Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Food

As I outlined in my previous blog post, there are a lot of common misconceptions about Japan, particularly the diet of Japanese people. No, they don’t just eat fish. Japanese food has so much to offer, and that’s what I’ll be covering today, along with how you go about getting your hands on this deliciousness!

Food


A common sight in Japan

You don’t need to know much about Japanese culture to know that they love their vending machines. You’re never more than 30ft away from a vending machine. They’re on the main street, side alleys, inside shops, bus stops, train stations, almost anywhere you can fit one of these machines, the Japanese will put one there.

The majority dispense soft drinks and hot drinks (Blue buttons are cold drinks, while red buttons are warm drinks), however there are a number of machines which sell alcohol and cigarettes. Don’t worry, these machines require an ID card for them to dispense age restricted goods (Smoking and drinking age in Japan is 20) so children can’t just help themselves to some beer and a packet of fags.


Food ticket vending machine

Many fast food Japanese restaurant chains works slightly differently to the ones in the West. In most, you won’t be greeted by a waiter handing you menus, instead you’ll be greeted by one of these ticket vending machines. You place your yen into the slot, and then hit the button for the dish you’d like. Most machines have a small picture on there to make it a little easier, while others have a touch screen style set up. You then take your ticket to the chef and you take a seat.

You can normally gauge the dish sizes from their cost, with sides such as rice or miso soup not costing more than ¥100 or so, while the average meal will set you back roughly ¥500. My advice is to keep an eye out for this kanji (大) as it means “large” or “big” for when you’re really hungry, those meals will set you back around ¥700 or so.

Sliced pork and ox tail

I can’t stress the importance of this next point enough. You’re in Japan… Try something different!

Don’t be afraid to try a dish because of your current diet. Don’t let names of dishes put you off either. While I was in Japan I tried all kinds of delicious dishes such as ox tail (pictured above), beef tongue, squid, and octopus to name a few. Most dishes are usually served on top of (or alongside) rice or noodles as a pallet cleanser.

Many fast food places sell donburi (どんぶり) which literally translates as “bowl of rice” and it’s usually topped with meat of some description. My personal favourite was gyudon which is donburi topped with seasoned beef. It comes served in a bowl big enough for you to lift with one hand, so don’t be afraid to cup it with your left hand, lift it closer to your face and get stuck in!

A Sendai speciality; Beef tongue

An Osaka speciality; Takoyaki (battered octopus)


If some of these dishes seem a little outlandish for you, don’t panic. Japan has so many dishes, that it can cater to almost all diets. For those of you that have been to popular Japanese restaurants in the UK (or wherever you may be from) you will have most likely seen katsu curry. This comes from the word katsuretsu (カツレツ) which means cutlet, and is often used to refer to breaded meat.

Katsu curry is the “safe” option when eating Japanese food, as you may or not know it was actually imported from the UK during the 19th Century. The curry is fairly mild in my opinion, and goes well with any of the meat it’s served with, usually with a side of rice.

A selection of curry dishes

I foolishly thought I could finish a large dish…
There you have it, not once did I mention sushi or fish while writing about Japanese food. You most likely know all there is to know about sushi from various TV shows and YouTube videos anyway! In an upcoming blog which will be a continuation of this series, I’ll give you the locations of some of the best venues I visited in Japan for accommodation, food, drink, and entertainment.

If you’d like to know more about any of the foods I’ve mentioned, please feel free to drop me a message on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or even just in the comments below!
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Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Transport

There seem to be a number of things which put people off from visiting Japan, many of which are misconceptions. I hear them all the time when talking to my friends; “I don’t like fish, and that’s all they eat, right?”, “All of their toilets have those crazy buttons on them, I don’t know about those”, or “I wouldn’t know how to get anywhere with that crazy train system”. Well fear not, I am here to help clarify a lot of these fallacies though a number of blog posts. Today’s topic…

Transport

My first and most important tip: Pack light! I took an average suitcase and a messenger bag, and still wish I’d packed lighter. With the amount of traveling you’ll be doing, you won’t want to be lugging around a huge suitcase or over sized backpack. Not only will it cause you hassle, but it will also cause hassle to the Japanese people that are trying to catch the train on their day to day commute by taking up a lot of room. The trains can get pretty crowded during rush hour, so the last thing they want is your chunky bag in their faces.

Packing light

Japan has the most efficient transportation system I’ve ever experienced. During my three week stay, I encountered one late bus (late by 10 minutes) and one late train (late by 30 minutes), in all other instances everything was on time.

One of the essential items to take with you, is the Japanese Rail Pass. This pass will allow you unlimited travel on all JR lines, including most Shinkansen. Though be aware the pass is not valid for “NOZOMI” and “MIZUHO” trains on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu Shinkansen lines, and it also excludes subways. This does not devalue the pass in anyway though, as during our stay we caught the subway approximately 4 times at a cost of roughly ¥250 per trip (Which is around £1.50).

You pay for the JR pass while in your home country, and they will send you a pass receipt. This receipt can be redeemed (when you arrive in Japan) at the JR desk at any of Japan’s major airports, where they will ask for your passport, and date of departure. Once they’ve signed and stamped your pass, you’re good to go! Let’s jump on a train right away! 行きましょう!

Ah…

Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it may look. If you’ve ever navigated your way through London via the Underground, this is no different. There are three major JR lines to keep an eye out for; Yamanote (green), Sobu (yellow), and Chuo (orange). The Yamanote JR line runs in a huge circle around the middle of Tokyo, hitting all the major areas such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ueno, and obviously Tokyo. While the Sobu and Chuo lines run right through the middle of that huge circle.

Cozy during rush hour
 

Obviously with these being the most popular lines in Tokyo, they can get pretty crowded. If you suffer from claustrophobia, or don’t do well in crowds of people, then perhaps try to avoid traveling during rush hour. Even though a train arrives once every two or three minutes, during rush hour the Sobu line can be at 200% over capacity. If you travel in the morning please be aware that the front carriage on most trains is for ladies only. 

Spacious during the evening

 

 
The Shinkansen is one of Japan’s most famous means of transport, often reaching speeds of 200MPH. With the JR pass you will be able to get around Japan in no time. While you don’t have to book tickets for the Shinkansen trains, I would advise it. There is plenty of room in each coach, however the “unreserved” coaches can get a little crowded, especially if you’re wanting to sit with your friend. 
 

Booking a seat is easy, simply hunt out the “Shinkansen Ticket” booth in any of the stations, join the queue and then simply ask the assistant: “Watashi wa (place) ni ikitai desu” which is “I’d like to go to (place)” Don’t panic if you’re worried about speaking Japanese, as most of the assistants speak a little bit of English anyway.

Shinkansen Platform

 

 
As you may have guessed, the Shinkansen trains are very, very long, often comprising of over 20 coaches. Take a look at this short video of Bob and myself getting onto the Shinkansen platform and then navigating our way to our coach and reserved seat. Just look how long it takes to walk to our coach…
 
Buses in Japan work slightly differently to those in the west for a number of reasons. Firstly, a lot of the bus stops have live updates of the location of the bus, so you can gauge how long you will be waiting. Secondly, you pay for your ride when you leave the bus, not as you enter it. 
 
Bus stop time table in Kyoto
Try to have the correct change readily available, as while there is a change machine at the front of the bus, you don’t want to hold up the people who are trying to get off. The average bus fare is around ¥230, which you simply drop into the driver’s coin machine.
 
The bus entrance doors are on the side, while the exit are the doors at the front, so don’t try to barge your way onto the bus via the front door. The seats are fairly narrow (If you’re slightly larger than average, you may have a hard time fitting into the seats) and are almost always reserved for priority customers (the disabled, elderly and expectant mothers) so essentially, if there’s nothing wrong with your legs, stand up.
 
Here is another short video to give you an idea of what to expect. Notice a few interesting things;
 
– The stops are announced in Japanese, and then in English
– The stops are displayed on the monitor in Japanese, and in English
– Customers enter the bus via the side doors, and leave via the front
– Customers pay their fare as they exit the bus
– The seats are single file and fairly narrow
 
If you have any questions on Japanese transport, or have any comments you’d like to add, please feel free and I’ll update this post accordingly.

Bradcat’s Japanese Game Focus… Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人)

In the United Kingdom the arcade scene is all but dead. There are a few arcades left with somewhat dated cabinets, or special event nights which have to be hunted out. In Japan however, the arcade scene is very much alive as amidst the bright lights of Tokyo and Osaka, you’re never more than 40ft away from the next cave of entertainment.

There is one game you’ll find in practically every single one of these venues, and that is Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人)

Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人) has been going since 2001


As you approach the cabinet, you are presented with two taiko drums and a holster with drum sticks in them (Red and Blue for Player 1 & 2 respectively) The menus are fairly easy to navigate, even for none Japanese speakers. Don (Red face drum mascot) and his twin brother Katsu (Blue face drum mascot) will shout the categories to you regardless.

Once you’ve selected a song to drum to, the aim is to strike the notes or Onpu (音符) in time with the music, striking the centre of the drum for red, or the rim for blue. There are special Onpu to watch out for in the form of yellow circles, they can be anything from a drum hitting frenzy in a designated time, or trying to make a balloon burst as quickly as possible.In this video you can get an idea of what the game is about. If you’ve ever played games such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band, then this will be a walk in the park for you. However, being somewhat arrhythmic when it comes to drums this was a challenge for me (After all, I’m a bass player!)


It’s a great way to make friends too. Here you see Okuno (@S25Bt) and her friend Kako (@llcakoll), two girls I met in Osaka by simply watching them both play. After they had finished their turn, I simply asked (in my broken Japanese)…

 “すみません! 一緒に遊んでください!” 
(“Sumimasen isshoni asonde kudasai!”) 

…which roughly translates as “Excuse me! We play together please?” We had a few rounds together, but as you can see in the video, she destroyed my efforts by racking up over double my points, and 150+ streaks of flawless hits. After our turn had finished, I referred to her as “先生” or Sensei, meaning teacher.

In Kyoto I was able to meet up with Matt and Nat from Sakura Panda Tea Time (@sakurapandatea) who you can see in the picture below! It seems Matt’s coordination matches that of my own… it’s terrible.


Then in Osaka I challenged my friend Hana (@HanaBott) (I featured one of her “VINES” in one of my previous blog posts) and actually won this time! 



太鼓の達人 ちびドラゴンと不思議なオーブ 
(Taiko no Tatsujin: Chibi Dragon to Fushigi na Orb) 
(Drum Master: The little dragon and the mysterious orb)

In an effort to improve my skills, I purchased a Japanese 3DS (the Nintendo 3DS is region locked, so a UK console won’t work) and a copy of Taiko no Tatsujin. The game comes with two chunky stylus drum sticks (one blue, and one red) so it feels similar to the arcade. The song selection isn’t as vast, but it does come with a story mode in which you have to defeat bosses using your rhythm skills. If anyone would like a go, feel free to ask, as you can’t get this game in the UK.

Have you played Taiko no Tatsujin before? If so, where and when? Let me know in the comments!

(Special thanks to Bob Jones for recording the videos of us playing)

Bradcat’s J-Music Focus… Outside Dandy

I’ve been attending local live shows since I was 15, so I’ve seen bands of all calibres over the years. Though I find it hard to recall seeing a band as talented as “Outside Dandy” on an independent level.


Outside Dandy

I found “Outside Dandy” on YouTube after watching videos of “Sugar’n’Spice” (See them by clicking here) when their live video was pushed in my face as “recommended to watch”, and I’m glad it was. I’m a big fan of rock music, and I’m a sucker for a killer riff. This is why their song “Stripper” grabbed my attention…

Outside Dandy – ストリッパー (Shibuya O-Crest 11/04/14)

Their sound is phenomenal. I was fortunate to see them live twice while in Japan, and on both occasions they stole the show with their balls to the wall rock. Not only are they a ridiculously tight unit, but they are all incredible musicians who clearly give their all to their craft.

The band consists of Tatsurow (Vocals & Guitar), Yuma (Bass), Sho (Guitar), Ryuta (Drums) and are some of the coolest guys I’ve met in Japan. I contacted the band via Twitter to let them know I would be attending their live show in Shibuya at the Chelsea Hotel at the end of March. After the show, we were able to hang out and talk about music (using my limited Japanese language proficiency) 

Myself & Outside Dandy @ Chelsea Hotel 30/03/14

Signed copy of their latest mini-album “BIRTH”

We then encountered one another at other live shows in Shibuya! So not only do they dedicate their time to their own work, but they’re supportive of other local musicians which is a fantastic quality to have…

Shibuya O-Crest 11/04/14 (Photo by せきねしずか)

Shibuya EGGMAN 01/04/14
They were excited to have gained fans from the UK, which is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place; to connect our two countries. So I hope you will check them out. Hopefully one day they will be able to visit the UK as some venues have started to put on “Japanese nights” for unsigned acts.

If you’d like to hear more from Outside Dandy, please check out the following links: