Typhoon 19, the aftermath

Please do as I say and not as I did!!!!

Yesterday, as I’m sure everyone is aware, Japan experienced its’ biggest typhoon in 60 years and as the counts come in- it is not as bad it could be. It is true to say that prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance.

However, there were some casualties. At time of writing, 5 people have been reported as deceased. To those families, you have my thoughts and prayers.

Looking a bit closer to home, what happened in Nabari?

The level 4 caution (which is 警戒レベル4 or keikai level 4), was cancelled by 1830 yesterday evening and since the sun had come out, I decided to go for a bit ride by the river. As a bit of advice: please NEVER do this. Nabari was still feeling the effects of the typhoon and the river was exceptionally full. In fact, the route I took led me over 2 bridges.

That’s a lot of water…

I stopped before going over the first bridge calling myself stupid (to be put politely)- but I continued. Along side the river, all emergency barriers had been raised and there was about 30cm of clearance between the water and the bottom of the bridge. Additionally, Nabari river is the outlet river for a dam, if there was an emergency release of water…well lets not go there.

A bit more than 30 at this bridge but NOT at another

In this area, there has been little in the way of structural damage- there was mostly localised flooding. On the Iga-Tetsudo line (the ninja train) several parts of the track were completely flooded and trains cancelled.

It was a bit too close…

However, train service has restarted at this time and convenience stores were open- but my gym was closed for the day- I wonder why?

Final thoughts: being prepared encase of evacuation did help- the likelihood of it was still low but possible. Please do not got out until a typhoon or other natural disaster has completely passed (unlike myself and half of Nabari it seems) and finally, be vigilant. A situation can change in a second and I have never ridden as fast or as hard trying to get back on the correct side of the river as I did yesterday.

Thank you for reading and happy (SAFE) exploring,

The calm before the storm

A strange day

The Japanese are known for having many cultural rules and procedures that they often ignore when convenient- and living in Japan I know this quite well.

One of the more known rules is the request for silence on trains “to provide a comfortable atmosphere for other passengers” according to Kintetsu that is. But today from Tsu train station to Nabari train station (which is about 60 km or around an hour by train), and including a transfer at Ise-Nakagawa it was silent. Eerily silent.

What made this slightly worse, is that all trains were packed more than usual for a Friday night- as people were travelling straight home without the customary drinking sessions. This is to say ALL trains including limited express trains.

Today, Japan is holding its’ breath. There is cancellation of train services, flights, busses etc across Japan and even lines like the Kintetsu are considering the possibility of suspending services for “safety reasons”, but what actually got me worried was the announcement of this update in English. Most information, detailed information that is, is usually kept in Japanese.

This combined with the silent eery journey on the way back- where everyone was looking worried- has caused me to double check my bug-iut bag. I’ve never felt this paranoid about a Typhoon before.

But why are so many people worried?

This typhoon- number 19 (keeping with the Japanese theme or 台風第19号) is the largest of the year so far, its is extremely strong, set to potentially land in major urban areas, and has the potential to cause country-wide problems.

Additionally, warning about it are ALL over social media, the news, TV, in stations etc. There are many companies that are suspending workdays tomorrow and are advising to only go out if needed- advice I will be following.

The cherry on top for me, was watching people taking supplies home with them. Prior preparation and planning may prevent poor performance but if all Japanese people are doing it, that just worries me- they seem to like to wing it.

Stay safe all, gather supplies and know where your evacuation areas are.

Thank you for reading and stay safe.

Vending machines, a return

Coca Cola: is it as healthy as you don’t expect?

How does the giant of the drink World compare to smaller vending machine companies? Let’s have a look….

“there is one coin coffee” but what about your sodas?

The first thing to note is its’ size, there are only 15 drinks offered–but it does sit next to a larger model, without the one coin coffee. But what about the drinks?

On the top line, there are 3 Aquarius’- a sports drink which is reasonably healthy (and brilliant in hot weather or while doing physical activity), 2 teas and water- not a bad start.

Next, we have the line that should be forgotten: 2 Cokes (do I really need to explain?), grape Fanta, fizzy grape juice and real gold- think of a ‘healthier’ Redbull with added vitamins.

Last row: 2 black coffees, and 4 milk coffees.

Healthy total: 8 drinks. Unhealthy total (including milk coffee): 10 or 44% are unhealth- a lower total percentage than last time. Now what about the big boy?

Please note, you can pay with 1000 JPY notes

As you can quickly see, there are quite a few unhealthy drinks available. Let’s make a start

Firstly, 2 cokes and 2 real golds, Georgia black coffee- really good coffee by the way-, Georgia milk coffee, 2 more real golds, apple juice, and the newest addition to any unhealth drinks selection- coke energy (yes this does exist, no I don’t know why). The first tally is 2 out of 10 (20%) are healthy, let’s see this improve.

The healthy row is as follows: 2 green teas, 2 mineral waters, 2 flavoured mineral waters, 2 milk coffees, and finally 2 smaller green teas. This time, the healthy tally is 8 out of 10 (80%)- much better.

Finally, the coffee row. This row has different ‘mixes’ but applying the same approach i.e. with extra calories (milk or sugar) its’ classes as unhealthy. This makes the healthy total 3 (black coffees) out of 7.

Out of 30 drinks, 13 are classed as healthy. This is a final percentage of 43%.

If we look at both vending machines: out of a total of 48 drink options, 21 are healthy which is a total of 44%- it’s a bit strange how this specific number crops up in regards to coke vending machines- I may need to look into this further.

Final note, as you would expect, most drinks offered are not the healthiest available, but all can be enjoyed at times. As a personal observation, these machines are rarely used as there is a convenience store 3 minutes away in foot- with the same selections.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Health food in Japan

The world of extreams

How long does it take to spot CC lemon?

I have talked about buying protein in Japan very recently, but what I have not yet mentioned is suppliemts, more specifically added vitamins and minerals.

If you were to go to a convience store and go to the drinks section, ignoring the sugar content, there would be quite a few healthy looking options. Admittedly one of my favourites is CC lemon which it’s selling point (on the front and highlighted) is that it contains the same amount of vitamin C as 60 lemons or 200 mg. The body cannot process this amount and a lot of it is lost via urination.

You may think that is a crazy amount, but it’s nowhere near the highest amount. Available at most stores are health tonics in small glass bottles that contain upto 2000 mg of vitamin C.

To put this into prospective, the daily recommended intake for most adults is upto 90 mg a day. If that is the case, does excess vitamin C cause any ill effects?

Yes! Regular amounts exceeding 2000 mg cause gastronomic distress i.e. Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps etc.

However Japan doesn’t just have products with excess vitamin C, there are products with excess anything.

You may buy wafers with added calcium, wafers with added iron, wilk with added calcium, health drinks with collegen etc. It’s sometimes amazing what extras Japanese producers add to products.

It sounds a bit morbid but: health warming! Be aware of what you are consuming, an excess of a vitamin or mineral for you may have a completely unintentional side affect or may cause you harm. If in doubt either do further research (scientific papers etc), ask a doctor or dietitian or simply avoid it.

After all there’s only one you (and you read my blog, so stay safe)

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Protein powder; a surprise expense

Selection of protein at Kirindo, drug store

Protein powder is not for the faint of heart, or should I say wallet

Since coming to Japan, one of the most expensive things to buy has been protein powder. While I do love DNS products (the crème de la crème of protein in Japan) some products I have used are about 7,000 JPY for 900 grams and while this is not a lot, in the scheme of things, it soon mounts up.

So, what options are there in Japan? More importantly, what are my recommendations?

Firstly, unless you go to a sports shop (like sports depo) you are unlikely to find specialised proteins e.g. vegan, slow release etc. Your options, therefore, are mostly going to be whey proteins with different added vitamins, minerals and differing flavours.

Additionally, unless you plan to spend a lot, you are looking at 900g or 2 lbs maximum for your money- this is the 5,000 JPY and under price-bracket.

The main Japanese brands are Savas (this is the protein you see in convenience stores- soy protein is widely available as well), Meiji, DNS- my personal favourite, along with some others. Furthermore, most Japanese protein shakers are a different style- they are tall plastic cups with no mesh divider to allow the protein to be broken up.

Protein can be bought at supermarkets, drugstores (which is usually a lot cheaper), sports shops (with a lot wider selections) and as always online.

I would also advise to look at the flavour you’re buying. I bought Yuzu flavoured protein powder by DNS- which did take some getting use to (I now love the flavour). Besides the obvious Japanese flavours (matcha) there’s what you would expect- vanilla (バニラ), banana (バナナ), chocolate (ココア) etc.

Hope that gives fellow gym goes some ideas as what to expect.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Erratum: In a previous article, I said I had lost 20 kgs since coming to Japan, please read this as 25 kgs instead (in 9 months)

How2: reading train fare tables

A large complex chart, for the uniformed that is

When I first came to Japan, and before I bought an IC card, calculating the correct train fare seemed like the start of a JLPT- even with the romanji. But it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ll start small with the Iga-tetsudo line:

Train fares for the Iga-tetsudo line

The Iga-tetsudo line like the Yokkaiichi lines are a small service with few stops, so finding the train fare is very simple. Want to get from Iga Kanbe to Uenoshi? That’s ¥370 one way for an adult or ¥190 for a child? Want a return or to go to more than one stop? Buy an all-day ticket (一日フリー乗車券) for ¥740- the same price as a return and the ticket machines are in multiple languages as well!

Now for something more complex, the kintetsu line:

So many places…

The kintetsu is a very large network and the fare map highlights this. Want some advice? Know where you’re going! It sounds basic enough but you have to be aware of train station names that sound the same (nishi Aoyama, and higashi Aoyama are a good example).

Another reason to be careful is if you are not using an IC card, and get the price wrong, you have to waste time at a fare adjustment machine before you may exit a station.

My advice for travelling in Japan is to use an app such as Japan Transit planner, which tells you the fare, train time and fastest journey.

Alternatively buy an IC card, it automatically deducts the train fare from the card and some link with your bank account, so you don’t have to worry about how much is left.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Day light robbery: the price of fruit in Japan

Fruit glorious fruit…

When an apple is more expensive than a beer, you’ve got problems

Whenever you come to Japan, you are slightly confused with the currency. You have thoughts like, “well how much is that in pounds/dollars/euros? If it’s about £1.5/$1 per ¥100…” etc ad nauseum.

But when you get down to it, fruit can be astronomically expensive. I recently saw a 80g punnet of blueberries for 250 JPY, or how about a singular apple for 300JPY, or what about strawberries for 450 JPY.

With these sorts of prices, it is no wonder that I am an advocate for frozen fruit, its much better value and it won’t spoil if you forget about it.

So once we have established a good part of your monthly budget is needed if you want fresh fruit, we will look into the world of the gift box.

Part of Japanese culture is to give gifts when visiting someone’s house, or give gifts at any special occasion, like the West. A popular gift is fresh fruit. The problem with this is the expense. A very nice-looking gift box with 2 watermelons will cost you ¥10,000. That is about $100, for 2 watermelons. The alarming thing is these gift sets sell in the thousands.

But this is not the crème de la crème of fruit, for that we must travel to the fruit auctions in Yubari, Hokkaido where 2 Melons sold for (deep breath) ¥5,000,000 or $50,000. For the Japanese there is a reason for this, the type of melon can only be produced by approved farmers, the specific grade for the melon is the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of melons grown etc.

However, I cannot see any justification for such a melon.

Taking this into account, some fruit can be bought for no money; bananas and grapes for example. But difference in pricing from prefecture to prefecture and even from store to store is crazy.

My advice is to go to a drug store if you want fruit, it won’t break the bank but you usually need to eat it quick.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

How2 eat healthy without breaking the bank

Not a millionaire? Don’t worry here’s some advice

Food shopping in Japan can seem expensive at times- no matter where you shop but here’s some advice I have found during my tenue in Japan.

Firstly, buy what you can at drug stores. Drug stores offer a reduced range of groceries but there is no difference in quality. I regularly shop at Cosmos (コスモス) and Kirindo- both drug stores offer fresh and frozen ingredients. I can buy a weeks’ worth of groceries for about 3000 JPY- or 7000 JPY at a supermarket.

Next, don’t forget frozen fruit and veg. At Kirindo, they offer a good range of fresh fruit and veg (I have bought a whole pineapple for 100 JPY) but if you’re not going to use it immediately buy frozen. Frozen fruit and veg cooks and taste the same as fresh but usually its cheaper per portion- very much so in the case of fruit.

This is a strange tip but go Japanese. Imported food is expensive no-matter where you buy it from, and this does include making foreign foods from scratch. Follow the expression: as in Rome, do as the Romans do. Does that mean eat Natto and Umeboshi if you detest them- no. Eat what Japanese produced foods you can- they are much cheaper. You can buy tofu for 30 JPY and soba for 18 JPY- which is the protein and carb component of a meal- you just need your greens and you good to go.

Like the look of that bento in the convenience store- forget about it. I was looking at the bentos recently and most of them were overpriced and have too many calories- there was a special bento for the rugby season with 1200 Kcals for just 600 JPY. If you must eat out- try the のり弁当 (nori bento)- it is usually the right size for a meal and has the right number of calories for people either losing or maintaining (bulking on the other hand, look elsewhere).

The final note I have on this topic is to have a general meal plan at the very least. DO I always know what I am going to eat in the evenings- NO! However, I have enough fresh and frozen ingredients to cover all eventualities and if I get back from work very late, a light snack of a kiwi or 2 is enough before sleep.

Healthy living has become much more mainstream in recent years and ignorance on this topic, in the eyes of many, is no longer inexcusable.

Very last thing (I swear), for vegans or vegetarians living or wanting to live in Japan, as a rule of thumb, forget about eating out. All meals (it seems like) contains some sort of animal product or fish/meat. You could just order rice, but it would have been made in a kitchen with cross-contamination and animal products galore- I cannot think of 1 restaurant in Nabari or Iga that is vegetarian (which together is a good size of Mie).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

EDIT: I have since done further research on this and there is one in Nabari: “Be Happy! Chikyushoku”- I have somewhere new to check out!!!!!!

The call that no-one wants

Bereavement entitlement in Japan

By a Japanese cementary

When you live in Japan, there is a likelihood that the call will come at some point and for me that was today.

If you are in the same situation as I, your first thought may be to go back and do what you can to help. But what rights do you have?

Legal rights for full time workers

忌引き休暇 (きびききゅうか/kibiki kyuka) is the Japanese term for condolence leave and it usually is only for full time employees- not anyone working or classified as working part time (this includes English conversation schools, short-term workers etc).

The classification for leave is based upon the degree of relationship between yourself and the deceased:

Relationship Usual allowed leave
Aunt/ Uncle 2 days
Child 5 days
Cousin 2 days
Grandchild 3 days
Grandparent 3 days
Parent 5 days
Sibling 3 days
Spouse 5 days
Other Usually none

If the time is not enough, then you would have to use vacation days as a way to make this up or take unpaid leave. If you are lucky, then you can travel overseas and say your goodbyes or is you cannot, keep the channels of communication open with your company and your family abroad.

If you are going through this as well, take each day as it comes.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Todays blog is dedicated to my Uncle Kevin. His death is a shock to all. May he rest in peace.

安らかに眠れ (Yasuraka ni nemure)

Requiescat in pace