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CONVENIENCE STORES: GET EXCITED!

Hello readers!

 

You may be confused by the title of this post if you come from the West. Convenience stores, in America at least, have never really been a cause for celebration. Sure, they're convenient, but they can also be kind of gross and are generally pretty taken for granted. Growing up, if I ever told someone that I ate lunch from a convenience store (in the form of some old lukewarm hot dogs or "taquitos" that had probably been left out for hours if not for the entire day), I was likely to receive a glance of disgust or concern. However, in Japan, it's a completely different story.

Japanese convenience stores are seriously one of my favorite parts about living in Japan, and I am NOT exaggerating. I promise. 

When you first walk up to a Japanese konbini, you may not immediately notice the greatness that lurks within. Take just a few steps past the automatic doors, however, and you could literally spend more than an hour examining all of the different varieties of snacks and other products which are sold inside.

When you first walk up to a Japanese konbini, you may not immediately notice the greatness that lurks within. Take just a few steps past the automatic doors, however, and you could literally spend more than an hour examining all of the different varieties of snacks and other products which are sold inside.

To attempt to list somewhat comprehensively all of the different kinds of goods and services which you can find at your neighborhood konbini (Japanese term for "convenience store"), there are: both cold and hot foods which include small packaged snacks as well as fuller meals in the form of bento boxes and bowls of pasta/noodles (you can have any pre-packaged meal heated up for free by your cashier via a high-powered microwave), etc.; both cold and hot drinks including but definitely not limited to alcohol, coffee and sports drinks (Japan is notorious for how many different kinds of crazy but delicious soft drink products it sells via convenience stores and vending machines) ; all sorts of household and useful appliances from batteries and toothbrushes to toilet paper and beauty products; photocopiers and printers; postboxes and postage stamps (you know, like for mailing); ticket vending machines which allow you to purchase and print tickets for sporting events, concerts, theme parks, museums, and so forth; ATMs which, like virtually all of the convenience stores, are 24/7-operable and may not even charge you a service fee depending upon your bank (for international travelers, 7/11 is your best bet in this regard); and I've even heard from friends that they've been able to purchase vehicle insurance from their local kobini as well... which kind of blows my mind.

Typical snack shelf at a Japanese convenience store. I couldn't even tell you what all of these are, but I can tell you that they're likely all delicious. It's like munchie paradise.

Typical snack shelf at a Japanese convenience store. I couldn't even tell you what all of these are, but I can tell you that they're likely all delicious. It's like munchie paradise.

Japanese convenience stores, which are ubiquitous to the extent that one should be visible from if not directly located on almost every single street corner in the country, are just so damn multi-faceted and, well, convenient. Ah, I almost forgot- I, along with most Japanese people, actually pay my utility bills at the convenience store as well. That's right. You can just bring your gas, water, or electric bill to your preferred local konbini, hand it to the cashier along with the cash value due, they'll stamp it to show that it's been paid, and then scan it with a device to electronically notify the utility company that your account has been balanced. It's awesome.

I think by now you're probably understanding what sets Japanese konbini apart from that run-down 7/11 you stop at for gas and a Slurpee sometimes (granted, Slurpees are pretty great...). The one thing I want to stress about konbini though, before I finish this post, is the food. It really. Is. That. Good.

A lunch I bought a few months ago from a convenience store on my university's campus. From left to right: ebi katsu omusubi (shrimp fry rice-ball sandwich), Burugaria (Bulgarian yogurt drink), and tanuki soba (soba noodles with broth and deep-fried tempura bits). It all cost me about 5 dollars... disposable wooden chopsticks free of charge.

A lunch I bought a few months ago from a convenience store on my university's campus. From left to right: ebi katsu omusubi (shrimp fry rice-ball sandwich), Burugaria (Bulgarian yogurt drink), and tanuki soba (soba noodles with broth and deep-fried tempura bits). It all cost me about 5 dollars... disposable wooden chopsticks free of charge.

There's really no end to the deliciousness that oozes forth from the Japanese convenience store. I think what really distinguishes the convenience store food from that in America is the variety and the freshness. Some of my personal favorite konbini snacks are onigiri (rice balls wrapped in seaweed and typically containing some variety of fish, egg, meat, or vegetable inside), Burugaria (ブルガリア) aka Bulgarian yogurt, protein bars which cost just over a dollar and have got over 10 grams of tanpaku (protein), pork cutlet and egg salad sandwiches, fried chicken bites and spicy corn dogs which somehow always seem fresh, and so much more! Celebrity chef, food critic, and travel guru Anthony Bourdain has actually gone on record stating that egg salad sandwiches from Japanese konbini are one of his favorite snacks on the planet- google it! If you're a sweet tooth, there are SO many different kinds of sweet snacks, candies and chocolates available including a constantly stocked ice cream freezer-bin with all sorts of Japanese ice cream products which can't be found elsewhere. Everyone's got their favorite, but mine are the Janbo ("Jumbo") ice cream bars which are basically giant waffle bars filled with ice cream. They're delicious and super refreshing, especially in the spring and summer.

On the note of freshness, I think it's important to note that those aforementioned hot dogs and taquitos which are likely to sit out for hours and eventually victimize some reluctant teenager or truck driver in American convenience stores would NEVER be passed off as acceptable for consumption in konbini. The food that is found on the shelves and in the hot food warmers is never allowed to sit for too long. If it's packaged, I have heard that it is not allowed to stay on the shelves for longer than a day despite the fact that it's wrapped in plastic. You can actually witness new shipments of packaged food being delivered and stocked onto the shelves at regular intervals throughout the day to any given store, even in the late hours of the night or wee hours of the morning. As for the hot food like fried chicken which is kept in warmers at the cashier counters, I suspect that the cashiers regularly do away with anything that's been sitting too long because I really can't recall ever seeing anything that looked as nasty as the hot food in American convenience stores. It always looks and tastes good, at least in my opinion.

If I included a picture of one of the awesome snack shelves, I had to include a picture of the glorious drink-wall. This is a pretty common sight in any konbini. Alcohol's nestled right up next to the soft drinks. You can usually find all 4 of the main Japanese beer brands (Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and Suntory) as well as a million different kinds of sake, tea, soda pop, coffee, sports drinks, etc.

If I included a picture of one of the awesome snack shelves, I had to include a picture of the glorious drink-wall. This is a pretty common sight in any konbini. Alcohol's nestled right up next to the soft drinks. You can usually find all 4 of the main Japanese beer brands (Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and Suntory) as well as a million different kinds of sake, tea, soda pop, coffee, sports drinks, etc.

The awesomeness of the konbini really has to be experienced for one's self, but as I tell my friends who come to Japan on travel- don't be afraid to eat entire meals from the convenience stores! The food really is that good and there really is so much of it that you could eat from it every day and by the time you actually somehow tried everything, there would be new products on the shelves. I, as well as Japanese people, have no shame in eating entire breakfasts, lunches, and dinners by consuming only convenience store food, and guess what- they're always delicious and I can make them different every time if I want to. I'm excited by the prospect of any of you readers coming to Japan and having your first konbini experiences. Enjoy this fun and hilarious video as well as some closing facts below which didn't make it into the main post.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

-Jordan Roth

 

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A funny song about convenience stores by the Japanese duo Boxers & Trunks. This song sparked a popular internet meme. Despite what may be implied in the video, old men are not constantly flipping through dirty magazines in plain view, punks are not constantly hanging out outside the store, and staff are typically very kind and helpful at Japanese konbini!

Miscellaneous Facts:

*The three main chains of convenience stores in Japan are 7/11, Lawson, and Family Mart, though there are others which are prevalent such as Sunkus (Circle K) and Ministop. 7/11 actually has more locations in Japan than anywhere else.

*Most if not all konbini have free wifi which can be accessed by selecting the network from your smartphone, opening your browser, and hitting a series of on-screen buttons which may or may not ask for you to enter basic information like your e-mail address.

*Konbini all accept credit cards for payment though many if not most Japanese restaurants do not, so it's a great option if you're low on or trying to conserve cash!

*There seems to be a common unofficial debate in Japan about which convenience store has the best fried chicken. I hear this topic discussed often by both my Japanese friends and fellow foreigners. Most commonly, Lawson chicken and Family Mart's "Fami Chicken" seem to be the given answers, though Japanese people tend to tell me that they find 7/11 to be the best and most prolific konbini chain.

 

 

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"Hanami": The Ultimate Springtime Experience!

Hello readers!

We are back again with another post for your literary pleasure and consumption (guess who's back, back, back, back again... okay sorry). We'd like to present to you a really cool part of springtime in Japan and of historically grounded Japanese culture which just passed us by over here in Nihon (Japan).

Classic hanami scene in Shinjuku Park, one of the biggest and most famous green spaces in Tokyo.

Classic hanami scene in Shinjuku Park, one of the biggest and most famous green spaces in Tokyo.

Shameless shot of me by the river near my university, enjoying one of the last days of the hanami season. Sometimes the cherry blossoms are vibrant pink, and sometimes they have more of a white hue. Either way, they're beautiful and photographs can't do them true justice.

Shameless shot of me by the river near my university, enjoying one of the last days of the hanami season. Sometimes the cherry blossoms are vibrant pink, and sometimes they have more of a white hue. Either way, they're beautiful and photographs can't do them true justice.

Hanami (花見 - flower viewing) refers to the Japanese tradition of watching sakura (桜 - cherry blossoms) bloom and flourish throughout Japan over the course of, typically, late March and the entirety of April into early May. It's a truly beautiful time in Japan which is, aside from the actual blooming of the trees and flowers, most famously characterized by the picnic-parties that people often hold in order to do their flower-viewing. While the sakura are blossoming, the parks and open green spaces all over Japan tend to fill up with Japanese people of all ages who will lay out blankets and bring assortments of both personally prepared and store-bought treats to share. It's common, as with a Western-style potluck, for everyone to make their own special dish and then to share each other's homemade cooking! However, there are plenty of culinarily inept people such as myself, even Japanese, who opt for pre-made bento (弁当 - Japanese "lunchbox") or treats from konbini (コンビニ - convenience store), which are surprisingly delicious for any Westerner who hasn't yet experienced a Japanese 7-11, Lawson, or Family Mart... I think I just decided on the topic for the next post.

 

Alcohol is also commonly a part of these hanami parties and can obviously aid in creating an atmosphere which is present at many of the picnics, but I think most people would agree that it's not alcohol that makes hanami so pleasurable. For many Japanese, it seems that hanami is so highly anticipated and looked forward to because it reminds people to take a second to take a breath of fresh air from their busy work and academic lives that they've doubtlessly been plugging away at throughout the winter. Once the weather gets nice, it's a reminder to call up your friends, put together some awesome food and drinks, and go outside for a lazy Saturday or Sunday for once (though hanami happens on the weekdays too)!

 

 

A shot of the same river. Even in the Tokyo metropolis, Japan has so much nature which makes it easy to observe the changing seasons. I really value the times when I can be alone, or at least away from the crowds, while I'm walking through the many parks and gardens which are found throughout the city.

A shot of the same river. Even in the Tokyo metropolis, Japan has so much nature which makes it easy to observe the changing seasons. I really value the times when I can be alone, or at least away from the crowds, while I'm walking through the many parks and gardens which are found throughout the city.

The tradition is said to be as old as the eighth century and is even alluded to in The Tale of Genji- one of the most iconic and legendary pieces of Japanese literature, though many people hilariously hate reading it and debate its legacy and influence, which was published some time at the beginning of the last millennium. Hanami apparently became a tradition in the high courts and among royalty as prestigious and god-like as the Emperors and Shoguns themselves before it made its way down to samurai society and then eventually to the peasant classes as well. Now it really is a staple of the spring season in Japan and is considered something that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone; even foreigners like you and me. So, if you're planning a trip to Japan, you may want to consider coming for hanami season!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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-Jordan Roth

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Transportation in Japan: Futuristic Convenience!

Hello readers,

 

We are back with yet another blog post concerning one of the many facets of Japanese life which should have you raring to snatch up a plane ticket! This time we'd like to cover the many ways Japanese people travel, not just locally, but regionally and across the country as well. From the underground subway systems which always run on time to the high-speed shinkansen bullet trains, local buses to inter-island ferry boats, there are so many modes of transportation in Japan which encompass both familiar and novel experiences. However you may travel, though, the experience is sure to be convenient, safe, and relatively affordable! Additionally, this post will aim to advise visitors to Japan on how to make the most of their time and money with some lesser-known tips and tricks. We promise, even something as seemingly mundane or routine as transportation is something that tourists can get excited about.

There really are a multitude of cool ways to get around in Japan, whether you're a local or a gaijin (foreigner). For the sake of convenience and digestibility, we'll divide these modes of transportation into three umbrella categories: those used for short-distance travel within cities, towns and villages; those used for medium-distance travel between cities and prefectures (Japanese equivalent of a state or province); and, you guessed it, those used for long-distance travel which have the potential to traverse the entire country and which aren't limited to planes and boats despite the fact that Japan is primarily comprised of four separate major islands! If you're wondering how anything other than an aircraft or watercraft could possibly travel between these islands, no, the answer isn't teleportation devices, though it's hard to imagine that there isn't a room full of overworked Japanese scientists working on that sort of technology as this post is being written...

 

SHORT-DISTANCE TRAVEL (Buses, subways, etc.): 

Typical inside of a Japanese subway train. Obviously during a busy time. Compared to the true rush hour, however, this isn't so bad. Being able to get a free seat is the best feeling when you're tired or coming home from a long day and such.

Typical inside of a Japanese subway train. Obviously during a busy time. Compared to the true rush hour, however, this isn't so bad. Being able to get a free seat is the best feeling when you're tired or coming home from a long day and such.

When you need to get around locally in Japan, for example within Tokyo or whichever city or town you may find yourself in, there are a number of options which are available even for traveling short distances. In addition to walking, which is of course a viable option depending upon how far you're willing to go, there are 3 main options: train, subway and bus. You may be wondering what exactly the difference between "train" and "subway" is. Basically, it's just that "train" (電車 - densha) can also refer to above-ground trains while "subway" (地下鉄 - chikatetsu) refers specifically to below-ground trains. While subway systems are only present in the major cities and very rural areas may not even have above-ground train stations, you should always be able to travel locally at least by bus. Even the buses, like the trains, are known for running on time with very rare exception. 

The hallmark of Japanese transportation really is the various forms of trains, however. Unlike many Western subway systems, Japanese subway trains and stations along with their above-ground counterparts are rarely in any condition less than immaculate. Not only are they shiningly clean with extremely consistent arrival and departure times, but they have dedicated staff which are committed to customer service and the successful transit of customers! Ekiinsan (駅員さん - station workers) are some of the most helpful and relied-upon members of Japanese society in regards to providing assistance to lost or confused commuters and are often portrayed as having a very important job due to their responsibility to embody omotenashi (おもてなし - selfless hospitality and guidance), particularly towards foreigners. If you come to Japan expecting the local trains to be anything like the infamous New York subway system which you may have previous experience with, you're in for a very pleasant surprise.

Many of the major subway stations in Japanese cities double as above-ground train stations, and vice-versa, and the cost of riding the subway is comparable to that of the above-ground lines, so you don't really need to worry about which to choose over the other. The main thing to consider is really just the length and convenience of your route which is largely dependent upon whether or not you'll have to make any connections along the way. Google Maps and some other apps (Hyperdia is another popular one) are useful for calculating multiple potential routes for getting you where you wanna go. They can show how many connections you may have to make, if any, along with comparative costs and travel times; though it's rare to have to make more than one connection traveling short distances. Obviously, direct routes tend to be quicker, easier, and cheaper.

 

medium-distance travel (Trains and ferries):

Shiratani Unsui-kyo Gorge inside what is more commonly referred to by foreigners as Mononoke Forest on Yakushima Island, only reachable via ferry. It really is this vibrantly beautiful in person.

Shiratani Unsui-kyo Gorge inside what is more commonly referred to by foreigners as Mononoke Forest on Yakushima Island, only reachable via ferry. It really is this vibrantly beautiful in person.

Though above-ground trains are as viable as the subway for getting around within a city, the above-ground lines actually tend to run a bit further and are not usually confined to one locality. For example, you can easily take an above-ground train to get from Tokyo to its sister-city Yokohama in usually less than an hour and sometimes without even having to make a connection depending upon your exact starting point! The old Japanese capital of Kamakura, historical and cultural hubs Nikko and Kawagoe, the mountain-and-lake-resort regions of Hakone and Fujigoko, and Mount Fuji itself are just a few of the many places which are reachable within a day and via direct train line within the Kanto region where Tokyo resides. As long as you're traveling via "ordinary" train line and not via shinkansen, you should be able to travel between these separate cities, towns and villages for as little as 1000-2500 yen per trip- roughly 10-25 dollars.

While less common and inter-connected compared to the various Japanese train lines, ferries are also an option to consider for medium-distance travel when exploring Japan. For example, if you find yourself in the seaside city of Kagoshima on Japan's island of Kyushu, there are multiple surrounding islands which tourists often travel to Kagoshima expressly for the purpose of visiting. Most notably, these are Sakurajima which houses an active composite volcano and, perhaps more famously, the legendary World Heritage site of Yakushima which inspired the setting for the critically acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki film Princess Mononoke.

Aside from the popular yet specific example of Kagoshima Prefecture, ferries can also help take you longer distances if you're looking to save some coin and don't mind taking a bit longer on your journey. For instance, all four of the major islands of Japan as well as the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, which is actually a chain of more than 100 islands and which used to be known as the independent kingdom of Ryukyu, are technically traversable by watercraft. However, if you're looking to travel long, cross-country distances between far-off regions and the major islands of Japan in very short lengths of time, shinkansen is your best bet.

 

long-distance travel (bullet trains and airplanes):

A shinkansen train passes by Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture.

A shinkansen train passes by Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The most iconic form of travel in Japan is probably the ultra-modern, high-speed shinkansen bullet train. These bullet trains are extremely convenient for traveling long distances and if you're trying to see a lot of Japan during your trip rather than just staying in one region. However, since they compete wth air travel, they are not as cheap as the simpler trains and ferries. Wikipedia accurately lists shinkansen's advantages over air travel as "scheduling frequency and flexibility, punctual operation, comfortable seats, and convenient city-center terminals... Shinkansen fares are generally competitive with domestic air fares." However, shinkansen is often cheaper and, for the reasons just mentioned, definitely more convenient even in cases where prices are similar.

The shinkansen network covers virtually all of Japan with Okinawa Prefecture, the relatively small and far-off southernmost island chain,  and the northern tip of Hokkaido, the northernmost major island, being the only exceptions. One of the more impressive things about the shinkansen network is that it encompasses underwater tunnels which connect the major islands of Japan; that's how the nation has been able to bypass air and watercraft in order to bridge together its otherwise more isolated parts. Something about the idea of being able to ride a bullet train underwater is so insanely cool.

If you do want to travel by air, however, maybe because you really want to see Okinawa and the ferries would take too long, then of course Japanese airlines are as legitimate as anywhere else in the world. JAL (Japan Airlines), Jetstar, and ANA (All Nippon Airways) tend to be the big three, but a number of other smaller airlines such as Peach, Skymmark, and Vanilla Air also exist. Prices and routes can of course be compared online in English!

 

Other useful info:

-Google Maps should really be your best friend when trying to figure out travel in Japan. Whether you're trying to get around within a city or trying to get from one major island to another, Google Maps can give you good comprehensive info about your options for travel outside of air travel. It's really simple to use once you get the hang of it- just enter your starting location and where you want to to go (you can also alter the desired departure/arrival times and edit preferences for modes of vehicle transport) and a list of alternative routes will pop up along with their total costs, travel times, etc.

-The JR Rail Pass: Taken from the official website at jrailpass.com- "It is the most cost-efficient way to travel all over Japan for a limitless number of trips, restricted only by the selection of a time-frame. Choosing between 7, 14 and 21 days of JR Pass validity, you will be able to access any part of Japan and also have the opportunity to enjoy the world-famous Shinkansen bullet-train and travel with 320 km/h." Basically this pass allows you to travel freely and limitlessly within and across Japan for a flat rate for either one, two or three weeks. It is well worth the money if you hope to see a lot of Japan during your trip, but it can only be purchased before arriving in-country, so purchase it beforehand!

-Pasmo and Suica cards: These are the two forms of subway cards which are used in Japan which also work for most of the buses and above-ground train lines as well as being usable at many vending machines and convenient stores and so forth. There's really no difference between the two though tourists often wonder and they can be purchased at any station upon arrival in Japan. You normally will have to deposit 500 yen for the card and can then begin loading money onto it as you please.

-Renting a car: This is doable and of course viable as a form of travel in Japan, but you have to make sure that you acquire your international license before arriving in-country or else it will be much more expensive. Usually you can receive the international certification in your home country at your local DMV for a small fee and without even having to take any sort of test... be careful if you'll be driving on the opposite side of the road compared to what you're used to though...

 

Well, that wraps up this post! We hope it's been informative and we're pretty sure it will be useful if you'll be visiting Japan at any point in the future. It's been a long one but Japanese transportation can actually be quite confusing and multi-faceted for all its convenience due to the wide range of options and information available. Feel free to contact us with any further questions or inquiries as there's a lot of pertinent information which didn't make it in to this post! Don't forget to follow us on our other platforms and watch for further posts regarding Japanese culture, lifestyle, travel, food, and so forth!

 

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-Jordan Roth

 

 

 

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What's Ramen Really Like In Japan?

Hello to our readers!

This post is going to cover one of the first things that likely pop into someone's mind upon thinking of Japan:

ramen.

The above picture actually isn't of "traditional" ramen, rather it's a dish called tsukemen, or "dipping noodles." Just as the name implies, you dip your noodles manually into the separate bowl of broth, pictured on the right. I took this picture in a small ramen shop in the Minami-Yukigaya neighborhood of Tokyo, in the southeastern Ota ward. The first time I had tsukemen, I thought briefly, "Why the dipping? I'd rather my noodles just come already in the broth so I can pig out with utmost ease," disgusting piece of garbage that I am. I realized not long into my first experience with tsukemen, though, that the whole dipping process was novel, even fun, and kind of satisfying. It also forces you to eat your ramen slower, which is good, yanow, like for your health. The accompanying broth in tsukemen dishes is often even more flavorful than typical ramen broth as it's intended to really pack a punch to the tastebuds after the noodles are sometimes only briefly dipped inside of it. The two most common flavor bases for the broth are probably pork and seafood! Both worth trying if you ask me.

I think a lot of people, mainly fellow foodies, may be interested in this kind of stuff- the different variations of ramen noodles, as well as what it may be like to eat actual ramen in a Japanese noodle house. In that vein, this will be our first food-related post, with hopefully many more to follow! In response to the question posed by this post's subject line, ramen in Japan and ramen in the West may not necessarily be so different; especially because there are of course Japanese-born and trained ramen chefs with restaurants of their own across the Americas and Europe (check out this famous chain with restaurants on four continents https://www.ippudony.com). There are, however, certain distinctions between the "authentic" Japanese experience and the experience which has nonetheless come to constitute a ramen-phenomenon in the West.

The biggest difference between eating ramen in Japan versus the way we eat ramen here in the states, I would say, is the price.

Ramen, in the sense that you're never more than a few blocks from a ramen shop where a pretty big bowl costs barely over $5, is like street food in Japan. It just isn't something that you're ever going to have to pay $15 or $20 for like we may be used to doing at the gourmet Asian restaurants in Downtown, USA. Ramen in Japan will hardly even cost you $10 unless you're getting the biggest size possible (特盛 - tokumori) - something you could quite literally expect a sumo wrestler, or myself, to be seen eating. The machine pictured above is known as jidouhanbaiki, or "automatic selling machine"; it's their word for vending machines. In a typical ramen shop, you'll enter the shop and immediately be able to turn to your left/right and see one of these suckers. All you do is insert your money, then hit the buttons which correspond with the food you want. You can choose between the different sizes and types of ramen available, as well as being able to hit additional buttons for additional toppings and items including a whole egg, extra noodles, extra pork, draft beer, and so forth. When you've got your tickets which come out at the same time as your change, you hand them to one of the chefs behind the counter and then sit down and wait for your meal while suffering through the tantalizing aroma of everyone else's food. 

Butter corn ramen. Something that one might easily think was a Western invention- a liberty taken with a traditional dish. Nope, butter corn ramen is as traditional as it gets. At least with regards to the 20th century, or since ramen "became a thing" in Japan. People in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, have been putting butter and corn in their noodles for some time now apparently. This picture makes me laugh, because it literally looks like some midwesterners took their family dinner and threw it into a ramen bowl. This stuff is seriously delicious though. It's a form of miso ramen, something Hokkaido is known for.

I really can't say enough about ramen in Japan. It really is almost an ethereal food for me, and many others I know, if not only because of the flavors and textures that are possible through the broth's base (dashi). The first time I ever had ramen in Japan was like the first time I had pasta made by my Italian friend's dad. It was just *better*. It was familiar, but so much more enhanced- fresher, richer, more nuanced. I really can't describe it with words, and I don't mean that to sound dramatic, but to truthfully say that flavors can't really be conveyed in prose. Just make it a point to get to Japan at some point if at all possible. On that note, I've got some great advice about finding affordable trips to Japan in terms of how to book strategically- I'm talking round trips for as low as sub-$500. Maybe all that info is best saved for a future blog post, but in the meantime I'll mention the following sites: Vayama and Skyscanner. 

Anyways, with ramen being nothing short of an art form in Japan, there's an infinite amount to learn about the history and culture surrounding it. Here are a few more factoids you may find interesting.

1) The 4 main kinds:

-Shoyu (soy sauce base)

-Miso (miso base)

-Tonkotsu (pork base)

-Shio (salt base)

2) The Origin: Japanese ramen is actually widely considered by many, including many Japanese themselves, to be Chinese in true origin. Lamian is the Chinese word that ramen was translated from and predates the Japanese term.

3) The Variations: There are so many delicious dishes in Japan that technically use ramen style noodles but don't qualify as traditional ramen. To name a few: aburasobamazesoba and yakisoba!

4) The accessibility: You can pretty much eat ramen at any hour of the day in Japan. I mean, in the city at least, we've got 24 hour restaurants galore as well as famous 24/7 chains like Ichiran which serves up some of the best chain ramen you could ever hope for; especially if you like spice. In addition to actual shops, which may of course be less plentiful in more rural areas, there are the honestly delicious "instant ramen" brands which can be bought from convenience stores anywhere in Japan at any time of the day or night. Japanese convenience stores is another topic incredibly deserving of its own post in the future, but for now we'll leave you with this mess of images and information which probably have you dying for a big ole bowl of salt and fat, don't they!?

Enjoy the hunger pains.

 

-Jordan Roth

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Get excited about taking a bath.

Hey there future interns and anyone interested in some Japanese culture!

We are currently in the process of forming our team for this upcoming summer, and are really excited to soon share with you the exact plans for our 2017 English Camp program! In the meantime, we'd like to begin a series of weekly posts in order to get our interns excited about the prospect of living in Japan, even if for a short time! The blog posts will also serve, for ANYONE interested, as a source of personalized accounts regarding Japanese lifestyle and experiences available to any and all who would like to find themselves in Japan at some point. There are countless reasons to visit, and a truly unlimited amount of things that these blog posts could cover which might cause readers to open up a new tab and start checking ticket fares, but I thought I'd start off with a personal favorite: 

Japanese 温泉 ("onsen") and 銭湯 ("sento")!!!

 

"Onsen" and "sento" refer to hot spring-style bath facilities in which you can sit down, submerge, and relax. Many would describe a trip to onsen or sento as a truly heavenly experience. Many onsen and sento have multiple kinds of baths, dry saunas, steam rooms and other accommodations that make for a supremely relaxing and reinvigorating time. One cool thing about these facilities is that there isn't only hot water baths, but also cold water baths and baths that differ in terms of chemical/mineral composition in order to benefit your body in different ways! When people go to onsen or sento in Japan, it is often after a long day of hard work, or after a meal or some physical exercise, or really for any reason at all!

The difference between onsen and sento is that onsen are typically "nicer," bigger, more ornate facilities with a lot of different accommodations, and in some cases, are even set up like mini indoor amusement parks of relaxation (check out the famous Oedo Onsen located in Odaiba, Tokyo if you want to be seriously wowed). Sento, on the other hand, are traditionally more neighborhood-ish, localized spots and are cheaper than onsen. In Tokyo, they *always* cost 460 yen (about 4 dollars) unless you want to use the sauna as well which generally brings the price to 1000 yen (less than 10 dollars). However, even onsen tend to run under 1000 yen per visit unless they are particularly famous. Sento are typically more casual in terms of atmosphere and setup, but no less relaxing.

Onsen and sento really are the epitome of rejuvenation, and make for an incredible experience - so much so that you may find yourself returning to your favorite local spot DAILY if you enjoy them as much as we do. Pro tip for those feeling adventurous: make a trip out to hike Mount Fuji and reward yourself afterwards with a trip to nearby Fujiyama Onsen. The exhaustion you'll be feeling after the hike will almost literally melt completely away by the time you emerge from the onsen and you'll get a good meal in you as well.

My personal favorite onsen experience was at the legendary ほったらかし温泉 (Hottarakashi Onsen) in Yamanashi Prefecture, just 2 hours away from Tokyo by car. This famous onsen is one which sits literally on a mountain face in the middle of the Kofu Basin, looking up at Mount Fuji. Hottarakashi opens one hour before the sun rises, and closes after the sun sets, so many travel in order to have one of the most surreal and incredible onsen experiences possible due to the views possible at this time.

I rode out from Tokyo with a few friends one weekend in a rented car in order to catch such a view. We left at roughly 4 am and stopped once along the highway in order to cram onigiri (rice balls) into our mouths as a makeshift breakfast. We arrived at Hottarakashi just before sunset, qeued up, payed, received our towels and locker keys, changed, and plopped ourselves into the water of one of the outdoor baths on the mountain face in order to witness what was surely one of the most beautiful sights we'd ever been lucky enough to see.

The two pictures above were borrowed from the internet, but below is one of the many pictures I personally snapped of the sun descending on the Kofu Basin. I won't show you the actual view of Fuji - it's something you should experience for yourself!

 

If you remain interested in Japanese hot spring bath experiences and notable locations, here are some links you may want to check out:

http://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/foreign/english/stay/037.html

http://www.yudanaka-shibuonsen.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryokan_(inn)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentō

 

Thanks for taking the time to check out our newly budding blog! Check back for more over the coming weeks and please don't hesitate to add us on your other favorite platforms for regular posting about Japanese lifestyle and culture as well as our own latest news regarding our mission over at Come On Out Japan!

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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/come-on-out-japan

 

-Jordan Roth

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