Opinion: the myth of a late train

Or simply put: so what?

This is a post I’ve been thinking about for a while hence the 2 week wait since receiving the late ticket and this post.

Firstly a bit of background information. Everyone has heard the wonderful stories of German and Japanese trains never being late, always arriving on time to the second and arriving in the perfect position each time. This is simply fiction. Even if everything is fine, there will always be something that either delays the train or off sets it’s position.

On November 14 I was riding the JR line from Takachaya Station (brilliant name and they use the old Kanji for station 高茶屋驛) the problem was the train was running late. The problem was the last train to Nabari is at 2315,and I still had get to Ise-Nakagawa first.

An announcement came over the tannary and stated the train would be late. 15 minutes later it arrived.

I always had the image of train attendants handing out late tickets to commuters like confetti. This was not the case. I had to go to the JR officev at Tsu Station and ask for one. I got a brilliant look of ‘what the hell’ from the attendant before he reluctantly printed one off stamped it and gave it to me.

Ignoring the customer service skills, which left a lot to be desired, the impression left was of blame. They seemed almost outraged that I dared ask for it. Completely shatter my nativity why don’t you.

For those of you wondering, the lateness ticket or certificate of lateness is called a 遅延証名書 or chienshomeisho, a word that I cannot seem to remember. Japanese railways give them out (should give them out) to allow a person to prove they were late. Which is an even more troubling statement come to think of it.

I will be fair, I have ridden the JR line in Mie on multiple occasions and it has been delayed or late on multiple occasions as well. It’s not to say that they can’t be on time, but they choose not to be.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

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.

Review: Sports depo

The reason I have no money

So many clothes and I have little money

Sports depo is a sports shop which sells any thing and everything relating to sports. This includes sports wear for men, women and children; shoes- from trainers to football boots, caps, underwear, engraved football shorts etc.

Additionally, it has the best range of vitamins, supplements, and proteins that I have seen from any Japanese store.

The baseball and under armour sections

What is brilliant about the shops is the dedicated sections to each sport, brand and item. Want free weights? Go to the gym accessories section. Want a hiking pole? Go to hiking etc.

Additionally, the staff are always friendly and seem to be knowledgeable and simply know what their talking about.

But, you may be thinking, is the downside to such a wonderland of sporting wear and gear? Simply put, the price.

While the shop has items on sale and frequent offers online,any items are full retail price and they soon mount up. But there are very good prices on offer here, but you need to be careful- like everywhere else in Japan.

Final thoughts, would I recommend it? Definitely, I love the range of, well, everything they have. Just be careful of not buying into the ‘it’s cheap for Japan’ trap.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

It never seems to end…

Opinion: the subtle insult

The Japanese will never say it, implications are a different matter

It’s late and I’m just waiting for the train back from work and being slightly lazy, I bought a healthy bento from a convenience store.

I may have had difficulty finding my wallet so I explained in Japanese that’s hidden at the bottom (I was right) and the assistant just chuckled.

She then gave me a fork for a salad, which is normal. I know this was not intended as an insult but it got me thinking.

How do the Japanese show their displeasure at someone? How do they show their displeasure at someone who may not speak Japanese?

One way is the automatic giving of a knife or fork in lieu of chopsticks or giving you water instead of tea when going to a restaurant. These subtle actions are their way to differenciate those accepted or seen to be accepted and those who are not.

There even more subtle gestures, the standing up to get off at the next station extra early when you sit down, the automatic “English no” when you say すみません or excuse me.

There’s an overview of subtle Japanese gestures and there are many more besides.

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

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.

Japanese advertising: the need to google

When advertising in Japan, don’t worry about the website, worry about gooogle

Japanese has a non-latin based writing system which is unique, even though there are borrowed elements within. This did not pose a problem originally but this changed with the computer age.

Most websites use a Latin based Web address to search (exploringlanguages.org is a brilliant example) rather than a Arabic, Japanese, cyralic or other root based language. One reason for this is the adaptability the Latin based system, as it can spell out the phonics of other language systems.

This has effected Japanese in a particular way. While English language learning is heavily emphasised at schools here, not everyone understands the need; either globally or within Japan. This has left many people without the ability to read non-Japanese scripts–which brings us back google.

As any polygot knows, you can Google in other languages, without exception. Therefore what often happens in Japan is that advertisers don’t include their website address (due to the Latin based system ) but they instead include the information one is to Google to get to the website.

While it is a strange system, its the Japanese way and not likely to change any time soon.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

“It’s cheap for Japan”

But is it though? A quick exploration of pricing in Japan

Money, Money, Money- not so funny after all…

Anyone who has either been to Japan or who lives here has heard about pricing in Japan. Many visitors either think Japan is extremely cheap or extremely expensive. Let’s look at that in more detail.

For the purposes of this article, please note the following conversions at time of writing:

  • 1 USD is 108 JPY
  • 1 EUR is 120 JPY
  • 1 GBP is 135 JPY

When you come to Japan, there are many things that you want to see and do and like anyone who has done their research you know exactly what you are going to do.

Upon arrival in Nagoya/Tokyo, you buy an IC card and load it with 5000 yen (500 JPY for the IC card and 4500 to charge it) to prepaiur you for your week there. You travel around the city and each stop costs around 150 yen one way- you make 10 one way trips a day. You see a vending machine and all the drinks are 100 yen so you buy a coke and a bottle of water. You try different foods dotted around town which totals 2000 yen. Next you decide to visit the sites, tickets cost usually 1000 yen each and you visit 3 sites. Finally, you decide to go to a cheap restaurant and get a set menu with rice, miso, and tonkatsu for about 1000 yen.

I have followed the itinerary above and using the total costs, it comes to 7,700 a day. This is a standard amount, and being in Japan for 7 days would cost 53,900 spending money with no gifts. Now this can be done so much cheaper, but this is an average. That 53,900 JPY is 498 USD, 398 GBP, or 447 EUR- which is not too bad as a holiday budget but let’s look at individual items a bit closer.

Instead of travelling to Japan, you live here instead, and you go to the supermarket to buy food, a common every day thing.

You decide to buy rice for 1000 yen, fresh fruit and veg- which sets you back 2000 yen and tofu for 50 yen a pack. That’s a weekly total of about 4000 yen (plus extras).

Which is 37 USD, 30 GBP, or 33 EUR- which is extremely cheap. To sum up so far, food in Japan is quite cheap- which is brilliant but now- technology, how does that fare?

Let’s look at technology to see how that fares.

If you were to come to Japan with your laptop and you realise that you have forgotten your HDMI cable, buying one from the shop would cost you 3000 JPY. Or you realise that you have forgotten your laptop and you go to a second hand store and buy an ‘ok’ one for about 40,000 JPY.

The HDMI cable is 27 USD, 25 EUR, or 22 GBP and that second-hand laptop is 372 USD, 335 EUR or 297GBP (and I’m talking about a 120 Gb, 2Gb ram note book)- which I’m sure that you’ll agree with me is expensive. Or how about you come to Japan and buy 2 switch games for 9000 JPY each (this is not the most expensive games either). That’ll cost you 167 USD, 150 EUR, or 133 GBP and considering in the UK, games are about 40 GBP each, that’s extremelyexpensive.

Finally a word of warning, Japan may be the country of technology and of robots but buying a piece of that will cost you. Food and drink may be cheap but buying lots of it does mount up.

SO that HDMI cable for 3000 JPY is cheap for Japan, it’s just not cheap for anyone else.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.