Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

A Case of OCD or Pure Genius?

May 30, 2010
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Just recently I published a post on the Japanese smoking and gambling epidemics. As I mentioned, almost 40% of men and 12% of women in Japan smoke today. Japanese laws now ban smoking in train stations, office buildings (except in designated rooms) and even on some streets, thus refining the constantly sought-after harmony in Japanese society between the smokers and non-smokers. Recent developments, however, could potentially facilitate cigarette smoking everywhere and anywhere, without ruffling anyone’s feathers. Impossible? Think again.

Just when I was ready to announce that the ultra-light 1mg-nicotine cigarettes and the “Kagi-tabacco” or “Snuff” (cigarettes in powder form for inhaling without smoking) were the pinnacle of Japanese ingenuity, Japan Tobacco (JT) announces the release of smoke-free, fire-less cigarettes.

These are shaped like regular cigarettes, but contain replaceable, specially designed cartridges of tobacco leaves and other flavoring ingredients. One cartridge lasts somewhere between half a day to an entire day, and the mouthpiece is reusable – This is perhaps more of a groundbreaking environmental invention than a technological breakthrough. Think of all the cigarette buds thrown away and the amount of CO2 released every single day with conventional smoking!

Since a part of cigarette addiction could be attributed to the habit of actually holding a cigarette, this new product allows people to get that satisfaction without the negative externalities imposed on others. Cigarettes are also a social accessory; going out for a smoke with a co-worker during a hectic day at the office is a crucial social interaction, providing a sense of comradeship and solidarity in Japanese culture. And when taking off early is frowned upon at the office, why not pass the time with hourly delicious, healthy cigarette breaks?

The “Zero-Style Mints” are currently sold for a budget price of 400 Yen including four cartridges, or 300 Yen with two cartridges. Assuming heavy smokers go through a pack of regular cigarettes a day (or two days at most), the new smoke-free, fire-less product seems to be much more economical. Could this be the turning point for Japan’s stagnant economy? Or would this exacerbate the aging of the Japanese population as people inhale less smoke into their lungs? Personally, I just don’t want to come home from a bar smelling like an ash tray anymore.


Okonomiyaki – The Japanese Pancake That Has It All

May 13, 2010
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An attractive, prosperous and busy city, Hiroshima is the home to a plethora of sightseeing destinations and so attracts thousands of travelers from all over the world. Your visit to Hiroshima, Japan is incomplete without enjoying several of its regional food specialties. Okonomiyaki, literally meaning “fry what you like,” is the most flavorsome item of Japan, specifically in Western parts of the country. Though it is not easy to describe how it exactly looks like, you can view it as something sandwiched between pancake and pizza.

The pancake mix is based on spring onion, flour, cabbage (the secret ingredient), and egg, but the best thing is that you are free to add anything that you like – hence the name. Most often, you will find squid and pork Okonomiyaki in Japanese restaurants, but a few also offer special toppings like rice cake, cheese, shrimp and beef, or all of the above. It’s definitely a low-budget food so go ahead and pig out.

Japanese Okonomiyaki Mix

Japanese Okonomiyaki Mix

You can prepare this extremely luscious item in two ways – Hiroshima style and Osaka style. While the more mainstream Osaka style fries the mixture and toppings all together inside the pan, in Hiroshima the constituents are not mixed up, but rather cooked separately and only then combined. In Hiroshima, each and every constituent is first piled in order and then noodles are placed in between.

Japanese Okonomiyaki Bacon

Japanese Okonomiyaki with Bacon

Sauce has its own importance in the food item. The sauce color is dark brown and the taste is crisp, which many add on the Okonomiyaki together with mayonnaise. When the dish is all ready, an egg is sometimes cracked on a griddle and it gets rolled over the top of the Okonomiyaki. To add more to the taste, it is recommended to sprinkle dried bonito flakes and nori (seaweed) at the end. Noodles make an important ingredient of the dish, and so are included usually as well.

Japanese Okonomiyaki with Sauce

Japanese Okonomiyaki with Sauce

Most interestingly, Okonomiyaki is more of a cultural thing than a Japanese culinary treat. Since Okonomiyaki cooking is entirely free-style and involves a central pan into which anybody can throw practically any topping, “Okonomiyaki Parties” are quite popular. These normally include a good amount of alcohol, Okonomiyaki till you pop, and some Japanese entertainment:

Japanese Okonomiyaki Entertainment Usavich

This was our entertainment at the Okonomiyaki Party - Check out http://www.usavich.info/

When traveling in Japan, make sure you never decline an invitation to an Okonomiyaki party, or at least order one of these Japanese pancakes at a restaurant (the cheap price without doubt underestimates their heavenly taste). Or, just hop on a Shinkansen bullet train and have some of the famous Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. There’s actually an entirely multiple-story building dedicated to it, packed with small, budget-friendly Okonomiyaki shops.


Unorthodox Japanese Accommodation: Capsule Hotel vs. Internet Cafe

May 7, 2010
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In case you are new to Japan and looking for some cheap Japan accommodation then you need not worry as multiple living options are available to choose from. Many of the travelers have already discovered some cheap ways to get lodging. Capsule hotels and internet cafes are some of the most common alternatives to hotels available for travelers who seek to pay less and/or wish to experience something special. Though the space in these places is limited, they give you a sense of security and privacy.

The cost factor is greatly reduced in case you are looking forward to staying in capsule hotels. Earlier, these small hotels were designed for traveling businessmen or drunks who needed a place to crash until public transportation would recommence. However, these are now popular spots for people who cannot afford to pay the heavy price of living (temporarily) in major cities. These cheap Japan accommodation capsules may be 6.5 inches long and width wise they may measure around 4 to 5 feet. The space is pretty comfortable to sleep as they provide clean bed sheets, a pillow, and to top it all you get your very own Japanese television set.

Capsule hotels are a viable cheap Japanese lodging option, especially for those who would be staying in guesthouses that have shared bathrooms anyway. Capsule hotels provide public baths and sinks, and private lockers are also available for rent. Did I say that you get a TV in your little egg shaped room?

Apart from the capsule hotels the Japanese internet cafes, called “Manga Kissaten” due to the practice of coming there to quietly read from a vast collection of manga books, are another place that could be used to catch some sleep – affordably. However, these are meant for people who want to have some time out from home and want to relax surfing the net, or as mentioned above, reading manga.

Japanese Internet Cafe

Japanese Internet Cafe

Although these internet cafes do not have beds to offer, you would certainly find booths with a reclining comfortable chair or even sofa to rest your head on. They also offer some additional benefits like an all-you-can drink coffee, tea, and soft drinks bar, as well as food you could order. Not to mention the Playstation games, high speed internet, and DVD movies (also in English). Even if you are not looking for budget accommodation, be sure to try these Japanese internet cafes out for a couple of hours, perhaps on a rainy day.


Conventional Japanese Accommodation: Minshuku vs. Ryokan

May 2, 2010
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While traveling in Japan, especially outside Tokyo, you can look for the multiple available options apart from staying in expensive Japanese hotels. Some cheap Japan accommodations could help you save a lot of money that you could spend on visiting other Japanese travel destinations, shopping, and, most importantly, eating Japanese food. If you are keen and have never experienced the pleasure of staying in a traditional Japanese inn then you would definitely appreciate these minshukus and ryokans.

Both of these are two different styles of Japanese inns that offer different accommodation services and vary in the price factor. In case you want to stay in a place that gives you a feel of home and also allows you pay less then you may choose to stay in a minshuku. These are generally run by families for some business. For those looking for an authentic learning experience, these affordable traditional Japanese inns surely would help you get to know more about Japanese culture. You would be staying in a Japanese home and would follow all the traditions, customs, and everyday rituals that the family members would follow. Minshukus would also satisfy all your culinary curiosities, as you would be treated to homemade meals that you could learn to cook as well. These budget inns have a custom of spreading tatami mattresses and serving meals on low tables on the floors. You are guaranteed never to feel like staying out of home as the Japanese hosts treat everyone as their personal guests.

Staying in a ryokan provides a sense of a mix between eastern and western hospitality. These inns provide excellent services, including full course gourmet meals. Some may have their own natural hot spring baths, depending on the area. You would find these ryokans located at popular travel destinations for tourists in Japan. However, the hotel grade accommodation services come at a price, so be prepared to part from more money when staying in ryokans, when compared to minshukus.


All You Can Eat Japanese Food!

April 29, 2010
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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?


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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" - www.allyoucanjapan.com

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