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Japan in January

1 Mar

Japan is beautiful in January … and every other month!

Tokyo Station remade…to how it was

2 Oct

The iconic 東京駅 (Tokyo Station) near the 皇居 (Japanese Imperial Palace) was built in 1914 but it was destroyed in the World War II Allied bombings of Tokyo in the 1940’s.

After the war, it was rebuilt similarly, but not exactly the same, as it originally was.
One main difference was the fancy glass domes on top of the original station building were replaced with a simpler design.

This is how Tokyo Station looked when I came to Japan.

Tokyo Station will be 100 years old in 2014. So, the government decided, a few years ago, to redesign the station back to how it looked when it was originally built.

The renovations were completed on schedule and the renovated (retro) Tokyo Station had it’s grand re-opening yesterday (2012 October 1st (which was 都民の日 (Tokyo Residents Day)).

This is how Tokyo Station looks now…like it looked 100 years ago.

Just like all grand openings, the stores and restaurants in the station had specials and sales for the occasions…so of course, the station was crowded yesterday with people who wanted to take advantage of the specials and also wanted to see the newly designed station.

Bic Camera x Uniqlo

13 Sep

If you’ve ever been to Japan…especially a major Japanese city such as Tokyo…then you undoubtedly are aware of the major chain of electronics stores here called 「ビックカメラ」 (“Bic Camera“) and also the major chain of affordable clothing stores called 「ユニクロ」 (“Uni-qlo“).
(Actually, I’ve heard that 「ユニクロ」 (“Uni-qlo”) has expanded overseas and has stores in America and other countries now…so maybe you know that store even if you’ve never been to Japan.)

Bic Camera logo

Uni-qlo logo

I like 「ユニクロ」 (“Uni-qlo”). In fact, I happen to be wearing a shirt today that I’ve bought from one of their stores. But for electronics, I normally go to the biggest competitor of 「ビックカメラ」 (“Bic Camera”)—「ヨドバシカメラ」 (“Yodobashi Camera“).
I choose 「ヨドバシカメラ」 (“Yodobashi Camera”) because I have a “point card” from that store. If you live in Japan and you don’t make use of the point cards that many stores in Japan offer, then you’re missing an opportunity to get free stuff! I have many point cards and I’ve gotten things I needed from many stores, including 「ヨドバシカメラ」 (“Yodobashi Camera”) at no cost!

Anyways, I saw a commercial on TV this morning for a new store in 新宿(Shinjuku, Tokyo) that is a collaboration between 「ビックカメラ」 (“Bic Camera“) and 「ユニクロ」 (“Uni-qlo“).

This new store will sell both clothing from Uniclo’s stock and electronics from Bic Camera.
The name of the store isビックロ」 (“Bikkuro“)…which is a morphing in Japanese of both company names.

Lucky bag

2 Jan

Have you ever been in Japan in early January, just after New Years?
Did you notice many stores selling bags (usually red and white) that are sealed shut so no one can see inside them?

Do you know what those bags are?

They’re called 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“). The Japanese word 「福袋」 is normally written on the bags…but sometimes the English words “Lucky Bag” or “Happy Bag” is written on them.

「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“) translates to “Good fortune bag” or “Lucky bag”.

These are a post-New Years tradition in Japan. Most stores offer them. They fill the bags with various items from the previous year’s merchandise that they need to get rid of to make room for new merchandise…and they sell the bags at a big discount—often 50% or more!

Many stores offer different price ranged bags…usually about ¥3,000, ¥5,000 and ¥10,000. But, of course, some stores 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“) could be priced higher or lower depending on the type of items the store sells.

This store has two types of "Fukubukuro", priced at ¥1050 and ¥2100.

The catch is…customers can’t look inside the bag before the purchase it. Clothing stores will label the bags “Men’s”, “Women’s” or “Children’s” wear and the size of the clothes in the bag. But other than that, the contents are a mystery.

Young women and teenage girls love to shop (as the father of three teenage girls…believe me, I know this!), so 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“) from stores that cater to them are especially popular.
Every January 2nd, young women line up outside the trendiest women’s fashions stores before they open…and as soon as the doors open, it’s a mad rush to buy the 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“)!

The 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“) from these stores in Tokyo are known to be all sold within two minutes!

Then, the young women all can be seen outside the stores looking at the things they’ve just purchased…and trading the items amongst each other.

A crowd of young women lining up to buy Fukubukuro at a popular store in downtown Tokyo.

Would you buy a 「福袋」 (“Fukubukuro“)? Have you ever bought one?
I never buy them…but my daughters like them. They usually buy one every year…including today.

Tokyo is to Osaka what New York is to California

26 Nov

My oldest daughter’s high school class took a three-day field trip to the Western Japan city of 大阪 (Osaka).

All of the photos in this post were taken by her during this trip.

The headquarters of the Japanese "Glico Candy Co.", Osaka, Japan

Have you ever visited Osaka? Have you ever visited Tokyo?
Did you notice how different they food and the people are?

Some people say that Tokyo is famous for fashion and Osaka is famous for food.
Do you know the delicious Japanese dishes 「お好み焼き」 (Okonomiyaki) and 「たこ焼き」 (Takoyaki)? Did you know that they are both “Osaka dishes”?

That’s not to say that Tokyo doesn’t have delicious food. In fact, Tokyo has more Michelin Star restaurants than any other city in the world.

And Tokyo has original dishes as well. Have you ever tried 「もんじゃ焼き」 (Monja-yaki)?
I guess you could call it “Tokyo-style Okonomiyaki”.

People from Osaka are more outgoing and friendly compared to people in Tokyo. A large number of Japan’s most famous comedians live and work in Tokyo but they’re actually from Osaka.
People in Osaka are famous for asking shop clerks for a discount when they shop. But that’s not done in Tokyo…here people just pay the listed price. People in Tokyo don’t feel comfortable “bargaining” for a discount.

Personally I think Osaka is a fun place to visit but I feel more comfortable in Tokyo than any other city. I enjoy living here. It has become “home”.

Anyways here are the rest of the photos that my daughter took that don’t have her or any of her friends in them:

The famous "Kani-Doraku" seafood restaurant

A type of "Takoyaki" called "Akashiyaki"

"Carl Corn Puffs" snack logo

The famous "Kuidaore-Tarou" statue

A train advertising "Universal Studios Japan" amusement park, which is in Osaka

Entrance to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) with X-mas decorations

Snoopy and Hello Kitty "Nikuman" meat-rolls at Universal Studios Japan. I guess Universal Studios in America doesn't have these.

Is "Hello Kitty" at the Unversal Studios parks in the U.S. too?

The giant X-mas tree at USJ.


19 Apr

Do you know IKEA?


IKEA is a chain of stores that look like warehouses and sell furniture, food, toys, and various other items for the home.
IKEA stores are all over the world now, but the company is Swedish (the store’s colors are the same as the Swedish flag).


In the 1970’s, IKEA opened stores in Japan but they weren’t successful in Japan and had to withdraw from the Japanese market in the 1980’s.
But, a few years ago, they decided to try their luck in Japan again…and they seem to be doing much better this time.

There are currently five IKEA stores in Japan.

I had never been inside an IKEA store until yesterday.
I remember, though, when they were building their first store in Japan a few years ago…because it was built on the spot that the “SSAWS Ski Dome” had been for so many years.

The SSAWS Ski Dome was the world’s biggest indoor downhill-skiing arena. It was called “SSAWS” because it offered snow skiing all year round, and the name was an acronym for “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter Skiing”.

The outside of the "SSAWS Ski Dome".

The outside of the "SSAWS Ski Dome".

Inside the "SSAWS Ski Dome".

Inside the "SSAWS Ski Dome".

I used to see the giant, cool-looking SSAWS Ski Dome all the time and I always thought to myself that I was going to go in there and try it out one day. But that day never came because about five or six years ago, they closed down and it was torn down.

And then IKEA bought the land a few years ago and built their warehouse store. I had never heard of IKEA before then and I wondered what it was.
I was kinda disappointed when I found out. The world’s largest indoor ski-lift was there…and it was replaced with a giant furniture store! How disappointing!

But yesterday, my wife and I decided to look inside the IKEA store.

I had heard that many foreigners shop there because, mainly, they miss food from their home-country and IKEA sells imported food.
I did see many foreigners shopping there, so I guess it’s true.

But, for me personally, I’m more used to Japanese foods…so actually alot of the imported foods that I saw in IKEA looked odd to me.

We enjoyed looking around IKEA…but we didn’t buy anything.

IKEA Japan

IKEA Japan




15 Feb

Next Friday, my youngest daughter will go on a school trip to 新潟県 (Niigata Prefecture) on the other side of Japan for a four-day ski-trip.

Her sisters both took the same field trip when they were in the sixth grade…and they both had a great time.
I’ll worry a bit when she goes on this trip (just as I did when her sisters went), but I’m sure she’ll have a good time.

Today, we went to 上野 (Ueno, Tokyo) to get some things she needs for her trip.

After we finished shopping, we went to a カラオケ・ボックス (Karaoke box)…which is a place that has many small, private rooms where you can go to enjoy food and singing karaoke without strangers being able to see or hear you.

Our Karaoke room

Our Karaoke room

Here are some photos that I took around 上野 (Ueno, Tokyo) today:

アメ横 ("Ameyoko") in Ueno

アメ横 ("Ameyoko") in Ueno

Here’s a video that I took of this corner:

Some more photos I took of the area:





Tommy Lee Jones does TV commercials for "BOSS Coffee"

Tommy Lee Jones does TV commercials for "BOSS Coffee"

  • 「若�屋」 ("Wakasaya Sushi") restaurant
  • 「若狭屋」 (“Wakasaya Sushi”) restaurant
  • 「立入禁�」 = "Do Not Enter"

    「立入禁止」 = "Do Not Enter"

    Sometimes men need to stay in a cheap hotel for a business trip (or because they missed the last train of the evening)…this type of place is popular for them—A Capsule Hotel with sauna and “Pachinko parlor“:

    Capsule Hotel

    Capsule Hotel

    ちょうちん (Paper lantern) for a 「うどん」 (noodle) restaurant

    ちょうちん (Paper lantern) for a 「うどん」 (noodle) restaurant

    One of the oldest buildings in 上野 (Ueno, Tokyo) is the old shopping center 「聚楽」 (Jyuraku) will be demolished soon. So I took a photo of it:



    Last Friday, the DVD for the movie “Detroit Metal City” went on sale. There are two versions…the regular DVD of the movie and another version that includes a bonus “making of the movie” DVD.

    KISS bass guitarist, Gene Simmons, makes a cameo in the movie and plays on one song on the soundtrack.

    I wrote a post about this movie. Click here to see it.

    Here the DVD promotion poster:

    "Detroit Metal City" DVD promo poster

    "Detroit Metal City" DVD promo poster

    It was a fun day. The highlight was listening to my daughters sing カラオケ (Karaoke). 🙂

    Western Stores in Tokyo

    14 Feb

    Many overseas companies want to open shops in Japan.
    The Japanese market is very lucrative…for companies that prove to be popular here. But the Japanese consumer is very finicky. Companies that don’t meet Japanese expectations are doomed to fail.

    For example, the American donut company, Dunkin’ Donuts, is popular in America. But when they opened stores in Japan, the Japanese people found their donuts too sweet…and Dunkin’ Donuts was  unable to stay in Japan.


    On the other hand, the less-sweet American donut chain Mister Donuts is very popular in Japan. (Ironically, Mister Donuts isn’t very popular in America).


    "Mister Donut" in Tokyo

    Krispy Kreme Donuts set up shops in Tokyo recently, too.


    Some American chains have been bought by a Japanese company and were brought here by their new Japanese owners. For example, the convenience store chain 7-Eleven was bought by the Japanese department store Ito-Yokado. (A couple years ago Ito-Yokado changed the signs on their department stores to reflect their connection with the popular convenience store they own…their signs now say “Seven & i Holdings” on the Ito-Yokado stores.)

    7-Eleven (and other convenience stores) are very popular in Japan. Japan is a small country, but there are almost twice as many 7-Eleven stores here than in all of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico combined!

    Convenience stores in Japan are very different from their counterparts in America. Japanese convenience stores are great!


    7 & i Holdings, the Japanese company that owns 7-Eleven also owns the restaurant chain Denny’s. Denny’s in Japan have a different menu than Denny’s in America. I like Denny’s Japan better (but that may be because I’ve been in Japan for awhile now, and I’m more used to Japanese style food).

    デニーズ・レストラン「セブン&アイ HLDGS」 (Denny's Restaurant (Seven & i Holdings)

    デニーズ・レストラン「セブン&アイ HLDGS」 (Denny

    The American bakery Vie de France is in Japan, too. But it’s not American anymore either…Yamazaki Bread owns this company. I like Vie de France. Their bread is excellent.


    Of course, American fast-food chains are here…


    ケンタッ�ー (KFC) in Japan.

    ケンタッキー (KFC) in Japan.





    I have wrote a post about Domino’s Pizza in Japan. Click here to see it.

    I like Subway sandwich shop, alot. The Japanese Subway sandwich shop. The menu is much better at Subway Japan than the U.S. branches.


    There are Japanese fast-food restaurants, too.  These include MOS Burger, First Kitchen, and Freshness Burger (which has beer on the menu! 🙂 ). Occasionally you can still find a  Dom-Dom Burger, and there used to be a chain called Love Hamburger. Love Hamburger went out-of -business about 12 years ago and the U.S. chain Burger King bought all of the Love Burger shops and opened Burger King in Japan in the late ’90s…but they made the ill-fated decision to offer only a limited menu to test the Japanese market. That didn’t go over well and soon they went out-of-business in Japan, too.

    But recently, Burger King decided to re-try the Japanese market…and I guess they learned from their past mistakes—they seem to be doing well in Japan now.


    There are also branches of Sizzler, Outback, and Tony Romas in Japan.



    All of these foreign companies that have stores in Tokyo (How many of these have stores in your town? Do you shop at any of these?):






    "Shell" Gas
    "Mobil" Gas harley-japan1


    starbucks "HMV" CD / DVD store "Tower Records" in 渋谷 (Shibuya, Tokyo)
    "Disney Store", Tokyo gap hilton




    "The Body Shop" in Tokyo

    "The Body Shop" in Tokyo

    "Godiva Chocolate" in Tokyo

    "Godiva Chocolate" in Tokyo


    Toys "Я" Us

    Toys "Я" Us

    There are other foreign companies here, too…but you get the idea.

    All of these foreign companies have to keep on their toes and provide the service and products that the Japanese expect…and for each of these foreign stores in Japan, there are Japanese companies that provide similar products that they have to compete with.  But if the effort is worth it…Japan is the most profitable market for most of these companies.


    Anyways, today is Valentine’s Day.
    My wife and daughters made delicious chocolate for me.
    (Click here to read a post I wrote about Valentines Day in Japan).



    8 Feb

    My kids were given five tickets to the movie 「西の魔女が死んだ」 (“The Witch Of The West Is Dead“).


    The tickets were valid for yesterday and the day before (Friday) only, and only at one 映画館 (movie theater) in 池袋 (Ikebukuro, Tokyo).

    Friday is a 平日 (weekday), so we planned to go yesterday. But when we got to the theater, they announced that the theater was full. We decided that the next showing was too late and we just couldn’t see it.

    Oh well.

    Maybe I’ll rent it when it’s released on DVD.

    The story of the movie is about a thirteen-year-old girl who is one-quarter English (her grandmother is British) who decides she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents send her to spend some time with her English grandmother who lives in the countryside.

    There’s a rumor that her grandmother is a witch, so she asks her grandmother to teach her to become a witch. The grandmother agrees…but what she actually teaches her are important life lessons.

    The grandmother is played by Stephanie Sachiko “Sachi” Parker.

    Do you know Sachi Parker?

    Probably not. But you probably do know the famous American actress Shirley MacLaine.
    Sachi Parker is Shirley MacLaine‘s daughter.
    She was raised in Japan by her father (Steve Parker). She’s fluent in 日本語 (Japanese).

    So instead of the movie, we went to サンシャインシティ (Sunshine City).
    サンシャインシティ (Sunshine City) is a block of buildings in 池袋 (Ikebukuro, Tokyo) that include a shopping center, a convention center, a hotel, a movie theater, an aquarium, a planetarium, an observatory, offices, and more.

    The observatory is on top of the 60-story サンシャイン60 (Sunshine 60) building.

    Click here to visit the サンシャインシティ (Sunshine City) website (in Japanese only).

    Here are some photos that I took around 池袋 (Ikebukuro, Tokyo):

    (Many restaurants in Japan have a plastic display of the menu out front.)

    (Many restaurants in Japan have a plastic display of the menu out front.)





    3 Jan

    Today we went to 巣鴨 (Sugamo).

    Do you know 巣鴨 (Sugamo)?
    It’s a part of Tokyo often referred to as 「おばあちゃんの原宿」 (“The Old Ladies’ Harajuku“). This is because 原宿 (Harajuku) is an area popular with young people because that area is full of clothes stores, restaurants, etc that young people like…and 巣鴨 (Sugamo) is popular with the older generation because it’s full of clothes stores, restaurants, traditional Japanese snack shops, etc that they like.

    My oldest daughter didn’t join us because she and her friend, ironically, went to 原宿 (Harajuku) together today.

    This is the entrance to the popular 地蔵通り (Jizou-doori), the shopping street in 巣鴨 (Sugamo) that has many shops and restaurants that old people like. (You don’t have to be old to appreciate them, though…I like traditional Japanese snacks, food, and souvenirs, too 🙂 ).


    Here’s a video I took of this area:

    This street can be compared to the popular 竹下通り (Takeshita-doori) in 原宿 (Harajuku)…except for the age difference between the shoppers on these two streets.


    The 地蔵通り (Jizou-doori) shopping street in 巣鴨 (Sugamo) was especially crowded today and there were many vendors because many people were going to the 高岩寺 (Kouganji Temple) for 初詣 (first Shrine visit of the year)…usually people go to a 神社 (Shinto Shrine) for 初詣 (first Shrine visit of the year), but going to a 御寺 (Buddhist Temple) is fine.


    This is the entrance to 高岩寺 (Kouganji Temple)…the sign with the temple’s name is written right to left (寺岩高), which is the way Japanese used to be written (now it’s either written horizontally, left to right (→) and top of the page to bottom (↓) (like English)…or vertically, top to bottom (↓) and right of the page to left (←)).


    So we went to 巣鴨 (Sugamo) for 初詣 (first Shrine (Temple) visit of the year) and we bought some 大福 (a traditional Japanese snack).

    Speaking of snacks, soon Japanese kids will be taking entrance exams for high school or college. My oldest will be taking her high school entrance exam.
    When we went into a convenience store, I saw a shelf of snacks that are supposed to be lucky for kids taking exams. One of the more popular ones is the American chocolate bar 「キット・カッツ」 (“Kit-Kat“). The reason that Kit-Kat has become popular for kids taking exams is because the chocolate’s name sounds like 「きっと勝つ!」 (Kitto-katsu!)…which means “I’ll definitely pass!”.


    Supposedly, Japan has the most flavors of Kit-Kat in the world. I’ve have seen many flavors including some like “Green Tea Kit-Kat”, “Exotic Tokyo Kit-Kat”, and “Banana Kit-Kat”. (Although I’ve never tried any of them. I don’t eat much candy or chocolate.)
    But this one was obviously made especially for kids taking college entrance exams in Japan since the package is decorated with Sakura Cherry-Blossom flowers (and symbol of Springtime in Japan (when the school-year begins)) and a school uniform hat. The flavor is 「大学いも味」 (“College Potato Taste“). Sounds odd for a chocolate bar! Could be good, though…I don’t know—I didn’t buy it.