GaijinPot

lynn

Lynn Allmon

Museums, parks, restaurants, cultural events, and historic sites are just a few of the many attractions Tokyo has to offer. I want to introduce you to the heart of Japan by writing about ways to discover the culture and people beyond the tourist spots.

Shimizuyu Onsen: Bathing with Strangers

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Drinking diluted apple vinegar, stretching out my feet on the foot massage tiles, enjoying the cool night breeze on a reclining chair. The Shimizuyu Onsen is definitely a place I will return to.

The word “onsen,” which refers to “hot springs” in Japanese, often conjures images of misty mountain inns where bathers commune with snow monkeys.

Sadly, going to a distant onsen every weekend is not economically feasible for most Tokyoites, but if you do live in Tokyo and love public baths, don’t fear; you probably live within walking distance of a 460-yen sentō (銭湯, public bath), some of which are natural hot springs.

A few sentō have fantastically gaudy facades, and some only display an A4 piece of paper with rules to indicate that they are a bath house. Shimizuyu Onsen strikes a balance between the two, with a clean, old-fashioned exterior and a warm homey inside.

Shimizuyu is a bath house with two types of natural onsen near Tokyo’s Musashi-Koyama Station. This area has plenty of 30,000-yen apartments, but these apartments come with a price: no bath or even shower. While this may explain some of the crowd at Shimizuyu on the Saturday evening I visited, the atmosphere is a draw for anybody, regardless of the home bathroom situation.

Upon storing your shoes in a locker, the first thing you have to do at Shimizuyu is buy a bathing ticket (入浴券, nyūyokuken). The standard price across Tokyo for an adult bathing ticket is currently 460 yen (2014). For visitors who want a little more, Shimizuyu also has a normal sauna (サウナ, 400 yen) and the stone sauna (岩盤浴, ganbanyoku, 1300 yen, women only). Before jumping into the bath, you might want to check out the lobby, which has milk, beer, and apple vinegar drink vending machines, as well as a television. You can also scope out the upstairs napping and massage chair area once you’ve finished your bath.

ShimizuyuTickets

The baths, of course, are the real attraction. Unlike tourist-oriented onsen, Shimizuyu doesn’t provide soap, shampoo, or towels for free. You can buy these items from the bath house staff, which is what I did, but most people bring their own toiletries.

After taking the obligatory shower, you can explore the many baths and hot springs. With at least half a dozen, you have plenty from which to choose.

My personal favorite was the Golden Hot Spring (黄金の湯, ougon no yu), which contains water at 38 degrees Celsius brought up from 1500 meters below. A visit to a Tokyo onsen wouldn’t be complete, though, without taking a dip in a Tokyo Black Hot Spring (黒湯温泉, kuroyu onsen). The Black Hot Springs are brought up from 200 meters and said to promote skin softening and moisturizing. The Golden Hot Spring and Black Hot Spring are the two you must try, but before leaving the bathing area, be sure also to try the standard baths.

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While the baths were wonderful, the small things were what made the visit special: accidentally eating half the shell of my onsen tamago (egg cooked in a hot spring), drinking a cup of diluted apple vinegar, stretching out my feet on the foot massage tiles, enjoying the cool night breeze on a reclining chair next to the outdoor baths (露天風呂, rotenburo).

Having me leave my earrings at Shimizuyu must be my brain’s subconscious way of telling me to go back. Thank you, brain.

Access

Musashi-Koyama Onsen Shimizuyu [Japanese]
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinagawa-ku, Oyama 3-9-1
東京都品川区小山3-9-1
Phone: 03-3781-0575

Weekdays, 12:00 to 24:00
Sunday 8:00 to 24:00
Holidays 8:00 to 24:00
Closed Mondays (except holidays)

Bathing Admission Ticket (2014)
Adults: 460 yen
Middle School: 300 yen
Children: 180 yen
Preschooler: Free

Sauna: 400 yen
Stone sauna: 1300 yen (women only)

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Take A Walk Around Gero Onsen

Gero Onsen is a picturesque town surrounded by beautiful mountains and hot flowing natural spring water. If you are looking for a traditional Japanese onsen experience then I highly recommend paying a visit.

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The Unexpected Fees to Expect in Japan

fees

Japan is the land of the rising fee! Everywhere you look you will be faced with open and hidden fees.

Japan is a country full of interesting culture, great food, and tons and tons of fees.

Some expenses, such as apartment gift money (礼金, reikin), are well known, but others creep up on unsuspecting new residence. Of course, the unexpectedness of a fee will depend on what fees you expect in your own country and how well-prepared you are before coming to Japan.

If you are thinking of moving to Japan, you can read about a few of the lesser-known fees below.

National Pension
(国民年金保険料, kokumin nenkin hokenryō)

Most know about the Japanese health insurance system, but many people moving to Japan don’t realize that paying for national pension is an obligation as well. As much of a hassle as it is, if National Health Insurance and National Pension aren’t automatically taken from your paycheck, you’ll have to sign up at city hall.

The good news is that many countries have a pension exchange treaty with Japan, which means that you might see the money again even if you don’t live in Japan until retirement. You can also choose to withdraw a lump-sum upon leaving Japan if you prefer.

Pension: 15,250 yen/month (in 2014)

Reducing pension payments: One of the best ways to cut down on pension payments is to pay in advance via bank transfer (savings of 14,800 yen if paying 2 years at once). If you are having financial troubles, you can also request a delay or reduction in payment, depending on your situation.

More info:
Japanese International Social Security Agreements
Japanese Pension Lump-sum Withdrawal

Japan Broadcast Corporation (NHK)
(NHK受信料, NHK jushinryō)

Paying the national television station fee is another obligation that you might not know about until the NHK fee collector comes to your door. Like many Japanese and non-Japanese residents, you can argue that you don’t watch NHK, but if you have television equipment that is capable of receiving NHK, then you are technically supposed to pay the fee.

NHK fee: 2,520 yen/every 2 months

Reducing the NHK fee: The NHK fee is most expensive for those with satellite television (4,460 yen/every two months). You can bring down your NHK fee by only receiving terrestrial broadcasting (2,520 yen/every 2 months). Also, be sure to pay by bank or credit card transfer to get the lowest rate (2,520 yen/every 2 months rather than 2,620 yen/every 2 months). One last trick is to pay your NHK fee upfront for one year (13,990 yen/1 year, saving 1,130 yen for the year).

Bureaucratic Fees

You probably realize that extending your period of stay will cost a fee (currently 4000 yen). In addition to this fee, you may have to pay from 300 yen to 500 yen per copy to receive official documents, such as your certificate of residence (住民票, juminhyo) and tax certificate (税証明書, zeishomeisho).

Reducing bureaucratic fees: The main ways to reduce these fees is to avoid procedures that require the fees in the first place. Of course, this suggestion isn’t always feasible, so your best bet is probably to reduce incidental fees by going in person to get the documents (and avoid paying for the SASE) and going to offices close to you (to reduce train fare).

Apartment Initial Fees

The deposit (敷金, shikikin) and gift money (礼金, reikin) given to the apartment owner upon moving in are well known, but did you know that another half dozen fees exist?

To move into your apartment you will be hit with:

  • agency fee for the realtor (仲介手数料, chūkai tesuryō)
  • damage insurance (損害保険料, sonpo hokenryō)
  • key exchange fee (鍵交換代, kagi kōkandai)
  • guarantor company fee (保証会社利用料, hoshō gaisha riyōryō)
  • cleaning fee (クリーニング費用, kurīningu hiyō)

Whether you’ll have to pay these fees depends on the apartment owner, but preparing a decent amount of money for moving in is a good idea.

To find out more about renting an apartment in Tokyo, check out the GaijinPot Podcast #12.

Reducing apartment fees: Naturally, one of the best ways to reduce these upfront fees is by choosing a place that doesn’t charge the fees in the first place. Guest houses and student dormitories don’t tend to charge as many fees, but it’s also worth visiting a realtor who specializes in apartments with low upfront fees.

This list is far from exhaustive but hopefully can give you a head start on saving for coming to Japan.

Have you been hit with any unexpected fees in Japan?

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How to Save Money by Using Convenience Store Point Cards

Points cards are one way to combat outrageous fees and try to save some of your hard earned yen!

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Experiencing Natsu no Shun, Japan’s Summer Foods

summer_food

Summer in Japan is a great time to sample the many 夏の旬 (natsu no shun, summer seasonal) foods!

Somewhere up my family tree, someone had to be a kappa. I may not have inherited the reptilian skin or the bald spot of this mythical Japanese creature, but I did receive the voracious appetite for cucumbers.

Unlike me, though, kappa probably didn’t have to pay for their own cucumbers. Luckily, at the supermarket last week, the magic of shun and half-priced summer vegetables placated the stingy, cucumber-loving blood of the kappa ancestors running through my veins.

Anyone who has lived a year or more in Japan has noticed the sharp contrast in seasons and the celebration of those contrasts. One of the many Japanese words related to seasons, shun (旬) describes the peak period of produce, fish, and other food in Japan. Each food has its own “shun,” and this may explain why certain dishes are more popular during a certain season.

According to a booklet on “shun” by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the time period when a certain food is in season can differ slightly based on the area but can roughly be broken down by season. Besides being annual reminders of the change in season, “shun” foods tend to taste better and are cheaper. According to the Japan Clinic Co. website, foods eaten in season will also have more nutrients than those eaten out of season.

Summer is in full swing in Tokyo, humidity and all, so in this article we’ll take a look at some of the 夏の旬 (natsu no shun, summer seasonal) foods of Japan as listed on the website Shun no Shokuzai Calendar and the Kikkoman official site.

Summer Foods in Japan (June ~ August)

Summer Vegetables

Bell pepper (ビーマン)
Bitter melon/Goya (ゴーヤー)
Corn (トウモロコシ)
Cucumber (きゅうり)
Edamame (枝豆)
Lettuce (レタス, April to August)
Myoga/Japanese ginger (みょうが)
Okra (オクラ, June through September)
Shiso (しそ, June through September)
Tomato (トマト)

Summer Fruits

Chinese Plum/Japanese Apricot (うめ・うめぼし, June through July)
Mango (マンゴー)
Muskmelon (メロン, May through August)
Peach (もも, July through August)
Pineapple (パインアップル)
Watermelon (スイカ)
Yuzu (ゆず, July through August)

Summer Seafood

Eel (うなぎ, July)
Flounder (かれい)
Horse mackerel (あじ, May through July)
Marlin (かじきまぐろ)
Sardine (いわし, June through October)
Sea bass (すずき)
Sea urchin (ウニ, May through August)
Sweetfish (あゆ)

By buying foods in season, you can save money, enjoy their peak flavor and increase your nutrient intake. Also, if you visit Japanese restaurants during summer, you can try seasonal dishes made using these foods.

In fact, eating eel is a tradition in late July on a day called 土用の丑の日 (doyō no ushi no hi). Restaurants and even convenience stores have special eel dishes and obento around this day.

On a similar note, the Aichi Japan Agricultural Cooperative declared April 19 “Good Cucumber Day.” The kappa inside me is happy but will be sending a letter to the organization about moving this day to summer.

What foods remind you of summer in Japan?

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Ota Market, Japan’s Largest Vegetable and Flower Market

It may not be as well known as the Tsukiji fish market but the Ota Vegetable and Fruit Market  boasts a flower section in addition to fruit, vegetable, and fish sections.

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Trying Vinegar-topped Ice-cream at Osuya

OsuyaIceCream

Osuya, which means “the vinegar shop” in Japanese, sells various flavors of dessert vinegar and also has a small restaurant that serves vinegar-based drinks, food, and sweets.

From afar, Osuya might look like a normal cafe but upon a closer inspection, you’ll see bottles of colorful liquid lined up in the window. While sweet, the drink has an unmistakable taste, the sourness of vinegar.

Osuya, which means “the vinegar shop” in Japanese, sells various flavors of dessert vinegar (酢, su) and also has a small restaurant that serves vinegar-based drinks, food, and sweets.

Vinegar is sometimes advertised as a diet aid or nutrition drink in Japan, but the focus of Osuya seems to be on the flavor. Rosehip, blueberry, apple, and pomegranate vinegar are just a few of the drink flavors on the menu, so choosing can be difficult. Osuya even offers seasonal flavors, such as mango vinegar in the summer. If vinegar cut with water or soda doesn’t appeal to you, maybe a vinegar latte or vinegar beer will.

I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to drink vinegar on my first visit, so I skipped the vinegar beverages and went straight for the sweets. The cake topped with vinegar sauce caught my eye, but the vanilla ice-cream topped with cherry vinegar seemed like the ideal way to battle the summer heat.

I had expected the cherry vinegar sauce to be much tangier, but instead, it was the right balance of sweet and sour. As an additional bonus for eating inside the restaurant, the large windows at the Ginza shop let in plenty of sunlight and allow you to look out on the busy Tokyo streets.

OsuyaShopInside

Price wise, the Osuya restaurant isn’t very different from most coffee shops. Most of the menu items are between 300 and 400 yen. If you happen to like a certain flavor of vinegar, you can head over to the vinegar shop corner and purchase a single bottle for less than 1000 yen. The dessert vinegar sets might also make a good gift for the right person.

Osuya has about half a dozen shops, placed in big cities in Japan, such as Tokyo, Nagoya, and Sendai. If you happen to live outside of the cities, you can still order Osuya dessert vinegar online through Sumurie (in Japanese).

Before visiting Osuya, I had no idea that so many flavors of vinegar existed, and vinegar as a dessert had never even crossed my mind.

What do you think of vinegar-topped ice-cream?

Access:

Osuya Official Website (in Japanese)
Osuya Ginza Store Address: 104-0061 Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-6-16, Ginza Mitsukoshi, 1st floor
Osuya Shibuya Store Address: 150-0022 Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-21-1 Shibuya Hikarie ShinQs Basement 2nd floor

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KATSUNUMA: JAPAN’S WINE COUNTRY

A visit to the Katsunuma Wine region is a short trip from Tokyo that is sure to give you an experience that you never thought possible in Japan.

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How to Be Super Cool Biz

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Super cool biz is an attempt by the Japanese government to conserve energy in part by having government offices and private companies set the air-conditioner to 28˚C.

“Cool biz” has been a summer buzzword since the Cool Biz Campaign was launched by the Japanese government in 2005. The Cool Biz Campaign aims to help reduce energy consumption in part by having government offices and cooperating private companies set the air-conditioner to 28˚C. In addition, the campaign encouraged workers to wear cooler clothing to work, which in effect meant a more casual dress code for summer.

In the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the government announced the Super Cool Biz Campaign in response to power shortages and the need to conserve energy by at least 15%. The Super Cool Biz Campaign builds upon the Cool Biz Campaign, suggesting guidelines that will help reduce energy use both at work and at home.

What exactly does “cool biz” and “super cool biz” mean for those working in Japan? Depending on your company, the answer could be anything from cooperating with drastic energy-saving measures to nothing at all. However, many Japanese companies are taking the government guidelines seriously and reducing their energy consumption, which may affect you as an employee in Japan.

We’ll look at some of the suggestions from the Super Cool Biz Campaign which may have an effect on your work life.

Super Cool Biz Energy Consumption Guidelines

One of the main tenets of the Cool Biz Campaign, upon which the Super Cool Biz Campaign builds, is keeping the air-conditioner at 28˚C. In a Japanese Ministry of the Environment survey about the original 2005 campaign, 32.7% of respondents stated that the air-conditioner in their office was set lower that year than during previous years. Personally, the places I have worked in Japan set the air-conditioning to 28˚C or higher and didn’t allow the air-conditioning to be turned on until mid-June. The first summer was brutal, but by also wearing “cool biz,” you can help save the environment while also keeping yourself sane.

Super Cool Biz Office Wear

In 2011, the government further loosened the “cool biz” summer dress code in the name of “super cool biz.” Many offices that follow cool biz air-conditioner guidelines will also issue their own summer dress code. In my experience, rather than “cool biz dress code,” the guidelines were labeled “軽装の実施” (keisou no jisshi, implementation of casual dress code). The Japanese government’s super cool biz dress code for 2014 is listed below.

cool_biz_poster

Japanese Government Cool Biz Summer Dress Code (2014)

Not required to wear:
Necktie
Jacket

Allowed to wear:
Half-sleeve dress shirts
Kariyushi shirt (Okinawan shirt)
Polo shirts
Hawaiian shirts/Aloha shirts
Chino pants
Sneakers

Not allowed to wear:
Exercise shirts
Shorts
T-shirts
Jeans

Before showing up to work in a Hawaiian shirt, though, make sure to check your own company’s guidelines. Each workplace is different, and the dress code may differ based on the type of work. Perhaps showing the higher ups this government dress code list would help your case.

Super Cool Biz Work Hours

Super Cool Biz doesn’t stop at air-conditioner guidelines and dress code. Below are some more energy-saving summer suggestions published by the Japanese government that may affect your work life if implemented by your office.

Start work shifts earlier in the morning
No overtime
Take a long summer vacation

Super Cool Salaryman

One phenomenon that you will see in Japan during the summer months is Japanese salarymen carrying their jackets around with them.

Even in the dead heat of summer the jacket is part of the uniform and many salarymen would never show up at a client’s office without wearing a jacket.

So the salaryman will show up outside his client’s office, put his jacket on and go inside where the client who is aware of the situation will immediately suggest that he take his jacket off.

This fun little ritual is all part of being a super cool biz Japanese salaryman!

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Dealing with Mosquitoes in Japan

Summer in Japan means high humidity and mosquitos! Luckily, there are plenty of products available for dealing with mosquitos in Japan.

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Ichiran Ramen: Eating Without a Word

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The policy of the Ichiran ramen chain is to minimize the interaction with shop staff and customers as much as possible. A strange set up but how’s the ramen?

After getting off Tokyo’s packed rush hour train in the evening, you probably don’t want to look at another human being, much less talk to another. For the weary throughout Japan, the ramen shop Ichiran has created a brilliant albeit convoluted system to grant this wish.

Upon entering Ichiran, which serves only 豚骨ラーメン (pork bone/tonkotsu ramen), you are greeted by the standard ramen shop vending machine. You insert your money, press the button corresponding to your desired food item, and take the dispensed ticket to your seat.

At some of the larger Ichiran restaurants, an electronic seating chart is placed near the entrance showing which seats are empty. The Ichiran website explains that the seating chart was created as part of the system that “reduces interactions with shop staff as much as possible.”

Once at your seat, you’ll find that Ichiran has done as much as possible to reduce interactions among customers also. Each of the counter seats has a partition on either side so that the only indication that others may be in the shop is the slurping of noodles. Needless to say, Ichiran isn’t the ideal place for a date.

You then slide your ramen ticket to the staff through a small window in front of your seat. If seeing the mid-sections of the staff through this window bothers you, don’t worry; after one of the staff members slips you a ramen customization sheet, the window will be shuttered. In complete solace, you are free to choose your ramen preferences at your own pace.

ichiran_3

In the style of Hakata ramen from Fukuoka Prefecture, you have the choice of noodle firmness (麺のかたさ, men no katasa) from very hard (at Ichiran called 超かた, chō kata) to very soft (超やわ, chō yawa). In addition, at Ichiran, you can choose the level of spiciness, richness and flavor, whether you want roasted pork included, and the amount of garlic, spicy red sauce and scallion.

After filling in your preferences, you press the call button in front of you, and one of the staff members open the shutter, take the sheet, and then close the shutter. While waiting for your noodles, you can get a glass of water from the dispenser at your seat or read the shop information above your seat.

Again, the window flies open and your ramen is placed in front of you. You can now fully experience your personally customized tonkotsu ramen with no distractions. If you find that one serving of noodles isn’t enough, you can order 替玉 (kaedama, second serving) at your seat in cash by circling the 替玉 space on your chopstick cover and handing the marked chopstick cover to the staff. The shop information sign at your seat explains that in Fukuoka both women and men normally order a second serving.

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After ordering, specifying your ramen preferences and getting a refill on noodles all without uttering a word, it’s hard to know whether upon leaving you should say ごちそうさま (gochisōsama, loosely “Thanks for the food!”). Personally, I left the shop in silence to complete the experience and consider this article my way of saying I enjoyed the ramen.

What do you think of the Ichiran system? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Katu Midori: For All Your Sushi Needs

While kaiten sushi isn’t typically known for its quality, it is appreciated for its affordability,  Katu Midori is able to provide both.

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Does Sake Have an Expiration Date?

sake Image © Richard

GP contributor Lynn Allmon finds an old bottle of nihonshu which prompted the question, does sake go bad?

While doing some cleaning, I found an unopened bottle of nihonshu below my sink. This is what led me to ask the question, “Does nihonshu have an expiration date?”

Nihonshu, sometimes referred to as “sake” or “rice wine” in English, is what most people imagine if they hear the words “Japan” and “alcohol.” Nihonshu shows up on nomihodai (“all-you-can-drink”) menus at Japanese bars and can be bought at convenience stores across Japan. Hopefully you won’t be worrying about the expiration date of newly purchased nihonshu, but if you’ve had some sitting in your fridge for a while, you might wonder whether it’s still okay to drink.

Expiration Date of Nihonshu

In short, producers of alcoholic drinks in Japan are not obligated by law to print an expiration date on certain alcohols, including nihonshu, shōchū, and umeshu. Instead, they must print the production date (製造年月) on the bottle or carton. This production date is not necessary the date that the alcohol was produced, but rather the date the alcohol was bottled. The production date is often displayed left to right, starting with the year, which will sometimes be displayed as the Japanese imperial year, and followed by the month.

Many nihonshu company websites give a rough guideline for how long nihonshu will keep its taste under favorable storage conditions. Below are the expiration guidelines given by the type of nihonshu. The type of nihonshu can usually be found on the label near the product name. As reference, futsū-shu (普通酒) is the most common type of nihonshu.

Expiration Date of Nihonshu by Type

Before opening, drink within about 10 months to 1 year of the production date.

  • Futsū-shu (普通酒)
  • Honjōzō-shu (本醸造酒)
  • Junmai-shu (純米酒)

Before opening, drink within 8 to 10 months of the production date.

  • Daiginjō-shu(大吟醸)
  • Ginjō-shu (吟醸酒)
  • Junmai Ginjō-shu (純米吟醸)
  • Namachozō-shu (生貯蔵酒)

Before opening, drink within 3 to 8 months of the production date.

  • Namazake (生酒)

The standard seems to be about 1 year for unopened ordinary nihonshu (futsū-shu) and about 6 months for unopened unpasteurized nihonshu (namazake). The majority of manufacturers state that nihonshu should be drunk within one month of opening and preferably sooner. Keep in mind that while most nihonshu should be drunk as soon as possible, whether the bottle is opened or not, some types of nihonshu do age well and that the above are simplified guidelines.

Storing Nihonshu

One common thread that ran through explanations about nihonshu expiration dates was that of storage. If properly stored, nihonshu’s flavor can keep for a comparably long time. If improperly stored, the taste of the nihonshu can change within just a few hours.

Unsurprisingly, nihonshu should be kept in a cool, dark place. Direct sunlight and high temperatures can turn nihonshu bad very quickly. Sudden changes in temperature should also be avoided. Nihonshu will generally keep longer if put in the refrigerator or freezer, but may have an odd texture if drunk immediately after being kept at very low temperatures. To be specific, ordinary nihonshu (futsū-shu) should be kept around 15℃ and unpasteurized nihonshu (namazake) should be kept around 3 to 5℃. Recommended storage temperatures can vary, so take a look on the label.

As for the fate of my very old nihonshu, I’m going to be using it for cooking. As long as the nihonshu hasn’t developed a whitish color indicating bacteria growth, it can be used for cooking even after the recommended consumption date has passed. Many also swear by nihonshu baths, so that may be an experiment for the next old bottle of nihonshu.

Do you have a favorite nihonshu or favorite nihonshu story?

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LEARN ABOUT JAPAN THROUGH SAKE

Learning about local brews is an interesting way to get to know a culture and Sake represents Japan’s source of life – water and rice.

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Understanding Your TEPCO Electricity Bill

tepco Image © Kawamoto Takuo

Nobody likes paying your electric bill but with this handy guide at least you will know what you are paying.

If you are living in Japan, chances are that you receive your monthly electric bill from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which services Tokyo among other areas in and near the Kanto region. The TEPCO electric bill is all in Japanese, but fortunately, figuring out the amount owed and paying it is as simple as looking for the largest yen amount on the bill and then going to a convenience store.

Being able to decipher the information on your bill can prove useful, though. You can learn what kind of plan you have, how much you spent the same month last year, and most importantly, the payment due date.

This article will help you understand the most important parts of your TEPCO electric bill.

Below, the contents of each box on the example bill are explained, starting with the item in the upper left corner.

Click to expand. Click to enlarge.

Box 1: Name

This is fairly straight forward as it contains your name and address.

Box 2: Usage

Box 2 contains information about the usage period.

25年12月分: “Bill for December, 2012”

The Japanese calendar year is used here. This example bill is for Heisei 25, which is 2013.
ご使用期間 11月19日~12月16日: “Billing period: From November 19 to December 16”
検針月日 12月17日: “Date electric meter checked: December 17”
(28日間): “Period of 28 days”
Amount of days included in this bill.

BOX 3: Amount Used

Box 3 contains information about the amount of electricity used in the billing period.
ご使用量 61kWh: “Amount used: 61kWh”

Box 4: Amount Owing

Box 4 contains a breakdown of how much you owe. If you owe less than 1,000 yen, the bill will be combined with the next month’s bill. If you didn’t use any electricity at all in that month, you’ll be charged half the basic fee.

請求金額 1,819円: “Amount owed: 1,819 yen”
(うち消費税など相当額 86円): “Amount of consumption tax, etc. included: 86 yen”
上記料金内訳: “Breakdown of above amount”
基本料金 546円00銭: “Basic monthly fee: 546 yen 00/100 yen”
電力量料金: “Electric usage fee”
・1段料金 1,152円29銭: “1st tier charge: 1,152 yen 29/100 yen”

For the default contract, electric usage fees are broken up into three tiers, with fees per kWh increasing depending on the kWh used.
・燃料費調整額 97円60銭: “Fuel cost adjustment amount: 97 yen 60/100 yen”
TEPCO uses a system to calculate the amount that should be added or subtracted from your bill to adjust for the fluctuation of the cost of fuel.
再エネ発電賦課金等 24円: “Renewable energy levy, etc.: 24 yen”
This amount is used to support renewable energy sources and is based on your usage.
口座振替割引 -54 円00銭: “Bank transfer discount: -54 yen 00 cents”
This isn’t included on the example bill shown above, but if you set up payment by automatic bank transfer, you can save 54 yen per month (as of April 2014).

Box 5: Contract Infomation

Box 5 contains information about your contract.
ご契約種別 従量電灯B: “Contract Type: Juuryou Dentou B”
TEPCO offers several contract types with different basic fees and usage limits.
ご契約 20A: “Contract 20A”

The Juuryou Dentou B contract allows for usage of up to 20A. You can change your contract to better fit your usage. See the TEPCO website for information about contract types. [in Japanese only].

Box 6: Electric Meter

Box 6 contains detailed information about your electric meter.

Box 7: Last Year’s Usage

Box 7 will contain information comparing last year’s usage with this year’s usage if you’ve used TEPCO for over a year. For example:
昨年5月分は33日間で 46kWhです。今月分は1日あたり34%減少しています。
“Last May, you used 46kWh in 33 days. This May, you used 34% less per day than last May.”

Box 8: Fuel Costs

Box 8 contains detailed information about how the fuel cost adjustment is calculated.

Box 9: Due Date

Box 9 contains important dates.
今月分 お支払期限日 1月16日: “Payment due date for this billing period: January 16”
If this date has passed, you can still pay at a convenience store or at a TEPCO service counter.
次回検針予定日 1月18日: “Date of next meter check: January 18”

Box 10: Customer Number

Box 10 is your customer number (お客様番号).

If you don’t have an automatic bank transfer set up, the slip on the right will repeat information such as the payment due date and billing month. The clerk at the convenience store, bank, or post office will stamp this part when you pay.

An automatic bank transfer will get you a discount, so I highly recommend signing up for it. You can find information about setting up a bank transfer at the TEPCO website. [only in Japanese].

Nobody likes paying utilities, but hopefully this guide has shed a little more light on the contents of the TEPCO electricity bill.

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Ota Market, Japan’s Largest Vegetable and Flower Market

ota_vegetable_1

It may not be as well known as the Tsukiji fish market but the Ota Vegetable and Fruit Market is over 100,000 square meters and boasts a flower section in addition to fruit, vegetable, and fish sections.

Ota Market, called Ota Ichiba (大田市場) in Japanese, is one of a dozen wholesale markets in Tokyo. Everyone has heard of Tsukiji, even if only as “the Tokyo fish market,” but Ota Market is over 100,000 square meters larger than Tsukiji Fish Market and boasts a flower section in addition to fruit, vegetable, and fish sections.

One of Ota Market’s most appealing attractions is the early morning auction, which visitors are welcome to watch. In fact, Ota Market contains a visitor course that overlooks the warehouse floor, perfect for getting an unobstructed view of the market activity. In spite of this, Ota Market remains a relatively obscure sightseeing destination.

Of course, this meant that we had to make a GaijinPot outing to check out the Ota Market observer course for ourselves. I met up with GP editor Anthony Joh at Omori station and we began our adventure.

At the main gate, the security guards seemed surprised to see us. We weren’t sure if they were surprised that we were foreigners or tourists or both, but soon they produced a promotional booklet in English and then led us to the start of the Ota Market visitor course. The course started inside an old very Japanese style office building, which Anthony remarked that it looked like like an insane asylum.

ota_vegetable_2

Just when we thought we had lost our way and would be snatched up by a Ring-esque black-haired ghost in one of the poorly-lit hallways, the visitor course arrows propelled us out onto a sunlit overpass. On sunny days, Mt. Fuji is visible from the market roof, and the trees in the wild bird sanctuary next door are a welcome sight in Tokyo.

Back inside, we finally reached the vegetable and fruit warehouse. It was already about noon, so the 6:50 am auction was long over. The warehouse itself though was a spectacle, with boxes upon boxes of produce and forklifts racing around the floor. The view from above made the warehouse seem small, but once we descended to the warehouse floor, we suddenly felt very small.

ota_vegetable_3

The fish market is right next to the vegetable and fruit warehouse. Boxes of bream were lined up neatly along the walkway, and giant long-legged crabs scuttled back and forth in their aquariums. A gregarious fish dealer, who had been working at Ota Market for more than ten years, seemed happy to answer our questions.

“You should come another time for the bidding at the vegetable and fruit warehouse. The flower market also has an auction, but they tend to dislike guests,” he said laughing.

Perhaps as part of this secretiveness, the flower warehouse was in an entirely different location on the Ota Market grounds and wasn’t easy to reach. The trip, however, was well worth it. The day’s activities at the flower market were obviously winding down, but the warehouse remained packed with all varieties of plants. Hibiscus, sunflowers, and Venus fly traps sat side-by-side in the largest flower market in Japan.

ota_vegetable_4a

Even though we we warned that guests were not welcome we found that no one paid attention to us as we walked around the floor of the flower market. We even found the auction room which contained specialized computers, which presumably make for smoother bidding, although Anthony tried bidding the old fashioned way.

ota_vegetable_5

Although the warehouse caters to certified dealers, a kind flower seller allowed us to purchase some of his wares. Gerbera daisies in hand, we received directions to the nearest train station from the market security guards and headed back to the bustling center of Tokyo.

Ota Market
Visitor course times: 5:00 – 15:00 (open most weekdays and Saturdays; closed most Sundays and national holidays. Check their calendar for specifics [only available in Japanese])
Visitor center times: Weekdays 9:00-12:00, 13:00-16:00 (closed Saturdays, Sundays and holidays)

Auction times
Fish market: From 5:40am
Vegetable market: From 6:50am
Fruit market: From 7:00am
Flower market: From 7:00am
Telephone: (3790) 8301

Directions
By bus: A 20 minute ride on the Keihin Kyuukou bus from the bus station at the East Exit of JR Omori Station towards Ota Market (大田市場; bus displays are currently only in Japanese). As of May 2014, buses going towards Ota Market are numbers 32 and 43. Get off at Ota Market Administrative Office (大田市場事務棟).
By train: A fifteen minute walk from Tokyo Monorail Ryutsu Center (東京モノレール流通センター駅).
Ota Market Official English Website | Map

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Choosing a Japanese Typeface for Your Hanko

hanko

Choosing the correct Japanese typeface for your hanko is very important so you don’t get stuck with your official “signature” in Japan being in a Japanese equivalent of Comic Sans.

“Wow, cute!”

This was not the reaction I wanted in response to my hanko (name stamp). In spite of myself, I did have to admit that my coworker was right: my name, stamped in red ink on a very important document, did look adorable. If I had done some research before choosing the font for my hanko, I wouldn’t be forever stuck with my official “signature” in Japan being in a Japanese equivalent of Comic Sans.

If you study Japanese or live in Japan, you’ll have many chances to encounter and choose Japanese fonts. With a little bit of design knowledge, you’ll be able to identify what an author is trying to convey with a font and be able to choose an appropriate font for your own use.

As a side note, in the typographic community, there is debate about correct usage of the words “font,” “typeface,” and “type family,” but we’ll use the lay term meaning of the word “font.”

According to an article by the web design company Cyber Intelligence, Japanese fonts can be divided into two large categories:

Mincho (明朝体)
Gothic (ゴシック体)

Mincho is comparable to Serif for the Roman alphabet. Mincho fonts have characters with triangular decorative elements at the ends of horizontal lines and have lines of varying thickness. Gothic, on the other hand, is equivalent to sans-serif. Gothic font characters have minimal decorative elements and possess uniform line thickness. Other font categories, such as cursive/script, “pop,” and handwritten, do exist, but we’ll be examining these two basic categories of fonts.

fonts

Japanese Font Impressions

As an article by the multimedia company ACTZERO Inc. explains, Mincho fonts and Gothic fonts can give completely different impressions. In addition, the font weight can give another impression. Below, you can see the general impressions of fonts and font weights.

  • Normal Mincho: refined, elegant, knowledgeable
  • Bold Mincho: authoritative, solid, mature, historical
  • Light Mincho: modern, neutral, urban
  • Normal Gothic: child-like, high-impact
  • Bold Gothic: strong, cheerful, masculine
  • Light Gothic: modern, refined, feminine

You can probably guess that my hanko is in a Gothic font. If you look up ポップ体 (popputai, pop fonts), though, you’ll find several Japanese fonts that make Comic Sans look classy.

How to Choose a Japanese Font

The Japanese design website Tsutawaru Design states that thinner fonts are typically easier to read. For this reason, thinner fonts, which tend to be Mincho, are preferred for long paragraphs in novels, newspapers, essays, and textbooks.

Examples of widely available thinner Japanese fonts that are better for print paragraphs are MS明朝 (MS Mincho, on Windows), メイリオ (Meiryo, on Windows), and ヒラギノ明朝 (Hiragino Mincho, on Mac).

Thicker fonts, which include many of the Gothic fonts, generally have a greater impact and are thus often used for titles, headings, and captions.

According to Tsutawaru Design, examples of standard thicker Japanese fonts that are better for print titles and captions are MS ゴシック (MS Gothic, on Windows) and ヒラギノ角ゴ (Hiragino Kakugo, on Mac).

One thing to note is that, in contrast to the “rules” for print, fonts with minimal decorative elements are preferred for long paragraphs displayed on computer screens. For this reason, while print novels may often be in a Mincho font, the font of choice for the body of online articles will be a Gothic one. The heading of an online article is likely to be in a Mincho font. If you do a Powerpoint presentation in Japanese, keep this in mind.

A quick look at the books on my bookshelf shows me that most print materials follow the “Mincho for long text, Gothic for titles” guideline but that manga often use a mixture of fonts, throwing in cursive fonts and varying font weights. These mixtures of fonts in manga compliment the content of the text, allowing the feeling and atmosphere to be conveyed visually.

Can you identify the font styles in Japanese materials around you?

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Buying and Registering a Used Bicycle in Japan

registering_bike Image © Takuma Kimura

As with everything in Japan, buying a used bicycle involves a large amount of paperwork. In this article we break down the items needed to register a used bike under your name.

In 1994, bicycle anti-theft registration (自転車防犯登録, jitensha bouhan touroku) went from an option to an obligation. Forcing everyone who buys a bicycle, whether new or used to register it with their local city ward.

Generally, if you buy a bicycle from a shop, you’ll register your new bicycle upon checking out. This is a simple process that involves showing your ID to the clerk, filling out a short form, and paying a registration fee of around 500 yen.

Buying or registering a used bicycle in Japan is more involved. The process is complicated by the fact that each prefecture has its own bicycle registration system and its own procedures for re-registering an already registered bicycle.

Most prefectures specify one of two ways to re-register a used bicycle: through a change of owner process or by having the previous owner cancelling the old registration and then having the new owner register the bicycle anew. You can do either of these procedures at bicycles shops, many home center, and sometimes police stations.

Change of Owner Process

The change of owner process is easier than the cancellation and re-registration process because the old owner doesn’t have to go in person to the bicycle shop or home center.

Items needed for change of bicycle owner process (must be done by new owner):

  • The bicycle itself
  • ID card of new owner (driver’s license, zairyu card, etc.)
  • Old owner’s registration card (防犯登録お客様控え, bouhan touroku okyakusama hikae | 登録カード, touroku kaado)
  • Deed of transfer (譲渡証証明書, joutoshoumeisho)
  • Bicycle warranty (保証書, hoshousho)
  • Processing fee (around 500 yen; depends on prefecture)

* Usually prefectures only require either the old owner’s registration card (preferred) or the deed of transfer (below), but if you have both, this may make the process smoother.

* See the Kanagawa Prefecture deed of transfer for an example. The following prefectures require a specified format, so pick up the paper online or in person: Hiroshima, Okayama, Tokyo

* The warranty is not required, but bring the original warranty if you have it.

The following prefectures allow the change of owner process: Akita, Ehime, Fukushima, Hiroshima, Hyogo, Kagawa, Kyoto, Nara, Oita, Okayama, Osaka, Miyazaki, Shiga, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Tokyo, Tottori, Toyama

Cancellation and Re-registration Process

Most prefectures state that the previous owner must first cancel the registration on their bicycle and then the new owner must register the bicycle anew. The good news is that the bicycle registration cancellation is free, even if it is an annoyance for the old owner.

Items needed to cancel bicycle registration (cancellation must be done by old owner):

  • The bicycle itself
  • ID card of old owner (driver’s license, zairyu card, etc.)
  • Old owner’s registration card (防犯登録, bouhan touroku kaado)

Items needed to register bicycle (registration must be done by new owner):

  • The bicycle itself
  • ID card of new owner (driver’s license, zairyu card, etc.)
  • Proof of change/cancellation of old registration (if provided by prefecture)
  • Old owner’s registration card and/or deed of transfer (only Aichi, Chiba)
  • Processing fee (around 500 yen; depends on prefecture)

The following prefectures require the cancellation and re-registration process: Aichi, Chiba, Fukuoka, Gunma, Hokkaido, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kagoshima, Kanagawa, Kumamoto, Miyagi, Nagasaki (may be able to do change of owner procedure through old owner), Niigata, Okinawa, Saitama

Some prefectures don’t specify online exactly how to register an already registered bicycle, so if your prefecture isn’t listed above, inquire at a police box or bicycle shop.

Happy registration!

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How to Save Money by Using Convenience Store Point Cards

point_cards Image © MaidRunner

The next time you go to the convenience store, be sure to ask about their point card. Most cashiers will be happy to explain in simple Japanese or English if they can about how to sign up for and use your point card.

If you’ve been in a Japanese convenience store, you may have been asked if you have a point card. If you are living in Japan and can’t answer this question with 「はい」(“yes”), then you should look into getting a convenience store point card.

Which card you should get will depend on which stores you frequent and what you can get with the points, but if you visit convenience stores at all, a point card can save you some money.

With the large number of convenience stores in Japan, examining all of the available point cards would take an eternity. For this reason, we’ll examine the point cards of three of the most numerous convenience stores: 7-11, Lawson, and Family Mart.

7-11

Card Name: Nanaco
Points Earned: 1 point for every 100 yen spent
Point Validity: Expire at the end of March two years from the day earned (example: points earned June 2014 expire March 31, 2016)
Nanaco Official Website [in Japanese]
Nanaco Wikipedia Entry [in English]

Going by mascots alone, 7-11′s Nanaco card has the cutest: a tiny giraffe with a kerchief around its neck. One of the Nanaco card’s best aspects is that you can also use it at Itoyokado (grocery/department store) and Denny’s (family restaurant).

Lawson

Card Name: Ponta
Points Earned: 1 point for every 100 yen spent, plus 1 point for visiting the store
Point Validity: Expire if card not used within 1 year; renewed if card is used within 1 year
Lawson Official Ponta Website [in Japanese]

One appealing aspect of the Ponta card is you can also use it at Geo (DVD rental store), which typically has lower prices than TSUTAYA. Also, you receive 1 point for just checking out and can exchange points for cute mascot and character plates and bowls during campaigns. Right now, I think you can exchange 300 points for a Rilakkuma bowl.

Family Mart

Card Name: T-Point
Points Earned: 1 point for every 100 yen spent
Point Validity: Expire if card not used within 1 year; renewed if card is used within 1 year
T-Point Official Website [in Japanese]

The T-Point card is probably the most versatile of the three point cards presented here. In addition to Family Mart, the T-point card can both receive and use points at TSUTAYA (DVD rental store), Shidax (karaoke box), Bamiyan (Chinese family restaurant), ENEOS (gas station), and more. Go on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and the 20th of each month for double points.

At all of the stores, 1 point is equal to 1 yen, so if you have 100 points, you can buy a 100 yen item with those points. Sometimes you can find items that cost fewer points than the cash price or that cost less in cash if you present your convenience store point card.

On a similar topic, many point cards have campaigns with which you can receive a higher percentage of points for buying a certain item. Items that award extra points will have a sign below that reads something like “+20 point,” “+20 ポイントボーナス,” or “+10p”.

A point to keep in mind is that most items can be bought at the supermarket for cheaper than at a convenience store and that many supermarkets also have point cards. Buying most items at the supermarket and then buying mostly items that rack up high points at the convenience store would be the wisest way to collect convenience store points.

Another important point is that a few items, such as tickets, utility bills, cigarettes and stamps, don’t issue points.

The next time you go to the convenience store, be sure to ask about their point card. Most cashiers will be happy to explain in simple Japanese or English if they can about how to sign up for and use your point card.

Which convenience store do you use the most and which convenience store point cards do you have?

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Hangovers and the Power of Turmeric

UkonNoChikara

The beginning of the fiscal year in Japan is a time of hellos and goodbyes. Those hellos and goodbyes usually come with a large amount of drinking. A large amount of drinking almost inevitably leads to a hangover.

The beginning of the fiscal year in Japan is a time of hellos and goodbyes. Those hellos and goodbyes usually come with a large amount of drinking. A large amount of drinking almost inevitably leads to a hangover.

Since the advent of drinking, people have been trying to prevent and cure hangovers. The ancient Romans ate raw owl eggs to cure hangovers. My American college roommates would stay up until the next morning and then sleep in the name of hangover prevention.

Now, my Japanese coworkers take a special drink said to prevent hangovers. As I’m not a medical professional, I can’t verify the effectiveness of any of these preventions and cures, so if you really want to prevent a hangover, you should either consult a doctor or not drink. If you happen to be in Japan, plan on drinking, and aren’t adverse to drinking tumeric, you might want to see how this “hangover prevention” works for you.

ukonnochikara

Ukon no Chikara
ウコンの力

One evening before a 飲み会 (nomikai, drinking party), I saw a coworker down a sweet-smelling drink in a small metal bottle. When I asked about the drink, she explained that it is called Ukon no Chikara.

Ukon no Chikara is made of turmeric, a type of ginger. The name Ukon no Chikara itself means “the power of turmeric.” Turmeric is a root said to improve digestive function and, in addition, prevent hangovers. Ukon no Chikara is a specific product name, but several other turmeric drinks are sold in Japan, including Ukon Drink (ウコンドリンク) and Ukon no Genki (ウコンの元気).

In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I tried Ukon no Chikara before a drinking party of one, to be held in my bathtub. The drink is bright orange, the color of mango juice. Much like mango juice, the drink was mildly sweet and easy to drink. I had expected more of an acidic “energy drink” taste because many energy drinks come in similar metal bottles.

A few minutes after drinking Ukon no Chikara, I drank Sapporo’s take on black beer, called “Mugi to Hoppusu” (wheat and hops). Happily, the next morning, I did not get a hangover. I only drank about half the can of beer, though, so I’m hesitant to give the credit to Ukon no Chikara. What I did find is that drinking in the bathtub is a bad idea; I felt a little unwell after this experiment. Here’s to science!

Have you tried a ginger drink like Ukon no Chikara? What sort of hangover preventions or cures have you discovered in Japan?

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Bank of Japan Currency Museum

currency_museum_1

Either ironically or fittingly, the Bank of Japan Currency Museum is the perfect place to go when you are low on money but have plenty of time.

Either ironically or fittingly, the Bank of Japan Currency Museum is the perfect place to go when you are low on money but have plenty of time. The museum has enough to hold your attention for an hour or two, but admission is completely free.

You can find the museum tucked away in the financial district near Nihonbashi Station, next to the main Bank of Japan building. When you go inside, you are greeted by a guard who asks you to fill out a paper stating your city or country of origin, are passed some pamphlets in the language of your choice and then are free to go upstairs to the museum itself.

At the top of the red-carpeted stairs, you are first greeted by a fancy stamp machine. Instead of stamping the paper by hand, you push a button, which then imprints the mascot of the museum (a coin, of course) onto your pamphlet.

Next is the souvenir and photo-taking area. In this lobby, you can buy money-themed souvenirs from vending machines, take a photo with a giant stone coin and try lifting 1 million yen in 10 thousand yen bills.

Once you leave the first lobby, you’ll see an introductory video and then go inside the main museum. The museum starts with the ancient history of Japanese currency, progresses to the introduction of coins to 8th century Japan, goes all the way up to present day Japanese currency history and then ends with an introduction to currency from around the world. Most of the explanations are in Japanese, but plenty of English descriptions are available as well.

currency_museum_2

Naturally, most of the exhibits contain coins and paper money. The museum holds Chinese coins imported into Japan from the 12th century, the characteristically large and ovular oban coins, and the various paper moneys issued by local lords. In addition to currencies, the museum also has old wallets and coin-carrying cases hidden inside sword hilts.

A few hands-on exhibits line the far wall of the museum. These exhibits allow you to expose modern Japanese bills to black light and light at various angles to reveal marks meant to prevent counterfeiting.

The last few exhibits are about currency from around the world. A rotating shelf at the back wall will display different countries currencies at the push of a button. Although most coins and bills are the same basic shape, the variety in sizes and colors is dizzying.

Leaving all that money behind might be hard, but when you do leave, at least your wallet won’t be any lighter; that is, if you were able to resist buying a chocolate gold bar from the vending machine.

The Bank of Japan Currency Museum
Hours: 9:30-16:30 (last admission at 16:00)
Open: Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays, Jan. 1-4, Dec. 29-31, and national holidays, except Saturdays and Sundays)
Admission: Free
Address: Bank of Japan Annex Building, Nihonbashi-Hongokucho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-0021 Japan
Phone: 03-3277-3037
URL: www.imes.boj.or.jp/cm/

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Japan’s Top Six Gyudon Toppings

gyudon

Gyudon has long been the friend of cost-conscious and time-strapped Japanese salarymen. Let’s see what are the top six favourite gyudon toppings.

Gyudon has long been the friend of cost-conscious and time-strapped salarymen throughout Japan. The beef bowl, in fact, pre-dates the modern salaryman by quite a while; it emerged in the late 1800s as a combination of rice bowl dishes and beef hotpot dishes.

Gyudon isn’t just about beef and rice, as looking at a gyudon restaurant menu will soon reveal. The toppings number at least half a dozen at Yoshinoya, a popular beef bowl restaurant. Most gyudon restaurant menus will have photos of the toppings, but the trick to knowing how to put together a delicious gyudon is more than knowing what toppings are available.

With this guide, you can read about the top five most popular gyudon toppings as well as suggestions for delicious combinations of toppings.
The top five gyudon toppings were determined by gathering information from Japanese sites such as Hdrank, Naver Matome and MyNavi News and are in no particular order.

Let’s see which toppings most people prefer to grace the top of their gyudon.

Soft-boiled egg
(onsen tamago, 温泉たまご)

The onsen tamago is my personal favorite, so I’ve shamelessly put it at the top of this list. An onsen tamago is a boiled egg with a hard yolk and soft white. Onsen tamago were traditionally cooked in hot springs, which will come to no surprise if you knew that the Japanese word “onsen” means “hot spring.”
The website Naver Matome suggests onsen tamago with cheese and mentaiko (spicy fish roe) mayonnaise for a delicious combination of beef bowl toppings.

Green spring onion
(aonegi, 青ねぎ)

Some well-placed spring onion will add some color and crispness to your gyudon. According to MyNavi News, spring onion ranks as the second favorite gyudon topping for both men and women. Several gyudon places offer a “negitama gyudon” (Spring onion and egg beef bowl), so if you also like raw egg, getting this menu item would probably be more of a deal than getting the two toppings a la carte.

Red pickled ginger
(beni shouga, 紅しょうが)

At most if not all gyudon restaurants, you won’t find red picked ginger on the menu. This is because ginger is provided at no additional charge! If you take a peek in the container sitting on the counter or table at a gyudon restaurant, you’ll see a whole box full of beni shouga, free for the taking. Ginger does have some bite, so those weak of stomach will want to avoid it. Ginger fans, though, will save some cash by ordering a plain beef bowl and using the free ginger instead of other toppings.

Raw egg
(nama tamago, 生たまご)

According to MyNavi News, raw egg was the number one gyudon topping of choice for men; it doesn’t even show up on the women’s list. Nama tamago may take some getting used to if you’ve never had it before. I’ve found that if you mix the egg into the beef and rice while the dish is hot, the egg will become mostly “cooked,” leaving delicious eggy strands throughout the beef bowl.

Kimchi
(kimuchi, キムチ)

Kimchi, mostly known as a Korean food, is popular in Japan as well. Japanese kimchi might not be as hot as most Korean kimchi, but it will add some spiciness to an otherwise mild if greasy dish such as gyudon. Combining kimchi with tororo, a sticky white grated yam topping, makes for beautiful contrast and an interesting texture atop your gyudon.

Cheese
(chiizu, チーズ)

What would a fast food place be without cheese? Cheese appears in fifth place among women’s favorite gyudon toppings, according to MyNavi News. Cheese adds a certain richness to an already hearty dish. Some people enjoy cheese on just about everything, so why not also on gyudon?

Now that we’ve wrapped up the top six gyudon toppings, it’s time to hear about your favorite toppings. What gyudon toppings do you love? Which ones do you despise? Let us know in the comments!

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