Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

The Eternal Battle: Shabu-Shabu vs. Yakiniku

May 24, 2010

Popularly known as the ‘Land of Rising Sun’, Japan is a vibrant country that offers infinite options for eager holidaymakers and adventurous travelers. As I have always claimed, the most important aspect of Japanese travel is its huge culinary variety. Many scrumptious dishes of this country are popular across the world for their amazing flavor and serving style, but since most people are familiar with and/or have tried only sushi (and perhaps the dishes I’ve described in earlier posts), I would like to announce a fresh culinary battle: Shabu-Shabu vs. Yakiniku. These two Japanese food items are guaranteed to leave you mesmerized till the next time you travel in Japan (yes, there will most definitely be a next time).

Shabu-Shabu, literally translating to “swish-swish,” is an item where thinner, usually higher quality slices of meat are “swished” momentarily inside large pots containing steaming water, or seaweed (“combu”), or salt based soup. They are instantly cooked, after which they are dipped into one of many sauces, “tare,” to choose from – vinegar, sesame, salt, and more. As usual, a bowl of hot white rice cooked to perfection is always there, held in the palm of your free hand – or in my case gulped down immediately and waiting for seconds. Besides the meat, Shabu-Shabu restaurants offer seafood and vegetables as well to cook inside the pots. When done eating, if still hungry and/or drunk, it is a Japanese custom to add rice or noodles to the now rich tasting soup to finish off the meal – and fight off the following day’s hangover.

Japanese Shabu-Shabu Shabushabu 3

Japanese Shabu-Shabu

Japanese Shabu-Shabu Shabushabu 2

Japanese Shabu-Shabu

Japanese Shabu-Shabu Shabushabu Sauces Tare

Japanese Shabu-Shabu: The Sauces (Tare)

Yakiniku is another popular Japanese way of preparing bite sized meat and veggies on griddles. It is actually a Korean-style barbecue, thus more widely known. With Yakiniku, translating to “fried meat,” small pieces of meat (not as thin as Shabu-Shabu), mainly beef and pork, together with raw vegetables are cooked on a grill platter throughout the period of meal, few pieces at a time. Then, these mouth-watering chunks of meat are plunged in the sauce/tare, which is made of soy sauce mixed with fruit juice, garlic, sugar and sake. Once prepared, Yakiniku is served with….yep, rice, as well as with Korean side dishes like Yukhoe and Kimchi. This luscious Japanese dish goes oh too well with beer – be careful.

Japanese Yakiniku BBQ Barbeque 1

Japanese Yakiniku

Japanese Yakiniku BBQ Barbeque 2

Japanese Yakiniku

Japanese Yakiniku BBQ Barbeque 3

Japanese Yakiniku

Due to the increasing popularity of these two culinary items of Japan, sometimes it seems like there is a sort of competition going on between the two, but perhaps I could be making that up to dramatize things. That being said, they do compete for the same niche of party or celebration meals, as both are relatively expensive (Shabu-Shabu more than Yakiniku). Interestingly, some people prefer Shabu-Shabu for lunch, while leaving Yakiniku for dinner. I would say that Yakiniku and Japanese restaurants serving it are more tourist-friendly, and many relate more to the stronger taste of fried BBQ meat. On the other hand, you would have to look much harder than your local Korea-town for an authentic Shabu-Shabu experience.

So, what will it be?

Japan Travel Destination: Sapporo

May 9, 2010

Most of you who want to visit Japan must find it difficult choosing between all the cities, sites and tourist destinations that need to be toured. The capital city of Hokkaido known as Sapporo is one place worth visiting.

Since Hokkaido is Japan’s northern island, the best time to make a visit to this place would be during the summer season, unless you are from Canada and you don’t mind the frost. Summer is the peak touring season and you would find many fellow travelers arond you, including Japanese.

Sapporo’s city museums are a great place to visit. Ainu Museum and the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art are worth a peek, and getting to these places is not a hassle as you can travel by train or even hire a taxi, which are much more affordable than in Tokyo. Some other important sightseeing spots that you must visit are the botanical gardens, clock tower, Ishiya chocolate factory and the entertainment district. For all you sport fans, the local baseball team that only recently relocated to Sapporo is a powerhouse worth watching at the Sappporo Dome – try to catch Yu Darvish pitching.

When it comes to Sapporo, however, there is nothing like the beer. The summer festival at Odori Park is your red carpet to world-class beer gardens and probably the best beer in the world – yes, of course better than Carlsberg! As for the food, this part of the country is known for the most relished cuisines of barbecued mutton, noodles and many more mouthwatering speciality dishes that complement Sapporo Beer so seamlessly that it makes you want to cry.

If your Japanese vacation is in the winter, worry not because Sapporo during the cold(er) seasons is just as spectacular. You could visit the same Odori Park that is then transformed to a big snow sculpture gallery. This snow festival is famous all over by the name of “Sapporo Snow Festival” and showcases excellent, professional work.

In case you are planning to travel to Japan and to Sapporo in the summer, make sure you book your accommodation in advance, because otherwise it may turn out to be an extremely expensive expedition. Getting to the northern island is quite convenient as it is connected to Honshu by rail, air, ferry, and even road. Your trip to Sapporo could be a very memorable one as long as the travel, accommodation, and other basics are preplanned.

By the way, as long as you’ve made it all the way up there, don’t shy away from venturing outside the capital city to take in some of the island’s stunning natural beauty and to soak in the country’s best natural hot springs.

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?

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

For an Unforgettable Japanese Vacation

March 28, 2010

Thinking of traveling to Japan, or just interested in learning more? You’ve come to the right place.

Josh Shulman in Japan

I will be sharing here all of my insight on Japanese culture, food, language, and travel gained from 13 years of living, working, and traveling in Tokyo and around Japan. Having been born and raised in this magnificent country that still remains enigmatic to most, you will get a glimpse of Japan through the eyes of a true local – I even get accused of being more Japanese than the Japanese.

Japan, and especially Tokyo, has been long categorized as an expensive travel destination and place to live in. Count on me to tell you where, when and how to go for a genuinely Japanese adventure. No need for shoestrings or volunteering on farms as part of silly budget travel schemes out there! The point is to get what you should get out of Japan, but get it cheaply. Your vacation is not another season of Survivor.

Apart from the information available on this blog, I have also written a booklet that guides you through the smart way to experience Japan, while saving hundreds of dollars. My goal is for you to find the right things to do in Japan, and make them affordable for those of you who are on a budget or just want a wallet-friendly vacation. It will be published soon, so stay tuned.


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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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