Review: Sanyodo, book store

Look at all those cheap books

Sanyodo is a chain book store that offers a range a large range of books, stationary and other products. Let’s take a look.

Upon entry, you are greeted with a large selection of stationary products some cheap and others not so much. If you interact with children during your time in Japan, it is likely that their stationary came from either an 100 yen store or this one.

Currently, like many shops, there is a large display of 年賀状 products (new Year’s card)- from stamps to stickers and other products- to allow full customization of the cards which the Japanese are very keen to do.

The other current main seasonal section is the Christmas section. It is here that I came across some brilliant examples of the Japanese update and modification of western tradition i.e. Christmas.

So many Christmas books

My favorite example here was an Anpanman book where he has to help Santa deliver gifts and save Christmas.

Moving on from this section, Sanyodo offers quite an extensive range of non-fiction books from health books, to PC help books, history (mostly Japanese history), a large section for middle and high students etc. Taking into account to the stores size, they have a good range of books and magazines on offer.

The final major section (disregarding the small snack selection) is the magazine section. This section offers a wide range of magazines on a wide selection of topics and as always there are many magazines which offer a special gift with the magazine- but you do have to pay more for theses magazines.

Final thoughts, I definitively do recommend this store due to the range of products on offer and the brilliant selection of stationary.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Matsusaka: the beginning

Matsusaka City- 松阪市

It occurred to me that I have spent a lot of time looking into the Iga and Nabari areas and I have seemingly ignored the rest of the Mie. So I decided to explore somewhere I have passed while changing trains but never looked around and I got to say I’ll be back. But on with the review.

I arrived at Matsusaka train station on the Kintetsu line and I headed out of the JR exit and headed out into the wide world. My first point of call was 継松寺 or Keisho-ji temple.

When entering the grounds of Keisho-ji, it as if you have entered another world. The temple is well maintained, with a candle burning in the middle to allow people to buy incense and offer prayers for the dead, but there was no-one there. I was alone while visiting this large, historic center with the world passing all around me.

I ascended the wooden staircase to make an offering and pray and the temple is fantastic.

The rope hangs down attached to a gong to allow the gods to know you are there. But for visitors, there is so much old art, shrines, artifacts to look at that will grab you and make you appreciate them.

The best thing about this temple was its’ construction. So many temples in Japan feature concert staircases or use more modern building techniques but the main temple rejoices in old-world construction techniques. The other building are what you usually see- a mix on traditional and modern architecture.

The next stop on my journey was Matsusaka visitors center- which surprisingly a good stopping point. The staff do have some limited English but if you can (like always) please speak to them in Japanese. The center functions as the Matsusaka museum and information center which has an entire floor dedicated to the history and importance of Matsusaka- which is extremely interesting and worth the price of entry (it’s free). There is also a film about key events and people from it’s history and, more importantly, it has subtitles in English and Japanese and is worth a watch.

The gift shop offers 名物 or famous products from Matsusaka which ranges from flavored green teas (I may have bought a few), traditional お土産 or souvenirs which are usually a sweat treat for people to enjoy, and of course they have 松阪牛肉 or Matsusaka beef- of of the 3 greats of Japanese beef.

Surprisingly, the beef theme continued at the museum of history and folklore. The museum, which I was going to visit on my next trip was only 80 (that’s eighty- 8 0) JPY- it was a price I could not resist and indeed I did not. The current special exhibition is on Matsusaka beef and the museum features this quite heavily.

First note, the price- it’s exceptionally cheap which is brilliant. But there was a downside, the special exbition took center stage. The museum can be split into two parts: general history and the exhibition. Put it this way: I learnt more about the history of Matsusaka from the brochure with the ticket than I did at the museum. General history and information on the city is almost overlooked. The musum is keen to highlight the famous products that are prodiced here- rather than the history and culture surrounding it.

I did learn that the city had a thriving cotton trade and is one of the green tea centers of Japan along with its’ beef. I do recommend checking it out, but please wait until the next exhibition. It’ll make it a more enjoyable visit.

Now the main reason for my trip the castle. Matsusaka castle (ruins) is one of the 100 famous castles and the second one located in Mie-prefecture. To see the first check out: Iga castle.

I will not go into the history of Matsusaka castle (your safe for now) instead please enjoy the following photos:

After seeing the ruins of the castle [built in Tensho (天正)16年 or 1588 and originally consisted of the 本丸 (castle walls), 天守 (inner keep), 二の丸 (outer citadel ) and 石垣 (stone walls)] I continued onward to the former Ozu residence which for non-Japanese speakers is just a portal back to Japanese life during the Edo period (江戸時代). Interestingly enough, the Japanese just states “built after 1700”, which is extremely descriptive.

THe building is over 1000 meters squared, and has many different rooms of many functions along with small gardens dotted around- which is typical of Edo construction (for the wealthy of that time at least). It was an interesting side-note to my first official tour of Matsusaka and for 160 JPY it is worth the price. But if you are not interested in Japanese history, please don’t waste your time.

There was also a leaflet in “American” as they called it. I was not amused. The last thing of note I saw (which was closed but did make me chuckle) was a cafe called “Merry England”- which offer conversation in English as a selling point.

That was my first quick trip to Matsusaka, the next will be a 集印の観光旅行 or a shrine stamp tour of Matsusaka.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.


The overview:

  • Keishou-ji temple

    Price: free

  • Matsusaka Visitors Centre

    Price: free entry. Be aware of the gift shop (I spent a lot)

  • Matsusaka Museum of History and folklore

    Price: 80 JPY

  • Matsusaka Castle ruins

    Price: free

  • Former Ozu Residence

    price: 160 JPY

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: 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.

Product: Plus Balance

A short review of the “plus balance” health drink

A short review of a new health drink that has hit the market

As I was travelling to work, I came across a new health drink while I was looking for a tasty protein shake. As this new one had a good amount (8 g), I decided to try it and I have to say, its not bad.

Firstly, this was bought from Lawson and they offer the drink in banana and strawberry flavors. When opening the product, it looks rather like a milky coffee but without the expected caffeine hit- I was only slightly disappointed.

Surprisingly, it actually tasted like real strawberries and not artificial strawberries- which was a win- with a slight soy taste. The drink also contains added vitamins and minerals which I did like the idea of.

A slight negative was the amount of sugar in the product but as it was part of my lunch, I didn’t mind as much.

If you can, please check it out- I recommend it (as long as your not allergic to anything in it).

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.

Product: Koala Machi cookie

A sweat treat with an unexpected flavor

Ignoring snow packaging (which is extremely festive in appearance now that Halloween is over) and the name which translates to Koala city, this item was extremely eye catching and I had to try it.

Additionally, this company has donated money to help support koala foundations and has raised millions to support them.

Back to the product, they are koala shaped crunchy snacks with a soft, creamy filling and completely nourish. The usual flavor is a deep, rich chocolate filling encapsulated within a thin, crispy shell.

This is what I was expecting- I didn’t read the packaging nor look at the picture of a cheese cake like an intelligent human. When I initially tasted them, it did surprise me and the initial reaction was more of “what have I done”? The cheese cake flavoring is artificial, quite insipid and extremely strong- but somehow nice.

Japan has a thing for fake cheesecake flavored items- the worst of which was cheesecake Pokey- there were completely rancid (please don’t try) and somehow the koala crispy treats are not completely unexpected.

The ingredients are just what you would expected- all highly processed and nothing completely natural. But strangely they are called chocolate sweets but only contain coco butter as the chocolate component but they do contain cream cheese so that makes up for it I suppose.

If you get the chance, please do try them but be aware of the slightly strange flavoring.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Seria

A review of the 100 yen store Seria.

A brilliant 100 JPY store

Seria is a national 100 JPY store with locations from Kyuushu to Hokkaido that offers a extremely wide range of products. Each store is set up specifically for that location so there is a slight variation in products offered at each store.

They are very proud of a number of things ranging from products that are produced in Japan (which is 国産 in Japanese), listening to customers’ feedback about what products they would like, and offering their own branded products which increases quality and allowing them to be sold.

Interestingly, Seria comes from Italian which means “beginning” , which just like this post, where we shall begin.

Firstly the range of products is immense. They offer seasonal items from Halloween, summer camping supplies, Valentines/ White’s day crafts in a specially designed display to attract the eye and help encourage patrons- which seems to be a rather un-Japanese marketing strategy.

Next their range extends from storage and stationary products to kitchen supplies and food items. There is a good selection and the quality in the multitude of items I have bought has always been brilliant and I have not yet had any problems.

For those of you who love character products including main western and Japanese characters: including Disney, Anpanman, Doraimon, the yellow tick-tacks that love bananas, Snoopy etc, all for 100 JPY. These products are smaller and usually only offer a singular item (1 fork for example) rather than a set.

There is also a health and make-up which sells basic necessitates such as shampoo, eye liner, lipstick, toothpaste, toothbrushes etc. Of course, they also offer a wide range of masks as well.

In regards to their food products, they have a basic range- from oil and seasoning to snacks and crisps.

The only thing to note is that due to consumption tax increase, food items are 108 JPY and non-food is 110 JPY.

If you get chance please check it out, you may find something you’ll love.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Product: soy”meat” jerky

Random product review: soy’meat’ jerkey

A strange product in concept but quite good

If you happen to go shopping in Japan, either for food or to see the strange items on offer- there are quite a few, you will notice a few things:

  • Meat is expensive
  • alcohol is everywhere
  • anything which has not been assimilated into the Japanese Zeitgeist is ridiculously expensive

Case and point: beef jerky. Most jerky products in Japan is made from squid or seafood. It is sometimes flavored and has helped create some rather humorous YouTube videos, with more than one you-tuber freaking out at the taste/ texture.

However, beef jerky is hideously expensive for what it is. A 25 g serving will set you back 500 JPY (4.62 USD/3.57 GBP/ 4.13 EUR) which no matter how you look at it is expensive- there’s note even a “it’s cheap for Japan” because it quite clearly is not.

Enter stage left: soy-meat jerky. This product was 150 JPY and is actually a reasonable tasty (and vegetarian alternative if you were looking for one) and cheaper alternative. Opening the packet, there are flakes of soy- quite a few of them all coated in teriyaki flavoring.

Now the important question: does it resemble actual jerky? Yes it does with one exception: it’s a bit softer and therefore, in my correct opinion, much nicer. It’s a slightly chewy, teriyaki flavored flake of joy and it has little fat, a good amount of protein and little added salt.

If you are curious, they are available at Aeon stores in the health food section.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The accidental journey

An unintended bike ride of about 25 km does have some very beautiful views

When a quick bike ride is anything but

I had not intended to do much today- I completed my weekly chores and gone shopping and was feeling a bit bored. So, I decided to go on a quick bike ride. Over 4 hours and 25 km later I came home…this was not planned but I enjoyed every bit of it.

Let me take you on my journey from Nabari to Mihata and back again- or an accidental journey- there and back again, a journey through Nabari.

This journey started with crossing the Nabari river (名張川)and taking in the sites. Just behind the hills you see is Nara prefecture, which makes travelling to Nara extremely easy.

名張川

Just over the bridge, and at the foot of the hills lies a shrine called Sugitani shrine (杉谷神社- which means cedar valley shrine). This is the stereotypical Japanese shrine which offers all that major shrines do: Ofuda, Goshuin, Omamori etc (I’ll explain what all of these things are in a future post). But more importantly, it looks the part.

The shrine was an extremely quite place with no-one else there and to give it that authentic abandoned image (even though there is a priest living there), they offer stamps with the old Japanese imperial era name in addition to the new one- almost as if they’re trying to get rid of old stock no matter what!

After leaving, I made a mistake. I looked at the river and thought “I wonder where that goes?”. Thus my journey had began.

I followed route 80 which follows the rivers path and like many roads in Japan, it quickly goes down to one lane with a cliff on one side and a drop-off on another. In addition to this, cars seem to like speeding along this country road for some reason. The views, however, were brilliant. When there were no cars, the roar of the river drowned out everything else around. Additionally, all of this section was downhill and I may have ensured that I kept to the speed limit as well.

Route 80 seemed to come to an end and opened up to a tiny village 薦生 or Komo in English. The main highlight of this village is a post office, 3 shrines and 1 temple. I of course checked out a shrine and I chose Chuzan shrine (中山神社)which was on the road out of the village.

I had to use the phrase again so I’ll use Japanese: 伝統的な神社です- which means a traditional shrine. The small wooden box you can see in the first picture is for donations and people pray towards a Kami (or God) who is housed behind the screen doors.

I continued on wards, weaving in and out of housing estates in Kikyogaoka (桔梗が丘)which mostly consisted of scaling several hills and chanting 頑張て (do my best). Eventually, I ended up in Mihata (美旗) and I have to say, Mihata feels like old-time Japan.

Mihata has many streets with homes constructed in the traditional Japanese style. To add to this, today is a national holiday in Japan: Culture day (文化の日). Therefore, there are many Japanese flags flying and lanterns hung up on the threshold of many households stating 御神燈- which are lights used as a religious offerings called Goshintou in Japanese. This use of kanji is a bit out of date, further highlighting Mihata’s old time Japan feel. The modern Kanji for sacred light is 神灯.

The high walls of Mihata boarder the farmlands

After leaving Mihata, whilst enjoying the scenery, I decided to take another detour- I had ended up in Mihata after-all. There was a extremely small out of the way grave yard- which seemed quite an interesting thing to look at. Upon entry, there were the ever watchful guardians with fresh offerings- in stark contrast to the weathered guardians. In the middle of the grave yard was a small alter for offerings.

The journey back at this point was all uphill and took a bit of time to get back. I did however made a final stop at Kikyogaoka 10 go park (桔梗が丘 10号公園).

The park consists of small stone paths winding around, between and over the small lakes here. Autumn has not yet hit in full-force so everything still feels alive and vibrant. The paths naturally lead you onward over the lake where there are many large Koi are ever waiting to be fed.

At the end of the path, there was a small grove of trees where Autumn had seemed to have come- which was a stark contrast to the ever-green trees surrounding in. Looking back at the park, it is place I will need to check out again, in spring, when the sakura start to bloom.

It was not a bad accidental journey, mush further and longer than initially planned but extremely fun. All this on my day of “rest”.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my accidental journey and reading another longer post (an extra special treat for you on culture day).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.