they use the metric system. So now the mile is replaced with a km, the ounce is replaced with gram, and the temperature is read in Celsius.
Also, start getting used to reading military time, especially in train stations!

Japanese store doors
The majority of Japanese doors are sliding glass doors. Space is limited in Japan, and doesn't this make so much more sense? Why waste space pushing/pulling doors when you can slide it from side to side? Most storefront doors in Japan are automatic, but you need to push the button for it to automatically open. Thus, if people walk by the front of the store, the doors won't automatically open and waste energy... this is especially handy since, in my opinion, most restaurants have the plastic food display menu outside and people are standing in front of the store wondering if they should eat here- and the doors won't open as they stand in front of the store to review the menu.

Japanese grocery carts- I love how there are hooks on this shopping cart- perfect for placing your purse!

"Doggy bags"
I feel like we're constantly eating here, even when we're not hungry because we don't want to miss a food opportunity. Well, this leads to some meals where we can't finish our entire meal. I hate wasting food and leaving it behind, and while this isn't an issue in the US since we have "doggy bags", I've seen no leftover/take-home boxes for meals here. I inquired about this on my tripadvisor forum, and indeed- Japanese do not take home leftovers. Apparently, they are worried about food contamination issues. Not sure why they can't just place it in the fridge when they get home, but nonetheless- the point is to only eat what you think you can eat or else it's a goner.
Do you see this portion? I forced myself to eat about 3/4 of it and called it quits

What you see is what you get
Like I mentioned before, many Japanese restaurants display their menus with (very realistic looking) plastic food and its respective pricing. Darin and I both commented that what you see outside is what you get inside. In addition to this, the price that is displayed on the menu outside is the exact price you pay- taxes are already included (and remember, there's no tipping in Japan). I like knowing exactly how much I'm going to pay (without having to calculate taxes and tipping.)

No tipping!
There is absolutely no tipping in Japan- not in restaurants, not for services (haircuts, etc), none. Darin and I both commented that albeit the no tipping rule, Japanese service, quality, and hospitality don't suffer. At all. (And as I mentioned earlier, the hospitality, presentation of food, and service are top notch.) We both assume they take tremendous pride in their work and their work ethic.

Walking alerts
In my last "Interesting Things..." blog post, I talked about the yellow bumps on the ground that assisted the blind to be able to walk independently. Japan has also installed a "speaker" system that makes a loud repetitious noise that alerts the blind when the signals turns to "walk". We didn't notice it at all traffic locations, but it's definitely a distinctive sound and is the same throughout Japan. Here (though it is difficult to see), there is an orange speaker above/to the left of the "stop"/"walk" sign.

Japanese convenient store food
.. is really quite good!! The prepared food is made daily, and it is so fresh and good. This has saved us when we've had an early morning commute to our next city since many of the restaurants and shops didn't open until 10am. You can buy all sorts of prepared foods here and we haven't been disappointed. Believe me, it is nothing like the food you'd see at a UDF or a convenient store. While they are good in a pinch, it is definitely not something we could sustain on or eat for consecutive days at a time.

Did the bus just turn off?
When we rode the Kyoto City Bus for 2 days, we noticed that the bus seemed to "turn off" at every bus stop station (to drop off or pick up people) or at a stop light. Then it sounded like the driver would turn on the bus when he proceeded. This is actually true- the bus is turned off to prevent engine idling, and for environmental concern (since leaving the engine on is bad for the environment). Interesting....

Train and Bus "Priority Seating"
Every train and bus has a "priority seating" section for those who have special needs- pregnant, disabled/injured, elderly, or those with a young baby. Also known as "silver seats", this special seating area is located near the train/bus door for those needing to get in/out easily and safely. These seats are easy to locate since the fabric color is different from the rest of the seats on the train/bus. I was really impressed to find that- despite a VERY crammed bus- there were a few "priority seating" left and no one would take it (since I assume no one "qualified" for it).

Same brands, different cars
I've seen a lot of Japanese cars here- many Toyotas, Hondas, and Lexus. However, although we have the same brand of cars back home, there were so many models we don't have back in the states. For instance, the Nissan Juke (which I find out now that it's coming to the US)

Elevators: Open and Close buttons in kanji
Some elevators have "open" and "close" diagrams. However, some elevators have them only written in kanji. This was an issue one time when Darin went into a crowded elevator and the doors started shutting on me, and Darin couldn't tell which button was to "open". So you can avoid this situation, the button/kanji on the left is "OPEN", and the kanji on the right is "close". An easier way to remember is to look at the kanji- the kanji on the left looks like a Japanese "torii", which marks an entrance/opening to a shrine... thus "open"ing.

Love the sensored escalators- We saw that some of the escalators weren't moving, and assumed it was due to Japan's power-saving mode. In reality, some of them was due to this, but others only moved if it sensed movement. Thus, you need to walk past the (2) silver posts, and the escalators will sense your movement and start moving immediately

Japanese taxis are ¥¥¥
A taxi ride from Shinjuku to Nakanoshimbashi (10-minute taxi ride) cost us ¥1,500 ($19). I think any base ride starts at ¥700 ($9). Despite the high ticket price, the taxi drivers we've had have all been very nice and polite. (Again, no tipping in Japan.)

Don't hand them your money...
... Use the money tray. One of things that struck me about Japan was the use of a little rectangular tray for your money when you pay for something. For having a reputation of being so technologically advanced, nearly all shopping transactions still use cash. After the cashier tells you the total amount purchased, you place your Japanese Yen in the money tray- you don't hand them your cash directly

Japanese text messages- Now, this could be just my family, but all of them use all sorts of pictures and graphics in their text messages. My cell phone has lots of emoticon graphics, but not to the extent of what I've seen on my Japanese cell phone. One of my text messages I received from my family had 8 icons in it!

Japanese cell phone charms- In my last blog post, I made a mention of Japanese cell phone charms. Here is another example of these charms... and believe me, some of the charms are NOT small. Here, this woman has (2) Duffy plush charms in addition to several smaller charms. I don't know how they don't get in the way?

... And more charms

All hung by the hook located on Japanese cell phones

Video cameras in elevators?!
While Darin and I were waiting for an elevator, we looked up and noticed a TV screen... and it shows a real-live camera of the elevator in real-time. Word of caution: Only PG-rated behaviors in these elevators!

Japanese cash registers- I didn't see this in all stores, but a lot of the bigger chain stores and department stores had these. When you give the cashier cash to pay for your purchases, the cashier doesn't open the register and give you change... the register spits out the exact change. Thus, if your purchase cost ¥2,800 and you give her ¥5,000, she "feeds" the ¥5,000 bill into the register (like how you would feed a vending machine a dollar bill to buy a Coke), and the machine will automatically spit out ¥2,000 in bills and ¥200 in change (and the register never once opens)

No free Wifi hotspots?
For being known to be so technologically advanced, I was surprised to learn there aren't any free Wifi hotspots- not in restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, or stores. Even most hotels rooms we were in had wired internet in the room- not wireless.

Tons of vending machines but no trashcans?
You could be walking on an isolated road surrounded by rice patties and fields, and I can guarantee you will find a vending machine- they are everywhere! Although there are many vending machines, I wondered why trash receptacles were few and far in between. From what I've been told, some years back, there was a terrorist attack where someone placed poisonous gas in one of the trashcans at a train station, which ended up injuring many people. Since then, the government has been pulling trash receptacles everywhere to avoid this situation from occurring again. Granted, it's not like Japan is void of trash cans, but we normally had to carry our trash until we got to a train station, and then we had to go on the hunt for one.

"Eat all your rice kernels!"
The kanji for rice is 米. When you "pull apart" the kanji, it shows 二 (two), 十 (ten), and 八 (eight)= 28. The saying goes that it is a 28-part process to make 1 grain of rice, and it is considered "bad" to 
leave any rice in your bowl. Thus, Darin and I ate every last kernel of rice.

Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation"
Darin and I watched this movie before we stayed at the Park Hyatt, and we laughed out loud when we saw Bill Murray in the elevator- when he looked around, all he saw were the top of heads. Darin said he felt the same way in elevators, at stores, etc- he was always a head taller than everyone else.

As a result of the recent tragic events, I saw many posters, signs, and name pins that had words of encouragement for Japan. The kanji above reads "Hang in there, Japan! With one heart, hang in there Japan!".

Commands that are "lost in translation"
There are some commands that we use in Japan that are not used in the States:
  1. "Kiritsu, Rei, Chauseki"- When a teacher enters the classroom, a student is assigned to yell "kiritsu" (all students stand), "rei" (students bow to the teacher), and "chakuseki" (students sit back down). Teachers and bosses are held in high respect in Japan, and this is a form of respect. When I was a child, we did this at the start of every class when the teacher walked in
  2. "Tadaima", "Okaerinasai"- Whenever you return home, you say "tadaima" (which indicates to the people in the home that you're home), and the person at home (either your mom, your brother, whoever is in the house) says "okaerinasai", meaning "welcome home"
  3. "Itadakimasu", "Gochisousamadeshita"- Before you begin eating a meal, you say "itadakimasu" ("let's eat") and when you finish the meal, you say "gochisousamadeshita" ("I've enjoyed the meal")