Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

All You Can Eat Japanese Food!

April 29, 2010

The moment you (well, I) have all been waiting for is here! I present to you: All You Can Eat Sushi & Japanese Food! Actually, all I am presenting are the photographs and some commentary. But, if this post doesn’t spike your interest in going to Japan, I don’t know what will.

The Japanese were once very small and fragile yet healthy people. Their meals were eaten at home, and consisted mostly of some fish, vegetables, a little rice, and soup (though this varied according to where in Japan they came from).

Today, the bustling economy and hectic business culture forces most city dwellers to eat out. In other words, Japanese businessmen have now more freedom from their wives (who often work as well these days) to eat tastier food and more of it. Sorry if this sounds sexist, but that’s the way it pretty much is. This is one of the several reasons for the rapid development of the all you can eat scene in Japan. As a tourist on your Japan travel, you get to reap the harvest.

If you were to look hard enough (though usually it’s not difficult at all) during your Japanese vacation, you would be able find an all you can eat deal on almost any type of Japanese food. Many times these are extremely good deals, as they could be very cheap. It would be safe to say that your budget, whatever it is, could accommodate going out for all you can eat sushi even. The most popular types of all you can eat restaurants are:

1. Sushi

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi 1

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi #1

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi 2

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi #2

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi 3

All You Can Eat Japanese Sushi #3

The following photographs are actually from a running sushi restaurant, but at the price of ¥100 per plate (2 pieces), it’s eat till you pop:

All You Can Eat Japanese Running Sushi 1

All You Can Eat Japanese Running Sushi #1

All You Can Eat Japanese Running Sushi 2

All You Can Eat Japanese Running Sushi #2

2. Pizza/Pasta

All You Can Eat Japanese Pizza Pasta

All You Can Eat Japanese Pizza Pasta

3. Japanese (Korean) BBQ

All You Can Eat Japanese BBQ

All You Can Eat Japanese BBQ

4. Chinese. Yes, Chinese – how surprising, right? Unfortunately, no pictures for this one.

There are many more types of Japanese food that you can pig out on at all you can eat restaurants. Even if not, there is always a way to find cheap deals on even the most expensive of dishes from the Japanese cuisine.

Hungry yet?

The Natural History of Why Tokyo is Better than New York

April 24, 2010
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I just came back from a short trip to the States, and while in New York I visited the Museum of Natural History. No, not all my travels are to Japan.

Apart from the shockingly enormous dinosaurs, I instantly was triggered, naturally, by the section on the evolution of Japanese culture and people. Just for the record, I do feel somewhat bad about skipping over the other Asian culture displays. It did pay off, however, as I was reconfirmed and reassured of the uniqueness of Japanese culture.

Read the text on this one:

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 1

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Unique Japanese Style

Here are some more displays on Japanese culture, architecture, and more:

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 2

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Samurai Culture

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 3

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 4

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Cycle of Life

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum 5

Japanese Culture Natural History Museum: Japanese Traditional Housing

Ultimately, what I have learned from the Museum of Natural History is this:

A. The suggested price is actually a suggestion, and that 16$ is a valid suggestion if you are a New Yorker or from Scandinavia. Otherwise, don’t feel guilty about paying (much) less. Hey, New York – all the museums in Washington D.C are free of charge. For everyone.

B. New York is beautiful, but I still defend Tokyo and the greater Japan as the preferred fun, interesting, cheap and smart travel destination choice. By the way, Toto’s toilet museum is free of charge in Tokyo. Now that’s what I call budget travel.

C. This has nothing to do with the museum, but walking around the place made me hungry for Japanese food. So I just want to point out that New York has respectable Japanese restuarants – not all of them are owned by Chinese. Specifically, I can vouch for the “Sappporo” restuarant that is cheap and authentic. I believe it was located on 49th, between 5th & 6th Avenues.

Japan Travel Destination: Miyajima

April 17, 2010
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Miyajima is a small island in Japan, situated at a short ferry ride from Hiroshima. It is just like the place you would imagine in your thoughts as the perfect vacation destination. It is one of the three popular places in Japan which are known for exotic scenic beauty and calm surroundings.

Miyajima consists of mountains that hold spectacular views and adventurous nature paths, and is surrounded by deep blue seas. The island has always been known for its inclination towards history, culture and tradition, as evident through the multiple temples and shrines quietly hidden away in the mountains. A little piece of advice: You don’t have to take the rope-way up. If you are on a tight budget and have the will power, a long hike would be much cheaper and perhaps even nicer. Another option would be to take the cable car up and hike your way back down.

If your Japan travel takes you to the Miyajima Island it is sure to give you a mesmerizing experience that you are going to cherish for the whole of your life. As the ferry ride takes you to the island, you will be welcomed by a huge gate of the Itsukushima shrine. It is of bright vermilion color and stands around two hundred meters away from the shrine. This gate stands in the sea waters and is known by the name of O-Torii. This shrine has very beautiful green surroundings. It also displays the exquisite beauty of the Shiden architecture in its unique and magnificent structure.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima O-Torii Gate

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: O-Torii Gate

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima O-Torii Gate 2

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: O-Torii Gate

To the excitement of the tourists they are welcomed by wild deer which keeps wandering openly in the island. These deer walk around with the tourists and accept any piece of food offered to them. Careful, as they are known to snatch things from peoples’ pockets, even paper.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima Deer

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: Deer

Another very exceptional feature that you will find on the Miyajima Island is the Momijinda Park situated at the foot of Mount Misen. This park is a perfect picture to see. It is just like those autumn time forests that you can imagine, full of scarlet maple that make way for cherry blossoms during the spring time.

One very important thing that should not be missed while on the visit to the Miyajima Island is the local food. Around the area of the main entrance to the island you will find several small streets filled with endless food stalls. Since these aren’t sit-down restaurants, it’s easy to pick and taste numerous dishes and snacks very cheaply while you walk down the street. Some of the local foods include the Momiji manju, special assorted sweets that are shaped like the maple leaf and come with different types of fillings, fried oysters (probably most famous and must be tried), and several other types of sweets.

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima Food Oysters

Japan Travel Destination Miyajima: Oysters

Japanese Karaoke: Not What You Think

April 15, 2010
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You’re at a pub full of alcoholics, everybody is way too drunk and tired, but nobody seems ready to go home yet to face morning, work, or the wife – or all of the above. A group of supposedly close-knit friends who are celebrating, well, nothing, suddenly appear with microphones in their hands, and in front of absolute strangers burst into obnoxious off-key song of a corny 80’s tune. 4 minutes of ear-bleeding and a beer later, you clap with everyone else, who hope, just like you, that nobody forces them on stage to embarrass themselves, but secretly yearn to sing along to the new Britney Spears single.

That’s what most people think of when it comes to karaoke. My question is, why would anyone want that experience? With the utmost respect for the British, the Irish, and the Scottish (and the Russian too I guess), most would need to reach their level of drinking to justify a night like the one I just described. Japanese karaoke, thankfully, is nothing like it – except for the drinking.

Karaoke is an essential part of Japanese culture. It can be found integrated into restaurants and different types of bars, but the most common are the karaoke parlors that consist of entire buildings with tens and hundreds of small private rooms, all fully equipped with deafening sound and karaoke systems.

The system is simple. You walk in, choose either a per-hour or free-time plan, and opt for all-you-can drink alcohol or not. The best part of this is, it’s quite cheap either way. This is when you will get your room number and microphones:

Japanese Karaoke 2

Inside your very own karaoke realm you will find a touch-screen remote control to choose and en-queue songs from a surprisingly long list (both English and Japanese songs):

Japanese Karaoke 4
Japanese Karaoke #2: Touch-Screen Remote
Japanese Karaoke 3

Japanese Karaoke #3

On the wall you will have a intercom through which you can order food & drinks at reasonable prices (or for free if you went for the all-you-can drink plan). Combined with the private and secluded party room, this convenient room service is what makes Japanese karaoke the ultimate night out with friends or co-workers (though usually it’s the after-party). A must-do during your Japan travel. Warning, you may end up like this:

Japanese Karaoke 5
Japanese Karaoke #4

Luckily, it’s not a bar full of strangers but just you and your friends…

Local Japanese Food: “Ton-Katsu” or Pork Chops/Cutlets

April 3, 2010

Be prepared for a lot of posts on Japanese food, as its divine blend of uniqueness in taste and preparation makes it a treat for all those who try it. No matter which eatery, fast-food joint, street stall, or gourmet restaurant you stumble upon during your Japanese vacation, you will not be disappointed. In fact, relishing Japanese food should be top priority for your Japan travel. It’s also much cheaper than you may think.

Ton-katsu is one of the most popular among several other Japanese dishes. It was invented in the later part of the 19th century and has since then has become a part of the Japanese cuisine. Many western dishes have been reinvented by incorporating the local Japanese flavor and this is one of them. Curry-rice, ton-katsu and croquettes are a few of the western dishes which have been imparted with an indigenous touch and have become a part of daily cuisine.

Japanese Food Ton-katsu

Local Japanese Food: Ton-katsu

In the category of these dishes, ton-katsu is an extremely popular stand-out. The word itself is essentially a combination of the word “cutlet” and Japanese pork “ton.” The dish is a deep fried thick pork chop. Sorry, not very Kosher…

A piece of the pork is coated with a mixture of beaten eggs, bread crumbs and flour and then sprinkled with salt and pepper. The cutlet is not served alone and always has some garnishing. The accompaniments to this include white rice, miso soup, chopped raw cabbage and a special ton-katsu sauce which is a variation of Worcestershire sauce – to die for, if you ask me. The cuisine is completed with Japanese hot mustard called wagarashi. The ton-katsu is generally served in bite sizes which can be conveniently eaten with chopsticks, but don’t worry – you will not be shunned from Japanese society for asking for a fork and knife (I hope).

The taste of ton-katsu is unique and its quality differs as per the chefs who make it. Even the name of the dish is not constant and depending on the cuts of the meat used, it may vary. Every restaurant may have its own style of serving and making of the dish. While some use thicker bread crumbs others use different brands of pork depending on the method followed in preparation. There are some regional variations like the miso-katsu of Nagoya which is served covered in miso sauce. Apart from this there are several dishes like katsu-sando (pork cutlet sandwich) and katsu-don (rice bowl with pork cutlet on top) that are based on the ton-katsu.

This is not just another cutlet; the taste of ton-katsu is special, and one that you probably have not encountered before. Generally the outer layer is crispy due to it being coated with bread and eggs and then subsequently deep fried. In complete contrast, the inner part of the cutlet is juicy and soft. This is so because the flour and bread crumbs used have the effect of sealing the inner juice of the meat and retain its tenderness. Depending on the amount of sauce that is used, it may taste a little sour but the same is complementary to the taste of the dish as a whole. The overall taste of ton-katsu is definitely well balanced and well thought out, as is any Japanese dish.

To top it all, you can enjoy a VERY filling ton-katsu meal at a reasonable and affordable price. It is a complete meal in itself, including soup, cabbage, and rice that can be usually refilled endlessly, and is available at a price ranging from 800 Yen to 1200 Yen. This price may vary depending on the place and the restaurant, but it’s definitely a cheap eat-out option.

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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

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