Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

“This is from the gentleman sitting over in that corner…”

July 29, 2010
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I haven’t seen this for myself, but I was sent an article that describes a rather unique open-air cafe in the town of Kashiwa.

Apparently, each customer receives what the previous customer ordered. The rules are straight-forward (these have been translated directly from the Japanese website):

1. Always order something for the following customer.

2. Even when with friends or with family, line up one-by-one at the register and place your order separately.

3. Gratefully receive and consume whatever someone has ordered for you, even if it is not to your taste. If there is absolutely no way you can do so, quietly pass it on to someone else as a gift.

4. If you see someone with the special order form, be sure to thank them.

5. The cafe cannot produce tax receipts.

Many bloggers and journalists concluded that this was a certain type of weird Japanese cafe, without doing much research. It was, in fact, a one or two-time event that took place in 2008. The point was to establish a sense of community and a form of indirect communication through food and drinks. Makes it easier to buy some attractive stranger a drink too, assuming that he or she walked in right after you.

Food That Tastes Amazing When Wrapped in Bacon #126

July 25, 2010
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“Mochi” is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding steamed glutinous rice (also known as pearl rice, sticky rice or botan rice) with wooden mortars and pestles, then cut into blocks or molds. The sticky quality of the rice allows it to harden quickly. The flattened and cut pieces are cast into rectangular or round shapes and are readily available in the market. The hardened rice cakes can be then boiled, fried or grilled, as they soften back into sticky substance with a crispy crust. They solidify quickly so they are to be eaten while hot (usually with some soy sauce), but make sure to pace yourself as there is a grave danger of choking. Yes, choking. Good food comes with a price.

Mochi is used in traditional celebrations as well in Japan. It is used as an ingredient for a soup called “Zoni” eaten on Japanese New Year’s Day, and even to decorate Japanese homes (not the soup, the Mochi). During the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the day and night are at equal length, sweet Mochi rice balls are cooked and relished while gazing up at the moon, imagining rabbits that are said, according to folklore, to be pounding Mochi rice.

These rice cakes are used in various recipes, but the best by far is grilling small pieces that are wrapped in bacon:

Ask for “Mochi-Bacon” at Yakitori restaurants or Japanese Izakaya pubs.

“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice. And she said..”

July 19, 2010

When traveling in Japan you will naturally need accommodation, and therefore seek out some form of hotel. There are, however, hotels that serve a different purpose all together: Love hotels.

Love hotels, though sometimes named differently, are short stay hotels found in many parts of the world, and especially popular in Japan. The primary purpose is to provide couples some privacy for a short period of time to…satisfy their biological urges. It’s not necessarily sleazy, however. These places are just like regular hotels and are priced similarly, easily passing the 100$ mark per overnight stay. The idea with love hotels is privacy. They have discrete entrances to conceal the identity of the people who use them. The selection of rooms, settlement of bills is all done by selection from a panel and automatic cash machines – vacant rooms are lit, occupied rooms dimmed. At times clerks from behind a frosted glass attend to the needs of a customer.

Although the cheaper hotels are purely utilitarian, there are higher end types too with rooms decorated in various themes, rotating beds, ceiling mirrors, jacuzzis, and bizarre lighting. They are at times very garish, with the building in the shape of a castle or UFO. The more contemporary love hotels look like ordinary buildings. Besides the neon signs and usage of heart symbols, you can recognize love hotels from their small covered windows, or at times from having no windows at all.

Mostly love hotels are found in areas nearer to railway stations, industrial areas or on highways outside the city. The rest time may vary from one hour to an entire overnight stay that starts after ten at night. There are also rooms offered at a cheaper day time rate. No advance reservation is possible. Note that as soon you leave the room the hotel does not allow you to get back into it. Although these places are sometimes used for prostitution, it’s a legitimate accommodation choice for those of you traveling as a couple and are looking for an experience that is, well, unique.

Japan Travel Destination: Yokohama

July 11, 2010
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Yokohama, a city that sits in Tokyo Bay, is often overlooked when traveling in Japan. I admit, it is not that exciting and culturally rich as other travel destinations, but it still has unique attractions to offer. If you are in the Tokyo area looking for a day-trip and are sick of shrines and temples, Yokohama is for you.

Yokohama is the capital city of Kanagawa prefecture. It is slightly to the south of Tokyo and on the mainland of Honshu Island. It is a major commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo area. Initially starting out as a fishing village that opened Japan’s doors to foreign trade through its port, it developed into a prominent port city very rapidly, and also holds a large population of foreign nationals. Yokohoma’s climate is a humid subtropical climate with hot and humid summers and not too cold winters.

There are many places of interest in Yokohama that fascinates travelers. At 106 meters, Yokohama Marine Tower, is the tallest inland light house in the whole world. It is located in the Yamashita Park next to the water front in the celebrated port area of Kannai. Japan’s largest Chinatown is situated in this city as well, and is worth a visit. You will find the food tasting very different from the Chinatown in New York or any other place. If you liked the ramen noodles there, be sure to stop by the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum to learn how this mouth-watering dish spread from Yokohama to the rest of Japan. Very near to Chinatown is the famous Yokohama Doll Museum and the Silk Center. The Kanagawa Museum of Modern Literature with its lovely rose garden is also within reach.

Yokohama’s harbor area houses the Cosmo Clock 21, which is not only a giant ferry wheel but the worlds biggest clock too. It also provides amazing photographs at night. If you’re awed by vast arenas or stadiums, the Yokohama Arena built for 17,000 people is in the vicinity, next to the Shikansen station. The International Stadium Yokohama and Nissan Stadium are some more. Finally, in the Naka Ward, there is a famous Japanese garden called “Sankeien” that was designed by a silk trader, Tomitaro Hara.

Japan Travel Destination: Kamakura

July 6, 2010

Located to the southeast of Tokyo, Kamakura is on the itinerary of almost all tourists. Once upon a time it was the political capital of the country. Later its glory as a capital was lost to another city, but it remains a favorite tourist destination.

Kamakura has numerous attractions which bring tourists to this small city in great numbers, usually as a day-trip from Tokyo. Located in an open, picturesque location, is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. It is 13.35 meters high and is second to the one in Nara’s Todaiji temple. The temple for the goddess of mercy, Kannon, sits in Hasendera. The 9.18 meters tall goddess has eleven heads representing its various characteristics. Adjacent to the temple is the Amida-do Hall, which houses a three-meter tall golden Buddha. From there you can visit the observation deck that offers a splendid view of the city, and back at the base of the slope lies a lovely garden with a temple – Benten-do – dedicated to the goddess of feminine beauty and wealth.

Kamkura’s most prized shrine is the Tsurugaoka. It is dedicated to Hachiman, the Samurai god. The main hall has a museum which displays swords, masks and documents – true treasures of the shrine. Out of the five Zen temples of Kamakura, Engakuji temple is most famous. The temple grounds include Shariden, a well designed hall where rests a tooth of Buddha. Engakunji lights up colorfully during autumn.

The beaches of Kamakura come alive with people in the summer months, while millions of people gather in the historic city to witness the New Year celebrations. In the spring, it is a custom for the Japanese to visit the Zeniarai Benten shrine to wash money. It is believed that by doing so the money doubles – worth a shot.

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    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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