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

Christmas: Advent calendars in Japan?

Advent is a christian festival where they count down until Christmas and this idea of counting down to Christmas was made into the advent calendar. Each and every day, you open a card window and enjoy a little sugar rush of delicious chocolate (which is so much better than the advent candle approach where you watch a candle burn).

Traditionally, advent calendars are only found in countries with a strong christian history. Even though it could be argues that Japan has a long history of Christianity (of about 400 years), Japan is mostly secular.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I saw these advent calendars in Aeon of Disney characters and (even more surprisingly) a traditional Christmas scene.

An extremely typical advent Calendar design

The product features German, French and English but not Japanese. To ensure that I wasn’t going mad, I asked my Japanese colleague about advent calendars and they gave me a look of confusion and asked what it was (well more I told them what it was).

I have previously reported on this sort of product only being featured in Japan once it had been changed to reflect more of the culture, but this seems to be an complete abnormality in this area. I will need to look into this further, but advent calendars are as strange as I in Japan it seems.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Iga, the ninja journey

A journey around the heart of Iga

City hall with that sign….

As I live in the area, some of the nuances that tourists seem to love are a bit lost on me. Nevertheless, I was a tourist but 5 years ago when I visited the city as a foreign exchange student. But, new age I hope comes experience and today, we’ll look at my journey through Iga city.

Firstly, here’s a bit of cute- which was advertisement for the ninja costumes you can rent while touring the ninja city (mostly popular with young children and families).

Who’s a cute dog?

Upon exit from the Ninja train station I was greeted with this cute sight- which doesn’t happen when commuting to work. These 3 are adorable and even the taxi driver (there is a taxi rank located behind me) got out and took a picture.

But onward I went, until I came to the main reason for my visit: the NINJA experience. Firstly, the downside: when I last came I only took part in the Ninja experience and museum and this is exactly the same: from the actions taken to the displays. However, this does not mean that it is not worth doing.

Firstly price: to visit Iga castle, take part in the Ninja experience and visit the lantern hall (called the だんじり会館) it is 1750 JPY- which is the combined ticket price. Buying this is easier and it does save a bit of money. But, If you only want to visit 1 or 2 of the sites, pay for a single entry- it is cheaper. Firstly, we’ll look at Iga castle.

伊賀上野城 or Iga castle has been present on the site in some form since it was built. The castle dates back to 1585 or 天正15年 when the ruling family started to build it. The site once held smaller building surrounding the castle and it was once a hive of activity.

Just north-west of the castle is the ruins of the castle hall- which served as the living spaces for the castle helpers, the attendants and everything else which the main castle would have needed including housing the kitchen area, the tax office, and other offices a head of state needs to have.

All that remains of the heart of the operation

The site of the castle office, now seems to be ignored by locals and tourists alike as just a part space. The boarders you can see marked out show where each room once stood and markers name the rooms both in English and Japanese. but still people walk on past.

In 1611 or 慶長16年 building work gor underway around the castle and 30 m 本丸 or walls were erected- which was and still is the tallest of any castle in Japan, making Iga castle one of the “100 most famous castles in Japan”, one of the reasons for a high volume of Japanese visitors.

A lovely look at the 本丸 and the wider Iga area.

The castle was once a central part of nationwide defense as there was a high risk of rebellions due to the climate at the time and after the erection of the increased defenses in 1611, on the 2nd of September 1612, the Tenshu (天守 or castle tower was destroyed in high winds. The decision to not rebuild the castle was made in 1615 at the start of Genwa 天和元年.

Fast forward to 1935, 320 years later, Katsu Kawasaki (川崎克) started restoration/ rebuilding the castle out the tensho was created out of wood- which is what can be seen today.

The castle is also known as “white phoenix” castle.

The castle is a fantastic thing to explore but it is NOT accessibility friendly. There are no lifts at all and all stair cases are extremely steep, but it is worth it. The castle has almost become a community center, showing the history and culture of Iga and of the Iga district. In addition to this, the castle hosts many artifacts from the castle era, showcasing the strange articles of war, war time documents and art and poetry created by the castles inhabitants.

There are many things I could point I which I liove when I visit but I will do but 2. Firstly, on the top floor, there are 46 individually created from many different people. Secondly, the view of Iga- take a look for yourself:

You can actually see Nara-prefecture from here.

The next stop was the ninja experience, and I got to say it was a bit of fun. Admittidaly I did end up speaking to a Japanese professor and we did have a bit of a laugh, mostly at my height and being in a tradational Japanese house. Nevertheless the tour. There are 2 types of tour on offer: with or without the ninja weapons exbition- I went for without (but I went with previously).

A ninja’s house

The attendant who guided the group around, explained that the roof was so steep by design- it made it harder for enemy ninjas to enter the property. Which bring us nicely to the first point- the fist part of this is a group guided experience and it is wheelchair friendly.

Upon entry, you must take off your shoes (it is Japan), you are guided into the living room where some ninja tricks are performed- along with the explanation of how and why. There are tours in English, but there are a lot more in Japanese.

The guildes explain quite a bit about the way of the ninja and what precaustions they took to ensure everything remained safe while ensuring that everything was done to amaze and amuse.

Following this, the tour leads onto the museum where exhibits are presented in English and Japanese which show ninja artifacts and tell you how many things were done. As this tour is designed for children and adults in 2 different languages, the explanations given are more of an overview but helpful never the less.

There is just one artifact that I will talk about in more detail: the 4 sided shrunken. What I will say is that there is no problem with the Japanese side- there is a problem with western cultural knowledge. This shuriken is known as a Manji-shriken and is written with the kanji: 卍手裏剣, see the problem. To make matters worse, the translation of 卍 or まんじ is swastika which really does evoke any positive feelings to a European’s ear.

Finally, there was but more more building which housed further information and a gift shop with some brilliant books about the history of ninja and plenty of general ninja merch including T-shirts, rubber kunai, pens, etc.

The last stop was the lantern hall- argubuly the least impressive of the 3, especially for any non-Japanese speaker. However it is from here were ninja costumes may be rented for your grand tour of Iga.

This hall houses the large lantern floats used in various festivals happening in Iga (all of which I have missed or am unable to attend….). Each display has been painstakingly created to best highlight it’s beauty and artistic style. All explanations are given in Japanese and while it can be enjoyed without, it does make the experience longer.

Upon entry, you are told that there is a 12 minute starting at the start of the hour on the second floor and to be honest, even with this, you are only going to be here for about 30 minutes to an hour.

The floats of lanterns used in festivals

At the end, there is a large gift shop with ninja anything and everything: sake, rice, chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, t-shirts etc. If you love ninja, this is not to be missed.

All in all, it was a brilliant way to spend a day. There is a lot more in Iga to explore (the main city for example) but spending a day looking more into Iga’s history was well worth itだってばよ!( BTW that was painful to write but if you don’t get that reference, do you even ninja?)

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.

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.

Opinion: English speak still I cannot

Japenglish returns for another visit

Jap-English returns with a vengeance

Extremely strange English returns for another visit. The following examples are from both magazines and found while walking around.

English use in Japan is certainly varied- despite Japan’s admission for all children to seemingly be fluent in English. But it is all too easy to find examples of bad English.

The example above is a special example of corporate bad English use. “Coordinate for dream”, is the type of bad English use where you can easily say I know what you were going for; good try.

A lovely advert but the English used to try and encourage Japanese readers to experience the exoticism of the brand, leaves a lot to be desired. “Windup cars Auto” or “Car’s windup auto” is grammatically incorrect unless someone is called car. Nevertheless, wouldn’t you trust a car brand that highlights the fact that their cars are windup, not petrol powered.

This section is similar to any local British newspaper where people announce the birth of their children. But there are 2 problems with this section. Firstly, “kiss kiss kids” sounds slightly extremely strange to a natives ear. Secondly, and more importantly, “take a shot” is not the phrase you use when telling someone to take a photo- but the message is understandable.

Together, however, it’s a rather ominous message: Take a shot!! Kiss Kiss Kids which sounds like you are asking a gang called Kiss kiss Kids to shoot someone.

It’s not all bad English in Japan. There are generally some good examples- even thought I misread it at first.

The example above is an example of brilliant English use (and it doesn’t say “Up Life”) on a product for sale. It is actually a rather nice phrase and message. The only problem with this is its’ audience- I doubt may Japanese people are able to understand this or the nice sentiments it conveys.

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.

What’s on: Iga and Nabari

When you live in another country, occasionally it seems as if there is nothing going on. But I would like to quell that idea and give you an idea of local events going on in Nabari and Iga.

The information on local events comes from the regional free newspaper “You!”. There are quite a few events in the area but I’ll cherry pick a few.

On November 17th (Sunday) the rainbow group will be performing a concert starting at 14:30 at Yamato Fuji Hall. The group has hosted a charity concert every year since the 2011 disaster and precedes go to support these groups. For more information, or booking, please call 090-6911-9818 (Japan).

On Saturday the 16th, Nabari High school tea ceremony club will be hosting a free event at Nabari library (booking is not required). The event will be taking place in the tatami room and starts an 1330.

On November 16th from 1530 to 1830, Nabari kindergarten are hosting a winter illumination event. Participation is free.

Classically trained Ayaka Tanimoto is taking part in an Opera in Nabari at ads Hall in Masasaki-cho (a 15 minute walk from Nabari station). Doors open at 1400 and tickets are 3,000 JPY for adults and 1,000 JPY for high school students and younger and are limited to 80. For more information call (Nabari) 64-3478.

Finally, the asd Hall are hosting the 10th Cancer awareness event which offers to give further information on cancer, types and diagnosis. This is to be hosted on Thursday the 28th from 1430 to 1630.

There are a lot more events happening, and if you are interested please check out some of the listed events.

I hope you enjoyed reading and happy exploring.

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