Review: Watasei, soft furnishings and clothing

A フワフワ (fluffy) place for all your needs

Futons, cushions and mats to name a few

While shopping in Aeon town in Iga, I saw a store with fluffy things outside and as winter is coming, I was in the market for a new rug- my apartment gets a bit cold.

What I cam across was a treasure-trove of a store that sells everything and everything soft. The store opens up to a sea of bedding and cushions galore in every size imaginable and even ones for any four legged friends you may have.

More importantly, it is cheap. Pricing depends on what you buy and in what size, the bigger, the more expensive which is a very logical pricing policy.

But what do they sell? They sell bedding, rugs, towels, futons, and clothing for men, women, and children. The final note on the clothing is that it’s very cheap and good quality. Forget GU, if you have a Watasei nearby, please check it out- it’s worth a look.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.


Next- a long journey

Product: a sweet treat

An introduction to the world of Japanese treats for only ¥69

A small treat cheap treat

When looking for a sweet treat most people look at chocolate, or ice cream, or something else that is usually at least ¥100, but here’s a tip- look at the cheap treats occasionally you come accross a gem.

We’ll start with the gaburi-chew. Thing of a 10 cm high chew andcyou have the taste and the texture of it. It’s a chewy berry flavoured bar and was ¥32, not a bad start.

This product immediately caught my attention with Felix the cat on it and they were ¥9 each so I bought them blindly. They were as packet does say bubble gum, cheap artificial strawberry flavoured straight from my childhood. They are identical to the cheap hubba bubble, the cheap 20p (0.20 GBP) bubble gum and I enjoyed every one.

The game inside is a Japanese classic called あみだくじ(amidakuji). The rules are simple, start at either 1,2,3,4 or 5 and follow the line at each intersection to see if you end up at the strawberry. Be careful, you could end up releasing a snake or a bear etc. Its a bit boring but a bit of fun for kids.

Finally, we have the corn snack which is teriyaki flavoured. With these you must be careful because some of them are just horrible. My favourite so far is the teriyaki one and at just ¥10, I recommend trying multiple to find which ones you prefer.

I have dipped my toe into the world of Japanese snacks, and will do so again soon.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Review: Nitori, homestore

The homestore that seems to have everything

The kitchen isle, soo many nice things

Nitori seems to be a more upmarket home store when compared to Nafco as it just sells furniture, crockery, ornaments etc when Nafco also sells cleaning supplies, building supplies etc. For my British readers, Nafco is the range/ B&Q while Nitori is Laura Ashley/ Dunhelm mill.

When going into the store, you first come across the seasonal isle (which features the C word- see previous post), followed by bedding and soft furnishings- at quite good prices.

If you are in the market for a western style bed or even a mattress, thus store has you covered- they offer a good range of products at a reasonable price (the author cannot give his personal opinion on mattresses here as he sleeps on a futon) and for those of you who are worried, there are the same sizes as you would find in Europe, the UK, or the USA.

Additionally, they have entire isles of smaller items from candles and scents- which collectively smells fantastic, to mirrors and frames (which were extremely cheap), to knickknacks and jewellery holders.

For those that need to furnish a house or an apartment, they do offer delivery services (which are dependant on items bought, current offers, distance from store etc).

Overall, Nitori is a store I would definitely check out and the best ones I have been to so far are Nabari and in Ise.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The small thanks

Convenience store raffle

A win is a win

Occasionally while buying extreamly unhealthy food and coffee, it was treat day (come one next Tuesday), you’ll be told by the attendant to take a ticket.

At first you are likely to be confused. But as the attendant holds this card box, you see that there are ticket inside. You take one, after struggling to open it while holding your lovely bento, and see a Barcode, you have won.

What a Nice dramatic story for winning a pack of sugar free chewing-gum but the spend X to get a free Y is extreamly common in Japan. The change of winning has enticed me in the past, even with winning being highly unlikely.

With this post, today’s Japanese phrase is はずれ which is simply better luck next time.

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…

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.

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)

Vending macines: a healthy choice?

Japan, the land of vending machines but is it a cause of ill health as well?

Kirin, one of the major vending machine operators

Japan is known as having a very high number of vending machines serving everything from snacks, drinks, alcohol to books, rice and ice cream. But just looking at 2 typical vending machines, are the choices they offer healthy or not?

The first thing to note about the kirin vending machine is that it offers both hot (red) and cold (blue) drinks, perfect for any season- so the temptation begins.

Of the hot drinks, 2 of the 6 are black coffee, no sugar nor milk so you’re looking at a calorie free drink. The other drinks ar standard hot drinks with milk and sugar so in the 100-200+ kcal range. The other drinks on the bottom row are the same but cold instead, so 3/12 drinks are very low in calories.

Starting from the top right, there’s green tea (few calories); an amino acid and vitamin drink- quite a bit of sugar but tastes good; a standard sports drink to replenish ions (salts); mets lemonade which has few calories and no sugar and tastes great; soda water with no sugar and added minerals; large black coffee–no sugar; large milk tea- with added sugar; oat tea- few calories; lemonade with added sugar and water.

Of that entire selection, the drinks that have sugar in for no purpose are the kirin lemon, and the tea. All the others, excluding the sports drinks, have little sugar. Additionally sports drinks are recommended for extremely hot weather in Japan-sugar and all (it didn’t drop below 30 degrees for 3 months!).

The count: healthy drinks 13/24. Now the last row- summary: there’s three drink with no added sugar/good for you: the fruit tea, the giant Yakut, and the Tropicana.

Final total: 16/36 or 44% of the selection consisting of health drink- that is not to say the others cannot be part of a healthy diet.

A smaller company with its selection

Itô is a much smaller company but I’ll quickly list this companies’ offerings in this vending machine:

  • 6 Japanese teas
  • sports drink
  • peach soda
  • sparkling water
  • water
  • 2 black coffees- no milk or sugar
  • green tea
  • 青汁 (Ao-jiru)- vegetable juice
  • tea
  • Peach soda
  • 2 yoghurt
  • soda
  • lemon soda
  • water
  • vitamin C drink
  • 5 milk coffees
  • 2 black
  • 2 coffees milk no sugar
  • 2 coffees
  • black coffee

This vending machine offers 21 healthier drinks out of a total of 36.

Please note this is a small survey of vending machines but out of a total of 72 drinks, 37 are ‘healthy’ drinks. This is a healthy total of 51%, a marginal majority.

Final thoughts: these vending machines offer some healthy drinks and can be handy if you’re in need in either summer or winter but do be careful. There are some good options but more unhealthy than healthy.

Note on this ‘investigation’

If I expanded this investigation for all the vending machines in Nabari or at least in a larger area for example, ensuring a representative sample (from each company), there would be a much clearer picture.

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!!!!!!