Bradcat’s Place Focus… Game Bar Continue

Update: As of 2019, this bar has sadly closed. However, there are still many other video game bars in Japan.

Everyone knows that video games are the life blood of Japan, after all it’s where they came to fruition in the early 70’s. So when people come to Japan, it’s totally natural to have an uncontrollable urge to visit an arcade. The bright lights of the local Namco/Sega arcade are enough to draw any one in. But what if you don’t want to pump ¥100 coins into the machines for a mere 3-4 minutes of fun? What if you want to kick back and relax whilst playing video games?

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You head on down to “Game Bar Continue” (ゲームバーコンティニュー) in the Chuo-ward of Osaka (approximately 5 minutes walk from Shinsaibashi station). Located on the 5th floor in a side street, this little paradise can easily be missed if you aren’t looking for it. As you exit the elevator you’re always greeted with a warm welcome, regardless if the bar is empty, or rammed shoulder to shoulder.

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There are a few other “game bars” scattered around Osaka, all offering different prices for drinks and charges for the games. At Game Bar Continue you pay a flat fee of ¥500 to play the games and then ¥500 for most drinks (some of the special drinks are ¥700) but you can stay for as long as you like! Game Bar Continue is open from 6pm-5am most nights (depending on how many customers are in the bar). As you can tell from the photos, it’s a very chilled place so you can easily lose track of time.

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You’ll find a vast range of video game consoles spanning over three decades, including (but not limited to); Super Famicom (AKA Super Nintendo) x3, PS2, Neo Geo, N64 x2, Playstation 3 x2, Wii-U x2, Xbox, Xbox 360, and many others. Not only do Game Bar Continue cater for the avid pixel junkie, but they have a colossal selection of board games too, many of which I’ve never seen before in my life. The entire bar is elegantly plastered in video game history too, from retro handhelds, to a (mint in box) Tamagotchi!

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Yes, that is a “bucket” of Super Famicom (SNES) games

The staff are Nisshi, Tomo, and Tenten (I’m yet to meet Yuzu and Deremai) who are always on hand to serve you another drink or snack. If there is a game you’re dying to play, all you need is ask, and they’ll leap into action to grab it for you. On my latest visit, I had an incredible urge to replay Metal Gear Solid 3 after recently smashing my way through Metal Gear Solid 5. Sure enough, they had it, and within minutes I was parachuting my Naked Snake into the jungle. *ahem*

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The bar is quite big and seems to be separated into three sections, the main bar, three tables (for board games) and a side room for those wanting a little more privacy and their own party area. I’ve found on each visit there are a mix of people; those who want to block everyone out and just play video games, and those who want to be a little more social. That’s why this place is so fantastic, you can do whatever you like and not have to worry about anyone else.

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On a previous visit I went with the intention of scoping out a new photography location. The owners have kindly said that I’m welcome to use the bar as a photography location shoot for my fashion photography. However, whilst taking some test photos, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked “Do you like board games?!” before I knew it, I was sat with Takashi, Shu, “M”, Koisei, and Chandai playing “Game of Life” (as it was one of the only games amidst a treasure trove of Japanese board games that I recognised).

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Feeling thirsty or a little peckish? Game Bar Continue offers a small snack menu and a vast array of alcoholic drinks and cocktails. You’re given a complimentary bowl of mixed nuts when you arrive, but you may want to peck at something whilst gaming into the early hours. Here are just some of the basics on offer:

Beer menu
[ビール]
キリン 生一番搾り(Kirin Ichiban) 650円
シャンディ・ガフ (Shandy Gaff) 650円
レッドアイ (Red Eye) 650円
カンパリビア (Kanparibia) 650円
(and loads more!)

Food menu
[フード]
MIXピザ (Mixed pizza) 800円
ソーセージ盛り合わせ (sausage platter) 700円
ラージャン麺 (Rajan noodles) 600~円
ピクミン麺 (Pikmin noodles) 600円
チャーハン (Fried rice) 600円
(and loads more too!)

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So if you’re ever in Osaka and fancy a little R&R&R (Rest and relaxation and retro) make sure you head down to Game Bar Continue. A little heads up for tourists, you might want to brush up on your Japanese as you won’t find any English speakers here! But you came to Japan for the immersion right?!

<PRESS START TO CONTINUE>

Address:
Game Bar Continue 中央区東心斎橋1-12-19-5F, Osaka, Japan 542-0083
Website: http://gamebar.jp/index.html
Facebook: Game Bar Continue Facebook Page
Twitter: Game Bar Continue Twitter

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Yuzu

The hunt for authentic Japanese food has been a long an arduous task, but someone’s got to do it, eh? So with each restaurant I visit, I weigh up a variety of key components including, taste (obviously), price, atmosphere, and authenticity. Of all the places I’ve been to, many restaurants will tick 70% of these boxes, until I found Yuzu in Manchester which blew my checklist off the table.

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You’ll find Yuzu in the middle of Chinatown in Manchester, with its traditional entrance and hiragana on the doorway「ゆず」 . I stumbled across the restaurant whilst visiting friends and using a quick search on Google, I found Yuzu at the top of the list with amazing reviews. Normally with restaurants with these levels of reviews you’d expect to pay through the nose, however Yuzu offers an amazing selection of Japanese food at affordable prices.

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The restaurant isn’t huge, but it offers seating in a bench style for people eating on their own or in pairs, and also a few larger tables (which I’m assuming can be moved around) to accommodate larger groups. I pushed my luck a little bit and tried to get a table by walking in on Valentines weekend. I think our timing was just right as they were able to fit three of us on a table in the corner, however looking around it seemed the smart thing to do was to make a reservation as all the other tables were taken.

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The waitress was very quick to seat us and take our drinks order and returned promptly. The usual Japanese beers were on offer, Asahi, Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo. However the Yuzu drinks menu is extensive and offers a wide selection of plum wines, spirits, and sake including the International Wine Challenge silver medal winner Ura Gasanryu Huka.

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As always, the common misconception with Japanese food is that it’s all seafood. Yuzu tries to break this stigma by serving up some fantastic traditional Japanese dishes. “But Sean, why don’t they serve Sushi if they’re a Japanese restaurant?!” I hear you cry. Well, Yuzu are so humble in their preparation methods, that they say sushi should be made only by sushi masters, which they are not. (I’m not being snide here, further down this article they say this themselves!) I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tasted some fantastic sushi during my time in Japan, only to come home and taste some utter garbage sushi which is dry and flavourless. Their menu more than makes up for not having sushi. They offer some amazing udon, sashimi don and tempura dishes, but I opted for the teisyoku tonkatsu 「とんかつ」set (pork cutlet) which comes with rice, miso soup and garnish.

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I don’t know if it’s because Yuzu source their ingredients from local suppliers, or they add some sort of magical seasoning to their food, but with one mouthful I was back in Osaka. The smell, the texture, everything was perfect. I tried to explain to my friends how incredible it was to find such delicious Japanese food, but they were too busy slurping their noodles.

I was able to have a quick interview with Yuzu restaurant, so that I could get a better understanding of their preparation methods and secrets behind their success. Here’s what they had to say…

– With Manchester having a lot of Japanese restaurants, what separates Yuzu from the rest?
“We make everything from scratch – gyoza, kara-age, yakitori, ebi-katsu e.t.c. I guess that very basic thing separates us from others.”

– Yuzu is listed as being “authentic Japanese” on many websites. What does an authentic Japanese restaurant mean to you?
“It kind of overlaps with the above question. What we offer is not ‘Pan-Asian’ where other Asian food are also sold as ‘Japanese’. What we offer is a traditional food that has been consumed by the people of Japan for many generations.”

– What would you say to consumers that believe the common misconception that Japanese food is all fish, and all sushi?
“The very reason we don’t do sushi is because in Japan, sushi is made by sushi meisters who trained as apprentices for ten years and finally become sushi maestros. And we don’t have those meisters. We are not going to pretend that we can make sushi because that would be an offence to the Japanese culture.”

– Your Twitter feed often has photographs posted of fresh ingredients. Do you think this gives you an edge over the local competition?
“Not really. It’s a word of mouth that brings new customers.”

– Also posted on your Twitter feed are a range of Japanese beers and sake. Are these available to customers? If so, how do you select the drinks to buy in?
“We select interesting looking, good quality sake from suppliers’ lists and sample them. If we like them, we put them on the menu. With beers, it’s quite limited in choices but we do stock Hitachino ale range now which are proving to be very popular.”

Thanks to all the staff at Yuzu for taking the time to answer my questions, and for serving up the most delicious Japanese meal I’ve had since returning from Japan.

ありがとうございました!

If you’d like to visit Yuzu, you can find their websites here:
Yuzu Official Website
Yuzu Facebook
Yuzu Twitter

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… How do I study Japanese?

The most frequent question I get asked when talking about Japanese culture is; Can you speak Japanese? To which I usually retort with “にほんごをすこしだけはなします”  (nihongo wo sukoshi dake hanashimasu) meaning “I only speak a little Japanese”. Having studied Japanese for almost two years, it’s clear to me that unfortunately there is no easy method to learning the language.

I used to watch Japanese movies, and listen to Japanese music and not understand anything that was said, but I wanted to know. So I wondered, how I would go about accomplishing this. Back in high school, I spoke French quite well, it was easy for me to pick up and understand in just a few months. Sadly, the Japanese language would not follow this path…

The first thing I did was the same thing anyone of the “Internet generation” does these days, and turned to Google-sensei. I scrolled through pages of websites to find topics including “How to learn Japanese quickly!” and “Speak Japanese fast!” Alas, these were all methods which gave the illusion of being “quick and easy” but soon unwound into incoherent useless “tips” such as: “Try watching anime without subtitles, some of it will stick!” Useless.

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I’d heard good things about Rosetta Stone software from people I knew that had studied languages such as French, Italian and German. Luckily there was a Japanese program available. For roughly a year I used Rosetta Stone as my primary learning tool, with podcasts and teaching CDs coming in a close second. The techniques used by Rosetta Stone are the same as when you studied a language back in high school. It shows a picture of the item, says the word in the language you’re learning, and asks for you to repeat. The voice recognition software is VERY forgiving, often it would totally ignore my gross misinterpretation of a word, giving me a nice big green tick. But this basic “drilling” technique is very effective, the phrases and words taught do actually stick with you. However, I’d say 50% of what does stick with you, is useless. For example; when will I ever need to say “This is a book!” or “This is a pen!”?

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This is when I realised I needed other options. I turned to the website “Japanesepod 101” which offers weekly podcasts, interactive online worksheets and forums of people ready to help (all for a cost of course). Depending on how intense you’d like to get into learning the language, they offer a number of packages, and regularly send out discount codes to new subscribers. There’s also an app to go with the website where you can organise your selected podcasts and organise your own learning planner. My only issue with this learning method, was that nothing would stick. My ability to recall anything taught in Japanesepod 101 was almost none existent. I understood what was being said, which is something to take away from this resource at least.

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After over a year of studying Japanese at this point, I felt I was ready to engage with actual Japanese people. There are a handful of websites available for this, my favourite being “My Language Exchange“. There are people out there who want to learn the language you’re speaking right now, but can’t afford a personal language tutor, or are just looking for someone to practice with. As with Japanesepod 101, there is a small fee to pay which allows the exchange of messages between members, but during that subscription period you can send unlimited messages. This is how I met about 70% of the Japanese friends I have now, and had people to meet up with when I finally visited Japan.

It was around this time that I realised perhaps it’s not the materials I’m using, but rather the way in which I was using them. I started to look at how to improve my memory, and also researched into learning techniques. My advice is for you to figure out what type of learner you are; Auditory, Visual, or Kinaesthetic. Then use the materials to their full effect. I’m a mixture of visual and kinaesthetic, so techniques such as spaced repetition work wonders for me. That is, practicing a topic, trying to recall it the following day, and then the following week, and so on. There are websites you can use to determine which type of leaner you are.

Coming back to the Japanese language, here are some short tips:

– Get stuck into written Japanese as soon as possible! Start with hiragana and katakana, don’t worry too much about kanji for now. Once you start to decipher your friend’s posts on Twitter, or signs you see in photos, you’ll get an awesome sense of accomplishment.

– Focus on Japanese that’s relevant to you. When I visited Japan, it was only then that I realised I’d wasted my time learning how to say things like “私は医者でわりません” (I am not a doctor) (Thanks Rosetta Stone) rather than learning numbers. Numbers are obviously everywhere, times, prices, addresses, and loads of other places, which makes them more important than describing someone’s profession.

– Study every day! The moment you fall behind by a day or two, is when you start to forget things you’ve learnt. Repetition is the key, and as exhausting as it might be initially, and you say to yourself “I’ve been studying this topic for days!” just keep at it. This way, you’ll be able to recall what you’ve learnt mainly because you’re sick of saying the same things repeatedly.

– If you have a smartphone, download and instal an international keyboard. iPhone users are lucky because under the “Keyboards” tab, there is a romaji and kana option. Use these whenever you can instead of resorting to Google Translate. Which brings me to my next tip…

– Don’t rely on Google Translate! It’s a great tool, but it’s a computer program. It doesn’t understand the complexities of language and grammar. There have been times I’ve dropped some Japanese text into it, and it comes back as total gibberish. It can be used as a dictionary (on occasion) but don’t rely on it.

– Listen to Japanese music, if you hear a word of phrase that you want to understand, look it up and the song will help you recall it. There are times when I can’t remember how to say something I want to say, then suddenly I remember a lyric from a song, and it comes back to me.

Hopefully this blog post has given you some idea where to start learning Japanese. If you have any of you own tips, or if you’ve found my suggestions helpful, please leave a message in the comments.

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Woktastic

” Feed me takoyaki!”, my stomach has grumbled, since returning from Japan in April. I’m only aware of one restaurant who offers authentic takoyaki in my local area, and that’s Woktastic. So here we go…

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You may recall the name of the restaurant due to a previous visit to Woktastic for my birthday back in January. On this visit I had my first taste of takoyaki as I was yet to explore Japan and try the “real deal”. Now that I’ve been, tried it, and returned, I can safely say how delicious it is in comparison.

There’s a lot to be said for something as simple as diced octopus wrapped in a light batter. But when you combine that with Japanese mayonnaise, you’re in for a taste sensation. Luckily, Woktastic offer both of these. You can either order a plate of 3 balls, or go for their buffet menu where you can take anything from the conveyor belt, where you will find takoyaki on there too. Speaking of the buffet conveyor belt, you’ll find heaps of other nibbles to tuck into, including a huge range of sushi.

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The sushi is much more affordable (not to mention a lot more delicious) than the sushi you’ll find at Yo! Sushi. There is also a much wider choice on offer too. Not too dissimilar from Yo! Sushi, Woktastic offers a “plate colour” system, where the plates are priced depending on the colour. It’s quite easy to find your hands wondering to the conveyor belt to help yourself, adding more items to your bill. That being said, the most expensive dish on the belt is under £5, and the buffet menu is a mere £14.99 on an evening (£11.99 if you go for lunch)

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All of the staff are wonderful. I’ve only visited Woktastic twice now, and both times they’ve been incredibly welcoming, as though we’ve been friends for years. They really try to look after you and try their best to cater to any request you have.

On this occasion, I decided to go for the chicken ramen (surprise, surprise) (ラーメンが大好きです)  while my friend Dan opted for a katsu curry bento box. Bento boxes offer a decent portion of a selection of dishes, packed into a box with different compartments. Typically there are pickles in the middle, a section for rice, a section for the meat, and the last two sections vary from each Japanese restaurant I’ve been to. Woktastic offer a salad, and a side of gyozas (depending on which bento you select).

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IMG_2194-3My equally delicious chicken ramen

On a recent visit to Wagamama, I ordered some pork ramen (which I ate a lot of in Japan.) But something unthinkable happened, I didn’t finish my bowl! I couldn’t explain it, but I think because I’d tasted authentic Japanese ramen I knew how it was meant to taste, and this just didn’t measure up. Sorry Wagamama! However the broth used in Woktastic is almost identical to what you’d find in Japan, even the presentation is incredibly similar.

All in all, a great visit to Woktastic. Delicious food, affordable prices (though it’s easy to get carried away!), friendly staff, and a great atmosphere. If you’re ever in Birmingham, please take your time to find this restaurant. You’ll find it just off Broad Street, near the library and Birmingham museum and art gallery. Full directions on their website.

Woktastic Official Website

Woktastic on Twitter

All prices were correct at the time of posting. Please check the Woktastic website for up to date prices!

Video

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Kyoto and Osaka Video

Music: BARBARS – おやすみなさいおつきさま

Following on from my previous video…

Between April 2nd – April 12th I was lucky enough to visit Kyoto and Osaka during the peak of Sakura. With Bob “Colddrago” Jones at my side, we had some great times in just some of the following places:

Gion
Kinkaku-ji
Ginkaku-ji
Arishiyama
Kamogawa River
Kyoto City
Osaka City
Kyobashi
Namba
Tennoji
Umeda
Yao

Artists / Musicians featured in the video:
Osaka Shunkashuto
Milkyhat
Halmi
BARBARS

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Places

I think it’s safe to say, that any topic I post about visiting Japan will be heavily biased, because I’d like you to see it all. However, with such a big place, and the average holiday only lasting two weeks, I’m here to share some of the best places I visited during my time in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. This way, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Japan, you know these places are the best of the bunch (That I visited at least)


Places

Khaosan Tokyo Ninja – Tokyo

Myself and Bob with the crazy staff of Tokyo Ninja

Khaosan Tokyo Ninja was by far, the best hostel we stayed in during our three weeks. They were incredibly helpful when our plans changed last minute when we needed to change a date of check out. While most hostels (and even some hotels) would find this a pain to arrange, these guys made sure we were looked after.

As you walk into the hostel you have to remove your shoes (as with all homes in Japan) and announce “TADAIMA!” (ただいま) (Not if it’s after 10pm though, as some people may be sleeping!) to which at least one member of staff will shout back “OKAERI!” (おかえり) The main desk is almost always manned except for early hours of the morning, so if you encounter any problems or need to request to borrow something (e.g. a towel, or washing powder) there is always someone there to help. There is also a suite of PCs that can be used at any time.


A spotless shared bathroom, four sinks and three showers
The entire hostel is exceptionally clean, as they offer an exchange of accommodation for cleaning. So they always have a team of five to six people on hand, to help tidy the place, which is great with the volume of travellers they have staying with them on a daily basis.

You can rent a number of items from reception, from the basics such as a towel, to the more advanced personal Wi-Fi hotspot, which is handy if you’re trying to navigate around Tokyo. The hostel is located just three minutes away from the JR Sobu line, so you’ll find yourself being able to access most of the big areas of Tokyo with ease.

The main team of Mi-ne, Erina, Hiroko, Rico, and Yutaka are genuinely interested in hearing about your exploits while in Japan. Each morning we were asked what we were doing that day, and on our return we’d bring them a small omiyage to which they were incredibly grateful. They showed us fantastic hospitality (Omotenashi) (おもてなし) for which we were insistent on returning the favour if any of them ever visit England (Which Yutaka will be in August, so let’s make him feel welcome!)
KHAOSAN TOKYO NINJA
2-5-1 Nihombashi Bakurocho,

Chuo-ku, Tokyo


Fuji Ramen – ラーメン藤 – Kyoto


Fuji Ramen is located in Kyoto on Gojo Dori. It’s a fairly small shop so it’s easily missed, however that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Depending on the time of day, it’ll be either very quiet, or at capacity. It’s fantastic value for money because the chef is very generous with the portions. Speaking of which, the owners were very friendly and welcoming to gaijin (we were complimented on our Japanese speaking a few times)



I foolishly had eyes bigger than my stomach and ordered a large pork ramen and chicken karaage, which I couldn’t finish. It was easily one of the biggest meals I ate while in Japan! If you’re in Kyoto, be sure to visit this place.

ラーメン藤 (Fuji Ramen)
15-1 Gojobashihigashi 2-chome
Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0846
Website: Fuji Ramen


Chitose – ちとせ – Osaka


The award for the tastiest meal I ate in Japan, goes to Chitose restaurant in Osaka. The chef here serves some world class Okonomiyaki, as many Japanese celebrities have visited here over the years and signed his wall leaving messages of praise.

For those who are unfamiliar with Okonomiyaki, try to imagine all your favourite meat, and noodles, sandwiched between two giant omelettes, and topped with delicious sauces and seasoning. Also, leave those chopsticks at home, true Okonomiyaki is eaten straight from the hotplate using a small spatular and shovelled straight into your mouth.



Adding the seasoning…


Myself with the number one Osaka Okonomiyaki chef (spatular in hand of course)


I’m unsure if it’s just my Western expectation of portion sizes, but the chefs in Japan seem to be very generous for what you pay. This incredible meal set me back ¥750 which is roughly £4, and I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was one of the best meals I ate. Bob will back me up on this one, as he isn’t a fan of food with eggs, but he adored this meal.

The chef was very welcoming and spoke English very well, which is a sign he is accustomed to gaijins visiting him on a regular basis. The restaurant also has it’s regulars who will happily sit next to you and drink a beer. We encountered an elderly lady during our visit who announced herself as “Grandma” or “Obaasan” (お婆さん) and gave us some sweets, explaining that Grandmothers in Japan ALWAYS carry sweets.



The atmosphere was fantastic, using my broken Japanese I was able to ask if April was a busy time of year for him, with Sakura in full blossom and many people coming to see it. He laughed and said “Every time is busy for me!”

You may have a hard time finding this restaurant as it’s tucked down a few side alleys, however if you’re in Osaka, please take the time to find it!

ちとせ (Chitose)
Osaka City Nishinari Taishi 1-11-10
Website: Chitose


Rock Bar Cherry Bomb – Osaka


We had an awesome time in Osaka during the evening, many bars are open quite late including this gem which our friend Hana took us to; “Cherry Bomb”. It’s an American themed bar located on the fifth floor of a building just off of Europa Dori. It’s fairly small, it’s cozy, and most importantly, it’s awesome. Jesse and Monica, who are from California, set up this bar a few years ago, and it’s been going from strength to strength since with events like “Taco Tuesday” and “Fryday Fry Up” attracting lots of customers from around the world.

Because of it’s warm and friendly atmosphere, you’ll likely find yourself talking to a total stranger as though they’re your best friend. It’s like something ripped straight from the sitcom “Cheers”. You’ll find a mash of cultures in this bar, with Japanese people who want a taste of the American style bar, while at the same time, some Americans go here to feel at home. It’s a culture swap paradise, so there’s always someone to talk to.


Jesse and Monica


It might seem odd to some people to visit an American style bar when visiting Japan, however sometimes you just need a few hours break from the chaos of Osaka. The guys behind the bar are always asking if you’d like more drinks, so your glass is never empty. Because this bar is cash only, they will let you set up a tab and just pay at the end of your evening… providing you can still stand after all those White Russians…

Rock Bar Cherry Bomb
Chuo Ku Higashishinsaibashi 2-4-8 5f
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0083
Facebook: Rock Bar Cherry Bomb

King Emon – きんぐえもん (金久右衛門 阿倍野ルシアス店)


We visited this ramen shop twice during our stay in Osaka, both times we received a friendly welcome and excellent service. This is actually a part of a small chain of restaurants dotted around Osaka. Like most ramen restaurants you order your type of noodle, broth, and meat, however from there, you can pay a little extra for your extras. I opted for more pork, and the serving was quite substantial, not to mention delicious. The pork was very soft, so you could easily separate the larger pieces with your chopsticks with ease.

The member of staff on “pot wash” was sporting a Steins;Gate t-shirt!
The staff speak a little bit of English, and also understand my terrible Japanese, so you shouldn’t have a problem communicating. We caught the attention of the one member of staff when we mentioned popular anime Steins;Gate (click for my blog post on this anime) and I flashed my personalised business card featuring the logo from the opening credits.

The restaurant is fairly small, but not cramped, though during busy times, don’t be surprised if you can’t sit next to your friend. Due to where we sat (right in the middle of the bench) a small group of high school boys played a game of janken (じゃん拳) to determine who would sit next to their friends and who would sit next to the gaijins due to the lack of seats, quite amusing.


Look at that bowl of golden deliciousness

The food is really good value for money too, with two big bowls of ramen with extra pork setting us back only ¥1,800 which is roughly £10. As I already mentioned, the pork is delicious, and the broth is nice enough to drink at the end without being too sickly. 

1-5-1 Abenosuji, Abeno Ward, 
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 545-0052
Website: King Emon

So there you have it, just a small selection of my favourite places I visited during my three week stay in Japan. If you’ve visited Japan and would like to share your favourite place, please leave a comment below. Have you visited one of these places? If so, please share your experience!

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!

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)