Christmas: special drinks, for children

Japan and Christmas are a wonderful match, especially when Japanese culture is added to the mix. Partying, even having a dinner party, is an expected part of any festive celebration but why should the adults get the special drinks- won’t anyone think of the children?

Okay this sounds weird but don’t worry children, the soda industry has your back. Firstly, these drinks are not cheap but they are covered in colorful plastic packaging with Doraimon and other characters. There is also Appletiser, which I do like but is still full of sugar.

People usually buy these drinks for either the Christmas party of for New Year’s eve/day celebrations at an extremely cheep 1000 JPY a drink (or 10 USD).

This section is also brilliant for the non-drinkers (me) wanting a social life- just a little one though.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Christmas: Pepsi?

December the month of xmas

Have a grape Christmas

Eve though it’s now December I still protest Christmas due mostly to the fact I’m in Japan. That does not mean I’m going to stop trying strange things.

Enter stage left: grape flavoured Pepsi. I know what your thinking, like OMG I can’t believe you bought that. But believe it or not it was really nice.

Imagine a mix of Pepsi and grape, it’s the ronseal of combinations. It’s refreshing and goes brilliant with ice. I don’t quite know how it’s a Christmas product but it gets my thumb up.

If you can do try it but if you can’t, you already know what it is like.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Christmas: coke with a gift

Even the coke is festive…

Sugar free, it’s slightly better. Right?

At this point I have accepted the inevitably of Christmas in Japan and I decided to accept it. So let’s start with the reason for red being a Christmas colour: coca cola.

Coke is extremely well known (slight understatement) and is available everywhere including in North Korea, for the elite only of course.

Nevertheless the junk food giants coke and McDonald’s have decided to team up. For the small price of ¥85 you get a coke and either a free hamburger or a small fries.

Quick note as a former McDonald’s worker, a hamburger is a cheeseburger without the cheese, there is no difference in the meat–its still a 10:1 patty.

But the bottle comes with a delightful party trick:

A beautiful ribbon

That’s right, the label turns into a ribbon.

On the bright side, everything is recyclable and the coke zero was coke zero- exactly the same as the UK.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Review: Asobo land

Let’s Play land treat pack

While shopping recently I came across this absolute gem. It’s called “Asobo ランド” or let’s play land. To play in Japanese is 遊ぶ which changes to the volition form 遊ぼうor let’s play in English.

This is one of those special products anywhere else in the world would be considered either inadvisable or be recalled so fast it would make your head spin.

A few of these products will just be reviewed on social media but they were nothing special. I will start with the holy grail of political incorrectness, a curry snack. This must be seen to be believed. Ready for it?

Curry snack

Dear God, where should I even begin? How about at the top? Firstly the Hindi used is a transliteration of the Japanese カレースナック which is a translation of the English phrase curry snack. Next the curry (I’m not avoiding the elephant in the room) which is a Japanese style curry with otherwise Indian themes.

Finally, the character. Please note this review will NOT sound especially nice. I will start with the turban, tradationally work by Sikhs in India without the gem in the middle which is more representative of the Pagri, a symbol of honor. Next, the art style looks like an India version of the black face cartoons from the early 20th century- which besides being racist are not representive. The curry is extremely detailed and to scale, which says even more about the character. Finally the ears; do I really need to say anything else? Moving on.

The product was quite tasty, with an exceptionally mild curry taste and a decent crunch. It was a good snack- disregarding the packaging.

Snack selection

The rest of the snacks were standard generic Japanese snacks.

The small milky hard sweets with the picture of the girl on the packaging were small milk flavoured bonbons. If that sounds disgusting don’t worry, they were. I love milk but the sweets tasted like rancid milk bonbons, a unique take on it. Do not try, or only give to enemies or people you wish to prank.

The caramel peanut corn chips were sweetened corn chips and were okay at best. They felt like a twinky i.e. you would only choose to eat them because you grew up with them. All in all, they were forgetable.

The jelly straws claimed that they each have a unique flavour, of which there was a hint but not much more than that. They were strangely nice, completely full of terrible ingredients, but tasty.

I hope you enjoyed reading and happy exploring. Check out the social media pages for a few extra products from this bag.

Happy 100th post

Nabari Dam

This blog has now 100 posts- many pictures and many details about my life in Japan. So let’s celebrate a little! This post is going to look at Nabari Dam in a bit more detail, a HOW2: for Place names and a product review as well. I hope you enjoy this 100th post and happy reading.

Additionally, on the homepage, there are 2 new sections:

  • A pictures in Japan section
  • A western calendar to Japanese era conversion page

Let’s start the post!

Full Review: 青蓮寺ダム Shorenji dam aka Nabari Dam

A nice, pretty picture of the dam

I have previously talked about Nabari lake and I have mentioned Nabari Dam in passing but now well look at it in a bit more detail.

Nabari Dam was constructed in response to the Ise typhoon disaster in 昭和34年 or 1959. Nabari experiences wide spread damage and thus the dams construction was finished in 昭和45年7月 or July 1970.

The Dam is 275 m long, 82 m tall which allowed the formation of lake with an area of 1.04 km 2 containing over 27 million m 3 of water- which is quite a bit.

Around the dam, there are signs which highlight the 5 main advantages of this dam:

  • safety: the dam allows Nabari and other cities down stream (Osaka, Nara) to remain safe in extreme weather
  • ecosystem: the dam provides a constant stream of water supporting life downstream
  • household use: allows a water supply to Nabari and other areas (from drinking water to bath water)
  • agricultural use: allows water to be used for rice farming within the Iga area comprising of 1,150 ha at 1.72m3/s
  • electricity generation: green electricity is generated

The slight problem with the dam is the road that was constructed along its’ top.

There is a single carriage way which requires cars to move the the side to allow them to pass. There is a lovely video of on my social media pages.

Along the lake side there are many parks, tennis courts and picnic spots and just above the dam is the viewing spot which is also known as the famous sakura viewing point- somewhere to go in April.

The views are spectacular and are well worth a visit for those in the area. With the amount of thing available (from sports, to eateries, to hikes, photo opportunities etc) I would definitely recommend a visit. Think of this place as a trip to a national park or just a larger park: plenty to do (including an Italian restaurant that is always booked nearby), plenty to enjoy and plenty of places to relax.

Just remember: take only photos and leave only footprints.

HOW2: Japanese place name ~ヶ丘

One thing that you need to be aware of with place names is the ending ~ヶ丘 or ~gaoka meaning “one hill”. Examples of this around Nabari are 梅ヶ丘、つつじヶ丘、桔梗が丘 etc. There are many examples across Japan but with the ending, you should expect extremely steep hills, that even cars struggle to climb.

The kanji is quite strange. ” ヶ ” is an ichi-dan counter used as a suffix to count objects and ” 丘 ” means hill- in such combinations as 丘上-きゅうじょう meaning hill top or 丘疹-きゅうしん meaning pimple (there are other combinations out there).

Near the Top of Tsutsuji-gaoka or つつじヶ丘

This was a fantastic view of Tsutsuji-gaoka just before my arrival at the dam. What you cannot see in this picture is the extremely tall hill that it is built on. Additionally, each settlement that can be seen in the distance is an entire other area- either Nabari city or small settlements surrounding it. The name should definitively be it’s warning when cycling or walking. You could argue that it should be つつじ山 instead.

The reason that you must be aware of its name is simple put: google maps. Google maps do not show you how steep the hill you climb are when using the app (they do during the planning stages on desktop).

Product review:

A vege bowl- with meat

The last product made me smile when I found it and that was a simple salad. In Japan vege salads refer to salads being made up of more vegetables than normal- which is a weird phrase now that I think about it. But to the rest of the world, a veg salad is (or at least should be) a vegetarian salad. My favourite was a salad bowl with massive shrimp on it stating vege salad.

The salad was extremely good- all crispy fresh veg, a nice mix of oats and rice and a sort-of miso dressing (extremely Japanese) but went well never the less.

Strangely enough, there was no problem with this product- even with the Japenglish. Check them out in Aeon supermarkets.

Thank you for reading and here’s to many more blog posts to come.

Opinion: Christmas, the prolific

As I have previously discussed, Japan’s interest in Christmas seems to have exploded since my time as a foreign exchange student just 5 years ago. It could be due to increased experience or perhaps a more enlightened world view, but Christmas is everywhere.

In know in the UK, Christmas has exploded onto the Zeitgeist with people already putting up decorations, listening to music etc. But there is one thing that most agree on: the Christmas dinner: the turkey (or other option), the veg, the stuffing, the company, the merriment and everything that I won’t be experiencing this year (perhaps also why I’m noticing Christmas things a lot more).

To the Japanese (most), Christmas doesn’t evoke the same feelings and even though it is regarded as a family day or an alternative Valentines day, companies are still looking to profit from this. Case and point Mos burger. Mos Burger is not alone in its’ advertising- KFC, convenience stores, every single supermarket etc are advertising their selections for Christmas day.

Amazingly, there are separate catalogs for the New Year’s meal and Christmas meal which considering these days are only a week apart is pretty amazing.

There is a slight downside to the special Christmas meals: the price. A 8 piece chicken meal with commemorative plate is a mere 4100 JPY (4000 JPY if ordered before December. The Mos Burger meal is cheaper but it only includes chicken and no extras but it is still 1375 JPY for the small (i.e. 1 person meal).

Will I be ordering anything at all this festive season? No. I will stick with my diet and save money (sending gifts back to the UK is expensive enough).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: the mystery bag

A luck dip bag

Japan has a strange relationship with convience stores. Many are closing due to lack of business, may are changing their opening hours to allow the store to stay open and others are just opening: case and point: Family mart in Matsuharamachi, Nabari (松原町).

This store is, to be honest, located in a rather rural area with no footpath to the store, and it’s surrounded by small business and farmlands. In other words, not a viable business location (to my mind at least). But with its opening today (22/11/19) there were several higher-ups there to advertise the T card ( a point card or a credit card that collects points as well).

The problem with this is that everyone in Japan knows what the T card is and more importantly knows what services family mark offers. Ignoring this and enjoying the ‘new’ store, they offer something on opening day that is a little treat- the lucky bag.

These bags are extremely common in Japan especially around anything seasonal (New Year’s, Golden week, Obon etc) and whenever a store opens. The sign stated that over 1000 JPY worth are products were in the bag for just 600 JPY and being the month of trying new things, I had to buy on. One of the big wigs knew English as well he told me: “Japanese luck lag. Very, very discount”. It was extremely nice of him to try- so thank you. Moving on to the product.

My mystery selection came in a bag marked lucky bag or 福袋 and inside was a rather nice selection.

The mystery selection

The first thing to note is that all of the products are family mart branded products- which are also the cheapest treats they offer (but not the healthiest though) but that is not to say they are the worst- some of my selection was a welcome Friday treat.

Firstly, the 2 cakes (the Baumkuchen and the waffeln didn’t last- they were consumed within 5 minutes of this picture (ignoring my diet for the moment). The ingredient for which is everything you would expect in a mass-produced product.

The salt popcorn is standard popcorn- nothing to write home about and tastes exactly how you would expect; moving on. The chocolate peanut bites were nice but forgettable- they’re sweet, crunchy, nutty and at least they’re cheap.

The nicest products from this selection were the crystallized pineapple and the green tea. These are items are something I would actually buy because they are a small treat and relatively healthy. However, these products together are about 300 JPY.

You may be wondering about the instant ramen: I an not going to consume it because a: there are a tonne of ingredients, b: include shell fish (I cannot stand the taste) and c: I have some self-respect (some).

Was it worth it? Price wise yes I can see why someone would buy this. Would I recommend this: jein. If you have not bought a similar bag in the past it is worth the experience. If you have, don’t other wasting your money- just buy what you want.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Blanchul chocolate mint bites

It’s time for another strange mint chocolate flavored review that I found while shopping.

These mint chocolate biscuit bites are made by Bourbon and are just that- a bite. However, when you first try them, you do get a great taste of Coco and mint accompanied with a plastic after-taste; which is not normal. After reading the ingredients, I can only assume that such an after-taste comes from the use of butter and shortening.

If this product was made within the EU, there would be a list of E-numbers a mile long. In Japan, however, you just get the full ingredient list. A tip for those who are health conscientious: if the ingredient is in katakana, it is probably something you should avoid. For example, マガリーン (margarine), and ショートニング (shortening) are heavily featured on the packaging along with ホエイポウダー which is whey powder. This product is fine and thus has a kanji (which was not used on this occasion) which is 乳清 which literally means pure milk.

Would I recommend the product- considering the fact that I did eat all of it, consuming a pointless 225 kcals- I’ll use the German word Jein (yes and no). It tastes okay but doesn’t leave an impressions and passes without comment.

For this product, try it if you want, but don’t expect to love it.

Thanks for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Palika Chocolate mint sticks

As I am trying new things this month, a small sweat treat is exactly what I wanted (but not according to my diet).

In this packet, there are only 6 sticks included (the downside) but to combat this, they taste amazing. Each sticks is covered in a crunchy wafer and is filled with chocolate mint and crunchy puffs.

Now the downside, they are mostly taste and there is noting much in them. Each sticks is only 38 kcal and have 4.8g of sugar- or put put it another way, a nice flavor but nothing nutritious.

Do check them out if you get the chance, they are a tasty treat.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Opinion: Christmas is coming

Japan has taken to the profit making market of Christmas

Within many supermarkets throughout Japan, the Christmas section is starting to bloom into a eye-sore of a seasonal isle. Aeon is no different in that respect.

Aeon offer many different types of products, some of which just look like the 七五三 products but re-branded for Christmas, most of which seem to be targeted to children and the stocking is no different.

Stockings, traditionally be hung by the fire place, are a place to put small treats to enjoy on Christmas day have in this case been pre-filled with 5 treats and have a slightly different design.

In regards to Christmas products, 1080 JPY is not a bad price but it is still expensive for what you get. It’s a good product for children or as a decoration piece but that’s about it.

There will be more Christmas related products to come, but for now, thank you for reading and happy exploring.