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.

NOA CAFE Ginza, The Waffle District


Those with a sweet tooth will be delighted to know that Ginza’s cafes have a strong focus on dessert. From cakes to parfaits, there’s no shortage of sweets to choose from in Ginza, but one of the items most favored by locals is the humble NOA CAFE waffle.

Ginza is best known as a shopping district, with streets upon streets of expensive, brand-name stores to back up this perception.

Personally, though, I’d like it to be known for its small, cozy cafes.

Those with a sweet tooth will be delighted to know that Ginza’s cafes have a strong focus on dessert. From cakes to parfaits, there’s no shortage of sweets to choose from in Ginza, but one of the items most favored by locals is the humble NOA CAFE waffle.

NOA CAFE has a very popular morning set which consists of a drink, waffles or toast, and a salad. The morning set is only 480 yen, so its no surprise that the shop is reportedly crowded from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., which is officially “morning” at NOA CAFE. Looking for some quiet, I decided to visit later in the evening. This was the right decision, because I had my choice of seat. The table in the corner was perfect to take in the cute underground cafe. A long mirror was mounted on the opposite wall, and the black chairs created a sharp contrast with the softly-lit white walls.

The menu listed some sandwiches and typical desserts, including the very tempting mud chocolate cake. In the end, however, I had come for the waffles. Despite my decision to stick with waffles, the variety meant that I still had a hard time choosing. Some waffles were adorned by strawberries or blueberries, while other waffles boasted tomatoes and ham. If I was going to have a dessert waffle, though, I wanted to make sure that it was as dessert-like as possible. I ended up with the chocolate banana and gelato waffle, which had just enough potassium to justify eating it as dinner. The waffle came with milk tea; a 1,050 yen set is reasonable for Ginza.


Pondering on “Ginza inexpensive” versus “rest-of-the-world inexpensive” came to a halt when I took the first bite of waffle. It was like biting into a crispy cloud. This sensation was further mixed with the creaminess of the vanilla gelato. That’s not even taking into account the chocolate sauce, fresh cream and banana.

To put it in unnecessarily epic terms, the beautifully arranged waffles soon fell to my mighty fork. For those not afraid of a waffle sweeter than your typical breakfast food, NOA CAFE should be on your list of must-visit places in Ginza.

NOA CAFE (Ginza)
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza, 5 Chome?8?5
Directions: Leave through Exit A4 of Ginza subway station, when you seen the SONOKO building on your right, turn onto one street before the one next to that building. On your right, you’ll soon seen NOA CAFE.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Telephone: 03-3574-8324
Average price: 1,050 yen (drink and waffle set)
NOA CAFE (Ginza) [In Japanese]


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Tokyo’s Pedestrian Paradises

ginza Image © Brent 2.0

Spring is back and that means the opening of the pedestrian only streets. Lynn Allmon explores the three most well-known pedestrian paradises in Tokyo.

Finally, spring has graced Tokyo with its presence. Evenings may still require a coat, but afternoons are warm enough to walk around outside with just a light jacket between you and the atmosphere. Some may be content to spend their free afternoons this spring exploring Tokyo by walking along the sidewalks. For those who aren’t content with only sidewalks, Tokyo has another option: Pedestrian Paradises.

The Japanese word for these majestic once-a-week occurrences is 歩行者天国 (hokousha tengoku). If you want to sound hip, you can used the shortened version, ホコ天 (hokoten). Of course, you could just use the English word “pedestrian zone” or “pedestrian mall,” but those don’t have quite the same impact was “pedestrian paradise.”

Pedestrian paradises are truly havens for pedestrians, with rules in place meant to make walking safer and more enjoyable. The streets designated as a pedestrian paradises are closed to cars, and activities such as riding bicycles, holding performances, and passing out fliers are prohibited. Occasionally, however, you might encounter promotional activities, cosplayers, and photo shoots. The police diligently patrol these areas, though, so I wouldn’t try any of these activities without permission or without at least a willingness to apologize out the nose if the police come up to you.

The three most well-known pedestrian paradises in Tokyo occur almost every weekend on a specific day and at a specific time. If you want to enjoy taking a walk without worrying about cars or being accosted by tissue pushers, take a trip down to one of these streets.

Akihabara’s Pedestrian Paradise

Days: Sunday
April to September, 1pm to 6pm
October to March, 1pm to 5pm
Location: Chuo-dori, from Sotokanda 5-chome crossing to Manseibashi crossing (about 570 meters) [map]

Akihabara, Tokyo’s Electric City, is attractive for its electronics and more recently for anime goods. Standing just off to the side of the pedestrian paradise, women in maid costumes can be seen handing out advertisements for their respective maid cafes. Don Quijote, the shop that has just about everything, towers over Akihabara’s pedestrian paradise while other smaller shops selling manga, cameras and army surplus line the street.

Ginza’s Pedestrian Paradise

Days: Saturday, Sunday, holidays
April to September, noon to 6pm
October to March, noon to 5pm
Location: Ginza-dori, from Ginza-dori guchi crossing to Ginza 8-chome crossing (about 1100 meters) [map]

Ginza Station exit A7 is known as the “Lion Statue Exit” and will lead you straight to both Ginza’s pedestrian paradise and, not unexpectedly, a lion statue. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police website, Ginza’s pedestrian paradise was started in September 1970 and is the oldest pedestrian paradise in Tokyo. You can find plenty of upscale department stores and luxury goods here, but less-expensive stores such as H&M, Gap and Uniqlo have made their way to Ginza’s shimmering streets.

Shinjuku’s Pedestrian Paradise

Days: Sunday, holidays
April to September, noon to 6pm
October to March, noon to 5pm
Location: Shinjuku 3-chome [map]

On the east side of Tokyo, you can find Shinjuku’s pedestrian paradise. Shinjuku is an interesting mix, with a skyscraper district on one side of the station and an entertainment district on the other. Unsurprisingly, Shinjuku’s pedestrian paradise is right in the middle of the entertainment district, 3-chome (pronounced “sanchome”). The pedestrian paradise in Shinjuku is different from those in Ginza and Akihabara in that it encompasses several roads instead of just one main road. This area has plenty of both cheap and expensive restaurants, small spas, and inexpensive shops.

Have you been to any of these pedestrian paradises? Which one would you like to visit?


The Neon of Donbori

Dotonbori is the beating heart of Osaka’s nightlife and is famous for its neon lights and entertainment, and really comes alive at night when the neon lights up together with the sounds and smells of the district.

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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.

Last week, the first mosquito of the season made its way into my room. The little jerk was one of those zebra-striped (Tiger Mosquito) silent types. Fortunately, these kind happen to be lazy flyers. As much as I consider myself a compassionate person, mosquitoes are difficult to forgive.

I honestly don’t mind the humidity of Japanese summers, but I can’t stand the mosquitoes. Luckily, there are plenty of products available for dealing with mosquitos in Japan but before learning about these products, you should memorize two useful words:

蚊除け (kayoke) – A product that is labeled “kayoke” will repel mosquitoes.
蚊取り (katori) – A product that is labeled “katori” will kill mosquitoes.

Personally, my strategy is first to use simple methods, such as wearing long sleeves and sealing entrances. Mosquitoes can come in through your bathroom fan vent, so you may want to get a filter to keep them out.

Next comes the mosquito repellent, which includes sprays (蚊除けスプレー, mushiyoke supure), hanging repellent sheets (虫よけバリア, mushiyoke baria), and aroma oils.

If they still manage to slip past all my defences, it’s time to bring out the big guns! These products, a mosquito’s worst nightmare, are listed below.

Mosquito Coil
(蚊取り線香, katorisenko)

A mosquito coil is basically an incense stick that contains insecticide. When the stick is burned, the smoke kills nearby mosquitoes. The standard mosquito coil is a gray or earth-colored spiral and will last for several hours. Naturally, cute mosquito coil containers are also available. The container you’ll encounter the most is a kayaributa (蚊遣豚), which is a ceramic pig. The smoke comes out of the pig’s nose, proving that the pigs are on our side.


On the downside, the mosquito coil smoke can have an unpleasant smell and irritate the throat and eyes. In addition, the chemicals can have a negative effect on small pets. For these reasons, I suggest taking precautions to reduce these and any other negative effects when using a mosquito coil.

Mosquito Exterminating Mat
(蚊取りマット, katorimatto)

Mosquito mats might not have as much nostalgic value, but do present a safer alternative to the tradition mosquito coil. A mosquito mat is put on a mosquito mat heater, which causes the mat to release pesticide. Depending on the type, a mosquito mat heater will work with batteries or an electric outlet. This means no smoke, no smell, and no fire. As for the mat, it can last from half a day to a whole day. Kincho is a well-known brand for mosquito mats and insecticide in general.


Liquid-Type Electric Mosquito Exterminator
(電子蚊取り器, denshikatoriki)

The liquid mosquito exterminator seems to be more popular now than the mat. The electric device may run on batteries or by electric plug. A liquid pesticide is first poured inside the device. Then, as you might expect, the device propels the pesticide into the air for a smell-free, smoke-free, mosquito-free room. The liquid-type exterminator has an edge over the mat in that it lasts a month or more. Earth No Mat (アースノーマット) is probably the most popular liquid-type exterminator.


These are some of the main types of mosquito extermination methods used in Japan. What are your recommendations for keeping mosquitoes away?


Getting a Japanese Permanent Residency Visa

In an attempt to promote entry of skilled professionals the Immigration Bureau of Japan has established a point system that makes immigration procedures easier.

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Mysterious SOUP CURRY of Shanti


The sign outside of Shanti said “SOUP CURRY.” Which was it — soup or curry? A set of both? Led by my stomach and sense of curiosity, I entered the shop without looking at the menu outside.

Both Indian curry and Japanese curry are loved by Japanese and non-Japanese alike. This means that Tokyo is filled to the brim with Indian and Japanese curry shops. You can find the occassional Thai curry restaurant, but I’ve never come across a restaurant quite like Shanti. I’d had enough of the flashing lights of the east side of Ikebukuro and thought that maybe the west gate would offer some respite. Luckily for me and my empty stomach, in addition to some quiet, the west side of Ikebukuro had food.

The sign outside of Shanti said “SOUP CURRY.” Which was it — soup or curry? A set of both? Led by my stomach and sense of curiosity, I entered the shop without looking at the menu outside.

A drink menu in English was placed in front of me, and the curry menu, in Japanese, was posted next to the table. The curry menu featured colorful photos of the various curries, ranging in price from 890 yen to 1490 yen. Still, the small photos didn’t clear up the mysterious “SOUP CURRY” sign. I chose an egg and vegetable curry, one of the simpler dishes, at a “normal” spiciness.

When my food came, the mystery was solved: soup curry is, well, curry-flavored soup.

The wait for the soup to cool provided a few extra moments to study the menu on the wall. The menu described four types of “curry eating techniques.” Apparently the “regular” way to eat soup curry is to pour some of the curry on the rice and then eat the rice. I decided to go with the “elegant” way: scoop some rice on the spoon, soak the rice in the soup and eat.

When I elegantly began to eat my curry, I found that “normal” level 2 spiciness was much spicier than I had expected. A surprise, but a welcome one, given the chilly temperatures outside. If you’re the type of person who would pay for the pleasure of second-degree burns to the tongue, you can get the level 40 curry for an extra 400 yen. The menu even warns that this level of spiciness is without a doubt bad for you.

Satisfied with my flavorful dish, I did wonder if it would be filling enough. Both the soup and rice servings looked small, but near the end of the meal, I was almost ready to give up. The soup included one and a half eggs, a full carrot, and several other halved vegetables. A more heartier dish, such as the curry soup with a full hambuger patty in it, would’ve been impossible to finish.

On my way out, I took a business card and saw that there were five Shanti restaurants in all, three of which are in Tokyo. With the successful expansion from Hokkaido to Tokyo, more Shanti restaurants will undoubtedly be on the way soon. That’s definitely a good thing.

Address: #2 Yajima Building, 1st floor, 5-1-6 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 171-0021
Nearest station: 2 minutes walk from Tokyo Metro Ikebukuro Station, exits C2 and C3
Telephone: 03-3981-9991
Hours: 11:30 to 24:00 (last order 24:00), only closed during New Year holidays
Shanti Ikebukuro


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Japanese Permanent Residency Visa


In an attempt to promote entry of skilled professionals the Immigration Bureau of Japan has established a point system that makes immigration procedures easier.

In an attempt to “promote entry of highly skilled foreign professionals,” the Immigration Bureau of Japan has established a point system that makes immigration procedures easier for workers conducting one of three specific activities: academic research, specialized technical work or business management.

The point system, introduced in May 2012, assigns points based on certain features and accomplishments of the professional applying, such as salary, age, position, and knowledge of Japanese. As might be assumed, higher levels of education and a higher salary mean more points. You can read about the evaluation mechanism on the Immigration Bureau’s website.

If the worker’s qualifications earn him or her more than 70 points, then the worker qualifies for preferential treatment during the immigration process. The preferential treatment includes:

Permission for multiple activities during the stay in Japan

Usually, a foreigner is only allowed to work in a single field specified by their visa. However a worker who qualifies under the new preferential treatment system will be able to work in a number of fields, such as engaging in research activities at a university and managing a business.

Grant of the “5 year” period of stay

A new long term five year visa is available and can be extended for consecutive five year terms.

Relaxation of requirements for permanent residency visa

Typically to obtain a permanent resident visa you need to be living in Japan for at least ten years. Under the new system, qualified nationals can apply for permanent resident status in as little as five years.

Expedited processing of the professional’s immigration papers

Your application process is now expedited so that you should get a reply back from immigration within five to ten days.

Permission for spouse of the professional to work in Japan

A spouse of a highly skilled foreign professional may engage in work activities even if he/she does not have the required academic background or work experience.

Permission for parent(s) of the professional to come to Japan (under certain conditions)

Under the new system, the parents of a highly skilled foreign professional or his/her spouse is allowed to enter and stay in Japan subject to conditions detailed below:

(i) where the parent will take care of a child younger than 7 years of age of the highly skilled foreign professional or his/her spouse; or
(ii) where the parent will take care of a pregnant highly skilled foreign professional or to a pregnant spouse of a highly skilled foreign professional

Permission for a domestic worker of the professional to come to Japan (under certain conditions)

A highly skilled foreign professional may bring a foreign domestic worker to Japan subject to certain conditions.

The points-system will not be very useful for the majority of immigrants to Japan, but hopefully signals a shift towards transparency in and improved treatment of foreigners by the immigration system. With Japan’s shrinking domestic workforce, welcoming more foreign workers would make sense.

The old edition of the Ministry of Justice’s Basic Plan for Immigration Control states, “The conditions of permission for ‘Permanent Resident’ will be further specified and clarified for those foreign residents who wish to stay in Japan permanently.” At the same time, the newest edition of the plan leaves out this section. The new edition seems much more focused on concrete measures for keeping illegal immigrants out than any sort of real policy on welcoming legal immigrants and visitors or making conditions better for current foreign workers.

Going back to the point system, for some fun, I took a look at how many points fictional characters Bruce Wayne (“Batman”) and Tony Stark (“Iron Man”) would rack up were they to apply for work permission in Japan under point system’s business management category.

With a few assumptions about salary and business structure, Bruce Wayne would net around 90 points. No doubt that Alfred Pennyworth (Wayne’s butler) would be the “domestic worker” Bruce Wayne brings with him.

According to Forbes, Wayne Enterprises, Bruce Wayne’s company, brings in more than Tony Stark’s company, Stark Industries. Yet, the business management point system doesn’t take into account the annual revenue of large businesses. This means that Tony Stark has more points than Bruce Wayne, at about 105, by virtue of being more educated and experienced.

Sadly, though, Stark’s executive assistant/girlfriend, Pepper Potts, will probably have a harder time getting work permission in Japan, as she doesn’t seem qualified to come as Stark’s spouse or domestic worker.

Do you think the points-based system signals a shift in Japanese immigration procedures? Do you or anyone you know, in real life or otherwise, qualify under the points system?


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Finding Pet Friendly Apartments in Japan


Are you looking for a pet friendly apartment in Japan? They are hard to find but not impossible, as GP contributor Lynn Allmon has found out.

An animal-lover moving to Japan may be disappointed to learn that most Japanese apartments are not pet friendly.

My animal-companion of choice would be a parakeet, but the terms of my lease clearly state:

“You cannot keep dogs, cats, chickens or other pets.”

I assume that parakeets would fall under the “other pets” not allowed by my contract. Keeping a pet in a no-pets-allowed apartment is asking for, at the very least, a large amount taken out of your deposit when you move.

If you’re set on getting a furry, feathered, or otherwise animal friend, the best way would be to choose an apartment that allows pets in the first place. In this article, I’ll introduce a few ways to find your pet-friendly apartment, some cost considerations, and some useful vocabulary.

Finding Pet Friendly Apartments In Japan

Whether you are using Japanese (see vocabulary below) or English to search, you can scope out pet-friendly apartments by looking online. Our very own GaijinPot apartment search specifically has a “pets negotiable” search (click “show more” for this checkbox).

If you can’t find a pet-friendly apartment listed online, don’t be afraid to call or go in person to an realtor. A realtor that offers services in English may not necessary advertise pet-friendly apartments in English online, so it’s worth asking.

Also, connections matter, so I recommend talking with coworkers or friends in Japan about finding pet-friendly apartments.

Even if an apartment isn’t advertised as pet-friendly, you may be able to make a deal with the landlord. A column on the Japanese website Excite suggests that fish, hamsters, ants, and parakeets may very well be allowed in “no pet” apartments if you simply get permission from the landlord. Perhaps I can keep that parakeet after all.

Keep in mind that “pet-friendly” may apply only to certain pets. Even pet-friendly landlords may place restrictions on the type, size, or number of the pets allowed. Discuss your specific case when asking about pet-friendly apartments.

For the bad news, pet-friendly apartments may be older or farther from the station. Additionally, while a room may be pet friendly, elevators and hallways may not be. Although not common, there have been cases where an apartment has gone from “pet friendly” to “no pets allowed” while pet owners were still living in the apartment. Also, pet owners tend to face higher rent, as discussed in the section below. Taking all of these factors into consideration would be wise.

Cost Considerations of Pet Friendly Apartments

In addition to the regular expense of keeping a pet in Japan, such as food costs, vet bills, and registration fees for certain pets, you might have to pay more for your apartment than someone without a pet would pay. Below are some examples of possible extra expenses.

  • Higher overall rental
  • Additional monthly rent per pet
  • Higher key money and/or security deposit upfront
  • Higher cleaning/restoration fee upon moving out

This can be discouraging, but higher rent may be justified by a truly pet-friendly apartment. Some pet-friendly apartments have soundproof walls, cushioned floor, or even pet doors! Of course, this may be the exception rather than the rule, but with a little work, you can find a pet-friendly apartment in your price range.

Pet Friendly Vocabulary

If you are searching in Japanese or would like to check your current contract, a few words will come in handy.

Pets NOT Allowed
ペット禁止 (petto kinshi)
ペット不可 (petto fuka)
ペット厳禁 (petto genkin)

Pets Allowed
ペットOK (petto OK)
ペット可 (petto ka)
ペット相談可 (petto soudan ka — pets negotiable)

Do you own a pet in Japan? How did you find your pet-friendly apartment?


Pet Friendly Apartments On GaijinPot

Looking for a place to stay for you and Fido? Search GaijinPot Apartments for our pet friendly listings.

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Dayan the Cat and the Wachifield Wonderland Gift Shop


Going into Wachifield is like falling down the rabbit hole, but ending up straight in the Cheshire Cat’s lair.

Going into Wachifield is like falling down the rabbit hole, but ending up straight in the Cheshire Cat’s lair.

The shop also has a slight steampunk vibe, with quirky music punctuated by the ticking of clocks wafting in the background. Beautiful bags, journals, shirts and other gifts line the shelves, most of them featuring a cute, but slightly peculiar cat. At first, I thought the designs were based on Alice in Wonderland, but it turns out that Wachifield is a world of its own, complete with a book series. The central character in the Wachifield universe is, of course, the mysterious cat, Dayan.

The first time I came upon Wachifield was completely by accident. I was hanging around Shinjuku, waiting for a friend and came upon the store while killing time. As I found out later online, the “Wachifield Shinjuku Labrynth” shop isn’t the only Wachifield store in Tokyo. In fact, the Wachifield stores have started to branch out to South Korea and Taiwan.

Since I was in the area again, I just had to revisit the shop. Even if you aren’t a cat lover yourself, you probably have some friends or relatives who would enjoy getting a unique gift from Wachifield. Fortunately, I have plenty of cataholics in my family, so it’ll be easy to find someone to give a Dayan-the-cat bath set to. For some of the higher-priced items, such as watches and leather purses, you may have a little bit of trouble finding the funds, though. While Wachifield certainly isn’t expensive, it couldn’t be called cheap. Personally, the gorgeous drawings and designs captured my heart, so the items seem worth it.

For an idea, a small towelcost 578 yen, and a bath ball was 399 yen. The shop had an even more beautiful towel for 1,890 yen, which I have my eye on. If you like the characters, but aren’t interested in the larger goods, you can always get a postcard at around 100 to 300 yen to send to a friend.

The store also carried the Wachifield book series, naturally. A lot of the books were sealed in plastic, but you can get an idea of what the world is like before buying by visiting the Japanese or English website. YouTube also had a few Japanese videos about Wachifield. One is a tour of the Wachifield store in Nara City, and the other is of the author, Akiko Ikeda, in Hong Kong drawing Dayan.

Have you heard of Wachifield and Dayan? Does you remind you of Alice in Wonderland? Leave a comment to let us know!

Wachifield Shinjuku Labrynth
Address: 3-25-5, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-5919-2334
Hours: 11:00am-20:00pm
Wachifield Official Website (Japanese)
Wachifield Official Website (English)


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Tips for Shopping Online in Japan


Online shopping in Japan can be fantastic for buying domestic items cheaply. Everything from electronics to groceries can be purchased online, sometimes at half the regular in store price.

Japanese websites can be fantastic for buying domestic items cheaply. Everything from electronics to groceries can be purchased online, sometimes at half the regular in store price.

When shopping online in Japan, you’ll be at an advantage if you know some Japanese. Some popular Japanese sites include:




Sometimes the selection on Japanese sites just won’t cut it. The good news is that many foreign-based sites will ship internationally. Even more heartening, many of these sites will ship internationally for free!

Last year, Cynthia Popper wrote an article about clothing sites that ship to Japan, many of them doing so for free.

International shipping isn’t limited to just fashion sites, though. Stores such as Sears also ship internationally, so check out your favorite home-country store’s website to see if they ship to Japan.

Delivery Options

One great thing about ordering items in Japan is that the items usually get shipped really quickly. Even when I lived in the countryside, items typically arrived at my doorstep within two days of ordering. Now that I live in Tokyo, items often arrive the very next day. The most-used companies for delivery seem to be JP Post, Sagawa, and Yamato/Kuroneko.

Of course, the speed is excellent, but with most sites, you can’t choose the time of the delivery. Depending on your schedule, catching the delivery person can be a little difficult. Since almost all packages ordered online require a signature to receive, this will mean that you have to get the package redelivered if you miss the delivery person.

The delivery person will leave an attempted-delivery slip in your door. The slip will give a phone number and a website for requesting redelivery. Most delivery services also have at least an English help-line and some have an English website. Both JP Post and Kuroneko have an English website for requesting redelivery.

Payment Options

The two most common options for payment when shopping online in Japan are credit card and bank transfer (振込, furikomi). In my opinion, the best way to go is payment via a Japanese credit card. You’ll encounter less fees and a higher rate of acceptance.

However, getting a credit card in Japan can be difficult, so the next-best option would be to use a credit card from your own country that is accepted in Japan. Unfortunately, you may get hit with conversion-rate fees and an over-seas transaction fee.

To avoid all these international fees you can use a Japanese prepaid credit card, available at most konbini stores. Cynthia has written a great article on using Japanese pre-paid credit cards.

The least-recommended way to pay is by bank transfer. The process can be confusing, time-consuming, and you may incur transaction fees. In order to do a bank transfer you first have to record the website’s payment details, such as their bank account name. If you have online banking, you might be able to do a bank transfer through your bank’s website. If you don’t, you’ll have to use an ATM or do the transaction with a teller.

Bank transfers through ATM are a little confusing and aren’t usually in English, so if you have any doubts, having a teller help would be the best option.

What are your online shopping tips? Do you have a favorite site you order from in Japan?


Online Shopping in Japan: The Pre-Paid Card Primer

Pre-paid credit cards are available at all konbini stores but how easy are they to use for the non-Japanese speaker? We take a look at some of the most popular cards for shopping online.

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The Sweet Flavors of Spring in Japan

sakura_mochi Image © Taku

Spring in Japan means sakura blossoms and sakura flavoured snacks from many western brands such as Starbucks and McDonald’s.

GP Contributor Lynn Allmon looks at some of the more traditional sakura flavoured treats that you can find at this time of the year.

Spring in Japan means sakura blossoms and sakura blossoms mean sakura-flavored lattes at Starbucks.

Almost all major brands of snacks, from Pocky to KitKat, put out sweets available only in spring. McDonald’s, Mr. Donut, and other restaurants also get in on the spring flavors with deliciousness such as maccha McFlurries and sakura donuts.

In my opinion, the best tasting Japanese seasonal desserts will be from traditional Japanese “wagashi” (sweets) shops. The varieties of both wagashi and modern sweets for each season are vast.

This article will focus on the basic flavors of sweets that become more available during spring in Japan.

Cherry Blossom
Japanese: 桜, さくら

The king of spring sweets in Japan: sakura. Every time I’ve tried to get a cherry blossom frappuccino from Starbucks after work, the darn thing is sold out. Sipping a sakura-flavored cocktail under sakura blossoms may be a little too meta, but it’s much better than sitting in your room alone eating factory-made, unnaturally pink sakura mochi. Actually, never mind, I did that last weekend, and it was a good time. ;)


Japanese: 苺, いちご

Strawberry-flavored sweets typically start appearing in late winter and pick up speed during early spring in Japan. Strawberries sit atop Christmas cakes (usually variations on strawberry shortcakes), are placed in the center of sweet rice cakes called 大福 (daifuku), and find their way into syrups on ice cream. Depending on your area, you can also go to an all-you-can-eat strawberry-picking farm in early spring for less than 1500 yen. Of course, stopping by your local convenience store and picking up strawberry Pocky is much easier.


Green Tea
Japanese: 抹茶, まっちゃ

My personal favorite among spring flavors is green tea. If you’ve ever had maccha, you’ll know that it is a little bitter. Maccha can balance out the sweetness of sakura. For this reason, sometimes you’ll find this combination, particularly in spring.


Japanese: 蓬, よもぎ

Mugwort, known as “yomogi” in Japanese, is a little bit rarer than the other flavors mentioned here, but often appears in stores during spring. Yomogi has a very earthy flavor, which is unsurprising given that it is an herb.

If you aren’t a big fan of herbs, but like green-tea-flavored foods, be a little careful. Yomogi sweets are colored almost exactly the same as maccha sweets — a deep green. Be sure to read the kanji very carefully.


Did I miss any of your favorite spring flavors? Which flavor do you want to try the most?


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Consumption Tax Increase in Japan

tax_increase Image © Alessandra

The consumption tax is increasing from 5% to 8% on April 1, 2014. Follow our quick guide to learn which items are taxable and which items are tax exempt.

You know how most items in the 100 yen shop are actually 105 yen? I was horrified to hear that from April 1, 2014, those 105 yen items will go up to 108 yen when the consumption tax goes from 5% to 8% in Japan.

My poor, stingy heart almost gave out when a coworker told me that the consumption tax in Japan will then go up to 10% October 2015. I managed to convince my heart to keep going — mostly by reminding it that seeing the doctor costs money.

The 100 yen shop example is the most obvious, but what other items and services will be affected by the consumption tax increase? The Japanese National Tax Agency website provides information about what is and isn’t taxed under the consumption tax (called 消費税 – shouhizei).

Items Subject to Consumption Tax

According to the Japanese National Tax Agency website, the following types of transactions fall under the consumption tax:

  • The transfer of property, fortune, assets, etc. (or of labor) by a business person as a business to gain profits.
  • The import of foreign cargo, assets, etc.

Basically, most goods, services, and utilities, in short, “consumables,” are taxable. Some items are tax exempt, though, so read further to find out what items will not be affected by the consumption tax increase. In reading these lists, keep in mind that these are aren’t exhaustive, definitive lists. If you want more information, you should read the National Tax Agency website or contact the National Tax Agency directly.

Below are some of the items which will be directly affected by the consumption tax increase.

Taxed Items

  • General goods and merchandise
  • Food services (restaurants, etc.)
  • Parking space rental
  • Office rental
  • Travel expenses (in Japan)
  • Lodging expenses (in Japan)
  • Travel allowance (as provided by employer)
  • Electric charges
  • Gas charges
  • Water charges
  • Phone charges
  • Bank transfer fees

Items Not Subject to Consumption Tax

Tax-exempt items are items that normally would be taxed under the consumption tax but that are not subject to taxation under consideration of social policies. There are special categories of tax exempt items, but I will only be listing some of the itmes which fall under the Japanese word 非課税 (hikazei, tax-exempt) and apply to in-country transactions.

Untaxed items are items which clearly don’t meet the guidelines for being subject to consumption tax and are therefore not taxed under the consumption tax. In short, both tax-exempt items and untaxed items will not be affected directly price-wise by the consumption tax increase in Japan.

Below, you can read about some items that are tax-exempt or untaxed under consumption tax.

Tax-exempt Items

  • Life-insurance premiums
  • Postage stamps
    • – the price of stamps will be going up in April 2014
    • – stamps themselves are tax-exempt, but the delivery charge is taxable.
  • Revenue stamps
    • – the stamps used when paying for visa handling fees, etc.
  • Gift cards, prepaid cards
    • – when the recipient of the card buys something, consumption tax will be charged on that item
  • Credit fees
  • Residential-use rentals, like apartments, etc
    • – some of my friends have seen their apartment rental prices rise, but this is not a directly because of the consumption tax increase.
  • Schooling fees/class fees
  • Textbooks
  • Midwivery services
  • Housing loan

Untaxed Items

  • General salary/wages, bonuses
  • Social insurance premiums (health insurance, pension, etc.)
  • Donations
  • General memberships
  • Fines

Further Reading

For more information about the tax increase check out the following links:



What do you think of the consumption tax increase? Are you pinching pennies or not too worried?


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The Secret to Finding Brown Rice & Whole-Wheat in Japan


In a nation in love with dessert bread and sushi rice, whole-wheat and brown rice products can be scarce but the secret to finding brown rice in Japan can be summed up with two kanji.

In a nation in love with dessert bread and sushi rice, whole-wheat and brown rice products can be scarce. Armed with a few kanji and the willingness to closely examine the shelves at the supermarket, though, you can find these foods. Below, I’ll explain what kanji you should know and what products you can expect to find.

Brown Rice

While picking out rice at my local supermarket one day, I spotted a package of rice that looked slightly different from the others. The outside of this particular bag of rice was brown, and the kanji on the label were slightly different from that of the rest. I whipped out my electronic dictionary and looked up the kanji on the packaging. The secret to finding brown rice in Japan can be summed up with two kanji:


These two kanji, when put together, are pronounced “genmai” and indicate “brown rice.”

I’ve recently been eating Akita Prefecture brown rice that was on sale, but brown rice can also be found in other foods.

If you look on the back of some bread packages, you’ll see 玄米粉 (“genmaiko”), which means “brown rice flour,” as one of the ingredients. You can buy brown rice flour on its own and use it in brownies, bread, omlettes and so on.

You’ll also find brown rice floating in 玄米茶 (“genmaicha”), a popular green tea in Japan. According to the supplement company Wakasa Seikatsu, because of the brown rice it contains, genmaicha helps fight against against aging and diabetes.

Whole-Wheat Bread

My typical breakfast back in the US was peanut butter on whole-wheat bread. In Japan, peanut butter costs about as much as a Rolex. As for the bread, if you aren’t careful, you could end up with chocolate bread instead of whole-wheat bread. Not wanting to risk having chocolate bread, or worse, pure rye bread for breakfast, I stuck with white bread and a monster jar of peanut butter I’d brought from the States.

If only I had looked on the lower shelf at my supermarket in Japan, I would have found my desired whole-wheat bread.

The word for “whole-wheat” consists of three kanji:

全粒粉 (pronounced “zenryuufun”)

A whole-wheat loaf of bread may be labeled “全粒粉入りパン” (“zenryuufun iri pan,” meaning “bread containing whole wheat”). Products that state that they “contain whole wheat” are normally made by mixing white flour with whole wheat and other types of flour, so buying this type of bread is probably more about taste than health. The phrase 全粒粉入り (“zenryuufun iri,” “containing whole wheat”) will show up on a lot of products, such as muffins, noodles, cakes, and so on.

Like I mentioned earlier, chocolate bread may look like whole-wheat, but obviously tastes much different. You’ll want to make sure that your bread doesn’t have the katakana チョコ (“choco,” meaning “chocolate”) on it. Well, or if you like chocolate, you’ll want to make sure that your bread does have the word “choco” on it.

Just like brown rice flour, you can also buy whole-wheat flour. Whole-wheat flour will usually just say 全粒粉 (“zenryuufun”) on the package, although some do have ホールホイート (“hooru hoiito,” “whole wheat”) written in katakana.

On the topic of whole wheat, a Google image search led me to find a Kit-Kat with whole-wheat wafers inside! I know what I want for my birthday.


I may not have tried a whole-wheat Kit Kat yet, but thanks to a few kanji, the era of white-bread breakfasts and white rice dinners for me is over.

Have you had any luck finding whole wheat products or brown rice? More pressingly, what are your thoughts on chocolate bread?


What is the cost of living in Tokyo?

Tokyo is known as one of the most expensive cities to live in but how much does it actually cost to live here?

From rent, to taxes, transportation, food and more, we show you how living in Tokyo is not as expensive as you think.

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Okinawa Antenna Shop


Sprinkled throughout Tokyo but mainly located near the Marunouchi area, antenna shops are themed-stores that sell specialties from all around Japan. The Ginza Washita Shop is Tokyo’s Okinawa antenna shop and offers a huge variety of Okinawan goods, from beauty products to CDs to, of course, beer.

Thanks to the phenomenon known as the antenna shop, you can take a trip far away without ever leaving Tokyo. The recent cold weather and subsequent snow in Tokyo has everyone wishing they could take a long vacation to a tropical island. Shisa guardian lions, whale shark stuffed animals, and snake-infused alcohol are just some of the reasons why the Ginza Washita Shop is my favorite antenna shop.

Sprinkled throughout Tokyo but mainly located near the Marunouchi area, antenna shops are themed-stores that sell specialties from all around Japan. The Ginza Washita Shop is Tokyo’s Okinawa antenna shop and offers a huge variety of Okinawan goods, from beauty products to CDs to, of course, beer.

Not to mention that Washita Shop has plenty of Okinawan food. My personal recommendations are the sata andagi (round Okinawan doughnuts) and the many amazing ice-creams. The brown sugar ice-cream is excellent, and I am trying to decide whether I should get dragonfruit or purple yam flavor next.

If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, you try Okinawan soba, or a glass of Okinawa’s famous Orion Beer at the small restaurant in the back of the shop. Alternatively, you could buy some umi budo (sea grapes) or goya (bitter melon) to try at home. If you are lucky, the shop attendants may be handing out free samples of Okinawan specialties in the shop. Mid-afternoons on the weekend seem to be one of the busier times but that means that the free sample booths are more likely to be up.

When I first went to the Okinawa antenna shop, I thoroughly scoured the main floor and made sure to buy some guava juice. However, I didn’t realize that the shop also had a basement. The ground level floor has mostly food and beauty products while the basement floor has shirts, books, jewelry, and alcohol.


Some of the Awamori (extremely alcoholic Okinawan beverage) downstairs may set you back a few ten-thousand yen so be sure to go by the register. Next to the basement register is a box of completely free Okinawan posters and calendars. A free poster and 20 thousand yen bottle of alcohol evens out, right?

For those wishing for warm breezes, the Okinawa antenna shop Ginza Washita might put you in a sunnier mood, even if you can’t take the vacation days to actually go to Okinawa. Be warned, though: the Ginza’s Okinawa shop may just make you want to hop the next plane south.

Ginza Washita Shop (Okinawa Specialties Antenna Shop)
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-3-9, Maruito Ginza Building 1F, B1F
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., open all week, closed on New Year holidays
Telephone: 03-3535-6991
Average price: 430 yen (Okinawan Soba in back-of-shop restaurant)
Ginza Washita Shop Official Site [in Japanese]


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Save Money By Insulating Your Japanese Apartment


Winter in Japan means cold toes and high energy bills. Follow these simple tips to insulate your apartment and keep your toes and wallet happy.

Huge snow storms whipped through a large part of Japan this past weekend, bringing freezing temperatures and tons of snow to Tokyo. With the chilly weather comes cold toes and high energy bills.

Much to the dismay of recent and not-so-recent transplants to Japan, most Japanese apartments have paper-thin walls, which do little to keep in the heat. On the plus side, if your neighbor has excellent taste in music, you don’t even have to buy a CD or go on iTunes to hear some good tunes.

With some minor purchases, you can insulate your apartment yourself and still be able to jam to your neighbor’s favorite songs. The initial up-front cost of buying some small insulating items should make your place warmer and make your electricity bill lower in the long run.

Thick Curtain
Cost: About 3000 yen
In Japanese: カーテン (pronounced “kaaten”)
The first thing I’d suggest is a thick curtain. You can get a curtain set for about 1000 yen, but in general, a nice, thick set of curtains will usually cost at least 3500 yen. Some furnished apartments already come with a decent curtain. A good curtain set will also serve a dual purpose in keeping the 5 a.m. sun from waking you up.

Aluminum Insulating Sheets
Cost: From 1000 yen
In Japanese: アルミ断熱シート (“arumi dannetsu shiito”)
Aluminum insulating sheets are most commonly used on windows or underneath carpets. Aluminum sheets on the window obviously block out the sun. If you like natural light coming in through your windows, some websites suggest using large-bubbled bubble wrap (called プチプチ (“puchipuchi”) in Japanese).

Cost: From 2000 yen
In Japanese カーペット (“kaapetto”)
Combined with an aluminum insulating sheet, a carpet can be a good source of insulation in your apartment. The carpet on your feet feels a lot warmer than wood flooring and can trap some of the heat inside your room. If you’d like to get extra toasty, you can buy a hot carpet (ホットカーペット, “hotto kaapetto”). Many of my friends swear by hot carpets. Much like electric blankets, hot carpets heat up electrically and keep your bottom warm when you sit on them.

Noren (Door hanging)
Cost: About 2000 yen
In Japanese: 暖簾 (usually spelled のれん, “noren”)
Noren may be most familiar to you as the door tapestries seen at restaurants in Japan. Noren don’t have to be purely decorative, though. If you hang a noren at the junction between rooms, you can trap the heat inside a main room and save on heating. In my one room apartment, I hang an owl-themed noren between my bedroom and the kitchen/bathroom area. The only down-side to this is that when I go to use the restroom or get a snack from the fridge, that kitchen/bathroom area is at Antarctic temperatures. Looks like the noren was doing its job. To hang a noren, you’ll probably need to buy an support rod (突っ張り棒, “tsuppari bou”), which can be purchased at a 100 yen store.

By insulating your apartment in Japan and using your A/C sparingly, you can do yourself, the environment, and your wallet a favor.

Do you have any insulating tips of your own? Post them in the comments below.



Freezing winters. Smoking hot summers. Japan is a land of weather extremes. Mastering the functions of your a/c remote is key to staying comfortable in Japan.

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Tsukemen: TETSU’s Stone-Soup Noodles


Tsukemen is often overshadowed by its internationally-renowned relative, ramen, but it’s the star of the menu at the immensely popular noodle shop TETSU.

Tsukemen is often overshadowed by its internationally-renowned relative, ramen, but it’s the star of the menu at the immensely popular noodle shop TETSU.

Hidden away on a lower-level sidewalk near Shinagawa Station, TETSU is part of a row of restaurants called “Shinatatsu.” The name “Shinatatsu” is an abbreviation in Japanese that means “Shinagawa masters,” and this refers to the fact that this street features the best in donburi (rice bowl) and ramen restaurants.

You can expect a waiting time at almost all of the restaurants at Shinatatsu during peak lunch and dinner hours. One of the most consistently-crowded and, incidentally, most highly-rated Shinatatsu restaurants is TETSU.

TETSU has several features that make it stand out from other noodle restaurants. According to the official TETSU website, the tsukemen noodles are made from bread flour and udon noodle flour, a mixture used exclusively by TETSU. The soup, which comes in a separate bowl for dipping the noodles, is fish- and chicken-based and is the product of several days of boiling. The most unique aspect of TETSU, though, is it’s approach to solving a perplexing, but extremely common problem faced by all fans of tsukemen:

Tsukemen soup has a tendency to get cold before one is able to finishing eating the noodles.

TETSU offers a solution to this in the form of “yaki-ishi,” which are literally heated stones to be placed in the soup. If your tsukemen soup happens to get cold, feel free to ask one of the staff at TETSU for a “yaki-ishi” to warm it up, at no extra charge.


Not that you wouldn’t be able to afford an extra charge; the prices at TETSU are very reasonable. A satisfying 200-gram bowl of simple tsukemen is 750 yen, with extra toppings, such as egg and bamboo, starting at 100 yen each. For those with a bigger appetite, the restaurant offers more noodles for a nominal charge.

The restaurant’s largest size, a monsterous 600-gram bowl of noodles, is an additional 250 yen, bringing a simple tsukemen dish to a total of 1000 yen. Considering the affordable prices and deep, rich flavor of the soup, no one will be surprised to know that TETSU is a favorite among salarymen at lunch hour and with younger couples after work. If you don’t mind eating later, you can skip the lines by going to TETSU in between meal times.

If Shinagawa isn’t in your area, you’ll be happy to know that TETSU has several shops around the Tokyo metropolitan region, including near Roppongi Hills and Toyosu LalaPort. Also, lest you should be hesitant to take friends who aren’t fans of tsukemen, you should know that TETSU also has “maze-soba,” a soup-less ramen dish featuring firm, thick noodles. You can choose your meal, whether tsukemen or maze-soba or something entirely different, by using the meal-stub vending machine right outside the restaurant; the staff seem happy to help you choose and will guide you to your seat when a spot opens up.

Next time you are looking for a lunch besides the usual ramen, consider getting a seat, some tsukemen, and a yaki-ishi at TETSU.

Directions: Exiting the from the Keikyu Line ticket gates at Shinagawa Station, take a left. Follow the curve of the sidewalk until you reach the crosswalk headed to the Prince Hotel. Instead of crossing the street, take a left and walk along the sidewalk. After a few minutes of walking, on the left you will see a lower-level sidewalk. TETSU located on this lower-level sidewalk, right next to stairs leading down to the lower-level sidewalk.

Tsukemen TETSU
Address: Japan, Tokyo, Minato, Takanawa, 3 Chome 26?20
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., open all week
Telephone: 03-3443-2102
Average price: 850 yen (300-gram bowl of tsukemen noodles and soup)
Shinatatsu Tsukemen TETSU Official Site [in Japanese]


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Basic Guide to Using A Japanese Air Conditioner

heater Image © Ariana Escobar

Freezing winters. Smoking hot summers. Japan is a land of weather extremes. Mastering the functions of your a/c remote is key to staying comfortable in Japan.

In this quick guide we take a look at some of the common kanji that you will find on your remote control.

In part because of the biting wind from the mountains, the winters in Gunma Prefecture are so cold that just stepping outside is enough to turn your eyeballs into ice-cubes.

During summer, my faithful A/C had kept my room at a refreshing temperature, but upon turning the A/C on in the winter, nothing happened.

Resist the urge to button mash, I looked closely at the air-conditioner’s remote control. The A/C had been set to “cool.” With a simple press of the button, I changed the setting to “heat,” and the room was flooded with glorious warm air.

In a performance to rival the 2001: A Space Odessey monkeys, I raised the remote above my head and brought it down on the standard-issue Leopalace apartment table several times while screeching.

You too can have a moment of triumph such as this by using this guide on how to use your Japanese air-conditioning.

How to Use Japanese Air-Conditioning (“Air-con”)

In Japanese, the air-conditioning unit itself is called “air-con” (エアコン), and the remote control is called “rimo-con” (リモコン). If you have a furnished apartment and can’t find the remote control, it might be mounted on the wall near the air-conditioner, perhaps hidden behind the curtain.

Most remote controls have the same basic functions, so I will be using my own remote control as an example. The buttons may not be in the same place, so take a close look at the kanji. Some higher-end air-conditioners may additional functions not covered in this guide, such as an on-off timer (タイマー), self-cleaning setting (内部クリーン), or clothes drying setting (衣類乾燥).


Using a Japanese Air-Conditioner Remote Control

On/Off Button (運転/停止)

Obviously, the most important button on a Japanese A/C remote control is the “on/off” button. The on/off button is labeled 運転/停止 (pronounced “unten/teishi” and literally meaning “operation/suspension”). Sometimes this button will be labeled 運転 切/入 or just 切/入. Press this button once and the A/C will come on.

Once the A/C is on, the little screen on the remote control will also come on. The temperature will be displayed, possibly along with other settings.

Change Temperature (温度)

The “change temperature” buttons are usually in the shape of an up and down arrow or have a plus or minus sign on them. In kanji, they are labeled 温度 (“ondo,” meaning “temperature”). Press the up arrow or plus sign to raise the temperature. Press the down arrow or minus sign to lower the temperature.

Change Type of Operation (運転切換)

On my remote control, the type of operation (auto-run, heating, cooling, etc.) is displayed on the screen. When you press the 運転切換 button (“unten kirikae,” meaning “change operation”), the little arrow on the screen will go down and point to a different operation. Many Leopalace remote controls are also like this.

Sometimes, buttons themselves on the remote control will be labeled with the name of the type of operation. In this case, you would press the button labeled with the operation you desired.

The following are standard operations included on many Japanese air-conditioners.

Types of Operations for Japanese Air-Conditioners

自動 (auto-run, pronounced “jidou”)

冷房 (cooling, pronounced “reibou”)

除湿 (de-humidifier, pronounced “joshitsu”)

送風 (ventilator – dries inside of a/c to prevent mold, pronounced”soufu”)

暖房 (heater, pronounced “danbou”)

省エネ (low power-usage, pronounced “shou ene”)

While many Japanese A/C remote controls have additional buttons, these are the most basic and most used. Hopefully this Japanese air-conditioner guide can help you create a warm space of your own this winter.



Winter in Japan means cold toes and high energy bills. Follow these simple tips to insulate your apartment and keep your toes and wallet happy.

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