Review: game center at Aeon, Nabari

Omikuji, a raffle tickets arcade game

I went shopping, like many do on their day off, and after buying my weeks produce, I suddenly discovered that the Aeon supermarket was more of an Aeon mall- which sells a large variety of products. The embarrassing thing about this is that I have lived in Nabari for quite a length of time and I had never noticed this before…..never mind.

On discovery of this, I ascended the building and on the 3 rd flood (UK 2nd floor) I discovered the gaming centre. Unlike the Sega gaming center, it offered a variety of games, prizes and seemed to attract more people to it.

The first “strange” game I discovered was the raffle ticket style claw machine. First thing to note, because getting a prize is not guaranteed, the claw is extremely strong. Secondly, you must open each ticket to check if you have won. Finally, is it 100 JPY for 2 plays- which is an exceptionally cheap price.

I spent 200 JPY (4 plays) and the results were:

2 winning tickets and an example losing ticket

2 winning tickets which were marked C賞 and numerous tickets marked はずれ. Winning tickets went from C to special (C, B, A, and special) and the rarity increases as the prize improves. I won twice and came away with Disney erasers, so I am quite happy with that.

In addition to this game, they have numerous UFO machines with official products including Anpanman, Disney, Doraimon etc.- which attracted the attention on children, and strange adults alike.

There was a small selection of more adult machines including pachinko and slots (only 10 in total). This game center is definitively more catered towards children rather than adults but was still extremely bit of fun and not too expensive as long as you keep a strict budget.

Anpanman

The other game strange game on offer was a ping-pong ball drop, if it entered the Takoyaki cooker with the colored spot, you can choose with prize you want of the corresponding color. I did not win as it is mostly down to change.

Please do checkout this arcade, or similar ones located around Japan.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Taiyaki Warashibe たい焼きわらしべ伊賀上野店

Got to have a treat or 2

When exploring Iga, I came across this little slice of heaven located opposite city hall. Warashibe Taiyaki is an extremely small store but its’ merchandice is fantastic.

Taiyaki are small pancake like treats in the shape of a fish often with runny center. Some of the flavors they offer at this store are red bean paste (あん), Chocolate cream (チョコクリーム), and green tea (抹茶). For those that are looking for an additional treat, they also have たい焼きアイス takiyaki ice-cream as well.

Taiyaki- green tea flavored

Each taiyaki is sold separately, with the taiyaki being 170 JPY (other flavors are about 20 yen either way) and the Taiyaki ice-cream is 360 JPY- all prices include tax.

I definitely recommend this shop and if you visit Iga, please do check it out.

For telephone orders (you will have to pick it up yourself), please call 0595-24-8818.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: 芭蕉翁記念館 or Basho Memorial Museum

A extremely nice outside

While walking around Iga, I saw the Basho memorial museum and decided to visit and it was an interesting visit but I need to make my first warming:

If you are not proficient in Japanese, please do not visit.

The entire museum is in Japanese, both old and modern, and it the hall offers no help for non-Japanese speakers.

The displays did show some of Basho’s writings, along with pre-modern renga and haikai literature along with giving the modern Japanese equivalent nearby and was quite interesting. The problem was the display. Tickets cost 300 JPY and there is only on room which you can enter.

The books and small items on display were extremely good, better than they had any right to be. The concept of Basho is extremely important to Iga, as he was born in Iga. The park grounds do offer 2 more basho sites, which are a lot more interesting to look at.

Final thoughts, a good place to visit if you are good at Japanese. If you are not, consider purchasing a book or item- you will get more enjoyment out of it.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Ride the Noble Prize wave

Japan continues to ride the Nobel prize wave

The door to science, a feature of Asahi Newspaper

Japan’s interest in science and technology has always been at the forefront of reporting and a key highlight of day time talk shows. However, what I found interesting was this piece on the history of batteries and the explanation as to why the Nobel prize was such a deserved one.

The picture above accompanied the article its self and if you can, please do read the article. It’s an extremely interesting explanation of a seemingly boring subject: batteries. The thing that we are using but never take note unless there is a problem.

The most famous problem was the lithium-ion batteries that were exploding due to it overheating. Interesting fact: the explosions and spontaneous combustion was not caused by the lithium in the battery but the chemical surrounding the cell is extremely flammable at high temperatures.

One of the key aspects of the article was the promotion of of the スマ―トホウス (smart house) concept, where individual homes fitted with solar panels generate and store energy for later use either in the home or to help charge one’s electric car.

One thing the article does mention is that the use of rechargeable products does help reduce CO2 emissions by up to half per household but it does not seem to take into account the CO2 produced at time of manufacture.

Japan will continue to ride the Nobel wave as there has been a Japanese laureates every year since 2014, in multiple fields, and it is likely to continue.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Hattori stationary story

Review: Hattori stationary story

A small local business that caters to all needs

In Ueno-shi, Iga and within sight of Ueno castle (review to come), is a small shop with many hankos outside of it. The shop is located next to a cram school (塾 in Japanese), and opposite the city hall and it is a brilliant place to explore.

Firstly, they do have information available in other languages so strict Japanese in not required to shop here. Upon entry, you are greeted with a multitude of products- a small slice of heaven.

When you explore further, you can clearly see the displays of traditional Japanese stationary alongside more modern western stationary. The Japanese stationary is a brilliant display of materials for calligraphy with a wide choice of inks, brushes and paper/ writing boards.

In addition to the obvious displays, the back-wall is covered with small Japanese knickknacks of dolls, kami, and calendars- ensuring that the shop caters both to the local community and to tourists alike.

This is a shop where I have spent quite a bit of money as they have brilliant sketching supplies along with a lovely selection of traditional Japanese paper which is brilliant for gifts.

If you ever get the change, please do check this place out (and they currently offer a 50 yen off ticket for your second visit), I highly recommend it.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Another plague of Japan: litter

I wish this was a rare sight

As much as I love living in Japan, there are certain things which bug me at times- an example of this would be the cultural expectation to drink. An example of this would be the expression お神酒上がらぬ神は無い- which means even the gods drink sake (and thus you should too).

However, one of the more insidious plagues is the abundance of litter in Japan- which is a rather un-Japanese thing considering that there is a nationwide recycling and garbage disposal program.

The disposal program, looking at Iga specifically, was started in 1996 and the articles in the local paper explained how to separate garbage and what will be done with the garbage. To be put simply, in Iga, garbage is separated into burnable, non-burnable, paper and cardboard items, plastic waste, and pet-bottles and cans.

This is something even I understand. Additionally, if you refuse to take part, you may be fined- along with the shame aspect. But somehow, even with the amount of resources Japan has invested into recycling and waste management, litter is still an issue.

During my journey “the long walk”, and photographed above, litter was unfortunately a common site even in the most remote of locations. The discover of this, encouraged me to look into this further and I have since discovered that litter is not just common in remote areas but in built up cities as well.

While walking through Iga, cigarette ends are common along with plastic bottles, cans and other recyclable materials. The same can be said about Nabari, Tsu, Nagoya, Osaka etc but with one difference: high traffic areas such as tourist areas are extremely clean and without litter.

It seems as if Japan likes to give the appearance of being clean in small villages and around people’s homes, but a bit further afield, such as in the middle of the country or in non-popular areas in cities, less emphasis is given on its’ importance and thus its’ much more common to see.

Is this something you have experienced while visiting or living in Japan?

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The long walk

My journey from Iga-Kambe station to Ueno shi station.

The long winding journey that I cannot recommend enough

Saturday the start of the weekend and the start of my free time. As discussed, November’s theme is exploration and trying something new- and what about checking out my door step a bit further.

The journey started as a laid back one- a train journey from Nabari to Iga-kanbe station which was just a short 10-minute journey.

Upon arrival at Iga-Kambe, I exited the journey and headed straight out of the station and kept walking. Iga-kanbe is a small sleepy community with winding roads, with traditional Japanese houses scattered across the landscape. Cutting through this is the Kizu river and once I crossed it, my real journey began.

Kizu river near Iga-Kanbe station

Crossing the bridge gives a fantastic view of the river and the vast farming expanse ahead. The water was perfectly clear, fish can be seen swimming- even in November and you feel like you are in the middle of no-where even with the road behind. Just seen in the picture is a vast bamboo forest- teaming with life (it was a bit noisy). I followed the pylons into the distance.

A short bridge, and a different world

Looking back gives you an idea of how few people seem to use the bridge and be in the area- a perfect start for a hike from the edge of Iga to its’ heart. Once I continued walking, whilst being deafened by toe roar of the river to my right, and enjoying the mirror effect of the water, I took a right and found a small path with a rice paddy sandwiched between 2 railways.

An island of peace, between the Igatetsudo line and the Kintetsu line


 This path, even with trains coming and going, felt almost like being on an isolated island without another soul for miles. There was a delicious smell of rice being released while the thud, thud of my footsteps- along with nature- was my only music for the day.

Memorials to the deceased

The path came to an abrupt ending and a Buddhist temple greeted me.  来迎寺 (or raikou-ji) temple is a popular place of worship for locals and services still get a high turnout. The temple has a extremely large grave yard and more impressively, a mountain of memorial stones (pictured above).

Walking through the stone tori gate, and following the Japanese tradition of bowing, the previous carefree atmosphere was replaced by a reverent one- even the wind seemed silent. Stones crunched below my feet while I looked around. A statue of a Buddhist monk seemed to watch my movements while I walked around the court-yard, enjoying the peace and quite of the temple.

After leaving, I turned right and walked through the small community surrounding Hido station.

Hido is very much in the countryside and fields surround each settlement built in the traditional Japanese style, and in the modern-traditional Japanese design (see house in picture), with housewives rushing around while men stand and chat.

Children ran around weaving in and out of buildings and in the middle of this was a sacred stone hidden behind a small stone tori gate. The kanji was a bit too faded to see but the pond was a welcomed sight. I was something a bit different to see and to discover. Additionally, large paper dotted around- giving it an almost festive atmosphere.

An island of stone

I decided to explore the local area and while following route 422, I look a left and walked in isolation while ensuring I remained alive dodging Japanese drivers until I came across 城之越遺跡- or the Shironokoshi castle ruins. I have seen the ruins advertised on many occasions (a sign advertising it cam be seen while riding on the Iga-tetsudo line) and I finally went- initial thoughts not too bad.

The entrance to the ruins

There is nothing remaining of the building that once was located here, but it has been turned into a park- showing you what once stood there and why it was important for the local area. Additionally, there is a small museum located on the site in the car park as well. However, I cannot review the museum as it is closed on weekends. If you are interested, adult entry is 200 JPY.

The archaeologists who excavated the site have marked the load-bearing pillars of the castle with marble cylinders to give observers an idea of the scale of the castle- which is a small Japanese castle. The castle would have been similar to the one in Nisshin-shi, Aichi-ken. The rest of the site is now gardens, with each species of tree labelled- not a bad place for a picnic or drawing but not much else.

All that is in place of what once lay here

I continued on wards, climbing a small hill while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. Along the way I was not just dodging cars, but dragon flies and praying mantises as well.

A little friend


The small winding road from the castle ruins to Uebayashi station was a long walk up a hill with the road being boarded by bamboo on both sides. On this small mountainous road, large construction vehicles seemed to enjoy speeding along.

Dragon flies fly in the rich blue sky

The shade gave a blessed relief from the hot sum overhead- it was only 20 degrees, but when walking for hours, even warm weather can feel overbearing.

The long, winding road

Just beyond this section, was a small lake and a muddy road disappearing into the distance. I had a choice- continue along the nice road or take a change to discover something new. I took a change and it paid off.

I was somewhat aware of the crystal-clear lakes near Uebayashi station- they are exceptionally hard to miss on the train, and I have always wanted to explore this area- and I got my chance.

The ninja train at Uebayashi

The lake appeared while walking along a tiny road, framed with rice fields and, strangely, electrified fences- which are quite an uncommon sight in Japan; especially for a rice field. By chance the pink ninja train was coming along, and the results of which you can see. The mirror effect of the water was an exceptionally nice thing to see.

The middle of no-where, or so it seem

Continuing along the path, the framed path suddenly opened up and gave way to some beautiful scenery. Iga is located within a valley and it is a fact that is often forgotten by note just myself- but residents of Iga as well. But as you can see by the sun’s position, I was starting to run out of time and at this point I had barely started my journey.

I started wondering again, at a slightly faster pace- my goal was to get to 四十九駅 (literally Station 19) before nightfall as this station marks the beginning of urban Iga city. I spent some time just wondering by acres upon acres of farmland, enjoying the sound of cicadas, the buzzing of dragon flies, and the thud of my footsteps. There were many people that I came across on my journey- all of whom greeted me with an almost customary nod of the head and a こんにちは!- which I responded enthusiastically to.

Once I had crossed 比自岐川 (Hijiki river), and entered a small village surrounding 丸山城跡 (The Maruyama castle ruins). The village is isolated, exceptionally quite and almost idyllic in its setting. The ruins are located on top of a hill behind the village and was quite a climb.

The path up to the ruins was quite a challenging climb- in trainers (I’ve not yet got hiking boots…),  but the smell of mud, was prevalent as was the sounds of leaves ruffling. It was a very nice climb, and it is one I recommend anyone who is physically able to do so. There is parking in the vicinity (for about 5 cars)and the climb is up a steep muddy hill.

After scaling, and descending I was really running out of time. I therefore decided to walk along route 422 to see more of the Kizu river (木津川)- which I have seen hints of on the train and that was all. This was another decision that I am very happy to say was a good one.

Kizu river, further down-stream

 Ignoring the fact time was running out fast (look at the sun), the river was beautiful. There were several storks along the banks (in November I have to add), massive sandy ‘beaches’ along the way. The entire area is a wildlife protection area and the area has certainly benefited from it. I made several stops along the way, at another Buddhist temple and at a shrine as well- but I’ll save those for another day. That was Inako (依那古) and I followed route 422 until crossing over to see the highlight of Iga- the nature.

Rural Japan

When people ask: “What is Japan like?”, this is the picture that comes to mind. I have lived in 2 places in Japan- both of which are semi-rural so this is my image of Japan. Not Tokyo (shinjyuku/ Akihabara), nor any other major city.

What I especially like is the field of flowers in the foreground which sets the perfect tone.

It was starting to get dark and after visiting another shrine near Idamichi station (猪田道駅), my goal of getting to 四十九駅 before dark was looking bleak. The road from Idamichi to Shijukyu was perilous and there was no footpath. After trying to follow the main road to Shijuku station, I gave up after fearing for my life. I crossed the train tracks and want the rural way to urban Iga- which gave way to my last photo of the day: a beautiful photo of dusk.

A close up of clouds in the sky

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Dusk, the final frontier

This area is just rice fields as long as the eye can see, and it is beautiful.

After this, my only goal was to get to 上野市駅 (Ueno-shi station), which was a 40-minute walk away at this point. The walk at this point was through housing estates (a more western style), which quickly followed to an extremely Japanese housing estate of yester-year. Finally, after visiting Iga for quite a length of time, Iga gave the impression of being a city. The walk to the station was through typical inter-city housing, department stores and shops and restaurants galore. Iga may be rural but inner-city Iga gives the impression of a much larger city than it actually is.

The final stats for this walk are: 3 hours 40 walking, 16.9 km covered. Included in this is 2 breaks, multiple photos taken and random dancing while walking (I was definitely enjoying myself). For those of you that are wondering- yes there were many, many, many more photos that I took.

I hope you enjoyed my journey of exploration today- and I hope that you will also consider taking a similar walk either in Iga or wherever you may live.

As always, thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2: Japanese Halloween

Japanese vocabulary for Halloween

Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

Halloween is a very commercial time for the Japanese, especially those with children or those who work with children. Here’s a handy list of some spooky vocabulary for you.

Firstly, picture the scene you are at a ハロウェインパルティ(Halloween party) and you are really enjoying seeing all the 怖い飾り(spooky decorations) hanging all around you.

The problem with these 怖い飾り is that they are sub-dollar store quality. You look around and see a giant hairy くも(spider), in it’s 蜘蛛の巣(spider web)along with black コウモリ (bat- animal) small orange かぼちゃ (pumpkins). There are かぼちゃ everywhere! They are next to the キャンディー/ 菓子 (sweets or candy), and next to a TV where a ホラー映画 (horror film) is playing.

You’re actually a bit bored and you decide to mingle a bit, you have- like many others decided to 仮装する (wear a costume) and there are some good ones tonight! There is a ミイラ (mummy), ゾンビ (zombie), 魔女 (witch), an old fashioned おばけ (ghost) – is that a bed sheet?- not too original then; a 吸血鬼 [or the more updated  ヴァンパイア] (vampire), and finally is that several 骸骨 (skeletons) doing the 骸骨の踊り (skeleton dance) from the 1929 Disney short?!

What sort of party in what sort of 御化け屋敷 (haunted house) did you go to?

It’s coming…

It’s the c word… Christmas

The selection at Nitori (review to come)

When I was last in Japan 5 years ago as a 留学生 (ryuugakusei or foreign exchange student) in Nagoya, Christmas seemed more like a passing interest- it was something un-Japanese and not really important. Only Daiso had anything christmas related; not anymore.

The Christmas industry in Japan has exploded. Every shop from convenience stores offering food to order, clothes stores with Christmas related items to furniture stores offering decorations.

Some of the products at Nafco

You cannot even escape it in Aeon. Although they have no current visible christmas products, they are self advertising products to order with Christmas music playing, which is a bit too soon.

Never mind 七五三 (shichigosan, a festival where children go to shrines, post to come) on the 15th, I imagine that Christmas fever will just intensify starting November 1st.

For the moment, Bah humbug.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The small thanks

Convenience store raffle

A win is a win

Occasionally while buying extreamly unhealthy food and coffee, it was treat day (come one next Tuesday), you’ll be told by the attendant to take a ticket.

At first you are likely to be confused. But as the attendant holds this card box, you see that there are ticket inside. You take one, after struggling to open it while holding your lovely bento, and see a Barcode, you have won.

What a Nice dramatic story for winning a pack of sugar free chewing-gum but the spend X to get a free Y is extreamly common in Japan. The change of winning has enticed me in the past, even with winning being highly unlikely.

With this post, today’s Japanese phrase is はずれ which is simply better luck next time.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.