When I say the bike I have is not designed for what strain I regularly put it under, I am unfortunately not joking. The bike I own is referred to as a ママチャリ or mothers chariot and it is extreamly common in Japan.
The bike has only 6 gears, front and rear brake pads, a basket on the front handle bars and a place to strap something down behind the rider. The bike is designed in such a way that you must sit up straight to ride it and the handle bars curve inwards in a loop shape- got all of that? Now ride for 30+ km in mountainous terrain and off-road- that is what I put this poor thing under.
Recently, I discovered I had a rear puncture and even though I could have bought everything I needed to repair the bike, it would have been a bit expensive. What is a person to do in this situation? Enter cycle pro shop reco based in Nabari.
This bike shop offers everything you could wish for from trikes for toddlers to the latest racing bikes- it covers every cycling need- including repairs. There are 2 prices on the website one for basic bikes and one for sports bikes and luckily basic bike repair prices are extremely cheap!
A further cherry on top as the shop’s location- it is just a 2-minute walk from Nabari train station- you can’t get much better than that!
My bike went in for puncture repair and not only was this done extremely quickly, but the repairman also re-oiled everything (something I had been too lazy to do), not only had he re-secured the bike stand (something I had completely missed), but he also realigned my brakes all for the cost of a puncture repair 800 JPY.
Don’t worry I tested his work by immediately going for a 25 km bike rider (post to come) and it all works brilliantly.
The repairman’s wife was extremely helpful as well. Imagine the inside of this shop covered in English terms and posters and the wife turns around and says: I cannot understand a single word of this, but she did have some good recommendations about where I should go to next.
She did say that an hour by bike is a bit far- which I don’t agree with. But then again, I am a bit mad at times.
The important question: will I be getting a bike designed for what I put it under? Yes- but not in Japan. The costs for such a bike are about the same in Japan and the UK- and you get what you pay for! But, it is currently low on my priority list- no matter how much I would like one.
If you visit Nabari, they also offer rental bikes for day trips, and they do have some visitors’ information available and a fantastic range of bikes- but this is a Japanese only shop- but not by desire they just had no need to use English.
Thank you for reading and happy exploring!
Please check out their website for their full offerings and pricing at:
Firstly- Hi eveyone I’m back!! On the 16th of December, while updating my laptop, the update broke my laptop and it is stuck in boot-loop (it still is) and I was left with a rather bad phone to try and type on.
I did try to post during this time but what once would take an hour, took over 2 days to research and type, so this post is still to come, along with several others.
So what to do? My first thought was to back up and restore my laptop and while all files and everything else still works, I could not open the recovery options. Additionally, my back-up hard-disk would not work and finally, there was no recovery save on the hard drive.
At this point, I decided to buy a Windows 10 OS disk to wipe my laptop and reinstall windows. The problem with this is that it costs 20,000 JPY and that was unacceptable. I then decided to look at buying a new laptop and this is what I decided to do.
Hard-off is a second-hand electronics store that offers laptops, PCs, Macs, new and old games and hardware (Xboxes, PS4s, Switches, Femicons, N64 etc) at a very reasonable price. I had bought a half decent laptop with 500 GB HDD, 4Gb (dual core), windows10 (32 bit) etc for 16,500 JPY including tax. The cheapest new notebook at a similar spec costs at least 60,000 JPY- but anyway I am very happy with my purchase.
My recommendation, therefore, is to go to hard-off for all your technology needs. If you are wondering/ worrying about buying something used in Japan, please don’t worry- a used product is like new in any other country.
Thank you for your patience during my period of silence.
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?
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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.
One of the ‘key sites’ in Nabari is the heavily advertised Natsumi temple ruins but what is it all about?
This review will just look at the temple grounds (or what remains of them) not the museum that accompanies it (mostly because it was closed when I visited).
Firstly the site, it is a beautiful site with a brilliant view of wider Nabari, which is in full autumn mode. However, there is something sad about seeing the remains of a much larger, and historically important site. The site was excavated in 平成2年 or 1990.
A popular excavation method in Japan (after the archaeological dig is over) is to place a marble block at the point where the foundation lay. The idea is to allow you to form a visual of what once was. But, it never quite seems to work- you get an idea of the scale of the site but none of the majesty or enormity of what once was.
There is some information about the temple dotted around the ruins, but this information is slightly unnecessary- the information just highlights the size of the construction- giving the dimensions of the temple. There was only 1 sign on its’ history- there may have been more within the museum but that is yet to come.
The site dates back to 894 CE (or AD) and the main temple was a 3 story pagoda that lay within Iga Province and it was famous as a center for learning and for health.
Iga Province or 伊賀国 an exceptionally old style of dividing Japan which was first referenced after 680 CE (天武天皇9年) and was Incorporated in and became Mie-prefecture in Meiji 5 （明治5年 or 1872).
The site is much smaller that it once was and the world has changed around it- but people seem reluctant to allow it to pass into the pages a history without showing the importance of what once was. While slightly harsh, as what remains is extremely scenic, and while it was an extremely important temple which was commissioned but the emperor at the time, none of its majesty remains- it is not even a shell but perhaps a shadow of it once was.
I hope that the museum will tell more of its’ historical significance and give more of a reason why it was resserected but for now my review is as follows:
It’s a nice (quick) walk and it is interesting to see how the Japanese preserve their ruins and archaeological sites but if you are not interested in these things or are looking for a longer walk, I (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) recommend looking and exploring elsewhere. Will I go back? Yes, (I do exercise in the mornings after-all and its’s a nice site) but I cannot recommend it as an attraction.
Books arude is a hidden gem in the Minowanakamura district of Nabari or in Japanese 箕輪中村- which well off the beaten track for all visitors but for locals it is a well loved book store.
The store has a great range for a book store in the countryside but luckily for me it focuses not just on books bur stationary, games and seasonal -products.
One of the pleasing things about this store is the attention to detail, all rows of books, for example, are set up in such a way to dray your eye to the row ahead.
One of the main focuses for this book store seems to be books for learners i.e. books for elementary, middle, and high school students and more importantly books for the JLPT exam (which I have yet to sit….moving on).
The other focuses for this bookstore are magazines, short novels and stationary. The problem with this store is that it is isolated and, to be quite honest, once you have been to one book store, you have been to them all.
Do I personally like this bookstore, yes (it has books) and more importantly it local for me.
Alas, if would you like something a bit more unique or something just a bit, well, more- I would recommend going to a main bookstore (Maruhan) in either Nagoya or Osaka. This book store is good for locals but not worth putting you-self out for if you are either nor in Iga, Nabari, or located just inside Nara prefecture.
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.
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.
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.
Matsusaka Visitors Centre
Price: free entry. Be aware of the gift shop (I spent a lot)
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).
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.
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.
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 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:
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).
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.
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?)